The Silvered Serpents: A Review

“What is magic but a science we cannot fathom?”

The Silvered Serpents by Roshani ChokshiMonths ago Séverin and his crew beat the remnants of the exiled Fallen House back into hiding. But the victory came at a steep cost. A loss that has left Séverin and his friends reeling and weakened the once unbreakable bonds between them.

Determined to never lose anything–or anyone–ever again, Séverin follows clues to the Fallen House’s Sleeping Palace in Russia. Once there he believes he can uncover their greatest treasure: The Divine Lyrics, a book that is said to bestow godlike powers to whoever uses it and may also unite the Babel Fragments spread across the globe that make Forging magic possible.

While Séverin chases invulnerability to protect those he cares about, Laila hopes the book might save her before time runs out. Historian Enrique thinks the high profile recovery will earn him the respect that eludes him. And scientist Zofia wants to prove that she can take care of herself even if she sometimes needs help understanding other people.

After so many years working together, so much time trying to prove themselves, Séverin and the others will all have to choose what matters most and how far they are willing to go in pursuit of it in The Silvered Serpents (2020) by Roshani Chokshi.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Silvered Serpents is the second book in Chokshi’s Gilded Wolves trilogy.

Chokshi expertly builds tension and suspense in this sequel as the team delves deeper into the mysteries surrounding the Fallen House, the secret of the Divine Lyrics, and the Lost Muses who may be able to tap into the artifact’s power. The theme of who is able and allowed to shape history continues to be a major underpinning of this series as all of the characters question how best to make their own voices heard in a world that often refuses to truly see them.

Chapters alternating between Séverin and the rest of the team explore their varied motivations and subplots offering many insights into each character while moving inexorably toward the novel’s shocking conclusion that will leave readers eagerly anticipating the final installment.

The Silvered Serpents is the sleeker, smarter, sharper, and bloodier sequel fans of this series deserve. Highly recommended.

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Roshani Chokshi discussing this book!

Possible Pairings: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, The Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett, The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty, The Reader by Traci Chee, Into the Crooked Place by Alexandra Christo, The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool, A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab, Enchantée by Gita Trelease

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the February 2020 issue of School Library Journal as a starred review*

Week in Review: September 19: Quarantine Week 27: In Which I Consider High-Quality Connections

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What September releases are you excited about? 📚 If Grown is on your list, I can confirm it won’t disappoint: 📚 Enchanted Jones thought she had everything figured out. She isn’t what anyone would call happy at her new school, but she makes it work. She has swim team and she has her best friend Gabriella. With Gab’s help Enchanted auditions for BET’s version of American Idol. It doesn’t go well. 📚 But it does bring her face to face with legendary R&B artist Korey Fields who is even hotter in person and could be Enchanted’s own ticket to stardom. It starts with secret texts and flirting. Then there are singing lessons and an invitation to go on tour. 📚 It ends with Enchanted beaten bloody and Korey Fields dead. 📚 Enchanted wishes she could forget the events leading up to Korey’s death. But she can’t do that any more than she can remember what happened that night. 📚 Did Enchanted plunge the knife into Korey’s chest? Was she the only one who wanted him dead? With more questions than answers Enchanted will have to piece together the pieces before Korey’s livid fans–or the police–do it for her with Enchanted as the culprit in Grown (2020) by Tiffany D. Jackson. 📚 Head to my blog to check out my full review (link in bio). 📚 #InstaReader #BeautifulBooks #BookReviews #BooksToRead #BookstagramFeatures #BookishLife #AllTheBooks #UnitedBookstagram #BookPost #ForTheLoveOfBooks #ReadersOfInsta #BookBlogging #Bookstagramit #LibrariansOfInstagram #ReadingLove #BookstaFeatures #ReadersGonnaRead #WhatToRead #BookStyle #Booktography #BookRecommendations #ReadersOfIg #NeverNotReading #BookPhotoChallenge #BookNookstagram #Bibliophiles #BookAesthetic #Grown #ReadGrown #TiffanyDJackson

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How My Week Went:

Pandemic life has been hard. I miss my friends. I miss traveling freely. I’m tired of being told my choice to self-isolate for as long as possible because of my mom is irrational or something I’ll get over when I have no choice anymore–especially from friends who are supposed to take my side. There’s probably a whole blog post about that but I’m so tired of talking about it that I don’t want to also write about it.

