sumofparts: picture of books with text 'books are humanity in print' (books)
[personal profile] sumofparts
I finished my second set of 50, yay and started a new set. Below are some thoughts on the books.

Remainder of second set:
39. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
40. A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee
41. Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice
42. Zone One by Colson Whitehead
43. The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd
44. The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
45. Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai
46. Snakes and Ladders by Gita Mehta
47. The End of East by Jen Sookfong Lee
48. Beijing Confidential by Jan Wong
49. Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre
50. Brick Lane by Monica Ali
New set:
1. Decoded by Jay-Z

Cut for length )
sumofparts: picture of books with text 'books are humanity in print' (books)
[personal profile] sumofparts
Sort of a mid-year update. It's been a while since I read some of these so I've just written short impressions but feel free to ask about any of the books.

33. Alentejo Blue by Monica Ali
34. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
35. The New Moon's Arms by Nalo Hopkinson
36. Valmiki's Daughter by Shani Mootoo
37. Skim written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
38. Henry Chow and other stories edited by R. David Stephens (white)

Alentejo Blue by Monica Ali
This was a well-written book but ultimately disappointing because it just didn't feel like it was going anywhere. Judging from the Goodreads reviews, this was a departure from Brick Lane, which I'll still try eventually.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Like other posters on the comm, I enjoyed this book but it was not without its flaws, which I think everyone else has covered pretty well.

The New Moon's Arms by Nalo Hopkinson
I liked the book but I don't feel everything gelled very well for me. I did like how the main character wasn't always the most sympathetic.

Valmiki's Daughter by Shani Mootoo
Gorgeous writing and evocative descriptions but similar to The New Moon's Arms, something didn't quite click for me. Still, I'd definitely try this author's other books.

Skim written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki.
Very detailed and beautiful drawings that really capture the story. Equal credit should be given to author and illustrator.

Henry Chow and Other Stories by various authors, edited by R. David Stephens
Enjoyable but uneven collection of short stories for teenagers. I liked the different story settings and character perspectives. From the Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop.

tags:
a: ali monica, a: hopkinson nalo, a: mootoo shani, a: mariko tamaki, i: tamaki jillian, w-e: stephens r david, short stories, fantasy, lit fic, young adult, coming of age, graphic novel, bangladeshi-british, latin@, dominican-american, caribbean-canadian, jamaican, trinidadian, asian-canadian, chinese-canadian, japanese-canadian, glbt, women writers
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
2. Sarita Mandanna, Tiger Hills

Devi is a beautiful, strong-willed young girl, growing up in Coorg, a rural, mountainous area of South India, in the late 1800s. She's in love with Machu, a warrior famous for having killed a tiger single-handedly. Devanna, Machu's younger cousin, is a quiet, intelligent boy, studying to be a doctor, who's in love with Devi. As you might expect, things don't turn out well.

This novel has some beautiful descriptions of scenery (apparently Coorg- spelled Kodagu today- is known as 'the Scotland of India'), but the plot is a bit over-the-top, with tragedy following tragedy. I enjoyed reading to pass the time on a long bus trip, but I'm not sure I can genuinely recommend it, unless you're looking for something to read that won't require a lot of thought.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
1. Bharati Mukherjee, Miss New India

Anjali Bose is a small town girl in rural India who has big dreams. Her teacher, an ex-pat American, encourages her to make something of herself by heading to Bangalore, which they both see as the best new city in India. Anjali eventually heads there, and ends up in more trouble than she anticipated.

The writing in this novel is quite good, very poetic, in the first few chapters, but gradually heads downhill and becomes very pedestrian by the end. The problem, I think, is that there is just way too much plot in this book. The main characters deal with rape, international terrorism, false charges of murder, police brutality, arranged marriage, teenage runaways, divorce, gay men in India, botched back-alley sex change operations, prostitution, art theft, suicide, the role of outsourcing in the Indian economy, riots, the art of photography, homelessness, telecommunication centers, and more. By about the fourth major plot twist, there's no time for poetry anymore, and even for much of a reaction from the characters, because there's just too much happening. I think it could have been a much better book if it had just focused on a few of these issues instead of all of them.

