Mini-Reviews: So You Want to Talk About Race & Stamped from the Beginning

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 16, 2018
Source: Borrowed

In this breakout book, Ijeoma Oluo explores the complex reality of today’s racial landscape–from white privilege and police brutality to systemic discrimination and the Black Lives Matter movement–offering straightforward clarity that readers need to contribute to the dismantling of the racial divide

In So You Want to Talk About Race, Editor at Large of The Establishment Ijeoma Oluo offers a contemporary, accessible take on the racial landscape in America, addressing head-on such issues as privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, micro-aggressions, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the “N” word. Perfectly positioned to bridge the gap between people of color and white Americans struggling with race complexities, Oluo answers the questions readers don’t dare ask, and explains the concepts that continue to elude everyday Americans.

Oluo is an exceptional writer with a rare ability to be straightforward, funny, and effective in her coverage of sensitive, hyper-charged issues in America. Her messages are passionate but finely tuned, and crystalize ideas that would otherwise be vague by empowering them with aha-moment clarity. Her writing brings to mind voices like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay, and Jessica Valenti in Full Frontal Feminism, and a young Gloria Naylor, particularly in Naylor’s seminal essay “The Meaning of a Word.”

This book was very, very good, to the point that I don’t really have anything to say about it. Oluo provides facts about and examples of racism, educates the reader on intersectionality and privilege, and shares a number of questions to think about in order to move forward.

Two quotes stand out for me:

“There is no neutrality to be had towards systems of injustice. It is not something you can just opt out of.”

“What am I thinking that this conversations says about me? Has my top priority shifted to preserving my ego?”

I think that everyone should read this book. And please, if I ever say anything racist or insensitive, don’t be afraid to call me out.


Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 12, 2016
Source: Borrowed

Americans like to insist that they are living in a post-racial, color-blind society. In fact, racist thought is alive and well; it has simply become more sophisticated and more insidious. And as award-winning historian Ibram X. Kendi argues in Stamped from the Beginning, racist ideas in America have a long and lingering history, one in which nearly every great American thinker is complicit.

In this deeply researched and fast-moving narrative, Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti–Black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. Stamped from the Beginning uses the lives of five major American intellectuals to offer a window into the contentious debates between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and anti-racists. From Puritan minister Cotton Mather to Thomas Jefferson, from fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to brilliant scholar W. E. B. Du Bois to legendary anti–prison activist Angela Davis, Kendi shows how and why some of our leading pro-slavery and pro–civil rights thinkers have challenged or helped cement racist ideas in America.

As Kendi provocatively illustrates, racist thinking did not arise from ignorance or hatred. Racist ideas were created and popularized in an effort to defend deeply entrenched discriminatory policies and to rationalize the nation’s racial inequities in everything from wealth to health. While racist ideas are easily produced and easily consumed, they can also be discredited. In shedding much–needed light on the murky history of racist ideas, Stamped from the Beginning offers tools to expose them—and in the process, reason to hope.

Stamped from the Beginning is, I think, another book that everyone should read. It’s incredibly interesting, going deep into the history of racism in the United States. Kendi brings up many historical figures and analyzes their behavior to show whether they were segregationists, assimilationists, or anti-racists.

While this book was well-written and definitely well-researched, it’s also very, very dense. At nearly 600 pages (or 18 and a half hours on audio), it takes a long time to get through and left me feeling absolutely exhausted. This is a book that you need to dedicate some time to, but it’s worth it.


Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

Find me all over the internet: Goodreads | Twitter | Bloglovin’

Book Review: Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: December 31, 2019
Source: Borrowed
In the midst of a family crisis one late evening, white blogger Alix Chamberlain calls her African American babysitter, Emira, asking her to take toddler Briar to the local market for distraction. There, the security guard accuses Emira of kidnapping Briar, and Alix’s efforts to right the situation turn out to be good intentions selfishly mismanaged.
 

Going into Such a Fun Age, I knew two things. First, that it was incredibly, incredibly hyped. And second, that it had something to do with race. I assumed, given the title, that it also had something to do with a toddler, because whenever someone says, “that’s such a fun age!” they’re always talking about toddlers. (Clearly I did not read the synopsis, or I would have seen it right there.)

