Top Ten Books for Early Spring!

Hello, hello friends!

I hope you are all having the loveliest of Tuesdays! Are you doing well? Reading lots of good books? Baking anything yummy? I’d love to know! (On my end, I just tried out Sally’s Baking Addiction’s funfetti cake, in honor of a friend’s birthday. I now plan on adding rainbow sprinkles to all meals — they up the whimsy factor of every food by at least sixty percent!)

If you’re anything like me, you’re also desperately looking forward to spring weather. Happily, where I live was quite warm today, and I was able to bask in the sunshine with a couple of long walks around my neighborhood! Though there’s still clumps of snow and streaks of ice on the ground, my mind is set on the coming season. Fittingly, this week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is “Spring Cleaning!” We’re looking for books that feel fresh, floral, and festive, in honor of the coming equinox.

Below, I’ve featured five old favorites I love to re-read to get me thinking of spring, as well as five February and March releases I’m hoping to pick up in the next few weeks. Let’s get spring-y, all!

5 Books I Love to Re-Read for Spring:

1 | Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

As a current second-semester senior, the last book in Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I Loved Before trilogy speaks to me on a *deep* level. As I long for May senior celebrations, I find solace in sharing Lara Jean’s college search and end-of-high-school woes. Plus it features a too-cute love story, sister bonding, and a delicate, spring-y cover. Worth a re-read to compare with the Netflix film, too! 

2 | The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwicks series was a very influential part of my childhood reading, so I’m happy to include it on as many lists as possible! As the title suggests, the fourth installment follows the Penderwicks family in springtime, with the majority of the story coming from the point of view of eleven-year-old Batty. The book has birthdays and dog-walking and plenty of hijinks, making it a charming step into “the bright light of the spring sun.”  

3 | The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a queen and has a reserved spot on all my top ten lists, but The Beautiful Ones — and its gorgeous, newly-revamped cover — is especially fitting this time around. The “novel of manners and romance” (as Garcia herself characterizes it) follows telekinetic gentry in the fictional French city of Loisail, as they court and plot during the spring social season. It’s like Austen and Bronte, flirting with magic. 

4 | Emma by Jane Austen

Speaking of Austen, I find that there’s no better time to re-read my favorite of Jane’s books than in the spring! Perhaps it’s just because the 2020 film version of Emma has the floral, pastel aesthetic of my dreams, but the novel never fails to make me think of English country manors, abloom. At the very least, I will definitely return to Autumn De Wilde’s adaption and its fantastic soundtrack sometime soon! 

5 | Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Anne Shirley says things like “I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I’ve never been able to believe it. I don’t believe a rose WOULD be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage” which makes her the best possible companion for our forthcoming dive into spring. Plus, my senior yearbook quote is one of LM Montgomery’s beautiful, moving descriptions of nature, so I can’t abandon her now! A return to Avonlea is in short order, for sure. 

+ 5 February and March releases I’m looking forward to reading this spring:

Love is a Revolution by Renée Watson >> Watson’s newest book came out in February and takes place during the summer, but I think its lovely, flower-filled cover renders it a suitable addition to this list! The novel follows high schooler Nala Robertson as she learns to love and advocate for herself while also exploring a budding romantic relationship. The novel has been praised for its emphasis on community, activism, and self-love. I can’t wait to read! {Released February 2nd}

Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi >> Mary HK Choi is super duper cool (she was featured in How I Get It Done! The ultimate cool-girl signifier!!) and I am so looking forward to her latest release, Yolk. The novel follows two estranged sisters, Jayne and June, as they begin living together after June is diagnosed with uterine cancer. Not a light nor fluffy read, but the cover has been compared to a Peep. Thus, ’tis spring-y. {Released March 2nd}

Across the Pond by Joy McCullough >> Despite my utter lack of knowledge regarding anything avian, I co-teach a virtual bird-watching class for elementary school students on Saturday mornings. It’s great fun, and I now keep my eyes out for any bird-related media! Joy McCullough’s middle grade book, Across the Pond, fits the bill; it follows a young girl, Callie, as she relocates from San Diego to Scotland and joins a birding club. Wildlife facts and castles make for refreshing springtime reading, I think! {Releases March 16th}

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley >> Look at that GORGEOUS cover! I am super excited to support debut author Angeline Boulley’s upcoming release; Firekeeper’s Daughter follows a Native teen as she explores love and family, roots out corruption, and investigates murder in her community. Early reviews highlight the novel’s celebration of Ojibwe culture and the complexity of the heroine; it sounds so good! {Releases March 16}

Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo >> Finally, although Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha-verse series contains some of the least spring-y YA books I can think of, I couldn’t help but include Rule of Wolves on this list. The sequel to King of Scars will hit shelves at the end of this month, and I strongly suspect it will emerge as a fave among my 2021 reads. (It also comes out around the same time as college decisions, so it will provide both emotional support and celebration! Thank goodness.) {Releases March 30}

Happy reading!

xx

lulu

Spooky Schools, Folklore, and Books About Books: My Most Anticipated Autumn Releases!

Happy Friday everyone! I hope you’re having a lovely day.

