Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

TITLE: Black Sun
AUTHOR: Rebecca Roanhorse
LENGTH: 450 pages
PUBLISHED IN: 2020
GENRE: fantasy (based on pre-Columbian indigenous peoples of the Americas; LGBTQ+ characters)
ISBN: 9781534437678
REASON FOR READING: discovered it on Goodreads
RATING: 5/5

Summary (book jacket):

From the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Resistance Reborn comes the first book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy, inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas and woven into a tale of celestial prophecies, political intrigue, and forbidden magic.

A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun

In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.

Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.

Crafted with unforgettable characters, Rebecca Roanhorse has created an epic adventure exploring the decadence of power amidst the weight of history and the struggle of individuals swimming against the confines of society and their broken pasts in the most original series debut of the decade.

My Thoughts: I absolutely loved this story. The back-and-forth in time and different characters/settings the chapters focused on took a few chapters to get used to, but as long as you pay attention to the time & location heading each chapter, it isn’t all that confusing. I think the back-and-forth timeline was utilized in a great way here, because chronological order would’ve left the story with large jumps through time.

I loved the characters and the settings. Most of the fantasy I read is young adult fantasy, and while this isn’t so mature that an older teenager couldn’t/shouldn’t read it, it definitely felt like the audience was meant to be adults and I could pick up on those subtle differences. The main characters are Naranpa, Okoa, Xiala, and Serapio, all of whom come from different backgrounds and different clans. I’m not well-educated on pre-Columbian indigenous tribes in the Americas–a large fault of the American education standards I plan to rectify in the homeschooling of my children. I would say I know more than most people I know personally, but there is a lot to be desired because of the vast difference between those nations. Roanhorse described the characters and settings well, and I can only hope my imagination based on what I know of indigenous nations is near to what she was attempting to (fictionally) portray. This might be jumping the gun, but I could see this and the future two books of her trilogy become an amazingly beautiful & fantastical film–an indigenous production from top to bottom hopefully, if it ever did come to fruition.

I cannot pick my favorite portion of the story because anytime I picked it up to read, I couldn’t put it down. The character of Okoa was less developed than the other three; however, based on how the book ended, I can only imagine he will receive his due diligence in the next book(s). I’m anxiously awaiting the next installment, which I hope comes out sometime in 2021.

Not Like the Movies by Kerry Winfrey

TITLE: Not Like the Movies
AUTHOR: Kerry Winfrey
LENGTH: 304 pages
PUBLISHED IN: 2020
GENRE: romance/rom-com (Ohio, relationships, LGTBQ+ characters)
ISBN: 9781984804044
REASON FOR READING: Sequel to Waiting for Tom Hanks, which I read and loved earlier this year
RATING: 5/5

SUMMARY (Goodreads):

What happens when your life is a rom-com…but you don’t even believe in true love?

Chloe Sanderson is an optimist, and not because her life is easy. As the sole caregiver for her father, who has early onset Alzheimer’s, she’s pretty much responsible for everything. She has no time—or interest—in getting swept up in some dazzling romance. Not like her best friend Annie, who literally wrote a rom-com that’s about to premiere in theaters across America…and happens to be inspired by Chloe and Nick Velez, Chloe’s cute but no-nonsense boss.

As the buzz for the movie grows, Chloe reads one too many listicles about why Nick is the perfect man, and now she can’t see him as anything but Reason #2: The Scruffy-Bearded Hunk Who’s Always There When You Need Him. But unlike the romance Annie has written for them, Chloe isn’t so sure her own story will end in a Happily Ever After.

My Thoughts: I couldn’t put this one down. Just like Kerry Winfrey’s previous in this duology, which I read earlier this year, Waiting for Tom Hanks, I just loved the story. I do love a good 1990s rom-com, my favorite probably being You’ve Got Mail, but I also love Notting Hill. So this sort of story is right up my alley.

In Waiting for Tom Hanks, the main character is Annie, who is rom-com-obsessed and waiting to fall into one of her own. She also happens to be screenwriting a rom-com of her own based on her BFF Chloe and Chloe’s boss, Nick–they work at the coffee shop Nick owns, where Annie is a regular. This sequel is Chloe’s story, and what happens to her life after Annie’s movie, based on her relationship with Nick, is right about to premiere. Grand gestures, clichés, and sexual tension abound amidst the Columbus, Ohio backdrop.

