How are you? I hope you are having a relaxing and restful day at home and that you are staying safe given the recent winter weather!
On my end, today marks the end of my February vacation from school. I think I spent the last night of break well, though, staying up late to write this post. (On vacation, rules are out the window! I can read all day and write all night and eat ice cream whenever I please! Chaos reigns!!)
I offer today some thoughts on classicist Natalie Haynes’ new book, A Thousand Ships, which retells Greek mythology and the aftermath of the legend of Helen of Troy. So cool!
This was never the story of one woman, or two. It was the story of all of them…
In the middle of the night, Creusa wakes to find her beloved Troy engulfed in flames. Ten seemingly endless years of brutal conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans are over, and the Greeks are victorious. Over the next few hours, the only life she has ever known will turn to ash . . .
The devastating consequences of the fall of Troy stretch from Mount Olympus to Mount Ida, from the citadel of Troy to the distant Greek islands, and across oceans and sky in between. These are the stories of the women embroiled in that legendary war and its terrible aftermath, as well as the feud and the fatal decisions that started it all…
Powerfully told from an all-female perspective, A Thousand Ships gives voices to the women, girls and goddesses who, for so long, have been silent.
I LOVED this book. It’s brimming with lore, feminism, sharp witticisms, and sadness — all things I love in a story! I cannot fawn over it enough.
Though largely episodic in nature, A Thousand Ships *does* feature a loose framing device: a weary writer, hoping to craft an epic, has called upon the muse of poetry for inspiration. That muse – Calliope – is delightful, beleaguered, and blunt, and she leads both the poet and us readers on a journey to explore the lives of the women of the Trojan War. Each resulting chapter centers upon a different queen, captive, goddess, or deity, and I found that this sweeping structure was well-suited to the novel’s goals. Haynes, with the skill of a Fate, weaves consistent themes and prose into each tale, helping to unify the proceedings.
While reading, it became apparent that my knowledge of the Trojan conflict stems mainly from Percy Jackson books and Wikipedia rabbit holes. Luckily, Haynes crafts a distinctive voice for each woman in A Thousand Ships, and a handy list of the saga’s players at the start of the book kept me from confusing Thetis with Themis or Polydorus with Polyxena. I loved that the book played with perspective and time to distinguish the voice of each woman, and the large cast allowed for moments of levity alongside prolonged grief. (Penelope’s chapters, styled as increasingly impatient letters to her long-absent husband, were a real highlight of the novel!)
Like the chopped-up version of Troy I watched in my middle school history class, A Thousand Ships depicts very little actual fighting. Instead, it shuns the gore and glory of battlefields in favor of examining the intense grief that existed within mythical city limits. (Far more interesting, to me!) And the women’s stories still displayed a level of gravitas appropriate for a classical epic. Yay!!
I’ll leave you with a quote, from Haynes’ Calliope: “This is a women’s war, just as much as it is the men’s, and the poet will look upon their pain – the pain of the women who have always been relegated to the edges of the story, victims of men, survivors of men, slaves of men – and he will tell it, or he will tell nothing at all. They have waited long enough for their turn.”
Thanks to A Thousand Ships, I’m on a quest for more mythology-inspired books! I recently finished Alexandra Bracken’s action-packed Lore, and next on my list is Circe andThe Song of Achilles. I’m also quite excited to check out Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls, which similarly recounts the Trojan conflict from the perspective of a woman, Briseis. If you have any recommendations for books in this vein, I’d love to know!
Have a delightful week, my friend. Stay safe and stay warm! :–)
I hope you’re having a lovely end to your December!
I’m back today with another installment of Top Ten Tuesday, a series of prompts hosted each week by That Artsy Reader Girl. Today’s theme is “Top Ten Books of 2020.”
I read so many new authors and amazing books this past year, and I can’t wait to share them all with you! From gods to spies to JELL-O and mushrooms, these ten reads had the funniest imagery, the fluffiest romances, and the most striking themes. Though they all hold my heart, I’ve ordered them down from 10 to 1. For suspense purposes.
Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.
I got to re-read Americanah for school this year, and the experience reminded me once again of how much I adore Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s writing (and her cameos in Beyonce songs!) The book follows the life of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman living in the US, and her love affair with her childhood friend. Adichie writes with the length, excitement, and betrayals of a sprawling epic, yet Americanah is simultaneously relatable, raw, and timely. So good!
