Tag: culture

Book Review and Blog Tour: Furia, by Yamile Saied Méndez

Image belongs to Algonquin Young Readers.

Title: Furia
Author: Yamile Saied Méndez     
Genre: YA
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Camila Hassan lives a double life. At home, she is a careful daughter, living within her mother’s narrow expectations, in her rising-soccer-star brother’s shadow, and under the abusive rule of her short-tempered father. On the field, she is La Furia, a powerhouse of skill and talent. When her team qualifies for the South American tournament, Camila gets the chance to see just how far her talents can take her. In her wildest dreams, she’d get an athletic scholarship to a North American university, but the path ahead won’t be easy. Her parents, who don’t know about her passion, wouldn’t allow a girl to play fútbol—and she needs their permission to go any farther. Meanwhile, the boy she once loved, Diego, is not only back in town, but has also become an international star, playing in Italy for the renowned team Juventus. Things aren’t the same as when he left: Camila has her own fútbol ambitions now, and La Furia cannot be denied. As her life becomes more complicated, she is forced to face her secrets and make her way in a world with no place for the dreams and passion of a girl like her.

This is an excellent read! The setting comes to life on the page—even for someone who’s never seen an Argentina barrio—and the picture of life there is hard and dark, but with glimmers of light in unexpected places.

Camila is tough as nails, and she keeps her soft spots hidden from everyone:  her parents, her friends, even Diego. I loved reading about her determination to succeed, no matter what obstacles stand in her way.

Yamile Saied Méndez is from Argentina but now lives in Utah. Furia is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Algonquin Young Readers in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: What They Meant for Evil, by Rebecca Deng

 

what they meant for evil
Image belongs to FaithWorks.

Title: What They Meant for Evil
Author:  Rebecca Deng
Genre: Nonfiction
Rating: 4 out of 5

One of the first unaccompanied refugee children to enter the United States in 2000, after South Sudan’s second civil war took the lives of most of her family, Rebecca’s story begins in the late 1980s when, at the age of four, her village was attacked and she had to escape. What They Meant for Evil is the account of that unimaginable journey. With the candor and purity of a child, Rebecca recalls how she endured fleeing from gunfire, suffering through hunger and strength-sapping illnesses, dodging life-threatening predators-lions, snakes, crocodiles, and soldiers alike-that dogged her footsteps, and grappling with a war that stole her childhood.

I cannot imagine the strength it takes to go through something like this…and to not just survive but thrive! I love how the story is told through Rebecca’s eyes at the age the events happened. This gives the story even more impact. While the things she went through are horrific—and the idea that untold numbers also experienced the violence and pain of this same war—her determination and accomplishments are very inspiring!

Rebecca Deng is one of the Lost Girls of Sudan who came to the U.S. in 2000 to escape the violence and war that had plagued her country for years. What They Meant for Evil is her story.

(Galley courtesy of FaithWords in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: Here to Stay, by Adriana Herrera

here to stay
Image belongs to Carina Press.

Title: Here to Stay
Author:   Adriana Herrera  
Genre:  Romance
Rating:  4 out of 5

Starting over is more about who you’re with than where you live…

Julia del Mar Ortiz is not having the best year.

She moved to Dallas with her boyfriend, who ended up ditching her and running back to New York after only a few weeks. Left with a massive—by NYC standards, anyway—apartment and a car lease in the scorching Texas heat, Julia is struggling…except that’s not completely true. Running the charitable foundation of one of the most iconic high fashion department stores in the world is serious #lifegoals.

It’s more than enough to make her want to stick it out down South.

The only monkey wrench in Julia’s plans is the blue-eyed, smart-mouthed consultant the store hired to take them public. Fellow New Yorker Rocco Quinn’s first order of business? Putting Julia’s job on the chopping block.

When Julia is tasked with making sure Rocco sees how valuable the programs she runs are, she’s caught between a rock and a very hard set of abs. Because Rocco Quinn is almost impossible to hate—and even harder to resist.

I really enjoyed the diversity in this novel—and the food descriptions alone were enough to make me drool. This was a fairly straightforward read, with no unexpected surprises. Being in Julia’s viewpoint was a lot of fun, and Rocco was a genuinely nice guy, although his personality changed from sweet, polite, and nice anytime he and Julia were intimate, and the abrupt switch seemed forced and inauthentic.

The secondary characters were all fun and vibrant, but came across more as clichés than anything else, which was disappointing to me. Still, this was a solid, easy read.

Adriana Herrera was born and raised in the Caribbean. Here to Stay is her new novel.

(Galley courtesy of Carina Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Cry of Metal & Bone, by L. Penelope

cry of metal & bone
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title: Cry of Metal & Bone
Author:  L. Penelope   
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Six weeks after the fall of the Mantle, centuries-old enemies Elsira and Lagrimar struggle to unite. The will of the goddess is that the two nations become one, but while the war may be over, peace is still elusive. As desperate Lagrimari flee their barren land for a chance at a better life in Elsira, a dangerous faction opposed to the unification rises.

