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Book Review: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Release Date: 7th March 2017
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Page Count: 400
Format: Ebook
Genre: Fantasy
RRP: $19.99
Source: Net Galley
The beast raged; it punctured the air with its spite. But the girl was fiercer.

Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human.

Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

I would like to say that although I did not find anything in Chupeco's book that struck me as disrespectful towards the cultures it was inspired by, I do not belong to either culture myself. Therefore if anyone who does belong to either culture finds something of note, please feel free to contact me :) I would be happy to know if there was anything I missed during my reading of this novel.

As promised with every review, here's my depiction of Tea from The Bone Witch. As I said I pictured her of a South-Eastern Asian background. She is wearing an Ahsa's Hua, as described in the book. It very much resembled the traditional kimono worn by Japanese Geisha. The stone around her neck is called a heart glass, they are described in the book as stones that hold the hearts of those who wear them. The background is inspired by traditional Iranian art and tapestries. A lot of which is featured in the book. 

(Ink art 'The Bone Witch' instagram @the_cat_curiosity_killed)

It has taken me far too long to finish my first review and all I can say is it's about time!

I am so very happy that my first official contribution to The Aus. Library will be a review of The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco. I enjoyed this book for so many reasons but I'll get into that in just a moment. For now I'll just say that I will be keeping an eye out for the sequel of this YA fantasy.

First let's talk about the story... Amazing! I really loved how Chupeco constructed this. The story follows Tea as she trains to become an Asha and to control her powers of necromancy. The Asha are women with magic who train to master skills in fighting, magic, hospitality and politics. Think Geisha who are also trained in magic and combat. The memoir-esk fashion in which she told Tea's story was very refreshing from a lot of other YA fantasy. It is a difficult way to tell a story but when done successfully (as I believe Chupeco has done) it can be very powerful. It puts you right there in the past, experiencing it first hand, all the while having a knowledge of the future that layers the entire story in a delicious coat of drama.

When Tea is training to become an Asha, we are there with her. When she struggles with understanding her power and deals with the discrimination she experiences because of a talent she never asked for, so do we. That is what makes the memoir style of story-telling so gosh darn compelling and I, for one, love it.

It reminded me a lot of Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (this was also because there are literal Geisha-like societies in the story itself). Chupeco's take on necromancy and familiars was also very interesting and unlike anything I had previously read.

I really enjoyed the basis in Iranian mythology. It is something you don't see in many places these days and proved to be one of the most interesting parts of the book.

The humble narrator of the present story-line is engaging, but not too much as to take away from the real protagonist of the story; Tea. I love a good anti-hero origin story and that is exactly what Chupeco gave me. Tea is a compassionate, if headstrong character, who is thrust into a world of dangerous magic, class discrimination and politics at a young age. She has very little time to adjust and does so with believable difficulty. I found her character very sympathetic, but also deeply flawed, which is exactly what I want from my anti-heroes.

There is romance in this book but it is secondary to the friendships and personal relationships Tea has with herself and those around her. The relationship I enjoyed the most was that of Tea and her older brother, Fox. The bond between them will ring true with anyone who has a sibling they are close to.  

There is some LGBTQ+ representation in this book, which obviously pleased me. Tea befriends a young boy who is implied to be gender-queer. He wishes to dance as an Asha (Asha are traditionally women) instead of fight in battle. There was also a lot of racial and cultural diversity. Tea, our protagonist, is described as having light brown skin and dark hair and eyes. It isn't specified what her racial background is exactly, but I feel like that is simply because of the fantasy genre. Some of the racial features of certain characters in a fantasy world may correspond with ones in our own, but they ultimately are their own fictional race. Personally, I visualized her from a South-Eastern Asian descent. The book is full of characters of all different colors. Mostly of Asian and Middle-Eastern inspired backgrounds.

I do have a few criticisms in spite of how much I enjoyed this book. Some of the details towards the end proved to be a bit confusing, the plot twist also felt rather lackluster. There was one moment when Fox is described to be wearing a top hat. This really threw me off and for a while and disturbed the flow of my reading. Up until that point there had been no mention of European style clothing. Only Asian and Middle-Eastern attire. Also at times, the story did seem to resemble Memoirs of a Geisha too strongly, which made me think of that book instead of the one I was reading. This didn't affect my overall reading experience, but it did pull me out of the story a few times.

