Discussion: Gratuitous Violence vs Conservative Sex in (mostly) YA

Book Discussion, Uncategorized

I was inspired to write this post after I was listening to a recent Writingexcuses podcast featuring the very popular horror author, Darren Shan who as you might know wrote the Cirque de Freak series which is a horror series for a middle grade/YA audience along with a series of other adult and YA horror. Brandon Sanderson posed the question, “Is there anything you can’t do when writing horror for children? and Shan’s responsImage result for lord loss darren shane was:

One thing I’ve found with my editors and publishers is sex. You can be as violent as you want. [I wrote a book called] Lord Loss and [there’s a scene where] a boy walks into a bedroom, his father’s hanging upside down from the ceiling and his head’s chopped off, his mother’s ripped to pieces, his sister’s been cut in two and a demon’s behind her back moving her hands like puppets and that was all acceptable.

It seems to be this growing trend or existing trend I suppose that the more grittier and violent a YA book is, especially SFF and horror, the more authentic it is. This was some of the praise for An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. Laia exists in a world where you see violence around every corner and promises of rape at several points. It’s not the first YA book to do this although I have to admit I think An Ember in the Ashes is the more graphic than most other YA fantasies out there. This was only confirmed in the sequel, A Torch Against the Night. Tahir is definitely not afraid to chop off some heads and cut off some fingers. But usually a statement like that has been met with praise. But now I wonder, is it something to praise? In some ways, I attribute this Image result for game of thrones season 6 postertrend to Game of Thrones. Now I’ve read the first book but haven’t read the rest nor have I seen the TV show. I don’t mind hearing spoilers so usually when my friends tell me about last night’s Game of Throne episode, they’re usually talking how violently this person was killed or how many people died this episode. I learned to equate, “that episode was so good” with it’s probably because something really violent happened. Everyone tells me not to get attached to the characters because they’ll die but the thing is I like getting attached to characters and honestly what’s the point if everyone dies? What’s the point of showing such an overtly violent world? I understand I’m really oversimplifying GoT, but I’m only talking specifically about the violence. I see the appeal of dark and gritty fantasy worlds and seeing characters pushed to their limits. It’s in fact, why the stakes feel so high in An Ember in the Ashes. but at the same time aren’t there other creative and interesting ways to develop a harsh world, a cruel character without just escalating a narrow definition of violence?

I’m currently reading Half the World by Joe Abercrombie and it kind of proves my point of the “narrow definition of violence” where a harsh world is depicted only through how violent (how many stabbings, killings, deaths) it is. Many reviewers have praised that the more violence there is, especially in YA, the more realistic it is. But it’s funny because the amount of violence portrayed versus the amount of sex portrayed doesn’t feel like it’s correlated at least in YA. In adult books, there seems to be a more equal balance between the two.

Darren Shan mentions that all that violence in that one particular scene of his book was allowed but what about sex? He elaborated that:

In my vampire series Cirque Du Freak, at one point there’s this process that vampires go through which I had called vampuberty and my publisher said no, you cannot say ‘vampuberty’, we must not mention anything that has any slight sexual connotation whatsoever.

I found that disheartening because that means it’s ok for kids to read about heads getting chopped off and people being cut in half but it’s not ok to mention puberty? A confusing but natural process that affects every kid at some point? Now my problem is not with how much violence is portrayed but the fact that such a triggering scene was assumed to be well handled by kids but things like puberty were supposedly “too adult” and must be kept in the dark like a bad secret. According to Shan, the reasoning behind the ban on vampuberty was because “teenage boys [didn’t] want to talk about sex or read about sex” which is an assumption that is laughable at best. I think it’s a shame to be honest, because this is a real opportunity to teach young boys (and girls) about something that is in reality, just very confusing and maybe something like that mentioned in a book would have helped them better understand it. Even in YA books with copious amounts of violence, the romances are, for the most part, conservative and chaste eImage result for wither lauren destefanospecially regarding the main character. Think of The Hunger Games trilogy where kids are literally killing each other to the death (Rue!) but the romance itself is almost too afraid to show itself. I cannot tell you how many times the main character “blushed” or how much they made puppy eyes at each other in YA. To be fair, it might have to do with the fact that violence is prevalent at any age but the concept of sex is relatively new to teenagers. By the way,
I’m mentioning this under the assumption that the more violent a world is, the more sex there should be although that theory is probably inaccurate. I’m merely pointing out the trend that it is perfectly acceptable to input more violence into a book but the amount of sex or even sexual connotation has stayed relatively the same. In the YA novel, Wither by Lauren Destefano, a man marries 3 girls including our main character. He proceeds to have sex with his other two wives (consensual if I remember) but the main character never does have sex with him or vice versa because that would just be distasteful wouldn’t it.

