Kate’s Review: “Ring Shout”

49247242Book: “Ring Shout” by P. Djèlí Clark

Publishing Info: Tor.com, October 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Nebula, Locus, and Alex Award-winner P. Djèlí Clark returns with Ring Shout, a dark fantasy historical novella that gives a supernatural twist to the Ku Klux Klan’s reign of terror.

D. W. Griffith is a sorcerer, and The Birth of a Nation is a spell that drew upon the darkest thoughts and wishes from the heart of America. Now, rising in power and prominence, the Klan has a plot to unleash Hell on Earth.

Luckily, Maryse Boudreaux has a magic sword and a head full of tales. When she’s not running bootleg whiskey through Prohibition Georgia, she’s fighting monsters she calls “Ku Kluxes.” She’s damn good at it, too. But to confront this ongoing evil, she must journey between worlds to face nightmares made flesh–and her own demons. Together with a foul-mouthed sharpshooter and a Harlem Hellfighter, Maryse sets out to save a world from the hate that would consume it.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novella!

I have said it many a time, the horror genre can be so effective at symbolism and social commentary wrapped up in a creepy and spooky tale. You’ve seen it with such films as “Night of the Living Dead”, “Get Out”, “Candyman”, “Dawn of the Dead”, the list goes on and on and on. Books, too, do this very well, with recent titles like “Lovecraft Country” and “The Devil in Silver” being two that come to mind for me. I always love some horror that has more to say about society than just ghosts and ghouls, and “Ring Shout” by P. Djèlí Clark is a new title that scratches that itch. Sure, it looks like it’s a book about demons, demon hunters, and black magic. But it’s also a story of the very real horrors of American Racism.

I am usually nervous when I’m about to start a novella that seems like it has a lot of distance to cover and a lot of complicated themes, as it’s hard to fit all of that into limited pages. But even though “Ring Shout” clocks in at less than two hundred pages, Clark does a great job of developing his characters, building an alternative American history with mystical themes, and hitting the metaphors out of the park with biting satire and, in some cases, dark humor. We follow Marys, Sadie, and Chef, three Black women who, in post WWI America, are fighting against demons summoned by dark sorcerer D.W. Griffith that have fed upon white people’s racism and led to a resurgence of the KKK. There are Klans, who are white racists whose hate for Black (and other non-white groups) has been amplified, and Ku Kluxes, actual demons disguised under the robes. Maryse, Sadie, and Chef, with the help from a Gulluh woman with magic and insight and other freedom fighters, are hoping to stop the end of the world fueled by racism, and Maryse may hold the key to it all. What I liked best about this story was that the three main characters are Black women, and they are given a whole lot of agency, motivation, and unique characterizations that make them all very enjoyable and fun. Maryse especially has a lot of complexity, her anger and determination pushing her forward. Clark gives all of them unique voices, but Maryse’s in particular stands out.

The social commentary has a lot to work with her. While it could have been easy to just say ‘demons are the problems behind the racism in the Jim Crow South’ (something you kind of saw in “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” with vampires and chattel slavery), Clark doesn’t let racist white people off the hook here. While it’s true that the demons are part of it, those who are influenced already had hate in their hearts. That hate was just used to help the demons gain power. There is also a less obvious but just as powerful metaphor in this story through the magical system regarding these demons that Clark puts in. The only people who can see the demons in their true forms are people from marginalized groups (this is mostly Black people, but there is a Jewish character in the group fighting against the Ku Kluxes that can see them as well); white people cannot. It’s a clever way to call out white people’s ‘I don’t see color’ hypocrisy, as well as a metaphor for the microaggressions that have a blind eye turned to them even when marginalized groups who are affected by them say that they are, indeed, there. I greatly enjoyed that part of the mythos.

And Clark pulls all of this together in a cohesive and engaging story in less than two hundred pages! With some pretty gnarly Lovecraftian imagery and body horror thrown in for good measure (there’s also a nod to this extremely problematic horror icon in this story, which was super fun to see). It made for a bite sized horror treat that I was able to read and enjoy in one sitting, the perfect quick tale for this Halloween season!

“Ring Shout” is a new social commentary horror classic in the making! Treat yourself to something a little more complex this ghostly season, you won’t be disappointed.

Rating 8: Steeped in sharp and biting satire and commentary, “Ring Shout” is a story of demons, heroines, and American racism.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ring Shout” is included on the Goodreads lists “Beyond Butler: Spec Fic by Authors of Color”, and “ATY 2020 – About Racism and Race Relations”.

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

Kate’s Review: “The Tea Dragon Tapestry”

51323376Book: “The Tea Dragon Tapestry” by Katie O’Neill

Publishing Info: Oni Press, September 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Join Greta and Minette once more for the heartwarming conclusion of the award-winning Tea Dragon series!

Over a year since being entrusted with Ginseng’s care, Greta still can’t chase away the cloud of mourning that hangs over the timid Tea Dragon. As she struggles to create something spectacular enough to impress a master blacksmith in search of an apprentice, she questions the true meaning of crafting, and the true meaning of caring for someone in grief. Meanwhile, Minette receives a surprise package from the monastery where she was once training to be a prophetess. Thrown into confusion about her path in life, the shy and reserved Minette finds that the more she opens her heart to others, the more clearly she can see what was always inside.

