Book Club Review: “Payback’s A Witch”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Romance”, in which we each picked a book that is a romance, or has elements that fit romance tropes to a T. For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Payback’s A Witch” by Lana Harper

Publishing Info: Berkley, October 2021

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Romance Trope: Hometown Return

Book Description: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina meets The L Word in this fresh, sizzling rom-com by Lana Harper.

Emmy Harlow is a witch but not a very powerful one—in part because she hasn’t been home to the magical town of Thistle Grove in years. Her self-imposed exile has a lot to do with a complicated family history and a desire to forge her own way in the world, and only the very tiniest bit to do with Gareth Blackmoore, heir to the most powerful magical family in town and casual breaker of hearts and destroyer of dreams.

But when a spellcasting tournament that her family serves as arbiters for approaches, it turns out the pull of tradition (or the truly impressive parental guilt trip that comes with it) is strong enough to bring Emmy back. She’s determined to do her familial duty; spend some quality time with her best friend, Linden Thorn; and get back to her real life in Chicago.

On her first night home, Emmy runs into Talia Avramov—an all-around badass adept in the darker magical arts—who is fresh off a bad breakup . . . with Gareth Blackmoore. Talia had let herself be charmed, only to discover that Gareth was also seeing Linden—unbeknownst to either of them. And now she and Linden want revenge. Only one question stands: Is Emmy in? But most concerning of all: Why can’t she stop thinking about the terrifyingly competent, devastatingly gorgeous, wickedly charming Talia Avramov?

Kate’s Thoughts

I was the book club member to finish off our Romance cycle, and I knew exactly what I wanted us to read when we decided on the theme this time around. I had my eye on “Payback’s a Witch” by Lana Harper around the time it came out, so this was the perfect opportunity. I picked it because I kind of like the whole ‘return to your hometown and discover/rediscover love’ trope, and this one has that, but also Sapphic Witches! How could I NOT pick it?

And for the most part I enjoyed it! I thought that Harper built and created a pretty well done mythology and background for the town of Thistle Grove and the magical people who live there, with a clear history and some clear systems in place. I liked how that combined with the small town politics of low key feuding families as well, and how that enters into our main plot as Emmy returns home to find that her ex has been cheating on Linden, her childhood best friend, with Talia Avramov, her childhood semi-crush, and they decide to prevent him from winning the big tournament that determines the family power in town. It’s rudimentary but that’s fine, because it flows well and is enjoyable as it all plays out.

In terms of characters, I thought that Emmy was fine, but I REALLY loved Talia, her love interest. She checks all my boxes: she’s cool, she’s snarky, she has a heart of gold under a biting exterior, and her family is the family that is basically the necromancing communicators with the dead. I MEAN COME ON! Emmy and Talia have pretty okay chemistry (admittedly there isn’t that much sexytimes in this book, as one member was quite irked by), and while some of their stumbling blocks are a bit silly a little conflict makes a romance more high stakes. And besides, two witches falling in love is always going to get high marks from me.

I enjoyed “Payback’s a Witch” and I absolutely intend to continue in the series! BRING ON MORE AVRAMOVS, PLEASE!

Serena’s Thoughts

I can basically repeat all of Kate’s thoughts and opinions, only tone down the excitement one slot for me. It was still a fun read, but I knew going in that it probably wasn’t going to be totally for me. I think partly because I’m the exact opposite of Kate in my romance trope preferences, with the “home town returnee rediscovers their ex/crush” theme being one of my less favorites. I just have a hard time with all the glossed up nostalgia over home-towns. I haven’t lived in mine for over twenty years now, but I do go back every year. And while I love visiting and have happy memories of the place, I also have no qualms in saying that if I met any of my exes or crushes from when I lived there, I’m sure they would be totally different people, just like I am now.

That said, Talia was an awesome love interest, so regardless of the the trope itself, she worked well as a partner for Emmy. Like Kate, I very much enjoyed her more than Emmy. I had a hard time taking Emmy too seriously, honestly, as I felt her reactions to leaving and then coming home to be overblown. I mean, your highschool ex cheated, like ten years ago, move on! Gain some self-respect and perspective as an adult!

I did like what we got for the magical elements as well. This was a more fun take of the magical families battling than the battle royale that I fairly recently read in “All of Us Villains.” The various families and there different styles of magic was very “four houses of Hogwarts,” but so many things in fantasy are derivative of the bigger titles that that can hardly be a complaint.

Overall, this was a fun quick read. For me, the main character held that book back the most, but she was made up for by her love interest. I probably won’t continue with the series, but fans of fantasy romance, especially those looking for a saphic romance should definitely check this one out.

Kate’s Rating 8: Super fun, super witchy, super creative. I really enjoyed this book and man oh MAN is Talia just the best.

Serena’s Rating 7: Purely subjective rating as this wasn’t really my type of book to begin with, but Talia and the magical houses were definite bonuses.

Book Club Questions

  1. What did you think of the town of Thistle Grove? Did you think it was well conceived?
  2. What were your thoughts on the magical systems and mythology in this book?
  3. Emmy left Thistle Grove with little intention to return, but when she did she made connections with people and places. If you don’t live in your home town anymore, how do you think it would be to return?
  4. Did you like the relationship between Emmy and Talia? What did or didn’t work for you?
  5. The four magical families who run Thistle Grove all have distinct magical abilities and connections. Which family would you want to be a part of?
  6. Were there any characters you’d want to follow in future books in the series?

Reader’s Advisory

“Payback’s a Witch” is included on the Goodreads lists “Sapphic Witchy, Ghostly Books”, and “Popsugar 2022 #16: A Book About Witches”.

Book Club Review: “The Roommate”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Romance”, in which we each picked a book that is a romance, or has elements that fit romance tropes to a T. For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “The Roommate” by Rosie Danan

Publishing Info: Berkley, September 2020

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Romance Trope: Forced Proximity

Book Description: House Rules: Do your own dishes.
Knock before entering the bathroom.
Never look up your roommate online.

The Wheatons are infamous among the east coast elite for their lack of impulse control, except for their daughter Clara. She’s the consummate socialite: over-achieving, well-mannered, predictable. But every Wheaton has their weakness. When Clara’s childhood crush invites her to move cross-country, the offer is too much to resist. Unfortunately, it’s also too good to be true.