I suppose it also has to do with the fact that America is in reality a conservative country. I’ve heard of many libraries that ban books with consensual sex in them but allow books that have graphic rape in them (a lot of these books were for required reading) because that totally makes sense. Even in books like Divergent, sexual assault is more graphic than the actual romance. Let’s have high schoolers learn about rape but not about consenting and pleasurable sex between two people!

It obviously looks like I’m advocating for less violence and more sex in this post..lol..but my point is that maybe that the more violent a book is does not make it any more authentic and realistic and that sex should be more openly talked about because consensual sex is kind of important, ya know?

Let me know your thoughts on what I’ve discussed!

sigfinal

 

October 2016 Wrap Up!

Uncategorized, wrap up

October as a reading month was pretty much expected. Some novels, a graphic novel, a play and a short story so just the usual for me. But I’ve got a lot to say about these books so enjoy!

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

505483

4/5

I should actually watch some of the plays I read being performed because that’s how it was meant to be consumed but I guess I’m content with just reading them right now. I decided to read an iconic play from the 50’s. ARITS follows a black family from Chicago who have just come on a huge inheritance from their recently deceased grandfather. The play grapples with the characters’ polarizing desires as to how this money should be spent. Of course, these desires are just a platform to reveal these characters’ pride, aspirations and sense of justice which in turn reveal how those values suffered when faced with the racism and racial segregation of the ’50s. Besides weaving these themes with a deft and effortless hand, Hansberry asks, Is this fight for equality worth it when you can’t change people’s ingrained prejudices? I thought this was so eloquent and quietly powerful.

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

This is the sequel to the book An Ember in the Ashes which I gave a 4 stars when I first

25558608

3/5

read it. ATATN continues right after the first novel and Laia and Elias are still on the road to breaking Darin out of Kauf and Helene is tasked to kill Elias. This sequel was not quite as good. What is as good as the first one was the way Sabaa Tahir handles plot and suspense. The plot is not over the top gratuitous but it’s enough to keep me really engrossed in the story. I think she also writes suspense pretty well. What doesn’t work as well for me is the characters. We get an additional perspective from Helene in this book so we could get a glimpse of what was happening in the Empire while Elias and Laia were on the run and although I found her plight sympathetic I could not for the life of me feel totally invested. I also thought Laia felt so bland because her character was so focused on Darin, Darin, Darin. Elias was definitely the most sympathetic character but that’s an obvious choice because he goes through so much shit in this book. I thought the first book resolved the love triangle but plot twist it’s not resolved and just really annoyed me. There was also a plethora of YA tropes in this one like the “I-have-to-stay-away-from-you-because-I-will-only-end-up-hurting-you” trope which just makes me want to shake someone. Overall, I will continue with the series if only for the plot; I think the ending really opened up a lot of possibilites for the sequel and I am quite excited.

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

2890090

4.5/5

This was actually a reread for me and although I didn’t like it quite as much the first time; this book still has a special place in my heart. This is the third book to the Gentlemen Bastards series by Scott Lynch, which remains my favorite adult fantasy series. And this installment is my favorite in the series. You know a book is special when you are left in awe of how this author manages to give you such an immersive experience with amazingly imaginative worldbuilding and characters that you love with all your heart. I’m still eagerly awaiting the fourth book in this series which was suppose to come out in September but is now once again delayed (it’s been delayed like twice already) until 2017 because the author is getting married. Rude. Jk. But still. I now know the pain that Patrick Rothfuss/George RR Martin fans feel. It hurttttss.

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

41804

3/5

I can see how incredibly important this book is in the history of AI science fiction. It is basically a bunch of interconnected short stories exploring Asimov’s created laws of robotics with different characters and time periods. This book is, above all, a book of ideas and philosophy so everything else is used as an extension of those ideas. And although these ideas are fascinating, it doesn’t make a compelling story and I just found myself bored.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

I also finished the sequel to Six of Crows this month and it was fabulous. You can read my review here.

Graphic Novels

17210470

3/5

Boxers by Gene Luen Yang

Boxers explores the Boxer rebellion that took place in China from 1899-1901 through the eyes of one Chinese boy named Bao. It’s a good introductory and sometimes humorous take on themes like Western colonialism in terms of religion and the concept of the antihero and how everything basically sucked during this time. The artstyle is very simplistic and almost cartoonish but it doesn’t detract from the horrors of the story. There’s also a little bit of magical realism thrown in. But the story itself drags and is actually a little too conventional when it comes to Bao’s story, you know the underdog who gets bullied but becomes the hero blah blah and is ultimately, just meh.

