“All My Rage” by Sabaa Tahir (Review)

Tahir, Sabaa. All My Rage. New York: Razorbill, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-0593202340 | $19.99 USD | 384 pages | YA Contemporary 

Blurb

Lahore, Pakistan. Then.
Misbah is a dreamer and storyteller, newly married to Toufiq in an arranged match. After their young life is shaken by tragedy, they come to the United States and open the Cloud’s Rest Inn Motel, hoping for a new start.

Juniper, California. Now.
Salahudin and Noor are more than best friends; they are family. Growing up as outcasts in the small desert town of Juniper, California, they understand each other the way no one else does. Until The Fight, which destroys their bond with the swift fury of a star exploding.

Now, Sal scrambles to run the family motel as his mother Misbah’s health fails and his grieving father loses himself to alcoholism. Noor, meanwhile, walks a harrowing tightrope: working at her wrathful uncle’s liquor store while hiding the fact that she’s applying to college so she can escape him—and Juniper—forever.

When Sal’s attempts to save the motel spiral out of control, he and Noor must ask themselves what friendship is worth—and what it takes to defeat the monsters in their pasts and the ones in their midst.

From one of today’s most cherished and bestselling young adult authors comes a breathtaking novel of young love, old regrets, and forgiveness—one that’s both tragic and poignant in its tender ferocity.

Review 

5 stars 

While Sabaa Tahir is mostly known for her Ember in the Ashes fantasy series, which I have long been interested in, my interest was truly piqued by her first contemporary, All My Rage. This book unpacks a lot of tough topics, from addiction and abuse to Islamophobia and grief in the wake of losing a parent, and does so beautifully. 

This book is divided into three perspectives, with the two primary ones being set in the present, and one in the past. Each voice feels distinct, and Misbah’s past narrative is further distinguished through use of italics. 

Misbah’s story is directly tied to Sal’s, and it’s bittersweet to learn about how she and his father left Pakistan for America in hopes of a fresh start, especially seeing Sal’s arc in the present unfold simultaneously. His father is an alcoholic and they’re dealing with debt issues, and Sal soon sees no other option besides selling drugs. His faith exploration is complex, given his situation, but it never feels stereotypical. 

Noor is also from a Pakistani immigrant family, living with a controlling uncle who refuses to allow her to go to college and wants to keep her away from Islam. Given how many families in books about Muslim Americans are the opposite, being devout, while the protagonist is a rebel and “not like other Muslims,” this is an interesting dynamic and allows for some great musings on faith. 

This is a moving exploration of faith and family from a Pakistani-Muslim American cultural lens that everyone should read, especially if you enjoy heartfelt YA contemporaries. 

Author Bio

Sabaa Tahir is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Ember in the Ashes series, which has been translated into over thirty-five languages. She grew up in California’s Mojave Desert at her family’s eighteen-room motel. There, she spent her time devouring fantasy novels, raiding her brother’s comic book stash. And playing guitar badly. She began writing books while working nights as a newspaper editor. She likes thunderous indie rock, garish socks, and all things nerd. Visit Sabaa online at https://sabaatahir.com and follow her on Instagram @SabaaTahir.

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“Fevered Star” (Between Earth and Sky #2) by Rebecca Roanhorse

Roanhorse, Rebecca. Fevered Star. New York: Saga Press, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1534437739 | $27.99 USD | 400 pages | Fantasy 

Blurb

Return to The Meridian with New York Times bestselling author Rebecca Roanhorse’s sequel to the most critically hailed epic fantasy of 2020 Black Sun—finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, Lambda, and Locus awards.
There are no tides more treacherous than those of the heart. —Teek saying
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?
Welcome back to the fantasy series of the decade in Fevered Star—book two of Between Earth and Sky.

In the series

#1 Black Sun

Review 

4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

Fevered Star is a solid follow-up to the brilliance that is Black Sun. While feeling very much like a middle book, developing the plot while not resolving much, it’s generally an enjoyable reading experience. 

I love the continued exploration of the world, especially with the way Rebecca Roanhorse plays with familiar concepts, like gods walking among humans. The politics are intricate and compelling, and the developments present a lot in the way of intrigue. It’s dark and twisty in the best way. 

The characters are almost definitely my favorite part. Serapio and Xiala are separated, which does suck, but I like how it allows them room to grow on their own terms, navigating complex potential new bonds. And Naranpa grows in her confidence, and is perhaps the most compelling of the three as a result. 

I really enjoyed the developments in this one, and am anxious for the next one. 

Author Bio

Rebecca Roanhorse is an NYTimes Bestseller and a Nebula, Hugo and Locus Award-winning speculative fiction writer and the recipient of the 2018 Astounding (formerly Campbell) Award for Best New Writer. 

