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How to Write a Book Review

The first thing to note when learning how to write a book review is that there’s no one right way to do it. Throughout the years, I’ve gone through a few formats of book reviews myself. But today, I will outline the latest structure that works for me. I hope it helps other writers who want to start writing book reviews. Here is my outline for the anatomy of a book review.

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.

how to write a book review library shelf of books

How to Write a Book Review Summary

This is by far the hardest part of writing a book review. That’s why I recommend you save it for last. But when you do get to this part, keep it to no more than a paragraph (that’s five sentences max). Capture the essence of the plot with a taste of the characters in a few short sentences to entice your audience to keep reading the review. This will be easier once you’ve written the rest of it.

Character Development

Talk about the main characters or important secondary characters that move the story. Consider their character arcs and how they’ve changed from beginning to end. If they haven’t changed, that could be a type of critique to make in your review. You can also discuss the portrayal of certain character traits. Did the author use harmful stereotypes? Did characters react realistically to situations? Do the characters act as stand-in symbols? There are so many ways to interpret character development.

Plot Development

Dive a little deeper into the plot than you would in the summary. But don’t give a complete, beat-by-beat breakdown. It’s enough to talk about the main plot points and subplots that made the story interesting or dull. This is where you would address if the plot’s pacing worked well or had issues. You can also talk about setting and world-building. Where does the story take place and how does that affect the narrative? How does it affect or influence the characters? Explore the world to give readers a preview of what to expect.

How to Write a Book Review With Cultural or Social Critique

Authors don’t write novels in a vacuum. Every story has a theme or message that it wants to convey, and the author’s culture and society influences these messages. Perhaps the author’s characters challenge the status quo of their worlds. Maybe the entire story is a metaphor for current events. Likewise, some authors write a book as a call to maintain world order. Take all these aspects into consideration when writing a thought-provoking book review. Your personal opinions about events and circumstances will likely seep in at this point, and that’s ok.

Genre Discussion

Some bloggers like to discuss the book in terms of the genre it falls under. This helps readers understand what structure to expect. For example, romance novels are known for the HEA – the Happily Ever After. When a book that’s categorized as romance deviates, that’s cause for analysis. Is it really a romance novel? Or is it a story with romantic elements? I admit, that genre isn’t my forte, but I’ve seen this discussion. Fantasies and sci-fis create intricate worlds and systems of magic. Mystery thrillers set up red herrings. You can think about all these facets when writing your review.

Rating

Most readers and reviewers are familiar with the star rating, but that doesn’t mean you have to stick to it. Get creative with the way you rate a book. Use emojis to identify the emotions it made you feel. Pick a graphic that’s all your own and works similar to star ratings. I once saw a Latinx blogger use avocados as her rating system. Take a page out of Litsy’s book and rate books with a Bail, Pan, So-So or Pick. Whatever you choose, the most important thing a rating has to do is convey whether or not a reader would be interested in picking up the book.

Grab a book review journal here

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Blazewrath Games by Amparo Ortiz Review

Blazewrath Games book tour banner

Disclosure: Some of the links in this Blazewrath Games review 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.

I received an ARC for the Hear Our Voices book tour. Thank you so much to them and the publisher for this opportunity. Let’s dive in!

Summary of Blazewrath Games

Lana Torres has dreamed of playing in the Blazewrath Games since she was a child and to represent her home country of Puerto Rico. When she catches the eye of the International Blazewrath Federation’s president and gets chosen as team Puerto Rico’s runner, she thinks all her dreams are coming true. But when she learns the sinister truth, she must fight against a system and people she’s admired all her life.

Characters

The protagonist Lana Torres is easy to root for. She’s spunky, brave, strong and smart. Her character also brings to light a discourse about what makes someone Latinx. Her teammate Victoria scrutinizes her for not having lived on the island her whole life. While Lana was born in Puerto Rico and lived there as a child, she hasn’t set foot on it since she left. Victoria calls into question if she deserves to represent Team Puerto Rico. She considers Lana an outsider. The book doesn’t delve too deep into the theme, but readers get a taste of a bigger discussion on identity within diaspora.

There are so many characters between the different Blazewrath teams that it’s hard to keep track of sometimes. But each one Ortiz introduces gets a chance to shine in their own way for at least a scene or two. It gives the story and Lana’s development just enough support to show she’s not in it alone. Team Puerto Rico gets the most stage time of course. It feels like Victoria gets the most though, as she represents the inner confrontation about Lana’s identity.