This book is somehow a light, fun read about a bunch of interesting characters and an incredibly important, well-written commentary on the white savior complex and performative allyship. It all begins when Emira, a Black woman who babysits for a rich white couple, is called in late one night to watch the couple’s three-year-old amid a crisis. She’s been out at a party, she’s been drinking a little bit, and she’s not dressed like a normal babysitter, but her boss doesn’t care. She just wants Briar out of the house. So Emira arrives, whisks Briar away to a grocery store (one of her current favorite places), and attempts to distract her until it’s safer to go home. All is fine and good until a security guard accuses Emira of kidnapping Briar, a bystander captures the incident on camera, and everything begins to change.

There are so many levels to this book that I’m not entirely sure where to start. On the surface, we have the blatant racism that led to the accusation against Emira. Everyone agrees that this is wrong. But there are also much subtler incidents of racism in this book as well as people trying so hard to prove that they’re not racist that they end up doing some pretty questionable things. Reid is not afraid to call out people who try to prove that they’re not racist by having the “correct” number of Black friends. She’s not afraid to comment on the use of the N-word by non-Black people. She shows, rather than tells us, how awkward and inappropriate it is to “save” someone who doesn’t need or want saving. And aside from discussions of race, there’s also a great commentary on parenting in this book! Emira’s boss, Alix, treats her two children very differently. While she dotes over her infant daughter, she constantly brushes Briar off on Emira. It’s so heartbreaking to read about her different reactions to Briar and Catherine, and very telling, I think, that she never really leaves Catherine with Emira. There’s also a discussion of Alix’s past and how it’s shaped her into this person who needs to prove that she’s not racist. All in all, there’s a lot going on in this book, but in a really good way.

There were two things that kept me from giving this book five stars, one big and one small. The small thing is that I felt some of the dialogue could have been tightened up. There are some conversations that seem to go on forever when they really don’t need to. The big thing was the ending. I don’t want to spoil it, but it just felt… over the top. I’m not sure that such a dramatic ending was really necessary, but I also can’t think of a better way to have ended it, so it’s still a four-star read.

Side note: I will protect Briar at all costs. That girl is perfect and her random comments were my favorite part of this book.


Have you read Such a Fun Age? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

Find me all over the internet: Goodreads | Twitter | Bloglovin’

Mini-Reviews: Beach Read, Get a Life, Chloe Brown, & Twice in a Blue Moon

Beach Read by Emily Henry
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 19, 2020
Source: Borrowed

A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.

Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.

They’re polar opposites.

In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.

Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.

Beach Read was one of those very, very (very, very, very) hyped books that I was kind of afraid to read but picked up anyway because I had to know if the hype was deserved. I think that because of that, my expectations were a little high and that impacted my opinion.

I do love a “we were obsessed with each other but both thought the other didn’t care” storyline, and that’s one thing that Beach Read does really well. Another thing that the book does really well is the exploration of January’s complicated family life and the way that we learn more about our families as we grow older.

I loved January and Gus individually, I loved their history and their banter, but their actual relationship wasn’t my favorite. And, no spoilers, but that ending really left a lot to be desired.


Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: November 5, 2019
Source: Borrowed

Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan, and a list. After almost—but not quite—dying, she’s come up with seven directives to help her “Get a Life”, and she’s already completed the first: finally moving out of her glamorous family’s mansion. The next items?

• Enjoy a drunken night out.
• Ride a motorcycle.
• Go camping.
• Have meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable sex.
• Travel the world with nothing but hand luggage.
• And… do something bad.

But it’s not easy being bad, even when you’ve written step-by-step guidelines on how to do it correctly. What Chloe needs is a teacher, and she knows just the man for the job.

Redford ‘Red’ Morgan is a handyman with tattoos, a motorcycle, and more sex appeal than ten-thousand Hollywood heartthrobs. He’s also an artist who paints at night and hides his work in the light of day, which Chloe knows because she spies on him occasionally. Just the teeniest, tiniest bit.

But when she enlists Red in her mission to rebel, she learns things about him that no spy session could teach her. Like why he clearly resents Chloe’s wealthy background. And why he never shows his art to anyone. And what really lies beneath his rough exterior…

Another book that I was kind of scared to read was Get a Life, Chloe Brown. So many people have adored and recommended this book!

I loved how cute and bantery this book was. The writing is really lighthearted and it flows really nicely. The dialogue feels really natural and Chloe absolutely felt like she could be a real person. (Red was possibly too good to be true.) The romance did end up coming together really quickly, though, and I’m not sure how I felt about that.

