Thursday, May 28, 2015

My First Cinderella Retelling and First Steampunk Story

I was nervous about this one. I requested the e-ARC for it and waited. And waited, and then decided it wasn't one I'd get to read before it came out, but that maybe I'd read it when it released. Then I got the email saying I could download it! But what if I'd built up my hopes and it wasn't that great and I'd been waiting and anxious for nothing??
I'm happy to announce: this one did not disappoint.
I downloaded this one and read the first quarter of it. Then I had to deal with reality, but being able to finish a book in a week for me is actually saying something huge. I didn't put this one down and pick up anything else. I didn't get bored.
This was the first Cinderella story I tried and it was almost perfect. This was also the first book I've read that would classify as "steampunk" because I was a little worried about how I'd feel about it. My worries were in vain. It was a great twist to be added.
What I loved:
- Mechanica was not named Ella! At all!
- While Nick usually didn't cause waves and was kind, she fought back when she could/when she really reached a breaking point. This was more realistic, I felt, than the Cinderella who never, ever complains.
- She did not need a man to make her dreams come true. She built her dreams from the ground up, on her own terms. She had help from some bugs, but who doesn't need a little assistance when you're in such a crappy place?
- The ending was damn near perfect. Not a typical happily ever after, but was exactly the kind of ending I love.
- The story is really more about friendship than romantic love and I think we need more of that in the teen genre.
- This book very briefly touches on the ideas behind other types of relationships, as opposed to just a monogamous heterosexual relationship.
- It's clean so I have no worries if I recommend it to anyone, regardless of which age of teen they fall into.

What I didn't love:
- There were a couple elements that were never explained.
- Some of the writing felt like fluff. Basically, the same sentences, or similarly written ones, were repeated throughout when it wasn't entirely necessary.

I would definitely recommend this one to anyone looking for a new, and very different, very feminist twist on Cinderella.

**I'd like to thank Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing an advanced reading copy of this text in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my review in any way.**

Monday, May 11, 2015

Why I Won't Be Reading The Rainbow Fish to My Daughter

I guess I should preface this by saying, that I know at some point T will read The Rainbow Fish, either at school or daycare or on her own. I won't stop her from reading anything, unless it's something too mature for her (probably not too many restrictions there either), but I won't encourage this one.
I also want to say that I have not read any of the follow up stories of all the adventures Rainbow Fish goes on so maybe it gets better, but I just don't know about it.

When you work in a bookstore, people ask you all the time “how do you take home a paycheck?” Well, because this is my living, I have to pay my bills and feed my child so I don't have a lot of choice. At the same time, I understand the question and I do have a very difficult time talking myself out of buying all of the books. Due to a small apartment, I've gotten much better, but there are still times when I buy impulse books, then realize that I maybe shouldn't have.
Rainbow Fish was one of these. I remember that I read this as a kid. It's a classic, after all. Who doesn't love Rainbow Fish?? I bought it as soon as I saw a used copy come through because I thought, “I have to read this to T.” Then I did. All I could think after I re-read this book was that I think I'm missing something.
Maybe the board book version of Rainbow Fish leaves too much out of the story, maybe the regular version has something more to it. But in the version I read, I was left with a feeling of “I don't want to fill my daughter's head with this.” I understand the point of him learning to share, I really do. What I don't love is that he has to give away everything he loves to have friends. I don't love that he gives up who he is, that he can't be beautiful and have friends. I don't love that no one will be friends with him unless he gives them things. Maybe I just read too much into this one, maybe I'm overly cynical. Either way, this was not the lesson in sharing that I wanted to teach T. So I'm getting it back out of the house.

I would like to suggest another of Pfister's books, though. I know most people only know Rainbow Fish from him because it's the biggest/most popular one, but I also picked up Milo and the Magical Stones and really loved it. This is a story of a mouse who realizes that the only way to save his world is by working together with the others in his community to find a solution. There are two endings, a happy one and a not happy one. I think this one teaches a great lesson about working together and I will definitely read this one to T. Although, she'll probably have to be a little older since there are a lot of words, which requires a lot longer attention span than she currently has. If she's anything like me, though, she'll intentionally pick out the longest bedtime story possible when she's a little older.  

