Book & Movie Reviews

My Favorite Books of 2020

For all the chaos of 2020, I had an excellent reading year.

I found myself gravitating more toward fantasy novels and doing a lot more rereading than usual as a means of escaping into “alternate realities” or books that were a comfort to me in my childhood.

Each of the featured books below are ones I loved or feel that I would revisit in the future.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

This book was such a joy to read! If you loved reading fairytales as a kid or want to read more fantasy novels, this book is a must read! It’s also a wonderful audiobook.

In a year of chaos and pandemic, Klune’s novel shows the side effects of burnout on people in helping professions. The House in the Cerulean Sea also details how the child welfare system fails children over time. The characters in Klune’s novel are ones that will stay with you long after the book closes.

The Mirror Visitor Quartet by Christelle Dabos

The Mirror Visitor Quartet is such a fun series! If you love audiobooks, I highly recommend this series as a listen as opposed to being physically read! My favorite so far is the second novel in the series, The Missing of Clairdelune.

Initially published in French,  Dabos’ series is full of tomfoolery and shenanigans set around a world built on Classic Western Mythology. The main character of the series, Ophelia, is the odd one out in her family that has the gift of walking through mirrors.

Sent away to the sky palace of Clairdelune to marry Thorn, another outcast from the who has a detailed memory, Ophelia is on her own for the first time to be the person she’s always desired to be. From here, chaos ensues.

Crick Crack, Monkey by Merle Hodge

I really enjoyed reading this classic Caribbean novel by Merle Hodge.

Crick Crack, Monkey follows Tee, the main character, as she comes into her identity as a Black Trinidadian girl in a post-colonial nation. The novel was accessible and showed the differences in the class structure in this island nation.

Tee is shuttled between two aunts of varying class and economic levels and made to piece together an identity through her experiences with both. Hodge’s novel was short, but it packed a punch.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire

Pedagogy of the Oppressed gave me a lot to think about when it comes to education and liberation.

In this text, Freire argues that teachers must open dialogue and facilitate critical thinking around subjects instead of spoonfeeding students lessons to regurgitate. By opening critical discussion around issues, the educator will build stronger learners that can become self-actualized.

Coupled with this, the chapters about how the oppressed seek out liberation blew me away. The idea that everyone can be an oppressor and the oppressed gave me a lot of food for thought. This text is one I hope to revisit in the future.

Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta

The task of a first or second-generation child of immigrants is to pick up the hopes and dreams of their parents and to carry them over the threshold of success. Often times, it’s not important what that child wants, but more importantly is how they add to the legacy of their family. Thus, these children live within a confined space that is both real and imagined, between cultures that they can never honestly explain until they meet someone else with a similar burden to carry.

Kara’s story in Frying Plantain leads me to wonder, what parts of our cultures do we inherit, and what is learned as people immigrate to new places? Likewise, how does the meaning/practice of culture change as each generation gains new information and comes into contact with new technologies that shift the way that certain traditions are carried out?

The Trouble With Hating You by Sajni Patel

The Trouble  With Hating You is a South Asian take on  The Taming of the Shrew with an “enemies to lovers” storyline.

It starts cliched with the main female lead, Liya, a successful biochemical engineer sneaking out on a dinner they put together with the family of Jay Shah, a potential suitor. Unfortunately, Liya bumps into him on the way out, and of course, the two end up being forced to work together as the novel unfolds.

If you are a reader who enjoys multi-layered characters and non-generic romances, this book is for you! Jay and Liya both have a traumatic past, and Patel has each of them work through their trauma before giving them their happy ending. I appreciate that Patel showed the real aspects of trauma in a person’s life and how they play out in interpersonal relationships and across a community.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

If you are in the market for a book that will make you go through all the emotions & you’re not afraid to confront hard issues, this is the one for you!In Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, the fourth book of the Logan Family Saga, Mildred D. Taylor takes her characters through the beginning of the Depression Era of the American South (circa 1920s to 1930’s) and the Jim Crow Era where the young Black children see the rise of the Klan, lynchings, and the fight to keep their land.

Throughout this series, Taylor has the Logan children fight for their agency as Black people before they really even know what they’re fighting for.  I’ve read this series countless times over the years, but it always hits differently each time. I highly recommend it!

Have you all read any of these books?

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Book & Movie Reviews, Reviews

A #BookReview of #AUniverseOfWishes, A #WeNeedDiverseBooks Anthology – #BookTour

Thanks to Terminal Tours, I was able to get an advanced readers copy of the fantasy-themed short story anthology, A Universe of Wishes: A We Need Diverse Books Anthology. This anthology was edited by Dhonielle Clayton and included authors like Samira Ahmed, Zoraida Córdova, Kwame Mbalia, Tochi Onyebuchi, and many more authors of colors.

