Tag Archives: faith

November Round Up

Again, I’m still super behind, so I’m going to do a round up because I REALLY want to share these books with you and if I wait for a full post it might never happen.

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

Being a teenager during the Summer of Sam is difficult – fun is always limited by how safe 25982606you feel and Nora is struggling to enjoy her last year of high school. She doesn’t know what will come next, her brother Hector is growing ever more unstable, and the family is struggling to pay their bills.

This is my second Medina book and I love how she draws out the small details to gives us a really full world and characters. I felt for Nora and celebrated when she made decisions that lead her toward more happiness. Diversity: Nora and her family are Latinx, Hector is dealing with some mental health issues, and Medina is Cuban American.

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

28220826Miel fell out of a water tower and Sam was the only one that could make her feel safe. She lives with Aracely now and must face the beautiful Bonner sisters as they try to steal the roses that grow from her wrist and keep their ability to enchant the town’s boys. Sam paints moons that light the town and helps its children sleep while keeping his own secrets.

This is modern magical realism at its most lyrical. Pumpkins in a field turn to glass, roses grow from skin, the river can transform someone into their true self – and at the same time, a pregnancy and the ensuing gossip can destroy a girl, birth certificates are necessary for high school enrollment, and hate and misunderstanding can still tear people down. I’m still letting this book sit with me because I’m not totally sure how I feel about it yet. It made me feel and I think it’s important, but I’m not sure I ultimately liked it. HOWEVER – I will shove it at people looking for magic in the everyday and who love beautiful writing. Diversity: Sam’s mother is Pakistani, his father is Catalan (I think?), Miel is Latina, and there are two transgender characters.

Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana

Tara’s best (and only) friend is spending their junior year of high school studying abroad 25802922so Tara hates the idea of schools starting. She doesn’t want to be totally alone. But even as she dreads it, she must also face startling news – an alternate Earth with just a few changes has been discovered. As everyone comes to terms with what that means, Tara finds herself navigating a new group of friends, her mother’s obsession with the new Earth, and just what kind of person she wants to be.

I really wanted to love this book – it’s a great premise and it brought up a lot of interesting ideas, but I never felt fully invested in the story. I think part of it was the writing and part of it was Tara as a character. However, I appreciated the honest look at microaggressions that Tara has to put up with – though that appreciation is slightly decreased by the rather poor way the book deals with anorexia and weight in general. In some ways this felt like an older person’s interpretation of how “mean girls” interact without respecting them as full people. I’m not sure exactly what, but something was off. Diversity: Tara is biracial (Indian and white American) and less well off in a very, very wealthy area. Also, #ownvoices.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Amanda is the new girl and, even though she has a secret to keep, she’s making a bunch of26156987 new friends. She even has a boyfriend – and she can’t hold herself back from becoming invested in the relationship even if it’s dangerous. And when the secret is out – who will stay by her side?

This is generally not my kind of book – contemporary, high school drama, and romance – but Amanda is an engaging character and the time switch across chapters adds an interesting depth to the story. And, even with the discrimination and violence that Amanda suffers, this is still a fairly light book. Russo addresses that in her afterword and I’m saddened that the story has to be made so, so palatable for cis/hetero readers (but I’m also glad that trans readers have something light and happy to read). Diversity: This is one of the (or the?) first YA books about a transgender character by a transgender author with a transgender model on its cover.

The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine (Book #1 of a series)

23495112Elli has been raised to become Queen of her people and when, on the night that she must accept the magical power that comes with the crown, things go wrong, she must find a way to stay true to her loyalties while saving herself.

This was so good! The world building is amazing and I loved the characters. I am disappointed that this is a series starter because I really thought things were going to be nicely wrapped up, but also – yay! more books! Diversity: Bisexual main character, lots of racial diversity among characters.

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie (book #1 of a series)

Cas is a trainer of Reckoners, dedicated to protecting ships as they cross ever-growing seas24790901 and the pirates that call them home. But, when her first solo mission goes wrong, she must navigate the difficult obstacles that a pirate captain and a baby Reckoner put in her path.

I thought the concept behind this was really interesting, though I would have liked more explanation about exactly why the person that made a rogue Reckoner possible made that decision (although, the “who” of this mystery was easy to see from the very beginning). Diversity: Cas is of Asian descent (I think Chinese?), there’s a main f/f relationship, and there’s a lot of diversity among the pirate crew.

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Outrun the Moon

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee26192915

Summary

Mercy lives in San Francisco’s Chinatown with her family. Her father spends long hours working in his laundry and expects his children to work hard for the family, too. Mercy dreams of something bigger and with the aid of a Texan lady’s business guidebook, she’s going to stop at nothing to get herself there. She uses her business acumen to secure a place at the local private school for wealthy girls and is on her way to finding success…and then the great San Francisco earthquake hits and everything changes.

