Bookish Brains Issue 16

Letter from the Editor:

At the end of month, I am always amazed at how quickly the past thirty or so days have gone by. It’s probably the natural side effect of being as busy as I am with work and school, but I continue to feel whiplash from the calendar flipping.

I have exciting news to share though! This month, I began transitioning from circulation to youth services! At my job, I am switching over from part-time to full-time, as I begin youth programming. In this new role, I will be providing reference services for youth material and creating activities and programs for youth. So far, I am already loving my new responsibilities, and I am excited to completely move over in April. Also, as a byproduct of this, I will be reading more picture books and young adult literature so that I can stay abreast with popular and new releases.

I also read a lot of incredible books in March! This newsletter discusses what I am currently reading, what I plan to read, and upcoming literary fiction book releases. It also features book reviews of Delilah Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring Blake, Bitter by Akwaeke Emezi, Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell, Almost American Girl by Robin Ha, and The Aquanaut by Dan Santat.

Cheers!
-B.C.

What are you currently reading? Leave a comment!

Ophelia After All by Racquel Marie

A new release young adult novel, Ophelia After All is narrated by Ophelia, a senior in high school. She loves tending to her rose garden and spending time with her group of friends. While she’s been known to develop frequent crushes on boys, lately Ophelia has been wondering if it’s not just boys who she’s “crazy” about.

I’m about 100 pages into this book, and so far the writing is impressing me and the characters, youthful and headstrong, make a lovely cast to read about. Looking forward to reading more of this as Ophelia explores new parts of her identity!

Messy Roots by Laura Gao

I have been waiting for this book to come out for months! This graphic memoir recounts the life of Wuhanese-American Laura. I’m only about a third of the way through it, but I know that it will at least partially cover how she felt and was treated during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as her realizing her queer sexuality. So far, I love the illustrations and the humor! This is the first book I’ve bought myself in many, many months and I’m enjoying it a lot so far.

What was the best book you read this month? Drop a reply!

Delilah Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring Black

Delilah Green Doesn't Care by Ashley Herring Blake
  • Adult romance
  • Published 2022
  • 384 pages

Delilah Green is a rough-around-the-edges freelance photographer living in New York City. Nearly thirty years old, Delilah spends her days working odd jobs and her nights going home with attractive women. But when her step-sister Astrid calls Delilah to photograph her wedding, Delilah begrudgingly travels home to Bright Falls, Oregon to cash in on the opportunity in exchange for putting up with her insufferable step-mother and Astrid’s wedding affairs.

In Bright Falls, Delilah recalls the painstaking memories of youth—-her father dying, being ignored by her step-mother and step-sister, and her step-sister’s mocking gaggle of friends. However, now adults, one of Astrid’s friend’s catches Delilah’s eye—-and Delilah catches her eye, too. As the weeks leading up to Astrid’s wedding unfolds, Delilah gains new insight into the past, causing her to question what she thought she knew…

Continue reading my full book review of Delilah Green Doesn’t Care here!

Bitter by Akwaeke Emezi

Bitter by Akwaeke Emezi
  • Speculative fiction, Fantasy [Young adult]
  • Published 2022
  • 272 pages

The prequel to Pet, Bitter follows Jam’s mother Bitter amidst her teenage years. As a stark contrast to the utopian Lucille of Pet, we see in Bitter a city faltering through revolution. At seventeen, Bitter is a student at Eucalyptus, a safe haven arts school in central Lucille. Within the walls of Eucalyptus, Bitter and her peers are granted refuge from the tumult outside. Though some of her classmates have been involved with the group of revolutionaries and protestors named Assata, Bitter wants nothing to do with the revolution. She feels judged by those her age who are out on the streets risking their lives for a more just Lucille, but even the thought of marching down the streets beside them brings her anxiety. Recovering from her own traumatic past, Bitter turns to her painting to seek emotional comfort and to express the complexities of her heart. Sometimes her paintings are so visceral, they practically come to life—-and sometimes, they do come to life.

Bitter chronicles the revolution of Lucille and the various roles the youth play within it. It questions the morality and ethics of purging injustice, and the consequences of our actions, even those with the seemingly right intentions. It is heartfelt, raw, and vulnerable all at once.

Even though this is a prequel to Pet, I still suggest reading Pet before this one. An understanding of Bitter does not depend on prior reading of Pet, but I believe it does enhance the impact of Bitter.

