diversity spotlight thursday, OwnVoices, Romance, Speculative Fiction, YA

Diversity Spotlight Thursday #5

Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly spotlight created by Aimal at Bookshelves and Paperbacks that specifically illuminates diverse literature. You can find more details of it in the announcement post here. Each post involves sharing:

  1. A diverse book I have read and enjoyed
  2. A diverse book that has already been released but I have not read
  3. A diverse book that has not yet been released

As part of #AsianLitBingo this month, I’m focusing on books by Asian authors and with Asian characters in this spotlight.

Read and enjoyed: Not Your Sidekick by CB Lee

Goodreads Link

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Welcome to Andover… where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef-up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship—only it turns out to be for the town’s most heinous supervillain. On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, who Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then there’s the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious “M,” who never seems to be in the same place as Abby.

But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether.

My thoughts:

Not Your Sidekick was actually featured in my first Diversity Spotlight Thursday, as a book on my TBR, and I was so lucky that Emily Mead lent it to me so I could finally read it. What I enjoyed:

  • The futuristic setting, heroes-and-villains foundation of their society, and their technologies were so much fun to read about. It reminded me of Big Hero 6 and I would so love to see a similar kind of animated adaptation of this book.
  • Jess was so compelling as a protagonist — her insecurities about not measuring up in terms of achievements, and regarding her cultural identities, felt very real.
  • It’s really interesting to read about an Asian diasporic character in this kind of story — talking about Jess’s Chinese classes in one paragraph and superheroes in the next; very affirming to read about.
  • Family stories are always great, and I loved that Jess’s parents and siblings had such a strong presence in the book, which shifted in a well-developed way as the story progressed.
  • Jess and Abby were an adorable duo!
  • The action-packed scenes and discoveries at the end were fun and gripping to read about

Definitely recommended!

TBR: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

Goodreads Link

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The beast raged; it punctured the air with its spite. But the girl was fiercer.

Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human.

Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

My thoughts:

I’ve heard a lot of friends talking about and saying they really enjoyed this, so this is definitely a book I plan on reading! I love the sound of Tea’s gift for necromancy — the dark magic aspects of the Old Kingdom books by Garth Nix were one of the things I loved about the series, so it’ll be great to see these themes/elements here. The cover also looks beautiful. Knowing that The Bone Witch has culturally diverse elements, and is by a Filipina/Chinese author, is also a strong motivation for me to read it.

Not Yet Released: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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Goodreads Link

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

My thoughts:

Rom-com! Indian protagonists with strong cultural elements! Amazing-sounding characters! I don’t really have much to comment except this sounds adorable and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for this one (good to know it’s being published in Aus/NZ!)

Have you read, or do you plan on reading, any of these books? Let me know your thoughts!

Australian, Contemporary, Historical Fiction, OwnVoices, Romance, YA

#LoveOzYA Recent Highlights

*Note for Read Diverse 2017 – Does My Head Look Big in This and Night Swimming are by authors of colour.

There are a couple of Australian YA books I’ve read since the beginning of the year which I really enjoyed, but haven’t yet gushed about and recommended properly. So, today’s post is a round-up of these!

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Frankie by Shivaun Plozza

Publisher’s Website

Summary:

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Frankie Vega is angry. Just ask the guy whose nose she broke. Or the cop investigating the burglary she witnessed, or her cheating ex-boyfriend or her aunt who’s tired of giving second chances…

When a kid shows up claiming to be Frankie’s half brother, it opens the door to a past she doesn’t want to remember. And when that kid goes missing, the only person willing to help is a boy with stupidly blue eyes … and secrets of his own. Frankie’s search for the truth might change her life, or cost her everything.

My highlights from Frankie:

  • Frankie had such an incredible, compelling voice. In the best way, she reminded me of the protag Gilly from The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson – fierce and apparently indifferent to those around her but with depths and vulnerabilities that really twist your heart when they come to the surface.
  • The setting was so detailed and really came alive throughout the story, which I loved! (Especially since it’s in Melbourne, Australia)
  • The mystery about Xavier, and the uncertainties about Frankie’s future, really kept me reading as the story progressed, and the supporting characters (especially Frankie’s aunt) were all fantastic
  • The emotions at the end of the story were so powerfully written, and overall I feel there was a good balance between tying up the storyline and leaving things open-ended

Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Publisher’s Website

Summary:

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Sixteen-year-old Amal makes the decision to start wearing the hijab full-time and everyone has a reaction. Her parents, her teachers, her friends, people on the street. But she stands by her decision to embrace her faith and all that it is, even if it does make her a little different from everyone else.

