Interview with Author: Sonia Faruqi

Hey Readers,

Today is a post that is part of the book club that I co-host on Instagram, @monstersandstrangerworlds. Our December book pick was THE OYSTER THIEF by Sonia Faruqi, and we were lucky enough to be able to interview the author.

– THE INTERVIEW –

MASW: I noticed as I was reading that the merpeople’s society was very similar to ours, down to having detectives, police forces, government systems with a registry of people, and even misogyny. I found it interesting that they would have come up with the same concepts of society as the humans on land. Why did you choose to have the merpeople’s government and society so similar to ours? 

SF: The underwater world bears some similarities to our world but it is also different. For instance, Coralline is an apothecary but her medical work is quite different than medicine on land, based more on natural remedies and, of course, based wholly on algae. It is worth noting that different human cultures also have things in common with one another, especially the basics – police and government – so it is not surprising to have these in the water. Misogyny is not a value of merpeople; just as some humans are misogynistic and others are not, it is the same in the water. There is a diversity of perspectives.

MASW: After reading the behind the scenes look that is provided in The Oyster Thief, it sounds like you spent a lot of time researching for this novel, how long did you spend researching to be able to write this book? And as you did your research did you have to change any of your big ideas for the story like you had to change skin tone plans due to the lack of light in the ocean?

SF: The research was continuous and woven in before and during the writing. I didn’t have to change the big ideas much but was able to add more depth to the existing ideas. For instance, all the animals and algae you’ll see mentioned in The Oyster Thief are true-to-life. Even the names of all the characters are scientifically grounded, drawn from the sea and the stars. The Oyster Thief is also current in its themes. For instance, the book contains a premise of underwater diamond mining that was fictional when I started the book but has recently become fact.

MASW: There is a sexual assault that happens in the book just as Izar and Coraline are starting their journey. For me, I felt like all it did was allow Izar to be the hero when he saved her, its very reminiscent of rape culture that we have now. Why did you feel it was important to have this scene in the book?

Coralline has never left home before, and there are real consequences of going to dangerous places swarming with shady people, such as Hog’s Bristle. In addition, sexual assault is a real issue human society is contending with. With regard to the story, Hog’s Bristle is a growth experience for Coralline – she overcomes her fear of wielding daggers and becomes more self-reliant. It is true that Izar saves her in that scene but, shortly after, she has the confidence to save him. The Oyster Thief is not a “damsel in distress” story; she saves him at least as often as he saves her!

MASW: There are quite a few female characters in this novel, Coraline, Rhodomela, Abalone, and Rosette, and yet none of them are healthy relationships. There is a lot of women on women hating in this book, especially between Rhodomela and Abalone, and Coraline and Rosette, constantly competing for the male in questions attention. Why did you have the female characters interact like this and what kind of message do you think that sends to the reader?

SF: A lot of behavior stems from fear and love. Abalone’s criticisms of her daughter Coralline stem from her love of Coralline combined with her fear that Coralline will have a difficult life if she chooses to be different. Rosette’s behavior stems from her love of Ecklon and her fear that he will choose Coralline over her. Fear and love are emotions that fuel us all, for better or for worse.

MASW: At the end of the book, Izar is still keeping secrets from Coraline, even though they are in love and happy together, are you setting us up for a sequel?

SF: It is possible there will be a sequel, yes!

MASW: What inspired the story?

I love the water and the idea of an underwater civilization of merpeople.

MASW: Have you written previous works before The Oyster Thief?

SF: Yes, Project Animal Farm (2015), a work of critically acclaimed investigative journalism about the global food system. The book was selected as a finalist for three literary awards and was endorsed by Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee, Temple Grandin, and CEO of Whole Foods John Mackey.