I found the Lucille of this novel to be much more engaging that the utopian Lucille. In this, Emezi offers more world-building and imagery of the city, which emboldened the flavor of the narrative. The stakes are higher and many of Pet’s adult characters appear as their younger versions—-Ube as a young leader, Aloe, Blessing, and Hibiscus as activists fighting for a better Lucille in which citizens are not shot on the streets.

However, I still felt as though there were a few weak points throughout the novel. For example, the pacing was a bit odd, and there were many long scenes in which dialogue was exchanged by groups of people. Some of the characters also seemed to act contrary to their personalities, which may have been due to their fatigue and strain, but still seemed out of character for them. And while the descriptions of Lucille were an improvement, I still would have liked to have seen a little more visceral descriptions of the locality.

Overall, a strong follow-up novel with only a few minor misses, but still a novel which was incredibly powerful and compelling to read.

The Aquanaut by Dan Santat

The Aquanaut by Dan Santat
  • Graphic novel, Fantasy [Middle grade]
  • Published 2022
  • 256 pages

Beginning with the intense and tragic sinking of a research boat, The Aquanaut features a group of sea creatures who walk into “space” in a scuba diver’s suit. They are looking for Aqualand, a place they think is a refuge for sea creatures but what has actually become an amusement park. Along the way, they run into Sophia, the daughter of the researcher who perished at the beginning of the story. They become quick comrades, especially considering Sophia’s uncle is often more involved in his research than in Sophia’s life.

In this, the characters deal with grief and loss, profit-driven CEO’s and ethical dilemmas, and aquanaut shenanigans.

This is a very visually captivating graphic novel; the illustrations are expressive and vibrant, though the story begins with a harder-hitting scene than I expected. Overall, it was a delightful read with a strong premise. I do think that the pacing is a bit odd in some parts, leaping over long periods of time or moving quickly in other parts. Additionally, some of the characterization of the people and relationships are a bit under-developed in my opinion. However, on the whole, it is a charming read with wonderful illustrations. Sweet!

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha
  • Graphic memoir
  • Published 2020
  • 239 pages

Almost American Girl shares the experiences of author Robin Ha as she and her mother abruptly moved from Seoul to Alabama when she was fourteen years old. Rendered in comic, this memoir is another expertly crafted voice to add to the archive of this medium.

Published in 2020, Almost American Girl reflects on author/illustrator Robin Ha’s turbulent high school years. Robin is happy living in Korea with her single mother—-despite the judgmental comments of peers and teachers, Robin is well cared for by her hardworking mother and enjoys comics, her friends, and delicious food.

However, one summer, what was supposed to be just a mother-daughter vacation unexpectedly turns into a longterm relocation, and suddenly Robin must begin a new school year without hardly knowing English or really understanding American culture. Consequently, she is homesick, isolated, frustrated, and sometimes ridiculed by peers or ostracized by supposed family…

Continue reading my full book review of Almost American Girl here!

Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell

Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell
  • Non-fiction
  • Published 2021
  • 320 pages

Examining concepts such as thought-terminating cliches, love bombing, and the myth of “brain washing,” Montell presents a framework for how various niche groups generally gain and retain a following. She elaborates on how language and social science influence our participation in “cultish” groups—-like how cult leaders often create an exclusive vocabulary that distinguishes “insiders” from “outsiders.”

By breaking down cults into different categories, Montell spends each section using case studies to detail different tactics and effects cults have on individuals. For example, one section focuses on cults like Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate, while another one examines multi-level marketing schemes, and the last section looks at fitness cults. Make no mistake—-Montell acknowledges the differences among these cults; some cause much more damage than others, and some are even good, if not cliquey. However, Montell also notes that different connotations “cult” has among producers and consumers, with some brands even adopting the label proudly as a marketing tactic.

Many months ago, I put this audiobook on hold on Libby, and in March it finally became available for me. At first, the audiobook narrator’s voice bothered me because the woman’s voice sounded very artificial to me. (I looked it up—-allegedly, she is a real person. I’m still not entirely convinced.) However, over the course of the roughly 7 to 8-hour audiobook, I got used to her narration and ended up enjoying it quite a lot. Going into this, I had little knowledge of cults, and I was rather shocked to learn more about Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate. Montell provides a lot of helpful context for how specific cults fit within their given time and place, and I learned very much from this. I also appreciate how Montell employs a bit of nuance, pointing out that not all cult-like groups are necessarily bad; in fact, as social creatures, having a like-minded group in which we can find belonging is actually sort of a good thing, so long as it is not taken to extremes.

