stuff I read

How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones

43682552Summary from Goodreads:
From award-winning poet Saeed Jones, How We Fight for Our Lives is a stunning coming-of-age memoir written at the crossroads of sex, race, and power.

“People don’t just happen,” writes Saeed Jones. “We sacrifice former versions of ourselves. We sacrifice the people who dared to raise us. The ‘I’ it seems doesn’t exist until we are able to say, ‘I am no longer yours.’ ”

Haunted and haunting, Jones’s memoir tells the story of a young, black, gay man from the South as he fights to carve out a place for himself, within his family, within his country, within his own hopes, desires, and fears. Through a series of vignettes that chart a course across the American landscape, Jones draws readers into his boyhood and adolescence—into tumultuous relationships with his mother and grandmother, into passing flings with lovers, friends and strangers. Each piece builds into a larger examination of race and queerness, power and vulnerability, love and grief: a portrait of what we all do for one another—and to one another—as we fight to become ourselves.

Blending poetry and prose, Jones has developed a style that is equal parts sensual, beautiful, and powerful—a voice that’s by turns a river, a blues, and a nightscape set ablaze. How We Fight for Our Lives is a one of a kind memoir and a book that cements Saeed Jones as an essential writer for our time.

I have followed Saeed Jones on social media and read his articles for a long time so I was so excited when his memoir was announced. And then How We Fight For Our Lives got picked as a Barnes and Noble Fall 2019 Discover title.

Wow. Simply, wow. Not a word wasted, not a word out of place. How We Fight For Our Lives is a beautiful, spare, rich memoir about being black and gay and how little space is given to those men as they grow from childhood to adulthood, especially when they grow up in a very conservative town. Internalized self-loathing is so common among these pages that I can’t even imagine the work Saeed must have done to be able to bare those emotions for the reader. The book is also a love letter to his late mother, those last few chapters cut me to the quick. A must-read, one of the best books of 2019.

How We Fight For Our Lives is out today.

Dear FTC: I read an advance copy of this book provided to my store for the Discover program.

stuff I read

The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons to Fall in Love With Me by Keah Brown

39297013Summary from Goodreads:
From the disability rights advocate and creator of the #DisabledAndCute viral campaign, a thoughtful, inspiring, and charming collection of essays exploring what it means to be black and disabled in a mostly able-bodied white America.

Keah Brown loves herself, but that hadn’t always been the case. Born with cerebral palsy, her greatest desire used to be normalcy and refuge from the steady stream of self-hate society strengthened inside her. But after years of introspection and reaching out to others in her community, she has reclaimed herself and changed her perspective.

In The Pretty One, Brown gives a contemporary and relatable voice to the disabled—so often portrayed as mute, weak, or isolated. With clear, fresh, and light-hearted prose, these essays explore everything from her relationship with her able-bodied identical twin (called “the pretty one” by friends) to navigating romance; her deep affinity for all things pop culture—and her disappointment with the media’s distorted view of disability; and her declaration of self-love with the viral hashtag #DisabledAndCute.

By “smashing stigmas, empowering her community, and celebrating herself” (Teen Vogue), Brown and The Pretty One aims to expand the conversation about disability and inspire self-love for people of all backgrounds.

The Pretty One is a very well-written essay collection about living as a disabled woman of color – how these intersections affect personal relationships, self-worth, internalized ableism, seeing one’s self (or not, as is the case) in books, film, and TV, and mental health. She writes so bravely about self-destructive thoughts and the plan to end her own life in a way that I think we don’t often “allow” in disability literature and she credits books by Sarah Dessen and Toni Morrison to helping her. Brown has a refreshing, direct but conversational style. A writer to watch.

The Pretty One is out now!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory (The Wedding Date #3)

42599067Summary from Goodreads:
Maddie and Theo have two things in common:

1. Alexa is their best friend
2. They hate each other

After an “oops, we made a mistake” night together, neither one can stop thinking about the other. With Alexa’s wedding rapidly approaching, Maddie and Theo both share bridal party responsibilities that require more interaction with each other than they’re comfortable with. Underneath the sharp barbs they toss at each other is a simmering attraction that won’t fade. It builds until they find themselves sneaking off together to release some tension when Alexa isn’t looking.

But as with any engagement with a nemesis, there are unspoken rules that must be abided by. First and foremost, don’t fall in love.

Now you know why I had to get The Proposal finished ASAP – The Wedding Party galleys went live! LOL.

We met Maddie (Alexa’s best friend) and Theo (Alexa’s work husband) in The Wedding Date and they don’t like each other, even though they’re Alexa’s attendants at her wedding. It’s bit Pride and Prejudice – Theo thinks being a stylist is a waste, Maddie thinks Theo is a stuck-up snob. They have a little one-night stand at the beginning of The Wedding Party – and intend to never speak of it again – but since they have to interact because of “bridal party” duties they keep finding themselves alone together. Soon, Maddie and Theo are hanging out (I had a really bad pun here but I am going to spare you) outside of wedding duties.

