Book Riot Challenge: Risuko

Read a historical fiction novel set before 1900. For this challenge I chose Risuko by David Kudler. 

Risuko, meaning squirrel in Japanese, is a book about a young girl around the age of eleven, nicknamed Risuko for her love of climbing, who is taken from her parents to live with an older woman and a group of young girls who are all in training for something Risuko doesn’t yet understand. 

The book is set during the 1500s in Japan which is a really interesting time and place. I was intrigued to find out about their way of life and beliefs. I leant some interesting things about samurais and their fighting methods. I was also particularly interested in how these women dealt with their ‘Moon Time’ where they were sent off to a separate building called The Retreat. Unfortunately, as the main character does not ever go there we only get a brief insight.

Unfortunately, for me, this is where the things I liked about this book ends. I would give it two out of five stars. All of the characters had unfamiliar names that I struggled to get used to. This was only a problem however because these characters also had very little personality. When they were talking I struggled to tell the difference between characters, and was constantly referring back to try to understand who was who and what was happening.

At the start of the book Risuko is bought from her family and forced to leave. Why wasn’t she more concerned about this? Why isn’t she more upset? Besides a couple of pages thinking about her dad, Risuko doesn’t seem to care, which in turn makes the reader also not care.

As soon as the chef (I only finished it this morning and I’ve already forgotten their names – that’s how forgettable they are) mentioned other uses of herbs I knew that someone would be poisoned. When it finally happened I was unsurprised. However, despite the method being clear, I do not think the intentions were clear. (Perhaps they were clear and I was past caring when they were revealed.)

This book had a lot of potential but to me it fell flat. Unfortunately I will not be continuing on with the series. I did however enjoy learning about this era of Japanese history and so will look for other books set at this time.

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Book Riot Challenge: Winter

For the challenge to read a book over five hundred pages, I chose Winter by Marissa Meyer. This book is the fourth and final instalment in the Lunar Chronicles, a set of futuristic, science fiction retellings of fairy tales. 

The first book, Cinder, is, predictably, a Cinderella retelling set in New Beijing after the fourth world war. As a cyborg, Cinder deals with the effects of being a second class citizen and, after the death of her adoptive father, her wicked step mother and sister. In addition, the world is being ravaged by a plague called Letumosis. The only cure for Letumosis is known by the Lunars, a colony of humans with special powers living on the moon. Emperor Kai of New Beijing is pressured to form an alliance with the Lunars to receive the antidote. However, it seems that Queen Levana of Luna has her own motives. When her step sister contracts the plague, her evil step mother sends Cinder to be used as a test subject for a Letumosis antidote. From here, we follow Cinder as she attempts to save Emperor Kai from the evil Queen Levana, and as she searches for an antidote.

The next book, Scarlet, is loosely based on the Little Red Riding Hood story. She lives happily with her grandmother in the south of France, but her life is thrown into chaos when a group of Lunar soldiers ravage her town, and her grandmother goes missing. Meanwhile, we also follows Cinder’s story as she continues on her quest to defeat Queen Levana and find the Letumosis cure. Though it starts off as a Little Red Riding Hood retelling, it certainly also mirrors Beauty and the Beast at times.

Cress is a Rapunzel retelling. As a citizen of Luna born with no special powers, Cress is forced to live aboard a satellite and to use her skills as a computer technician for the spies of Queen Levana and her followers. Again, we also follow Cinder and Scarlet on their quest to discover what secrets would help them to defeat Levana and save the Letumosis sufferers of Earth. 

Winter is the final instalment of the series and it follows Levana’s step daughter, Princess Winter, or Snow White, as she deals with life in Levana’s court. A traumatic experience at a young age has encouraged Winter never to use her Lunar “gift” again. Meanwhile, we follow Cinder, Scarlet and Cress as all four come together to battle Levana and get the antidote.

WARNING: spoilers ahead. 

This series has so much drama and action, I struggled to put it down! There is never a dull moment in this last instalment and I was not disappointed. I love a book with kick-ass female characters and this book was full of them! I sometimes got a little confused about what was happening and a little overwhelmed with the action so perhaps it could actually have done with a break from the action every so often.

