Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim, We Are Inevitable by Gayle Forman, & Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean #BookReview #WWW Wednesday

Thank you to Random House Audio and Penguin Teen for the e-galley and ALC of We Are Inevitable by Gayle Forman and Random House Audio for the ALC of Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim.

Thank you to Tor Books for an e-galley of She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chen.

We made it to the halfway point, bookish peeps! Give yourself a round of applause!

I hope you’re all having a good week! I’m here with my weekly check-in for WWW Wednesday.

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Taking On A World of Words and ask readers to answer the following questions:

  1. What did you read last?
  2. What are you currently reading?
  3. What will you read next?

What did you read last?

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 Are Inevitable 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 The Six 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.

Cover of Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim

Illustration by Tran Nguyen | Cover Design by Alison Impey
Lettering by Alix Northrup

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 Are Inevitable by Gayle Forman

My next read bought me careening back into the real world. 

In her newest book, We Are Inevitable, 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.

Cover of We Are Inevitable by Gayle Forman

Where We Are Inevitable 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 Are Inevitable.

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 Are Inevitable may not be the book for you.

Due to this, I highly suggest reading Forman’s novel at your own pace.

Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean

Finally, I recently read one of my favorite Young Adult romances of the year – Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean.

Cover of Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean

If you’re like me and were an avid Princess Diaries reader, 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?

Cover of She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chen

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

Anna & The French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins Book Review

I gave this book 4 stars.

After reading Lola & The Boy Next Door, I was a little skeptical about the hype surrounding Stephanie Perkins’ novels. However, I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised in reading Anna & The French Kiss.

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!

This book was finished on April 13, 2013.

The Everything Box by Richard Kadrey, The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, & The Rules of Arrangement by Anisha Bhatia  #WWWWednesday (Mini #BookReviews)

What I'm Reading This Week #WWWWednesday

Created by @IntrovertInterrupted

Happy Humpday, Readers!

I hope you’re all having a good week! 

I wanted to do a weekly check-in about my reading this week, so I’m coming to you with a WWW Wednesday post.

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Taking On A World of Words and ask readers to answer the following questions:

  • What did you read last?
  • What are you currently reading?
  • What will you read next?

What did you read last?

In addition to taking part in the #TheSealeyChallenge, I’ve been finishing books that I’ve had in my TBR queue for over a year now.

Two books I recently finished were The Everything Box by Richard Kadrey and The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. 

The Everything Box by Richard Kadrey

The Everything Box Kadrey’s book is the answer to anyone who is a fan of Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett and eagerly awaiting season 2 of the Amazon Prime series.  

The Everything Box by Richard Kadrey

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 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.

The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison

Each book in Addison’s series is balanced between being “action-packed” and hinging on being “character-driven.” ThGoblin Emperor 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, ThWitness 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.

ThRules of Arrangement by Anisha Bhatia

My final recent read was an Indian romance novel called ThRules 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 by Anisha Bhatia

ThRules 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?

The Age of Phillis by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers.

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.

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

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!

Don’t forget to like, comment, and subscribe!

What to read after reading “So Long A Letter” by Mariama Bâ

Book Cover of So Long A Letter by Mariama Bâ

“Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.” – Malorie Blackman

What have you been reading this February?!

This year, I have been focusing less on giving books a star rating and more on how books connect across the Africana Diaspora literary canon.

Mariama Bâ

While So Long A Letter by Mariama Bâ is by a Senegalese novel, the issues Bâ covers in this novella mirror topics that so many African-American women have written about.

Bâ speaks of female friendships and how they sustain us, like Toni Morrison in Sula and Alice Walker in The Color Purple.

She speaks of messy affairs in marriages and how love can look different for each person, like bell hooks in All About Love and Changes: A Love Story by Ama Ata Aidoo.

And when I think of scholarly theorist Bâ is communing with, Wicked Flesh by Jessica Marie Johnson and Thick: And Other Essay by Tressie McMillan Cotton, come to mind in the way Bâ stands up for female agency and independence in a society which demands that Black Womanhood appear under the thumb of the patriarchy as a thing of lesser value. Bâ writes about Ramatoulaye, her protagonist, struggle to assert herself as an educated single mother who attempts to assert herself in a society that does not see her as a valuable asset once her husband throws her to the side for his second wife.