Her novels include Trail of Lightning, Storm of Locusts, Star Wars: Resistance Reborn, Race to the Sun for the Rick Riordan imprint, and the epic fantasy Black Sun. She has written for Marvel Comics and for television, and has projects optioned by Amazon Studios, Netflix, and Paramount TV.

She lives in Northern New Mexico with her husband, daughter, and pup. She drinks a lot of black coffee. Find out more at https://rebeccaroanhorse.com/ and on Twitter at @RoanhorseBex. 

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“Delilah Green Doesn’t Care” by Ashley Herring Blake (Review)

Blake, Ashley Herring. Delilah Green Doesn’t Care. New York: Jove, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-0593336403 | $16.00 USD | 384 pages | Contemporary Romance 

Blurb

A clever and steamy queer romantic comedy about taking chances and accepting love—with all its complications—by debut author Ashley Herring Blake.

Delilah Green swore she would never go back to Bright Falls—nothing is there for her but memories of a lonely childhood where she was little more than a burden to her cold and distant stepfamily. Her life is in New York, with her photography career finally gaining steam and her bed never empty. Sure, it’s a different woman every night, but that’s just fine with her.

When Delilah’s estranged stepsister, Astrid, pressures her into photographing her wedding with a guilt trip and a five-figure check, Delilah finds herself back in the godforsaken town that she used to call home. She plans to breeze in and out, but then she sees Claire Sutherland, one of Astrid’s stuck-up besties, and decides that maybe there’s some fun (and a little retribution) to be had in Bright Falls, after all.

Having raised her eleven-year-old daughter mostly on her own while dealing with her unreliable ex and running a bookstore, Claire Sutherland depends upon a life without surprises. And Delilah Green is an unwelcome surprise…at first. Though they’ve known each other for years, they don’t really know each other—so Claire is unsettled when Delilah figures out exactly what buttons to push. When they’re forced together during a gauntlet of wedding preparations—including a plot to save Astrid from her horrible fiancé—Claire isn’t sure she has the strength to resist Delilah’s charms. Even worse, she’s starting to think she doesn’t want to…

Review 

3 stars

I was incredibly hyped for Delilah Green Doesn’t Care, but as I dove into it, I began to realize that I didn’t care…about this romance. The cover is stunning (Leni Kauffman always hits home runs with these!) and I’ve long wanted to read Ashley Herring Blake…but I just didn’t gel with this one. 

I do find the general concept interesting, especially as far as it navigates messy relationship between stepsisters. Delilah has always dealt with insecurities, not being made to feel welcome or comforted in the wake of her grief and loss by her stepmother or stepsister, Astrid. Not to mention, Astrid is rather popular and she and her friends have also played a role in making Delilah feel unwelcome.

So, to see all the dysfunction play out now that the two are adults and Astrid has hired Delilah to be her wedding photographer is perhaps the most intriguing part of the book. And to see insights into Astrid and her mother’s relationship, and for Delilah to understand that it wasn’t so picture-perfect in reality…that’s really beautiful. And the fact that the story culminates in the realization that Astrid is making an awful mistake in her choice of life partner, which will no doubt play a role in the next book, where she’s a protagonist?! I’m intrigued! 

Claire, one of Astrid’s friends, also has some stuff going for her on her own too. She is now a single mom to an eleven year old and runs a bookstore. Given that the intent was to transform one of the friends who snubbed Delilah into a love interest, I think this was a great way to provide some nuance for her and show how she has grown and been impacted by the passage of time. 

However, the two of them together had no real spark or tension. I didn’t see any particular reason for them to be attracted to each other, and their awkwardness together only increased as things turned sexual. Some of this could be due to this being Blake’s first outing in adult romance, having primarily written for younger readers previously. But even the non-sexual scenes had nothing to keep me interested in them.

While this is a rough first outing into adult romance, Ashley Herring Blake’s writing style is engaging, as are most of her characters. I am interested enough to see what awaits Astrid in the next book. And while it didn’t work for me, it’s an overall lighthearted read that anyone looking for a queer romcom will enjoy. 

Author Bio

Ashley Herring Blake is an award-winning author and literary agent at Rees Literary Agency. She holds a master’s degree in teaching and loves coffee, arranging her books by color, and cold weather. She is the author  of the young adult novels Suffer Love, How to Make a Wish, and Girl Made of Stars. And the middle grade novels Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. Clair, and Hazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea. Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World was a Stonewall Honor Book, as well as a Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, NYPL, and NPR best book of 2018. Her YA novel Girl Made of Stars was a Lambda Literary Award finalist. She’s also a coeditor on the young adult romance anthology Fools in Love. She lives on a very tiny island off the coast of Georgia with her family. 

http://www.ashleyherringblake.com/ 

Twitter: @ashleyhblake 

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“Girls of Flight City” by Lorraine Heath (ARC Review)

Heath, Lorraine. Girls of Flight City. New York: William Morrow, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-0063078536 | $16.99 USD | 384 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb

Inspired by true events, a breathtaking WWII historical novel about the brave American women who trained the British Royal Air Force, by New York Times bestselling author Lorraine Heath.

