Pride Reads – Recommendations

Happy pride month! For this month I wanted to highlight some of my favorite books and series that feature LGBTQIA+ characters and stories. Let me know what you are reading to celebrate Pride!

Fantasy

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths & Magic by F.T. Lukens

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Science Fiction

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

Pet by Awaeke Emezi

This Is How You Lose a Time War by Becky Chambers

Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Contemporary

Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins

George by Alex Gino

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Graphic Novel

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki

Check Please by Ngozi Ukazu

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Middle Grade Recommendations 2.0

If you are still looking for something to read for Middle Grade May, I just want to throw some of my favorite suggestions in the ring. I really enjoy reading middle grade because it tends to be very thematic, whimsical, and makes me feel better about humanity. If none of the following suggestions strike your fancy, you can check out my recommendation list from last year here.

If you like cults, found family, and DRAGONS, you may like…

Wings of Fire

If you like fairy tales, independence, and making the wrong choices, you may like…

Furthermore/Whichwood

If you like tea, kindness, and graphic novels, you make like

The Tea Dragons

If you like misconceptions, dismantling systems, and monsters, you may like…

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

If you like fairy tales, self-discovery, and a good quest, you may like…

Lalani of the Distant Sea

Series Review: The Twelve by Cindy Lin

The Twelve duology is an own-voices middle-grade fantasy series by Cindy Lin. In this world those born with Zodiac powers need to stay hidden in fear of death or being taken by the Dragonlord, a dictator that has torn apart the land. Personally, I think this is an older middle grade as there is significant brutality mentioned as well as both books are around 400 pages. We follow Usagi, born a wood rabbit, who after losing those closest to her must recognize her own power and realities of the her world. It is an adventurous story of community and rebellion.

The World: The magic that one is born with depends on the coinciding for the timing of ones birth in an element or a sign of the zodiac. We did get significantly more world building in terms of geography, species, and variation of powers in book two which I wish we could have seen more of in book one. Overall there was a lot of variety and it felt like a real country with history, economy, and culture. There are a magic bullet catch-alls called the “Treasures of the Twelve”; while these can magically save the day most are missing and our heroes don’t have access to them.

The Characters: There was a pretty large cast of characters, but we only followed one point of view, Usagi’s. Each character is traumatized from their world and still growing up. Our heroes all have reasonable character flaws and conflicts. While redemption arcs do happen they are not offered to every character that was ever liked during any point during the series. I found that nice to see especially in a middle grade series.

The Verdict: This is a darker middle-grade (TW: mass death, betrayal, neglect, indoctrination). I do think that it is worth it to read. The culture and characters are well developed and unique to a lot of other middle grade fantasies. In my opinion, there is a good split between nuance and good versus evil. It was a solid 4 star series and if there are ever any spin-offs in the world I will be first in line to read them.

My Spring TBR

Happy Spring! I hope you are all enjoying warmer weather and will have access to vaccines soon! I wanted to have a more targeted TBR for the season and make some progress in the books I own. These are all books I own that I just haven’t been making time for and want to get around to reading this spring. If you have read any, which should I get to first?

Fantasy

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Exile by Shannon Messenger

Each of Us a Dessert by Mark Oshiro

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher

Literary Fiction

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Punching the Air by by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Possessing of a Secret Joy by Alice Walker

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

Mystery/Romance

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole

Non-Fiction

Pooh and the Philosophers by John Tyerman Williams

Series Review: The Four Kingdoms by Melanie Cellier

This is a Young Adult (kinda) series that is centered around fairytale retellings. Each story is a different relationship and a new fairytale. The realm has four countries and we rotate through with each kingdom’s royal family and unique political problems. The stories focus around mystery and adventure with a touch of political intrigue. While they can be predictable, the stories were really fun and the romances were genuinely very sweet.

Genre: Light fantasy – There are a lot of magical references but none of our characters use magic. Young Adult – The romances are all fluff. The main characters tend to be late teens (at youngest 16) to early twenties, so it’s your call.

My review: The retelling elements are really clever and the references make me smile. The romances are based in trust and love. They also always involve members of the other’s family or their friends. Well the relationships tend to cross classes, there is consideration for class politics and identities before and during the romance. Because it is a series you can the political ramifications as well.

The Books

  1. The Princess Companion (Princess and the Pea)
  2. The Princess Fugitive (Red Riding Hood)
  3. Happily Ever Afters (Snow White and Rose Red – Novella)
  4. The Princess Pact (Rumpelstiltskin)
  5. A Midwinter’s Wedding (Princess and the Frog – Novella)
  6. he Princess Game (Sleeping Beauty)
  7. The Princess Search (The Ugly Duckling)

Favorite Retelling:

I thought The Princess Pact which was a Rumpelstiltskin retelling that actually made sense! Melanie Cellier flipped the deal Rumpelstiltskin made and it was so smart and made me really care about the families created.

Favorite Couple:

Ava and Hans from The Princess Fugitive. Honestly, princess and the guard is one of my favorite tropes, but I also love couples that make each other better.

Favorite Kingdom:

Lanover. This is a kingdom that the Princess Game and the Princess Search take place in. There is a huge variety of geographic location and culture that actually gets explored.