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Romance Score: A+ Success

I really enjoyed the relationship between Tom and Mercy because it is the best kind – childhood friendship that becomes something more and then has to deal with family, future, and disaster. Tom and Mercy both have dreams and they selflessly do their best to support each other toward their goals – even at the risk of a future together.

I also appreciated that the romance, while obviously important to Mercy, is not the center of the story. Instead, it only serves to make Mercy a more complex character and to up the stakes of the story.

Feminist Score: A+ Success

This is a story about girls coming together to survive a terrible tragedy and unite communities to serve one another. Mercy doesn’t let racism, sexism, or her family get in the way of her dreams and she uses her wits to devise a plan toward success. I can imagine Mercy as one of the featured ladies in #BygoneBadassBroads because she will surely do even greater things as San Francisco and the Chinese community recover from the Earthquake of 1906.

Diversity Score: A+ Success

Through Mercy, readers get a glimpse into the early 1900 Chinese community in San Francisco. Her parents seek to maintain their traditions while adjusting to the necessities of life in the U.S. Through Mercy and the people in her neighborhood we see the racism, prejudice, and poverty that Chinese people in the U.S. had to (and continue to) deal with.

Plus, Mercy’s classmates at St. Clare’s School for Girls are a diverse bunch themselves – from heiresses from old money to Texan new money, these girls come from different places and families with their own stories. We don’t get to know all of them, but the main girls are more than the “mean” girl or the “friendly one.” I really enjoyed getting to know the ensemble of girls as well.

And, shout out to the headmistress who has her own story going for her!

Awesome Factor: A+ Success

Lee does an amazing job with historical fiction. She personalizes a dreadful day in U.S. history with rich characters and amazing setting details. The story is engaging and you’re rooting for Mercy after just a few pages. I loved that she referred back to a single book as her inspiration and guide for her success (and the twist at the end with regard to this book was fantastic). The reference to the power of books (especially when access to them is limited) makes the story that much more special.


Favorite Character

The Girls – Mercy is obviously a stand out, but the story is made even more amazing by the group of girls that she comes to know at St. Clare’s.

Fun Author Fact

When Lee won the Golden Gate Award at a SCBWI conference, she thought the winner was someone with the same name; she couldn’t believe it was her!

Is this worth a book hangover?

ABSOLUTELY! The characters and story are an amazing and, just like Lee’s other books, the window into history only adds to the richness of the book.

Read These Next

Obviously, Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee because she is a boss with historical fiction and Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez for a look at another tragedy with a much more disturbing end.

Post Author: Jess

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Book Discussion: The Serpent King

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner 22752127

Summary

Dill has had a rough life. He’s the son of a Pentecostal, snake-handling preacher and now the target for the bullies at school that hate him for his father’s faith and crimes.

But, his friendships with Travis, a boy obsessed with an epic book series and its world, and Lydia, a fashion blogger using her internet fame to get out of their Tennessee town, are what keep him grounded…at least until high school is over and Lydia leaves and Dill has no other choice but to accept the family legacy.

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heartRomance Score: Good Effort

The relationship that develops is sweet and natural. And, in a way, it felt like the relationship was not just between the girl and the boy, but also the boy finding a safe, loving home in her family. But, this is an end of high school book, so it’s also a little bittersweet – no one is ever sure what will happen once graduation comes and the final pre-college summer is over.

RosieFeminist Score: A+ Success

The main reason I’m giving this a good score, even though the mothers in this book suffer greatly due to their marriages and community expectations about staying with your spouse, is because Lydia is a mouthy, badass, self-confident example of girls that love something and won’t make excuses for it. Plus, her explanations of the hunt for clothes at shops, her interactions with her internet followers, and her joy in finding the perfect outfit were a great example of how girls don’t have to make apologies for loving something and that the things that are coded feminine are just as difficult and worthwhile as masculine activities. Plus, I loved that her feminist proclamations are coming from a girl in Tennessee – whose parents are also from Tennessee – so it shows that feminism is for everyone.

BUT, I will flag that if she were anything less than she is, the score would go down a grade because of the domestic abuse and women that make very difficult choices.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

This book is important because it shows things that aren’t always common in YA: poverty, religious community, and the South. I really appreciated the perspective in this book because it’s rare to read a YA book where college isn’t an assumed next step for the characters. Dill and Travis both plan to finish high school, start working, and stay in their hometown. In fact, they don’t really have much of a plan at all, more like they’ll just keep doing what they already do because they’re not sure there’s much else anyway. Even though Lydia pushes them (from a position of privilege) to aim for something different/higher, it’s still their main consideration.

This is not common!

