Tuesday, March 2, 2021

The Conductors by Nicole Glover


Welcome Back, Booklovers! We're kicking off March with a historical fantasy release. The Conductors is the first book in the Murder and Magic series. I've been reading more historical fiction lately and I'm really enjoy how it humanizes these people. Because often when we talk about Black people throughout history especially prior to The Civil Rights Movement we talk about them as if oppression was the only thing going on in their lives. 

It's important to note I listened to the audiobook which I received via Libro FM for this while reading alongside an advance copy that I was sent by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Nothing really changes between them outside of some grammar and sentence structures. While I usually don't like Bahni Turpin's narration I thought it flowed steadily here.

As the first book in the series we are introduced to a lot of characters. And like many fantasy stories you're thrown into the world rather than eased in. And there's so many different moving pieces to set up the series.

This story follows Henriette "Hetty" Rhodes who alongside her husband Benjamin "Benjy" have worked to help Black people escape slavery through the Underground Railroad. And even though the 13th Amendment has been passed and ratified by Congress for some that freedom exists solely on paper. The story opens with wanted ads for Negro runaways. As well as an ad for Hetty and Benjy who are wanted dead or alive for stealing slaves.

In this world some Black people do practice magic and previously were forced to wear collars to identify and restrain them. They are now permitted to use magic do so but with restrictions defined by the local authorities. But they can only use one type of magic and are not permitted to use the sorcery that white people use which includes magic wands and is considered a more powerful form of magic.

The particular brand of magic that Hetty and Benjy use is a celestial magic brought over from Africa and passed down through generations. It incorporates brew magic with herbs, songs, and sigils from constellations. Magic users often draw these sigils into the air, dirt, or other objects. Hetty sews them into her clothes as well as Benji's so they always have a reserve of magic ready.

This magic aided slaves on the plantation to aid in tasks such of picking crops or to making healing balms for wounds. You are reminded throughout that these people are not far removed from slavery with flashbacks to life on the plantation and how Hetty had to use her talent in sewing to survive. The transition to free life and how different people in the community fit in. We meet a character who is passing as white which meant cutting family ties and living in fear of being discovered. And some people did it to aid others in their communities while some did it to advance themselves only. 

There's a killer on the loose and unfortunately one of their close friends falls victim and because white folks don't care about Black lives they must take the investigation into their own hands. It's not talked about enough especially since our history books like to paint them as saints but white people in the Union also saw Black people as inferior.

Hetty and Benji as a couple have a very interesting dynamic because their marriage started off as a way to be easily partnered together without drawing suspicion and question of honor. And even though they've been together for a few years they're finally addressing their feelings towards each other.

At times the mysteries got lost in the other plots but I enjoyed this story and it kept me enthralled and I couldn't always keep up with the cast of characters. Hetty and Benjy had an easy chemistry and work well as a unit. And I think as this series progresses there will be a more seamless blend of the magical, mystery, and community aspects. And the ending left for some interesting new opportunities to arise for the duo. I look forward to reading The Undertakers later this year.

Also if you're someone who wants a quick guide of all major players in the story Nicole Glover has one available here.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

A Game of Cones by Abby Collette


Welcome Back, Booklovers! It's been a few months since I've read a cozy mystery and there's just something so comforting about them. I remember jumping into reading them heavily when I was getting back into reading. If you're a long time follower you may recall me reviewing the first book in this series A Deadly Inside Scoop. Why does that feel like forever ago even though it wasn't even a full year? 

So we revisit the small town of Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Which I found out is actually a real place that has cute little shops just like in this book. Feel free to Google for visuals. I found a picture of a popular shop there. Business has picked up for Browyn "Win" Crewse and she's experimenting with some really cool new flavors. But while she's found her stride some of the other shop owners around town are finding their livelihood threatened by plans to build a new mall. Is it revitalization of the area or is it gentrification? And is Browyn and her fancy ice cream shoppe with it's non traditional flavors part of the problem? 

After a town hall meeting with various shop owners a man working for the development company turns up dead. Her friend Maisie has been itching for another case to solve since the last and after Detective Beverly visits them she's convinced he was asking them to solve it. 

I enjoyed the first book in this series so I was looking forward to this one. This one was a little all over the place for me by the halfway mark. While there needs to be multiple characters as suspects I felt like this story had too many characters. And they would be introduced and then disappear. Plus there was a side plot with Aunt Jack returning to town and trying to stake her claim in the show but that plot kept stopping and starting so you couldn't feel the full impact of her threat. 

Win's friend Rory is also in town and her old coworker is trying to convince her to move back to NYC. And Rory is acting strange and stumbling over lies from the time we meet her. No surprise that she becomes a suspect in the murder case.

Maisie was way too hyper to the point where it just got annoying. She needed to be dialed back as she was too rash with accusing anyone and everyone of committing the murder and often derailing the investigation. For someone who watches a lot of crime mysteries she should know visiting someone and then openly accusing them of murder right away gets no results.

