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

Talking to Strangers: A Non-Fiction Review

How did Fidel Castro and his spies fool the CIA for years? Why did Prime Minister Chamberlain think Hitler was trustworthy? How did no one realize what Bernie Madoff was doing with all of his investments? What transpired to make it possible for Larry Nassar to abuse countless patients at his gymnastics-centered medical practice–often with parents of his victims in the same room?

Author Malcolm Gladwell explores these questions and more in his latest book Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know (2019).

Find it on Bookshop.

Before we discuss anything else, you need to know this is not an easy book–especially not during the ongoing pandemic which adds its own kind of stress to everything. Additionally, the audiobook is narrated by Gladwell and features recordings of the people being quoted whenever possible. This choice has the double-edged result of making an excellent production while also making the events discussed that much more immediate and visceral for readers/listeners.

Talking to Strangers covers a few things most of which boil down to chapters about people in the worst situations or chapters about the worst people.

Gladwell uses what happened to Sandra Bland as entry point and framing device into his topic. Some of this is reductive as it sets aside the systemic racism at the root of police brutality and the unfair targeting of BIPOC citizens by police. Similarly Gladwell’s theory that sexual assault can ever come down to misunderstandings due to overdrinking and their resulting blackouts is hard to hear and very much the statement only a man could or would ever make.

Other chapters explore Castro’s spy network within the US, Hitler’s ability to mislead Chamberlain in advance of WWII, as well as other familiar news items. Most of which is hard to hear. The book ends with discussions of so-called “advance interrogation techniques” (torture) and the circumstances that may have helped lead to Sylvia Plath’s suicide.

Despite the difficult content, Talking to Strangers includes some useful insights people can bring to their interactions with others including the need for awareness of situational context, peoples’ tendency to believe the best in people, and the reality that people may broadcast one emotion with body language and mannerisms while presenting very different ones with their speech.

Talking to Strangers is informative if challenging to read with a solid introduction to a few key aspects of interpersonal communication as well as a deep exploration of current events that readers may or may not recognize from previous news viewing. I hesitate to say I’d recommend this book because I had such a hard time with it myself, but if the premise sounds interesting then you should definitely check it out.

A God in Ruins: A Review

A God in Ruins by Kate AtkinsonTeddy could have been a poet or a banker. Instead war intervened and he became an RAF bomber pilot. Those years spent bombing German civilians, never knowing if he’d live through his next mission, were the best years of his life–the best moments–even with the violence, the death, and his time as a POW.

But everyone has to return to the ground eventually and when the war ends, Teddy becomes a husband and a father, a journalist, and more. But his hardest role even all those years later will be living in a future he never thought he’d see in A God in Ruins (2015) by Kate Atkinson.

Find it on Bookshop.

Readers of Atkinson’s previous powerhouse novel Life After Life will recognize protagonist Teddy as Ursula Todd’s favorite brother–a figure she worked across multiple lives to save when he is declared missing in action and presumed dead after a failed bomb run. While both books function separately, it is unlikely readers will catch all of the nuance and subtleties of this novel without reading Life After Life first.

Teddy only has one life so this novel does not explore the same themes of reincarnation although Atkinson uses the same nonlinear structure with multiple points of view to excellent effect.

From here on this review will have some spoilers for the rest of the book, proceed with caution:

Continue reading

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

The Bone Houses: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-JonesRyn has spent most of her life surrounded by the dead in the village of Colbren. She watched her father at his work as a gravedigger and now, after his disappearance, it is Ryn who puts the village’s dead to rest. It is Ryn who makes sure the dead stay at rest–especially those buried too close to the woods.

The restless dead are always called “bone houses” in the stories. Legend talks often of the curse that makes some dead walk. So often, in fact, that most people believe it really is only a fable. Ryn has always known better but especially now when more and more bone houses are making their way to Colbren.

Ellis has spent most of his life hiding first on the outskirts of court and more recently behind the maps he makes. Coming to Colbren could make Ellis’ name and earn him a fortune provided he can find a guide to lead him through the woods to make the first map of the area–especially the mountain ranges beyond the forest.