Short Story

The Ostler by Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins is considered one of the first suspense writers which I can definitely see. He has such delightful turn of phrases and really makes you stop in the right places for the full effect of whatever is happening in the story. The Ostler is considered a ghost story and a really creepy one at that. I highly enjoyed it and I definitely want to read some of his full-length novels now.

Let me know what you read in October, if you’ve read any of these and also if you have any recommendations for historical fiction, please comment because I really want to read some in November but I have a surprising lack of them in my TBR.

sigfinal

 

Discussion: Is Age Just a Number?

Book Discussion, Misc, Uncategorized

I finally convinced my sister to read Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo and she came home one day after reading it and she asked me “Did you know Kaz was 17?”

Subconsciously I probably did. Out loud, it just sounded weird. He is the head of a renowned gang and is suppose to commit a heist of one of the most secure prisons in the Grisha world which is a pretty heavy burden for a 17 year old if I do say so. I think in my head, he was around my age (22) although I inadvertently make a lot of YA protagonists my age in my head especially in YA fantasy and scifi because if I’m to be honest, I sometimes think YA protagonists are a little young in proportion to the things they have to do. This is more in regards to YA fantasy because in YA contemporary, the protagonist is usually dealing with real life problems while in high school. If any older, it would just be New Adult, more or less, although there are obviously exceptions.

Because I was curious as to the number of protagonists belonged to which age category, I made a little infographic sampling a number of YA books and the ages of the main protagonists, their age on the left and their pictures on the right.

 

wake-up

Some disclaimers:

*Books chosen pretty much randomly out of the YA books. This is a very small sample of YA SFF out there and is not an extensive representation of the genre as a whole. I know I’ve forgotten a lot, books like Shadow and Bone trilogy, Bitter Kingdom trilogy, Clockwork Princess, Twilight etc. etc.

*Included only YA fantasy and scifi

*All pictures from Google images. 

*All ages found on their respective Wikias. There may be some discrepancies.

First of all, I think it’s worth noting that these people–kids–essentially have pretty intense responsibilities and have already gone through a lot in life. Sharzhad already has her best friend killed and has already found her true love. June has a freaking government position basically while the other officials are adults if I’m not mistaken. Katniss is the face of a revolution. Caelaena is considered the best assassin in the land. And of course, Harry defeats Voldemort at the old, old age of 17. 17.

Image result for harry defeating voldemort

That’s pretty crazy if you think about it. I understand in fantasy that usually kids grow up faster than usual because the world they live in is usually very harsh like in An Ember in the Ashes. But still it makes me wonder why these ages were even chosen. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for Caelaena to be a little older in order to really be the best assassin in the land. Sixteen is definitely the most popular age in YA which is understandable especially if you live in America. Even Veronica Roth once mentioned that she chose to make Tris 16 because it’s sort of a coming of age age, an age where everything changes and you are faced with a lot of decisions. But what does it say when the peak of your experiences in life happen in your teenage years?

I suppose in many ways I find it unbelievable because of my own experience. I mean I didn’t know what the heck I was doing when I was 16. I was young and very naive. I suppose the age debate in YA can go both ways. It’s true that I could have found some good role models who have a greater maturity level (for the most part) and are faced with life and death situations that I don’t have to think about but could still help me with my own decisions. Also, the sense of power and control that we have as teens isn’t very much so to see these protagonists take control of their lives and discover who they are is very gratifying. On the other hand, what is up with all these kids that apparently rule the world and all the adults are just really dumb entities that are just there.

It’s also worth noting, even though I don’t know what to make of it, that most of the female protagonists are on the younger end of the age spectrum, most being 16 and 17 with none that I can think of being 20 and older and still be considered to be YA. Most of the male protagonists are on the older end of the spectrum. Making this infographic also made me realize how odd some of the relationship age differences are. For example, Cress is 16 but she’s in a relationship with Thorne who is 20. And most weird is probably Rose who is 17 but becomes romantically involved with Dimitri who is um, 24 (lol).

wake-up

*copied again so you don’t have to keep scrolling up to peruse the graph

The teen years are very different from your 20’s and in my opinion should not be interchangeable but oftentimes, when there are YA adaptations turned into movies, Image result for four and tris divergentthe actors are usually a lot older than their supposed age in the books and sometimes the characters’ ages are even changed in order to correlate more with the actors’ ages. For example, Four is suppose to be 18 in the books but he’s 24 in the movies, a significant age gap. Percy Jackson, played by Logan Lerman, was suppose to be 12 in the books but changed to 16. I’m not sure how old Clary Fray is suppose to be but the actress playing her in Shadowhunters is 20 and the actor playing Jace is 26 which is at least 3 years older than they should be. Image result for miss peregrine's home for peculiar children asa butterfieldThe show looks like a bunch of 20 year olds hanging out instead of teens. And most recently, Jacob from Ms. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is suppose to be 16 but he’s played by the lovely
Asa Butterfield who is 19 (although to be fair, Asa looks really young). I understand that there’s a bunch of schooling issues that go on with child actors but one wonders what it would be like if they had cast actors that were the correct age or would it have  been too jarring to see?

