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Book Review: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

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Brown Girl Dreaming

Source: Goodreads

Plot Summary (Taken from Goodreads): Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement.

My Review: One of the best aspects of the book is the poems. Most of them are written in free verse, while others are haikus. Many of the free verse poems have great sensory detail that allows the reader to feel like they are right there with the author. Meanwhile, the haikus serve to sum up lessons she learned by paying attention to what was going on around her. They are simple yet poignant poems that make the reader pause and reflect.

Besides the poems in general, the poems that tell the about the author’s love for stories and her beginnings as a writer are very touching. Through the eyes of the author as a child, these poems go from innocent to passionate as the book progresses. After reading about the author’s influences and seeing her writing voice emerge, current and new readers of Woodson will appreciate her more.

Another aspect of the book that is great is its themes. The most prominent ones are freedom, dreams, and a sense of belonging.  Despite being set in the 1960’s and 70’s, these are themes and more are presented so honestly that almost anyone today can relate.

Overall, this book was fantastic. I recommend it to poetry fans and minorities of all ages.

 

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

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Update Dec. 4 2014: Added the album “Crimson Cord”, which I found after this was originally posted.

Since the year is winding down, I’d thought I’d go ahead and post about my favorite music of 2014. I’ve discovered a lot of great music this year and I enjoyed listening to all of it. I will also be doing another 2014 music list about music from past years that I discovered this year, so stay tuned for that.

Albums:

Dirty Gold by Angel Haze (Genre: hip-hop, pop, R&B)

Landing on a Hundred + B Sides and Remixes by Cody ChesnuTT (Genre: funk, soul, rock)

Gary Clark Jr. Live by Gary Clark Jr. (Genre: blues, soul, rock)

Sky Blew’s Unmodern Life by Sky Blew (Genre: nerdcore with a little soul and jazz)

Crimson Cord by Propaganda (Genre: hip-hop, spoken word)

EP’s and Mixtapes

The Reintroduction of Mumu Fresh by Maimouna Youssef (Genre: hip-hop, pop, soul)

Another M by Sammus (Genre: nerdcore)

Blak and Blu: The Mixtape by Gary Clark Jr. (Genre: blues, rock, soul, hip-hop)

Broke and Baroque by Chargaux (Genre: classical, experimental)

Dragonfly by Purple Ferdinand (Genre: folk)

KULA by KULA (Genre: rock)

Songs:

“Angels and Airwaves” by Angel Haze (Genre: hip-hop, pop)

“Gold Digga” by Sa’ra Charismata (Genre: electro-pop)

“Gunpowder on the Letter” by Cody ChesnuTT feat. Gary Clark Jr. (Genre: blues rock)

“Pity” by Estère (Genre: witch-hop, soul)

“Stardust” by Maimouna Youssef (Genre: soul)

“Please Come Home” by Gary Clark Jr. feat. Alice Smith (Genre: R&B, rock)

“What If Times” by Shinobi Ninja (Genre: pop-rock, rap)

“Break The Cycle” by You + Me (Genre: pop)

“NPC Anthem (Part 1)” by Mega Ran feat. Doug Funnie, 1-Up, and Kadesh Flow (Genre: nerdcore)

“Land of Opportunity” by A Great Big World (Genre: pop with a dash of jazz)

“Weapon” by Bastille feat. Angel Haze, F*U*G*Z, and Braque (Genre: hip-hop, pop)

Written by Serena Zola

November 28, 2014 at 9:00 AM

Thank You For Letting Be Myself: A Special Thanksgiving Greeting

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This year has been really life-changing for me as a woman of color. I have gone from feeling alienated from the black community to feeling more connected to it. I have gone from feeling ashamed of being different as a black person to being proud of who I am and not caring what others think. I owe these feelings to many online communities, independent/under-sung musicians, and independent authors. To these people and spaces, I say, “Thank you for letting me be myself”.

For Harriet, a black women’s blog- This summer, I was an editorial intern for this site. As I wrote essays and articles for the site, I got in touch with issues affecting the black community and discovered other online communities for black people. I also discovered the value of my own ideas and interests. Visit the site here.

Afropunk, a community site for independent musicians and artists- I discovered Afropunk after watching the documentary A Band Called Death, which was about the first black punk band. I had Googled the words “black punk bands” and Afropunk was the first link that I saw in the results.

