Review: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and YouStamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ibram X. Kendi’s book Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America was first released in 2016.

Kendi, a Boston University Professor and founder of the BU Center for Antiracist Research, was awarded the National Book Award in nonfiction for the title. It’s also close to 600-pages by a man who can certainly run intellectual circles around me. For that fact alone, I find it intimidating.

Luckily for me and the rest of the world, Kendi decided he wanted to find someone who could take his ideas and write it in a way that would be more agreeable to a younger audience. Hence, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You was born.

It sounds like it took a little cajoling, but eventually Reynolds, a well-loved author of Children’s and Young Adult fiction, agreed to take on the project.

I chose to listen to the audiobook because I knew that it was narrated by Reynolds. I’m so happy that I did. I would have enjoyed it had I read a hard copy, but hearing it from him, in the way he felt it should be read, was a really special experience.

This book offers a concise history of racism, and the racist ideas that have been used to justify slavery and oppression of black people in the United States, from the time of the first slaves arrival to the country, up through the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement.

It’s framed through three separate schools of thought: segregationists, assimilationists and antiracists. It explains how racist ideologies were constructed in a way to gain and keep power; how they led to the systemic issues prevalent today.

Reynolds states numerous times that this is not a history book, and you know what, it doesn’t feel like one. The way this is presented makes it feel like you are talking with a friend. It’s engaging, it’s forthright and it’s a must read.

The entire way through I was jotting down ideas, people and events that I want to learn more about. After reading this, I am no longer intimidated by Kendi’s original work. I want to read it and plan to by the end of the year!

I cannot recommend this enough. Particularly the audiobook. If you haven’t read this one yet, you absolutely should.

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Review: Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark

Ring ShoutRing Shout by P. Djèlí Clark
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Ring Shout audiobook is an experience. I loved it!

The historical elements were so well done. The SFF elements were fantastic. The body horror and gore were top notch. The narration was PERFECTION!

Maryse Boudreaux is a Georgia-bootlegger with a magic sword a taste for hunting monsters.

The monsters in question, Ku Kluxes, are plotting to unleash hell on Earth, using D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation to channel their message to the masses.

Maryse, along with her fellow monster-hunting friends, think the world is already tough enough, they don’t need any more challenges to overcome.

They set out to rid the South of this blight and save the world from the hate that wants to consume it.

Clark packed a lot of punch into this novella. There were so many important, and timely, details to consume. The narrator helped to channel life and emotional power into it that I’m not sure I would have felt on my own had I read a hard copy.

I loved the historical feel of the story and how there were strong elements of the fantastical mixed with real life horrors.

I thought it was balanced really well to provide maximum impact; especially towards the end when the final showdown ensues.

Maryse and her friends were fantastic, but Butcher Clyde was such an incredible villain. He stole the show in my opinion.

My goodness! He was horrifying. Well, him and his minions.

I highly recommend this novella, particularly the audiobook. It’s a quick read, but so worth picking up. If you’re not sold yet, perhaps a few of my favorite lines will entice you:

‘This one carries the anger of her people. Pure, yet untapped. We could do much with this.’

‘What we owe this world? Why save it, when its never done a thing to save us?’

I can’t wait to read more from this author. This was all-around fantastic.

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Review: Take It Back by Kia Abdullah

Take It BackTake It Back by Kia Abdullah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

((me: reads final scene))

Blushing and looking around, I think to myself, she got me. Kia Abdullah got me good!

This provocative legal thriller was a non-stop guessing game. My head was reeling the entire way through trying to decipher who to believe.

I hate to say that, but I have to be honest. The reason I don’t like to say that is because the case central to this story is that of a sexual assault.

This would be an enticing book club read. I can see a lot of great discussions stemming from the deep content of this book that was expertly crafted for maximum impact by Abdullah.

Zara Kaleel, a former lawyer, is now a sexual assault counselor. When 16-year old, Jodie Wolfe, arrives in her office, Zara is stunned to hear her tale of assault by four male classmates.

Jodie has a genetic abnormality that has given her severe facial deformities, which makes her difficult to understand at times. In spite of any slight communication issues, Jodie’s pain is pouring off of her. She is traumatized and Zara vows to help.

We follow the investigation into the case through multiple perspectives and then get front row seats to the subsequent trial.

The four young men accused are Muslims, from immigrant families, while Jodie is a white girl. As you can imagine, this adds an incredible amount of tension to public reception of the case.

It all becomes a bit of a circus, with even Zara beginning to fear for her safety.

As a Muslim woman herself, also from an immigrant family, she is branded a traitor and must push really hard, both personally and professionally, to continue with Jodie’s case.

