What I Read This Spring

Today is the first official day of summer! While it may feel like it’s been summer for a month already, I know it is likely to get a lot hotter where I currently live. Last year when I was just getting back into blogging, I wrote a few summary posts of all the books I read during the span of each season. Since I haven’t been writing monthly wrap ups lately, I decided to revisit that old format this year. While my life has been all over the place, my reading has been fun and I want to write down all my thoughts while they’re still fresh.

From March 20, 2019, to June 20, 2019, I read a grand total of seven books. That’s a whole lot more than I would’ve guessed considering how ambivalent I’ve been about being a book blogger. I did manage to stick to my spring TBR for the most part, and I’m really surprised at myself!

Long post made short, here’s the list of the books I read with my star ratings.

  1. Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor(★★★)
  2. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff(★★★)
  3. Gemina by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff(★★★★★)
  4. Obsidio by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (★★★)
  5. The Promise by Chaim Potok(★★★)
  6. King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo(★★★★★)
  7. Again, but Better by Christine Riccio (★★★)

I won’t go into detail of why I rated each book the way I did but instead contextualize my reading and give some talking points. Hopefully that will give you an idea of these books if you aren’t familiar with them already and whether you’d like to investigate them some more. I’ve included links to them on Goodreads and Amazon*.

*If you purchase any of the books I talk about in this post after following one of my affiliate links, I may receive a small commission at no extra expense to you.

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Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor
⟡ Find on Goodreads | Amazon
⟡ My rating: ★★★

It is a general rule of mine not to buy new books if I don’t intend to read them immediately, and Akata Warrior has been one of those books that is a reminder that I had not been abiding by this rule!

Akata Warrior continues the story of Sunny Nwazue, which started in Akata Witch. After defeating the villain of the first book, Sunny’s destiny is not yet complete as she continues to learn about her magical heritage and how to master her unique gifts.

I talk about this book a bit more in-depth in my full-length review, but I will say that I really love the world and magic system that Okorafor has created. I’ll happily read more by this author, but I think I am done buying these books, at least until I have more disposable income. I think these books are really great and important entries to the young adult fantasy genre.

What these books have taught me as a writer is that books as rich and imaginatively exciting and evocative as Harry Potter are not exclusive to any one culture. You might think that this is a no-brainer, but this book has definitely gotten me thinking more deeply about how culture influences the magic systems devised by authors and what it can mean to people of color moving forward.

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Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
⟡ Find on Goodreads | Amazon
⟡ My rating: ★★★★

I’ve read Illuminae about three times now and I love it every time. I love Kady and Ezra and how the science fiction is so compelling and accessible to young adult audiences (myself included) who are not scientifically inclined. I like to think about all the young girls who may read these books and be inspired to go into STEM fields and kick butt.

I also love that these books deal with the ethical side of the equation. A lot of times in action-filled YA, death counts can be high and violence heavy. I like that the human cost of survival in these space expeditions and battles are highlighted and on the forefront of the characters’ minds, and not in an obnoxious or superficial way.

I would argue that is just about anything you could want in this series (i.e. action, romance, mystery, horror, etc.), so these books are endless fun. After you get into the rhythm of the storytelling (i.e. reading the files), these books are extremely immersive.

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Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
⟡ Find on Goodreads | Amazon
⟡ My rating: ★★★★★ 

This book was another reread on my journey to reach Obsidio. It was as enjoyable as the first time around. I don’t really know where to start with this book. I love it so much. If you hate series that introduce a completely new cast in each book, you don’t need to worry about that with this book.

For one, the protagonists Hanna and Nik just as terrific as Kady and Ezra, maybe even more so. It’s like the authors mastered the romantic formula of the first book and utilized it to perfection in the second book’s lead characters. Hanna is not your stereotypical spoiled princess and Nik is not your stereotypical drug dealer. This book may be more hilarious than the first and more of an emotional rollercoaster.

The other reason you don’t need to worry is we see Kady and Ezra in this book! They’ve not become completely irrelevant to the story. They enter Gemina right when Hanna and Nik need them.

