Monday, September 4, 2017

ARC Review: Bearly a Lady by Cassandra Khaw

Bearly a Lady by Cassandra Khaw has been a story that I have been anticipating for quite some time. It's been making the rounds on book twitter with pretty good reviews, which has only made me want to read it more. You can imagine my delight when Emma of Miss Print agreed to send me her copy!

I don't know why, but I didn't realize this book was a novella until I opened the package. I don't hate novella's, but I do think they need to be companions to novels and not stand alones. A lot of the problems I had with Bearly a Lady could have been avoided if it was a novel. There was a serious lack of world and character development. We were told snippets of etiquette and customs but were largely left to figure out the rules of the supernatural community from our own imagination.

I really like paranormal romance books. It's one of my favorite genres. Bearly a Lady piqued my interest because the main character, Zelda, is a werebear. However, the possibility for unique story telling is completely glossed over. We get one look at Zelda transformed but the rest is only mentioned as a vague 'that-time-of-the-month' running gag. Not to mention that all of the worst tropes of paranormal romance are delivered with a straight face (over-sexualized shifters, conniving fae that the main character didn't know about until they outed themselves, swift romance).

I had to give this novella one out of five stars. It was one big cliche that relied way too heavily on sex to drive the story. Bearly a Lady might have been decent if the author had made the story in to a full novel and added more of a plot, but I can only take it at face value.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

ARC Review: The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana

Despite being short on time due to work and school, I have been on a serious reading kick for the last week or so. I thought I would slow down after the disappointment that was The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol because I usually hit a kind of a slump after disliking a book so much. That didn't happen though. So I almost immediately picked up The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana, which was also sent to me by the wonderful Emma of Miss Print. I actually finished reading this book on July 2nd and had the review scheduled to post on July 3rd, well in advance of the book's July 18th release date, but technical difficulties interfered.

This lush fantasy has got to be one of my favorite reads so far this year! The vividness that Aditi Khorana uses to immerse readers in the world of her story has got to be it's main selling point. Costumes, settings, customs, tastes, sounds, and smells are all described with a meticulousness that made it seem like I was actually in the story alongside Amrita. The pacing was slow at times, but picked up at all the right places, and the plot was very captivating.

Amrita and Thala, the two main characters, were kind of lackluster. Both of their personalities were very flat overall. Despite moments of minor conflict between the two, neither of these characters faced any real hindrance to their goal, their successes seemed too easy for the obstacles they were facing, and they experienced very little growth. Regardless, the secondary characters of this story really pulled it all together and made the story more than worth continuing with. I especially loved Varun and, for the most part, Arjun,

I did have one problem with a major part of the story; I didn't think the romance between Arjun and Amrita was necessary. In fact, I think their romance took a lot away from the fluidity of the plot. I feel like the story, and Amrita's fullness as a character, would have been better served with Arjun being a best-friend or brother type character with no hint of romance whatsoever.

In the end, I gave The Library of Fates 4 out of 5 stars. Despite not loving one of the main plot points of the story, I think this book is really great. I would love to see more stories set in this universe. I would especially like to see more of Maya's story and more stories set in her version of Macedonia!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

ARC Review: The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol

Hi friends! Long time no see! This last month has been kind of slow reading wise, but I thought it was about time I got started on the ARCs that the wonderful Emma of Miss Print sent me. The first one I picked up was The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol, a Middle-Grade fantasy book being published on July 25, 2017.

I had a hard time even getting in to this book. I was immediately bored with the story because I felt like I had read it before. It didn't take long for me to realize that the plot follows the same tropes as most magical-girl/witch-girl anime and several other young witch stories published. I kept with the story, hoping that the author would have some kind of fresh take or surprising twist to add, but he never did.

Beyond the tried take on an old story line, the characters and dialogue of the story were kind of boring as well. Most of the characters in the book were two-dimensional with little to no real growth over the course of the story. Arianwyn had some development, but her initial characterization was boring (I would really like a character to have a flaw that isn't being clumsy for once). The dialogue is awkward and there is much too much telling and not nearly enough showing.

