Thursday, July 20, 2017

Review: The Traitor's Kiss

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I received a free copy of this book through the Goodreads First Reads program. While I had originally hoped to be getting one with completed cover art - how could I not? It's gorgeous! - I unfortunately was met with a far more underwhelming gray ARC cover when I opened my package. Oh, well! It was still one of my more anticipated YA debuts of the year, so I was pretty excited to crack it open. 

While the end result was a lot more disappointing than I had anticipated, I'm still glad I gave this book a chance. Here's why!

The Traitor's Kiss, by debut author Erin Beaty, follows Sage Fowler, the rebellious ward of a prominent family. Bound by duty, they keep her on as a tutor, only to submit her to be judged by a nearby matchmaker when she turns sixteen. After her interview goes awry, she's enlisted instead as the matchmaker's apprentice, serving as a ledger keeper and judge of character for her preening charges. As the country prepares for the Concordium - a gathering in the capital in which wealthy brides will be matched with their future spouses - the army prepares for war, as unseen enemy raiding parties from nearby Kimisar are spotted in the forests. When Sage's world collides with that of a charismatic army soldier, enlisted in protecting the valuable entourage from harm's way, she must keep her background a secret, in order to stay as invisible as possible. However, she's not the only one keeping secrets.

It sounds like a lot of fun, right? It was! At least for the first half of the novel. While there was some troublesome YA tropes that arose early that the fast-paced plot couldn't shake, I was enjoying the way the story was flowing.

One of the most notably different aspects of the novel from others in its genre was the significance of army movements and military strategy within the narrative of the novel. Its inclusion was so remarkable, that I felt persuaded to look up whether the author had participated in military service... and she had! Beaty has a Navy background, and is very effective in translating this kind of tactical description to paper, and I was on board.

Still, even while only halfway through the novel, it was hard to really sink into what I was reading, without ruminating on some of the accusations other Goodreads reviews had been leveling at the novel long before I'd even gotten the chance to crack open the cover. From accusations of racism, whitewashing, and even anti-feminist characters, there was a lot of ground to cover in the critical reading of a YA novel.

Here's what I found: 

  • While quite a few on Goodreads argue that it succumbs to the "dark skinned aggressor" trope, there are actually quite a few PoC within the main cast, including the primary love interest... it's just that the ways they're described are a little strange. Like, lots of references of how dark their skin/hair/eyes are, but not many mentions of any other notable aspects of their biological makeup. It did come off a bit as tokenism, but then again, there are plenty of YA novels that fulfill that generic qualification, too. However, the aggressors themselves are only partially fulfilling the cliche they're accused of: while the background army of antagonist characters are described as dark-skinned, the primary villain and his retinue are white. 
  • The idea of whitewashing - or deliberately stripping uniquely culturally-referential stories of their ethnic roots - can 100% be chalked up to a tragic marketing job. Here's the root of it: in the original marketing copy, they list the book as a "Mulan retelling." Naturally, anyone who hears this, then gets a white main character, will be justifiably upset, being that the story of Mulan is firmly enmeshed within the Chinese cultural canon. The problem is, anyone who reads more than 50 pages will immediately find that it's not that kind of story. Nor is it "for fans of Jane Austen," as the revised Goodreads blurb might suggest, or even a "Jane Eyre retelling," as it's apparently been seen elsewhere. Overall, the whole thing just screams of a lazy marketing job, and as the authors are rarely responsible for the promotional material, I can't fault the story for the sins of its PR team. 
  • The anti-feminist claim is a little trickier to handle, because of how obvious the purported "girl hate" was, as well. I think by this point, we're all a little tired of main characters making it so clear how they're "not like other girls," even though being like other girls isn't necessarily a bad thing at all, unless you write it that way. It sucks when you've created a cast of numerous female characters, and just coincidentally, not many of them manage to get along. And, of course, even our main character's beneficial qualities immediately fall to the wayside, once there's a hero involved. It's annoying that these are all such pervasive tropes of a genre that primarily caters to young women, and I don't think readers are wrong to ask that authors knock it off.

But even when you try to clear aside all of the controversy and enjoy the story for what it is, I still had some niggling doubts of my own, that were unfortunately exacerbated by a very disappointing third act, complete with its own insane handful of plot twists (Like, I'm talking Belzhar-levels of disappointment with those plot twists). And I feel vindicated by the fact that I'm clearly not the only one who thinks so: scroll through at least half of the reviews on Goodreads left by people who read the book, and you'll see that the majority agree that the book takes a significant plunge about halfway through. 

While it was a decent way to pass the time, and easy enough to overlook some of its more cringe-y conventions, I don't think I'll be recommending it to any of my friends or anything. It's probably the kind of book I would have liked a lot more back in middle school... but that was a decade ago. 