Throughout the whole series, but particularly the time on Luna, there is an underlying theme of humanity. Right from the start we see that Cinder is a cyborg and therefore a second class citizen. She is ashamed of this and tries to hide it. Little does she know that she is a cyborg because she was almost killed by her evil aunt, Queen Levana, and she is actually Princess Selene of Luna! Humans feel threatened by cyborgs’ enhanced limbs and brains. Cinder herself becomes dependent on certain functions of her brain, unavailable to average humans. There is a constant battle to create a world in which humans and enhanced humans can live together as one human race.

Humanity is also brought into question in Iko’s character. As an android with a personality chip default, she shows incredibly human characteristics. This creates a debate about machines taking over humans. Should androids like Iko really exist, or should they be destroyed when they start to show human characteristics? But once an android has these characteristics, is it in humane to ‘kill’ someone who is emotionally, if not physically, a human?

It is also addressed most clearly in the Lunar gift. Throughout all novels, but particularly the last one, humans are used as puppets. Does forcing a person to act against their will take away their humanity? Is doing so for their own good really a good thing? Throughout Winter struggles with these thoughts, and Meyer does a terrific job of making readers also question them. 

There are four key romantic relationships throughout this series: Cinder and Kai, Scarlet and Wolf, Cress and Thorne, and Winter and Jacin. All young adult books nowadays seem to include romances. Is it just me, or if you were concentrating on saving the Earth would you have time for romance? I’m always a little sceptical about how quickly and conveniently romances begin during young adult books, and how these relationships always seem to end well. When you’re breaking into the queen’s palace as part of a plan to overthrow a villainous dictator, Cress and Thorne, do you really think it’s a good idea to stop, kiss and discuss the dynamics of your relationship? How poorly timed! (Anyone else remember Jace’s condom in City of Heavenly Fire?) Though I approached at least a couple of these relationships with some scepticism, Meyer had me caring for each one and wishing for their happy ending. My favourite couple was Winter and Jacin, as we got to see how their relationship developed from childhood. No instalove here!

Speaking of happy endings: what a fantastic fight scene at the end! Cinder came face to face with Levana and it was like a Harry-Voldemort stand-off but with mind control. Until Scarlet and the others arrived. They had no shield against the Lunar mind control – they merely became pawns for Levana’s use. And Cinder, never believe the villain when they tell you they’ve changed and seen the error of their ways. They never have. 

I’m not convinced that the transition from the final battle scene to the chat with Scarlet’s friend in Paris was a particularly good one. We readers were left not knowing how the scene ended and were left hearing from a character we care very little about. Though we were all presumably happy that all our favourite characters lived, I struggled to believe it. These characters were in so much danger for the duration of four hefty novels and they all conveniently lived. I’ll put this down to them being fairytale retellings though, and am just happy for the characters.

Finally, a small criticism I have of the ending is the lack of closure for poor Winter. She wasn’t there during the final battle between Levana and Cinder and I wish she’d had a part in that. She lived with Levana her entire life up until that point and so suffered her rule for many years. I would’ve liked for her to come and stab her from behind when Cinder started to believe Levana had surrendered. I would’ve like for her to have had more closure. 

Overall I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to any YA reader with a love of fairy tales, science fiction tales, or both.

Book Riot Challenge: Persepolis

I decided to read Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis for the task ‘read a book about religion’ as it is about a young girl’s experiences in Iran when the 1979 Islamic Revolution took place.

Ultimately, it is a story about childhood. The images are simplistic. This shows the simplicity by which the world is viewed by the young and the innocent. Readers can expect to experience a whole range of emotions when reading this book, from happiness to anger, and from fear to unthinkable grief. 

We see that Marji learns from her school teacher that the Shah is divine. When the Shah is overthrown, and the new Islamic regime takes control, we see the confusion Marji and other children were faced with. Marji was lucky in the sense that she was respected by her parents and provided a relatively large amount of freedom, but we do see some instances where this leads to Marji almost getting herself into a lot of trouble, by daring to show some hair, or wearing lipstick.

