golden petals
point to the sky
stars in bloom


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Photo: Flowers in Hyde Park, London, c.b.w. 2011

Words: haiku, c.b.w. 2017


The Summer of Reading, Part 2


My Summer of Reading continues with the second half of book reviews from my stack of read books, (see The Summer of Reading for the first half).

This half is mostly YA fantasy (both urban and dystopian), but I also managed to squeeze in some non-fiction and Japanese and Czech literature.

Stars Above (The Lunar Chronicles, #4.5) by Marissa Meyer

A nice little collection of short stories that offer a little more insight into familiar characters from the Lunar Chronicles series. The first half fills in some of the gaps on Cinder’s origins and Jacin and Winter’s relationship. The back half provides more happy endings for characters that deserve them the most. Those who ship Scarlet/Wolf and Cinder/Kai will be thrilled! However, my favorite story involves a switched perspective on Kai and Cinder’s first meeting. I loved seeing that moment from his eyes. While not required reading for the series, it’s a nice fluffy read for those who just can’t get enough of the Lunar Chronicles’ world.

Haven (Winterhaven #1) by Kristi Cook

Violet arrives at Winterhaven eager for a new start in a new place where no one knows she’s a “freak.” She’s a strong and relatable character until she meet Aidan Gray, who turns her into a mushy pile of young love. Aidan is the school hottie that predictably ignores every girl except Violet. While I love a good love story, this one is a bit too melodramatic for my taste and I can’t quite figure out what makes this couple tick aside from physical attraction. On the more interesting side of things, Winterhaven is a school exclusively for students with special gifts like telekinesis, precognition, telepathy, etc. as well as supernatural beings like werewolves and vampires (shocked? Yeah, I wasn’t either). While this borders on the predictable, once again, Cook does shake things up by looking at vampirism as disease that can be cured. The scientific descriptions are fascinating and I would have liked to see that as a stronger storyline.

This is one of those books that starts out really strong, but then unravels for me mainly because I read A LOT of YA urban fantasy. In an increasingly crowded field, it’s tough to find a wholly original story. While I enjoyed the characters and writing style, I kept finding myself thinking I’d read pieces of it before (part Fallen, part Twilight, etc.).

Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto

Like most of Banana Yoshimoto’s work, Goodbye Tsunami is deceptively sparse in terms of style and storyline. The true power of it doesn’t hit until the last page. Maria is on the cusp of adulthood – that moment when everything familiar and comfortable dramatically shifts to something different. Moving away from the hometown, leaving family and friends, and essentially starting something new stirs wildly contradictory, yet subtle emotions. Likewise, her cousin, Tsugumi is facing similar change but with a drastically different perspective. She, too, finds herself in transition as her family prepares to move to a new place. However, she is chronically ill and has no true independence, (not to mention a truly horrific personality). Instead of feeling the contradiction of excitement and sadness, as Maria does, she struggles with the bitterness of never truly being able to move on to new and exciting things. Her life is simply about waiting for the end while she watches Maria move towards a bright future. What binds them together is the shared experience of childhood and the memories they hold between them. The contrast of these characters is unified into a unique parable about the transience of life and how nothing really ever stays the same.

Slowness by Milan Kundera

We move much too fast it seems. Too fast to make lasting, meaningful memories (or to purposely forget moments of regret). Too fast to truly enjoy the pleasures of life. At least that’s what the narrator of this playful novel tries so hard to convey. In making his point, the stories of multiple characters exemplify how the speedy pursuit of power and/or pleasure completely defeats the point of both. Those after power are constantly putting on a show that plays upon the gullibility of those around them and the fast moving media. Power is fleeting and built on nothing more than acceptance of a lie. Those after pleasure engage in a similar type of showmanship and experience the same emptiness, but from intimacy gained without patience. Pleasure is short-lived and easily forgotten as the next conquest falls into view. A sprawling allegory that draws upon the past and the present, there is much to consider in how pleasure in particular is often taken for granted.

Ironically, I read this book in about three hours, which means I fell right into Kundera’s delightful little trap.

The Selection by Kiera Cass

The prince needs a wife, so the only logical solution is to recreate a reality dating show, right? This premise is what made me shy away from this series at first, but I’m glad I picked it up. In a world divided into socioeconomic castes, America pretty much has her life figured out. She’s in love with a boy in a caste below hers, but she’s certain she can work her way around that problem and marry him. However, that all changes when the royal family sends out applications for the Selection to find the prince a wife. Her participation in the Selection would mean a financial windfall for her struggling family, but America resists on the basis of her own principles and her love for Aspen. However, when Aspen inexplicably dumps her, America reluctantly finds herself in the midst of the Selection. What she finds is unexpected as she navigates the palace and holds her own in a competition between her and 34 other girls. Never in a million years did she expect the prince to be quite so charming and easy to talk to. While this is a sweet love story, it is also sharp commentary on class divisions, identity, and discrimination.

