Bite-Sized Book Reviews: IN THE COUNTRY WE LOVE

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In The Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero, with Michelle Burford

This memoir is at times funny, but entirely heart-wrenching. Diane opens up about her life up until now: living her early years in fear of her parents being deported and realizing that hell at age 14. Abandoned, even by the government, which didn't concern itself with the young girl who was left behind. Her desire to succeed and figure out how to bring her parents back (she's still working on it). Living with depression, and doing the hard work that led up to her current visibility as an actor in Orange Is The New Black and Jane The Virgin. It has as much to do with her own experiences as it does with the hard truths of thousands of other families who are torn apart when the system fails them, and the scared children they leave behind. Gripping, well-presented, and heartfelt, I highly recommend this read. Just maybe keep some tissues handy.


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P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

I picked up this book without knowing it's a sequel until it was "too late" (the first book is called To All The Boys I've Loved Before). Even so, I had no trouble getting into the story and Han does a good job of dropping hints and exposition here and there so everyone's on the same page. This is a sweet romance-type story, but it also covers a lot of ground when it comes to modern teen life in general. The consequences of posting mean things online, gender politics and how circumstances affect different people, and an examination of love and heartbreak are all touched upon here through Lara Jean's perspective. I liked being in her head through all of this and seeing how she reacts to and learns from these experiences.

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

This is one of those hard to read, gut-wrenching type stories. Naila's super conservative parents don't allow her to date, or even speak with any boys, and it's their tradition to choose her future husband for her. She gets caught dating Saif, and they whisk her away to Pakistan where she thought she was just going on vacation to visit family, but later finds out her parents have chosen a husband for her and planned for her to wed and stay behind. Eventually, as a reader, you start seeing that things are just going to get worse and worse, and you read with sort of a sense of dread for Naila, but there's hope: Saif is looking for her and trying to get her out of her horrible situation. I found myself rooting for Naila the entire time, facing all these things happening to her and choosing to survive.


The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury

You might know the story of Aladdin, but you won't recognize this version. Aladdin is the son of rebels, expected to rise up with the people, but chooses a life of thievery instead. Jinni has been stuck in her lamp for eons, punished for befriending her last master, sitting in the ruins of her dear friend's old kingdom. When Aladdin finds the lamp and whisks her away, the king of all the jinn charges her with a mission in exchange for the tantalizing reward of freedom. The problem is, using her new master to her ends is at odds with the simple fact that she's falling in love with him. As far as love stories go, this one is ridiculously satisfying, and the whole thing is written as if it were a long, long letter to her dear, old friend. Fresh format, and excellent spin to the story of Aladdin and the lamp.

Bite-Sized Audiobook Reviews: WHY BE HAPPY WHEN YOU COULD BE NORMAL?

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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

This memoir, read by the author, jumps around between various topics and anecdotes relating to her sexuality, life with her adoptive parents, discovering literature and finding solace in libraries, looking for her birth mother, being exorcised, and other events of her life. Some of them are funny, and she does indeed inject loads of humor and wit throughout, but there are a lot of profoundly sad moments, too. Her intensely religious mother made it difficult for her to be herself growing up, and she suffered many punishments and hungry nights for it. When she wouldn't be "cured" of her sexuality in her teen years, she was driven out of her home altogether, and took up residence in a car or with a girlfriend. If you've read her book Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, you may be familiar with some of her story, but the reality behind it is much darker, even if it did end in her freedom and successes as an adult. I recommend reading both, but you might need to keep a tissue handy.

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: GULP and PICNIC IN PROVENCE

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Gulp by Mary Roach

Gulp is an exploration of the journey foods make, starting with sniffing and tasting and on through eventual dumpage. Some of it is pretty gross! But it's all very fascinating and Roach approaches all these topics with her usual wit and impressive thoroughness. Of course, she also goes into cultural taboos: how they affect scientific research and even the way we eat. I don't recommend snacking while reading this book, but I do recommend snatching it up if you're in the mood for some real science-based investigations, warts and all. If you've never read any Roach previously, though, I highly recommend getting started with Packing For Mars, which is all about space exploration and astronauts.

Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard

In this memoir, Bard talks about her life in France with her husband, their decision to move to the countryside, her pregnancy (and the subsequent birth of their son), and all their other experiences leading up to their eventual decision to open an ice cream shop. Her descriptions of the village life, the way the French rear children and approach food, and how she reconciled her American, Jewish identity with her life in France through traditions old and new are all major themes in this memoir. She also includes excellent recipes in between chapters, many of which I intend to make for myself or for family and friends. I enjoyed the way she approached her stories with humor, and now I'm looking forward to reading her other book, Lunch in Paris, which was published four years before Picnic.


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Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

MR had me laughing from the very start and went by fast. If I have one complaint, it's that Aziz cracked jokes about listeners being lazy (for not reading for real...?) a few too many times, but otherwise, it's a delightful auditory experience. If you've watched some of his stand-up, or even his show Master of None, you know some of what's in this book because his comedy and writing usually have a lot to do with relationships and the way we communicate and meet new people. On its own, though, it's eye-opening and informative. Aziz teamed up with a sociologist and they did their research, and he even went to a few other countries to get some comparisons between the way we form romantic relationships here in the US and the way people do in, say, France. And Japan. Good narration, good info, and overall respectful dialogue with lightheartedness made this a fun read, even when the truth stung a little.

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

After her sister made a pointed comment about how she's always saying no, no, no, Shonda made a decision to have a "Year of Yes," in which she says yes, yes, yes, to literally everything. Suddenly she's making speeches and attending galas, and doing all kinds of things she never bothered with before. And along the way, she makes all kinds of discoveries about herself, and even improves her life in other areas, like at home with her children. Of course, her version of Year of Yes doesn't apply to everyone, and she definitely checks her privilege, but she does emphasize there are things we can and should be saying yes to now. Yes to being happy, yes to your body, yes to saying "no" when you need to, and weeding out the people who can't stand to see you happy. She makes some great points, and listening to this book was a lot like listening to a friend.

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

This memoir is a little bit difficult to listen to at times, but not in a bad way. Janet talks about her childhood as a male, the experiences leading up to her sex confirmation, and all of the rest. Some of it is hilarious, and some of it is heartbreaking. Depending on the topic, she drops in some up-to-date (at the time this book was published) statistics and insight about how many people struggle with coming out, with abuse, with all kinds of atrocities because they're at-risk or because they don't conform to what some people think they should. But mixed in with all that, she talks about joyful moments in her childhood, about positive friendships she's formed, beautiful Hawaii, and all the good that has come of her decision to be herself. She speaks her truth, in her own voice, and in her own words. This book is for everyone, and anyone could benefit from listening to her story.

February 2016 Reading Wrap-Up

2016 Reading ChallengeKristina PinoComment

Wow, it's March already! Alrighty, so here's a look at how I read in February (that extra day actually came in handy, too). For those of you just now following along, I'm tracking my reading for diversity and participating in Book Riot's 2016 Read Harder Challenge. If you're wondering why I'm categorizing things so much and keeping such meticulous track of what I read, it's partially because I like stats, but also because being deliberate and seeing the information in front of ya is the first step in affecting change. I want my reading life to be naturally diverse, but that isn't enough by itself. Time to face the music!

Books read in February: 8

Creators of color: 4/10 (40%)
LGBT+ rep. in creators: 0/10 (0%)
LGBT+ rep. in books: 1/8 (13%)
Lady creators: 8/10 (80%)
Translated works: 2
Works in Spanish: 0

Alright, so February differs from January in that I did a bit worse on LGBT+ and better on ladies in general. I've got to keep working on that. On the bright side, I read a couple of translated works (manhwa title Bride of the Water God) which is two more than last month's zero.

As for the Read Harder Challenge, I fulfilled three more tasks. I covered "read a middle grade novel" with Drama by Raina Telgemeier (my review here). For "read the first book in a series by a person of color" I read the aforementioned Bride of the Water God. I'm going to keep reading it throughout March - it's so pretty! And for "read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years" I went with Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson (my review here). I'm up to 6 tasks (out of 24), which is great pacing in case I slow down around summertime.

