Romance Roundup 2020: 8 Lightning Reviews

book review, mini book review, Uncategorized

2020 has been a tough year for me, especially for my reading. That’s why I could only consume what I call candy books: romance books–light books that I know aren’t the best but I read them anyway because they are easy to fall into and put a quick smile on my face (if done right). I have a love-hate relationship with romance; there’s so much potential to be had but I find many fall into stereotypes, regressive gender roles, predictable plotting, conventional romance norms, and archetypes of characters that never seem fully fleshed out. I have to say I do have hope for romance’s future though as recent ones seem to be more socially progressive and different. In this post, I try out different types of romance from fantasy romance to YA comtemporary and everything in between. I did include books with very heavy romance elements too. Before getting into the post, I do want to say I did actually find a maybe favorite of the year in this bunch. Can you guess which book it is?

Key

Overall review: Highest rating is 5 “stars”How did I like the book in general? How did I like the plot, the story? My general thoughts?

Steam Factor: Highest rating is 5 “fires”; Kind of selfexplanatory, how were the steamy scenes ;); problematic;

Romance: Highest rating is 5 “hearts”; Did I even like the main pairing together as a couple? Problematic? Did I anticipate the couples’ every scene together? Did they work well together? Where’s that oomph factor? Were they developed as characters?

  1. The Kiss Thief by LJ Shen
The Kiss Thief - Kindle edition by Shen, LJ. Mystery, Thriller ...

Overall Review: You know at first, I was like sure, this is totally believable: a senator essentially selling his daughter out to another guy because he didn’t want to lose votes or something. Romance novels are oftentimes unbelievable but the plot was too weird even for me. Granted I did DNF this at the first really steamy scene because it was problematic on all levels and I was not having it so I gave up. It left such a bad taste in my mouth. There was a ton of unnecessary drama leading up to it and the type of drama that didn’t even add to the anticipation of the steam scenes. It’s gonna take a lot for me to try another LJ Shen book.

Rating: 0.5 out of 5.

Steam: 0

Romance: 0

2. Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

Amazon.com: Tweet Cute: A Novel (9781250237323): Lord, Emma: Books

Overall Review: This book was equal parts romance and equal parts coming of age; it’s almost hard to tell which one it is first, probably coming of age but I’m including it here anyways lol. I think what I’m starting to realize about myself and my taste in YA contemporary is that I love the fluffy but only when done exceptionally well like in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, otherwise, it just kind of falls flat. In this one, the whole time I was just waiting for Jack to tell Pepper about his true online identity and everyone knows Pepper was going to be fine with it so why bother waiting 90% of the book to tell it? I think the problem I have with withholding secrets in YA contemporary romance is that there are no stakes, you know the other person is going to be ok with it eventually. I also thought the family dynamic resolution was too clean at the end for Pepper at least. That’s what this was, clean. Nothing stood out, none of the characters. The heroine is the same archetype in all YA contemporaries, a stickler for the rules, has a plan laid out for her entire future, is a straight A student. The plot just has no stakes, no tension! That’s really it. But I did enjoy the Twitter rivalry. Any book that centers on food I am here for. And New York. I actually visited New York this year before COVID 19 hit and I love picturing all the references in the book I’ve actually seen (like the Met)!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Steam: 0

Romance: (It was pretty cute but that’s about it)

3. Birthday Girl by Penelope Douglas

Birthday Girl

Overall Review: I get why Penelope Douglas is so well loved. She adds little details to the characters that elevate it over other contemporary romance writers. Also she writes taboo really well because you understand why these characters would like each other despite the age gap. But it ends up relying on romance cliches in the end.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Steam: (wow can Penelope Douglas write steam; the smut scenes were great and nonproblematic)

Romance: (Even though Penelope Douglas did try some different things in the romance, she fell trap to so many romance tropes that it ended up feeling cliche. Jordan is clearly a very distinct “not like other girls” woman. The author clearly wanted me to like her because unlike other girls, she gets down and dirty and likes doing working outside? Aren’t you a special snowflake? Of course Pike just can’t stand it when she wears really revealing clothing; it starts a fight and somehow the girl is always the one acquiesing. Isn’t there any other way for romance authors to build tension between characters???)

