Thursday, January 11, 2018

Giveaway! Keep Her by Leora Krygier (US Only)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I am giving away my advanced reader's copy of Keep Her by Leora Krygier. It was one of my top reads of 2017 and you can check out my review of it HERE. I have also included a description below:

Destiny doesn’t factor into seventeen-year-old adoptee Maddie’s rational world, where numbers and scientific probability have always proven to be the only things she can count on as safe and reliable. Still, Maddie is also an artist who draws on instinct and intuition to create the collages she makes from photographs and the castoff scraps she saves. But when her brother falls in with a Los Angeles street gang, Maddie loses her ability to create art.

Then fate deals Maddie a card she can’t ignore: Aiden, a young filmmaker she meets when a water main bursts inside a camera store. Aiden is haunted by the death of his younger brother, and a life-changing decision he must now make—whether or not to keep his baby daughter. Caught in a whirlpool of love and loss, Maddie and Aiden find that art and numbers, a mission to save endangered whales, and a worn-out copy of Moby Dick all collide to heal and save them both.

Disclosure: this post contains links to an affiliate program (Amazon), for which I receive a few cents if you make purchases.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Looking Back at 2017

I wish I could go through all 62 books I read last year and tell you about them, but neither of us have time for that, so here is a condensed version. If you want to see all the books I read in 2017, you can see them on Goodreads here!

Top 10 (not counting rereads of favorites)
This is really difficult because there is such a wide range of reason why I love any given book. Sometimes it is the plot, sometimes it is the emotions it evokes, the things it teaches me, the characters and more. Sometimes I love books because of one of these things, sometimes for a combination. I read a lot of great books this year, so if I made this list another day it might look slightly different, but these are the top ten that most stood out to me when I went through the books I read last year today. In no particular order:

Captive Prince short stories  - The Summer Palace and The Adventures of Charls the Veretian cloth merchant by C.S. Pacat
I’m counting these as one since they are so short and are part of the same work. I was so happy when C.S. Pacat announced she would be releasing a series of short stories set in the same story universe as her Captive Prince series (one of my all time favorites) and these short stories have not disappointed. They read like amazingly well-written fanfiction, but they are canon and thinking about the fact that they exist and what they add to the story universe makes me smile.

Fence by C.S. Pacat
If I love a certain author, I will read anything they work on. When C.S. Pacat announced she was working on a comic in the style of sports anime like Yuri!!! On Ice (one of my favorite TV shows) I knew I would love it. The first installment was amazing, so I was super excited to hear that Boom! Studios has picked it up as an ongoing series since the preorders for the first few issues were so successful.

The Year of Four by Nya Jade
This is one of my favorite books I was asked to review this year. It is one of those quintessential Young Adult novel set at a supernatural boarding school. There are plot twists, a forbidden romance, and the sense that the protagonist doesn’t know as much about her identity as she thinks she does. This felt like something a major publisher would pick up in a heartbeat, and I am surprised more people haven’t heard about it. If you’re a YA person, I highly recommend this one. I’m reading book two right now and can’t wait to see what happens!

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
I was really excited to start this book since I loved the authors previous book Between Shades of Gray. Both these books are set around WWII, but in areas that do not get a lot of air time – probably because it paints the US or its allies during the war in a bad light. (Between Shades of Gray takes place in a Siberian prison camp and this book takes place around the maritime tragedy of the Wilhelm Gustloff.)This book was beautiful and heartbreaking and full of history. I’ve grown to love historical fiction, because when it is done well it tells an amazing story, but also educates me about history in an in-depth way that might get glossed over in text books.  

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde
I read this book for my Queer Literature and Theory class and is one of the books that has gotten me more interested in memoirs lately. One of the things I am very grateful for about taking that class is being exposed to books by and about queer people that were published longer ago than just a decade. These older queer books exist, but since many aren’t “mainstream” I hadn’t known about them. I had heard of Oscar Wilde and that was pretty much it. This book chronicles Audre’s life as a black, queer woman living in the middle of the twentieth century talks a lot about the intersections of these identities before the term “intersectionality” was coined. The prose is also beautiful and I loved how the events of the book were structured. If you haven’t read this book, I really recommend you do!