A talented flier, Jessie Lovelace yearns for a career in aviation. When the civilian flight school in her small Texas town begins to clandestinely train British pilots for the RAF, she fights to become an instructor. But the task isn’t without its perils of near-misses and death. Faced with the weight of her responsibilities, she finds solace with a British officer who knows firsthand the heavy price paid in war . . . until he returns to the battles he never truly left behind.

Rhonda Monroe might not be skilled in the air but can give a trainee a wild ride in a flight simulator. Fearing little, she dares to jeopardize everything for a forbidden relationship with a charismatic airman…

Innocent and fun-loving Kitty Lovelace, Jessie’s younger sister, adores dancing with these charming newcomers, realizing too late the risks they pose to her heart.

As the war intensifies and America becomes involved, the Girls of Flight City do their part to bring a victorious end to the conflict, pouring all their energy into preparing the young cadets to take to the skies and defeat the dangers that await. And lives from both sides of the Atlantic will be forever changed by love and loss…

Review 

3 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

While Lorraine Heath’s historical romance  writing style never fully clicked with me, I was intrigued by her historical fiction debut, Girls of Flight City. The historical basis is fascinating, as while I’ve gleaned a lot about World War II by virtue of reading a number of the many books out there, this is the first I’ve heard of American women who served in the British Royal Air Force. 

And Heath clearly did a lot of research into the topic, as she is very knowledgeable, both about the era itself and the specifics she’s focused on. Sometimes, this enthusiasm for the material does come across a bit too strongly, as it impacts the flow. However, I still feel the immersion into the period was one of the pluses of the novel. 

I enjoyed seeing these different women from different backgrounds and with divergent personalities each contributing to the effort in different ways. While I can’t say I was grabbed by any of them super strongly, the often-perilous nature of their undertaking, as well as that of the men also serving in the war alongside them, is well conveyed. 

Given Heath’s background as a romance writer, I can see this being a topic of contention between her faithful romance-reader fan base and the “ew, romance!” historical fiction readers. The romance is definitely a side plot, although there is a  (non-explicit) sexual encounter between characters, which I felt rather mixed about, as I often do with side  romances in books in other genres. However, I mostly found it to be a sweet touch to a book largely about risking one’s life for one’s country. 

I enjoyed this book overall, even if it didn’t rock my world and become one of my new historical fiction favorites. But the unique approach to a popular time period is enough for me to recommend it to for anyone interested in the World War II subgenre of historical fiction. 

Author Bio

When multiple New York Times bestselling author Lorraine Heath received her BA degree in psychology from the  University of Texas, she had no idea she had gained a foundation that would help her create believable characters—characters often described as “real people.” The daughter of a British beauty and a Texan stationed at RAF Bovingdon, Lorraine was born in England but soon after moved to Texas. Her dual nationality has given her a love for all things British and Texan, and she enjoys weaving both heritages into her stories. 

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“Heartbreak Symphony” by Laekan Zea Kemp (ARC Review)

Kemp, Laekan Zea. Heartbreak Symphony. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-0316460385 | $17.99 USD | 368 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

Blurb 

Clap When You Land meets On the Come Up in this heart-gripping story about navigating first love and overcoming grief through the power of music. 

Aarón Medrano has been haunted by the onstage persona of his favorite DJ ever since his mother passed away. He seems to know all of Aarón’s deepest fears, like that his brain doesn’t work the way it should and that’s why his brother and father seem to be pushing him away. He thinks his ticket out is a scholarship to the prestigious Acadia School of Music. That is, if he can avoid blowing his audition.

Mia Villanueva has a haunting of her own and it’s the only family heirloom her parents left her: doubt. It’s the reason she can’t overcome her stage fright or believe that her music is worth making. Even though her trumpet teacher tells her she has a gift, she’s not sure if she’ll ever figure out how to use it or if she’s even deserving of it in the first place.

When Aarón and Mia cross paths, Aarón sees a chance to get close to the girl he’s had a crush on for years and to finally feel connected to someone since losing his mother. Mia sees a chance to hold herself accountable by making them both face their fears, and hopefully make their dreams come true. But soon they’ll realize there’s something much scarier than getting up on stage—falling in love with a broken heart.

Review 

5 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

Heartbreak Symphony is a beautiful, poignant love story about two teens who each are coping with the grief of losing a parent, and seeing music as an outlet with which to cope. It’s a wonderful exploration of these complex emotions, and how Aarón and Mia help each other on their respective paths to healing. 

