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I feel like I have been hearing about Frances Hardinge from my dwircle for quite some time now, and I've finally gotten around to reading her after a reading binge that I blame on [personal profile] skygiants' posts on the Fionavar Tapestry. (I started with The Fionavar Tapestry last weekend and then.. kept reading things! It was great! I think I read more books this past week than I have all year to date!)

Verdigris Deep

Ryan, Chelle and Josh are desperate for bus money one night, and Josh ends up sneaking down a well to grab some of the wishing coins. But then each of them begin developing strange powers (I am still viscerally creeped out by Ryan's), and they find that they have to start granting the wishes tied to the coins they took. And since granting wishes never goes well, things slowly start to go very, very wrong.

I've seen many comparisons of Hardinge with Diana Wynne Jones, and this book in particular feels very much like DWJ--the oddball kids, the way some unlikable characters grow likable and others turn bad, the slowly growing sense of dread and uneasiness. This book was very creepy in that damp fingers down your spine kind of way, which was not what I had been expecting. There's a lot here about what you wish for on the surface and what you actually want, and how you can be trapped in wishes you've outgrown. I also liked that even though Ryan, Chelle and Josh band together because both Ryan and Chelle would have been picked on at school if not for Josh, Hardinge takes time to show what bits are being friends just because there's no one else and how you can kind of be friends with someone and only get to know them better later.

The Lie Tree

So, I thought Verdigris Deep was creepy. The Lie Tree is SO MUCH CREEPIER O_o.

Faith's father is a discredited paleontologist who has taken his family and a secret project to an island to avoid the public eye, but growing a tree that feeds on lies that you spread never turns out well. This is set in the late 19th century, and it manages to make the time period feel just as alien as a built-from-scratch fantasy world. Hardinge makes fossils and the radical idea of evolution feel terrifying and world- and faith-shaking in a way I haven't really encountered before, and there's a matter-of-factness to the Victorian focus on morbidity that makes the entire worldview feel foreign. I went and looked up tons of details on Victorian photography and mourning rituals after this.

I loved Faith, who is clever and angry and not particularly nice, how she despises her mother and desperately wants her father's acknowledgement even though he is a terrible human being. I love that Hardinge doesn't try to file off her edges (or anyone else's, for that matter), and although it's not particularly new to talk about just how circumscribed women's roles were, it's rare to get that visceral feeling of being slowly stifled. Also, bonus points for not magically making Faith believe in evolution and other things we now know are scientifically correct; one of my favorite exchanges consists of one person arguing that something is caused by animal magnetism only to be pooh-poohed for being unscientific, as obviously it is spiritual energy instead.

This is a very, very good book, and I've been deliberately holding off on binging on more of Hardinge so I don't get through all her back catalog too quickly.

Links:


Link me to other write ups! I'm sad I missed the conversations!
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This is a companion book to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and is very similar to the previous book in terms of retold tales and storytelling as a conceit within the book. I don't remember Where the Mountain Meets the Moon well enough to figure out if there are any direct connections, although given the retold stories, I wouldn't be surprised if there were mythological figures in common.

Rendi is running away from home, and he ends up working at an inn in the Village of Clear Sky. There are several interesting guests whose true identities are slowly revealed, local grudges, and the mystery of why the moon has disappeared from the sky.

I was less interested in this in the beginning compared to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, probably because I wasn't as sympathetic to Rendi, but I was still charmed as all the story threads started to merge and fold in on each other. I guessed most of the twists well beforehand, partly due to the book being aimed at a much younger audience and partly due to being familiar with the mythologies in question. As with the previous book, I'd love some sort of DVD-style commentary on specific changes Lin made to various stories; I caught a few, but probably nowhere near all of them.

Slight spoilers )

As previously mentioned, I wish I had the physical book for this; the ebook has all the illustrations, but Where the Mountain Meets the Moon was so gorgeous that I would like this one for my shelves as well.

I am also tempted to reread Where the Mountain Meets the Moon to see how that book's mountain and moon mystery compares to this one.

And as a minor note, once I realized one character's identity, I wondered if it should be obvious to the people in the book due to his name (as opposed to the reader, who can't see the hanzi used). I will handwave and say that he used a character that sounds the same but is written differently.

Anyway, this is charming and relaxing.

Reading Wednesday

Wed, Jul. 10th, 2013 10:58 am
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Yay, I actually read something this week, even if I didn't finish anything!

