Fantasy · Fiction · Romance · Young Adult

Skin of the Sea

Title: Skin of the Sea

Author: Natasha Bowen

Page Count: 336

Series: Skin of the Sea, Book 1

Publishing Date/Publisher: November 9, 2021 by Random House Books for Young Readers

Format: eBook

Review: I am tagging this book as an ARC, because at the time I received it from NetGalley, it had not yet been published. I started it some months ago, and then put it down in favor of other titles. Needless to say, the storyline and characters did not immediately draw me in. I did eventually pick it back up and finish it, and although I started enjoying it more toward the end, it didn’t knock my socks off. The premise behind this retelling of The Little Mermaid is undeniably beautiful. I loved how elements of the original story are interwoven with mythology and history. The story itself, however, was not particularly interesting to me. For readers who enjoy quests fraught with peril and mythical creatures, this story may have a lot of appeal. Alas, I am not that reader. I don’t generally enjoy odysseys because they tend to be more plot driven than character driven. Aside from the main character, Simidele, there is not a lot of character or relationship development. I’m glad that I finished it, but it is unlikely I will read the next book in this series. This book could easily be a standalone, though it looks like the author is working on at least one more title (possibly more).

On a side note, the cover for this book is absolutely gorgeous. In fact, it is the reason I requested an ARC of this title. However, why are her scales not rose gold??? Her scales are described multiple times throughout the novel, and it annoys me when these types of details are neglected. Rant over.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 3 Stars

Fiction · Historical · LGBTQ+ · Young Adult

A Sitting in St. James

Title: A Sitting in St. James

Author: Rita Williams-Garcia

Performer: Machelle Williams

Length: 13 hr, 21 min

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: May 25, 2021 by HarperAudio

Format: eAudiobook

Review: I admit, when I started this book I was unenthused about it. I would never have picked it up based on it’s description or cover, but it was on a reading list for a committee I am on, so I checked it out anyway. Let me tell you, this book impressed me more than any historical fiction novel I have read in years. It achieved a perfect balance of light tone with dark subject matter that left you feeling the whole gambit of emotion…horror, anxiety, hope, anticipation, shock, and mirth. One minute I would be experiencing stomach churning disgust and the next I would be laughing out loud. This author truly has a gift for writing complex characters. Sometimes you want to root for them, and sometimes you despise them. Be prepared for depictions of abuse (physical, emotional, and sexual) and brutal violence. These are not themes to be glossed over during this era of slavery. Cruelty is so intrinsic to the culture that the character’s appear to operate by an entirely different moral compass. Relationships are twisted and shaped by atrocities committed, both large and small.

A truly illuminating read and one that will make you think deeply about the dark corners of our past. Also, do yourself a favor and listen to it in audiobook format. The reader was phenomenal.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 5 Stars

Fiction · Mystery · Young Adult

Firekeeper’s Daughter

Title: Firekeeper’s Daughter

Author: Angeline Boulley

Page Count: 496

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: March 16, 2021 by Henry, Holt and Co.

Format: Hardcover

Review: A beautifully written portrayal of a bi-racial young woman navigating through the complexities of identity, family, and the social issues plaguing both of her communities. There are a lot of difficult topics broached in this novel, and Boulley deftly tackles each one as she uncovers the mystery at the heart of the story. I have to admit that I especially enjoyed the time period this book takes place in. Daunis is roughly the same age as I am and grew up in the same era. I experienced some level of nostalgia with the pop culture references and other time period identifiers. I was also delighted by the mention of the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, my very own alma mater.

Some readers may feel that the pacing of this “thriller” is too slow, but I personally enjoyed the gradual unfolding. This book is packed with social commentary, so I think it was appropriate for Boulley take her time and dive deeply into the subject matter. I look forward to future works by this debut author.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_Gold
All_Star_Gold
All_Star_Gold
All_Star_Gold
half star

Contemporary · Fiction · Romance

His Only Wife

Title: His Only Wife

Author: Peace Adzo Medie

Performer: Soneela Nankani

Length: 9 hr, 3 min

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: September 1, 2020 by Workman Publishing

