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Bite-Sized Book Reviews: THE MOTHERS and THE WANGS VS THE WORLD

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The Mothers by Brit Bennett

In this story, expressed in multiple perspectives, but generally narrated by one of the mothers, or the group of church moms who do various tasks for their community, we learn about a girl's decision to terminate a pregnancy and everything that follows it. Bennett does an amazing job of showing readers what it's like when you're from a conservative community and you make certain decisions without really making the book about abortion or anything like that. Nadia, the protagonist, wants to just move on with her life, but unfortunately living in a small town, everyone gets in everyone's business. This is an emotional, deeply engrossing read, and I couldn't put it down. 

 

The Wangs Vs the World by Jade Chang

Charles Wang found his fortune in America with his cosmetics empire, and raised his family in luxury. But a few bad decisions led to his losing everything. In this funny, heartfelt story, readers get the perspectives of all the Wangs throughout their adventure finding a new place in the world for themselves. Charles in particular becomes obsessed with reclaiming the lands of his ancestors in China, while his children are finding their place in different ways. I enjoyed the bits of Chinese dialogue peppered in, much like Junot Díaz does with Spanish in his books. 

2015 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Task 6 - THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER by Junot Diaz

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On a beach in the Dominican Republic, a doomed relationship flounders. In the heat of a hospital laundry room in New Jersey, a woman does her lover’s washing and thinks about his wife. In Boston, a man buys his love child, his only son, a first baseball bat and glove. At the heart of these stories is the irrepressible, irresistible Yunior, a young hardhead whose longing for love is equaled only by his recklessness--and by the extraordinary women he loves and loses: artistic Alma; the aging Miss Lora; Magdalena, who thinks all Dominican men are cheaters; and the love of his life, whose heartbreak ultimately becomes his own.

In prose that is endlessly energetic, inventive, tender, and funny, the stories in This Is How You Lose Her lay bare the infinite longing and inevitable weakness of the human heart. They remind us that passion always triumphs over experience, and that “the half-life of love is forever.”

I'm trying to catch up with my reading challenge progress here, so I'm posting this after I've already finished reading the book. I don't tend to read a lot of short story collections - I've only ever managed to finish a few in my adult life. I picked this one up because it felt like a no-pressure way to dip into Diaz's writing/storytelling style before maybe picking up a novel.

I enjoyed this collection overall. It appeals to me because I'm familiar with much of the cultural and social background the characters came from, I understand the language, and I've (mostly) gotten over my aversion to "unlikeable" (and/or unreliable) characters/narrators. Yunior is awful (though I did feel sad for him in the end), but the stories are wonderful. In the end, I love that the stories were connected in more ways than one. I think that's what sealed it for me, because I'm the type of person who prefers spinoffs over sequels. The story with this guy is clear from the beginning, but I love getting all the filler and background.

2015 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Task 5 - FOUR NIGHTS WITH THE DUKE by Eloisa James

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As a young girl, Emilia Gwendolyn Carrington told the annoying future Duke of Pindar that she would marry any man in the world before him—so years later she is horrified to realize that she has nowhere else to turn.

Evander Septimus Brody has his own reasons for agreeing to Mia's audacious proposal, but there's one thing he won't give his inconvenient wife: himself.

Instead, he offers Mia a devil's bargain...he will spend four nights a year with her. Four nights, and nothing more. And those only when she begs for them.

Which Mia will never do.

Now Vander faces the most crucial challenge of his life: he must seduce his own wife in order to win her heart—and no matter what it takes, this is the one battle he can't afford to lose.

Romance is one of those genres I have never really read into or tried for myself, so picking a book for this task was as simple as grabbing the first title I'd heard of (because of author/book buzz) when I was at a book store. At the time of writing this post, I'm actually three chapters in, and I'm already rather liking it! If this is the book that gets me "into" romance as a reading genre, then I'll have opened up a whole huge world of book options for myself. And really, that's the point of the challenge.

Of course, in case it wasn't clear, this book fulfills the romance task of the Read Harder Challenge.

2015 Read Harder Challenge: Task 3 - WHITE TEETH by Zadie Smith

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"On New Year's morning, 1975, Archie Jones sits in his car on a London road and waits for the exhaust fumes to fill his Cavalier Musketeer station wagon. Archie—working-class, ordinary, a failed marriage under his belt—is calling it quits, the deciding factor being the flip of a 20-pence coin. When the owner of a nearby halal butcher shop (annoyed that Archie's car is blocking his delivery area) comes out and bangs on the window, he gives Archie another chance at life and sets in motion this richly imagined, uproariously funny novel.