After a bait-and-switch, Clara finds herself sharing a lease with a charming stranger. Josh might be a bit too perceptive—not to mention handsome—for comfort, but there’s a good chance he and Clara could have survived sharing a summer sublet if she hadn’t looked him up on the Internet

Once she learns how Josh has made a name for himself, Clara realizes living with him might make her the Wheaton’s most scandalous story yet. His professional prowess inspires her to take tackling the stigma against female desire into her own hands. They may not agree on much, but Josh and Clara both believe women deserve better sex. What they decide to do about it will change both of their lives, and if they’re lucky, they’ll help everyone else get lucky too.

Kate’s Thoughts

I thought that this book had some good jumping off points for our book club discussion, which is good! But I think that part of that is because it seemed like it wasn’t overall well loved by our members. I fell into that camp as well. But I’ll start with what I did like, and there are two things that stand out for me. Firstly, I liked how this book tried to show that porn actors and actresses, and sex workers in general, are people who are doing a job and who deserve not to be dehumanized or stigmatized because of it. I liked that Josh enjoys his job, views it as a business that he excels at, and didn’t fall into any pitfalls of being shamed for his profession. Along with that, I liked that his acting partner and on again, off again girlfriend Naomi was ALSO a well thought out and interesting character, when she easily could have been used as a contrast to Clara and depicted in negative ways. Overall, I felt like Danan was doing her best to address sex positivity and the importance of remembering sex workers are people and deserve rights and respect, and not to be mistreated or shunned because of their profession. I also liked Naomi a lot as a character. As mentioned above, she isn’t used as a snide or antagonistic villain, and she was probably the most interesting character in the book.

I guess that kind of brings up the things that didn’t work as well. I thought that “The Roommate”, while setting out what it wanted to do, was kinda ho hum in other ways. Clara was fine as a main character, Josh was fine too, but neither of them were super interesting to me. I wasn’t terribly invested in their relationship, and I wasn’t terribly invested in the conflict that they met along the way. The sex scenes were serviceable and were written pretty well, but I didn’t get the kind of fun buildup I like in romance novels (however this is probably more about preference: like I’ve said in the past, I like a slow burn build up and a lot of cute and snarky banter).

I think that “The Roommate” does what it wants to do. I would have liked more oomph and chemistry between the main characters.

Serena’s Thoughts

Once again, I agree with everything Kate has already laid out. I think this book had lofty goals attempting to address sex positivity and destigmatize sex work. However, even here, I feel like the book brushed up alongside some of these issues but then didn’t really get into some of the real challenges. For example, there are a lot of factors that go into sex workers being forced into situations where they’re pushed back their comfort levels. Much of this has to do with power structures and stigmatization. However, here, we pretty much just had a “big bad” who, once dealt with, cleared the way to smooth sailing ahead. Likewise, Josh is conveniently not working when he meets Clara and then transition into a different role by the end of the book. So the author neatly sidesteps the issue of addressing sex workers who still work in the industry but are part of a committed, monogamous relationship.

Also, like Kate said, neither of the characters were particularly enthralling. I didn’t actively dislike either of them, but I never felt invested in their individual arcs or their romance as a couple. The “romance,” such as it was, felt more like falling in lust than falling in love. By the end, yes, they get there. But like Kate said, without the buildup, it’s harder to really feel any satisfaction when the romance is settled by the end of the book.

Kate’s Rating 6: I feel like it sets out to do what it wants to do, and I liked the sex positivity. But overall it was kinda lackluster.

Serena’s Rating 6: Not for me. The romance lacked any real connection and while I liked some of the topics tackled, I think there were some other missed opportunities.

Book Club Questions

  1. Did you think that the forced proximity trope in this story worked well within this context?
  2. Did this book subvert any romance tropes (forced proximity or not) in ways that you liked?
  3. Besides Naomi, were there any side characters that you would have liked to see more of? Any that you’d read another book about?
  4. What did you think of Clara and Josh’s business idea of porn that teaches about giving women pleasure during sex? Do you think there would be a market for it?
  5. What were your thoughts on how this book handled the themes of sex work and sex workers? Do you think it would make people think differently about sex work?

Reader’s Advisory

“The Roommate” is included on the Goodreads lists “Radical Romance”, and “My Favorite Trope”.

Next Book Club Book: “Payback’s a Witch” by Lana Harper

Book Club Review: “Beach Read”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Romance”, in which we each picked a book that is a romance, or has elements that fit romance tropes to a T. For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Beach Read” by Emily Henry

Publishing Info: Berkley, May 2020

Where Did We Get This Book: We own it.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Romance Trope: Enemies to Lovers

Book Description: A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.

Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.

They’re polar opposites. In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.

Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really. 

Serena’s Thoughts

I hardly ever read contemporary fiction. I almost never read “women’s fiction” (I’ll avoid the soapbox I have about that term, but ugh!). That being the case, I was a bit cautious going in to this bookclub pick seeing as it seemed to fit neatly under both of those genres. But I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: this is why bookclubs are so great! I ended up really enjoying this book, and I never would have discovered it if I had been left to my own devices!

There was quite a lot to like about this book. The romance, of course, is central to the story, and right off the bat, I was pretty invested in both of these characters and the relationship developing between the two of them. While I think January might have been a bit naïve about some of her encounters with Gus in college, we were all a bit dumb then, so I guess I’ll give her a pass. I really liked the idea of them attempting to write in each others genres as a way for their bond to slowly develop over a period of summers. It gave the author all the excuses she needed to throw the two together in various great situations.

I’ll also liked the exploration of the secondary plot, that of January learning to understand the life of her recently-deceased father and some of the hurtful choices he made that she only recently discovered. It was a really excellent look at the strange relationship that is built up between parents and children where it’s only when the child grows into an adult that they fully begin to understand that their parents are fully realized people too, complete with their own histories and flaws. The story is definitely tackling a more complicated and challenging aspect of the mistakes people make, but I think the author managed to do it in a way that didn’t overly villainize any of the people involved. Truly impressive!

Overall, I really liked this book. I’m definitely planning on checking out other books from her, including the one coming out very soon!

Kate’s Thoughts

I’m the person who is a bit more picky about the kind of romance fiction I read, and in general I am actually more inclined to pick up contemporary/’women’s’ fiction than one might expect. I don’t know if it was just the right moment in my year’s reading journey, or if it was the fact I do gravitate more towards the genre, but “Beach Read” really hit all the right notes for me! I honestly hadn’t really heard of this book or even Emily Henry outside of a mention here or there online (this is one of the downsides of no longer working my circulation position on a permanent basis; I’m not nearly as up to date on genres I don’t usually look for because I’m not processing holds or shelving as often as I used to be!). And now I have both bought her book “People We Meet on Vacation” AND have an eARC of “Book Lovers” on my Kindle. Consider me a fan.

