I was inspired to write this one on a road trip I took driving up to Orlando with my best friend. The poem below is the result.
On the drive up to Orlando through the 95, we saw billboard after
billboard. Our favorite of course, Café Risqué, the strip club with
the motto, “We bare all,” and a sensuous silhouette of a voluptuous
vixen. And don’t think we didn’t notice when they put up a shiny
new ad. Business must be good, said Cat. Good for them.
The billboards changed from curvy ladies and shadows of lions about
to get it on to calls for salvation from unholy abortions and impending
flames of hell. Gator territory. It’s a strange battlefield, the line between
sin city O-Town and self-righteous Gainesville. Like 95 is the road to fight
for our very souls. In the end, gator jerky and fireworks win.
I found the juxtaposition of the different billboards seen the most in Florida fascinating. It all felt so quintessential to what makes Florida so…Florida.
The constant tension between conservative Christian values and what some may consider hypersexual behaviors always plays out on the state’s highways. As the content changes, you can always tell what part of the state you’re entering: the zealously religious or the fun and so-called trashy.
But in the end, it’s all about a niche cuisine and how much trouble you can get yourself in with gator jerky and fireworks. There’s a simultaneous feeling of pride and cringe knowing that this is how my home state is known.
Some days it’s funny to see the Florida Man headlines and feel shameless. On other days it hurts and infuriates to watch hateful people tear down what could be a place of beauty if they’d only look past the caricature and see the humans behind it.
Whether you write fiction, poetry, essays or anything else, every writer needs to hone their craft. Practicing your art doesn’t necessarily mean writing within the same genre or category all the time. Sometimes, it benefits you to step out of your usual writing zone and engage with a different skill to improve your own. Here are some writing exercises to help you improve.
Engage the senses — Draft a piece based solely on one of the senses at a time. Focus on sight, sound, touch, taste and smell as individual components. Then, put them together to create a complete picture. By first separating each sense, you must pay close attention to each detail as part of something whole. This helps improve a sense of setting and environment in your writing.
Write a review — Whether you review a book, music album, product or restaurant, reviews teach you how to take things apart. In writing a review, you analyze the different moving pieces that make an entire work. Learning how to distinguish components helps you better understand how your own art comes together.
Childhood memory — Write about a childhood memory from the point of view of your younger self first. Then, write it as an adult looking back on it. By writing the memory from these two different perspectives, you can gain a greater understanding of voice.
Read up on history — Building a world stems from understanding a person’s political, social and cultural environment. The people in stories don’t exist in a vacuum. What they think, feel and believe will be a product of what happens around them. It informs how people think and behave, and in turn how those actions reflect on their world. Reading history helps you better root your work in understanding why people make certain choices.
Interview your friends and family — Everyone is the main character in their own life story. There is so much that can be missed if you’re not paying attention to the people around you and the parts they play in your own life. Learning what others have experienced can give you a greater sense of how one event or choice can affect people differently. This helps you better understand how to flesh out an idea and see it from multiple angles.
I picked up this collection of poems from Sundress Publications, an independent press. It’s a fascinating look at the interconnected nature of gender, sexuality, sex and identity.
Form & Structure
The forms start as stanzas and lines written in fragments. But as the speaker gains greater clarity of who they are, the images and statements become more solid. A few pieces in between bolly back and forth between this fragmented style and coherent thoughts.
It seems as though the purpose of this structure is to indicate the speaker’s growing anxieties and uncertainty about their gender, sex and identity. Hitzel shows an adept hand in creating a structure that works perfectly with the language and emotions of each poem.
Rhythm & Word Choice
While the poem structures vary between fragmented and complete, the word choice always creates precision and purposeful rhythm. It gives the feeling that even in the most turbulent moments, the speaker knows who they are. They know where they stand beneath insecurity and anxiety.
Hitzel delivers heartbreaking lines in the simplest language, like this one:
“the television showed what it was capable of showing
and my father heard what he was capable of hearing…”
Lines like the two above depict the common way discussions and discourse about transitioning and transgender individuals are often perceived and treated. The speaker throughout the poems often analyzes and talks about others’ perceptions of their identity, and how those perceptions affect their perceptions of themselves.
In another poem, “Dial-up Internet — Diagnosis” Hitzel delivers a gut punch of emotion that anyone who’s ever questioned their identity has felt. The speaker’s tone approaches the subject from an analytical perspective but still manages to send a shock of pain to the heart.
Hitzel excels at this juxtaposition by using a neutral tone of rationale to describe the turmoil of feelings on the subject matter. The poem “Math Problem” is another standout piece that takes an analytical eye to the topic of transitioning.
The titular poem is another standout piece in the collection as the speaker delineates all the different labels and names she’s been given. Its ending line packs so much in such a matter-of-fact statement:
“I appreciate how the silence calls me nothing.”
Rating for Gender Flytrap
There are so many poems to choose from with powerful lines and emotional messages. It’s easy to keep flipping from one piece to the next and savoring each word. Sometimes a second and third read is necessary to fully appreciate Hitzel’s brilliant use of language and lyricism.
We took a charter bus with our local guide from EF Ultimate Break and stopped at the Corinth Canal to take a picture. At the time, I hadn’t realized what an engineering feat this channel is. I only recently learned through working for a cruise company about its construction and how narrow it truly is.
On that day though, me, my friends and our newest acquaintances marveled over it from the bridge above, and took the opportunity for a selfie. It may seem like we were all old friends from the picture below, but we’d only just met the day before.
From there, we made our way to the ancient ruins of Mycenae where we walked through the Keystone Gate of Agamemnon. Walking out over stones that are thousands of years old will never cease to amaze me. All that’s left is rubble, but once upon a time, the fortress stood proud and buzzed with life.
Lying near the ruins of Mycenae was the ancient amphitheater of Epidaurus. The ancient Greeks truly had incredible minds. They engineered a stadium of optimal acoustics without any of the technology we have today.
Within the bounds of Epidaurus, we visited the archaeological museum. Artifacts from the Sanctuary of Asklepios showcased ancient medical history.
A combination of incredible views and awe-inspiring history make Greece a wonderful destination. More to come soon.
Growing up I always felt self-conscious of my curly, frizzy hair. I tried to keep it under control, slicked back with hair gel. Or I would have my mom spend hours straightening it with a flat iron, which in Florida humidity is asking for a miracle. One time in the mall, one of the kiosk ladies selling flat irons even grabbed my arm and pulled me to her stand after I tried passing by and saying no.
It took me a long time to realize why I hated my hair so much. Growing up, nearly all the pretty girls I saw on TV had pin-straight hair. They also happened to all be white. It’s not stated outright, but this representation tells you that people who look like you are not considered pretty.
At the same time, I also experienced people always wanting to touch my hair. Countless times, random strangers would reach out in awe, as if my hair was an exotic marvel.
The title translates to “Against Hair.” This poem delves into all the ways Eurocentric beauty standards have waged war against those whose DNA does not adhere to these rules.
I’ve come to love my hair. I now see its wildness as a defiance of what I’ve been told about beauty by the media. I wanted to capture that feeling in this piece. And I’ve always loved “misbehaving” women in literature, so I wanted to make the connection between wild hair and non-compliance.
Have you ever re-read a book and thought twice about your initial review of it? I have.
Sometimes I come back to a book feeling that I liked it better the second time around. Does that mean I increase my rating?
Other times I realize I missed a lot of problematic aspects now that I’m more knowledgeable. Do I push the review and rating down?
Upon rereading a book, I have a better understanding of the nuances of the characters. I also have a better understanding of my social environment and how it relates to the book. I become a new reader each time I pick up the same book.
But does this mean I write a new review from this new perspective? Do I revise an old review with a note about the update?
It feels like a new review is in order if I’m coming at it from a different perspective than the original. However, what if I reread it again years later and notice more things I missed or feel differently once more? Do I create a series of book reviews as I change as a person and a reader?
These are just the musings of a bookworm. And I’m genuinely curious as to how other readers approach this conundrum. So, if you have a process for book reviews for rereads, I’d love to hear them.
A version of this book review for From A Shadow Grave by Andi C. Buchanan first appeared in The Lesbrary.
Summary of From A Shadow Grave
This paranormal fantasy novella follows “you,” Phyllis Avis Symons. She’s a young girl living in New Zealand in the early 1930s, in the years leading up to World War II. Her contentious relationship with her parents leads her to run away and fall in love with an abusive man, which becomes her downfall.
It’s hard to give a concise summary, as Phyllis lives multiple lives throughout the novella. But her first life takes up the majority of the story’s space. This book can’t be discussed as a linear narrative or in terms of character relationships and development. That doesn’t mean it was a bad book. Far from it.
From A Shadow Grave is a compelling array of connected stories told through the second-person point of view, putting the reader in Phyllis’ shoes. This perspective creates a matter-of-fact tone, giving a degree of emotional distance despite the subject matter. No matter what events occur and all the bad things that happen to the main character, the voice in the point of view indicates this is just how things are.
The narrator never explains the paranormal powers that exist in this world. Phyllis and Aroha simply accept them at face value and consider them a normal part of everyday life. It makes the narrative structure easier to accept, as the narrator never needs to tell the audience when the character makes another life jump. It just is. This is strengthened once more by the second-person point of view.
Phyllis’ relationships with George, Aroha, and others throughout her various lives indicate she is on the bi/pan spectrum. But she never explicitly states it. However, she does give voice to her hesitation and fear. She recognizes the feelings she has for women and that the society she lives in does not accept this.
But that “you” perspective once more creates a factual tone, showing how Phyllis presumes life is just what it is, and there’s no use getting attached or worked up about anything. It’s her defense mechanism.
The biggest detriment to the shortness of the novella and “you” perspective was a lack of depth in secondary characters. There were scattered details hinting that Aroha is a woman of color, but it’s not obvious that she’s an indigenous woman of New Zealand, Maori, until near the end of the book.
One aspect that pops up throughout is her learning disability. She’s written as someone with dyslexia, but because of the time she lives in, she’s deemed a stupid girl. What really breaks the reader’s heart is how she believes that’s true and accepts that as fact and reality.
Phyllis is also described as someone living with mental health issues. One sentence, in particular, stands out: “You were born with demons in your head, an unexplainable wish to self-destruct…” It’s especially fascinating as a description as the story takes place with a paranormal aspect, so the main character deals with magical demons, as well as metaphorical ones.
Rating for From A Shadow Grave
It’s difficult to give a specific analysis of this story without spoiling it. So many of the events and relationships are tied up in the plot, and it’s a great plot to enjoy on a first read without spoilers from a review. The best summary to give is it’s a ghost story, a love story, and a series of fragments of one person living multiple lives.
A version of this book review for Starfall Ranch by California Dawes first appeared in The Lesbrary.
Summary of Starfall Ranch
Shiloh “Shy” Kerridan moved off-planet to Sirona to start a new life five years before. Thisbe Vandergoss just escaped Earth to Sirona to elude the clutches of her evil parents. She left behind a life of wealth and privilege for the freedom she craved. Thisbe applied to be a mail-order bride for a rancher by the name of Sean Kerridan, but she ended up on the wrong side of the planet and met Shy instead. Shenanigans ensue.
It takes a long time for the story to really take off. Dawes spends a short chapter on introducing Shy’s character, but then several chapters take up Thisbe’s story as she contends with her parents’ dastardly plans to force her into a medical procedure she does not want to do. It’s not until Thisbe accidentally ends up at Starfall Ranch and meets Shy that the story starts. Everything before the meet-cute is set up.
The misunderstandings that occur as Shy and Thisbe meet and interact are cliche, but they work. It creates a compelling relationship that makes the reader invested in their romance. It’s the perfect formula for the rom-com genre. Shy and Thisbe are such a stark contrast to one another on the surface and that’s what gives them chemistry. For anyone that fantasized about a relationship between Tahani and Eleanor on The Good Place, this comes close.
The book counts as a sci-fi romance because it takes place on a whole other planet, but this story wastes that setting. Starfall Ranch and its surrounding communities have enough in common with Earth that only the names of different fruits and plants distinguish it. More than that, the focus was solely on the relationship and romance between Shy and Thisbe.
The story could have taken place anywhere and it wouldn’t have affected their relationship. The use of an off-planet setting merely worked as a tool for Thisbe to put distance between her and her parents. She could have done that by moving to the other side of the world, not to another planet.
Characters of Starfall Ranch
But the character development did leave something to be desired. After a certain point, it became hard to distinguish the main characters’ voices from one another. In real life, there’s a certain crossover that occurs when people develop close relationships, but the way Thisbe and Eleanor both spoke began to blur the line between who was who. It especially didn’t fit with Thisbe’s background.
Thisbe’s characterization felt all over the map. Although raised in a wealthy society, she spoke like someone from a middle-class background. There are a few details that tell the reader she rebelled against her parents’ manipulative upbringing, but it doesn’t totally explain her tone and word choice when she speaks. Not to say that rich people can’t cuss, but the way Dawes described her didn’t jive with the way she acted and spoke. There was a lot of dissonance with her character.
Shy’s character remains a mystery throughout most of the novel. It’s clear she has some demons of her own to contend with, but the audience doesn’t even get a glimpse of them until nearly the end of the book. Close to the end, Shy tells Thisbe her background story, implying her survival of sexual assault. The narrative doesn’t go into detail, but it doesn’t have to. That’s not the point of her sharing her story. It’s meant to build trust with Thisbe.
It does feel like Shy’s story should come up sooner. An earlier introduction of her issues in the narrative would have made the impact of Thisbe’s perceived betrayal much more impactful. Regardless, the reader is still invested in their reunion after the fallout.
Dawes’ novel includes a nonbinary or gender-nonconforming character that never gets explained, and that is a refreshing change of pace. It’s made clear they’re gender-nonconforming because Wallis strictly goes by they/them pronouns. The characters around them accept it without question and no one ever feels compelled to give a vocabulary lesson. It’s clear this is meant for a knowledgeable audience and never meant to make those who are not in the know comfortable.