In the end, I liked the first half of this book more than the second half, but I had a good time with this book overall.


Twice in a Blue Moon by Christina Lauren
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 22, 2019
Source: ARC via Netgalley

Sam Brandis was Tate Jones’s first: Her first love. Her first everything. Including her first heartbreak.

During a whirlwind two-week vacation abroad, Sam and Tate fell for each other in only the way that first loves do: sharing all of their hopes, dreams, and deepest secrets along the way. Sam was the first, and only, person that Tate—the long-lost daughter of one of the world’s biggest film stars—ever revealed her identity to. So when it became clear her trust was misplaced, her world shattered for good.

Fourteen years later, Tate, now an up-and-coming actress, only thinks about her first love every once in a blue moon. When she steps onto the set of her first big break, he’s the last person she expects to see. Yet here Sam is, the same charming, confident man she knew, but even more alluring than she remembered. Forced to confront the man who betrayed her, Tate must ask herself if it’s possible to do the wrong thing for the right reason… and whether “once in a lifetime” can come around twice.

With Christina Lauren’s signature “beautifully written and remarkably compelling” (Sarah J. Maas, New York Times bestselling author) prose and perfect for fans of Emily Giffin and Jennifer Weiner, Twice in a Blue Moon is an unforgettable and moving novel of young love and second chances.

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Unhoneymooners and the “delectable, moving” (Entertainment WeeklyMy Favorite Half-Night Stand comes a modern love story about what happens when your first love reenters your life when you least expect it…

I was so excited to be offered an ARC of Twice in a Blue Moon, and then, for some reason, I had absolutely no desire to read it. I finally convinced myself to pick it up about nine months after it was originally published, and I can definitively say that it’s not my favorite of this duo’s work.

On the positive side, I can say that Christina and Lauren are great at writing emotional scenes. I felt everything that Tate was feeling. I was right there with her in London, I was on the movie set, I was in that truck. Their writing is always good. Even when I don’t particularly like one of their stories, I can admit that their books are well-written.

The thing that didn’t work for me in this one, unfortunately, was the premise. I love a good second chance romance, but regardless of how good Sam’s excuse was, I don’t think there’s any forgiving him for what he did to Tate. I kept waiting, but I never felt like he truly redeemed himself.

Onto the next Christina Lauren book…


Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

Find me all over the internet: Goodreads | Twitter | Bloglovin’

Book Review: Date Me, Bryson Keller by Kevin van Whye [MILD SPOILERS]

Date Me, Bryson Keller by Kevin van Whye
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 19, 2020
Source: Borrowed

What If It’s Us meets To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before in this upbeat and heartfelt boy-meets-boy romance that feels like a modern twist on a ’90s rom-com!

Everyone knows about the dare: Each week, Bryson Keller must date someone new–the first person to ask him out on Monday morning. Few think Bryson can do it. He may be the king of Fairvale Academy, but he’s never really dated before.

Until a boy asks him out, and everything changes.

Kai Sheridan didn’t expect Bryson to say yes. So when Bryson agrees to secretly go out with him, Kai is thrown for a loop. But as the days go by, he discovers there’s more to Bryson beneath the surface, and dating him begins to feel less like an act and more like the real thing. Kai knows how the story of a gay boy liking someone straight ends. With his heart on the line, he’s awkwardly trying to navigate senior year at school, at home, and in the closet, all while grappling with the fact that this “relationship” will last only five days. After all, Bryson Keller is popular, good-looking, and straight . . . right?

Kevin van Whye delivers an uplifting and poignant coming-out love story that will have readers rooting for these two teens to share their hearts with the world–and with each other.

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS

After seeing Date Me, Bryson Keller pop up on a bunch of recommendation lists and seeing a ton of rave reviews, I hopped right over to my library to put a hold on the audiobook. I really, really wanted to like this book. June was such a good reading month, but it ended on a bad note with this one.

I don’t even know where to begin.

Maybe with the pitch:

What If It’s Us meets To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before in this upbeat and heartfelt boy-meets-boy romance that feels like a modern twist on a ’90s rom-com!

I loved What If It’s Us and really liked To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. I adore romantic comedies. This… this is possibly the worst comparison I’ve ever seen. If by “What If It’s Us,” you mean “this is a gay romance,” then okay, maybe. And if by “meets To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” you mean “that involves fake dating,” then I guess. But the rom-com? And especially a 90s rom-com? No. There was not one funny line in this book. This book is sadness on top of homophobia on top of drama.

