Smoke in the Sun by Renee Ahdieh

Smoke in the Sun by Renee Ahdieh

Overall Rating: 3/5

Quality of Prose: 4/5

Quality of Story: 1/5

Quality of Characters: 3/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 2/5

How Long It Took Me to Finish: All summer

A 1 Sentence Summary

While awaiting her marriage to the imperial prince, Mariko attempts to free her love Okami from prison, figure out why her brother betrayed her, and discover who was behind her assassination attempt.

My Favorite Quotes

“I see mystery and sadness. Anger. Not necessarily because you were born a woman…but more because you have always been treated as less than you are…We should create a world for women like us. It would be a thing to see.”


What I Loved About It

As a sequel to Flame in the Mist, a novel I absolutely loved, there are, of course some automatic redeeming qualities to Smoke in the Sun. First, it’s written by the genius Renee Ahdieh, who is usually so amazingly good at creating complex characters, writing incredibly sensuous and descriptive prose, and developing super compelling action, suspense, and romance. Ahdieh did all of those things in Flame in the Mist (and she definitely did them in The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger), but I found that while the characters she created in the prequel were still strong and complex in this novel, I cared far less what happened to them. This is even more true with her new characters that didn’t appear in the prequel. Her prose is less interesting in this novel, and the trademark action and suspense that usually lead Ahdieh’s plots is lacking as well. The reason it took me so long to finish Smoke in the Sun is because literally nothing happens in the first 75% of the novel. Okami is tortured, Mariko argues with her brother and meets the princes’ mothers. That’s it.

It’s true that Ahdieh’s sequels are never as good or as interesting as the first books in her series. But The Rose and the Dagger, while certainly not as good as The Wrath and the Dawn, was still a very compelling read, with new characters, new plotlines, less romance but a whole lot of–super interesting–action. And this was simply not the case in Smoke in the Sun. As a HUGE Renee Ahdieh fanatic, in a word, I would call this book disappointing. (And it truly pains me to say that, as The Wrath and the Dawn series is my all-time favorite YA romance/fantasy series and as I really, truly loved Flame in the Mist.)

I’m not saying Ahdieh has lost her touch (I refuse to ever believe that), just that this particular novel is not quite up to her usual unmatched quality–which, come to think of it, was also the case with de la Cruz’s Love and War or Jae-Jones’ Shadowsong.

Sequels are hard.

What My Students Could Learn From It

Despite my own crushing disappointment, I think my students who enjoy a good fantasy romance would still enjoy this novel and the series as a whole. And, like all of Ahdieh’s books, it still features a very strong female lead, a great feminist message, and a window into ancient Japanese culture. Which are definitely some redeeming factors.

10 Fabulous Feminist Books to Read During Women’s History Month

10 Fabulous Feminist Books to Read During Women’s History Month

Hey guys!

I’m so sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted a review. To be honest, my two most recent reads (Someone to Love by Melissa de la Cruz and Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer) were so disappointing and hard to finish, I just felt no motivation to write a review for either of them. Both lacked compelling characters or plots and it took me a full week to read each (and this is solely because of lack of interest not length).

But fear not faithful readers: my good-book-drought is almost over! I’m currently reading a book I’m enjoying a lot. A review should be out within the next couple days.

In other news, you may not know this–because unfortunately it gets very little attention–but this month is Women’s History Month! Happy Girl Power Month™ to you all!


In lieu of a review, I thought I’d take advantage of this month being Women’s History Month by posting a list of my favorite feminist novels or–for those who still fear the dreaded f word–novels that focus on strong female characters who overcome obstacles and gender expectations, fight against oppression, and just generally kick–metaphorical or literal–butt.

This list is comprised of both classics and young adult books, fiction and nonfiction. The books on this list focus on women of numerous different races, backgrounds, religions, and experiences–real and fictional. But every single one of the women in these books taught me something–or many things–and can teach our female–and male!–students a thing or two as well.

So without further ado and in no particular order, here are my top 10 favorite Girl Power™ books:

1. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

thousand splendid

This book centers on two very different women in Afghanistan who happen to be married to the same cruel, abusive man and who find strength and love in each other. Hosseini draws attention to the oppression of women in a Taliban-led Afghanistan and explores the mother/daughter relationship and the importance of education for women. It is my favorite book OF ALL TIME.