Told with the same care and charm as the previous installments of the Tea Dragon series, The Tea Dragon Tapestry welcomes old friends and new into a heartfelt story of purpose, love, and growth.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this graphic novel!

I don’t know if not being at work has made my advanced knowledge of titles a little rusty or what, but when I was perusing NetGalley for a new batch of books I saw that Katie O’Neill had written a new “Tea Dragon” book that I hadn’t heard of. So I of course immediately accessed it, counting my luck stars that once again we were going to join Greta, Minette, Hesekiel, and Erik, and all of their adorable Tea Dragons.

And then I found out that it was the last story in the series.

How can this possibly be the end? HOW? (source)

“The Tea Dragon Tapestry” takes us back to the characters in “The Tea Dragon Society”, as we are reunited with blacksmith Greta, tea shop apprentice Minette, tea shop owners Hesekiel and Erik, and the always adorable Tea Dragons. Everyone is a bit older, and now Greta and Minette are starting to wonder about their places in the world and what they are going to do next with their lives. All the while, the Ginseng Tea Dragon that has ended up in Greta’s care after its owner passed away hasn’t been flourishing, and Greta is worried that she will never be able to bond with it. So right off the bat, identity and grief are presented as the themes of this book. O’Neill has a real gift for taking on heavy topics and making them feel digestable and gentle for the reader, and no matter how much anxiety or conflict a character may be feeling, you never get the sense that things are going to turn out badly for anyone. While this may come off as a lack of conflict and therefore a lack of investable plot, I actually really liked the calm atmosphere of this book. I also liked that there were moments dedicated to addressing the grief of the Ginseng Tea Dragon, and that grief is natural and doesn’t have to abide by timelines, nor does it mean that a person (or Tea Dragon) is broken. It was a great way to teach the young reader demographic potentially reading this (as this is generally a Middle Grade series) that when someone you care about is dealing with it, just being there is better than trying to find a fix so YOU feel better. Important lessons that even lots of adults don’t quite get, so I loved seeing it here.

Along with some great themes, revisiting characters from both “The Tea Dragon Society” and “The Tea Dragon Festival” was such a joy. O’Neill ties the two stories together and finally brings all of the characters to one place, with Rinn and Aedhan visiting Erik and interacting with Greta and Minette, and helping them with their self reflection. It was delightful seeing Rinn all grown up, and seeing her relationship with Aedhan and how it has changed and progressed. And even with the treat of familiar faces, O’Neill still manages to bring in some new characters, and lets us get to know them and learn to love them just as much as the old. I was particularly taken with Ginseng Tea Dragon, as it had a different, and just as valid, personality to some of it’s compatriots. New favorite Tea Dragon? Very possibly.

But it’s hard to choose, of course, because the Tea Dragons REMAIN EVER SO CUTE!! The design of this story is the same unique imagery that O’Neill has had for her previous books, and I still love it and how sweet and dreamy it is. The simplicity and bright and vibrant colors really bring out such joy and bring the story to life.

Screen Shot 2020-07-30 at 2.46.44 PM
Source: Oni Press

While I am not ready to say goodbye to the charming and wonderful characters of this series, “The Tea Garden Tapestry” gives it the best kind of send off I could have hoped for. I am very interested in seeing what Katie O’Neill does next now that she’s leaving her Tea Dragons and those who care for them.

Rating 8: A heartwarming and sweet conclusion to a series that I have come to associate with kindness and tranquility, “The Tea Dragon Tapestry” gives us one more adventure with Greta, Minette, and all the Tea Dragons.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Tea Dragon Tapestry” is included on the Goodreads lists “Fantasy Fiber Fiction”, and “2020 YA Books with LGBT Themes”.

Find “The Tea Dragon Tapestry” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed:

Serena’s Review: “The Ikessar Falcon”

35661274._sy475_Book: “The Ikessar Falkcon” by by K. S. Villoso

Publishing Info: Orbit, September 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: Abandoned by her people, Queen Talyien’s quest takes a turn for the worse as she stumbles upon a plot deeper and more sinister than she could have ever imagined, one that will displace her king and see her son dead. The road home beckons, strewn with a tangled web of deceit and unimaginable horrors – creatures from the dark, mad dragons and men with hearts hungry for power.

To save her land, Talyien must confront the myth others have built around her: Warlord Yeshin’s daughter, symbol of peace, warrior and queen and everything she could never be.

The price for failure is steep. Her friends are few. And a nation carved by a murderer can only be destined for war.

Previously Reviewed: “The Wolf of Oren-Yaro”

Review: I requested an ARC of the first book in this series kind of on a whim. To be frank, I was actually kind of put off by the series being titled “Chronicles of the Bitch Queen.” I mean, I get it…she-wolves, bitch, yep. And I’m sure it’s also `tied in with the fact that Talyien is not a beloved queen. But still, it’s kind of an abrasive series title, and I wasn’t sure what exactly I was getting into. Turned out, what I was getting into was an intriguing new fantasy world headed-up by a no-nonsense but still deeply flawed heroine. So after finishing that first book, it was really exciting to see that the second was coming out only 6 months later. And here we are!

Talyien’s situation hadn’t started out well when she set off from her homeland in the hopes of reconciling with the husband that had abandoned her and her son years earlier. It had only gotten worse since with repeated assassination attempts, betrayal, said husband heading back to her home, potentially to kill their son, leaving Talyien stranded in a foreign country with very few friends. But she is nothing if not persistent, especially when the life of her son is at stake. As she makes her way back to him, however, Talyien covers an even deeper web of lies, one that exists not only in the present but extends back to the past.

