Can We Talk About Consent?: A Non-Fiction Review

Can We Talk About Consent?: A Book About Freedom, Choices, and Agreement by Justin Hancock, illustrated by Fuchsia MacareeConsent is a big concept. But not everyone understands what it means or how to make sure it’s properly given and received.

That’s where Can We Talk About Consent?: A Book About Freedom, Choices, and Agreement (2021) by Justin Hancock, illustrated by Fuchsia Macaree comes in.

Find it on Bookshop.

Hancock uses his experience from his work as a sex and relationship educator to break down how consent works in a few areas in this book geared toward younger readers including:

  • how we greet each other
  • how to choose things for ourselves
  • how we say no to things
  • communicating and respecting choices in sexual relationships
  • the factors that can affect a person’s ability to choose
  • how to empower other people by giving them consent

The book itself says it’s for readers age 14 and up (likely because sex is mentioned and because some pages are text heavy) but if read together with discussion, this can work for younger readers as well.

Hancock’s no-nonsense text is approachable with clear examples (and a lot of pizza metaphors) to break down this crucially important topic. Macaree’s illustrations add a lot of pop and variety to the book and also represent people with a realistic variety of skin tones and appearances.

Unfortunately, the design of the book itself makes Can We Talk About Consent? nearly unreadable in places and favors gimmicky page spreads in favor of clearly sharing information.

The book has full color illustrations and is printed on glossy paper. This with the small text and narrow trim size, means the book has small print. Compounding the issue: some of the illustrations are very low contrast like one with speech bubbles that are dark green with black text.

low contrast image from Can We Talk About Consent? intertior pageMeanwhile other page spreads have completely bizarre layouts including one shaped like a pizza (I cannot overstate the amount of pizza in this book) where the most important information (“If consent is about choices and freedom, then it’s more than just avoiding something we don’t want.”) is not only buried at the bottom of the page but printed upside down.

overly designed page image from Can We Talk About Consent? intertior pageCan We Talk About Consent? shares a ton of important and valuable information (including a glossary and additional resources). Unfortunately a book design that seemingly failed to consider that this book has to be read makes it difficult to easily interface with much of that information–particularly for anyone who is visually impaired or needs larger and clearer text to read.

Firekeeper’s Daughter: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Firekeepers Daughter by Angeline BoulleyDaunis Fontaine has always felt like an outsider. Sometimes she’s “too Indian” for her mother’s white relatives. As an unenrolled tribal member thanks to the scandal surrounding her parents’ relationship and her own birth, Daunis never feels like she’s fully part of life on the Ojibwe reservation no matter how much she time she spends with that side of her family.

With her pre-med college plans on hold after her grandmother’s debilitating stroke, Daunis feels more adrift than ever. Enter Jamie the newest member of her half-brother Levi’s hockey team. Jamie and Daunis click but that doesn’t change all of the little things about his background that don’t quite make sense.

In the wake of a tragedy that hits too close to home, Daunis learns the truth about Jamie and finds herself at the center of a far flung criminal investigation as a confidential informant. Delving deeper into the investigation, Daunis will have to confront uncomfortable truths about her own family’s past and the reservation community to discover the truth. After years of admiring her elders, Daunis will have have to embrace being a strong Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman) herself to see things through in Firekeeper’s Daughter (2021) by Angeline Boulley.

Find it on Bookshop.

Firekeeper’s Daughter is Boulley’s debut novel.

Boulley describes this story as the indigenous Nancy Drew she always wanted to read and that really is the best description. With plot threads exploring opioid addiction (and dealing), grief, and sexual assault, Firekeeper’s Daughter is a heavy read.

Subplots involving hockey, Daunis’s complicated feelings about her family, and more can make the story seem sprawling at times although Boulley admirably ties every single thread together by the end.

Daunis’s high stakes investigation and her intense relationship with Jamie plays out against the fully realized backdrop of life in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and on the Ojibwe reservation. Daunis’s focus on her own culture and heritage are crucial to the plot bringing Daunis closer to the real culprit complete with a focus on traditional (herbal) medicine and the importance of community elders.

