Sylvia & Aki (CBR11 #16)

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Sometimes you read a book because you should. This is one of those books. I truly enjoy YA on the whole, but I have a tough time with Children’s or Middle Grades books. I can absolutely see their good qualities and how their intended audience would likely sink into them, but maybe I don’t enjoy them now because I didn’t read many of them when I was that age (I was a late reader and then I flew up to reading adult books in a few years).

But, there was a task on the Read Harder challenge and here we are.

I chose Sylvia & Aki because of its subjects – Japanese internment during WWII and the battle for educational equality. The book chronicles a true story, that of Aki’s family being forced to leave their home for the internment camps and Sylvia’s family who leases it. Conkling keeps the narrative accessible and her characters relatable, exactly as you would hope. It reads to my adult eyes as a bit preachy but maybe it wouldn’t sound that way to the 10-year-olds it is meant for. The book wraps up with an historically accurate happy ending and an afterword that explains the historical ramifications of the court case that Sylvia’s father filed to get her and her siblings into the local school instead of the barrio school and how it paved the way for Brown v Board of Education. It is a good book, but it is not unfortunately a book for me.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

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We Are Okay (CBR11 #15)

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I struggled with this book for quite a while. For reasons I now don’t remember I believed this book to be a graphic novel and had filed it as such as a different task for Read Harder challenge than I eventually recorded it under. Then, once I began reading it for what it truly was, I found myself struggling through the chapters. Marin the protagonist is in such a low place, and Nina LaCour writes it so well that I felt myself being pulled under as I was already feeling a bit out of sorts. There were a few times I thought I might DNF the book, but the writing itself kept pulling me back in.

The story in We Are Okay is one of immense grief. We join events in progress, Marin is waiting for Mabel to come visit her at college over winter break. Marin hasn’t spoken to Mabel in nearly five months and is living a sort of half-life. There was something terrible that happened, or perhaps several terrible somethings and we are reading to find out what they were. The novel works back and forth between the previous summer and this Christmas and we slowly piece together Marin’s truth as she becomes more and more ready to say the words, even to herself.

This novel unpacks what it means to discover someone has kept an enormous secret from you, and how life’s transitions can both change us drastically while also reaffirming exactly who we are.  Nina LaCour created astonishing characters and a deep story that absolutely earned its Printz Award. As long as you are in the headspace for it, I suggest this one mightily for those of us who read YA.

The Kiss Quotient (CBR 11 #14)

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The Kiss Quotient has been hanging out in my TBR since Malin’s review last June and I was excited to read it this year fulfilling tasks for both Read Harder Challenge and the Reading Women Challenge. I’m glad I read it in the early part of the year and didn’t put it off any longer, it was a quick fun read and while it wasn’t perfectly executed it was certainly better than average and quite good indeed for a debut.

I have a soft spot for books where the author has workshopped them and thanks their writers group in the acknowledgements. I also have a soft spot for a work where the author has an idea – in this case a gender swapped Pretty Woman – and just needs a spark of inspiration to make it work. For Hoang, it was a bit of self-discovery (a later in life Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis) that unlocks for her the way in which her female protagonist can reasonably hire an escort. Stella would like to be in a relationship but her personal rhythms have not allowed her to have a successful sexual interaction with a man, and she decides a professional will be able to teach her what she needs to know, down to writing her own checklists as lesson plans.

I loved Stella, I loved how clearly Hoang writes her voice and how easily she inserts the reader into her mind’s eye. The novel hands back point of view between Stella and Michael, and while I felt Hoang does a good job of making them distinct, and making Michael both a very typical male lead in a romance (tall, television star handsome, martial arts practitioner, a freaking 8 pack) and decidedly not typical (the aforementioned sex worker side job, a traditionally “feminine” field of work, half-Vietnamese). But the strengths are really in delivering a neurodiverse experience understandable to those not on the spectrum.

The plot turns on the successful sexual relationship of Stella and Michael, so there’s quite a bit in there, but it is also a story working through power dynamics, self-worth, and responsibility. There were some things that drove me a bit batty, and they were focused around my least favorite trope of all time, a central conflict that can be resolved with an honest conversation. But, Michael’s mother and grandmother make up for most of the nonsense his character inflicts on Stella and the reader.

Hoang’s next book also features a neurodiverse character, Michael’s cousin. I’m very interested in seeing how that one reads later this year.

Read Harder Task 13: a book by or about a person who identifies as neurodiverse (both)

Read Women Task 18: a romance

The Proposal (CBR11 #11)

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Almost exactly a year ago I read Jasmine Guillory’s debut The Wedding Date. It was charming, had great characters, a plot with meat on its bones, and sexy bassline. In my review of that book I wished for a follow up with supporting character Carlos, and Guillory must have had as much fun writing him as I did reading him because her second book is focused on Carlos.

