Book Review: Warrior by Ellen Oh

warriorTitle: Warrior
Author: Ellen Oh
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 327
Publisher: Harper Teen
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On Shelves now

Summary: Kira, the yellow-eyed demon slayer who protected her kingdom in Prophecy, is back . . . and her dramatic quest is far from over. After finishing Ellen’s first novel, Prophecy, School Library Journal said they were “ready for a sequel.” Well, here it is Filled with ancient lore and fast-paced excitement, this page-turning series is perfect for fantasy and action fans.
Kira has valiantly protected her kingdom–and the crown prince–and is certain she will find the second treasure needed to fulfill the Dragon King’s prophecy. Warrior boasts a strong female hero, romantic intrigue, and mythical creatures such as a nine-tailed fox demon, a goblin army, and a hungry dragon with a snarky attitude. – cover and summary via Indiebound

 
Review: First Julie Kagawa ends The Eternity Cure with a cliffhanger and then Ellen Oh does the same thing with Warrior! Really, ladies?! Why must you be so cruel? Why must you break my heart so? I will say, based on the ending of Warrior, the third book will probably be amazing and I can’t wait to get it into my eagerly awaiting hands. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

 
Warrior picks up just days after Prophecy leaves off,  the events of the first book still very fresh in the hearts of Kira and her family. The book also deals with the political fallout of the events and Oh spends some time dealing with the issue of what would happen to a kingdom that has lost both its King & Queen and is now ruled by another. I greatly enjoyed this aspect, exploring the after effects of war both from a psychological and political perspective. The reprieve is short lived when the new King is assassinated, and Kira’s life and that of her cousin Taejo is put in jeopardy. In Prophecy, Kira was tasked to find the first of three magical objects signifying the fulfillment of the Dragon King prophecy and this new threat to Kira and Teajo’s lives is the catalyst for them to go in search for the jeweled dagger. Off their troupe travels, this time meeting new mythical helpers as well as fighting an even creepier demon army than before. Seriously, this demon army that the Demon Lord creates is effective and deadly. There were times when I seriously wondered who would get out alive in the battles and was praying for some of my favorite characters.

 
One of the treats of this novel, for me, is that Oh explores more of the world of the Seven Kingdoms. This time we head north, via an adventure at sea and then traveling through the snow to the mountains. I love watching Korean Dramas, and after watching so many, I have a visual picture in my mind of the landscapes that Oh describes so beautifully. I imagine the world that I’m familiar with layered with the fantastical elements Oh adds. The strength of the novel lies in Oh’s descriptions of her world and having us truly feel what the characters are feeling. The cold that Kira and her group experience as they travel towards the mountains, I could feel in my bones. Many times I curled up tighter in my blankets because I could clearly imagine the chill that Kira felt.

 
While I’m angry that Oh just ended the story on a cliffhanger, I know that the next novel will be a thrilling conclusion to the series and I can’t wait.

 
Recommendation: Go buy it now!

Splashes, No.1

So I didn’t post much on Rich in Color last year — just once actually. Part of it was for lack of reading because I didn’t read as many books as I should have. Most of the reason though was because I felt frozen about what to say. A lot of my thoughts about diversity in literature were unformed, constantly changing, and oftentimes conflicting. “Nobody should write what they don’t know! Write whatever you want! Representation! Otherness! Authenticity! Research is enough, research is never enough! All experiences should be first hand!” I basically wasn’t sure what my stance on diversity was aside from “just support/read it.”

But since I’ve been mostly a non-contributing contributor here, I thought I’d better step up and start a monthly column about trying to read, write, learn, and come to terms with my (hopefully increasingly sophisticated) thoughts about diversity.

bird00I don’t know about everyone else, but when I used to read books, I barely bothered to glance at who wrote it. I just dug into a book and started reading. If I enjoyed the experience enough, I’d glance back at the cover, note the author, and then head off to the library to find their next book. That was pretty much the only time the mysterious author came into the picture…after I had read the book.

Pre-Internet, it was difficult to find out information about an author anyway. All I had to go on was the short biographical blurb and maybe an author photo. Now it’s totally different. You can find out a lot about any author. All authors are told by marketing to hurry up and build a website, slap up a bio page, and go get on some blog tours and interviews. The time one could spend on reading interviews, watching videos, and consuming guest posts from an author can literally almost outweigh the time spent on interacting with the actual book. Sidenote: This isn’t a bad thing, I love how much information is readily available.