I suppose it all comes down to realism for me. Some characters could be 16 but are very mature. I think what is off-putting to me was the fact that a lot of the characters surrounding these very young protagonists are actually adults. It’s realistic to me when it comes to Harry Potter because he always has guidance from the more experienced people around him and you can feel what a burden he has at such a young age while dealing the usual “teenage stuff” like crushes, homework, and first kisses; although I do admit it’s a very first-world teenage experience. In many ways, I could interchange these protagonists’ age to something older because their experience is not specific to the teen years like Harry’s is. Scarlet could very well be a 25-year-old instead of an 18-year-old who goes off with Cinder and company to defeat Levana. But what do I know? I mean there are 16 year olds who have gone to the Olympics and have been to war so maybe I’m just too narrow-minded to get out of my own experience.

Image result for shrugs gif

I know that this post literally gave no answers to the questions I posed. But I want to know what you think about age in YA.

  • Are these YA protagonists too young to be saving their worlds?
  • How do you feel about the age gaps and the ratios of girls and boys on the age spectrum?
  • Are some of these ages realistic to the story?
  • I didn’t mention this in the post because it’s too broad a topic but what are your thoughts on the uneven amount of violence versus the relatively chaste sexuality of YA protagonists? Is it an age thing? Societal?

sigfinal

Burn Reread Rewrite Tag

Tags, Uncategorized

Thank you to Analee @BookSnacks for tagging me! Also thanks for teaching me about the randomize option on Goodreads. I did not even know that existed and I’ve been Goodreads for like almost a year now? I’m so smart..

The Rules:

-Randomly choose 3 books. (I used the ‘Random’ option on my Goodreads read shelf.)

-For each group, decide which book to burn, which one to rewrite, and which to reread. (A lot like Kiss, Marry, Kill.)

-Repeat until you completed three rounds (I’m doing 6)

 

Reread: The Lies of Locke Lamora because it’s one of my favorite fantasy series of all time and it’s seriously so amazing. I particularly love the witty banter between the characters. I literally cannot praise it enough. Like I would sell my soul to Scott Lynch. Without a second thought. No, really.

Rewrite: Probably The Child Thief. I want more Wendy and Tiger Lily! And some parts felt a little unnecessary and dragged the book down.

Burn: Soulless. I love fantasy but for some reason, I have so much trouble getting into Urban Fantasy. I just thought this was just alright. I think it tried way too hard to be charming and witty when it wasn’t..

2. 

Reread: Unteachable remains, to this day, my highest rated (4.5/5) romance book I’ve read. It’s also my most highly rated New Adult book. And a romance book impressing me is like me trying to impress Gordon Ramsay with my cooking. It’s hard. Also, it wins another award for best NA cover ever.

Rewrite: Crash Into You. Dear Ms. McGarry, Fix that melodramatic ending and that cover. Otherwise, it was a cute book.

Burn: To be honest, Crash Into You and Cuckoo Song are interchangeable for these two categories. I could burn or rewrite either. Cuckoo Song had such an eerie, creepy, suspenseful beginning with talking dolls and leaves falling mysteriously out of people’s hair. But then the plot just stopped in the middle and it dragged so much until the end.

3. 

Ugh this is so difficult.

Reread: Airborn. This is actually one of more underrated middle grade adventure books I’ve come across. It’s so fun and so entertaining. It has flying pirate ships, the classic underdog, a cute romance. I mean, what more can you want.

Rewrite: The Name of the Wind. Write more female characters! Also, the ending subplot just was so unnecessary to the story. Some of the plot tropes are really cliche too and some of the lore and history could have been better integrated.

Burn: Alif the Unseen. The premise is interesting and one of the few Middle Eastern fantasies I’ve read that is so devoid of Western perspective, but the characters and the plot do not really live up to it.

4. 

Reread: The Wrath and the Dawn; I actually should read this again since there is a short story coming out with the events of the first book from Khalid’s perspective!! ❤

Rewrite: An Ember in the Ashes. I need more worldbuilding. Less love triangles. Less sexual-assault-as-a-way-to-make-a-character-appear more-evil trope.

Burn: Monkey High. I will burn this and then buy myself another copy 😉 but seriously, this book subverts a romance trope that I had been waiting for. The main male character who is normally the goofy sidekick ends up with the girl (who is more of like your alpha male type character)?? Yes, please.

