The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander #WWWWednesday #BookReview

#WWW Wednesday: The Door of no Return by Kwame Alexander

Happy Wednesday from my little corner of the Book-O-Sphere, bookish peeps!

Today’s WWW Wednesday is a special one thanks to the kind people at Little, Brown And Company and Hear Our Voices. Thank both parties for the gifted e-ARC of The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander I’ll be talking about today!

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Taking On A World of Words and asks readers to answer the following questions:

  1. What did you read last?
  2. What are you currently reading?
  3. What will you read next?

Let’s jump right in!

Hear Our Voices Tour Ticket for The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander

"1st Middle-Grade of the Season" on September 26

Location: Ghana

What did you read last?

I had the privilege of reading The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander this month, and it was a book that took me on an emotional rollercoaster.

When faced with the phrase, “the door of no return,” most people of the African Diaspora will instantly think of the African Chattel Slave Trade and the slave holdings in Ghana were many of our ancestors’ last look at their African homes before they were violently dispersed to the winds of the Caribbean and Americas. But, Alexander takes us one step back from this history and reminds his readers that before people of the African Diaspora were placed in chains, they lived full lives and had rich histories of their own that did not center on the colonizer.

Using Kofi Offin, an 11-year-old boy from Upper Kwanta, Alexander gives readers a chance to get a different perspective of what life could have been like for a young child in pre-colonial Africa. Readers will see Kofi be faced with learning about his family and village’s history, pursuing his love of swimming, and duking it out with his arrogant cousin, who is his age mate.

Book cover of The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander

What made me love The Door of No Return is that Alexander starts his story with the understanding that people of the African Diaspora lived full and rich lives that did not originally cater to the white gaze. Kofi and his family are shown in their fullness and given agency over their stories without the story becoming voyeuristic. 

This was something I appreciated as an empath because the history of those who were forced through a trading post on the Gold Coast before making the violent journey through the Middle Passage is always told in a way that centers whiteness. These gruesome stories almost read as if the authors want their readers to take pleasure in the disturbing details. However, Alexander handles Kofi’s story with care and humanizes this young boy and his village for readers.

If you are a reader who enjoys middle-grade fiction and is seeking a good place for yourself or your child to learn about the Middle Passage, I would highly recommend The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander. It also would pair nicely with a viewing of Viola Davis’ new film, The Woman King. The Door of No Return is also a part of a trilogy that Alexander will continue in the coming year.

Click below for an exclusive audio snippet of The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander to hear more from Alexander!

Excerpt from Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander

What are you currently reading?

Book cover for Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry by Joya Goffney

I am currently reading Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry by Joya Goffney. Goffney’s book follows Quinn, a high school senior, who loses her prized journal of list and is blackmailed into completing her secret bucket list before her masked antagonizer exposes her secret to the school. Quinn faces everything from racism to reveling in her Blackness to coping with her grandmother’s dementia. Through it all, Goffney highlights the aspects of community and family life that make for a good and realistic Young Adult novel.

What will you read next?

As always, I’m a mood reader, so I cannot tell you what I’ll be reading next. But, if you have any suggestions, leave them below!

#WWWWednesday – Good Morning, Love by Ashley M. Coleman & Love Radio by Ebony LaDelle

#WWW Wednesday: Reading Books From the #BlackLoveSummer Campaign

Happy Wednesday from my little corner of the Book-o-sphere!

It’s been a while since I did a WWW Wednesday. But, I wanted to check in with you all about some amazing reads I was introduced to over the summer by Simon & Schuster for their #BlackLoveSummer campaign and hear about the books you all have been reading this season!

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for the gifted books I’ll be talking about below!

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Taking On A World of Words and asks readers to answer the following questions:

  1. What did you read last?
  2. What are you currently reading?
  3. What will you read next?

Let’s Go!

What did you read last?

As a full-time student who also works and takes care of family, reading these days is a privilege and allows me to have a “woo-sahhh” moment. So, I’m always geeked to find books I can relate to and become engrossed in. Simon & Schuster delivered on both fronts!

The first book I finished from the #BlackLoveSummer campaign was Good Morning, Love by Ashley M. Coleman.

Good Morning, Love follows Carlisa “Carli” Henton, a musician and songwriter who wants to follow in her father’s footsteps to become a musician, but on her own terms. By day Carli battles it out as a junior account manager at a media company in New York City and uses her free time to write songs with her friends in hopes of creating a hit. She crosses paths with Tau Anderson, one of the music industry’s rising R&B stars, and the pair’s world collides professionally and romantically.

Book Cover for Good Morning, Love by Ashley M. Coleman

Coleman’s novel is perfect for readers who enjoy seeing what happens behind the glitz and glam of the music industry. The author’s characters are fully fleshed out and make you root for them even when you know lines are being blurred.

For instance, as a junior account manager and woman in the industry, Carli sets strict boundaries on how she interacts with men. Upon meeting Tau, these lines are blurred, and Carli is placed in a precarious position as they bond over their shared interest and the music Carli hopes to one day create. For readers who have had to make tough decisions about their career as a woman or minority in their field while trying to navigate the ranks, Good Morning, Love will have moments where you may be able to point out similarities in your live to Carli’s and commiserate with the choices she has to make. 

My absolute favorite part of the novel, though, is the atmospheric moments in the narrative where Coleman uses her words to transport readers into the spaces Carli inhabits, be it a club setting or transporting readers into the music Carli is making. This is where Good Morning, Love shines.

I would highly suggest this book to anyone who loves music and stories that have a gradual slow-burn romance that characters build throughout the story. This film felt like it would pair well with a viewing of the film Brown Sugar, which is a love letter to the creation of hip hop and follows two friends as they grow up to work in the music industry and gradually realize their love for one another. 

Check out my author interview with Ashley M. Coleman

Speaking of slow-burn romances, Love Radio by Ebony LaDelle is a perfect Young Adult read for summertime.

LaDelle’s novel follows two high schoolers, Dani Ford and Prince Jones, as they attempt to fall in love and conquer their senior year. Dani is slow to trust after being burned by love and losing her passion for love. Prince is sure he’s found “the one” in Dani and is more than willing to show her why he’s the perfect man for her. The only thing holding him back is that he’s trying to juggle being a caretaker for his mom, who has multiple sclerosis and acting as a father figure to his younger brother, Mook. Using his spot as a DJ and Detroit’s own “love guru,” Prince attempts to shoot his shot with Dani and show her how to believe in love and herself once again.

Book Cover of Love Radio by Ebony LaDelle

Love Radio is just what the doctor ordered for readers who love a solid romance novel with tropes, like love contracts, slow-burn romances, and a character who’s good at giving love advice but horrible at love. 