The Brain: The Story of You by David Eagleman

A fascinating overview of neuroscience regarding basic brain function, decision making, memory, individuality, and socialization. For a layperson, such as myself, this was a readable and entertaining look at a very complicated topic (at least its always felt that way to me!). Having watched the PBS series of the same title, I liked being able to revisit the content of the series in print. It gave me more time to process the information and consider the broader implications of theories and basic principles.

The Elite (Selection #2) by Kiera Cass

The competition continues as six girls remain to vie for Prince Maxon. While Maxon has essentially already made his choice, America finds herself torn. Still hung up on her ex-boyfriend (who just so happens to be a guard at the palace), America spends a lot of time questioning her feelings and what she really wants. Meanwhile, Maxon has the patience of a saint while she strings him along. America is a strong girl, but her fatal fatal flaw is a devastating case of self-doubt. As the privileges and responsibilities of becoming a member of the royal family become more clear, America isn’t just choosing between two boys, but rather between two very different lives. She could be the princess that carries the weight of leadership or the ordinary citizen that goes with the flow. While the story moves a bit slower in this volume, America’s character continues to experience growing pains that are very relevant and relatable despite the dystopian theme.

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c.b.w. 2017







The Summer of Reading


Some summers are all about travel, while others are all about relaxing. For me, this was the summer of reading. I plowed through my To Read pile and even found myself having to make bookstore runs to get more books to read.

From May 26 to August 1, I read a total of 15 books. Not only is this a new summer record, but it made a huge dent in my Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge. There’s only six more books to go until I reach my goal of 35.

Here’s a rundown of the first half of the stack, along with short reviews. Overall, I enjoyed some really great reads, but nothing could top Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians series. If you haven’t read it, you simply must!

Lord of Shadows (Dark Artifices #2) by Cassandra Clare

One of the things that always amazes me about Cassandra Clare’s work is her ability to make the Shadow World mirror the real world. In Lord of Shadows, the arrival of The Cohort and it’s desire to return Shadowhunters to a position of power at the expense of Downworlders has so many parallels to our world today, I’m eternally grateful that so many young people will be reading it, (and will hopefully take it’s message to heart. Social commentary aside, the sequel to Lady Midnight does not disappoint as it delivers heavy doses of love in every way possible -forbidden, brotherly, heartbreaking, old and new – while also continuing the story of how one warlock’s fascination with necromancy leads to the search for The Black Volume. So begins the race to find it before all hell breaks loose (quite literally). The search for the Black Volume leads to the Unseelie and Seelie courts, Malcolm Fade’s enchanted cottage, London, and to Idris itself. In true Clare fashion, the last 30 pages of the book are emotionally traumatizing in every way imaginable. I’ve gotten into the habit of listening to John Mellencamp’s “Hurts So Good” whenever I finish one of Clare’s books. It’s the only way to remind myself why I keep coming back for more.

Shadowhunters and Downworlders: A Mortal Instruments Reader Ed. Cassandra Clare

An interesting read for any fan of the The Mortal Instruments series, but in particular for those who love to overanalyze every single element of the books and the characters. Simply put, this is a book for hardcore fans that want to hear what other YA authors have to say about the series. My favorite essays in the collection include Diana Peterfreund’s “Sharper Than A Seraph Blade (which offers unique insight into Jace’s humor as a weapon), Michelle Hodkin’s “Simon Lewis: Jewish Vampire, Hero” (an enlightening piece that parallels Judaism and Vampirism), Gwenda Bond’s “Asking For A Friend” (digs deeply into the importance of friendship), and Sara Ryan’s “The Importance of Being Malec” (anyone who doesn’t understand why Malec matters so much needs to read this and you’ll never look at Magnus’s wardrobe the same way again). I would not recommend this for casual fans as it goes into sharp detail – you need to know your stuff for these essays to have maximum impact.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

(Not in the stack as I already traded it in)

It’s a new world where the color of your blood determines your status. Silver bloods have special gifts and hold the highest ranks. Red bloods are nobodies relegated to servitude, conscription, and poverty. Mare Barrow is a Red who finds herself swept into Silver court life thanks to a chance meeting with one of the crown princes. When its discovered she possesses the ability to do something no Red blood should be able to do, palace intrigue and rebellions abound. The resounding theme of betrayal from every direction makes it hard to know which characters to trust and root for. However, the last quarter of the book is action packed and finally draws the line between good and evil – sort of. As a commentary on social classes, discrimination, and subjugation the story is a bit heavy handed and relies on blatant violence to make a point, yet it’s a point well made.

