Monday, November 6, 2017

Things I've Read Recently (60)

If you're new around here, Things I've Read Recently is a series of posts I do that are basically mini-reviews of books that I either forgot to review, didn't have enough to say for a full review, or just didn't want to do a full post about for whatever reason.

Queer, There, and Everywhere by Sarah Prager

Published: May 23rd, 2017 by HarperCollins
Genre: YA Non-Fiction
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 256 plus acknowledgements. The entries about people stop at 215 and the rest is a glossary and biblography.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): World history has been made by countless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals—and you’ve never heard of many of them.

Queer author and activist Sarah Prager delves deep into the lives of 23 people who fought, created, and loved on their own terms. From high-profile figures like Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt to the trailblazing gender-ambiguous Queen of Sweden and a bisexual blues singer who didn’t make it into your history books, these astonishing true stories uncover a rich queer heritage that encompasses every culture, in every era.

By turns hilarious and inspiring, the beautifully illustrated Queer, There, and Everywhere is for anyone who wants the real story of the queer rights movement.

Thoughts: The thing about this is that it's pretty basic. And in some aspects that can be neat. The entries are short, engaging, and to the point, and that can be great for reader who isn't very familiar with non-fiction or naturally drawn to it, and I think it's really approachable for younger readers. It almost has the kind of tone where it could be a Buzzfeed article (or an article that Buzzfeed ripped off) or something.

But in other ways, it's just not that deep. Or, no, you know what this really reminds me of? A Cracked article. An interesting read, and you probably learned some neat new things, but you're definitely not getting the full story.

I also think this really lacks in asexuality and aromanticism peeps. I mean, let's be honest. A lot of these things aren't labels the people historically used, and there's no reason that can't be true of a-spec identities as well. But the only mentions of asexuality and aromanticism are in the introduction and the glossary. Asexuality is mentioned once in the introduction, and it's in the glossary. The entry in the glossary is okay, but aromanticism is only mentioned in that entry (as not being the same thing) and two of the people have something said along the lines of, "They might have identified as ace". Well, why didn't you say that in their chapters? Why does it only come up in these two places?

I mean, I honestly did like this. I thought it was cool that they had a good amount of queer POC, and I really liked the inclusion both of really historical people, like ancient Rome historical, and people who are still alive today, along with important people like Sylvia Rivera. Honestly I thought the Sylvia Rivera entry was super powerful. And the writing is fun, it really was.

But overall, it's really basic. It's real Western-world centered for sure, and it largely focused on the LGBT without really going into all the other identities out there. It's not a bad starting point, but it by no means represents everyone and that lack is disappointing.

Listen, Slowly by Thanhhà Lại

Published: February 17th, 2015 by HarperCollins
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 260 plus a bunch of extras
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): A California girl born and raised, Mai can't wait to spend her vacation at the beach. Instead, though, she has to travel to Vietnam with her grandmother, who is going back to find out what really happened to her husband during the Vietnam War. Mai's parents think this trip will be a great opportunity for their out-of-touch daughter to learn more about her culture.

But to Mai, those are their roots, not her own. Vietnam is hot, smelly, and the last place she wants to be. Besides barely speaking the language, she doesn't know the geography, the local customs, or even her distant relatives. To survive her trip, Mai must find a balance between her two completely different worlds.

Thoughts: I really liked this. I've read some really great middle grade books lately and this is definitely one of them. This and Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood would go really well together actually. (They can be friends.) I think it's a really relateable premise overall that a lot of kids would have a similar experience to.

Also I'm going to point out something that sounds a little silly - the font in this is kind of small. I'm bringing this up because honestly if the font was a little bigger which is pretty common in MG, this book could probably easily be 300 pages. There's almost more book here than I expected just from the page count alone, which was a neat surprise. I was also glad there wasn't a really big scary death in this. Like there is some talk of death, as it does deal with what happened to Mai's grandfather during the war, but it's something that happened when her father was a baby, so it's a little bit less about the immediate grief. Instead, it's more about closure, and how life moves on, you know?

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

Published: February 8th, 2016 by Flux
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 273 plus the acknowledgements and about the author
Part of a series? This is the first in the Abyss Surrounds Us series with the second book released April 2017.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.

Thoughts: Honestly this isn't my usual genre of choice. I don't mind a dystopian now and then, but this is way more intensely science fiction than I normally read. I struggled a very little bit to get into it at the very beginning, just as things were first being world-built and it was a tiny bit hard at the very beginning, but it only took a couple chapters for me to really start to enjoy it.

The voice is great, it's queer, it's future pirates. If you like science fiction, you will probably love this. If you're not big on science fiction, give this one a shot anyways. You might be surprised too! It's also pretty darn diverse overall, and I don't really have any major complaints.

One thing I really liked was that the romance plot has a lot of talk about how power imbalances can make things not okay in romance. I thought that was super cool.

Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody

Published: July 25th, 2017 by Harlequin Teen
Genre: YA Fantasy
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 377 plus acknowledgements
Part of a series? Nope
Got via: The library
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Sixteen-year-old Sorina has spent most of her life within the smoldering borders of the Gomorrah Festival. Yet even among the many unusual members of the traveling circus-city, Sorina stands apart as the only illusion-worker born in hundreds of years. This rare talent allows her to create illusions that others can see, feel and touch, with personalities all their own. Her creations are her family, and together they make up the cast of the Festival’s Freak Show.

But no matter how lifelike they may seem, her illusions are still just that—illusions, and not truly real. Or so she always believed…until one of them is murdered.

Desperate to protect her family, Sorina must track down the culprit and determine how they killed a person who doesn’t actually exist. Her search for answers leads her to the self-proclaimed gossip-worker Luca, and their investigation sends them through a haze of political turmoil and forbidden romance, and into the most sinister corners of the Festival. But as the killer continues murdering Sorina’s illusions one by one, she must unravel the horrifying truth before all of her loved ones disappear. I also predicted the villain like twenty pages in, honestly.

Thoughts: I think we've established this isn't my usual genre, but I have a lot of mixed feelings on this one. I think if you like fantasy, this could be something you'd like. It is an interesting world and premise, although sometimes I did have trouble kind of figuring out how the setting worked. The book can be somewhat gory at times, but the dark tone can be interesting to read. I also thought the illustrations were great.

But the biggest thing I need to talk about is the ace and aro rep. There will DEFINITELY be spoilers. Read somewhere else if you care. The love interest, Luca, is demiromantic and asexual, and I wish I liked that more. Because of the fantasy setting, the labels for him are only used on the author's website, and things are pretty... vague. Asexuality and aromanticism get somewhat confused or combined when Luca is talking about how he feels, and rolled entirely into "attraction". I appreciate the attraction mention, but it isn't consistent, and sex repulsion and lack of sexual attraction are definitely rolled together and I'm just sick of that. Sex repulsion and asexuality are not the same thing.

I also, and GIANT SPOILERS here, have a lot of trouble with the idea of him being one of the illusions she creates, especially because she created him to be a boyfriend/lover. One, I think that's kind of icky on the consent front in general. Two, because she created him to be that role, I think there's almost an implication that his sexuality and romantic identity is something that went wrong with him. I don't think the author meant that by any means, but that's still kind of how I walk away feeling. Also, honestly, I'm not sure we needed another inhuman, associated with death ace character. There's a LOT of ace characters associated with death (see thread here) and a lot of nonhuman comparisions. I also don't really like the idea of a demi-ace character being literally made up, since that whole thing where people are constantly telling us we made up our identities and they're not real.

Overall, I just was underwhelmed. And I was really excited too! On the surface, it's mostly okayish rep. I think the lack of labels in the book really don't help, and the implications are more easy than I'd like to see in it. I wouldn't personally recommend it for rep, but other people might. Maybe demiromantic people will enjoy it more. I'm greyaro, not demi (anymore) so I'm not entirely sure, but the representation felt very generalized and kind of middle of the road to me. Not like glaringly problematic, but not great either.

Okay, looking up reviews is helping a lot here. Here's one review where the reviewer couldn't even figure out what sexuality and romantic identity Luca is supposed to be. A bunch of people seem to read him as demisexual but tbh I don't think they know what demisexual is because Luca doesn't show sexual attraction to Sorena at all... or they were given wrong information. Like there's a solid 5 or 6 calling him demisexual. Here's one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, I could keep going. I'm going by the author's website here. Right in the FAQ, it says he's demiromo and asexual.

A ton of people don't seem to realize he's a-spec at all, which is why the lack of labels really bothered me. This review mentions people constantly finding his lack of interest in sex suspicious, and I agree, I really didn't like that. It could also be really triggering for that. This review reminds me of something I thought too - if bisexuality/not being heteroromantic and heterosexual are supposed to be very accepted in this world, why is asexuality treated so badly?

Also this book kind of sucks about fatness and fat rep. There are a handful of rude weight based/fat shaming comments from our heroes, and the only real fat character turns out to be a bad guy. The book really ends up correlating fatness and being a bad person.

There's a real lack of nonbinary characters, too. There was maybe one crossdressing character? For like a second? For having a decent amount of diversity regarding sexual and romantic orientation, everything was very binary and there's not even any explicit trans rep. I would also be VERY interested in reviews from POC reviewers, especially Asian identities, as I'm not the right person to say how that was handled. Also, about Sorena having no eyes, she can still see through her magic. Like she has no vision impairment from her lack of eyes. Going to leave this link here.

Honestly, this was overdue, and I almost gave up reading it. I didn't love the voice and honestly thought at times it was a bit overwritten, there was some disturbing stuff that I didn't enjoy a ton, I guessed the villain on *looks at notes* page 186 if not earlier. In general, I didn't like the a-spec rep or the fat rep (that was terrible to be honest) and the world and voice didn't save it for me. This was maybe okay at best for me. I wouldn't recommend it.

Well, it's a good thing this is the last book because that was long.

What have you guys been reading lately?

Peace and cookies,

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