LaDelle does a great job of crafting characters in Love Radio who are easy to root for. With Prince’s love of love and music and Dani’s beautiful prose when she references her favorite Black authors, LaDelle’s ability to build characters that are complex and believable shines through. However, my critique is that Prince and Dani feel as if they belong on a college campus instead of in high school. This is especially obvious in the scenes where Dani’s sexual assault trauma is discussed. While this isn’t a total weakness, if Love Radio is ever adapted for tv or film, I would love for this characterization and setting change to be played to make the novel’s action more believable.

As a Detroiter, I can say that LaDelle’s love for our shared hometown shines through with all the hidden Easter eggs she places in her book that only a fellow Detroiter would recognize. From drinking Vernor’s instead of ginger ale to skating at the Northland skating rink and trips to the Motown Museum, LaDelle hits a sweet spot for why the D is a special place to grow up and experience.

Besides a shared love of our hometown, my favorite part of LaDelle and Coleman’s books has to be the musical references. Check out this playlist to hear what soundtracks were playing as each artist wrote their books. 

What are you currently reading?

I recently finished The Sandman on Netflix and instantly went looking for the graphic novel series. Originally written by Neil Gaiman and totaling more than 80 individual comics, this dark fantasy series blends mythology with horror and traditional DC comics to tell the story of Dream/Morpheus. This mythical character was imprisoned by humans for over 70 years and must go on a quest to get his Kingdom and treasures back from those who have stolen them from him. 

The Netflix show ranks in my top three shows of summer, followed by Hulu’s The Bear and Starz’s P-ValleyThe Bear is a dramedy about a mom-and-pop sandwich shop in Philadelphia and the cooking staff who works there. P-Valley is a Southern drama that does a deep dive into the inner workings of the cast of a strip club called The Pynk. Placed in the down-and-out town of Chucalisa, Mississippi, the cast constantly tries to claw their way up from the bottom to survive gentrification, the Rona, and life in general. 

I binge-watched these shows and Coleman and LaDelle’s books for the two weeks I got for Summer Break.

What will you read next?

School’s back in session next week, which means my reading is back to textbooks and academic articles. The book I’m looking forward to is the last in the #BlackLoveSummer campaign, You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi

Emezi tells the story of Feyi Adekola, an artist who is trying to recover from losing the love of her life as she finds love again. Granted a luxury trip to a tropical island where she starts a romance with a new man, Feyi is hopeful that she can “release the past and honor her grief” to gain a second chance at love. But, she must first contend with a third party who is possibly sabotaging her new love. I have the audiobook of You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty ready for when I need a break from school.

What are you all reading?

Books That Got Me Through My 20s (Pt. 2)

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Happy Tuesday!

This week’s Top Ten list is a freebie, and I’m focusing on my top books from my 20s.

In April, I turned 30 and published the first part of the list about what books “got me through” my 20s. That list was mainly about the “fun times.” 

Checkout the first part of the list here and my playlist over on Spotify for my favorite songs from my 20s. 

This second part covers the years I was a caretaker for my grandmother and father when they fell ill in the latter part of my 20s. 

The Lost Years

"The Lost Years" - Books That I Read While Care Taking (Pt. 1)

-The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri 
-5 to 1 by Holly Bodger 
-A Tale For the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
-Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will always remind me of the road trip I took to get home after grad school with my mom and two strangers in the middle of a tornado when Southwest dumped us in Branson, Missouri. This road trip was unplanned and was so bananas, every time I look at my worn copy of Americanah, I think about that wild ride and the grace of God that kept us from being blown away like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz during that storm. 

You can check out my old post about it and my review of Adichie’s book here to read the whole story.

After graduate school, I spent a lot of time drifting while trying to adjust to life outside of school and to have to help take care of my grandmother and father. While I had always seen my mother taking care of one of my loved ones, I never realized just how much went into caring for people who were ill as a caretaker.

Dealing with the stress of caretaking is what led me to the Bookternet.

When the Bookternet was young and the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Movement was starting out in 2014, I was one of the leaders of a book club on Goodreads called The Writers of Color Book. The primary purpose of the WCBC was to get people on BookTube and elsewhere focused on reading diverse authors that weren’t cookie-cutter selections.

One of my favorite books from the WCBC’s reading list was A Tale For the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Ozeki’s book follows three different timelines: Nao, a sixteen-year-old Japanese teen who her peers are mercilessly bullying, Nao’s grandmother, a hundred-year-old Buddhist nun, and Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island in the Pacific that’s just retrieved a Hello Kitty lunchbox after the 2011 Japanese tsunami and earthquake that killed over 20,000 people. Ozeki’s work shines in the way that it tells such a visceral and heartbreaking story

Almost a decade later, I’m still thinking about A Tale For the Time Being because of the way it reminded me during my caretaking years that death is inevitable. But, the way you live your life determines how you’ll be remembered. 

After graduate school, I spent a lot of time drifting while trying to adjust to life outside of school and to have to help take care of my grandmother and father. While I had always seen my mother taking care of one of my loved ones, I never realized just how much went into caring for people who were ill as a caretaker. 

Dealing with the stress of caretaking is what led me to the Bookternet.

My favorite author during my 20s were Jhumpa LahiriThe Namesake is one of my favorite books of all time and the first book I ever did a live show for on YouTube. My favorite short story collection was The Interpreter of Maladies, which was also another WCBC pick. 

When I was on night watch with my grandmother and father or going to appointments, I would read short stories to pass the time in the waiting room or until the sun came up. 

Outside of Alice Walker, Jhumpa Lahiri has to be one of my favorite short stories writers for her to do with just a few pages. Walker and Lahiri get to the crux of the matter in mere lines when other authors use up hundreds of pages to tell a story. I highly recommend these authors’ short story collections.

5 to 1 by Holly Bodger was the first book I ever photographed on Bookstagram.

For the most part, Bodger’s book was a leftover read from the YA Dystopian era takeover. However, at the time, I remember thinking about how interesting the plot was from other books in the genre.

In 5 to 1, women choose their husbands from five men who vie for their attention in a trial of the woman’s choosing. Bodger tells The Handmaid’s Tale writing about a matriarchal society with the men being hunted if they dare run away from their wives.

"The Lost Years" - Books That I Read While Care Taking (Pt. 2)

-The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
-The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker
-The Bees by Laline Paull

My first audiobooks were The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker, and The Bees by Laline Paull. And as intricate as each of these three books was with their cast of characters, I loved them for keeping me company during this time in my life.

The Night Circus was probably the best possible choice to start my love of audiobooks alongside The Golem and the Jinni because of how imaginative both books were. The Night Circus covers a fierce battle between two young magicians, Celia and Marco. These magicians are given the task by their teachers of dueling each other by creating wondrous feats at Le Cirque des Rêves, a continuous night circus that runs throughout the book.

The Bees was equal parts whimsical and sad as Paull told the anthropomorphic tale of Flora 717, a sanitation bee in a hive where the Queen bee is ill. Flora 717 is a bee with unique talents that none of her kin share. Due to this, she’s seen as a threat to her beloved Queen, to who she only wants to dedicate her life.