4. The Governess Game by Tessa Dare

The Governess Game: Girl Meets Duke - Kindle edition by Dare ...

Overall review: When it comes to historical romance, Tessa Dare is always a safe bet. Her books are a warm hug, nothing groundbreaking but endlessly cozy. I haven’t read any of her older books, but this trilogy applies modern norms of love to a historical setting so it’s candy but it’s candy where half the money goes to something like a woman’s shelter. It’s super cute. There’s endearing characters (the two daughters!) and very little drama and angst. As far as romance goes, you could do way worse. Each main character has his/her own dreams and goals and just come together all the more stronger.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Steam:

Romance: (love the witty banter; also loving the slow progression of their relationship)

5. The King’s Man by Elizabeth Kingston

The King's Man (Welsh Blades #1) by Elizabeth Kingston

Overall: One of the things I dislike about the romance genre is how traditional it is, taking a while for progressive themes to take hold whether it’s race, gender, or gender roles so I’m always on the lookout for romance books that break this mold. This one sounded promising because it’s about a woman is a soldier and is trained in combat which I rarely, if ever see in romance, only second to probably a sexually promiscuous main character. But that’s another story. The synopsis had such promise!! But I was so disappointed at the writing and the offputting pacing. The characters were also stilted sometimes veering into being way too mean or way too nice. The hero in the story was also such a jerk so there’s that too.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Steam:

Romance: (I will give some points for good progression? but other than that, I’ll pass)

6. Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore

Bringing Down the Duke (A League of Extraordinary Women Book 1 ...

Overall: If I could be so bold, I think this is the best historical romance I have read this year and ever.. This had everything I wanted in a romance and more. I think a lot of times romance dialogue and scenarios can be really cliche and predictable which is fine but the details to build up these cliches can make a world of difference to the unique flavor of the story. I also appreciate that there wasn’t an overemphasis on how masculine or feminine the hero and heroine are respectively when describing them. I also appreciate that the conflict between the hero’s wealth and standing in society clashing with the possibility of having a relationship with his poorer heroine counterpart wasn’t just used as a one time climactic conflict that’s then solved instantaneously before the happy ending but rather a series of smaller conflicts to allow for character growth. There’s also some elements more typical of regency romance like the thinly veiled wit and ball scenes. The banter is also top notch. Also, I cannot forget the backdrop of the suffragette movement that actually took quite a bit of background which I appreciate. This is like top notch candy, candy you get at a bougie candy store like Sugarfina, with gummy bears made up of like gluten free ingredients but still taste great. I cannot wait for the second book in the series following one of the secondary characters (who btw are amazing).

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Steam: (wish there was more but honestly what’s there is top notch)

Romance: (Love the two together; so much banter)

7. The Bridge Kingdom by Danielle L. Jensen

The Bridge Kingdom (The Bridge Kingdom, #1)

Overall Review: When I started this book, I was, by no means, expecting the worldbuilding to be good at all. One of my favorite romance tropes is “woman being sent away to be married to other guy from another kingdom” (idk why). Fantasy romances tend to have very soft worldbuilding but this one surprised me. Though by no means any close to the dynamic worldbuilding I love in epic fantasies, I appreciate the slight attention to detail and the mystery surrounding the world; it gave a great visual as I was reading. In these types of books, I expect the world to enhance the relationship of the characters instead of the other way around and this one did a solid job. I also appreciated the heroine was always looking for a way out and didn’t fall in love with the hero in her mental processes right away but really allowing the trust between both of them to grow naturally. She was always doubting which is great because it fits with how she grew up. It’s also really fast paced, perfect immersive beach read.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Steam: Could use just one more scene

Romance: (love)

8. If I never met you by Mhairi Mcfarlane

If I Never Met You

Overall: Overall, it was ok. It was lukewarm, nothing wrong persay I especially enjoy the character growth in the beginning after our heroine goes through a breakup after a 13 year relationship. But there was barely any sense of chemistry. The hints and dialogue at workplace feminism were a plus but not enough to make up for the plot and lackluster romance. (I just realized I forgot to include this poll but I guess knowing my review, it doesn’t matter)

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Steam: 0

Romance:

9. Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare

Chain of Gold (The Last Hours, #1)