I would have given this book a 2 out of 5 stars if it weren't for the overwhelming similarity this book has to too many other stories. As such, I have to give this book 1 out of 5 stars. There really wasn't much beyond the beautiful cover to recommend this book.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Girl in Translation Review #AsianLitBingo

I'm so sad, but time has run out on the #AsianLitBingo reading challenge. I really wanted to complete blackout, but starting late and life stuff got in the way. Luckily, I was able to finish one last book on the very last day; Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok, fulfilled the Poor/Working Class Asian MC and completed the second row!

This book was caught somewhere in between being really interesting and being really depressing. I was interested in the dynamics between Kimberly and her mother, her and her school/classmates, and her and the workers at the sweatshop. I was also really invested in Kimberly's struggles with English and her school work and how she used math to rise above these issues.

On the other hand, I had a hard time getting over the negative overtones of the story. I realize that the struggles Kimberly and her mother went through are realistic and do happen to immigrants all of the time. In that way, this book was very informative. However, I feel like the focus was overly on the negative. I also do not think fitting two decades into the number of pages in this book was the best idea, many details felt glossed over.

I ended up giving this book 3 out of 5 stars. I liked some aspects of this book and didn't like others. I also think this book would have been better served being longer or covering a shorter period of time.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Swimming in the Monsoon Sea Review #AsianLitBingo

The end of the #AsianLitBingo reading challenge is coming up in the next couple of days. If you've been following along with what books I've been reading, you'll know that I apparently don't know how to play bingo because I have been jumping around the board all willy-nilly. In an effort to actually complete one row, I decided to go ahead and read Swimming in the Monsoon Sea by Shyam Selvadurai for the LGBTQIAP+ Asian MC category.

I wasn't really sure what to expect going in to this book. The cover is really neat and I love the high saturation of the colors, which really evokes the summer feel for me. The synopsis seemed interesting, but the premise of the book is one that could easily be done really well or really terribly.

Overall, I thought the book was just okay. I liked that Amrith's sexuality was integral to the story, but it wasn't rushed or hyper-sexualized (he's 14 for goodness' sake!). However, the fact that he doesn't come to a full realization of his sexuality until the very end of the book, long after the reader does, made me detach from the story.

There were some really interesting characters in the book, but one of the main ones was Sri Lanka itself. Mr. Selvadurai has a gift at writing a vivid portrayal of his home country. I really enjoyed his descriptions of the sights, culture, and atmosphere of Sri Lanka, but his depictions ultimately detracted from the depth of the main story, which could have used more development. The language he used throughout the book, while good for scenery, was too flowery and plodding for the mood of the story as well.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Listen, Slowly Review #AsianLitBingo

Jumping back in to my TBR for the #AsianLitBingo reading challenge, I grabbed Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai. This one is a middle grade book that I thought would be a good change of pace. I also really liked the cover; the colors are absolutely gorgeous!

I don't know what exactly it is (maybe it's my age or the way I was raised) but whiny, ungrateful main characters make it hard for me to read a book. In the first couple of chapters, Mai comes off as very whiny and she doesn't get much better by the end of the book. I realize that this is partially because of her age, she is twelve, but it still made me want to stop reading.

My favortie part of the book was the little bits of information that Ba (Mai's grandmother) tells her about the places they visit. Call me a sucker, but I love when family members build a stronger relationship with each other! I also love how vividly Thanhha Lai writes about Vietnam. I could almost feel the humidity!

All in all, I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars. The writing was really good but the main character was hard to stick with. I think I would have enjoyed this much more if I was actually middle grade aged.

ARC Review: Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson

I decided to take a break from the #AsianLitBingo reading challenge to read Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson. It officially releases on May 30th and the ever wonderful Emma of  Miss Print was kind enough to pass her ARC on to me. Other than the cover, which is very eye catching, the synopsis sounded interesting.