Like Serena, I thought that Henry did a good job of setting up the perfect slow burn romance because of the setting, scenario, and circumstances our characters find themselves in. January is grappling with a personal loss and some unpleasant revelations that came with it, and Gus is dealing with writer’s block and his own life changes. They’re both wounded and raw, and it makes for some really fun snappy moments between them (though honestly January is more of the aggressor in this ‘enemies to lovers’ story). I really liked their banter, the dialogue flowing quickly and well and in a very entertaining way. It’s the kind of enemies to lovers story that doesn’t feel kinda weird as their animosity is mostly placed in mutual insecurity and stubbornness (though to be fair, I also love legit enemies to lovers stories when the footing is even. I was a HUGE Spuffy shipper back in the day because of this).

I also liked some of the darker things that Henry tackled, as it never really felt like it was out of place or hokey. The pain that January is dealing with in regards to her father and his personal choices/failings is palpable and understandable, and as for Augustus while we don’t really get as much insight into him, we do get to see some of the darker aspects of his work, specifically the cult aspect of this book he was intending to write. I was worried that Henry would make it a little bit overdramatic or even laughable, even in an unintentional way, but at the end of the day she pulls out the trauma and pain of this side group without making it derail the lovely and sweet story at hand. And it is lovely and sweet.

“Beach Read” was a lot of fun and very enjoyable! Like Serena I’m eager to see what else Henry has in store for the contemporary romance audience!

Serena’s Rating 9: Lives up to its name: a “beach read” that will make any contemporary romance lover aching for more!

Kate’s Rating 9: Charming, snappy, funny, and sweet, “Beach Read” kept me going and had me rooting for a happily ever after.

Book Club Questions

  1. What did we like and dislike about January and Augustus as our main characters? Did they break any stereotypes or tropes?
  2. What did you think of their debate about literary fiction vs romance/women’s fiction? What are your feelings on each genre?
  3. In this book there are mentions of how people sometimes use romance stories as a way to cope with more difficult realities. Do you find that a relatable practice?
  4. What were your thoughts on the side characters? Did anyone stand out in particular?
  5. What are your thoughts on the enemies to lovers trope that was used in this story?
  6. This book talks about happy endings versus ‘happy for nows’ in stories. Do you prefer a solid conclusion of a wrapped up romantic life? Or are more in process romance endings okay for you as a reader?
  7. Would you read more by Emily Henry?

Reader’s Advisory

“Beach Read” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Rom-Com Books”, and “Best Enemies to Lovers”.

Next Book Club Pick: “The Roommate” by Rosie Danan

Book Club Review: “Project Duchess”

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Romance”, in which we each picked a book that is a romance, or has elements that fit romance tropes to a T. For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Project Duchess” by Sabrina Jeffries

Publishing Info: Zebra, June 2019

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Romance Trope: Grumpy/Sunshine

Book Description: A series of stepfathers and a difficult childhood have left Fletcher “Grey” Pryde, 5th Duke of Greycourt, with a guarded heart, enviable wealth, and the undeserved reputation of a rogue. Grey’s focus on expanding his dukedom allows him little time to find a wife. But when his mother is widowed yet again and he meets the charmingly unconventional woman managing his stepfather’s funeral, he’s shocked to discover how much they have in common. Still, Grey isn’t interested in love, no matter how pretty, or delightfully outspoken, the lady . . .
 
Beatrice Wolfe gave up on romance long ago, and the arrogant Duke of Greycourt with his rakish reputation isn’t exactly changing her mind. Then Grey agrees to assist his grief-stricken mother with her latest “project”: schooling spirited, unfashionable Beatrice for her debut. Now that Beatrice is seeing through Grey’s charms to his wounded heart, she’s having trouble keeping him at arm’s length. But once Grey starts digging into her family’s secrets, she must decide whether her loyalties lie with her family . . . or with the man whose lessons capture her heart . . .   

Serena’s Thoughts

Ostensibly, this book should have been for me. When I do read romance, I generally prefer historical romance, with all of those grand ball scenes and the obsessively weird culture of manners. I find that the overly formal way of moving through life in these books is a nice balance to the actual bodice-ripping romance of them. Sadly, this book wasn’t for me though.

There were a few problems that I had. Firstly, the romance itself doesn’t feel very well built up, with the “hero” pretty much sexualizing the heroine immediately. Obviously, some of this is expected in romance novels, so it’s not the fact that it happened that was the problem. More, it was the fact that it was right off the bat which just immediately set him up in a bad light for me. Beyond that, the book is very “tell-y” with this character in general. We’re told over and over again that he’s this “rake-ish” individual, but we never see any evidence of this “bad boy” persona.

Much of this problem comes down to the fact that the entire book takes place on the family’s country estate. That’s right! There are no grand ball room scenes or society gossip, because the entire story is removed from all of that. Instead, we have only Grey’s family and Beatrice’s brother for any and all social interactions. Not only does it feel limited, but it was very obvious that the author was almost equally devoted to setting up all of these other characters as potential leads in her future books as she was with telling the actual story on hand. It all played against me becoming at all invested in Grey and Beatrice.

I also didn’t love the mystery that was included in this story. Again, this probably should have been a hit for me as, when I do read mysteries, they’re often historical mysteries of just this sort. But here, by cramming the mystery in alongside the romance, the author missed the mark on both. The romance was lukewarm. And the mystery was unappealing. Not only did we always know that the main suspect would be innocent, but the story ends on a cliffhanger in a misguided attempt to get readers to pick up the next book. In my case, that just worked against it. I felt even more put off by the story in not having this resolved. This plot line took up a ton of page time and arguably reduced changes to increase my interest in the romance of the story, the thing most readers who pick up this kind of book will be looking for. Fans of historical romance can likely find better options out there.

Kate’s Thoughts

Okay, we have officially moved into romance territory that I rarely dare to tread. I can count the number of ‘bodice ripper’ romance on one hand, including this one… And I think that the number is 2. MAYBE 3 if we want to be a little loosey goosey with our time periods. And while thus far our book club romances have been mostly contemporary (with one fantasy), I knew a Regency romance would probably have to happen. So I went into “Project Duchess” trying to have an open mind. But by the time I was finished, I realized that this subgenre of romance really… REALLY isn’t for me.

