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October Book Round Up

It’s been a month since my last post and that one was belated, too. To remedy my long-delayed posting, I’m going to do a round up with short reviews of the things I’ve been reading. This way, they still get the kudos they deserve and I can feel less guilty about all the draft posts languishing in my drafts folder.

RUN by Kody Keplinger

This story follows two girls as their friendship grows and they face difficult decisions about 23613983who they want to be and how to escape the expectations their family and town have for them. Agnes is a rule-follower and Bo is the “wild” girl with the “bad” background.

I loved how truthful this was about the intensity of friendships and how they can be both good and bad for you. I thought the strength each girl took from the other was important and that they could take misguided steps that lead them somewhere more healthy/happy. On the diversity level: This takes place in a rural town, so (lack of) privilege is woven into the story, Agnes is blind, Bo is bisexual, and this is #ownvoices (Keplinger was born legally blind and co-founded Disability in Kid Lit!).

On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis

22020598Earth’s end is finally here – a comet is hurtling toward the planet. Denise, her mother, and sister try to make their way to the government shelter, but delays interrupt their plans and they end up on a grounded ship that will launch into space and save its passengers once it can take off. But without the extensive vetting that the other passengers had, Denise has to prove her worth to keep her and her family safe.

This was an interesting look at how different people deal with the end of the planet and what accommodations needs to be made for all kinds of people to survive and flourish. I so appreciated that, thought it’s an “apocalypse” story,  it’s not explosions and high intensity action – it’s much more drawn out and about the people. Diversity wise: Denise is biracial and has autism (#ownvoices), her sister is transgender, and her mother is a drug-addict. These characteristics are integral to the plot without being the plot, which makes it even better.

Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera

Kahu is born when her grandfather is looking for the next great male heir to the chiefdom.949039 His disappointment at her being a girl is woven throughout everything he does, but Kahu has the love and support of her uncle, grandmother, and father. And through her  perseverance and love in the face of disappointment and the weight of tradition, she may just change everything. Maori stories are woven throughout the book and included in interludes between sections of the plot.

I loved the movie adaptation of this when it came out and was excited to finally read this. I would say this is on the lower end of YA, closer to middle grade, but it was still engaging. This is a great example of how adaptation and gender equality (or progress toward it) can come from within a tradition and a look at how colonialism can affect indigenous peoples. Diversity: This is #ownvoices from a Maori New Zealander.

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

20702546Gabi tells her diary about the struggles with boys, food, friendships, and her family’s expectations – and we get to read it all. She writes poetry, figures out what being “good” means to her, and helps her best friend through pregnancy and motherhood.

Gabi’s voice is amazing and her character comes through on every page. She is dealing with a lot, but manages to find optimism through everything. I don’t love diary-type stories, so this book’s style wasn’t really for me, but I still loved getting to know Gabi! Diversity: Gabi is Latina, one of her best friends is gay, she’s dealing with an addict parent, money is a problem, and this is #ownvoices.


Shout Outs

Not going to go into any detail, but you should also DEFINITELY check out:

A Torch Against the Night (#2 in a series) by Saba Tahir

Crooked Kingdom (#2 in a series) by Leigh Bardugo

Court of Fives (#1 in a series) by Kate Elliot (Elliot is a new favorite, read ALL her stuff)

 

 

 

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Labyrinth Lost

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova 27969081

Summary

It’s Alex’s birthday and that means it’s also her Deathday ceremony. But instead of summoning the ancestors and welcoming her bruja gift, she tries to deny it and ends up banishing her entire family (dead ancestors included) to  Los Lagos. She must find her way to the in-between land, rescue her family, and come to terms with her bruja powers, all while dealing with the annoying company of her brujo companion, Nova.

Labyrinth Lost comes out September 6 – order now!

labyrinth lost

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

There’s some good tension between Nova and Alex – and it starts early, so it doesn’t feel like an insta-connection. He’s physically attractive and she’s drawn in by his bad-boy persona and it was nice to see the hints of secrets and things left hidden that slowly appear as the story progresses. I didn’t love their ending, but it was consistent. The other relationship in the story felt a little sudden and underdeveloped, but was still a believable emotional discovery with the way the story played out. Plus – hospital kisses are always kind of fun! (edited: hospital kisses where everyone is celebrating their survival.)

Feminist Score: Good EffortRosie

Alex lives with her two sisters and mother. Charismatic aunts and grandmothers are important to the story and it’s the brujas that seem to lead the family. While Alex and her sisters bicker, there’s obvious love and strength between them – and it’s Alex’s loyalty and devotion that drives her to look for them in Los Lagos.