The Proposal* picks up six months after the end of The Wedding Date. We immediately meet the novel’s other main character, Nik, as she is experiencing a truly horrifying moment. Her casual boyfriend of 5 months has just proposed to her via Jumbotron at an L.A. Dodgers game. She refuses, terrible boyfriend storms off, and before a camera crew can get to her Carlos and his sister swoop in and rescue Nik with the “hey I haven’t seen you in so long” trick that women use to help other women in distress.

For a book that starts this way it could easily have been a much more somber affair. Guillory includes the tough stuff – what happens when a break-up goes badly and you are afraid, what happens when a previous relationship has hurt you in emotional ways that you haven’t quite dealt with yet – but lets them inform her love story, not overtake it. Guillory seems intent on talking about real issues in her books and heading down the same feminist path of the truly great romance writers working now. This book is even more diverse in its characters, which is such a pleasure to read.

While this one could be accused of committing the crime of instalove (I don’t actually think so even though the timeline is rather short, I believe wholeheartedly in two people in their thirties accidentally falling head over heels in love with each other in two months) it handles its other trope, friends to lovers, so well that it erases any concerns you may have. It does have a small handful of faults, but this story of two people learning if they can love, and let themselves be loved, when they have both decided they won’t love is pretty great.

*I really hope Guillory keeps naming her books after romantic comedy movies. I think its great.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society.

A Study in Scarlet Women (CBR10 #52 – CANNONBALL!)

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I had read quite a few reviews of this book, and still I don’t think I fully grasped what to expect. Back in January both yesknopemaybe and sistercoyote’s reviews of this book got me to add it to both my to read list, and found it a home on my Read Harder Challenge. My exact words were “Okay, that’s it, you all win. On the to read list it goes. I’m not even that big a Sherlock Holmes fan (hush, I know, I know.)” At the end of my reading experience I’m left feeling a little unfulfilled, I don’t know if it’s because I’ve never been a huge Sherlock Holmes fan (narfna is quietly sighing in a corner somewhere, I can feel it) or misplaced expectations, or first book in a series hiccups, but while I did eventually fall in deep like with Charlotte Holmes and her compatriots, it never really sang for me and I’m landing at 3.5 stars.

Like the Arthur Conan Doyle novels it grows from, A Study in Scarlet Women takes place in Victorian England. When we met them, the Holmes family is upper class and struggling to keep up financial appearances due to poor choices of the patriarch. Lady Holmes is therefore eager to get her eligible daughters wed. Unfortunately, her younger daughters have other agendas. Following a betrayal by her father, Charlotte enacts a plan to make herself independent by becoming a fallen (or scarlet) woman and, being caught in flagrante, is to be sent away. Instead she runs away and is living as a social pariah, trying to figure out how to earn her own living in London with no training, no references, and meager resources.

Initially I had a terrible time following some of the lengthy background we’re given. Charlotte Holmes, already under the guise of Sherlock Holmes, has helped solve crimes with Lord Ashburton working as an intermediary to bring information to and from Inspector Treadles. I could not for the life of me keep the timing straight, or initially keep Ingram separate from Roger Shrewsbury, which now seems silly to me as they were written very differently. We’re meant to be joining a plot already in action, but when Thomas took a step back for a large infodump of the Holmes’ past and laying out the relationships amongst the sisters I lost the thread of the “present”.

There was also much I enjoyed about the novel. The world Charlotte lives in is complex and finely drawn, we are introduced to various characters and locales and once Thomas gets going everything is beautifully distinct. Thomas uses three voices to tell the story of the scarlet women – we hear from Charlotte, her sister Livia (although I would have liked to hear from her more in the second half of the book), and Investigator Treadles. It was always clear which character is delivering the narrative, each with rich interior and exterior lives, and learning things about themselves and the world around them in all its splendor and dinginess. But, the parallel narrative of the deaths Treadles is investigating and the life Charlotte is hoping to build to have financial independence for herself and her sisters didn’t always line up, or feel equally strong.

It is unsurprising to me that it is the characters that shine and really drew me in. Charlotte, for all her massive intellect, observational, and deductive skills, is still quite a sheltered young woman. She makes youthful mistakes and doesn’t know everything and is in need of community. The eventually revealed Mrs. Watson is thus the perfect foil for Charlotte because she has life experience and self-awareness to bring to the table. It was this novel’s version of Watson that finally sold me on the book, and the way in which she was further woven into the structure of Charoltte’s life was artfully and gently done.

