The Kingdom of Back: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Speak for the ones who will come after you, looking to you for guidance. Stay true, daughter. One day you will see it all go up in flames.”

The Kingdom of Back by Marie LuThis is a story you already know. But listen carefully, because within it is one you have never heard before:

Nannerl Mozart has one wish that she guards close, no matter how hopeless it might be; she wants to be remembered forever.

A talented musician and performer, Nannerl entrances audiences with her playing which is masterful for one so young. But the older Nannerl becomes, the less brilliant her prowess. Especially compared to her younger brother Wolfgang who has already begun to overshadow Nannerl’s achievements with his own musicality and compositions.

Watching her younger brother, it is increasingly clear that it will be Wolfgang who receives the bulk of their strict father’s praise. It will be Wolfgang living the life Nannerl desperately wants. No amount of talent is enough to allow a young girl in eighteenth-century Austria to compose her own music. Not publicly.

Working in secret by day Nannerl begins creating her own compositions beside her brother. At night she waits for a mysterious visitor from a kingdom that should be little more than a bedtime story she shares with Wolfgang. The stranger has untold powers, and he knows Nannerl’s secret wish. But wishes have a price and the cost of securing her legacy might be greater than Nannerl can bear in The Kingdom of Back (2020) by Marie Lu.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Kingdom of a Back is a standalone novel that blends evocative historical fiction with fantasy elements. As Lu explains in her author’s note, this book was inspired by the real Mozart siblings as well as the eponymous imaginary world they created together as children.

In a departure from her earlier novels, Lu stays close to historical events centering the story in Austria and the Mozart family’s tour through Europe while fantasy elements set in the Kingdom of Back take a secondary role.

Nannerl’s first person narration is introspective and thoughtful as she tries to balance her fierce affection for her brother with her growing frustrations that, merely because of her gender, she will never be able to claim the same praise and recognition that is lavished on Wolfgang. Although jealousy is certainly a factor in Nannerl’s choices throughout the novel, The Kingdom of Back is grounded firmly in the love and friendship between the siblings.

The Kingdom of Back is a meditative story about ambition and achievement, as well as the chasm that can develop between the two. While real life events lend a melancholy tone to this story, it also makes the novel all the more powerful as a rallying cry and a hopeful reminder that there is always room to strive for more. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Heartless by Marissa Meyer, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab, The Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. Valente, And I Darken by Kiersten White

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World: A Non-Fiction Review

Digital Minimalism by Cal NewportHow much time do you think you spend on your phone every day? How much of that time is spent talking to an actual person on a phone call? How much is texting? How much is scrolling different apps?

In one study one in three participants guessed they spent significantly less time on their smart phone than they actually do per day. While the average in this study was around five hours, some participants reported spending as many as twelve hours on their phone.

It’s no wonder, when the attention economy and social media are designed to keep people on their devices, using apps as much as possible.

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World (2019) by Cal Newport offers some ways to cut through all the things demanding our attention and decide what really matters.

Find it on Bookshop.

Digital Minimalism is divided into two parts “Foundations” and “Practices.” The first half of the book establishes the problem and details some of the causes while the second half offers actionable strategies for change.

Newport calls his approach “digital minimalism”–a way to gauge exactly how much is enough without ever over-using. While this phrase might conjure an image of Luddites eschewing all technology, the book is quick to point out that rather digital minimalists adopt new technology and apps with caution. If a device or site doesn’t add value to a digital minimalist’s life, they do not use it.

The main tenet of digital minimalism is starting with a clean slate after a 30 day digital break in which you are not using your phone as anything but a phone and avoiding all of its apps and other features. After this detox period, digital minimalists are advised to evaluate what digital apps and devices they reintroduce with the following questions: Does this technology directly support something that I deeply value? Is this technology the best way to support this value? How am I going to use this technology going forward to maximize its value and minimize its harms?

Although Newport’s approach has been widely praised, he fails to acknowledge the intrinsic value in written communication/social media as tools for human connection. In other words, for Newport, friendships and connections are seen as having limited value if they cannot take place in person or at least over a phone call. I found this view dated and, given the number of long distance friendships I have, unrealistic. It is also one facet of digital minimalism that falls apart under the strain of the Covid-19 pandemic.

While Digital Minimalism doesn’t tread new ground (and fails to cite books by women who cover similar topics), Newport does present the information clearly and succinctly–particularly in the first half covering the ill effects of this digital age and how ill-equipped we all are for these massive changes. Practical tips including deleting apps in favor of web versions and turning off notifications may feel commonsense but fit in well with the overall approach.

Readers interested in a more practical step-by-step approach to using their phone less will be better served by How to Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price. Readers who want to think more about living with intention and joy should also check out Marie Kondo’s books The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Joy at Work (with Scott Sonenshein) and Burnout by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski.

