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Throwback Thursday: The Accidental Diva

Fri, 11 Mar 2016 03:23:00 +0000

The Accidental Diva by Tia Williams 2004PutnamIncredible Quote: "What he didn't tell Billie was how naive she sounded, telling him what hustling was about. In the fifth grade, he had more game in his size-five Adidas kicks than anyone at that party could ever hope to have. He hustled to survive. It was either get out there and sell the shit out of some crack, or eat grape jelly for dinner and hope the rat that bit you in your sleep wasn't carrying anything lethal. When Billie talked about hustling and playing the game, what she really meant was that she was ambitious. She was a go-getter. She set high goals for herself and met them, exceeded them. But the bottom line was that she had been born into a supportive, loving, comfortably middle-class family that took care of her and nurtured her and provided as security blanket. Jay came from nothing. Worse than nothing" (186).One Sentence Review: A diverting read that is excellently paced and notable for both its now-outdated culture references and relevant social commentary on a number of topics ranging from class to fashion to race with a distinctive (in the best way possible) narrative voice.I love this distinction Ms. Williams makes in her novel. I never realized that people describing themselves as "hustlers" bothered me until I read this passage and found myself nodding in agreement. Especially when celebrities use the term, I just find it ridiculous (excluding those who actually came up from nothing as opposed to those born to famous parents, etc etc) and Ms. Williams perfectly illustrates why. If you're thinking this quote is a bit heavy and shying away from this novel, never fear. This quote is expertly woven into a romp of a read that straddles the line between light and social commentary. It was exactly what I needed to end 2015, a lot of fun to read while making witty observations about being "the only" and exploring class issues that it managed to not only hold my attention but also cause me to pause and think after reading a passage. The only negative I can see is that it confirmed my fears about the beauty industry in terms of its shallowness. But it's a unique (for me) professional setting for a book so it kept me turning the pages. This book was published in 2004, 12 years later it's sad that we're still having the same conversations. Through Billie the author tackles cultural appropriation (which Bille calls "ethnic borrowing" in the beauty and fashion industry and maybe it's just because of the rise of the Internet and public intellectuals and blogging but it had honestly never occurred to me that people were having these conversations pre-Twitter. That demonstrates my ignorance and I was happy to be enlightened while also being sad that white gaze still has so much power over beauty standards. Although it is getting better because it is harder for beauty companies, fashion companies and magazines to ignore being called out when they "discover" some trend people of color have been naturally gifted with/been doing/wearing for years.Aside from the pleasing depth of the novel, it's a quick paced read. I actually felt caught up in Billie's sweeping romance and just as intoxicated as she did, I didn't want to resurface from her studio apartment. Honestly I'd like a prequel so that we can live vicariously through Billie, Renee and Vida's college years. And I'm so happy her friends served more of a role than just providing advice at Sunday brunch. Also Billie's family dynamics were absolutely hilarious and unexpected. I dealt with similar issues to Billie and Jay although not on as large a scale, granted I'm not a professional (yet) but I can relate to the class issues that come up in a relationship with two different economic backgrounds. And not to be a cliche but especially when it's the woman who comes from the comfortable lifestyle and the preconceived notions that we have/that other have about us, difficulty is involved and so on a personal level I was able to really connect with Billie (and better understand Jay).[...]

Opting Out: Losing the Potential of America's Young Black Elite

Fri, 26 Feb 2016 17:49:00 +0000

Opting Out: Losing the Potential of America's Young Black Elite by Maya Beasley 2011U Chicago Press IQ "Further, because racism is endemic and built into the structure and institutions of American life, attacking inequalities in a minimal number of areas via a small number of channels is limiting. [...] Radicalized occupations are neither ineffectual nor obsolete, but they are no longer sufficient to create the wide-ranging, long-term changes that are needed by the African American communities these students wish to serve. It is therefore imperative that black college students become better informed about the full spectrum of career opportunities that are compatible with their community service goals" (143).One sentence review: A thought provoking read that greatly contrasted with my own personal experiences which was somewhat confusing but the author makes some extremely vital points in concise language that deserves to receive more attention.I have no problem with the premise of this book as outlined in the quote, we need more people of color in STEM, business, films and law. I personally can attest to this "The emergent trend is that black students with segregated social networks are selecting occupations that directly target the black community and ones in which they will not feel isolated. In contrast, those with integrated networks are choosing a more varied set of careers which are generally higher-paying and higher status with less of a direct emphasis on African Americans" (73). HOWEVER to me there is a disconnect between that quote and Beasley's findings on stereotype threat. Her findings (after interviewing Black and white Stanford and Berkley students) found that stereotype threat affected Black students' career decisions. I do not completely buy this. I do not understand how she does not explore the possibility of a correlation between class, diverse social networks and stereotype threat. Granted I'm not sure the university I went to is considered "elite" but when I look at the Black people I know who had diverse friend groups and went to all white schools and participated in mostly white activities, they are entering field where Black people are not dominant. Myself included. It just does not make sense to me that someone who grew up in an environment like the one I just outlined would then resist entering predominantly white fields. Beasley notes that they are often discouraged by their parents who are in similar fields, my parents have never told me not to enter a career simply because of white people. Sure they prepared me as best as they could for the little comments that might come my way but they never took a warning or discouraging tone. I'm willing to chalk this up to generational differences. The book is published in 2011 but cites a lot of studies from the 90s/early 2000s so maybe things really have changed in the last few years. But I read this book and had no idea who she was talking about when discussing the patterns of upper middle class Blacks.Now with that being said, her research backed up some of my personal experiences as well, such as the alienation some Black students feel when they chose not to fully immerse themselves in the on campus Black community. But I wish she had further explored why Black students from working class or lower middle class families are more active than those who come from a wealthier background (and yes I have a few thoughts on the matter but I won't get into it). The importance of connections and how that leaves marginalized groups behind is also well addressed. I do not want to give this book a bad review because it conflicts with my worldview; I thought it was an extremely interesting read that presented intriguing findings and analysis. However I think this would have been more effective if she surveyed a greater variety of students maybe waited a few years or talked to students at an Ivy League or liberal arts college in the East. I hope she does a follow up. I would love to hear other people's thoughts in the comme[...]


Tue, 23 Feb 2016 23:51:00 +0000

Negroland: a memoir by Margo Jefferson 2015Pantheon/Knopf DoubledayIQ "Average American women were killed like this [by men in crimes of passion] every day. But we weren't raised to be average women; we were raised to be better than most women of either race. White women, our mothers reminded us pointedly, could afford more of these casualties. There were more of them, weren't there? There were always more white people. There were so few of us, and it had cost so much to construct us. Why were we dying?" 168There is so much to unpack here, so many quotes I want to discuss, which I will do later on in the review but if you only want to read one paragraph I'll try to make this one tidy.One sentence review: There is something new to focus on with every reading and like all great works of literature there is something for everyone, the writing is flowery but I mean that in the best way possible.I fell in love with the life of Margo Jefferson and the history of the Black American elite (think Our Kind of People). I would say I'm on the periphery of the Negroland world so much of what Jefferson describes is vaguely familiar to me but obviously I am not a product of the '50s and '60s so that was all new to me. I appreciated Jefferson's honesty that she finds it difficult to be 100% vulnerable, I imagine that is part of why she chooses to focus so much on the historical. But at least she doesn't pretend that she will bare her soul, but she still manages to go pretty damn far for someone who believes it is easier to write about the sad/racist things. Jefferson eloquently explores the black body, class, Chicago, gender, mental illness and race from when she was a child into adulthood with a touch of dry humor here and there. Jefferson is the epitome of the cool aunt and I want to just sit at her feet everyday and learn (I was fortunate to hear her speak at U of C and it was magical, her voice is heavenly and she's FUNNY).I understand complaints that the narrative is disjointed but Jefferson always manages to bring her tangents back to the main point. It is not simply random ramblings the author indulges in, each seemingly random thought serves a purpose that connects to the central theme of the chapter/passage. Jefferson does not owe us anything, yes she chose to write a memoir but she also chose to write a social history. She explores some of her flaws and manages to avoid what she so feared;  "I think it's too easy to recount unhappy memories when you write about yourself. You bask in your own innocence. You revere your grief. You arrange your angers at their most becoming angles. I don't want this kind of indulgence to dominate my memories" (6). For someone raised to be twice as good and only show off to the benefit of the Black race, Jefferson thankfully manages to let us in on far more than I expected when it comes to the Black elite.Jefferson comes at my life when she says, "At times I'm impatient with younger blacks who insist they were or would have been better off in black schools, at least from pre-K through middle school. They had, or would have had, a stronger racial and social identity, an identity cleansed of suspicion, subterfuge, confusion, euphemism, presumption, patronization, and disdain. I have no grounds for comparison. The only schools I ever went to were white schools with small numbers of Negroes" (119). I too attended majority white schools and have often wondered if I would have had an easier time identifying with other Black students in college (and even high school) if I had gone to majority Black schools instead of remaining on the periphery. She goes on to explain her impatience because she felt that for the first few years of school she was able to live her life unaware of race and I would agree, there were only a few incidents but mostly I felt free. So she's right, it's a trade off and ultimately we all end up in the same white world. I still think I should have gone to an HBCU just to see what it's like, to force myself to confront my own[...]

Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class

Fri, 15 Aug 2014 12:31:00 +0000

Quick note: I want to do more than just YA/MG (and slowly transition out of MG because it doesn't hold my interest anymore really. So the rest of those MG reviews that pop up will be for books that were already sent to me). I want to include lengthier reviews of non-fiction and adult fiction and 'new adult' (really young adult would be the technical title in my opinion), especially non-fiction books that pique my interest in discussions like the followingOur Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class by Lawrence Otis Graham, 1999/2000HarperCollinsRating: 4.5/5IQ (selfish quote since it's about my hometown) "But even with a legacy of such well-heeled black businessmen and even with its history of serving as the hometown for the first three blacks-Oscar DePriest, Arthur Mitchell, and William Dawson-to serve in a post-Reconstruction U.S. Congress, Chicago and its black elite remain a conundrum when students from other cities with large black populations analyze Chicago's inability to elect local black leaders with any consistency. Unlike Atlanta, Washington, Detroit, New Orleans, and other cities with a long history of a black elite, Chicago has managed to elect only one black mayor. It has done no better than communities like Minneapolis, Seattle, or Denver-cities that have elected black mayors with newer and smaller black populations." pg. 192The author dives into the world of the Black elite and major cities, short and sweet summary.There is a lot of vitriol on the Goodreads page of this book which I think is unnecessary, people seemed to miss the point of this book. The author is apologetic at times, he doesn't condone the elitist attitudes of the Black upper class, a world he inhabits. I thought the writing was concise and the story elements flowed, a lot of names are thrown around but the author always takes the time to throw out some defining characteristics. It's an ambitious book and I commend the author for writing about an element of Black culture that NEVER gets talked about. I admit I think of my family as solidly middle class with a touch of upper middle class. Psh not according to this book. All we have 'going' for us is that we are in Jack & Jill. I do think this book needs to be updated, my Jack & Jill experiences were vastly different from the author's and I would love to know what the Black elite thought of the Obamas (my guess is that the old guard wouldn't be super fond of them based on the one interview I was able to find, regarding the Obamas first trip to Martha's Vineyard) but they may be more open-minded than I think.The author traces the history of the Black upper class, delves into the world of the 'right' colleges for Black students to attend (the Ivies and the top HBCUs and Wellesley) and a little bit about the secret world of Black fraternities and sororities (Alphas, AKAs, Deltas, Omegas). He then discusses the post-college groups (the Boule, the Links, the Girl Friends) and activities that affluent Blacks are involved in and takes the time to cover the history of the Black elite in every major city (Chicago, NYC, DC, Atlanta) as well as some smaller cities (Memphis, Philly, etc). There is even a chapter dedicated to passing (which I feel like no one does anymore but I have no evidence). Obviously some of the attitudes made me cringe, some were downright ignorant. But I don't think this book engaged in race-bashing, the author quotes the people he interviewed (many do not want their names included for obvious reasons) to give you an idea of the 'secret' (aka ignored) lives of the Black upper class, he airs some dirty laundry but also highlights the many positive ways they contribute to Black culture and uplift.Our Kind of People takes a hard look at some snobs but also some people who genuinely want to use their money to do good things for the Black community. There are doses of classism but it's also a fascinating (and to me welcome) look at a lengthy period of history in which the accomplishmen[...]

Throwback Thursday: Ship of Souls

Fri, 15 Aug 2014 00:16:00 +0000

Ship of Souls by Zetta Elliott (2011, ARC) Amazon PublishingRating: 3.5/5IQ "Kids on my block called 'reject'. Grown folks at church called me an 'old soul'. One girl at school told me I talked like a whiteboy. But when I ask Mom about it she just said, 'you are black. And nothing you say, or do, or pretend to be will ever change that fact. So just be yourself, Dmitri. Be who you are." pg. 3Dmitri, known as D, is living with a foster family after his mother dies of breast cancer. D is used to having his foster mom all to himself, when she takes in Mercy, a crack-addicted baby he finds himself unable to cope. He is at a new school and while tutoring he becomes friend with Hakeem, a basketball star who needs extra math help and Nyla, a military brat both boys have crushes on. Sometimes after school D bird watches in Prospect Park and he discovers a mysterious bird, Nuru that can communicate with him. He enlists Hakeem and Nyla to help him help Nuru (who is injured) escape evil forces, the ghosts of soldiers that died during the Revolutionary War. They journey from Brooklyn to the African Burial Ground in Manhattan to assist Nuru in freeing the souls that reside there.I wish some of the fantasy elements had been developed a bit further, such as Nuru's role, his dialogue also came across sounding a little ridiculous and heavy on the 'wise mentor' scale. The characters did come across as having a message. It is made very clear that Hakeem is Muslim and Nyla is 'different from the stereotype. I wish the individuality of the characters had come off in a more subtle way (for example when Hakeem describes how his older sister listed all Muslim basketball players to convince his dad to let him play. And then Hakim lists them all and weaves in tidbits about the hijab. It came across as stilted for middle school dialogue). But then again this book is intended for a younger audience who need it hammered in that it's dangerous to define people and put them in boxes. I also wish the book had been longer just by a few chapters, selfishly because I wanted more historical tidbits but also because I felt that the fantasy elements happened so fast as did the sudden strong friendship with Hakeem and Nyla. And the love triangle made me sad but that's not the author's fault! Although I would have been happy without it.Yet again Zetta Elliott seamlessly blends together history and fantasy, Black American history that is often ignored in textbooks. Unlike the descriptions of the characters I found the historical tidbits woven in artfully. There are so many goodies in here about the importance of working with other people, that heroes need not go it alone. This is especially vital because the author makes it explicitly clear that D is unbearably lonely but he keeps himself isolated from other people because he doesn't want to be abandoned or disappointed or lose them in a tragic way as happened with his mother. The author does a great job of making you truly feel and understand D's loneliness and your heart aches for him. Also while I didn't think the friendship had enough time to really grow into the strong bonds that developed so quickly, it was a very genuine friendship (once you suspend your disbelief) in terms of doing anything and everything for your friends and believing the seemingly improbable. It is also clear that the author has a strong appreciation of nature and that makes the fantasy elements more interesting while also making it appear more realistic.Ship of Souls is a great story that focuses on a portion and population of the American Revolution that is completely ignored by most history outlets. The fantasy world is well-thought out, I only wish the book had been longer to explain more about the world D and his friends get involved in as well as more time to believably develop their friendship. The characters are strong, but they were written with a heavy hand that tries hard to point out how they defy stereotypes. [...]