Apart form those small criticisms however, I found The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco wildly enjoyable.

(Just to add another disclaimer, Memoirs of a Geisha is not an accurate portrayal of Geisha culture. The likeness between it and The Bone Witch lies only in the structure of the narrative and the fact that both books are inspired, to different extents, by the same subject matter. I would not be recommending The Bone Witch if it were anywhere near as problematic as Golden's book.)

So Long Story Short, Should You Read It?? Well, if you like anti-heroes, Geisha inspired culture, strong female characters and magic- I highly recommend picking it up!

It's Lit in the Loop: February Edition

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Hey guys! This is a new segment where I'll be recapping some of the exciting news and buzz that's gone around the book community, including multimedia and book deals, with some commentary from Meleika.  
  • The Darkest Minds film adaptation lined up the members of its main cast from Miya Cech, who will play Suzume, and Skylan Brooks from The Get Down will play Chubs. I'm getting more and more excited about this show as we get these casting news :)

A post shared by Skylan Brooks (@skylan_b) on
Source: Jim Spellman / WIREIMAGE
Source: Bob D'Amico / Getty Images

  • Marie Lu has a new series in the works, historical fantasy and based on the childhood of Mozart and his sister
  • Claire Legrand's new Empirium trilogy, where "two young women centuries apart—one a troubled, magic-wielding queen; the other a bounty hunter serving a ruthless empire—must fight in a cosmic war that spans millennia, only to discover as their stories intersect that they have the power to save their world or doom it." Claire tweeted a bit about this trilogy and I have to say I'm seriously excited for this!
  • A Court of Miracles, "described as Les Miserables meets The Jungle Book," will be a debut YA trilogy by Kester "Kit" Grant
  • Philip Pullman's new trilogy, connected with his famed His Dark Materials trilogy, will finally be out this October
  • Marley Dias, the 12-year old girl who founded #1000BlackGirlBooks, has a book deal with Scholastic for an activism book out Spring 2018
Source: AJ+ / Youtube

  • *Black History Month was lit! The Guardian and Epic Reads released a list of black books to read and celebrate blackness! Epic Reads included Everything Everything on this list, which is very ableist so we don't recommend reading it. Also, be very careful with reading books from lists from Epic Reads because they tend to recommend very problematic books without warnings (i.e. Carve the Mark).
  • CCBC's 2016 diversity stats are available and "two broad categories--Asian/Pacifics and Latinos--saw a notable jump in numbers this year for both 'by' and 'about.' The numbers for African and African Americans and First/Native Nations remained disappointingly static or dropped." *Also, I'd like to add that Asian and Pacifics is a very broad term and is quite damaging as Pacific Islanders are not all Asian. I never knew about the term being used for Pacific Islander Asians. In Australia, it's only used to refer to people from Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia. To group non-Asians and Asians/ non-Pacifika and Pacifika people together doesn't actually account for who is actually getting representation in books. These categories need to be defined better. 
*commentary from Meleika

What did you enjoy in book news in the month of February? Is there anything we missed? Let us know down below and stay lit, in the loop!

Fresh and out of the oven: add these February releases to your TBR!

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Fresh and out of the oven! These books were released during the month of February. So, dearest booklovers, get your calendars and TBR lists out and bring a red pen with you because you need to write these new releases down.

A Conjuring of Light | YA, Fantasy

The precarious equilibrium among four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise.

Kell - once assumed to be the last surviving Antari - begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. And in the wake of tragedy, can Arnes survive?

Lila Bard, once a commonplace - but never common - thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry. Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery of the Night Spire collects his crew, attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible.

And an ancient enemy returns to claim a crown while a fallen hero tries to save a world in decay.

The Edge of Everything | YA, Fantasy

For the perfect love, what would you be willing to lose?

It’s been a shattering year for seventeen-year-old Zoe, who’s still reeling from her father's shockingly sudden death in a caving accident and her neighbors’ mysterious disappearance from their own home. Then on a terrifying sub-zero, blizzardy night in Montana, she and her brother are brutally attacked in a cabin in the woods—only to be rescued by a mysterious bounty hunter they call X.

