Audiobook: Blood Debts

by Terry J Benton-Walker
Read by Bahni Turpin, Joniece Abbott-Pratt, Torian Brackett & Zeno Robinson
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Or Listen at Libro.fm
Release date: April 4, 2023
Content: There is a lot of violence, a lot of swearing, including many f-bombs, and an on-screen sex scene. It will be in the Teen (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

The basic plot? Clem and Chris Trudeau are practitioners of Generational magic – a branch of magic along with Light and Moon and Necromancy. But their family hasn’t had the best history with it. Their grandmother was the leader of the Gen magic council but was framed for murder and killed by an angry mom. Their father was killed after something went wrong with a spell Chris cast. And their mother was slowly dying until they found the cause: a hex doll. Chris and Clem are determined (in spite of adults telling them to stay out of it) to figure out why their family has had such a run of bad luck with magic and fix it.

Truth be told, it’s a LOT more than just that. This book has everything. Family drama? Check. Solving multiple murders? Check. Stupid white people with grudges and guns? Check. Authorities refusing to help because the Trudeaus are black? Check. Zombies? Check. (Seriously.) Wonderfully sweet gay love? Check. Complicated gay love? Check. This book has EVERYTHING. It’s so much.

That’s not to say it was bad. It wasn’t. The audio is especially good – the narrators pulled me in and kept me coming back for more, even as I wanted to cringe and pull away because it’s a LOT. But, I really liked the magic system Benton-Walker dreamed up, and I liked the way he wove the challenges and triumphs of Black people into the book. There’s surprisingly a lot to talk about. (There’s just a LOT. Period.)

In the end, I think it was good? I’m still reeling from the end, and I want to know if there’s another, so at the very least, it hooked me.

Figure it Out, Henri Weldon

by Tanita S. Davis
First sentence: “Fluorescent lights really, really sounded like bees, Henrietta decided, shifting in her seat.”
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Disclaimer: Tanita and I are both on the Cybils board, but I purchased the book.
Content: There’s some mild bullying. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Henrietta – Henri for short – Weldon feels like she has a lot to figure out. She’s in 7th grade, but she’s just transferred to a public school, so the family could afford for her mother to get her Ph.D. It’s an adjustment, to say the least. On top of that, Henri and her older sister, Kat, are always arguing, though Henri feels like it’s always Kat picking on and nagging her. Kat has, especially, told Henri she is not to be friends with the Morgans – a group of foster kids living in the same home. Except the Morgans are nice to Henri. And then there’s math, which Henri just doesn’t get. As things start piling up, and she feels less and less like she has support at home, Henri wonders: Will she ever figure things out?

This was such a charming book. The sibling rivalry felt realistic, even though I felt bad for Henri – she was really trying her best, and her family just kept piling on. Families do that, though. And I can see how the youngest child would especially feel that. I liked the way Tanita depicted Henri’s learning disability; there are a lot of books out there on dyslexia and other reading disorders, but not much about dyscalculia, and I appreciated learning how Henri dealt with it. But, mostly it was a book about a girl trying to figure things out, which feels very 7th-grade. And I really really liked it.

Audio book: Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute

by Talia Hibbert
Read by: Amina Koroma & Jonathan Andrew Hume
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is talk of sex and lots of swearing including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Celine Bangura is a driven person. She wants to succeed, be the best, and — not least on her list — show her deadbeat dad who left her, her sister, and their mother to start a new family that he’s better than he is. So, she signs up for an elite scholarship opportunity that will not only allow her to study law but will also give her that prime opportunity to show up her dad. But when her ex-best friend-turned-traitor Bradley Graeme decides to do the program as well? It’s just become that much more important that Celine get one of the coveted golden compasses.

However, once they get into the program, Celine and Bradley discover that not only do they work together well, their old friendship – once everything has been explained and forgiven – just might be something more.

This one was super cute. I liked that both characters were driven and smart, and that they didn’t sacrifice their goals for the sake of “being together”. I liked that neither character was perfect: Celine was dealing with the trauma of her dad leaving, and Bradley has OCD and anxiety and has to deal with at. But, most of all I adored listening to the narrators. They were delightful to listen to, and made an already fun story even more entertaining.

Highly recommended, and I may go check out some of Hibbert’s adult books too!

YA Graphic Novel Roundup 7

This is the last roundup for the year. My panel has met, and we’ve talked about all the books and come up with her our lists., which I’m quite proud of. It’s a good list, reflective of all the good graphic novels that have been published hits year We’ll announce it on January 1st!