Gemina is definitely my favorite book in the series, which may or may not be remarkable. I know that most bridge books in a trilogy are just that, a bridge that doesn’t really stand well on its own or it’s a clone of the first book. In my opinion, Gemina can’t really be reduced to either.

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Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
⟡ Find on Goodreads | Amazon
⟡ My rating: ★★★

After a short reading break, I finally picked up Obsidio. Unlike Illuminae and Gemina, I have only read this book once, and I’m already a little foggy on the exact plot of this book. Going into this book, I had fairly low expectations despite the fun of the first two because of how big a let down the final book of the Starbound trilogy was for me.

I will say that I did not care for Asha or Rhys very much. I feel like their backstory was a little unbelievable, and I wasn’t satisfied with how it was revealed. I also don’t like the dynamic between oppressed and unwitting oppressor. I would have maybe liked it if Rhys was more ruthless and he underwent more significant character development, but he was kind of pathetic but also brilliant liar somehow. What.

I think the problem is that the authors didn’t have a whole book to focus on them; they had to share page-time with Kady, Ezra, Hanna, and Nik. By the way, I’m not complaining! I’m glad that we got to see how they dealt with the aftermath of the previous books and prepared for the return to Kerenza. I’m just saying Asha and Rhys’s romance was a probably a little lackluster as result.

I was able to enjoy Obsidio. Yes, I thought a few things happened that were a little too convenient and disneyfied to wrap the story up with a pretty bow, but I am aware of how challenging it might have been to conclude this series in just one book. I just wish that the villains of BeiTech, specifically Frobisher, could have been a bigger part of the climactic action.

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The Promise by Chaim Potok
⟡ Find on Goodreads | Amazon
⟡ My rating: ★★★★

Last year in a similar post describing What I Read (That) Winter, I talked about The Chosen by Chaim Potok. It was a book I enjoyed passionately. I felt similarly passionate reading this book, but for very different reasons.

The Promise catches with Reuven as he is studying to become a rabbi. He still lives with his father who has been working on this controversial book, which is radical to conservative Jews because of how it analyzes Jewish texts. While The Chosen follows Reuven and his unlikely friendship with Danny in the years leading up to the formation of Israel, which was a hot button issue amongst Jewish sects in the 1930s, The Promise is set in a New York into which the Jews who survived the holocaust have immigrated. So there’s a lot of, not just, culture clash but also clash of fundamental ideologies that The Chosen merely introduces.

I feel really hesitant talking in depth about these two books, given that everything I know about Jewish theology and scholarship has come from these books. I am not Jewish, nor have I ever really even casually met practicing Jews. Even using the word conservative to describe the opposing viewpoint to Reuven’s feels like it may be inaccurate considering Reuven himself would probably be considered conservative in his own right.

The summary of the book would have you believe that it is about Reuven, Danny, and this boy Michael, but that storyline is more of a marginal thread that ties the book together. What I found most compelling about this book was Reuven’s struggle against his rabbinical professor Rav Kalman, a world-famous rabbi who survived the holocaust and is steadfast in his mission to smear the name and work of Reuven’s father.

I appreciate The Promise coming into my life at this time, because I feel like not enough people are talking about how we should talk to people we don’t agree with. I agonized with Reuven over his frustration with his professor. I was also inspired to see how he persevered. Truthfully, I would have been likely to give up in his position and make my own way. I think there is something to say about seeing things through. (If this is vague, I’m sorry! I just can’t go into more detail in this space!)

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King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
⟡ Find on Goodreads | Amazon
⟡ My rating: ★★★★

Similar to Akata Warrior and Obsidio, King of Scars was beginning to cause me a little bit of book buying guilt. It’s a book I had pre-ordered as soon as I learned about it and then when it came…nothing. I didn’t feel like reading it. Truthfully, I’ve not really been in the mood for fantasy these days. I’m not sure why.

