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.
And if you can, Like, Comment, and Subscribe. #AllTheThings
Thank you to Tor Books for the e-galley of The Rookery.
As a child of the 90s, I have been swearing my literary allegiance to Harry Potter for years. Because of this, I have spent a reasonable amount of time chasing the high that reading each of J.K. Rowling’s books gave me when it comes to dark academia and fantasy novels set in Europe. Deborah Hewitt’s Nightjar series has to be the first time in a long while that I’ve gotten really close to that feeling.
Set in between alternate versions of London, Hewitt’s series follows Alice Wyndham, who is plagued by a life-long hallucination of birds. Made to believe that these manifestations are simply her mind’s way of coping with past trauma, Alice tries extra hard to focus on being “normal.”
Unfortunately for her, this plan falls to pieces when her best friend is involved in a hit-and-run accident. On this day, Crowley, a mysterious visitor from another London better known as The Rookery, shows up to tell Alice that she is an aviarist and in danger.
As an aviarist, Alice’s ability to see someone’s nightjar means that she can identify the person’s “soul” and can pull their secrets from that person’s soul bird at will. This aspect of magical lore is carefully crafted to allow Alice to pull secrets from those around her right when the plot is stalling a bit, and it seems the author is hitting a wall. However, it also helps in giving the world-building of The Rookery a touch of uniqueness that makes Hewitt’s story stand out. The story begins when Alice sets out to find her best friend’s nightjar
The cool thing about The Nightjar series is that it not only uses magic in a way that I’ve never seen before, but it also creates a cozy atmosphere in its alternate setting of The Rookery and its cast of characters. For example, the slow burn romance that percolates between Alice and Crowley is believable and naturally written. Character interactions like this meant that even when nothing happened in Hewitt’s duology, I was engrossed in the characters’ lives and the world Hewitt built.
This ability to be content and at ease in a series that’s full of murder, backstabbing, and mystery can only be chalked up to Hewitt’s ability to tell a well-crafted story. Hewitt goes full out in her plot of murdering cults, long lost children of “purebred” magical bloodlines, and the quest to outrun death.
The only problem is that TheRookery, which is the series finale, leaves so many things unfinished. Where I loved the quirkiness of Alice and her “found family” in The Nightjar, the one-liners and banter between her and her friends and side adventures the gang of friends went on in the sequel felt as if it was a plot device by Hewitt to keep readers from noticing that loose ends weren’t being tied up as neatly as they should be.
In fact, whole plot points get thrown to the wayside in The Rookery. At certain points in the second novel, it almost felt as if Hewitt purposely left out chunks of backstory that were needed to tie her story up. This lack of closure breaks my heart since The Nightjar was a solid opener.
I do want to give major props to Hewitt for her originality, though. For once, I felt that the red herring an author throughout about who was the bad guy in a series was actually good enough that I was flabbergasted when the reveal came out. This is saying something since after years of reading fantasy books, being thrown off by a book or surprised by an original concept is something I have deeply been craving. Because of this, I tip my hat off to Hewitt and would highly recommend this series to others.
If you have read The Nightjar duology before and are looking for another original fantasy series, I’d recommend the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty.
Like Hewitt, Chakraborty tells the story of a young woman, Nahri, who has her life shaken by the realization that she has magical powers and is a part of another world other than the one she grew up in. The only thing is that the Daevabad Trilogy takes place in a desert setting in the Middle East instead of Europe.
Chakraborty tells her story from three points of view following the main characters Dara, Nahri, and Ali. Dara is a disgraced warrior who has been enslaved for years and ends up trying to right the wrongs of his past throughout the series. Nahri is a con-woman and a healer from Cairo who longs for a family and connection to her past, which she’s forgotten. And Prince Alizayd, who is my favorite character, is the youngest prince of the tyrant King Ghassan of Daevabad.
Throughout her series, Chakraborty did a fantastic job crafting a world with complex characters and a fascinating magic system. Each of her characters felt like a person you would want to know in real life. And, the overall atmosphere of political intrigue, action-packed scenes, and magical world-building makes it obvious why Netflix has ordered a series based on the Daevabad books.
