POC authors

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

Wow you guys. This book.

It’s pretty fair to say that I actually didn’t know much of what this book was about. It’s been on my radar for ages, and the excitement of basically everyone on the internet exploded when it came out last week, so I had to go and get it for myself. I knew that it was vaguely about a black religious community, but that was about it. I sat down this weekend and devoured it.

When Nadia is a high school senior muddling through grief after losing her mother, she starts seeing Luke, a college football star working in a diner because of an unfortunate injury. Their romance doesn’t last but they have a secret, something Nadia doesn’t even share with her best friend Aubrey, and that secret will follow them through early adulthood and warp their relationships in ways they could never have anticipated. They all have their flaws, but you can’t help but feel for each one of these characters as they navigate through what life has dumped in their laps.

So, the secret is such a big thing, but I don’t want to say what it is in case anyone reading this has avoided that detail so far and doesn’t want it to be spoiled. But I very, very much loved the topic and the many ways in which it was discussed and dissected. But the other big piece of this book is the concept of mothers. It’s about how our mothers affect our lives, whether they are present or absent. It’s about the different shape that mothers or mothering can take – it can be a caring sister, or a doting daughter, or one of those old wise ladies at church praying for the community. It can be the ways in which you choose to be there for friends and family, it can be knowing the difference between right and wrong, it can be doing the hard thing even if doesn’t feel right. Mothering can be the decision not to be a mother, or the decision to actively pursue motherhood no matter what.

Brit Bennett did an absolutely wonderful job in this book. There were so many quotes that I jotted down to muse over later, that lend insight on blackness, and sadness, and womanhood. I absolutely cannot wait to see what she puts out next, but whatever it is I’m here for it. She’s going on my auto-buy list.

Have you read it yet? What did you think?

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Fledgling by Octavia Butler

 

This is definitely one of those “Why did I wait so long to read this??” books. I picked up Fledgling from a used bookstore a couple years ago, but it’s just been sitting on my shelf. I added it to my TBR for this month because I wanted to read something I’ve had on my shelves for a while, and plus it was about vampires so perfect for Halloween-time, right? Well, it was not even remotely scary so maybe not a great Halloween pick, but it was still a great read.

Fledgling is about a black girl named Shori. She’s a 53-year old vampire who looks like she’s about 10 or 11, but she doesn’t know any of this about herself. At the book’s opening, she wakes up barely alive – blind and burned, with a crushed skull. She eventually heals, but with no memory of who she is or what has happened to her. She comes to realize that she is a vampire, an experimental, genetically modified one who is unique in her ability to be in the daylight, and that she is the only survivor of a brutal attack on her family. Shori has to set out to learn about herself, about what it means to be a vampire, and who is launching the attacks against her people.

I kind of very much love Octavia Butler’s version of vampire lore. I don’t want to spoil much, but I think most of it makes a lot more sense than the traditional folklore. She does some unique things with their existence, abilities, and traditions that I haven’t seen done elsewhere. I think that you’ll like this a lot if you enjoy the mythology of vampires more than the action and gore of vampire stories. But for me, that’s only one part of what made this so interesting.

Race plays a secretly big role in this book, and Butler uses it to make some commentary on the way the concept of race exists in our world, through her use of genetic modification in Shori’s creation to how insidious racial bias is. I had a great, long conversation with my husband about the race dynamics in Fledgling, especially after a pretty critical review I happened across online when I was about ⅔ through the book. And of course, Octavia uses this simple plot – who is trying to hurt Shori and how can they be stopped – as a backdrop to play with concepts of sexuality, consent, power, family, justice, and intimacy. I wish that I had read this with a book club because there’s just so much to be picked apart here. I love it when novels give me a lot to chew over.

Have you read it? Thoughts?

IQ by Joe Ide

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Thank you SO much to Mulholland Books for giving me the chance to read and review this! I promise all thoughts expressed here came from my own head.

Man, this cover though, right? I love it. I’ve been looking forward to IQ since I first heard about it a few months ago. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A resident of one of LA’s toughest neighborhoods uses his blistering intellect to solve the crimes the LAPD ignores.

