Forbidden

A few weeks ago I was catching up on podcasts while driving to my parents and Jeff and Rebecca from Book Riot talked for a long time about romance authors and the lack of diversity in romance. This piqued my interest, and decided to read one of Beverly Jenkins’ novels. I’m trying to read more diversely in terms of author and protagonist (but mostly #ownvoices), and also genre. I’m doing a lot better with #ownvoices than I am with genre, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity to combine both.

I also decided to use a Jenkins novel for the prompt “a best seller in a genre you don’t normally read.” And let me tell you, it was difficult figuring out which books exactly are best sellers. Everything says, “Beverly Jenkins, USA Today bestselling author,” but I could never find out which books were bestsellers. So, I went with one of the most recent publications: Forbidden.

Forbidden follows Eddy and Rhine (who apparently was briefly introduced in another novel way back in the 80s) in a booming mining town in Nevada post-Civil War. Eddy is determined to make her way to San Francisco and start a restaurant but finds herself alone and close to death in the desert. Rhine is a scion of respectability and money in town, but he harbors a deep secret. Rhine was born a slave, the result of abuse between the slave owner and his mother, and is now passing for White. Rhine rescues Eddy and instantly feels drawn to her, but in order to be with her he must sacrifice all he has worked towards.

While I wasn’t a huge fan of Jenkins’ writing style, I like how seamlessly she weaves history in with the plot. The last few pages are full of notes and bibliography, so she clearly did her research. I’m also ashamed to realize just how little I know of postbellum history, aside from the highlights featured in textbooks.

Through Smart Bitches Trashy Books I found an interview with Jenkins from Jezebel and I thought this bit was most illuminating:

You’ve talked a little bit about what draws you to the nineteenth century—why does the postwar period to the end of the century interest you so much as a writer?

There was so much going on and it’s not a typical time that we know about, regardless of what race we are, and I think the more we know about each other the better off we’d all be. And it also has its parallels with the twentieth and the twenty-first century. Because right after the Civil War you had those great gains with Reconstruction—this huge amount of Black men in Congress and representatives through the states, you had the lieutenant governor in Louisiana, you had Black folks in positions of power and businesses and colleges going up. And then when Reconstruction died in 1876, everything started to unravel. You had the rise of the Klan and you had the Redemption period. And lynchings and blood and death and destruction. And folks said we’ve got to leave the South. They moved into places like Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Colorado, California. Which is where I set my very first book, Night Song, in one of those Black townships in Kansas.

In the ‘70s you had African Americans retaking their places in Congress and in the Senate and in local elections. So there’s a parallel in us rising and then the ‘90s and stuff started to sort of peter out again. It’s an up and down cycle. Great things happening in both centuries, both bittersweet.

Overall, I really enjoyed the experience reading Forbidden and am definitely going to check out another of Jenkins’ books.

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Airplane Reads

My husband and I flew out east for a wedding/leaf peeping trip (what a weird phrase, by the way) last weekend and I devoured two different YA books. YA books are the best for flying, I’ve found. At least the fluffy ones.

On the plane ride out I read The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith. A year or so ago I read This is What Happy Looks Like so I knew what I was getting into with Love at First Sight. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is the story of Hadley and Oliver, who meet by chance (Hadley missed her flight and was put on Oliver’s) at an airport and find themselves sitting next to each other on the trip from New York to London. As the title suggests, they fall in love. It’s a very sweet story, and exactly what I was looking for, so I forgave the too-quickly-wrapped-up-ending. The sweet love story and the angsty family drama play off each other nicely and I imagine would have been very appealing to teen me (it certainly appealed to adult me, so I have to assume).

On the plane ride back, I read Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson and even downloaded the sequel, Rebel Magisters on overdrive during our layover. Rebel Mechanics introduces us to an alternate universe. What if the British ruling class were magic, and that’s why they controlled the colonies? If that happened the American Revolution would not have turned out the way we know it today. What if, the Industrial Revolution occurred because the non-magical people were finding ways to build machinery that would give them the same sort of power as the Magisters (the magical people)?

I don’t think I’ve ever officially read a Steampunk novel before and I loved the concept! The writing and the characters certainly left something to be desired. Which is unfortunate. Rebel Mechanics is a very clean and chaste YA novel. Not that all romances need bosom heaving, but this one seemed particularly full of romantic tension and I kept waiting for characters to make moves, and it was very frustrating. Kiss! Declare your feelings! At least hug. It doesn’t help that the characters themselves reminded me a lot of those found in The Pink Carnation series, which is for adults and therefore the romance has more adult content. So with that comparison in mind, I kept waiting for things to happen (that never did).

My guess is that Rebel Mechanics did not perform well sales wise, as according to Goodreads, the sequel was self-published. And you can tell. Although that didn’t stop me from reading the two books in two days.

I originally checked out The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and Rebel Mechanics for the “book with a red spine” category on the PopSugar Reading Challenge. In the end, I used The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight for the “book involving travel” category, Rebel Mechanics for the “book with a red spine category” and Rebel Magisters for “a steampunk novel.”  

I believe I originally had Rich People Problems as my “book involving travel,” but The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight seemed more fitting. I like to play around with the categories as I read and fill in the slots. So many can fit for so many different categories!

I Hate Everyone But You

I have many thoughts on I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin, so let’s see if I can make sense of them.

Told in a series of texts and emails it was hard to distinguish characters at first. Once I got over that I got sucked in to the story. On the one hand, nobody is a particularly likable person and the love interests are pretty terrible. However, at 18 you aren’t always a very nice person and we all make questionable romantic choices at first. Both Gen and Ava are relatable in their own way (one has anxiety and some other mental health concerns, while the other is discovering her sexuality and the queer community) and the novel addresses issues that many teens are facing/will face as they mature in a way I don’t think many other novels address.

