I read a lot in August. Really I read a lot this past weekend, there is something about fantasy YA books that I just rip through. I also had a stack of new books thanks to my birthday splurge that was very stimulating. Let’s get into the books:
The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles
This book is so good. There is such a twist. It’s one of those historical fiction books where it’s split between a present (or in this case, more modern) and a time in history. We are split between Lily, a bored Montana teenager who decides to do a school project on Paris and goes and bombards her quiet, solitary neighbor, Odile, who is our other narrator. We move between Lily and Odile’s present and Odile’s past starting before World War 2 and moving forwards through World War 2. Odile becomes a librarian at the American Library in Paris which exposes her to a world of expats, academics, and different viewpoints from her policeman father and traditional mother. We move through their shared stories of love and loss and in between get to read these notes that were sent to Odile’s father during the War. After the Nazi invasion, his job became following up on tips the police got where French people ratted out other French people for being Jewish, expressing anti-Nazi sentiment, trading on the black market, anything that went against the Nazi rule. The notes that we get to read are all about the staff and regulars at the library and as you move through the book you start to wonder, is Odile the one who is ratting out her friends?
Body Talk by Katie Sturino
This is one of those books that I will go back to. It’s kind of like a workbook, there are homework questions throughout where she is asking you to reflect within yourself to examine your own body image and experiences with negative self-talk. The chapter that I keep thinking about, and it reminds me of one of the very first episodes of the podcast Diet Starts Tomorrow, what would our brains be capable of if we weren’t so preoccupied by the ways our bodies appear to ourselves and others? What would we be able to do if we weren’t talking down to ourselves? How much more capacity would we have if we weren’t thinking about our arms, chins, stomachs, thighs, whatever it is that makes you insecure.
Would highly recommend this book to anyone with a history of disordered eating/body stuff, but definitely a trigger warning. I think it’s a very safe book, it’s very positive and encouraging, but if talk about your body is super triggering to you, I would just go with caution. Also it made me cry, but like in a good way.
Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton
This was a re-read for me, but I wanted to re-read it as I had finally bought the sequel and wanted to refresh my memory on what the book before I read the sequel.
I have complicated feelings about this book. It is the story of the daughters of a wealthy sugar plantation owner in Havana in 1958-59 (the year of Fidel Castro’s successful revolution). This book focuses on Elisa Perez and her granddaughter Marisol Ferrera, and is another one of those books where we switch between narrators and time periods. Marisol’s story is set during the brief period of the Obama administration where tensions were less tense between the USA and Cuba and her grandmother, Elisa, has passed and would like her ashes to be scattered in Cuba. Marisol is a lifestyle journalist and is able to go to Cuba under the guise of writing a travel piece for a magazine. She stays with her grandmother’s old best friend and her family, they stayed in Cuba after the revolution (and we are lead to believe that they are THE Rodriguez family who owned Havana Club pre-Revolution). Marisol ends up falling in love, discovering family secrets, and learning about the true complexity and value of family.
Where I struggle with this book, is that it is so clearly written by someone who left (or whose family left) as a result of the Revolution. I spent a significant amount of time in Cuba at the National Agricultural Sciences Institute. And all of the Cubans there are those that stayed, and a lot of the older ones remember what it was like to be a poor farmer during Batista’s regime. They remember not having the opportunity to go to school or learn to read and they remember that Castro gave them that opportunity. They talked about how life had gotten better for them after the revolution, they also talked about how life had been terrible during the Special Period (the period after the USSR fell when Cuba had no trading partners thanks to the US’s blockade against Cuba). These people do truly blame the USA for a lot, including Castro. Castro and Che were brutal to the Cuban people, but so was Batista, and only in a family such as the fictional Perez and Rodriguez families was life okay under Batista. Batista was just as brutal to his opposition as Castro was (maybe not as brutal as Che – Che could probably be considered a serial killer but that might get me in trouble lol). And many of the Cubans who stayed may hate Castro, but they hate Batista more for allowing American imperialism to take over Cuba when the whole point of the Cuban Revolution against Spain was to not have any imperial influence over their country anymore. When in reality all it did was swap Spain for the USA. So yeah, I have complicated feelings about the perspective from which this book is written.