East Long Beach. The LAPD is barely keeping up with the neighborhood’s high crime rate. Murders go unsolved, lost children unrecovered. But someone from the neighborhood has taken it upon himself to help solve the cases the police can’t or won’t touch.

They call him IQ. He’s a loner and a high school dropout, his unassuming nature disguising a relentless determination and a fierce intelligence. He charges his clients whatever they can afford, which might be a set of tires or a homemade casserole. To get by, he’s forced to take on clients that can pay.

This time, it’s a rap mogul whose life is in danger. As Isaiah investigates, he encounters a vengeful ex-wife, a crew of notorious cutthroats, a monstrous attack dog, and a hit man who even other hit men say is a lunatic. The deeper Isaiah digs, the more far reaching and dangerous the case becomes.

So my brain really focused on the “genius kid solves cases that the police ignore” bit and forgot the part about this being about him working on a rapper’s case, so I was a tad disappointed that the focus wasn’t more on IQ using his Sherlock-like intellect to solve cases for the city’s downtrodden, but that was my own fault. Outside of that, I really enjoyed this.

The book bounces back and forth between IQ’s teenage years when he used his intelligence in less honest ways, and the current day where he’s trying to figure out who set a crazy hitman out to kill a failing rap star. A lot of the book, especially in the flashbacks, is dedicated to explaining how IQ grew up and what motivates him to solve cases for people today. There’s a wide range of emotions here too – my heart hurt for some of the things IQ went through, but then I literally had to pause reading to laugh out loud at some other parts, like the summary of ridiculous fights between the rapper and his ex-wife.

Honestly, I kind of had a good idea early on who was going to be the bad guy and I was right, but this was still a fun read. I hope there are more to come, because I want to see more of IQ’s smartypants self and I’d love to see future books delve more into the social justice side of his cases. I have a feeling that IQ has the potential to evolve into a hero-for-hire kind of mystery series and I would be all over that.

~Sarah

You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson

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“Society doesn’t exactly make life terribly easy for black women – and yes, life is hard for everyone – but black women have their own unique battles, a Molotov cocktail of racism and sexism.”

I requested this on Edelweiss because I love funny-lady-memoir books, and ones by WOC are especially hard to come by, so thanks so much to PRH for approving my request! And it’s a double-win, because Phoebe Robinson is going to be at Book Riot Live and now I am extra psyched to possibly meet her in person. (We’ll see how that goes, I’m shy.)

The range of topics in these essays is broad, but man I hope she writes more books because I could read her thoughts on all the things. She’s hilarious and goes off on weird rambling tangents and it’s awesome. Basically, if you like funny-lady books and are even mildly interested in commentary on race and gender, then you’ll enjoy this much. And if you don’t get why you shouldn’t be touching (or asking to touch) a black person’s hair, then you desperately need to read this and many more books. This might be a good starting point.

Fave parts!

  • Why she loves boats.
  • When she talks about her Not-So-Guilty Pleasures and is talking about the famous dudes she’d like to sleep with, and this comes up: “Sure, he’s got biceps and triceps for days. Of course, eing incredibly talented at banging on drums all day means that he is most likely to put his thing down, flip it, and reverse it. But his name is Larry. Y’all. I can’t call out “Larry” during sex. I’m not about that life.”
  • She talks about the hyper-awareness that all black people live with and how exhausting that is.
  • She writes a list of demands to the First Female President, which includes forcing the world to become comfortable with the word “vagina”.
  • She TEARS APART the white lesbian couple who sued the sperm bank they used for giving them a black baby, because having a black child made their lives hard, partly because they live in a racist neighborhood. I enjoyed her critique of those women SO HARD.
  • She talks about coded language, which is often racist but white people will cling to it and claim that their use of those words in that context wasn’t racist. (AKA, that co-worker who told me to avoid a certain suburban apartment complex because it was “ghetto”. What she meant was that there were a lot of non-white people living there. That’s it.) “Coded language allows the speaker to deny any sort of responsibility unless their back is against the wall, in which they’ll generally offer up a paltry ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ non-apology.”
  • Her speaking about the movie Kingsman and how the ending was just stupid and ridiculous. (And I agree, it kind of ruined the whole tone of the movie.)

