Thanks to NetGalley and Simon Pulse for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: September 24th, 2019
Synopsis: By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are partially responsible for the “downfall of the Black man.”
But when a teen is murdered in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in The SLAY world, news of the game reaches the mainstream media, and Slay is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for “anti-white discrimination.”
Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?
As a 54-year-old white woman, I’m obviously not the target audience for a book like Slay, but even so, I really enjoyed this and think it entirely lives up to the hype surrounding it. I absolutely adored Kiera and I think many teens will relate to her. She’s someone who knows who she is, yet is still caught between two worlds, and isn’t comfortable with being forced by others into representing the wider black culture. This is behind her creation of the massive online game Slay where she and other players can feel comfortable being themselves.
The world of Slay is gorgeously written and the fight scenes are particularly phenomenal. Morris does an exceptional job at balancing this virtual world, with the real world issues that Kiera is encountering. I think it’s brilliantly done and the only reason I’m not giving this 5 stars is because I think some of the other characters, particularly Kiera’s parents and boyfriend could have been developed a little more.
The story itself is timely yet utterly unique, which is another reason why in my opinion, Slayer is going to be one of the most talked about books of the Fall. Inspired by the movie Black Panther, Brittney Morris wrote this in eleven days. I know, right?! Morris was the first female African-American graduate of her high school, and the only African-American woman at the previous place where she worked. She says her background and interactions with the world are reflected in her fiction.
“I got used to feeling out of place in a room full of people who don’t look like me, and shrinking myself down to something that’s ‘acceptable’ by everyone. I wrote Slay for black teens who live between worlds as I did, who feel pressure to be one version of themselves at work or school, and only get to be themselves among people who share their experiences.”
Slay is a fantastic book that I guarantee will hold wide appeal to its target audience and beyond. I’m already choosing my dream cast for the future film I’m sure will be coming. I highly recommend it to fans of Black Panther and Ready Player One.
Thanks to NetGalley and Orbit/Redhook for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: September 10th, 2019
Synopsis: In the summer of 1901, at the age of seven, January Scaller found a Door. You know the kind of door—-the lead to Faerie, to Valhalla, to Atlantis, to all the places never found on a map.
Years late, January has forgotten her brief glimpse of elsewhere. Her life is quiet and lonely but safe on her guardian’s estate, until one day she stumbles across a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds in its pages, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure, and danger. A book that might lead her back to the half-remembered door of her childhood.
But, as January gets answers to questions she never imagined, shadows creep closer. There are truths about the world that should never be revealed.
“Books can smell of cheap thrills or painstaking scholarship, of literary weight or unsolved mysteries. This one smelled unlike any book I’d ever read…It smelled like adventure itself had been harvested in the wild, distilled to a fine wine, and splashed across each page.”
January Scaller ~ The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow
What drew me first to The Thousand Doors of January, was that breathtaking cover, and that coupled with its intriguing synopsis made me request it. You know how sometimes a book will suck you in so completely that when you surface it takes you a little bit to re-acclimate yourself to the real world? Well, fair warning. That’s exactly what’s going to happen if you chose to dive into this exquisitely written debut novel, by Alix Harrow.
All of the characters—heroes, villains, and faithful canine companion alike—are so well-written that they fairly leap from the pages. January though, is the star, and my God what a memorable character! The way she grows and develops from a sullen unhappy, but imaginative child, to a young woman who has embraced her past, present, and future, in a little less than 400 pages, is nothing short of brilliant. Her voice even as that seven-year-old at the beginning is so distinctive and alive, by the end of the book I felt as though I had met her in real life. The world building is beyond amazing, with the story jumping from America of the late 1800s and early 1900s, to not one but three “elsewheres.” It’s seamlessly done and I felt as though I was visiting these different settings along with the characters. And finally, there’s the actual plot. Alix Harrow has taken the concept of hidden doorways to other worlds and spun an entirely new and ingenious mythology around them. From the ending this could very well be a standalone, but I’m hoping not. I want more!
