Audiobook: Counterfeit

by Kirstin Chen
Read by Catherine Ho
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There was some swearing. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Ava Wong has lived a safe life: the daughter of Chinese immigrants, she chose the safe occupation (lawyer), married well (he’s a doctor) and has a child (he’s two), and is living a “good” life. Except, she’s supremely unhappy. Enter Winnie Fang, Ava’s former roommate at Stanford. She is a woman of the world and has developed a counterfeit scheme where she buys knock-off designer bags from China, purchases the same designer bag and returns the counterfeit to the store, selling the original on eBay for a discounted price. It’s made her, well if not millions, then at least a good living. She sees Ava’s unhappiness, and invites her into her world. The whole book is framed as Ava’s confession to a dective, having been caught out in the scheme, and is taking the fall. Except: is she?

To be honest: I wasn’t all that invested in Ava or Winnie’s story. I liked parts of it, and Ho kept me entertained, but I didn’t really feel connected to the story. It’s not that it wasn’t enjoyable (stick around: part 2 makes part 1 worth it), but in may ways, I felt like it was Rich People Problems, which are very uninspiring right now. . So while it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t all that great either. At least it helped fill the hours at work.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea

by Axie Oh
First sentence: “The myths of my people say only a true bride of the Sea God can bring an end to his insatiable wrath.”
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Content: There’s some violence. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Mina is just a girl in a village, one who was never supposed to be given as the Sea God’s brie But when her brother’s beloved, Cheong, was chosen for the sacrifice, Mina knew she must do something to save her brother’s happiness. So, she jumps into the sea, sacrificing herself in Cheong’s stead. what she finds in the Sea God’s kingdom is a whole world of gods and demons, of betrayal and friendship, and a puzzle as to what will wake the Sea God.

This is not something I would have picked up on my own, but a customer I really like gave it to me, and I have to admit that I really enjoyed it. It was a bit too formulaic for my tastes (I guessed the twist ending) but Oh’s writing was evocative, and it wasn’t a bad story. There were some genuinely tender moments, and I did like the tales that Oh spun.

Give this one to kids who like fairy tales.

The Door of No Return

by Kwame Alexander
First sentence: “There was even a time… many seasons ago… when our people were the sole supplier of the purest and most valuable gold in the world…”
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Release date: September 27, 2022
Content: There is some violence, some of which is kind of graphic. It will be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

In this novel in verse, Alexander follows, Kofi, a young man in an African village in Western Africa. He has a good life: he goes to school and is being taught English, even though he doesn’t think he needs it. He has a girl he likes and a cousin with who he’s antagonistic. It’s not a bad life. Things start going badly when Kofi’s older brother accidentally kills the prince of a neighboring village in a contest. He didn’t mean to, he feels bad about it, but his village elders absolve him of any wrongdoing. But, the neighboring village doesn’t see things that way and eventually men from the village take Kofi and his brother hostage.

This is the first of a trilogy, following Kofi (I assume through his experiences. So, it’s slow to start. We get to know Kofi and his family and village, all the better to feel it when Kofi is captured. It’s historical, so you can guess that where Kofi ends up is on a slave ship. it’s laying the groundwork to show that those who were enslaved were people, with lives, dreams, and desires, and Alexander does a fantastic job showing that. It’s showing the slave trade as less simplistic, not to say that there are any White saviors here (there aren’t), but that it wasn’t as simple as White people kidnapping Africans and taking them from their home and family. LIke much of what Alexander does, it’s done excellently with short poems that are evocative so that a reader gets an emotional punch when Kofi is taken.

It’s excellent, but I wouldn’t expect anything else.

Audiobook: The Charm Offensive

by Alison Cochran
Read by: Vikas Adam, Graham Halstead & Cassandra Campbell
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Content: There’s a bunch of swearing, including multiple f-bobms. There are also some steamy scenes. It’s in the Romance setion of the bookstore.

Dav is a producer on this reality Bachelor-eque reality TV show, Ever After. he’s still pretty into the premise: finding that magical fairy tale love. But, when he’s suddenly switched from being the handler for the women to being the handler for their newest “prince, ” Charlie, Dav starts to wonder a bit about this whole “Truve love” thing. Wealthy, tech-giant Charlie is everything Dav is not: sophisticated, handsome, awkward, intense, and on the show just to get a job in tech again. Things start out on the wrong foot between the two fo them, but as the season goes on, they find out that maybe they have more in common than they thought.

I think my favorite trope is when the thing is commenting on the thing while being the thing. In this case, Cochrun comments on the toxicity and overall hetero-ness of reality-TV love shows, while the story is set on a reality-tv love show where two gay men absolutely fall in love. It’s sweet, it’s fun, it’s smart, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The narrators are brilliant and propel the whole book forward, definitely keeping me engaged the whole time. I couldn’t put it down!

Swim Team

by Johnnie Christmas
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Content: There’s some conflict and some bullying by adults and other kids. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Bree and her father moved to Florida and with that came a new school and a new schedule. All the classes Bree wants to take are filled up, so she’s put in Swim 101. The problem: Bree doesn’t know how to swim, and she’s afraid of learning. She skips class until her father finds out, and then he enrolls her in swimming lessons. Hweer, she’s bullied, and so she runs away. it’s not until a near-drwoing incident when her upstairs neibero, Ms. Etta, rescues her that she realizes that she needs to learn to swim, making a deal with Ms. Etta to each her.