That said, many of the characters here are quite appealing, particularly Anjali. And it certainly seems to be a very current look at Indian society (I learned, for instance, that the cool new dessert is cold coffee with ice cream, which I promptly went out to try, and I can inform you that it is delicious). Overall a fun read, but not a particularly deep one.
[identity profile] veleda-k.livejournal.com
The Way to Rainy Mountain by N. Scott Momaday (Illustrated by Al Momaday)

The Way to Rainy Mountain )


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Illustrated by Ellen Forney)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian )
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[identity profile] kyuuketsukirui.livejournal.com
Title: Skeleton Man
Author: Joseph Bruchac
Number of Pages: 114 pages
My Rating: 5/5

Summary: When Molly's parents don't return after a trip, she is placed in the care of a mysterious "great uncle" who's appeared out of nowhere. Everyone else believes his story, but Molly knows something isn't right. Soon she becomes convinced that he is the Skeleton Man, a monster from one of the old Mohawk stories her dad used to tell her. With the help of a rabbit who guides her in her dreams, she begins to make plans to escape and rescue her parents.

Review: This is a super short book, but I really enjoyed it. The story is pretty creepy (both the retold tale of the Skeleton Man that Molly relates as well as what happens to her in the present) and I really liked Molly. I also liked how matter-of-factly Mohawk culture was treated.


Title: Shizuko's Daughter
Author: Kyoko Mori
Number of Pages: 214 pages
My Rating: 5/5

Jacket Summary: "Your mother would be very proud..." Yuki Okuda heard these words when she was achieving in school, excelling in sports, even when she became president of the student council. And she could always imagine the unexpressed thought that followed: "...if your mother hadn't killed herself." But Shizuko Okuda did commit suicide, and Yuki had to learn how to live with a father who didn't seem to love her and a stepmother who treated her badly. Most important, she had to learn how to live with herself: a twelve-year-old girl growing up alone, trying to make sense of a tragedy that made no sense at all...

Review: I liked this a lot. I kept feeling surprised at it for some reason and finally I realised why. It felt very normal in a way I am not sure I've ever seen in a book about Japan written in English (as in, not translated from Japanese). Even when the author isn't white, if they're writing for an English-speaking audience, there's often a tinge of exoticism (sometimes more than a tinge), but there wasn't any of that here at all. Sadly, the cover illustration tries to make up for that by showing a girl in kimono, despite the fact that the book is set in the '70s and the only people ever mentioned wearing kimono are Yuki's grandparents, and her father and stepmother at their wedding ceremony.

One thing that bugged me was that there was this chapter where she seems to totally have a crush on this girl and I thought that's where the story was going, especially since later she still has no interest in guys and this is pointed out several times. But then later it turns out that she was just ~damaged~ from her father's betrayal and didn't want to fall in love, and then she does and is happily heterosexual.
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[identity profile] kyuuketsukirui.livejournal.com
Title: 4teen
Author: Ishida Ira
Number of Pages: 329 pages
My Rating: 4/5

Jacket Summary: Tsukishima, an island in the middle of Tokyo Bay. Here we race through the streets on our bikes, faster than the wind. Naoto, Dai, Jun, and me, Tetsuro, four 9th graders. We each have our problems, but together we can go anywhere, maybe we can even fly...

Review: Like Ikebukuro West Gate Park, 4teen is a collection of short stories about young people set in Tokyo (though younger kids this time and a different area of Tokyo). No mysteries here, though, but basically if you like Ikebukuro West Gate Park, if you like Ishida Ira's writing style, this is more of the same.


Title: Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity
Author: José Esteban Muñoz
Number of Pages: 222 pages
My Rating: 2/5

Jacket Summary: The LGBT agenda has for too long been dominated by pragmatic issues like same-sex marriage and gays in the military. It has been stifled by this myopic focus on the present, which is short-sighted and assimilationist. In a startling repudiation of what the LGBT movement has held dear, Muñoz contends that queerness is instead a futurity-bound phenomenon, a "not yet here" that critically engages pragmatic presentism.

Review: I picked this up off the new-books shelf at the library because the title caught my eye, but was really disappointed in it. Since he is explicitly critiquing the current LGBT movement, I had hopes that his "queer" wasn't a synonym for gay men as it (and LGBT, really) so often is. Alas, while there are a handful of lesbians here and there and an aside about a trans friend, this book is totally about gay men, mainly pre-AIDS gay male culture and art.