Firekeeper’s Daughter is a taut, perfectly plotted mystery with a protagonist readers won’t soon forget. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Every Stolen Breath by Kimberly Gabriel, Fake ID by Lamar Giles, The Bodies We Wear by Jeyn Roberts, Sadie by Courtney Summers, Veronica Mars

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

Ever Cursed: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Ever Cursed by Corey Ann HayduEveryone loves a lost girl, no one more so than the kingdom of Ever. The kingdom still mourns the Princess Who Was Lost decades ago, still demands justice for her.

Ever is slower to save the princess who still have a chance of being rescued.

Five years ago, a young witch named Reagan cursed all of Ever’s princesses with the Spell of Without. Jane has not been able to eat anything since that day. Her sister’s curses all began on their thirteenth birthdays. Nora can’t love, Alice cannot sleep, Grace can’t remember and soon, on her birthday, Eden will be without hope.

Ever is as it always was with the royals on their side of the mote and their subjects at a safe distance, their queen trapped in a glass box, and their princesses suffering. When Reagan forces the girls out of the castle for their one chance to break the Spell of Without, Jane begins to wonder if the way things are is really the way things have to be–for either the princesses or their subjects.

A princess without a curse on her is an ordinary girl. And no one cares about an ordinary girl. A witch without her spells is just a girl alone in the woods. And no one wants to be a girl alone in the woods. But as Jane and Reagan come closer to unraveling the spell before it becomes True, both girls will realize there is much more to Ever, its secrets, and themselves than either of them realized in Ever Cursed (2020) by Corey Ann Haydu.

Find it on Bookshop.

Ever Cursed is a standalone fantasy. Despite the relatively short length, there’s a lot to unpack with this one particularly in the context of the political climate (post 2016 US election) that may have helped to inspire it. Alternating chapters focus on Jane and Reagan’s first person narrations. It’s not a spoiler to say that something is rotten in Ever and Haydu, throughout the story, confronts the deep-seated misogyny and rape culture in the kingdom including discussions of sexual assault and a scene of attempted assault.

Jane’s narration is, appropriately, very focused on her mortality. The Spell of Without has carved her down to nothing and, should the spell become True, will have fatal consequences for herself and for Alice who is physically incapable of sleep. Readers with a history of disordered eating should pick this one up with caution and read the content warning Haydu includes at the beginning of the book before proceeding.

Ever Cursed is an interesting examination of what it means to be an ally and to be complicit. Both Jane and Reagan have to unpack the privilege they’ve had in being able to look away from the day-to-day problems in Ever while focusing on their own (more personally pressing) problems of being royals and witches. Jane in particular unpacks what it means to benefit from years of her family being in power and abusing that power even when she herself is not complicit.

These conversations about privilege are important ones to have while dismantling white supremacy and male privilege however combining them with a fantasy setting where the consequences are very real instead of allegorical doesn’t always lead to ideal handling of the material. Because of how the Spell of Without works, the idea of complicit privilege distills to children being punished in a very literal way for their father’s transgressions. That another young girl (Reagan) is the one meting out this punishment in order to see the king suffer in retaliation for her own mother’s pain adds even more complexity to this conversation and exposes the deeply internalized misogyny at Ever’s center.

As a feminist allegory disguised as a fairy tale, Ever Cursed is very successful. As a feminist fairy tale it is less so. The world building is thinly sketched and sometimes haphazard with fantastic imagery (witches wearing cumbersome skirts for ever spell they cast so that they always carry the consequences) that doesn’t hold up to any internal logic.

Ever Cursed has the bones of a truly sensational story that ultimately would have benefited from a bit more length to give proper space to both the world building and its characters; a fascinating if sometimes underdeveloped picture. Recommended for readers with an equal interest in feminism (or feminist theory) and fairy tales.