Like The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker, who I’ve interviewed and reviewed on my blog, Paull and Morgenstern’s books helped get me through long waits at doctor’s offices, and hospital stays when caretaking. These books taught me that even in those dark moments when everything looks bleak, the sun eventually comes out, and you live to fight another day.

When Life Gives You Lemons…

When Life Gives You Lemons…: Books I Read While Coping With Death

-The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates
-Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat

Sometimes the sun does not shine how you want it to. There are no television miracles or solemn moments where your loved one pops back up for a last “hoorah.” 

Sometimes the doctor comes in and tells you the person is in a coma, and you have to say your goodbyes while praying all along that maybe God will do you this solid just this one time even though you know it’d be better for your loved ones not to suffer anymore. 

When that moment came for me in my late 20s, I wasn’t ready. But, The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat eased the blows. Both memoirs talk about death and the changes that come with growing up in such a beautiful way. I cried while reading each, and whenever I look at my copies, I remember the time I had to say goodbye to my grandmother and father.

Favorite Books of the Decades

My Favorite Books of the Decades

These last few books are stories that connect to events and memories in my 20s that I hold dear.

The first advanced reader copy I ever received was All the Days Past, All the Days to Come by Mildred D. Taylor. Taylor’s Logan Family Saga is a series I’ve been reading since I was a little girl, and I reread all ten books, including the novellas, in order every few years from start to finish to recapture some of that magic. It’s the best book, in my opinion, for you to read if you want an authentic glimpse of the African-American experience in America.

I’m on a personal mission to see all of August Wilson’s Century Cycle performed in person. Fences, the sixth book in the Cycle, was the first play I saw performed live in the West End while studying abroad. Like the Logan Family Saga, Wilson’s Century Cycle is required reading for anyone who wants to peek behind the veil of the African-American heritage.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz and The Namesake were WCBC picks that introduced me to amazing authors who used language in unique and breathtaking ways. Díaz, in particular, had me thinking about how closely language mirrors traditions and is used by Black, Indigenous, and other writers of color to tell our stories and preserve our histories.

Based on where I read them, two books that stand out are The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore and The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

I read Moore’s book while looking after my father when he first got his diagnosis on our front porch. Moore’s whimsical story gave me laughter when I needed it the most. And Acevedo’s story kept me company when my mother and I took our first solo trip without my father to Atlanta the Winter after he died. Acevedo’s novel of confronting pain through poetry brought me comfort when I felt anything but.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith was the first classic that I truly loved. After years of reading, I never felt any connection to the classical novels in the white American canon. But, Smith’s book so clearly lays down how it feels to fall in love with reading, I instantly fell in love. 

Timebound by Rysa Walker was one of the first books that taught me to love e-books. Walker’s Chronos Files is a YA time-traveling series is one I devoured in almost a week after saying I would never read with an e-reader. If you’re a fan of Marvel’s current phase about the multiverse, this indie Kindle original may interest you.

What are the books that got you through your last decade?

Comment below and tell me some books that got you through your last decade!

As always, please don’t forget to like, comment, and subscribe. #AllOfTheThings

The Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch & The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner (#BookReview #WWWWednesday)

Happy Hump Day, bookworms! We made it to the halfway point of the week, which means it’s time for my weekly check-in for what I’ve been reading with a WWW Wednesday.

Today is special because it’s the start of Hispanic Heritage Month. So, shoutout to all my Latinx friends on the Bookternet!

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Taking On A World of Words and ask readers to answer the following questions:

  1. What did you read last?
  2. What are you currently reading?
  3. What will you read next?

For the last few weeks, I’ve been in a miniature reading slump. I’ve started tons of books. But, haven’t had the desire to actually finish any of them. 

Because of that, I’m going to be talking about some older books I finished for what I read “last” and will share a few in my bookish queue for the ones I plan to read “next.”

What did you read last?

The Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

The Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch is the first book I was able to finish from my slump.

I raved about Aaronovitch’s series two weeks ago in my last WWW Wednesday and have since purchased almost all of the books in the series secondhand.

My top requirement for fantasy novels is that they must have a top-notch cast of characters with loads of personality and a well thought out magical system/world-building. These things make it easier to sit through the chunkers that dominate this genre.

Aaronovitch’s series delivers on all fronts! 

From the setting of London to the characters, the author holds no punches (literally in the case of the villain) in this series opener. The book follows probationary constable Peter Grant, who meets the ghost, Mr. Punch, while staking out the scene of a mysteriously gruesome murder on a late-night assignment.

Up until then, Grant has lived an ordinary life up. So, getting thrust into the company of Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving “magic and other manifestations of the uncanny,” is a bit of a shock. What’s more, having dealings with gods and goddesses and the other creatures in Nightingale’s world keeps Grant on his toes.

There’s so much to love in Aaronovitch’s series.

Aaronovitch is one of the few white authors who seems to understand what it means to write characters of color in a way that gives them depth and brings them to life as human beings instead of to being caricatures. In Peter Grant, readers find an amateur detective who all most anyone can relate to if they’ve ever felt set adrift in life while everyone around them is succeeding.

The Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Like most 20-something year old’s, Peter is trying to find his “thing.” Once a great science student, he has a knack for seeing the finer details in situations. Yet, he fails to grasp the bigger picture all too often, leaving him two steps behind the mass murderer who is terrorizing the citizens of London. This is the least of his worries because Father and Mama Thames are at war, and all hell is about to break lose if Grant can’t figure something out.

Even though The Rivers of London series takes place in modern-day London, the addition of magical beings and the supernatural adds a solid element of world-building to the mix. In this series opener, readers see Aaronovitch setting the stage using elements of world religions, such as the Yoruba’s Orishas and European Paganism, alongside magical spells that blend modern science with the uncanny. These all work well and make it the series’ setting believable that this “version” of London could exist counter to the world that readers may know.

In addition to excellent setting and character development, Aaronovitch’s series has really good dialogue and banter between the characters. This makes it a must for those who love audiobooks. Ghanaian-British actor, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who does a phenomenal job distinguishing each of the characters’ voices in The Rivers of London series.

If you’re a lover of Neil Gaiman or multi-layered books, read this book!

The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner

My second read is from my #Backlist TBR pile.

This book is called The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner.

The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner

While Zentner’s book has an extensive cast of characters and is rich in background lore about lobster fishing on a Canadian island, it falls short in every other department.

The drama of this novel is set around the Kings’ family, who live and fish for lobster on Loosewood Island. This story is through the eyes of Cordelia, the first female “lobster king” in her family, as she fights to be seen as the legitimate heir to her family’s empire. 

Zentner takes his cues from Shakespeare’s King Lear. However, he jumbles so much of the Bard’s original intention in his interpretation that I, as a reader, was left simultaneously under and overwhelmed.

