August 29, 2017


Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

Synopsis: Okay, so Naomi Marie knows her mother is getting ...serious about someone. That's what she's overheard. It doesn't really matter to her; she knows who her Dad is, and he's just a couple blocks away, and that's fine. She'll help out with her overly enthusiastic baby sister, who is only four, and doesn't really know how to feel about things -- she'll be a good example. It's what Dad would want from her, right? And anyway, she's busy with the library clubs she's starting. Eventually, ONE will catch on, and people will come and hang out with her. It's the best library in the world, so they'll have to, eventually...

Naomi Edith is named after the famous clothing designer, Edith Head ... and that name keeps Naomi E. close to her designer mother, away in California, working madly as a costumer on various plays and films. Regretfully, with the time and distance between them, Naomi E's mother has little time to talk to her daughter anymore, but Naomi E. cherishes the traditions she made with her mother - their favorite bakery on Saturdays, their ability to talk about any and everything. With her best friend in the backyard, too many snacks with Dad to mention, Naomi E. keeps faith with how their family used to be. It helps, keeping things the same, to fill the yawning chasm in her insides that the word 'California' leaves inside...

Naomi Marie and Naomi E's parents are having "meet-the-family" meetings, and the Naomis get squished together. Then, their Saturdays are interrupted with "family" outings. It's fine for Naomi Marie's baby sister, who really thinks everything is just awesome, but for the Naomis, who have their own friends and their own particular preferences, it's all getting to be A Little Too Much. And then, there's the class that eats up the rest of their Saturdays. Surely, it won't hurt to do a project together... if Naomi E. would do something. Naomi Marie just wants everything to be PERFECT. Is that so wrong?

Inevitably, the girls clash in earnest. Feelings are hurt, expectations are disappointed, and there are many tears. While readers see the fallout coming, the way the girls resolve things, for the good of everyone, is true grace under fire.

Observations: A lot of YA and MG books are predicated on the fact that adults are occasionally absolutely, drastically, painfully blind to how kids feel about things. This book has such a decidedly, strongly, realistically kid's-eye-view on things that it's hard to read as an adult. My kid brain was sputtering with rage a lot of the time. The pushing - and the pushback - and the digging in of heels on both sides was Real and readers will really feel it.

This was a delightfully urban setting - the girls walked, rode the bus, and their families used ZipCars on the weekend to get where they needed to go. (The complaints about the new car smell wearing off were realistic and amusing.) That Naomi Marie is black is also included in myriad aspects of the narrative - she's not just described and abandoned; her sister goes to Little Nubian playgroup, Naomi Marie takes African Dance. While Naomi E. has less culturally specific interests, care is taken to differentiate her as an individual as well.

Though the girls are listed as ten-year-olds, older readers - and younger readers - may find this a valuable book, because there's a lot of information and discussion and rumination on how to get along with others - a skill many grade school and middle grade kids truly struggle with for a while until getting the hang of things.

Conclusion: I'm glad I finally got around to writing up this book; it's on my list of books for strong girls displaying strength. The Naomis are strong because they aren't railroaded into anything; they CHOOSE their behavior and their acceptance and their level of effort. I love that about them - it's not all sunshine and roses, but they make their own road. A delightful book for kids going through a divorce and family blending, or for kids coping with a sudden influx of family members, as I experienced periodically through childhood.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the Newark Public Library. You can find TWO NAOMIS by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich & Audrey Vernickat an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

August 25, 2017


Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

Synopsis: The most important thing is Deportment. At the Ellicott School for the Magically Minded Maiden, it is what Miss Flivvers gently forces into maidenly minds. Without Deportment, maidens like Chantel Goldenrod wouldn't know how to sit or to stand or to speak, nor would they know that their best bet was to be 'shamefast and biddable.'

Life has a certain symmetry, even within the confines of School. The Patriarchs send the money, the cook sends the single male factotum, Bowser, to fetch the groceries, and the girls are fed. Not great food, but any number of baked potatoes, so all is well, as far as Chantel is concerned. The city of Lightning Pass needs the magically minded sorceresses-in-training at Miss Ellicott's school to do the hard spellwork of protecting the City from the Marauders, the tribe who live beyond the wall and are simply waiting to attack and carry them off... but Miss Elliott knows that the worst thing would be if the men of the City were frightened of her girls. Chantel's been taught all of this, yes, but the courtesies and nonsense really get up her nose. She just. wants. to. do. magic. Big magic! Wild magic! Possibly loud and dangerous magic! However, she knows better than to balk too much. Miss Ellicott's not too bad a sort, after all, she did tell Chantel that she was The Chosen One... of course, when Miss Ellicott mysteriously vanishes, Chantel finds out that she also told that to Anna, Leila, Daisy, Holly, too...