Bâ’s writing is intriguing, and to the point, and for anyone who loves a drama-filled read that’s also character-driven, please give this a read.

What to read after The Secret Lives Of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin

“I heard my old friend Clem’s voice coming back to me through the dimness of thirty years: ‘I see you coming here trying to make sense where there is no sense. Try just living in it. Respond, alter, see what happens.’ I thought of the African way of perceiving life, as experience to be lived rather than as problem to be solved.” ― Audre Lorde

Author, Lola Shoneyin

Thanks to Femi from @thebookalert, I got a chance to read The Secret Lives Of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin last year, and I absolutely loved it! Thank you to @tlcbooktours & @williammorrowbooks for providing me a free copy!

Book Cover of The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin

Shoneyin’s story follows Baba Segi and his four wives, Iya Segi, Iya Tope, Iya Femi, and Bolanle, who are all hiding secrets from each other.

In a culture that values children, Baba Segi sees his collection of wives and gaggle of children are a symbol of prosperity, success, and a validation of his manhood. 

Book Cover of The Women Of Brewster Place

All is well in this patriarchal home until Baba arrives with wife number four, a quiet, college-educated, young woman named Bolanle. Jealous and resentful of this interloper who is stealing their husband’s attention, Baba’s three wives begin to plan her downfall.

Reading this book, I was placed in the mind of several books across the African Diaspora that are in conversation with Shoneyin’s story:

  • When it comes to the complexity and dynamics of sisterhood that Shoneyin displays in TSLIBSW, I immediately thought of The Women Of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor and the essay, “Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving,” by Audre Lorde in Sister Outsider. There’s a myth that as a feminist or womanist, you have to like everyone, and as Naylor and Shoneyin prove, this isn’t the case. Solidarity amongst women can be as simple as me wanting you to have all your rights, especially the right to stay the heck away from me.
Book Cover of Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
Book Cover of Ain’t I A Woman by bell hooks
  • The problem of women being seen only as the bearer of children and through the lens of being the property of her husband is explored in #StayWithMe by #AyobamiAdebbayo and in Ain’t I A Woman by bell hooks. In TSLIBSW, Shoneyin does a deep dive into how catastrophic it can be to see a woman in a piecemeal way instead of seeing her as a whole being. Each of Baba Segi Wives has their own talents, but because Baba only sees his wives in reference to being child bearers, he can’t see their talents as businesswomen, homemakers, or educated women.
  • While Iya Segi, Iya Tope, Iya Femi, & Bolanle don’t make any qualms around who Baba fundamentally is as a man or the belief he holds about their culture, there is a sense of resentment that underlines their relationship with him. Each woman’s household status and, subsequently, their independence are tied to Baba’s goodwill. This symbiotic relationship reminds me of all the women’s love for Bill Cosey in Love by Toni Morrison.
Book Cover of Love by Toni Morrison
Book Cover of Decolonising the Mind by Ngūgi wa Thiong’o
  • Lastly, Bolanle’s character made me think of Ngūgī wa Thiongo’s idea of the “cultural bomb” in Decolonizing the Mind and how being educated in societies that rely too heavily on colonial or imperialistic knowledge dilutes the regional culture. Seeing how Baba’s beliefs get challenged by Bolanle’s mere presence was fascinating.

If you haven’t read this book, I highly suggest it!

Author Interview With Morgan Rogers on Honey Girl

Thanks to the team at @BookSparks for giving me the opportunity to interview Morgan Rogers on her debut novel, Honey Girl, which was released TODAY! Comment below if you’ve read the book.

Check out SheReads.com for more exclusive content!

Cover of Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

With her newly completed PhD in astronomy in hand, twenty-eight-year-old Grace Porter goes on a girls’ trip to Vegas to celebrate. She’s a straight A, work-through-the-summer certified high achiever. She is not the kind of person who goes to Vegas and gets drunkenly married to a woman whose name she doesn’t know…until she does exactly that.

– Blurb from Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

What surprised you most about the process of writing this first novel?

