Children of Virtue and Vengeance, Tomi Adeyemi

(Buy it HERE.)

Let me begin this review by putting on my flame retardant suit and face mask.

sighOkay, I get that people love this book, and the series it forms the center of. I even get why they love it. I want to love it, too. It’s fantasy, it’s epic, it’s romantic (sorta), it’s written by a black woman, and it’s super-duper, Afro-pick with a fist, fufu and plantain, cocoa butter and respect your elders BLACK. Not just Black, Black and feminine. Lord knows we need more books and authors like this out here in these spec-fic streets and based on that alone, this got a pre-order and preliminary 3 star rating from me.

However none of that erases the fact that this is a bone dry, 90 chapter, by-the-numbers monstrosity that messily changes point of view every 5 pages or so and is full of whiny teenage angst that leads to murder, death and mutilation for no real reason except that all the adults who show up are crazy and our main characters generally have the relationship skills of pounded yam. They’re also so boring that I don’t remember their names and can’t be bothered to look them up. Sure, there’s magic, there’s love triangles, there’s all the ingredients of a successful YA fantasy book but man. This is really the cold grits of fantasy fiction–unenjoyable to take in and hard to digest, but you eat it up anyway for the culture. The book really doesn’t become genuinely enjoyable to read until the last 15 chapters or so. Up until then I was just struggling through the bad prose and dull personalities thinking DEAR GOD THERE’S GOING TO BE ANOTHER BOOK WHY AND YO, TOMI PLEASE STOP ADDING -AIRE TO ALL THE ANIMAL NAMES LIKE THAT’S SPECIAL IT’S JUST ANNOYING AHHHHH…

sighSorry.

That said, read this anyway. Game of Thrones has even worse writing, and the land of Orisha will make a much better TV show whenever it happens. Read this, because we need to increase the presence of Africa and black people in our speculative collective consciousness and they don’t all have to be genius, they just have to *be*. (I’ve talked about that a bunch here.) Then go read N.K. Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor, Octavia Butler and Nalo Hopkinson, because all Black women who are speculative fiction writers need love (and the preceding four happen to be geniuses.)

3 out of 5 stars to Children of Virtue and Vengeance.

(Beautiful people, this was one of my more disappointing reads, but if you think you might like it, feel free to click and buy. The cover is gorgeous and looks pretty on your bookshelf, even if you don’t like it. If you do click and buy, be aware that this blog has an affiliate relationship with Bookshop and any purchases will result in a commission being paid. Peace! )

The Dirty Girls Social Club, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

(Buy it HERE.)

You know what the weirdest thing about being an adult is? It’s that nobody ever really tells the whole truth. We’re told not to lie for our entire childhoods, then we grow up and realize almost no-one is ever entirely honest about what’s really going on with them.
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Take, for example, the protagonists of The Dirty Girls Social Club–six very grown, very successful Latinas in Boston. Some are family women, some are professionals, some are lovestruck…and all are liars. Every one of them is keeping secrets, and the plot of the book predictably follows their lives as the truth comes out, bit by bit. ⠀
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I enjoyed this. I don’t like drawing comparisons, but it’s a bit like a Latina Waiting To Exhale. There’s the same sense of camaraderie, a similar tone as the book nods to life as a modern, professional woman who also wants love and family and a decent place to live, preferably without racism kicking your ass as you do it. As a nice touch, the Dirty Girls have not only diverse personalities but cultures and backgrounds–Amber is a goth Mexica rocker with working class roots, Liz a gorgeous Black Colombian, Sara a rich white Cuban Jew, Becca a New Mexican Hispanic princess, Usnavys a Puerto Rican plus-size diva, and finally Lauren is half Cuban-exile, half-American trailer park, all disaster. They interact like oil and vinegar–the book has a slow start but once it smooths out it’s quite entertaining. It’s a sloppy, girly story of friendships, relationships and all the drama they contain, and I had fun visiting with these ladies for a bit.⠀
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There’s a few things that kept this from being perfect for me. All six main characters are very strongly written, but many of their storylines get left out in the cold. Also, the author quite candidly writes the anti-Blackness and homophobia endemic in some Latin communities into the characters’ lives–so candidly that at some points, I forgot these were just characters in a book and got legitimately angry. It’s strange and uncomfortable to see the rumors of what other cultures think of your community confirmed and laid out boldly on a page, even when it’s called out as wrong.