5. 

Reread: Strange and Ever After. This isn’t really a testament to how good the book is. It’s more of the fact that I didn’t like the other two books. But SaEA does have its moments.

ReWrite: The Martian should have been retitled How to Survive on Mars 101. Give me more character development, more of Mars itself!

Burn: The Spook’s Revenge. Worst series ending ever. If you read this series, just pretend like this book doesn’t exist.

6. 

 

Burn: Code Name Verity. It just lacked a sense of urgency and pacing for me.

Reread: The Well of Ascension. This is actually my second favorite Mistborn novel. Sooo good. I love all the political maneuvering in thsi one.

Rewrite: Nailbiter. All it needs is a little more character development.

As always, I tag anyone who would like to do this. It was really fun, but really hard at the same time.

sigfinal

 

My Best Books of 2015 Part 1

Best Books, Uncategorized

I don’t think you realize how I excited I am every year to talk about my favorite books. It showcases the best of the best and it only comes around once a year.

Before I begin, I just wanted to put in a few disclaimers. First of all, rating is not necessarily the determining factor. I have a lot of books that got higher ratings than my favorite books but that does not mean they’ll be in my favorites. Second of all, I know it says top books but I had to include 4 short stories because they were that good. I’m gong to include them all in one category though and it will only take up one number. And lastly, a favorite book to me has to 1) leave a lasting impression on me 2) has to have a rereadability factor 3) has to surprise and challenge me (I read a lot of books; the books that surprise me are special).

If you’re interested, I’m linking my list of favorite books from last year. Part One, Part Two

I also wanted to list some honorable mentions. Not quite a favorite but pretty damn close.

  1. Firefight by Brandon Sanderson
  2. Cleopatra in Space by Mike Haidack
  3. Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates
  4. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
  5. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
  6. Monster Vol. 1 by Naoki Urasawa
  7. Alex and Ada Vol. 1 by Jonathan Luna
  8. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
  9. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

I’m going in reverse order so you’ll see #5-1 tomorrow.

So grab a snack and let me introduce you to my top books of 2015. All synopses came from Goodreads.

Coming in at number 9 is..

9. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…

I’ve only read 3 of Margaret Atwood’s books this year including this one but this is my favorite by leagues. Atwood’s prose is so detailed and refreshing to read. This dystopia that Atwood has created still stands the test of time and to me, the best dystopias are the ones that feel so unrealistic so that we think it’ll never happen but at the same time reflect the greatest injustices and flaws of our present society in subtle but effective ways. I think Atwood does an amazing job at satirizing society’s view of women as reproductive vessels but also providing a main character (Offred) that feels very raw and real.

The number 8 spot goes to:

The Child Thief by Brom

6308379

Peter is quick, daring, and full of mischief—and like all boys, he loves to play, though his games often end in blood. His eyes are sparkling gold, and when he graces you with his smile you are his friend for life, but his promised land is not Neverland.

Fourteen-year-old Nick would have been murdered by the drug dealers preying on his family had Peter not saved him. Now the irresistibly charismatic wild boy wants Nick to follow him to a secret place of great adventure, where magic is alive and you never grow old. Even though he is wary of Peter’s crazy talk of faeries and monsters, Nick agrees. After all, New York City is no longer safe for him, and what more could he possibly lose?

There is always more to lose.

Accompanying Peter to a gray and ravished island that was once a lush, enchanted paradise, Nick finds himself unwittingly recruited for a war that has raged for centuries—one where he must learn to fight or die among the “Devils,” Peter’s savage tribe of lost and stolen children.

There, Peter’s dark past is revealed: left to wolves as an infant, despised and hunted, Peter moves restlessly between the worlds of faerie and man. The Child Thief is a leader of bloodthirsty children, a brave friend, and a creature driven to do whatever he must to stop the “Flesh-eaters” and save the last, wild magic in this dying land.

It’s very easy for Peter Pan retellings to become cliched. It’s also very easy to remember the Disney version as canon. But The Child Thief subverts all that we know about Peter Pan and presents it in a whole new light. Albeit a very dark and twisted light. (There’s no such thing as a twisted light is there…what are words..). I loved the effortless fusion of old Scottish folklore. I also really like the exploration of Pan’s character as a not-so-heroic character. And the prose provides such an eerie but mystical atmosphere.

7. March Vol. 1 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

17346698Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president.

Now, to share his remarkable story with new generations, Lewis presents March, a graphic novel trilogy, in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin and New York Times best-selling artist Nate Powell (winner of the Eisner Award and LA Times Book Prize finalist for Swallow Me Whole).

