Review: Summer of the Mariposas

Summer of the Mariposas Title: Summer of the Mariposas
Author: Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary
Pages: 355
Publisher: Tu Books
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: When Odilia and her four sisters find a dead body in the swimming hole, they embark on a hero’s journey to return the dead man to his family in Mexico. But returning home to Texas turns into an odyssey that would rival Homer’s original tale.

With the supernatural aid of ghostly La Llorona via a magical earring, Odilia and her little sisters travel a road of tribulation to their long-lost grandmother’s house. Along the way, they must outsmart a witch and her Evil Trinity: a wily warlock, a coven of vicious half-human barn owls, and a bloodthirsty livestock-hunting chupacabras. Can these fantastic trials prepare Odilia and her sisters for what happens when they face their final test, returning home to the real world, where goddesses and ghosts can no longer help them?

Summer of the Mariposas is not just a magical Mexican American retelling of The Odyssey, it is a celebration of sisterhood and maternal love. (Summary and image via Goodreads)

Review: There are a lot of things I liked about Summer of the Mariposas, and chief among them was the magical realism. The world that Odilia and her sisters find themselves in is a fascinating blend of modern life, Odyssey checkpoints, and Mexican folklore. I wish there were more YA fantasy books focusing on Central and South American cultures. (If there are any good ones, please let me know. I want to read them!) The lechuzas were delightfully terrifying, and McCall did an excellent job of redeeming the character of La Llorona. Her story was one of the two points in the book where I teared up.

For as much as I loved the magical realism, the true heart of this story is the familial bonds between Odilia with her sisters and the sisters with their mother (and even grandmother). And despite saying that, I wish that either the book had been longer so that I could get to know the sisters better or that there had been fewer sisters to devote time to. As it stands, I don’t feel as if I got to know anyone besides Odilia very well. There was a lovely moment between Juanita and Odilia where Odilia got to subtly remind her younger sister that she doesn’t always know what’s right and that sometimes older sisters have useful things to contribute (buying sodas at the gas station, for those who have read the book), and that was a conflict I wish McCall had spent more time on. While I’m generally fond of the fire-forged-friends trope, I wish there had been slightly less physical peril with the girls and more emotional peril to draw them together.

That said, Part III: The Return, was everything I wanted it to be. If you’re familiar with the Odyssey, then you know about the ousting of the suitors. The ousting in this book involved a great deal less blood, but it was still a crowning moment of awesome. I loved how Odilia was able to reconnect with her mother and that the journey she and her sisters went on really did make their happily ever after possible—and believable.

Recommendation: Get it soon, especially if you’re interested in Mexican folklore, have a fondness for road trip stories or the Odyssey, or want to read books that focus on sisters or mother-daughter relationships. I’m going to have to check out McCall’s Under the Mesquite sometime soon to see if it is just as good.

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Mini Review: Unspoken

UnspokenTitle: Unspoken
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Genres: Mystery, Romance, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 373
Publisher: Random House
Review Copy: Borrowed from roommate
Availability: September 11, 2012

Summary: Kami Glass loves someone she’s never met . . . a boy she’s talked to in her head ever since she was born. She wasn’t silent about her imaginary friend during her childhood, and is thus a bit of an outsider in her sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Still, Kami hasn’t suffered too much from not fitting in. She has a best friend, runs the school newspaper, and is only occasionally caught talking to herself. Her life is in order, just the way she likes it, despite the voice in her head.

But all that changes when the Lynburns return.