Content Warning: Biphobia
There is a scene that stands out as problematic, based on Thisbe’s word choice. She is at dinner with the slimy, straight male character in the story, purely out of espionage and survival. But of course, Shy happens upon them just at the wrong time and thinks the worst. Shy thinks the two are romantically involved, and Thisbe’s reaction is not great. She states, “I’m going to pretend like you didn’t just insinuate I’m secretly straight…”
What makes that dialogue problematic is that it erases the spectrum of queerness. To imply that the only right way for a woman to be queer is to be a lesbian who is only interested in women. It erases bisexuality and other queer identities. It’s an angry statement made in the heat of the moment, but it implies that interest in a man makes queer women less queer. There’s no room for nuance.
Rating for Starfall Ranch
Overall, it’s a fun romance story and it keeps the reader interested enough to have an investment in the characters’ happily ever after.
During my travel year in 2019, my trip to Greece started and ended in Athens, the capital. The juxtaposition of ancient ruins within a cosmopolitan city makes the longstanding history stand out. Even in the middle of the city, you still find archaeological sites.
Walking Tour of Athens
Our tour guide walked us around the city pointing out the ruins and history. We took a stroll through the Athens National Garden. This gorgeous oasis amid the sandy tones of old stones creates a lush scene that’s perfect for an afternoon walk.
We made a picture stop at the Arch of Hadrian, or Hadrian’s Gate. The gate resembles a Roman triumphal arch and marks the point of an ancient road that once spanned from the center of Athens all the way to the Temple of Zeus in Olympia.
The Parthenon, Acropolis and Museum
By far, the Acropolis and Parthenon are the most iconic landmarks tourists go to Athens to visit. For clarification, the Acropolis is the hill on which the Parthenon sits. There is also an ancient amphitheater that they still use for concerts! Walking among those columns thousands of years old feels like stepping straight into the past. But just know the Parthenon has not remained so without modern-day maintenance, so the surrounding cranes and construction assure you you’re still in the present.
The Acropolis Museum is like a city all its own. There is so much to explore within the displays, it’s impossible to see it all in one day. You could easily spend three days going through the exhibits and still not have enough time to take it all in.
Monastiraki and the Presidential Mansion
Walking around the main square, Monastiraki, you find plenty of souvenirs and trinkets to take home. Stop at any restaurant for a snack of spanakopita (spinach pie). On our walking tour, our guide led us to the Presidential Mansion where we watched the changing of the guard.
I think perhaps my favorite moment in the city was when we saw a kid pick up a pigeon in the middle of the square. Perhaps not the safest or most sanitary thing, but man does it always make for a good laugh when my best friend Caitlin and I reminisce about it.
Exploring beyond the city bounds, my friends and I took a walk through a local park and found ourselves at the corner of the Ancient Agora. Here, we found the Church of Agioi where we enjoyed the sounds of a street performer playing guitar.
Taking paths around town into the neighborhoods of Athens, I noticed the graffiti took inspiration from Greek mythology and culture. The one in the picture below was by far my favorite.
One of the greatest parts of our trip to Greece was the travel friends we made on it. We haven’t kept up too well with one another recently, but that doesn’t diminish the fun we had then and the connection we made, even if only temporarily. We stopped at one of Athens’ rooftop bars, A for Athens. I can’t say I cared much for the cocktails there, but they certainly had some creative ingredients, including edible sunscreen and quail eggs.
Stay tuned for more adventures in Greece coming soon.
I received an ARC of How Sex Changed the Internet and the Internet Changed Sex: An Unexpected History by Samantha Cole from the publisher a few months ago. It’s hard to resist a title like that. It came out already in November 2022, so if this book review piques your interest, I recommend picking up a copy.
Summary of How Sex Changed the Internet
Cole thoroughly delineates the history of computers and how they’ve been used to move conversations about sex and dating forward. She brings it full circle at the end, connecting where we are today with how it began. She poses questions about where we may go in the future and the possibilities of shaping our culture’s relationship with sex with the technology of the Internet.
She opens with the scenario of ARPANET, the Internet’s predecessor, and how UCLA students created the first long-distance connection. Through each chapter, she takes you on a journey that follows message boards and chat rooms to online dating, porn sites and sex work online.
Pull quotes and sidebars add depth with definitions of technical jargon and Internet speak. Insets of related stories breathe life into the more academic narrative, weaving it back and forth between humorous, heartfelt and educational.
Feminism, Race and LGBTQ+ Issues
Cole takes a firm stance in how she presents the symbiotic history of sex and the Internet. She doesn’t simply present the facts in what many nonfiction writers would consider an objective way. Her analysis makes clear that marginalized groups are the most affected by the government’s overreach on the Internet.
She touches on how vulnerable groups use the Internet to find a community where they cannot in the real world. However, she only scratches the surface on this topic, so it could have gone more in-depth with that analysis.
Likewise, she discusses how the Internet and computer technology opened up the world for talking about sex and sexuality. But statements like, “One of the most basic drives humans have is sex,” miss the nuance of queerness. It excludes asexuality/aromanticism.
Despite these shortcomings in the text, it still does a fairly good job of connecting these issues with the rise and evolution of the Internet.
Rating for How Sex Changed the Internet
Overall, Cole adds a sense of humor to what could have been a dry, academic read. I found the comprehensive inclusion of the technical side only made the subject more fascinating.
Bilingual bisexual bi-cultural. Ones and zeroes. DNA. Make a single switch or delete a digit and I become another.
01100010 A Spanglish dictionary embedded en mi cerebro, flipping pages back and forth and sometimes pegándose.
01101001 Dark brown curls cascading from the top of my head and sticking out in static on a cold day, frizzy in humidity.
01101110 Red that ran up my neck and into my cheeks when I heard her sweet melody reverberating in my ears to echo forever after.
01100001 Hitch in my throat and dull ache in my chest when he said We’re just friends, nodding my head in agreement with a smile.
01110100 Rojo, blanco, y azul. Smaller stripes and a single star pero just as orgulloso as USA! USA! USA!
01100101 Yellow, blue, and red, Cotopaxi and Tungurahua at its center guarded by a fierce condor with menacing wingspan.
Can’t change the code, can’t mess with DNA. A one to a zero, a zero to a one and I am no longer a poet a singer
a friend a daughter a writer a student an angry sad happy anxious furious human being. Change the code, change me.
Don’t try to change me.
This one feels obvious to me. Reading it again, it’s not refined, but that’s okay.
Comparing computer binary code to human DNA creates a parallel between man and machine. I actually further explore the concept of how certain humans are treated as machines in a newer poem published in Latino Book Review.
I also wanted to showcase how many binaries create one identity. It feels like the existence of so many overlapping binaries ends up voiding them altogether.
We live in a society so obsessed with categorizing everything into hierarchical binaries that don’t exist in any pure form. There’s always fluctuation and bleeding that happens between boundaries.
Each stanza represents a binary strand that makes up my identity. From my Latinidad – split between Puerto Rican, Ecuadorian and American – to the languages I speak and my sexuality.
I’ve always been fascinated by binaries and their hierarchies. I remember learning about deconstruction theory in English for literary criticism. The way certain aspects of culture hold a higher place and greater value always felt arbitrary. That’s because they are.
What happens to our identities when those binaries and hierarchies get broken down? Who do we become beyond the dichotomies? I like to contemplate these questions when I write my poems.
I browsed through my Goodreads TBR list a couple of months ago to see what I wanted to buy with my Barnes & Noble birthday coupon. I ended up deleting several books from my list.
I’m not the same person I was when I added them to my TBR years ago. It doesn’t mean they’d necessarily be bad books. But my tastes have changed since then. My values have evolved. I’ve become more educated and therefore more discerning about the authors and books I pick.
A few years ago, parting with books from my TBR list would have induced major anxiety. Even with something so trivial as a digital list no one but me sees, I would have felt some sort of guilt. But what if that was an amazing book? What if I passed on my next new obsession? Does this make me a quitter to get rid of books to read?
It’s fine. Going back and looking at the books I once added that had piqued my curiosity showed me how much I’ve changed over the years. And being able to part ways with that virtual list also showed me how much I’ve grown. It sounds silly, but anxiety has a way of making mountains out of molehills.
There are so many stories to read out there, it would be impossible anyway to ever get through my TBR within my lifetime. So realistically, would I have ever gotten around to all those books I removed? Maybe I would have eventually picked a few of them up. But by now, if I were to read them, I would have done so already.
Going through those descriptions and realizing they no longer sparked an interest, I knew it was time to let them go. It’s best to make room for books and stories that speak to who I am now.
A few years ago I started sharing a short sci-fi story I wrote for a writing challenge called “Better Than Fiction” that I just really enjoyed. I posted the first four parts back in 2020 and never got around to posting the conclusion, but it’s finally here!
The next three hours that ensued were a flurry of questions from the kids that neither Sean nor I could answer. We’d never known of another species living beneath the surface near the planet’s core. It was entirely new to all of us.
When we arrived at the site’s edge, Sean turned off the engine and the truck’s lights. They weren’t necessary, as Iggy the janopy puddle we’d mistaken for oil was burning bright blue and pulsating like its counterpart in the jar had done.
Hedra and Hal came running up behind us, barely out of breath. Hedra ran forward first to put her hands in the pool of inky black liquid. “Iggy, you had me so worried. Why did you stray?”
Squinting at the scene, it looked to me like the substance was wriggling with excitement, the way a puppy would wag its tail upon seeing its owner walk through the front door.
Sean brought the jar out and handed it to Hal, who shook his hand. “Good man, sir. I’m sorry, never caught your names.”
“I’m Phil and this is my partner, Sean. Our children, Emily and Dylan.” We each waved a hand at the lizard people.
“Thank you all, so much,” cried Hedra. “I know it seems silly, but Iggy here, he’s like part of our family.”
Emily giggled. “How did he get stuck here, anyway?”
“Oh, well, we were upside for one of our annual camping trips,” Hal began to explain.
“And then we heard someone coming to our site, so we had to run and hide. We didn’t want to cause any trouble.”
“But Iggy, it seems he got scared and ran in the opposite direction. We lost track of him and had to go underground until the humans were gone.”
“Can I pet him?” asked Emily.
Sean and I reached for our daughter. “Em, I don’t think—”
Hal waved a hand. “It’s quite alright. It’s safe. Not dangerous at all. Much like dipping your hand in a pool, actually.”
I nodded consent, and both children moved forward to reach a hand for the janopy. As their hands got close, it reached up and slopped some liquid onto their hands.
“Is it, licking them?” Sean laughed.
“Yes, Iggy is quite friendly. Loves children, actually.” Hedra beamed.
Hal turned to us. “Gentlemen, how can I ever express my gratitude?”
Sean shrugged. “It’s fine. We’re glad you found your pet.” He looked sad.
I nudged him. “Hey, we did a good thing. So what if there’s no oil?”
“What exactly is oil?” Hal asked. “Why do humans dig for it so much?”
“Well, it’s considered black gold.” I rubbed the back of my neck. “It’s worth a lot of money. It’s a resource.”
Sean nodded. “We were hoping to strike it rich. We’ve been having some financial issues, what with all we invested in the site and the machine.”
“Gold is it?” Hedra came up behind her husband, leaving Dylan and Emily to play with Iggy. “You mean this?” She pulled rough nuggets out of an unseen pouch on her person.
My eyes bulged wide. “How did you—?”
“Oh, good man,” laughed Hal. “We have heaps of it in a depository nearby. Frankly, it’s not worth anything to us.”
“But I do like how it sparkles.” Hedra held the piece out to me. “Here, you can have this one. If you’d like more, we can get it for you.”
“Oh no.” Sean put a hand up. “That’s generous, but—”
“Nonsense.” Hal’s hissing laugh sounded like a breeze blowing through tree leaves. “We have plenty and we’re not wanting. Besides, you helped us find our pet. This is how we can repay you.”
Hal nodded to his wife and took off before anyone could protest further.
“He’ll be right along, gentlemen.” Hedra went back to playing with the kids and the janopy.
“Sean, pinch me.”
He obeyed. “What was that for?”
“To see if I’m dreaming. Lizard people. A sentient liquid being. Gold.”
“It’s all fiction until it’s real.” He grabbed my hand and brought it up to his lips for a kiss. “This is real.”
Hal returned in record time, bearing a bulging burlap sack on his shoulder. “Here you are, gents. Payment for helping us find our pet.”
I couldn’t help but take a peek inside. What I saw astounded me. Glittering in its raw form, were hundreds, possibly thousands, of gold nuggets. “Thank you so much. Really, you have no idea what this means.” I felt tears sting the back of my eyes.
“Thank you for your assistance.” Hedra beckoned to the janopy. “Come, Iggy. It’s time we get home.”
I heard Emily sniffle and turned to see her crying. “Sweet pea, what’s wrong?”
“We’re never gonna see them again, are we?” She buried her face into Sean’s stomach.
Hedra put a gentle hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Would you like to visit us next year, on our next camping trip?”
Emily and Dylan looked at me and Sean. “Can we?” they asked in unison.
I laughed. “Of course, if it’s alright with Hal and Hedra.”
Hal gave his signature chuckle. “It’s settled. The annual camping trip is now extended to our new friends. Glad to have you along.” He reached a hand out to me, and this time I did not hesitate to shake it.
“See you next year, then.”
“We’ll meet right here.” Hedra and Hal waved goodbye as they took off running with Iggy, the liquid sliding along as fast as its owners ran.
Dylan looked in the bag the lizard folks had left behind for them. “Dad. Papa. Are we rich now?”
Sean gave Dylan a playful shove. “What do you mean, now? We’ve always been rich.”
They loaded the bag of gold into the truck bed and headed home as the dawn’s rays began to spread across the periwinkle sky. Dylan and Emily fell asleep beside me as Sean navigated the road home.
“Can you believe our luck?” he whispered. He held one hand on the steering wheel and the other held mine. “We have the money we need to make a new life and provide.”
“We have new friends, too,” I laughed.
“And you thought it was all dangerous.” Sean gave me a smirk. “Told you not to worry.”
I rolled my eyes. “Just drive.”
Upon reaching the house, Sean and I each carried one child into the house and dropped them in their beds. They never stirred, staying fast asleep. Sean and I sat on the couch in the living room and turned on the TV.
