Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Clearly I’m on a YA fantasy role here with reviews… Sometimes I get so thoroughly immersed in a genre it can be hard to pull myself out to switch to something else, something new and different. As I get to the end of a genre jaunt, however, my reviews tend to become a bit skewed, so take them all with a grain of salt.

Synopsis

Mare Barrow’s world is divided by blood – those with common Red blood serve the Silver-blooded elite, who are gifted with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village, until a twist of fate throws her in front of the Silver court.

Before the king, princes, and all the nobles, she discovers she has an ability of her own. To cover up this impossibility, the king forces her to play the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks everything and uses her new position to help the Scarlet Guard, a growing Red rebellion, even as her heart tugs her in an impossible direction. One wrong move can lead to her death, but in the dangerous game she plays, the only certainty is betrayal.

Review

Red Queen is part of a long line of YA fantasy books that have been written in the last five years or so to feature varying takes on power and poverty, haves and have-nots, and each primarily female author’s take on a strong, feminist, protagonist. The books that stand out are those that are spectacularly good or spectacularly bad. Red Queen is neither.

It is an enjoyable book with a serviceable plot and intriguing characters. Were it published at a different time, I would call it unique and original. However, it came out halfway through the present YA fantasy boom and the influence of previous works is evident in Aveyard’s storytelling. Similarities to GracelingThe Hunger GamesThrone of Glass and Shadow and Bone are easy to pick out if you are as well versed in the world of YA fantasy as most of Aveyard’s target readers.

The writing is decent, the twists and turns of the plot and the effort into world building that Aveyard puts forth are not missed, this review would be much more scathing if Red Queen lacked in any of these areas, but it doesn’t have the ineffable “stand-out quality” that makes me remember years down the road, makes me anxiously await the next book in the series. Red Queen is at it’s best, another decent YA fantasy debut, and at it’s worst, another YA fantasy.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $10.99 • 9780062310644 • 416 pages • first published in February 2015, this edition published June 2016 by Harper Teen • average Goodreads rating 4.08 out of 5 • read in May 2016

Victoria Aveyard’s Website

Red Queen on Goodreads

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Red Queen

 

Non-Fiction, Photography/Art, Sociology

Strong is the New Pretty by Kate T. Parker

Shortly after Strong is the New Pretty came out and jumped onto the bestsellers list, my coworker’s stepmother came into the store and scoffed in disdain at the cover and claimed that we (society) were now turning girls into boys. I was livid, absolutely livid to say the least and my coworker had to restrain me to keep me from screaming at her stepmother. Far from my proudest moment, but one that inspired a passionate response, one that I shared in my review both and the store and below in this post here.

Synopsis

Girls being fearless. Girls being silly. Girls being wild, stubborn, and proud. Girls whose faces are smeared with dirt and lit up with joy. With more than 150 full-color and black-and-white photographs, Strong is the New Pretty is a powerful visual celebration of the strength and spirit of girls – athletic girls and bookish girls, artsy girls and contemplative girls, girls holding their best friends’ hands and girls running through the sprinkler. It’s the book that says to girls, be yourself because that’s what makes you strong. Divided into nine chapters, including Confident is Strong, Wild is Strong, Kind is Strong, Determined is Strong, and Creative is Strong, Strong is the New Pretty says beauty has nothing to do with looks – it’s showing the world what’s inside you that counts. It’s inspiring, it’s liberating, and it conveys a powerful message for every girl, for every mother and father of a girl, for teachers and counselors and mentors and coaches.

Review

There is nothing that makes me angrier or more upset than people criticizing anyone for trying to express themselves. Kate Parker opens the book with an introduction that starts with a story about her hair getting in her way when playing soccer and how happy she was to have it chopped off into a bowl cut. When I was 6, I did the same thing. I wanted to be just like Kerri Strug. I wanted to play ice hockey. I used to pester my parents for an older brother and was given the explanation that as the oldest child, I would not be getting an older brother to play hockey with. (Little did my parents anticipate they would get divorced and I would get my older brother! But that’s beside the point.)

Basically, I wanted to do everything – play sports, play instruments, run races, ride by bike around our lake, jump in the stream beside my dad’s house, take art classes, read constantly – I had more interests than there were hours in the day to pursue them, which is still the case. And the greatest thing about my childhood? My parents let me. Regardless of my parents’ differences, they were united on at least one front : my sister and I were allowed to pursue basically anything that we wanted, we were allowed to try anything we wanted, even shop in the boys clothing section if that’s what we wanted.

