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.
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