Tuesday, 22 May 2018

A Review of I am Thunder

I am Thunder is a book by Muhammed Khan. Muzna Saleem is a British-Pakistani Muslim who has recently moved schools. There, she meets Arif Malik, who displays an interest in her. Muzna is flattered by his attention, but he and his brother are hiding a dark secret. Can Muzna find her courage and her voice before it is too late?

Please read reviews from Muslims about this book, too. I can only speak for myself and within the confines of my own experience. However, this is exactly what I like from a YA book.

Even though I hate to do this, I must compare this book to Love, Hate and Other Filters, another book focusing strongly on Islamophobia and terrorism that came out this year. While Love, Hate and Other Filters stays away from (un)Islamic extremism, this book attacks it with a sledgehammer. And I think we need both approaches. We need to see how Muslims are affected when the attacker isn't Muslim, and we need to see how terrorism affects their communities, too.

So, when I said that this is what I like in a YA book, I mean that because it shows what you should do, rather than a what not to do. People (and that includes everyone, because terrorism isn't only a Muslim concern) need to know what they should do if they have information relating to any sort of attack. Going to the police is one way, and the book also mentions an anonymous hotline, which I mention because I know going to the police isn't safe for everyone. Spoiler: We see Muzna going to the police with her information. /spoiler

I also liked Muzna's character. She's awkward and quiet and scared, with most of the book showing her that she does have a voice which can be used to change things. She absolutely shows that teenagers can change the world. She wants to write, she wants to write her story and stories about people like her. And she also explores her faith during this book. She had been raised less religiously than many, but hanging out with Arif and Jamal is leading to more pressure on her to conform to their idea of her faith. Spoiler: she finds a path of Islam in the end that she likes and that works for her. /spoiler

Another thing I loved was Muzna's struggle with facial hair. This is the first YA book that I've seen actually mention this! This is what I needed - you're not the only one, it is normal but it can be a sign of things so it's best to get it checked at the GPs and maybe they can help. I've written about my struggles with chin hair here, and despite going through an expensive and painful procedure, it seems to be coming back. I actually kind of want to just hold be head up and be all "oh, so what?"

One thing, though - you can tell this book was written by a teacher. One of the coolest adults in the book is a teacher, and there's a lot of attention to detail about the school. One of these was the mention of SIMs, which I literally had to send to my best friend going "hey, remember this?" because it was what our school used.

I would recommend this to people who want to know more about the experiences of Muslims in Britain.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Bookish This or That Tag by Paper Fury

So I am shamelessly stealing borrowing with permission this book tag by Cait from Paper Fury. Ten bookish questions with two choices. Self-explanatory, so lets dive right in!

1. Series or Standalone?

Uhhh this one was hard because I do read both. But like... what if I lose interest in a series halfway through? What if it's cancelled? What if I can't remember the previous books when a new one came out? So many "what ifs" for series. And like, this is nothing against series. Some of my favourite books are series! A good standalone can put as much into it as some trilogies. And I don't enjoy it when a book is artificially expanded to make a series...

So, my winner - Standalones.

2. Magic Earned or Magic Born?

Well see, the thing here is that these aren't mutually exclusive. Someone can be born with magical powers, but have to work hard to perfect them. And honestly, I love that. It's very similar to real life and a good message to take away that you may have a talent, but you have to work to perfect it.

So, I went for Magic Born.

3. Enemies to Lovers or Friends to Lovers

When done well, these are both good. When done badly, I dislike them both. Friends to lovers can make a relationship feel natural in it's development, but can also lead to the assumption that two people of the same orientation cannot be friends. Enemies to lovers can make for great banter, but can also make people believe that someone is only mean to them because they love them, and that's a host of problematicness.

Sooo... Friends to Lovers

4. Hilarious Banter or Emotional Ruin

Hm, again these aren't mutually exclusive. Books with hilarious banter can also end up emotionally ruining me if everything goes wrong for the sarcastic little darlings at the end. Hilarious banter is great to read and can lighten the tone, but emotional ruin books can have a huge impact when I find myself sobbing ten days after reading.

I went for Emotional Ruin

5. Love Triangle or Insta Love

Look, this might be unpopular, but I think Insta Love can be done well. When it's used just for initial attraction and the rest of the book is characters finding out that first impressions are not always right? I like that. I think people do form opinions of people based on first meetings, and while it's not always good to hold an idealised image of someone in your head, it does happen. Romeo and Juliet was basically built around the concept of breaking up Insta Love.