One night, I arrived at the doorstep of a dairy farm looking for a rural volunteer vacation. I had no idea then that the visit would mark the beginning of a journey that would ultimately wind all the way around the world. Concerned by issues of animal welfare and the environment, I decided to search the planet for solutions. My journey took me from egg warehouses in Canada to dairy feedlots in the United States, from farm offices in Mexico to lush green fields in Belize, from villages in Indonesia to bustling cities in Malaysia.

Over the course of living with farmers, hitchhiking with strangers, and risking my life, I developed surprising insights and solutions—both about the food industry and myself. You can find the prologue and first chapter here.

– AUTHOR BIO – 

Sonia Faruqi pushes the boundaries of imagination in her debut novel, The Oyster Thief, an underwater fantasy novel for adults and young adults with themes of ocean conservation. The Globe and Mail has chosen it as a “best book of the year.” The full first chapter can be found here. Sonia will be providing exclusive content about The Oyster Thief through her website and monthly newsletter at www.soniafaruqi.com. She is also the author of Project Animal Farm, a work of critically acclaimed investigative journalism about the world’s food system.

Thank you again for those of you who are participating in our monthly book club, and for Sonia Faruqi who kindly answered these questions.

– Hannah (@thewellreadfox), Hannah (@booknerdnative), Alisa (@worldswithinpages), and Lorna (@fictionalflowerday)

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November Monthly Wrap Up

Hey Readers!

I can’t believe that it is already time for another monthly wrap up. This month/this year seems like it has FLOWN by. I honestly don’t know where the time has gone. I had an amazing reading month and a pretty good blogging month too. Despite being crazy busy, spending about a week sick, being halfway through my second to last class for my bachelor’s degree, and with the holidays, I read eight books and wrote four (five if you count this one) blog posts!

Here are some posts that you may have missed that I suggest you check out:

A review on a dark thriller read I read in October.

My dream cast for an upcoming Amazon TV show for a fantasy series that I am currently reading.

A (spoiler-free) review on my favorite fantasy series… ever.

A review of another book I read in October which also happens to be one of the most depressing and beautiful novels I have ever read.

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Now, for some brief thoughts of the books I read this month:

IMG_3527 Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

I read this as the first pick for my book club, @monstersandstrangerworlds, which is run on Instagram with some of my favorite book friends (@worldswithinpages, @booknerdnative, and @fictionalflowerday – check them out!). I will have a full review once we’ve had our discussion on our Instagram page but this was an enjoyable read. I read it in about two sittings.

IMG_3946 The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory

I spent about a week sick this month and I read this cute and sexy romance in one day. It was the perfect light reading that I needed. I didn’t love it as much as I loved The Wedding Date, Guillory’s first novel, but I really enjoyed it.

IMG_3967 The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

This was the second book I read in a day when I was sick. It is a quick thriller that is good enough to keep you turning the pages, however, I didn’t connect with the main character and a lot of what she did bothered me.  I also didn’t *love* the ending.

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The Shadow and Bone Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

I really enjoyed this trilogy, I flew right through the series in about a week. It was by no means my favorite fantasy series, there are some problematic tropes in the novels but I had fun reading them. Also, at what point do you become old enough not to fall for the bad boy? Because I’m here for the Darkling, not gonna lie.

IMG_3768 Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

So in truth, I snuck this one in right under the radar because I just finished up this collection of short stories today. This is Adjei-Brenyah’s first book and I really hope that it isn’t the last because these stories were something else. The stories are razor sharp, deep, dark and captivating. These stories look at racism and capitalism and with Adjei-Brenyah’s unique voice they should be considered mandatory reading.

IMG_3700 The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan 

This is my one re-read of the year, and I can not tell you how much I had forgotten about this book. SO much happens in this first book, and I am completely in love all over. As I’m reading it I just keep remembering details I had completely forgotten about and I’m sitting here just waiting for Nynaeve and Lan cause I ship them HARD.

 

What books did you read in November? Let me know in the comments!