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Another Fairy Tale I Loved

by Stacey Jay
Rating: 5 out of 5

I almost didn't read this book. And that would have been a tragedy, though of course I wouldn't have known it. I judge books almost solely by their covers, but sometimes will just go off of what people recommend to me. This one was different. I read Of Beast and Beauty and loved it so much. I started Juliet Immortal because it was already on my TBR list, but I just couldn't really get into it. I like modern stories sometimes, but can't read many in the young adult area, mostly because there are too many pop references and it makes me crazy.
So when I saw this one come out, I was a little torn. I didn't love the cover (or the tagline: Sometimes you have to fight for happily-ever-after). But I read the synopsis and decided I'd want to try it so it was added to my TBR and then forgotten. I picked it up when I went back through my list for my next pick and headed up to the library to find something new. Of course, I found several other things, too, and I'd forgotten what it was about this one that made me want to read it. I brought it home anyway, but was on a graphic novel kick and ended up setting this one to the side before I even started it. I checked my due dates though, and saw that this one was due and had no renewals left. I think it was actually because someone else wants it, not that I had it for 9 weeks already... surely. Seeing that I had less than a week, I picked it up to start it to make my final decision and either read it or not. Three days later, it's in the Read and Loved It stack.

What I loved:
  • The characters. There was magic and there was some of the teen angst, but for the most part these seemed like very realistic portrayals of how these people would have felt about their circumstances.
  • The relationships. Man, I'd love to go into detail about this, but I don't want to spoil anything. I will say that Aurora and Niklaas's relationship was one of my favorites in a YA book (and possibly in just any book).
  • The premise of the story. I think maybe somewhere I read that this was a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, but it's not at all. The Sleeping Beauty background is from the original, not the Disney version, but really this is about her daughter. There are many borrowed ideas from other stories, but the way they are used and tied together worked well for me.
  • The point of view. I really like first person. The only thing I (usually) like even more is when there are multiple first person accounts. I like knowing what everyone is thinking, but not from a third person viewpoint.
My favorite quotes (there were so many, but I wanted to pick the ones that summed up the reasons I loved the book and also that didn't accidentally spoil anything):
“Why should any woman learn how wretched this world can be if they don't have to?”
“Because they are strong enough to know the truth, and proving that to themselves will make them stronger. And perhaps, if men were brought up to be gentler people, women wouldn't have need of protectors.”

“Maybe together we'll prove that prophecies, and curses, and kings and queens with nothing but evil in their souls aren't as powerful as people helping each other. People tying their hearts and minds together and telling fate to go stuff itself.”

As a general rule, I try really hard to think of “Things I Didn't Love.” Honestly, I can't for this one. Some of the reasons I loved the book are reasons other people will hate it. So if by those, it doesn't sound like it's for you, then maybe it's not. But this may be my favorite book I've read this year, and I can't believe I almost missed it. I really hope Stacey Jay keeps writing this fairy tale setting type books because she's amazing at it.

Monday, March 30, 2015

She Don't Need No Stinking Man

Release Date: 5/5/15
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

First, thank you to HarperCollins Publishers for providing an e-ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. I'm excited to say that this is the first book I've requested and that I received it and now I get to review it before it releases. Too often, I put books on the back burner and don't get a chance to read them until much later. I knew I wanted this one, though, after Cruel Beauty which I read last year. I actually paid for that one on my Kindle (as opposed to getting it from the library) because I started the sample and was so sucked in. So, here are my lists for what I did and didn't love so you can be so excited to read this yourself when it comes out in a month. (Also, I linked to GoodReads instead of Amazon in the title since it hasn't released any way.)

What I loved:
  • The world building. Hodge is fantastic at this. You forget about your own world and are brought into a new place where new rules exist. Never been to the Great Forest, read this book and you will bring it home with you.
  • The characters. I love all of them. Everyone. Even the villains. No one was perfect and that itself was perfect. I think my favorite was Amélie. Maybe, if I really needed to pick for some reason.
  • The women. They are the heroes of the story. It's a women's story, without ever man-bashing which is awesome.
  • The blend of supernatural with the real world. I like having a foot in the real world when I read stories of people with supernatural abilities.
  • The ending. Everything is wrapped up in one way or another. Man, I love closure. That being said, there's enough leeway left to where a sequel would be possible/I can imagine the characters' lives after the book's ending. So, Hodge, if you want to write another, I'll read it!

