Review of Siren Queen by Nghi Vo

Cover of Siren Queen by Nghi Vo. Image is a link to the RRPL catalog.

Hollywood is said to be a magical place where anything can happen. Lucky nobodies can be discovered on the street and catapulted into stardom, while someone who bags your groceries one day might be lighting up the silver screen the next. In Nghi Vo’s newest outing Siren Queen, Golden Age Hollywood really is a fairy tale, but the kind that runs on magic, sacrifices, and demons controlling the big studios. The lucky few actors who become stars rise up to become immortal beings in the sky, while anyone who fails becomes fuel for the movie machine. Luli Wei yearns to see her name in lights, but she is a poor Chinese American girl who refuses to be what the studio wants: the maid character, a bit part, or a racist caricature. Instead, her only path forward to stardom and immortality is to embrace the monster inside her. With luck, courage, and conviction, Luli may achieve the stardom that she so desperately desires.

Vo’s protagonists often rail against sexism and racism in their respective societies, and Luli is no different. Since she is not a white heterosexual man, she fights against the societal and magical forces that would keep her from being a star or relegating her to only bit parts. Readers looking for nuanced lesbian romance will enjoy the different relationships with Luli’s various partners over the course of the novel. As always with Vo’s books, readers must pay attention and read between the lines; the world of Siren Queen is mystical, complicated, and very little is explained about the world or the magic system. Vo takes you along for the ride and you are expected to follow along or be swept under, much like Luli Wei in the world of Hollywood. This is another strong novel from Vo about an admirable, complicated woman learning to embrace who she is, whether that is a monster or a movie star (or both!).

Release date: May 10, 2022

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

Review of Tell Me an Ending by Jo Harkin

Tell Me an Ending book cover with RRPL catalog link

Nepenthe is a cutting-edge company that specializes in a certain kind of psychiatric medicine. Unlike traditional therapy, Nepenthe doesn’t dispense medication or help you process your memories. Instead, they delete those memories entirely, and can even make you forget that you got a memory deletion in the first place! In Jo Harkin’s debut novel, Tell Me an Ending, five people must grapple with the fallout of memory deletions in their lives: Noor, a doctor who works at Nepenthe; William, a former police officer with PTSD; Finn, whose wife had a memory deleted; Mei, a girl who remembers a place she’s never been; and Oscar, who doesn’t know who he is, why he’s on the run, or how his bank account is full of money.

I wanted to like this book a lot more than I actually did. I usually love the juxtaposition of a world-altering scientific breakthrough used for something mundane like deleting painful memories of a break up, but I felt that this novel lacked heart. Harkin’s novel is best understood as an investigation of the morality and ethics of memory deletion, less akin to novel than a philosophy discussion in a textbook. The book does have an emotional payoff at the end, but the characters are almost blank slates until more than halfway through the novel, making it difficult to connect with them. All in all, I wanted Harkin to go for more with this book: push her concept farther, develop her characters more, and steer the plot in a less mundane direction. While Tell Me an Ending can be described as science fiction, this is a literary novel that asks questions about how memories define us and if nature or nurture makes us who we are.

Release date: March 1, 2022

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC!

Shannon’s Top Ten of 2021

It’s the end of the year (where did the time go??), and there’s been a lot of really great books published in 2021! My list is of course very science fiction and fantasy heavy, but what can I say? I’m a lady who likes spaceships and unicorns.

Without further ado, here is my top ten of 2021 – click any of the book covers below to be taken to our catalog, where you can request a copy of the book with your library card number and PIN.

