Posts Tagged With: Renee Ahdieh

An Early Summer Reading List

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I have not been thinking very bookishly lately, I’ll admit. I have also not been reading so much as I’ve been writing.  Brian and I are STILL plugging through re-writes of the novel, although we are getting about 4 chapters done per week.  My original self-imposed deadline was August 1, but I have amended that to September 1st.

I am giving up on my summer reading challenge, and so I’ll post what I’ve read so far down below.  I didn’t get nearly as much read as I wanted to, and for that I am a bit upset with myself.  I am keeping all those books on the To Be Read pile, though, and hope that I will get to them soon.  Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is top on the list.  I’m giving up because I’ve just lost the will-power.

It was SO HARD to keep to this challenge.  I can’t even express.  I am used to being able to grab books on a whim and read them, whatever the subject. I expected that Person Of Color books would be harder to find, that I would have to look longer and deeper to find them.  What I didn’t expect was that I would NEVER find a book about certain topics by POC.  This was especially true in the non-fiction realm, and even more so in History.  I mean, I decided I wanted to read about the California Mission system and could not find a book that wasn’t written by a white author.  THE CALIFORNIA MISSION SYSTEM, guys. If that isn’t ironic, I don’t know what is.

I am a white historian, and it still made me horrified a bit to realize that our history, perhaps especially the history of POC, is largely being written by white people.  It makes me distrust everything just a smidge.  Like, I’m sure all the facts are correct but there has to be an angle on this stuff that isn’t being explored; that didn’t even occur to us.  What are we missing that we don’t even know about?  I’m certain we are missing something.  It makes me uneasy.

I fell in love with several new authors, though.  The last time I did a summer reading challenge, I actually enjoyed only about 4 of the books and read thirty six (The Graveyard Book, Of Plimoth Plantation, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Watership Down, if you’re wondering).  This time I enjoyed SO MANY, and only read twelve.  In that respect, it was a success.

I can only wrangle myself so much, and so I’m letting myself go back to comfort books while I try to keep myself on track to finishing this novel.  I am leaving this challenge with a greater determination to fold books by POC into my regular reading habits.  I am counting the days until Renee Ahdieh releases that sequel to The Wrath and The Dawn.  I’m following Varian Johnson and Jenny Han on Social Media.

Here are the books:

  1. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han – I was unsatisfied by the ending, because I didn’t feel like either boy was really good enough. But there were so many parts of this book that felt imminently familiar, especially the dregs of how we all try to cope when the capable one is gone (even if they are just a phone call away).  A GREAT read.
  2. The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han – I did not know that a book could replicate so much of my own life. There are differences, of course, but living in someone else’s house by the beach every summer is something I’m very familiar with.  The book broke my heart, in the best way.
  3. Bud, not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis – Weird to be in the head of an unreliable, and not that bright narrator. Bud falls for some stuff he shouldn’t (heads I win, tails you lose?).  But I can ultimately see why it won the awards it did, and it’s a great slice of depression-era life.  Plus music, how can you not appreciate a kid with a saxophone?
  4. The Wrath and The Dawn by Renée Ahdieh – Holy CRAP is this book good. I could not put it down. I have been longing for a more feminist Scherezade tale, and wondering if I should write it (and how I would), but this is it tenfold.  Better than I could imagine, everything I’ve wanted.  Could not put it down.
  5. Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson – In a setting completely foreign to me, but great just the same. It’s about the juxtaposition of good Christians and bad Christians, self-fulfilling prophecies, and  the nature of goodness.  I loved Maddie and her spunk so much.
  6. Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan – A beautifully written book that deals with a lot of the problems facing migrants and others during depression-era America. Esperanza’s growth was less than I would like, though.  Ryan leaves a lot unresolved with strike issues etc. in the end.
  7. We’ll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han – Not as good as the first “Summer” book, but still good. I do like the way Belly is just as flawed and makes as many mistakes as the boys, even though it makes me exasperated with her sometimes. Is the parental story happening in the wings more exciting than the kids’ in this book?
  8. Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston – Not my favorite, because THE ENTIRE THING was written in phonetic spelling; i.e.: hard to read. After I got about ½ way through part one, I skipped it and went to the Voodoo stuff at the end.  More an anthropological curiosity than something I enjoyed.  I loved Tell My Horse, so go read that one instead.
  9. S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han – Why do I always want Han’s leads to get together with the one they don’t? It’s frustrating.  But it’s also so good, and I can’t stop reading them.  Rooting for the wrong guy at least keeps me guessing.
  10. Kindred by Octavia Butler – Holy crap. I was expecting it to be hard to take, but not THAT bad… trigger warning for  rape and huge amounts of violence.  It’s well written and compelling, though.  Hard to put down, it’s just that I wasn’t sure I wanted to pick it back up once I had put it down. Didn’t finish it because I was having nightmares, but maybe I’ll go back.
  11. Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier – A strange mashup of literary fiction and high school coming of age. I liked it, but I didn’t feel pulled by it.  It was beautiful, but didn’t possess me.  Perhaps it was just that I hated Gwen a bit and didn’t understand why everyone else loved her so, especially Dimple.
  12. Same Sun Here by Neela Vaswani and Silas House – CRAZY good, although I do wish that each of the protags got a little bit more of an ending.  Especially Meena, who I felt didn’t have as much of an arc as River.  But it was a beautiful book, nice to see contemporary issues represented, and a well-done exploration of Redneck/Immigrant stereotypes and the problems both groups face – similar yet different.
  13. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz – Oh SO good. I loved rooting for the boys and their complicated lives, but I loved the writing so much, too.  Deserving of all the awards it won.

You should also know that I cheated (full-disclusure) and read:

  1. When Beauty Tamed The Beast by Eloisa James – I just CAN’T get over these names… can’t we call them something less embarrassing? But this one, I think, was her best yet.  The men in romance novels often don’t feel real, but Piers was such an ass that he was perfect.  Or maybe I’m just married to a rather endearing ass myself.
  2. Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman – The resolution seemed a bit easy to me, but otherwise this book was perfect. I love that his children’s books have hard things in them, and that this one was about Norse Gods.  His writing is so beautiful.
  3. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – Oh, this book is my favorite thing ever. I fell in love with it the first time because of the Cath/Levi relationship.  I fell in love with it this time for the Cath/Regan relationship, and the quips.  Which I kept reading out loud to my husband, who laughed in all the right places.
  4. Sunshine by Robin McKinley – I forgot how violent this book is. But Con, man… You have to love him even while he frightens you.  The world is so robust that I wish there were more books.  McKinley has said there won’t be, though.  As vampire books go, it’s one of the best.
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Books I’ve Drooled Over

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The last time I did a summer reading challenge, it didn’t really work out that well.  It was the summer before I entered Chapman, the last summer I knew I might have some time before I was bogged down in scholarship 24/7, 365 (summer classes, man.  And winter interterm).  The challenge was to read ALL new books – nothing that I had ever read before.  For a gal who nurses comfort books like they’re going out of style, that was quite a challenge.  I managed it, but I read 37 books that summer and only 4 of them were books I loved enough for them to matter (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Watership Down, The Graveyard Book, and Of Plymouth Plantation, if you’re interested).

I have had much better luck with this challenge.  So far, of the eighteen books I’ve read, only 3 of them are books I didn’t love.  Several have been can’t-put-it-down all night reads.  These are the one’s I’m about to tell you about.  And recommend that you try them too.  Here they are:

The Wrath and The Dawn by Renée Ahdieh: I love fairy tale re-mixes, and I have been wanting an Arabian Nights tale for SO LONG.  I can’t even tell you.  I even thought about writing it myself, if I could get a concept figured out.  That’s how badly I wanted this thing.  And it’s here, in it’s perfect gilt package, and it is glorious.

First of all, Shazi is awesome.  She’s there to kill the king before he can kill her.  Who doesn’t love a super-spunky protagonist?  And then there’s also Khalid and his really horrible secret, and his hotness, and his hostile kingdom.  The world feels dangerous as well as beautiful, and it has a magical component that is so epically huge that it’s impossible to understand how much it influences the foundations of everything, because in the beginning it feels like it’s only for background atmosphere.

Shazi basically doesn’t get a good opportunity to kill the king for a while and then finds herself falling in love with him.  He also starts to fall in love with her, and then he has to make this horrible choice between her life or the entire kingdom.  They’re married, too, so there’s a lot of hot sexual tension (and sex, although not in any detail – it’s more that you know it’s happening in the cut-away), which is unusual for a YA novel.  But in the wings there is Khalid’s abusive father, a pregnant lady-in-waiting, Shazi’s failed magician father, her childhood crush who wants to rescue her, and a whole host of natural disaster.

