Monthly Archives: August 2015

Book Discussion: Rebel Queen

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Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran

Summary

Sita does not like her future.

Her mother died at childbirth, leaving her with a baby sister, a cruel grandmother, and a loving but poor father. Sita is bound by the rules of purdah, and cannot travel outside of her home without a male to accompany her. She has to wait for her father to find her a husband, but with almost no dowry money and a lot of ambition, she’s not sure that she wants this for herself.

Her only chance to get out is to join the durga dal, a group of elite women who help protect the queen of Jhasni (Tamora Pierce fans, think Thayat’s Riders). Sita knows that no girl from her village has ever been a durga dal but she’ll do everything she can to make her own life for herself.

But even if she becomes a durga dal, her life will be even more challenging. Her Queen, the famous Lakshmi, is the second wife of a weak king of a small princedom. She is effectively ruling for him, and trying to manage the ever-growing power and requests of the British East India Company while remaining publicly demure to her husband. Can Sita be the protector of such a complex and powerful woman?

heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I wasn’t completely hooked by the romance in this story. Sita and her suitors romance is not particularly compelling to me. Given all of the details around the treatment of women in this story, I had a hard time believing a romance could exist for a female fighter.

Feminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good EffortRosie

Sita is a female fighter in a male-dominated society, which automatically gives her some brownie points. In many ways, though, she was still very much powerless. Even with all her training and skills, she is still beholden to her grandmother’s rules, and still allows her sister to remain in the village and under the rules of purdah. I think I expected more fight out of Sita, and was disappointed when I did not see it.

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Diversity Score: Good Effort

I loved that this book tackled a story that is relatively unknown to the Western world, and enjoyed a picture of historical Indian life from a unique female perspective.

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Awesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

While this story had a lot of potential and great reviews, I have to admit, it wasn’t my favorite. I don’t think I really connected with Sita, and I was frustrated by her lack of action. As one of the few women with power in her society, she did shockingly little to help the one person she loved the most, her sister. And while I enjoyed learning about her back story, I would have preferred to have the story narrated by Queen Lakshmi.


Favorite Character

Queen Lakshmi. She has to balance both the traditional duties as a queen (serving her husband and producing heirs) and the challenges of ruling. I would love a story from her point of view.

Favorite Line

The War stole so many people from us, and still it’s not over. Sometimes, when Raashi is taking me on the train, I’ll catch a glimpse of a young man struggling against the guards who are trying to remove him from the first-class cabin, where only British are allowed to sit, and that’s how I know the war isn’t finished”.

I love timeless lines, and this rings true today. In how many ways are our own race wars not yet finished?

Is this worth a book hangover?

Maybe. It wasn’t my favorite Michelle Moran book (I’m partial to Cleopatra’s Daughter), but it was an interesting perspective on a relatively unknown story.

Fun Author Fact

Michelle Moran and her husband had an Indian wedding (in India). Pictures of her beautiful wedding, including her awesome henna, can be found on her website.

Read This Next

Beneath the Marble Sky by John Shors. Beneath the Marble Sky is the fictionalized story of the life of Princess Jahanara, daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife, Arjumand Banu Begum (the woman for whom the Taj Mahal was built).

Post Author: Anisha

AnishaAnisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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Filed under Heavy Topics, Historical

Book Discussion: More Happy Than Not

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

Summary:

Note: Try to read as little as possible about the book. Take my word for it, you want to read this with as little knowledge as possible about the actual plot so this post is as spoiler free as More Happy Than Notpossible.

Aaron is struggling to deal with his father’s suicide. His girlfriend does the best she can to bring him back toward happiness, but then she leaves for art camp and the distance between them pushes Aaron to spend more and more time with his new friend, Thomas. As their friendship grows, Aaron feels his old self returning, but his old group of friends does not approve of the new closeness between their buddy and the “new guy.” As things reach a tipping point, Aaron discovers that some things are inescapable no matter how many times you try to elude them.

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

There was SO MUCH good here. Aaron and Genevieve are adorable with their “remember when” game and their sweet, thoughtful dates and their joy and panic about their first time. The slow tension of growing close with Thomas and trying to understand what that means is also sweet in its own way. I’m taking points away because of things that happen in the last half of the book (including a rather emotionless repeated action in an alley).

RosieFeminist Score: You’re Trying

Aaron’s mom tried to put herself in between her husband and her kids, and that’s something no mother should ever need to worry about. But, I appreciated her strength, her dedication to her sons’ happiness, and her efforts to do her best. Again, a mother trying to do her best with very few good options.