One reason I feel so drawn to the story is the setting–while I haven’t actually been to Columbus very often, I am a born-and-raised Ohioan and this is the closest setting any book has ever come to me. It is easy for me to picture the Ohio spring weather and the areas surrounding OSU full of college students.

I also love the casualness of the author’s inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters. I have read books where sexual identities were forced or overly explained. But I find the casual way these relationships and identities are mentioned, as if it is nothing special to draw attention to any more than any other relationship, is a much better way at normalizing the normalness of such relationships and identities. (I hope I’m verbalizing that the right way–it makes much more sense in my head, and I do not pretend to be an excellent writer of any sort.)

Saving Savannah by Tonya Bolden

TITLE: Saving Savannah
AUTHOR: Tonya Bolden
LENGTH: 252 pages
PUBLISHED IN: 2020
GENRE: young-adult historical fiction (post-WWI/influenza pandemic, women’s suffrage movement, pre-Harlem Renaissance, Red Summer)
ISBN: 9781681198040
REASON FOR READING: I found this title on a list of YA books by Black authors about Black stories and it sounded like an interesting setting I’ve never explored before
RATING: 5/5

SUMMARY (book jacket):

“There must be a change! And if last night taught me anything, it’s that I must be part of that change! Part of making the world as it ought to be!” 

Savannah Riddle is lucky. As a daughter of an upper-class African American family in Washington, DC, she attends one of the most rigorous public schools in the nation–black or white–and has her pick among the young men in her set. But lately the structure of her society, including the fancy parties, the Sunday teas, the pretentious men and shallow young women, has started to suffocate her.

Then Savannah meets Lloyd, a young West Indian man from the working class, who opens Savannah’s eyes to how the other half lives. Inspired to fight for change, Savannah finds herself drawn more and more to Lloyd’s world.

Set against the backdrop of the women’s rights movement, the Red Summer, and the anarchist bombings of 1919, Saving Savannah is the story of a girl who must decide how much she is willing to risk to “be the change” in a world on the brink of dramatic transformation.

My Thoughts: I really loved this book. I love history, and this is a point of time that I don’t know much about, especially from a Black perspective. And reading it at this point in history–with a new pandemic and a resurgence in the much needed Civil Rights movement–is so apropos. The setting is 100 years ago, and yet, the story seems so fitting for our current time.

Savannah is almost done with school and ready to be her own independent woman. And yet, she wants more out of life than the life she’s currently living. She feels her social circle is shallow and tedious, and she, having kept up on current events during WWI and the influenza pandemic, knows there are bigger and more important things out there. Spurred on my her uncle’s advice–“Purpose is a powerful antidote to the doldrums. Get engaged with something, take hold of life, stop being a mere observer” (p35)–she looks into how the other half lives, as they say. Seeing how the poor are living, and how Blacks of any class are being treated during this Red Summer, opens her eyes and encourages her to get involved and make change.

One of my favorite parts of the book is the author’s note in the back. It is FULL of information Bolden used when creating her story. And all of her sources–it feels like a goldmine to me, a starting point of people and events I need to research more. This is a book I plan to buy and I plan to use this in our homeschooling when my kids are at the right age to read this. As a person who graduated with a bachelor’s degree to teach social studies, and a minor in history, I did not ONCE learn about this “Red Summer”, nor how Washington DC had been the “Black mecca” in the US. And that is a problem, in my opinion. The most I learned about Black history and POC was in my Intro to Ethnic Studies course as a university freshman which I don’t believe had anything to do with my degree. It was my favorite class in all four years. But I digress…I think this is an excellent book to read in whole or take in part for this time period of US history (1918-1920).

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

A Single Thread by Tracy ChevalierTITLE: A Single Thread
AUTHOR: Tracy Chevalier
LENGTH: 318 pages
PUBLISHED IN: 2019
GENRE: fiction/historical fiction (1930s, England, embroidery, single women)
ISBN: 9780525558248
REASON FOR READING: I’ve read a handful of books by Tracy Chevalier and enjoyed them
RATING: 3/5

SUMMARY (book jacket):

1932. After the Great War took both her beloved brother and her fiancé, Violet Speedwell has become a “surplus woman,” one of a generation doomed to a life of spinsterhood after the war killed so many young men. Yet Violet cannot reconcile herself to a life spent caring for her grieving, embittered mother. After countless meals of boiled eggs and dry toast, she saves enough to move out of her mother’s place and into the town of Winchester, home to one of England’s grandest cathedrals. There, Violet is drawn into a society of broderers–women who embroider kneelers for the Cathedral, carrying on a centuries-long tradition of bringing comfort to worshippers.

