“What Are You Reading?” Wednesday (January 21, 2015)

“What are you reading?” Wednesday has been absorbed into Musing Mondays over at Should Be Reading, but I’ll continue posting on Wednesdays.

Iron Hearted VioletWhat are you currently reading?

Iron Hearted Violet, by Kelly Barnhill, and it’s so good. I have a few other books on my ereading app (don’t I always?) but this one has just been so amazing that I haven’t even been tempted at all to see what else I’ve got on there.

What did you recently finish reading?

I read (and reviewed) Vivian Apple at the End of the World.

During my lunch breaks at work, I read Afternoon of the Elves, the 1991 Newbury Medal winner, in the Open Library online reader. It was … okay, I guess, but I’m surprised it was a Newbury Medal winner. Was 1990 just a slow year for children’s fiction, or something? It wasn’t bad, exactly, but with that golden sticker on the front, I was expecting better.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I still have Shadowplay on my phone and I’m about halfway through So You Want to Be a Wizard. I should probably try to get through my backlog of half finished books before I start anything else, but “should” doesn’t necessarily mean “will,” because one of my students is reading The Fellowship of the Ring and another student is reading The Golden Compass and I want to reread both of those things now so I can talk about it with them. (Not that I haven’t almost memorized both of those books, but, you know.)


Irregular Review: Vivian Apple at the End of the World (Vivian Versus the Apocalypse)

Vivian Apple (2)

Vivian Apple at the End of the World
Katie Coyle (Vivian Apple, #1)
★★★☆☆ (I liked it.)

Goodreads summary:

Seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple never believed in the evangelical Church of America, unlike her recently devout parents. But when Vivian returns home the night after the supposed “Rapture,” all that’s left of her parents are two holes in the roof. Suddenly, she doesn’t know who or what to believe. With her best friend Harp and a mysterious ally, Peter, Vivian embarks on a desperate cross-country roadtrip through a paranoid and panic-stricken America to find answers. Because at the end of the world, Vivan Apple isn’t looking for a savior. She’s looking for the truth.

So, Vivian Apple.

The Good

I could not put this book down. It’s one of those things that I would sneak in pages at any opportunity – on the train, during lunch, under my desk, in the middle of a conversation. I needed to know what happened, and I needed to know if the Rapture happened or not. (I won’t say. Spoilers.) Some twists, I sooo called before they were revealed. Others, I didn’t guess. It was a good mix; it shouldn’t be too obvious, or too difficult. This wasn’t a mystery novel, although the mystery of the Rapture is the question Vivian has to answer, and why she goes on her Great American Road Trip out west.

I’m not sure how I felt about the ending, and I think the sequel, Vivian Versus America, will help me decide whether or not I liked it. How things shake down from here will put the end of the first book in perspective.

Vivian felt real to me, and I think a certain kind of goody two shoes will relate to her, although personally, I think reading this as a high schooler, she would have annoyed me. But Vivian was very “likable.” She’s the sort of person you’d want to befriend.

It’s subtle, but there’s an undercurrent of feminism throughout the whole story. Vivian drives the plot, and most of the time, the car. The Rapture happens to her – and her parents disappear, leaving holes in the roof of their home – but after a little bit of wallowing, she takes action to get to the bottom of this mystery. It’s Vivian who decides to leave the New Orphans and Vivian who decided to take this road trip in the first place; Harp and Peter are just along for the ride.

Along the way, she articulates her discomfort with the Believer’s anti-feminism, how women are controlled by Frickism, following “their” men a step or two behind, dressing “modestly,” punished for their sexualities. Frickian homophobia becomes a plot point, but that’s not something that happens to Vivian, but it happens to scare Vivian.

Which brings me to…

The Bad

Vivian is a straight white girl. Her best friend, secondary character Harpreet Janda, is Indian-American. Harp’s brother, Raj, is gay. So, points for inclusion, but this is still Vivian’s story and, given the unsubtle message about the dangers of religious fundamentalism and extremism, it would have been stronger if Vivian had been a person of color, or a queer, or disabled, or something that put her in danger from the remaining Believers.

As a non-Believer, Vivian is an outsider. Most of America has converted, and the “left behind” Believers are focused on a passage from the Book of Frick about how “the road to salvation is overcrowded with the damned” and some have taken that to mean they must exterminate the “sinners” – non-Believers, generally, but in particular, “harlots” and “fags.”