The Last Graduate book cover and RRPL catalog link
10. The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik
Hench book cover and RRPL catalog link
9. Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots
The Witness for the Dead book cover and RRPL catalog link
8. The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison

Broken (in the Best Possible Way) book cover and RRPL catalog link
7. Broken (in the Best Possible Way) by Jenny Lawson
The Hidden Palace book cover and RRPL catalog link
6. The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker
Sorrowland book cover and RRPL catalog link
5. Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

Light from Uncommon Stars book cover and RRPL catalog link
4. Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
The Empress of Salt and Fortune book cover and RRPL catalog link
3. The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
She Who Became the Sun book cover and RRPL catalog link
2. She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

And last but not least, my favorite book of 2021:

The Kingdoms book cover and RRPL catalog link
1. The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley

Time travelling alternate history queer love story – plus naval battles and the Napoleonic Wars… what’s not to love? You can read my review of this excellent novel here. You can also find all of these titles by searching in our digital library.

Well, that’s a wrap on 2021 for me. Be sure to check out the top ten lists of other staff members this week!

Review of You Feel It Just Below the Ribs by Jeffrey Cranor and Janina Matthewson

You Feel It Just Below the Ribs by Janina Matthewson and Jeffrey Cranor book cover and RRPL catalog link

Miriam grows up during the Great Reckoning, an apocalyptic war that destroys nations, displaces thousands of people, and kills millions more. Later, when civilization slowly begins to function again, the nascent New Society government concludes that tribal loyalties, including familial bonds, are to blame for the Great Reckoning. As an adult, Miriam perfects a technique that helps children to forget traumatic memories, and the New Society uses it in ways she never intended to create the Age Ten Protocols. The government takes babies from their families and raises them in child care centers, then erases those memories when they turn ten years old, destroying those dangerous family ties. Now an elderly woman, Miriam writes a memoir of her extraordinary life in the new novel You Feel It Just Below the Ribs by Janina Matthewson and Jeffrey Cranor.

This book is a companion novel to Within the Wires, an audio drama podcast written by one of the writers of Welcome to Night Vale, Jeffrey Cranor, and writer and voice actor Janina Matthewson. Longtime listeners of Within the Wires will certainly find breadcrumbs of new information to chew over, as this novel provides much backstory to the world of the podcast. As a standalone novel, it is a stark dystopia that may confuse readers not aware of its extensive audio drama roots. I have listened to Within the Wires since its first episode, and as I read, I found myself preferring the podcast and the intimacy with which we get to know the characters. In this novel, the narrator is carefully writing her own memoirs in a New Society that will not publish anything too radical, so there is a substantial distance between Miriam and the reader that means we never really get to know her as a person.

However, the authors explore intriguing philosophical questions throughout the course of the novel: in a post-apocalyptic society, what lengths are too far to go in trying to prevent another worldwide war? Are family ties and tribalism truly the root of all war and conflict? Is it ethical – and if not ethical, then necessary – to erase memories and destroy families in the pursuit of peace? With Miriam as our unreliable narrator versus the New Society’s narrative, who is telling the truth? Fans of Within the Wires and new readers who are intrigued by this unique concept for a dystopian novel should check this one out. If you like the book, make sure to listen to the podcast in your favorite podcast app!

Release date: December 7, 2021

Thanks to NetGalley for the Advance Reader Copy!

Banned Books Week 2021: Shannon’s Favorites

The logo for banned books week: a yellow banner with black text that reads "Banned Books Week" over an icon of a red book.

It’s Banned Books Week again, and now more than ever, it is important to talk to about censorship and the right to read. We as librarians stand against censorship and banning books, and in fact, some of my favorite books are on the list of the most frequently challenged books.

In honor of this important week, here are some of my favorite books from the list:

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas book cover + links to RRPL catalog

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

A powerful, moving story ripped straight from the headlines, of a Black girl who was the only witness to her friend’s death at the hands of a police officer; this book is number 30 of the 100 most challenged books of the decade.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi book cover that links to RRPL catalog.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

An excellent graphic memoir that details the author’s childhood growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution; I read this in college and it changed my perspective on regular people living in the Middle East. Number 40.

The Giver by Lois Lowry book cover that links to RRPL's catalog.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

I read this dystopian classic in grade school, and it has remained one of my favorite books. It truly helped me see the world differently. This one is number 61.

