Tag Archives: teen

Book Reviews: DNF But I Have Opinions

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Now for something a little different

This year there were a few books that I never finished but about which I still wanted to say a few words. I realized that when I pass them on to someone else and take them off my Goodreads lists as neither read nor to be read, I will lose any reviews that I might leave on them, so I’m taking advantage of having a blog, and leaving those thoughts here. Even if I never finished these books, I hope my thoughts will help you decide whether or not to begin them yourself.

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, reviews, and awards list.

Mahurin, Shelby. Serpent & Dove, Book 1. New York: HarperTeen-HarperCollins, 2019.

Intended audience: Ages 14+.

I left off reading the ARC of this book at page 257 of 514, but I want to take a moment to organize my current thoughts about the novel:

I’ve struggled to enjoy this one.

First I didn’t realize going into this book that it is far more a new adult novel than a young adult or teen novel. I perhaps should have known, knowing that the protagonists are married. I have read so few new adult or even adult novels that I wasn’t prepared for the tone and the themes.

But what is most keeping me from connecting with it I think is the seemingly unequal power dynamic of the supposed romance, which thus far in the novel, does not feel like a romance, though Reid is starting to begin making an effort towards connection with Lou. Lou is choosing to live with the threat that Reid poses to her because he poses a threat to those who would harm her too, choosing to live with him though she knows that if he knew her secret he would regard her as inhuman and fit only for death. That to me is unsettling. Perhaps we are meant to think that she too poses a threat to him, but Lou hasn’t killed; she does not view even witch-hunters like him in the same inhuman way as he does witches. I don’t like to see that sort of unequal power dynamic romanticized or marketed as a romance.

I think I would have given up this book entirely after the book club discussion except that I read a summary of the plot, and I now know where the novel is headed. I like the spoilers that I have, but I don’t know if it will be worth slogging through the uncomfortable relationship to get to see them acted out, and after several months of not touching the book I have decided to give up and give my copy of this book to someone who I hope can enjoy it more than I.

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, and reviews.

Wen, Abigail Hing. Loveboat, Taipei.  New York: HarperTeen-HarperCollins, 2020.

Intended audience: Ages 13+.

Spoilers between the asterisks.

There are so many parallels between this and Christine Riccio’s Again, but Better. The protagonists of both books are girls whose parents set them on tracks for medical school but who would rather pursue the arts, who travel for the first time abroad to study, who find ways to circumvent their parents’ plans for their time abroad, who struggle with liking boys who already have girlfriends, who make lists of things that they will do to reinvent themselves while abroad, who drink for the first time, who dance in a club, who kiss a boy.

But Wen’s was so much better written!

I all but forgot every character of Riccio’s except the main romantic pair, Shane and Pilot, after reading this book—and Shane I keep wanting to call Christine for her strong parallels to the author, a booktube celebrity, and Pilot I was never sure I wholly liked.

The characters of Wen’s novel are fully-fledged and interesting. Their lives are complicated. They have motivations and individual desires. They are many of them shaped by their parents’ expectations.  They each get to defend themselves, to explain themselves to Ever.  They don’t feel like props or catalysts for the protagonist Ever. Two characters are dyslexic. It feels like anyone of the characters could have held the story on their own.

Reading Wen’s novel, I was given a peek into another culture than my own. Almost every character is Taiwanese American or Chinese American or a local Taiwanese citizen. The default is not white.

Despite it being outside of my usual genre, I found compelling Ever’s fight between her passions and her duty to her family and their expectations for her. I might have continued to read if it were any closer to a genre that I generally enjoy. I may hang onto this one, and I might go back to it one day, but there’s no magic system here for me to explore, there’s not a whole lot of the type of adventure that I enjoy, and frankly the drama of teenage romances is just… not holding my attention. It didn’t in high school, and it doesn’t now.

But I want to know if Xavier can finally get the help that he needs. I want to know if he’ll be okay. (If someone who has finished this book wants to tell me the answer to that question in the comments, I’d thank you.)  I already read a spoiler * promising that Ever gets her parents’ approval of her passion for dance in the end *—though I have not found out yet which path she ultimately pursues in college.

This is a book I will recommend to those who tell me that they enjoy this genre—and definitely to anyone who read Again, but Better.

I am currently on page 240 of 414 of this ARC.

This review is not endorsed by Abigail Hing Wen, Shelby Mahurin, HarperTeen, or HarperCollins Publishers. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

People of Color in Books That I Read in 2019: Part 1: The Novels

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It’s Black History Month here in the US, a time when we stop to recognize specifically the achievements of African Americans and the influence they have had on our history, society, and culture. And that seems a good reason for me to post my annual review of the books that I read the previous year that included people of color, some of whom are African American.

I read 141 books altogether in 2019. 69 of those included a character of color, 49% of the total, very nearly half (28% in 2018, 27% in 2017, 26% in 2016, 23% in 2015). 26 of those included a character of color as a protagonist, 18% of the total.  38% of the books with a character of color at all (7% of the total in 2018, 14% in 2017, 9% in 2016). Those numbers are far better then than any year for which I have done this survey of my own reading.  Finally some significant increases in the numbers of characters of color represented!

