Thanks to Partner NetGalley for the digital ARC of Roshani Chokshi’s The Silvered Serpents in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, September 22, 2020.
***PROCEED WITH CAUTION: SPOILERS FROM BOOK ONE, THE GILDED WOLVES, APPEAR.
Roshani Chokshi’s The Silvered Serpents focuses again on the crew of Séverin as they come back together for another heist. After being driven apart by the loss of one of their own in book one, their trust has been fractured. Séverin is desperate to find The Divine Lyrics, a book that can make him a god, able both to protect his friends and to become impervious to being hurt by them or by their loss. Laila, too, wants to find the book--she believes it’s the only thing that can keep her alive. Enrique is desperate once again to prove himself: he has lost confidence since separating from his friends, unable to make his mark as an academic. And Zofia is ready to quit so she can be with her dying sister . . . until Séverin convinces her otherwise.
As in The Gilded Wolves, the strengths here for me are the diversity of the group, who each come from different races, different countries, different classes, and different religions. Their disparate talents and ways of thinking mean that they can each contribute a unique strength to the group--and, of course, their magical talents are different, as well. The world here is one of a series of magical houses, unified in asserting their own superiority but also in competing against each other for new treasures and wealth and prominence, and each of the protagonists wants (or needs) something from the ruling class who runs the houses.
There’s a cinematic quality to so many scenes within the novel--I love the different locations that Choskhi imagines so beautifully--and I like each of the characters and the personal challenges each is undergoing, as well. Shifting between the four points of view works well for me. I did wish for more from Séverin’s sections. I empathized with his grief, which has made it difficult for him to interact with his friends the way he used to, but I didn’t completely believe the personality change he underwent, and I wanted more from his chapters, which were my least favorite. I found Laila, Enrique, and Zofia each to be more believable and more nuanced.
Overall, Roshani Chokshi’s The Silvered Serpents is a compelling story, a worthy sequel to The Gilded Wolves.
Thanks to Partner NetGalley for the digital ARC of Claudia Rankine’s Just Us: An American Conversation in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, September 8, 2020.
I will need to read Claudia Rankine’s Just Us again. I think it is brilliant and important and thoughtful, but I know that there’s more to absorb, more to contemplate. I read it too quickly this time, wrestled with the format of the e-book (I’m definitely going to buy it in print), and so I know that I missed details, connections, and nuance that would have enriched my reading experience even more.
Still, even on a first read, I loved it.
As she did in her gorgeous book Citizen: An American Lyric, Rankine uses a mixture of poetry, essays, and images through Just Us: An American Conversation. The book moves between the main pieces and connective pieces that are woven alongside the text, providing sources, in-the-moment fact checks, and further reflection.
Rankine uses the intensely personal to explore the universal. She is wrestling with her own experiences as a way to grapple with American experience. She is both keenly aware of when she has been wronged . . . but she’s reflective and vulnerable enough to admit when she wrongs others, too.
Her scope is wide ranging. She uses brief meetings with strangers in airports and on planes, longer conversations with friends that puzzle her, and disagreements or moments of dissatisfaction with her husband to explore her topic. She’s aiming to define whiteness, as she does in one of her classes at Yale, to try to figure out what it means to be white and how her own identity relates to that definition. She’s constantly challenging her own assumptions, her friends’ assumptions, small comments that seem to offer a key that will unlock a new insight into race in America.
As she did in Citizen, Rankine presents her response in abstract and lyrical poetry, in meditations on things like tennis and college admissions, in social media, in her cancer, in her interracial marriage to a white husband. She’s looking for answers wherever she can. Often, after having written an essay about a conversation with someone, she then shares the essay with that person and shares his/her response. It’s fascinating, a true series of conversations that she’s developing with others and with herself.
At one point, a friend critiques what Rankine has written because “there’s no strategy here,” and Rankine replies, “response is my strategy. Endless responses and study and adjustments and compromises become a life” (334). It’s what we all do, on some level, I think (or at least I do!): we respond to what happens and then test our responses, absorbing new information and events and meetings and conversations into our understanding. And then we do it again.
This is a book I’ll be thinking about for a long time.
Thanks to Partner Edelweiss for the digital ARC of Suzanne Park's Loathe at First Sight in exchange for an honest review. The book is available now for purchase.
Suzanne Park's Loathe at First Sight, which I read as part of a buddy read with @thechicklitbookclub, is a rom-com that defies that label. Though there is a romance, for me, it fades into the background; though there is comedy, this is a book with some serious messages.
