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Diverse November TBR

Stepping away from the horror and spooky themed books that filled my October, my November TBR is comprised of books from my regular TBR. This month, I want to focus on authors of all backgrounds and experiences, including two November New Releases! Below I include synopses from Amazon and my impression!

The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste

A gripping novel set during Mussolini’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, The Shadow King takes us back to the first real conflict of World War II, casting light on the women soldiers who were left out of the historical record.

With the threat of Mussolini’s army looming, recently orphaned Hirut struggles to adapt to her new life as a maid in Kidane and his wife Aster’s household. Kidane, an officer in Emperor Haile Selassie’s army, rushes to mobilize his strongest men before the Italians invade. His initial kindness to Hirut shifts into a flinty cruelty when she resists his advances, and Hirut finds herself tumbling into a new world of thefts and violations, of betrayals and overwhelming rage. Meanwhile, Mussolini’s technologically advanced army prepares for an easy victory. Hundreds of thousands of Italians―Jewish photographer Ettore among them―march on Ethiopia seeking adventure.

As the war begins in earnest, Hirut, Aster, and the other women long to do more than care for the wounded and bury the dead. When Emperor Haile Selassie goes into exile and Ethiopia quickly loses hope, it is Hirut who offers a plan to maintain morale. She helps disguise a gentle peasant as the emperor and soon becomes his guard, inspiring other women to take up arms against the Italians. But how could she have predicted her own personal war as a prisoner of one of Italy’s most vicious officers, who will force her to pose before Ettore’s camera?

What follows is a gorgeously crafted and unputdownable exploration of female power, with Hirut as the fierce, original, and brilliant voice at its heart. In incandescent, lyrical prose, Maaza Mengiste breathes life into complicated characters on both sides of the battle line, shaping a heartrending, indelible exploration of what it means to be a woman at war.

This is my most recent B&N pick! The time period and the history appealed to me the most, as well as the struggles that this MC will face during this book. I love stories of women growing and becoming stronger, and I anticipate a very strong woman emerging through this novel! Additionally, the way the two female characters will intertwine is really interesting (I anticipate).

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The bestselling novel from the award-winning author of We Should All Be Feminists and Dear Ijeawele. The story of two Nigerians making their way in the U.S. and the UK, raising universal questions of race and belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for identity and a home.

Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland. 

Americanah has been on my list forever! It's one that I kept seeing on the edges of class lists, as additionally recommended (but not required) readings. I've never read anything by Ngozi Adichie, but I've seen her name appear all over the place, and I've always been drawn! This novel offers a unique look into someone's first experience into American culture. As someone born, raised, and white in America, I'm so interested in what it's like to discover American culture for the first time, especially as someone who Americans would see as an "outsider."

The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama

The daughter of a Chinese mother and a Japanese father, Tsukiyama uses the Japanese invasion of China during the late 1930s as a somber backdrop for her unusual story about a 20-year-old Chinese painter named Stephen who is sent to his family's summer home in a Japanese coastal village to recover from a bout with tuberculosis. Here he is cared for by Matsu, a reticent housekeeper and a master gardener. Over the course of a remarkable year, Stephen learns Matsu's secret and gains not only physical strength, but also profound spiritual insight. Matsu is a samurai of the soul, a man devoted to doing good and finding beauty in a cruel and arbitrary world, and Stephen is a noble student, learning to appreciate Matsu's generous and nurturing way of life and to love Matsu's soulmate, gentle Sachi, a woman afflicted with leprosy.

The only exposure I have to Samurai culture is The Last Samurai; however, I recognize that's the white washed version of Japanese, so I'm excited to delve into an Own Voices novel from such an amazing writer the likes of Tsukiyama. I'm familiar with her as an author, having spent a lot of time reading about her books and her background for an assignment during graduate school, but I haven't actually read through much of her repertoire. I feel like I never know where to start!

Jazz by Toni Morrison

In the winter of 1926, when everybody everywhere sees nothing but good things ahead, Joe Trace, middle-aged door-to-door salesman of Cleopatra beauty products, shoots his teenage lover to death. At the funeral, Joe’s wife, Violet, attacks the girl’s corpse. This passionate, profound story of love and obsession brings us back and forth in time, as a narrative is assembled from the emotions, hopes, fears, and deep realities of black urban life.

"The author conjures up worlds with complete authority and makes no secret of her angst at the injustices dealt to black women.” —The New York Times Book Review

The first time I read Morrison, I was surprised by the tone of her writing and the difficulty that plays out across the pages. It's rare to find a novel that really mimics the turbulence of real life. Looking back, I probably should've expected all of it, but the complicated social interactions give her characters a realism and a blunt edge that make them sometimes hard to face. Morrison writes in a world that she has a mastery over portraying, and the movement in her novels gives her work a sense of setting and atmosphere that gives depth to the people and situations she creates. I expect no less from Jazz as it's one of her works I've heard the most about.