I think I liked this book even more than the first! For one thing, I’m still really enjoying the first person narration but told from the POV of an adult woman. All too often, the only place I really see first person narration is in YA novels with teenage protagonists. And this, in turn, leads to a certain immaturity in their focus (don’t get me wrong, I still love me a good YA fantasy, but the narrators can sometimes be a bit silly). But here, we have an adult who has a full history behind her, one that she is capable of looking back on and recognizing her own and others’ mistakes. It also makes all of her interactions with those around her particularly interesting. In some ways, she’s an unreliable narrator as her perceptions of others and their motivations are always colored by what she knows (or guesses) about them. But we also have an inside look into how their actions and words influence her.

This book also seemed to expand on almost all aspects. We see more of the world-building as Talyien and her crew travel around trying to make their way back to her son. I really enjoyed out fully fleshed out this world feels. We hear about the different foods, languages, and cultural behaviors from place to place. And it’s all presented in a very natural-feeling way, no info dumping. There was also more of magic to found in this second book and more action in general.

I also really liked how much more we learned about Talyien’s father and his actions. There’s also a pretty deep-dive into the lasting influence that her father has had on Talyien. From the very start of the book, it’s clear that his perceptions of her, his lessons, his strengths and failures as a parent are a continual influence on Talyien’s own perception of herself and of the choices she can make. She, of course, is also unreliable in her memories of him, as we, the reader, can see some of his flaws in a more clear way than she can.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It felt like it took what the first book laid down as a foundation and started really building up from there. Everything just felt more fully fleshed out, and the story was even more exciting. Of course, it’s no surprise that Talyien’s story doesn’t end here with rainbows and butterflies, so I’m excited to see what happens in the third book. Don’t forget to enter to win an ARC copy of this book as well!

Rating 8: Even bigger and better than the first!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Ikessar Falcon” is a new title, so it isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on: “Asian-Authored Books in 2020.”

Find “The Ikessar Falcon” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Basketful of Heads”

50490087._sy475_Book: “Basketful of Heads” by Joe Hill and Leomacs (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, September 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: June Branch visits her boyfriend, Liam, on Brody Island for a relaxing last weekend of summer. After an escaped group of criminals breaks into the house that June and Liam are watching, Liam is taken by them. June grabs a strange Viking axe and flees from the intruders. When one of the attackers finds her, she swings the axe and takes off his head, which rolls away and begins to babble in terror. For June to uncover the truth, she’ll need to hear the facts straight from the mouths of her attackers, with…or without their bodies attached. Collects issues #1-7.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this graphic novel!

While it’s true that we aren’t getting a new Joe Hill novel this year, never fear fellow Hill lovers! He has made his triumphant return into the comics world with DC’s imprint Hill House Comics! Given how intricate and awesome “Locke and Key” is, when I heard that he was coming up with his own comic imprint I was very happy. When his premiere contribution “Basketful of Heads” became available in its full form on NetGalley I downloaded it almost immediately after I saw it. I had high hopes, and like most Hill content that comes my way, it met my expectations.

First thing is first, Hill has created some fun characters and a fun setting for this story. Brody Island feels exactly like the kind of beach town you would see in 1970s and 80s lore, with heavy nods to “Jaws” in particular (as this is one of Joe Hill’s favorite movies I wasn’t surprised; Brody Island named for the police chief in that movie, as well as a character saying someone should be hung up by their ‘buster browns’, a la the mayor). In this limited scope of a story you get a sense of the town and the people who live there, and the nostalgia factor was on point. Our protagonist June is the kind of lady character I’ve come to expect from Hill. She’s tough, she’s no nonsense, but she isn’t forced into a stereotypical ‘badass woman’ box we sometimes see when these kinds of characters are on the page. While it’s true that she’s lopping people’s heads off in hopes of saving herself and her boyfriend Liam, which is incredibly badass, she retains her personality and her core being. June also has some well done complexity, as she loves her boyfriend but has aspirations of her own through her education and focus on psychology. While others disparage her aspirations, she values them and holds true to them. I loved June. Add her to the list of excellent Hill heroines.

And then there’s the horror and mystery aspects of this story. As June takes off the heads of violent men who want to do her and Liam harm, we see a lot of gore and splatterpunk-esque violence that is very entertaining. We don’t really know what it is about the axe that June is carrying that makes people’s heads stay alive after being removed from the body, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. The bigger question is why were June and Liam targeted by their attackers. And as that mystery slowly unfolds, we get a well plotted and full of twists ride that I really enjoyed. Hill has a number of tricks up his sleeves, and I found all of them entertaining as hell. I sped through this story wanting to know how it was all going to turn out, and with every reveal I was excited to learn more. Throw in some really fun Easter egg references to Stephen King and his work (prisoners from Shawshank on the run, the location of “Derry County”) and I could barely contain the smiles on my face that kept breaking out.

On top of all that, I liked the art style quite a bit. It is splatterpunk and gory when it needs to be, but also has some moments of cartoony camp and intimate expressions on our characters faces.


“Basketful of Heads” was a really fun story, and I couldn’t be happier now that Joe Hill is back to doing some work in comics. I will definitely be looking into his imprint more to see what other stories come out of it. Summer may be over, but if you want to cling to it a little while longer and you like this kinda thing, pick it up!