Possible Pairings: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, Damsel by Elana K. Arnold, Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust, Pet by Akwaeke Emezi, Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski

Verona Comics: A Review

Verona Comics by Jennifer DuganJubilee is an elite cellist. She has incredible talent and, according to her instructors, no emotion as she gets lost in the technical details of playing. With her biggest audition yet coming up for a summer conservatory program, Jubilee has a simple task: take a break. Which is how Jubilee finds herself selling comics with her mom and step-mom at their indie booth at a comic convention and, later, cosplaying as a peacock superhero at the con’s annual prom event.

Ridley doesn’t know who he is yet. All he really knows is that he’s a chronic disappointment to his parents and a barely tolerated presence in his own family. Which is why, despite his out-of-control anxiety, Ridley finds himself at comic con and representing his father’s company, The Geekery, while dressed as Office Batman at prom.

Neither Jubilee nor Ridley are looking for anything long-term, but their connection is immediately obvious. Unfortunately it’s also immediately inconvenient due to their parents’ intense dislike of each other and their rivalry.

With Jubilee’s audition approaching, Ridley’s anxiety spiraling out of control, and circumstances conspiring against them, Jubilee and Ridley will have to figure out if love can conquer all or if some romances are destined for tragedy in Verona Comics (2020) by Jennifer Dugan.

Find it on Bookshop.

Don’t let the cover of this one fool you, Dugan’s latest standalone novel tackles some heavy stuff wrapped in a light romance. Which is, perhaps, to be expected with a retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Lesbrary has a really thoughtful review talking about all the ways that this does in fact nod back to Romeo and Juliet and it makes a lot of sense for exactly why this story is so heavy.

The story alternates between Jubilee and Ridley’s first person narration. In addition to preparing for her audition, Jubilee also has her best friend Jayla–an accomplished Black cosplayer with her eye on FIT for college, and her mom and step-mom to keep her grounded. Jubilee has always been attracted to people of different genders but isn’t sure if that makes her bisexual or something else. And she isn’t sure if any of that “counts” when she’s only ever dated her ex-boyfriend and, now, Ridley.

Ridley, on the other hand, has no support system. He feels isolated and like even more of a failure to his parents after his failed suicide attempt and the betrayal of his last boyfriend. Worst of all, his sister Gray (the only relative Ridley likes) is across the country most of the time. In a desperate bid to stay near Gray and the family home, Ridley tells his father he has a way to get close to The Geekery’s biggest rival. Which, of course, leads to Ridley being in the very bad position of potentially spying on his new girlfriend’s family.

As much as that is to deal with, Ridley is also struggling with crippling social anxiety and chronic stress from his father’s abusive behaviors and his mother’s neglect. Ridley’s unhappiness and his anxiety are palpable in every chapter. Readers should also be warned that there is suicide ideation as well. Later, when Jubilee and Ridley’s relationship seems to have reached a breaking point, both teens also have to confront the fact they might be dealing with co-dependence issues.

While no one dies in Verona Comics, don’t expect a traditional happy ending here either as both Jubilee and Ridley take time to regroup in the wake of a relationship that often brought out the worst in them. Dugan is a great writer and brings all of the fun (and less fun) elements of the comics world to life in this inventive take on Shakespeare’s classic play.

Possible Pairings: Starry Eyes by Jennifer Bennett, Dramacon by Svetlana Chmakova, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp, When We Collided by Emery Lord, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

The Secret Recipe for Moving On: A Review

The Secret Recipe for Moving On by Karen BischerTransferring high schools in the middle of junior year when her father’s restaurant went bust was hard but now Mary Ellen “Ellie” Agresti has the perfect boyfriend and new friends as she starts her senior year.

Until Ellie is dumped right when school starts so Hunter can get together with his childhood best friend Brynn.

Now Ellie has to watch Hunter and Brynn being lovey-dovey everywhere–including a class they all share. Applicable Life Skills for Young Adults (AKA Home Ec) was supposed to be an easy A but now it’s an easy way to get Ellie’s blood boiling.

