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Archive for the ‘average but on the longer side’ Category

Book Review: The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

Digital image of the cover for The House in the Cerulean Sea. A cartoon drawing of a Victorian style home on a cliff over the ocean with two trees blowing in the breeze. A yellow bar on the side advertises that this is a New York Times and USA Today bestseller.

Summary:
Linus leads a solitary life with his cat and his records and an ethical commitment to his job as a Case Worker for the Department in Charge of the Magical Youth in the UK. When his long-time commitment to investigating cases precisely according to the book by Extremely Upper Management with a highly classified case, he finds himself Marsyas Island Orphanage. Here six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must put aside his own fears and decide if they’re likely to bring about the end-times, all while keeping a particularly special eye on their mysterious caretaker, Arthur Parnassus.

Review:
When I picked this up, I expected to read a cheery tongue-in-cheek book about the end times. What I got instead was a cheery book, yes, but one about taking the risks that allow you to actually live your life in a fulfilling way. It inspired me and made me teary-eyed.

Klune simultaneously depicts the soul-crushing horror of working for a bureaucratic organization and makes it funny. This is evident just by the name Extremely Upper Management. It is just so relatable to see Linus working for a government organization that clearly has some nefarious tendencies and, at the very least, creates a terrible work environment, yet that Linus has convinced himself is him doing an ethical job. He clasps to the idea that he is making a good impact on the world, and therefore allows his life to be the horrible and depressing way it is. It takes going to Marsyas Island to snap him out of it.

Just as Linus’s depressing London life is drawn (the depiction of his commute alone is just so on point to a city commute), Maryas Island is depicted to beautifully that even now, weeks after finishing the book, I can send my mind back there for a mini-break. It’s not that it’s perfect, there are, of course, infuriating aspects to small town life (like the ferry) but! Linus can see the sun again. And he can see what can happen when people are encouraged that there is good in them they just need to draw out. My favorite of the children is the gnome, a little girl with a beard who loves her garden and threatens to kill with her shovel anyone who seems like a danger to it. But instead of focusing on the negative (the shovel threatening) Arthur focuses on encouraging her to show people her garden and guide them through what there is to appreciate about it and how to appreciate it respectfully.

I was surprised but thrilled by the blooming attraction between Linus and another adult male at the island (I somehow didn’t know that Klune is a Lambda Literary Award winning author). When I realized that a potential change for Linus might include finding love after 40 as well, I was thrilled. I would be hesitant to call this a romance, because I felt like it was really a book about living your life in a way that is authentic to who you really are and makes you happy, Loving someone who loves you back is part of that for Linus. But it’s not the focus. His life calling is the focus.

I want to encourage readers who might be distressed by Linus’s initial disappointment in his own body size and commitment to dieting that this is not a story where pounds magically fall away on an island and only then can our character find love. No, this set-up is part of making room for Linus to learn to love his body and care about other markers of health (like having a healthy glow).

This is a delightful fantasy about breaking out of your routine to find the life you really want to live. About helping children and adults find the good in themselves and draw it out. About a gay man learning to love his body and finding love in his 40s. It was so beautifully written it left me speechless, and I pre-ordered Klune’s next book. Recommended to those wanting to find inspiration to living a life that brings joy.

5 out of 5 stars

Length: 394 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: Library

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Book Review: Wild Seed by Octavia Butler (Series, #1)

Digital image of the cover of the book Wild Seed by Octavia Butler. A woman's body is in silhouette against the moon. She appears to have wings. Another body is superimposed over hers. A pull quote from Viola Davis is featured stating, "A book that shifted my life...epic, game changing, moving, and brilliant."

Summary:
Anyanwu is a shapeshifter who is immortal who has so far largely passed without notice. But when Doro, a being who maintains his immortality by stealing others’ bodies, discovers her, everything changes. He considers her to be wild seed for his project of gathering together all humans with special powers to breed them to try to create those who can match him. But is Anyanwu already a match for him? And can they ever produce children who are like them?

Review:
The simplest word to describe this book is unexpected. That’s something that’s difficult to achieve in fantasy about immortality, so I was pleasantly surprised.

This book immediately asks the reader to identify with and understand Anyanwu at least a little bit. Unlike in some other fantasies about immortality, she is already immortal when she meets Doro. So the challenge isn’t does she want to be immortal but rather what is it like to be truly seen by someone else? Doro is somehow more frightening than Anyanwu. The reader thus sides with Anyanwu, even though she is also a little bit scary. Anyanwu also says she goes with him to protect her children from him, an emotion it is easy to understand. Thus, the reader develops an ability to see Anyanwu’s viewpoint. When Anyanwu later does certain things that would have seemed shocking, this ability to see her perspective remains.