Victoria is a hard character to gravitate toward. It never goes into full detail, but her narrative does tell a story of abuse and survival. So, it’s easy to understand her harsh demeanor. However, the story felt like it lacked an important discussion: victims becoming abusers. While one can see and understand why Victoria would be so quick to judge and distrust, it doesn’t give her the right to verbally and emotionally abuse others the way she does to Lana. And by the end of the book, Victoria and Lana come to an understanding, but it happened too quickly to feel organic or earned.

Throughout the book, there are various characters that are queer and/or PoC. I appreciated the way Ortiz wove them into the tapestry of the story without making it a story about acceptance and tolerance. There were hints that homophobia exists in this world, but the story doesn’t go into detail with that. Instead, Ortiz chose to focus on the support such characters had from friends and family. It felt like an honest way to address the issues without making the characters live out their trauma on the page.

Plot of Blazewrath Games

Ortiz creates a contemporary world in which Regulars (non-magical people) and witches and wizards exist side by side. And of course, dragons. She creates an interesting point in her magic system, in which dragons mostly Bond with Regulars. This makes it possible for people without natural, magical abilities to experience it. But as with all worlds like this, not everyone’s on board. Some, like Lana’s mother and, later, her cousin, consider dragons dangerous creatures that cannot be trusted, even if they do Bond with a rider.

The way Ortiz opens each chapter of the book with an excerpt from a textbook, article or interview in-world helps flesh out the reader’s understanding of dragons and magic. It’s actually a clever way to offer background details without letting them bog down the narrative and action. And there is plenty of action. The details Ortiz provides when Lana’s on the field and when the final showdown happens leaves readers with a rush. It feels very much like they’re running right beside the characters.

Rating

Overall, it’s a fun book with a set of characters you can relate to and get invested in. There are certain themes and characters that feel like they could have gone deeper, but it doesn’t detract from the magical world Ortiz created. I’m looking forward to more from this author and this world.

Grab a copy of Blazewrath Games here!

About the Author

Amparo Ortiz, author of Blazewrath Games

Amparo Ortiz was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and currently lives on the island’s northeastern coast. Her short story comic, “What Remains in The Dark,” appears in the Eisner Award-winning anthology PUERTO RICO STRONG (Lion Forge, 2018), and SAVING CHUPIE, her middle grade graphic novel, comes out with HarperCollins in Winter 2022. She holds an M.A. in English and a B.A. in Psychology from the UPR’s Río Piedras campus. When she’s not teaching ESL to her college students, she’s teaching herself Korean, devouring as much young adult fiction as she can, and writing about Latinx characters in worlds both contemporary and fantastical. Her debut novel, BLAZEWRATH GAMES, hits shelves on October 6, 2020 from Page Street Kids.

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Happy Latinx Heritage Month

Disclosure: Some of the links in this Latinx Heritage Month 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.

For those who don’t know, Latinx Heritage Month takes place from September 15 – October 15. And what better way to support and celebrate Latinx cultures across the world than with books? This week I’m participating by sharing a couple of YA horror books perfect for Halloween. Thank you to Tor Publishing for sending copies of the two books featured today.

Latinx Heritage Month celebrating with Five Midnights and Category Five by Ann Davila Cardinal spooky reads

Five Midnights for Latinx Heritage Month

Five Midnights is a young adult horror mystery that follows Lupe Dávila as she spends the summer with her uncle, the chief of police, on the hunt for a killer from legends hunting five childhood friends one by one.

Some believe their shady pasts finally caught up to them. Others believe it is El Cuco, a mythical beast of Latinx lore that is used to scare children. But what if El Cuco isn’t a myth? What if he’s real? It’s up to Lupe to find out and save her new friend, Javier Utierre.

Read my full review of Five Midnights here.

Category Five

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 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.

Read my full review of Category Five here.

My favorite thing about Latinx Heritage Month is that it coincides with the spooky season. These are great reads to kill two birds with one stone: read Latinx and horror. Want more spooky and magical Latinx books for Halloween? Check out my Bookshop page with a few recs here!

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Writing a Book That’s Smarter Than Me

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.

writing a book smarter than me is confusing

I’ve been writing a book for almost 10 years now that has truly tested my intelligence. Two years ago I started writing another story, a YA sci-fi retelling of Thumbelina, that is beyond any science I ever learned. In fact, science was my weakest subject in school. So, why put myself through these struggles?

