Thursday, January 28, 2016

Book Review: Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

By: Alexandra Bracken
Genre: YA Fantasy
Copyright: January 5, 2016 
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
POV: Third-person alternating
passage, n.
i. A brief section of music composed of a series of notes and flourishes.
ii. A journey by water; a voyage.
iii. The transition from one place to another, across space and time.
In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.
Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods—a powerful family in the colonies—and the servitude he’s known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, Nicholas’ passenger, can find. In order to protect her, he must ensure she brings it back to them— whether she wants to or not.
Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods’ grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are play­ing, treacherous forces threaten to sep­arate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home . . . forever
Main Character: Etta Spencer - Seventeen-year-old violin virtuoso whose biggest concern is that she has stage fright. She is pulled into the world of the travelers when she is taken from a violin performance at the Met. She is a bit meek, but not weak (if that makes sense). She's not crazy outspoken or a fighter, but she can fight when the going gets rough. She legit tries to harpoon the pirates on her ship when she first wakes up (that's pretty hardcore). She also thinks through her actions, which I will always always always appreciate in a YA heroine. I think that the heroines who act first and think second aren't doing anyone favors.

Nicholas Carter - The illegitimate son of the Ironwood clan. He is pretty swoon-worthy since he's a hardened sailor who is like a legit pirate since he takes over merchant ships and claims them as prizes. I mean, come on, pirates are pretty sexy. And he's a traveler, so he's got the know-how that Etta needs since she has no idea about her heritage.
He is a black man in 1776 and experiences all of the societal issues that comes with at the time. He is a very interesting character because he gives a view into how history frames how we experience the world. It's always interesting to see how the world has shaped itself and manifests past beliefs, concerns, prejudices. Nicholas is a resilient character because he's come from nothing and still has the ability to dream. That's the thing I like the best about him even as he continues to belittle himself in his head (I really can't blame him for this since I could never fathom what he's probably lived through). I do wish he'd see what has come about in future time-periods (since he's a traveller) and allowed himself to dream even bigger and better, but maybe his basic ability to dream is already based on his traveling experience.

Allies and Enemies: Sophia Ironwood - She is an interesting character. She's kind of a B, but she also has her reasons (bad childhood, orphan, etc). Even though she's aligned with the evil Ironwoods, they are also the only family she's ever known. And her self-worth is wrapped up in what her family thinks of her. It's a hard and sad existence.

Cyrus Ironwood - He is an a**. Done. That is all. He just takes over the other families cause he wants power. He dangerously holds all of history in the palm of his hand. He's such a megalomaniac. I do not think any one man should have as much power as he seeks out. Of course, that's also what makes a good villain. So, I guess he's a good character (even though I hate him!)

Alice - Etta's violin teacher and kind of an adopted grandmother. She is Etta's family and Etta will do anything to protect her family (which is why I like her).

Rose Spencer - Etta's mother. She's a bit detached, but she also super loves Etta... Yea, it's a bit confusing to me too. I mean, obviously she has a very interesting life that we know about immediately (She ran away from a foster family and traveled the word and now she's an artist), but I don't know why that has to translate to her being distant from her daughter (but that's just me).

Setting: Everywhere! And Every time!

Diversity: Nicholas is our diversity rep in this book. And his character is way better for it. I suppose the story would have still been a story without his diversity, but it would have been like only 20% as interesting to me. Nicholas is such an interesting viewpoint into the world of old. I really do adore him. And, it's interesting, because I am often more of a fan of seamless diversity that doesn't always require a soap-box, but Nicholas needs that platform in this book. It's really kind of necessary for a book that takes place in so many historical time points where civil rights are so differing (or nonexistent). And it never felt overly preachy to me (which is the main reason I hate the issue-driven diverse characters that are only there to show the issues). Nicholas as a character works really well for me, because he's a fully fleshed out character where his race is only a part of how he interacts with the world and the story.