Beatrice Fox deserves to go straight to hell. At least, that’s what she thinks. On her last day on Earth, she ruined the life of the person she loves most–her little sister, Emmy. So when Bea awakens from a fatal car accident to find herself on an airplane headed for a mysterious destination, she’s confused, to say the least. Once on the ground, Bea receives some truly harrowing news: not only is she in purgatory, but she has been chosen to join the Memory Experience team. If she wants another shot at heaven, she’ll have to use her master manipulation skills to help 5,000 souls suss out what’s keeping them from moving on.
There’s just one slight problem. Bea’s first assigned soul is Caleb, the boy who caused her accident, and the last person Bea would ever want to send to the pearly gates. But as much as Bea would love to see Caleb suffer for dooming her to a seemingly endless future of listening to other people’s problems, she can’t help but notice that he’s kind of cute, and sort of sweet, and that maybe, despite her best efforts, she’s totally falling for him. And to make matters worse, he’s definitely falling for her. Now, determined to make the most of her time in purgatory, Bea must decide what is truly worth dying for–romance or revenge.
I LOVE this book. Gabby Noone is such a funny, talented debut author, and I adored her take on purgatory and the afterlife: an airport terminal whose residents reside in an outdated hotel and who have no choice but to eat food covered in JELL-O. The book, (like Noone’s amazing twitter feed) is goofy yet clever, and the caring yet fraught relationship between the protagonist and her sister was a true highlight. Layoverland is the best — no book this year has made me laugh more!
A German soldier risks his life to drop off the sought-after Enigma Machine to British Intelligence, hiding it in a pub in a small town in northeast Scotland, and unwittingly bringing together four very different people who decide to keep it to themselves. Louisa Adair, a young teen girl hired to look after the pub owner’s elderly, German-born aunt, Jane Warner, finds it but doesn’t report it. Flight-Lieutenant Jamie Beaufort-Stuart intercepts a signal but can’t figure it out. Ellen McEwen, volunteer at the local airfield, acts as the go-between and messenger, after Louisa involves Jane in translating. The planes under Jamie’s command seem charmed, as Jamie knows where exactly to go, while other squadrons suffer, and the four are loathe to give up the machine, even after Elisabeth Lind from British Intelligence arrives, even after the Germans start bombing the tiny town…
Elizabeth Wein is a master in making me cry. Her thrillers (including Code Name Verity) deal in courageous young women who fly planes, learn code, and dance with danger during WWII. And Wein’s latest novel, The Enigma Game, is no exception! It follows three points of view: Louisa, a Jamaican orphan living in London; Jamie, a flight-lieutenant at the onset of the war; and Ellen, a volunteer at an airfield who comes from a family of Scottish travelers. I lovedthe focus on these varying perspectives, and Wein’s writing and research are always on point. The book is so engrossing, and it places a strong emphasis on friendship and courage. Plus, it takes place in the winter!
Rebellious Frannie Tasker knows little about the war between England and its thirteen colonies in 1776, until a shipwreck off her home in Grand Bahama Island presents an unthinkable opportunity. The body of a young woman floating in the sea gives Frannie the chance to escape her brutal stepfather–and she takes it.
Assuming the identity of the drowned Emmeline Coates, Frannie is rescued by a British merchant ship and sails with the crew to New York. For the next three years, Frannie lives a lie as Miss Coates, swept up in a courtship by a dashing British lieutenant. But after witnessing the darker side of the war, she realizes that her position gives her power. Soon she finds herself eavesdropping on British officers, risking everything to pass information on to George Washington’s Culper spy ring as agent 355. Frannie believes in the fight for American liberty–but what will it cost her? Inspired by the true “355” and rich in historical detail and intrigue, this is the story of an unlikely New York society girl turned an even unlikelier spy.
Speaking of cool girl spies, another book I adored this year was Veronica Rossi’s (fittingly titled) Rebel Spy. Rossi tackles the story of the agent 355, a woman operative during the American Revolution whose true identity is currently lost to history. Yet in Rossi’s book, 355 is Frannie Tasker, a poor immigrant girl already caught up in the intrigue of a stolen identity. This book definitely snuck up on me; I did not expect to enjoy it as much as I did! Yet the central romance was WINNING, the plot exciting, and Rossi’s writing and research sensitive and interesting.
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.
