Review: The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

The Black KidsThe Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ashley Bennett is a Senior in high school. The year is 1992 and she lives in a posh L.A. neighborhood with her parents.

Attending a private school, Ashley has had a somewhat sheltered existence.

Her parents do everything they can to provide their girls with a less stressful upbringing than they had, which I think is something a lot of parents do.

But even her parents admit, for reasons you learn as the novel progresses, they may have sheltered them a little too much.

At her school, Ashley is one of only a handful of black kids in attendance. Regardless of the numbers, all of her friends are white.

Ashley doesn’t find it odd that she is the only black girl in her friend group. It has always been that way and even when her closest friends make racist comments, she shrugs it off. It’s just how it goes.

Her comfy existence is shaken, however, after a young black man, Rodney King, is beaten nearly to death by LAPD officers and the subsequent trial of those involved.

Even though there is video evidence of the heinous acts of violence, the policemen are acquitted and the city erupts in anger. Protests and riots sweep the city and the topic of race is on everyone’s lips.

Ashley’s sister, Jo, becomes involved in the protests and her Uncle’s store is threatened by looters. It becomes unsafe to leave the house and the smell of smoke and char lingers in the air.

These events force Ashley to examine her life and her position as a black woman in a way she never has before. She starts to learn more about her family and what it means to be black in America.

This book was a ride for me. I feel like my attachment to it evolved along with the story itself.

It was a difficult one for me to rate, as I was torn almost the entire way through about how I felt about it.

On the one hand, the content, real-world issues and personal growth, were A++, 5-stars. This story is extremely topical and definitely packs a punch.

On the other hand, there’s the style in which it is told. That is what was rough for me. The stream of consciousness narrative is always very hard for me to get into. It just does not vibe for me at all.

If I were rating this book based solely on that, I would have given it 3-stars. I decided on a 4-star rating as it is a fair way for me to express my overall experience with the story; style versus substance be damned.

Please note, my personal preference for not liking stream of consciousness narrative is in no way a reflection on this author. She is clearly very talented and I am sure she chose the format she felt best to tell Ashley’s experiences.

I loved the story behind the style. Does that make sense?

Additionally, I thought using a historical event to frame this discussion was such a smart choice. It made the whole story feel very real.

I was in the 8th-grade at the time the officers were originally acquitted and although I lived on the opposite-side of the country, the impact was felt like a shock wave. I have never read a fictionalized story framed around that time and really appreciated that context.

I also appreciated Ashley’s growth as a character. She truly transformed from start to finish and by the end, I was attached her.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this novel. It’s a hard-hitting Contemporary that everyone should read.

A huge thank you to the publisher, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

I look forward to reading more from Christina Hammonds Reed in the future!

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Review: Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Today Tonight TomorrowToday Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A super precious love letter to Seattle and first loves.

Sticky sweet in every way. I absolutely adored this!

On the last day of Senior year, Rowan Roth wants to beat her archenemy, Neil McNair, one last time. The two have been in a brutal competition with one another since the start of high school, coming in first and second at almost EVERYTHING.

The rank of valedictorian is no different; a goal they have both been working towards. Early in the day, it is announced that Neil has won the honor, and Rowan is understandably crushed.

She now literally only has one opportunity left to beat him. Senior Howl, a scavenger hunt-type game arranged by the Junior class, and played by the Seniors on their last day.

Rowan is confident she has what it takes to go the distance with Howl. No one knows and loves the city of Seattle like she does. These scavenger hunt clues don’t stand a chance of stopping her.

When word gets out that a group of Seniors want to take Neil and Rowan out of Howl, the odd couple must team up and work together if they want to survive the night.

Please note, by survive the night, I just mean that people playing against them have the ability to tag them out of play, not literally that people are trying to kill them.

As the day and night go on, Rowan and Neil begin to open up to one another and something truly magical happens.

I have not felt this in love with two teens relationship since Love & Gelato. They are both incredibly smart, well-balanced characters and their banter back and forth was everything.

While the relationship between Rowan and Neil makes up the bulk of the story, this book also delves into some fairly serious topics as well.

I think as an examination of the feelings and concerns someone on the cusp of adulthood may have, Solomon did a great job. It’s a scary time, graduating high school and potentially leaving everything you have ever known behind.

It can be sad and scary, while also being exciting as you forge out on your own.

The dichotomy of those feelings can be incredibly confusing and I think the author did a phenomenal job of laying that out there.

Overall, I was really impressed with this. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who loves YA Contemporary stories.

I literally have no critiques. The more I think on it, the more I love it. I am definitely looking forward to reading more from Rachel Lynn Solomon.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Simon Pulse, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. It was a blast!

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Flashback Review: Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

AllegedlyAllegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 

Hello, my lovely book friends! Today I thought I would bring you a Flashback review. I originally read and reviewed this novel back in September 2018.

Why am I bringing it up again, you may be wondering?

That’s easy. Because I love this book and still think about it to this day. Also, this novel introduced me to one of my FAVORITE YA Contemporary authors. Tiffany D. Jackson’s writing takes me places and I love every minute of it. Read my full thoughts below and I hope, if you haven’t already, you’ll seriously consider picking up some of Jackson’s work!

Allegedly was Tiffany D. Jackson’s debut novel!?

Yeah, think on that for a while. This. Is. A. Debut.

I am still reeling from this book. It’s one of those stories that sticks with you long after you turn the final page.

Following teenage protagonist, Mary Addison, after she is released from ‘Baby Jail.‘, she now resides in a group home and is trying to adapt to surroundings.

Mary Addison entered Baby Jail after being accused, and prosecuted, for killing a baby that she was helping her mother take care of.

Allegedly.

The majority of the book is stream of consciousness narrative, which generally is hit or miss for me. This is a definite hit and how it should be done.

It was incredibly moving to hear Mary’s remembrances of various parts of her childhood, her challenging relationship with her mentally ill mother, and of her alleged crime.

The rest of the book cleverly fills in the blanks with an excellent assortment of mixed media sources, such as police interviews and court transcripts.

I thought the blending of these two styles together was executed perfectly to reveal the truth at the heart of the story.

The thing I appreciated most about this book was the way it reflected upon the juvenile justice system. Shining a much needed light on the hopelessness and desperation these kids experience, not to mention the general systematic failures.

Behind every case number, inmate number and statistic, is a story. This is just one.

Mary Addison is a whip-smart, mixed race girl, who struggles with low feelings of self-worth and faces a boatload of obstacles.

Her codependency with her mother and her mental illness was so raw. I truly felt for this girl. I was drawn into her story. It was such a struggle to get through some sections, but completely worth it.

It was so well done that at times, I would be so wrapped up, I had to remind myself that Mary Addison is FICTION. Sadly, for a lot of kids out there, too many kids, this story is all too real.

I did listen to the audiobook for this and DAMN, Bahni Turpin can make you feel all the feels. She is so talented and truly brought the story to life for me. I was listening to Mary as far as I was concerned. I could not recommend this audiobook highly enough.

Loved it, loved it, loved it!

Tiffany D. Jackson is one hell of a writer!

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Review: The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

The Black FlamingoThe Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I LOVED THIS SO MUCH!!!!

The Black Flamingo is a novel written in verse. My first read ever in verse. Going in, I was concerned. I wanted to read it because of the subject matter, but I just wasn’t sure if the format would work for me.

My experience with poetry, of any sort, is limited, and those I have had, were not great. My mind just generally doesn’t work that way. Maybe I’m too literal, but I tend to have a hard time deciphering the meaning and I become easily frustrated.

I decided to try the audiobook because it is read by the author, Dean Atta, who happens to be a well-known poet, and I figured, who better to hear the words from, in the way he wants them to be heard.

Upon conclusion, I know that was the correct decision for me. I definitely recommend the audiobook for other readers who may be apprehensive about a novel written in verse.

It literally feels like you are sitting down to coffee with a new friend and hearing about their life thus far.

This story follows Michael, a mixed race, gay boy growing up in the UK. The narrative follows him from the very beginning of his life, up through his time at University; although the bulk of it does take place during his teen years.

He goes in depth into his thoughts and feelings surrounding his family, his heritage of being part-Greek Cypriot and part-Jamaican, his heartache over his absentee father, his discovery of his sexuality and many other topical issues.

As a reader, it completely sucks you in. I could not stop listening. I just let the words wash over me and take me into Michael’s world.