Also, Etta's observations and reactions to Nicholas's experiences was an interesting viewpoint to explore. I feel like Alexandra Bracken almost did a better job on this POV (and perhaps because it came from personal experience):
"You idiot, Etta told herself. What a privilege it was to never feel like you had to take stock of your surroundings, or gauge everyone's reactions to the color of your skin. Of course he felt uncomfortable. Of Course. And if he'd never been to this time before, he wouldn't be able to predict people's reactions." -- Alexandra Bracken, Passenger

Random Thoughts: 
Let me just get this out upfront, time travel stories are an enigma to me. Not in the sense that I don't understand them, I generally do. And some of them come up with concepts that I find intriguing (e.g. Time Cop and how two versions of the same person can't touch each other) and gratuitous (e.g. naked time travel in Terminator. I was way too young when I saw Arnold Schwarzenegger's naked butt). However, I am going to try to push all of that aside and just be fair in my review of this book as a sci-fi YA novel.

The time-travel itself was quickly explained: There are people in the world that (through genetics) have the ability to travel through time. The way they do this is through passages that were created by their ancestors a long time ago. A time traveler can never exist in the same time as they've been before (so they keep journals to know where and when they've traveled so they don't repeat). And a passage will always go to the same year and whatever month/day you travel is the same (so if I travel through a passage from 2015 to 1776 and I leave on January 27th, 2015, then I will get there on January 27th, 1776). Okay, got it? Too bad, we're moving on! Also, none of that has anything to do with my review...

I liked the book in general. There were definitely some slow parts. And I kind of loved Alex Bracken's ensemble cast in the Darkest Mind series, so I missed that dynamic in this book, since it's mostly just Nicholas and Etta against the world(s). However, I liked them both equally as Main Characters. So, the loss of ensemble cast didn't break the book for me.

I liked how both Etta and Nicholas viewed the world and the times they traveled through. I thought that they were both strong characters who made their own opinions about the world. Each character is actually really strong in that sense (Sophia, Cyrus, Hasan, Rose, Alice). And Etta gets to see how each of those characters interact with their time and lives in a way that gives great observations about what it means to live:
Alice interrupted. "No tears, no secrets. I want the life I'm meant to have, Etta. It's as simple as that. My father always says that the way to truly live is to do so without expectation or fear hanging over you, affecting your choices..."-- Alexandra Bracken, Passenger
"...Abbi described to me what it was to travel, to see the fabric of life spread out before him. he said it was 'possibility.' It is said that there is time enough for every purpose, and so you must continue to believe that there is a time for you." -- Alexandra Bracken, Passenger
I don't love books where a special child is kept away from her heritage and destiny because her mother is a fugitive. However, I don't hate them either. I just wonder why a mother/father can't just tell their child that this is the case and prepare them for that life? I much rather the stories where the parent tells their kid everything from a young age and the kid always thought their parent was crazy-town, but they loved them anyway. Then they realize their parent was always right! And that world is real! And their minds are blown. Also, in those cases the kids are way more prepared for the trials and tribulations coming their way. And wouldn't a parent want their kid to be as prepared as possible if they knew they'd have to fight, say, a crazy megalomaniac that can travel through time?! To be fair, a (kind of) explanation is given in this book, but I'm still not 100% on board with that decision-making.

Something this book did make me realize about myself (as a reader): It really bothers me when characters go a really long time without taking a bath/shower. There were a few times where I hoped they'd jump into a river or a fountain or rent a hotel room and just take a shower. It didn't happen for a really long time (around page 380) and it made me antsy. I acknowledge that I'm a weirdo...

The book was a great start to a duology (I love the new duology trend going on right now in YA). And it creates good side characters that I hope get more fleshing out in the second novel. I really enjoy Alexandra Bracken's writing style. And I always feel like her characters are complex and interesting. This book, while full of adventure and complexity in its worlds, is really about the characters. So, I am a big fan of the book since I am a big fan of the characters.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Readiculous Blog on YouTube: Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka & Mac Barnett

I'm newly into book-tubers AKA Book Bloggers who post videos on YouTube. I'm not quite sure if I'll do a full-on video blog. However, I do like to take some sweet videos at author events. Especially when authors are funny, cool, interesting, sweet, etc.

