Book Review: Women Talking by Miriam Toews

Last year I had the opportunity to hear Miriam Toews speak. I had never read any of her books but the one she was to speak about sounded interesting so I bought a copy for her recent novel, Women Talking, to sign for me. I kept shifting the book down my TBR pile as the subject matter promised to be heavy but I have finally read it as I believed myself to be in the correct head space.

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Feminism

Blurb:

Based on actual events that happened between 2005 and 2009 in a remote Mennonite community where more than 100 girls and women were drugged unconscious and assaulted in the night by what they were told (by the men of the colony) were “ghosts” or “demons,” Miriam Toews’ bold and affecting novel Women Talking is an imagined response to these real events.

The novel takes place over forty-eight hours, as eight women gather in secret in a neighbour’s barn while the men are in a nearby town posting bail for the attackers. They have come together to debate, on behalf of all the women and children in the community, whether to stay or leave before the men return. Taking minutes is the one man trusted and invited by the women to witness the conversation–a former outcast whose own surprising story is revealed as the women speak.

By turns poignant, witty, acerbic, bitter, tender, devastating, and heartbreaking, the voices in this extraordinary novel are unforgettable. Toews has chosen to focus the novel tightly on a particular time and place, and yet it contains within its 48 hours and setting inside a hayloft an entire vast universe of thinking and feeling about the experience of women (and therefore men, too) in our contemporary world. In a word: astonishing.

My thoughts:

I was right to have saved this book for a time when I could fully appreciate the content – it has so many talking points and issues for the reader to think about. The issues are raised through ordinary conversation between a group of women. At no time did I feel that Toews was pushing her beliefs onto me. Instead, the points she wanted to raise were subtly woven within a discussion on how the women would react to the rapes that had occured within their community.

Even though Women Talking is a relatively short novel at 216 pages, it is a novel filled with women’s issues. Yes, it is a book on feminism. And no, it is not one of those ‘shouty’ books that aggressively denounces men. Instead, it centres around ordinary women who come to realise that they have the power to make their own decisions and be the navigators of their own lives. The Mennonite women described in the novel live in a staunch patriarchal society in which the men have absolute power over them. It is a norm which, up until then, had been accepted by the women with no question.

I love how the women talk through their decision – each one making a valid argument. The narrator and recorder of the discussion, August Epp, is seen as being different from the other Mennonite men. Unlike them, he has lived in the outside world; and has not the strength to till the fields as the other men do. He shows respect towards the women and, as such, is trusted by them.

Reading this novel brought home to me that, even though we have progressed so far as a society with women’s rights, there are still women out there who do not have the freedom to do what I take for granted. It saddens me to think that there are still groups of people who see women as being the lesser gender and who have taken away their right to bloom. Not that the society I live in is perfect – but at least I have the opportunity to make my choices; and the freedom to read and learn.

Women Talking by Mirian Toews is a book that digs into the experience of the Mennonite women. It is an eye-opening account of a group of women living in a patriarchal society that, unfortunately, still exists in the modern world. This skillfully written discussion is one that will leave you in a thoughtful mood and reflecting on your own personal experience.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 51st in my book pledge for 2019)

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Book Review: The Beholder by Anna Bright

It was time for some Fantasy so I picked up the ARC I received at the Frenzy Presents event held by Harper Collins Canada. I love the cover of Anna Bright’s novel, The Beholder, and settled in for what promised to be an interesting read.

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Blurb:

Selah has waited her whole life for a happily ever after. As the only daughter of the leader of Potomac, she knows her duty is to find the perfect match, a partner who will help secure the future of her people. Now that day has finally come.

But after an excruciatingly public rejection from her closest childhood friend, Selah’s stepmother suggests an unthinkable solution: Selah must set sail across the Atlantic, where a series of potential suitors awaits—and if she doesn’t come home engaged, she shouldn’t come home at all.

From English castle gardens to the fjords of Norge, and under the eye of the dreaded Imperiya Yotne, Selah’s quest will be the journey of a lifetime. But her stepmother’s schemes aren’t the only secrets hiding belowdecks…and the stakes of her voyage may be higher than any happy ending.

My thoughts:

I enjoy reading Fantasy novels and this one promised to be a coming of age story. And it delivered on its promise. As Selah continues on her journey and meets a variety of people, the experiences she goes through help her come to certain realisations about herself and of others. The journey helps her to grow up as she is no longer sheltered from certain experiences by her upbringing.

I love that the main character in The Beholder is one that is learning and growing. The experiences she has are what one would expect of a young woman venturing out into the world. She learns to be strong, and to find the answers to her questions within herself. She slowly breaks down her fears – fears which make her a relatable character to the reader. In the novel, Selah is learning to find her own voice; and to discover what it is exactly that her journey needs to entail.

Even though I enjoyed the book and look forward to the sequel (yes, it is a duology), I did find the story hard to get into in the beginning. The Beholder is written as an alternate history to our world – and has many references to mythology. I personally found these references to be overdone at the beginning of the novel. In addition, some of the references may not be understood by many readers thus rendering the imagery less powerful than intended. As the book progresses, the mythological references become less frequent and more subtle – and I definitely preferred this.

Bright has written a story that does not contain some of the expectations of a fantasy novel: there are no dragons, magic, and mystical creatures. The novel includes a budding romance as well as disappointments that are experienced in a young life. This story is an enjoyable read for those who enjoy reading books with a sense of adventure and a protagonist who is growing into herself.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 50th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Nocturna by Maya Motayne

I love reading Fantasy novels and was extremely pleased when I received Nocturna by Maya Motayne in my swag bag at the last Frenzy Presents event that I attended. I opened the ARC that I received in anticipation of a good story.

Publication Date: May 2, 2019

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Blurb:

Set in a Latinx-inspired world, a face-changing thief and a risk-taking prince must team up to defeat a powerful evil they accidentally unleashed.

To Finn Voy, magic is two things: a knife to hold under the chin of anyone who crosses her…and a disguise she shrugs on as easily as others pull on cloaks.

As a talented faceshifter, it’s been years since Finn has seen her own face, and that’s exactly how she likes it. But when Finn gets caught by a powerful mobster, she’s forced into an impossible mission: steal a legendary treasure from Castallan’s royal palace or be stripped of her magic forever.

After the murder of his older brother, Prince Alfehr is first in line for the Castallan throne. But Alfie can’t help but feel that he will never live up to his brother’s legacy. Riddled with grief, Alfie is obsessed with finding a way to bring his brother back, even if it means dabbling in forbidden magic.

But when Finn and Alfie’s fates collide, they accidentally unlock a terrible, ancient power—which, if not contained, will devour the world. And with Castallan’s fate in their hands, Alfie and Finn must race to vanquish what they have unleashed, even if it means facing the deepest darkness in their pasts. 

My thoughts:

As you know, I enjoy reading Fantasy fiction – and this tale did not disappoint. The magic described in the novel was not over the top, and the characters were realistic. The social strata described in the novel are as one sees in our modern world today: the wealthy and the ones in charge, the ones with enough money, the ones who wield power through force, and the poor. The two main characters come from the opposite end of society: the Prince born into wealth and power, and the Thief born into poverty and hardship.

What I enjoyed most about Nocturna were the two main characters: Alfie and Finn. Their banter made me smile, and I could not help but like the way they slowly lowered their guard with one another. Both characters grow during the novel and come to know more about themselves. Not only are they on an adventure to save the world as they know it, but they are also on a journey to learn about how they can defeat a strong magical power in but they are also on a journey to discover the strength they have within themselves.

Motayne wrote this book to share a story featuring diverse characters who are Latinx. Noturna is a wonderful addition not only to fantasy fiction, but also to books featuring a different race/culture group. If you love the world of magic, a story filled with adventure, and a tale that features young people growing into their own sense of self, then you will enjoy this novel.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 37th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Rebel Mages by Laurie Forest

Ever since I had finished the second novel in Laurie Forest’s series of The Black Witch Chronicles, I had been waiting for The Rebel Mages to come out. I pre-ordered the novel and, as soon as I received it, I opened the pages and read it.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult Fantasy

Blurb:

The novel contains two novellas which had been previously published as e-books. The book contains the back story to the characters found in The Black Witch: Elloren Gardner and Sagellyn Gaffney.

Wandfasted

Twenty years before Elloren Gardner enrolled at the illustrious Verpax University, Erthia was rent asunder during the devastating Realm War. When Tessla Harrow is driven from her home by the fighting, she discovers a depth of power she never knew she had…and an irresistible draw toward Vale Gardner, the son of the most powerful mage her people have ever known—the Black Witch.

Light Mage

Before Elloren came to possess the White Wand of myth, the Wand was drawn to another bearer: Sagellyn Gaffney. Sage’s affinity for light magery, a rare skill among Gardnerians, makes her the perfect protector for the one tool that can combat the shadows spreading across Erthia. But in order to keep the Wand safe from the dark forces hunting for it, Sage must abandon everything she once knew and forge a new path for herself…a dangerous course that could lead to either triumph or utter ruin.

My thoughts:

I loved delving into Laurie Forest’s world again. The images that she creates in my mind with her words are so beautiful. I adore her characters and enjoyed reading the back story to The Black Witch. The characterisations are on point, and the issues that she addresses run seamlessly throughout the story. There were a number of moments in both novellas when I got goosebumps – the author’s words pulled me in and then suddenly a sentence would take me back to the first book I read in the series – or to a moment in human life that is reflected in the scene.

Reading The Rebel Mages underscored, for me, what it is I enjoy about the fantasy known as The Black Witch Chronicles. The story is more than just a Fantasy set in a world of fantastical characters. Instead it is a critique on society, on oppression, on prejudice. It is also a story of hope and the dream that all peoples, no matter what race or culture, can live together in freedom. Forest is a writer who has woven her experiences of the world into a magical tale that has certainly captured – and held – my attention.

Now I wait impatiently for the third novel in the series. These novellas have only whet my appetite for more of Elloren’s story.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars with no reservation.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 26th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth

The synopsis for the novel The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth captured my attention because it reminded me of the Narnia series by C. S. Lewis.

Genre: Young Adult fiction, Fantasy.

Blurb:

Five years ago, Evelyn and Philippa Hapwell cowered from air strikes in a London bomb shelter. But that night took a turn when the sisters were transported to another realm called the Woodlands. In a forest kingdom populated by creatures out of myth and legend, they found temporary refuge. 

When they finally returned to London, nothing had changed at all—nothing, except themselves. 

Now, Ev spends her days sneaking into the woods outside her boarding school, wishing for the Woodlands. Overcome with longing, she is desperate to return no matter what it takes. 

Philippa, on the other hand, is determined to find a place in this world. She shields herself behind a flawless exterior and countless friends, and moves to America to escape the memory of what was. 

But when Evelyn goes missing, Philippa must confront the depth of her sister’s despair and the painful truths they’ve been running from. As the weeks unfold, Philippa wonders if Ev truly did find a way home, or if the weight of their worlds pulled her under.

My thoughts:

I was keen to read this story as I have enjoyed the Narnia series in the past – both as a teen and as an adult. I loved the fantasy world and the symbolism that C. S. Lewis had created and looked forward to reading a story that had been inspired by it.

Weymouth poses the question: what would a person feel once back in the reality of the world and far away from what was experienced in the ‘other’ world? We read of the coping mechanisms of three children who had crossed over to another world – and are introduced to the point of view of two.

The story is told with empathy, and the reader comes to understand the feelings of both Philippa and Ev. We see Philippa as the stronger, older sister; and Ev as the one who is unable to let go of the world and the people she came to love in that world when she was returned to a war-torn London. The reader learns to understand Ev’s plight and her desire to go back. There were times, however, when I felt her actions were selfish and manipulative. And so many times I wished that she would be grateful for the love and experiences of her current world. Because I felt this, I did lose a little sympathy for her and was more moved by Philippa who had always been there to support her sister.

I liked that half-way through the novel, I began to read the viewpoint of Philippa. Even though she does miss the Woodlands and the creatures she met there, her response to being back in London during the war is different to that of her sister. Through the characters of the two sisters, Weymouth shows that a person’s response to the same situation may be different.

I enjoyed the novel The Light Between Two Worlds and reading the thoughts of how a person could react to the Narnia experience. Even though there were moments when I wished the pace of the book was a little faster (when reading Ev’s experience), I did enjoy this heartbreaking story. If you enjoy fantasy novels and references to The Chronicles of Narnia, then this story would be perfect for you.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️  3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 16th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

This year I plan to re-read The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling and during February I read the second book in the series: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. This novel is available in a beautiful illustrated edition and this is the edition I read for my revisit into the Hogwarts world of magic.

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy

Blurb: 

The Dursleys were so mean and hideous that summer that all Harry Potter wanted was to get back to the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. But just as he’s packing his bags, Harry receives a warning from a strange, impish creature named Dobby who says that if Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts, disaster will strike

And strike it does. For in Harry’s second year at Hogwarts, fresh torments and horrors arise, including an outrageously stuck-up new professor, Gilderoy Lockhart, a spirit named Moaning Myrtle who haunts the girls’ bathroom, and the unwanted attentions of Ron Weasley’s younger sister, Ginny.

But each of these seem minor annoyances when the real trouble begins, and someone — or something — starts turning Hogwarts students to stone. Could it be Draco Malfoy, a more poisonous rival than ever? Could it possibly be Hagrid, whose mysterious past is finally told? Or could it be the one everyone at Hogwarts most suspects . . . Harry Potter himself?

My thoughts:

I loved Harry Potter’s world the first time I read the series and my enjoyment was not diminished with a second reading. I smiled at the mischief Harry and his friend Ron got up to, and enjoyed reading about their stealthy adventures in the corridors of Hogwarts.

My enjoyment of this book was amplified by the paintings by Jim Kay in the illustrated edition. The paintings are beautiful renditions of favourite characters and he does them great justice. Like a young child, I ‘read’ the images in the book and admired the detail in Kay’s work.

I am reminded again of why children love this story so much: it is full of magic, adventure, as well as relatable characters. I look forward to reading the next installment in the story.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 15th in my book pledge for 2019)

Cover Reveal: The Blood Prince by Josie Jaffrey

Today Josie Jaffrey, an independent author of Young Adult dystopian stories, has revealed the cover for her third book in the Sovereign Series.

I have read the first two books in the series – The Gilded King and The Silver Queen (click on the titles for my reviews) and loved them.

I am eager to read the culmination of the story and to find out what happens to my favourite characters.

What do you think of the cover for the third book?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

Book Review: Damsel by Elana K. Arnold

When I attended the Frenzy Presents event in August this year at which they announced the upcoming Young Adult releases, I knew I had to read this novel. I can not resist a story that includes dragons and a strong woman character.

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Blurb: 

The rite has existed for as long as anyone can remember: when the prince-who-will-be-king comes of age, he must venture out into the gray lands, slay a fierce dragon, and rescue a damsel to be his bride. This is the way things have always been.

When Ama wakes in the arms of Prince Emory, however, she knows none of this. She has no memory of what came before she was captured by the dragon, or what horrors she has faced in its lair. She knows only this handsome prince, the story he tells of her rescue, and her destiny to sit on the throne beside him. Ama comes with Emory back to the kingdom of Harding, hailed as the new princess, welcomed to the court.

However, as soon as her first night falls, she begins to realize that not all is as it seems, that there is more to the legends of the dragons and the damsels than anyone knows–and that the greatest threats to her life may not be behind her, but here, in front of her.

My thoughts: 

I loved this new take on the old story of dragons, a damsel, and a prince who comes to rescue her. It was interesting to read what the damsel feels after her rescue – and the confusion that she experiences. The damsel (named Ama by the prince) slowly comes to an awakening and a realisation of who she is and what she wants to be in the future that has been decided for her by Emory, the man who brought her to his castle.

While reading this novel, my heart was definitely captured by Ama. In her, I could see the representation of women in society – women who are expected to fall in with the men who are in their lives. She questions the role that has been given to her – as do so many women in modern society today. Ama’s character has been written with sensitivity, and with the understanding that a woman slowly comes to a realisation of who she is. The novel may be bringing to the fore the woman’s experience, but it is subtly done within the framework of a story in which the man is seen to be the one who rescues the woman.

I enjoyed this novel for so much more than just for the story. I loved the gentle reference to a woman’s strength and her acceptance of it.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 81st in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa

I was lucky to receive an ARC for Julie Kagawa’s novel Shadow of the Fox. I had heard from someone who had read the novel that it was an excellent example of fantasy fiction and I could not wait to begin reading it.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Blurb: 

One thousand years ago, the great Kami Dragon was summoned to grant a single terrible wish—and the land of Iwagoto was plunged into an age of darkness and chaos.

Now, for whoever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers, a new wish will be granted. A new age is about to dawn.

Raised by monks in the isolated Silent Winds temple, Yumeko has trained all her life to hide her yokai nature. Half kitsune, half human, her skill with illusion is matched only by her penchant for mischief. Until the day her home is burned to the ground, her adoptive family is brutally slain and she is forced to flee for her life with the temple’s greatest treasure—one part of the ancient scroll.

There are many who would claim the dragon’s wish for their own. Kage Tatsumi, a mysterious samurai of the Shadow Clan, is one such hunter, under orders to retrieve the scroll…at any cost. Fate brings Kage and Yumeko together. With a promise to lead him to the scroll, an uneasy alliance is formed, offering Yumeko her best hope for survival. But he seeks what she has hidden away, and her deception could ultimately tear them both apart.

With an army of demons at her heels and the unlikeliest of allies at her side, Yumeko’s secrets are more than a matter of life or death. They are the key to the fate of the world itself.

My thoughts: 

I love reading fantasy novels and opened this one with glee. Within the first few pages, I was entranced by the Japanese lore that is intricately woven into Yumeko and Tatsumi’s story. Even though I do not know much of Japanese culture and myths, my enjoyment of this story was not hampered. The unknown is subtly explained to me; and the cultural practices Are shown to me by the actions and words of the characters.

While reading the first novel in this series, I grew to love the characters: the innocent Yumeko, the battle-hardened Tatsumi, the humorous Okame, the noble Daisuke. I thrilled at the battle scenes and smiled at a budding romance. The intrigues captured my interest, and the descriptions of the world described in the novel absorbed my imagination. I enjoyed reading Shadow of the Fox and was happy that I had chosen to read it over the weekend – I would have had difficulty putting it down to go to work! I look forward to reading the next installment in the series – and I am sure to go and purchase myself a final print copy.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 69th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)