At the beginning of the book, Marji takes refuge in God. She believes she is a prophet and turns to God for everything. Later, as Marji becomes more aware of suffering, often in the name of God and religion, she turns on God and can no longer see how God would allow the things she witnesses and hears about everyday.

We quickly come to realise that the Islamic regime is really not much better than the monarchy that came before it, and we are exposed, through Marji’s eyes, to a lot of violence, suffering, and sometimes death. The stark differences between the light and dark scenes clearly depict the mood of the scenes, and this is a great technique to show the drastic change in emotions throughout. 

For me, the overarching theme and most important message of the book was that the actions of extremists do not reflect the attitudes and beliefs of a nation. This is such an important thing to remember, particularly in today’s political and religious climate. I recommend this book to readers over the age of thirteen or fourteen, as there are scenes of death and some swearing, but this book can absolutely be enjoyed by adults too. 

Book Riot Challenge: We Should All be Feminists

For the ‘read a book with fewer than one hundred pages’ task, I chose We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. This is a long essay based on a 2012 TEDTalk of the same name. The 37 year old Nigerian discusses her own experiences of sexism but also draws upon experiences of others and considers those experiences with respect to all women around the world.
Something that struck me about this essay was the acceptance of how the term “feminism” has come to connote something negative. Interestingly, Adiche confronts this and suggests it is related to the way men are brought up in modern society. She argues that simply the idea of feminism makes men feel threatened because men are conditioned to feel somewhat inferior if they are not in charge of situations and don’t assert their ‘manliness’. The idea of feminism therefore has developed negative connotations, as to give women more power and blur these boundaries could make men feel inferior and thus less of a man. One of my favourite parts of this text was how she referred to herself as a ‘Happy Feminist’ after an acquaintance described feminists as women who were unhappy because they couldn’t find themselves husbands. She goes on to explain how the idea of gender prescribes personailities, it doesn’t describe how people actually are. Gender does not recognise who we are as individuals, but how we are conditioned to act based on an almost global history of misogynistic and patriarchal societies. 

What I also found interesting about this book was how Adiche draws upon experiences from her own life, in both Africa and the US. It brings together these two different areas and draws upon the common themes. It makes the reader realise how widespread the problem of sexism really is. From providing these two points of view, we can see that Adiche is not making her essay area specific – she draws upon many examples of her and her friends’ lives and uses them to show the far reaching effects of sexism.

When I first thought about writing this post, I really wanted to write a balanced review and cover both positive and negative aspects of this text. However, I read it twice and found nothing negative to really talk about. The only thing I could think of was how this essay is almost exactly the same as the TEDTalk and so not worth reading if you have seen the video. It does bring in a few more ideas, but essentially they are the same thing and both reading the book and watching the video is not necessary. 

It was only when I stumbled upon this point in another blog post about We Should All be Feminists that I realised that it is not explicitly trans-inclusive; that is, transgender women do not seem to be included. However, it is just that these women are not directly mentioned and not that they are explicitly excluded, so I cannot criticise Adiche too much as she did cover a lot in only a short book/video! 

I highly recommend this book or video to everyone. You don’t have to be a women to appreciate this text, and really you have no excuse not to pick up as the book is so short and readable. Adiche voices concerns that women have had, and some other women have also voiced, for centuries, but rarely are they voiced with such eloquance. It’s just a shame to me that this book needed to be written. Perhaps one day there will be a book named simply We Are All Feminists. 

Book Riot Challenge: Pride and Prejudice

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that this book is well worth a read.”
One of the challenges is to read a book with a movie adaptation. For this I chose Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Since reading the book, I realised I have actually seen three different adaptations. 

