Saturday, October 13, 2018

Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu

Batman: Nightwalker (DC Icons, #2) Batman: Nightwalker is the second book in young adult DC Icons series. As of this writing there are four titles in the series focusing on Wonder Woman, Batman, Catwoman, and Superman respectively. The series isn't exactly a retelling of superheros' origin stories, but rather each story imagines them as teenagers on their way to becoming heroes. In a way then, this book is misnamed because there is no Batman in the book, just an 18-year-old Bruce Wayne about to graduate from high school.

The story is pretty simple: Bruce Wayne does something brave but also a little stupid and illegal. As punishment he is sentenced to community service mopping floors at Arkham Asylum, because of course an appropriate punishment for a teenager who commits a misdemeanor is to send them to work in a prison that houses dangerous criminals. At Arkham Bruce meets Madeline, a girl not much older than him who is suspected of murdering three people.

I always liked Batman for probably the same reason most people do - he's a guy who doesn't have superpowers but fights anyway using his wits and homemade gadgets. Then I heard someone say how Batman is the worse because he's basically a wealthy white guy who decided that he was better at bringing "justice" to Gotham than anyone else, that he knew better than the police, politicians, and ordinary citizens, that he could take the law into his own hands. Reading this book reminded me of that criticism.

The Bruce Wayne in Batman: Nightwalker is an 18-year-old boy who always thinks he knows better than everyone else. Sure he's smart, but not as smart as he thinks he is. Of course, he saves the day at the end but he also helped create the problems that necessitated the day needing to be saved. He has no respect for authority and not that authority is always right, but if you're going to hold yourself out as being a symbol of justice then you have to abide by the rules some of the time too. Bruce Wayne ignores all the rules all the time. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy reading this book, but it did make me like Bruce Wayne a little bit less.

Next up in the series, Catwoman: Soulstealer. I'm really looking forward to that one.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage: A Novel (Oprah's Book Club 2018 Selection) Every so often there are stories on the news about a person who is freed after spending years behind bars, the evidence finally proving that the convicted man or woman was innocent all along. There are plenty of smiles as the person walks out of prison but then I wonder what happens the next day? The person's old life is gone, there is no going back. While the innocent person was sitting in a prison cell, the world moved on and the newly freed person is left to flounder in a new, unfamiliar world. Such is the case with Roy Hamilton in An American Marriage.

Roy and Celestial are a young couple, just starting their married life together when police break into their hotel room and wrestle Roy to the ground. He is arrested and convicted for a crime he didn't commit. The fact that he is innocent is just that, a fact. Roy has an alibi but the jury simply doesn't believe it. As one character puts it, it was a case of "wrong race, wrong time." Now the story we perhaps want to hear is how Roy and Celestial stuck together like glue through thick and thin, but Roy and Celestial's marriage is just a year-and-a-half old. Their union hasn't had enough time to set yet and neither of them is quite sure how to be married when they are not together.

This is a story with no possible winners. Celestial tries to be a wife but she's working hard in Atlanta, Georgia, driving a few hundred miles to Louisiana to visit her husband in prison, and then he complains that she isn't cheerful enough. Meanwhile Roy sits in prison hearing stories about the business his wife is building, a business they had dreamed of starting together. They are out of sync and neither is to blame.

Tayari Jones's writing is beautiful and devastating. The pain the characters feels bleeds through the page. I finished the book around one in the morning because I couldn't put it down.

One other thing I have to mention is a passage I loved in which Celeste's father, Franklin, explains to Roy why when Roy asked for Celeste's hand in marriage Franklin didn't say yes. Franklin explains that Celestial was his daughter, not his property and her hand was not his to give. How very feminist and modern of Franklin Delano Davenport!

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Fever by Megan Abbott

The Fever  

Megan Abbott is one of my favorite authors writing today. My introduction to her writing was with the book Dare Me. I picked it up expecting a quick, funny read about mean girls and instead got a psychological thriller about female friendship and competition. The Fever is another book that touches on female friendship and competition, though in a wholly different way.

Deenie is going about her regular teenage life – going to school, hanging out with her girlfriends, and experimenting with boys – when her friend Lise has a seizure in class. Otherwise healthy and happy, the sudden seizure shocks everyone. Then Gabby, another of Deenie’s friends starts developing tics and faints during a school performance. It isn’t long before other girls start displaying unusual symptoms, all of which are unexplained.

