The Cover Wars

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Sacrifice, the sequel to Serpentine, plunges Skybright into the terrifying underworld where demons are bred and whisks her up to the magnificent Mountain of Heavenly Peace where the gods dwell.

Stone is stripped of his immortal status and told to close hell’s breach, which mysteriously remains open, threatening mortals.

Zhen Ni, Skybright’s former mistress and friend, has been wed to the strange and brutish Master Hou, and finds herself trapped in an opulent but empty manor. When she discovers half-eaten corpses beneath the estate, she realizes that Master Hou is not all that he seems.

As Skybright works to free Zhen Ni with the aid of Kai Sen and Stone, they begin to understand that what is at risk is more far-reaching then they could ever have fathomed.

Jane: I’m just not a huge fan of this cover – the illustration looks a bit like an animation student’s midterm assignment, and it’s not grabbing me. Also, if you hadn’t read Serpentine, this back copy would be nothing but a load of gibberish, just random names thrown at you with little context (As Skybright works to free Zhen Ni with the aid of Kai Sen and Stone”…Who? What? Huh?). The text feels more like a summation of plot points than a nuanced invitation to explore a story. Just on the merit of the cover illustration and the summary alone, I would not be inclined to pick this one up, which would be a shame, since it’s been getting rave reviews.

Yash: I love this cover. It works very well as the cover for the sequel to Serpentine by Cindy Pon. We still get Skybright featured on the cover, only this time we see her in her serpent form, in an action-pose that isn’t meant to be sexy and/or cater to the male gaze. And I love the illustration style, so this is a win for me. Now, if I remember correctly, when she transforms, she loses her clothing? But I guess an accurate depiction of that on a YA cover would be in a very ideal world that is certainly not this one, so, yeah, this one is good.

Nafiza: Oh my, Stone. I mean, I truly adore the cover. I love that it portrays the protagonist in action and that action has nothing to do with romance…well, at least I think it has nothing to do with romance. I mean her expression isn’t exactly amorous. But heh, if you haven’t read the first one in this series, you really should because it’s wonderful. I like how bold and vibrant the colour palette is and even if I had not read the first book, this cover would have drawn my attention and made me look the book up. So yes please, come to me.

Janet: Skybright! As half-snake! In action and, as Yash said, having nothing to do with catering to the male gaze.  I don’t think it matters that the latter half of the back copy loses its impact if the reader hasn’t read the first book, as this is the second in the series and presumably relies on the first; although not all the characters’ relationships are explained, the sense of urgency and adventure is conveyed. I cannot wait to read Serpentine and Sacrifice.

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Meet Akhila: forty-five and single, an income-tax clerk, and a woman who has never been allowed to live her own life – always the daughter, the sister, the aunt, the provider – until the day she gets herself a one-way ticket to the seaside town of Kanyakumari. In the intimate atmosphere of the all-women sleeping car – the ‘Ladies Coupe’ – Akhila asks the five women the question that has been haunting her all her adult life: can a woman stay single and be happy, or does she need a man to feel complete?

This wonderfully atmospheric, deliciously warm novel takes the reader into the heart of women’s lives in contemporary India, revealing how the dilemmas that women face in their relationships with husbands, mothers, friends, employers and children are the same world over.

Jane: This sounds absolutely lovely. Of course, if I was a kid or a teenager this would likely sound like one heck of a snooze-fest, but as a woman in her thirties this exploration of women’s changing roles and expectations in a male-dominated world sounds right up my alley. So often women in fiction are pitted against each other, competing for men, jobs, attention. How refreshing to come across a story in which six women are brought together by chance and are able to have real conversations with each other, without immediately seeing each other as rivals. I also appreciate the fact that this story is both regional and global in scope – while the action is set in contemporary India, women around the world will be able to relate to these women’s stories.  I love the sound of this, and I definitely want to pick it up.

Yash: Yeah, this is definitely not YA, but oh my word, I need this book for my own! Even if the synopsis weren’t as awesome as it were, the cover is so perfect. That rust coloured red of the trains–so familiar to me–and the women who are all dressed up, even though they are just on a train, mid-journey, is just the Indian way. I think Anita Nair is a rather prolific writer and I’ve been wanting to read her for a while. Maybe this is the best place to start.

Nafiza: I know this isn’t YA but I reckon the story it tells is, as Jane said, global enough that it will transcend culture and race. I just love that these ladies are together and in motion. Best of all, they are smiling. Do you know how many Indian brides we have with their heads cut off and their hennaed hands outstretched? Too many. Indian women are more than unwilling brides–not that fiction will often tell you that but eh. Things are changing. That said, I want to read this book for all the reasons Yash and Jane mentioned.

