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Book Reviews

Book Review: All Because You Matter by Tami Charles, Illustrated by Bryan Collier

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"All Because You Matter" by Tami Charles
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Genre: Picture Book
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: A love letter to Black and brown children everywhere: reminding them how much they matter, that they have always mattered, and they always will.

Tami Charles pens a text that is part love letter, part anthem, assuring readers that they always have, and always will, matter.

 

REVIEW:They say that matter is all things that make up the universe: energy, stars, space…If that’s the case, then you, dear child, matter.

This story is a must-read for everyone. All Because You Matter is an important reminder to black and brown children that they matter in all aspects of life and deserve to be represented in all aspects of life.

The tone is gentle, hopeful, and reassuring. The story details all the ways in which You matter, through successes and failures, through their ancestors who fought so hard for so long and continue to fight so that they (future descendants) would matter too.

The art style is so interesting and I like the petal motif throughout. I wrote down a lot of great quotes from the story and the author’s and illustrator’s notes (see end of post).

All Because You Matter is a helpful conversation starter about past, present, and future racial and social issues. This was a noteworthy read.

Favorite Quotes:

  • “…thinking of you, years ahead. Because to them, you always mattered.”
  • “…and all the moments in your life that would matter…”
  • “…and you wonder if they, or you, will ever matter. But did you know that you do?”
  • “Did you know that you are the earth? That strength, power, and beauty lie within you?”
  • “All because, since the beginning of time…You mattered. They mattered. We matter…and always will.”
  • (Author’s Note) “…to provide parents with a starting point for conversations about the racial climate in our country today…if we are to raise empathetic future leaders.”
  • (Author’s Note) “…to remind all children, especially those from marginalized backgrounds, that no matter where they come from, they matter.”
  • (Illustrator’s Note) “…a wonderful journey of promise and empowerment for our children, one that zooms through time and space.”

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Book Reviews

Book Review: The Power of Her Pen by Lesa Cline-Ransome, Illustrated by John Parra

The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne by Lesa Cline-Ransome, Illustrated by John Parra

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"The Power of Her Pen" by Lesa Cline-Ransome (cover)
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Genre: Picture Book, Biography
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: Ethel Payne always had an ear for stories. Seeking truth, justice, and equality, Ethel followed stories from her school newspaper in Chicago to Japan during World War II. It even led her to the White House briefing room, where she broke barriers as the only black female journalist. Ethel wasn’t afraid to ask the tough questions of presidents, elected officials, or anyone else in charge, earning her the title, “First Lady of the Black Press.” Fearless and determined, Ethel Payne shined a light on the darkest moments in history, and her ear for stories sought answers to the questions that mattered most in the fight for Civil Rights.

 

REVIEW: The Power of Her Pen was a fantastic biography, highlighting the impact and many accomplishments by Ethel L. Payne during the fight for civil rights. “I wish that all the people could understand that we want for our children the same rights as any other human beings.

As you quickly learn, Ethel really did “always ha[ve] an ear for stories.” A way with words that rang true and inspired. Ethel’s loving parents and supportive teachers encouraged her writing.Long past her bedtime, Ethel collected the stories of people who followed a path paved with dreams.

In newspapers, she wrote about the unjust experiences of the black community at home and what black soldiers faced abroad.I was beginning to have the seeds of rebellion churning up in me.” Her stories gradually gained traction, her words having a far reaching effect.Her reporting highlighted their struggle for justice, equal pay, housing, and education…created awareness and activism in the fight for civil rights for people across the globe.

Soon found herself at the White House as one of the first Black press correspondents where she would be dubbed the “First Lady of the Black Press.” Ethel would relentlessly continue to use the power of words as her method to advocate for equal rights and improve the lives of Black people.

It’s an incredible recount of a life spent fighting for equality and justice for all, not just a select few. “I’ve had a box seat on history and that’s a rare thing.” Ethel L. Payne is truly a remarkable person.

I loved how she wasn’t afraid to ask the hard questions of presidents and other leaders, even presidents. The author notes, “Her pointed questions to numerous presidents elevated civil rights issues to the national agenda and, in turn, helped to speed along the slow wheels of change by holding elected officials accountable to their black constituents.

I’m so happy to have had a chance to read her story. The Power of Her Pen is a must read!


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Book Reviews

Book Review: Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, Illustrated by Vashti Harrison

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"Hair Love" by Matthew A. Cherry (cover)
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Genre: Picture Book
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: When mommy is away, it’s up to daddy to do his daughter’s hair in this ode to self-confidence and the love between fathers and daughters from former NFL wide receiver Matthew A. Cherry and New York Times bestseller Vashti Harrison.

