Thursday, August 27, 2015

To Peter K, Who I Loved Before

This post is dedicated to Peter (who I loved before). It is filled with spoilers.

So don't read if you don't want to know about the spoilers.

Because this post.

Filled with spoilers.

SPOILERS!

You've been warned.

When I first met Peter Kavinsky, I fell for him, easy. And I loved him so, so much. Lara Jean was me in high school, and Peter was the type of person I dreamed about… Someone who would take off his shoes when he came over to my house without thinking anything of it. Who would respect my family and treat them like his own. Who would want me to hang out with him and his friends even though I was nothing like them and most certainly did not spend my spare time at parties or lacrosse games.

Oh, Peter. How I loved you.

So much of that changed when I read the much-anticipated sequel to To All the Boys I've Loved Before.

A photo posted by Jenny Han (@missjennyhan) on

UGH. NO. HE DOESN'T DESERVE THE LAST SLICE, JENNY.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookplates for Brunch University

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

I AM SO PUMPED ABOUT THIS WEEK'S TOP TEN TUESDAY. When I was a kid, I loved to play teacher. I was really big on lesson plans and writing my own syllabi and grading my stuffed animals' homework assignments. Someday when I open up Bookplates for Brunch University, these are the classes and books I will teach. Excuse me as I take this way too far.


A Thousand Words: The Art of Picture Books

In this course, you will explore the impact of art and multimedia as a vehicle for sensory immersion. Students will (1) consider the paradox of imagery as it both obscures and reveals new information, (2) analyze the impact of illustration upon the reader's perception of character and story, and (3) examine the question of which speaks louder – image or text – and whether it matters. By the end of the course, students will have a sense and appreciation for the charm of the mundane and storytelling as the universal element that binds us all.

Required reading:
Griffin and Sabine by Nick Bantock
Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon


Asians in America: Depictions in Literature

Throughout this course, students will compare and contrast two contemporary novels that represent Asians in America during the 1970s and 1980s. In the first unit, students will critically examine the problematic aspects of Rainbow Rowell's work. Students will come away with an understanding of the dangers of depicting the POC experience based solely on the lived experiences and perspectives of a non-POC writer. Other topics to be discussed: casual racism, the infantilization and objectification of Asian women in Western society, conscious othering, exoticism and fetishization.

In the second unit, students will examine Celeste Ng's depiction of a mixed race family in the Midwest. Students will consider the self-prescribed identity of each character and analyze the impact of racial and cultural identity on relational dynamics. Other topics will include: internalized racism, the significance of community, and the paradox of assimilation.

Required reading:
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

 
   

What It Means to Be Human: An Introductory Survey of the Human Experience

In this course, students will examine the human condition through the lens of contemporary fiction. Key areas of discussion will include: (1) depression, anxiety, and the role of mental health in negotiating relationships and identity; (2) the aftermath of sickness and death, and the impact of shared grief; (3) faith and disillusionment – the desire of humanity to understand God, and the limitations in so doing; and (4) infidelity, marriage, and the tension between the multiple selves that compose a person. Students will leave the course with an enhanced comprehension of human nature based in the tradition of social psychology.

Required reading:
Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith
Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
There Is No Dog by Meg Rosoff
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson

Friday, August 21, 2015

a better man | a monster – Fanmix for the Grisha Trilogy


"Why won’t you leave me alone?” I whispered one night as he hovered behind me while I tried to work at my desk.

Long minutes passed. I didn’t think he would answer. I even had time to hope he might have gone, until I felt his hand on my shoulder.

“Then I’d be alone, too," he said, and he stayed the whole night through, till the lamps burned down to nothing.

listen )

01 // Glory and Gore Lorde
Roughing up our minds so we're ready when the kill time comes / Wide awake in bed, words in my brain / "Secretly you love this, do you even wanna go free?"