– Hannah

Review: A Little Life

Hey Readers,

A Little Life is a modern day classic that everyone should read. It is an immersive and dark novel set in the present day about four friends who meet at college and have now moved to New York to find success. Throughout the reading of this novel, as I hurtled towards the devastating ending of A Little Life I texted a friend saying that I was in shock and that I honestly didn’t know how I was supposed to read something else after that.

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While A Little Life was harrowing and traumatic, it is one of my favorite books I have ever read. To be timely, if I was going to sing “thank u, next” about anything it would be A Little Life. It taught me patience, it taught me love, and boy did it ever teach me pain. We follow four friends: Jude, Willem, JB, and Malcolm as they find success in New York. We focus on Jude and the unspoken trauma that has caused him to have difficulty walking, to self-harm, and live a life full of secrets. These friendships, while they are tested as each of them struggles with betrayal, addiction, and pride, are held together by Willem, JB, and Malcolm’s complete dedication to Jude.

The true, lifelong friendships that were in this novel were the love story that I needed but never knew I wanted. I’ve read a lot of love stories about a lot of different kinds of relationships, family relationships, romantic relationships, I have never read a story about friendships as deep as the friendships Willem, Malcolm, JB, and Jude share.

“Why wasn’t friendship as good as a relationship? Why wasn’t it even better? It was two people who remained together, day after day, bound not by sex or physical attraction or money or children or property, but only by the shared agreement to keep going, the mutual dedication to a union that could never be codified. Friendship was witnessing another’s slow drip of miseries, and long bouts of boredom, and occasional triumphs. It was a feeling honored by the privilege of getting to be present for another person’s most dismal moments, and knowing that you could be dismal around him in return.”

With A Little Life, there is the need to set aside your disbelief when it comes to some of the fantastical elements of the story. For example, each character finds extreme success, JB in the art world, Malcolm as an architect, Willem as an actor, and Jude as a lawyer. The idea of all four of the friends finding success in the ways that these characters do is unlikely in reality. There is also no mention of any significant world events taking place which helps keep this novel in the present day for eternity with nothing to separate it from any other time. The lack of world events like 9/11 or the War on Terrorism, is poignant since all of the themes that are present in this novel are present in real life, in the past, and will be in the future. There is also not a steady movement of time, months come and go without being mentioned, we read about things that happen only in a few days, and then we read about years as they fly by. It reads like life does, time flying by us without us being able to stop it.

A Little Life contains scenes of extreme violence and trauma. I am one who doesn’t like trigger warnings generally, I think that in our day to day life we don’t get trigger warnings and so I tend not to use them in my reading life. I do this because I don’t want to stay away from a book because of its trigger warnings. I think A Little Life is one of those books that I would have stayed away from if I had read all of the trigger warnings. And while I can understand to some extent the want and need to stay away from topics that can be difficult, to stay away from A Little Life is taking away an experience from yourself that is worth having. It is gut-wrenching, emotional, and hard to read, Jude suffers from unspeakable traumas that he will never recover from, however, the story of his life, and the people who are a part of it, is a beautiful one.

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I’ll be honest, I read A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara in October and I needed this past month to really reflect and think about the novel. A Little Life is the most difficult book I have ever read. It is “too much” in all aspects of that term. Everything in this novel is exaggerated, love, pain, success, trauma, etc – however, because everything is exaggerated the story itself doesn’t feel exaggerated. I cried for hours after finishing this book. It left me feeling raw and empty, but I am truly grateful for having read it. A Little Life will be a novel that will stick with me for a very, very long time.

 

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

– Hannah

Review: The Stormlight Archive

Hey Readers,

So here’s the deal, I say that this is going to be a review, and I’m going to try and make it one, but I can’t promise it won’t also be a little fan-girlish okay? Okay, now that we have that out of the way, lets dig in!

The Stormlight Archive

I started this series in late July and I could not put it down until I finished in October, and I loved it from the minute that I started it. The Stormlight Archive was my first series from Brandon Sanderson and I promise you it won’t be the last. This is an amazing epic adult fantasy series that has its own magic system, intense and developed political dynamics, complete worlds, and characters that grow throughout each book. On top of all that, it’s told from multiple points of view. I know, it’s overwhelming, But that’s what I’m here for, let’s talk about each of those things.

