Down Comes the Night

by Allison Saft
First sentence: “Wren had never seen a worse radial fracture.”
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Content: There is some medical gore, and some tasteful on-screen sex. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

The neighboring countries of Danu and Vesria have been at war for centuries. So much so, that it has decimated the population, and wrecked the economies of both countries. The current queen of Danu was forced by the parliament to accept an uneasy truce, and so when soldiers on the border between the countries go missing, the uneasy truce seems ready to collapse.

Wren is the bastard niece of the queen, and all she has wanted to was to be useful. Thankfully, she has healing magic, and, because she also takes a scientific approach to medicine, she is one of the best in Danu. Unfortunately, this hasn’t really made the queen like her anymore. So after a quick series of events that leaves Wren even more on the outs with the queen, she ends up in another neighboring country (that doesn’t have magic, but has technology) commissioned to heal a patient. Except, that patient is the Reaper of Vesria, Hal Cavendish, and someone that Wren’s queen would love to capture. Which side of Wren is going to win out: the one that needs the queen’s approval, or the compassionate healer?

This one was recommended to me by a customer who shares the same taste in books as I do. And, I really enjoyed it for the most part. When I was about halfway through I described it as a cross between Leigh Bardugo and Mexican Gothic, and it was. There was good creepy plus magic, and I thought it would dissolve into full-on Gothic weird horror. But, Saft didn’t go there. There was a lot of good in the second half of the book, especially between Wren and Hal, but it pulled back and became a (admittedly good) treatise on the futility of war. Which isn’t bad. It just wasn’t what I wanted from where the first half of the book was taking me.

Even so: it’s a good book and a standalone (though I suppose we could have more adventures of Wren and Hal), which is always refreshing. A solid debut.

From the Desk of Zoe Washington

by Janae Marks
First sentence: “The day I turned twelve, I was certain it’d be my favorite birthday yet, but then I got the letter.”
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Content: It talks about wrongful imprisonment, but in a very age-sensitive way. It’s in the middle grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore, but would probably be good up through 6th or 7th grade.

Zoe is just a normal twelve-year-old: she likes hanging out with her friends, she lvoes baking, and she just wants to enjoy the summer (even though she’s currently fighting with her former best friend and neighbor, Trevor). Then, on her birthday, she finds a letter from her biological dad, Marcus, whom she’s never met, because he was arrested and convicted of murder before she was born.

Curious, she opens the letter, and then decides — against her mom’s will — to write him back. They start a relationship of sorts and when Zoe asks why he’s in prison, Marcus says he is innocent and was convicted wrongly. That sets Zoe off on a hunt to prove to herself — and her mother, and possibly the world — that Marcus is who he says he is. Along the way, she gets an internship at a bakery and learns a bit about that world, and makes up with Trevor.

It’s a very sweet little book, this (no pun meant with the baking, though I do wish there was a recipe for the Fruit Loop cereal cupcakes in the back) story of a girl getting to know her biological dad. Marks finds a balance with the parents — Zoe isn’t trying to replace her stepdad, whom she calls “dad” — but she does want to know this person who, up until this point, was just a sperm donor. I liked that Marks brought out that the prison system is not always about justice: Marcus had a bad lawyer, yes, but Zoe’s mother was also convinced that because the system found Marcus guilty that must have meant he was. We’re all so conditioned to believe that, and I appreciate that Marks explained that it’s not true in a way a younger kid could understand. I liked that Zoe had a good support system of adults around her, but that she also gets in trouble when she does things that, well, a kid would get in trouble for.

It was a very charming book, and one that is dealing with heavy subjects — like wrongful imprisonment — but not in a heavy-handed way. I truly enjoyed it!

The House in the Cerulean Sea

by TJ Klune
First sentence: “‘Oh dear,’ Linus Baker said, wiping sweat from his brow.”
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Content: There are several mild swear words and some illusions to abuse. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section but I’d give it to any kid who doesn’t mind reading about a couple of 40-something men.