I love the nuanced approach to the exploration of grief and navigating care for one’s mental health. Aarón and Mia find themselves struggling in similar, yet also subtly different ways; Mia with self-doubt and Aarón with crippling anxiety and fear. And the way they not only provide support for each other, but also end up seeking outside professional help, was wonderful to see. 

I also appreciate the way issues like gentrification, racism, and deportation that the wider Hispanic American community face in the narrative is incorporated. And the fact that there are also some wonderful side characters that make up the community who come together in protest of these injustices adds another layer of beauty to an already excellent book. 

I really enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a hard-hitting YA contemporary romance. 

Author Bio

Laekan Zea Kemp is the author of Somewhere Between  Bitter and Sweet. She has three objectives when it comes to storytelling: to make people laugh, cry, and crave Mexican food. Her work celebrates Chicanx grit, resilience, creativity, and joy while exploring themes of identity and mental health. She lives in Austin, Texas. Laekan invites you to visit her at http://www.laekanzeakemp.com or folks her on Twitter @LaekanZeaKemp. 

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“Blood Scion” by Deborah Falaye (Review)

Falaye, Deborah. Blood Scion. New York: HarperTeen, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-0062854046 | $18.99 USD | 432 pages | YA Fantasy 

Blurb

A young girl with forbidden powers must free her people from oppression in this richly layered epic fantasy from debut author Deborah Falaye, inspired by Yoruba-Nigerian mythology and perfect for fans of Children of Blood and Bone and An Ember in the Ashes.

This is what they deserve.

They wanted me to be a monster.

I will be the worst monster they ever created.

Fifteen-year-old Sloane can incinerate an enemy at will—she is a Scion, a descendant of the ancient Orisha gods.

Under the Lucis’ brutal rule, her identity means her death if her powers are discovered. But when she is forcibly conscripted into the Lucis army on her fifteenth birthday, Sloane sees a new opportunity: to overcome the bloody challenges of Lucis training, and destroy them from within.

Sloane rises through the ranks and gains strength but, in doing so, risks something greater: losing herself entirely, and becoming the very monster that she ahbors.

Following one girl’s journey of magic, injustice, power, and revenge, this deeply felt and emotionally charged debut from Deborah Falaye, inspired by Yoruba-Nigerian mythology, is a magnetic combination of A Song of Wraiths and Ruin and Daughter of Smoke and Bone that will utterly thrill and capture readers.

Review 

4 stars 

Blood Scion is an impressive debut YA fantasy inspired by the Yoruba religion. It’s partly a poignant tribute to the culture, as well as a dark reflection on the legacy of colonialism in Africa. Given the bleak nature of the material, I appreciate Deborah Falaye’s full disclosure of the horrors inflicted on children and the role it plays in the book in an introductory content note. She also handles the issues deftly and with care, so it’s about getting the message across and not about reveling in the violence. 

Sloane is a compelling character to view the circumstances through. She’s a Scion, and can incinerate her enemies, and has spent her entire life hiding. It adds layers to her experience of survival as a child soldier, and I love the balance of the depiction of the darkness with a ray of hope in her. In navigating the situation, Sloane comes to find those she can trust in similar circumstances, developing into a found-family situation which is beautiful. 

The plotting and pacing is also fairly well done. It starts off fairly slow, but it steadily picked up and I became more and more immersed: with Sloane and the rest of the characters, their situation, and the world around them. 

This is an impressive first book, and I am anxious for what awaits in the second installment. If you’re looking for a darker YA fantasy, I would recommend trying this one. 

CWs: War, violence, sexual assault 

Author Bio

Deborah Falaye is a Nigerian Canadian young adult author, she grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, where she spent her time devouring African literature, pestering her grandma for folktales, and tricking her grandfather into watching Passions every night. When she’s not writing about fierce Black girls with badass magic, she can be found obsessing over all things reality TV. Deborah currently lives in Toronto with her husband and their partner-in-crime Yorkie, Major. Blood Scion is her first novel. 

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“Her Favorite Rebound” (Cider Bar Sisters #4) by Jackie Lau (ARC Review)

Lau, Jackie. Her Favorite Rebound. Toronto: Jackie Lau Books, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1989610237 | $3.99 USD | 228 pages | Contemporary Romance 

Blurb

She’s got a billionaire boyfriend, but life is far from perfect…
Thirty-four and divorced, Sierra Wu is a constant disappointment to her family. They approved of her former career as an engineer but were horrified when she quit to run a small greeting card store.
So, the last thing she expected in her not-so-spectacular life was being swept off her feet by Colton Sanders. Yes, that Colton Sanders, the billionaire. They’ve been together for a year, and despite his reputation with women, it’s going well.
There’s only one tiny problem: Jake Tong.
A former friend and employee of Colton, the irritatingly handsome Jake tells Sierra to break up with Colton for her own good. She refuses, of course. Why should she trust Jake?
But as she continues to bump into Jake in awkward situations, the attraction between them grows, and she starts wondering if he’s right about Colton…

In the series

#1 Her Big City Neighbor

#2 His Grumpy Childhood Friend

#2.5 Her Pretend Christmas Date

#3 The Professor Next Door

Review 

3 stars 

I received an ARC from the author and am voluntarily posting a review. 