“Wanna watch John Carpenter’s The Thing?” he teased.
I snorted. “Sean, we’ve lived it.”
“Yeah, you’re right. It’s not the same now that we know it’s real.”
“God, I hope The Thing’s not real.”
“I don’t know, Phil. Anything’s possible.”
“Yep. You never know when you’ll strike gold.” I leaned my head against his shoulder and felt my eyes droop close. This was real.
A version of this book review for Perspective by Monica McCallan first appeared in The Lesbrary.
Summary and Plot of Perspective
Campbell St. Claire is a best-selling author whose novel is being produced for a film led by Sloane Murphy, a former friend from college. But the two haven’t spoken since an incident one night that left Campbell brokenhearted. Reunited, Campbell learns what happened that night with Sloane and the two reconcile. But misunderstandings ensue and the two are once more at odds. It’s an uphill battle to get to their happily ever after.
For readers seeking a fun yet angst-filled romance novel, this is one to pick up. The character dynamic between Sloane and Campbell sizzles and burns as they orbit around one another, constantly coming together and pulling away. Miscommunications and mishaps cause their tug-of-war love affair as they decide what they mean to each other.
Both women suffer from insecurities that lead to their miscommunications. Campbell’s writing slump gives her a bout of imposter syndrome as she wonders if she’ll have another hit novel after her current gig. That imposter syndrome extends to how she sees herself and her worth. She considers Sloane totally out of her league and thinks the glamorous actress made her feelings clear long ago in college.
Sloane has a natural distrust of everyone as she created a career in the film industry. But her rough upbringing kept vague, also influences how she views others. She believes the worst in people without knowing the full story. She guards her heart but it’s a lonely life living in constant distrust.
The one characterization that felt lacking was Sloane’s past with her mother. Details were dropped here and there indicating that the relationship was strained and that her childhood was traumatic. But it was all kept vague, making it hard to understand Sloane’s distrust in others. However, it can be argued that the point of leaving out Sloane’s difficult past and childhood was purposeful so as not to be voyeuristic.
One of the defining moments between Sloane and Campbell is when Campbell reaches out to Sloane after the actress’s mother gives the tabloids a tell-all. But Campbell never reads the story because she knows that’s not what Sloane wants. Campbell is so considerate and respectful of Sloane’s boundaries that it’s what makes the actress drop her guard and give in to the love she has for the author.
Supporting Characters of Perspective
There are a few supporting characters that round out the story and create a connection between the protagonists when they are circling each other. Riley the screenwriter befriends Campbell on set as the author stays on as a consultant for the movie adaptation of her book. She also took a liking to Sloane who had no choice but to keep her on as a friend. Riley is the kind of personality that doesn’t give others many choices in accepting her friendship.
Campbell’s younger sister Val plays a fleeting role. She acts more like a tool for the development of Campbell’s communication skills. She isn’t really given a chance to be her own character. Still, the love between the sisters is clear and sweet. In a story that’s mostly about Sloane and Campbell, it’s hard to add more of Val without digressing.
Slow Burn Romance
The romance between Sloane and Campbell is built with care and compassion. While Campbell has been out and proud since college, Sloane did not come to peace with her sexuality until Campbell returned to her life. It’s a sweet relationship where Sloane wants to explore her feelings and Campbell helps her, but never pushes her. Their flirting is teasing but never mean. It’s clear that although they have a great deal of sexual tension and physical fun, their relationship has always been based on friendship.
It’s a romance novel, so there are hot and steamy scenes throughout. But unlike many other romances, sex doesn’t happen on every other page. As Campbell guides Sloane through her journey of coming out as a lesbian, there are more moments of tension than sex on the page. McCallan is adept at describing the sensuality of intimacy, especially in a budding romance between two women who take great care of their hearts.
When they do have sex, McCallan pulls all the stops. From start to finish, Sloane and Campbell’s intimate moments leave the readers and characters alike breathless. As they engage in their first time together, and Sloane’s first time with a woman, Campbell is incredibly careful about consent and boundaries. Campbell always checked in, but it never ruined the moment. The details in the scene depicted a positive experience for both women as they finally brought their burgeoning romance to its inevitable next level.
I visited Key West, Florida with my cousin Amanda in April 2019. Every time she comes into town, I become a tourist in my home state. I feel like that happens for everyone because the same holds true whenever I visit her in New Jersey.
Most people I talk to don’t like the beaches in the Keys because of all the rocks, but I think that’s a pretty cool difference from the usual sand beaches I’m accustomed to. The rocks are a little rough on the feet, but that doesn’t make them any less beautiful. Smathers Beach was my personal favorite. It felt like a scene out of a postcard.
Many tourists go to Key West for partying and drinking. While those kinds of activities do abound in this destination, there’s also a fascinating history and past to dig into here.
Hemingway and Tennessee Williams Houses
As my cousin and I are both writers, we had to stop at the historical houses of two renowned authors. I can’t say I particularly care for Ernest Hemingway’s work, but I still appreciated learning his backstory and visiting his home. And of course, the polydactyl cats always charm.
Prior to visiting the Tennessee Williams Museum, the only thing I knew about the author was his play A Streetcar Named Desire and the infamous “Stella!” scene. But the exhibits and artifacts on display certainly catered to my inner nerd.
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
I love visiting state and national parks! There’s always so much to see and learn in these historic sites. Fort Zachary Taylor’s grounds come with one of those rock beaches I talked about earlier. While not easy to walk on, I still thought the ambiance beautiful and perfect on a sunny day in Florida. Stop here and you’ll visit the southernmost state park in the continental U.S.
Oldest House in Key West
Sitting at 322 Duval Street you find the oldest house in Key West, Florida. So many artifacts, documents, exhibits and photos tell the story of those who once called it home. Museums like this hold a certain reverence for me because I wonder if one day the house I grew up in will become a relic for future generations to marvel over how we once lived.
Key West Lighthouse
The lighthouse and keeper’s quarters offered an intriguing look into the formation of the Keys as a thriving home. We even learned about its establishment in 1848 with a woman lighthouse keeper, a first for the times. I highly recommend making the climb up the steep, narrow and winding stairs, as the views are rewarding.
Tours and Other Sites Along the Way
Before we arrived in Key West, my cousin and I enjoyed a leisurely road trip driving south from Hollywood. We made a stop in Islamorada to feed the tarpon. You might have to battle the pelicans to walk out to the pier for the feeding. And mind your fingers when dropping bait for the tarpon, as they truly are beastly fish. I did it once and I’m glad I did, but I don’t think I would do it again.
On your way in or out of the Keys, stop at the No Name Pub in Big Pine Key. At this point, it’s no longer a secret location, as many tourists have made their pilgrimage down the hidden road. But it’s still a fun adventure to say you found the nameless dive bar and enjoyed a pint and surprisingly decent food.
We booked a local trolley ghost tour that took us around the city as the guide narrated its spooky history. My cousin and I had been looking forward to meeting Robert the Doll at the East Martello Fort for a long time. But the tour offered plenty of fascinating tales and local folklore to satiate the most curious minds.
In 2021 I burned out on blogging and posted a lot less. Then, in 2022 I picked back up a bi-weekly schedule and posting twice a month. I’m determined to keep up that pace this year.
I plan to continue with book reviews and my current series “Behind the Poems,” but I also wanted to add back my travel posts and poetry. I also intend to post more pieces about the writing process as I try to hold myself accountable for starting my next revision draft of my novel.
But what about you? What content would you like to see more of? I want to try to diversify my writing more and add new content types to my repertoire. Lists are always an option, but I’d like to try flexing my muscles beyond that.
I used to write TV and movie reviews as well, but lately, I haven’t watched enough of those to write anything substantial. I have, however, binged through several podcasts and audio dramas. Perhaps that’s a new avenue for reviews and a way to help boost stories that I love.
I may also try to write more content about reading and my bookish life as a way to feature my bookstagram. I’m definitely open to collaborating if anyone wants to do a co-written blog or series.
I’m not a hundred percent sure what the new year will bring, but I do know I want it to include more writing. Maybe 2023 is the year I will finally get my novel manuscript in order and submit it for queries.
If you’re a fellow writer or blogger, what are your goals for the year? Let me know in the comments. And thanks for reading and coming along with me for the ride.
“I’m not one of these people, buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut, there are some gay people that won’t like you comparing being bi to the same as being gay.”
Good observation. However, I specifically said non-heterosexual in my poem, or did that bewilder you? Besides, I thought it was LBGT? What do you ponder that B stands for?
Perhaps because I broached the subject about gays bringing up babies and how they believed those babies would be gay too, you thought I meant biology. The age-old banter of nature versus nurture surely must have compelled you to believe that’s what it stood for.
Maybe bringing up religious symbols in my autobiographical poetry bled too much on the paper and you believed it to be biblical. A natural blunder as bigots are bound to condemn us as blasphemous and you’re inclined to be quick to bury that bile. But, no, in this particular breakdown, the B does not stand for an adamant bibliophile.
Aaaaaaaah, no espera. Permiso. Because it’s a Spanish family you probably bargained it symbolized bilingual. Bueno, that’s a benign enough slipup to make, since I did point to a banal image in the culture’s belief system. Alas, this bilabial blathering is not the B we seek this week.
Now, it may appear I’m being belligerent or brazen or even bombastic, but put this budding notion in your brain: The B stands for bisexual. We’re here, I promise.
The first time I really claimed the label of bisexual, I’d written a poem I shared in a poetry workshop class at UCF (not this poem, a different one). But the reaction I experienced when I shared it took me aback. The opening quote in this piece is what a classmate said after I shared my poem. I hadn’t expected such disdain.
I’d only begun to explore this aspect of my identity, so I was still new to the nuances of LGBTQ+ communities. I assumed an umbrella category meant the community would welcome me, but this interaction gave me my first taste of biphobia.
It wasn’t so much what he said, but rather the way he said it. His tone told me that I had to prove myself. It said I didn’t really belong in that community because my experiences weren’t the same. It left me feeling small and angry, so of course, I wrote another poem. This one I didn’t share in class.
Looking back at this piece, it’s not the most eloquent poem I’ve ever written. And it certainly shows that I still had a lot to learn about the nuances of queer communities. Because much like I’d come to learn about being Latina, there is no monolith queer community. But it still showcases my passion for justice and dignified treatment. I’m allowed to be angry about being treated unfairly or like I’m not enough. It’s okay to be angry.
A version of this book review for The Names We Take by Trace Kerr first appeared in The Lesbrary.
This young adult dystopian novel takes place in Spokane, Washington after an epidemic called the One Mile Cough wipes out a huge chunk of the population. Pip, the protagonist, is an intersex trans girl just trying to survive. But a group of bounty hunters has a different idea. They seek women and children to gather for a supposed safe haven called Thistle Hill Orchard. When Pip takes charge of a girl named Iris, she must keep the child safe and do what’s best for their newfound family.
Plot of The Names We Take
The novel moves at a good pace as the action keeps its momentum going forward while the moments of peace allow the characters and reader to breathe. Kerr is adept at unraveling details about the characters throughout the narrative without falling into info dumps. While the character development shines, the plot development fell a bit by the wayside.
The story proposes that a plague called the One Mile Cough hit Spokane’s population, but it doesn’t get much page time other than to say that it caused this post-apocalypse world. The story never details the disease’s origins or spread, and the reader doesn’t know for sure how far it hit. You assume the whole United States at least as the citizens of Spokane have been left to fend for themselves. But the narration never confirms that guess.
Another delightful aspect of the novel is its inclusion of periods. Post-apocalypse stories often stay away from the subject of menstruation, but more stories should tackle it, as people who menstruate continue to exist even after the world as we know it ends. Kerr doesn’t shy away from the topic and details how Pip gathers pads and teaches Iris what to do when the young girl gets her first period.
As Pip goes through the new world after civilization has crumbled, she faces a great deal of the same prejudice and bigotry as she did before the world ended. People misgender her constantly and she experiences violence at the hands of men. It’s a brutal pill to swallow as she continues to assert her existence as her true self, fighting narrow-minded bigots and righteous zealots who feel they know best for her.
But Pip finds reprieve in her relationships. Whistler, a survivor of One Mile Cough with PTSD is her protector. Iris becomes the little sister she must guide and protect. Fly is the beautiful girl she falls for in the middle of the chaos around her. The protagonist and supporting cast dynamics make this book such a fascinating read. It’s the story of the family forged when people take a stand and fight for who they are.
The most interesting development in Pip’s character is her demeanor toward Iris. It’s clear that Pip doesn’t lack compassion, but she does lack patience. Running around with a twelve-year-old girl prone to pouting and eye-rolling, even in the apocalypse, teaches her a great deal of patience and love.
Gender and Identity
The language around Pip’s gender and sexual orientation is careful and precise. It’s explained that she was born intersex and that her parents chose male for her at birth, but when she hits puberty and gets her first period, that’s when she finds out she was born intersex. As she grows she becomes sure she wants to be a girl and takes steps to make her body appear as her true identity.
Throughout the novel the audience sees her struggling when she’s called a boy or questioned about her gender. She clearly still holds insecurity and body dysmorphia over her masculine appearance in many ways. But Iris accepts Pip as a girl, even if the others in Thistle Hill don’t. Pip also reveals she is bisexual when she starts developing a crush on Fly. Her feelings fill her with fear, but Fly assures her it’s okay, as does another friend at the sanctuary.
Rating for The Names We Take
Overall, The Names We Take is a satisfying read with rich character dynamics that keep you hooked. The plot needed a little more world-building to understand their environment, but it had enough intrigue to keep me reading.
This poem first appeared in Lady Lit Magazine, an online journal that is now deactivated.
I remember how excited and nervous I was when I first wrote this poem and submitted it for publication. It was my first attempt at what I like to call a “spicy” poem. Something about it felt forbidden, which made it all the more enticing.
Coming from a bilingual background, I wanted to make a double entendre. Tocar translates to “to touch” in Spanish, but it’s also a verb used to refer to playing an instrument. So, to say, “To play the guitar,” you’d say, “Tocar la guitarra.”