02 // Degausser Brand New
Take me, take me back to your bed / I love you so much that it hurts my head / Say I don't mind you under my skin, I'll let the bad parts in, the bad parts in

03 // Medicine Daughter
You could still be what you want to, what you said you were when I met you / You've got a warm heart, you've got a beautiful brain / But it's disintegrating

04 // I Found Amber Run
I found love where it wasn't supposed to be, right in front of me / I'll use you as a makeshift gauge of how much to give and how much to take

05 // No Light, No Light Florence + the Machine
No light, no light in your bright blue eyes / I never knew daylight could be so violent / A revelation in the light of day / You can't choose what stays and what fades away

06 // Tamer Animals Other Lives
But we're all just an end to a simple thing, and it's all you see, and it's all you see / We're just tamer animals

07 // Glass Bat for Lashes
I tried to hold him, I tried for the creed / When two suns are shining, the battle becomes blinding

08 // No Rest for the Wicked Lykke Li
There'll be no rest for the wicked / I had his heart but I broke it every time

09 // Youth Daughter
And if you're still breathing, you're the lucky ones / 'Cause most of us are heaving through corrupted lungs / Setting fire to our insides for fun / Collecting names of the lovers that went wrong

10 // Fish Wye Oak
They who made you, they made me too / Quiet like you, violent like you / I see you there, wild in my dreams / You'll be at peace now, at last from the sea / You will forget eventually the life that you wasted that led to the sea

11 // Lilies Bat for Lashes
I was empty as a grave and ghostless was the air / Again begged the thunder bolt to strike to mark me or else I will die / Oh, the lilies on the hill scented the night / Thank God I'm alive, thank God I'm alive

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Title: Everything I Never Told You
Author: Celeste Ng
Publisher: Penguin Press
Publication date: June 16, 2014
Rating: ★★★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet… So begins this debut novel about a mixed-race family living in 1970s Ohio and the tragedy that will either be their undoing or their salvation. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue – in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party.

When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart.

Holy shit. No words. One of the best ever.

I'm just going to make a list of things I love about this book, and maybe when I have my life together I'll post a fully formed review:

The writing is spot-on. It's heavy, it flows, it's sharp and clever where it needs to be ("acerbic" is the best way to describe it), it's wistful and regretful where it makes sense. (This must have gone through fifty thousand rounds of edits because I swear to God, it's flawless.) I borrowed this book from the library, and as soon as I finished it, I knew I had to have my own copy. There were pages and pages and moments upon moments that I wanted to underline and highlight and brand into my memory because they were powerful, or they represented the universal human experience, or they just felt like a claw poking into my skin and it was painful but there was a beauty in it, too.

The representation of the Asian (Chinese, specifically) experience in the 1970s. A lot of this is accurate even now, and definitely when I was growing up in the 90s and 2000s: not wanting to bring home-cooked meals to school for lunch because the other kids thought my food smelled weird or just because it was different; always cataloguing one's "otherness"; wondering why eyeshadow didn't look the same way on my eyes as it did on all my friends'... I didn't have to deal with all the same struggles that James went through because (1) I was fortunate enough to grow up, at least partially, in a Chinese community, so there was at least one place where my "Asian-ness" was a normal thing, but also (2) I was a really Americanized kid. Did I have to sometimes choose between being American and being Chinese? Sure. I still do. But it was easier for me to negotiate that world on my own – my parents weren't nearly as involved in that part of my life as Lydia's are, because my parents had their own supportive community to fall back on, and there was less of this pressure to conform. Celeste Ng does an incredible job exploring the casual racism of Western society (e.g. her use of the word "Oriental"), as well as James' internalized racism (e.g. James' own use of the word "Oriental"). I'm just going to throw in a little dig here because that's the kind of person I am: Rainbow Rowell needs to read this book because this is what being Asian in America really looked (and looks) like.

So many diverse characters. Divorced women; interracial relationships (more than one!); unfaithful relationships; boys struggling with their sexuality; intelligent, ambitious boys; smothered children; children who get lost in the shuffle; second generation Asians who are less concerned with assimilation but still deal with micro aggressions on a daily basis (hey y'all FYI this is still a problem today). I loved the huge diversity of backgrounds and lived experiences that were represented in this book, and every character in this story is multi-dimensional and has a history, their own fears and desires and hopes and dreams and experiences that make them who they are today.

