Monday, October 18, 2021

What Happens in Miami by Nadine Gonzalez

Welcome Back, Booklovers! So I wanted to read a Latinx story before Latinx Heirtage Month ended and What Happens in Miami had been on my TBR for months. I was already familiar with Nadine Gonzalez and she sold me with the Afro-Cuban American hero and Haitian-American heroine. I never see that pairing in books. Plus the Miami setting promised it would bring the heat. And who knew the art world could be so sexy?

Angeline "Angel" Louis is filling in for a coworker by presenting artwork to a client on behalf of her employer, Gallery Six. It's the start of Art Basel Week in Miami and there's so much going on. Angel is able to secure the sale with famous actor  Alessandro "Sandro" Cardenas. However the painting isn't the only thing Sandro is interested in. He makes it clear that he wants her to spend the night. Despite Angel knowing how highly unprofessional it would be to sleep with a client, she decides to let loose and go all in. 

Though Angel makes a swift escape the next morning Sandro can't get her out of his mind. After meeting up later that evening at an event Sandro convinces her to spend some more time together. He's also curious about her employer and wants to know if she has any information on them. Fake paintings are being sold as works by his grandfather. He just has to gather enough evidence to prove it. This element of mystery not only added some drama but it allowed readers to meet Sandro's family and explore the relationships he has with them.

Angel is getting over a breakup and is at a place in her career where she feels lost and like she's failed. Her strict Haitian family wanted her to be a doctor or a lawyer and don't support her career in the arts. I liked that Sandro made her stop and think about what she wanted in life and not just give up and move back to her hometown.

This was very much escapism that requires you to suspend belief. I didn't understand why but the author choose to have this relationship take place over the course of a week which I found to be unnecessary. I enjoyed how supportive Sandro was and how he wanted to help her pursue her dreams but the way he acted I thought a couple of weeks had passed sooner than the book stated. Even with a happy for now it was a lot. It would've made more sense to have their initial meeting take place during Art Basel Week but have them getting to know each other over the next few weeks. A few rounds of sex doesn't cause such deep feelings. And speaking of sex the build up was so hot and then it went fade to black. Why must some authors tease me like that?

All in all this was a quick with little bits of Haitian and Cuban culture that I enjoyed set across a sexy Miami backdrop.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

2021 Holiday Gift Guide Part 2


Welcome Back, Booklovers! The response was so great for part 1 of the holiday gift guide. I hope it's a good starting point for some of you. For round 2 I want to focus on the gifts for the kids starting with age 0-8.  At Christmas the kids get so many toys they don't even know which one to play with first. And within a month or so some of those toys are forgotten. I think a book can be enjoyed over and over again and then passed along to be enjoyed again. And picture book can be expensive for the very short page count. So I put together this list of picture books I screened myself alongside a little cousin that I think your little ones will enjoy. 

Zuri Ray Tries Ballet

Meet Zuri Ray. She’s always willing to go the extra mile for family and friends and is up for any challenge. At least, that was before her best friend, Jessie, asked her to join a ballet camp.

Now Zuri isn’t sure if she’s up for everything. While Jessie can’t wait to chassé and plié while wearing tight hair buns and frilly tutus, that doesn’t sound like Zuri at all! But she can’t let her friend down. Maybe classical ballet just needs a new spin

Coquí in the City

Miguel's pet frog, Coquí, is always with him: as he greets his neighbors in San Juan, buys quesitos from the panadería, and listens to his abuelo's story about meeting baseball legend Roberto Clemente. Then Miguel learns that he and his parents are moving to the U.S. mainland, which means leaving his beloved grandparents, home in Puerto Rico, and even Coquí behind. Life in New York City is overwhelming, with unfamiliar buildings, foods, and people. But when he and Mamá go exploring, they find a few familiar sights that remind them of home, and Miguel realizes there might be a way to keep a little bit of Puerto Rico with him--including the love he has for Coquí--wherever he goes.

Just Like Mama

Carol Olivia Clementine lives with Mama Rose. Mama Rose is everything—tender and sweet. She is also as stern and demanding as any good parent should be. In the midst of their happy home, Carol misses her mother and father. She longs to be with them. But until that time comes around, she learns to surrender to the love that is present. Mama Rose becomes her “home.” And Carol Olivia Clementine concludes that she loves Miss Rose, “just like a mama.”

Bracelets for Bina's Brothers

For the Hindu holiday of Raksha Bandhan, Bina is determined to make beaded bracelets for her brothers all by herself. She finds out which colors her brothers like and dislike and sets to work. Working with her every-other-one beading pattern causes Bina to discover something new about patterns--and her brothers.

Federico and the Wolf

With his red hoodie on and his bicycle basket full of food, Federico is ready to visit Abuelo. But on the way, he meets a hungry wolf. And now his grandfather bears a striking resemblance to el lobo. Fortunately, Federico is quick and clever—and just happens to be carrying a spicy surprise! Federico drives the wolf away, and he and Abuelo celebrate with a special salsa. Recipe included.

The Real Santa

Join one Black family on their journey to discover what the real Santa looks like in this joyous tale celebrating identity, family and holiday cheer, from the New York Times bestselling author of Bedtime Bonnet.

