Book Review: Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

25062038Title: LITTLE & LION
Author: Brandy Colbert
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 336
Publisher: Little, Brown
My Rating: ★★★★☆(4/5)
Review on Goodreads

Little & Lion is a sweet but hard-hitting story about a young black, Jewish girl coming to terms with her bisexuality while also struggling to do the right thing regarding her brother’s mental illness.

Suzette is back home from boarding school for the summer, after her parents sent her away in the wake of her brother Lionel’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder. She wants desperately to integrate herself back into her brother’s life, for things to be the way they were before, but Lionel is struggling to – he’s still adjusting to his mental illness and being on medication. Suzette is also fresh of a messy break-up at boarding school, and the guilt of it plagues her.

While this seems like your run-of-the-mill book on the surface, I thought it was a really powerful and emotional exploration of mental health, sexuality, racism, microagressions, and sibling relationships. But the best thing is that while the book does delve into all of these heavy subjects it never feels heavy-handed, like it’s preaching or trying to teach me something. It never feels artificial. It’s just this group of teens trying to deal with some very real issues while living their lives.

Brandy Colbert’s writing is lovely – too often in contemporary YA authors will rely on the plot itself to carry the book through, but it is clear Colbert has put careful consideration into her writing. Her words fly fast, and the book is engaging, but it’s not simplistic or juvenile. The many characters are all given ample room for self-expression; Suzette in particular feels so very real, a young girl trying her best to do the right thing while fighting off the way the world sees her. I also appreciated that her love interests were so different from each other – Rafaela in particular felt very realistic and actually inspired feelings of dislike in me. Not that she was a bad person, but her personality clashed with my own, which I enjoyed! I love it when characters make me feel something, even if it’s dislike; it means they’re well-fleshed out.

Something else that greatly affected me is the setting. The book takes place in Los Angeles, and perhaps this is this is the romantic in me (I…idolize California in a weird way though I’ve never been), but I thought Colbert did a spectacular job capturing the vibe of living in LA. The weather, the mountainous setting, the strip malls with their neon signs, the lazy summer nights. This book is hella atmospheric, and it made me feel like I was right alongside the characters in LA.

Creating atmosphere like that is difficult to do in general, but it’s especially difficult to capture in a huge, thriving city like LA. The way Colbert framed this story it was almost as though it were taking place in a separate, intimate pocket of reality, and that made me feel like I was a part of the story.

Advertisements

I Dare You Book Tag

This weekend, I was supposed to finish off a book at home, considering War and Peace is taking up all of my subway reading time. Unfortunately, I instead got caught up watching Peaky Blinders (maybe I’ll post about that at some point).  So, instead, I figured I would do a book tag I saw floating around! Not sure where it originated from, so let me know if you know, so I can pingback to them.

RULES:
You must be honest
You must answer all the questions
You must tag at least 4 people

1. What book has been on your shelf the longest?

Yikes. I’m seriously guilty of buying books and telling myself I’ll read them but never getting around to them.  Maybe…The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe? I bought it way back in high school when I was seriously emo.  I realized too late that I wasn’t actually all that into Poe.

2. What is your current read, your last read, and the book you’ll read next?

I am currently reading War and Peace, a beast of a novel, which is why I haven’t been posting reviews lately. My last reads were The History of White People and This Savage Song. As for what I’ll read next, it will likely be either Little & Lion or The Library of Fates.

3. What book did everyone like, but you hated?

I think I just talked about this in the last book tag I did, but I didn’t really hate The Wrath and the Dawn. A book I did hate is Marie Lu’s Legend.  I thought it was awful on just about every level, which is strange because I really loved her other series, The Young Elites.  Maybe I’m just not into dystopia.

4. What book do you keep telling yourself you’ll read, but you probably won’t?

Oh man. A whole bunch of classic/literary books, probably.  I’ve had The Odyssey on my bookshelf for years and keep telling myself I’ll read it, but…who am I kidding.

5. What book are you saving for retirement?

Well, perhaps not retirement, but I really want to have a lot of time and mental energy on hand when I start Steve Erickson’s Malazan series.  It’s such a dense, gigantic series with so many characters and so much rich world-building that I want to be certain I have enough time to devote to it.