4 stars overall: The beginning of the book felt rushed but I liked how Theo and Maddie found themselves caught in the trap of “we said this was a fling but how do we admit this is more” because God forbid you show anyone your softer bits or give ground first. I loved Maddie’s idea of creating a way to help low income women with style tips was aces and how she remembered what her mother went through as a single parent without a large income or support. I read this book while I was on vacation in San Francisco – it was really neat to be able to put the geography from the book together with the real streets and neighborhoods (and the climate – even though it was late May it sure as heck wasn’t very warm at night!).

5 great big stars for Alexa: She makes a big appearance here as Maddie and Theo’s bestie (and sets up the “I love you” scene SO WELL) and I ❤️ her.

Now, if having a great story for Maddie isn’t enough, Maddie’s awesome mom Vivian is going to get her own HEA in November! Christmas romance! In England! Royals!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Rebel by Beverly Jenkins (Women Who Dare #1)

38135735Summary from Goodreads:
The first novel in USA Today Bestselling Author Beverly Jenkins’ compelling new series follows a Northern woman south in the chaotic aftermath of the Civil War…

Valinda Lacey’s mission in the steamy heart of New Orleans is to help the newly emancipated community survive and flourish. But soon she discovers that here, freedom can also mean danger. When thugs destroy the school she has set up and then target her, Valinda runs for her life—and straight into the arms of Captain Drake LeVeq.

As an architect from an old New Orleans family, Drake has a deeply personal interest in rebuilding the city. Raised by strong women, he recognizes Valinda’s determination. And he can’t stop admiring—or wanting—her. But when Valinda’s father demands she return home to marry a man she doesn’t love, her daring rebellion draws Drake into an irresistible intrigue.

Sometimes you pick up a book thinking you’re going to get just a good romance but then the author presents you with a book that moves beyond genre, to give you a history lesson and a social kick in the pants as well. Ms. Bev’s new book Rebel does just that in a romance set in Reconstruction-era New Orleans between a New York City schoolteacher escaping a suffocating father and a man from a prominent Free Black family working to help those recently freed rebuild their lives. The romance between Val and Drake is sweet and sexy but this doesn’t make the book easy. Nothing was easy for free and freed people of color after the Civil War, from getting a job, to an education, to a fair wage, to even being able to seek justice because the systems were all still rigged in favor of Whites. Jenkins lays that all out on the page and includes names and dates of real (shitty) racist legislation passed by Congress and states and real activists working in the era. An absolutely outstanding novel to kick off the summer.

For those who have read other historicals from Jenkins, Raimond and Sable make an extended appearance here and you may also recognize a few names mentioned in passing.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

42129087Summary from Goodreads:
Stories provide portals into other worlds, both real and imagined. The promise of escape draws people from all backgrounds to speculative fiction, but when people of color seek passageways into the fantastic, the doors are often barred. This problem lies not only with children’s publishing, but also with the television and film executives tasked with adapting these stories into a visual world. When characters of color do appear, they are often marginalized or subjected to violence, reinforcing for audiences that not all lives matter.

The Dark Fantastic is an engaging and provocative exploration of race in popular youth and young adult speculative fiction. Grounded in her experiences as YA novelist, fanfiction writer, and scholar of education, Thomas considers four black girl protagonists from some of the most popular stories of the early 21st century: Bonnie Bennett from the CW’s The Vampire Diaries, Rue from Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, Gwen from the BBC’s Merlin, and Angelina Johnson from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. Analyzing their narratives and audience reactions to them reveals how these characters mirror the violence against black and brown people in our own world.

In response, Thomas uncovers and builds upon a tradition of fantasy and radical imagination in Black feminism and Afrofuturism to reveal new possibilities. Through fanfiction and other modes of counter-storytelling, young people of color have reinvisioned fantastic worlds that reflect their own experiences, their own lives. As Thomas powerfully asserts, “we dark girls deserve more, because we are more.”

The Dark Fantastic is a very thought-provoking examination of race in media and young adult speculative fiction through the lens of the “Dark Fantastic” (spectacle, hesitation, violence, haunting, and emancipation). Thomas uses four key Black characters – Rue from The Hunger Games, Gwen from BBC’s Merlin, Bonnie from CW’s The Vampire Diaries, and Angelina Johnson from Harry Potter – to explore this cycle and how fan-fiction and counter-storytelling are changing these characters in the fandom. This monograph sits between popular lit-crit and academic theory so be ready for a more formal argument.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory (The Wedding Date #2)

37584991._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
The author of The Wedding Date serves up a novel about what happens when a public proposal doesn’t turn into a happy ending, thanks to a woman who knows exactly how to make one on her own…

When someone asks you to spend your life with him, it shouldn’t come as a surprise–or happen in front of 45,000 people.