The Downstairs Girl was SUCH a good book, it led me to go and read every other novel Stacey Lee has ever published. It chronicles the life of Jo Kuan, a young woman of Chinese descent living in Georgia in the mid-19th century. Jo, having taken on the role of lady’s maid for a vain white society belle, finds creative solace in the mantle of “Miss Sweetie,” a newspaper column she pens anonymously. Lee’s novel addresses important, weighty topics such as racism and poverty as well as intersectionality and cultural heritage, and it’s also SO sweet and heartwarming. As Jo learned to harness her words and find her courage, I couldn’t help but cheer!
In The Queens of Animation, bestselling author Nathalia Holt recounts the dramatic stories of an incredibly influential group of women who have slipped under the radar for decades but have touched all our lives. These women infiltrated the all-male domain of Disney Studios and used early technologies to create the rich artwork and iconic storylines that would reach millions of viewers across generations. Over the decades–while battling sexism, domestic abuse, and workplace harassment–these women also fought to influence the way female characters are depicted to young audiences.
Based on extensive interviews and exclusive access to archival and personal documents, The Queens of Animation tells the story of their vital contribution to Disney’s golden age and their continued impact on animated filmmaking, culminating in the record-shattering Frozen, Disney’s first female-directed full-length feature film.
I don’t read too many nonfiction books, but Nathalia Holt may have convinced me to pick more up! Her book (its full title is Queens of Animation: The Untold Story of the Women Who Transformed the World of Disney and Made Cinematic History) is a fascinating look at the work of women animators, artists, and writers at Disney Studios throughout the 20th century. Holt writes with the descriptive flair of fiction, yet her research and factoids don’t shy from the truth of life working at “the Happiest Studio on Earth.” Plus, the book highlights so many of my favorite things! (Animation! Feminism! History! So cool.)
After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.
Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.
Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.
And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.
Guys, this book was WILD. I read it in one sitting (there were just so many twists! and turns! twists *and* turns!!) and I still think about it so, so often.Mexican Gothic details socialite Noemí Taboada’s experience visiting her cousin at a decaying English mansion in the Mexican Countryside in the 1950s; while there, she discovers that the family her cousin married into is rather sinister, haunting dreams and shunning the outside world. The book is a brutal, suspense-filled takedown of eugenics, racism, and privilege, and it also features romance, folklore, and *great* clothes. Silvia Moreno-Garcia rules.
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.
Ruta Sepetys is another new favorite author I discovered in 2020! I ended up reading all of her published books this year, but The Fountains of Silence stood out to me most. Taking place in Madrid during the rule of dictator Francisco Franco, the book takes a look at the lives of various young people, both from Spain and from abroad. Sepetys wrote the book in a style I love (multiple points of view + short, poetic chapters? Yes, please!!) and I loved that the central romance was slow, sweet, and striking. The novel celebrates human connection in a time of strife, and it might just make you cry. (In the best way possible!)
The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own.
Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true.
In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia features on this list more than once (deservedly so!) but I had to talk about Gods of Jade and Shadow, which has become one of my favorite books EVER. The novel draws on indigenous Mexican folklore, following 18-year-old Casiopea Tun after she releases a god of death from captivity and travels across Jazz Age Mexico in search of magical, ancient relics to restore his power. The book has one of the LOVELIEST romances/friendships/general meaningful relationships I’ve read (it so reminds me of this quote from director Hayao Miyazaki) and, no lie, I tear up whenever I think about it. Gods of Jade and Shadow is the best!
Four years ago, Judith and her best friend disappeared from their small town of Roswell Station. Two years ago, only Judith returned, permanently mutilated, reviled and ignored by those who were once her friends and family.
Unable to speak, Judith lives like a ghost in her own home, silently pouring out her thoughts to the boy who’s owned her heart as long as she can remember—even if he doesn’t know it—her childhood friend, Lucas.
But when Roswell Station is attacked, long-buried secrets come to light, and Judith is forced to choose: continue to live in silence, or recover her voice, even if it means changing her world, and the lives around her, forever.
This book. This book!! I had read Julie Berry’s other works (Lovely War and The Passion of Dolssa are flippin’ amazing) and loved them, but I was SO struck by the poetic nature of All the Truth That’s In Me. The action takes place in a nondescript Puritan-esque setting as we follow Judith, a teenage girl who was captured, lost her ability to speak, and then escaped and returned to her village. Berry styles the book with a second-person narration, as Judith – isolated, ostracized, and seemingly without a voice – addresses the son of her kidnapper. The plot is dark, but the book is not without moments of lightness. Courage, feminism, and found family are central themes. It’s more beautiful and poetic than I can describe.
