New Books Read
Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel***
Book Hangover Alert**
Reading two books back to back with ace protagonists? Is this what representation feels like? Amazing. I adored Kaikeyi. It’s a reimagining of the classic tale of the Ramayana told from the perspective of Kaikeyi, one of Rama’s mothers (not his birth mother, but the third wife of his father). I loved the lushness of this story. I loved the exploration of Kaikeyi’s relationships, particularly with other women, and how each of the female characters was fleshed out (something I hear is missing from previous versions of the Ramayana). I recommend reading the Author’s Note, but saving it for after you’ve read the book if you’re not very familiar with the Ramayana.
4.5/5 strong bonds
Darling Girl by Liz Michalski
CW: sexual assault
People on the internet were excited about this book because it’s a reimagining of Peter Pan where “Peter is the villain!” They said it like it was a very novel idea, but if you paid attention when you read Barrie’s original, you know Peter’s always sort of been a villain. But I digress. I found this version refreshing; I liked the way the world of Neverland bled into present day. I liked the exploration of parenting shown by Holly who is always trying to protect and save both her children but doesn’t always do the right thing. One criticism: some of the flashbacks were in past tense and some were in present tense and the main action of the story was also in present tense. It bothered me that the flashbacks weren’t consistent in one tense or the other. Overall I did enjoy this book and I read it in like 2 days. The rest of this review has spoilers.
I thought it was an interesting choice by Michalski to give the final confrontation with Peter to Holly’s mother, and have Holly not even present. It struck me as a little anticlimactic. I guess I was also expecting to get a little more explanation of the Christopher Cooke/Hook and Nan characters. I don’t feel like we ever really figured out if they were from Neverland or what.
3.5/5 tinkling lights
Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
CW: substance abuse
I listened to this audiobook, which I definitely recommend as the format works really well for audio and I loved the full cast interpretation. I found this book really intriguing because I had never read a book formatted like this, like a series of oral interviews. I thought it worked really well because each member of the band got to give their own perspective and memories which were often very different or disagreed entirely with other characters’.
3.5/5 album covers
Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier
I’ve been meaning to read this since I went to Jamaica Inn in Cornwall in 2016. I finally did read it and it was okay. I like the way DuMaurier writes, and I enjoyed the mystery of what’s going on in the Inn, but I was disappointed by the ending. If you want to know why, you can continue reading, though there will be spoilers.
It’s common in Classics and even in more contemporary work that someone with a visible difference or disability is the villain. And here DuMaurier buys into that stereotype, making the main mastermind villain an albino vicar. Disability or physical difference and disfigurement in literature are often shorthand for moral corruption and evil. And I’m very tired of reading about that. The other thing I didn’t love about the ending was Mary ending up with Jem Merlyn. The whole book she’s like “I know Jem is bad news and I can see how he could become like his brother (the other main villain in the story), and besides I’ve decided to be single forever and own my own farm.” And then she just doesn’t? She just chooses to go with Jem?
The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera***
Book Hangover Alert**
CW: attempted genocide
This is the last book from my haul from the Bay Area Book Fest and it did not disappoint. It just won a Newberry medal and it deserved it. I actually read this book twice this month because I read it on my own and then I listened to it with my family driving from California to Colorado. I loved the incorporation of Mexican culture and folklore in a sci-fi story, especially since that genre has been so white for so long. I love when middle-grade authors grapple with important questions.
4/5 bioloaf cubes
Anxious People by Frederik Backman
CW: suicide, suicidal ideation
This book has the same charm, humor, and humanity of all of Backman’s works. It explores heavy and difficult topics with levity and sensitivity. It’s full of twists and turns and the way the story unfolds keeps you guessing. I love the way everything comes together at the end.
4/5 boxes of Christmas lights that aren’t bombs
Dead Beat by Jim Butcher
Dresden Files book 7 of 17
I liked this one better than the last one, but really these books are pretty consistent. They’re enjoyable and don’t take a lot of extra brainpower, which is exactly what you need sometimes. I enjoyed the character of Butters and I hope we get to see him again.