Final Verdict: Controversy has seemed to rob this book of a fighting debut author chance, but even with its fast pace, interesting world-building, and unique military focus, unfortunately, it's true downfall is a disappointing second half and overly-cliched main characters.



Have you ever been disappointed after judging a book by its cover? Do you look at Goodreads reviews before reading a novel? Let me know, in the comments below!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Tastee-Reads: Year of Cozy, Milk Bar Life, and Endless Summer

Some of my favorite kinds of books to buy - and absolutely the hardest kind of purchase I make in book-buying - are Cookbooks. I love cooking, and I love the aesthetic uniformity and chef power that comes from carefully selecting a Cookbook from its shelves, so wouldn't you think my collection would be a little more expansive? But beyond the Jamie Oliver obsession that hit me like a freight train in middle school (and still shows no signs of slowing down), I actually don't have that many.

I know why, of course: they're so expensive! It's easy to throw a few bucks over the counter for a cheap, popular paperback, but cookbooks almost always run upwards of $20, even if they're on sale. And because they're so expensive, it's hard to justify the costs, especially when I've already got over 500+ recipes saved up on Pinterest that I want to try.

That's why every single time I take a trip to the library, you can bet that I'm selecting at least one new read from the Cooking section, whether its a new installment from a favorite chef, a collection of seasonal recipes to fit my surroundings, exploring a new kind of cuisine, or even just figuring out what the heck the deal is with the hottest new cooking trends (That being said, I will probably never check out a raw vegan cookbook ever again. Don't y'all eat anything fun?).

You've got a little hint of this fixation before, in the form of my review this past year for Voracious, from Cara Nicoletti. Recently, however, I've racked up a couple of cookbooks from the library that I've been incredibly tempted to go out and purchase for myself. Of course, I'm still on my book-buying-ban for this year, so I'll have to wait a little while to get my fix. But as for right now, I'm content to keep renewing these copies until the library kicks me out!


The Year of Cozy, Adrianna Adarme

Image result for the year of cozy goodreadsBased off of Adrianna Adarme's popular blog, A Cozy Kitchen, this book is a compendium of all kinds of DIY, from recipes to home crafts, to adventures you can take yourself. Arranged by season and month within the context of a yearly cycle, this cookbook-slash-DIY-guide encourages you to reach beyond the habits and routines of your daily life, to try something new, and most importantly, to do so with the company of people you love. From sourcing delicious seasonal ingredients for yourself, to taking the time to relax and take part in a quick craft, this book is both instructional and fun, filled with not just exciting but downright cute things to do. A really fun project would be to make it a personal challenge to do at least once a month... but with the collection of great recipes and more inside, I don't know if you'd be able to limit yourself to just one!




Milk Bar Life, Christina Tosi


I turned Tosi's "Greta" sugar cookies bars into a unicorn-colored daydream,
in an attempt to use up old sprinkles!
Culinary purists, you're not in Kansas anymore. An adventuresome eater's paradise awaits between the pages of this tome, courtesy of Momofuku Milk Bar's Christina Tosi. Including not one, but two different nacho recipes, and not one, but two different dessert recipes involving store-bought Ritz crackers, this kind of laid-back and accessible cookbook, with a reckless eater's edge, is something I'm totally a fan of just leafing through on a lazy afternoon, let alone trying out these recipes for myself. Tosi is such a notable New York food authority and visionary, I'm almost willing to overlook the mental struggle that is the Spaghetti-O and breakfast sausage sandwich.

I'm absolutely obsessed with getting my hands on this book's predecessor, Momofuku Milk Bar, which contains the recipes they use in the actual bakery, instead of behind the scenes in their daily lives, because like the rest of the country, I'm obsessed with their birthday cake (though, of course, there are cookies and cakes in this cookbook, too!). That being said, from aesthetic quality to zany recipes, this is one of my favorite library repeat checkouts. I've even made some of the food from the book myself!


Endless Summer Cookbook, Katie Lee

Image result for endless summer katie lee goodreadsMy favorite member of Food Network's The Kitchen and a recent obsession of mine, Katie Lee's airy homage to the sweetest season looks like something straight out of Instagram: sumptuous, colorful photography and hand-scrawled notes lend this cookbook some aesthetic credibility, while the low-ingredient, high-seasonal-payoff recipes themselves offer up a breezy, effortless vibe... perfect for those dog day afternoons. Her simple and fresh ingredients lists make the entire thing super affordable and easy, while the food itself ranges from Southern-inspired to classic summer fare, to inspiration taken from Lee's trips abroad, and even collegiate life! I'm tempted to try everything from her "Virginia-Style Hot Dogs," to her "BLT Ranch Burger," to almost everything in the Breakfast section, and I'm thrilled that I got the chance to renew this from the library before anyone else could get their hands on it before August.



What are some of your favorite cookbooks? Which of these books would you want to check out for yourself? Let me know, in the comments below!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

JUNE FAVES

I get it, okay? I get it. Summer is all too brief, and incredibly precious, so I can't keep mentioning how fast the months are going by, specifically when June seems to be the quickest one of the bunch so far this year. I know. Okay?

ButJunewasjustsoshort.

From watching my siblings finish up their last few days of school, to excitedly watching my friends graduate college, to winding down the month with back-to-back camping trips, tackling summer library challenges with my brother, and celebrating Seattle Pride - and my sister's new girlfriend! - this entire month has been a blast and a half.

Can you really blame me for taking a few days to wrap it all up like this?

But, as we have with every month, we've seen a lot of News. And we've seen a lot of Things. Here are some of my faves from June!



Of course, the collective Book Universe and outer offshoot populations of humanity celebrated the 20th Anniversary of Harry Potter this past month. In the midst of the think-piece and Buzzfeed quiz madness, all I was really struck by was a sense of extreme nostalgia, one I think my Dad - who read us the books as kids - felt a lot more than he let on.

If there's anything that got Book Universe talking more than the Harry Potter anniversary this month, it might just be John Green, who released the title for his upcoming YA book, Turtles All the Way Down. 

2017 has been a big year for looking back on the history of dystopian fiction, and this past June 27th was no different. The day marks the events of iconic short story "The Lottery," from equally iconic author Shirley Jackson, and the significance of the systematic cruelty present in that tale has not lessened over time.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a fan favorite Austenian novel, must be in want of an Emmy-award-winning transmedia webseries. Happy 5th Anniversary to the Lizzie Bennet Diaries! Have you been following along with the rewatch on Instagram?

Ever get tired of those clickbait-y type articles that tell you about everything you're messing up, from shampooing your hair, to meditation? No? Well, this will make you happy: The Cut has compiled a list of everything women are supposedly doing wrong! 

And of course, the Tony Awards took place this past June, too! While I'm still a little steamed that Great Comet didn't win the accolades it deserved, it's hard to be mad when Ben Platt's just the cutest. A competitive year with some surprise winners, here's a great breakdown, courtesy of NPR, of the evening's events. 




Speaking of Dear Evan Hansen at the Tony's, the Dear Evan Hansen cast performance of "Waving Through a Window" rocked me so hard that I had downloaded it on iTunes the morning following the broadcast, and have been listening to it ever since.

I am an addict to self-help anything, but rarely does any of that information stick in a meaningful way. It's just so difficult to deliberately maximize your happiness... this video on "Ways to Maximize Misery," on the other hand, immediately finds its mark.

I've already spoken about my recent obsession with the podcast Into the Twilight, as well as my plans for reading through the series, starting this summer. Well, I can tell you this: not only am I finally through the first 13 episodes, but I also finished rereading Twilight, and have already passed it on to my brother! I'm so excited for this summer challenge to continue, and see what my other siblings have to say about it. (I, myself, will have a little more to say on the topic soon enough, too!)

I'm pretty sure I've said this before, but it's worth bringing up again: being a part of Bachelor Nation is not for the faint of heart. Not only am I fervently following Rachel's season of The Bachelorette, but I've recently become enamored with several sets of commentary on the subject. A standout: the Ellen Show Bachelor Recap webseries, ran by producers of the talk show, who are also Bach-superfans!

It honestly isn't summer if my family isn't deeply embroiled in the latest installment of Food Network Star. While we haven't selected an agreed-upon favorite to win this season, I'm a huge holdover fan of Jason's from his victory on Holiday Baking Championship.

I've got to say, my mom and I don't agree on a lot... but when we do, those obsessions roll hard. Case in point: a deep and fervent love of the alt-rock band, The Killers, which resurfaced once more upon the release of their new single this month. While the rest of the album won't drop until September, you can bet I'll be blasting "The Man" until then.

After that information, you'd probably find it difficult to guess what other quirks my mom and I have in common... and "a complete fascination with E!'s Hollywood Medium, Tyler Henry" would probably not be at the top of your list. The show is enthralling, emotionally moving, and way too incredible to describe briefly... so you'll have to wait for my review of Henry's book, coming to the blog soon!

I'm not a huge poetry person, but "I'll Call You (a poem)," from a fave bullet journaling YouTuber and Tumblr queen Cheyenne Barton, really struck a chord. Maybe it's Barton's recent relocation to a city I love, or the familiar feeling of infinite potential stuck within finite space, but it was just the kind of thing I needed to listen to on a June Gloom afternoon.


And because I'm a little late this month... here's one last thing that has been inspiring me recently.


What kind of a start is your summer off to? What sorts of News and Things have you been enjoying? Let me know, in the comments below!