Breaking My Own Rules: Max Gladstone

I was in a different branch of my library the other day when I came across Max Gladstone’s newest book Full Fathom Five. I had to do a double take when I saw it. It was on a shelf near the floor, but yes, I wasn’t seeing things. There were two WoC on the cover: a black woman and an Asian woman both looking totally badass.

I gave in today and ordered his first novel Three Parts Dead. I’m not sure I’ll like it, but it was on sale so I’ll give it a chance. I also recently ordered Midnight Riot (originally published as Rivers of London) by Ben Aaronovitch after reading a gushing review on tumblr.

I keep saying I’m done with white people writing characters of color, but I keep reading them. Maybe outside of YA books authors do it better. I’ll find out soon.

Diversify Your Shelves: Middle Grade Magic Realism

We Need Diverse Books is doing a summer reading special with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s BookDragon. They recommend diverse reads that are similar to popular fiction books most people have at least heard of. They also have a regular summer reading series that you can check out at their blog.

Their most recent recommendation for the BookDragon series was Bird by Crystal Chan. I enjoyed this book but don’t agree with the book they paired it with. They compared it to Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume.

I have read both books and while We Need Diverse Books’ description of the two makes it sound like they’re similar stories, I would be disappointed if I picked up one book thinking it was like the other. So I came up with my own recommendation.

Both stories feature adolescent protagonists navigating grief and making a strange new friend. Both tales unfold slowly, revealing elements of the supernatural.

And an added diversity bonus: Bird has a mixed race protagonist (half-Jamaican, a quarter white, and a quarter Mexican) and is written by a mixed race author (Chinese and Polish), and one of the characters is a transracial adoptee.

Bout of Books: Updates

I’ll post each day’s updates in this post throughout the week.

Bout of Books

Monday

Number of books I’ve read today: 1
Total number of books I’ve read: 1
Books: Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Seconds was a really good read and a great way to kick off this readathon. I love that O’Malley made a conscious effort to diversify his work in Seconds. I also read a little bit more of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, but it’s currently slow going. Mostly because whenever I read about Henrietta’s medical procedures I relive my last gynecologist visit (too much information?) and it makes me cringe inside and out.

Tuesday

I’m not even going to bother with a count for yesterday because I did zero reading. Instead I hung out with my friend Heather. We went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, took a behind the scenes tour and saw the Tentacles exhibit. The nautiluses are the coolest.

Wednesday

Again, I finished no books today, but I made progress through both The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Thursday

Number of books I’ve read today: 1
Total number of books I’ve read: 2
Books: Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith

These are only the books I’ve finished. I’m still making my way through The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I enjoyed Rain Is Not My Indian Name but not as much as I hoped I would. I wrote up some thoughts on my booklikes page. Over the weekend I’m going to concentrate on finishing The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and maybe start Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Friday

Still trucking through The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Sunday

Number of books I’ve read today: 1
Total number of books I’ve read: 3
Books: Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

I just finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (close enough, I haven’t finished the afterword, but I’ll finish it tomorrow. I can’t even rate the book right now because booklikes is down).

I didn’t enjoy this readathon as much as I though I would. Last time I did a week-long readathon I was reading all the time, and it felt like a readathon. This time around it just felt like I was updating everyone on my reading habits over a week (which it was seeing how I didn’t really have time to actively participate).

I might try Bout of Books again, we’ll see. If I do, I’m going to update at the end of the day. I found this update yesterday’s readings today to be confusing. I’d rather just wrap up my reading for each day and move on.

All in all, I like that this readathon is so relaxed. There is zero pressure, and I did end up meeting my goal of reading three books.

Hope everyone else participating had fun too.

Reading Revelations

The more I think about books and what I read the more I learn about myself. For instance: I went through a phase when I was younger where I thought I liked fantasy. I don’t.

Then a couple of years ago I went through another phase where I thought it was normal to dislike most books I read in a year. It’s not.

Once I realized these things, I made a change in my reading. I gave up all those fantasy novels I never finished (and in most cases never started). I gave up books about and by white people (aka the books I wasn’t enjoying) in favor of books about and by people of color. My reading enjoyment went up in both cases.

I’ve had another reading revelation lately: I don’t like YA.

Now, I’m not one of those people who thinks that only teens should read YA, but I’m also not one of those people who goes around shouting, “I love YA!” and feels the need to justify reading it.

Do I like some YA books/authors? Yes. But I also like some fantasy books and some white authors.

Accepting that I don’t like YA has been a little difficult. I used to write for a YA blog. But thinking back on that time I read very few books that I actually enjoyed. When I go to a bookstore, I spend hardly any time in the YA section. I mostly look at the new book section to see if an author I like has published a new book (because I don’t actually keep up with what’s being published) and roll my eyes at the suggested book section (especially if the entire thing is based around Books to Read if You Like John Green).

So I think it’s time that I let go of the identity of a YA reader. I will still read YA (I currently have three YA books on hold at the library). I still like (some) YA, but I like MG reads way better. I like “adult” fiction better than YA. I might even like nonfiction better than YA, and I don’t think of myself as a nonfiction reader AT ALL.

Giving up a genre has made me want to explore other genres I thought I didn’t like. I’m starting with mysteries. I don’t think of myself as a mystery reader, but I used to love mystery stories when I was a kid from the Boxcar Children to Nancy Drew to Encyclopedia Brown. Over the last few years I’ve gotten into the Sherlock Homes stories, and today I bought Midnight Riot (also published under the title Rivers of London) by Ben Aaronovitch. Maybe it will rekindle the flame.

Diversify Your Shelves: The Alvin Ho Series by Lenore Look*

*I was originally calling this series Read This Series, but I think Diversify Your Shelves is more accurate.

Alvin Ho is afraid of everything. He has selective mutism and sees a psychotherapist. His best friend is a girl named Flea who has an eye patch and a “peg leg” (one of her legs is longer than the other). He lives in Concord, Massachusetts with his parents, know-it-all older brother Calvin and annoying younger sister Annibelly. He carries his PDK (Personal Disaster Kit) everywhere and always tries to be a gentleman (just like his dad).

The Alvin Ho series is not the type of book I would just hand to a kid. I’d talk to them a little after each book (unless you want them telling everyone about how the Community Party controls China). And I recommend you skip the third book in the series: Alvin Ho: Allergic to Birthday Parties, Science Projects, and Other Man-Made Catastrophes.

Throughout the third book there’s a long running plot of “playing Indian” that is never examined or criticized in the text of the book. The problematic nature of the storyline was brought to the author’s attention and she responded rather poorly. You can read more about the objectionable material and the author’s response on Debbie Reese’s blog.

If you want to read the entire series I would recommend checking out the third book from your library rather than buying it. Or you might choose to skip it altogether. If you do choose to give the third book to a child to read, you should definitely talk to them about the stereotypes in the book.

If Native stereotypes and horizontal oppression don’t turn you off from the book series completely (we all have different thresholds), the other books in the series are some of my favorite middle grade reads. They’re all well-written, quick reads that are full of humor and good illustrations. My personal favorite is the fourth book: Alvin Ho: Allergic to Dead Bodies, Funerals, and Other Fatal Circumstances.

Books in the series:

  • Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things
  • Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural
  • Alvin Ho: Allergic to Birthday Parties, Science Projects, and Other Man-made Catastrophes
  • Alvin Ho: Allergic to Dead Bodies, Funerals, and Other Fatal Circumstances
  •  Alvin Ho: Allergic to Babies, Burglars, and Other Bumps in the Night
  • Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions

Prodigy by Marie Lu*

*This review contains light spoilers for Prodigy and Legend.

I had pretty high hopes that Prodigy was going to be a lot better than Legend. My hopes weren’t met.

Summary: Injured and on the run, it has been seven days since June and Day barely escaped Los Angeles and the Republic with their lives. Day is believed dead having lost his own brother to an execution squad who thought they were assassinating him. June is now the Republic’s most wanted traitor. Desperate for help, they turn to the Patriots – a vigilante rebel group sworn to bring down the Republic. But can they trust them or have they unwittingly become pawns in the most terrifying of political games?

The books were redesigned between Legend and Prodigy, but the redesign is subtle and works for me. I don’t love the deckle edge (it makes it difficult to turn pages and find your spot), but I like the covers. This book also had June and Day’s sections printed in different inks. However, I still mixed up the characters at one point, and the blue text makes the black text look brown (not a huge deal, just something I thought I’d note).

I feel the same way about Prodigy that I felt about Legend. It’s well-written fiction, I just don’t care about the characters or the story.

The book is over 350 pages long, but nothing seems to happen for a long time. I thought the assassination plot would move either faster or slower, but it seemed to take up an awkward amount of time in the book. The pacing didn’t work as well for me as it did in Legend, and the plot continues to feel formulaic.

I like the world Lu has created. I think it’s one of the best dystopian worlds I’ve read in a YA trilogy. I like that she’s clearly created a society that works and makes sense, but she doesn’t overwhelm the story with it. There are little tastes of it as they’re needed. There were a few moments where word choice pulled me out of the story (snooze, so bad, into her), but all in all, the world and society are probably the best aspect of the books.

I appreciate that the books are diverse in many ways: race; sexuality; class; there’re even a few disabled characters (though all of the disabilities are acquired). There was no ethnicity guessing in this book (which kind of bothered me in the last book), and I hope there are no more mixed characters with one obviously white feature introduced in Champion.

There was some disconnect between this book and the last one. Day’s headaches become a large plot point in this book, but there’s very little set up for them. I didn’t remember that Day had headaches at all and they’re only mentioned three times at the beginning of Legend.

I was really surprised at my lack of connection to the characters, especially June and Day. I think on their own they’re interesting, but I don’t buy their relationship. It was a little too love-at-first-sight for me, so when they use each other as their motivations in Prodigy it doesn’t read as true. The side characters (espeically Kaede and Tess) are more interesting to me than the protagonists.