It’s not Christmas without Santa! But what does Santa truly look like? Does he match the figurines on the mantel, or the faces on our favorite holiday sweaters? Does he look like you or like me? Find out in this joyous and cozy celebration of family, representation, and holiday spirit! Destined to be a new classic, and perfect for any child looking to see some of themselves in Santa Claus.

A Song of Frutas

The little girl loves visiting her grandfather in Cuba and singing his special songs to sell all kinds of fruit: mango, limón, naranja, piña, and more! Even when they’re apart, grandfather and granddaughter can share rhymes between their countries like un abrazo—a hug—made of words carried on letters that soar across the distance like songbirds.

Under the Mango Tree

Vee and Sanaa are the best of friends. Under a full mango tree, they play, dream, and plan for a future spent together, always. However, life can change quickly, and the girls must face the challenge of separation when Vee moves away. Join Vee and Sanaa as they learn how powerful friendship can be and how far it can reach.

Early Sunday Morning

Sundays are June’s favorite days because she gets to spend it with Mommy, Daddy, and her brother, Troy. Next Sunday is more special than most, because she will be leading the youth choir in front of her entire church.

June loves to sing. She sings loud, silly songs with Daddy, she sings to herself in front of the bedroom mirror, but performing in front of the entire congregation is another thing altogether. As her special moment approaches, June leans on the support of her whole community to conquer her fear of singing in front of the congregation.

Stella's Steller Hair

It’s the day of the Big Star Little Gala, and Stella's hair just isn't acting right! What’s a girl to do?

Simple! Just hop on her hoverboard, visit each of her fabulous aunties across the solar system, and find the perfect hairdo along the way.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood


Welcome Back, Booklovers! I was so excited to read Within these Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood because it promised gothic horror vibes with a Black protagonist. I truly enjoy a well written atmospheric read with magic involved. I've never read Jane Eyre so I can't compare but this one is truly special. I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy from Wednesday Books for review.

Andromeda has finally found a job that will get her out of the hot desert sands and keep her well fed. She works as a debtera, an exorcist who cleanses homes of the Evil Eye. She must cleanse the home of wealthy chocolate heir Magnus Rochester. He's gone through many debtera in search of the right person to break the curse.

When Andi first gets to the house she is immediately advised of the most important rules in her contract: Don't leave your room after ten o'clock at night and social time after dinner is mandatory.  And the strange rules don't end there.  But as much as she thinks she's ready, she's not prepared to battle evil forces or her stubborn housemates and eccentric employer.

This was the haunted house story I needed. I thought this opening of this story just pulls you in.  I'm not one of those readers who pictures everything like a movie so I need just enough descriptive writing for me to picture the setting but without the language being too flowery. That's something a lot of writers struggle with. Either they're overly descriptive to the point where they're telling you ever little thing their characters ate or you have no idea what anything looks like because of the lack of descriptions. Lauren Blackwood finds just the right balance.  I could picture the creepy manor with the blood thirsty demon hyena on the prowl and bleeding walls. 

Romance can be so hit and miss for me at times especially in fantasy. I wasn't sure I would like this one especially since it played on the idea that they shouldn't be together because Magnus is her employer and betrothed to someone else. I'd describe it as both fast-paced and slow-burn at the same time. It's instant attraction but hits just the right beats. Andromeda is longing for someone to love her after a life without experiencing open affection.  Magnus is a few years older and has Kelela around who is desperately in love with him though he doesn't have the same affection for her. He too is longing for someone to get close to after having to push people away for their safety.

The only thing I wasn't a fan of was the familial relationship between Andi and Jember, her guardian. It was complicated and hard to discussion without spoiling. I felt like initially it was described as abusive and Magnus even called it out as such. Then it's painted as misunderstood. Jember was definitely cold and emotionally detached from her displaying some toxic behavior. I understand why there would be some attachment on Andi's end but I wasn't able to fully buy Jember's excuses. 

I found this a very quick and easy to read young adult story with a magic system that wasn't overly complex. It actually feels written for a teen audience instead of occupying a weird space in between adult and teen read. This is a solid debut that hits just the right romantic, dark, and fantastical beats for someone just getting into the genre and genuinely feels unique. 


Friday, October 8, 2021

Interview with Author/Illustrator Olivia Stephens


Welcome Back, Booklovers! I love exploring different types of stories and mediums and graphic novels are rising in popularity in publishing right now. And it only makes sense. They're accessible and easier to read and exploring stories we don't see enough on in print. Today's interview is with author and illustrator Olivia Stephens whose debut Artie and the Wolf Moon is a future spooky season staple that's filling that gap for 12-15 readers. You can check out my review of Artie and the Wolf Moon here.

Has art always been a big part of your life? 

I’ve always liked telling stories. I’ve written in some form since I was a kid in elementary school, and I really enjoyed adding pictures alongside the words. But I really became hooked on comics in particular when I was in middle school.

And were there any artists who inspired you?

