Review: The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

Jo is a Chinese American living in Reconstructionist Atlanta in 1890. She wants to make her own way but being Chinese in the 19th Century America, her options are limited. When we meet her, she is fired from her hat making internship even though she is talented because clients feel “uncomfortable”. She is forced to go work as a ladies maid for spoiled rich girl who she worked for as a child and was often cruel to her. She lives in the basement of a house unbeknowst to the family who lives above them. They publish a local newspaper and well subscriptions are dwindling and they might have to fold the paper and move. Jo can’t risk them leaving and losing their home so she comes up with a plan to become their new “Agony Aunt” advice columinst. Her first couple of articles are instant hits thanks to her controversial takes on marriage and riding a bike among other things. It also helps her discover who her parents are and that’s a whole other story. This is such a lush book with so many great characters and details about reconstructionist south and the beginning of Jim Crow. It’s kind of a perfect storm in American history because while we see the South embrace segregation, we also see the beginning of the suffragist movement. In some ways, the fight for women’s vote worked hand in hand with segregationist movement and it’s kind of frightening how quick we regressed after the Civil War. It’s also a different look at race relations in America. We usually only examine it by Black and White but forget about other minorities. When slavery was outlawed, plantation owners brought in Chinese workers to replace them, thinking they would be harder workers but to find they also didn’t like to working for low wages. Then the Chinese inclusion act passed and many Chinese in America found themselves alone in a country that did not want them and no way of bringing their families over from China. Jo knows her realities but also doesn’t stop her from dreaming of a future where she pays her own way and though she’ll never get the recognition she deserves she still found a way to change her world.

What I’m Reading Now: Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

A murder mystery. Diverse narrator. Hot Hockey player. Sign me up. This book has been getting a lot of buzz so I’m excited to get into it.

Quick Review: Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

Mehr is the illegitimate daughter to the Governor. Her mother is part of the indigenous clan of her home but the Emperor has outlawed their spiirtual practices and this makes Mehr an outsider in her own home but she still practices her mother’s rituals. This of course gets her in trouble, when performs a ritual and garners the attention of the Maha, the power behind the Emperor and is tricked into marrying Amur. The Maha is a very powerful man, seen as a God among his followers and the Empire. His prayers makes the Empire strong and he does this thanks to Mehr and Amur’s people and their rituals. Mehr is a strong and brave woman. She knows this is a fucked up situation but she has limited choices. Choices is a big word in this novel. The ability of choice is sacred so the fact that Mehr’s choice was essentially taken from her is a big deal. Despite this she never stops making choices to figure out ways to save her and Amur from their servitude. She never resigns herself to her situation and gives in. She fights until the end and it’s powerful to see her fully embrace her powers. The other theme of this novel is colonialism. Mehr’s homeland was invaded by the Empire and the Emperor did all that he could to demonize her people’s culture despite the fact the success of the Empire is due to her people’s culture and rituals. It really makes you think how colonist for years have benefited from the resources of the places they colonized while erasing the cultures that they have benefited so much by. Mehr was able to take back the rituals and use them against the Maha and take back that power but so many other cultures are not that lucky.

Quick Review: The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis

This book was stressful from the beginning. I mean that in a good way. From the prologue to the epilogue it is none stop from beginning to end. The setting is a sort of old style wild west world. The girls of this world don’t have autonomy. It’s a rough world and for many families the best thing they can do for their daughters is sell them to the Welcome Houses where they will be feed and sheltered and that is why they are called Good Luck Girls because for many it seen as good luck to work in one of these houses and to be taken care of. In reality though they are being sold into sex slavery. It’s billed as a cross between West World and The Handmaid’s tale. I haven’t seen the former but I know the latter and yeah I can see some similarities. Clementine’s first night as a Sundown girl doesn’t go as planned when she kills her first brag. Her sister Aster leads her and her friends Tansy, Mallow and Violet on an escape but that is just as dangerous as the life they left. With the help from rangeman, Zee they fight their way through the wild terrain. They take some of the power back by robbing the kind of men that used to visit the Welcome Houses to get enough money to remove the favors from their bodies. It’s a powerful statement on how they work together. I thought this was a standalone book but it’s at least a duology as there is a planned sequel. To say I enjoyed it is probably the wrong thing to say because it’s not a pleasant read. What these women go through and have been through is horrifying but also gratifying to see them fight back. I look forward to see what happens next to these ladies as they continue to fight for their freedom and the freedom of others like them.

Quick Review: Children of Virtue of Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi

Wow. This was gripping from the very beginning. I really love how Tomi Adeyemi has built this world. It is full of such imagination but also so rooted in the the real world. Zelie and Amari completed the ritual to bring back magic but it kinda worked too well. Not only do the Maji have their magic back but Nobles with any Maji ancestries also have magic now. So their enemy is just as powerful and in some cases more powerful. This book really explores how deep the hurt that hatred and bigotry lies and not easy to get over and move on. Amari and Inan both try to get both sides to come together but there are just too many years of hurt and betrayal for either side to trust each other. In fact they are both so sure that the other side is wrong that the only way forward is to eliminate the other. Also the power of grief and how it can really paralyze you to move forward. Pretty much everyone in this book makes big mistakes that will hunt them. Except for Tzain, who is just maybe the best person ever. I really can’t believe it ended the way that it did. It is a much bigger cliff hanger then the first one and I’m not sure I’m okay after reading it. Obviously there is one more book and so the solution couldn’t have been as easy as they thought it should have but the ending was such a twist and confusing mess that it really messes up the reader as much as the characters. I really hope the next books comes out soon.

What I’m Reading Now: The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis

This was one of the books I got from New York Comic Con back in November. I’m excited for this because I’m digging the old west vibe from the cover and summary. I’m all about that.

What I’m Reading Now: Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi

Damn! Just look at the cover!!! I’m so excited to see what awaits Zelie and Amari.

Review: Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

This was truly everything that I wanted it to be. It was a space action adventure. It introduced me to Korean folklore and was just plain fun. Min is a 13 years old and is a fox. Not a real fox but can turn into one or really shapeshift to anything. Her family must hide their heritage since foxes are thought to be untrustworthy. Unlike other supernaturals, like Dragons, Goblins and Tigers who are able to work freely. Many think Foxes are extinct. No, just in hiding. Min’s brother goes missing from his Space Cadet mission and thought to have deserted to look for the Dragon Pearl. A mystical object that can transform worlds and make them more inhabitable. She knows her brother Jun would never do something like that so she goes off and looks for him. While she is away she discovers that there is more then meet the eye. The mystery of what happened to Jun gets mixed with with Ghosts, politics and who can get the the pearl first. Min is sassy and smart. You could say she is clever as a fox. Sorry, I had to. It is interesting how the fox myth differs from Korean and Japanese folklore. In Julie Kagawa’s Shadow of the Fox, Yumeko is seen as being a trickster because of her fox heritage but not exactly an outcast the way Min and her family would be if they were discovered. It’s fun to learn how different cultures tell similar stories. Anyway, back to Min. She keeps finding herself in impossible situations but uses her intelligence and fox powers to get herself out. She is brave. There are many reasons that she should give up and just say this is too much for me but she knows what is at stake. Not just for her and her family but for everyone. If the pearl falls into the wrong hand it could be used as a weapon instead of a tool for the better. This books has a lot of twists and turns. Betrayals are all around and friendships questioned. So far it is my favorite of the Rick Riordan presents imprints. Its a shame that at the moment, it is only planned as a standalone because there is so much potential. Obviously it has been left open that if Yoon Ha Lee wanted to come back and right another and I hope he does. It definitely makes me want to check out his other books now.