I was meant to be defending Insta Love, but I've ended up talking more about why it doesn't work. But you'll pry my love-at-first-sight fairy tales from my cold dead hands, and I think I dislike love triangles slightly more at this point.

Okay, fine, Insta Love.

6. Keyboard-smash Fantasy Names or Names that all Start With the Same Letter

Hmm. Right. Names that all start with the same letter.

That's it, that's my answer, and it's not even close. It's more realistic. At least have some consistent rules for your fantasy names that fit in with the supposed language of the world.

7. Mean Parents or Dead Parents

urgh I haven't been loving either recently, to be honest. Dead parents hit too close to home, and I've liked reading about good parents and families that make me feel all fluffy inside. I think it's important for teenagers to read about healthy relationships with parents so they have a level of understanding of what that is. But if they read about mean parents, teens learn that it's sometimes okay to break away from bad parents or cut contact. And with dead parents, teens can understand all the different ways grief can manifest in a person. And it helps me to read about others going through what I went through.

So... Dead Parents.

8. Supermodel Looks or Constantly Saying how Plain they are

Well again, these aren't mutually exclusive. There's nothing worse than a character who everyone treats as the former but thinks herself to be the latter. But than... it's ingrained in people not to be vain and to not admit if they are pretty, and when you are bombarded with images of the most beautiful people, it's hard to compare your everyday self on those terms. So maybe that is just a realistic response to societal ridiculousness.

I went for Supermodel Looks, because I think YA could actually do with a few more characters who know they're pretty and don't treat it like a forbidden term.

9. Face on the Cover or Typography on the Cover

Okay, a title in a nice font that fits in with the tone of the story is lovely. A face cover that represents the protagonist and shows them having fun on enjoying themself in some way? Awesome! A good example of one of my favourites is When Dimple Met Rishi. And I understand that face covers can be important for representation.

Both together is obviously best here, but I'd go with Face on the Cover.

10. Villain Turning a Little Good or Hero Turning a Little Bad

I really like heroes that have to make hard choices to save the world. And sometimes these aren't always good choices either way. And I love when they snap under the pressure and get angry the the world - well, not love, but it's realistic in any case. Slightly flawed heroes are the best kinds.

Final answer, Hero Turning a Little Bad.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

A Review of The Astonishing Color of After

The Astonishing Color of After is a book by Emily X.R. Pan. After Leigh Chen Sanders mother commits suicide, she travels to Taiwan to reconnect with her grandparents. Having seen her mother as a red bird, she is determined to find out what her mother wants her to remember. With her relationship with Axel, her best friend, becoming weird lately since she kissed him, getting away from home for a time might be exactly what she needs to help her process her grief.

A note: while my edition was titled The Astonishing Colour of After, within the main text the spelling 'color' was used. As this is a book by an American author, I have chosen to use the American English term.

This book is part magical realism, and part contemporary, part travel book and part book about dealing with grief. You will feel like you are wondering around night markets with Leigh and tasting the delicious food. I will say that I did feel disconnected from the grief part of the story. It didn't feel like the grief I experienced, but than, these were two different circumstances. Leigh's grief is different from my grief, and that's okay. I feel like I also didn't click with Leigh's desire to have a relationship with her grandparents. I barely knew my grandparents - most of them died when I was young - and it's never been anything I've wondered about, because I really didn't know any different.

Leigh did annoy me slightly, but only by making realistic choices I could see a teenager in her shoes making. For example, there was the way she treated Feng, who was only trying to help. Speaking of Feng, I did feel like she was more tied into Leigh's family mystery than she actually seemed, but I didn't guess who she actually was. And I just wanted to shake Leigh and tell her to actually talk to Axel.

I always feel it is important to mention that I am no expert on suicide and depression. I did like how here, depression was named and how Leigh's mother didn't necessarily have reasons to commit suicide. To an outside viewer, she had a good life with a husband and daughter and a talent for the piano. She tried to get help with her depression, but it increasingly became harder to fight. Also, the points where she was getting help did seem to improve her somewhat, and she was off her medication at the end. We never find out why, but not all medication works in the same way for everyone. It can be a long process to find to right sort of help for yourself.

And the painting/art theme is super. I really love it when protagonists in YA have passions, and I really felt Leigh's coming through on the page. It was shown rather than told, and art is really hard to show in a written form since it relies so much on the visual. Pan uses her words to paint a picture in our minds of Leigh's drawings. In fact, most of the teens have something - Axel with music, Caro has her photography and Cheslin has fashion.