Hoping to salvage the class and her senior year, Ellie focuses on revenge. If she can beat Hunter’s team, that will mean she wins the breakup and the class competition. The only problem is that Ellie’s pretend “family” for class is more like a group of misfits with loudmouth AJ, horse racing junkie Isaiah, and stunt-biker Luke.

Bonds can form in the unlikeliest places but even Ellie isn’t sure what to do when her “family” starts to feel like friends (or maybe even more with Luke) especially when she still isn’t sure how to get over the breakup she never saw coming in The Secret Recipe for Moving On (2021) by Karen Bischer.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Secret Recipe for Moving On is Bischer’s debut novel.

Any charm to be derived from this plot, is lost early on as the entire first twenty per cent of the book focuses on the build up to the breakup and Ellie’s initial wallowing. While the immediacy of Ellie’s distress is admirable, I didn’t need to feel like I was going through the entire thing with her–particularly when jacket copy suggests the breakup is a done deal by the time the story starts.

The Secret Recipe for Moving On is also hopelessly mired in classism and sexism which, although it is acknowledged, is never fully interrogated. During the home ec class each group of students is assigned an imaginary family to work with for their budget and other class projects. Ellie’s group is “stuck” with a single mother raising two children on a bus driver’s salary. Much to the group’s dismay (even though both Ellie and Luke are low income students compared to their classmates).

Combining their initials, the group decides to call their family “JAILE” saying it will intimidate other teams (by implying prison connotations?) which is further insulting. Finally, the point where I knew I was done with this book was when a classmate in a rival “family” told Ellie and her group that their single mother could turn to stripping for extra cash or rely on food stamps during a grocery shopping exercise. While the character behind these remarks is eventually cast as a villain, the comments themselves stigmatizing poverty, sex work, and government support are never addressed or commented on.

During the same shopping exercise, AJ picks up two grapefruits pretending to be a woman while shopping (you can imagine) and the only comment is Luke acknowledging with a look that the joke might be less funny given Ellie’s presence. As part of the core group AJ has some growth as the story progresses too but, again, we are past the point where sexist remarks or actions like this should ever get a pass.

The Secret Recipe for Moving On has all of the pieces to be a fun and sweet story. Unfortunately, the book takes too long to interrogate all of the really problematic elements–for the ones that are examined at all. Readers looking for a fun rom com should pick this one up with caution.

Possible Pairings: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Lucky Caller by Emma Mills, Cake Pop Crush by Suzanne Nelson, A Taste for Love by Jennifer Yen

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

Everything You Need To Know About Donating Books to the Library (And What to Do With Them Instead)

If you’re a part of Library Twitter, you might have seen a thread from me about libraries and book donations. I’ve compiled all of that information here with some other useful links and an infographic at the bottom of this post:

Why Your Library Might Not Want Your Books:

  • Libraries have to consider the cost of materials and labor: Book donations are often more costly to the library than you think. The library needs to accept and store donations. If they add them to a collection that also involves processing it to add to the online catalog plus adding labels, barcode, etc. If book ordering and processing is centralized that’s one more barrier to discourage adding donated books to a collection.
  • Most donations are gross: Even if your books are pristine, most aren’t. A lot of people are very precious about books and use donating to libraries as a way to get rid of books they don’t want to throw out. Meaning libraries get out-of-date, beat-up materials they can’t use.
  • Nothing lasts forever. Including books: A healthy and functional library system routinely weeds for condition, low circulation, and other issues. You don’t want a library that will keep everything you give them. It speaks to a lack of attention to community needs/interests.
  • Librarians can’t be precious about books. You want them to have that so -called thick skin because it means they are paying attention to what the library community wants and needs on shelves.
  • Books are the least of what libraries have to offer the public. Before you spend all of your concern on the books, remember all the other services libraries offer and all of the support library workers provide your community.
  • Libraries are very worried about protecting patrons AND staff from exposure to Covid-19. Part of that is limited services. Part of it might also include no longer accepting donations.