6. Last page: read it first, or wait ’til the end?

Oh my goodness, I avoid this like the plague.  Even if I’m gonna check for a glossary or to see how many pages there are in a book, I will literally cover up the rest of the page. You see, I was scarred as a youngster. When Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince came out, I accidentally read a page towards the end and was spoiled for Dumbledore’s death. It was traumatic. Now I am always extra careful when flipping through a book.

7. Acknowledgement: waste of paper and ink, or interesting aside?

I loooooooove reading acknowledgments; I legit look forward to them.  As an aspiring writer, I really enjoy seeing how authors sum up their work and the effort that went into it. And some authors can be quite witty in their acknowledgements.  It’s also very useful to see authors thank their agents, because when you start querying you might want to go find those agents and/or their literary agencies!

8. Which book character would you switch places with?

Probably Morgan Rowlands from Cate Tiernan’s Sweep series. Like, that series was absolutely formative for me as a teenager. I loved seeing Morgan go from shy high school teenager to powerful and respected witch.  Tiernan captured the beauty of Wicca and magick so effortlessly that I couldn’t help but want to be immersed in all that.

9. Do you have a book that reminds you of something specific in your life? (Place, time, person?)

Well, I do have a copy of The Stone Sky signed by N.K. Jemisin. I didn’t meet her or talk to her, but I did attend the book launching event for the book, where pre-signed copies were on sale. It was an awesome event; it felt so cool to be in the same room as so many Jemisin fans!

10. Name a book that you acquired in an interesting way.

An ARC of The City of Brass! I was just browsing in and around the author’s Twitter when I saw the publisher had tweeted asking if anyone wanted an ARC! They DM’ed me for my address and a couple of weeks later I had the book!

11. Have you ever given a book away for a special reason to a special person?

Not a special reason, but I’ve given away some books that I know I won’t be reading again.  Mainly old Jodi Picoult books (I was obsessed with her books for a long time).

12. Which book has been with you most places?

Harry Potter, though not the same copies.  I’ve lost HP copies to flood and travel throughout the years, so in 2014 I bought a brand new set. But HP, particularly Sorcerer’s Stone, tended to come along with me if I was embarking on any brand new part of my life. So my first day of middle school in Egypt, my first day of junior year back in New York, my first day of college, my first day of work…it brings me comfort. It’s like having a friend with me.

13. Any “required reading” you hated in high school that wasn’t so bad two years later?

Hmm, I actually didn’t hate most of my required reading in high school! I remember liking The Great Gatsby, The Color Purple, The Bell Jar, Pride and Prejudice, and Ethan Frome.  What I did loathe was The Scarlett Letter and a whole bunch of short stories.

14. Used or brand new?

Both! I absolutely love used bookstores, wandering the aisles and discovering a steal! But I really enjoy new books as well; I love the smell of brand new books.

15. Have you ever read a Dan Brown book?

Oh, man. He was another one I was obsessed with when I was younger.  I was really into The Da Vinci Code. Like, to an unhealthy extent.  This was my conspiracy phase, so I got really obsessed with all the history and secret groups mentioned in the books, as well as cryptography.

16. Have you ever seen a movie you liked more than the book?

Twilight, oddly enough. I’m also reasonably sure that I’ll like the movie IT better than the novel. I mean, I’ve never read the novel, but that’s only because I really struggle to get into anything by Stephen King.

17. Have you ever read a book that’s made you hungry, cookbooks included?

Hmm…probably Game of Thrones! GRRM is so descriptive when it comes to food! I know some people are annoyed by that, but I enjoy it.

18. Who is the person whose book advice you’ll always take?

My friend Rachel @ pace amore libri because I think she really gets my likes and dislikes, and Chelsea @ Spotlight on Stories because we like a lot of the same things!

19. Is there a book out of your comfort zone (e.g., outside your usual reading genre) that you ended up loving?

Well, I’m about halfway through War and Peace now, and that is definitely miles out of my comfort zone, but I wouldn’t say I love it. I like it well enough to continue reading it, but…I definitely have a lot of frustrations with it too.  I guess a better answer would probably be Sister of my Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.  It’s very literary fiction of a cultural bent, a coming of age story, about two girls growing up side by side in India.  Not something I would ordinarily pick up, but the fact that it was about India specifically drew me to it, since India tends to share a lot of cultural similarities with the Middle East, which is where I’m from. I ended up absolutely loving it mainly because of the bond between the two main characters. I’m a sucker for intense, sisterly female friendships (particularly ones that evolve into more than that, although that doesn’t happen here), and this book delivers.  Unfortunately I thought the sequel was terrible and unnecessary, but one day I will go back and read this book, since I read it for the first time way back in 2013.

