ARC Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

34728667Children of Blood and Bone (Legend of Orïsha #1)

Pub. date: March 6, 2018
Publisher: Henry Holt Books for Young Readers  
Format: Print
ISBN: 9781250170972
Source: Publisher

Thanks so much to MacMillan and Fierce Reads for providing me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Content warnings: Attempted rape, physical abuse, death, murder, gore, torture, war themes, loss of parent, racism, colorism

Synopsis: Eleven years ago magic disappeared when the king mercilessly slaughters the maji. Zélie Adebola, now has one shot at bringing magic back and retaliating against the throne. With the help of her brother and the rogue princess, she must thwart the crown-prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good. 

Every once in a while a book comes along that is so hyped you keep putting off reading it, and when you finally get to it you end up kicking yourself for waiting as long as you did because the hype is real. Y’all, the hype is so real. I’m not even much of a fantasy reader, and much less a dark fantasy one, and this book had me by guts from beginning to end. It was impossible to put down, so bear with me as I rave about it. Also, let us take a moment to appreciate that cover. Look at that cover. What a friggin’ stunner. It’s hard to stop staring at it. 

First of, this is an all-Black cast. All. Black. In the year of our lord 2018 we have an all-Black YA gritty fantasy novel. Typically, I shy away from gritty fantasy because they’re all-white and rapey, but this book isn’t like that at all. It’s brilliantly-paced, the plot will have you at the edge of your seat at an ungodly hour of the night because you’re unable to put it down, the imagery is lush, and the characters are so well fleshed-out. Yes there is violence and it is gruesome at times, but it is purposeful in the narrative and commentary, rather than as pain porn, which is such a refreshing change. Nothing in this book is present without purpose or meaning, which speaks to Tomi’s talents as a writer; it’s very rare that a 600 page galley doesn’t have the parts that one usually skims over (we’ve all been there, let’s not even pretend).

The world-building in this book is absolutely phenomenal. Tomi’s homage is to West African heritage, and she demonstrates it not only in the descriptions and settings but in conversations as well, all woven together seamlessly. The book is padded with descriptions of food, clothing, traditions, etc. it’s an absolute treat for the reader’s imagination. Her mastery comes through with her commentary on race, ethnic cleansing, and colorism in communities of color- how systemic oppression works, the horrors of police brutality, how people who are raised in privilege so easily believe the narratives fed to them, how their worldview is challenged when they step out of the comforts of their spaces, how the only way for oppressed people to become free is to claim it themselves. It is clear that Tomi’s taken inspiration from modern times and the issues affecting Black people in America today, and it is a superb use of allegory in the crafting of this book. 

Now the characters. The story is told from the points of view of Zélie, the rogue princess Amari, and Inan. the crown prince. Zélie’s twin brother Tzain is a crucial part of the storyline as well. Each of the characters have clearly distinguishable perspectives and voices. Zélie is a strong protagonist, and even though she’s rash at times, her heart’s in the right place. Amari has spent so long under the thumb of her father that she’s afraid to unleash he own strength, and is quick to realize how her father’s regime has harmed so many people. Inan is the disillusioned prince, who wants to believe that everything his father has taught him about the maji and magic, and is unable to reconcile everything he witnesses when in pursuit of Zélie with his entire life up to that point. My favorite thing about Zélie is how she doesn’t let Amari or Inan off the hook for their privilege, challenging it every single time. 

“They built this world for you, built it to love you. They never cursed at you in the streets, never broke down the doors of your home. They didn’t drag your mother by her neck and hang her for the whole world to see.”

(I just. She’s such a phenomenal writer. There’s so many lines like this that will make you stop and really ponder the inequality and injustice that the maji have been subjected to for years. Take that and think about what marginalized people are facing right now. It really hits you.)