March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement.

Book One spans John Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall.

We all know of the 1960’s civil rights movement but I think what makes this graphic memoir stand out is that it adds such an intimate perspective from a person that has personally witnessed this so closely for himself. It surprised me how well the author was able to create the feeling of unrest and frustration that was present during this time. I usually don’t even like black and white graphic novels but I think this one was exceptional and even more powerful with the black and white color scheme.

Here is where I cheat a little by including 4 short stories into the number 6 spot. The first one is 86 pages. The rest are short stories, less than 20 pages. I had to include these because they were just that good.

6.The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy

18386Hailed as one of the world’s supreme masterpieces on the subject of death and dying, The Death of Ivan Ilyich is the story of a worldly careerist, a high court judge who has never given the inevitability of his dying so much as a passing thought. But one day, death announces itself to him, and to his shocked surprise, he is brought face to face with his own mortality.

How, Tolstoy asks, does an unreflective man confront his one and only moment of truth?

This short novel was an artistic culmination of a profound spiritual crisis in Tolstoy’s life, a nine-year period following the publication of Anna Karenina during which he wrote not a word of fiction.
A thoroughly absorbing and, at times, terrifying glimpse into the abyss of death, it is also a strong testament to the possibility of finding spiritual salvation.

It’s funny how Tolstoy can so vividly describe a man’s thoughts when he is almost dying when Tolstoy himself wasn’t dying (or maybe he was). I felt like I was dying which says something about his writing. Very depressing but so, so good.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Gilman

A woman’s harrowing descent into madness.

Like Tolstoy, Gilman knows how to weave inner dialogue to present a sense of unease and desperation, of being trapped in your own paranoia, in your own mental prison. A haunting story that’s not very long but still has had such a lasting impact on me.

The Fisher Queen by Alyssa Wong

 MY MOTHER WAS A FISH. That’s why I can swim so well, according to my father, who is a plain fisherman with a fisherman’s plain logic, but uncanny flair for the dramatic. And while it’s true that I can cut through the water like a minnow, or a hand dipped over the edge of a speedboat, I personally think it’s because no one can grow up along the Mekong without learning two things: how to swim, and how to avoid the mermaids.

2014 Nebula Awards nominee for Best Short Story.

I still can’t quite wrap my mind around how weird this story is. But the prose is gorgeous and the story was definitely not what I expected.

Bridge of Snow (The Winner’s Trilogy #0.5) by Marie Rutkoski

20345368Ignore the stirrings of war. Let the carriage to a royal ball wait. There is a story to be told: of a starless night, a mother and her sick son, and a mortal who falls in love with the snow god, and will do anything to have her…

Mrs. Rutkoski, you get to join the ranks of Mr. Sanderson and Mr. Lynch with the honor of having your name on my favorites list twice. In the time it took me to read this short story (around 20 minutes), I smiled, laughed and I almost wanted to cry. It reminded me of old stories told by the fireplace, of magic and lyrical prose. But it ALSO tied in the things I knew about Arin and his future self and made me love him even more and I thought that wasn’t possible but I was oh so wrong.

Well that’s it for now! Stay tuned tomorrow for numbers 1-5 on my best books of 2015.

sigfinal

 

 

September 2015 Wrap Up!

wrap up

Hi all! September is over and here is what I read in September! All reviews I’ve written will be linked. I enjoyed most if not all of the books I read.

Historical Fiction

(4/5)

Under a Painted Sky- I did a mini review of this one along with two other YA historical fiction novels.

Fantasy

(4/5)

(4/5)

(3.75/5)

The Assassin’s Apprentice– Everybody raves about Robin Hobb and I can see why. Her worldbuilding is so phenomenal and unique especially the way she invents cultural customs and the customs aren’t always what you might expect from a medieval type society. Robin Hobb is also known for her characters and I was particularly fascinated by the Fool but the other characters were very well developed too. The plot really picks up near the end of the book. Highly recommended if you like slower-paced fantasy novels.

An Ember in the Ashes– I did a full review and spoiler discussion on this one. Really liked it!

The Last Ever After– I have a full review on the whole trilogy.

Contemporary

(4.5/5)

(3.5/5)

The Crossover– I haven’t read a book written in verse for a while now but I can still safely say that this is one of the best verse novels I’ve read. It’s a middle grade novel about a two brothers, Josh and Jordan, who are best friends but they start to grow up and their relationship dynamics change as they navigate the woes of life. There’s a lot of references to basketball as they’re both basketball players and I think the verse is particularly fun and exciting because it’s written as if you were listening to a hip hop song. I just think it was heartwarming, heartwrenching, fun, sweet book about family.