At first, I was really excited by Genevieve and Aaron’s relationship – they are so sweet, he obviously cherishes her, and the physical moments involve a lot of consent. But once Genevieve heads to art camp, things kind of fall apart and it hurt my heart to see her making choices so that she ends up with less than she deserves. Yet, by the end, it seems like things are turning around for her.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

There’s a lot covered in this book – I got the sense reading that Aaron’s family was Hispanic (and double checked for the review – they’re Puerto Rican). In Aaron’s neighborhood there’s quite a bit of racial diversity – his boss has an “Arab accent” and his friends are varying skin tones. Everyone is lower income and I appreciated that this story incorporated details about that as part of the scenery and Aaron’s life without making it an “issue.” The biggest factor of the story, though, is with sexual orientation – Aaron slowly realizes what he thinks he likes may not be the true or only answer. The unfolding, unpuzzling of his feelings was sweet and painful and sad and joyful and made the story doubly poignant. With this it would seem that an A+ is in order, but events near the end made me dock a point. Yes, I know what happens reflects reality, but this book has just enough of a hint of the future that I had hope that maybe the end-of-book events could be excluded from Aaron’s experience.

wow iconAwesome Factor: A+ Success

I LOVED this book. All the characters came together perfectly. Before reading, I had only heard that the book was amazing and a must-read, I was totally shocked when things started to come together and, as much of a gut-punch as it was, I LOVED it. Aaron was a sweet character – as a boyfriend and as a confused, sad teen. I wanted to date him or comfort him – or both. His story is going to stick with me for a while as I think about my own life and the things I wish I could escape.


Favorite Character

Thomas – He has amazing date ideas that he’s not too miserly to share with a friend (rooftop planetarium? AMAZING) and highschool-me would totally want to date him. He also is an amazing friend to Aaron, being caring, honest, and gentle when Aaron opens his soul. I loved that he was comfortable enough to react the way he did and I’m so excited that teen readers will have him as an example of how to be a friend or ally.

Favorite Line

“Sometimes pain is so unmanageable that the idea of spending another day with it seems impossible. Other times pain acts as a compass to help you get through the messier tunnels of growing up. But the pain can only help you find happiness if…” (270)

Is this worth a book hangover?

ABSOLUTELY. I feel silly because I’ve been so enthusiastic about the books I’ve reviewed, but this is really an amazing book with great characters and an intense story. To prove it: it was a cool weekend in the middle of July and I stayed inside and read this book.

Fun Author Fact

Adam Silvera is really, really tall. Unfun fact: he struggles with depression. I mention this because I’m so thankful that authors are speaking up about these kinds of things and providing an opening for their (teen) readers to talk about them.

Read These Next

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli for a cute, secret boy crush story or Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley for a story about overcoming confusion and prejudice.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Chat: 5 to 1


5 to 1 by Holly Bodger

Summary

The book takes place in a walled-off state in future-India. Women were tired of watching their world favor men and boys, so they rebelled. They walled off their land and built a women-led government to protect their daughters and those to come after them. They instituted a set of trials to allow the now-revered girls to determine their spouses and all of society now benefits girls, young women, wives, and mothers (of girls). And yet, Sudasa wishes to escape this world of luxury and privilege. At the trials that will determine her future spouse, she meets Kiran, a young man also dreaming of a way to escape the system.

 


Favorite Character

Sudasa’s father – His backstory is heartbreaking, his gentle spirit is sweet, and his love for his daughter(s) is a gentle reminder that the pressures of society aren’t always reflected in individual people. Plus, I love that we realize he hasn’t let the system get him down quite as much as Nani thinks.

Favorite Line

There are so many! If nothing else, this book is beautifully written, alternating free verse and prose, Sudasa’s and Kiran’s voices. It’s really difficult to pick a single sample!

Fun Author Fact

Holly Bodger works on both sides of the book world – as a published author and in publishing.

Is this worth a book hangover?

5 to 1 is a quick read with its beautiful descriptions, quiet poetry, and quick-moving story. The characters are easy to like, if not always to understand and the world Bodger creates is a compelling one. There may be some difficulty understanding exactly what happens because of the imagery in the poetry, but I still think this is an important story that captures what the world could easily look like very soon.

Read These Next

It’s an emotional book, but Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed also features a young girl fighting to break out of family and cultural expectations. Or, try Bumped by Megan McCafferty about what life might look life if only teenagers are able to get pregnant.

Post Author

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations. She received her copy of 5 to 1 as a raffle prize (but doesn’t know if it was from a blog or the publisher!).

