Bookish Brains Issue 17

Letter from the editor:

Greetings, dear readers! April was my first full month in the youth services department at the library I work at, so I have been reading a lot of children’s literature! I also got to lead two storytime sessions for preschoolers, which was a lot of fun. My first theme was Flowers, and my second theme was Gardening. Let me know if you’d be interested in me sharing my storytime plans with you!

April is also National Poetry Month, so this month I read a couple books written in verse. Altogether, I read 22 books this month, 14 of which were picture books. I’ve been busy!

This edition contains eight book reviews and a list of awesome upcoming book releases to look forward to next month.

Hoping you are having a lovely spring so far and wishing you a gorgeous May.

Cheers!
-B.C.

Currently Reading

I most recently picked up The Last Suspicious Holdout by Ladee Hubbard, though I’m only about 36 pages in. I read the first 20 pages about a month ago, so I am only now getting back into it. It is a series of short stories that take place during the 1990’s in the U.S., and it focuses on critical moments in society.

Vagabonds! by Eloghosa Osunde

Vagabonds! by Eloghosa Osunde
  • Magical realism, adult
  • Published 2022
  • 320 pages

Blurring time and realms, Vagabonds! is a love letter to queer Lagos. Throughout this shifting novel, a wide cast of characters are introduced in various vignettes, allowing the reader to peer into their lives. The main thread is voiced by a supernatural entity providing observations and commentary on the higher powers that rule the city, such as Money.

The prose is incredibly strong and the countless unique characters are rife with possibility. It is a literary force to be reckoned with, and it receives praise from author Akwaeke Emezi. While I do deeply respect this novel, I felt a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of characters, and though it did come together in a beauteous finale, I felt it was more akin to a collection of short stories than a “novel,” necessarily.

A dense and literary work, Vagabonds! will speak most to readers who enjoy an untraditional novel.

Four Aunties and a Wedding by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Four Aunties and a Wedding by Jesse Q. Sutanto
  • Contemporary romance/mystery, adult
  • Published 2022
  • 304 pages

The follow-up novel to Dial A for Aunties, Four Aunties and a Wedding picks back up with Meddelin and Nathan as they prepare for their wedding. With the help of the aunties, they find a team of wedding planners who promise to deliver the picture-perfect Oxford wedding Meddy’s been dreaming about.

Only, predictably, things do not go according to plan. Met with a deluge of surprises, Meddy ends up not only dealing with the uncomfortable situation of her aunts getting off on the wrong foot with Nathan’s English parents, but a murder may be afoot. Panicked, Meddy and the aunts get up to all sorts of shenanigans on what is supposed to be the best day of Meddy’s life.

I love the aunties and I loved Dial A for Aunties. Throughout the first half of this book, I was audibly laughing out loud. Their antics are hilarious to me, and I think the physical and circumstantial humor of these novels would translate beautifully into the graphic novel format. The premise of this book feels natural as a sequel, and the emotional and physical stakes are high. Towards the end, I did start to get burnt out on the over-the-top mishaps, so it concluded at just about the right time. Overall, another delightful installment in the Aunties series.

My Solo Exchange Diary, Vol. 2 by Kabi Nagata

My Solo Exchange Diary, Vol. 2 by Kabi Nagata
  • Graphic memoir, manga, adult
  • Published 2019
  • 176 pages

Following My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness and My Solo Exchange Diary Vol. 1, this graphic memoir picks up where it left off on the previous volume and recounts the true experience of creator Kabi Nagata. Told in sequential installments like diary entries, this manga focuses on her mental health and coping mechanisms, such as relying on alcohol or regressing into self-harm. She chronicles her living arrangements, succumbing to to her great loneliness and thus moving back in with her parents near her thirtieth birthday.

It is another honest look into Kabi Nagata’s life, introspective and reflective. She addresses her attitudes her parents in previous volumes, re-examining her psyche and approaching past conceptions from new perspectives.

I very much enjoy this series and am absolutely along for the ride. Soon I will read My Alcoholic Escape from Reality, the next in this line.

Every Leaf a Hallelujah by Ben Okri, illustrated by Diana Ejaita

Every Leaf a Hallelujah by Ben Okri, illustrated by Diana Ejaita
  • Fairy tale
  • Published 2021
  • 96 pages

Although this is shelved with adult science fiction and fantasy at my library, it is somewhat of a picture book that seems like it may be suited for a younger audience–there are not any strictly “adult” concepts in this book. More so, this is the tale of a young girl who talks to trees while searching for a life-saving flower. Accompanied by bold and colorful illustrations that uplift the book’s message, this narrative is very much an ode to trees at the same time a warning of the dangers of deforestation.

This is a very quick read, but not a lighthearted one. By the end, I felt the heaviness of our human impact on Earth’s forests; even though this is a fantastical universe in which the girl can hold conversations with trees who transport her across the planet, the emotional effect is very grounded.

