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2013-03-12 16:44

Johnson, Alaya Dawn - The Summer Prince

After a nuclear apocalypse and subsequent global cooling, the enclosed glass pyramid that is the city of Palmares Tres rises in what used to be Brazil. Palmares Tres is ruled by a queen and Aunties, but every five years, the city elects a Summer King. And at the end of the year, the Summer King is sacrificed as he selects the next queen.

June Costa and her friend Gil are very caught up in the current Summer King elections, and when their favorite candidate Enki wins, Gil and Enki quickly fall in love as June plots with Enki to create politically risky art installations. This sounds like it should be your standard post-apocalyptic YA romance triangle, and it really isn't. Gil and Enki's romance mainly acts as a backdrop to June constantly having to balance social approval against radical art.

I am having a terrible time writing a summary of this. There's June's battle with her desire to win the prestigious Queen's Award while knowing that anything too daring will disqualify her. There's Enki pushing her more and more toward radicalism as he uses his Summer King position to make the city focus on its poorest citizens. There's June's terrible relationship with her mother and stepmother, with the death of her father haunting them. There's the city's anti-technology tendencies in a world where many people have abandoned their bodies to become datastreams. There's the conflict between the wakas (the powerless youth of the city) and the grandes (the non-youth) along with the class conflict June has been too privileged to pay attention to before Enki. And all the layers are so easily intertwined with the others: this is a future city that feels incredibly real and complicated.

I've previously liked but not loved Johnson's books—Racing the Dark felt too crowded and lacking in focus while Moonshine had a great world but too much paranormal-romance-genre-flavored romance for me. The Summer Prince manages to juggle a bit of romance with a lot of worldbuilding, along with a great YA coming of age story that is June coming into her political and artistic own, and it really feels like Johnson has come into her own as a novelist as well.

And all this is ignoring the incredibly powerful narrative of a Summer King's year and the ritual the city was founded with, the choice of mortality and sacrifice and how it impacts everyone in the book.

This is a really good book on so many levels. I love Palmares Tres and the little glimpses we get of the world outside, I love having same-sex relationships casually in the background, I love little things like June's relationship with her rival Bebel and how that unwraps, I love the bits and pieces of Brazil and the South American African diaspora, I love the non-dystopian and non-utopian matriarchy, and I really really love how it's about sociopolitical moral dilemmas and art and expression written in a way that is complicated and difficult and very personal.

Anyway, go read!

Links:
- [personal profile] skygiants' review
- [personal profile] starlady's review
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2012-08-02 14:00

Wein, Elizabeth E. - Code Name Verity

A young woman is captured as a spy in Nazi-occupied France. And there's stuff about female pilots in WWII.

This is one of those books you want to read while knowing the least possible amount about the content. If you do know more, it won't ruin the book, since I think the book will stand up well to multiple readings, but it is a spy narrative.

As a note, potential trigger warnings for oblique interrogation details, along with wartime violence.

For people who want to know more, this book has amazing female friendship (SO SLASHY), excellent characters, Nazis in WWII who are genuinely terrifying and prosaic at the same time, plots within plots, and given how in love I was with stories about the French Resistance in WWII, this would have been my absolute favoritest book EVAR EVAR EVAR if I had read it as a kid.

Not that it isn't a favorite now, but younger me probably would have made up stories and fic and enacted key scenes and made her friends play different parts and such.

SPOILERS LIEK WHOA )

I don't really have a conclusion, since my main reaction is to flail and wave my hands and tell people to read it so I can talk about it with them. But this is definitely on the "best books I've read in 2012" list, and I knew it even though I finished it back in May.

Links:
(all links go to the day post to preserve spoiler cuts)
- [personal profile] skygiants' review
- [personal profile] musesfool's review
- [personal profile] rachelmanija's review (no spoilers in post or comments)

Assume spoilers in comments!
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2012-07-31 12:31

Milan, Courtney - Turner family trilogy + novella

I've been reading and rereading a lot of Courtney Milan's books lately, and I think she is a new favorite romance author. Most of her romances focus heavily on the heroine's journey and growth, and although not all her heroes are to my taste, she so far has had a relatively small amount of annoying alpha males. I also like that several of her books have featured non-neurotypicalness, particularly since she does so in a way that doesn't make me want to throw things.

Also, she has shown a willingness to write about non-lords, which is extremely welcome in duke-heavy Romanceland. Now that she is self publishing, I'm very much hoping that there will be more of class politics and gender dynamics, especially since what I've read so far of her seems to be feminist and looks at class in ways that also don't make me want to throw things.