Favorite Feminist Quotes:

“A society has no chance at success if its women are uneducated.”

thousand suns quote

2. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

In the dystopian future, few women are fertile and the few that are left are forced to be handmaids–like Hagar was for Abraham and Sarah–and bear children on the knees of the wives of important government officials. Atwood explores the sexualization of women that led the world to that point in a truly striking way. If you’ve seen the meh Hulu show based on the novel, I beg you to read it too. It’s got plenty of insights the show leaves out and is just generally way better.

handmaids tale

Favorite Feminist Quotes:

“Falling in love, we said; I fell for him. We were falling women. We believed in it, this downward motion: so lovely, like flying, and yet at the same time so dire, so extreme, so unlikely. God is love, they once said, but we reversed that, and love, like heaven, was always just around the corner. The more difficult it was to love the particular man beside us, the more we believed in Love, abstract and total. We were waiting, always, for the incarnation. That word, made flesh.”

“I avoid looking down at my body, not so much because it’s shameful or immodest but because I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to look at something that determines me so completely.”

handmaid's tale

3. Kindred by Octavia Butler

An African-American woman living in the 1970s who inexplicably travels back in time to the Antebellum south to visit her ancestors–a white landowner and his black slave. This is technically sci-fi but it’s so much more than that. It raises so many important questions about race, gender, equality, freedom, and the nature of time. It’s a must read for any feminist.


Favorite Feminist Quotes:

“The ease. Us, the children… I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery.”

“I was the worst possible guardian for him—a black to watch over him in a society that considered blacks subhuman, a woman to watch over him in a society that considered women perennial children.”

4. The Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

In feudal Japan, a girl survives an assassination attempt on her way to marry the prince. In true Mulan fashion, she disguises herself as a boy to discover who tried to kill her–and also to escape the marriage she never wanted. This one’s a really fun, action-packed, romantic, and well-written YA novel I’ve mentioned before. And it’s got a really great strong female main character.

flame in the mist

Favorite Feminist Quotes:

“I’ve never been angry to have been born a woman. There have been times I’ve been angry at how the world treats us, but I see being a woman as a challenge I must fight. Like being born under a stormy sky. Some people are lucky enough to be born on a bright summer’s day. Maybe we were born under clouds. No wind. No rain. Just a mountain of clouds we must climb each morning so that we may see the sun.”

“You are first and foremost a person. A reckless, foolish person, but a person nonetheless. If I ever say you are not permitted to do something, rest assured that the last reason I would ever say so would be because you are a girl.”

mulan gif

5. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

A woman in the 1800s, Tess, is raped (there’s debate amongst readers on whether it was rape but 100% yes it was) by her rich, important relative and the rest of her life and her reputation–the most important thing for a lady to have in that period–is ruined forever. I’m not sure this book was meant to be feminist when it was written, but Hardy sure does give us great insight into the treatment of women in time in which he lived. It’s a must read classic.


Favorite Feminist Quotes:

“Did it never strike your mind that what every woman says, some women may feel?”

“Why didn’t you tell me there was danger? Why didn’t you warn me? Ladies know what to guard against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks; but I never had the chance of discovering in that way; and you did not help me!”

6. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

This book tells the true story of sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimké, some of the first female abolitionists and suffragette pioneers. I had never even heard of them prior to reading this book, but reading their story truly moved me.

invention of wings

Favorite Feminist Quotes:

“Who am I to do this, a woman?”

“’God fills us with all sorts of yearnings that go against the grain of the world—but the fact those yearnings often come to nothing, well, I doubt that’s God’s doing.’ She cut her eyes at me and smiled. ‘I think we know that’s men’s doing.’”

7. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Grace Marks was the most famous murderess in Canada in the 1800s, and Margaret Atwood tells her story in the most fascinating way. She explores the unfairness of gender expectations at the time and feminine sexuality like no one else can. Like The Handmaid’s Tale, this has also been made into a series (on Netflix). The series is good, but reading the book is NECESSARY.

alias grace

Favorite Feminist Quotes:

“In his student days, he used to argue that if a woman has no other course open to her but starvation, prostitution, or throwing herself from a bridge, then surely the prostitute, who has shown the most tenacious instinct for self-preservation, should be considered stronger and saner than her frailer and no longer living sisters. One couldn’t have it both ways, he’d pointed out: if women are seduced and abandoned they’re supposed to go mad, but if they survive, and seduce in their turn, then they were mad to begin with.”

