Bookish Brains Issue 19

Letter from the editor:

Hello! How has your summer reading been so far?

If you’re not already, consider checking out what summer reading programs are happening at your local library! I am helping to run the summer reading challenge at my library job, but I’m also participating in another local library’s challenge. There’s something about the summer that makes me greedy (er, greedier) for reading. But I also say the same thing in the winter, so I guess it’s a moot point.

I’ve been even more wrapped up into reading this month than last month. This Bookish Brains features book reviews of Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow, Loveless by Alice Oseman, Squad by Maggie Tokuda-Hill, Ms. Marvel: Stretched Thin by Nadia Shammas, and more! Plus, upcoming new book releases in July that look awesome!

Cheers,
-B.C.

Currently reading: Answers in the Pages by David Levithan

As a teenager, I loved David Levithan’s books, my favorite being The Realm of Possibility. It’s neat reading a new release book by him now, as an adult. Happily, I am enjoying it. Answers in the Pages centers around a school in which an assigned book is being challenged by an upset mother who claims it contains gay characters. Meanwhile, it also follows the budding feelings of two classmates. It’s a very short read, and I’m about halfway through it.

Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow

Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow
  • Historical fiction, generational novel
  • Published 2022
  • 252 pages

Set between 1937 and 2003, Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow is a generational novel detailing the lives of four southern Black women over three generations, and the difficult choices they make to reclaim their lives.

Aptly, this novel opens with the Norths’ family house. “The house looked living.” This mystical house, built by Joan’s grandfather and home to generations. Meeting place for civil rights activists. Hub for the best Black salon experience. Hell wherein a child’s nightmare transpired; haven wherein solace was gifted. But all this comes with time.

Flipping among perspectives between Joan, her mother Miriam, Miriam’s sister August, and matriarch Hazel, Memphis recounts three generations of a southern Black family. Sweeping across decades from chapter to chapter, we grow to understand what each of these women have endured and how they have persevered, carving out their joy in a complicated world which is so greedy to take…

Continue reading my full book review of Memphis here!

My Alcoholic Escape from Reality by Nabi Kagata

My Alcoholic Escape from Reality by Nabi Kagata
  • Manga memoir
  • Published 2021
  • 136 pages

The fourth book in the My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness manga memoir series, this installment focuses on the author’s alcohol addiction and experiencing a major health crisis as a result. After going too heavy on the booze for an extended period of time, the author’s organs have a negative reaction and she must be hospitalized and cut off from alcohol. However, this proves a very challenging trial for the author, as the hospital IV is highly uncomfortable and she struggles to resist the comfort of its taste and effects.

One noticeable quality of this one is its orange hues rather than its traditional pink, setting it apart from the others in the series. My Alcoholic Escape from Reality didn’t quite feel as introspective as the preceding volumes, but it still chronicles a noteworthy duration of her life. I also enjoyed how this one depicts the author wrestling with creating fiction comics before she realizes it’s perfectly okay for her to love creating non-fiction/autobiographical comics. (Personally, I’m rather glad she does continue to do so.)

There isn’t much to say about this manga that I haven’t already said about the series. I’m along for the ride!

Loveless by Alice Oseman

Loveless by Alice Oseman
  • Contemporary young adult novel
  • Published 2020
  • 433 pages

Perhaps you know Alice Oseman for her recently adapted comic series Heartstopper or her hit novel Radio Silence, but have you heard of Loveless?

Officially the “tenth” installment in the Oseman-verse (the universe in which Oseman’s stories take place), but perfectly comprehensible as a standalone, Loveless is a coming-of-age contemporary young adult novel in which narrator Georgia reflects on her first year of university and how she comes to understand herself as being asexual and aromantic.

Alongside her best friends Pip and Jason, Georgia attempts to find love and her first kiss. Georgia has always loved love, but people keep telling her that eventually, she’ll find “the right one.” When Georgia gets roomed with Rooney, who is in many ways very opposite from Georgia, the two of them begin a mission of hooking Georgia up with someone she’s attracted to. The only problem is… Georgia isn’t really attracted to anyone…

Continue reading my full book review of Loveless here!

