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.

Discover@RRPL

The Sweet Taste of Muscadines

by Pamela Terry

Lila Breedlove, living in Maine, learns that her mother died. (Unfortunately, no one knew she was sick.) Geneva was found by daughter Abbey in the muscadine arbor in the backyard. Lila and brother Henry head to Wesleyan, Georgia for the funeral. Sadly, their mother left instructions stating that she did not want a funeral. Consequently, the three children decide to celebrate the life of their mother by holding a wake at the family home.

Days later Henry and Lila investigate the area where their mother’s body was found and discover a tin of old letters which Geneva must have been looking for. One of the letters was from their father which was dated after he was supposedly killed in Vietnam. In the letter he reveals his feelings for his family and others. He makes the decision to leave. Subsequently, Geneva plays the part of grieving widow for many years with the story she makes up of her husband’s death.

Henry and Lila head to Scotland to try and find their father. They hope to understand the truth behind all the family secrets and reestablish relationships.

This is a tale of family, lifelong secrets, forbidden love and too much time lost.

~Emma

RRPL Summer Reads- The Chosen and The Beautiful

It’s finally June which means that summer is officially right around the corner! We will be counting down the days until the first day of summer, Sunday, June 20th, by sharing the books we are most excited to read in the months ahead. Each week you’ll get a look at titles that Rocky River Public Library staff can’t wait to dive into!

My first summer read pick is The Chosen and The Beautiful by Nghi Vo.

This book, just published yesterday (!) is a Best of Summer Pick for Time Magazine and a Most Anticipated Book of 2021 Pick for Oprah Magazine, so I’m definitely not the only person who has been looking forward to this title to hit bookshelves.

Nghi Vo’s debut novel The Chosen and the Beautiful reinvents the American classic story of The Great Gatsby through a queer, magical, immigrant lens. Reimagining Fitzgerald’s character Jordan Baker as a young, queer woman who was born in Vietnam and raised in white, American high society, Vo invites readers along for a fresh, imaginative look at this Gatsby woman. Jordan has money, education, invitations to the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age, but is treated like an exotic attraction by her peers.

Vo, a Milwaukee-based author, whose previous works include the novellas Then the Tiger Came Down the Mountain and The Empress of Salt and Fortune, said in a recent interview that her early influences include Neil Gaiman, British fantasy writer Angela Carter, “The Talented Mr. Ripley” author Patricia Highsmith, and the popular podcast series “Welcome to Night Vale.”

As many students have had to throughout the years, I first read The Great Gatsby in my high school freshman English class, and wasn’t particularly impressed. I’ve re-read it since then and am a fan of Fitzgerald’s works now, but am very excited to read a modern, diverse voice such as Vo’s take on this well-known narrative. I also love magical realism and this new novel sounds like an amazing mash-up of some of my favorite literary elements!

What are some titles you are excited to read this summer? We’d love for you to share your titles with us this month in the comments! Happy reading!

Discover@RRPL

Murder at the Mena House: A Jane Wunderly Mystery

by Erica Ruth Neubauer

Published in 2020, this debut novel takes place in 1926 at the Mena Hotel in Cairo. (The palatial hotel opened its doors in 1886 in the shadows of the Great Pyramids of Giza.) Young American widow Jane Wunderly is being treated to the trip by her matchmaking Aunt Millie. Jane’s first husband was killed in WWI. He was an abusive man making Jane fearful of any future relationships.

For some reason fellow hotel guest Anna Sainton, a self-proclaimed party girl, outwardly dislikes Jane. When Anna is found shot to death, Jane becomes the chief suspect. In pops a handsome mysterious stranger who calls himself Redvers. He represents himself as a banker, but there’s more. He latches on to Jane has she begins to investigate Anna’s death.

There is a lot packed into this cozy mystery including multiple deaths, romance, long-held secrets, a beautiful historical location, etc.  I look forward to reading the second installment in the Jane Wunderly Mystery series which just came out in March 2021.

~Emma

Gretchen Berg COMING SOON – April 6th

You are cordially invited to author Gretchen Berg’s presentation of  The Operator.

Join us on Tuesday, April 6th from 7:00 – 8:00 pm.

Please register for the Zoom event at – 

https://rrpl.evanced.info/signup/EventDetails?EventId=26453&backTo=Calendar&startDate=2021/04/01

The early 1950’s in Wooster, Ohio is the setting for this debut novel. Vivian Dalton is a switchboard operator who has a penchant for eavesdropping on telephone conversations. The operators are not supposed to listen in on  conversations, but they all do. When a rumor about Vivian’s husband is discussed over the phone lines, it’s not fun anymore. Vivian needs to find out who is spreading the rumor and if there is any truth to it. Vivian does not confront her husband initially but attempts to discover the truth on her own. Has she been living a lie?

~Emma

Discover@RRPL

Leonard and Hungry Paul: A Novel

by Ronan Hession

Best friends Leonard and Hungry Paul, bachelors in their 30’s, enjoy quiet walks, playing board games, and staying close to home. Leonard, who recently inherited his family’s home, writes articles for children’s encyclopedias. Hungry Paul is a substitute mailman who lives at home with his parents who are busy planning their daughter’s wedding. Leonard is interested in a young woman at work and hopes a romance can progress even though their initial encounters have been awkward. Hungry Paul enters a slogan contest for his local business community and wins. This opens up a new opportunity for Hungry Paul which will hopefully help him move forward with his life in new ways.