(It bears mentioning here that I first heard of this book, and its author, via her supremely written, incisive takedown of Oprah’s Book Club darling American Dirt. That link directs you to the takedown, not to the book. It’s one of the best things I’ve read in a long while.)
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In the end, though, this was a fun, relatable bit of chick-lit, broadly inclusive of Latinx/Latine groups, and full of juicy drama that kept me turning pages. 4 stars and some therapy to The Dirty Girls Social Club.

(Beautiful people! I thought about doing this usual announcement in Spanish and then I realized I knew better and decided to let you know that this blog has affiliate relationships with great sites like Bookshop and any click/purchases result in a commission being paid in English, like I usually do. Peace!)

The Black Traveler’s Guide To Incheon, by The Blerd Explorer


(Buy it on Amazon or Apple)

The city of Incheon sits right in the shadow of Western Seoul, South Korea. It holds two international airports, several beaches, and one of the world’s more interesting Chinatowns, but most people skim past it and head straight to Seoul’s more popular attractions.
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That’s where this handy travel guide by The Blerd Explorer comes in. Full of photos, practical descriptions and personal anecdotes, it gives novice travelers a great foundation from which to plan their travels in Incheon and to Korea in general. The guide mentions everything from restaurants to hiking trails to anime exhibits and gives a pretty good idea of what it’s like to get around, socialize and sightsee in Incheon. There are quite a few notes on Korean culture and the way Korean locals treat Black people–those sections are quite general but mostly accurate, and you can tell the author put in an effort to be fair and culturally positive. The photos are lovely and there’s a helpful directory in the back giving addresses for many of the places named in the text.(Phone numbers or social media handles would be helpful too, though.)⠀
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I’ll be the first to admit–I don’t think I’m really the target demographic for this book. Although I am Black, I’ve been living abroad for nearly 14 years, 7 and and half of those in Korea. I’m a seasoned traveler who started globetrotting before social media and online travel guides were much of a thing, and I don’t have much of a complex about traveling while Black anymore, if I ever even did. However, I could see this guide being very helpful for new travelers and young Black Americans with a lot of fears and reservations about leaving the country for the first time. We all have to start somewhere, and I could see this book being a launchpad for the right person. This is a book for the very inexperienced, but that’s a good thing. ⠀
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Many thanks to The Blerd Explorer for sending me a copy of this ebook to review. It’s currently available on Amazon and Apple Books. If Korea is on your post-Corona bucket list, give it a look.

(This blog has affiliate relationships and a commission may be earned from any clicks and purchases. Peace!)

See No Stranger, Valarie Kaur

(Buy it HERE.)

Breathe and push.

This book is so many things, and I loved them all. ⠀

It’s a manifesto–a revolutionary encouragement to love not only with community and caring, but with law, protests, and the pent up rage that comes from receiving injustice. It’s warm, empowering, & sharply attuned to our current times and their particular dangers.⠀

It’s a memoir. Kaur intersperses calls to love and action with her own experiences growing up Sikh on a California farm, going to Harvard & Yale, becoming an activist, falling in love, having children, and building communities of love and power. There’s a stunning vulnerability and bold femininity in these stories that speaks to the breadth and depth of womanhood–not only love, softness and warrior triumph but also abusive relationships, assault, sexism, reproductive issues and the unique trauma that Black and brown women face in America when feeling the need to choose between protecting the men in our communities who are often victimized by law enforcement and seeking legal justice when some of those same men choose to victimize us. ⠀

It’s a memorial. Prior to reading this I was not aware of the deadly extent of anti-Sikh domestic terrorism in the US, or the way it has increased, as has most domestic terror, in recent years. Kaur paints us a thorough, intimate portrait of the grief and pain felt by the American Sikh community and gives us a primer in the faith that has empowered many of the people in that community to forgive and rebuild. I have an enduring respect for Sikhs, and this part of the book only deepened it. (It also made me tell myself, “I will not cry on this train” approximately 347 times while reading. Whew.) ⠀

It’s a manual. The last section of the book contains tools and exercises to enact some of the principles described in the manifesto part, as well as some beautiful translations of Sikh scripture done by Kaur herself.⠀

This book had a profound personal effect on me as well, and while I wanted to weave bits of my own story into this review, I’ve tried several times and you know what? I’m not in a place to be vulnerable like that yet. I’ll write about it later, I think, after the words in this book have had a chance to percolate next to my soul for a little while longer.

Meanwhile–5 stars, the deepest of breaths and the strongest of pushes to Valarie Kaur’s See No Stranger. Go read it.

(As always, beautiful people, this is your regular reminder that this blog has affiliate relationships with excellent entities such as Bookshop, and any clicks and purchases made from this site will result in commission being earned. You know I always keep it 100–this one’s worth buying, not borrowing, and I’m the first to tell you when you should hit the library instead. Peace!)

