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bookish posts reviews

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Rumi and her sister Lea share their love of music and songwriting; it makes them closer than most sisters or friends. But after Lea dies in a car accident, Rumi is left alone with her grief. Her mom sends her to Hawaii, where Rumi struggles to find a way to finish the last song she started with Lea, “Summer Bird Blue.”

I read this one because I had heard some really positive things about its depiction of grief, and because my contemporary YA reading could always use a boost. I didn’t know much about the plot or characters going in.

Sometimes when I read YA, I wonder if my reaction is colored by my age, and that was definitely the case here. While I liked the prose and the spareness of the story, I felt like I could predict the overall character arc and themes of the book within the first few pages. Since the story felt expected in that sense, I struggled to really immerse myself in it. However, I suspect that for teen readers that might not be the case.

I did really enjoy Rumi’s neighbor in Hawaii, Mr. Watanabe. In addition to being a snarky monster, it was also nice to see some older characters in a YA book, having real relationships with the main character in a way that felt realistic. Rumi’s friendship with her other neighbor, Kai, were also refreshing–while Kai is somewhat interested in her romantically, Rumi doesn’t feel that way about him and talks about how she possibly considers herself asexual on the page. 

And while for me Rumi’s journey throughout the book felt a bit predictable and repetitive, Bowman does a great job of shading in the details of the initial picture we get, especially in regards to Lea and Rumi’s relationship. It’s clear that there was a special bond between the sisters, but it also becomes clear over the course of the story that they also fought and were jealous of each other in ways that make both more human.

Lastly, I loved the setting–Hawaii is not somewhere I’ve ever been or felt a particular desire to visit, but the history and heritage of the characters, as well as the physical setting, are important background and inform who they are and how they live in the world.

All in all, while I wasn’t personally in love with this one, I would definitely hand it to teenage readers, especially those who are grappling with grief and the different forms it can take. Readers who liked Ashley Woodfolk’s The Beauty That Remains might especially appreciate it.

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Previously, on By Singing Light:

The Caged Graves by Dianne Salerni (2013)
The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud (2014)
The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn (2015)
Dancing, Princesses, Magic: Vernon and Valentine (2016)

Categories
bookish posts monthly book list

September 2018 reading

The Likeness Tana French 9.30
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss 9.29
A Festival of Ghosts by William Alexander 9.28
Point of Dreams Melissa Scott & Lisa Barnett 9.27
Sadie Courtney Summers 9.24
Winter Tide Ruthanna Emrys 9.23
Blood Oath Amanda McCrina 9.22
Bannerless Carrie Vaughn 9.15
Sick Porochista Kakhpour 9.13
Zahrah the Windseeker Nnedi Okorafor 9.8
Confessions of the Fox Jordy Rosenberg 9.6
The Summer of Jordi Perez Amy Spalding 9.4
Dear Mrs Bird AJ Pearce 9.1

Total books read: 13

Total rereads: 0

Favorites:

  • The Summer of Jordi Perez
  • Blood Oath
  • Bannerless
  • The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter
  • Confessions of the Fox

Weekly reading roundups:

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bookish posts monthly book list

August 2018 books

This was a pretty good month for books! I didn’t love everything equally, but I did have a couple of really strong reads and that’s always nice. I’m hoping to finish up the Steerswoman series in September and keep reading the Astreiant books. Just as a reminder, I always post each book I finish on Instagram, so if you’d like to stay up to date on what I’m most currently reading, head over there.

Summer of Salt Katrina Leno 8.31

Point of Hopes Melissa Scott and Lisa Barnett 8.29

The Bookshop on the Corner Jenny Colgan 8.27

Sideways Stories from Wayside School Louis Sachar 8.26

The Lost Steersman Rosemary Kirstein 8.25

A College of Magics Caroline Stevermer (reread) 8.20

The Kiss Quotient Helen Hoang 8.18 [review]

Monday’s Not Coming Tiffany Jackson 8.18

Last Shot DJ Older 8.18 [review]

Recipes for Love and Murder Sally Andrews 8.17

Where the Watermelons Grow Cindy Baldwin 8.13 [review]

Black Panther Long Live the King 8.13

Rogue Protocol Martha Wells 8.10

Cafe by the Sea Jenny Colgan 8.9

Starless Jacqueline Carey 8.7 [review]

Valley Girls Sarah Nicole Lemon 8.1 [review]

 

Total books read: 15

Total rereads: 1

 

Favorites:

  • Valley Girls
  • Cafe by the Sea
  • Rogue Protocol
  • Monday’s Not Coming
  • Point of Hopes
  • Summer of Salt
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bookish posts reviews

Recent adult fiction: Older, Hoang, Carey

I’ve been on kind of a roll with adult fiction recently, after my earlier YA romcom binge. Here are a few that have no thematic connection except that I read them recently.