What I've read: As noted, haven't finished anything =(.

What I'm reading: Wendy Christensen's Outsmarting Cats, for the obvious reasons. I probably won't finish, as there doesn't seem to be much in there that I can't already find on the Internets. I was, however, very amused at the introduction and the whole "cats have been domesticated for much less time than dogs, so inside your cat lurks a wild and ferocious predator!"

And I started Grace Lin's Starry River of the Sky, which is a companion to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, which I loved. So far, there aren't any direct connections between the books, but the structure of stories within the main story is the same. It is so nice having a book that plays to my love of retold tales where said tales are not only not Eurocentric, but also ones I grew up with. Like the previous book, I'm enjoying the little changes Lin makes as she weaves them all together. I'm reading this as an ebook, though I feel I should get it (and the previous book) in paper so I can look more closely at the illustrations and the typesetting and etc.

What I'm reading next: Er, if I actually keep reading, hopefully finishing the Lin? Also, I have had Cold Steel for a while now and still haven't started, despite my anticipation. Cecilia Grant's new romance has also been out for a few weeks, and I vaguely intend to read, but haven't been in much of a romance mood. Instead, I want to get my hands on Spillover to read about pandemics or My Beloved Brontosaurus to read about the latest in paleontology. The latter is sparked by a rewatch of Jurassic Park a few months back, and as for the former... no idea, except that I like reading about diseases and parasites? I have several books about plague and disease and hospitals on my ereader, but am of course hankering after the one I don't have.
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Disclaimer: I got a review copy of this from the author.

This is the first volume of the Tokyo Demons light novel series, which can also be read online. It's clearly part of a larger arc, but the volume has a complete plot and resolution. It's very much in the tradition of "teens with superpowers/mutant powers/psychic abilities/etc." where here, said teens are dropped in the middle of yakuza, gangs, and a secret organization with nefarious goals.

I feel like I should have had much more fun reading this than I actually did, given the premise. There are some cool bits, particularly re: Ayase, one of the POV characters, figuring out creative ways to use her powers (her body turns into a swarm of bugs), but one initial problem was just that the plot takes so long to kick in! Some elements are being set in place early on, but it felt like there were too many instances showing Ayase being withdrawn or Jo (the other POV character) being tough and street smart without anything actually happening. The plot finally gets a jump kick halfway through, with the teens disclosing their mutant powers and finding out about Nefarious Organization, but that's a long time to have various characters wandering around, not knowing what's going on, and mostly going through the same loop of not wanting people to find out about their powers or ... something, in Jo's case.

My main issue, though, was that I found it really difficult to connect with the characters. They seem interesting enough on paper—Ayase, the paranoid girl trying to hide her ability; Jo, the pickpocket smoker who tries to not care about anyone; Sachi, the nice guy who is trying to bring everyone together—but it doesn't quite gel in the execution. For example, I never really bought that Jo secretly cared about people while trying to maintain his tough demeanor. You see a lot of him waffling on getting involved, but he never seemed invested in any of the characters as people with personalities, with the possible exception of Mitsuko, who he wants to bone. I also completely don't buy Sachi as the heart of the gang. The emphasis is always on how much he wants to help and how he tries to get close to various people so he can, but to me, it felt like him repeatedly crossing boundaries and signals to get people to interact with him, which is creepy. Ayase probably gets the best character arc of the bunch, but it's really frustrating watching her get maneuvered into a potential romantic triangle.

I also wish there were more women. There are some in the organization fighting Nefarious Organization, but there isn't much interaction among the women. It's also frustrating that Ayase is so far the only girl teen mutant among a group of around five of them, and that she's already getting embroiled in aforementioned romantic triangle. Mitsuko shows up later and seems cool, but she also primarily interacts with the guys, and in a very sexualized manner at that. She's supposedly the sempai for a lot of girls in the school, and she helps out Ayase at one point, but most of that is background to her relationship with Jo and another supporting male character. One of the older women in Nice Organization is cool, and another mostly seems to be there due to her relationship with another one of the guys.

So, fun plot when it kicks in, but the characters all feel a bit too flat for me, and it could use a lot more women.
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What I've just read: Finally finished Cecilia Grant's first book and read the second (interesting new author, see review), which lead to a bit of a romance spree. Went through Sherry Thomas' Tempting the Bride, which I liked due to longing and unrequitedness and amnesia, though tbh, didn't really buy the hero's sudden non-taunting of the heroine even though I love it due to aforementioned angst. Read Meredith Duran's That Scandalous Summer (like the heroine, bleh for the hero, got really disinterested toward the middle and end) and her novella, Your Wicked Heart, which has a heroine who reminds me a great deal of Olympia from Laura Kinsale's Seize the Fire. Also, I think it has the hero I've liked best out of her books so far... I love Duran's prose and I love her heroines, but I frequently want to brain the heroes and get really lost during her plots. Then Rose Lerner's A Lily Among Thorns, which has an adorkable tailor hero who asks about clothes and fashion and can cook. Couldn't completely get into it, though, I think because the dialogue sounded too modern for me? (Then again, I know zero about Regency outside of romance novels.)

Finally finished Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, which I had been reading for so long that I forgot to include it on my "currently reading list" for the past few Wednesdays.

Also read Alaya Dawn Johnson's The Summer Prince, which I REALLY liked. The reviews on Goodreads seem to be very love it or hate it, though. Also, I rolled my eyes at the ones that were all "There's so much sex in this! Homosexuality and bisexuality is no big deal?!" and reviews complaining about too many original terms ("waka," "grande," etc.). I suspect I have very different expectations compared to the current YA SF audience?

...the length of this section correlates inversely with how much sleep I have been getting. orz

What I'm reading now: Still in the middle of Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London. Probably something else I started months ago and promptly forgot?

What I'm reading next: Er, hopefully the book I'm reviewing for my Con or Bust offer. More realistically, probably a ton more romance novels.
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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

Reading Wednesday

Wed, Feb. 6th, 2013 10:03 am
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I was going to say that I didn't manage to finish a book this week, but then I managed to read on the bus yesterday without getting carsick and then sped through the book at home.

What I've just finished: Martha Wells' The Wizard Hunters, the first book of the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy. It is so nice to be able to luxuriate in sf/f worldbuilding and plot again, and even better when I manage to like the first part of a series. I looked at the next two volumes (or, well, their listing in my Nook) with great pleasure and anticipation: hours more of enjoyment! More time finding things out about the world! I usually read for character and still do, but it is a very nice feeling to be able to juggle more than one aspect of a book again.

I feel I should also note that I finished my audiobook listen of Tamora Pierce's Magic Steps. It seems that the return of plot brain also means the return of "brain whirring too much before sleep" and ergo the need for more meaty content to distract it. The Circle books have been really comforting to listen to and they soothe my anxiety.

What I'm reading: I stalled out on the Andrea K. Host. I think I am just not up for books that focus so much on the protagonist's inner life right now, which I find amusing, since that was basically all I could read for the past five years or so. Other than that, just started the next Ile-Rien book and am currently listening to Street Magic. I like the narrator's voice here better than Tamora Pierce's, who narrated all the other Circle books so far. I also really like the person doing Evvy. Other than that... Oh Tamora Pierce. You try so hard, but the vaguely West Asian coded villains in Magic Steps and the entire setting of Street Magic is making me facepalm.

What I'm reading next: Probably the third Wells book, and then maybe her Raksura trilogy? Or, hopefully by then I will have gotten my greedy hands on Karen Lord's next book.

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(books two and three of the Lumatere Chronicles)

You can read the first book of the trilogy, Finnikin of the Rock, as a standalone, but these work best as two halves of a single book.

Trigger warning: The book has a lot of abuse (sexual and non-sexual) in it.

Three years after the events of Finnikin, former Lumateran exile Froi is sent into the royal court of neighboring country and enemy Charyn. As he's there, he's intrigued by the despised princess Quintana and quickly entangled in really messy political stuff.

I'm not sure these books are better than Finnikin, as Finnikin has much better pacing and structure, but once I finished both of them, I'm pretty sure I like them even more. If you thought the topics of healing (both individual and country-wide), instutionalized violence and abuse, found families, war, and making peace were difficult in Finnikin, they are even more so here. Ditto the proliferation of really awesome women, and I was incredibly happy to see a gay character with a canonical gay romance.

Spoilers )

I feel like the last few paragraphs have all been about my quibbles with the books, but honestly, they are very, very good, and they tackle issues and do a lot of things that a lot of fantasy doesn't. Both books aren't paced nearly as well as the first book, but they cover a lot more territory and plot, so despite the unevenness, I like them much more. Definitely recommended.

