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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.

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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

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.

 

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.

 

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.

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: She Who Fights Monsters (Book 2 of The Black Parade) by Kyoko M.

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She Who Fights Monsters by Kyoko M.

Source: Kyoko M’s website

Plot Summary (Taken from Amazon): Jordan Amador. 23. New Yorker. Waitress. Investigator for souls with unfinished business, also known as a Seer. Michael O’Brien. 25. New Yorker. Lead guitarist. Commander of Heaven’s Army. The dynamic supernatural duo is in the middle of trying to solve a deadly case. Someone is methodically hunting down and murdering Seers one by one.

After six months with no leads on the killer, Jordan and Michael are forced to work with their worst enemy—the archdemon Belial: a self-professed Prince of Hell who is dead set on stealing Jordan for himself. However, with the archdemon’s help, they pick up on the trail of the serial killer and plan to stop him no matter what the cost. When the shocking truth behind the murderer’s identity is revealed, Jordan begins asking herself if she is still fighting for the good guys or has she become one of the monsters she is desperately trying to stop?

My Review:  One of the best things about this book is the author’s writing style. The thought-provoking epigraphs, humorous pop culture references,  and detailed action scenes from the first book are still present in the second book. In addition, the author does a good job writing this book from two points-of-view, Jordan’s and Michael’s.

Besides the author’s writing style, the way Jordan and Michael’s relationship was portrayed in the book was very well done. You can see how much Jordan and Michael care for each other when they are together and apart. Things like knowing what makes the other tick and using the same “I just kicked your butt” catchphrase show how close Jordan and Michael have become.

In addition, the character development is good. Although new personal demons confront Jordan, she works through them while kicking demon butt. Michael has some anger issues that he learns to handle as he juggles his multiple roles.

Other characters that play an important role include Jordan’s mother and adoptive father, the archangel Gabriel, and the archdemon Belial. Jordan’s mother and adoptive father do a good job guiding Michael and Jordan from above. Gabriel is a strong fighting partner and a caring friend to Jordan. Belial is a complicated factor, but his involvement with Jordan and Michael makes him a striking character.

Finally, the book’s moral is something anyone can relate to. By the end of the book, the reader is shown that sometimes life and people aren’t always black and white. There is a grey area in almost everyone, whether it be yourself, a parent, or a lover.

Overall, this was a great sequel to The Black Parade. If you enjoyed The Black Parade, then definitely read this book.

Related Link:  Book Review of The Black Parade Book 1

 

 

 

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