Go get it and go read it! And then go on YouTube and watch her Woke Bae videos, which are delightful.

The Rise of Io by Wesley Chu

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Thanks Angry Robot and NetGalley for this e-ARC!

You guys, Wesley Chu is some sort of sci-fi/action wizard. As I’ve said often on here before, his Tao series is fantastic – I loved all three books and the novella that came out after. I was SUPER psyched when I found out that he was starting a new follow-up series – the events take place in the same world and chronologically after the first series, but follow a new main character. You don’t have to read the Tao series to read The Rise of Io – it’s helpful, but you can definitely start here if you want.

The Rise of Io follows a young, abrasive woman named Ella Patel – she’s a talented con-artist and thief struggling to keep her head above water in one of the poorest sections of India, recently ravaged by the alien war between the Genjix and Prophus. Hoping for a reward, she jumps in to help in a fight and then she’s inhabited by Io – an unimpressive Prophus alien who now has to get Ella trained and integrated as an agent, in an area of the world with no tactical support. Ella is not happy about the alien sharing her head, and her and Io are set to clash heads while trying to complete Io’s mission.

Ella is a riot – she’s crafty, mean, and a fabulous opportunist but she’s got a kind heart. I loved how ornery she is with Io – it’s exactly how you’d expect someone to react to an alien suddenly in their head and able to read their mind. She’s not shy about voicing her resentment. Io is an interesting alien – in contrast to Tao from the earlier books, she’s not accomplished much in her millennia on Earth. Her military ventures have been failures, and her hosts mostly insignificant. Even so, her cunning is noteworthy and her frustrations with Ella have some merit to them. Ella and Io have to try to work as a team, but it’s on shaky ground.

I admit to feeling a bit of hesitation going in, because add-ons to a beloved series can always be tricky. These are new characters, but would the story feel stale? Would the plot follow the same formula? I had nothing to worry about – Wesley Chu’s ability to write fast-paced action, entertaining characters, and new plot twists is a thing to marvel at. The Rise of Io will be released on October 4th, but I’m already searching for news about the next book.

 

Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

 

Her hope wilts on its stem before it can bloom into promise.

Here Comes the Sun is about a family of Jamaican women. Margot has been working hard for years for the fancy hotel resort; and secretly sleeping with the foreigners there for extra money to support her family. Her mom forced her to do some unspeakable things as a child, and her main focus is to provide enough money so that her little sister Thandi can avoid the same fate. It’s largely Margot’s extra flow of cash and monstrous ambition that allows Thandi to attend a good private school, where her family just knows that she’ll succeed and one day get a glamorous job that will save them all from a lifetime of poverty. Thandi, however, has things other than school on her mind. Her whole life, she’s seen the positive impact that having lighter skin can get you so she starts sneaking off to a local woman who helps her lighten her skin. For Thandi, lighter skin means more opportunity, more popularity, more safety, and more beauty. Dolores is their mother, and she spends her days selling junk to white tourists. It’s never enough to pay the bills, but she never appreciates what Margot contributes and hangs all of her hopes for a better life on Thandi.

In a country where the tourism industry continues to wreak it’s havoc on the local populace, the people have few options. When all that you’re doing isn’t enough, what else are you willing to do to save yourself and your family? And how do you deal with the fact that those sacrifices might hurt the very people you’re trying to protect?

As you might be able to tell, this is not a happy novel. The bright cover and happy-sounding title are almost in jest, because by the end I just felt a little hopeless. But it touches on SO many important issues – race, homophobia, rape, skin politics, capitalism, prostitution, insecurities, and more. The despair feels so real, which is one of the things that makes this a great book. Nicole Dennis-Benn is a really talented writer and I can’t wait to see what else she writes. I’d feel weird saying that I “enjoyed” the book, since there was so much devastation, but it was well worth the read and definitely deserves the buzz it’s been getting.