When the bone houses surface with new prevalence and more violent attacks, Ryn has her own reasons for agreeing to act as Ellis’ guide. Secrets lie in the mountains and, deeper still, answers both Ryn and Ellis never thought they’d find provided they can survive that long in The Bone Houses (2019) by Emily Lloyd-Jones.

Find it on Bookshop.

Lloyd-Jone’s standalone novel is an eerie blend of fantasy and light horror set against an historic Welsh setting. Chapters alternate between Ryn and Ellis’ close third person perspectives.

While Ryn is comfortable with her physicality and fears losing her work as gravedigger more than most bone houses, Ellis is more cerebral and struggles to mange chronic pain from childhood injuries that never properly healed.

Lyrical prose and lush descriptions immediately bring Colbren and the surrounding woods to life. Suspense is carefully managed as Ryn and Ellis are drawn further into the mystery surrounding the bone houses’ origins in their search for a way to stop them. A gently presented romance adds much needed sweetness to what could otherwise be a grim and tense story.

The Bone Houses is a thoughtful exploration of the intersection of fable and reality and a comforting interpretation of both death and grief. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Devils Unto Dust by Emma Berquist, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton, Into the Heartless Wood by Joanna Ruth Meyer, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix, Hunted by Meagan Spooner, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke

The Light at the Bottom of the World: A Review

The Light at the Bottom of the World by London ShahThousands of feet underwater, humanity tries to find a way forward on a planet that changed forever sixty-five years ago when the water levels started to rise and never stopped. Strange as it may be, it’s the only world Leyla McQueen has ever known.

When her father is accused of the worst possible crime and arrested with no chance to defend himself, Leyla knows she has to get him out. Even if her best chance to do that is trying to win the ultra competitive, ultra dangerous London Submersible Marathon.

When the race doesn’t go to plan, Leyla realizes her father’s arrest is tied to much bigger secrets in London. With no other options and no help in sight, Leyla has to leave the only home she has ever known and confront dangerous truths to save her father before it’s too late in The Light at the Bottom of the World (2019) by London Shah.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Light at the Bottom of the World is Shah’s debut novel and the start of her Light the Abyss duology.

Leyla is a great narrator who has obvious affection for her small corner of this underwater world while acknowledging the devastation that led humanity to it. Despite a strong premise and evocative setting, the stakes of Leyla’s mission never translates to an actual sense of urgency even as she is caught in a race against time to save her father before she is detained by the authorities herself.

The story and its slang remains very grounded in modern cultural references and terminology even though the story is set decades in the future. The varied cast of secondary characters are unfortunately under-utilized for a lot of this plot-driven novel.

The Light at the Bottom of the World is a classic dystopian featuring a kickass Muslim girl, lots of submarines, lots of water, and lots of action. Recommended for readers seeking any or all of the above in their science fiction.

Possible Pairings: The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron, The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau, A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen, Matched by Ally Condie, Crown of Oblivion by Julie Eshbaugh, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Warcross by Marie Lu, Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte, The Program by Suzanne Young

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow: A Review

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica TownsendMorrigan Crow survived her trials and earned admission to the Wundrous Society. Finally, she can have a place in Nevermoor and, more importantly, the family and friends she’s always wanted.

Unfortunately, completing her trials was the easy part. Despite gaining admittance to the Society, the elders are all suspicious of Morrigan’s ability to manipulate Wunder–the magical energy that powers everything in Nevermoor. While Morrigan’s talent is rare, it is also forever and irrevocably linked to the notorious Ezra Squall, a villain known as The Wundersmith and remembered for his numerous crimes against and continued exile from Nevermoor.

Instead of being trained in the arcane arts, the Society only wants to show Morrigan that all Wundersmiths of the past were evil, dangerous, and often incompetent. Worse, Morrigan’s unit is being blackmailed, forced to meet exceedingly risky demands or risk the unit’s secret being revealed to the entire Society.

When prominent citizens across Nevermoor start disappearing, Morrigan’s beloved new home takes on a dangerous edge. Now that Morrigan has found a place in Nevermoor, she’ll need all of her wits and her friends to keep it in Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow (2018) by Jessica Townsend.

