November 2022 Book Club: Such a Fun Age

Cover art for Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid.

I feel the need to start this review by discussing the title. Is the fun age that Briar is a toddler? That Emira is navigating her 20s? That Alix is looking back to her high school years without much fondness? Or that she’s navigating life as a working mom of two in her 30s? Or is the point of the title that you can find struggle no matter what your age is? Since such a fun age is often said with a hint of sarcasm, I’m leaning towards the last one.

It was interesting to be launched into the story via conflict (Emira being accused of kidnapping Briar) because it set the tone very early on (we all knew that video was going to be released). It started a very interesting dialog around race in the very beginning a) Emira being worried she was going to be fired for the incident and b) the Chamberlains being wary of coming across as racist and causing Emira to quit. To me, it really demonstrated how little each knew of the other and how they didn’t really have much of a relationship despite Alix wanting Emira to be seen as family.

A lot of focus is actually put on Alix’s high school experience coming to light when Kelley starts dating Emira. Apparently, in high school, Alix sent a note to Kelley with information about how to enter their house and it fell into the wrong hands. When Robbie and some other kids showed up to crash Alix and Kelley’s intimate evening, she called the cops on them causing Robbie to get arrested and lose his scholarship. This led to Alix losing any social standing she had and Kelley suddenly gaining it as well as the two breaking up.

Real talk: I felt like too much emphasis is placed on Alix calling the cops and Robbie losing his scholarship. This may be an unpopular opinion, but why is it Alix (then Alex)’s fault that he had coke in his pocket and that he chose to break into her house to take advantage of her parents not being home? Don’t get me wrong, Alix was a bit crazy for other reasons, but I sort of agreed with her that the driveway was long enough that they could see the cops coming. Where I disagreed was that she should have tried to ask them to leave first and that Kelley didn’t step up and do the same.

In the end, it seemed like a competition between Alix and Kelley to see who could be more “woke”. Alix trying to save Emira and Kelley insisting that Emira post the video he recorded (there are other moments too, but this one is ultimately why the two started to get to know each other). Neither person seemed truly supportive of Emira and I found that sad. Though she was still figuring out what she wanted to do in life, Emira is a strong thoughtful woman who pays attention to those around her. There were so many moments in this book where I found myself internally screaming “Emira you deserve better!” and then cheering when she walked out post-interview.

I went into this book a little skeptical but walked out thinking that it was really well done and wondering what Reid’s next novel will be like.

It’s hard to believe that our final book club of 2022 is just about here. For our December club, we’ll be reading: The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo. This is another book recommendation via Goodreads, specifically, their most popular new fantasy list. Let’s see if we align with popular opinion!

Cover art for the Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo.

Immigrant. Socialite. Magician.

Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarefied circles of 1920s American society—she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. She’s also queer, Asian, adopted, and treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, while the most important doors remain closed to her.

But the world is full of wonders: infernal pacts and dazzling illusions, lost ghosts and elemental mysteries. In all paper is fire, and Jordan can burn the cut paper heart out of a man. She just has to learn how.

Nghi Vo’s debut novel The Chosen and the Beautiful reinvents this classic of the American canon as a coming-of-age story full of magic, mystery, and glittering excess, and introduces a major new literary voice. 

October 2022 Book Club: The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea

Cover art for the Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh.

If I had to describe this book to someone, the first way that comes to mind is that it’s very similar to Spirited Away. Within the first few pages, you’re whisked (on with the aid of a dragon) into the spirit world where friends and danger lie around every corner.

One theater technique that is relied upon heavily in this book is the use of masks to convey that someone is keeping a secret. Mina’s three closest companions in the story all wear masks to hide their identity, something that actually comes across very subtly because you sort of assume that all spirits wear a mask for a while (or was that just me?). It brought tears to my eyes to learn that they were wearing masks to hide the fact that they were Mina’s ancestors and weren’t allowed to interfere.

I also enjoyed the twist that the Sea God wasn’t really the Sea God, this prevented the story from being completely predictable (which wouldn’t have been a bad thing either because the story was enjoyable). My only real question, having finished the book, was why did people remember Mina but not remember who the Sea god and the Prince were?