Victory. Stand!
by Tommie Smith, Derrick Barnes, and Dawud Anyabile
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is racism and depictions of injustice. It’s in the Middle Grade Sports section of the bookstore.

This is the story of how Tommie Smith got to the 1968 Olympics, and the story behind the famous picture of him and John Carlos raising their fists at the medal ceremony. It’s a remarkable story, one full of sacrifice and good luck and determination and support. There is fighting for equality and civil rights, as well as excellence in sports.

I know I’ve seen the photo lots of times, but honestly, I’ve never thought about the story behind it. As a result, this book was incredibly fascinating. I liked hearing Smith’s story and the sacrifices and hardships as well as the opportunities he had on his path toward the Olympics. it was a reminder that racism was (is) everywhere, not just in the South, and that things were (are) much harder for Black people than it needed to be. The amount of racism that Smith faced is astounding, and it’s a little-known civil rights story that deserves to be told. An excellent book.

Tiny Dancer
by Siena Cherson Siegel and Mark Siegel
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Other ins the “series”: To Dance
Content: There are some mild swearing, divorce, and body image issues. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

About 16 years ago, the Siegels wrote a middle-grade graphic novel about Siena’s experience being a ballerina. It’s a good book, one that talks about the path to being a professional ballerina, and the subsequent injury that derailed Siena’s career. I thought it was a good story, a complete story, but the Siegels must have thought there was more to tell. Enter Tiny Dancer, where Siena goes deeper into what it takes to be a ballerina on the highest level and the consequences and aftermath of her injury. I don’t know if this book was necessary, but I found it interesting and worth reading. It hits some of the same beats as To Dance, but it adds another, deeper layer to the story. And, as usual, Mark Siegel’s art is beautiful, capturing the elegance of the dancers as well as the pain and indecision post-injury. A good book, overall.

Slip
by Marika McCoola and Aatmata Pandya
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Content: There is talk of mental illness, as well attempted suicide, and some swearing, including a couple f-bombs.

Jade has gotten into a prestigious art camp, a place for her to hone her art and get ready for art school. Right before she leaves, she finds out that her best friend Phoebe has attempted suicide and has been hospitalized. Jade still goes to the camp, but finds that she can’t focus because she’s worried about Phoebe. She also feels guilty as she develops feelings for another camper, Mary. It’s compliated dealing with everything, and Jade is not quite sure how to move on.

I really liked this one. I liked the discussion of mental illness and the difficulty it is when friends don’t know what to do when their friends are sick. I liked the art aspect, and the slight magical realism in it. It’s beautifully drawn, and I think it opens up an avenue for discussions of suicide and how to deal with friends who are suffering. Really really good.

EMG Graphic Novel Round Up 7

The Golden Hour
by Nikki Smith
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Content: There is some depiction of a school shooting, talk of PTSD, and depictions of anxiety attacks. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Manuel is just getting back to school after witnessing his teacher get shot in a shooting (it was during the break; he happened to be at school helping his teacher when it happened). He’s not going great, mostly because he keeps having panic attacks that get triggered by his environment or the words being said. But he makes friends with Sebastian and Cayasha, who are part of the ag club. He goes out to Sebastian’s family farm and learns about cows and chickens and farm work. He also discovers that taking photographs helps ground him in the present and reduces his panic attacks. But, when he goes off to camp with Sebastian, they come back strong. Will Manuel ever recover?

I really liked this one. Not only because it was set among the wheat fields of Kansas (and written by someone who grew up here!), but because Smith focused on the healing aspect of a shooting and not the terror part. I liked that she addressed PTSD in kids, and how to handle it (with a therapist, of course). A really solid graphic novel, and one I thoroughly enjoyed.

Enemies
by Svetlana Chmakova
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Others in the series: Awkward, Brave, Crush, Diary
Content: There is verbal fighting and sibling rivalry. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Felicity is an artist and a gamer and has tons of friends at middle school. What she is not: good at making deadlines. Her younger sister, Letty, who is accomplished in all the “right” ways, likes driving that point home. So, when Felicity sees a poster about a “pitch the future” contest, she figures it’s her chance to actually win for once. The problem is that when she shows up to the meeting, her ex-friend (now enemy?), Joseph Koh is there. How will she be able to come up with an idea and deal with the drama surrounding Joseph as well?

I’ve liked this series by Chmakova in the past (I’ve read three of the five now), and this one is no exception. They work well as standalones, but you can also read the entire series and get to know all the kids from the middle school. It’s a good depiction of middle school and the different challenges kids have. I liked that this one featured a black girl who liked art and gaming. I liked her parents, and I liked that the friendships weren’t always smooth. It’s a solid book in a solid series.