In her editor’s letter, Clayton talks about growing up as a reader of color and not seeing herself in fantasy novels. This was something that I could relate to. While I always had stories, like The Logan Family Saga by Mildred D. Taylor or The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake, to read if I wanted to see real-world images of myself in the 90s if I wanted to read a fantasy novel with African-American characters, my pickings were slim.

With the We Need Diverse campaign inception in 2014, the field of publishing has been opened up to the point where authors of color have been given the space to tell their own stories and even been granted acclaim for their work. Even though there is more work to be done in the industry, based on the annual statistics from the Children’s Cooperative Book Center (CCBC) and Lee & Low.

Reading through A Universe of Wishes, I was pleasantly surprised to read stories, like “Liberia” by Kwame Mbalia, where readers are shown a story of where the love of one’s family takes center stage. Having Mbalia speak to African-Americans’ collectivist nature and centering the magic of this cultural trait warmed my heart.

Likewise, reading “The Takeback Tango” by Rebecca Roanhorse, where a teen thief sets out to reclaim her planet’s artifacts, is reminiscent of my favorite scene from Black Panther with Kilmonger in the British Museum. Having Roanhorse show the power that comes from taking ownership over one’s heritage is what I love to see!

As a lover of Disney’s Tangled, “Longer Than the Threads of Time” by Zoraida Córdova was also a treat. However, like so many stories in this anthology, I wanted the stories to be so much longer. 

A Universe of Wishes holds all the magic a reader could want. Having authors of color flex their muscles and show creativity outside the normal realm of “suffering” that so many BIPOC writers are pigeonholed into to get their break in the publishing industry was refreshing.

If you enjoyed this anthology, I’d highly recommend looking into all the featured writers’ works and read Her Stories by Virginia Hamilton, which was one of my favorite short story collections of African-American folktales and fairy tales as a kid.

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Book & Movie Reviews, Reviews

What happens to children that are forgotten? – The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune #BookReview

“𝘚𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘵𝘪𝘮𝘦𝘴, 𝘣𝘦𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘥𝘪𝘧𝘧𝘦𝘳𝘦𝘯𝘵 𝘧𝘦𝘦𝘭𝘴 𝘢 𝘭𝘰𝘵 𝘭𝘪𝘬𝘦 𝘣𝘦𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘢𝘭𝘰𝘯𝘦.” – 𝘓𝘪𝘯𝘥𝘴𝘦𝘺 𝘚𝘵𝘪𝘳𝘭𝘪𝘯𝘨

W𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙬𝙖𝙨 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙡𝙖𝙨𝙩 𝙗𝙤𝙤𝙠 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙙 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙬𝙖𝙧𝙢𝙚𝙙 𝙮𝙤𝙪𝙧 𝙝𝙚𝙖𝙧𝙩?

In August, I read The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune after seeing Mara (@bookslikewhoa) rave about it on her BookTube page. Klune’s novel is one of a kind in its depiction of the child welfare state and how “unwanted” children are often herded from place to place with no real care for their wellbeing. Even though this author has placed the children in his story in an alternate world, it speaks to the plight of children who are either minority or LGBTQ+ or “hard to manage.”

Author, TJ Klune

Klune’s book starts in this “alternate” version of what seems to be London with Linus Baker, a caseworker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, who happens to be gay. Linus is a character who the reader will immediately recognize as a person who’s just going through the motions at work. For all those in the helping profession, you’ll recognize him immediately as a person who’s “burned out” and just going through the motions of his job.

The House in the Cerulean Sea

However, this all changes when he’s sent to check up on Arthur Parnassus and his gang of “misfit” children. The children under Arthur’s care can be seen to represent several unwanted groups of children, such as those with behavioral issues (Lucy, the Antichrist), those who are transgendered or non-binary (Talia, a female gnome, & Chauncey, an anthropomorphic blob), mischaracterized BIPOC children (Sal, a Black teenager who has been characterized as “violent” even though he’s just introverted), and the neurodiverse (Phee, a sprite who relates more to nature, & Theodore, a wyvern with limited speech patterns).

While the world and Linus at the beginning of the book view Arthur’s charges as a danger to society, he knows better. Through careful work with each child, he’s able to bring out the best in them. Sadly, this is not the route many people take when dealing with children in each of these populations, causing them more harm than good.