So, I created a new YouTube channel named (drum roll) Readiculous Blog

Feel free to subscribe or even suggest booktubers you think I should follow.

Here are my first videos, a reading of Battle Bunny, a hilarious picture book by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett. During their signing at Books of Wonder (one of my fave children's book stores) they decided to read both the original "Birthday Bunny" and updated "Battle Bunny" at the same time. (Trust me, it's hilarious)

The premise is:
Alex has been given a saccharine, sappy, silly-sweet picture book about Birthday Bunny that his grandma found at a garage sale. Alex isn't interested - until he decides to make the book something he'd actually like to read. So he takes out his pencil, sharpens his creativity, and totally transforms the story!
Birthday Bunny becomes Battle Bunny, and the rabbit's innocent journey through the forest morphs into a supersecret mission to unleash an evil plan - a plan that only Alex can stop.
Featuring layered, original artwork that emphasizes Alex's additions, this dynamic exploration of creative storytelling is sure to engage and inspire. 
Battle Bunny Reading Part 1

Battle Bunny Reading Part 2

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Kat's K-Dramas: Oh My Ghostess

오 나의 귀신님

AKA Oh My Ghost
Genre: Romance, comedy, fantasy, thriller
Episodes: 16
Aired: 2015-Jul-03 - 2015-Aug-22
Network: TVN
Watch it on: DramafeverViki
Na Bong-Sun (Park Bo-Young) works as an assistant chef. Because of her timid personality and low self-esteem, she doesn't have any friends. Since she was a child, she has been able to ghosts because of her shaman grandmother. One day, she becomes possessed by seductress ghost Shin Soon-Ae.
Kang Sun-Woo (Cho Jung-Seok) is a star chef. Na Bong-Sun has a secret crush on him. He is good looking and confident as a chef. Even though he is popular with women, he has yet to get over his ex-girlfriend. He begins to notice Na Bong-Sun after her sudden change.
Main Character(s): There were really two main characters (sometimes sharing the same body!)
Na Bong-Sun and Shin Soon-Ae. So, here's the down low on these girl(s). Na Bong-Sun is a timid girl who wants to be a chef. She's always had the ability to see ghosts, so she's very jumpy and introverted because of it. She kind of comes off as a bit of a cry-baby at first, but I think she deserves forgiveness because she is haunted like 24/7 by ghosts. She also has a secret crush on Kang Sun-Woo (who everyone calls "Chef").

Shin Soon-Ae is a ghost (played by Kim Seul-Gi when she's in ghost form). She died almost three years ago and she needs to move on before she becomes an evil spirit. She believes the reason she's stuck is because she died a virgin. If she can only seduce a man (by using the bodies of unassuming women) then she can pass to the afterlife. She finds Na Bong-Sun, who's frequency exactly matches Shin Soon-Ae. That means that Soon-Ae gets stuck in Bong-Sun. And hilarity ensues!

I love love love Park Bo-Young. She plays both the timid Bong-Sun and the saucy Soon-Ae perfectly. They are two very distinct characters and she's just the best at being both. She also is adorable and all of her other roles are just as wonderful. I cannot say how much I love her.

OMG, she's just so adorable and hilarious

Love Interest: Kang Sun-Woo AKA "Chef." He's a bit of a jerk. He's cocky and self-centered. He's a famous and celebrated chef and very popular with the ladies. However, he might be that way because he got his heart super broken before. He isn't the nicest to Bong-Sun/Soon-Ae at first because they get in the way. However, this story is just as much about his development as well.

This GIF cracks me up. Bo-Young, Jung-Seok, and Seul-Gi are awesome together.

Allies and Enemies:

Seobinggo - The hilarious Shaman woman who can see Soon-Ae and tries to get her to give up her grudge and move on.

Lee So-Hyeong - Sun-Woo's first love.

Kang Eun-Hee - Sun-Woo's sister and Choi Sung-Jae's wife.

