Happy Wednesday from my little corner of the Book-O-Sphere, bookish peeps!
Today’s WWW Wednesday is a special one thanks to the kind people at Little, Brown And Company and Hear Our Voices. Thank both parties for the gifted e-ARC of The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander I’ll be talking about today!
Using Kofi Offin, an 11-year-old boy from Upper Kwanta, Alexander gives readers a chance to get a different perspective of what life could have been like for a young child in pre-colonial Africa. Readers will see Kofi be faced with learning about his family and village’s history, pursuing his love of swimming, and duking it out with his arrogant cousin, who is his age mate.
What made me love The Door of No Return is that Alexander starts his story with the understanding that people of the African Diaspora lived full and rich lives that did not originally cater to the white gaze. Kofi and his family are shown in their fullness and given agency over their stories without the story becoming voyeuristic.
This was something I appreciated as an empath because the history of those who were forced through a trading post on the Gold Coast before making the violent journey through the Middle Passage is always told in a way that centers whiteness. These gruesome stories almost read as if the authors want their readers to take pleasure in the disturbing details. However, Alexander handles Kofi’s story with care and humanizes this young boy and his village for readers.
If you are a reader who enjoys middle-grade fiction and is seeking a good place for yourself or your child to learn about the Middle Passage, I would highly recommend The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander. It also would pair nicely with a viewing of Viola Davis’ new film, The Woman King. The Door of No Return is also a part of a trilogy that Alexander will continue in the coming year.
Click below for an exclusive audio snippet of The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander to hear more from Alexander!
What are you currently reading?
I am currently reading Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry by Joya Goffney. Goffney’s book follows Quinn, a high school senior, who loses her prized journal of list and is blackmailed into completing her secret bucket list before her masked antagonizer exposes her secret to the school. Quinn faces everything from racism to reveling in her Blackness to coping with her grandmother’s dementia. Through it all, Goffney highlights the aspects of community and family life that make for a good and realistic Young Adult novel.
What will you read next?
As always, I’m a mood reader, so I cannot tell you what I’ll be reading next. But, if you have any suggestions, leave them below!
Thank you to Penguin Random House Audio for the Advance Listening Copy (ALC) of 30 Things I Love About Myself by Radhika Sanghani and LibroFM for my ALC of Mika in Real Life by Emiko Jean.
My first reads were Mika in Real Life by Emiko Jean and 30 Things I Love About Myself by Radhika Sanghani. Each of these books focused on having the characters develop self-love and self-awareness by being radically honest with themselves and others.
For Emiko Jean’s character, Mika, a thirty-five year old, first-generation Japanese wannabe artist, her journey to self-awareness and radical self-love has many pitstops. These pitstops include finding her long-lost daughter, Penny, and masquerading as an established artist to impress said daughter. Throughout Jean’s novel, Mika quickly learns that every lie costs. To dismantle her castle of lies, Mika will have to confront her traumatic past and overcome generational curses.
If you are a reader who enjoys character exploration and aren’t afraid of sitting inside uncomfortable situations with a character, Mika in Real Life will be a novel you enjoy. The writing in this book is crisp and the characters are realistic when it comes to tackling issues, such as adoption and sexual trauma.
There are moments when the book feels as if Jean is stretching reality to its limits with how a character may react to a situation (cough cough…Mika’s plan to build a life so swiftly once she reconnects with Penny…cough cough). But, if the reader suspends reality, things like this silly plan can be overcome. For more empathic and sensitive readers, I would suggest being aware that Jean’s book tackles issues, such as sexual trauma, adoption, the death of a parent, and depression.
If you’re looking for similar themes, but delivered in a lighter vein, I would suggest reading 30 Things I Love About Myselfby Radhika Sanghani. I laughed out loud and snorted throughout reading this book.
While Jean and Sanghani both are writing about thirty-something women whose lives have fallen apart, Sanghani leans into the mess and plays up her character’s, Nina Mistry’s mishaps to sell readers on the absurdity of the self-help industrial complex.