Spellcaster by Claudia Gray

Captive’s Sound is slowly dying thanks to old, dark magic. When Nadia arrives, she has no idea that she could be the witch that can actually save this small town. Nadia is not a fully trained witch, but she is powerful thanks to inadvertently finding her Steadfast, (an individual that amplifies her power when in close proximity). This comes in handy when she faces off with the witch who is responsible for the dark magic strangling the life out of Captive’s Sound. As always, Claudia Gray weaves a tale filled with magic, intrigue, and the power of friendship.

Steadfast (Spellcaster #2) by Claudia Gray

Nadia only thought she defeated a powerful witch from bringing death and destruction upon Captive’s Sound, but evil rarely goes down so easily. It turns out there is something far more sinister on the horizon and it’s trying to break free from the depths of hell. Nadia finds herself in the middle of a tug of war between sticking with white magic or making the ultimate sacrifice to dark magic in order to save those she loves. The bonds of friendship and love reach their breaking point in a tale that only Claudia Gray can spin.

Sorceress (Spellcaster #3) by Claudia Gray

The One Beneath is one step closer to entering our realm thanks to generations of spells from an evil sorceress. Saving Captive’s Sound (and the world) falls on the shoulders of Nadia and her friends, Verlaine, Mateo, and the lovelorn demon servant, Asa. We have nothing to worry about, right? Book 3 of the Spellcaster series is a fantastic conclusion to what has been an enjoyable series overall. In Gray’s world witchcraft is fueled by emotions and memories, which makes Nadia’s battle with The One Beneath all the more meaningful. In addition, Gray explores the concept of hate, stereotyping, and discrimination with a gentle, yet firm hand as a reminder that we all deserve to be seen for who we are on the inside.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Rachel Chu has no idea what she’s in for when she travels to Asia with her boyfriend. To her, Nick is a fellow professor and just an ordinary guy. It turns out he’s the furthest thing from ordinary as he is the chosen heir of one of the wealthiest and prestigious families in Singapore. What should have been a fun summer trip through Nick’s hometown turns into an outrageous introduction into the catty world of Singapore’s elitist culture. At the center of it all is Nick’s often pretentious and judgmental family.

Kwan’s satire slices right into an utterly preposterous world that is far removed from the reality where most of us reside, which makes it all the more irresistible and hilarious. In many ways it’s reminiscent of Wuthering Heights; a world filled with detestable characters that bring disaster upon themselves and you just can’t look away. Kwan, however, turns the detestable into a hysterical spectacle that perfectly blends dry British humor with spot on commentary of Chinese culture. This combination is particularly strong in Kwan’s sometimes snarky, but brilliant footnotes. A great beach read, while also inviting deeper contemplation of social norms and class society.

China Rich Girlfriend (Crazy Rich Asians #2) by Kevin Kwan

The crazy is back with China Rich Girlfriend, only this time the spotlight is more on the Mainland than Singapore. Rachel and her husband Nick are headed back to Asia to meet her newly discovered family, which ushers them into the crazy rich world of Shanghai. Singapore may have been all about old money and family lineage, but Shanghai is all about the glitz of new money. Spur of the moment shopping trips in Paris, super fast sports cars, and ostentatious interior decor fill the days and nights of the Shanghai’s elites. Rachel once again charms everyone, but she refuses to be fully swept up in the unreality that surrounds her, (which is why she is so likable and our guide through this largely unrelatable world).

Scandal hits from all angles as marriages fall apart, reputations disintegrate, and family squabbles turn wildly public. It’s all about image or lack thereof and Kwan’s biting satire once again cuts right into all the ridiculous behavior. At the same time, Kwan explores the family dynamic and Chinese culture with a tender hand and ruthless (and hysterical) commentary. This volume moves a bit slower than Crazy Rich Asians, but it’s still a highly enjoyable read.

Rich People Problems (Crazy Rich Asians #3) by Kevin Kwan

Alamak, this can’t really be the end! The third book in Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians series gives a fitting conclusion to what has been a highly enjoyable jaunt into Asia’s elitist culture. Characters who deserved it got their happily ever afters (for now) and those who needed a slap in the face got what they had coming. The funeral of the century sends everyone into wild speculation on how much money is up for grabs and who will inherit what. Somewhere beneath all the flash is a story of family and forgiveness. Kwan’s usual hilarious satirical edge is still in play and he aims it squarely at the concept of “saving face,” (as long as it looks good, that’s all that matters). When all the money and social standing is stripped away, these otherwise unrelatable characters suddenly become very human. Everything we’ve been assuming since the beginning is called into question as not everyone and everything is as it seems. It makes for a surprising, hilarious, and heartwarming final chapter.

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Reviews for the second half will go up next week. 🙂

Did you read anything good this summer?

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c.b.w. 2017