Read the Margin

Over on Tumblr, Ladybookmad is hosting a readathon called “Read the Margin.” Basically, the idea is that during the month of December, you read books by marginalized authors. It was created in reaction to the tense climate we live in in the wake of US presidential election.

Books are a great tool for creating empathy for the “other” and for getting us to recognize the fundamental humanity in each of us, in spite of our differences. It is important to read diversely, since storytelling is about the human experience. We can’t truly capture it if we’re only focusing on one group of people.

These are the books I picked out for the readathon:

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

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The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

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and The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh

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Check out Ladybookmad’s recommendations here and here

On social media, you can use the tag #readthemargin to bring awareness to the readathon

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Sabaa Tahir Book Discussion/Signing

(Originally posted on my tumblr)

So I thought I was enormously lucky to have SJ Maas come to my area in May and I didn’t think I would get another author again any time soon.

Wrong.

I freaked out a lot. Two authors in one year?? Seriously #blessed

Going to Sabaa’s signing was much better than going to Sarah’s in that this time, my friend (also a big fan of Sabaa’s) came with me and I didn’t have to endure the stress nausea and stress migraine that comes with driving alone on the freeway with a bunch of asshole drivers.

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Seriously this was the cutest indie bookstore I’ve ever seen. They had broomsticks and a snitch hanging from the ceiling!

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I really want to know if those are replicas of the brooms from the movies because they sure look like it

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(Yeah terrible picture but not much I could do about it with the lighting and all)

Because I am a total sap, I got teary when Sabaa was announced and came onstage

Some tidbits:

– Helene is based on an FBI agent that Sabaa interviewed when she was a journalist. In writing Helene’s POV, she became a person – a warrior, but also a person who hurts

– Sabaa hates the term “strong female character” because, for her, strong is already inherent in being a woman

– She finds a way to bring up Harry Potter in every event (she was wearing a Ravenclaw t-shirt that night).

– She likes having lots of villains because it’s like life; her favorite villain to write was the Nightbringer

– She based the tribal city on her memories of Pakistan and her mother’s memories of Pakistan. Likewise the tribal language is based on Urdu

– She read books about prison architecture for Kauf. She joked that her research for Kauf is the kind of thing that puts you on FBI watchlists and so she went to the library because she didn’t want to keep doing it online; she kept getting weird ads for bail bonds

– She hopes readers will take away from her books that hope is stronger than fear and hate. She believes our capacity to hope is what makes us human

– What she needs for writing: chocolate (after writing something soul sucking, she will walk to the store to get chocolate and eat the whole bar) and music (she has specific playlists for characters and pairings)

– Her typical schedule: get up, screw around on the Internet, call family and friends who tell her, “go write your book Sabaa” (had to get an app to help her procrastination on A Torch Against the Night lol), and then sits down and writes. She does her best writing very late in the night

– She read A Monster Calls while flying across the country and cried four times

– Her use of music while writing came from the time in 7th grade when her father decided to get rid of their TV. He thought that she and her brothers weren’t doing very well on their school assignments – “very south Asian parent right there”

– The script is currently being written for Ember (by the same guy who did Narcos on Netflix), but Sabaa reminded us that film projects can stall or be scrapped at any time so who knows at this point

Like the SJM signing, the atmosphere was incredible (seriously, book nerds are the best) and Sabaa was engaging and charming. If you ever have a chance to go to one her events, do it!

Review: Six of Crows

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Rating: 4/5

Synopsis: 

“Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction―if they don’t kill each other first.” – (x)

My thoughts:

Like calls to like. This tenet of Grisha theory pretty much explains why I picked up this book in the first place. Despite not having finished the Grisha trilogy before reading it (not that you really need to anyway), I kept being drawn to Six of Crows. And I’m really glad I was. I think it broke my reading slump.