Janet: My only complaint about the cover is that the title font is spaced awkwardly. My eyes want to change that. Otherwise, Nafiza has said it all. This sounds lovely.

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In William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the action of the entire play unfolds over the course of a single day. But what happened on the island in the twelve years leading up to that day? Why does the magician Prospero keep his daughter Miranda ignorant of her history? Why does he take the supposedly monstrous Caliban under his wing?

Miranda is a lonely child. For as long as she can remember, she and her father have lived in isolation in the abandoned Moorish palace. There are chickens and goats, and a terrible wailing spirit trapped in a pine tree, but the elusive wild boy who spies on her from the crumbling walls and leaves gifts on their doorstep is the isle’s only other human inhabitant. There are other memories, too: vague, dream-like memories of another time and another place. There are questions that Miranda dare not ask her stern and controlling father, who guards his secrets with zealous care: Who am I? Where did I come from? The wild boy Caliban is a lonely child, too; an orphan left to fend for himself at an early age, all language lost to him. When Caliban is summoned and bound into captivity by Miranda’s father as part of a grand experiment, he rages against his confinement; and yet he hungers for kindness and love. This darkly re-imagined vision of Shakespeare’s beloved tale is told in their voices and is rife with issues of power and control, innocence and sexuality. Lovers of the fantastic, the classic, and beautiful writing will fall in love with Carey’s imaginative retelling.

Jane: Huh. To be honest I think I’ve blocked most of The Tempest out of my mind (thanks a lot, high school English class), so my recollection of the story and characters is a bit foggy. Still, this sounds like it could be a complex, nuanced story, filling in details left vague in the original play. I’m intrigued, though I don’t know if I’ll necessarily rush to pick it up.

Yash: So, is this week’s theme, covers with POCs on them? 🙂 Anyway, I do love the cover, it’s a soft, beautiful style and I like that even though Caliban (?) is sort of hidden, so is Miranda, and that works. I am not sure I want to read it, though? I am kind of tired of interracial relationships that include a white person. Unless Miranda isn’t white? Also, Caliban–a black character, I assume, from the cover–being described as “monstrous”, and “wild” is not encouraging. I’m also not interested in reading about a black character who is help in captivity and falls for their white captor? Even though it may be handled well and I guess, technically, Miranda isn’t the one who imprisons him, it’s not something I’m keen on reading. Ideally, he would escape, go out into the wider world and find someone completely unrelated to this awful situation.

Nafiza: Yash is right about the theme. It was difficult enough finding books with POC models but I think I managed. This is a very arresting cover. I love the softness of the colours juxtaposed…hey there are birds. I didn’t even notice the birds. O.O As I was saying the colours and the contrasts work together to make a very striking cover. I may give it a try if I see it available. I do this this might be a novella instead of a novel which serves as a further incentive for it to be on my TBR.

Janet: I like the gentle painting-look of the cover, but… In the play, isn’t there the suggestion of/potential/forestalled rape? Not to mention the atrocious racial politics. I would have to trust an author completely to read a book with so much to do justice to, and the back doesn’t promise me that.

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On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—the good life. But after leaving Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud, American cousins—Chantal, Donna and Princess—the grittiness of Detroit’s west side, a new school, and a surprising romance, all on her own. Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola must learn that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

Jane: The “American dream” story is a tale as old as time – a young immigrant sets out for America with visions of freedom and a better life, only to find that life in the new world isn’t quite what they were expecting. As Fivel discovered in An American Tail, there are indeed cats in America, and the streets aren’t paved with cheese. Each new generation reinvents this classic tale in new ways, with new characters, new challenges, new hopes and dreams. The Irish girl fleeing the potato famine, the Jewish family fleeing Russian pogroms, the Vietnamese child fleeing the aftermath of war, the Haitian teenager seeking a new life free from poverty. The Haitian element in American Street adds a fascinating cultural element to this well-loved story, introducing readers to a culture that has not often been explored  in contemporary fiction. A well-worn storyline, but one that continues to resonate with readers across generations.

Yash: The one time I don’t care that the character of colour is portrayed as a silhouette: it just works, especially since it isn’t just a plain black silhouette. I love it! Gimme it! *grabby hands*

Nafiza: I wasn’t sure whether to include this in this week’s covers because of the silhouette but #weneeddiversebooks and this one is. I’m not sure whether I like the cover that much but oh boy, I do want to read the book.

Janet: Excellent use of colour and white space. The back copy is supremely tempting – it provides details without laying out the whole story. Yes, please!

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Some bodies won’t stay buried.
Some stories need to be told.

When seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase finds a skeleton on her family’s property, she has no idea that investigating the brutal century-old murder will lead to a summer of painful discoveries about the past… and the present.

