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Book Chat: Huntress

Huntress by Malinda Lo

Summary

Taisin and Kaede are studying to be Sages while the kingdom’s lands and 9415946people suffer and dwindle due to fluctuating weather and the arrival of strange new beasts. Neither knows exactly where their path will lead, though Taisin’s strong skill with dreams is promising. Kaede, with little skill, must fight the growing pressure to make political alliances through marriage. But, when a message from the Fairy Queen pulls them into an adventure, everything may change. Together, they face many obstacles, including growing feelings between them and a dream-promised loss that might tear them apart.

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Favorite Character

Taisin – she’s powerful, she’s determined, and there’s a lot roiling beneath the surface that we don’t get to see. I like that her background gives us a bit more commentary on privilege and that her unease with her growing feelings allows the romance to burn slowly.

Favorite Line

“All you can do is make your decisions based on what you know now.”

It’s not especially “new,” but I appreciate that this is repeated and gives both girls strength and self-confidence. Plus, it’s too true.

Fun Author Fact

Malinda Lo is a rockstar and does a lot (A LOT) about queerness in YA. For the past few years, she’s pulled together all the numbers she can on published books with queer characters to show how representation is lacking. Here is her post for 2014.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I think so – it’s a fun adventure and the romance is perfect – a slow burn with lots of feeling behind it so when you finally get there, it’s super satisfying. There are also good side characters to give the story depth. It’s a little quick with the storytelling and lacks some depth, but I had fun getting to know Taisin and Kaede.

Read These Next

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee for two very different girls traveling across the US as settlers expand West or Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo for a group adventure with full of character and a touch of fantasy.

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 Discussion: Black Beauty

Black Beauty by Constance Burris

Summary

This is a collection of short stories and a novella featuring residents  26011960of a housing complex in Oklahoma. The characters’ stories interweave with each other and we learn a little more about a particular character, “Crazy” Jade, from each. Each of the short stories shows what happens when you will do anything to get what you want – and that there are consequences for using magical shortcuts. The novella introduces us to an alternate world and the difficulties of responsibility and not belonging.

 

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Romance Score: You’re Trying

Since there are multiple storylines, it’s hard to score all of them fairly, but the stronger couple is in the novella. They have to balance different cultural and social expectations and responsibilities with their affection for one another. The other couples don’t have as many feelings to deal with when trying out a relationship.

Rosie

Feminist Score: Good Effort

This score was a pretty difficult decision for me – again because of the multiple stories there are some where I want to say absolutely NO and then others where I was excited to see the women standing up for each other. One story in particular deals with the social pressure to look a certain way and another shows how calling one woman an insult can represent the wider world’s views about women in general. I’m giving a higher score because, even when showing things I wouldn’t want to give points for, those problematic items are called out. Plus, women are the ruling queens in the storyline woven through each piece, so there’s that.

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Diversity Score: Good Effort

The stories take place in an apartment complex with mostly black and Latino/Hispanic residents – in itself is not usually represented in mainstream books. Add on that several of the families are living at or below the poverty line and you get something that is rarely seen. I really liked the world Burris built here; it’s definitely filling a hole that exists in publishing.

However, there are a couple of issues. One is that the woman behind all the lessons is called “Crazy Jade” by almost everyone. This is problematic because “crazy” has a long history of being used against women, especially black women, and people with mental health issues. And, people also keep talking about her “voodoo” but nothing that I read seemed related to the actual religion so it was perpetuating stereotypes about voodoo. I will say that one character does try to call out his friend for calling it voodoo, so there is a suggestion that it’s not ok, but it’s never fully deconstructed. The stories also explore colorism, sexism, body image, and “good” vs “bad” hair in the black community. I can’t really speak to the portrayal of hair or colorism issues except but I know they’re important so I’m glad to see them here. Overall, I think the characters and setting are much needed.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort

I didn’t connect with some of the characters as much as I would have liked (probably because these are short stories), but I still really liked getting to know the world and the people in it. I was intrigued by the novella and want to know what happens after it. Jade is an engaging character and I would love to know more about her backstory. Overall, the community and stories had just the right amount of “WAIT – what just happened?” to keep me involved while also showing the daily struggles of dealing with life.


Favorite Character

Sean – at first I liked him the most because he seemed the most level-headed, but as more of his story came out, he became an even richer character and I felt for him and his dad.

Favorite Line

Andre’s conversation with his sisters after he visits Jade was on point. You’ll have to read it yourself, though.

Fun Author Fact

Constance Burris is an environmental engineer, which just goes to show that science and art can mix!

Is this worth a book hangover?

The answer is going to totally depend on your reading preferences. This is a collection of paranormal stories with a bit of fantasy added into the novella. If you like that kind of thing and want to meet some great characters, go for it!

