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Book Review: The Misadventures of The Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae

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The Misadventures of The Awkward Black Girl

Source: Issa Rae

Plot Summary: Issa Rae, creator of the hit web-series The Misadventures of The Awkward Black Girldiscusses her life while giving advice to those who are awkward.

My Review: One of the best things about this book is how honest and relatable it is. Issa Rae recalls awkward moments that anyone can relate to, such as not being able to dance and becoming comfortable with eating by yourself. In fact, she is so honest that she shows the same wry sense of humor found in the web series for which this book is named. A favorite line that made me laugh out loud was “If I could go back in time and slap all the idiocy out my mouth, I would be a busy time-traveler.”

Besides its honesty and relatability, the book also gives solid advice on things like how to deal with different types of co-workers and how to deal with questions and statements about your hair. The advice is practical and a good mix of serious and humorous. For instance, one of the responses to the question “How did you get your hair like that?” is the coy response, “I woke up like this.”

In addition to the advice and humor, Issa Rae also has her serious moments. Much of it is poignant, especially when she discusses her family. At the same time, her serious moments are also inspirational, especially when she reveals a couple of life-changing revelations that would led to the creation of the Awkward Black Girl web series. One revelation that gives the reader something to think about is the need for diverse representation in the media.

Overall, this was a funny and comforting book. I recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the web series The Misadventures of The Awkward Black Girl.

Written by Serena Zola

February 17, 2015 at 9:07 PM

Movie Review: The Wolverine (2013)

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                   Source: Wikipedia

Plot Summary (Taken from IMDB): When Wolverine is summoned to Japan by an old acquaintance, he is embroiled in a conflict that forces him to confront his own demons.

My Review: One of the best aspects of this film is Wolverine aka Logan. In this film, he is much more three-dimensional than in any of the X-Men films and the film X-Men: Origins Wolverine. Rather than just being the guy who tears through people with claws, he is also a person who struggles with the price of his immortality and the pain of loss. The Japanese ronin samurai forms the central metaphor of Wolverine’s character to make him a compelling and relatable to the viewer.

Besides Wolverine, the secondary characters are also worth watching the film for. There are strong female and male characters that keep the viewer engaged in the film. While some are good and others are evil, there are a couple of characters who are morally ambiguous to make the film interesting.

A final aspect of the film that is great is its setting. Once Wolverine arrives in Japan, the viewer is exposed to a modern traditional, and spiritual place that enhances the plot and Wolverine’s character. At one point in the film, the setting moves to a simple place that is connected to Wolverine’s character as well as the plot. Then Mariko, one of the film’s key characters, says to Wolverine “It is here that we learned that everything finds peace eventually.” This scene is where the setting complimented Wolverine perfectly.

Overall, this was a fantastic film that is a huge improvement over the previous film done about Wolverine. I recommend this film to any fan of the character Wolverine or the X-Men.

Written by Serena Zola

January 29, 2015 at 7:17 PM

Movie Review: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

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Source: Wikipedia

Plot Summary (Taken from IMDB): Two warriors in pursuit of a stolen sword and a notorious fugitive are led to an impetuous, physically skilled, adolescent nobleman’s daughter, who is at a crossroads in her life.

My Review: One of the best things about this film is the characters. Not only are they well acted, but they are people who make you either care for them and root them on or make you what to see what will happen next. Key characters include wise and righteous swordsman Li Mau Bai, the maternal and strong swordsman Yu Shu Lien, the lost and physically skilled swordsman Jen Yu, the merciless swordswoman Jade Fox, and the resourceful bandit Dark Cloud.

Another great aspect of the film is the plot. Together, the key characters tell a story of the need to be free from corruption, emotional burdens, and traditional values. The main theme of the story is freedom and it is shown in such a way that anyone can relate to it.