Nearly one hundred years earlier, a misguided violent encounter propels seventeen-year-old Will Tillman into a racial firestorm. In a country rife with violence against blacks and a hometown segregated by Jim Crow, Will must make hard choices on a painful journey towards self discovery and face his inner demons in order to do what’s right the night Tulsa burns.

Through intricately interwoven alternating perspectives, Jennifer Latham’s lightning-paced page-turner brings the Tulsa race riot of 1921 to blazing life and raises important question about the complex state of US race relations – both yesterday and today.

Jane: I don’t know that I’m drawn to this one, simply because I’m not a huge fan of stories that alternate between time periods and perspectives. What can I say, I get confused easily, and I prefer linear storytelling. I have been surprised before, though, so I could be surprised by this one.  I do enjoy mysteries, and I do enjoy historical fiction, and I also like the “lightning-paced page-turner” description.

Yash: Usually I would be mildly annoyed with the half-face cut out, but I do think this works well, especially when you look at the summary. (I also love the ominous tagline; it sounds like a horror novel, which works because murder and racism are very real horrors.) I am very interested in seeing this present vs. past look at racism and systemic oppression and what one person can do to bring change, whether good or bad. What is key for me, here, is that it’s not just about the past–it is, I hope, as much about the present.

Nafiza: You know, usually books like these would make me run the other way but I feel like if done properly this could be amazing so I will withhold judgement and wait for reviews to make my final decision. I do like the cover though. The cut off faces give me pause but for some reason the whole thing comes together in a very pleasing manner.

Janet: I do not like cut off faces buuut these ones are rich in expression and character. The old photograph-effect works well with the faces and with the summary. The summary focuses mainly on the past, leaving the present a mystery (pun unintended) – and I like that. I want to know more about Rowan, and how she (and the people around her) uncover the past; and I want to know about what happened in Will’s time. A definite yes.

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Pamela L. Laskin’s beautiful and lyrical novel in verse delivers a fresh and captivating retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that transports the star-crossed lovers to the modern-day Israel-Palestine conflict.

Ronit, an Israeli girl, lives on one side of the fence. Jamil, a Palestinian boy, lives on the other side. Only miles apart but separated by generations of conflict—much more than just the concrete blockade between them. Their fathers, however, work in a distrusting but mutually beneficial business arrangement, a relationship that brings Ronit and Jamil together. And lightning strikes. The kind of lightning that transcends barrier fences, war, and hatred.

The teenage lovers fall desperately into the throes of forbidden love, one that would create an irreparable rift between their families if it were discovered. But a love this big can only be kept secret for so long. Ronit and Jamil must face the fateful choice to save their lives or their loves, as it may not be possible to save both.

Jane: Meh. Romeo and Juliet, Westside Story, been there, done that. Star-crossed lovers, forbidden love, “lightening strikes”. Different setting, different characters, different conflict, same old story (which I know persists because it’s universally beloved). The cover art is quite attractive, and perhaps if I was still a Tiger Beat-reading boy-crazed young teen, instead of a grumpy old grown-up, I might be swooning over this reinterpretation of the classic ill-fated romance.

Yash: I do love the illustration style and the floating couple, and yes, Woodson’s blurb is encouraging, but I’m hesitant to pick this one up without reading other reviews. I’m also not keen on reading something that closely follows the plot of Romeo & Juliet–I see what you did there with Ronit & Jamil–because I need this kids to find happiness, okay? Not that I would hold it against this book for not being the book want it to be–it’s just not for me, I think.

Nafiza: Nope. I appreciate the thought behind it but the situation between Israel and Palestine is too emotionally charged and too tense for me to read anything about the place from someone other than an #ownvoice author. I am also concerned that situations will be romanticized when that is the last thing that needs to be done and just nope. I like the illustrations on the cover but I will leave the story inside for someone else.

Janet: The illustration style is endearing, although I have concerns about the body size and proportions. I haven’t been impressed by stories I’ve read before with the same setting and a similar concept. I could be tempted (verse novel!) if, ifIF I find positive reviews by readers with the same background as Ronit or Jamil.

TTT: We Resolve To Read …

TTT: We Resolve To Read …

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme started by the brilliant folks at The Broke and the Bookish. Sometimes we follow their prompts, sometimes we don’t. Today … kinda? Instead of resolutions, I thought I would get our team to list the books they resolve to read this year. Some books needs a little push, don’t […]

Review: Serpentine by Cindy Pon

Review: Serpentine by Cindy Pon

Lush with details from Chinese folklore, Serpentine tells the coming of age story of Skybright, a young girl who worries about her growing otherness. As she turns sixteen, Skybright notices troubling changes. By day, she is a companion and handmaid to the youngest daughter of a very wealthy family. But nighttime brings with it a darkness […]