Melody Joo has started a new job as a video game producer at Seventeen Studios, a company centered on superstar CEO Ian McKenzie. Almost immediately, she faces a backlash from her officemate, Asher; intern Nolan (Ian's nephew); and Ian himself. After she makes a joke about creating a videogame featuring male strippers and fully clothed female warriors ends up becoming the company's next project, Melody's life takes a sharp turn. While she's expecting (sadly) some amount of misogyny and discrimination since (1) she's a woman and (2) she's Korean-American, she's NOT expecting the level of vitriol she gets from online trolls.
After she's doxxed, the threat levels increase. Along with her work life, Melody has a lot going on. She's maid of honor for Jane, a true bridezilla, and is managing her relationship with her parents, who pressure her constantly to get married. When the threats from work start bleeding into her personal life, Melody is unable to ignore them.
While the romance here is sweet, for me, it wasn't the star of this book. Watching the way Melody deals with such horrible misogyny and racism and with the challenges she faces as a woman of color in the video game industry was sobering and thought provoking. Yes, there are moments of great comedy--Melody is sarcastic and, at times, filterless, which makes for some great dialogue--but the most compelling angle was that of her journeys in this challenging workplace.
Thanks to Partner NetGalley for the digital ARC of Daisy Johnson’s Sisters in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, August 25, 2020.
Daisy Johnson’s Sisters is a gorgeous, mind-bending sliver of a novel. Though it’s only 220 pages long, it immersed me in a world as disorienting to me as it is to its protagonist, July. At the beginning, here’s what we know: July, her sister September, and their mother Sheela have escaped to a home called The Settle House near the sea in North York. They’ve been driven there by the outcome of a mysterious incident at the girls’ school.
July has been the victim of bullying, and September--ten months older--is her constant protector, a shield for whom vengeance is routine. It becomes clear, however, that September also wields power, that her strength can be diminishing for July, who always gives in to September’s dominance.
As Johnson unveils the history of this family, including the absent father whose behavior may have been the model for September’s actions, I was drawn into July’s understanding of the world. She often has trouble separating her own perceptions and experiences from September, and though she occasionally tries to assert her individuality, she is drawn again and again into September’s influence.
The course of the novel, told in gorgeous prose, is winding and surprising. Daisy Johnson’s development of her characters and their perspectives--she occasionally alternates points of view--is both surreal and real, portraying vividly the minds of these women. After loving Sisters so much, I will definitely be visiting her backlist!
Thanks to Partner NetGalley for the digital ARC of Kristina Forest’s Now that I’ve Found You in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, August 25, 2020.
Evie Jones thinks she’s figured out her life. She has an amazing best friend; is launching her movie career with a much-praised director; has a sponsorship deal with a Black hair care company that she loves; and is following in the footsteps of her grandma, Gigi, the glamorous Evelyn Conaway, a Hollywood actress whose real life garnered her as much attention as her acting.
Then, Evie makes a mistake--a big mistake. She trusts the wrong person, and a viral social media post leaves her friendless and floundering. Only the hunger of the film industry--and the public--for an appearance by the reclusive Gigi gives Evie hope that she can save her dream.
Three months after Evie’s defeat, she’s in New York, banking on her grandmother to help her recover the potential that Evie had only begun to realize.
Kristina Forest’s YA novel Now that I’ve Found You is fast paced and engaging. I found Evie to be a flawed protagonist who earned my empathy from the beginning. At times, she acts in ways that are unappealing, but Forest makes sure that the reader always understands why she’s doing what she does: there are reasons that she has a hard time trusting people. Watching Evie’s coming of age arc, in which she’s trying to determine who she is, what she wants out of life, AND why she wants it, is compelling. I couldn’t put this book down until I knew what happened with Evie.
There’s romance here, too, with a young man named Milo who Gigi has befriended. Evie, counting on having Gigi all to herself, feels a lot of resentment toward Milo, but she’s also drawn to his passion for his art as she watches him try to move his band from hobby to career.
Forest uses multiple genres to weave in the story of Gigi’s lifelong love story with James Jenkins, her three-time-ex-husband, another actor. The parallels between Evelyn’s life and Evie’s story are beautiful, and the mystery of why Gigi ended her marriage with James and has refused to speak to him for 20 years is an intriguing thread woven through the book, another element that kept me reading. I love stories that feature Old Hollywood, and the beauty of Gigi and James’s first movie together being the first all-Black romantic film brings in a riveting touch of movie history.