The thing that surprised me most about writing this novel was that it did not become this novel until maybe the fourth or fifth iteration. There were things about Grace Porter that didn’t surface until my very last time editing. Some of her motivations and wishes and desires were still hidden until I had both the input from my amazing editor and also an entirely different headspace. I always hear the phrase, “writing is re-writing,” and I think the depth of that truth didn’t really hit me until I was knee-deep in revisions and realizing, like, wow, I needed so much more time to figure out how to say this, but now I can. Surprise!

Author, Morgan Rogers

In an interview she recorded with Balticon 34 in April 2004, Octavia E. Butler talks about wanting to “desensitize” readers with her writing and show them the “world as she wishes it worked” in her novels. One of the things I really loved about Honey Girl is that you don’t waste time explaining or trying to convince the reader that Grace Porter, your main character, and the rest of her friends, who are LGBTQ+, deserve to exist when it comes to their sexuality. 

Instead, your writing creates these characters as messy and flawed human beings doing mundane day-to-day activities, like going to graduate school, trying to live up to their parents’ expectations, and falling in love. Why did you feel this was a significant angle to take with your writing? And did you feel, like Ms. Butler, that you were simply writing the world as you saw it or as you wanted it to be in your writing?

I know in theory it’s significant, but honestly, it doesn’t feel that big to me. Grace Porter is queer. Grace Porter is a lesbian. All her friends are queer. Queer people do really mundane things like work and go to school and date and even disappoint their parents for reasons other than being queer! I wrote a world that is very similar to mine, because I’m a queer person with queer friends and we just do really boring things like complain in our group chats and forget to pay bills. It doesn’t feel revolutionary to me because we are out here living our not-very-exciting lives, but then I remember in the larger scheme of things, us living our lives is revolutionary.

All of that is to say, I didn’t go in with any particular mindset except portraying queerness the way it is in my little corner of the world, and now in Grace’s, too. In academia and the corporate world adjacent to it, the reality is very cis-heteronormative and white, so that’s the reality I put on the page. I wish the world did not work that way, but it does. So, to answer the question, I feel like I was writing the world as I saw it and also how it really is, which is a world in which queer people, especially queer people of color, live and breathe and survive for as long as we can.

There is a strong sense of community and collective care that is frequently referenced in Honey Girl. At times, Grace is treated with more love and acceptance from her “chosen family” than her blood relatives. What made you create such a multilayered approach to family and community care when portraying Grace’s support system?

I say this all the time, seriously, but I feel like “found family” or “chosen family” is such an important component of the varied queer experience. It’s so hard to be alone, especially with people who are your blood, and may still love you, but can’t really understand something that makes up such a huge part of you and influences the other intersections of your identity. You need queer friends and queer friends that feel like family because those are the people you lean on and learn from and support on your respective journeys.

For Grace, her chosen family provides her with unconditional love and unconditional honesty. She makes a lot of mistakes, and she gets in her head a lot, and they are right there to be like, hey, you are not the only person going through this thing. They all have their own lives and issues, and though not every problem revolves around their LGBTQ+ identity, because they are all sharing this queer identity, they are able to be their full, authentic selves when they are vulnerable and asking each other for help.

At the same time, I wanted to show Grace’s mom and dad as people she thinks should be infallible and all-knowing, but she has to realize that’s not possible. Parents are not perfect. Parents don’t know everything, or even half of everything. They are flawed people who make mistakes like anyone else. Sometimes those mistakes can be apologized for and relationships redeemed and repaired, and sometimes not. Sometimes the best thing is for people to break off from their parents entirely. It was important in Grace’s journey for her to start to think about the type of relationship she wanted with her parents that was best for all them and didn’t sacrifice her mental and emotional health.
Basically family, in all of its manifestations, can be really complicated and intricate and nuanced, and there are so many different ways to build one or multiple with the different people in your life.

What books have you read recently and loved, that inspired Honey Girl in some way or that you very much look forward to reading?

Recently I’ve read and loved Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, Saving Ruby King by Catherine Adel West, Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid, The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht, Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey, and of course, Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir.