In middle school I fell in love with manga, particularly shonen manga. My biggest influences at the start were Bleach by Tite Kubo and Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa, alongside a bunch of others. As I got older I began venturing into the land of webcomics, where people can really cut loose and draw things unlike anything being published in more traditional channels.

How did you decide you wanted to pursue a career as a graphic novelist?

In my freshman year of art school, I took a comics class that taught me one important thing I had not yet accomplished: I learned how to finish a comic. Finishing stories is a skill you have to acquire. And if you never learn to finish a story (no matter how short), then you’ll never gain that confidence in yourself to see something through to completion. Once I finished my first short comic in that class, I not only learned that I could finish a comic, but I also realized that I loved it and I wanted to keep making them for as long as possible.

What types of stories do you gravitate to?

Supernatural or not, I gravitate towards any and all stories about family and the different ways we create it with others. Stories that meditate on tenderness and the inner workings of interpersonal relationships. I’ve also noticed that a lot of my favorite stories delve into themes of balance, exchange, and how we are all closely connected to each other.

What inspired Artie and the Wolf Moon?

Artie and the Wolf Moon was inspired by my love for all things supernatural, but also by my interest in family history, inheriting the legacy of our elders, and how we gain a certain power from that knowledge. I’ve been blessed with incredibly supportive families, both biological and chosen. I wanted the book to function as a love letter to finding community, because it’s the only reason I’ve gotten to where I am now.

Artie deals with some white bullies early in the story but it’s not the main plot. Have you felt pressure to write stories that focus heavily on racism?

I’ve definitely felt pressure. The majority of inquiries that I receive from editors and publishers are asking me to illustrate a graphic novel about racism or police brutality. That’s just a fact. And there’s certainly added insult to injury when you consider that my portfolio is based around fantasy and romance stories. So a lot of folks don’t see my work for what it actually is, they just see my race. That’s what makes me sad the most: how people in this industry possess such a small and limited imagination for Black narratives. They aren’t able to envision stories about us that aren’t focused on our suffering. To an extent, I pity them.

Do you have any plans for expanding the story you started in your comic Darlin?

Yes! I’ve been doing a lot of reading and researching in my free time for an expansion of Darlin’, and I plan to dedicate some time next year to releasing more chapters from that world.

What’s your favorite thing about fall?

The weather. I love to get cozy and watch the rain and storms outside. And there’s something inspiring about watching the leaves change and fall. It reminds me to make room in my life for growth and new beginnings that are on their way.

Have you picked up any new hobbies or interests in the past year?

I’ve actually started running this year, which is something that would have been unthinkable to me two years ago. It’s very meditative, and it’s helped me achieve a lot of clarity during tumultuous times. 

Is there an upcoming project you’re able to talk about here?

This was just announced, but I’m illustrating the graphic novel adaptation of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole In The Sky by Kwame Mbalia. Robert Venditti adapted the script, the interior colors are by Laura Langston, and the lettering is by Ariana Maher. That will be out in September 2022. 

I’ve also written a limited fantasy comic series called The Tiger’s Tongue, which will start coming out from Mad Cave Studios in August 2022. Diansakhu Banton-Perry is the series’ artist, with Bex Glendining on inks and colors, Joamette Gil as letterer, and Odera Igbokwe creating the beautiful issue covers. I couldn’t be more excited by having such an incredible team. 

Follow on Twitter @OliveOilCorp and on Instagram @oliveoilcorp

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The Donut Trap by Julie Tieu


Welcome Back, Booklovers! I've been hearing a lot of people talking about wanting more romance with adults fresh out of college in traditional publishing. So look no further, The Donut Trap is here! I received and arc from Avon for review.

Jasmine Tran is trying to find her place in the world like most 20s somethings. She's living with her parents and working at their donut shop while she tries to find a job after college. She also ends up reconnecting with Alex, a guy from her college who she wanted to get to know but couldn't find the courage to. Alex checks off all her expectations for her perfect guy. He's cute, he's Chinese, and he has a good job.

Jasmine is awkward and a bit of a mess but endearing. She is the child of Cambodian immigrants with Chinese ancestry. It's very relatable how she navigates her more Americanized way of thinking while also taking into consideration what her parents want for her and the sacrifices they've made. She was not good at school despite how hard she studied at first and ended up going off the rails towards the end with partying and recreational drug use. 

I think many people can relate to finishing college and then realizing they have no clue what they want to do with their lives. Then there's the struggle of finding a job when they want you to have years of experience which you can only gain by finding a job. While she's struggling she sees her peers moving on to great careers while she's wondering what the point of college was as she works a mundane job. Due to a rent hike she finds her parents leaning on her more than ever as she has to help them elevate the shop.

This is not a rom-com like the blurb suggests. And I know romance readers say this all the time about books but this was a book that didn't even feel like a romance. It was less about Jasmine and Alex's relationship and more about her personal growth and her familial relationships. I was not surprised to see it under the general fiction category on Netgalley because I definitely felt it belonged there alongside the women's fiction category. The romance is okay but it's not the focal point and it's more the driver for some of the drama with Jasmine and her parents. And then there was this meaningless reappearance of a high school ex that just wasn't necessary and very forgettable.

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.