Rating 8: Super fun, super gory, super twisty, “Basketful of Heads” is a hoot and a half and a hell of a ride.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Basketful of Heads” is new and isn’t included on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Best Horror Comics/ Graphic Novels”.

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

Kate’s Review: “One by One”

50892433._sy475_Book: “One by One” by Ruth Ware

Publishing Info: Scott Press, September 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: The #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Turn of the Key and In a Dark Dark Wood returns with another suspenseful thriller set on a snow-covered mountain.

Getting snowed in at a beautiful, rustic mountain chalet doesn’t sound like the worst problem in the world, especially when there’s a breathtaking vista, a cozy fire, and company to keep you warm. But what happens when that company is eight of your coworkers…and you can’t trust any of them?

When an off-site company retreat meant to promote mindfulness and collaboration goes utterly wrong when an avalanche hits, the corporate food chain becomes irrelevant and survival trumps togetherness. Come Monday morning, how many members short will the team be?

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

We are leaving the summer months here in Minnesota and I, for one, am actually actively dreading winter this time around. That isn’t my usual M.O., as someone who likes cold better than heat, but given that heat is the only way we can in person socialize with people right now, weather wise, this Minnesota Winter is going to be even more isolating than usual.

Yes, I’ve been a Debbie Downer during the pandemic. Look for a more cheerful Kate in 2021 (hopefully). (source)

But all that said, I do try to remind myself that it can always be worse, so at least I’m not going to be stuck in an avalanche ravaged chalet with a potential murderer on the loose, right? That brings us to “One by One”, the new mystery thriller from Ruth Ware! I have mostly enjoyed Ware’s takes on the whodunnit murder mystery, so I was eager to read her newest foray into the genre.

Like what we can usually expect from Ware, “One by One” is an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery where isolation is the name of the game, someone ends up dead, and almost everyone is a suspect because they all have motive, means, and opportunity. This time we dive into the world of Start Ups, when the team behind music app Snoop go on a mountain retreat to get some skiing in while discussing the future of the company. We have two narrative perspectives we follow. The first is of Erin, one of the employees at the Chalet whose job is to make everyone’s stay a happy one. The other is Liz, a former employee who doesn’t seem to fit in with the posh and entitled rest. Both women have their secrets, their traumas, and their parts to play. I feel like we mostly got a sense of what both women were about, though that said Erin definitely felt a little more well characterized than Liz at times. But for the most part by the time I was done with the book and the characters, I felt like both Erin and Liz played their parts well. Heck, most of the characters, even the ones that we didn’t get into the minds of, were drawn well enough that they felt believable in their actions and attitudes. Topher, the co-founder and one of the heads of Snoop, was especially intriguing to follow from out outsider perspective, as his smarm and ambition would occasionally give way to a complex person, depending on whether it was Liz or Erin that was perceiving him in that moment, and therefore shaping the reader’s perceptions of him. We got to see that for a few of the characters, actually, and it was a fun device to show that people have multiple sides to themselves.

The mystery itself was fairly standard, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I sort of figured it out before it all came together, but that didn’t make the journey any less enjoyable. I thought that the setting of a mountain retreat was a fun isolation tactic, and seeing the characters start to unravel as their situation became more dire and murdery was suspenseful, with questions as to who would be next on the chopping block always in the back of the mind. Throw in a unique and pulse pounding climax and I was kept on the edge of my seat, wondering if the characters I liked were going to be safe and the ones who were doing wrong were going to get their comeuppance. My one complaint was that the book felt a need to wrap up a number of ends after the fact, which just made for the ending to feel a little too long and drawn out long after the high tension of the climax was gone. On top of that, a few reveals were left for afterwards as well, when they probably should have been addressed earlier. I feel that had Ware put some of those solutions into other parts of the book it would have worked out a little better, as it threw off the tone as the story was wrapping up. It didn’t ruin the story as a whole, but it did give me a little bit of pause when I should have just been riding out the final pages.

“One by One” is going to be a fun mystery for the autumn and winter as we isolate in our homes and ride out our own storms. Ruth Ware is a reliable distraction during times when reliability is something we need more of.

Rating 8: Suspenseful, twist filled, and appropriately isolated, “One by One” is another fun mystery from Ruth Ware!

Reader’s Advisory:

“One by One” is included on the Goodreads lists “Can’t Wait Crime, Mystery, and Thrillers 2020”, and “Upcoming Books That Sound Cool” (seems subjective but that title just tickles me).

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

Kate’s Review: “Race Against Time”

52754197._sx318_sy475_Book: “Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era” by Jerry Mitchell

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, February 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: On June 21, 1964, more than twenty Klansmen murdered three civil rights workers. The killings would become known as the “Mississippi Burning” case and even though the killers’ identities, including the sheriff’s deputy, were an open secret, no one was charged with murder in the months and years that followed.

It took forty-one years before the mastermind was brought to trial and finally convicted for the three innocent lives he took. If there is one man who helped pave the way for justice, it is investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell.

In Race Against Time, Mitchell takes readers on the twisting, pulse-racing road that led to the reopening of four of the most infamous killings from the days of the civil rights movement, decades after the fact. His work played a central role in bringing killers to justice for the assassination of Medgar Evers, the firebombing of Vernon Dahmer, the 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham and the Mississippi Burning case. His efforts have put four leading Klansmen behind bars, years after they thought they had gotten away with murder.

