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!

Un-American by Hafizah Geter #BookReview #TheSealeyChallenge

#TheSealeyChallenge: Un-American by Hafizah Geter 

Created by @IntrovertInterrupted

What is #TheSealeyChallenge?

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.

Poet and Educator, Nicole Sealey
Poet and Educator, Nicole Sealey

After four years, the Sealey Challenge has been transformed into “a movement of poetry lovers reading a book a day and sharing their reads with the cyber world.” This has led to readers forming lasting bonds through their love of poetry.

My Goals for The Sealey Challenge

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.

My first read for the challenge is Un-American by Hafizah Geter.

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.”

Un-American by Hafizah Geter book cover
The cover image is a painting by Geter’s father, Tyrone Geter, who did a painting of Geter’s mother when she was pregnant with her older sister

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. 

Take the closing lines of the poem, “The Break In,” for example:

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. 

The poet, Hafizah Geter.
(Nigeria/USA), New York, New York, February 7, 2020.  Photograph © Beowulf Sheehan
The poet, Hafizah Geter (Nigeria/USA), New York, New York, February 7, 2020. Photograph © Beowulf Sheehan

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,

they multiply.

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

expires.

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.