Book Reviews

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“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

– James Baldwin
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  • Book Review — One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

    I received a digital review copy of this book from Netgalley and Macmillan Audio. This has not impacted my rating and this review is voluntary.

    • Genre: Romance, Fiction
    • Published by: St. Martin’s Griffin / Macmillian Audio (audiobook)
    • Publish date: June 01, 2021
    • Number of pages: 432 pages
    • Author’s website: 
    • Support local! Buy the book on BookShop!

    For cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. She can’t imagine how waiting tables at a 24-hour pancake diner and moving in with too many weird roommates could possibly change that. And there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures.

    But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train.

    Jane. Dazzling, charming, mysterious, impossible Jane. Jane with her rough edges and swoopy hair and soft smile, showing up in a leather jacket to save August’s day when she needed it most. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there’s one big problem: Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. Maybe it’s time to start believing in some things, after all.

    Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop is a magical, sexy, big-hearted romance where the impossible becomes possible as August does everything in her power to save the girl lost in time.

    via Goodreads

    Rating: 3/5

    So many mutuals loved this book, but it just was not my favorite read.

    The novel starts out promising and I honestly loved the first quarter of the book. The main character is August, a young woman who has just moved to NYC. Right off the bat, she moves into an apartment with quirky roommates and we are introduced to a diverse set of characters. I think McQuiston really captures NYC living for the young, hopeful, and lost… for white women.

    August is becoming more comfortable with her new home when she has a meet-cute on the Q train. What you would think would only be a once in a lifetime encounter in a town of 8.4 million, happens again when August continues to take the Q train in order to meet this person again. So who is this person?

    Enter Jane, a Chinese American babe. What follows is an adventure of love transcending time– literally.

    There were several things that I thought McQuiston did well!

    • We end up getting a small window of lqbtqia history in the 70s from Jane. I found the subplot of her experiences protesting, learning about the various women she dated across the country, and her roommate in NYC was really unique and fit well into progressing the plot.
    • The roommates. They were a riot and I am always just smitten with found families.
    • Jane as a love interest. I would have loved this novel as a teen/young adult. She’s so assured of herself and I think she brings August out of her shell in the best way. The bisexual and lesbian relationship cannot be understated– it really was amazing to read this representation.
    • This story drags. I was surprised that it doesn’t wrap up after the climax, but instead continues on for longer than I personally think it needed to. At the same time, I understood that we needed to get to see August and Jane be a couple outside the Q train.
    • I enjoyed almost all the sex scenes, but like some other reviewers, the public transit sex was a little cringe– mainly through a post-pandemic lens. (Note: I say post-pandemic from an American perspective, but understand that the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing and I am fortunate to be vaccinated).
    • Micro-aggressions regarding Jane’s race rubbed me the wrong especially with the uptick in anti-Asian hate crimes in the US.

    Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to know!

  • Book Review — Dead Dead Girls By Nekesa Afia
    • Genre: Fiction, Murder Mystery, Women Sleuths
    • Published by: Berkley Books
    • Publish date: June 01, 2021
    • Number of pages: 336 pages
    • Author’s website: https://www.nekesaafia.com/
    • Support local! Buy the book on BookShop!

    Harlem, 1926. Young Black girls like Louise Lloyd are ending up dead.

    Following a harrowing kidnapping ordeal when she was in her teens, Louise is doing everything she can to maintain a normal life. She’s succeeding, too. She spends her days working at Maggie’s Café and her nights at the Zodiac, Manhattan’s hottest speakeasy. Louise’s friends might say she’s running from her past and the notoriety that still stalks her, but don’t tell her that.

    When a girl turns up dead in front of the café, Louise is forced to confront something she’s been trying to ignore–several local Black girls have been murdered over the past few weeks. After an altercation with a local police officer gets her arrested, Louise is given an ultimatum: She can either help solve the case or let a judge make an example of her.

    Louise has no choice but to take the case and soon finds herself toe-to-toe with a murderous mastermind. She’ll have to tackle her own fears and the prejudices of New York City society if she wants to catch a killer and save her own life in the process.

    Synopsis from https://www.nekesaafia.com/

    Rating: 4/5

    I love the Harlem Renaissance and reading anything about it– both fiction and non-fiction! In line with the time period, this mystery reads like a classic detective noir with a little Gatsby. The characters aren’t perfect and there’s a lot of shady things going on. You have a little bit of anti-hero-ness going on with several characters as well. Additionally, you have a main character who is independent and queer.