The Woman in the Woods
Edited by Kei McDonald, Kate Ashwin, & Alina Pete
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Content: A couple of the stories could be scary for sensitive readers. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

In this collection of short folktales based on Indigenous mythologies and stories, there are trickster rabbits, shapeshifters, Rougarou, and other stories from differing tribes throughout the Americas.

All the stories were well-drawn and interesting, though my favorite was the Rougarou myth. Rougarou was a monster that existed because someone looked at a Rougarou. If you look at it, you turn into one, and you’re that way for 100 days. if you can survive the 100 days, you turn back, but with no memory. In this story, a boy finds the Rougarou in the woods, and knowing what he’s seeing, blindfolds himself. And then he proceeds to befriend the monster. It’s really sweet. It’s a good collection of stories and one I’m glad to have read.

Miss Quinces
by Kat Fajardo
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Content: There is a death in the family, which might be difficult for some readers. It’s in the Middle Grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Sue just wants to go to sleepaway camp with her friends this summer, but her mami won’t let her go anywhere without her sisters, and besides, it’s their family trip to Honduras. Once in Honduras – away from cell phones and the internet! – Sue discovers that her mami has decided that Sue needs a quinceañera. Sue puts up a fight, initially, until her abuela (who isn’t doing too well), helps her find ways to make it more, well, Sue-like.

This is a super charming story about finding one’s place. Fajardo got across how hard it is to be a child of immigrants; not American enough to quite fit in (her mami has super strict rules, and doesn’t understand some of the things that Sue is into), but she doesn’t quite fit in with her family in Honduras, either (she doesn’t speak Spanish terribly well, and doesn’t want a quinceañera). I liked the story, overall, and there were some tender and touching moments. It’s an excellent graphic novel.

EMG Graphic Novel Roundup 6

The Wolf Suit
by Sid Sharp
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Content: There are some scary moments, and handwriting might be difficult for younger children to read. It’s in the Middle-Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Bellweather is a simple sheep: he just wants to live in his little house by the forest and eat blackberries. However, in the forest are some Scary Wolves, who make it difficult to enjoy the delights of the forest. So one day, Bellweather decides to make a wolf suit and put it on, so he can go into the forest and enjoy it. However, there are Complications with being a wolf, and as Bellweather makes more wolf friends, he discovers that maybe being a wolf isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Oh my heavens, this was so cute. From the super-charming illustrations to the laugh-inducing twist (it’s even funny if you see it coming), it’s just all-around enjoyable. I loved it so much.

Fibbed
by Elizabeth Agyemang
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Content: There are some scary moments. It’s in the Middle-Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Nana is a storyteller – she tells the things she sees. However, she seems to be the only one who sees them! Which means that everyone around her thinks that she’s a liar. And when she is sent to be with family in Ghana for the summer, it only intensifies. Especially when she starts seeing Ananse, the trickster god of stories, and learns about the evil that is going on in the forest.

This was a really intriguing way to approach the Ananse tales. I liked that Agyemang updated them, making them more contemporary while keeping the traditional feel. I liked Nana and the way she learned and grew in Ghana and the friends she made. I also liked the way that she and her friends were able to work with Ananse and defeat the colonizers. It’s a solid retelling with a modern spin, and I liked it a lot.

A Tale as Tall as Jacob
by Samantha Edwards
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Content: There is a lot of baby destruction and some sibling fighting. It’s in the Middle-Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

in this graphic sort-of memoir, Edwards recalls her childhood with a brother who was (eventually) diagnosed with ADHD. Jacob was rambunctious and sometimes violent, and often intrusive in Samantha’s personal space. It was challenging to be Jacob’s sister, but there were some good parts, too.

I thought this was an interesting look at ADHD. I feel there is a lot about how the person with ADHD feels or reacts to the world, but it’s not often we are given the perspective of a sibling. I appreciated that outside perspective, and how Edwards reacted to and with her brother. There were some genuinely sweet moments as well as more tense ones. It’s was really an insightful and interesting (and short) book.

The Doors to Nowhere
by Chris Grine
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Content: There is death and some scary moments. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Willow and her friends have gotten to know an old vampire, Elric, who happens to be caught up in this centuries-old conflict after stopping a grand spellbinder from becoming immortal (by killing a baby, who happened to have been Willow’s great-grandmother). In book one (I love it when I get sequels without reading the first one first!), Willow made a wish and it comes true in this book: she can read and speak Gnomish, which allows her to open her great-grandmother’s spellbook. They are chased by the weird museum curator in town (who happens to be an evil elf), who wants to resurrect the grand spellbinder. The kids can stop him, but at what cost?