Besides the characters and the plot, the fighting scenes are amazing. While the actors use wires to fly through the air and bounce off walls, it doesn’t come across as over the top. Instead, the use of wires adds grace and excitement to the fights, so that there are moments that look magical. An example is one scene that occurs when two of the characters are fighting in a bamboo forest. There are moments when move so gracefully that they become as flexible as the bamboo themselves as they fight.

In addition to the characters, plot, and the fighting scenes, the cinematography is lovely at times. Certain scenes are shot so well that they make the characters and the events taking place striking. One example is a climactic fight scene that occurs between Shu Lien and one other character.

A final notable aspect of the film is its soundtrack. Composer Tan Dun and cellist Yo-Yo Ma made beautiful pieces that heighten the emotions of certain scenes. For instance, the piece on the soundtrack called “Night Flight” has drums that elevate the tension and action that is going on at the time. Another piece “Yearning of The Sword” highlights the beauty and sadness that comes with the weapon.

Overall, this was a magnificent film that put the art in martial arts. If you enjoy martial arts films or want a great action-adventure film, I recommend this film.

Written by Serena Zola

January 12, 2015 at 9:00 AM

Book Review: Abengoni- First Calling by Charles R. Saunders

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Abengoni First Calling

Source: Blogspot

Plot Summary (Taken from Amazon): Matile Mala, once the most powerful empire in the black continent of Abengoni, is slipping slowly into decadence, and becoming more and more vulnerable to aggression from the nations and tribes it once dominated. In the capital, Khambawe, ancient rituals endure, dominated by dreams and delusions. As Tiyana, who is both priestess and princess, conducts one such ceremony, known as First Calling, the rite is disrupted by the arrival of a half-wrecked ship from Fiadol, a far-distant land across the sea that is almost forgotten by the Matile. Led by a Seer called Kyroun, the pale-skinned people on the ship seek refuge among the Matile.

But the Matile themselves are in need of aid, as they soon come under attack from their ancient enemies, the Uloans, who have flourished while the Matile waned. Along with her father – the High Priest Gebrem –Tiyana marshals the waning forces of Matile magic in conjunction with the powerful new sorcery wielded by Kyroun and his followers in an effort to forestall the threat of imminent annihilation.

As the Matile and Uloans clash, other foes of the fading empire wait on the sidelines, like vultures circling a battlefield. The newcomers from Fiadol hold the balance of destruction – and Tiyana must anticipate which way the scale will tip …

My Review: One of the best aspect of the book is the incredible cast of characters the author has created. They come from different social classes, races, and countries. An important factor is that these characters are inspired by both African and Celtic cultures and myths. Some notable characters include the courageous and dutiful Tiyana, the pious and powerful Kyroun, the hardened and deadly gangs of impoverished tsotsi theives, and the secretive Tokoloshe dwarves.

Besides the characters, the mythology and sword and sorcery is extremely well done. Chapters involving the deities called the Jagasti and the god Almolvaar were thrilling, as were chapters involving the magic power wielded by the Mantile and Fidadol people. While swordplay is also exciting enough to make the reader turn the page, the bloodshed also sobers the reader and makes them pity the characters.

In addition to the characters, mythology, and sword and sorcery, certain plot themes stand out well. Most of the themes are serious and deal with imperialism, classism, vengeance, and xenophobia. Yet happier themes include tolerance, compassion, and reconciliation. These themes breathe life into the characters and plot, entertaining the reader while encouraging them to think about what they are reading.

Overall, this book was a fantastic start to the Abengoni saga. If you love epic sword and sorcery or sword and soul, then read this book.

Written by Serena Zola

January 8, 2015 at 9:42 PM

Book Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Book 1) by N.K. Jemisin

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The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Source: Wikipedia

Plot Summary (Taken from Amazon): Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle.

My Review: One of the best things about the book is its main character Yiene.  She is a compelling character because of how complex she is. She is physically strong because she can defend herself with a knife and her fists, yet she is emotionally vulnerable because she recently lost her mother. Her Arameri and Darr heritage makes her identity torn between a ruling family and a “barbaric” family. As the story progresses, there are other dualities that are revealed that develop her character even more until she is self actualized.

