book review · Uncategorized

Book Review: The Dragon Republic by RF Kuang

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Title: The Dragon Republic

Author: RF Kuang

Genre: Epic, historical Fantasy

Pages: 654

Series? Yes, 2/3

Rating: 4.25/5

All opinions are my own.*

 


Major spoilers for The Poppy War. Spoiler Free for The Dragon Republic.

The Dragon Republic is bigger and richer than its predecessor in every way: writing, plot, and characters. When we left off at the end of The Poppy War, Rin has defeated The Federation and Altan has died. Now she and the rest of the Cike face civil war. Daji is still at large leading the country but amidst that, diverging forces enlist her to start a civil war to overthrow Daji. But neither is as they seem and neither seems like the right choice.

RF Kuang explored the consequences of war in TPW but digs into the deeper recesses in this book. What happens after the war ends? Why does it feel like a loss even after they won the victory from Mugen? There are no parades, no victory celebrations, no praises and certainly no breaks in this book. Running away from her inner demons, Rin thrusts herself into civil war enlisting with Vaisra, the Dragon Warlord to overthrow Daji though his motives remain nebulous and suspicious. There are numerous descriptions of military, naval, and economic strategy. Much like the war of the first book, the plot preps and simmers slowly but violently at the beginning. Kuang moves her chess pieces slowly, almost dauntingly, until it boils over in the third act in an intense and twisting way. There’s definitely more maneuvering and strategy of large scale armies and navies in this second volume, resulting in less gory scenes than that Golyn Niis chapter but only marginally so. The action scenes are well thought out, there are no half drawn scenes of fighting, no fade to blacks. They were epic in scope and you can really picture what is happening in the whole battle scene even though you are focused only on Rin’s perspective. Whereas the reader was mostly confined to the school in the first book, we really get to see more detailed and beautiful worldbuilding here delving into Arlong and the Dragon province. But the development doesn’t stop at the material world, Kuang also develops the spiritual world more as Rin’s and the Cike’s powers are tested more. I have to admit that although I’m never really on board with fantasy books taking place too much in the spiritual world, this development of it in this world never ceased to engage me. That’s because through this, we learn more about the many issues Rin is suppressing but also the history of shaman use in this world.

This book most excels when it comes to Rin. I appreciated that while Rin is redeemable in her own right, Kuang never adds things in to Rin’s character to make her more palatable or more relatable, making her one of the most unique characters I’ve come across. Rin is dealing with a lot in this book and Kuang never lets Rin forget the things she had to do to win the war and Rin struggles to reconcile what she believed the best way to win the war with the thousands of innocent people she killed. But on top of that, Rin is being pulled every which way by different power figures vying for her special talents. She struggles to find her purpose in life because no one cares what she believes in taking only about her power can bring and what she is willing to sacrifice to exact revenge on Daji. Rin isn’t the only one that goes through the ringer however. We saw one maybe two sides to each secondary character, but here they are out of their element and each character is pushed to their limits. I especially enjoyed seeing wholesome Kitay, belligerent Venka, and a special someone (who I won’t name because spoiler) pushed to their limits. For example, Kitay who remains the diplomat and strategist struggles for his humanity and doing what is right for the army. I wish the members of the Cike were spotlighted more but they remain a welcome and funny constant to the unpredictable nature of the other characters. There are some truly sad moments in this book never vearing on sentimental but nevertheless bordering on it. The best moments of this book existed in interactions between Rin and her friends, often reminding me that while Rin is exacting revenge on Daji, I always remembered that the care and loyalty she has for her friends are unmatched. This book really goes to show how far these characters have come since they first stepped foot into Sinegard. 

No less interesting are the new characters and other returning characters. Everyone has their own motives and their own values. No matter how late they were introduced, Kuang never failed to infuse a sense of history and complication to the character. I especially liked the exploration of Daji, Vaisra, and the other warlords of the different provinces. These characters enriched the background of the story and the book would not have been the same without their strong presence. I also appreciated that she expanded her range of female characters from the first book though sadly a majority of the major players were still male. Daji, Rin, and maybe Venka were the only major female players and even then Daji and Venka appeared at only roughly 10% of the book. I hope this continues to be rectified in the final installment. 

The writing has lost some of its fast pacing and eyes-glued-to-the-page quality but it more than compensates for that with the author’s improvement in the nuance, depth, and detail of the story. Every sentence feels richer . While TPW was inspired by the works of Sun Tzu and unit 731, Kuang reached for a wider inspiration circle this time, she states she drew on the Opium Wars and the Chinese Civil Wars. There is so much more to unpack in this book and I’m looking forward to unpacking more when I inevitably reread it.

This book comes out August 6, 2019. I know that fans of TPW will love this book even more! It is one of the best fantasy sequels I’ve had the pleasure of reading. A special thank you to Harper Voyager and HarperCollins for sending me an ARC to review. I was soooo excited when I opened the package and saw it was this gem of a book I was so eagerly anticipating.

