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Website and Blog Update

writer typing on keyboard
Image by ROBERT SŁOMA from Pixabay 

Greetings all! I wanted to do a little check-in and update post to let everyone know what’s been going on with my blog and website. Lately I’ve made some major changes. I wanted to become more than a blog, so I built my website out to include pages for my services.

Storytelling is my passion. I’m currently working full-time as a copywriter in the travel industry. But my dreams lie in publishing. I hope to someday become a part of that world and help bring the diversity it needs and deserves.

That’s why I’ve decided to become a freelance book editor. My specialty lies in poetry, as well as young adult sci-fi and fantasy. You can find details about my book editing services here. I’m ready and excited to help self-published authors or authors working with independent publishers.

But don’t worry. I’ll still use this blog space to share my stories, poetry, book reviews, and reading life thoughts.

Feel free to check out the website and let me know your thoughts. I’m open to feedback for improvements!

Thanks, all.

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Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas Book Review

Disclosure: Some of the links in this book review for Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

a copy of cemetery boys by aiden thomas
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, Swoon Reads 2020

I had the good fortune of winning an advanced reader copy from a book giveaway from pocket.librarian on Instagram, so thank you! This is a debut young adult novel from the promising Aiden Thomas.

Summary of Cemetery Boys

Yadriel comes from a long line of brujx, a magical Latinx community gifted with the powers to heal or to release spirits to the afterlife. Traditionally, women are healers and men are the ones who release the spirits. But Yadriel faces the closed minds of his family and community, as he is denied the honor of becoming a brujo because he is trans.

He sets out to prove his worth alongside his best friend Maritza. As Yadriel tries to summon the spirit of a recently-deceased brujo to find out what happened to him, he instead winds up summoning the spirit of another boy, Julian. Now, to solve the murder of one of his own, he must team up with Julian to find out how the pieces of the puzzle fit. Along the way, the two fall hard for each other.

Characters of Cemetery Boys

Yadriel gives off high anxiety vibes that can overwhelm a reader at first. But his awkward personality grows on you and he burrows his way under the skin. It’s this very same charm that endears him to the spirit he summoned, Julian.

Yadriel only wants to be accepted within his community for exactly who he is. What reader wouldn’t relate to that? As he grows more confident in his identity, you can’t help but keep rooting for him. You know he full well deserves a happy ending.

Julian Diaz, the spirit boy that has attached himself to Yadriel, is fiercely loyal. He also constantly defies expectations, including Yadriel’s. Thomas did a great job creating a character that embodies certain traits that are associated with a specific persona and breaking all those rules. Julian is a vibrant and energetic teenage boy that cares deeply for the ones he loves, always putting their well-being above his own.

He is also Afro-Latinx and does poorly in school because he has a learning disability. This makes Julian the type of kid that often gets deemed disruptive and bad. Rumors about him abound, his peers and classmates causing a hurt they don’t realize stems from racial and ableist stereotypes. Even Yadriel falls victim to believing the lies at first. But as they spend time together, Yadriel quickly realizes that Julian is the farthest from bad. He is the epitome of good.

Plot of Cemetery Boys

The story plods along at a good pace, giving just enough room for the characters to breathe. As Yadriel and Julian work together, they discover there’s more that connects them than at first they thought.

Thomas does a great job of putting time on the clock for the story to take place. Yadriel and Julian have to solve the mystery fast, as Dia de Muertos fast approaches. That time restriction does a lot of work in developing both their characters. It heightens Yadriel’s anxious nature and highlights Julian’s abundant energy.

I most appreciated how in the midst of such high stakes, normal life continues. Yadriel remains concerned about attending school and passing a test. His grandma, Lita, still provides sustenance as the search for their lost brujo continues. Thomas truly captures that feeling of finding normalcy amid the chaos.

In hindsight, the plot twist at the end should have been clear. But Thomas handled it so deftly that it left me reeling and feeling Yadriel’s pain. I won’t spoil it, but the twist creates a shing moment for Yadriel as he moves past the pain to do what’s right. It solidifies Yadriel’s hero’s journey.

Rating

Thomas’s debut YA paranormal romance is a delightful romp with charming characters. It makes me excited to see what else they will bring readers in the future. I give it 5 out of 5 stars.

If you have had the pleasure of reading an ARC, let me know what you thought of the book! If you would like to pre-order, get your copy here. Cemetery Boys is set to release September 1, 2020.