I will admit, though, that there was a stumbling block – the introduction of Matthias. A character whose “good dreams” were of killing Nina and “bad dreams” were of kissing her? I almost give up there, despite the promising beginning. I didn’t want to have to deal with this mix of violence and sexual desire that is already ubiquitous in our media. But I made myself go on and it became clear that this was part of Matthias’s growth as a character – him unlearning the toxic things of his upbringing.

I am a complete sucker for completely different people teaming up and becoming a family of sorts. I love the way that the gang worked together and teased each other. I love the depth and backstory that went into each of them.

I love the symmetry between Inej and Kaz with them both having PTSD, especially of Inej’s quiet understanding of Kaz being triggered when they took over the slave cart. I though Kaz might turn out like other “bad boy” love interests, where their personal issues and sometimes poor treatment of others around them gets swept under the rug. But Inej flat out tells him that she would have him without his masks or not at all.

I think one of the most important passages in the book is this one: “Nina had wronged him, but she’d done it to protect her people. She’d hurt him, but she’d attempted everything in her power to make things right. She’d shown him in a thousand ways that she was honorable and strong and generous and very human, maybe more vividly human than anyone he’d ever known. And if she was, then Grisha weren’t inherently evil. They were like anyone else – full of the potential to do great good, and also great harm. To ignore that would make Matthias the monster.” (pg. 383)

It’s human nature to dehumanize those who are different from us. This tendency has had disastrous consequences. You only need to see the fear in western media surrounding Muslims and Syrian refugees to realize that. We need to remind ourselves that everyone is human.

Side note: “No mourners, no funerals” has now become my slogan when I try to get through a survival level on Star Wars Battlefront without dying.

(Originally posted on my tumblr)

Review: Salt to the Sea

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis:

World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, theWilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people—adults and children alike—aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

Told in alternating points of view and perfect for fans of Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See, Erik Larson’s Dead Wake, and Elizabeth Wein’s Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity, this masterful work of historical fiction is inspired by the real-life tragedy that was the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloffthe greatest maritime disaster in history. As she did in Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity and love can prevail, even in the darkest of hours. (x)

My Thoughts:

I’m kind of a sucker for World War II novels, so naturally I had to check this out. But reading this left me feeling more frustrated than anything.

The main thing that frustrated me was that the chapters were too short.  This book had so much potential, especially given the fact that Sepetys was writing about a little known tragedy that took place during the war. There was not enough description of the setting and not enough back story of the characters to make the story really come alive for me.

I was very much confused by the character Alfred and the sociopathic tendencies he displayed. He felt like one of those boys that go on shooting rampages at schools and he just seemed out of place in a historical fiction novel.

I did, however, tear up at places, especially when Klaus got attached to the Shoe Poet as his grandfather. I got really attached to Emilia and wanted to protect her from everything. When she talked about the storks in her hometown Lwow (known as Lviv today), I was reminded of when I was in Ukraine. I also loved the connection Joana had to Lina in Between Shades of Gray and that Joana and Florian ended up raising Klaus and Halinka.

Overall, I enjoyed the characters, but the shortness of the chapters left the whole narrative very much lacking.

(Originally posted on my tumblr)

Review: Lady Midnight

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Rating: 4/5

Synopsis: 

“The Shadowhunters of Los Angeles star in the first novel in Cassandra Clare’s newest series, The Dark Artifices, a sequel to the internationally bestselling Mortal Instruments series. Lady Midnight is a Shadowhunters novel.

It’s been five years since the events of City of Heavenly Fire that brought the Shadowhunters to the brink of oblivion. Emma Carstairs is no longer a child in mourning, but a young woman bent on discovering what killed her parents and avenging her losses.

Together with her parabatai Julian Blackthorn, Emma must learn to trust her head and her heart as she investigates a demonic plot that stretches across Los Angeles, from the Sunset Strip to the enchanted sea that pounds the beaches of Santa Monica. If only her heart didn’t lead her in treacherous directions…

Making things even more complicated, Julian’s brother Mark—who was captured by the faeries five years ago—has been returned as a bargaining chip. The faeries are desperate to find out who is murdering their kind—and they need the Shadowhunters’ help to do it. But time works differently in faerie, so Mark has barely aged and doesn’t recognize his family. Can he ever truly return to them? Will the faeries really allow it?

