Books

The Crystal Ribbon Review

This book is one where I fell prey to a beautiful spine and then the gorgeous cover immediately after plucking it from the shelves. I am glad I picked it up as it expanded several horizons I didn’t even know existed.

The Crystal Ribbon takes place in medieval China and follows the story of 11-year-old Jing. She has a difficult life, in her small village of Huanan, where she is picked on by the local children for the similarity her name shares with the towns deity, the Great Huli Jing. Because her family is incredibly poor, when a wealthy family offers to buy her to be the daughter-in-law/nursemaid to their young son, her family jumps at the opportunity. Jing is against this marriage, but her cruel aunt forces her to do it anyway and her father fails to stand against his sister. Jing is sent to live with the new family where she is treated even worse than before. Despite this, Jing promises to return home and the story follows her journey to finding herself and her way back to Huanan.

I enjoyed The Crystal Ribbon a lot. Jing was a strong, female lead who stood on her own two feet throughout the story, never acting or being treated as a damsel in distress. I rarely come across novels that focus on women or young girls going on journeys to find themselves, and I loved the book for this. Jing goes through a lot of hardship, but it doesn’t make her cruel, it doesn’t harden her soul, it simply steels her will. I genuinely loved seeing this in a story. Too often, women who have struggled are shown to become vicious and that isn’t always the case. So, that was a refreshing component of the story.

I also loved how much I learned about Chinese culture from the story. Initially, I was confused by the Chinese mystical creatures, jings, because they weren’t immediately explained with great depth, but I found their role in the story compelling. These creatures play an important role in the book as they provide companionship and support to Jing during her journey. Previously, I was not aware these spirits existed or what role they played in medieval Chinese culture so this was really interesting to read.

Another shocking discovery was what tong-yang-xi was. Several of the reviews I read that disliked the book argued they were uncomfortable with the level of negativity and violence, both physical and emotional, Jing experienced. While I can understand that this may be difficult to read, it would be poor form for authors to write only about positive things. Lim wrote an honest and well-researched novel. The reality is that many young girls would experience this kind of harsh treatment from family. Tong yang xi was a very real practice in Chinese history, and not writing about it because it is difficult to read would be wrong.

Reading about Jing experiencing this was appalling, but it made me want to learn more about tong yang xi. Though I trusted Lim’s research and account of Jing’s experiences (though fictional, they are based in truth), I wanted to find out more from a non-fiction source. Indeed, I found the practice continued even into the twentieth century despite the creation of marriage laws in China, though it occurred in rural areas where it is much more difficult to police.

I think people downrating the story because they don’t like this reality is unfortunate and a little ridiculous. Though I don’t agree with the practice, I’m glad Lim brought it to light in The Crystal Ribbon. I had no idea this occurred and I’m sure I am not the only one who was shocked to learn this.

However, I do have negatives about the story as well. For this book being rated as middle grade, it seemed to have more adult themes that make me wary giving it to a younger audience. If you were to have a child read this book, I would only recommend it to kids with a maturity level greater than that of their age.

Additionally, I felt for Jing being 11, she spoke with a vocabulary beyond the knowledge and education of a child her age and wealth. This did take me out of the story a little but not enough to have a significant impact on my reading pace. Moreover, when it came to Jing’s age I had a difficult time keeping track of her aging. She started out at 11 and then suddenly she was 13 a few pages later. The progression of time was confusing and difficult to keep up with.

Overall, for a debut novel, I think the plot was well -executed, -researched, and -written. I am looking forward to reading another novel by Celeste Lim.

TL;DR The Crystal Ribbon featured a strong, female lead who goes on a journey to find herself and return home. Some of the subject material may be too mature for a middle grade audience despite being rated to them. 4/5 stars.

Books, Uncategorized

Why I advocate reading diversely

This past year it came to my attention how little diversity I had in the books I was picking out to read. This came to my attention via two ways. The first probably being the most unsurprising place possible: Tumblr and the second through a book tag on YouTube meant for fun. I was catching up on my book tube subscriptions and I came across the lovely Londoner, Lauren (Reads and Daydreams) doing the Diversity Tag and I thought to myself, "hmm, I bet I'll nail this one" and oh man was it sad. I had almost no books on my shelves that were from an author that existed outside North America. The only exceptions were a few authors from the UK and one from Australia. It was really disappointed and I was even more bothered by the fact that 98% of the books I owned were authored by white men and women.

The whole point of reading, I think, beyond just enjoying yourself is to become educated in something you otherwise wouldn't have known. It's to see another viewpoint. If as a collective group people refuse to learn or to expand their world view we remain stagnant. Diversity in the media we choose to consume can either expand or contract that view. In this case, by using media I'm referring not to networks like CNN or Fox, but instead to the main means of mass communication (especially television, radio, newspapers, and the Internet) regarded collectively.