I really loved how Abdullah chose to tell this story. The pace was spot on and the little reveals and clues along the way left me constantly guessing at the truth. I had no idea what the final outcome would be until it was on page.

Additionally, I loved the cultural elements that were included through Zara’s perspective, and a few of the accused boys. I thought those aspects made this one stand out in comparison with other books in the genre and will make this story, overall, more memorable for me.

I loved this. Very compelling, suspenseful and thoughtful. I will definitely be picking up more books from Kia Abdullah in the future.

Thank you so much to the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I love discovering new authors to enjoy, so thanks for adding another to my auto-buy list!

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Review: A Universe of Wishes, edited by Dhonielle Clayton

A Universe of Wishes: A We Need Diverse Books AnthologyA Universe of Wishes: A We Need Diverse Books Anthology by Dhonielle Clayton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Universe of Wishes is an upcoming YA Fantasy Anthology from We Need Diverse Books, edited by the talented, Dhonielle Clayton.

Featuring fifteen diverse stories from some of the best OwnVoices authors currently writing in the YA genre, this collection has something for everyone.

As I read this collection, I kept track of my rating for each story, as well as a short description. The following are my initial notes:

1. A Universe of Wishes by Tara Sim, ⭐⭐⭐⭐
I really enjoyed this one, surprisingly moving for such a short story. Buzzwords: m/m romance, dark magic, family tragedy, hope, justice, wishes.

2. The Silk Blade by Natalie C. Parker, ⭐⭐⭐.5
The Bloom of Everhart is ready to choose his consort. A competition ensues. One contestant feels more drawn to another than she does to her stated prize.

3. The Scarlet Woman: A Gemma Doyle Story by Libba Bray, ⭐⭐⭐
New York City, 1897. I feel like I am missing something? Am I supposed to know Gemma Doyle?

4. Cristal y Ceniza by Anna-Marie Mclemore, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
A Cinderella retelling where a peasant girl sneaks into the kingdom during a ball, hoping for an audience with the King and Queen, to plead for the rights of her two mothers, their relationship and others like them. She meets the trans-Prince and he changes everything.

5. Liberia by Kwame Mbalia, ⭐⭐⭐.5
Following a crew on a futuristic mission. One of the characters is attached to the plants they are cultivating from their long distant homeland. I don’t think I got as much out of this as I should have, but Mbalia’s writing is so strong.

6. A Royal Affair by V.E. Schwab, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Now I definitely need to read the Shades of Magic trilogy!! I loved this. Following Alucard Emery, his relationship with Ray Marshall, and how he came to Captain the Night Spire.

7. The Takeback Tango by Rebecca Roadhouse, ⭐⭐⭐.5
A solo space Captain who has lost everything sets out to steal back artifacts stolen from her people and housed in a museum. She discovers an unlikely and charming ally along the way.

8. Dream and Dare by Nic Stone, ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5
The story of two misunderstood girls being crushed by traditional gender roles and societal expectations. Remember girls, to always Dare to Dream!

9. Wish by Jenni Balch, ⭐⭐⭐.5
A wish granter from a lamp is surprised when he is summoned to find he is no longer on Earth, but a colony on Venus. The wisher has very special circumstances and he is determined to help her, no matter the cost.

10. The Weight by Dhonielle Clayton, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Every heart tells a story. Futuristic and odd, this story of a young couple secretly questioning love gave me chills!

11. Unmoor by Mark Oshiro, ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5
In a world where magic exists, young Felix uses a very different method for ridding himself of heartache. This was powerful.

12. The Coldest Spot in the Universe by Samira Ahmed, ⭐⭐⭐⭐
An uninhabitable Earth left behind. An abandoned wasteland. A futuristic archeologist finds record of a girl who once lived. Sadly too realistic.

13. The Beginning of Monsters by Tessa Gratton, ⭐⭐.5
An architect who redesigns human form begins a relationship with the heir of a King whose body she is redesigning. Enjoyed the commentary on gender and gender fluidity, but other than that, I found this one quite slow.

14. Longer Than the Threads of Time by Zoraida Cordova, ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Boy meets girl. Danae and Fabian. A girl from the DR, locked in a tower for decades. A brujo with the power to save her. A delightfully dark Rapunzel retelling.

15. Habibi by Tochi Onyebuchi, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
A powerful closing story for this collection. Two young men, a world apart, are each held in solitary confinement. One, from Long Beach, California, the other from the Gaza Strip in Palestine. They develop a channel for corresponding and build a deep and binding connection.

This is a really well-rounded collection. Obviously, there were stories that I connected with more than others, but that is always the way with anthologies.