If you’re a fan of slow-burn reads, the first book, The City of Brass, will draw you in. If you’re like me and prefer up-tempo books, you’re going to really hit your reading stride with the second novel, The Kingdom Of Copper, where Chakraborty starts to lay the foundation for an awesome conclusion in The Empire Of Gold.
Anna is a rising senior from Atlanta, Georgia who’s father sends her off to spend her last year in high school at the American School of Paris. Crazy as it sounds, Anna is UPSET that her father would do something as wonderful as give her an all expensive paid YEAR in Paris! So grudgingly, she enters her final year of high school in a distant land where she doesn’t speak the language. However, once Anna is there, she meets a group of amazing friends and starts off a year full of new beginnings. There’s just one problem….she ends up falling for a boy who is already taken.
While Anna’s’ character is somewhat cliche, her storyline isn’t overly unbearable. Perkins adds depth to the storyline by pairing Anna’s trials and tribulations with different viewings of cinema or books that the character studies in school or goes to see in her free time. I really enjoyed this maneuver by Perkins because unlike in Lola’s story, Anna’s dream of becoming a film critic are acted on subtly instead of drastically. This allowed me to not feel overpowered by the extraness of Anna’s character. The interweaving of movie knowledge within Anna’s story also gave me something to draw comparison’s to in Anna and St. Clair’s (i.e., her French crush) encounters.
In addition to this, I enjoyed the fact that Perkins’ novel was set in the romantic atmosphere of Paris, but she didn’t try to beat readers over the head with too much romance too quick. She spoonfeeds her readers Anna and St. Clair’s story in a way that isn’t tedious or too overbearing. ***SPOILER*** Yet, I was a little peeved that one of Anna and St. Clair’s other friends was hurt in the process of the two becoming a couple. I would’ve preferred if Perkins didn’t insert an extra girl for Anna to have to compete with within her own circle of friends to date St. Clair. This just seemed extra brutal in terms of the standard rules of friendship do’s and dont’s.***SPOILER***
This being said, while this book isn’t fully original in plot or theme, I did truly enjoy it. I would definitely reread and recommend this book to others. I’m seriously really looking forward to Isla & The Happy Ever After to come out in September after reading this novel.
If you’re a lover of Netflix’s Emily of Paris tv series, you’ll love Perkins’ novel!
Kadrey’s book follows a thief named Coop, who specializes in stealing magical items. Desperate for a quick payday, Coop agrees to help an old friend steal a mysterious box only to find himself smack dab in the middle of two doomsday cults, an exiled angel who’s been searching for the box for millennia since it’s his ticket back into heaven, and a shady government group called The Department of Peculiar Science or DOPS for short that oversees the magical world. Unfortunately for Coop, he has no choice but to fight all of them to get his big payday.
I started The Everything Box on Scribd last year and was loving the dry humor and shenanigans from the cast of characters. But, my subscription expired before I could finish it. Thanks to winning a year subscription from Lupita (@Lupita.Reads), I was able to finish, and boy was Kadrey’s book a hoot.
From the high jinks to the backstabbing of each faction trying to one-up each other, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. Kadrey did a good job of making each of his characters stand out. And the voice actor, Oliver Wyman, was phenomenal in distinguishing each character from the other. This is especially important because while Coop is one of the main characters, Kadrey tells his story from seven other characters’ perspectives. So, having a voice actor that is good at accents and altering his voice for female and male characters was a nice touch.
My only problem with the book is it had one too many “backstabbing” plot twist near the end. And this made the ending feel like it was being dragged on forever and a day.
Nevertheless, if you love mysteries, dystopian novels, or comedic books, I’d highly recommend this book.
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
The Goblin Emperor,on the other hand, is a book from my TBR that holds sentimental value for me. It was the first book I got to check out to a patron when I was a student librarian. Ever since then, I’ve been curious about Addison’s fantasy series.