My only real beef with the novel is that it’s a cliff-hanger.  Usually that’s a deal-breaker for me, but with this one it isn’t.  Instead of my usual ‘my God, guys – how much money do you want from me?’ attitude about cliff-hangers, I’m just ready to throw a party that there will be MORE (!!!).  This is the best thing I’ve read this summer.  It’s so good I might even read everything Renée Ahdieh writes for the rest of her/my life.  All I can say is that the next one better come out soon or I may die of waiting.

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han: In this book, Belly goes with her mother every summer to live in Aunt Susannah’s beach house (not her real aunt, but her mother’s college roommate).  It’s just the moms and the kids in the house most of the time – Belly, her brother, and Susannah’s two boys.  The husbands are present only in small days, in glimpses and weekends.  Only this summer everything is different.  The boys that Belly has had a crush on for as long as she can remember seem to have a crush on her back.  There’s a bittersweet feeling that they’re growing up and this summer might be the last one; and then they get positive evidence that yes, this is the last.  This is it.  It all will end.

I do not know how Jenny Han captured my childhood so completely, but she did.  We used to spend huge chunks of the summer on the Southern Maine coast – first at my grandfather’s house in Biddeford Pool and then at my Aunt’s house on Gooserocks Beach.  When my grandfather had a house, Aunt Nancy used to rent hers.  She and Uncle Dennis would move out for the month we were there, leaving Alysson and Leah behind – five girls in a tiny two-bedroom cottage sharing three beds and a pull-out couch.  If two people were in the bathroom, one of them was standing in the shower.  Those are some of my fondest memories, all of us stacked together, running free in the ocean and playing house on the granite rocks.  This book captures that, and all the losses in between when we knew how bad the property taxes were, and we too knew it was all ending, too.

One of my favorite things about Jenny Han’s books is that I always end up rooting for the guy the main character doesn’t get together with at the end.  I think it’s a testament to how real her characters are, and how flawed.  People always look more perfect when you don’t know them as well, don’t they?  I love that I can’t count on anything with her.  Everything is a surprise, even while it feels like something I’ve already lived.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz: This is basically a book about a friendship that blossoms into a deep love over the span of about two years.  Dante and Ari meet at the swimming pool one summer, and they become inseparable after that.  They’re as different as they can be on the outside, but on the inside they’re the same.  Neither of them has come from a wealthy background.  Ari has a brother who was sent to prison, a father who fought in Vietnam, and a propensity to talk about nothing at all.  Dante feels the deep burden of being an only child, wants to talk about everything, and is friendly but friendless.

It’s a good story.  A coming of age thing where both boys are trying desperately to figure out who they are and if they can live with who they are.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it because of the plot.  But what I really fell in love with was the writing.  Sáenz starts off using very simple language, easy thoughts and plenty of juvenile tags to the letters and journals he samples from both boys.  But as their lives deepen, so does the writing style.  And his use of imagery and foreshadowing made me thing of Fante’s masterpiece “Ask The Dust.”  With the added benefit that I didn’t want to murder any of the protagonists for being whiny like I did when I read Fante. It’s a beautiful thing.

Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson: I picked up Johnson’s novel because I liked “The Great Greene Heist” so much.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this.  Joshua is the preacher’s son, and is reunited with his childhood crush Maddie (a preacher’s daughter with a bad-girl image) when she comes back to town to stay with her aunt.  I think I was expecting it to be this thing where she’s bad and he succumbs to it while renouncing his faith or something.  I was expecting drama and drugs and high school hijinks.

Instead I got this lovely story about dichotomies and assumptions.  Maddie struggles with who she is vs who she’s told she should be, and what attempting to live up to her label has cost her.  Joshua learns to have opinions, to rely on more than his parents, to find a deeper faith through reason and questioning.  Both of them learn that parents aren’t perfect, even the good ones, and that love doesn’t really trump all.  Not when there are so many other things in play.  The whole book is a fight about good and bad, and if we can really assign those titles to anyone without knowing the full story.  With some bonus making out to keep things steamy, of course.

I think what I like most about this novel, though, is that it gave me a different perspective on the world.  It felt like my own in a lot of ways, but Joshua’s life centered around things that are foreign to me.  My horizons were broadened. And that was the point of this whole exercise in the first place, wasn’t it?

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