I’m actually gonna tag some folks, hurray!

I tag:

Pace amore libri
Spotlight on Stories
Lost Purple Quill 
Perspective of a Writer
Words With Bri

The Unpopular Opinions Book Tag

I’ve been wanting to do a tag like this for a long time, so thanks Rachel @ pace amore libri for tagging me!

1.) A popular book or book series that you didn’t like. 

18798983First one that comes to mind is The Wrath and The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh.  I didn’t absolutely hate this (I gave it a three-star rating, but it was definitely on the lower end of the spectrum, more like 2.5).  I thought it suffered from flat characters, meandering plot, terribly written romance, and a protagonist who keeps being referred to as super special.  I liked the book enough to finish it quickly, but I remember rolling my eyes a lot and not being the least bit interested in picking up the sequel.

Also, shout out to Alexandra Bracken’s The Darkest Minds and Marie Lu’s Legend.

2.) A popular book or book series that everyone else seems to hate but you love. 

6296885I don’t think people hate The Necromancer Chronicles, but I definitely think that they don’t get the love they deserve (and more criticism than I think they should).  I love these books.  I’m not saying they’re without some technical problems, particularly in terms of pacing and characterization.  However, I think they feature some of the best fantasy worldbuilding I’ve ever seen.  The world of the Necromancer Chronicles is essentially gender-neutral, with women on equal footing as men, and it was a beautiful thing to read.  The magic system is unique.  The cities and countries described are based on real countries (and you can guess which) but they’re well-developed and atmospheric. The writing is lush and lyrical and lovely (though some may find it too purple, but I’m known to like that).  The second book is the apex of the series, featuring excellent romance, a trans character, polyamory, and political intrigue.

3.) An otp that you don’t like.

18006496Aelin/Rowan.  So, Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series always seemed like it would be right up my alley, and indeed, I loved the first and second books, despite their many problems.  However, by the time the third book came along, the books dipped noticeably in quality, and started to lag. Eventually I quit the series.  And I think a big part of the reason for that is Rowan and his relationship with Aelin.  Maybe it’s because I liked her better with Chaol (a relationship that was so slow burn and then ended like a week after it began), maybe it’s because Rowan’s a territorial weirdo, but I just really dislike them together. I think they bring out the worst in each other and they’re boring, frankly.

4.) A popular book genre that you hardly reach for.

Romance.  I’ve never been a huge fan, personally.  I tend to dislike it even in my other genre fiction, but I don’t think that’s the fault of romance itself.  I really like romance if it’s well-written and well-incorporated into a novel (see: The Shadowed Sun by N.K. Jemisin) but normally romances are terribly written.  And romance as a genre tends to be very standardized: there’s a particular formula publishers know will sell, and so the plot keeps recycling itself.  I’m not fond of that formula.

5.) A popular/beloved character that you do not like.

I started thinking about characters I don’t like, and I realized there is a very particular type of character I tend to dislike: male YA love interests.  So Noah Shaw (Unbecoming of Mara Dyer), Po (Graceling), Dorian (Throne of Glass), Mal (Shadow and Bone), and I could probably keep listing them.  Most of them tend to be bland and forgettable, an amalgamation of ideal male traits made to cater to our heroine’s needs and desires. A nice fantasy, to be sure, but it means we end up with an archetype rather than an actual character.

6.) A popular author that you can’t seem to get into.

618241Terry Goodkind.  See, I really loved the TV show Legend of the Seeker, so I thought I’d read the high fantasy series it was based on, Sword of Truth.  As it turns out, the TV series has little in common with the books and the books are <i>the worst</i>.  Not only do they suffer from comically terrible writing and dialogue, they’re also full of misogyny so horrifically terrible it’s almost satirical – only it’s not.  Unsurprisingly, his books are popular with high fantasy fans, as they’re that sort of old school white farmboy misogynistic fantasy that used to be popular.  But it’s mediocre bullshit.

7.) A popular book trope that you’re tired of seeing.