Wherever You Donate Books:

  • Wherever you donate, especially if you plan on donating in bulk: ASK FIRST
  • There might be specific requirements for donations and specific times in which donations are accepted.
  • Even if they accepted donations in the past, things change and you don’t want to take a trip for nothing.
  • Do NOT leave donations after being told they will not be accepted.

Donated Books Should Be:

  • Pristine: no tears, no writing or highlighting, no mold/foxing, dust jackets if applicable, no ex-library copies. If you wouldn’t buy it at a book sale, don’t donate it.
  • Recent: If you are donating non-fiction it should have been published within the last five years. Older than that runs the risk of spreading out of date information.
  • No textbooks: These are usually too specialized for public libraries and even for academic libraries are probably out of date.
  • No encyclopedias: They’re out of date. Don’t do it.
  • No periodicals: Do not bring your old magazines to the library. After you read them their next step in life should be the recycling bin.

When You Donate:

  • Donating a book does not mean it will enter the collection. Your books might instead be sold in a library book sale (another costly process for the library to put together), given away at programs, or recycled by the library themselves.
  • Remember, once you donate a book, you’re done with it. Which is to say you will not be able to control what happens next. Some will be used and read. Some will be sold.
  • Many donated books will be recycled. This is the natural cycle of a book (really). The good thing about donating is, even if they end up being recycled, it will be done properly because the donation site probably has a relationship with a book recycling facility.

Your Library Doesn’t Take Donations. Now What?

Before we talk about donation options, I also want to be clear: “readable” is not the same as “donatable.” Any books you donate should be pristine—new or very good condition with dust jackets if applicable. For non-fiction this also means recent. Older than 5 years? Recycle it.

Remember: ALWAYS ASK before donating books.

You can try contacting the places below:

  • Local Schools/Teachers (when books are age appropriate): With very few exceptions your books will not end up in a school library, but they might be useful for a teacher’s classroom library.
  • Local Hospitals: Many hospitals have waiting rooms or other sites with books. Be prepared for them to have restrictions on what they can accept and when, especially with the pandemic.
  • Thrift Stores/Used Bookstores: You might find a store that will buy books from you. They will pay a fraction of retail. You might also find stores that will accept donations to resell.
  • Local Shelters
  • Retirement Centers and Nursing Homes: Many people chimed in with this suggestion. They might only accept specific formats or types of books so be sure to check before trying to drop something off.
  • Local Literacy Programs
  • After School/Daycare Programs (when age appropriate)
  • Armed Forces Charities: There are many organizations that get books into the hands of members of the armed forces. You can get details on where to start at Books for Soldiers and Operation Paperback.
  • Prison Libraries: Many prison libraries are also desperate for materials. They are a great place to donate but will have restrictions on the types of books they can accept (this could be both for content and format). Details can be found here: https://prisonbookprogram.org/prisonbooknetwork/

What Else Can You Do With Books You Want to Donate?

If you don’t have any luck with any of the above you can also:

  • Add your books to a little free library (or create one)
  • Ask at local laundromats
  • Set up book swaps in your community (following safety protocols)
  • Post them on Paperback Swap: This is a trading site where you can post individual books for trade. They also run periodic campaigns accepting donations for schools and the military.
  • Use books for altered book crafts including folded book sculptures, collage, using pages for origami, etc.

Other Ways to Support Your Library:

Libraries are so much more than books. The best ways to support your local library (and your library’s workers) are to use it, to give cash donations, and to advocate for the library with your elected officials.

Book Donation Infographic made by Emma Carbone

Don’t Date Rosa Santos: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Demand more of your possibilities.”

Don't Date Rosa Santos by Nina MorenoEveryone knows that the Santos women don’t go near the water. Not anymore. Rosa Santos knows that better than anyone. After her grandfather died to make sure Rosa’s pregnant grandmother made it to Florida, and after her own father died at sea when her mother was eighteen and pregnant, Rosa knows that the Santos women and boys on boats don’t mix.