Pride, Ibi Zoboi

(Buy it HERE.)

Can I be honest with y’all? It took me a long time to understand what the big deal about Pride and Prejudice was. High school classes, grudging re-reads, and wet Colin Firth on PBS were not enough to make me care about 5 sisters in 1813 England. It wasn’t until I was pressed into teaching it at a girl’s school summer camp a few years ago that I really got it–the girls created a whole primer connecting Darcys, Bennets and Bingleys to their own boarding school dramas complete with illustrations, and a light bulb went off.⠀
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If I’d had Pride in high school, that light would’ve gone on much earlier for me. In this YA novel, the Bennets become the Haitian-Dominican Benitez family, crammed into a Bushwick apartment and surrounded by a vibrant Afro-Latin community. When the Darcys–a very rich, very Black family with an Afro-British mom and a vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard–move into the renovated house across the street, Zuri Benitez can’t stand their gentrifying asses. While her sisters try various ways to get into their good graces, Zuri makes her feelings about fake, judgmental rich people loudly known–at least until handsome Darius Darcy turns his prep school frown in her direction. ⠀
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I loved this concept. Pride pays homage not only to Austen’s original romance, but also her commentary on class and gender. The setting, however, is purely, joyfully Black–the community Zoboi pens made me a little homesick, although I’m neither from Brooklyn nor Latina. I love how she brings in so many textures and types of Blackness–rich, poor, light, dark, Latin, Caribbean, British, Southern, Prince George County and Bushwick. It’s rare to see someone describe the sometimes tense interactions between Black communities with a light and humorous hand but Zoboi manages it. ⠀
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Of course the heart of the story is its romance and unfortunately–that was the only off note for me. (It is in the original, too.) Zuri and Darius are a couple of grouches and when they do get together it comes out of nowhere. It’s still fun and readable, but it’s easily the weakest part of the book. ⠀
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4 stars and some real street cred to Pride.

(This blog contains affiliate links to Bookshop, and any clicks or purchases made will result in a commission earned. Thanks for reading, beautiful people, and peace! )

Last Week In Books, September 7th – 14th:

Welcome to this week’s diverse book news recap! Let’s just get started, shall we?

  • It’s Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month in the USA starting tomorrow. While the month has its share of controversies(both internal and external), I personally am looking forward to my all Latinx, all the time reading list for the rest of the month. [Penguin Random House]
  • It’s 2020. The very first novel by a member of the Eastern Band Cherokee was just published, by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle. It’s called Even As We Breathe. Read an excerpt here. [LitHub]
  • Queenie author Candice Carty-Willams is struggling to script the TV adaptation of her Black British romance due to COVID-19 and the havoc it’s wreaked on the dating world. Tell us about it, girl. [The Guardian]
  • The Dune trailer is out and I am OBSESSED. [YouTube]
  • I’m also obsessed with 21-year old Faridah Abike-Iyimide, the British uni student who just landed a million dollar book deal for her debut thriller, Ace of Spades. It’s been described as ” Gossip Girl meets Get Out”. [The Guardian]
  • I was not so obsessed with bird-watching comics editor Christian Cooper, but his free DC Comic It’s A Bird, about his experience with harassment and police violence threats at the hands of a racist white woman in New York Central Park, is very much worth a download and a read. [Equal Opportunity Reader]
  • Speaking of which, DC is really putting in work on the social justice and representation front. They also have a graphic novel anthology entitled Wonder Women of History, which spotlights 17 different wonderful women, coming out on December 1st. [Billboard]
  • Last but not least, a giant congratulations to Viet Thanh Nguyen, for being elected to the Pulitzer Prize Board(and for being the first Asian American to be so.) [Pulitzer]

Peace, beautiful people and fellow readers!

(Before you go, click a link. While you’re clicking, be aware that this blog has affiliate relationships with entities like Bookshop and some clicks and purchases will result in a commission being paid to this blog.)

