Bookish Brains Issue 14

Letter from the editor

Happy 2022! It’s been a couple of months since I last published an issue of Bookish Brains, though I did put out my Favorite Books of 2021 list a few weeks ago. (Peruse the previous issue of Bookish Brains from November here.) But Bookish Brains is back now, and with an all-new design!

This issue features book reviews of the nine books I read in January, including Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim, The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation by Anna Malaika Tubbs, The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré, Ain’t Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds and illustrated by Jason Griffin, My Solo Exchange Diary by Kabi Nagata, The Tea Dragon Festival and Aquicorn by Kay O’Neill, and several others! Plus, I discuss what I’m currently reading and what’s on my TBR.

And you especially won’t want to miss the list of upcoming February book releases at the end of this issue!

Hope you enjoy and take care readers~
B.C.

What are you currently reading? Leave a comment!

No Land to Light On by Yara Zgheib

This book begins in 2017 as the executive order to refuse Syrian refugees in the United States is enacted. The novel begins with pregnant Sama waiting at the airport for her husband Hadi to get off the plane, but Hadi is detained and not allowed to return to the United States even though he has all his paperwork in order. Following this, the narrative jumps back in time to how Sama and Hadi met and came to live in the United States.

I’m currently on page 58 and so far, I’ve been very pulled into this story. After the first few chapters, I felt emotionally upset because I know that while the characters are fictional, the story is rooted in very real and recent circumstances. The writing is sparse and direct, yet the author does well weaving in the motifs of birds and light.

What was the first book you read in 2021? Drop a reply!

Aquicorn Cove by Kay O’Neill

Aquicorn Cove by Kay O'Neill
  • Graphic novel, Fantasy [middle grade]
  • Published 2018
  • 96 pages

Set in a coastal village after a hurricane has caused destruction, Aquicorn Cove follows young Lana as she and her dad visit her aunt to help repair some of the damage. Memories of Lana’s late mother are conjured as she bonds with her aunt and walks along the shore, reminiscing on the way her mother fostered in her a love for the ocean and its inhabitants.

After Lana encounters an aquicorn—-a magical water creature—-her aunt reveals to her the hidden world beneath the water. Through the aquicorns, Lana learns that the fate of the ocean and the fate of the land are connected, and in order to save the aquicorns and the coral reef, the coastal community will need to make some minor yet serious changes.

O’Neill has once again created an absolutely lovely tale in Aquicorn Cove. The illustrations embody aesthetically charming color schemes in warm hues and beautiful blues, and the characters possess honest motivations. Themes in this book include grief and healing, and environmental conservation. This standalone graphic novel is a delightful read.

The Tea Dragon Festival by Kay O’Neill

The Tea Dragon Festival by Kay O'Neill
  • Graphic novel, Fantasy [middle grade]
  • Published 2019
  • 136 pages

Although this is technically the second book in the series, the events of The Tea Dragon Festival take place prior to those of The Tea Dragon Society and thus can be read as a standalone or out of order. In this, a new character named Rinn, who often goes foraging in the forest, is struggling to improve her cooking skills. One day, while searching for ingredients in the woods, she encounters a sleeping dragon. The dragon, Aedhan, awakens thinking that he has only been asleep for a a few hours, but he and Rinn soon discover that he has actually been asleep for decades! Working together, Rinn helps Aedhan come to terms with his unexpected jump through time and to connect with the community he was supposed to be protecting when he inadvertently fell under the sleeping spell.

Charmingly illustrated, The Tea Dragon Festival contains more of an overarching conflict than its previous volume while the stakes are still low enough to be a relaxing read. Additionally, this graphic novel features characters who communicate with sign language, and O’Neill wonderfully represents these exchanges by distinguishing between communication of signing and signing while speaking.

My Solo Exchange Diary Vol 1 by Kabi Nagata

My Solo Exchange Diary Vol 1 by Kabi Nagata
  • Manga, Graphic memoir
  • Published 2018
  • 196 pages

The follow-up to My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, My Solo Exchange Diary is a manga memoir in which Kabi Nagata narrates diary entries to herself in each chapter. Struggling to move out on her own while My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is being published, she analyzes just why it is so difficult for her to move out on her own as a nearly thirty-year-old woman despite how toxic her home environment is—-and with her memoir releasing soon, she dreads coming out as a lesbian to her parents and family.