Epic and intimate, hilarious and poignant,
White Teeth is the story of two North London families—one headed by Archie, the other by Archie's best friend, a Muslim Bengali named Samad Iqbal. Pals since they served together in World War II, Archie and Samad are a decidedly unlikely pair. Plodding Archie is typical in every way until he marries Clara, a beautiful, toothless Jamaican woman half his age, and the couple have a daughter named Irie (the Jamaican word for "no problem"). Samad —devoutly Muslim, hopelessly "foreign"— weds the feisty and always suspicious Alsana in a prearranged union. They have twin sons named Millat and Magid, one a pot-smoking punk-cum-militant Muslim and the other an insufferable science nerd. The riotous and tortured histories of the Joneses and the Iqbals are fundamentally intertwined, capturing an empire's worth of cultural identity, history, and hope.

Zadie Smith's dazzling first novel plays out its bounding, vibrant course in a Jamaican hair salon in North London, an Indian restaurant in Leicester Square, an Irish poolroom turned immigrant café, a liberal public school, a sleek science institute. A winning debut in every respect,
White Teeth marks the arrival of a wondrously talented writer who takes on the big themes —faith, race, gender, history, and culture— and triumphs."

This book has been on my radar for a while because I've been wanting to read something by Zadie Smith, and I was glad to be able to work it into my Read Harder challenge list. This will fulfill the task of reading "a book that was written by someone while they were under the age of 25."

I like all the main themes the book summary is giving me here, and it'll diversify my challenge-related reading in more ways than author age. You can look forward to my thoughts on this read soon. For now, feel free to share what you're reading in the comments below or via Twitter, and let me know if you have any suggestions for me to read for other tasks in the Read Harder Challenge.

Bite-Sized Audiobook Reviews: YES PLEASE and WAISTCOATS & WEAPONRY

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Yes Please by Amy Poehler (narrated by Amy Poehler)

The only reason I didn't listen to this audiobook right away, like right when it was released, was because I was still deciding whether I wanted to get the print book instead. After all, if I really ended up loving this book, which I knew I would because other rad people I know have universally loved it, having a print copy is way better if only because then I can lend it out to all my friends. But then I decided that I'd rather listen to the author narrate her own book (and hear all her wonderful guests who recorded it with her), and simply buy several copies for my friends later, because it's so, so worth the money and attention.

Yes Please is absolutely hilarious, and sweet, and candid, and all of the best things I can say about it. I laughed out loud like a madwoman listening to this, and as soon as the recording ended, it took everything I had not to just hit play all over again. It's that good. It's that funny. If you're even just a little bit familiar with Amy, or are into TV or comedy or are a mom, or who knows, there are a lot of ways you can relate to this book: you need to read this. And no, I'm not just talking to my fellow ladies - my male friends have also loved and recommended it. Read it.

Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger (narrated by Moira Quirk)

This is the third book in Gail Carriger's Finishing School series, which I love dearly. I'm sad that there's just one more book coming out later this year to finish it off, but at the same time, I prefer a nicely-executed quartet to an overly-drawn-out long series. I'll probably get into Carriger's other books after this series has finished, because I love her writing style. Also in real life she's an anthropologist (that's what I studied in Uni!) and just, yeah, that's badass.

In W&W the main characters have all matured in all the best ways, and they're finding their paths beyond Mme Geraldine's. While I wish they could all just be best friends forever and keep going on adventures together for their entire careers, it's a logical step for some of them to break away to chase their own destinies. I love all of the developments, the neat way things seem to sort themselves out whenever Sophronia and her friends put their minds to it. This is a fantastic, magical, and just plain fun YA series to get into, and I also highly recommended listening to it because Moira Quirk does such a great job narrating. Her pacing and the voices and accents she uses for the different characters are all on point. Great performance. Great story. Now's a good time to get into the series since the final book is out in November - you won't have to wait too long to get the whole thing. 

Book Review: HORNS by Joe Hill

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"Once, Ig lived the life of the blessed: born into privilege, he had security and wealth and a place in his community. Ig had it all, and more - he had the love of Merrin Williams, a love founded on shared daydreams, mutual daring, and unlikely midsummer magic.

Then beautiful, vivacious Merrin was gone - raped and murdered, under inexplicable circumstances - and Ig was the only suspect. He was never tried for the crime, but in the court of public opinion, he was and always would be guilty.

But now Ig can hear people's deepest, darkest secrets and means to use this ability to find whoever killed Merrin.

It's time for a little revenge.

It's time the devil had his due."