This first book from the series follows Maia, the exiled half-goblin son of the deceased Emperor of the Elflands. As his father’s youngest and most hated son, Maia is completely clueless when he is called to take the throne in his murdered father and older brothers’ place. Learning on the go, Maia is made to face plots to kill him, an unwanted marriage proposal, and dodge those who see him as incompetent and wish to replace him as Emperor.
Like Kadrey, Addison does an excellent job creating a world of magic that sucks the reader in immediately (Maia literally learns his father has been killed on page 2) and doesn’t let go until the end of the 400-page epic. This was another audiobook read from Scribd, and the audiobook voice actor, Kyle McCarley, was another talented narrator who does voices well. This talent makes the epic fly by.
Each book in Addison’s series is balanced between being “action-packed” and hinging on being “character-driven.” The GoblinEmperor looks at how Maia reacts to his newfound power and explores the power dynamics he experiences as he becomes a part of his new world. If you’re a lover of books about court dramas and people in power, Addison’s book will be one you’ll love. I’d definitely recommend getting the audiobook and checking out the second book in the series, The Witness for the Dead, which follows Thara Celehar, a reoccurring character in the series who helped Maia discover who killed his father in The Goblin Emperor.
The Rules of Arrangement by Anisha Bhatia
My final recent read was an Indian romance novel called The Rules of Arrangement by Anisha Bhatia that I found while browsing Goodreads. For anyone in need of a quick read that has various love pairings in it, Bhatia’s book is a must read.
The Rules of Arrangement follows Zoya Sahni, a well-educated, career woman who’s hitting her “expiration date” for being of “marriageable age” in Mumbai. With her mother and Bua plotting together, Zoya is set up with a childhood friend, and from there, Bhatia explores the complex emotions that go into dating and finding your love match. With Zoya also being plus size and having a darker skin tone, Bhatia also tackles things like fatphobia, colorism, and the role of education in how women in Indian are “valued” as they come of age.
I will caution that for readers who are triggered by constant references to a character’s weight or the constant devaluing of women, you may not find this book to your liking. However, for readers who are willing to place Bhatia’s exploration of character into the context of the story, you will find joy in the plot and be able to understand the inter-monologue of Zoya as she fights to stand up for herself and choose her own destiny.
What are you currently reading?
I’m currently focusing on my second Sealey Challenge read, The Age of Phillis by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. This poetry collection examines Phyllis Wheatley as a political, philosophical, and religious figure in American history.
Jeffers’ work is one that I am finding a little harder to read than Hafizah Geter’s Un-American, which I read last week. So, I will to have to re-read it more than once and do a little background work to help put Jeffers’ poetry and Phyllis Wheatley’s life in perspective.
I’m also reading Jeffers’ upcoming novel, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois.In this novel, Jeffers follows Ailey Pearl Garfield as she struggles to come to terms with her identity as a mixed-race woman of Indigenous, Black, and white heritage in the deep South. To uncover her family history, Ailey Pearl depends on the stories of women in her family throughout history to guide her.
Both these books were provided by the publishers (Wesleyan University Press and Harper) for free for honest reviews. So, I will have full reviews up soon.
What will you read next?
I’m a big “mood reader,” so I can’t say for sure what I’ll be reading next. However, I’ve been on a Fantasy and YA genre binge.
Drop down in the comments and tell me some of your favorite Fantasy or YA novels from your 2021 wrap-up!
August marks the start of the #SealeyChallenge, a month-long reading challenge where participants set a goal to read 31 poetry books or chapbooks. And for once, I remembered that the challenge started on August 1st!
Named after Nicole Sealey, a renowned poet and educator, the challenge started in 2017. Sealey began the challenge after becoming the executive director at Cave Canem and realizing she wasn’t reading as much as she liked. She ended up sparking a movement when she put out a call on social media to her fellow poetry lovers to join her in her personal challenge to read more poetry.
To keep things simple for myself, I set out a goal to read a minimum of four poetry books (or a book a week) in August to complete the Sealey Challenge just to factor in time constraints and it being my first experience with the challenge.