The Ten Thousand Doors of January was one of my most anticipated reads of 2019, and I’m thrilled to say it’s now my favorite, which is saying something as I’ve been luck enough to read some pretty spectacular books this year. It’s a magical ode to storytelling and…well, let me just finish with this: Read this if you’re a fantasy fan. Read this if you’ve never picked up a fantasy novel, yet have been tempted to veer out of your usual comfort zone. Read this if you’re a bibliophile and believe in the magic and power of stories. Read this if you love books with strong, diverse and kick-ass female characters who will have you cheering for them. Most importantly, read this if like me, you’ve ever wondered, even if just for an instant, about the possibility of magical doorways that can transport you to other worlds and wished with all your heart you could find one and walk through.
Thanks to NetGalley and Simon Pulse for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: Available Now
Synopsis: At Robert E. Lee High School, “Slave Day” is an annual event considered to be harmless fun by most of the students and staff—until this year. One student, Keene Davenport, has always been offended by the racist premise of this cherished school tradition, and this year he calls for a boycott. Told from eight different perspectives, this is the story of one conflict-filled day at an American high school.
Slave Day, by Rob Thomas (the writer behind Veronica Mars), was first published in 1997, so I was quite curious to see how the story would hold up over twenty years later. I’m pleased to say that for the most part it does a great job with the subject matter. The time difference is discernible through the dated technology, but overall this sadly feels like a story that could easily take place today.
The story is told from the perspective of seven students and one teacher. That’s a lot of viewpoints for a relatively short book and while their voices are all distinct from one another, I did have a difficult time forming a connection with any of them.
The story itself is a little slow at the beginning, but picks up speed, and I did find it interesting. Despite these issues I recommend Slave Day for high school students to be used along with books, such as: The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, and Dear Martin, by Nic Stone.
Anyone who is somewhat familiar with comedian Rosanne Barr, knows she’s extremely outspoken, is a fervent Trump supporter, and is a believer in all sorts of right wing conspiracy series. This morning however she went on a Twitter rampage that (and I can’t believe I’m saying this), outdoes Trump’s most offensive tweets. I’m not going to repeat any of them because they’re vile and make me sick to my stomach, but if you haven’t heard about them and want to see them, just Google her. As I was writing this post, the news just broke that the Disney-owned ABC has canceled the second season of the successful Rosanne reboot. To say I’m overjoyed is an understatement. Racism in the U.S. is running rampant and the repugnant individuals who espouse these beliefs have been given carte blanche by the Trump administration to say and do whatever they want. Yes I believe in the First Amendment, but not when it comes to hate speech that serves to encourage violence against minorities. So, while I wish they had never brought back Rosanne to begin with, kudos to ABC for sending a quick and decisive message that racism and bigotry won’t be tolerated even by big name stars.
Okay. This was a day filled with drama and chaos even by Trumponian standards. It began at sunrise as in a rather incoherent tweet, Mr. Trump questioned his own administration’s support for a controversial bill (FISA) to reauthorize the government’s ability to conduct foreign surveillance in the U.S. Mass confusion broke out among lawmakers for about an hour and a half, but after a second backpedaling tweet, the bill was approved. Then, came the confusion over whether or not a tentative agreement had been reached concerning DACA. And now the day ends with some absolutely vile comments Mr. Trump came out with during a meeting with Republicans and Democrats to discuss this possible bipartisan immigration deal. For my friends who don’t live in the U.S., DACA is a program issued under President Obama by executive order. It protects immigrants who were brought to this country illegally as children. Several months ago Mr. Trump disbanded the program, saying that President Obama had exceeded his authority. In March, these Dreamers will have to start leaving the country unless an agreement is made. So, during this meeting late this afternoon, Senator Dick Durbin was explaining to him that part of the proposal would end the visa lottery program in exchange for Temporary Protected Status for countries such as El Salvador. (BTW, earlier this week 200,000 Salvadorans who have been here since 2001 were told to start getting their affairs in order because starting next year they’re being deported.) Senator Durbin was going through the list of TPS countries which would be covered when Mr. Trump apparently grew frustrated when he learned this deal would include immigrants from Haiti and African countries. He questioned why he should accept immigrants from “shithole countries” instead of people from countries like Norway. “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.” Now obviously Mr. Trump’s blatant racism shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us. This is the man who referred to Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers during the campaign. This is the man who dodged condemning the white supremacists and neo-nazis in Charlottesville. This is the man who instituted a Muslim ban. And last June during a meeting with his national security team, he vented about the slowness in fortifying the borders. Reading from statistics put together by his equally racist aide, Stephen Miller, he complained about Haitian immigrants, saying: “ They all have AIDS.” In regards to immigrants from Nigeria he said: they would “never go back to their huts.” While the White House has denied he made those particular statements, despite numerous confirmations from sources in the room, no one is denying what he said today, although who knows what “alternative facts” Minister of Propaganda, aka White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will present tomorrow. Indeed, reports are coming out saying that he and his minions believe his atrocious comments will play well with his base.
