Review: Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

This was truly everything that I wanted it to be. It was a space action adventure. It introduced me to Korean folklore and was just plain fun. Min is a 13 years old and is a fox. Not a real fox but can turn into one or really shapeshift to anything. Her family must hide their heritage since foxes are thought to be untrustworthy. Unlike other supernaturals, like Dragons, Goblins and Tigers who are able to work freely. Many think Foxes are extinct. No, just in hiding. Min’s brother goes missing from his Space Cadet mission and thought to have deserted to look for the Dragon Pearl. A mystical object that can transform worlds and make them more inhabitable. She knows her brother Jun would never do something like that so she goes off and looks for him. While she is away she discovers that there is more then meet the eye. The mystery of what happened to Jun gets mixed with with Ghosts, politics and who can get the the pearl first. Min is sassy and smart. You could say she is clever as a fox. Sorry, I had to. It is interesting how the fox myth differs from Korean and Japanese folklore. In Julie Kagawa’s Shadow of the Fox, Yumeko is seen as being a trickster because of her fox heritage but not exactly an outcast the way Min and her family would be if they were discovered. It’s fun to learn how different cultures tell similar stories. Anyway, back to Min. She keeps finding herself in impossible situations but uses her intelligence and fox powers to get herself out. She is brave. There are many reasons that she should give up and just say this is too much for me but she knows what is at stake. Not just for her and her family but for everyone. If the pearl falls into the wrong hand it could be used as a weapon instead of a tool for the better. This books has a lot of twists and turns. Betrayals are all around and friendships questioned. So far it is my favorite of the Rick Riordan presents imprints. Its a shame that at the moment, it is only planned as a standalone because there is so much potential. Obviously it has been left open that if Yoon Ha Lee wanted to come back and right another and I hope he does. It definitely makes me want to check out his other books now.

Review: Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

I finished this book a couple of days ago but needed a few days to fully digest it. It was a very good and well written but it is also very uncomfortable. I’ll admit I was drawn in by the cover. It is about sexual violence towards women and doesn’t hold back. In fact the book has a warning of his contents of violence and sexual assaults. Even knowing that it was part of the plot didn’t make it any less upsetting or uncomfortable to read. That being said, it also has a beautiful love story between two equally powerful women and female friendships that is not always depicted in YA. I’m going to put my review under the cut because I want to sensitive to those who are experience trauma and may not want to read. I also there will be spoilers as there is no way to talk about the themes of this book without doing so. Continue reading

Review: On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

Angie Thomas knows how to write a story. On the Come Up is the follow-up to her debut novel, The Hate U Give and while it doesn’t pack the same emotional punch it also doesn’t hold back either. Taking place in Garden Heights about a year after the events of The Hate U Give . It’s not a sequel but you really should read The Hate U Give anyway because it is truly powerful. Bri lives in the Garden and has dreams of being a rapper like her late father who was an underground rapper that died just as he was about to make it big. Bri is your typical teen. She’s stressing about ACT prep and teen romance. Like many families in the Garden, hers is struggling. Her mother is a recovering drug addict that is struggling to pay rent and the bills. Things only get worse when she loses her job and Bri will do anything to make it as a rapper because she thinks it the only way to save her family and get out of the Garden. After an incident at school, inspires her latest rap song goes viral for all the wrong reasons, she is caught up in Gang battles and arguments of social justice. In her desperation to make it Bri almost loses who she is. I like that Bri is a flawed heroine because we are all flawed individuals. Bri is hard-headed, stubborn and is not easy to trust. She is also very loyal and will do anything to help her family. When her song goes viral for the wrong reasons, Bri finds herself torn with wanted to make it to save her family and playing a role that is not herself. She’s tired of people assuming that she is a threat because the color of her skin and that she is poor but that might be her ticket to success. Angie Thomas gets every nuance in this novel. Everything is not black and white. We all make decisions based on thousands of life experience. Bri’s desperation to save her family makes her make a lot of mistakes. Some of those you can chalk up to her being so young but others it being vulnerable to others. She is constantly fighting people’s own thoughts of who she is before she even really gets to decide who she is. Throughout it all, Bri is resilient and while we don’t know what her future will take her, she is knows hat she has the support of the family and friends and the strength to get her Come Up.

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 wasn’t 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

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.

Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

children of blood and bone This novel had a lot of hype around it and I’m glad to say it was justified.  From the very beginning I was hooked.  With the exception of one section, it was fast paced and gripping.  I immediately liked Zelie and was rooting for her to succeed.  I was drawn to Amari and struggle to right the wrongs of her family and battling her own fears. Both of these women are strong and brave.  They have their own flaws but when it came to helping those in need they didn’t hesitate to step in.  It’s beautifully written and full of lush imagery that I felt I was taken to an Orisha just as I was taken to Wakanda in Black Panther.  There is so much potential in how this series will unfold that I really can not wait to read the next book.  Like I want it right now!

That being said, there were a few things that I didn’t particularly like and leave that under the cut.  Continue reading