Despite her grandmother’s bad memories, Rosa is desperate to visit Cuba herself. Something she thought she had finally figured out with a dual enrollment program at her local community college and a study abroad program at a four year university.

Just when Rosa can start to imagine herself walking along the maricon in Havana, the study abroad program is cancelled leaving all of Rosa’s plans up in the air. Which is how Rosa, the girl who has never set foot near Port Coral’s beach finds herself organizing the annual spring festival to try and save the local marina.

Rosa’s reluctant helper is Alex Aquino whose family owns the marina. Back in town for the first time since graduation, Alex is not the gawky boy Rosa remembers. This Alex has tattoos, a beard, and a smile that just might be lethal. He also has baking skills and, worst of all, his own boat.

As Rosa and Alex grow closer, Rosa has to decide if a family curse is a good enough reason to give up on all of the things she wants most in Don’t Date Rosa Santos (2019) by Nina Moreno.

Find it on Bookshop.

Don’t Date Rosa Santos is Moreno’s debut novel. Through Rosa’s narration readers are introduced to the charming town of Port Coral, Florida and its quirky residents.

While the main plot focuses on Rosa’s efforts to save the Port Coral marina, this is a story about grief and family history. Rosa has grown up with her grandmother, Mimi, learning Mimi’s tricks when it comes to brujeria and making a home for herself in Port Coral. Meanwhile, Rosa’s mother is a wandering artist who hasn’t felt at home in Port Coral since her teens when Rosa’s father died. All three generations of women have been touched by tragedy–a linking thread that drives the family further apart instead of drawing them together.

These ruminations on grief are tempered with the madcap preparations for the festival and Rosa’s tentative romance with Alex–one of the best male leads you’ll find in a YA rom com–and Rosa’s efforts to try and understand her own family’s history both in Port Coral and in Cuba.

Don’t Date Rosa Santos is a perfect blend of the setting from Gilmore Girls, the magic in Practical Magic, and just a hint of the strong family ties in Charmed. The perfect choice for readers looking for a sweet romance with humor and intrigue in equal measure. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: With the Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo, Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova, The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake, Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, Recommended For You by Laura Silverman, Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar

Piranesi: A Review

Piranesi by Susanna ClarkeThe rooms in the House are infinite. Connected by endless corridors and Vestibules with walls lined with thousands of Statues–each unique in both appearance and in name. Water moves through these Halls, waves flooding and draining according to the changing of the Tides.

Piranesi understands the House and its ways intimately. He can navigate the Halls and track the Tides. He visits his favorite Statues and, most importantly, he tends to the House as he explores its vast spaces.

There is one other living person in The House: The Other, a man searching for A Great and Secret Knowledge that Piranesi suspects he may never find.

The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite. It provides everything that Piranesi needs. But even with his intimate knowledge of the House and its workings, Piranesi doesn’t know what it means when evidence of another Person emerges.

Will they be friend as Piranesi hopes? Foe as The Other warns? As Piranesi comes closer to answering these questions he will also unravel an awful truth as vast and immeasurable as the House itself in Piranesi (2020) by Susanna Clarke.

Find it on Bookshop.

Piranesi is Clarke’s deceptively slim followup to her blockbuster novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. There is simultaneously a lot to talk about here and very little that can be said without revealing spoilers (which I have avoided here).

Clarke is an excellent writer. Despite the quirks of Piranesi’s first-person narration and the idiosyncrasies of the book’s structure, readers are immediately drawn into this strange and layered story.

The intricate unfolding of the plot contrasts sharply with mounting urgency as The Other tries to find the mysterious new person and kill them while Piranesi tries to save them. Even the meandering, stream of consciousness style of much of the book can’t diminish the tension as the novel builds inexorably to its climax.

Unfortunately, the actual ending is not as compelling as the buildup; no one is settled or even okay by the end, nothing is resolved. For a story that starts so big, with so many vast possibilities, the final outcome feels like the least compelling direction Piranesi could have taken.