If you’re lost, well, it makes a bit more sense while reading the book. I think it would make a LOT more sense if I had read the first one as well. I liked the story well enough: it was quick-paced, full of action, and I liked the way the kids – who all had different abilities – worked together. It’s the start (I think?) of a series, that I think kids will like (it’s giving off strong Amulet vibes). Not bad at all.

Just Roll with It
By Veronica Agarwal and Lee Durfey-Lavoie
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Content: There is discussion of mental illness and anxiety. It’s in the Middle-Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Maggie just wants to be like everyone else. But, starting sixth grade has increase her anxiety, and she finds that she has to do certain things to make it through the day. She switches the light switch on and off when she gets home from school (or the house will be sad and might break down), she can’t lend her books out to her new friends. And, most importantly, she needs her d20 to let her know what she can and cannot do. But, as she makes more friends through the after-school RPG club, she finds ways to be more confident. And when she gets professional help for her OCD, she is finally able to become her best self.

There’s a lot of talking about mental illness in the graphic novels this year, and this one is no exception. Aragwal and Durfey-Lavoie provide a look into what having OCD might be like for one person. I was concerned that Maggie and her parents would try to solve this one by themselves, and was gratified when they got a professional invovled. I’m not sure it stood out to me, but I like that it’s out there for kids to be seen as well as for others to learn more about what OCD really is like.

Cat’s Cradle: The Golden Twine
by Jo Rioux
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Content: There are monsters and some scary moments. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Suri is a storyteller and a foundling that has found a home (sort of) at a traveling carnival. What she wants to be, though, is a monster hunter. Her stories all involve monsters and their capture, and she’s sure she can do that job. If anyone will let her. When the carnival stops, there are rumors of a caitsith, a cat-like monster who can pass for a human. Suri inadvertently encounters one, and takes their golden twine (it’s what makes the caitsith’s human), and then is chased by the monsters before realizing that the carnival has taken off without her.

If you can’t tell from the summary, there’s not a lot to the graphic novel. It’s nicely drawn, but the story…. lacks something. Well, maybe a lot of things. It’s got the bones of a good book, though maybe it’s just the set-up for more adventures (it is book 1, after all). Unfortunately, it’s not quite there as a really good book for me.

Audiobook: Whiteout

by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, Nicola Yoon
Read by Joniece Abbott-Pratt, Dion Graham, Imani Parks, Jordan Cobb, Shayna Small, A.J Beckles & Bahni Turpin
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Others in the “series” Blackout
Content: There is some mild swearing and one almost on-screen sex scene. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Much like Blackout, this book has an overriding premise: a snowstorm has hit Atlanta and has shut down everything (which, to be honest, I’ve experienced. It’s not fun.). People are stranded all over town, from the airport to the stadium to the local music venue. And everyone has a purpose: to help their friend apologize to her girlfriend and win her back.

It’s kind of a silly premise, but then this is not only a YA romance, but it also is a Christmastime/holiday YA romance, so of course, it’s a bit implausible. Everyone ends up with their happily ever after, though the authors do leave you guessing for a bit as to whether or not it will actually happen. It’s a whole lot of spectacle, though not a whole lot of falling in love. Instead, the authors chose to focus on established relationships: whether they are friends looking to level up, or old flames, or making up after a fight. It made the whole story smoother, knowing that these teenagers all had a past together. Additionally, there was so much gay in this book, it was wonderful.

On top of that, the full-cast recording made the whole book just a pleasure to listen to. I really loved this one.

YA Graphic Novel Round-up 3

M is for Monster
by Talia Dutton
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Content: It’s raising a body from the dead, and dealing with issues of identity. it’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

M is Maura, Dr. Frances Ai’s sister, brought back to life. On the one hand, M wants to continue living, so she pretends to be Maura. (Dr. Francis is so desperate to get her sister back that if this didn’t work, she would take M apart and try again. For obvious reasons, M doesn’t want that.) On the other hand, M is bad at being Maura; she doesn’t care about science, hates Maura’s clothes, and doesn’t laugh at Francis’s jokes. She wants to explore fashion and sewing, and just be herself.

This is a really clever twist on Frankenstein, looking at the monster’s point of view, and an exploration of identity and what it means to be a “person”. It’s sweet and charming and absolutely delightful.

Piece by Piece
by Priya Huq
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a hate crime to start the book, and Islamaphobia, as well as some abusive statements by an adult.

