This week’s wrap-up is going to be shorter than my other ones since I’m supposed to be prepping for a presentation in one of my MLIS courses.
*Fingers crossed 🤞🏿 I do well!*
What did you read last?
Mona At Sea by Elizabeth Gonzalez James
I’m still working through my books from last week. But, by the time you read this, I’ll have finished the last forty minutes of the audiobook from Mona At Sea by Elizabeth Gonzalez James.
If you’re not familiar with this title, check out last week’s #BookishMeme post to hear more about it and other books I received as a Book Sparks Ambassador, or you can click the photo to your left.
So far, I’m enjoying Mona At Sea. I would recommend it for anyone who loves a “coming of age” story and characters who have just enough snark in them to keep you laughing and rethinking how you see the world. Fair warning, though, there are mentions of self-harm and body dysmorphia that can be triggering to some readers if they go into the book unaware.
What are you currently reading?
While I’m super close to finishing Mona At Sea, I’m still trying to stave off residual “slump” feelings. So, all my decisions about reading are still preliminary at best.
Thank you to @BookSparks for the following complimentary titles! I received the books below as an ambassador for the company’s #SRC2021 campaign.
This bookish meme was also inspired by @BlkGirlWithBook. You can visit her on Twitter here.
Happy Friday, book lovers!
The weekend is here, and I hope you all are gearing up for some rest and relaxation.
If you’re like me and had a doozy of a week, you may need a good book and a nice playlist to get you through the weekend.
For me, my playlist is set with Drake’s newest album, Certified Lover Boy, and now, thanks to Book Sparks, so is my TBR List!
I started Mona at Sea by Elizabeth Gonzalez James yesterday while recovering from experiencing some Covid symptoms and am enjoying it so far. It hits different for me as a Millennial who hasn’t made anyone’s “30 under 30” list and went to college during those years immediately following the Recession of 2008. Mona’s snarkiness and biting wit at the way her post-college years is unfolding definitely is relatable to me.
The Marvelous Mirza Girls by Sheba Karim is another book from this list I’m looking forward to this weekend. Karim’s book reads like an episode of the Gilmore Girls set in New Delhi. As you all probably know by now, I adore banter in my books. Add the topic of traveling to that, and you have a perfect contemporary novel for me.
If you’re interested in participating in Book Sparks’ Fall Reading Challenge check their website out for more information here.
What will you be reading or listening to this weekend?
I raved about Aaronovitch’s series two weeks ago in my last WWW Wednesday and have since purchased almost all of the books in the series secondhand.
My top requirement for fantasy novels is that they must have a top-notch cast of characters with loads of personality and a well thought out magical system/world-building. These things make it easier to sit through the chunkers that dominate this genre.
Aaronovitch’s series delivers on all fronts!
From the setting of London to the characters, the author holds no punches (literally in the case of the villain) in this series opener. The book follows probationary constable Peter Grant, who meets the ghost, Mr. Punch, while staking out the scene of a mysteriously gruesome murder on a late-night assignment.
Up until then, Grant has lived an ordinary life up. So, getting thrust into the company of Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving “magic and other manifestations of the uncanny,” is a bit of a shock. What’s more, having dealings with gods and goddesses and the other creatures in Nightingale’s world keeps Grant on his toes.
There’s so much to love in Aaronovitch’s series.
Aaronovitch is one of the few white authors who seems to understand what it means to write characters of color in a way that gives them depth and brings them to life as human beings instead of to being caricatures. In Peter Grant, readers find an amateur detective who all most anyone can relate to if they’ve ever felt set adrift in life while everyone around them is succeeding.
Like most 20-something year old’s, Peter is trying to find his “thing.” Once a great science student, he has a knack for seeing the finer details in situations. Yet, he fails to grasp the bigger picture all too often, leaving him two steps behind the mass murderer who is terrorizing the citizens of London. This is the least of his worries because Father and Mama Thames are at war, and all hell is about to break lose if Grant can’t figure something out.
Even though The Rivers of London series takes place in modern-day London, the addition of magical beings and the supernatural adds a solidelement of world-building to the mix. In this series opener, readers see Aaronovitch setting the stage using elements of world religions, such as the Yoruba’s Orishas and European Paganism, alongside magical spells that blend modern science with the uncanny. These all work well and make it the series’ setting believable that this “version” of London could exist counter to the world that readers may know.
In addition to excellent setting and character development, Aaronovitch’s series has really good dialogue and banter between the characters. This makes it a must for those who love audiobooks. Ghanaian-British actor, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who does a phenomenal job distinguishing each of the characters’ voices in The Rivers of London series.
If you’re a lover of Neil Gaiman or multi-layered books, read this book!