Read These Next

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older for another paranormal story in the city featuring underrepresented characters or Lament or Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater for the fae in our world.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess received this book for free through NetGalley, but that didn’t affect her opinions!

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 Discussion: A Thousand Nights

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

Summary

The king, Lo-Melkhiin, is killing his wives. He was a strong, fair leader and then, after he went out to hunt, he came back cold 21524446and hungry for brides. No one knows exactly why his wives die, but they know they don’t like it. The people of the kingdom enforce a system – one girl from every village before the cycle starts again. So, when it’s time for our main character’s village, she knows her beautiful, stunning, amazing sister will be picked – because everyone loves her more. Since the main character is strong and loyal, she knows she has to do something to gain the king’s attention and take her sister’s place. She successfully does so and then, once she’s in the palace and married, manages to live out the night – and many more. Lo-Melkhiin finds her an intriguing adversary and she uses mysterious powers to keep death at bay.

heartRomance Score: Not a Bit

Lo-Melkhiin is killing his brides. And it’s totally by choice. The main character is fighting for her life in a situation with a huge power imbalance. There’s no cute guy coming to save her and she’s not looking for one. I guess there could be some romance if you consider how her parents respect and honor each other, but…since she gets pulled from her village fairly early on, I don’t count that.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

I give points here because the main character is a strong, clever girl doing what she can to ensure the safety of her family and her people. She maintains a respect for her culture and does her best to subvert the power systems to work for her. In addition, she becomes a symbol of strength and a smallgod (sort of saint or protector) for the women and girls of her kingdom which is pretty badass. Overall, I think she’s a pretty cool character even if she’s a little obedient or submissive in the palace.

What I did not like was the motivation behind sacrificing herself for her sister. Even though it was slightly played as “I’m stronger/made for this,” the narrative about her sister being more beautiful, more beloved, and all around better came through more clearly – and it felt like a kind of “I’m not worthy of living, so I’ll just die for her” sacrifice rather than courage. Now, she still sacrificed herself and found a wellspring of power while doing so, so I’m not docking points (we all find strength through different scenarios), but it was a little disappointing.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Not a Bit/You’re Trying

This may not feel like a fair score to some readers, but I have reasons. Good things first: the character lives in a desert and is part of an underrepresented culture. She’s a girl that saves the world. Faith is a big part of the story. And yet.

Even though this book takes place in a newly created desert culture, I felt like a lot of the words and details used to give cultural “flavor” were added in after cursory google searches. For example, I found the description and use of veils (face and hair) fairly inconsistent throughout the book. In one scene, it talks about how she wears her hair loose under her scarf; I know this is definitely common practice in some communities, but it didn’t make sense in relation to later scenes. And the use and discussion of henna was seriously confusing. Like, so confusing I wonder if the author has ever used or been around henna. Throughout the book, the main character is given daily henna designs to prepare her for events/seeing her husband. Generally, it seems as though this happens after she is bathed and dressed in her finery, but there is never any discussion (that I remember) of letting the henna dry, sitting still to ensure the designs don’t get marred, or removing the dried henna. This is most obvious in one scene where she is running late and the henna master comes to reapply the designs just before she gets dressed and goes out to see Lo-Melkhiin. This is problematic because 1. her henna would still be wet and 2. if she did have a few minutes to let it dry, little crumbly bits of brown paste would be falling off while they ate or talked and I doubt that is appealing for her husband-king.

Those are small details. Another huge thing is the religious-cultural placement. With a title so explicitly referencing A Thousand Nights/Arabian Tales, the story feels oddly placed – I originally thought this was because it didn’t seem to tie into the usual Arab and/or Muslim context, but the more I think about it, the more I think it’s just poor worldbuilding. The addition of magic and the “beings” that roam the world “using” humans also added to the troubling bits. I don’t know if the author removed it from Islamic culture because referencing djinn (a genie -though never named as such) and magic would entail more work and cultural knowledge or if she was trying to pull the story out of that cultural context for some other reason, but it sort of felt like a cop out. I think this book would function better with a different title, too. This one calls back to a well known set of stories and then removes itself almost completely from the traditional tales; not referencing the originals would make it work better as a whole. Overall, the world was underdeveloped – if this was supposed to be a totally new world, the worldbuilding needed to be more complete, if this was referencing an existing culture, the lines needed to be drawn more clearly.

