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Lazy Labor Day Miscellanea

Lazy Labor Day Miscellanea

Normally this would be a Lazy Sunday post, but as I actually did a book review yesterday, and today is a holiday, we’ll fudge it just a little. Here’s some miscellanea:

#32: Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey

Guardian Of The Dead by Karen HealeyThis is a really good book. It’s YA fantasy that takes place in New Zealand and centers around New Zealand’s native mythology. Healely went out of her way to make the cast diverse and inclusive — including characters of color and characters with non-hetero sexualities — and she also went out of her way to be respectful of the mythology she used. (Well, okay, that shouldn’t be going out of her way, that should just be How Things Are Done, but sadly, that often isn’t true. Either way, she wrote a really interesting blog post about working with cultural consultants.)

Since this is YA fantasy, of course, you may be expecting a link to a full review over at Active Voice… and there is one, but I didn’t write it. It just seemed silly for me to write a whole review of a book when I could basically sum it up as, what Jess said.

Link Dump

I’ve had some of these links saved for ages, so… uh, apologies for the out of date conversations? All still interesting, though!

Yoko Ono: A Feminist Analysis

And realizing that Yoko wasn’t to blame for the Beatles breakup makes you ask a question. Why does the myth persist?

I had come to believe that most Beatles historians and true, educated fans had wised up enough to see the Yoko charade for what it is. So imagine my disappointment when proven wrong. Earlier this year, I finished Bob Spitz’s biography The Beatles, which is arguably the most comprehensive Beatles biography in existence. The book starts out amazingly, but about halfway through inexplicably begins to decline rapidly in the number of details provided once the Beatles become famous. That was annoying. But far more so was the unabashed, unapologetic and shameful smearing of Yoko Ono — made even worse by its presentation as fact when so clearly Spitz’s personal opinion. And this opinion is indicative, I think, of the opinion of most Yoko haters ….

So who is the main purveyor of the Yoko myths? Can we pin it on historians like Bob Spitz? Certainly, they hold part of the blame and need to be called out on it. But no, I blame someone else entirely for the bulk of the treatment and misogynistic cultural perceptions of Yoko Ono, as did John. In the first/next part of this series, they are the people who I’m going to discuss. And their names are Paul, George and Ringo.

Indeed. It was heartbreaking for me to realize, as I went through my Beatles Phase, that they were actually kind of dicks, and definitely abusers. Trying to reconcile that with my emotional investment in them, and their historical significance… well, I still struggle with that. It sucks to realize that people you idolize aren’t perfect, and can be outright nasty.

Anyway, all the Yoko hate out there started to bother me a few years ago, and it took awhile for me to twig to why. This pretty much sums it up — plus the cultural narrative that women ruin and destroy (see also: Eve, Pandora). Definitely worth a read.

The War on Critical Thinking and Evolving Social Mores

Talk about out of date. Apparently last October, some jackass wrote an essay about how scifi is being feminized and that’s ruining the genre and also the world! Because science! You see, if girl cooties get into genre fiction, no boys will want to be scientists, and then there will be no scientists. If only the BSG remake hasn’t made Starbuck a woman!

Need I say that the Smart Bitches takedown is great?

Why I’m Team Katniss

The thing is, I can’t get past the feeling that focusing on the love triangle somehow dismisses the central point of the series. Sure, it’s a very commercial, mainstream series that is clearly meant to be a page-turning, engrossing experience. But it’s also about war, violence, mortality, and inequality. I’m a fan of The Hunger Games because of the way the books deal with these issues in such a readable yet thought-provoking (and gut-wrenching) way.

I’ve been trying for ages to put my finger on why “team” terminology bothers me when it comes to YA fiction. I don’t care, like, at all about Twilight, but that actually is a romance, but for series like Hunger Games and or Scott Westerfeld’s Pretties, both series in which I’ve seen this (and I’m sure there are more), it’s really bothered me. I know romances are compelling and even necessary for some readers (I enjoy them but don’t find them necessary to enjoy a story, personally) but to me that feels reductive. These stories aren’t about which guy the heroine ends up with. In life-or-death adventures, it really bothers me that the narrative around girls is romance, no matter how much ass they kick.

Basically, Malinda Lo says that. But way more eloquently. Totally worth a read.

Contest! That I’m entering!

The last time I entered a contest by linking from here, I won! So what the heck, I’ll try it again for the giveaway of an ARC I really want to get my hands on:

Blue Fire by Janice HardyPart fugitive, part hero, fifteen-year-old Nya is barely staying ahead of the Duke of Baseer’s trackers. Wanted for a crime she didn’t mean to commit, she risks capture to protect every Taker she can find, determined to prevent the Duke from using them in his fiendish experiments. But resolve isn’t enough to protect any of them, and Nya soon realizes that the only way to keep them all out of the Duke’s clutches is to flee Geveg. Unfortunately, the Duke’s best tracker has other ideas.