28% of the novels that I read had a person of color as a protagonist. 61% included a person of color in any capacity. I read 4 with African American protagonists. I also read 4 novels with protagonists of East Asian descent (or protagonists from fictional cultures influenced by East Asian cultures). I read 4 books with Latinx protagonists. I read 2 with Spanish protagonists.

I’m using the location on Barnes & Noble’s shelves to help me determine the intended audience on a few of these that I think could easily be read and enjoyed by younger audiences too.  Use your own discretion when deciding whether or not a book is appropriate for the intended reader.

Fiction for Young Children (Ages 4-8)

Books with a POC as a protagonist

Japanese Fairy Tales by Theodora Yei Ozaki. 1992. Originally published 1903.

Being a book of Japanese fairy tales, the characters and the stories in this book are Japanese. The stories were translated in 1903 by a woman who is half-Japanese, half-British and split her life between the two countries.

Middle-Grade Fiction (Ages 8-12)

Books with a POC as a protagonist

New Kid by Jerry Craft. 2019.

Earning a well-deserved Newbery (the first to go to a graphic novel!), this book follows Jordan Banks as he attempts to navigate his new school, one that is primarily white while going home to his neighborhood, which is primarily African American. This book deals particularly well I feel with the damage of microaggressions.

Young Wizards, Book 1: So You Want to Be a Wizard? by Diane Duane. 1983.

Young Wizards, Book 2: Deep Wizardry by Diane Duane. 1985.

Young Wizards, Book 3: High Wizardry by Diane Duane. 1990.

One of the two main protagonists of the series, Kit Rodriguez, is Latino American. He and his family speak mostly English with the occasional word or two of Spanish.

Demigods & Magicians by Rick Riordan. 2016.

The two magicians, Sadie and Carter Kane, are mixed race, their father is African American, their mother is a white, British woman.

Stargazing by Jen Wang. 2019.

This is a story partially about growing up as Chinese American. The characters listen to Korean pop music.

A diverse cast with no protagonist

9 From the Nine Worlds by Rick Riordan. 2018.

This book features short stories loosely threaded together. Each character gets a story in which they are the protagonist, but the book itself has no one protagonist. Those protagonists include a Muslim, Iraqi American who wears a hijab; her fiancé, who is also Arab American; an African American civil war veteran; a Mexican American character; and a darker skinned Svartalf.

A white protagonist with a secondary character who is POC with a speaking role

PopularMMOs Presents a Hole New World by Pat and Jen (PopularMMOs). 2018.

The one darker skinned character, Carter, is a rival for Jen’s affections and not much liked by Pat. He helps the pair on their quest to save Bomby, but he has been poisoned by Evil Jen and betrays them once before redeeming himself.

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1: The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan. 2015.

Magnus is white, but he is helped by Sam, who is Muslim and Iraqi American and wears a hijab. Among his hall-mates is TJ, who is an African American civil war veteran. He is also helped by Blitz, who is dark skinned.

The Trials of Apollo, Book 2: The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan. 2017.

Apollo and Meg are helped by Leo, who is Latino American and by Jamie, who is descended from the Yoruba in Western Africa.

The Trials of Apollo, Book 3: The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan. 2018.

Apollo and Meg are helped by Piper, who with her father the (former) movie star is Cherokee. Leo returns briefly.

NewsPrints by Ru Xu. 2017.

Jill and the Admiral seem to have a skin tone faintly more dark than that of most in Nautilene. The mayor and newspaper owner and head of Blue’s found family—all one man by the name of Nancy—has a skin tone that is a little darker still. A few of the boys in Blue’s family share his tone. There is one nameless woman employed by the navy to build and repair ships whose skin tone is even darker. Nothing is made of these variations in this novel.

A white protagonist with diverse background characters

The Giver adapted by Craig P. Russell from Lois Lowry.  2019.

All the speaking characters are white that I remember, and only two of those characters can see color at all—literally not figuratively. This is a world that has given up color among other things to eliminate choice and to eliminate violence. I have never read the original novel to know if Lowry writes all these characters as white.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Book 3: The Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan. 2007.

Zoë Nightshade is described as looking like a Persian (Iranian) princess. You might infer that from that her whole family looks Persian, but godly or Titanic DNA seems to be a very odd thing, and the gods at least can choose how they appear in this series.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Book 4: The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan. 2008.

Kelli the empousa, who is a reoccurring antagonist in this book, is described as appearing to be African American.

Teen Fiction (Ages 13-19)

Books with a POC as a protagonist

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi. 2019.

Every character I think in this novel is African American. Jam’s father Aloe peppers his English with Igbo, a language spoken primarily in Nigeria.

I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal. 2019.

A fight is sparked at a high school football game when racial slurs are slung. The two narrators, Lena who is African American and Campbell who is white and working class, at the school and the police’s response to it, spark a protest that becomes a riot on one of the city’s more commercial streets. The two narrators trade chapters and react to the encounters with the other’s reality. They come out nearer to being friends than they were at the beginning of the novel.

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys. 2019.

An American oil baron and his family, including his Spanish wife, travel to Madrid to make a deal with Franco. The story follows their mixed race son Daniel Matheson as he bonds with the maid assigned to the family by the hotel, Anna, and then with her family. Together Anna and her family and Daniel unravel the secret snatching of children by the orphanage. The Mathesons adopt a daughter from one of these orphanages.

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater. 2017.