For starters, the author has too many timelines happening at once

Cordelia, the main character of The Lobster Kings, bounces between being her present-day reality, her tumultuous childhood, a random side plot about an artist who lived on Loosewood Island in the past and who could’ve been one of her distant relatives, and a weird magical realist subplot about selkies. Cordelia’s character is monotonous in her narration. This means that even with things that might have been interesting, like the tortured artist and magical selkies subplots, it all becomes boring. 

Even extensive world-building doesn’t save Zentner’s book. Nor does the promise of feuding drug lords and Loosewood’s fishing community. 

At times, it feels like Zentner over seasoned The Lobster Kings by trying to be too literal with referencing his source material. 

Where Shakespeare understood how to meter out his gloomy and depressing story, Zetner leans too heavily into it and makes a mess. Topics, like death by suicide, death by drowning, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, substance abuse, infidelity, and animal violence, are rife in The Lobster Kings. It eventually got to a point where I found myself wondering what the point of any of this violence was. Furthermore, I wondered why Cordelia would even want to run the fishing empire when it seems to be mired in painful memories for her.

Needless to say, I didn’t love The Lobster Kings, and I can’t say I’d recommend this book at all.

What are you currently reading?

Portrait of A Scotsman by Evie Dunmore

I have a ton of current reads because of my reading slump. But, I’ve mainly been focusing on reading Portrait of A Scotsman by Evie Dunmore and I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forest. Both books are from the romance genre, with one from the Regency era and the other being a contemporary romance.

Portrait of A Scotsman is the third in Dunmore’s A League of Extraordinary Women series. I’m currently taking a Women’s Studies course for my Master of Social Work degree, and we’ve gotten to the suffragette period in our module, so this read paired nicely with my lesson.

Dunmore’s book hinges on the “marriage of convenience” trope with two main characters from vastly different social standings who have paired together thanks to a breach in social etiquette. Hattie, a young artistic socialite with dyslexia, finds herself married off to the rich but scrappy Lucian as a tradeoff to help bolster her family’s wealth. Lucian, though rough around the edges, needs an “in” with polite society and settles on marriage to Hattie as a way to get revenge on the rich men who once terrorized his community in his youth. 

I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forest

My favorite romance trope is the marriage of convenience novels, so I’m enjoying Portrait of A Scotsman so far.

I’m also enjoying the YA contemporary romance, I Wanna Be Where You Are. Similar to Dunmore’s book, the idea of “convenience” is present in this road trip-themed book. But, Forest also has elements of the “friend to lover” trope with her romance about Chloe, a teenage ballerina, and Eli, a budding artist, who are trying to beat the clock to get to North Carolina for an audition and college tour before they’re parents notice their gone.

Unfortunately, everything that could go wrong with these warring friends does go wrong. Nevertheless, Forest will keep you turning the page to find out what trouble her young pair and Eli’s dog, Geezer, get into.

What will you read next?

As a mood reader, I can’t say what I’ll read next.

Drop down below and tell me what you’re reading! 
And like, comment, and subscribe. #AllOfTheThings

Bookish peeps, I hope life and your TBR Lists treat you well as you finish out your week.

Happy reading!

A Pho Love Story by Loan Le & Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp (#BookReview #WWWWednesday)

Thank you to Libro.fm for my audiobook copies of A Pho Love Story by Loan Le and Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp.

Thank you to Harper Books for my ARCs of The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers and Tor Books for the ARC of She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chen.

Finally, thank you to Wesleyan Press for my finish copies of She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chen copy of The Age of Phyllis by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

We’ve almost made it over the hump of another week, bookish peeps. I hope you all’s week is going well!

I’m coming to you with my weekly check-in of what I’m reading and a few mini book reviews for WWW Wednesday.

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Taking On A World of Words and ask readers to answer the following questions:

  1. What did you read last?
  2. What are you currently reading?
  3. What will you read next?

What did you read last?

The theme for this week’s mini review wrap-up is foody books and characters who cook.

Books about characters who cook are my all-time favorite type of reads. Coming from a family that enjoys food and trying new recipes, reading about characters that share this passion is always enjoyable.

Food is not only an extension of one’s culture, but it also gives the authors the ability to express a character’s identity and to have them work through complex topics without weighing their book down too much.

A Pho Love Story

For example, Loan Le does a great job expressing his characters’ desires and showing the tension between the rival families in A Pho Love Story through the Vietnamese culture.

Book cover of A Pho Love Story by Loan Le

Bao Nguyen and Linh Mai are teenagers whose parents both run rival pho restaurants on the same street that are struggling. Both characters are set to graduate from high school soon and struggle to figure out their lives’ path. 

Bao is unsure what his “thing” is and worries that time is running out to figure his next step out. On the other hand, Linh loves art and secretly dreams of being an artist like her aunt. However, she gets her dreams crushed trying to live up to the expectations of her parents, who immigrated to the U.S. during the Vietnam War. It’s not until the pair are sent on assignment for their school’s newspaper to review local restaurants that they can realize their individual dreams, sort out their feelings for each other, and unearth why their parents hate each other so much.

Initially, I went into this book expecting a Vietnamese Romeo & Juliet. However, the story hinges less on being a romance built around teenager angst and instead hinges upon the theme of self-discovery and combating the expectations of being born a first-generation child to parents who have migrated from another country. Through Le’s description of the food, readers can see the Ngyuens and Mais’ pride in their food preparation. Each family honors the pho dish in their preparation and its role in their immigration tale.

My favorite part of the story is the “reconnaissance missions” Bao’s father takes the family to collect intel on other restaurants in the area. In these scenes, Le pays particular attention to detail for how Bao’s father studies the menu, orders their meal, and then evaluates each dish. Le also shows Linh’s parents meticulously preparing to leave for work at their restaurants in detail each night, which shows how labor-intensive the food service industry is. These scenes also show how the Ngyuens and Mais take the utmost pride in their dishes and ability to use their cultural dishes to provide for their children.

If you’re a foodie and love hearing about family secrets and food preparation, read this book! However, have a snack next to you. Le’s descriptions of food in this book were so descriptive and lush that I found myself getting hungry just listening to the audiobook.

The same advice goes for Zea Kemp’s book, Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet; snacks are a must!

Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet

Where Le’s story is PG/PG-13, Zea Kemp’s book is a bit more mature since it deals with mental illness, self-harm, abandonment, and violence.

Zea Kemp’s book revolves around Penelope Prado and Xander Amaro, who are young adults of Mexican heritage working at Penelope’s father’s restaurant, Nacho’s Tacos. Penelope dreams of working with her father to improve their family restaurant’s menu. Her father, however, has other dreams for her. To him and his wife, having a a college-educated daughter is much more important. So, when they learn that Penelope has been lying about being registered for nursing school and attending classes, they flip, and Penelope is pushed out on her own to discover her dreams.