The GQ Candidate + Government Girl

Mon, 19 Aug 2013 11:45:00 +0000

The GQ Candidate by Keli Goff, 2011Atria Books/Simon & SchusterRating: 3/5IQ "Well, there's not much left to say except that I'm really glad I wore my Manolos today, because if I'm going to insert my foot this far in my mouth I at least want to be wearing nice shoes", Mimi pg. 349Luke Cooper started out as a state senator and was then recruited to run on the Michigan governor's ticket as lieutenant governor, they won but due to a sex scandal Luke became Michigan's first Black (and Jewish by adoption) governor and one of the youngest governor. His ratings are soaring and due to some remarkably good luck concerning acts of goodwill (such as defending a white nationalist from injury while a group of white nationalists were protesting his policies) that involved social media the rest of the country has a vague inkling of who he is. Some of his friends and mentors advise him to run for president and he throws his hat into the ring for the Democratic presidential nomination. With the help of a loyal, talented group of friends Luke feels confident with his decision to enter the race but it will affect those he loves far more than he could have ever imagined.It felt like the author was sick of upper class/upper middle class Black people not being portrayed in fiction so she peppered her novel with them. I understand and appreciate her intention but the delivery left a lot to be desired. Luke's family was cheesy in its perfection, even its quarrels felt forced and ridiculous. Everyone had these great personal backgrounds from the oldest characters being Freedom Riders to the youngest being successful and powerful in their respective careers. Not all characters were perfect but it was hard to focus on their flaws when I could barely keep them straight. The narration plodded on and I think the author should have instead focused on Luke and his immediate family instead of Luke's family, friends and his friends of friends. The book was very long in order to accommodate all these characters and the gazillion plot lines (or so it seemed) which was frustrating when the book reached the end and a rather dramatic moment was rushed through. Furthermore the book ends with Luke making a crucial decision and although I can guess what he chooses, I think that since this book was all about politics (in a way) it should have ended with him actually making a political decision.This book is about a presidential campaign but politics do not enter the equation which keeps it from being a polarizing read due to controversial issues. While Luke is a Democratic, a variety of political affiliations are mentioned but since the issues are not delved into its inconsequential. Instead the book focuses on how political campaigns are run, the people behind the scenes of the candidate, the media's relationship to a campaign and networking and fundraising. It was nice to read a book with such a dream cast, I just wish the author had either taken the presidential campaign storyline out of it (and instead focused on a group of highly educated Black friends post-college living life) or narrowed down the cast of characters. The book was a slow read but Luke and his friends are a highly entertaining bunch, try to ignore the lack of plot and while you will most likely get frustrated at the ending The GQ Candidate is still a good read.PS Fact: I bought this book at my Borders as it was closing. So this book will always be associated with that, I even still have the receipt that says 'final sale'. SadnessPPS: I know everyone else read this as Barack Obama-like but I actually related Luke Cooper more so to Cory Booker. Anyway just a thoughtGovernment Girl: Young and Female in the White House by Stacy Parker Aab 2010Ecco/HarperCollinsRating: 2.5/5IQ "If I have one wish for America, it is my hope that when our leaders stumble, as they will, when they hurt others and themselves, which is inevitable, that we will be as compassiona[...]

Girl Meets Boy

Mon, 10 Jun 2013 05:00:00 +0000

Girl Meets Boy: Because There Are Two Sides to Every Story; edited by Kelly Milner Halls, featuring stories by Chris Crutcher, Kelly Milner Halls, Jospeh Bruchac, Cynthia Leitich Smith, James Howe, Ellen Wittlinger, Rita Williams-Garcoa. Terry Trueman, Terry Davis, Rebecca Fjelland Davis, Sara Ryan & Randy Powell (ARC version) 2012Chronicle BooksRating: 2.5/5IQ "I know this shouldn't be anything, shouldn't matter, but for some reason it does matter to me; Raffina is black, and I'm white. Of course, she's not really black any more than I'm really white. She's kind of dark brown, no, kind of medium brownish. I'm definitely sort of beige or something, light beige, tinted pink or red depending on how much time I spend in the sun (I don't tan, I just burn). Maybe a better way to put this is that Raffina's ancestors came from Africa, and my ancestors came from....I don't know....not Africa. Someplace like England or Germany or Canada or something." Sean + Raffina, Sean pg. 117 (Trueman)Twelve authors, 6 stories, straight and gay relationships. One author tells the story from the guy's point of view, the other tells the story from the girl's point of view. I picked the quote I did because it made me laugh in its simplicity and truth. The back of the book describes this as a "collection of he said/she said stories" but I was disappointed in that regard. Instead these are stories about the differences between guys and girls ways of thinking but I was expecting each story to be about one situation/conflict told from the perspective of the guy and girl. Those sort of stories would have been more appealing in my opinion. The stories also did not seem to mesh well with the other half of the story, let alone the stories included in the overall collection and since they ended up not all being about romantic relationships I found it a bit confusing. I know short stories have to be short but these seemed to be too quick, the main character was developed but the other characters introduced sort of floundered. Furthermore found most of the characters to be rather forgettable and I was not particularly invested in the outcome of the so-called relationship. I also never thought I would say this but..the stories needed more romance. They just seemed bland. I did really enjoy the story 'Love or Something Like It' (its Chris Crutcher, who I love) and its complementary story, 'Some Things Never Change' (Halls) because they really took stereotypes and turned them on its head with the jock and the 'slut'. I felt Cynthia Leitich Smith and Joseph Bruchac did a good job of actually linking up their stories in  'Falling Down to see the Moon' (Bruchac) and 'Mooning Over Broken Stars' (Smith). And 'Launchpad to Neptune' (Sara Ryan & Randy Powell) is absolutely fascinating, it actually had a plot twist that I did not see coming and had well developed characters besides the main ones. There are points in each story that are relatable and while each story has one major issue and its all rather straightforward, they are stories that need to be told especially for those who need to get over their own prejudices. Books like these might help gently prod them to rethink their antipathy to dating someone outside their race, or to disapprove of those who are gay or lesbian or to judge people based on the number of people they may or may not have slept with.Girl Meets Boy contains a collection of short and sweet stories from some of the best talents in the YA world and while I think these stories might have been more memorable if they were longer/a book of their own, better to have a little of the story than none at all. The stories can be heavy-handed at times and the supporting characters fell flat (and the cover's weird) but they are interesting. I also loved the last bit at the end where each of the authors (except Rita Williams Garcia, who I really wanted to hear from) share[...]


Tue, 04 Jun 2013 05:30:00 +0000

Irises by Francisco X. Stork, 2012Arthur A. Levine/ScholasticRating: 3/5IQ "Mary smiled. She always smiled when people said living family. It meant that people didn't stop being family when they died; they just turned into your dead family" pg. 14418 year old Kate wants to be a doctor, 16 year old Mary wants to be an artist. Both girls must put their dreams on hold when their strict father dies, leaving Kate as Mary's legal guardian since their mother is in a permanent vegetative state. Her father told Kate that family always comes first, even if that means Kate needs to hold off on Stanford. Further complicating the matter is that Simon, Kate's boyfriend, has asked her to marry him in order to provide for both her and Mary. Meanwhile Mary is drawn to Marcos, a boy with artistic talent but a violent past. The girls are struggling over the death of their father, accepting their different personalities but what may be the final wedge between them is the decision regarding their mother. They can no longer afford to pay the medical bills keeping her in her vegetative state but she is their mother.... I love Francisco Stork's books. Long time readers of this blog know that, I adored Marcelo in the Real World and was quite fond of The Last Summer of the Death Warriors. Unfortunately I found Irises to be my last favorite Stork book thus far. Granted, this was bound to happen but the summary was so good that my hopes were quite high. All this being said, it was difficult for me to put my finger on why I did not like this book. It just didn't work for me. Part of the issue was that Stork raises juggles so many balls in the air, in a way that I did not find effective. I wish he had stuck to two or three issues (such as the issue of whether or not to pull the plug and how to cope with their new-found independence) and focused on really fleshing out the secondary characters (such as Simon and even Mary). I found the issue of life support inadequately explored, even though I had thought that was at the whole heart of the book. I did find it interesting that the girls (especially Mary since she was younger) did not go crazy or at least engage in more normal teenage acts that their father had previously forbidden. Of course most people don't immediately go party after the death of a parent, but I was surprised that very little mention was made about bigger temptations of Mary and Kate (such as going to the mall, an act their father did not allow). Both girls seem to be losing their way where their Christian faith is concerned and I felt that Mr. Stork did a good job of subtly addressing the questions that arise when one has a crisis of faith and whether or not you can return to your faith. I also found it really interesting that the author made the girls Protestant. This was a note of interest to me because the girls are Latino and I'm Latino, and I have grown up around mostly Catholic Latinos so I found this new world of Protestant Latinos quite intriguing (of course not all experiences are the same but the book gave me a basic idea). I thought the idea of marriage-as-an-escape was an issue well-explored, even if its a concept many people do not realize is prevalent. Kate was also a great multidimensional character as was the pastor, Andy Soto. I found their interweaving storyline to be the best in the book (it is mostly Kate's story) and very believable. Ultimately Irises left me indifferent, I certainly don't hate it but I did not love it or even enjoy the book all that much. However the writing is mostly strong, with a few secondary characters left underdeveloped. The book mostly suffers from having too many plots and setbacks occurring. Its strength lies in the simple, effective writing and the realistic dialogue. The issue of faith was portrayed in a respectful, non-preachy manner which made the book more compelling. What did [...]