There are a few things that bothered me, though. One thing was the constant descriptions of feelings by using colour terms. They weren't common colours, either. Auerolin and indanthene blue are some of those that were used. Personally, they aren't colours I could call to mind if they are mentioned. Also, the chapters kept skipping time periods, sometimes in very quick sucession. One chapter would be in Leigh's present, then we'd be in the recent past, then back to Leigh's present for all of two paragraphs, to set up for us to see Leigh's grandmother as a young girl. There are a lot of chapters for a book this length - over 100 by the end.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoy YA travel books.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

A Review of The Spinster Club series

The Spinster Club is a series by Holly Bourne. The three books are Am I Normal Yet?, How Hard Can Love Be? and What's a Girl Gotta Do?. There is also a sequel novella, And A Happy New Year? Three girls, Evie, Amber and Lottie start up a feminist group called The Spinster Club. Each book focuses on one of the girls, as their own story. Evie has recently been diagnosed with OCD and is trying to fit in, Amber goes to an American summer camp to reconnect with her mother and Lottie attempts to call out every instance of sexism she sees over the course of a month.

I was excited to read these, because I'd heard so much good about this series and had it recommended by many people, and I was excited by the feminism aspect. And because I did enjoy It Only Happens in the Movies, even though I did find some aspects of it problematic, but I didn't get too critical because it did make some important points.

I really liked Am I Normal Yet? - I thought the mental health aspect was very well done. Evie's struggles, plus relatable fears and insecurities, made her a great character. She's not always perfect and sometimes talks about her mental health issues in problematic terms. I also like how the book discusses that no-one is normal. One of their first club meetings have the girls talking about menstruation, and how we should be less ashamed of it. This is absolutely something I agree with, as we need to talk about things to understand why they are happening. Evie then talks about her period and getting bacterial vaginosis, and when have you ever heard that discussed in a YA book? This is what I needed to know about when my vagina started acting up. However, they spend a lot of it saying that periods are what links us as women, and that's just not the case. Not all women have periods and not everyone who has a period is a woman. Evie also seems to think that having your period means you can't make decisions as well, and that's exactly one of the stereotypes I'd like to see changed.

But I really did like the friendship between the three girls, and their drive to change things, even if all they can affect at this time is their own hometown and school

I didn't like How Hard Can Love Be? even half as much. While I like Amber in the other two books, here she's insufferable. And I get it, if someone could properly look into my thoughts I'm sure they wouldn't like me much either. Also, I'm not here for games of "Who-has-it-worse?" when it comes to social justice. The girls try to decide who is better for feminism, the US or the UK, but you can compare and contrast two countries without turning it into a competition. Why not do some research on the different laws of each nation? And you can't compare the US as a whole to the UK as there is so much individual variation between each state, and even within states in some places.

And my other big complaint with this book is the amount of slut-shaming. I was waiting for some point where Amber realises she judged Melody too harshly, like what (sort of?) happened with Jane in the last book. But Melody is such an over-the-top parody of a character that she's hard to take seriously. She could have made for a great point about how hard it is to act like the girl she thinks guys want her to be, while other women look down on her for it, even if she is comfortable in herself.

Oh, and there's this very odd part that fetishises Native Americans and discussions on Twilight and how creepy behaviour is no longer seen as creepy if it comes from someone who's hot. 1) yes it is 2) people have literally been complaining about Edward's controlling behaviour in Twilight since the book came out, don't tell me we don't complain if someone is hot. Oh, and if it's an American summer camp, why does it seem to run on the UK school timetable? Most would have started at the beginning of June, when schools break up. But this one seems to start when Amber gets there, and she's only there for six weeks, right? Which is in fact why summer camps are such a big thing out there, not because American parents don't want to look after their children as Amber assumes, but because most adults literally cannot get thirteen weeks off work. Oh, and can we talk about the sexism inherent in the evil stepmother character? In fact, none of the mothers in this series are particularly brilliant.

So, after How Hard Can Love Be? What's A Girl Gotta Do? seemed a lot better by comparison. There are still things that bothered me, however. Such as, if your feminist anti-capitalism statement makes things harder for minimum wage shop workers, a majority of whom are women, it's probably not either of those things. At least attach signs by string rather than gluing them on. Oh, and I would love to see my beautiful home city used for something other than it's university for a change. In Cambridge, the most common thing you'll see isn't students, it's large groups of tourists with cameras, closely followed by bicycles.