The only downside (or I suppose you could say it’s a positive) is that without chapters there’s no good stopping point. Because of this I ended reading the whole thing in one day.

Gaby and Allison also have a pretty popular YouTube channel, which I tried watching after reading, and I have to say, I like the book a lot more.

When the Moon is Low

This one took me a loooooong time to listen to. Started it in April then finished it in October.

When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi is about a family in Afghanistan who become a target of the Taliban regime. Forced to flee with forged papers, Fereiba’s only goal is to bring her children to her sister’s in London when the unthinkable happens: her son, Saleem is separated from the rest of the family.

The beginning of the book was wonderful. All about Fereiba’s youth in Afghanistan and the rise of the Taliban. It was fascinating! I learned so much! It helps that the narrator (Sneha Mathan) has a beautiful voice. However, the narration suddenly switches to Saleem’s story, which makes sense by the end, but the transition felt so forced at the time. We had so much time invested in Fereiba’s story– from her youth to adulthood– that to switch to a new voice, with very little background on the character outside his mother’s observations was odd. Also, Neil Shah’s voice seemed particularly grating after Sneha’s.

Like I said, the narration switch eventually makes sense, but it threw me off, and I took a loooong break from listening for a while. Once I got back into the swing of the story it was fine. Although I do think it ended rather abruptly given the amount of buildup and background on Fereiba.

New (to me) Picture Books

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XO, OX: A Love Story written by Adam Rex, illustrated by Scott Campbell

I really wanted to like this one, but fell flat. Despite the wonderful illustrations. Ox loves Gazelle (who seems like a celebrity of some sort, and who we assume Ox has never actually met), and writes her love letters. At first Gazelle is annoyed and then Ox accidentally insults her, but they keep writing. By the end Gazelle has fallen for Ox. Maybe XO, OX is supposed satirical, but clearly many of us are not getting that intent. Instead, it reads like a creepy (stalkerish) story and is not sending a good message about consent and respect.

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The Giant Jumperee written by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

I really liked the illustrations in this one, and the surprise at the end will sure to delight kids. I think The Giant Jumperee would work really well in a storytime setting. Although I always have to wonder where these stories take place. Do all these animals really coexist in areas around the globe? I guess this is what happens when you are married to a naturalist.

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Not Quite Narwhal written and illustrated by Jessie Sima

Kelp is a unicorn born to a family of narwhals. This is super cute, but definitely playing into current trends/pop culture. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I don’t know how much of the praise is due to the story and how much is due to the unicorn love at the moment.

Overall, it’s a very sweet story about making family and being true to yourself.

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A Greyhound, A Groundhog written by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Chris Appelhans

This is so sweet. I love the watercolor illustrations and the repetition. It’s very reminiscent of Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett. I also think this one would work well in a storytime setting. Maybe around Groundhog Day?

On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service

Over Labor Day Weekend I listened to the newest installment of Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness series, On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service (I just realized I didn’t blog about Crowned and Dangerous, which I also read this year. Oops). During a meeting with the Queen to discuss Georgie’s renouncement in the line of succession and her (hopefully) upcoming wedding, it’s discovered that Georgie plans on visiting Italy to be with Belinda who is soon to have her baby. Turns out the Prince of Wales and Wallis Simpson will also be in the area, and the Queen asks Georgie to do a bit more spying on the Prince and “that woman.” As one cannot say no to the Queen, and the potential permission to marry Darcy (a Catholic) is on the line, Georgie agrees.

Of course, our whole cast of characters finds their way to Italy in one way or another and antics ensue. In many ways this installment is more serious than the others. Hitler’s threat becomes more real, Bowen begins to discuss the Prince of Wales and Wallis Simpson’s alleged Nazi leanings, Belinda is having a baby in secret, and Georgie and Darcy are finally planning a wedding. Despite the serious subject matter I found On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service to be one of the better chapters in Georgie’s adventure. It didn’t rely as much on cheap jokes and fantastical situations (ghosts in Malice at the Palace and Vampires in Royal Blood come to mind).

I’m very curious to see where the series will go from here. I did some research and King George passes away in January, 1936. Our story here ends in spring 1935. We all know from history class and The King’s Speech that the Prince of Wales abdicates the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, and shortly(ish) after World War II breaks out. Will the series continue once the Prince and “that woman” are married? It’s such a plot point that I hope it doesn’t. However, it would be interesting to see what Georgie and Darcy get up to during World War II. I imagine all kinds of spying missions…

Wonder Woman

I’ve been on a bit of a superhero kick recently. My husband got me hooked on Arrow and The Flash, we watched all the Avengers movies in order recently (although we still haven’t seen the newest Spiderman), and we saw Wonder Woman of course. One of Book Riot’s challenges is to read a Superhero Comic with a female lead, so a Wonder Woman story was the obvious choice. Having seen the movie I knew a tiny bit about Wonder Woman’s story but still had to google various characters. Also, since Arrow and The Flash are in the D.C. Universe I kept trying to make connections there that didn’t exist.

I’m glad I read Wonder Woman: Volume One: The Lies, but I can’t say I really enjoyed it. First off, the story is super confusing since Diana doesn’t know what is a true memory anymore and what is legend and what is someone sabotaging her memory. So as readers, especially someone new to the storyline, I had no idea either. Which is mostly fine, but then we never find out! I know the story has to continue on to the next volume, but some closure would be nice.

Lastly, I didn’t realize that comics often have different artists, so throughout the volume the art changed and the characters looked different. It wasn’t hugely problematic, but it was annoying.

Book Riot Reading Challenge: A superhero comic with a female lead

Popsugar Reading Challenge: A book becoming a movie in 2017