The Patriarchs without the sorceresses, have no means to protect the City - yet they're in charge. When it turns out that ALL of the sorceresses have vanished, that also means there are no shipments of food coming in from the other side of the Maurauder's Wall, no money for food, and no order in their lives. The mad caretaker the Patriarchs sends wants to sell the girls as slaves. Clearly, Chantel needs to save the sorceresses - and the School - and the City - and possibly the world.

Observations: Though Chantel is written as thirteen, this is probably an adventure type fantasy which will read well for ten-through-twelve as well. This is a familiar and beloved trope for middle grade: smart, feisty girl escapes adult expectations, finds her power, and saves the world. That Chantel is written and pictured as a brown-skinned heroine is even more interesting, though it is only marginally referred to, and doesn't seem to affect how anyone sees her or interacts with her. Chantel is very much the central character in the novel, as Anna and Bowser and Franklin we never learn quite as much about. There is so much detail, though, that readers won't find that a problem. The City of Lightning Pass itself is lovingly described, and the aspects of magic are clearly laid out throughout the book, so the reader is left with few, questions.

This book has the richly detailed worldbuilding and labyrinthine plotting of a serious fantasy novel, but may frustrate younger readers, because Chantel is not in for an Easy Win. She wants desperately to CHANGE THE WORLD... and she's met with pushback from her trusted teachers, who encourage her to believe that the King has all the answers, even though he has zero magic and hasn't himself been where Chantel has gone, from the literal patriarchy in the form of the Patriarchs, who chase her down for her own "protection," from the Marauders, who indeed show up and make trouble, and from her own brain, as what she's been taught to be and what she thinks makes sense to do is disrupted by the squirming in her own head (Snakes... well, never mind. You'll have to read that for yourself). While Chantel is visibly and obviously flawed, eventually - after a bit of self-study - she works things out. The adults, however, are jolly stupid in this book - and Chantel is betrayed frequently by them. When she stops being baffled by the perfidy of adults is when she finally figures out how to change things - thus making the entire book a metaphor for how a magically minded - or a mundanely minded - young lady ought to get on in the world.

Conclusion: I was intrigued by the deportment rules; girls were to be 'shamefast' and biddable. Shamefaced isn't a word, I thought, but it is! It's from Middle English shamefast, schamefast, schamfast, sceomefest, from Old English sċeamfæst, scamfæst and means: “modest, shy, bashful.” I'd say Who knew!? but clearly the author did - so I learned something there. Recommended for serious readers who enjoy a story of a girl who stands tall - and proudly on the right side of history, because she's making it - in the end.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the Newark Public Library. You can find MISS ELLICOTT'S SCHOOL FOR THE MAGICALLY MINDED by Sage Blackwood at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

August 22, 2017


Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

M.T. Anderson is the king of the intellectual young adult novel. His work is arguably not written for young adults, but rather simply marketed toward them, because his characters are teens and tweens whose behavior is not circumscribed by the "usual" teen boundaries which get books challenged and called out by concerned parents. A lot of times, teens might not truly even quite understand M.T. Anderson's novels... but there's definitely still something about them that makes them fascinating, worth rereading, arguing with friends about, and dissecting in English class. This novel is just about how fragile our society is, and how, if one leeetle domino was pushed, how quickly it would all fall apart, and what do we REALLY know, and what do we REALLY cherish and what REALLY has value in what we have now -- today? And that kind of observation and rumination is very intelligent - and something we all need to consider.

This is another classically Anderson book - a short, stabby little satire, with a dark futures, existentialist narrative that might upset some - but which will amuse and provoke others to further consideration and insight.