Not only did the music on the site validate my eclectic music taste and get me new music, but it also inspired my own creativity as a writer and poet. This summer, I spread the word about the music I discovered from the site on this blog, in the category “Below The Radar Music”. Eventually, I would become a contributor to Afropunk in order to continue spreading the word about the music that I enjoyed. Visit Afropunk here.

Black Girl Nerds- This is another site I discovered thanks to Google. One day when I was feeling lonely, I typed in the words “black girl nerd” in Google’s search engine and the link for the site caught my eye. Soon I found myself happily browsing the site and feeling like I finally had a place to set my nerdy side free. Like with Afropunk, I would become a contributor to this site as well.  Check out Black Girl Nerds here.

The NPC Collective- These men and women are nerdy people of color who rap about video games, animation, and other nerdy topics in the music genre called nerdcore. I started with Sammus, a black female nerdcore rapper, producer, and gamer whose stage name was inspired by the heroine from the Metroid video game series. From there, I moved on to black male nerdcore rappers like Mega Ran, 1-Up, and Skyblew.

These people have made rap fun and have shown other nerdy people of color that they aren’t alone.  I have supported them through articles on Black Girl Nerds and Afropunk. For more info on The NPC Collective, check out their website here.

Black Fantasy Fiction Authors- Through Black Girl Nerds and the blog site The Chronicles of Harriet, I discovered black urban fantasy and sword and soul authors such as Kyoko M., Balogun Ojetade, and Milton J. Davis. In order to spread the word about their works, I’ve been reviewing their books on my blog in the category “Fantasy Fiction: People of Color”. These authors also introduced me to African mythology and showed me that black people can create a new view of their past, present, and future with creativity and imagination.

 

To these people and communities, I give thanks. Thank you for letting me be myself and I hope to see more wonderful things from you in future.

 

 

 

Movie Review: Big Hero 6 (2014)

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Big Hero 6

Source: Wikipedia

Plot Summary (Taken from Wikipedia): The story of a young robotics prodigy named Hiro Hamada, who forms a superhero team to combat a masked villain responsible for the death of Hiro’s older brother.

My Review: One of the best things about the film is the characters that form Big Hero 6: Hiro Hamada, Baymax, Fred, Gogo Tomago, Wasabi, and Honey Lemon. The entire team is a racially diverse group of science nerds, but each of them have their own quirks and develop cool powers. For instance, Fred is a comic enthusiast  and Wasabi is overly cautious yet level-headed.

Of the entire group, the characters that stand out the most are Baymax and the film’s main character Hiro Hamada. Baymax is a giant marshmallow robot that serves only as a healthcare companion at first. As the film progresses, he gets an awesome heroic upgrade and also helps Hiro deal with his grief. Meanwhile, Hiro is a relatable character for anyone who has lost a loved one or is trying to find their true potential.

Besides the characters, the plot is very good. It took your standard superhero film and gave it more heart and humor. Poignant themes include grief, creativity, and revenge. Furthermore, there is lots of action-adventure that kids and adults will enjoy.

In addition to the characters and plot, the setting was great. The fusion of Japan and San Francisco in the city is amazing. Furthermore, Japanese anime and pop culture fans will be pleased to see references to things such as such as the Power Rangers, kaiju, and mecha.

A final aspect of the film that was enjoyable was the animation. It made the super powers look amazing and the setting really eye-catching. The best work was during the climax of the movie in a very vivid scene that is reminiscent of the imagery found in Hayao Miyazaki fantasy films.

Overall, this was a fantastic film. I recommend this to Japanese anime fans and kids and adults alike.

 

 

Written by Serena Zola

November 19, 2014 at 10:37 PM

Book Review: Enter The Moon (Warriors of Luna Book 1) by Jennifer Fisch Ferguson

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Enter The Moon

Source: Jennifer Fisch Ferguson’s website

Plot Summary (Taken from Amazon): With youth, beauty and a voice like liquid gold, life was right on track for Kamaria DeKosse; then she met Jack and decides to toss caution to the wind. Jack thought he enjoyed his orderly life of power and control, until he met Kama. Together they have a passion that runs wild and crazy, something neither of them knows how to handle. Kama learns a secret about Jack that not only threatens her promising career but her very life. And just when she thinks it can’t get any worse, life takes her up on her challenge.

My Review: One of the best things about this book is its main character Kamaria. She is a half Irish-half black young woman who is training to be a professional opera singer at Julliard. Her parents’ wealth and her personal goals Kamaria have high standards for herself and certain things, but she isn’t a snob. She is a complex character who is somewhat awkward, witty, opinionated, flawed, and classy. After the climax of the plot occurs, she becomes a brave and loyal kick-butt heroine.

