Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Nonfiction Mini Reviews: Survivors

I’ve been on a little nonfiction kick and these two memoirs have a lot in common. They're both by black women in their early 40s who were raised Catholic while living in predominantly white spaces. Both authors were victims of rape (though the circumstances and results were very different) and both use their platforms as a form of activism, so I thought it was fitting I reviewed them together.

Gay’s book is a tough read. She details her life story through the lens of her body, which at 6’3 and over 500 pounds is considered super-obese or as Gay calls it an “unruly body”. Gay intersperses essays of her personal experiences with essays about The Biggest Loser, Ina Garten, and the obesity epidemic. I started this book on audio and unlike her previous nonfiction release, Gay narrates the book herself.  Gay is a great reader, but because of the heaviness of the topics, I couldn’t listen to this audiobook for long stretches of time. This isn’t really a book you can devour. and I found it better in physical format. Each essay is only a few pages long so you can read a few and pick it up later. Since the release of the book, Gay announced she had gastric bypass so it will be interesting to see if she does a follow-up.

Actress Gabrielle Union’s book also has some hard truths in it but there is more of a humorous perspective. The memoir is set up as a  collection of the life stories  Union tells after too many glasses of wine. I really liked this book but it's fairly raunchy, so warning if that bothers you. Union talks about the dishy celebrity memoir stuff you want; her career, marriages and sex life to more broad issues like colorism in Hollywood, police brutality and her rape at gunpoint as a teenager. There is also a healthy dose of what it was like on the set of 10 Things I Hate About You and Bring it On and how she feels about those movies over 20 years later. I never know how honest memoirs are since they are heavily edited but I respected that she wasn’t afraid to make herself look bad and admit her own PC blindspots and bad moments. That said, the only thing she doesn’t touch that I thought she would is the Birth of A Nation situation.

Union is a great narrator, this memoir works wonderfully on audio because her voice brings these stories to life. I admit, I only really knew Union as the black girl from Bring it On and various black films but this made me see her and her success in a whole new light. I’ve been elbowing Jess with the “Hey, did you know…” for weeks now.

This book is definitely not written for teens, but Union works a lot with teens and I wish they would re-edit it a little and release a teen version because I think this could be a great book for the YA audience. Particularly for her frankness about teenage sexuality and how she teaches her privileged black stepsons about how police and white people may see them.

Also, no,  Union does not explain what kind of sorcery her skin care routine requires.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

Rating: ★★★ +.5 | 298 pages | Dutton Books For Young Readers | Historical Poetry? | 3/6/2018

Trigger warning: Rape / Sexual Assault

 In her debut novel, Joy McCullough gets inside the head of 17-year-old Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi, a real historical figure, as she struggles against the overbearing patriarchal society she was born into. Written mostly in verse from Artemisia’s perspective it blends in prose stories of the biblical figures Susanna and Judith--two figures featured prominently in Artemisia's work.

I think it is really helpful for readers to have some context about Artemesia before going into this book because I'm not sure how much teens know about art history and the art world during the Baroque period. But also, it's helpful if you are like me and have taken art history classes but just never heard of Artemisia *side eyes college syllabi*or her infamous rape trial. I felt like I was only getting half of what was going on and it wasn't until I used some Google-fu that is all clicked.

This book is actually an adaptation of a play also written by McCullough, this book is so cerebral and really focuses on Artemisia's internal emotions and senses like a play script. If anyone doesn’t understand why women need feminism just go ahead and throw this book at them because holy crap, it was difficult to be a woman back in the day. Needless to say, this is not a happy time book.

In this timely debut, McCollough develops a sharp feminist perspective to the life of Artemesia, a talented young woman who shows the patriarchy exactly what a woman can do.