As a reminder: I read this book as a part of the Book Riot 2015 Read Harder Challenge. This is my first challenge-related read of the year (making me 1/24), and it fulfilled the "book that someone else has recommended to you" task.

Horns is divided into several parts, jumping through time and perspectives, and the very first one was a bit of a shock - really not my usual reading fare. I didn't expect this book to get all up in my face with descriptions of all of the gross, awful things humans make up in their heads. The kind of stuff one never says out loud. But the main character, Ig, becomes this sort of devil character and everyone around him suddenly tells him about their ugliest secrets and fantasies, just ripe for the temptation to act on the impulses.

After getting used to it, tone-wise, I actually found it all brilliant. A lot of the people around Ig turn out to be really disgusting on the inside. Not all of them, as I'd originally thought based on the first part of the book - I was already scoffing incredulously at my pal's book (I borrowed it!) and grumbling about how I like to think people are generally good. And eventually you see that some people are good by default, but sometimes have awful (or perceived-to-be-awful by the individual) impulses like the desire to overeat or just run away from it all. Some characters aren't necessarily bad or gross on the inside, but want things they think are wrong although they're perfectly alright. And the main character realizes this too, which is where I think this story is brilliant.

Ig becomes a devil, as I mentioned earlier, but he brings a lot of depth to the character. He doesn't seek destruction or bedlam or immorality or whatever for the sake of it, though it could have easily gone that direction. He learns that some kinds of temptations or desires can be turned into productivity towards a greater good. Or at least, a much better future for the individual. Something that is, basically, not altogether bad, even though the impulses might have come from a place one perceived to be bad. It was a learning process for Ig, and a lovely development for me as the reader. Though he did pull a few bad moves throughout the book here and there, he learned something from each one, and applied all of his knowledge and cunning to the real meat of the story, which was getting back at his beloved's killer.

I was a little bit worried this book would end on a sour or sad note. In a way, it is pretty sad - I mean, the whole point is that a young lady was murdered. But the tone of the finale is hopeful, and I like stories with happy endings. The material is a little heavy, and eventually suspenseful, so if you're going to pick this up be prepared for a bit of an emotional roller coaster ride. Additionally, if you're the type who likes loads of references to myth or religion or legends in their material, this story is full of them. I also hear the film adaptation is a good one, so I'll be giving that a go whenever I can.

2015 Read Harder Challenge: Task 1 - HORNS by Joe Hill

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Happy New Year! Now that it's officially 2015, I'm ready to get cracking on my 2015 reading goals. I mentioned it to a pal the other night, and she was quick to offer suggestions for various challenges. By the end of the night she'd settled on lending me her copy of Horns by Joe Hill, which has been adapted to film starring Daniel Radcliffe. I was so pleased when she showed me it, especially since I had been interested in watching the film but never had, so I'll be going into this one fresh.

This book is going to fulfill the task: A book that someone else has recommended to you. I could cheat here, and tack on other challenges like a book written by someone whose gender is different from your own, but in the spirit of fairness, I will read 24 books for the Read Harder Challenge.

Here's the back cover copy:

"Once, Ig lived the life of the blessed: born into privilege, he had security and wealth and a place in his community. Ig had it all, and more - he had the love of Merrin Williams, a love founded on shared daydreams, mutual daring, and unlikely midsummer magic.

Then beautiful, vivacious Merrin was gone - raped and murdered, under inexplicable circumstances - and Ig was the only suspect. He was never tried for the crime, but in the court of public opinion, he was and always would be guilty.

But now Ig can hear people's deepest, darkest secrets and means to use this ability to find whoever killed Merrin.

It's time for a little revenge.

It's time the devil had his due."

This book sounds super interesting and I'm looking forward to diving in. I'll be back with my thoughts once I'm through, of course, and with my pick for the next task I take on for the Challenge.

Do you have any suggestions for me regarding any of the other tasks, or even my personal reading goal of reading books in Spanish? Let me know in the comments, or via social media!

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: HEIR TO THE EMPIRE, THIS ONE SUMMER, and CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC

Books, Comics and MangaKristina PinoComment

I don't think the three books I'm looking at this time around could be any different from each other, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Star Wars: Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn

It was a long time coming, but I've finally started reading the Thrawn trilogy! This book takes place five years after the events of the last Star Wars film (at the time of writing, that's Episode VI) when Leia is pregnant with her and Solo's twins, and Luke is trying to figure out how to become a better and stronger Jedi so he can lead and teach others. We meet a few new characters, including the kick-butt Mara Jade and the super strategist Grand Admiral Thrawn, from whom this book trilogy gets its name. I guess I should also clarify this book is classified as non-canon now.