Links (assume spoilers):
- [personal profile] skygiants' list of ways the books are a romantic comedy

Reading Wednesday

Wed, Jan. 23rd, 2013 01:03 pm
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What I've just finished: I finished Cold Magic at a reasonable hour in which I could make it to bed and still get enough sleep.

What I'm reading: ... so of course I started Cold Fire so I could continue to read on and get so caught up in character relationships that once again I went to bed at a truly very bad ungood hour. /o\

I'm not actually sure this "reading" thing is better for my sleep schedule than endless Picross and Sims Social, but it certainly is more enjoyable.

What I'm going to read next: So... when does Cold Steel come out?

Barring that, I'm not sure. I kinda want to finish Subramaniam's retelling of the Mahabharata, but now I have read several books in a row on my Nook, I am a bit reluctant to lug the giant thing around. I suppose I'll just browse my library and see what catches my interest to try and keep up reading momentum. Suggestions always welcome! I currently seem to be in the mood for relatively plotty, fast-moving sf/f with cool worldbuilding, though I will add the disclaimer that my brain is very capricious.
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(book one of the Lumatere Chronicles)

Warning: there is a fair amount of sexual violence in this book

Ten years ago, the impostor king slaughtered the royal family of Lumatere. In the panic, the people of Lumatere turned on the Forest Dwellers, an oppressed minority in the country, and when they burned one of them at stake, she cursed the land and the people. As such, half of the Lumaterans are trapped in its borders and the other half are wandering exiles who don't know anything of what is now going on within their country. Finnikin of the Rock is one of these exiles, and he and his mentor are recruited by a girl Evanjalin who claims she can lead them to the heir and break the curse.

Marchetta says, "I was told often that I couldn't write fantasy unless I had read all the greats and knew the conventions well." I think the book is a good example of both why this is right and wrong. The worldbuilding isn't the best I've read, but it's also not bad: Marchetta has thought about things like trade and economics and minority populations and how each country has its own subpopulations. I particularly like notes such as how one country hates the Lumateran exiles because the Lumateran curse has cut off their access to the river trade and thereby improverished the country. On the other hand, I wanted a broader range of cultures and governing styles across the countries, especially because this book is so concerned with hereditary rulers and blood. It's also, like so much of fantasy, vaguely Eurocentric in inspiration, and I found that and the focus on prophecy and gathering together enough plot tokens people to defeat the curse not nearly as interesting. One specific prophecy in the book rears its head several times quite annoyingly.

That said, this is above-calibre fantasy in terms of characters; I didn't mind the various people Finnikin and Evanjalin had to round up because I found them all interesting. Also, I love that the book explores themes about community and nation and loss, how big the loss of Lumatere is to all the Lumaterans but also how they all react differently. I kind of wished that the journey to gather all the exiles had taken longer and been more difficult, especially given how many qualms Finnikin has about their quest.

Also, while the book seems very heavy on the male characters, Evanjalin is absolutely awesome and terrifying in a way I think many female characters don't get to be.

Spoilers )

Also, I am really not sure why this was published as YA, except for YA being Marchetta's usual genre of choice.

In conclusion: very good, and I really hope Marchetta keeps writing fantasy and hopefully starts to mess around with more genre conventions. (Also, I totally blame this book for completely wrecking my sleep schedule.)

Links:
- [personal profile] rilina's review
- [personal profile] lab's review (middle of entry)
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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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(sequel to Graceling and companion to Fire, though I feel Fire is much more relevant)

Bitterblue is the young queen of Monsea, and she gradually learns that what she knows about her kingdom isn't quite what is going on.

Or: terrible synopsis trying not to spoil previous books.

As a summary, this book has many things I like, from ciphers to people learning how to handle their power to the process of recovering from trauma, both to individuals and to the entire country. It also has many of Cashore's other flaws, such as terrible, terrible naming and prosaic prose, along with some new ones in terms of pacing and character development. Bitterblue's character in particular suffers from the pacing; I was very frustrated when she would frequently have the same realization over and over and over. Which, realistic, but not particularly fascinating reading. There's also a bit too much bait-and-switch in the plot when Bitterblue is trying to find out who is telling the truth and who is lying, so much so that it makes some of the later reveals less shocking because you're so frustrated by the switching back and forth. The romance is also much less interesting than the ones in previous books.

I found the book very slow going until the last third or so, but I also think the last third is worth getting to, especially if you're interested in governance and recovery from widespread trauma. Still, it could have used much more editing.

