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Leonicka Valcius

Leonicka Valcius: January 2013

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

There is a magical box at my office. It’s called "the box at the end of the hall.” The box at the end of the hall is where all the books people want to get rid of end up. And it’s where I found this gem.

I get you Lucy Wu. I, too, have a long lost aunt that no one knew existed until we started filling out her immigration papers. I, too, struggled with understanding what exactly it meant to be Haitian-Canadian… -American-Quebecois-Floridian. Yep. I don’t play basketball like you but that fight your parents had with your brother Kenny about college? Yeah. I had that fight with my parents too.

All the characters, even the minor ones, are well-developed and multi-faceted. They push Lucy to evaluate her choices and be a better person. This middle-grade book was a super quick read and I recommend it to anyone (of any age) who is struggling with their heritage and identity.

Wendy Wan-Long Shang is Chinese, making this the first book that fits into my Heritage Reads challenge! Can you suggest any other East Asian writers whose work I should check out?

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Les Misérables de Victor Hugo

Last year I wished I read more books in French and Spanish so this year I challenged myself to read Les Misérables in the original French.

Les Miserables (Movie Tie-In Edition)

I started this week and have already learned a lot. For example, it is easier for me to read French out loud than to myself. I think this is because I learned as a spoken language--my parents spoke it at home, I watched French TV, and listened to French radio. So reading and writing French does not come as naturally to me even though I was born in Montreal.

I gave myself a year for this challenge and judging by the length of this book (it came as five ebooks!) I'll need it. I'll post my updates on Twitter using the hashtag #jelisLesMis. Follow along!

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert - Review 2

Part two of our super-awesome insightful review!

Leonicka: I didn’t withdraw it. I kept it to myself. I mean how could I say, “Omigawd she’s so pathetic” when my particular friend was saying “she’s just like me!” Awkward.
Sabrina: Thanks dude.
Leonicka: I LOVE YOU

Sabrina: Moving on, Italy was a wonderful, delicious, magical whirlwind. Not everyone gets the chance to just up and leave their entire life behind and LIVE. How I long to do that—alas, I live on a publishing salary. Traveling around the world to eat my own weight in pizza and pasta while trying to find myself is not in the budget. More than one manicure a month is also not in the budget, but that’s a whole other matter. Le sigh. I embraced this part of the book because Elizabeth was getting to do what millions of people long to but can’t. So I lived vicariously through her, and mother of God but did that pizza taste good in my head!

Leonicka: Putting the Italy section first was clever. It is the least offensive section and made me lower my guard.  The comments I made while reading switch from mocking the narrator to planning my own travels. I took notes on how to make a network of contacts in a foreign country and wrote up a list of must-visit places. I have even resolved to make serious plans to go to Brazil in 2014. The amazing travel was combined with decadent descriptions of food. Italy is clearly made for me.

Sabrina: Sadly, post-Italy, things went south for me. Having grown up in India, I found nothing in that section particularly exciting. I also don’t really believe she found God or did a lot of praying in India, it was more that she came to terms with some of the harsher aspects of her life. So, well, maybe that’s as good as finding God. Bali allowed me to picture some stunning and warm scenery, but that was the extent of what captured me. As Elizabeth progressed, I too found her to be a bit tiresome. To quote myself from an email to my friend, “She’s starting to seem like an overly zealous ditzy American longing for self-realization through other people’s cultures”.  Not to bash traveling Americans in the slightest; I love them and I particularly love when people have interest in other countries and cultures. But Elizabeth was just trying too hard and ultimately, I’m not sure her ending was satisfactory enough for me.

Leonicka: Yep. I knew I’d have issues with the “pray” section. My faith is very important to me and I’m quite inflexible. I love understanding other people’s spirituality but the tone of this was so prescriptive that I felt defensive. The Bali section was forgettable. As in I forget what happened. She made friends and got a new boyfriend? Idk. Something like that. I was trying to finish by that point.
Sabrina: It was an interesting read because I experienced moments of immense clarity “Oh my god, that’s exactly how I feel/behave” and then other moments where I found it all tiresome and wanted to be done with the read. Usually reading a book makes me want to watch the movie equivalent but I can say with great certainty, I have no interest in this one. If you’re curious about the book, I’d say go ahead and give it a whirl. If you’re not, then don’t bother.

