Spring has sprung, although you wouldn’t know it from the snow currently drifting past my office window! This month Sophie and Lisa share what they’ve been reading in March, and don’t forget to scroll to the bottom for links to even more bookish content, no April Fools!
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American Royals: Inheritance by Katharine McGee
American Royals—a contemporary AU series set in an America with a royal family descended from George Washington—has been a favorite ongoing series of Sophie’s for several years, so she was doubly thrilled to discover that it will be getting two new additions in 2022. The first of these, American Royals: Inheritance by Katharine McGee, is a very short prequel novella coming out on May 3rd that Sophie listened to as an audiobook.
American Royals: Inheritance takes place over just a few hours on the night of Princess Samantha and Prince Jefferson’s graduation party, and as with all the previous American Royals books, it switches POVs between Sam, Nina, Beatrice, and Daphne. Sam is bored of her own party and looking to rebel, Nina is trying to decide what to do about her feelings for Jeff on the eve of his departure for a year-long trip, Beatrice is shaken by the realization that she is falling for her personal guard, and anyone who remembers the first book will know exactly what Daphne has planned for the party—and it’s life-altering repercussions for her and her best friend Himari.
While not a huge amount—or at least not much that is surprising—happens in Inheritance (it is only an 80-page novella and a prequel at that), there’s also a surprising amount of depth. This is the night that things changed for all four of the main characters, for some far more dramatically than others, and we get to see some insight into their state of mind: their thoughts, feelings, emotions. Daphne’s story was by far the most interesting, even if Sophie still can’t stand her, but her favorite chapters ended up being those from Beatrice’s POV.
Sophie wouldn’t recommend Inheritance as a stepping-on point for the American Royals series—she would suggest you start with the original book instead—but for existing fans, this is a great little addition to the series that will get you excited for the forthcoming third book, American Royals: Rivals.
Sunny G’s Series of Rash Decisions by Navdeep Singh Dhillon
Trigger Warnings: Grief, alcohol addiction, bullying, racism, ableism (stuttering)
Set over the course of one very busy evening, Sunny G’s Series of Rash Decisions by Navdeep Singh Dhillon is a romantic comedy that follows a grieving Sikh teen as he attempts to make rash choices without overthinking the consequences.
It’s Sunny G’s senior prom night, but he is the only one of his friends attending. Everyone else is preparing for the real event of the season—The Snollygoster Soiree—happening that very same evening. It’s an “annual shindig dedicated to the world of Jamie Snollygoster” that Sunny himself is supposed to be playing with his Bramble-core (a genre of Snollygoster-themed music) heavy metal band, but Sunny is sitting it out and going to prom instead. However, he doesn’t stay long once he meets Mindii by the punch bowl and she steals his handmade crocheted pouch that happens to contain his whole life: phone, cash, ID, and the notebook left to him by his older brother Goldy who passed away one year ago.
Soon, Sunny is chasing Mindii across Fresno in an ice cream van, but upon catching her, he realizes that his own friends put Mindii up to the theft to drag Sunny out of his own head. Over the next few hours, Sunny and Mindii criss-cross Fresno with no real plan of action, stopping off at food trucks and late-night slam poetry events in back rooms. No matter how hard he tries, Sunny can’t be as rash as he wants to be, but as he chases the ghost of his dead brother and tries to decipher the notebook he left behind he makes some unexpected discoveries of his own.
Sophie really wanted to love Sunny G’s Series of Rash Decisions; a book filled with cosplay, pop culture, and the opportunity to see those things from a different cultural perspective, what’s not to love? Sadly, she really struggled with it, but first the good parts. Sunny himself was an interesting and immediately likable character with his love of cosplay and crotcheting and it was great to learn about so many aspects of Sikh culture through his eyes. There are some beautiful depictions of grief—especially the way Sunny’s family honors the dead—and also some laugh-out-loud moments that will be instantly relatable to anyone who has ever attended a con.
The most obvious thing that Sophie struggled with was how the book was so overladen with pop culture that it became grating. Barely a paragraph could pass without some reference to a comic, TV show, or film—mostly regarding the Jamie Snollygoster series that Sunny and his friend group are obsessed with. The overabundance of cosplay in particular felt weird. When Sunny looks around his prom, he realizes that everyone there is wearing cosplay so they can ditch early and head to the Snollygoster Soiree. The same thing happens when he and Mindii go to his best friend’s cousin’s engagement party, with half the attendees in cosplay. Why is there a huge yet obscure fandom event happening at 11 pm on prom night that seemingly every teen in town is attending? It felt odd, and unbelievable enough to repeatedly pull Sophie out of the story.
That previous point leads Sophie to her other issue with the book: so much of it felt painfully contrived as if the author desperately wanted to convey lots of cultural information and thus crammed it into strange places. Why is anyone having their engagement party take the form of a Nigerian culture trivia quiz at a roller rink? Why does the donut shop have a 24-hour looping documentary running to teach visitors about the important historical connections between donut stores and genocide in Cambodia? Sure it’s great to learn that stuff—Sophie had no idea about the connection before reading this—but it all felt so forced that she found it hard to enjoy the actual story. Mindii too came across as little more than a manic pixie dream girl, leading Sunny around on her motorcycle from one wacky circumstance to another.
This one had a lot of potential, and it was fantastic to see a book filled with nerds from varied cultures rather than the usual stereotype, it just needed to calm down in order to avoid losing its heart in an avalanche of forced educational moments and unnecessary pop culture references.