Violet finds support and community in the group, fulfillment in the work they create, and even a growing friendship with the vivacious Gilda. But when forces threaten her new independence and another war appears on the horizon, Violet must fight to put down roots in a place where women aren’t expected to grow. Told in Chevalier’s glorious prose, A Single Thread is a timeless story of friendship, love, and a woman crafting her own life.

My Thoughts: I feel fairly indifferent towards this book. Firstly, it took a good 50-60 pages to grab my attention. The story was slow and winding; not exactly boring, not exactly enticing. Violet did indeed grow more confident throughout the story, especially at the end when she became that female lead we always hope will do what we want her to do, regardless of the time and place of her story. What drove my interest was the building tension between her and another character–I was interested in what would happen, if anything. However, if I hadn’t had the free time to spend reading, I’m fairly certain this book might’ve ended up sitting by my bed for days, unopened, because it wasn’t enticing enough to pick up too often.

I should like this book more than I did. A female lead with pretty feminist sentiments back in the 1930s–that should be something I’m very interested in. Maybe embroidery and ringing church bells, fairly boring activities in my mind, overtook any excitable feelings I had about the characters and their lives (outside those activities). Bored by context, excited by the storyline? Averaged out to indifference in the end, I suppose.

I imagine, years from now, I won’t remember anything about this book other than the two big things, if even those. It was fine to pass the time, but was unremarkable.

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

TITLE: Ayesha at Last
AUTHOR: Uzma Jalaluddin
LENGTH: 346 pages
PUBLISHED IN: 2018 (Canada; 2019 US)
GENRE: fiction/romance (Pride & Prejudice reboot)
ISBN: 9781984802798
REASON FOR READING: the cover caught my eye at the book store & the summary sounded great–months later, it caught my eye again at the library and I found it’d been on my TBR list for a few months; a Pride & Prejudice retelling always interests me
RATING: 5/5

SUMMARY (book jacket):

Ayesha Shamsi has a lot going on. Her dreams of being a poet have been set aside for a teaching job so she can pay off her debts to her wealthy uncle. She lives with her boisterous Muslim family and is always being reminded that her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, is close to rejecting her one hundredth marriage proposal. Though Ayesha is lonely, she doesn’t want an arranged marriage. Then she meets Khalid, who is just as smart and handsome as he is conservative and judgmental. She is irritatingly attracted to someone who looks down on her choices and who dresses like he belongs in the seventh century.

When a surprise engagement is announced between Khalid and Hafsa, Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and the unsettling new gossip she hears about his family. Looking into the rumors, she finds she has to deal with not only what she discovers about Khalid, but also the truth she realizes about herself.

MY THOUGHTS: I loved this so much. I read it in practically two sittings, because I just didn’t want to put it down. I know Pride & Prejudice like the back of my hand, but this reboot was different and piqued my interest. By “different”, I mean the setting and characters aren’t similar to much I’ve read before. True, Toronto probably isn’t too different than any major city in the US, but still. The cover of this book is what first caught my eye. The woman in hijab attracted my gaze, so I knew it would be different than much of what I’ve read. But after reading it, I can say there was a lot of familiarity in there too, and not just the P&P storyline.

A “modern-day Muslim Pride & Prejudice” is the perfect description for this book. Add in a dash of Bollywood, and there you have it. Because the storyline is familiar to me, I couldn’t help but keep reading because I just wanted to see how this author would put in her own details to make it all work. The tension was there and I just wanted to see how it would resolve itself. I was especially interested in seeing what the villains were going to do to make them so…villainous. I think that the themes of pride and prejudice will never go out of style–these are traits people will always have, and it’s a classic you-know-what-happens-when-you-assume situation that spirals out of control.

