Ashes to Ashes by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian

The Burn for Burn trilogy has been (up until now) one of my more liked YA trilogies but Ashes to Ashes has killed my like for the books.

I went into Burn for Burn not expecting anything (I had read and hated Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Pretty trilogy) but was pleasantly surprised when the story picked me up and carried me along. The second book, Fire with Fire, I found unnecessarily long but again it didn’t disappoint. I didn’t have the highest hopes for Ashes to Ashes (the more supernatural the books became the less sure I was of the story) but even with low expectations it didn’t do anything for me.

I found the pacing in Ashes to Ashes to be off. I corrected that by adjusting my reading speed (as I often do). I skimmed the more boring parts and lightly read the rest. The writing style (and unfortunate lack of substance) lent itself nicely to this reading style.

For me this book felt a lot lighter than the others when it should have been the darkest of the trilogy. Han and Siobhan have been slowly working towards this supernatural conclusion, but it failed to evoke any sort of emotion in me. This was pretty disappointing because I remember teenage angst and tension being the high points of the other books. The descriptive writing is fine, but I didn’t connect with the story at all.
I don’t remember there being a love triangle in the first two books*, but it’s emphasized in this one. This is a YA pet hate of mine (and I’m sure I’m not alone in this). Jenny Han (I can’t speak to Siobhan Vivian as I’ve only read this series by her) LOVES a love triangle, but she cannot make them work satisfactorily. To be fair Han isn’t alone in this. I have never read a love triangle that actually made me care about who ended up with who(m) in the end. I just don’t care. They’re way over done and they’re never interesting. I realize this is a pretty personal thing, so if you like love triangles, you might not have as big a problem with Ashes to Ashes as I do.

Also Kat felt like a different character in this book. I found her much more annoying in Ashes to Ashes than in either of the first two books (and what was with all the AAVE appropriation?). Add to that the ridiculous epilogue (hasn’t anyone learned anything from Harry Potter?), this book failed the Star Wars test. It’s the first in the trilogy to do so, but let’s be honest a terrible ending can ruin a book series.

Ashes to Ashes reminded me a lot of Beautiful Creatures. It felt like two books being forced together. There was the supernatural storyline and the love triangle storyline and neither one came together and neither one was that interesting. If you’ve read the first two books, I’d say Ashes to Ashes is worth a read just to finish the trilogy, but if you haven’t started the books just skip them.

*It’s probably there, but I’ve just forgotten about it. I’ve read each book as they’ve been released but have never reread the series.

Spring and Summer 2014 Classics Readathon Wrap Up

Today’s the first day of autumn (though it doesn’t feel like it here) which means the Spring and Summer 2014 Classics Readathon is officially over. The readathon was hosted by Christine at Readerly Musings.

I didn’t really actively participate in this readathon, but I thought it would be cool to take inventory and see if I managed to read anything that qualified. The challenge was to read classics. As many or as few for as long or as little as you wanted (the challenge ran for 6 months). Christine defined a classic as any book published before the year of your birth (1988 for me).

Books completed:

  • Sula by Toni Morrison (1973)
  • The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter (23 stories published from 1902 – 1930)
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis (1950)
  • Prince Caspian by CS Lewis (1950)
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis (1952)
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler by EL Konigsburg (1967)
  • The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner (1942)

Seven books is pretty sad for a six month challenge, but honestly it’s more than I was expecting.

This challenge did help me knock off one challenge from my 101 in 1001 list (Read a classic). Technically I could use any of the other reads (Sula was a new-to-me read) as my Reread a classic goal, but I’m saving that as motivation to reread Frankenstein.

I can’t believe summer and this year are almost over. I’m definitely shifting reading gears into wrap up mode, trying to finish all these challenges before the end of the year. I definitely haven’t been keeping track of some as well as I should (mainly with Newberys and picture books). I’ll do an inventory and see which ones really need cracking down on. Until I get around to that though, I’ll be looking for any and all motivation to finish The Tale of Genji.