But anyway, let’s move on to the premise. It’s weird, but I made a strong effort to suspend my disbelief so that I could get some enjoyment out of this book. The story goes that popular boy Bryson Keller has made a bet that he’ll go out with one new person each week. He has to agree to date the first person that asks him out on Monday morning until the end of the day on Friday. No funny business, nothing physical, but they’ll go out on dates. It’s all fake for the bet, but everyone is clamoring over themselves for the chance to date him. Presumed straight, Bryson only dates girls… until Kai Sheridan asks him out, and Bryson says yes. The stipulation is that they’ll fake date in secret, because Kai isn’t out yet. I don’t think I need to put the fact that they end up together under spoiler tags since there would be no book without it. They end up together. And I have many, many things to say.

A side note regarding the premise before I get started with my review: I have seen on Goodreads that the entire premise of this book is lifted directly from Seven Days by Venio Tachibana & Rihito Takarai, so make of that what you will. I haven’t read Seven Days so I can’t say if the stories play out in the same way.

I do want to preface this next part of my review by saying that I am a straight woman and therefore cannot actually comment on the LGBT rep in this book. I know that the author set out to write an ownvoices novel and that’s great. What I can comment on, though, is that the very strict gay/straight binary that every character is shoved into is very off-putting. Every character is gay or straight. Every character either likes boys or girls. Even Bryson Keller, who has only ever expressed interest in women and never had an inkling that he might not be 100% straight until he started fake dating Kai, is suddenly just… gay. He gets one “hmm, I might be bi” throwaway line before that’s completely tossed out the window. And I know it’s true that people can realize they’re gay after exclusively dating the opposite sex. I know that sexuality is a spectrum and can be fluid. I just worry that this “you’re either gay or straight and there’s no other choice” mentality is doing more harm than good.

Also, just something that confuses me. Typically, when you have a fake dating plot in a book, there’s a reason. Maybe you want to make someone jealous. Maybe you’re trying to keep someone safe. Maybe it’s for publicity or a job or citizenship. There are countless reasons for fake dating in a book, and they’re all very public. What is the point of fake dating in secret? That was something that bothered me throughout the entire book and there was never really an answer for me. I’m not saying that Kai and Bryson had to publicly date, because I understand that Kai wasn’t out (and neither was Bryson, I guess) but this just seemed to be the flimsiest possible excuse to have them spend more time together in a weird semi-platonic/semi-romantic way.

Next, the narration. OH MY GOD, the narration. It is the most overly descriptive, unnecessary blocks of text that I’ve read since Handbook for Mortals. Kai can’t just be sad. No, he has to narrate that he’s feeling sad, he’s crying, tears are running down his face, he’s experiencing emotions, his sadness is visible to anyone who looks at him. When he goes to drive, he has to tell us that he walks over to the bowl where his family keeps all the car keys and looks for the ones he’s looking for and finds them and then walks to the door and turns the knob and walks out the door to the car that he’s about to drive. Exhausting. Every mundane detail of life does not need to be narrated. The reader understands that the character needs keys to start the car, and if they somehow don’t, they probably won’t notice that you’ve left it out of the narration.

And can we talk about how overdramatic Kai is? Like, yes, I get it, teenagers are overdramatic. I was once an overdramatic teenager too. But Kai is on a whole different level. His parents, upon finding out that he’ll be going to a concert with another person, ask the perfectly reasonable question of who that person is. And Kai just flips out. He’s like “OH MY GOD MOM AND DAD STOP WITH THE THIRD DEGREE, WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS TRYING TO BE SHERLOCK AND WATSON GOD I’M JUST GOING TO A CONCERT.” Maybe times have changed, but back when I was an overdramatic teenager living under my mother’s roof, she did expect to know where I was going and who I was going there with, especially if it was out of town.

Moving on from that, though, is the fact that this book, marketed as a gay YA rom-com, is just sad. People get outed against their will. Parents are unsupportive. Friends are unsupportive. There are multiple fights. Homophobia runs rampant. And while the overarching point might be “there’s nothing wrong with being gay,” it sure takes a long time to get there.

Random other gripes: The constant use of Harry Potter references. Unrealistic dialogue. The last line being “Gay means happy too.” Why do the characters use the word “ointment” so much? Are they talking about Vaseline or something? I’m confused. (I’m just getting petty now, I’ll stop.)