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5 Afro-Latinx Books to Read More Black Stories

Disclosure: Some of the links in this book review for Afro-Latinx books are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

titles of 5 afro-latinx books

I first wrote this list for Cultura Colectiva when the movie trailer for In the Heights came out. But it never got picked up. To keep up the momentum of supporting Black voices, here are some Afro-Latinx books to add to your TBR.

Lin-Manuel Miranda gained fame as the creator of Hamilton. But before he brought the founding father’s story to life, he brought Broadway In the Heights, a story about a Latinx community in Washington Heights, New York. Now, that musical is coming to the big screen, and fans are excited.

But the lack of diversity among the cast can’t be ignored. Washington Heights is primarily an Afro-Latinx community, and the trailer for the film didn’t feature many black actors. Here are some diverse books to read to prepare for the In the Heights movie.

Pride by Ibi Zoboi

This young adult novel is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with a full cast of people of color. The protagonist Zuri Benitez struggles with the gentrification of her neighborhood while dealing with her four crazy sisters. When the Darcy family moves in across the way, it’s the worst thing Zuri could have imagined.

Get a copy here!

Dominicana by Angie Cruz

This historical fiction novel is about family duty, immigration, and coming-of-age. 15-year-old Ana Cancion finds herself in a position to make a difference for herself and her family. By marrying a man twice her age, she gets the chance to move to Washington Heights, New York. It’s all to make a new life for her whole family. Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic is in political turmoil. But Ana’s heart does not lie with the man she married for opportunity.

Get a copy here!

Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas

Among these Afro-Latinx books is Thomas’s memoir explores a childhood on the streets of Spanish Harlem. He explores growing up a Puerto Rican whose family denied their African heritage for so long. His struggle with his identity within his own family and in American society led to a life filled with drugs and violence. It eventually led to his incarceration after he shot a cop when he was 22-years-old.

Get a copy here!

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Among the best books written in verse is Acevedo’s YA contemporary novel about Xiomara Batista growing up in Harlem. Xiomara delves into her feelings about her relationship with her mother and religion through slam poetry. She develops feelings for a boy her Mami can never know about. The young heroine turns to poems to untangle her emotions. But she must also contend with her mother finding out.

Get a copy here!

Halsey Street by Naima Coster

Coster’s contemporary literary fiction novel dives into the issue of gentrification as the protagonist Penelope Grand returns to Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Penelope gave up on her dream of becoming a successful artist to be by her sick father’s side as he slips further away from life. Meanwhile, Penelope’s mother left for the Dominican Republic to reconnect with her roots, leaving the protagonist to feel abandoned.

Get a copy here!

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Black Bloggers, Vloggers and Content Creators List

In light of current events, I’m compiling a list of black bloggers to follow to help uplift their voices. I’m a great believer in the power of storytelling, and right now, the world needs the voices of black writers and creators more than ever. Make no mistake of where this blog and I stand: Black Lives Matter.

For too long, the voices of Black people have been unheard and it’s led to generations of pain and trauma. We cannot continue the way we have in the past. If we are to move forward as a society, then we need to listen and hear the voices of our fellow humans. Stories are a tool for empathy, communication, and connection.

This is a preliminary list pulled together from what I found on my own and others that responded to my call. But I absolutely want to continue updating it with other content creators. So whether you are a black blogger, booktuber, vlogger, mental health advocate, independent journalist, screenwriter, poet, etc., your voice is welcome here. Link me to your websites and blogs in the comments!

blog image with finger pointing

Fashion & Beauty

Eboni Curls – Eboni currently has a list of useful links that connect to resources for actively helping the black community and supporting black-owned businesses.

Travel & Lifestyle

HighOnTrice – This blog provides helpful tips for economical travel, inspiration to go beyond one’s own town, and real lifestyle deals and tips.

Bella Rosa – Maria Cadet combines a passion for fashion, style, and travel into a lifestyle blog that aims to inspire young women to express themselves.

The Ashley Nicole Blog – Ashley Nicole writes about experiences with travel, self-care, and lifestyle through the lens of motherhood and marriage.

Trendy ERA – Trene is a Los Angeles-based food and travel blogger. They specialized in food and restaurant reviews for the LA area. Their blog includes topics like road trip tips and destination recommendations.

Ke and Russell’s Hustle – This YouTube duo covers a variety of topics, from travel to food to books to fashion and dating.

The Reclaimed – Whitney Alese showcases her inner thoughts and rants, whether it’s tips on the latest thriftstore finds or what makes something beautiful.

Fab Glance – Written by Nasheville writer Melissa Watkins, this blog covers fashion, discussions on being plus-size, and tips on how to become a better social media influencer and blogger.