I hope you’re enjoying all the lovely things that late fall has to offer: fuzzy socks, warm tea, gingersnaps, the start of plaid skirt season, the works! My mind, per usual, has jumped straight to the holidays (A Very Kacey Christmas plays in an eternal loop on my Spotify account) but I am enjoying these last tastes of fall as well.
Autumn, after all, is one of my favorite times of year to read fairytales! With an abundance of spooky forests, magic lore, and gruesome-yet-beautiful imagery, folklore retellings always seem to feel at home in the brisk fall air. My latest read, Poisoned, certainly does! Jennifer Donnelly’s newest book has Grimm-style gore, plenty of kindness, and a heroine whose clockwork heart charmed my own.
Once upon a time, a girl named Sophie rode into the forest with the queen’s huntsman. Her lips were the color of ripe cherries, her skin as soft as new-fallen snow, her hair as dark as midnight. When they stopped to rest, the huntsman pulled out his knife . . . and took Sophie’s heart.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Sophie had heard the rumors, the whispers. They said she was too kind and foolish to rule — a waste of a princess. A disaster of a future queen. And Sophie believed them. She believed everything she’d heard about herself, the poisonous words people use to keep girls like Sophie from becoming too powerful, too strong . . .
With the help of seven mysterious strangers, Sophie manages to survive. But when she realizes that the jealous queen might not be to blame, Sophie must find the courage to face an even more terrifying enemy, proving that even the darkest magic can’t extinguish the fire burning inside every girl, and that kindness is the ultimate form of strength.
Jennifer Donnelly is such a talented writer, and I always marvel at the command of language she displays in her books. Poisoned — like Donnelly’s 2019 output, Stepsister — is a refreshing take on a classic tale; it both celebrates and subverts the beats of the Grimm Brothers’ Snow White. It’s feminist and folksy! A winning combo!!
In honor of Poisoned, I’ve created some desktop wallpapers with a favorite quote of mine from the book. You can check out the wallpapers and download them below!
It’s September! Which means it’s almost fall! Yay!
I adore the cooler weather, spooky stories, and Dave Malloy music that accompany autumn, but I also feel like summer blew by. Whew.
Today though, we’re staying in the realm of ice cream cones, mini dresses, and sunshine. I’m looking back at the books I read in August, and while I didn’t get around to as many books I hoped to this summer, I did discover some of my new favorite novels. There were haunted mansions, talking gorillas, and fiddles galore!
You can check out the books I read last month, plus some brief thoughts, below.
Atonement was one of my summer reading assignments for school, and I was enamored with McEwan’s classical use of language! The book is an interesting treatise on the nature of writing, though the middle section – describing a soldier’s life during WWII in great detail – wasn’t my cup of tea.
This was my second time reading Americanah, and Adichie’s novel is well worth revisiting! It was a summer reading assignment as well, and I really enjoyed analyzing my favorite passages and quotes. I’m eager to pick up Half of a Yellow Sun, too.
Mexican Gothic, I think, is one of my favorite books ever. Noemí is such a stylish, witty protagonist, and the mystery freaked. me. out. As the title suggests, things get Jane Eyre-style spooky. I won’t spoil. But it’s real twisty. (And have you seen the accompanying paper doll? Silvia Moreno-Garcia understands my desire for literary-based crafts and I appreciate it. I also recommend you check out her FAQ on Goodreads, in which she explains how Mexican Gothic calls out HP Lovecraft and Arthur Conan Doyle on their racism.)
I mentioned how much I enjoyed The One and Only Boba couple posts ago, but I really do love Katherine Applegate’s verse-like writing and canine protagonist. It’s a heartwarming story, and a fitting follow-up to The One and Only Ivan. Both reduced me to a big mass of tears.
After loving The Downstairs Girland Outrun the Moon, I checked out Stacey Lee’s debut novel, Under a Painted Sky. It skews to the younger side of YA, yet I’m sure it would please history buffs of any age! I really appreciated the novel’s central friendship; Sammy and Annamae were so freakin’ cool. Plus, it’s a diverse western! Stacey Lee is the best.