Nisrin is attacked on the way home from school – she was wearing a head covering, part of a Bangladeshi traditional costume. She is told that she needs to go back “where she came from”, and that “her kind” are not welcome. She is injured in the attack. The summer passes, and she can’t leave the house. But when school starts again in the fall, Nisrin decides to wear hijab to school, which doesn’t sit well with her mother and grandparents. They don’t understand her decision, and she has some challenges dealing with it. She does, however, find her tribe, and makes up with her best friend, who she had a falling out with after the attack.

It’s a good story, one that I think needs to be told. I appreciated that Nisrin was Bangladeshi, because isn’t a usual nationality for stories about Islam. However, while I felt it was important, I felt like it was missing something I’m not entirely sure what, but it wasn’t quite,, something. Still, I’m glad that it’s out there.

Himawari House
by Harmony Becker
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Content: There is some smoking and drinking, but the kids are all of age. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Nao was born in Japan but basically is raised in America. She learned to fit in, but she has often wondered what it would be like to find her roots, and go back. So, she takes a year between graduating high school and going to college, and heads to Japan to find out. She moves in to Himawari House and meets Tina – a young woman from Singapore – and Hyejung – a young woman from Korea – who are both learning to find their way in Japan. There are two boys in the house as well, though they are Japanese. The three girls become close friends, ashring in their successes and sadnesses, ads they figoure out who they are and what they want for their future.

Oh, this one was delightful. I loved that Becker captured the challenges and joys of learning to live in a foreign county, and the challenges of being biracial and trying to a way to fit in. Becker gave us the inner lives of all the characters, which was delightful. I also liked that she pulls illustrating styles from manga – there were many frames that strongly reminded me of the manga I’ve read. It was a smart story, compelling, and beautifully drawn. I loved it.

YA Graphic Novel Roundup 1

Fly by Night
by Tara O’Connor
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Content there is some swearing, and acts of violence (offscreen) against women. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Dee has come home because her twin sister – whom she hasn’t seen in years since their parents split – has one missing. Dee holds out hope that her sister is still alive, but the adults are hopeless. A Cold trail is a cold trail. Additionally, a local corporation wants to chopd won the New Jersey Pinelines and sent an oil ipile line trhough. Are the two event s connected? And wat is that weir creature that Dee has seen in teh woods?

I liked the environmental side of this story, the way the kids stood up against corporate greed, and their blatant disregard for the land. I did feel that the mystery side of the story got resolved too soon and very quickly (although it made sense, in the end). I liked the supernatural elements and the way O’Connor wove them into the story. Really very good.

Pixels of You
by Anath Hirsh and Yuko Ota, illustrated by J. R. Doyle
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

In the near future, AI is just a part of everyday life. They are workers, and drivers, and have begun “reproducing”, creating their own offspring. Indira, a human, has an internship at an art gallery, and the person she is supposed to work with is Fawn, a human-facing AI (an AI in a human-like body). They don’t want to work together at first, but the more they work together the stronger their friendship comes.

This one looks at the ideas of art and identity and friendship, all through the lens of the relationship these two young women have. i have to admit that I didn’t love the last panel; I didn’t think it was warranted with the relationship they had built throughout the book. But that said, I really like the world that these authors have created, and think it wa an interesting one to read.

Girl on Fire
by Alicia Keys and Andrew Weiner, illustrated by Brittaney Williams
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: there is swearing including f-bombs and violence. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

When Lolo Wright is with her brother when is he jumped by police for a crime he didn’t commit, she gets superpowers. She learns how to use those superpowers for good, and to help her friend Rut get away from local gang leader Skin’s influence.

File this one under “important but not good”. I wanted it to be good since it is dealing with important themes of racism and police violence. But, friends, it’s…not. It’s got too much in it, it’s not developed enough, and as much as I wanted to like it, I just didn’t. There are better examples of this story what don’t have a celebrity’s name on it. I’m going to go find one of them.

Audiobook: Nerd

Adventures in Fandom from this Univers to the Multiverse
by Maya Phillips
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There really isn’t anything that I can think of. It’s in the Film section of the bookstore.

In a series of essays, Phillis – a cultural critic for the New York Times – deconstructs her relationship with fandoms over the years. I liked her groupings – the first one is about the way New York shows up in comic books and movies, and a later one talks about Gods and the supernatural. I liked her insights, even when I disagreed (she took on Firefly, and it didn’t come out well, which I mean, sure, but leave my show alone!). It was a fascinating look at fandoms through the eyes of someone who has been a fan of things since she was young (though I didn’t get many of the anime references), and someone Black and female. It wasn’t your usual perspective on these sorts of things, and I appreciated that.

She was a good narrator of her own book, as well, and it made me feel like a friend was sitting there chatting about her thoughts on all sorts of geeky things.

Recommended.