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book review · Uncategorized

The Winner’s Curse trilogy review/thoughts

This trilogy is such a delight, not least of which I can say it is a wonderful departure from other YA fantasy books in its characters and its writing. *Spoilers for all three books*

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So when Book 1 starts off, we learn that the Valorians conquered Herran over 10 years ago and the Herrani have been slaves ever since. Enter our two main characters: Kestrel is a Valorian and Arin is a Herrani. Book 1 follows their initial meeting and what happens as the two worlds start to collide and Herran is on the brink of rebellion. In the first installment, they both stand high in their peoples’ regard: Kestrel is a high general’s daughter and she, as Valorian tradition dictates, is set to marry or join the army; Arin is a pivotal force in the Herrani rebellion. This romantic relationship starts off interestingly different from other YA novels–at a slave auction where Kestrel buys Arin. Off putting at best, problematic at worst. But, slowly, Rutkoski expertly asks us questions about the slavery of the oppressed, the oppression of culture when a people are conquered,  and the conquered’s bleak past and future. Although I can say all I want about what Rutkoski knows about war and slavery so intimately, I cannot lie, my favorite part of these books is Kestrel and by extension the romance between Kestrel and Arin.

The Winner’s Curse is when you come out on top of the bid, but only by paying a steep price.

-Marie Rutkoski

Rutkoski introduces the concept of the “Winner’s Curse”, essentially, did Kestrel lose more than she won when she bought Arin? And Rutkoski so expertly explores not just in the conventional way in terms of monetary loss. Under any normal circumstances and in a normal world they would have pursued a romance devoid of many problems but the relationship explores how because of this system of oppression, the unequal power dynamics, makes this relationship extremely difficult and uneasy from the start. The internal motives that may or may not be there: is Kestrel lying? Is this how she really feels, is Arin taking advantage of her for information? The first book follows how they develop feelings for each other despite their peoples’ tenuous history. The best thing is that Rutkoski offers no easy solutions but that’s what makes you root for them. Kestrel, as the general’s daughter, is ever calculating and manipulative goes against her better judgement and duty to be honest with Arin. She will willingly go into a duel for him (one of my favorite parts of the novel) and seek out his honesty. They try to hard to be honest which is why the midwinter rebellion is such a heartbreak to read. Arin not telling her to drink the wine (ugh my heart). And even when Arin lets Kestrel go to the boats and tell the emperor about the rebellion.

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I also love this world. The people are so distinct in their ways of life. The Valorians value war and honor and doing everything for your country. The Herrani admire the arts and the gods. It has influences from Greco-Roman culture and especially the Roman empire with its emphasis on war and a rigid system of honor. There are descriptions of architecture, art and frequent allusions to the Herrani religious system of gods. It makes the book more prevalent to our history.

Isn’t that what stories do, make real things fake, and fake things real?

Rutkoski is a wonderful writer. It is immensely metaphorical and quiet and the imagery of the intangible is so precise. I love the way she portrays her characters. Kestrel is far from the stereotypical heroine I’ve come to expect from YA. I think her character especially shines in the second book.  She is not stubborn for the sake of being stubborn and consequently a “strong” female character. She also is not good at fighting and in fact does not want to go to war! Instead, she is good at war strategies and has immense cunning prowess, beating everyone at Bite and Sting. One of her fatal flaws is her dishonesty which I makes the miscommunication in this book all the more believable. She lies to herself about not wanting Arin, lies to the emperor and is a spy for the Herrani, lies to Arin about supporting Valoria and to everyone around her so much that she doesn’t know who she is. She is torn between Valoria and Herran, to her father and to Arin. And what she didn’t realize in the first book is that her first duty is to herself. I love her duty to her country but the fact that she comes into her own and figures out her own honor. I still get all the feels at the end of Book 2 when she tries to tell Arin the truth in the piano room but is brutally interrupted. Book 2 is my favorite because it shows Kestrel out of her element in the royal court where she may not come out on top. I’ve said it once before but the miscommunication in this one actually makes sense unlike the miscommunication of 90% of YA novels. And of course, once again, no easy decisions as demonstrated when Kestrel persuades the emperor to poison the grass so the people would starve and move away instead of burning the land where all the people would just die instead. I also really liked that Kestrel and Arin developed separately as the stakes with the emperor got higher and every character is cunning and has ulterior motives.

The plot is truly a weave of political intrigue which I absolutely love. Kestrel is smart but everyone is smart and I loved seeing her outplay and outmaneuver everyone, especially in the third book. The third book really explores her relationship with her father (who I personally hate). Kestrel really struggles with her father because he has done some  horrible things to her not least of which he sold her out to be sent to an internment camp where she was drugged and forced to work and lost her memory. But despite all that, she admits that she does still love him. Even as someone who would not understand, I do empathize with her especially when she recalls memories of him when she was a child teaching her strategy. Her father is a complex character in his own right as the emperor so willingly tells her during their last Bite and Sting game. He worshipped the emperor because he saw a kindred spirit in their strategizing, their brutality. I think Kestrel was someone he just did not understand and for him that understanding equated to love. The series ends with a very satisfying conclusion and those last few pages really show how Kestrel and Arin have come full circle.