Still comically whimsical while delivering poignant introspection, My Solo Exchange Diary is a strong sequel in her manga memoir series. While it’s not entirely necessary to read the prequel before this one, the previous book’s context will make this one all the more powerful. As with the first one, I appreciated the pink-shaded illustrations and the manic energy which balances out her inward reflections, especially as she endeavors to connect romantically with others.

Ain’t Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Jason Griffin

Ain't Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Jason Griffin
  • Poetry, Pictures [Young adult]
  • Published 2022
  • 384 pages

In three breaths, the narrator wonders why his mother won’t change the channel. Each section is a breath comprised of one very long sentence, observing his brother playing video games, his sister texting on her phone, and his mother who won’t turn off the constantly dismal newsreel while his father is coughing and isolated in the bedroom. The poetic narration is complemented by the illustrations, which are painted, drawn, and utilize other media within a Moleskine journal.

The creators dedicated this book to everyone who endured 2020, the strangest year of our lives. Some of the artwork in this piece is truly stunning, especially the orange-dominated spreads of fires consuming cities and smaller more textural moments. The multimedia quality is very appealing, and even the poetry contains some poignant and powerful phrasing. However, the characters in this extended poem were not very developed and the musings often felt generic or lofty to me. Moreover, not every illustrative page hit the mark for me, and while I can appreciate moments of blank or blacked-out space to sit with the words or the feeling, I thought it was an over-used tactic.

Overall, this is a book that can be read quickly or slowly, and there is much to study and reflect on throughout. While I did enjoy and appreciate this, it did not deliver quite the punch I had been hoping.

All the Colors of Life by Lisa Aisato

All the Colors of Life by Lisa Aisato
  • Picture book, Non-fiction
  • Published 2021
  • 192 pages

Although a picture book, All the Colors of Life speaks to readers of all ages. On each page, a stunning illustration by Aisato is featured alongside a few words that point towards moments in our lives. Beginning with the blissful possibility and wonderment of childhood, moving on to the tumultuous and challenging teenage years, and then building towards adulthood, love, and seniority, Aisato portrays through images and ideas the phases many of us experience.

Many of the pictures are truly phenomenal, and some portray more realistic portraits while others are stylized and whimsical. The watercolor nature of the paintings soften their affect, expressing sentimentality and honesty of human life.

While I enjoyed looking through this, I did find the verbiage to be weak. The creator compiled all the pieces within the book from her portfolio over the years and used sentences to piece them together, which was very evident—-not that it was haphazard or disconnected, but the pieces of artwork varied greatly and depicted some very specific moments that seemed sometimes only slightly connected to the theme. This in and of itself was no real issue for me, but the rhythm and organization of the translated words fell short for me. Perhaps this is due to the translator’s work, but there were many pages in which the writing could have been tightened or better juxtaposed.

However, this is a very stunning collection of illustrations and a pleasure to look through. I derived much enjoyment from these pieces and was moved by their beauty.

The Secret Life of Viruses by Mariona Tolosa Sisteré

The Secret Life of Viruses by Mariona Tolosa Sisteré
  • Picture book, Non-fiction
  • Published 2021
  • 32 pages

This brief picture book combines colorful stylized illustrations with information about the existence and exposure of viruses. The book explains how widespread viruses are across all aspects of life and in many cases are helpful, and how only a small portion of viruses are actually harmful. Diagrams showcase the various types of viruses, how they affect humans, and from where they originate.

While not an entirely glamorous or uplifting topic, this book was quick to read and easily digestible. In some places it was whimsical, and in other places it provided some useful, practical information. If anything, I wish this book had been a bit longer and had gone more into depth on this subject and answered more about how to mitigate the spread of viruses, but it is an adequate primer for children and quite visually captivating.

With Great Power: The Marvelous Stan Lee: An Unauthorized Biography by Anna Hunter Eriksen, illustrated by Lee Gatlin

With Great Power: The Marvelous Stan Lee: An Unauthorized Biography by Anna Hunter Eriksen, illustrated by Lee Gatlin
  • Picture book, Biography
  • Published 2021
  • 40 pages

With Great Power tells the story of young Stan Lee came to work at Timely Comics and become the legendary storyteller Excelsior who we now know him as. Growing up, he dreamed of being a great writer, and when he began working for a comics publisher, he came up with the pen name Stan Lee so that later, when he became a “serious” writer, he wouldn’t be associated with his comic stories. However, after decades of following the same comic storytelling pattern, Stan Lee decided to take a chance on a character that broke out of the template—-and the world was all the better for it.