Sometimes, you hear about a book for a while before it really seeps into your head that you ought to read it. This was one of those books. I’d seen it around the store — maybe not in hardcover, but definitely in paperback in December. I have to admit it was the cover that first drew me in (well, that and hearing about it on bookish Instagram) but eventually I heard about it enough that I picked it up on a whim. (Read: I needed to shelf a couple of books and there wasn’t enough space, so I bought this one to make space. Bookseller side effects,)

The plot isn’t really what the book’s about: Linus Baker, a case worker at the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, spends his days observing the orphanages that DICOMY has set up to take care of, well, magical youth. He observes the conditions these children are in, and makes his objective recommendations. And then he gets assigned an orphanage with highly classified children out in the middle of nowhere (on an island in the sea, actually). And once Linus has meet Arthur Parnassus, the headmaster, and his six wars, his life will never be the same.

This has all the charm of a Pratchett novel with a heavy Arthur Dent-ish vibe. It was so so so delightful, Watching Linus come out of his shell.. The children. Oh, the children. Silly, hilarious sentences, but with the underlying point: we are all children, we should all be valued for what we are rather than what society wants to see us. It’s got deep themes, but at its heart, this is a deeply, wonderfully, happy, joyful book.

And I am so so glad I finally read it.

State of the TBR Pile: March 2021

March? It’s March? It’s been a year of the pandemic? My brain can’t wrap around this.

What I can wrap my head around is my TBR Pile. Which currently looks like this:

(Am I the only one who goes through past pictures of my TBR pile just to see how much I’ve read, and how much I’ve passed on? Just me? Okay.)

Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft
Cemetery Boys
by Aiden Thomas
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks
Dying of Whiteness by Jonathan M. Metzl
Stormbreak by Natalie C Parker
Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger
The Girl King by Mimi Yu

What’s on your TBR pile that you’re excited about?

Audio book: Firekeeper’s Daughter

by Angeline Boulley
Read by Isabella Star LaBlanc
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, some tasteful on-screen sex, and a rape scene. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Daunis Fontaine has not quite fit in growing up. She lives in Sault St Marie in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and being half white and half Ojibwe has made it so that she never quite fit in either community. She wants a fresh start at the University of Michigan, but it doesn’t happen once her uncle dies suddenly. And then Daunis is drawn into an FBI investigation over the spread of meth in the region. It gets more complicated when she falls for the new guy, Jamie, and things keep getting more and more involved with the investigation.

I highly highly recommend this one on audio. I don’t know how it would play out in print; I suspect that I would have tripped over the Anishinaabe words that Boulley peppers throughout the book. Speaking of which: I appreciated Boulley’s inclusion of Native customs and practices but in a way that felt like they were important to Daunis, but not crucial to the outcome of the story. I loved LaBlanc’s narration, and the way she brought the characters to life. (The only complaint I had about the audio book is that they pronounced pasty wrong. It’s PAH-sty not PAY-sty. Any self-respecting Michigander knows that.) No, it’s not the fast-paced thriller the publisher is marketing it as, but it is an immersive story about a young woman who is trying to figure out how she can fit in, grieve, honor her traditions, and find her own path.

In short: I found it remarkable.

Black Buck

by Mateo Askaripour
First sentence: “The day that changed my life was like every other day before it, except that it changed my life.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and tasteful on-screen sex. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Darren is an aimless 22-year-old who has been working his way up the ranks at Starbucks instead of college and a more traditional route. Then one day he does a hard sales pitch on a regular customer and finds himself working for Sumwun, a tech startup. It’s an all-white, elite work environment (Darren is neither of those things) and Darren finds himself being subject to some pretty intense and racist stuff.

And honestly? That’s as far as I made it. I should have known it wouldn’t agree with me when it was being billed as satire. It’s skewering white business practices, and I get it, but satire and I don’t get along. We just don’t. I’ve tried books that are supposed to be funny pokes at things, and I just don’t “get” it. This is why I say this one isn’t for me, and I abandoned it halfway through. Life is too short to read books you just don’t like, even if they’re for book club.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. It just wasn’t for me.

