It’s time again for another round of recent reads! I know it’s been a while. I’ve been in such a slump and can’t seem to get it together but no matter! I’ve finally read three books so here we go. This time I’ll be talking about a middle grade classic fantasy, a stunning historical fiction, and the second book in a beloved middle-grade series. If you want to see more, you can find my last “Recent Reads” here.
The Emerald City of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Release Date: 1910
Genre: Middle-grade fantasy
Here’s a link to the synopsis for the first book in the series. I did this, not because of spoilers but because the Goodreads synopsis makes absolutely no sense.
“To be angry once in a while is really good fun, because it makes others so miserable. But to be angry morning, noon and night, as I am, grows monotonous and prevents my gaining any other pleasure in life.”
I have a lot of thoughts about this book. To start with, the author’s note made me smile because Baum talks about the kids who have sent him letters with ideas for his Oz books. As I was reading, I tried to guess what the kids might have suggested and I’m so sure that the school pills, pills you take to learn everything you need at school, were their idea. I also think this book is incredibly funny. The Nome King and the Whimsies particularly made me laugh out loud. This book also included some more anti-capitalist themes but he is sure to say that the way Oz works would only work in Oz. I wonder if Baum felt that way or if he was saying it to appease someone else.
I also was pleased to see Baum playing with a narrative structure he hadn’t tried before in previous books. He went back and forth between the Nome King and Dorothy and I was excited to see how these plot lines came together but they just… didn’t really. The ending felt a little cheap. I also think the VERY end of the book had some anti-immigrant rhetoric and I was a bit confused? I don’t want to spoil anything but it was strange. Baum made the ending seem like this is the last book in the series but clearly there’s at least eight more to go so I’m interested to see what’s going to happen next.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Release Date: June 2, 2020
Genre: Historical Fiction
The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?
Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.
“When you married someone, you promised to love every person he would be. He promised to love every person she had been. And here they were, still trying, even though the past and the future were both mysteries.”
I feel like everyone’s heard about and probably even read The Vanishing Half and I’m late to the party but as someone who loves multi-generational family stories, I’m glad to be here now. It took me a bit to get used to the time jumps but once I was into it, I was hooked. I found myself thinking about the characters even when I wasn’t reading. I especially thought about one of the twins, Stella, and the mystery surrounding her in the first half of the book. There is a bit of a cliffhanger before one of the first big time jumps that had me ready to keep reading. The characters are definitely the strongest part of this book. Bennett took time and care with developing every single character. The twins and their daughters were certainly interesting to watch change and think throughout the story but the side characters were just as interesting. I particularly enjoyed reading about Reese and his experiences being trans. I also liked that Bennett didn’t provide us with a neat ending for every character. It felt more realistic that way. I have mentioned before my love of stories about strained family relationships that aren’t just tied up in a bow at the end and this does that well. Those wounds take time to heal and I love authors who understand and acknowledge it. Bennett’s in-depth and nuanced look at not only racism but colorism is something I think everyone should read.
Also, if you like the “two women who are close come from the same town but make different choices” aspect of this story, please pick up Sula by Toni Morrisson.
The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan
Release Date: October 4, 2011
Genre: Middle-grade Fantasy
“Life is only precious because it ends, kid.”
I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump and I wasn’t loving the first bit of this book. I liked learning about a new setting and group of people but there was a camp games type event that went on a bit too long for me. After that, though, the action really took off and I was invested. I think Riordan does a great job and slowly introducing more aspects of the characters’ personalities. I felt really attached to Hazel and Frank. I also think Riordan is great at writing endings that get you so excited to see what happens next in the series. If I wasn’t already a bit burned out from fantasy, I would have a hard time not going ahead and picking up the next book. Also, Nico is in this one and that made me happy.
What have you been reading recently? Have you read any of these? Are you interested in any of them? Come chat with me!