[Book Review] The Singing Hills Cycle Series (2)

Book Covers for The Singing Hills Cycle Series

Titles: The Empress of Salt and Fortune (#1) & When the Tiger Came Down from the Mountain (#2)
Author: Nghi Vo
Genre: fantasy; novella/short stories; LGBTQ; women’s fiction; romance; feminism
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) #1 – A young royal from the far north is sent south for a political marriage. Alone and sometimes reviled, she has only her servants on her side. This evocative debut chronicles her rise to power through the eyes of her handmaiden, at once feminist high fantasy and a thrilling indictment of monarchy. 

#2 – The cleric Chih finds themself and their companions at the mercy of a band of fierce tigers who ache with hunger. To stay alive until the mammoths can save them, Chih must unwind the intricate, layered story of the tiger and her scholar lover—a woman of courage, intelligence, and beauty—and discover how truth can survive becoming history.

Review: 5 Stars

I truly enjoyed these two books. I’m unsure if there will be more, but so far there are only two. Both were wonderful. They were well-crafted, intricate stories about women, about families, about life, and about love. Both of the Singing Hills Cycle books featured Chih, a cleric who wants to record history as it was. On their journey, Chih finds that what they think they know isn’t exactly real, but a version that has been warped by others. They aim to correct it and write the narratives of those they run into.

In The Empress of Salt and Fortune, Chih is told this beautiful, tragic, and powerful tale about the exiled empress who is cunning, wild, and lovely through the eyes of a former maid, who is also cunning and wild. Chih learns from her that history isn’t always what was written from Rabbit, the maid. As the story continues, there are moments of the supernatural blended in so beautifully with the realistic. Animals, humans, spirits — it’s all so perfectly woven together so that Chih can write the the true history of empress of salt and fortune.

In book 2, Chih is hoping to get to their destination on the back of a mammoth, but ends up getting caught up in a storm and detained by tigers threatening to eat them. It’s here that they learn again that the history they have written back at the temple isn’t quite the truth. This time, the tigers tell Chih the truth, a beautiful love story where once there was just a history of violence and gore that painted the tigers like vicious monsters.

Again, Vo creates these beautiful characters, this compelling story, and this amazing moral where we’re sitting right there with Chih – remembering that we have to think critically about the histories we learn.

I loved these stories and sincerely hope there are more.

[Review] the sun and her flowers by Rupi Kaur

Title: the sun and her flowers
Author: Rupi Kaur
Genre: poetry; feminism; nonfiction; adult; contemporary; romance; health; mental health; cultural; women’s literature
Syposis: (from Goodreads) A vibrant and transcendent journey about growth and healing. Ancestry and honoring one’s roots. Expatriation and rising up to find a home within yourself.

Divided into five chapters and illustrated by Kaur, the sun and her flowers is a journey of wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming. A celebration of love in all its forms.

Review:

2 Stars
CW: sexual assault

Full disclosure. I have not read Milk & Honey. I do not regularly read poetry. (As in weekly, or even bi-weekly, or even on a consistent basis.) I do not buy poetry anthologies. I do not typically look out for poetry reads, but here I am, rating one?

What right do I have to rate one? Well, I’m using my same scale. For me, a two star book means that the I finished it, it was okay, but it’s not something I’m going to actively recommend to others or put in my classroom library. So yeah; it was alright. 

I think the problem for me was that there’s a lot of hype for Milk & Honey and then I went into this hoping to get something spectacular and wasn’t blown away. And I’ll admit that wasn’t fair of me to do. I know that out the gate. I also, even though I hate it, have this idea in my head that poetry should also BE something, you know? That it should always mean something profound and spectacular. That’s not to say there weren’t some really wonderful, even powerful poems, but it wasn’t something I find myself wanting to talk about after. 

There were so many poems in there that were just… like, words on a page to me. And like, maybe Kaur’s point is to revolutionize poetry, to like every-person it, and in that, I get some of it. But, it just didn’t fit my style of reading, and so I stand by my review, even though I rarely review poetry. Here are some of the specifics from the book I’d like to discuss:

There were two poems in particular; one about consent and one about sexual assault that stood out. So much of poetry, historically and even today is this lofty thing, but Kaur, in these two poems specifically makes her intention clear and precise. The one about assault, untitled, begins “at home at night / I filled the bathtub with scorching water / …I picked pine needles from my hair / … I wept / …I found bits of him on bits of me” (Kaur).

The way she breaks down the sexual assault is tragic, but is, in my opinion, intentionally simple. The speaker is reduced to the remains of the event. It’s powerful and heartbreaking. And at the end, the girl “prayed” (Kaur). Because like, what else can you do after something horrible like that happens to you? The emotional response I was left with, regardless of how “simple” the words on the page were was heavy. This was a weighted poem and I was left with all of the emotions and unrest of the theme.

The one about consent is called “how can I verbalize consent as an adult if I was never taught as a child” and illustrates this pretty intense scenario and asks that very difficult question of its readers with its title. 

The opening line is “no was a bad word in my home / no was met with the lash / erased from our vocabulary” (Kaur 1-3). The poem continues with the image of the speaker being sexually assaulted.  She then says, “I heard no pounding her fist on the roof of my mouth / begging me to let her out / But I had not put up the exit sign” (Kaur 12-15). This is another really strong message in an accessible way. It can start, or maybe continue, a conversation that needs to be had without a person having to dissect a difficult poem to figure out a way to do so.

Again, I was left with these really powerful emotions, feeling the weight of this poem in my heart and honestly, in my body after reading, really grappling with it. Her words do have power.

Not all of poems are about tough topics.  In fact, a lot of them aren’t. Some are about sunflowers and rainbows. Some are about self-acceptance and self-love. All of her poems are easily accessible. I think she has a really strong balance of putting the harder to swallow poems in between these easily, smaller ones.

Another that I really liked was about the heart. She writes, “what is stronger / than the human heart / which shatters over and over / and still lives” (Kaur). So simple, honest, but true.

And really, I think it’s the truth in Kaur’s poetry that got her the hype. She isn’t saying a lot of big things, new things, revolutionary things. She isn’t saything anything in a new way, it’s just stripped back, raw, and true.

At the end of the day, 2 stars overall.