I reread Joy at Work last week for my ongoing work book club. I’ve been thinking a lot about what the book calls “high-quality connections” which basically boils down to mutual friendships. Again, there’s a whole blog post worth of stuff to unpack there but for now I’m thinking about what it means when it becomes clear that I am putting more time and care into a relationship (with friends but also with coworkers) than the other person. It is not a good feeling and it is something I’m still figuring out but for now the first step is acknowledging it happening. Which I’m working on.

We need to talk about J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter, and why it’s time to say goodbye to both

J. K. Rowling, best known as the author of the popular Harry Potter books, is a Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist (abbreviated to TERF). This isn’t the first time she’s been problematic and likely won’t be the last, but it is the one that has seen her escalating the most.

You can read more about the TERF rise in Katelyn Burns’ article on Vox. In it she describes TERF groups thus: “They alternate among several theories that all claim that trans women are really men, who are the ultimate oppressors of women. […] Above all else, their ideology doesn’t allow for trans people to have self-definition or any autonomy over their gender expression.”

Rowling also writes adult mysteries under the pen name Robert Galbraith–a pen name that is coincidentally shared by the man who helped create conversion therapy in the 1950s. Transphobia has shown up in Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series before. It goes even further in the latest book where Rowling/Galbraith frames the entire case around a male killer who dresses as a woman to kill his victims. Rowling doubling down in this way has led to a lot of justified backlash on Twitter as fans continue to try to reconcile these hateful ideas coming from the author of a beloved series.

Before going further, we have to all be very clear on something: Trans women are women. Trans men are men. This is not negotiable. It is not a multi-sided issue. Arguing anything else is hurtful, harmful, and unacceptable.

At a certain point it is no longer possible to separate a creative work from its creator. When a creator actively uses their platform and reach to make the world a worse place, we have to say enough is enough. There has to be a line after which point we cut ties with both the creator and the creative work from which the creator is benefiting while hurting people.

Which is why it’s time to stop supporting J. K. Rowling. It’s time to stop supporting Robert Galbraith. It’s time to say goodbye to Harry Potter.

I know this is hard ask for people who consider Harry Potter a formative series, but it’s time to let it go. I’m coming from a place of privilege here as I have already moved past the series and never considered Hogwarts my home, but if you want to support trans people and trans rights, you cannot continue supporting an author who does not.

Here’s everything I’m doing as a reader, an influencer/content creator, and a librarian to do just that (including some steps you can take yourself):

As a Reader:

Few things are as intrinsically tied to pop culture and the zeitgeist now in the way Harry Potter is, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t find alternatives and decide collectively to use them instead. No more asking about Hogwarts houses, no more guessing a person’s patronus.

  • I will no longer read or buy any book Rowling puts out under any pen name.
  • I will not watch anything Rowling has been involved with including adaptations of her books under any pen name.
  • I will not engage with any Harry Potter related media including licensed online sites, games, or stories.
  • I will not buy licensed merchandise. (Many independent sellers are reckoning with this themselves as they decide if they will fill the hole in the fandom by selling unlicensed merch that will not line Rowling’s pockets.)

As an Influencer/Content Creator:

Blogs and social media are interesting things because they are living documents. In the past I have, like so many others, read and recommended Harry Potter. I will not be doing that moving forward.

  • I will not include Harry Potter merchandise in my photo posts.
  • I will not cite any of Rowling’s books as read-a-likes.
  • While I support and respect the fandom trying to come to terms with this turn of events, I will no longer participate in it on any level.

As a Librarian:

It’s important to remember that librarians provide access to information, they do not gatekeep or restrict access to information. It would be unethical and against everything libraries stand for to restrict access to any of Rowling’s books. But that does not mean I have to give them extra space in my work as a librarian–something that Rowling has never needed given the meteoric popularity of her books and something she decidedly no longer deserves.

  • I will, like all librarians, keep Rowling’s books on shelves for patrons who need or want them. I will make sure copies are in good, readable condition.
  • I will not actively recommend any of her books to patrons who ask me for reading suggestions.
  • I will not include any of Rowling’s books in book displays or book lists I create.
  • I will not cite her books as read-a-likes for anything instead giving space to other titles.
  • I will not participate in any programming tied to or related to J. K. Rowling or Harry Potter.

The Book Blogosphere, Book Twitter, Bookstagram, and library communities are all filled with so many passionate, creative people. I urge all of you to channel that creativity elsewhere. It’s time to say goodbye to Hogwarts and let Harry celebrate his birthday alone while we, as a community, embrace other creators than J. K. Rowling. Ones who are so much more deserving of our love now and creators who continue to deserve our support and respect so much more.