In the end, I’m not really sure why I gave this book two stars. Maybe because it just wasn’t on the same level of dislike as my recent one-stars. Definitely not recommended, though.


Have you read Date Me, Bryson Keller? What’s the last book that disappointed you?
Let’s talk in the comments!

Find me all over the internet: Goodreads | Twitter | Bloglovin’

Mini-Reviews: Check Please! Book 2, Camp Spirit, & Spinning

Check, Please! Book 2 by Ngozi Ukazu
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 7, 2020
Source: Borrowed

Eric Bittle is heading into his junior year at Samwell University, and not only does he have new teammates―he has a brand new boyfriend! Bitty and Jack must navigate their new, secret, long-distance relationship, and decide how to reveal their relationship to friends and teammates. And on top of that, Bitty’s time at Samwell is quickly coming to an end…It’s two full hockey seasons packed with big wins and high stakes!

A collection of the second half of the mega-popular webcomic series of the same name, Check, Please!: Sticks and Scones is the last in a hilarious and stirring two-volume coming-of-age story about hockey, bros, and trying to find yourself during the best four years of your life.

I loved that the second Check, Please! book dealt with some deeper themes while still being just as heartwarming and sweet as the first. Bitty and Jack are such a great couple, always communicating and being there for each other. Bitty’s baking is still front and center and I absolutely loved it.

In a possibly unpopular opinion, I thought the ending was really stereotypical and it wasn’t my favorite, but I didn’t dislike it enough for it to lower my rating.


Camp Spirit by Axelle Lenoir
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: March 23, 2020
Source: Borrowed

Summer camp is supposed to be about finding nirvana in a rock garden… But Elodie prefers Nirvana and Soundgarden. Can she confront rambunctious kids, confusing feelings, and supernatural horrors all at once?

Summer 1994: with just two months left before college, Elodie is forced by her mother to take a job as a camp counselor. She doesn’t know the first thing about nature, or sports, of kids for that matter, and isn’t especially interested in learning… but now she’s responsible for a foul-mouthed horde of red-headed girls who just might win her over, whether she likes it or not. Just as Elodie starts getting used to her new environment, though — and close to one of the other counselors — a dark mystery lurking around the camp begins to haunt her dreams.

This was a quick and easy read. The art was cute, the romance was done well, the story was… fine. I would have liked more elaboration on what was happening in the woods since it never felt fully explained. While I felt the actual camp counseling and the romance were fun to read about, I can’t say the same for the rest of the plot. The more supernatural aspects of this graphic novel were fun on the sidelines, but when they became front and center pieces of the plot, they fell short for me.

Overall, this was fun, but I’m not sure that I’d really recommend it.


Spinning by Tillie Walden
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Source: Borrowed

Poignant and captivating, Ignatz Award winner Tillie Walden’s powerful graphic memoir, Spinning, captures what it’s like to come of age, come out, and come to terms with leaving behind everything you used to know.

It was the same every morning. Wake up, grab the ice skates, and head to the rink while the world was still dark.

Weekends were spent in glitter and tights at competitions. Perform. Smile. And do it again.

She was good. She won. And she hated it.

For ten years, figure skating was Tillie Walden’s life. She woke before dawn for morning lessons, went straight to group practice after school, and spent weekends competing at ice rinks across the state. It was a central piece of her identity, her safe haven from the stress of school, bullies, and family. But over time, as she switched schools, got into art, and fell in love with her first girlfriend, she began to question how the close-minded world of figure skating fit in with the rest of her life, and whether all the work was worth it given the reality: that she, and her friends on the figure skating team, were nowhere close to Olympic hopefuls. It all led to one question: What was the point? The more Tillie thought about it, the more Tillie realized she’d outgrown her passion–and she finally needed to find her own voice.

Spinning is the second graphic novel I’ve read by Tillie Walden (the first being I love this part), and I think I can officially add her to my list of favorite graphic novelists. There’s just something about her art style and the way she tells the majority of the story through the art rather than words that I love.

Spinning is the story of her years as a competitive figure skater. But it’s also the story of coming out, trauma, and growing up. This was an incredible book, and I can’t wait to devour everything Walden’s ever published.


Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

Find me all over the internet: Goodreads | Twitter | Bloglovin’