Mini-Reviews of Fall 2020 Releases: When No One is Watching, Burning Roses & Zikora

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

Categories: Romantic suspense, Thriller

First Publication Date: 1st September 2020

When No One is Watching is Alyssa Cole’s first thriller, telling the story of Sydney, a young woman who grew up in Brooklyn and now watches her neighborhood change at an unsettling pace and Theo, her new neighbor who is having relationship problems. Both are keeping secrets from others, and when Sydney starts suspecting something darker is at play when her neighbors keep disappearing, she and Theo will try to uncover the truth. This is more a romantic suspense plus contemporary than a thriller in my opinion, even though the story flows quickly and the level of tension goes through the roof by the second half, it does spend a long time developing Sydney and Theo’s relationship and explaining gentrification, its history and effects on Black neighborhoods. This was a fascinating read, and it definitely delivers on the Get Out vibes. I am not a fan of romantic suspenses/thrillers, but this really worked! It goes into very dark territory (that I will not list so as not to spoil the story) but also mundane, daily horror and violence which adds an eerie quality to the story. This is an illuminating, dark and unflinching book but also hopeful and full of love. You can feel on the pages how much love was poured into this story, which is ultimately about community and taking care of each other, and also preserving history while maintaining a critical eye. I’m impressed!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Burning Roses by S. L. Huang

Categories: Fantasy, Retelling, Sapphic

First Publication Date: 29th September 2020

I received an advance copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Burning Roses is a short book, just under 150 pages, that manages to pack a really enthralling story with lots of world building – Rosa, also known as Red Riding Hood, has a dark past she’s running away from, and joined legendary archer Hou Yi in a quest to bring down Hou Yi’s former apprentice, a sorcerer turned evil, and the two women must confront their pasts on the way. I was a bit doubtful about two characters telling their stories in flashbacks (I detest flashbacks), but it actually worked really well here. These two battle-worn and weary women are fascinating in their own right, their world full of magic, talking animals, curses, love and loss – plus a lot of it is based on Chinese myths. It was surprisingly hard-hitting for such a short book and I had my heart broken and mended more than once. Both women are Sapphic (I think both are lesbians, and one is trans). It’s a story about being more than the horrible things you have done in the past and learning to forgive. I really enjoyed this!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Zikora by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Categories: Short Story, Contemporary

First Publication Date: 27th October 2020

This is my first short story by the author, her book Americanah is one of my favorites of all time, so I had very high expectations for Zikora. This tells the story of a woman named Zikora, who has been abandoned by the father of her child when she told him she was pregnant, although they were in a stable relationship and well off. Her mother comes to help her during the birth and then taking care of the child and Zikora starts rethinking the way she saw her mother all these years as a cold woman. I enjoyed this story, which managed to pack a lot in just 35 pages. It lacked a little bit more of an emotional punch, although that’s always the case for short stories for me. I wanted a bit more out of it, but in the end Zikora was a beautifully written and thought-provoking piece and I am just glad to have anything new from Chimamanda to read!

Edit: After thinking about this for a bit over a week, I was in fact less impressed by this short story than my first reaction to it. I realize now that my feelings towards it were biased for my love for Americanah, and my impression of it now after having let my excitement for “a new Chimamanda book, yes!!” simmer down, I feel that this was in fact rather lackluster and uninspired, another “difficult mother-daughter relationship” in a

Rating: 3 out of 5.

3 thoughts on “Mini-Reviews of Fall 2020 Releases: When No One is Watching, Burning Roses & Zikora

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