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.

RRPL Summer Reads: Sci Fi, Fantasy, and Fairy Tales

As I am the resident science fiction and fantasy nerd librarian, you probably figured that of course my TBR list for this summer would be heavy with the weirdest and most interesting books. And you’d be right! Below are the five books I am most excited to read this summer, in no particular order.

Click on any of the book covers below to be taken to our catalog, where you can put them on hold with your library card number and PIN.

Wendy, Darling by A. C. Wise book cover and catalog link

Wendy, Darling by A. C. Wise 

I love any retelling of classic fairy tale, but a feminist retelling? Gotta have it. In Wise’s version, Wendy has grown up and has had children of her own. When Peter Pan kidnaps her daughter, Wendy must follow him to Neverland to save her daughter from the clutches of the boy who wouldn’t grow up.

Published June 1, 2021.

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo book cover and catalog link

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo 

Like fellow librarian Nicole, I also want to read this fantasy reimagining of The Great Gatsby! There’s magic, mystery, and Jordan, a side character in the original novel, reimagined as a queer Vietnamese girl. Sign me up!

Published June 1, 2021. 

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

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan 

When a book is described as Mulan meets Song of Achilles, how could this not be on my TBR list? In this fantastical retelling of Chinese history, a queer female monk will rise to greatness against the Mongol army.

Published July 20, 2021. 

A Master of Djinn by P. DJÈLÍ Clark book cover and catalog link

A Master of Djinn by P. DJÈLÍ Clark 

Another historical reimagining, this debut novel stars a female detective tasked with solving a mass murder set in an alternate history 1912 Cairo where both humans and supernatural creatures dwell.

Published May 11, 2021.

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri book cover and catalog link

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

Last but not least, this novel features a princess and a priestess working together to save their homeland from the princess’ traitor brother.

Published June 8, 2021.

Fellow science fiction and fantasy readers: did I miss any books that you’re excited to read this summer? Let me know!

New Fiction for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Image contains text: Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month - most titles available on Overdrive or Hoopla, and all titles are available in the library catalog. Image also includes book covers for The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo, Black Water Sister by Zen Cho, My Year Abroad by Chang Rae Lee, She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan, Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian, Bestiary by K-Ming Chang, Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan, Luck of the Titanic by Stacey Lee, Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto, and Destination Wedding by Diksha Basu.

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, so it’s a perfect time to read some new fiction by Asian American and Pacific Islander authors! We’ve curated a small selection of new and new-ish (published in 2020) books, with everything from romance to science fiction, to literary fiction and young adult fiction.

Click the image above to be taken to our Overdrive ebook catalog, where you can search for each book by title or author. Find the Hoopla ebook catalog here. Individual links to the library’s catalog for each physical book are below.

Destination Wedding by Diksha Basu

Bestiary by K-Ming Chang

Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan

My Year Abroad by Chang-Rae Lee

Luck of the Titanic by Stacey Lee

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

Review of The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley

The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley book cover and RRPL catalog link

An excellent speculative fiction alternate history set during the Napoleonic Wars featuring a time travelling LGBTQ+ love story. In The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley, Joe Tournier wakes up on a train station platform with no memory of who he is. He’s in London, but everyone is speaking French. When he receives a postcard with his name on it, mailed a hundred years ago, Joe journeys to the lighthouse pictured on the card and is kidnapped through a portal into the past by a mysterious man.

Pulley’s novel is at once both a romantic love story across time and space and a well-researched alternate history that examines how the use of future technology would change events in the past, and how far nations would be willing to go for information from the future. This book is for anyone who has ever wondered what would have happened if the French won at Trafalgar, if the telegraph was invented fifty years earlier, or even what would happen if a sailing ship battled against a steam-powered battleship. The twisty, turny plot may be confusing or hard to follow at first, but the payoff in the end is well-earned. Pulley does not pull her punches, either in the story or the action, but her take on naval ship battles is visceral without being over the top with gore. For anyone who loved Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell or Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series.

Look for the Kingdoms on May 25!

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC (advance reader copy)!

Review of Helene Wecker’s The Hidden Palace – sequel to The Golem and the Jinni

Book cover of The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker

Fans of Helene Wecker’s award-winning historical fantasy novel, The Golem and the Jinni, rejoice – after eight years of waiting, we finally get a sequel!