It’s also the determination of Alex’s aunt that gives her the final push to do what is necessary, though I won’t say exactly how. Ladies are doing what needs to be done in this book and it’s a sight to see.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

This book wins in several different ways.

Firstly, almost all the characters are people of color. I just went back through my copy to see if I can track down the specific country that Alex’s family is from, but I couldn’t find it and I actually think she just says “back home” or “the old country.” Either way, her family is Latinx/Hispanic and so are almost all the characters in the story. Rishi, Alex’s best friend, is Southeast Asian (I think Indian?). I can’t remember a single white person, except for awful classmates.

Then, we have a cultural/religious system that is rarely explored in literature – especially YA. Being bruja is just a thing that is in this book, it’s not exoticized, it’s just something that frustrates Alex because it gets in the way of her being “normal.”

And a main character is BI. On the page.

The one thing I will mention is that Nova’s eyes are referred to as “bipolar” several times. I thought that was a very odd way of putting it since I think it was about color and not like they were flashing two very different or frantic emotions. I would probably choose a different description.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I enjoyed reading Alex’s story and getting to know her family. When she got to the end of the journey and faced the Devourer, I was excited for her to own her power. The immersion in her world was exciting and I thought the premise was really interesting.

However, it did feel a little shallow in some places or underdeveloped. Even though it was an adventure story and Alex and Nova were traveling through a magical underworld, it didn’t feel like the stakes were really that high and things fell into place easily in some instances. I think the characters could have gone deeper and even though there was a lot of world building, it still felt a little more surface level than it could have been.

That being said, I’m excited to see what happens with the rest of the Brooklyn Bruja series and to see how Alex grows into her power.


Favorite Character

Rose – who can resist the creepy little kid with mystical, all knowing insights?

Fun Author Fact

Córdova was born in Ecuador and she was determined to publish her first book before she was 25 (she did! at 24 Vicious Deep was published).

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes! The story and immersion in a deeply loyal, loving family – even if most of the book they are separated from one another – with an adventure through a mysterious, magical land is fun! The characters and world aren’t smothered in deep details, but there’s enough world building to sink into.

Read These Next

The Star Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi for another underrepresented cultural mythology and lovers fighting the underworld to be reunited or The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig for a different kind of magic and diversity across a time-traveling heist adventure.

Post Author: Jess

I received my copy of Labyrinth Lost for free through Netgalley for my honest review.

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Book Chat: Ten Things I Hate About Me

Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-FattahTen Things I Hate About Me

Summary

Jamilah is Lebanese-Australian and is struggling to understand what a hyphenated identity means in the microcosm of high school. At school, she is Jamie, the blonde quiet girl that lives on the periphery of the popular circle. At home and at madrassa, she is Jamilah, the  darabuka-playing daughter struggling to make a space for herself. When the Lebanese band she plays in is invited to perform at the high school formal, Jamilah’s two worlds collide and she must finally decide who she is to everyone.10 things i hate.png


Favorite Character

Shereen – Since she had more time with their mom and she’s a big sister, her groundedness provides a strong example of how to be proud of all parts of your identity for Jamilah. Plus, I love how she has created an active feminism that respects and fits into the rest of identity while still challenging the parts she finds difficult.

Favorite Line 

“I read headlines describing the crimes as ‘Middle Eastern rape.’ I’ve never heard of Anglo burglary or Caucasian murder. If an Anglo-Australian commits a crime, the only descriptions we get are the colour of his clothes and hair.”

The book may not be subtle in any of the “lessons,” but it is honest.

Fun Author Fact

Abdel-Fattah has worked as a lawyer, an interfaith activist, a consultant for media representation of Muslims and Middle-Easterns, and is not working toward her Ph.D. – I am always impressed by all the things writers do in addition to writing!

Is this worth a book hangover?

This is a more surface-level look at identity, racism, and the need to be/fear of acceptance. Jamie/Jamilah’s story is not very complex and sometimes it’s a little too sweet, but over all it’s an interesting look at the process and difficulties of self-acceptance.

Read These Next

Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger for another look at a teenager reconciling different identities or My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman for a fun, middle grade look at what balancing Indian and Jewish identities might be like.

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 Chat: All American Boys


25657130All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brenden Kiely

Summary

Rashad stops into the corner store to buy some potato chips and another shopper trips over him, sparking the store cop’s attention and leading to a brutal beating on the sidewalk outside the store. Quinn was heading to the store to ask someone to buy alcohol for him and his friends and, instead, ends up witnessing the horrible violence commited by the policeman. The story unfolds over the week that follows the beating – both boys trying to come to terms with what it means and trying to understand what they must do in the aftermath. The community and school reacts and Rashad and Quinn must decide what part they will play. all american boys.png


Favorite Character

Spoony – He’s the best kind of big brother. He watches out for Rashad – he gives him a couple extra dollars for snacks when he needs it and makes sure the media have a “respectable” picture of his little brother when the situation calls for it.

Favorite Line

This book has so much we need to hear.

“Look, if there are people who are scared of the police every day of their lives,” Jill said, determined, “I’m going to live in fear of them for at least one day to say that I don’t think that’s right.”

“Nobody says the words anymore, but somehow the violence still remains. If I didn’t want the violence to remain, I had to do a hell of a lot more than just say the right things and not say the wrong things.”

Fun Author Fact

Reynolds and Kiely were put on a tour together and didn’t know each other. It was right after the Martin-Zimmerman court decision and Reynolds was concerned he wouldn’t be able to keep his cool if Kiely said something insensitive on tour…but an ongoing conversation and friendship happened instead and this book is the result.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely. All the time. Please read it. Then share it. Then make that person share it. It’s a well written story but it’s much more than that.

Read These Next

This Side of Home by Renee Watson deals with gentrification of a neighborhood and dealing with the collision of communities or anything by Jason Reynolds, like When I Was the Greatest or Boy in the Black Suit.

Post Author: Jess

1202112022

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: Code of Honor

code of honor

Code of Honor by Alan Gratz

Summary

Kamran Smith is a normal American kid. He lives in Arizona with his parents, works hard at school and football with the dream of joining the West Point next year, and goes out on dates with his girlfriend. He idealizes and misses his older brother, Darius, a military officer in the U.S. army.

But one day, Kamran’s entire world is shattered. His older brother is accused of taking part in a terrorist attack on a US embassy. Suddenly, everyone thinks Darius is a terrorist. Kamran’s half-Iranian parentage is suddenly held against him, and he no longer feels at home in the town he’s lived his entire life.

But Kamran knows Darius, and knows that he isn’t a terrorist and traitor. Kamran is determined to clear his brother’s name and rescue him, even if he has to risk his future, his own reputation, and his life.

 

Code of Honor

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying

Kamran is a pretty immature high school boy. As such, his relationships with girls aren’t exactly…deep. His relationship with  his girlfriend is pretty shallow, and most of the girls in the book are primarily seen as hot or not. Even Aaliyah, the highly talented team member who helps Kamran on his adventure, is primarily discussed for her appearance.

Feminist Score:  You’re Trying Rosie

I think I covered this above, but I don’t think this book has a particularly feminist leaning. While there are many female secondary characters, some with important roles in the book, Kamran primarily sees them as attractive or not. Even at the climax of the book, when one female character becomes particularly important for.. .plot reasons… she’s still primarily seen as the “pretty girl.”

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Diversity Score:  Good Effort

Kamran is a half-Iranian kid living in Arizona, and identifies as an American. When his brother is accused of being a terrorist, his world is instantly rocked, and his friends/classmates/associates suddenly see him as an outsider.

The descriptions of feeling like an outsider, or less than, following accusations of Darius’s terrorism, are some of the strongest parts of the book. Code of Honor did a wonderful job evoking what it feels like to suddenly not be welcome in the only country you’ve ever called home.

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Awesome Factor: You’re Trying

I really wanted to like this book. I really liked the beginning, especially how Darius has to deal with attending school and seeing reporters everywhere after his brother is accused of terrorism. But the plot line goes off the deep end pretty quickly. In many ways, it trivializes the real experiences of those unjustly accused by turning their story into an escape-spy-secret agent novel. If the book had stuck to dealing with the aftermath of Darius’s betrayal at home, I would have liked it better.


Favorite Character

Kamran. Although he is an immature high school boy, he’s determined to free his brother. I love his (nearly) unwavering loyalty to his family and his country, despite the world giving him every inclination that neither should be trusted.

Favorite Line

“I’d be with Darius at Metrocenter Mall and people – adults, mostly – would give us these side glances. They’d look us up and down, suspicion in their eyes. They didn’t think we noticed, but we did. I did, at least. More than seeing it, I could feel it. Feel the way people watched me as I browsed the game store and stood in line at Orange Julius. As soon as I got comfortable, as soon as I forgot that I happened to have the same nose and skin and hair as some monster who’d once hijacked a plane, a suspicious glance would remind me all over again. These people had no idea I’d grown up in a suburb of Phoenix like any other American kid, playing Xbox and eating Cheetos. Or they didn’t care. They feared me – hated me – just because my skin was brown.”

I guess this isn’t a fun line, but to me, really encompasses what it’s like to be brown after a terrorist attack of some kind.

 Fun Author Fact

According to his website, Alan Gratz, his wife Wendi, and daughter Jo share a blog called Grant Industrieswhere they write about “attempts at living creative, productive lives.”

Read This Next

If you’re interested in adventure rescue stories, you should try Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige. Check out our review here.

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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Book Discussion: What We Left Behind

What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

Summary

Toni and Gretchen have the cutest relationship in their high school and 22082075have set the bar for love and all future relationships that their classmates dream of. But what looks perfect on the outside isn’t always so and when they go off to college, the two find their relationship buckling under the pressure of navigating their changing identities. In high school, Toni identified as genderqueer, but once at Harvard begins to explore other terms and feelings that have always been bubbling under the surface. Gretchen is left trying to understand everything from afar.

what we left behind2.png

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying & Good Effort

Toni and Gretchen are adorable and sparks fly from the moment they first see each other. The sexy times are hot without being explicit and the kissing is on point. And, because we end up watching them navigate very difficult terrain, it feels like a realistic relationship. However, it also feels realistic because Toni treats Gretchen pretty terribly. It becomes all about Toni’s issues and what Toni is going through rather than an equal relationship.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

Firstly, this should probably be changed since the book is not really about feminism. But, both characters are empowered to make choices, own their identities and actions, and to feel free to be themselves – whatever that means. I think the book displays some wonderful examples of what it means to navigate expectations and how difficult it can be to feel like the “lesser” person in a relationship. I admired Gretchen’s struggle with why she chose NYU a lot because it seems to be something lots of people deal with when coupled up. And, Toni’s struggle gives a point by point map for thinking about gender, the binary vs spectrum, and the roles we choose and how we present them – something everyone should consider.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

This book has genderqueer, transgender, lesbian, and straight characters, so it definitely has that category covered. Additionally, there is a Korean character, several black characters, and a decent representation of regional differences (Northern vs Southern US, urban vs rural). It’s a little lacking on the economic lines and there were a few times where I felt the story was aided by the characters’ privilege, but that’s ok. I think this book is important because it’s not a “seriously traumatic QUILTBAG” book – there’s difficult issues and families aren’t always loving, but it’s not about depression, suicide, or violence.

I will note that, by the nature of Toni and Gretchen’s relationship, it’s a little “time for some definitions” in some sections, but it never crosses into “let me give you a lesson” territory. The explanations fit into the story fairly well and aren’t being shoehorned into the conversations. Rather, they flow from the characters’ experiences and emotions instead of from the need to get a point across.

NOTE: After reading a lot of other reviews, I’ve learned that many readers find the use of “genderqueer” and the portrayal of the community very problematic. I think this is one of those times where my personal lack of knowledge/non-identification was clearly a blindspot. I’m not going to change the score, but encourage you to do your own research.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I loved getting to know the characters and seeing them struggle to find the middle ground (or not) for their relationship. I thought Toni and Gretchen were great examples of what going to college feels like – especially how your life can change drastically in just a few days and it’s hard to translate to someone that’s not there with you just how big those changes are when it happens in the simplest details. I’m excited to see more characters on the gender spectrum and a wide spectrum of family reactions as well. I love Robin Talley’s writing style – the two person perspective works especially well here as we see the confusion on both sides of the relationship and the desperation as things begin to change.


Favorite Character

Samantha – We don’t get to know her well until the end, but I loved that she played against stereotype.

Favorite Line

“Nothing good in the history of ever has started with the words We need to talk.

The characters are well developed and I really loved the dialogue and being in their heads (and I’m not a lover of first person).

Fun Author Fact

Talley is writing a lesbian retelling of MacBeth and I am SO EXCITED.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes. The characters are engaging and their relationship is beautiful. It’s also a great book for being introduced to what genderqueer and transgender mean – for those not identifying as such and, I think, for those struggling to understand where they live on the spectrum. Plus, the writing is awesome!

Read These Next

I’m going to recommend Talley’s other published book, Lies We Tell Ourselves for more teens struggling to fight preconceived notions and Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz about a girl trying to break off the labels and make a space to live in.

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 Chat – Out of Darkness

Out of Darkness by Ashely Hope Pérez

Summary

It’s 1937 and Naomi has recently moved with her half-brother and sister 25256386to a new town where her siblings father will care for them all. There she must try to navigate the racial divides of the oil town while navigating the difficult relationship between her and her stepfather. Then she meets Wash and things begin to improve. Set against the worst school tragedy in US history, the explosion is a larger framework for the individual crises and turmoil that Naomi and her family suffer.

Trigger warning: racially motivated violence, sexual violence, child abuse

out of darkness


Favorite Character

Beto – His old soul seems out of place in the real world and it feels like he’s connected to something deeper; he reminds everyone around him to cherish small details and his connection to something more will serve him as he deals with the aftermath of the book’s story.

Favorite Line

Guys, there are a ton of beautiful lines and the book is amazingly written, but don’t you know by now that I’m the worst at keeping track of them?

Fun Author Fact

Pérez is a teacher, though she also loves libraries, and has taught all school levels. She’s currently a professor of world literature and credits her students for encouraging her to write.

Is this worth a book hangover?

It’s beautifully written and the characters are amazing, but it’s not a happy story. I think this book is valuable, especially if you’ve lead a life privileged enough to not experience racial or sexual violence. If you have personal experience with racial, ethnic, or sexual  violence, I would hesitate to recommend this and would give a full disclaimer that this will only underline what you already know.

Read These Next

This Side of Home by Renee Watson for a contemporary look at similar issues with a more positive ending or Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley for another look at the end of segregation with another boundary-crossing love 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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Filed under Heavy Topics, High School, Historical, Romance

Book Discussion: Beneath a Marble Sky

Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors

Summary

When many people think of India, they think of the Taj Mahal. Most have vaguely heard of the story — how the magnificent white tomb was built by a grieving husband for his deceased wife. But how many have wondered beyond the building of the moment, and to the lives of those involved in the events that took place in 17th century India?

Beneath the Marble Sky is the fictionalized story of the life of Princess Jahanara, daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife, Arjumand Banu Begum. Jahanara lives the privileged life as the favorite daughter of the Emperor, watching her parents rule India and spending time with her brothers. But after her mother dies, and her father begins a downward spiral of grief, Jahanara is forced to grow up quickly. She must help her father rule, and deal with increasingly dangerous power battles with her brother, Auragzeb. Auragzeb, a religious fanatic who twists the words of the Quran to support his cause, is determined to seize the throne, even if it means overthrowing his peace-seeking older brother. Jahanara must decide how to balance her love and duty to her family with her own safety and happiness.

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

I really enjoyed the romance in this story because it was not all-consuming. Jahanara and her partner are both deeply devoted to their work, and realize the importance of duty as well as their own personal happiness. I’ll admit that it’s a little too picture-perfect, especially for that time period, but I really fell in love with both characters and enjoyed watching them together.

FRosieeminist Score: Good Effort 

Beneath the Marble Sky takes place in 17th century India, where the role of women (even the imperial royal princess) was fairly limited. Jahanara navigates tricky political and social constructs to be an effective ruler in a male-ruled society. This story surely takes some liberties with the historical context, and the freedoms Jahanara is allowed, but it was well worth it.

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Diversity Score: Good Effort 

One of the best parts of Beneath the Marble Sky are the references to Islam. Through Jahanara’s eyes, we see both the peace and beauty of the religion, as well as as how power-seeking individuals will use “religious” justification to convince people to follow them. Every time Aurangzeb tries to use the Quran to justify violence, Jahanara counters him with other verses. Too many books focus on Islam as the justification for evil, rather than recognize that every written word can be twisted for political gain.

wow icon Awesome Factor: Good Effort 

This has been one of my favorite historical fiction stories since high school. I’ve always been pulled in by the fast-moving plot, and the language is beautiful. I’m always (unfairly) a little wary of authors who write about an unfamiliar culture — e.g. a white man writing about a Muslim-Indian teenage princess. But John Shors writes respectfully and compassionately, and doesn’t try to generalize an entire society by one particular viewpoint.


Favorite Character

Jahanara. She is determined to help her father and brothers, even at the expense of her own happiness.

Favorite Line

“The Qur’an is a book of many faces. As much as Aurangzeb liked to quote its passages concerning revenge, misdeeds, and hellfire, it is also a text that speaks often of forgiveness, charity and goodwill. Unlike my brother, I always found these verses to be most profound. They comforted me tremendously.” 

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes, especially if you like historical fiction! 

Fun Author Fact

According to his Twitter, John Shors plans literary tours to the settings of his novels. I would love to visit the Taj Mahal with him, and understand what drew him to write particular parts of the novel.

Read This Next
Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran. If you enjoy well-told historical fiction, Michelle Moran’s books are always great reads. While Cleopatra’s Daughter is my favorite, I’ve also enjoyed The Second Empress, the story of Napolean’s reluctant second wife.

Post Author: Anisha

AnishaAnisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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