The beautiful, complex themes in this story. I touched on this a little bit above, but Celeste Ng explores so many universal human experiences in Everything I Never Told You: the loss of your future due to unforeseen events; all the possibilities you have as a child; the very human desire to start over; the repercussions of living in the shadow of your parents – whether in rebellion or dutiful obedience; the repercussions of living in the shadow of your siblings; the complexity of family; the complexity of identity; the power of choice – to stay, to go, to love, to leave behind. All of the characters are tangled up with each other – the result of life, sloppy and messy as it is – and it's a constant reminder that people are fragile and breakable, that our actions can hurt other people, that our words (or the secrets we keep) can weigh people down – but they can also set people free.

I loved this book so much... so much, in fact, that even as I meant to jot down a quick list of what made this book so great, it still ended up as a complete review. What a wonderful debut from Celeste Ng. (I mean, seriously, though? This is a debut novel. What.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Six Authors Whose Books I'll Always Buy

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

These are the six authors I will cling to and continue to support because of their amazing writing and storytelling. Some of these are tried and true authors, some are 2015 debuts, and some have only written one or two books previously, but the books they have written were important and special and maybe they changed my life so I hold a candle in my heart (and bookshelves) for them. So without further ado, here are my author-loves. (I'll never let go…) 


1. Melina Marchetta, goddess of everything. I will read anything she writes. Fantasy, realistic YA, children's fiction (I'm trying to get my hands on Gorgon in the Gully at the moment), the captions on her Pinterest boards (I've actually done this before), her grocery lists (haven't done this but I am open to it)…  anything. She's working on a mystery novel right now and I'm so psyched.

2. Leigh Bardugo. I mean, obviously. I don't know if it's clear from my blog, but I've been having a love affair with her books for the past month… or two… What will I do when Six of Crows comes out next month? The Darkling and Nikolai already take up so much space in my heart (#cryingforever) – where will Kaz et. al. live?

3. Laini Taylor. I loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone and the incredible world-building and pure poetry on the page. I loved and respected Laini Taylor even more after seeing her unlocked manuscript and all her notes on how the story and characters and little details came to be. So magical and completely mesmerizing.


4. Vikki Wakefield. I think Vikki Wakefield was my introduction to Aussie YA, and definitely my introduction to Melina Marchetta. Her second novel Friday Brown (or, I guess, Friday Never Leaving in the United States) haunted me for ages after I read it, and inspired me to buckle down and explore my own novel. Vikki was also the first author I ever really interacted with, and I was amazed at how accessible and supportive and just great she was.

5. Hilary T. Smith. She wrote Wild Awake, which is one of my all-time favorite stories, and it helped me through a really weird time in my life, and I will always love her and her writing for that.

6. Estelle Laure. Her debut novel, This Raging Light, is coming out in December. It is next-level writing and she touches upon so many themes that resonate with me and I don't know. That book just hit me like a bolt of lightning. (I think I used those words in my book review, as well.) I feel like writing, in general, is a skill that can be learned – but for some people it's just an innate thing, effortless, like breathing, and this is the impression I get from Estelle Laure.

Honorable mentions:

Sarah J. Maas. Not all of her books have been a hit with me, but she knows how to write a strong female lead, and I do love my leading ladies. She's also an amazing storyteller and I can always count on her for a book that keeps things moving forward.

Sarah Dessen. Okay, so her books are not the most ground-breaking. Some of them are really amazing (This Lullaby!) while others fall flat… but when her books are on, they're really spot-on and there's just something that resonates and they leave me wondering about characters and replaying scenes in my head for days and weeks after. And that, I think, is a pretty important and impressive thing, especially if you're like me and consume books so quickly that they sometimes get lost in the shuffle.

RenĂ©e Ahdieh. I loved what she did with The Wrath & The Dawn, from the descriptions to the characterization to the political intrigue. And of course her ability to write a love story that feels sophisticated but still gives me sparks in my tummy… I'm excited to see what else she's got up her sleeve.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Review: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

Title: The Wrath & the Dawn (The Wrath & the Dawn #1)
Author: RenĂ©e Ahdieh
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Publication date: May 12, 2015
Rating: ★★★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi's wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch... she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.

She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.