    The book opens with a young Louise, escaping from being abducted and saving the other girls abducted with her. This gives her the label of “Harlem’s Hero”– a past she has tried to shed and this label. However, her life of partying in speakeasies and dancing the night away is disrupted when young Black girls begin showing up dead near the place she works and she is recruited to help solve the cases to avoid jail time.

    It’s a puzzling mystery to solve that has her recalling her past, working with enemies, and putting those she loves at risk. It gets slow at parts and wasn’t too excited or surprised by the ending, but I am definitely interested in seeing how this series continues. A final note, that this cover is gorgeous!

    Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to know!

  • Book Review — Last Call (Murder on the Rocks #2) by Cathi Stoler

    Rating: 4/5

    Genre: Fiction, Murder Mystery, Amateur Slueth

    Bar None, set in the heart of New York City, is an edge-of-your-seat mystery that features It’s New Year’s Day and Jude Dillane, owner of The Corner Lounge, is cleaning up after last night’s celebration when she discovers the body of a man with a knife through his heart in the dumpster out back. She recognizes the victim immediately—it’s Michael Bevins, younger brother of her customer and neighbor, Art Bevins. Devastated, Jude becomes even more horrified when she learns that Michael is the latest victim of the New Year’s Eve Serial Killer whose horrible crimes stretch back more than twenty years. Determined to find this monster, Jude risks her life as she gathers evidence that leads her closer and closer to the killer and the staggering truth that he may be someone very close to home.

    Via the Publisher

    I was so excited to dive back into the world of Jude Dillane and The Corner Lounge. The second book in the “A Murder on the Rocks Mystery” series did not disappoint and is even faster-paced than the first in my opinion. We are reintroduced to Jude post-New Year’s Eve, after a night of serving drinks to celebrating patrons when she finds the dead body of one of those patrons in the dumpster outside. It turns out this murder is similar to previous NYE murders throughout the years and is the work of a serial killer aptly named the New Year’s Eve Serial Killer. Jude unwittingly gets swept up into the investigation because it was her chef’s knife that was used as the weapon and the killer keeps sending her threatening messages that assume she saw something.

    I was frustrated with Jude and some of the reckless situations she put herself into, but it’s not her fault that someone was targeting her. One thing that nagged me was how easy it was to shake the FBI security detail. I imagined that he would have been out of sight, out of mind but still keeping an eye out.

    What I love about these novels is the setting– the explanations of the food and drinks, the descriptions of the customers, and the New York scene are so fun. You also have characters like Jude, Sully, and Eric who are real– they are frustrating, headstrong, compassionate, and lovable. I can’t wait to read more of the series!

  • Book Review — Somebody’s Daughter: A Memoir by Ashley C. Ford
    • Genre: Memoir
    • Published by: Flatiron Books: An Oprah Book, MacMillian Audio
    • Publish date: June 1, 2021
    • Number of pages: 242 pages
    • Author’s website: http://www.ashleycford.net/
    • Support local! Buy the book on BookShop!

    For as long as she could remember, Ashley has put her father on a pedestal. Despite having only vague memories of seeing him face-to-face, she believes he’s the only person in the entire world who understands her. She thinks she understands him too. He’s sensitive like her, an artist, and maybe even just as afraid of the dark. She’s certain that one day they’ll be reunited again, and she’ll finally feel complete. There are just a few problems: he’s in prison, and she doesn’t know what he did to end up there.

    Through poverty, puberty, and a fraught relationship with her mother, Ashley returns to her image of her father for hope and encouragement. She doesn’t know how to deal with the incessant worries that keep her up at night, or how to handle the changes in her body that draw unwanted attention from men. In her search for unconditional love, Ashley begins dating a boy her mother hates; when the relationship turns sour, he assaults her. Still reeling from the rape, which she keeps secret from her family, Ashley finally finds out why her father is in prison. And that’s where the story really begins.

    Somebody’s Daughter steps into the world of growing up a poor Black girl, exploring how isolating and complex such a childhood can be. As Ashley battles her body and her environment, she provides a poignant coming-of-age recollection that speaks to finding the threads between who you are and what you were born into, and the complicated familial love that often binds them.