I would have found the story much more compelling if Vivian had more at stake – if Peter, the love interest, were Petra, for example. Even Vivian’s non-Belief isn’t a thoughtful articulation of her theological or even moral qualms with Christianity in general or Frickism in particular, she just floats along, not believing. How would this story go if she did believe, but in something else? What if Viv was Catholic? What if Viv was Muslim?

I don’t want to hate on this book for everything it wasn’t, but I think it could have been stronger if Vivian had more left to lose after the Rapture.

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesday (January 14, 2015)

“What are you reading?” Wednesday has been absorbed into Musing Mondays over at Should Be Reading, but I’ll continue posting on Wednesday because I am a creature of habit and I hate change.

Vivian Apple (2)What are you currently reading?

Right now, I’m reading Vivan Apple at the End of the World (also known as Vivian Versus The Apocalypse across the pond). I’ve only just started, but so far, I like the style, I like the POV character, Vivian, I like her makeshift family of her bestie, her bestie’s brother, her bestie’s brother’s boyfriend, and her bestie’s brother’s boyfriend’s little sister.

Like, did the Rapture really happen, or something else? Only a handful of chapters in and I’m already concerned about Vivian, which is a good sign; usually I can’t “do” apocalyptic stories, so I have to be really invested in the character to not just bow out and head for the safety of the real, not ending, world.

I happened across this one by accident, but I’m already glad I did.

I still have both Diane Duane’s So You Want to be a Wizard and Laura Lam’s Shadowplay all set up on my ereader, but somehow they both fell by the wayside, so I’m kinda/sorta still reading. During my lunch break at work, I’ve been reading 1990 Newbury Award winner Afternoon of the Elves, by Janet Taylor Lisle, via Open Library.

What did you recently finish reading?

RivermanThe Riverman, by Aaron Starmer, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I don’t even remember where I heard about it but as soon as I did, I knew I had to read it that very instant or I would die. I made it through my work day, got home, acquired the ebook immediately, and started to read. I devoured it, but I’m not sure what to make of the ending, and I don’t even know whether I liked it or not.

On one hand, it feels like Aaron Starmer wrote this book for me. On the other hand, I won’t know if I like it until I find out if Aquavania is real or not, and what happens in the sequel, The Whisper, due out later this year.

The other book I read last week was Thanha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again. One of my library regulars adores this book, and I finally got around to reading it as part of my resolution to read more poetry and read more books by/about people of color, but mostly because this is a community of readers, I respect this patron as a reader, and I wanted to read the book she recommended me, because this can’t be a one-way street.

It was amazing.

I took photos of my favorite bits.

Iron Hearted VioletWhat do you think you’ll read next?

I already have Iron Hearted Violet transferred over to my phone (which conveniently doubles as my ereader, because I’m cheap), ready to go. I enjoyed The Witch’s Boy, also by Kelly Barnhill, when I read it last year, and Iron Hearted Violet promises a lot of the things I love in books: a princess who is “plain, reckless, and … too clever for her own good,” a storyteller, taming dragons, magic books, you name it. From the description, it reminds me of a Book of Shadows, at least, I think it sounds like Violet and Charlie would be good friends.

After that, it’s anyone’s guess. I’m suddenly ravenous for books, and I’m tearing through them at a decent clip – at least for me, while working full time, etc. I have a bunch of stuff lined up, but does that mean anything? Nah.

Judging a Book by its Cover: Hunger Games

China GlazeMarketing for The Hunger Games has always been a little strange to me. I mean, Capitol Couture is a thing that exists. There’s a line of Hunger Games tie-in/inspired nail polish, with names like Smoke & Ashes. I love nail polish, but that’s a little… aren’t the Capitol the bad guys? Don’t you remember that the “smoke and ashes” are from District 12, which the Capitol firebombed in retaliation?

I’m not going to lie. Those glitter polishes – Electrify and Luxe & Lush – are really pretty, but I kinda feel like the whole line is missing the point.

… which is kinda how I feel about some of these covers. I liked the original American hardcover. It doesn’t tell us too much about the book, but I think it fits the mood of the story – and by now, everyone knows about it, anyway, so it doesn’t really need to sell itself.

Hunger Games

My first run-in with unexpected covers was the Japanese edition. (You might have noticed a theme. This is because I live in Japan and I can’t resist browsing through bookstores.) I asked a coworker if she had read it, and she said the cover put her off. It “looked too much like an adventure anime” and she ignored it. I asked what she was talking about and she pulled up an image of the Japanese cover of The Hunger Games.