Parents of course want an explanation. There are plenty of ideas, all of which are stupid. Some blame the HPV vaccine. This is of course is a red herring, not least because the vaccine is known to be safe. But also, as one health official points out, because the same batch of vaccine was distributed to several different towns so if the vaccine were the cause one would expect to see sick girls in multiple towns not just in this one town. Another theory is the dead lake in town with the fluorescent algae blooms. This sounds plausible until you remember that only teenage girls are getting sick and not anyone else. 

Aside from the mystery illness, The Fever is about female desire, change, and friendships. Parents of sick girls comment how much their daughters have changed, seemingly overnight. They want to blame a vaccine or an environmental poison but the onset of adolescence seems the far more likely culprit. Deenie is confronted with the realization that she may not know her friends as well as she thought.

I enjoyed The Fever. It is slow to start but picks up steam towards the end. A Megan Abbott book is always a treat.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann

Title: Let's Talk About Love, Author: Claire Kann

Let’s Talk About Love is a young adult romance about a young woman named Alice who has a crush on a boy, doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up, and is an on-again, off-again fight with her best friend.

While I found this book frustratingly slow at times, there were a number of things I liked about it. In particular I liked…
  • …the diversity. Both the main character and her love interest are people of color. Alice is a young African-American woman in college and Takumi is a slightly older Japanese American man working towards becoming a teacher.
  • …that the Alice works at a library part-time. In fact, the library is where she meets Takumi. 
  • …that I got to learn something new. Let’s Talk About Love was a gentle introduction to asexuality and biromanticism, two things I have only recently become aware of.
  • … the intersectionality – Not only does this story feature POC characters but the main character is an African-American woman who is also asexual and biromantic and all of her identities contribute to who she is and pose their own set of issues.
  • …that the story acknowledges micro aggressions and other crap that people of color constantly deal with.
  • …the acknowledgement of the struggle of being the only one or the first one. Alice struggles over how to handle telling people about her asexuality. She is happy in her identity but at the same time doesn’t want to have to constantly explain herself to people. She doesn’t want this one thing – her sexuality – to be the characteristic that defines her in people’s eyes. That felt honest.
Overall, I enjoyed this although it was slow at points. While an interesting character, Alice is also immature and her immaturity got old pretty quickly. Her go-to solution for dealing with any problem is to run away and avoid it. There is a long stretch of book where it is mostly Alice finding ways to avoid her family and friends. On the upside, it allows her to spend more time with Takumi.

Speaking of Takumi, I wanted more from him. Or I would love to read another book from the point of view of a character like him. Alice tells a story from her high school years when her and a bunch of girls created profiles on a dating app and then had a contest to see which of them attract the most boys. One of the White girls in the group tells Alice she will probably lose because Black women, along with Asian men, are considered the least desirable in the dating world. Now the main love story of this book involves a Black woman who is asexual and an Asian man. At one point Alice tells Takumi in all honesty although she really likes him romantically she is not interested in having sex with him. I wanted to know more about how he felt, particularly in light of story Alice told earlier.

Let’s Talk About Love is Claire Kann’s first novel. She did pretty good her first time out. It was definitely worth the read and I look forward to reading he next book.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Cibola Burn by James S. A. Corey

  Cibola Burn (Expanse Series #4)  Without the natural resources of Earth or the military might of Mars, the people who live on the asteroids belt have always been treated like second class citizens. It is not particularly surprising then that when the ring opens up thousands of new worlds and one of them appears to be earth like - that is with air, water and other things humans need - a group of Belters decide to make it their new home. The Belter group names the new planet Ilus and sets up a settlement. Unfortunately for them, like colonial powers of the past the global powers that be don't especially care whether someone else got their first. They see land they want and assume they have to right to take it. The earth based UN government decides to assert its "rights" by issuing a contract to Royal Charter Energy (RCE) that gives the corporation the "rights" to New Terra (otherwise known as Ilus) and all its resources. The fact that people are already living on Ilus/New Terra matters not at all to RCE or the UN. But it matters to Ilus’ new settlers and to show it matters, the settlers set off an explosion as an RCE ship tries to land on the new planet, thereby beginning the first war in the new frontier. The UN's Chrisjen Avasarala and the OPA's Fred Johnson send James Holden and the crew of Rocinante to keep the peace until the global powers can come up with a more permanent solution.

