Tuesday, March 21, 2017

God Smites and other Muslim Girl Problems, by Ishara Deen

I read a review for this one right before I left on my Spring Break trip (can't remember which blog it was: thank you whoever you are!); since she's a Canadian author (and I'm a little patriotic) and the book was only 4.99 on Kindle, I decided to buy it (note to price-setting people: 4.99 is cheap enough that I'll buy something on a whim).

I did not regret my purchase.

God Smites is a very, very funny book about a Muslim girl who just wants to lead a normal life. Oh, and solve a murder. And maybe have a conversation with the boy she has a crush on.

Asiya's voice is so real, you can't help becoming best friends with her. Her inner and outer conflicts are achingly, hilariously believable. I loved the conversations she has with God, where she's genuinely trying to figure out the right thing to do, while justifying what she wants to do. I'm sure anyone who believes in God has the same kinds of conversations all the time. (I know I do!)(not that I've ever tried to justify breaking-and-entering, but, you know, same general idea!)

I loved that faith was presented matter-of-factly as a part of life. Asiya believes in God and is striving to live her religion. She chafes against her parents' strictness, she questions whether Satan will really appear if she's alone with a boy, she strongly dislikes her Imam (she and her friends have a great nickname for him that becomes a running joke), but she doesn't question being Muslim. It's a part of her identity and she's happy with it.

What was the last YA or children's book you read in which religion was a positive, normal part of characters' lives (what was the last book you read in which it was even mentioned??)

So, kudos for cultural and religious representation (and #OwnVoices). And for having a brown girl on the cover with her whole face showing, looking confidently out at the reader (what was the last book you saw ...). But mostly kudos for being well-written, engaging, and highly entertaining. I loved all the characters, particularly Asiya's parents, who are well-rounded and play important roles in the plot, not just as obstacles. Great relationship dynamics within her family, with her friends, and even with the other adults. The murder mystery was fun—there were a few scenarios that tested my suspension of disbelief, but any story with a teen sleuth is going to be a tad unrealistic.

There is room for a sequel, and I will be looking for it. I think Ishara Deen is going to be another Susan Juby or Eileen Cook—we've got some great humourous writers up here in Canada!

(Also you should go read the Book Wars review of this book, because it's hilarious.)

I'm going to go with fish pakoras for my food metaphor, because now that I've thought of them I'm craving some: crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, little bites of yumminess.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Wolf by Wolf, by Ryan Graudin

Oh, my heavens, I need the second book now!

*checks Amazon. It's already written, and published! And there's a short story, too! I can buy it with one click!* *clicks* #theadvantagesofnotgettingtoabookonyourtbruntilitsalreadybeenoutforafewyears

Never mind about the review, I have to go start reading.


Oy vey. (I wish I were actually Jewish so I could convincingly use this phrase in daily conversations. I would use it all the time if I could.)

The premise is so breathtakingly brilliant that it will take your breath away: Germany won WWII, and the world is now divided between the Third Reich and Imperial Japan. Every year there's a celebratory (for the Axis powers) motorcycle race across Europe and Asia, and the winner meets Hitler and Emperor Hirohito at the Victor's Ball. This year, someone is going to win the race and kill Hitler at the ball. (Because, of course we're still trying to kill Hitler.)

Wait, it gets better: the heroine is a death camp survivor who, as a result of being experimented upon, can shift her skin to look like anyone she has seen. So she can mimic last year's race winner, and thus enter the race (so she can win it and kill Hitler). (No, really, this is a good plan. It will totally work.)

Are you thinking it sounds a little too implausible? This is crazy alternate history with a sort of paranormal kick, and Graudin pulls it off spectacularly. I was riveted from page one, completely pulled into the world, completely captivated by Yael.

Oh, Yael.  Fierce, broken, bitter, hopeful, with a will of iron and nerves of steel. She squeezed my heart until it ran dry. Then there's Felix, the brother of the girl Yael is mimicking, and Luka—her enemy? her lover? just what exactly happened between Adele and Luka during the last race? none of Yael's research can tell her, so how the heck is she supposed to navigate these relationships and not give away the fact that she isn't actually Adele Wolfe? (Yes, wolves are a bit of a motif in this book.)

So, yeah, great plot, great characters, fantastic pacing—tense, tense, tense all the way through. But the writing. Ryan Graudin's prose. Visceral, muscular, intense, poetic the way a boxing match can be poetic. Beautiful writing that never gets in the way of pacing because it creates the pacing. I started highlighting sentences that made me stop in my tracks they were so perfect, and the whole book is now pink. A few non-spoilery examples:
His irises were blue. The shade of a sky scraped bare and a skeleton soul. The color of veins just beneath skin, needle-ready.
Kilometers, cool darkness, and speed threaded through the gaps between Yael's fingers as she reached out.
His scarred, daughterless hand grabbed her marked, fatherless arm.
I found myself rereading passages the way I lick the bowl clean after eating something delicious and chocolaty.