As I had begun to hear hints of conflicting opinions about King of Scars, I was really nervous when I finally picked it up. It didn’t help that the first 80 or so pages were really discouraging. I could tell that Nina and Zoya were going to be central characters in this book, and they were never favorites of mine. Also, I was getting hints about a potential romance between Zoya and Nikolai, and I wasn’t sure I liked that development. Without spoiling anything, I will say that I was able to trust and respect Bardugo’s character choices in the end!

I don’t want to get into spoilers since this book once came out in January and there may be others out there, like I was, who are still waiting to pick up this book. I will just say that the book does end up becoming really exciting and satisfying after about 100 pages. I loved Nina’s storyline and can’t wait to see what she does next. I’m also still in shock-awe about what is revealed at the end! Wow!

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Again, but Better by Christine Riccio
⟡ Find on Goodreads | Amazon
⟡ My rating: ★★★★

Again, but Better ended up being one of my most anticipated reads of this year, because it has honestly been on my radar since Christine started writing it. I had begun to follow her YouTube channel PolandbananasBOOKS somewhere between 2014 and 2015, discovering her from her collaborations with Katytastic. She started writing this book in January 2016 and made periodic writing update videos about her progress.

It was so inspiring to watch her talk about writing it, and I’ve recently gone back to rewatch the first ten or so videos where she talks about writing the first draft specifically. It is such a cool experience now having read the book to know a lot of what she is talking about plot-wise!

As for the book itself, it kind of blew me away. I wasn’t expecting much, especially after the first few chapters or so. I started it feeling like it was a fan-fiction of someone’s idea of college and college romance. But as I got deeper into the story, it began to feel so real and authentic. I could really relate to Shane and her awkward struggles, and even as a proper adult now feel like I’ve learned from her mistakes alongside her.

I do wish this is a book I had when I was still in high school, so I adore Christine for writing this book! I did not have the highest expectations for this book, but it is so much fun but also so relevant, which I think is necessary for contemporary novels these days. I may end up doing a full-length review later on…

End Note

Next Tuesday (6/25) I’ll be sharing the books on my summer TBR for Top Ten Tuesday, which is why I wanted to get this post written and published ahead of it! It’ll a look a little different from past TBRs, because it will feature a lot of books I don’t already own. Before that I’m hoping to share something else this weekend, but I’m not sure what yet! There have been some exciting job hunt developments that I’m hoping I will be able to share next week!

What did you read this spring?

Thank you for reading!
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Akata Warrior (Akata Witch, #2) by Nnedi Okorafor

Book Review of Akata Warrior by The Inky Saga

I did not set myself the most ambitious reading goals this year, and it has been a struggle to just read one book per month. However, I was really happy to get to read Akata Warrior, the sequel to Akata Witch, which I read and adored last year. The magical adventures of Sunny and her coven are so much fun and full of heart.

I also love the African representation in the book. These books comment on identity in Nigeria, which is as varied as complex as it is in America. I think is so important that children read a book set in different countries, especially countries that we don’t often see portrayed for a young adult audience. Africa is such a huge continent and in many places, it is surprisingly not that different from certain parts of the United States.

In this post I will talk about the plot and potential spoilers from this sequel. Like with my last review of a sequel, I’m not sure how many people will read this post. So I’m just going to assume it will be people who have already read it and want to talk about it! If you’ve not read Akata Witch, I highly recommend it. You can check out the review I wrote last year.

SEE: AKATA WITCH BY NNEDI OKORAFOR

 • Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor 

Released: October 16, 2018 by Speak
Pages: Paperback, 512 pages
Theme(s): Identity, inner strength, power of knowledge, friendship, balance
Genre(s): YA / Fantasy / African-American Fiction
Age Group: 10+
Goodreads | Amazon*

*Affiliate link disclaimer

A year ago, Sunny Nwazue, an American-born girl Nigerian girl, was inducted into the secret Leopard Society. As she began to develop her magical powers, Sunny learned that she had been chosen to lead a dangerous mission to avert an apocalypse, brought about by the terrifying masquerade, Ekwensu. Now, stronger, feistier, and a bit older, Sunny is studying with her mentor Sugar Cream and struggling to unlock the secrets in her strange Nsibidi book. Eventually, Sunny knows she must confront her destiny. With the support of her Leopard Society friends, Orlu, Chichi, and Sasha, and of her spirit face, Anyanwu, she will travel through worlds both visible and invisible to the mysterious town of Osisi, where she will fight a climactic battle to save humanity.