I haven’t played guitar in a few years, but I used to practice periodically throughout college. I noticed one day the perfect way the curve of the instrument fit my lap. Leaning against its smooth wood, one hand moved up and down strumming the strings and the other glided up and down the neck from fret to fret. It’s a feeling of connection like the instrument became an extension of me.
This experience spoke to me about how sensuous the act of playing an instrument can actually be, which then inspired the idea to create a parallel scene. My poem depicts a lover holding a woman in his lap and touching her to “make her sing” the way a guitarist plays the instrument to make music.
I shaped the words on the page to emulate the curve of a guitar, which could also be seen as the curve of a woman lying on her side. I remember feeling particularly clever when I laid out the poem this way. Perhaps it’s not so genius, but at the time, writing about such a forbidden subject and creating a visual with the words on the page felt empowering to me.
A version of this book review for Remember November by Cameron Darrow first appeared in The Lesbrary.
Remember, November follows Millie, Elise, Victoria and their coven of witches as they learn their powers in the aftermath of World War I. The coven is under the employment of The Allied Directorate for Alternative Means (ADAM), a government-sanctioned operation that wants to use magic to fight wars.
On Christmas night, Victoria goes missing. The split point-of-view narration reveals she has lost her memory and doesn’t know she’s a witch. After a series of strange mishaps that seem impossible, she submits herself to the mercy of a psychiatric hospital, hoping to find answers. But the kind doctor and hospital are not all they appear. It’s up to Millie and Elise to rescue their lost friend.
Plot of Remember November
The mysterious plot, historical fiction and romance between Millie and Elise make this novel delightful. It’s easy to keep turning the pages as the action never gets bogged down in too much detail.
While the writing is strong and compelling, it’s not particularly tight. There are moments when the story becomes hard to follow due to typos and convoluted grammar. The book needed more effective editing before going to publication. But the narrative is still strong enough to keep readers wanting more.
As the story unravels and readers go along for the ride, clues and details lead them to certain conclusions. That’s why the plot twist with how Victoria lost her memory packs a powerful punch. It’s a possibility that doesn’t pop up at the top of the list of answers to the question, “What happened?”
The correlation between science and magic lacked exploration. Darrow touches upon the relationship between two seemingly opposing concepts with Elise and Victoria, but the idea never blooms further than a few buds. The story could have been made richer with a deeper dive into how science and magic go hand in hand.
The moments of character development give the reader an opportunity to breathe and get inside the characters’ heads. Each character has a strong, distinct voice that makes readers want to get to know each one on their own.
But that doesn’t mean their relationships with one another fall by the wayside. The bond created between the three new witches as well as their mistresses, ancient witches who are mentoring the new generation, comes through clearly as they do anything and everything to protect one another.
Darrow’s writing ability shines during moments of introspection, developing each main character within their thoughts. As Millie and Victoria navigate their world and consider their relationships with other characters, their voices are clear and distinct, making them complete and rounded-out people. It’s an impressive feat with Victoria, as for most of the book she is without her memory.
The novel establishes Elise and Millie’s romantic relationship early on. But for fans of a slow burn, their pining makes up a great deal of this romance. Everything about their feelings always feels genuine and organic. Millie’s characterization is especially sweet as her demeanor softens when she’s around Elise, whereas with others she tends to be sarcastic.
Rating for Remember November
A fun and compelling read all the way through. Although Darrow left certain aspects underdeveloped, it still holds a captivating allure with its fantastical elements and friendships.
“Speak Easy” was first published in Lady Lit Magazine, an online journal that is now deactivated.
We walk into pitch black edges with only silhouettes of people and wine glasses and beer bottles on high top tables. At the forefront of it all: a swirling flame of red and black surrounded by an orange glow. The flamenco dancer.
Her hurried clogging against a weathered wooden stage echoes and shouts like a raging thunder against the howling wind of the impassioned, chanting vocals known as la música de los gitanos.
The guitar strings are plucked faster and faster like an oncoming downpour of rain, frenetic clapping and deep rumblings of a drum quickly following following the flamenco’s swirling frame and frenzied jumping until
Or so it seems.
There’s a soft tapping and snapping now, like whispers through the trees as she appears to float mere inches above the stage, only the tips of her toes transcending the space and tap tap tapping while the lithe fingers above go softly snap snap snapping.
Not a single word is spoken. Not a single breath released.
And then the snapping turns to clapping. She descends from her feat, the tapping becomes a stomping and the eye of the storm has passed as flurry after flurry of the twirling flamenco skirt brings on another riotous gust followed by the howl of the gitano as he cries for lust and lost love. It’s all a cacophonous symphony of tragedy and rage and obsession, on and on it goes, the fire of music and chanting and stomping and clapping until the final throe
and her arms swoop in a finishing arc to come to a stop above her head and at her waist, a punctuation to his last anguished cry.
There is silence. And then there’s whispering in the audience that turns to waves of awe and swells into bursts of excitement.
A standing ovation.
I went to Spain in 2015 with my parents and our trip started in Madrid. During our first few days there, we made friends with a local restaurant owner originally from Colombia. He asked us if we’d like to see a flamenco show, to which, of course, we said yes. We hopped in the taxi that took us to a restaurant that, upon our arrival, was totally empty.
We thought at first there must have been a mistake or perhaps we’d somehow been duped. But then others began to arrive and look around in confusion as well. That’s when one of the waiters came over and asked us if we were all here for the flamenco show. All of us, strangers to each other, nodded in unison. He smiled and led us over to what looked like a plain wall at first, but then slid open a hidden panel.
Behind the panel, sitting in a booth cut into the wall that seemed to go further back than it first appeared, a man greeted us and asked for our names for the tickets. Finding us all on the list, the wall gave way, revealing a doorway that led back into a dark room. My dad and I felt giddy as we said, “Oh wow, a speakeasy.” Thus, this poem was born.
The forbidden atmosphere and captivating performance entranced me. It felt like an unreal scene straight out of a movie. And the way the dancer moved in total sync with the singer’s wailing song created a heart-pounding moment. I had a sensation of being led to my roots, because yes, the reality is my bloodline also comes from the colonizing Spaniards. It’s hard to believe such a beautiful cultural heritage lives side by side with a horrific history of genocide and conquering. But that makes up my own history. The good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful.
A version of this book review for The Athena Protocol first appeared in The Lesbrary.
Jessie Archer is an agent of Athena, a secret women’s organization that does the government’s dirty work of bringing down bad guys without the red tape. But even Athena has its rules, and Jessie is a loose cannon. When the organization fires her, Jessie takes matters into her own hands. She goes on a mission to bring down Gregory Pavlic, a Serbian politician known for human trafficking. Along the way, she falls for Paulina, the forbidden love interest and daughter of the enemy. Jessie must earn her old team’s trust and work with them to save Gregory’s victims from a grisly fate.
Plot of The Athena Protocol
The pacing and action of the story keep it moving, making the book a quick read. The fight scenes are exciting and keep the reader hooked, wondering what comes next and if the hero will escape certain death. Jessie’s computer and tech skills are also a point of appreciation. Her technical prowess makes her a formidable agent of good, as she offers both brain and brawn.
Ultimately, the action and pace are what keep the novel going. The character development and dynamics don’t delve deep enough for readers to create an attachment to the people and their conflicts. There was potential for rich relationships, but the writing only scratched the surface with Jessie and her comrades.
Jessie is a hard protagonist to like and cheer for. She’s immature and impatient, causing her to make the same mistakes over and over again. She messes up and expects immediate forgiveness as soon as she shows remorse, never allowing her loved ones the time and space they need to heal from the hurt she caused.
She also has a righteous complex that is obnoxious. Jessie falls into the “not like other girls” trap, considering women who engage in activities considered narcissistic as beneath her. She also tends to lean toward a colonizer’s savior complex, which is especially poignant when she talks to her friend Hala, a woman she brought into the fold after helping her seek asylum in England when Hala was accused of being a terrorist.
Being unlikeable doesn’t make her a bad character though. It just makes her a frustrating one. However, her inner dialogue reveals the reasons behind her actions and adds a layer of sympathy. Jessie recognizes that while Athena’s vigilante missions do good, they can’t pretend they don’t ever do bad things in the process. It makes up the hero’s internal conflict throughout the novel. Jessie constantly questions how much bad Athena can do for the sake of good before they themselves become the bad guys.
Overall, the characters felt shallow. Especially with Jessie, it felt like a great deal of the emotions and behaviors were unexplained or unearned. Most of what her character did felt out of left field.
The best part of the book is its diverse cast of characters. Athena is made up of women from various backgrounds, from British to Arabic to American and Black. Its founder is an Asian woman who reads like a Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark type, using her billions and tech company to fund the espionage organization.
Queer Identity and Relationship
The most interesting character dynamic was Jessie and Paulina, as their roles created a star-crossed lovers scenario. With Jessie being on the side of good and Paulina being the daughter of the villain, it seemed like readers could tell where that relationship was going. But the twist at the end came as a surprise and made for a satisfying bit of character growth.
The way Jessie’s queer identity is handled seemed odd at the end. Throughout the novel, she’s not exactly shy about the way she feels about Paulina. She’s not running around the streets yelling it at the top of her lungs, but she doesn’t run away from the bond they create either.
So in the end, when her mother, Kit, reveals that she didn’t know Jessie liked women, it was confusing. Jessie never explicitly discusses her sexuality with other characters, so it felt like common knowledge and accepted. Kit’s revelation indicates otherwise though.
Rating for The Athena Protocol
Overall, the premise and characters had a lot of potential, but I don’t think Sarif reached it. It is still a fun and fast read for anyone looking for an action-packed book with kick-butt ladies.
“Drill Sargeant Dad” was originally published in December 2016 in an online journal called Page & Spine that is no longer active.
Drill Sergeant Dad
I. Second Grade
I came home from school each day with homework, but didn’t need to start until after my break. I had an hour to eat, watch TV and do nothing. Then it was back to business.
My dad pulled out the high black chair in the kitchen and had me sit at the green countertop that looked out at our cluttered Florida room. Math didn’t call my attention as much as his tools strewn across the dirty floor outside, with cobwebs covering the corners where a broom hadn’t reached in eons.
A stern gaze on the back of my head reminded me it was time to practice. Low whispers like the turning pages of a book came out of my mouth as I recited the multiplication table to myself. Eight times six is forty-eight. Nine times five is forty-five. Six times seven is forty-two. On and on like an unstoppable machine.
After an hour, my dad pulled out the other chair and sat next to me. He took the paper from my hand and started the drills. Five times seven? Thirty-five. Six times six? Thirty-six. Nine times six?
Nine times six?
A beat. I don’t remember.
You know this. You just looked at it.
I felt the tears well behind my eyes. I’m sorry. I don’t remember that one.
C’mon, don’t be lazy. Think.
I shook my head and a single sob escaped my lips.
There’s nothing to cry about. Just think.
The tears poured out and my vision blurred. He said something I couldn’t hear over my crying, but I felt the paper settle back down on the counter in front of me.
After a while I only hiccupped. I recited the one that had escaped me. Nine times six is fifty-four. Nine times six is fifty-four…
II. Fourth Grade
I started doing real book reports. Same as usual. Came home. Took an hour to myself. Sat down at the same counter looking out at the same cluttered room, this time full of hockey sticks, helmets and elbow and knee pads.
My dad had me read four chapters. Okay, what did you read? The main character just escaped from her grandmother’s ghost that tried to grab her. Do you know why the ghost tried to grab her? No, it didn’t say. Can you guess why?
Silence. I looked down at my hands and fidgeted.
Go skim that part again and tell me why.
But that’s not part of the assignment.
Do it anyway. And no whining.
I muttered under my breath and curled my fingers. I gave a dramatic sigh and opened the book to read again.
III. Sixth Grade
I played on the girls’ soccer team and dreaded my father’s presence at the games. He always yelled to go faster, be more aggressive, and don’t be afraid of the ball. After my first game (we’d lost) I came home and sat at the same counter to take off my cleats. I swallowed hard to keep from crying.
Hey, you don’t have to cry. It’s one game. You’ll do better next time.
No, I won’t. My voice shook. Not with you yelling at me.
I’m sorry. I’m not yelling to be mean. I just want you to push harder.
Well, I can’t. I’m doing my best and it’s not good enough.
I know you’re trying, but you can always do better. I know you can because I’ve seen it. I just want you to know it, too.
I looked down at my lap. He kissed the top of my head and left me sitting in the high black chair. I blinked away a stray tear, took a deep breath, and got up.
I can’t forget that nine times six is fifty-four. I can do basic math in my head quicker than it takes most to pull out their phone calculators. I’m a worthy opponent in a game of Ninety-Nine.
I can’t read anything without questioning everything, trying to decipher what’s between the lines, behind all the writers’ masks.
I don’t play soccer anymore. But I still run when I can. I push against the fading breath. I struggle with the pain in my side and chest. I feel the shock go up my shins with each pounding step against the concrete. Keep going until I can’t.
Everyone waits until someone’s gone to remember what made them important. But I want to remember now. My dad deserves to know while he’s still around that what he did and said mattered.
I didn’t understand then why he yelled, and pushed, and trained me. Like I wasn’t a kid. Like he expected me to be something more. Because I could be something more. That was how he communicated.
I just had to read between the lines and calculate his words.
I’m so proud of you and I love you.
Journey to the Past, Present, Future
It’s only now occurring to me that this is the longest poem I’ve ever written. I’d originally called it “Eulogy to my Still Living Father.” I wanted to write something that commemorated my complicated relationship with my dad. There’s always been a great deal of love between us, but it hasn’t always been easy.
The older I get, the more I understand how my father shows his love. And the more stories I consume from other children of immigrants, the more I realize it wasn’t just me. There’s so much trauma to unpack from one generation to the next. This poem started me on my journey toward learning that.
It’s funny how I’m revisiting this poem now, during a time when I recently went to therapy and talked through my old resentments. I’m reminded that I’ve gone down this road before.
I have to constantly remind myself that my dad is a human too. I have to remember that I’m human. Neither of us is perfect. We’re both flawed. But every day we get better at knowing and understanding each other.