Chain Reaction

Fri, 11 Jan 2013 12:17:00 +0000

Chain Reaction by Simone Elkeles 2011 (Perfect Chemistry trilogy #3)Walker & Company/Bloomsbury PublishingRating: 2/5IQ "If I touch him, I could lose my nerve and let him explain away" Nikki, pg. 225This is the final book in the Perfect Chemistryy trilogy and my review is spoiler-free (not just for this book but also for the previous 2 books in the series). Luis is the youngest of the 3 Fuentes brothers and unlike Alex and Carlos he has lived a relatively gang-free life. Until he moves back to Fairfield, Illinois the suburb rife with Latino Blood gang members who want him to join and be a leader like his brother Alex used to be. Nikki Cruz is the girl who has captivated Luis, mostly because she won't talk to him or allow him to get close to her. She's suspicious of his Latino Blood associations, she refuses to date LB gang members. Luis doesn't know if he wants to join the LB or no and Nikki doesn't know what will happen if she allows Luis to get close to her I picked the quote I did not because its majorly inspiring but because I think it captures a key moment in relationships, when you know that the person you're with messed up but that you will forgive them as soon as they 'say the right things' and touch you or hold you a certain way. When really that person needs to forget about 'the right words' and be honest. Anyway, I love this series and this is the book I was most looking forward to it but it doesn't compare to the first book. Or the second. Its my least favorite in the trilogy and there are a lot of elements about it that I really didn't like. I hated the ending. Not the epilogue, the LB violent ending (and no I didn't not like it because of the violence but because of who ended the violence). I also hated the family revelation. I thought it was a cheap way of shocking the reader and took away some of the appeal of the series. Granted the brothers handled it sweetly but still, it was a completely unnecessary family surprise. Also there wasn't much time spent with the beginning stages of Nikki & Luis' relationship. I totally understand lust-at-first-sight but it didn't stay that way and I wish the author had shown us how they grew to be so close. I did appreciate the fact that this book is so much different from its predecessors, in ways both good and bad. On the positive end, it was nice to see the girl portrayed realistically as always but also fairly un-Saintlike. The book did maintain its steamy, well-written romance scenes for teens, which are its strong suit. Along with the well-written characters ranging from Nikki & Luis to even minor characters such as Marco, Officer Cesar Reyes and the strong plot and setting of the story. Both Nikki & Luis are extremely headstrong and sometimes this stubbornness causes them to make foolish, prideful decisions. And then they have to deal with the fallout. It does all clean up tidily in the end, but its process and watching the characters try to pick themselves back up and make up for their poor decisions is rewarding and realistic and always refreshing to see.Chain Reaction had almost all the right elements of being a good story but ultimately for me, two big plot twists ruined the rest of the book. While Chain Reaction bordered on the ridiculous at certain points, I was glad to read about the  youngest Fuentes brother and the people in his life, including the fiery-but-not-in-a-stereotypical-way Nikki. I loved that Nikki felt out of place amongst Mexicans even though she's Mexican American, she expressed feelings I definitely emphasized with and recognized. I would still highly recommend this series, the books are fun, hot, a great representation of teenage life (especially in Chicagoland suburbs) and there's never a dull moment.Disclosure: Received from Lyn. Thank you so much![...]

Male Monday: What You Wish For

Mon, 07 Jan 2013 23:55:00 +0000

What You Wish For: Your favorite authors write to honor Darfur 2011
Edited by Stacey Barney, Foreword by Mia Farrow, stories & poems by Alexander McCall Smith, Meg Cabot, Jeanne DuPrau,  Cornelia Funke, Nikki Giovanni, John Green, Karen Hesse, Ann M. Martin, Marilyn Nelson, Naomi Shihab Nye, Joyce Carol Oates, Nate Powell, Sofia Quintero, R. L. Stine, Gary Soto, Francisco X. Stork, Cynthia Voight & Jane Yolen

Ratings: 3/5

IQ "Do you think wishes just happen?" she demanded. "Stars are busy. They can't sit around all day, making every single one of our wishes come true all by themselves. They need a little help from us. I know if I really want a pony, I need to be like you and go out and earn the money to buy one, like you did with your bike." Jenny to her brother, Dave pgs. 55-56

 This is an anthology of short stories about wishes, the proceeds go to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

 I liked Jane Yolen's poem "Wishes" and the stories "Reasons" by John Green and "The Rules For Wishing" by Francisco Stork are the best. "Reasons" contains lists after lists and its about Micah, who happens to be in love with Aisha Hussain. Aisha lives in the disputed region of Kashmir, Micah's mother is sponsoring her through For the Children. Its a slightly amusing but really sweet story. There are also photographs throughout the book that may serve as an introduction to the lives of refugee children.

But none of these stories truly stuck with me, I read this anthology awhile ago sometime in the summer and remember few of the stories. I wish there had been a few stories about actual Darfur refugees and the people who work to assist the refugees. Most of the characters in the stories were two-dimensional and very plot-driven. Its perfectly fine for a book to be plot driven but only when the characters are strongly represented and I did not find that to be the case in all the stories.

 What You Wish For is worth buying because a few of the stories are excellent and the proceeds go to a worthy charity. Younger readers especially may enjoy these stories.

Another one of my favorite quotes comes from one of my favorites stories, "Reasons"
"I cannot be held responsible for the fact that Aisha Hussain has truly asserting eyes,, and it's important when sitting at my desk doing homework occasionally to be reminded that there are people for whom going to school is not an unbearable burden, but instead an exciting opportunity." Micah, pg. 115

Mon, 19 Nov 2012 21:21:00 +0000


Mini Reviews: This Side of the Sky, Passing Love & Paris Noire

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 03:34:00 +0000

This Side of the Sky by Elyse Singleton 2002      Bluehen Books/PenguinIQ "Old people used to say there comes a time when you remember fifty, sixty years ago as if it were last week, but damn if you can remember last week at all. They were right. Every generation thinks their time is the time and talks about the resent as if it's some stable territory they can occupy indefinitely. Yet when we say now, by the time we get to the w sound, the n is in the past."  Lilian, pg. 8Lilian Mayfield and Myraleen Chadham grew up in Nadir, Mississippi and they've been friends since they were babies. Nadir soon grows too stifling for both of them, Lilian wants a great education which she can't receive in the segregated South and Myraleen wants an adventure. Circumstances soon arrive that make it prudent for them to leave town and they travel about from Philadelphia to joining the Army and serving in England and then settling down in post WWII Paris for awhile. They struggle financially, learn about love and suffer through some trying times and tough losses, but they always, always, have each other.  This book took sooo long to get started. I was hoping the girls would run away soon but it felt like it took them forever to decide to leave Mississippi and even then it wasn't really of their own free will. I also felt that parts of the story were implausible and while I was happy that some things occured, other events happened that seemed too coincidental so overall I'm going to say the book could have been more realistic to life. Furthermore I would have liked to get the perspective of August or some other guy to balance out the trio of Lilian, Myraleen and Kellner (a German POW). I loved the character of Myraleen, she's a spitfire uttering statements like "once I hate a bastard, I hate him forever. I guess I'm just loyal that way" (pg. 68), who wouldn't love a character like that? I also really liked Lilian, her quiet strength spoke volumes louder than Myraleen's tough dialogue. They have a beautiful friendship from the very beginning and the core of the book, the best part-next to the characters of the cities they pass through-is their enduring friendship that goes through some bumps but always heals. I also loved Mudear, Lilian's mother. Tough as nails but super sweet as well and even though she didn't finish her high school education she's still whip-smart. It's funny, one exchange between Mudear and Lilian stands out for me because it holds truths that still apply today. "Mudear read aloud anything she saw about colored people. 'See there', she'd say. 'Negro Holds Up Store. That's why we can't get anywhere. We don't know how to act.;'But, Mudear,' I said. 'plenty of white people stick up stores, rob banks. And you don't see a headline saying 'White Man Robs Bank'.'Got a point. [...] See, that's why I sent you to school, so you could think. Not too many folks can think. A lot can only talk. Better if it was the other way around" (pg. 81). The historical details were intriguing as well, especially learning about German POWs. I didn't know German POWs were lent out to farms in America and I didn't know how bad the Russians treated them. This book provided a more humane look and reminds readers not all Germans were Nazi, something that should strike people as obvious and yet it still bears repeating.  This Side of the Sky is not overpowered by the strong personalities of the places Myraleen and Lilian visit, instead the dominant aspect is the friendship of the girls. They have different dreams but they also want the best for each other and are willing to sacrifice themselves for the other to ge a chance at her dreams, at her own sense of happiness. An attitude like that can o[...]

Literacy Around the World: College Essay Style

Thu, 29 Mar 2012 01:38:00 +0000

*This is basically a filler post but the ideas I touched on in this essay (250 word limit) are ones that I hope to expand upon further on this blog and in the comments section of other people's blogs. I adamantly believe that one of the best ways to increase literacy rates is by having more diversity in literature whether its via a) characters from cultures all over the world, b) translating classics/adult fiction/young adult/childrens books in the native language into English for Western audiences and c)investing in local authors and for publishers to help them foster their talent and create a market for more YA/childrens/adult books in the particular country.