The Lynburn family has owned the spectacular and sinister manor that overlooks Sorry-in-the-Vale for centuries. The mysterious twin sisters who abandoned their ancestral home a generation ago are back, along with their teenage sons, Jared and Ash, one of whom is eerily familiar to Kami. Kami is not one to shy away from the unknown—in fact, she’s determined to find answers for all the questions Sorry-in-the-Vale is suddenly posing. Who is responsible for the bloody deeds in the depths of the woods? What is her own mother hiding? And now that her imaginary friend has become a real boy, does she still love him? Does she hate him? Can she trust him? —(Summary and image via Goodreads)

Review: Rees Brennan lets her love for gothic romances and lady sleuths shine through in Unspoken, and I heartily approve of the combination. Kami and her friends are a delight (particularly Angela), and I enjoyed their antics as they tried to uncover the mysteries around the Lynburn family. Most of the teenage characters in the book were a lot of fun, but I’ll be the first to admit that I cared very little for the adults.

The humor in Unspoken left me with mixed feelings. Rees Brennan’s characters have a lot of witty banter, but the humor didn’t often strike a chord with me. (I felt much the same about her Demon’s Lexicon series, which is a shame, as I really enjoy the author’s tumblr.) The ending was not very satisfying for me for several spoiler-y reasons, but I truly enjoyed the last-minute emotional sucker-punching that has had most of Rees Brennan’s fans in a tizzy since the book came out.

Recommendation: Get it soon, if gothics and mind-reading romances are your thing. If not, borrow it someday, because the Lynburn Legacy trilogy has a lot of promise. I have high hopes for the second book, which comes out later this year.

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Review: Spirit’s Chosen

Note: Today’s review was written by K. Imani. Technical difficulties prevented her from uploading it today, so I took care of it for her.

SpiritsTitle: Spirit’s Chosen
Author: Esther Friesner
Genres: Historical/Fantasy
Pages: 475
Publisher: Random House
Review Copy: Purchased from Amazon
Availability: Hardcover on shelves now

Summary: Himiko’s world is falling apart. An attack by the Ookami clan has left many from her tribe dead or enslaved. And those who remain in the ransacked Matsu village are certain they’ve angered the gods. Amid the chaos and fear, Himiko hatches a plan to save her beloved tribe. Traveling through the treacherous wilderness with her best friend Kaya, their only goal is to free her clan folk from the Ookami. At every turn she encounters other tribes and unforeseen challenges. But just when it seems that she will outwit Ryu, the cruel Ookami leader, she is captured. Held against her will, Himiko starts to realize that not all of the Ookami are her enemies and every step of her unconventional journey has prepared her for something greater than life as a princess. Though she may not see her path as clearly as the spirits seem to, there’s more adventure (and even unexpected love) for this young shamaness and warrior. (Via Goodreads)

Review: After finishing the book a few nights ago, I’m still unsure as to what to think of it. There were parts of Friesner’s novel that I enjoyed and then there were parts where I just kept reading because I knew I had to write this review. One of the reasons why I think I’m blasé about the novel is because the novel I read before this one left a mark on my heart, had me mourning that the story was over. With Spirit’s Chosen, I put the book down and finished cooking dinner. No sadness, no missing of characters or Friesner’s world, just done with the book, ready for the next.

As I thought about my ambivalence, I asked myself what caused this feeling? Was it the characters? Was it the world? Was it the style of prose Friesner use? What it the story? What?

And then I realized, there were two main aspects of this novel that rubbed me the wrong way and the main one is the main character, Himiko. Now, I’m pleased that Friesner chose to write a character of color, specifically of Japanese descent, and set the novel in a historical time period. On the other hand, Himiko annoyed me a bit because she is a bit of a Mary-Sue. She is a like-able character and the reader wants to root for her to succeed, but she doesn’t have any faults. None what so ever. She always is able to maintain a positive attitude despite what is thrown at her and is always able to come up with the proper solution that succeeds every time. In fact, at one point when she experiences an obstacle and starts to finally have a breakdown, after she tells Daimu (her love interest) why she is upset, she ends up comforting him! I was completely taken out of the story at that point because it was so unrealistic. I realize that Friesner is trying to promote a strong female character, a warrior, but for a reader to connect, to really believe in the character, she must exhibit some faults or else the reader doesn’t truly trust the main character. I feel like Friesner got so caught up in her sweeping historical fiction with a strong female character that she forgot to give her character, and others, more depth.