NOTE (3/2016): I’ve heard a lot about the author’s intentions and she definitely tried to make this a polytheist/pagan culture so that it didn’t call back to Arab/Muslim culture. She also was/is an archeologist so I feel a little bad for saying she didn’t seem to do research – I’m sure she did a lot. I think it comes down to the title calling up things that made it unfair to judge.

wow iconAwesome Score: You’re Trying

Overall, I was intrigued by the premise. It seems Scheherazade/One Thousand and One Nights retellings are a coming trend and I’m excited to see how the stories are placed (or replaced) in cultural contexts. I had high hopes for this book and at times throughout the story I was drawn in and intrigued, but overall I took a lot of notes on the random, weird details that pulled me out of the book. Generally for me, lots of notes means a story is lacking depth or pull because I am more focused on small things than on the exciting characters and narrative. I think the world Johnston built could be really engaging and interesting, but it feels like it sits at a 5 when it needs a 10. I also found the power/magic confusing and underdeveloped; maybe that’s a narrative tool since the main character never really understands it, but it just felt poorly written.

Even so, the premise of the story is intriguing and I think that some readers will enjoy the book.


Favorite Character

The Skeptic scholar – I liked his subplot and the main character’s interaction with him

I didn’t mention the Skeptics in my comments above, but this again was such a weird naming choice because it made me think “Are we in Rome? How are we in Rome now?”

Favorite Line

There are some powerful lines in this book, but I was so distracted by the random other things I didn’t write any down. One thing to note – there are very few character names used throughout the book. We never learn the main character’s name and most other characters are referenced by relation (“my sister,” “Lo-Melkhiin’s mother”) which is an interesting choice.

Fun Author Fact

E.K. Johnston is/was an archeologist!

Is this worth a book hangover?

Personally, I would say no. But, different books for different folks (Yes, I know that doesn’t exactly rhyme). The premise is intriguing and the character is strong, it might do it for you. I’ve been holding off because I really don’t want to compare books to one another, but if you are intrigued by a retelling of One Thousand and One Nights, I’d rather recommend The Wrath and the Dawn. Its world is more developed and the characters are more compelling, though the focus is different.

Read These Next

As mentioned, The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh or An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir for another world where stakes are high and escape is difficult and family must be saved.

Author Post: Jess

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Note: I received access to an early ebook of A Thousand Nights through NetGalley. My review is (I think, obviously) not affected by that.

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 Discussion: Dorothy Must Die

“She wore a long, formfitting, beaded gown that flared out at the bottom and was corseted so severely that I wondered how she could breathe. Her breasts weren’t the only thing Dorothy was trying to show off: the fishtail was slit up the side, revealing her most important assets.

Her shoes, of course. “

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

Summary

Amy Gunn hates her life. She lives in rural Kansas with a less-than-present mother and a school full of bullies who refer to her as “Salvation Army trash”. She’s dying to get out of Kansas, and get out of her life. One day, a sudden tornado transports her to the land of Oz. Amy is familiar with all the stories, and is excited to meet Glinda and Dorothy. But she soon learns that the Oz she knows is not the real Oz. A tyrannical Dorothy has taken over Oz, enslaving the flying monkeys and terrorizing the munchkins. She is unstoppable, and sucking all of the magic out of Oz. But can another girl from Kansas stop the reign of Dorothy?

This incredible retelling of The Wizard of Oz makes us rethink the good versus evil dynamic, how power corrupts, and what happens after “happily ever after”.

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying 

Dorothy Must Die is primarily a story about fighting a tyrant and finding yourself. While there is a bit of romance between Amy and one of the main male characters, it is not central to the story. I actually love this about the book. Between learning to use magic and trying to understand the dynamics of good and evil in Oz, Amy is pretty damn busy. Maybe she’ll have time for romance once her mission is done.

FRosieeminist Score: A+ Success  

Amy is a kick-ass heroine. I love her strength and passion, and the sense of justice she has. Amy faces a number of really scary situations, including a lot of violent battles and the threat of torture by the Wizard of Oz hero. She fights bravely and alone, and there’s a lot to admire in this woman.

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Diversity Score: You’re Trying

This book isn’t particularly diverse. Most of the characters are white, and though we don’t know much about any of their sexuality, Amy is straight. However, I liked that Amy was from a poor broken home. As discussed in the I Was Here review, diversity in economic circumstance is an important component of diverse books.

wow icon Awesome Factor: Good Effort 

From the time my first grade teacher read Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad PigI’ve always loved books that retell stories from a new point of view. This retelling was particularly well-written, and I love how Dorothy and the world of Oz were portrayed as so dark and violent. This book surprised me in the best way. I can’t wait to read the second installment, The Wicked Will Rise


Favorite Character

By far, Amy Gunn. Amy is a smart, quick learner with a temper not unlike mine. She’s a heroine you can relate to, and totally get behind.

Favorite Line

“A chill shot down my spine as I remembered that things were never easy around here. good and evil were always changing places with each other.”

One element of this book that I loved was how none of the sides were purely good or evil. All parties use torture and manipulation to get their way, and Amy learns early on to trust no one.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely, especially if you like fantasy and fairy tales. 

Fun Author Fact

Danielle Paige has written several books retelling the Wizard of Oz, including three novellas from Dorothy’s point of view.