I had trouble getting in to the story for the first 1/3 of the book. I'm used to fantasy authors making up their own names for countries, races, and people's personal names, but the names in this book were hard to get used to and felt obviously fake. This point was driven home by the fact that the main character had a rather normal name, Evelayn. It was also hard to keep the two kingdoms straight because they were the same race but with different skin and used the same name, Draiolon, to refer to themselves. The fact that the story switched POV's with no warning also made it hard to keep the separate factions straight sometimes.

For all of that, my biggest issue was the world building; there wasn't any. This book would have been better served if it was twice as long and had more world building. As it was, I felt little to no connection with the story because all I ever saw were snippets of the world the characters lived in. Ultimately, I did end up liking Evelayn as a character, which improved my liking of the story a little bit. I gave this book 2 out of 5 stars and passed it on to a friend. I probably won't read the sequel because I'm just not that interested in seeing what happens.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

To All the Boys I've Loved Before Review #AsianLitBingo

I have been putting off reading To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han for almost as long as it has been published. This was one of those books that was hyped on booktube even before it had been officially released and has had a lot of positive reviews about it since (it has a 4.11 star rating on goodreads!). Unfortunately for me, I tend not to like the books that booktube touts, so I put off reading it even though the synopsis sounded really good. I've really been wanting to read it though, so I decided that #AsianLitBingo and the Multi-racial/Multi-ethnic Asian MC category was the perfect excuse to pick it up.

I'm not sure what surprised me more: the fact that I loved this book or the fact that there isn't a single thing about the story that I would change. I flew through this book in about 5 hours (I don't even know how that happened). I want to say more, but I honestly don't think I can without spoiling the whole thing. I gave it 5 out of 5 stars, of course, and I cannot wait to read the last two books in the series. Please, just do yourself a favor and read this book sooner rather than later!

The Girl Who Fell to Earth Review #AsianLitBingo

I have been loving the #AsianLitBingo challenge. The last couple of books that I chose for it have been really great. So, hot on the heels of Good Enough I decided to pick up The Girl Who Fell to Earth by Sophia Al-Maria to fulfill the West Asian MC category.

Sadly, this book broke my streak of enjoyment. The writing was extremely bland and the main character had little interest in the people around her, which made it hard for me to be interested in anything that was happening either. The book actually starts in Qatar following the father of the main character through his journey to and adventures in America. I actually really enjoyed the first couple of chapters that followed the father (and the mother) in America except for the fact that it glossed over most of the relationship building that would have had to have happened. The story devolves from there in to a boring trudge with a seriously negative tone. Nothing about the story was all that spectacular and, as a result, I recalled very little of the actual plot even seconds after I had finished it. I ended up giving this book 1 out of 5 stars because it was simply that unremarkable.

Good Enough Review #AsianLitBingo

After loving the last book I read for #AsianLitBingo, I was super ready to just dive in to the next book. I ended up grabbing Good Enough by Paula Yoo, which fulfills the Religious Asian MC category.

I picked Good Enough mostly because I grew up playing instruments (first piano and then guitar) and was excited to read about a character who loved music. I also picked it because I am a Christian and wanted to see how Christianity in an Asian American household differed from my own experience. Honestly, other than Patti's, the main character, parents being super strict about her school and music practice time (and the difference between public school versus home school), I didn't find much difference between her high school experience and mine. I did read a review by another reader (who was Asian American as well) who said that she found Patti's parents to be completely unrealistic. I do have to say though that I had several friends whose families were exactly like Patti's, so I don't think the representation in this book is too far off the mark for some people's experience.

I will say that I didn't enjoy the direction Patti and Ben's relationship went in. I also didn't really like the last chapter. I would have preferred a slow fade as opposed to the fast forward summary of the future that was written. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed reading this book and absolutely flew through it! I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars and think it's a good read for anyone from junior high and up.

An Artist of the Floating World Review #AsianLitBingo

If you've been around long enough, you know that I absolutely love Japan. It probably comes as no surprise then that one of the books I chose to read for #AsianLitBingo was An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro, a book following an aged artist set in Post-WWII Japan. This book fulfills the requirements for the East Asian MC category of the challenge.