YA is full of  tropes that I can’t stand.  I think the one that takes the cake is when you have a heroine who is established as super special and better than other girls, who are obviously beneath her. I don’t know why this is so popular considering YA is a genre mostly written by women (haha just kidding I totally know why), but so many YA fantasy novels fall into this trap of isolating their heroines from other women.  Not only is it misogynistic, it’s also unrealistic considering most of these fantasy novels take place in psuedo-medieval times when relationships between women were varied, complex, and important! No, instead these books would rather give the heroine a pasty cardboard dude to fall in love with while all other girls are evil/shallow/vain/insipid.  From what I’ve been seeing, though, YA writers seem to be taking steps away from this!

8.) A popular series that you have no interest in reading. 

13455782Shatter Me by Tahera Mafi.  People seem to love this, but I’m really not interested.  Aside from my general disinterest in YA dystopia, the weird writing format is really throwing me off (random sentences are crossed out) and I know I won’t be able to get into it. Plus the summary sounds suuuuuuuper generic.  (I am purposely using the paperback cover here because the hardcover version is…Y I K E S.)

And shout out to anything Cassandra Clare has written.  I actually really enjoy the TV show Shadowhunters based on her work, but I would never read it.

9.) The saying goes “the book is always better than the movie,” but what movie or tv show adaptation do you prefer more than the book? 

This is probably a weird answer, but I’ve always kinda liked the Twilight films? I read the first book when I was a teenager and didn’t like it, but when I watched the film I remember enjoying it. Probably because I didn’t have to suffer through the writing.  This is a terrible answer but I can’t think of anything else! The book really is always better than the movie!

 

I’ll tag:  Anne Reads Them, Perspective of a Writer, and She Reads at Past Midnight!

What do y’all think of my answers? Agree, disagree? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter

6919721Title: THE HISTORY OF WHITE PEOPLE
Author: Nell Irvin Painter
Release Date: 2010
Pages: 396
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
My Rating: ★★★☆☆(3/5)
Review on Goodreads

This is a difficult book for me to accurately assess, since I am trying to be objective regarding the book’s content while also expressing my disappointed expectations.

Objectively speaking, this book is a powerful scholarly work, a history of whiteness as determined by White Europeans. Painter delves into obscure European anthropological and sociological tomes on racial classification. This is part of why my interest started to wander; Painter spends way too much time on these European scholars and their works. In excruciating detail, she chronicles the lives of these European racists (I use this term more as a shorthand than anything), their relationships with each other, the circles they ran in, and the impact of their work. It results in a very rich historical tome, but not exactly what I was looking for.

To give you an example of what I mean by this laborious detail, Painter spends three chapters on Ralph Waldo Emerson. These chapters certainly touch on the development of racial theory at this time, but the bulk of them is devoted to Emerson’s life, his impact, and the memory of him in American society. To me it read like a rather lengthy tangent that could have been adequately summed up in a single chapter.

One of the major strengths of this book is how well it elucidates just how much of racial “science” was actually pseudoscience – complete bullshit, in other words. Painter pulls direct quotes from these racial “scientists” that indicate that they had no understanding whatsoever of the scientific method, and their science was utterly flawed and nonsensical. Essentially, Painter is building up to an important face: race is not biological, and it never was. Race is, and always has been, a social construct. That is the crux of this book, the point it is trying to make by painstakingly detailing the work of European racial thinkers.

I was disappointed that European racial thinkers take up the majority of this book. I had been hoping to see, as a contrast, scholars from outside of Europe and how they thought of race and “whiteness.” And yet, this is hardly touched upon. There were other significant issues I thought should have been discussed in greater detail. For example, there is no mention at all of the pivotal trial of Bhagat Singh Thind, where an Indian man was declared racially ineligible for US citizenship. There is no mention at all of similar trials that followed, of Syrians and other Middle Easterners, whose classification at the time depended sometimes on their skin color, sometimes on their religion, and sometimes on the political classification of their origins. In other words, it was a complete mess that illustrates the fallacy of racial classification quite well.

Middle Easterners and North Africans are hardly mentioned, which I think is a serious detriment to the argument of the book. As a group, MENA are legally classified as Caucasians, but there is so much confusion regarding this classification that it is essentially worthless. MENA folks occupy a vague racial category that can sparks fierce conversations on the meaning of race and ethnicity, and yet that is never mentioned in this book. Painter spends more time talking about racial divisions among white people (or those that are today considered white, such as Slavs, Irish, Italians) than the racial categories we know today.

Again, I want to say that I am trying to balance what this book actually is versus my personal expectations. Objectively, it is an excellent, impressive work of scholarship that details centuries of European racial thinking. I just found it disappointing in its hyper focus on European thinkers and the details of their lives. I ended up skimming many of these parts, as I had no interest whatsoever where this particular European racist went to school or what he accomplished in his life.