Overall: Not technically a romance, but has very heavy romance elements. You know what I really liked Chain of Gold at first but as I moved along, it was very clear that the sort of contrived tension and conflict building in Clare’s books continues to rear its ugly head. I thought Grace was going to be a true source of angst, like James would actually be in love with her for reals without any sort of manipulation (that would have been angsty) but no..And then I just lost interest. I do like the humor though. The four main heros’ personalities started to blur together for me. I do like Cordelia though; I think she’s definitely different than all of Clare’s other heroines. I did really like the Tessa, Will, and Jem cameos too. I ship Lucy and Matthew too; I hope that’s a thing in the next book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Steam:

Romance:

10. A Curse so Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

A Curse So Dark and Lonely (Cursebreakers, #1)

Overall: A retelling of Beauty and the Beast, which as we all know is all about the romance. I liked elements of this book in the moment but truthfully the characters were super bland. The heroine is a stubborn do gooder of course. I did like how she talked about how her cerebral palsy affects her daily life though. The hero an angsty king with a dark past. They both spent way too much time angsting about their problems and each time their problems were mentioned, there was no added depth to them so they felt very repetitive. There was nothing special about either and so nothing special about the romance either. I thought the plot took some interesting turns that I liked but overall an average book. I would read it if in the mood. It’s a quick read.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Steam: 0

Romance:

So we come to the end of the romance roundup! Did you guess right? If you guessed Bringing Down the Duke, you guessed right!! Pat yourself on the back, get some ice cream 🙂 I hope you enjoyed this post! Seeing this post and getting a taste of what I read and like in romance, is there any books you would recommend me?

The Korean novel that inspired a new feminist movement: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 Review

book review, Uncategorized

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 | Book by Cho Nam-Joo, Jamie Chang ...

Title: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

Author: Cho Nam-Joo

Series? No

Pages: 176 pages

Translated from the Korean by Jamie Chang

Rating: 4/5

 

 

 


 

As a US citizen, I may be familiar with the workings of feminism here but it’s definitely an experience learning about it from a citizen in a country foreign to me. What I know, I know only from Korean dramas, other Korean novels, and the news. This book and its surrounding controversy really shed a light on the complications the word feminism holds in Korea.

This story definitely made its mark in Korea, becoming the first Korean novel to sell a million copies in Korea since 2009 and already has a movie adaptation out. I sped through this riveting book in a few hours. I definitely did not expect the book to be written like this. It has a detached, dark tone to it like The Vegetarian but definitely grounds itself in its contemporary setting, not surrealism. It follows Kim Jiyoung who is living with her husband and daughter in present day. One day, she suddenly possesses the ability to act uncannily like the different women she has met in her life. Her concerned husband recommends seeing a psychiatrist. This synopsis, I thought, was what was going to make up the entire book. I was wrong; it only takes up the first maybe 20 pages. The rest of the novel tells of Kim Jiyoung’s life (sped up almost) from her childhood all the way up to where she is now. This little novel is reminiscient of a documentary because even though Kim Jiyoung is fictional, the author infuses the story with real facts about Korea and women, footnotes where appropriate. These include stats on abortion, maternity leave and working women in Korea. It was definitely a learning experience; one of the most fascinating facts I learned was that Korea was one of the worst OECD coutnries to live in for a working woman; women earn 63% of what men earn vs 84% as the average. The story also represents a documentary in that there’s no real style, it is blunt and factually precise as any documentary with no style and euphemism to hide the horrific realities behind. You can only stare at the cold, hard facts. Kim Jiyoung’s life just gives reader a person to connect onto, but it’s almost unnecessary as Kim Jiyoung could represent any everyday woman and the societal oppression she faces.