This book reads like a conversation between you and the main character. The main character, Masuji Ono, tells us his story through his own recollections and this makes the tone of the novel more intimate and, at times, more frustrating. When Ono talked about himself, he was always humble (he's just an artist) but when he recalls what others say of him, it is always glowing praise. Then I realized that, when I read a story, I hear the voices of the characters in my head, almost like a recording. This has its advantages and disadvantages; particularly in that I was unconsciously adding an american filter and tone to everything that was written. Once I realized that that was what I was doing, I was able to reset the tone of the voices to fit more closely with what I had experienced and heard while I was in Japan and that made all the difference to the story. With my american tint on everything Ono said, I found his humble bragging irritating and false. However, when I thought about him in the context of the Japanese culture I had experienced, I realized that the way he spoke and acted was very much in keeping with what the Japanese would consider respectful and polite.

Beyond tone, this story was very poignant. We follow Ono as an old man trying to navigate a Japan that he had never envisioned. Ono tries to reconcile his sense of pride and duty for his actions with a society that blamed him and others like him for the war and expected a certain amount of repentance (and possibly even seppuku to atone). This contrast is made even more stark by the fact that Ono's actions are only ever mentioned with vague comments and innuendo. There are never any direct accusations placed at Ono's feet. Once again, this type of indirect confrontation is typical of what I experienced in Japan, making this story really come to life.

So far, An Artist of the Floating World has been my favorite book of the Asian Lit Bingo reading challenge. The characters were deep and interesting and the story was unique in its plot and telling. I had to give this book 5 out of 5 stars and would definitely recommend it! I would caution readers to be aware of how their own culture affects their reading of the story though.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Funny in Farsi Review #AsianLitBingo

The second book I decided to read, which fulfills the Non-Fiction by an Asian Author category, was Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas. This book continued with my reading theme of Southeast Asians in America, following the experiences of Firoozeh (who was born and raised in Iran) and her family in America. I was especially interested in reading this book because my cousin married in to a half Iranian-American family (the other half is Austrian) and I have always wondered what it would be like to be Iranian in America (Note: I recognize that every person's experiences are different based on various factors, but I still thought this book would be a good insight).

The first point that struck me as interesting was the fact that Ms. Dumas compares and contrasts the reception her family received in America both before and after the Iranian Civil War (and the hostage situation in Tehran). This look at how citizens' reactions are influenced by major events, not unlike the wave of negative reactions we are seeing towards Middle Eastern Refugees today, was eye opening. I also really liked the scope of the topics that Ms. Dumas covered as she explored her family's experiences. The topics ranged from family dynamics to politics to pop culture, which made this book very engaging!

There were several parts of this book that I wasn't very fond of. First, I didn't like the way each chapter jumped around different times in the authors life. I'm sure there was a reason that she wrote the chapters this way but it felt disjointed and, ultimately, made the book a little confusing to read at times. I also did not like the tone that the author used when talking about her parents. For the most part, it read as mocking and disrespectful, especially towards her father at times.

In the end, I really liked this book. I do think there were some issues with the format and tone of the book though. The issues caused me to give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Monday, May 8, 2017

That Thing We Call a Heart Review #AsianLitBingo

The first book I decided to pick up for this reading challenge was That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim. My choice was partially because I received an ARC from a goodreads giveaway and partially because I had already started reading it (on May 5) before I fully decided to do the #AsianLitBingo reading challenge. This book fulfills the Asian Muslim MC category.

Warning: This review does contain spoilers!

I’m going to be completely honest here; six chapters in and I wanted to DNF this book. The fact that Shabnam lied about what happened to Chotay Dada and was embarrassed of him enough that she hid at the mall bothered me to no end. I really didn’t think I would be able to get over my anger about that. Never mind that I hate liars, I find it difficult to understand why someone would be ashamed of their own culture and family members who look and act differently than them. Shabnam also seemed like a very whiny and negative character, which are traits that I don’t particularly enjoy in a narrator. However, I decided to stick with the story.