I’ve added the next in the series to my to read list. The book got stronger as it went, and that’s the kind of thing I’m always willing to reward.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Vol. 1: Commencement (CBR10 #21)

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Vol. 1: Commencement (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, #1)

This book is another Read Harder Challenge twofer. I don’t read a lot of comics; it’s a style of book that isn’t as natural for me as it so obviously is for others. While I was reading through this year’s tasks I saw there were two that related to comics and I knew that I would have to step out of my comfort zone (which is the entire point) to get them done.

But… it was much easier than anticipated. Either my tastes are broader than I give myself credit for or my sleuthing skills have improved over the years. I’m leaning towards the second of those. Task 18 was to read a book published by a house other than Marvel, DC, or Image. I used to listen to Thought Bubble, I know about Dark Horse, AND that they publish Star Wars books. One problem solved. Next, Task 8 was all about diversity (because really and truly #weneeddiversebooks) I needed to find a book written or illustrated by a person of color. A quick skim of the Star Wars offerings from Dark Horse Comics and a cross check of my library’s holdings, and voila I was off on my first visit to the Old Republic .

Here’s the thing I learned about myself and my Star Wars fandom while reading this: I really and truly do love the world of Star Wars, not just the characters of the original trilogy. Could this book have been improved by adding a Wookie? Of course, Chewbacca is the literal best (but he wasn’t alive yet). What I got here though, was a story of a padawan (or apprentice as his favorite antagonizer is so fond of misremembering) who was betrayed by people who were trying to take too much control of what the visions of the future might have shown them, and he must run to save his life, or perhaps stay and fight for what is right. I am always on the lookout for those who stay and fight for what is right.

The art was a bit dark for me, but it reminded me in all the best ways of the animation on Star Wars Rebels. I wish I had more substantive thoughts on this book, but perhaps the highest praise I can give it is that I am thinking about putting the next book in the series onto my stupid long to read list even though my library doesn’t have it in its holdings. Pretty high praise from me, if we’re being honest.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

Kindred (CBR10 #20)

Kindred

I’ve finally made my way to reviewing the #CannonBookClub selection, Kindred.  I was ecstatic that this was the one we chose. Not that I wouldn’t have happily read any of our options for this first of two anniversary reads, but Kindred has been lurking on my to read list a long time and it fulfills two of this year’s Read Harder Challenge tasks (read a genre fiction classic, read a sci-fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author).

My review is probably going to be a bit disjointed, as I wander through my thoughts and our book club discussion questions.  As I mention above, the fact that this book is categorized as science fiction works in my favor, but it never *felt* like science fiction to me. Sometimes I wonder if I have a firm grasp on the definition of the genre itself, or if Octavia Butler’s very obvious care at historical accuracy kept the science fiction of it all out of my main view. But I do know that I am not alone, Kindred gets name dropped in a Tor.com article from last year discussing whether or not time travel stories are science fiction or fantasy.

I was won over by this novel almost immediately. Dana had such a unique voice, that even before the time travelling really got underway I was invested in her. Butler also does great things with emotions in the book. Dana and Rufus’s connection, Kevin being trapped in the past without Dana created dread that pushed my reading along. I read the book in two sittings. But perhaps the most important emotional cores of the book is Alice and Dana’s tumultuous, intertwined relationship but the simplicity and clarity of the understanding that Carrie brought to her world and her relationships pulled at me the most. Carrie’s appraisal of those around her, and her ability to communicate it (especially with Nigel) brought the later chapters of the novel home for me in a way I don’t know that I can describe. So much is happening so quickly, Alice is suffering so greatly, and Carrie has become in her own way the center of the storm.

But if Carrie is the calm center, then Alice is the raging storm front. I always took it on face value that because Dana’s time travel was sparked by grave danger (her own or Rufus’s) that she was being yanked through time to maintain a timeline, as she saw it to make sure her ancestor was born. What we witness is the destruction of one soul, in order to birth another, to preserve a third. Every single choice, experience, and sacrifice carries the weight of each of them. It is heady, and causes the reader to have to side with what we know will be the destruction of Alice at Rufus’s hands. We know, implicitly, that there is no happy ending for her, but we don’t necessarily know just what her end will be, or for that matter, Rufus’s own. Butler asks her reader to consider: was it worth it? Was their suffering worth Dana’s life? Or is it simply what was?

I still don’t know, 10 days after our book club, the answers to my own queries about Octavia Butler’s work. But I do know that it’s the sign of a five star book for me when I am continuing to chew on the book days and weeks later.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.