A woman's place

I definitely appreciated seeing feminism explored from an Asian perspective because Nam Joo talked about the unfair precedence that a son needed to be born. In order for a mother to gain any respect, she must give birth to a son so important that boys are in this culture. I definitely was not removed from that talk and it’s still prevalent in the Asian world. Mothers would continue trying until a son was born. Similarly, this is why China has a 2:1 ration of boys to girls which is leading to a shortage of girls due to the one child policy that is still having consequences to this day. When the son is born, they get the best food, do no work, and sit near the head of the table. Sons were expected to carry on the family name. Isn’t it interesting that a patriarchial cultural norm like taking on a man’s last name when you’re married only perpetuates more patriarchial norms like revering sons because they are the ones who can carry on this name to their children? I also appreciated the commebtary on Asian familial dynamics especially regarding the mother-in-law. It’s still a very real thing about the mean mother in law, a character still portrayed in korean dramas but rooted in truth. I found it so ironic that a woman would willfully wish her daughter in law to have a son and scoff at the daughter, a true testament to the hold this dangerous cultral sentiment holds, that a boy is more important than a girl that she would willfully disrespect a daughter, a member of her own sex!

Review: "Kim Ji-young, Born 1982" Shows How Korean Society Has ...

Those discriminations are more prevalent in Asian speaking households in my experience, however, the rest of the book is not surprisingly very similar to other sexisms women around the world face in the workplace and in school. There are many scenes when Kim Jiyoung is going through interviews and men promoting other men but not women regardless of merit because the women would “eventually leave anyways” when they had a child.

I also appreciated that the author explained why men and other women would be unaware, even complicit in this discrimination. I like that she doesn’t attribute the sexism to a few bad apples but to a system where most everyone is culpable. Because everyone is to blame, passing on these toxic ideals to children perpetuates a vicious cycle of sexism. One of the book’s many strengths is the insidious little ways that women are forced into a certain box and the context surrounding that. Taken out of context, the things that women complain about would seem ridiculous. For example, Kim Jiyoung’s  sister in the story wants to become a journalist. The mother herself advised against it, recommending the job of a teacher instead because of the shorter hours so she could take care of her family. The mother insinuates that the sister’s first job is to take care of her future family even though the sister had not even expressed any interest in children. Some people may say why didn’t the sister just go with her dreams? No one was technically stopping her. Well, as you move along in the story, you see the amount of familial pressure and societal pressure, whether direct or indirect, that the sister faced to fit into that mold and her anger makes sense.

It’s insidious because it is masked.  The story took into account the history of women making sacrifices for their family and the unfair expectations placed on them. I felt more and more hopeless and more of a sense of injustice as Kim Jiyoung felt more and more disenchanted with the discrimination. What women are doing is not selfish, neither is it necessarily brave or admirable, they are just the best with what they have. I find that Kim Jiyoung has been praised as brave simply because she is fighting against a system that should not have to be fought. A system that should not be as oppressive as it is now.

Review of Cho Nam-Joo's 'Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982' - The Hindu

movie poster

I hope with books like these that just the discourse will spur a cultural change or one another’s point of view at least. It seems the world, every group digs its heels into the ground before considering anotehr viewpoint but it seems hopefully that this book is makign the wave it needs to in Korea.

Additional Links about the author and the book’s controversy that I found interesting:

  1. The Heroine of This Korean Bestseller is Extremely Ordinary by Alexandra Alter from NY Times
  2. In this Korean bestseller, a Young Mother is Driven to Psychosis by Eun Hong from NY Times

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My favorite book of the year so far Review: My Dark Vanessa

book review, Uncategorized

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Title: My Dark Vanessa

Author: Kate Elizabeth Russell

Series? No

Pages: 384

Rating: 4/5

 

 

 

 


Yay, four months into the year and I have one of my favorite books of the year! This book was a definitely a wild ride and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I finished it. Russell has crafted a difficult story about an abusive relationship that provides no easy answers and that’s why I absolutely loved it.

As soon as I started reading, I was hit with an isolating and oppressive story that did no let me go. We switch back and forth between two timelines, one in Vanessa’s high school and college years when she at fifteen enters a sexual relationship with her English teacher, Strane (42). The other timeline is in the present in 2017 when Vanessa is an adult and she finds out someone has come forward with a sexual assault allegation against Strane. A journalist seeks Vanessa out to corrobate the other victim’s story but Vanessa refuses. It’s interesting to see what Russell has to say about victimhood in this novel. The story is clever because you read about Vanessa’s ordinary life and in turn, she normalizes the abusive experience. It is only in occassional moments that she seems to glean that something is not right with the relationship. Strane is not a straight perpetrator either. Strane slyly manipulates her all in the name of love, constantly referring to her as powerful, having power over him yet Vanessa accepts it. The reader sees that she is being manipulated but you also see why Vanessa doesn’t understand that she is in an unfair power dynamic, even citing that she was the one making him fall to his knees. So she has all the power. Right? She even believes she wants Strane. I think it portrays the complexity of abuse very well, going into parts that are often not written about. Even though Vanessa has moments of knowing this relationship is wrong, she makes leaps to justify it. I also aprpeciated the mention of dissociative disorder which I don’t read a lot about but is very common in victims of abuse.