Her next book which comes out in 2019 is set in the same world featuring cameos from the original trilogy and I’m so excited!! Bring it on.

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book review · Uncategorized

Book Review: All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation

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Title: All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation

Author: Rebecca Traister

Pages: 339

Genre: Nonfiction

Ratingtealstartealstartealstartealstar

Goodreads

 


Often culturally accepted assumptions are presented as the norm. There is a certain formula that is usually accepted for how to live.  You go to school, get a job, then you get married, and then have kids. In that order. This formula is so ingrained in American society (and worldwide society in general) that a person is seen as a pariah if they don’t follow these unspoken rules, even by which age you are considered basically  unmarriageable. These unspoken rules are often more rigidly placed on women. So what happens now when more and more women are not adhering to this strict formula? When more and more women in American society are single?

“In 2009, the proportion of American women who were married dropped below 50% [and] ‘the median age of first marriage is around 27 and higher in cities'”.

Traister follows the history of single women and the implications of single women and the future in this nonfiction work. She explores multiple societal factors that this trend influences and devotes chapters to topics such as the institution of marriage, the wage gap, gender imbalances, and

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Elizabeth Blackwell, first accredited female physician, never married

sexual promiscuity or lack thereof, and even female friendships. She also explores power and freedom and how it manifests in women who remain single or delay marriage till a later age. Throughout the book, she includes many interesting statistics and anecdotes from women she has interviewed. I also appreciate that she explores the stigma that single women have long suffered and provides counterpoints to each. I did wish she had discussed this using people of different races and ethnicities and sexual orientations. This would support the many points of her argument. For instance, she insists that singlehood is not a new phenomenon as black women have historically seen higher percentages of singleness than their white counterparts. When she does, she consistently repeats herself and does not analyze her perspectives to include people of different sexual orientation especially in the chapter talking about gay marriage. This book does take a liberal slant although it does try hard to remain impartial and does take into account conservative sources.

What is so special about more women being single/delaying marriage whether by choice or not? One of the major and fascinating impacts it has is on marriage, a topic that is

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Anne Bronte, English novelist, never married

thoroughly explored in All the Single Ladies. Marriage has historically been one of the best institutions “for men to assert, reproduce, and pass on their power to retain their control” and this is becoming irrelevant more today with the rise of single women.  Yet despite this, “marital privilege pervades nearly every facet of our lives, health, life, home, and car insurance all cost more for single people, and reports that “it is not a federal crime for landlords to discriminate against potential renters based on their marital status.” Ironically, even though there is definitely marital privilege, this seems to affect men more beneficially, as on the whole, “women earn approximately five percent less per hour, per child, than their childless peers with comparable experience.” I like how she explains these ironies in a progression that helps the reader understand the existence of these ironies.

The author explains the attributes of a marriage that have long enforced gender imbalances. Why is that women have more career ambitions than ever before but are still saddled with most of the domestic chores and childcare? The single woman phenomenon is inadvertently toppling these biases. What’s even more fascinating is that marriage is seen more and more as entrapment but the LGBTQ community has long fought for and won the battle for gay marriage even as more and more women are staying single.

By far, I think the most fascinating thing about this book is the way it opened my eyes to this world we live in, how a family does not always follow the 2 parent, heterosexual formula and that single women have given way to many of these non nuclear families,

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Gloria Steinem, journalist & social political activist

how technology allows women to have babies in their own time and under the circumstances they choose. She does explain that the older the woman, the more likely incidence of miscarriages and higher incidence of disease and mental disabilities. There are single women with children by necessity and by choice. There are long term couples who cohabit and have kids. These choices are becoming the norm. It is interesting how we have so many ingrained ideals about marriage with kids when the association of marriage and kids together is completely a social construct. I also did appreciate that not everyone wants marriage, she explores the fact that women are often fulfilled by their work, their passions, and their friends that marriage is suppose to fill. What this trend ultimately leads to is a greater independence for women, greater responsibility for men, and a diverse model for family.

This book is about the implications of the rise of single women in the country. I was surprised to learn it’s about more than just changing the landscape of marriage and family, but it’s changing the social landscape from work to education to and to the changing of gender dynamics. Going into this book, I thought it would be a pretty niche topic that would, at best, only have a small ripple effect but as it turns out, the phenomenon of the single woman has an effect on all parts of society and will continue to do so.

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book review · mini book review · Uncategorized

Spring/Summer Reading Wrap Up

I’m back?? I know I said I was back from hiatus and then I wasn’t and then I went back on hiatus without warning. I haven’t been reading enough to warrant a monthly wrap up anyways. I’ve also been opting for more shorter books/short stories/novellas these days. So in this post, I’m wrapping up all the books I read from May-August.

