- Gabby Womack
May Reading Reviews
A Thousand Beginnings and Endings: 16 Retellings of Asian Myths and Legends edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman
Rating: 5/5 stars
Click here to read this review!
Inheritance: A Visual Poem by Elizabeth Acevedo & Andrea Pippins
Rating: 5/5 stars
Representation: Latine, Black
Content Warning: Colorism, Racism within Latine community
Description: "They tell me to “fix” my hair.
And by fix, they mean straighten, they mean whiten;
but how do you fix this shipwrecked
history of hair?
In her most famous spoken-word poem, author of the Pura Belpré-winning novel-in-verse The Poet X Elizabeth Acevedo embraces all the complexities of Black hair and Afro-Latinidad—the history, pain, pride, and powerful love of that inheritance.
Paired with full-color illustrations by artist Andrea Pippins in a format that will appeal to fans of Mahogany L. Browne’s Black Girl Magic or Jason Reynolds’s For Everyone, this poem can now be read in a vibrant package, making it the ideal gift, treasure, or inspiration for readers of any age."
Review: I love Elizabeth Acevedo and this book is another hit! It's beautiful and feels like chosen family. I'm so happy to see her bring this discussion on anti-Blackness in the Latine community to the forefront, especially since she is Dominican-American. Wonderful for everyone to read.
She Who Became the Sun (The Radiant Emperor Duology, #1) by Shelley Parker-Chan
Genre: Historical Fiction/Fantasy
Representation: Chinese, Nonbinary
Rating: 5/5 stars
Content Warning: violence, misogyny, disfigurement, abuse, enslavement, starvation
Description: "In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…
In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected. When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother's identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate. After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu is flung back onto a collision course with her lethal fate. Her one chance of escape is to claim another future altogether: her brother's abandoned greatness. Searching for a path to power, Zhu joins the rebellion—only to find it under existential threat from the Mongols’ most feared general: an enslaved eunuch whose beautiful female face conceals a heart as merciless as jade and ice. For a monk with no martial skills, the front line of a war’s losing side is a bad place to be. And worse yet, Heaven is watching for any sign that Zhu might not be the true owner of the fate she has been audacious enough to claim…" - author's website
Review: What an amazing story! I was rooting for Zhu in the beginning but she veers into the murkiness like everyone else in time. So that kind of sucks! However, it's super cool to learn about this time in China's history through her. The pacing was perfect! The only thing that confused me was how each chapter noted a number of months but it seemed to be more like 5-10 years... Maybe I missed something.
Fevered Star (Between Earth and Sky, Book 2) by Rebecca Roanhorse
Rating: 5/5 stars
Representation: Indigenous, blind, queer, nonbinary
Content Warning: Violence, classism
Description: "The great city of Tova is shattered. The sun is held within the smothering grip of the Crow God’s eclipse, but a comet that marks the death of a ruler and heralds the rise of a new order is imminent.
The Meridian: a land where magic has been codified and the worship of gods suppressed. How do you live when legends come to life, and the faith you had is rewarded?
As sea captain Xiala is swept up in the chaos and currents of change, she finds an unexpected ally in the former Priest of Knives. For the Clan Matriarchs of Tova, tense alliances form as far-flung enemies gather and the war in the heavens is reflected upon the earth.
And for Serapio and Naranpa, both now living avatars, the struggle for free will and personhood in the face of destiny rages. How will Serapio stay human when he is steeped in prophecy and surrounded by those who desire only his power? Is there a future for Naranpa in a transformed Tova without her total destruction?" - Simon & Schuster
Review: Loved it just as much, if not more than, Black Sun!! I was really looking forward to Serapio and Naranpa meeting and this did not disappoint. I also loved seeing a bit of Xiala's backstory with the Teeks. More Iktan!!! Super excited for the next book.
Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories From The Twenty-First Century edited by Alice Wong
Genre: Essay Anthology
Rating: 5/5 stars
Representation: disabled, BIPOC, chronically ill, chronic pain, LGBTQ+
Content Warning: ableism, suicidal thoughts, gaslighting, abuse, neglect, death, loneliness, imprisonment, institutionalization
Description: "One in five people in the United States lives with a disability. Some disabilities are visible, others less apparent—but all are underrepresented in media and popular culture. Now, just in time for the thirtieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, activist Alice Wong brings together this urgent, galvanizing collection of contemporary essays by disabled people. From Harriet McBryde Johnson’s account of her debate with Peter Singer over her own personhood to original pieces by authors like Keah Brown and Haben Girma; from blog posts, manifestos, and eulogies to Congressional testimonies, and beyond: this anthology gives a glimpse into the rich complexity of the disabled experience, highlighting the passions, talents, and everyday lives of this community. It invites readers to question their own understandings. It celebrates and documents disability culture in the now. It looks to the future and the past with hope and love." - Penguin Random House
Review: What an amazing collection! Not only did I learn a whole lot, I felt validated. This book is so multifaceted and thoughtful. Every high school and college should include it in their reading lists and discussions because it's past time for everyone to acknowledge and learn about the ways in which our world has been built for able-bodied, neurotypical people. In a time where everyone is talking about diversity, inclusion, and anti-oppression, disabled people have been forgotten or an afterthought.
This book also includes a ton of resources mentioned within the essays and listed at the back of the book. Please check the content warnings listed before each essay.
"Crip time is time travel."
Note: Head to the website for different formats of the book, including braille and audio reading: https://disabilityvisibilityproject.com/book/dv/
There's also a version of this book for young folx here: https://disabilityvisibilityproject.com/book/ya/
Finna by Nino Cipri
Genre: Science Fiction - Novella
Rating: 4/5 stars
Representation: Nonbinary, Queer, Black, Latine
Description: "Nino Cipri's Finna is a rambunctious, touching story that blends all the horrors the multiverse has to offer with the everyday awfulness of low-wage work. It explores queer relationships and queer feelings, capitalism and accountability, labor and love, all with a bouncing sense of humor and a commitment to the strange.
When an elderly customer at a Swedish big box furniture store — but not that one — slips through a portal to another dimension, it’s up to two minimum-wage employees to track her across the multiverse and protect their company’s bottom line. Multi-dimensional swashbuckling would be hard enough, but those two unfortunate souls broke up a week ago.
To find the missing granny, Ava and Jules will brave carnivorous furniture, swarms of identical furniture spokespeople, and the deep resentment simmering between them. Can friendship blossom from the ashes of their relationship? In infinite dimensions, all things are possible."
Review: I will admit that I didn't read the description of this book before I started listening to it on Libby. One of my BookTok friends started reading it and it sounded interesting to I checked it out. This was a super short read but packed a lot in. I didn't expect the majority of the plot to be about a couple that recently broke up. Despite that, I really enjoyed the author's creativity with the storyline and imagery in the multiverse. It was really cool to see this type of trope used to discuss capitalism and queerness.
By the Book by Jasmine Guillory
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Representation: Black, American
Description: Inspired by Beauty and the Beast
"Isabelle is completely lost. When she first began her career in publishing right out of college, she did not expect to be twenty-five, living at home, still an editorial assistant, and the only Black employee at her publishing house. Overworked and underpaid, constantly torn between speaking up or stifling herself, Izzy thinks there must be more to this publishing life. So when she overhears her boss complaining about a beastly high-profile author who has failed to deliver his long-awaited manuscript, Isabelle sees an opportunity to finally get the promotion she deserves.
All she has to do is go to the author’s Santa Barbara mansion and give him a quick pep talk or three. How hard could it be?
But Izzy quickly finds out she is in over her head. Beau Towers is not some celebrity lightweight writing a tell-all memoir. He is jaded and withdrawn and—it turns out—just as lost as Izzy. But despite his standoffishness, Izzy needs Beau to deliver, and with her encouragement, his story begins to spill onto the page. They soon discover they have more in common than either of them expected, and as their deadline nears, Izzy and Beau begin to realize there may be something there that wasn't there before." -Author's website
Review: When I first started reading this book, it felt like it was about me! Overworked, undervalued, Black book lady. I felt called out! But forreal, I loved this story despite the superrrrrr slowwwww burn and fade-to-black (it's Disney, babes!) So if you cannot abide that wholesomeness, this probably isn't the book for you. I really loved reading this story and the chemistry between Izzy and Beau. Guillory also did an awesome job with the details connecting it back to Beauty and the Beast. Also, it made me wanna write a book! So there's that.