Review: Something that the United States hasn’t quite come to terms with is that our country is still a very deeply racist place. Our country was built on the backs of slaves, and the reverberations of that system are still being felt today, even though we don’t want to admit it. In the 1960s during the first Civil Rights Movement in this country, a number of people who were fighting for justice and rights for Black people were murdered for their values and actions, and for many years many of these cases went unsolved. Jerry Mitchell, a investigative journalist, was struck by the cold case of the Mississippi Burning Murders, in which three civil rights workers were murdered by upwards of twenty Klansmen, and were never given justice. That was the start of his career in investigating cold cases around murders during The Civil Rights Era. “Race Against Time” is his memoir about his work around said cases. And frankly, it’s necessary reading for any true crime fans, or anyone interested in justice for those who died for Civil Rights.

As one can imagine, “Race Against Time” is intense, dark, and harrowing. Mitchell pursues leads in a few notorious, recently solved cases of murders of people that Klan members killed to intimidate and silence those who were fighting for racial justice. Mitchell made deep connections to the family members left behind, and as he devotes each section of the book to these cases, you see how he earned the trust of those people, as well as doggedly pursued the probably perpetrators. His writing style is what you’d expect for a seasoned and well respected reporter, and his narrative flows in a very consumable way. Along with that, he really knows how to convey the pain and hope of the family members, and the fear and tension he was feeling when he did meet with suspects and Klansmen, having to keep his cool as they not only say horrifically racist things, but also brag about violence. I really appreciated seeing all of the work that he did, as well as his takes on how the court cases went once they did eventually get to court, decades after the fact. The cases he covers I mostly knew, but seeing this perspective he lays out as opposed to the ones in American History books I had encountered in my past was fresh and insightful. He doesn’t mince words about the evil of white supremacy and how it drives The Klan, and it made for a difficult, but important read.

What struck me the most as I was reading this book is that while this is arguably Jerry Mitchell’s memoir on his work in investigative journalism regarding the murders of Civil Rights figures, it is decidedly centered on the victims and their families as opposed to him. Sure, he talks about the various things he had to do, like putting himself in harms way by interviewing Klansmen and then exposing them. Or talking about the fears that his family had during some of this time. But it always reads as him putting the victims and those they left behind first, and delving into their backgrounds, their stories, and their truths. While I definitely worried about Mitchell on some of his assignments, I was mostly hoping for the best outcomes possible for people like Medgar Evers, Vernon Dahmer, and the Four Little Girls of the 16th Street Church bombing. Mitchell devotes time and pages to all of their stories, and really peels back the way that bigotry and racism hindered justice for so long, as well as exposing the violent racists who almost got away with murder. But it never feels like he’s patting himself on the back or tooting his own horn, and is also quick to point out that there are SO MANY cases that have gone without justice over the years. Mitchell is here to remind us that justice is far from done, and that as a country we still have a long way to go when it comes to righting the wrongs of our racist past and present.

“Race Against Time” is necessary reading when it comes to The Civil Rights Movement, and also a great case study in the importance of investigation journalism. There is still work to do, folks, and people like Mitchell can show us effective ways to do it.

Rating 8: A fascinating and harrowing memoir that centers the victims instead of the author, “Race Against Time” is a must read for those who seek justice against white supremacy.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Race Against Time” is included on the Goodreads lists “True Crime on Tap”, and “White Power, Terrorism, White Supremacy, and White Nationalist Movements in the United States (nonfiction)”.

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

Kate’s Review: “Heartstopper (Vol.1)”

50160417Book: “Heartstopper (Vol.1)” by Alice Oseman

Publishing Info: Graphix, May 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Boy meets boy. Boys become friends. Boys fall in love. A sweet and charming coming-of-age story that explores friendship, love, and coming out.

Shy and softhearted Charlie Spring sits next to rugby player Nick Nelson in class one morning. A warm and intimate friendship follows, and that soon develops into something more for Charlie, who doesn’t think he has a chance.

But Nick is struggling with feelings of his own, and as the two grow closer and take on the ups and downs of high school, they come to understand the surprising and delightful ways in which love works.

Review: Sometimes you just need a good romance. While it’s not really my go to genre, I do have a soft spot for a kissing book every once in awhile, and in graphic novel form that’s all the better. Given how things have been going as of late, when I was throwing money at my local indie bookstore I decided to order “Heartstopper (Vol.1)” by Alice Oseman, given that a few of my friends had read it and enjoyed it. I waited for a day where I was stressed out and needed a nice fluffy distraction. And if you too are looking for a nice fluffy distraction, “Heartstopper (Vol.1)” will do you just fine.