While Zentner’s book has an extensive cast of characters and is rich in background lore about lobster fishing on a Canadian island, it falls short in every other department.
The drama of this novel is set around the Kings’ family, who live and fish for lobster on Loosewood Island. This story is through the eyes of Cordelia, the first female “lobster king” in her family, as she fights to be seen as the legitimate heir to her family’s empire.
Zentner takes his cues from Shakespeare’s King Lear. However, he jumbles so much of the Bard’s original intention in his interpretation that I, as a reader, was left simultaneously under and overwhelmed.
For starters, the author has too many timelines happening at once.
Cordelia, the main character of The Lobster Kings, bounces between being her present-day reality, her tumultuous childhood, a random side plot about an artist who lived on Loosewood Island in the past and who could’ve been one of her distant relatives, and a weird magical realist subplot about selkies. Cordelia’s character is monotonous in her narration. This means that even with things that might have been interesting, like the tortured artist and magical selkies subplots, it all becomes boring.
Even extensive world-building doesn’t save Zentner’s book. Nor does the promise of feuding drug lords and Loosewood’s fishing community.
At times, it feels like Zentner over seasoned The Lobster Kings by trying to be too literal with referencing his source material.
Where Shakespeare understood how to meter out his gloomy and depressing story, Zetner leans too heavily into it and makes a mess. Topics, like death by suicide, death by drowning, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, substance abuse, infidelity, and animal violence, are rife in The Lobster Kings. It eventually got to a point where I found myself wondering what the point of any of this violence was. Furthermore, I wondered why Cordelia would even want to run the fishing empire when it seems to be mired in painful memories for her.
Needless to say, I didn’t love The Lobster Kings, and I can’t say I’d recommend this book at all.
Portrait of A Scotsman is the third in Dunmore’s A League of Extraordinary Women series. I’m currently taking a Women’s Studies course for my Master of Social Work degree, and we’ve gotten to the suffragette period in our module, so this read paired nicely with my lesson.
Dunmore’s book hinges on the “marriage of convenience” trope with two main characters from vastly different social standings who have paired together thanks to a breach in social etiquette. Hattie, a young artistic socialite with dyslexia, finds herself married off to the rich but scrappy Lucian as a tradeoff to help bolster her family’s wealth. Lucian, though rough around the edges, needs an “in” with polite society and settles on marriage to Hattie as a way to get revenge on the rich men who once terrorized his community in his youth.
My favorite romance trope is the marriage of convenience novels, so I’m enjoying Portrait of A Scotsman so far.
I’m also enjoying the YA contemporary romance,I Wanna Be Where You Are. Similar to Dunmore’s book, the idea of “convenience” is present in this road trip-themed book. But, Forest also has elements of the “friend to lover” trope with her romance about Chloe, a teenage ballerina, and Eli, a budding artist, who are trying to beat the clock to get to North Carolina for an audition and college tour before they’re parents notice their gone.
Unfortunately, everything that could go wrong with these warring friends does go wrong. Nevertheless, Forest will keep you turning the page to find out what trouble her young pair and Eli’s dog, Geezer, get into.
What will you read next?
As a mood reader, I can’t say what I’ll read next.
Drop down below and tell me what you’re reading! And like, comment, and subscribe. #AllOfTheThings
Bookish peeps, I hope life and your TBR Lists treat you well as you finish out your week.
It’s been a week since we spoke last, and I’ve got to say that I missed you all.
I hope you’ve all been doing well and enjoying your current reads.
Since we last chatted, I’ve been in a tiny bit of a reading slump. And you know what that means 🤗 television time!
In addition to watching the Paralympics, I’ve been catching up on my Netflix queue. If you’re into academic dramedies, I highly recommend The Chair. For fans of Grey’s Anatomy, Sandra Oh is back as The Chair’s leading lady.
For those of you who haven’t ever seen Oh in action on Grey’s Anatomy as the brillant and fiery Christina Yang, M.D., Ph.D., F.A.C.S, watching it is an excellent way to get over a reading slump. Thanks to the show being just as chaotic and engrossing as any book you’ll find on the market now.
In fact, watching Grey’s Anatomy is how I ended up with todays’ Sunday Chat topic.
What does Grey’s Anatomy have to do with reading?
Grey’s Anatomy is the original show that put Shonda Rhimes on the map in 2005. Afterward, Rhimes made shows like Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder and, now, Bridgeton from her production company Shondaland TV.
On Rhimes’ original show, a group of medical professionals is followed as they go through their workday at Seattle Grace Hospital.
Here, affairs happen. Marriages fall apart. LVAC wires get cut. And, at the end of each season, like clockwork, a huge disaster occurs, and I’m left wondering why nobody ever issues a class-action medical malpractice suit against the doctors at this hospital.