Synopsis: Adam Costello's carefully ordered world began to unravel when the vuvv landed on Earth. Not that the vuvv are killers or anything, no. They've just brought progress - all at once, igniting a new kind of class war. Now, there's no need to work, because the vuvv do all the jobs; no need to research and strive, becaue the vuvv have brought the cure of all illnesses. At the expense of human jobs, Earth's ecology, and myriad nations' sovereignties, the Earth has been made a client planet. Now there's no competition, because the vuvv have the least expensive everything. Farmers are undersold, goods are commercially produced elsewhere, and all the new tech and medicine is behind a steadily rising paywall. For those who made relationships with the vuvv early on, there are riches untold. For the "have nots," there's nothing, literally and truly nothing. People are bored, bitter, and starving. All that seems left is for humans to try and be and do what the vuvv see and enjoy - the 1950's in terms of art, music, and film. Entertaining the uber-rich and the vuvv, humanity scrambles to be funny, romantic, sexy, and pleasing. It is both lowering and amusing that adult humans, with advanced degrees, can think of nothing else to do to survive but to pander.

Adam doesn't fit into the new world order really well. This is not because he has not tried, and tried hard, with an entertainment vlog scheme hatched up by he and his lust neighbor, Chloe. For a while, they made decent money off their scheme. But lust doesn't last for long. Adam's crush wants to Be Somebody, and Adam, whose father has stolen their means of travel and disappeared into the night, is kind of a nobody. His mother is unemployed, his baby sister is grimly selling her stuffed animals, and Adam is desperately ill, from a gastrointestinal disease which he got from the unfiltered water that his family is forced to drink. With municipal utilities no longer under the control of anyone with a human digestive system, Adam is hardly anyone to inspire lust - especially not without health insurance or medication. Between bouts of horrible fevers, diarrhea, and flatulence, Adam tries to determine what is of value to the human world anymore, now that the vuvv determine value. What Adam really cares about is his art, and while he once made computer landscapes of fantastical beauty as the places to which he'd like to escape, now he processes all he sees and feels through the medium of paint. He paints what he sees - not a brave new world, or castles in the air, but the detritus of a dying civilization, and the oddly tacked on ephemera of the vuvv society. What the vuvv want to see in art are still life and kitsch, bright colors and castles in the sky. While most people will do anything to survive in this brave new world, the artist in Adam realizes that he can't give them what they want, and that, in a larger parallel, that maybe none of humanity can give the vuvv what they want.

Maybe it would be better if everyone stopped trying.

Observations: This novella-length satire is, in some part, about art and humanity. It is also about, in part, the way the United States relates to the rest of the world, and its colonialist attitudes. This is a novel about how everything is monetized, and only those who are workers or somehow "valuable" to what Important People need and want - entertainers, worker bees, soldier drones - are worth anything in Western society. This is also a book about family, and individuals, and what we do to survive. It is both sparsely written and terse, and voluminously artistically rendered. It is both bleak and grim, and sneakily, snarkily funny.

I noticed that there really was only one America in this novel, and that Adam didn't seem to know anything about how the vuvv interacted with anywhere which wasn't America. The were issues where people complained that immigrants were stealing jobs, and knocking apart bodegas, but the vuvv seem to see humanity as just... humanity, a group of cattle worth corralling. Ironic, that humans still blamed humans for what was going on, and yet... isn't that what we do? Isn't that what we always will do? Or, do we have it in us to try something else?

Conclusion: Adam and his frequent, explosive gastrointestinal disorder is going to gross out and confuse a lot of readers, young and old, but this is one of those short pieces of literature which we'll see later as a classic of economic thought and worth sticking with and returning to again. While it would be a challenge to teach, it would be a worthwhile challenge, and I look forward to hearing how it is received.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. After September 12th, you can find LANDSCAPE WITH INVISIBLE HAND by M.T. Anderson at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

August 21, 2017

Just For Fun: An Eclipse Reading List

Solar corona of 1893 eclipse from Popular Science Vol. 60
Honestly, there really is no running theme to these books other than they feature astronomical bodies in the titles, but is there ever a bad time for a book list? I don't think so. They also happen to be books Tanita and/or I enjoyed and reviewed here on the blog. If you're looking for some eclipse-worthy reading, put on your special dork, I mean dark, glasses and check these out! Meanwhile, I'll be in a car, probably stuck in traffic, driving up through Oregon hoping to witness the real deal...