With this novel, I felt the same as I did with Kacen Callender’s, Felix Ever After, in that I was completely and whole-heartedly entranced by the main character’s story and emotions.

I think with both it has to do with the writing. You are reading from the main character’s perspective the entire way through and you get access to their deepest, most open thoughts. Thoughts they may never choose to vocalize to other characters.

I think due to this special insight and openness with emotion, it is very easy to become attached to them, as you know how precious they are and how hurtful the world can be. It made me feel protective of both Michael and Felix; it also opened my eyes to perspectives they discussed that I will never experience myself.

That’s the best way I can think to describe how this book made me feel. My apologies if that makes no sense at all.

My best advice, read it for yourself. I think you’ll understand after you do.

I loved the evolution of Michael’s character as he literally grows up and discovers the best ways for him to express himself and live happily. His character is very open to the experience of University life and takes in all the activities that may not have been available to him when he was younger.

When he joins the Drag Society he begins to gain the confidence he needs to finally be the person he wants to be. These sections, particularly the final scene with his performance, were incredibly moving. Applause for days!

In short, this is an amazing novel, one I think any person can read and take their own lessons from. I will definitely be more comfortable picking up novels written in verse in the future.

Let this be a lesson to you, read outside of your comfort zones!! You never know what GEMS you will find!

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Review: The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake

The Last True Poets of the SeaThe Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

🧡💛💚💙💜

Violet Larkin’s life is spiraling out of control. Even she realizes she is not making the best choices for herself, but she can’t stop.

Urges hit her and the NYC nights grow longer, the drinking more ample and the sex more risky.

When her younger brother, Sam, attempts to take his own life, Violet even acts out at the hospital.

The situation is overwhelming and scary. Despite the serious nature of their circumstances as a family, she just can’t stop herself.

Her parents catch her hitting on a much older man at the vending machines and know that something must change or they risk losing both of their children.

While her brother Sam heads off to Vermont for treatment, Violet is sent to Lyric, Maine, to stay with her Uncle.

Luckily, Violet doesn’t see Maine as a punishment. In fact, her great-great-great Grandmother founded the town of Lyric after surviving a shipwreck, and they travel there as a family every summer.

She has a lot of good memories in that town. Maybe it will help her slow her brain down and find some inner peace.

Violet settles in quickly. Her Uncle is kind and understanding of her needs.

She gets a job at the local aquarium, and although still struggling with the stressors of her regular life, begins to make a new group of friends.

One of Violet’s missions for the summer is to locate the shipwreck that her ancestor survived. It is something she and Sam always talked about doing together and she wants to find it for him.

Along with her new friends, including a truth-seeking girl who makes Violet’s pulse race, she sets out to unravel the mystery of the wreck.

This is such a beautifully told story about family, self-discovery and forgiveness. Drake packed this full of hella serious subject matter, while writing with such humanity and care, it filled my heart.

The friendship group that Violet finds in Lyric are complete friendship goals. Additionally, the evolution of her relationship with Liv…

It was everything. It felt so real. The anticipation, those moments when you first figure out your feelings for another person. The excitement. I was legit swooning.

I also really appreciated Violet’s family. I like that her parents were supportive and loving. You could tell they wanted what was best for their kids.

I think oftentimes in literature, YA in particular, it seems like if a character is struggling with their mental health, they come from a horrible family, or their family isn’t there for them.

I thought it was nice to show that issues with mental health impact people from all segments of society, great families and not so great families alike. I also thought the ranges of the issues both Violet and Sam are working through were more varied than you generally see.

As you can tell, I was really impressed with how this novel handled the topic of mental health.

Overall, The Last True Poets of the Sea is the perfect read for anyone looking for a hard-hitting, Queer YA Contemporary. If those buzzwords work for you, make sure you pick this up!!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney-Hyperion, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. It is a story I will never forget.

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Review: The Princess and the Fangirl (Once Upon a Con #2) by Ashley Poston

The Princess and the Fangirl (Once Upon a Con, #2)The Princess and the Fangirl by Ashley Poston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jessica Stone planned to use the Starfield reboot as a stepping stone to greatness. Unfortunately, she doesn’t feel it’s working out that way.

Afraid of being typecast, she wants to distance herself from it as much as she can, but with the sequel in the works and the fate of her character up in the air, that is becoming a challenge.