But I did really enjoy this book, it is a beautifully told story and the imagery is spectacular.
When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton
This book I have no qualms saying I absolutely adore. This book is about one of the other Perez sisters, Beatriz, and you could tell she was a badass in the first book, but this book is all about her and exactly how badass she is. After the revolution, the Perez’s stay in Cuba for a few months, trying to figure out exactly what is going to happen to them. Because they were super wealthy sugar plantation owners, they were politically close to Batista (partly out of fear, partly that it was advantageous to them), however Beatriz has a twin brother, who was part of a group of college students who tried and failed to assassinate Batista. He was disowned by their parents after this, but then after the Revolution, he is murdered and dumped on the Perez family’s driveway. They believe that Castro/the Revolutionaries killed him for being part of a different organization/being a threat to their leadership. So Beatriz has a lot to be mad about, she lost her social life, home, homeland, and her brother. And she is bored, her mother wants to pretend that they are still society ladies and is refusing to let Beatriz attend college. She reconnects with her brother’s best friend, who has been continuing to do some anti-Castro work from Miami and that leads to her connecting with the CIA. Beatriz ends up working as a spy, culminating in an assassination attempt of her own on Castro.
There is so much more to the plot and story of Beatriz, but I loved this story, and it’s actually totally believable because there really were some absolutely insane CIA plots to invade Cuba and/or assassinate Fidel Castro. Also, as much as I struggle with the perspective all Cubans are given in the first book, in this book it makes so much sense. It’s not inter-generational anger applied in broad brush strokes to an entire nation, it is very specific anger and a desire for revenge. Which I think we can all relate to. Also there are a couple love story plot-lines, but at the end Beatriz is a glamorous old lady who can still catch any man. Also, Tinx the wise and hilarious TikTok star, says that “men always come back, their life gets worse or they come back”. And it may take 50 years, but the man comes back.
Cassandra Clare The Mortal Instruments Series
I’m going to do these books as a group-ish. I read the first three books of this series. City of Bones, City of Ashes, and City of Glass, and I do think I am going to leave it there and pretend it’s a trilogy because I feel like there is a nice bow put on the story at the end of City of Glass. So Netflix kept suggesting the movie version of The Mortal Instruments and I finally watched it last Friday night. Then I got to googling because I felt like I could remember these books, but I definitely never read them as a teenager, but I remember seeing the covers a lot.
Of all the ways that these stories have been told I think the books are the best, they are not the best fantasy YA books I have ever read, but they’re not terrible. The Netflix series of this, is terrible.
So we start in City of Bones meeting Clary (the protagonist), Simon (the best friend), Jocelyn (Clary’s mom), and Luke (Clary’s father-figure, and her mom’s best friend and clearly in love with Jocelyn). Clary is a budding artist, following in her mom’s footsteps, and she has been drawing some weird symbols and has been starting to notice some weird stuff. She and Simon sneak into a club called Pandemonium and she sees a group of people kill a person in a private room or a club, but no one else can see it. She is freaking out and runs home and her mom is also freaking out, trying to get Clary to stay home. She is supposed to hang out with Simon and they go to Simon’s friends Slam Poetry reading and her mom is calling and calling her, and calling Simon. She meets Jace, who only she can see and is asking him questions about why he killed that person and why no one else can see him, when she finally answers her mom’s calls and something is very wrong. She runs away from Jace and all the way home and her apartment is trashed and her mom is gone. There is a demon in her house that attacks her and she kills it, right before Jace shows up and brings her to the Institute to heal up. This starts Clary’s journey into the world of Shadowhunters, demons, werewolves, faeries, vampires, angels, and warlocks that her mother ran away from before she was born.