Plus, Dill talks about his activities in the worship band and about going to church and how the folks that left the community had to find a new, similar church and what that means for their Sunday plans. I appreciated that The Serpent King incorporated the day-to-day of living faith into the story – even if it is not necessarily a positive faith.

Additionally, Dill suffers from depression and has a “family curse” that he’s fighting to stay on top of. Plus, Travis has to deal with a dad that’s alcoholic and abusive and probably also depressed because Travis’s older brother died fighting in the Middle East.

There is a lot of heavy stuff in this book and I ended up crying a TON, but it was so, so good.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

This book, guys, this book is a heart squeezer. If you don’t cry at least once while you’re reading it, I’m not sure you’re human. Because Dill and Lydia and Travis…they are the trio of friends you wish you had in high school because of their loyalty and love for each other.

The writing is amazing, you can feel Tennessee around them, and the hopelessness of Travis and Dill weighs on you. When Travis gets his birthday present, my little booknerd heart bawled because it is just the.best.ever. And then…and then Travis goes home and then something else happens and I was crying again – very different tears.

Be prepared, there’s a lot packed in here.


Favorite Character

Travis – Because he loves books, lives in his fantasy world, and is doing the best he can to be happy and kind in a world that hasn’t given much to work with.

Favorite Line

Nothing makes you feel more naked than someone identifying a desire you never knew you possessed.

Fun Author Fact

Zentner was a musician first who decided he wanted to give writing a book a try. WHAT a book.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes. Absolutely. It’s beautiful. It’s sad. It’s full of hope. It’s also very, very heavy, so be prepared for some sadness and shock. I don’t want to spoil it, but there was one thing that happened and I wasn’t ready at all and…this book will hit you like a ton of bricks, but then you’ll want to make everyone else read it too!

Read These Next

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez for a book that will also tear your heart to pieces and then give you the shreds of hope you need to move on or When We Collided for another story of two people meeting and coming together just when they need it most.

Post Author: Jess

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Book Discussion: Shadowshaper

22295304Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Summary

Sierra is excited to spend the summer with her friends and to finish up the mural she started on an abandoned building on her block. That is…until the murals around her start to move and fade and the people around her start to keep secrets. As she digs into just what is going on, she learns that her family’s heritage involves shadowshaping – using specific talents to harness the powers of the spirits around them. But someone is attacking shadowshapers and instead of enjoying the summer she has to figure out how to stop the killer and save her family.

shadowshaper.png

heart

Romance Score: A+ Success

The tingles between Robbie and Sierra are a slow burn that doesn’t take over the narrative. Sierra depends on Robbie for information about shadowshaping and respects him for his drawing skills long before she starts to feel anything extra for him. It’s only as the mystery – and danger – build that she starts to accept that he could be anything more. Her feelings for him are only a small part of the story unfolding and I liked that it was more about Sierra rocking her new skills and accepting her family’s heritage with a small side of heart business.

Rosie

Feminist Score: A+ Success

There are several different kinds of ladies in this book, but they all rock it. Sierra fights for what she wants, protecting her friends, family, and her desire to understand her family history. Sierra’s grandmother proves that there’s no way to stop a matriarch when she’s made a decision – even if she has to sacrifice herself. And, even though we may disagree with her decisions, we understand why Sierra’s mother made the decisions she did when faced with difficult choices (and we get to see her change her mind). Plus, there’s no single way to be a woman – we have Sierra that likes to dress in old tee shirts and jeans, Bennie that wants to be a scientist or or biologist or…something intellectualee, T and Izzy, Sierra’s two lesbian friends, and Nydia, a Puerto Rican working at the Colombia library. All of them are doing their best to be their best in a world set against them.

Sierra calls out a lot of things throughout the book. She talks about her natural hair and loving it even if it’s not considered “good hair.” She talks about colorism in the community and rants at her aunt for acting like lighter is better. She gets whistled at, yelled at, and propositioned while walking down the street and points out how messed up it is. If it’s something women (especially women of color) deal with, Sierra hits on it.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

This book blows it away. We have Sierra – Puerto Rican-American, Robbie – Haitian (American?), and Sierra’s friends from several backgrounds. Tee and Izzy are lesbians. Her grandfather has recently suffered a stroke and is incapacitated in many ways. The story takes play in Brooklyn, New York, and you get strong sense of place. Conversations about gentrification occur a couple of times without feeling like they were stuck in to “make a point.” And the book revolves around non-European folklore and ancestral memory which we also don’t see often.