    -Flatiron Books

    Rating: 5/5

    Memoirs have to be one of my favorite genres to read and Ashley C. Ford tells her story and her family’s story with grace and respect for the people and places she’s writing about. At the same time, she holds a critical lens to explore her experiences in a way to both heal from and honor the memories.

    Although I did not grow up in Indiana, my father’s side of the family is from Muncie (where Ball State University is located) and Gary, Indiana. Many of them still live there and pre-COVID pandemic, I visited for “Back to Muncie” where families all come back for grilling and catching up. Driving through Muncie, you can feel the impact that the closing of auto companies had. There’s a sense of abandonment and poverty. At the same time, especially during the summer, you can drive slowly through the streets with your window down honking at, nodding at, or even stopping to chat to friendly neighbors. I could picture Ford’s upbringing in Fort Wayne and found some similarities between her family and mine.

    As the title implies, the heart of this story is Ford as a daughter of a woman with a lot of love and fear that manifests in ways that aren’t typical to the “mother” as popular media portrays mothers to be and a father who has been incarcerated for most of Ford’s life. Throughout, the memoir, we learn about Ford’s sexual assault, finding her voice, and exploring her sexuality. This a stunning and powerful memoir that I hope others enjoy as much as I did.

    Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to know!

  • Book Review — Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

    “I’m so excited to be publishing ’Ace of Spades’– a love letter to queer Black teenagers who feel powerless and alone finally finding their voices,”

    Àbíké-Íyímídé

    The tome is described as a high-octane young adult thriller that serves as “a blistering exploration of the barriers that Black students face when they aspire to things that come easily to their white classmates.”

    KARU F. DANIELS

    When two Niveus Private Academy students, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, are selected to be part of the elite school’s senior class prefects, it looks like their year is off to an amazing start. After all, not only does it look great on college applications, but it officially puts each of them in the running for valedictorian, too.

    Shortly after the announcement is made, though, someone who goes by Aces begins using anonymous text messages to reveal secrets about the two of them that turn their lives upside down and threaten every aspect of their carefully planned futures.

    As Aces shows no sign of stopping, what seemed like a sick prank quickly turns into a dangerous game, with all the cards stacked against them. Can Devon and Chiamaka stop Aces before things become incredibly deadly?

    -Feiwel & Friends

    Rating: 5/5

    Please note that although I do not reveal the ending, this review may allude to things that could be considered a spoiler.

    Jordan Peele set the bar high with “Get Out” and we are seeing a cultural shift where anything in the horror genre that covers topics of racism is understandably being compared. (This of course is a much-welcomed shift from the history of Black characters in the horror genre. See Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror.) The comparison of this novel to Get Out is well placed, but I would argue that Àbíké-Íyímídé creates something unique as well. Peele opened the gate of taking the history of eugenics and racism in the United States and turned it on its head in Get Out, Àbíké-Íyímídé does the same by using an experience that many Black people and other people of color have experienced in school and added a thriller/horror element to it. There is a particular scene in the novel that brings up similar feelings of dread and then relief that we feel at one of the scenes at the end of Get Out.

    Horror Noire (2019) poster.jpg

    Those that have had the experience of being “the only or one of the only” Black people in their school or classroom will understand the feeling of isolation, dread, and otherness that this can bring. This impacts our mental health and can even impact our performance in school. For anyone who grew up learning about the crimes committed against Black bodies from your family; some that seem to sound like conspiracy theories until you find out they are true (okay some are conspiracies, but you can’t fault them), and reading about Henrietta Lacks, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, and everything described in “Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty” by Dorothy Roberts will be able to figure out or at least have an inkling of what is going on in this book. For me, as soon as I saw the Get Out reference, who was being targeted, and the first few instances of the “attacks” I immediately figured it out. This does not make the book any less thrilling or engaging.

    At the heart of this, you have two teens trying to not only figure out who they are but also trying to make something of themselves. It’s all too relatable and I would have been invested in anything with characters like Chiamaka and Devon to be quite honest! They are complex and you can’t help but admire them. Adding the horror of the anonymous Aces, the twists and turns, the dread of not knowing who to trust— makes the book all the more suspenseful, amazing, and truly a piece of work that I will be recommending for years to come.

    Finally, I would be remiss not to mention, that I, like the author, went through a period of time where I was obsessed with Gossip Girl. The glitz, glamor, and drama were unlike anything I personally experienced and I’m grateful that on top of the horror genre we also get a little bit of the GG, XOXO-ness thrown in.

    Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to know!

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