Banned Books Week 2014

It’s the last week of September which means it’s Banned Books Week. I probably wouldn’t have posted anything, but I want to share Diversity in YA’s banned books post with you.

Occasionally Malinda Lo will make these great, huge posts full of statistics on some topic. Her latest one is about the diversity in banned books. The whole post is really interesting and worth a look when you’ve got some time. It looks at all sorts of aspects of diversity including race, sexuality and disability.

Book Riot also published a great piece reminding everyone what Banned Books Week is really about (intellectual freedom forever!).

If I happen to read a banned book this week, I’ll share it, but I don’t think that’s very likely. Unless the Tale of Genji has ever been banned (I’m so far behind I’ll be reading this book all year probably).

10 Books That Have Stayed with Me

Yes, this is a facebook meme. No, I haven’t done it on facebook.* I don’t really post on facebook. But I can’t resist talking about books I love (and I don’t do it enough on this blog), so I thought I’d make and share a list here.

If you’ve done this challenge, link me your answers in the comments so I can check them out!

My answers are in no specific order. This is just the order they came to me. You will also notice that there are only eight in my list of 10. And Harry Potter is missing.**

1. The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier

This is my favorite book. For a while I read it every year. It has two interweaving timelines (a plot device I totally love), and Ella is a really flawed main character who I still love and relate to.

There’s something really comforting about this book. It’s been a lot of places with me (literally). I just love having it on hand so I can read it whenever the mood strikes.

2. The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan

I love this book, but it took me a while to figure out why. It has a similar structure to The Virgin Blue (two intertwining timelines), but it means more to me than The Virgin Blue in a lot of ways.

Olivia, the protagonist, is biracial, and she’s one of the first biracial characters I can remember reading. Amy Tan receives a lot of criticism (rightly so), but she really captured what it is to be Asian American/biracial in America. It is probably the first time I ever saw those thoughts and feelings articulated in a book and it meant a lot to me, even if I didn’t fully realize how much it meant at the time.

The Hundred Secret Senses is one of those books that I worry will lose its magic (even though it never does). It’s not a book that I recommend to people anymore (unless you’re also a mixed Asian kid), but it’s really important to me.

3. Bloomability by Sharon Creech

I studied Italian because I read Bloomability. It’s a great coming if age story. Definitely Creech at her best. It’s been ages since I’ve reread it though.

4. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

When I want to sound intellectual (which isn’t often, but it does happen… mostly when I’m talking to people trying to be elitist about literature), I will sometimes tell people that Mrs Dalloway is my favorite book. More often I tell people Mrs Dalloway is the book that made me an English major which is 50% true.*** The language, the story, the way it demands your attention. Ugh. So great. I’ve only read it once, but it’s definitely stayed with me.

5. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

Have you ever read a book so good you’re afraid to reread it because there’s no way it can be as good as you remember it? That’s HDM for me. If I hadn’t taken Children’s Lit sophomore year of college, these books would probably still be unreread. As it is, I had to reread it for that class, and they were even better the second time around.

6. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

This is the only book on this list that I didn’t read as a child/teenager. I read it after I graduated from college, but it’s seriously fantastic. It’s a book I wish had existed when I was 12. It’s short and seems simple at the start, but holds up to rereading after rereading.

7. Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

This book tricked me into thinking I like Christopher Moore, but what I really like is Lamb. I have never reread this book for fear it can’t be as good as I remember. I may never reread it because there is nothing to make me.

This book was so good (and the Scarlet Letter was so bad) that I took it to the gym and laughed my way through an entire workout because I couldn’t bear the thought of waiting to find out what was going to happen. It’s hilarious, irreverent and surprisingly touching at moments.

8. The Child of the Owl by Laurence Yep

This is another book that I haven’t reread (it’s at theme). I reread parts a lot as a kid, but I’ve never reread it in its entirety. That said, this book is also really important to me.  And again, a book where I didn’t realize its importance in my life until long after I’d read it.