Attending the same Con that her costar, Darien, met the love of his life, Elle Wittimer, at the previous year, she begins to feel overwhelmed by the pressure of it all.

Imogen Lovelace is a fangirl attending the Con as well. A fangirl who looks surprisingly like Jessica Stone. When people end up confusing one for the other, a brilliant life swap takes place.

Imogen is hoping to save her favorite character, Princess Amara, from being wiped out of the Starfield universe forever. Certainly, Jessica, who played Amara on screen would agree?

We follow the two girls as they swap lives and learn the valuable lesson of, the grass is not always greener on the other side of that damn fence.

I was so happy to return to ExcelsiCon and the whole fan vibe surrounding it. For me, this one wasn’t quite as enjoyable as Geekerella.

I legit swooned over that for a week!

While I did still like this a lot, Ashley Poston’s writing is just so fun, I think it suffered a bit because I don’t really know the story of The Prince and the Pauper.

Obviously, this is not the book’s fault, it is mine.

One of the things I loved so much about Geekerella was all the little details connected to the original Cinderella story. To me, these were like finding little Easter eggs throughout. I loved it!

I still had a lot of fun with this book, don’t get me wrong, just not as much.

I am really looking forward to Book 3, a Beauty and the Beast retelling! Heck, I know that story like I wrote it myself.

To the stars, Ashley Poston!

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Blog Tour: Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

Tweet CuteTweet Cute by Emma Lord
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My heart just exploded over the cheesiest (grilled-cheesiest, that is) romance I have ever read!!!

Love, love, love this with my whole body and soul!

When fast food behemoth, Big League Burger, announces a new line of grilled cheese sandwiches, no one is more surprised than twins, Jack and Ethan Campbell.

Their surprise comes from the fact that one of the specialty sandwiches has the exact same ingredients, and name, as a grill cheese they know very well.

It was created by their Grandma and has been on their family’s New York City deli menu for decades.

Shocked and chagrined by the announcement, Jack turns to Twitter to call BLB out. That one tweet sparks an epic Twitter battle that takes not just NYC, but the world by storm!

Little does he know, at the other end of the Big League Burger Twitter account, is an overachieving classmate of his, Pepper.

Pepper is not native to NYC, having moved there at the start of high school, leaving her hometown of Nashville behind.

Feeling lost and alone in the big city, Pepper throws herself into her studies with an intensity unmatched by most of her peers at the super competitive private school in which she is enrolled.

Unfortunately, neither teen is prepared for the physical and emotional toll the social media battle will have on them.

Over time, neither Jake, nor Pepper feels good about the whole thing and both wish they weren’t involved. They’re losing sleep and other more wholesome activities begin to take a backseat to the nonstop drama fest.

At school, Pepper and Jake begin to see more and more of each other and a precious friendship develops.

Little do they know, they have also been corresponding for months on an anonymous direct messaging app created by Jake and used by everyone in their school.

Assigned the pseudonyms, Wolf and Bluebird, their flirty banter is a ray of light in both their lives. But when Jack inadvertently figures out who Bluebird is, how will he navigate transitioning their relationship from the screen to real life.

Full of heart, humor and delicious food, Tweet Cute is sure to delight readers of all ages. I absolutely ate up this story from beginning to end.

There is so much more to this than I have words to describe here. Great friendships, fantastic character growth, witty banter, this book truly brought it all!

Pepper and Jack were both so well developed. The challenges they faced as they completed high school, trying to figure out what they wanted to do with their lives, were really well handled.

Family is a big influence on this story as well and I thought those elements were so relatable and well written.

I am really impressed with this as a debut novel. The pacing and plot twists were expertly crafted to keep the reader engaged throughout.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Wednesday Books, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review, as well as including me in the blog tour.

It has been so much fun and I wish Emma Lord the best with this release.

If this book is any indication, she is poised to have one heck of a career. I cannot wait to see what sort of story she comes up with next!

Tweet Cute releases on Tuesday, January 21st and will be available at your favorite book sellers and via online retailers. Be sure to pick up your copy. You don’t want to miss out on this adorable story!

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Review: Jane Anonymous by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Jane AnonymousJane Anonymous by Laurie Faria Stolarz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jane Anonymous is your run of the mill, 17-year old girl, living in a suburban town, New England state.