The Magical System: I don’t want to go too much into detail about the magic system in The Stormlight Archive, because I feel like the discovery of exactly how the magic system works is done as a plot device, and is one of the exciting things about reading the books. But I will say that the magic system is something completely different than I have read in a fantasy novel, and I have a bit of experience with those. (It’s my favorite genre.) It is an elemental based magic system, but not just in the traditional sense of water, air, earth, and fire. It goes deeper then that and it is genius. Also – when you start The Way of Kings and you start reading about spren and you’re like “what is he talking about? Spren?” don’t give up, I promise – it’s worth it.

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The Political System: For all of you Game of Thrones fans out there – while you’re waiting for the next book to come out… come to the light side and read The Way of Kings and I promise you it will be better (I said what I said). The Stormlight Archive series doesn’t have the gritty, gruesome to be gruesome, feel that Game of Thrones has, however, what it does have is death, blood, war, and vengeance done in a way that isn’t overwhelming and without what feels sometimes like gratuitous violence that will bog you down. Throughout the three current novels in The Stormlight Archives we learn more and more about the political intrigue, and because it’s told through multiple viewpoints, we get to learn how each of our characters play a part in the political sphere, and how their choices affect the world around them. I know some people don’t love the nitty gritty details of a worlds political system, but with these novels, the politics never feel overwhelming or that they are taking over the narrative. Instead, it blends in and is helpful to the telling of the story and overall feel of how it unfolds.

The World Building: I know I said I have only read one series by Brandon Sanderson but Sanderson is a master at world-building. I mean, he spent ten years researching and developing the world of Roshar for this series, and it paid off. I honestly don’t know of a series where I felt like I got so much beautiful information about the world. We are set in the world of Roshar and Sanderson gives us the most intricate descriptions of everything in this world. Everything from how the weather works, the creatures, history, mythology, religion, magic, the races, the different cultures, and more. Pretty much anything you can think of, Sanderson describes it. Because of this attention to detail, you really believe in this world.

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The Character Development: I have so much to say about all of the characters we learned about in The Stormlight Archive and I can’t say anything without getting a little spoiler-y so I won’t, (you’re welcome) but honestly these characters were EVERYTHING. In each of the books, our focus is on one particular character’s backstory, which we learn about through flashbacks that give us more depth into each character. However, don’t let that fool you, we see multiple characters perspectives in each of the books. The book’s parts, interludes, and chapters are broken up and let you know which character’s perspective you’re viewing the story through at any given moment and that is helpful. Sanderson writes the best characters, characters that drive you crazy, that make you laugh, make you cry for, basically, you’re going to be feeling all the feelings. I can’t tell you how many times I scream-ranted or literally yelled at the books, or the people around me about what was happening in the story at that moment (I’m a very passionate reader). Sanderson will capture your heart with these characters and then rip it out, and it will be worth every minute.

Audiobook Version: I also jumped between reading Oathbringer and listening to the audiobook on Audible. The narrators were Michael Kramer and Kate Reading and they were amazing. Definitely worth the listen if you have long commutes or you want to read the book but carrying around 1000+ pages is difficult!

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Overall Thoughts: 

These books have been my favorite reads of the year, and honestly most likely my favorite fantasy series I have ever read. I want and need everyone to read them. I have heard that some people found it slow going in the beginning when first learning about the different things that happen, but for me, I was hooked right from the Prologue. So if you find that you were finding it slow, give it about 100 pages (in a 1000 page book it’s not that much, trust me), and I’m sure it will pick up from there.