It was also interesting to participate in the characters’ debate on the duties and responsibilities of Gods and Humans. Do the gods deserve payment for their services? Why isn’t prayer enough? This debate was excellently punctuated by the goddess of moon and memory becoming the goddess of women.

I wish the book’s pacing was a little different, parts seemed rushed and it would have been nice to spend a little bit more time in the world that Oh created.

Next month, we’re stealing a book from Reese’s recommendations: Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. While I feel a little bit as though this book can go either way, Reese’s recs tend to be books I enjoy.

Cover art for Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid.

Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living, with her confidence-driven brand, showing other women how to do the same. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains’ toddler one night, walking the aisles of their local high-end supermarket. The store’s security guard, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make things right.

But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix’s desire to help. At twenty-five, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.

With empathy and piercing social commentary, Such a Fun Age explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone family, and the complicated reality of being a grown-up. It is a searing debut for our times.

September 2022 Book Club: All the Stars and Teeth

Cover art for All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace.

I really liked this one, in fact, I liked it so much that I immediately picked up a copy of the second book (something I almost never do!). There’s something to be said about a narrator that has their world tipped upside down, where everything they believed to be true is a lie and everything that is true would be easier to swallow if it was a lie.

It’s hard to imagine a greed so powerful that it shapes the world, but then again I suppose we see it every day. The flip side of this greed is curse magic, was it really fair for generations to be affected by one person’s poor choice? To have magic that has the power to be beautiful trapped and tainted in a bloodline seems as cruel as the person who it was meant to punish.

We didn’t read the second one together, but it’s worth a read because continues an interesting and fun story. In book two, Amora has to cope with being cursed twice while determining what running a kingdom should be. I liked it because it wasn’t trying to tie up too many loose ends, just wanted to further build out the world that Grace had created in the first book.

All the Stars and Teeth (and All the Tides of Fate) stumbled across my path at the right moment, when my attention span required easy reading and my heart desired a story full of hope. If I had to complain about the book, it would be that Amora mistakes strength for being caustic and that I really feel like she should have gotten together with Vataea in the end (or no one at all, it would have been fine without the romances).

One more month of sea-themed books (not sure if that’s a lie or not, we’ll see next month!), for October we’ll read The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh. Recommended to me by GoodReads because of another fantasy book I consumed, it will be fun to visit the ocean in a world without pirates (or at least where they’re not one of the main characters).

Cover art for the Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh.

Deadly storms have ravaged Mina’s homeland for generations. Floods sweep away entire villages, while bloody wars are waged over the few remaining resources. Her people believe the Sea God, once their protector, now curses them with death and despair. In an attempt to appease him, each year a beautiful maiden is thrown into the sea to serve as the Sea God’s bride, in the hopes that one day the “true bride” will be chosen and end the suffering.

Many believe that Shim Cheong, the most beautiful girl in the village—and the beloved of Mina’s older brother Joon—may be the legendary true bride. But on the night Cheong is to be sacrificed, Joon follows Cheong out to sea, even knowing that to interfere is a death sentence. To save her brother, Mina throws herself into the water in Cheong’s stead.

Swept away to the Spirit Realm, a magical city of lesser gods and mythical beasts, Mina seeks out the Sea God, only to find him caught in an enchanted sleep. With the help of a mysterious young man named Shin—as well as a motley crew of demons, gods and spirits—Mina sets out to wake the Sea God and bring an end to the killer storms once and for all.

But she doesn’t have much time: A human cannot live long in the land of the spirits. And there are those who would do anything to keep the Sea God from waking…

August 2022 Book Club: The House in the Cerulean Sea

Cover art for The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.

This post should probably start by saying this book was a much better read than the non-fiction I attempted last month. For starters, the writing draws you in from the beginning because as much as you don’t want to relate to Linus, it’s easy to. We’ve all had jobs that we do because they’re a paycheck and we’re good at them. They’re safe and easy, why put yourself out of your comfort zone if you don’t need to? Then there’s his desire to fit into society: his dieting, rule-following, and people-pleasing ways. Why stand up to your neighbor if it’s not so bad? You do have to live next to them after all and who’s to say it will improve things? I cheered when Linus stood up and quit his job because I’ve been there. I’ve felt the relief of coming to the decision that I deserve better and the excitement that comes from taking a risk. After all, let’s be clear here, DICOMY would be a toxic department to work for.