Choi Sung-Jae, Sun-Woo's brother-in-law, a cop, and Soon-Ae's first love! What a small world! He hangs around the restaurant to see Sun-Woo and his wife, Kang Eun-Hee.

Shin Myeong-Ho - Soon-Ae's father, he owns a small restaurant that Soon-Ae used to be the cook for. He drinks too much ever since his daughter died and Soon-Ae, as Bong-Sun, befriends him.

Heo Min-Soo - Hilarious Assistant Chef who kisses up to Sun-Woo and abuses his authority with the other chefs.

Jo Dong-Cheol, Seo Joon, Choi Ji-Woong - the other chefs who make up the whole gang at the restaurant. (Also, I have a crush on Kwak Si-Yang as Seo Joon. I love that Min-Soo gets mad at him for being so hot, hehe)

Random Thoughts:
This show rocks! It was tight plot and pacing the whole way through. Some stories start out great and then get sloppy in the end, but Oh My Ghostess kept the awesome going the whole way. I wonder if it's because the writer's knew the entire plot and never diverged, or if it's because the actors were so great with good chemistry. Probably a mix of both.

Each character got a good and solid backstory and character arc. The chef starts out cocky and selfish and he learns to care when he learns to love (awww, a reformed jerk, I have a soft spot for them, I can't help it). The main girl starts out timid because she grew up able to see ghosts. So, while I usually feel really lukewarm about timid heroines, I thought Bong-Sun had a valid reason for it. And I loved seeing that she developed as a character because of her relationship with the ghost and her ability (she also developed because of her relationship with the chef, but that wasn't the only reason. So I applaud the writers). The ghost's personal story was great. I did not think they were going to give her such a complex and developed story, but it is a huge part of what drove the main conflict/plot. I really liked Kim Seul-Gi in Flower Boy Next Door. She was so quirky and weird in that. And I thought she brought a lot of that great energy to her role as the wayward ghost Shin Soon-Ae.

The love story was actually really well developed and sweet. Who would have thought that a love story that started out as a ghost trying to score with the main guy by using the main girl's body would turn into something so sweet. But it did (trust me).

OMG, look at this chemistry! <3

Love the side characters. The assistant chefs were great comedic energy, and I love how they struggled with the hierarchy of the restaurant (both because of age, title, and romantic entanglements). I feel like Min Seo had his own mini-character arc. I started out really annoyed by him, but I kind of found him adorably flawed by the end.

Didn't love Chef's younger sister, Kang Eun-Hee, but she was a character who played her part well. I think that the mother was a fascinating side character. And I loved her relationship with the shaman. The fact that she treated the shaman like her boyfriend was hilarious, constantly texting her and asking her to go out for food and drinks. The shaman herself was a great character too. She was a good mini-adversary for the ghost, but she wasn't a bad guy. She was just someone who wanted something the ghost didn't (at first).

Overall, I loved this drama. It won my Best Drama of 2015 Award in my end-of-the-year post. And I think it really is a great watch for people whether they're fans of Korean Dramas or not.

Oh My Ghostess Jjang!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Book Review: Thicker Than Water

By: Brigid Kemmerer
Genre: YA Paranormal
Copyright: December 29th 2015
Publisher: Kensington Books
POV: First Person - Alternating

Thomas Bellweather hasn’t been in town long. Just long enough for his newlywed mother to be murdered, and for his new stepdad’s cop colleagues to decide Thomas is the primary suspect.
Not that there’s any evidence. But before Thomas got to Garretts Mill there had just been one other murder in twenty years.
The only person who believes him is Charlotte Rooker, little sister to three cops and, with her soft hands and sweet curves, straight-up dangerous to Thomas. Her best friend was the other murder vic. And she’d like a couple answers.
Answers that could get them both killed, and reveal a truth Thomas would die to keep hidden…

Main Character: Thomas Bellweather - He's kind of broken guy at the beginning. Here's the DL on Thomas on page one. He's the son of an only mother who ran from his (potentially abusive) father when Thomas was very young. They ran from place to place for awhile, but things settled. Then Thomas's mother met Stan, a police detective, and married him. She moved Thomas to a brand new town right after he graduated high school. Then she was brutally murdered 10 days after her wedding and Thomas found her body. Heavy stuff. So, now he's kind of a wreck. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Brigid Kemmerer writes angsty boys well. I love them in her books, and I love Thomas.