Another thing the book does brilliantly is subverting some very familiar fantasy tropes. Zélie is the embodiment of the Chosen One trope but she’s never just fighting by herself- she’s always got people fighting that she’s fighting for along with her, which I think is pretty cool. No man is an island after all, and in a rebellion you need every person you can get. Like I said before, the book deals with oppression brilliantly, and especially for Zelie, who has to struggle with the potential ramifications of how the diviners will handle the magic that she plans to unleash. She’s aware that saving magic wouldn’t automatically solve all their problems, and there was still potential for a new wave of oppression to come in place. Then there’s the romance subplots, and without giving anything away, all I’ll say is I was so afraid one of them would take a route I loathe but it didn’t and I think that served all the character arcs involved in that subplot so well. 

Undoubtedly, I am so ready for the sequel (especially because that cliffhanger of an ending left me with many, many feelings). Tomi is such a brilliant writer y’all, it’s so hard to believe this is her debut novel. I’ve been following her book two updates on her Instagram, and I will be hitting that pre-order button so hard. If you don’t believe me, just go ahead and get yourself a copy of this book by any means necessary, you’ll be drawn into the fandom with me. 

P. S. Check out the fun quiz on the CBB website to see which Maji clan you belong to. I got Tider (I’m such a water baby). 

March 12, 2018: It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme currently hosted by The Book Date. It’s a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week, and add to that ever-growing TBR stack.

Hey there,

I haven’t done these in a couple of weeks because I haven’t really been reading. Different parts of my body have been taking a hit one after the other in the past few weeks so I haven’t been up to doing much. I did however, catch up on Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, and the new Queer Eye (which I adore so much), and watched reruns of Gilmore Girls (I know, I know) and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. 

Meanwhile, I have started working with a new trainer (who is so much more professional than my physiotherapist) and it’s been good so far. It’s so interesting navigating physical activity spaces as a fat person, but so far there have been no red flags. Sometimes the intensity of the past year hits me and I get frustrated by how I have to claw my way through the progress, especially when it takes so much longer to recover from things. But I’m trying not to dwell on the things I have no control over. 

Now that I have significantly bummed you out, if you’re still with me, take a look at what I’m reading this week:

That’s all I’ve got, friends. Drop me a line in the comments and share what you’ve been reading!

-J

ARC Review: The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk

29736467The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk

Pub. date: March 6, 2018
Publisher: Delacorte Press  
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 9781524715878
Source: Netgalley

Thanks so much to Netgalley and Delacorte Press for providing me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Trigger Warnings: Death of a sibling, death of a best friend, death of an ex-boyfriend, suicide, leukemia, alcoholism, mentions of drug dealing, marijuana use, death of a queer character.

Plot: Told from the perspective of three teenagers, all of whom have experienced the loss of a loved one. Autumn lost her best friend, Shay her twin sister, and Logan the boy he loved. They’re navigating grief each their own way, and are reunited by their love for one band’s music. 

I often hear about how people find contemporary novels formulaic and clichéd, and while a lot of it boils down to taste, I think some it also depends on the kind of contemporary novels people are reaching out to read. For skeptics of the genre, I invite you to give Ashley Woodfolk’s debut YA novel a shot. It tackles grief in such a profound way while delving into the many complicated and flawed things that make us so human.

The three main characters, along with the secondary characters, are all linked to each other via their connections to a local indie band called Unraveling Lovely. Autumn’s best friend Tavia dies in a car accident while driving to a party, and Autumn is racked with guilt because she was supposed to accompany her to the party and chose not to at the last minute. Her coping mechanism involves spending all her time she can at Tavia’s house, particularly with Tavia’s brother Dante, and emailing her constantly. Her grief seems immeasurable and she doesn’t think anyone else’s, not even Dante’s, can even compare. Shay’s left ‘twinless’ after losing her sister Sasha, who’d succumbed to the leukemia she’d been suffering with since the age of 11. The twins, along with a couple of their friends run a music reviewing blog, and Sasha is constantly reminded of Shay from every queued blog post, and every time someone else, including their mother, looks at her. Like Autumn, she’s in place where she feels nobody can possibly understand what she’s going through. Logan struggles with grief and guilt over the loss of his ex-boyfriend Bram, and blames himself for some things he said to him as their relationship was ending. He feels responsible and struggles with a lot of “what ifs”, wondering if he’d contributed to Bram’s depression and consequent death by suicide. Logan’s depression lead him to alcoholism that resulted in the breaking up of Unraveling Lovely, of which he was a member. Now, he harbors resentment for Bram’s girlfriend Yara and leans on watching Bram’s vlogs as he grieves for the person he loves. 