(And if you’re participating in #DiverseAThon this week, this would be a good book to include in your reading pile.)

~Sarah

 

When You’re Behind in Reviews = Mini-Reviews!

I’ve done a decent amount of reading this month, but unfortunately me finishing a couple books in the last week or so means that I’m kind of failing on getting those reviews up in a timely fashion. And since I don’t have a ton to say on them anyways, mini-reviews will work to get caught up.

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Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean

This was on the a list at Book Riot of romances featuring plus-size heroines. I don’t know if Callie is really “plus-size” – it sounds like she was just slightly more curvy than the thin, willowy heroines that frequently appear in historical romances. I still liked Callie, because she was a woman who was out for a little spice in her life, but I’m getting sick of the virgin lady / promiscuous wealthy man mash-up. Also, during steamy scenes when Ralston is kissing her, it says he “ate her face” and I just can not get over that. And that phrasing was used not once, but twice, in two different make-out scenes. ATE HER FACE. How is that good sexy writing?

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In The Country We Love by Diane Guerrero

Not being a OITNB fan, and never having seen Jane the Virgin, I didn’t really know who Diane Guerrero was but I picked up her memoir just because. It focuses on how at age 14, her undocumented parents were deported and she was left alone in the United States. Immigration is one of those things that always seems to be in the news, and I really suggest you read her memoir and seek out more information before voicing your opinions on immigrants in the US. Oh, and I highly suggest the audiobook version, Diane is a great storyteller.

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

“How could he explain to Marjorie that what he wanted to capture with his project was the feeling of time, of having been a part of something that stretched so far back, was so impossibly large, that it was easy to forget that she, and he, and everyone else existed in it – not apart from it, but inside of it.”

Homegoing has been earning a ton of praise, and it is so well-deserved. I don’t know what I can say about it that hasn’t already been said. Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel spans continents and centuries, following the descendants of two sisters – one who was married to a British slave trader, and one who was captured as a slave and sent to the American colonies. Each chapter focuses on one of those descendants, alternating between blood lines, and each story is heartbreaking in it’s own way. I loved that the perspective changed every chapter – you never grew bored with any of the characters, and it gave such fascinating glimpses into so many points in history that are now just smushed under one general heading in American history. I can’t recommend it highly enough, go get it.

Have you read any of these?

~Sarah

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger

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Thank you so much to Quirk Books for sending me this. All the fangirling in this review is my own.

“Booze is universal, it brings people together, and a lot of times it results in the creation of more people. What could be more magical than something that does all that?”

When Quirk sent me a copy of My Best Friend’s Exorcism, they also threw in the ARC for a book I hadn’t heard of called Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, which is about bartenders who fight monsters with cocktails that give them magical properties. I cannot even explain to you how in my wheelhouse this is. And of course, it ended up being DELIGHTFUL. I already want to re-read it. It comes out June 7th and I’m telling you now – you should go get it.

Bailey Chen is back home from college, trying hard to  put her degree to good use and find a job. Her old best friend Zane helps her out by getting her a job at his uncle’s bar, the Nightshade Lounge. And all of the sudden she learns that gross skinless monsters are stalking the streets of Chicago and that the best way to fight them is with cocktails that give the drinker magical powers. It seems something is riling the monsters up, and now Bailey is part of a clandestine group of people protecting innocent humans from these monsters with their best and only weapon – booze.

I was in a constant state of “tickled” this entire book. Can you imagine if vodka-based drinks really gave you super strength? Or if whiskey drinks gave you telekinetic powers? Giiiiirl. I’d be drinking every night. I’d be a top mixologist in no time. And the one legendary drink that would bestow the most incredible power if anyone ever mastered it? The Long Island Iced Tea. I can’t even, this is just fabulous.

Now maybe I’m just easily amused at the concept of magical drinks, but the cast of characters is pretty great too. Bailey is a young woman most can relate to, just trying to get her shit together. Zane is kind of a dork, but Mona is a quiet badass and Bucket is just a riot. He’s probably my favorite, with his super love of all things Canada. There’s witty exchanges of dialogue, and there’s some biting commentary sprinkled in on feminism and race, and it’s just all lovely.