It is also interesting to see Doro and Anyanwu’s lives placed against a backdrop of slavery. Anyanwu is African. Doro can take the body of anyone he chooses, but he does state his original human body was in Africa. They are aware of slavery and even pull some seed away from being slaves to live in Doro’s villages instead. Doro breeds people regardless of their race. What he is interested in is their abilities. However, slowly the book comes to ask if this is in a way another form of slavery? Doro says the people view him as a god and that is their relationship, but Anyanwu feels differently. That sets up the reader to ask how free are these people in these villages really?

I was also pleasantly surprised by an appearance of queerness in the later half of the book. Anyanwu makes some interesting discoveries about her shapeshifting that leads to some pregnancies and relationships that are decidedly queer in nature. I was glad the book went there but surprised because so often books about shapeshifting and body inhabiting never do cross the line of gender.

Although this is the first book in a series, I felt it stood strongly on its own yet, simultaneously, propelled me to read more. The immortality angle is what makes it work this way. This is a solid chapter in the lives of Anyanwu and Doro. Yet clearly their story isn’t over, and there are new people who are going to encounter and challenge them. It was fantasy that felt possible and challenging simultaneously. Recommended to fantasy readers looking for a fresh take on immortality.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 320 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: Library

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Book Review: Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien (Series, #1)

Cover of the book "Death by Dumpling."

Summary:
Lana Lee didn’t expect to be hostessing at her family’s restaurant. But when she dramatically walks out on her job, Ho-Lee Noodle House in the Asian plaza of Cleveland seems to be her only option. When the plaza’s property manager, Mr. Feng, turns up dead next to a pile of her restaurant’s dumplings, the focus quickly shifts from Lana’s life to clearing the restaurant – and their chef – from suspicions of murder.

Review:
It’s no secret if you’re a fan of cozy mysteries that they’re hurting for diverse representation. When I saw this title, I was excited for a Chinese-American leading lady and also for the dumpling recipes I anticipated coming with it, as many cozies come with recipes or craft patterns.

The setting of this book feels very real, it reminded me of the “Asian plazas” I’ve seen in the Midwest when visiting my in-laws. The variety and types of stores and restaurants, as well as the description of where it was in relation to Cleveland rang as real to me.

The majority of the characters in this book are Chinese-American – including the murder victim and all of the potential suspects Lana works her way through. Lana is biracial – her mother is Chinese-American, and her father is white. Lana’s best friend is white, and the police detective (who we all know is the love interest, since that’s how it works in cozies) is also white. In spite of all this representation, I must mention that there was one cringe-inducing moment where sitting cross-legged is described as “Indian-style.” A good reminder that just because a book features an underrepresented group doesn’t necessarily mean it will be fully inclusive.

My lack of engagement with the love interest I don’t think is the fault of this book in particular – he was the generic police detective you see in cozies. I think it’s just that I have increasingly come to a negative perception of policing and I couldn’t get past his job in my head.

I was disappointed to discover that in a book revolving around a Noodle House and murder by dumplings – there were no recipes! I just kept re-flipping through the end of the book asking – really? A missed opportunity that would have knocked the book up a whole star for me.

With regards to the mystery, this was one of those rare cozies with a plot I could not 100% predict. A definite mark in its favor and something that kept me reading. I also must mention that Lana has a pug named Kikkoman (after the soy sauce). Important to the plot? No. But important to joy in certain scenes for sure.

Overall, if you’re a cozy mystery fan looking for some diversity or variety in your next read, I recommend giving this one a try. Just don’t come into it expecting recipes.

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 328 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: Library

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Book Review: Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

Cover of the book "Sorrowland."

Summary:
Vern desperately flees the strict, religious, Black Power compound she was raised on while she is heavily pregnant with twins. Giving birth shortly thereafter and raising her babies in the woods, she finds herself transforming inexplicably. But what is she transforming into? Why? And can she protect her children from both the compound and the world?

Review:
Another Rivers Solomon book was my favorite read of last year (An Unkindness of Ghosts, review), so when I saw their new book come available on NetGalley – featuring a religious, Black Power compound – I requested it immediately and was thrilled to receive a copy. Like all of Rivers Solomon’s work this book is a gorgeous, intertwining mixture of compelling and challenging.

I was startled by the focus on pregnancy and mothering at the beginning of the book. It hadn’t been the focus of the other Rivers Solomon books I’ve read, and I must admit as a person who has never been pregnant or a mother myself, I always struggle a bit more to connect to these characters. And, indeed, by the end of the book it was not Vern as mother I connected to but rather Vern as a person caught in a complex web of the world as we know it with her ability to right wrongs and change the future limited. That twist in the gut of being caught inside of something much bigger than yourself, that I was able to relate to.

Who cared who knew if the knowing didn’t prevent future occurrences?

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The fantastical elements are immediately engaging – beautiful and grotesque. I don’t want to give anything away, but suffice to say her transformation took my breath away in a manner that reminded me of my feelings watching Season 1 of Hannibal. I mean that as a complement. It’s a fantasy that both feels like a fantasy and also real and leaves one wondering if Vern is right in the head or not? Can the world really work like this? What is happening to her?

The social commentary in this book is astute and apt without being preachy. Characters say what they say because their very lives have lived it – these are their experiences and real feelings. What may to some readers seem the most out there about the book can easily be traced to real occurrences in US history. It’s not far-fetched but one hopes its realness will reach more people because of how it is couched in fantasy.

There is rich queer content in this book, both in the sense of gender and in the sense of sexual relationships. There is two sex scenes, one of which I would consider explicit with people of multiple genders participating. However, contrary to how some booksellers are listing it, I absolutely would not call it “er*tica.” This is a serious fantasy book about issues of justice that just happens to have queer characters have sex “on screen” twice. Queer sex is not automatically “er*tica.”

With regards to other representation, there are many Black and two Indigenous (Lakota) people. Two characters have albinism, and this book eloquently depicts the visual impairments that come with that.

Overall, this book delivers what I have come to expect from a Rivers Solomon book – an engaging fantastical imagining with queer content and different abilities represented that draws attention to social issues. Readers who are able to keep an open mind to the book potentially not going the places they were anticipating or hoping for but who are willing to let the book lead where it may will enjoy this one.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 368 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth

Cover of the book "The Good Sister."

Summary:
Fern and Rose are fraternal twins. Rose is smart, driven, and Fern’s protector. Fern doesn’t understand the world and so Rose has protected her, ever since they were small. For example, Fern didn’t understand that they spent every day in the library one year when they were little because they were homeless. Just one example of the many ways their mother failed them. In fact, Fern even became a librarian, she remembered that year so fondly. It’s a good thing she has Rose. When Rose struggles with infertility with her husband, Fern hatches a plan to repay Rose for being such a good sister. She’ll get pregnant and give the baby to her. But of course, not everything goes according to plan.

Review:
Sally Hepworth writes psychological thrillers starring casts of women in Australia. Sometimes they feature larger casts of women and other times it’s a couple of women pitted against each other. This is mostly the latter category.

I had my suspicions about the mystery early but thought that must not be it because it was so simplistic. I am sorry to report – it was indeed it. Some psychological thrillers lean a bit too heavily on the trope of – one person in this world is “crazy!” and did unpredictable “crazy!” things and there is no helping them because they are just so “crazy!” so let’s lock them up. I’m not a big fan of this trope for two reasons: 1) people are more complex than that 2) it’s a bit of a cheat to the reader because then things can happen that are unpredictable and make no sense. However, I get it that it’s a trope in psychological thrillers and am usually willing to give it a bit of a pass. In this case, however, the reader is told this character probably has Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder. There’s a character who has told their therapist all about them, and that therapist hypothesizes that this character might have one of these two illnesses. Everyone else in the book just accepts this and moves on. I am not saying people with these personality disorders never do bad things or hurt others, but the same can be said of all types of people. Plus, the character’s actions aren’t made out to be about them as a person but rather a symptom of their illness. It reminds me of how Schizophrenia used to be treated in literature. This character doesn’t even get the decency of having the state investigate their mental health or a clear diagnosis. It both unnecessarily maligns two of the most maligned types of mental illnesses and creates an entirely two-dimensional character.

Then there’s the representation of Autism. From the beginning, it’s clear that Fern is Autistic (I am not using person-first language as many in the Autistic community prefer claiming the word as a part of who they are, rather than as an illness), but she is depicted in such a stereotypical way that it hurt to read. For example, constantly bringing up how she doesn’t like to look people in the eyes and belaboring the point at random times when she might make eye contact. Her sensory episodes felt as if they were written by someone outside of her body rather than by her – problematic since it was written in the first person. The whole first half of the book has a lot of anti-Autistic sentiment, including wondering whether or not Fern could actually be capable of raising a baby. Are these reversed at the end of the book? Somewhat. But to me the damage is done by wondering about it in the first half.

So why am I still giving this book three stars? I have to admit that it was a page turner – I had to know what happened to Fern and the baby growing inside her. I couldn’t stop reading until I knew. The energy of must-find-out that is needed in a thriller was there, even if I was disappointed by the characterization, representation, and ultimately found the solution to be a bit flat.

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 320 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden

Cover of the book "Winter Counts."

Summary:
Virgil Wounded Horse does his best to find his way making a life and a living on the Rosebud Indian Reservation (the Lakota people) in South Dakota – newly sober from alcohol, the legal guardian of his teenage nephew, and working as a hired vigilante. When heroin finds its way onto the reservation and directly impacts his nephew, he finds himself working to stop the threat of the cartels to his people alongside his ex-girlfriend.

Review:
This is simultaneously a wholesome and gritty thriller. Wholesome in that Virgil’s commitment to his sobriety, his family, and his people is full of honor and family values in the face of so many challenges. Gritty in that there are colorful depictions of violence as Virgil does his vigilante work and pursues the cartel. In a way it reminds me of Breaking Bad in the early seasons – someone doing something outside of the law for his family – only it’s outside of the law to stop the drugs, not to make them.

There was a lot I enjoyed here. The different setting and voice for this gritty mystery kept me engaged in a genre I’ve read a lot in. The mystery is solid. I had my suspicions but I didn’t have everything figured out before the end. So, yes, it’s not quite as simple as an outside cartel but it’s not a super obvious answer either. I also really like how the ex-girlfriend becomes such a key part of the story. Virgil listens to and respects her, even when he doesn’t immediately agree with her, which was so refreshing to read. I similarly like that we come into Virgil’s life after he’s already sober. This allows the book to explore him putting his life back together as a sober person and dealing with some really tough shit – demonstrating that things don’t get easy automatically just because you’re sober. I appreciated very much how thoughtfully the author shared his Lakota culture with the readers while simultaneously respecting what aspects of it need to stay private and sacred. As a person who has the Sioux Chef book, I appreciated so much the inclusion of Indigenous cuisine via an Indigenous chef and food truck coming to the reservation.

While I wouldn’t call the depictions and discussions of violence gratuitous as they are necessary to the plot, they are graphic. I thought it never went further than it needed to. However, it is important for potential readers to know they are there. There are discussions of off-scene cartel vengeance and rape of women and underaged girls. There are on-scene descriptions of fist-fights and gun fights.

Those who like grittier thrillers and either want a unique setting in the genre or want a mystery investigator who is sober will enjoy this read. I hope we’ll see more of Virgil in the future.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 336 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: Library

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Book Review: Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert (Series, #2)

Cover of the book Take a Hint Dani Brown.

Summary:
Danika Brown, PhD student, might have a workaholic problem with her all hours of the day research, writing, and teaching. But she certainly doesn’t have a romance problem, because she keeps her sexual relationships devoid of romance. Zafir, once pro rugby player, now security guard at the university and founder of a sports charity for kids that’s still getting off the ground, knows he has feelings for Dani. When there’s a fire alarm in the building and Dani doesn’t evacuate, he can’t help going back in for her and carrying her outside. Then the video goes viral as #DrRugbae, and his niece realizes this could be the solution for his charity. Dani is game to pretending to be a couple until the viral attention goes away. But somehow slowly the pretending feels less and less like pretend.

Review:
Listen, if you are looking for a romance novel with a bisexual leading lady who actually uses the word “bisexual” to describe herself AND says it to the hero AND it’s no big deal to him AND there’s no cheating betwixt them AND the happy ever after is monogamous then stop what you are doing and pick up this book. Right now. Because honey, that perfectly describes this book. I also want to note that, Dani isn’t an aromantic convinced into romance – she’s a romantic whose heart was shattered who’s pretending she’s not into romance to keep her heart safe.