Learning more about his life was interesting, but the stand-out quality of this book is the illustrations. Lee Gatlin does a tremendous job blending the oldsy newsprint quality with a modern rendition of New York City and the superhero characters we adore. The narration is good as well, and by the end of this biography I was left feeling quite touched and inspired. I definitely recommend this one to Marvel fans and readers who love unique illustration styles.

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

  • Fiction
  • Published 2020
  • 371 pages
The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

In the Nigerian village of Ikati during the 2010’s, Adunni is a fourteen-year-old who passionately loves learning and teaching the younger ones. However, the novel opens after her mother dies, and to make ends meet, her father agrees to her marriage to a sixty-year-old local taxi entrepreneur in exchange for a handsome bride-price. Adunni’s objections do not sway her father’s decisions, and her friends can’t understand why she is upset by this arrangement when her husband-to-be has money and nicer possessions.

But her unfortunate arranged marriage is only the beginning of her journey. With a dream to receive an education and a resilient and friendly resolve, Adunni endeavors to break out of the confines of social expectations and create a better future for herself and the women of her village. Having to leave her family behind, she bravely faces new challenges and opportunities to further her education…

Continue reading my book review here!

Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim

  • Historical fiction
  • Published 2021
  • 416 pages

Watch my non-spoiler review on YouTube!

The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation by Anna Malaika Tubbs

The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation by Anna Malaika Tubbs
  • Non-fiction, Biography
  • Published 2021
  • 261 pages

In The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation, author Anna Malaika Tubbs highlights the oft-overlooked incredible mothers of three of history’s most important men.

As Tubbs describes in this book, Black women have historically not only gone unrecognized but have been mistreated as well, and thus there remains little information documented about the lives of Alberta King, Louise Little, and Berdis Baldwin. Investigating these women at length and compiling her findings, Tubbs created this work of non-fiction to pay long-overdue homage to the women who empowered such visionary and well-educated sons to change the world with their ideas, words, and actions…

Continue reading my book review here!

Watch me discuss these books on YouTube, too!

What books are on your February TBR? I’d love to hear!

February TBR

February is Black History Month, and so while I read Black authors year-round, I would like to prioritize reading works by Black creators next month. However, these past several months, I’ve been a ferocious mood reader, picking up the most random books that cross my path and consuming them ravenously, so I haven’t necessarily had a set TBR. For February, I predict that I will read at least a couple picture books, a few graphic novels—-and definitely a lot of academic articles.

Because my graduate classes have resumed this month and are very demanding, I’m not sure how much extracurricular reading I’ll be able to accomplish. Plus, February’s a shorter month anyway, and I know that between February and March, I will be hardcore crunching amidst my three classes. I’m not trying to push myself too hard, so since February’s a shorter month, I might have to push off a few books to later months!

Which of these upcoming releases are you most excited about? Let me know!

Don’t Cry for Me by Daniel Black

Don't Cry for Me by Daniel Black

Summary from Bookshop:

As Jacob lies dying, he begins to write a letter to his only son, Isaac. They have not met or spoken in many years, and there are things that Isaac must know. Stories about his ancestral legacy in rural Arkansas that extend back to slavery. Secrets from Jacob’s tumultuous relationship with Isaac’s mother and the shame he carries from the dissolution of their family. Tragedies that informed Jacob’s role as a father and his reaction to Isaac’s being gay.

But most of all, Jacob must share with Isaac the unspoken truths that reside in his heart. He must give voice to the trauma that Isaac has inherited. And he must create a space for the two to find peace.

With piercing insight and profound empathy, acclaimed author Daniel Black illuminates the lived experiences of Black fathers and queer sons, offering an authentic and ultimately hopeful portrait of reckoning and reconciliation. Spare as it is sweeping, poetic as it is compulsively readable, Don’t Cry for Me is a monumental novel about one family grappling with love’s hard edges and the unexpected places where hope and healing take flight.