Navigating Jas – This blog takes on pop culture, current events, identity, and so much more, all through the focused lens of the writer’s life experiences.

Fashion & Media Vlogs

Aissata Amadou – From books to movies to music to general life stories, Aissata shares their stories of life. Their video on black and Muslim representation in their May reading wrapup is a good one to dive into.

Sincerely Tahiry – Tahiry creates videos about fashion, books, and self-care with a perspective of living as a plus size and Muslim woman.

Health & Wellness

DarkerBerrie – Yasmine Owoolabi shares tips about “fashion, fitness and finance topics for urban millennials.”

Food

Eatz & Beatz – This blog covers food and music mostly in the Chicagoland area, but includes good eats and beats from around the world as well.

Book Blogs

Sometimes Leelynn Reads – Leelynn shares book reviews and bookish memes to spread their passion for reading.

Literally Black – As the blog’s tag says, it’s the home of Black Lit reviews. It is a book review site dedicated to promoting Black literature.

Book Girl Magic – This is a book club dedicated to supporting and promoting the voices of black women authors.

Well-Read Black Girl – WRBG’s book club centers on the works of black authors who are queer, trans, nonbinary, and disabled.

bookswhitme – Whitney shares their love of books and reading through reviews, reading wrapups, and lists.

Booktubers

Myonna Reads – Myonna posts weekly videos about book reviews, book hauls, and monthly reading wrapups.

Chanelletime – This booktuber discusses lots of YA, romance, book adaptations, and more good reading content. Their passion for love triangles is especially entertaining.

Sports

My Passion for Basketball – An Afro-Latinx blogger with a passion for the sport writes most recently about their experience as a minority in America and their community.

Podcasts

The P Word – Tiffany D. Brown is a blogger and podcaster. Her podcast focuses on business, offering expert advice, redefining success, and helping people get closer to their dreams.

Updated 6/26/2020

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Travel Poetry: Keystone Gate

Writing travel poetry whenever I go somewhere new helps keep those memories fresh in my mind, whether I visited just a year ago or five years past. For this edition of travel poetry, I’m sharing my piece about the Agamemenon Keystone Gate in Mycanae, Greece from my trip in 2019.

travel poetry for mycanae greece
Travel Poetry for Mycanae, Greece

Ancient stone ruins hold a reverent magic that transport you for a second back to those times. Walking through the paths created for tourists doesn’t lessen the experience. I couldn’t help but get overtaken with a sense of wonder. I marveled at the stone structures that stood the test of time. How did those ancient people build such complex constructs without the use of modern technology?

Amid the ruins remained signs of past lives. Old wells from which the people gathered water. Gravestones marking the passing of loved ones. I did wonder at the battles fought to protect the old king’s fortress. Those stones didn’t fall on their own after all. Maybe they simply fell to time and age. But more likely, they were taken down by battles won and wars lost.

Below is the travel poetry I wrote as I reflected on my wanderings through the keystone gate of King Agamemnon’s former castle.

King Agamemnon where did you go?
Are these old stones still your home?
From the front gates they called
your name, seeking refuge or just to
see your face? Oh mighty king, come down
from your throne. Are these old stones
still your home? Safe in your tower
you watch the world go by. Do the people
you look down on make you cry? King
Agamemnon, shake off your bones. Are these
old stones still your home? Is this old keystone
a part of your throne?

Poem originally published here.

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Meagan Reads YA Horror: Category Five by Ann Davila Cardinal

Disclosure: Some of the links in this book review for Category Five are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

Book cover of Category Five by Ann Davila Cardinal
Category Five by Ann Davila Cardinal, Tor Teen, June 2020

The team at Tor Teen graciously sent me an Advanced Reader Copy, making this book review possible. I read the first book in the series, Five Midnights, just at the beginning of this year.

Summary

In the sequel to Five Midnights, Cardinal brings us back to Puerto Rico with protagonist Lupe, this time in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Lupe looks forward to her summer vacation back on the island, her first time seeing her boyfriend Javier and best friend Marisol since the hurricane hit.

She hopes to lift their spirits and find out how she can help, but as she arrives in Vieques, she gets dragged into a mystery as her uncle the sheriff investigates the murder of the sons of some wealthy investors. Lupe and her friends encounter specters and real-life killers as they try to help her uncle keep his job by solving the mystery for him.

Characters

Lupe’s character always showed a great deal of stubbornness, but it felt like in Category Five she became downright reckless. The 16-year-old girl wants so desperately to help her uncle that she often foregoes common sense.

