Half-Resurrection Blues

If you read my post on Shadowshaper and/or this years Nerdcon: Stories then you know that I was lucky enough to sit down and chat with the author of Half-Resurrection Blues, Daniel José Older. I was very excited to pick up more of his books but life and school kept getting in the way. Finally, I picked up this book because I wanted a little break from the school stuff I’ve been reading and wouldn’t you know it, I found a relation between this book and the things I’ve been thinking about for school. Maybe subconsciously I didn’t want a break from school I just wanted a fantasy perspective.

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This is the first the A Bone Street Rumba series and it does not start slow. Daniel José Older takes us directly over the cliff and into the action. Right off the bat we find out that our main man, Carlos Delacruz is kind of dead. He toes the line between the dead and the living and can communicate and interact with both, though he’s working for the New York Council for the Dead. I think it’s interesting thinking about this book compared to Shadowshaper because Shadowshaper is very clearly a young adult book (in that it’s content is a little scrubbed up to be appropriate for all ages) while this, in my opinion, should be read by all ages, it has not been scrubbed up.  It’s a little grittier, a little darker, and a little more real (which is an awesome thing to be able to say about a story that has ghosts in it!)

This story cast a fantasy light on an issue that I’ve been learning, reading, and thinking about a lot lately, which is the tension between the dualities within us. What I mean by this may become more and more clear with the next couple of posts as I discuss it in different contexts. Within the context of this book we have Carlos who, as far as he knows, is the only being that can communicate and interact with both the living and the dead. These are two communities that are in danger of forgetting exactly how much of an effect they have on each other. Invariably one’s actions and activities will influence they others existence. Carlos is left trying to navigate two worlds and neither of them are set up for the whole of him. This story doesn’t dwell on it too much, but I think that’s a characterization of Carlos. If he lets himself steep in the unfairness and impossibility of his situation then that’d be letting the outside sources tear him apart. He’s got to keep moving, keep working, and keep fighting. His journey even just within this story is fascinating which makes me so excited to see where he’ll go in the series.

Half-Resurrection Blues has action, adventure, some badass ladies (which will never ever stop making me happy. Seriously, read this book and let me rave to you about how Kia is my favorite), and bureaucratic deception and secrets. I am so impressed by Daniel José Older’s ability to layer the complexities of essentially two separate worlds on top of fully developed and rich characters with personal stories the reader can’t help but be invested in. I absolutely can not wait to dig into the next few books in this series!

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.

 

 

Shadowshaper

I’m going into this post with two things on my mind. The first is I went to NerdCon:2016 this past weekend (Post about that is coming soon!) and, as it did last year, it’s made me think about the books that have influenced me. It didn’t take any time at all to start reminiscing about the good ole days when I was devouring anything written by Tamora Pierce and then running to the park to practice being a knight like Alanna in The Song of the Lioness series. Mix those beautiful memories with the fact that at Nerdcon: 2016 I had the wonderful privilege of sitting down with the author of Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older, and nine other curious and intelligent story nerds to have a conversation about books and you’ve found my happy place.

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Shadowshaper is set in Brooklyn and follows Sierra as she discovers a magic that lets spirits inhabit her art and bring it to life. After chatting with Daniel José Older for a while and seeing him on multiple panels throughout the weekend it is easy to see how his life and experiences have influenced his writing. While having this knowledge doesn’t change the book, it feels a little like I’ve been let into the greenroom of this story. It’s interesting to me to consider how stories are not just influenced but also often created from perspective. This perspective allows the reader insight into new worlds to explore, understand, and consider. If this book had been around when I was growing up alongside Tamora Pierce’s I imagine I would have been an artistic knight running around Brooklyn (the park across the street) fighting sexism with my sword (really long stick) and art spirits (chalk).  It’s exciting to me to think about how the stories like Shadowshaper, and others that are being crafted now are influencing young readers.

The story itself is rich with familiarity and feeling. It’s interesting to be plopped into Sierra’s world  that she knows so well and watch how she responds to her surroundings change both physically and magically. The relationship between the familiar “real” world of Brooklyn, that is in a state of flux, and the Shadowshaper community, that is experiencing the growing pains of turning power over to a new generation, provides an intricate set of obstacles for Sierra to weave her way through. Daniel José Older sets this stage one floorboard at a time and maintains an exciting storyline that pulls the reader through some of the more complex ideas presented via Sierra and her adventures. From what I understand, we’ve got two more books following Sierra’s story to look forward to, until then I think I may go reread The Song of Lioness series to keep me in the badass lady hero mood!