This book showing up to shower you with romantic goodness. (source)

“Heartstopper (Vol.1)” is about two teenage boys. The first is Charlie, a shy and introverted 10th year at his school who is out and used to be bullied because of it. The other is Nick, a gregarious and charming rugby player who gets along with all sorts of people. After being seated next to each other in class they strike up a friendship, and then perhaps something more starts to develop. This is a very straightforward story about two boys who are still trying to find themselves, and by finding each other they grow and change and blossom. While there isn’t much in terms of twists or turns or crazy drama or conflict, the quiet pangs of seemingly impossible crushes and the confusing moments of shifting (or perhaps merely expanding) sexuality bring enough relatable angst and joy to the reader that you will still be invested. Charlie and Nick’s friendship is realistic and darling, and seeing Charlie yearn for Nick while thinking he has no chance, and seeing Nick become more and more drawn to Charlie makes it so that you are completely taken in by their tale and will want to see what happens. Both Charlie and Nick are extremely likable, and I loved seeing how they interacted with each other and how their potential romance slowly built up through these interactions. What I found the most satisfying about this story is that while Charlie makes mention of past bullying, and while there are definitely moments of ‘soft’ homophobia from some characters (by no means to I mean not harmful, but more thinking in stereotypes of what a gay person is ‘supposed’ to be), it isn’t the main conflict for Charlie within the narrative. After all, while addressing the oppression that members of the LGBTQIA+ have to face is important, it’s also important not to define their stories by that oppression. So to have Charlie and Nick navigating the highs and lows of a potential romance in very run of the mill ways was refreshing. I also appreciated how Oseman addressed that one’s sexuality can shift and change when you are trying to figure out who you are, as Nick is going through a lot of self discovery. And that can be hard. The story is definitely soft and sweet, and while it does end on something of a cliffhanger you also have hope going into the next volume. Whenever that may be. Soon, I hope!

And finally, I really liked the artwork for this comic. Oseman’s style is very simple, but there are little hints of originality that I found very endearing. Be it sometimes writing out sound effects to have in the panel, or how the words are hand written and typed out letters are reserved for texts and messages between characters, or how body language gets translated into words, there is something very endearing and charming about how Oseman tells her story with her imagery.

Please ignore the not so good quality picture, I had to improvise. (Source: Graphix)

“Heartstopper (Vol.1)” is a lovely start to this pleasant story, and I am very eager to see where Charlie and Nick go from here.

Rating 8: Soft and sweet, “Heartstopper (Vol.1)” is a darling romance with lovely characters and a charming coming of age plot line.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Heartstopper (Vol.1)” is included on the Goodreads lists “Great M/M Webcomics”, and “Let Boys Be Soft”.

Find “Heartstopper (Vol.1)” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “The Girl in Red”

42881101Book: “The Girl in Red” by Christina Henry

Publishing Details: Berkley, June 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: It’s not safe for anyone alone in the woods. There are predators that come out at night: critters and coyotes, snakes and wolves. But the woman in the red jacket has no choice. Not since the Crisis came, decimated the population, and sent those who survived fleeing into quarantine camps that serve as breeding grounds for death, destruction, and disease. She is just a woman trying not to get killed in a world that doesn’t look anything like the one she grew up in, the one that was perfectly sane and normal and boring until three months ago.

There are worse threats in the woods than the things that stalk their prey at night. Sometimes, there are men. Men with dark desires, weak wills, and evil intents. Men in uniform with classified information, deadly secrets, and unforgiving orders. And sometimes, just sometimes, there’s something worse than all of the horrible people and vicious beasts combined.

Red doesn’t like to think of herself as a killer, but she isn’t about to let herself get eaten up just because she is a woman alone in the woods….

Review: This is another book that I put on my list sometime last year and forgot about. I rediscovered it on my audiobook list and placed a hold on it recently. All of that without really looking at the book description again. I had the idea that it was some sort of fairtyale retelling (I know, where could I have gotten that idea from??). Well, turns out it’s not so much that as a survival story after a massive global pandemic wipes out most of the population. Womp womp. Perfect timing there Serena! But I still really enjoyed this read, even if it hit a bit too close to home at times.

We first meet Red as she’s making her way through the woods, on her way to Grandma’s house. But life has not always been this lonesome, often terrorizing and violence filled trek. Through a series of flashback, we see Red’s world slowly come apart at the scenes as a global, deadly pandemic begins wiping out the population. And of her family, only Red fully realizes the extent of change ahead of them and the seemingly drastic steps they should be taking to prepare. Told in alternating chapters between past and present, we travel alongside Red as she navigates the dangers of this new reality and learns there is more to this pandemic than even she had prepared for.

So, like I said, I thought this was a fairly straightforward fairytale retelling when I requested it. I’m sure when I put it down on my TBR pile, I was aware of the actual subject matter as it’s right there in the book description. But I’d forgotten it over time. And, as with most audiobooks I read from the library, without an actual physical book to look at, I went into this one mostly blind only to realize what I was reading later. It was definitely an interesting reading experience, I have to say. There are plenty of books throughout my life that I can point to as having had different effects depending on the real-life events going on in my own life at the time I was reading them. And this was definitely one of those cases.

On one hand, Red’s extreme attention to detail and planning was intimidating for those of us just managing to get by in these times. Obviously, her pandemic, one that killed off 80% or so of the those it infected, was very different than our situation. But the human behavior that resulted was largely the same. There were those who stuck their head in the sand. Those who came up with wild theories. Those who were skeptical of the “help” being offered by the government. And those who took matters into their own hands. It was all incredibly believable and, of course, off-putting for that same “realness.”

I also really liked how we delved into Red’s own mindset in the midst of it. Unlike many other post-apocolypic/survival stories, this one doesn’t shy away from the way pop culture and media would shape the views of those going through it. Again and again, we see Red compare her own situation to that of a character in a movie and base her decisions around what those same characters did. We also see how there are both pros and cons to this inevitable comparison. On one hand, she has a healthy dose of skepticism about dark corners or splitting up as a group. But on the other hand, we see her have to grapple with the very real problem that there is never always a right choice. And not only will every choice come with its own risks, but the time spent over-analyzing which might be best comes with its own distinct risks and dangers. I really enjoyed this deep-dive into the psychology that an individual living through something like this might experience.