February 2021 Reading Tracker

Books I Had Planned to Read:

Books I Read:

  1. The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare (audio)
  2. Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter
  3. King John by William Shakespeare (audio)
  4. The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare (audio)
  5. The Cousins by Karen M. McManus
  6. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
  7. Middlemarch by George Eliot
  8. Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (audio reread)

Books Received:

I don’t want to talk about it. Kidding. I bought a lot of books this month. But also it’s a pandemic and I’m trying to be gentle with myself.

  1. The Cousins by Karen M. McManus
  2. The Alanna quartet by Tamora Pierce
  3. Giant Days Vol. 13, 14, Extra Credit
  4. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  5. Happily Ever After by Elise Bryant

You can also see what I read in January.

Week in Review: February 27: In Which I Work on a Miniature

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Blog Posts of The Week:

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How My Week Went:

Work continues on a miniature model I’ve been slowly building since January. That’s all I’ve got to report. Nearing the year mark for the pandemic has been exhausting and hitting my harder than I expected. So it goes.

The Black Kids: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds ReedLos Angeles, 1992: Ashley Bennett is living her best life at the end of her senior year spending more time at the beach with her friends than in the classroom.

But Ashley’s summer of possibility seems like much less of a sure thing when four LAPD officers are acquitted after they beat a Black man named Rodney King nearly to death. Suddenly both Ashley and all of her friends are very aware that Ashley is the only Black girl in their group and one of the only black kids in the entire school.

As protests shift to violent riots and fires threaten the city, Ashley tries to pretend nothing is changing. As her sister throws herself into the center of the riots heedless of the consequences, Ashley tries to ignore all the cracks in her family’s facade of privilege. When Ashley accidentally helps her friends spread a rumor that could derail her classmate LaShawn’s college plans, she realizes she has to make amends.

Ashley has never felt like one of the Black kids but as she gets to know LaShawn and his friends, she realizes she still has a lot to learn about her family, her city, and her own place in both in The Black Kids (2020) by Christina Hammonds Reed.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Black Kids is an intense debut novel and was a finalist for the 2020 William C. Morris YA Debut Award. This story plays out against the backdrop of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, it includes scenes of protests turning violent as well as racial slurs (notably the n word) used by characters. While these situations are addressed and interrogated in the story as Ashley learns to speak up for herself and for others, be advised of what to expect as you read.

Ashley’s first person narration is both lyrical and pragmatic. Ashley is very firmly grounded in her reality–fully aware of her sister’s self-destructive tendencies and her own precarious position surrounded by her white friends. At the same time, she also dreams of better days to come as she looks back on formative moments with her current best friends and learns more about her family’s history in LA.

There are no easy answers in this story and there are no perfect characters. Ashley is secretly hooking up with her best friend’s boyfriend, a new friend is furious when Ashley reports possible abuse, and the consequence for Ashley’s sister joining the riots are severe.

While the riots shape the larger narrative arc of this novel, The Black Kids is ultimately a smaller story about one girl’s growth (and her stumbles) as she learns to embrace every part of who she is–not just the parts she thinks people want to see.

Possible Pairings: Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles, Light It Up by Kekla Magoon, I’m Not Dying With You Tonight by Gilly Segal and Kimberly Jones, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

Felix Ever After: A Review

Felix Ever After by Kacen CallenderFelix Love has never been in love–an irony that weighs heavily on him as he starts the summer before his senior year in high school. Felix is mostly happy with his life and loves who he is but he also wonders as a Black, queer, transgender teen if he’s ever going to find his happy ending.

Felix knows he’s lucky to be fully accepted by his best friend Ezra and his classmates. He knows not all fathers would pay for their son’s top surgery or support his choice to be his true self. Felix reminds himself of that every time his father stumbles a little when he tries to call Felix by his name.

But there’s no excuse when someone in Felix’s summer art program puts up an exhibit with photos of Felix as a kid before he transitioned along with his deadname. When he starts receiving transphobic messages on Instagram, Felix decides it’s time to fight back.

Creating a secret profile to try and out his harasser should be simple since Felix is so sure it’s his longtime nemesis Declan. But when Felix and Declan start talking, he starts to realize nothing is exactly as it seems–especially Felix’s own feelings for Declan and for Ezra in Felix Ever After (2020) by Kacen Callender.

Find it on Bookshop.

Felix has to deal with some heavy topics throughout the book including the anonymous transphobic harassment and offhand comments from classmates as well as his father’s mixed efforts to support Felix. Callender presents all of this thoughtfully and, thanks to Felix’s first person narration, keeps the focus on Felix’s own experiences without giving extra page time to his traumas. (One example: Although we see Felix being deadnamed–with his childhood photos and captions using the name Felix was given by his parents before he transitioned–in the rogue art exhibit, we do not ever see the actual name used in the book.)