The Hidden Palace comes out on June 8 and picks up shortly after the end of the first book (don’t worry – there are unobtrusive reminders in the text to get you up to speed with the preceding events). The evil sorcerer who had imprisoned jinni Ahmad in a metal vial (spoilers!) was defeated at much personal cost in the first book. Ahmad and Chava, the golem, now must weather the rapid changes at the turn of the twentieth century in New York City: the sinking of the Titanic, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, and the beginning of the Great War, as well as changes in their relationship to each other and their communities.

Once again, Wecker has crafted an immigrant chronicle for the ages that grapples with the dual problems of the diaspora: attempting to assimilate into a new culture while at the same time keeping close one’s native culture, all while trying to find a place in the world. The Hidden Palace is a sweeping character-driven epic of a family forged in love, not blood ties, whose members fight and love and learn, falling apart and together organically. Even though I only read The Golem and the Jinni once many years ago, this new book felt like coming home, as if I never really left Ahmad and Chava’s world and was now spending time with treasured friends. The tone is melancholy with measured pacing so that readers can truly immerse themselves in the world, and while no one gets a happy ending, exactly, Wecker ends her novel on a hopeful, bittersweet note. The Hidden Palace is a worthy successor to its smash hit predecessor and will wrap you again in a fully realized world you won’t want to leave.

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC (advance reader copy)!

Readalikes for The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles catalog link

Thanks entirely to the kids on TikTok, nine years after it was first publised, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is once again a bestseller! If you’re waiting for your copy, or if you’ve read it and would like something similar, I’ve picked some romantic books that have the same feeling as Achilles: sweeping historical events, thoughtful mythological retellings, or a lush fairy tale tone.

Never heard of Song of Achilles? Here’s the scoop:

Patroclus, an awkward young prince, follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned, everything they hold dear. And that, before he is ready, he will be forced to surrender his friend to the hands of Fate. Set during the Trojan War.

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. We’ve also included links to our e-media services Overdrive and Hoopla where available. Find The Song of Achilles on Overdrive here and on Hoopla here (no holds, no waiting!).

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker catalog link

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

After her creator dies en route to America, Chava, a golem from a Polish shtetl, must navigate the streets of 1899 New York City by herself — her only ally is a rabbi unsure whether to destroy her, or allow her to fulfill her destiny as the harbinger of destruction. Ahmad, a jinni from Syria’s deserts has been released from his thousand-year-old glass bottle by a tinsmith but has little intention of remaining a metalworker, despite his uncanny talent for it. Chava and Ahmad meet and discover that they’re soul mates, but a dangerous adversary threatens their future. This vibrant blend of myth, adventure, and romance will enchant fans of stories based on folklore.

The Golem and the Jinni Overdrive link

Uprooted by Naomi Novik catalog link

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

A tale inspired by the “Beauty and the Beast” story follows the experiences of Agnieszka, who becomes the latest girl chosen to serve an immortal wizard who protects their village from the malevolent forces of a nearby forest.

Uprooted Overdrive link



The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson catalog link

The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

A concubine in the royal court of Granada at the height of the Spanish Inquisition and her mapmaker friend risk their lives to escape when the latter is accused of sorcery.

The Bird King Overdrive link

The Bird King Hoopla link

The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty catalog link

The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty

Nahri, a young con artist, inadvertently summons a mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, revealing the existence of true magic before the future of a magical Middle Eastern kingdom falls into her hands.

The City of Brass Overdrive link


The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden catalog link

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, a stranger with piercing blue eyes presents a new father with a gift – a precious jewel on a delicate chain, intended for his young daughter. Uncertain of its meaning, Pytor hides the gift away and Vasya grows up a wild, willful girl, to the chagrin of her family. But when mysterious forces threaten the happiness of their village, Vasya discovers that, armed only with the necklace, she may be the only one who can keep the darkness at bay.

The Bear and the Nightingale Overdrive link

All plot summaries courtesy of Novelist.