What I Didn't Love:
  • Talking in circles. I felt like there were times when there was more writing than was necessary. A little repetitive at times.
  • Third person voice. I just hate it all the time, nothing really to do with the book, but letting future readers know that it's written this way.
  • Didn't live up to Cruel Beauty. Then again, that was a phenomenal, world shaking, mind blowing book based on my all time favorite story so it's acceptable that not everything from this author would fall into the same category.
  • Little Red Riding Hood? Maybe not so much. I can kind of see it *very* loosely based on the tale, but most of it is pure imagination from Hodge or borrowing from other ideas (especially religion). I think it maybe marketing should focus more on what a twist it is than saying it's really a retelling?
  • I'm not sure if it fits here exactly, but this was a very, very dark tale. Not that I minded, but it did catch me off guard at times, and I thought I should throw it out there in case anyone is squeamish.

Either way, if you liked Cruel Beauty, you'll very likely enjoy this one because the world building is still present, the strong heroine is here, and the love of all characters is here.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Feminist Reading Challenge

People told me so many times, “Having a child will change you.” “It'll change your whole life and who you are.” And I think that in some ways this is both true and not true. Having T has brought out the somewhat dormant interests in me and has made them full blown passions. The biggest one is my feminist side. I want my daughter to be raised knowing she can be anything and anyone. She can do any job she wants, she can help anyone she wants, she can love anyone she wants. I want to know that men and women are equal, or would be in the ideal world. As far as our home life goes, I think we do a pretty good job of demonstrating this balance. We both work, we both clean and J is trying so hard to learn to cook (well, I'm still learning too so I guess she'll grow up knowing neither of us can cook).

This has been translated into my reading as well, as so many aspects of my life often are. I tend to go through ups and downs with my reading habits and tend to burn myself out on a genre and then have to make a dramatic shift. Something I've started lately is asking myself, “Would I want my daughter to read this?” Not in a “is this appropriate for a child?” way (because I'm an adult and am capable of reading foul language, and about sex and drugs and don't care if she does when she's much older) but in a “Is there a strong female role model in this book?” way.

Because I'm also working toward my teaching license for elementary school, I apply the same concept to kids' books I've been reading. “Would I want my students to read this? Would they learn to treat one another better and more equally from this?” Maybe this is too much thinking about the purpose of a book, but I'm tired of books with weak women. I'm tired of all the male writers (though it's not their fault), and I'm tired of stereotypical women.

So my new challenge? I have been reading a lot more kids books (and really enjoying them!) and some teen as well (and there are some awesome feminist teen books that I should write a post about at some point). But my “thing” if you will, right now is about graphic novels. I am such a huge Batman fan. Well, I love the other characters from Batman more than Batman himself if I'm honest (Nightwing, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, and lately the Birds of Prey). But I've also noticed that when I read these graphic novels, specifically from DC, I only see male names for the writers. The last time I looked it up, there was exactly one female writer on staff for DC. One. Supposedly they are working toward being more diverse and will soon have six female writers. Yes, you read that right, six would be a step in the right direction for them.

So I thought, “I think I need to actively look for more women in comics.” So that's what I'm doing. And I am truly loving what I'm finding (when I find things). Currently, I'm reading the new Ms. Marvel, written by G. Willow Wilson (after a little research, I found this is a female writer). I have also started accumulating a stack of books from the library. Damn them and their bad ass collection of graphic novels and their easy hold system (request on the computer, get an email, it's right there waiting for you!). Next up on the list are Rat Queens, Y: The Last Man, Saga, and Earth's Mightiest Hero: Captain Marvel. The criteria for what I'm looking for are either comics written by women or ones that can be written by a man but feature a bad ass woman (more points if she's not drawn as a stereotypical comic lady). Once I read a few, I'm sure I'll write another post about some awesome (and perhaps not awesome if I come across them) graphic novels that fit these criteria.

Any suggestions for what else I should read? Looking for teen, kids or graphic novels!

And may we read about them.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Year of Feminist Reading

Maybe that is what I should have called this year's reading goals. While that isn't all I've read thus far, it does encompass many (7 out of 11) of the books I've read so far. This leads me to the latest one I finished (read it today). So, here's the review.

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann
4 out of 5 Stars

What I Loved:
The Cover. Seriously, a good cover can just suck you in. And this one is just lovely.
The photos throughout: While some of the photos were strange beyond what I could understand, many made you rethink what you had just read, which had already made you think.
The length. Heppermann didn't try to stretch this out past what she could write well. It was a short book, readable in an hour or two and she didn't use anything as filler, aside from the aforementioned photos.
The style. This is a collection of poetry that is easy to read.
The ending. Without giving anything away, you're left basically where you were in the beginning. Feminism is still struggling, it doesn't resolve.
The poems directly relating to fairy tales.
The author's note in the end. It makes me want to read other literature about the women of fairy tales.