Represent! #1: It’s A Bird! written by Christian Cooper

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Chris Cooper should be famous for being Marvel Comics’ first openly gay writer and editor, for introducing some of the first canon gay characters in major comic books, and for his editing work on Blade, The Punisher, and Star Trek comics.⠀
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Instead, on May 25th, 2020, the same day that George Floyd was killed, Cooper became famous when a film of him being harassed, threatened, and lied about to police by a white woman breaking the leash laws in New York Central Park while he was peacefully birdwatching was released online. ⠀
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Then, he became infamous for refusing to press charges against the woman, despite the cries for justice–any justice–that were sweeping across America.⠀
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So, I wasn’t sure what to expect from his comic based on the event, now available for free via Amazon Kindle and DC Comics. I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be any good–interesting, perhaps, but not good. ⠀
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But it is good, and definitely worth your time. The art is clean, the pace is quick, and the story it tells is necessary. While it’s based on Cooper’s frightening Central Park experience it doesn’t really make direct reference to Cooper himself. It does reference George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Amadou Diallo, and quite a few others on the heartbreaking list of Black people killed unjustly due to police violence. They come to the mind of a kid named Jules. He’s birding in a park when he’s confronted by suspicious white people who threaten him with cops and lies, and their specters remind him to walk away. The ghosts of the victims don’t give him strength or come to his rescue. They just stand nearby sadly as this kid, who’s done nothing wrong but be Black while birding in the park on a nice morning like countless others do…just walks away, and lives to bird another day, while the memories of those who weren’t so lucky stand sadly by. ⠀

Make of that what you will. ⠀

5 stars and continued cries of #BlackLivesMatter for Represent! #1: It’s A Bird.

(No affiliate links in this blog entry, beautiful people but do download this comic on Amazon, DC, or any major ebook or comic seller online. Peace!)

Girl, Where You Been?; A Quick Apology

Things I intended to do over the last four and a half weeks:

  • Review Gideon The Ninth, See No Stranger, Pussy Prayers and a bevy of self-published children’s books featuring little Black and Brown children being great.
  • Do a big long overthink discussing the recent surge of creativity in African science fiction, Africanfuturism and Afrodystopia, what it means for Black folks in speculative fiction(as though I know), and how it connects to similar movements in indigenous fiction but contrasts with almost everything in similar genres coming out of Southeast Asia.
  • Keep bringing you the best in weekly diverse book news in handy-dandy wrap up format
  • Up the number of posts per week from around 3 to 4 or 5.

Things I did not intend to do over the last four and a half weeks:

  • Post absolutely nothing on this blog.

Things that happened over the last four and a half weeks to reverse my intention polarities:

  • Bills. Real bills.
  • Also job. Real job. Sabbatical is over. *cries*
  • Lastly, sick. Real sick. Not the ‘Rona, so nobody panic. But it’s hard to write reviews when you barely feel good enough to read. It’s a long, uninteresting story but suffice it to say, I had to narrow my focus and do a little less for a bit due to lack of energy. I’m better now, though. No worries.

So basically, sorry, y’all. I didn’t mean to disappear, Regular posting will resume tomorrow. Also, if you’re not already, follow me on Facebook, where I post constantly no matter what’s going on because the “share” button is a thing and procrastination scrolling is a more infectious virus than the one with many names currently stalking the world.

Peace!

(Thanks for the read, beautiful people–even though this blog wasn’t saying much of anything. This blog has affiliate relationships with sites such as Bookshop and any clicks and purchases made will result in a commission being earned. By the way, I really appreciate those of you who have clicked and purchased–thank you. 🙂 )

Last Week in Books, August 17th – 24th: Lovecraft Is Fine and The Apocalypse Already Happened

Let’s start with the biggest news and work our way across:

  • HBO’s Lovecraft Country, based on the book by Matt Ruff, premiered last week to rave reviews. Classic horror fiction fans are pinning a lot of hopes on its potential to both highlight Lovecraft’s creations and redeem his racist legacy. Also, in case you missed it, the first episode is available to stream for free on YouTube. [via Wear Your Voice, YouTube]
  • 600 books are scheduled to published on September 3rd, in a rush move meant to compensate for COVID-19 pushbacks. This is clearly not a good idea for anybody but the big name authors. Somebody’s going to get lost in the shuffle, and it ain’t Lovecraft. [via The Guardian]
  • Ocean Vuong, virtuoso author of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, has finished a new manuscript. It won’t be released until the year 2114. I’m simultaneously overjoyed for future readers and pouting on behalf of those of us who’ve been waiting on his next book. [via The Guardian]
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  • I made much of Bailey’s Reclaim Her Name project in last’s week’s news roundup, and even reviewed one of the books in the series. Unfortunately, the closer you look at the project, the messier it is, with women’s literature scholars and women writers panning it left and right.[via Trendswide]
  • There’s surprisingly little coverage of this, but several bookstores, publishers and literary associations are putting pressure on Congress asking for something to be done about Amazon’s near-monopoly and unethical practices in the industry. I’m already not a big supporter of Amazon, but the fact that this isn’t MUCH bigger news surprises me. [Via LitHub]
  • The last item for this roundup is perhaps the one that has had the most profound effect on my thoughts over the past week. The Washington Post highlighted several indigenous authors of apocalyptic and speculative fiction , leading to the startlingly obvious revelation that indigenous people have already lived through an apocalypse (in the form of colonization) and therefore have unique insights. I’m not really doing it much justice here, but the whole piece is worth reading and I’ve been thinking about it nonstop. [via The Washington Post]