The Summer of Bitter and Sweet by Jen Ferguson

The Summer of Bitter and Sweet by Jen Ferguson
  • Contemporary young adult novel
  • Published 2022
  • 384 pages

Although ice cream is a delicious and refreshing way to solve many issues, it can only do so much for the problems of Lou in The Summer of Bitter and Sweet by Jen Ferguson, a new YA novel with ace representation.

Thankfully, I happened across this one on an ace representation book list, otherwise I might not have even known of its existence. The Summer of Bitter and Sweet is a young adult contemporary novel in which eighteen-year-old Lou works at the ice cream shack owned by her uncles Dom and Maurice in Canada. It’s the last summer before her best friend Florence moves away and Lou goes to university—-naturally, they want to make the most of it. But working at the ice cream shop is not only Lou and Florence, but also Lou’s recent ex-boyfriend Wyatt and a past close friend back for the summer, King Nathan. Unfortunately, Lou has bigger problems to worry about than an awkward shift, such as her uncle’s financial burdens, how Native and Black people are discriminated against in a rural white community, and vaguely threatening letters left by her father, who just got out of jail for the first time in her life. After her mother leaves for an extended trip to tour her beadworking art and sell earrings, all these conflicts begin to build upon Lou. She misses her mom greatly, but she has to be strong without her…

Continue reading my full book review of The Summer of Bitter and Sweet here!

Lost Soul, Be at Peace by Maggie Thrash

Lost Soul, Be at Peace by Maggie Thrash
  • Graphic memoir, young adult
  • Published 2018
  • 192 pages

This graphic memoir explores the author’s relationship with her father amidst a period of loneliness in her adolescent life. Maggie’s father is a judge and an emotionally distant man. With her mother, the three of them live in a large house, so spacious that Maggie can even get lost in it. While wandering through the house looking for her missing cat, Maggie encounters a ghost, who in time becomes a companion to her.

I was primarily interested in this because I previously read Honor Girl, the author’s first memoir about developing a crush on another girl at summer camp. Considering how that one left off, I was wondering if I would get some more insight into that story, but this is an entirely separate narrative that makes no mention of Honor Girl.

Lost Soul, Be at Peace is fine, but I have little to say about it. The story is okay, and the illustrations are okay. I was interested in the narrative as I read it, but it is not a very memorable work for me. However, had I not been so invested in reading any queer graphic memoir I can find, I would not likely have otherwise read it.

Squad by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, illustrated by Lisa Sterle

Squad by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, illustrated by Lisa Sterle
  • Graphic novel, young adult
  • Published 2021
  • 213 pages

Atmospherically a cross between Mean Girls and Jennifer’s Body, Squad follows the new girl in high school, Becca, who becomes adopted into the popular girls’ click. At this school, Becca doesn’t want to be the weird, friendless girl, so when Marley invites her to sit with the popular girls, Becca doesn’t pass up this opportunity. She begins spending more time with them, until she discovers their violent secret… That every full moon, they turn into werewolves and prey upon asshole high school boys.

The vibes are all on ten in this graphic novel, but the plot and the illustrations are a little off. Personally, I felt that all of the popular girls were too mean and said lowkey problematic things, but were never called out on their issues. This could have been fine, if it weren’t for the fact that by the end, one of the popular girls seems to portrayed as a heroine, even though she’s pretty morally gray. Also, it’s a shame how the other girls in the click treat Amanda, the only Black girl in the group. To top it off, the ending has a few plot holes and a sapphic relationship is shoehorned in last-minute. Don’t get me wrong; a sapphic relationship will usually have me cheering, but it just didn’t feel natural.

Additionally, some of the portrayals were “off.” One example is that Becca is supposed to be a few sizes bigger than the other popular girls, but she’s drawn to look exactly like them. Moreover, there were many panels confusing to follow, such as random outfit changes with no explanation and awkwardly placed flashbacks.

This one also contains a lot of unhealthy attitudes towards eating and body image, so reader beware.

I’ll give it this: it is a page turner. And the essence is spot on. However, the devil is in the details.