Zuri’s hair has a mind of its own. It kinks, coils, and curls every which way. Zuri knows it’s beautiful. When mommy does Zuri’s hair, she feels like a superhero. But when mommy is away, it’s up to daddy to step in! And even though daddy has a lot to learn, he LOVES his Zuri. And he’ll do anything to make her—and her hair—happy.

Tender and empowering, Hair Love is an ode to loving your natural hair—and a celebration of daddies and daughters everywhere.

 

REVIEW: I have been wanting to read Hair Love for the longest time and it did not disappoint. It was an excellent story of Black joy and black hair love that I wish I had growing up.

Zuri, the main character, loves her hair because it can do anything and let her be anything. She says, “Daddy tells me it is beautiful. That makes me proud. I love that my hair lets me be me!

Zuri loves her daddy so much and wants to do something special for him because he’s always taking care of her. But she needs the perfect hairstyle for the occasion.

I love seeing the close father-daughter relationship as her dad helps Zuri style her hair. There’s so much joy and love radiating from the lovely illustrations. Their smiles made me smile wide. And I loved when Zuri proclaims, “My hair is Mommy, Daddy, and me. It’s hair love!

Hair Love was a delightful, captivating read that is a must-have for personal and classroom libraries.


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Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday – June 8, 2022

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Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine where you spotlight a highly anticipated book.


One June 2022 release I’m looking forward to is The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi.

A YA sapphic fantasy that’s sprinkled with a dash of African and Arabian mythology and is helmed by three women who’ll risk all in blood, sand, and fire sounds like a fantastic read. From the way the author describes it – she had me at giant desert lizards you can ride – this sounds like my kind of story.

The Final Strife is the first of a trilogy (another plus) and definitely far different from the fantasy books I usually read. But it’s good to read outside your comfort zone even within a genre you’re already comfortable with.

The Final Strife releases June 23, 2022.

"The Final Strife" by Saara El-Arifi (cover)
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ABOUT: In the first book of a visionary fantasy trilogy with its roots in the mythology of Africa and Arabia that “sings of rebellion, love, and the courage it takes to stand up to tyranny” (Samantha Shannon, author of The Priory of the Orange Tree), three women band together against a cruel empire that divides people by blood…

Red is the blood of the elite, of magic, of control.
Blue is the blood of the poor, of workers, of the resistance.
Clear is the blood of the slaves, of the crushed, of the invisible.

Sylah dreams of days growing up in the resistance, being told she would spark a revolution that would free the empire from the red-blooded ruling classes’ tyranny. That spark was extinguished the day she watched her family murdered before her eyes.

Anoor has been told she’s nothing, no one, a disappointment, by the only person who matters: her mother, the most powerful ruler in the empire. But when Sylah and Anoor meet, a fire burns between them that could consume the kingdom—and their hearts.

Hassa moves through the world unseen by upper classes, so she knows what it means to be invisible. But invisibility has its uses: It can hide the most dangerous of secrets, secrets that can reignite a revolution. And when she joins forces with Sylah and Anoor, together these grains of sand will become a storm.

As the empire begins a set of trials of combat and skill designed to find its new leaders, the stage is set for blood to flow, power to shift, and cities to burn.


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Books of the Month

[June 2022] Book of the Month: Turning by Joy L. Smith

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Turning by Joy L. Smith was a clear choice for June’s Book of the Month. This novel cuts deep yet is so beautiful. The main character was a promising, black ballerina who was going to rock the ballet world with her talent before tragedy struck. Discovering the mystery behind it all made for an engrossing read. My emotions were all over the place. Turning has been one of my favorite reads and 2022 releases so far this year. I highly recommend reading Turning.

"Turning" by Joy L. Smith (cover)
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Title: Turning
Author: Joy L. Smith
Genre: YA Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Denene Millner Books / Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Recommended?: Yes

ABOUT: In this raw, searingly honest debut young adult novel, a former aspiring ballerina must confront her past in order to move forward from a devastating fall that leaves her without the use of her legs.

Genie used to fouetté across the stage. Now the only thing she’s turning are the wheels to her wheelchair. Genie was the star pupil at her exclusive New York dance school, with a bright future and endless possibilities before her. Now that the future she’s spent years building toward has been snatched away, she can’t stand to be reminded of it—even if it means isolating herself from her best friends and her mother. The only wish this Genie has is to be left alone.