Initially, the room made my bookworm heart swell with joy. The bookshelf was piled with books, there were cozy-looking chairs, but to my dismay all the books at the women’s center were in English. The center is located in San Lucas Toliman, a small town in Guatemala and no one speaks English. I visited this women’s center during my summer service trip to Guatemala. I realized that while it is wonderful to donate books; we need more books written in native languages. In developing countries, writing as a profession is not an option. In countries where people are struggling to meet their basic needs, it is important to develop and preserve their culture through writing. Publishers must encourage and compensate aspiring writers. There are currently few programs in these countries to foster literary talent. By publishing translated works and works by native authors, publishers will expand their outreach and reach new consumers. Children are more likely to be interested in reading a story with a protagonist who shares a similar cultural background which creates a deeper connection.

The literacy organization Room to Read has an excellent initiative known as their Local Language Publishing programs. Its founder John Wood has said “We are seeking the Dr. Seuss of Cambodia.” We need more programs like this to publish and distribute books written in a variety of languages that are easier for children to connect with. We also need more translated books and publishers willing to take on this project by investing a little more money than usual. I love reading and I want everyone else to have the same passion for literature that I do. Reading teaches tolerance and encourages readers to use their imaginations. These qualities will enable our future leaders to think of creative solutions for the problems facing society. I dream of the day when everyone can see their culture reflected within the pages of books and be able to proclaim themselves bibliophiles in their own language.

To see if I got in to a certain school based on this essay, highlight to read (haha): NO =/ But I'll survive. Any recommendations of excellent translated books? Ideas on fun ways to improve literacy around the world?  Am I way off with my ideas? Do tell! I promise I read your comments and reply to them in my head, I just have a hard time remembering to reply online sometimes (:

The Agency: The Traitor in the Tunnel

Tue, 13 Mar 2012 14:44:00 +0000

The Traitor in the Tunnel (The Agency #3) by Y.S. Lee 2012Candlewick PressRating: 4/5 IQ "All the feelings she had long suppressed overcame her at last, making her stagger. It was like a physical blow: she not just alone, but lonely. The solitary sate was nothing new, of course. But she was lonely now for different reasons. She was lonely despite the possibility of family-perhaps because of that very likelihood. Because she might not be absolutely truly alone, after all, and she might have preferred it so." Mary pg. 98 Mary Quinn is officially an agent and she is determined to do exceptionally well on her first assignment. To her dismay, she is given a "boring" case in which a petty thief is stealing inconsequential things from Buckingham Palace. Mary is placed as a maid in Queen Victoria's court in order to prevent any future thefts and discover the identity of the thief. But while Mary grows impatient with her case another arises when the Prince of Wales witnesses a murder in an opium den. The queen does not want him to testify due to the scandal and Mary's interest is piqued further when she learns that the accused killer may be someone she is quite familiar with. Compared to the other two books, this one left me disappointed in terms of the mystery. The mystery element seemed to be completely disregarded at times. Worse, the conclusion was random and anti-climatic. It was not nearly as exciting or interesting as I had hoped. I read this as though it would be the final book in the trilogy (it was originally supposed to be a trilogy and it is the 3rd book) so perhaps that explains some of the ambiguity in terms of the motives of certain characters (lady-in-waiting, Octavius Jones, Anne & Felicity). Nevertheless I am still baffled as to why the criminal(s) committed the crimes that they did. I chose the quote I did because I can relate to not necessarily wanting company, to preferring being alone but not lonely. But what this book lacks in terms of mystery development, it more than makes up for it on the romance front. James & Mary have the most engaging of exchanges, especially at the end. They both have a wry sense of humor, stubborn nature, a love of adventure and a belief in fairness for all. They make a wonderfully exasperating team which makes the storyline all the more fun. I was thrilled that we finally learned more about Mary's past, this is when new twists are thrown into the story and everything untangles in a way that makes sense. As always the best part of the book is Mary Quinn herself (with Mary&James a close second). Mary is extremely resourceful, it is amusing to see how frustrated she gets with this case in which no gossip is allowed at the palace, thus how is she to discover information? Never doubt that Mary Quinn will find a way to obtain the information she wants. Mary's resilience is inspiring, and I love the author's focus on her working-class origins as well as the daily life of other working-class people. I think many historical novels today want to focus solely on the wealthy or upper middle class, it's nice to see a book that does not shy away from describing the poverty of Victorian England and the grinding lives of the English and immigrant working class. I needed a lovely historical fiction read, one that reminded me of why I loved studying history so much and The Traitor in the Tunnel more than delivered on that front. I appreciated the personal glimpses of Queen Victoria when she was not playing her role as THE QUEEN, instead the author paints a portray of a Queen Victoria who bore a great weight on her shoulders but who also loved her family and lots of laughter, she had a mischievous spirit. I felt that this book in the serie[...]

Literacy Organization Spotlight: Gone Reading

Tue, 13 Mar 2012 04:15:00 +0000

Recently I was emailed by Gone Reading International asking if I would be interested in receiving a coupon for my blog readers. I checked out the website and I really support their mission. Gone Reading International sells bookish things (everything except books) such as book lights, book journals, bookmarks, book-related games and boo(image) k-related T-shirts. The coupon code is READINGINCOLOR25. Expires April 11 (the coupon)!
To the left is my favorite T-shirt, it says Take Me to Your Reader :)

But this post is not meant to be free ad-space rather I love that Gone Reading International donates 100% of our after-tax profits to provide new funding for libraries and reading-centered non-profits. By purchasing GoneReading brand gifts and merchandise, you’re treating yourself and the world at large to a wonderful gift. All purchases from GoneReading help contribute to our philanthropic work. In the Developing World we donate to great non-profits such as READ Global and Ethiopia Reads, amazing organizations with proven models, long track records, and dedicated teams on the ground. Such groups partner with local villages and communities in the most underdeveloped parts of the world to create new libraries that effect real change.In the United States, Canada, United Kingdom & AustraliaGoneReading is currently piloting a fundraising program to raise money for public libraries and reading-centered non-profit organizations within the U.S. Details are still pending. Although our company just started in 2011, our goal is to provide significant financial assistance to libraries around the world, allowing them to achieve greater scale and impact."

They also have a blog and book suggestions. Check it out and be swayed to buy something proclaiming your love of books (besides a book) while helping provide opportunities for future book lovers!

Victorian Obsessions Blog Tour with Y.S. Lee

Sun, 04 Mar 2012 03:17:00 +0000

I am a day late with this post which is mortifying. I will do better! Anyway I am ecstatic to re-introduce the wonderful author Ying Lee. Her The Agency trilogy, is one of my favorite trilogies and her final book, The Traitor in the Tunnel keeps the awesomeness rolling. In fact it's my favorite book in the series (but I said that about the second book too and I love the first book so don't listen to me ;) Y.S. Lee has written guest posts for me before and I love them because they are about history but it's history that probably won't be in your textbook (unless you have a really cool textbook that talks about notorious Victorians, Victorian obsessions and weird facts about Victorians). Read on! Victorian Obsession: OpiumWhat do you think of when I say, “opium”? Poppies, addiction, maybe the British Empire or hookahs? Well, what about babies? Let me explain. Opium was, of course, one of the great money-spinners of the British Empire. The British grew opium in British East India and sold it in China, where there was huge demand for it. That’s why the stereotype of the opium-addict is often that of a gaunt Chinese man lying beside a hookah. But, as with all stereotypes, that’s only part of the picture. Opium use was totally unregulated in England until the Pharmacy Act of 1868. This means that the first half of the nineteenth-century was basically a free-for-all in terms of drug use: anyone could sell it, and anyone could buy it. And as in China, opium merchants in England did a roaringtrade.One of opium’s most popular uses was in an alcohol tincture called laudanum, popularly used to calm the nerves, help sleep, and generally soothe the user. It was considered totally respectable, so ladies as well as gentlemen felt free to take it – and that’s what the British did, in vast quantities. And since opium was so effective and pleasant for adults, they also gave it to children.Some of the widely marketed “soothing syrups” for infants in the early nineteenth century were mixtures like Godfrey’s Cordial, which was made of opium, water, treacle (a sweetener), and spices. Other brands included Steedman’s Powder and Atkinson’s Royal Infants Preservative. These were immensely popular for use with ill babies. It makes sense: when children are ill, parents want them to feel better. Opium lessened the pain, and the sweetness of the syrups made sure the babies accepted them. Obviously, opium syrups were not good for babies. Even ignoring questions of addiction and brain development, babies given frequent doses of these syrups tended to be small and stunted, and were often described as “wizened”, or looking like little old men. The reason? They were too sleepy to eat, and became malnourished as a result.It’s impossible to know how many babies died of starvation as a result of opium syrups. But during the mid-nineteenth century, doctors suspected this was the case. Opium syrups were popular not just with parents of sick infants, but also unscrupulous nurses (who wanted children in their care to sleep a lot) and working-class parents (who were too exhausted from long working hours to deal with fussy babies). These are the most difficult deaths to trace, although it didn’t stop people from speculating. And this is the double standard of Victorian opium use: you could sit in your elegant drawing-room and denounce the sinful ways of Chinese opium addicts, lazy nurses, and the working poor, all while sipping a glass of sherry-and-laudanum to help you get a good night’s sleep. It’s a bitter irony. Rather like the taste of laudanum itself. Depressing topic? Um yes. Fascinating? Very! Thank you so much Ms.[...]