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley
  • Graphic novel, middle grade
  • Published 2020
  • 224 pages

After her parents divorce, Jen is forced to move to the country with her mother and her mother’s annoying boyfriend. Jen misses the city and wants nothing to do with cleaning the chicken coop or doing math at their farmer’s market stand. And when the daughters of her mother’s boyfriend visit on the weekends, things get even worse.

Stepping Stones details Jen’s gradual acceptance of farm life and her eventual (and at first, tumultuous) relationship with her step-family. Between know-it-all Andy and her pain-in-the-butt father, Jen’s patience is truly tested. Some things make it better, though, such as remembering the past and drawing comics about her ideas.

I love how this story is framed, and the illustrations are perfect. The fact that we can see scanned pages of “Jen’s” drawings integrated into the panels is brilliant. I can’t wait to read the follow-up graphic novel, Apple Crush!

Ms. Marvel: Stretched Thin by Nadia Shammas, illustrated by Nabi H. Ali

  • Comic book, middle grade
  • Published 2021
  • 128 pages

Many years ago, I read G. Willow Wilson’s run of Ms. Marvel and fell in love with the character. Now with the new Disney+ show airing, I was inspired to crack open a new Ms. Marvel comic.

Stretched Thin follows Kamala as she struggles to balance school, family, church, and superhero work (a familiar struggle for her). Between training at the Avenger Tower with Tony Stark and babysitting her nephew Malik, things are getting pretty stressful. But she’s determined to make it work!

Predictably, it doesn’t work, and suddenly there’s an active threat infiltrating her very home and putting her family and friends at risk. With the help of Nakia and Bruno, Kamala just might be able to save the day.

Although prior knowledge of Ms. Marvel helps, you don’t need to have read any other comics to jump into this one. It begins with brief descriptions of who each person is, and the plot is pretty simple to follow—-except at the end, with the resolution. I was left wondering, “Wait, what did they do to defeat this person?” (Perhaps it just went over my head.) So while I thoroughly appreciate the characterizations and the art, I felt the conflict was a little forced. Regardless, still a sweet and energetic comic book that was a delight to read.

Read Picture Books

  • Water Can Be… by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Violeta Dabija
  • Bathe the Cat by Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by David Roberts
  • Splish, Splash, Ducky! by Lucy Cousins
  • Our Table by Peter H. Reynolds
  • Memoirs of a Goldfish by Devin Scillian, illustrated by Tim Bowers
  • Hooray for Fish! by Lucy Cousins
  • Find the Fish by Amanda Wallwork
  • Squirrel Me Timbers by Louise Pigott
  • Can I Give You a Squish? by Emily Neilson
  • Shiver Me Letters: A Pirate ABC by June Sobel, illustrated by Henry Cole
  • There Was an Old Mermaid Who Swallowed a Shark by Lucille Colandro, illustrated by Jared D. Lee
  • When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita
  • My Own Way: Celebrating Gender Freedom for Kids by Joana Estrela, adapted by Jay Hulme
  • I’m a Shark by Bob Shea
  • Octopants by Suzy Senior, illustrated by Claire Powell
  • The Blobfish Book by Jessica Olien

On my Radar in July

Okay, I need to get serious about reading the books I own. Of the roughly 95 books I’ve read this year, only 10 of those are books I own—-which is great for my library and my wallet, but which means that none of the books on my shelves at home are getting read.

These books I own and I am determined to read in July:

  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

…I was going to include more, but that’s it: that’s the one book I’m determined to read in July! I own three of the books in this series, so ideally I’ll read through them all. Wish me luck…

These books release in July! If you click the Bookshop.org link and purchase a book, I receive a portion of the proceeds.

Happy is on Hiatus by A. C. Arthur

Happy is on Hiatus by A. C. Arthur

Summary from Bookshop.org:

When Rita McCall discovers her husband’s affair, there isn’t a lick of surprise–not a single tear or broken heart. Just a wife and mother who’s over it and ready to watch her twenty-three-year marriage go up in flames. Sticking close, thick as thieves since childhood, Rita’s unfailingly loyal cousins Jemel and Sharae become her lifeline. They stand beside her as she contemplates a new career and navigates the murky waters of being a preacher’s daughter disgraced by scandal.