The Thing I’m Most Afraid Of by Kristin Levine
Last month, Sophie shared a review of World in Between by Kenan Trebinčević and Susan Shapiro, but that wasn’t the only refugee-centric story she read. The Thing I’m Most Afraid Of by Kristin Levine also revolves largely around the war in Bosnia in the early 1990s, but this time from a very different perspective.
Twelve-year-old Becca is about to spend her summer vacation with her father who has recently moved from the family home in Virginia to Vienna in Austria, following her parents’ surprisingly amicable divorce. Becca, however, is worried about the trip. She suffers from intense anxiety disorder and is worried about everything from the metal detectors at the airport (radiation poisoning) to the soft-boiled eggs her father’s new girlfriend Katarina makes for breakfast (salmonella). With her father and Katarina both having to work over the summer, they have hired an au pair named Sara, a 19-year-old Bosnian refugee, to watch over Becca and Felix, Katarina’s 12-year-old son.
Initially, Becca finds everything in Austria stressful and scary. Her anxiety is triggered by countless things she never imagined, and she also worries that her father is frustrated by having a daughter like her. However, determined to make the most of her summer, Becca decides to try her best to overcome just a few fears, writing them down in a list inspired by Sara’s list of things she wants to do when she is reunited with her missing family and returns to her home. When Becca experiences an event that is truly frightening, she has to use her newfound coping mechanisms to get through it and bring her loved ones back together again.
One thing Sophie really loved about The Thing I’m Most Afraid Of was that it never tried to downplay Becca’s anxiety’s in the face of Sara’s “real” fears. It would have been easy to have Sara, a character who has undergone severe trauma and is permanently terrified wondering what has happened to her missing mother and six-year-old brother, snap at Becca about not knowing what “real fear is” or something similar. Instead, all the characters work together, acknowledging that Becca’s anxiety is real to her no matter how illogical or even silly the cause might seem. The book also doesn’t “cure” Becca for a happy ending. She still has anxiety, and most likely always will, but has learned new skills to help her cope with situations and activities she desperately wants to participate in but has felt unable to do so in the past.
Sophie also loved the book’s unexpected focus on opera. Opera is a hugely important part of the culture in Vienna with super cheap (approximately $3 in 2019) standing tickets available every day so that everyone has the opportunity to attend. Opera was also experiencing a boom in popularity back in 1993 thanks to the 1990 football/soccer World Cup and the global popularity of the Three Tenors, and all this is explored. Sophie grew up in an opera-loving household (she attended her first full production aged four), so this element of the book was a welcome surprise for her.
The Thing I’m Most Afraid Of was an insightful and interesting book that tackled multiple difficult topics in a delicate way, without ever sacrificing a great middle-grade story. Sure, the ending was a little predictable and required some suspension of disbelief from an adult perspective, but none of that was enough to spoil the story. Sophie would recommend this one to anyone of any age interested in learning about other cultures, refugee stories, and also for anyone who is struggling with anxiety.
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
Lisa picked up The Rook by Daniel O’Malley well over a year ago on a whim, having never heard of the book nor the author. She read the first chapter quickly (which she found immediately addictive), then somehow misplaced it. She forgot about it until she rediscovered it nearly a year later. If she had known what an original, puzzling, page-turning, and wickedly witty story it was she would have looked for it much sooner. Myfanwy Thomas wakes up to find herself in unfamiliar territory, in a body she doesn’t remember and surrounded by dead people of whom she also has no memory. There’s a note in her pocket from herself that explains the situation, why she is still in danger, and how she can choose to move forward on it.
We learn Myfanwy has a supernatural ability to control others with her mind and touch and is a Rook, part of an underground government organization called the Chequy. She soon meets others in the organization, all of whom have different supernatural powers, and learns one member may be behind a plot to destroy her. Think Kingsman with the power of the X-Men. There is also a recently resurfaced group known as the Grafters, who use genetic modification to create their own monstrous beings. She has to help the Chequy fight the Grafter threat all while watching her own back for one who may betray her.
Through an ongoing series of letters and detailed files written by the “original” Myfanwy, we get to learn the tragic and exciting past behind her introduction to the Chequy. These are interspersed with Myfanwy’s current-day attempt to solve the mystery around who wants to see her disappear completely and why.
Myfanwy is one of those rare characters whose growth as a person makes the reader not only cheer on the character she evolves into but also appreciate the original version of herself, flaws and all. This is due to O’Malley’s ability to bring her personality to life through her developing personality in the current day story, as well as in Myfanwy’s dryly sarcastic letter-writing ability to keep the reader up to speed on the plot and characters in an effective way. The story is one where even when the reader thinks they have it figured out, something new twists things around to keep one racing through the pages to see what happens around the next corner.
Pick up the book, and don’t lose it. It is worth getting lost in for a few days.
More GeekMom/GeekDad Book Reviews from March
- The Last Firefox by Lee Newbery
- Star Wars Thrawn Ascendancy: Lesser Evil by Timothy Zahn
- Sabotage on the Solar Express by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman
- Epic Adventures by Sam Sedgman
- World in Between by Kenan Trebinčević and Susan Shapiro
- Our Child of Two Worlds by Stephen Fox
- Return to Factopia by Kate Hale
- The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi
- Science Ninjas: Valence Volume One by Nathan Schreiber
- Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba
- Stars and Bones by Gareth L. Powell
- The Bear and the Whisper of the Wind by Marianne Dubuc
- The Lady and the Unicorn by Béatrice Fontanel & Vanessa Hié
- The Atlas Six by Olivie Black
- Women’s History Month Picture Book Round-Up
- Literati Online Book Club
- Stack Overflow: Animation Art
- Stack Overflow: Grab Bag
GeekMom received copies of most of these titles for review purposes.