Readalikes for Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

Firefly Lane book cover/catalog link

Author Kristin Hannah is having a great 2021 so far – her newest novel, The Four Winds, is a runaway bestseller, and one of her older novels, Firefly Lane, has been turned into a Netflix romantic drama TV series. If you are one of the many people on the library’s holds lists for Firefly Lane and want something similar, check out the recommended titles below from your friendly neighborhood librarians! If you don’t know anything about Firefly Lane, here’s the scoop:

Inseparable best friends Kate and Tully, two young women who, despite their very different lives, have vowed to be there for each other forever, have been true to their promise for thirty years, until events and choices in their lives tear them apart.

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. We’ve also included links to our e-media services Overdrive and Hoopla where available. Find Firefly Lane on Overdrive here

It's Not All Downhill From Here book cover/catalog link

It’s Not All Downhill From Here by Terry McMillan

Confident that her best days are still ahead, a successful businesswoman relies on close friends and her resourcefulness when an unexpected loss turns her world upside down.

It’s Not All Downhill From Here Overdrive link


Sweet Salt Air book cover/catalog link

Sweet Salt Air by Barbara Delinsky

Two childhood friends reunite at a summer retreat, each harboring a horrible secret that would test the bounds of their longtime relationship if revealed.

Sweet Salt Air Overdrive link



The Friendship List book cover/catalog link

The Friendship List by Susan Mallery

Reuniting in the aftermath of a devastating loss, two single moms, lifelong best friends, create a list of challenges, from skydiving to getting tattoos, before their prospects and perspectives are transformed by unexpected love.

The Friendship List Overdrive link


Swing Time book cover/catalog link

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Two dark-skinned dancers with very different talents share a complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in early adulthood in a story that transitions from northwest London to West Africa.

Swing Time Overdrive link


My Sister, the Serial Killer book cover/catalog link

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Realizing that her beautiful, beloved younger sister has murdered yet another boyfriend, an embittered Nigerian woman works to direct suspicion away from the family, until a handsome doctor she fancies asks for her sister’s number.

My Sister, the Serial Killer Overdrive link


All plot summaries courtesy of Novelist.

Review of Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer – Noir Eco Thriller

Hummingbird Salamander catalog link

Security consultant ‘Jane Smith’ receives a mysterious note with a key that leads her to an abandoned storage locker. Within is a taxidermy extinct hummingbird and a set of clues left by an infamous eco-terrorist named Silvina. As Jane follows the trail to find the matching salamander, she is plunged into a dangerous world where she races trained killers to find answers. Jeff VanderMeer’s newest novel, Hummingbird Salamander, is an intricate noir eco-thriller.

This latest offering from VanderMeer explores themes of trauma, identity, generational abuse, and environmentalism. It is more grounded and easier to follow than the surreal Annihilation and the Southern Reach trilogy, so it is a more accessible entry point for people new to VanderMeer’s unique brand of eco science fiction. But fans of those earlier novels shouldn’t worry, as there is still the same pervasive aura of unreality and surrealism that devotees have come to expect.

For fans of Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, The Broken Earth trilogy by N. K. Jemisin, and Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler.

Look for Hummingbird Salamander to come out on April 6, 2021. Click the book cover above to be taken to our catalog, where you can place an advance hold with your library card number and PIN.

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC (advance reader copy)!

Review of ‘Sorrowland’ by Rivers Solomon – Seminal Gothic Horror

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon catalog link

Vern flees into the woods to escape the cult she grew up in, heavily pregnant. As she and her babies scrape out a living in the forest, they are pursued by a hellish fiend and the hauntings, visions that afflict her and everyone else belonging to the cult. Her body begins to change, becoming something more, something stronger and faster. When she and her children are forced from the safety of the trees, Vern must reckon with her upbringing and return to the place where it all began.

This excellent Gothic horror novel set in the present day United States features well-drawn characters and a mostly LGBTQ+ and BIPOC cast. Solomon deftly explores themes of identity, transformation of self, human intimacy, and grappling with generational trauma. A salient and incisive addition to the horror genre, this book is a deep meditation on the lasting effects of white supremacy and systemic racism.

For fans of Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The Changeling by Victor Lavalle, Beloved by Toni Morrison, and Kindred by Octavia Butler.

Look for Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon on May 4, 2021. Click the book cover above to be taken to our catalog, where you can place an advance hold with your library card number and PIN.

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC (advance reader copy)!