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan book cover that links to RRPL's catalog.

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan

A beloved series of science fiction space opera graphic novels, Saga is often challenged in libraries due to violence and sexual content. This series come in at number 76 on the list of most challenged books of the decade.

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
book cover that links to RRPL's catalog.

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
Number two on the list of most challenged books of 2020, this important book teaches racism to children of a new generation.

These are my favorite banned books, but plenty of books are challenged in libraries every day. To participate in Banned Books Week yourself, check out the Banned Books Week website for challenges, activities, interviews with authors, and more.

Image with two hands holding a book that reads: Censorship divides us. The picture is a link to the Banned Books Week website.

5 Days for Democracy: Day 2 – What’s on my ballot?

For Day 2 of Five Days for Democracy, we’re looking at how to find out what’s on your ballot!

If you haven’t heard of Five Days for Democracy, the annual challenge run by the City Club of Cleveland, here’s the info: it’s a weeklong deep dive into democracy and what it means to participate in it, and you can sign up here. Each day for a week, you will get an email with videos, articles to read, and other things that will make you think. This year’s theme is how engaging in local politics is as impactful in voting every four years for president.

Voting down the ballot is more important now than ever, but it can be a daunting process to figure out what issues and candidates are actually on your ballot, especially for local elections. Luckily, there is an easy way to find out: Vote 411! Vote 411 is run by the League of Women Voters, which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that has been educating voters for over a century.

On the Vote 411 website, click on “Find What’s On Your Ballot” to start, and then enter your street address.

Now you can look at each issue or race, and even click on each candidate to find out more information.* You can look at demographic information and even their stance on particular issues. Plus, you can compare two candidates side by side.

You can also choose to have your ballot summary texted to you, so you remember who to vote for at the polls!

Or if you want to go straight to the source, you can find a PDF of the actual ballot on the Secretary of State’s sample ballot page by selecting your county.

*Note: These sites only work if your area has an election coming up.

For information on past elections, check out Ballotpedia, a nonprofit that is a digital encyclopedia of United States elections and politics.

Check back later this week for more on 5 Days for Democracy!

Review of Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki book cover and catalog link

Shizuka Satomi, revered and feared violin instructor, is known as the Queen of Hell in the classical music world. As it turns out, the name is more apt than most people know – Shizuka made a deal with the devil to deliver seven talented, tortured souls to hell. So far, she has sent six souls to the fire, and while seeking her seventh, meets Katrina Nguyen. Katrina is a young runaway trans girl who is seeking safety and peace to play violin and be herself, and to Shizuka, is the perfect seventh soul to complete her deal. To further complicate things, Shizuka begins to fall for Lan Tran, the local donut lady who is actually an interstellar starship captain in hiding from the Galactic Empire. Lyrical and moving, Ryka Aoki’s new novel Light from Uncommon Stars surprises and delights at every turn.

This sort of mash-up should clash like discordant notes played off-key, but instead it sings like the most harmonious melody. The novel somehow combines science fiction aliens and a fantastical deal with the devil into a larger, cohesive whole, and this is only by the skill of the author. Aoki’s novel is queer, light, and witty, but with a darker edge that does not shy away from the lived experience of many trans people, with lyrical and dreamlike prose that employs extensive musical allegory. The author examines questions of identity, purpose, existence, and the ineffable beauty of music: how one person can competently play a piece of music without that spark that makes music special, and another can play like a beginner but infuse their feelings and message into the song, lighting the world on fire. For a defiantly joyful, queer meditation on family and identity, try Light from Uncommon Stars, coming out on September 28, 2021.

Thanks to NetGalley for the advanced reader copy!

Review of T. J. Klune’s Under the Whispering Door

Cover of Under the Whispering Door by T. J. Klune. Catalog link.