Nina Mistry is a mess and she knows it! When she’s “gifted” a self-help book called, How to Fix Your Shitty Life by Loving Yourself by the police officer who’s guarding her in jail after her arrest at a protest the night before her thirtieth birthday, she sees it as fate. Nina quickly becomes obsessed with changing her life and those around her for the better. Her schemes involve discovering a newfound love of yoga and embracing her Indian heritage by calling out all that’s wrong with the racist world she lives in.
Simple, right? Yes and no.
Even though Sanghani’s character is earnest and open to whatever the world may throw her way, Nina is also heavy-handed in executing her radical self-love journey for maximum impact. This means readers see her trying to “eat, pray, love” her way to self-awareness with hilarious results. This book is tailor-made for lovers of books (and movies), like Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding.
I enjoyed this book for many of the same reasons that I adored Jean’s novel. But, the one thing I did find a little off-putting was how severe mental health issues, such as depression and talk of suicide, were handled. While Jean frames her story as a dramedy with a heavy emphasis on the drama, Sanghani’s choice to lean into the comedic part of her narrative makes it hard to pivot to talk about these serious topics and give them the necessary space. This causes readers to be thrown from laughing at Nina’s antics into careening into a scene where Nina is dealing with her father’s suicide and the depression of her brother. Because of these quick turns, I would suggest readers who are empathic or not ready to deal with these topics be aware before reading.
What are you currently reading?/ What will you read next?
Since it’s the start of the semester, I have nothing on my TBR just yet.
If you all have any suggestions, I would love to hear them in the comments below.
I hope you all have a wonderful week until we meet again!
Happy Wednesday from my little corner of the Book-o-sphere!
It’s been a while since I did a WWW Wednesday. But, I wanted to check in with you all about some amazing reads I was introduced to over the summer by Simon & Schuster for their #BlackLoveSummer campaign and hear about the books you all have been reading this season!
Thank you to Simon & Schuster for the gifted books I’ll be talking about below!
As a full-time student who also works and takes care of family, reading these days is a privilege and allows me to have a “woo-sahhh” moment. So, I’m always geeked to find books I can relate to and become engrossed in. Simon & Schuster delivered on both fronts!
Good Morning, Love follows Carlisa “Carli” Henton, a musician and songwriter who wants to follow in her father’s footsteps to become a musician, but on her own terms. By day Carli battles it out as a junior account manager at a media company in New York City and uses her free time to write songs with her friends in hopes of creating a hit. She crosses paths with Tau Anderson, one of the music industry’s rising R&B stars, and the pair’s world collides professionally and romantically.
Coleman’s novel is perfect for readers who enjoy seeing what happens behind the glitz and glam of the music industry. The author’s characters are fully fleshed out and make you root for them even when you know lines are being blurred.
For instance, as a junior account manager and woman in the industry, Carli sets strict boundaries on how she interacts with men. Upon meeting Tau, these lines are blurred, and Carli is placed in a precarious position as they bond over their shared interest and the music Carli hopes to one day create. For readers who have had to make tough decisions about their career as a woman or minority in their field while trying to navigate the ranks, Good Morning, Love will have moments where you may be able to point out similarities in your live to Carli’s and commiserate with the choices she has to make.
My absolute favorite part of the novel, though, is the atmospheric moments in the narrative where Coleman uses her words to transport readers into the spaces Carli inhabits, be it a club setting or transporting readers into the music Carli is making. This is where Good Morning, Love shines.
I would highly suggest this book to anyone who loves music and stories that have a gradual slow-burn romance that characters build throughout the story. This film felt like it would pair well with a viewing of the film Brown Sugar, which is a love letter to the creation of hip hop and follows two friends as they grow up to work in the music industry and gradually realize their love for one another.