“He doesn’t understand yet that guilt comes to you not from the things you’ve done, but from the things that others have done to you.”

“They wouldn’t know mad when they saw it in any case, because a good portion of the women in the Asylum were no madder than the Queen of England. Many were sane enough when sober, as their madness came out of a bottle, which is a kind I knew very well. One of them was in there to get away from her husband, who beat her black and blue, he was the mad one but nobody would lock him up.”

alias grace gif

8. I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai

My only nonfiction offering on the list, Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Prize Laureate ever, tells her story in this memoir. If you’ve been living under a rock for the last 6 years or so and don’t know who she is, Malala was shot in the face by the Taliban for being an activist for the education of women. And she’s just generally a boss.

i am malala

Favorite Feminist Quotes:

“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”

“If one man can destroy everything, why can’t one girl change it?”

9. A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena

I’ve reviewed this book before here. It, like A Thousand Splendid Suns, focuses on gender expectations in the Middle East and features a strong female lead.

girl like that

Favorite Feminist Quote:

“You are can’t get away with acting like boys.”

10. The Harry Potter Series


Last but not least, I think this series requires no synopsis or explanation. Feminist QUEEN, J.K. Rowling provides so many strong female leads in this series, it’s kind of insane that the titular character is a (let’s all be real) clueless teenage boy.

Favorite Feminist Quotes:

Literally every time Hermione Granger or Professor McGonagall or Ginny or Molly Weasley or Lily Evans Potter or Luna Lovegood speak or are mentioned.

There you go guys! 10 great books to read (and to suggest to your students) during March AKA Women’s History Month AKA Girl Power Month AKA The Best Month of the Year!

Happy reading!

Shadowsong: A Novel by S. Jae-Jones

Shadowsong: A Novel by S. Jae-Jones

Overall Rating: 2/5

Quality of Prose: 3/5

Quality of Story: 1/5

Quality of Characters: 4/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 0/5

How Long It Took Me to Finish: 7 days

A 1 Sentence Summary

After leaving her husband, the Goblin King, and the Underground behind, Leisl struggles to adjust to life above ground, renew her relationship with her brother, and live without her husband and true love.

My Favorite Quotes

“For love is our only immortality, and when memory is faded and gone, it is our legacies that endure.”


What I Loved About It

This book disappointed me SO MUCH. I don’t know if you remember my review of Wintersong, its prequel, but I freaking loved that book. It ranks fairly high on my list of favorite books of all time. And I was pumped to return to the beautiful world Jae-Jones created in the sequel. But to be honest, when I first heard that there would be a sequel, I didn’t really understand why. The story of Liesl and the Goblin King seemed to be resolved by the end of Wintersong. It felt like reading a stand alone novel, not the first book of the series. So I was really curious where the plot of Shadowsong was going to go. And once I started reading, I realized that the plot wasn’t going to go anywhere. Honestly. This entire book, NOTHING HAPPENS. Until the last 30 pages. I’m not even exaggerating. If I told you the plot of this book in detail, every important plot point I’d tell you would be in the last 30 pages.

It’s super evident that Jae-Jones wrote Wintersong as a stand-alone novel, but that when it was picked up by the publisher, they required her to write a sequel, even though it was completely unnecessary. It’s just another example of the young adult publishing world turning every single decent book into a long, drawn out, and unnecessary series because it makes them more money. And I hate to be so negative about the sequel to a book that I loved so much by an author who I deem to be incredibly talented, but this book had few redeeming qualities. The world of the Underground, which was the incredibly interesting setting of the first novel, is not visited in this novel until the last few pages. The prose was less musical and impressive (perhaps because the musically-inclined protagonist was going through a long period of musical writer’s block in this novel), and the Goblin King, who was such a complex and compelling character, wasn’t in this book like AT ALL (or, again, not until the last few pages). All the things I loved about Wintersong were lacking in Shadowsong, and none of the new story elements were remotely compelling. It was, in a word, disappointing.

What My Students Could Learn From It

Nothing really.

Every Day by David Levithan

Every Day by David Levithan

Overall Rating: 4/5

Quality of Prose: 4.5/5

Quality of Story: 4/5

Quality of Characters: 4/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 4.5/5

How Long It Took Me to Finish: 3 days

A 1 Sentence Summary

For A’s entire life, A has inexplicably started each day in a new body, taking over another person’s life against their will and against A’s as well, but when A inhabits Justin’s body and meets and falls in love with his girlfriend Rhiannon, A starts taking foolish risks to be close to her and wishes for a body of A’s own and a normal life.