As an adult reading young adult, it’s easy to cast judgment on such obvious mistakes. But considering the brash nature of many teenagers, her character’s development under the circumstances makes sense. That does not make it any less frustating though as the reader watches Lupe walk into an apparent trap.

Meanwhile, Javier suffers from PTSD after the hurricane and does not know how to work through his anger. He places a great deal of blame on the colonizing influences for his island’s inability to recover, and rightfully so. But he also takes that anger out on the wrong people, namely Lupe, his girlfriend. As the two deal with the mystery afoot, they also run circles around each other. As they navigate their still-new relationship, it takes a terrible hit from the lack of communication.

I did appreciate how they left their relationship at the end of Category Five. Javier and Lupe took a mature approach to the nature of their relationship. After having been through so much trauma, they recognized how to leave things. It’s refreshing to see young characters have a healthy handle of what a friendship and romantic relationship should constitute.

The friendship between Marisol and Lupe came a bit out of left field. In the last book, they left off in a place that indicated mutual understanding and acceptance. But it did not hint at a growing friendship that would bloom into a close connection. The growth of their relationship happened behind the scenes, off the pages. Davila only tells the audience of this friendship through Lupe’s and Marisol’s inner thoughts and dialogue. It never felt organic.

Plot

Unlike Five Midnights, the supernatural element in Category Five did not play as prominent a role. But it did still hold weight and create a fun mystery that reminded me of Scooby Doo On Zombie Island. It also connected the story to Puerto Rico’s long history with its struggle with colonization.

The island finds itself once more at the mercy of wealthy white investors profiting from its disasters. This awakens the ghosts to bring them fear. But ultimately, the real monster of this story does not come from beyond the grave.

The plot used supernatural elements as a tool to misdirect the audience. The story and reason for the murders focuses more on the politics and tensions between the natives of the island and the invading colonizers. But that did not detract from the fun of solving the mystery and being spooked by the undead.

Rating

Overall, I give Category Five 3.5 out of 5 stars. While the horror elements entertained a great deal, the story sometimes felt rushed. Lupe’s and Marisol’s relationship needed to grow more on the page for the audience to accept it as a natural progression. But its condemnation of colonization and its effects made the story dive deeper than it could have if it only focused on the paranormal elements.

Let me know your thoughts on this book if you read it!

Shop your local indie bookstore

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Travel Poetry: Columns of Legend

I love to travel, but more than that, I love to write poetry based on those travels. I find exploring and discovering the world so inspiring to create poems about my observations.

I’ve had a passion for travel poetry for a while now. I’ve posted a few other poems from my other destinations, like Ireland and Ecuador, that I hope to keep sharing with you all. But I’ve posted the destination poetry in the past without any backstory or notes. I’d like to start changing that.

I wrote the following piece of travel poetry on my trip to Greece last year, in the capital, Athens. I traveled with EF Ultimate Break on the Off the Beaten Path tour that took us to the Parthenon. It’s a famous historical site seen in many pictures. But seeing it in person is another experience altogether.

Seeing ancient ruins in person usually depicted in textbooks, movies, and television shows changes the way you perceive the world as a whole. Seeing it under construction took me by surprise though. The tour director explained that maintenance keeps the Parthenon upright.

It makes sense that modern technology upkeeps these ancient ruins. But there is still something strange about contemporary machinery keeping such legendary structures from crumbling and being lost to history. It somehow changed the magic of these long-lasting archaeological finds.

Still, I felt compelled and in awe that it did last this long, even with the help of our modern tools. The travel poetry I wrote in response to those feelings follows.

travel poetry parthenon athens greece

You see them rendered in
movies or in still shots in
history books, but it doesn’t
prepare you for the real deal.
To stand before the gods’ temples
and the testament to the ancients’
brilliance makes you feel small
in comparison. How could we ever
live up to that legend? Will anything
we create stand the test of time
as those that came before us?
A thousand years from now, will another
young woman stand before our ruins in awe
and think the same thing? Can we become legends?

I originally posted this travel poetry here.

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Meagan Reads YA Fantasy: Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

chain of gold the last hours shadowhunters
Hardcover copy of Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare, The Last Hours, Shadowhunter Chronicles

Chain of Gold is the first in The Last Hours series. This story follows the children of beloved characters from The Infernal Devices series. Cordelia Carstairs and her family travel to London while her father undergoes a trial for a mission gone wrong. She tries to make friends among the influential Shadowhunter families to gain favor for her father’s trial. But she ends up befriending the Merry Thieves and stumbles into much more than she bargained for.