LaDelle’s novel follows two high schoolers, Dani Ford and Prince Jones, as they attempt to fall in love and conquer their senior year. Dani is slow to trust after being burned by love and losing her passion for love. Prince is sure he’s found “the one” in Dani and is more than willing to show her why he’s the perfect man for her. The only thing holding him back is that he’s trying to juggle being a caretaker for his mom, who has multiple sclerosis and acting as a father figure to his younger brother, Mook. Using his spot as a DJ and Detroit’s own “love guru,” Prince attempts to shoot his shot with Dani and show her how to believe in love and herself once again.
Love Radio is just what the doctor ordered for readers who love a solid romance novel with tropes, like love contracts, slow-burn romances, and a character who’s good at giving love advice but horrible at love.
LaDelle does a great job of crafting characters in Love Radio who are easy to root for. With Prince’s love of love and music and Dani’s beautiful prose when she references her favorite Black authors, LaDelle’s ability to build characters that are complex and believable shines through. However, my critique is that Prince and Dani feel as if they belong on a college campus instead of in high school. This is especially obvious in the scenes where Dani’s sexual assault trauma is discussed. While this isn’t a total weakness, if Love Radio is ever adapted for tv or film, I would love for this characterization and setting change to be played to make the novel’s action more believable.
As a Detroiter, I can say that LaDelle’s love for our shared hometown shines through with all the hidden Easter eggs she places in her book that only a fellow Detroiter would recognize. From drinking Vernor’s instead of ginger ale to skating at the Northland skating rink and trips to the Motown Museum, LaDelle hits a sweet spot for why the D is a special place to grow up and experience.
Besides a shared love of our hometown, my favorite part of LaDelle and Coleman’s books has to be the musical references. Check out this playlist to hear what soundtracks were playing as each artist wrote their books.
What are you currently reading?
I recently finished The Sandman on Netflix and instantly went looking for the graphic novel series. Originally written by Neil Gaiman and totaling more than 80 individual comics, this dark fantasy series blends mythology with horror and traditional DC comics to tell the story of Dream/Morpheus. This mythical character was imprisoned by humans for over 70 years and must go on a quest to get his Kingdom and treasures back from those who have stolen them from him.
The Netflix show ranks in my top three shows of summer, followed by Hulu’s The Bear and Starz’s P-Valley. The Bear is a dramedy about a mom-and-pop sandwich shop in Philadelphia and the cooking staff who works there. P-Valley is a Southern drama that does a deep dive into the inner workings of the cast of a strip club called The Pynk. Placed in the down-and-out town of Chucalisa, Mississippi, the cast constantly tries to claw their way up from the bottom to survive gentrification, the Rona, and life in general.
I binge-watched these shows and Coleman and LaDelle’s books for the two weeks I got for Summer Break.
Emezi tells the story of Feyi Adekola, an artist who is trying to recover from losing the love of her life as she finds love again. Granted a luxury trip to a tropical island where she starts a romance with a new man, Feyi is hopeful that she can “release the past and honor her grief” to gain a second chance at love. But, she must first contend with a third party who is possibly sabotaging her new love. I have the audiobook of You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty ready for when I need a break from school.
For January, I started rereading Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series and then moved on to one of my favorite “coming of age” books from high school called Big Girls Don’t Cry by Connie Briscoe.
Meyer’s books have been a slight disappointment in my reread. However, I did find that reading the books in audiobook format helped bring Meyer’s characters alive more. Rebecca Soler is the audionarrator for the Lunar Chronicles series, and she does a phenomenal job with accents and distinguishing the characters’ voices from each other. Soler’s narration also helped drive home how close Meyer’s books are to the original Grimm fairytales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood (Little Red Cap), Snow White (Little Snow White), and Sleeping Beauty (Little Briar Rose).
Honestly, if it weren’t for Soler’s performance, I probably would’ve tabled my reread of Meyer’s series by now. With Soler’s narration, though, things that irked me in my original review were made less egregious (e.g., Scarlet and Wolf’s love story). Unfortunately, Meyer’s series is still trope heavy in this second reading and has a firm spot in my “started with a bang and ended in a whimper” book pile. If you’re not a hardcore YA lover or into fairytale retellings, you may want to pass this series up.