Watching Grey’s Anatomy is a perfect example of how reading has screwed up my ability to be shocked by the plot twist in most storylines.
Do you all ever feel like you’ve read so many books that very little surprises you when you’re reading or watching television?
I’ve been an avid reader for nearly 25 years, and I’ve started to come to the conclusion that very few stories can surprise me now.
Like with Grey’s Anatomy, I’ll be watching a television show or reading a book and instantly start picking out tropes within the first few episodes or pages and guess how it ends. When this happens, it’s rare that I don’t get at least one guess right.
Even though the guessing can be fun, I can’t help but wonder if reading is making me immune to being as engrossed in stories as I once was before I became an avid reader.
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
– Ecclesiastes 1:9
Silly, I know. But, nowadays, I feel as if I’m watching stories appear on loop just with interchangeable characters and settings – I’ll know where the characters are going to end up even if I don’t know how they always get there.
I instantly get excited when I happen upon an author writing from a fresh perspective and telling a story that feels new to me.
If I’m being honest, sometimes I feel like I’m chasing the magic that came about when I first learned to read at this stage in my reading journey. That feeling of wonder that arose from opening a new book and escaping into a fictional world never ceased to amaze me back then.
However, with the vast amounts of retellings, fairytale adaptations, and spins on the same plot points, I miss the joy of being genuinely shocked when I read an original new story, which is why I love fantasy novels and romance books so much. This mostly has to do with the creativity of authors from this genres to get their characters from point A to B while keeping me guessing. Even a simple love story can see an author getting creative to build a connection between their leads.
That being said, while I’ll always love reading, I do get the feeling at times that my hobby has left me feeling like very few things can shock me when it comes to the art of storytelling. But, I love when it does happen.
This week’s vibes are songs I’ve had in my playlist rotation for almost two weeks. The music videos for each song have a “plot twist” I didn’t see coming based on the song. Due to some trigger warnings, I won’t link the videos, though. You can click on the YouTube link to watch when you get a chance.
Songs: “Foreign Things” by Amber Mark & “Questions (feat. Don Jazzy)” by Burna Boy
The theme for this week’s mini review wrap-up is foody books and characters who cook.
Books about characters who cook are my all-time favorite type of reads. Coming from a family that enjoys food and trying new recipes, reading about characters that share this passion is always enjoyable.
Food is not only an extension of one’s culture, but it also gives the authors the ability to express a character’s identity and to have them work through complex topics without weighing their book down too much.
A Pho LoveStory
For example, Loan Le does a great job expressing his characters’ desires and showing the tension between the rival families in A Pho LoveStory through the Vietnamese culture.
Bao Nguyen and Linh Mai are teenagers whose parents both run rival pho restaurants on the same street that are struggling. Both characters are set to graduate from high school soon and struggle to figure out their lives’ path.
Bao is unsure what his “thing” is and worries that time is running out to figure his next step out. On the other hand, Linh loves art and secretly dreams of being an artist like her aunt. However, she gets her dreams crushed trying to live up to the expectations of her parents, who immigrated to the U.S. during the Vietnam War. It’s not until the pair are sent on assignment for their school’s newspaper to review local restaurants that they can realize their individual dreams, sort out their feelings for each other, and unearth why their parents hate each other so much.
Initially, I went into this book expecting a Vietnamese Romeo & Juliet. However, the story hinges less on being a romance built around teenager angst and instead hinges upon the theme of self-discovery and combating the expectations of being born a first-generation child to parents who have migrated from another country. Through Le’s description of the food, readers can see the Ngyuens and Mais’ pride in their food preparation. Each family honors the pho dish in their preparation and its role in their immigration tale.
My favorite part of the story is the “reconnaissance missions” Bao’s father takes the family to collect intel on other restaurants in the area. In these scenes, Le pays particular attention to detail for how Bao’s father studies the menu, orders their meal, and then evaluates each dish. Le also shows Linh’s parents meticulously preparing to leave for work at their restaurants in detail each night, which shows how labor-intensive the food service industry is. These scenes also show how the Ngyuens and Mais take the utmost pride in their dishes and ability to use their cultural dishes to provide for their children.
If you’re a foodie and love hearing about family secrets and food preparation, read this book! However, have a snack next to you. Le’s descriptions of food in this book were so descriptive and lush that I found myself getting hungry just listening to the audiobook.
The same advice goes for Zea Kemp’s book, Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet; snacks are a must!
Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet
Where Le’s story is PG/PG-13, Zea Kemp’s book is a bit more mature since it deals with mental illness, self-harm, abandonment, and violence.
