Sunday, July 28, 2019

Book Review: Kids Like Us

Wow, what a sweet book!

Though the cover didn’t particularly draw me in, I now see how it ties in with the story, and I like it more. What really had me hooked, though, was the first page. I found myself in a reading slump and thought I’d just check out the first page to decide whether or not I wanted to read the book. Before I knew what was happening, I was on the second chapter.

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
My rating: 5/5 stars
One-word description: Cultural

Do you ever have those moments when you feel like you know a little bit of too many languages, so your brain is just a muddle of confusion trying to separate them all? I just so happened to be traveling in Spain while I was reading this book, which is set in France. In this sense I could relate a bit with the story’s main character, Martin, who mixes up his pronouns. After I finished another chapter, I was trying out my poor excuse for Spanish and asked somebody “Hablo Inglés?” Essentially: Do I speak English?

I don’t know. Do I? I certainly don’t speak Spanish. Not yet anyway.

I really enjoyed the way the book included the French culture, and it felt like the author, Reyl, knew what she was writing about rather than just setting a book in France without showing anything about it. She talked about the language and cultural differences, particularly when it comes to food and schools.

Kids Like Us also helped me better understand autism. I have a brother who’s high functioning, and I’m always looking for novels and nonfiction alike that can help me better understand autism as a whole. While my brother is obsessed with history and politics, Martin relates everything in his life with In Search of Lost Time, a French classic he’s read again and again.

Sometimes navigating social interactions can be like trying to learn a foreign language—it’s hard. I also liked how the book had characters with autism also had different interests. Usually, most books I’ve found have one character with autism, not two. I liked seeing how Martin interacted with his friend Layla, even though she was back in the United States while he was in France for the entire book. Which I can relate with a lot. As a military brat, most of my friends aren’t in the same time zone as me, let alone the same country. Characters don’t have to be physically present to be involved in a novel, which isn’t something I see a lot of.

Though the blurb kinda advertises the book as a romance, I saw it more as a story of friendship, which I support 100%. Though there are mistaken identities and many assumptions, there is also great character development.

In all, I gave Kids Like Us 5/5 stars for an excellent setting without being excessive, autism representation, and great character development. I’d recommend the book to anybody who enjoys contemporary YA and French food and culture.

Interested in Kids Like Us? Have you read it yet? You might also enjoy these books: A World Without You by Beth Revis (see book review), Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman, and The Art of Feeling by Laura Tims.

Let’s chat! Has Kids Like Us made it to your to-be-read list yet? Have you read it? What are some contemporary YA recommendations you have?


Sunday, July 21, 2019

Controversy in Fiction: Gender and Stereotypes

Welcome back to my ongoing and inconsistent series, Controversy in Fiction! I’ve written posts on female authors and characters before, but there’s still much to cover. What about male characters? And how do they compare to females?

As a female, I have a really hard time writing female characters. Say what now? Let me rephrase—despite being a woman, I have a hard time writing stereotypical feminine characters. While this shouldn’t be a bad thing, when I get critical feedback from other writers, male and female alike, I often get comments like, “This is more of a masculine trait” in reference to my female protagonist speeding or even “I thought your character was a guy” when her name comes up.

Thanks, guys. I appreciate the feedback.

I will admit, I am guilty of making assumptions of my own, except I’m more likely to assume a character is a female rather than male. Perhaps it’s easier for readers to understand characters they can identify with. Stereotypes exist for a reason, but more often than not blatant stereotyping can be obnoxious. Here are just a few such stereotypes and some well-written characters that defy them.

Disclaimer: This post may contain controversial opinions that are not necessarily the same as those of readers. I will not be discussing sexuality or gender identity. Rather, the purpose of this post is to examine some of the stereotypes between males and females and how it relates with fiction.

Not all Strong Female Heroes Wield a Sword or Bow

Don’t get me wrong, I like swords and bows. I’ve taken fencing lessons and would like to learn longsword fighting, though I might be better with long-range weapons. I was called Annie Oakley the last time I handled a gun. My little sister even has a collection of seventeen daggers, two of which are throwing knives. But strength isn’t just in the ability to fight or defend oneself.

Strength can be in recognizing one’s self-worth, like Roza in Bone Gap.

Strength can be in the ability to recognize one’s shortcomings yet to love wholehearted all the same, like Emma in Fawkes.

Strength can be in reaching out to help somebody even when it’s hard, like Samantha in The Art of Feeling.

Strength can be in standing up for what one believes in despite brutal opposition, like Clara in Audacity.

Strength can be in the ability to empathize with others when logic is seen as superior, like Octavia in A Conspiracy of Stars.