New Crayons (FINALLY) + Future Post Ideas

Sun, 26 Feb 2012 07:29:00 +0000

New Crayons is a meme hosted by Color Online in which participating bloggers share what new books they got for the week whether by buying them, going to the library, trading or as gifts.Except for one, these books all have one feature in common that makes me happy. Guess what it is.I've been thinking lately about what I want to write about on this blog. I've got plenty of books to review and I am slowly (but surely) finding the motivation to resume reviewing. I am open to suggestions; is there anything people would like to see me discuss? Or answer any questions? I have a few ideas but I am open to any others. For now I know that I want to write the following sometime soon (as in before I go to college):-resume my monthly literacy non-profit spotlight-Write a follow-up Jane Austen post (and respond to all the comments)-Read/review books about one country for one week in which there is a humanitarian crisis occurring (a la my Haiti week)-Publish my before-college bucket list-write a 2012 MG releases about kids of color post (a la my 2012 YA releases about teenagers of color)For those who are curious about my colleges so far I was accepted into Tulane University, University of Rochester, Loyola University Chicago, Fordham University and Northeastern University. If you have any thoughts on any of those colleges, feel free to share them since I have an idea of where I want to go but I'm not 100% sure yet. And I hear back from a few others in late March.Now for my New Crayons (most of the books arrived weeks ago) Ship of Souls by Zetta ElliottRelease Date: Feb 28When 11-year-old Dmitri (D) loses his mother to breast cancer, he finds himself taken in by an elderly white woman, Mrs. Martin. D loves to watch birds and, while in the park, is amazed to find an injured bird that can talk. He takes it home and soon learns there are malevolent forces inhabiting the region beneath Prospect Park and they are hunting for the bird; Nuru is a life force that has been kept hostage by the earthbound spirits who are ghosts of soldiers that died in the Revolutionary War. Nuru's mission is to guide the ship that will carry the souls of the dead back to her realm. D has been chosen as Nuru's host, and must carry the bird from Brooklyn to the African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan where the dead await deliverance.-Thank you so much Zetta and congratulations on the Booklist starred review! Zetta Elliott is one of my favorite authors after reading her debut, A Wish After Midnight so I'm impatiently waiting for school to settle down so I can devour this book. Cat Girl's Day Off by Kimberly PauleyRelease Date: April 1Natalie Ng’s little sister is a super-genius with a chameleon-like ability to disappear. Her older sister has three Class A Talents, including being a human lie detector. Her mom has laser vision and has one of the highest IQs ever. Her dad’s Talent is so complex even the Bureau of Extra-Sensory Regulation and Management (BERM) hardly knows what to classify him as. And Nat? She can talk to cats. The whole talking-to-cats thing is something she tries very hard to hide, except with her best friends Oscar (a celebrity-addicted gossip hound) and Melly (a wannabe actress). When Oscar shows her a viral Internet video featuring a famous blogger being attacked by her own cat, Nat realizes what’s really going on…and it’s not funny. (okay, yeah, a frou-frou blogger being taken down by a really angry cat named Tiddlywinks, who also happens to be dyed pink? Pretty hilarious.) Nat and her friends are catapulted right into the middle of a celebrity kidnapping mystery that takes them through Ferris Bueller’s [...]

Male Monday: Cracking the Ice

Mon, 20 Feb 2012 14:36:00 +0000

Cracking the Ice by Dave Hendrickson 2012Westside BooksRating: 3.5/5IQ "No one had said a word in his defense. No one had lifted a finger. No one. Jessie thought of a phrase Pop often used: No snowflake in an avalanche feels responsible. He hated all of them, every snowflake on the hockey team. Yet he couldn't very well give up, could he? Doing that would rob him of his dreams and give them what they wanted." pg.153Jessie wants to play hockey, eventually making it to the NHL. It's not a problem per se, but it will be a battle because Jessie is growing up in the 1960s and there was only one Black professional hockey player at this time, Willie O'Ree for him to look up to. Jessie is offered the opportunity to attend a prestigious New Hampshire boarding school on a full scholarship and the chance to play on the school's hockey team. Best case scenario Jessie hopes he will get spotted by scouts and be on his way to the NHL after a grand college career, worst case scenario, Jessie plays for one of the best high school hockey teams in the country and attends a top college. He sees this situation as a win-win and although his parents have some serious misgivings, they ultimately agree. Unfortunately, Jessie expected some racism but he is shocked by the racism he faces from 99% of his teammates, he expected his teammates to come around when he showed his skills. Jessie does not want to throw in the towel, but he's not sure he wants to spend four years of his life being miserable, and not given playing time by his hockey coach.I don't have many problems with this book, I didn't love but it was not a waste of my time. In fact, I think it's one of the most interesting books I've read this year. And it touches a subject close to my heart. But first a few quibbles. Jessie has a girlfriend, they are in love. Jessie is fifteen. I thought this would be one of those 'first-love but move on' type stories but it's not which I felt was unrealistic. But then again, it was the 1960s, maybe people fell in love and stayed together at an earlier age. *shrugs* I also did not like the ending because I felt like it made the whole story pointless. I can't explain it without going into spoilers but while it wasn't completely depressing, I did feel like the ending made the whole premise unnecessary. Furthermore, I really really liked the focus on hockey but I was curious as to how Jessie was doing academically. Were his classmates just as racist? His teachers? There are a few dorm incidents but it was never clear to me if Jessie's teachers and classmates were all narrow-minded.My father loves hockey. My father is Panamanian American so this is not exactly "normal". I am not going to pretend I watch hockey avidly because I don't have time to watch sports everyday but some of my earliest memories of father-daughter time is me lying on my father's stomach as we watch a hockey game, usually the Blackhawks versus whoever. I watched all the Stanley Cup playoff games last year and I would venture a guess that I know a little more about the Blackhawks than most bandwagon fans after our 2010 win. But whenever I hear someone talk about hockey, I think about my father. Especially because we often discuss the few Black players in the NHL and usually, if the BHawks aren't playing, we support whichever team has a Black player (if they both have Black players on their teams, great. Then it's just based on talent). My father has told me that he gets some ribbing from his friends for liking hockey and the few times I mention I like hockey, I get some weird looks (and Black people usually tell me that it's a "wh[...]

Mini Reviews: Harlem Redux, The Emperor of Ocean Park & Black Orchid Blues

Sun, 19 Feb 2012 02:26:00 +0000

Black Orchid Blues by Persia Walker 2011Akashic BooksIQ "'You'll thank me later,' Jack-a-Lee said.'Well, I'll certainly have something to say about it. That's for sure." Lanie pg. 207Lanie Price is a 1920s Harlem society columnist for The Harlem Chronicle but previously she was a crime reporter. One night she is at the Cinnamon Club, the nightclub where the famous "Black Orchid" singer Queenie Lovetree performs but that particular night, Queenie is kidnapped. As hours pass after the kidnapping and no ransom note appears, more questions arise. Little is known about Queenie's past and Lanie is determined to dig into Queenie's history not just for a sensational story but to find a clue that can help Queenie.I did not like that the author provided very little background on the characters, it's all about the mystery. It's a fine mystery to be sure, but I wanted to know more about Lanie Price's family; was she Harlem born-and-bred? Or did she move from the South? The North? How did she get the job she did? I had too many questions about the main character which is probably apt for a mystery novel but I didn't like it. To be fair, I just realized (while I was researching some info for this review) that this is the 2nd book in the Lanie Price Mystery series so perhaps if I had read the first book, Darkness and the Devil Behind Me I would not be so clueless about all the characters mentioned. The beginning held my attention and the ending was spectacular but the middle lagged and was the only thing that prevented me from finishing the book within a few days.Black Orchid Blues is an excellent homage to the Harlem Renaissance and detective noir (not that I read a lot of them but I've seen a few of the films) with its historical detail and intriguing plot twists and turns. While I was not able to connect to any of the characters, I was thoroughly engaged in the mystery. It is clear that the author loves this time period and I absolutely ADORE this time period as well so I really appreciated that. I was pleasantly surprised by how deep the author delved into Harlem society, especially GLBT Harlem society. People were out and proud during this time and Harlem accepted them, in fact one of the biggest events in the book is the Fa**ts Ball. A party where the GLBT and straight community mingle in outrageous costumes. Lanie Price has an attitude but she (and the author) really understand people."I'd worked as a crime reporter, interviewing victims and thugs, cops and dirty judges. Then I'd moved to society reporting, where I wrote about cotillions and teas, parties and premieres. It seemed like a different crowd, but the one constant was the mendacity. People lied. Sometimes for no apparent reason, they obfuscated ,omitted or outright obliterated the truth. And often the first sign of an intention to lie was an unsolicited promise to tell the truth" (pg.11). Lanie is able to probe enough to discover what makes people tick and she does this in the case of the kidnapper whose identity and story were so unexpected that I automatically loved the ending, although the background of the kidnapper was horrifically heartbreaking. This book was also surprisingly gruesome, simple warning to those who don't like much detail about violent deaths. I very much enjoyed this book with its fast-pace, wonderful attention to historical detail and lesser-known facts cleverly interwoven into the text. I am eager to read the first book in the series and even more eager for the next book.Disclosure: Bought from Better World Books (buy your books from them!) The Emperor of Ocean [...]