Although she would never turn her back on her cousin, Sharae has her own issues to deal with after learning of her father’s jailhouse death and an inheritance she doesn’t want. The last things she needs right now are a handsome lawyer snooping around in her business and a secret that comes back to bite.

With the cousins at life-changing crossroads, it’ll take the wisdom of the Aunts and their family’s legacy of feeding the soul to guide them through the painful secrets, betrayals, and empowering revelations ahead. They’ll learn that what matters most is holding tight to love, to the promise of happiness, and most of all to each other.

  • Genre: Adult Fiction
  • Release date: July 1, 2022

Chester Keene Cracks the Code by Kekla Magoon

Chester Keene Cracks the Code by Kekla Magoon

Summary from Bookshop.org:

Chester Keene takes great comfort in his routines. Afterschool Monday to Thursday is bowling, and Friday, the best of days, is laser tag! But besides Friday laser tag, Chester has one other very special thing–he gets secret spy messages from his dad, who must be on covert government assignments, which is why Chester has never met him.

Then one day at lunch, Chester’s classmate, Skye, approaches him with a clue. They’ve been tasked with a complex puzzle-solving mission. Chester takes their assignments very seriously, but Skye treats it like a big game. Skye proves to be a useful partner and good company, even if her haphazard, free-wheeling ways are disruptive to Chester’s carefully curated schedule.

As Chester and Skye get closer to their final clue, they discover the key to their spy assignment: they have to stop a heist! But cracking this code may mean finding out things are not always what they seem.

  • Genre: Middle grade fiction
  • Release date: July 5, 2022

Kaleidoscope by Cecily Wong

Kaleidoscope by Cecily Wong

Summary from Bookshop.org:

Everybody’s heard of The Brightons.

From rags to riches, sleepy Oregon to haute New York, they are the biracial Chinese American family that built Kaleidoscope, a glittering, ‘global bohemian’ shopping empire sourcing luxury goods from around the world. Statuesque, design savant, and family pet–eldest daughter Morgan Brighton is most celebrated of all. Yet despite her favored status, both within the family and in the press, nobody loves her more than Riley. Smart and nervy Riley Brighton — whose existence is forever eclipsed by her older sister’s presence. When a catastrophic event dismantles the Brightons’ world, it is Riley who’s left with questions about her family that challenge her memory, identity, and loyalty. She sets off across the globe with an unlikely companion to seek truths about the people she thought she knew best –herself included.

Using the brightly colored, shifting mosaic patterns of a kaleidoscope as its guide, and told in arresting, addictive fragments, Kaleidoscope is at once a reckoning with one family’s flawed American Dream, and an examination of the precious bond between sisters. It reveals, too, the different kinds of love left to grow when tightly held stories are finally let go. At turns devastating and funny, warm and wise, sexy and transportive, Riley’s journey confronts the meaning of freedom and travel, youth and innocence, and what it looks like to belong, grieve, and love on one’s own terms.

  • Genre: Adult literary fiction
  • Release date: July 5, 2022

Gods of Want by K-Ming Chang

Gods of Want by K-Ming Chang

Summary from Bookshop.org:

In “Auntland,” a steady stream of aunts adjust to American life by sneaking surreptitious kisses from women at temple, buying tubs of vanilla ice cream to prepare for citizenship tests, and hatching plans to name their daughters “Dog.” In “The Chorus of Dead Cousins,” ghost-cousins cross space, seas, and skies to haunt their live-cousin, wife to a storm chaser. In “Xífù,” a mother-in-law tortures a wife in increasingly unsuccessful attempts to rid the house of her. In “Mariela,” two girls explore one another’s bodies for the first time in the belly of a plastic shark, while in “Virginia Slims,” a woman from a cigarette ad comes to life. And in “Resident Aliens,” a former slaughterhouse serves as a residence to a series of widows, each harboring her own calamitous secrets.

With each tale, K-Ming Chang gives us her own take on a surrealism that mixes myth and migration, corporeality and ghostliness, queerness and the quotidian. Stunningly told in her feminist fabulist style, these are uncanny stories peeling back greater questions of power and memory.