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui (4/5)

29936927The Best We Could Do is a graphic memoir about immigration but less so about how it affects the generation after and more so on the history and culture around the parents that are the immigrants. As with most stories about immigrants, it is written from the perspective of a person (Thi) who has only been told these stories. But seeing it in a graphic novel really makes you feel like Thi Bui’s parents are actually telling the story themselves because the pictures reflect the immediacy of the event being told. If it’s a scene where the parents are trying to escape by boat, then the panels reflect that exact scene. It follows her parents from when they were kids all the way up to when they immigrated to the US. What I find interesting is how much of her parent’s personalities really shine through and how that influences their triumphs and struggles, their shortcomings and successes. I wish there was more about their story affects Thi’s life and her child but I liked how the memoir explores this sense of displacement that her parents faced, as a consequence of war and being forced to deal with traumatic events in the best way they knew how, even though it caused a sense of displacement for Thi herself. She was constantly wondering why her parents were not fully present for her.  Lush watercolor permeates the graphic novel with fluid lines and equally fluid pacing.

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How to Break a Boy by Laurie Devore (3/5)

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This reminded me a lot of Gossip Girl and I think for what I was looking in a YA contemporary, it had a little too much drama. I think I was expecting more of a cute and fluffy read. Usually with these books I expect the writing to just be a means of catapulting the plot and moving overwrought drama forward, to get from Point A to Point B, but clearly Devore’s writing is beautiful unto itself. It’s got a superb sense of melancholy and beauty that I never expected with this type of story and let me just say the romance was beautifully done. I appreciated the unapologetic unlikeability of the protagonist. She is not the wholesome, pure, dependable heroine you expect from a contemporary and it made her character development all the more interesting. It was not tied up neatly but still has this strong sense of purpose that not many YA books have. Even though the plot was too dramatic for my personal preference, I’m definitely checking out her next book.

We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to Covergirl, the buying and selling of a political movement by Andi Zeisler (4/5)

There seems to be a trend nowadays that everyone can claim to be a feminist. Thanks to the support of many celebrities, the word has become “hot” and “trendy”. If you buy this makeup product, you can be a feminist too! Though Image result for we were feminists onceoften the true meaning of feminism has become muddled and used instead for capitalist gain. This book uses an abundance of cultural and pop references as well as a plethora of historical arguments to convincingly support this argument. The most important thing I learned from reading this is the concept of choice feminism. Choice feminism looks appealing on the surface. Anyone can choose to be a feminist! But the concept is insidious and inherently selfish. If an ideal does not fit the person’s individual ideology, the person rejects it. Where choice feminism fails is truly changing the ingrained sexism of society. A female can choose to become president or a housewife and both could be considered feminist depending on who you ask so it’s a win-win situation right? A female can choose to wear makeup or not and both would be feminist. That is choice feminism. What choice feminism ignores, however, is the ingrained cultural ideals that forced this choice in the first place. Sure, a woman is at perfect liberty to become president instead of a housewife and that would be considered feminist but that ignores the cultural and historical context that makes it so difficult for a woman to become president. I found this book to be incredibly relevant to today’s cultural atmosphere and was incredibly eye-opening book that focused on some of the more obscure but no less insidious aspects of today’s “feminism”.

I then read a couple of other YA contemporary books that I have mini reviews on:

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The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis (2/5)

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Set in Georgian society, The Butcher’s Hook follows a young girl, Anne Jacob, who is set into an arranged marriage. As with a lot of heroines in historical fiction, she of course does not like this arrangement and gets involved with the butcher’s boy. I expected a dark historical fiction novel about discovering subconscious desires and giving in to them in a time when so many restrictions are placed on your desires. What I got instead was a slow book where you know exactly what is going to happen but the book drags on and on and when you finally reach the part you already predicted, you’ve lost interest in the book. It just does not live up to anything. The main character had a lot of promise at the beginning but quickly derailed to standard cliche stereotypes.

I then read some nominations for this year’s Nebula award in the short story category.

Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar (3/5)

34401218Written like a fairytale, this story’s worldbuilding is one of its strongest elements with tidbits of magic and mysterious happenings. I could not fully immerse myself in it because as you progress through the story, the feminist themes become more and more overt to the point where the fairy tale elements seem more like an accessory than integral to the story. It is about forgiving yourself and moving forward but mostly it praises the power of female friendship. You can read it here.

 

 

Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station | Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0 by Caroline M. Yoachim (4/5)

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This short story was such a nostalgic surprise. It follows in the format of the Choose Your Own Adventures. It is both a homage and a satire of those books. What I also liked about it was that it was set in space and it reminds me a lot of the humor from The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy but more accessible. You can read it here.

 

 

I then read some graphic novels although two of which I’ve only read the first issue.

Misfit city Issue 1 by Kirsten Smith, Illustrated by: Kurt Lustgarten, Naomi Franquiz (3/5)

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This was heavily influenced by the movie, The Goonies except it features an all-girls cast. It also reminded me a lot of the show Gravity Falls with its off the wall sense of adventure and Steven Universe for its sense of diversity. I admit this first issue is mostly filler as we learn more about the girls themselves and the town that they reside in. The mystery itself isn’t revealed until the end as a cliffhanger. An eccentric and fun read nonetheless. I recommend this if you liked Lumberjanes but want a little more edginess to the art and plot.