Quotes I Liked

“Love sought is good, but given unsought better.” (This is actually a quote from Shakespeare, but I don’t know what work)

“Flowers are so often mistaken as superfluous, yet their purpose is intricate and clever. They attract pollinators, ensuring their survival, and in turn they are consumed for their nutritional value. Never underestimate a flower.” (p277-8)

“Always dream together, Raja. Always leave space in your life to grow and soften.” (p340)

Dear Girls by Ali Wong

Dear Girls Ali WongTITLE: Dear Girls–Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life
AUTHOR: 
Ali Wong
LENGTH: 214 pages
PUBLISHED IN: 2019
GENRE: non-fiction (autobiography, memoir)
ISBN: 9780525508830
REASON FOR READING: Ali Wong is hilarious
RATING: 5/5

SUMMARY (book jacket):

Ali Wong’s heartfelt and hilarious letters to her daughters (the two she put to work while they were still in utero), covering everything they need to know in life, like the unpleasant details of dating, how to be a working mom in a male-dominated profession, and how she trapped their dad.

In her hit Netflix comedy special Baby Cobra, an eight-month pregnant Ali Wong resonated so heavily that she became a popular Halloween costume. Wong told the world her remarkably unfiltered thoughts on marriage, sex, Asian culture, working women, and why you never see new mom comics on stage but you sure see plenty of new dads.

The sharp insights and humor are even more personal in this completely original collection. She shares the wisdom she’s learned from a life in comedy and reveals stories from her life off stage, including the brutal singles life in New York (i.e. the inevitable confrontation with erectile dysfunction), reconnecting with her roots (and drinking snake blood) in Vietnam, tales of being a wild child growing up in San Francisco, and parenting war stories. Though addressed to her daughters, Ali Wong’s letters are absurdly funny, surprisingly moving, and enlightening (and disgusting) for all.

My Thoughts: If you don’t like Ali Wong’s comedy, you probably won’t appreciate this book. At least if you dislike her comedy because of it’s crude & crass presentation. I could easily envision her speaking these words, assuming that her stand-up is a decent representation of her real personality. Which, after having read this, I can say is definitely the case.

Each chapter of the book focuses on part of her life and is its own “letter” to her two daughters, still toddlers today. It is mostly in chronological order of her life up to this point, and I definitely learned about her as a person. I know not every person that comes off as blunt or crude is that way 100% of their lives, but in writing this, we get to see a bit about her thoughts and emotions at a more intimate level that definitely round her out as a person, rather than just the part most of us know as the comic. I mostly feel similar to her in the motherhood arena, given that she grew up in a different time & place–how can her life seem so much different at only 5 years older than me?? I “got” much of what she said about her formative years, but people born in 1982 and 1987 seem to have had such different childhoods. Plus, let’s be real–San Francisco and rural Ohio aren’t exactly the same…

But I digress. I enjoyed reading about her time traveling during and after college, which I wouldn’t say surprised me, just that I hadn’t ever considered her to be such a serious person (although, travel doesn’t make one “serious”, as her antics abroad clearly display). It just goes to show you not to judge a book by its cover.

One of my favorite parts of this was reading about her relationship with her husband. Her husband wrote the afterword, and even from his perspective, it appears they are remembering their story similarly. I gotta say, she is definitely lucky she “trapped his ass” as she so loving states because, while they don’t have a perfect relationship (newsflash, no one does), they both seem to understand what they need to do to make it all work for them. And he does sound like a catch in the super-supportive-partner category. I loved learning that the four of them tour together–I think that is such a sweet thing to do and is sort of humble, if that’s the right word to describe it.

I might have a sort of odd “rating system” in that I only give books a 5 of 5 if they are books I would read multiple times, but this is one I could see putting on my shelf at home and just picking up and reading it, in whole or in part, at any given time. It’s funny because I didn’t pay any attention to the book jacket for this book, and just thought to myself that “heartfelt & hilarious” was the best way to describe this book. Apparently so does whoever wrote the book jacket.

Quotes:

“The best word to describe parenting is ‘relentless.’ It’s a tennis-ball-launcher machine of tasks and mind puzzles and compromises and poo and pee and spit and barf with unlimited balls loaded. It’s always something.” p132 (I feel this to my core!! Really, p132-138 is probably felt across-the-board by all parents.)

