Pride

by Ibi Zoboi
First sentence: “It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when rich people move into the hood, where it’s a little bit broken and a little bit forgotten, the first thing they want to do is clean it up.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: September 18, 2018
Content: There is swearing, including a few f-bombs. It will be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I think a 7th/8th grader who was interested would like it, as well.

I’ll admit this up front: I’m a sucker for Jane Austen retelings. I adore them, especially when they’re well-done. And this one, set in Brooklyn with class tensions (but not race) and feisty girls who speak their mind, this one is extremely well done.

The fun thing about this is that if you know Pride and Prejudice, you smile as Zoboi hits all the notes of the original. A rich family moves into the neighborhood where the Benitez family — of Dominican/Hatian blend — live. The family — the Darcys — are well-off African Americans, and they completely re-do the house all fancy. Because they can. And yeah, they look down their noses at the Benitezes, with their loud, immigrant ways and their spicy immigrant food, and well… everything. Zuri is the second daughter of this crazy family, and is about to start her senior year in high school. She is fiercely proud of her neighborhood and her family, and she doesn’t want a snotty rich brat, no matter how fine he is, stomping on her turf.

And, if you know the original, you know how it turns out. What I loved was that Zoboi paid homage to Austen while making the story thoroughly her own, and thoroughly modern. While I could sense the Austen book in the background, the everything felt organic and natural, and the characters more than just caricatures. Even if you don’t know the original, the plot made sense on its own, and I loved that Zoboi was able to do that. And I thought it was interesting for her to highlight the class differences within the African American community; it gave the book a depth it wouldn’t have if she had gone with a rich white/poor black narrative. And I appreciated that.

It was a delightful dip into a story I love but looking at it in a whole new light.

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The Dinner List

by Rebecca Serle
First sentence: “‘We’ve been waiting for an hour.’ That’s what Audrey says.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: September 11, 2018
Content: There is some (tasteful) sex, and a few swear words. (I don’t remember any f-bombs, but I may be wrong). It will be in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

We all have seen those questions: Who would you want to have dinner with, if you could have it with anyone, dead or alive?

Sabrina wrote a list, and tonight, it came true. She’s having dinner with her five people: her (dead) alcoholic father who left when she was little, her favorite professor from college, her best friend, her ex-fiance, and Audrey Hepburn. They sit down for dinner, to talk, reconnect, and (perhaps) heal. Interspersed with the dinner conversation are chapters with the story of Sabrina and Tobias’s (he’s her ex) relationship.

It’s more than a cute romance book (though it is that, since there is an element of Fate to Sabrina and Tobias’s relationship), looking at forgiveness and what it takes to keep a relationship together. The personalities of the five dinner guests meshed really well, and I liked how they each played off each other. It was a sweet story (and I didn’t mind the twist too much) and an enjoyable read.

Sea Witch

by Sarah Henning
First sentence: “Two small pairs of boots echoed on the afternoon cobblestones — one pair in a sprint, the other in a stumble and slide.”
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Content: There’s some intense action, and a few violent moments. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

In this small Danish sea town, Evie is a bit of an outcast. The daughter of a fisherman, she grew up best friends with Prince Nik and their mutual friend, Anna. It was tolerated when they were little, but after Anna’s death by drowning, Evie and Nik’s friendship was really frowned upon, and Evie felt the disapproval even more. Especially since she felt she was to blame for Anna’s death. So when a girl — Annemette — shows up out of the blue on the eve of the towns festival, Evie grasps it as her chance at redemption. Especially since Annemette looks and sounds exactly like Anna.

But Evie finds out that things aren’t exactly as they seem, and by that time, it’s too late to stop what has already been put in motion.

I’ve been telling people that what Wicked is to Wizard of Oz, this is to The Little Mermaid. It’s essentially the origin story of the Sea Witch character in the Andersen fairy tale. But, it’s also a re-telling of that fable (with a bit of Disney thrown in as well), and Henning does it extremely well. I haven’t read the original tale in years, but I adored the way Henning wove in the familiar parts of the tale while giving us something completely new. I liked Evie’s internal conflict with her magic and her commitment to her friend, and I loved the nice twist at the end (which I kind of saw coming but was much, much more than I ever expected). The romance is nice, though it’s not really the focus of the story. The friendship between Evie and Anna (shown mostly through a series of flashbacks throughout the book) is, which I also appreciated. It was just a compelling story, all around.

If you like fairy tale retellings, definitely pick this one up.

Audio book: Crazy Rich Asians

by Kevin Kwan
Read by Lynn Chen
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, plus some illusions to sex and a couple of pretty crass characters. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

This is a trip and a half! Seriously. The basic plot is that Rachel Chu has gone to Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, to attend the wedding of his best friend. What she thinks Nicholas is: a history professor who was educated at Oxford. What Nick really is: the grandson of one the richest people in Singapore, with a huge and wildly rich and snobbish family. Rachel — who grew up the daughter of a single immigrant mother in the US — has absolutely no idea how to fathom the wealth or handle the snubs of Nick’s family and friends.

What this book really was: a huge soap opera featuring incredibly wealthy Asians, both old money and new. The book was full of name-dropping and place dropping and everything dropping, but yet, I couldn’t stop listening. Partially it was because Chen is a fantastic narrator, handling all the accents, from old-world Chinese accented English, to both posh and Aussie English to a flat American accent. It was delightful listening to her nail every character and every voice. And, I have to admit, I love the soap-y aspect of it all. What wild and crazy and absurd and outrageous things are these people going to do?

