Thoughts on books, family, and life in one impressive package.

September is THE month for publishing. It must be the idea that kids are back to school or something. Still, every year, I find myself inundated by review copies of highly anticipated sequels, the buzziest of buzzed books, and other new releases that make me drool. It also means that no matter how hard I try and how often I read, I always end up behind with not just my reviewing but also my reading. Because I am so hopelessly behind in both, here are the books I have read that had a September 20th release date.

Bone Weaver by Aden Polydoros
Bone Weaver by Aden Polydoros is an engaging power struggle story that involves a rather unusual found family. Having lost her family while a young child, Toma is the most sympathetic of the characters. Somehow, despite being abandoned quite literally in the middle of nowhere by her mother after losing her father in an accident, she is not just kind and knowledgeable about hunting and foraging but also street savvy despite having not seen another human being for years. Then there is Vanya, a natural rogue who can’t help charm everyone he meets, which Mr. Polydoros ensures includes the reader. As they rush to rescue Toma’s sister and Mikhail’s throne, it becomes not just a race against time but also an exercise in sociology as our hapless group learns a little more about each other and the society they live.

What makes Bone Weaver different from other stories is Mr. Polydoros’ inclusion of magic, but not just any magic. Toma’s foster parents happen to be among the benevolent undead, a.k.a. zombies who retain enough of their previous consciousness to be able to overcome their desire for human flesh. In the ultimate definition of unusual relationships, these zombies provide a nurturing environment for Toma and much-needed affection and companionship during her formative years. Then there are the bogatyr, those unique humans born with the ability to manipulate nature. This is magic that does not involve spells, rituals, or herbs. No one knows why some people have these abilities, just as no one knows why someone raises from the dead. Not everyone has these abilities, and it becomes a have versus a have-nots scenario. Adding this aspect to the political intrigues and ongoing civil war makes for a complicated but fast-paced story that is easy and enjoyable to read.

Rust in the Root by Justina Ireland
I fell in love with Justina Ireland’s novels after reading her Dread Nation duology, but in my opinion, her latest novel, Rust in the Root, is her best yet. Not only does she give readers insight into the everyday racism Black women face, but she also includes a fantastic argument against capitalism. Ms. Ireland cleverly disguises her anti-capitalist sentiment within her fascinating story of the mystical arts versus industry and technology. Laura Ann Langston is a formidable young woman, powerful in her own right and unwilling to settle for an ordinary, quiet life not using her gifts. She is self-deprecating, unashamed, honest to a fault, and entertaining in that honesty. It is a pleasure to follow along with Laura and her fellow mages as they search for answers.

Ms. Ireland’s verbal jousting is par excellence. At the same time, I appreciate any opportunity to learn more about what it is like to be a Black person in a society ruled by white supremacy and systemic racism. Rust in the Root is an easy and enjoyable way to become more anti-racist. However, even if that is not your thing, Ms. Ireland’s newest novel is beyond clever, highly entertaining, and fascinating in its twist on the 1930s in a world torn between technology and the more earthly, natural approaches to power.

Direwood by Catherine Yu
Direwood by Catherine Yu should be a book I adore. After all, it is a gothic horror story about vampires. Usually, that would be enough to earn an automatic A. Unfortunately, I could not get into the story enough to enjoy it. The vampires were too one-noted, and Aja is a bit too annoying in her inability to view the world in any way other than superficially. Add to it the weird, blood-sucking butterflies and caterpillars and the red rain that no one else seemed to notice, and it felt like Ms. Yu was trying too hard to make her vampire story different from the million others in existence. She doesn’t explain much of anything, so you slog through the story hoping that something will make sense soon. It doesn’t help that I could not keep awake while reading it. No matter what time of day, I found myself nodding off while reading even a few pages. All of this is to say that I was not a fan of Direwood. There are much better examples of gothic horror stories and way better vampire stories.

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