And, while there were definitely sad parts to the story, I appreciated that this book never wallowed in the direness of the situation. This is no “The Road,” by any means. It’s still an action/adventure book at its heart, and while tragedy is an inevitable part of it, Red herself is a hopeful character and one who keeps the story buoyed up and free from becoming overwhelmingly grim.

My only real criticism of this book comes with the ending. It kind of came out of nowhere. I looked down at my audiobook at one point and realized there were only 30 minutes left in the story and seriously thought maybe I’d made a mistake when downloading it. There was no way it could wrap up from where it was at that point to a satisfying ending! And while the ending was technically satisfying, it did feel like the author just kind of left off after the last big action scene and skipped to a final few pages of an ending. It almost read like a writing school project in that way. Like the author ran out of steam completely and just jotted something down so that they could check off the box for “has an ending” in the assignment criteria.

But, even with that, I still very much enjoyed this book. The audiobook was also very well down and the narrator did an excellent job of bringing Red’s voice to life. If you have the mental/emotional capacity for a book on this subject matter right now, I really recommend this one. Like I said, it could be tough at times, but as far as survival/pandemic stories go, it was surprisingly approachable and manageable, even during Covid times.

Rating 8: A surprising read full of twists and turns, but told from a primarily hopeful place and one that manages to pull the book up past what could have been an overly grim subject matter.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Girl in Red” is on these Goodreads lists: “Books that are so exciting your heart palpitates like mad!” and “Smart Apocalyptic and Dystopian Fiction.”

Find “The Girl in Red” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Displacement”

39908611._sx318_Book: “Displacement” by Kiku Hughes

Publishing Info: First Second Books, August 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: A teenager is pulled back in time to witness her grandmother’s experiences in World War II-era Japanese internment camps in Displacement, a historical graphic novel from Kiku Hughes.

Kiku is on vacation in San Francisco when suddenly she finds herself displaced to the 1940s Japanese-American internment camp that her late grandmother, Ernestina, was forcibly relocated to during World War II.

These displacements keep occurring until Kiku finds herself “stuck” back in time. Living alongside her young grandmother and other Japanese-American citizens in internment camps, Kiku gets the education she never received in history class. She witnesses the lives of Japanese-Americans who were denied their civil liberties and suffered greatly, but managed to cultivate community and commit acts of resistance in order to survive.

Kiku Hughes weaves a riveting, bittersweet tale that highlights the intergenerational impact and power of memory.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this graphic novel!

I am always going to keep hammering home the point that if we don’t know our own history, we are going to repeat it, especially now when our country seems to be determined to undercut civil liberties of its own citizens. Between police brutality, towards minorities (particularly Black people), a Muslim ban, and children in cages at the border, it feels like we are slipping more towards times in American history where we committed terrible atrocities that we haven’t really faced as of yet. That brings me to “Displacement” by Kiku Hughes, a graphic novel on the Japanese American Internment during World War II. I’ve read my fair share about this horrific practice (and reviewed another graphic novel on the topic, “They Called Us Enemy” by George Takei), and figured that this would be another powerful, but familiar, take on this period in history. And I can safely say that “Displacement” wasn’t really what I was expecting.

“Displacement” is both fiction, and non-fiction. The non-fiction aspect is that Kiku Hughes’s grandmother Ernestina was held prisoner at both Tanforan and Topaz Internment camps, and that Kiku and her mother did a lot of research into it as Ernestina didn’t open up about it while she was alive. But the fictional aspect is a device that works very well, in which Kiku tells a story of herself being transported back in time, or ‘displaced’ to the 1940s, and ending up at the same Internment sites as Ernestina, therein letting the reader see this historical atrocity through the same modern lens that Kiku may. It’s very similar to “Kindred” by Octavia Butler, and Hughes mentions her specifically in her acknowledgements. I thought that it worked really well because it makes the story feel more personal than perhaps a textbook would, and more relatable since Hughes is a young adult who doesn’t know that much about the camps and what life there was like for Ernestina. It’s a perfect read for tweens and teens who might be wanting to learn about this topic, as while it’s ‘fantasy’, it’s also very realistic and provides the same perspective that they may be going in with. I read “Farewell to Manzanar” by Jane Watasuki Houston when I was in seventh grade, and while I did like it and got a lot from it, I think that if I had something like “Displacement” I may have connected more with it just because of the modern lens. Hughes also makes very clear connections to the current political climate we are in today with Trump and his goons in power, and how there are stark, STARK similarities between the prejudices they hold and the policies they are inflicting upon marginalized groups, and the ones inflicted upon the Issei and Nisei in this country during the Internment.