As for Xander, he dreams of having someone like Penelope’s parents to dote on him and look after him. Abandoned by his father as a child in Mexico, Xander was forced to make the trek to America on his own. He now lives with his paternal grandfather and secretly longs to know what became of his father all those years ago when he left Xander and his mom behind to immigrate to America. For Xander, as an undocumented immigrant, working at Nacho’s is one of the few times where he feels as if he is a part of a loving family and not going it alone. Unfortunately, for Penelope and Xander, things take a turn for the worse when Nacho’s is threatened by the local loan shark.

Like Le, Zea Kemp uses food in her novel to show the depths of community and tradition in her story and build Nacho’s Tacos into a community staple. 

Book cover for Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp

Nacho’s provide a meal and protection for its community and acts as a source of comfort and family for Penelope, Xander, and other characters. In this way, Zea Kemp does a good job of tending to her novel’s setting and building it into its own character that compliments Penelope and Xander’s desires without having the happenings of the restaurant overshadow these two characters’ development.

For instance, Penelope’s love for cooking and baking is strong because she uses this hobby as a lifeline when she experiences mental health issues. Zea Kemp’s positioning of Penelope in the restaurant reveals her character traits little by little. Here, readers will get to see Penelope explore the question of what happens when your proximity to community changes and your only coping mechanism/safe space is torn away from you. 

On the other hand, Xander is forced into understanding how to build community ties for the first time in his life after being abandoned for so long. His growth as a character hinges on learning how to embrace a new way of life as he becomes a part of the restaurant family and finds his place in his new community.

While A Pho Love Story is a somewhat sweet and simple YA novel with some family drama thrown in, Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet is a novel that feels very “New Adult” without the possessive love story. Penelope and Xander do have a sweet romance that gradually builds, but it is not the main point of the story. Instead, finding and holding onto community is at the center of Zea Kemp’s book. Be warned, though, this novel deals with several difficult topics, such as depression, self-harm, anxiety, loss of a parent, and police brutality, amongst other things. Due to this, I’d say read it at your own peril.

What are you currently reading?

Just like last week, I’m still reading the poetry collection, The Age of Phyllis, for the #SealeyChallenge and the novel, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, both of which are by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. If you haven’t already picked up Jeffers’ novel, it came out yesterday. I would definitely recommend picking up a copy!

I’ve also been reading are Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin.

book cover of Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin

I previously reviewed Jalaluddin’s 2018 book, Ayesha at Last, as one of my top books of 2020, and Hana Khan Carries On is right up there with its hijinks and laugh-out-loud moments. Jaluddin’s writing is fun to read because she gives readers an eye to Muslim culture without having her books feel like “guidebooks” on Muslim living. Instead, these characters just exist and struggle to find love, job fulfilment, and keep their families together just like everyone else around them.

Hana, for example, is a woman who wants to break into broadcast journalism while also helping her mom and sister who run the restaurant, Three Sisters Biryani Poutine. As a hobby, Hana runs a podcast while also working at the local radio station and fighting off a shiesty coworker and a white feminist boss who’s fluent in microaggressions in the workplace. 

The one bright spot is that Hana has a mystery listener who she chats within the comment section and occasionally flirts with. Things change when she seeks the mystery guy’s help in finding the approaching opening of a rival Halal restaurant owned by the infuriating Aydin and his cranky father. 

I highly recommend Jalludin’s novel.

What will you read next?

Of course, you all already know that I’m a mood reader, so I don’t have a clue what I’ll read next. More than likely, I will be continuing Jeffers and Jalludin’s novels and trying to finish She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chen.

If you all have any recommendations, drop them in the comment section or just tell me what you’re currently reading!

Don’t forget to like, comment, share, and subscribe! #AllTheThings

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim, We Are Inevitable by Gayle Forman, & Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean #BookReview #WWW Wednesday

Thank you to Random House Audio and Penguin Teen for the e-galley and ALC of We Are Inevitable by Gayle Forman and Random House Audio for the ALC of Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim.

Thank you to Tor Books for an e-galley of She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chen.

We made it to the halfway point, bookish peeps! Give yourself a round of applause!

I hope you’re all having a good week! I’m here with my weekly check-in for WWW Wednesday.

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Taking On A World of Words and ask readers to answer the following questions:

  1. What did you read last?
  2. What are you currently reading?
  3. What will you read next?

What did you read last?

This week has been a slow reading week for me. I finished Stardust by Neil Gaiman and will have a book review and movie review up soon.

I also got the chance to read Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim, We Are Inevitable by Gayle Forman, and Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean.

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim

As a lover of mythology and fairytales, Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim was a book I enjoyed. Playing off East Asian folklore and The Six Swans by the Grimm Brothers, Lim’s story feels familiar and deliciously fresh at the same time.

In this novel, readers are introduced to Shiori’anma, or Shiori for short, the only princess of Kiata, as she tries to hide her forbidden magic from her family and stave off an unwanted marriage to a rival nation’s prince. Things do not go according to plan, and Shiori finds herself cursed and banished from her kingdom by her evil stepmother, Raikama, along with her six older brothers who Raikama turns into cranes.  Cursed to hide her face and not speak of the Raikama’s curse less one of her brothers dies as punishment, Shiori finds herself finding solace and help from the last place she ever wanted to be.

Cover of Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim

Illustration by Tran Nguyen | Cover Design by Alison Impey
Lettering by Alix Northrup

Lim’s novel had all the magic of a Disney Princess film mixed with the danger of your classic fairytale, and I loved every second of it.

Shiori is a princess who is comfortable using her wits to solve her problems once the comforts of being a “princess” is stripped from her. This is important because Shiori’s brothers are stuck in crane form doing the day and are basically rendered useless in helping her break the curse. So, Shiori is left to do the heavy lifting for much of the story.

What I love most about this book is that Lim does an excellent job of building Shiori’s character up from a naïve girl who only wishes to shirk a marriage to a young woman who is willing to risk life and limb to rescue her family. The author also paces her story to the point where it really does feel as if I’m watching the sequence of events play out in long form as Shiori and her brothers become separated, travel to new lands together and apart, and ultimately have their fates decided based on what they are willing to risk for one another.

My one gripe with this book is that the reveal for the villain felt as if it was being drawn out for too long. Lim did manage to surprise me in who was behind the shenanigans. However, it felt like she hid it within a set of nesting dolls, and by the time it was revealed, I was feeling pretty “meh” about that particular plot point.

If you love this book, I’d suggest reading Stepsister and Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelley. Both these books offer a similar approach to breaking down fairytale as folklore as Lim does in Six Crimson Cranes and will be enjoyed by adults and children alike.

We Are Inevitable by Gayle Forman

My next read bought me careening back into the real world. 

In her newest book, We Are Inevitable, Gayle Forman presents us with the story of Aaron Stein, a curmudgeon teenage bookseller who is trying to offload his sinking family’s bookstore. Plagued by crippling debt, Aaron is convinced that selling is his only option to help his family move on with their lives after the death of his brother, Sandy, who was addicted to drugs. The only issue is the townsfolk won’t let him and the bookstore move on in peace.

