Review: Seconds

secondsTitle: Seconds
Author: Bryan Lee O’Malley, Nathan Fairbairn (Colorist)
Genres: contemporary, fantasy, graphic novel
Pages: 323
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Availability: July 15th, 2015

Summary: Katie’s got it pretty good. She’s a talented young chef, she runs a successful restaurant, and she has big plans to open an even better one. Then, all at once, progress on the new location bogs down, her charming ex-boyfriend pops up, her fling with another chef goes sour, and her best waitress gets badly hurt. And just like that, Katie’s life goes from pretty good to not so much. What she needs is a second chance. Everybody deserves one, after all—but they don’t come easy. Luckily for Katie, a mysterious girl appears in the middle of the night with simple instructions for a do-it-yourself do-over:
1. Write your mistake
2. Ingest one mushroom
3. Go to sleep
4. Wake anew
And just like that, all the bad stuff never happened, and Katie is given another chance to get things right. But Katie doesn’t care about the rules—and she’s about to discover the unintended consequences of the best intentions. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I went into a pretty strong Scott Pilgrim (the comics! still haven’t watched the movie) phase in undergrad, so I put Seconds on my to-read list the second Bryan Lee O’Malley mentioned it on tumblr. Basically, I’ve been waiting to read Seconds for years, and it was just as awesome as I expected, though the story took a turn I didn’t expect.

Seconds centers on Katie, a chef who opened up the restaurant Seconds. After several years, her life and the people in her life have changed. She’s looking to move on as well by opening up a new restaurant… until something goes horribly wrong,and she discovers a magical way to redo it all again — and again, and again. Naturally, there are consequences and strange things afoot.

The comic has a heavy thread of narration throughout, which lends Katie’s journey a kind of melancholy and enchanting tone. In keeping with Scott Pilgrim, the humor is quirky, relateable, and serves to tell you a lot about even peripheral side characters. One reference to Scott Pilgrim had me grinning in delight (the bread joke, if you know the one). Though the art is fashionable and adorable, the story definitely can get a little chilling. I regret reading it at night (whoops).

The art, of course, is great — the colors, the style, the way little asides and speech bubbles were arranged were all top-notch to me. More than once, I found myself wishing I was nearly as stylish as the characters in Seconds. This is definitely a book that you can admire visually, along with enjoying the story.

Seconds is going to the top of my favorite comic books of all time. Now I have to go and search for Seconds fanart so I can keep living in that world a little longer…

Recommendation: Buy it now! This is a seriously amazing read.

Further reading: Bryan Lee O’Malley on POC representation in his comics

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YA Asian SFF by the numbers

A few months back, I came across a graph of the CCBC Multicultural Statistics for 2015. The results were disappointing but unsurprising…

Multicultural Stat Bar Chart 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing that graph reminded me of a recent trend in YA lit — Asian fantasy. Or maybe it’s not a trend, and I only feel like it is because I’m Asian myself. Either way, I have mixed feelings about this type of book since it usually ends up being a) all my dreams come true, or b) a racist mess, or c) disappointingly mediocre and most likely written by someone who isn’t Asian. Some of my favorite (yay!) and least favorite (read: racist) books fall into this category.

Honestly, every time I hear about a new “Asian-inspired” YA fantasy, I feel a little shiver of dread. I wonder who’s it by, what’s the plot, and does it involve names pulled from a dictionary?

At any rate, I decided to figure out the ratio of “Asian-inspired” YA sci-fi and fantasy written by Asians and non-Asians (mostly white authors, let’s be real). Using the completely unscientific method of scouring goodreads lists and asking around, I came up with this list*:

Asian Sci-fi/Fantasy YA lit by Asians (17):

Ash by Malinda Lo (2), Half World by Hiromi Goto, Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon (3), The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu, Prophecy by Ellen Oh (3), Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda (3), Alpha Goddess by Amalie Howard, The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco (2)

Asian Sci-fi/Fantasy YA lit by non-Asians (34):

Spirit’s Chosen by Esther Friesner (2),  Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff (3), Soundless by Richelle Mead, Ink by Amanda Sun (3), Gilded by Christina Farley (3), Eon series by Alison Goodman (2), Cinder series by Marissa Meyer (4), The Walled City by Ryan Graudin, City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster (2), Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson, Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce, The Night Itself by Zoë Marriott (3), Fox and Phoenix by Beth Bernobich, Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine (2), The Fire Wish by Amber Lough (2), Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios (2), A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

*Note: I included SFF YA books involving elements of Asian cultures. I listed one book per author, but included the number of books in a series/standalone books that fit the criteria as well in parentheses. I didn’t count books that were obscure, fairly old, or arguably middle grade.