The book will be a strong mirror for many readers – there’s Spanish (not italicized), food, dancing, music, and other cultural markers that will mean everything to readers that don’t usually get to see themselves in books. It will also serve as a good window book – though that is a side bonus, not the focus – because Older writes with such a deft hand and Sierra is an engaging character.

wow iconAwesome Factor: A+ Success

The characters and story are engaging. The location and sense of place are on point and the pace does not let go once it gets started. I really enjoyed the story and almost missed my metro stop a couple of times because I couldn’t stop reading. There’s a lot going on in the book peripheral to the story – police brutality, gentrification, misogyny, sexism, racism – they all get attention but it never feels like it’s been shoved in to make an issue. Instead, it always feels like a natural part of Sierra’s (and her friends’) experience.

I really liked Sierra’s voice and the fun cast of characters that she brings with her. I would definitely recommend this to anyone that enjoys paranormal, supernatural, urban, fantasy, or action-packed stories.

Also – THAT COVER.


Favorite Character

Sierra – because she’s spunky, and bright, and doesn’t let other people’s expectations or restrictions hold her back. (But, I want to give a shout out to Bennie for being an awesome friend that reps the nerdy side of things.)

Favorite Line

This is long, but I laughed out loud. Plus, since I studied anthropology in university, I feel a little extra love for this excerpt. I also loved the way this book discussed the ethical (and privilege) issues around anthropology.

“Imma write a book,” Tee announced. “It’s gonna be about white people.”

Izzy scowled. “Seriously, Tee: Shut up. Everyone can hear you.”

“I’m being serious,” Tee said. “If this Wick cat do all this research about Sierra’s grandpa and all his Puerto Rican spirits, I don’t see why I can’t write a book about his people. Imma call it Hipster vs. Yuppie: a Culturalpological Study.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely. It was fast, fun, and exciting. I enjoyed getting to know Sierra and her family  – and her family’s heritage. I definitely recommend this is you’re looking for something action filled.

Fun Author Fact

Older has one of the most interesting twitter accounts – if you care about young adult books, diversity, representation, inequality, and justice in the US.

Read These Next

This Side of Home by Renée Watson for a story about twins dealing with a neighborhood in change or Black Beauty by Constance Burris for another paranormal story deeply rooted in place and community.

 

 

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Book Chat: The Weight of Feathers

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The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

Summary

Cluck is a Corbeau, a feather-growing, tightrope-walking family. Lace is a Paloma, a family of mermaids that dance in the water. Their families have been enemies for as long as they can remember. Each knows that contact with anyone from the other family would mean infection from black magic. But, when an industrial accident nearly kills Lace and Cluck is the one to save her everything they’ve ever known turns upside down. They have to decide if they can stay true to themselves and let their hearts guide them.

weight of feathers


Favorite Character

Tia Lora – She hasn’t let her past bring her bitterness like some of the other women in the feud and she does her best to give Lace the strength and love she needs to survive within the Paloma family.

Favorite Line

“He was beautiful in ways that made him ugly to his family.”

Fun Author Fact

McLemore has her own mermaid tail! It’s red.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes! It is beautifully written with some amazing lines and great characters. The families and their stories are just as interesting as the main characters and the interwoven storylines make it richer and deeper than “just” a story about Lace and Cluck.

Read These Next

Dream Things True by Marie Marquardt for another Romeo and Juliet-esque story set in present day Georgia or Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez for another couple divided by family and social expectations with a hint of magical realism.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

 

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Book Discussion: Conviction

Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert

Summary

Braden believes in God and the promises God makes – especially the one to keep his family together, even though that’s not 18398627what happened. Now, after his father is accused of murder, Braden is questioning everything. And, he needs to get answers fast because he’s the key witness for his father’s trial.

All the while, he has to figure out how to keep up his baseball game to ensure he keeps the scouts interested until his senior year of high school. It shouldn’t be a problem – he’s been playing for years, but the biggest game of the year is also the one where Braden will face Alex Reyes, the nephew of the police officer his father is accused of killing.

Braden will have to make difficult choices, ones that will affect him forever.

heartRomance Factor: You’re Trying

Braden has a couple of cute moments with Maddie, a fellow church youth group attendee, but ultimately, he’s not in a place to be fair to her – as a friend or in a relationship. I thought Maddie was well developed, but I deduct a ton of points for the way Braden’s church and father have taught him to interact with girls. But, bonus points because I appreciate that Braden has understood that he is responsible for his own thoughts and behaviors and never blames any of his “impure thoughts” on Maddie’s behavior .