The Birthday Party Pledge!

Wed, 01 Feb 2012 16:57:00 +0000

(image) Take the Birthday Party Pledge:
I promise to give multicultural books as gifts to the children in my life for ONE year.
I promise to encourage them to read about and appreciate diversity in all its forms.
I commit myself to building a new generation of readers!

Click on the link above to download the certificate! There is also a Birthday Party Pledge blog which you should definitely check out, the blog will be updated at least monthly.

The Birthday Party Pledge website features lists on the side that we update periodically (I helped create the global fiction list with Lyn Miller Lachmann :) Most of the books on the website are MG or YA but we also have a Picture Books list that will be refreshed monthly as well. We refresh the lists in order to offer a wealth of options, hopefully at least one book on the list will appeal to the young reader in your life.

Why did we start this website? And whose we? Doret from theHappyNappyBookseller, Edi from Crazy Quilts, Jill from Rhapsody in Books and authors Zetta Elliott and Lyn Miller Lachman and myself started this website and blog to promote an early love of reading for children of color. We also wanted to provide an unbiased website with no reviews, only summaries of books about people of color, to help parents find diverse reads for their children. Please stop by and SIGN THE PLEDGE!

Azael's Secrets: Guest Post from Ashley Hope Perez

Tue, 31 Jan 2012 06:12:00 +0000

Today I am thrilled to share a guest post from YA author Ashley Hope Perez. You may not remember but I loved her debut last year, What Can't Wait. I interviewed her last year. Welcome back Ashley!!Unfortunately I was unable to review The Knife and the Butterfly but I am looking forward to following the rest of this tour and reading the great reviews it's getting, such as this one from Forever Young Adult (giveaway included)! Plus reading the book ASAPChapter 1 of The Knife and the ButterflyI’m standing inches from a wall, staring at a half-finished piece. Even though I’m too close to read what it says, I know it’s my work. I run my hands over the black curves outlined in silver. I lean in and sniff. Nothing, not a whiff of fumes. When did I start this? It doesn’t matter; I’ll finish it now. I start to shake the can in my hand, but all I hear is a hollow rattle. I toss the can down and reach for another, then another. Empty. They’re all empty.I wake up with that all over shitty feeling you get the day after a rumble. Head splitting, guts twisted. All that’s left of my dream is a memory of black and silver. I sit up, thinking about snatching the baggie from under the couch and going to the back lot for a joint before Pelón can bust my balls for smoking his weed.Except then I realize I’m not at Pelón’s. I’m on this narrow cot with my legs all tangled up in a raggedy-ass blanket. It’s dark except for a fluorescent flicker from behind me. I get loose of the covers and take four steps one way before I’m up against another concrete wall. Six steps the other way, and I’m bumping into the shitter in the corner. There’s a sink right by it.• No mirror.• Drain bolted into the concrete floor. I can make out words scrawled in Sharpie on the wall to one side of the cot: WELCUM HOME FOOL. I turn around, already half-knowing what I’m going to see. Bars. Through them, I take in the long row of cells just like this one. I’m in lock-up. Shit, juvie again? It’s only been four months since I got out of Houston Youth Village.• Village, my ass.I sit back down on the cot and try to push through the fog in my brain from the shit we smoked yesterday. Thing is, I’ve got no memory of getting brought in here. It’s like I want to replay that part, but my brain’s a jacked-up DVD player that skips back again and again to the same damn scene, the last thing I can remember right.We’re cruising through the Montrose looking for some fools who’d been messing with Javi’s stepsister. We’ve got this ghetto-ass van that Javi bought off his aunt, and the whole time he’s driving he’s hitting a bottle of Jack and trashing the punks who called his sister a ho. Pelón’s in the front seat, and me, my brother Eddie, plus Mono, Cucaracha, Chuy, Greñas, and three other homeboys are smashed in the back. We’re sitting on top of bricks and chains and bats and all the other shit Javi keeps there. All the way, I’m thinking that by the time we get out of the van I’m going to have chains imprinted on my ass from sitting on them so long. There’s a knot in my guts. Don’t matter how many battles I’ve been in, I get it every time. But I know as soon as we hit the ground it’ll turn into a rush.“Where the hell are these fools?” I call up to Javi.“Tranquílo, culero. We’ll find them soon,” he says, passing the bottle to us in the back.“Watch for the red and brown,” Pelón says, all businesslike.Greñas lights up a fat joint, sucks on it hard. Everybody’s jo[...]

2012 YA Releases About POC

Mon, 30 Jan 2012 23:04:00 +0000

In case you missed it, here's last year's list of 2011 YA/MG releases. An * denotes if the book is by an author of color. This year the goal is to have 100 YOUNG ADULT books about people of color. I intend on reviewing less MG this year but I may still do a list, I have not decide yet. PLEASE PLEASE GIVE RECOMMENDATIONS. The list is organized by release month. And if I have a book on here that is not about a person of color please let me know. The book does not however, have to be BY an author of color, only ABOUT a teenager of color.1. What Boys Really Want by Pete Hautman (Jan 1)2. The International Kissing Club by Ivy Adams (Jan 3, 2012)3. In Darkness by Nick Lake (Jan 5)4. Lovetorn by Kavita Daswani* (Jan 17, 2012)5. Crow by Barbara Wright (Jan 10)6. . Irises by Francisco Stork* (Jan 1)7. Black Boy, White School by Brian F. Walker (Jan 3)8. Mesmerize (Mystyx #4) by Artist Arthur* (Jan 24)9. Diabolical by Cynthia Leitich Smith* (Jan 24)10. The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe (Jan 24)11. Daughter of the Centaurs (Centauriad #1) by Kate Klimo (Jan 24)-whitewashed cover12. The Knife and the Butterfly by Ashley Hope Perez* (Feb 1)13. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz* (Feb 1)14. Beneath a Meth Moon by Jacqueline Woodson* (Feb. 2)15. DJ Rising by Love Maia (Feb 6)16. The Jade Notebook by Laura Resau (Feb 14)17. Bad Boy by Dream Jordan* (Feb 28, 2012)18. The Traitor in the Tunnel by Y.S. Lee* (Feb 28, 2012)19. Ship of Souls by Zetta Elliott* (Feb 28)20. Into the Wise Dark by Neesha Meminger* (March)21. Power Hitter by M.G. Higgins (March 1)22. Forced Out (Travel Team) by Gene Fehler (March 1)23. The Secret Keepers by Paul Yee* (March 1)24. On the Flip Side: A Fab Life Novel by Nikki Carter* (March 5)25. Cracking the Ice by Dave Henderson (March 5)26. Boy 21 by Matthew Quick (March 5)27. The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind by Meg Medina* (March 13)28. Vodnik by Bryce Moore (March 28)29. Cat Girl's Day Off by Kimberly Pauley* (April 1)30. Above by Leah Bobet (April 1)31. Torn by Stephanie Guerra (April 1)32. The Chaos by Naolo Hopkinson* (April 17)33. Spirit's Princess by Esther M. Friesner (April 24)34. Creeping With the Enemy (Langdon Prep #2) by Kimberly Reid* (April 24)35. All the Right Stuff by Walter Dean Myers* (April 24)36. The Good Braider by Terry Farish (May 1)37. Crossing the Line (Bordertown #1) by Malin Alegria* (May 1)38. Burning Emerald (The Cambion Chronicles #2) by Jamie Reed (May)39. Transcendance by C.J. Omolou (June 5, 2012)40. Team Human by Justine Larbalestier & Sarah Rees Brennan (July 3)41. Capital Girls by Ella Monroe (August)42. Unspoken (The Lynburn Legacy #1) by Sarah Rees Brennan (September 5)43. What Things Look Like by Angela Johnson (August 28)44. Foxfire by Karen Kincy (September 2012)45. Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall* (October)Late December 2011 Releases1. Girl Meets Boy: Because There Are Two Sides to Every Story, by Chris Crutcher, Cynthia Leitich Smith*, Jospeh Bruchac*, Rita Williams Garcia*, Sara Ryan, Terry Trueman, Terry Davis, Randy Powell, Rebecca Fjelland Davis, James Howe, Ellen Wittlinger edited by Kelly Milner Halls (Dec 27)2. Living Violet by Jamie Reed (Dec 27)[...]