Thus, I certainly recommend this book. It’s very interesting, shocking, and well-researched!

Bathe the Cat by Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by David Roberts

Bathe the Cat by Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by David Roberts
  • Picture book
  • Published 2022
  • 48 pages

Quick! Before Grandma gets home, we have to do these chores!

This is the premise of Bathe the Cat, a zany and delightful story. A family attempts to complete a series of chores, so they spell them out with magnetic letters on the fridge door. Mop the floor, feed the fish, bathe the cat…

When the cat hears this part, the magnetic letters on the fridge suddenly get rearranged… And before we know it, Dad is scrubbing the fish and mopping the cat!

Lighthearted and hilarious, Bathe the Cat demonstrates the importance of verbs on meaning and the cunningness of cats. It showcases a blended family with same-sex parents through vivid yet simple illustrations. This one certainly brought a smile to my face and I am excited to share it with others.

The Scrambled States of America Talent Show by Laurie Keller

The Scrambled States of America Talent Show by Laurie Keller
  • Picture book
  • Published 2008
  • 40 pages

A follow-up to The Scrambled States of America, this Talent Show book follows the wacky ensemble of states as they coordinate a talent show.

As a child, The Scrambled States of America was one of my favorite books, so when I came across this one at work, I was thrilled. It embodies a similar energy to its predecessor, full of puns and silly shenanigans.

While it was fun to read, I have to say I still prefer the good ol’ classic The Scrambled States of America to this one. I also advise reading the original book prior to this one, so that you get an understanding of the states’ different personalities and affairs. The educational aspect of this is present but not forefront, so some of the jokes that depend upon an understanding of states’ facts may go over children’s heads. That being said, as an adult, I do enjoy the humor.

In a nutshell, not bad, pretty fun, and made me want to reread the original!

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

Books on my Radar this April

At this point, my TBR is laughably long and absolutely flexible. Nothing is set in stone; I just pick up what I can whenever I can. Some books I have checked out or on my shelf to read are:

  • The Last Suspicious Holdout by Ladee Hubbard
  • When I Sing, Mountains Dance by Irene Sola
  • Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick by Zora Neale Hurston
  • Nobody’s Magic by Destiny O. Birdsong

So, we’ll see if I get to these!

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

Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow

Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow

Summary from Bookshop:

Summer 1995: Ten-year-old Joan, her mother, and her younger sister flee her father’s explosive temper and seek refuge at her mother’s ancestral home in Memphis. This is not the first time violence has altered the course of the family’s trajectory. Half a century earlier, Joan’s grandfather built this majestic house in the historic Black neighborhood of Douglass–only to be lynched days after becoming the first Black detective in the city. Joan tries to settle into her new life, but family secrets cast a longer shadow than any of them expected.

As she grows up, Joan finds relief in her artwork, painting portraits of the community in Memphis. One of her subjects is their enigmatic neighbor Miss Dawn, who claims to know something about curses, and whose stories about the past help Joan see how her passion, imagination, and relentless hope are, in fact, the continuation of a long matrilineal tradition. Joan begins to understand that her mother, her mother’s mother, and the mothers before them persevered, made impossible choices, and put their dreams on hold so that her life would not have to be defined by loss and anger–that the sole instrument she needs for healing is her paintbrush.

Unfolding over seventy years through a chorus of unforgettable voices that move back and forth in time, Memphis paints an indelible portrait of inheritance, celebrating the full complexity of what we pass down, in a family and as a country: brutality and justice, faith and forgiveness, sacrifice and love.

  • Genre: Literary fiction
  • Release date: April 5, 2022

A Tiny Upward Shove by Melissa Chadburn

A Tiny Upward Shove by Melissa Chadburn

Summary from Bookshop:

Marina Salles’s life does not end the day she wakes up dead.

