Black Boy Joy

edited y Kwame Mbalia
First sentence: “Homegoing.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: there is some slight romance. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but my teacher considered it a YA novel, so it’ss good for all ages?.

Here are the things I liked about this book:

It’s super diverse, even though all the authors are black men. There are science fiction stories, poems, art, contemporary stories, and ones based in mythology. They have protagonists that are non-binary, interested in sports, and interested in music and art.

It focuses on joy and celebration, even when it touches on hard things like funerals.

It’s a delight to read.

Not all the stories are equal, but that’s to be expected in a short story collection. And sometimes the joy felt unearned, but that’s because we weren’t given enough time with the characters. (Another fault of short stories.)

Even with the faults, it’s an excellent collection. Highly recommended.

Heartstopper Vol 2 and 3

by Alice Oseman
Support your local independent bookstore buy it there! (volume 2, volume 3)
Others in the series: Volume 1
Content: There is a lot of swearing and talk of sex but none actual. It’s in the Graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Oh my heart.

I am totally on team Nick and Charlie. Their romance is the cutest, sweetest thing ever.

In volume 2, Charlie and Nick officially get together, but Nick — who has realized that he’s bi — isn’t quite ready to go public with it yet. That is quite all right with Charlie, because he was bullied last year when he was accidentally outed, and doesn’t want the same for Nick.

It’s super cute, full of clandestine kisses and Nick and Charlie slowly telling everyone that they’re together.

Volume 3 is a summer trip to Paris, learning about Nick’s family, and finally being comforanble being out together. Oh, and Charlie may have an eating disorder.

It was absolutely delightful to read these, even with the high school angst and the bullies and the homophobic families. Nick and Charlie have a fantastic relationship, and I am here for it.

Bring on Volume 4!

Indian No More

by Charlene Willing McManus and Traci Sorell
First sentence: “Before being terminated, I was Indian.”
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Content: There is an adult who chain smokes, and the use of the n-word, twice, once by a racist passerby and once when the main character asks when what it means.

Regina has gown up as a Umpqua tribal member in Grand Ronde Oregon, surrounded by her family. Her father is gone a lot, working at a logging camp, so they don’t have a lot of money, but they are happy. Then the US government comes in and “terminates” the tribe, dissolving the relationship between the tribal members and the government. Because of this, if I understand it right, the tribal members no longer have rights to their land, and thus are forced to move. Regina’s father opts for an opportunity down in Los Angeles, and moves everyone down there. It’s not an esay adjustment: Regina has to face stereotypes of what an “Indian” is (from both white and non-white kids), and questions about whether she’s American enough. She has to deal with her relative poverty (in comparison to the other families in their neighborhood), and her lack of knowledge about cultural things like Halloween and the Lone Ranger. She has to learn what being an Umpqua means to her, in spite of all the challenges she and her family face.

It was a fascinating little book, about something I knew nothing about. I had no idea that the government had “terminated” tribal contracts and agreements, setting people with no real place to go. It doesn’t surprise me. This book is an excellent portrayal of people in a native tribe and the trials they face when interacting with those of us who conquered their land. It’s eye-opening, even if it is set in the 1950s. Definitely a well-written and much-needed book.

Clean Getaway

by Nic Stone
First sentence: “It might sound silly, but to William “Scoob” Lamar, the Welcome to Alabama the Beautiful sign looks… well, beautiful.
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Content: There are some uncomfortable moments. It’s i the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

William “Scoob” Lamar is having a rough year at school. First, he got in trouble for beating up a bully who was making fun of Scoob’s st friends’ younger brother. Then, he figures out how to cheat on a programming quiz, and shows other kids how to do it. He doesn’t cheat, but ends up suspended because he was the “instigator” of it all. He’s at hoe, grounded, with the spring break trip canceled. But, just when all hope was lost, his G’ma sows up with an RV asking him to take a strip with her. So, he does. and leaves his phone at home, so his dad can’t stop him from going.

But, things aren’t what Scoob expected.. While the history of his (white) grandma and his (black) grandpa is interesting — his grandma kept the Green Book that helped them travel safely though the south during the Jim Crow era — things aren’t, well, right. His grandma keeps changing the plates on the RV. She won’t answer calls from Scoob’s dad. She is being super cagey. While Scoob enjoys the history, he’s not entirely sure this vacation is all it’s cracked up to be.