Hunger Games


While there are recognizable elements from the story – Katniss with her braid and bow, Peeta’s flaming cloak – it looks more like … Well, let’s be honest: It looks like an adventure anime.

I’m not sure if it’s significant, but the title goes for a straight transliteration of Hunger Games into Japanese syllabary as ハンガー•ゲームズ (Hāngā Gēmuzu).

Other Japanese covers I’ve, ahem, covered have gone instead with a translation: Etiquette & Espionage (ソフロニア嬢、空賊の秘宝を探る, Miss Sophronia and the Treasure of the Sky Pirates) and Among Others ( 図書室の魔法, Library-Room Magic). Although I won’t make too much of translation conventions, check out this fan essay about the intricacies of translating Lord of the Rings (指輪物語, Epic of the Ring) into Japanese.

For a story like Hunger Games, which explicitly takes place in what’s left of North America, the “foreign”-sounding connotations of a katakana title are apt. (It’s weird, reading the British editions, in a future where apparently the United States of America adopted metric before collapsing.) The cover, however, really doesn’t get the spirit of the story at all. It looks like the illustrator was given a description of the characters and a handful of keywords.

Hunger Games I mentioned reading a British edition in my library, and you’re looking at it. There’s also a cover with the same design, but with Katniss in the cut out HG, but the decision to give Peeta his own cover was just a cynical ploy to gain more boy readers, because “boys don’t read girl books.” Or something. (There’s nothing gendered about the original cover…)

I don’t have much else to say about this/these edition/s. It looks like a thriller, which I guess it is; it’s certainly a page-turner.

The Stephen King blurb definitely reinforces the thriller feel.

I just can’t get over Peeta here. He’s an important character, but Katniss is the narrator. I guess it could be argued that we’re seeing Peeta as Katniss sees him, through the lens of the Hunger Games, or something, but I’m leaning towards the “cynical ploy” assumption.

It’s not a bad design, but I think it’s going to become dated pretty quickly (illustration trends change fast) and it has none of the iconic staying power of the Mockingjay pin design versions, but at least it’s not as bad as the Japanese cover.

…or this Russian one.

Hunger Games

I have nothing to say. I’m not even 100% convinced that this is a real thing.


Last but not least, there’s this raver edition. This is the cover that inspired this post. It’s just so weird. I guess the “marketing to boys” thing with Peeta on the cover was going a little too well and someone in marketing decided to doll it up a bit to appeal to teenage girls? As if teenage girls weren’t already the fanbase. Maybe marketing was just giving the fans what they wanted.

I like the return to the Mockingjay pin design, and the graffitied look fits in well. I can imagine this stencil spray painted onto train tunnels and the sides of buildings all over Panem, just… not in lime green and hot pink.

I just can’t quite figure out where this design is going. Is it supposed to “match” the new Scholastic Classics pack? I don’t think The Hunger Games needs “hip” repackaging quite yet. It’s still selling well enough on it’s own, what with Mockingjay just out in theaters. (Well, not here.)

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesday (September 24, 2014)

SupermanWhat are you reading?

Right now, I’m reading Superman: The High-Flying History of the Man of Steel. I’m not usually a big reader of nonfiction, and manga aside, I don’t read comics – not usually American comics, and definitely not superhero stuff, but The Magician’s Book got me into this sort-of “biography of a book” genre.

What did you recently finish?

I finished those books I was jumping around reading, What’s Left of Me and I am J. While I recognize the importance of I am J – one Goodreads reviewer called it “the Annie on my Mind of trans-masculine teen narratives” – I did not enjoy it. I didn’t like J, and I especially didn’t like his unquestioned homophobia and misogyny; masculinity, trans or otherwise, is no excuse to disparage girls and women, a lesson J never learned in his story.

What's Left of MeWhat’s Left of Me, on the other hand, was way better than I was expecting and I really can’t wait to find out how Eva and Ryan’s romance is going to work out when neither of them are the only (or even primary) inhabitant of their bodies. Addie and Devon aren’t really into each other, at least not that way. I hope they don’t get together. That would be such a cop out.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I already put Once We Were (Hybrid Chronicles #2) on my phone so I can find out what happens to Eva, Addie, and the others. I am so sold on this premise.