There are so, so many books coming out this year that I want in my eyeballs immediately. I can’t list them all, so here’s five:

The Other Black Girl – Zakiya Dalila Harris

This Close to Okay – Leesa Cross-Smith

The Unbroken – C. L. Clark

A Queen of Gilded Horns – Amanda Joy

Dead Dead Girls – Nekesa Afia

Author Interview with Desmond Hall, author of “Your Corner Dark”

Thank you to @HearOurVoicesBT and @simonteen for an advanced copy of Your Corner Dark by Desmond Hall and the chance to interview the author!

Synopsis

American Street meets Long Way Down in this searing and gritty debut novel that takes an unflinching look at the harsh realities of gang life in Jamaica and how far a teen is willing to go for family.

Cover of Your Corner Dark by Desmond Hall

Things can change in a second:

The second Frankie Green gets that scholarship letter, he has his ticket out of Jamaica.

The second his longtime crush, Leah, asks him on a date, he’s in trouble.

The second his father gets shot, suddenly nothing else matters.

And the second Frankie joins his uncle’s gang in exchange for paying for his father’s medical bills, there’s no going back…or is there?

As Frankie does things he never thought he’d be capable of, he’s forced to confront the truth of the family and future he was born into—and the ones he wants to build for himself.

Author Interview with Desmond Hall

Adira: Congratulations on your debut novel, Your Corner Dark, Mr. Hall! 

I saw in your talk with Madeline Dyer for 2020’s YA Thriller Con that one of the inspirations behind this novel came from the loss of your uncle in Jamaica. I’d first like to extend my condolences for this personal loss. I know as an artist, drawing on personal pain is sometimes a source of inspiration. But, how were you able to balance grieving while also going through the writing process of telling such a detailed story about gang culture, police brutality, and political intrigue without being sucked back into that headspace?

Desmond Hall: I really like what the great actor Francis McDormand said about her art. She felt she had to figuratively pick at her wounds to keep them fresh, so she’d be able to access her pain, and apply it to her work. She actually dreaded the closing of her psychological wounds. This is a type of method acting that I think applies to writing as well. 

A: So often, the way that many people get introduced to Jamaica is as a country that’s akin to “paradise.” In my course on Globalization and Transnationalism, we watched the documentary Life and Debt, which spoke about how often we as tourists are never seeing the “real” Jamaica or partaking in the actual culture when we come to this island to visit. This made me think of how when reading your novel, readers are introduced to another viewpoint of your homeland that lingers just under Jamaica’s surface in the form of gang culture. Why did you feel that this story was important to talk about as a Jamaican?

DH: Your Corner Dark is a specific story, but also a universal one. The book touches on police brutality, gang culture, defining masculinity, and political intrigue. Those topics are just as relevant here in the States. I’m just telling the truth that I know. 

A: In your talk with Dyer, you mentioned that the title of your book is the Jamaican equivalent of the saying, “between a rock and a hard place.” In true fashion, Frankie is stuck between two worlds. On the one hand, he is a student who aspires to be an engineer and create things that will ease the hardships of he and his neighbors’ lives. Yet, Frankie is also living in a world that wants to box him in and make him become a part of gang culture even though everyone around him acknowledges that Frankie is “too smart” to go down this path. How did you balance telling Frankie’s story between these two realities while making it believable? 

Author Photo of Desmond Hall

DH: I think one of the keys is Frankie’s interiority. We get to know how he experiences the angst of having a father who he feels doesn’t understand him. We understand Frankie’s fear and admiration for a dangerous and charismatic uncle. We sympathize with the evil acts he feels compelled to commit. We also get to feel his shame when he ventures into a social class above his rank, and gets intimidated by sushi.  

A: One of my favorite parts of Your Corner Dark is the usage of Jamaican patois, the “unofficial language of Jamaica.” For me, the richness of this dialect draws from hearing Jamaicans speak their language out loud, similar to how I feel about hearing African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) being spoken. This got me thinking about Nate Marshall’s poetry collection, Finna, where he mentions that AAVE isn’t necessarily a dialect that’s meant to be written down but is meant to be spoken. Did you find a similar issue come up with your characters as you shaped their dialogue?

DH: I’m not familiar with Mr. Marshall’s thoughts on the matter, but I do believe It’s important to note that a lot of Jamaicans speak the Queens English as well as patois (Patwah in Jamaica). We have a lot of fun with the language, verbally, and in written form. In fact, a lot of the newspapers run social commentary cartoons, and the characters often speak in a thick patwah. 