 When a shadowy group with ties to the Elsiran government takes responsibility for a fatal attack and promises more, an unlikely crew is assembled to investigate. Among them are Lizvette Nirall, a disgraced socialite seeking redemption for past mistakes, and Tai Summerhawk, a foreign smuggler determined to keep a promise he made to a dead man. Powerful Earthsinger Darvyn ol-Tahlyro is sent with a secret assignment, one that Queen Jasminda can’t know about. And in a prison far away, Kyara ul-Lagrimar searches for a way to escape her captors and save a family long thought dead.

 It’s a race against time in this world of deadly magic, secret agendas and court intrigue to discover those responsible for the bombing before the next attack. And in another land a new enemy awakens—one that will strike terror into the hearts of gods and men.

I’ve enjoyed all the Earthsinger Chronicles books, and this one is no exception. The characters are the best part of this series, all of them being diverse and vividly realized. No cookie cutter characters here. Tai was probably my favorite character in this, although Lizvette was great, too.

The cultures in this series are very distinct, and I enjoy reading about them and feeling like I’m exploring the lands themselves. All the settings are detailed enough to get lost in, but not so overly detailed that there’s no room for the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks. I love the continuing saga of these characters.

Leslye Penelope lives in Maryland. Cry of Metal & Bone is the third book in the Earthsinger Chronicles.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Last Story of Mina Lee, by Nancy Jooyoun Kim

mina lee
Image belongs to Harlequin/Park Row.

Title: The Last Story of Mina Lee
Author:     Nancy Jooyoun Kim
Genre: Fiction
Rating:4 out of 5

Margot Lee’s mother, Mina, isn’t returning her calls. It’s a mystery to twenty-six-year-old Margot, until she visits her childhood apartment in Koreatown, LA, and finds that her mother has suspiciously died. The discovery sends Margot digging through the past, unraveling the tenuous invisible strings that held together her single mother’s life as a Korean War orphan and an undocumented immigrant, only to realize how little she truly knew about her mother.

Interwoven with Margot’s present-day search is Mina’s story of her first year in Los Angeles as she navigates the promises and perils of the American myth of reinvention. While she’s barely earning a living by stocking shelves at a Korean grocery store, the last thing Mina ever expects is to fall in love. But that love story sets in motion a series of events that have consequences for years to come, leading up to the truth of what happened the night of her death.

The writing and description in this novel were compelling enough to keep me reading, despite the leisurely pace and Margot’s personality, which I didn’t care for at all. She was so hateful to her mother in her memories. Granted, Mina Lee wasn’t the most loving person, but she did manage to provide for her ungrateful daughter.

Being immersed in the culture of Koreatown was fascinating and complex, and I really enjoyed all the details. I felt so sorry for Mina Lee and everything she experienced, but Margot really made me dislike her, so it was hard to feel any sympathy for her.

Nancy Jooyoun Kim is from Los Angeles. The Last Story of Mina Lee is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Park Row in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Talking Drum, by Lisa Braxton

the talking drum
Image belongs to Inanna Press.

Title:   The Talking Drum
Author Lisa Braxton
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   4 out of 5

In 1971, the fictional city of Bellport, Massachusetts is in decline with an urban redevelopment project on the horizon. The project promises to transform the dying factory town into a thriving economic center, with a profound effect on its residents. Sydney Stallworth steps away her law degree in order to support her husband Malachi’s dream of opening a cultural center and bookstore in the heart of their black community, Liberty Hill. Across the street, Della Tolliver has built a fragile sanctuary for herself, boyfriend Kwamé Rodriguez, and daughter Jasmine, a troubled child prone to frequent outbursts.

Six blocks away and across the Bellport River Bridge lies Petite Africa, a lively neighborhood, where time moves slower and residents spill from run-down buildings onto the streets. Here Omar Bassari, an immigrant from Senegal known to locals as Drummer Man, dreams of being the next Duke Ellington, spreading his love of music and African culture across the world, even as his marriage crumbles around him and his neighborhood goes up in flames. An arsonist is on the loose. As more buildings burn, the communities are joined together and ripped apart. In Petite Africa, a struggling community fights for their homes, businesses, and culture. In Liberty Hill, others see opportunity and economic growth. As the pace of the suspicious fires pick up, the demolition date moves closer, and plans for gentrification are laid out, the residents find themselves at odds with a political system manipulating their lives. “It’s a shame,” says Malachi, after a charged city council meeting, where residents of Petite Africa and Liberty Hill sit on opposing sides. “We do so much for Petite Africa. But still, we fight.”

I enjoyed The Talking Drum. So much cultural diversity made it a very vivid read. I think I enjoyed Omar’s story the most, but all of the characters were believable and powerful, as they struggled against overwhelming odds without a lot of hope or support.

The drums were a powerful thread running through the narrative, and I loved how they held everything together, echoing the message of the story.

Lisa Braxton is an essayist, short story writer, and novelist.

(Galley courtesy of Inanna Press in exchange for an honest review.)

