Review: A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

I really did not expect to be so drawn into this book. I knew it was going to be good but I was really touched by Shirin’s story. She is a 16 year-old Muslim girl living in the US 1 year after 9/11. Let’s just say it was easy for her. It was just easier for her to get through her day to just shut down and not let people in. She tried to convince herself that she didn’t care that people called her names or insulted her or just plain treated her like a walking stereotype. She had seen the worst of humanity after the post 9/11 fear of all things Islam and her wearing a headscarf made her an easy target. She went through the motions at school and break-danced after school with her brother and that was it. That was until she met Ocean James, a boy who seemed interested in actual getting to know her. This terrifies her. She doesn’t know why a guy like him would be interested in a girl like her and knows that while he might be a nice boy the world is not. She tries to push him away to try to protect him but also to protect herself from the world of hurt. The worst thing is that when she finally let him in and things inevitably go bad, she questions whether she is worth all the drama and hatred that is brought his way. That was truly heartbreaking. Over the course of the book, Shirin starts to open up not just to Ocean but to everyone else too. Yes, people are horrible. Even more so when they are afraid but shutting everyone else only shuts you out of opportunities and experiences that you would have missed otherwise. It gives them power over you. I know easier said than done. Ocean is also a good example of well meaning White Allies who try hard but don’t really understand how white privilege works. Ocean, truly doesn’t care that Shirin is Muslim or that she wears a headscarf. If anything, he likes that she is different and unapologetic. Shirin spends most of the book trying to push Ocean away because she knows what a shitstorm it’s going to be when their relationship goes public. He doesn’t believe her and tries to convince her it’s going to be okay. Well, sadly she is right and when racism against her threatens him and his place in school, it’s Shirin who has to make the decision to stay or go. The problem that many of us White allies is that we think we know what’s the best thing to do but fail to listen when our brothers and sisters of colors speak about what they really need from us. Ocean, while in love and well intention thought she was overacting, that he understood his classmates better. What he failed to realize was that he lived a privilege life and people will always accept him no matter what because of who he is. His life may not be perfect but it will always be easier then those in the marginalized communities. It’s a lesson we all need to learn. This is just a beautifully written book and I hope that it’s added to school curriculum for years to come because it has so much to give.

What I’m Reading Now: A Very Large Expanse of Sea

This is apart of our Diverse Narrators challenge. A Muslim girl trying to navigate the world 1 year after 9/11

Reading Challenges

As you’re thinking about your goals for 2019, I thought I’d write a quick plug for our Reading Challenges. We have three: 

  1. Diverse Stacks, Diverse Lives Challenge- This is a 30 book challenge intended to challenge readers to try new subjects, new authors, new genres, and new publishers. It is divided into three sub-challenges, so you can zero in what you’re most interested in.
  2. Diverse Narrators, Diverse Stacks– This reading challenge is meant to focus on subject matter, allowing readers to use books as windows to the world
  3. Diverse Authors, Diverse Lives– This reading challenge is meant to focus on authors. The idea was to challenge ourselves to be thoughtful in whose words we’re reading and to think about how our choice of material affects the book industry. 

If you do one of our challenges, let us know! Hashtag in #StackXLifeX so we can find you! 



Quick Review: Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa

shadow of the fox I was first introduced to Kitsunes thanks to the TV show Teen Wolf (I miss that show) A japanese story of someone who can turn into a fox.  Yumeko is only half-kitsune and has been raised by monks in a temple.  Like foxes, she’s mischievious and curious.  She plays tricks on the monks to some of their chagrins but the Monks also teach her how to control her kitsune powers, which will come in handy when it is revealed that the temple guards a piece of the dragon scroll. The dragon scroll when put together raises a dragon every 1000 years.  The person with the scroll is granted one wish and depending on who making the wish it can be good or bad.  It’s almost time to summon the dragon and many people are after the scroll.  One of them is the master to the Demonslayer, Tatsumi from the Shadow Clan. Tatsumi has a very powerful sword that contains a dangerous demon.  He has to control his emotions or the demon in his sword will take over him.  Tatsumi and Yumeko team up to find the missing scroll.  Well, Yumeko has one piece but needs Tatsumi to help her get it to another temple and keep it safe.  Through their journey they meet other people along the way, including the delightful ronin, Okame and noble Daisuke.  They are challenged by spirits and other supernatural beings who try to get the scroll away from them but they grow a bond that is unmistakable.  For all the fear of the some of the monks that Yumeko’s fox side will take over her humanity, they shouldn’t have worried because it’s her compassion and quick thinking that often saves them.  Her first time outside of the temple, she is often filled with wonder of her surroundings.  Some of the most amusing bits is when Okame introduces her sarcasm for the first time.  At first she is confused by it but soon begins to understand it.  It’s wonderful.  I really liked this book and can’t wait for the sequel.  It’s full of lush descriptions of samarai’s and court life and nature that you can’t be helped to be sucked in.  I highly recommend it.

Quick Review: Bruja Born by Zoraida Cordova

bruja born I received this as an ARC a month ago.  Thank you to the publisher for making it available.