Sometimes I find her resolutions overly optimistic, but I like her characters (esp. the heroines) so much that I don't mind. Also, it helps that people tend to behave like adults and use their words. I find the most interesting parts of her books to be the second half, after people have circumvented the Big Secret or Big Misunderstanding by talking to each other; the characters actually have to work together and communicate and own up to their own weaknesses to make things work out. Since I enjoy reading about functional romantic relationships, this is particularly nice.

Unveiled )

Unlocked )

Unclaimed )

Unraveled )
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2011-02-26 16:57

Brockmann, Suzanne - Out of Control, Into the Night, Gone Too Far

General overview for books 1-6 on race and gender and etc.

Can I just say that these book titles are terrible? I can't keep half of them apart. Also, assume spoilers in each cut for the book being discussed and for prior books in the series.

Out of Control (2002) )

Into the Night (2002) )

Gone Too Far (2003) )

Into the Night and Gone Too Far are romance recs for doing some really interesting things with the tropes, despite the inclusion of things in there that I don't like.

Links:
- [personal profile] kate_nepveu's reviews of Out of Control, Into the Night and Gone Too Far
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2011-02-17 18:19

Brockmann, Suzanne - Troubleshooters, vol. 01-06 overview

(covers The Unsung Hero, The Defiant Hero, Over the Edge, Out of Control, Into the Night, and Gone Too Far. Individual book write ups to come.)

As previously noted, Suzanne Brockmann is very good at writing sensible, normal characters who do rational things like try to talk to each other instead of letting Big Misunderstandings fester. Her categories suffer a bit from this because she has to resort to some authorial gymnastics to create conflict, but her Troubleshooters series mainly solve this by a) having more than one couple per book, b) adding in external suspense plots, and c) giving people a lot of background angst. Normally I'm not a huge fan of any of these, except I tend to like most of her couples and the diversity she puts in, her background angst is much more realistic than normal romance background angst, and although sometimes I dislike her external suspense plots, sometimes they provide excellent tension without taking over too much of the romance (my usual complaint for romantic suspense).

Also, I've seen Brockmann recced just about everywhere, but I've avoided her for the longest time for two reasons. First, I tend not to read contemporaries that aren't paranormals because although you'd think the contemporary setting would give romance authors more room to play with, the books usually end up with the same old romance tropes in a setting in which I find them completely unpalatable, as opposed to only somewhat unpalatable. Second, I know the series is about US Navy SEALs. I have zero interest in Navy SEALs or in the US military, romantic suspense is my least favorite romance subgenre, and I feel Navy SEAL heroes are the perfect excuse for more-alpha-than-you heroes and lots of heroines in distress. Thankfully, this is not the case in this series, which I am devouring despite all the above qualms.

Instead, the best books so far are about people falling in love with each other while other things go on in their lives—sometimes action related, sometimes not. So far, all of them have one main romance, a secondary romance, and then a third romance that's a flashback from World War II. Sometimes the secondary romance is concluded in the book, but sometimes it's a set up to another book or plot. I was going to say I like it best when they're concluded in the book, but the way Brockmann has set up several of her later romances has really worked for me. I don't enjoy her categories as much because the length works again her; instead, I think with shorter page length but a longer stretch of time, Brockmann is very good at packing in a lot of emotional complication, just as in real life. I like that people sleep together with disastrous results, that there are actually good reasons for people not getting together (some of it being emotional stupidity, but acknowledged as such!), that I get the sense that these are people with pasts and lives and interests.

I'm also reading these books as genre romance, despite them being mainly shelved in the general fiction section, largely because those are the tropes I'm comparing them to. I have no idea how they read as non-romances or as thrillers, and would be curious as to people from those genre's impressions.

Race )

Gender )

Other cool bits )

In conclusion: I have qualms about many things, but the awesome bits so outweighed the qualms for me that I found these worth reading. (YMMV, of course.) My favorites so far are The Unsung Hero, Into the Night, and Gone Too Far. Over the Edge made me headdesk quite a few times with its portrayal of Kazbekistan, but it also sets up several plots that come to fruition later in the series. I've found it worth reading everything so far, but I may end up skipping books about characters or settings I dislike, and I think middle books are still skippable.
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2011-02-05 18:33

Knight, Deidre - Butterfly Tattoo

Michael Warner is still grieving for his partner, killed in a car crash, but their daughter Andie is as well, and Michael can't seem to reach her. Meanwhile, he meets Rebecca O'Neill, a former celebrity scarred by a stalker fan's attack, and Rebecca's growing relationship with Andie has the two seeing each other more.

This is a contemporary that I feel is actually set in a world I live in: Michael is bisexual and dealing with his attraction to a woman after many years loving a man; Rebecca is still coping with the aftermath of the attack that scarred her; they have families and friends and jobs, and nothing in the relationship comes easy.

I have qualms about Michael being attracted to Rebecca after his romance with his partner Alex. I very much like that there's a bi hero and that the author and book give a lot of weight to his questions about his own sexuality. Bonus points for not playing into the promiscuous bisexual trope. However, because the romance genre is so heterosexist, I continue to feel uneasy. That said, I've very glad Knight doesn't demonize Alex at all, and part of why the book is so good is because Michael's grief and his difficulty moving on is so real.

I am usually anti cute kids in romance, but I love the friendship between Rebecca and Andie, particularly as Rebecca bonds with Andie over her scars from the stalker attack and Andie's scars from the car accident. I thought Knight was very good at portraying how the attack had affected Rebecca's life: she still has some problems breathing, there's pain, and the scars aren't romance pretty.

This is a very touching and atypical romance about two very hurt people finding each other and healing, and I almost never felt as though the angst was shoehorned in for angst's sake. Instead, the characters all feel very real, and I love how all the changes in the relationship are fueled by character and not the usual romance hijinks.
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2010-11-19 18:25

Sedia, Ekaterina - The Alchemy of Stone

I read this in the spring, so the details are extremely fuzzy.

This is set in a Western-feeling country in a world on the verge of the Industrial Revolution. There's a split between the Alchemists and the Machinists, and Mattie, an automaton who has partially broken away from her maker Loharri, ends up caught in the middle as the gargoyles of the city make a request of her.

I hate writing plot summary, but here it is worse than usual, as I barely remember the plot. (I am pretty sure the plot was interesting, it is just that read during final months of grad school + months passing = zero plot recall.) What I remember are images, striking and disturbing: the well-guarded literal key to Mattie's heart that is the only way to keep it wound, little simulacra made of earth and blood and bindings, a man who hears the whispers of all the souls he collects, a desperate kiss of a keyhole.

Sedia does use the automatons to examine slavery and freedom, which normally annoys me, but here, she actually has POC in the city who are discriminated against and looked down upon, and one of my favorite things about the book is how Mattie aligns herself with other downtrodden people and communities. I was bothered a bit by the portrayal of how one particular POC character uses her alchemy, which treads a bit close to voodoo for me.

I wasn't fully satisfied by the ending, but overall, this is a lovely book full of images that haven't (yet?) become common in fantasy.
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2010-05-29 02:30

Lockhart, E. - The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

Finally I read something that is not a romance! Oh brain, I missed you so!

The book opens with Frankie Landau-Banks' letter to the administration of the exclusive Alabaster Prep, admitting to being the brains behind various deeds of wreaking havoc. But the Frankie we're introduced to is a fairly normal girl, not someone who seems like a criminal mastermind, and the book is largely the story of how she gets to be that way.

Lockhart's narrative voice is a wonderful and snarky omniscient third person (first?), and it notes down things such as how Frankie's reaction to being excluded from the guys' world is different from the normal reactions most girls have—eschew it all together and have girls' nights out, go but then stay on the sidelines, or go to events and out-guy the guys. Frankie, on the other hand, wants to take over. And this captures most of my ambivalence about the book; I am very much one of the women who decides to have my own, majority-female version of an activity rather than battle with the guys, and although I understand Frankie's desire to rule over the guys, it's an understanding that's more intellectual than emotional for me.

This is coupled by the fact that Frankie's most important relationships in the book are with the guys—her ex, her boyfriend, and Alpha. Although she talks with both her sister and her roommate a lot, I felt they were much less central to the plot of the book and they were more confidantes, rather than the people Frankie was most influenced by. I also thought some of Frankie's attitude toward the girlfriends of the Order of the Basset Hound were rather similar to that of people who dislike female characters on shows.

Spoilers )

All that said, I think this is an extremely thought-provoking book about activism and feminism. While I don't necessarily agree with Frankie's focus, the narration is such that I don't think I'm meant to. What I like best is how Frankie's quest costs her, how isolating it is, how even when she succeeds, she doesn't. It reminds me of the stories of people becoming more aware of social justice and how it often serves to alienate them from relationships, how all of a sudden the ground beneath your feet is more stable and completely upside down at the same time. It reminds me of how efforts toward social justice are so easily explained away by people so that even when you've tried to overturn the establishment, the establishment just swallows you right back up. And the way Frankie is casually dismissed and ignored and subtly told she's great as long as she needs her boyfriend and isn't better than him, all of that rings too, too true.