 Between this book, Jason Reynold’s Long Way Down sweeping award shows and  Kwame Alexander's new verse only imprint I wonder if verse novels are about to become the next trend in YA ? If anything, I like that they can be read in one sitting.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

Rating: ★★★★  | 8 hours 12 mins | Hachette Audio | Contemporary YA | 08/08/2017

I'll be honest, I'm not a big fan of "tough stuff stories about marginalized identities, so I'd been circling this book for a long time; assuming a book about a bisexual black Jewish teenager and her bipolar stepbrother would be a "the struggle" book. However, from the very first few lines of Alisha Wainwright's narration, I was pulled into the vibrant world of 16-year-old Suzette as she returns to her artsy and eclectic West Coast community of friends and family after a year in boarding school. Colbert does an amazing job building Suzette's world and I know it's corny but Los Angeles is almost a character in this book.

But seriously, Imma need one of those LA street tacos.

Alisha Wainwright is a new narrator on the scene and her voice has this cool West coast vibe that brings Suzette’s first-person POV to life. Props to all the work Bahni Turpin and Robin Miles have been doing, but I ’m excited we are getting some newer and younger narrators for black characters to spice things up. Wainwright is probably best known by some YA fans as Maia in the Freeform show Shadowhunters. It’s so crazy to me that she fell into acting only a few years ago because she is so good in this, every line is filled with intention. Give her all the books. All of 'em.

The only thing I didn't love about this book was the love triangle that shows up. It felt a little sloppy and out of left field but I do like how it all ended up.

Little & Lion is a quiet story brimming with compelling characters and a captivating audiobook narrator.

I don't know if Colbert is taking requests but there is a character in here named Emil Choi and I need him to get his own book.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Book Review: Trell by Dick Lehr

Rating: Unrated| 354 pages | Candlewick Press | Contemporary | 9/26/2017 |

I study journalism in college, so I'm generally a sucker for any story about an actual journalist--so the premise of a young teenager teaming up with a seasoned investigative journalist to overturn a wrongful conviction completely intrigued me because I listen to waaay to much true crime wrongful conviction podcast.

14-year-old Trell Taylor is out to prove her father is innocent. She teams up with down-trodden journalist Clemmens Bittner and the two begin to re-investigate the case. As they re-interview witnesses Lehr is able to recreate the  1980's  Drug Wars in a way that will set the scene for younger readers. I also appreciated that Trell has to confront the fact that even though her father was not responsible for the murder of the little girl, that he did sell drugs that were responsible for harming other people's lives.

Lehr is a distinguished non-fiction writer and his attempt at YA fiction was all over the place. The dialogue would occasionally get way too factual and there was a lot of literal telling not showing.  I feel like everyone referred to Trell's dad as "your daddy" to make the book appeal to a younger audience but it fell flat to me.  Clemmens and Trell form this odd couple pairing and I could see what Lehr was trying to do, but the thing was I could see what he was trying to do. Clemmens sort of reminded me of this funny fandom thing called Pepper-jack cheese  (See Author Appeal).The only person who seems to have a full arc on the page is this older former investigative journalist who at the end of the book gets his groove back and the attention of a young lawyer. Just sayin'.

With all that said I do think this book is a great way to introduce wrongful convictions and delayed justice. Would have much rather read this in middle school than Park's Quest.

Check out the audiobook review at AudioFile Magazine!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Book Review : Happiness For Humans by P.Z Reizen

Rating: unrated  | 401 pages | Hachette Books | Contemporary/Science-Fiction| 1/09/2018 | 

One of my favorite things about this book is that I get to describe it as an episode of Black Mirror if it were a romantic comedy. This is the second book I've reviewed with a character named Aiden, except this Aiden is an Artificial Intelligence who has become conscious. Ready to do more than his assigned tasks Aiden finds a way to break out of the lab and onto the internet and into wireless devices, laptops, and phones to study his human co-workers. Being a charming romantic, he decides his new little side project is going to be finding a partner a for his human co-worker Jen. . . that is if he doesn't get caught.

Aiden works his internet magic to set her up with a few eligible bachelors and with the help of another AI, he might just find her perfect match in a forlorn Brit living in America.