The Wrath & the Dawn is one of those 2015 releases that deserves all the hype it's been getting. Inspired by A Thousand and One Nights, it's set apart from the start – a fantasy novel that takes place in a culture typically underrepresented in young adult literature. My thoughts are a little scattered, so once again I will review this in list form – these are the things I loved about this book:

1. The different story lines happening in parallel. All the weirdness going on with Shahrzad's father, Jahandar. (You read his side of the events and you're just like "oh god please don't.") The face-palming that happens when you experience events from Tariq's perspective (well-intentioned but painfully obnoxious in his ignorance). The self-exploration of Shahrzad and how she slowly comes to terms with her heart (the best and most essential and most rewarding part of the book). I almost wanted there to be less of Jahandar and Tariq and Rahim because they only got in the way of my time spent with Shahrzad and Khalid – but I guess this is how plot development works, so, you know, fine.

2. Shahrzad. Just an amazing character. So fierce and brave and sharp-tongued and funny. (Tiny cucumbers!!!) She knows how to dish it out and she's just fun to read. But I love the softer side of her too – the side that mourns her best friend, the side that hates Khalid for what he's done, the side that desires friendship from Despina, the side that wants to be deeply loved. Shahrzad is unabashedly herself and she is human and she is someone we can all see ourselves in, even if she is royalty and wears diamonds and sapphires and emeralds and pulls them off and throws them on the floor like a baller.

3. The careful development of Shahrzad and Khalid's relationship. This is no insta-love, and it's not a case of opposites attract either. It's about timing and circumstance – and miraculously, the inevitability of love in spite of all reason. RenĂ©e Ahdieh's pacing is on point. Truly. It's a slow burn and you want to savor every moment as Shahrzad struggles with whether to give in or stand firm.

4. Khalid, my complex baby king. Patient and gentle, but rough and brutal and unforgiving at the flip of a switch. He is a boy who has been through trauma, who is a victim of his upbringing, but he is shrewd and observant and capable and has worked for everything he's accomplished. I am most impressed by his devotion to Shahrzad. (And the fact that he asks for consent! This is so heartwarming to me.)

5. The writing is so lovely. From the palace to the gardens to the sky... Everything seems utterly resplendent. So many gems – I wanted to underline entire pages and write about countless moments but I was too captivated to stop reading. RenĂ©e Ahdieh seems a master at the art of storytelling – the writing shifts from lighthearted to heavy and back again at exactly the right time, and she knows how to pull at exactly the right heartstrings.

6. The food. This needs to be noted separately because Renée Ahdieh's food descriptions are next level. A thousand thank-you's to her mother-in-law for bringing such deliciousness into the world and into her awareness. I generally don't care for lamb or goat cheese but her writing is making me reconsider. She should write a food blog. I mean, after all the books are done, obviously. I would buy her cookbook. I would pin all her recipes to Pinterest. I would watch her Food Network show. Gimme dat lavash and buttery saffron rice and tureens of soup and marinated chicken and red radishes splashing brilliant colors across the table. I'm talking about her food descriptions way more than I initially planned, and I'm hungry again, so I'll just stop here now. (Let's all just take a quick snack break and reconvene here in five.)

7. Subtlety and wit. This book does not hit you over the head. I love when authors respect and trust their readers enough to draw connections on their own. It makes the reading experience so much better – for me, at least – when you're expected to understand what's happening without being spoonfed the plot. You can immerse yourself in the story and draw out certain characters and exercise your imagination and make everything real inside your head, and honestly I think that's one of the best things about reading, which is why I'm so in love with what RenĂ©e Ahdieh has done here.

Closing thoughts: This was a book I did not want to put down. I read it at a measured pace, trying to soak in every little bit of it. It's a beautiful book, both on the inside and out, and I'm eagerly and impatiently awaiting the next book in the series, The Rose & the Dagger. (Is it here yet? How about now? What about now?) MY BODY IS READY.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Ruin and Rising: More like I'M RUINED & NEVER GETTING UP OFF THE FLOOR.

A photo posted by Tiffany Jyang (@tiffydiffy) on

Okay, discussion time. While everyone else is getting in a tizzy over Six of Crows (September 29 release date – eeek), I'm still obsessing over the Grisha series. I managed to review Ruin and Rising without giving away major plot points, but as we all know, it's actually impossible – improbable, not impossible – to talk about the third book in a trilogy without any spoilers.