Today I’m participating in That Artsy Reader Girl’s TTT prompt: “Top Ten Books that Make Me Hungry.” I love to bake (and have far too many cookbooks!) so I’m quite excited about this week’s theme. Below, I’ve chosen five of my favorite recipe books, plus five novels that feature cooking, baking, or delectable descriptions of edible treats. Hopefully they’ll inspire you to create something in the kitchen, or at least eat a cookie. After all, cookies are great!
The Great British Bake-Off is mandatory viewing in my household, and I eagerly seek out recipes from my favorite former contestants. Martha Collison’s debut cookbook, Twist, is a standout (its five minute recipe for a brownie-in-a-mug is both dangerous and amazing), and I also have my eye on Cheeky Treats by Liam Charles and Christmas with Kim Joy.
I mentioned this book in my last post about blueberry nectarine pie, but it’s worth mentioning twice! My sister and I are frequent visitors to flour, Chang’s bakery in Boston, and some of our favorite treats are featured in this healthy(ish) recipe collection. It’s a great book if you’re looking to experiment in the kitchen!
This recipe book won my heart the minute I discovered it had a section devoted to “Everyday Cake.” From those pages, I discovered my go-to birthday treat: chocolate chip cake with chocolate buttercream frosting. It’s amazing, so easy, and so yummy. The whole book would be worth it for that one recipe, but there are plenty of other cakes and pies I recommend, as well!
Deb never steers me wrong, and Smitten Kitchen might be the website I visit more than any other. Many of my favorite recipes of hers are online (zucchini quesadillas, for example, are so gosh darn tasty!) but her debut cookbook is just as reliable and accessible for home cooks like myself.
This book is out of print, which is DEVASTATING to me, but you can still find it second hand around the web. The ideas are easy and big on fun-factor; I’ve used its recipes for muffins since I was little. (And I’m a muffin snob!!)
This one is a bit of a cheat, as All Four Stars is still in my TBR pile, but my sister gave it high praise back in 2015, and the adorable cover makes me want a cupcake. Besides, the adventures of a pre-teen food critic? Amazing.
I expect With the Fire On High is on a lot of bloggers’ lists today, and with good reason! The book is so moving and the writing so descriptive; it’s one of the best YA contemporaries of the past few years. Plus, look at that cover! There’s fruit! Lavender! A beautiful color palette! It’s an ode to food, if I’ve ever seen one. (The art was done by Erick Davila.)
Heartless is my favorite novel by Marissa Meyer, and it makes me hope she’ll write more stand alone books! The protagonist longs to be a baker, and while reading, I continuously craved a macaron. (There’s plenty of twists, too, if colorful sandwich cookies aren’t your thing.)
This book made me hungry out of sympathy. Author Rebecca Harrington tried out more than a dozen celebrities’ diets – quirks and celery loaves included – and maintained a detailed account of the experience. Harrington’s writing is delightful, and she maintained a similar column online at The Cut, if you’re interested!
Now, I’m off to grab a snack, but I’d love to know your favorite cookbooks and books-tangentially-related-to-food. I’m also curious: do you, like me, believe ice cream elevates every meal? (A key question!!)
I hope you’re having a lovely week! I’ve been getting ready for the upcoming school year, testing out some new yummy recipes (Smitten Kitchen’s Cherry Tomato Tart is a big hit in my house!), and enjoying the waning days of summer.
Today I’m participating in That Artsy Reader Girl‘s “Top Ten Tuesday,” a series of posts prompting book bloggers to reflect on their favorite reads. This week’s theme is “Top Ten Books that Should Be Adapted into Netflix Shows or Movies!”
As someone with very strong opinions about television (for example: The Great British Bake-Off is the best program to ever grace our screens), I am super excited about this prompt. Let’s get to it!
The End of The F***ing Worldsometimes gives me Charlotte Holmes vibes, so I think Brittany Cavallaro’s twisty tales could thrive in a television format. A Study in Charlotte can be quite dark at times, which would fit the signature *gritty* mood of Netflix’s teen offerings.
Marissa Meyer writes some of the best sci-fi soap operas in the YA business, and I would love to see how The Lunar Chronicles novels – and their futuristic fairytale aesthetics – translate to screen. (And YA thrives on presenting werewolves as serious romantic leads! It’s perfect!)
It’s been a little while since I’ve read Of Giants and Ice, but I LOVED these books when I was younger! They’re similar to Percy Jackson – but with fairytales! – and have plenty of action and humor for the small screen.