Give the Dark My Love by Beth Revis

TITLE: Give the Dark My Love

AUTHOR: Beth Revis

LENGTH: 368 pages

PUBLISHED IN: 2018

GENRE: young adult fantasy (alchemy, plague, undead/zombies)

ISBN: 9781595147172

REASON FOR READING: love this author

RATING: 4/5

SUMMARY (Goodreads Summary):
When seventeen-year-old Nedra Brysstain leaves her home in the rural, northern territories of Lunar Island to attend the prestigious Yugen Academy, she has only one goal in mind: learn the trade of medicinal alchemy. A scholarship student matriculating with the children of Lunar Island’s wealthiest and most powerful families, Nedra doesn’t quite fit in with the other kids at Yugen, who all look down on her.

All, except for Greggori “Grey” Astor. Grey is immediately taken by the brilliant and stubborn Nedra, who he notices is especially invested in her studies. And that’s for a good reason: a deadly plague has been sweeping through the North, and it’s making its way toward the cities. With her family’s life–and the lives of all of Lunar Island’s citizens–on the line, Nedra is determined to find a cure for the plague.

Grey and Nedra continue to grow closer, but as the sickness spreads and the body count rises, Nedra becomes desperate to find a cure. Soon, she finds herself diving into alchemy’s most dangerous corners–and when she turns to the most forbidden practice of all, necromancy, even Grey might not be able to pull her from the darkness.

MY THOUGHTS: Okay, honestly within the first few sentences, I was like, “Ugh, really? A zombie book?” But it didn’t take long for me to realize the zombies weren’t as big a thing for the whole story as I anticipated. Yes, by the end–which is actually revealed in part in the prologue–the undead are important to the story. But they gradually become important as the story progresses.

I’m no expert on the history of alchemy, but I always thought it was the quest to change other elements into gold. If that’s the kind of alchemy you’re expecting in this book, well, you’ll be introduced to another version.

After the beginning, I was skeptical, but I’ve loved all four of Revis’ books I’ve read before so it was worth giving it a go. The four other books are sci-fi–this introduction to her fantasy world turned out quite gripping. I found the book harder and harder to put down the further I read. It appears to be the first in a series, and I’ll definitely be reading future installments.

Also, I’d like to give a quick nod to Revis for including a female general, a female governor, and a lesbian/bisexual (I’m not sure one or the other was specified–I know they’re not the same) as characters very nonchalantly. Small details that you might not even realize, and weren’t made to appear out of the ordinary at all, just like they should be.

Blast from the Past–Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling

2Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling
7/7/2007-7/14/2007–870 pages–fiction (fantasy, wizards, witchcraft)
Bought June 14, 2007
★★★★★

It is definitely a good thing I decided to reread this before reading the final installment because I definitely needed refreshing in this year. Many things happen in this book.

  • Voldemort is back and Harry’s called crazy
  • Umbridge wants to brainwash the students at Hogwarts
  • Fudge feels Dumbledore is raising an army
  • HR&H form the Dumbledore’s Army for those really wanting to use the Defense Against the Dark Arts
  • Ron makes Keeper, Fred & George leave school, Ginny is Seeker when Harry’s banned from Quidditch, Percy has “disowned” his family
  • Harry sees Snape’s memory of James torturing him and feels ashamed
  • Sirius dies in Department of Mysteries
  • Harry hears his prophecy and learns Neville could’ve been the one attacked by V in first place
  • All the wizarding community is told V or Harry must die at the other’s hands

Blast from the Past–Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

19302Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
6/28/2007–148 pages–children’s fiction
Borrowed from public library
★★★★

This has to be one of the best children’s books I’ve ever read. I love the movie I have, and, while some of Pippi’s adventures are only present in one or the other, the spirit and style of Pippi Longstocking is one that will enchant many children for years to come.

Definitely didn’t know before that this was originally a Swedish child’s book or that it was written 57 years ago. Learn something new every day.

{7}

SINCE MY LAST UPDATE…
Time Spent Reading: 31 minutes (670)
Current Book: I Want My Epidural Back by Karen Alpert
Pages Read: 36 pages (366)

I’m tapping out. I don’t even know how I only read for just over 11 hours when I actually started an hour early and the readathon is well over 14 hours now. All I know is that I’m literally falling asleep right now, and I’ve got shit to do tomorrow for which I need to function. So I missed my 12 hour goal by 50 minutes. But I’m going to sleep now. Mmm’kay, g’night…