It’s interesting that Vanessa never considers herself a victim, stating it’s just a mental state. Being in her head truly allowed me to understand her logic. I read an interview with this author after I read it, the comments about how her early readers thought Vanessa was too unlikeable and that Strane should have had a POV to elicit more sympathy for Vanessa. I’m really glad Russell chose not to write it that way because in that way, we get to explore different types of victims with different types of stories. It still pains me that we only accept a victim, especially a woman, if she is passive and likeable. I like that we’re exploring a story where the it is the victim’s story and this victim doesn’t fit into a box we know well.

Russell also revealed she wanted this book to open conversation on consent.  also shows us the complexities of consent. Strane clearly asks her for consent during sexual encounters and asks if she is comfortable. Of course, a yes means yes right? Of course, it’s more complex than that. Even after they are apart and Vanessa leaves for college, Vanessa’s every waking moment is consumed by this man. The story in the past spans from high school to college and when she becomes legal, it becomes like every other type of relationship. It’s really fascinating to be lured by Vanessa’s POV seeing how how Strane manipulates her ideas of responsibility, power, sex, and relationships and you see that ripple into her adulthood. Too fittingly, there are many references to Lolita in here, a kind of meta comparison to what is happening between the two characters but of course with widely different interpretations. Truly, you feel as though you were stuck in her head. I like seeing how she grows and changes (or lack thereof).

A lot of the reviews of this book have complained that the secondary characters didn’t have any depth. I disagree. I think enough of their personalities were gleaned to make a foil for Vanessa, but her entire world revolves around Strane and her perceptions of the other characters would predictably be limited so I had no problems with that. It also gives a sense of claustrophobia and isolation to Vanessa’s story. The tone of the story was sensually bleak and oppressive. I also found it fascinating how big cultural events like the Bush presidential election were mentioned because it added a sense of false normalcy and place to this book.

I thought her storyline in the present was equally as fascinating as well. Vanessa doesn’t believe she has been abused, raped, or coerced. She denies anything remotely bad has happened to her but it’s interesting to see how she copes with it. She frequently dissociates and has to drink and smoke to cope with her life. I think this book really stands out from other books of this nature because of Vanessa’s ignorance and denial of her abuse to the journalist. In the era of the #metoo movement, it’s very hard to accept that  refusal to acknowledge what has been done to her but it only brings into question difficult facets of victimhood and justice. Is it your reponsbility to come forward with your story to corrobate other victims and to inspire others to take action? What happens to justice if you don’t? Even at the end of the book, you don’t find the satisfying answers and solutions that you feel Vanesssa deserves but the uncertain ending makes her experiences all the more harrowing.

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Book Recommendations from Winter 2020

Book Recommendations, book review, Uncategorized

If there is anything positive to come out of this quarantine, it is that I have been catching up on all the reading I have missed during my first quarter of classes. So I decided to recommend the top books I’ve read this winter, hopefully you can find something you like from the list.

The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill

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Omg, if you are looking for a fun and cute story to lift your moods. Look no further, because this fits all the checkboxes. You can read the first volume for free here on the author’s website. The drawings are done digitally with a very smooth look reminisent of 2D animated movies. The story is so heartwarming; it’s all about friendship and acceptance and all kinds of love. The dragons here are cute creatures who can brew different kinds of magical tea. The landscapes are cozy and inviting and remind me of landscape paintings.