Nya finds herself trapped in the last place she ever wanted to be, forced to trust the last people she ever thought she could. More is at stake than just the people of Geveg, and the closer she gets to uncovering the Duke’s plan, the more she discovers how critical she is to his victory. To save Geveg, she just might have to save Baseer — if she doesn’t destroy it first.

Buy it online at: Barnes & Noble   Amazon     Or These Fine Retailers.

(In case you are wondering, I loved the first book and highly recommend it.)

Okay, y’all. That’s all I’ve got. Happy Labor Day.

Fantasy Novels (and Fantasy Novel Covers)

Silver Phoenix by Cindy PonThis entry has a theme! And that theme is, “Sometimes, I still read a lot of fantasy.” You may have noticed from the title. But before getting into the recent reading list — remember when this blog used to have entries about other things?1 — I want to give something a bit of a signal boost.

Last year, I reviewed Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix at Active Voice. The cover is the image to the right over there. And among other things, I said:

I picked this book up because I’m making an effort to delve into sf/f novels not set in Ye Olde Fake Europe, since so much of fantasy centers around Western-style (and very white-washed) worlds and myths. But I probably would have picked it up anyway, since it’s a story about a teenage girl discovering a super power and saving the day. That certainly falls into the category of “things I love.” …

The world of Silver Phoenix is great; it’s a high-fantasy take on ancient China. I’m not familiar enough with actual Chinese culture to know how accurate it is, but it’s certainly rich enough that I’m not concerned. Everything from the bizarre creatures Ai Ling runs into to the noodle shops she eats at make it distinct and genuine. It is very refreshing to read a book where the well-worn fantasy tropes are reimagined — and while they presumably aren’t new to readers who grew up with Chinese mythology, I (like, I would guess, most American readers) was raised pretty strictly on high fantasy and Western traditions, so this is all new and fresh to me.

Why do I point this out? Because (sigh) this is the book’s new cover for its paperback run, and this is the newly-revealed cover of the sequel. Now, look. I’m not a very visual person; I don’t really do a lot of book cover critique because that’s just not my area of expertise.2 But Silver Phoenix had one of my favorite covers ever: I loved that it was brightly colored (in a sea of dark, Twilight-esque covers, no less); I loved that there was a girl front and center, obviously being active and powerful (and omg, her hair is so pretty); and I loved she was clearly Asian. It spells out just what you’ll get if you read the book, and looks lovely doing so.

So yeah. I’m disappointed that the girl on re-imagined covers is, at best, ethnically ambiguous (and honestly, if I didn’t know the books are about a Chinese girl, I would have assumed she was Caucasian and not seen her as ambiguous at all).3 And I’m disappointed that she’s not active — we don’t even see her whole face. I mean, yes, I think the Fury cover is pretty enough, and would be a great cover… for a book about the girl pictured on it. That girl is not Ai Ling.

Two links for this. First, author Cindy Pon talks about it (in the cover’s official unveiling) with a mostly-positive frame:

fury of the phoenix cover revealed!
Silver Phoenix may be a little different than what’s offered in young adult right now, but at the heart of ai ling’s story is friendship, family, discovering oneself, growing and falling in love. (oh, and food. =) i don’t think my debut is for every reader. of course not. but do i think that it has fully reached its potential reading audience? unfortunately, no.

i’m very well aware of recent discussions about whitewashing young adult covers as well as #racefail debates, especially within the speculative fiction genres. most of you know by now that the author gets very little say in cover design. i was fortunate enough to be consulted on many aspects for the original cover. my debut cover couldn’t have been more fierce or asian! and i’m so grateful to greenwillow books for spending the time, money and effort to repackage my books. with the hopes that it will be carried more widely and perhaps draw a new audience that my original cover didn’t.

Second, Inkstone explains exactly why these covers are so problematic, regardless:

I guess I still have a post in me
I guess we should glad they didn’t slap a blue-eyed, blond-haired white girl on the covers, huh?

But make no mistake; this is insulting. At least with a symbolic motif cover (a la the Twilight covers), you can pretend race is not a factor. Instead, here, we’re given a girl whose face is obscured by shadow. That way, the publisher can say, But she could be Asian. It’s ambiguous!

Except it’s not ambiguous. We know what they’re doing. It’s a flimsy attempt to put a person on the cover while also masking any identifying features that could “scare” away potential buyers. Do you know what message that sends? Not only are we taught that our stories aren’t worth telling, not only are we taught never to expect to see our faces represented, we’re now being told that if we are represented, we should be ashamed of our features. That our eyes, our cheekbones, most of our faces scare away potential readers. That to reach a different and wider audience, we must be sacrificed because no one would want to read one of our stories if they knew ahead of time what they were getting.

Oh, wait, hang on. One more thing. Cindy Pon is being awesome and giving away a set of books featuring protagonists of color. And I’m not just linking it because I want to win. Really.

OKAY! So that’s the fantasy novel cover aspect. Now for the fantasy novels I’ve been reading!

Daggerspell by Katharine Kerr#23: Daggerspell by Katharine Kerr. I first read this in middle school. At that point, I assumed I didn’t get or was misreading a major plot point — turns out, I wasn’t. There’s a section of the book about incest, and as a kid I wasn’t quite able to put together that as something a narrative could use (for the record, it’s sort of The Point Where Everything Went Wrong, not, like, romantic). That said, I hadn’t thought of this series in years when I saw it in a bookstore and picked it up on a whim, and yet I remembered most of it almost perfect: just about all of the characters, most of the plot twists, etc.

It’s also interesting because this is pretty standard Epic High Fanatsy, what with the elfin archers and the dwarves and the epic battles, and at one point there’s a bard, etc. As an adult, I enjoyed it, but as a kid, I remember being blown away. I didn’t know those things were tropes yet. (At one point, there’s a villain who, thanks to a prophecy, can only be killed in battle, but no man will ever kill him. At 12, I was so worried! I didn’t know what was going to happen!4

So overall, this was an enjoyable stroll down memory lane and certainly a reminder of why I love some of those tropes. It wasn’t as spellbinding as when I read it in middle school, and I don’t have a desperate need to read the rest of the series right now, but I do want to pick it up at some point. A solid fantasy novel.

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray#24: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray. My BFF Jess reviewed this series at AV last year and loved them, so it was no surprise that I really enjoyed this. It’s plot-light but worldbuilding-heavy. And thematically, the story really really worked for me. It’s about the relationships between girls, and female power — the ways that power is rare, is important, and is often considered terrifying. (Basically, what Jess said, especially about the relationships between the girls.) I’ll definitely come back and finish this series. Probably by the end of the year, so you know, you all have that to look forward to…

The Last Hunt by Bruce Coville#25: The Last Hunt by Bruce Coville. YOU GUYS, I have been waiting for this book for SIXTEEN YEARS. Coville is, you know, one of my all-time favorite writers, so even though this wasn’t my favorite series of his, I bought it the day I realized it was out (I missed its debut day by about a week somehow) and I read it in 24 hours flat. I had many thoughts about it! And it is a MG/YA-ish fantasy novel! And I have a whole other blog for those! So you can read my full review here, if you are so inclined. But in summary: I liked it! I know that is an enormous surprise.

  1. By which I mean, remember when this blog never got updated, ever?
  2. So I leave it to hilarious other people. My dad owned a lot of those books when I was a kid…
  3. Which of course shows my bias and privilege as a reader — but then again, isn’t that exactly what the images are supposed to do? They’re assuming people who might pass by an obviously Asian-inspired book wouldn’t think to question the Caucasian-ness of the protagonist, because hey, just about every other book has white people on the cover, so why give it a deeper look?
  4. Hint: one of the main characters is a teenage girl with a sword.

Tweenage Review: Victorious

Victorious

So Nickelodeon’s trying to mimic Disney; the network partnered with Sony to put out albums for some of its up-and-coming stars, using wacky TV shows as launching pads. (Or so Wikipedia tells me.) The first was Miranda Cosgrove of iCarly, a pretty decent tween show; the second was the boy band Big Time Rush of Big Time Rush, who I immediately loved; and the third… the third is Victoria Justice of the brand-new-last-week show Victorious.

The show was incredibly, offensively bad. Sidekicks who make sexual assault jokes, a protagonist with no personality, an antagonist who only cares about the boy in her life, on top of generic, mediocre writing. Wow, I really, really did not like it at all.

Tweenage Review: Big Time Rush

Big Time Rush

I almost never actually link to the stuff I write on Tweenage Wasteland, huh? That’s mostly because it tends to consist of stupid pictures of Zac Efron accompanied by very little actual writing, but heck, sometimes I bother with more. Like yesterday: I accidentally stumbled across a new-ish Nickelodeon show, Big Time Rush, and was baffled for about five seconds until I realized it’s just The Monkees wearing tighter jeans. Seriously. And since boy bands and wacky hijinks are among my favorite things, I was entranced despite some sexist fail. Here’s hoping the show improves.

Other fun at Tweenage of late: Jess on fashion at the Kids Choice Awards, and (a couple months ago now), Jess, Rachel and I watched Disney’s Starstuck, and man, it wasn’t good at all.

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