Can she handle the taunts of “towel head,” the prejudice of her classmates, and still attract the cutest boy in school? Brilliantly funny and poignant, Randa Abdel-Fattah’s debut novel will strike a chord in all teenage readers, no matter what their beliefs.

I’m still having trouble summarising what an incredible book this was – and this is something that’s really rare for me! Here are some of my highlights from the book:

  • Amal is seriously one of the most hilarious teen characters I have ever come across – her voice was incredibly real and had me laughing out loud (which, again, is REALLY RARE for me when reading!). It was also inspiring to see her strength in spite of all the prejudice she faced. Also, the audiobook narrator is fantastic – if you like audiobooks and can access it, I definitely recommend it.
  • It’s so refreshing to see how honestly it recognised and made counter-arguments against casual racism/prejudice. Naturally this focused on Islamophobia, but was not limited to it.
  • Leading on from the above two points, there are several more poignantly relevant societal issues that the book addresses, but it shows it through Amal’s family relationships, her strengths, and her hilarious voice – so it always felt naturally included. Internalised racism, assimilation, family expectations, close-mindedness in relation to tradition and the misuse of Islam, modesty, and empathy – all of these were raised and woven brilliantly into the narrative.
  • Amal’s friendships were lovely! Female friendships really come to the forefront in this book and each character is fleshed out. Leila’s storyline was heartbreaking but tackled so well and beautifully moving; I also loved the relationship between Amal and her next-door neighbour. The cultural diversity amongst the range of characters was almost bizarre to read, in the best way possible – I’ve never ever read a book which just feels like Australia the same way as this one does – it’s never tokenistic, but informed the identities of the characters in a beautiful way.
  • The not-really-romance and issues within her relationship with Adam were addressed well. I’d never found him that compelling as a character but was cheering at how well Amal stuck to who she was, and to her beliefs.
  • Seriously just. read. this.

Night Swimming by Steph Bowe

Publisher’s Website

Summary:

9781925498165Steph Bowe is back. Night Swimming is a love story with a twist, and a whole lot of heart.

Imagine being the only two seventeen-year-olds in a small town. That’s life for Kirby Arrow—named after the most dissenting judge in Australia’s history—and her best friend Clancy Lee, would-be musical star.

Clancy wants nothing more than to leave town and head for the big smoke, but Kirby is worried: her family has a history of leaving. She hasn’t heard from her father since he left when she was a baby. Shouldn’t she stay to help her mother with the goat’s-milk soap-making business, look after her grandfather who suffers from dementia, be an apprentice carpenter to old Mr Pool? And how could she leave her pet goat, Stanley, her dog Maude, and her cat Marianne?

But two things happen that change everything for Kirby. She finds an article in the newspaper about her father, and Iris arrives in town. Iris is beautiful, wears crazy clothes, plays the mandolin, and seems perfect, really, thinks Kirby. Clancy has his heart set on winning over Iris. Trouble is Kirby is also falling in love with Iris…

Night Swimming by Steph Bowe releases on April 3rd! Here are some of my highlights from the book:

  • The story centres on a same-sex romance, which was so great to read. The depiction of how Kirby felt towards and admired Iris from the start was so well-written and Iris was such a sweet and lovable character. The scenes they had together as they slowly got to know each other more were enjoyable and moving.
  • There are also multicultural supporting characters (Iris is biracial, Kirby’s best friend Clancy is Chinese-Australian, another character, Nick, is Greek) and excellent mental illness rep.
  • I loved Kirby and Clancy’s friendship, which was both positive and complex. The scene at the end when they finally confront each other and properly open up about their fears and worries was so satisfying to read.
  • The family relationships in this book were really touching. The issues with Kirby’s father were addressed so thoughtfully and holistically, in a way that felt incredibly real. The characterisation of her grandfather Cyril, and the effect of his dementia on her and her mother, was also really strong – and it’s not something we see often in YA contemporary.
  • Finally, the humour and characteristic quirky fun in Steph Bowe’s books were also fantastic here.

Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall

Publisher’s Website

Summary:

29340956Kate and Harriet are best friends, growing up together on an isolated Australian cape in the 1880s. As daughters of the lighthouse keepers, the two girls share everything, until a fisherman, McPhail, arrives in their small community. When Kate witnesses the desire that flares between him and Harriet, she is torn by her feelings of envy and longing. But one moment in McPhail’s hut will change the course of their lives forever.

Inspired by a true story, Skylarking is a stunning debut novel about friendship, love and loss, one that questions what it is to remember and how tempting it can be to forget.

Skylarking was the first historical fiction book I’d read in a while, despite it being my favourite genre; and it was a great one to get me back into it. It’s more of a crossover book in terms of age group – I haven’t seen it marketed as YA, but it centres on young characters and their experience of growing up.

My highlights from the book:

  • The writing was so incredible – I always admire writers who can describe what seems ordinary in an immersive, intriguing way
  • Kate was a fantastic character – I love how spirited she was, and this was especially clear in her longing for adventure. Additionally, I loved the coming-of-age themes that the story emphasised.
  • The SETTING. The isolated Australian cape of a lighthouse. So breathtaking to read about, and all throughout the book I could see, hear, and feel everything so clearly.
  • The historical period was also used very well – the narrative was accessible but prompted me to reflect on issues specific to the period, and those which remain relevant to us now.
  • At first I was hesitant about the climax (which is based off a real incident), and unsure about how well it worked with the build-up to it. But in the scenes that followed, I loved how strongly the emotions came across, and it prompted me to reflect on the story in a different way. Ultimately, it was very moving and thought-provoking

Have you read, or do you plan on reading, any of these books? What are your thoughts?

And a quick note to everyone: I’ve got a lot of assessments + general busy-ness coming up, so I won’t be on Twitter or blog-hopping much for the next 2-3 weeks. I’ll be sure to respond to any comments here though, and will definitely be back after that.

Contemporary, OwnVoices, Romance, YA

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han – Review

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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was a really sweet and light read; I especially loved the focus on family relationships, and the depiction of Lara Jean’s confusion and naivety as she navigated her love interests.

Summary:

LARA JEAN keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her, these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved.

When she writes, she can pour out her heart and soul and say all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only.

Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.

My thoughts:

The family relationships

  • I loved how this book emphasised family, especially the relationships between the three sisters — it’s something we don’t see enough of in YA. The book was honest about the challenges and conflicts in their relationships, as well as showing the strength of their bonds
  • Margot: I found it hard to be sympathetic towards her sometimes, but her situation and feelings were understandable and I loved the way she and Lara Jean confronted each other and resolved this at the end
  • Kitty, the youngest sister: she was an absolute delight in her interactions with every one of the characters and whenever she appeared on the page
  • The lingering impact of their mother’s death was interwoven naturally and sensitively into the story
  • I especially loved the specifics of their family traditions: the Christmas Cookie Bonanza and other  Christmas traditions, eating Korean food, etc. The in-depth details were a delight to read about.
  • In general, the family just seemed so real to me.

Lara Jean

  • Fitting in with the light and fluffy tone of the book, Lara Jean was sweet and naïve, dealing with confusion as she navigated her love interests — something I could relate to a lot
  • I loved how self-reflective she was, and the way she put her sisters first
  • Her biracial and Asian (half-Korean) identity was touched on a few times, alluding to family and addressing micro-aggressions — a refreshing piece of representation to find

The romantic storyline

  • I personally found it difficult to connect to either of the love interests. As said above, it was Lara Jean’s own growth and how she navigated them, as something completely new to her, which was better in sustaining me than the ‘who will she end up with’ aspect
  • I appreciate that things were meant to be messy, as is clear from the blurb — but still feel things could have been wrapped up better at the end, and am a little worried the sequel is going to go in circles

The writing

  • The narrative voice was lovely — very immersive and readable
  • Pacing was generally fine throughout the story, though I can imagine if you’re more impatient with the romantic storyline that it could seem to drag
  • The dialogue felt realistic and well-crafted

Overall, this is definitely a book I recommend for the sweet and light tone and storyline, and the focus on family relationships. I’ve very keen to see what happens in the sequel and to be with the Song girls again!