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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, podcast, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Book Discussion: Devoted

Devoted

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

Summary

Rachel Walker is devoted to God and her family. She knows that the only way into Heaven is to follow the words of Pastor Garrett at the Calvary Christian Church. She’s a dutiful daughter, taking care of her numerous younger siblings and dressing modestly to help her brothers and father avoid sin. And she knows her life’s path: One day, she will get married (to a man of her father’s choosing) and be a devoted mother and wife.

And yet, Rachel knows there is a world beyond her insulated Texas church community. And when her insatiable curiosity for the outside gets her in trouble with her father, Rachel must decide if she is brave enough to leave the world she’s always known.

Note: The community and culture in Devoted are based on the Quiverfull movement, a Christian patriarchy movement, perhaps made most famous by 19 Kids and Counting on TLC. The show was recently removed from television due to allegations (and eventually, admissions) of hidden sexual abuse.

Devoted

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

This story had a light romance, which was perfect for the context. Rachel comes from a community where she is taught that she is subservient to her father and that it was her job to keep men from lusting after her, so she has a pretty interesting view of men. The gentle romance was sweet background plot and did not distract from Rachel’s growth and self-discovery.

Feminist Score: Between Good Effort and A+ SuccessRosie

This book tactfully discusses the challenges facing women leaving a controlling situation. I liked that while Rachel has her own views, and takes time to figure out how feminism and religion fit into her own life. This could have easily been a story of teen rebellion, but instead is a thought-provoking story about finding yourself.

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Diversity Score: You’re Trying

This book tackled many incredible challenges in the modern Quiverfull movement, but I was a little disappointed that all the characters were white and straight. I would have liked to see Rachel meet someone of color (or gay) who challenges the views of the church.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort 

Despite my qualms with the lack of diversity, I loved this book. Rachel is a powerful character, and despite her views from her upbringing, you quickly grow to love her. In fact, I wanted to give her a hug every few pages (just like Simon). I’m particularly intrigued by the Quiverful movement, and this provided one narrative for the lives of women born into the Christian patriarchy movement.


Favorite Character

Rachel. Her bravery (and the bravery of real women who have left controlling religions) is incredibly admirable, and I want to know what happens to her after this story ends. Perhaps a sequel?

Favorite Line

“My older brothers and father are seated in their usual spots, but instead of holding his Bible in his hand like he usually does, my dad is holding something else.

My copy of A Wrinkle in Time.

How stupid I’ve been. How careless.

I left it on the counter amid rolls of paper towels and school books and dirty dishes and a dozen other pieces of evidence that I’ve been struggling with my job of running the household as I should.

But the book is the worst piece of evidence. The most damning thing. Because it proves not only that I am not a young woman of God, but that I’ve been distracted by something my father is sure to believe is sinister. And he’s come to believe that my soul is in danger.”

Rachel’s love of knowledge and books is what gets her in trouble in the first place, and I love that A Wrinkle in Time is the book that her father thinks will lead her to sin.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes – especially if you are interested in cult-like religions. Devoted pulls you in from the first line and you’ll be left with a new perspective on religion, feminism, and owning your decisions. I highly recommend it.

Fun Author Fact

According to an interview, Jennifer first got interested in writing about the Quiverfull movement after watching 19 Kids and Counting. After reading the perspectives of real women in the Quiverfull movement, she couldn’t quite see the show the same way again. (Note: I have the same love-hate relationship with the Duggars).

Read Listen to This Next

If you like podcasts, check out The Debrief Society This podcast is hosted by four women in the process of leaving the LDS Church. They discuss the painful process of removing yourself from an organization that was your entire life and belief system. While it is important to remember that many people have wonderful experiences in their conservative religions, this podcast is a fascinating look into one perspective on the Mormon Church.

Post Author: Anisha

AnishaAnisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer auth

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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School

Book Discussion: Zeroboxer

Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee

Summary:

Carr Luka is a rising star in the future sport of “zeroboxing” – basically MMA fighting in zero gravity. As he continues to succeed, his league invests in him – getting a brandhelm (brand manager) for him and sending him on a marketing tour. But, as his star rises, he also learns a dark secret about a deeply hidden crime-ring. In the middle of fighting his way to the top, Carr also becomes the lightning rod for tensions between people still living on Earth and the populations that have chosen to spread across the solar system.


heart Romance Score: Good Effort

Carr’s attraction to Risha is immediate and fairly superficial at first. The physical attraction is written well, but it’s a little hard to see why the relationship grows into anything more. While Risha seems to be driven by her career, she also has no qualms mixing business and pleasure and I found that slightly confusing. But, she’s also young and she spends most of her time with Carr, so I understand why this unfolds. While their relationship felt natural and Carr’s excitement about it came across as genuine, I feel a little surprised at the depth of their feelings by the end.