I have a lot of the same thoughts as Serena, from the clunky way that the characters are used, to the telling vs showing, to the isolated setting (though I admit that I had NO idea that this was a thing until it came up in book club; it wasn’t until Serena pointed out that keeping it on a country estate with no dances, urban gossip, or new characters was incredibly limiting. Once she pointed it out I was like ‘oh hey, yeah!!!’). I also thought that giving Beatrice a darker backstory involving her lecherous uncle wasn’t handled super well, as it was there to make her tragic but wasn’t examined in a way that felt healthy. One good fuck probably isn’t going to wash away trauma. I know it’s a romance novel and a little unrealistic storytelling isn’t a crime (in any book really), but it just didn’t sit right with me.

AND I am going to echo my frustration with the mystery. I, being a gal who loves a good murder plot, wanted to know what HAD happened to all of Lydia’s husbands! Once it clicked that we weren’t going to get any answers in this book, as the story was setting up a whole series involving all the boring characters (excluding Gwyn. I liked Gwyn), I was pretty frustrated.

“Project Duchess” was a miss for me. I would say that maybe it’s just because it’s not my genre, but seeing Serena’s review above, it makes me think it’s maybe a miss all around.

Serena’s Rating 6: Not for me, which was a shock considering that, on paper, it should have been right up my alley.

Kate’s Rating 4: I wasn’t expecting too much but was still disappointed.

Book Club Questions

  1. How well do this hero and heroine fit the “grump/sunshine” romance trope?
  2. What did you think about the mystery at the heart of the novel? What predictions do you have going forward?
  3. Beatrice’s history with her uncle is quite dark. How well do you think the book tackled this topic?
  4. What did you think of Beatrice and Greycourt as a couple and the various iterations of their romance that we saw throughout this book?
  5. This is clearly the first book in a set-up series. Will you continue reading? What character are you most interested in reading about next?

Reader’s Advisory

“Project Duchess” is on these Goodreads lists: Romance Heroes and Heroines Over 35! and 2019 Historical Romance.

Find “Project Duchess” at your library using WorldCat or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Next Book Club Book: “Beach Read” by Emily Henry

Book Club Review: “From Blood and Ash”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Romance”, in which we each picked a book that is a romance, or has elements that fit romance tropes to a T. For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “From Blood and Ash” by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Publishing Info: Blue Box Press, March 2020

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Romance Trope: Secret Identities

Book Description: A Maiden…

Chosen from birth to usher in a new era, Poppy’s life has never been her own. The life of the Maiden is solitary. Never to be touched. Never to be looked upon. Never to be spoken to. Never to experience pleasure. Waiting for the day of her Ascension, she would rather be with the guards, fighting back the evil that took her family, than preparing to be found worthy by the gods. But the choice has never been hers.

A Duty…

The entire kingdom’s future rests on Poppy’s shoulders, something she’s not even quite sure she wants for herself. Because a Maiden has a heart. And a soul. And longing. And when Hawke, a golden-eyed guard honor bound to ensure her Ascension, enters her life, destiny and duty become tangled with desire and need. He incites her anger, makes her question everything she believes in, and tempts her with the forbidden.

A Kingdom…

Forsaken by the gods and feared by mortals, a fallen kingdom is rising once more, determined to take back what they believe is theirs through violence and vengeance. And as the shadow of those cursed draws closer, the line between what is forbidden and what is right becomes blurred. Poppy is not only on the verge of losing her heart and being found unworthy by the gods, but also her life when every blood-soaked thread that holds her world together begins to unravel.

Kate’s Thoughts

Okay guys, I’m about to blow your mind. I actually enjoyed this fantasy novel. WHAT? I know! I always go on about how fantasy is a really hard genre for me, and admittedly when Serena picked this for book club I groaned. It was long. It was fantasy. It sounded silly. But shut me up, I ended up enjoying “From Blood and Ash”, so thank you, Serena! I will happily eat crow!

I mean, yes, it has kind of a slow start, and yes, it has a lot going on. Probably too much. But I found myself enjoying this book, for a couple of reasons. One, I enjoyed Poppy, our main character. I liked the backstory that was given to her, I thought that her personality was well formed and pushed back against what we can sometimes see with the kind of role she is playing, and I liked that she actually had agency as well as reasons for her various abilities. I also liked a number of the side characters, like Poppy’s friend Tawny, her lady in wait, or her guard Vikter. I felt that Armentrout did her due diligence to give them some personality as opposed to just be players to prop Poppy up. And in terms of the vampire mythology that Armentrout wove in, it wasn’t anything super new, but it was fun enough, and creatively placed into a fantasy dystopia setting.

I am at the very least going to try the next book in the series. I can’t guarantee that I will commit to the entire series, as it’s long and fantasy and I are tenuous. But “From Blood and Ash” was fun.

Serena’s Thoughts

I didn’t realize just how long this book was when I selected it for bookclub! Sorry Kate! I picked it because it was the top rated fantasy romance on Goodreads at one point, and while yes, the premise sounded kind of silly, I thought that all of those high ratings had to be based on something.

Like Kate said, this book definitely has a slow start. There’s a ton of world-building that gets laid out in this story, and as it’s told in first person, much of that world-building is simply given to us by Poppy herself. Usually this would be a pretty negative thing for me, but I think it speaks to the strengths of Poppy’s character that she was so solid and entertaining that I didn’t even mind the way much of this information was delivered. Given how long this book is, Poppy’s compelling inner thoughts and character work are integral in keeping the pace of the story going. The dialogue was also excellent and had me laughing out loud at times.

I completely agree with Kate about the side characters, so I won’t repeat what she said about them. I’ll also definitely second what she said about Poppy defying typical romance heroine conventions at times. She was given enough back story to explain her motivations for learning and doing what she does. And the author gave us early opportunities to put these aspects of Poppy’s character to the test and let us see her in action. There were also a few decisions she made towards the end of the book that were incredibly satisfying and definitely not the sort you typically see from romance heroines in this type of situation.

I’ll also say that I really enjoyed the romance. Hawke was a very swoony hero and, again, defied many of my expectations at different times. There were some fairly predictable twists that came along with him, but I was happy enough with the way the story played out to not be overly concerned that I could guess where it was headed before it got there. I also really liked the twists the author brought to the fantasy aspects of the story. Again, unlike Poppy, the reader will be able to pick up on a few of them right off the bat. But there were additional levels, so to speak, to these traditional fantasy beings that were revealed as the story continued. I will say that with all of this world-building and mythology, the book could definitely have used a map to at least relieve some of the mental burden on the reader trying to keep track of this all!

Kate’s Rating 7 : It had a bit of a slow start and had a LOT going on, but I ended up enjoying this romantic fantasy!

Serena’s Rating 8: Maybe a bit generous as a rating for half one, but we’ll round up with the more satisfying aspects of half two.