I go back to school next week, and while I’ve been busy gathering supplies and finishing up my summer work, I’m excited to settle in to a routine. And, alongside school, the fall season brings with it plenty of fun things: apple pie, my birthday (!!), and new books! Today I’m looking ahead to the rest of autumn, and I’m highlighting the books coming out that I’m most excited for. Check them out below!

Where Dreams Descend came out at the end of August, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. So, I’m including it in this round-up as well! Not only does the novel have a truly gorgeous cover, it also features magicians, a circus, and elements of Moulin Rouge and Phantom of the Opera. Magic + theatrical France is a winning combo, I think.

I’m looking forward to new releases from some of my favorite authors! The Lives of Saints is at the top of my wishlist, as it comes out right before my birthday. Plus, I think Leigh Bardugo is at her best when crafting short stories. Julie C. Dao and Jennifer Donnelly are publishing new fantasy titles as well: Broken Wish promises witches and curses in 19th-century Germany, and Poisoned looks like a deliciously wicked twist on Snow White. 

Continuing the folklore theme, The Forest of Ghosts and Bones and A Girl is a Body of Water have both caught my eye. Lisa Lueddecke’s standalone fantasy draws on the myths of Hungaria, and Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s latest novel is a feminist coming-of-age “rich in the folklore of Uganda.” I can’t wait to read both!

When it comes to the fall, I’m always on the lookout for a good ~spooky~ book. A Deadly Education, about a magical boarding school with no teachers, seems to fit the bill.** As does These Violent Delights, a version of Romeo and Juliet set in 1920s Shanghai and featuring a mysterious “monster in the shadows.” Intrigue and twists are sure to abound!

Finally, I don’t pick up too much contemporary YA, but This is All Your Fault seems like my kind of read. Diverse, feminist characters? Friendship? A bookstore?! All my favorite things.

Which releases are you most excited about this fall? 

xx


lulu

**Update as of October 2020: I still have not read A Deadly Education, but I would be remiss if I did not address other bloggers’ justified complaints regarding the book’s poor depiction of nonwhite characters and cultures. (Asma’s review on Goodreads lays things out well.) The book is no longer on my TBR list. If you do choose to read the novel, I urge you to do so with a critical mind.

book review | The Downstairs Girl

Hello, friends! This review contains mild, vague spoilers.

Historical Fiction has stealthily become my favorite genre of late! I have quite a few historical books on my TBR list, including My Calamity Jane and The Jane Austen Society, one of which contains a great number of werewolves and one of which does not. This past week I enjoyed Stacey Lee’s The Downstairs Girl, a moving story about family and identity in the late 1800s. The novel features hats, horses, and possible poisonings, oh my! Let’s get to it…

By day seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan works as a lady’s maid for the cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta. But by night, Jo moonlights as the pseudonymous author of a newspaper advice column for the genteel Southern lady, “Dear Miss Sweetie.” When her column becomes wildly popular, she uses the power of the pen to address some of society’s ills, but she’s not prepared for the backlash that follows when her column challenges fixed ideas about race and gender.

While her opponents clamor to uncover the secret identity of Miss Sweetie, a mysterious letter sets Jo off on a search for her own past and the parents who abandoned her as a baby. But when her efforts put her in the crosshairs of Atlanta’s most notorious criminal, Jo must decide whether she, a girl used to living in the shadows, is ready to step into the light. (Goodreads)

When readers first meet Jo Kuan, she has been fired from her position in a milliner’s shop. Jo’s employer admits that she creates lovely, unique silk knots in record time, but claims that Jo is too opinionated when it comes to their well-to-do white customers. Jo protests that these criticisms reek of racism rather than genuine concern.

It’s a fitting introduction to the novel, which addresses Jo’s struggle to understand her role in an increasingly segregated city. She and her caretaker, Old Gin, are Chinese, living in Atlanta towards the end of the 19th century. Battling discrimination and racism, the pair secretly lives in the basement of a newspaper print shop. Jo thus grew up in hiding, but also in an environment in which words carry great power and currency.

The stakes of the book are personal. While the cover jacket may boast of newspaper dramatics and of threats from a local crime boss, those stories tend to exist in the background of The Downstairs Girl. Instead, Jo’s growing boldness regarding her work and her family drives the plot. This is a character-based book, for sure; conflicts wrap up rather easily, and characters don’t stay angry for long. Still, the book addresses large themes like racism, intersectionality, and poverty, and it treats such subjects with the complexity they warrant.

Like my fave Ruta Sepetys, Stacey Lee exposes readers to an area of history they likely didn’t learn about in school. I appreciate Lee spotlighting this fascinating subject; YA historical fiction needs more diverse stories and voices. The novel also showcases important solidarity, with Jo giving her Black friend Noemi earnest support as they spar with racist white suffragists. Important messages, all around!