RosieFeminist Score: You’re Trying

There are a few things that stand out: Carr likes girls and he likes to have fun with girls, so there’s some disrespectful “let’s find girls for fun” talk among other zeroboxers. Carr’s first interest toward Risha is all about her appearance (and he calls her “exotic” several times which made me feel gross), but he does eventually come around and appreciate her for her personality and skill. Risha’s story is intriguing – I was really interested by her position between the Earth-born and the Martians and I wish that story had been expanded on a bit. And, while it’s obvious that she’s very good at her job, we only see her in the “taking care of Carr” aspect of it and that was a little disappointing.

In addition, the other two main female characters are two mothers -Carr’s and Enzo’s- making dubious choices. Carr’s mother highlights the difficult position of women in poverty – they have few choices and often those choices are between “Bad” and “Really Bad.” I appreciate that, but it’s still disappointing to have another struggling mother/woman making choices story. And, Enzo’s mother is another common storyline – a poor woman that cares more about her next hit than about her child. Of course, these kinds of characters exist in real life and Carr’s childhood is part of what inspires him to succeed, but I still wish the lady characters rotated a little less around the men and had a little more strength among them.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

There’s a lot of diversity among the zeroboxers – denoted by name when not by outright description of their families and backgrounds. There isn’t the same kind of clear distinctions we might expect from a present-day story since much of the population and national borders seem to have melted in Carr’s time, but there’s still skin color and ethnic variation among the Earth-born population.

More importantly, there is a clear demarcation between Martian/outerspace populations and Earth-borns. Throughout the story, we see the tensions between the two groups growing and this culminates at the same time as Carr’s personal story. I REALLY wish this part of the plot had expanded, because I find it a fascinating way to explore the perceptions of difference and how we (today) determine who is in- and out-group. I was really disappointed about where the story ended because I was incredibly anxious to see what would happen after the big revelation (I would love to see Carr’s world 5, 10, and 20 years out from his big fight!).

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I found the idea of zeroboxing really interesting and I liked Carr’s character – he was a good mix of earnestness, emotion, and teenage boy – we got the action and drive while still sympathizing with him. I also appreciated the complexity of his position and thought this was a great way to explore identity and politics while still having some intense, awesome fight scenes. A few times during the fights, I got breathless wondering what punch or kick was going to come next, so you know Lee can write some action!


Favorite Character

Uncle Polly – how can you not love the dedicated old coach with grit and just enough tenderheartedness to earn his athlete’s respect and love? I also appreciated his struggle to come to terms with the secret.

Favorite Line

“Victory was a better high than a hundred bliss bombs. Perfect and real, lasting for days, even weeks, before being polished and stored in its own special nook of his soul, each win unique and everlasting, wanting nothing except more neighbors.” (79)

This is exactly how the best days of life get stored in our souls (also, reminds me of Inside Out and the core memories).

Is this worth a book hangover?

YES! I started this and struggled to put it down for bed. I took it on the metro and almost missed my stop. There’s a ton of action and it really does feel like a cage fight is happening in front of you.

Fun Author Fact

Fonda Lee once wrote a book on a graphing calculator. ‘Nuff said.

Read These Next

Dove Arising by Karen Bao about a girl living on a Lunar colony and fighting for her family or Origin by Jessica Khoury about a girl who discovers a secret and has to make a difficult choice.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Filed under Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Book Chat: I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister

I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister by Amelie Sarn

Summary

The story switches between the present and the past, following older sister, Sohane, as she unravels her feelings around her younger sister, Djelila. As Sohane battles with guilt, grief, and anger, we learn that while she was growing more religiously observant, her sister was spending time partying with her non-observant, non-Muslim friends. And the neighborhood jerks took notice – they began harassing Djelilia for her “misbehaving” and Sohane sort of agreed with them…until they took their attacks too far.

Favorite Character

None of the characters really jumped off the page. Most of the time, they felt flat and, while I thought the tension between guilt and righteousness in Sohane’s narration was great, I really wish the book had alternating chapters between Djelila and Sohane because neither felt fully developed.

Favorite Line

This was written very, very sparsely. It was not the style that either of us generally read and no lines really stood out.

Fun Author Fact

Amelie Sarn is also a comic book writer.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I am not sure. It might be the translation, but if felt very stiff and lacked development. I wanted to know more about the characters and get more deeply embedded in their lives, but the lack of description created a kind of barrier. In some ways, this felt like a very long-form journalism piece rather than a book. I still found Sohane and Djelila’s story interesting, there just wasn’t enough to it.

Read These Next

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina for another perspective on bullying or This Side of Home by Renee Watson for another story about sisters struggling to understand the slow cracks in their relationship.

Post Author

1202112022

Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School