I will read Champion because I’m more than halfway invested now and I do want to see where Lu takes this story.* However, I’m only reading to finish the series, not because I actually like the books or anything.

Challenge count:
This is my 111th book read for my booklikes challenge
This is my 84th book read for the Diversity on the Shelf challenge

*I’m very worried about a love triangle in Champion, but what can I do? If it’s there it’s there.

Bout of Books: Sign Up and Goals

I almost forgot that Bout of Books is starting next week! I’m excited to give this readathon a try. Want to join me? You can sign up here. Post your goals here. And find the answer to any questions you might have here.

What is it?

Bout of Books

In their own words: The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 18th and runs through Sunday, August 24th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 11 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

This is my second week-long readathon (I participated in my first one while on hiatus), and it couldn’t come at a better time. I started a new job last week and my reading has dropped off as a result. I’m hoping this will get me back into the swing of things (I seem to be reading constantly or not at all, there’s not a lot of in-between with me).

Goals

Next week will (hopefully) be a light work week, so I’m going to participate all week. I’m setting my goal at three books. If the week goes well, I might up this number. We’ll see.

I will most likely be reading from my August TBR list (Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri), but might not stick to that depending on how I feel that week.

Have you participated in Bout of Books before? Will you be participating this time? Any advice for a newbie?

Legend by Marie Lu

I have read and reviewed this book once before, about half a year after it was published. You can read my original review on my booklikes page.

Summary (from the dust jacket): Once known as the western coast of the United States, the Republic is now a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors, the Colonies. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a military prodigy. Obedient, passionate, and committed to her country, she is being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest circles. Born into the slums of the Republic’s Lake Sector, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths–until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered, and Day becomes the prime suspect. Now, caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June tries desperately to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths to which their country will go to keep its secrets.

Legend didn’t thrill me nearly as much as the book jacket copy suggests it would. I had pretty much the same feelings rereading it as I did reading it the first time. It was slightly better this time, but it didn’t become anything great. (Also, I was getting major Gundam Wing vibes from it, but that is probably just me.)

Marie Lu has a good sense for pacing. Information is doled out as needed (rather than a huge info dump at any point in the story. There were two bits that bothered me. One is the use of gender instead of sex on a government profile (sex is biological, gender goes beyond that and is much more personal). The other is the use of Caucasian.

Most people use Caucasian as a synonym for white (if you do this stop now please). I wasn’t sure if Lu’s use of Caucasian is supposed to stand in for white or if she literally means people from the Caucasus mountains/region. She only uses the term twice in the entire book and it could be read either way.

I think Legend passes the Star Wars test. Legend is broken into two parts, each part has a clear plotline that is resolved by the end. The last part also sets up for the sequel (though I’m not that excited about it).

As I was reading, I kept guessing what would happen and I don’t know if that’s because I was remembering the story from the first time I read it or if that’s because the book is pretty formulaic. That’s not necessarily it’s own fault, most dystopian novels look the same, and I’ve read quite a few by now.

Legend is about on par with the Matched trilogy which I found to be well-written if boring. It’s not as gripping as The Hunger Games, but the protagonists are less annoying. Legend also avoids the trope of the YA love triangle. It earns bonus points for that.

Legend just didn’t thrill me. There was nothing that really pushed me to keep reading other than my own desire to finish the book before August. It’s an interesting enough story that I will read the sequels with the hope that the story captures me along the way.

Challenge count:
This is my 82nd book read for The Diversity on the Shelf Challenge
This is my 107th book read for my booklikes challenge

Book Pairings: Museum Adventures

This pairing is pretty obvious if you’ve read both books, but it’s awesome all the same.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler and Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

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Brian Selznick cites From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler as one of his inspirations for Wonderstruck. Both books deal with children running away from home to New York City who end up staying in a museum. Both stories involve the search for… something.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the books really do read well together. I reread both in the span of two days, but you could easily knock them both out in an afternoon if you were properly motivated.

Both of these books are very white*, though Wonderstruck does have two D/deaf characters. From reading the acknowledgements, Selznick really did his homework to represent Deaf culture well. I can’t find any reviews from D/deaf readers, but this article is an interesting read if you want to know more about Wonderstruck.

*From the Mixed-Up Files mentions an Indian woman. Claudia then thinks about participating in some tangential cultural appropriation, but that’s quickly dropped. Nothing hugely problematic, but worth a quick mention.

Words for Wednesday

A curator’s job is an important one, for it is the curator who decides what belongs in the museum. The curator then must decide exactly how the objects will be displayed. In a way, anyone who collects things in the privacy of his own home is a curator. Simply choosing how to display your things, deciding what pictures to hang where, and in which order your books belong, places you in the same category as a museum curator.

Ben wondered if he was a curator. He had never stopped to think about why he collected things. It was just something he’d always liked to do. He thought about his wood box. Maybe it was a museum box. Maybe he was making a museum about Gunflint Lake.

-Wonderstruck, Ben