Piranesi is a fascinating exercise in craft as Clarke expertly manages both the narrative and plot with well-timed reveals and twists. These notable elements underscore how little actually happens throughout the novel, especially in terms of characterization or growth.

Possible Pairings: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, Slade House by David Mitchell, The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami, The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, Or What You Will by Jo Walton

Follow Your Arrow: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Follow Your Arrow by Jessica VerdiCeCe Ross and her girlfriend Silvie Castillo Ramírez are social media influencers. They have the cute outfits, the followers, and the endorsement deals to prove it. Plus, the girls are total relationship goals–hashtag Cevie forever. Until Cevie is over and CeCe is left mourning what she had thought was a perfect relationship while also figuring out how to handle the public nature of the breakup with her and Silvie’s followers.

CeCe is always worried about her online engagement and obsesses over every post. She wonders if anyone would follow her to hear about the issues she cares about instead of the new hand cream she’s been sent to try. She wonders if her followers  will like her without Silvie.

Enter Josh the new guy in town who is smart, musical, has great taste in donuts, and no clue about social media. CeCe has always known she’s bisexual so falling for Josh isn’t a surprise, but as her feelings for Josh grow she wonders if she has to tell Josh about her internet fame.

When CeCe’s efforts to keep her public persona a secret go spectacularly wrong CeCe will have to answer uncomfortable questions from Josh and confront the media attention centered around who she chooses to date and the version of herself she chooses to share in Follow Your Arrow (2021) by Jessica Verdi.

Find it on Bookshop.

At the start of Follow Your Arrow CeCe is struggling as she deals with the breakup and tries to ignore her increasing anxiety when it comes to maintaining her online presence and giving her followers the content they want and expect. Readers see some of this content in social media posts that appear between chapters. After years of defining herself in relation to Silvie and curating her public persona, CeCe isn’t sure who she is when she’s no longer part of a couple–especially one as visible as Cevie.

Verdi doesn’t shy away from showing the work that goes into curating an online presence as an influencer. It’s a hustle and it can be exhausting–which CeCe knows all too well. But it can also lead to some lasting and genuine friendships like CeCe’s long-distance best friend in Australia.

While bisexuality is much more mainstream now it is still often sidelined or erased in the larger LGBTQ+ community where bisexuals can be accused of “passing” in heterosexual presenting relationships. Follow Your Arrow tackles that head on as CeCe is forced to publicly justify both her relationship choices and her social media persona.

Follow Your Arrow is a fast-paced story filled with humor and compassion. Come for the behind-the-scenes look at life as an influencer and the sweet romance, stay for the thoughtful commentary on both bisexual erasure and the separate spheres of public and private life.

Possible Pairings: Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo, Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender, Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan, You Have a Match by Emma Lord, Radio Silence by Alice Oseman, Odd One Out by Nic Stone, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

Exclusive Bonus Content: Please also take a minute to appreciate this cover which does such a great job of capturing CeCe and also has nods to the colors of the bisexual flag. So well done!

A Deadly Education: A Review

“It’s always mattered a lot to me to keep a wall up round my dignity, even though dignity matters fuck-all when the monsters under you bed are real. Dignity was what I had instead of friends.”

A Deadly Education by Naomi NovikScholomance is a school for magically gifted students and a solid way to avoid the deadly monsters intent on eating tasty young magicians until you can form a strong alliance, learn the proper spells, and build out your arsenal of magical supplies. All of this is complicated for Galadriel “El” Higgins, whose powerful dark magic means that the school would much rather teacher her deadly incineration spells than simple spells for cleaning her room.

El has a good plan for surviving her junior year at Scholomance and coming out of it with a solid alliance to survive her senior year and the literal gauntlet that is graduation. A plan that goes out the window when Orion Lake saves her life for the second time.