Zea Kemp’s book revolves around Penelope Prado and Xander Amaro, who are young adults of Mexican heritage working at Penelope’s father’s restaurant, Nacho’s Tacos. Penelope dreams of working with her father to improve their family restaurant’s menu. Her father, however, has other dreams for her. To him and his wife, having a a college-educated daughter is much more important. So, when they learn that Penelope has been lying about being registered for nursing school and attending classes, they flip, and Penelope is pushed out on her own to discover her dreams.
As for Xander, he dreams of having someone like Penelope’s parents to dote on him and look after him. Abandoned by his father as a child in Mexico, Xander was forced to make the trek to America on his own. He now lives with his paternal grandfather and secretly longs to know what became of his father all those years ago when he left Xander and his mom behind to immigrate to America. For Xander, as an undocumented immigrant, working at Nacho’s is one of the few times where he feels as if he is a part of a loving family and not going it alone. Unfortunately, for Penelope and Xander, things take a turn for the worse when Nacho’s is threatened by the local loan shark.
Like Le, Zea Kemp uses food in her novel to show the depths of community and tradition in her story and build Nacho’s Tacos into a community staple.
Nacho’s provide a meal and protection for its community and acts as a source of comfort and family for Penelope, Xander, and other characters. In this way, Zea Kemp does a good job of tending to her novel’s setting and building it into its own character that compliments Penelope and Xander’s desires without having the happenings of the restaurant overshadow these two characters’ development.
For instance, Penelope’s love for cooking and baking is strong because she uses this hobby as a lifeline when she experiences mental health issues. Zea Kemp’s positioning of Penelope in the restaurant reveals her character traits little by little. Here, readers will get to see Penelope explore the question of what happens when your proximity to community changes and your only coping mechanism/safe space is torn away from you.
On the other hand, Xander is forced into understanding how to build community ties for the first time in his life after being abandoned for so long. His growth as a character hinges on learning how to embrace a new way of life as he becomes a part of the restaurant family and finds his place in his new community.
While A Pho Love Story is a somewhat sweet and simple YA novel with some family drama thrown in, Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet is a novel that feels very “New Adult” without the possessive love story. Penelope and Xander do have a sweet romance that gradually builds, but it is not the main point of the story. Instead, finding and holding onto community is at the center of Zea Kemp’s book. Be warned, though, this novel deals with several difficult topics, such as depression, self-harm, anxiety, loss of a parent, and police brutality, amongst other things. Due to this, I’d say read it at your own peril.
What are you currently reading?
Just like last week, I’m still reading the poetry collection, The Age of Phyllis, for the #SealeyChallenge and the novel, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, both of which are by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. If you haven’t already picked up Jeffers’ novel, it came out yesterday. I would definitely recommend picking up a copy!
I’ve also been reading are Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin.
I previously reviewed Jalaluddin’s 2018 book, Ayesha at Last, as one of my top books of 2020, and Hana Khan Carries On is right up there with its hijinks and laugh-out-loud moments. Jaluddin’s writing is fun to read because she gives readers an eye to Muslim culture without having her books feel like “guidebooks” on Muslim living. Instead, these characters just exist and struggle to find love, job fulfilment, and keep their families together just like everyone else around them.
Hana, for example, is a woman who wants to break into broadcast journalism while also helping her mom and sister who run the restaurant, Three Sisters Biryani Poutine. As a hobby, Hana runs a podcast while also working at the local radio station and fighting off a shiesty coworker and a white feminist boss who’s fluent in microaggressions in the workplace.
The one bright spot is that Hana has a mystery listener who she chats within the comment section and occasionally flirts with. Things change when she seeks the mystery guy’s help in finding the approaching opening of a rival Halal restaurant owned by the infuriating Aydin and his cranky father.
I highly recommend Jalludin’s novel.
What will you read next?
Of course, you all already know that I’m a mood reader, so I don’t have a clue what I’ll read next. More than likely, I will be continuing Jeffers and Jalludin’s novels and trying to finish She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chen.
If you all have any recommendations, drop them in the comment section or just tell me what you’re currently reading!
Don’t forget to like, comment, share, and subscribe! #AllTheThings
This week has been a slow reading week for me. I finished Stardust by Neil Gaiman and will have a book review and movie review up soon.
I also got the chance to read Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim, We AreInevitable by Gayle Forman, and Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean.
Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim
As a lover of mythology and fairytales, Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim was a book I enjoyed. Playing off East Asian folklore and TheSix Swans by the Grimm Brothers, Lim’s story feels familiar and deliciously fresh at the same time.
In this novel, readers are introduced to Shiori’anma, or Shiori for short, the only princess of Kiata, as she tries to hide her forbidden magic from her family and stave off an unwanted marriage to a rival nation’s prince. Things do not go according to plan, and Shiori finds herself cursed and banished from her kingdom by her evil stepmother, Raikama, along with her six older brothers who Raikama turns into cranes. Cursed to hide her face and not speak of the Raikama’s curse less one of her brothers dies as punishment, Shiori finds herself finding solace and help from the last place she ever wanted to be.