That Mr. Trump did this at the beginning of the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, makes it even more sickening. And tomorrow marks the eight year anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Haiti. As I watch the talking heads on CNN right now calling Mr. Trump’s comments “racist statements”, or “racially charged”, they also seem to be hesitant about calling him a racist. Well, I have no such hesitation. The message from this administration is clear. If you’re not white, you’re not welcome in this country. Mr. Trump is a blatant racist which has been proven time and time again, going back to his days as a landlord in NYC. Journalists and Americans need to stop tiptoeing around and acknowledge that we have a RACIST leading this country! I know I’ve said this before, but I am ashamed and embarrassed to be an American. I wish to God I could offer an apology to every single person who is being detrimentally affected by his words and actions.
America has always been “great” in part because of its rich tapestry made up of immigrants from different countries bringing their education and skills and culture with them. So many have made such incredible contributions.
People like John James Audubon, painter, naturalist, and ornithologist. He was born Jean Rabin in Les Cayes, Saint Domingue (later Haiti).
Viter Juste, The Haitian-born American community leader, activist and businessman. He’s considered the father of the Haitian American community in Miami.
Danielle Laraque-Arena, also born in Haiti. She’s the first female President of the State University of New York Upstate Medical University.
Representative Mia Love, the first black female Republican elected to Congress. Born Ludmya Bordeau to Haitian parents.
John O. Agwunobi, born in Scotland to a Nigerian father and Scottish mother. He’s a notable pediatrician and public health professional.
Kimberly Anyadike, whose parents immigrated from Nigeria. Born in 1994, she’s a pilot who completed a transcontinental flight at the age of fifteen.
Salvadoran Francisco Machon Vilonova who wrote his most well known novel Ola roja in San Francisco. The book is about the indigenous populations in El Salvador who were massacred in the Matanzana of 1932.
Salvadoran fashion designer Francesca Miranda, whose designs are sold all over the world and have been worn by many celebrities.
Obviously the list is endless.
Unfortunately, all this Irish/Catholic/Jew can do, is call and email politicians, vote, and pray to God that this country wakes up and sends him packing in 2020. We deserve better.
Thanks to NetGalley and Crown Books for Young Readers for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: October 17th, 2017
Synopsis: Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.
Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.
Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.
Dear Martin is the debut novel of Nic Stone, and what a powerful statement it makes! It may technically be a work of fiction, but the social issues it introduces: police brutality, affirmative action, racism, and gang violence are all very real issues that face so many minorities.
The main character, Justyce McAllister is a thoroughly likable and relatable protagonist. Seventeen-years-old, he’s done everything right in his young life. Yet he’s caught between two worlds. Teens that he grew up with resent him for receiving a scholarship to a prestigious prep school, and some of his classmates may espouse to be believers in equality, but their actions speak louder than words. After he’s a victim of racial profiling and police brutality, Justyce begins to realize that while he’s followed all the rules, he’s still judged by some for the color of his skin.
One of the things I loved about this relatively short novel, is the amount of growth and maturity Justyce goes through. When the novel begins, he’s a rather naive young man, who despite coming from a rough neighborhood, has never actually been the victim of racism. After being unfairly targeted himself, his eyes are opened to the injustices in the world, yet he never loses sight of his hopes and dreams, even when another tragic incident occurs.
Even while becoming a victim himself of racial injustice, Justyce has the support of many people including his mother, two close friends and classmates, their parents, and a teacher who has turned into a mentor. They have all helped form him into the incredible person he’s become, and they continue to be there for him during the more difficult times. These themes of love, friendship and support serve to balance the darker ones, and further flesh out the characters and plot.