Love Connection: Charlotte Rooker - She's an interesting character. She's the youngest child and only daughter of a family of cops. So she's very sheltered. She also has a very old-fashioned live-in grandmother and mother. And she has diabetes. I like that she kind of rebels in her own way and still has a very strong opinion and personality. It would be easy for someone like Charlotte to get buried under all the other strong personalities in her family. (I wish that her relationship with her brothers, specifically Ben, was examined more, but I am fine that it wasn't). She's a sweet, kind girl. So she's a good person to help Thomas through his issues.

Allies and Enemies: Stan - Thomas's new step-dad and kind of the only guy who is taking Thomas's side. Every other cop thinks that Thomas is the one who killed his mother. Eek!

Charlotte's brothers - there are three of them. Two are okay, one sucks. They're all cops, and they all love Charlotte. They all hate Thomas/think he's a murderer. That's the most important stuff.

Nicole - Charlotte's best friend. She's funny, and spunky, and I like her a lot. She befriends Thomas in a way and I like that he has another person on his side (that makes his count: 3).

Setting: Small east-coast community.

Diversity: None (that I saw). I was kind of sad about this, the characters are fairly well drawn in the book and there's really no reason for them all to be white and straight. Sigh.

Random Thoughts: I really like Brigid Kemmerer's writing. I think she writes boys really well (See: My author post I wrote about her for Books Are Bread). I also think she writes romance pretty well. So those are two great elements of the book.

There's also a really frustrating part of the book, that everyone thinks Thomas is a murderer and they treat him like crap. There's one part where Thomas wonders why they hate him so immediately when they don't know anything about him. I'd like to know that too. Also, what about innocent until proven guilty? (okay, okay, I know that this is just the logical side of me talking. We all make snap judgments). However, it is still really frustrating that no one gives the poor guy a break. We can actually see him starting to crack as the book goes on, and it's so futilely frustrating! (So, I guess that means that Brigid Kemmerer did a really good job, because she evoked such strong feelings in me)

It is a paranormal book, and I think that's kind of Kemmerer's jam (see: the Elemental series). I saw that people were kind of thrown off by the paranormal aspect. On one side, the book is categorized in the paranormal genre. So...I don't think anyone should be surprised about that element. However, I can see what people mean. For the first 70% of the book, it reads like a very well-developed, well-paced contemporary thriller/mystery. The characters are all fairly normal. The main issue is Thomas's angst and his need to prove his innocence. Then, boom! Paranormal stuff!

Though the Paranormal elements did seem late-in-the game, they didn't necessarily seem tacked on. The book sets up the whole story for that to be the reveal. However, the tone of the book did read a bit contemporary thriller in the beginning.

Either way, I thought the book was fun and well-written. I liked the characters, I liked the romance, and I think that the end reveal was a decent twist. I do think things got tied up a bit too conveniently (though there were some open ended things. So, sequel?) All-in-all, I'd still recommend this book. Especially to fans of Kemmerer and to fans of well-written angsty boyz.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Monday Musings: The Language of Things

Something my cousin said recently made me really think: 

"They also aren't [constantly] read[ing] about it or follow[ing] people who really talk about it so they don't have the language for the conversation."

This was in reference to talking to people about race and racism. Not just people, but people in places of privilege.* It's easy to talk about racism academically or historically. That's why most people can talk about the civil war and slavery in our country, because it happened. Key word "happened," as in past tense.

What makes us falter is what's going on now. When people are being pushed down by a system, society, or group of people we know it is wrong in our hearts. However, it is infinitely harder to talk about the situation when (often through no fault of your own) you are defined as a member of the more powerful group. It makes it hard to talk about the sensitive subject of prejudice and racism.