Spirit’s Chosen is a sequel to Friesner’s Spirit’s Princess but the way she structures the novel allows one to read this novel without having read the first. Friesner gives tidbits here and there of relevant information, as needed, from the first novel and it doesn’t overwhelm Spirit’s Chosen. Friesner definitely did her history, and visited Japan which she writes about in her afterward, and this level of attention and detail comes across beautifully. The world that Friesner creates is very real and believable, and is what makes the novel somewhat interesting.

Recommendation: If you like epic historical fiction with balanced characters, I’d say skip this one, but if not and you just love historical fiction for the romance of another era, then this one is for you.

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It’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!

sgljsdglkjdwatsonLast Thursday was the season finale of Elementary, which is an American tv crime show take on the Sherlock Holmes story. What makes the show great is Sherlock Holmes’ partner in crime solving: Joan Watson, played by Lucy Liu. [Image via Racebending]

The portrayal of Joan Watson as an Asian American lady is spot on. She isn’t reduced to a stereotype because of her gender or her ethnicity. Instead, she’s no-nonsense, brilliant and all-around awesome. (If you can’t tell, I love Elementary and especially Watson.) Elementary’s Joan Watson is exactly the sort of complex POC character that I like to see in my YA lit as well, which brings me to…

…book recs! In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (ah, the glorious month of May!), here are some of my favorite books:

team humanTeam Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan
Residing in New Whitby, Maine, a town founded by vampires trying to escape persecution, Mel finds her negative attitudes challenged when her best friend falls in love with one, another friend’s father runs off with one, and she herself is attracted to someone who tries to pass himself off as one. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

 

 

 

E940_SCH_BornConfused_0.tifBorn Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier
Dimple Lala doesn’t know what to think. Her parents are from India, and she’s spent her whole life resisting their traditions. Then suddenly she gets to high school and everything Indian is trendy. To make matters worse, her parents arrange for her to meet a “suitable boy.” Of course it doesn’t go well — until Dimple goes to a club and finds him spinning a magical web . Suddenly the suitable boy is suitable because of his sheer unsuitability. Complications ensue. This is a funny, thoughtful story about finding your heart, finding your culture, and finding your place in America. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

 

nothing but the truthNothing But the Truth (and a few white lies) by Justina Chen
Getting her fortune told by a Taiwanese ‘belly-button grandmother’ (who feels up her navel) instead of attending the spring dance is just one of the joys of being Patty Ho, a covertly snarky ‘hapa’ (half Asian, half white) struggling with her dual heritage. Patty’s domineering mother is determined to make her a good Taiwanese girl. Gangly Patty, no ‘China doll,’ longs to be white like her long-gone father…readers will find a compelling narrative, and a spunky, sympathetic heroine. This book should enjoy wide appeal. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

 

When you get the chance, definitely check out these books!

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Review: Beauty

beauty
Title: Beauty
Author: Nancy Ohlin
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 208
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Review Copy: Purchased Kindle version
Availability: May 7, 2013

Summary: Ana is nothing like her glamorous mother, Queen Veda, whose hair is black as ravens and whose lips are red as roses. Alas, Queen Veda loathes anyone whose beauty dares to rival her own—including her daughter. And despite Ana’s attempts to be plain to earn her mother’s affection, she’s sent away to the kingdom’s exclusive boarding school. At the Academy, Ana is devastated when her only friend abandons her for the popular girls. Isolated and alone, Ana resolves to look like a true princess to earn the acceptance she desires. But when she uncovers the dangerous secret that makes all of the girls at the Academy so gorgeous, just how far will Ana go to fit in? — image and summary via Goodreads

Review: What is beauty really? Is it smooth skin, fabulous bone structure, silky hair and bright eyes? Is makeup an essential part of beauty? And above all — what is beauty worth? These are some of the questions that came up for me throughout this fairy tale retelling. Initially when I saw the title, I thought maybe this was a Beauty and the Beast story, but instead, the book is a Snow White story and centers on the importance placed on beauty.