Shabnam experienced so much growth over the course of the story and I am glad that the author included personal growth in the story. I liked how Shabnam and her father began to bond over Urdu poetry. There was a reference to the Urdu poetry, however, that is problematic in that it touches on the topic of m/m pedophilia in such a way that western audiences will easily misconstrue as embracing homosexuality when it is, in fact, a serious problem of child abuse. The growth that Shabnam experienced in her friendship with Farrah was very realistic. My favorite part of the story though was how Farrah encouraged her to learn about Chotay Dada. I love how Sheba Karim tied all of the threads of the story together in the end.

End Spoilers

All in all, I gave this book 2 out of 5 stars. I think it was a good read and had fun learning more about Pakistani-American experiences. The book dealt with some adult issues, but the overall tone was very much appropriate for the age of the characters. However, I ultimatley only barely enjoyed the story and I think that it has misleading information about serious cultural issues in Pakistan and the Middle East.

I'm doing the Asian Lit Bingo Reading Challenge!

Hi all, long time no blog! In honor of Asian American Heritage Month, Shenwei has created the #AsianLitBingo Reading Challenge and I have decided to participate! Along with an amazing masterlist of books that you can read to fulfill the challenge, there is also a really cool bingo board graphic you can use to track your progress!

It is my goal to read one book from every category, even though the challenge is only to read one book from each category in a single line. I've already finished one book for the challenge, which I will be posting a blog review of next. For now though, I am going to post my tentative TBR for the challenge.

1. An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro
2. The Girl Who Fell to Earth by Sophia Al-Maria
3. The Gods of the Middle World by Galina Dolgaya
4. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
5. The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
6. To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han
7. The Stone Goddess by Minfong Ho
8. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
9. Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
10. A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman
11. Swimming in the Monsoon Sea by Shyam Selvadurai
12. That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim
13. Good Enough by Paula Yoo
14. Bitter Melon by Cara Chow
15. The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana
16. In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner
17. The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
18. Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai
19. Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
20. Flowers of Luna by Jennifer Linsky
21. The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig
22. A Thousand Moons on a Thousand Rivers by Hsiao Li-Hung
23. Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee
24. Throwaway Daughter by Ting-Xing Ye
25. Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas

If you'd like to read along with me, please feel free to comment!

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Boy Who Killed Grant Parker by Kat Spears

Contemporary YA is one of those genres that I rarely read. It's not that I particularly dislike the genre. Instead, whenever I read contemporary books, I usually find the characters too unrelatable and the situations too cliche or implausible. However, every once in a while, I will see a contemporary book that piques my interest. The Boy Who Killed Grant Parker by Kat Spears was one of those books. I first saw the title on Emma of Miss Print's ARC adoption page and, after reading the synopsis on Goodreads, I knew I had to request it. I do have to apologize to Emma though. I was supposed to review this book before its September 2016 release, and had scheduled the post to go up during my hiatus, but technical difficulties caused the post to disappear instead. I didn't notice until I came back to the blog, so I am only just now rewriting and posting it.

The title for this book seemed like a huge spoiler, but I decided to give it a try anyway. All I can really say, without giving the story away, is that the title plays a huge part in the story but not in the way you would initially think. The setting of the story, a small town in Tennesee, is pretty generic for a contemporary story and didn't have any stand out features. This book could have been set in any small town across America. You would assume this would make the story more relatable, but it only makes it less so.

On the other hand. some of the characters were really interesting. For the first half of the book. Outwardly, Luke Grayson, the main character, is very passive. He just let things happen to him and went along with the flow. His inner voice was a different matter. His thoughts were dynamic, sarcastic, and strong. Luke's friend Delilah was a powerful and compelling presence. The other characters were lackluster, including the titular Grant Parker. Then, about halfway through the book, the big confrontation between Luke and Grant happens and things take a turn for the worse. Luke's inner monologue becomes just as flat as his actions. He spends most of the rest of the book drunk and floundering. Delilah all but disappears from the story, leaving an obvious hole in the story.