I will admit when I met the kids in Klune’s book, I was a little taken aback by the fact that Sal, who seems to be the only child of color, was depicted as a “were-dog.” Yet, it hit me that this was a stroke of brilliance since Sal’s transformation from being this “scary animal” that society sees him as mirrors the plight of black men everywhere once they go past the toddler stage. Sal is a victim of circumstance who has PTSD from the violence inflicted on him. He’s not only intelligent and poetic, but also the calmest child out the bunch. Likewise, the fact that Klune subtle pokes fun at the irony of dogs being highly protected by society when BIPOC aren’t had me smirking.

This book is a heartwarming tale that everyone needs to read! I gave it 4 ⭐️. It’s a book for the whole family. Checkout some of the character avatars that the publisher, TOR Forge, shared on their site below and on their website!

From top to bottom: The Marsyas Island Orphanage (@rednosestudio), The very dapper Chauncey, looking dashing as always with his bellhop attire (@mavilez_), Lucy, being the very innocent person that he is and in no way ever thinking about murder. Ever. *side eyes* (@mavilez_), & Last but not least, Talia, ready to work on her garden! Do we have any volunteers to help? (@mavilez_)
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Book & Movie Reviews, Reviews

What is the cost of a Black Life? – #BookReview of #PunchingTheAir by #IbiZoboi & #DrYusefSalaam

“𝘈𝘭𝘭 𝘢𝘳𝘵 𝘪𝘴 𝘢 𝘬𝘪𝘯𝘥 𝘰𝘧 𝘤𝘰𝘯𝘧𝘦𝘴𝘴𝘪𝘰𝘯, 𝘮𝘰𝘳𝘦 𝘰𝘳 𝘭𝘦𝘴𝘴 𝘰𝘣𝘭𝘪𝘲𝘶𝘦. 𝘈𝘭𝘭 𝘢𝘳𝘵𝘪𝘴𝘵𝘴, 𝘪𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘺 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘵𝘰 𝘴𝘶𝘳𝘷𝘪𝘷𝘦, 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘧𝘰𝘳𝘤𝘦𝘥, 𝘢𝘵 𝘭𝘢𝘴𝘵, 𝘵𝘰 𝘵𝘦𝘭𝘭 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘸𝘩𝘰𝘭𝘦 𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘺; 𝘵𝘰 𝘷𝘰𝘮𝘪𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘶𝘪𝘴𝘩 𝘶𝘱.” ― 𝘑𝘢𝘮𝘦𝘴 𝘉𝘢𝘭𝘥𝘸𝘪𝘯

𝐅𝐞𝐥𝐥𝐨𝐰 Readers, 𝐰𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐦𝐚𝐤𝐞𝐬 𝐚 𝐛𝐨𝐨𝐤 𝐬𝐭𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐨𝐮𝐭 𝐭𝐨 𝐲𝐨𝐮?

Over the last month, I had the chance to read Punching The Air by Ibi Zoboi and Dr. Yusef Salaam thanks to the kindness of Harper Collins and Karina @AFirePages.  As an avid Ibi Zoboi fan and an admirer of the tenacity of the Exonerated Five, getting an ARC of this book was one of the highlights of my year.

Zoboi and Dr. Yusef Salaam book follows the story of Amal, a sixteen-year-old Black artist, who is convicted of a crime of aggravated assault against a White boy. But, Amal’s real crime stems from being born Black.

According to the Institute for Crime & Justice Policy Research “the U.S. currently houses the world’s largest prison population,” with Blacks having a conviction rate that’s “five times higher” than their White counterparts. And, thanks to the Supreme Court decision in United States v. Booker in 2005, which gave judges more discretion over sentencing and imposing harsher or more lenient sentences than the U.S. Sentencing Commissions guidelines called for, judges have now found it easier to punish BIPOC men, like Amal.

Thus, when readers see Amal claiming his innocence in court and being convicted to a harsh sentence at a young age, it hurts. As a minority reader, you will more than likely not only remember Dr. Yusef and the Exonerated Five’s case, but probably can also relate to Amal’s plight because you remember the a loved one or friend who’s also experienced harsh sentencing and lost years behind bars.

What I enjoyed most about this #OwnVoice novel in verse is that it is not only raw and real, but it feels honest. Amal is a character that I saw my brother, cousins, and nephews in. He is a boy who has high hopes, but gets painted as a monster by society instead of embraced for his art and potential.

The White educators and lawyers in his life masquerade as these Anti-racist figures and do-gooders, but when their feet are held to the fire, they act in their own self-interest.

Zoboi and Dr. Salaam’s book is an essential read, and I hope that you also pick it up and read it alongside Just Mercy by Bryan and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. 

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