In no particular order:

Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass (MG fiction; this one is actually about a solar eclipse!)
Black Hole Sun, Invisible Sun, and Shadow on the Sun by David Macinnis Gill (action-packed sci-fi)
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (nothing whatsoever to do with eclipses that I remember)
The Midnighters trilogy by Scott Westerfeld (a good, scary read)
Horizon by Patti Larsen (more sci-fi)
Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani (wonderful indie fantasy)
The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells (cool YA shapeshifting fantasy)
Jumping Off the Planet by David Gerrold (wicked cool overlooked sci-fi)
Under the Dusty Moon by Suzanne Sutherland (girl's mom in a band)
The Shade of the Moon by Susan Beth Pfeffer (4th book of Life As We Knew It)
Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott (Asian-American themed fantasy)
Under a Blood Red Moon by Lu Sylvan (pirate apprentices novella)
Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (MG historical fiction)
The White Road of the Moon by Rachel Neumeier (fantasy and friendship)
Tiger Moon by Antonia Michaelis (South Asian fairytale themes)
The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White (modern-day Egyptian gods)
Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana (a message from space!)
Airborn by Kenneth Oppel (airships)

August 16, 2017


SFF is ...changing. Long the bastion of men, especially white men, the genre's stories and boundaries are at last making room for a greater variety of voices and points of view. 2017 has been a particular great year for that in our corner of the woods with FIYAH Lit Magazine, showcasing African American SFF; Comic Con this summer celebrated more diverse characters in comic books and films, including a superb Muslim crimefighter; the Star Trek TV series franchise is being resurrected with black and Asian female crew members, as well as the usual undefined aliens; and of course, everyone is still vibrating over the Star Wars beloved General Leia and the new strong female leads in that world. All of this means that when we had the opportunity to read the New Voices in Fantasy Anthology, we both jumped at the chance.

New Voices is not a YA anthology, although there are contributors who write for YA and MG lit included, but we wanted to look it over anyway, because we strongly support diverse voices in science fiction and fantasy. So, without further ado:

Welcome to another edition of In Tandem, the read-and-review blog series where both A.F. and I give on-the-spot commentary as we read and blog a book together. (Feel free to guess which of us is the yellow owl and which of us is purple ...who's driving this bike??)
We are...
Two writers,
     & Two readers,
            Exploring one book...

In Tandem.

What would you do if a tornado wanted you to be its Valentine? Or if a haunted spacesuit banged on your door? When is the ideal time to turn into a tiger? Would you post a supernatural portal on Craigslist? In these nineteen stories, the enfants terribles of fantasy have entered the building—in this case, a love-starved, ambulatory skyscraper. The New Voices of Fantasy tethers some of the fastest-rising talents of the last five years, including Sofia Samatar, Maria Dahvana Headley, Max Gladstone, Alyssa Wong, Usman T. Malik, Brooke Bolander, E. Lily Yu, Ben Loory, Ursula Vernon, and more. Their tales were hand-picked by the legendary Peter S. Beagle (The Last Unicorn) and genre expert Jacob Weisman (The Treasury of the Fantastic). So go ahead, join the Communist revolution of the honeybees. The new kids got your back.

“This anthology represents some of the most exciting and interesting work in the fantasy field today, and anyone interested in the genre should read it immediately.” —Booklist ♦ “...a valuable snapshot of SF/F’s newest generation of writers.” —Publishers Weekly ♦ “A stellar anthology that proves not only that fantasy is alive and well, but that it will be for years to come.” —Kirkus
We received copies of this book courtesy of the publishing company, via NetGalley. You can find THE NEW VOICES OF FANTASY edited by Peter S. Beagle & Jacob Weisman at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

tanita: I don't know why, but I love, love, love anthologies. Maybe it's the little snippets of someone's work, which gives me a jumping-off point to getting to know them as a writer. Maybe it's the reality that sometimes, I don't have mental bandwidth for a long novel, but there's always time for a story. Maybe it's just that I have attention deficits. I enjoy how some stories turn out to be favorites, and others, not so much, which is always my experience - which makes even reading something I'm not sure I like A Good Thing. You were remarking the other day how hard it is to read them sometimes, though. I agree... this was both fun, and really hard!

sarah: I guess any "new voices" type of thing is going to be highly varied. It's hard for me to do more than a few stories a day... Is it weird that I find short stories require more stamina in a way than novels?
tanita: No, no - not at all. I had to put this down and come back to it repeatedly. For me, the issue with anthologies, where there are rich, fully realized stories is that I can't change lanes that fast. The finned Chevy of my imagination is hurtling down the dark freeway, weird sights blurring as I fly by... and then the story ...ends. I have to find where the car went and turn it around before I can start something new.