And I want talk about Ruin and Rising because, I mean, it's 422 pages of mind-blowing, soul-killing storytelling. (Just kidding about the soul-killing. Sort of.) (Also, it's been an entire week since I've talked about the Grisha books on my blog, so I figured it was time.)

So, without further ado… SPOILER ALERT. (For all two of you who still haven't read these books.)

Here's what really happens in Ruin and Rising.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Title: Everything, Everything
Author: Nicola Yoon
Publisher: Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers
Publication date: September 1, 2015
Rating: ★★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black – black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

Many thanks to Delacorte Press for sending me this electronic copy via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

I read somewhere that Everything, Everything is what you wish The Fault in Our Stars could have been. Both books explore rare illnesses, impossible love, intelligent characters with little quirks – but Everything, Everything is decidedly more hopeful, fortunately less pretentious (sorry, Augustus Waters), and appreciably more diverse. The story itself is written from Maddy's perspective, but it feels like a mixed media art project with Maddy's one-line book reviews (on Tumblr, of course), doctor's notes, illustrations (drawn by Nicola's husband!), chat logs, screenshots of Maddy's email inbox, even the chapter titles… all of which provide an interesting subtext to the story. In Everything, Everything we get to take a look at Maddy's world, where repetition, predictability, and structure are forever the big themes of the day, until Olly moves in next door and changes all of that.

For me, the storyline is what really makes me like the book – surprising, given that I'm always going on about characters and character development. (But I actually find Maddy to be perhaps too perfect, too likable, in this story. Even when she registers that her actions are hurtful, it's still always easy for the reader to justify and make sense of what she's doing. It's hard for me to actively root for her, and I think part of it is that I never fully get the impression that she truly "earns" the good things that happen to her. They just sort of… happen to her. I don't know. It is a feeling I cannot clearly explain or substantiate.)

I do love seeing Maddy fall in love for the first time. There is an element of insta-love here, but it's not wrong in and of itself, or out of place either – especially when you think about the amount of interaction Maddy has had with the outside world (read: practically none). No wonder Olly feels like a bolt of lightning. I actually find it strangely comforting to experience Maddy's feelings for him. It reminds me of all the intense crushes I had throughout high school and college, of things moving too fast, how your heart can swell with affection and infatuation in such a short period of time, how someone can creep into your thoughts without you even realizing.

Without spoiling the book, I'll just say that the ending is somewhat convenient. In some ways, it diminishes the story and resolves the conflict too easily. But that could just be my penchant for angst and for putting characters through hell to see if they can cope. I do appreciate that the "twist" adds a different kind of depth to the book by pulling other things to the surface: deep-seated issues in Maddy's relationship with her mother; the question of what it means to be alive and whether it is different from living; the futility in wondering how our lives might be different if only this had happened or if that had turned out differently; the realization that every little thing we experience, for better or for worse, brings us to who and where we are today.

All in all, despite my slight objections, Everything, Everything is a strong debut from Nicola Yoon and it totally deserves its Kirkus starred review. It's a well-crafted book (I wasn't exaggerating when I said it was a mixed media work of art), and it's such a delight to see things come full circle. You'll know what I mean when you get to the last page. Even if you do feel similarly about some of the issues I've called out, maybe you'll still sigh and marvel, like I did, at how brilliantly the story comes together all the same.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Brief Intermission: Everything I Never Told You


This is the book I'm reading at my book club. We're trying to make our way through the Huffington Post's list of book club recommendations. We skipped the first book because our book scouts* couldn't figure out a reason why they should care about the characters or the story. So we moved onto the second book – Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You, which is a "haunting debut novel about a troubled family, and the tragedy that will be either their undoing or their salvation." It's kind of a literary masterpiece.

Hannah knows nothing about that summer, of her mother's long-ago disappearance. For as long as she's been alive, the family has never spoken of it, and even if they had, it would have changed nothing. She is furious with her sister for vanishing, bewildered that Lydia would leave them all behind; knowing would only have made her more furious, more bewildered. How could you, she would have thought, when you knew what it was like? As it is, imagining her sister sinking into the lake, all she can think now is: How? And: What was it like?

*Diligent individuals who got a head start on the book and let the rest of the group know if it was worth reading. Always an asset in any book club situation.