ReaderWriterVille

Blog in progress

Tag: multicultural

SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for January (and Harlequin TBR #513): The Taming of Mei Lin

I decided to join Wendy the SuperLibrarian’s TBR Challenge this year, since reading from the TBR is my main 2019 reading goal. And I do have my towering TBR of Harlequins to get through. January is always short reads, to ease us into the year. I knew I had books in Harlequin’s various short-story and novella lines, and I found a Jeannie Lin short from the Historical Undone line. It is the prequel to her debut novel for Harlequin, Butterfly Swords. I finally read that last year, so The Taming of Mei Lin sounded like a perfect follow-up.

This story is about 40 pages, more of an amuse-bouche than anything, but it packs a nice romance into its brief wordcount, complete with some sexy romantic scenes as well. Mei Lin is the grandmother of Ai Li, the heroine of Butterfly Swords, and her romance with the stranger who comes to town, Shen Leung, provides the ancestral backstory for the novel.

Mei Lin is an orphan who lives with her uncle, aunt, and cousin. She has resisted being married off as the third wife to the local magistrate, Zhou, which displeases both her uncle and Zhou. Mei Lin is adept in the use of butterfly swords and has decreed that she will only marry someone who can best her in a swordfight. Zhou can’t, and the emissaries he sends can’t either. But then Shen arrives. They are a well-matched pair in every way, and Mei Lin thinks this is a best deal she can probably get, but Shen doesn’t seem to want to claim his prize.

Their battle of swords turns into a battle of something more, as Mei Lin continues to fight Zhou’s thugs and Shen tries to stick to his plan to continue his solitary life. The attraction between them is convincing and well depicted, and the sex is integral to the story (as is always the case with Lin’s fiction, in my opinion).

As I said, this is a very quick read but a rewarding one. The cultural milieu is established well despite the word count constraints. If you haven’t read Butterfly Swords, start with this prequel, and if you have, read this for the backstory.

Booker Longlist Review: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

This novel has now been longlisted for both the Booker and Giller prizes. It was one of the novels I especially looked forward to, and I found its themes interesting and ambitious, but the execution ultimately unsatisfying.

George Washington Black is a young boy, an outdoor slave on a Barbados sugar plantation, when he is plucked from the fields to assist the scientist brother of the villainous plantation master. When a cousin of the family dies and Wash is likely to be implicated, the brother, named Titch, and Wash take off in an airship. Thus begins their adventure, which takes Wash from Barbados to Virginia to arctic Canada to England and beyond, all in a brisk 350 pages.

The novel has the structure of an adventure story but Wash is a slave and Titch is the brother of his master and it’s 1830s US and England. So there’s much more going on than the normal coming of age story (Wash is barely a teenager when the novel opens). The first part, set on Barbados, is unsparing in its depiction of the horrors of plantation slavery. The villain may seem cartoonish and the conditions exaggerated, but the historical record pretty much confirms that this depiction is not unusual. The publisher’s blurb calls it steampunk, but none of the science is far-fetched. Airships, diving suits, and the types of scientific inquiry and specific experiments being conducted were all around at the time the story is set.

Since this is one of the Booker longlist choices a lot of people have been reading it at the same time, and I have felt as if I’m reading an entirely different book from them. Some readers have focused on the adventure aspects, calling it a rollicking story. I never had that feeling. Wash is a fugitive slave for a large portion of the book, and he’s chased by a bounty hunter for most of it. He’s at risk for capture in the US portion, especially since slavery is still legal, and in Canada and England he’s frequently treated as something less than human. When he falls in love and enters into a romantic relationship it regularly puts him at risk. His great scientific and artistic achievements are appropriated by white men, who encourage him but either can’t or don’t find ways to give him credit for his contributions. The story is suffused with the knowledge that he will probably never have a fully peaceful, satisfying life, because the world will not allow it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Reading Diversely: My reading year so far

Hello again! I’ve been delinquent about blogging, but I have been reading, and the mid-year point seems like a good time to take stock of my reading to date.

Reading diverse books and diverse authors (in terms of non-white and non-straight authors) has been a goal of quite a few online readers, in romanceland, SFF, and mainstream fiction more generally. There have been articles about reading only women authors, and the #weneeddiversebooks hashtag and its offshoots continue to flourish. When one of the major book conventions managed to pick 30 panelists and the only “diverse” member was Grumpy Cat, it’s hard to argue against that kind of initiative. I’ve tried to review more diverse books at Dear Author over the last two or three years, and for the most part I’ve succeeded, although obviously I could do more.

My reviews haven’t been universally appreciated (although whose are?). There have been authors who said flat out that they thought I was being harder on them (and more unfair) than I was to white authors. Which brings up another aspect of the “read more diversely” effort: are we supposed to review the books the same way we review non-diverse books? Are we supposed to give authors points for trying and go easier on their books’ flaws so that more people will take a chance on them? Or is our main job as readers to buy them?

I recently read a post about supporting diverse books, which talked about buying, promoting, and marketing, but said nothing at all about reading. I not only find that vaguely insulting (I’m not your publicist or your mother, thanks), I think it’s counter-productive in the long run. I remember buying romance novels by African-American authors years and years ago, when they were justifiably complaining that the big review sites didn’t review them. This was before I was a reviewer, but I could still buy the books and I intended to read them. But I never did. I bought them, announced via blog comments that I bought them, and then they went into the TBR. So the authors got a sale, but that was it.

Read the rest of this entry »