The above are just a few of the many characters who have shown their strength doesn’t have to lie in the ability to lead an army. While I do enjoy stories about adventure and revolutions (I will sing “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and “Red and Black” all the livelong day), I also enjoy stories about personal struggles or fights that don’t take place on a battlefield.

After all, there’s more than one way to be strong.

“Male” Recklessness and “Female” Sensitivity

This is the part where I probably confuse critique partners. I’m a female, but sometimes I can be pretty reckless. For example, I have driven up to 110mph, though unlike my protagonist, my experience was on the speed-free section of the autobahn, not an American highway. It’s not just males who have impulses.

That and I don’t include a lot of feelings in my initial drafts. I’m just not a touchy-feely kind of person. I don’t really care for reading paragraph after paragraph about how a certain character felt guilty about eating a slice of cake or couldn’t make up their mind whether to get into a sketchy car. I’d rather jump to the action, then add the emotion later.

Just a few of my favorite characters who don’t quite fit the stereotypes or reckless males and sensitive females:

The Cinnamon Roll—Beck in A Thousand Perfect Notes

I Wish I Could Be Sweet but I’m Not, Deal with It—Rumi in Summer Bird Blue

Is Actually a Cinnamon Roll—August—and Looks Likes a Cinnamon Roll but can Actually Kill You—Kate in This Savage Song

Not all Males Have to be Dark and Brooding

Not all men can be Batman. Actually, if they were all Batman, it would be really annoying. If anything, I find that characters who are solely dark and brooding appear less developed, as if the writer couldn’t think of anything for the guy to say and gave him as few lines as possible.

As you’re probably aware, I’m a huge fan of Marvel movies—take Guardians of the Galaxy for instance. At one point, Yondu, Quill’s father-figure, accuses Quill of being overly sentimental after he joins forces with an assassin: “Is that what she’s been filling your head with, boy? Sentiment? Eating away your brain like maggots!” Nevermind that, as it turns out, Yondu is actually one of the most sentimental characters. He collects figurines for his dashboard and treats Quill like a son.

Guys can be a good friend and more than just the love interest, like Caleb in Tell Me Something Real.

Guys can be tender-hearted and sweet, like Julian in A List of Cages.

Guys are allowed to love and grieve, like Carver in Goodbye Days.

Guys can have dreams for their future and not want to fight, like Ponyboy in The Outsiders.

Fitting the Stereotype

Sometimes, though, stereotypes are there for a reason. For example, I’m a very stereotypical young adult author—I’m a white female with a hard-to-spell first name; I like coffee and tea; and I enjoy chasing butterflies with my camera. But in other ways, I’m different—I’m a military brat who struggles to keep time zones straight; I don’t actually like killing off characters; and I like quirky and obscure novels.

Women can like makeup and wield words with power, like Phillipa in The Light Between Worlds.

Men can be secretive and protective yet kind and ready to let women protect themselves, like Adrian in Renegades.

It’s all about the balance of knowing what the stereotypes are and when to use them. Characters should not just be their roles or their gender, but first and foremost, characters should be human.

Let’s chat! What are some of your least favorite gender-orientated stereotypes? Who are some of your favorite strong female characters? How about soft male ones?


Similar Controversy in Fiction posts: Feminism and Female Characters, Feminism and Female Authors, and Diversity

Film references: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 1 and 2

Literary references: Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap, Nadine Brandes’ Fawkes, Laura Tims’ The Art of Feeling, Melanie Crowder’s Audacity, Olivia A. Cole’s A Conspiracy of Stars, C. G. Drews’ A Thousand Perfect Notes, Akemi Dawn Bowman’s Summer Bird Blue, Victoria Schwab’s This Savage Song, Calla Devlin’s Tell Me Something Real, Robin Roe’s A List of Cages, Jeff Zentner’s Goodbye Days, S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, Laura E. Weymouth’s The Light Between Worlds, and Marissa Meyer’s Renegades

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Confessions of a Bookworm Tag and Blogiversary Giveaway

Yesterday was my 5th blogiversary! *throws confetti* *trips over stack of unwritten blog post ideas* Why do I still have these?

What’s new since I started blogging? Well, I went from once a month posts to once a week, which is plenty of fun even if it took some working up to! I fell into a semi-regular schedule of poetry, bookish, writing posts, then a book review, but sometimes I like to change it up. And I started recording my poems! Personally, I like the audio ones because they’re a little less work, but my video ones have gotten more views. Thanks, guys.

What’s in store? I’d like to get more involved in blogging tags, like this one, and I’m hoping to add a traditionally published novel to my list of publications. Since I commissioned an artist to redesign my blog cover, and I’m still enamored with her work, I may invest in some artistic bookmarks. We shall see!

Without further ado, here are some things I’ve done as a bookworm that I may or may not be proud of. Don’t forget to stick around for the giveaway at the end!

What’s the first book you fell asleep to?

That’s easy. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Other Stories. Not that it was boring, I was just tired. Since then, I have fallen asleep to many a book.

What’s the longest it’s ever taken you to read a book?

Unless we’re counting the books I started two years ago and still haven’t finished *cough* The Silmarillion *cough*, eight months. I started reading Moby-Dick in January, 2017 and didn’t finish it until late August that same year. It didn’t help that I borrowed a library copy and had to keep renewing, returning, and checking it out again.

What’s the first book you threw across the room?

I’ve never actually done that because I wouldn’t want to hurt the book. I have angrily tossed a book on my bed or the couch before, though. Another time, I tripped and accidentally threw a copy of Gemina (Illuminae Files, book 2) into a puddle. I feel less bad about that one knowing 1) it had a protective sleeve around the dust cover, and 2) it was a misprinted copy that repeated fifty pages in the middle of the book.

Have you ever spilled anything on a book?

Spilled? No. But I once accidentally got lipstick all over a library book once because the cap came off in my purse. That was… awkward. I still feel bad about that.

Have you ever had to pay a library fine?

No, actually. My local library doesn’t do fines. 😊

What’s an unpopular opinion you have about a popular book/series?

Only one? Hmmm… I’m going to go with the Harry Potter series. People either refuse to read it or let their kids read it, or they thoroughly enjoy it. I find the series kinda meh. *ducks behind the oh-so-convenient pillar before the fans blast me with fire*

Name one thing you do when reading that some might call unusual.

I read the acknowledgements at the end of every book. For one, I like getting the full credit for having read those pages. Thank you, Goodreads. For another, I like to see who influenced the author(s) even if the page lists names of people I don’t know, which can get rather tedious. Perhaps the best acknowledgements I have read are from the Illuminae Files. They’re morbid but humorous.

Name an author you like whose name you cannot pronounce.

Elizabeth Wein. I will read all of her historical fiction! Her name looks simple, right? But how on earth does she say her last name? Is it the English pronunciation Ween? Or the German pronunciation Vine? Send help.

Name a character you like whose name you cannot pronounce.

Among the many, the first that comes to mind is Nimona. Here’s a quick excerpt from my book review: neither my sister nor I can determine how to pronounce the name Nimona. Simple, isn’t it? Nimoa. Minoa. Moana. Pneumonia. Wait… Send help. We’re a mess!

What’s the last movie you discovered was based on a book you haven’t read yet?

Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle. I seriously had no idea this was even a book and only discovered it when a friend and I were talking about the movies and she mentioned the book.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done in the name of reading?

Do I really have to answer this one? Fine. I applied to the University of Nottingham’s English Lit program and moved to England rather than face the prospect of having to get a job in the States. There, I wrote it. If somebody had told me sooner that applying to jobs was a faster process than querying a novel, I might not have the degrees I have today. But I’m glad my life has turned out the way it has.

Now for more fun! I tag the following bloggers:
S. M. Metzler @ Tea with Tumnus
Faith Rene Boggus @ A Boggus Life
And You!

Giveaway time! International entrees welcome, so long as you can get Kindle books and/or Book Depository ships to you.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Update (20 July 2019): Congratulations to Chittajit!

Let’s chat! What are some of the craziest things you’ve ever done as a reader? Are you a blogger? What are some elements of blogging that you enjoy?


Sunday, July 7, 2019

Poem: Concrete Forest, Paper Meadows

Welcome back to my monthly poem!

I’m feeling a little lazy this month, and I’m going to try out something new: a short intro so you can focus more on the poem. And while there is no audio for the moment, I may add it at a later time. My inspiration: I’m on a road trip, I’m tired, and I don’t want to live in a big city at this time.

Concrete Forest, Paper Meadows

How much scope for imagination
is there really, in this concrete forest?
Here the leaves are made of glass,
and the bark bleeds metal.

It feels like every pane is filled
with this life or that—
memories of her yesterday,
thoughts of their tomorrow—
is there any room for me here?

Give me back the paper meadows,
where the shadows stretch long
and don’t swallow me hours before sunset,
where the corn stalks bend in the wind
and the thunderheads ebb back and forth—
blink and they’re here—
blink and they’re gone.

Sing me a lullaby of windchimes and whistling grass
of raindrops, thunderclaps, and butterfly wingbeats.
Sing me a song under the open stars,
where the fireflies bob and the mulberries grow.

Here my roots can stretch—
there my roots can grow—
but it’s only a matter of days
before the dandelion seeds
let go.


Let’s chat! What did you think of the poem? What kind of area are you most comfortable living in?