Another great thing about this book are the secondary characters. Most of them don’t fit the neat categories of good or evil, so the reader is made to feel mixed emotions about them. The most compelling characters are the gods Itempas and Nahadoth and the godling Sieh. Their powers are awe-inspiring, their personalities are intriguing, and their situation is sympathetic.

Besides the main character Yiene and the secondary characters, the setting is very imaginative and amazing. According to the appendix in the back of the book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a term for the world since it was unified under Arameri rule. Sky is the palace of the Arameri and it houses one god, some godlings, and the Arameri. Darr is a tribal country with mostly female warriors and a harrowing rites of passage ritual.

In addition to the characters and the setting, the magic system and mythology  is very creative. Notable aspects are the  creation story of the gods and godlings, how the gods and godlings can be controlled, and the Seed of the Earth.

A final notable aspect of the book is how it deals with racism, classism, colonialism, and power struggles. These themes are weaved so well into the plot that readers will want to keep turning the page to find out what happens next. Furthermore, the way that these issues impact Yiene will make readers either relate to or sympathize with her.

Overall, this was a great beginning to The Inheritance Trilogy. I recommend it to any fantasy fiction lover.

 

Written by Serena Zola

January 1, 2015 at 10:00 AM

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year!

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Hey, readers! I just want to thank you all for checking out my posts and following my blog! It has been a great year for me as a blogger here and elsewhere and that would not be possible without you all reading my stuff. I hope you all have a safe and good winter holiday and I look forward to another great year as a blogger!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year!

Written by Serena Zola

December 24, 2014 at 8:54 PM

Music Video Spotlight: “Pelvis Pusher” by Vintage Trouble

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If you took James Brown and put him together with guitar riffs reminiscent of early rock n’ roll, then you’d have the band Vintage Trouble. The band members include singer Ty Taylor, Nalle Colt providing backing vocals and guitar, Rick Barrio Dill providing backing vocals and bass guitar, and Richard Danielson providing drums, percussion and backing vocals.

In 2012, the band released their debut album The Bomb Shelter Sessions and released their Swing House Acoustic Sessions earlier this year. I recommend both if you like this video for the track “Pelvis Pusher”, which is a bonus track from an encore edition of The Bomb Shelter Sessions.

While this is not one of my favorite tracks, I do enjoy the video. It reminds me of those 50’s or 60’s high school dances where the kids are dancing to Bill Hailey and The Comets or a similar band. It’s a fun video where people are auditioning to be dancers for the band. If the song and that scene doesn’t get you up on your feet, then the scene with the band performing in the gym in front of a dancing crowd will.

Written by Serena Zola

December 21, 2014 at 2:19 PM

My Favorite Books That I Have Read in 2014

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Up until now, I have told you my favorite music and movies I’ve encountered this year. Here is my final favorites of 2014 blog post, my favorite books I’ve read in 2014.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell- I loved reading this book because I can totally relate to Cath, the main character. She loves reading and writing fan fiction (albeit slash fan fiction) about a Harry Potter-ish book series called Simon Snow. At the same time, she is a college freshman who has to learn to get out of her comfort zone as a writer and a person.

I loved that the author understood why some people enjoy reading or writing fan fiction and how she captured the glory days of the Harry Potter fandom with a fictional book series. I also loved how she showed that anybody can geek out over something, not just a particular type of person. In addition, Levi was a thoughtful and sweet love interest for Cath and he is my favorite love interest in teen fiction.

Blackanese Boy by Ramon Calhoun- This is the first book I’ve read that was written by a black and Japanese author. It is also the first book I’ve read featuring a black and Japanese protagonist and the first book I’ve read that discusses what it is like to be bi-racial in the 70s and 80s. A remarkable aspect of the book is that the main character Rafael encounters different cultural experiences and is viewed through the eyes of black, Japanese, white, Arabic, and Muslim people.