But no, this is a meaty book: soy-ginger braised short-ribs served over garlic mashed potatoes to soak up every bit of the sweet-savory sauce. (And yes, I would lick the plate clean.)

Now, on to book 2!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Spring Break Reading

I'm escaping the multiple personalities that have been winter in Vancouver this year and heading to a sunny beach for a week, and this is what I'm bringing to read:

E-books borrowed from the library (a completely random selection of books from my TBR that happened to be available as e-book borrows):

I also put this one on hold, so hopefully I'll get it before I leave:

Books I bought for my Kindle:

These include the latest Lois McMaster Bujold Penric novella, a T. Kingfisher (otherwise known as Ursula Vernon) book I know nothing about but I bought it because it's by her, two different manga volumes (I don't really like reading graphic novels on the Kindle, but I'm buying Yona to support it (I've already read up to volume 24 online and I'm buying the official ones as they get published) and I bought Seraph of the End on a whim), all seven Chrestomanci books, because it will comfort me to know they're there, and a YA novel by a Canadian Muslim writer.

I'm also halfway through this one, which is amazing:

Physical books I'm carrying with me, because what if all electronics suddenly fail?

Plus the printed-out manuscript of my novel, which I intend to do another editing pass through.

Think I'll have enough to occupy me for a week??

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Rest of the Cybils shortlist

Last week I posted about four of the seven books shortlisted for the 2016 Cybils YA Specualtive Fiction award, and now I'll tell you about the other three. Illuminae was the winner, (follow the link to see all the winners), but I really think all seven books deserve attention. And it was wonderful how diverse they were in style, theme, genre, characters and authors. A great representation of the impressive things going on in YA spec fic these days.

Keeper of the Mist, by Rachel Neumeier, is a fairy-tale-type fantasy about a magical kingdom under threat from its magical neighbours. I'm a big fan of Neumeier, so I was thrilled to see this one on the list. It has an engaging heroine: Keri the baker who is suddenly chosen to be the Lady of Nimmira (everyone knew she was the illegitimate daughter of the Lord, but no one expected the magic to descend on her) and has to rise to the occasion. The strength of this book is in the relationships between Keri and her Bookkeeper, Doorkeeper and Timekeeper, who have to figure out how to use their strengths to protect the kingdom, and between Keri and her older brothers, who think they could do a much better job than her but have to work with her and learn to trust her. Friendships and family bonds (and a little bit of romance) in a beautiful and original fantasy setting.

Labyrinth Lost, by Zoraida Córdova, is often called a Latina Alice in Wonderland. It starts in the real world, where Alejandra is about to come into her powers as a bruja. But Alex wants to reject her magic because of its potential for harm. When she disrupts her Death Day ceremony, her family are all whisked away to the magical realm of Los Lagos, and Alejandra has to travel through its strange, dangerous landscape with a boy she doesn't trust in order to rescue them. I really liked the depiction of a multi-generational family, with all the tensions and warmth of a normal family, plus magic to complicate things. Los Lagos is beautiful, surreal and frightening, and the magic is fascinating to me, based as it is on Latin-American mythologies I'm not familiar with. It has a great first line: "The second time I saw my dead aunt Rosaria, she was dancing."

The Door at the Crossroads, by Zetta Elliot, is a time-travel novel that connects post-9/11 New York with the Civil War era and the draft riots. It's the second book describing Judah and Genna's struggles to find each other after being transported back in time and encountering slavery and the people fighting to end it. It works as excellent historical fiction, highlighting a number of unfamiliar (to me) aspects of the time period (had you ever heard of the free black community called Weeksville? Worth looking up, it's pretty cool!) while being a tense story of modern teens encountering the brutality and humiliation of slavery and the sacrifices of those trying to free them. Judah and Genna are both well-drawn, engaging characters, and the writing is vivid and sometimes heartwrenching.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Cybils Awards Announced!

Ahem. Two days ago, actually. But in case you're as behind the times as I am, here's the link to all the winners. And the book we chose for YA Speculative Fiction is . . .

Illuminae, by Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. I reviewed it last year when I first read it, and on a reread I still found it a lot of fun. We judged that it would have a ton of appeal to teen audiences, and we were impressed by the innovative format, which made the whole reading experience a little meta.

We did have a lot of debate before deciding on Illuminae, however, because we got a stellar short list to choose amongst. So I want to highlight the rest of the books, because they all deserve notice and recognition.