The Best Books I Read in July (2019)

So…normally, I pick the top three books I read in a month. This time, that’s just not possible. Because I read some really good books in July.

the secret life of Sarah Hollenbeck

The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck, by Bethany Turner. This was from my TBR pile, so I didn’t review it. What happens when a steamy romance writer gets saved and falls in love with a preacher? This made me laugh so much, as, apparently, Sarah and I were separated at birth.

ayesha at last

Ayesha at Last, by Uzma Jalaluddin. This also didn’t get a review, as it was my cultural book of the month. Pride and Prejudice in a Muslim community? Yes, please! I enjoyed this immensely, and I loved the look at a Muslim community. And, of course, a good Pride and Prejudice retelling does not go amiss.

three ways

Three Ways to Disappear, by Katy Yocom. This book was emotional, full of family drama, and tigers. And so good!

the mcavoy sisters

The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets, by Molly Fader. More family secrets and drama, but a much happier ending. Life on a Great Lake, secrets from the past, and a troubled relationship between two sisters.

 

the book charmer

The Book Charmer, by Karen Hawkins.  If i could physically give you a copy of this book—I would! I don’t even like small towns, and I’d move to Dove Pond. A librarian who hears books talk to her, a town in trouble, and the outsider who’s the only one who can save it. Please do yourself a favor and read this!

the merciful crow

The Merciful Crow, by Margaret Owen. Have you ever read a fantasy novel that sucked you in from the very first page, that made the culture come alive, and had characters that lived and breathed on the page? This is that book. I’d have read this straight through except work. I could NOT put it down!

Book Review: Someone I Used to Know,by Patty Blount

someone i used to know
Image belongs to Sourcebooks Fire.

Title:   Someone I Used to Know
Author:   Patty Blount
Genre:   YA
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

Boys will be boys is never an excuse.

Ashley was fourteen, a freshman, when she was raped by the senior star for points in the traditional football team scavenger hunt. That was two years ago. A year ago, her rapist was sentenced to a paltry year in prison as the community, the team, and her brother supported him.

Ashley still suffers from debilitating panic attacks that make her wonder if she’ll ever get better. She’s a pariah at school—for getting football thrown out—but when the team is reinstated, she’s desperate to prevent the scavenger hunt that changed her life forever from hurting anyone else. Though scared and afraid, Ashley decides to speak up one more time.

Her brother Derek, away at school, blames himself for what happened to his sister—and how he reacted. What he once saw as normal behavior, he now sees as rape culture, but he doesn’t know how to communicate with Ashley—or anyone else—his remorse and determination to be part of a change. At Thanksgiving, with their entire family falling apart, Derek and Ashley must decide if their relationship is worth the effort it will take to repair.

Patty Blount loves chocolate, cars, and reading. Someone I Used to Know is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Sourcebooks Fire in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Impossibility of Us, by Katy Upperman

the impossibility of us
Image belongs to Swoon Reads.

Title:   The Impossibility of Us
Author:   Katy Upperman
Genre:   YA
Rating:   4 out of 5

Elise doesn’t want to leave the city and start over in a new town, but since the death of her brother in Afghanistan, her mom has checked out, and her sister-in-law and niece need help. So, they move to a small coastal town, but Elise just longs to get back to the city.

Until she meets Mati on the beach one day. He’s Afghan, and Elise must put that aside and get to know him. She discovers a kind, quiet, caring boy who she has so much in common with.

But his religion and culture—and both their families—are huge obstacles. Not to mention the looming date of Mati’s return home. Is there any way to make things work out?

Katy Upperman is a YA author. The Impossibility of Us is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Swoon Reads in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Not the Girls You’re Looking For, by Aminah Mae Safi

Not+The+Girls+You're+Looking+For+Cover
Image belongs to Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends.

Title: Not the Girls You’re Looking For
Author: Aminah Mae Safi
Genre: YA
Rating: 3 out of 5

Lulu Saad has her squad, her family, and a huge chip on her shoulder. She doesn’t need anything else. She’s fasting for Ramadan, which she does every year, and her squad still doesn’t get it, but Lulu is determined to make it through this time.

Except Lulu and her friends have a falling out. And she alienates half of her extended family. And she can’t quite figure out why everything in her life is going wrong…

Okay. I didn’t realize quite how…plotless this book was until I tried to write a synopsis. And now it’s all so clear to me…Lulu and her friends aren’t very likeable. Scratch that. They aren’t likable at all. They do stupid stuff, knowingly. They talk about people. They sabotage people. They’re judgmental. Basically, this book is all angst and anger, with a lot of cultural diversity thrown in.

Now, that part was very well done, and executed so well that I caught all the nuances of Lulu’s struggle to fit in when she feels like she doesn’t belong in either culture. But she’s also touchy to the point of looking for things to take offense at. Have some respect for yourself. Guys should absolutely respect women, and women should be able to wear whatever they want without having to be afraid of guys’ reactions…but, it’s not okay to sexualize men for their bodies, either. Lulu doesn’t get this, and she thinks it’s okay for her to be focused on the guys and for her to react inappropriately towards them. So…all the stars for diversity, but no stars for plot or character likability.

Aminah Mae Safi has studied art History, but now writes fiction. Not the Girls You’re Looking For is her debut novel.

(Galley provided by in exchange for an honest review.)