Then there’s the children, each special in their own way and each looking to be loved. I think that’s the big thing that Klune is trying to stress as we get to know them, even though they’re different and they don’t quite fit in with the world around them, they’re still just children who are in need of a loving home. It’s a friendly reminder that all children, I’m thinking of those outside the story now, are looking for the same things. They want to feel safe and loved, and when they do they have the ability to really thrive. We see it in each of them – Lucy wanting to feel safe from his nightmares and interact with the world through music, Chauncey dreaming of helping people, then there are dreams of creating beautiful gardens and writing poetry, all different and about being accepted for who they are and what excites them.

Fear is, unfortunately, one of the powerful emotions in this book that is often translated into hate. Linus fears being seen so he hates how he looks and interacts with the world. The villagers fear the children on the island, so they hate them. Arthur fears the children being mistreated, so he hates the idea of them ever leaving the island. Fear and hate hold everyone back, it wasn’t until everyone allowed their bubble to be popped that they were able to move forward and face their fears.

All in all, I love this book because it’s about finding the place you belong and the people you belong with. It’s about popping your comfort bubble so that you can let in those who have the potential to help you grow into the best version of yourself, not the version the world believes you capable of. It’s about letting go of your past hurts so that you can move forward a stronger person that can stand up for themselves. The House in the Cerulean Sea is a beautiful story, I was sad when it reached its conclusion.

Cover art for All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace.

For September, let’s continue our enjoyment of islands and magic with All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace. If I’m being honest, the cover drew me in and the description lead me to decide to read it. So while I’m not judging a book by its cover, it did lead me to pick it up ;]

Set in a kingdom where danger lurks beneath the sea, mermaids seek vengeance with song, and magic is a choice.

She will reign.

As princess of the island kingdom Visidia, Amora Montara has spent her entire life training to be High Animancer — the master of souls. The rest of the realm can choose their magic, but for Amora, it’s never been a choice. To secure her place as heir to the throne, she must prove her mastery of the monarchy’s dangerous soul magic.

When her demonstration goes awry, Amora is forced to flee. She strikes a deal with Bastian, a mysterious pirate: he’ll help her prove she’s fit to rule, if she’ll help him reclaim his stolen magic.

But sailing the kingdom holds more wonder — and more peril — than Amora anticipated. A destructive new magic is on the rise, and if Amora is to conquer it, she’ll need to face legendary monsters, cross paths with vengeful mermaids, and deal with a stow-away she never expected… or risk the fate of Visidia and lose the crown forever.

I am the right choice. The only choice. And I will protect my kingdom.

July 2022 Book Club: The Design of Everyday Things

Cover art for the Design of Everyday Things by Donald A Norman.

I really wanted to like this one but had the hardest time getting into it. Perhaps I need to give it a second try at a later date, but I honestly struggled to make it past the second chapter. Though the writing was dry, it reminded me of a time I enthusiastically purchased a teapot-cup combo from a thrift shop. In theory, it was genius. The teapot stacks inside the mug for easy storage and was designed so that you could enjoy two cups of tea using the included mug – perfect for a morning where you’re not sharing a pot with someone. In practice, however, the handle on both items was too small to use. This meant that you inevitably burned your fingers pouring the tea and again trying to drink it (the material of the pot was also too small. Despite paying $2 USD for the items, I couldn’t help but attempt to use them again and again over the course of two years before finally donating them.

I think this concept of design is interesting and can be applied to everyday life. There are things that seem like a good idea, but when you try them out it turns out they’re not a good fit. Maybe because it adds too much driving time to your commute so you never make the trip. Maybe the goal didn’t actually fit into your lifestyle. Perhaps the real point is that you give the idea the freedom to fail and then learn from your mistakes to improve the design. In thinking of my teapot/mug combo, the design would have worked better if the set was made of a thicker clay or if both items had a more practical handle. I will acknowledge here that sometimes items are donated to a thrift store for a reason and I should consider that when purchasing.

Back to fiction for August, which I tend to enjoy more by default. One of my friends lent me her copy of The House in the Cerulean Sea and it seems like the perfect book to slip into in the heat of summer:

Cover art for the House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.

A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.