Is Jane Austen Only for White People?

Sat, 28 Jan 2012 14:52:00 +0000

Have you ever noticed how there are VERY FEW Jane Austen literary or film adaptations featuring people of color? (except for the Jane Austen Book Club movie in which one of the members was half Latina and a few others I list below). Have you ever noticed that in contemporary fiction only white main characters compare their lives to those of Jane Austen's characters? (Full Disclosure: I don't read THAT much modern day adult fiction so I could be totally wrong). The message seems to be Only White People Read Jane Austen. Is this true in your opinion? I know I'm generalizing here but this is something that has been bothering me for awhile. I want to discuss the topic of Jane Austen and I even attempt to talk about classics but mostly I throw out questions because I want some answers :)My mother owns the book Emma by Jane Austen but she never read it. When my mom invites friends over to her house they never discuss 'classics' that they have read. In fact they rarely discuss books. She is not part of a book club. My mother has always told me that she loved to read as a kid and she still reads today but not as voraciously as I do. I work at a hair salon and some clients talk about books but rarely do they discuss the classics, if they do, Jane Austen never comes up. And yet this is an author BELOVED by millions of white women in America. White characters talk about her work in books, on TV, in the movies. But nary a peep from people of color. I don't think I've ever heard/read Alice Walker, Toni Morrison or Maya Angelou discuss her works as some of their favorites. Why do we not have Austen fever?Do we not care about the woes of unmarried young women who think they have no prospects? Actually I think Jane Austen could eerily reflect certain truths of today as we face more and more Black women bemoaning 'where have all the good Black men gone?' , a problem not entirely alien to Jane Austen's characters. Granted they are not looking for Black men, but they are looking for good men, and love, in their own time without familial pressure to get married. I would guess that this is a scenario familiar to many Black women in their 30s (a bit older than Austen's characters but not by much). Personally I really liked all the Jane Austen books I have to read and I'm not even a romantic (or maybe that means I secretly am...), I think they are witty and provide great portraits of a specific time in history while remaining fun and still easy to relate to the present.Is it because we are simply not interested in life in the 18th century in the English countryside for the upper middle class? Do teachers think students of color will not care so they attempt to 'cater' to the few of us they have in a class (or the majority-depending) by not teaching one of Austen's books? Most Americans take British literature and I know one English teacher at my school teaches Pride & Prejudice but most do not. I get the picture that it is like that in many schools across the nation. I think if one of Jane Austen's books is taught, it would be at a majority white school. I think teachers give us (students of color) too little in credit in thinking we can relate to these books. Maybe guys won't (that is a whole 'nother argument I do not want to get into at the moment) but I think most girls, regardless of ethnic background will if not adore, at least *like* Jane Austen. Most white teenage book bloggers I know LOVE Jane Austen as do my white friends. They love the book[...]

Half the Sky

Fri, 27 Jan 2012 09:40:00 +0000

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn 2009IQ "In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality in the developing world." pg. xviiA call to arms to end violence against women and to educate women because, as the Chinese proverb says, "women hold up half the sky". The point these authors make throughout the book, is how can a country flourish without drawing on half of its resources and tapping into women's potential? The issues discussed are dangers to women's reproductive and prenatal health, rape, sexual slavery and lack of education for women. The issues are explained, courageous women are profiled, organizations making a difference are spotlighted and everyday solutions are provided for readers around the world.I am a sucker for these sort of books, real life tales that both depress and inspire. I enjoy reading these kind of non-fiction books because while all non fiction books teach me something new, I like that these books are told in narrative format, with explanations and history lessons smoothly interspersed. This book literally made me sick to my stomach, even though that is not the point of the book. In one incident in eastern Congo, the Congolese militias use rape as a weapon of war. "In one instance, soldiers raped a three-year old girl and their fired their guns into her." All I could think when I read that was 'oh my god.' The story continues "When surgeons saw her, there was no tissue left to repair. The little girl's grief-stricken father then committed suicide." (pg. 84). I do not share the story for the sake of pity, rather I want those two sentences to move people the same way it moved me. While I was reading this book I was infuriated. People not only confuse me, they make me sick, this book really brings home how cruel we humans can be to each other. It's not pretty, it's not pleasant, but it is the truth and it needs to be spread. The book never takes on a self-important tone or becomes too difficult to follow, instead it engages the reader by posing questions, sharing stories, and expanding on shocking statistics (as opposed to simply listing depressing statistics which doesn't do much more than temporarily shock someone).The most fascinating aspect of this book is when it discusses the importance of Americans not trying to solve the problems of developing countries, but rather provide resources to people within that country so that they can solve their own problems. This idea has slowly been repeated by many but Half the Sky goes a step further in showing how sometimes Americans' ideas of progress may differ from the developing country's idea of progress. We may have different results in mind. Take the organization Tostan, "Tostan sometimes angers feminists for its cautious approach and for its reluctance to use the word 'mutilation' or even say that it is fighting against genital cutting. Instead, it relentlessly tries to stay positive, preparing people to make their own decisions. The curriculum includes a non judgemental discussion of human rights and health issues related to cutting but it never advises parents to stop cutting their daughters. Still, the program broke a taboo by discussing cutting. And once women tho[...]

Throwback Thursday: The Ruby Notebook

Thu, 05 Jan 2012 09:58:00 +0000

The Ruby Notebook by Laura Resau 2010Delacorte Press/Random HouseRating: 5/5IQ (Zeeta thinking about the Castle of If aka Chateau d’If, located on a small island about a mile away from Marseille) “I wonder about true love, if that’s what J.C. had for my mother, even after one night. I wonder about Vincent and Madame Chevalier, and what their lives would have been like if they’d admitted their love years ago. I wonder about eternal life, if it would get boring, if you’d get sick of yourself and your thoughts and the world…or if things would seem new and different every day. I wonder if living forever would be terribly sad, always loving people, then leaving them behind. I wonder how you’d survive so many losses and still be able to love.” Pg. 233Zeeta and her mother live in a different country every year, France is 16-year old Zeeta’s 16th country. Previously they lived in Ecuador which is where the first book in this trilogy, The Indigo Notebook is set. Zeeta’s mother loves living near water because she believes it calms her and can have healing powers so they settle in Aix-en-Provence, a city full of fountains, charm and mystery. Zetta soon befriends some traveling street performers and even develops a crush on one, Jean Claude. Unfortunately (or fortunately) Zetta’s boyfriend Wendell will be living in Aix-en-Provence for a summer art program, Zetta is torn over how she feels about Wendell and Jean Claude. She is also troubled by the mysteries anonymous notes and gifts she has been receiving, she calls this admirer her fantome (ghost). Wendell agrees to help her find out who her fantome is and to find a mysterious underground spring whose water is rumored to bring immortality. Zeeta’s help is enlisted by a local antiques dealer, Vincent and his reclusive artist friend, Madame Chevalier.I’m still puzzled by Rumi quotes but I’ve just accepted that I will never understand him or Zeeta's mother's random use of them, but at least Zeeta doesn't get it either. This book was as close to utter perfection as a book can get. I freely admit that I’m biased towards books where the main character is completely immersed in another country. *shrugs* My previous complaint was that the author didn’t throw in enough Spanish/Quichua phrases but she obliges me here. I LOVE that this book not only features common French words and phrases but also French slang. It truly makes these books stand out because the reader is as close to immersion as possible without visiting or having the book be entirely in French. I’ve been on a French kick lately (reading this book, Anna and the French Kiss, watching Midnight in Paris-FABULOUS movie, and soon to read Paris Noire and This Side of the Sky) and I adore the culture, I desperately want to visit. I enjoyed this brief exchange about the French language when Zetta meets Jean Claude for the first time, “’Enchante, Zeeta.’ He says formally, shaking my hand. Enchanted to meet you. Not pleased. Not glad. Not happy. Enchanted. Magic seeps into even the most mundane interactions in this language.” (pg. 31), no wonder French is known as the language of love! Once again the setting comes alive in Laura Resau’s more-than-capable hands. We can see the street performers doing backflips and passing around a hat for coins, the quiet mime in the town’s square, envision the old houses with private houses and commiserate with Zeet[...]