The Queen of Nothing: A Review

*The Queen of Nothing is the second book in Black’s Folk of the Air trilogy. To avoid spoilers, start at the beginning with The Cruel Prince.*

“We have lived in our armor for so long, you and I. And now I am not sure if either of us knows how to remove it.”

The Queen of Nothing by Holly BlackJude has spent years learning strategy and how to survive as a mortal in the High Court of Faerie. She has spied, killed, and fought for every scrap of power. But taking power is easier than keeping it.

After trusting Cardan for one last gambit, Jude is the mortal Queen of Faerie–a title no one acknowledges and one that does her little good while exiled in the mortal world.

Betrayed and furious, Jude is keen to return to Faerie and reclaim what is hers by right, not to mention her sorely damaged dignity. The opportunity comes sooner than expected when Jude’s sister Taryn needs her identical twin’s help to survive the aftermath of her own betrayals and lies.

When Jude returns, war is brewing in Elfhame. After years teaching herself to be a warrior and a spy, Jude will now have to learn how to be a queen and embrace her humanity to save the only place that has ever felt like home in The Queen of Nothing (2020) by Holly Black.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Queen of Nothing is the final book in Black’s Folk of the Air trilogy. To avoid spoilers, start at the beginning with The Cruel Prince.

It’s always hard to talk about the end of a series without revealing too much. Black pulls no punches in this fast-paced conclusion filled with surprising twists, unexpected reunions, and even some redemption arcs.

Jude continues to be a dynamo narrator filling the story with grim observations and shrewd strategy as she tries to keep Elhame from falling into enemy hands. After watching Jude embrace her strength and ruthlessness, it’s a powerful shift as she is forced to instead embrace her mortality and compassion to succeed this time.

The Queen of Nothing is the perfect conclusion to a favorite series. Every character gets exactly what they deserve in the best possible way. A must read for fans, of course, and a trilogy not to be missed for anyone who enjoys their fantasy with healthy doses of strategy and fairies. Highly recommend.

Possible Pairings: Legendary by Stephanie Garber, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, Bring Me Their Hearts by Sara Wolf, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Grown: A Review

“Because if I keep denying the memory, it’ll make it untrue.”

Grown by Tiffany D. JacksonEnchanted Jones thought she had everything figured out. She isn’t what anyone would call happy at her new school, but she makes it work. She has swim team and she has her best friend Gabriella. With Gab’s help Enchanted auditions for BET’s version of American Idol. It doesn’t go well.

But it does bring her face to face with legendary R&B artist Korey Fields who is even hotter in person and could be Enchanted’s own ticket to stardom. It starts with secret texts and flirting. Then there are singing lessons and an invitation to go on tour.

It ends with Enchanted beaten bloody and Korey Fields dead.

Enchanted wishes she could forget the events leading up to Korey’s death. But she can’t do that any more than she can remember what happened that night.

Did Enchanted plunge the knife into Korey’s chest? Was she the only one who wanted him dead? With more questions than answers Enchanted will have to piece together the pieces before Korey’s livid fans–or the police–do it for her with Enchanted as the culprit in Grown (2020) by Tiffany D. Jackson.

Find it on Bookshop.

Jackson’s latest standalone is a tense mystery as Enchanted navigates her sudden infamy while still trying to process the abuse she suffered at Korey’s hands. (Please note the content warnings in this book for: mentions of sexual abuse, rape, assault, child abuse, kidnapping, and addiction to opioids.) The case in the book is heavily influenced by the sexual abuse allegations leveraged against R. Kelly over the past two decades as covered in the documentary Surviving R. Kelly.

Grown is a crushing read. It’s easy to see the red flags in retrospect with the shifting timeline that starts with Enchanted discovering Korey’s dead body. It’s much harder for Enchanted to see them as she is drawn in to Korey’s orbit and desperate to be seen as a young woman instead of the little girl her family still sees.

Grown offers a scathing commentary on how quickly the media is willing to blame young Black girls like Enchanted saying they are grown and know what they are doing while excusing predatory behavior from influential Black men like Korey. While this story is by no means an easy read, Jackson’s writing is on point as this taut and suspenseful story builds to one surprising twist after another.

I do also want to talk about how mental illness is explored in the book. This is a spoiler so click read more to my thoughts or back away to avoid them:

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Week in Review: September 12: Quarantine Week 26: In Which I Spent An Entire Week Dealing with Chair Drama

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How My Week Went:

I need a new desk chair and my mom and I need new recliners in our living room and that has consumed most of my life. A new desk chair has been acquired and is coming. Recliners continue to be up in the air because furniture shopping is the worst.