With the first story, I wanted to create a dystopian world that, frankly, looks more real every day. It started out with Star Wars vibes, a ragtag group of rebels fighting the government. But in writing a book that takes on themes of feminism, sex work, and dictatorships, I went in over my head. Or did I? The more I work on this manuscript, the more I see myself learning.

What I’ve Learned From Writing a Book About Dystopia

When I started writing Operation Succubus (pending title), I only looked at the story through a basic feminist lens. I focused on the overarching patriarchal society’s control of women’s bodies. But then I had to consider my characters and their lived experiences. I have a Chinese-American woman who’s a lesbian and a black trans woman as supporting characters. I’ve had to dig deep to write a narrative that does justice to their experiences as women. These are not perspectives that come from my own voice.

Hell, even my main character isn’t completely my own voice. I wrote her as Latinx American, with Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian roots. That’s me. But I decided to make her asexual. That’s not. Once more, I’ve had to do research, read blogs, and think about the ways feminism and her role in the world I created affect her.

Even though I’ve been writing a book with these characters and themes for years, it wasn’t until recently I stopped to think about what message it sent about sex work. I’d included it as a plot device in the narrative, but I never gave it nuanced thought. I realized I have to do better, to show at least a basic understanding of sex work’s role in feminist discourse. Again, I find myself diving into research and seeking resources to gain a better understanding of the topic.

What I’ve Learned From Writing About Nanotech

My second manuscript that’s lived less time in my brain took on the science of nanotechnology. I admit science has always been my downfall. Though I love science fiction dearly. When I started writing Belina (pending title), I had to do a little research to get the foundations of nanotech. I fell into a world beyond my understanding.

I’d barely passed biology both times I had to take it, once for high school and once for college. How on Earth could I start writing a book about nanotechnology? What even is it? How does it work? What are its basic applications? All these questions swam in my mind as I dove into the rabbit hole.

As I’ve continued to write and revise my book, I realized I don’t need to be an absolute expert. But I did need to have some semblance of understanding. My protagonist is a STEM character. She loves science. She loves solving puzzles. And that’s when I realized what I had in common with her. She wants to solve problems. That’s how I started understanding what role nanotech played in her life and in the story.

My question for fellow writers (or anyone who is thinking about starting): What stories have you written or plan to write have made you think critically? Let me know in the comments! And any recommendations for research on the aforementioned topics are also greatly appreciated.

Check out some books about writing here!

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Always Human by Ari North Review

always human by ari north hear our voices book tour own voices bisexual pansexual lesbian

Disclosure: Some of the links in this book review for Always Human by Ari North are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase the book tour company Hear Our Voices or myself will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

I’m happy to be part of the Always Human book tour for Hear Our Voices. Thanks to HOV and the publisher for providing a paperback ARC for review. Click the banner at the top of the post to see the rest of the tour schedule.

First serialized on the popular app and website WebToon, Always Human ran from 2015-2017 and amassed over 76,000 unique subscribers during its run. Today, as an archived piece on the site, the title has always over 400,000 unique viewers. Reformatted for a print edition in sponsorship with GLAAD, this beautifully-drawn, soft sci-fi, queer graphic novel will available wherever books are sold in both paperback and hardcover formats.

ALWAYS HUMAN: SEASON 1

ISBN: 9781499811094

Publisher: Yellow Jacket

Number of Pages: 256

On-Sale Date: May 19, 2020

Summary

The first collection of North’s Always Human comic series is filled with sweet and angsty queer romance between two young women, Sunati and Austen. As the story develops, you can’t help but feel every perfect ache and ounce of anxiety alongside the characters, navigating this brand new relationship together.

Plot

Austen and Sunati live in a world where almost everyone uses body mods to enhance physical aspects of their appearance and performance. From fashion mods for changing hairstyles to more functional mods that alter capabilities like focus. But some, like Austen, can’t use the modification tehcnology of this future world. Some have chronic illnesses that compromise their immune systems, leaving them unable to process the mods.

As they get to know each other, Sunati and Austen stumble, make mistakes, come together, pull apart, and learn how to navigate the world seeing through each others’ eyes. The narrative moves quickly but it never feels too fast. It’s just right for pulling the reader into all the drama and warm and fuzzy moments between the two characters.