While “Kindred” is the book Hughes mentions specifically as influence, I also see a lot of similarities to Jane Yolen’s “The Devil’s Arithmetic”, in which a modern day (well modern when it came out) Jewish girl named Hannah is transported back to Poland right as the Nazis take over. I kept going back to that story as I saw Kiku pre-displacement, thinking about how Hannah, like Kiku, doesn’t feel that much connection to her heritage. While “Displacement” certainly does a great job of talking about what specifically happened to her grandmother during the Internment, Hughes also makes direct connections as to how the Internment facilitated a loss of identity for Japanese Americans, and played a part in generational trauma that still lingers today. It’s a theme that I haven’t seen as much in other books, be they fiction or non-fiction, about the Internment, and it is a really powerful way to show that there are far reaching consequences that touch later generations when it comes to trauma and violence directed towards a group of people. Kiku recounts (in the true story part of this book) how she and her mother decided to do their own research about Ernestina’s life in the camps, and about the camps themselves, and find out things that neither of them knew because of survivors not wanting to talk about it due to trauma and shame. This was the aspect that stood out to me the most.

And finally, I really liked Hughe’s artwork style. It feels not dissimilar to what you might expect from modern comics, but there are undercurrents of more realistic artwork and imagery that kind of remind the reader that this is based on something real, and terrible.


“Displacement” is a book that I really think educators should have in their curriculums when teaching teens about the Japanese American Internment. It’s easy to understand, easy to parse, and has a whole lot to say about identity, racist policy, and trauma that can last beyond a generation.

Rating 8: A powerful graphic novel and the perfect introduction to the subject for tween and teen audiences, “Displacement” takes on a reprehensible part of American history with a magical realism twist.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Displacement” is included on the Goodreads lists “Surviving in the Japanese Relocation Centers of WW2”, and “2020 YA/MG Books With POC Leads”.

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

Serena’s Review: “Serpent & Dove”

40024139Book: “Serpent & Dove” by Shelby Mahurin

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, September 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Two years ago, Louise le Blanc fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could steal. There, witches like Lou are hunted. They are feared. And they are burned.

Sworn to the Church as a Chasseur, Reid Diggory has lived his life by one principle: thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. His path was never meant to cross with Lou’s, but a wicked stunt forces them into an impossible union—holy matrimony.

The war between witches and Church is an ancient one, and Lou’s most dangerous enemies bring a fate worse than fire. Unable to ignore her growing feelings, yet powerless to change what she is, a choice must be made.

And love makes fools of us all.

Review: Have to get all of these books that were so popular last fall in before their sequels drop this summer/fall! But one more down! I didn’t know much about this book when I placed my audiobook request other than the fact that a few of my YA librarian friends had said it was super popular last fall when it came out. So like a good little YA fan, I placed my request without much more thought. So I really had no idea what to expect when I actually got the book, so the whole thing was an interesting surprise (I never even looked at the book description until after the fact). While it didn’t blow me away, I can see why it was so popular and I’m definitely interested to see what the sequel has to offer this September!

Living undercover as a witch in hiding means Lou’s life is one of constantly looking over her shoulder and being suspicious of everyone. In a world where all women are under constant scrutiny, under threat of death by fire for being a witch, Lou must be particularly careful. But in a comedy or tragedy of errors and crossed paths, Lou suddenly finds herself in the viper’s nest itself: making her home among her enemies and married to a Chasseur, a witch hunter. Now both she, and Reid who was raised to strictly believe the evil at the heart of all of witches, must confront what they really know about the opposite side. And as their feelings for each other grow, will these differences prove detrimental?

You don’t really see too many “forced marriage” plots outside of fanfiction and romance novels, so it was definitely interesting seeing this book’s attempt to use this trope in a more mainstream YA fantasy novel. And overall, I think it was very successful. The set-up for their marriage was believable, and because the book is told through alternating perspectives, readers are able to watch the slow change and progression of feelings on both sides. Of course, it’s still all told over one book’s length, and not an uncommonly long one at that, so I do feel that the romance itself came on a bit quickly. But I also felt like the author did just enough to lay the groundwork for these changes and given her characters the room and opportunity to believably begin changing their minds about one another.

As with all stories that feature multiple POVs, I had a preference for one over the other. But in this case it wasn’t because I felt that one was more strongly written than the other; both perspectives felt grounded and believable. But Reid was definitely a bit harder to empathize with. Over the course of the book, we begin to see more of what shapes his belief system, but it’s always going to be a hard sell to be in the head of a male character who thinks burning women at the stake is a good idea. He obviously comes around, but there are some definite moments where I just wanted to smack him.

Lou, on the other hand, is your kind of standard YA heroine: strong, feisty, and independent. She didn’t blow me away as anything incredibly original, but her dialogue, both in her POV sections and in Reid’s, was always great and had some really funny bits to it. She disappears a bit towards the end of the book, and this did make that section a bit more challenging to get through. But luckily by that time Reid is coming around again and is able to take over for the most part.

There were quite a few twists and surprises throughout the book. As a reader of a lot of YA fantasy, I was able to see almost all of these coming, but that didn’t make them less enjoyable, really. And, of course, this is the kind of thing that will hit different readers in different ways. Combined with the French-focused world-building and an interesting magic system, I felt like the story itself felt fairly fresh and new.

This is the first book in what I believe is a trilogy, so the end of the book is by no means a proper “ending.” But given the fact that the next book is coming out in September, if you, like me, haven’t gotten around to this one yet, you won’t have a long wait fo

Rating 8: A solid start to a new series that will hopefully grow into something even better.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Serpent & Dove” is on these Goodreads lists: “Characters Hate Each Other Then Fall In Love” and “Epic High Fantasy/Romance/Mythology by 2020.”

Find “Serpent & Dove” at your library using WorldCat!