Some of my favorite novels are retellings of fairy tales. Retellings are often excellent because original fairy tales often have very flat characters and are mostly about the plot. Novels allow plenty of time and space for readers to get to know the characters well and see new aspects of the old tales. They feel familiar, but not boring and worn out, since  authors add their own twists to the story or think up unique explanations for events.

In Beauty, Ohlin focuses quite a bit on the glamorous Queen Veda. She doesn’t have a mirror on the wall, but does have a beauty consultant who is an audience for her beauty and acts as a mirror. There are several interesting additions to the story (that I won’t share for fear of spoiling them), but I felt that the characters still were not fully formed and developed. We meet Ana and realize that she doesn’t want to outshine her mother, but other than that and her interest in history, we don’t learn all that much about her. Queen Veda is also very one dimensional. Yes, she is hyper focused on beauty, but that is pretty much all we know about her. It would seem that a fully developed character would also have some positives to note. There are no gray areas here and I found myself looking for them in vain.

I did appreciate the way the book led me to contemplation of beauty and of war. A standout line is “War is what human beings do to each other when their is no morality left.” This was way more of a thinking book than I had anticipated. I just didn’t feel like I got to know the characters all that well.

If fairy tale retellings are your thing, you should borrow it someday, but otherwise, you may want to skip this one. Some other fairy tale retellings I would recommend are Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Ash by Malinda Lo, and Beast by Donna Jo Napoli.

Extras:
Read an excerpt
Blog Tour and Giveaway

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New Releases

Belated happy book birthday to twins! Beauty and Thorn Abbey, both by Nancy Ohlin, were released on May 7th. I’m especially looking forward to reading Beauty since I love anything that reminds me of fairy tales.

beautyBeauty by Nancy Ohlin

Simon Pulse

Ana is nothing like her glamorous mother, Queen Veda, whose hair is black as ravens and whose lips are red as roses. Alas, Queen Veda loathes anyone whose beauty dares to rival her own—including her daughter. And despite Ana’s attempts to be plain to earn her mother’s affection, she’s sent away to the kingdom’s exclusive boarding school. At the Academy, Ana is devastated when her only friend abandons her for the popular girls. Isolated and alone, Ana resolves to look like a true princess to earn the acceptance she desires. But when she uncovers the dangerous secret that makes all of the girls at the Academy so gorgeous, just how far will Ana go to fit in? [image and summary via Goodreads]

thorn abbeyThorn Abbey by Nancy Ohlin

Simon Pulse

Becca was the perfect girlfriend: smart, gorgeous, and loved by everyone at New England’s premier boarding school, Thorn Abbey. But Becca’s dead. And her boyfriend, Max, can’t get over his loss. Then Tess transfers to Thorn Abbey. She’s shy, insecure, and ordinary—everything that Becca wasn’t. And despite her roommate’s warnings, she falls for brooding Max. Now Max finally has a reason to move on. Except it won’t be easy. Because Becca may be gone, but she’s not quite ready to let him go… [image and summary via Goodreads]

Annnd happy graphic novel birthday to Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong! This comic has a special place in my heart — I’ve been following the webcomic online, start to finish, and now I don’t know what to do with my life now that the story is over.

nothNothing Can Possibly Go Wrong

by Prudence Shen, illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks

First Second Books

You wouldn’t expect Nate and Charlie to be friends. Charlie’s the laid-back captain of the basketball team, and Nate is the neurotic, scheming president of the robotics club. But they are friends, however unlikely — until Nate declares war on the cheerleaders, and the cheerleaders retaliate by making Charlie their figure-head in the ugliest class election campaign the school as ever seen. At stake? Student group funding that will either cover a robotics competition or new cheerleading uniforms — but not both. Bad sportsmanship? Sure. Chainsaws? Why not! Nothing can possibly go wrong.

[image and summary via Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong]

 

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