Read This Next
Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad PigA seriously under-rated childhood favorite of mine.

… but if you’d like to read something young adult, I’d try the Wicked Years Series by Gregory Maguire. The inspiration for the Wicked play, this series tells the story of Oz from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Post Author: Anisha

AnishaAnisha adores YA romance – and thinks that all love stories should start on the beach and end with the first kiss. Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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Book Discussion: The Wrath and the Dawn

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

Summary18798983

The king keeps getting married. And every morning his bride is murdered. After Shahrzad’s best friend falls victim to the nuptial death, she decides it’s time for someone to do something about it. She volunteers to be the next bride and is determined to survive while ensuring that the king does not. But, as she steals each new morning by telling a story and ending it just as the action climaxes, she gets to know the young man responsible for so many deaths…and things are not what they seem.

heart Romance Score: Good Effort

I liked the slow burn of emotions and the secrets and discoveries that allow the characters to open up with each other. There’s a love triangle here, but it’s not awful since the characters are rarely in the same place at the same time. We’ll see if that stands up in the second book. The romance is sweet, but Shahrzad’s first night with one of the men takes things down a notch. It’s not exactly the most romantic, healthy, or happy way to be introduced to sexy times and, while Shahrzad willingly accepts that it’s a necessity to achieve her goals, it does make me a little sad…even if it gets redeemed later in the story. EDIT a long time later: I don’t know if I would give this score now. The relationship is couched in swoony language and makes it out to be romantic, but Shahrzad is essentially a prisoner and it feels a little creepy that the relationship goes the way it does considering the situation. (See note below in Feminism Score from original post.)

RosieFeminism Score: Good Effort

I really like Shahrzad – she’s feisty, smart, dedicated, and kind. She knows what she wants (to kill!) and she knows how she’s going to do it (survive!), but she doesn’t let that get in the way of caring about the people around her. She speaks up when she has an opinion and she knows how to use words to gain power (the dinner scene with the king’s uncle is great). I think she does a decent job navigating the difficult place between first love, confusion about love, and being a good person true to herself, but there are still issues. The guys in her life are jealous, their honor is all wrapped up in her behavior, and they want to police everything she does. It’s frustrating but a. something readers still have to deal with while reading today and b. a fair representation of some of the men from the culture the source-story is pulled from. Since Shahrzad is the one (mostly) calling the shots in the story, I’m still giving it a high score.

BUT – I have to point out the power dynamic here and that, even if things change, the king is a king and Shahrzad is in no place to contradict him so sexy-times are not based in an equal and fair relationship. This part of the story was a  big NO GO for me.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

This is another book where it depends on who is reading. To many readers, it introduces a world that will be unfamiliar and which includes richer, deeper cultural references than they get elsewhere (cough Aladdin cough). For readers that know Shahrzad’s story from their own bedtime tales, it will feel much more familiar. It is an exciting addition to the list of books that include magic, swords, and royalty outside the European (or European-esque) tales usually available. We don’t get many other representations, however – the characters are mostly wealthy, educated, and of the same background. Ability levels, appearance, and education levels are fairly standard with a few exceptions.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I’m very excited by Shahrzad’s story! I like seeing this kind of adventure playing out in an uncommon (for published US books) setting. I think the characters are interesting, the mystery plays out well, and I’m intrigued to learn what will happen in the second book. I think a few pieces could have been more developed – the magic seems a little random and unclear. There’s an interesting parallel between Shahrzad’s father and the father that started everything else; right now, it seems underdeveloped, so I hope that is teased out a little more in the next book. I’m also waiting to see what triggers Shahrzad’s growth in strength/power as well.


Favorite Character

Despina – Yes, she’s that stereotypical straight talking servant girl that tells Shahrzad what’s what, but she’s also great! And, I love her backstory; it’s sad, but not too sad and also illustrates the traveling and mixing of cultures that happens naturally in life. I also appreciate the side plot involving her, love, and big decisions because it rounds her out. I hope it plays an important role in the next book.

Favorite Line

“I am young, and, therefore, I know my words only carry a certain weight with the world, but I do know enough to realize you cannot control the actions of others. You can only control what you do with yourself afterward.”

Shahrzad is a smart girl, but it’s more about the total scene surrounding these words; she’s trying to comfort the king’s old tutor and it’s very sweet and gentle and wonderful.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely! I loved the world Ahdieh has built around the source story (A Thousand and One Nights) with great, strong characters and a truly compelling story. Plus, there are SO MANY details! It absolutely felt like palace life.

Fun Author Fact

Renee Ahdieh is a huge fan of Alanna from Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series, too!

Read This Next

Court of Fives by Kate Elliot for a strong lady lead doing what she can to fight the system or Sister Light, Sister Dark by Jane Yolen for a story about a girl with powers, stories, and a society to change.

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.

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