The three teens are narrators of their own stories, and while their losses are separate, their grief brings them together. As the stories develop, we’re shown how their lives overlap and intersect. They each lean on their love for music, even when sometimes it doesn’t seem enough. This is a poignant thread that ties together all of them and the book itself, as the characters otherwise don’t have anything else holding them together. However, the story in itself such an emotional and captivating one, and I think these connections, fragile as they are, just speak to how grieving can be both an individual and universal experience all at once. 

The writing style in itself is pretty simplistic- lots of short sentences with strong, distinguishable narrators. I thought this worked well for a story that was fraught with so many emotions and the writing didn’t distract from that. In the end, you’re not left with characters that are completely healed with all their issues resolved and closure experienced, rather, you’re shown the significant effects of the tiny steps taken towards the beginnings of their healing process, with the help of good and necessary support systems. These strong themes of love, loss, pain, and hope will surely resonate with the book’s target audience, many of whom need books like these to feel a little less alone as they navigate a complicated world and tumultuous emotional spaces. 

Overall, a phenomenally strong debut offering a perspective on grief that stays with you even after you’ve finished reading the book. If you’ve known me a while you know that I inhale stories that tackle grief, loss, and pain, especially realistic stories, so this book was tailor-made for me and has officially made it high up the favorites-of-2018 list. Fans of Adam Silvera and Nina LaCour, consider this me shoving this book in your hands. 

 

February 19, 2018: It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme currently hosted by The Book Date. It’s a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week, and add to that ever-growing TBR stack.

Hey there!

I WATCHED BLACK PANTHER AND IT WAS EVEN BETTER THAN I THOUGHT IT WAS GOING TO BE. PLEASE GO WATCH IT IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY. SHURI, NAKIA, AND OKOYE ARE THE LITERAL BEST I’M GONNA NEED MORE SCREEN-TIME AND PRINT TIME AND ALL KINDS OF FORMAT-TIME ABOUT THEM. 

tenor

Okay, I know that wasn’t necessarily book related (unless you haven’t already read the Black Panther and World of Wakanda comics in which case, please read them), but I had to put it out there.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming- books! I read some. Let’s see, quite a bit of romance in the last couple of weeks. First, The Lust Diaries series by Tasha L. Harrison (I liked the first book, had some issues with the second and third. Iffy consent, and cis men who think they can make decisions for women “because they know what’s best for them” is a trope that makes me want to smash things), and the first two books of the Cyclone series by Courtney Milan, Trade Me and Hold Me (both of which I loved).

Backlist:finally finished Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (absolutely phenomenal, I really think it got swept under the radar during awards season) and Blue Nights by Joan Didion (thoughtful written and so cathartic). 

Frontlist: I devoured An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (brilliant writing and character development) as well as This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins (tightly crafted and eviscerating).

On audio: I listened to Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam (character-led plot, well-rounded, engrossing story) and Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot (brutal account of an Indigenous writer on motherhood, mental illness, loss, among other things). 

Screenshot_20180217-222702_01.jpgI am going to take a moment to acknowledge that on Saturday night, for a whole ten minutes, my Goodreads “Currently Reading” shelf was empty because I didn’t have any partially-read books left in it. *insert GIF of shedding a single tear*

That of course, did not last long, so let me show you what I plan to read this week:

If you are trying to recover from the shock of only seeing three titles on this week’s TBR instead of the usual obnoxious number, it’s because I’ve actually got things I need to get done this week, which includes watching Black Panther again tomorrow. 