 

Image result for tea dragon society

An Excerpt

 

To be Taught if Fortunate by Becky Chambers

To Be Taught, If FortunateThis is a novella following a group of space explorers documenting new species from the different planets they travel to. It’s not action packed but it is full of adventure and wonder. I was actually surprised Chambers was not a scientist herself (coming from a person who majored in Biology) as she paid such an accurate homage to scientific process, a tedious and sometimes thankless process but the rewards of discovering something new are unmatched. I was utterly fascinated by the different species they encountered; she definitely played with our traditional ideas of how living things should be. This novella also gleans into the day to day life of a scientist albeit in space. You really get a sense of the loneliness and disconnect they have from Earth considering how little time passes for them versus on Earth. You also get glimpses of their backstories, what it’s like to leave Earth forever and what is happening on Earth as they are up there.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo’s first foray into a genre (mystery/thriler) other than fantasy was a huge Ninth House (Alex Stern, #1)success for me. I think she succeeded because she played up her strengths as a writer. This book, although being a mystery firmly set in contemporary setting and space, has a dark, foreboding sense of atmosphere. There’s also a fantasy element to the book–magic–which is something Leigh Bardguo excelled at writing more which I think traditional mystery writers would have a harder time executing. The magic feels like a lived in part of this world and I adored the history behind the magic and Yale and its societies as the center to all this magic. The main character is one of those millenial women fuckups that the media loves nowadays but I’m not complaining about it because Bardugo takes the time to write Alex’s history and it makes her story standout. The other characters are just as memorable. I was completely entranced and will be eagerly awaiting the next book.

Damsel by Elana K. Arnold – Winner of the Printz Honor Award

DamselThis book has a lot of mixed reviews on Goodreads and I can definitely see why even though I personally loved it. First of all, it’s not really a teen book for teens, it’s more of a teen book for adults, like Martin Scoresese’s Hugo was for adults. Its premise is an interesting one: every generation, a damsel is rescued from a dragon with no memory of who she was before. She must marry the prince and bear his heirs. The cycle repeats on and on. At first glance, it is highly blunt and ominous in its message, driving home the message of the insidiousness of rape culture.  But the meat of the story is hidden within these metpahoric and symbolic lines. How does a woman find her voice in a world where she is not given a choice? The writing is a definitely a step up from a lot of YA books due to its focus on the character’s introspection so I’m not surprised it won the Printz.

Glass Town by Isabel GreenbergGlass Town

Glass Town is a graphic novel loosely following the Bronte sisters and their fictional imaginary world of Glass Town. As with all books of this nature, this imaginary world is only reflective of what the characters’ currrent mindset is like and Glass Town in the book really reflects the sibling relationships and how each character deals with grief and death. Definitely a quieter, literary graphic novel for a rainy day. I completely adored their imaginary world. The fluid, sketchy art is not for everyone but I didn’t mind it.

 

Image result for glass town

The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski

The Midnight Lie (The Midnight Lie, #1)I admit that although this was a solid first book, it falls a lot into the trappings of YA storytelling. She definitely overemphasizes and overdramatizes to hone in her point when it doesn’t need to be there. The worldbuilding is also quite lackluster. It follows a lot of common worldbuilding of a lot of older YA where the poor are enslaved and used for the rich’s use, with no sense of subtely. It reminded me of a lot of The Hunger Games where the rich people wear very garish, vivid colors whereas the poor wear drab clothing. All of them are vapid. Been there, done that. However, I will say the world has a lot of potential especially as Nirrim and Sid continue to unravel the mysteries of the magic system. I’m happy to say though that Rutkoski’s knack for slow burn relationships, sophisticated dialogue, and quiet storytelling is back and better than ever. I’m very excited to see where Nirrim’s and Sid’s relationship goes. I also thought Nirrim’s relationship with her abusive foster mother was also much more nuanced than many other YA books that tackle this. I also loved how Rutkoski explores different facets of lying and power different than in the Winner’s trilogy. I was so flippin happy to see mentions of the characters in the The Winner’s trilogy and I think Kestrel and Arin are going to play bigger roles in the next book. I’m very curious about their character development because one character’s perception of them in this book was less than stella. I’m hoping it’s just the character’s bias but it’ll definitely an interesting character arc so we’ll see.

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Favorite Books of 2019!

Book Recommendations, book review, favorites, Uncategorized

Now we have come to the last part of my favorites series of 2019. I hope you’ve enjoyed and hopefully you’ve found something new you liked. These are in no particular order except the last one is probably my favorite book of the year.