Thrawn is hell-bent on destroying the New Republic with the goal of restoring the Empire to glory. It's well-paced and fun to read, and the author really has a great sense of the characters. If you enjoyed the movies, you should have no problems diving into these and actually seeing the scenes play out in your head.

Being the first of a trilogy of books, it should be obvious that Thrawn is no chump. The danger he poses to the main characters feels real and bears a lot of weight because you know their problems aren't over with the first book. Very exciting, because we know that they're going to pull some fab narrow escapes and fancy maneuvers to get out of each scrape. And that's one of the things I love most about Star Wars.

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

This graphic novel was gifted to me by my fellow Rioter and Panelteer Brenna, who got me as her gift exchange recipient person. I pretty much started and finished it on the very day it was delivered to my door.

Rose and Windy are pals who see each other every summer at this beach-side cottage getaway along with their families. They're 15 in this story, which makes them a little too old for some things they always enjoyed doing, but too young for some of the teen-age/new adult/parental drama that's going on. The book has this quiet sort of atmosphere to it - it's hard to explain, I just felt "quiet" reading it. It isn't colorful and the panels are hand-drawn and everything has this awesome mix of manga-like toning and brush strokes like an ink painting.

There is and there isn't an over-arching plot: there's stuff going on, but the focus is more inward, more on the two main characters and how they're dealing with all the stuff going on around them than the events themselves. And of course, how they help each other deal. The book touches upon some of the bigger issues that plague teens at their age, like sex and gender, as well as the different kinds of relationships they may have with their parents.

Great book about growing up, and gorgeous presentation by First Second and everyone who participated in its design.

Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

I picked this up at my village library because, more than anything else, I was surprised to see it there. Being in Japan, and out in the countryside, a lot of the books in the English language section are either cook books, picture books, children's fiction, some middle grade and young adult, and a good chunk of classics. I didn't expect to see fiction about a stylish London girl who is up to her eyeballs in debt because she can't resist shopping despite being a financial journalist and really knowing better. It seemed fun and random enough that I grabbed it.

I've seen the movie adaptation once, a long time ago, and I was surprised to find that the book was much kinder to the protagonist. At least, my vague memory of the film is I spent a lot of time cringing and feeling really embarrassed for her, but I liked this book version much better. Rebecca is quite silly and easily distracted most of the time, but I enjoyed her internal monologues and day-dreaming. Fine little fluff, easy to read, had some laughs.

Don't jump into this expecting anything deep or some complicated plot - it's a fun read and things just kind of happen. The entire thing is written in the present tense, which I'm not really used to. I mentioned before I picked this book up because it surprised me to see it at my local library, but there's more: I also grabbed it because I like to drop wild card books that I normally wouldn't into my reading pile now and again. Variety is the spice of life, right? Anyway, am glad I picked this one.

Book Review: ALISTAIR GRIM'S ODDITORIUM by Gregory Funaro

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Grubb, age twelve (or thereabouts), has never known anything beyond his miserable existence as a chimney sweep, paid only in insults and abuse by his cruel master.

All of that changes the day he stows away in the coach belonging to a mysterious guest at the inn that he is tasked with cleaning. Grubb emerges from Alistair Grim's trunk and into the wondrous world of the Odditorium. Fueled by a glowing blue energy that Grubb can only begin to understand, the Odditorium is home to countless enchanted objects and an eccentric crew that embraces Grubb as one of their own.

There's no time for Grubb to settle into his new role as apprentice to the strange, secretive Mr. Grim. When the Odditorium comes under attack, Grubb is whisked off on a perilous adventure. Only he can prevent the Odditorium's magic from falling into evil hands-and his new family from suffering a terrible fate.

Grubb knows he's no hero. He's just a chimney sweep. But armed with only his courage and wits, Grubb will confront the life-or-death battle he alone is destined to fight.

I picked this book up right away when I saw the description (above) because it reminded me a lot of Howl's Moving Castle. I love the idea of magical houses and fighting off demons and all that, and the rest seemed fun enough: a chimney sweep stowaway, magical creatures, and the families we choose.

I wasn't disappointed: Alistair Grim's Odditorium is a fun read. It's written in the first person (perspective of Grubb) in a super conversational tone, one you can't help but put a voice to and imagine narrating over some animated version of what you're reading. Being a book for younger readers (grades 3-7), there was a lot of repetition in the form of catch phrases and little quirks of the various characters, but that didn't bother me all that much as an adult reader. And for the kids who need a little extra help sorting out who and what everything is, there's a super helpful glossary at the back of the book.

