Tag Archives: mystery

The Star Touched Queen

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi 25203675

Summary

Maya is the pariah of her father’s court. Destined for death and destruction, she is left to books and study until it becomes politically necessary to marry her off. As queen of Akaran, she finds a realm unlike any she ever expected – as well as love, and compassion. But Akaran and Amar have secrets and Maya chooses to unravel them herself rather than ask her husband for answers…with terrible consequences.

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heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

The relationship in this is both mythical and beautiful and creepy and deceptive. Plus, it’s a little insta-lovey, with Maya not knowing much about Amar before being swept away by his sweet nothings and finally having something for herself. I thought it was an interesting premise, but I find it really hard to reconcile true love with “don’t ask any questions and don’t do anything unless I say and then you’ll be safe.” I get why Amar did it, but it’s still…a little creepy and not something I really like as an example of romance. I just wish this wasn’t another example of the dude feeling like he has to do all the protecting/planning, leaving the girl in the dark, and then leading to disaster because she didn’t have all the pieces.

Rosie

Feminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I loved that Maya was more interested in running the kingdom than in harem politics, but since that was because harem politics ignored her, I would have loved to see what she was like when both sides of the world were open to her. Seeing Maya post-revelation was also exciting, because a lady with power is always a thing to behold. The jealous bestie storyline is obviously realistic, but it makes me a little sad to see. There aren’t any women-supporting-women in this (unless you count the , even Maya’s relationship with Gauri is…not perfect. The harem isn’t a system set up for women’s empowerment and it basically requires that they take each other down while also being available for men whenever necessary. Maya’s opinions and words toward the women she lives with are understandable due to their treatment of her, but I do wish there was a little more understanding for the fact that the women aren’t exactly able to choose their fate.

Diversity Score: A+ Successdiversity people circle icon

This story is based on Indian folklore. The kingdoms are made up, but they reflect Indian history and stories, as do the characters. Plus, Chokshi has Indian and Filipino background, so this is an #ownvoices book.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I really liked this book, though it felt like a lot of description and metaphor and not a ton of narrative. The magic and the other-world were intriguing and I enjoyed the immersion in Chokshi’s world. I liked Maya and her strength and I appreciated Amar’s love, even if he said the thing you should never say to a curious leading lady (“Don’t ask questions. Don’t go in that room.”). Pretty much every adventure starts with someone saying that, right? I also value that Maya didn’t let the harem politics push the love out of her – and I’m excited to see what Gauri gets up to in A Crown of Wishes.


Favorite Character

Kamala – the pishacha (a flesh-eating demon in horse form) because she’s got a great sense of humor and actually tells Maya to get it together.

Favorite Line

The whole book is full of tons and tons of metaphors. Read it just for that.

Fun Author Fact

Chokshi made HORNS inspired by her book.

Is this worth a book hangover?

It depends, I’ve seen a lot of reviews that said this was fluffy with no plot and that Maya was boring. I’m not going to lie – the romance is sexy, but it’s also super insta-love. The world is different from a lot of other books, so maybe the unfamiliarity is why some people are saying they don’t like it. I liked the magic and the high, dramatic descriptions, but it’s  not the most complete story ever.

Read These Next

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova for a look at a bruja family and a girl that doesn’t want her power or The Impostor Queen about a girl groomed to be a magic-wielding queen and what happens when things go awry.

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.

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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: Black Beauty

Black Beauty by Constance Burris

Summary

This is a collection of short stories and a novella featuring residents  26011960of a housing complex in Oklahoma. The characters’ stories interweave with each other and we learn a little more about a particular character, “Crazy” Jade, from each. Each of the short stories shows what happens when you will do anything to get what you want – and that there are consequences for using magical shortcuts. The novella introduces us to an alternate world and the difficulties of responsibility and not belonging.

 

black beauty

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Romance Score: You’re Trying

Since there are multiple storylines, it’s hard to score all of them fairly, but the stronger couple is in the novella. They have to balance different cultural and social expectations and responsibilities with their affection for one another. The other couples don’t have as many feelings to deal with when trying out a relationship.

Rosie

Feminist Score: Good Effort

This score was a pretty difficult decision for me – again because of the multiple stories there are some where I want to say absolutely NO and then others where I was excited to see the women standing up for each other. One story in particular deals with the social pressure to look a certain way and another shows how calling one woman an insult can represent the wider world’s views about women in general. I’m giving a higher score because, even when showing things I wouldn’t want to give points for, those problematic items are called out. Plus, women are the ruling queens in the storyline woven through each piece, so there’s that.

diversity people circle icon

Diversity Score: Good Effort

The stories take place in an apartment complex with mostly black and Latino/Hispanic residents – in itself is not usually represented in mainstream books. Add on that several of the families are living at or below the poverty line and you get something that is rarely seen. I really liked the world Burris built here; it’s definitely filling a hole that exists in publishing.

However, there are a couple of issues. One is that the woman behind all the lessons is called “Crazy Jade” by almost everyone. This is problematic because “crazy” has a long history of being used against women, especially black women, and people with mental health issues. And, people also keep talking about her “voodoo” but nothing that I read seemed related to the actual religion so it was perpetuating stereotypes about voodoo. I will say that one character does try to call out his friend for calling it voodoo, so there is a suggestion that it’s not ok, but it’s never fully deconstructed. The stories also explore colorism, sexism, body image, and “good” vs “bad” hair in the black community. I can’t really speak to the portrayal of hair or colorism issues except but I know they’re important so I’m glad to see them here. Overall, I think the characters and setting are much needed.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort

I didn’t connect with some of the characters as much as I would have liked (probably because these are short stories), but I still really liked getting to know the world and the people in it. I was intrigued by the novella and want to know what happens after it. Jade is an engaging character and I would love to know more about her backstory. Overall, the community and stories had just the right amount of “WAIT – what just happened?” to keep me involved while also showing the daily struggles of dealing with life.