The only reason why I’m not giving this 5 stars is because there’s some romantic drama which is included, and while I think in a longer book it would have been fine, because of the brevity of the story I found it unnecessary and distracting.
Overall though, Dear Martin is an incredible debut by Nic Stone, and it’s one that should be shared in high school classrooms and book discussion groups. In addition to the powerful The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, this can serve to open a much needed dialogue about inequality and race relations in this country.
Thanks to NetGalley and Amulet Books for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: October 11th, 2016
Synopsis: It’s Boston, 1919, and the Cast Iron club is packed. On stage, hemopaths–those whose “afflicted” blood gives them the ability to create illusions through art–captivate their audience. Corinne and Ada have been best friends ever since infamous gangster Johnny Dervish recruited them into his circle. By night they perform for Johnny’s crowds, and by day they con Boston’s elite. When a job goes wrong and Ada is imprisoned, they realize how precarious their position is. After she escapes, two of the Cast Iron’s hires are shot, and Johnny disappears. With the law closing in, Corinne and Ada are forced to hunt for answers, even as betrayal faces them at every turn.
Oh gosh. Where do I even begin to express my love for this book? First, the pure originality of the plot. I don’t think I’ve seen anything else out there that comes close. Then there’s the beautiful friendship between Ada and Corinne. They’re fiercely protective of one another, and it’s their relationship that is the heart and soul of this story. The supporting players are all vividly brought to life and there’s not one character that I felt could have been developed more. Better yet, these are all people I’d love to have as friends in real life. The magic of Hemopathy is gorgeously described and I was mesmerized at how each person used it differently. One character creates music from feelings, while another creates breathtaking illusions. The idea behind this magic is simply amazing! The book also deals with racism in multiple forms. Hemopaths are seen as an inferior race and Ada is biracial, which makes her looked down on even more. The cast is diverse in several ways which only adds to the appeal of this magnificent book. There is plenty of action in this fast moving story which led me to finish it in two sittings. In the end, Iron Cast is an exquisitely detailed story filled with wonderful characters and incredible world-building. It’s the type of story that will stay with you long after you’ve finished. I really can’t recommend it highly enough!
Thanks to NetGalley and Abrams/Amulet for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: September 13th, 2016
Synopsis: When a sweet nerd, an artsy cartoonist, a social outcast, and the most popular girl in school are involved in a mysterious bus accident, this seemingly random group of kids starts to notice from very strange abilities they did not have before. Artsy Martina can change her eye color. Nerdy Nick can teleport…four inches to the left. Outcast Farshad develops super strength, but only in his thumbs. And Cookie, the It Girl of school’s most popular clique, has suddenly developed the ability to read minds…when those minds are thinking about directions. They are oddly mighty–especially together.
This group–who would never hang out under normal circumstances–must now combine all their strengths to figure out what happened during the bus accident. With alternating narratives from each of the heroes, including illustrated pieces from Martina.
The start to a new series by Amy Ignatow, author of The Popularity Papers, The Mighty Odds is off to a rollicking good start. Ignatow has taken the theme of misfit kids, attaining superpowers, banding together to save the world, turned it on it’s head and throws in bullying, racism, and middle school politics for good measure. And unbelievably this works! Each character is richly drawn. For example Cookie, the only black kid in school has carved out a place for herself as the leader of the popular clique. She actually has more in common then she thinks with Farshad who at the beginning of the book she derisively refers to as “The Arab Kid” or even worse “Terror Boy”. But she’s not the only one guilty of using stereotypes to label her schoolmates. One of my favorite characters, Jay, whose somewhat ADD and always looks at the positive side to life is enamored with Cookie and calls her his “gorgeous Nubian queen” and says that someday they’ll “make coffee-colored babies”. He comes from a small town and Cookie is the only black person he’s ever met. Coming from a smallish town myself which is definitely not ethically diverse, I can understand this somewhat, but it still made me cringe. Also addressed is Farshad being the victim of anti-Muslim sentiment, and Nick’s dealing with his dying father. There are so many heavy issues brought up, but balancing those are some truly funny moments. Also adding to the appeal are Martina’s illustrations. Martina actually reminded me a little of Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter series. She has a kind of quirky, zany view of the world, but once you really pay attention to what she’s saying/drawing, somehow it all makes sense. The ending leaves things open for the next book as the mystery of who exactly the villains are and what are they up to isn’t really answered. This first book mainly serves as an introduction to this band of misfits while successfully working in societal issues along the way. It’s funny and poignant at the same time, and I believe it’s one of the more clever and appealing books for tweens that I’ve read this year.
