Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud ARC Review: I Signed Up For Romance, Where's My Romance?

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Fiercely independent and smart, Zora Emerson wants to change the world. She's excited to be attending a prestigious summer program, even if she feels out of place among her privileged, mostly white classmates. So she's definitely not expecting to feel a connection to Owen, who's an actual prince of an island off the coast of England. But Owen is funny, charming...and undeniably cute. Zora can't ignore the chemistry between them. When Owen invites Zora to be his date at his big brother's big royal wedding, Zora is suddenly thrust into the spotlight, along with her family and friends. Everyone is talking about her, in real life and online, and while Owen is used to the scrutiny, Zora's not sure it's something she can live with. Can she maintain her sense of self while moving between two very different worlds? And can her feelings for Owen survive and thrive in the midst of the crazy? Find out in this charming romantic comedy that's like The Princess Diaries for a new generation.


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Truly Madly Royally was a cute-ish read that lacked a certain something to take it fully over the edge.

Zora is a modern day activist, socialist and do-gooder.

Zora is attending a prestigious college to prepare for (possible) attendance in the fall. While doing this she manages a community program, fully built on the back of an idea she came up with—to better her community.

She’s also in prep to receive awards for her work and grants (hopefully *fingers crossed) to fund her program dutifully called the ‘Walk Me Home Program.’ Zora is what adults wish kids would be, and there is no hidden agenda involved.

While attending this prestigious school, she meets, Owen, the prince. A chance encounter leads to public scrutiny. Now she has to choose. Is being close to the Prince worth all the hassle it’s causing?

The worthiness is something the reader will struggle with. Was it all worth it? With a lack of cutesy moments, and overall depth outside of covert conversations and wry smiles—one can’t tell if it is.

The romance is severely lacking, only told in small sections and bursts (though cute-ish). It doesn’t carry the story and left this reader feeling a little short-changed.

Don’t be mistaken the characters are root-worthy, but the romance was disappointing.

As far as the plot, though the book seems to have an agenda, it’s slow getting there and leaves the reader feeling less satiated than expected. It seems to get nowhere. The ending is pretty meh in terms of the happiness factor. It’s a happy ending, but it’s less happy and more expectant.

With an almost ripped from the headlines plot,  from an obvious Harry and Meghan supporter; the book doesn’t excite in the way an upcoming royal nuptial would.

What it doesn’t lack, however, is black positivity. Positivity, that will excite readers young and old by delving into historical facts (True or not true, that is not clear without research) and overall black joy, the book does an outstanding job of being black positive—while keeping its authenticity.
Many young readers will relish in the inclusivity. But it lacks oomph and romance.

The writing is good, but it doesn’t make up for what it lacks.

Is it worth buying? Sure. Just don’t lean too heavily on the romance the cover portrays.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

I Spy The Boy Next Door: Why Don't I Have These Kinds of Next Door Neighbors?

Four p.m. spy sessions are the highlight of Mallory Taylor’s day. Observing the boy next door—one with a body and an attitude to match—has her perched beside her window so often it can't be healthy.

When she finally convinces her mom to let her go to public school, Mallory comes face to face with her neighbor, Troy Parker. And he makes it clear he wants nothing to do with her. His rejection awakens a newfound tenacity and maybe even a touch of recklessness. But when Troy starts to show up when she needs him the most, Mallory can’t help but wonder if there’s more to him than he’s let on.

Taking chances, breaking rules, and following her heart is all new to Mallory. And no one warned her just how fickle hearts can be. When she discovers that Troy isn’t at all the guy she imagined him to be, secrets rise to the surface that will change her life forever.

*This is a standalone mature YA/new adult contemporary romance.

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I Spy The Boy Next Door is a delicious, heart-rumbling, heart-warming whale of a tale.

I mean if Troy could just pin me down with those ocean blues, that’d be great.

I’m very much a fan of the boy doesn’t want the girl (pretends not to), but the girl wants the boy, boy fights it, but they eventually wind up together trope.