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus
  • Contemporary young adult
  • Published 2019
  • 312 pages

Shifting between Mabel and Audre’s perspectives, The Stars and the Blackness Between Them tells the story of two girls whose lives become irrevocably connected. Audre has grown up in Trinidad with her mother, but after she is caught with her girlfriend, Audre is sent to live with her father in Minneapolis. Meanwhile, Mabel is a Minneapolis native, and while she is enjoying her summer off, she’s beginning to lose her appetite more often, but spends her time listening to music and working in her father’s garden.

When their lives converge, a deeply meaningful bond is formed, one that is a safe space for both Mabel and Audre to explore their deepest selves and seek solace amidst the unknown and despondent. While they alternate between their voices, other characters have their moment to share their stories as well, such as Queenie, Audre’s grandmother, and Afua, a wrongly incarcerated writer.

A beautiful ode to Black love and Black female queerness, this narrative is visceral and deeply emotional. I listened to the audiobook, and the voice acting performances are absolutely phenomenal. The performers, including author Petrus, embody the characters and convey the narrative in such an expressive and powerful way. I absolutely sobbed during the last 25% of the book.

Incredible, emotional, and tender, this novel is a must-read.

Nothing Burns as Bright as You by Ashley Woodfolk

Nothing Burns as Bright as You by Ashley Woodfolk
  • Contemporary young adult, verse
  • Published 2022
  • 288 pages

Told in verse, the newly-released young adult contemporary Nothing Burns as Bright as You by Ashley Woodfolk tells of first love, complicated friend/relationships, and emotional gravity.

The passion between the narrator and her close friend (referred to as “you” throughout the book) is flammable. Their friendship is obsessive, explosive, hungry. Though more than friends, they are not necessarily “dating,” a point of contention simmering between them. But in this troubled world, together they are recklessly coping, sharing a mutual understanding of existential grief.

Written in two timelines—-one, which recounts days “before the fire” and illustrates their past; the other, which is the present timeline after they cause a dumpster fire at school—-Nothing Burns as Bright as You depicts the messy and destructive love these two teenage girls share over the course of a day and years…

Continue reading my full book review here!

Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca

Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca
  • Contemporary children’s fiction, verse
  • Published 2021
  • 224 pages

Written in verse, this story is told from Reha’s point of view in 1983, when she is a young adolescent struggling with the pull between two worlds–the American half of her identity and the Indian half of her identity. She loves both, but they feel like two separate parts of her life, and often she just wishes she could be more “normal.”

When unexpected news is delivered, suddenly the two parts of Reha’s life becomes “before” and “after.” With this new shift in perspective, Reha would do anything to make things right through a heroic act.

For being so brief and sparse in format, this narrative surely packs a punch. By the end, tears streamed down my face as my heart ached for Reha, as no child should have to endure that type of grief, a grief which is all too common.

Laced with several references to 80’s pop culture, this story is not one to miss.

The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell

The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell
  • Children’s graphic novel
  • Published 2018
  • 288 pages

Collaborating with writers such as Jay Fuller, David DeMeo, Katie Schenkel, Kris Moore, Molly Muldoon, Vid Alliger, Manuel Betancourt, Michael Cole, Cloud Jacobs, and Barbara Perez Marquez, Chad Sell delivers The Cardboard Kingdom, a colorful and spirited graphic novel depicting a neighborhood of kids exploring their imagination with cardboard boxes. Each character receives their own chapter and alter ego, beginning with The Sorceress. Over the course of one summer, these kids construct an entire kingdom using only their minds and the scraps of materials they manage to pull together.

Though each chapter can be read and understood independently from one another, there is a vague continuing plot running through the graphic novel, though it is more of a series of vignettes. I read this for the Comics and Manga Club at my library, and I had an enjoyable time with it. It is lively and honest, diverse and imaginative, and it was a lot of fun.

This month, I read a lot of picture books, so instead of reviewing them individually, I am listing them here!

Read Picture Books

Fiction

  • Even Superheroes Make Mistakes by Shelly Becker, illustrated by Eda Kaban
  • I Dream of Popo by Livia Blackburne, illustrated by Julia Kuo
  • Aaron Slater, Illustrator by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
  • All from a Walnut by Ammi-Joan Paquette, illustrated by Felicita Sala
  • Bumblebee, Bumblebee, Do You Know Me?: A Garden Guessing Game by Anne Rockwell
  • Plant the Tiny Seed by Christie Matheson
  • What Does Bunny See?: A Book of Colors and Flowers by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Maggie Smith
  • Also an Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, illustrated by Benji Davies
  • No Nibbling! by Beth Ferry, illustrated by A.N. Kang
  • Lola Plants a Garden by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
  • From the Garden: A Counting Book about Growing Food by Michael Dahl, illustrated by Todd Ouren

Non-fiction

  • Only Margaret: A Story about Margaret Wise Brown by Candice Ransom, illustrated by Nan Lawson
  • Nina: A Story of Nina Simone by Traci N. Todd, illustrated by Christian Robinson
  • Georgia O’Keeffe: She Saw the World in a Flower by Gabrielle Balkan, illustrated by Josy Bloggs

Books on my Radar in May

Our storytime cycle is ending in May, so my storytime theme for my last session is Imagination! I have three books selected that feature the possibilities of cardboard boxes, and I’m really excited to share them with the preschoolers.