My Book Riot pick for February is How to be Black by Baratunde Thurston. My PANELS pick for February is Drama by Raina Telgemeier. Check out those links to see what my colleagues' best reads were for the month, too!

And now, for a little something extra.

Books read to date: 17

Creators of color: 9/24 (38%)
LGBT+ rep. in creators: 1/24 (4%)
LGBT+ rep. in books: 2/17 (12%)
Lady creators: 15/24 (63%)
Translated works: 2
Works in Spanish: 0

Keep up with what I'm reading on Twitter or Instagram as well as on this blog, and feel free to drop in with suggestions or chat with me any time about books and comics. Did you set any reading goals this year? How are you doing?

Bite-Sized Comics Reviews: DRAMA and ROLLER GIRL

Comics and Manga, BooksKristina PinoComment

Drama by Raina Telgemeier (2012)

Drama follows middle schooler Callie and her friends in stage crew and drama putting on a production of Moon Over Mississippi. The overarching plot is how Callie's into set design and she wants the show to look Broadway-worthy, but more than anything this story is about friendships, working hard, and the trials and tribulations of middle school life. Telgemeier really shines here in her realistic portrayal of kids and young teens, and her depictions of a diverse range of characters. Great read with something to say about working hard, evaluating self worth, empathy, acceptance, and doing what makes you happy.


Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson (2015)

In Roller Girl, we see just how much it matters to surround yourself with an amazing and diverse support group (read: girl gang), especially if you're a young girl whose identity has basically revolved around one friendship. Astrid watches a roller derby bout for the first time and decides then and there she wants to go to her local team's roller derby camp. Her best friend decides to go to dance camp instead, and she's left to navigate all these new experiences alone. Astrid makes new friends, learns new skills, and most importantly, learns a lot about herself. This all-ages read is all about girl power, teamwork, resolving conflicts, and celebrating differences, and it's absolutely brilliant. Also, I definitely want to go watch some roller derby for real, now.

Jack of All Trades, Master of Some

General UpdatesKristina Pino1 Comment

Every now and again, I think about the way life doesn't cooperate as this straight, narrow path to some goal. Growing up, I definitely thought I'd always be an artist, and go into some kind of artistic career and that would be my life. But as I got older, my path started to get wider, and eventually when I got into university, it started winding and squirreling around as I tried different things. For all my love of art and expressing myself creatively, my love of learning exposed me to other things that interested me just as much.

The phrase "Jack of all trades" is one I enjoy, but I don't like the weird "master of none" that comes after it sometimes. My life is a web of my various interests and competences, and I like it that way. But it doesn't mean I'm a master of exactly zero skills.

When I hear "master of none," I sit and think about what that's supposed to mean. That we have a finite capacity for learning? Maybe. But not all expertise take up the same amount of space, and I like that bit I read in a Sherlock story that when you reach your capacity, your new memories simply re-write or record over the old, musty ones that your brain deems unnecessary. And I reject the idea that having varied interests and hobbies and being capable at several things (or having several professions) would render someone incapable of honing a craft to mastery, which is something I've thought more about since reading Nick Offerman's excellent memoir. I do think everyone should have one, even private, special craft and make things with their hands. I also believe we have an obligation to ourselves to do things that make us happy, at least part of the time. And I know first-hand that our interests and goals change over time: my competition-level dancing skills as an older teen didn't result in a career path for me, either.

Everyone has amazing skills, whether they realize it as such or not. Some people can make anyone laugh, can write words that make you want to cry, can draw photo-realistically, can photograph surreal-y, can flip an omelet like a champ every time, can hold complicated yoga positions, can empty their minds of noise, can build canoes, can make eye contact and listen really, really well. Skills take time and intention. As a culture I think we value people taking one craft all the way to extreme mastery - and that's really cool. But I also think it's really cool when people are simply masters. An authority, but not The Grand Authority. Or maybe not so much: competent. Good enough. Enough to do the thing right, and happily move on to the next thing, having gained some knowledge, having gained an experience. Is there somehow less value when someone isn't trying to be a Super-Duper Grand-Master?