Maybe in Another Life– I think this book is especially thought-provoking if you’re in your 20’s and the ending (s) actually really surprised me. I initially read the book because I thought the premise sounded really interesting. A woman who goes back to her hometown to live with her best friend. A chance reunion with a childhood sweetheart leads to two parallel storylines (kind of like a choose your own adventure). One where she leaves with him and one where she decides not to and that leads to two different storylines and the reader follows her through each one. I do feel like some of the complicated problems in this book were solved too simplistically and it was bit too preachy at times. Also I felt the author wrote a main character who just reacts to the situations.

(4/5)

This One Summer- The great thing about this coming of age graphic novel is that the main characters aren’t done with their character arc yet. This book is just a snapshot of a particularly vulnerable time in their lives and I really liked that. It was definitely a quiet book with gorgeous artwork. I loved the subtle, subconscious things the girls pick up simply by being around other people. I think that’s very accurate to how young kids learn about the world and their place in that society.

Literary

(4.5/5)

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao-Probably my favorite book of the month. Fully deserving of its Pulitizer Prize in my opinion. It’s written in a way that’s both erudite and pedestrian and seemlessly weaves in Spanish language at the same time (without translating it for you). Junot Diaz really knows how to write narrative voice and I think the exploration of immigration, social pariahs, and Dominican culture were done well too.

But as serious as it sounds, this book is actually quite funny; it has a touch of magical realism in it and the serious nature of many of the events of the book were not undermined by the tone of the book. I think the reason I like this book so much is because it’s about the dreamers wanting to escape the life that they were born in even it has shaped who they are.

Nonfiction

(4/5)

Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates-Everyday Sexism is actually a project started by Laura Bates where people (women mostly) from all over the world submitted their stories of everyday sexism. Everyday sexism is when a girl is told that she can’t become a scientist, when there is groping and harassment at workplaces but women are too afraid to report it for fear of losing their job, when girls are too afraid to walk home for fear of harassers. It will leave you angry, frustrated, and shocked at the terrible but true things that happen to women simply because they are women. But the author does a good job at giving a call to action.

Picture

There are 5 reasons you should read this book

  1. You are at Costco waiting to pick up your pizza and you have nothing to do in that time.
  2. You are an actual kid.
  3. You are a kid at heart.
  4. You like pizza.
  5. You like cute animals.

But yeah, it was super adorable.

Tell me about your reading month in September and what you plan to read in October! I’m so excited to share what I’m reading in October in a post coming up soon!

sigfinal

Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes

book review

20560137Author: Sabaa Tahir

Pages: 446

Genre: YA, High Fantasy

Synopsis: Goodreads

Rating: tealstartealstartealstartealstar


*Gasp* Did you hear that? It was the sound of me in shock that I’ve finally enjoyed a YA high fantasy. It’s been a while (if you don’t include The Winner’s Curse which is more light fantasy). An Ember in the Ashes reminds me of why I loved YA fantasy in the first place, because it is exciting and fast-paced and has characters and ships you become severely attached to.

The funny thing is we’ve seen these plotlines before in YA time and time again. Girl wants to go find a family member. Girl goes to spy on enemy for resistance. Brutal, dystopian society. Romance between girl and boy of different social stations. What makes this story different is that Tahir is not afraid to take her characters to their limits and doesn’t censor or sanitize any of what makes this society brutal (except I didn’t like the use of rape as a plot device). Because of that, she elevates the tension and suspense to their maximum effect and makes this story exciting and action-packed. I was actually scared for Laia whenever she went to spy on the enemy because the consequences were so dire.

The character arcs themselves were very interesting to follow. Instead of not knowing the Empire is bad, Elias already knows he wants to desert the Empire so the reader doesn’t have read about the same old development arc we’ve seen before. Laia, on the other hand, is afraid she is not like her mother who was brave and charismatic. She’s afraid of being a coward and not being able to look out for the people she cares about. I loved her character arc especially because her growth isn’t an entire transformation and isn’t slapping you in the face with how obvious it is. Instead, it’s a subtle growth that quietly transforms her character and by the end of the book, she is ready to take on the world. *Happy sigh* There were also some interesting side characters (including another servant that Laia makes friends with and the Commandant who is..crazy..) that are as equally fascinating and that make for fun and complex relationships and bonds.

As for the romance, there are two love triangles. One for Elias, the other for Laia. *Oprah voice* Everybody gets a love triangle!! (Jk) I’m not one for love triangles so I found it a tad annoying. Elias would think this person was oh so hot and then the next page, he would say the same thing about Laia. And vice versa. Even though it was annoying, I still liked the interactions between Elias and Laia. And I could ignore the annoying parts because the other parts of the book made up for it.

There’s a touch of the supernatural in this book which I felt was slightly incongruous with the worldbuilding. The worldbuilding itself was pretty decent, especially with the histories, cultures, and customs of the two opposing societies. However, the descriptions of the physical locations and buildings and things like that needed work. This book has been promoted as Roman-inspired but I didn’t see any of that except maybe the use of the amphitheater.

I’m glad this book isn’t a standalone because this book definitely leaves a lot of unanswered questions. If you’ve already read this book, I did post a spoiler discussion of my thoughts so you can check that out if you want! Let me know if you’re planning on reading this book!

sigfinal

Spoiler Discussion: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Book Discussion

So I just finished An Ember in the Ashes yesterday and I wanted to spew out my thoughts. I will be posting up my non-spoiler review very soon if you haven’t read the book. But for now, long story short, I gave it a four out of five stars so I really enjoyed it. Spoilers from here on out!

The Masks and the masks

First off, I still don’t get what the masks actually look like…like it would have to be thin I’m assuming because how else would it meld into your skin??

The Precious Cinnamon Rolls aka our main characters

I really liked all of our main protagonists. I have a soft spot for Elias (add him to my list of book boyfriends) but I really liked Laia too. I feel really bad for all the shit she had to go through at Blackcliff but her character development was beautiful. You know, not always believing what people tell her and finding out the true meaning of courage and sacrifice (I sound like a Hallmark card). Helene was understandably frustrating. I mean she has grown up in a world where loyalty to the Empire is a must. I mean you have to remember that the way she thinks about slaves and scholars came from the empire teaching that to her so I can’t really be expected to like her way of thinking. I’m super happy about getting her point of view in the sequel and I almost wish she wasn’t blood shrike because I would want to be at least a 20 mile radius away from Marcus.

The Not So Precious Cinnamon Rolls

I really liked the Commandant’s character and how she showed absolutely no mercy because usually there’s some small chink in the armor with these types of characters or some really tragic backstory but there isn’t with her character and the fact that Tahir was brave enough to push the boundaries on the violence (that “k” scene tho..) really amped up the tension and suspense because I was actually scared when Laia would go off and spy for the Resistance thinking she was going to be caught at any moment. Heck, I was even scared whenever she was talking about basically anything to Izzi.

I also kept thinking something bad was gonna happen to Izzi but nothing happened so that was good..*knock on wood*

The drama! The romance!

I also have mixed feelings about this love square that we’ve got going on or more like two love triangles..I liked that there was a love triangle with a male character but I felt like it wasn’t necessary. Because romantically, there’s nothing really to explore with Helene’s character. I don’t think there was any way it could have worked because Elias doesn’t want anything to do with the Empire but Helene wants everything to do with the Empire. I feel like even if they were good friends, Helene would have still done the deal because that’s how loyal she is. On the other hand, I felt like the love triangle with Laia, Keenan, and Elias was more warranted because Laia feels that Keenan understands her predicament whereas Elias understands her as a person. But I got annoyed with Keenan, mostly because I ship Elias and Laia.. The moon festival scene was so cute *_* and who can forget the scene after the Third Trial..

Also, I low-key ship Keenan and Izzi..

Also, it sounds really harsh but I was kind of annoyed with Darin for going to jail!!!! (jk) But Laia was sacrificing everything for her brother. I just feel like I needed more development and interaction between Laia and her brother for me to be invested in their relationship.

Oh No You Didn’t

I knew that the Test of Loyalty was definitely fighting Helene but I didn’t quite believe it because that is just cruel. Fighting your best friend to the death?? But I think it’s interesting that one of them would have killed the other and there weren’t any real hard feelings after that from Helene. Like ok, you almost killed me!! But that’s ok because you were just doing your job!! ha. ha. ha. I thought one of them would have backed down and say no but I liked that Tahir pushed the characters to their limits (almost).

For the literary critic in me

I have noticed a recurring trend in YA. It’s ok if there’s extreme violence in your book but the romance always has to chaste..like what..it doesn’t fit..

One thing that did really bother me throughout the book was the use of sexual assault. Not in the way it’s used necessarily (although the scene with Marcus and Laia felt a little gratuitous to me), but the concept surrounding it. The Commandant mentions that it would have been better if Laia had been scarred because then she would have been ugly and not be raped. This sentiment is consistently mentioned and it bothered me because beauty does not enter into the rape equation. Being beautiful does not give you a higher chance of being raped. That’s essentially like saying if your clothes are too revealing, you have a higher chance of being raped or vice versa. Rape is about power no matter who it is.

I realized I had a lot to say so kudos to you if you stuck till the end. If you did, comment moon cake below and let me know your thoughts! 😉

sigfinal