The stories featured in this collection were were fully realized, fully populated little worlds we spent time in. Which one was your favorite? Or, which two, probably, that you're having a hard time picking between?
sarah: I have to admit, I'm kind of a sucker for selkie stories--for anything based on myth, really--and so I think my favorite of the bunch is Sofia Samatar's "Selkie Stories Are for Losers." It also is a YA-friendly story, and was nominated for several awards. It does such an amazing job of doing what myths do best--they teach us something about ourselves, show us what already exists in our all-too-human hearts that has existed through history and across time. In the same way, the selkie has both a literal and a metaphorical role in Samatar's story.
tanita: Funny - for the selfsame reason, I kind of hate selkie stories; I find them tragically sad, which is why I loved the Samatar's story -- because her character, too, came from a place of where the story of selkies and sentient sea creatures IS traditionally tragic, and so she decided to reject those stories, in a show of bravado, despite that story being HER story. Similar in themes of loss of wildness and freedom was the story of the anarchist bees - and well done to that person for being able to portray a hivemind in a story - and of course, the Jackalope Wives... I am SO here for any Vernon story, anytime. While I had read this particular story before (which kind of detracts from the "new" voices in the title), I'm glad to see her non-kid work find a larger audience.
sarah: I also liked Ursula Vernon's "Jackalope Wives"--not surprisingly. I'm already a fan of her work for young readers (e.g. the Dragonbreath graphic novels). 

Other stories I enjoyed were "Tornado's Siren" by Brooke Bolander for sheer uniqueness of concept; "Left the Century to Sit Unmoved" by Sarah Pinsker for being YA-friendly, very literary, and leaving the reader with intriguing questions; and "Here Be Dragons" by Chris Tarry for having an interesting new take on dragons and dragonslayers.
tanita: There were echoes, in "The One They Took Before," by Kelly Sandoval, of Seanan McGuire's EVERY HEART A DOORWAY trilogy that was really haunting, in combination with the weirdness of Craigslist. But, my favorite of the new-to-me pieces was Max Gladstone's "A Kiss With Teeth," which started off with me feeling pretty unsure of things... In a novel filled with pieces which will appeal to adults and teens alike, this is definitely an adult story. Parents looking back at their lives before becoming part of the Upright Citizens Brigade and remembering when once they were vampire and vampire hunter, when the night was filled with menace and promise and dangerous, obsessive romance... I adored it. I love that story because it's about maturing - and maturity is something you just don't read a whole lot about in speculative fiction, despite the thousand-year-lived vampires and the like that you get in urban fantasy. More often, you get the angst and drama of what happens when people live nearly forever and don't mature, but just... roll into later adulthood, still acting a fool. It was partly side-eyeing those types of stories, and partially celebrating settled, selfless, mature relationships. Which is super rare. Having read that, I'm very much open to finding Gladstone's other work for adults, in a way I wasn't prior to now (although, not going to lie - I have been struck by the wonderful representation on the covers of his books. I mean, look at this!).

sarah: Yes, I enjoyed the "but what happens AFTER?" approach of Gladstone's story--that was something I liked about "Here Be Dragons," too. There are so many tropes in fantasy, and that's not inherently bad, but fantastical creatures like dragons and vampires and werebeasts and whatnot have been done in the same way so many times (hence the trope, I suppose). Bringing a new approach to existing tropes is something that was well done in this anthology as a whole.

tanita: What else stood out to you about this collection in terms of theme or stylistic choices, or anything, really?
sarah: I wanted to just mention how much I enjoyed the variety and risk-taking in terms of form and storytelling approach--there were surprises at every turn, from unusual characters like bees, buildings, and ducks, to unique conceits of form like the how-to guide, Craigslist ad, and anthropological study. I really enjoyed "The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn" by Usman T. Malik for its sweeping, epic, multigenerational look at jinn mythology--great to see something that's not from the well-used Western mold. I'm already a fan of Rushdie, who similarly draws on the history and myth of the Indian Subcontinent, and I'm glad to see more writing in that vein.
tanita: Oh, yes! My main interest in choosing this anthology is that it is aimed at "new voices;" the overarching meaning, in this particular, is not solely stories I haven't yet read from "new" to the field authors, but additionally, nonwhite voices in fantasy, which brings that new vibe to the entire genre. Usman T. Malik allowed us to glimpse both old Lahore, new, busy Lahore, and the mental and physical and spiritual space in between, bridged by the character's life in the West. It was enchanting, in part because the story was about family stories, and how they stretch the truth and what we understand of truth through time. Wouldn't it be lovely, if an aging relative could remember themselves in another time, in their dementia -- and it would all be real? That... in a way would redeem old age and remakes it into something beautiful.