The Soria family of Bicho Raro, Colorado, the main characters of this novel, is Mexican American. People come to them for the miracles that they perform. Some of those that come to them are Latinx themselves including Padre Jiminez and Marisita. I listened this year to an audiobook preformed by Thom Rivera, which really brought the characters to life. If you have the choice, I recommend listening to rather than reading this one.

A white protagonist with a secondary character who is POC with a speaking role

Montague Siblings, Book 2: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee. 2018.

Sim, an African, Muslim pirate, finances Felicity’s cross-Europe trip and accompanies her on that trip before taking her to Africa, where they chase the dragons that Sim’s family protects.  Sim makes a good go, really, of being a protagonist herself, but the POV is Felicity’s.

Wilder Girls by Rory Power. 2019.

None of the three protagonists are cued as other than white, but one of the girls, Julia, on Boat Shift with Hetty is darker skinned and one of the girls at the school is Chinese American.

Again, but Better by Christine Riccio. 2019.

Shane herself is white. One of her roommates in London is Sahra who is Indian American. I think she is in the pre-med program that Shane’s parents believe that Shane is in. Atticus’ last name is Kwon, which cues me that he is likely Asian American, but I didn’t remember this and only found his last name researching this book for this review. Frankly, I don’t remember Atticus.

A white protagonist with diverse background characters

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang. 2018.

Prince Sebastian does welcome a visiting princess whose clothing and coloring seem to place her as being from a culture inspired by India. Frances is portrayed with a skin tone darker, so perhaps she is of a different race, but I can’t find any other review or interview that claims this to be the case, and the difference is slight, perhaps indicating the amount of time each character would have spent in sunlight.

Adult Fiction (Ages 20+)

Books with a POC as a protagonist

Avatar: The Last Airbender: Imbalance, Part 1 by Faith Erin Hicks. 2018.

The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire, Part 1 by Michael Dante DiMartino. 2019.

The world of Avatar consists of four main cultures that are inspired by Eastern Asian cultures. The Water Tribes of the North and South Poles, of which the titular character of the second series, Korra, is one, are darker skinned than people of the Earth Kingdom or Fire Nation who share physical features of more like those of the people of Japan, China, or Korea. In the previous series, the Air Nomads had one living descendent. His children and grandchildren are in this series. His wife was from the Southern Water Tribe. She and her brother are protagonists as part of Team Avatar in Imbalance.

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie. 2015.

This is a difficult book to describe or summarize with prose that jumps between time periods and a battlefield that encompasses the whole of two parallel worlds, our Earth and Fairyland. The jinniyah known alternately as the Lightning Princess of Qaf or as Dunia, the name that she chose when she appeared as a mortal woman around the year 1195 CE, love ibn Rushd, the Spanish, Muslim philosopher and bore him many children. In a future not long past our own present, their descendants have spread across our Earth, their unifying physical feature being their lack of earlobes. Among these descendants are Geronimo Manezes who is the illegitimate child of an Indian woman and a British priest, Jimmy Kapoor who becomes the hero of his unpublished graphic novel, and Storm who appears as a baby on the mayor’s doorstep swaddled in an Indian flag.

A white protagonist with a secondary character who is POC with a speaking role

Vox by Christina Dalcher. 2018.

Jean’s college roommate is an African American woman. She is a vocal protestor of the new administration. She is eventually rescued by Jean and her Italian lover. Her part was small.

Do you think or know that I misrepresented or misinterpreted any of these?  Please comment below.  Let me know.

Book Review: Learning About Franco’s Spain in The Fountains of Silence

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, excerpt, teacher's guide, and author's bio.

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I read an ARC of Ruta Sepetys’ The Fountains of Silence for Barnes & Noble’s YA Book Club. It isn’t probably a book that I would have otherwise picked up. Although Sepetys’ books are well reviewed, hers is not a genre into which I often venture, and Salt to the Sea and Between Shades of Gray both about persecuted characters in WWII seem too desperately tragic for me to find reading them enjoyable; I tend to favor literature that helps me to escape the tragedy of life over that that reminds me of the tragedy of the past, as much as I know that it is important to remember.

But it’s only since 2007 that I have found history past the 1600s or so interesting.

Besides hearing the name Franco and knowing him to have been a leader of Spain, I was and am woefully ignorant about this period of Spanish and world history.

I learned a little from this novel.

I won’t pretend that I learned a lot or that I learned enough.

The novel centers one family, now adults or older teenagers, whose parents have been killed in the civil war and who are now living in the slums of Madrid and getting by as best as they can do. The son of an American oil baron comes to stay at a hotel where one member of the family, Ana Torres Moreno, works. Daniel Matheson is an outsider in Texas high society because of his Spanish mother, and his father frowns on his aspiration to become a photographer. In Franco’s Spain, the press is censored. Daniel quickly gets in trouble with the Guardia Civil for photographing aspects of Spanish society that Franco would rather be kept silent and out of the world’s eye—and the novel untangles why that particular photo gets his film confiscated, what act is being perpetrated by the nuns.

Daniel and Ana bond over Daniel’s photography and Daniel’s kindness and dreams of a more free future. Ana opens his eyes to the darker side of the Franco’s Spain, but she cannot open them enough to believe herself able to make a relationship with him—not until after Franco’s death, when the two of them have pined for one another for nearly two decades despite having no contact with one another in that time.