May is also Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, so I’d like to read a few books by AAPI authors in observance of this.

Other than that, I’m officially a no-TBR kind of lad now, so I’ll be reading whatever happens upon my radar!

Inheritance: A Visual Poem by Elizabeth Acevedo, illustrated by Andrea Pippins

Inheritance: A Visual Poem by Elizabeth Acevedo, illustrated by Andrea Pippins

Summary from Bookshop.org:

In her most famous spoken-word poem, author of the Pura Belpré-winning novel-in-verse The Poet X Elizabeth Acevedo embraces all the complexities of Black hair and Afro-Latinidad–the history, pain, pride, and powerful love of that inheritance.

Paired with full-color illustrations by artist Andrea Pippins in a format that will appeal to fans of Mahogany L. Browne’s Black Girl Magic or Jason Reynolds’s For Everyone, this poem can now be read in a vibrant package, making it the ideal gift, treasure, or inspiration for readers of any age.

  • Genre: Young adult poetry
  • Release date: May 3, 2022

Valleyesque by Fernando A. Flores

Valleyesque by Fernando A. Flores

Summary from Bookshop.org:

No one captures the border–its history and imagination, its danger, contradiction, and redemption–like Fernando A. Flores, whose stories reimagine and reinterpret the region’s existence with peerless style. In his immersive, uncanny borderland, things are never what they seem: a world where the sun is both rising and setting, and where conniving possums efficiently take over an entire town and rewrite its history.

The stories in Valleyesque dance between the fantastical and the hyperreal with dexterous, often hilarious flair. A dying Frédéric Chopin stumbles through Ciudad Juárez in the aftermath of his mother’s death, attempting to recover his beloved piano that was seized at the border, while a muralist is taken on a psychedelic journey by an airbrushed Emiliano Zapata T-shirt. A woman is engulfed by a used-clothing warehouse with a life of its own, and a grieving mother breathlessly chronicles the demise of a town decimated by violence. In two separate stories, queso dip and musical rhythms are bottled up and sold for mass consumption. And in the final tale, Flores pieces together the adventures of a young Lee Harvey Oswald as he starts a music career in Texas.

Swinging between satire and surrealism, grief and joy, Valleyesque is a boundary- and border-pushing collection from a one-of-a-kind stylist and voice. With the visceral imagination that made his debut novel, Tears of the Trufflepig, a cult classic, Flores brings his vision of the border to life–and beyond.

  • Genre: Short stories, general fiction
  • Release date: May 3, 2022

The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan by Salma Hussain

The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan by Salma Hussain

Summary from Bookshop.org:

Mona Hasan is a young Muslim girl growing up in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, when the first Gulf War breaks out in 1991. The war isn’t what she expects — “We didn’t even get any days off school! Just my luck” — especially when the ground offensive is over so quickly and her family peels the masking tape off their windows. Her parents, however, fear there is no peace in the region, and it sparks a major change in their lives.

Over the course of one year, Mona falls in love, speaks up to protect her younger sister, loses her best friend to the new girl at school, has summer adventures with her cousins in Pakistan, immigrates to Canada, and pursues her ambition to be a feminist and a poet.

  • Genre: Children’s fiction
  • Release date: May 3, 2022

Circa by Devi S. Laskar

Circa by Devi S. Laskar

Summary from Bookshop.org:

On the cusp of her eighteenth birthday, Heera and her best friends, siblings Marie and Marco, tease the fun out of life in Raleigh, North Carolina, with acts of rebellion and delinquency. They paint the town’s water towers with red anarchy symbols and hang out at the local bus station to pickpocket money for their Great Escape to New York. But no matter how much Heera defies her strict upbringing, she’s always avoided any real danger–until one devastating night changes everything.

In its wake, Marco reinvents himself as Crash and spends his days womanizing and burning through a string of jobs. Meanwhile, Heera’s dream to go to college in New York is suddenly upended. Over the years, Heera’s and Crash’s paths cross and recross on a journey of dreams, desires, jealousies, and betrayals.

Heart-wrenching, darkly funny, and buoyed by gorgeous prose, Circa is at once an irresistible love story and a portrait of a young woman torn between duty and her own survival, between obligation and freedom.