RosieFeminism Score: Not a Bit

The women in this book are foils for the men in the story. They are either cute, mistreated high school girls, old girlfriends rejected because they are painful reminders, cuckolded wives, or mothers that abandoned their children. There’s not much to say about them.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Not a Bit

I originally picked this book because I knew it featured a devout, religious boy – a character we don’t often find in mainstream YA. Religious characters are a minority, but the mainstream Christianity that Braden’s father espouses on his radio show and which Braden believes in is not, so I already knew this was a stretch for “diversity.” But, Braden’s father is the (in my opinion) worst kind of Christian, shouting hate against the people in his community that are most vulnerable. Braden has tacitly accepted his father’s opinions for his own, though we get tiny hints of doubt as the book moves – especially related to one character and his identity. Even so, we never hear a clear rejection of the racist, bigoted views and for readers that identify with any of those communities this book is probably a collection of micoaggressions.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I really liked Braden. He’s a compelling character, his innocence is sweet, and I really wanted to find out what he finally decided with regards to his father’s trial. I also found the exploration of family, love, and forgiveness well done; Braden’s faith and love serve as a strong contrast to the selfish, demanding behaviors of his father. My issues come from the lack of diversity, the lack of women, and the ending. I was disappointed by Braden’s decision, considering the aspects of his character that were built up throughout the story.


Favorite Character

Trey – he values self-preservation and recognizes the value of his own happiness over the bonds of family, but he still loves his brother enough to return to help him through the trial.

Favorite Line

“I have that feeling I get sometimes around (someone), that there’s a huge gap between how much you matter to a person and how much they matter to you.”

This speaks SO MUCH to me – it’s like that feeling when you want to be friends with someone, but you don’t know how to even introduce yourself to the person.

Fun Author Fact

It is November, so I have to point out that Loy Gilbert is part of the NANOWRIMO Associate Board.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I loved Braden as a character and I am grateful for the new respect for baseball that he gave me. There are some issues with the book, but it is a decent mystery that dissects love, family, and the bonds that connect us.

Read These Next

Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham for a more diverse detective story or Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu for an examination of religion, family, and finding one’s self.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Discussion: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

Summary

Minnow’s parents decide to follow the Prophet into the wilderness. As part of the select group lead by his prophecies, they’re17185496 community learns how to live truly and serve the Prophet’s rules. But, Minnow is able to remember life before the Prophet. And when she makes a friend with someone she shouldn’t, the questions that had been slowly growing finally bloom into full doubt. But – that’s not when we meet Minnow. No, we meet her after. After she’s lost her home. Her family. Her community. Her arms. And maybe herself.

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying

Part of Minnow’s relationship with Mr. Woodsman are cute, but ultimately, it’s two damaged teens trying to find solace from situations that are pretty messed up. And, while I’m glad she was able to think through and get over her community’s racism, I still feel like it happened pretty quickly. And, while Mr. Woodsyboy is sweet and there for Minnow when she needs someone, he tries to do the exact same, possessive stuff that she experienced at the community.

RosieFeminism Score: Good Effort

This book is SO MESSED up in several ways – the community’s treatment of women, the perpetuation of rape culture (women are the holders of men’s honor, women need to dress modestly because it’s all their fault), and the ultimate punishment doled out to Minnow – so many wrongs. But, there are a couple of stand outs – Minnow herself doesn’t allow the Prophet to erase her humanity, Minnow’s roommate doing what she can to protect the newbie, and Minnow’s mother finally breaking out of her abuse-induced daze (maybe). I’m going to focus on the positives of Minnow’s resiliency and strength – and willingness to accept her broken spirit to heal – instead of the awful, brainwashed women in the community, especially Minnow’s sister.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

I’m giving this book points for including a minority religious group – although there is something to be said for who gets to decide what is a “legitimate” religion or not. I definitely think the Prophet’s group is an unhealthy, unsafe, cruel place/cult, but I think we should consider not discounting small congregations just because their different from the mainstream. Points also for Minnow arm loss – living without limbs means moving through the world differently, having to adapt everyday tasks, and I think the book did a good job of showing that – especially while Minnow is in detention. I also give points for showing up life in the detention center without making it exotic. The girls in there have done things, but listening to most of their stories we learn – through Minnow – that the world unfairly punishes them for protecting themselves.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

All the pieces come together to make an intense read. The community, the escape to a tree house, finding a sweet, innocent love outside the confines of the Prophet’s rules, and Minnow’s desire to keep her own secrets all create a pretty great whole. It was a little too much at times, but I still have recommended it to several people. I think the ultimate lesson that girls need to take their fate into their own is the takeaway.


Favorite Character

Angel – she does what she can to survive, keeping her hard exterior as protection, but she never really totally eliminated her heart.

Favorite Line

“…and I think that’s what love does, makes you strong. Makes you think nothing can bring you down. It’s the only kind of lie that I’d be happy to live with.”

Even in a dark place, Minnow can hope…even if it’s sexy times that gets her there.

Is it worth a book hangover?

Honestly, it’s a disturbing read, but I couldn’t put it down. I really liked Minnow’s voice and the cast of characters that joined her.

Fun Author Fact

Oakes based this off the fairy tale, “The Handless Maiden.”

Read These Next

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu for another girl finding her way through (or out of) a religious community or Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert for a boy lead by faith trying to decide how much he should say during an investigation into his father’s actions.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Discussion: A Thousand Nights

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

Summary

The king, Lo-Melkhiin, is killing his wives. He was a strong, fair leader and then, after he went out to hunt, he came back cold 21524446and hungry for brides. No one knows exactly why his wives die, but they know they don’t like it. The people of the kingdom enforce a system – one girl from every village before the cycle starts again. So, when it’s time for our main character’s village, she knows her beautiful, stunning, amazing sister will be picked – because everyone loves her more. Since the main character is strong and loyal, she knows she has to do something to gain the king’s attention and take her sister’s place. She successfully does so and then, once she’s in the palace and married, manages to live out the night – and many more. Lo-Melkhiin finds her an intriguing adversary and she uses mysterious powers to keep death at bay.

heartRomance Score: Not a Bit

Lo-Melkhiin is killing his brides. And it’s totally by choice. The main character is fighting for her life in a situation with a huge power imbalance. There’s no cute guy coming to save her and she’s not looking for one. I guess there could be some romance if you consider how her parents respect and honor each other, but…since she gets pulled from her village fairly early on, I don’t count that.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

I give points here because the main character is a strong, clever girl doing what she can to ensure the safety of her family and her people. She maintains a respect for her culture and does her best to subvert the power systems to work for her. In addition, she becomes a symbol of strength and a smallgod (sort of saint or protector) for the women and girls of her kingdom which is pretty badass. Overall, I think she’s a pretty cool character even if she’s a little obedient or submissive in the palace.

What I did not like was the motivation behind sacrificing herself for her sister. Even though it was slightly played as “I’m stronger/made for this,” the narrative about her sister being more beautiful, more beloved, and all around better came through more clearly – and it felt like a kind of “I’m not worthy of living, so I’ll just die for her” sacrifice rather than courage. Now, she still sacrificed herself and found a wellspring of power while doing so, so I’m not docking points (we all find strength through different scenarios), but it was a little disappointing.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Not a Bit/You’re Trying

This may not feel like a fair score to some readers, but I have reasons. Good things first: the character lives in a desert and is part of an underrepresented culture. She’s a girl that saves the world. Faith is a big part of the story. And yet.

Even though this book takes place in a newly created desert culture, I felt like a lot of the words and details used to give cultural “flavor” were added in after cursory google searches. For example, I found the description and use of veils (face and hair) fairly inconsistent throughout the book. In one scene, it talks about how she wears her hair loose under her scarf; I know this is definitely common practice in some communities, but it didn’t make sense in relation to later scenes. And the use and discussion of henna was seriously confusing. Like, so confusing I wonder if the author has ever used or been around henna. Throughout the book, the main character is given daily henna designs to prepare her for events/seeing her husband. Generally, it seems as though this happens after she is bathed and dressed in her finery, but there is never any discussion (that I remember) of letting the henna dry, sitting still to ensure the designs don’t get marred, or removing the dried henna. This is most obvious in one scene where she is running late and the henna master comes to reapply the designs just before she gets dressed and goes out to see Lo-Melkhiin. This is problematic because 1. her henna would still be wet and 2. if she did have a few minutes to let it dry, little crumbly bits of brown paste would be falling off while they ate or talked and I doubt that is appealing for her husband-king.

Those are small details. Another huge thing is the religious-cultural placement. With a title so explicitly referencing A Thousand Nights/Arabian Tales, the story feels oddly placed – I originally thought this was because it didn’t seem to tie into the usual Arab and/or Muslim context, but the more I think about it, the more I think it’s just poor worldbuilding. The addition of magic and the “beings” that roam the world “using” humans also added to the troubling bits. I don’t know if the author removed it from Islamic culture because referencing djinn (a genie -though never named as such) and magic would entail more work and cultural knowledge or if she was trying to pull the story out of that cultural context for some other reason, but it sort of felt like a cop out. I think this book would function better with a different title, too. This one calls back to a well known set of stories and then removes itself almost completely from the traditional tales; not referencing the originals would make it work better as a whole. Overall, the world was underdeveloped – if this was supposed to be a totally new world, the worldbuilding needed to be more complete, if this was referencing an existing culture, the lines needed to be drawn more clearly.

NOTE (3/2016): I’ve heard a lot about the author’s intentions and she definitely tried to make this a polytheist/pagan culture so that it didn’t call back to Arab/Muslim culture. She also was/is an archeologist so I feel a little bad for saying she didn’t seem to do research – I’m sure she did a lot. I think it comes down to the title calling up things that made it unfair to judge.

wow iconAwesome Score: You’re Trying

Overall, I was intrigued by the premise. It seems Scheherazade/One Thousand and One Nights retellings are a coming trend and I’m excited to see how the stories are placed (or replaced) in cultural contexts. I had high hopes for this book and at times throughout the story I was drawn in and intrigued, but overall I took a lot of notes on the random, weird details that pulled me out of the book. Generally for me, lots of notes means a story is lacking depth or pull because I am more focused on small things than on the exciting characters and narrative. I think the world Johnston built could be really engaging and interesting, but it feels like it sits at a 5 when it needs a 10. I also found the power/magic confusing and underdeveloped; maybe that’s a narrative tool since the main character never really understands it, but it just felt poorly written.

