Women’s History Month

This year we’re trying something new for Women’s History Month. We’ll be highlighting women in comics and graphic novels throughout the month. This week I found one I hadn’t seen before, Bessie Stringfield: Tales of the Talented Tenth No. 2. It’s a great read for those who enjoy history or biographies. Bessie Stringfield was born in Jamaica and came to the U.S. with her parents as a young child. Her mother died  and her father abandoned her soon after. She had a rough start in the U.S., but Bessie was an independent young woman who followed her dreams. She rode her motorcycle across the country multiple times before the civil rights era in spite of the dangers and went on to accomplish many things. Bessie was a courageous and determined person and I enjoyed learning about her adventures.

I’m also excited about a new comic series releasing today. America is written by Gabby Rivera (author of the fabulous novel Juliet Takes a Breath) and features queer Latina superhero America Chavez. I will definitely be taking a look at this series. If you want to know more about it, listen to the Women of Marvel podcast and/or check out the cover over at The Verge.

For my review next week, I picked up the new graphic novel adaptation of Kindred. I’m looking forward to  reading graphic novels and seeing what other titles are shared this month. Please let us know in the comments if there are any graphic novels or comics you think we shouldn’t miss.

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Book Review: American Street

Title: American Street
Author: Ibi Zoboi
Genres:  Contemporary, Realistic, Magical Realism
Pages: 336
Publisher: Balzer+Bray
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available Now

Summary: On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.

But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.

Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

Review: Last week I posted about awesome Black heroines and if I had read Zoboi’s debut novel before then I would have added Fabiola Toussaint to the list. Fabiola is extremely close with her mother and unfortunately, because her mother is detained at customs, she has to navigate her new life in Detroit without her mother’s support. And while Fabiola greatly misses her mother, she has to dig deep within herself to find familiarity with family she has only spoken on the phone with. Fabiola is a bit shy at the beginning of the novel, but through her experiences (and her open-mindedness) she grows and discovers how brave she actually is.

Weaved within Fabiola’s story we get vignettes about the lives of the people in Fabiola’s life, including the story of the house on American Street. These lovely insight to the characters, including antagonist Dray, add to the depth and richness to the characters that live and interact with the ladies of 8800 American Street, and gives the reader a deeper insight into what motives the characters, information that Fabiola must learn. It’s a wonderful literary device that Zoboi uses and is done in a such a way that it adds to the narrative rather than take away from the story.

I absolutely love novels with magical realism, so discovering that American Street was full of magical realism, specifically Vodou and the lwas (spirits), added to my enjoyment of the story. I’m so glad that Zoboi infused her novel with Haitian magical realism because I’ve yet to see a book do Vodou right. Vodou is so misunderstood and is often characterized as evil, when in fact it is the opposite, so I love that the lwas were presented as the religious icons they are. Fabiola’s belief in the lwas is what helps her find strength to live without her mother, adjust to Detroit, and guides many of her decisions. I specifically loved how Zoboi used Papa Legba here and the reveal of who he was was a perfect moment. At that point, just like Fabiola, I was trying to figure out his message and how exactly he was going to help out Fabiola.

Lastly, what makes American Street so truly American is that it is a tale that is told many times over. It is the tale of an immigrant who comes to our country with dreams of golden streets and then must adjust to the reality and contradiction that is America. We get to see ourselves, both the good and the bad, from Fabiola’s eyes. We get to see how wonderful America is and also where we also fail our citizens. But most of all, we are reminded of the hope, the perseverance that all immigrants have (and had) when they arrive here looking for a better life. It is a story that many in our country seemed to have forgotten and need to be reminded of.

Recommendation: This book is available now so run to your nearest book store and pick up a copy.

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New Releases

We found three new releases for this week. I’ve been looking forward to reading The Education of Margot Sanchez for a long time and am excited it’s finally going to be available.

Ronit & Jamil by Pamela L. Laskin
Katherine Tegen Books

Pamela L. Laskin’s beautiful and lyrical novel in verse delivers a fresh and captivating retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that transports the star-crossed lovers to the modern-day Israel-Palestine conflict.

Ronit, an Israeli girl, lives on one side of the fence. Jamil, a Palestinian boy, lives on the other side. Only miles apart but separated by generations of conflict—much more than just the concrete blockade between them. Their fathers, however, work in a distrusting but mutually beneficial business arrangement, a relationship that brings Ronit and Jamil together. And lightning strikes. The kind of lightning that transcends barrier fences, war, and hatred.

The teenage lovers fall desperately into the throes of forbidden love, one that would create an irreparable rift between their families if it were discovered. But a love this big can only be kept secret for so long. Ronit and Jamil must face the fateful choice to save their lives or their loves, as it may not be possible to save both.

The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera
Simon & Schuster

Pretty in Pink comes to the South Bronx in this bold and romantic coming-of-age novel about dysfunctional families, good and bad choices, and finding the courage to question everything you ever thought you wanted—from debut author Lilliam Rivera.