This plot was… too tight for me, a very rare complaint from me, but I could not suspend my belief enough to think that the Morenas and the Mathesons would be so intricately woven together as Sepetys writes them. The writing itself was good, but I had some trouble with that aspect of the plot. On the one hand I am glad that the book did not end on the sorrow of Daniel’s departure from Spain. On the other hand, that first part of the novel that ended in heartbreak was the more believable end. I might have ended with Daniel and Christina arriving in Spain and being greeted by Nick, though that would not have centered the story on the plight of Spain as Sepetys intends I think to do. SPOILERS Or just don’t have Daniel and Ana fall back into one another’s arms so easily! That would have solved a lot. And having Christina be Ana’s stolen niece and the child over which Ana’s cousin Puri, also adopted, so dotes, her Clover…. It’s all just too much—too much convenience and coincidence.

A few positive details: I appreciated the detailed glossary of Spanish terms and phrases in the back of the book. I have seen books suffer from a lack of such a glossary, and while I didn’t need it in every instance, I was glad to be able to check so easily what I remembered of Spanish classes now almost two decades past.

Sepetys opens many chapters with firsthand sources—pieces of interviews with US officials, newspaper clippings, photographs—which lend legitimacy to her portrayal of Franco’s Spain. If only because it shows that she absolutely did her research and dug into archives for information.

This is an entertaining introduction to the plight of the Spanish people under Franco’s rule, but I personally enjoyed learning from it more than I enjoyed the story of it.

***

Sepetys, Ruta. The Fountains of Silence. Philomel-Penguin Random, 2019.

Intended audience: Ages 12+, Grades 7+.

This review is not endorsed by Ruta Sepetys, Philomel Books, or Penguin Random House. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

A question to my readers:  Do you think I should include a photo of the books’ text in my reviews if I have one?  Will that help you decide to read or skip a book?

Book Review: Adventure, Asexuality, and Fighting the Patriarchy with A Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, excerpts, and reviews.

Spoiler in white.  Highlight the text to reveal it.

I skipped over the first book in this series, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, (I will almost certainly return to it, especially as this series has just been announced to be continuing with a new book in August 2020) because I discovered that the second in the series, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, features a protagonist who is asexual like me. And that excited me. This is the first book that I have ever read about an asexual character. This is the first book that I have read that includes any asexual person. Though no such term existed in British English in the 1700s, and it is never used in the text, Mackenzi Lee confirmed it in answering a question on Goodreads, and it is made clear in the text.

Seeing myself in text—and without the whole story being about asexuality—was so important, so fulfilling to me. Reading a teen novel in which the protagonist isn’t at any point seeking a relationship—is in fact seeking not to be in a relationship—is so refreshing.  Felicity does have to consider whether or not to settle with a man that she doesn’t love in the way that he loves her, and that undercurrent runs throughout the book, but that actually rings fairly true to my experience with asexuality too unfortunately, despite the 300 or so year difference filled with advances in women’s rights and autonomy between Felicity’s story and mine.  (Lee never specifies the year in which her book occurs, but I have determined it to be later than 1726 as that is the year of the founding of the Edinburgh School of Medicine.)

Felicity Montague is living with a Scottish baker when the book opens, and he fumbles a proposal that she flees, going to her brother and his lover in London. She has been turned out of meetings with every hospital board in Edinburgh. She is turned away by another in London, though one of the doctors afterwards suggests that she query her idol, Dr. Alexander Platt, who is currently in Stuttgart about to marry a childhood friend of Felicity’s with whom she had a falling out over their diverging interests. A Muslim sailor offers to fund Felicity’s travels to Stuttgart if Felicity will ask her no questions and will get her inside the Hoffmans’ home. Despite misgivings and her brother’s warnings, Felicity accepts Sim’s help, and the two embark across Europe.

Neither Felicity, Sim, nor Johanna Hoffman are happy with their lot, with the lot of women in the 18th century. Felicity wants to study and practice medicine. SPOILERS Sim wants to inherit the rule of her father’s pirate fleet. Johanna wants to become a biologist. All three seek to enter fields dominated and controlled and policed by men. Felicity writes a note to herself­—“You deserve to be here. You deserve to exist. You deserve to take up space in this world of men.”—words that still bear repeating by women today, taught to keep compliant, subservient, and quiet.  That these thoughts echo Tumblr and seem equally comfortable there as in a book set in the 18th century reflect on the slow pace of progress of women’s power.

The women’s attempts to overcome the obstacles of a patriarchal society were as much fun for me as was the chase across Europe and Africa and the possible fantastical turn that the book takes.

I finished this book in August, and I have put copies in the hands of several customers looking for something different, something fun, something to inspire hope since.  I have not bought myself a copy yet, but I intend to do so, as I am already wanting to read this book again—and I don’t intend to wait until the book is available in paperback.  I’ll look forward to catching up with these characters in August.

*****

Lee, Mackenzi. The Montague Siblings, Book 2: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy. Katherine Tegen-HarperCollins, 2018.

Intended audience: Ages 13+.

This review is not endorsed by Mackenzi Lee, Katherine Tegen Books, or HarperCollins Publishers. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: The Utopia of Lucille in Pet

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Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order, summary, reviews, excerpt, audio excerpt, and author's bio.

This is a drawing I did for 2019’s Inktober challenge.

One brief, very vague spoiler in the review, one in the content warning at the bottom of the page, both marked with a SPOILER warning.

I fell pretty deeply in love with the world created by Akwaeke Emezi and with the town of Lucille within the first few pages. “It was the angels who took apart the prisons and the police; who held councils prosecuting the former officers who’d shot children and murdered people, sentencing them to restitution and rehabilitation. […] the angels banned firearms, not just because of the school shootings but also because of the kids who shot themselves and their families at home; the civilians who thought they could shoot people who didn’t look like them, just because they got mad or scared or whatever, and nothing would happen to them because the old law liked them better than the dead. The angels took the laws and changed them, tore down those horrible statues of rich men who’d owned people and fought to keep owning people. […] Instead they put up monuments. Some were statues of the dead, mostly the children whose hashtags had been turned into battle cries during the revolution. Others were [lists of names] of people who died when the hurricanes hit and the monsters wouldn’t evacuate the prisons or send aid, people who’d died when the monsters sent drones and bombs to their countries (because, as the angels pointed out, you shouldn’t use a nation as a basis to choose which deaths you mourn; nations aren’t even real), people who died because the monsters took away their health care […]” (1-3). Are you hooked yet? I was. Really, I didn’t even need to get to pages 3! This is the world remade as I have longed to see it. And Emezi was going to show me whether or not they believe it will work. They were going to let me live there for a little while.

It only got better and more inclusive from here on out.  This is a book that might make many feel seen.

We learn that the protagonist, Jam, is a transgender girl. Her only tantrum was when she let her parents know that she was a girl, and her wonderfully supportive parents helped her transition. Sometimes she finds it easier not to voice, so her parents taught her sign language, which they and her best friend Redemption, and her best friend’s uncle Hibiscus all learned to support her.

Redemption seems to live with his extended family, aunts and uncles and cousins along with his own immediate family of three parents, one of whom uses gender-neutral they/them pronouns, and a little brother. Redemption’s whole family is a rejection of the heteronormative family structure of one male and one female parent with their offspring living in a single-family house.

Jam’s father peppers his speech with Igbo, and the Igbo isn’t distinguished in any way from the English text, not italicized, not marked out as different.  The dishes that he cooks are inspired by recipes from Africa.

The local librarian uses a wheelchair and turns out to be a pretty amazing human, wonderfully fighting the good fight against censorship.

I love too that Jam and Redemption are oppositely gendered but never is there any mention of even niggling romantic feelings. Their relationship is wonderfully, beautifully platonic.

And that’s all just the human characters, the reality on this plane of existence! I haven’t even mentioned Pet, but I think maybe you should discover Pet for yourself. Pet is difficult to imagine, difficult to succinctly describe without spoilers. I have given you my attempt at a few character sketches of Pet though.

I think I might have loved Emezi’s world for itself, but Emezi’s writing is dazzling too. I have not so fallen in love with an author’s way of casting words so fast since I first discovered Maggie Stiefvater in April 2016 (and Patrick Rothfuss in May 2014 before that. Here are my new Big Three, though I probably ought to go read something else of Emezi’s before I include them in this lofty company).

This is a short little novel, only 208 pages. That was a welcome change from the 400+-page novels that I have lately been struggling to complete. It was a good feeling to finish something that was not a graphic novel or an audiobook, and something that I wasn’t reading at work’s suggestion. This is too I think a standalone novel, so there’s no commitment past those 208 pages.

I did foresee the twist—or one of the story’s twists. I did not like the story much less for having foreseen that twist though. Any other twist, I think, would have felt like a betrayal of the story’s inclusive cast or a betrayal of the rules of good fiction writing, so this was the best outcome available.

The town of Lucille is a beacon to me. It isn’t perfect. Its characters aren’t perfect; they are flawed as humans are. But it revolted against the oppressive and cruel world. It became better, and SPOILER it improves again. The cycle of systematic violence is broken in Lucille.

I want to shove this book into the hands of so many because I so enjoyed this writing and this world, but I have yet to find the right way to market it to others; I hope this longer review does better than my minute long pitches in the store. I have been describing this as an Afrofuturist fantasy that shares a great bit with magical realism. Have you read it? How would you classify it?

I read an ARC of Pet, but the book is available now in stores.

****

Emezi, Akwaeke. Pet.  New York: Make Me a World-Penguin Random, 2019.

This review is not endorsed by Akwaeke Emezi, Make Me a World, or Penguin Random House. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Content warning also a SPOILER: off-screen child abuse

LGBTQIA+ Representation in the Books That I Read in 2018

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I’m realizing now in October that I never posted about the books with LGBTQIA+ representation that I read in 2018. I posted about the books that I read in 2017 during 2018’s Pride Month, but during 2019’s Pride Month I was laid up with a sprained ankle, sad that I was missing the month’s events, and I suppose in that pain-induced haze I missed my opportunity to participate by posting a celebration of LGBTQIA+ representation in literature.

But, surprise! It turns out that there is an Ace Awareness Week (October 20-26, 2019), and I am beginning writing this post on Ace Awareness Week’s first day! (Unfortunately there are no openly ace characters in this list from 2018. Ace characters are particularly difficult to find, though I have now found several and read about one: Felicity Montague from Mackenzi Lee’s The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy; you will hear more about her in future posts.)