Characters

Sunati is a sweet, caring and considerate 22-year-old woman, but that doesn’t mean she gets things right all the time. In fact, she has a habit of saying the wrong things at the wrong time. She often means well, but she falls into the trap of using language that excludes or invalidates the experiences of others, like Austen, who has Egan’s syndrome. But Sunati is not incapable of learning. She tries, and that alone makes her so loveable.

Austen, an 18-year-old student in college, tends to get hyperfocused and obsessive when it comes to proving herself. She struggles with knowing her value outside of Egan’s syndrome, hating when people look at her or treat her differently. It’s clear as day she doesn’t use mods, and when people find out why, they often give her pity or worse, treat her like an inspiration.

Disability Discussions

Aside from the adorable budding romance and depiction of missteps that take place throughout a relationship, Always Human creates a great depiction of how to have conversations about ableist language and presumptions.

Sunati frequently puts Austen up on a pedestal, thinking her brave for not using mods, when she doesn’t really have a choice. Many also tiptoe around Austen, wondering if she would feel hurt or dislike them for using mods when she can’t. So many of these scenes depict what it’s like for differently abled people to live in a world made for the able-bodied.

Artwork

Since I received an ARC, not all aspects of the artwork were complete. It came in black and white with some lettering issues. But that does not speak to the artistry itself. I only wish I could have seen the whole thing in color. I wanted to have a greater appreciation for the art as a whole.

Thanks to the publisher, Little Bee Books, we have a few panels to share. Scroll through to see them all.

Rating

Overall, I give this a solid 4.5/5 stars. It’s such a fun and fluffy read with a fun sci-fi twist and sweet romance.

Has anyone else read Always Human? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

Shop your local indie bookstore for a copy or find it here.

About the Author

Ari North is a queer cartoonist who believes an entertaining story should also be full of diversity and inclusion. As a writer, an artist, and a musician, she wrote, drew, and composed the music for Always Human, a complete romance/sci-fi webcomic about two queer girls navigating maturity and finding happiness. She’s currently working on a second webcomic, Aerial Magic, which is about the everyday lives of the witches who work at a broomstick repair shop. She lives in Australia with her husband.

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Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas Book Review

Con Sabor and Hear Our Voices Presents Cemetery Boys Book Tour

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 the book tour company Hear Our Voices will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

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.

I originally wrote this review for my own blog but am revising and re-amplifying it for the Hear Our Voices book tour. This is my first book tour ever, so it will be a learning experience. I’m definitely open to hearing your comments and thoughts!

Publisher: Swoon Reads
Release Date: September 01, 2020
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal Romance

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 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 quickly 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 shining moment for Yadriel as he moves past the pain to do what’s right. It solidifies his 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.

Author Bio

Author portrait of writer Aiden Thomas
Aiden Thomas, author of Cemetery Boys

Aiden Thomas is a YA author with an MFA in Creative Writing. Originally from Oakland, California, they now make their home in Portland, OR. As a queer, trans, latinx, Aiden advocates strongly for diverse representation in all media. Aiden’s special talents include: quoting The Office, Harry Potter trivia, Jenga, finishing sentences with “is my FAVORITE”, and killing spiders. Aiden is notorious for not being able to guess the endings of books and movies, and organizes their bookshelves by color.

Their debut novel, CEMETERY BOYS, will be published September 1, 2020.

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Wanderlust: Chimborazo, Ecuador

I left off on Chimborazo, Ecuador in my travel tales. It’s been a while, but I still remember the feeling of triumph. I’m not an athletic person. I like to “hike” in the sense that I can walk for a short period. Sometimes, I can walk uphill.

In the case of el Chimborazo, I met a challenge. It inspired me and sparked a desire to get better at hiking. I have bad knees and asthma, so every hike will be an uphill climb. But after my experience with the highest point on Earth, I know I can do it. Even if it’s slow and steady.

man and woman on Chimborazo mountain
My dad and I sitting along the path up el Chimborazo

I donned my new llama wool jacket I’d bought in Otavalo. I strapped on my hiking boots. And I began the walk up the pathway leading to the second refuge on the trail. With each step, my muscles ached and knees throbbed. My lungs expelled air at an alarming rate. How much further to the refuge?