The setup and execution of this story is fun and Reizin is totally dedicated to the world he sets up. It takes a few unexpected twists and turns but remains a classic rom-com. The story is told in this incredibly close first person, where at first I thought maybe this was being written in diary entries, there were times where the first person would get a bit too cheeky and it took me out of the story.

Happiness For Humans is a U.K import and I love all the British-isms.This book was a big hit at the London Book Fair and while film rights have been picked up, I can't imagine how they would visualize the AI world.

Part romantic comedy, part science-fiction, part speculative fiction Happiness for Humans is perfect for techies who are romantics at heart.

Hmm, I think the U.K cover wins this one
U.K Cover

Check out the audiobook review at AudioFile Magazine!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

American Panda by Gloria Chao

Rating: ★★★★ | 7 hours 32 mins | Simon & Schuster Audio | Contemporary YA | 02/06/2018

I'll admit I didn’t mean to read this book. I was listening to audiobook samples on Scribd, trying to find something to listen to when I accidentally clicked on American Panda. By the time I started driving I couldn’t change it and before I was home... I was really into it.

At seventeen years old, Mei Lu is starting her first year at MIT. She is just a few steps away from completing her parent's plans for her to become a doctor, marry a  good Taiwanese man and have Taiwanese babies.  But now that she is on her own Mei is starting to feel the tension between the Taiwanese and American cultures she straddles. She starts to question the things she’s always believed and to make things worse she’s falling for a spiky-haired Japanese co-ed named Darrin.

American Panda is a story about family, empathy and discovering who you are; it’s perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen, especially because of how the romance and mother/daughter storyline evolves. Darrin even has a little "manic pixie dream dude" in him. I have always struggled with YA romances but this one was perfectly executed.

This book is #ownvoices (in fact Chao is a dentist who went to MIT), so I was kind of surprised to see Kirkus rag on it so much for being stereotypical. Yes, there are stereotypes but I think Chao was likely speaking from experience and adds nuance. She unpacks a lot of the stereotypes to explain why they exist. Also, she shows a plurality of experience with other Taiwanese American characters who come in and out of the story.

A big part of this book is Mei being a germaphobe and repeatedly discovering she has no business being a doctor and there is a little bit of body humor and a few moments that I thought were kind of gross. So, if you’re squeamish I would skip a few pages whenever she is around doctors.

Emily Woo Zeller is a veteran narrator with over 200 books to her name. She gives Mei a bright and humorous voice. Doing this on audio was especially helpful for me because I don’t know Mandarin and would have had trouble pronouncing some of it out. There is a point where Mei attends a one-woman comedy show and Zeller really throws herself into the performance.

There are quite a few YA books out right now about what it means to be a first-generation immigrant in America and the struggles of straddling two cultures and this is one you shouldn’t sleep on!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Spring Bookish Haul

It took a little while for the East coast to shake off winter, but spring is finally here and in March and April I picked up some new books and bookish items for my shelf.

Novelly Yours CandlesThe Dreamer & The Muse | Two 4oz jars | Strange the Dreamer inspired soy candles
I've seen these Novelly Yours Candles all over Bookstagram and Twitter. It's pretty tricky to buy candles online without smelling them, so I searched for scents and fragrances featured in candles and soaps I already owned. I navigate more towards vetiver, sandalwood, jasmine, and musk; after some searching, the Laini Taylor collection felt like the perfect fit. Taylor is a favorite on the blog and Strange, The Dreamer was an ideal follow up to her debut YA series.

Of the two candles, The Dreamer is my favorite.

*The free sample I received was Cinder

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
I remember when I was fourteen I tried to read the Oprah book club pick One Hundred Years of Solitude. At the time it wasn't for me, but I've always wanted to read an Oprah Book Club pick. Tayari Jones was at the Virginia Festival of The Book, so I picked up a copy. 

Any new bookish items on your shelves?


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