I read far fewer books with LGBTQIA+ characters in 2018 than I would have guessed: 8 books out of a total of 163. I don’t even know if I want to do the math to find out that dismal percentage (.05% if I round up to the nearest hundredth decimal place… which actually is higher than the percentage from 2017). I have no excuses but can report having read 15 such books as of October 20 in 2019. Here’s to hoping again that next year’s percentage is higher.

We need more LGBTQIA+ representation in books for all ages, and we are getting it, but sometimes the turning of the tide feels awfully slow.

But without further dismal ado, let’s see what books I discovered in 2018:

Picture Books, Picture Storybooks, and Board Books (Ages 0-8)

Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack and illustrated by Stevie Lewis.  Little Bee-Simon & Schuster, 2018.

A prince does not connect on a romantic level with any of the princesses that he meets, but when he and a knight join together to battle a dragon, there is an immediate spark. The two marry and the kingdom and the royal family rejoice. This is a beautifully illustrated picture book.

Middle Grade-Young Readers (Ages 8-12)

The Heroes of Olympus, Book 5: The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan.  Hyperion-Disney, 2014.

In the previous book in the series, one character is forced to out himself as gay before another and before Cupid. In this book he becomes a hero to both demigod camps, outs himself to his former crush, and develops another crush on a boy who likes him back. He accepts his homosexual identity in ways that he had not in the previous books.

The Trials of Apollo, Book 3: The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan.  Hyperion-Disney, 2018.

Riordan doesn’t shy away from Apollo’s bisexuality in this novel, bringing up again that one of the loves of Apollo’s many centuries was Hyacinthus. Apollo is both the protagonist and the POV character for this series.

Teen (Ages 13-19) 

Timekeeper, Book 1 by Tara Sim.  Sky Pony-Skyhorse, 2016.

Danny’s love for Colton is forbidden not just because the two of them are boys. These two are the series’ OTP, but there is at least one other gay or bisexual character who kisses Danny.

The Raven Cycle, Book 3: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater.  Scholastic, 2015. First published 2014.

The Raven Cycle, Book 4: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater.  Scholastic, 2016.

In these books, two of the protagonists fall for one another, two protagonists who happen to both be boys. One of the boys is bisexual, earlier dating a third protagonist in the series.

Adult (Ages 20+)

Santa’s Husband by Daniel Kibblesmith and illustrated by A. P. Quach.  Harper Design-HarperCollins, 2017.

This was shelved in the adult humor section of Barnes & Noble, the writer having credits in late night comedy show script writing. Santa is helped by his loving husband in his stressful business. The gooey eyes that these two make at one another are adorable.

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss and illustrated by EG Keller.  Chronicle, 2018.

This was published by the crew of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver in response to the first of a series of picture books released by Charlotte Pence and her mother Karen Pence, the family of Vice President Mike Pence, who has pushed anti-LGBTQ laws in his home state of Indiana. The first book of the Pences’ uses the Pences’ rabbit, Marlon Bundo, to explore the White House and the president’s role. In this parody, Marlon Bundo meets the bunny of his dreams, a boy rabbit. Their love is cheered by their friends, but a Stink Bug that looks a bit like Mike Pence himself shouts that they can’t be married. Their friends suggest that differences should be celebrated. The friends vote the Stink Bug not in charge, and the bunnies are married by a cat who brings her wife to the ceremony. This too is shelved in the adult humor section of Barnes & Noble, but I know it ended up in several middle school classrooms. “Stink Bugs are temporary, but love is forever.”

And I’m realizing too that I never actually wrote a review for this book.  So, we’ll count this as a review space for it too.  This was a good book for what it was, a pointed jab at the Vice President and his anti-LGBTQ policies and a reminder of the power of democracy.  Was it a great book when compared to other picture books?  Not really.  The story is a bit too heavy-handed to be enjoyable apart from its political message.  But I like that this book exists.  It’s a flare of hope in a dark world and its publication was a petty, successful attempt to overtake the sales of Charlotte and Karen Pence’s book with profits benefiting The Trevor Project and AIDS United, though it was well-received by the two Pences, which was almost a flare of hope in itself.  Almost.  The publication of this book probably boosted sales of the Pences’ book too, and the proceeds for their book went too to charities, Tracy’s Kids and The A21 Campaign, so really, everyone won when this book was published.  The two bunnies and their friends are wonderfully cute, Marlon in his bow tie and Wesley in his glasses, the badger with his shirt cuffs.

***

Do you know or think that I misrepresented or misinterpreted any of these?  Please comment below.  Let me know.

Book Review: What Again, but Better Needed to Do Better (and Why it Wasn’t for Me)

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Spoilers have been whited-out.  Highlight to read.

I was the wrong person to read this book, but this was another that work required.

I wasn’t aware of Christine Riccio as a booktuber, so I could not be blinded by stardom.

I read an ARC that, thankfully, was line-edited once more before being published because there were some spellings errors in my copy that grated on me particularly as someone once hired to edit to match Rowling’s canon (Horcrux was misspelled several times, but the misspellings were fixed in the final printed edition).

I don’t read many books that would be shelved as romances. I’m ace; romance tends not to interest me; it’s not my lived experience and not the constant, humanity-defining story that most think that it is. I don’t like that romance is so especially pervasive in teen literature—in any and every genre. I can, for example, read an adult or middle-grade fantasy and escape a romantic subplot, but I’m hard-pressed to name a book marketed as for teens without such a subplot. I am especially bored by white, cishet romances, which Riccio’s is here.