Another aspect of the book I enjoyed was its plot. It was clever how the plot seemed to follow the post-Twilight series paranormal romance storyline until the book’s climatic plot twist. After that plot twist, the reader’s assumptions are turned upside down and the plot becomes fast-paced with action and drama. There is also some romance and steamy sexual situations, but nothing too explicit. The romance between Kamaria and Jack was believable because it was gradual rather than instant.

In addition to the characters and the plot, the author’s writing style was very good. In addition to Kamaria’s point of view, the author sometimes switches to Jack’s point-of-view for certain chapters. The dialogue between Jack and his inner wolf was very intriguing and the dialogue with Kamaria talking to herself was humorous.

Besides the characters, plot, and writing style, the paranormal world that was created was very well done. The way the werewolf pack was organized in terms of rank, how the werewolves move up the rank, and the prejudice that exists between certain packs enriched the storyline and the setting. In addition, some vampires are creatively added to the story to move the plot along at times.

Overall, this was a great book. If you are tired of  typical paranormal romance stories, then I recommend this book.

 

Book Review: Griots- Sisters of The Spear (An Anthology)

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Griots: Sisters of The Spear

Source: Blogspot

Plot Summary (Taken from Amazon): Griots: Sisters of the Spear picks up where the ground breaking Griots Anthology leaves off. Charles R. Saunders and Milton J. Davis present seventeen original and exciting Sword and Soul tales focusing on black women. Just as the Griots Anthology broke ground as the first Sword and Soul Anthology, Griots: Sisters of the Spear pays homage to the spirit, bravery and compassion of women of color. The griots have returned to sing new songs, and what wonderful songs they are!

My Review: One of the best things about this anthology is the black women characters in the stories. They are  warriors, magic users,  goddesses, queens, and more. They are positive representations that show black women can just as good  as black men or surpass black men in certain ways.

In addition, almost all of the characters juggle multiple roles that add complexity to who they are. Furthermore, personality traits such as kindness, bravery, and resilience make certain characters  very admirable.

Another great aspect of these stories is the magic featured in some of them. Many of the stories are really brought to life because of certain magical creatures or events. For example, one story involves a warrior girl who has a brother who can shape shift into a lion.

Besides the black women and the magic, the pacing of most of these stories is really good. There is action and adventure in many of these stories, so the pacing becomes fast enough that the reader wants to know how the story will end. If they find themselves craving for more, they will find themselves moving on to the next story until they reach the end of the book.

Overall, this is a fantastic anthology. I recommend this book to black women who want to see good representations of themselves in fantasy fiction.

Movie Review: Maria Full of Grace (2004)

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Maria Full of Grace

Source: Wikipedia

Plot Summary (Taken from IMDB): A pregnant Colombian teenager becomes a drug mule to make some desperately needed money for her family.

My Review: One of the best things about this film was how universal the story was. There are themes that anyone can relate to, whether you speak the same language or not. These include struggling to provide for your familial love,  community, and more. Another aspect that made the story universal is how Maria was able to be in Columbia even when she wasn’t in Colombia. For instance, a snack that she had in Columbia could also be found in New York City’s “Little Columbia” district.

Another great aspect of the film was the characters. Maria starts out as a caring yet innocent young woman who wishes to “go somewhere else”, but becomes street smart and resilient. Don Fernando, the most compelling character of the film, is a compassionate and warm figure who supports his fellow Colombians through hard times.

Lastly, the most compelling aspect of the film is how it put a human face on drug trafficking. The characters and the plot felt like it could have been a chapter in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. It is something that will haunt you and make you root for the characters.

Overall, this was a poignant film. I recommend this for foreign film fans and anyone who is willing to do anything to provide for their family or a loved one.

Written by Serena Zola

October 16, 2014 at 10:00 AM

7 Reasons Janelle Monáe Should Be More Popular

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Janelle Monae

Source: Wikipedia Commons

Author’s Note: I feel like the original spotlight I did on Janelle Monáe last year did not do her justice, so I’m doing another one. Another reason is that I’m tired of reading YouTube comments that say she has no talent.

1. She has created an epic music saga that has science fiction, romance, and sociopolitical commentary.

Beginning with Metropolis Suite 1: The Chase, the story is set in a futuristic world called Metropolis where there is a class system of humans and androids. Humans make up the wealthy while androids make up the working class and poor. The main protagonist of the story is the android Cindi Mayweather, who is sent back in time to free Metropolis from its strife. Cindi’s story begins when she becomes the target of Metropolis’s government for falling in love with a human  named Anthony Greendown.

The albums Metropolis Suite 1: The Chase and The ArchAndroid focus on Cindi’s attempts to evade the authorities, becoming aware of what is going on in the world around her, and realizing how she could change things.

The Electric Lady, Monae’s most recent album, is set before The Archandroid album and tells multiple stories. First, there is Cindi’s past before she fell in love with Anthony Greendown. Then, there are the identities Cindi assumes when she is sent back in time,  Janelle Monae and The Electric Lady. Finally, there is the daily lives of the androids in Metropolis.

With this much creative storytelling, it is impossible to skip a track on her albums.

2. All the albums of The Metropolis saga feature a variety of genres and influences.

Despite being her shortest work so far, Metropolis Suite 1: The Chase, is a great blend of R&B, funk, soul, and operatic elements. The ArchAndroid  is her most eclectic work, featuring classical, pop. rock, jazz,  electronica,  and funk. Finally, The Electric Lady  features different sides to R&B, showing its connection to funk, soul, rock, jazz, and hip-hop.

Collectively, you can hear a variety of musical influences on Monae such as David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, Diana Ross, and Betty Davis (the funk singer).

3. Her music videos are just as creative as her albums.

They work together with the songs to tell the story of Cindi Mayweather and Metropolis. It’s a shame more videos weren’t made for The Archandroid. 

Notable videos:

“Many Moons”– from Metropolis Suite 1: The Chase

“Cold War”– from The ArchAndroid

“Q.U.E.E.N” – from The Electric Lady

4.  Her singing and dancing, whether live or studio, is phenomenal.

With her dancing, you can see how Michael Jackson and James Brown influenced her. She channels her own energy into their moves to create fun, exciting performances. When it comes to her voice, it has a great range that goes from soothing low notes to energetic and soulful high notes.

Songs and Performances with notable vocals:

“Cindi” from The Audition (a very rare album released in 2003)

“Come Alive (War of The Roses)” from The Archandroid

“Say You’ll Go” (Live audio from a National Public Radio session)- from The ArchAndroid

“Ba Bop Bye Ya” (Live from Emory University)- from The ArchAndroid

Music Videos and Performances with notable dancing:

“Tightrope” from The Archandroid

“Dance Apocalyptic” (Live from the David Letterman Show)- from The Electric Lady

“Electric Lady”  (Live on The Today Show) from The Electric Lady

5. Certain tracks are made to empower or represent specific groups of people.

“Cindi”(see above link)- encourages those who don’t fit in to accept themselves and be themselves

“Q.U.E.E.N.” (see above link)- According to an interview, the song is meant for women and those with different sexual orientations,  but is also an acronym for  the queer, the untouchables, the excommunicated, the emmigrants, and the negroid.

“Ghetto Woman” from The Electric Lady– for working class women

6. According to an acceptance speech she gave at Black Girls Rock! in 2012, she stated that she wears her signature black and white tuxedo to honor her parents and to stay connected to the community.

7.  Janelle Monáe is a brilliant, beautiful, and  talented woman who cannot and should not be categorized because she dances to her own beat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Serena Zola

October 12, 2014 at 10:59 PM

Book Review: The Fight (Drama High Book 1) by L. Divine

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Drama High The Fight

Source: Goodreads

Plot Summary (Taken from Amazon)Jayd just wants to start her Junior year of high school drama free. But wanting ain’t getting, especially at a place like Drama High, a predominately white high school in a wealthy part of Los Angeles, where Jayd and 30 other Compton kids get bussed to daily. Saying race relations aren’t what they should be would be putting it mildly, and that’s just the beginning of the drama. Jayd’s first day back to school, KJ’s new girlfriend, Trecee, steps to her wanting to fight. Egged on by Misty, Jayd’s former best friend-turned-nemesis, Trecee wants to make Jayd understand that KJ is off-limits–even if she has to do it with her fists. With the fight set for Friday, and the sistah drama at an all time high, Jayd is about to learn who’s really got her back and more importantly, when she’s got to watch it. But at least she can always count on Mama, and her mystical bag of tricks.