Now instead of biding her time waiting for a chance to demonstrate her own immense powers, El has to waste her time convincing everyone she isn’t another of Orion’s lost causes. She also has to do this while adhering to strict mana–fueling magic with her own effort–lest she accidentally become a maleficer unleashing the full scope of her deadly magical potential.

No one has ever liked El and that’s made it easy to observe the inner workings of the school. It’s also left El prepared for the school’s cutthroat atmosphere and isolation. What El is not prepared for her is Orion’s continued efforts to save her, befriend her, and maybe date her.

Sticking with Orion could be the answer to all of El’s fears about surviving senior year. But with more monsters prowling the school than ever, El has to figure out to keep Orion from sacrificing himself for the greater good and how to avoid accidentally killing any other students while surviving her junior year in A Deadly Education (2020) by Naomi Novik.

Find it on Bookshop.

A Deadly Education is the first book in Novik’s Scholomance trilogy. The series started life as a Harry/Draco fan fic before being rewritten to be its own book. While I enjoyed this book a lot, it does have some problems including one correction to the text and some possibly racist portrayals/imagery (opinions vary widely so if you’re concerned, I’d read reviews before you pick up the book).

In the first print run a scene in the middle of the book (page 186) singled out the locs hairstyle as being targeted by some of the monsters in the school. This evokes racist stereotypes about Black hair and was a late addition to the book that was not present during sensitivity reads. It was a hurtful addition and Novik has issued an apology including actions being taken moving forward with the series. Reading the book as a white woman, this was the most obvious concern and I am glad it’s being addressed (removed from future printings and digital editions) and glad Novik issued an apology including next steps.

Asma’s review on Goodreads was one of the first to raise these concerns while sharing others about racist portrayals in the book. I’m not equipped (or entitled) to comment on any of these concerns but will say a lot of the textual issues pointed out do make sense with the worldbuilding. The Mary Sue calls the book’s problems a lack of “authentic representation” which feels like a more accurate statement.

El’s mother is Welsh and her father is Indian. El is only raised by her mother after her father dies making sure El’s pregnant mother survives graduation. Readers learn early on that El is also the subject of an incredibly dark prophecy which makes her paternal relatives want to kill her as a small child. So El, understandably, has no interactions with them. While there are many issues surrounding white authors (like Novik) writing non-white or biracial characters (like El), it’s always a balancing act. BookRiot has a post discussing this and also discussing why it’s okay for a character like El to be disconnected from the Indian half of her identity. This is a thread Nickie Davis also explores.

Lastly I want to direct you to the very thoughtful review from Thea at The Book Smugglers who helped me figure out how to approach my own review (and direct to the links above as well) and also this review from A Naga of the Nusantara which offers another response to some of the concerns about this book.

So that’s a lot. I absolutely understand and respect those who will choose to avoid this book after hearing about the initial error and fallout. That’s a fair and valid choice. I’m not sure what I would have done if I had heard about it all before I had bought and started reading my copy. That said, after disliking Uprooted and being impressed but not dazzled by Spinning Silver, I loved a lot of this book. I felt like A Deadly Education was exactly my speed.

El is an exhausting narrator. Her prose is snappy with a clipped cadence that makes the novel very fast-paced and makes the world building daunting as readers are introduced to El and her world. This choice feels fitting as the Scholomance itself is incredibly daunting and intimidating to students who can be (and are) eaten or killed at every turn by monsters attracted to their untapped magic.

A Deadly Education introduces readers to a sprawling, high stakes world set at a magical school where mistakes are deadly. A strong series starter that, I hope, will improve with later installments (and learning experiences). A Deadly Education is a dark, smart fantasy filled with a snarky, anti-hero protagonist, reluctant friendships, and surprisingly funny dark humor. Recommended with reservations (do your homework before you pick this one up).

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert; The Cruel Prince by Holly Black; Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey; An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard; Killing November by Adriana Mather; The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix; Deadly Class by Rick Remender, Wes Craig, Lee Loughridge; Carry On by Rainbow Rowell; And I Darken by Kiersten White; Fable by Adrienne Young