But no one of There is a small side lesson wno why there’s a stereotype of Black people not swimming, but the bulk of the story is Bree joining the middle school’s failing swim team, and learning how to compete and how to work as a team. There are ups and downs, but the girls learn that it’s better to support each other than compete against each other.

The thing I thought about most while reading this book was how representation matters. It will be wonderful for young Black girls to see themselves in this story. It’s a good story that centers on their experiences, and one that makes them the center of the narrative. On top of that, though, it’s a good story about teamwork and perseverance, and Christmas is a good storyteller and artist. Definitely a recommended graphic novel.

Audiobook: Go Back to Where You Came From

by Wajahat Ali
Read by the author
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Content: There’s a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the humor section of the bookstore.

I had no idea who Ali was when I picked this up. I think it called to me because I’m always looking for immigrant stories, ones by people who don’t have my experiences. And although Ali is not an immigrant, he’s a first-generation American, which is just as interesting. It’s basically a memoir; Ali tells the story of how his parents came to America from Pakistan, his childhood, and then growing up and the trials he and his parents faced. (Spoiler: it’s a lot.) Ali tells his story with grace, keeping a reader/listener engaged with wry humor and just plain good storytelling.

It’s a good reminder of white privilege, and that there must be something bout this country if immigrants still want to keep trying to make a life here in the face of all the obstacles put in their way by white supremacy. Ali was a good person to spend a few hours with, and I feel like I learned something after having listened to his story. It was a good reminder that we’re all in it togeher in this huge melting pot we call America. Maybe we can even figure out how to make it work. Ali seems to have some hope for the future. I hope he’s right.

Audiobook: Four Hundred Souls

Edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain
Read by a full cast (too many to list!)
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: It does not sugar coat history. There are mentions of lynchings, rape, use of the n-word, and mild swearing. It’s in the history section of the bookstore.

I’ve had this on my TBR pile (the large one, not the small one by my bed) ever since it came out a year ago. And then I got a great idea from a bookstagrammer: read a little every day in February for black history month. I tried to get it done by the end of the month and almost made it. It was easy to break down into little sections: the book spans 400 years, but every author gets a 5 year period, and the sections are broken up into 40 years chunks. Each individual author gets to choose what they want to talk about: some focus on an event, some on a person, some on an idea. Many chose to relate their essay to the way the country is today. It’s less of a history book and more of a “how history has impacted today” book, which I appreciated. Not all essays were equally interesting, but there was enough for me to keep engaged. That, and the essays were generally very short – less than 5 minutes in audio. The narrators were all really good, for the most part. I think some of the essays were read by the authors, but since the narrators didn’t announce themselves before they began reading, I wasn’t sure. (They do all say their names a the end, but it was hard to match them up. Mostly I was like “Oh, they read? Cool!”)

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it and learning about the history of Blacks in America. Fascinating well-done book.

Nubia: Real One

by L.L. McKinney and Robyn Smith
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Content: There is some violence and an instance of sexual assault. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

I’ll be upfront about this: I haven’t loved a superhero comic this much since Ms. Marvel. I love Nubia and everything about her, from her moms, to her desire to do the right thing, to her friends, and pretty much everything.

Nubia knows she’s different, stronger, faster, but she’s always had to hide it her entire life. But now that she’s 17, she is tired of being shut in all the tme. She’s conflicted though: kids who look like her are usually portrayed as perpetrators, not the heroes. But, when her best friend is assaulted, Nubia makes a tough decision to step towards her destiny and embrace who she knows she is.

I loved this one, effortlessly blending the injustices towards Black kids by the police, white anger (and white privilege), and a story about a girl trying to find her way together. The art was sometimes rough, but the story made up for it. I am so happy I finally read this, and I can’t wait for more!

Jukebox

by Nidhi Chanani
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Content: There are some intense moments. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Shaheen’s dad is always going on about musicians and records, and she just wants to tune him out. But when he goes missing, she and her cousin, Tannaz, go looking for him and discover a time-transporting jukebox in a record store that Shaheen’s dad was always frequenting.

From there, it’s traveling through time trying to figure out what the jukebox is doing and where Shaeheen’s dad is. Full of historical facts and bits of music, this is a delightful graphic novel! Shaheen starts the book out hesitant and withdrawn, but the idea of finding her dad helps give her courage. it’s fun, it’s a smartly drawn book — I loved the historical bits — and full of music facts. Perfect for anyone who enjoys music.

The Legend of Auntie Po

by Shing Yin Khor
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Content: There is a death, but nothing graphic. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Mei bakes the pies for the loggers and workers in a camp in the Sierra Nevadas in 1885. Her father runs the kitchen, and the two of them make a good team. She’s happy enough, even though she’s Chinese and knows that she won’t have the same opportunities as her best friend Bee, who is white. That doesn’t stop her from trying to learn more, from telling stories of the legendary Auntie Po, and from being the best person she can be.

That makes it sound trite because this was a really solid graphic novel. I enjoyed the historical context, knowing that the conflicts that existed between the white people and the Chinese workers were real. But I also enjoyed the larger-than-life feel of it, as well. Is Auntie Po real? Did he help the loggers? Did Mei see her? I also thought the adult characters were pretty great from Hels the foreman to Hao, Mei’s dad.

A really solid book from Khor. I can’t wait to see what she does next!