A version of this book review for The Labyrinth’s Archivist first appeared in The Lesbrary and contains spoilers!
The Labyrinth’s Archivist is the first in the Broken Cities series. It follows Azulea, the daughter of the Head Archivist and granddaughter of the former Head Archivist. The Labyrinth contains winding paths and hallways with gates to other worlds. The Residence, which houses the Archive, acts as a safe way station for passing travelers and traders. But when Azulea’s Amma dies unexpectedly, she suspects foul play. It’s up to Azulea and her friends to solve the murder mystery before the killers take more Archivists.
Plot of The Labyrinth’s Archivist
Azulea’s mother is stubborn and rooted in the old ways. But her Amma always believed she could follow in their footsteps. That’s why when her grandmother dies under suspicious circumstances, Azulea charges forward with the task of finding her killer. She does so despite the doubts coming from her community and even her own mother. It’s this persistence to succeed in a world that favors the able-bodied that makes Azulea such a great character to root for.
The queer romance did not dominate the story, but it added another element to the sci-fi murder mystery arc. Azulea and Melehti have a history, and as events unfold, that chemistry returns, hard to ignore. The narration states that their relationship didn’t work out because Azulea felt that accepting Melehti’s help made her dependent. As a blind woman, she didn’t want to lean on anyone’s help for too long.
This aspect of the story brings another layer to Azulea’s characterization. It shows that even she suffers from her society’s mentality of disabilities. In a world that deems the disabled as incapable, Azulea puts herself through many hoops to prove she isn’t, often to her detriment.
Culture and Setting
Al-Mohamed creates a rich and diverse world with her multi-species cast of characters and delightful sci-fi setting. The story never reveals if this world is set on the Earth as we know it. But enough clues make it sound like it’s off planet. The bustling marketplace life with its many beings from different worlds strongly resonates with the world-building of Star Wars.
Though that is the case, it is clear that Middle Eastern culture heavily influences the makeup of this world. The characters refer to the marketplace, where a majority of the story takes place, as the souq. This gives readers enough detail to know Arabic or Middle Eastern society and culture inspired this world’s creation. Details abound about the food people eat, like aish, and the use of spices like cumin and cardamom, common in South Asian and Arabic cuisine, indicate these cultures as the foundation for the Residence’s world.
My favorite aspect of the whole story is Azulea’s character. She is a queer woman of color with a disability; she is blind. In the Archivist tradition, individuals should be self-sufficient and able to complete the tasks the job entails without assistance. Azulea challenges those traditions by enlisting the help of her best friend and cousin, Peny, coded as having a learning disability. Together, they can be Archivists. While Azulea is the mind that processes and analyzes information quickly, Peny is the eyes that can see and draw the maps Azulea describes.
Readers can interpret the Archivist society’s views of people with disabilities as a commentary on how our own real-world society treats the disabled. Azulea proves that, given the proper tools and resources to even the playing field, she is just as capable of getting the job done as an able-bodied person.
But Azulea isn’t the only one proving this. Peny also defies expectations by supplying the main character with the skills she lacks, as well as by learning the trade despite her learning disabilities. Al-Mohamed portrays another character named Handsome Dan as an amputee with a symbiotic tentacle as his “prosthetic” leg. The novella is rife with people with disabilities, and they are all full, complex characters, capable, competent, intelligent, and independent spirits. The fact that they need assistance doesn’t make them any less so.
Rating for The Labyrinth’s Archivist
Overall, the biggest weakness of the novella is just that: it’s a novella. Many places in the story felt like they needed a deeper dive and more room to breathe, which the author could have accomplished with a full-length novel.
Even the Labyrinth in the title barely gets explored throughout the story. It never details where the Labyrinth came from, how a city arose around it, and the role it plays in their world. It spends a lot of time on its Archivists and how they interact with it, but apart from the Residence, not much is known about the Labyrinth itself, which makes the story feel like it’s missing something, considering the novella’s title.
That being said, it is still an excellent read and highly recommended. I know I want to read the rest of the series.
“The Crayola Dance” is the last piece published in The Cypress Dome, UCF’s literary journal.
As you can see from above, I am not an HTML coder and cannot properly display the poem but this is close enough.
I have an obsession with color. My mom even tells the story all the time of how she taught me to read. She had to color in the white letters on the green chalkboard background of the alphabet posters she bought. It was the only way to capture my attention.
Naturally, I leaned toward coloring books which means I had to have the Crayola box. My mom even sprung for the 64-count box with the built-in crayon sharpener. Even more than the colors themselves, I loved the names. I even tried creating a few color combinations myself and giving them new names.
It’s also how I passed the time when my parents dragged us with them to Home Depot. I would stay in the paint aisle, perusing the color cards and marveling at the names, trying to understand how the name of the color could evoke its emotion. What can I say? I was a weird kid.
I experimented with movement on the page with jagged lines to show the difference in movement between the younger and the older. My mother is a dancer, so I wanted to show that with smoother lines that moved gracefully, while the younger, me as a child, are less assured.
My First Published Poems
I haven’t talked about my experience yet with these having these poems published in The Cypress Dome. I submitted them for publication during my last semester, just before I graduated.
In one of my classes, a professor asked if anyone had submitted and had their work accepted for publication. No one raised their hands, myself included, even though I knew I had been accepted. I had a habit of never touting my own accomplishments.
The next thing the professor said gave me pause. “That’s okay. It’s not expected for you to get your work accepted yet. If you do, it usually means you’re not bound to get anything else published ever again.” I don’t remember if those were the exact words, but that was the gist.
My friend sitting next to me, who also knew the journal accepted my work, looked at me out of the corner of her eye, clearly astonished at what our professor had just told us.
I’m happy to say that teacher was wrong, and I have been published a few times since. I continue to submit my work and poetry and hope to one day become a published author of a novel.
The Sanctuary of Themyscira is the first in the Amazons series by Leila Hedyth. This review first appeared in The Lesbrary.
A mysterious group of women rescue Kylla from imprisonment and throw her into an otherworldly adventure on the mythical island of Themyscira, home of the legendary Amazonian women. However, the paradise of a land ruled by women, away from the patriarchal world, is not all it seems. Kylla soon learns the history of the Amazons, as well as their secrets and regrets, and what role she plays in it all.
Plot of The Sanctuary of Themyscira
The novel lacks a setup for the world Kylla lives in before the Amazons rescue her and take her to Themyscira. It’s a vague context of an overly patriarchal world that uses and abuses women, but not enough time is spent developing that world to show why Kylla is whisked away to safety and refuge. Throughout her time on the island, there are a few details sprinkled about her clan, giving the reader the idea she might come from indigenous people, but it’s never made clear.
I had a hard time getting into this book, as the language felt awkward and out of place, not only in the dialogue but in the exposition. I do recognize that this was written in translation, so it could simply be a matter of that. It seems like such a small detail to nitpick, but the constant repetition of certain words, like “grandiose” to describe everything that left Kylla in awe or “piercing” to describe everyone’s eyes, is distracting when trying to follow the story.
The most compelling content in the novel is the second section, which goes into the history of the Amazons. For those familiar with Greek mythology and the mythos of the Amazons, this part of the story holds strong. It relies so much on familiarity with the myths, that without it, the novel as a whole could not stand on its own. However, within the section about the Amazons’ history, there is a standout character named Phoebe. Her story and her character are by far the most developed in the book, which keeps the reader engaged and interested to see how it all ties together.
As the story unfolds, it introduces more and more characters. There are the Amazons Ines, Cynthia, Lorelei, Re’gan, Johanne, the Queen Iris, and so many more. With such a wide cast of characters, the reader never has enough time to get to know anyone in particular. In fact, it’s even hard to remember that Kylla, the main character of the novel, is indeed the main character. She fades too easily into the background of what’s going on around her, never making a lasting impression.
Because of this lack of character and relationship development, the stakes fail to land and leave a meaningful impact. By the time the reader gets to the end of the book, they wonder why they should care. Between the overwhelming number of characters and fast pace of sequence of events, it’s easy to tune out while reading and miss so many details. It felt like the author tried to make one book out of two or three.
The language also felt stilted and unnatural, as if the author/translator tried to create a lofty voice for the Amazons. The problem this creates is one in which not a single Amazon is discernible from another. Even the main character sounds like this, but she comes from “the real world,” so there isn’t a clear reason as to why she speaks this way.
The story doesn’t focus on any specific sapphic pairing, but there are a couple of main ones that take place throughout the novel. But again, there was such a lack of development between the characters that these romances fell short of the potential they had to bloom and depict a healthy, loving example of queer women’s relationships. This underdevelopment is detrimental to the inclusion of people of color among the characters as well. Brief, surface descriptions when a new character is introduced are the only indicators that this world even has black and/or brown women. Their ethnic, cultural, and racial backgrounds are so minimally important that it reads more like the author was working off a checklist of diversity.
Rating for The Sanctuary of Themyscira
Overall, I’d rate the book somewhere between 2.5 and 3 stars. There are moments that kept me reading and intrigued, but on the whole, I felt it needed more development.
This is another poem published in my alma mater’s literary journal, The Cypress Dome. It’s one of my earliest forays into acrostic poems and it set off my love for the format.
Calloused fingertips press against steel and nylon strings. They curl, Hammer-on some notes, and let others sing a softer song. One, two, One, two, three, four…The tempo pulses like a hammering heart. Relax, press, pick, strum. I pluck each note with intent. Start Down the frets, fingers slide, making a tinny squeal.
Swaying my body with the four-four beat I nod my head and Tap my feet. The instrument’s curve and my lap fit one another Readily, like lock and key. Vibrating strings buzz at my fingertips. Up and down, up and down, my hand strokes the six lines, Mesmerized, intoxicated, giving in. I’m letting the music play.
For those unfamiliar, an acrostic poem uses the letters of a word(s) as the first letter of each line to create a piece about the word(s) itself. How the poem relates to the chosen keyword(s) is open to interpretation by the poet.
Here, I wrote about the feeling of playing guitar. It’s been years now since I took lessons and played the instrument. But reading over this poem, I remember clearly the sense of harmony that overcomes me when I’m lost in the music.
I tend to stay away from most structured formats of poetry, as I feel restricted when I start to focus too much on elements like meter count and rhyme scheme. I often feel locked by these mechanisms. But something about an acrostic format feels like just enough restraint and challenge with the freedom to make the poem work as I need it.
In fact, the acrostic format to me feels the way music does. You can stay within the chord structure and hit the necessary notes, but the freedom comes in the texture you choose to convey those notes. While I may play or sing in D major, I decide if it will be a straight note or reverberate.
I chose the title “D Major” because that’s the key of my favorite song at the time, Good Charlotte’s “Let the Music Play.” It was such a favorite of mine that I even have a tattoo of it on my ankle. I think I fell in love with poetry because I already loved music. The two feel like cousins to me.
I pulled back from blogging for the last couple of years to give myself time to recalibrate. My work/life schedule became overwhelming and I couldn’t fit blogging in as much as I used to before.
But I find myself at a steadier pace these days with a better grasp on my time. So, I’m going to attempt to return to a bi-weekly schedule after taking the last year and a half to do a monthly schedule.
I’ll be cheating a little bit and using posts I wrote originally for the Lesbrary, but tweaked for my blog. I figured having my content calendar filled out for the rest of the year will help me get back in the flow of posting twice a month.
I look forward to creating my content calendar for 2023 the closer I get to the end of the year. I’ve missed posting more frequently and I want to get back into book reviews, pieces about writing and records of my travels.
Thank you to those who have stuck around during my slowdown. And I hope you come along for the rest of the ride.
Let me know if there’s any other content you’d like to see more of on my blog!
I had the great honor of having one of my earliest published poems accepted at The Cypress Dome, the literary journal from my alma mater, the University of Central Florida. This poem, workshopped in my poetry class, was published during my last year at the school right before I graduated.
This poem depicts a fond memory from my childhood when I was about eight or nine years old. It was the first time I’d been allowed to be up so late, way past midnight, and witness something spectacular. I still remember how magical it felt and I wanted to capture that emotion in the imagery.
I don’t actually know if the meteor shower I saw were the Leonids, but when I looked up the events of that year for research, this seemed the closest occurrence. It’s not about the accuracy of the facts, because this is coming from a child’s perspective. There’s even a reference to my favorite Disney movie from that time. I’ll let you decipher it.
The Toyota featured in this poem is long gone now. It’s surreal to read this poem with that car mentioned because a few years later, it went up in flames on the side of the highway in Miami Springs. For me, this poem serves as a historical record of things that were and will always be frozen in time.
I also remember from this event I was allowed to stay home from school the next day for being up late. This was a big to-do, as staying home from school usually only happened if we were really sick. It was one of my first lessons in understanding that some things in life are more important and have more value than school and academics.
While many readers often want to diversify what they read, they sometimes have trouble knowing how to find diverse books. Below you will find my collection of book databases to help you on your reading journey. I plan to keep adding to it the more I find. And if you have any websites or apps you like to use to diversy your shelves, please share them!
THE AROACE DATABASE – To help you read more aromantic and asexual perspectives, you can search by keywords, such as genre, category, other sexual orientations and more.
BI/PAN LIBRARY – Discover books by and about bisexual and pansexual people across genres and age groups.
BISEXUAL BOOKS – This Tumblr account keeps a running blog with reviews of bisexual books across genres and age markets. It’s a great resource to find recs.
LGBTQ READS – Run by author and blogger Dahlia Adler, this is a site dedicated to curating books across the LGBTQIAP+ spectrum for all ages.
BLACK, INDIGENOUS, LATINX POC
THE BIPOC BOOKSHELF – Aside from book recommendations, you will also find publishing industry resources for agents, editors and writers.
LAS MUSAS BOOKS – This one holds a special place in my heart as I was an Hermana mentee in Spring 2020. A great resource to find Latinx literature and keep up with the latest.
MELANIN IN YA – This database is specifically dedicated to helping you find Black authors, narrators, editors, cover designers, etc. in the young adult category.
DISABILITY, MENTAL HEALTH & NEURODIVERGENCE
YA DISABILITY DATABASE – This blogger dedicates her website to providing reading recommendations with disability representation in the young adult category.
I’ve been thinking of starting a series called “Behind the Poems” that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago on my Instagram. Growing up with MTV and VH1, I may have been inspired by the Behind the Music series. I plan on discussing inspiration behind my poetry, why I chose their structures and more.
I’ll start with one or two to see how this goes. I’m not sure yet this series will have legs, but I lose nothing in giving it a shot. Let me know if there are any poets out there who would like to participate!
I went to New York again in 2018, nine years after my last time there. Though in 2009, I did a quick day trip to visit a college, so not sure if that actually counts. It’s now been four years since I’ve been, but the city still holds a certain magic over me. And how fitting that I come to revisit my travels to New York after finishing The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin.
The first time I went to New York as a kid in 2000, we’d visited the Twin Towers. This time, my mom and I found ourselves at the memorial that stands in their place. There’s a confounding mix of hope and sorrow that weighs heavy on your shoulders as you read the names of the lives lost from 9/11. More so on a cold, gray day surrounded by skyscrapers of steel and glass. It almost feels like time stands still while you’re there, and yet you’re always aware of how life goes on around it.
New Adventures in New York
For the first time, I caught a Broadway show. My cousin had entered the raffle and we ended up with tickets to Head Over Heels, a jukebox musical of the Go-Gos songs. It was kind of cheesy and over the top, but fun and filled with so much queer celebration.
Venturing into Brooklyn, we found The Little Sweet Cafe, where we indulged in a delicious breakfast. Taking the bus through the neighborhoods, we made our way to the Brooklyn Bridge and began the trek across. It’s a high traffic foot path, but the exhilaration of walking from that borough to Manhattan went by in the blink of an eye. Of course, the brisk weather probably helped. I’m sure in the summer swelter it’s unbearable.
As a Florida girl, I’m always fascinated by taking the subway. Grand Central Station, inside and out, has a way of captivating you.
While we revisited old haunts, we also added new stops to the itinerary. I found a tour of the catacombs of the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral (the one on Mulberry Street, not 5th). We were taken behind the organ and behind the scenes of this historic church. Then it was time to dive under. We were led to an empty, concrete room with a single door leading into the catacombs. As we walked through the musty air and dark tunnels, our guide told us the history of the people buried there.
Making your way through Central Park is quintessential to the New York experience. We took a bike and buggy tour, being pulled along through some of the major highlights. As we passed the Balto statue, I confessed I only knew the cartoon movie story. My cousin could not believe I’d never learned about Balto in my history classes.
While a stroll through Central Park these days is part of the classic city experience, it’s important to remember how the park came to be in the first place. It’s worth a read to learn about the once-thriving African-American community of Seneca Village and how the government used eminent domain to acquire the land for the park’s construction.
No matter how many times I visit, New York always holds something new and magical to discover. I can’t wait to go back sometime!
Have you visited New York? More than once? What’s your impression of the city that never sleeps?
Salem came as an unexpected surprise during my trip to Boston. It’s a city I’ve always wanted to visit and I definitely need to go back in October. But I certainly hadn’t planned for it.
If you know about my trip to Washington, D.C., then you know I have a habit of getting on the wrong train. But to be fair, I asked the attendant at the station which route to take to get to the Boston neighborhood I was looking for (of course, I can’t remember the name now). Instead, she sent me to the line that went out to another city of the same name. I found myself on the train that passed through Salem and decided to make that my stop instead.
From the moment I stepped off the train and began walking the quiet streets, I thought to myself, “I could move here and open up a little bookshop.” I made my way to the Salem Witch Trials memorial. The stones with so many names brought to life a history I only knew in passing, mostly through literature. The silence sits heavy over the former home of some of the residents of the witch trials. Unfortunately, many of the museums weren’t open during the time of year I visited.
I remembered reading The Scarlet Letter in college and loving it. So when I stumbled upon Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables, I made sure to take a tour. The most fascinating thing I learned was that his original surname was Hathorne, as in magistrate John Hathorne, one of the leading judges in the Salem witch trials. To distance himself from his family’s atrocities, Nathaniel added the W to his last name. Learning this history made my understanding of his famous novel all the richer.
Walking further out along the bay, I came upon the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, America’s first national historic site. I tried to make the hike out across the rocks to the lighthouse, but the winter chill was simply too much for me. Still, the sight of the bay and the maritime history monuments in the freezing cold was a beautiful sight.
I completed my visit to Salem with a stop at a local tavern and ordered a serving of New England clam chowder to warm me up. Maybe I was just tired and cold, but it was the best damn chowder I’d ever had. I finished and hopped back on the train as the sun started to set, making my way back to my hotel in Lowell.
Have you been to Salem? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!
In December 2018 I had quit a job I hated and just graduated from my MBA program. For the first time in my life I found myself free with no specific plans in sight. All my life, I either worked or went to school or did both at the same time. I felt like I had room to breathe, so when my dad asked if I wanted to tag along on his work trip to Boston, I said yes.
My dad and I stayed in Lowell, Massachusetts, about a 40-minute drive from Boston. In the mornings we carpooled with Uber, he dropped me off at the train station and went to work. While he did his job training, I took the train into the city. As I wandered the city early in the morning, I found the Boston Public Market and discovered cider donuts and ginger soda. On a bracing cold day, these sweet treats did a lot to warm my soul.
Highlights of My Boston Trip
I did the tourist thing and walked the Freedom Trail. But it really does give you the chance to explore so much of the city’s history. And Boston is rife with history. Along the way I found the Printing Office of Edes & Gill, a dream for a writer like me. An actor gives a demonstration of an old printing press and you have the chance to purchase the document created: the Declaration of Independence.
There are so many stops along the Freedom Trail, it would be hard to name them all. But one of my favorites was the Granary Burying Ground. A lot of people think visiting cemeteries is a bit morbid, but I’ve always been fascinated by them. The headstones so faded only traces of names remain, the quiet reverence as visitors take a moment to consider mortality, the noises of Boston’s streets outside the cemetery gates somehow diluted, all in the midst of the chilly winter.
The Paul Revere House also captivated me. It could have been another museum tour, but the docent who worked there had so much passion for history. I talked to her for almost two hours, listening in rapt attention as she gave me the story of Paul Revere and his life. It always impresses me how much the history books leave out and how they can distill a person to a single point in time, but figures like Paul Revere live such rich and full lives.
I have more to share about my travels to Boston, but I’ll leave the rest for a second part. In the meantime, you can keep reading about my adventures in my Wanderlust tag.
And let me know if you’ve visited Boston. What was your favorite part?
Disclaimer: Some of the links in my review for Mexican Gothic 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 picked this one up sooner than expected thanks to Overdue covering it in their podcast. If you haven’t listened to Andrew and Craig talk books, I highly recommend you begin. Their coverage of Mexican Gothic is fantastic!
Noemí Taboada is a flirtacious socialite in Mexico City who only wants to continue her education and study anthropology. But her father wants her to settle down with an appropriate young man. When they receive an unsettling letter from her cousin Catalina, whom they hadn’t heard from since her marriage, her father strikes a deal with her. If Noemí investigates her cousin’s situation and brings her where she needs to be, he will let her continue her studies. She accepts the challenge, but the situation turns out much more sinister than she imagined.
The Plot of Mexican Gothic
Noemí arrives at High Place, the creepy mansion where her ailing cousin Catalina resides with her family by marriage. The Doyles are a haunting bunch, like living ghosts gliding through the old house. Catalina’s husband, Virgil, insists his wife is suffering from tuberculosis and doesn’t need a psychiatrist. But Noemí is stubborn and won’t leave until she finds out the truth.
However, the darkness she experiences while staying at High Place turns out to have deeper roots than she thought. Catalina’s rantings in her letter were not the ravings of a woman gone mad, but rather a woman held prisoner by a family’s secret.
Throughout the story, Moreno-Garcia builds the fictional horror in such a subtle way you don’t realize it’s happening until it’s too late. But the Doyle patriarch’s obsessive exoticizing of Noemí puts the real horror upfront and center: white supremacy. Moreno-Garcia flips the script so that the Lovecraftian horror takes root the way racism and colonialism do in real life – quietly and behind the scenes.
Noemí works great as a protagonist. Glimpsing into her thought processes throughout the book, you come to find a smart and resourceful heroine. Interestingly enough, this intellect also leaves her vulnerable in the face of the impossible. While she often handles the real evil of the Doyles deftly, the supernatural evil of the house is harder to fight, especially for someone who starts out as a skeptic.
She finds an ally in Francis, the only one of the Doyles who shows a shred of decency. And the first man that has managed to garner Noemí’s genuine affection. His family often derides him, shunning him for his softness. But as sweet and kind as Francis is, he’s also been poisoned by the paranormal evil of the house. It’s a fascinating development that shows how those growing up in a toxic environment will always be a product of it, no matter how compassionate they may be. It takes courage and work to break free from that poison.
Mexican Gothic Rating
5 out of 5 stars hands down. Moreno-Garcia created an unsettling atmosphere by intertwining real-life horrors with the supernatural kind. Every moment reading this novel, I found myself crawling in my skin.
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this list of 2020 sci-fi and fantasy 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.
When the pandemic hit, some 2020 sci-fi and fantasy books may have fallen through the cracks. And if you’re anything like me, you’re probably 84 years behind on your TBR. But it’s okay, because as 2021 comes to an end, now is the perfect time to discover the books you missed when the pandemic started.
Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore
McLemore creates a haunting and beautiful fairytale retelling with their story about Rosella Oliva and Emil. A pair of red shoes attach themselves to Rosella’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. Emil reveals the history of the village’s ancestors who once danced themselves to death in those same shoes, and how his family was blamed for it five centuries before.
Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi
Onyebuchi combines the magic of fantasy with the science fiction of dystopian novels. Brother and sister Ella and Kev have supernatural powers that help them navigate a world built on brutality and racism. When Kev is imprisoned simply for being a black man in America, Ella tries to lead her brother to a revolution that can undo the world as they know it.
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
This was one of my favorite among the 2020 sci-fi and fantasy books published. Thomas takes their place among the queer young adult book canon. In this YA fantasy, Yadriel, a Latinx brujo wants to prove his place to his family that can’t accept his gender. But when he summons the ghost of Julian Diaz, the school’s bad boy, he can’t get rid of him. After spending time with him though, he’s not sure he wants to. You can see my full review here.
Docile by K.M. Szpara
In Szpara’s dystopian sci-fi novel, Dociles are the new slaves. These unfortunate individuals find themselves in dire straits and need to find a way to survive and provide for their children’s future. But the true horror of this science fiction novel is its all too real resonance with today’s life. It’s a promising read to add to the queer sci-fi canon.
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
Roanhorse has earned her place among indigenous authors of renown. With this fantasy novel inspired by Ancestral Puebloan culture, she sets off the Between Earth and Sky trilogy. Featuring a matriarchy, rebel uprising, dark magic and political intrigue, this fantasy series is sure to satiate fans of the genre.
A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen
For sci-fi lovers with a taste for the post-apocalyptic, Chen’s novel fits the wheelhouse. After an epidemic wipes out a large chunk of Earth’s population, the rest are left to rebuild. This splits the world into factions of self-governed cities, gangs in the wastelands and communes for the free-loving. It’s a free-for-all that sci-fi readers will love.
Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
Featuring queer librarians who act as spies in the American Southwest working for a rebellion against fascists and bandits, Gailey’s LGBTQ+ fantasy is sure to hit all the right notes this coming year. Esther fell in love with her best friend before they killed her for possessing propaganda from the resistance. When her father betrothed her to the man once engaged to her best friend, she stowed away in a librarian’s wagon.
It’s been a while since I wrote about my travels, so I thought I’d dive back in with my visit to Chicago in December 2017. After the last couple of years with limited traveling due to the pandemic, I think I’m long overdue to share my old adventures.
As I made my way between the buildings, I saw ropes stretched along walkways. I wondered what they were for until the moment a strong gust blew and I had to grab the nearby ropes to keep from blowing over. Ah, that’s why they call it The Windy City.
I flew out to Chicago to visit my friend Angela, but on my first day, I trekked solo while she worked. Filled with skyscrapers, banks, libraries and stores like any other city, at first glance it seems ordinary. But take a closer look at the details and you see a story within the cracks and crevices. Something about the city’s architecture captivated me and made me feel like I’d stepped into a different place. And I had. I wasn’t in Florida anymore, so the buildings held a different history.
Since I went in December, holiday lights and events abounded. I found myself at the Navy Pier and popped inside to escape the cold and rain. I walked into a delightful Christmas festival made more for kids, but still beautiful and enjoyable. Outside, even in the gray light, the waterfront promenade enthralled me. Passing by the Shakespeare Theater and the Ferris wheel in the distance, the Navy Pier holds a whimsical allure.
When visiting Chicago, make sure to get views of the city from up high. A ride on the Ferris wheel at the Navy Pier takes you on a wonderful ride above the skyline, seeing all the way out to the horizon. If you’re not afraid of heights, the Sears Tower also gives an incredible view of the city. It’s a tourist attraction, but stepping into the Skydeck over the city is a thrilling experience.
On the days Angela and I did hang out, we went to see the Habichuela as I called it. I hadn’t realized until that day that they actually call it the Bean. Cindy’s Rooftop Bar nearby gives an excellent view of the shining structure from above. But be prepared for a bit of a wait, as even before the pandemic it was a wait to enter.
Have you visited Chicago? What was your impression of the city? Let me know in the comments.
Update 10/20/2021: Time is such a construct that I forgot my first trip to Chicago was in 2017, not 2018.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this list of best books for fall 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.
With the leaves changing colors and cooler weather comes the perfect opportunity to get cozy in your reading nook. Whether it’s a sweet romance or chilling mystery, there’s something for all Fall lovers. Grab a cup of tea and fall into these six books perfect for Autumn.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
A mystery thriller set in New England makes for one of the best books for fall. A group of smart and strange students become entranced with a new way of thinking about the world, influenced by their charismatic professor. But things go too far, and soon they delve into a world of corruption, betrayal and evil.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
You can always count on Gaiman to deliver creepy fall books perfect for the Halloween season. Part horror and part young adult paranormal fantasy, this story follows Nobody Owens, a boy who escaped the grisly murder that befell his family. He wanders into a graveyard after the incident, where the land’s deceased residents agree to raise him as one of their own.