The scene that stuck with me the most is when Casey buys dinner for Paw Paw. She ends up with a funny mix of Chinese food (breakfast, lunch and dinner). That just felt so real to me. My perfect metaphor for being Chinese American****

So there’s my list. There are some commonalities I never noticed before. Like, when I really like a book or a book had a big impact on me, my impulses are to either reread several times or never reread it. Every book I thought to include on this list was fiction (despite the fact that I’ve read some really good nonfiction).

I’m also a little surprised at the mix of adult fiction and kid fiction on the list, half and half. I expected more middle grade fiction to slip in there. There are definitely some favorite books that didn’t make the list that could have. And books I’ve read this year that might have made the list if they’d been written a decade ago.

There are more female authors on my list than male authors. And more female protagonists than males by far (I have always loved female characters more than male ones). The list is pretty white, but it’s about as white as I expected it to be. I wish that were different, but maybe in 10 years, after I’ve carried around the books I’m reading now, the list will look different.

The original meme says not to think too long when making your list, but I couldn’t stop thinking about my list after I made it. So there you have it. A list of eight books that mean something to me. Leave me a comment if you want to chat more about any of them. Or if you want to chat about your list!

*This time around. I did it the first time it went around when I was in college. And I can’t find my answers because apparently facebook got rid of notes.

**That’s not to say that Harry Potter hasn’t stayed with me or isn’t important to me. But I have so much to say about Harry Potter that I’m planning a Harry Potter week as soon as I can find time to reread the books.

***The other 50% of that story is that I had to declare a major so I sat down with my course catalog and highlighted every class that sounded interesting to me. Almost all of them were English classes so I became an English major.

****Actually, my metaphor for being Chinese American is sitting in a Chinese restaurant in America and not being able to understand the Chinese or the English “translations” on the menu. I don’t read hanzi, but I don’t understand what bean curd is either.

Tale of Genji: Update

Content warning: mentions of rape

I don’t find it that interesting to read about other people’s reading progress. Unless I’m reading the same thing, or I’ve read what they’re reading and want to see how they’re going to react to a certain part. But on the whole, I find posts like this pretty boring.

I think they’re useful as accountability tools though, which is why I’m making this post today.

There’s been a lot less rape in the story lately, but I find Genji and Murasaki’s relationship creepy no matter how often the author insists that it’s innocent. Despite the objectionable content, the story is pretty interesting. Lots of drama, death and festivals.

I don’t know that I’ll update my progress through The Tale of Genji every week, but this week was pretty noteworthy for my lack of progress. I’m not quite sure what the count is today, but I think I’m two and a half chapters behind where I want to be. I had a really busy work week which isn’t an excuse but is the reason I fell behind. I’m going to read today to make up some of that lost ground and just try and keep on track as much as I can next week.

Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan

HoO

This is the number of holds on the last Heroes of Olympus book at my library and the book doesn’t even come out until October. I’m hoping Barnes and Noble sends out a coupon around the publish date so I can just buy the box set.

I read Percy Jackson in 2011 but wanted to wait until all the Heroes of Olympus books were published before starting the series. I read each Percy Jackson book in a day (spaced out over a couple of months), worried the same thing might happen with the Heroes of Olympus and didn’t want to be left with any cliffhanger endings.

My mom is reading the Percy Jackson books now.* She keeps telling/asking me things about the story that I don’t remember at all. I think a reread is in order. *She’s on the third one and I want her to hurry up and get to the fourth (Battle of the Labyrinth, my favorite) so she can remind me all about it.

Flygirl by Sherri L Smith

Flygirl takes a long time to get going. I had to give the book over 100 pages before I was finally on board with it. But in the end, I think it’s worth the investment.

I read another of Smith’s books (Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet) and wasn’t that impressed with the Asian representation in the book. So knowing that Flygirl was set during WWII, I was cautious going in.