I could have rolled with that if the book had otherwise been interesting, but the academic language made it difficult for me to read, plus the whole thing lacked cohesion and just felt more like a collection of essays about this art/period he liked rather than something that was building towards a whole. Also, mainly he talked about what he liked about queer movements in the past, and what I had picked up the book hoping for was a critique of the current LGBT movement. But other than saying he doesn't like it, he doesn't really go into it at all.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
Sarwat Chadda, Devil's Kiss

The Knights Templar are still present in modern-day London (though there's not many of them left), and they have a secret mission to fight the forces of evil: vampires, ghouls, ghosts, and so forth. Billi's dad, Arthur (a white British Christian), is the head of the Knights Templar, and ever since her mom (a Pakistani Muslim) died as a result of the Templar's work, he's been cold and closed off to her, focused only on the mission. Billi feels pressured to follow in his footsteps and join the Templars, but she wants her own life, her own friends, and for her dad to pay attention to her.

I really liked this book; it's fast-paced, with an exciting plot (involving the Ten Plagues of Exodus), and interesting characters (including appearances by the Angel of Death and Lucifer), and some genuinely scary moments. I was a bit confused by the fact that everyone in the Templar has a name from the Arthurian legends, some of which are names you would expect to see in modern London (Arthur, Kay) and some which you wouldn't (Gawain, Percival). But this patten is never mentioned in the book, and Arthurian legends have nothing to do with the plot, so I didn't understand what was up with that. There's a sequel that's just come out that I haven't read yet, so maybe it plays a part in the next book.

My favorite parts were moments when the characters dealt with issues regarding Knights Templar in the modern world. For instance, there a long-running argument between Arthur and Gwaine on emphasizing the "demon fighting" aspect of their mission over the "killing people of other religions" part of it. It's mentioned that Billi was raised as a Muslim, but had to convert to Christianity to join the Templars. This isn't a major part of the book, but for me, it made the whole thing feel much more real. I would have liked more exploration of how the Templars have changed and adjusted to the present, actually. Again: maybe in the sequel!

A fun read, and one I recommend.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
7. Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy

This very short novel (though apparently heavily based on Kincaid's real life) follows Lucy, a young woman who moves from the Caribbean to New York City to become a nanny for a wealthy white family. There's little plot, and instead the book reads like a series of vignettes about Lucy's life, interspersed with memories of her childhood. The mother Lucy works for treats her more like a friend than an employee, leading to difficulties; Lucy adjusts to life in a new country; Lucy makes friends and has relationships. Despite relatively little happening, this is a powerful book. I found Lucy to be an insightful, cynical character, and really enjoyed her voice.

I actually read this book back in January and just have been terribly lazy about getting around to posting this review, but one scene in particular has stuck with me all this time: in New York, one day Lucy sees daffodils for the first time. However, as a child, Lucy memorized a poem about daffodils to recite at a school assembly, despite never having seen the flowers and their not growing in her country. This metaphor for the insidious results of colonialism and the ways it affects people really hit home.
[identity profile] holyschist.livejournal.com
Additional tags: a: lo malinda




I don't really have a goal of 50 books this year (I read fewer than a hundred books total last year), but I'm trying to read more books by authors of color and queer authors this year, so I thought I'd start with this one as a step in both directions.

Short version: A bit too brief and simple for my preference and not the most exciting setting, but beautifully written and fun enough that I'll read Lo's next book.

Review is here! )
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
45. Tonya Cherie Hegamin, M+O4EVA

A very short YA novel, but one that really packs a punch. O (Opal, a young black woman) and M (Marianne, a mixed race woman) have been best friends (and sometimes more than that) since they were babies, the only two who understood each other in their rural Pennsylvania town. But now it's their senior year of high school, and they've been growing apart. Their story is interwoven with a old tale they heard from their parents, about a ghost who haunts a nearby ravine, the spirit of an escaped slave woman.

This book is hard to describe because I don't want to give away a major event that happens near the beginning. But it's excellent, a story about growing up and growing apart, grief, love, family, and the choices that people make. The writing is beautiful and powerful. I highly, highly recommend seeking this one out.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
41. Alaya Dawn Johnson, Racing the Dark

The first book in a YA trilogy set in a Polynesia-inspired world (with elements from several other cultures; I recognized a few Japanese things in particular), it's a bit hard to describe the plot, because it's very episodic and involves many, many twists and turns. The main character is Lana, who grows up on an idyllic rural island before finding out that she is destined for something big. Her attempts to escape that destiny start off the plot. The other main character is Kohaku, a young man from an urban center who has come to Lana's island to teach and do anthropological research. Back home, he lives with his deaf sister, Emea. Other important figures include a scary floating death spirit, a man who is half water-spirit, a fortune-teller, healer, and witch who knows more than she's telling, and a young man from a nomadic tribe who does not believe in the magic used by the rest of the characters.