Cover of We Are Inevitable by Gayle Forman

Where We Are Inevitable most shines is Forman’s use of dialogue and banter. As a lover of the Gilmore Girls tv show, I love when an author has their characters consistently keep a conversation going about the mundane while also revealing character development and making me laugh. The delivery of the characters’ banter in especially well done in audiobook form, thanks to Sunil Malhotra, the audio narrator. Malhotra nails all the accents and does a wonderful job making sure listeners can differentiate between who is speaking.

I also appreciated that Forman was inclusive in her cast of characters and included individuals who were differently-abled and living with addiction. When speaking about these two topics, Forman handled each character she battled these issues with care. Never did these storylines feel preachy or overwritten. Instead, they seamlessly fit into the story Forman set out to tell in We Are Inevitable.

The downside of this book, though, is if you are a person who struggles with addiction, has lost anyone to drug overdoses, or find either of these topics to be too sensitive, We Are Inevitable may not be the book for you.

Due to this, I highly suggest reading Forman’s novel at your own pace.

Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean

Finally, I recently read one of my favorite Young Adult romances of the year – Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean.

Cover of Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean

If you’re like me and were an avid Princess Diaries reader, you’re going to la-ove Jean’s series.

Like the renowned series by Meg Cabot, the first book in Jean’s series follows Izumi Tanaka, a normal California teenager, as she finds out that she is the daughter of the Crown Prince of Japan. Raised by a single mother and believing herself to be hopelessly “average,” Izumi flounders as she finds herself learning that she is a long-lost princess and entering into a forbidden romance.

Jean’s book tackles issues like the class divide, not feeling “Asian” or “American” enough, and the mental strain of experiencing microaggressions and racism growing up. 

Like Mia Thermopolis in the 00s, Izumi is a character that feels authentic to Gen Z. Her reliance on technology, the way she speaks to her friends, and attempts to fit in with her Japanese family by Googling helpful “tips” to blend into her royal life, and approach to this new lifestyle was very on the nose for how I expected a teenager to act when finding out they’re royalty. In addition to this, Jean also makes Izumi relatable to readers of all ages in her simple desire to be accepted by her father.

Needless to say, I’m eagerly awaiting the next book in Jean’s series.

What are you currently reading?

Cover of She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chen

I am still reading The Age of Phyllis for the #SealeyChallenge and The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, both of which are by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. 

Jeffers’ novel, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, will be out next Tuesday, August 24. Don’t forget to pre-order your copy!

I’m also trying to finish She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chen. This epic is described as “Mulan meets The Song of Achilles.” So far, I’m having a tough time getting into this book. Mulan is one of my favorite stories. However, the repetitive usage of the theme of “nothingness” when referencing the main character, Zhu, who is the forgotten daughter of her family, is repetitive and causing me to want to find the cliff notes for the story.

If I finish Parker-Chen’s novel, I will report back with my thoughts by doing at least a miniature review in a future WWW Wednesday post. 

What will you read next?

As a mood reader, I can’t honestly tell you what I Mini #BookReviewsam going to read next since I just like to pick up a book and start reading.

If you all have any recommendations, I’m all ears!

Drop your current reads down below in the comments.

And if you can, Like, Comment, and Subscribe. #AllTheThings

A Universe Of Wishes, A #WeNeedDiverseBooks Anthology – #BookTour #BookTour

Thanks to Terminal Tours, I was able to get an advanced readers copy of the fantasy-themed short story anthology, A Universe of Wishes: A We Need Diverse Books Anthology. This anthology was edited by Dhonielle Clayton and included authors like Samira Ahmed, Zoraida Córdova, Kwame Mbalia, Tochi Onyebuchi, and many more authors of colors.

In her editor’s letter, Clayton talks about growing up as a reader of color and not seeing herself in fantasy novels. This was something that I could relate to. While I always had stories, like The Logan Family Saga by Mildred D. Taylor or The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake, to read if I wanted to see real-world images of myself in the 90s if I wanted to read a fantasy novel with African-American characters, my pickings were slim.

Dhonielle Clayton
Dhonielle Clayton

With the We Need Diverse campaign inception in 2014, the field of publishing has been opened up to the point where authors of color have been given the space to tell their own stories and even been granted acclaim for their work. Even though there is more work to be done in the industry, based on the annual statistics from the Children’s Cooperative Book Center (CCBC) and Lee & Low.

Reading through A Universe of Wishes, I was pleasantly surprised to read stories, like “Liberia” by Kwame Mbalia, where readers are shown a story of where the love of one’s family takes center stage. Having Mbalia speak to African-Americans’ collectivist nature and centering the magic of this cultural trait warmed my heart.

A Universe of Wishes anthology
book cover

Likewise, reading “The Takeback Tango” by Rebecca Roanhorse, where a teen thief sets out to reclaim her planet’s artifacts, is reminiscent of my favorite scene from Black Panther with Kilmonger in the British Museum. Having Roanhorse show the power that comes from taking ownership over one’s heritage is what I love to see!

As a lover of Disney’s Tangled, “Longer Than the Threads of Time” by Zoraida Córdova was also a treat. However, like so many stories in this anthology, I wanted the stories to be so much longer. 

A Universe of Wishes holds all the magic a reader could want. Having authors of color flex their muscles and show creativity outside the normal realm of “suffering” that so many BIPOC writers are pigeonholed into to get their break in the publishing industry was refreshing.

If you enjoyed this anthology, I’d highly recommend looking into all the featured writers’ works and read Her Stories by Virginia Hamilton, which was one of my favorite short story collections of African-American folktales and fairy tales as a kid.

Interview With An Author: Laura Taylor Namey A Cuban Girls Guide To Tea And Tomorrow

A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow

2020 has been the year of “escapism” for me. Along with science-fiction and fantasy, romance has been the genre I’ve consumed the most of this year. Thanks to Hear Our Voices Tours, I got the chances to read A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey early.

Checkout the novel’s blurb and an interview with the author below!

Book Info:

For Lila Reyes, a summer in England was never part of the plan. The plan was 1) take over her abuela’s role as head baker at their panadería, 2) move in with her best friend after graduation, and 3) live happily ever after with her boyfriend. But then the Trifecta happened, and everything—including Lila herself—fell apart.

Worried about Lila’s mental health, her parents make a new plan for her: Spend three months with family friends in Winchester, England, to relax and reset. But with the lack of sun, a grumpy inn cook, and a small town lacking Miami flavor (both in food and otherwise), what would be a dream trip for some feels more like a nightmare to Lila…until she meets Orion Maxwell.

A teashop clerk with troubles of his own, Orion is determined to help Lila out of her funk, and appoints himself as her personal tour guide. From Winchester’s drama-filled music scene to the sweeping English countryside, it isn’t long before Lila is not only charmed by Orion, but England itself. Soon a new future is beginning to form in Lila’s mind—one that would mean leaving everything she ever planned behind.