Published in 2020, Un-American is an attempt by Geter to make sense of the personal tragedy she and her family suffered when her mother died of a stroke when the poet was nineteen. The collection was nominated for a 2021 NAACP Image Award, long-listed for the 2021 PEN Open Book Award, and received a Starred Review from Publisher’s Weekly.
In an article on Poets & Writers’ websites, Geter states that she used Un-American as a means to “make [her] and [her] family’s wounds metaphorical because up until then, they had been so physical, so palpably devastating” for them. The collection also served as a way for Geter to connect to her Nigerian homeland after losing her mother and to better understand her father, a Black man who grew up in Alabama and Ohio “in a country that doesn’t much care for Black boys and men.”
Introduction to Hafizah Geter and Section One of Un-American
For me, reading Un-American felt cathartic.
Geter writes about her personal experiences from the vantage point of a casual observer. Using pithy lines to create charged scenes, she invites readers into her memory while shrugging off any notions of being overly sentimental about what she’s referencing even when it is painful to recall.
Tonight the distance between me, my mother, and Nigeria is like a jaw splashed against a wall. I close my eyes and see my father sulking like a pile of ashes, his hair jet black and kinky, his silence entering a thousand rooms. Then outside, trimming hedges as if home were a land just beyond the meadow, the leaves suddenly back. When I close my eyes I see my mother, mean for the rest of the day, rawing my back in the tub like she’s still doing dishes.
Here, Geter relays the story of having her house broken into. Flitting between the perspectives of her mother, father, and self, Geter sifts through their collective memory to present a cohesive picture of the traumatic event.
Listing each person’s emotions in the poem’s lines, Geter masterfully uses snapshots to show her readers how her interpretation of events is filtered through her parents. But, what’s more, Geter tells her story through an antiseptic lens, as if she is one step removed from the story she is relaying.
While personal, Un-American also draws on the complex history of America and interrogates what it means to be “American” while simultaneously being labeled as “other.”
With the collection’s first poem, “The Pledge,” Geter speaks of the division between her mother and father and shows the difference in her understanding of being American in contrast to her parents’ knowledge of this identity. Geter builds on this theme in the second section of Un-American.
In this section, she weaves together her parents’ story and sets the foundation of their life story up against tributes to Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner in her four “Testimony” poems.
Second Section of Un-American
With the second section, Geter takes an interrogative stance drawing on the political and cultural perspectives of being Black in America and gives voice to the layered experience of being Black and American.
In this section, if a reader is too focused on only seeing Bland, Rice, Brown, and Garner as martyrs or civil rights figures, they’ll miss the way Geter uses each of the “Testimony” poems as transitions and layers her parents’ story over each poem to make sense of her own life story.
Geter shows intimacy mixed with tragedy to develop her family’s story in the reader’s mind’s eye and connect it into the tapestry of American heritage. This approach is fitting since the poet consistently shifts her focus from using a macro lens to tell a story of being an “American” to a microlens when she tells pieces of each member of her family’s story.
For instance, she mentions Sandra Bland’s death in Wallace County, Texas in the first “Testimony” poem focusing her pen on showing a wider angle of brutality against Blacks in America:
As if the humiliation can never be done, there were typos in your autopsy report. The words:no signs of struggle.I thought, my body is your body,
is a temple on fire, is a blinded mask, is a jail cell, is light as a paper bag, is the sound my father makes when, after so many years, he says my mother’s name.
And then Geter swiftly switches focus to tell her father’s story in “Alabama Parable,” giving readers a close up look at her own heritage:
My father looks down the barrel
of a shotgun house,
sees in my grandmother
hurt like prayer
is a kneeling position,
sees that fearing
the wrath of God can make you
name any angry man, King.
Finally, the poet fills in the narrative again and connects her father’s story to the larger story of Eric Garner in “Testimony (for Eric Garner)” using contemporary persona poetry and using the symbolism of kings and a blue-collar upbringing:
This love is blue-
collar work, this exile,
heritage. I don’t regret
the kings and queens I’ve made,
though police keep fucking
up. Keep kicking
down the door
inside me. Master’s tools steady
trying to burn our cribs down.
my children search mirrors
For suspicious activity. Marker 4:40.
the hourglass imitates
me. Judge, the wolves,
This second section also holds my favorite poem, from Un-American, which is “The Leaving,”
Of all Geter’s collection, if I could get you all to read any poem, it would be “The Leaving.”