It also serves as a reminder that a good percentage of the world’s money is not, actually, in the US. That there are some really really really rich Asians out there, and that they spend their money. A lot of money.

Was it a good book? Maybe not. But it sure was fun! (Am I going to read the sequels? Maybe…. Will I see the movie? Heck yeah!)

 

The Bird and the Blade

by Megan Bannen
First sentence: “I arrived in Sarai on the fifteenth day of the seventh month — Ghost Day — but for the first time I dream of my brother, Weiji, is two months later, on the night I meet Khalaf.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are several f-bombs (I think I didn’t count more than four) and other mild swearing. There is also frank talk about genitals. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I think an interested 7th grader could handle it.

They say, “Don’t judge a book by a cover”, but we all do.  And my judgement for this one, when I first saw the cover was “okay, it’s going to be a light fantasy; I hope it’s good.” Well. It’s not a light fantasy (okay, so there’s a small ghost element at the end, but I’m not really counting that). Set in the late 13th century and  loosely based on the opera Turandot, it’s a sweeping story about a captured girl from the Song empire, Jinghua, the slave of the Kipchack Khanate. The il-khan, Timur, and his youngest son, Khalaf, are on the run after an invasion from a neighboring khanate, and through a twist of fate, Jinghua ends up with them as they travel across the Mongol empire. Once Khalaf finds out that the daughter of the Great Khan, Turandokht, is refusing to marry anyone unless they solve three riddles, Kahalf decides that that’s the only way to save his father and his kingdom, so they head there. Khalaf to solve the riddles, Jinghua to stop him.

It’s a difficult one to sum up, this book, because there is so much going on. It’s a forbidden romance — as Jinghua and Khalaf spend time together, they find they have  a mutual respect and admiration that develops into something more, but a son of an il-khan and a servant can never be together in any real way. It’s a road trip — as her characters travel, Bannen takes us through multiple parts of the Mongol Empire, showing just how vast and varied it was. And it’s a work of historical fiction, though it felt like it had a modern sensibility. Khalf stood up for Jinghua in ways that I’m not sure a 13th century man would, but I found I didn’t mind. It’s a unique book, set in a unique place, with some fantastic characters.

Definitely recommended.

From Twinkle, With Love

by Sandhya Menon
First sentence: “Hello, namaste, buenos dias, and bonjour, Mira Nair!
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some mild swearing, and lots of kissing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Twinkle is a budding filmmaker. She loves looking at the world through the eye of her camera lens, and it’s what she wants to do with her life. She has a YouTube channel (though not many subscribers), and a dream. The rest of her life isn’t so hopeful: she’s not really high up on the popularity totem pole at her prep school, her best friend has begun to ditch her for other girls (who are higher up in popularity), and her parents are often gone. Thankfully, she has her grandmother and her crush on the most popular kid in school, Neil.

Then comes the Midsummer Festival. Popular guy’s twin brother, Sahil, talks Twinkle into making a film — they decide a gender-swapped Dracula — and that fact sets a whole lot in motion.

I wanted to like this. It’s got everything that should hit for me in a summer romance: a cute guy, some conflict, a lot of swoony situations… it feels like a Bollywood film with kissing. I should have loved it.

But, I didn’t. I was talking to a co-worker about it, and she said that Twinkle was annoying — and she was, being so obsessed with being popular and getting her friend “back” that she didn’t realize what was right in front of her — and because of that, she couldn’t get into the book. I think that’s a lot of it. Twinkle was very human, and very much a teenage girl, and I appreciated that. I thought the relationships, at least between the girls, were very realistic. Maybe what didn’t sit well with me was the juxtaposition between the friendship arc and the romance arc. The romance was all very “true love”-y; Sahil’s had a thing for Twinkle since they were 11 and he’s finally on it (that’s what came off as unrealistic to me!) and he’s all “you’re my One True Love”, and I think that’s (for a high school book) what didn’t work for me. I understood the friendships, and Twinkle’s desire not to have things change, but when you put that in the same book as a meet-cute, fluffy summer romance that you’r trying to make weightier with declarations of True Love. Maybe that’s also what didn’t quite sit well with me. If Menon had just kept it fluffy, Bollywood-like (with kissing!), then maybe I would have liked it better.

Legendary

by Stephanie Garber
First sentence: “While some rooms on the estate had monsters hiding beneath the beds, Tella swore her mother’s suite concealed enchantment.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Others in the series: Caraval
Content: There’s some violence and intense moments. It will be in the Teen section (Grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Spoilers for the first one, obviously.

I had high hopes for this one, even though it’s been a long time since I’ve read Caraval and admittedly I don’t remember much. And while Legendary was good, I don’t know if it lived up to my high hopes.

It’s shortly after the Caraval that Scarlett won, and Legend has already set up another one. This one is  in the capital city, and it’s Tella’s turn to play. The prize? Legend’s name. The cost? Tella’s mother’s life. She’s made a bargain with a criminal: the location of her mother in exchange for Legend’s name. She has to win, but at what cost?

I did find this one engrossing; Graber has created a very unique world, full of magic and deception. But, maybe because it wasn’t new like it was in Caraval, I just wasn’t that thrilled by it. It could be that Tella’s journey wasn’t as interesting as Scarlett’s or that I just didn’t find the villain of the book that enticing, or even the final reveal all that shocking. I definitely found the ending unsatisfying. I probably just wanted… more.

It’s not that it’s a bad book; it’s not. And maybe if you read it right after Caraval, it would come off as better. Whatever the reason, I was a little disappointed.