 

Goldie Vance Issue 1 by Hope Larson (3/5)

28953805This reminded me very much of a Cartoon Network show written for kids and will mostly be enjoyed by kids. It’s a cute and offbeat story about a girl who solves mysteries in the hotel run by her dad. Clearly the mysteries aren’t going to have you on the edge of your seat but the colors are vibrant and it’s fast-paced so it’s a good palette cleanser.

March vol. 2 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Illustrated by Nate Powell (4.5/5)

22487952I continue to completely and utterly love this series. The second volume continues the story of John Lewis and his role in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. It is clear that what makes this so completely genuine is the strife even within the black community as to how to attain their freedom. It is also so awe inspiring how truly nonviolent this movement and I think because of this, you feel every inch of humiliation and oppression in contrast to the nonviolence. But along with the lowest of lows, you feel a sense of hope that only people who are tired of being oppressed for so long can feel. Even when I knew the outcome, I often felt a sense of hopelessness and disbelief that this point in our history occurred with so readiness and even worse how it continues to manifest even today.
Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell (Short story)

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Kindred Spirits is a short story about a girl who waits in line for the midnight premiere of The Force Awakens. It was so wonderful not only because it featured a Vietnamese main character (yes!) but because its deceivingly simple premise gives way to a surprisingly cute and satisfying story. The characters are eccentric and have just enough of a story so you don’t wonder why the hell you’ve been reading a pointless story about someone just waiting in line for a movie, because of course, as only fandom people will know waiting in line for a movie is not just about waiting in line for a movie is it? I extra recommend this short story for fans of Star Wars as well because there’s a plethora of Star War references.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan Mcguire (Novella)

25526296What happens to the children of Narnia, of Wonderland, of magical worlds after they come back to reality? This novella seeks to answer that question and it’s very reminiscent of Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children as it takes place at a house with eccentric children and an eccentric keeper of the house. Really my only qualm with it is how short is, I wanted so much more from it. The characters, especially the twins, have so much potential left and the worlds that they left are even more fascinating. I want to hear more about the Underworld. It is also a part murder mystery although the mystery was unsatisfying because it was solved so quickly but overall still an enjoyable read if only to see how this premise unfolds.

What To Say Next by Julie Buxbaum (3.5/5)

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This is a sweet YA contemporary revolving around grief. Kit Lowell’s father suddenly died after a car accident, she finds difficulty in moving forward. She resolves to find out how her father truly died with the help of a classmate, David Drucker. Julie Buxbaum is a great contemporary writer. She writes about grief as if she’s deeply intimate with it. I also loved that she explored this concept of discovering that your parents are no infallible and I think her portrayal of Kit having to deal with that newly discovered concept was very well-handled. I loved how she explored the many different forms of Kit’s grief. The anger and denial but also the difficulty of trying to do mundane things in the face of a sudden emptiness in your life.

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book review · Uncategorized

Book Review: Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios

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Author: Heather Demetrios

Pages: 320

Synopsis: Goodreads

Genre: YA Comtemporary

Series? Standalone

Rating: tealstartealstartealstartealstar

 


It’s easy to judge someone for being in an abusive relationship and that judgement is usually tagged along with the age-old question, “Why doesn’t she just leave him?” If someone is hurting you physically and verbally isn’t the obvious solution to just leave them right away? Just say the words, right? But as this book deftly illustrates, it is neither easy or simple.

Grace Carter doesn’t have the best life. She lives with a cruel and demanding stepfather and a mother who pours all the housework and chores on her. All she wants to do is get out of Birch Grove, California and do theater in New York. Gavin is the ultimate dream boy. He is an angsty teenage boy who plays the guitar. He’s popular and charismatic. Grace has had an unrequited crush on him for 3 years and he has never noticed her before until one day. What starts as a passionate and sweet relationship spirals into a relationship unhealthy, obsessive, and claustrophobic.

What I appreciate most about this story’s structure besides its crafty use of the second person is its deliberate slowness. Demetrios really paints a detailed picture to helping you understand why Grace would fall in love with someone like Gavin even as you know from the very beginning how the relationship will end. The eventual deterioration of the relationship was perfectly paced. What is so poignant is how Demetrios sets up the relationship because it starts off like any other happy and healthy relationship. Gavin is sweet and dotes on Grace. He writes songs about how much he loves her. He is emotionally and physically supportive of her when things at home are too overwhelming. He makes sacrifices for her. Demetrios captures that euphoria of being in a new relationship when everything feels fresh and new and full of love and possibility. When the sweet nothings feel even sweeter and every compliment makes you feel like you’re on cloud 9. So it’s understandable when the first red flags come Grace does not even notice them especially when they are wrapped under the guise of toxic manipulation. The progression of the relationship really shows how Grace, someone who has big dreams and a sense of individualism can ultimately give all those up for a relationship. With the psychological effects of her home, there is no doubt there was something so intoxicating about Gavin needing her but the even more intoxicating feeling of Gavin wanting her. A person who has, her whole life, never felt wanted.