Favorite Character

Sean – at first I liked him the most because he seemed the most level-headed, but as more of his story came out, he became an even richer character and I felt for him and his dad.

Favorite Line

Andre’s conversation with his sisters after he visits Jade was on point. You’ll have to read it yourself, though.

Fun Author Fact

Constance Burris is an environmental engineer, which just goes to show that science and art can mix!

Is this worth a book hangover?

The answer is going to totally depend on your reading preferences. This is a collection of paranormal stories with a bit of fantasy added into the novella. If you like that kind of thing and want to meet some great characters, go for it!

Read These Next

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older for another paranormal story in the city featuring underrepresented characters or Lament or Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater for the fae in our world.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess received this book for free through NetGalley, but that didn’t affect her opinions!

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: Six of Crows

Six of Crows (#1) by Leigh Bardugo

Summary

In a world where some people have the power to create, destroy, and control, there are those that despise them and those that 23437156use them. In a city with a dark underbelly, anything can be bought or sold for the right price. Someone is leaking a substance that will take it all to the extreme. And so, Kaz Brekker, criminal mastermind, is offered the biggest heist in history –  but he’ll need the perfect team.

And so, six outcasts join together to attempt the impossible.

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying

The relationships in this book were good starts but just didn’t go all the way for me. One couple met each other in considerably unkind circumstances and, while I do enjoy a good enemies-to-lovers transition, the depth of hate/prejudice felt like it was a little too easily overcome. I really enjoyed the second couple and loved the respect that one of the people demanded for themself, it’s just too early to give much weight to that relationship. The third couple was more of a flirtation, so I’m not sure I can really count it at all, but it was super fun. Plus, that third couple added some diversity to the bunch, so I doubly liked it.

RosieFeminism Score: A+ success

First, I’ll point out that I debated this for a bit because prostitution and sexual exploitation is a big part of the story for one character, but I finally decided that the way she deals with it and uses her experiences to find strength trumps the abuse. Additionally, the ladies in the book know what they want and they go for it, they’re respected for their skills, and are treated as equal contributors. I appreciated that there was a sisterhood and supportive relationship between the two girls; they know they have scars and give each other the love and comfort needed to acknowledge painful pasts and move forward.

The other tough point for me was with one of the relationships. As mentioned above, I definitely feel the appeal of a hate-to-love relationship development, but the enmity between two characters in this book is based more on ingrained aspects of their identities than on personality clashes. When I think about a racist falling for someone with the skin color they’re prejudiced against but justifying it because “they’re different than the rest,” I get a little uncomfortable. While I think the relationship can eventually grow so that both characters move away from their deep prejudices, I still wonder about it.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

There are six main characters and we get a good range of people. I’m going to try very hard not to spoil things that come out slowly in the story, so…Kaz has a poorly healed leg that gives him a limp and lots of chronic pain. He also is suffering from what looks like PTSD thanks to an awful experience when he first arrived in the city. Inej is brown skinned, from a nomadic people, and has the agility and silence of a ghost cat. Nina is beautiful and curvy and takes pleasure in all of life’s tiniest joys. She also owns her sexuality and is determined to protect the life she wants. Underneath Jesper’s penchant for gambling is an interest in someone that was fairly well hidden until half way through the book. There are two other main characters that make up the six, one has some deeply hidden secrets that come out very near the end and the other would, I suppose, be the “normal” character, if you discount where he spends half the book.

As a fantasy world, there’s no excuse for not reflecting the diversity of the real world and I think Bardugo does a good job with this. She also has a note in the back that I found sweet considering the focus of this blog.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I had been feeling like I had abandoned my fantasy roots for a bit (untrue, but I had an itch) and Six of Crows brought me back around. I really liked the characters, the story, and the world – the hints of our own world that came through added extra dimension. I also thought the intrigue and underworld were engaging; I wanted to know what happened and if the crew would be successful. I’m not giving it a full score because it slowed down slightly in the middle and I’m still feeling a little confused about the true feelings or alliances of some of the characters. It’s clear they’re in it together, but I feel like it’s uncertain if that is forever or just until we escape.

All around, it was fun and intriguing, and I’m waiting eagerly for the next book.


Favorite Character

All six are well-rounded and I felt like we got to know all of them equally, but I really love Inej. She’s suffered, she’s deeply embedded in the underworld, but she doesn’t let the brutal gangs beat hope and faith out of her. Plus, I’m concerned if I don’t choose her, she’ll let out all my secrets!

Favorite Line

“Many boys will bring you flowers. But someday you’ll meet a boy who will learn your favorite flower, your favorite song, your favorite sweet. And even if he is too poor to give you any of them, it won’t matter because he will have taken the time to know you as no one else does. Only that boy earns you heart.”

Fun Author Fact

Bardugo wrote a song for her book series, the Grisha Triology.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Definitely! If you like ensemble books full of adventure and big personalities, you’ll like this. The characters are amazing and the different points of view made the story richer and more exciting. It also kept the mystery longer as pieces dripped out slowly.

Read These Next

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir for another trilogy-starting, intense read with strong characters and lots of adventure or Dreamstrider by Lindsay Smith for a spy, fantasy, intrigue story.

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