Peril at End House by Agatha Christie
This was my first Christie novel and I read it for my Crime Fiction class. I loved how clever the puzzle of the plot was. It had one of those endings that I did not see coming at all, but as soon as it ended, I looked back and realized the answer was right in front of me all along! Christie also does some really interesting things with gender expectations that I enjoyed.

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo
Along with C.S Pacat, Leigh Bardugo is my other favorite author right now. I want to be her when I grow up. Although her Six of Crows duology is still my favorite, the ending to her Grishaverse trilogy was amazing. Her world-building – especially her ability to draw on real life history and mythology to create a history and mythology in her story world – is amazing. And the characters are all amazing. I love them. I love her.

Keep Her by Leora Krygier
This is another one of my favorite review books I read this year. I read this author’s other fiction book, When She Sleeps, when I was in middle school and it made a big impression on me. Krygier has this magical quality about her writing that makes things skirt between realism and magical realism that is really beautiful. I loved how Keep Her was told through an alternation of regular narrative and letters, also the cover is gorgeous. Keep Her is one of those books that even though it is published by a small press and not many people have read it, it feels like more people should have read it by now since it is that good.

On Being Insane by Elliot Keenan
This is a memoir published by Dreaming Big Publications, where I work as an intern. It’s hard to believe that the author of this book is my age, because he is so insightful and reflective. I really liked how his story of his life was not always linear, but somehow flowed really, really well. The main focus of his memoir are how his intersecting identities as a person with Aspergers and bipolar depression and being trans have shaped his life so far. Given my interest in reading and boosting Own Voices works, I knew right away that this is a book I wanted to review for DBP and now it is one of my top ten for the year. I highly recommend you check it out (and other books by Dreaming Big Publications) its only about 100 pages, so it’s a quick one!

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
I heard about this book through a feature on Vice News and was very intrigued by the premise and the fact that its audiobook got an award for most voice actors used ever. I listened to it on audiobook, and even though it was hard (impossible) to keep track of all those different voice actors, I did like that Nick Offerman was one of the prominent ones. It is much more literary and experimental than books I usually read – it is very metaphorical and interweaves quoted excerpts from historical documents with the text. The end result is a very original story that is touching and surprising.

One I Most want to reread:
Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong
This is another work I read for my Queer Lit and Theory class, and it is one of the few books I did not sell back at the end of the term because I knew I wanted to reread it. This is a collection of poetry, but it is so personal that it feels like a memoir. One of the most powerful things about this collection is that, while some poems do make “sense” in a narrative sense, many do not. But these poems do conjure up very vivid images that evoked strong emotions in me, even though I wasn’t always sure why. I’d love to reread it some time when I am not rushing to get it down and digested for class and to take my time sitting with the imagery more.

Biggest Page Turner:
All For The Game trilogy by Nora Sakavic
This is a series that I’ve seen a lot of buzz online for. And while I did not quite like it enough to put it in my top ten, I couldn’t put it down. I’m serious, it was bad. I was reading it during my busiest part of the semester, but I couldn’t work on homework because I had to know what happened next. I spent time putting together a playlist to listen to while I read it and everything.  It would make a killer TV series. And this should also go under the category of worst book hangover for 2017 as well. After I finished it I literally felt listless for several days because I had been riding this rollercoaster for so long and suddenly it was over. I couldn’t start a new book for a while because it was All For the Game. Luckily that feeling passed, but, holy cow, it was intense for a minute there.

Most Disappointing:
Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan
All these categories are pretty positive because, luckily, I really liked the vast majority of the books I read this year. While I didn’t hate Tell the Wind and Fire, I was disappointed by it. Part of the reason is because I was so excited to read it in the first place. I was approved to get an advance copy from Netgalley, and this was exciting because the author is fairly well known and I had never been approved to read a book on Netgalley by a famous author before. There was also a lot of hype around the book that made me think I’d like it. When I started reading it I noticed that the main character’s name was Lucie Manette and I was like “oh, she’s named after the chick from a Tale of Two Cities,” but didn’t think much of it, since Cassandra Clare, another famous YA author, has a character named Lucie who is also named about the Dickens novel character. As I was reading, though, the plot seemed suspiciously familiar and I felt like I was in a throwback to my high school sophomore English class. I thought it was weird that a book that is so obviously a retelling of ATTC does not mention that anywhere in its promotion. It’s not even inspired by the book, it is a step by step retelling. I knew what would happen next in Tell the Wind and Fire because I remembered what happened in ATTC. It’s not that I have anything against retellings, if they are done well I love them, but the book just didn’t do anything with the original story. It was set in a futuristic, magical New York, but that setting felt like window dressing when it could have been used to add something to the original story, or relate it more to contemporary issues, or propose an alternate ending. Something. I’m sure plenty of people loved this retelling, but it just felt like it was missing something to me.