Even so, the premise of the story is intriguing and I think that some readers will enjoy the book.


Favorite Character

The Skeptic scholar – I liked his subplot and the main character’s interaction with him

I didn’t mention the Skeptics in my comments above, but this again was such a weird naming choice because it made me think “Are we in Rome? How are we in Rome now?”

Favorite Line

There are some powerful lines in this book, but I was so distracted by the random other things I didn’t write any down. One thing to note – there are very few character names used throughout the book. We never learn the main character’s name and most other characters are referenced by relation (“my sister,” “Lo-Melkhiin’s mother”) which is an interesting choice.

Fun Author Fact

E.K. Johnston is/was an archeologist!

Is this worth a book hangover?

Personally, I would say no. But, different books for different folks (Yes, I know that doesn’t exactly rhyme). The premise is intriguing and the character is strong, it might do it for you. I’ve been holding off because I really don’t want to compare books to one another, but if you are intrigued by a retelling of One Thousand and One Nights, I’d rather recommend The Wrath and the Dawn. Its world is more developed and the characters are more compelling, though the focus is different.

Read These Next

As mentioned, The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh or An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir for another world where stakes are high and escape is difficult and family must be saved.

Author Post: Jess

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Note: I received access to an early ebook of A Thousand Nights through NetGalley. My review is (I think, obviously) not affected by that.

Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Filed under Science Fiction & Fantasy

Book Discussion: Scarlett Undercover

Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham

This post heavily edited after thoughts.

Summary

Scarlett graduated from high school early and opened a detective agency – both for something to do and to investigate her own family’s tragedy. When her newest case gets rolling, she realizes there may be more to it than she first thought. Soon, she finds herself deep into a millennia-old battle involving djinn and curses – and her own family history.

scarlett undercover

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

I appreciated that Scarlett’s policeman/mentor has a thing for Reem, Scarlett’s sister, but has enough respect for her choices to not push. Scarlett has her own long-time friend turned possibly-something-more that gives her the best kind of confusion and excitement. The two don’t do too much physically, but I still felt the tingles and thought it was super cute and a happy start for something that could be awesome. Even so, the romance is more warm than hot and not the focus of the story.

RosieFeminist Score: You’re Trying and Good Effort

Scarlett and her sister are making it on their own after family tragedy. Reem is on her way to being a successful doctor and Scarlett is still a teenager but has her own business. She’s an entrepreneur with great marketing ideas. In addition, there’s a diner owning, straight-talking mama bear who gives the sisters advice and watches out for them.

But. But…Reem wears a headscarf and in the story, she becomes serious and unfun and unsocial when she starts wearing it – all things opposite from the hijabis I know. Also, the thing that happens to their mom is embedded in a stereotype that Muslim women and is an unfortunate perpetuation of something that, while a problem in the community, is not really necessary or good to have in a book. Having her fight the stereotype would have been nicer.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: You’re Trying

Scarlett is a brown-skinned, Muslim girl that left high school early because it was too easy. Her character is spunky and smart and is determined to figure out the answers to what happened to her family. I appreciate so, so much that this character is here and available. I also like that we get to see several ways of being Muslim (though see note about regarding Reem). Scarlett makes some decisions that are less traditional (not praying all 5 prayers, getting a tattoo, not wearing a headscarf) but she is no less Muslim than her sister who does do those things.

One thing that struck me as odd – Scarlett and Reem have very different names. I know it’s not impossible, but I thought it a little weird that Reem had a fairly traditional name and Scarlett’s was fairly…not. Other things that made me reduce the score: the religion as written is a mess of randomness. I don’t think anyone (Muslim) would recognize this as Islam as they know it, but maybe as a book with pieces of Islam thrown in with a bunch of other stuff to make it work for the story. There are also a few things that are pretty anti-tradition, for example, one of the characters  gives the peace greeting to Scarlett and then ends up attacking her. That’s a pretty big no-no. And, like, obviously not all Muslims follow everything, but when you’re writing a religion with such bad press, you should try to adhere to most things, you know?

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

The mystery in this book isn’t super hard to figure out, but it brought in a lot of interesting possibilities and the characters were fun. The book is written at a quick pace and Latham has a very specific way of writing. It sets the tone really well and calls back to old detective stories. In some ways, it feels like a brilliant bit of building Scarlett’s character – she wants to be a detective, so she “puts on” the things she thinks they do. I liked Scarlett’s personal story and the larger mystery, and the value of family – chosen and born. But, I would have liked representation that was a little more recognizable as and positive about Muslims and Islam.


Favorite Character

Gemma – she’s a smart kid and has a full grasp of the real world and who she should really ask for help. I appreciate her bravery in reaching out for help and her love for her brother that keeps her going.

Favorite Line

But Deck’s words still chafed like burlap pants.

The similes in this book are HILARIOUS! I picked this one because it made me laugh out loud, but there were tons of others. The writing sets the tone and expertly captures Scarlett’s voice.

Is this book worth a hangover?

Scarlett Undercover is fun and fast. It’s a light mystery and the story is quick. I liked the book and I was initially excited about more representation, but I’m afraid that this doesn’t really hit the mark fully. This isn’t quite as deep as I expected it to be, but I’m still glad I read it and would easily recommend it to others.

Fun Author Fact

Latham used to help with autopsies. That’s both fun and creepy.

Read These Next

Tiny, Pretty Things by Sona Charaiportra and Dhonielle Clayton is a mystery embedded in the intrigues of ballet school or Endangered by Lamar Giles that follows Panda as she exposes people’s affairs and then fights a blackmailer.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Filed under Contemporary, High School

Book Discussion: A Harvest of Ripe Figs

A Harvest of Ripe Figs by Shira Glassman

Summary

Shulamit is queen and trying to balance her kingdom’s expectations and new motherhood. What starts as a small disagreement between merchants slowly grows into a deeper mystery involving theft, assumed diva-fights, and misused magic. As the Queen tries to solve the crime, we learn more about her partner, Aviva, her bodyguard duo, and a dragon.


heartRomance Score: Good Effort

This is definitely more New than Young Adult – there’s sexy times that don’t fade to black and the relationships are established; there are definitely stomach flutters from the couples, but it’s more the “I’m super into you and know everything about” kind of flutter rather than the “young love super exciting new relationship” flutter.

Rosie

Feminist Score: A+ Success

There’s a queen without a king and she’s open about her motherhood – that’s pretty awesome to begin with. There’s also women merchants, two talented lady musicians, and strong women advising the queen. The one man that tries to diminish women in the story is caught and punished and the women band together to support one another. The wider population wants to believe that the two musicians are divas fighting against each other, but we see them come together to strengthen each other instead.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

There’s a lot of diverse stuff going on here: a Jewish culture, a lesbian queen with an active relationship, a disabled bodyguard, diversity in skin tone/race, and a  lady-warrior as well (although the wider population reads her as a gay man and is totally ok with that, too). Additionally, there’s all kinds of body shapes, a magical gender transition, and a chronic illness. There’s a lot going on here, but it feels organic and the people and relationships are just as sweet, kind, and supportive as the ones we get in more main-stream books. Extra nice to see a healthy, happy queer relationship without tragedy involved.

wow iconAwesome Score: Good Effort

This book has a great premise and the characters are interesting. I want to know more about Shulamit’s kingdom and her people, but I felt like some pieces were underdeveloped and a bit shallow in places. Even so, there were a lot of really important things going on in this book: a healthy, lesbian relationship portrayed through the day to day, healthy portrayals of sex from different viewpoints, and support to a child that didn’t receive it from his family. In addition to the “important” things, this is also just a great story with characters you can feel invested in. Overall, I really enjoyed getting into this world and want to know more about the dragon-allied Queen and her next hurdle as a ruler.


Favorite Character

Riv – she’s smart talking, strong, and dedicated to her queen. She’s also pretty bad-ass and her relationship with Isaac is sweet and equality-based.

Favorite Line

Sorry again guys – I was doing so well! 😦

Is this worth a book hangover?

I really want to recommend this because it has so many great themes and characters and is a fun, light read – perfect for when you need a distraction from life. It didn’t catch my attention fully, but I know it will hit the spot for some readers – especially those that don’t often see themselves in books. The world and characters are really interesting – it’s just slightly less developed than the fantasy I’m used to. Even so, I will definitely keep this and Shira Glassman in mind for future recommendations!

Fun Author Fact

Shira Glassman is one of the part-time moderators of Writing With Color, an incredible resource for writers trying to make their worlds more realistic (by incorporating diverse cultures, races, and religions). It’s also a great tool for readers, as it helps you understand what tropes and stereotypes are harmful – especially ones you aren’t aware of.

Read These Next

Goodreads recs The Errant Prince by Sasha L Miller for similar themes in fantasy and I’ve heard lots and lots of good things about Ash and Huntress by Malinda Lo.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

2 Comments

Filed under Romance, Science Fiction & Fantasy