A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin
Genre: YA Fantasy
Rating: 4 stars
Representation: Chinese, Sapphic (side characters)
Content Warning: Death of parent, assassination
Description: "I used to look at my hands with pride. Now all I can think is, "These are the hands that buried my mother."
For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it's her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her—the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu.
When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom's greatest shennong-shi—masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making—she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favor from the princess, which may be Ning's only chance to save her sister's life.
But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger."
Review: I love how intricate this story is, especially with the teas. This story was well done and enjoyable. The author even includes a pronunciation guide in the back of the book! Y'all know how much I love that. I'm really looking forward to the second book and hope to get to know Ning's lil boyfriend soon.
Witchlings by Claribel A. Ortega
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Rating: 5/5 stars
Representation: Latine, Queer (side character)
Description: "Every year, in the magical town of Ravenskill, Witchlings who participate in the Black Moon Ceremony are placed into covens and come into their powers as full-fledged witches.
And twelve-year-old Seven Salazar can't wait to be placed in the most powerful coven with her best friend! But on the night of the ceremony, in front of the entire town, Seven isn't placed in one of the five covens. She's a Spare!
Spare covens have fewer witches, are less powerful, and are looked down on by everyone. Even worse, when Seven and the other two Spares perform the magic circle to seal their coven and cement themselves as sisters, it doesn't work! They're stuck as Witchlings — and will never be able to perform powerful magic.
Seven invokes her only option: the impossible task. The three Spares will be assigned an impossible task: If they work together and succeed at it, their coven will be sealed and they'll gain their full powers. If they fail… Well, the last coven to make the attempt ended up being turned into toads. Forever.
But maybe friendship can be the most powerful magic of all…"
Such a great story about justice and embracing difference. I absolutely loved that the magical language is Spanish! There were also a lot of Latine cultural references that made me giggle. The narrator, Cyrina Fiallo was also wonderful! Y'all should pick this one up!
The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang (Book 1)
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Rating: 4.5 stars
Content Warning: graphic violence, genocide, rape, abuse, war crimes, drug addiction, experimentation/torture, colorism
Description: "The Poppy War is the first installment in a Chinese-history inspired epic fantasy trilogy about empire, warfare, shamanism, and opium.
When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to study at the academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who always thought they’d be able to marry Rin off to further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was now finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in the Nikara Empire—was even more surprising.
But surprises aren’t always good.
Being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Rin is targeted from the outset by rival classmates because of her color, poverty, and gender. Driven to desperation, she discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over her powers could mean more than just surviving school.
For even though the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied the Nikara Empire for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people in the Empire would rather forget their painful history, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away.
Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god who has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her her humanity.
And it may already be too late."
Rin was a fascinating character to follow, constantly teetering between doing "what's right" and seeking revenge. Kuang's writing was all-consuming and made it hard to leave this world, at times. I enjoyed getting to Rin and her will to survive but the gore of the last third of the book left me overwhelmed with shock. I was not ignorant to the extent of war crimes committed during World War II (and throughout history) but reading it portrayed in such detail was a lot to handle. I admire Kuang's research and accuracy. Due to the graphic violence, I needed to take some breaks and will continue to do so as I read the next two books in this trilogy. I suggest you do the same if you choose to read it!
Book Lovers by Emily Henry
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Rating: 4/5 stars
Representation: white, American, heterosexual
Content Warning: loss of parent (mentioned), grief
Description: "Nora Stephens’ life is books—she’s read them all—and she is not that type of heroine. Not the plucky one, not the laidback dream girl, and especially not the sweetheart. In fact, the only people Nora is a heroine for are her clients, for whom she lands enormous deals as a cutthroat literary agent, and her beloved little sister Libby. Which is why she agrees to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina for the month of August when Libby begs her for a sisters’ trip away—with visions of a small town transformation for Nora, who she’s convinced needs to become the heroine in her own story. But instead of picnics in meadows, or run-ins with a handsome country doctor or bulging-forearmed bartender, Nora keeps bumping into Charlie Lastra, a bookish brooding editor from back in the city. It would be a meet-cute if not for the fact that they’ve met many times and it’s never been cute. If Nora knows she’s not an ideal heroine, Charlie knows he’s nobody’s hero, but as they are thrown together again and again—in a series of coincidences no editor worth their salt would allow—what they discover might just unravel the carefully crafted stories they’ve written about themselves." - Penguin Random House
Review: This is my first Emily Henry books, despite the hype on BookTok. I found Book Lovers relatable, funny, and heartfelt. Nora and Charlie make a great match and it's great to see representation for folx who don't want children. The tension, thanks to the really slow-burn on top of the sort of enemies-to-lovers vibe, really worked for me. I felt a tiny bit ambushed by the subplot of Nora's grief and need to take care of her sister because no one mentioned it in their reviews!