There's sadly very little about race in the book; Frankie is Jewish and although that's not the center of the book, it's also not forgotten. My main impression is that Alabaster is (unsurprisingly, given the name) very, very White. I'd like to think that Frankie outside Alabaster would be anti-racist as well, but sadly, I know too well how social justice on one axis doesn't always transfer to another. There's also quite a bit of class commentary in the book, given the exclusive prep school setting, and I especially love how Lockhart knows that the same action can be rebellion for one person and just a prank for another, depending on how much privilege they have and how much they have to lose.

In conclusion: very thoughtful and layered, and it does so while being extremely funny as well. Recommended.
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2010-04-15 21:28

Ghosh, Amitav - The Calcutta Chromosome

In a near-future—or past near-future, since the book was published in 1995—New York City, Antar discovers the ID card of one L. Murugan, self-proclaimed expert on Ronald Ross, the man who discovered that malaria was transmitted by mosquito. Murugan disappeared on August 21, 1995, and as Antar tries to find out what happened to him, he begins to suspect that Murugan's disappearance has something to do with his conspiracy theory that Ronald Ross was lead to his malaria discovery.

I picked this up instead of Sea of Poppies largely because I don't think my brain can handle a large cast of characters right now. Plus, malaria! Secret histories! Medical thrillers! It appeals to the part of me that read every single Michael Crichton book in middle school, devoured the Time-Life Dictionary of Medicine, and read several Scholastic books with titles like Six Medical Mysteries. Only this is even better because it touches on knowledge and scientific discovery and the politics thereof, which I have been thinking about for a while now.

The book begins rather slowly; none of the characters came alive for me until they started talking to each other, and then, I mostly found the stories they told more interesting then their own stories. But then things begin to come together and stories begin to overlap and we rush toward the conclusion.

Spoilers )

I hate saying that things "transcend genre," because this book is SF and a thriller and it never stops being in those genres. But what is extraordinary is how Ghosh uses the rush-to-the-end that I associate with thrillers not only as a narrative device, but also as a commentary on the nature of knowledge and discovery and as a means to make the reader a tool in the journey of discovery. I also love how he overturns the narrative of scientific discovery and shows it for the construct that it is. And he does this all not by transcending genre, but by staying firmly within the genre of a page-turning thriller.

Recommended both for sheer readability and for the cool ideas.

Links:
- [personal profile] coffeeandink's review
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2010-03-15 15:09

Turner, Megan Whalen - The Thief, Queen of Attolia, and King of Attolia (reread) (spoilers)

I reread these in anticipation of A Conspiracy of Kings coming out in a week or so.

Usual pimpage: For people who haven't read this series, don't read the summaries of the books! The latter ones are spoilery for the previous ones, and this is a series that is very fun to read unspoiled. It has court intrigue, politics, awesome characters, and a romance I love.

Spoilers for the series to date! )
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2010-02-22 14:42

2009 books write up

This is embarrassingly late even for Lunar New Year. I'm hoping "better late than never" still applies.

As with sequential art, I totally sucked at writing things up this year. Grad school: worst time suck ever! Sadly, this means I haven't reviewed almost half of the books on my best-of list. As usual, the list of books here are my favorites read in 2009, not published 2009. And in fact, I have some books on the list that are being published this year, thanks to the wonder of ARCs.

This year, I continued to do , despite completely failing to post at the comm. I think I was doing better in terms of percentages than I was last year, and then I hit November, school started really sucking, and all I could read were historical romances, which are super White. As such, I have roughly the same percentages of women and POC read this year as I did last year. At least there was no backsliding?

I feel like I should say something more intelligent about what I was reading, except I don't think I was a particularly intelligent reader this year.

Anything not linked in the giant list has not been written up; feel free to ask me about anything in the comments.



Also recommended: Swati Avasthi, Split; Mary Balogh, A Summer to Remember; Jacqueline Carey, Naamah's Kiss and Santa Olivia; Kristin Cashore, Fire; Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, The Graveyard Book; Joey W. Hill, A Witch's Beauty; Nisi Shawl, Filter House; Sherri L. Smith, Flygirl; and Drew Hayden Taylor, The Night Wanderer.

Total read: 122 (8 rereads)
45 by women of color, 60 by POC, 101 by women

All books read in 2009 )
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2010-01-12 07:58

Balogh, Mary - assorted novels

I have been binging on romance novels ever since school got difficult, and thankfully, I managed to glom onto Mary Balogh, whom I haven't read before and has an extensive backlist I can dig into. I've previously picked up her books before, but was unimpressed by the prose and dialogue, which tends to be fairly expository rather than lively. Balogh also tends to do giant series in which all the other protagonists show up, usually with lots of children.