Favorite Play:
Angels in America by Tony Kushner
Honorable Mention: 
Roaring Girl by Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton
I had several play-heavy classes this semester, so I figured it was only fitting that I have a category to talk about a few of them. The standout by far for me was Angels in America. It is an incredibly emotional and weaves in so many themes about America and life in general. We also watched the HBO series as part of the class, and seeing it performed made me love it even more. I hope I can see it live one day.

I put Roaring Girl as an honorable mention because even though the plot does not stand out in my mind the main character, Moll Cutpurse, stood out quite a bit. She is based on a historical woman who lived at the time the play came out (Elizabethan England) and was known for dressing like a man and fencing. Truly an early queer/feminist icon who needs more attention than she gets.

Most Interesting:
Lion Island: Cuba’s Warrior of Words by Margarita Engle
I loved the history in this book! Again, it is another example of history that is not taught in school that is super important nonetheless. One of the characters is a refugee who moved to Cuba from the US seeking to escape hate crimes against people of Chinese descent. I was also interested by the fact that it is a novel told in verse. I have seen some verse novels out there, but I think this was my first time reading one. I still prefer prose, but I liked having a chance to try something new.

What were your standout reads from 2017?

Disclosure: this post contains links to an affiliate program (Amazon), for which I receive a few cents if you make purchases.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Spotlight: Looking for Dei

Fifteen-year-old Nara Dall has never liked secrets. Yet it seems that her life has been filled with them, from the ugly scar on her back to the strange powers she possesses. Her adoptive father refuses to say anything about her origins, and soon, she and her best friend must attend the announcement ceremony, in which youths are tested for a magical gift.

     A gifted youth has not been announced in the poor village of Dimmitt for decades. When Nara uncovers the reason, she uses her own powers to make things right. The decision sets her on a path of danger and discovery, shaking the Great Land to its foundations. In the process, she learns the truth about herself and uncovers the biggest secret of all: the power of broken people. 

About the Author:
David A. Willson grew up throughout the western United States, including Alaska, California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Amid the change, he found books to be his happy place, reading science fiction and fantasy. As he moved to adulthood, he began to enjoy mainstream fiction, but it never held the place in his heart that magic and spaceships always did.

Throughout his life, a recurring interest has been the protection of children. Whether it be raising his own kids or protecting others, child welfare has been a primary effort, both personally and professionally. As he gets closer to retirement, he hopes to inspire and encourage youth through his creative efforts. His first novel, Looking for Dei, is the first step in that direction.

Amazon Preorder today!

Disclosure: this post contains links to an affiliate program (Amazon), for which I receive a few cents if you make purchases.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Spotlight: The Blood Prince

About the Book:
Until two years ago, Rainbow was ruled by dragumens. Now, there’s a human Empress on the throne, and she rules with an iron fist. Breaking promises after promises, she controls the people with lies, taxes, and murder. Everywhere in the land, rebellion is brewing. Gangav, the fallen dragumen prince who wants nothing more than revenge, rallies humans and dragumens to his cause. Sasha, his best friend and fiercest supporter, is eager to help him and is spoiling for a fight. Alexander on the other hand never wanted to be a part of it, but finds himself with no other choice when tragedy strikes home, bringing the cruelty of the empress to his doorstep. When news of a spy amongst their ranks turns everything on its head and the sudden outbreak of a new illness threatens the safety of the rebels, the three of them must find a way to relocate their camp before they are discovered, or the rebellion may very well end before it even begins. The first book in the Scale Hearts trilogy, The Blood Prince is a story about dragons and rebellions, but also about inner strength and figuring out your place in the world.

About the Author:
Marie Blanchet is a designer by day and a writer by night, which means that she doesn’t really sleep a lot. Graduated from the UniversitĂ© du QuĂ©bec en Outaouais in graphic design and comic arts in 2014, Marie has since gone on to write a webcomic and work full time in graphic design. The Blood Prince is her first novel, and she intends to write a great many more. She loves fantasy and sci-fi, long walks in the forest, and taking pictures of her rabbit.


Disclosure: this post contains links to an affiliate program (Amazon), for which I receive a few cents if you make purchases.

Review: On Being Insane

Title: On Being Insane: In Search of My Missing Pieces
Author: Elliot Gavin Keenan
Page Count: 106
My Rating: 4.5 TURTLES: A really great read, I highly recommend!
*I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review

After being diagnosed with Asperger's Disorder at age seven, Elliot becomes fascinated with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the Bible of American psychiatry) and its enumeration, categorization, and systematization of innate human differences. This specialized knowledge of the DSM's rules and codes comes in handy as Elliot struggles through multiple psychiatric hospitalizations for severe bipolar depression, but his dreams of being a clinical psychologist seem ever further out of reach until a kindly professor and autism scientist termed herein as Dr. Pinball takes notice of his abilities. This is a story of one young man's searching: for sanity, for stability, and for the people who understand. They may be found in unlikely places.

Wow, I cannot believe something this insightful and well-constructed was written by someone my age! Partially due to the classes I took this semester, I have been reading more memoirs than usual and there is something about the somewhat meandering flow of anecdotes and timelines that I really like about the genre and that I think this book does very well. It is also an incredibly honest self-examination, which I have also something it shares with the memoirs that have made the biggest impact on me.

I also think this book is really important because the author is so open about his Aspergers, bipolar depression, and trans identity. There are nowhere near enough stories, especially own voices stories, about people any of these identities, let alone with them intersecting. This memoir is so important for this reason because it is enlightening and informing for people who do not know what it is like to live as a queer person or a person with Aspergers or bipolar depression and could be really empowering and affirming for other people who do have these identities.

I really, highly recommend this book. I do have to disclaim that I work for the company that published it, but I promise I am not overly hyping my opinion because of that. This is a well-written and insightful book (and a quick read, around 100 pages!) I am excited to see what Elliot Keenan will write next!

Disclosure: this post contains links to an affiliate program (Amazon), for which I receive a few cents if you make purchases.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Review: Dream Eater

Title: Dream Eater (A Portland Hafu novel)
Author: K. Bird Lincoln
Page Count: 219
My Rating3.5 TURTLES: A very enjoyable read, I recommend you check it out.
*I got this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Koi Pierce dreams other peoples' dreams.

Her whole life she's avoided other people. Any skin-to-skin contact--a hug from her sister, the hand of a barista at Stumptown coffee--transfers flashes of that person's most intense dreams. It's enough to make anyone a hermit.

But Koi's getting her act together. No matter what, this time she's going to finish her degree at Portland Community College and get a real life. Of course it's not going to be that easy. Her father, increasingly disturbed from Altzheimer's disease, a dream fragment of a dead girl from the casual brush of a creepy PCC professor's hand, and a mysterious stranger who speaks the same rare Northern Japanese dialect as Koi's father will force Koi to learn to trust in the help of others, as well as face the truth about herself.

I got an advanced copy of this book from Netgalley a while back, and now that it has been out a while I have finally gotten to reviewing it. I got pretty far behind in reviewing this semester, but my winter break has given me some time to slowly get caught up. I became aware of Dream Eater through the publisher’s newsletter, which I have been on for a while, and the premise really grabbed me. I love fantasy books that use real mythology as its starting point (Rick Riordan remains one of my favorite authors) and it is set in my hometown of Portland, so I was intrigued by the setting too. Also, the cover is gorgeous and badass.

I really liked how the mythology was used in the book. Most of it that is in the book is Japanese and Native American with some Middle Eastern mythology woven in, but I got the feeling that the myths in this world go far beyond that. I loved how the different powers of the different creatures manifested and how well thought out the politics of the “Kind” were. I’m not sure if this is going to be a series, but there certainly feels like there is a lot more to explore here.

Another thing I really appreciated about the book was its diverse cast of characters. The main character, Koi, and her sister, for example, are of Japanese and Hawaiian descent and the two other most important characters are also Japanese. I checked my Goodreads page just now, and out of the 62 books I read this year, only one other book had its main character be of Asian descent and just a few more had important secondary characters or authors of Asian descent, and while I don’t have exact numbers, I know my sample of books is indicative of a larger pattern in publishing. As many of you likely know, there is a huge lack of non-white main characters in Young Adult/New Adult novels. Thankfully, this has been changing somewhat recently, but many groups like Asian-Americans are still very underrepresented. As someone who knows how important being able to see aspects of one’s identity in media is, I really appreciated the representation going on in this book, particularly since the novel highlights Koi’s cultural heritage and makes it important to who she is as a character. I hope to read many more books like Dream Eater in that sense in the future.

Another thing I really liked about the book was how well thought out the setting was. I knew the author really had a map of the city in her head (or in front of her on Google Maps) as she was writing. It was especially engaging since, as a native Portlander, I have been to and could picture many of the places in the book.

Having said that, there were some aspects of how the setting was portrayed that I wasn’t a huge fan of. In a way, it felt like the book really wanted us to know how well it knew Portland, so there is a lot of namedropping of places in Portland. A lot. And while I might know that Uwajimaya is a super awesome Asian superstore, the vast majority of people reading this book will not and might be confused when Koi mentioned that she goes there sometimes and gives no context for what it is. This odd specific namedropping didn’t just happen with places. Koi mentions several times that she is craving chocolate or that chocolate will improve her mood, but instead of saying “chocolate,” each time she says a different specific bar from a specific brand. Sometimes the bar name would be five or six words long, and it felt like more specificity than I needed for a hypothetical candy the character thinks in passing she is in the mood for.

There were a few other instances where the novel went a little overboard with making sure we knew it took place in Portland. For one, it kept telling us. The weather wasn’t just the weather, it was the “Portland weather” which, to some extent could have made sense since many Portlanders do think of rainy/misty weather as “Portland weather,” but there were other things labelled as “Portland” that didn’t make sense. For example if Koi falls, she lands on “Portland moss.” There is no such thing, there is moss that is in Portland, but at this point in the story, we already know where we are, and the repeated reminders felt like overkill.

Also, on top of the namedropping and the unnecessary labelling of things as “Portland”, Koi apparently can’t even think metaphorically in a way that isn’t Portland related. Instead of saying “I was so tired I felt like I had run a marathon” or something else more general or widely used, she said “I felt like I had swum the length of the Willamette” (which is a river that runs through Portland, though I don’t think the book ever mentions that) or “I felt like I had just run the Portland Hood to Coast marathon.” First of all, it isn’t even a marathon, it’s a 200 mile relay race from Mt. Hood to the Oregon coast, second of all, it isn’t the “Portland” Hood to Coast, it’s just Hood to Coast. I think the route might go through Portland, but again – 200 miles, Portland is just a stop along the way. Also, the only two TV shows that are mentioned in the book are Leverage and Grimm – both of which are filmed in, you guessed it, Portland.

So while to some extent I really enjoyed being able to completely picture where every place in the story was, at times I also felt a bit like rolling my eyes at the overkill of it sometimes. I’d be curious to see if it is as obvious to someone who does not know the city as well or if it was just me.

While this book had its ups and downs for me, overall I did like it and would likely read the sequel should one come out. If you are a fan of New Adult, mythology, or urban fantasy, I suggest you give it a go.

Disclosure: this post contains links to an affiliate program (Amazon), for which I receive a few cents if you make purchases.

Spotlight: The War Ender's Apprentice

About the book:
In the chaotic universe, many intelligent species are on the brink of war, but the Guild holds the violence at bay to foster peaceful trade. The most renowned War Ender is Lady Alana of House Eyreid. Alana hopes to train her nephew Roark, in her vocation. 

It was supposed to be a simple training mission aboard an Interrealm slave ship. However, when Alana finds her people enslaved, she murders the crew and rescues every slave—whether criminal, dishonored, or stolen. A fleeting vision of Roark's future compels her to offer the newly freed Eohan a War Ender’s education. 

For her vision to come true, Alana must rescue Eohan’s young brother who was sold in the last port and lost somewhere in the Realms, but first, they have a war to end.

About the author:
Prior to becoming an author, Elizabeth Guizzetti worked as an artist. She created the graphic novels, Faminelands and Lure, and the comic book series Out for Souls & Cookies. Other Systems is her first published novel. She currently lives in Seattle, WA with her husband and two dogs

Disclosure: this post contains links to an affiliate program (Amazon), for which I receive a few cents if you make purchases.