African American

Book Review: Booked

Booked
Author: 
Alexander, Kwame
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

This poetic form of literature was but another outstanding work by the Newbery Medal award winner for his well known book: "The Crossover", Kwame Alexander. This book is a sensational work from what I think is one of the greatest masters of the art of literature. His book... uh... "Booked" is one of the greatest pieces of literature that I've read in my life as a teenager. This BOOK (get it?) has a great mix of drama, moral dilemma, and romance (well, more or less).

Reviewer's Name: 
Haegan

Book Review: Rebound

Rebound
Author: 
Alexander, Kwame
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

This follow up from Kwame Alexander's Newbery Award winning book, "Crossover" was a sensational masterpiece! This New York Times Bestseller has struck me with its drama, moral dilemma, and when the story got all casually on me, it "Rebounded" with sadness and passion.

Reviewer's Name: 
Haegan

Book Review: The Crossover

The Crossover
Author: 
Alexander, Kwame
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

This phenomenon of a book has great detail and a mix of drama, sadness, and love. Kwame Alexander has really proven his expertise in his book "Crossover." This book is a great source of human literature for all ages. This book was "Cross" of drama, brotherly love, and loss. The recipe for a great book.

Reviewer's Name: 
Haegan

Book Review: Sounder

Sounder
Author: 
Armstrong, William H.
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

The book, Sounder, is a great read. While it is a short read, it packs a powerful punch. The only reason I could really no like the book was that it does get to a be a cliche "dog story" at times. The characters are pretty well developed, and the story does get very dark. The multiple ongoing conflicts also captivate the reader. While its sort-of a children's book, the book also does have some cool underlying themes that the reader can pick out.

Overall, I recommend this book to anyone, as its quick and phenomenal read.

Reviewer's Name: 
Steven L

Book Review: The Paragon Hotel

The Paragon Hotel
Author: 
Faye, Lyndsay
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

1922. Alice James finds herself on a westbound train with two bullets in her stomach and $50,000 worth of counterfeit cash. On the run from the mob, she befriends a black porter who saves her life by taking her to his doctor friend in the only black hotel in Portland, Oregon. When a mixed race child goes missing from the hotel, the residents panic as KKK activity in Portland has been escalating. This excellent novel switches back and forth from the events leading up to Alice’s shooting and then her experiences at the hotel after arriving.

Alice James is one of my favorite characters in recent memory – she’s flawed, but self-aware, whip-smart and most importantly compassionate. Her empathy gets her into the trouble and she knows it, but she’s the sort who is willing to sacrifice herself for the greater cause. The supporting characters, especially Blossom, are equally flawed but lovable, especially as their truths slowly come to light. I’m a sucker for a 20s setting, and we get a lot of the good stuff here, especially linguistically. Our Alice has quite the endearing way of explaining herself in 20s style aphorisms.

In addition to being a charming read, the book covers some really important issues around race, gender and sexuality. The author has a deft enough hand at covering these issues that she manages to make the commentary work for the 20s as well as present day. If you decide to read this book, you’ll laught, cry and rage along with the characters at the injustices handed to them based on their gender, race or sexuality. My one complaint is that the middle sagged a bit – this is book that’s largely focused on character development and the mystery really just served to get Alice to learn things about her new friends.

I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, but the promise of mob-excitement, mystery and racial commentary brought me to this book, and I’m so glad it did. Richly drawn characters and a fascinating setting pretty much guarantee that most fiction (historical or otherwise) readers will enjoy this one, and I’ll be pre-ordering a copy for my mother. 5 stars – I adored it.

Thanks to Netgalley and G.P. Putnam’s Sons for the advance copy, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Paragon Hotel goes on sale on 08 January, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: 
Britt

Book Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing

Sing, Unburied, Sing
Author: 
Ward, Jesmyn
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

Jo Jo and his mother Leonie have been living on a farm in rural Missisippi for their entire lives. Jo Jo's father, Michael, has been in jail for drug related crimes, and thus most of Jo Jo and his sister Kayla's upbringing has been done by their grandparents: the gruff but ultimately loving Pop and the cancer-ridden matriarch, Mam. Everyone's world is about to be upended, though, as time grows near for Michael to get out of prison.

Writing any sort of synopsis for this book was particularly challenging, as there's not much in the way of plot. I don't mean that in a bad way. I sometimes love books that focus solely character development, and that is absolutely what this is. The writing is insanely gorgeous and it's obvious from the gruesome beginning scene as to why this won the National Book Award.

Ward manages to make almost all of the characters relatable or lovable even as they do and say and think terrible things. She absolutely captures some of the wonderfully horrible aspects of the human condition, and here is a lot to love in this book.