Ruthless lawyer Wallace wakes up at his own funeral and thinks he has to be dreaming. But when a stranger at the service turns out to be a reaper sent to collect his soul, he starts to believe. She takes him to a mysterious tea shop run by Hugo, a ferryman who helps souls in their transition to the afterlife. Afraid and angry, Wallace refuses to move on, effectively leaving him in limbo in the teashop. Gradually, with the help of Hugo, the reaper, and a couple of resident ghosts, Wallace begins to learn to be a better person and care about other people. Under the Whispering Door is T. J. Klune’s newest novel after The House on the Cerulean Sea, the sleeper hit and bestseller of last year. 

Whispering Door is all at once a queer love story, a metaphysical treatise, and an introduction to philosophy. It also runs the gamut of emotions; at times funny, serious, and sad, with a main character whose personal growth is organic, if somewhat sped up. Though the subject matter can be heavy, Klune’s outlook on death and the afterlife is altogether positive, and the book’s tone remains upbeat even while discussing difficult topics. After his breakout hit, Klune has clearly found a formula that works, and he has perfected it further here. In fact, my only complaint is that this new novel is too similar to the plot of Cerulean Sea: a grumpy loner finds a new family and becomes a better person. The book is predictable, but that is part of its charm – it is chocolate chip cookie-style comfort food packaged in a story about grim reapers and the afterlife. Fans of the previous novel will love this book, and newcomers will enjoy the quirky and uplifting story.

Look for Under the Whispering Door on September 21, 2021. 

Thanks to NetGalley for the Advance Reader Copy!

Review of She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan book cover and catalog link

In an exciting and fresh new historical fantasy debut, after an orphaned young girl is told that she is destined for nothingness by a fortune teller, she instead takes the fate of greatness that was meant for her deceased twin brother. Pretending to be a boy, the peasant girl Zhu becomes a monk, a soldier, and eventually a general in her quest to seize greatness and wrest control of ancient China from the Mongol Empire. 

Besides being a gripping feminist reimagining of Chinese history, the novel employs a refreshingly original magic system that is tied in with Chinese beliefs and historical facts. In an fascinating twist, the concept of the ‘mandate of heaven’ that defined who had the right to rule in historical ancient China becomes an actual flame that the chosen few can summon. The characters are complex and layered, especially Zhu, with robust queer representation and exploration of gender beyond the binary. Parker-Chan deftly explores what someone will do to survive, whether that is to compromise their values or even kill in cold blood, which is also tied in with the lure of power and womanhood in ancient China. The concept of immutable fate is central to the story – and in less-skilled hands could be boring – but Parker-Chan plays with the uncertainty of how Zhu’s fate will be achieved, and for how long she will keep the greatness she is promised. This is a top-notch historical fantasy novel (and the first installment of a duology) with a complicated, ruthless female lead – for anyone who enjoyed And I Darken by Kiersten White. 

Published on July 22, 2021.

ARC (advance reader copy) courtesy of NetGalley.

Tracking Monarch Butterflies: One Book, One City

Monarch butterflies are a beautiful, amazing, and unique type of insect. They are the only butterfly to migrate thousands of miles twice a year like birds do, going south in the winter and north in the spring. Find more information from the U. S. Forest Service on monarch butterflies here.

Monarch butterflies resting on a tree trunk.

This spring and summer, you can help keep track of the monarch butterflies in our very own Rocky River!

An organization called Journey North, based out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum, keeps track of monarch butterfly migrations in real time across the country. You can report monarch sightings here, helping them keep track of these beautiful insects on their long migration.

On their website, you can find maps of the first monarch butterflies seen in a given area, the first appearance of monarch eggs and larva, and the first sighting of milkweed plants. Below is a map of the first adult monarch butterfly sightings in 2021 – click on the image below to be taken to Journey North’s interactive map, where you can click ‘Play’ to see the progression of the migration through this past spring:

Monarch Adult (first sighted) 2021 map from Journey North.

Keep checking back throughout the month of July for more blog posts that will tie in to our summer 2021 One Book, One City read, Bicycling with Butterflies by Sara Dykman.