Ok, so if you’re not a bisexual reader desperate for that type of representation in a romance novel, why might you be into this book? Well, it’s hilarious. Laugh out loud funny. Dani and Zaf are equally funny and complicated. Their misunderstandings make sense. They both apologize when necessary. The set-up as to why they are fake dating is for a good cause (his charity) not something inane like tricking extended family at a wedding. They’re an inter-racial (Black and Pakistani) and inter-faith (witch and Muslim) couple. But the problems they encounter don’t really have to do with any of that. It has entirely to do with learning how to speak with and open up to one another.

I also really liked the growing opportunities for both Dani and Zaf beyond their relationship. Dani needs to learn better work/life balance. No one judges her for wanting to be successful, but she starts to learn she needs to have some downtime too. Zaf needs to learn not to entirely ditch his past and be more honest about his own grief and mental health issues that led to him starting the charity to begin with.

Sex scenes exist in this romance novel, but they are not constant (ie, don’t expect one every chapter!) The ones that do exist are explicit without turning corny. Consent is always clear but not in a natural way, not an awkward way. The sex scenes are also, dare I say it, entertaining and sweet?

While I note this is a series, you don’t have to read all three Brown sister books or necessarily read them in order. Although I will note that if you read the second book, you’ll see who Chloe ends up with (the sister from the first book). While I think all three books are well-worth the read, I admit to Dani’s story being my favorite.

5 out of 5 stars

Length: 320 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: Library

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Book Review: The Conductors by Nicole Glover

Cover of the book The Conductors.

Summary:
Hetty Rhodes was once enslaved, but she ran away with her sister, only her sister was caught while she escaped. She began returning south to try to free her sister, but with her repeated trips became a Conductor on the Underground Railroad, alongside a man named Benjy, using their magic to help others escape. Now the Civil War is over and she and Benjy, who is now her husband, have built a life for themselves in Philadelphia. He’s a blacksmith, she’s a seamstress, and they both solve crimes in their spare time that the white authorities can’t be bothered with. When one of their friends turns up dead in an alley, their investigation takes them throughout Black Philadelphia on a hunt for answers.

Review:
The premise of the worldbuilding for this book reminded me of Thieftaker (review), the first in the Thieftaker Chronicles, which I really enjoyed, only set in the 1800s rather than the 1700s and with a Black woman lead rather than a white man. I say this as I was excited and thought this was a good thing. I remember thinking at the time that I wished there were more alternate history fantasy books and I was excited when the next one I saw brought such diversity to the genre.

I liked the magic in this book. I thought it was a great analogy for colonizing culture versus Black and Indigenous culture. The colonizing culture (Sorcery) requires the use of tools (wands) but the wands make that magic very powerful. The Black and Indigenous cultures use Celestial magic, which doesn’t require tools (they draw sigils instead). It can become very powerful but takes more study and time to become so. Anyone with magic being able to pick up a wand and wreak some havoc with very little knowledge as an analogy for weapons like guns I thought was great.

The book also demonstrates the community the Black folks of Philadelphia built up, which included those who freed themselves by running away, those who were freed by the Civil War, and those who were born free. There is a male/male relationship included among Hetty’s friend group, as well as a woman who experienced infertility and adopted a baby.

What didn’t work for me was the order in which the plot was told. The book starts in post-Civil War Philadelphia with Hetty and Benjy (her husband) working together to solve cases, in much the same way they used to work together as Conductors on the Underground Railroad. How Hetty escaped, met Benjy, and how they worked together as Conductors was told through a series of broken up flashbacks throughout the book. For me, this didn’t work. I was much more heavily invested in the stories being told in the flashbacks than in the present mystery, largely because a lot of the present storytelling relied upon the relationship between Hetty and Benjy and, without the full flashbacks, I had no understanding of the relationship between Hetty and Benjy. I needed to know why they were, for example, married but just for propriety’s sake. I needed to know why they decided to work together as Conductors in the first place. What finally pushed them to get married? I was so confused and felt so much like I was dropped into the middle of a pre-existing world that I went and double-checked to make sure I hadn’t accidentally started with the second book in a series. Characters, even beyond Benjy and Hetty, kept talking about things that had recently happened in a way that felt like they had happened in a previous book. For example, the character who adopted a baby, the line about that felt like how the second book in a series will remind you of what happened in the first with that having been a key plot point in the first. I would say, in general, that for me, everything would have worked better if the first book in the series had been how Hetty and Benjy met and became Conductors together, maybe ending with them solving their first case as investigators after the War. Then this could have been the second book, perhaps with some additional flashbacks to inform us of some things from during the War.