Lim’s novel had all the magic of a Disney Princess film mixed with the danger of your classic fairytale, and I loved every second of it.
Shiori is a princess who is comfortable using her wits to solve her problems once the comforts of being a “princess” is stripped from her. This is important because Shiori’s brothers are stuck in crane form doing the day and are basically rendered useless in helping her break the curse. So, Shiori is left to do the heavy lifting for much of the story.
What I love most about this book is that Lim does an excellent job of building Shiori’s character up from a naïve girl who only wishes to shirk a marriage to a young woman who is willing to risk life and limb to rescue her family. The author also paces her story to the point where it really does feel as if I’m watching the sequence of events play out in long form as Shiori and her brothers become separated, travel to new lands together and apart, and ultimately have their fates decided based on what they are willing to risk for one another.
My one gripe with this book is that the reveal for the villain felt as if it was being drawn out for too long. Lim did manage to surprise me in who was behind the shenanigans. However, it felt like she hid it within a set of nesting dolls, and by the time it was revealed, I was feeling pretty “meh” about that particular plot point.
If you love this book, I’d suggest reading Stepsister and Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelley. Both these books offer a similar approach to breaking down fairytale as folklore as Lim does in Six Crimson Cranes and will be enjoyed by adults and children alike.
We AreInevitable by Gayle Forman
My next read bought me careening back into the real world.
In her newest book, We AreInevitable, Gayle Forman presents us with the story of Aaron Stein, a curmudgeon teenage bookseller who is trying to offload his sinking family’s bookstore. Plagued by crippling debt, Aaron is convinced that selling is his only option to help his family move on with their lives after the death of his brother, Sandy, who was addicted to drugs. The only issue is the townsfolk won’t let him and the bookstore move on in peace.
Where We AreInevitable most shines is Forman’s use of dialogue and banter. As a lover of the Gilmore Girls tv show, I love when an author has their characters consistently keep a conversation going about the mundane while also revealing character development and making me laugh. The delivery of the characters’ banter in especially well done in audiobook form, thanks to Sunil Malhotra, the audio narrator. Malhotra nails all the accents and does a wonderful job making sure listeners can differentiate between who is speaking.
I also appreciated that Forman was inclusive in her cast of characters and included individuals who were differently-abled and living with addiction. When speaking about these two topics, Forman handled each character she battled these issues with care. Never did these storylines feel preachy or overwritten. Instead, they seamlessly fit into the story Forman set out to tell in We AreInevitable.
The downside of this book, though, is if you are a person who struggles with addiction, has lost anyone to drug overdoses, or find either of these topics to be too sensitive, We AreInevitable may not be the book for you.
Due to this, I highly suggest reading Forman’s novel at your own pace.
If you’re like me and were an avid Princess Diariesreader, you’re going to la-ove Jean’s series.
Like the renowned series by Meg Cabot, the first book in Jean’s series follows Izumi Tanaka, a normal California teenager, as she finds out that she is the daughter of the Crown Prince of Japan. Raised by a single mother and believing herself to be hopelessly “average,” Izumi flounders as she finds herself learning that she is a long-lost princess and entering into a forbidden romance.
Jean’s book tackles issues like the class divide, not feeling “Asian” or “American” enough, and the mental strain of experiencing microaggressions and racism growing up.
Like Mia Thermopolis in the 00s, Izumi is a character that feels authentic to Gen Z. Her reliance on technology, the way she speaks to her friends, and attempts to fit in with her Japanese family by Googling helpful “tips” to blend into her royal life, and approach to this new lifestyle was very on the nose for how I expected a teenager to act when finding out they’re royalty. In addition to this, Jean also makes Izumi relatable to readers of all ages in her simple desire to be accepted by her father.
Needless to say, I’m eagerly awaiting the next book in Jean’s series.
What are you currently reading?
I am still reading The Age of Phyllis for the #SealeyChallenge and The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, both of which are by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers.
Jeffers’ novel, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, will be out next Tuesday, August 24. Don’t forget to pre-order your copy!
I’m also trying to finish She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chen. This epic is described as “Mulan meets The Song of Achilles.” So far, I’m having a tough time getting into this book. Mulan is one of my favorite stories. However, the repetitive usage of the theme of “nothingness” when referencing the main character, Zhu, who is the forgotten daughter of her family, is repetitive and causing me to want to find the cliff notes for the story.
If I finish Parker-Chen’s novel, I will report back with my thoughts by doing at least a miniature review in a future WWW Wednesday post.
What will you read next?
As a mood reader, I can’t honestly tell you what I Mini #BookReviewsam going to read next since I just like to pick up a book and start reading.