Every person who reads this will have a different experience with these stories, and that’s okay. That’s what it’s all about.

I think all of the contributors to this collection should be proud of their work. I am so happy that this book, and others like it, exist.

I highly recommend this anthology and hope that We Need Diverse Books continues to produce materials like this for a long time to come. For more information on WNDB, click this link:

We Need Diverse Books

Thank you so much to the publisher, Crown Books for Young Readers, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

It was one of my most anticipated anthologies of the year and it definitely did not disappoint!!

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Review: In a Midnight Wood (Jane Lawless #27) by Ellen Hart

In a Midnight WoodIn a Midnight Wood by Ellen Hart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a Midnight Wood is the 27th installment of Ellen Hart’s beloved, Jane Lawless mystery series.

Y’all, I discovered this series on a whim back in 2018, when I requested a copy of A Whisper of Bones. The cover was gorgeous and I was so blinded by it, I failed to notice it was the 25th book in the series.

I decided to give it a go anyway, and I’m so glad that I did!

Like many other long-standing Adult Mystery series, these don’t necessarily need to be read in order. I also feel they make great standalones.

However, once you meet Jane and her best friend, Cordelia, you’ll definitely be back for more!

In this installment, Jane and Cordelia are heading to the quaint town of Castle Rock, in their home state of Minnesota, to visit a friend and participate in a local Arts Festival.

The Festival coincides with Homecoming Weekend and the friend they are staying with, Emma, just so happens to be planning her 20th-class reunion for the occasion.

In a completely unrelated turn of events, the body of Emma’s high school sweetheart, Sam, is discovered. When Sam went missing 20-years ago, it was assumed he ran away, clearly not the case.

Jane, a private investigator, who also happens to be involved in a Podcast that covers Minnesota cold cases is very intrigued with Castle Rock’s discovery.

So begins the investigation of what happened to Sam all those years ago.

I had a ton of fun reading this. I absolutely love Jane and Cordelia. Their friendship and banter, it cracks me up all the time.

At first, I had a little difficulty differentiating between some of the characters we meet in Castle Rock, but once the ball got rolling, that was no longer an issue.

I am really looking forward to picking up more books in this series. I missed the 2019 release, Twisted at the Root, so I will probably start there.

I would highly recommend this if you are looking for an Adult Mystery series with LGBTQIA+ representation. I feel like finding that rep in this space can be a challenge.

Jane, the protagonist in this series, is a lesbian and there have been queer side characters in both of the installments I have read.

Thank you so much to the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

I am definitely looking forward to solving more mysteries with Jane Lawless!!!

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Review: Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega

Ghost SquadGhost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

Ghost Squad, Claribel A. Ortega’s debut novel, is a shining example of why I love reading Middle Grade.

This story follows 12-year old, Lucely Luna, who lives in St. Augustine, Florida, with her father.

He runs his own business giving walking ghost tours of the city. Regardless of the fact that that sounds amazing, business is not going well.

It seems like no matter what he does, he just can’t make enough money to keep afloat. In fact, they are in danger of losing their home.

When Lucely overhears this news, she is beyond worried. This is the house she grew up in. The ghosts of her ancestors live here.

That’s right. Lucely can see and interact with the ghosts of dead family members. They’ve become dragonfly spirits and she believes that magic is tied to the property.

They cannot lose it.

Together with her best friend, Syd, the girls try to figure out a way for Lucely’s Dad to get the money he needs to hold off the bank foreclosure.

Unfortunately, the girls inadvertently cast a spell that awakens malicious spirits, who then wreck havoc, threatening not just them and the dragonfly spirits, but the entire town.

From there we follow the girls as they try to figure out a way to undo what they have done.

They seek assistance from Syd’s grandmother, Babette, who happens to be a witch, and her fat tabby cat, Chunk, who I loved.

This entire book was full of action, heart and humor. I loved Lucely and Syd’s relationship. It was so pure. They showed unconditional love and care for one another, it filled my heart.

Syd’s gradmother, Babette, was a great character as well, as she guided the girls in the magical arts.

Ghost Squad is based on Dominican folklore and I really enjoyed how that cultural influence could be felt throughout the story. In addition, there is mystery, intrigue and some chilling, spooky moments.

Personally, I think this book can be enjoyed by all readers, regardless of age. If you love spooky stories, with ghosts and magic, you should definitely give this one a shot!

I am looking forward to seeing what Claribel A. Ortega comes up with next. I will 100% be picking it up!