My father and I both forgot a crucial detail: altitude. My asthma never affects me so bad in cold weather. But we both forgot that Chimborazo Ecuador has a peak that lies over 20,000 feet above. The thinner atmosphere exacerbated my lungs’ usual battle for air.

As we climbed further up, my head began to spin. My legs wobbled. The corners of my vision blurred. It felt like I would pass out. But my dad remembered something else: sugar. When he made the climb up the volcano in his youth, he brought rapadura along. The lump of raw sugar from the cane helped combat altitude sickness.

Like he did as a kid, my dad started to beg for pieces of candy and rapadura from strangers making their way back down the trail. I sucked on the sweet bits, feeling the sugar quell my growing nausea. I caught my second wind. But it didn’t last long. Try as I might, I couldn’t make it to the second refuge from where we began our journey at the park entrance.

I didn’t reach my goal of making it to the second refuge. But I still did something I’d never done before: hiked the tallest mountain on Earth. I’d like to go back when we can travel again, better prepared and better trained. And maybe, with an inhaler as backup.

Have any of you done a seemingly impossible task? Or visited Chimborazo Ecuador? Let me know in the comments.

Updated 8/17/2020: My dad reminded me we’d driven to the first refuge, and when we hiked, it was toward the second refuge.

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Lobizona by Romina Garber Book Review

Disclosure: Some of the links in this Lobizona book review 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.

Lobizona by Romina Garber marketing banner

I received an e-book advanced reader copy from the publisher Wednesday Books. This review is entirely composed of my own thoughts and opinions. Thank you to the publisher for the opportunity to read this book before it’s release on August 4, 2020.

Summary of Lobizona

Manuela “Manu” Azul lives in constant fear as an undocumented immigrant alongside her mother in Miami, Florida. She also lives in hiding because her distinctive eyes make her standout. They are bright yellow with silver like stars inside a sun. All her life she has sought to fit in.

When she learns that her mother has been keeping secrets, it breaks their bond. Before she has a chance to repair it, she takes a journey to where she will discover a place she could belong, making friends along the way.

Characters

The main character Manu has great energy that pulls you in from the start. She’s clearly on the verge of making that life-changing discovery about her own identity. When events unfold and she’s left to fend for herself, she takes on the challenge with so much courage. Manu’s endearing nature makes her a protagonist to root for all the way.

Her magical being status parallels her experiences as an undocumented immigrant. It turns out she is something special and previously unheard of. This puts a target on her back among the Septimus, the world of witches and werewolves. Manu becomes the first ever lobizona, a female werewolf. She defies gender roles in the community she’s been kept secret from her whole life.

Gender in Lobizona

The study of gender dynamics within the Septimus society makes one of the most compelling aspects of the book. When she arrives at El Laberinto, she learns that all women are witches while all men are werewolves. That’s how the magic has always been distributed among the Septimus. Except for her. She was born lobizona, a werewolf. Manu’s status as defying gender roles within a magical society rings similar to Aiden Thomas’s Cemetery Boys.

These gender roles also bring to the surface an issue of homosexuality as Other in their society. The Septimus expect witches and werewolves to pair off. It’s their duty to perpetuate their dwindling population. Some of the supporting characters who defy these expectations find themselves drawn to Manu for that reason.

Immigrant Exceptionalism

Manu’s status as exceptional makes for one of the most fascinating aspects of her character. Not only is she the first lobizona they’ve ever heard of, but she holds extraordinary power. This power keeps her safe from immediate execution. But she soon recognizes that if not for that power, she would have been subject to immediate consequences based on Septimus law.

She does not want to be an exception. That leaves room for other lobizonas like her to be killed simply because they don’t have the same powers. This rhetoric of exceptionalism parallels the discourse of the exceptional immigrant that can offer something to our society. Manu makes a commentary on how this idea of exceptionalism damages the fight for immigrants’ status in the United States. Who decides who has value and and worth to stay?

Plot of Lobizona

Garber creates a brilliant plot in which Manu’s fight against ICE mirrors her fight against Septimus law. It’s the kind of fantasy story that highlights why the genre shines when it comes to metaphors for real-life issues.

The novel takes a lot of inspiration from Harry Potter. We cannot ignore the issues many readers have now with stories of the legendary boy wizard, as they come from a transphobic author. But it’s important to recognize the far-reaching influence Harry Potter has had across cultures, as Lobizona is an Own Voices novel.