Instead, in the course of a moment, she is transformed into the stuff of myth, the stuff of her grandmother’s old Filipino stories–an aswang, a creature of mystery and vengeance. She spent her time on earth on the margins; shot like a pinball through a childhood of loss, she was a veteran of Child Protective Services and a survivor, but always reacting, watching from a distance, understanding very little of her own life, let alone the lives of others. Death brings her into the hearts and minds of those she has known–even her killer–as she accesses their memories and sees anew the meaning of her own. In her nine days as an aswang, while she considers whether to exact vengeance on her killer, she also traces back, finally able to see what led these two lost souls to a crushingly inevitable conclusion.

In A Tiny Upward Shove, the debut novelist Melissa Chadburn charts the heartbreaking journeys of two of society’s castoffs as they make their way to each other and their roles as criminal and victim. What does it mean to be on the brink? When are those moments that change not only our lives but our very selves? And how, in this impossible world, full of cruelty and negligence, can we rouse ourselves toward mercy?

  • Genre: Literary fiction
  • Release date: April 12, 2022

Activities of Daily Living by Lisa Hsiao Chen

Activities of Daily Living by Lisa Hsiao Chen

Summary from Bookshop:

How do we take stock of a life–by what means, and by what measure? This is the question that preoccupies Alice, a Taiwanese immigrant in her late thirties. In the off-hours from her day job, Alice struggles to create a project about the enigmatic downtown performance artist Tehching Hsieh and his monumental, yearlong 1980s performance pieces. Meanwhile, she becomes the caretaker for her aging stepfather, a Vietnam vet whose dream of making traditional Chinese furniture dissolved in alcoholism and dementia.

As Alice roots deeper into Hsieh’s radical use of time–in one piece, the artist confined himself to a cell for a year; in the next, he punched a time clock every hour, on the hour, for a year–and his mysterious disappearance from the art world, her project starts metabolizing events from her own life. She wanders from subway rides to street protests, loses touch with a friend, and tenderly observes her father’s slow decline.

Moving between present-day and 1980s New York City, with detours to Silicon Valley and the Venice Biennale, this vivid debut announces Lisa Hsiao Chen as an audacious new talent. Activities of Daily Living is a lucid, intimate examination of the creative life and the passage of time.

  • Genre: Literary fiction
  • Release date: April 12, 2022

Violets by Kyung-Sook Shin, translated by Anton Hur

Violets by Kyung-Sook Shin, translated by Anton Hur

Summary from Bookshop:

San is twenty-two and alone when she happens upon a job at a flower shop in Seoul’s bustling city center. Haunted by childhood rejection, she stumbles through life–painfully vulnerable, stifled, and unsure. She barely registers to others, especially by the ruthless standards of 1990s South Korea.Over the course of one hazy, volatile summer, San meets a curious cast of characters: the nonspeaking shop owner, a brash coworker, quiet farmers, and aggressive customers. Fueled by a quiet desperation to jump-start her life, she plunges headfirst into obsession with a passing magazine photographer.

In Violets, best-selling author Kyung-Sook Shin explores misogyny, erasure, and repressed desire, as San desperately searches for both autonomy and attachment in the unforgiving reality of contemporary Korean society.

  • Genre: Fiction
  • Release date: April 12, 2022

Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel

Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel

Summary from Bookshop:

“I was born on the full moon under an auspicious constellation, the holiest of positions–much good it did me.”

So begins Kaikeyi’s story. The only daughter of the kingdom of Kekaya, she is raised on tales of the gods: how they churned the vast ocean to obtain the nectar of immortality, how they vanquish evil and ensure the land of Bharat prospers, and how they offer powerful boons to the devout and the wise. Yet she watches as her father unceremoniously banishes her mother, listens as her own worth is reduced to how great a marriage alliance she can secure. And when she calls upon the gods for help, they never seem to hear.Desperate for some measure of independence, she turns to the texts she once read with her mother and discovers a magic that is hers alone. With this power, Kaikeyi transforms herself from an overlooked princess into a warrior, diplomat, and most favored queen, determined to carve a better world for herself and the women around her.

But as the evil from her childhood stories threatens the cosmic order, the path she has forged clashes with the destiny the gods have chosen for her family. And Kaikeyi must decide if resistance is worth the destruction it will wreak–and what legacy she intends to leave behind.

  • Genre: Folk literature, Historical fantasy
  • Release date: April 26, 2022

Thanks for reading!

To check out previous issues of Bookish Brains, browse here!

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