But then she meets Kyle, who also has a “used to be.” Kyle used to tumble and flip on a gymnastics mat, but a traumatic brain injury has sent him to the same physical therapist that Genie sees. With Kyle’s support, along with her best friend’s insistence that Genie’s time at the barre isn’t over yet, Genie starts to see a new path—one where she doesn’t have to be alone and she finally has the strength to heal from the past.

But healing also means confronting. Confronting the booze her mother, a recovering alcoholic, has been hiding under the kitchen sink; the ex-boyfriend who was there the night of the fall and won’t leave her alone; and Genie’s biggest, most terrifying secret: the fact that the accident may not have been so accidental after all.


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#PubDayTuesday ARCs Book Reviews

#PubDayTuesday | ARC Review: Finding Jupiter by Kelis Rowe

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Thank you to Crown Books for Young Readers and NetGalley for the eARC to read and review! Finding Jupiter is OUT NOW!

"Finding Jupiter" by Kelis Rowe (cover)
Image via NetGalley

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Romance
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: Sparks fly when Orion and Ray meet for the first time at a roller rink in Memphis. But these star-crossed souls have a past filled with secrets that threaten to tear them apart before their love story even begins. Found poetry, grief, and fate collide in this powerful debut.

Ray: Just once I’d like my birthday to be about me, and not the day my father died. I want to be Ray Jr., the tall girl from Memphis with the poetry beats and the braids that stay poppin’. And when I meet Orion at the skating rink, that’s exactly who I am. He pulls my hand, and instead of being defined by my past, he races me toward my future.

Orion: When I dive into the pool, it’s just me and my heartbeat. There’s no dad, no dead sister, and no distracting noises. But I can’t hold my breath forever. And since I met Ray, I don’t want to. The closer we get, though, the more I see I’m not the only one caught in her wake.

With a lyrical blend of found poetry and poignant prose, this stunning debut captures young Black love and a decades-old family secret that may shatter a romance that feels written in the stars.

 

REVIEW: Finding Jupiter is one of the best YA contemporary romances I’ve ever read. I was so impressed by this sweet and heartwarming, black love story. It was a uniquely told story of star-crossed lovers with all the Romeo and Juliet vibes without being obvious or overshadowing the characters and plot.

Orion is a swimmer with Olympic potential. He is also kind, romantic, and charming. He wears his heart on his sleeves even though his dad wishes he wasn’t so sensitive. The first time he sees Ray performing a routine on the skating rink with her friends, it’s love at first sight.

At an early age, Orion was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder (SPD), “a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses.” His SPD ties tightly linked into his character and how he connects with others. You can see this in his sometimes tense relationship with his dad, the solace Orion finds underwater, certain compulsive routines, and his interactions with Ray.

Ray is a super talented poet who has walls around her heart. Seeing her mom still grieving the loss of her husband has made Ray wary of love. It’s too risky, so she just wants a summer fling before heading back to boarding school. But she never expected to feel so strongly for Orion.

I wasn’t too sure about Ray at first because internally she seemed very adamant about her dislike of love and relationships. I wish she’d been a little more upfront with Orion, especially when it was clear how open and honest he is about his thoughts and feelings. But I understand where she’s coming from and why she’s so hesitant. Not to mention meeting Orion kind of throws her off. He is everything she didn’t know she wanted or needed. That kind of powerful attraction can be scary.

In the end, I loved the buildup of their relationship. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions for all involved. And when family secrets are revealed it is a devastating, heartbreaking blow that I didn’t see coming at all.

Finding Jupiter is a real page-turner that will captivate you. I highlighted many great quotes throughout the book. I wish there’d been an epilogue to see where the MCs are down the road since Orion is starting college in the fall and Ray is entering her senior year of high school. Their love is so true, pure, and enviable. I would love to read more about Ray and Orion.

I highly recommend this amazing story!


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Book Reviews

Book Review: We Had a Picnic This Sunday Past by Jacqueline Woodson, Illustrated by Diane Greenseid

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"We Had a Picnic This Sunday Past" by Jacqueline Woodson (cover)
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Genre: Picture Book
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: Through Teeka’s eyes, readers will discover the humor, love, and, of course, the wonderful food that make up the quintessential family picnic.

 

REVIEW: We Had a Picnic This Sunday Past was a joy to read!

I loved how brightly colored the illustrations were. The smooth strokes of brush. The vibrant energy and from the characters’ expressions and body language. I liked how the text was displayed. There was a strong, clear voice and personality whenever someone spoke.

Teeka, her Grandma, and the family brought quite an appetizing feast to the picnic in the park. And when the book says, “We had a picnic this Sunday past. You should have been there,” I very much wished. This family gathering looked like so much fun and inviting and filled with lots of love to spread around.