However, she also writes non-alpha heroes and focuses a lot on the heroines, and for that, I will suffer through a lot of sequelitis. Plus, because I love many of her characters so much, I am less annoyed to see them show up happy (although the Bedwyns still grate on my nerves a bit). Balogh's heroes tend to be quiet and honor-bound, and even the rakes I've encountered have not been very rakish. They also usually fall in love, rather than lust, with the heroines, and I very much like that many of her books are about the heroines deciding if they will be able to live with the heroes, even if they are both in love. Her heroines also tend to get quiet angst and character development, as opposed to existing solely to nurse the hero through his angst, which I also approve of. I wish there would be a few more commoner heroes and titled heroines, as opposed to vice versa, but as I said, I will forgive a lot for romances that read like actual romances and make me believe the hero and the heroine are genuinely in love and will remain so.

At Last Comes Love )

A Precious Jewel )

Simply Magic )

Slightly Dangerous )

Slightly Tempted )

A Summer to Remember )

So what Balogh books do you guys rec, and which ones should I stay away from?
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2009-10-19 10:10

Jemisin, N.K. - The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

(Book 1 of the Inheritance trilogy)

Disclosure: I know and like the author and got the ARC from her. Book coming out in Feb. 2010.

In the world of the hundred thousand kingdoms, there were once three gods. But things changed, and now one rules while the Arameri, a mortal family, enslaves four other gods. Yeine's mother was the heir to the Arameri before she married Yeine's father, who was seen as a barbarian from Darr. Now, Yeine has been called back to the palace Sky, and she's immediately thrust into family politics.

I love so much about this book. First, I have a huge love of court politics and intrigue, and this book is chock full of secrets and secret histories and people never quite saying what they mean and nothing looking like what it is. Yeine is by nature straightforward and blunt, but she must adapt to Sky, which differentiated this book from others with protagonists who aren't good at intrigue. Too often I feel those other books minimize the dangers of a slip up and focus instead on what a breath of fresh air the protagonist is, or they have the protagonist know nothing of intrigue and yet come out on top anyway. Yeine, on the other hand, makes deadly mistakes, and everything has a cost.

I also love the world of the book, from the palace of Sky, balanced above the city of Sky on a thread-like column, to the legends of the three gods to the little we see of Darr's matriarchal culture. I love the bound gods and the way Jemisin makes them all frightening and awe-inspiring and yet vulnerable and hurt at the same time. I read a review somewhere and of course promptly forgot who wrote it, but the person talked about the interesting complications of slavery and power with the gods, who are enslaved and yet have enormous amounts of power, and with the Arameri family, some of whom are servants and yet still have the power to command enslaved gods.

It's a fantasy book that feels new and different, and considering that I've mostly stopped reading non-YA fantasy because I've been so bored with it, that in and of itself made me so happy. And in addition to all that, the prose is lovely. I adore the narrative voice, which occasionally rambles and talks to itself and corrects itself.

Overall, highly recommended. As I've said, I haven't been reading fantasy that isn't YA for a long time because I've felt it had very little left to offer me. I'm glad I was wrong, and this book has me craving a) more from the world and b) more wonderfully satisfying world-building and characterization in general.
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2009-08-04 11:16

Avasthi, Swati - Split

(review courtesy of an ARC from a friend, details on how to get it below)

Jace Witherspoon has just been kicked out of the house for daring to hit his abusive father, and he lands on the doorstep of his brother Christian, who got out years ago and never looked back. Christian's not too happy to have his past in his present again, and the two of them have a lot to work through, especially since their mother is still with their father.

Warning: given the subject matter, there are some scenes in the book that may be extremely triggery in terms of emotional mindfucks and physical abuse.

This is a YA book about domestic violence and child abuse that goes way beyond problem novel; it reminded me a lot of Fruits Basket in how Avasthi looks at how the consequences of abuse and the way silence can be a prison. Nothing is easy. Jace is resentful that his brother was able to cut him and his mother off, Christian almost cannot bear to talk about the past he left behind, Jace is afraid of being around the girl he's attracted to for fear he'll turn into his father, Christian is afraid the new information about his past will hurt his relationship to his current girlfriend. And through it all, Jace still loves his father despite the abuse, and although he is trying his best to get his mother out of the situation, he also resents her for not protecting him.