  • Genre: Adult short stories, literary fiction
  • Release date: July 12, 2022

All Four Quarters of the Moon by Shirley Marr

All Four Quarters of the Moon by Shirley Marr

Summary from Bookshop.org:

The night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, making mooncakes with Ah-Ma, was the last time Peijing Guo remembers her life being the same. She is haunted by the magical image of a whole egg yolk suspended in the middle like the full moon. Now adapting to their new life in Australia, Peijing thinks everything is going to turn out okay as long as they all have each other, but cracks are starting to appear in the family.

Five-year-old Biju, lovable but annoying, needs Peijing to be the dependable big sister. Ah-Ma keeps forgetting who she is; Ma Ma is no longer herself and Ba Ba must adjust to a new role as a hands-on dad. Peijing has no idea how she is supposed to cope with the uncertainties of her own world while shouldering the burden of everyone else.

If her family are the four quarters of the mooncake, where does she even fit in?

  • Genre: Middle grade fiction
  • Released date: July 12, 2022

Be Real, Macy Weaver by Lakita Wilson

Be Real, Macy Weaver by Lakita Wilson

Summary from Bookshop.org:

Eleven-year-old Macy Weaver knows relationships are complicated. Fresh off her latest friendship breakup, she’s spent most of her summer break on her own. So when Macy’s mother decides to go back to college three states away, Macy jumps on the chance to move–anything for a fresh start. But Macy’s new home isn’t exactly what she expected. Her mother’s never around and her dad’s always working. Lonelier than ever, Macy sets her sights on finding a new best friend. When she meets Brynn, who’s smart and kind and already seems to have her whole life figured out–down to her future as a high fashion model–Macy knows she’s it. The only problem is that Brynn already has a BFF and, as everyone knows, you can only have one. Resorting to old habits, Macy turns one small lie into a whole new life–full of fantastic fashion and haute couture–but it isn’t long before everything really falls apart. Ultimately, Macy must determine how to make things right and be true to herself–rather than chasing after the person she thinks she’s supposed to be.

  • Genre: Middle grade fiction
  • Release date: July 12, 2022

Thirst by Varsha Bajaj

Thirst by Varsha Bajaj

Summary from Bookshop.org:

Minni lives in the poorest part of Mumbai, where access to water is limited to a few hours a day and the communal taps have long lines. Lately, though, even that access is threatened by severe water shortages and thieves who are stealing this precious commodity–an act that Minni accidentally witnesses one night. Meanwhile, in the high-rise building where she just started to work, she discovers that water streams out of every faucet and there’s even a rooftop swimming pool. What Minni also discovers there is one of the water mafia bosses. Now she must decide whether to expose him and risk her job and maybe her life. How did something as simple as access to water get so complicated?

  • Genre: Middle grade fiction
  • Release date: July 19, 2022

Don’t Call Me a Hurricane by Ellen Hagan

Don't Call Me a Hurricane by Ellen Hagan

Summary from Bookshop.org:

It’s been five years since a hurricane ravaged Eliza Marino’s life and home in her quiet town on the Jersey shore. Now a senior in high school, Eliza is passionate about fighting climate change-starting with saving Clam Cove Reserve, an area of marshland that is scheduled to be turned into buildable lots. Protecting the island helps Eliza deal with her lingering trauma from the storm, but she still can’t shake the fear that something will come along and wash out her life once again.

When Eliza meets Milo Harris at a party, she tries to hate him. Milo is one of the rich tourists who flock to the island every summer. But after Eliza reluctantly agrees to give Milo surfing lessons, she can’t help falling for him. Still, Eliza’s not sure if she’s ready to risk letting an outsider into the life she’s rebuilt. Especially once she discovers that Milo is keeping a devastating secret.

Told in stunning verse, Don’t Call Me a Hurricane is a love story for the people and places we come from, and a journey to preserve what we love most about home.

  • Genre: Young adult contemporary, in verse
  • Release date: July 19, 2022

Thanks for reading! To browse previous editions of Bookish Brains, click here.

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