  • Genre: Fiction
  • Release date: February 1, 2022

Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au

Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au

Summary from Bookshop:

A mother and daughter travel from abroad to meet in Tokyo: they walk along the canals through the autumn evenings, escape the typhoon rains, share meals in small cafes and restaurants, and visit galleries to see some of the city’s most radical modern art. All the while, they talk: about the weather, horoscopes, clothes, and objects, about family, distance, and memory. But uncertainties abound. Who is really speaking here–is it only the daughter? And what is the real reason behind this elliptical, perhaps even spectral journey? At once a careful reckoning and an elegy, Cold Enough for Snow questions whether any of us speak a common language, which dimensions can contain love, and what claim we have to truly know another’s inner world.

  • Genre: Fiction
  • Release date: February 8, 2022

Nobody’s Magic by Destiny O. Birdsong

Nobody's Magic by Destiny O. Birdsong

Summary from Grand Central Publishing:

In this glittering triptych novel, Suzette, Maple and Agnes, three Black women with albinism, call Shreveport, Louisiana home. At the bustling crossroads of the American South and Southwest, these three women find themselves at the crossroads of their own lives.

Suzette, a pampered twenty-year‑old, has been sheltered from the outside world since a dangerous childhood encounter. Now, a budding romance with a sweet mechanic allows Suzette to seek independence, which unleashes dark reactions in those closest to her. In discovering her autonomy, Suzette is forced to decide what she is willing to sacrifice in order to make her own way in the world.

Maple is reeling from the unsolved murder of her free‑spirited mother. She flees the media circus and her judgmental grandmother by shutting herself off from the world in a spare room of the motel where she works. One night, at a party, Maple connects with Chad, someone who may understand her pain more than she realizes, and she discovers that the key to her mother’s death may be within her reach.

Agnes is far from home, working yet another mind‑numbing job. She attracts the interest of a lonely security guard and army veteran who’s looking for a traditional life for himself and his young son. He’s convinced that she wields a certain “magic,” but Agnes soon unleashes a power within herself that will shock them both and send her on a trip to confront not only her family and her past, but also herself.

This novel, told in three parts, is a searing meditation on grief, female strength, and self‑discovery set against a backdrop of complicated social and racial histories. Nobody’s Magic is a testament to the power of family—the ones you’re born in and the ones you choose. And in these three narratives, among the yearning and loss, each of these women may find a seed of hope for the future.

  • Genre: Fiction
  • Release date: February 8, 2022

Red Thread of Fate by Lyn Liao Butler

Red Thread of Fate by Lyn Liao Butler

Summary from Bookshop:

Two days before Tam and Tony Kwan receive their letter of acceptance for the son they are adopting from China, Tony and his estranged cousin Mia are killed unexpectedly in an accident. A shell-shocked Tam learns she is named the guardian to Mia’s five-year-old daughter, Angela. With no other family around, Tam has no choice but to agree to take in the girl she hasn’t seen since the child was an infant.

Overwhelmed by her life suddenly being upended, Tam must also decide if she will complete the adoption on her own and bring home the son waiting for her in a Chinese orphanage. But when a long-concealed secret comes to light just as she and Angela start to bond, their fragile family is threatened. As Tam begins to unravel the events of Tony and Mia’s past in China, she discovers the true meaning of love and the threads that bind her to the family she is fated to have.

  • Genre: Fiction
  • Release date: February 8, 2022

Bitter by Akwaeke Emezi

Bitter by Akwaeke Emezi

Summary from Bookshop:

After a childhood in foster care, Bitter is thrilled to have been chosen to attend Eucalyptus, a special school where she can focus on her painting surrounded by other creative teens. But outside this haven, the streets are filled with protests against the deep injustices that grip the city of Lucille.

Bitter’s instinct is to stay safe within the walls of Eucalyptus . . . but her friends aren’t willing to settle for a world that’s so far away from what they deserve. Pulled between old friendships, her artistic passion, and a new romance, Bitter isn’t sure where she belongs–in the studio or in the streets. And if she does find a way to help the revolution while being true to who she is, she must also ask: at what cost?

This timely and riveting novel–a companion to the National Book Award finalist Pet–explores the power of youth, protest, and art.