And, in a way, that's what the whole anthology does. Familiar bits of ephemera from our imaginations, from our urban myths and legends, from our cultures and our worlds have been transmuted into something both less familiar and more knowable, both more off-puttingly gross and horrible (and there are some prime bits of horror in this collection - eek), and more charmingly disturbing. This collection runs a good gamut. It's meaty stuff, and could easily be taken along to ease the pain of airports and train rides. It's absorbing and invites the reader to a feast of a thousand different senses. It's not our usual fare here at the Treehouse, but I'm glad we read it.

sarah: Me, too! It definitely fulfills our goal to read widely and diversely, something that we both try to do as much as possible--just not usually at the same time...  In this case, though, a tandem review seemed like a good way to survey the gamut of stories in the anthology--we each responded to different ones, and as a result, hopefully, we were able to do it justice as a collection...and tempt you into picking it up, perhaps.

Thanks for joining us on our latest tandem review journey!

August 14, 2017

Welcome to the 2017 Cybils Awards!

A new Cybils year is already ramping up and getting ready to launch! And with a new year comes a new (well, refreshed) logo with nifty new color scheme. This year I decided to go with a sort of dark-magenta-and-orange, fall-ish look. I'll be helping out again as co-blogger with Melissa Fox of Book Nut, and both Tanita and I will most likely be applying to be judges again as well. It's a lot of work, but it's fun to be able to read a wide variety of worthy titles and try to bring some attention to them via our little corner of the blogiverse.

Stay tuned for the call for judges, and if you want to download the new logo, check this Cybils blog post for various shapes and sizes!

August 10, 2017

Toon Thursday Blast from the Past! Social Media Edition

Social media continues to find new ways of invading our time and brain space and making our lives more complicated and annoying, so I thought I'd bring this old chestnut out of the archives. This really IS never gonna happen!

Have a happy and hopefully productive writing week, everyone!

August 09, 2017


Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

It is the best of times... it is the worst of times. It is the time of unremitting nonsense. It is the time of sobering reality. It is a time of despair, it is a time for hope. Which means it's a perfect time for this gorgeous, gorgeous book.

Synopsis: Bengali sisters Tara and Sonia Das both want different things - Tara, to finally fit in to her place, Sonia, to have a moment -- a moment -- to herself to breathe, and write and think. With the help of their indulgent father and traditional mother, Tara fulfills her need to blend, first in London, then in the U.S. by calling on her vivid acting skills to inhabit and embody someone else. Sonia escapes to the fire escape with her notebook. Each girl's way of coping and acclimating to being an immigrant means stepping away from what they knew in London, and becoming someone new, even as they defend, in each other, what makes them who they are. Tara relies on her acting skills, as Sonia loses herself in her gifted classes. Family, even one as closely knit as the immigrant Das family has to be, is a sometimes fragile boat, and the expectations and stresses of the desire for a "good life" begin to feel like they're going to swamp it -- but finally as things work out, life in America seems sweeter. They finally live out their nicknames of "Sunny and Star" and have learned from living in Flatbush, have gained experiences and lost prejudices and gone where their parents cannot follow. Meanwhile, after tough times, their parents experience a renewal of their love - and Dad receives the promotion of which he spoke. The family ship remains upright and watertight -- and then, capsizes.

As Sonia and Tara leave home, each trying to rediscover her equilibrium, college brings more challenges and changes. There, they still grapple with who they are, and how they present themselves as both South Asians and Americans, as young woman and feminists. Each girls takes a a different track, which leads them into vastly different directions - one to small stages, then larger ones, then finally, to Mumbai; one straight back to Flatbush. Generations follow, each looking at their culture, language, and traditions with different eyes. When we are old, and when we are young, we are still challenged by how the world sees us, and must grapple with the questions of who we are, and who we want to be. What do we keep, that our families give us? What do we let fade away? What do we change to better suit ourselves? These are the heartfelt, crucial questions and observations the reader is confronted with, through three generations of shared sisterhood, culture, faith, and friendships.