As a lover of Warsan Shire’s poetry, I immediately gravitated toward this poem’s imagery of immigrants transitioning between space and place.
A Nigerian proverb
that when you lose your bridge,
climb down the mountain.
Instead, my mother grabbed
the Atlantic. Enough for a path
to carry daughters.
“The Leaving” is where Geter’s work shines as it draws together the intricate familial mythology she writes about throughout Un-American.In this poem, Geter folds all her themes into a neat bow showing how difficult it is to be Black and immigrant and woman in America.
This poem also touches upon the prevalent theme of mother-daughter relationships and being a family of mixed citizenship status. Drawing on her own experiences, Geter tackles the inherent harm that Black people face to their personhood through state-sanctioned violence alongside the everyday occurrence of being alive in America.
Section Three of Un-American
The third and final section of Un-American is about going through the motions of healing after tragedy strikes and returning home to your country of origin once you’ve set up roots elsewhere.
Where section one sets up the themes of Un-American and introduces readers to Geter’s family, and section two positions the family’s story into the wider frame of the American narrative, Geter turns her focuses inward for section three while connecting her family’s story to Nigeria.
In this third section, she moves on from talking about state-sanctioned violence against all Black bodies in America to switch gears to the violence these bodies experience in Nigeria. Here, Geter writes about trying to build up her identity as a Nigerian American finding herself in-between the respective cultures of her parents.
Poems like “Out of Africa” and “Three-Hundred Girls” track Geter and her sister’s journey back across the Atlantic to connect to their Nigerian heritage. Lines from “Out of Africa,” such as:
Something in my sister knows
it is easier in China than America to give her children
uncolonized language, easier to raise black boys to be men
Who never forget duty or home.
Or, lines like the following from “Three-Hundred Girls” draw the reader’s attention to how Geter and her sister must go outside the U.S. to gain access to that security and proximity to power that alludes to them in their father’s country of origin.
We eat fufu, efo, and egusi soup.
My sister, bowl after of jollof rice.
Like a woman no longer living
outside the language of her happiness
Yet, even in this moment of security that Geter and her sister enjoy for this brief sojourn in Nigeria, the poet intersperses violence into the sisters stay in “Three-Hundred Girls” juxtaposes the safety the sisters feel against the kidnapping and subsequent violence the Nigerian girls from the Zamfara school face:
Fourteen Hauwas, like me,
she says, as though I’ve forgotten
mothers in Chibok are still
weeping on the floors of classrooms
burned into burial grounds.
My Nigerian passport
Using “harm” as a constant theme in Un-American is understandable since being Black across the Diaspora carries with it a specific brand of harm that the average Black person knows intimately. However, it is often harder to understand when the danger comes from within our own bodies instead of from an external source.
In section three, along with the images of her and her sister reconnecting with their Nigerian roots, Geter conjures up images of the diseases that ravaged her parents. To me, this depiction of illness, besides self-discover, illustrates the cyclical nature of existence Blacks around the world are forced to live within when facing state-sanctioned violence and balancing just trying to exist peacefully.
For example, poems in section three oscillate between global depictions of violence, Geter remembering her mother, and the poet attempting to care for her ailing father while grieving and crafting her own multi-hyphenated identity.
This raw depiction of emotions in these snapshots of her poetry is what made in Un-American a cathartic read for me. While her writing is terse and to the point, the images she crafts with her poetry are full of life and well-honed to hit readers right in the feels.
At its core, Un-American is an introspective look at Geter’s family. However, the collection also asks readers to consider who gets to be a part of the American story while calling us to bear witness to the trauma and pain that comes with being labeled as the “other.”
All that being said, Un-American is a poetry collection I would highly recommend.
Are you all participating in #TheSealeyChallenge?
Thank you to Wesleyan University Press for the gifted copy! All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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.