Posted in Reviews

Review: One Year of Ugly by Caroline Mackenzie

This is going to be one I recommend to basically everyone. 🥰

Recommended: yeeeeeeeesssssssss!!!!!!!!!!
for a lovable lot of characters, for a story that has a lot of elements to it, for a wide variety of situations

Summary:
After fleeing crumbling, volatile Venezuela, Yola Palacio wants nothing more than to settle into a peaceful new life in Trinidad with her family. And who cares if they’re there illegally—aren’t most of the people on the island? But life for the Palacios is far from quiet—and when Yola’s Aunt Celia dies, the family once again find their lives turned upside down. For Celia had been keeping a very big secret—she owed a LOT of money to a local criminal called Ugly. And without the funds to pay him off, Ugly has the entire family do his bidding until Celia’s debt is settled. What Ugly says, the Palacios do, otherwise the circumstances are too dreadful to imagine.

To say that the year that follows is tumultuous for the Palacios is an understatement. But in the midst of the turmoil appears Roman—Ugly’s distractingly gorgeous right-hand man. And although she knows it’s terrible and quite possibly dangerous, Yola just can’t help but give in to the attraction. Where, though, do Roman’s loyalties lie? And could this wildly inappropriate romance just be the antidote to a terrible year of Ugly?

Thoughts:
I saw this book’s synopsis and thought I would probably love it, and yup, I was right. 😍

What I loved
The setting in Trinidad was an quick obvious draw for me, because I don’t know much of anything about it. Well, now I do! Like the fact that there’s the largest natural tar deposit in the world there, and also that they have notoriously poorly paved roads because they export all their tar. 😂 The little tour around the island on Yola and Roman’s excursions were a perfect way to introduce readers to the area.

Continue reading “Review: One Year of Ugly by Caroline Mackenzie”
Posted in Book Talk, Chatty

In progress with DOWN UNDER

Progress: page 239/394 (60%)

Take me on a trip to somewhere new and warm. ^.^

Why did I start reading it?

I quite adore Bill Bryson from some of his other travel and language books I’ve read. When I saw this at my favorite used bookstore, I had to grab it up! I can’t very well travel right now, so I’m embracing it in books even more than I usually do. Bryson is a delightful tour guide who constantly cracks me up and fascinates me with interesting history and observations. Who knew that rabbits were such a deadly scourge in Australia? NOW I DO!😊

Where have I gone?

Interesting History I’ve Learned:

–> THE UNKNOWN NUCLEAR EXPLOSION
in 1993, there was a huge unexplained explosion, that for years no one could explain or find. In 1995, it was discovered that a Japanese terrorist group had performed a test nuclear explosion in Australia’s vast desert in some land the organization owned — and no one knew about it until 2 years after.

–> THE MAN WHO NAMED AUSTRALIA
Lachlan Macquarie, a Scottish governor of the original colonies, is the one who made the name Australia take root. Before, it was just called New South Wales or Botany Bay without any real discrimination. He also has a TON of stuff named after him, either first or last name.

–> THE SECRET MENACE OF RABBITS
Early in the colonization, some fancy to-do aristocrat brought some rabbits with him to put in his garden and enjoy watching them. But then they escaped, and mated like rabbits as they swarmed to continent, absolutely devouring and destroying tons of the scrub and low brush of the land. It’s still a problem, and this is one organization trying to deal with it.

–> THE WHITE AUSTRALIAN POLICY
When people were first immigrating to Australia (by choice, not as prisoners), there were some official policies in place that allowed officials to test anyone entering on any European language and kick them out if they fail. The discrimination towards non-whites was pretty clear with this policy in place. Who’s going to pass a literacy test in Scottish Gaelic??

–> GOLD AUSTRALIA
Australia was desperately poor for a long time after being colonized, as is maybe not terribly surprising in a continent that’s mostly desert and has lots of really intense weather. What turned all that around was the discovery that Australia also had a TON of gold. People started panning, or drilling, or mining, or however you get gold out of the earth, and suddenly they were a pretty well-to-do corner of the world.

Lines that linger

Put in the crudest terms, Australia was slightly more important to Americans in 1997 than bananas, but not nearly as important as ice cream.

It is a fact little notes that the Aborigines have the oldest continuously maintained culture on earth, and their art goes back to the very roots of it. Imagine if there were some people in France who could take you to the caves at Lascaux and explain in detail the significance of the paintings — because it as fresh and sensible to them as if it were done yesterday.

In 1989, 1990, 1992, 1995, 1996, and 1998 Nyngan was devastated by torrential flash floods. For five years during this same period, while Nyngan was being repeatedly inundated, the town of Cobar, just eighty miles to the west, recorded not a drop of rain. This is, if I haven’t made it clear already, one tough country.

Posted in Fast-Forward Friday

Fast Forward Friday: A Thousand Questions, 10/6

Hey y’all! In contrast to Throwback Thursday, I use Fridays to look ahead to an upcoming release that I’m excited about! Today’s is A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi, and if you want something light and wholesome, here it is!!
Expected Release: October 6, 2020

Why wait on this one?

  • I love going anywhere, and since I can only travel in books right now, I’m delighted to join Mimi on her trip to Pakistan to meet her long-distant grandparents. Having a main character who doesn’t know much about the country despite her ties there helps provide a bridge for me, since there’s a lot I wouldn’t know about living there either.
  • I’m a sucker for a nice happy story about friendship and learning to understand each other. Mimi x Sakina (love that name!) sounds like a friendship I can get behind. I already want to know them and see them succeed and work together and bond… and they’re just characters in a book. 😂
  • It might only be a small part, but there’s a language aspect to this book as Sakina is torn between learning English to go to school or staying at her job to help her family. I’m sure it will be a difficult situation, but I still can’t wait to see her work through it. Plus, language! Love it! I hope there are some delightful little mixups as they each learn. ^.^

Summary:
Mimi is not thrilled to be spending her summer in Karachi, Pakistan, with grandparents she’s never met. Secretly, she wishes to find her long-absent father, and plans to write to him in her beautiful new journal.

The cook’s daughter, Sakina, still hasn’t told her parents that she’ll be accepted to school only if she can improve her English test score—but then, how could her family possibly afford to lose the money she earns working with her Abba in a rich family’s kitchen?

Although the girls seem totally incompatible at first, as the summer goes on, Sakina and Mimi realize that they have plenty in common—and that they each need the other to get what they want most. 

Posted in Fast-Forward Friday

Fast Forward Friday: Ties That Tether, 9/29

In contrast to Throwback Thursday, I like to use Fridays to look forward to an upcoming release that I’m excited about! Today’s is one that is hard to miss with it’s striking cover, Ties That Tether by Jane Igharo, featuring a Nigerian Canadian woman who’s done with her series of parental setups and stumbles upon a chance man of her own.
Expected Release: September 29, 2020

  • What’s better than an unexpected romance? I dare say most people don’t expect much to come from a one-night stand after that one night, but Azere finds a whole lot more of a connection with Rafael. I think this will be a delightful fall into love and I can’t wait to be there for it. ^.^
  • As if new love wasn’t fraught enough, Azere also has to worry about her cultural navigation in this new relationship. Dating a guy who doesn’t share her ethnicity can have it’s own difficulties, but she also has to deal with a family that’s big on preserving heritage. AKA – you’re Nigerian, so you’d better be dating a Nigerian, even if you move to Canada! This is two cultures I’ll get to learn about!
  • Basically, this whole thing sounds like a plot basis I know and love. A sweetly developing romance; a culture I’ll get to learn about; an immigrant’s work to navigate her past and her future; Canada; it’s got it all!

At twelve years old, Azere promised her dying father she would marry a Nigerian man and preserve her culture even after emigrating to Canada. Her mother has been vigilant about helping–forcing–her to stay well within the Nigerian dating pool ever since. But when another match-made-by-mom goes wrong, Azere ends up at a bar, enjoying the company and later sharing the bed of Rafael Castellano, a man who is tall, handsome, and white.

When their one-night stand unexpectedly evolves into something serious, Azere is caught between her growing feelings for Rafael and the compulsive need to please her mother who will never accept a relationship that threatens to dilute Azere’s Nigerian heritage.

Azere can’t help wondering if loving Rafael makes her any less of a Nigerian. Can she be with him without compromising her identity? The answer will either cause Azere to be audacious and fight for her happiness or continue as the compliant daughter.

Posted in Fast-Forward Friday

Fast Forward Friday: How It All Blew Up, 9/22

In contrast to Throwback Thursday, I like to use Fridays to look forward to an upcoming release that I’m excited about! Today’s is one that I read a sample of and was immediately taken in by the clear character voice and the format: How It All Blew Up by Arvin Ahmadi.
Expected Release: September 22, 2020

Why wait on this one?

  • At this point so much has been written that sometimes it’s hard to do something new, but How It All Blew Up is based on the premise of Amir having to tell his story to a Customs Officer to avoid… something that he’s being accused of, probably terrorist stuff considering he’s Muslim. A mix of flashbacks to his story and entries of him talking to the customs officer, I certainly don’t think I’ve read a story with this combo before!
  • Just from the small bit I read, I already love Amir. He’s absolutely hilarious, and his one-sided dialogues with the customs officer are so, so funny in their awkward sincerity. I don’t know how any of them could accuse him of something violent. The character voice is so strong, and it’s so hard not to lean in to hear more.
  • The complexities of coming out to your family are almost never easy, but to do so when your family believes that being gay is a sin against humanity and crime against God… I imagine it makes things just a smidge more difficult. Which is why Amir ran away to Rome instead of coming clean. Obvious fix, right?

Summary:
Eighteen-year-old Amir Azadi always knew coming out to his Muslim family would be messy–he just didn’t think it would end in an airport interrogation room. But when faced with a failed relationship, bullies, and blackmail, running away to Rome is his only option. Right?

Soon, late nights with new friends and dates in the Sistine Chapel start to feel like second nature… until his old life comes knocking on his door. Now, Amir has to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth to a US Customs officer, or risk losing his hard-won freedom.

Posted in Reviews

Review: Zahra’s Paradise by Amir & Khalil

Zahra’s Paradise by Amir and Khalil – ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Recommended: yes
For learning about the fraudulent 2009 Iranian elections and the fallout of them, for a heartwrenching story of love and loss, for exquisitely detailed art to tell the story

Summary:
Set in the aftermath of Iran’s fraudulent elections of 2009, Zahra’s Paradise is the fictional story of the search for Mehdi, a young protestor who has vanished into an extrajudicial twilight zone. What’s keeping his memory from being obliterated is not the law. It is the grit and guts of his mother, who refuses to surrender her son to fate, and the tenacity of his brother, a blogger, who fuses tradition and technology to explore and explode the void in which Mehdi has vanished. Zahra’s Paradise weaves together fiction and real people and events. As the world witnessed the aftermath of Iran’s fraudulent elections, through YouTube videos, on Twitter, and in blogs, this story came into being. The global response to this gripping tale has been passionate—an echo of the global outcry during the political upheaval of the summer of 2009.

Thoughts:
This was originally published online as a serial installment, and the collection into this published volume is giving a fitting physical weight to the heavy content it addresses. The author and illustrator stayed anonymous because of the repercussions they could face in their country.

I knew nothing about the Iranian elections, partially because I was pretty young at the time and definitely had no interest in political or world events. If you’re like me and have no idea what I’m referring to, have no fear: they account for that in the book. There are sections at the back with terms, and historical background, and other context that makes everything fit a little more smoothly. It’s also woven into the narrative itself, but goes into a deeper explanation after as well.

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Posted in Reviews

Review: Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor

Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor – ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Recommended: yes!
For a tale of morality and control in the face of darkness and hatred, for a superhero/antihero combo that’s exciting and thought provoking

Summary:
Nnamdi’s father was a good chief of police, perhaps the best Kalaria had ever had. He was determined to root out the criminals that had invaded the town. But then he was murdered, and most people believed the Chief of Chiefs, most powerful of the criminals, was responsible. Nnamdi has vowed to avenge his father, but he wonders what a twelve-year-old boy can do. Until a mysterious nighttime meeting, the gift of a magical object that enables super powers, and a charge to use those powers for good changes his life forever. How can he fulfill his mission? How will he learn to control his newfound powers? Award-winning Nnedi Okorafor, acclaimed for her Akata novels, introduces a new and engaging hero in her first novel for middle grade readers set against a richly textured background of contemporary Nigeria.

Thoughts:
A perfect example of having greatness thrust upon him, Nnamdi fights between what is vengeance and what is justice with his newfound powers. I love having a main character who is flawed and conflicted, but whom you like nonetheless because you can see him doing his best to make sense of the world he lives in. Coming-of-age is a lot more complicated when you’re granted otherworldly powers and a conscience for justice.

Continue reading “Review: Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor”
Posted in Reviews

Review: The Cat I Never Named by Amra Sabic-El-Rayess

The Cat I Never Named : A True Story of Love, War, and Survival (Hardcover)
by Amra Sabic-El-Rayess – 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Recommended: Absolutely
For people who want to be better people, for people who have never learned about the ethnic cleansing that took place in the 90s in Bosnia & Herzegovina, for a memoir of the extremes of emotion — highest hopes and bleakest depressions
Expected Release: September 8, 2020

Summary:
Amra was a teen in Bihac, Bosnia, when her friend said they couldn’t speak anymore because Amra was Muslim. Then refugees from other cities started arriving, fleeing Serbian persecution. When Serbian tanks rolled into Bihac, the life she knew disappeared—right as a stray cat followed her home. Her family didn’t have the money to keep a pet, but after the cat seemed to save her brother, how could they turn it away? Saving a life one time could be a coincidence, but then it happened again—and Amra and her family wondered just what this cat was. This is the story of a teen who, even in the brutality of war, never wavered in her determination to obtain education, maintain friendships, and even find a first love—and the cat that provided comfort, and maybe even served as a guardian spirit, in the darkest of times.

Thoughts:
The moment I saw this book was forthcoming, I knew I had to read it. I always seek to know more about people and the world and experiences that I cannot understand on my own. This memoir teaches facts through the descriptions of events, but can also teach much-needed empathy. The read is an experience in itself.

The summary and title promise that there will be a cat present throughout the story, and she does indeed weave through the pages. Simply called Maci (‘cat’), the cat who accompanies Amra’s family is a beacon of goodness. I believe every instance that happened with this cat, because they are too incredible to be invented. It gave me that kind of wondrous feeling of something more to this world that I don’t often feel. I’m grateful for so much that this book gave me, from knowledge to emotion.

Continue reading “Review: The Cat I Never Named by Amra Sabic-El-Rayess”
Posted in Reviews

Review: Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook – 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Recommended: YES
For a history not well known in the US, for a prime example of how graphic novels so well suit memoirs, for a funny and dramatic story

Do they ban books because they see danger in their authors, or because they are themselves in their villains?

Summary:
hen Kim Hyun Sook started college in 1983 she was ready for her world to open up. After acing her exams and sort-of convincing her traditional mother that it was a good idea for a woman to go to college, she looked forward to soaking up the ideas of Western Literature far from the drudgery she was promised at her family’s restaurant. But literature class would prove to be just the start of a massive turning point, still focused on reading but with life-or-death stakes she never could have imagined.

This was during South Korea’s Fifth Republic, a military regime that entrenched its power through censorship, torture, and the murder of protestors. In this charged political climate, with Molotov cocktails flying and fellow students disappearing for hours and returning with bruises, Hyun Sook sought refuge in the comfort of books. When the handsome young editor of the school newspaper invited her to his reading group, she expected to pop into the cafeteria to talk about Moby Dick, Hamlet, and The Scarlet Letter. Instead she found herself hiding in a basement as the youngest member of an underground banned book club. And as Hyun Sook soon discovered, in a totalitarian regime, the delights of discovering great works of illicit literature are quickly overshadowed by fear and violence as the walls close in.

You can learn a lot about history by figuring out what people wanted to hide.

Thoughts:
Graphic novels are so well suited to memoirs and nonfiction. This is a prime example. The art and coloring complements the story perfectly. With the selective colors it focuses exactly on what needs to be focused on. And again, things that are hard to say in words are sometimes better conveyed in images.

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Posted in Release Day!

Just published: Unbound by Dina Gu Brumfield!

Reminder that Unbound: A Tale of Love and Betrayal in Shanghai by Dina Gu Brumfield (⭐⭐⭐) published today! Check out the full review here or grab your own copy on Book Depository!

Recommended: yes
For a generational story of understanding, for a look at recent historical Chinese eras, for a story that pierces your heart and makes you want only the best for the characters, for a blend of romance and survival and coming-of-age.

love love love the cover. love.

Summary
​Mini Pao lives with her sister and parents in a pre-war Shanghai divided among foreign occupiers and Chinese citizens, a city known as the “Paris of the East” with its contrast of  vibrant night life and repressive social mores. Already considered an old maid at twenty-three, Mini boldly rejects the path set out for her as she struggles to provide for her family and reckons with her desire for romance and autonomy. Mini’s story of love, betrayal, and determination unfolds in the Western-style cafes, open-air markets, and jazz-soaked nightclubs of Shanghai—the same city where, decades later, her granddaughter Ting embarks on her own journey toward independence. 

Ting Lee has grown up behind an iron curtain in a time of scarcity, humility, and forced-sameness in accordance with the strictures of Chairman Mao’s cultural revolution. As a result, Ting’s imagination burns with curiosity about fashion, America, and most of all, her long-lost grandmother Mini’s glamorous past and mysterious present. As her thirst for knowledge about the world beyond 1970s Shanghai grows, Ting is driven to uncover her family’s tragic past and face the difficult truth of what the future holds for her if she remains in China.