The bottom line is, this book had a huge amount of potential and, not only does the author play it safe, she actually pulls back in the last half of the book. I really wanted to see more of Delilah. I wanted more detail (and more plausibility) from Luke's parents. In the end, I had to give The Boy Who Killed Grant Parker 2.5 out of 5 stars, and that is overly generous in my opinion.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Seeing Red...In a Good Way!

Well...long time no see! These last couple months have been very up and down, mostly down, for me. I did try my hand at vlogging (I stopped, but I'm planning on getting back in to it a little later into 2017) and I had a wonderful time taking part in the OTSP Secret Sister Project! I don't really want to get in to any of the negative stuff that happened, but I will say that, with everything that was going on, I didn't do much reading. One of the last books that I read was given to me by Emma of Miss Print, I had scheduled the review to post while I knew I was going to be away from my blog and, of course, it didn't post at all. In fact, not only did it not post, it completely erased itself! So I have to beg her forgiveness for it being woefully overdue and rewrite the review.

Things are looking up for me though! I've had a wonderful Christmas at home with my Parents and sister and I have a few days more until I head back to start my new job. I also read the last book that Emma sent me with days to spare for my review! It helps that I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I'll get in to the whys and wherefores below. First, what book am I talking about?!?! That would be...drumroll... Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff, which is the first book in the Red Abbey trilogy. It has been translated from the original Swedish and is being released in the US on January 3rd, 2017.

Of all the books that Emma sent me last year, Maresi has to be the one that I was equally most excited for and most nervous about. Fantasy is one of the main genres that I read, but the more I read in it, the more difficult it is to find interesting new books. Many just seem to follow the same old tropes and have carbon copy characters. In fact, I've read several other reviews that said this book doesn't seem like fantasy, and it doesn't, but in a good way. The fantasy elements are woven so carefully and thoroughly into this book. They feel completely organic and it makes the story more "real" to me. I don't have to suspend my disbelief or wonder how something works because it just ~is~. The fantasy in this book was so masterfully done, that I honestly felt like I was reading a historical fiction book.

I also really loved the attention that Ms. Turtschaninoff paid to the little details. Many books focus mainly on the big action or long journey of a story and this book, while it did have a main action point, focused more on the everyday acts of life and the setting of the story. Two things made this focus supremely successful. First, because the book is set on an island, with all of the main characters coming to the island instead of grouping together linearly, the focus on the island and the Abbey itself made this book vivid and engrossing. I could clearly picture everything in my mind as I read, and it made the story that much more engrossing. Second, the main battle of this series is mentioned early in the story, it's actual events are only hinted at, and the entire story is spent in nervous anticipation of what is going to happen. By focusing on the ritual aspects of Abbey life, and all the chores and acts that the girls go through simply to live there, the fact that the battle cause a complete break from routine makes the battle itself more jarring.

Going in to this book, I wasn't sure how much I was going to like the fact that it is written in first person point of view. I don't usually like first person simply because the narrator ends up grating on my nerves. In the case of Maresi, I'm happy to say that didn't happen! Not only was Maresi a fun and interesting character to read, her nature and involvement made the story more detailed than it would have been if it were written from someone else's point of view. It also fed in to the feeling of connectedness that this story gave me.

The only part of this story was the general sense of negativity towards men that permeated the book. I understand that this negativity is what drives the story towards its conclusion, and it that it worked very well. However, I despise overgeneralizations and that all I felt we were given. There are multiple cases of men being terrible human beings, but we are only given Maresi's dad as an example of a good man. I think the story could have used a more balanced view of men, and that would have made Jai's experience and the ultimate battle more impactful.

Aesthetically, this book was amazing. The writing was clear, flowed well, and the descriptions were vivid but not too wordy. The cover for the ARC was just text, but seeing the finished cover makes me very happy. It fits well and gives you a good sense of what the book is like. Overall, I really loved Maresi and give it 5 out of 5 stars. I cannot wait to read the rest of this trilogy!