The Many Deaths of Laila Starr by Ram V. and Felipe Andrade (Issues 1-5)
Genre: Magical Realism/Fantasy? - Graphic Novel
Rating: 4/5 stars
Representation: South Asian - Indian, Hinduism
Content Warning: death, suicide, grief
Description: "Humanity is on the verge of discovering immortality. As a result, the avatar of Death is cast down to Earth to live a mortal life in Mumbai as twenty-something Laila Starr. Struggling with her newfound mortality, Laila has found a way to be placed in the time and place where the creator of immortality will be born. Will Laila take her chance to stop mankind from permanently altering the cycle of life, or will death really become a thing of the past? " - Simon & Schuster
Review: There was so much to love about this book: the colors and illustration, the use of Hinduism driving the story forward. It was such a creative way to show that immortality can eventually lead to a loss of empathy for those who are mortal. There are so many white and/or Western comics and graphic novels that it was refreshing to pick up this one and experience a new place, culture, religion, and still connect through the universal struggle between immortality and death. I wanted more!!
The Upper World by Femi Fadugba
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Representation: Black British, blind
Content Warning: abandonment, loss of parents, violence, murder, police aggression
During arguably the worst week of Esso's life, an accident knocks him into an incredible world--a place beyond space or time, where he can see glimpses of the past and future. But if what he sees there is true, he might not have much longer to live, unless he can use his new gift to change the course of history.
Rhia's past is filled with questions, none of which she expects a new physics tutor to answer. But Dr. Esso's not here to help Rhia. He's here because he needs her help--to unravel a tragedy that happened fifteen years ago. One that holds the key not only to Rhia's past, but to a future worth fighting for." - HarperCollins
Review: The Upper World was a really cool concept and I enjoyed exploring it through the dual points of view. The pacing was perfect for the mystery of this book. I love that Esso explores types of time travel in fiction and what theories exist on its use. Fadugba includes a whole lot of detail on the physics of time travel and some of it went over my head. In all, it felt like this book was asking us to hold onto hope of the future for ourselves because others may sow doubt in us. I was a bit confused by the ending but appreciated the book anyway.
"We believed them. We knew no better, and so when they told us it was all true, we believed them. Then it started to define us, started to become real...Believing is seeing, Esso. Without belief, there's no hope."
The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5 stars
Representation: South Asian - Indian
Content Warning: abuse, spousal abuse (mentioned), discrimination based on caste, colorism, teen pregnancy, abortion (mentioned), death
Description: "Escaping from an abusive marriage, seventeen-year-old Lakshmi makes her way alone to the vibrant 1950s pink city of Jaipur. There she becomes the most highly requested henna artist—and confidante—to the wealthy women of the upper class. But trusted with the secrets of the wealthy, she can never reveal her own…
Known for her original designs and sage advice, Lakshmi must tread carefully to avoid the jealous gossips who could ruin her reputation and her livelihood. As she pursues her dream of an independent life, she is startled one day when she is confronted by her husband, who has tracked her down these many years later with a high-spirited young girl in tow—a sister Lakshmi never knew she had. Suddenly the caution that she has carefully cultivated as protection is threatened. Still she perseveres, applying her talents and lifting up those that surround her as she does." - Author's website
Review: This was a fascinating read as I didn't know very much about India in the 50s and 60s until this point. While I loved learning the history and empathized with the characters, sometimes their decisions annoyed the hell out of me. Despite that, I enjoyed the nuances and the ending of this story.
I love that Joshi included so many extra elements in this novel! A cast list, glossary, historical note, information about the caste system in India, a henna paste recipe, and a recipe for one of the dishes mentioned throughout the book.