To expose people to a view entirely unknown to them was the reason that writers like Mark Twain, Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison wrote. How different would the world be if Harriet Beecher Stowe hadn't written Uncle Tom's Cabin? A book that made such an impact to it's readers it led President Lincoln to allegedly say,"So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!" to Stowe. I am of course referring to the common myth/legend that Stowe's book sparked aggressive discussion, if not creating a direct link to tensions that led to the American Civil War. As easy as it is to write books off as paraphernalia for frivolous past times (and many are) they're so much more. When done well, novels are the mirror held up to society.

Arthur Miller wrote Death of a Salesman to raise the issue of victimization of workers by their capitalist employers. Upton Sinclair's wrote The Jungle, a book of fiction so horrific and disturbing it caused the creation of new laws, after visiting the meat packing industry.

Reading books from the perspective of someone distinctly different from me opens me up to learning about things that I didn't even know existed. In the past couple months, I read Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed; a novel about a young Pakistani* girl living in America. I'm unsure if she was born in America but I am positive that she lived most of her life there with her parents having grown up in Pakistan and then moving to America. Naila's, the protagonist, parents are conservative and when they believe she has lost sight of her roots they decide to return to Pakistan "visit family and explore her roots." While there she essentially becomes trapped in her family home and when she refuses to do so willingly, is forced into an arranged marriage, following the traditions of her family. Whats horrifying is that it's not "forcing" as in do this or you're grounded, Naila is genuinely imprisoned in a room and the only food and water she receives is drugged. When she refuses to sign her marriage license her family takes her hand and does it for her. The worst part of this whole disturbing scenario is that this novel was realistic fiction, meaning this kind of thing happens everyday, all around the world to young women.

It's easy to write this kind of behavior off, by saying "oh, it's the culture and it really only happens to women in third world countries" but first off, that's still horrible and second it happens to women in the so-called 'first world' too. Naila in this book was first generation American; she'd grown up in the states, went to a regular high school and still became trapped in an arranged marriage by her family.

Before reading this book, I knew what arranged marriages were but I had no idea the extent or how real it is for so many women today. The author of the novel, Saeed, had an authors note at the end of the book explaining how arranged marriages can happen in any culture, country or religion and should be based on love by all parties involved and no one should ever be forced. Saeed was married through an arranged marriage, but she was not forced as Naila was.

I would also like to clarify that 'arranged marriage' is not necessarily a synonym for forced or unhappy or abusive marriage. An arranged marriage can be a healthy and successful one as in the case for Saeed. But the ones there are too many cases where arranged marriages are like the ones Naila experiences as this book describes.

Had I not read Written in the Stars I never would have known what I know now about the practice of forced arranged marriages. Even though Saeed's novel was a work of fiction it still acted as a mirror to the world today exposing me to something beyond my regular scope of understanding.

Essentially, what I'm trying to say with this post is that I choose to read diversely because that's how we learn. The world changes when people know things. If I continue to live in the box of the North American white (fe)male I'd never learn anything new; I'd never understand or even know of the plight of other people. Summed up in one cliche: "I can't fix what I don't know is broken."

*Please, correct me if I'm wrong. It's been a little while since I've read this and I did not have a copy of the book to double check when I was writing this. **I'd also like to say this was written over a year ago and was in my archives. 
Books

Casino Royale-Review

Oh,

Suddenly it’s all coming back to me why I never wrote very much on this blog and it’s because I’m absolute shit at writing reviews. Nevertheless, I’m gonna give it the old college try and then maybe one day it won’t be such a pain in the arse to write these.

Lets start with the basic, I read Casino Royale on a whim. It’s like one of the those things where you read the book because the author is well-known and when someone asks, you want to be able to say you’ve read it. For example, a million and ten years ago I read Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut because I wanted to say I’d read Vonnegut. But, I didn’t want to seem like one of those pretentious people who reads Slaughterhouse Five on a coffee shop patio to let everyone know they’re the kind of person who reads Slaughterhouse Five, so I read a lesser known work. Is it more pretentious that I thought so much about it?? Probably, but I’ll live with the knowledge that it was a couple years ago and I’ve grown since then.

Anyways, lets refocus. Tangents are my weakness.

I would give Casino Royale a solid 3 out of 5 stars. I liked the book well-enough, but there were quite a few places where I started to get a little lost.

I will say that giving the novel a 3 out of 5 seems pretty generous when I didn’t actually enjoy the novel as much. I’m usually a voracious reader once I get started and I found myself having to remind me to read the book. There were some moments when I’d rather lay on my bed staring at the ceiling than pick this book up.