Cibola Burn started off a bit slow. The first half of the book is basically argument and fight after argument and fight between various the settlers and RCE, with Holden in the middle trying and failing to make peace or at least stop the killing going on. 

As Holden fails to bring any measure of peace the planet starts mobilizing its own defenses against its human intruders. This is where things began to get interesting. There are death slugs, water organisms that make people go blind, and something that makes space ships stop working and fall out of the sky. But even natural disasters (to the extent anything on alien planet is natural, I suppose it has its own version of what's natural) aren't enough to stop people from bickering and so the fights and arguments continue on the ground and in space where each faction has a ship floating on stand by (along with the Rocinante). The series started with a mystery in space – what happened to Julie Mao and what the protomolecule was. Now everyone knows about the protomolecule and story is how people are reacting to it.

New point-of-view characters are introduced in Cibola Burn. There is someone from each of the relevant factions. Basia is a settler whose son was one of the kids who were kidnapped in the previous books. Holden and crew were able to rescue some of the children but they didn’t make it in time to save Basia’s son. Havelock who first made an appearance in Leviathan Wakes as Miller’s partner shows up here as one of the less sociopathic members of RCE’s security team. Elvi is one of the RCE scientists. Her sections were funny but mostly I enjoyed Holden and the investigator/ Miller. I really hope there is more of the investigator/Miller in books to come (despite Holden’s attempt to prevent that).

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

China Rich Girlfriend (Crazy Rich Asians Trilogy)The soap opera that began in Crazy Rich Asians continues in China Rich Girlfriend. This wasn't quite as good as the first book. Mind you, there is still plenty of excessive spending, sumptuous food, and planet sized egos. The tension in the first book was all about Asian-American Rachel meeting her rich boyfriend's family for the first time in Singapore, how she would react to their billionaire lifestyles, and how they would react to her. This second book in the series introduces Rachel's long lost father and his family. They are just as crazy rich (and plain crazy) as Nick's family but given that Rachel is meeting them for the first time and is therefore not as close to them as Nick was to his family the stakes felt much lower. Rachel and Nick who are ostensibly the main characters, are more observers than participants in the craziness, which further has the effect of putting distance between the reader and the story. I did like this. I just hope the final book in the trilogy packs a bit more punch.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Crazy Rich Asians (Crazy Rich Asians Trilogy)The story begins in New York with young professors and couple, Rachel Chu and Nick Young. Nick, who is originally from Singapore, invites his girlfriend home for the summer to meet his family and attend his best friend's wedding. Rachel says yes. She has the usual "meeting boyfriend's family for the first time jitters" but figures everything will be fine. Unfortunately, she has no idea what she has said yes to. It turns out Nick's family is crazy rich and old, old as in the kind of family that can trace its roots back to whatever the Asian equivalent of the Mayflower is. Accordingly, they are snobby and obsessed with associating with the right kind of people. American-Asian Rachel from a no-name family with only a middle-class sized bank account just doesn't quite measure up.

Nick is clueless for a large part of the book. Like only a rich person could, Nick never thinks about money - having it or not having it. He doesn't worry about impressing people or fitting in. His life has always been one of relative ease and so the possibility that Rachel would be shocked to discover how crazy rich (and crazy snobby) his family is simply never occurs to him.

There is a parallel story about Nick's cousin Astrid who a few years earlier married a middle class man. Astrid's husband Michael is smart, hardworking, and successful but he's not from a wealthy family with old roots and therefore never completely feels accepted by the family. Like Nick, Astrid doesn't notice her husband's discomfort. (This isn't to say I liked Michael. He has issues to work out but his feelings were understandable once he got around to explaining them to his wife.)

Most of the book reads like a soap opera about rich people and their problems, and I was totally down for that. I loved books and shows like Gossip Girl and Downton Abbey and this reminded me of those. Then the story took a turn. Rachel's learns a shocking secret about her family, which kind of fits in with the soap opera theme but also came out of nowhere and at the end leaving little time to really develop that story thread. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book overall. There's nothing earth shattering or deep here, but it's fun. I will definitely read the next book and watch the upcoming movie.