Despite being his story, Felix is not always an easy character to cheer on as he embarks on his own catfishing scheme for revenge. That said, Felix learns a lot and grows a lot as the story progresses and he begins to stand up for himself and more fully understand his own gender identity.

With a flashy, feel-good finale at the New York City Pride parade, Felix Ever After is a summery, romantic story that will leave you with a smile on your face.

Possible Pairings: Simon Vs. the Homo-Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver, Some Girls Bind by Rory James, You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg, Birthday by Meredith Russo

Week in Review: February 20: In Which I Return to Pinterest and Have a New Blog Theme

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Blog Posts of The Week:

Tweet of the Week:

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How My Week Went:

After a few years away I am back on Pinterest. You can find me at pinterest.com/missprint_ if you’re so inclined. I also changed up the colors for my blog theme and am enjoying the brighter look.

Not much else to report. How has your week been?

An Unkindness of Magicians: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat HowardFortune’s Wheel has begun its Turning. When it ceases rotation, all will be made new.

So begins every Turning in the Unseen World. Letters, emails, and other missives are sent to every House throughout New York City–a warning to prepare.

Some like Laurent Beauchamps–an outsider as a Black man and a new initiate to magic–hope to establish their own Houses. Others like Laurent’s best friend Grey Prospero–a legacy to magic despite being disinherited–see this Turning as a chance to prove themselves and reclaim what should rightfully be theirs no matter the cost.

The Turning is also a chance for established Houses like the Merlins to maintain their position at the top ruling over the Unseen World. While leaders of larger Houses like Miranda Prospero hope to grasp at this chance to shake things up.

Houses can represent themselves in the Turning or hire out help. Miranda doesn’t know what to make of Ian Merlin choosing to represent her House instead of his own father’s but she knows she can’t afford to turn down Ian’s offer if she wants to finally wrest power away from Miles Merlin.

What no one at the Turning counted on was Sydney: the mysterious champion Laurent hires. An outsider herself, Sydney knows how magic works and she knows it is breaking. If she has her way, the entire magic system underpinning the Unseen World will be destroyed before she’s finished.

Fortune’s Wheel is turning. Some will rise, some will fall. But at the end of this one, everything will change and it will be time for the world to be remade in An Unkindness of Magicians (2017) by Kat Howard.

Find it on Bookshop.

An Unkindness of Magicians is a standalone urban fantasy with a shifting close third person narration. The story unfolds in different directions as the narratives shifts between Sydney, Miranda, Ian and other key players in both the Unseen World and the Turning itself.

Against the backdrop of the Turning and its magical competitions Howard builds out the Unseen World, its archaic hierarchies, and the iniquities at the center of how magic is used and distributed in a sharp examination of privilege and legacy. Unsolved murders throughout the Unseen World add another dimension to this already rich story.

An Unkindness of Magicians is a nuanced and intricate novel with a slow build as plots and characters begin to intersect in advance of a sensational conclusion. Howard populates this story with a group of fiercely determined and clever characters–especially women–looking for justice and victory in a world that would willingly to cast them aside. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, Magic For Liars by Sarah Gailey, The Magicians by Lev Grossman, The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman, A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly, Middlegame by Seanan McGuire, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, A Treason of Thorns by Laura E. Weymouth

All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Non-Fiction Review

All Boys Aren't Blue by George M. JohnsonAll Boys Aren’t Blue (2020) by George M. Johnson (find it on Bookshop) collects essays by Johnson about his life growing up as a Black queer boy (and young man) in New Jersey and in his college years in Virginia.

The essays cover a range of topics from Johnson’s first identity crisis when he found out his name was George despite his family always calling him Matt (his middle name) to when his teeth were knocked out at five years old by neighbor kids. Stories of pushing against gender binaries, navigating high school while publicly closeted, and working up to coming up and living his true life in college all illustrate the challenges of triumphs of growing up to become your best self even if that is often in the absence of any support in terms of seeing yourself in media like TV shows or books like this one.

Each essay works well on its own presenting a contained story or anecdote from Johnson’s life although transitions between each chapter/essay fail to create a cohesive whole. Johnson addresses topics of drug use, sexual abuse with care guiding readers through these challenging topics while also giving them space to step away from the book if needed.

All Boys Aren’t Blue celebrates Black Joy, family, and individuality in a book that begins to fill a gap in written experiences for teen readers. If you decide to pick this one up and are able to read audiobooks, I highly recommend this one which is read by the author.

Week in Review: February 13: In which Valentines Day is almost here

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Blog Posts of The Week:

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How My Week Went:

Honestly, I have no idea why I didn’t write this post on time (it’s backdated) and have no memory of how the week went. That’s how it goes sometimes.