The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna
Rating: 4/5 stars
Representation: Black, mixed-race, lesbian (side character)
Content Warning: graphic violence, racism/colorism, abandonment, torture, sex (mentioned), rape (mentioned)
Description: The Gilded Ones is about a mixed-race sixteen-year-old named Deka who lives in an all white and extremely religious village. Each year, the village holds a blood ceremony for the girls coming of age in order to determine their purity. If their blood runs red, they are pure, if it runs gold, they are demons and must face the consequences.
On the day of the ceremony, fearsome creatures called deathshrieks attack her Deka's village and not only is her blood golden, she seems to have some connection to the beasts. This disgusts and outrages the village leaders and they seek to punish her. Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki--near-immortals with rare gifts. Deka decides to go to leave with the woman in the hopes of finding some acceptance and, eventually, restore her own purity.
Although Deka develops friendships and alliances during her training, she discovers that nothing is what it seems in the walled city.
I really enjoyed this story and following a lead who is seen as a "demon" by the majority of people in her empire. Forna does a great job of exploring the misogyny and oppression embedded in Deka's society. It was a sweet and clever book, but the pacing sped way up about 80 percent of the way into the book. Suddenly, there's a bunch of answers to Deka's questions which would be okay if I had enough time to understand them before diving into the final plot twist.
Looking forward to The Merciless Ones and I hope that book will go more into the backstory of the Gilded Ones and how they came to be imprisoned.
You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty
by Akwaeke Emezi
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Representation: Black, bisexual, Nigerian, Caribbean
Content Warning: death of spouse (described in detail), grief, homophobia, sex, family strife
Description (I'm gonna share the author's description because it's *chef's kiss*):
Feyi Adekola wants to learn how to be alive again.
It’s been five years since the accident that killed the love of her life and she’s almost a new person now—an artist with her own studio, and sharing a brownstone apartment with her ride-or-die best friend, Joy, who insists it’s time for Feyi to ease back into the dating scene. Feyi isn’t ready for anything serious, but a steamy encounter at a rooftop party cascades into a whirlwind summer she could have never imagined: a luxury trip to a tropical island, decadent meals in the glamorous home of a celebrity chef, and a major curator who wants to launch her art career.
She’s even started dating the perfect guy, but their new relationship might be sabotaged before it has a chance by the dangerous thrill Feyi feels every time she locks eyes with the one person in the house who is most definitely off-limits. This new life she asked for just got a lot more complicated, and Feyi must begin her search for real answers. Who is she ready to become? Can she release her past and honor her grief while still embracing her future? And, of course, there’s the biggest question of all—how far is she willing to go for a second chance at love?
Review: This book is so beautiful, painful, and hellaaaaaa messy!! Feyi's friendship with Joy is probably one of my favorite aspects because of how real it is. Joy and Feyi are honest with each other, especially when they hear/see the other engaging in situations that could be detrimental, but still hold space for the fact that people have to learn their own way sometimes. I also love the way Emezi wrote the men they were given space to be vulnerable.
They also managed to describe the art and meals in such gorgeous detail that I began to wonder if Emezi wrote from experience. I'm not that adventurous when it comes to eating but I love reading stories with creative dishes!
The only things that brought this novel from 5 to 4.5 stars are the repetitive use of the word "loud" as a descriptor and how uncomfortable some of the messiness made me.
The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth Trilogy, Book 2)
by N.K. Jemisin
Rating: 5/5 stars
Representation: Black, queer, disabled
Content Warning: death/murder, cannibalism (mentioned), child abuse
Description: The second book in The Broken Earth trilogy picks up where book one left off for Essun and add a new point of view. Now, we see from her daughter Nassun's perspective as she leaves her comm with her father, where she ends up, and how her orogeny grows. Meanwhile, Essun is still adjusting to her new comm among other orogenes and trying to understand what Alabaster's warnings and teachings before his body becomes entirely stone.
Review: This book was just as fascinating, detailed, and awesome as the first one. I actually liked having Nassun's perspective added because I was really curious about her in the first book and why she would leave with her father after he murdered her brother. She's just as complicated as her mother, which makes for a very entertaining and riveting read. Strong follow-up to The Fifth Season!