Leonicka: I agree. There were good points that I will try to incorporate into my own life. For example:
  • Happiness is not something I have to earn.
  • I need to practice discipline and meditation in my faith (‘cause, frankly, my wishy-washy flakiness is disrespectful to the divine).
But I was so put off by the privilege and pretension of the narrator that I would have missed these lessons if I weren’t taking notes for this review. Overall this book wasn’t totally for me but then again it really had a “too each their own” message so I guess that’s okay.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert - Review 1

You’ll notice this is a bit of a different post. A friend and I read this book together and instead of being normal and writing two separate reviews, we simply conducted a bit of a “review conversation” if you will. Enjoy!
Sabrina: This is a very, very, very delayed review. This was my very last book of 2012 and I have to say I had a lot of mixed emotions about it. Hence the epic delay for this post.

Leonicka: False. This post is delayed because Sabrina made the mistake of asking me to write my review first. Since I only write if/when the spirit moves me it never happened. In fact it’s still not happening. I’m commenting on her review instead of writing my own. Laziness, thy name is Leonicka.

Sabrina: As a rule, I usually stay away from anything involving concentration on break-ups, it’s just not my cup of tea. Considering the fact that I recently had to deal with a break up (and possible am still mentally dealing with it), I really didn’t want to read all the bad emotions I was feeling through someone else. However, the book does begin in Italy and discusses a lot of food… In addition, Leonicka also had this on her TBR pile, so we decided to venture to Italy, India, and Bali through the words of Elizabeth Gilbert’s true story sabbatical-from-life together.

Leonicka: I’ve had it on my TBR list for ages because a good friend of my mine highly recommended it. The more she raved about it the more skeptical I was. She likes self-help/improvement type books that are mushy and sappy  and I… don’t. I also pre-judged the narrator (I feel bad when hating on a real person so I’ll just pretend this is fiction) as a selfish whiny ingrate. “Woe is me my life is so perfect it makes me sick let me give it all up and temporarily live like the natives!!1!” Gag.  But I liked the idea of reading a book together and I was fully prepared to have a partner-in-snark.

Sabrina: I’m not much for sappy books either and I usually don’t read anything prescribed as self-help. I prefer to be inspired by stories, rather than being told what to do. I was definitely relieved to see that there was less negative emotion and focus on Elizabeth’s break up. Instead, it began and continued with a struggle to really get to know oneself after being half of another for so long. The quest to be alone and happy at the same time. This aspect really appealed to me since I was (okay, am) going through that same step. Leonicka, on the other hand, had no sympathy. She found Elizabeth to be whiny and ungrateful. It was only when I rephrased the situation using myself as an example that she withdrew [some of] her harsh judgment.

(to be continued...)

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Monday, January 7, 2013

More Reading Challenges

Or “Lists of Great Books I Can Read In Order To Complete the Many Reading Challenges I Set for 2013”

This list would have been great last year when I was doing the POC Reading Challenge. I’m not going to try to read all 100 books but I there are many, many gems on this list and I think I’ll use it as a resource when I’m looking for Heritage reads. (I could, of course, just add all the books to my Goodreads to-read list but then it would NEVER END!) 

Here are the titles I’ve already read:
Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Unfortunately I don’t remember where I found this link but I’m glad I bookmarked it! Few of the books on my shelf are for YA and none of those are POC books. This (gorgeous) Pinterest board will help me add more children’s books to my Heritage Reads.

I love that this Pinterest board by Gabrielle Prendergast includes middle grade books!

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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Book Challenges for 2013

Read Les Misérables in French
Like many others, I wanted to read Victor Hugo’s classic work as soon as I saw Les Misérables in theatres. I’m giving myself an extra challenge though. I want to read the tome in the original French. In a previous post I wrote about my desire to read in my second languages and this is the perfect opportunity to do so. The book is so long that the ebook version I downloaded is split into 5 parts. Hopefully I’ll be done by the end of the year!

Heritage Reads
As a spin-off of the POC reading challenge, I want to take a “heritage” reading challenge. This year I plan to read books by writers who (by my arbitrary estimation) share my heritage. My goals are below:
  • 10 Haitian writers
  • 10 Caribbean writers
  • 10 African Writers
  • 10 Latino writers
  • 5 South Asian writers
  • 5 Native/Aboriginal writers 
  • 5 East Asian writers

To-Read Pile
Of course I hope to finish off my to-read pile but let’s be honest: it has grown tremendously since my last count. My first goal is to tackle the unread books on my bookshelf (about 70). Next I'll read the books on my Kobo (about 10). Finally I’ll whittle away my Goodreads to-read list (about 80). Hopefully there’s enough overlap between the two to keep things manageable. 