THINGS/PEOPLE MARGOT HATES:

Mami, for destroying my social life
Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal
Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal
This supermarket
Everyone else

After “borrowing” her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot
Sanchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts.

With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…

Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moises—the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Some bodies won’t stay buried.
Some stories need to be told.

When seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase finds a skeleton on her family’s property, she has no idea that investigating the brutal century-old murder will lead to a summer of painful discoveries about the past… and the present.

Nearly one hundred years earlier, a misguided violent encounter propels seventeen-year-old Will Tillman into a racial firestorm. In a country rife with violence against blacks and a hometown segregated by Jim Crow, Will must make hard choices on a painful journey towards self discovery and face his inner demons in order to do what’s right the night Tulsa burns.

Through intricately interwoven alternating perspectives, Jennifer Latham’s lightning-paced page-turner brings the Tulsa race riot of 1921 to blazing life and raises important question about the complex state of US race relations – both yesterday and today.

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Review: Exo by Fonda Lee

Title: Exo
Author: Fonda Lee
Genres: Science-fiction
Pages: 384
Publisher: Scholastic
Review Copy: eARC received via Edelweiss
Availability: Available now

Summary: It’s been a century of peace since Earth became a colony of an alien race with far reaches into the galaxy. Some die-hard extremists still oppose alien rule on Earth, but Donovan Reyes isn’t one of them. His dad holds the prestigious position of Prime Liaison in the collaborationist government, and Donovan’s high social standing along with his exocel (a remarkable alien technology fused to his body) guarantee him a bright future in the security forces. That is, until a routine patrol goes awry and Donovan’s abducted by the human revolutionary group Sapience, determined to end alien control.

When Sapience realizes whose son Donovan is, they think they’ve found the ultimate bargaining chip. But the Prime Liaison doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, not even for his own son. Left in the hands of terrorists who have more uses for him dead than alive, the fate of Earth rests on Donovan’s survival. Because if Sapience kills him, it could spark another intergalactic war. And Earth didn’t win the last one . . .

Review: It has been a while since I’ve read any science fiction, and Exo reminded me of several of my favorite aspects of the genre: aliens, moral quandaries, and cool technology.

Unlike a lot of my favorite science fiction, the aliens that Fonda Lee has created for Exo are very un-human-like, what with their mushroom-like bodies with six legs, six eyes, fins, and armor. The scattered information we got about the War Era and the conquering of earth—a billion people dead, the reshaping of political boundaries, a new social system—was intriguing. Occasionally, I felt like the world of Exo was too wide for just Donovan’s point of view and wished to see it from inside someone else’s head. Particularly someone from a less privileged life.

Donovan was an engaging character, and it was easy to root for him even when I didn’t think he was making the right choices. Watching him start to question the way of life he was raised in—while simultaneously criticizing opposing views—was a satisfying character arc, though it doesn’t feel complete. (But I suppose that’s what sequels are for.) While I wanted to see more of his life not centered around his job, I have to admit that there were several riveting action scenes because of it. Lee did a great job with her action scenes and in creating the tension- and dread-filled scenes leading up to them.

Perhaps my most significant complaint about Exo is the limited development of several significant side characters, most notably Anya and Donovan’s father. While we were told some formative parts of Anya’s backstory, even Donovan had a throwaway line about how little he really knew her and speculation that his attraction to her was more the result of trauma and loneliness than anything else. Considering the great personal risks he takes for her in the climax, I wish that Anya—and her relationship to Donovan—had been more fleshed out. Similarly, I don’t feel as if we ever got to know Donovan’s father very well on an intimate level, which was a shame, considering how important he was within the story.

I also noticed something that concerned me: the use of Native American imagery. Saul Strong Winter is the name of the Sapience cell leader in the Black Hills, so I presume he is of Native descent, but we are never given a specific tribe or nation for him. A “Native American eagle” design is a symbol of Sapience, referred to as a symbol of freedom, but it gets put on bumper stickers, and features in a tattoo (by a character I believe is non-Native) that turns out to be an important clue for Donovan later on. I don’t know enough about Native American representation to talk about this further, but I would appreciate hearing from any Native American readers about their thoughts on this book.

EDIT (2/20/17): I have been informed by the author that she and her editor made changes to the book prior to printing regarding this imagery. While an eagle tattoo still features in the plot, it is no longer a Native American design. They realized that Sapience’s use of a Native American design would be problematic and corrected that for the print version of the book.

Recommendation: Get it soon, if alien conquests in science fiction are your thing. While Exo isn’t without problems, it is a fun, fast read with some interesting world building. I’m looking forward to the next book.

