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.