These past two weeks have been a little hazy because of a general spike in my anxiety as well as not feeling great physically. Here’s hoping for a more productive week.

Also, Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week starts today! I’m hoping to write a post about it for this week, but I’ll definitely be talking about it over on Twitter. Feel free to direct your questions there, in public or private. I’m happy to talk about this stuff with you. 

So tell me friends, what have you been reading?

 

 

 

ARC Review: So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

15172251047942860053447133692273.jpgSo You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Pub. date: January 16, 2018
Publisher: Seal Press  
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 9781580056779
Source: Netgalley

Thanks so much to Netgalley and Seal Press for providing me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I have been a fan of Ijeoma Oluo’s writing for the last few years, having discovered her first via The Establishment, an online publication that supports marginalized writers and creators. They cover a wide range of topics ranging from politics to kink, and I have learned so much from so many of their writers. So naturally, when their Editor-In-Chief (whom I admire greatly) was coming out with a book on race, I jumped at the opportunity to obtain an advanced copy. 

In the last couple of years I’ve been better about reading nonfiction books on social issues; reading is the best way I learn and as I’ve become more aware and involved in the understanding of systemic oppression and how they’ve led to current events. Specifically, I’ve leaned towards reading books on these topics by women of color. This education is ongoing, and I have to recommend Oluo’s book as an important resource to us non-Black people who are here and willing to engage in these conversations. 

The book opens with clear intentions; talking about race isn’t easy or comfortable and you’re not going to get it right immediately or all the time, but they are necessary because they’re not going anywhere just because you don’t talk about it. 

“For many white people, this book may bring you face-to-face with issues of race and privilege that will make you uncomfortable…But a centuries-old system of oppression and brutality is not an easy fix, and maybe we should not look for easy reads. I hope that if parts of this book make you uncomfortable, you can sit with that discomfort for a while, to see if it has anything else to offer you.”

Divided into chapters that each handle a different topic, all related to race, and all established in the form of questions, this book is almost a 250-page FAQ on race, if you will. Topics include “Is it really about race”, “Why am I always being told to check my privilege?”, “What is intersectionality and why do I need it?”, “I just got called racist, what do I do now?”- you get the idea. Each of the chapters respond to the title question, and every single one of them is absolutely fantastic. They are coherent, easy to comprehend, and come with clear-cut actionable steps one can take. 

It’s really hard for me not to go through and share every paragraph I highlighted in this book because there’s just too many, but I can share with you a story that illustrates its utility. A day before reading this book, my sister and I were having a conversation about privilege, and we kept getting stuck in the “just because someone is rich doesn’t mean they aren’t hardworking and haven’t earned the rewards” argument. Try as I might, I couldn’t articulately explain how privilege worked in this context. The next day, I happened to be reading Ijeoma’s book, and came across the chapter on privilege. I offered to read it out loud to my sister, and this is the paragraph (in addition to the detailed example provided prior to it) with which I was able to get through to her:

“We don’t want to think that we are harming others, we do not want to believe that we do not deserve everything we have, and we do not want to think of ourselves as ignorant of how our world works. The concept of privilege violates everything we’ve been told about the American Dream of hard work paying off and good things happening to good people. We want to know that if we do “a” we can expect “b”, and that those who never get “b” have never done “a”. The concept of privilege makes the world seem less safe. We want to protect our vision of a world that is fair and kind and predictable. That reaction is natural, but it doesn’t make the harmful effects of unexamined privilege less real.”