She learns that her father is the “big-bad”, the Voldemort of this story, and develops a romantic connection with Jace, how after their first kiss, they are told that they are brother and sister. Clary also learns that her mother has gotten a warlock to suppress her “sight” (the thing that allows her to see magic, etc.) and that there is no way to remove it, she has to wait for her memories to slowly come back and she needs them back to try and find her mother. Simon gets turned into a rat at a party as a prank by a warlock and taken back to Vampire den and Jace, Clary, and the crew (Isabelle and Alec) go to save him. They realize that Jace and Clary’s father, Valentine, is looking for one of the sacred objects of the Shadowhunters, the Mortal Cup, and that Jocelyn took it when she ran away with Clary and hid it for the past 15 years. Clary realizes where she hid it and how she hid it and is the only person able to find it, and that it’s been right under her nose this whole time. However, they get betrayed by Hodge, the tutor at the Institute, and he hands it over to Valentine. He runs away with it, leaving Clary with her mother in an unexplainable coma, a frantic friend who can’t explain why he keeps wanting to go back tot the vampire den, and a romantic pull toward a man who is apparently her brother.
In the second book, we are continuing with the fight against Valentine and his Circle, except this time Jace and Clary and losing the trust of their government, the Clave, who worry that they are spies for Valentine because he is their father. They also realize that, even though Valentine’s ultimate goal is to exterminate all demons and “Downworlders” (the vampires, werewolves, warlocks, and faeries), he is willing to use demons to accomplish his goals. So he is after the second of three of the sacred objects; the Soul Sword. He attacks one of the sacred sites of the Shadowhunters (which is also their prison??) and steals the Soul Sword. To complete the ritual that will allow him to control the demons he needs to drain the blood of a child of each of the Downworld species. For his child vampire he takes Simon, he drains his blood shortly before Team Clary and Jace arrive to attack the boat. Jace finds Simon and he is barely still alive. Jace allows Simon to feed off him to save his life. The This book culminates in a huge battle on a boat in the Hudson River. Clary destroys the boat and prevents Valentine from completing the ritual, but isn’t able to defeat him or get the Sword or the Cup back. As they return to shore, the sun is coming up and there is no where for Simon to hide from the sun. He accepts his fate to burn up when exposed to the sun and he doesn’t. They don’t yet realize it, but Jace’s blood has changed Simon forever. He is able to walk in the sun, and becomes what the other vamps call a “Daylighter”.
Clary is realizing that she is different from the other Shadowhunters. They use runes burned into themselves to cast spells, heal themselves, fight, give themselves special abilities, etc. They learn them from a book, however Clary is able to create new runes and amplify existing runes to make them more powerful than they are supposed to be. No one else can do this. She and Jace decide to keep this secret. They don’t trust either the Shadowhunter government or their father and his circle.
In the third book we travel to the secret country homeland of the Shadowhunters. Simon is accidentally taken along by Jace instead of Clary, resulting in him being imprisoned and tortured to pressure him into confessing that Alec and Isabelle’s family are working for Valentine. The Shadowhunters are staying with family friends who also have their nephew Sebastian staying with them. Clary sneaks in with Luke and shows up at the house they’re staying at. Jace doesn’t want Clary there, he’s scared of what will happen to her if the Clave finds out she can make runes. Meanwhile Sebastian starts befriending Clary. The whole reason Clary wanted to come is that she has been told that the warlock who enchanted her mother’s coma lives in Idris and he has the antidote. Sebastian takes Clary there and then to her family’s former home there. Which was burned down by Valentine when he faked his death. Sebastian kisses Clary and she is repulsed by it.
Clary and Jace meet up to go look for a spell book the warlock needs to create the antidote for her mom at the house Jace was raised in. They find an angel (a real angel) trapped by Valentine in the basement. He shows Clary that she was given Angel’s blood as an embryo and then uses one of their special blades to kill himself. On their way back to Idris they notice that the protections normally surrounding the city are down and the city is under attack by demons. This is a precursor to Valentine’s full assault and how the Shadowhunters realize that Valentine has an inside man. There is a final battle and a glorious happy ending. Although I have to admit I totally called the twist.
I enjoyed these books, they are enjoyable in the way that sci-fi YA books are, easy, palatable, and fun. But these are definitely not the best quality books. Overall 6/10. I know that we eventually learn Jace and Clary aren’t actually siblings, but I really struggled with the borderline incest major plot point threaded through these books.
I honestly can’t believe I read 7 books this month. I feel like that hasn’t happened since I was in high school.