If you all have any recommendations, I’m all ears!
Drop your current reads down below in the comments.
And if you can, Like, Comment, and Subscribe. #AllTheThings
In Fruit of The Lemon by Andrea Levy, the author describes the journey of self-discovery her character, Faith, takes to craft her identity as a British-born Jamaican while learning about her family’s heritage.
As a first-generation child of Jamaican immigrants, Faith is set adrift between her life in Britain & her family’s Jamaican cultural heritage. Surrounded by White friends & flatmates, Faith is the victim of casual racism & constant humiliation at her peers’ hands.
Faith’s parents & brother, on the other hand, treat her as an anomaly. To her parents, she is rudderless with no understanding of her Jamaican heritage. Yet, neither parent will tell her what she needs to know to grow closer to the country they love so dearly. Faith’s brother sees her as disconnected from her roots & writes her off as a “lost cause,” as he finds his footing in between the hyphen as a British Jamaican. It is not until a trip to the “Motherland” that Faith begins to craft an identity for herself.
What I most enjoyed about Levy’s story is that it is a character-driven story. In Faith, Levy explores the nuanced feelings of being set between cultures and being made to choose which one you will embrace when you are the child of immigrants who raise you to be fit for all the opportunities they never had and distant from their homeland. This depiction of life “in between the hyphen” feels akin to real life.
Because of this angle, though, Levy’s exploration of Faith’s character climaxes when she finally gets Faith on Jamaican soil. The glimpses readers get of Faith’s interaction with her Jamaican family are fascinating. However, by the end of the novel, there is no sense that Faith had gotten any better at understanding who she is than when she first started off in Jamaica. When this section is held up against the section in London where Faith is mercilessly tortured at the hands of her White boss and friends experiencing continuous microaggressions, Levy’s work feels unfinished.
I will say, though, that Levy’s choice to explore the “hyphenated identity” of her character is something that any BIPOC person can understand regardless of their country or their economic class.
This is because we all eventually go through some metamorphosis that moves us further away from our ancestral “home base,” be it through our economic status or geographical location. And due to this change, we often face scrutiny within our community or outside forces, who either see us as pretenders or as phony in how we present ourselves once we are removed from that home base.
Therefore, it’s easy to understand the struggles Faith faces as she battles intergenerational trauma, colonization, & casual racism to become self-actualized.
Fruit of the Lemon is a book everyone needs to read at least once!
If you enjoy it, I’d suggest reading Andrea Levy’s whole catalog. So far, I’ve started reading Every Light in the House Burnin’ and Small Island. Both are really good books and show the depth of Levy’s writing and exploration of characters.
If you’re a lover of short stories, Levy’s short story collection, Six Stories and An Essay, is masterful. The way Levy handles her subjects and shows the difference in her characters’ socioeconomic background with just a simple sentence or detail is something I admire. It reminds me of Alice Walker’s collection, In Love & Trouble: Stories of Black Women, and the way Walker only needed a few lines to tell such a detailed story.
Have you all read Fruit of the Lemon or any of Levy’s other books? Let me know in the comment below!
What type of books do you read when you need to de-stress?
When I need a break from “heavy books,” romance is one of my go-to genres.
In between my Spring finals, I finished The Brown Sisters series by Talia Hibbert, and it left me with some thoughts…
Hibbert has penned one of the hottest interracial romance series of the last three years, with each of her titles following one of the Brown sisters.
Chloe, Dani, and Eve Brown are all representative of individuals who are neurodiverse or who have mental health issues they are living with. The sisters’ love interest also share these diagnosis, allowing readers who are seeking diverse representation for differently-abled characters to find themselves in between Hibbert’s pages.
However, where Hibbert’s books fell short for me is that they felt devoid of any cultural indicators for all of the characters.
Now, yes, each book does have a sentence dedicated in each book to let us know that Brown’s matriarch has some Jamaican ancestry a few generations back.
And, yes, the middle sister, Danika (Dani for short), does get a love interest of ambiguous Middle Eastern descent.
But, just like I mentioned in my review of Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender, I can’t help but feel as if Hibbert uses the same method of turning her Black and Brown characters into caricatures as Callendar does in their book as a means of ticking off the diversity box.
I say this because not one of the Brown sisters feels as if they were written with depth to their characters.
Instead, it felt as if all of the sisters were written by Hibbert for her readers to have a “fill in the blank” experience where that person could scribe themselves onto the sisters when it was time for the “steamy” scenes to jump off. While this approach could be a plus short-term, it irritated me and made me disconnect from the books halfway through each story, with the exception of Take a Hint, Dani Brown.
The one saving grace with Dani’s story is that Dani and her love interest, Zafir, were given exciting and fully fleshed-out backstories that were revealed early on, and this kept me interested. Eve and Chloe’s story felt fragmented, and the constant anticipation of an “angsty” reveal for these sisters and their love interests left me drained. And by the time the big “payoff” was finally revealed, I was just ready to throw the whole audiobook away.
Speaking of which, even though I love the narrator of Dani and Eve’s books, Ione Butler, the audio narrator for Get a Life, Chloe Brown, Adjoa Andoh, was not my favorite.
Andoh’s narration made Chloe read as if she was someone’s nan out on a bucket list adventure trying to get laid. This could’ve worked if Chloe’s character was meant to be a woman well into her sixties. However, Hibbert wrote Chloe to be in her mid-thirties, which made listening to Andoh’s interpretation of Chloe’s voice taxing on my nerves.
At one point, this audio narration made me put Chloe’s book down for almost six months and didn’t pick it up again until the final books in the series were out. This was actually helpful for me as a reader because I got to read all the books in rapid succession.
These close readings led me to the conclusion that while Hibbert’s books are great for their showing of differently-abled and neurodiverse characters (Eve and Chloe’s characters are especially excellent in this regard), they don’t have fleshed out backstories for characters. Nor do they show a complete showing of the Brown sisters’ racial background.
This leaves the Brown sisters in limbo as characters and makes this series little more than a trumped-up sex fantasy for readers. This would be fine if Hibbert was simply writing fan fiction. However, Hibbert’s series is a bestseller in the romance genre and constantly pushed forward as the contemporary Black authored series, which carries weight in terms of representation.
Not to mention, the Brown sisters are Black women living in the UK dating outside their race. Yet, the question of race is never even broached. Adding insult to injury, the sisters never even come into contact with any other Black people besides their families throughout the series, which is extremely peculiar to me.
Heck, the Brown sisters don’t ever even really discuss anything minor, like their hair texture in a frivolous scene where they wake up with bed head or have their partners ask about touching when they’re getting intimate. They instead focus only on agonizing over their disabilities and sexualities.
As much as these two identities are important, it just strikes me as odd that at no point in this series does Hibbert show Chloe, Dani, or Eve’s race intersecting with how their mental health or neurodiverse diagnosis and sexuality. The author instead glosses over race by writing the Brown sisters as being super wealthy and trust fund babies that want for nothing and live in an effective bubble of family and money. I again found this to be super unrealistic and weird, but okay.
I want to be clear, though, the insertion of a conversation about race doesn’t have to be in depth on Hibbert’s part for the Brown Sisters series or any of her other books. But, it would definitely be nice and normal to see how these characters exist as Black women in their everyday lives. After all, I don’t think every Black, Indigenous, or person of color (BIPOC) in literature has to be a martyr. However, some acknowledgment of their identity is preferable to them never addressing the racial elephant in the room and being used as blank slates for readers to scribe themselves onto when reading a romance novel.
I digress, though…
If you’re interested in reading books that are just as steamy as Hibbert’s books and just as careful with neurodiverse representation, I’d recommend reading The Kiss Quotient series by Helen Hoang.
Only two books in the series are out, which are The Kiss Quotient and my personal favorite, The Bride Test.
Like Hibbert, Hoang is an #OwnVoices author who writes characters who are neurodiverse. Hoang’s handling of characters on the spectrum is perfect because she, like Hibbert, is a part of this community. Hoang shows these characters as humans and does not allow her characters to be pitied.
Each of Hoang’s stories is infused with information about the Vietnamese culture, which the Diep brothers and their cousin, Michael Phan, who are all the love interest in this series, are each from. Learning about this culture and having characters openly talk about their cultures for more than one sentence was a welcomed change when reading this series from what I experienced reading The Brown sister series since it made the characters and their struggles more real.
I turned thirty this Fall, and I felt super reflective. This milestone made me think about some of my favorite reads and songs that got me through my 20s.
Borders used to be my go-to spot on the weekend when I was at Howard University. Whenever I went to the bookstore, I would get either a Virginia DeBerry & Donna Grant or Pearl Cleage book to get me through the week to read.
Before there was an online reading community to turn to for recommendations, I stayed in that one stack designated for “African-American” books in Borders, Barnes & Nobles, and Books-A-Million. Before there was an online reading community to turn to for recommendations, I stayed in that one stack designated for “African-American” books in Borders, Barnes & Nobles, and Books-A-Million. Here is where I found DeBerry & Grant and Cleage’s books. By the time I was a junior in college, I’d read these three authors’ catalogs cover to cover and was hungry for more.