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Review: The Extraordinaires (The Extraordinaires #1) by T.J. Klune

The Extraordinaries (The Extraordinaries, #1)The Extraordinaries by T.J. Klune
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

The Extraordinaries brought an explosion of quick wit and good humor. Oh, and also Queer Superheroes and relatable fandom vibes.

Need I say more?

Set in the fictional landscape of Nova City, superheroes are very real. They’re called Extraordinaries and swoop in to save the city just as you would expect them to do.

Also, as you would expect, there are people who are obsessed with them and their own unique celebrity. Fangirls and fanboys alike swoon over their power and abilities.

Nick Bell is a regular teen in Nova City, who also happens to be the most popular fanfiction writer in the Extraordinaries fandom.

His biggest crush, Shadow Star, is currently one of the active Extraordinaries in the city. Frequently battling his archnemesis, Pyro Storm, the two sometimes leave destruction in their wakes.

Nick is invested in every minute of it.

The story follows Nick and his absolutely phenomenal friend group, as he sets his sights on a relationship with Shadow Star, even if that means he’ll need to become Extraordinary.

Y’all, the writing of this story is incredibly strong.


It’s so rapid fire and intelligent.

The dialogue amongst characters will definitely keep you on your toes. The main character, Nick, suffers from fairly severe ADHD, and in a way, the narrative seemed to reflect that.

I’m not sure if I am explaining that correctly, but it seemed as if the narrative accurately portrayed how Nick would have been experiencing, or reacting, to what was going on around him.

It felt extremely real, even though a lot of the storyline was actually rooted in unreality.

Overall, I was really, really in awe of how this story unfolded.

I loved all of the characters, the nod to classic superhero story arcs, the serious real world issues that were addressed; it was all quite impressive.

I definitely intend to carry on with this series, if there are more books planned. The characters were very easy relate to; so much so, you’ll want to be part of their friend group.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor Teen, for providing me a copy of this to read and review. I was so impressed with T.J. Klune. I cannot wait to pick up more of their work!

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Review: Akata Warrior (Akata Witch #2) by Nnedi Okorafor

Akata Warrior (Akata Witch, #2)Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

A year has passed since Sunny first discovered she was a part of the magical Leopard Society and along with her friends, Orlu, Sasha and Chichi, formed the youngest Oha Coven ever.

Now a little older, and a bit more experienced, each of the four kids have been selected by a powerful Leopard mentor to oversee their studies and continue strengthening their powers.

Sunny’s mentor, Sugar Cream, is a wise older woman with incredible power. She’s tough and I loved reading their interactions with one another. You can tell that Sugar Cream sees something very special in Sunny.

Through it all, Sunny continues to try to understand her visions of a coming apocalypse. What can she possibly do to prevent the horrific things she envisions from happening?

In the midst of all of this, her older brother departs for college. When he arrives home unexpectedly, late one night bloody and battered, Sunny knows she needs to do something.

Enlisting Chichi’s help, the two girls head off to the University to set things right. Their escapade causes Sunny to break one of the Leopard Society’s rules however and detection is swift.

Her punishment consists of Sunny being locked in the library basement, which trust me, is not as magical as it sounds.

It is during this time of isolation that Sunny begins to feel more compelled towards her quest.

Along with her friends, she must find the secret town of Osisi, facing off against mortal enemies along the way in order to stop the end of the world from coming.

I flew through this story. There is so much going on. Sunny is basically living a dual life. She has her home life with her family and regular school, as well as all of her dealings within the Leopard world.

I enjoyed watching her relationship with her family change as she changes and grows more confident in herself and her powers. Particularly, her relationship with her older brother.

The friend group, again, is the highlight of this story for me. I love the way the four personalities play off of one another.

There’s more drama in this installment as the relationships veer out of friendship territory and more into romance. Although this wasn’t my favorite plot point, I think it was executed naturally and therefore, I didn’t mind it.

In addition to the characters and relationships, I loved the world so much. It’s actually quite dark and dangerous. Our protagonists definitely do not have an easy go at it.

Okorafor uses excerpts from books that Sunny is studying to help educate the reader on the lore, history and magic system of the world. I thought that was such a fun way to develop the story.

I did get a little lost towards the end, but I think it was because I was reading so fast. I was anxious for everyone to be okay and I let that get the best of me!

The ending was so satisfying. Initially, before picking up this sequel, I wished there were more books in the series. Now that I have completed it, I couldn’t be happier with how Okorafor left Sunny.

This is odd to say, but I am proud of Sunny. Her growth and accomplishments. I am okay with leaving her here and moving on.