Find it on Bookshop.

Wundersmith is the second book in Townsend’s Nevermoor series. The book picks up shortly after the conclusion of Nevermoor as Morrigan prepares to start her first term at the Wundrous Society. Check out the print edition for inset illustrations at the start of each chapter and listen to the audio version (read by Gemma Whelan) for a fully immersive read.

Townsend wildly expands the world of Nevermoor as Morrigan and readers learn more about her new home and delve into the mysterious history of Wundersmiths through the ages. Morrigan’s world is described in vibrant detail with a perfect blend of humor and adventure.

Wundersmith explores themes of friendship and belonging to excellent effect as Morrigan continues to carve out a place for herself in Nevermoor in spite of those too eager to see her fail. Readers will appreciate the balance Townsend strikes between a self-contained story and tantalizing hints of what’s in store for Morrigan’s next adventure.

With higher stakes, more action, and greater dangers, Wundersmith builds off book one to deliver an even stronger and even more exciting installment. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee, The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon, Foxheart by Claire Legrand, Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi, A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag, The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross, The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski

Queen of Ruin: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Women like Serina and Nomi have never had power in Viridia. At least, that’s what both girls had always been taught as their country’s history and their own legacy in it.

The sisters know better now.

After accidentally helping to stage an assassination and a coup, Nomi’s life is in shambles. Viridia’s Superior is dead, the rightful Heir Malachi might be dying, and Asa–Nomi’s betrayer–has taken the throne for himself and is determined to keep it at any cost.

After accidentally inciting a rebellion on Mount Ruin, Serina has become the unlikely leader of the women prisoners trapped there. No longer cowed by the prison guards who forced them to fight each other to survive, the former prisoners dare to imagine different lives for themselves. But how can any of them hope for change when their country is still fundamentally broken?

In their efforts to try and rescue each other Serina and Nomi soon discover that they may be the only ones who can ever hope to bring change to Viridia in Queen of Ruin (2019) by Tracy Banghart.

Queen of Ruin is the sequel to Banghart’s debut novel Grace and Fury and concludes the duology series.

Like its predecessor, Queen of Ruin often suffers from flat characterization and uneven pacing. Most of the novel builds toward a dramatic confrontation that is ultimately brief and surprisingly anticlimactic.

Serina and Nomi form the backbone of this story with character arcs that, particularly in this installment, demonstrate how dramatically both sisters have transformed from the start of the series. Moments of romance and suspense temper what would otherwise have become an exercise in prolonged feminist rage. Discussions of agency and power dynamics fit in well with the plot as both sisters are forced to consider how best to once again give women equal space in a country that has worked so hard to erase them.

Queen of Ruin is a high action, plot driven story and the conclusion this series deserves. Recommended for angry feminists everywhere.

Possible Pairings: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, Foul is Fair by Hannah Capin, The Selection by Kiera Cass, The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis, The Jewel by Amy Ewing, The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green, For A Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, Everless by Sara Holland, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, The Grace Year by Kim Liggett, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, The Traitor’s Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen, The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg, Ash Princess by Laura K. Sebastian

The Revolution of Birdie Randolph: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy ColbertBirdie has always been a good daughter. She works hard in school, she’s responsible. She listens to her parents even when it’s hard like when she had to give up soccer to focus on her classes and college prep.

But it’s hard to balance being a good daughter with dating Booker–the new boy in her life. Birdie’s parents would never approve of Booker with his bad reputation and his juvenile record. Rather than upset her parents Birdie does what seems like the best thing for everyone: she decides to keep Booker a secret for as long as possible.

Then there’s her estranged aunt Carlene who is back in Chicago, and Birdie’s life, after years of struggling with substance abuse. Birdie barely remembers her aunt but she’s eager to reconnect now–especially when Carlene seems willing to listen to Birdie in a way her mother hasn’t for years. As Birdie grows closer to Carlene and to Booker, the secrets mount. When Birdie finds out that she isn’t the only one who’s been keeping secrets  everything she thought she knew about her family will be thrown into question in The Revolution of Birdie Randolph (2019) by Brandy Colbert.