I too studied abroad in London—and only a year before the protagonist Shane does in this story. I’ve been to Rome. I’ve been to Edinburgh (though I haven’t gotten to climb Arthur’s Seat). Riccio had to convince me that she had been to all these places too. And and the first British person with whom Shane interacted (on the plane on her way to London) acted so aggressively against the British code of conduct that I was thrown out of the book, my disbelief animated, and Riccio struggled to draw me back. (This woman later is revealed to be an important, recurring character, which at least explains to some degree her trashing of cultural norms, but I think Riccio could have waited to introduce this character until Shane had at least interacted with one other British person—or had this woman not be British—and I would have been better able to suspend my disbelief for her.)

For all that Shane describes herself in the beginning as painfully socially inept and awkward, she makes friends quickly, she takes more initiative to travel than I did while abroad, she drinks more often than I did with friends, she dances in clubs, she makes up excuses to see friends. She rarely studies. She is not socially inept. She is a social butterfly and party creature compared to me when I was her age and studying abroad in London. I did my homework, went on trips with my classes, and I explored the parks and the museums on my own—and I enjoyed myself. (Admittedly, travel and engagement with London and with England was far more a part of our international program curriculum than it seems to have been for Shane—or for most international students studying in London.)

I never found Shane or her friends particularly relatable though Riccio tries painfully hard to make Shane so through popular culture references (not all of which I could catch), making her a Lost fanatic, a Potterhead, and a voracious reader as presumably is the person reading the book or following Riccio as a booktuber. I also didn’t find Shane particularly likeable. Though I can understand her desire to escape her parents’ expectations, her solution is so extreme that I don’t find her parents’ reactions entirely unjustified. [SPOILER] Certainly by showing up unannounced in London [END] her parents demonstrate a certain lack of thought for Shane’s plans, but their hearts seem to be in the right place. To justify Shane’s lie to her parents perhaps I needed to meet them prior to her betrayal of their trust. Or perhaps I am showing signs of adulthood, relating more to the adults than the child heroes, to Triton more than Ariel.  Pilot, her love interest, I was ambivalent towards too at best.  He seemed supportive, and he and Shane seemed at times very well matched, but he lacked emotional maturity and avoided his problems to such an unhealthy degree that I couldn’t consider him a healthy romantic partner for anyone.

The writing style (a close first person present)—especially in the first half of the novel—is somewhat juvenile. It’s possible that in the first half of the book especially this immaturity is intentional as the second half of the story revolves around the question of returning to old circumstances with new wisdom, but this makes the writing no more enjoyable to read—especially not knowing that maturity (or lack thereof) is going to become such a key part of the books’ plot.

Riccio did something a little different by adding an element of fantasy to this otherwise realistic, contemporary romance (set in 2011 and briefly 2017), but it wasn’t nearly enough to win me back. What it seemed to do was allow Riccio to play out two sets of mistakes for Shane and for Pilot.

Shane when the magic occurred didn’t react in a way that I found believable. [SPOILER] With her mind, soul, person thrown into the body and circumstances of her self from six years earlier, she didn’t seem to realize it, to realize that her body felt different, didn’t hurt as much, she was less tired, that her hair was probably different. These are the cues I think that I would recognize if someone were to shove me back to my college-aged self. Mostly I think I would notice that my body hurt less. [END]

A younger me might have enjoyed this story more, but present-me did not.  And really, what was the lesson?  You can’t have both career success and love without magic and more time than is available to anyone without magic?  That’s not what I want to hear, true though it might be.  Few I think read fantasy or romance books to lose hope; it’s certainly not what I seek in my escapism.

**

Riccio, Christine. Again, but Better. Wednesday-St. Martin’s-Macmillan, 2019.

Intended audience: Ages 12-18.

This review is not endorsed by Christine Riccio, Wednesday Books, St. Martin’s Press, or Macmillan Publishers. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: A Less Compassionate Robin in Hood

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Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order, summary, and sample.

I started rereading Stephen R. Lawhead’s Hood mid-July 2018 for my August 2018 trip to Wales but was interrupted by the trip, and only now, almost a year later, am I finishing it.

I had read this book 11-12 years earlier; it was one of the books that was allowed to come with me when I moved into my freshman dorm.  (This was before bookstagram was a thing, but apparently, I already had the idea.)

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The Welsh countryside had already stolen parts of my heart via Susan Cooper’s Dark Is Rising series before this novel found its way to me, so I was predisposed to like it.

I had fond memories of it and was excited to reread it, but 11-12 years is a long time.

Now, I have not read Pyle’s version of Robin Hood or any other version that I remember besides Lawhead’s. The versions of the story that I know best are Disney’s with its foxy hero and BBC’s 2006-2009 television series.  It’s been a long while, but I’ve watched Robin Hood: Men in Tights too.  Robin and his entourage showed up once in Doctor Who.  Then I know just bits of the myth that have filtered into common cultural knowledge, that have been referenced in other stories.  And I have actually had the chance to walk the halls of Nottingham Castle and the paths of Sherwood.