Despite taking place years before I was born, I could relate to this book because I am black and asian and have experienced events similar to Ramon’s. I loved how honest this book was and how historical events like the atomic bomb scare and the birth of hip-hop were woven into the storyline.

Of Minnie The Moocher and Me by Cab Calloway and Brian Rollins- This autobiography has Cab Calloway telling about his life from his childhood until the early 70’s. It was a great read because you see how he became a bandleader, how he developed certain songs, what it was like touring with his band, and more. It was just as entertaining as any of his music.

I liked how he said that the point of him being a bandleader was that it was his way of saying, “I know it’s rough out there, but let go of your troubles for a little while.” I also liked that he revealed that he was an introvert offstage.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson- I’ve been a fan of Jacqueline Woodson’s teen fiction for a couple of years, but this autobiography has become my favorite book of hers. I loved how she wrote about her childhood in beautiful free verse poems with vivid sensory detail. I also loved that she also wrote haiku poetry in order to tell about the lessons she learned. Finally, I loved how you can see her writing voice developed in certain poems.

Various Black Speculative Fiction Books- I did a separate post on my favorite black speculative fiction books that I read this year. Since people of color rarely get noticed in fantasy fiction, I decided to promote them as much as I can on this blog and the site Black Girl Nerds. Read about my favorite black speculative books on Black Girl Nerds here.

 

My Favorite Web Series and Movies I’ve Seen in 2014

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I’ve seen quite a few films this year and the first season of a certain web series. Here are my favorites!

Web Series: The Misadventures of The Awkward Black Girl (Season 1)- While there are actually two seasons of the show available, I stopped at season 1 because I didn’t want to be disappointed that there would be no more episodes to watch after Season 2. All the episodes are funded through Kickstarter and either there are no more episodes that are going to be made or they haven’t gotten funding to make more episodes yet.

Anyway, I gave Season 1 a chance after hearing about this show on sites like Black Girl Nerds and Afropunk. I am so glad that I did, because this is the first time I have seen someone like me in a show. By someone like me, I mean an awkward yet quirky woman of color. This show is honest and very funny. I found myself laughing out loud  and smiling at every episode. If you haven’t seen this series, then check out the episodes on the show’s site.

Movies:

Slam (1998)– This became my favorite poetry film ever. Not only does it have great slam poetry, but it also teaches the value of hip-hop and that you don’t have to be a part of a cycle of violence and revenge to get by. As a poet, this film inspired one or two poems I wrote this year and showed me the value of using homonyms. This film also helped me appreciate hip-hop more, because I barely listened to it until this year.

Stormy Weather (1943)– This classic blues and jazz film has become a favorite music film of mine. It features four of my favorite things: tap dancing, Cab Calloway, and blues and jazz. This film introduced me to the legendary tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and the lovely Lena Horne. There is so much talent in this film that it is impossible not to enjoy the performances.

Cab Calloway’s Hi-Di-Ho (1934)- This short film is one of many short films that Cab Calloway did in his prime. This one is my favorite because you see him dance and sing live and provide a little humor at the end. I also liked that this film also doubled as an advertisement for radio, which was a fairly new product at the time.  View the short film on YouTube here.

The First Grader (2010)– This film made really appreciate the free grade school education I have gotten in the United States and made me think about the current state of education in America. I also liked that they told the true story that inspired the film in such a raw and realistic light.

P!nk’s The Truth About Love Tour: Live from Melbourne (2013)– As a huge fan of P!nk, I was very happy to see this concert film on Netflix. I’ve seen some fan shot videos of certain performances on YouTube, but it was awesome to see the entire tour. P!nk sings live while doing acrobatics, dancing, or just sitting or standing.

