Mini-review: Akata Witch

Title: Akata Wakatalskjsljdsitch
Author: Nnedi Okorafor
Genres: fantasy, contemporary
Pages: 352
Publisher: Viking Children’s
Review copy: the charming library
Availability: April 14, 2011

Summary: Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits. And then she discovers something amazing—she is a “free agent,” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too? [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I’ve been meaning to read Akata Witch for a while now since the cover is pretty awesome and everything by Nnedi Okorafor is bound to be great. This contemporary fantasy set in Nigeria has pretty much all the things I love in fiction — magic, friendship, and good food. Sunny, Chichi, Orlu and Sasha have completely different personalities and lives, but that only serves to enhance the camraderie they have. The solid worldbuilding neatly fuses the magical with the ordinary and Sunny’s initiation into the world of free agents, juju, and Leopard Knocks is fascinating to read. I only wish I had read this book sooner. I am definitely looking forward to the sequel Breaking Kola.

Recommendation: Buy it now, especially if you love a good contemporary fantasy.

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Mini-review: Stormdancer

yuckTitle:  Stormdancer (The Lotus War #1)
Author: Jay Kristoff
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 313
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Review copy: the library
Availability: September 18, 2012

Summary: The Shima Imperium verges on the brink of environmental collapse; an island nation once rich in tradition and myth, now decimated by clockwork industrialization and the machine-worshipers of the Lotus Guild. The hunters of Shima’s imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a thunder tiger – a legendary creature, half-eagle, half-tiger. Yukiko is a child of the Fox clan, possessed of a talent that if discovered, would see her executed by the Lotus Guild. Accompanying her father on the Shōgun’s hunt, she finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in Shima’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled thunder tiger for company. But together, the pair will form an indomitable friendship, and rise to challenge the might of an empire. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: To be honest, I was skeptical of this book’s self-proclaimed status as “Japanese steampunk.”* Still, I decided to give it chance because I love griffins and the book blurb promised me griffins. Sadly, my skepticism and doubts were not unfounded — Stormdancer’s use of Japanese culture as a convenient exotic setting was off-putting, to say the least.

The book takes place in Shima Isles (“Island” isles? Hm.) where Yukiko befriends a griffin (“thunder tiger”) and goes up against the dark conspiracies afoot in the empire. I did end up loving Buruu the griffin, who is pretty much the best part of the entire book. The prose was extremely detailed and occasionally beautiful, but this was also the book’s failing. The prose was so jampacked with detail that it felt like a wikipedia article full of feudal Japan factoids had somehow fused with the book, which brings me to–

Unfortunately, the book’s casual treatment of Japan as an exotic fantasy backdrop prevented me from enjoying the story. This ranges from the generic Asian-y atmosphere of the book to the offensively cavalier use of Japanese culture. In addition, Japanese words are misused and mistranslated in both the text and the glossary. Throughout the book, there’s a strong sense of cultural appropriation and shallow, careless research.

As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. Well, I believe this saying also applies to books. When it came to creating a book that respects the culture it uses as its setting, this village fell down on the job.

Recommendation: Just skip it.

For more in-depth reviews: the Book Smugglers and Dear Author
Further reading: Ellen Oh on The Importance of Proper Research

*Steampunk set in shogunate Japan is sort of like setting steampunk in medieval England instead of Victorian England. Um, what?

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Review: Fire with Fire

fire with fireTitle:  Fire with Fire (Burn for Burn #2)
Author: Jenny Han, Siobhan Vivian
Genres: Realistic fiction, contemporary
Pages: 528
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Review copy: the lovely library
Availability: August 13, 2013

Summary: Lillia, Kat, and Mary had the perfect plan. Work together in secret to take down the people who wronged them. But things didn’t exactly go the way they’d hoped at the Homecoming Dance. Not even close. For now, it looks like they got away with it. All they have to do is move on and pick up the pieces, forget there ever was a pact. But it’s not easy, not when Reeve is still a total jerk and Rennie’s meaner than she ever was before.

And then there’s sweet little Mary…she knows there’s something seriously wrong with her. If she can’t control her anger, she’s sure that someone will get hurt even worse than Reeve was. Mary understands now that it’s not just that Reeve bullied her—it’s that he made her love him. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, burn for a burn. A broken heart for a broken heart. The girls are up to the task. They’ll make Reeve fall in love with Lillia and then they will crush him. It’s the only way he’ll learn. It seems once a fire is lit, the only thing you can do is let it burn… [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: The Burn for Burn series is the sort of series that people would call a ‘guilty pleasure’ — though why anyone should feel guilty about reading something that makes them happy is beyond me. Fire with Fire is the second book in the Burn for Burn series. The first book involves the three main girls (Lillia, Kat and Mary) getting their respective vengeance on those who have wronged them. It’s probably best to read the first book to follow what’s going on in the second, but it’s not strictly necessary for enjoying the sequel.

The second book, Fire with Fire (a brilliant title!), follows in the wake of Burn for Burn after the girls have gotten their revenge. Instead of being satisfied, the girls are determined to follow through and get revenge on the one guy who hurt Mary. Of course, the revenge plot does not go as planned.

The constantly shifting relationships create a lot of compelling drama and conflict, which is at once Fire with Fire’s strength and weakness. Fire with Fire takes place in the same alternate universe as many tv shows and YA books — you know, that bizarre alternate universe in which every girl is rich/cool/beautiful and the only clique that matters is the popular crowd. The romantic conflict, while highly emotional and interesting to read, definitely threw me. I just can’t get behind any romance that even vaguely follows the path of Irredeemable Hot Jerk Gets Redeemed. More forgiving and romantic readers would definitely disagree with me on this point — so if you like it, read it.

The high drama tone of the series felt heavy handed at times, but what sets the series apart from others is the development of the girls’ friendships and the tinge of the supernatural that creeps in from time to time. Crazy plot twists are this series’ strong point and it only gets better in the second book. Unfortunately, the foundation for these plot twists isn’t laid out clearly, so it’s a little jarring. If you enjoy revenge and romance in the alternate universe setting where everyone is beautiful and cool, then this book will be a pleasure to read.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday if you want a dose of revenge and romance.

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Nostalgia trip: The House of the Scorpion

house of the scorpionTitle: The House of the Scorpion
Author: Nancy Farmer
Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopian
Pages: 380
Publisher: Atheneum Book
Review Copy: the library
Availability: January 1, 2002

Summary: Matteo Alacrán was not born; He was harvested. His DNA came from El Patrón, lord of a country called Opium — a strip of poppy fields lying between the United States and what was once called Mexico. Matt’s first cell split and divided inside a petri dish. Then he was placed in the womb of a cow, where he continued the miraculous journey from embryo to fetus to baby. He is a boy now, but most consider him a monster — except for El Patrón. As Matt struggles to understand his existence, he is threatened by a sinister cast of characters, including El Patrón’s power-hungry family, and he is surrounded by a dangerous army of bodyguards. Escape is the only chance Matt has to survive. But escape from the Alacrán Estate is no guarantee of freedom, because Matt is marked by his difference in ways he doesn’t even suspect. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

The House of tlord of opiumhe Scorpion is one of those books from my childhood that I remember oh-so-fondly — it was terrifying and fascinating, and a great introduction to both the dystopian and science fiction genre. It had everything: Clones! Adventure! Political conflict! The worldbuilding was complex yet incredibly easy to fall into. The House of the Scorpion was my first Nancy Farmer book and it led me to read every other Nancy Farmer book I could get my hands on. Reading the book again as an adult did not diminish the experience. If anything, being older lets me truly appreciate the incredible storytelling and sense of adventure in the The House of the Scorpion.

When The Lord of Opium came out a month ago, I’d nearly forgotten about this childhood favorite. Now that the long-awaited sequel is out, I am ready to reread everything Nancy Farmer again.

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Interview: Kimberly Pauley

cat girl's day offKimberly Pauley, the author of Cat Girl’s Day Off (which I reviewed here) as well as several other hilarious books in the Sucks to Be Me series, was kind enough to answer a few questions for Rich in Color this week.

In Cat Girl’s Day Off, Natalie’s Talent is given away by the title — she’s definitely a cat girl. What made you decide on cats as Natalie’s Talent? Do you own any cats?

I’ve always had cats — at least, until we moved over to the UK about three years ago. We are currently pet-less. We had to leave behind our cat Gracie with my mother, as Grace was too ill too travel so far (or go through quarantine!). Sadly, Grace has since passed away from cancer.

I wanted the Talent to be the main character talking to some small furry creature and it had to be one that was common enough to be around everywhere. That left pretty much dogs, cats, or squirrels. Or, I guess I could have done birds, but cats were my favorite and, honestly, they are inherently snarkier than dogs. I needed an animal with a mind of it’s own and cats definitely have that!

Natalie’s friends and family are just as colorful and quirky as the cats. If everyone had Natalie’s Talent, do you think they would get along with the cats?

Oscar definitely would and probably Melly too. I’m not sure about Nat’s mother, as she is very strong willed and so are cats…there would be a lot of conflict there, I think.

How did you choose Natalie’s ethnicity?

I am half-Chinese and I always knew I wanted Nat to be half-Chinese as well. It was nice to be able to use some of my own experiences growing up and I consciously wanted the book to be multicultural (but not in an in-your-face kind of way — it doesn’t really matter that she’s half-Chinese to the story). Her last name (Ng) is actually from my aunt’s family, though our family name was Lee. That’s just such a common name that I thought it would be nice to go for something a little less common and potentially tongue-twisting for non-Asians (though, honestly, I don’t understand why people mispronounce it…it’s only got two letters!).

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New Releases

Happy book birthday to the sequel to The Lost Prince (The Iron Fey: Call of the Forgotten)The Iron Traitor which is being released tomorrow on October 29th!

poopThe Iron Traitor by Julie Kagawa

Harlequin Teen

In the real world, when you vanish into thin air for a week, people tend to notice.  After his unexpected journey into the lands of the fey, Ethan Chase just wants to get back to normal. Well, as “normal” as you can be when you see faeries every day of your life. Suddenly the former loner with the bad reputation has someone to try for-his girlfriend, Kenzie. Never mind that he’s forbidden to see her again. 

But when your name is Ethan Chase and your sister is one of the most powerful faeries in the Nevernever, “normal” simply isn’t to be. For Ethan’s nephew, Keirran, is missing, and may be on the verge of doing something unthinkable in the name of saving his own love. Something that will fracture the human and faery worlds forever, and give rise to the dangerous fey known as the Forgotten. As Ethan’s and Keirran’s fates entwine and Keirran slips further into darkness, Ethan’s next choice may decide the fate of them all. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

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