This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura

(Young Adult Fiction)

For fans of Jenny Han, Morgan Matson, and Sandhya Menon, critically acclaimed author Misa Sugiura delivers a richly crafted contemporary YA novel about family, community, and the importance of writing your own history.

The author of the Asian Pacific American Award-winning It’s Not Like It’s a Secret is back with another smartly drawn coming-of-age novel that weaves riveting family drama, surprising humor, and delightful romance into a story that will draw you in from the very first page.

Katsuyamas never quit—but seventeen-year-old CJ doesn’t even know where to start. She’s never lived up to her mom’s type A ambition, and she’s perfectly happy just helping her aunt, Hannah, at their family’s flower shop.

She doesn’t buy into Hannah’s romantic ideas about flowers and their hidden meanings, but when it comes to arranging the perfect bouquet, CJ discovers a knack she never knew she had. A skill she might even be proud of.

Then her mom decides to sell the shop—to the family who swindled CJ’s grandparents when thousands of Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during WWII. Soon a rift threatens to splinter CJ’s family, friends, and their entire Northern California community; and for the first time, CJ has found something she wants to fight for.

I love a good coming-of-age story! Especially those spring-boarding off a murky and difficult history like This Time Will Be Different seems to do. Already, I'm interested in CJ's life, curious to know what spurs on from an resigned sense of contentment to a desire to fight for the life she thought would always be there.

What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon

Release Date: 17 November 2020

From the creator of Your Fat Friend, an explosive indictment of the systemic and cultural bias facing plus-size people that will move us toward creating an agenda for fat justice.

Anti-fatness is everywhere. In What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Fat, Aubrey Gordon unearths the cultural attitudes and social systems that have led to people being denied basic needs because they are fat and calls for social justice movements to be inclusive of plus-sized people's experiences. Unlike the recent wave of memoirs and quasi self-help books that encourage readers to love and accept themselves, Gordon pushes the discussion further towards authentic fat activism, which includes ending legal weight discrimination, giving equal access to health care for large people, increased access to public spaces, and ending anti-fat violence. As she argues, "I did not come to body positivity for self-esteem. I came to it for social justice."

By sharing her experiences as well as those of others--from smaller fat to very fat people--she concludes that to be fat in our society is to be seen as an undeniable failure, unlovable, unforgivable, and morally condemnable. Fatness is an open invitation for others to express disgust, fear, and insidious concern. To be fat is to be denied humanity and empathy. Studies show that fat survivors of sexual assault are less likely to be believed and less likely than their thin counterparts to report various crimes; 27% of very fat women and 13% of very fat men attempt suicide; over 50% of doctors describe their fat patients as "awkward, unattractive, ugly and noncompliant"; and in 48 states, it's legal--even routine--to deny employment because of an applicant's size.

Advancing fat justice and changing prejudicial structures and attitudes will require work from all people. What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Fat is a crucial tool to create a tectonic shift in the way we see, talk about, and treat our bodies, fat and thin alike.

I'm drawn to fiction that features fat characters (Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, Julie Murphy's novels, etc.), but I've never really seen a published book that focuses on the culture biases that impact fat people. When I stumbled on this book and read the synopsis, I instantly preordered it. Being fat in America comes with a lot of baggage (which is often ignored), and it'll be nice to see someone acknowledge and demand change for a lot of what I go through. Of this list, this is the one that I'm most excited to delve into, even though it'll be a difficult read.

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

(Young Adult Fiction)

Release Date: 17 November 2020

Perfect for fans of The Last Magician and Descendant of the Crane, this heart-stopping debut is an imaginative Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, with rival gangs and a monster in the depths of the Huangpu River.

The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.

Since I follow a lot of authors and writers on Twitter, I stumbled on the author of this novel right before I started seeing her cover pop up everywhere. I love Japanese-inspired novels and settings (such as Ink by Amanda Sun), but I haven't read a lot of things that take place in China. While I know the cultures are distinct, I love the idea of a novel that takes place in China (especially in the 1920s!). I'm a huge historical fan, so this combines the best of both worlds for my reading preferences! I'm not typically a fan of characters who knew each other (friendships/relationships) before the book started, but I'll give this one a try and see if the setting and the story overcome that hiccup!

Overall I'm really excited for November. It's an ambitious list, but I'm not holding myself to get through all of them in the next four weeks. Many of these books are different from the quick reads I fly through regularly, but I'm looking forward to stepping out of my own point of view and into the cultures and experiences of other people.

I can't wait to write in-depth reviews for some of these novels!


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