My favorite performances were “Raise Your Glass”, “Try”, “Time After Time”, “Fuckin’ Perfect”, “Can’t Take Me Home Medley (“Most Girls”, “You Make Me Sick”, “There You Go”, ), and “Sober”. The only thing I didn’t like were the excessive camera angles. The concert film is still available to watch on Netflix.

Big Hero 6 (2014)– When I originally saw the previews for the film, I thought it wasn’t going to be good. Then, somebody from my college’s anime club  posted about how good it was. After that, I found out that the film was inspired by Japanese anime and Japanese pop culture and I decided to give the film a chance.

As it turns out, the film was awesome. Since I lost my father two years ago, I could totally relate to the film’s main character Hiro Hamada when he lost his brother Tadashi. I also loved how diverse the main characters were and how they were all geeks.

Of course, I also loved that the film was inspired by Japanese anime and Japanese pop culture. Also, Baymax has become my favorite animated sidekick because of how he helped Hiro work through his grief, how awesome his special abilities are, and how funny he was when he learned how to do Hiro’s handshake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Favorite Music Discoveries of 2014: Albums, EPs, and Songs

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In a previous post, I shared my favorite music of 2014, which featured music actually released this year. Now, I’m going to share my favorite music that I discovered this year that is from the past.

Albums:

The Collection by Nina Simone (Exclusive 2014 Spotify album)- This features music from Simone’s career in the 60s, 70’s, and maybe 80’s. Genre: classical, jazz, blues, pop

Tracy Chapman (1988) by Tracy Chapman.  Genre: folk, blues

The Bomb Shelter Sessions (2012) by Vintage Trouble. Genre: rock, soul, R&B

The Live and Aflame Sessions (2012) by Akua Naru. Genre: hip-hop and jazz with a dash of soul and spoken word

Metaphorical Madness (2003) by Nujabes. Genre: hip-hop and jazz

Freedom Suite (2010) by The Beast and Neena Freelon. Genre: hip-hop and jazz

Be Good (2012)by Gregory Porter.  Genre: jazz, soul

For The Whole World to See (1976) by Death Genre: punk rock, funk

EP:

Boy Without A Fairy (2013) by Dr. Awkward. Genre: nerdcore rap

Room for Living (2013) by Marian Mereba. Genre: folk

Spectrum 2.0 (2009) by BOSCO. Genre: jazz, funk, trip-hop, R&B

Wasted Years (2013) by Claire Renee and Joe Grisly. Genre: jazz, hip-hop, soul

Songs:

“Unwind” (2003) by P!nk. Genre: rock

“Free” (2003) by P!nk.  Genre: rock

“Zah-Zuh-Zaz” (1930’s) by Cab Calloway. Genre: jazz

“The Ghost of Smokey Joe” (1930’s) by Cab Calloway. Genre: jazz

“Happy Home (Keep on Writing)” (2008) by Kimya Dawson. Genre: anti-folk

“I Like Giants” (2006) by Kimya Dawson. Genre: anti-folk

“The Competition” (2006) by Kimya Dawson. Genre: anti-folk

“Blak Girls” (2008) by Shelley Nicole’s blakbushe Genre: funk

“Run Like The River” (2012) by Vintage Trouble. Genre: rock and soul

“They Say I’m Different” (1974) by Betty Davis.  Genre: funk

“F.U.N.K.” (1974) by Betty Davis. Genre: funk

“Baby Love” (1977) by Mother’s Finest. Genre: funk

“Truth Will Set You Free”(1977) by Mother’s Finest. Genre: funk

“Fairy Tail Main Theme (slow ver.)” by Yasuharu Takanashi. Genre: instrumental Celtic music

“Natsu’s Theme” by Yasuharu Takanashi. Genre: instrumental Celtic rock

“Carla’s Confession” by Yasuharu Takanashi. Genre: instrumental Celtic music

“Lucy and The Power of Her Celestial Spirits” by Yasuharu Takanashi. Genre: instrumental Celtic rock

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Serena Zola

December 8, 2014 at 9:08 PM

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