When freelance writer Nikole Paterson goes to a Dodgers game with her actor boyfriend, his man bun, and his bros, the last thing she expects is a scoreboard proposal. Saying no isn’t the hard part–they’ve only been dating for five months, and he can’t even spell her name correctly. The hard part is having to face a stadium full of disappointed fans…

At the game with his sister, Carlos Ibarra comes to Nik’s rescue and rushes her away from a camera crew. He’s even there for her when the video goes viral and Nik’s social media blows up–in a bad way. Nik knows that in the wilds of LA, a handsome doctor like Carlos can’t be looking for anything serious, so she embarks on an epic rebound with him, filled with food, fun, and fantastic sex. But when their glorified hookups start breaking the rules, one of them has to be smart enough to put on the brakes…

I had a galley for The Proposal but it expired early (booo technology) and didn’t get back to until now. (Weekend of finishing half-read books, yay!) I loved The Wedding Date, and was entirely charmed by pediatrician Carlos and his love of food, so I was happy to see him get his own story. Nik was a great introduction to the series as the heroine – a freelance writer with a squad of awesome besties who is also into good food (prepare to be hungry most of this book, I am not kidding). The only hitch with this book, for me, was the conflict. I get that both Carlos and Nik had baggage (Nik with both the shitty actor ex-boyfriend and a shitty doctor ex-boyfriend and Carlos with his father dying young) but the length of time both characters protested about not wanted a serious relationship…the lady doth protest too much. The late-book “conflict” between Nik and Carlos needed more teeth, some of the lines juvenile as if they were two kids in their first relationship instead of successful adults in their late twenties-early thirties. But aside from that, so much of Carlos and Nik getting together was how good they were as friends. I’m coming to find that I love romances where the central couple enjoys just hanging out together and being with each other, it’s so fun to read on the page (yes, I like the sexy-times, too, but it’s so cozy when the characters are getting pizza and watching a movie on the couch).

Dear FTC: I had a digital galley but it expired so I bought a paper copy.

mini-review · stuff I read

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker by Damon Young

40652123Summary from Goodreads:
From the cofounder of VerySmartBrothas.com, and one of the most read writers on race and culture at work today, a provocative and humorous memoir-in-essays that explores the ever-shifting definitions of what it means to be Black (and male) in America

For Damon Young, existing while Black is an extreme sport. The act of possessing black skin while searching for space to breathe in America is enough to induce a ceaseless state of angst where questions such as “How should I react here, as a professional black person?” and “Will this white person’s potato salad kill me?” are forever relevant.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker chronicles Young’s efforts to survive while battling and making sense of the various neuroses his country has given him.

It’s a condition that’s sometimes stretched to absurd limits, provoking the angst that made him question if he was any good at the “being straight” thing, as if his sexual orientation was something he could practice and get better at, like a crossover dribble move or knitting; creating the farce where, as a teen, he wished for a white person to call him a racial slur just so he could fight him and have a great story about it; and generating the surreality of watching gentrification transform his Pittsburgh neighborhood from predominantly Black to “Portlandia . . . but with Pierogies.”

And, at its most devastating, it provides him reason to believe that his mother would be alive today if she were white.

From one of our most respected cultural observers, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker is a hilarious and honest debut that is both a celebration of the idiosyncrasies and distinctions of Blackness and a critique of white supremacy and how we define masculinity.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker is one of the new Discover titles at the store. Young uses the form of the essay to both tell his own story of growing up black in Pittsburgh AND write about the culture around him. He has a sharp turn of phrase and a dry humor that I really enjoyed. There is a lot to think about here, from ripping culture, to masculinity, to use of the N word in black culture, to his lack of an driver’s license and how that impacts employment, to his new identity as a parent. I really appreciated how he constructed the chapter about his mother’s illness and death then commented on how the white medical establishment views black women’s pain and bodies; very well-crafted.

What Doesn’t Kill You Doesn’t Make You Blacker is out now in the US.

Dear FTC:

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Can’t Escape Love by Alyssa Cole (Reluctant Royals #2.6)

42117382Summary from Goodreads:
Regina Hobbs is nerdy by nature, businesswoman by nurture. She’s finally taking her pop culture-centered media enterprise, Girls with Glasses, to the next level, but the stress is forcing her to face a familiar supervillain: insomnia. The only thing that helps her sleep when things get this bad is the deep, soothing voice of puzzle-obsessed live streamer Gustave Nguyen. The problem? His archive has been deleted.

Gus has been tasked with creating an escape room themed around a romance anime…except he knows nothing about romance or anime. Then mega-nerd and anime expert Reggie comes calling, and they make a trade: his voice for her knowledge. But when their online friendship has IRL chemistry, will they be able to escape love?

Can’t Escape Love is a very cute “meanwhile” romance for Reggie that takes place during the denouement of her sister Portia’s story in A Duke by Default. We get to see the story from Reggie’s side, which is important given the history we’ve had from Portia. Definitely an important romance story to tell, about a nerdy WOC who uses a wheelchair (which is depicted on the cover!) and a Vietnamese neurodiverse man and it’s lovely and sweet but DAMN I wish it was a full-length novel instead of a novella. The short length really causes Instalust here (along with a bit of overload on the nerd cred information).

But everyone should pick this up – Can’t Escape Love is out today in ebook (mass market paperback coming April 30)! And don’t miss the last book in the series, A Prince on Paper, coming out April 30.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss – and I have a copy pre-ordered on my Nook.