But this book does put some light on issues such as shaving and body hair removal, which I'm pretty close to just going "screw it" with, myself and the fact that we're not wearing make-up for men. It also shows the way in which women are often judged by the media and the way the public respond to that.

And I will end my review with my biggest point. These books focus primarily on white, straight feminist issues. I can understand Bourne not feeling like it was her story to tell, but some diversity in the minor characters and a discussion on intersectional feminism in their FemSoc meetings would have gone a long way to broach the topic.

So, do I recommend these books? Yes, but tentatively. They make a great introduction to feminism, but I would recommend that anyone who reads them starts to do their own research on the topic.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

A Review of The Starbound Trilogy

I fell in love with this series a while ago, just from the covers!
The Starbound Trilogy is a series by dual authors, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. There are three books: These Broken Stars, This Shattered World and Their Fractured Light. It takes place after earth has colonised much of the galaxy, terraforming many planets. Many companies have earned their fortune from the new frontiers of space, and one of these is the corrupt LaRoux Industries. A crashed spaceship sets off a chain of events that involves the daughter of LaRoux Industries owner and a war hero, a young soldier on a recently terraformed planet and a colonist and a con artist and a hacker. These six will find that their lives are linked in ways they don't understand by forces they'll never comprehend.

It's funny how the circumstances surrounding you when you read a book can affect how you feel about it.

I was given These Broken Stars as part of a joint gift from friends right after my mother died, so I couldn't pull off an objective review of this book for anything. It was just what I needed at that particular moment in time - a fun escape, a sci-fi adventure, and a sweeping romance - and was perfect for me to pick up when I needed something to take me away from everything.

However, and thinking about it, it's not the first time we've seen this. A rich young lady, and a poor man fall in love on a doomed (space)ship? A woman hunts for medicine to heal her love interest, suffering from a cut that became infected?

I did appreciate their characters, although again, they're not all that original. Tarver Merendsen is a soldier, war hero and a bit of a cynic, with a softer side, and a love of poetry. Lilac LaRoux is the rich socialite, with everything she could ever want, but with some hidden depths, too. She pretends to be cold and haughty because she's become wary of letting people get too close, and she's good with electronics. They are really the only two characters worth mentioning, since so much of the book is focused on their survival on a strange, deserted planet.

This Shattered World is a completely different kettle of fish. I loved Jubilee Chase, I loved that she was so different from Lilac, loved that she was a military captain. And I'm not saying that Lilac was bad, either - there are different kinds of strength. It's just interesting to see two female protagonists so radically different from each other in the same series.  Flynn Cormac, however, is just so completely nice without being boring that I found myself rooting for both sides. Well, not really rooting - it's one of those wars where you can see where both sides are coming from, but realise that things would be much better if they'd just talk it out.

When writing a kidnapping romance, you have to be careful not to imply things like Stockholm Syndrome. This book does it well. Feelings between Lee and Flynn don't really develop until after Lee is free. There's a much stronger military theme to this one, too, so if you don't like too much romance, you could start with this one. Just bear in mind that Lilac and Tarver do show up, and we also meet Sofia Quinn, protagonist of the next book. It's a well-done conflict, with shades of grey both on the rebels side and the military.

Their Fractured Light is perhaps my favourite book in the series. Sofia is easily my favourite protagonist. I loved how her skills are lying and manipulation, and she's mostly driven by revenge. Unusual for a female YA protagonist. If her first plan doesn't work out, she's got plans B, C and D all ready, and is good at adapting ideas on the fly. Gideon is a brilliant hacker who's forgotten how to trust, how to be with someone without telling a lie. This makes him a good match for Sofia, who has been hiding her identity for a while in order to get close to Roderick LaRoux.

Old friends do pop up in this book, and you will get more out of it if you've read the previous two. Other characters outside of the main six also get more development, too. By the end, I started to wish we could have a heist book with these six working as a team. They really gel, and it's a shame they don't spend more time together.

Kaufman and Spooner write together as one so well that I cannot tell who writes what. Their writing styles complement each other well.

I feel like this would be a hard series to recommend - maybe with too much romance for pure sci-fi lovers, and too much sci-fi for romance fans - but fans of cross-genre books, like me, should love it.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

A Review of Starfish

Starfish is a book by Akemi Dawn Bowman. Kiko Himura struggles with anxiety. She's half-Japanese through her father's side, but feels like she doesn't understand her heritage. Her mother is emotionally abusive and she suffered sexual abuse from her uncle when she was younger. When her uncle moves in with them coupled with a rejection from the art school she wanted to go to, she heads West with Jamie Merrick to rethink about her art.