X is no ordinary bounty hunter. He is from a hell called the Lowlands, sent to claim the soul of Zoe’s evil attacker and others like him. X is forbidden from revealing himself to anyone other than his prey, but he casts aside the Lowlands’ rules for Zoe. As they learn more about their colliding worlds, they begin to question the past, their fate, and their future.

The Hate U Give | YA, Contemporary

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, Khalil’s death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Starr’s best friend at school suggests he may have had it coming. When it becomes clear the police have little interest in investigating the incident, protesters take to the streets and Starr’s neighborhood becomes a war zone. What everyone wants to know is: What really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could destroy her community. It could also endanger her life.

Swimming Lessons | Fic, Mystery, Contemporary

Ingrid Coleman writes letters to her husband, Gil, about the truth of their marriage, but instead of giving them to him, she hides them in the thousands of books he has collected over the years. When Ingrid has written her final letter she disappears from a Dorset beach, leaving behind her beautiful but dilapidated house by the sea, her husband, and her two daughters, Flora and Nan.

Twelve years later, Gil thinks he sees Ingrid from a bookshop window, but he’s getting older and this unlikely sighting is chalked up to senility. Flora, who has never believed her mother drowned, returns home to care for her father and to try to finally discover what happened to Ingrid. But what Flora doesn’t realize is that the answers to her questions are hidden in the books that surround her. Scandalous and whip-smart, Swimming Lessons holds the Coleman family up to the light, exposing the mysterious truths of a passionate and troubled marriage.

Wintersong | YA, Fantasy, Retelling

Beware the goblin men and the wares they sell.

All her life, nineteen-year-old Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, mysterious Goblin King. He is the Lord of Mischief, the Ruler Underground, and the muse around which her music is composed. Yet, as Liesl helps shoulder the burden of running her family’s inn, her dreams of composition and childish fancies about the Goblin King must be set aside in favor of more practical concerns.

But when her sister Käthe is taken by the goblins, Liesl journeys to their realm to rescue her sister and return her to the world above. The Goblin King agrees to let Käthe go—for a price. The life of a maiden must be given to the land, in accordance with the old laws. A life for a life, he says. Without sacrifice, nothing good can grow. Without death, there can be no rebirth. In exchange for her sister’s freedom, Liesl offers her hand in marriage to the Goblin King. He accepts.

Down in the Underground, Liesl discovers that the Goblin King still inspires her—musically, physically, emotionally. Yet even as her talent blossoms, Liesl’s life is slowly fading away, the price she paid for becoming the Goblin King’s bride. As the two of them grow closer, they must learn just what it is they are each willing to sacrifice: her life, her music, or the end of the world.

We Are Okay | YA, Contemporary

You go through life thinking there’s so much you need…

Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother.

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit, and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

The Refugees | Short stories, Fic, Asia

Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer was one of the most widely and highly praised novels of 2015, the winner not only of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, but also the Center for Fiction Debut Novel Prize, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, the ALA Carnegie Medal for Fiction, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and the California Book Award for First Fiction. Nguyen's next fiction book, The Refugees, is a collection of perfectly formed stories written over a period of twenty years, exploring questions of immigration, identity, love, and family.

With the coruscating gaze that informed The Sympathizer, in The Refugees Viet Thanh Nguyen gives voice to lives led between two worlds, the adopted homeland and the country of birth. From a young Vietnamese refugee who suffers profound culture shock when he comes to live with two gay men in San Francisco, to a woman whose husband is suffering from dementia and starts to confuse her for a former lover, to a girl living in Ho Chi Minh City whose older half-sister comes back from America having seemingly accomplished everything she never will, the stories are a captivating testament to the dreams and hardships of immigration. The second piece of fiction by a major new voice in American letters, The Refugees is a beautifully written and sharply observed book about the aspirations of those who leave one country for another, and the relationships and desires for self-fulfillment that define our lives.

American Street | YA, Contemporary

On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.

But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.

Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

Have you already picked up any of these releases? Tell us what you thought in the comments below!