I enjoyed the ice cream making scenes and how Win mixes different unique flavors together. And I liked that during the gentrification talk she pondered if she was part of the problem too. Even though her shop is a long time owned family business it can be seen as more trendy with the recent revamps. Especially since business is booming so much she's expanding to a food truck.

But by the time the book ended and we found out who the murder was I just didn't care. Especially since I had guessed the person early on despite the red herring being thrown in at the end. 

I still think this a good series Abby Collette just needs to tone Maisie all the way down in future installments. And don't overload with so many elements to the point where it gets confusing and uninteresting. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Muted by Tami Charles


Welcome Back, Booklovers! So I listened to this audiobook yesterday as it's a fairly short audiobook and I don't have a lot of experience with novels in verse so I wanted to try another one. Plus one of the unique things this audiobook boasted was original music. I have previously read a Tami Charles book and while this is much different from that one I was looking forward to it. Especially since she narrates the audiobook.

Muted  follows the journey of seventeen-year-old Denver who is ready for R&B stardom and gets the chance to join Sean "Mercury" Ellis on tour and become his protégé. While Denver and her friend Dali are instantly entranced by the studio time and wild parties, their friend Shak finds Merc creepy and is suspicious. Denver and Dali soon run off despite their parent's skepticism and soon find that Merc's world isn't all glitz and glamor. It also is rigorous fitness routines, strict diets, creating a certain image, blatant favoritism, and abuse.

The narration is a strong point that made it easy for me to listen to this story in one day. Tami Charles brings enough flavor that I can easily picture these girls. As far as the original songs while Tami Charles' has a good voice the audio in those sections sounds rough especially compared to the rest of her narration. It kind of sounded like those pieces were done on an old recorder. The production team dropped the ball in those parts.

This story is so fast-paced that I find you don't really get the chance to reflect about what is going on with Denver and these girls.  Like something majorly scary would happen and then we'd be right back to talk about Denver's diet which basically consists of water and air towards the end. And I think that takes away some of the impact and connection for me. And since this audiobook is split into 4 parts instead of chapters it's not easy for me to just go back listen to a section. 

I also don't feel like we had enough background about her family life to understand how she got sucked into this environment. The main conflict between Denver and her parents seems to be that they're strict Haitians that want her to go to college. Plenty of Caribbean parents are like that. I don't think that only makes girls go run to predators. Sure she had some body images issues as well but it's not like he was telling her that he was giving her a self-esteem boost either.

Also this will be inevitably compared to Grown by Tiffany D Jackson which released last year due to the similar premises. Which while it's important to tell these stories about predators this was way too ripped from the headlines. To the point where I'm like this is just the R Kelly story so I should just go finishing watching Surviving R Kelly instead. Plus that story is still so fresh. I recall just a few years ago when the stories about R Kelly and those girls he was holding hostage were in the headlines on almost a daily basis and people were trying to make excuses about how those were consenting young women because they refused to see past the music.

The only thing that really surprised me was the ending but even that was rushed and didn't have the full impact it could've. Overall it was a little too much like a simplified version of a known story to be impactful. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Interview with Louisa Onome


Welcome Back, Booklovers! It is release day for Like Home by Louisa Onome and I'm excited to bring you an interview with the author herself. 

Where did you find the inspiration for Like Home?

Like Home was inspired by a collection of things, namely my own upbringing just west of Toronto, where I lived amongst friends who were like family. I loved that experience so much because, as a child of immigrants, you learn so much about yourself and the world that way. I had been wanting to write a book about a strong community and family aspect for awhile, but the true catalyst was watching this Korean drama ‘Reply 1988’ and really falling in love with the friends-as-family dynamic there. It was done so well!

Was it important to specifically set this story in Toronto or did you ever feel like you had to set it in the US?

 It was originally set in Toronto, then the US, then back to Toronto. Just like, for many writers of colour, it was a journey to writing a Black main character or main characters of colour, it was a journey for me to keep my setting the way I intended it to. While I was originally querying this book, I received a bit of pushback on the setting and it made me quickly change it to the US because I falsely assumed that would make it more universal. After I got signed, I was encouraged to change it back to Toronto, and I’m really happy I did. There’s so much vibrancy in Toronto and its surrounding areas, and it was important for me to showcase that to a wider audience. I can’t say for sure what people think of when they think of Toronto or Canada, but I’m sure whatever it is isn’t the Toronto that I know. I wanted to introduce my audience to that.

How important was it to write a story that teens can relate too?

So important! Even though young adult fiction has many adult fans (hello), at the end of the day, these are books for teens, so I was really mindful of that audience. I wanted to write in the tone and the slang that is most popular amongst the youth in my city, because that’s who I wanted to represent. 

Do you see pieces of yourself in your protagonist, Nelo? 

 I do! A lot of her qualities are how I imagined myself to be when I was her age, but she’s definitely bolder than I was. 

What was it like growing up in a Nigerian family in Canada? 