Book Club Questions

  1. This book’s romantic trope was “secret identities.” Did you like the way this was incorporated into the book? How did you feel about the reactions of both parties when the secret identities were revealed?
  2. How did you feel about Poppy and Hawke as the romantic heroine/hero? In what ways did they conform to stereotypes? In what ways did they break them?
  3. There was a lot of world-building and fantasy building in this book. Were you able to fully picture this world and society? Did you have any questions about place or people?
  4. The author plays with some staple fantasy characters such as vampires, zombies, and werewolves. Did you like her interpretations of these mythical beings?
  5. Would you read the other books in the series?

Reader’s Advisory

“From Blood and Ash” is included on the Goodreads lists: Sarah J. Maas Clones and Romance, SMUT Action, And The Supernatural.

Next Book Club Book: “Project Duchess” by Sabrina Jeffries

Book Club Review: “Take A Hint, Dani Brown”

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We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Romance”, in which we each picked a book that is a romance, or has elements that fit romance tropes to a T. For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Take A Hint, Dani Brown” by Talia Hibbert

Publishing Info: Avon, June 2020

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Romance Trope: Fake Dating.

Book Description: Danika Brown knows what she wants: professional success, academic renown, and an occasional roll in the hay to relieve all that career-driven tension. But romance? Been there, done that, burned the T-shirt. Romantic partners, whatever their gender, are a distraction at best and a drain at worst. So Dani asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits—someone who knows the score and knows their way around the bedroom.

When brooding security guard Zafir Ansari rescues Dani from a workplace fire drill gone wrong, it’s an obvious sign: PhD student Dani and ex-rugby player Zaf are destined to sleep together. But before she can explain that fact, a video of the heroic rescue goes viral. Now half the internet is shipping #DrRugbae—and Zaf is begging Dani to play along. Turns out, his sports charity for kids could really use the publicity. Lying to help children? Who on earth would refuse?

Dani’s plan is simple: fake a relationship in public, seduce Zaf behind the scenes. The trouble is, grumpy Zaf’s secretly a hopeless romantic—and he’s determined to corrupt Dani’s stone-cold realism. Before long, he’s tackling her fears into the dirt. But the former sports star has issues of his own, and the walls around his heart are as thick as his… um, thighs.

Suddenly, the easy lay Dani dreamed of is more complex than her thesis. Has her wish backfired? Is her focus being tested? Or is the universe just waiting for her to take a hint?

Serena’s Thoughts

This is going to be a good bookclub theme for me, I think. Because, while I do read a decent amount of romance fiction, it’s usually within some greater genre preference, like historical fiction or fantasy fiction. So this, as a contemporary romantic novel was fairly out of my wheelhouse. That being the case, this wasn’t my favorite book out there, but I can also see the general appeal to readers who do like contemporary romcoms.

For the most part, I liked both of our main characters. I really liked how the author played with gender roles, especially Zaf’s love of reading romance novels. It was very meta as well as nicely representing that romance is by no means only the domain of women. It takes two to form a romantic pair, so naturally both have an interest in romance in general. But for some reason, enjoying romance novels or movies is seen as purely a feminine pursuit and one that people are judged for enjoying, even women but especially men. I also really liked Dani’s initial, unapologetic commitment to noncommitment. Again, something that we usually see from the hero in these romantic pairings but gender swapped here.

However, I did have a hard time really connecting to either of these main characters. My biggest problems with contemporary stories like this is my inability to really buy into the idea that people like this would walk about in our every day world. I mean, who is naturally this quippy? Who really talks like this? It’s a fairly minor point overall, but it’s something that I personally always struggle with in contemporary fiction. So this is definitely a subjective critique and something that will hold varying levels of water depending on your own preferences.

Overall, I thought the story was fun enough, but it wasn’t really my cup of tea. I think the author did some creative things with her character building, but I couldn’t ever fully invest myself into Dani and Raf’s lives.

Kate’s Thoughts

I admit that by the end of 2021, I had gathered SO MANY romance novels for my book pile that by the time I’d worked my way through, I was a little burned out on the genre. I was happy to give romance more of a chance in 2021, and overall I found a lot of books I liked. But there is, in fact, a reason that I tend to limit my consumption of it. Maybe that doesn’t bode super well for our Book Club theme, but I’m going to work through it (and I think so long as I just stick to romance for book club I’ll be good). And it’s good that “Take A Hint, Dani Brown” was the first selection of the cycle, because while I’m burned out on romance, this one was meta enough that I thought it was fun enough.

Like Serena said above, I liked that Hibbert toyed with our expectations of the genre and gave Zaf the more stereotypically feminine role (being romantic at heart, interested in love over lust, etc), and Dani the more stereotypically masculine role (not into commitment in any way shape or form). I also liked that we explored themes of trauma and loss through Zaf, as his brother and father were killed tragically a few years before the events in this book, and how we got to see a realistic examination of grief and PTSD through his character. Honestly I just really liked Zaf. He’s snarky and adorable and vulnerable and funny as heck. Dani was pretty good too, and much like Serena I liked how flippant she is about romance and love at first. Quippy for sure. I don’t have as big an issue with that (I do love me a good quippy banter), though I think that maybe Zaf got a little more understandable vulnerability than Dani.

And I’m always interested in seeing how the sexy moments in romance novels happen. I’ve found myself very particular about how these things unfold and are portrayed when it comes to the smut and romance (but to each their own obviously!), and “Take A Hint, Dani Brown” was basically the kind of build up and pay off that I liked: a nice slow build of tension followed by very satisfying, uh, climaxes… if you will. There was a bit of a weird rushed factor to make conflict after a bit of this, but that was really the only glaringly clunky thing for me. Overall, it’s steamy and fun.

“Take A Hint, Dani Brown” is enjoyable and cute. I’m a bit worn out on the romance page, but this one held my interest enough that I wasn’t feeling like it dragged.

Serena’s Rating 7: Not really my thing, but a fun romcom for fans of this sort of contemporary romance story.

Kate’s Rating 7: I’m feeling a little burnt out on romance, but “Take A Hint, Dani Brown” had enjoyable characters and some good moments of steaminess.

Book Club Questions

  1. In this book the ‘fake dating trope’ is taken on in a very self aware and meta way. Did you think that it was a good send up? Why or why not?
  2. What did you think of the supporting cast? Did you have any favorite side characters?
  3. What did you think of the progression of the romance between Dani and Zaf? Do you think that it would last in a real world setting?
  4. What were your thoughts on the way the book tackled anxiety and grief? Did these themes feel well explored?
  5. Would you read the other books in the series?