Firstly I’m going to talk about the book itself. As many of you know, Pride and Prejudice is a love story from the early nineteenth century concerning Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy. Their love is not without hurdles and they have to conquer both societal and personal issues. On a basic level, the main stumbling blocks for them are Elizabeth’s pride and Darcy’s prejudice. However, they also have to deal with societal expectations as portrayed in the book by Lady Bennet’s worry about not marrying the girls off the wealthy men, Lady Catherine’s worries about her nephew marrying beneath him, Miss Bingley’s similar worry of her brother marrying someone too poor, and Wickham’s deceit. It also shows, through the relationship of Charlotte Lucas and Mr Collins, that romantic love does not always dictate a marriage, but also, through Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship and that of Jane and Mr Bingley, that love can conquer so many obstacles. 

Firstly I watched the 1995 TV adaptation, starring Colin Firth. I think this version is my favourite as it is the most faithful to the book. I think the characters and the storyline are very close to how Austen intended them. I got the same feel for the characters watching this as I did reading the book. I thought both the Elizabeth/Wickham and the Lydia/Wickham relationships were portrayed really well. This adaptation also has my favourite portrayal of Lydia. I think in many other adaptations she can be seen as quite arrogant and uncaring, whereas I think this version perfectly captures her naivity. 

The second one I watched was the very famous 2005 movie starring Kiera Knightly. I think this version perfectly captures the feel for the era and the social expectations. It also feels very romantic to me. The entire film felt romanticised and a little less realistic than the 1995 version. It was not so faithful to book, but I think it worked slightly better as a whole than the 1995 version. As a stand alone movie I cannot fault it. As an adaptation, I prefer the one from 1995. 

The next adaptation is one of a very different nature. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is a 2014 web series set in modern day North America and published on YouTube. It is 100 short episodes long and imagines Lizzie Bennet as a modern day vlogger, documenting her and her sisters’ lives on YouTube. The videos came out twice a week, as though the story were happening in real time. This was an excellent adaptation and so much fun to watch. My favourite thing about it was the decision to not show Darcy in the videos until much later on. The anticipation was almost palpable! Of course the story has been changed in order for it to work in today’s culture, but I think it was changed in all the right ways. Wait until you see how Lydia’s cohabitation with Wickham is approached! I highly recommend watching this web series – it really is a lot of fun. 

´╗┐Book Riot Reading Challenge

Since I graduated from university in the summer of 2014 I have really enjoyed all of the (non-academic) reading I have had time to do. I like to think I read quite broadly and have read many different genres of books. This challenge covers many different styles, some of which I wouldn’t normally pick up and choose for myself, so I’m hoping that this challenges me to read even more broadly.
There are twenty four books in this challenge:
Read a horror book

Read a non-fiction book about science

Read a collection of essays

Read a book out loud to someone else

Read a middle-grade book

Read a biography (not memoirs or autobiography) 

Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic book

Read a book originally published in the decade you were born in

Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audience Award

Read a book with more than 500 pages 

Read a book with fewer than 100 pages

Read a book where the main character or author defines themselves as transgender

Read a book set in the Middle East 

Read a book by a South East Asian author 

Read historical fiction set before 1900

Read the first in a series by a person of colour

Read a non-superhero comic (last three years)

Read a book that has been made into a film and compare

Read feminist non-fiction

Read a book about religion

Read a book about politics

Read a food memoir

Read a play

Read a book where the main character suffers from a mental illness

I have already, though not deliberately, read some books that fall into these categories and I will review those soon. I will go on to review those that I read for this challenge throughout the year. 
I’m looking forward to further diversifying my reading habits!
Claire

Me

Hello Readers.

My name is Claire and I the writer (and reader) behind this blog.

My job is a teacher of English as a foreign language in Bangkok, Thailand. Fortunately, this provides me with many opportunities to sit out in the sun with a good book.

I’m a bit of a Hermione Granger, and a long-term book worm.

I like to read a lot of young adult, new adult and adult fiction, of all genres. I mostly only read fiction, but I do just read whatever I feel like. 

What I want to do is connect with other readers and share my experiences. Have you ever read a book that you loved but know nobody else who has read it? That’s why I’m here! To share my thoughts on those books (for when my friends are sick of me telling them what I’ve just finished reading and all of my thoughts on it). So stop by and say hi!