A: I mention this because, at one point in the story, when Frankie hears Leah “chat patois,” he is shocked because he says that some Jamaicans aren’t comfortable with speaking in patois. As a reader who is not an #OwnVoices reviewer, I was unsure if this was indicative of the class issue between Leah and Frankie, which is a topic that comes up several times, or if there was a variation of the dialect that Frankie, a person from the country would speak, versus Leah, who is from the city. 

The Jamaican upper middle class has a tendency to be very conservative, even to the extent of reviling Rastafarians, even though Rastas are featured in our tourism advertising. This disdain also extends to speaking patwah. It’s similar to how some Americans look at the southern drawl (Dolly Parton actually points this out!). Frankie is aware that Leah is from the upper middle class as most kids are in his fancy school, and he worries that Leah may harbor some of those upper middle class tendencies. 

A: In your talk with Dyer, you also mention that Your Corner Dark is your “love letter to Jamaica.” What is the one thing you want your readers to take away from this story?

DH: I want them to understand more the complexity of Jamaica. Seven days and six nights at the resort won’t show people the real Jamaica, even with excursions. 

A: Your background as a screenwriter really shines in this novel! As I was reading Frankie’s story, I was in awe of the fact that so much of the story’s content’s felt as if they are primed to be on the “big screen.” Have you thought of turning this book into a screenplay?

DH: It’s funny you ask because I’d originally written this story as a screenplay, and back in the day, it was a runner up in the IFP Screenwriting contest in NYC.

Over the last few months, we’ve been having meetings with a few TV producers, so we’ll see. 

A: You also mentioned that you moved from Jamaica to Jamaica, Queens in New York City. Does this shift in geographical location have any bearings on the types of stories you write about?

DH: I think all my experiences come into play when I write. I remember talking to the great screenwriter, Budd Schulburg. I asked him how he came up with that great line from the awesome movie, ON THE WATERFRONT. “…I coulda been a contender…instead of a bum.” He said he was in Gleason’s boxing gym, and overheard a palooka saying those words to his manager. Mr. Schulburg said he quickly jotted down the line because he knew he would use it in a script one day. That day didn’t come until many years later, but he knew to catalogue the encounter. Essentially, he was telling me to draw from all my experiences, and use anything relevant to help render the story I want to tell.  

A: What are some of your writing influences or authors you deem as “must-read?”

I’m moved by Richard Price, and how he imbues crime stories with so much humanity. I wish I could be as harshly real as James Baldwin or as deep as Toni Morrison. 

In the YA space, I love reading Jason Reynolds and Courtney Summers.

A: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

DH: 

-Grubstreet is a great writing school. 

-There’s a famous quote about how published authors are the ones who didn’t give up. 

-The SAVE THE CAT book(s) are quick and easy ways to add the power of story structure to your arsenal. If you want a more in depth way, take the Mckee Story Class, and buckle up. 

Thank you so much for your time and for the opportunity to interview you, Mr. Hall!

Author Bio

Desmond Hall was born in Jamaica, West Indies, and moved to Jamaica, Queens. He has worked as a high school biology and English teacher; counseled teenage ex-cons after their release from Rikers Island; and served as Spike Lee’s creative director at Spike DDB. Desmond has served on the board of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and the Advertising Council and judged the One Show, the American Advertising Awards, and the NYC Downtown Short Film Festival. He’s also been named one of Variety magazine’s Top 50 Creatives to Watch. Desmond lives outside of Boston with his wife and two daughters.

Until We’re Fish by Susannah R. Drissi #BookReview

Thank you to @RandomTTours and Mrs. Rodríguez Drissi for my finished copy of Until We’re Fish!

Blog Tour Dates for Until We’re Fish

In a virtual talk with Harvard Book Store, Susannah Rodríguez Drissi says of her title, Until We’re Fish, that “fish are bounty…they speak of potential.” For her, the loose translation of her title means “until [the characters] are able to claim a space for [them]selves and feel like [they] belong,” they will always feel like “fish out of water.” And nothing can be more accurate for the three main characters, Elio, Maria, and Pepe, as the reader follows them on their journey into adulthood over a span of thirty years in Cuba. 