Reader’s Advisory

“Take a Hint, Dani Brown” is included on the Goodreads lists “Radical Romance”, and “Contemporary Romance by Black Authors”.

Next Book Club Book: “From Blood and Ash” by Jennifer Armentrout

Book Club Review: “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine”

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Award Winners”, in which we each picked a book that has won an award of some kind.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman

Publishing Info: Pamela Dorman Books / Viking, May 2017

Where Did We Get this Book: An audiobook from the library; print book from the library.

Award: Costa Book Award

Book Description: No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: she struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding unnecessary human contact, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen, the three rescue one another from the lives of isolation that they had been living. Ultimately, it is Raymond’s big heart that will help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one. If she does, she’ll learn that she, too, is capable of finding friendship—and even love—after all.

Kate’s Thoughts

I am the type to try and spread my literary interests across multiple genres, and because of this I usually find myself reading buzzworthy or hyped books from contemporary and literary fields. But somehow, I missed “Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine”. I mean, I’d seen it around, of course, as it came out right at the tail end of my permanent hours library job where I did a lot of request processing and shelving. But I never really looked into it. So thanks to Serena for picking it for book club, as it landed on my book pile after not being at the forefront of my mind!

And I can see why this was hyped and buzzy, honestly. “Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine” surprised me a bit, as I expected one thing and got something that didn’t line up with those expectations. I thought that Gail Honeyman did a really good job of balancing a lot of things: an unreliable and kind of unlikable narrator (until you get to know her better), a humorous tone, and some really dark themes involving trauma and PTSD. But like I said, with a humorous tone! I think that it may have been a hard task for some authors, but Honeyman had me feeling just utter sadness for Eleanor, but then chuckling to myself about one thing or another, and it wasn’t ever in a discordant way, or a way that felt like the seriousness of the issues at heart was being undercut. Also, I loved Raymond, Eleanor’s first real friend. He is sweet and patient but not a pushover, and I thought he was just a delight (and kind of a fun swap of the usual way this kind of story works: it’s rare that a woman is allowed to be the surly and kind of unlikable protagonist while the man is the warm and caring one who helps the other grow. I liked the reversal). While it didn’t have any moments that totally wowed me or spoke to me overall, I enjoyed my time reading it.

Another thanks to Serena for picking “Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine” for book club! I thought that it was completely fine and a little bit more.

Serena’s Thoughts:

I must pass the thanks on, as it was my mom who raved about this book to the point that I selected it for book club. Unlike Kate, I rarely read outside of the three main genres I enjoy (mostly because I can’t keep up with books I want in even those genres, let alone more!), so this book was completely out of my wheelhouse. But in the end, my mom was completely right, and I really enjoyed this read!

I read the audiobook, and, if it’s available, I highly recommend checking that version of the book out. The narrator has a Scottish accent that does wonders to really bring Eleanor to life and ground the book in its setting. And as Eleanor is such a unique character, the narrator’s voice helped humanize some of her more odd antics and perspectives.

Like Kate mentioned, one of the most impressive things about this book was the balance the author was able to strike between humorous moments (think “Bridget Jones’s Diary”) and some really tough, grim topics. I was not at all prepared for how dark this book really got at times. But that said, when I closed the story, it left a hopeful, fun aftertaste, even more surprising considering some of these topics. I also really liked the exploration of mental health and therapy. Most books that deal with therapy have it happen off-page or don’t really go into how it really works for the character. Here, we get a very good look at an excellent therapeutic setting and outcome.

The book was also peopled with excellent characters. Eleanor herself is unlike any character I’ve ever read, and she makes a few friends along the way who stand out as well. I was also pleased that the story didn’t take a few of the more predictable turns, and on top of that, there are a number of fairly major surprises (or less surprising for some, our book club was a bit half/half on who predicted what).

Kate’s Rating 7: A nice story that balances a tragic foundation with humor and heart.

Serena’s Rating 9: I really liked this book! It was surprising in many ways and addressed some important topics without being overwhelmed with a grim tone.

Book Club Questions

  1. What did you make of Eleanor in the beginning of the book? How (or did) your opinion of her change as the story went along?
  2. This book tackles some dark subjects. How do you think it handled these?
  3. What did you make of Eleanor’s relationship with Raymond? Where do you think it will go in the future?
  4. There are some surprises towards the final third of the story? Were you able to predict any of them? What clues were given early on that pointed to these outcomes?
  5. Many people around Eleanor shaped her journey through this book. Which ones stood out to you and why?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” is on these Goodreads lists: 2017 Librarian Recommended Books and Best Up Lit (uplifting reads).

Find “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” at the library using WorldCat or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Next Book Club Book: “Take A Hint, Dani Brown” by Talia Hibbert

Book Club Review: “Front Desk”

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Award Winners”, in which we each picked a book that has won an award of some kind.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Front Desk” by Kelly Yang

Publishing Info: Arthur A Levine Books, May 2018

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Award: Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature

Book Description: Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.

Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.

Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.

Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?

It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?

Kate’s Thoughts

I don’t usually seek out Middle Grade fiction unless it’s in graphic novel form. There are always exceptions to this, but Young Adult is about as young as I go these days. So when our book club picked “Front Desk” by Kelly Yang, I was interested to see what the Middle Grade landscape was looking like, and it also just so happened that this book was being targeted by angry white adults completely scandalized that a children’s book would dare talk about racism. Talk about timely!

I enjoyed “Front Desk” as a children’s book to be sure! I think that Yang did a really good job of making our protagonist Mia super relatable to her target audience, as Mia has some pretty familiar hang ups and anxieties, all while having to work the front desk at the motel her parents have found themselves working at. It’s definitely true that this book follows a lot of Middle Grade patterns in terms of how certain scenarios set up and play out, and that isn’t a bad thing for the target audience, it still made my reading of this an exercise in suspending my disbelief here and there. But all that said, I thought that Yang also does a great job of tackling the relevant social issues of the difficulties immigrants face, to racism, to exploitative labor practices, to how life in America has a lot of problems for a lot of people. And she does this in a way that makes it very easy to understand for the age group that is going to be reading this book.

“Front Desk” is a good book to give to kids who are starting to learn about certain injustices of the world, as while it doesn’t sugar coat them, it has a hopeful story through Mia, and one that will probably be enjoyable for lots of the kids that do pick it up.