Well. I swear the perfect 1:2 ratio is a coincidence, but it seems to roughly match up to CCBC’s stats. This brings to mind two issues:

  1. What barriers to entry are there for authors of Asian descent in Western publishing? Especially those who want to write about their own culture, but are discouraged from doing so?
  2. What can be done to drive home the fact that Asia is not a monolithic culture or a convenient exotic backdrop?
To end on a happy note, here are a few of my favorite books from the two lists above: Half World by Hiromi Goto, Serpentine by Cindy Pon, and Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine. Do you have any favorites?

 

Related resources:
Tweets by Alyssa Wong on Orientalism
Cindy Pon on writing YA fantasy
Writing With Color, a great writing resource

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Book Review: Darkness Hidden

darkness hiddenTitle: Darkness Hidden (Name of the Blade #2)
Author: Zoe Marriott
Genres:  Adventure, Urban Fantasy, Supernatural
Pages: 352
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Review Copy: ARC from Publisher
Availability: Available Nov. 10

Summary: Zoë Marriott’s inventive, Japanese-inflected urban fantasy raises the stakes in a sweeping second installment.

Against all odds, Mio has defeated the evil Nekomata and seen her love, Shinobu, restored to life. But in the wake of the battle, Mio’s unsettling connection to the katana—an ancient sword her family has been compelled to guard for generations—has grown more frightening. And now the Underworld has sent the Shikome—foul women whose feathers carry death—to spread a supernatural plague through London. With her best friend in the hospital, Shinobu’s very existence at risk, and the city in chaos, Mio realizes there is no way she can keep everyone she loves alive. What terrible sacrifice must she make to save the world?

Review: With so many fantasy novels set in European mythology, having a book that breaks the “status quo” is refreshing and Zoe Marriott’s Name of the Blade series is the perfect fit. Candlewick Press was kind enough to send me both books from the series, so I was able to enjoy Name of the Blade and Darkness Hidden back to back. To say I enjoyed both novels is an understatement. When I finished Darkness Hidden, I was ready to read the final installment, because like many authors before her, Marriott left a main character “in peril”, so to speak, and I was not happy. I need to find out what happens to…ha, not going to tell! You have to read to find out. Anyway, onto why Darkness Hidden was such a fun read.

The novel picks up moments after “Name of the Blade” leaves off, and I actually like that bit of storytelling. Darkness Hidden starts out with a sense of urgency right away and doesn’t let up until, well…never. The “big bad” in this novel is truly terrifying and at times it seems like our heroes won’t win. Unlike the first book where only a few people in the “normal” world were affected by the events in the book, with the Shikome, the terror is city wide, which really ups the stake for Mio and her friends. In many urban fantasy novels, it seems like the “normal” world really isn’t effected that much, but in Darkness Hidden, London definitely is. The plague that the Shikome spread through the city has real world effects and London basically shuts down. I greatly enjoyed that Marriott decided to involve more of London in the story because it made her world much more richer than it already was. Milo is learning about the supernatural world that she is a part of, but she still is living in the mortal world and her decisions are effecting not just those whom she is close to, but the larger society. This allows for Mio to truly grow and become more responsible in the book. She realizes the extent that her one moment of curiosity and/or selfishness has brought.

Speaking of Mio, aside from the tremendous world building that Marriott has brought to the series, Mio is a character that we can really relate to. She is a typical teen who sometimes doesn’t make the best decisions, but her intentions are always good. She is doing her best to make sense of a world that in practically the blink of an eye, is one that is so much bigger than she ever thought. And then, Mio receives some news that truly rocks her world, in a perfect plot twist moment. It is one that no one will see coming and I love this book for it. With the twist comes some clarity for Mio, but it isn’t easy. And that is also what makes Mio such a great character and the novel so interesting. Aside from the action and supernatural baddies, Darkness Hidden gives us some deep themes to have us consider as we travel with Mio on this journey to right a wrong. I am very interested to see how the trilogy ends, especially with that ending!

Recommendation: I greatly enjoyed this series as it was a lot of fun. I can’t wait for the third book in the series and so will you. Get it soon!

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New Releases

There are only two books on our radar this week. If you know of other titles, please add them in the comments.

The Iron Warrior

The Iron Warrior (The Iron Fey: Call of the Forgotten #3) by Julie Kagawa
Harlequin Teen – Oct. 27

The Iron Prince—my nephew—betrayed us all.

He killed me.

Then, I woke up.

Waking after a month on the brink of death, Ethan Chase is stunned to learn that the Veil that conceals the fey from human sight was temporarily torn away. Although humankind’s glimpse of the world of Faery lasted just a brief moment, the human world has been cast into chaos, and the emotion and glamour produced by fear and wonder has renewed the tremendous power of the Forgotten Queen. Now, she is at the forefront of an uprising against the courts of Summer and Winter—a reckoning that will have cataclysmic effects on the Nevernever.

Leading the Lady’s Forgotten Army is Keirran himself: Ethan’s nephew, and the traitor son of the Iron Queen, Meghan Chase. To stop Keirran, Ethan must disobey his sister once again as he and his girlfriend, Kenzie, search for answers long forgotten. In the face of unprecedented evil and unfathomable power, Ethan’s enemies must become his allies, and the world of the fey will be changed forevermore.

See No ColorSee No Color by Shannon Gibney
Carolrhoda Lab – Nov. 1

For as long as she can remember, sixteen-year-old Alex Kirtridge has known two things:
1. She has always been Little Kirtridge, a stellar baseball player, just like her father.
2. She’s adopted.

These facts have always been part of Alex’s life. Despite some teasing, being a biracial girl in a white family didn’t make much of a difference as long as she was a star on the diamond where her father—her baseball coach and a former pro player—counted on her. But now, things are changing: she meets Reggie, the first black guy who’s wanted to get to know her; she discovers the letters from her biological father that her adoptive parents have kept from her; and her body starts to grow into a woman’s, affecting her game.

Alex begins to question who she really is. She’s always dreamed of playing pro baseball just like her father, but can she really do it? Does she truly fit in with her white family? Who were her biological parents? What does it mean to be black? If she’s going to find answers, Alex has to come to terms with her adoption, her race, and the dreams she thought would always guide her. — Cover images and summaries via Goodreads

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Review: The Weight of Feathers

The Weight of FeathersTitle: The Weight of Feathers
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Genres: Romance, Fantasy, Magical Realism
Pages: 320
Publisher: A Thomas Dunne Book for St. Martin’s Griffin
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: For twenty years, the Palomas and the Corbeaus have been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for over a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows—the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find.

Lace Paloma may be new to her family’s show, but she knows as well as anyone that the Corbeaus are pure magia negra, black magic from the devil himself. Simply touching one could mean death, and she’s been taught from birth to keep away. But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it’s a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace’s life. And his touch immerses her in the world of the Corbeaus, where falling for him could turn his own family against him, and one misstep can be just as dangerous on the ground as it is in the trees.

Beautifully written, and richly imaginative, The Weight of Feathers is an utterly captivating young adult novel by a talented new voice.

Review: The Weight of Feathers is a beautifully written book that depends not only on a cast of memorable characters but also a vivid, magical world. I purchased this book because I needed something to read on a late-night, three-hour airplane flight, and it kept me entertained the entire time.

The star-crossed lovers setup can lose a lot of its punch when the feud appears ridiculous or is easily circumvented, but Anna-Marie McLemore neatly dodges that trap with the tension between the Palomas and the Corbeaus. With the “inciting incidents” for the feud within living memory for the bulk of each large, tightly knit family, the conflicts feel immediate and raw. Deaths, sabotage, serious injuries, assaults—many members of each family have been perpetrators, victims, or indirectly affected. So when Lace is “cursed” with a feather mark during the disaster at Almendro and gets kicked out of her family, it takes no small amount of courage for her to venture to the Corbeau camp to try to earn her way out of the curse.