Colbert’s latest standalone is an introspective novel about family, secrets, and what it means to be true to yourself. Birdie is an open and honest narrator struggling with how to balance what she wants with what her parents expect of her. Her story unfolds across a vibrantly described Chicago that is immediately evocative.

Typical stressors of school and college prep are amplified as Birdie finds herself keeping more and more secrets as she tries to spend time with Booker. Their sweet and new romance is tempered by the knowledge that they’ll soon have to figure out how far their relationship can go–if it can go anywhere at all, in fact–while contending with disapproving parents on both sides. Birdie faces a similar push and pull with her aunt who soon becomes a confidant despite the strain it causes with her parents.

In a lot of ways, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph is a story about decisions. The course of Birdie’s life up to this point has been shaped by decisions her parents, and even her aunt, have made. As Birdie begins to understand the ramifications of those choices, she has to decide for herself how to move forward. But luckily for her, and readers, she has a lot of support along the way.

The Revolution of Birdie Randolph is a smart, nuanced story about learning to be true to yourself–even when the truth about your past might not be what you expect. Come for the swoony romance, stay for the authentic intersectional identities, complex relationships, and memorable characters. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhatena, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Past Perfect Life by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith; Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen, How to Save a Life by Sarah Zarr

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2019*

We Rule the Night: A Review

“No right choice, no way to win.”

cover art for We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza BartlettRevna is a factory worker helping to create war machines out of living metal for the Union of the North. She is always careful to keep a low profile, careful to do what is expected–it’s the only way to make sure her family doesn’t fall even lower than they have in the wake of her father’s arrest as a traitor. When she is caught using illegal magic Revna is certain she’ll join her father in prison, leaving her mother and younger sister to fend for themselves and possibly destitute.

Linné is loyal member of the Union. In fact, her desire to fight for her country is so great that she defies her general father and disguises herself as a boy to fight on the front lines. No one can dispute her war record, her skill with spark magic, or her heroism. But none of that matters when her greatest secret is discovered.

Instead of the punishment they expect, both girls are given the chance to join a new military unit. The One Hundred Forty-Sixth Night Raiders regiment is comprised entirely of women–unlikely soldiers with the unique ability to manipulate the same magic their enemy has been using to attack them from the air.

The Night Raiders will take on dangerous flights under the cover of darkness, when the enemy least expects it. Success could give Linné the notoriety and recognition she craves while it will guarantee safety and security for Revna and her family. But if the girls want to fly together they’ll first have to survive their training. And each other in We Rule the Night (2019) by Claire Eliza Bartlett.

We Rule the Night is Bartlett’s debut novel. This fantasy adventure was partly inspired by the Night Witches–the actual airwomen who flew night flights for the Soviet Union during World War II. The novel alternates between close third person chapters following Revna and Linné.

We Rule the Night is at its best when it focuses on the girls as they try to make it through their training while constantly pushing against the limits placed on them as women in a patriarchal society run by a dangerous regime. Linné comes from a relative position of privilege as the daughter of an esteemed general, while Revna is part of the Union’s lowest social strata. Because of her precarious position she is also forced to tolerate numerous slights as people assume she is less capable because of her prosthetic legs–something she is keen to prove false even if it means taking on dangerous missions with her new regiment.

With so much riding on the regiment’s success, the sense of urgency and tension is palpable as both girls struggle through their training and early missions. The depth of Bartlett’s characters and stark prose nearly make up for a comparable lack of world building that relies heavily on the book’s inspiration to situate the Union both in the world and the war that started with a rival nation trying to protect sacred godplaces on Union land.

We Rule the Night is a fierce tale of reluctant friendship, war, and what it means to be a hero–especially when you live in a world that refuses to acknowledge the least of what you can achieve. Recommended for anyone who loved Code Name Verity but wanted more battles and fantasy readers who need more feminism and less world building.

Possible Pairings: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, Witch Born by Nicolas Bowling, The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis, The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, Dark of the West by Joanna Hathaway, Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh, The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, A Thousand Sisters: The Heroic Airwomen of the Soviet Union in World War II by Elizabeth Wein, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld