Ho-Ho-Ho Holiday Readathon Sign-Up Post


BookShelfery - HoHoHo Readathon

I was going to do my own personal (private) holiday readathon (25 days of Christmas), but this seems better. I might still do the 25 days of Christmas. I inherited a lot of Christmas picture books from Ama and I want to read them all! Breaking up the reading into two chunks might allow me to actually achieve that goal.

I’m aiming to read five picture books a day during this readathon, but I haven’t picked any specific books yet.

Clicking on the banner will take you through to the sign up page (all the rules are listed there) in case you want to participate too! Let me know if you sign up, and we can cheer each other on during the readathon.

The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng

At the beginning of this month I was reading and rereading a lot of books about books. All of them were very white. So when I saw Andrea Cheng’s The Year of the Book I picked it up on a whim.

Summary: In Chinese, peng you means friend. But in any language, all Anna knows for certain is that friendship is complicated. When Anna needs company, she turns to her books. Whether traveling through A Wrinkle in Time, or peering over My Side of the Mountain, books provide what real life cannot—constant companionship and insight into her changing world. Books, however, can’t tell Anna how to find a true friend. She’ll have to discover that on her own. In the tradition of classics like Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books and Eleanor Estes’ One Hundred Dresses, this novel subtly explores what it takes to make friends and what it means to be one.

I enjoyed this book, but I think its parts are greater than its sum. When I reached the end I felt unsatisfied, even though I really enjoyed reading it. The book spans a year, but it doesn’t feel like it takes up that much time. It’s also not really about books but that’s the least of my complaints.

But the parts that were good were really good. I enjoyed the portrayal of 10-year-old friendship. One of my favorite scenes was when Anna teaches the girls how to say thank you and they run around shouting, “Shee shee!” Another great scene is when Laura asks Anna what Chinese people think and Anna gets anxious because she doesn’t know and she’s only been to China once. It’s such a simple illustration of something that happens to Asian people all the time (being asked to act as a spokesperson for all Chinese people), but something that I can’t recall seeing in most (if any) middle grade books.

The whole book just feels real.* I like that not everything is perfect in these characters’ lives but not everything is spelled out either. Sometimes middle grade books (the bad ones) sanitize and oversimplify the difficult events. The Year of the Book doesn’t do that. It doesn’t exactly tackle them head on either. It just lets them be.

There are two followup books, The Year of the Baby and The Year of the Fortune Cookie. I can’t wait to check them both out.

*It reminded me a lot of Grace Lin’s The Year of the Dog. There’s a strange typo in my copy where Anna says she was born in the year of the dog, but she means the year of the tiger (1998).

Challenge count:**
This is my 145th book read for my booklikes challenge.
This is my 102nd book read for the Diversity on the Shelf challenge.

**It gets more and more difficult to do these counts and my numbers might be slightly off.

Rethinking Normal by Katie Rain Hill and Some Assembly Required by Arin Andrews

I can’t remember when I first learned about these two books (I heard about them together), but I put them on my TBR list immediately. I read them in large chunks over several days. Both books are very readable and really interesting memoirs.

Rethinking Normal summary: In her unique, generous, and affecting voice, nineteen-year-old Katie Hill shares her personal journey of undergoing gender reassignment.

Have you ever worried that you’d never be able to live up to your parents’ expectations? Have you ever imagined that life would be better if you were just invisible? Have you ever thought you would do anything—anything—to make the teasing stop? Katie Hill had and it nearly tore her apart.

Katie never felt comfortable in her own skin. She realized very young that a serious mistake had been made; she was a girl who had been born in the body of a boy. Suffocating under her peers’ bullying and the mounting pressure to be “normal,” Katie tried to take her life at the age of eight years old. After several other failed attempts, she finally understood that “Katie”—the girl trapped within her—was determined to live.

In this first-person account, Katie reflects on her pain-filled childhood and the events leading up to the life-changing decision to undergo gender reassignment as a teenager. She reveals the unique challenges she faced while unlearning how to be a boy and shares what it was like to navigate the dating world and experience heartbreak for the first time in a body that matched her gender identity. Told in an unwaveringly honest voice, Rethinking Normal is a coming-of-age story about transcending physical appearances and redefining the parameters of “normalcy” to embody one’s true self.

Some Assembly Required: Seventeen-year-old Arin Andrews shares all the hilarious, painful, and poignant details of undergoing gender reassignment as a high school student in this winning memoir.

We’ve all felt uncomfortable in our own skin at some point, and we’ve all been told that “it’s just a part of growing up.” But for Arin Andrews, it wasn’t a phase that would pass. He had been born in the body of a girl and there seemed to be no relief in sight…

In this revolutionary memoir, Arin details the journey that led him to make the life-transforming decision to undergo gender reassignment as a high school junior. In his captivatingly witty, honest voice, Arin reveals the challenges he faced as a girl, the humiliation and anger he felt after getting kicked out of his private school, and all the changes—both mental and physical—he experienced once his transition began. Arin also writes about the thrill of meeting and dating a young transgender woman named Katie Hill…and the heartache that followed after they broke up.

Some Assembly Required is a true coming-of-age story about knocking down obstacles and embracing family, friendship, and first love. But more than that, it is a reminder that self-acceptance does not come ready-made with a manual and spare parts. Rather, some assembly is always required.

I read Rethinking Normal first, but if you’re planning on reading them together the order doesn’t really matter. I enjoyed Rethinking Normal more than Some Assembly Required. Both books had a few things that I questioned or outright disliked. Hill uses the term transgender as a noun (I’ve read before that it should be strictly used as an adjective) and Andrews writes in his book that he is changing his gender, even though his guide at the end of the book says not to say changing gender when talking about trans people (use the term transition/ing instead).

My biggest issue with Rethinking Normal is the whole two spirit bit (around page 128). Andrews’ therapist mentions the identity to him and Andrews mentions that he had a “little Native American blood” and “has always embraced that distant tie” (no further explanation). Andrews doesn’t adopt the term as an identifier for himself, but the whole incident (real as it may be) felt unnecessary to add to the story. I almost stopped reading at that point. Granted, I wasn’t that into the book and was considering giving up on it anyway.

With the exception of that one story though, these memoirs are really interesting, informative and engaging. Hill and Andrews both make it very clear that they are only one voice in the trans community. Andrews mentions his privilege (white, able-bodied, attractive) as a likely contributing factor to why he’s received so much publicity. Hill recounts a time when she was in a group of trans people all of whom disagreed on trans issues, the language used to talk about trans people, etc. Andrews and Hill’s stories also complement each other well. Hill experienced lots of bullying at school, but almost immediate support from her family while Andrews seems to have had an easier time at school and more pushback with his mother. I would have read both even if their stories were more similar (and they are similar in many ways), but it was nice to see a range of acceptance and interactions.

I think these memoirs could serve as a good starting point for anyone looking to familiarize themselves with trans issues. They cover a lot of information and each book comes with a few pages of resources in the back so you can continue reading after you’re done with these memoirs. Hill’s list is more comprehensive than Andrews’ list, and Andrews’ list is mostly aimed at anyone who is transgender (rather than allies).

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


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.