FAQ: Why I Link to Bookshop Instead of Amazon

One of the questions I’m often asked in my Facebook page inbox is “why do you always share Bookshop links, and not Amazon?” I figure now is as good a time as any to answer that question. Let me start by saying I’m not on the self-righteous cancel train at ALL when it comes to Amazon or any other big corporation. I’m not so woke that I can’t see nuance. Amazon is convenient, accessible, and they’ve done some great things in the world of technology. I own an Amazon Kindle. The company also has a great platform for self-publishing and audiobooks–I’ve used it and so have other authors who I really respect. There are good things about the company and I’m not going to pretend they’re entirely evil, because that is simply too pat and ignores how helpful a company like Amazon can be in circumstances like our current ones. I also don’t like how people try to shame people who use companies like Amazon, ignoring that people have the right to stretch their dollars the best way they see fit. There’s no such thing as a perfect person or corporation.

However, I think we’re all trying to be more conscious of what we support when we spend our hard-earned cash these days. For that reason, I don’t purchase physical, deliverable products from Amazon anymore–including paper books. There is documented evidence that Amazon has poor labor practices and mistreats and neglects warehouse and delivery workers. They’ve been criticized for their poor safety precautions for warehouse employees during the current pandemic, and their lax response to the criticism. While the company claims to donate heavily to charity, they aren’t very transparent about it. Also, speaking of transparency, Amazon’s effective tax payments are nil, which is unacceptable for a trillion-dollar global corporation. That may not be entirely the company’s fault, but when they’re receiving multi-billion tax rebates and I’m receiving none–they certainly don’t need my money!

So who does need my money, and yours? Indie bookstores and publishers, for a start. In the face of the pandemic, many of our beloved small and independent local bookstores are really struggling, and some have been forced to close. A shop that depends on community building and face-to-face connections simply can’t thrive in a time when people can’t go out much and have to avoid being too close to other people. Smaller bookstores also lack the resources to deliver books on an affordable mass scale in the way that a megacorp like Amazon can.

That’s where Bookshop comes in. In their own words,

“Bookshop is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores. We believe that bookstores are essential to a healthy culture. They’re where authors can connect with readers, where we discover new writers, where children get hooked on the thrill of reading that can last a lifetime. They’re also anchors for our downtowns and communities. As more and more people buy their books online, we wanted to create an easy, convenient way for you to get your books and support bookstores at the same time.”

from the Bookshop.org About page

The site has developed a great affiliate program that gives book advocates, publishers and bookshops an easy-to-use selling portal and pays a commission for each book sold. I’m an affiliate, and I’ve provided a link to my little shop below(I use to support the costs of this lil blog). But if you have a favorite indie bookstore, search for them on the site and any purchases you make will directly benefit them instead. The point of this post is to raise awareness of a platform for book-buying that is more community-oriented and ethical than Amazon, and I hope you check them out, even if it’s not through my link.

A few caveats–Bookshop, for all its wonders, is still in beta, and there are still a few site-wide seams and wrinkles being ironed out. This is especially apparent with books on backorder–I’ve ordered two books that had this status and because of the time it was taking to fulfill the orders, the site’s automated system automatically cancelled them. My money was refunded promptly and there were no real logistic problems. However, one bookworm to another–refunds are nice, but I wanted my books!

I’ve also had people express concern about the price of Bookshop’s stock being more expensive than Amazon. The first thing to remember is that part of what guarantees the low prices of a megacorp like Amazon is dodging corporate taxes and exploiting their workers in addition to buying and distributing in massive bulk. Bookshop sells books on behalf of indie booksellers who don’t have the ability to do these things, so sometimes their prices are higher(especially on popular titles and hardbacks). For small press and indie press books they’re very competitive, I find. As the site grows and begins to ship internationally, hopefully their prices will get better across the board. I understand book budgets though (since I’m always over mine), which brings me to my second point. Bookshop isn’t always more expensive. Recently I wanted to buy the e-book of the necromancer fantasy adventure Gideon the Ninth. I checked prices on Amazon and Bookshop and on the latter–the book is a whole dollar cheaper! I’d encourage you to use Bookshop when they have a competitive price like this, and keep checking in as their site grows.

Visit the Equal Opportunity Bookshop here.

Peace, beautiful people!