Cover of Until We’re Fish by Rodríguez Drissi

Set from 1958 to the 1990s, Until We’re Fish by Susannah Rodríguez Drissi, is a coming-of-age story. Elio, Maria, and Pepe grow up during the tumultuous years of the Cuban Revolution. As the novel unfolds, each character is forced to make hard choices as they wrestle with the futures they desire for themselves while living in the unfair world that the revolution creates.

As a girl, Maria dreams of freedom and moving to Chicago after spending years reading the Sears catalog. However, Elio, her neighbor, only dreams of Maria and owning a Schwinn bike. In direct competition with Pepe, his friend and rival for Maria’s heart, Elio holds out hope that Maria will be his.

Author photo of Rodríguez Drissi

Rodríguez Drissi’s prose is distinct as she narrates the lives of her characters. This author’s descriptive portrayal of Cubans trying to fight to survive succeeded in drawing me in as a reader because I could picture revolutionary Cuba during the 50’s going forward. And as a lover of languages, having the author use rich references and imagery to her home country and the novel, Don Quixote, helped build suspense about what choices her characters would make regarding their lives and fleeing Cuba. However, it also drives home the point that the Cuba mainland Americans imagine pales compared to the world that native Cubans inhabit or for the world those who immigrated left behind.

Until We’re Fish is an authentic tale about survival, love, and coming of age in a world where nothing is a sure thing. Lovers of Chanel Cleeton’s When We Left Cuba and Next Year in Havana will enjoy returning to Cuba from the perspective of Cubans who were left on the island or chose to stay as revolution broke out.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune #BookReview

“𝘚𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘵𝘪𝘮𝘦𝘴, 𝘣𝘦𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘥𝘪𝘧𝘧𝘦𝘳𝘦𝘯𝘵 𝘧𝘦𝘦𝘭𝘴 𝘢 𝘭𝘰𝘵 𝘭𝘪𝘬𝘦 𝘣𝘦𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘢𝘭𝘰𝘯𝘦.” – 𝘓𝘪𝘯𝘥𝘴𝘦𝘺 𝘚𝘵𝘪𝘳𝘭𝘪𝘯𝘨

W𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙬𝙖𝙨 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙡𝙖𝙨𝙩 𝙗𝙤𝙤𝙠 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙙 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙬𝙖𝙧𝙢𝙚𝙙 𝙮𝙤𝙪𝙧 𝙝𝙚𝙖𝙧𝙩?

In August, I read The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune after seeing Mara (@bookslikewhoa) rave about it on her BookTube page. Klune’s novel is one of a kind in its depiction of the child welfare state and how “unwanted” children are often herded from place to place with no real care for their wellbeing. Even though this author has placed the children in his story in an alternate world, it speaks to the plight of children who are either minority or LGBTQ+ or “hard to manage.”

Author, TJ Klune
Author, TJ Klune

Klune’s book starts in this “alternate” version of what seems to be London with Linus Baker, a caseworker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, who happens to be gay. Linus is a character who the reader will immediately recognize as a person who’s just going through the motions at work. For all those in the helping profession, you’ll recognize him immediately as a person who’s “burned out” and just going through the motions of his job.

The House in the Cerulean Sea book cover
The House in the Cerulean Sea

However, this all changes when he’s sent to check up on Arthur Parnassus and his gang of “misfit” children. The children under Arthur’s care can be seen to represent several unwanted groups of children, such as those with behavioral issues (Lucy, the Antichrist), those who are transgendered or non-binary (Talia, a female gnome, & Chauncey, an anthropomorphic blob), mischaracterized BIPOC children (Sal, a Black teenager who has been characterized as “violent” even though he’s just introverted), and the neurodiverse (Phee, a sprite who relates more to nature, & Theodore, a wyvern with limited speech patterns).

While the world and Linus at the beginning of the book view Arthur’s charges as a danger to society, he knows better. Through careful work with each child, he’s able to bring out the best in them. Sadly, this is not the route many people take when dealing with children in each of these populations, causing them more harm than good.