Glitz, glamours, and Shadowhunters abound in this heartrending opening to Cassandra Clare’s Dark Artifices series.” (x)

My Thoughts:

I was wary of picking up this book. Cassandra Clare had already written two complete series about the Shadowhunters and I worried that anything more would become redundant.

But this book exceeded my expectations and it actually felt good to be back in the Shadowhunter world.

The Blackthorn children, Emma, and Cristina immediately captured my heart. I adored their personalities and their relationship dynamics. I loved how Julian’s hardship having to be a parent was explored and seeing how he longed to just be a brother to his siblings instead of a guardian. (I also loved how he didn’t go around being an asshole to everyone because of his angst, which is a popular trope in YA unfortunately.) I loved Emma’s drive to solve her parents’ murder.

Lady Midnight was also refreshing in that we’re introduced to a completely new Institute and that the Blackthorn children incorporated Mundane technology into their lives. LA provided a very dynamic backdrop to the plot, from the beautifully dangerous ocean to the grittiness of the city. The children using Mundane technology gave the feeling that the Shadowhunter world was progressing in some way instead of remaining stagnant.

I worried that Emma and Julian’s forbidden romance would be as grating as Jace and Clary’s but it surprisingly wasn’t for me. The only part that irritated me was Julian rescuing Emma and then them proceeding to have sex on the beach. I personally don’t know who feels like having sex right after they nearly drowned.

Overall I think this book had an interesting exploration of love and how far a person would go for the one they love (in both platonic and romantic relationships) and I look forward to how that carries on in the next books.

Favorite Quotes:

“I’m a Shadowhunter. Quip fast, die young.” – pg. 26

“I don’t care what you all want to talk about, it just can’t involve murder or blood. Any blood.”
“But it’s vampire pizza,” Livvy pointed out. – pg. 99

“God I hate rogue necromancers,” said Magnus. “Why can’t they just follow the rules?”
“Probably because the biggest rule is ‘no necromancy’?” Emma suggested. – pg. 156

“She wished for a moment that she had the words to explain it properly: how loving someone more than you loved yourself gave you strength and courage; how seeing yourself in your parabatai’s eyes meant seeing the best version of yourself; how, at its best, fighting alongside your parabatai was like playing instruments in harmony with one another, each piece of music improving the other.” – pg. 178

“I don’t want to die on the Pacific Coast Highway!” Sterling wailed.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Emma’s voice dripped acid. “Is there a different highway you’d like to die on? BECAUSE WE CAN ARRANGE THAT!” – pg. 456

(Originally posted on my tumblr)

Review: The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

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Summary: “Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…

But Akaran has its own secrets — thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most. . .including herself.” (X)

The Star-Touched Queen was refreshing. The fantasy genre has been stuck in fake-medieval-Europe for a long time now, so a fantasy steeped in Indian mythology is a welcome change. Chokshi writes with beautiful prose and is very good at wordplay. I enjoyed following Mayavati as she struggled to make her own fate, instead of being a victim of an ominous horoscope.

This novel had interesting conversations about fate and how to make decisions that affect a person’s life or a person’s country. Sometimes there is no easy choice; you simply have to make one and deal with the consequences that come with it. My favorite conversation was between Maya and Amar about how being given a command isn’t the same as being given only one choice. It was a sharp reminder to think and to try to see things from multiple perspectives before acting.

The thing I didn’t like about this novel is how we didn’t get Nritti’s motivation for revenge until the very end and how the book quickly ended after Nritti’s defeat. I personally like to know the purpose of the conflict and more resolution at the end.

The sequel, A Crown of Wishes, comes out on March 28, 2017. You can read an excerpt here