  • Genre: Literary fiction
  • Release date: May 3, 2022

Bitter Orange Tree by Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth

Bitter Orange Tree by Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth

Summary from Bookshop.org:

From Man Booker International Prize-winning author Jokha Alharthi, Bitter Orange Tree is a profound exploration of social status, wealth, desire, and female agency. It presents a mosaic portrait of one young woman’s attempt to understand the roots she has grown from, and to envisage an adulthood in which her own power and happiness might find the freedom necessary to bear fruit and flourish.

Zuhour, an Omani student at a British university, is caught between the past and the present. As she attempts to form friendships and assimilate in Britain, she can’t help but ruminate on the relationships that have been central to her life. Most prominent is her strong emotional bond with Bint Amir, a woman she always thought of as her grandmother, who passed away just after Zuhour left the Arabian Peninsula.

As the historical narrative of Bint Amir’s challenged circumstances unfurls in captivating fragments, so too does Zuhour’s isolated and unfulfilled present, one narrative segueing into another as time slips and dreams mingle with memories.

  • Genre: Fiction
  • Release date: May 10, 2022

The Garden of Broken Things by Francesca Momplaisir

The Garden of Broken Things by Francesca Momplaisir

Summary from Bookshop.org:

Genevieve, a single mother, flies from New York to Port-au-Prince with her teenage son, Miles. The trip is meant to be an education for fifteen-year-old Miles–a chance to learn about his family’s roots while coming to terms with his father’s departure–but it’s also an excuse for Genevieve to escape the city, where her life is dominated by her failed marriage and the daily pressures of raising Black children in America. For Genevieve, the journey is also a homecoming of sorts: An opportunity to visit the island she remembers from childhood and reconnect with family. But when the country is rocked by a massive earthquake–decimating the city and putting their lives at risk–their visit becomes a nightmare of survival.

Written before the horrific earthquake that struck Haiti in 2021, The Garden of Broken Things delivers readers beyond the headlines and into the shattered world of a distant family–coming together, forced apart–suddenly brought to the brink.

  • Genre: Fiction
  • Release date: May 10, 2022

The World Belonged to Us by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Leo Espinosa

The World Belonged to Us by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Leo Espinosa

Summary from Bookshop.org:

It’s getting hot outside, hot enough to turn on the hydrants and run through the water–and that means it’s finally summer in the city! Released from school and reveling in their freedom, the kids on one Brooklyn block take advantage of everything summertime has to offer. Freedom from morning till night to go out to meet their friends and make the streets their playground–jumping double Dutch, playing tag and hide-and-seek, building forts, chasing ice cream trucks, and best of all, believing anything is possible. That is, till their moms call them home for dinner. But not to worry–they know there is always tomorrow to do it all over again–because the block belongs to them and they rule their world.

  • Genre: Children’s picture book
  • Release date: May 10, 2022

Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor by Xiran Jay Zhao

Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor by Xiran Jay Zhao

Summary from Bookshop.org:

Zachary Ying never had many opportunities to learn about his Chinese heritage. His single mom was busy enough making sure they got by, and his schools never taught anything except Western history and myths. So Zack is woefully unprepared when he discovers he was born to host the spirit of the First Emperor of China for a vital mission: sealing the leaking portal to the Chinese underworld before the upcoming Ghost Month blows it wide open.

The mission takes an immediate wrong turn when the First Emperor botches his attempt to possess Zack’s body and binds to Zack’s AR gaming headset instead, leading to a battle where Zack’s mom’s soul gets taken by demons. Now, with one of history’s most infamous tyrants yapping in his headset, Zack must journey across China to heist magical artifacts and defeat figures from history and myth, all while learning to wield the emperor’s incredible water dragon powers.

And if Zack can’t finish the mission in time, the spirits of the underworld will flood into the mortal realm, and he could lose his mom forever.

  • Genre: Children’s fiction
  • Release date: May 10, 2022

The Summer of June by Jamie Sumner

The Summer of June by Jamie Sumner

Summary from Bookshop.org:

Twelve-year-old June Delancey is kicking summer off with a bang. She shaves her head and sets two goals: she will beat her anxiety and be the lion she knows she can be, instead of the mouse everyone sees. And she and her single mama will own their power as fierce, independent females.

With the help of Homer Juarez, the poetry-citing soccer star who believes in June even when she doesn’t believe in herself, she starts a secret library garden and hatches a plan to make her dreams come true. But when her anxiety becomes too much, everything begins to fall apart. It’s going to take more than a haircut and some flowers to set things right. It’s going to take courage and friends and watermelon pie. Forget second chances. This is the summer of new beginnings.

  • Genre: Children’s fiction
  • Release date: May 31, 2022

Thanks for reading!

To browse past editions of Bookish Brains, click here.

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