Jo is one of my favorite protagonists of late. She is progressive, relatable, and witty – especially in her work as Miss Sweetie – and I delighted in reading her newspaper columns. Throughout the book, Jo’s work as an “agony aunt” reflects her growing courage, but also her firm sense of self; she jumps from providing household tips to penning progressive manifestos with ease. Miss Sweetie’s columns and letters appear at the start of the chapters throughout the novel, giving readers insight into side characters’ woes. The columns are a fun framing device, and they never feel too gimmicky!

notes

  •  The Downstairs Girl is cover cousins with Lovely War, but I think a more fitting companion is Jennifer Donnelly’s These Shallow Graves. Donnelly’s novel is also about an aspiring girl journalist near the turn of the century, and, funny enough, her protagonist is also named Jo! (Louisa May Alcott would be proud)
  • Speaking of covers, The Downstairs Girl is such a gorgeous book. 
  • Stacey Lee is a part of the team at We Need Diverse Books, which I urge everyone to follow! Their work is fantastic and vital.
  • This was the first book I added manually to my StoryGraph account! I can’t recommend the site enough, but be sure to check out Rubyfruit Reads‘ review.

what have you been reading lately? 

xx

lulu

book review | The Fountains of Silence

Hello, friends! This review contains mild, vague spoilers.

I loved Ruta Sepetys’ Out of the EasyWith its impeccable research and compelling depiction of New Orleans’ historic underbelly, the novel quickly joined the ranks of my all-time favorite books.

I read Easy recently, and Sepetys’ work was on my mind. So, as the weather in my state grows hot and humid, I thought it natural to revisit The Fountains of SilenceTaking place in the summer of 1957, Sepetys’ latter novel explores life in the period following the Spanish Civil War, when Madrid was under the control of fascist leader Francisco Franco. I found the story, and its deceiving golden tones, fascinating.

Madrid, 1957. Under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Spain is hiding a dark secret. Meanwhile, tourists and foreign businessmen flood into Spain under the welcoming promise of sunshine and wine. Among them is eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the son of an oil tycoon, who arrives in Madrid with his parents hoping to connect with the country of his mother’s birth through the lens of his camera. Photography–and fate–introduce him to Ana, whose family’s interweaving obstacles reveal the lingering grasp of the Spanish Civil War–as well as chilling definitions of fortune and fear. Daniel’s photographs leave him with uncomfortable questions amidst shadows of danger. He is backed into a corner of difficult decisions to protect those he loves. Lives and hearts collide, revealing an incredibly dark side to the sunny Spanish city (Goodreads).

Sepetys’ main characters may be Dan and Ana, but she crafts her tale using multiple perspectives. Readers learn of the importance of persistence from Rafa, Ana’s earnest and optimistic brother. Puri, their young cousin, gives us a peek into the psyche of a woman questioning the society she has always obeyed. Julia, Ana’s older sister, struggles to provide for their family and survive amid suspicion. We even get brief interludes from a young bellhop and a matador-in-training. Quotes from US officials and ambassadors separate the chapters, providing real-life context for readers unfamiliar with Franco’s regime. 

The cast of characters is large, and it requires readers to process a lot of information. Luckily, Sepetys has experience in creating memorable supporting characters (Out Of the Easy’s French Quarter misfits were my favorite part of that story!) In this novel, highlights included: Carlitos, a preteen hotel employee whose love of Texas renders him Dan’s confidant, Ben, a grizzled (albeit trope-y) reporter/romantic sage, and Miguel, a kind photography store owner. With so many characters, though, a few inevitably fell flat: I struggled to understand the book’s stance on the elder Mr. Matheson, for example. But overall, a cast of vibrant personalities inhabits The Fountains of Silence and its vision of midcentury Madrid.

While the collection of fleeting perspectives can be unsettling, Sepetys’ structure is no mere gimmick. Rather, it complements the novel’s setting: the glimpses into characters’ lives reflect the voyeuristic nature of Franco’s Spain. The set-up worked especially well during the novel’s confession sequence, in which four young people successively talk to a priest. Those few pages manage to confront moral ideology, desire, and religion’s role in corrupt power structures.

I enjoyed The Fountains of Silence immensely, but it is not an easy read. Sure, the love story is charming and warm and moving. But like the novel’s tropical, wine-washed setting, dark tones lurk underneath the breezy surface. At no point does Sepetys shy away from the complexities of life under a dictatorship: The Fountains of Silence contains chilling descriptions of death, hardship, and heartbreak, and it has a slow, immersive plot.

Readers (both young and old! Sepetys’ writing targets a YA crowd but dances the line between teenage and adult literature) should take time to sit with the novel’s messages. I latched onto the opening line, which Rafa first utters while working at a butcher shop in Vallecas. His words haunt the book. 

“They stand in line for blood.”  

notes

  • I bought this book last year from my favorite local bookstore. If possible, support local booksellers and libraries during this time. Consider buying your next purchase from Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis.  
  • Sepetys’ earlier novel, Salt to the Sea, also has multiple perspectives. I am so eager to check out the rest of her work!  
  • Fountains of Silence, in structure and theme, reminded me of the BBC’s World on Fire. On a literary front, Sepetys’s novels recall Julie Berry’s books. (Berry is one of my absolute favorite authors, and I will forever maintain that The Passion of Dolssa is a gosh darn masterpiece.) 

xx

lulu