Extras
Interview with Fonda Lee at Rich in Color

Excerpt of Exo

Shades of Grey – Developing Unique Characters That are a Blend of Evil and Good by Fonda Lee

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Review: History is All You Left Me

Title: History is All You Left Me
Author: Adam Silvera
Publisher: Soho Teen
Pages: 292
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Availability: On shelves now
Review Copy: Digital ARC via Netgalley & purchased final copy

Summary: When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.

If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

Review: Adam Silvera made me cry again. He is good at making tears roll down my face (see my review of More Happy Than Not for evidence). This is definitely an emotionally packed novel and had my heart breaking right along with Griffin’s.

Readers meet Griffin in the midst of grief. Fortunately, we don’t stay there mired in grief though. That would likely be overwhelming. Silvera made the choice to alternate chapters between the present and the history of Griffin and Theo’s relationship. Their friendship and romance are not always without pain, but at least in the beginning, those history chapters offer humor, love and hope. This balances out the heartache of the other chapters to a certain degree. It highlights how much of a loss Griffin is dealing with too.

Griffin isn’t only facing grief, but throughout all of the chapters, both past and present, he is dealing with an increasing anxiety about his compulsions. One example is his counting. He counts things and is incredibly uncomfortable with odd numbers. Uncomfortable is not even a strong enough word. With all of this going on, he starts to make some damaging decisions that are painful to watch. The characters in this novel were all too real for me and I wanted to jump into the story to offer comfort.

This story obviously focuses on navigating grief, but it also looks at some other aspects of simply being human. How much of ourselves do we show other people? How honest can we be with others and with ourselves?

Recommendation: Get this one soon.

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Interview with S. Jae-Jones

The tail end of winter is just about as perfect as any time to welcome the new YA fantasy Wintersong, available now! Today, we welcome author S. Jae-Jones  (@sjaejones) to Rich in Color to talk about her debut book and more. Check out the interview below, and enter her giveaway for a copy of Wintersong!

The moment I read Wintersong’s synopsis, I was all about it: Sisters being there for each other, everything at stake, and otherworldy romance. What made you decide to write this specific story?  
We like to mythologize origin stories—we like to think that there’s a flash of inspiration, or an entire story that comes to us in a dream. The honest truth is, Wintersong is an amalgamation of things that interest me: music, Mozart, Germanic fairy tales, the Erl-king myth, underworld stories, the movie Labyrinth, the poetry of Christina Rossetti, etc. At the same time, in many ways, the book came to me fully formed: Liesl just…showed up with two siblings, a mother, father, and irascible grandmother in tow. Writing the first draft of Wintersong was almost a journey of discovery—I was racing to finish in order to figure out what happens to Liesl, pulling all my influences in along the way.

Do you see anything of yourself in the heroine of Wintersong, Liesl, or any of the other characters? What were your main influences for the characters and story?
I’ve disclosed in my newsletter that there is a little bit of me in every character I write, but what I gave to Liesl were two things: my creative process, and my bipolar disorder. I think personality-wise, I’m the most like Käthe, Liesl’s sister. Like her, I’m shallow, frivolous, and vain, but also loyal. The character I love best is Thistle, a prickly goblin girl, who indulges in all the petty impulses I cannot.

According to your blog, Wintersong was your Nanowrimo project. Did you find it easy or hard to write Wintersong? Do you still do Nanowrimo?
I found it easy to write Wintersong, so easy that I find it incredibly suspicious. While I can write a decent number of words per day, I’m not a particularly fast writer, and the speed at which I wrote a first draft of Wintersong still astounds me. I wrote the first draft (100,000 words) in 59 days. Yet despite this, Wintersong was also hard to write in the same way all my other books are hard to write: I’m a pantser, which means I’m unable to see the big picture until I finish a draft. And because I’m a pantser, I’m never sure if I’m going to be able to finish a draft at all because I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going. I still do NaNoWriMo, but I am embarrassed to admit that the year I “won” for Wintersong remains the only year I’ve ever won.

If you had to name a theme song for Wintersong, what would it be?
Oh man, I have so many songs on several different playlists, but I suppose Coming Down by Halsey. It’s a little on the nose, perhaps, but appropriate.

Are you working on any new projects (new books, poetry, short stories)?
I am currently working on the sequel to Wintersong, which will be out in 2018. I am always writing something, but whether or not they’ll see the light of day remains to be seen.

Exciting! Finally, read any good books lately? And are there any upcoming new books that you’re excited about?
I read a collection of short stories by Ted Chiang over the holidays, which were amazing. His story “The Story of Your Life” was made into the film Arrival (which I also loved), and it’s thoughtful, beautiful, and heartbreaking. I’m not actually much for short stories at all, but I loved, loved, loved them all.

There are so many books I’m looking forward in 2017, it would be impossible to name them all! I’m super excited for Done Dirt Cheap by Sarah Lemon and A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, both of which I’ve read and think y’all will love.

Enter the giveaway below for a copy of Wintersong! The giveaway ends February 21st, and is open to USA mailing addresses. See terms and conditions for further details.

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

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