 

Under Wildwood

Under Wildwood by Colin Meloy is the second book in the Wildwood Chronicles series.  If the the name Colin Meloy sounds at all familiar it’s because he’s in the band The Decemberists, which is actually excellent music to listen to while reading The Wildwood Chronicles.  If a books can be folksy, then the Wildwood Chronicles are, and I’m not just saying that because they’re set just outside of Portland…actually that may be a big part of the tone of the book.  Whatever the reason, I like the result.

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I believe I read the first book (Wildwood) before I started this little book blog, but I would recommend reading it, especially if you want to pick up this one.  Wildwood spent a lot of time introducing (as most first in the series books do) the fantastical world of Wildwood, which is just outside of Portland, Oregon, and the characters, Prue and Curtis, that explored and adventured in it.  Under Wildwood gives a whole new story to chew on and introduces new characters and a gives us new insight on some old ones.

The only thing I found occasionally jarring about the Wildwood books is I’d forget how old the character are.  They are actually quite young children dealing with very adult problems, often in very adult ways.  Sometimes this was very refreshing and it felt like the kids were able to have a clearer perspective on things than adults because they didn’t have a lifetime of biases to cloud their judgement.  Other times I really just wanted them to go home to their parents.  Something that was brought up a little bit more in this book than the last one was the consequences of going off and exploring.  In the first book the kids were all very laissez about just leaving home without telling their parents, but after seeing how their actions affected those around them, in the second book they are often more aware of how they may be hurting others, particularly their parents.

While it was jarring to see young children going through things that seemed too old for them, it did make me remember all the adventures I dreamed about when I was young (and still dream about now, if I’m being totally honest).  Running away to the forest, making friends with the critters that lived there, and helping them with their problems sounds like the dream to me.  Colin Meloy manages to tell the tale in a beautiful way and it’s even paired with wonderful little illustrations.  If you want to escape to a magical forest for a while I recommend picking up this series.

The Raven Boys

I went into The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater with absolutely no idea what to expect.  I’ve never read anything by her before and the only reason I knew about her was because she was one of the authors at NerdCon.  Thank goodness for NerdCon because this is the third book that that conference can take credit for me eating up and wanting more.  There are awesome ladies with psychic powers, wealthy boys with an interest in magic and the ability to get a helicopter on a days notice, the promise of a death kiss, and some very rich and complex characters, how could I not be totally hooked?

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This is the type of book that high school me would have been totally obsessed with.  Grown up me (well kind of grown up me) still loves it but the hormones have settled a bit by this point so I’m less obsessive about it.  The Raven Boys  was a quick read, but it was the type of quick read that I’m sure if I go back and reread it I’ll catch something I may not have caught the first time round because it is so jam packed with story lines, characters, and intrigue.

Since it’s the first in a series it definitely has an introductory feel to it.  I’ve found sometimes books that are the first in a series get too involved in introducing all the  characters and plot lines and forget that there needs to be a story within the book as well.  Stiefvater manages to introduce a whole new world of characters all the while keeping me on the edge of my seat about what’s going to happen next.  The first half was little frustrating to read because it felt like there were more stories happening than I could possibly keep track of.  Towards the middle of the book the story lines all started to come together and pushing through the frustrations of all the story lines was worth it because it made me so much more emotionally invested in all of the characters.

The book switches perspectives between most of the Raven Boys, Blue (which is the name of a character.  I’m pretty sure celebrities read this book to find the creative baby names they all seem to use. Lookin’ at you Jay Z and Beyonce.), and one of their teachers.  Switching perspectives was a particularly good idea for this story because Blue starts off with some prejudices against the Raven Boys that could have colored them in a way that made them completely un relatable.  As it was I often found myself so emotionally invested in all the characters that I didn’t even know what I wanted to happen.  I just wanted them to all lay everything on the table and walk happily off into the sunset.  Alas, books rarely seem to offer that.

I am very excited to read the rest of the series.  Within a series the second book is always a little bit more telling of whether or not I’ll like the whole series because the introductions are over.  It’s all story and tension and after the first book in The Raven Cycle series there are a lot of loose ends that I’d like to be tied up.

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future

Life is complicated and messy.  We are full of contradictions and not a whole lot makes sense.  Often in the process of untangling the mess we’ve been handed by past generations we tie our own knots to distract future generations.  It’s a far from perfect system but we’ve been muddling along for a while now.  What if you could see not just the ruination we’ve been left but the ruination we leave?  The big picture consequences of our actions?  What if you could see all this as you were going through the major life transition of graduating high school, growing up, growing out of friendships, and dealing with depression?  That’s Glory O’Brian’s History of the Future by A.S. King in one slightly strange strange petrified bat filled nutshell.  I’m not going to say it’s not a little strange, but suspend disbelief long enough to absorb the book a bit, because it’s so worth it.

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There’s a lot going on in this book but looking back on it the easiest way to think about it is to split it into to two categories.  One in which our narrator, Glory, is dealing with real life stuff: Graduating, figuring out what she wants to do with the rest of her life, dealing with her mother’s suicide and her father’s reaction to it, deciding who she should be friends with, all the fun almost a grownup stuff.  The other category is of the slightly weird variety.  Glory and her friend Ellie end up drinking petrified bat remains mixed in with their beer which causes them to see flashes of peoples futures when they look at them.  Yep, that sentence was real and not a mistake.  It’s strange but it gives the story a fuller perspective.  Glory is at a huge transition point in her life.  She has decisions to make that could determine her entire future, between facing these decisions, or, as she does, actively ignoring the fact that she needs to make them, and seeing the future not just of individuals, but of their grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren she starts form a big picture image of the future.

What she sees is not pretty.  A future in which sexism, essentially wins and brings out entire society to its knees.  What’s very interesting about this is that the book has been labeled a feminist read.  Now, I definitely agree with that, the glimpses of the future certainly show the negative chain of events that happens if we let sexism  win.  These glimpses are combined with us gradually learning that Glory’s father and, by his example, Glory are feminists.  This has largely shaped how Glory views the world.  We hear how he commented on unrealistic portrayals of women in the media and taught Glory to not let that image shape how she sees herself and behaves.  This made me do all sorts of summersaulting, cheering, and in my head there was even confetti.  While these were all great feminist messages they were printed side by side with a toxic female friendship in which Glory inwardly slut shames her slightly manipulative and selfish friend.  This was slightly off putting for a hot second, then I realized that this is how we act.

No one is perfect and navigating the maze that is our society and sexism can be difficult.  Regardless of how well we’re brought up to ignore the influence of the media, prejudices seep in. It can sometimes seem contradictory that Glory thinks less of her friend because she had sex but if you truly follow her train of thought, she’s jealous.  It’s that simple.  She’s young and confused and sees her close friend having an experience that she hasn’t gotten to yet.  Is slut shaming the best way to handle it?  No, of course not.  Sure it seems to contradict the generally feminist theme of the book, but Glory is at a contradictory age.  She understands the values that she’s been taught and throughout the book we see her slowly starting to grow her own moral compass.  Hopefully part of that will be understanding that slut shaming is not ok.

I know I’m sounding like a broken record at this point but the book was weird, it truly was, but it’s worth the read.  The feminist message could be considered a little too in your face but it’s muddled with Glory’s confusion about how to act and the fact that no human is perfect.  It’s a story that portrays how messy life is and how it always will be.  The themes are numerous, the feels hit hard, and the characters are complex and interesting.  This is an especially good read if you like futuristic fiction and stories of teenagers in high school.  It’s a well written combination of the two.

The Magicians

The first description I ever read about The Magicians by Lev Grossman insisted that this was a must read for anyone that had enjoyed Harry Potter or Chronicles of Narnia.  I couldn’t not buy it at that point.  After reading the book I’d say there are elements that are very similar to Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia but it’s a little misleading to say if you enjoyed those two series you’d enjoy this one.  The Magicians is a grown up cynical version of the magical worlds we came to love as young readers.  This was sometimes very satisfying and sometimes depressing and disappointing.

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Many people dislike young adult fantasy because they believe there are too many unexplained things.  Like if kids in the Harry Potter world went to Hogwarts at such a young age did they never learn to do advanced math?  Why didn’t they use their magic to fix all the muggles problems? Ect. ect. after nitpicky person that wasn’t paying attention Ect.  For the record most of these questions have been addressed, but I do see what they mean.  When it comes to the most popular fantasy books many of them are geared towards younger kids and as a result the more mundane and difficult topics are sometimes glazed over.  This doesn’t always mean they aren’t addressed, but they are not “adult”.  The Magicians is adult.  The world Quentin Coldwater is tested into is difficult and real.  There are very serious consequences for all actions and repercussions for mistakes are felt for years to come.  This book is cynical and it makes very clear that magic does not fix everything.

Sometimes this was refreshing.  It was interesting to read about how Quentin tested into the school and the fact that there are people that took the test and did not make it in gives the school a more collegiate feel.  The cynicism and competitive nature of the story works for only so long.  If the book had followed just Quentin’s years in school it may have worked, but we got his years in school, a few years after school, then a whole other adventure.  The stories themselves didn’t drag at all; they remained interesting.  The cynicism and angst however, did get very old quickly.  This is even mentioned as a theory for why certain people are more magical.  Maybe it’s their unhappiness and anger they’re drawing their magical powers from.  This is a fine idea but it’s a depressing picture to paint.  The search for happiness begins to feel futile and detrimental. Maybe I’m an idealist, but that was hard to read.

From what I understand there are two more books.  This was a little frustrating to find out.  If this is a series why was so much packed into this one?  There were giant leaps forward in time and easily two books worth of material in this one volume.  The book ended in a way that certainly makes me want to read more and eventually I will pick up the next one, but I need a small break from all the gloom and doom of Quentin Coldwater’s innermost thoughts before diving into the next part of his life.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

I’ve said this before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, John Green is a fantastic author and while this is the first of David Levithan I’ve ever read, he did not disappoint.  If I didn’t already have a gigantic pile of books waiting to be read right now I would have immediately bought another of his books and be halfway done with it.  As it is, he’s on my list of authors to keep in mind.  Will Grayson Will Grayson was written by both John Green and David Levithan.  There are two characters named Will Grayson with alternating chapters and each author was in charge of his own Will. (pun intended…as always)

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The only other book that jumps to mind when I think of something that is written by two people is Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.  I read that book so long ago that in order to truly speak about it I’d have to go back and reread but I do remember that it was all one story written collaboratively.  That is not how this book is set up.  This is two alternating stories that happen to cross paths and occasionally wind around each other.  John Green and David Levithan have unique and different writing styles and voices, made even more clear by the fact that David Levithan uses no capital letters in his story.  A style decision that threw me a little at first but makes a whole lot of sense once I got to know the character.  I don’t know if he had this in mind when he made that decision, but seeing a physical difference on the page when moving from one story to the other really helped me switch gears and refocus.

By having two separate stories Will Grayson Will Grayson was really able to cover the full spectrum of high school problems, thoughts, and emotions.  Friendship, love, sexuality, depression, there’s even a musical involved, and it never feels any more overwhelming than it’s supposed to.  I think if John Green or David Levithan had tackled both stories by themselves it was have too much, fortunately they were there to offset each other.  I’ve noticed with John Green’s stories the high schoolers get very deep and philosophical, and that’s fine because they really do make excellent points, but sometimes it sounds less like highschoolers I know and more like one of John Green’s video’s.  When I start to feel like this I usually have to set his book down for the evening, but in Will Grayson Will Grayson if I ever felt like that, I knew that the other Will Grayson’s story would begin again soon.  It was a nice change of pace.  The change of pace worked in both directions.  I understand that the dark places that David Levithan’s Will goes are legitimate and felt by many many people, but I tend to absorb enough of what I read that that can really bring me down.  Whenever it got to be too much I knew John Green’s section would be there soon.  They worked very well together.

For John Green’s part this is as good as anything I’d expect coming from him.  He’s set his standard high and he always seems to hit it.  David Levithan was a pleasure to discover and I’m very curious what his solo books read like.  Together they created some memorable characters (Tiny Cooper…just read the book and try to tell me you don’t love Tiny Cooper) and very emotional stories.  Even if Young Adult Fiction isn’t your thing this is worth paging through to experience an interesting joint story telling effort.  I like what they’ve done here and hope to see more of it in the future.