Too much fun, honestly. I have a lot of cousins and aunts and uncles, the majority of whom I’m not blood related to but are still my family, and I saw them several times a year for birthdays, holidays, breaks, anything. It’s really given me a broader perspective on what family can look like. 

Are there any books by Black Canadian authors that have left an impression on you?

I remember being in Edmonton and going out the day Téa Mutonji’s short story collection “Shut Up You’re Pretty” came out, and I devoured that in two days. It would’ve been faster but I was trying to pace myself! I just loved reading this human portrayal of a Black girl and her shortcomings and inner thoughts. It’s such a grounding read.

Did you always want to be a writer and did your family encourage that dream?

I did always want to be a writer, and I had always written in various forms growing up, but it wasn’t until I was 23 that I decided to start writing towards publication. My parents are Nigerian immigrants: they were as encouraging as they could have been while maintaining that I should focus on something lucrative. So, not always! But they never actively told me to stop writing. 

What has it been like preparing to debut during the pandemic?

It’s been stressful, I can’t lie to you! The debut experience is exciting and fun and scary and nerve-wracking all at the same time. It’s all been heightened because of the pandemic. Honestly, I’m still not sure I know what I’m doing. So far I’ve been trying to take things one day at a time and only focus on things that I find fun. I think it’s been helping! I do miss seeing people in-person, though, and I hope to one day be invited to a conference or a festival where I can hug people. I don’t even need to be on a panel. I can vibe in the back. Just wanna have in-person conversations.

Are there any shows or movies you’ve been watching during quarantine? And is there anything you’re excited about?

I really enjoyed Bridgerton and Bling Empire, and I’m slowly making my way through WandaVision. I’ve been watching a lot of anime too. I figure if I have unlimited time, I might as well catch up on some shows or pick up new ones. I feel like the pandemic has stolen my ability to think or plan ahead, so my excitement operates on a week-by-week basis! As of now, I’m only excited for the last season of Insecure airing this year. Excited, and a bit sad, but also comfortable in knowing the show is ending on its own terms!

Can you give us two truths and a lie about you?

I can swim, I’ve met Harry Styles twice, and I have a debilitating fear of werewolves.

Other than your own are there any books by a Black author you would love to see adapted for a movie or tv show?

I’m going to shamelessly say Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, even though I haven’t read it in full yet. The aesthetic is everything I love for an edgy TV show and it’d be so much fun to watch.

You’re also working on a new story Model Minority. What has that experience been like and how do you keep on track with writing with everything going on in the world?

It’s been a lot of fun! I tend to draft fast and then spend a lot of time revising, and I enjoy being in both stages. Drafting is my make-believe phase, so I can come up with things fast and throw them in, waiting to see what sticks. Revising is my fanfiction phase, where I usually approach it like I’m tweaking the source material. I’m usually not one to take breaks, but since the pandemic, I’ve been better at taking a day or a week off, and that’s really helped me stay on track.

You can follow her at @louisaonome_ on Twitter

Monday, February 22, 2021

Happy Endings by Thien-Kim Lam


Welcome Back Booklovers! I decided to pick up another romance and this one is a little out my comfort zone. It's still contemporary romance but the heroine has an unconventional job and it's Asian woman/Black man romance. I've been calling this the sex toy and soul food romance. I received an arc from Avon Romance in exchange for review.

Trixie Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American sex toy therapist who hails from New Orleans. After a messy breakup she moved to DC for a fresh start. Determined to prove her parents wrong she has a 5 yr plan which includes becoming a top seller. She's found a group of close friends, does volunteer work she enjoys, and is overall a more confident woman. 

Andre Walker took over his momma's soul food restaurant after she died but it hasn't been doing well. 2 years ago he left his girlfriend by breaking up via a note and moved out of New Orleans.  So of course he's surprised when she shows up at his restaurant and he discovers she's friends with his sister. The last thing he wants is to defile the image of his mother's restaurant with pop up sex toy events especially with his ex as the host.  But what other options do they have to easily bring in business right now?

I really appreciated the sex positivity in this story. Trixie tries to educate both young and older women about sex and help them be comfortable in their own bodies. 

The sex scenes were hot and there was even some inclusion of toys which I've never read in a contemporary romance. Trixie and Andre had no problems in that regard.

This book also touches upon gentrification as the neighborhood surrounding Mama Hazel's restaurant has had significant rent increases over the years and an influx of hipsters. The restaurant is one of the few neighborhood staples left.

While I understood Andre was still dealing with his grief he was a hard character to root for at times. He harbors the weight of everything on his shoulders despite friends and family constantly begging him to let them help. He need to dal with his control issues when it came to both his sister and Trixie.

I think there was a lot of family drama to get over and that was too quickly resolved without much effort. I think more time needed to be spent on resolving those issues since the book was already in women's fiction territory. And those larger issues made it hard to enjoy Trixie and Andre as a couple outside of the bedroom. Overall this is a fast paced read worth checking out at least to get a little variation from your usual contemporary.

About Me

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Lover of food and lore. I'm always looking to get lost in my next adventure between the pages.