Format: eAudiobook

Review: This book very comfortably fits the vibe of a chick lit drama. I wouldn’t say there is a lot of depth to the story, but I did really enjoy the character arc of the main protagonist, Afi. I wouldn’t really categorize it as a “coming-of-age” story, however, Afi grows and changes a lot as a person as she gains exposure to more modern ideas of womanhood. I’m categorizing this as a contemporary romance for reference purposes, but this label doesn’t quite fit either. Yes, indeed there is a romance, but it is sandwiched between two distinct time periods of uncertainty. It’s less about the romance and more about how the mysteriousness of this man, Eli, drives the plot of the story. When Afi marries him, he is not even present at the wedding, and he doesn’t enter the scene until much later in the story. Yet even with his marked absence, Afi is expected by her family and in-laws to play the role of dutiful wife. She eventually finds her voice (the time alone gives her LOTS of time for introspection), and the end result is rather satisfying. I felt a strong sense of liberation on her behalf when all was said and done. Overall, a very interesting glimpse into the traditions and culture shaping modern-day Ghana.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_Gold
All_Star_Gold
All_Star_Gold
half star

Contemporary · Fiction

If I Had Your Face

Title: If I Had Your Face

Author: Frances Cha

Performers: Frances Cha, Sue Jean Kim, Ruthie Ann Miles, & Jeena Yi

Length: 8 hr, 10 min

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: April 21, 2020 by Random House Audio

Format: eAudiobook

Review: This fascinating glimpse into Korean beauty culture immediately had me searching the internet for more information. It seems unbelievable that it would be commonplace for women, and men, to go to such drastic lengths to achieve beauty, but sadly it seems that it is true. I know very little about K-pop aside from it’s growing popularity among American youth, and it is frightening to see the dark side of this industry and how it influences the rest of Korean society.

Looking back on the length of this audiobook, it is stunning that the author was able to offer glimpses of so many different issues in such a short space of time. She tackles prostitution, high suicide rates, unemployment, and poverty – just to name a few. It is amazing that somehow all these topics seemed to circle back to beauty and the commodification of it. The characters seem to have this idea throughout the book that beautiful people get ahead in life, when in reality, beautiful people are just as susceptible, if not more so, to abuse.

In general, I thought the author did a really good job fleshing out the main characters with backstory, however, in retrospect, highlighting the lives of four characters was a bit ambitious. All the characters lives intersect in some way, but the character of Wonna seems largely disconnected from the rest. I can only assume she was included to show how the cultural expectations placed on women affect the average working class wife. All of the other characters are younger, unmarried, and childless. They have little to no interaction with Wonna at all until the very end. I did enjoy her story, but her vignettes didn’t seem to really fit smoothly with the rest of the character narratives. Even so, I liked how the author used these windows into the the past to illuminate current issues.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_Gold
All_Star_Gold
All_Star_Gold
half star

Contemporary · Fiction · Magical Realism · Young Adult

Home Is Not a Country

Title: Home Is Not a Country

Author: Safia Elhillo

Page Count: 224

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: March 2, 2021 by Make Me a World

Format: Hardcover

Review: I could have never predicted the direction of this story based on the cover or the synopsis. There were many aspects of the story that were beautiful – the title, the emphasis on friendship, and the mother/daughter relationship – but where it started to get a little sloggy for me was when the elements of magical realism were incorporated. There was a turning point about halfway through where the author lost me and never really roped me back. I kept being reminded of A Christmas Carol after this point, and the conclusion was about what I would expect knowing how that story ended.

The style of poetry that this author uses has recently been trendy in the YA sphere. I understand that the spacing, use of symbols, and lowercase letters are all creative choices. I assume they have a purpose, but I don’t know enough about poetry to figure out what that purpose is. Sometimes I found it distracting because I would spend a lot of time trying to glean why these choices were made. Hopefully I will find somebody who can explain it to me, because Google cannot.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_Gold
All_Star_Gold
All_Star_Gold
Fantasy · Fiction · Romance · Young Adult

Dark Shores

Title: Dark Shores

Author: Danielle L. Jensen

Performers: Jeanette Illidge & Jeremy Arthur

Length: 12 hr, 21 min

Series: Dark Shores, Book 1

Publishing Date/Publisher: May 7, 2019 by MacMillan Audio

Format: eAudiobook

Review: I didn’t dislike this book, but for some reason I could not fully connect with it. I finished it a couple of months ago and for some reason I have been dragging my feet in reviewing it. Perhaps it is because I have had a hard time pinpointing just what it is that didn’t jive for me. To be honest my memory has already started to erase the finer details of the story. There was nothing particularly memorable that stands out to me about the storyline, but I do remember feeling a sense of anxiety regarding many of the choices that the characters made. I found the villain to be flat, and his motives unclear. One storyline was dropped completely, which I thought was odd until I read the synopsis for the second book in the series and realized this plot point is the basis of a concurrent storyline. I liked the concept of the Rome influenced setting and the Maarin as a seafaring people who act as the go between for the East and West. I don’t regret taking the time to finish this book, but I probably won’t continue with the series.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_Gold
All_Star_Gold
All_Star_Gold
Contemporary · Fiction · Romance · Young Adult