The illustrations are absolutely fantastic. I was delighted by Vivienne To's work in the book, which wasn't just little general sketches to set the scene for any one chapter, but very specific depictions of what was going on. She captures the mood and urgency and, sometimes, total scariness of some scenes wonderfully. I only wish there had been more pictures, haha. For a look at To's work, here's a link to her website. You can also follow her work on Tumblr.

The Odditorium was fun to explore with Grubb. It wasn't overly-complicated, which is a big plus, and everything was paced rather well. There was even a point where Grubb took the time to explain something that he didn't know at the the time of his narrative in order to help the reader visualize the situation he was in better - that's something I like about first person storytelling when done right. I also love that Mr Grim controls the Odditorium with a huge organ, as it added an amazing soundtrack in my brain to some scenes.

I recommend picking this book up when it's released January 2015, particularly if you've got a kid to share the story with. Of course, if you're the type to read children's fiction on your own, this is, again, a fun ride and a nice addition to the reading pile. It's a long read, which I think is pretty great; a good challenge for younger readers, though that might work against it finding a wide audience. It's also the first in a series, which, again, I think is great. I was interested enough in what happens next that I definitely see myself reading on.

Bonus: if you're interested in seeing how the book cover was created, the story and work behind it by Su Blackwell is pretty amazing - that's a paper model of the Odditorium!

Bonus 2: Read an excerpt of this book over at Disney Hyperion.

Disclaimer/transparency: I received this ARC via Netgalley.



Bite-Sized Book Reviews: Diana Wynne Jones triple feature (Chrestomanci)

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In my continued quest to eventually read all of Diana Wynne Jones' works, I've started picking up the Christomanci books (thanks to my local library). As it turns out, you could pretty much jump in with any book in the series, which is nice. Although some characters pop in for cameos in other stories, the books can all pretty much stand on their own, much in the same way the Howl books do.

I started with Charmed Life since it seemed like a good basis for all the rest, and just went on from there. My thoughts are as follows:

Listen to a bestseller for $7.49 at audible.com!

Charmed Life

I'm a sucker for magical worlds, and on that front Jones delivers in spades. But more than that, Charmed Life was (for me) about relationships and self-discovery. Because the main character Cat spends most of the book unable to perform magic, it kind of took a back seat though magical events happened all around him all the time.

The basic storyline is that he and his bratty, but precocious sister are adopted by the Chrestomanci and taken under his care at his castle. Cat spends most of the book feeling nervous about the things happening around him and generally follows his sister around like a lost puppy, but of course, things eventually change for the better.

It's a lovely story, and Jones does such a fantastic job writing the various characters here - especially that awful sister of Cat's, who was practically a caricature. I was so frustrated with her! But I wasn't so frustrated that it was grating, making me want to put the book down.

I recommend Charmed Life for readers young and old, and also recommend it as your first read in this series.

The Lives of Christopher Chant

Though this story doesn't tie in directly to the events of Charmed Life, it does explain quite a lot of what leads up to it.

Lives is the backstory of Christopher Chant, who is the Chrestomanci in the book above. In that book, his character makes a comment to Cat about how he'd wasted most of his lives in his youth, and the line pretty much describes what we learn in this one.

A young Chant is caught up with some sneaky business with his greedy uncle that leads to his adoption by the Chrestomanci of the time. The adventures only get wilder from there. It doesn't just illustrate the ways Chant squandered his lives (he started with 9), though. The book also tackles important themes like responsibility, fairness, and being aware of the way you make the people around you feel.

I think I appreciated Lives more having read it after Charmed Life, but really it works both ways since you'll see this story's influence in the other's. You'll notice references here and there, something I always find fun. That and, you know, magic. Magic is awesome.

The Magicians of Caprona

Probably for more personal reasons, I found this book delightful. It has tons of personality, and doesn't spend too much time world-building so much as it focuses on the characters.

Caprona hones in on the younger kids of two huge families of magicians that are constantly at war with each other. There's a tiny bit of Romeo & Juliet  tossed in  there, but without the tragic ending. For adult readers, this story is, essentially, nothing new. Two families are in this ridiculous feud with each other and must overcome a greater, very real evil, by working together. The story focuses on the magical adventures of the young ones, and the narrative follows the thoughts of two young boys in particular.

I think what contributed most to my enjoyment of this one was the Big Family aspect: kids and aunts and cousins and animals everywhere and every personality type you'd expect to have in any big group. It reminded me of my own family, and of course, as I briefly mentioned at the start of this section, a lot of time was dedicated to fleshing out the characters despite the large cast. It gave the book a fantastic sense of movement and familiarity (speaking for myself), and yeah. It comes highly recommended by me.