This book comes with so many such real, relatable moments, which is what makes it so accessible. Don’t be fooled by it’s tone; Ijeoma is not here to let us off the hook. She is candid about the very real, very deep pain and frustration she experiences, caused by navigating a racist society, and while is understanding of the fear and hesitation that audience members might have about talking about race, she doesn’t attempt to shield them from it, and is very clear that such discomfort is necessary in this learning process. Being an ally isn’t easy, nor is it a badge of honor one can bestow upon themselves- the work needs to be done. 

it would be reductive to call this book an introductory text to race conversations; the language is simple and it won’t alienate novices, but the topics are day-to-day only in their occurence. The discussions itself are very nuanced, because dismantling systemic oppression can’t happen in one stroke, and this book lends itself to the ongoing nature of such conversations. Some of the topics are very American-centric, but the overall themes are still so relevant and applicable to non-American contexts. The book also comes with a lot of practical suggestions and tips. Like a lot of things, you can’t have these conversations perfectly from the get go- we’re going to make mistakes, and the only way to get better at them is to keep practicing having them. We have to do the work. 

So You Want To Talk About Race has made it to my all-time favorite kind of social justice book- sheer accessibility with an academic bent. I meant to take it slow but found myself unable to put it down; I was drawn in from the get-go. I urge every single one of you to pick up this book. There’s so much to learn from it, not only in the understanding of systemic oppression, but tangible steps to dismantle it in our everyday lives. So timely, thought-provoking, educational, and necessary.

 

February 5, 2018: It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme currently hosted by The Book Date. It’s a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week, and add to that ever-growing TBR stack.

Hello!

Last Monday I talked about looking forward to being in my own space and being anxious about my routine constantly being disrupted. Naturally, I was relieved to be home and looking forward to some life consistency. Turns out, my dad planned a surprise family getaway for my mum’s birthday (he loves surprises, so of course that meant he chose to keep this information from me as well). It was a sweet gesture; my sister flew in from Bombay and my mum had a great birthday, which was good. The travelling plus sightseeing definitely worn me out and I’ve spent most of this Monday moving as little as possible. I have also made my parents swear we have no trips planned for the foreseeable future, so hopefully my anxiety will simmer down as I clamour for some semblance of stability. 

I didn’t get through all of my ambitious reading plans from last week, but what I did read I enjoyed for the most part. I finished listening to Trainwreck by Sady Doyle ( smart feminist commentary), The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey (1920s mystery with a badass lawyer heroine set in British Raj Bombay), Merry Inkmas by Talia Hibbert (this was okay, not particularly comfortable with how they portrayed the coded autistic character), and So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo (absolutely fantastic, couldn’t put it down, full review coming soon). I’m also started listening to This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins.

For this week:

I know, I know, I’ve clearly learned nothing from last week’s attempt to read all the books, but guys, I have a good feeling about this week. 

Unrelated, I’ve taken another stab at bullet journaling this year. I’m really happy with my February bujo layout and spreads, and am actively engaging in two things that I think will help with keeping mental health in check- a daily mood tracker and a gratitude journal page. I use an app called Booster Buddy for the mood tracking (it’s quick and it’s got a raccoon that’s damn adorable), and I have just a page in my bujo for the gratitude journaling bit- I think brevity is key, so it’s low-pressure because I just have to come up with one thing for the day (which as some of you know can be really hard to do sometimes). I think these are two things that are keeping me anchored and help me check-in with myself, which I like. Sorry if this was a random tidbit, I feel like I complain about my mental health so much on here it feels good to talk about how I’m proactively working towards taking care of it as well.

That’s all from me, folks. Here’s wishing you all a wonderful week!

By the way, what are you reading currently? What did you finish reading recently that you loved?

-J

 

ARC Review: American Panda by Gloria Chao

35297380American Panda by Gloria Chao

Pub. date: February 6, 2018
Publisher: Simon Pulse  
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 9781481499101
Source: Netgalley

Thanks so much to Netgalley and Simon Pulse for providing me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Plot: Seventeen-year old Mei is a freshman at MIT, thanks to skipping fourth grade- all part of her parents’ master plan. This plan also includes Mei becoming a doctor, marrying a Taiwanese boy selected by her parents, and have a bunch of babies. Unfortunately, between her hatred of germs, her inability to stay awake during biology lectures, and a crush on her Japanese classmate Darren, Mei knows that she doesn’t want this future that her parents have planned and worked so hard for. When she reconnects with her estranged brother Xing, she begins to wonder whether it was worth keeping so many secrets from her parents, or if it was possible for her to find a way to live life on her terms. 