  • Genre: Fantasy – Young Adult
  • Release date: February 15, 2022

How to Find Your Way Home by Katy Regan

How to Find Your Way Home by Katy Regan

Summary from Bookshop:

Emily has been looking for the same face in every crowd for more than a decade: her brother’s. She’ll do anything to find him, she just never expects that one day he will walk through the door of the London housing office where she works, homeless and in need of help.

Emily’s overjoyed to see Stephen–her older brother, her hero, the one who taught her to look for the flash of a bird’s wings and instilled in her a love and respect for nature’s wonders–and invites him to live with her. But the baggage of the day that tore them apart, more than fifteen years before, is heavy. As they attempt to rebuild their relationship, they embark on the birding adventure they’d always promised to take when they were just children running wild in the wetlands of Canvey Island. And so, amid the soft, familiar calls of the marsh birds, they must finally confront what happened that June day–and in all the days since–if they are to finally find their way home.

  • Genre: Fiction
  • Release date: February 15, 2022

Sing Her Name by Rosalyn Story

Sing Her Name by Rosalyn Story

Summary from Bookshop:

Beautiful and brilliantly talented Celia DeMille is a nineteenth-century concert artist who has garnered fame, sung all over the world, and amassed a fortune. But prejudice bars her from achieving her place in history as one of the world’s greatest singers, and she dies in poverty and obscurity.

In 21st-century New Orleans, Eden Malveaux, a thirty-something waitress with a beautiful but untutored voice, is the sole guardian of her 17-year-old brother. Motherless for most of their lives, she has struggled for years to make ends meet as she fights to keep the promise she made to their dying father: to protect her wayward brother and raise him as if he were her own child. After a hurricane displaces them to New York City, Eden seeks safe refuge–not only from the ensuing flood, but also to hide her brother from the law, while she works to divert him from a path of crime, prison, or worse.

Months into their New York stay, Eden’s estranged Great Aunt Julia summons her back to New Orleans for a brief visit, and the older woman gives Eden something that alters the course of her life: a box she found in the midst of flooded rubble containing a hundred-year-old scrapbook and a mysterious and valuable gold pendant necklace belonging to one of the greatest singers in history–Celia DeMille.

Eden returns to New York, but as she explores the artifacts of Celia DeMille’s extraordinary life, curiosity grows into obsession, then into an inspiration that propels Eden into a world she never dreamed. With the help of new friends, and buoyed by the diva’s story, Eden’s new life in New York takes a dramatic turn toward unimagined success.

But just as she is poised to make her mark on the world stage, her brother’s dangerous choices catch up with them, and Eden must confront buried secrets from her complicated childhood. To face the promise of her future, Eden must first reconcile years of regrets and leave behind the guilt of the past–and perhaps even the brother she loves.

  • Genre: Historical fiction
  • Release date: February 15, 2022 Updated: April 12, 2022

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh

Summary from Bookshop:

Deadly storms have ravaged Mina’s homeland for generations. Floods sweep away entire villages, while bloody wars are waged over the few remaining resources. Her people believe the Sea God, once their protector, now curses them with death and despair. In an attempt to appease him, each year a beautiful maiden is thrown into the sea to serve as the Sea God’s bride, in the hopes that one day the “true bride” will be chosen and end the suffering.

Many believe that Shim Cheong, the most beautiful girl in the village–and the beloved of Mina’s older brother Joon–may be the legendary true bride. But on the night Cheong is to be sacrificed, Joon follows Cheong out to sea, even knowing that to interfere is a death sentence. To save her brother, Mina throws herself into the water in Cheong’s stead.

Swept away to the Spirit Realm, a magical city of lesser gods and mythical beasts, Mina seeks out the Sea God, only to find him caught in an enchanted sleep. With the help of a mysterious young man named Shin–as well as a motley crew of demons, gods and spirits–Mina sets out to wake the Sea God and bring an end to the killer storms once and for all.

But she doesn’t have much time: A human cannot live long in the land of the spirits. And there are those who would do anything to keep the Sea God from waking…

  • Genre: Fiction, Romance, Folklore
  • Release date: February 22, 2022

I also discuss these books on my channel:


Thanks for reading!

To browse previous issues of Bookish Brains, check out this page.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s