My problem however, is that nowadays I tend to focus on the author too much, especially when it comes to diverse books. Oftentimes, before I’ve even gone halfway into something, I’ve already Googled for author background. Basically I’m looking for, and gauging, authenticity. Is this book written by someone who looks/sounds/seems like they know what they’re talking about? Yes? Okay then, let’s move on. If not, I’m reading the book with a heavily biased eye. This is terribly judge-y of me but it’s the truth, and I’m sure other people do this too.

I know, it’s very un-New Criticism of me. “New Criticism emphasizes explication, or close reading of the work itself. It rejects old historicism’s attention to biographical and sociological matters.” The thing is, I can’t ignore the context of the book. Not like when I was young. I used to read colorblind, I read just to read, and in some ways it could be said that I read dumb. Now, who the author is, their intent, the publishing environment that pushed this book into my hands, all of it weighs in my mind for better or for worse. Pandora’s box right?

As the new year turns, I’ve been trying to evaluate what I like about certain book reviews, and what kind of reviews I would like to do. Lit crit, get at me! People study this stuff, but I never did. Except for auditing that one measly class where I learned the term “New Criticism.” Sure hope I used it right. Anyway, all that naturally leads into getting into the kind of stuff that people studying this stuff get into. Books like Critical Approaches to Young Adult Literature (2009) by Kathy H. Latrobe and Judy Drury. I couldn’t believe this existed and I just had to order this sucker to dig into asap. I’ll keep you updated on what I find out. Meanwhile, I’m going to drop some links to people, articles, and some other such things. Beware, it’s a link forest ahead, sorry in advance.

Aside from just being a wonderful place in general, s.e. smith’s blog also features the best YA book reviews I’ve ever read. They are personal, nuanced, and positive. Shying away from a simple “like/dislike” review, smith totally digs into what makes a book worth reading. And when it comes to YA books with diversity, ou really nails the wider issues that a book touches on. Check out smith’s reviews of Maurene Goo’s Since You Asked and Alaya Dawn Johnson’s Summer Prince as examples. And here is s.e. smith’s guest post from Disability in Kidlit, “Don’t Worry, It’s Fine When It Happens to Crazy People!”

The reviews on LA Review of Books are always supremely well written, but this one on Nalo Hopkinson’s Sister Mine especially caught my eye. Jessica Granger’s “Dysfunctional Fabulist Families.” This line among many others: “For all Toronto’s reputation on the world stage as a happily multicultural metropolis, and for all the Canadian government’s lip service to the value of diversity, Sister Mine speaks truth, real truth, about the quotidian prejudice with which black Torontonians live.”

YALSA’s Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults, a peer-reviewed online research journal, has some killer stuff on their site including Regina Sierra Carter’s “YA Literature: The Inside and Cover Story (2013)” and Sarah Hannah Gómez’s, “This, That, Both, Neither: The Badging Of Biracial Identity In Young Adult Realism (2013)”

Speaking of Sarah Hannah Gómez, I love her blog because she comes strong with the opinions and her takes are often so right on. For example, her experience at a CBC Diversity event, her review about certain aspects of Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando’s Roomies, and her calling out of incorrect usages of “multicultural” (and “diversity”).

And although I haven’t read Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park yet, I am a bit fearful after reading Wendy Xu’s, aka Angry Girl Comics, take on it. I want to believe that Park is an amazing contemporary (male) Asian-American character in YA. I want to believe that all the fans of Eleanor & Park were 100% spot on. And because Rowell took the time to write this post: “Why is Park Korean?” But I have to admit that I’m apprehensive now. That’s what I mean about knowing too much about an author. All this baggage going in…

A Couple of Things

1. I think I found a case of cover colorwashing. The knife cuts both ways! This book features a white kid trying to become a samurai, yet the cover prominently features an Asian character. I can’t decide if this is hilarious, sad, or an example of progress. (Note: Other versions of the book feature the white protagonist. Such as the Indonesian cover.)

2. “The Same Loves: White people win again at the Grammys” aka Macklemore is the worst. A recent POC organization awarded their young adult prizes to authors that weren’t POC. I don’t know the criteria obviously but I assumed being a POC would be one of them. I’m just imagining the award presentation as the non-POC award winner gazes out into an audience of all POC members. “Thank you for giving me an award to represent you! You’re the best!” Cue applause.

3. Where are the Girls? A short film starring Jemima Kirke of Girls fame about how women artists were erased from history and under/misrepresented in museums. And if you want to really go down the rabbit hole about issues of gender, class, and race representation, read up on all things Girls related. Start here, “Lena Dunham Talks About Girls Being Super White (2012).”