If you’re a lover of Bernice McFadden books, check out DeBerry & Grant’s books. Far From the Tree is If you’re a lover of Bernice McFadden’s books, check out DeBerry & Grant’s books. Far From the Tree is my favorite from DeBerry & Grant. This book is about “sisterhood, family secrets, and the ties that bind.” Cleage writes about two sisters who inherit a house in Prosper, North Carolina. While figuring out what to do with the house, they begin to come to terms with their tangled relationship with each other and their parents.
Babylon Sisters is for readers that enjoy mysteries and doing deep dive into Southern Black culture. Cleage’s writing exists within a specific universe/neighborhood called “Wed End” that she created in Atlanta, Georgia. Babylon Sisters is the second book in the West End series where the author tackles everything from crime in the Black community, gender roles, and other social justice topics using these really intricate character studies. They’re so good because they remind me of Walter Mosley‘s books and a touch of Black Futurism type reads where characters use Black Spirituality to draw conclusions and carry out tasks.
You have to read these books to know what I’m talking about.
My first stint in graduate school for my Masters in Literary and Cultural Studies allowed me to go more in-depth, learning about African and Caribbean Literature and reading classics from the African-American canon I’d never been introduced to in high school. I read books, like Changes: A Love Story by Ama Ata Aidoo and Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid, in my Globalism and Transnationalism course and did an individual study of Sam Greenlee’s Blaxploitation classic, The Spook Who Sat By the Door, for my final project. But, most importantly, this was the first time I found myself delving deep into a book when I wrote my entrance paper on The Blacker the Berryby Wallace Thurman.
During this time, I felt super isolated since I was the only Black person in my program and felt behind since I was going into the program as a Psychology student. This lead me to constantly fall behind in my reading and constantly feel disconnected while I was in the program.
The one thing that I loved about the program was taking courses with my favorite professor at the time, whose specialty was Postcolonial Studies. In her class, it was the only time I felt myself coming alive and being excited to read.
My favorite book that I studied during that year was Aidoo’s book, where I got to look at feminism and woman’s rights from the perspective of Ghanaian Literature. Getting to see how Aidoo used Changes: A Love Story to talk about intimate relationships and gender roles through the lens of another culture from the Diaspora were eye-opening and made me curious about African Literature.
Reading Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid was one of the first times I felt myself becoming possessive of a character. I remember one instance where I ended up verbally sparring with my classmates about Lucy’s character and her choices in contrast to her white employer. Having to defend Lucy’s character against my classmate’s ire was one of the first times I found myself experiencing the fact that I, as a Black woman, experience life and literature differently than my white peers.
If I could give anyone advice to someone in their 20s who has the means, I would say to try and get out of your comfort zone and travel to new places. If you can, travel and travel widely.
Throughout my time in school, I’ve had the chance to travel to three locations to study abroad as student. As an undergraduate, I went to Florence, Italy and London, England to study film and literature for a semester as a junior and senior. During my graduate education, I spent the summer learning about social work practices and social justice issues in Prague, Czech Republic.
My favorite experience by far is the Fall semester I spent as a senior in London. During this semester, I read Zadie Smith for the first time and Nella Larsen, which my best friend introduced me to when we were Sophomores by gifting me a copy of her novels, Passing&Quicksand.
Going to London was amazing because I got to experience theatre and literature almost every day in a way where it was integrated into my studies and curriculum. In our courses, we’d follow the paths of literary greats’ journeys throughout the city and connect them to our interests. My semester in London was the first time I ever got to see an August Wilson play performed live or saw a Shakespeare play with colorblind casting. Experiencing these types of art after having spent almost two years at a PWI where I rarely read any literature from the African Diaspora was refreshing.
You know when we talk about older generations living through technology shifts and how seeing all those tech innovations must have affected them in their lifetimes? I was randomly thinking about this and how by the time I was in college, social media was embedded into our global culture and a part of our daily lives to the point it was becoming taught in certain curriculums.
Technology affected my life in many ways, but I’ve seen the greatest impact on my reading. In college, I was an avid YouTube watcher. I would usually spend my nights watching YouTube videos instead of doing homework or as entertainment in college and graduate school, and this lead me to join BookTube in 2011.
During that brief stint as a content creator on YouTube, I realize how many genres I’d neglected as a reader from watching other bibliophiles across the world. This time period lead me to delve deeper into reading theory books I’d just started hearing about in graduate school. It also made me read more diversely and intentionally.
The first theory book I’d ever tackled on my own was Black Skin White Masks by Frantz Fanon. This was a book I read chapter by chapter in the library. I was so proud of myself because I remember having to go over each line annotating Fanon’s words with my dictionary and Google search tab open to guide my way. Finishing this text made me feel super confident as a reader. Through posting about Fanon’s book in 2015-ish, I connected with my current reading group, with who I read Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. From there, I’ve read a lot of other theory books, with the above two being my favorites, along with On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder.
Readers, what’s your favorite books that you’ve read over the last ten years?