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Among the best cozy autumn books is Setterfield’s novel about a recluse author named Vida Winter who penned 12 delightful tales. But the 13th has been missing, until the time just before her death. With the help of biographer Margaret Lea, Winter finally tells the tale she’s kept hidden her whole life.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
If you’re searching for books that feel like autumn, then look no further than the first of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. In 1945 Barcelona, a boy named Daniel awakes one day to find he can no longer remember his mother’s face. His father attempts to console him by initiating him into the secret library tended by rare-book dealers.
Transcription by Kate Atkinson
One of the best books set in Autumn takes place in London post-World War II. During the war, Juliet Armstrong worked as a transcriber, cracking codes between an MI5 agent and a suspected German sympathizer. Years after the war, she’s dragged back into the world of spy work she wanted to leave behind.
The AutumnBride by Anne Gracie
A list of fall books is not complete without a historical romance. Abigail Chantry, a governess, finds the Lady Beatrice Davenham’s estate in shambles. To keep her sisters and friends who work for the estate from falling into poverty, she takes over it herself. But when the Lady’s nephew Max returns and doesn’t find his aunt running the place, misunderstandings ensue and lead to the best kind of romance.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this book review for The Crimson Crown 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.
It’s taken several years, but I finally finished the Seven Realms Series. Perhaps I’m well past the age of the appropriate audience, but this ending felt lackluster after such a strong series. It was still a fair book, but not great in comparison to the first three.
In the final novel of Chima’s high fantasy young adult series, the war that’s been broiling in the realms comes to a head. Raisa, now the queen of the Fells, must contend with all her enemies and bring together people who have been split for centuries. Han Alister, her wizard counselor, and her love interest helps Raisa bring the kingdom together, ensuring everyone has an equal voice. But they can only succeed if they’re honest with each other and bring the truth to light.
Characters of The Crimson Crown
In the past, Han and Raisa’s constant push and pull compelled me. But by the fourth book, it wears out. The will they/won’t they seesaw grew tired and left me unsatisfied in the end. All the relationships felt that way, really. Every dynamic, whether it was Raisa and Amon or the wizards versus clan stretched out too long. It was a relief when it finally came to an end. The prolonged tensions affected the characters’ growth. It felt like three books’ worth of development stagnated and fell short.
While the characters fell short, the story kept moving along at a pace that worked. However, it did feel a bit uneven as well. The political intrigue dragged a bit on both Raisa’s and Han’s sides. The end approached quickly and culminated in a neat little bow.
Throughout the series, I couldn’t help but compare the story to Tamora Pierce’s Trickster duology. Raisa represents the bridge between two peoples who cannot coexist: the colonizers and the colonized. She is the daughter of the queen of the conquering people and the chief of the clan people. It’s hard not to make the connection to the sisters in the Trickster duology.
It also bears acknowledging that both series are written by white women. While mixed characters are certainly worth exploring, a more deft hand is required. Both series create an interesting premise that reflects real-life issues. But they don’t go far enough to understand the nuance of such existence.
Rating Crimson Crown
3 out of 5 stars. I loved the rest of the series enough to finish it. But the book doesn’t stand too well on its own.
I needed a break from blogging. I’ve been doing it because I enjoy it, but I’m feeling burned out with everything I have going on. But I think I’m ready to come back. Only now I’ll have a once a month schedule. My aim is to post the first Saturday each month. So I don’t burn myself out and have time and energy for other projects on the horizon…
Disclosure: Some of the links in this list for books better on audio 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.
As much as bookworms love to take in words with their eyes, sometimes listening to the story is better. It brings back the nostalgia of being read to as a child and keeps up the oral tradition of storytelling. Here are five books better on audio with great narrators.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Hawkins’s best-selling mystery thriller is narrated by Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey and India Fisher. Mysteries make the best audiobooks. They’re written with a creepy atmosphere that evokes images of sitting around a campfire telling tales. Corbett’s, Brealey’s and Fisher’s voice acting give each of the main characters a distinct voice. The listener always knows who is talking.
World War Z by Max Brooks
This creative exploration of the zombie apocalypse is told through a series of interviews with survivors. It features a full cast in audio form, including Simon Pegg and Mark Hamill. Its style makes it among the books better on audio because its format takes on a documentary quality. It’s made for voice actors.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee
Christian Coulson’s narration brings the main character’s voice – Henry “Monty” Montague – to life in the most delightful way. He brings Monty’s sarcasm and wit to the forefront in a way that reading the words on the page does not suffice. Readers will get caught up in the queer romance as well with Coulson’s dulcet tones.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Another star-studded voice cast, Saunders’s moving tale includes the likes of Lena Dunham, Nick Offerman, David Sedaris and Julian Moore, among others. The full-cast narration brings to life historical figures and fictional characters alike to create a rich story made for listening.
Dreams of My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama
Memoirs make for books better on audio, especially when narrated by the authors themselves. Regardless of politics, many have agreed that former President Obama’s voice commands an audience. Those who heard him speak couldn’t help but listen. The same holds true for his memoir as he reads from his writings on race and family.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this book review for Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet 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.
Thanks to NetGalley and Hear Our Voices Book Tours for an ARC of this wonderful novel. What an absolute delight reading it, including all the overwhelming emotions. It’s an aptly named book, as the story does fall somewhere in between the two.
I would like to disclose at this time this is not exactly an Own Voices book review. Because it said Latinx representation, I assumed that meant an amalgamation of different cultures would appear in the book aside from Mexican-American. However, the story solidly depicts the Mexican-American/Chicanx community. While I did find many similarities between my experiences and the character’s, we do not hail from the same community.
Summary of Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet
Pen Prado loves working at Nacho’s Tacos, her father’s restaurant, alongside her family. She dreams of opening her own pastelería next to his restaurant some day. Those dreams come crashing down when she reveals the truth to her family: she hasn’t been going to school like she said she was. Her father fires her from the restaurant and she chooses to move out rather than stay at home and go to school. Pen discovers who she truly is and her place in the world.
Xander comes to Nacho’s Tacos seeking a job and refuge. He lives undocumented with his grandfather, having been left by his father and mother as a child. He’s looking for a sense of family, including his estranged father, but it might come at a cost. Worse, the neighborhood crook who preys on desperate small businesses and families, J.P., has him in his sights. Together with Pen, he must find out how to save the place he thinks of as home.
Pen and Xander are electric, both on their own and together. Readers will easily fall in love with these kids as they navigate growing pains and fight for their community. It’s hard to talk about the characters individually, as they are so interconnected with one another and their families. This makes Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet realistic and relatable. Every character is their own person but inextricably tangled with their culture and community.
The relationships feel organic and real. Pen’s role as the little sister to Angel, her more reckless big brother, rings true. Likewise, her bond with Chloe, her best friend, shows the strength and love between two women who become sisters. The whole cast of characters at the restaurant felt like a genuine family. They bickered and played pranks on one another. They also came together and had one another’s backs when it came down to fighting J.P.’s scare tactics.
Depictions of Mental Health Issues
Kemp does a phenomenal job of showcasing Pen’s struggles with depression. When she tries to hold it all in, the atmosphere suffocates you alongside her. As she finds the strength to pull through her depressive episodes, you feel the world opening up right beside her. Throughout every moment Pen deals with her mental illness, the reader feels it with her. Kemp’s writing does an amazing job of creating that mood without being didactic.
Kemp’s writing creates a lush and vibrant setting throughout. Her writing takes full advantage of all the senses, bringing to life every scent, sound, taste, feeling, and sight. It perfectly reflects the food and what it means to the characters. Fair warning, you will get hungry while reading, so I suggest keeping a snack in hand.
She also perfectly weaves the themes of the story throughout the plot and through character development. She does not shy away from the uglier parts of healing from trauma. But she always shines a light of hope through the characters and their language. The end of the novel doesn’t wrap up neatly, but it leaves a sense of promise for the future.
Rating of Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet
Hands down, this book deserves 5 out of 5 stars. From the story to the characters to the writing, the whole thing is perfect.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this booklist of essay collections 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.
Essay collections combine creativity and academic language to make smart, fun-to-read pieces. They help readers step into another’s shoes and experience the world as they do. Furthermore, like short story collections, they’re easy to read in chunks.
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
Jamison discusses and analyzes empathy from several angles, such as womanhood and as an observer of those suffering from improbable maladies. These essays challenge readers to understand the line between empathy and tragedy voyeurism.
Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom
This collection follows the likes of Roxane Gay and bell hooks. McMillan Cottom discusses subjects such as race, money, beauty, and more. The author puts at the forefront what it means to be thick – physically, mentally, and emotionally.
The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang
Wang gives an intimate look into living with mental and chronic illness. The candid discussion of living with schizophrenia helps create a better understanding of an often misrepresented condition.
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker by Damon Young
Young’s memoir as a book of essays explores what it means to be a black man in white America. Though it delves into heavy themes of race, Young does so with a humorous touch. Even when it seems the stories become harder and harder to carry.
Shapes of Native Nonfiction ed. by Elissa Washuta and Theresa Warburton
Editors Washuta and Warburton gathered works from 27 Native writers. It contains pieces by writers across the tribes of Turtle Island. Furthermore, this diverse collection of perspectives holds as one of the best nonfiction essay collections.
Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
From award-winning poet, Claudia Rankine, comes a collection filled with lyrical precision. Published in the era of the Bush administration, Rankine explores themes of race, terrorism, politics, and more.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this book list of short story collections 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.
Collections of short stories often fulfill that reading itch without the long commitment of a novel. You can pick up a story, read it to completion, and then put the book down without losing the thread. Check out these collections of short stories to cushion your reading.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado Machado bends and breaks genre rules. In doing so, she creates stories that blur the lines between horror, science fiction, and fantasy. Each story also explores the violence often experienced by women and their bodies through various lenses.
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu Liu’s collection is lauded as one of the best short fiction books. It also contains a combination of futuristic science fiction with fantastic myths from Japanese culture. Moreover, these stories explore what it means to be human through narratives of AI, robotics, legendary creatures, and more.
A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin Berlin’s short story collection blends humor, wit, and gut-wrenching emotion. It tells the stories that happen in settings often found behind the scenes in our everyday lives. These are quiet stories of average people leading average lives, but the way they are told is anything but average.
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen From the award-winning author of The Sympathizer comes a short story collection filled with the trials and struggles of being an immigrant. These stories are rich, complex, and so well written it’s impossible to put down.
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri In Lahiri’s short stories, her characters delve into an exploration of identity. They investigate everything from their ancestors’ Indian heritage to their own American upbringing, for example. It’s a collection of poignant stories that deftly maneuver through the question of cultural identity between generations.
The World Doesn’t Require You: Stories by Rion Amilcar Scott This collection of short stories strings together tales of various residents of Cross River. The leaders of the only successful slave revolt of the mid-nineteenth century established the town. Moreover, Scott’s debut short story collection is a must-read in today’s world of turmoil.
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter Carter tackles familiar fairy tales and legends in one of the best short story collections of the last century. She tells the stories in this collection with dark and sensual twists that will leave readers wanting more.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this book list of indigenous authors 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.
This reading list of indigenous authors will give you plenty to refill your shelves. It includes books like stirring contemporary fiction and contemplative memoirs . Additionally, it’s always a good time to diversify your bookshelves and TBR to expand your horizons.
Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese
Wagamese is a native of Canada and offers a novel filled with complicated father-son relationships, as well as man’s struggle to survive nature and the power of healing. This novel is a prime example of indigenous literature. It follows 16-year-old protagonist Franklin Starlight as he answers the call to see his father and make amends.
Two Old Women: An Alaskan Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival by Velma Wallis
Wallis makes her mark among indigenous authors. The story takes inspiration from legends passed down for generations among the Gwich’in Athabascan tribe. The book tells the story of two elderly women abandoned by their tribe left to survive the brutal winter on their own or die trying.
There There by Tommy Orange
This contemporary novel by Tommy Orange appears often in many book lists with indigenous characters. Orange, an Arapaho of the Cheyenne tribe, tells a multigenerational story that follows several family members coming together at the Big Oakland Powwow, each for their own reasons.
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Erdrich, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band Chippewa, is one of the most well-known First Nations’ writers. She explores her mother’s Ojibwe heritage coupled with the story of a young man as he comes of age. All this after a traumatic experience that turns his family upside down.
Why Storms Are Named After People and Bullets Remain Nameless by Tanaya Winder
Winder, a native of the Duckwater Shoshone, delivers a poignant collection of poems that tug at the heart. Moreover, these poems explore the symbiotic nature of pain and joy. She does it all through an analytical lens focused on the parts of a gun and its role in colonization.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Kimmerer is a botanist trained to look at nature through a scientific lens. She is also a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. As such she understands the healing power of plants through a cultural perspective often overlooked in the sciences. This nonfiction book bridges the gap between modern science and the ancient practices of indigenous people.
Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson
Robinson, a member of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations of British Columbia, combines magical realism with mystery. She creates a mesmerizing coming-of-age tale. Lisamarie investigates the tragic death of her brother while running from her own ghosts and questioning her childhood memories.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this book review for Fat Chance, Charlie Vega 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 was graced with an ARC of Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado thanks to Hear Our Voices Book Tours. This post is part of the book tour (you can find a link to the rest of the tour posts in the banner above).
Content Warning: Mentions of fatphobia
OwnVoices Reflection of Fat Chance Charlie Vega
When this novel came across my radar, I knew I needed to read it immediately. A fat, Puerto Rican girl with the last name Vega (my mom’s maiden name). How could I not?! And I’m so glad I did. For the HOV tour, I opted to create an OwnVoices reflection.
From the moment I saw the cover, I knew this was a story written for me. A tan girl with round face, dark, wavy hair and glasses, she looks exactly like I did in high school. Albeit, more confident. As I read the novel, I felt Charlie so deep in my bones. Playing tough and confident on the outside, while secretly living in shame and self-doubt. The way she constantly compares herself to her best friend and thinks she comes in second hit so close to home.