4. I’m way interested in the individuals who populate the diverse YA blogosphere. There’s a lot of blogs, some old, some new, and all constantly shining the light on diversity in YA! If you’re one of these fine people, tell me so I can follow you, share you, and heck, interview you!

5. Oh, why “splashes?” I mean, it’s mostly my lame attempt to thematically match Rich in Color. Plus it reminds me of Splash, the greatest mermaid movie of all time. At least until September Girls gets adapted.

Mini-review: Breadcrumbs

breadcrumbs

 

Title:  Breadcrumbs
Author: Anne Ursu
Genres: fantasy, contemporary
Pages: 312
Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Review copy: the library
Availability: September 27, 2011

 

 

 

Summary: Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. They had been best friends since they were six, spending hot Minneapolis summers and cold Minneapolis winters together, dreaming of Hogwarts and Oz, superheroes and baseball. And then, one day, it was over. Jack just stopped talking to Hazel. And while her mom tried to tell her that this sometimes happens to boys and girls at this age, Hazel had read enough stories to know that it’s never that simple. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” Breadcrumbs is a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Hazel, adopted from India as a baby, has a hard enough time feeling like she fits in. When her best friend Jack becomes cold and distant, and then disappears, Hazel becomes determined to get her friend back and thaw his frozen heart. To get back her friend, Hazel must navigate a frozen landscape populated with fairy tale characters and plots. At the same time, she learns to deal with the trials of her everyday life — growing up, her parent’s divorce, and school.

Breadcrumbs combines two of my favorite things — friendship and fairy tales — to create a modern day version of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” The language and atmosphere of the book makes it the perfect book to read while curled up with a cup of hot chocolate on a frosty winter day. This middle grade book has something for people of every age group.

Recommendation: Buy it now! This book is great for anyone who loves fairy tales and a good story.

New Release for the Week

bewareBeware of Boys by Kelli London
Kensington

Summary: Now that Charly’s a star, she wants to give back any way she can. So she’s made The Extreme Dream Team’s newest mission to help three sizzling celebs’ charitable foundation build a super swanky retreat for teen girls who’ve battled an illness. But keeping things running smoothly is next to impossible when too many ideas–and egos–collide. . . — Cover image and summary via IndieBound

If you know of any other releases that we may have missed or of any coming up soon, please let us know in the comments section. Thanks!

Review: Control by Lydia Kang

Control Title: Control
Author: Lydia Kang
Genres: Science-fiction, Dystopian/Post-apocalyptic
Pages: 393
Publisher: Dial Books
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Set in 2150 — in a world of automatic cars, nightclubs with auditory ecstasy drugs, and guys with four arms — this is about the human genetic “mistakes” that society wants to forget, and the way that outcasts can turn out to be heroes.

When their overprotective father is killed in a terrible accident, Zel and her younger sister, Dylia, are lost in grief. But it’s not until strangers appear, using bizarre sensory weapons, that the life they had is truly eviscerated. Zel ends up in a safe house for teens that aren’t like any she’s ever seen — teens who, by law, shouldn’t even exist. One of them — an angry tattooed boy haunted by tragedy — can help Zel reunite with her sister.

But only if she is willing to lose him.

Review: I think the balance of the science-fiction and dystopian genres in Control was a little off for my tastes. I prefer my science fiction books to have a lot more emphasis on the puzzle-solving part of the science, especially for the reader. I want to be able to piece together clues and spend less time in lab accidents. There was too much time spent on trying to get a good copy of Dylia’s DNA instead of experimenting with the stuff that’s important in the final act. I also prefer my dystopians to focus a lot more on how evil society has become—not that there aren’t plenty of ways in which the government in Control is horrible—but Zel isn’t even really aware that she should be concerned about anything until her sister is kidnapped. The scope of the story was also surprisingly narrow; part of the draw of speculative fiction for me is exploring a different world, and Zel spent much of the book in a single building.

On the other hand, I was thrilled that the driving force of this entire book is Zel’s desperation to rescue her younger sister. Maybe it’s the big sister in me—I’m the eldest of ten children—but any time the older sister or brother is on a mission to rescue her/his siblings, I’m definitely going to be rooting for her/him. I do wish we had gotten to see more of Zel and Dylia in their normal sibling relationship before the death of their father or afterwards in their shared grief. I wanted to miss Dylia as much as Zel did, and for a while I felt more like I missed the idea of her than the actual character. Still, the goal to rescue Dylia (and the multiple deadlines involved in the process) kept the plot moving at a fast pace.