Urban fantasy is one of the most interesting genres, and this is exactly why. Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge was a ridiculously fun, crazy, original read and I am crossing my fingers for a sequel of some sort. I’ll be keeping an eye out for more Paul Krueger’s work.

Relativity by Antonia Hayes

 

I received a free ARC of this e-book from the publisher (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Ethan is a 12-year old boy who has a special knack for astronomy and physics. He doesn’t remember his father – he was raised by his mother and until recently, he never really felt that his life was lacking in the parental department. As he goes through changes, he starts to wonder more and more who is father is and why he isn’t around.

Mark Hall has been separated from his family for the last 12 years, but now he’s forced to come back to town. While he’s there, will he finally be able to face his past and what that tore his family apart?

Clearly, we all knew what drew me to this book – SCIENCE! I love books about characters that are hyper-intelligent and into physics. It’s even more fun when that character is just a child, and man is Ethan smart. In fact, it seems that he’s not just smart – he might even be a savant. He seems to actually see physics, with his eyes; the kinetic energy of a bouncing ball, or the sound waves coming from radio speakers. It’s normal to him since he grew up that way, but then he learns that something may have triggered this ability in him and the story gets a little more interesting.

So, I liked the first half of Relativity a lot. The chapters alternated between Ethan, his mother Claire, and his absent father Mark. Early in the book, the focus is on Ethan; his struggles in school, fights with friends, his changing body – normal boy stuff. He talks about how he’s read Stephen Hawking’s book five times, he watches for meteor showers, he muses on space-time. Later on in the book, the focus shifts a little bit to Claire and Mark and their ruined relationship, and even that was interesting. But by the last quarter or so, the focus was so much on the family’s past rather than Ethan’s present, and that’s where it lost me a bit. It became a little dramatic, and by the end I was wishing that the story had gone in a different direction.

That being said, I love love love the science talk. And if family relationships and dramas are in your wheelhouse, then this is probably a fantastic book for you. I’m just an oddball – I’m really in it for the nerdy stuff. Keep an eye out for it – this will be released on May 3rd.

~Sarah

Radio Silence by Alyssa Cole

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Post-apocalyptic romance! That’s a thing! What a world we live in.

Arden and her BFF and roommate John are trekking through the snow in NY to reach his family’s cabin – somewhere to hide out and be safe until this crisis seems to be over. The power and electricity are gone, and after a few weeks people are starting to lose their shit – it got too dangerous to stay in their dorm. They finally make it to the cabin, where Arden meets John’s overbearing older brother Gabriel and his younger sister, Maggie. Arden is finding it awkward staying in the cabin with John and his siblings, who are all worried that their parents have been missing for days. But she’s also finding it awkward because Gabriel, while being a bit uptight, stressed, and controlling, is also hot and she’s having trouble ignoring that fact. It’s really not the time and the place for romance… or is it? DUN DUN DUNNNN.

So you know, as far as the romance goes it’s fine. Girl meets guy, they’re hot for each other but then get to know each other a bit and it turns into true love, etc. etc. The sexy times were well done. I’m not so much for the commanding guy presence in romance novels that tells the girl what to do in bed and she just goes nuts for it, but besides that it was pretty good. 

What I REALLY enjoyed about this are the things that made it feel so different. I sometimes feel like historical romance dominates the romance genre, so it was awesome to have something set in present day, in my little area of the world, with a science fiction-ish element to it. (Actually, you never find out why the power goes out in this novel, but it turns out this is a series so I think that’ll come up in the next books.) Anyways, the other fantastic thing is the make-up of the characters – Arden is black, Gabriel and his family are Asian-American, her roommate John is gay, and Maggie is in an online relationship. So all of the things that make this romance novel feel different from the genre are the things that actually make it feel like the world we truly live in – where people are diverse, bad things happen, and technology plays such an important role in our lives.  

I’m already looking forward to reading more from Alyssa Cole.  

Sarah Says: 3.5 stars