That being said, I did not much care for certain aspects of the audiobook. First, by the time I got the book, I had forgotten what it was actually about. I did not remember that ghosts were a part of the story and was really confused for the first part of the book (are these flashbacks? how is that character here? I thought he was dead?), but I eventually figured it out. For me, the ghosts detracted from the story and I could have done without that element, even though magical realism is often my jam. The biggest problem for me, however, was Rutina Wesley's performance (which, hilariously enough, is why I went for this in audiobook format - I liked her in the few seasons I watched of True Blood). It was over enunciated especially given that Leonie is from Mississippi, and I found her parts to be melodramatic as there were a lot of weird pauses and words said breathlessly. It just didn't work for me, and I wanted to skip all of Leonie's parts.

If you would like to read a gorgeously written character study/family drama with a compelling setting, then this is a great bet. Just read it, don't listen to it. 3 stars.

Reviewer's Name: 
Britt

Book Review: Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur BFF Vol. 1

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur BFF Vol. 1
Author: 
Montclare, Brandon
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Lunella Lafayette is smart. Really really smart -- so much so that her parents and middle school classmates struggle to understand her. And as a latent Inhuman exposed to the terragen mists she should start expressing some kind of superpowers any day now. Nothing that being telepathically linked to a giant red Tyrannosaurus won't fix, right? This all ages comic works as the author has genuine respect for the voice and age of its protagonist. While the circumstances of this pairing are a little fantastic, the friendship is very real. This book is a great introduction to the wonder of comics for younger readers, and a great reminder for older ones.

Reviewer's Name: 
Rebecca O.

Book Review: Armstrong and Charlie

Armstrong and Charlie
Author: 
Frank, Steven
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

With race relations where they are today, it’s almost somewhat jarring to know that things haven’t changed much in over four decades. In an attempt to educate the next generation about racism, Steven B. Frank’s Armstrong and Charlie is an excellent start. While I would like to think that race relations have improved since the mid-1970’s, there are plenty of lessons available in this book that are applicable today. Still, racism can be a two-way street, and I couldn’t help but think of the Avenue Q song, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.”

Beyond the obvious racial undertones to this book, Armstrong and Charlie is a fantastic book about growing up. Aimed at kids on the cusp of growing into adults, the book masterfully represents moments of peer pressure where the characters have to decide what the correct response should be. Not only does it have valuable lessons about lying, stealing, bullying, and grieving, but it includes a few moments of romance as well. As boys progress into their teenage years, these moments are sweet, but also emphasize the whirlwind of emotions and hormones about to befall all kids of that age.

The best part of Armstrong and Charlie is how the narrative splits between the two, titular boys. With the reader knowing the background of each individual, the reasons behind the biases and social friction come to light well before the boys realize that people are deeper than they appear on the surface. Somebody might be poor and act out in spite of it. Others might have family or personal problems that they’re hiding via and underneath a mask of toughness. Once we finally get to know someone, we find they’re not nearly as different as we once thought.

A fantastic book about 1970’s race relations that everyone should read, I give Armstrong and Charlie 5.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin M. Weilert

Book Review: Octavia E. Butler's Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation

Octavia E. Butler's Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
Author: 
Duffy, Damian
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Octavia Butler's Kindred broke so much ground both as a flawless time travel novel and visceral retelling of the slave experience. As an African-American author writing science fiction, her body of work changed the field while winning its top honors -- the Nebula and Hugo awards -- and the author herself was awarded a MacArthur genius grant. This graphic novel is an excellent introduction to her work, and is highly recommended for YA and adult readers alike.

Reviewer's Name: 
Rebecca

Book Review: Booked

Booked
Author: 
Alexander, Kwame
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Nick Hall has everything going for him: he's doing well in school, he's got a solid flirtation going with his crush (or...limerence as it were), and most importantly, he made the soccer travel team. And so, of course, everything starts to go wrong. His parents separate, he starts to get bullied and his best friend ends up on a soccer team 30 miles away.

Booked is absolutely in no way the type of book I would normally pick up, but despite that, I thought it was fantastic. It's a sports fiction novel written in verse neither of which are my thing, but man, I get why Crossover won that Newbery if it was anything like this. In very few words, Alexander manages to develop complex characters, create humor, and develop and subsequently neatly (a little too neatly, perhaps, but hey, it is a book for kids) tie up several plot lines. Oh! And the words! There is a fun little subplot in which Nick's dad wrote a dictionary, and it leads to some really awesome word play. I also learned a few new fun vocabulary words to throw around.

Anyway, my final thought is really just...wow. I'm impressed. I'll definitely be booktalking this one. And even though, like I said, it's not my thing AT ALL, I'll probably read Crossover, Alexander's other book. 5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: 
Britt

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