Superman Smashes the Klan

by Gene Leun Yang and Gurihiru
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Content: There is some violence and use of slurs against Asian people. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

It’s 1946, and Roberta and Tommy Lee are moving from their home in Chinatown to a different part of Metropolis. They’re anxious about making new friends, and their father has started a new job which comes with new responsibilities. They begin to make friends, and Tommy earns a spot on a baseball team. But things don’t go smoothly: the (white) neighbors aren’t happy and soon the local Klan (of the Fiery Cross) are working to terrorize the Lees.

Which is where Superman comes in. The story of the Lees confrontations with the Klan are interwoven with Superman trying to figure out who he fully is. He is fast and strong, but he’s not really come into all of his powers (as we currently know them) yet. It’s a fabulous dual narrative as the Chinese immigrant Lee family deals with figuring out how to fit in and be themselves ans Superman (the alien immigrant!) figures out the same.

I picked this one up entirely because it won the Cybils Young Adult Graphic Novel and I wasn’t disappointed. Between the story by Yang and the art by Gurihiru, there is not only a fun and interesting story, but an incredibly relevant one. And a good reminder: Superman is a hero for everyone, not just white people. And that we’re all in this world together, so we should figure out how to make it work together. It’s an incredibly hopeful book as well as showing the evils of racism and extreme hatred. Definitely highly recommended.

Shipped

by Angie Hockman
First sentence: “Every time I collect my mail from the paint-spattered box in the lobby and see my name printed over and over in bold black ink, I’m reminded that I’m named after a rock star.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and some off-screen sex. It’s in the Romance section of the bookstore.

Henley Evans has big goals for her life: work really really hard, progress in her job as marketing manager at a small cruise line, and suriving her work nemesis, Graeme Crawford-Collins (who was, disappointingly, not British. I think with a name like that, you need to be British). When both Henley and Graeme are up for the same promotion, and then sent on a cruise to the Gal├ípagos islands, Henley is sure it’s going to be the worst vacation ever. But things don’t always go as expected, and not everything (and everyone) is what it seems.

I had been reading a few heavy-ish books, and I needed a light, silly, palate-cleanser, and this hit the spot perfectly. It’s a perfect rom-com, following all the familiar beats, with a side trip to the Gal├ípagos islands put in. I enjoyed Henley’s girl crew, including her sister Walsh, and I liked the push-pull between Henley and Graeme. It’s not deep, but it was a lot of fun. Which is exactly what I needed right now.

Monthly Round-Up: February 2021

It’s been a month. Surprisingly: I only read two books written by a white author this month! I didn’t even think about it when I was reading; I just pulled things off the pile. Maybe I’m diversifying … a little bit anyway.

My favorite this month:

I don’t read much Middle Grade anymore, so I had completely missed this one when it came out. Definintely worth it.

As for the rest:

Non-Fiction:

Eat a Peach (audio)
The Cooking Gene

Adult Fiction:

Deacon King Kong
The Bees
Libertie

YA:

Concrete Rose
A Vow So Bold and Deadly

What was your favorite this month?

The Cooking Gene

by Michael W. Twitty
First sentence: “The Old South is a place where people use food to tell themselves who they are, to tell others who they are, and to tell stories about where they’ve been.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are a few swear words, and the use of the n-word. It’s in the Cooking reference section of the bookstore.

This is essentially two things in one: Twitty’s personal memoir and his professional cooking journey. One part of that — his cooking journey — I found incredibly fascinating. Twitty has dedicated his career and life to recreating and understanding the food and cooking methods that the enslaved people used when they were brought to this country. I think that’s fascinating and valuable, and I found those portions of the book to be interesting. The other part — his personal memoir — was rooted too much in DNA testing and DNA connections to his ancestors as he tried to figure “himself” out. I enjoyed the parts where he was talking about his youth and growing up, but I didn’t connect so much with his musings about ancestors. I get that it’s important to him — especially with his work — but I just didn’t connect with it.

Part of that was the circular method that Twitty used to tell is story. It seemed to start in the middle and wrap around itself and while parts were fascinating, the whole was just a bit outside of my reach.

In short: I really wanted to like this a whole lot more than I ever actually did.