I will admit when I met the kids in Klune’s book, I was a little taken aback by the fact that Sal, who seems to be the only child of color, was depicted as a “were-dog.” Yet, it hit me that this was a stroke of brilliance since Sal’s transformation from being this “scary animal” that society sees him as mirrors the plight of black men everywhere once they go past the toddler stage. Sal is a victim of circumstance who has PTSD from the violence inflicted on him. He’s not only intelligent and poetic, but also the calmest child out the bunch. Likewise, the fact that Klune subtle pokes fun at the irony of dogs being highly protected by society when BIPOC aren’t had me smirking.

This book is a heartwarming tale that everyone needs to read! I gave it 4 ⭐️. It’s a book for the whole family. Checkout some of the character avatars that the publisher, TOR Forge, shared on their site below and on their website!

From top to bottom:  The Marsyas Island Orphanage (@rednosestudio), The very dapper Chauncey, looking dashing as always with his bellhop attire (@mavilez_), Lucy, being the very innocent person that he is and in no way ever thinking about murder. Ever. *side eyes* (@mavilez_), & Last but not least, Talia, ready to work on her garden! Do we have any volunteers to help? (@mavilez_)
From top to bottom: The Marsyas Island Orphanage (@rednosestudio), The very dapper Chauncey, looking dashing as always with his bellhop attire (@mavilez_), Lucy, being the very innocent person that he is and in no way ever thinking about murder. Ever. *side eyes* (@mavilez_), & Last but not least, Talia, ready to work on her garden! Do we have any volunteers to help? (@mavilez_)

Furia by Yamile Saied Mendez #BookReview

𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘮𝘰𝘴𝘵 𝘥𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘦𝘳𝘰𝘶𝘴 𝘸𝘰𝘮𝘢𝘯 𝘰𝘧 𝘢𝘭𝘭 𝘪𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘸𝘩𝘰 𝘳𝘦𝘧𝘶𝘴𝘦𝘴 𝘵𝘰 𝘳𝘦𝘭𝘺 𝘰𝘯 𝘺𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘴𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘥 𝘵𝘰 𝘴𝘢𝘷𝘦 𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘣𝘦𝘤𝘢𝘶𝘴𝘦 𝘴𝘩𝘦 𝘤𝘢𝘳𝘳𝘪𝘦𝘴 𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘰𝘸𝘯. – r.h. sin 

𝐅𝐞𝐥𝐥𝐨𝐰 Readers, 𝐰𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐬𝐭𝐢𝐭𝐮𝐭𝐞𝐬 𝐚 ”Young Adult Novel” 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐲𝐨𝐮?

I recently received a digital ARC of Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez  from @Netgalley, and was blown away! 

Furia is the story of Camila Hassan, a soccer prodigy that lives in Rosario, Argentina. As the only daughter of a misogynistic father, Camila is forced to hide her dreams of playing soccer from her parents, who hope she will become a doctor or marry rich to help them escape poverty.

Méndez’s #OwnVoices book is everything I could ever want in a YA Novel. This author tackles feminism, the fragile male ego, domestic and mental abuse, and what life can be like for women and abandoned children in a violent and impoverished country in the Global South. And, not to mention, Méndez’s book has a “friends to lovers” romance, a sports plotline, and involves social commentary on what it means to be a woman in a culture that runs on machismo.

Earning the nickname, “La Furia,” from admirers for her prowess on the soccer field, Camila is sure that she can help save her family if given a chance. When her childhood friend, Diego, comes home from playing pro-soccer overseas, she is forced to choose between her desire to be independent and play the sport she loves or yield to her family and Diego’s wishes for her. 

Méndez navigates multiple plot lines and character development with finesse and manages to ask the bigger question of what happens in society if women are not protected and allowed to live full lives? This book has a little something for all readers.

𝐏𝐥𝐞𝐚𝐬𝐞, 𝐩𝐫𝐞-𝐨𝐫𝐝𝐞𝐫 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐜𝐨𝐩𝐲! 𝐈𝐭 𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐞𝐬 𝐨𝐮𝐭 𝐨𝐧 𝐓𝐮𝐞𝐬𝐝𝐚𝐲, 𝐒𝐞𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐦𝐛𝐞𝐫 𝟏𝟓!