Serena’s Thoughts

Like Kate, Middle Grade isn’t an age-range of books that I read very often. Even in the last few years I’ve noticed my inner curmudgeon coming out more and more with Young Adult, so the prospect of reading even younger was a bit daunting. That said, objectively, I think “Front Desk” succeeds at all it sets out to do and will appeal perfectly to its target audience (as demonstrated by the many very worn-down copies our bookclub members have checked out from the library).

I knew going in that “Front Desk” set out to tackle a lot of important, touch topics. That said, I was surprised by the level of emotion and depth it went into. The work “dark” is too strong for a Middle Grade book like this, but if you tone that word down some, you get to what I’m talking about. The author is definitely setting out to challenge her readers while still creating a safe environment in which to engage with these topics. Mia’s good-hearted, self-starting persistence is just the sort of character strengths that are sure to appeal to middle graders and allow the story to not let any of these bigger topics weight down to the story too much.

As an adult reading this, like Kate mentioned, there was a decent amount of suspension of disbelief needed. Some of the problems seemed to be tidied up much too easily and the solution to many of these situations was often the same. After the first couple of rounds, it began to feel fairly repetitive and predictable. The ending was also a bit too fairytale-like for my taste, especially given the very real challenges the rest of the book tackled. But, again, I think these are the kinds of flaws that stand out to me as an adult reader but will not read as flaws at all to the target audience.

Kate’s Rating 7: A well done children’s book that has enjoyable characters and tackles a lot of good and important issues in a way that kids can understand.

Serena’s Rating 7: The perfect combination of fun characters and important issues, a very good book for middle grade readers. Perhaps less so for an adult.

Book Club Questions

  1. Did you have expectations going into “Front Desk”? If so, were they met as you read the book?
  2. Did you think that Mia was a realistic ten year old?
  3. What did you think about Mia’s parents? Was there anything about their portrayals that stuck out to you?
  4. What were your thoughts on the portrayals of Mr. Yao and Jason?
  5. How did you think Yang did when it came to talking about some themes that are sometimes hard to talk about?
  6. Who would you recommend this book to?

Reader’s Advisory

“Front Desk” is included on the Goodreads lists “Middle Grade Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion”, and “Middle Grade Books Featuring Characters of Color”.

Find “Front Desk” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Next Book Club Book: “Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman

Book Club Review: “Furia”

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Award Winners”, in which we each picked a book that has won an award of some kind.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Furia” by Yamile Saed Méndez

Publishing Info: Algonquin for Young Readers, September 2020

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Award: Pura Belpré

Book Description: In Rosario, Argentina, Camila Hassan lives a double life. At home, she is a careful daughter, living within her mother’s narrow expectations, in her rising-soccer-star brother’s shadow, and under the abusive rule of her short-tempered father.

On the field, she is La Furia, a powerhouse of skill and talent. When her team qualifies for the South American tournament, Camila gets the chance to see just how far those talents can take her. In her wildest dreams, she’d get an athletic scholarship to a North American university.

But the path ahead isn’t easy. Her parents don’t know about her passion. They wouldn’t allow a girl to play fútbol—and she needs their permission to go any farther. And the boy she once loved is back in town. Since he left, Diego has become an international star, playing in Italy for the renowned team Juventus. Camila doesn’t have time to be distracted by her feelings for him. Things aren’t the same as when he left: she has her own passions and ambitions now, and La Furia cannot be denied. As her life becomes more complicated, Camila is forced to face her secrets and make her way in a world with no place for the dreams and ambition of a girl like her.

Kate’s Thoughts

I am not really a sporty person, though accompanying friends and loved ones to games of most any sport can be fun. I probably go to more soccer games than other sports since my husband loves soccer, so when I saw that “Furia”, this month’s book club book, had a soccer theme I figured I would at least have a vague working knowledge of it. But lucky for me, “Furia”, while having a lot to do with soccer, also tackles other issues, like love, ambition, and misogyny. I thought that it was interesting seeing Camile, aka “Furia”, have to navigate the very narrow and defined expectations that Argentine society (and her mother) heap upon her. I enjoyed seeing the parts that had to do with Camile pushing against these norms, be it when she was trying to interact with her very conservative parents (on top of that her father, a former soccer star who is placing all of his lost dreams onto Camile’s soccer playing brother, is incredibly abusive), or when she is trying to determine if she can have a romance with her old flame Diego (ANOTHER rising soccer star), who has returned to town for a bit before he goes back on the road. I also really liked seeing how Méndez would weave in various realities of living in modern day Argentina, from the way the machismo could both bolster male soccer players and create really loyal ties between players and communities, to how the misogyny could lead to violence towards women (and a lot of society would think that these women deserved it one way or another). All of this worked.

There were some problems with the narrative for me as well. One, I go to soccer games on occasion, but I’m not super interested in it in general, and on the written page that isn’t much different. So the soccer moments I found myself speeding through pretty quickly. And on top of that, I didn’t feel like many of the characters were terribly complex. Camile was able to have depths and layers to her, given that she is the main character and we mostly get into her mind, but I do like seeing other supporting roles have a little more exploration and depth, and we didn’t really get that in this book.

Overall, I enjoyed “Furia” as a contemporary YA novel. It gave me a glimpse into a setting that I don’t see as much in YA books, and it had some emotional beats involving her family.

Serena’s Thoughts

I agree with everything Kate said. Her husband and mine share a love for soccer and have been splitting season tickets for as long as I can remember. What’s more, I probably do enjoy sports more than Kate, in general. But I’ll also say that I probably had a stronger negative reaction to this book’s sports elements than she did. So take from that what you will! While I really like watching sports live and even on TV sometimes, I really have a hard time caring about the “action” when it’s the description of movements of a ball and the players kicking it. It’s not even that I can’t picture it, I can! I just…couldn’t care. So that was a pretty big hinderance to my enjoyment of that aspect of the book.

That said, I agree with what Kate said that, lucky for both of us, there was much more to this book than the sports story. I mostly enjoyed the setting and description of every-day-life in Argentina. I don’t know a lot about this part of the world, and what I do know is mostly based in historical accounts rather than a contemporary look. All of the street-level windows into this culture and part of the world were fascinating. Even more so when we witness the uphill battle Furia faces in the face of the misogyny that still limits so much of what is expected for women. The story also touches on the tragedy of how easily women and young girls can go missing or have other violence inflicted upon them and it will be casually swept under the “she probably deserved it” rug.

Like Kate said, the characters themselves were fairly flat feeling. Even Furia herself, while more nuanced than any of the side characters, felt a bit one-note at times. However, I did like the romance that came into play. The challenges they faced felt natural and the ending was satisfying and heart-warming.