That is until she gets abducted while out running an early morning errand. She remains in captivity for 7-months. Locked in a room. Alone.

This is her story, following ‘then’ and ‘now’ timelines until ‘then’ and ‘now’ merge. The narrative itself is more ‘stream of consciousness’ then I tend to enjoy but I’ll tell you what, in this case, it didn’t bother me at all.

I actually feel that it was a really smart choice by the author, as it made the conveyance of this wild tale seem more real. Like a friend was recounting a horrific thing that had happened to them.

When I say ‘horrific thing’, I mean it. This book is not for the sensitive. The violence perpetrated against Jane, being stripped of her freedom and her sense of safety, amongst other traumas, was hard to read.

Her efforts toward recovery were equally heavy and disturbing. In some ways, I think that was even more difficult to read, her struggles to try to adapt back to the life she had before.

Severe trauma, feeling broken and the pathways to recovery are all covered within these pages. I think if this book is read at the right time, by the right person, it could really mean a lot to them and become a favorite.

Hard-hitting the entire way through, if you can stomach it, I think the message of hope that ultimately shines through is worth the effort.

It was that way for me, at least. Although my heart was a little battered and bruised at the end, it was worth it.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Wednesday Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I appreciate it!

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Review: All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Joline Courtney

All-American Muslim GirlAll-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Allie Abraham is a regular girl. Living in the South with her close-knit family, she excels in school and participates in the general activities that most kids her age take part in.

The thing is, Allie is keeping a secret from the outside world. Her family is Muslim and she’s not sharing that fact with anyone.

This book opens up with a blatant display of discrimination against her father and it really never lets up from there.

Although this story may make some people uncomfortable, I think it is an important story and a powerful examination of identity and societal prejudices.

While it is true that this is a story that needs to be written, and more importantly read, it wasn’t necessarily what I was expecting which decreased my enjoyment level just a smidge.

I was sold on this book as a sweet romance between a Muslim girl and a boy whose father is one of America’s most notorious shock jocks. It is true that this exists in this story, however, I wanted more of Allie and Wells.

For me, the focus of the book was obviously Allie’s own exploration of her identity and owning and embracing her faith. A lot of the time we follow her with a new group of friends she discovers over the course of the book and their discussions of Islam as it relates to their lives and the larger world around them.

I did appreciate those discussions but as mentioned earlier, I picked this up with romance in mind and really wanted more of that.

As a Contemporary exploring self-identity and the Muslim faith in general, this was really well done. Courtney has a smooth and easy writing style and I would definitely pick up more books from her.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I truly appreciate the opportunity and am so happy this book is out in the world!

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Review: Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Dear MartinDear Martin by Nic Stone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Impactful. Important. Immersive.

There are many different ways in which we learn about the world around us. One of the most important ways is through experience.

Our personal experiences help to shape our views, opinions and really who we are as people.

As we all know, people experience the world differently for a variety of distinct reasons. Unfortunately, one way in which this is true is based on the color of a person’s skin.

I know that as a white person, there are certain issues that I will never understand based on personal experience; I have to look outside myself and my day-to-day existence if I want to acknowledge and understand these important matters that affect so many.

That’s one of the reasons why I think books such as this are so crucial. That’s one of the many reasons why there has been such a push, and a well-received push fortunately, for more OWN voices books.

They provide windows through the eyes of the characters, so the reader can learn and gain knowledge from the life experiences of another.

Dear Martin is a wonderfully written novella about a boy struggling to understand race relations within his community and the country, the United States, at large.

I loved the format of this and although some of it seemed ‘surface level’, as I have noticed some readers comment, I think overall that was a wise choice by the author.

In my opinion, to make this story approachable to the widest audience, it was important to keep it this way. Not everyone is comfortable picking up a 400 or 500-page book like most of us are.

I think the way this story was written helps to get it into the hands of the largest number of people possible and for a story as important as this, that is what matters.

I highly recommend picking this one up if you haven’t already.

Nic Stone is a talented storyteller and I look forward to reading more of her work.

As mentioned above, this is short so if you are looking for some shorter reads to help you reach that GoodReads 2019 Reading Challenge goal, you should definitely pick this one up.

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