Akata Warrior picks up some time after Sunny and her oha coven have defeated Black Hat and are well into studying independently with guidance from their individual mentors. The book actually started with a really great recap in the form of a letter from the snarky Obi Library Collective of Leopard Knocks’ Department of Responsibility! I had been worried I wouldn’t be able to follow the story, but I ended up recalling most of the first book. I was actually only fuzzy on the ending, probably because I was so unsatisfied by the plot’s main conflict.

In this book Sunny is being haunted by the evil spirit Ekwenzu who wants to bring on the destruction of the natural world. She manages to separate Sunny from her spirit face Azue, which to everyone’s surprise does not kill her. Instead Sunny is forced to navigate the magical world without her spirit guide and find inner strength and confidence in herself.

In this second book, we see Sunny grow closer to her brothers. Each sibling is so different, they all have live such different lives despite all having lived under the same roof. It’s really nice to see them start to opening up and trusting each other with their vulnerabilities and trouble they get into. It is through her brothers that we see a real-life problem plaguing Nigerian higher education: confraternities.

I had never heard of this problem and was glad that Okorafor included this little side plot that was so relevant to the story because of the leopard world’s value of education and the story’s Nigerian setting. It is horrifying to see how people are press-ganged into these secret societies full of corruption that ultimately seem to have nothing to do with the honest pursuit of knowledge.

One more minor thing that I found highly unsettling was the development of a relationship between Sunny’s friend Chichi and her older brother Chuckwu. It’s super creepy to think of a 18-year-old guy who is obsessed with body building off at college being attracted to a literally underdeveloped child! Chichi is supposed to be this tiny little girl. The first book makes it seem like Chichi is older than she looks, but I don’t think that makes it okay!

I think drama of a love triangle was the main the point of throwing Chuckwu into Chichi and Sasha’s relationship. Maybe it can be chalked up to cultural differences, but I do feel it was highly inappropriate even if their relationship was more innocent.

Aside from the horrors of reality, this book was a lot of fun! My favorite parts of these books is always following Sunny as she discovers more about the leopard world and all of what’s possible. The flying wood cutter, Grashcoatah, was a particular delight. He was like a playful Loki in giant grasscutter disguise!

Like the first book, I feel the second suffers from a similar weakness in the plot. I was really in shock again about how many things happened that Sunny did not see fit to explain to the Leopard adults, particularly her mentor Sugar Cream! In the Harry Potter and A Series of Unfortunate Events books, the children are always trying to tell adults first and it’s only when they realize they are not being taken seriously do they realize they must act on their own. I’m not sure why it doesn’t even occur to Sunny and her friends to confide in more older people with more experience!

I also really didn’t like how disconnected the climax felt from the rest of the book. I actually did like the slow unraveling of the discovery that the house Sunny had been learning about in her grandmother’s letter was Ekwenzu’s home in the spirit land, but it was not a very smooth transition from the mystery the coven was chasing by visiting the mythical city of Osisi. To be honest, though, maybe I’m just used to stories where the protagonists know what they need to do. Sunny and the gang are plagued by problems not at all personal to them but derived from ancestral conflict.

If I had to rate this book by stars, I’d give it a 4 stars. It’s a very fun read and does what a great fantasy book should: ignite our imagination but also reflect problems we face in the real world. My biggest critique is just the same as it was for the first book; a lacking plot. Ultimately, however, that is easy to overlook since the rest of the book is so fun and I truly care about the characters.

If you read this post in its entirety, let me know if you’re read these books yet! I’m truly curious, as I never used to review sequels in the past. I didn’t see a point. If the first book grabs you, you’re going to want to read the sequel naturally. But I guess people can be curious about where the story goes without wanting to sit through a story and characters they feel so-so about. I, for one, am extremely interested in continuing to follow Sunny’s story and see where this series goes!

Thank you for reading!
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