Born Confused

Title: Born Confused

Author: Tanuja Desai Hidier

Performer: Marguerite Gavin

Length: 14 hr, 47 min

Series: Born Confused, Book 1

Publishing Date/Publisher: 

Format: eAudiobook

Review: This was a very fun, coming-of-age novel. I really enjoyed the author’s writing style. She finds humor in the mundane, and she paints a vivid picture of family and culture. I liked most aspects of the book, but the way the central romance unfolded annoyed me tremendously. It was a very believable premise leading up to the declaration of feelings, but the fall out that would of resulted feels a bit underplayed. Perhaps I have strong feelings about this because I personally don’t care for romance arcs where the relationship with the close friend is thrown to the wayside in favor of a romantic one.

Although it predates the Netflix series Never Have I Ever by a few years, I think that people who enjoyed that show would enjoy this book tremendously. It explores a lot of similar themes such as building a cross-cultural Indian/American identity, marriage, love, sexuality, family, and friendship.

I did not like the casting for this audiobook. The performer had a melodic voice, but she sounded way too old to be believably portraying a teen girl. Also, I am always a little leery of the accuracy of accents when a person is not from that culture.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_Gold
All_Star_Gold
All_Star_Gold
All_Star_Gold

Fantasy · Fiction · Romance · Young Adult

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin

Title: A Song of Wraiths and Ruin

Author: Roseanne A. Brown

Performers: Jordan Cobb & A.J. Beckles

Length: 12 hr, 4 min

Series: A Song of Wraiths and Ruin, Book 1

Publishing Date/Publisher: June 2, 2020 by HarperAudio

Format: eAudiobook

Review: Did Rebel of the Sands have a love child with The Selection and Children of Blood and Bone??! If so, I’m pretty sure it’s this book. But in all seriousness, this book contains bits and pieces of a number of YA books I have read, including another book I just reviewed: Witches Steeped in Gold. It wasn’t entirely original, but I really loved the way magic was incorporated into the story. I was far less enthused about the romance. It just felt…weak. I don’t really have any other way to describe it. The chemistry between Karina and Malik was extremely lackluster. In fact, for some reason I just found Malik’s character to be lackluster in general. We know he is faced with an impossible choice – kill the princess or let his sister die – but he kind of just accepts it lying down (though I do like what the author did at the end with his character). Karina, on the other hand, also has a difficult choice, but shows so much more strength of character, despite her reluctance to accept her future role as queen. Maybe the author will change my mind about this in the sequel, because the relationship between the two will undoubtedly play a key role in the trajectory of the story. I hope so because I like the world she has created and wish to see more of it.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_Gold
All_Star_Gold
All_Star_Gold
half star
Fantasy · Fiction · Paranormal · Young Adult

Witches Steeped in Gold

Title: Witches Steeped in Gold

Author: Ciannon Smart

Page Count: 544

Series: Witches Steeped in Gold, Book 1

Publishing Date/Publisher: April 20, 2021 by HarperTeen

Format: eBook

Review: I have been dragging my feet when it comes to writing this review, not because I didn’t like the book, but because it has so many similarities to two other books I have recently read. This is a very strong readalike for Children of Blood and Bone and A Song of Wraiths and Ruin. It has been hard for me to draw any clear distinctions between my feelings about the three, though I can say that I enjoyed them all. I can’t help but note that white hair on magic users seems to be a very popular trend in YA fantasy fiction that is inspired by African and/or Caribbean folklore. I thought this striking imagery was very distinct to the Legacy of Orisha trilogy, but it seems to have made it’s way into other series as well. One repeating trend I have also noticed (that I actually quite like) is the finely drawn line between hero(ine) and villian(ess). A line that is often crossed by both the former and the latter in such a way that these distinctions become meaningless. Life is messy, and I like when I can relate to both the protagonist and the antagonist in equal measure. It tickles me even further when these roles reverse at some point in the story. I think this series has quite a lot of potential, and it is very possible I might love the second book…we will just have to wait and see.

P.S. If I had to rate the cover of this book it would be 5/5 stars.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_Gold
All_Star_Gold
All_Star_Gold