My favorite part of these books was the way that Sanderson built up the tension throughout them, between the politics, war, and emotions of the characters and watching all of their stories converge. Not just from The Way of Kings into Words of Radiance into Oathbringer, because throughout the three books the build-up was intense and the outcome was AMAZING, but also just in the individual books themselves. I always felt like there was so much tension and that we didn’t have enough book left to wrap everything up and then Sanderson did it, every time, with a BANG. Each ending left me desperate to get my hands on the next book, and the wait for the fourth one might just kill me (you may think this is me being dramatic, I disagree).

This series is for anyone who loves fantasy, or anyone who is willing and ready to give an epic fantasy a try, The Stormlight Archives is the perfect series full of everything you could ever want in a fantasy novel, it will grab your attention and run away with it. Read it, and then come find me here or on Instagram and tell me all your thoughts. I can’t wait to hear them.

Life before death.

Strength before weakness.

Journey before Destination.

My Ratings:

The Way of Kings: 5/5 Stars

Words of Radiance: 5/5 Stars

Oathbringer: 5/5 Stars

– Hannah

Review: The Butterfly Garden

Hey Readers,

When I first saw The Butterfly Garden as I was scrolling through my instagram feed, I had heard absolutely nothing about it. After I did a little digging and read the plot summary I was instantly intrigued. When I first started the book, I was hooked by the first page and just could not put it down. I ended up reading the entire book in one session.

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The Butterfly Garden is about a man who has kidnapped young women, tattooed intricate butterflies upon their backs, and then holds them hostage in this garden that is attached to his secluded mansion. The Gardner, as the girls call him, is obsessed with capturing and preserving what he sees as his beautiful specimens. The book starts with the girls having just been rescued, with one of them Maya being interviewed by the detectives. As she is interviewed, we learn what happened to her and the other girls in the Garden and we’re left wondering what else she could be hiding.

This book is dark, twisted and graphic and definitely not for everyone. I mean, it’s about a man who kidnaps women and then turns them into butterflies, if you didn’t expect a book like that to be at least a little dark and twisted, I’m not really sure what to tell you. However you do need to suspend disbelief for this story, because most of these characters are over the top. You keep waiting for someone to do something and nobody does, and while that ends up helping you turn the pages and feel like your on the edge of your seat, it seems unrealistic just how many people do absolutely nothing about the circumstances. Granted, who knows what I would do if all of a sudden I was trapped in a garden having a butterfly tattooed on my back. But that isn’t just about what the victims don’t do, because honestly they don’t *have* to do anything. It’s the other supporting characters who keep being faced with choices that I feel continue to make choices that aren’t very realistic.

“Some people stay broken. Some pick up the pieces and put them back together with all the sharp edges showing.” Dot Hutchison; The Butterfly Garden

One of the things that I really enjoyed about this book was that it wasn’t like all of the other serial killer books out there. Instead of watching the detective try and find the serial killer to save the victims, the detectives have already saved them, they’ve already found the killer and now they need to piece together all of the evidence to figure out what exactly had happened and why. This structure, and the way it flashed back from Maya’s time in the garden to present day when she is being interviewed by the FBI was one of the best parts of the book.

Dot Hutchison’s writing was visceral. The way that she described the harrowing events that these girls had gone through, and of Maya’s struggles prior to being kidnapped was gripping. There is a lot going on in this novel that is hard to get through, awful scenes of abuse and torture, and reveals that you weren’t prepared for. She describes all of these things without the shock value associated with a classic “slasher” thriller. Hutchison stays away from these kind of scares instead using her writing to genuinely upset the reader as they move towards the conclusion of the story.

The one element that really didn’t work for me however was the conclusion. I felt that the twist at the end of the book, and the wrap up of the story in general, felt rushed and overly dramatic. For a book that relied on the drama to keep readers enthralled with the story and to keep them so engrossed, the rushed drama of the end just felt messy and not completely thought through.

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Overall, I really enjoyed The Butterfly Garden and I plan on reading the next two books in The Collector series: The Roses of May and The Summer Children soon.