This book really should come with a trigger warning for emotional and sexual abuse.

That being said, that doesn't mean people shouldn't pick this book up. It's very worth reading. I like that books can allow us to learn about serious topics in a safe way. And that's really what trigger warnings are about - allowing people to pick stuff up when they are ready for it. Starfish manages to write about dark subjects but still in a beautifully written style that makes me see every moment vividly.

All my adoration to Kiko for being an actual geek as well as an art nerd. She likes geeky things, but has her own individual likes and dislikes within those categories. She likes comics and Superhero movies, but doesn't like Batman. She likes video games, especially fantasy ones. I was cheering when an early scene mentions her wearing a Legend of Zelda shirt. She likes Japanese animation as she can see herself in them - her brother is the manga fan.

As many people have said, Kiko is a very realistic depiction of someone with anxiety. However, not everyone with anxiety presents in exactly the same way. I'm okay at doing things by myself, but I often think that people wouldn't want to go with me to places anyway. I don't like starting conversations because I assume people don't want to talk. I hate talking on the phone and big groups. But I've had some of the best experiences of my life when I've pushed myself outside my comfort zone.

The romance, well. Jamie's not perfect. He's sometimes not sure how to handle Kiko's anxiety. And they wasted so much time that wouldn't have been if Jamie had gone around to his childhood friend's house to just say "hey, I'm staying with my cousins nearby, want to get coffee sometime?" But they were sweet. And A++ for her supportive friendship with Emery. I don't know if you could call her relationship with her brothers good, but I think they're at the point where they could contact each other if need be. And I loved the relationship she develops with the Matsumoto's! And with her father's other family, who I believe would have stepped in more if they knew how bad things were for the Kimura children.

And I'm absolutely here for the Japanese food appreciation.

I would recommend this book to people with an interest in art and with anxiety.

Monday, 16 April 2018

A Review of American Panda

American Panda is a novel by Gloria Chao. Mei Lu is a seventeen-year-old starting premed at MIT, since skipping forth grade. She's trying to follow her (parents') dream of her being a doctor, contend with her own phobia of germs, and work in her own love of dance. When she starts having feelings for her classmate Darren Takahashi, and get back in touch with her estranged older brother, will she be able to stand up to her family when it matters most?

I loved it! I went through quite a bit of East Asian and immigrant literature when I was younger, and this can hold it's own with the best of them. And, there is good amounts of food. Not only are food descriptions just fun to read, they help draw you deeper into the world of a book and someone else's shoes.

I love that Mei's relationship with her family, while not solved by the end of the book, get better once she and her mother have a real conversation. From the early part of the book, she and her mother seemed to have a good relationship when it wasn't falling into some standard Asian parenting patterns. This style of parenting is discussed, and deconstructed, quite thoroughly within the book.

Also, there's a lot of girls supporting girls in this book! Mei stands up for her mother against her Aunt and Grandmother, gets on well with her roommate in the end, and discusses her family with Ying-na. I would have actually liked to see more of Helen, Mei's friend from school. She's only in briefly, though.

I also liked how Mei, while not feeling suited to being a doctor, also wasn't uninterested in science. Biology bored her, but she did pick up scientific facts over time, and she did like maths.  I also liked the solution to her dream. She was still doing her dancing on the side and wanting to open her own studio, with her MIT degree as a back-up. I think it is important for people to understand that a back-up plan isn't always a bad idea.

During the early part of the books, Mei gets an itch down below. How many times have you seen this issue discussed in books? Not many? I certainly haven't. This is what I needed when it first happened to me. The causes of something like this are hugely varied - Mei's was caused by her jeans. I needed to actually let someone take a look and not buy over-the-counter thrush creams in the hope they would work, because I was too shy to let someone see.

One of the later parts of the book has Mei going to a comedy club. Stand-up comedy, like music, is one of those things that is hard to represent in novels. So much of it relies on the atmosphere, and listening to the person speaking and their tone of voice. But in this case, I could imagine myself sitting in the club, listening to Ying-na. Her jokes are very, very well-written. Some may have gone over my head, but surely that's all the more reason for someone like me to watch her perform, so that I'd learn something.

I would recommend this book to people who like a cute, fluffy read with a little depth to it.