My Favorite Quotes

“What is it about the moment you fall in love? How can such a small measure of time contain such enormity?…The moment you fall in love feels like it has centuries behind it, generations–all of them rearranging themselves so that this precise, remarkable intersection could happen. In your heart, in your bones, no matter how silly you know it is, you feel that everything has been leading to this, all the secret arrows were pointing here, the universe and time itself crafted this long ago, and you are just now realizing it, you are just now arriving at the place you were always meant to be.”

“This is the trap of having something to live for: Everything else seems lifeless.”

every day

What I Loved About It

Levithan’s prose is great, beautiful and striking and poignant. Though you’d think A’s incorporeal nature would make A (I’m avoiding gender pronouns because A has no gender because A is bodiless so my wording is necessarily awkward, sorry.) a character that is difficult for readers to understand or relate to, A is an incredibly sympathetic and even venerable character (I’m not sure I’ve ever described a young adult protagonist as venerable, but A’s just a really different, refreshing brand of protagonist–in all the best ways). Though A and Rhiannon’s relationship is incredibly unusual and the trials they face because of A’s amorphous nature are–admittedly–abnormal, Levithan is able to expertly depict the pain and joy of first love through their relationship.

But in Every Day, Levithan’s not just telling the story of first love. He’s telling the story of all of us, of humanity itself. A has lived as every type of person with every type of idiosyncrasy and every type of problem. Through A’s unique life, Levithan is able to address illness, drug and alcohol addiction, sexual orientation, the dangers of being too beautiful or too overweight, the fluidity of gender, grief, reputation, family, love, and most of all (and perhaps best of all), what makes a human human. Is it a mind, a consciousness? Is it our bodies? Is it our genders? All of the above? None of the above? I found myself thinking about gender, consciousness, and humanity in completely different ways while reading it. And yet it never once comes across as didactic or preach-y, or even predictable. Every Day is just such a meaty, thought-provoking, and unique novel.

What My Students Could Learn From It

The biggest thing I (and all of my coworkers) want my students to learn is empathy, and Every Day is uniquely qualified to do that. A book wherein the main character literally walks in the shoes of so many different kinds of people and learns so much about the trials each of them face–and the trials all of us face–is unmatched in its ability to teach students how to have compassion and empathy for those different than themselves. And, like I’ve already said, Every Day can get kids to think about innumerable teen issues in different ways. I just can not praise this book’s quality enough.


Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Overall Rating: 2/5

Quality of Prose: 2/5

Quality of Story: 1.5/5

Quality of Characters: 2/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 0/5

How Long It Took Me to Finish: 4 days

A 1 Sentence Summary

Betrothed to the Demon Prince from birth, Nyx travels to his enchanted castle to be his bride and to get close enough to him to kill him and free her people from his captivity.

My Favorite Quotes

“I had been waiting, all my life, for someone undeceived to love me.”

(You can tell by the quality of this quote (or lack thereof), that there were no impressive or notable quotes in this novel that I loved.)

cruel beauty

What I Loved About It

I usually love fairy tale retellings and I especially love Beauty and the Beast, but this particular retelling just seemed contrived and far-reaching. If it wasn’t marketed as a retelling of beauty and the beast, I probably wouldn’t have even guessed that it was meant to be one. The only similarities are that the heroine is locked in a castle with a seemingly evil man who she eventually falls in love with. The comparison stops there.

The whole hermetic magic part of the plot and the mysterious and magical castle setting just seemed so silly to me and put me off from the very beginning. The plot itself seemed tortuous and gratuitous and not the magical and intriguing fairy tale retelling I expected. I also didn’t find the Demon Lord or his mysterious shadow, Shade, to be attractive characters.

The whole time I was reading this book, I thought of my favorite folk tale retellings, Wintersong and The Wrath and the Dawn (if you haven’t read them, go read them right now. Right now!), and how I wished Cruel Beauty was more like them. I honestly didn’t even know this was a book people actually read and liked (I checked out the Kindle copy from my local library’s app after reading the summary and had never heard of it before then) until I looked at Goodreads after reading it. I honestly don’t see the appeal at all.

What My Students Could Learn From It