Thank you to NetGalley and Amulet Books for providing this e-Arc in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: March 8th, 2016
Synopsis: A thrilling reimagining of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Steep & Thorny Way tells the story of a murder most foul and the mighty power of love and acceptance in a state gone terribly rotten.
1920s Oregon is not a welcoming place for Hanalee Denney, the daughter of a white woman and an African-American man. She has almost no rights by law, and the Ku Klux Klan breeds fear and hatred in even Hanalee’s oldest friendships. Plus, her father, Hank Denney, died a year ago, hit by a drunk-driving teenager. Now her father’s killer is out of jail and back in town, and he claims that Hanalee’s father wasn’t killed by the accident at all but, instead was poisoned by the doctor who looked after him–who happens to be Hanalee’s new stepfather.
The only way for Hanalee to get the answers she needs is to ask Hank himself, a “haunt” wandering the roads at night.
Cat Winters is a well respected author who I’ve been meaning to try for quite some time, but The Steep & Thorny Way is the first book I’ve read by her. All I can say is that her reinterpretation of Hamlet and combining it with an incredibly dark time in America’s history is a compelling read and leaves me wondering why it’s taken me this long to read one of her books.
The 1920s in the U.S. wasn’t just the era of flappers, and the beginning of the jazz age. It was also a time where racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism were rampant, as was distrust of Catholics, and of course Prohibition. All of these are on display in the fictional small town of of Elston, Oregon. As the child of an African-American father and a white mother, Hanalee’s future prospects for an kind of a meaningful life are pretty much nonexistent. At the age of sixteen she knows that if she’s to have any kind of future, she’ll have to leave her hometown and strike out for the bigger cities who are far more accepting of those who are “different”. When the story opens though, she’s about avenge her father’s death on Joe Adder, the young man just released from prison for his killing. She discovers though that things are definitely not as they seem, and she winds up embarking on a quest to discover the truth with the very person she’s blamed and hated for the past year. Hanalee is someone teens can relate to even though this story is set decades ago. She’s not perfect, she makes mistakes, but despite the hate and prejudice aimed at her she remains pretty open-minded toward other people, which I thought was amazing.
While Hanalee is clearly the main character of the book, Joe is equally important and his story at times overtakes the main mystery. This isn’t a bad thing though. What is done to him and his desperate desire to also escape had me just as emotionally invested in him as I was with Hanalee.
There is no real romance in this book which I think was a wise decision on the part of the author. Instead, there’s a tentative friendship between Hanalee and Joe which flourishes into something quite beautiful. The rest of the characters aren’t quite as well fleshed out, but they still successfully serve to further the story, particularly Laurence, Hanalee’s old childhood friend who’s loyalties are divided.
I did think the central mystery concerning the death of Hanalee’s father could have used a little more development. All the answers are basically provided to her by his ghost. It would have been nice to have a little more sleuthing on her part. But honestly, this wasn’t enough to detract from my overall fascination with this book. Cat Winters does a magnificent job spinning her tale, and I was completely spellbound while reading it. A true measure of it’s impact is the amount of time I’ve spent researching some of the topics it brought up, especially eugenics (forced sterilization of people belonging to certain groups), which much to my surprise and disgust was still happening as late as 1981.
I believe it’s especially important for people to read books like The Steep & Thorny Way given what’s happening in the world right now. For anyone who thinks that hateful idealogy is a thing of the past, pick up a newspaper or turn on the tv. All the same prejudices and bigotry are still very much a part of our society, and stoking the flames are politicians who claim they have their country’s best interests at heart. This is a perfect book for discussion, whether in a high school classroom, a book group, or at home. The best way to combat hatred is to start with our young people and I fervently believe this is something we must do if we are to prevent history from repeating itself.
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