Now that I’ve Found You is an excellent book for teenagers (and for adults!), one that balances the lightness of romance with the seriousness of determining one’s path in the world. I will absolutely be reading Forest’s debut, I Wanna Be Where You Are, and looking forward to her next book.
Thanks to Partner NetGalley for the digital ARC of Adrienne Kisner’s Six Angry Girls in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, August 18, 2020.
Adrienne Kisner’s Six Angry Girls contains multitudes: mock trial and anatomical knitting (yes, that’s a thing) and high-school Drama and high-school drama and love and FEMINISM. This YA novel alternates between two high school seniors’ perspectives. Raina is a dedicated actor and president of the Drama Club until her long-time boyfriend, Brandon, breaks up with her in an incredibly callous way. The dissolution of their relationship makes her realize that she was in drama for all of the wrong, Brandon-centered reasons. Millie, the other protagonist, has been a part of the mock trial team since her freshman year and has earned some time in the spotlight. And then, a coup (led by Brandon!) means that she can’t be a part of the competition team anymore.
Cast adrift, Raina and Millie find each other and begin their own, all-girls, mock trial team. They bring along with them a diverse group of others who have been cast out of the mainstream for a variety of reasons, some superficial and some related to their very identity.
They are, of course, also dealing with other problems: Millie faces increased responsibilities because her mom divorced her dad, and now Millie has picked up entirely the role her mom played around the house. Raina had banked all of her hopes for college on drama; now that she’s not in a play, what does that mean for her super-planned future? She’s also still recovering from the loss of her relationship and, in search of somewhere else to devote her energy, joins a politically-focused knitting group.
I liked so much about this novel. Raina and Millie are strong young women who are also believably flawed. Each is trying to figure out who she wants to be: Raina is moving on from a romantic relationship, and Millie--who identifies as homosexual and asexual--is moving into one . . . maybe. There is an important message of activism here and of when (and in what situations) it’s important to stand up for what you believe, even if it means giving up something that meant a great deal. Early on, I did think the pace dragged--I was interested but not compelled to read. But as the book continued, I was captured by the journeys of these characters as individuals and as part of a team that they are determined to make work. Six Angry Girls would be a great novel for teens--it’s an inspiring story of being cast aside and fighting for what’s right and for what matters on their own terms.
Thanks to partner NetGalley for the digital ARC of L. E. Flynn’s All Eyes on Her in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, August 18, 2020.
L. E. Flynn's All Eyes on Her is a twisty thriller composed of a lush myriad of unreliable narrators, multiple genres (including journal entries, newspaper articles, text threads, and police interview transcripts . . . with a little bit of second person thrown in), and some thoughtful feminist declarations for good measure.
The publisher’s description lays it out: “You heard the story on the news. A girl and a boy went into the woods. The girl carried a picnic basket. The boy wore bright yellow running shoes. The girl found her way out, but the boy never did…. “ What ensues is a narrative that circles around these two central characters. We hear from everyone EXCEPT the girl (Tabby) and the boy (Mark): telling the tale are Tabby’s sister, her best friend, the girl who loves to hate Tabby, Mark’s best friend, Tabby’s ex . . . and so many people who have moved through their lives. Of course, everyone’s perspective is different, but they’re all speculating about Tabby and the nature of her relationship with Mark. Is she the angel? Or the slut? Is she good? Or bad? Was she in control? Or was she being controlled by him? It’s a series of dichotomies, of black or white with no shades of grey, that we know can’t possibly portray a person accurately. And yet, it’s so tempting to come up with the right label that will help to understand what happened on that hike.
I love a multi-genre book, and Flynn puts that variety to good use here. I also really appreciated the complexity with which Flynn takes on how the media shapes our view of people--and of women, in particular. The forward motion of the story sagged slightly in the middle, but since I had been hooked from page one and found the development of the conclusion to be satisfying--it had twists and turns without jumping the shark--I enjoyed the book as a whole. The thriller component itself didn’t feel super new to me (I’ve read books with plots and alternating points of view like this one before), but the deft use of unreliable narrators and the clever incorporation of questions driven by feminist concerns offers a unique angle.
Overall, as an adult reader, I thoroughly enjoyed All Eyes on Her, and I would absolutely recommend L. E. Flynn’s novels to teens as a great example of a thriller that will make them think.
Tehlor Kay Mejia's Paola Santiago and the River of Tears - The Perfect Blend of Middle School and Folklore
Check out my review of this great, middle-grade fantasy book over at unabridgedpod.com.