Last Shot by DJ Older: Star Wars tie-in, about Han and Lando and one last job. There’s some interesting past/present narration and we see things from both Han and Lando’s points-of-view which is cool. I do wish that the timeline was slightly clarified–the main action takes place a few years after Ben Solo is born (I think he’s two here) but the older parts are all “fifteen years earlier” or “ten years earlier” and sometimes it was hard to orient to where that was in the larger SW universe. However, I always like a good heist and there are some funny characters and moments, plus some heartbreak as Han wonders if he’ll ever learn to be a good parent. Bonus for Lando’s amazing wardrobe.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang: Super cute contemporary romance! I liked a lot of things about this one, especially the interactions between the main characters and the male mc’s family. It was really sweet to see a male mc who cares so much about his mother and sisters, and it helped make sense of how he understands Stella. There’s not much external drama here, which is also nice sometimes! It’s much more focused on Stella and Michael and whether they will/can commit to each other.

Starless by Jacqueline Carey: This is actually the first book by Carey that I’ve ever read, although I know she has a lot of others out there. I have extremely mixed feelings about this one. On the positive side, the narration was pretty engaging and some of the worldbuilding concepts were pretty neat. On the other hand, I felt pretty strongly that this book needed to be edited down, or that one clear through-line should have been established, or both. There are entire sections that felt irrelevant to the ultimate story, and I never felt truly invested in Khai’s journey, resulting in what felt like a somewhat boring read. But I might be in the minority on this one, so take my grumps with a grain of salt.

Categories
bookish posts monthly book list

July 2018 books

Most Wanted Rae Carson 7.26

Dread Nation Justina Ireland 7.22

Always Never Yours Emily Wibberley and Austen Siegemund-Broka 7.22

By Your Side Kasie West 7.12

Listen to Your Heart Kasie West 7.10

Front Desk Kelly Yang 7.10

All Summer Long Hope Larson 7.10

The Girl with the Red Balloon Katherine Locke 7.9

Unicorn Rescue Society: The Creature of the Pines Adam Gidwitz 7.6

Puddin’ Julie Murphy 7.2

The Beauty That Remains Ashley Woodfolk 7.2

 

Total books read: 11
Total rereads: 0

Favorites:

  • The Girl with the Red Balloon
  • All Summer Long
  • Front Desk
  • Listen To Your Heart
Categories
bookish posts reviews

Recent YA romcom round-up

To me, summer feels like the perfect time to read a bunch of YA romcoms, so I have. And it’s helped me zero in a bit on what I find most enjoyable in this type of book: a story that’s sweet and funny but also has a bit of substance to it. And, of course, great characters. Comedy and romance are both inextricably character-driven, so that makes sense! Anyway, here are some I’ve read and enjoyed recently.

The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo

I really liked this one; the main character is prickly without being so mean that I was put off (I know this makes me sound like one of those people who hates ‘unlikable’ characters. I don’t! I’m also not convinced that a romcom is the best place for one? anyway.). Also, I really liked that the growing friendship felt as important, grounded, and central as the romance. Woo! The mom aspect wasn’t my favorite, but overall this was great. I need to read more Maurene Goo.

From Twinkle With Love by Sandhya Menon

Awwwww, I really super liked this one. It’s a cute story and I thought it worked just as well as When Dimple Met Rishi. The conceit of  Twinkle writing to her favorite female directors could have felt gimmicky, but it was just earnest enough to pull it off. I did realize where the story was going pretty quickly, but it was still effective for me.