Thankfully, Big Girls Don’t Cry by Connie Briscoe was a reread that I enjoyed. Briscoe covers Black girlhood in all its imperfect and confusing glory through the story of Naomi Jefferson, who is growing up during the ‘60s. Readers get to see Naomi struggle with growing pains along with seeing how her character is impacted by the death of Martin Luther King Jr., colorism, heartbreak, gender discrimination in the workplace, and the loss of a loved one as she grows into adulthood.
For lovers of Black urban cult classics, such as Flyy Girlby Omar Tyree and The Coldest Winter Ever by Sista Souljah, you’ll enjoy getting to know Naomi. I was happy to see that my rereading of Briscoe’s held against time. Briscoe places a lot of focus on Naomi’s career ambitions and gives space for readers to see Naomi fail and work through her reservations with working in corporate America and being “Black in America.” The only thing I would change is the development of Naomi’s love interests. If you enjoy stories built around character development and that have a slow burn romance, this is the book for you!
Jackson follows Bethany Lu Carlisle, Keanu Reeves’ superfan, as she receives the news that her long-time celebrity crush is engaged. For Bethany Lu, this is horrible news and is the last straw in a series of unfortunate events that cause her to struggle with the pressures of being an independent artist. Leaning on her friend, Truman “True” Erikson, for understanding, Bethany Lu sets out to win Keanu’s affection on a wacky road trip that has the sole purpose of getting Keanu to reconsider hanging up his bachelorhood for good.
How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days is perfect for anyone looking for a sweet romance or comfort read. Jackson shows an honest portrayal of a 35+ Black woman who doesn’t have it all figured out and is coping with mental health issues. The author does an excellent job of holding space for her character to fall apart and gives her the grace lean into her support system when she needs it. This departure from society’s belief that you have to have it all “figured out” by your 20s is refreshing. And the steamy romance between friends isn’t too bad either.
I’d highly recommend this book for any reader who’s into romance and books that have a “quest” element.
What are you currently reading?
January also saw me delve back into the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch. This time around, I have been focusing on the graphic novels and short stories in theTales From the Follyanthology that goes along with Aaronovitch’s novels. The graphic novel collections add context to what happens to Peter and the gang in between the novels, while the short stories act as “snapshots” in the characters’ lives.
I’m partial to the graphic novels over the books, though. In these graphic novels, the author goes into fuller details about The Nightingale and the wizards he worked with before the Rivers of London series officially started. Readers also get to see what Molly gets up to while Peter and The Nightingale are off fighting the bad guys in these books, which involves pastimes are different from what I’d imagined. If you think Aaronovitch’s series is hilarious in his full-length books, you’ll love reading his graphic novels.
I am also working my way through The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah. One of my classmates recommended this book, and I’m happy I picked it up even though it’s super sad.
Hannah’s book follows Elsa Martinelli as she and her family battle through life in the American Great Plains during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression. Reading about how Elsa fights off her insecurities and the constant struggle to make a life for her children is painful. I’m about 70% through The Four Winds and am enjoying it, but I took a break to pick up a lighter read at the end of January.
What will you read next?
As a mood reader, I don’t know what I’ll be reading next. Do you have any recommendations?
If you enjoyed this post, I’d love it if you like, comment, and subscribe. #AllOfTheThings
If you’re following me on Twitter, you may remember my play-by-play reading marathon for the masterpiece that is His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie.
Dr. Medie has written an enthralling story about a young couple, Afi and Eli, as they try to dodge their meddling families and the pressures that come from following Ghanaian traditions to find footing in their marriage.
Oh! And there’s the troublesome hurdle of another woman who Afi, our narrator, must “get rid of” to find her happily ever after. No biggie, though…or so she thinks.
Dr. Medie’s story is gripping from the first sentence when the reader finds out that Afi is set to marry Eli with his brother standing in for him since Eli is on a business trip and can’t make it to the wedding.
Do you see the problem yet?