I very much like Lawhead’s premise for this novel and the reasons for his conclusions about Robin Hood that he presents in the notes in the back of this book (these notes really ought to preface the book I feel instead of ending it; if you pick this book up for the first time, do yourself a favor and read those first. There is the map. There is the pronunciation guide. Page 473 in my copy begins the notes). In essence he argues that the legend of Robin Hood presumably arose from a historical fact and that the legend makes more sense as a Welshman, the Welsh being masters of the longbow, fighting from the wild, primeval forest of the March than an English noble in the shrinking Sherwood. Robin is believably a bastardization and Anglicization of Rhi Bran, and Lawhead offers several explanations of Hood (coed being a Welsh word for woodland or a reference to the hooded costume that Bran uses).  Like Robin of Nottingham, Bran is disinherited by an overreaching British monarch, not Prince John rewarding loyalists, but William II allowing his nobles to conquer Wales, killing unyielding Welsh kings in battle.

But I don’t find Bran as likeable as Disney’s or BBC’s versions. Lawhead’s Bran has to learn selflessness on a hospital bed, and his motivations are less generous than other Robins throughout, even after that revelation. He is prone to bouts of violence. He is reintroduced as a young man while coercing kisses from Mérian (and that I think more than anything else really soured this book for me; he cares about Mérian’s consent no more as he develops into a leader, though their interaction late in the book is brief, and perhaps he improves in sequels, which I have never read). When he is enjoying himself, he can be impish. When he is contemplative, he shows promise as a ruler. He can be bold, but that boldness borders on recklessness and sometimes endangers others. Some of my unfavorable impression of Robin might be what Lawhead intended. He says Robin in the earliest stories “was a coarse and vulgar oaf much given to crudeness and violence” (474).

I empathize with the ousted and hunted prince, but I too often dislike him. I root for the Welsh cause without much liking the leader of the rebellion.

Mérian just seems young. She is irresolute, one moment wholly opposed to the Ffreinc invaders and the next dreaming of parties in Ffreinc castles. She is acted upon rather than taking any actions herself and seems to hold no firm convictions.

Disney’s Robin is roguish, romantic, and compassionate. Disney’s Marian is gentle.

BBC’s Robin is roguish, romantic, compassionate, and a conscientious objector after he learns respect for Islam while fighting in the Holy Land at King Richard’s side. BBC’s Marian is passionate, a fighter for justice and the poor.  She acts against tyranny despite the risk to herself.

It’s difficult to gauge how much of Hood is historically accurate.  William Rufus, Bernard Neufmarché, his daughter Sybil, and Philip de Braose all are historically recorded. Bernard did capture Talgarth in the early 1090s.  Rhys ap Tewdwr was killed in Bernard’s Welsh conquest in 1093.

But more often, Lawhead relies on common names. There was a Brychan—but not a Brychan ap Tewdwr—who was king of Brycheiniog (a term not used in Hood, but that’s the only King Brychan I can find in Welsh history).  Elfael was not part of Brycheiniog, but was adjacent to it.

And sometimes the facts just don’t line up.  Elfael in fact did not become its own cantref until 1140, and Lawhead’s map sets the story between 1080 CE and 1100 CE.  Before that, Elfael with Maelienydd was Ferlix.  And while there is a Llanelli in Wales, it is nowhere near where it is on Lawhead’s map, being a coastal town in Carmarthenshire.

All this I fact checked using resources freely available on the Internet, but admittedly, there is some fuzziness to the historical records from this period.

Despite my dislike of Bran and Mérian and my uneasiness about some of the history and geography that Lawhead uses to set his novel, I still find this an interesting fictional representation of the Norman invasion of Wales and Welsh life and resistance at the time of William II.

I enjoy the ease with which Lawhead makes his story align with the Robin Hood legend, defending his case for a Welsh genesis for the myth.  And I like Lawhead’s writing. He captures the settings well. He writes a good battle.

I just wish that this story had more central characters that I actually enjoyed being around.  I do like Iwan (Little John) and Friar Tuck.

***

Lawhead, Stephen R. King Raven, Book 1: Hood. Nashville: Thomas Nelson-HarperCollins, 2007. First published 2006.

This review is not endorsed by Stephen R. Lawhead, Thomas Nelson, Inc, or HaperCollins Publishers. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Shelfie: April 13 & 14, 2017: First Time with a Last Book

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I’m apparently not going to be mentally able enough for long enough when I’m free enough this week to finish the blog post that I almost have done.  So instead, I’m sharing with you a few more of my favorite lines from one of my favorite books.

These are both from my first, excited read-through of the final book in Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle, The Raven King.

The usual warnings about SPOILERS, but actually I think these pages are pretty innocuous, and I know the lines that I’m extracting are safe.

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” ‘Where the hell is Ronan?’ Gansey asked, echoing the words that thousands of humans had uttered since mankind developed speech.”

For me, what words Gansey said are irrelevant.  That tag is amazing.

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” ‘I don’t want to talk about.’
” ‘ I do,’ Ronan said.
” ‘Well, I don’t.  I’m not proud of it.’
“Ronan patted her leg.  ‘I’ll be proud for you.’ “

I’m not sure why I love this exchange so.  Maybe just because it is so real.

I really can’t tell you often enough to give this series a try.  The first book in the sequel series is due out November 5, and I am so excited.  The first book in that series is called Call Down the Hawk.