This is what I wrote for my class (spoilers): “Scoob’s grandfather was arrested for grand larceny and died in prison but in the end we find out that it was Scoob’s grandmother who had stolen the jewelry. She literally let a black man take the fall for her crimes. A person she was supposed to be in love with! That she had a son with! The ending didn’t provide a lot of resolution; instead of getting punished for her life of crime (she had been stealing jewelry for YEARS), she got cancer and died. And then Scoob found her stash and got his dad to drive it to Mexico to bury it. I have NO idea what to think about this. I get the underlying message is that white people are not to be trusted, even if you’re related. That a white person will always find a black person to blame things on.”

Someone in the class pushed back and said they thought the underlying message was more about how our actions can affect more than just ourselves, and maybe that’s a better way to look at the book. It does make it more age appropriate. At any rate, the book did give me a lot to think about.  

Two Black Historical Fiction Books

Finding Langston
by Lesa Cline-Ransome
First sentence: “Never really thought much about Alabama’s red dirt roads, but now, all I an think about is kicking up their dust.”
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Content: It’s short, with short chapters and about an 11-year-old. There is some bulling. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Set in 1946, the book follows 11-year-old Langston, who has recently moved to Chicago with his father from Alabama. It’s a bit about a southern Black family trying to make a life in a big city. It’s not easy: they live in a one room apartment, Langston is bullied because of his accent, and they don’t have the comforts of family being nearby. The one thing Langston finds that is welcoming is the branch of the Chicago Public Library . he finds Black authors and learns about Langston Hughes. It makes grieving for his dad mother and the dealing with the bullies at school easier.

It’s a sweet family story, one with sympathetic characters (I even liked the dad), and a good look into issues surrounding the Great Migration. It went quick because it was short, but it had some complex character development and dealt with touch issues like classism and Northerners looking down on their Southern neighbors. I’m glad I read it.

Harlem Summer
by Walter Den Myers
First sentence:”I like Harlem in the summer except when it gets too hat, which it had been for the last week and we hadn’t even reached July yet.”
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Content: There is some violence and talk of people drinking but it’s short. It’s in the Teen section of the library, but I’d probably up t it in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Set in Harlem in the 1920s, it follows the summer of a 16-year-old named Mark. He gets a summer job at the Crisis, a magazine run by WEB DuBois celebrating the “New Negro”. All Mark wants to do, though, is play his saxophone and impress Fats Waller (who was a real person!) with his jazz. Unfortunately, that gets him into a whole mess of trouble involving stolen whiskey, gangsters, and Langston Hughes.

I didn’t like this one as much, partially because I felt like it was a who’s-who of 1920s Harlem, which is fine and all, but doesn’t led itself to a really great plot. But I also kept thinking of Kendi’s description of assimilationists, and how they wanted Black people to “prove” themselves to white people. That was a huge part of the book, the talk of “New Negros” and how the 10% was going to save the rest of the race. And that’s just, well, racist. Myers may have been poking fun at them; in the end Mark decides that the Crisis and the people there aren’t nearly as much fun or interesting as the people involved in jazz music. Even so, it bothered me. I didn’t hate the book, but I did struggle to finish it, and it just wasn’t what I had hoped it would be.

Black Girls Rock

by Beverly Bond (editor)
First sentence :”There is a palpable blissfulness in our magic.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s marketed to adults but there’s nothing objectionable. It’s in the Sociology section of the bookstore.

Bond put together a series o short personal essays from a bunch of famous Black women: activists, politicians, actors, musicians, and artists. They each told a small slice of their own story and successes. I’m not sure what the purpose was; possibly it was hoping to inspire other Black women to become their best selves. Maybe it was a collection to highlight the diversity in black Black womanhood (which it did well) and the range of experiences and successes Black women have had.

I wanted to like the book more than I actually did. I like the idea of the book. I like that this book exists. But reading it was a bit of a chore. Some of the essays were well, not great. You could tell that many weren’t writers. And while I wanted to care about their stories, I didn’t always.

Is it an important book? Yes. Was it a good one? I’m not entirely sure.

Audiobook: Velvet Was the Night

by Sylvia Moreno Garcia
Read by Gisela Chipe
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: It’s very sweary, including multiple f-bombs, very violent, and has on-screen sex. It’s in the adult section of the bookstore.