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Book Reviews

Book Review: Eyes That Speak to the Stars by Joanna Ho, Illustrated by Dung Ho

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"Eyes that Speak to the Stars" by Joanna Ho (cover)
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Genre: Picture Book
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: A young Asian boy notices that his eyes look different from his peers’ after seeing his friend’s drawing of them. After talking to his father, the boy realizes that his eyes rise to the skies and speak to the stars, shine like sunlit rays, and glimpse trails of light from those who came before—in fact, his eyes are like his father’s, his agong’s, and his little brother’s, and they are visionary.

Inspired by the men in his family, he recognizes his own power and strength from within.

 

REVIEW: Eyes that Speak to the Stars is a beautiful companion story to Joanna Ho’s previous title. They’re similar in a lot of ways, but still different enough to feel new and be enjoyable.

In this story, the main character is feeling confused and sad by a drawing one of his classmates made. He asks his dad why his eyes were drawn differently.

Through lyrical descriptions and comparisons, as well as gorgeous illustrations that sweep across the pages, the main character learns what makes his features so great. He finds strength and pride within his personal and cultural histories. He also finds the power to dream big.

It warmed my heart how his family helped him see the beauty within himself. Through his eyes he envisions a bright future of his own making, which I think will inspire readers to love who they are and have a more positive outlook on life.

I really loved Eyes that Speak to the Stars, especially the illustrations that absolutely wowed me.

Favorite Quotes:

  • “Your eyes rise to the skies and speak to the stars. The comets and constellations show you their secrets, and your eyes can foresee the future. Just like mine.”
  • “Agong’s eyes that rise to the skies and speak to the stars gaze into the distance like they’re looking at the world through lenses of time.”
  • “He looks at me like I’m the world, but he is the sun, filling my days with light.”
  • “My eyes shine like sunlit rays that break through dark and doubt. They lift their sights on paths of flight that soar above the clouds. My eyes gaze into space and glimpse trails of light inviting me into possibilities.”

More by Joanna Ho

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners


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#PubDayTuesday ARCs Book Reviews

#PubDayTuesday | ARC Review: Wildseed Witch by Marti Dumas

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Thank you to Amulet Books and NetGalley for the eARC to read and review! Wildseed Witch is OUT NOW!

"Wildseed Witch" by Marti Dumas (cover)
Image via NetGalley

Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary Fantasy
Series: Wildseed Witch #1
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐☆☆
Recommend to Others?: No

ABOUT: A fun middle-grade contemporary fantasy with an all-BIPOC cast, about a social-media-loving tween who gets sent to an ultra-private witch camp.

Hasani’s post-seventh-grade summer to-do list is pretty simple: get a bigger following for her makeup YouTube channel and figure out how to get her parents back together. What she does NOT expect is that an emotional outburst will spark a latent magical ability in her. Or that the magic will be strong enough to attract the attention of witches. Or that before she can say #BlackGirlMagic, she’ll be shipped off on a scholarship to a fancy finishing school for talented young ladies.

Les Belles Demoiselles is a literal charm school. Here, generations of young ladies from old-money witch families have learned to harness their magic, and alumnae grow to become some of the most powerful women across industries, including politicians, philanthropists, CEOs, entrepreneurs—and yes, even social media influencers. Needless to say, admission to the school is highly coveted, very exclusive . . . and Hasani sticks out like a weed in a rose bouquet.

While the other girls have always known they were destined to be witches, Hasani is a Wildseed––a stray witch from a family of non-witches, with no background knowledge, no way to control her magic, and a lot to catch up on. “Wildseed” may be an insult that the other girls throw at her, but Wildseeds are more powerful than they know. And Hasani will learn that there are ways to use magic and thrive that can never be taught in a classroom.

 

REVIEW: Wildseed Witch was a good story but left me with mixed feelings.

I loved that this book takes place at a charm school for young witches to learn to control their magic (“Charm, not magic.”) and eventually become powerful women in high-profile positions. It’s enhanced by being located in New Orleans, Louisiana and backdropped by the rich Louisiana Creole history.

The unique setting mixes with the classic outcast trope in which Hasani is a (potentially overpowered) wildseed among “normal,” generational witches. The people who pass through this school have a distinct idea about what a witch should be like, who counts as a witch, and the use of magic. Hasani is at a disadvantage economically, socially, and culturally the moment she accepts the invitation to attend Les Belles Demoiselles.

Up until then, she didn’t even know magic or witches existed. She is a wildseed among elitists attending a private school (figuratively, only for witches). She doesn’t have the benefit of learning from an experienced witch/relative. She’s not forewarned about the negative perception people tend to have about wildseeds.