Favorite Family:

Arcadia (from The Princess Companion). I think we do spend the most time with this family but they are so genuinely welcoming and love spending time together. Lily and Sophia, twin princesses, are hilarious. The parents genuinely just care about Prince Max’s happiness.

Favorite Book:

The Princess Search. One I never expected an Ugly Duckling retelling to work so well or hit so hard. It was a great travel and mystery story. There is a lot of unpacking of past trauma and focus on valuing relationships and oneself. The romance was beautiful and such a slow burn.

My Favorite Books of 2020

So I read a lot this year, like a bunch, most of which due to the early pandemic. I read 140 books this year (woohoo!). For the most part I read a lot of wonderful books that were delightfully written. However, few had the extra spark of a favorite with any emotional or potent connection.

Honorable Mentions

  • Check Please: Sticks and Scones by Ngozi Ukazu : This is the conclusion to a graphic novel series about hockey, baking, and love. It is incredibly sweet and has multiple healthy romances.
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge : I am not really one for non-fiction but I really enjoyed how this broke down argument. I stayed in each topic and was totally engrossed from the history of race discussions to the personal stories.
  • Cold Fire by Tamora Pierce : This is the 7th book in the Emerlan world by Tamora Pierce. To be truthful Tamora Pierce’s books always feel a little like home to me so it’s cheating a bit. I really liked the growth of the characters and class structure. I liked all new magic and it was a well-written kind of creepy.
  • A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos : This was one of the most unique fantasy worlds with family magic and deep blood feuds. We follow Ophelia in an arranged marriage to a distant ark, called the Pole. It’s a magical political game.
  • A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow : This is an urban fantasy that focuses on sirens and black women. Tavia is a young siren who hides who she is with the help of her best friend, Effie. When the murder of siren is again justified due to “credible fear” things begin to change for them. It is smart, scary, and powerful.

Top 10

10. The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley: This a middle grade historical fiction novel that wrecked me. Two children escape their abusive mother in the London evacuations of WWII. They find themselves staying with a woman who has closed herself completely off. It is a really hard, but beautiful story about recovery and family.

9. A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy : This is the most slept on fantasy. The magic system is intricate. The politics are ruthless. There are two princesses pitted against each other and a protagonist that is scared to survive. Please read it!

8. The Deep by Rivers Solomon: This is a book about mermaids and generational trauma. I don’t know how to describe it better. It is a must read with an incredibly unique and powerful story.

7. Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston: I resisted for a while the hype of this romance. If for some reason you have missed it, this is the story of the first son of the United States and the Prince of England. I believed in Henry and Alex. I believed in their families. It is a one-sitting, heart-warming, edge-of-your-seat read.

6. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: This is possibly the most high concept book that follows two families down generations. We open with half-sisters Effia and Esi in Ghana. Effia is married off to an English colonizer who owns one of the slave ports and Esi is imprisoned and sold into the Atlantic slave trade. Each generation was so beautifully written and despite following almost 20 different characters each voice was unique and impactful.

5. The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin : Really the whole Broken Earth trilogy is stunning and grim. It is a a masterful work of storytelling and world building. It was a really satisfying conclusion. The world also expanded in a way that was astonishing but not blindsiding which I feel is a hard line to walk. Highly recommend, if you like fantasy even a little.

4. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson: I cried at a work event reading this book. We follow twins which I love, in a dual timeline which I LOVE. There is so much about grief, love, and art. It is just took me in fully into the emotional rollercoaster of Noah and Jude (the twins).

3. Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi : This is written like a fairy tale. Whichwood is so darkly and whimsically atmospheric. Laylee is fated to wash the dead as the mordeshoor after her father abandoned her following her mother’s death. There is suffering, friendship, prejudice, failing, and ghosts. I think about this roughly once a week.

2. The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow: Suffragettes and witches. That’s the whole pitch. I just want to talk about this book and these sisters. We follow three sisters that have been exiled from their family home and find themselves trying to make their own way alone when they find each other again. In addition, the chemistry between the two main couples could set a person on fire.

  1. The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune : I think this will end up on so many favorites list this year but truly it made my heart swell. It is a beautiful story of magic and family. A social worker is assigned to an isolated group home to determine if the children there can be trusted or will bring about the end of the world. I CANNOT oversell it!

2021 Goals and Moving Forward

I have done my yearly goals on this blog for the past several years. While for the most part I have stuck to them I think announcing goals into the void can help hold myself accountable. After this past calendar year it feels impossible to prepare for the world that is coming, like it will continue to zig and zag in every direction (murder hornets anyone?). I feel like it is impossible to plan anything, but these goals are mostly small and habit oriented.