I wish there was a book like Strong is the New Pretty around when I was a child and had to explain to the boys in my class and my friends’ parents that being a tomboy was perfectly acceptable. Kate Parker takes the approach to raising girls that my parents did and for that, I am most grateful to her. As one of my friends is expecting her first child, a girl, in a few short months, I want her daughter to know that she can be whatever, and whoever, she wants to be, both when she’s a kid and when she grows up.

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $17.95 • 9780761189138 • 256 pages • published March 2017 by Workman Publishing • average Goodreads rating 4.56 out of 5 • read in July 2017

Kate T. Parker’s Website

Strong is the New Pretty on Goodreads

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Strong is the New Pretty (2)

 

Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction, Photography/Art

It’s What I Do by Lynsey Addario

Every year between Christmas and New Year’s, my now husband and I travel to Greenville, South Carolina to stay with his aunt, uncle and cousins for the holiday season. Given that my husband, Ben, and I met while working in a library, it is well known to his family that I love books and his aunt keeps me apprised of all the bookstore goings on in Greenville. This past year, they moved to a condo with in walking distance to my new favorite bookstore, M. Judson Booksellers. I walked there every day of our visit. On the first day, I noticed a beautiful, heavy hardcover sitting on their future page-to-screen display. As someone who gets a discount at my own indie bookstore, I spent the week debating whether or not I had to have It’s What I Do, or if I could wait until I got home. Turns out, I couldn’t wait.

Synopsis

(Get ready, it’s a long one!)

Lynsey Addario was just finding her way as a young photographer when September 11 changed the world. One of the few photojournalists with experience in Afghanistan, she gets the call to return and cover the American invasion. She makes a decision she would often find herself making – not to stay home, not to lead a quiet or predictable life, but to set out across the world, face the chaos of crisis, and make a name for herself.

Addario finds a way to travel with purpose. She photographs the Afghan people before and after the Taliban reign, the civilian casualties and misunderstood insurgents of the Iraq War, as well as the burned villages and countless dead in Darfur. She exposes a culture of violence against women in the Congo and tells the riveting story of her headline-making kidnapping by pro-Qaddafi forces in the Libyan civil war.

Addario takes bravery for granted but she is not fearless. She uses her fear and it creates empathy, that is essential to her work. We see this clearly on display as she interviews rape victims in the Congo, or photographs a fallen soldier with whom she had been embedded in Iraq, or documents the tragic lives of starving Somali children. Lynsey takes us there and we begin to understand how getting to the hard truth trumps fear.

As a woman photojournalist determined to be taken as seriously as her male peers, Addario fights her way into a boys’ club of a profession. Rather than choose between her personal life and career, Addario learns to strike a necessary balance. In the man who will become her husband, she finds at last a real love to complement her work, not take away from it, and as a new mother, she gains an all the more intensely personal understanding of the fragility of life.

Review

Whoa. Literally, just whoa. For someone who has lived a fairly sheltered life in Pennsylvania for my entire existence, it blows my mind how people can just pick up at a moment’s notice and not just go on an adventure, but go to a war-ravaged country that is most certainly on the state department’s travel advisory list. But time and time again, that’s what Lynsey does.

When I picked up It’s What I Do, I was on a biography/autobiography kick, having just finished Notorious RBG, and I was looking for some inspiration as I tried/am still trying to figure out what it is I want out of my life. And while I certainly want adventure, I don’t think I’m quite cut out for Lynsey’s level of adventure, but let me step back a bit.

In 2014, my sister moved to Washington D.C. right after her college graduation. When Ben and I went to visit her, we planned a little mini trip, which included a visit to an old favorite, the Library of Congress, and a new spot, the Newseum. While I never considered journalism as a career, I’ve followed Christiane Amanpour since she first was referenced on Gilmore Girls, I am a perpetual student of political science, and I am an obsessive news junkie. So needless to say, the decision to go to the Newseum was a no-brainer. While there, I learned about the numerous and life-threatening risks journalists take to bring the information they have gathered back to us. And when they travel to dangerous places, they are traveling as members of the press, but more importantly, not as soldiers or military personnel, but as civilians.

Lynsey Addario rarely hesitated when making the decision to go overseas to follow a breaking story/event. All I can say is that her story is simply amazing and I have been recommending It’s What I Do left, right and center at the bookstore. I’ve found every excuse and opportunity to display it, to share it, to talk about it – I even forced my mom into a copy and she doesn’t read anything but Baldacci and spy thrillers (though I sold it to her as a real-life spy thriller).  If you are in a reading slump, or just need some motivation to get up in the morning, It’s What I Do is the book for you.

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $18.00 • 9780143128410 • 368 pages • originally published February 2015, this edition published November 2016 by Penguin Press • average Goodreads rating 4.31 out of 5 • read in January 2017

Lynsey Addario’s Website

It’s What I Do on Goodreads

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It's What I Do

Non-Fiction, Sociology

Dear Ijeawele by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A few weeks ago, I made a semi-major life change – in an effort to be more healthy, I decided to take up running on a regular basis. Struggling to find a way to do everything I wanted to in my free time (basically, I would rather be reading than running), I decided to finally download the Overdrive app and listen to audiobooks from my local library while I ran. Dear Ijeawele (Ee-gee-ah-way-lee) happened to be the first book that I searched for that was available, and I had been meaning to read We Should All be Feminists, so another book by the same author seemed fitting.

Synopsis

A few years ago, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie received a letter from a childhood friend, asking her how to raise her baby girl to be a feminist. Dear Ijeawele is Adichie’s letter of response.

Here are fifteen invaluable suggestions – compelling, direct, wryly funny, and perceptive – for how to empower a daughter to become a strong, independent woman. From encouraging her to choose a helicopter, and not only a doll, as a toy if she so desires; having open conversations with her about clothes, makeup, and sexuality; debunking the myth that women are somehow biologically arranged to be in the kitchen making dinner and that men can “allow” women to have full careers, Dear Ijeawele goes right to the heart of sexual politics in the twenty-first century. It will start a new and urgently needed conversation about what it really means to be a woman today.

Review

The audiobook for this short tome is only an hour and a half long – the perfect length for one of my long run workouts. I don’t know about other runners/walkers, but the time for me is one of contemplation, as a distraction from focusing on my allergy induced wheezing and agonizing over how much my muscles hurt. Running through Valley Forge helps me focus on my thoughts and nature, and what I’m listening to while doing so.

As I listened to Dear Ijeawele, I considered the following: Both my sister-in-law and a close friend are expecting their first children in October and I have lately been contemplating what type of aunt/quasi-aunt I want to be. My husband has a younger sister who is 9 years old and I find myself reflecting on the sort of example I set for her when she was a very small child. Did I encourage her to be herself? Did I ever unwittingly tell her that she could or couldn’t do something simply because she was a girl? Is her present obsession with pink something she truly enjoys, or does she love pink and princesses because we as a society have conditioned her to? Did she want to wear her Converse high-tops as flower girl in my wedding because I thought it’d be cool, or because she did? How much did I influence her versus how many decisions did she make on her own?

The more I thought about it, the more worked up I got. I felt like I hadn’t followed any of Adichie’s suggestions, not that I was/am responsible for how my younger sister-in-law lives her 3rd grade life, but I want to be a positive, feminist influence on her life. And then I realized, yes, language matters, and yes, the relationships that young children witness matter, but no, not every woman has to have the same definition of feminism. So long as girls and women have choices, and those choices should be the same as men’s, they can live their lives however they want. My definition of feminism is not my mother’s definition, or even the same as my sister’s definition. My definition of feminism is to be my own person, and so long as that is what I strive to show the young children in my life, then I believe I have embodied the spirit of Adichie’s suggestions, even if I haven’t followed them letter for letter, word for word.

So learn from me, read or listen for a new and unique perspective, but do not take Dear Ijeawele as feminism gospel. Interpret Adichie’s suggestions for yourself, your family, and those young girls in your life and simply embrace the idea that everyone should have the choice and freedom to be whoever they wish to be.*

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $15.00 • 9781524733131 • 80 pages • published March 2017 by Knopf Publishing Group • average Goodreads rating 4.56 out of 5 • read in April 2017

*so long as whoever you/they wish to be causes no harm to anyone else

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Website

Dear Ijeawele on Goodreads

Get a Copy of Dear Ijeawele

Dear Ijeawele