The book's center is the relationship between the brothers, but I loved the female characters as well. The boys are white, but Jace's girlfriend Mirriam is Asian, and I was trying to figure out if Dakota is Native or Latina (she is described as having blue-black hair, they're in New Mexico, and at one point she feeds Jace fry bread). There's also Jace's ex-girlfriend Lauren; Caitlyn, a stereotypical slutty cheerleader who is less stereotypical than she seems; and of course, Jace and Christian's mother. In a book like this, they could very easily become props for the boys' emotional development, but I think Avasthi manages to avoid that. Sometimes Mirriam felt a little too much like a healer character for me—she's a teacher and a social worker—but I very much liked how she had her own relationship with Jace independent of Christian, albeit not uninfluenced by him.

Despite [personal profile] deepad's comments, I was originally wary that the book was about two white guys, but after reading the book, I think the author made the right choice. Making them POC gets a little too close to all the POC problem novels I've read, and it would feel too much like all the media stories about POC broken families. Also, because the book does a lot of questioning of masculinity and abuse, having the guys and their father as POC could have read as "dangerous, scary, and/or misogynistic POC guy."

ETA (this paragraph): Also! I forgot to say that the one thing I did find missing because the family was "normative" was an acknowledgment of the way the legal system and the system of shelters don't work and are frequently dangerous for trans people, PWD, lower-class people, gay and lesbian people, POC, etc. I was thinking specifically of Andrea Smith's discussion of overturning the "shelter" idea in Conquest and the essays on South Asian women's grassroots movements against domestic violence and looking for a different kind of solution in Dragon Ladies.

Mostly I want to give this to guys for the way it examines masculinity. There was this interesting thing in which I was completely invested in Jace's journey and sympathized with his anger issues and his violence, and yet, when it came to him as a romantic lead, I could totally see why a woman would be afraid of him. Because I was. And the tension in my own head between wanting to forgive him and say it's okay versus being afraid and also saying, "No, never okay," the way it so echoed the way abusers get forgiven, was fascinating and a bit chilling.

Spoilers flail and squee )

And finally, the book is about silence and giving voice to things, on the way abuse takes place behind closed doors, how it's perpetuated when you don't talk about it, when you make polite little lies, when you've told so many lies that you no longer know what's healthy, so much that your very body reacts differently.

Highly recommended.




I got this book from [personal profile] deepad, who's friends with the author. The book's publication date is 2010, but Deepa's currently trying to get word around the blogosphere:

I'm going to send my ARC out into the wild, into the world of book bloggers. There are only two conditions -

1. You have a month to read it, after which you must pass it on.
2. You must, if you read it, blog about it. (Which means at least two paragraphs, in fairness to reviewing standards.)


If you're interested in reading, comment on her post and let her know! I have already been trying to sic this on several people, muhahaha.
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2009-07-24 16:05

More cover controversy

Justine Larbalestier, whose books all feature protagonists of color, posts about the white washing of her latest book:
The notion that “black books” don’t sell is pervasive at every level of publishing. Yet I have found few examples of books with a person of colour on the cover that have had the full weight of a publishing house behind them Until that happens more often we can’t know if it’s true that white people won’t buy books about people of colour. All we can say is that poorly publicised books with “black covers” don’t sell. The same is usually true of poorly publicised books with “white covers.”


Susan from Color Online (good blog on YA books by and about POC) also adds:
Very few have responded to my comment about the absence of color among book bloggers. Those marketing folks didn't come to that conclusion without some basis in what they see. Something shaped their perception.


What is important has already been said: this is not a new issue; it is a self-perpetuating cycle contributed by bookstore shelving, marketing expectations, and aversive racism from readers and reviewers; it is symptomatic of the larger issues of racism; and it hurts readers of color.

Book list )


Color Online is also running a book giveaway to promote YA authors of color.
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2009-07-15 13:08

Anderson, Kim - A Recognition of Being: Reconstructing Native Womanhood

I think this book grew out of Anderson's thesis work about Native women, and in it, she explores the ways Native women's identities have been constructed pre-colonization, how colonization destroyed many of Native women's roles and enforced white patriarchy, and how Native women are reclaiming their identities.

In the introduction, Anderson introduces the idea of the subjective reader and writer. You would think this wouldn't be so revolutionary, but grad school classes on sociology seem to indicate otherwise! Going with this, Anderson introduces herself as a light-skinned Cree/Mé woman who grew up without much contact with Native communities and notes how this affects her as an author and as a researcher. She also asks readers of the book to examine their own motives for reading the book. Are they Native women looking for support or affirmation? Are they non-Native people looking to learn about "Native culture"? Are they white feminist? Etc.

My own personal reading context is as a Chinese woman who knows very little about Native cultures looking for more information on Native feminism (there is probably also a better term for this I do not know) after reading Andrea Smith's Conquest and reading blogs and posts from Native women online. I'm also looking for alternatives to "mainstream" feminism, not to adopt, but to have a better feel for where I'm ignorant.

As I had expected, there were times when it was hard for me to read this book because I had to stomp on the part of my brain that was like, "But! Excluding women from blahdiblah means blahdiblah! Clearly delineated male and female roles means blah!" It helped that Anderson herself was also working through her own understanding of past traditions and how to adopt them to today, on what things have changed and should stay changed and on what things have changed and should be reverted.

As an example: I saw her explanations of keeping women on their period outside of drum circles and sweat lodges as a veiled "I roll my eyes at the white women who keep wanting to join the sweat lodge or drum circle and protest their exclusion while having no idea what it actually means." Anderson's explanation is that women on their period already have a great deal of power, and not as a negative thing. But she also notes that in the present day, keeping menstruating women out of a specific activity can be done in a misogynist fashion not in the spirit of tradition and adds that the menstruating women should have their own area to retreat to, that they should not be ignored or ostracized. It looks like a fairly complicated situation trying to balance imported misogyny and return to tradition and how notions of tradition change over time, and I bet it is not a situation where it is helpful for white feminists to barge in and say, "This is what is feminist."

Anderson structures the book in three parts: examining the past, looking at the present, and envisioning the future. She goes through the general gender equity in many Native societies pre-colonization and talks about exceptions and norms, which was very helpful for me, because I have zero background in this. She also covers what happened once white colonization began and what that did to many Native societies, particularly the use of white patriarchy as a tool of colonization, which was more familiar to me. Although some of the book talks about Anderson's own journey, she has also talked to quite a few other Native women (mostly Canadian) about their own experiences.

I'm not doing the book justice; I found it thought-provoking and challenging. I value it for making me continue to rethink what I normally conceptualize as "feminist" and for offering a non-white feminism, especially one that emphasizes community child-raising, family, and the overall community.



I also posted a list of all the Native authors in the bibliography if people are interested.
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2009-05-15 17:58

Taylor, Drew Hayden - The Night Wanderer

Tiffany Hunter is a fairly normal teenager: she's delighted to be going out with her boyfriend, although her father's not too happy he's white; school is the suck; her dad is super mean; and she really just wants to do exciting stuff and everyone is keeping her from it. And then her father takes on a mysterious lodger who keeps strange hours and never eats anything.

Everything makes this sound like your standard vampire story, except it's not. There's no over-the-top forbidden romance, Tiffany is very much a teenage brat at times, and I want to give it to everyone reading up on MammothFail as an example of SF/F with Native people done well, where there is a sense of history and loss and there are also Native people with phones and sneakers and aren't savage or stoic but just people.

Pierre is an especially great look at vampires done right (says she who is rather tired of vampires); he's creepy and dangerous and not human and very, very, very old. I miss the last part in many vampire books and am always skeptical as to why a several-hundred-year-old entity would want to date a high schooler, and Taylor nicely avoids that. In fact, this reminds me a great deal of Annette Curtis Klause's The Silver Kiss in how it deals with a vampire and a teenaged girl, although making both of them Native changes the story.

And then there's the final chapter, and it has elders teaching the younger generation and the loss of language and culture and history and the past come to life again and finding your roots after you thought you had lost them, and I love it.

Very much recommended, and thanks so much to [livejournal.com profile] maerhys for giving it to me!
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2009-04-30 14:42

Gaiman, Neil - The Graveyard Book

Nobody Owens' family was killed was he was an infant, and to protect him from the killer, the denizens of the local graveyard adopt him, give him the Freedom of the Graveyard, and raise him. Bod learns important things like Fading and inflicting Night Terrors, he is protected by the mysterious Silas, and he grows into a rather odd, pale boy.

Gaiman says he modeled this after The Jungle Book; having never read it, I don't have much comment. The book itself is relatively episodic, detailing Bod's encounters with assorted graveyard denizens and with those outside of the graveyard. It concludes with Bod finally encountering the killer and venturing outside the graveyard (I don't think this is a spoiler, given that the book is a bildungsroman), and that is when we discover that all the episodic pieces are not so episodic after all.

I haven't read Gaiman for a while, largely for fear that a favorite author would become a former favorite author thanks to my own politics becoming more defined over the years. Graveyard Book wouldn't win the Tiptree or the Carl Brandon awards, but it also isn't offensive, which is really all I ask for sometimes. My standards have been so beaten down by all types of fail that currently, I just don't want to be slapped in the face.

I do wish the women in the book were more active; I liked all of them, especially Liza and Mrs. Lupesco, but I did feel as though they were more side characters when compared to Bod, Silas, and the man Jack. And, as usual, I wish there were more POC. I want a kind of book like this for kids of color, full of spookiness, drawing upon older genres and ghost stories.

I'm really impressed with how Gaiman manages to integrate the timeless graveyard with the modern world; ther's a mention of cell phones and computers, but it never feels jarring (as opposed to McKillip's Solstice Wood, frex).

All in all, this is a wonderfully spooky, mythic-feeling story, and I left feeling as though I had read an old classic rather than a book published last year. It feels ineffably large and has stayed with me for days.
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2009-04-14 12:02

Patel, Raj - Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System

I found this to be very eye opening, but I also don't know much about global agriculture or environmental justice, so YMMV. I admit that I've been a bit skeptical of various environmental movements before, not because they're wrong, but because there are way too many examples of privileged white people espousing environmentalism while culturally appropriating and especially not thinking about how their movement fits in with other social justice movements. Patel specifically addresses these issues, especially in terms of class, colonization, and global agriculture.

Patel touches on a huge number of topics, from the rise of soy in everything we eat to high-fructose corn syrup to how big agricultural companies use genetically modified crops to control small farmers. But the central threads through the book are Patel's critique of the system that rewards big agricultural companies and the middlemen between farmers and consumers, how they are privileged over farmers and consumers, and his understanding of how this works globally. I find the last bit most helpful; Patel doesn't just look at the UK and the US, but focuses a lot on the Global South*. He also makes an effort to focus not just on the "big" players, but also on grassroots organizations and farmers themselves.

I had a problem with Sonia Shah's The Body Hunters, which is on big pharma, because I felt the focus was so much on those organizations that the people they were testing medicine on became a faceless crowd of victims. Patel does do this more in some chapters than others, but the sense I got from his writing was that he's worked very closely with the farmers he's writing about. As such, they come across as people, not victims. It also helps that he continually returns to solutions that small farmers and consumers have come up with; he focuses on how they help themselves, not on how the same international organizations that contributed to the poverty of the Global South are "saving" them.

One thing I took away from this book and others I've been reading (ex. Conquest, Dragon Ladies) is the power of bottom-up movements, how important it is for movements to focus on the people who are the most oppressed and have the least power in the system, because it generally seems easier to start there and end up with solutions that benefit everyone, whereas going from top-down tends to generate solutions that help those on top, but overlooks those on the bottom, particularly people who suffer more than one oppression. For example, feminism's focus on middle-class white women, the male focus in a lot of anti-racism and LGBTQ movements, etc. Of course, this is not saying that those of us who are more privileged should just not do anything, but just that we cannot center movements on the more privileged. I am still trying to figure out how to apply all this to my own attempts at social change and to IBARW, but right now, I have more questions than answers.

Anyway, highly recommended and very eye opening for me.

Links:
- [livejournal.com profile] furyofvissarion's review
- [livejournal.com profile] sanguinity's review


Note: Patel uses the term "people of colour" to describe non-white people (he is from the UK). I can't tell if this is only in the US edition, because it preserves the British spelling of "colour." I also can't remember if Patel footnoted or explained this usage or not; I, uh, already returned it to the library.

* He notes that he prefers this term over "developing countries" or "third-world countries." I have the same problems he does with the prior two terms, and I like that "Global South" does not sound like it is passing judgment, but I think it may overlook countries in the Northern hemisphere that also suffer the effects of colonization.
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2009-02-09 00:08

2008 books write up

*looks at date*

Er. Better late than never?

Once again, I read fewer books this year. On the other hand, only two books less than last year, so I think that is not bad, considering that I started grad school and all! And I managed to blog every book I read, with the exception of rereads.

The biggest change for me in 2008 was starting the [livejournal.com profile] 50books_poc challenge; namely, to read 50 books by POC in a year. I had originally done it from IBARW to IBARW (August 2007 to August 2008), but it's nice to know that I met it for the calendar year of 2008 as well. If anyone's interested about why, I wrote up why I count and how the challenge affected me during IBARW 3. Next year, my goal is to increase the percentage of books by POC so that it's over 50% of all the books I read, total. I'm still trying to make it enough of a habit that I won't have to count, and it's rather embarrassing to see the huge jump in numbers once I started making an effort. The gap between 13 books by POC versus 64 is enormous and indicative of my own aversive racism; it didn't actually take that much effort to find those 51 additional books (although a large part of that is thanks to my local libraries, and aversive racism plays its own role in book selection in libraries as well).

It is nice to see that I do not have to worry much about the percentage of women I'm reading.

As always, feel free to ask about anything here.



Also recommended )

Total read: 129 (6 rereads)
51 by women of color, 64 by POC, 104 by women

Complete list of books read in 2008 )