What drew me to His Only Wife is how well Dr. Medie situates readers inside Afi and Eli’s relationship. Her writing places characters into situations that feel like a stretch logically. Yet, they are so well-written that even when the reader knows better, you get sucked into wanting and believing for what the characters wish too, because the author is that good at stirring up the drama of her characters’ lives.
For instance, even from the first page in His Only Wife, when Eli doesn’t show at the wedding, I was standing in faith alongside Afi and believing what Eli’s family and her mother were selling Afi about the “other woman.” And I’m sure anyone reading this review can already tell how wild this line of reasoning would be in real life.
But, the way Dr. Medie structures her story really takes hold while you are reading this book. To the point, you will believe this farce about the “other woman” having such a hold on Eli that can only be broken once he falls in love with Afi until you close the book and it hits you how crazy this plan was from the beginning.
His Only Wife has a little something for everyone in it. From a slow burn relationship to insights about how familial and romantic relationships work in Ghanaian culture from a rural and urban perspective and across generations as Afi gains advice about her and Eli’s relationship from various women in her life’s perspective. I especially enjoyed learning more about these parts of Dr. Medie’s book from her in my interview, which you can check out here.
Dr. Medie’s book is one I can’t recommend enough for its dynamic characters, in-depth critique of the Ghanaian cultural and women’s roles in it, and just for being an excellent book to read and react to.
As cliched as it sounds, I enjoyed having the feeling of “discussion” around His Only Wife and not being able to guess what would happen next as I read. Even with how predictable the “other woman” trope may seem in the beginning, I couldn’t have predicted exactly how Afi and Eli’s love story would play out. Getting to live-tweet my reaction and discuss my thoughts with a group was probably my favorite thing about this book.
You’ll definitely want this book as your next book club read!
What are you currently reading?
Thanks to school, I’m still holding off reading the last 10% of The Love Songs of W. E. B DuBois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. Jeffers book has taken me through it in every way possible. And oddly enough, I don’t want it to be over just yet. So, I’m still reading it.
I’ve also slowly but surely been making my way through The Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch. I’m now on book four, which is Broken Homes. Peter Grant is quickly becoming one of my favorite literary characters for his wit, perspective, and ability to almost always end up at the short end of the stick of magic wielders.
My one issue with Aaronovitcth’s books is over time, it can become increasingly hard to separate the pro-police stance of the book and jokes Peter cracks about how coppers work inside with how vicious actual police tactics’ abroad can be. There are moments where Peter mentions how in the “old days,” a cop would go and “rough” a suspect up just because he could. These insights feel tone-deaf and wonky.
I say this because even though Peter is a man of mixed heritage and a cop, it’s clear this is Aaronovitch using Peter as a mouthpiece to say these things instead of it being a case where Peter is just being Peter. Since Peter will follow these moments up acknowledging that cops don’t like Black men who look like him (which is highlighted in a racially charged scene in the first book with a superior).
Don’t get me wrong, I love the stories atmosphere and the banter in the books. But, I do have moments when the story and backstories all feel a bit choppy.
On a lighter note, I’m currently reading The Checklist by Addie Woolridge. Woolridge’s story follows a “girl next door” type of romance about Dylan Delacroix, who temporarily moves back home to Seattle to help an eccentric tech CEO fix his flailing company. While she’s home, she finds sparks flying with Mike, the sun of her Bohemian family’s buttoned-up neighborhood rivals. I have laughed so hard at the characters in this book and their shenanigans.
If you’re looking for a palette cleanser after a heavy read, pick this one up! It’s free on Kindle Unlimited.
What will you read next?
As a mood reader, I don’t know what I’ll be reading next.
I have talked about a few of my top priorities on my TBR List in the previous post. So, check them out down below!
What are you reading now?
If you enjoyed this post, I’d love it if you like, comment, and subscribe. #AllOfTheThings
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.
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.
For instance, one of my favorite books from my middle school reading list was Shabanu, Daughter of the Windby Suzanne Fisher Staples. In the book, Fisher, a retired white news reporter and editor for the United Press International, tells the story of Shabanu, the second daughter of desert nomads in Pakistan. After an incident with wealthy landowners occurs, Shabanu, who is twelve-year-olds at the start of the series, is married off as a child bride to keep the peace.
Along with Haveli, the second novel in the series, Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind was my go-to book as a tween. The idea of getting to read about other cultures and seeing how other people around the world lived was something I’ve always craved as a reader.
At the time, I interpreted Shabanu’s story to simply be about a free-spirited girl who was able to explore the Cholistan Desert, a place I’d never heard of until I read the book. I relished her ability to be free to seek out adventure up until the point that she was forced to marry.
Being able to see life through Shabanu’s eye was eye opening as a kid. And it was why I cherished the book king after I outgrew it.
The authenticity of the story and author’s right to tell that particular story is something I never thought of until I entered high school and had a Pakistani classmate bring into question the authenticity of Shabanu’s story.
The only problem was who was telling Shabanu’s story.
Staples was a white woman from Philadelphia who had only visited Pakistan as a reporter and editor. Her writing was limited to the knowledge of what her host family told her, which means that Staples was effectively telling Shabanu’s story through a secondhand lens.
So, when my classmate told me that she wished Staples hadn’t made her culture look so bad (I’m paraphrasing since a particular cuss word was used and I have older readers I want to be respectful of), a little of the luster went out of the book for me.
Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind and Haveli are both feminist stories at their core. And they told a story that during the 1980s and mid- 2000s wasn’t largely being told about Islamic women.
But, did Staples have the right to tell these stories?
Based on a quote in Publisher’s Weekly from 2000, Staples claims that all her books “are made up of real stories about real people.” Staples even had a picture she showed the interviewer of the thirteen-year-old girl that Shabanu was modeled after.
This unnamed girl’s story and many other Pakistani women were collected as Staples worked with a women’s literacy project in the country until she returned to work for the Washington Post. The women’s stories were kept in journals and used as the source material for Shabanu’s story, which won Staples the Newbury Honor award in 1990.
The accolades and book deals (Staples wrote six books with only one being written set in America) Staples acquired telling someone else’s story, who she openly admits lacked agency and free will to tell their own story in the Publisher Weekly interview once again drives home why #WeNeedDiverseBooks is so important.
It also left me wondering why did Staples not ever allow the young women from the literacy project she was a part of the chance to tell their own stories?
Also, would a BIPOC author have been showered with the same praise and idolization as Staples received for Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind if they’d released a similar book?
“It is a pleasure to read a book that explores a way of life profoundly different from our own, and that does so with such sensitivity, admiration and verisimilitude. Ms. Staples, who was a U.P.I. correspondent in Asia and has worked for The Washington Post, has surely accomplished a small miracle in the unfolding of her touching and powerful story. She has managed to present to her readers an engaging and convincing portrait of an adolescent girl who is alternately bewildered and exhilarated by her changing mind and body; at the same time, the author offers rich and provocative insights into a culture so distanced from rock videos and designer jeans as to seem extraplanetary. I hope her readers will gain from it a renewed sense of self and a deep respect for what is other.”
Differencewhat a BIPOC author gets to write vs. What white authors get to write
Too often, the publishing industry wants BIPOC stories from authors who are white and not from an author of color or Indigenous background.
A white author can have a stamp in their passport, a degree on their wall, and the matching pedigree, or just have gone on vacation and gotten “inspired,” and voilà, they’ll be given the green light to become an expert on someone else’s culture.
A BIPOC author can have firsthand knowledge about who they are and their culture and be told they need to change their story to fit what a publisher thinks their audience wants in an #OwnVoices book.
And this differentiation of who gets to tell what stories, along with my classmate’s belief that her culture was done a disservice, is what keeps my tattered copies of Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind and Haveli shut tight on my shelves.
While the books hold a special place in my heart when I read them as a kid, I have iffy feelings about trying to read them now.
Do you all have any books like this on your shelves?
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.
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