Mallory is homeschooled and home-bound. But, that doesn’t stop the crush she has on Troy, The Boy Next Door.

Every day around 4, she watches him come running down the block all sweaty and hot. She’s fine with that, for now. But, her 18th birthday is approaching and she wants to go to school. Real school. The kind that requires she leaves the house. Much to her parent's chagrin, they let her go.

It’s in this letting go that Mallory finds herself and she also discovers that her crush is not so one-sided.

Troy was a boy of few words. But when he spoke and moved, it was arresting. From the way the author describes his come-hither stares, his just-barely-there smiles, I practically melted into a puddle of goo.

The romance in this one was an excruciating slow burn that had me panting for the hookup. When it does happen, it’s slow like the pouring out of ketchup in a class Heinz bottle.

But, it’s so good. So painstakingly good.

All of the characters are three dimensional and fitting and perfect for the story. I really enjoyed how the author built up relationships so efficiently and timely.

The story itself is perfectly paced and well-written, very.

And the climax to the story was surprising, I definitely wasn’t expecting it—and it gave the story a nice mystery quality.

Unpredictable, and stimulating, TBND is a great read—with an even better writer at the helm. Very enjoyable, I can’t wait to read more from this author.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

After Ever: A Paradise Cove Story (Paradise Cove, #3) by Santana Blair: Writing Done Well

Max Tucker can divide his life into two distinct parts: before and after. 

Before her, he was good at his job. No, he was better than good. As a rising star in sports agency with a reputation for getting what he wants when it comes to signing clients and making deals, he had a one track mind and that track was success

When his latest pursuit leads him away from California and to a quiet Virginian town, the last thing Max expects is to find the girl who makes him question everything he thought to be true. 

But when her life of silent shadows threatens any hope for a future together, it's up to Max to make the most important deal of his life. 

Because after isn't acceptable when he finally decides to live for Ever.

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After Ever is an emotional ride of a read; with serious depth and a solid backstory made to please.

Everleigh only knows fear. After getting out of a tumultuous relationship with Bobby, her abuser; she’s determined to fly under the radar. Arranged visits with her brother, work at the bookshop and home. A dull but reliable routine. That is until Max shows up at her shop, with a dead phone and an open heart.

Max works until exhaustion most days. On a work trip, he stumbles into a bookstore; hoping to get a little juice for his phone but he gets more than a charge for his phone. 

Neither Max nor Everleigh were looking for love. He was too busy. And, for Everleigh it was the farthest thing from her mind. She didn’t even talk, for goodness sakes. 

I adored that Everleigh didn’t speak. Not only was it a unique twist, but it also forced the author to dig deep and give the characters true emotions you could feel.

And, feel I did.

I was a complete mushball for a significant portion of the novel; sitting in the background like a voyeur, waiting for the two to connect.

The burn was slow, and the wait was worth it. Love took its time to bloom and grow in this novel—and the pacing was expert level.

The author seemed like a pro in this style of writing. The construction of the novel was on point. I was thoroughly impressed and satisfied with the character’s development and growth.

The secondary characters were solid and provided great detail to an otherwise bright story.

For those of you who prefer novels with sex, you won’t get that here. But, with covert kisses and sly glances—and some heavy petting, the novel doesn’t fall short because it lacked “sexy times.” The lack of it allowed the author to focus on the intimacy and emotional depth of the book and it paid off.

A solid novel, with all the right bits. After Ever is a great book, and I am excited to try more books from this author.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Devils Within by S.F. Henson


Killing isn’t supposed to be easy. But it is. It’s the after that’s hard to deal with. 

Nate was eight the first time he stabbed someone; he was eleven when he earned his red laces—a prize for spilling blood for “the cause.” And he was fourteen when he murdered his father (and the leader of The Fort, a notorious white supremacist compound) in self-defense, landing in a treatment center while the state searched for his next of kin. Now, in the custody of an uncle he never knew existed, who wants nothing to do with him, Nate just wants to disappear.