What I didn't Love:
The lack of character development. While I could feel for the women (or girls) as they were, I wanted to feel a deeper connection with someone. Although, that would probably have been a depressing story if it had been all one person's story.
The disconnect. Some of the poems were difficult to connect to the theme and none actually tie together.

Overall, I'd recommend this to someone who likes fairy tale retellings because it provides a fresh look at fairy tales, but also at how young girls are often facing their every day lives.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

How I'm Going To Read More This Year

I read an incredibly relevant article last year about "not enough time to read." Ok, I read multiple articles about this, all found on Book Riot. The one that really hit me the most though was this one from a mom (of twins) who talked about when she read, how and why. This really hit me hard, especially the part about how important it is to keep doing what you love. 

And so I started to think of the hows and whens of my own life for me to read. We have a super unorthodox schedule in our home due to both of us working retail management shifts. These include potentially leaving the house at 8 am or coming home up until 11 pm. The schedule is also different every week so I can't just schedule reading time every Tuesday, or even every other Tuesday. Little Goose also doesn't really have a set schedule, other than a general bedtime and general time she gets up. She naps when she's tired and she eats when she's hungry or when I think she should probably eat again. Maybe when she goes to school there will be more regularity with her, but until I'm out of retail this is how my life works and it's okay with me (for the time being).

Anyway, I still wanted to be able to read so much more this year. And not necessarily more books, but I didn't want to be at the end of the year looking for short books that still “count” as legitimate. (For the record, some of my favorite books have been these short books.) More importantly, I want to be reading more, spending more of my time that I may not realize is being otherwise wasted on what used to be my all time favorite pastime.

So I've worked out a system, kind of. It's based loosely on tips I've read for how to read more, but also on me as a person and my own schedule. This would also not likely work for people who can only read one book at a time, unless you tweaked it, a lot.

My System for Reading Lots of Books
I keep 4 books going at all times. (Sometimes more if I'm honest)
1. An audio book for the car. I don't spend a lot of time in the car at a time, but it is about 15-20 minutes to and from work each way. That in a week means I have about 2 hours of potential listening time just for work, not including time to take Little Goose to and from daycare or any other errands I may have to run (no matter how hard I try to avoid them). I usually keep this as a humor book for a few reasons. a. I'm going to and from work and need to be happy when I get there and want to de-stress when I get back in the car. b. I hate stopping in an awkward spot. Humor books tend to have shorter chapters from what I've found and also have more logical stopping places than a lot of my fiction audio books.
2. An audio book for at home. I have been trying to get myself in the habit of cleaning on a regular basis, and then maybe I'll try working out as well. So for these times, I have a lighter, usually fiction, audio book to listen to. I give myself about 2 hours of solid cleaning time (during a nap or after I drop Little Goose at daycare) and also use the book when I'm just doing basic chores that get done every day or when I'm cooking (on the rare occasion).
3. A book on my Kindle/Kobo for anywhere I go. I've finally figured out how outstanding the Denver Public Library is. So I can get e-books from them! I keep either the Kindle or Kobo (whichever I'm currently reading a book on) with me so that if I get stuck in traffic or have a few minutes between when I get to work/have to go into work or if I decide to take a lunch break, I have my book with me. I also read this at home depending on my mood and how engrossed I am in the book. (You could also use your phone for this one, but reading on my phone is not real reading for me.)
4. A book to read at home. This one is usually shorter and easier to finish or maybe a graphic novel. This is for days when Little Goose takes a lot of naps or when I want to stay up late/get up early to read.

I try to have a “next book” picked out before I finish any of these so that there isn't a standstill for any of them once I finish. And sometimes they cross over, like if I'm in a really good chapter of my home audio book and need to go somewhere, I just take the Zune with me.

The first year I started tracking how much I read (out of sheer curiosity) was 2013. I read 23 books that year. Last year I read 28. This year, it's only February, and I've already read 8. I set my goal for 25 this year, but maybe I could do 30 or 40? I only compete with myself when it comes to reading goals and I only want to make sure I don't lose something I love just because my life is different than it was in high school when all I did was read.