I had a few issues.* Hazel Ying Lee is referred to only as Hazel Ah Ying when almost every single source I can find that references her calls her Hazel Ying Lee (or Hazel Ah Ying Lee) and there’s no explanation for why Smith calls her Hazel Ah Ying. There are also several Japanese slurs used throughout the book. This is understandable, Smith also uses the terms colored, Negro and the N word throughout the book. There’s something to be said for historical accuracy, but I wish Smith had chosen to send Thomas to Europe rather than the South Pacific because that would have cut down the number of Japanese slurs in the text considerably (Thomas is the only character I can remember using a Japanese racial slur).

Smith uses the slur g***y and red as a skin descriptor (“red and brown”) both completely unnecessarily in the story. There are also several food words to describe black characters (and once to describe a white character’s hair).

But even with all that and the slow pace at the beginning, I enjoyed Flygirl. I have never read a book about a black person passing (well, I read a nonfiction book once that sort of touched on the topic, but it was nothing like Flygirl). Ida Mae’s story reminded me of biracial narratives. Mostly the feeling of not belonging anywhere.

I thought Smith did a good job handling both racism and sexism in the book and clearly showed the intersection between the two that Ida Mae faced (without beating you over the head with it). She also clearly conveyed the danger of what Ida Mae was doing, and the sacrifices that she has to make to pass.

I wish Jolene had feature more prominently in the story. I think that would have given her fight with Ida Mae more punch. As it is, it still works. All the pieces are there, but I thought Smith could have gone a little bit deeper.

The story meanders a little bit, and the ending was a little unsatisfying. But there were points where I couldn’t put Flygirl down which is always a good sign.

*This is a really small complaint, but I wish Smith had noted that both Asian WASPs were Chinese. She notes that Lee was Chinese, but doesn’t mention that Gee was also Chinese.

ETA: I also found it unbelievable that every single character used WASP correctly (always singular, never plural) throughout the entire book. The WASP themselves, I’ll believe. But the civilians outside? And even the other members of the Army? Not so much.

Reading The Tale of Genji

Subtitle: And My (Other) September Reading Goals

I started reading The Tale of Genji on September 1 (technically August 31 if you count the introduction). It’s very long and I anticipate that it will take me two months to finish. I’ve read six chapters so far. If I read a chapter a day (excluding Sundays) I’ll finish on November 1.

I’ve wanted to read The Tale of Genji for a while now. It’s generally considered the first novel, and it was written by a Japanese woman. I think that’s pretty cool.

I’m not that into the story so far, but I think I’ll stick it out. It will probably end up being one of those books I read just so I can say I did, but who knows? Maybe the story will end up being great (I doubt that, but there’s always hope until the book is done).

That’s my big reading goal for the next two months. Also in September, I’m loosely challenging myself to clear some space on my shelves (aka tackle all those Read It or Get Rid of It books). I bought far too many books last month. There is just physically no space for these books, so some have to go. To make sure the problem doesn’t get any worse, I’m going on a 30-day book buying ban. I’m doing well so far. The keys are to remove all buying temptation and to go to the library a lot.

Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

After a lot of duds this week, let’s talk about something good: Seconds.

I really like Bryan Lee O’Malley. I was lukewarm about Lost at Sea, but it was his first work. He was young. I’ll forgive him. Because Scott Pilgrim is good (I’m obsessed with the film), and Seconds is great.

As much as I love Scott Pilgrim, it didn’t escape my notice (or anyone else’s) that it’s pretty white. Somehow (through the internet) O’Malley received word that people were unhappy with the whiteness. He responded in probably the best way ever. He acknowledged that Scott Pilgrim is really white and vowed to do better. Seconds is his follow through.

And it’s really good. The comic is in color, so there are actual skin tones (vs various shades of grey). By far my favorite character is Hazel. She’s a secondary (dark skinned) character who is so damn cute and has great style and I dare anyone to not fall in love with her weirdness.

The story is also good. I found Katie incredibly relatable. Even with all the magic realism weaving through the story, Katie is so rounded out that it works.

After reading Lost at Sea last month, I appreciate how far O’Malley’s come, and I look forward to seeing where he goes.

Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid

I started this book with no expectations. I knew going in that it was about an MPDG (manic pixie dream girl) and a road trip and I fully expected the whole book to be a cliche. I wasn’t that wrong.

I’m going to start this review by giving my thoughts on the book as a whole and then moving into specifics of each section. Expect some light spoilers ahead.

Overall I think Alsaid is a good writer, but I didn’t like the story he was telling. Also, he could be a better writer. There were times where I wondered if I had missed something. Sometimes a detail was slipped in so quickly I didn’t notice it, other times parts were just missing (from things as small as ‘where did that soda come from?’ to as big as ‘when did Leila tell Sonia about the Norther Lights?’).

The story was also surprisingly white.* Not surprising for an MPDG story (those are almost exclusively white), but surprising for a book that shows up on so many Diversity in YA lists. There’s one character who is described as not white, but everyone else was white. There were also too many white people with dreadlocks for me (note: ANY white people with dreadlocks is too many). I was a little surprised. I hope the narrative would be more diverse. I wasn’t expecting anything, but it would have been nice to see.

Hudson

I found Hudson’s section the easiest to read. I knew what I was in for and the story played out just as I thought it would. I wasn’t bothered by the love at first sight because of course the SMWG (sad mopey white guy) falls in love with the MPDG the second he sees her.

This section has a slight twist at the end, but even that ended up playing into the whole MPDG narrative (MPDG showing SMWG how he should be living his life).

Bree

Bree’s section marked a strange shift in the story for me. Leila was no longer the most manic character. Bree’s personality seemed to take over and Leila became boring (not that she was super interesting when she was with Hudson). It felt like a misstep as I was reading, but I got through this section.

Elliot

Elliot’s story was so boring I skimmed about three chapters and then quit. I just skipped the rest.

If I want the plot of a teen movie, I watch a teen movie. I don’t need to read about two characters talking about teen movies.

Interestingly, I thought Elliot’s plotline was one of the more believable ones (skipping all the medical stuff at the beginning with by the way is pretty graphic and why I skimmed the part I did read) but there was nothing captivating about it.

Sonia

Sonia’s storyline was the most unbelievable.

BIG SPOILERS (because I need to get this out of my system)

Why didn’t she just call someone from the wedding to drive down to the border and pick up the wedding rings? Why? That would be a thousand times easier than what she ends up doing. And I didn’t get the sense that she was planning on going to the wedding. In fact, it felt ridiculous that Martha thought she’d only had a bad night’s sleep when she saw Sonia in the lobby (I mean, she had foliage in her hair for crying out loud).

END OF SPOILERS

Despite the unbelievability, Sonia’s story managed to suck me back into the book. It was interesting enough that I kept reading, even as I was shaking my head at how foolish Sonia was being.

Leila

This section also kept me reading. I was interested to see how Leila’s section would go. After finishing the book I really don’t understand why Alsaid didn’t start with Leila’s perspective (and why he didn’t tell the whole story from her perspective). If he had just made Leila the narrator, he might have avoided the whole MPDG thing. As it is, Leila’s section is too little too late. And I don’t buy for one second her romantic feelings for Hudson.

I excused Hudson’s love at first sight for Leila as being part of the MPDG storyline. But Leila’s love for Hudson makes no sense. If I had enjoyed the book up to that point, that would have ruined it for me.

Wrap Up

All in all, curiosity made me pick this book up. Let’s Get Lost is like a less offensive (better written) John Green novel. If that’s your thing, it might be worth a look. But if you never pick up Let’s Get Lost you’re not missing out on much.

*Also very heteronormative.