This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab, is a dystopian Romeo and Juliet (sort-of, except they don't actually fall in love, so really not at all, but it totally has the "Two households both alike in dignity" thing going on) in the same vein as Marie Lu's Legend series. I really liked the monsters—the concept of how they're created, and the way the story questions what it means to be a monster. I liked the way music is used; I liked the way family relationships are explored. I loved both protagonists, their struggles with their own identities, and the prickly friendship they develop. The story comes to a satisfying close but definitely needs a sequel, which I will be eager to read.

Still Life With Tornado, by A.S. King. Brilliantly written book about an artist who can't do art anymore. Or about a family falling apart, or starting to heal. It kept surprising me, as King's books tend to do. It didn't seem like speculative fiction, except that it was definitely surreal. The protagonist is incredibly annoying at first, but just funny enough to put up with, until she breaks your heart. It's one of those books with lots of pieces that are interesting enough on their own, but when they finally all come together you have to gasp a little at how beautiful the final picture is. Not an easy book to describe, but a book you have to read.

When The Moon Was Ours, by Anna-Marie McLemore is gorgeous, lovely, luminescent, tender, and a little bit unsettling. Magical realism at its most magical, it's a love story between Miel, who grows roses from her wrist, and Samir, who has a secret that, above all else, the four Bonner sisters cannot find out. There are glass pumpkins and cures for lovesickness and paper moons, and it's really not like any other book I've read. It has important things to say about choosing our own identity, and it says them beautifully.

I'll highlight the other three in my next post!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

New Maggie Stiefvater!

Thought you might be as excited as I was when I saw her post:

I finally get to tell y’all the release date and title of my next novel: it’s a young adult standalone novel, it’s coming out on 10/10/17, and it’s called ALL THE CROOKED SAINTS.
No cover yet, but definitely go to her blog to see the very cool art she did "inspired" by the novel.

I'm almost as excited about this as I am about the new Megan Whalen Turner. (May! It's coming in May! It's almost May, right??)

If you follow my blog, then you probably already know and love both these authors, but if by some chance you haven't read anything by either of them, you must immediately drop everything you were doing, sweep the rest of your TBR off the shelf, and start either The Thief or The Raven Boys. No, really, I promise, you have to.

Also, just because I'm squeeing about stuff I'm waiting for:

Friday, January 27, 2017

In which I discover K-Drama

Still can't talk about the books I'm reading: another couple of weeks before we have to decide on a winner, and it is proving to be a very difficult decision. What I can say is that I highly recommend all seven books on the shortlist for the Cybil's YA Speculative Fiction category. And they're all completely different from each other. Great illustration of how diverse YA and Spec Fic can be.

Back when I talked about discovering manga, I referred to the rabbit hole I was falling into. Well, I found another rabbit hole, and I'm in deep. It started with Nirvana in Fire, a Chinese historical drama that I blame Sherwood Smith for recommending. Have you watched it yet? Seriously, you have to watch it.

I got tired of all the ads and decided to subscribe to Viki.com (which licenses Asian shows for fan translators to subtitle. The subtitles aren't always awesome, but they do the job.) After watching everything I could find with the actors I loved from Nirvana, (you have to watch The Disguiser just to see Wang Kai in a long blue wool coat and Hu Ge being badass. Aiiish! And Ode to Joy so you can see Liu Tao's fantastic wardrobe.)(They're also just great actors.) I decided to try some of the shows Viki was recommending, which led me into the Korean drama section.

Turns out there are a lot of Korean dramas.

Here are a few I've really enjoyed so far (note that I'm using the titles as translated by Viki.com; there are other translations):

Descendants of the Sun: straight-up romance between a soldier and a doctor in a gorgeous setting. So pretty, and cute, lots of witty banter and exciting action. A lot of fun. And Song Joon Ki looks really good in military fatigues and sunglasses!

The Legend of the Blue Sea: romance/fantasy about a mermaid and a man who love each other in two different lifetimes. This one has everything: both period costumes and modern-day setting, sweet romance, a sort of murder-mystery, lots of humour, great side characters. And Lee Min Ho.

My Love from the Star: I loved Jun Ji Hyun so much in Legend that I decided to try this romance/fantasy about an alien who's been on earth for 400 years, and right before it's time for him to go back he very reluctantly falls in love with an actress. This one's just a lot of fun.

The Great Doctor: I needed me some more Lee Min Ho, and I have to say I'm a sucker for these historical settings. This one's basically Outlander in ancient Korea: the king's chief military guy goes through a portal to the 21st century to bring back a doctor to save the queen's life. Lots of political machinations, great bad guys, lovely romance, and I much prefer this haircut on Lee Min Ho. Just saying.