Enrolled in a new school under a false name, so no one from The Fort can find him, he struggles to forge a new life, trying to learn how to navigate a world where people of different races interact without enmity. But he can’t stop awful thoughts from popping into his head, or help the way he shivers with a desire to commit violence. He wants to be different—he just doesn’t know where to start.

Then he meets Brandon, a person The Fort conditioned Nate to despise on sight. But Brandon’s also the first person to treat him like a human instead of a monster. Brandon could never understand Nate’s dark past, so Nate keeps quiet. And it works for a while. But all too soon, Nate’s worlds crash together, and he must decide between his own survival and standing for what’s right, even if it isn’t easy. Even if society will never be able to forgive him for his sins.

Like a teen American History X, S.F. Henson’s Devils Within is gut-wrenching, thought-provoking, no-holds-barred look at the plague of white supremacy in contemporary American culture that may have you examining your own soul. 

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I don’t know what made me pick up Devils Within. Aside from the blurb, the content is probably something I should have avoided—out of fear of finding something within the book that might set something off in me. Some racial implication or misstep. But Devils Within is the first book I’ve read of its kind and it does for the race conversation something I’ve never seen done by a non-person of color.

Nate is a former Neo-nazi. He’s killed and hurt people. One of them being his father. He murdered him. Now, he’s trying to live an actual life—in a new town, with an uncle he never met.

Like this novel shows, you can move, but the past goes with you.

I didn’t know much about White supremacists groups—not anything of substance. As an African American, I can’t say I was eager to go down that rabbit hole. But, Hinton does a wonderful job of exposing the inner workings of these types of groups accurately, and in a way easy for an unlearned person to grasp—without being vulgar. Her conscious way of handling race on both ends is something worth talking about.

While exploring these difficult subjects, Hinton created characters that were multifunctional and dimensional. They didn’t merely exist to tell a story but to educate—which is the strongest weapon in the destruction of racism. 

Nate starts off in a psych ward of sorts—battling the demons that stemmed from his upbringing. This might have been unintentional, but it’s the resolution we’re used to seeing because of hate crimes. The white person gets off after having killed or victimized a person of color. They’re then sent to a mental institution for whatever mental issue they’ve chosen to blame their hate crime on. But, Hinton doesn’t romanticize or belittle this part. It seems fitting and real.

Once we get Nate out of that environment into the real world we really get to see the white supremacist mindset, thankfully in a gentler manner. If the reader had to deal with something so in-your-face it would have soured the book and I would have run for the hills.

We watch Nate deal with the aftermath of his racist excursions and his head-on dealings with other races and nationalities. 

The author does a stellar job of staying away from victimizing Nate; while also ensuring the victims remain the actual victims.

It weaves facts throughout the book in such a painfully painless manner—maintaining the book’s integrity and sticking to the truth.

The supporting cast, the uncle Dell—his Asian girlfriend, Bev—and the friends, Brandon guided this story in the right direction and helped to educate on racism and racists effectively and appropriately.

The way the story plays itself out was completely welcoming and raw. But, not raw enough to be difficult to read. Because let’s face it any conversations of race are hard to read and scary. 

I’m truly thoroughly pleased with the structure, delivery, and layout of this novel.

It’s handled correctly, and it caters to the young adult audience without treating the intended reader like a child.

I will note it probably will trigger for some readers but if you power through, it will be worth it.

A stunning and well-done take. I have no complaints. It’s a worthwhile, authentic and unique niche read. Highly recommended. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Let Me Hear A Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson: An ARC Review:This Will Stick With Me For A While


Let Me Hear A Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson
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In the next striking and vibrant standalone novel by the critically acclaimed author of Allegedly and Monday’s Not Coming, Tiffany D. Jackson tells the story of three Brooklyn teens who plot to turn their murdered friend into a major rap star by pretending he is still alive.