My Review:  One of the best things about this book is its main character, Jayd Jackson. She’s street smart because she lives in Compton and deals with drive by-shootings and people repeatedly breaking into her mom’s car. Yet, she is also book-smart because she is on the AP track at school, knowledgeable about Black history, and is able to debate about past and present issues affecting black people. One of the best chapters of the book is when she engages in discussion with a guy about the connection between sex and material things and how it impacts young girls and guys.

In addition, the author does a good job with weaving together Jayd’s magical life with her grandmother and her life with her mom and friends. It allows the reader to relate to Jayd’s experiences with boys, friends, and clique drama while hinting that they can be more than they realize. The reader may not have special abilities like Jayd, but they can be someone like Jayd by learning from their elders and their past and being themselves.

Besides the main character, some of the supporting characters are memorable. Surrounding Jayd is a good circle of family and friends. Her mother is a independent woman who is raising Jayd with Jayd’s grandmother, who is known as Mama. Mama is a wise, mystical woman who guides Jayd using Jayd’s connection to Yoruba deities and African culture. Jayd’s uncle Bryan is a DJ who has shown Jayd the musical roots of black people while listening to her problems.

When it comes to Jayd’s friends, they are diverse. Jayd belongs to the Drama club clique and has white friends from there, she also has friends in the black clique called South Central and the Hispanic clique called The Barrio.  Although it is the Drama club clique and the South Central clique that is the most prominently featured, the friends that Jayd has from both are loyal and fun.

Another notable aspect of the book is the realistic interactions with Jayd and her classmates. A memorable scene is a flashback to when Jayd was first introduced to South Central and was told “You should sound like us” because they found out she was book smart. Also, the contrast between Jayd and some of her classmates is very striking. While Jayd uses her outspokeness to debate about important issues and stand up for herself, characters like Misty and Trecee use their outspokenness to cause trouble.

The only flaw in the book is Jayd’s magical roots. While it is cool that Jayd has psychic visions with hot flashes and connections to African culture and deities through her grandmother, the author doesn’t explain why. As a result, the reader is forced to go with the flow and make their own assumptions.

Overall, this was a great start to The Drama High series. I recommend it to young black readers looking for something different from the typical inner city teen book. I also recommend it to fans of the television show That’s So Raven. 

 

 

 

 

Written by Serena Zola

September 21, 2014 at 5:00 PM

Book Review: Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

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Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clarke

Source: Goodreads

Plot Summary (Taken from Amazon):  From the outside, Brendan Chase seems to have it pretty easy. He’s a star wrestler, a video game aficionado, and a loving boyfriend to his seemingly perfect match, Vanessa. But on the inside, Brendan struggles to understand why his body feels so wrong—why he sometimes fantasizes having long hair, soft skin, and gentle curves. Is there even a name for guys like him? Guys who sometimes want to be girls? Or is Brendan just a freak?

In Freakboy‘s razor-sharp verse, Kristin Clark folds three narratives into one powerful story: Brendan trying to understand his sexual identity, Vanessa fighting to keep her and Brendan’s relationship alive, and Angel struggling to confront her demons.

My Review: One of the best aspects of this book is the characters. Brendan’s struggle to understand his sexual identity is realistic and raw. Also, the fact that he is also a great big brother to his little sister, put down by his wrestling coach, and doesn’t get along with his stepfather makes him even more sympathetic.

Meanwhile, Angel’s character shows what its like for transgender people who love and accept themselves, but still struggle with their past and everyday prejudice.  Like Brendan, her point of view is raw and she has qualities that make her sympathetic. She is caring and motherly to her loved ones.

Finally, Vanessa is a character that urges the reader to discuss gender norms and how they relate to gender identity. Even though she is straight, she is still called a “dyke” because she is the only girl on the wrestling team. Anyone who doesn’t fit the standard for what it means to be male or female can relate to her.

Besides the characters, the author does a great job writing three points-of-view in verse. She uses different poetry styles and creates powerful metaphors in order to convey thoughts and emotions. In addition, the way certain words and poems are structured is very creative.

The only criticism I have of the book is its ending, particularly with Brendan’s point-of-view. The end of Brendan’s story felt too ambiguous. While it is understandable that his story doesn’t have an easy outcome, the author could have shown that it is possible for Brendan to have a good future.

Overall, this book was a poignant glimpse into the lives of gender queer and transgender people and how gender norms affect everyone. I recommend it to everyone who doesn’t fit gender norms. I also recommend it to anyone who works with transgender and gender queer youth and anyone who has enjoyed the work of YA author Ellen Hopkins.

Written by Serena Zola

September 15, 2014 at 10:00 AM

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