Overall, this wasn’t really the book for me. I think it’s so important, though, to have books that represent different parts of the world AND to have sports books for girls. Just cuz I’m not into them, doesn’t mean that I don’t think this is a wide open hole in YA literature. There’s a bunch of YA sports books for young men (perhaps at the detriment of other genres for them), but young women, on the other hand, don’t see tons of sports books directed towards them.

Kate’s Rating 7: While the soccer parts didn’t speak to me and some characters were flat, I liked the family drama as well as the look into Argentine life and what it’s like for women.

Serena’s Rating 7: I, too, enjoyed the Argentinian setting and the look into the culture, but sports books are never going to be my jam.

Book Club Questions

  1. Was there a character that you most identified with in this story? Was there a plot point that really stood out to you?
  2. What did you think about the themes of the Patriarchy in Camile’s life?
  3. What did you think of Camile’s nickname, La Furia? How does it apply to the story that she is living?
  4. How did you like the soccer parts in this book?
  5. The book sets up two paths for Camile: follow her soccer dreams, or follow the potential for romance. Do you think it has to be one or the other for her?
  6. What were your thoughts on the depictions of day to day life in Argentina?
  7. Did you feel like the ending was realistic? Why or why not?

Reader’s Advisory

“Furia” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA/Children’s Books in Latin America”, and “YA Girls Take On the Patriarchy”.

Find “Furia” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Next Book Club Book: “Front Desk” by Kelly Yang

Book Club Review: “Black Sun”

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Award Winners”, in which we each picked a book that has won an award of some kind.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Black Sun” by Rebecca Roanhorse

Publishing Info: Saga Press, October 2020

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Award: Alex Award

Book Description: A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun

In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.

Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.

Kate’s Thoughts

I’d heard of “Black Sun” through various book circles, online hype, and awards talk. I knew that it was really well liked by fantasy fans, and when it was picked as a book club book I had two very clear feelings about it. The first was ‘oh good, it’s great seeing BIPOC authors writing fantasy novels and this one has a lot of good hype around it!’ The second was ‘oh no, epic fantasy’. But I went in with an open mind because I have been surprised by fantasy now and then, in terms of how well I connect to it!

I can definitely recognize that “Black Sun” has some great epic fantasy elements to it, and hell, there were things that I liked about it as well! For one, I really liked Serapio and Xiala. For Serapio it’s because of his brooding and haunting backstory and the fact he seems to be walking the line between potential hero and villain. For Xiala, I liked her tenacity, I liked her motivation of being a disgraced sea captain, and I liked that she was tough but also very layered. I also really liked the two of them together, and how their potential romance built and formed against a backdrop of seafaring and potential disaster with the impending eclipse and Serapio’s potential destiny. And the themes and elements taken from Pre-Columbian folklore and mythology all seemed well researched and well implemented, which made me curious to look into some of the folklore beyond my own limited knowledge.

But as well all know, at the end of the day, I am not really an epic fantasy reading kind of gal. While there are some exceptions to that general rule, as a genre it doesn’t connect with me as much. So even though I could absolutely see the talent that Roanhorse has in writing this book and can appreciate the final product for how ambitious and well crafted it is, “Black Sun” wasn’t really my thing. And that is purely based on the genre preferences I have and not on the work itself. You should absolutely take my thoughts with a grain of salt, as Serena is the one who is going to have the most helpful and relevant things to say.

“Black Sun” may not work for you if you’re like me and you don’t care for epic fantasy. But it’s easy to see why it’s so lauded by those who do like the genre.

Serena’s Thoughts

I said this at bookclub itself, and I’ll repeat it here: this is why Kate and I are great blog partners! We both love books, but (with some definite exceptions and cross-overs) we tend to enjoy very different genres and types of reads. This gives us a lot of breadth of coverage on the blog and, hopefully, provides options and insights to readers of a lot of different sorts. This book is a perfect example. Epic fantasy is hardly ever Kate’s thing, and this was a bit of a miss for her. But for me? Loved the heck out of it! Hit every checkbox for things I like! Excellent all around! So, you see? Two very different sides of the same “loves books” coin.

For me, there was much to love about this book. I read the audiobook, so I missed out on the awesome maps that were provided in the print copy, but the world-building was so detailed and imaginative that I had no trouble picturing this sprawling world. From cities perched on pillars linked with bridges, to perilous seas and distant lands, it felt like a fully realized world full of different cultures, histories and religions. This information came out slowly and organically, something of a staple of epic fantasy, so readers must trust that these bits of the world and history will come together as the story continues. Which it does, brilliantly!

I also really enjoyed the way the story was laid out. It’s definitely the kind of read that takes its time setting up all of the various characters and their arcs and motivations. But the author wisely helps jumpstart this process by giving us a few glimpses of where some characters will end up by the book’s end before jumping back to about a month before these events. This type of teaser keeps readers on their feet, wondering how a character will get from point A to point B. I think it worked really well and did help with the slower pacing at the front end of the story.

I also really liked our three (kind of four?) main characters. I definitely had favorites, but I enjoyed all of their stories individually as well. It’s that delicious sort of torture where you have multiple characters you love and you see them beginning to be set up on opposing sides of a coming conflict. Like Kate, Serapio and Xiala were my favorites, with the spunky and sea-bitten Xiala taking the crown as my most enjoyed character. However, I also liked the political intrigue (another staple of much epic fantasy) that came with Naranpa’s story.

I loved the heck out of this book. The audiobook was also an excellent read, and I highly recommend that to fans of audiobooks. There are different narrators for all four main characters, and each one does an excellent job. I will definitely be checking out the second book the minute it comes out!

Kate’s Rating 6: This is very clearly well written and thought out epic fantasy. But as we all know, epic fantasy and I don’t really mix well.

Serena’s Rating 10: I loved this! Strong world-building, excellent mythology, and relatable characters make for the perfect fantasy read.

Book Club Questions

  1. Did you like the maps and the character list that were provided for the reader? Did these things make it easier to keep everything straight while you read?
  2. Do you think that the world building that Roanhorse did in regards to the Pre-Columbian inspirations was well done?
  3. What did you think of the gender representation in this novel?
  4. What did you think of the major city and town settings of Tova vs Cuecolla?
  5. Whose perspectives were your favorites? If there was a side story you could explore, whose would you choose?
  6. What are your thoughts on the magical elements and systems in this book?

Reader’s Advisory

“Black Sun” is included on the Goodreads lists “Non-Caucasian Protagonists in Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Paranormal Romance”, and “2020 Locus Recommended Reading List”.

Find “Black Sun” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Next Book Club Book: “Furia” by Yamile Saied Méndez

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