I think the Goodreads synopsis of this contemporary YA novel can be a little misleading. I went in expecting a hilarious romantic comedy of errors, but instead was hit with a plethora of intensely complicated emotional drama. Gloria delivers a very real story that is not uncommon in many Asian families. Mei is a strong narrator throughout the book, and I found myself getting caught up in her angst and conflicting emotions. She’s clearly experiencing a tremendous amount of cognitive dissonance- wanting to make her parents happy and not let their sacrifices go for nought, while at the same time having ambitions and dreams of her own that are so far left field from what her parents have envisioned for her. While I didn’t grow up with parents as intense as Mei’s, my expat childhood was filled with a lot of these constant, conflicting desires. Gloria does an excellent job as portraying them for what they are- hardworking immigrant parents who’ve lived their lives holding firmly onto these perspectives and values and wanting their kids to have a secure future to the point where they’ve lost sight of personal happiness and their kids’ happiness, and the fact that the world and the country they live in is very different from the one they grew up in. Mei’s parents are very conservative and old-fashioned, ascribe to all manner of superstitions and beliefs, and yes, their love is conditional on their kids’ obedience- as evidenced by the fact that their son is estranged for falling in love with a non-parental-approved girl. I developed a certain appreciation for Mei’s mother, especially towards the end of the book. She’s a complex woman, her own story is sad and touching, and as a reader you’re definitely given some perspective on how the same cultural values and beliefs she upholds has had its effect on her own life. 

Mei’s character arc itself is really strongly written and great to follow- she goes from being the kid who is too scared and too sheltered to disobey her parents, to a person that accepts that in order to live her life on her terms she is going to have to be okay with disappointing them once in a while. Boy, is that a life lesson, and one that does not get easy over time (yes, this is indeed the voice of experience). Juxtaposing her passion for dance and her lack of interest in her pre-med courses is a really good choice in terms of the writing and helps with the progression of the story. It also really made me empathize with her emotional turmoil. I also absolutely loved that she’s a college student; that transitioning worldview and exposure to a plethora of ideas, experiences, and possibilities was one that I related to completely because I remember experiencing those things when I was 17 and had moved away from my parents for the first time. It’s exhilarating and nerve-wracking, and superbly depicted in the story. 

As for the other side characters: I adored her brother, and I was super invested in their relationship. Again, I could relate to that entire story arc on a personal level (not my immediate experience, but it’s happened within our family). You can still see how he does hang onto some of the values he was raised with, and it’s interesting to see how sometimes you can fall into the traps of sharing your parents’ thought processes even if you don’t mean to. Ying-Na serves as a reference for all the things that could happen if you choose to go against your conservative parents and community, and I really liked how she doesn’t just remain a caricature in the end. Darren is an adorable love interest, but I definitely appreciated that their romance was a secondary arc that was there to reinforce the primary narrative instead of taking over Mei’s story. 

Overall, this is an intense and emotional read. All the tiny pieces of the puzzle don’t miraculously fall into place in the end; these characters are all a work in progress, as in life, which I appreciate deeply. Unfortunately I didn’t write this review before my ARC expired but I think there’s a potentially amatonormative sentence in there somewhere that made me wince (don’t quote me on this, I don’t remember it. I’ll just have to wait for the finished copy to double-check). However, this novel is still deeply personal and Gloria’s voice and writing are an important addition to the Asian diaspora. Familial expectations versus following the path of uncertainty; undoubtedly, many will find a home, heart, and connection in it.