However, talking is exactly what needs to be done. How can we fix or change anything if we don't talk about it? And this is something that relates to writing and books in a huge way. Because we get a lot of our information from the books and news we read.  So, the question becomes, why can't people talk about these issues easily? It could be because of a strange feeling of guilt from being part of that privileged class, it could be because of ignorance (just not knowing the facts), it could be because they just don't care (which I deeply hope is not the case).

However, I think one of the main reasons is that they don't know how to talk about it in an informed way without knowing the facts and the language to use. However, they won't know those facts and that language until they talk about it. So it's really a vicious cycle.

You know what can help people learn these things without having to feel foolish or ignorant in front of their friends and peers?


Yes! Books about other cultures, other people, other lives that they don't innately know about. This is why movements like We Need Diverse Books exists. Because we do need diversity out there in book form, so that if someone wants to learn more about things they have resources.

(And I'd also like to note that these books should be vetted for using the proper language, so we're not putting out misinformation out there. There are some "diverse" books out there that were not properly researched. Misrepresentation is worse than no representation).

On a slightly tangential path, I want to talk about books about diversity versus diverse books (I'm using the term "diverse books" here to more specifically define books that are not diversity-issue-driven. That is, of course, not how it is usually used).

I read a tweet by author Varian Johnson:

He makes a great point in saying that a lot of the books he was given about blacks in America were about civil rights or slavery. A lot of the diverse books out there are issue books where the character's race, sexuality, disability, diversity is the main point of the book and character. That's fine, because these are issues we need to be discussing. However, we also should be discussing the everyday experiences of diverse people. As a child, I wanted to see myself in all of my favorite characters and heroes, but I couldn't see it 100% because I wasn't white. That's not to say that these characters don't rock, but there is so much room in the world of storytelling. Some of that space should be given to kick-butt diverse characters and stories as well.

*I want to say that sometimes when I say the word "privilege" people immediately shut down. Almost like I'm cursing or calling them a dirty name. I don't think privilege needs to be thought of as negative when it's mentioned on its own, it's the context that makes it bad. Having privilege doesn't make a person bad, abusing the privilege does. Doing nothing about the fact that you have that privilege and others don't. And especially using that privilege to keep others down.
A white friend asked me why I had to use the label "white privilege" and I said, "because that's a very accurate label. Some people have more de facto advantage in this world and they have that advantage because they are white. White privilege." However, a white person cannot control the color of their skin any more than a black, Latino, or Asian person. So, I hope that people can understand that these labels aren't personal attacks on someone's existence. It's more of an observation on how society exists, and a request that everyone looks at their situation and judges themselves based on how they act within that space.

Friday, January 1, 2016

2016 Reading Challenges

Time for 2016 Reading Challenges!

2016 Goodreads Reading Challenge

Go HERE to sign up and make a challenge for yourself.

I super failed this one in 2015. So I MUST win this year! Or else!

The A-Z Reading Challenge

I didn't finish this one last year either, so I'm going to really try this year. I would just like to point out how it is always very difficult for me to come up with books for all 26 letters. The hardest was "K" this year!

 An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard
Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly

The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Inherit the Stars by Tessa Elwood

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper
Winter by Marissa Meyer 
Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

Passenger (Passenger, #1)
by Alexandra Bracken
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Riders by Veronica Rossi

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

Thicker Than Water by Brigid Kemmerer
Unbreakable by Elizabeth Norris
EXtraction by Stephanie Diaz
The Last Star  by Rick Yancey
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

Diversity Reading Challenge

I was hoping to find some great diversity reading challenges for 2016. I haven't yet, but that doesn't mean they're not out there to be found (eventually).
So, for now, I'm just making my own diversity reading challenge. It's really simple: Read more diverse books and review/blog about those books.
So far, these are on my radar (sorry if there are repeats from my A-Z list):

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

The Rose and the Dagger (The Wrath and the Dawn #2) by Renee Ahdieh

Monstress #1 (Monstress #1) by Marjorie M. Liu (Author), Sana Takeda (Illustrator)