Spoilers for all three books )

Recommended if you like books about people learning how to govern or books about individual and institutional trauma and recovery, though you do have to slog through a fair amount to get there.

Also, randomly, what books do people know and/or rec about people learning to govern? It's a theme I really like, and one that many things handwave after the Glorious Revolution. I find this frustrating because I'm much more interested in what happens after the new rule is in place. Most of the ones I can think of also involve female rulers, but that's probably just because I read mostly female protagonists. Mine: Laurie J. Marks' Elemental Logic series, Laura Kinsale's Shadowheart, Lloyd Alexander's The Beggar Queen, probably some of Ono Fuyumi's Twelve Kingdoms series (haven't read all of them), bits of Anne Bishop's Black Jewels trilogy and def. the Shadow Queen books, I think Michelle West's House series (haven't read), Megan Whalen Turner's King of Attolia, ... ?
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I've read books one and two and been thoroughly spoiled for three. I enjoyed the first book but didn't think it was the Best Thing Ever, and I was rather disappointed in book two.

I think I probably liked the movie better than I liked book one, largely because the worldbuilding of the book is a bit skimpy for text format, but makes for excellent visuals. Also, I really don't remember many of the details in book one, since I read it about three years ago and never reread. The movie had many of the same major flaws the book (the race stuff, my generally wanting it to be more about revolution and less about the Games), with a few of its own added in, and one major point of awesomeness that made me really love it.

Assorted unspoilery thoughts )

Assorted spoilery thoughts )

Mostly, though, Katniss made the movie for me.

Links (assume spoilers for first book/movie!):
- my review of Hunger Games the book and Catching Fire (spoilers for book 2 as well)
- [personal profile] sanguinity's review
- [personal profile] diceytillerman's review
- [personal profile] grrlpup's review

Diversity in YA

Thu, Sep. 15th, 2011 11:45 am
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The links in question:


Disclaimer: Rachel Manija Brown is a close friend of mine.


I am not an agent, editor, book publisher, or author. I'm a reader who sometimes—less often than I'd like of late—writes up what she reads on her blog. And honestly, I think the point of the first post about the lack of LGBTQA YA isn't that there are evil homophobic people out there, but that systemic inequalities are easily perpetuated.

The sentence that caught my attention most in Joanna Stampfel-Volpe's response was: "Changing this starts with the readers. Scott Tracy has a great post about this on his blog. If more people buy books with these elements, then publishers will want to publish more of them. Sounds simple... yet, it's not so simple."

As a reader, I'd like to agree that it isn't so simple. And, in fact, pinning the start of the change on readers vastly oversimplifies things. I don't think there's ever single start to overturning systemic oppression. The change needs to start everywhere, or else you get stuck in an endless loop of chicken-or-egg: "As a reader, I try to support diversity in YA, but it's kind of hard to when there are only [x] number of books out!"

My experience as a reader is that it is pretty damn hard to find books starring characters with diverse sexual orientations, race, levels of ability, and class out there. I've actually had a bit more luck in YA with regard to race than I have with SF/F and romance, but if you're like me and you love SF/F, it feels like the choice is to either read about POC teens in YA in contemporary settings, or white people doing white people things in YA SF/F. Ditto with LGBTQA characters. You can read about them in contemporary settings, but if you're looking for genre, good luck! POC LGBTQA characters? In YA SF/F? Watch the numbers drop even further.

BUT.

As a reader, I also don't think the way to start change is to make publishers publish more, or agents buy more, or authors write more. Or for readers to buy more/read more/blog about more. I think the way to start change is all of the above. And all the above actions are not actions that run in sequence, but rather, actions that run in parallel. I can blog about LGBTQA books, make lists, buy the books, and suggest to various local libraries that they should buy the books (all of which I have done). Publishers can put out a ton of books. Agents can try and represent. But if you only have one portion of the equation working, the entire thing falls apart.

Again, my experience with this is more in finding POC characters in YA and/or SF/F. And it is hard. I subscribe to a number of blogs that focus on POC in YA, on international SF/F, on POC in SF/F (books and otherwise), as well as reader groups who make it a point to find these books and talk about them. Even with all this support, it feels like uphill work. When I asked my local librarian for more YA with POC protagonists, I began to realize how limited that sphere was when I had either read or heard of almost every single book she pulled out, and not only that, but that I knew of upcoming YA with POC protagonists before she did.

Furthermore, most books tend to only deal with a single underprivileged identity at a time, a character at a time. It's hard enough finding YA with LGBTQA protagonists, but it's even harder finding YA with someone who is bi, poly, mentally ill, and lives outside of the US. Within YA with Asian protagonists alone (not a huge number of books), how much more difficult is it to find narratives that don't come from East Asian hyphenated families from a very specific set of economic circumstances?

I put this out there not as a way of giving out cookies to individuals who do look for diversity in their reading, but to say that the main point I got from Rachel and Sherwood's article was that the system sucks. And that the most important part of the post isn't even that, it's the part beginning "What You Can Do":

If You're An Editor: Some agents are turning down manuscripts or requesting rewrites because they think that the identities of the characters will make the book unsalable. [...] If you are open to novels featuring LGBTQ protagonists or major characters, you can help by saying so explicitly. [...] If you are interested in YA fantasy/sf with protagonists who are disabled, or aren't white, or otherwise don’t fit the usual mold, please explicitly say so. General statements of being pro-diversity don’t seem to get the point across. We ask you to issue a clear, unmistakable statement that you would like to see books with protagonists or major characters who are LGBTQ, people of color, disabled, or any combination of the above.

If You're An Agent: If you are open to manuscripts with major or main LGBTQ characters, please explicitly say so in your listings and websites. Just as with editors, simply saying "we appreciate diversity" could mean anything. [...] For instance: "I would love to see books whose characters are diverse in all or any respects, including but not limited to gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, and national origin."

If You're A Reader: Please vote with your pocketbooks and blogs by buying, reading, reviewing, and asking libraries to buy existing YA fantasy/sf with LGBTQ protagonists or major characters. [...] Your reviews don't have to be positive; any publicity is good publicity. [...] [annotated lists of books provided in the original post]

If You're A Writer: If you have had a manuscript rejected because of the identity of the characters, or had an agent or editor request that you alter the identity of a character, please tell your story. Comment here, or leave a link to your own blog post. If you would prefer to use a pseudonym, feel free to do so; see this post for more information on Genreville's pseudonymous comments policy and credibility verification option.

If You're Anyone At All: Please link to this article. (If you link on Twitter, please use the #YesGayYA hashtag.)


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I want more diversity in my reading. I want to see all the ANDs and the intersections that go into identity, how it's never as easy as picking "I am female" or "I am Chinese" or "I have depression." And we're never going to get it unless everyone starts somewhere.


* I like Robin Talley's It's More Complicated Than #YesGayYA note on terminology, especially given Lo's pie chart on the gender divide in LGBTQA YA.
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Minli is a vivacious girl living in village on drab Fruitless Mountain. Her family has never had the best of luck, and in order to change that, she sets out to find the Old Man of the Moon.

This is an incredibly charming book that includes tales and stories from everyone Minli encounters along the way. I am partial to this, as I love getting additional stories, and I love the way Lin remixes and retells Chinese folktales. I had a lot of fun hunting through for the bits and pieces of story that I remember, or trying to guess at where Lin had gotten the original inspiration from. She does include a bibliography at the end, though I really want a DVD commentary type thing that goes into exactly what changes she made. I was very familiar with all the stories she used, although I don't know if other people will be? Comments?

I was a bit put off by "brown" equating drab in the beginning description of the book, but I suspect that may be a personal thing.

I also love how Lin gradually includes more and more characters, and although some of twists and turns were easy to guess for an older reader (I think the target audience is 8-12), I think Lin's playing around with tropes and stories is enough to capture the attention of readers of most ages.

Also, this is a bit of a minor detail, but the book production is gorgeous. Each chapter is headed by a painting by Lin, all done in the style of paper cutting. The tales and stories within the tale have a fancier font, and the book is printed in color, not just black and white. It's really gorgeous, and now I want a copy for my own shelf.

Really fun, and entertained me beyond expectation for a book targeted for 8-12 year olds.

Links:
- [personal profile] starlady's review
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This is more a direct sequel to Tantalize, though there are also overlapping elements from Eternal as well.

We return to Quincie P. Morris right after the events of Tantalize, which was nice, since I think the previous book ended very abruptly. Quincie is trying to reverse some of the events from the previous book, most of which I don't remember because I read it so long ago. Smith also continues to expand her world of vampires and angels, and I kind of enjoyed all the snippets from Dracula. I feel current vampire mythology is now very far from the handsome caped guy turning into a bat that it was a bit refreshing to go back to Bram Stoker.

Spoilers )

Overall, this felt like a much steadier book than the previous two, probably because Smith had the first two for worldbuilding and character introduction, and a much, much more satisfying conclusion than the previous two. Still, her website says there are going to be more books set in this world, which I am looking forward to. They're not substantially different from a lot of the YA fantasy out there right now, but I like Smith's sense of humor (animal shapeshifters that aren't just sexy ones, including possums! I also really like that Smith has been including more multiracial characters in her books, and am really hoping she continues to do so.
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This is the first of two books about Younguncle, so called by everyone who knows him, no matter what relationship, including his own parents!

Here, Younguncle comes to visit his older brother's family. Younguncle is very much kids' ideal of a favorite relative: someone who is still rather childlike himself, willing to play and have fun and get in trouble, and not too worried about fussy adult things like jobs and money and taxes and marriage. Younguncle's sister-in-law and brother of course do worry about such fussy adult things and occasionally try to get him interested in them as well, to not much success.

The book is set in that time period that's very common to a lot of the childrens' books I grew up on; recent enough to have cars and phones and modern technology but without much mention of the Internet or cell phones (if any; I read this months ago and of course don't remember). The prose is charming and effortless, and nothing too bad happens. There are stolen cows and shirts that the baby wants to eat and a ghost that might be a monkey, and although I am sure I will use the word "charming" far too many times in this review, it really is a charming book.

Fun and happy-making and, yes, incredibly charming. I hope US publishers end up publishing the second book in the series as well.
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Tiffany Aching's adventures in Wintersmith have attracted the notice of an old enemy to witches, the Cunning Man, and she has to deal with that along with her relationship with Roland and her relationship to the people of the Chalk now that she's their witch and not just little Tiffany Aching.

I've seen people mentioning here and there that this will be the last Tiffany Aching book that will be published as YA, and this book does indeed start out dark. On the other hand, despite the series being YA to date, I find the Tiffany Aching books to be some of the darker Discworld books, adult or YA, largely because they're about Tiffany growing into her power and acquiring more and more responsibilities as the books go on. As such, they're my favorite out of all the Discworld series.

That said, this isn't a very fair review, because I spent the entire book wondering if the voice was off or if I was just making things up. So I was pretty distracted while reading and focusing more on the nuts and bolts of prose rather than what was going on. I'm still not sure if it was me or the book; it's been a few years since I last read the Tiffany Aching books, so my memory, already terrible, is even worse.

So... the villain was very creepy, I loved the folk tradition woven into the ending, I'm curious to see how Pratchett handles Tiffany + romance, I continue to love how Pratchett always brings in so many different women of different ages in the witches books, I really liked how he handled Tiffany's relationship with Letitia, but I felt really distant from the book while I was reading it. I suspect this will be one of things that changes on a reread.

ETA: Also, let me know if you have a review of this! I know I missed people's while I was waiting for my library hold to come in.
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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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Respectively second and third in the Last Survivors trilogy (series? It feels unfinished). The Dead and the Gone stands on its own, like Life as We Knew It, but This World We Live in is less standalone.

The Dead and the Gone - This covers the same apocalypse as in the previous book—a meteor (meteorite? I forget the difference) crashes into the moon, knocking it closer to earth, which causes all sorts of natural disasters. However, it's with a completely different set of characters in a completely different place, so the only thing the two have in common is that they cover a similar (or the same?) period of time, from the moon getting hit to approximately a year later.

Alex Morales must take care of his two younger sisters as New York is devastated and he cannot find his parents. There's more infrastructure in place in New York, but of course, things are still bad.

What I remember most about Life as We Knew It is the claustrophobic sense of the world getting smaller and smaller, until it's no bigger than a single room in your house. Here, the world stays a bit larger because it's set in New York City rather than a suburb, but there is the similar sense of worsening conditions, of food growing more and more important, and your circle of loved ones slowly shrinking.

Religion (Christianity) also has a much larger role in this book, or at least from what I can remember; Alex's entire family is very Catholic, and one of his sisters wants to be a nun. There's some examination of faith in the book, particularly with regard to the apocalypse and etc., but it didn't strike me as particularly nuanced or different.

And while I like having POC characters in the center, the gender stuff from book 1 continues in here, with the added downside of it looking like stereotypical macho Latino guy stuff.

This World We Live in - Spoilers for books 1 and 2 )

Spoilers )

Although I found the first book gripping, I feel the bits I disliked about it get worse in the next two without giving more story to recompense for it.

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