Goodreads| Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Bookshop.org

Interview with Laura Taylor Namey

II: Congratulations on publishing your second novel! What was the process like writing A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow

LTN: Thank you so much! Writing this book was like entering a time capsule of both my experience as a teen trying to figure out life and love, and my childhood growing up in a large Cuban family. I truly enjoyed the process and there is a part of me who would always like to be the drafter of this book, over and over again.

II: What is the inspiration behind A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow?

LTN: I’m the daughter of a Cuban immigrant and grew up in a huge, wonderful Cuban family. This story is my tribute to all of them, and all of the things I witnessed as a child. I took all of those themes, lessons, and the spirts of those who loved me best, and reimagined them into a modern story about legacy, loss, and love.

II: There is a strong sense of community that Lila constantly references within A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow. How would you define community and how did you use that definition to influence how you wrote the characters and setting in your novel?

LTN: I have always thought of community as a tight physical and metaphorical place of nurturing and belonging that we can call our own, within a much larger environment. It shapes us and our worldview. Community is what Lila is almost obsessively invested in at the start of my book. She feels her place and role as a teen Cuban baker and future owner in the West Dade area of Miami is so rooted and crucial to her success, it grows to inform much of her identity. This is why she is so opposed to going to England for the summer. Orion also has deep roots in his community within Winchester, England. He relies on the steadfast consistency of great friends and his small, tight knit network to help him cope with, and navigate the trauma and uncertainty plaguing his family. 

II: On your website, you have a mood board and write up about the inspiration behind Lila. However, I was wondering about the creation of Orion Maxwell. How did you decide to write about a character who is dealing with an ill parent but who remains resilient?

LTN: There are some special people in my life who have experienced what Orion is going through at home with his cherished mother, and I wanted to honor this as part of my story. The way Orion processes a different, but parallel form of loss stands in contrast to Lila’s response. I enjoyed their interplay as they discuss their losses and situations, and learn from one another. They tug each other’s emotional arcs forward (and maybe a bit sideways!) 

Also, while Lila’s loss is fresh and acute, Orion has had longer to adjust to his “new normal.” Orion has created a distinct method for living through his grief. It allows him to go on, but it also makes him extremely cautious as to where and how he gives his heart. Orion is looking for things that last. Permanence appeals to him––as his mother, and to an extent, a growing teenage sister––are slowly slipping away. Yet, he begins to fall for a certain Cuban baker who is only in England temporarily. She has big plans to return to in Miami. How does this work out or end up? I won’t spoil, but writing the building and changing relationship between Lila and Orion is my favorite thing I have written so far.

II: A major theme in your novel has to do with dealing with loss (e.g., of love, family, and to a degree, self). How do you get into this mindset for building characters that feel so much pain while keeping enough mental clarity as a writer to create such a wonderful story?

LTN: Truthfully, there were moments drafting this book where I became overcome by the emotion and memories I was harnessing to tell the story. While I was writing, two of the family members I heavily reference in the narrative passed away. This was incredibly tough. But I pressed on though the pain and tried to use it to make the storytelling real and raw and viscerally authentic.Lila suffers great loss in this story. And I did too, as its author. That, plus many of the experiences I still remember so clearly from my teenage years that greatly shaped my emotional upbringing came back strong. I didn’t realize how overwhelmed I’d be at some points. Much of this story was penned through streams of tears. But I also found it an incredibly cathartic and healing experience. It was as if I had this ink and paper center with which to reconcile my emotion––past and present. I ended up with a preserved tribute to some amazing people who loved me well. And to a teenage girl used to know––myself.

II: Lila calls Miami her “charm city.” Do you have a city that you feel is your charm city?

It’s a tie between London and Paris. I have left parts of me inside each city and I can’t wait until I can go back and find them again. 

II: In A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow, Lila’s family runs a panadería, and she makes a lot of delicious pastries as an offering to others and as comfort food for herself. Were any of the pastries she cooked based on your family’s recipes? Also, did you have a favorite recipe that you gave Lila to cook in the book?

LTN: All of the pastries and dishes in this book are foods that my family ate and cooked. My mom and tías are so skilled at adapting Cuban recipes and making them their own. As for a favorite, it’s kind of Cuban-cliche but it’s also real, so the fact that Lila chooses to cook arroz con pollo for a big dinner party for her new British friends has a lot of personal meaning. It’s the first dish that comes to mind from my childhood that makes me think of my mother as a consummate Cuban cook. 
 
II: There’s a constant conversation within the literary community about “own voices” and the way that we as readers engage with the text we are given when we are outside a novel’s targeted demographic. What I love about A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow is that when Lila is speaking Spanish, it does not go the traditional route of italicizing her speech to categorize these lines as “out of the norm,” but instead forces readers who may not speak Spanish to truly immerse themselves into Lila’s world and see the story fully from her point of view. Is there a greater role you wanted language to play in your novel? If so, how does having a bilingual character inform the dialogue of your novel?

Thank you! And early on I made the decision with my editor not to italicize, as this is an #ownvoices work and the Spanish language is an important part of both my and Lila’s heritage. This is not something I added to a story, it is a foundational element of the story. I wanted to showcase the way many Florida Cubans in particular use Spanglish and code switching. This is only a peek! Cuban Spanish has a distinct flow and “gate” to it. Cubans drop vowels at the end of words, and often run their speech together like they’re on a word slip-n-slide. I also have a couple of tías who speak at speed level 10,000. You have to really be paying attention to understand! These are all things I grew up listening to and absorbing. I couldn’t convey the whole effect of the speed and sound, but I tried to add a bit of the flavor of what Lila’s family sounds like. 

II: In A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow Lila is forced from her beloved Miami and planted in England, where life is the total opposite. How did you get into the head of this character to write about this type of journey?

In writing Lila’s journey, it was first and foremost important for me to establish a clear sense of place and purpose for her back in Miami. I really spent time fleshing this out, and creating my Lila as a fixture in her community of West Dade. I had to firmly ground her in Florida, and have that be real and pressing and believable before yanking her out of her comfort zone into a new place. Because if her home isn’t calling out to her so deeply, it doesn’t matter as much that she’s being forced to leave to recover and recoup. With that foundation in my head and in my pen, England blossomed with all of these fun and frustrating ways for Lila, and for me in writing her. It was fun to throw experiences at her and watch her adapt and change. It was a joy to surprise her. 

II: Do you have any books or authors that inspire you?

So, so many. But I’ll try to stick to two here. I love the voice and storytelling in Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun. And I adore another take on the Cuban-American experience in young adult––Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno.

II: What advice would you give to young writers looking to break into the publishing industry?