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Review: Akata Witch (Akata Witch #1) by Nnedi Okorafor

Akata Witch (Akata Witch, #1)Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

Nnedi Okorafor’s, Akata Witch, is an absolute treat for any YA or Middle Grade Reader who loves a magical school trope!

I was absolutely blown away by how invested I became in this story. The lore, the action, the relationships were all beautifully done.

Sunny, a 12-year old albino girl, who recently moved from New York city to Aba, Nigeria, has a hard-time fitting in. When people look at her, they seem to immediately pass judgement on her because she looks different.

At school, there are some kids she always seems to be butting heads with.

The one person who seems to accept her, full stop, is a boy named Orlu. They begin spending time together and he introduces her to a vibrant girl named, Chichi.

Chichi doesn’t go to their school as she is home-schooled by her Mom.

When Sunny first goes to Chichi’s home, she’s astounded by the number of books. The house itself seems to be built of books and on such interesting topics.

It is through Orlu and Chichi, and their afternoons together, that Sunny ultimately learns of the Leopard People, a group of magical individuals living amongst them.

Sunny is then told, that she herself, is one of these people. It is then that Sunny’s education truly begins.

Orlu and Chichi have been learning about their gifts as Leopard People for a while, so Sunny starts out a little behind.

In spite of this, she learns quickly and begins to relish her new found powers.

Together the three kids are joined by Sasha, a boy from America, and they form the youngest Oha Coven ever.

They are tasked with hunting down a serial killer, Black Hat Otokoto, kidnapping and killing children in their area.

The fearsome-foursome go head-to-head against some truly dark forces to try to protect life as we know it.

I loved this friend group so much. Their relationships blossomed over the course of the story and I grew to love each and every one of them.

I loved how Okorafor weaved the magical realm seamlessly into our own world. It was so believable. It made me believe anyway.

If you are someone who loves a strong friendship group, coming together in the face of evil, with magic, heart and humor, you absolutely need to pick this book up.

It’s so much from the very start. Super engaging, full of action and interesting characters.

I also loved the the way the folklore and legends were introduced into the story. I thought it was such a clever format for learning about the world.

I will absolutely be picking up the next book, Akata Warrior, very soon.

Is this really only going to be a duology? I feel like there is so much room this story to grow. I never want to say goodbye to Sunny, Orlu, Chichi or Sasha. Damn. I’m getting emotional already and I’ve only read the first book…

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Review: Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

Your House Will PayYour House Will Pay by Steph Cha
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

UNDERRATED BOOK ALERT!!!

Oh, shoot. Wow. This book packs a punch.

I highly recommend the audiobook. It’s chef’s kiss.

Set in L.A., this novel examines racial tensions, grief and absolution, through the lens of two families tied together by a decades old crime.

Our protagonists, Grace Park and Shawn Matthews, aren’t even aware of their connection to one another until after Grace’s mother is shot outside of the family-owned pharmacy.

As Grace tries to grapple with why anyone would target her mother, she discovers a long-buried family secret.

Through this discovery, she learns why her sister, Miriam, hasn’t spoken to their mother in almost two years. Grace doesn’t know how to react, or how to deal with the fact that her mother isn’t who she thought.

Following a police shooting of a black teenager, as well as the recent release of his cousin, Ray, from prison, Shawn Matthews experiences a lot of painful memories coming to the surface.

In the early-90s, when Shawn was a kid, his beloved sister, Ava, was shot. After the beating of Rodney King by L.A. police officers, the city was in turmoil. Ava’s death occurred during that intense time period.

I’m trying to be very careful with what I write here. I don’t want to spoil a single thing for anyone who may want to read this.

I thought the choices Cha made in the format of this story were incredible. It is so well done. I became engaged extremely quickly, the characters definitely draw you in, and keep you wanting to know more.

I thought it was cleverly plotted, alternating between the past and present timelines, as well as between Park and Matthews.

While the historical aspects demonstrate that not much has changed, we are still fighting the same fights when it comes to racism, police brutality and cultural mistrust within cities, I also think there is a lovely underlining message of hope.

That change can come. That we can break the mold. That we don’t have to fall into the same patterns as those that came before us.

It really is a powerful message. One that I think is so important for a wide audience to ingest.

There were many times when a new fact would come to light where I would audibly gasp. It was rapid fire reveal, reveal, reveal, as it all comes together.

I felt so much for both Shawn and Grace, as well as their families. Imagining all they had been through, and the reasons why, really weighs on a heart.

This novel seems to be flying under the radar. I am really hoping this review will make at least one more person pick it up. The issues tackled are so topical and important.

Why can’t that person be you!? Seriously, particularly in today’s climate, this is such an important story. Grab a copy if you can. You won’t be disappointed.

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