I'm not going to say "my life is at a crossroads," because I don't think it works that way for many people. It's more like a series of roundabouts and winding mountain roads (or forest paths if you prefer). Not stopped at a crossroads, but traveling in circles until we decide which exit to take, even if it's back where we came from. And we have to choose one (for now). Another path to the same destination might appear later after a winding trip through an awesome (or hey, not so awesome) new place. But with the right amount of time and intention, we can all get there in the end. "There" being where we were meant to go all along.

I'll be over here, enjoying the ride and learning as much as I can along the way.

January 2016 Reading Wrap-up

2016 Reading Challenge, BooksKristina PinoComment

I'm tracking my reading for diversity (gender, orientation, language, ethnic, etc) as well as taking on Book Riot's 2016 Read Harder challenge, so in the spirit of that I thought I'd do a monthly little check-in here of what my progress looks like. If you're into that sort of thing, anyway.

Books read in January: 9

Creators of color: 5/14 (36%)
LGBT+ rep. in creators: 1/14 (7%)
LGBT+ rep. in books: 1/9 (11%)
Lady creators: 7/14 (50%)
Translated works: 0
Works in Spanish: 0

At a glance, it looks like I'm on target for gender and ethnic diversity, but not with LGBT+ (yet) or my translated works/Spanish language goals. The good news is, I'm not woefully behind, so I hope there'll be better numbers to show soon.

As for the Read Harder Challenge, I've completed 3 tasks so far. For "read out loud," I've put down An Orange in January by Dianna Hutts Aston and Julie Maren, which I read in a classroom to young kids. I've read other books to kids, and it's always loads of fun, and I totally recommend it. For the "over 500 pages" read, I've selected The Marvels by Brian Selznick, which is delightful. I wrote about that for PANELS recently. And the third is "historical fiction before 1900" for which I selected The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace & Babbage by Sydney Padua. I wrote about this already on this blog, but suffice it to say it's super informative while also being made up.

As always, you can keep up with what I'm reading (or most of it, anyhow, as I don't necessarily talk about every single book I read) on social media or in my bite-sized reviews/thoughts on this blog. Of course, I'm still looking for suggestions for reads I should pick up for the Read Harder Challenge and also for my LGBT+ diversity goal. Let me have 'em anywhere I can see 'em.

Also, I've got more pics of that sweet ThreeZero Tyrion you can browse, if you like.


Books, Comics and MangaKristina PinoComment

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace & Babbage by Sydney Padua

This book, which comprises approximately 40% comics, 40% footnotes, and 20% straight up notes, copied letters/documents, and illustrated references, begins with a short biography of the lives and works of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, followed by an alternate history series of comics as if they had successfully build the first computer and continued to live long, healthy lives full of adventures and successfully solved mysteries. While the alternate history (named the Pocket Universe) is all in good fun and sort of made-up, many of the events and characters are absolutely grounded in real history, all of which is explained in footnotes and appendices. I've learned more about the era Lovelace and Babbage lived in and other pioneering writers, inventors, mathematicians, and scientists, especially ladies who are so often erased from this history, reading this "(mostly) true story of the first computer" than I ever did in history lessons. Give it a try. Read it slowly. Read all the footnotes. Super clever - appropriate for anyone into history, or computers, or math, or general nerdery.

X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon

Don't be fooled by this book's classification of "novel." Though the authors take some liberties when it comes to the general antics and conversations depicted within, all the events, and most of the people, definitely happened or existed. Its subject is Malcolm X, specifically his adolescence, that turbulent period of his life leading up to his arrest and his years in prison before emerging as a human rights activist. If you've read Malcolm's autobiography then you're already aware of the events of the novel, but it's presented in an entirely different way. X: A Novel gives his story so much life, and incredible intimacy. You spend the entire book in his head - really, it's a powerful read. At the end, Shabazz goes a little bit into some historical background, things or people she left out for brevity, and outlines exactly the few, inconsequential things that are entirely made up. This book is so gripping and so important. Appropriate for high school and above.