It’s an absolute delight seeing the offspring of Will Herondale, Tessa Grey, Gabriel and Gideon Lightwood, and company get into trouble much like their parents before them. Nostalgia and humor abound in seeing the once young and reckless heroes of TID become the concerned parents. Watching them chastise the new generation of Shadowhunters for doing the very same things brings a great sense of joy.

The dynamics between the characters in this novel read differently than in Clare’s past work. Perhaps it’s the inclusion of more queer characters that changed the way these fictional people interact. The novel contains at least four queer characters, and one heavily coded as queer. It’s refreshing to see that many among the core group of heroes. Their sexuality doesn’t make up the majority of their development (at least not for all of them). But the writing doesn’t ignore it either. Clare weaves it in rather well to become an aspect of their identity, rather than being their entire identity.

The dynamic is also different because there’s so many more in the group of friends, rather than the usual three at the forefront. The story follows all the secondary characters on their side quests and eventually brings them all together. Clare develops the characters in a more nuanced way than she has done with her world in the past. These characters are complex and can’t be defined by any one trait. There’s an underlying darkness in many of them that speaks to their personalities and roles.

While I appreciated the large cast of characters, it did feel like a detriment to the overall story. Clare has always been adept at weaving an incredibly tangled web and still making it clear to the reader what’s happening, dropping clues about where the story is going. But in this case, it created a complication that felt more like keeping up with the who’s who of Shadowhunter families.

There were so many instances where I found myself trying to remember who’s kid was who and how they were related or the nature of their relationshp to the other characters that it distracted from the plot. It felt like the story got stretched thin by including so many characters. Focusing on so many characters made for a convoluted narrative.

Even so, Clare weaves her magic as always and makes the reader fall in love with the characters. The investment in their stories and their paths happens immediately. It’s especially easy to dive into this new set of characters if fans of Clare’s work have already read the short story collection Ghosts of the Shadow Market.

The way this novel ends of course leaves the reader yearning for more, ready for the next installment. Overall, I give it 4 out of 5 stars and am looking forward to the rest of the series.

Have you read this book or others by Cassandra Clare? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Shop your local indie bookstore to get your copy of Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare.

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Call and Respond

Image from Instagram @meagankc21

Let the echo clap back as you shout
to the masses that you are here and you
hear them, and like a wave that breaks
on seashore, your voices ring as one
at the center of the arena, like the one
is the many and the many are the one.

Originally shared here.

Meagan Reads Poetry: A Sinking Ship Is Still A Ship by Ariel Francisco

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

A Sinking Ship Is Still A Ship by Ariel Francisco, Burrow Press 2020

Full disclosure, I am acquainted with the poet who published this title. But that doesn’t make my review any less sincere. Francisco’s second collection of poetry, A Sinking Ship Is Still A Ship, published by Burrow Press encompasses that overall feeling of, “S*** happens, I guess.”

This collection holds great significance for bilingual readers who speak English and Spanish. Francisco’s work in English is published side by side with the Spanish translation, done by José Nicolás Cabrera-Schneider. But Cabrera-Schneider’s iterations particularly stood out because they retained some of the English quotes within the Spanish translations. It created an authenticity that made for a third language of sorts. It lent itself well to the idea of Spanglish being a whole different form of communication.

Overall, the best way to describe this collection is with the statement, “What a mood.” At every turn, Francisco employs his signature sarcasm that drenches his work in a generation-specific humor. Whether the speaker of a poem talks about insomnia, conversations with an ex, or the state of the environment, it all holds a sense of inevitability that is equal parts anxiety and acceptance.

A Sinking Ship Is Still A Ship offers a glimpse into the relationship between Florida and the speaker. May native Floridians can relate to the feeling. As a Floridian myself, I understood the underlying emotion in these poems. They indicate a distaste for home, but also know full well it is the environment that mold a person. A strange relationship between the speaker and Florida permeates these poems. It’s not love-hate, but simply recognition.

The poem “Descending Darkness” gets a good laugh out of anyone who grew up in the same neighborhood as the building Francisco describes. There’s a sense of validation at reading a poem about a legend the whole community knows about. More so as I actually once worked in that building that many thought abandoned. But in fact housed two watch companies for a time.

But the poet does such a good job at invoking local lore that the reader doesn’t necessarily have to be from South Florida to understand the feeling of shared history. To me, A Sinking Ship Is Still A Ship aims to convey that one’s identity, in all its flaws and positive traits alike, still belongs to them. And no one can take that away or erase it.

Shop your local indie bookstore to get a copy of Francisco’s latest collection of poems. If anyone else has read this poetry collection, let me know your thoughts in the comments.