This book involves a lot of mature topics (including abortion, suicide, murder, prostitution, and torture, to name a few), which I know isn't unusual for YA books, but the sheer number of "bad" things surprised me. Despite all that, it's not really a depressing book. Everything is handled with the seriousness and weight they deserve, but they're not dwelt on. In general, I found the book to be very fast-moving and entertaining. The writing is not the most beautiful, but man, does Johnson do plot well. This book is very much a page-turner, and it gripped me and didn't let go. I can't wait for the sequel to come out!
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
38. Malinda Lo, Ash

A YA novel retelling the Cinderella story, but with a twist: Cinderella falls in love with a woman instead of Prince Charming. I've been excited for this book ever since I first heard about it: retelling of a fairy tale! Chinese-American author! YA lesbians! I love all these things. Also, the book has an absolutely gorgeous cover.

I'd somehow gotten the impression that this was the Chinese version of Cinderella, and so was a bit disappointed to find that instead the setting is a fairly generic Medieval-ish Europe. However, Lo does do some very interesting things with the setting, particularly in changing the Fairy Godmother to an elf (and not a nice elf, the Tam Lin and changelings and Childe Rowland kind of elf). Ash's relationship with the elves and magic- constantly drawn in but never quite able to entirely leave our world- was well-written and fascinating. I also really liked the repeated use of telling fairy tales as a way for characters to communicate.

I do wish that there had been more about Ash's relationship with Kaisa, but for what little there was, it was extremely well-written, subtle but vivid. There's not much detail given of people's reactions to the relationship, but it appears to be set in one of those worlds were being gay or lesbian is unremarkable. Certainly, there's no mention of a backlash to them, and Ash doesn't go through any sort of sexual identity crisis. I also wish the book had been longer! There was a lot more about these characters and world that I would have liked to know. But overall, very recommended.
[identity profile] anitabuchan.livejournal.com
19. Girl Overboard by Justina Chen Headley

I didn't expect to like this, as normally I can't stand 'poor little rich girl' stories. I think the difference here is that I couldn't help liking Syrah, the main character. She wasn't self-pitying, and didn't sit around waiting for someone else to come and fix her life. Her problems were the type that I think most could relate to - family, weight, boyfriend, friends, and the loss of something she loved (snowboarding, after an accident).

I liked that all the characters ended up quite complex, even if some of them started out seeming stereotypical. I also very much liked the ending, although I don't want to spoil it! And finally, I liked how Headley handled issues like gender and weight - Syrah wasn't made happy by succeeding in losing weight, she became happy when she gave up dieting and started to enjoy food.

20. Lucy the Giant by Sherri L. Smith

Another book about a teenage girl with family problems :). But very, very different. Lucy's father is an alcoholic, and she is driven to run away. Her height (over 6 foot) means she is taken as an adult - something she takes advantage of by joining a crabbing boat.

I loved this. It was very emotional, reading as Lucy learnt what normal life was like for most people - from the big things, like having someone care for them, to little things, like learning that most people don't leave money lying out in the open. Of course, in the end the boat crew she's joined discover her real age. They reacted the way you'd imagine, but even so, this has a happy (or at least hopeful) ending. It made me cry, so if you feel like a depressing but hopeful read, I recommend this!
[identity profile] sairaali.livejournal.com
I'm awful at doing writeups, so this list has just been sitting on my desktop for ages making me feel guilty for not doing writeups.

Soo, I will just put the list up with brief one-liners on whether I liked it or not, and I'd be happy to discuss more in comments.

5) Silver Pheonix by Cindy Pon
Fantasy, adventure, romance, dragons, goddesses, intrigue! What's not to love?

6) Bodies in Motion by Maryanne Mohanraj
This is more of a series of interrelated short stories than a novel. The stories follow three generations of two families who immigrate from Sri Lanka to the US. It portrays a mix of different immigrant experiences, although nearly all of the characters are solidly middle or upper-middle class. The style is very ethereal and dreamy.

7) The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
This has been reviewed here a million times. I enjoyed it, but found the casual sexism a bit grating.

8) My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson
If I thought Oscar Wao had a few problematic scenes wrt to gender, holy wow, it was nothing compared to this. Neither the narrator nor any of the characters question the basic assumption that a woman needs a man to love her and that only a domineering man could possibly handle loving a strong independent woman. The story itself was well crafted and tightly written, but I couldn't get past the sexism.

9) Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor
Love! A young girl with the ability to speak to shadows struggles with her community's distrust and fear of female Shadow Speakers, a result of her estranged father's dictatorial and regressive policies. When her father is publicly beheaded, her world is turned inside out, and she embarks on a quest of self-discovery that takes her far away from home, during which she discovers a major military plot against her home.

Girls with cat eyes! Talking camels! Magic plants that grow into houses! A girl meets a strange orphan boy with his own powers and secrets on her quest without a queasy romance subplot being introduced! Again, what's not to love?

10)And the World Changed: Contemporary Stories by Pakistani Women Ed: Muneez Shamshie
Definitely would recommend this. Like any anthology, some of the stories are so-so, some are fantastic.


And I know this comm is focused on books by POC, but I know there are a bunch of SFF fans here and I'd like to make some anti-recs. I found the following books at the $1 ARC sale at Wiscon, and I suggest giving them all a miss for skeevy race issues.
Stone Voice Rising by C Lee Tocci - pseudo-Natives with magic powers just for being Native, and also misappropriational mishmash of at least six different tribes' religious beliefs, that I could recognize. Kokopelli become Popokelli, a demented fae creature who betrays his species and sells out to the (literal) Devil.
Kop and Ex-Kop by Warren Hammond - Locals on a backwater economically depressed planet are being murdered by a serial killer from the orbiting space station, which has technology centuries advanced of what is available planetside. Oh and incidentally, all the space dwellers have perfect milky white skin and the planet dwellers are all dark. Bleck.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
28. Sherri L. Smith, Flygirl

A YA novel. Ida Mae is a young woman working as a maid in Louisiana in the early years of America's participation in WWII. Her father taught her how to fly planes before he died, but as a black woman, she's been unable to get a pilot license of her own. When she hears about the Women Airforce Service Pilots (a government operation that flies non-combat missions), Ida Mae decides to join. But she has to pass as white to have a chance.

This was a great novel. It did a wonderful job of dealing with both sexism and racism (and the intersection between the two), while keeping the situation complicated and letting the characters be individuals. There aren't any easy answers here, though I felt the tone of the book was ultimately uplifting. (Though there were some scenes that broke my heart, like when Ida Mae's mother comes to see her during pilot training.) This book is very well-written, fast-paced, and I couldn't stop reading. Very recommended.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
25. Amjed Qamar, Beneath My Mother's Feet

A young adult novel about Nazia, a 14-year-old in a working-class family in Karachi, Pakistan. Nazia is smart, doing well in school, and engaged to her cousin. However, when her father is injured and loses his job, things quickly go downhill. Nazia's mother gets a job cleaning houses, and Nazia is forced to drop out of school to help.

This book was seriously brutal in the multitude of bad things which happen to Nazia and her family. It never came off as unbelievable or emotionally manipulative, but it was shocking to see how little a supportive net there was available for this family, and how quickly they lost everything. Overall, this wasn't even a depressing book, mainly because of Nazia, who is a strong and optimistic character. She may have a bit too much faith in people, but she relies on herself, and ends up finding her own solution. Recommended.



Also, wheeeee! Halfway to the goal!
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
23. Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, Skim

This is a graphic novel about Skim, a Japanese-Canadian teenage girl dealing with her parents' divorce, her rough relationship with her best friend, the suicide of another student, learning about Wicca, and oh, yeah, falling in love with her female teacher.

A lot of other people have reviewed this book, and I don't really have much to add. The art was gorgeous, plain black and white lines that went from sparse to lush. The story-telling is excellent, particularly in its use of silence, or understatement, to capture emotion. And personally, I really identified with Skim's interest in Wicca; I was totally that teenage girl.

Overall, a really lovely, quiet book, though one that didn't involve me too emotionally.




24. Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

I read this back in January and forgot to review it, so I will try to remember what I can. This is a nonfiction pop book about first impressions- why we get them, how they form, how they affect our thinking, if they're right, etc. It's an interesting topic. Gladwell's careful to look at both sides of the argument: when subconscious reactions are good, because there's not enough time to think a question through; and when they can be very, very bad- he examines the case of Amadou Diallo, a black unarmed man who was fatally shot by police officers.

Overall, this was a fun, informative book. I gulped it down in one sitting over an afternoon, so it's not a deep thought book, but one I enjoyed reading.

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