So first on my list, I would like to give a shoutout to a few self help books I’ve found immensely helpful this year. This is coming from a person who sort of looked down on self help books thinking they were a waste of time. I was sometimes right but there’s definitely a plethora out there. It’s important to keep in mind when reading these that you just have to take some of the advice but leave others and you’re good.

  1. Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself

Image result for self compassion kristin neff

So 2019 was the first year I had even heard of the word self compassion but it was a concept that really stuck with me. I am someone who constantly self criticizes and this book, when applied consistently, really did help me through that self destructive behavior. I can tell the author is really passionate about this through her writing and inspired me to pick it up. She also gives out exercises in the book for you to do on your own, none of which are time consuming but are really effective if you keep an open mind. I will definitely be dipping in and out of this every now and again.

2. The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris

Image result for the happiness trap

This is another one of my holy grail books that I will be dipping in and out throughout my life. The Happiness Trap is less about why happiness as a destination is not possible but about thinking about negative thoughts differently. And it’s not about thinking positively. His main focus of the book is conveying that you can be content with your life if you live a meaningful life. Of course, a meaningful life means something different to everyone and this book helps you find that. A lot of the exercises and concepts he brings into this book is so unique than your typical self help book including concepts like diffusion. This book changed my life.

Now onto a short story.

3. The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin

Image result for the people who walked away from omelas

A very powerful short story about a utopia where everyone is happy. What’s the twist. Le Guin’s writing is so incredibly vivid.

4. Queen of Nothing by Holly Black

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I know reviews of this book were kind of mixed but honestly, I thought it was much stronger than the second book especially when it came to the character development of the three sisters, Madoc and the Ghost. Of course, it also had the best parts of what makes this series so wonderful, the intense plotting, the backstabbing, and of course my favorite OTP, Cardan and Jude. Let me just say I was very satisfied with their relationship trajectory in this book :). I was also pretty impressed with the conclusion especially regarding Madoc and how the book resolved the tension that’s been building up between him and Jude throughout the series. I can’t wait to reread this book in the future and gush all over again.

5. The Dragon Republic by RF Kuang

Image result for the dragon republic

This series impresses me to no end. This second book raised the stakes even higher and the consequences even more dire. I still wish Kuang would include more female characters but I’m so happy that this book, the equivalent of a Chinese action movie almost, has a female protagonist. That is rare in and of itself. I love the relationships that develop and Rin’s ever growing descent into her powers and corruption. The plotting is perfectly paced but the second book also improves on building the world around Rin expanding beyond the school setting of the first book. There is no way to describe this book other than epic.

6. Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner

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I had to briefly touch upon this series because Turner is an amazing writer. Within each book of this series, she develops creative ways of writing Eugenides, the main character, in different perspectives. She is very deft at writing concisely but each sentence means something. Eugenide’s relationships with everyone, especially the Queen, is more complex than most YA relationships written out there. Aside from that, she is a master of plot even though her books barely have any actual action. It’s a beautiful series.

7. Good Talk by Mira Jacobs

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This is the only graphic novel on my list. The book is made up of conversations she has with her family, friends, husband and son about race and the America of 2016. You can tell a lot about people through the conversations they have. This is definitely true of the conversations she has with her son because her son is so young and asks questions we often don’t have answers for. The art is also very interesting; it’s drawn in a semi realistic/cartoon cutout way which simultaneously heightens the emotions behind the conversation and detaches you from it. It’s an interesting dynamic but no less powerful. It definitely made me mad about the state of American right now.

8. Normal People by Sally Rooney

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I mentioned in my favorite movies of 2019 that I’m a sucker for romance. It’s a shame that so many are not written well (yes I know I sound pretentious). I’m happy to report though that this is written very well. It’s part romance, part coming of age novel set in Ireland. The author has a lot to say about gender politics and the class system through her characters. She definitely is interested in character interactions which are my favorite part of any media I consume. It’s also a very millennial book capitalizing on the struggles we face so definitely not everyone but it resonated so well with me.

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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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The Winner’s Curse trilogy review/thoughts

book review, Uncategorized

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: 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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Spring/Summer Reading Wrap Up

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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: 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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