LTN: I say this every time but it never fails: read fifty books in your chosen genre and age level. Read for voice, pacing, narrative tricks, character development, and to get a general sense of the bounds and possibilities within the genre. Also, join the online writing community early on. Get used to sharing your writing as soon as possible and try to align yourself with like-minded peers who can walk with you during your publishing journey. Find your squad––you won’t be sorry!

Author Info:

Laura Taylor Namey is a Cuban-American Californian who can be found haunting her favorite coffee shops, drooling over leather jackets, and wishing she was in London or Paris. She lives in San Diego with her husband and two superstar children.

This former teacher writes young adult novels about quirky teens learning to navigate life and love. Her debut, The Library of Lost Things, published 10/08/19 from Inkyard Press/HarperCollins. Her #ownvoices sophomore project, A CUBAN GIRL’S GUIDE TO TEA AND TOMORROW is coming November 10, 2020 from Atheneum Simon and Schuster, with a third title to follow fall 2021.

Twitter | Instagram | Website | Goodreads

Furia by Yamile Saied Mendez #BookReview

𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘮𝘰𝘴𝘵 𝘥𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘦𝘳𝘰𝘶𝘴 𝘸𝘰𝘮𝘢𝘯 𝘰𝘧 𝘢𝘭𝘭 𝘪𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘸𝘩𝘰 𝘳𝘦𝘧𝘶𝘴𝘦𝘴 𝘵𝘰 𝘳𝘦𝘭𝘺 𝘰𝘯 𝘺𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘴𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘥 𝘵𝘰 𝘴𝘢𝘷𝘦 𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘣𝘦𝘤𝘢𝘶𝘴𝘦 𝘴𝘩𝘦 𝘤𝘢𝘳𝘳𝘪𝘦𝘴 𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘰𝘸𝘯. – r.h. sin 

𝐅𝐞𝐥𝐥𝐨𝐰 Readers, 𝐰𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐬𝐭𝐢𝐭𝐮𝐭𝐞𝐬 𝐚 ”Young Adult Novel” 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐲𝐨𝐮?

I recently received a digital ARC of Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez  from @Netgalley, and was blown away! 

Furia is the story of Camila Hassan, a soccer prodigy that lives in Rosario, Argentina. As the only daughter of a misogynistic father, Camila is forced to hide her dreams of playing soccer from her parents, who hope she will become a doctor or marry rich to help them escape poverty.

Méndez’s #OwnVoices book is everything I could ever want in a YA Novel. This author tackles feminism, the fragile male ego, domestic and mental abuse, and what life can be like for women and abandoned children in a violent and impoverished country in the Global South. And, not to mention, Méndez’s book has a “friends to lovers” romance, a sports plotline, and involves social commentary on what it means to be a woman in a culture that runs on machismo.

Earning the nickname, “La Furia,” from admirers for her prowess on the soccer field, Camila is sure that she can help save her family if given a chance. When her childhood friend, Diego, comes home from playing pro-soccer overseas, she is forced to choose between her desire to be independent and play the sport she loves or yield to her family and Diego’s wishes for her. 

Méndez navigates multiple plot lines and character development with finesse and manages to ask the bigger question of what happens in society if women are not protected and allowed to live full lives? This book has a little something for all readers.

𝐏𝐥𝐞𝐚𝐬𝐞, 𝐩𝐫𝐞-𝐨𝐫𝐝𝐞𝐫 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐜𝐨𝐩𝐲! 𝐈𝐭 𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐞𝐬 𝐨𝐮𝐭 𝐨𝐧 𝐓𝐮𝐞𝐬𝐝𝐚𝐲, 𝐒𝐞𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐦𝐛𝐞𝐫 𝟏𝟓!

Punching The Air by Ibi Zoboi & Dr. Yusef Salaam #BookReview

“𝘈𝘭𝘭 𝘢𝘳𝘵 𝘪𝘴 𝘢 𝘬𝘪𝘯𝘥 𝘰𝘧 𝘤𝘰𝘯𝘧𝘦𝘴𝘴𝘪𝘰𝘯, 𝘮𝘰𝘳𝘦 𝘰𝘳 𝘭𝘦𝘴𝘴 𝘰𝘣𝘭𝘪𝘲𝘶𝘦. 𝘈𝘭𝘭 𝘢𝘳𝘵𝘪𝘴𝘵𝘴, 𝘪𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘺 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘵𝘰 𝘴𝘶𝘳𝘷𝘪𝘷𝘦, 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘧𝘰𝘳𝘤𝘦𝘥, 𝘢𝘵 𝘭𝘢𝘴𝘵, 𝘵𝘰 𝘵𝘦𝘭𝘭 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘸𝘩𝘰𝘭𝘦 𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘺; 𝘵𝘰 𝘷𝘰𝘮𝘪𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘶𝘪𝘴𝘩 𝘶𝘱.” ― 𝘑𝘢𝘮𝘦𝘴 𝘉𝘢𝘭𝘥𝘸𝘪𝘯

𝐅𝐞𝐥𝐥𝐨𝐰 Readers, 𝐰𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐦𝐚𝐤𝐞𝐬 𝐚 𝐛𝐨𝐨𝐤 𝐬𝐭𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐨𝐮𝐭 𝐭𝐨 𝐲𝐨𝐮?

Over the last month, I had the chance to read Punching The Air by Ibi Zoboi and Dr. Yusef Salaam thanks to the kindness of Harper Collins and Karina @AFirePages.  As an avid Ibi Zoboi fan and an admirer of the tenacity of the Exonerated Five, getting an ARC of this book was one of the highlights of my year.

Zoboi and Dr. Yusef Salaam book follows the story of Amal, a sixteen-year-old Black artist, who is convicted of a crime of aggravated assault against a White boy. But, Amal’s real crime stems from being born Black.

According to the Institute for Crime & Justice Policy Research “the U.S. currently houses the world’s largest prison population,” with Blacks having a conviction rate that’s “five times higher” than their White counterparts. And, thanks to the Supreme Court decision in United States v. Booker in 2005, which gave judges more discretion over sentencing and imposing harsher or more lenient sentences than the U.S. Sentencing Commissions guidelines called for, judges have now found it easier to punish BIPOC men, like Amal.

Thus, when readers see Amal claiming his innocence in court and being convicted to a harsh sentence at a young age, it hurts. As a minority reader, you will more than likely not only remember Dr. Yusef and the Exonerated Five’s case, but probably can also relate to Amal’s plight because you remember the a loved one or friend who’s also experienced harsh sentencing and lost years behind bars.

What I enjoyed most about this #OwnVoice novel in verse is that it is not only raw and real, but it feels honest. Amal is a character that I saw my brother, cousins, and nephews in. He is a boy who has high hopes, but gets painted as a monster by society instead of embraced for his art and potential.

The White educators and lawyers in his life masquerade as these Anti-racist figures and do-gooders, but when their feet are held to the fire, they act in their own self-interest.

Zoboi and Dr. Salaam’s book is an essential read, and I hope that you also pick it up and read it alongside Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.