I am sure that there are others that will read that paragraph and think “oh I like that vibe,” and that’s great. I hope this review helps this book find its audience. For me, though, I simply don’t like being dropped into the middle of the story.

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 384 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

February 16, 2021 Leave a comment

Summary:
Set in New York City during the tumultuous year of 1977, this focuses on Nora, a Cuban-American 17-year-old in her final months of high school and the summer immediately after. Son of Sam is terrorizing the city, shooting young people at what seems to be random, there’s a heat wave, and a black-out. Nora needs to figure out what she’s going to do with her life after high school, but her younger brother, Hector, is becoming more uncontrollable, and she needs to help her mother with the rent. All she wants to do is go to the disco with the cute guy from work, but is that even safe with Son of Sam around?

Review:
I really enjoyed this one. The setting was great – all the fun of the 1970s with none of the exploitation or sexual violence often seen in the movies and books that came out of that era. That is not to say that there is no violence (domestic violence, drug abuse, drug paraphernalia, arson, homes threatened by fires, brief and not very descriptive animal abuse) are all present. But still, compared to the movies from that time period, the violence is minimal.

I also enjoyed that, while the events of 1977 definitely are present, there is no unrealistic connections between the main character and them. You know how sometimes a main character in a historic piece is written in as having done something pivotal or having some connection to a historic person. None of that here.

While I appreciated the presence of Stiller (a Black woman progressive downstairs neighbor), I would have liked any indication of the queer culture that was present in NYC, especially with some particularly interesting moments also occurring in the 1970s (like the start of Gaysweek or the NY ruling on trans* rights). Given how many characters are heavily involved in the women’s movement, it seems like it would have been fairly simple to have a bit of crossover or touchstone between these.

Another thing that I think could have taken this book up a notch for those less familiar with disco would be a song suggestion for each chapter or a Spotify playlist to go along with it. Whenever music features heavily in a historic book, I think this is a good idea.

If you’re looking to dive into a quick-paced YA featuring disco and the reassurance that bananas years do pass, I recommend picking this one up.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 310 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: Library

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Book Review: These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling (Series, #1)

January 26, 2021 Leave a comment

Summary:
Hannah loves her life in Salem, Massachusetts – working at the Fly By Night Cauldron store selling witchy items while secretly being the real deal herself – an Elemental witch. She’s about to enter her senior year of high school and things are a bit complicated of course – there’s her ex-girlfriend, Veronica, and fellow Elemental to deal with and the fact that her best friend is a Reg (non-witch) and can’t know. But when an end of year party ends with a blood ritual, Hannah becomes convinced there’s a dangerous Blood Witch in town, and she wants to find her before it’s too late. Plus there’s the cute ballerina, Morgan, she’s trying to date.

Review:
If you’re looking for queer representation in your YA fantasy, this book is here for you. Hannah is a lesbian, her coworker at the Cauldron is a gay trans man (in his first year of college), and Morgan is bisexual. The queer characters aren’t perfect, and they do gently educate each other with people apologizing to each other and strengthening friendships. I love how realistic that is. It’s not a fantasy land of everyone just perfectly knowing exactly what the right thing is to say, but it is a world of mutual respect and trying to be there for each other and correct mistakes. Speaking as a bisexual woman, I found the representation of Morgan accurate and kind, which is more than I can say about a lot of bisexual representation in literature.

The plot is less gentle and feel-good than you might expect. There is more violence and even death than I was expecting based on the plot summary and the fact that it’s the first book in a series. If you’re thinking about this one, know that you will be getting a mixture of feel-good and real danger. This is also definitely a book that’s setting up the next book in the series. I immediately put the next book on hold in the library, and kind of wished I’d done it sooner so I could have read them one right after the other.

While there are witches who are Black and People of Color in the book, they all seem to come from outside of Salem. While it is true that Salem is 70.8% white and non-Hispanic (Data USA), I think even if one was using the argument that Salem is very white in real life, the lack of People of Color inside of Salem in the book isn’t accurate. I also think, personally, that we have a responsibility in literature but especially in YA where we’re trying to help youth feel seen and heard, to depict all types of diversity, not just diversity of the queer spectrum.

If you or someone you’re giving book recommendations to is looking for a YA book rich in fantasy and queer characters, this may be the right read. I would recommend being prepared to have a conversation about why greater diversity matters and ensure the reader is ok with some violence (not just of the magic kind). I’d also be prepared to just pick up both books right away as this one really leads right to the next one.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 336 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: Library

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