This February, Sophie and Kay read books about politics and romance, mysteries and serial killers. Filled with interesting female characters and inspiring ideas, they hope you’ll find something to enjoy here.
Internment by Samira Ahmed
Sophie’s first book of the month was Internment by Samira Ahmed. Set “15 minutes in the future,” this book imagines an America where Muslims have been suffering increasing restrictions on their freedoms. Finally, several thousand have been rounded up and forced into an internment camp in the California desert, just a stone’s throw from the Manzanar camp where Japanese Americans were interned during the Second World War.
The book follows seventeen-year-old Layla who has been forced into the camp with her parents. Layla is a nerd and uses this to bond with new friends inside the camp and distract from her loss of freedom, recalling lines from favorite movies—rebellions are built on hope after all. Soon, the young people of the camp begin to work together to resist, making unexpected allies and taking on the racist Camp Director and the government as a whole.
Sophie really enjoyed Internment, as much as such a chilling tale could ever be considered “enjoyable.” The future Ahmed has imagined is almost indistinguishable from our present, which makes the whole book feel uncomfortably real. Sophie found it interesting to think about how modern technology including drones, social media, live video streaming, and the 24-hour news cycle would impact a situation like this where history is effectively repeating itself. How would the internment of Japanese-Americans have differed if they had access to these tools?
On the downside, Sophie found herself rolling her eyes at the insinuated love triangle subplot and wished that the “other man” could have remained as nothing more than a helpful ally instead of pushing an unnecessary angle to his relationship with Layla. She also felt that Layla’s resistance organization was too easy to be realistic with several situations bordering on deus ex machina. However, without it, Layla’s situation would have been thoroughly hopeless and Sophie thinks we all need to see some hope associated with this vision of a terrifyingly believable future.
Memes to Movements by An Xiao Mina
Continuing in a political vein, Sophie also read Memes to Movements: How the World’s Most Viral Media Is Changing Social Protest and Power. This book examines how meme culture on social media is shaping the world around us, and how both activists and governments are using it to quite literally change history.
Memes to Movements explores a number of social movements in detail, some of which will be more familiar than others. Clothing is of particular interest, from umbrellas to black hoodies, MAGA caps to pink “pussyhats,” and animals naturally play an important part. Sophie found the chapter on cats and their apparent prominence on the internet especially fascinating, as was the use of the grass mud horse (a small llama-like creature) as a symbol of resistance in China, and she was interested to see how actions frequently derided as “slacktivism,” such as changing your profile picture on Facebook, actually contributes to a much bigger picture.
The book also explores how activist groups and governments use memes to shape our narratives, shifting the way we experience the story of the world playing out, in order to persuade us into thinking along their lines. The phenomenon of “fake news” is looked at with the book pointing out how GIFs have become “the new sound bite” and how the proliferation of biased news sites and social media has created a word in which there is no “singular national narrative” and thus no “singular set of facts.”
Sophie would recommend this book to anyone who spends a significant part of their day on social media, as it helped open her eyes to the ways her attention is being manipulated even more than she already knew.
The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane by Julia Nobel
Finally, Sophie read The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane. This is a middle-grade book that falls into the classic trope of “child is shipped off to an ancient boarding school in England where they learn about their connections to its past and their importance to current events.”
Emmy is an American girl whose mother is a renowned child psychologist more interested in furthering her career than spending time with her daughter. Her father vanished on Emmy’s third birthday, so she’s sent off to Wellsworth school, but not before receiving a mysterious letter that leads her to a box of strange medallions hidden in her attic that once belonged to her father.
Once at Wellsworth, it doesn’t take Emmy long to figure out there’s something strange going on with the school’s “Latin Society,” and when she notices the same symbols from the medallions appearing around the school, she works out what the readers did long before, her father went to Wellsworth too. Soon she learns about a secret society—The Order of Black Hollow Lane—which has been operating out of the school since the time of the Reformation, only the Order is dangerous and determined to keep their secrets away from Emmy, so she and her new friends find themselves caught up in more than hey bargained for.
While Sophie didn’t find anything to particularly dislike in this book, it was all a bit formulaic. Boarding school with secrets? Check. Three kids sneaking around at night? Check. Irritating roommate? Check. For kids new to the genre this will no doubt be a great story, but for anyone familiar with the tropes, there’s nothing new here to inspire and Sophie won’t be rushing to pick up the rest of the series.
Once Ghosted Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole
Kay absolutely loves a good queer romance, and Once Ghosted Twice Shy fit the bill perfectly. This novella is part of Cole’s Reluctant Royals series, and while the rest of the books are fantastic, you don’t need to read the series to appreciate this book (but A Princess in Theory is such a fantastic treat that you really should read the entire series).
This book features Likotsi, personal assistant to an African prince (no, really) and Fabiola, a Black (Afro-Latina, Kay believes?) woman in New York City. In A Princess in Theory, we saw Likotsi’s disappointment as her ” swipe right” ghosted her. Here, we see the two women reconnect through coincidence and rediscover their spark. We learn why Fab didn’t reconnect, and see two women fall desperately in love.
There was nothing Kay didn’t love about this book. Cole has a deft hand with contemporary romance, creating settings and characters that are vibrant and full of life with just a few quick sentences, leaving her plenty of room to explore the emotional inner lives of her characters. Alternating third person chapters give us a chance to understand how both Likotsi and Fab are experiencing their afternoon together; by the end of the book, you are rooting for them so hard.
A great book that Kay highly recommends to all fans of romance.
Dead End Girl by L.T. Vargus and Tim McBain
In a complete flip flop from her recent romance and YA reading, Dead End Girl caught Kay’s eye because of its female lead, which isn’t especially common in a police procedural. She’s had a soft spot for emotionally damaged FBI agents since Fox Mulder and was excited to read about Violet Darger.
Too often in these types of mysteries, the main character has some fatal flaw that is only present when the author needs to make a point. In this book, the smoking gun is repeatedly touched upon so that when it comes up at a crucial moment, the reader goes YES! instead of WHAT? Excellent.
The twists and turns of the book were believable but not entirely predictable, and the final scene is set up but not telegraphed. The gore level is on the high level of medium but is never quite gruesome.
There are sequels to Violet’s book, and Kay plans on devouring them as quickly as her Kindle will allow.
GeekMom received some titles in this collection for review purposes.