I had mixed feelings about Her Favorite Rebound. I like it in theory, but parts of this require massive suspension of disbelief and really depends on your ethical lines of what you like in a romantic partner. 

I do really like the general principle of the billionaire boyfriend being the antagonist, as it goes against the popular archetype of lionizing extreme wealth in the genre, when so many of these billionaires acquire and maintain their fortunes through oppressive means. 

But this book would have fared better if the hero weren’t just barely a step up from the billionaire, Colton. Yeah, he’s obviously against Colton for his own reasons and he’s not obscenely wealthy. But I feel like it misses the point that wealth and power aren’t the only things that can cause issues. He basically falls for Sierra instantly and inserts himself into her life, to keep badgering her to dump Colton. While he is right in his messaging, ultimately others around her also come to the same conclusions, sooo…And why is she supposed to believe someone she barely knows? I know in principle his own history with Colton gives him some insider knowledge, but he doesn’t have to try to get his point across so aggressively and make her feel weird by constantly being cornered by a stranger. 

And ultimately, that results in the rest of the premise falling a bit flat. I very much wanted this to just be a rebound to get it out of her system and find someone else who didn’t violate her boundaries. 

I did quite like the family dynamics in this one, as well as the strong friendships. Sierra’s family consider her a disappointment due to giving up her career as an engineer to run a greeting card store. However, there are some things in that regard I did not expect, especially where her mother was concerned, that provided a lot of nuance. And the friend group is a strong connecting element that carries over if you’ve been following each book in the series. 

While a weaker book due to really missing an opportunity in execution of its message, it is a pretty sweet, fun read. If you like contemporary romances with equal amounts of complex family dynamics, community, and sexy moments, it might still be worth checking out. 

Author Bio

Jackie Lau decided she wanted to be a writer when she was in grade two, sometime between writing “The Heart That Got Lost” and “The Land of Shapes.” She later studied engineering and worked as a geophysicist before turning to writing romance novels. Jackie lives in Toronto with her husband, and despite living in Canada her whole life, she hates winter. When she’s not writing, she enjoys gelato, gourmet donuts, cooking, hiking, and reading on the balcony when it’s raining. 

https://jackielaubooks.com

Twitter: @JackieLauBooks

Instagram: @jackielaubooks

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“Portrait of a Thief” by Grace D. Li (ARC Review)

Li, Grace D. Portrait of a Thief. New York: Tiny Reparations Books, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-0593184738 | $26.00 USD | 384 pages | Contemporary/Thriller 

Blurb

Ocean’s Eleven meets The Farewell in Portrait of a Thief, a lush, lyrical heist novel inspired by the true story of Chinese art vanishing from Western museums: about diaspora, the colonization of art, and the complexity of the Chinese American identity.

History is told by the conquerors. Across the Western world, museums display the spoils of war, of conquest, of colonialism: priceless pieces of art looted from other countries, kept even now.

Will Chen plans to steal them back.

A senior at Harvard, Will fits comfortably in his carefully curated roles: a perfect student, an art history major and sometimes artist, the eldest son who has always been his parents’ American Dream. But when a mysterious Chinese benefactor reaches out with an impossible—and illegal—job offer, Will finds himself something else as well: the leader of a heist to steal back five priceless Chinese sculptures, looted from Beijing centuries ago.

His crew is every heist archetype one can imagine—or at least, the closest he can get. A con artist: Irene Chen, a public policy major at Duke who can talk her way out of anything. A thief: Daniel Liang, a premed student with steady hands just as capable of lockpicking as suturing. A getaway driver: Lily Wu, an engineering major who races cars in her free time. A hacker: Alex Huang, an MIT dropout turned Silicon Valley software engineer. Each member of his crew has their own complicated relationship with China and the identity they’ve cultivated as Chinese Americans, but when Will asks, none of them can turn him down.

Because if they succeed? They earn fifty million dollars—and a chance to make history. But if they fail, it will mean not just the loss of of everything they’ve dreamed for themselves but yet another thwarted attempt to take back what colonialism has stolen.

Review 

3 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

Portrait of a Thief is a promising debut novel. The concept of an art heist, but with the twist of fighting back against colonialism and reclaiming one’s lost cultural heritage. Conceptually, it’s awesome, and while I wasn’t fully in love with it, there are some really solid highs. 

The five characters are very much a ragtag team, being put together by a Chinese corporation. They’re all gifted students, although none of them are experienced in thievery. I did enjoy getting a sense of their connections to their heritages, as each of them has a different relationship with being Chinese, depending on how aware they are of their immigrant parents’ experience. And there’s this battle between Chinese and American, with the products of diaspora being divided between the two cultures. 

Ultimately, it feels very character focused, as we dig into how each of these characters is impacted by their cultural identity and the legacy of colonialism. That does at times feel like it runs contrary to the branding of the book. There’s a lot of emotional depth here, and while the aspects to which it relates are highlighted in the blurb, the focus on the heist is what had me feeling a bit misled. It had a lot of potential to be fun, especially given the fact that these kids have never done anything like this before. Ultimately, the book did not deliver on that. It tries to be a thriller, but there are no thrills; it’s pretty much a contemporary with the heist slotted in for the sake of a framing device to bring the characters together and give them something to do at the end. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but given what the book has been comped to, I had a very different idea in my mind.

While this book didn’t entirely deliver, I do respect what it was trying to do. If you go into this book with the right expectations, a deep exploration of Chinese-American identity, with a side of heist, you might enjoy this. 

Author Bio

Grace D. Li grew up in Houston, Texas, and is a graduate from Duke University, where she studied biology and creative writing. She is currently a medical student at Stanford University. Portrait of a Thief is her debut novel. 

https://www.gracedli.com

Twitter: @gracedli

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“Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak” (Unstoppable #2) by Charlie Jane Anders (ARC Review)

Anders, Charlie. Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak. New York: Tor Teen, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1250317391 | $18.99 USD | 320 pages | YA Sci-Fi

Blurb

From the international bestselling author of All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders, comes Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak, the sequel to Victories Greater Than Death in the thrilling adventure Unstoppable series.

They’ll do anything to be the people they were meant to be — even journey into the heart of evil.

Rachael Townsend is the first artist ever to leave Earth and journey out into the galaxy — but after an encounter with an alien artifact, she can’t make art at all.

Elza Monteiro is determined to be the first human to venture inside the Palace of Scented Tears and compete for the chance to become a princess — except that inside the palace, she finds the last person she ever wanted to see again.

Tina Mains is studying at the Royal Space Academy with her friends, but she’s not the badass space hero everyone was expecting.

Soon Rachael is journeying into a dark void, Elza is on a deadly spy mission, and Tina is facing an impossible choice that could change all her friends lives forever.

In the series

#1 Victories Greater Than Death

Review 

4 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak is a solid second installment in the Unstoppable trilogy. While I was unsure about some of the changes, such as the shift from mainly following Tina’s POV to Rachael and Elza’s, with a few scattered telecommunications from Tina, Anders makes it work. 

The characters are also separated for a good portion of the book, sent on different missions, hence the change in style, so it does suck a bit to not have the same character bonds as before. But seeing the way Tina and Elza maintain their bond from a distance is really sweet to read. 

It’s also fun to see how each of their solo (and occasionally interconnecting) adventures assist in their respective character arcs. Rachael is particularly interesting in how she is coping with the loss of her artistic abilities, but still having to do her bit to save the galaxy. Elza’s vulnerability is challenged during a competition to become a Princess when she unexpectedly reunites with someone from her past…who was meant to stay in the past. And Tina, fresh off the adventures as the heroine of the last book, is dealing with insecurities as a student at the Royal Space Academy, where everyone expects great things from her. 

The book is briskly paced and constantly engaging, similar to the last one, with some pretty intense plot twists. It also ended on a cliffhanger that left me anxious to know what would come next. 

 This is a solid second installment, and if you enjoyed the first, you will not be disappointed! And if you enjoy sci-fi and are looking for queer rep, I recommend checking this series out!

Author Bio

Charlie Jane Anders is the author of Victories Greater Than Death, the first book in the young-adult Unstoppable trilogy, along with the short story collection Even Greater Mistakes. Her other books include The City in the Middle of the Night and All the Birds in the Sky. Her fiction and journalism have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, McSweeney’s, Mother Jones, the Boston Review, Tor.com, Tin House, Conjunctions, Wired Magazine, and other places. Her TED Talk, “Go Ahead, Dream About the Future” got 700,000 views in its first week. With Annalee Newitz, she co-hosts the podcast Our Opinions Are Correct. 

https://www.charliejaneanders.com

Twitter: @Charliejane 

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“Bridgerton: Season Two”: A Bridgerton Superfan Review

Note: This review is spoiler-light, but not 100% spoiler-free. It is however as vague as possible, and did my best not reveal any major plot points and bombshells. 

Bridgerton Season Two has finally made its debut, and as with the first, I binged it very quickly. I find myself with a lot of thoughts, most of them positive. I will note that, apart from glancing at some headlines that crossed my feed, I have not read other reviews, and have avoided other fan reactions, but from my own (limited) perspective, I approve of the choices made, both with the balance between faithfulness/paying homage to the source text, in this case book two of the Bridgerton series, The Viscount Who Loved Me, and making the story work for the new dramatic medium, and in accommodating the larger, diverse cast of characters.

Race and Representation

One issue many BIPOC viewers (including myself) were troubled by, to varying degrees, last season, was the way BIPOC were slotted into roles that were originally white, particularly given the choices of characters made, given their stated or implied story arcs in the book series, with a standout example being Simon, with both his abusive father and the fact that Daphne later robs him of his sexual agency in an attempt to claim hers. Another prominent one that factors into season two briefly is that of Marina, who went through so much abuse at the hands of her white relatives due to her out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and now is seen in an unhappy marriage, with the sole purpose of her appearance, aside from seemingly foreshadowing her dark fate as portrayed in book five, is to try to help Colin see that Penelope cares for him. 

However, when it comes to the new characters, I feel like more thought has gone into their background. While I cannot speak from an ownvoices perspective as a South Asian, I appreciate the way certain Indian cultural traditions, like the haldi ceremony (first seen in the trailer), or brief asides about the difference between tea in Britain vs. India, were included, and it didn’t just feel like they clumsily tried to insert the characters into these roles without fleshing them out. Kate, especially, has a strong connection to her homeland, and the fact that she plans to return eventually once Edwina is settled is often mentioned. 

They may not be able to mess much with what has already been established, but here’s hoping the crew in mind certain dynamics when making both casting and writing choices in the future, especially as the future books will dabble into such complex issues, like class differences, colonialism, and, of course, the unfortunate issue with Marina and the man who is meant to be with Eloise. 

The “Spirit” of the Story

While not a word-for-word, beat-for-beat reiteration, all but the most picky book fans will still enjoy it (and all those people have declared they don’t plan to watch it anyway…again…are those the same who did that last time?) Granted, I haven’t reread the book, so as to avoid being too picky, but here’s what I found myself recognizing

The Bridgerton family is delightful as ever, and dare I say, their antics made it even funnier this time around? The Pall Mall scene is an obligatory inclusion, bad sportsmanship and all. It’s one of many scenes demonstrating how alike Kate and Anthony are in their competitiveness, while Edwina is a bit overwhelmed by it all. 

While the scenes that convey their respective traumas, aren’t there in full context (the library scene and especially the bee scene), they are either partially depicted or alluded to, and I think that’s a great way of facilitating their growing unspoken bond, while also keeping things from proceeding at the speed of the book.

Speaking of trauma… I adore the way they were conveyed, and how it further highlights how alike they are in feeling duty-bound to their families. In a similar manner to Simon’s backstory last season, we see Anthony witness his father’s death via bee sting, and the resulting baggage that ensues. He does not develop a fear he will die by the time he’s his father’s age, however, as it’s now the compounding trauma of having seen how his father’s death shattered the family without thinking about his age, as well as the heartbreak from last season with opera singer Siena, which clinch his decision to focus on practicality instead of love. 

Kate, meanwhile, has really taken on the burden of being both mother and sister to Edwina, and you feel that much more strongly in the show. She makes some choices, even lying about why they’ve come to England to both Mary and Edwina, when Mary was ostracized by her family, the Sheffields (love the way the original surname for the family was used) back when she married Mr. Sharma. 

A Controversial Love Triangle

In much of the marketing for the season, the cast has talked about how there’s a bit of a love triangle between Kate, Anthony, and Edwina, and how he’s fascinated by both of them (albeit for different reasons), and they have very strong reactions to him in return. This sent a certain subset of book fans into a furor, which reached a peak of awfulness when the initial cast posters for the show were revealed. Among several of the different sets of characters together, was one with Anthony, Kate, Edwina, and Newton. While I, like many, was just glad to see Newton well represented on that poster and the one of the Sharma sisters, a vocal minority, who had been objecting to the characterization of the dynamic of the three of them as a “love triangle,” and are “Ka(n)thony Ride or Die!” types decided to take it on themselves to edit the image so Edwina was cropped out. This came to the attention of the actress who plays her, the super-sweet Charithra Chandran, and she responded, so I’m told by blocking people, and eventually, deleting her Twitter account. Considering how excited she must have been to get this role and to engage with fans, I can’t imagine how it must feel to see herself erased from the images, as if she’s not a real person. And while the perpetrators did try to apologize after the fact, it is only one of many examples within the fandom of the way personhood from these actors has been stripped for the sake of fulfilling the fans’ fantasies. She is not the first of the cast to leave social media, and I doubt she will be the last.

But after all that hubbub, what was all the press really about? Well, this is where I talk about the “new direction” I alluded to prior. What with the means of which Kate and Anthony get forced to the altar in the book being somewhat similar (bee notwithstanding) to the circumstances in which Simon and Daphne found themselves, I don’t blame the writers for shifting to a different type of romantic arc. Edwina is much more invested in her future with Anthony, and her emotions are much stronger where he’s concerned, and Kate, out of a sense of obligation to her sister, feels the need to suppress her feelings. The result is that when it (and her other secrets) come out, it does cause strife in the family, but not irreparably. 

A Slower Burn

It is, as I’ve seen alluded to in the headlines, much less overtly sexual than the first season. The Pride and Prejudice comparisons are also very much warranted, as not only is their dynamic like that of a Lizzie Bennet if she had been allowed to truly run wild and Mr. Darcy if he had to take care of a stable full of siblings, but there are iconic homages to both popular adaptations from recent decades, as seen in trailers and early scene releases, although there are yet more P&P parallels to be found, including one providing further context to the very first scene that we saw between the two. This is a wise choice, to avoid infidelity, one of the major issues with love triangles. 

I will note that the result is one of my least favorite tropes. Yes, talking about feelings is hard. I understand the baggage given all that has happened. I understand the uncertainty given their love-hate dynamic. But am I the only one who doesn’t get how two unattached people can sleep together and not have any expectations of each other, or at least be prepared to talk about it?! Yeah, this is probably me just being a cranky demisexual again, but how does this happen so often? 

Surprises with the Supporting Cast

The Queen and Eloise’s mutual Whistledown obsession remains prominent this season, and it takes some interesting turns, including the Queen turning against Eloise. Meanwhile, Penelope is still managing to stay ahead of most of society, although there is a shocking twist in this regard, which may rival her reveal at the end of last season, accompanied by yet another painful betrayal. 

One of the other new supporting players is a newsboy called Theo, who Eloise encounters in her investigation, and he really helps put things into perspective for her. It’s interesting to see them interact, as while she’s quite idealistic, she’s also insulated from the realities of the world by virtue of her birth, so it takes him a while to take her seriously. And while the connection is ill-fated, with her taking several steps back by the end at the expense of an innocent, I still have hope that she reflects on this as she grows.

In a sort of parallel to Eloise’s arc, Benedict also struts out on his own, further advancing in his art career. However, while he finds himself thriving when he gets out of his own head, a revelation restores his doubts in his qualifications, which will set him up nicely for the state he will be in going into his headlining season. 

Colin is in a similar place, where he doesn’t fully know his place or purpose, and despite having gone to Greece to find himself and professing to have succeeded, he still has some questions…which he attempts to address in visiting Marina. And while there are some lovely moments of friendship between him and Penelope, including him stepping up for her and her entire family in a time of need, he still doesn’t see her as more than a friend (there’s a version of a certain iconic scene where they’re concerned here). 

Daphne is still around, delighting in meddling in Anthony’s affairs, although with much more compassion than he did in hers. And while a certain Duke was not missed in his one major appearance (that I recall) that aligned with the book in the Pall Mall scene, I did feel it was a bit odd to not see him at ton events where she was, especially given the way the family was rallying to deflect new scandals, in the same way they did last season. But it’s a minor quibble. 

But Lady Featherington was the biggest surprise to me. I loathed her for essentially being the evil stepmother last season, not to mention how she treats Penelope. And there were certain things she did for a good portion of this season that bothered me too, like trying to manipulate things so she and her family would remain in the new Lord Featherington’s good graces. But ultimately, I came to at least respect her for her methods of self-preservation. She did what she had to do for herself and her daughters, and this time no one got hurt who didn’t deserve it. 

Looking to the Future

With Bridgerton renewed through season four and Shonda Rhimes expressing her hope for eight, not to mention the prequel series about the young Queen Charlotte on the horizon, Bridgerton-mania is likely to continue for at least the next few years. It will be interesting to see how they proceed, especially as the showrunner for the first two seasons, Chris Van Dusen, is stepping down in favor of writer Jess Brownwell, who has worked on the series before. Here’s hoping Brownwell will take any criticisms of these two seasons in mind and steer the ship in a positive direction that continues to keep the spirit of the characters fans love alive, while also sensitively applying changes to suit the style and direction of the series. 

And as for the viewer: should you watch season two of Bridgerton? As a fan of the books, I say absolutely! The respect the cast and crew have for the books bleeds through, and all changes were made for dramatic purposes. To anyone who is anxious about the portrayal of race, I advise you to prioritize your own mental health and do what you feel is right. To any “historical accuracy” folk still around and wanting to come at this from a non-critical place of nitpicking, I advise you to kindly fuck off and go back to watching your lily-white Austens.