McLemore’s strength in creating engaging characters is immediately apparent with our two protagonists, Lace and Cluck. Their circumstances and personalities are well crafted and the arc of their friendship and romance felt believable and appropriately complicated due to their feuding families. There are a number of memorable characters in the supporting cast, though Cluck’s grandfather is easily the most interesting. Due to Lace’s exile, getting to know the other Palomas is a little harder, but I appreciated how McLemore compared and contrasted the two families. It was particularly interesting to me that each family thought the worst of each other, yet both were more than willing to do horrible things to their own people.

While my experience with magical realism is limited, I was immersed in The Weight of Feathers. McLemore created a world where magic ranges from practically mundane things like pairs of mermaid scales on skin or feathers hidden in hair to curses to radical transformations. It feels both surprising and expected at the same time thanks to being grounded by characters who worry about less fantastical things like fitting in, becoming an adult, stage makeup, family abandonment, abuse, and rape.

The Weight of Feathers has a few flaws—luckily, this book hit me at a time where I was in the mood for this style of prose. I imagine others will not be as thrilled, but that is something that can easily be found out by reading the preview chapters on Goodreads. Also, initially I was a little disappointed with the ending confrontation, but upon a second reading of the final chapters, I found myself far more satisfied with it.

Recommendation: Buy it now if you’re a fan of magical realism or star-crossed romances. While The Weight of Feathers isn’t perfect, it is a strong, engaging work that serves as a great introduction to magical realism. I look forward to future works by McLemore.

Extras
Where Our Magic Lives: A Queer Latina on Magical Realism at Diversity in YA

Magical Realism & Culture: Author Anna-Marie McLemore at YA Interrrobang

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Review: Sorcerer to the Crown

sorcerer_front mech.inddTitle: Sorcerer to the Crown
Author: Zen Cho
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 416
Publisher: Ace
Availability: September 1st, 2015

Summary: Magic and mayhem collide with the British elite in this whimsical and sparkling debut.  At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, freed slave, eminently proficient magician, and Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers—one of the most respected organizations throughout all of Britain—ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up.  But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large… [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Zen Cho’s short stories are some of my favorites (if you haven’t read her anthology Spirits Abroad, you really should) — so I went into this book with very, very high expectations. I wasn’t disappointed. While Sorcerer to the Crown doesn’t read like her usual fare — this is very Jane Austen meets post-colonial fantasy — it was absolutely wonderful.

Sorcerer to the Crown features Zacharias Wythe, adopted son of Sir Stephen, England’s sorcerer to the crown. When he inherits Sir Stephen’s staff (among other things), he steps into the trying role of being England’s first black Sorcerer Royal. Along the way, he runs into the orphan and incredibly practical, sort-of schoolteacher Prunella Gentleman, who has an important role in the fate of English magic.

Set in a fantasy version of Regency London, Sorcerer to the Crown reminded me in tone of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer’s writing. The novel perfectly balances the setting of high society in Regency London with the fantasy plot. So if you like novel of manners books, or you love a good fantasy, you’re in for a treat — especially if you want a fantasy that doesn’t fall into the “everyone is white, even the elves!” trap. It’s like getting a bowl with the perfect ratio of rice to curry, and then discovering that there’s a pork katsu hiding in the sauce.

The best part of Sorcerer to the Crown, to me, was how real it felt. Sure, it was fantasy, but the characters themselves, the infighting of England’s magical society, and the various systems of magic all conspired to make the story work. What I find unbelievable about a lot of fantasy and fiction in general is how England (or whatever Western country the book is set in) operates in isolation of the rest of the world, and completely ignores the role colonialism played in making such a society possible. Thankfully, in Zen Cho’s novel, just the opposite happens.

Zacharias and Prunella exist in fantasy England, and experience all the daily microaggressions, and straight-up racism and sexism that follow. Magic-users from other countries make appearances throughout the novel, bringing with them different relationships with magic and throwing into question the nature of England’s political relationship with other nations. My particular favorite is Mak Genggang, a fearsome grey-haired witch who sails in and out of the story, turning it on its head. (I nearly threw my book out of excitement when I first encountered her, but I was riding a train at the time, and restrained myself.)

COKy3g-UsAAj7At.jpg large (2)

Basically, what I’m trying to say is — Sorcerer to the Crown is an awesome fantasy. If you’re into Regency era fiction, or if you’re into good fantasy, then read this book. If you’re not, then you should still read this book. It’s lovely stuff.

Recommendation: Buy it now!
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