When We Left Cuba: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“In the end life always comes down to timing.”

When We Left Cuba by Chanel CleetonFlorida, 1960: The Perez family lost everything in the Cuban Revolution. Like many former sugar barons, Emilio Perez and his family had to flee their home, leaving everything behind, when Castro came into power.

Like the rest of her family, Beatriz assumes it will be a brief exile when the family first settles in Florida. As time passes and the weeks turn into months and years, Beatriz watches in dismay as her sisters and even her parents begin to make new lives for themselves in this new country.

Beatriz is much more interested in revenge. When she is recruited by the CIA, Beatriz jumps at the chance to choose a different path for herself trying to get close to Castro and reclaim everything his regime stole from her.

As she learns more about the means the CIA is willing to use to justify their ends and watches the Cold War threaten to warm, Beatriz also has to reconcile how she can let go of everything her family lost while embracing the new opportunities–and maybe even new love–available to her in the United States in When We Left Cuba (2019) by Chanel Cleeton.

Find it on Bookshop.

When We Left Cuba is a companion to Cleeton’s previous novel Next Year in Havana which tells the stories of Beatriz’s sister Elisa and grand-niece Marisol.

Beatriz narrates this story of heartache and longing primarily set in the 1960s with a framing story set in 2016. How you feel about this book may also depend heavily on how you react to one of Beatriz’s love interests. Without naming any names, I will say I could not stand him and that made a lot of the book a struggle for me.

While Elisa’s story explored the moments leading up to the Cuban revolution, When We Left Cuba is more concerned with the aftermath as Beatriz tries to come to terms with everything her family has lost.

As she rails against the Castro regime, Beatriz is also able to pursue a different life filled with espionage and, later, university studies and law school–things a sugar princess would have never been able to consider in Cuba.

Compared to the tantalizing glimpse readers get of Beatriz in Next Year in Havana, this book is in some ways underwhelming. Beatriz is still working on becoming that capable, independent woman–a transformation that unfortunately mostly happens off the page here.

When We Left Cuba is an excellent return to the Perez family. An empowering story of espionage, romance, and learning how to live on your own terms.

Possible Pairings: In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova, Telex From Cuba by Rachel Kushner, The Secrets We Kept by Laura Prescott, Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan, Dreams of Joy by Lisa See, The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

Beauty Mark: A Verse Novel of Marilyn Monroe: A Review

Beauty Mark: A Verse Novel of Marilyn Monroe by Carole Boston WeatherfordEveryone knows about Marilyn Monroe’s difficult life and tragic end.

Few people know the traumatic start of her life watching her mother struggle with schizophrenia, moving through foster care, and even teen marriage.

While evidence of her transition from brunette pin-up model to blonde bombshell is immediately obvious, the road that got her there has never been explored from her own perspective. Until now in Beauty Mark: A Verse Novel of Marilyn Monroe (2020) by Carole Boston Weatherford.

Find it on Bookshop.

Weatherford’s latest verse novel explores the turbulent and often sad life of Marilyn Monroe from her start as Norma Jeane Baker to her death at 36 from an overdose. After a prologue the day of her infamous “Happy Birthday” performance for President John F. Kennedy, the poems move roughly chronologically from Monroe’s early years to her death.

Because it is a verse novel and not a true biography, Beauty Mark is frustratingly lacking in concrete facts. Important figures in Monroe’s life like her first acting coach, Natasha Lytess, are often referenced only to be dropped without explaining their role later in Monroe’s life.

Similarly, while touching upon key points in Monroe’s filmography the choices Weatherford makes in what (and whom) to mention feels largely arbitrary. River of No Return is discussed but co-star Robert Mitchum is never mentioned nor is the complex plot which includes an assault attempt–something, presumably, that would have been of note to Monroe given her own history of sexual abuse. (Lytess also created complications on set but her presence is never mentioned.)

Some Like It Hot is discussed at length with a full plot summary and, again, no mention of co-stars Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. Nor is this a choice to center Monroe in her own story as other actors (male and female) are mentioned throughout.

A life, even one as tragically short as Monroe’s, covers a lot of ground. Unfortunately in Beauty Mark the authorial choices for what to cover at length (the nude calendar photo scandal in 1952) and what to gloss over (the reasons behind Monroe’s constant move from one foster home to the next as a child) are never made clear either in the text or in supporting back matter.

Beauty Mark is an interesting if ultimately uneven verse novel that gives Monroe her voice and works to move her from sex object back to genuine and complex person. Recommended as an introduction but not for anyone hoping to find a true biography or in-depth life story.

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration.*

Week In Review: September 5: Quarantine Week 25: In Which I Can’t Believe It’s September

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What books do you plan to read this month? 📚 In retrospect I think this stack is too ambitious but we’ll see how many I get to before the month is out. The titles are: 📖Fable by Adrienne Young 📖No One Here is Lonely by Sarah Everett 📖Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly 📖A Golden Fury by Samantha Cohoe 📖Eventide by Sarah Goodman 📖Or What You Will by Jo Walton 📖Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia 📖A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson 📚 Which one would you read first? 📚 #InstaReads #BookLife #BookGram #Booktography #BeautifulBooks #Bookstagramit #LibrariansOfInstagram #BookReviews #BookBlog #AllTheBooks #UnitedBookstagram #LoveReading #BooksOfIg #BookStyle #BookPost #BookishLife #ForTheLoveOfBooks #ReadersOfInsta #BookBlogging #BookRecommendations #ReadersOfIg #BooksToRead #ReadMore #BookstagramFeatures #BookstaFeatures #bookstack #bookstoread #reading #read

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How My Week Went:

September really took me by surprise and I still haven’t recovered from the transition to a new month. It’s been the kind of week where objectively I have done almost everything I meant to/needed to do. But it still doesn’t feel like enough. Which isn’t a great feeling but I’m trying to ride it out. I think part of it is also still the whole trying to work and act like everything is normal during a global pandemic. My favorite summer show Big Brother started last month and, sadly, the season has been a major train wreck so I can’t even rely on trash reality TV as a respite from ~pandemic stress~.

Next Year in Havana: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Next Year in Havana by Chanel CleetonMarisol Ferrera has grown up on stories of Cuba’s beauty, hearing her grandmother Elisa’s fond memories of growing up there again and again.

Elisa and her sisters were sugar queens, daughters of Emilio Perez one of Cuba’s infamous sugar barons. After years of walking the fine line between working with President Batista without ever angering his regime, the tides have turned. With Fidel Castro in power the only option the family has is to leave. At the airport in 1959 they think it will only be a short trip, a season abroad until Fidel is ousted.

In Miami in 2017 the family finally receives the news they have waited for. Fidel is dead. The Cuban exiles are free to return home. Elisa didn’t live long enough to see that day. Instead, it’s Marisol who will travel to Cuba for her grandmother.

Marisol is there to scatter Elisa’s ashes but she soon learns that Havana is not the city her family left behind decades ago. Poverty stands in harsh contrast to the island’s beauty. Political dissent is just as dangerous as it was before. And even Marisol’s grandmother still has secrets to reveal in the city of her birth.

As she discovers Cuba for herself Marisol will unearth old family secrets and define her own relationship with this country that has been the backdrop of all of her family’s hopes for decades in Next Year in Havana (2018) by Chanel Cleeton.

Find it on Bookshop.

Next Year in Havana alternates between Marisol’s story in 2017 as she travels to Havana for the first time and Elisa’s story of the month’s leading up to her family’s departure for Miami in 1958. This novel is a standalone but readers interested in learning more about the Perez family can also check out When We Left Cuba which is a companion novel about Elisa’s sister Beatriz.

Cleeton expertly balances two timelines as the stories intertwine with Marisol’s discoveries in Cuba. Seeing Cuba for the first time and learning more about her grandmother’s past, Marisol begins to understand that the Cuba she has always imagined pales in comparison to both the good and the bad of Cuba’s modern reality.

Elisa, meanwhile, learns that nothing about revolution is black and white–especially her own families role in it while her father tries to stay on Batista’s good side and Elisa herself begins an affair with a revolutionary.

While some reveals are far from surprising, the dual story line works well and is used to good effect to develop both protagonists. While some of the secondary characters lack definition Beatriz jumps off the page (in both storylines!) making her lead role in the companion book all the more exciting.

Next Year in Havana is as evocative as it is well-researched to bring Havana–both past and present–to life while hints of romance and mystery add urgency to this character-driven story. Ideal for readers looking to travel through the pages of a book and fans of sweeping family sagas. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova, Telex From Cuba by Rachel Kushner, Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan, Dreams of Joy by Lisa See, The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine