Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Forest of a Thousand LanternsTitle: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
Author: Julie C. Dao
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 363
Publisher: Philomel Books
Review Copy: Library
Availability: Available now!

Summary: An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl’s quest to become Empress–and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high? Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: There’s something about retellings of the Evil Queen legend from Snow White that almost always captures the imagination. She’s a fascinating figure — evil, beautiful, and destined to be undone by some sweet girl with a taste for apples. The retelling that haunts me the most is Neil Gaiman’s chilling short story.

I think it’s safe to say that Forest of a Thousand Lanterns has usurped that particular throne. This story, influenced by the culture and history of Imperial China, is beautifully written — fitting for a story about a surpassingly beautiful empress-to-be. It tells the dark path Xifeng must take to rise above her humble origins and become queen.

Of course, that path is not easy. Xifeng struggles to free herself of the evil within her, along with the voice of her abusive aunt who all along has pushed her to pursue her powerful destiny and her conflicted feelings for her love, Wei. She’s a sympathetic figure, torn between her loyalty to the flawed people in her life and her unyielding ambition. As you follow along with her struggles, it’s easy to forget the framework of the story and who she’s meant to become – the Evil Queen from Snow White.

And at other times, it’s not so easy to forget. Xifeng’s ambition means that she regards most women as beneath her in one way or another, and she often does or says things that are cruel and vicious. At the same time, the conniving, backstabbing nature of the imperial court means that no one — except for, like, two men early in the story — comes out looking good. And I don’t know how I feel about one key (super spoilerly) reveal and its implications. This is definitely a tale told from the perspective of a rising villain, and no punches are pulled. At least for me, it’s hard to be comfortable with that.

Finally, I have to mention the worldbuilding. The details and imagery is just gorgeous. Every mention of a meal left me hungry (sugar dusted persimmon cakes! want!). This, along with the hint of the future Snow White storyline, is why I’m looking forward to the sequel. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for that. If you love a good fairy tale reimagining, you’ll want to check this book out.

Recommendation: Get it soon!

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November Reading List

I’m always adding to my to-read list, and November is no different. What are you planning to read? Any new books you’re looking forward to? This month, here’s what I’m planning to read:

A Line in the DarkA Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo

The line between best friend and something more is a line always crossed in the dark. Jess Wong is Angie Redmond’s best friend. And that’s the most important thing, even if Angie can’t see how Jess truly feels. Being the girl no one quite notices is OK with Jess anyway. While nobody notices her, she’s free to watch everyone else. But when Angie begins to fall for Margot Adams, a girl from the nearby boarding school, Jess can see it coming a mile away. Suddenly her powers of observation are more curse than gift.

As Angie drags Jess further into Margot’s circle, Jess discovers more than her friend’s growing crush. Secrets and cruelty lie just beneath the carefree surface of this world of wealth and privilege, and when they come out, Jess knows Angie won’t be able to handle the consequences. When the inevitable darkness finally descends, Angie will need her best friend.

“It doesn’t even matter that she probably doesn’t understand how much she means to me. It’s purer this way. She can take whatever she wants from me, whenever she wants it, because I’m her best friend.” A Line in the Dark is a story of love, loyalty, and murder. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Forest of a Thousand LanternsForest of a Thousand Lanterns (Rise of the Empress #1) by Julie C. Dao

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?

Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Dear MartinDear Martin by Nic Stone 

Justyce McAllister is a good kid. Fourth in his class and captain of the debate team at his prestigious prep-school–where he’s one of only a handful of African-American students–he’s destined for success. But none of that prevents him from being falsely accused of a crime and held in too-tight handcuffs for hours.

With eyes wide open, Justyce begins writing letters to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in an effort to process his experiences, and respond through the lens of Dr. King’s teachings. But when Justyce falls victim to the exact kind of incident he’s worked so hard to avoid–an encounter with an off-duty police officer that ends in tragedy–everything Justyce believed about “The King’s Way” is called into question.

As Justyce struggles to process through his grief and the way he’s being negatively portrayed in the media, he’s faced with the biggest challenge of all: in a world full of odds that are obviously stacked against him, who is he going to be?

What’s on your to-read list? What new books are you looking forward to?  [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Not Your VillainNot Your Villain (Sidekick Squad #2) by C.B. Lee

Bells Broussard thought he had it made when his superpowers manifested early. Being a shapeshifter is awesome. He can change his hair whenever he wants, and if putting on a binder for the day is too much, he’s got it covered. But that was before he became the country’s most-wanted villain.

After discovering a massive cover-up by the Heroes’ League of Heroes, Bells and his friends Jess, Emma, and Abby set off on a secret mission to find the Resistance. Meanwhile, power-hungry former hero Captain Orion is on the loose with a dangerous serum that renders meta-humans powerless, and a new militarized robotic threat emerges. Everyone is in danger. Between college applications and crushing on his best friend, will Bells have time to take down a corrupt government?

Sometimes, to do a hero’s job, you need to be a villain. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

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New Releases

Happy early book birthday to Long Way Down and Calling My Name! Both books will be out on 10/24, and will you look at those covers? Amazing. Are these books on your to-read list?

Long Way DownLong Way Down Jason Reynolds

A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Calling My Name by Liara Tamani

Taja Brown lives with her parents and older brother and younger sister, in Houston, Texas. Taja has always known what the expectations of her conservative and tightly-knit African American family are—do well in school, go to church every Sunday, no intimacy before marriage. But Taja is trying to keep up with friends as they get their first kisses, first boyfriends, first everythings. And she’s tired of cheering for her athletic younger sister and an older brother who has more freedom just because he’s a boy. Taja dreams of going to college and forging her own relationship with the world and with God, but when she falls in love for the first time, those dreams are suddenly in danger of evaporating. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

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Book Review: The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part One

Legend of KorraTitle: The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part One
Author: Michael Dante DiMartino, Irene Koh (Illustrations)
Genres: Graphic Novel
Pages: 80 pages
Publisher: Dark Horse
Availability: Available now!

Summary: Relishing their newfound feelings for each other, Korra and Asami leave the Spirit World . . . but find nothing in Republic City but political hijinks and human vs. spirit conflict!

A pompous developer plans to turn the new spirit portal into an amusement park, potentially severing an already tumultuous connection with the spirits. What’s more, the triads have realigned and are in a brutal all-out brawl at the city’s borders – where hundreds of evacuees have relocated!

In order to get through it all, Korra and Asami vow to look out for each other – but first, they’ve got to get better at being a team and a couple! [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I’ll admit that the only reason I knew Legend of Korra was getting a graphic novel continuation was because I started following the illustrator (@kohquette) on Twitter for her cat pictures. When I found out after the fact that a queer Asian martial artist would be illustrating Korra, I immediately went and stuck it on my pre-order list because what! So cool.

The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars picks up where the cartoon ended. Major spoilers for the TV show ahead, so this is your chance to skip to the next, spoiler-free paragraph! Anyway, it begins with Korra and Asami holding hands and starting their romantic vacation in the Spirit World. All does not go according to plan — that goes for how people react to Korra and Asami’s relationship, and how Republic City is dealing with its very own spirit portal. Harmony is still far out of reach, and Korra has a lot on her plate as the avatar.

I’ll be the first to say that while I love Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra, it’s not without its flaws. I didn’t manage to watch A:TLA until I was an adult because, as a middle schooler, I ragequit when I first heard that the moon princess’s name was… Princess Moon (Yue is moon in Chinese and painfully mispronounced in the show). The fact that the shows used Chinese as sloppy flavor text — Firefly, much? — and predominantly white voice actors for a heavily Asian-inspired world has always bothered me. But still, the shows were funny, the art looked cool, and it was Asian representation — ish.

That being said, I love where Legend of Korra is heading now. Queer Asian couple front and center? Yes, please. The art style is gorgeous, and I could spend hours just gazing at each of the panels. And, I love getting to see what happens next to the gang post-series. There will always be a spot in my heart for the Korra crew.

If you watched the Legend of Korra series and liked it, you definitely should pick up Turf Wars. I can’t recommend the art (and plentiful Korrasami) enough. I’ll for sure be keeping Part Two on my radar.

Recommendation: Get it soon!

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Queer and Here in YA Lit

I feel like I’m always running around being like, “Look at this book! It’s going to be amazing! You need to read this when it comes out! Ahhhh!” It’s kind of a constant thing with me. But I’m here to say that this is my current to-read and must-read book on my radar:

Not Your VillainNot Your Villain (Sidekick Squad #2) by C.B. Lee

Available: October 5th, 2017 (soon!)

Bells Broussard thought he had it made when his superpowers manifested early. Being a shapeshifter is awesome. He can change his hair whenever he wants, and if putting on a binder for the day is too much, he’s got it covered. But that was before he became the country’s most-wanted villain.

After discovering a massive cover-up by the Heroes’ League of Heroes, Bells and his friends Jess, Emma, and Abby set off on a secret mission to find the Resistance. Meanwhile, power-hungry former hero Captain Orion is on the loose with a dangerous serum that renders meta-humans powerless, and a new militarized robotic threat emerges. Everyone is in danger. Between college applications and crushing on his best friend, will Bells have time to take down a corrupt government? Sometimes, to do a hero’s job, you need to be a villain. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

I loved the first book in this series, Not Your Sidekick, and I’m pretty darn excited for the sequel. Not Your Sidekick is all about queer superheroes doing their thing, and it’s just a lot of fun. I’m a huge fan of fun genre YA lit starring queer and PoC characters, and this fits the bill. What’s your favorite queer PoC YA book?

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Author Interview: F.C. Yee

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo has been on my radar for a while, and for good reason — it sounds, well, epic. And it turns out, it truly is! (Check out the RIC review here.) In this new YA book, one kickass Bay Area girl and the oh-so-glorious Monkey King are all that stands between humanity and the hordes of monsters that threaten to destroy the world. You definitely want to get this book… and today we welcome author F.C. Yee (@yeebookauthor) to Rich in Color for an interview!


I grew up reading about the Monkey King (shoutout to Laurence Yep!), and I imagine the ol’ rascal was a part of your life growing up as well. How did you settle on a story that brought Chinese mythology into the modern world?
 
The funny thing is, I did not grow up with Monkey King stories. My experience was much more like Genie’s, where I officially encountered him later in my teens. I’d been exposed to a lot of media that drew upon Journey to the West as an influence, but never seen or read any adaptations until the day I decided to sit down and read the translations of the original story.
I knew I wanted to write a story about discovering one’s own inner strength. But I also thought that an entertaining parallel would be the simultaneous discovery of this rich fictional universe by a character who didn’t know it was a part of their (personal) heritage all along. I settled on the portrayal that I did so that people originally unfamiliar with the Monkey King, like I was at one time, could be introduced in a fun way, while readers who would be very familiar with the source material could enjoy watching a surrogate learn the tale for the first time.
 
Sun Wukong is definitely becoming more human (and also more good-looking?) in recent movies. So, uh, did you start out intending Sun Wukong to be hot?
 
Yes. Without question. Full use of artistic license here.
 
Going off of that, can you talk a little bit about how you modernized the other figures of Chinese mythology, like trendy Guanyin with the pixie cut, into the book?
 
While I definitely wanted the humor of Sun Wukong acclimating into modern society in the book’s opening, I knew the joke could get old, especially if repeated through different characters. I decided it would provide a nice contrast against Quentin’s original strangeness and Genie’s further expectations of gods if the subsequent ones she met were already grounded. In the case of Guanyin specifically, it’s meant to show how she’s the most in tune with modern life and expectations, because she’s the one who does the most work on behalf of humanity.
One reader/online friend jokingly called the mythological figures in this book petty, which is absolutely accurate in retrospect, and one of the tools I used to modernize them.


A good chunk of the story is grounded in reality — especially Genie’s family situation and her uber competitive school life. (The competitive Bay Area school part hit a little too close to home for me, yikes.) Did you draw upon your own life for this, step into someone else’s shoes, or a little of both?
 
Both. I thought I grew up in a competitive academic environment in the East Coast, but in retrospect, knowing what some kids go through these days, it wasn’t that bad. I’m not sure what’s to be done about it – a high degree of academic competition might be an efficient method of operating for the system as a whole, but it’s punishing for the individual.
 
So Genie hates boba but loves coffee. Are you the same?
 
I love both boba AND coffee! I gave Genie that quirk regarding boba since it’s such a big part of Bay Area culture and liked the image of young Genie being grumpy that her friends want to keep meeting over a drink she didn’t like.

Is there a sequel on the horizon for The Epic Crush of Genie Lo?

There will be, in 2018.

Perfect… *rubs hands together gleefully* Finally, are there any YA books by/about people of color that you’re looking forward to? 
 
I’m perpetually confused over whether it’s being marketed as YA or not, but I’m looking forward to S.A. Chakraborty’s CITY OF BRASS. I also really want to read FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS by Julie C. Dao.

An awesome list. Thanks for stopping by! To those reading along, do yourself a favor and get a copy of The Epic Crush of Genie Lo ASAP because it’s just that awesome.
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