The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton***
Book Hangover Alert**
CW: lynching, anti-Black racism, n-word, sexism, sexual assault, trauma
I said above that I’d never read a book formatted like Daisy Jones and the Six. Well, this book is also formatted like that, which did at first make it seem a little less exciting and fresh. But I really liked that this book engaged more with the current events that were happening in the 1970s. It shows the collision of rock and roll and the Civil Rights Movement. I also loved how it explores the difficulties Black women still face and how white silence can be just as insidious as loud, aggressive, in your face white racism.
4/5 platform shoes
The Girl Wakes by Carmen Lau
I got this book because sometimes when you submit stories to certain presses, they ask you to pay money or get a copy of one of the books they’ve published. So this was the one I picked. It’s a collection of short stories that echo or retell dark fairytales. It does remind me of the work of Angela Carter in its darkness and subversiveness. It was enjoyable, fresh, imaginative, and the prose was clean.
3/5 gingerbread houses
Execute the Office by Colin Rafferty
A disclaimer: Colin Rafferty was one of my professors at the University of Mary Washington, so obviously I think he’s great. This is a book of creative nonfiction essays, each one addressing a different president. I loved that I learned something new about each president, but the essays weren’t purely informative; they balanced information, personal connection, and the effort to reconcile how inarguably great men also did terrible things. I love Rafferty’s lyrical style and thoughtful explorations of each of the presidents (even the somewhat unremarkable ones).
3.5/5 presidential first dances
Sandman: Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman
Sandman Vol 4
I have listened to the latest Audible Sandman collection, which does cover Season of Mists, but this was my first time reading it. This volume is mostly concerned with who will inherit Hell after Lucifer decides to leave, which was interesting but I do think I liked some of the other episodes better from previous volumes. One thing I really like about the comics that I haven’t mentioned yet is that I really like the way the artist changes the way Dream looks depending on who he’s speaking to.
3/5 keys to Hell
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
I always love a story about doors to other worlds. I really liked The Once and Future Witches by Harrow, but I’m not sure I liked this one quite as much. It had a little slower build up and it took me longer to get hooked. But I did still enjoy it. I really like Harrow’s writing style. I do feel like I need a spin-off series about Jane and the Leopard Women.
3.5/5 loyal dogs
Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine***
CW: racism, police brutality, misogyny
As a Coloradan, I really liked seeing Denver from a historical and not whitewashed perspective. I also really liked the generational aspect of this book. I liked the focus on the female characters, however I also felt I could have had more Diego and his snakes in the book. I didn’t understand what Luz saw in David; I thought he was awful. I’m also not sure all my questions were answered by the end.
**Book Hangover Alert indicates the kind of book that will leave you full up on love. Satisfied, but wishing the book never had to end. You’ll be laying on the floor with no idea what to do with yourself (other friends have called this feeling Good Book Depression or say that certain books necessitate Floor Time). This is the kind of book that gets its teeth in you and won’t let go easily. After the last page you’ll be thinking about this book for a long time. You’ll bother all your friends trying to get them to read it so that you won’t be alone in your Hangover.
***This book is part of my Books for a Social Conscience. Read Kaikeyi for a feminist perspective in a classic and for ace representation. Read The Last Cuentista for Latinx representation in sci-fi. Read The Final Revival of Opal and Nev to learn about the Civil Rights Movement and racism in rock and roll. Read Woman of Light for a non-whitewashed look at the history of the west.
Reads marked as part of the Books for a Social Conscience series will regularly address topics like race and racism, colonialism and post-colonialism, LGBTQ+ experience, feminism, BIPOC experience, social and political issues, history, identity, class, disability experience, immigration, gun violence, poverty, colorism, environmentalism, and more! The goal of these books is to diversify the stories we’re reading, grow our empathy for those who are different from us, and amplify voices who are often silenced.