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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Review: Shadows Cast by Stars

Shadows Cast by StarsTitle: Shadows Cast by Stars
Author: Catherine Knutsson
Genres: Dystopia/Post-Apocalyptic; Fantasy; Romance, Steamy
Pages: 456
Publisher: Atheneum
Review Copy: Checked out from library
Availability: June 5, 2012

Summary: Old ways are pitted against new horrors in this compellingly crafted dystopian tale about a girl who is both healer and seer. Two hundred years from now, blood has become the most valuable commodity on the planet—especially the blood of aboriginal peoples, for it contains antibodies that protect them from the Plague ravaging the rest of the world.

Sixteen-year-old Cassandra Mercredi might be immune to Plague, but that doesn’t mean she’s safe—government forces are searching for those of aboriginal heritage to harvest their blood. When a search threatens Cassandra and her family, they flee to the Island: a mysterious and idyllic territory protected by the Band, a group of guerilla warriors—and by an enigmatic energy barrier that keeps outsiders out and the spirit world in. And though the village healer has taken her under her wing, and the tribal leader’s son into his heart, the creatures of the spirit world are angry, and they have chosen Cassandra to be their voice and instrument….

Incorporating the traditions of the First Peoples as well as the more familiar stories of Greek mythology and Arthurian legend, Shadows Cast by Stars is a haunting, beautifully written story that breathes new life into ancient customs —(Summary and image via Goodreads)

Review: I wish I liked this book more.

As a moving-to-a-new-town book, Shadows Cast by Stars is serviceable. Cass’s struggles to fit in with the people on the Island—including wanted and unwanted attention from boys—make for some interesting character dynamics and conflict. I particularly enjoyed Cass’s scenes with Madda and her (sort-of) friendship with Helen. The women are the most memorable characters in the novel, though the boys don’t give them much competition in that regard (more on this in a bit).

Unfortunately, I wasn’t invested in Cass’s relationship with Bran. They fall for each other far too quickly for my taste, and their relationship crosses off most of the plot devices for romances (down to an ex-girlfriend stealing a kiss in such a way that the heroine thinks the boyfriend is cheating on her). It doesn’t help that Bran spends large chunks of the story away from Cass, so they end up hitting their relationship milestones really quickly compared to how many hours they actually spend together on-screen.

I have three major complaints with the book, and the first is a matter of expectations. Based on the summary, I was expecting there to be a lot more time invested in exploring this particular disease-ridden world. I wanted to see the cultural, social, and legal ramifications of a world where the government is totally okay with draining people of all their blood in order to stop the spread of Plague. The premise promised me all sorts of interesting possibilities, from a black market for blood to exploitation to national testing and IDs.

I got none of that. The most I got was a chip in all the Corridor citizens’ wrists which let them…connect to the internet? The details are supremely fuzzy and leave more questions than answers: Why doesn’t the government keep better tabs on the people who are the only cure for the Plague? How could our heroes possibly have had time to run when a new plague outbreak occurs? Why isn’t there some kind of set-up where everyone immune to the Plague donates plasma/blood/etc. every [X] days, gets paid handsomely for it, and then the government distributes those vaccines/cures to the people who can afford to get them? Do the antibodies in Others’ blood grant immunity like a vaccine or is it more of a medicine given once the illness has been contracted? Does this government really think it’s an awesome long-term solution to execute the only people immune to the Plague? What is the government going to do when they’ve “overhunted” to extinction?

My second complaint is that many of the characters in the book feel distressingly shallow. Paul spends the entirety of the book as an enigma, and once they get to the Island, Cass spends more time with Bran than him. Neither Cass nor Paul seem to care much about getting ripped out of their lives—the closest we get to them missing anything is when Cass asks her dad if the Island has a school system. (As far as I remember, this never gets answered.) Neither Cass nor Paul apparently had any friends or even extended family in their previous lives. There was one attempt to humanize Avalon, which fell flat for me, Cedar was creepy and probably triggery, and Grace was creepy with a side order of broken. Much of the time these characters (except for Madda and Ms. Adelaide) simply didn’t seem to live in the world they inhabited.

My third complaint is that the culture of the Island felt really off to me. I’ll be the first to admit that my experience with literature starring or written by native people is pretty limited, but even I was able to pick up on many of the problematic bits that Debbie Reese identified. The mixture of Greek mythology and Arthurian legend didn’t mesh well with the story and were distracting (minor) players in the narrative. Frankly, I would have much preferred that they weren’t included at all.

Recommendation: Just skip it, unfortunately. While there are a lot of interesting ideas in the story, they got all tangled up around each other.

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Mini-review: A Match Made in Heaven

cover27644-mediumTitle: A Match Made in Heaven
Author: Trina Robbins
Illustrator: Xian Nu Studio & Yuko Ota
Pages: 128
Genre: fantasy, contemporary, graphic novel, romance
Publisher: Graphic Universe
Review Copy: NetGalley
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Aspiring comic book artist Morning Glory Conroy already has too much to juggle at her San Francisco high school–mean girls, inconsiderate cliques, wannabe gangbangers–without the complication of falling for new student Gabriel. Glory’s best friend, Julia, was interested in him first, and if it weren’t for Julia’s deteriorating home life, Glory wouldn’t have had a chance to get Gabriel to herself. But does he count as a real boyfriend if his overbearing guardian forbids even kissing? Soon Gabriel is pushing Glory to show her work at art events, and the new relationship starts taking Glory away from her bff just when Julia needs her. Glory is in for a startling revelation when she discovers not only Gabriel’s true identity, but also that of his mischievous cousin Luci, who trails their every move just to cause trouble. Can Glory and Gabriel keep their relationship aloft when the heavens themselves seem to be against it?
image and summary from Goodreads

Review: Glory and her friends kept me giggling and smiling. This was definitely light-hearted with a bit of quirkiness too. In one scene, readers are even treated to a paper doll type of layout with an attractive young man in his boxers. The illustrations were a lot of fun — especially since Glory’s comics are mixed in and they are a different style than the main storyline. Several startling action scenes are scattered about to keep you alert. I loved it. If you need a laugh or a quick read, this would be the perfect fit.

Recommendation: Get it soon. It would be just the thing when you need a bit of relaxation.

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