Maite, 30 years old and still unmarried, works as a secretary in a law firm in Mexico City in 1971. She’s bored with her life, lonely, and has only one thing to live for: the next issue of Secret Romance, a comic romance she follows. She reluctantly agrees to take care of her neighbor, Leonora’s, cat when she leaves the the weekend. The problem only begins when Leonora doesn’t come back. Determined to get her pay, Maite falls headfirst into a world od activist student, Russian spies, double-crossing government agents. She’s not the only one looking for Leonora, either: Elvis, who works or a shadowy government figure, is trying to track her down as well. Told in alternating narratives, Moreno-Garcia paints a picture of an underground Mexico City in the 1970s that was dangerous as it was alluring.

I’m not quite sure what to think of this one. I don’t usually go for thrillers, and so I don’t know who it stacks up in the genre. I didn’t particularly like any of the characters, though they grew on me as the book went on. Maite is so incredibly pathetic, it was hard not to feel sorry for her, but she got some pluck and drive as the book went on. Elvis seemed like a one-note character, but became more complex. At the very least, it kept me reading, which does say something. Though that may have more to do with the narrator, who was fabulous, than with the story I really enjoyed Chipe’s narration; she definitely knew how to pull the listener in, and keep them entertained

I’ve been saying at work that Moreno-Garcia doesn’t write the same book twice. If you like noir, you might like this one. It is a fascinating picture of a time in history, and she’s a good writer. I just don’t know if this is a great book.

Playing the Cards You’re Dealt

by Varian Johnson
First sentence: “The house always wins.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: October 5, 2021
Content: There is talk of addiction in adults, some bullying, and a mild “relationship”. It will be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

AnthonyJoplin — Ant to his friends, but don’t call him little — comes from a family of serious Spades players. His grandfather, his father, his brother, were all really great at it, winning the local tournament (and then some). But Ant can’t seem to get in the game. He’s “weak”. Or that the way he feels, especially around his dad, his brother, and his friend. That he needs to be stronger, better. He needs to win the tournament, for starters.

He and his friend make a good team, but when his friend is unexpectedly unable to play, Ant turns to the new girl – Shirley – as a partner. Which is its own set of problems. Add to that his father is acting weird, staying up in the middle of the night playing online poker, and Ant is just confused about what he really is supposed to expect out of life.

I love that Johnson gets the middle grade audience, tackling touch subjects like addiction and masculinity without talking down to his readers. I love that he gives us characters that are interesting and complex, which makes them and their problems seem more real. I love that he sprinkles his books with humor, so they are not depressing, but rather reflect life’s ups and downs.

The only think I didn’t like about this book was the narrator: I liked the folksy aspect of it, with the slang and the way it felt like someone telling a story, but I often felt the narrator — who was a character in their own right — got in the way of the story.

But it was’t enough to turn me off of this book. Definitely another very good read!

State of the TBR Pile: September 2021

Currently it looks like this:

Friends Forever by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham
The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez
The Near Witch by V.E. Schwab
The Last Thing He Told Me by Larua Dave
The Bachelor by Andrew Palmer
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Temple Alley Summer by Sashiko Kashiwaba

But I will probably not get to most of those, because I”m taking a class that is very reading intensive. Granted, I’m liking all the reading, so I’m not complaining. In fact, this the pile for next week:

What are you looking forward to reading this week?

Life’s Too Short

by Abby Jimenez
First sentence: “Wailing.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content:There is lots of swearing, including multiple f-bombs. There is also on-screen sex and talk of penis size. It’s in the romance section of the bookstore.

Vanessa Price is a pretty famous travel blogger, and so when she landed in St. Paul to help her sister give birth (its an unplanned an unwanted pregnancy), the last thing she expected was to end up taking care of the baby full time. But, here she is, without content, not having showered for ages. Coming to the rescue is Adrian Copeland, defense attorney, eligible bachelor, and surprising baby whisperer. As the weeks go on, Vanessa and Adrian grow closer together, figuring out life and babies and family and ultimately how to live your life to the fullest.

I absolutely devoured this one. It’s fluffy and fun, but it’s also got depth as Vanessa is dealing with a family history of ALS as well as a parent who is a hoarder and a half-sister (the baby’s mom) who is a drug addict. Mostly, though, it’s a lot of flirting and will they/won’t they and a lot of spending huge amounts of money on wine and home furnishings (Jimnez knows that a man cleaning is sexy!) and ultimately a very satisfying romance. I read it in a weekend afternoon, and then found out it was part of a “series”, so I picked up the first one.

I can’t wait to devour that one, too.