Biggie Smalls was right. Things done changed. But that doesn’t mean that Quadir and Jarrell are okay letting their best friend Steph’s tracks lie forgotten in his bedroom after he’s killed—not when his beats could turn any Bed-Stuy corner into a celebration, not after years of having each other’s backs.

Enlisting the help of Steph’s younger sister, Jasmine, Quadir and Jarrell come up with a plan to promote Steph’s music under a new rap name: The Architect. Soon, everyone in Brooklyn is dancing to Steph’s voice. But then his mixtape catches the attention of a hotheaded music rep and—with just hours on the clock—the trio must race to prove Steph’s talent from beyond the grave.

Now, as the pressure—and danger—of keeping their secret grows, Quadir, Jarrell, and Jasmine are forced to confront the truth about what happened to Steph. Only each has something to hide. And with everything riding on Steph’s fame, together they need to decide what they stand for before they lose everything they’ve worked so hard to hold on to—including each other.
The young adult genre has not yet seen a novel the likes of Let Me Hear A Rhyme, and whoever signed on for this title knew what they’re doing.
Let Me Hear A Rhyme brought forth memories long since buried. It felt like someone ripped these pages right out of my childhood. Jackson knows, and she gets it.

If LMHAR, were out when I was a teenager, I would have devoured it, in the same manner, I devoured my fifty cent snack: a bag of chips and a quarter juice.

LMHAR is what Urban Fiction wishes it could be. This book is not Urban Fiction—it lacks a certain “urban fiction” quality. (That’s not a bad thing.) But, it would have definitely been UF teen, if it were a genre. I would’ve snatched it off the bookseller's table on 125th (the only place to find books fully “black”, at least at one point) tightly gripping the plastic-covered novel—eager to read it.

Instead of sneaking my mother’s copy of True To The Game, well before I knew the “game” I would have eagerly grabbed this book. LMHAR fills in the gap; the void between: “Too old for Harry Potter, and too young for Urban Fiction.” It does for young black teens what books like The Hate U Give and its comparable titles have yet to accomplish. It took the streets it was unaware of, or afraid to portray and told the stories I would have easily related to. The black experience is all-encompassing, but neglecting the “streets,” and hip-hop neglects the stories that need telling.

Quadir, Jarrell, and Jasmine could have easily been my friends. 

Steph would have hit it big one day. He could rap better than the best of them. But, his life was tragically cut short—leaving behind two grieving best friends, and a grieving sister.

One day it hits them. Steph story is not over, and together they hatch a plan to make Steph the star he deserved to be; post-mortem. It’s genius, but how long can you pull off pretending someone’s alive that’s now dead?

This book is absolute literary goodness. Stunningly written, unwittingly relatable, and outright good literature.

Jackson told a story that wasn’t necessarily new but has never been told in the capacity with which she told it. She not only did Brooklyn justice, but she also did justice for boys like, Steph who lose their lives too soon, for little to no reason. And for the black girls, who didn’t fit in. The ones who were a little “weird,” the ones who felt just a little outside of “blackness.” The expectation being you had to be a certain way, to be considered fully black.

 I loved that Jasmine was pro-black and very in tune with her roots. I loved that Jackson let her wear her natural hair with pride. Edges and afro-puffs on fleek!

It’s stories like these that allow us to see the unseen. Jackson is a master at that. 

My heart and black body are full. I’m filled to the brim with black pride and joy. This novel did what needed to be done.

The characters practically leaped off the page. Jackson used these characters to take internalized black issues and struggles and put a bright light on them; staying true to the message without being preachy or holier than thou in the delivery.

Kids from this generation will get to know what the 90s to the tip of the 2000s was like from an authentic place/voice. I have a serious case of nostalgia and will need to refer to my 90s playlist to satiate my current need to revisit this time period.

Let Me Hear A Rhyme is a stunning, gritty and pulsating novel that does exactly what it sets out to do and it does it one hundred percent right.

Buy this book. It will not disappoint you. 
If you need me, I’ll be looking for my Sergio Valente’s.