Some of the most memorable parts of the book involved the day-to-day interactions between Zel and the inhabitants of Carus. I took particular delight in her almost-frenemies relationship with Vera, and any of her encounters with Ana were all the right sorts of creepy. Cy, Zel’s romantic interest, was the sort of cold and standoffish hero that I actually cheered for. The two of them made a cute pair, and they had some excellent makeout scenes. The slow-building attraction between Zel and Cy was a lot of fun, and I liked that it took a while for them to open up to each other.

Zel was a clever heroine, but most of all I appreciated that she frequently called people out on their crap. I also enjoyed that Lydia Kang made Zel’s condition—a somewhat fictionalized Ondine’s curse—an important part of the story. It could have easily been handled poorly, but Kang did a great job showing how Zel managed her condition and how it affected her life.

The final act is filled with a few unexpected plot twists (one of which completely blindsided me) and a lot action. It was a great way to show off everything Zel had learned through the course of the book, including some things I hadn’t anticipated would be important to the plot again. I always appreciate it when an author can take something from a romantic scene and turn it into a key part of the action later on, so nicely done.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday. If you’re looking for a fast-paced dystopian book with a fun premise and a heroine who know what she wants and goes for it, then you should give Control a shot. It’s an interesting start to a series, and I look forward to the second book, which will be out in 2015.

Mad Words Turn To Positive Action

On the 4th day of this year, I had an experience that I was tempted to write a long rant about. However, I didn’t want to start off 2014 on a negative note. I pondered and pondered what I would write and then came up with this experiment and call to action. First off, a bit of background.

 
Between Christmas and my birthday, I received quite a bit of book money, including a gift card from Barnes & Noble. I went through my book list, trying to decide what books I wanted. List in hand, I went to Barnes & Noble hoping the majority of my book list would be at the store. I knew a number wouldn’t because they are books by authors of color. What ended up happening had me steaming mad.

flames on the side of my face
The second book of Ellen Oh’s Dragon King series, Warrior, had just come out 5 days before I went to the store, so I expected it to be there. The book was a new release by Harper Teen, not a small imprint in the least. It should have been in the newly released section. I should have found it. I didn’t. I searched and searched and a brand new book, a second book from a popular series, was not on the shelves of one of the largest book sellers in America. In fact, only two of the books on my list were there Matt De La Pena’s “The Living” and N.K. Jemisin’s “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms”, of which I bought the ONLY book.

warriorthe livingJemisin_Hundred-Thousand-Kingdoms-TP

Needless to say I was vexed at Barnes & Nobles’ dismal representation of diversity and was kinda mean to the checkout person (sorry!). I ranted to my husband, who ultimately ended up saying, “well, how will you let them know?” And after I tired myself out from my tantrum, I thought about what he said. I let it settle in my heart and thought…what is the most productive way to express my rage? How do I let Barnes & Noble know that their stores are lacking in diversity and while yes, I can order the books online, book store visibility helps novels by authors of color been seen and sold. Barnes & Noble needs to do their part in promoting diversity and not just shelving books by authors of color in their respective “ethnic” section.

So I propose an experiment, a call to action, and I urge many of you to take part. Here is what I would like you to do:

1. Make a list of books you could potentially buy – all by authors of color (this even includes non-YA books).

2. Visit your local Barnes & Noble and check the shelves. If a book is listed, note how many and where it is shelved. If it’s not, note that as well.

3. Go to the checkout and ask the sales clerk, or even manager (remember to be nice) and ask why the books you want are not there. Ask why they are not shelved, not visible and that you would like to see these books (and others like it) sold at the store and not just online.

4. Write a letter (or email) to Barnes & Noble about your experience.
Barnes & Noble, Inc.
Attn: Jaime Carey, Chief Merchandising Officer
122 Fifth Ave
New York, NY 10011
Email: jcarey@bn.com
(I hope this is the right address. If someone has better GoogleFu than me, please let me know and I can update this post.)

5. Report back here with your findings and/or if you have a blog, turn your letter into a post and share the link.

In my February essay/OpEd, I’ll share my findings and letter and hopefully some of your experiences. Hopefully we can get a movement going and have Barnes & Noble change their business practices. Let’s put our frustration into action.

Please signal boost this post. The more voices calling for change, the better.