(Somewhat unrelated, but I am so, so excited for the upcoming PJ series on Disney Plus!! Middle-school-me is crying, really.)
I love me a good documentary (recent faves have been Boys State on Apple TV and Howard from Disney Plus!) and I think that Holt’s books have the perfect combination of research and narrative necessary for a TV treatment.
Burn for Burn is such a binge-able book; it has the same vibes as Riverdale and Veronica Mars, but with an extra dash of feminist friendship thrown in. Plus, the trilogy is co-written by YA Netflix queen, Jenny Han!
10 | My Lady Janeby Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
I’m envisioning the humor of A Series of Unfortunate Events, but the costumes of Wolf Hall. Plus magic!
Are there any book adaptions you would love to see on screen?
We’re in the midst of a quite toasty summer up here in New England, and I’m constantly in search of ice cream, air conditioning, and excuses to go swimming. (I work in an ice cream store, so that first one is rather easy to come by. Those latter two vestiges of warm-weather fun, though, they always manage to elude me!) July was a big reading month for me, as well, and I still hope to salvage the sad remains of my 2020 Reading Challenge.
I kid, I kid. But I got to nine whole books! That’s almost ten! Read-a-palooza!!
My favorite book this month was Julie Berry’s (AMAZING!) All the Truth That’s In Me. Berry, my love, writes the novel in second person, and the narrative device comes across as lyrical and poetic rather than clunky. The book has strong Scarlet Letter vibes, but it also is feminist as heck.
A close second was Rita Sepetys’ Salt to the Sea, a multi-perspective narrative chronicling the 1945 sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. It’s a heavy read, but an important one, and Sepetys’ research and love of history shines. (Her debut novel, Between Shades of Gray, was also one of my July reads. I recommend it as well!)
If you, like me, were wowed by Julie Andrews’ iconic performance in The Princess Diaries films as a child, may I recommend Rachel Hawkins’ Prince Charming or Casey McQuiston’s Red, White, and Royal Blue? Hawkins’ novel is sweet for a younger YA audience (though I still prefer its companion, Her Royal Highness!) and McQuiston’s debut will charm anyone who has binged both The West Wing and The Crown.
As a longtime fan of the SGE books, I was disappointed with One True King. Still, it was nice to return to the favorite series of my youth! I elaborate more in my Goodreads review, if you’re interested.
I finished this month off with Thomas C. Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor. (The book was a summer reading assignment, and I adjusted my expectations accordingly.) A bit dry and limited in perspective, but with some good insights!
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!
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 gorgeousbook.
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.
Hello, friends! This review contains mild, vague spoilers.
I loved Ruta Sepetys’ Out of the Easy. With 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 Silence. Taking 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.”
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.)
I’ve spent the past few nights reading Nathalia Holt’s fascinating Queens of Animation. Holt’s examination of the women who shaped Disney’s history made me think of my other favorite books about women and art!* So here, in no particular order, are my current top five favorites…
Parker Looks Up by Parker and Jessica Curry, with illustrations by Brittany Jackson | This picture book captures the awe of two-year-old Parker Curry when she sees First Lady Michelle Obama’s portrait in DC. The illustrations are so adorable and the message is so vital. It will melt your heart, I swear.
The Queens of Animationby Nathalia Holt | I’ve already waxed poetic about this book, which is a Hidden Figures-esque look at women who worked in the Story and Animation departments at Walt Disney Studios. Holt profiles the artists Bianca Majolie, Grace Huntington, Sylvia Holland, Mary Blair, and Retta Scott, among others.
Women in Art: 50 Fearless Creatives Who Inspired the World by Rachel Ignotofsky | I love this book so, so much. Ignotofsky highlights 50 international artists from throughout history, compiling a collection of both famous and underrated creators. Her illustrations are playful and enhance the great research; the book is a beautiful reference even for those who don’t practice art! (Ignotofsky’s website is also great. It has free Frida Kahlo coloring sheets! We love Frida!)
Mary Blair’s Unique Flair by Amy Novesky, with illustrations by Brittney Lee | This one is such a fun followup to The Queens of Animation; it’s a picture book following the life and career of artist Mary Blair (who designed the concept for “It’s A Small World”). Lee’s paper cut illustrations are amazing, and Novesky’s prose is delightful for all ages.
what are you currently reading?
*It also made me think about how sexist the AP Art History curriculum is. We study 250 pieces of art and less than forty are from identified women artists. smh.