What makes this book so much more real than other books about abusive relationships is how Demetrios portrays Grace’s self-awareness of her toxic situation juxtaposed with her utter ignorance and denial of Gavin’s bright red flags. The most recent book I’ve read about an abusive relationship is It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover which I thought failed to examine the nuances of a relationship like this. I get what she was trying to do but it was not enough. It is possible to love someone but know that they are toxic for you but Hoover made it black and white, that you can just leave him if you set your mind to it. It’s about resolve. But Demetrios knows it’s about more than resolving to break up with him. Grace knows she should break up with Gavin and resolves many times to do so but she always ends up making excuses for him or Gavin will end up manipulating her love for him and she would get sucked back in time and time again. This constant cycle of denial and resolve, resolve and denial is exactly the cycle that abusive relationships go in, feeding through the doubts and insecurities of both participants. The reader sees how the love and sacrifice that Gavin demonstrates for her at the beginning of the relationship is now used as a shackle to rein her in. You know precisely how Gavin is manipulating her yet you understand how Grace would be confused by this manipulation and ultimately Gavin himself thinks he is doing the best for her even when he so clearly isn’t. This reflects on the cyclical nature of abuse, further emphasized by Grace’s mother who also is in an abusive relationship that Grace herself constantly laments is abusive while she is her relationship with Gavin. How can someone who is continuing to witness the abusive relationship of a loved one be completely oblivious to the fact that she’s in one herself?

On a side note, as with most YA contemporary I’ve read, there’s always the issue of how well integrated the side characters. And although Demetrios does not go into their characters in depth, it is clear they feel lived in and not just used as plot devices for specific parts of the Grace’s journey. Grace’s two best friends provide much needed comic relief and are the supportive friends you would want yourself. Even her cruel stepfather is offered moments of humanity that don’t turn him into an evil machine for the sole purpose of making Grace’s life miserable (although I’m sure in Grace’s situation it feels like it a lot). His role extends to her mother and how that affects Grace in turn.

I am fully impressed with Demetrios’s writing and although I can see how her writing could spiral into YA contemporary cliches like in I’ll Meet You There, I think if she writes more YA contemporary realistic, I am most definitely on board. The way she writes psychological progression and nuanced feelings made concrete to a T is something I truly admired. The use of the second person, as if Grace was addressing Gavin in a letter, makes you feel the impending doom of their relationship, the mix of blunt sarcasm and irony tinged with real sadness.

I highly recommend this book for its subject matter but also the deft way it is handled with all of its nuances.

On another side note, I’m back (!) which I’ll explain more in another post but I do plan on posting at least once a week from now on.

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book review · Uncategorized

Book Review: Always and Forever, Lara Jean

Image result for always and forever lara jean Title: Always and Forever, Lara Jean

Author: Jenny Han

Pages: 336

Series? Yes (Final book in a trilogy)

Synopsis: Goodreads

Rating: 4/5

Mild Spoilers for first two books but spoiler free for the last one.

 


I started reading this book at 5pm on Saturday and kept reading until 1 in the morning with only an hourish break for dinner. In that 8 hour time span, my dear reader, I felt unbearable warmth, happiness and most of all nostalgia. And at the end, even though I knew it was the end, I still felt like there was so much more story left to these characters, that these characters have blossomed into people that I knew.

As with any last book in the series, I felt that preanxiety that comes with having such high expectations of a final novel. The story of this book’s inception is heartwarming in its own way. In an interview, Jenny Han spoke about how she was working on her new project but couldn’t because she kept thinking about what Lara Jean and Peter were up to.

Last winter, I was working on a new book, and I just couldn’t figure out how to unlock it. My mind kept drifting to Lara Jean and Peter, I kept thinking wistful thoughts, like, I wonder what those two are up to now. When I finished P.S. I Still Love You, I truly was done with the series. Always, it had been meant to be just the two. But I suppose time and space had made me nostalgic, because they were all I could think about. One night I called up my best friend and sometimes co-author Siobhan Vivian and asked her, would it be crazy if I wrote just one more book? She said not at all. She told me to try and see. So that same night, I started writing, and I couldn’t stop. I wrote until the sun came up.

-Jenny Han from EW article

There is something so natural about this story that I’ve never been able to find in other YA contemporaries. In this one, Lara Jean and Peter are in their final year of high school. They have graduation coming up and all the other things high school seniors look forward to: the senior trip, prom and of course the anxiety of college admissions. Lara Jean has plans for her future but they all start to unravel and she starts to question what is truly the right path for her.

I swear some scenes in this book took me back to some exact moments of my high school career. Not gonna lie, I kind of teared up a little when Lara Jean is anxiously opening up her email that determines whether she got accepted or rejected to UVA. Moments like these are what I’ve always loved about this series. Most YA contemporaries kind of skip this part or shove it in near the end as a sort of cherry on top of the icing at the end of the book and more often than not, they just get accepted into their dream school nbd. I just completely love the detail that Jenny Han puts into this series from the food (yaas to all the chocolate chip cookie baking in this one) to Lara Jean’s clothes (Lara Jean’s prom dress) and even to Peter’s lacrosse experience. Jenny Han even did research, people, research to make the college admissions part as true to life as possible. She even spoke to the Dean of Admissions and the lacrosse department at UVA.

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University of Virginia campus

It just encapsulates a high school experience that feels so authentic, like this is truly what a YA contemporary should be about. I understand that YA contemporary is not suppose to be 100% realistic, otherwise where the hell is my Peter Kavinsky but just adding these tiny details that you only subconsciously absorb brought me more into the story, this more visceral experience. And I love it. Some scenes just brought me back to my final days of high school, my final class of high school which I probably just spent signing yearbooks, my final day of walking the grass behind my school for AP Government. and having this sense of finality and this feeling of an end but also this anticipation that things are just starting for you.

I also love seeing that reflected in Lara Jean. Throughout this series, she has always been content with where she is but she’s realizing that she can open herself up to new possibilities that she never thought were right for her.

And on top of that, Lara Jean learns more about her relationship with Peter. I feel like this book was the perfect combination of the fluffiness and cuteness of book 1 and the angst and them dealing with real problems from Book 2. I just love how you can see how much they love and care about each other. They have to think about what every high school couple thinks about, if they’re even going to survive being apart and the delicate state of a high school relationship.  Peter’s arc also has a wonderful sense of growth. His dad makes a reappearance in this one and he has to decide whether to let him into his life or not. I really like how Peter’s insecurities are put to the forefront. Peter has always been one of my favorites in this series because he is not necessarily this arrogant boy with a heart of gold or this nerdy guy who will understand all of your Star Wars references or even this sickly sweet nice love interest who can do no wrong. Let’s face it, most of your favorite YA contemporary male heroes will fall into one of these 3 categories. I’m really satisfied with the way Han wrote this relationship that feels as though it’s always evolving and not this you-are-my-soulmate-that-I-found-at-the-age-of-18-and-we-live-happily-ever-after type of relationship. I love them so much.

And of course, without a doubt, these books always come back to family. It’s bittersweet and ever changing. There is so much change happening around Lara Jean that she doesn’t really even notice. How Margot is now slowly living her own life in Scotland, how her Dad is marrying Ms. Rothschild, and how Kitty is growing up. And although Lara Jean is consistently changing and figuring out more things about herself, she will always fall back on her family and their support. Her mother is still an ever present force in her life and she’s always thinking about how her mom would approach a situation even as she is learning to find her own way.

I will always love these books, for their authenticity but also just for their feel-goodness and how they always bring a smile to my face. I know I will be swooning over Lara Jean’s mundane adventures for many more rereads.

Let me know if I should read Jenny Han’s Summer I Turned Pretty series. I’m not sure how it compares to this one so any advice is welcomed! And of course, let’s discuss this book in the comments because I need to vent.

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Book Recommendations · book review · Uncategorized

Mini Book Reviews: Identity

I might be grasping at straws here by compiling all these books under the same theme but I think it works. All of these are relatively short books, no more than 304 pages and quick reads. They were all informative about some specific historical event and culture and by writing about violence, war, and family, the authors were able to see how these affect a person’s identity and sense of self. Enjoy! =) Let me know if you’ve read any of these, your thoughts or if you’re planning on reading them.

Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong

Goodreads | 89 pages | Poetry

Thank you to Copper Canyon Press for sending me a review copy. All opinions are my own.

Poetry is not my forte and still isn’t but I still like it and I think through this collection, I’ve discovered 2 really important secrets to help me appreciate it more and I think they actually just might help those who just can’t seem to get into poetry too. So,

  1. Read the poetry aloud.
Image result for night sky with exit wounds
3.5/5

I realize this is really weird and will probably make you seem crazy. But just think of it like spoken poetry. I think orating it out loud just emphasizes each word and makes you see how each word fits together in the whole scheme of the poem. All strangeness aside, it’s actually quite cathartic.

2. Don’t try to understand it (at first).

The first time you go through this collection, don’t try to find meaning underneath each statement. In fact, I think poetry is less about meaning sometimes than the overall structure and phrasing of the words and the word choice in general. It won’t make sense but at the same time it’s really fascinating how the poet constructs the piece. How he can relate two such unrelated things and have it somehow work.

With those in mind, you’ll have a really good time with this poetry collection. This collection is all about how family shapes your identity, how your identity is an extension of your mother’s and your father’s. About finding your identity through culture, through sexuality, and ultimately through self.

Now here is your father inside

your lungs.

He also touches on the Vietnam War and Vietnam written with a fusion of Vietnamese and English in some of them such as in “Aubade with Burning City”, a piece that follows the evacuation of refugees from Vietnam while a Christmas song is playing on the radio.  Others are more about love bordering on the erotic; in fact he writes an “Ode to Masturbation” at one point and it was quite poignant (lol).The great thing about Ocean’s poetry is that he doesn’t technically have a defining structure like Emily Dickinson and her dashes. He will try out many different structures. One of the poems is written entirely in footnote, others more prose poetry. And hidden in these poems are gems of poignancy that are really beautiful. It almost feels as though this poetry collection is helping him find himself. It’s particularly displayed in one of my favorite pieces of this collection, “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong”, which sounds like a piece written to himself. And maybe it is.

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Excerpt from “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong”

 

I’m so excited to have finally read an Ocean Vuong work and I’m definitely going to check out his future works.

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah

Goodreads | 85 pages | Nonfiction, Memoir

If you’re going to read this memoir, I highly recommend the audiobook. Trevor Noah himself narrates it and his humorous and conversational voice really shines through.I honestly think this is one of the best, if not the best, entertainment celebrity memoirs I have ever read. This is true because first and foremost, Trevor Noah can actually write without sacrificing his humorous witticisms. Sometimes the conversational voices that celebrities use in their books sort of undermine the writing process in general because it is clear that the story was not meant to be a book, more better for a video or a podcast. But Trevor Noah’s story just works so well as a book. The opening of every chapter is followed with a little history lesson or framing device about South Africa which sets up his story in a relevant way. But the memoir, for the most part, revolves around his childhood in South Africa where he was quite literally “born a crime”. Born

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4.5/5

to a Swiss father and an African mother during the time of apartheid Trevor was obviously illegal and he talks about how he spent a lot of his childhood hiding, sometimes when he and his mother were walking down the street, and police were roaming the street, she would push him away and pretend not to know him for safety’s sake. It’s very clear throughout how much his mother means to him. How his deeply religious mother, a force of nature who eschewed tradition and propriety, shaped his open perspective of the world. In spite of the poor community he lived and the fact that he grew up very poor (his mother would park at red traffic lights to save gas), Trevor reminisces that he never felt trapped or limited to the ghetto because his mother always reminded him that the community he lived in was not all that the world had to offer him. He knows he was one of the lucky ones however.

 

People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing. 

You really feel as though you knew his mother and by extension, Trevor as so much of his personality is shaped by her. Noah also discusses his struggle to belong in a certain community because of his race. He didn’t quite belong with the “whites”, not quite the “blacks”, and not even the “mixed” raced kids because they would think he would act like either a black or a white. The discussion of race was effortlessly integrated probably he has had to live by these race rules his entire life. But putting those aside, Trevor gets into some crazy shit mostly because he admits to being a troublemaker as a child.

All of this is told with the usual Trevor Noah humor very on par with his humor as host of the Daily Show. But he never tries too hard to cater to a certain audience or sounds too self-deprecating as sometimes celebrity memoirs will do and most importantly, he never writes as though he is wondering why he is even writing a book. Trevor Noah lets the audience know that this story is important to him and is important in general. Informative, sincere, and humorous, I highly, highly recommend.

Human Acts by Han Kang

Goodreads | 218 pages | Contemporary, Korean lit

I think I liked Human Acts even more than The Vegetarian and I think readers who didn’t like the Vegetarian should still give this a shot because it is definitely not as bizarre or surreal as The Vegetarian. It definitely leans more towards the gritty and brutal

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4/5

tone. Written by several different perspectives within a 3 decade span, Human Acts tells a fictionalized story behind the very true student uprisings in Korea in 1980. Han Kang really delves into the concept of the body, how you can be separated from your body. How after torture, you can even be disgusted by your body. Is the body separate from the person’s soul?  To answer she eve writes one chapter from the perspective of a corpse which honestly I wouldn’t want any other author to write.

When they threw a straw sack over the body of the man at the very top, the tower of bodies was transformed into the corpse of some enormous, fantastical beast, its dozens of legs splayed out beneath it.

It works because there is something about Han Kang’s writing that is so visceral, that requires an equally visceral and immediate reaction. Her writing is so penetratingly vivid and poetic. I usually hate describing writing as poetic because it is overused now but it’s definitely true for Han Kang because I looked at the back flap and what do you know, she started her writing career as a poet so hence poetic writing which really helps the imagery of this book. Because of this, however, it can also become confusing because there is a lot of section breaks and it was sometimes difficult to discern how the subsequent perspectives were related to the previous ones but that’s a minor quibble. She also touches on the concept of nationality, the feeling of belonging to a nation but at the same time in disbelief at how your nation can ultimately betray you. This is explored by following these characters through the aftermath of the uprisings and how these acts of violence have scarring effects on a person and their memory. This book would definitely benefit from a reread to see how everything ties together. But, in all, such a brilliant book and one that already cements Han Kang as an exceptionally accomplished writer.

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