I’ve spent a lifetime combatting the fatphobia on all fronts – internally and externally. I just turned 30 and to this day I still waffle back and forth between finding happiness in who I am and misery in wanting to be a better version of myself. So much of it stems from defiance of societal standards but longing for social acceptance.
I may be much older than the target demographic of this book, but Charlie’s story made me feel seen. And I know she’s going to make so many other girls like me and her feel seen, too. I’m so glad fat, Puerto Rican high school girls today will have her, always in their corner.
Summary of Fat Chance Charlie Vega
Charlie just wants to come first to someone. She feels like she’s always coming second, especially to her best friend. As she goes on a journey of self-acceptance and learns to love hersef, she comes to realize she already does come first for so many. Most importantly, she learns she must come first for herself.
Charlie Vega is Puerto Rican. Smart. A talented writer. And fat. As the Goodreads blurb states, “some people have a problem with that last one.” It’s true, Charlie is all these things, but she’s so much more. She’s confident and insecure, tough and vulnerable, a champion for and capable of hurting others. In short, she’s a human being. But she’s constantly working toward self-acceptance and acceptance of others.
Our main character has a strained relationship with her mom, who frankly, is emotionally abusive. It would have been easy to create a parental character the readers could hate. But Maldonado’s writing is deft and makes Charlie’s mom nuanced. In fact, all the characters contain multitudes. Charlie’s best friend Amelia supports and encourages Charlie to believe in herself. But she’s also capable of letting anger and jealousy get the best of her.
Maldonado did an excellent job in creating fully fleshed characters. There are no sinners and saints. These are simply complicated, imperfect people constantly trying to do their best and sometimes falling short. She does a careful balancing act of acknowledging that however unintentional, problematic behavior is not condoned. But she never condemns her characters either, instead allowing them the grace to forgive one another for their transgressions.
The story centers around a main character in love with romance and finding her own happy ending. She’s also passionate about fashion and closely follows the fatshion hashtag on social media. Charlie talks a big game of challenging beauty standards, but she still struggles with accepting it within herself many times. It’s what makes her so compelling.
Through her roller coaster ride, she ends up accepting an invitation from her crush Cal to a big deal dance in their town. Except, it wasn’t really an invitation for her; Cal used her to try to get to Amelia. This narrative point was predictable as the reader could see this coming based on Charlie’s checking out during the conversation. But I did appreciate that when the cringe moment came, it wasn’t as publicly humiliating as these moments are often depicted.
Based on how much time was spent on the Charlie/Cal storyline, it seemed like this would be the main conflict of the book. But when Brian comes into the picture and becomes Charlie’s first boyfriend, it takes the narrative on a whole different path. While I enjoyed the Brian portion of the story much more, it did leave the novel feeling unbalanced. However, the character dynamics and HEA helped offset the pacing issues enough to make it a most enjoyable story.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this book review for The Fifth Season 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.
My best friend read the whole Broken Earth trilogy by NK Jemisin a while back and she’s been begging me to read the books so I can scream alongside her. I finally got around to reading The Fifth Season for a book club I found on Instagram and oh. my. god. It might be too on the nose, but I was shooketh.
In Jemisin’s world, the Earth constantly undergoes apocalypses. Every fifth season kicks off with a cataclysmic, natural disaster. Some comms survive while others don’t. Through it all are the orogenes: individuals with special powers that allow them to manipulate the Earth’s energy. They can help quell quakes, shift land, feel fault lines, etc. It’s honestly hard to give a proper summary of The Fifth Season without delving into the other aspects of the novel, so let’s get into it.
Damaya is found by a Guardian, Schaffa, who shows her kindness at first. She’s eager for warmth as her family reported her to the Fulcrum, the school for orogenes. But Schaffa’s love and affection comes with conditions. He quickly shows Damaya that when she disobeys him, he will hurt her. He tells her he does it out of love, and she believes him, because she is a child starved for love. The dynamic between them clearly illustrates an abusive relationship.
Syenite is a sarcastic young woman sent to complete a mission with a ten-ringer (the highest level for orogenes) named Alabaster. They get to a rocky start, but soon Alabaster opens Syenite’s eyes to the truth of the Fulcrum and the world. Their relationship leads Syenite to question what the Fulcrum taught her and her place in the world.
Together, Syenite and Alabaster face and evade adversaries and eventually leave the Fulcrum. They end up on an island with a community that lives on the fringes of society and end up in a polyamorous relationship with a pirate named Innon. This is one of the great examples of how Jemisin’s writing naturally incorporates nontraditional relationships and normalizes sexual fluidity.
The book starts with Essun’s narrative (the you POV) as she mourns her dead son, killed by her husband. She embarks on a journey to seek him out as he stole their daughter away too. Along the way she meets Hoa and Tonkee, unlikely allies that reveal the world is not what she thought.
Jemisin makes the reader care about the characters, no matter how small a part they play or how short a time they appear. There’s also a sense of excitement when many of the characters come full circle as she brings their stories together.
The Fifth Season World Building
Jemisin’s novel hinges on the world building. While action sequences take place, they don’t drive the story. The details of the way orogeny works captivate and fascinate. The way orogenes are viewed and treated in this world act as a direct metaphor for the enslavement and treatment of BIPOC in real life. Society even has a derogatory term for orogenes – rogga.
The language Jemisin created for this world stood out among the many incredible aspects. Many sci-fi books often create in-world slang and specific vocabulary. It doesn’t always make sense or flow organically. But Jemisin created a linguistic pattern so natural that it never felt like a foreign language for readers.
Education and history also play a major role in the world building. Every class in society receives their history and education from stonelore. This is reminiscent of the tablets of the 10 Commandments from the Christian Bible. When Alabaster tells Syenite some tablets have been destroyed or worn down, it indicates history is not as definitive as the schools teach. This creates a parallel to real life and the call for decolonizing our own education.
Rating The Fifth Season
This deserves a solid 5 out of 5 stars. An absolutely lush and mesmerizing world. Incredible writing. Dynamic characters and relationships. It has everything.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this list of romance novels 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.
Readers who don’t like romance novels often cite the kitschy tropes that make them roll their eyes as the reason for hating them. Others simply aren’t looking for bodice-ripping books that delve into the characters’ sex lives. But that doesn’t mean they don’t like love stories. They just need to find the right ones. Here are six romance novels for people who hate romance novels.
Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat
The story of Damen the warrior hero who gets captured and sent to Prince Laurent, the royalty of his country’s enemy nation, will keep non-romance readers turning the page. It features LGBTQ+ romance, political intrigue and family betrayal.
Loud is How I Love You by Mercy Brown
The first in the Hub City series follows Emmylou as she pursues her dreams of rock stardom. But when she falls for the band’s guitarist Travis she puts her career on the line for a burning hot love. For people who think they don’t like romance, this book will keep them yearning for more.
The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury
This story is a retelling of the Aladdin fairytale, but with a twist. Zahra is the jinni in the lamp that must grant Aladdin’s three wishes. But the King of the Jinn offers her a chance at freedom. The cost? Betray Aladdin, whom she’s falling for. This young adult romance will appeal to the Disney lovers out there.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Jones combines literary prowess with an analysis of racial injustice in America through this bittersweet love story. Celestial and Roy are newlyweds in the South, both with burgeoning careers, when the unthinkable happens: Roy is sent to prison. This is the story of how a marriage works when one spouse is imprisoned and the other must carry on.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Evelyn Hugo is a reclusive movie star of the past, but when she finally decides to tell her story, she chooses an unknown magazine reporter, Monique Grant. The protagonist Evelyn is a Cuban-American woman who details her adventures from moving to L.A. in the 50s to the several spouses she procured along the way.
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Ishiguro’s novel follows butler Stevens as he leaves Darlington Hall to explore his past through his time in England. The book follows the protagonist as he interacts with the history of fascism and the two world wars. All the while, he never realizes the unspoken love between him and his housekeeper.
We visited the Temple of Zeus in Olympia on my trip to Greece in 2019. It’s hard to believe I’m already coming up on two years since that vacation. I felt like a kid exploring those ruins. I was obsessed with Greek mythology in middle school.
Funny though, Zeus was never one of my favorite gods. But of course, he’s the one everyone always hears about. Sure, the Disney version in Hercules was fine. Kind of funny and sympathetic in his love for his son. The myths’ version though? Always sounded like such a tool. And yet, standing at the temple erected in his honor at the Olympia ruins, I felt that audacity. I finally understood what it is about Zeus that makes him such a lasting figure.
Below is the full poem I wrote inspired by that moment, standing before the ruins of his temple.
Strap on the sandals and fly down the lane toward the end of the plain, that wide open green left and right straight up into baby blue sky. Run with the wind as it calls out your name, promising only glory and fame. Run with the gods just out of their sight. Run through the day and into the night. Run with the thunder, run with the rain. Run as though you’ll never feel pain.
As 2020 comes to an end I thought I’d share a little story I wrote for a prompt I did for a writing retreat I participated in with my friends. And since those mysterious monoliths started appearing everywhere, this felt right.
The final installment of my travels to Ecuador in 2018 end with a hike near the Pichincha volcanoes. We started with a teleferico ride up the mountainside to reach the first trail. Riding the cable car up the mountain, it’s blue sky and green hills all around. As the ride took us higher, I felt the thrill of climbing to heights reaching further into infinite sky.
We reached the first plateau where the volcano mirador stood. From that point, you can follow the peaks of Ecuador’s volcanoes along the horizon, using the mirador sign as your guide. After that, the path starts paved, heading toward a little church along the way up with a clear view of Rucu Pichincha.
Following the path is easier and takes you the long way, but you can go off road and climb the dirt paths created for horse riders and hardcore hikers. I still needed a little help to climb these paths, but I managed to make it up those dirt hills to see the view of mountains and grass all around. It leaves you breathless, but for someone like me, asthmatic and unathletic, it’s a triumph.
As we traversed the trail further up we got a clear view of Guagua Pichincha. The wind blew strong as we overlooked the cliffside, but I never felt more stable. There’s something about traveling to my father’s home country that makes it feel like home to me too, even though I’ve never lived there. I can only imagine what it feels like for him to return.
Experiences like these motivate me to become more active and involved in nature. This 2018 trip to Ecuador inspired me to take on hiking so I could get ready for the next adventure.
What trips have inspired you to become more active? Share in the comments!
Many Latinx people from my generation grew up seeing Walter Mercado give astrological predictions on Primer Impacto as they watched their elders listen to him with rapture. Walter became a mainstay in many Latinx cultures simply by being himself, flourishes and all. I’m so happy I got to write a poem about what he meant to my own family ties and Latinx identity. Click the link above to see it!
Disclosure: Some of the links in this Wayward Witch 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.
The third and final installment in Zoraida Cordova’s Brooklyn Brujas series absolutely delivers. Wayward Witch follows the youngest sister, Rose Mortiz. She finds herself portaled from her Deathday party and into the Kingdom of Adas. It’s a fairy kingdom based in the Caribbean with fair folk inspired by Latinx cultures.
Rose can’t leave well enough alone and casts a Canto to learn the truth. But she gets more than she bargained for. As her world comes crashing down, she and her father get pulled into the Kingdom of Adas. She must contend with her newly discovered power and survive King Cirro, the adas and the rot that threatens to consume the kingdom and break into her world. Along the way, she makes unlikely allies and friends and learns that she’s so much more than she thought.
The protagonist Rose was so relatable. She’s the youngest and suffers from baby of the family syndrome. She feels the pressure of being the good sister who doesn’t make huge mistakes. But when she casts her truth Canto, she gets sent on an adventure she never wanted. It leads her to understand her sisters and family better.
Throughout the novel, Rose hears the voices of her sisters in her mind, wondering what Alex or Lula would do in her situation. She starts out as a fine balance of bookish, quiet and sarcastic, evolving into a powerful, warrior bruja who eventually learns to listen to her own inner voice. It’s a fantastic journey as Cordova illustrates how an individual is shaped by their familial ties while finding their own way.
The cast of Wayward Witch consists of various magical beings and the different kinds of fae created for this Latinx-inspired fairy kingdom. The twins, Iris and Arco, the prince and princess of the kingdom, become Rose’s companions along with the chosen Guardians. They journey together on a quest to rid Adas of the rot. While Arco chooses the path of storyteller and historian, Iris chooses a soldier’s life. Both come to love Rose in their own ways, but the dynamic between Iris and Rose stands out. Iris starts out feeling disdain for Rose. But she comes to find there’s more to the young bruja than meets the eye. Throughout the narrative the relationship between Rose and Iris plays a significant role in bringing out Rose’s true power.
In the novel’s end notes, Cordova acknowledges how the first two books adhered to the gender binary, so she sought to make space for more identities in the final book. Enter Lin Octavio, a brujex that goes by they/them pronouns. Lin and Rose become attached quickly, since they share similar backgrounds of growing up with parents missing from the picture. They’re much closer than they think, and that’s all I’ll say about that.
It would take a novel of a post to go through each character in the cast, so I’ll leave it at this. Even in an ensemble of so many people, no one fades into the background. Each supporting character brings a memorable personality to the table, making for a well-rounded story.
While the first two books in the series are great, Wayward Witch showcases how far Cordova’s writing has come. The story had me turning the pages like crazy and every time I thought I saw where it headed, it took another twist and turn. Cordova created gasp-worthy revelations at the end that felt like an appropriate ending to the whole series.
The Kingdom of Adas takes inspiration from Latinx cultures and the Caribbean environment. Cordova paints a vivid and lush picture with specific details of food, the environment and characters’ physical features. Therefore, everything about the world built in this book lets the readers know where it finds its roots. Cordova created a refreshing take on the fairy kingdom idea by incorporating Latinx heritage, language and folklore into a brand new world.
Wayward Witch Rating
I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. It’s a wild ride from start to finish. It keeps you invested in the world and characters all the way through.
Get your copy here! Let me know if you read the book what you thought of it. What other witchy books do you recommend?
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
Publisher: Yellow Jacket
Number of Pages: 256
On-Sale Date: May 19, 2020
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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 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 theShadow 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.
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.