This is an enjoyable gentle story. It’s a tale of best friends who are genuinely happy for each other’s successes and challenges.

~Emma

Reconnect@RRPL – Some End of Year Recommendations

I can’t let 2020 end without sharing two of my most recent obsessions with you, that you too, ahem, can also realize courtesy of your local library.

First up is a book that would have made my “Top Ten of 2020” post, had I read it earlier. Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen was my Christmas weekend read and I’m still reeling from this gut-puncher of a debut. This dark and darkly comic novel is told over the course of a single work-week through eyes of Majella, a 27-year-old woman who works at the local chip shop. Majella lives with her alcoholic mom in fictional Aghybogey, Ireland, a depressed border town where tensions between Catholics and Protestants run deep and violent. Majella, who might be autistic, is just trying to figure out the changing world around her. In the week after her grandmother has been murdered, Majella is desperate to carry on with her usual routine, and returns to work. There, her descriptions of a typical night in the chip shop provide a razor-sharp commentary on her small-town and its inhabitants, and on her own life’s painful history. I laughed. I cried. I laughed some more. Place your hold in our catalog.

My second new obsession has been watching A Suitable Boy, a BBC television drama based on a (over 1,300 page!) 1993 novel by Vikram Seth, set in 1951 in a newly-independent India. This six-part miniseries is the coming-of-age story of Lata, a university student who is torn between her family duty, religious loyalty and love, as three very different men try to win her heart. This show has it all: lush settings, a lesson in Indian history, great music, and romance, of course! Acorn released episode five today and I cannot wait to watch it. Did I mention that I stream Acorn (including this show) for free from the library? You can, too! Click here to get started.

And, until next time, Happy New Year! ~Carol

Sara’s Top 10 of 2020

Time for another Top 10 already! Looking back, it seems like I mostly read mystery and thrillers this year. Hope you enjoy some of the ones on my list!

Ghosts of Harvard by Francesca Serritella

I haven’t quite finished this one yet, but I can tell it will be a favorite. A young girl attends Harvard, hoping to get closure about the death of her brother who committed suicide there last year.

Redemption Point by Candace Fox

The second book in the Crimson Lake series which follows the paths of two outcasts and alleged criminals who pursue redemption by helping others solve crimes.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi

Another second book in a series which rivals the first one. Magic returns to the land of Orisha after being brutally banned for decades, but is it really a victory when you take your country to the edge of civil war?

Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon

Deep down, how well can any father really know how his teenage son feels, what he’s up to, and how far he will go if pushed?

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

Ghosts, mystery, romance, missing persons- what more could you want in a book?

A Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight

I really enjoyed this story about a young lawyer in a lonely marriage who agrees to help a friend get out of prison, only to find his case affects her more than she could ever imagine.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

A deadly wedding ceremony on an isolated island in the middle of a terrible storm. What could possibly happen?

All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny

One of my favorite Gamache books so far with lovely twist- the whole thing is set in Paris.

The Searcher by Tana French

Another great mystery that makes you want to go to Ireland immediately and see the lush countryside and the meet all the quirky people who live in the village.

Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell

I just finished this one- it was a page turner full of twists and turns, marriages, families, good-and of course, evil.

Books to give for Christmas (of course, we also recommend checking them out from the library ;-)

This year, Christmas feels a little strange and isolated. But it also feel a little cozy. The first snowfall was absolutely beautiful and really got me into the Christmas spirit. As I try to avoid malls and busy stores, I have of course turned to online shopping like many of us. But somehow that just seems impersonal this year. After weeks of quarantining, ordering carry out, groceries from Instacart, and pretty much everything else in the world from Amazon, I’m ready to get back to basics for this year’s holiday. My daughter and I tried our hand at making candles (we definitely need to read up on this a little bit, as I watch one of ours smoke itself out), we have plans for many more cookie varieties than ever, and are drawn towards handmade gifts from Etsy and local stores.

In keeping with this, I am buying books as gifts for the first time in years! My teen/young adult kids don’t read as vociferously as they used to, and most of my family reads on a Kindle. But this year, it just feels right to go back to basics, hold a real book in my hands while I sip coffee by my Christmas tree and lights. My kids have watched pretty much everything Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have to offer, so I think I’m going to try and entice them to take an electronic break, relax on the couch with me to read a good book by the tree.

Here are a few titles coming out in December. Some of them haven’t been published yet, but what is more fun then preordering a book and knowing you will be one of the first to read it? Remember that our local retailers need you this year more than ever. So head to bookshop.org to get some of these new titles that promise to be keepers! They also offer gift cards if you just can’t choose ;-).

Simply thrilling

There’s no such thing as a perfect family. And it’s usually not wise to point that out.

Thriller, romance and fantasy, all rolled into one.

A debut thriller that asks one simple question, shouldn’t a dead husband stay dead?

On the lighter side

Quinn and Minnie share their day of birth, but their lives couldn’t be more different.

A dare and a crash course in flirting turn a frumpy college professor’s life upside down.

An anxiety-ridden introvert finds herself in the spotlight and decides to fake it til she makes it.

Different times and places

Stunning debut explores Afghanistan on the eve of a violent revolution.

A story of survival, loss and love, and the sisters who changed fashion forever.

A poor girl with dreams grows up in the shadow of Biltmore House, the palatial Vanderbilt mansion.