My Rating: 3/5 Stars

– Hannah

October Monthly Wrap Up

Hey Readers,

It’s been awhile since I posted a wrap up of my monthly reading. This month wasn’t the best month for me in terms of amount of books read but I was really happy with the books that I did read. This month I read one huge book, I finished half of second even larger book, a book that was on my most anticipated release list for this year, and a spooky read (since you know – it’s Halloween).

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I’m behind on my reviews (am I ever going to catch up?) but here are some quick thoughts about each of the books I read this month while I work on getting full length reviews up!

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Oathbringer (The Stormlight Archive #3) – Brandon Sanderson

I loved this book and this series. It took me two months to finish this behemoth of a book and every single minute I spent reading this book was 100% worth it. The character development for all of our main characters, and for Dalinar’s character especially, had me feeling my feelings. I don’t know how many times I have texted friends who have read it already in all capitals yelling about said feelings. Journey before destination.

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The Butterfly Garden (The Collector #1) – Dot Hutchison

In a bout of insomnia I read this book in one night, from the first few pages I was hooked and it didn’t feel like I was awake all night (although I definitely felt it the next day). It is a dark and twisted story of a man called The Gardener who has kidnapped young women and tattooed butterflies on their backs. While I did really enjoy the story I do think that a reader does need to suspend their disbelief when reading it to get fully into the story.

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A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

I just finished this book last night and I honestly don’t think I’ve read a more depressingly beautiful book in my entire life. I don’t know what else to say about it right now other than that this book will stick with me for a very long time.

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Vengeful (Villains #2) – V.E. Schwab

I waited anxiously by the door for my copy of Vengeful to be delivered when it was released and I was not disappointed. V.E. Schwab could write an instruction manual and I would probably read it as if it was the most wonderful piece of writing, sure, but she did it again with Vengeful. I love all of these characters, and Mitch needs to be protected at all costs.

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*BONUS* The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time #1) – Robert Jordan

I started a reread this month of The Eye of the World with one of my friends this month and though I didn’t finish it (I got sucked into A Little Life) I got about 200 pages in. I forgot how much stuff happens right off the bat in this book! I’m looking forward to rereading the first seven of these books so that I can finally finish this series.

 

– Hannah

Review: The Seas

Okay – So I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t pick up this book originally because of its cover. But if we’re being honest, and if this is a safe space (which obviously it is because it’s mine), how could you blame me? The cover screams fairy tale and I’m nothing if I’m not a sucker for a fairy tale.

Samantha Hunt’s debut novel, which was rereleased by Tin House in July of 2018, is about an unnamed narrator, a 19 year old outcast living in a small fishing town, holding vigil for her father who walked into the ocean and never returned and in love, although unrequited, with an Iraq war vet thirteen years her senior. She also happens to believe that she is a mermaid.

Hunt tells a haunting, beautiful novel of a young woman. Her obsession with two of the significant men her life, her father and her first love. Her belief that she is a mermaid. And her inability to escape the world that she lives in. The story is one that flows from fantasy to reality in a way that makes it hard for the reader to determine what is real and what isn’t, just like how our narrator suffers from the same thing.

I wouldn’t say that it is done seamlessly however. The choppy way that it bounces back and forth, from one reality to the next, reminds me of the very thing the book is named after; the sea. The sea which is never calm and easy but choppy and constantly flowing and moving, forcing you to be able to stay a float and be sucked underneath and swept away with it. This book will sweep you away with it and it is worth every minute of it.

“If there was no rain, we would see how our poor town sits in a pit of sadness like a black hole or a wallowing cavity or an old woman.”

Her wonderfully detailed prose is poetic. Similes and metaphors are used constantly through out the book really set up the imagery and painted a picture of this little town and the key players involved in our narrators life. The metaphors are heavy handed at times, they are impossible to miss, almost beating the reader down with how many of them their are but it really serves to the sweeping and volatile nature of the story and our narrator.

 

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

– Hannah