What are your reading challenges for 2013? Any suggestion to help me meet mine?

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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 Book Challenge Recap

Among other things, this year brought me various book challenges! 

I participated in the 50 book pledge and completed the challenge in August. By the end of the year I read 77 books! Maybe in 2013 I’ll aim for 80 books.

I also participated in the POC ReadingChallenge.  I read 34 POC books this year; that’s 44% of the books I read in 2012. A little short of my 40 POC books goal but not bad at all! This challenge really helped me expand the selection of books I read. I find that I am not only drawn to diverse characters but also diverse narratives. This year I have a list of authors whose work I look forward to reading including Octavia Butler, Edwidge Danticat, and Dionne Brand.

During the summer, I tried my hand at a readathon hosted by Random House of Canada to commemorate the 2012 London Olympics. My goal was 1200 pages and I just barely missed it.

Was 2012 a good reading year for you?

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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

My Top 12 Books of 2012

Some of these books have been featured on my previous best of lists but I have no qualms mentioning them again. That’s how much I loved them!

The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam
I think it’s the beautiful prose of this book that has stayed with me. I look forward to reading more of Lam’s work.

We Are in a Book by Mo Willems
I shouldn’t have to convince anyone of how awesome Mo Willems’s books are. A professor in my publishing program introduced me to Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus but Elephant and Piggie are still my favorite. 
Salsa Nocturna by Daniel José Older
That awesome moment when your friend’s book is actually fantastic and you don’t have to hurt his feelings with a lukewarm review! If you’re in the New York area, be sure to go to Daniel’s readings featuring music from his band, Ghost Star.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
I’ve read this book 3 times now. I bawl every single time. And now it’s a New York Times bestseller!

Love love love this book. Valente’s world reminds me of Wonderland and Oz without the scary elements. Though there are plenty of dangers in Fairyland, September is brave enough to face them. It is an incredibly rich middle-grade novel that I would definitely read with my (hypothetical) children. I want to read the sequel but my compulsions demand I wait for the paperback edition. 

I am Number Four series by Pittacus Lore
I love this series so hard, y’all. I burned through The Power of Six and The Rise of Nine in less than 48 hours. What blows me away is the lack of pretention in the characters. Although these teenagers are in larger than life situations, their personalities are completely relatable. Each character has his or her own voice. I don’t like all of them but I understand all their motivations.  Combine that with a high-stakes interplanetary war and you’ve got one hell of a series. I can’t wait for the next book. 

Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel
I had just finished This Dark Endeavour (which I found a bit overrated) when I picked up this book so I didn’t expect much. Boy, was I wrong. This book feels both contemporary and historical and is full of heart. I highly recommend it.

Persuasion by Arlene Dickinson
This will be a lifelong reference book for me. It is exactly the type of book you’d expect Arlene Dickinson to write. All her advice is based in honesty and integrity. I radically changed the way I prepare for interviews after reading this book and I immediately suggested it to a friend who was preparing advertising pitches. This may be a business book but it’s great for everyone. 

Pivot Point by Kasie West
I was surprised by how much I liked this book. The sci-fi-esque plot summary turned me off initially but I was drawn in by the very real situations. The characters’ enhanced mind powers enhanced rather than detracted from the emotion rollercoaster of the book. Look for this book in store February 2013!

Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson
I don’t like thrillers but this one really drew me in. It started as one woman’s struggle to discover her own past and turned into a gripping whodunit.

The Encyclopedia of Me by Karen Rivers
This book is so cute! I loved the encyclopedia format and Tink’s voice is precocious and hilarious. The book touches on serious topics with a simple honesty that readers will love.

Cold Magic by Kate Elliot
I read a description of this on Tumblr and immediately bought the ebook. I was blown away, y’all. I’ve always said that fantasy can and should include diverse characters but I’d never read any books that did. (Yes, I know. Octavia Butler’s books are on my to-read list.) The world-building deftly incorporates peoples from across Europe and Africa without making people of color seem like exotic tokens or magical negroes.  

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