Observations: With a shiny four starred reviews so far, we're very, very pleased to have had a chance to read and review our friend Mitali Perkins' latest book. (Also, Tanita is SUPER STOKED to have won it in a Goodreads giveaway - because THAT NEVER HAPPENS.) The beauty of having a hard copy of this book is the ability to pass it on. It could be given to a young adult -- but also to an older reader; the generational saga is beautifully inclusive. The jacket copy of this book uses the word "timeless," and though the eras and continents are distinctly laid out on the page, there is an element of "everyone"-ness that could make this story about any time, any lineage of women in any culture. It's a gifted rendering of what could be a very personal story - because there seem to be hints of autobiographical storytelling included - into something deeply universal.

I got choked up, laughed aloud, and became vexed with and for various characters at various times. Many teens will relate, both biracial and not -- to feeling pressure from family matriarchs who want their grand babies to be juuuust like them, despite the passage of time and eras. Questions of what beauty is, what womanhood means in feminist contexts and who best embodies these roles are things which the young and old women in this book encounter repeatedly. When Chantal's grandmothers join forces, they become TRULY their best selves. When the American cousin and the Mumbai cousins stop trying to change each other into being more or less immigrant or American, and truly see each other as they are - both, - the Das family remains unstoppable - strong, beautiful, and full of love that radiates to the world. Nosy aunties, scolding mothers, tsking uncles; Catholics, Hindus, atheists and all -- you'll want three generations of Das women to be your family, too.

Conclusion: This, more than anything, is a love story. How we love our sisters. How we love our families. How we love our cultures. How we hold each - and ourselves - lovingly, to a standard that says, 'we must improve. We must expand. We must be better than we were.' This is a love story about how we love those who are like us, and can come to loves those who are unlike us. It is a love story to hope, and the belief that, though we came from some distant then, now that we are here, we can choose to bring the old into the new, and love will ground and equal out the equation. We each of us inherits prejudices and circumstances; through our generations, we each can choose to leave those behind, and walk into a new world.

And I cannot articulate to you just how much I needed to have this book in my hand today.

It is lyrical, poetically beautiful writing, with realistic teen voices. It is a feminist book, about equal rights and inclusiveness without feeling like you're being schooled. Full stop: this is just a really great book, and I hope you have a chance to pick it up. It's worth it.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the Goodreads Giveaway. You can find YOU BRING THE DISTANT NEAR by Mitali Perkins at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

August 03, 2017

Thursday Review: THE SPECIAL ONES by Em Bailey

Synopsis: A few years ago I read Em Bailey's earlier novel, Shift (reviewed here), and found it to be a suspenseful page-turning thriller, so I was interested to check out her newest novel: The Special Ones. This one's also a psychological thriller, with a lot of intriguing surprises and plot twists as well as a scary, unhinged villain.

When the story starts, we are immediately plunged into the rather unusual life of narrator Esther. Esther lives in a farmhouse with a younger girl, Felicity, and a slightly older boy, Harry, where their self-sufficient lifestyle has earned them the admiration and, dare I say, worship, of countless internet followers. They are the Special Ones. The only problem is, they can't leave. They can't even do anything outside of their prescribed roles, because he will punish them if they stray. I won't say much more, in order to avoid spoiling the suspense, but as the story unfolds, we find out the answers to critical questions like why are they there? How did they arrive? And, of course, who is he?

Observations: The Special Ones provides an interesting twist on the stuck-in-a-cult type of story; in fact, it is so much more than simply a cult, but I can't give you any more information than that. The suspense is well crafted here: As the author slowly reveals more and more details about the situation Esther is in, the ominous feeling continues to grow until we find out the true danger that she and her companions are in, and it is just as horrible as our imaginations feared it would be. AND THEN IT GETS WORSE! Of course it does.

There was a disorienting narrator switch well into the book that momentarily had me think, no! I don't want to leave Esther's POV now! But rather than being a book of two halves/two narrators, the switch was to introduce alternating viewpoints between Esther and another character, so ultimately the change of perspective wasn't too much of a jolt.

Conclusion: Overall, this book is a very gripping thriller with lots of psychological tension in the first half that translates into action toward the end of the story. It's also got well-rounded, interesting characters who are developed enough to make us care about what happens to them—a trait that is sometimes missing in more plot-driven suspense stories. The characters add a lot of dimension to this one, which is important in a story that asks WHY people make certain choices, and why they do the inexplicable and sometimes terrifying things that they do.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library's ebook collection. You can find THE SPECIAL ONES by Em Bailey at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!