In sum, this is an important, significant work of scholarship that needs to exist, certainly, but I probably should have adjusted my expectations of it sooner.

Guilty Reader Book Tag

Since I’m currently working my way through War and Peace, and have decided to DNF American War (my first DNF of the year!), I thought I’d spend some time doing a book tag.  My friend Rachel @ pace, amore, libri did this and I thought it looked like fun!

1. Have You Ever Regifted A Book That You’ve Been Given?

Well, I don’t know if this counts, but I’ve donated a book that I was gifted. Someone got me The Da Vinci Code back when I was obsessed with it, but as my tastes changed I wanted to clear up some space on my bookshelf, so it went off to the library. (Also, why is this the only question that has all the words capitalized?)

2. Have you ever said you’ve read a book when you haven’t?

Not really? Like, I’ll be specific about what I mean.  If I DNFed a book, I’ll say I DNFed it. If I read thorough reviews with screenshots (a la The Continent or The Black Witch), I’ll also say that. If I’m familiar with the story through cultural osmosis or SparkNotes, I’ll also say that.

3. Have you ever borrowed a book and not returned it?

I’ve actually never borrowed a book from another person.  My childhood friends were not big on reading, so usually they were the ones borrowing from me, if reading at all.  My best friend definitely still has some of my books at her house.

4. Have you ever read a series out of order?

Actually, yes! Harry Potter! So, here’s the story: after a lot of convincing, my mom basically forced me read The Sorcerer’s Stone. I liked it waaaaay more than I thought I would, so I headed over to the library to borrow Chamber of Secrets. Unfortunately, the copies were all checked out.  I loved the series so much, though, that I just couldn’t wait, and so I checked out the next available book in the series: Prisoner of Azkaban.  Then, once I was done, Chamber of Secrets was back, so I read it, and then I continued in order.  Back then, we didn’t have much money, so buying books when the library was right there was out of the question, and so all I could do was wait!

5. Have you ever spoiled a book for someone?

I loathe spoilers, so I’m very careful about only spoiling if someone explicitly asks me to spoil it for them.

6. Have you ever doggy eared a book?

I used to do this often, because, believe it or not, I didn’t realize bookmarks were a thing.

7. Have you ever told someone you don’t own a book when you do?

No?  Why would I do that?  /Rachel

8. Have you ever told someone you haven’t read a book when you have?

I repeat: why would I do that?  I guess this means for books that it’s ’embarrassing’ to have read like Twilight or something?  I read Twilight when I was 15 and I hated it so I didn’t read the rest of the series.  I don’t mind admitting to that.  /Rachel

9. Have you every skipped a chapter or a section of a book?

Not skipped, but I will sometimes skim portions if a book is particularly dull and I’m close to finishing it.  Or with something like War and Peace, where I’m currently slogging through the Battle of Austerlitz and skimming various paragraphs that are all about flanks and cavalry and vanguards.  Like, if I wanted to read about battles in excruciating detail, I’d pick up a textbook on military history.

10. Have you ever bad mouthed a book you actually liked?

Nope! I’m actually really particular about this, as nothing annoys me so much as literary snobbery.  This happens a lot to YA readers, as we’re often told YA books are not “real” books or they’re automatically worse in quality or something.

 

Like Rachel I won’t tag anyone since I wasn’t tagged, but do pingback to me if you do this so I can read your answers!

Book Review: This Savage Song by V.E. Schwab

23299512Title: THIS SAVAGE SONG
Author: V.E. Schwab
Release Date: 2016
Pages: 464
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
My Rating: ★★★☆☆(3/5)
Review on Goodreads

This Savage Song is an urban paranormal dystopia (which I did not realize going in, actually). It takes place in a post-War US that has split into several territories with weird names like Verity and Prosperity. After something called the Phenomenon happened, it seems that violent acts are now begetting monsters, of which there are three types: Corsai, Malchai, and Sunai. Corsai eat you alive, Malchai will drain you of blood, and Sunai…are more like avenging angels, who play a song to suck the life out of you, but only if you yourself have committed a violence that has begotten a monster.

It’s an intriguing premise, but one fraught with unnecessary add-ons. Why do the Sunai need music to bring forth a soul? It just seemed like window dressing to an already interesting concept…then again, this may just be a personal hang-up, as I tend to really dislike music in my stories. The dystopic US world was poorly explained, and I was left unclear as to what exactly the dangerous “Waste” is or whether these monsters exists everywhere in the world or just in the territory of Verity. I hope it’s not the latter, because if so, why doesn’t everybody just leave? Why even stay in a city that, if not beset by monsters, has already been literally split at the seams due to a territory war between two men with different ideas of how to lead it?

The crux of the story focuses the children of the two men fighting for control over the city: Kate Harker and August Flynn. August, however, is not really anyone’s son, but a Sunai created in the wake of a school shooting. Kate is desperate to win her father’s approval, so she returns to V-City and puts her best brutality on display. Her father, Callum, has the monsters of Verity under his control, and in his part of the city citizens pay for protection. How and why Callum has the Corsai and Malchai under his control is unclear…did I miss that in my reading? Also, is Callum the governor of this city? Is there any other government in place? I needed more from the worldbuilding here to truly get a sense of this world.

Speaking of worldbuilding, it was odd how this seemed to be almost a post-racial society. There is one mention of one character being “dark-skinned” but otherwise everyone is white, with standard Anglo-Saxon names. Apparently Verity is meant to be the aftermath of the Midwest, but that still doesn’t explain all this abundant whiteness. It’s rather strange especially given that the text doesn’t only hint at pre-dystopic US, it explicitly tells us about the former United States (which apparently disbanded after the Vietnam War, for reasons that are not explained very well), so I’m not sure why there are so few cultural markers left over.

I guess the story is meant to focus more on Kate and August; I would definitely say this book is more character-driven than plot driven. August wants to be more human, Kate wants to be more monstrous. I guess there’s meant to be poetry in that, but it just struck me as rather cliche. Their characters were fine, I suppose, though they struck me as washed-out versions of Lila and Kell (of Schwab’s other series), and I didn’t enjoy them as much.

This is shaping out to be a really critical review, so I do want to emphasize that I did enjoy this book! It was definitely intriguing enough for me to read through it rather quickly; at no point did I even consider DNFing it. Schwab is definitely a talented writer, and this book is decently constructed. It just left me cold and indifferent.

What do you guys think? Did I miss something here? Does the sequel improve?

Top 5 Tuesday: Favorite Retellings

Top 5 Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by Bionic Bookworm.  When I saw my friend Rachel at pace, amore, libri doing it, it looked like fun, so I decided to do it too, especially given this month’s Top 5 Wednesday topics are…not doing it for me.

Anyway, what I’ve discovered from this is I apparently don’t read a lot of retellings! I’m not sure why, as I quite like them. Let me know in the comments if there are any retellings you are fond of; I’m always on the lookout for Hades/Persephone retellings in particular, but I’m open to all.

 

Dreams of Shreds and Tatters by Amanda Downum
The original: The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers

I hesitate to call this a retelling.  The King in Yellow is a book of creepy short stories that were actually a precursor to Lovecraft’s Cthulu mythos; Lovecraft makes references to the stories in his own work.  Downum’s work sort of…borrows that world for her own story rather than retelling any particular Chambers tale.  The important thing, though, is that she manages to capture just how fucking creepy the mythos of Carcos and the King in Yellow are.  It’s atmospheric and hella weird, and a great modern adaptation of this strange mythos.

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
The original: Beauty and the Beast

I don’t know why I thought this was a Bluebeard retelling.  Though, I suppose, the two are rather similar.  Cruel Beauty’s strength is in its two main protagonists rather than its world-building (which is weak and derivative and confounding); Nyx and Ignifex.  Nyx (Beauty) is bitter and selfish and I love female characters who are unlikeable.  Ignifex is dark and witty and charming and rakish. Their interactions are delightful. The book reads like a fairy tale, so not everything always makes perfect sense, but it’s a treat.

The Kiesha’ra by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
The original: Romeo and Juliet

I only learned this was based on Romeo and Juliet very, very recently.  I would say this is an extremely loose retelling, with only the first two books really having much to do with the Shakespeare play.  This was one of my favorite series as a teen; I read it over ten times (though I suspect it wouldn’t hold up as well if I re-read it now).  It tells the story of Zane and Danica, who come from two opposing shape-shifting species, the serpiente and the avians, who have been at war for as long as anyone can remember. Zane and Danica decide to come together and marry in order to bring peace to their societies and they end up falling in love for real. This is straight-up high fantasy, with fantastic worldbuilding and characters. The third book was also my first experience with a lesbian character, and that was very formative for me as a youngster.

The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
The original: Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Snow White

These series has received a lot of well-received criticism for its portrayal of Asian cultures.  It’s true that its world-building is weak and somewhat nonsensical, but it’s a fun series nonetheless.  It gives me “Found Family” vibes and it’s basically one adventure after the other. It’s also a very interesting twist on the original fairytales; the world of the Lunar Chronicles is a dystopia with cyborgs.  In fact, Cinder, one of the protagonists, is part-cyborg herself, which is a super intriguing twist on the Cinderella story! I have yet to read Winter, the final book in this series, but it’s waiting for me on my Kindle.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The original: The Iliad

I have to mention The Song of Achilles, even though I don’t think I loved it as much as most people did, nor am I familiar with the source material.  Still,  this book deserves mentioning for the beautiful, loving relationship between Achilles and Patroclus and its lovely prose.  I hadn’t expected to enjoy this book when I first picked it up, but I was really pleasantly surprised that it kept me hooked.  It also featured some really entertaining side characters; I really hope Madeline Miller writes about Odysseus at some point, because his snark was hilarious.

 

Book Review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

29283884Title: THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 513
Publisher: Katherine Tegan Books
My Rating: ★★★★★ (4.5/5)
Review on Goodreads

The first time I heard about this book I was attending a MadCap Writing Cross-Culturally Retreat. It came up when one of the presenters wondered whether there were any YA books that actively critiqued white male privilege. That’s really all I knew about the book, but I added it to my TBR. Discovering it was an adventure romp though 17th century Europe featuring two queer protagonists was an added bonus.

This book is unabashedly queer, and I love it for that. Perhaps it’s anachronistic, but I don’t even care. Henry “Monty” Montague, privileged son of an earl, is heading off for his Grand Tour of Europe, along with hist best friend Percy (a biracial young man) and his younger sister Felicity. Things don’t go quite as planned, however. After Monty pulls an embarrassing stunt, he and his company are set on by bandits. As they flee, they end up caught in an alchemical conspiracy which leads them to run from Marseilles to Barcelona to Venice to Santorini.

Part of the fun of this novel is the descriptions of all these cities – Mackenzi Lee has visited most of them, and it’s clear in her writing. Her details just feel authentic, vividly bringing to life these wildly different places frequented by the gang. In addition to her spectacular writing, her dialogue is absolute fire! There are so many entertaining conversations between these characters. And of course I have to mention the narration itself – it’s first person POV and being in Monty’s head is like being at a comedy club run by a rather sardonic fellow.

I loved Monty. I loved him in the way you have to love rakes and scoundrels and unlikeable characters (to the Great Comet crowd: he reminded me of Anatole!). He grows over the course of his adventure, with the help of Percy and Felicity, who are constantly calling him out on his privilege. I adored sweet and sensible Percy as well! The pair balanced each other quite well and their romantic scenes together were so sweet (and sexy). And of course, Felicity! To illustrate how badass she is, let me tell you that at one point she nonchalantly begins stitching herself up without even wincing. I loved her friendship with Percy and the bonding moments she had with her brother Monty. I’m so excited the sequel is going to be about her.

This was an absolutely wild ride from start to finish, but it’s also a book with substance. Not only does it tackle issues of race and gender, but it looks at mental illness as well. None of it feels forced, either. Sure, the conversations the characters have regarding these issues might be a bit anachronistic, but I don’t care. They’re executed well and they only serve to improve the characters’ relationships. This was such great fun!

Book Review: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

33151805Title: INTO THE WATER
Author: Paula Hawkins
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 386
Publisher: Riverhead Books
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)
Review on Goodreads

Into the Water is the sort of book that would make an incredible BBC series, in the vein of Broadchurch. It’s set in a tiny and beautiful English town with a river running through it, which would provide us with ample gorgeous scenery. It’s a murder mystery, sort of – the main focus is this river/pond that women have drowned in throughout the years, stretching back to witchhunts in the 1700s. It also doesn’t focus on any one single character, but rather has something like ten different POVs.

I would say that is my one major criticism – there are way too many different POVs here. It works in something like epic fantasy, when you’re spread across different areas, but this is a tiny English town. We didn’t need to be in all those characters heads; several of the POVs (like Mark’s or Josh’s) added little to nothing to the plot. This would have been a much better, tighter book had it only focused on perhaps three characters (in my opinion the characters should have been Jules, Erin, and Lena, the latter two ended up being my favorites). The characters’ development would have been so much more satisfying, because I think the author truly has some great characters in Jules, Lena, and Erin. My other pet peeve regarding the POVs is that they alternated between third and first person. I’m not saying this can never work – N.K. Jemisin and Marie Lu have both done it well – but here it was simply jarring.

My other criticism – which goes hand in hand with the aforementioned – is that I think the author could have delved more into the mystery and symbolism of the drowning pool. I really loved the aesthetic of this novel; the few times the author delved into the meaning and metaphor of the pool and what it means to be in the water I felt like she was on the precipice of something truly profound, but she could never quite get there. I feel like there was so much more she could have explored particularly regarding water’s symbol as a purifier – but I suppose, in the end, this is a thriller, not a philosophical tome.

And thrilling it is! At the beginning of this book, it’s not even clear that there is a mystery to be solved: Jules receives a call that her older sister Nel is dead, but most people think it’s a suicide. It’s only after more and more secrets are dug up (mainly because of the determination of Erin, a newcomer to the small town) that the suicide turns into a murder investigation. The mystery is gripping and the reveals are all interconnected and layered atop one another, with one thread uniting them: the cruelty of men towards women.

Misogyny was explored pretty openly in this book, and while some people might think it was heavy-handed, I actually liked that it was tackled head-on. It felt very realistic to me and it was satisfying to see the book ending with a rather healthy relationship between two women who both need each other for support.

In general, I liked this much better than The Girl in the Train. While the two books share some similarities, I think Into the Water is more realistic, with the kind of reveal that makes perfect sense in a sad, quiet sort of way.

The Sunshine Blogger Award

sunshine_blogger_award-1024x1024

The Rules

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and link back to their blog.
  2. Answer the 11 questions your nominator has given you.
  3. Nominate 11 other people and give them 11 new questions to answer.
  4. List the rules and display the award

My friend Rachel @ pace, amore, libri nominated me! Thanks, Rachel, this was fun!

What’s the last movie you saw and what did you think of it?

I watched this random horror movie called The Void because I read some article that it was really good.  It…well, I don’t know how I would describe it.  It was weird in an unsatisfying sort of way.  Supposedly it was trying to tap into Lovecraftian cosmic horror but it also had many elements of a 50s B-horror film.  It was the type of movie that was trying to do too many things at once and ended up being kind of confusing.

Do you have any weird or random talents?

According to my brother my talent is making people want to puncture their eardrums when I sing…other than that, no, I don’t think so!

What’s your favorite song at the moment?

I’m currently obsessing over the entire soundtrack of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812!

What time of day do you do most of your blogging?

I probably shouldn’t say this on a public platform, but normally during the day, because those are the hours I’m at work and I’m usually most focused (and have the most free time, oddly enough).

What’s your favorite museum that you’ve been to?

So, the MET is amazing, but I feel like that’s a cop-out answer, so I’m gonna go with the Chester Beatty museum in Dublin.  It features some dude’s private collection of old texts, including old Qurans and stuff.  It’s a tiny museum but it’s set up really nicely and is very peaceful.

When’s the last time you went to a wedding?

Oh man…uhh….let’s see…I have no idea, actually! Wow, I can’t believe it’s been that long. Oh, no, wait! I just remembered! It was two years ago; my best friend’s sister got married.  I don’t go to a lot of weddings, haha. I don’t know very many people and all my family lives in Egypt!

Do you have a celebrity doppelganger?

Okay, so my family all insists I look like Donia Samir Ghanem but I couldn’t disagree more!

If you were a cat, what color cat would you be? (Very important question.)

Either all black or all white or all orange! I’m a fan of single-color cats.

Do you have a favorite publisher or publisher imprint?

I’m fond of ABRAMS Amulet Books because they always have really great book designs, but their content hasn’t always appealed to me.  Content-wise I’m a huuuuuuge fan of Tor and Orbit.

Have you ever dressed up like a fictional character? (Bonus points for photo evidence.)

Nope! Always wanted to cosplay, though.

What’s your favorite thing about your city (or state, or country)?

I’m not a huge fan of New York City, but I appreciate its diversity and convenience.

I’ll tag…anyone who wants to do it I’M SORRY I’m terrible at this tagging thing.