While the idea of a school of magic comes from a now controversial franchise, the story also takes inspiration from Argentine folklore. The Septimus and their world come straight out of legends. I was not familiar with the Argentine folklore, but Garber’s prose speaks so authentically to it, that it sucks you into this mythos. It’s easy to accept it as possible as witches and wizards of European folklore.

Rating

Hands down, I give this book 5 stars. There’s no doubt in my mind that this is a must-read for anyone who loves fantasy. It’s a fantastic take on magic. It delves into issues of gender and immigration. Plus, it’s just a fast, fun read to devour in a couple of days.

If you pick up a copy and read it, let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Get your copy here.

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Reading Nora Roberts for the First Time

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post about Nora Roberts 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.

cover of Dark Witch by Nora Roberts
Dark Witch (The Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy #1) by Nora Roberts, 2013

A few months ago I read a Nora Roberts book for the first time. Her books never appealed to me before because I considered her a romance writer. I’m not much into the romance genre. Or at least, I wasn’t before. I’ve changd my reading tastes a lot in the last year.

But my mom has always read her books. She always tells me about how good they are, and how they range in genres. Finally, one of the latest series we picked up from Barnes & Noble sold me. It’s The Cousins’ O’Dwyer Trilogy that starts with Dark Witch. A book set in Ireland following an ancient magical line of witches? Of course I decided to read it.

The whole thing had promise. The beginning of the book sucked me in. But when it jumped to the present day with the witch’s descendants, that’s when it fell apart for me. It became a paranormal fantasy that favored the protagonist’s love affair over the building of a magical world. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just not my thing.

I didn’t care much for the love interest and the dynamic between him and the main character. Frankly, I didn’t care much for the main character. She wasn’t my cup of tea. But I read the book all the way through.

On the one hand, my mom really loves Nora Roberts books, and she wanted to share those stories with me. I share my books with my mom all the time. She reads the Shadowhunters books as voraciously as I do. There’s something special about being able to share the stories that mean something to us with one another.

On the other hand, Dark Witch just didn’t live up to my expectations. But I want to share in that magic with my mom. I want to share her enthusiasm for these books, so I’m willing to put in the effort. I might have to trudge through a protagonist that, honestly, I find obnoxious, and a romantic relationship that makes no sense in my mind. But if it means swapping reactions with my mom, who raised me to be a fangirl like her, then I can do it.

What Nora Roberts books have you read? How do you feel about her writing? Let me know in the comments.

Find a copy here.

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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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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.

Afroculinaria – Michael W. Twitty is a food writer, independent scholar, culinary historian , and historical interpreter personally charged with preparing, preserving and promoting African American foodways and its parent traditions in Africa and her Diaspora and its legacy in the food culture of the American South.

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.

BookishEnds – Alexia’s passion for bookstagram led them to take the leap into book blogging in 2020. Here they share book reviews, recommendations and more.

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.

GirlTrek – GirlTrek is the largest public health nonprofit for African-American women and girls in the United States. They encourage women to use walking as a practical first step to inspire healthy living, families, and communities.

1619 – A New York Times audio series hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones examines the long shadow of the history of slavery.

On She Goes – A digital travel platform that helps women of color travel more confidently, more adventurously, and more often.

California Love – Hosted by NYT writer Walter Thompson-Hernández, California Love covers race, identity and belonging, all while acting as a love letter to the state.

Ear Hustle – The daily realities of life inside prison shared by those living it, and stories from the outside, post-incarceration.

Audio Dramas

Flyest Fables – An anthology of hopepunk fables for the 21st century created by Morgan Givens.

Centered – Created, written, and produced by Beandrea July, Centered follows Selah Copeland, a recent college grad being prepared to take over her mother’s accounting business. But she considers other options after a life-changing yoga retreat.

Black Widow – A scripted podcast that investigates the mindset of fucking as a millennial. It is a show which promotes positivity around sexual experiences, especially the experiences of women, whatever end of the sexual spectrum they might be on.

All Things Undone – The story of an ancient prophecy that comes to fruition in the form of a solar eclipse that alters the DNA of all humans on the planet in the 1850’s. The supernatural effect on Blacks makes them “unkillable.”

The AAU Murders – A four-part fiction True Crime podcast about Virginia Collins, an African American corporate executive who falls in love in Rochester, NY.

Updated 9/16/2020

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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.