Hasani’s time at the school is rough and disheartening. There were too many unlikable characters. Most of the girls were either outright mean or followers to the popular girls. Only was real with her. Hasani is belittled and talked down to even by a few of the teachers as an ignorant wildseed. Some judgements about certain mishaps Hasani had were harsh or uncalled for, such as when she found out her dad was getting married and lost control of her magic again. And she just had to accept these criticisms and play the game in order to graduate and be a belles demoiselles.

I somewhat liked Hasani’s character. I think she’s a relatable tween of today. I love her enthusiasm towards growing her makeup YouTube channel. But it was hard to continue to like and root for her as she kept making clearly bad/rash decisions (plus ignoring sound advice) about fitting in at school, her parent’s divorce, dad’s unexpected girlfriend, and her YouTube channel.

About halfway through the story the charm school part ends and Hasani focuses on her channel and getting her parents back together. From then on, the story felt over, like what could happen now? Nothing noteworthy really happened, which left me feeling disconnected. I kind of wish the story took place predominantly at the charm school.

Wildseed Witch was a miss for me. There are things that were done well and that I liked, such as the cats and how each person had their own flower. I loved the setting and the fact that this was an all-BIPOC cast. And the cover art is stunning! But I don’t have much interest in reading book 2. Based on the ending, I don’t know what more there could be to the story. It felt like the story was dissatisfying-ly over over.


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Book Review: Blended by Sharon M. Draper

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"Blended" by Sharon M. Draper (cover)
Image via Goodreads

Genre: Middle Grade
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐☆
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: “You’re so exotic!” “You look so unusual.” “But what are you really?”

Eleven-year-old Isabella is used to these kinds of comments – her father is black, her mother is white – but that doesn’t mean she likes them. And now that her parents are divorced (and getting along WORSE than ever), Isabella feels more like a push-me-pull-me toy.

One week she’s Isabella with her dad, his girlfriend Anastasia, and her son Darren living in a fancy house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she’s Izzy with her mom and her boyfriend John-Mark in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves.

Being split between Mom and Dad is more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: it’s also about switching identities. If you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?

 

REVIEW: Isabelle (Izzy) feels torn by her parents’ divorces, which in turn splits her identity. Also, for the first time, she becomes acutely aware of being biracial.

Izzy is such a sweetheart and a very relatable kid. I love how much music brings her joy. She’s a talented pianist who finds solace in playing when everything else around her doesn’t make sense.

Izzy clearly loves both her parents. It’s good that she also has a positive relationship with her dad’s girlfriend and her son. But Izzy hates when her parents fight and dreads the exchange day. She doesn’t like going back and forth between houses every Sunday because it makes her feel like a visitor. No place is home anymore.

It’s sad to see her grin and bear it when inside she’s full of chaotic and confusing emotions. Additionally, she’s starting to notice how race dictates how others may treat people like her.

Blended is an engaging story and had me deeply invested in everything Izzy was experiencing in her new normal.

One thing that left me stumped was the climax and its aftermath. The story built up to this intense moment that was incredibly painful to read. This unfortunately is something that happens to Black people and a real fear some people have. So you’ve reached the height of the story and then, instead of a gradual descent of falling action and resolution, it’s this rushed and unsatisfying ending. I thought there’d be more I guess? From a storytelling pov, things wrapped up in a way that to me lessened the impact of the climax and made me question why? There are a few silver linings that point to quite possibly a better tomorrow and change. I’m just not sure what to make of where things ended for Izzy after everything she experienced.

I really did enjoy this story, Izzy’s character, and how the author tackled children of divorce, race and society. But I have mixed feelings about the ending.

CW: racism, police brutality

Favorite Quotes:

  • (p.18-19) “Yeah, they love me and all that, but it doesn’t stop them from slicing my life in half every seven days and then acting like that’s normal or something. Every Monday I wake up in a different bed than the one I slept in the week before. I hate that! Birds make nests in trees, right? One nest. One tree. Who ever heard of a robin moving her eggs every week to a new tree? That’d be crazy, right? Yep. Crazy. Welcome to my life.”
  • (p.61) “I never say ‘I’m going home’ anymore. It’s ‘I’m going to my mom’s.’ Or ‘I’m going to my dad’s.’ Going. Not staying. Actually, it’s not funny at all.”
  • (p.63) “I’ve colored the Mom weeks with green highlighter. And Dad weeks with neon orange. Twenty-six for each one. Split exactly in half. Know what’s sad. There are no weeks for me.”

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