Home Goals:

  • We moved into a new apartment this year but it has been hard to feel like home. I don’t know if this is because of the stress, due to being unable to explore the neighborhood, or because we are messy. I really want to start making more of an effort:
    • Add all pictures to the walls and more home decor
    • Start our herb garden
    • Sweep every other day

Professional Goals:

  • I am very lucky that this year I kept my job in a year of mass layoffs. I also gained a lot of responsibilities to my position and started attended networking events within the position. I still want to look for ways to find a solid career path towards figuring out what I want to do forever by:
    • Create a list of recommendations
    • Actively network in work and with our partners
    • Start taking graduate school classes

Health Goals:

  • I got weird in terms of health this year. Between stress, family issues, and lockdowns it has been hard to be, let alone feel healthy. However, I am regularly drinking water and taking vitamins and moving my body everyday. This year I hope to go one step further:
    • Eat at least one cup of vegetables everyday
    • Sleep at least 7 hours a night
    • Find an exercise that works for 1 hours a week

Book Goals:

  • Reading is basically my number one hobby. I read a lot, I read about 140 something books this past year and bought a bunch as well. I did better on diversifying my reading, as well as intentionally reading more LGBTQ+ books. I want to continue to grow and be more in this space as it is what I truly enjoy.
    • Read 120 books over the year
    • Read at least one non-fiction book every month
    • Participate and complete (1) the Around the Year book challenge on Goodreads
    • Put my money where my mouth is and have at least 1 of every 2 books I buy be authored by a person of color.

General Goals:

  • I truly love baking and want to start baking at least once a month, if not more.
  • Connect with friends more frequently
  • Go back to therapy (this could be in health but truly has more to do with follow through than anything else)

Let me know if you have any goals for the upcoming year. Happy 2021!

Books about Found Family

As we head into the holiday seasons. We find us spending more and more time appreciating the family we have whether they are the family we are born into or the family we chose. I thought I would highlights books about families that aren’t born but ones are created.

The Circle of Magic series by Tamora Pierce (Middle Grade) : This series revolves around 4 children, who find themselves alone in the world, discovering strange powers and finding a home at a school of magics.

The Twelve by Cindy Lin (Middle Grade): After Usagi’s sister is taken by the most recent round-up by the Dragon Lord to capture all those with Zodiac powers. She teams up with others to learn the history of her powers and save her sister.

The Gilded Wolves series by Roshani Chokshi (Young Adult): Séverin is a hotelier in late 1800s Paris. He has spent most of his life looking for a way to reclaim his birthright within the Order. The is given the opportunity to do so but only by completing the impossible. This is a crew that have known each other their whole lives and it reads like it.

A Long Way to A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (YA/Adult): Rosemary Harper needs to escape and she finds her path off her planet on a crew of the Wayfarer. The crew takes on the dangerous but lucrative job to tunnel wormholes in the galaxy. It’s a really exciting and heartfelt space adventure.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune (Adult): Linus lives a quiet unassuming life in the middle of a hectic city. He works as a social worker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He is sent on a mission to evaluate a home that is housing 6 “dangerous” children. Linus is supposed to determine whether the children and their caretaker, Arthur, are a danger to each other and the world.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Adult): Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced by the Bolshevik court to a lifetime imprisonment in the Metropol hotel. Despite never having worked a day in his life, he develops deep bonds with the other staff and guests over the years.

September Wrap Up

September was a pretty slow reading month for me. I had a lot going on at work as well as personally, following my move to a new apartment and a death in the family. However I did read 5 books, most of which I enjoyed (3 – 5 Star; 1 – 4 Star; 1 – 3 Star). Let me know if you’ve read any of these. I’m just sorting these by date finished.

Why I Am No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Renni Edo Lodge (Non-fiction) – 5 Stars: I really enjoyed this book. It was passionate and the book was broken down by arguments people make to deny systematic racism.

The Pride of Chanur by C.J Cherryh (Science Fiction)3 stars: I feel incredibly neutral about this book which is bizarre for me. I probably wouldn’t have finished if not for book club. There is a crew of all-female cat-like people who take aboard a stranger. You may like if you are into very classic sci-fi.

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (Non-fiction) – 4 stars: This is an incredibly important issue and should be required reading for most Americans. The reason it is 4 stars is that I personally had a harder time following the timelines.

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan (Magical Realism/Young Adult) – 5 Stars: After Leigh’s mother commits suicide Leigh knows nothing for certain except that her mother has turned into a bird. This is a highly emotional story but beautiful in the end.

Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi (Fantasy/Middle Grade) – 5 Stars: Alice Queensmeadow feels alone. This is a beautiful and whimsical story that also creeped me out more than I expected. Slight Alice in Wonderland retelling with actual magic and friendship.

Predicting my next 5 star reads

So I saw this and thought it was a fun idea. I try my best to read books I’m going to like but I think that these will be some of the top of the year. These are also books I own and am planning on reading in the coming months. I’ll follow up when I have read them all and let you know if I was right or not.

  • The Deep by Rivers Solomon – I am reading this soon for a book discussion group. I am really excited it sounds like a unique take on Mermaids and I am excited about the author.
  • Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson – I have technically already started this one but I’m on chapter 2 (so it counts). I have heard a lot of good things and my partner got it for me. Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson is also one of my all-time favorites.
  • Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit – I’ve been on a non-fiction kick and it seems up my alley.
  • St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell – I genuinely know so little about this book but I feel so drawn to that I am excited in these stories.
  • A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – This is our family’s book club pick this month. I have heard nothing but good things from people I trust and seems like gentle historical fiction.