Now it may seem confusing that I would give the novel three stars if I didn’t want to read it that much, but overall the book wasn’t awful. I enjoyed Bonds general story and I particularly liked how Fleming chose to describe surroundings and people, just the level of detail was enjoyable for me. Fleming’s not as in-depth as JRR Tolkien but not so skimpy to leave you wondering what he’s talking about. It’s a nice medium:

“He slipped the case into his hip pocket and snapped his oxidized Ronson to see if it needed fuel. After pocketing the thin sheaf of ten-mille notes, he opened a drawer and took out a light chamois leather holster and slipped it over his left shoulder so that it hung about three inches below his arm-pit.”

I genuinely like most characters I just really didn’t like Bond. Which kinda is an issue when he’s the main character.

Probably one of my biggest issues with the novel is how gross and misogynistic Bond is. It’s hard to get over how literally awful the character is when it comes to women when it’s so obvious and you see it over and over again. I did my super best to ignore the largest and the smallest of obtuse opinions and actions.

For those who maybe aren’t familiar with Ian Fleming’s work, the first James Bond novel was written in 1953. So yah, it was a different time but even reading the novel with that mindset going in, I was still bothered. One of the worst examples of this is:

“And now he knew that she was profoundly, excitingly sensual, but that the conquest of her body, because of the central privacy in her, would each time have the sweet tang of rape.” [emphasis added]

Now I’m not one-hundred percent sure if ‘rape’ was ever defined as something else half a century ago, but as far as I know it wasn’t. Either way, my immediate response was “Ummmm wtf.”

I know not everyone feels the same way, so take it as you will, but it makes me super uncomfortable and it was incredibly off-putting.

Another issue with Bond is how absolutely hypocritical and ridiculous bond is. When he found out a woman is going to be working with him he has a hissy fit because women slow him down (because he gets boners over them). Literally, in the book his thought process is I’ll work with her now and once the jobs done we can sleep together. (Cue eyeroll)

Moreover, Bond whines about working with Vesper a million times and he complains about how ridiculous she is for getting into trouble and then he gets in the exact same situation. Just kill me now.

Overall, TL;DR, Fleming is wonderful at world building and character building, but he built Bond as a whiny, douche who rips off two stars of this novel.

 

Books

Wow, it’s been a while

Oh,

I can’t believe how long it has been since my last post. I’m pretty sure it was in 2016 for glories sake. To be fair, I did forget this blog existed for a while, but never fear I’m back and better than ever.

For some updates:

I’m still reading, but just not as much. And currently all but a precious few of my books are locked up in a plastic bin, until I stop moving around every few months. Unfortunately, my lifestyle doesn’t call for that at this moment in time, so it’s gonna be a hot minute before I see them again.

Now, since one of my last blog posts was my “2016 bookish resolutions” I figured I’d update you to keep you in the know.

2016 Resolutions Recap:

  • Read a Game of Thrones by George RR Martin
  • Maintain the overarching book buying ban
  • Get the TBR pile down to 60 books
  • Read at least 65 books this year
  • Read more diversely
  • Finish completed series

I want you all to know that I’m a terribly garbage human, who has to this day still not read the first tome in George’s insatiable Game of Thrones series. Although, I will say I have been desperately pawing around for a copy of the book since I trapped mine in one of the aforementioned crates. Moreover, to cement my status as a terribly garbage person, I have even fallen behind on the GOT show! Which is bad considering season 7 premieres a week from today (7/16).

Up next, maintain the overarching book buying ban. I would say I did a fairly excellent job on this one and am continuing to do so. I’m not perfect, I still fingered the shelves of my local second hand book store and when I was feeling extra frisky I perused the shelves of Barnes and Noble. In my defense, however, I did get two Barnes and Noble gift-cards this past year, so really I was spending someone else’s money.

If I could go back in time, I would tell my deliriously foolish self that there is no way I would get my TBR pile down to 60 books. After almost two years, my TBR pile is hovering somewhere about 85 books, which is unfortunate. But is it really my fault that such amazing books come out every year? And that I have to read them? I don’t know, you tell me.

Now I wanted to read 65 books last year. Did I meet that goal?? No, in fact I came up 25 books short. This year, in an effort to recognize that I’m crazy busy and like to binge watch TV too much in my spare time, put 45 books as my goal for the year. Already, I’m 7 books behind. Oy vey!

I wanted to read more diversely and I stand by that goal. This was a pretty vague resolution, did I mean authors, characters, regions of the world? Yes, yes and yes. I would say I half accomplished this goal. Did I do way better than I had previously? Sure, could I still do better? One-hundred percent.

Finally, my last goal was to finish completed series. If you are confused as to my meaning, don’t worry, I recognize how poorly worded that is. This goal, to read all the books in a series that had no more books coming out, I think I did this, but I honestly have no clue. Unfortunately, I’m lazy and don’t want to go over everything I read last year to find out. I’ll just check the “I did it” box, because I’m pretty sure I did it.

In summation, I did a meh job with my resolutions for 2016. Hopefully, I’ll actually reach my reading goal this year and also read diversely. More importantly though, I’ll finally read A Game of Thrones!

We’ll see.