I’ll admit I didn’t like it as much as Labyrinth Lost because I thought this was a continuation of Alex’s story not that we didn’t see Alex’s story progressed but she wasn’t front and center.  Her older Lula took center stage.  It was interesting to read about her she dealt with the traumatic experience of surviving Los Lagos and losing her identity but I wanted to know more about Alex and how she was dealing with her new powers as an ecantrix and exploring her bisexuality.  Her relationship with her best friend, Rishi was so wonderfully set up in the last book, it was disappointing not to see more of it in this one.  While we are told that they are still together and happy, we only get one scene with them together.  I understand why she wasn’t included in the narrative as a sinmago, she had nothing to add to the story but I still wanted to more.  In the last book I found Lula to be shallow and not that interesting and she started out that way. I have more of a connection to her now but I’m still only meh on her.  The one trait that Lula and Alex have in common is that they are stubborn and will do what they want even if it’s the absolutely the wrong thing to do.  I got frustrated about how many times she was told, not to do that but she wouldn’t listen because it wasn’t what she wanted to hear or she thought she knew better or could figure out a different solution and the end others we left to deal with the consequences of her actions instead of her.  Ugh.  Oh well, the next book is going to focused on the youngest Mortiz sister, Rose and she has very intriguing powers.  I’m looking forward to that one.

Joint Review: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

This book had a lot of hype before its release and it was right up both our aisles. So, we both got it on publication day. We decided we would do something different. Instead of only one of us reviewing it or doing two reviews, we’re doing a joint review. We’ve come up with five questions.

What are your overall impressions of the book?

Kate: the writing was tight and the story sucked me in. The characters were great; I loved that they had obvious flaws and strengths. And the premise of the novel, zombies rising during the Civil War was so interesting.

Beth: I agree with you about the writing and being sucked in.  I was invested in the story from the first page.  The characters felt like real people and allowed to be imperfect and unapologetic about their undesirable traits.  And who doesn’t like a good zombie novel?  I think what I liked the most about it that is that we are seeing the aftermath of the Civil War from the perspective of a Black girl instead of a white person.  How many books are from that point of view?

Kate: Not enough.

What did you think of the historical context?

Kate: I like what-if historical novels but I was a little worried about this one. Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer already did the paranormal set during the Civil War and it was meh. But, this was so much better. Where Buffy Lincoln changed the context of the Civil War (the South have to be defeated! they’re evil vampires!) this novel leaves the context intact and to it adds zombies. So, we can’t just write off the uncomfortable Civil War context of the bible being used to justify slavery or the ideology that there is a racial hierarchy because oh no! supernatural beings! And, that made it so much more thought provoking and interesting.

Beth: This could have gone bad very quickly but I think she handled the time period well.  I kinda like the fact that the Civil War never really ended, it sort of was put on hold when the zombies started to come from the dead leaving this uneasiness to every day life.  Sure, slavery ended and they passed laws to educate former slaves and Native Americans but as for the racial hierarchy it was never really addressed.  Much like it is today.  Justina Ireland doesn’t shy away from the the injustices against African Americans and Native Americans pre-and post-Civil War and even though Jane and Katherine are educated and can kill any shambler, they will always be reminded of their place.

Kate: Agreed. She definitely didn’t shy away. I also liked the follow up at the end of the book which included readings about residential schools.

Who was your favorite character?

Kate: Jane McKeene. Obviously. She’s a hero. and a role model. I can’t wait to see what Jane gets up to next.

Beth: Agreed Jane McKeene is my hero.  I want to be her friend.  Not only is she smart, sarcastic, likes to read but she can also kill zombies.  That’s so badass!

Kate: I know this is a little early but, Jane McKeene for best character of 2018!

Beth: Indeed.  She’s going to be hard to top.

What was your favorite part?

Kate: Any time Jane and her friend Katherine fight zombies.

Beth: I loved the zombie fights but I think I loved the most the bickering between Jane and Katherine.  The chemistry between those two was amazing and you can see how the relationship developed over the course of the novel.

Kate: their relationship is so good. I really liked that the most developed relationship was their friendship and not a romantic connection.

Beth: exactly! More of female friendships in YA please!

What are you looking forward to in the next book? (possible spoilers)

Beth: I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s in California and finding out who Jane’s Momma married that betrayed her.  I feel like whoever he is, he’s going to be play a bigger part in Jane’s story.  I also hope we get more of Katherine’s backstory beyond being raised in a brothel.

Kate: Yes! More of Katherine’s backstory! Please! Especially with the role that brothels played in Western expansion in the US! And, maybe some gold rushing in Cali? I also hope we meet Jane’s mom and her Aunties. Oh, and I hope we meet Daniel Redfern again.

Beth: Me too!  I think we will meet Jane’s Mom and Aunties again and I want to know more about Daniel Redfern.  I feel we only have cracked the surface of his character.

Quick Review: The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

belles The kingdom of of Orleans is obsessed with beauty because their people were cursed with grey skin and brittle straw hair.  The Belles are the blessed few who were born with color and the ability to make others beautiful too.  They can change a person’s skin color, bone structure, hair and make-up and because of this they have a privileged place in the kingdom.  Camille is one of six new Belles and she wants to be the Favorite.  The Favorite lives in the Palace with the Queen and the Royal family.  She gets to help create the laws of beauty and sets the standard.  She will do anything to be the favorite even if it means getting it over her best friend.  However Palace life isn’t what she imagined.  For one thing, the Princess is a nightmare and a psycho.  She’s the technically the second in line for the throne but her older sister has been in a coma so she’s about to named regent.  Camille is smart and ambitions but at times she is so slow I want to scream at her to pay more attention to wants going on!  She at times is so wrapped up in being the best Belle and impressing others that she fails to see that she is falling right into their trap.  It was a good set up to an intriguing series. It had a lot of world building in the this one so now that is out of the way, I think the rest of series will move at a better pace.

What We are Reading Now: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

dread nation

We’ve been reading about this book for months now.  So excited to finally get a chance to read it.