Listen to Your Heart & By Your Side by Kasie West

So, I strongly prefer Listen to Your Heart, since By Your Side largely features the male main character not talking to the female main character while she tries to draw him out. It just made me uncomfortable; while I’m sure it was meant to be an update of the taciturn hero trope, this version didn’t work for me. (Also, I am a pedant and I know it, but: libraries have phones and doors that open from the inside even if locked!) But I really liked Listen to Your Heart, and the whole podcast scenario seemed pretty solidly depicted. And I did like the characters in that one a ton, especially the rivalry between Kate’s family and the local hotshots.

Always Never Yours by Austin Siegemund-Broka and Emily Wibberley

This one veers a bit more into drama territory (wow, this was not intentionally a pun but I’m just going with it) and is a lot less light-hearted than the other books here. But I’m including it anyway, because I think it still hits a lot of the same emotional beats as most romcoms. I liked it a lot! It’s thoughtful about a lot of stuff and I liked having a theatre story that focused on directing as well as acting. I’m also very curious about the fact that this is a husband and wife writing team but this is not a book with dual narrators! Intriguing.

Categories
bookish posts monthly book list

June 2018 books

I read quite a bit in June. For one thing, we weren’t moving, and for another, we’re doing a staff Summer Reading at work this year and it’s bringing out my competitive side. 

Jolly Foul Play Robin Stevens (reread) 6.29

Snow & Rose Emily Winfield Martin 6.25

Beasts Made of Night Tochi Onyebuchi 6.25

Wild Beauty Anna-Marie McLemore 6.24

From Twinkle With Love Sandhya Menon 6.23

Akata Warrior  Nnedi Okorafor 6.23

The Black Tides of Heaven JY Yang 6.21

Cuckoo Song Frances Hardinge (reread) 6.18

The Way You Make Me Feel Maurene Goo 6.18

The War I Finally Won Kimberly Brubaker Bradley 6.15

Furyborn Claire LeGrand 6.14

An Enchantment of Ravens Margaret Rogerson 6.11

No Time to Spare Ursula K Le Guin 6.9

The Jewel & Her Lapidary Fran Wilde 6.8

Enchantress from the Stars Sylvia Engdahl 6.5

Some Kind of Courage Dan Gemeinhart 6.5

Wolf Star Tanita Lee 6.5

Tell the Wolves I’m Home Carol Rifka Brunt 6.2

The Saturdays Elizabeth Enright (reread) 6.2

Tess of the Road Rachel Hartman 6.2

 

Total books read: 20
Total rereads: 3 (The Saturdays, Cuckoo Song, Jolly Foul Play)

Favorites:

  • Tess of the Road
  • Furyborn
  • The War I Finally Won
  • From Twinkle With Love
  • Wild Beauty
  • Jolly Foul Play
Categories
bookish posts monthly book list

May 2018 books

This was a light reading month for me, mostly because we were moving! (Therefore, also a light posting month here.) 

Ms. Marvel: Damage Per Second G. Willow Wilson 5.25

Goldie Vance vol. 3 Hope Larson 5.25

Becca Fair and Foul Deirdre Baker 5.25

The Only Harmless Great Thing B. Bolander 5.13

Sunny Jason Reynolds 5.13

Artificial Condition (Murderbot 2) Martha Wells 5.12

Mighty Jack Ben Hatke 5.6

A Traveller in Time Alison Uttley 5.5

The Boxcar Children Gertrude Chandler Warner (reread) 5.4

 

Total books read: 9
Total rereads: 1 (The Boxcar Children, which was for work)

Favorites:

  • Sunny
  • Becca Fair and Foul
  • Artificial Condition
  • The Only Harmless Great Thing
  • Goldie Vance
  • Ms. Marvel

(Okay, yes that’s basically all of them; I REGRET NOTHING.)

 

 

Categories
bookish posts reviews

Three recently read graphic novels

I’ve been dipping back into the world of graphic novels! Here are quick reactions for a few of the ones I’ve read in March.

All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

I loved Jamieson’s Roller Girl, which felt like a perfect middle grade graphic novel–and a great readalike for the insatiable Telgemeier readers. Like Roller GirlAll’s Faire features a tween girl with a specific interest (in this case, a Ren Faire) and some complicated friendships. It’s hard to read in some places because middle school feelings are A LOT. I appreciated that Imogen is a character who doesn’t intend to be unkind but is anyway, and then has to deal with the fallout from that. It’s at times a messy story, but it should be. Middle school is a messy time. If I have a complaint, it’s that things get tidied up a little bit too much at the end considering the rest of the story. However, I think this book hits its target audience really well.

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

A fantasy graphic novel about Priyanka, a young Indian-American girl, who struggles to connect with her single mother. Meanwhile, she becomes increasingly fascinated with India and wanting to experience life there. This only increases when she discovers a mysterious pashmina that seems to transport her there. I’m not quite sure what age to recommend this one to, but it’s a strong story and I like some of the art choices. It’s also pretty explicitly feminist, which is neat! While I’m not familiar with the particular struggles of women in India, Chanani’s inclusion of different kinds of relationships between women and a complicated family and social background gave the story a lot of depth.

Spinning by Tillie Walden

A graphic novel memoir of ice skating, falling in love, and being queer in Texas. I was attracted to this one by the cover–one of the stronger graphic novel covers I can remember, actually! I absolutely loved the style of the artwork and the way each section began with a description of a figure skating move. Each one had a kind of poetic significance with the chapter that came after it; the relationship between the two was not always obvious but was very real. The ending felt frustratingly sad, but also true. And I think the frustration was meant to be there, that Walden was very consciously leaning into the way life doesn’t hand always hand us a satisfying ending. While this deals with some heavy subjects, I also found that it contains moments of warmth and even joy. I’d especially recommend this one for fans of This One Summer.

Other reviews:

Marjorie Ingall on All’s Faire (NYT)

Ibi Zoboi on Pashmina (NYT)

Rachel Cooke on Spinning (The Guardian)

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Previously:

Chime by Franny Billingsley (2011)

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor (2014)

Three of a Kind: Young women coming into power (2015)

Ursula Le Guin Reading Notes: A Wizard of Earthsea (2016)

In the Great Green Room: The Bold and Brilliantl Life of Margaret Wise Brown by Amy Gary (2017)

Categories
book lists reviews

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

It kind of seems like everyone has either already read this book or already intends to, but I still want to talk about it because WOW.

Actually, I’m going to instantly contradict myself and say that this book probably works best for a particular kind of reader, one who has a strong tolerance for gory stuff and a willingness to trust the narrative a bit. Lee throws us right into the world and the characters, and both are complicated and demanding. In particular, the system of magicky science, or sciencey magic, is confuddling at first.

However! I also think that all of the disclaimers about the difficulty of this book, my own included, probably make it sound more daunting than it needs to be. If you are a reasonably astute genre reader, who’s comfortable with worldbuilding and weirdness, this shouldn’t be necessarily a tricky read. I certainly didn’t find it easy, but neither did it make me so utterly confounded that I wanted to scream (unlike, say, Alan Garner’s Red Shift, another recent read).

And ultimately this ends up being a very rewarding story. The characters and world are complex and compelling–while most of the characters aren’t exactly likeable, they certainly command attention. The exception here is Cheris, the main character: thoughtful and kind and competent as well as out of her depth through most of the book. The fact that she’s not completely overshadowed by Jedao, the murderous ghost that she’s forced into, uh, let’s say partnership, with shows Lee’s ability to write different kinds of characters convincingly.

I don’t want to be spoilery, but I do want to talk a bit about what I found to be a very impressive trick, which may give some things away. So if you absolutely don’t want to know anything about the rest of the book, here’s the place to stop. (For what it’s worth, this is one I completely avoided spoilers for and was glad I did.)

Okay.

The thing is, Ninefox Gambit is all about trust and who we trust and who we don’t. And it’s also very much about Cheris’s relationship with Jedao–not an overtly romantic one, but incredibly, awfully intimate. Their dynamics as well as the world and the questions the story raises were so immersive that it’s not until I finished the book that I realized something. I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, the reading experience mirrored Cheris’s own arc with regard to Jedao in a fascinating and entirely disturbing way. That is quite a trick to pull off, but Lee managed it so smoothly that I didn’t even notice.

In short, this book has a lot to recommend itself, and I’ll absolutely be back for the sequel.

Yoon Ha Lee previously:

  • A short story collection, Conservation of Shadows, which I HIGHLY recommend if you liked Ninefox Gambit and want more before Raven Strategem is out.

Other reviews of Ninefox Gambit: