Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia Release Day Review!

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky (Tristan Strong #1)

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame M "bomb" lia (Mbalia)
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Seventh-grader Tristan Strong feels anything but strong ever since he failed to save his best friend when they were in a bus accident together. All he has left of Eddie is the journal his friend wrote stories in. Tristan is dreading the month he’s going to spend on his grandparents’ farm in Alabama, where he’s being sent to heal from the tragedy. But on his first night there, a sticky creature shows up in his bedroom and steals Eddie’s journal. Tristan chases after it-–is that a doll?-–and a tug-of-war ensues between them underneath a Bottle Tree. In a last attempt to wrestle the journal out of the creature’s hands, Tristan punches the tree, accidentally ripping open a chasm into the MidPass, a volatile place with a burning sea, haunted bone ships, and iron monsters that are hunting the inhabitants of this world. Tristan finds himself in the middle of a battle that has left black American gods John Henry and Brer Rabbit exhausted. In order to get back home, Tristan and these new allies will need to entice the god Anansi, the Weaver, to come out of hiding and seal the hole in the sky. But bartering with the trickster Anansi always comes at a price. Can Tristan save this world before he loses more of the things he loves?
I never wanted to be a superhero as a child, but I wanted to do heroic things. Tristan Strong epitomizes the dreams of young black children who want to do and be both; be heroes/heroines and do heroic things. Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is the Harry Potter for young black children. (A heavy claim, I know.) It is a grabbing combination of African folklore, African American history, African mythology, and the innate magic that is Blackness.

Tristan Strong just lost his best friend. His best friend, Eddie, was the peanut butter to his jelly. Eddie's journal is all that remains of their friendship. The journal is a  leather-bound book of stories, told by Eddie and Tristan’s grandmother, respectively. Tristan takes the journal with him to Alabama; where he’s sent to stay with his grandparents, to heal from the loss. While there, he encounters a sticky doll and a bottle tree. (Don’t tell Gum baby I called her a doll.) Gum Baby sneaks into Tristan's room and steals Eddie's journal. In pursuit of the doll who stole his best friend’s journal, Tristan knocks into the bottle tree—ripping a hole between his world and the Mid-pass. As a result, he lets loose a long-contained spirit.

Tristan falls into a chasm with the loud-mouthed sticky creature and finds himself in a world where haunted ships and African gods exist.

I can’t tell you all how good this book is, at least not properly, or eloquently enough. I opened the book and Tristan grabbed me by the throat, threw me and Gum Baby into his hoodie, and did not let me go until the very last page. It was unputdownable.

I rarely find books unputdownable, but I did not want to put this book down. Rich in history, contemporary language, and a teachable juxtaposition between today’s African American and yesterday’s African lay a beautiful story, worthy of being passed down; not unlike the folklores told in the story.

Tristan’s relatability, his touchable grief, and his insecurities will reach readers young and old, but specifically the youth. This book is perfectly suited for its audience and even beyond. In the story, readers are introduced to a cast of characters they won’t soon forget. Though Anaya, our witty guide, among other small but vital characters weren’t as fleshed out, I didn’t find the story lacking. With a series, there should be some expectation of “left-out details.” Later books expound on the smaller details. Hashing everything out, in the beginning, leaves little to be desired later in the series. Book one gave enough backstory to hook the reader and keep the reader.

The world is like a  multi-layered onion. The descriptions made the world leap off the page in frightening real and otherworldly detail. The descriptions of the gods, the villains, the physical spaces/lands, and the characters in all their uniqueness were one of the book’s shining spots. It brought life and color to the words making the story that much more lively and enjoyable.

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is the book this generation's black youth needs. It shows them as heroes, gods, and heroines. It teaches Black history in a fun and approachable way. It is a beautiful piece of literature that will itself a "forever home" on any book lover's bookshelf. An outstanding and unforgettable debut. I want more, and more, and more. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

Sticks and Stones by Santana Blair

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Sticks & Stones by Santana Blair
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She thinks he’s looking for a come up.
He just thinks she’s stuck up.

Both Darcie and Elijah step foot onto the campus of Pembrook Academy with one thing on their minds… getting out. Darcie wants nothing more than to finish high school and know that her spot in the Ivy Leagues is secured and waiting for her.
And Elijah?
Well, Elijah just wants out.
It was never his idea to go to Pembrook in the first place and now he’s stuck spending his senior year with a bunch of kids he has absolutely nothing in common with. Then, she came along. From the moment he meets Darcie Fitzgerald, he knows she is going to drive him absolutely crazy. But nothing could have prepared him for how amazing crazy would feel.

Darcie has ninety-nine problems and Elijah Benitez is now her biggest one. He seemed to coast into her life from out of nowhere, and she has neither the time nor the patience to deal with him. But every time she tries to put a little distance between them, life shoves them closer together and Darcie finds herself in a situation far more complicated than she could have ever expected.

They’re both about to learn a few things starting with lesson #1:
Not Everything Is As it Seems
Sticks & Stones hit all the right notes, at all the right points. This is my second Santana Blair novel, and I'm now doubly impressed.

Sticks and Stones is the story of "rough-ish" twins that transfer to a new school, Pembrook Academy. This is a bougie type of school—where everyone started at the top and has no clue what the bottom is. That's where Elijah meets Darcie. He thinks she's just another stuck up princess, and she thinks he's just another bad boy on a mission. But, they both find more in the other than they could have ever expected. It gave off Pride and Prejudice vibes; so if that's your thing, there's that to look forward to.

The story is not unique in its premise, but it tackles romance, backstory, and heart rather well. The story has just enough of all of what needs to make a great story: conflicting and troublesome pasts from both ends, misconceived and conflicting emotions, heartfelt family, characters to root for, and a romance that burns and ignites the heart.

Each character was special to its purpose for progressing the plot. The plot surrounds the relationship and the development of the relationship between Darcie and Elijah. There are small little stories that happen in the book, but the most important factor is Darcie and Elijah's romantic relationship—at least that's what I got out of it. As a heavy romance reader, I'm all about the love, though I missed some heavy angst found in most (some) adult novels.

Because the characters are transitioning from their last year of high school into college(think acceptance letters, and picking the right schools) this is definitely YA, if to be technical, upper YA. It's well written, however and has the right amount of emotions without stringing the reader along with too much drama. It will hit you in the feels with every stolen kiss and sly glance. It's an enjoyable novel written by an author worth watching out for.

It gets my stamp of approval.

Friday, October 4, 2019

The Preying Pastor by B. Love

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The Preying Pastor by B. Love
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“She needed to be careful, for if you walk with the prey… you eventually become the prey.” 

Dallas Carver-Monroe has managed to live with a fairytale façade for the past ten years. Growing up in a religiously strict home caused Dallas to do whatever it took to please her parents – even if that meant marrying her high school sweetheart, Seth, right after they graduated. Dallas and Seth had a genuine connection, but she didn’t think he was the man she was supposed to spend her life with. Still, she married him to make sure they didn’t have sex and start a family without making vows before God. 

After almost twelve years of hell on earth, Dallas is tired of the happily married First Lady façade that has been forced upon her. Just when she thinks she’s about to break free, tragedy strikes, and Seth’s evil deeds and enemies become her own. Silver lining? Ra Jake. 

When Ra Jake returns home, he has only two priorities – fix things with his ex, Cree, and successfully protect the Pastor’s wife. Under different circumstances, Ra would have turned down the job. Losing his last client has caused pain to plague Ra in a way that he never thought was possible. Had it not been for a favor being owed to an old friend, Ra would have never taken on the responsibility of guarding another human being’s life. 

Upon first meeting, Dallas and Ra would rather be anywhere than with each other. As time progresses, they create a genuine bond so deep it’s hard for anyone, Seth and Cree included, to be able to reach. But the old saying is… all good things must come to an end. Unfortunately, this rings true for Dallas and Ra, and they will have to fight for their hearts and their lives before Seth’s horrible decisions rob them of both. 
I admire and appreciate Love’s ability to write spiritually based stories without being preachy while staying wholly committed to the story's spiritual message.

Dallas and Ra posses the type of love/relationship that I aspire to have one day; one that is solid in Christ and the other.

Dallas is Seth’s wife. That’s all that she’s ever known or has ever been. She went from childhood to motherhood without leaving time for herself to grow as a woman. Seth's story is pretty much the same. They grew together but never spend time focusing on their personal growth. As a result, their relationship as husband and wife suffered. Seth went from the praying pastor to the preying pastor. He drank, gambled, and cheated; leaving Dallas to tend to the children while nursing a broken heart and an impending divorce. 

Seth was a bad guy in that he never respected his marriage or his relationship with his children. But bad guy or not he was not a bad person. He was a struggling man of God, and people often forget that being a Christian doesn’t levitate you to a position that disregards you from the human experience. Christianity doesn’t beget otherworldliness in the way people expect that it does.

Seth had a lot of growing up to do and he accomplished that, but unfortunately for his marriage, it came too late. 

Dallas was a sweetheart. She was light in an otherwise dark situation. I think Love does that often and well. She often pens flawed characters that are light in the darkness. She’s mastered that well.

And what can I say about, Ra? Ra was… everything. He was masculinity as we’ve come to know it. He was assertive yet gentle. He was a man’s man so to speak. I admired his strength and solidity. Ra is a street guy that grew into something more. I liked his character a lot.

The love story and the backstory that grew in the book captivated me and didn’t let go until I got to the very last page—which I dreaded. I didn’t want this story to end.

The characters were solid and realistic. The story was engaging. I was very pleased. The pacing was longer than I’ve known some of Love’s books to be, but it was perfect for this story.
The Preying Pastor was an enjoyable story; that hit all the right notes. 

Friday, September 27, 2019

Burning Out and Saying What I Want

Hello All,

The last couple of weeks have been rough for me personally. Life has a way of taking you to the ring sometimes and leaving you no time to prepare. While, I am always prime to fight—sometimes, just sometimes, I would love to be left the eff alone.

Hence this post. Call me what you want; a menace, a hater, ugly whatever. I've heard it all before, and honey sticks and stones... When I decided to review books out loud, it literally stemmed from a place of unemployment. I thought what can I do while I am looking for work so I'm actually doing something? A lightbulb goes off, duh review books. I've always been an avid reader, so it just clicked and made sense. I've been reviewing books for about 7 years now.

I've always had a keen eye but along the way, through my studies, and through this reviewing thing I've learned about the structure of novels, plots, nuances, character arcs, etc. I know my shit. Period. It took me a long time to give myself credit for that. But, I know my shit.

I think that's why those that respect me value my opinion. Because when you get a book review from Jazmen, it will be honest but it will be constructively critical where necessary. I never sit in front of my computer with malice intent. I'm a tell it like it is type of person. That's who I am and I am okay with that even if some of you are not. 

I have read countless books for people, tirelessly without asking for any compensation. Going inside and outside of my way to promote books I love, while marketing people get paid to do what I'm doing for free. Because I am passionate about this ish.

When I started Literally Black, I wanted to do what I was already doing on a grander scale for Black people. Point blank period. I wanted to see Black literature get the due it deserves, it's why I spend(spent) my days reading, reviewing and promoting Black literature. It is completely selfless.

But what I did not prepare for was to not feel that same support from my people. Let's be real, black bloggers are at a disadvantage. We're black and we want to be heard. Just the idea of that has some people shaking in their boots. (See non-POC) To have to fight for a position from the non-black community to my own is an exhausting feat.

What I didn't expect is to get review requests, review the books and not even get a thank you while watching these same authors flank to non-POC, like the very answer to their success lies in their hands. And, you know what, maybe it does. But, guess what don't let social media fool you, white people still have a problem with us (you).

What I also didn't prepare for is to have mute reviews on Goodreads just so I didn't have to wade through the people telling me I'm missing the point, people questioning my blackness, people telling me I'm wrong here and there and on and on because someone is butt hurt about the one review that's actually honest. Goodreads is for readers. AGAIN, Goodreads is for readers. Don't come for me if I didn't send for you. If I want smoke, I'll show up with the fire.

Don't get me twisted. I'm SUPER grateful to the people this does not apply to. You support me and other black reviewers and bloggers tirelessly. I see you and if I could give you something tangible as thanks I would. You see what the world wants to ignore. Because of you, we (black bloggers/reviewers) matter and remain relevant; at least to you. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU. 

Image result for i said what i said nene

Just this very morning, I had to give someone the Nene Leakes, because they felt I missed the point of their friend's book. Whoever you are, I know your friends with that author. Why are up at 5 am reading reviews about a book and getting bothered by it? I mean, I have to laugh. I don't expect people to agree with everything I say. That's not realistic. However, how do you manage to be bothered about something you can simply ignore?

 But that was the last straw. I am officially burning out. I will not keep defending my point of view. I won't. I will Nene Leakes, I said what I said you to death. I will say what I want how I want. Because that's my business.

Going forward, I will limit severely the number of review requests I take on because it's obvious some of you have me messed up. If you are a fave this DOES NOT apply to you. Inudate my inbox with your written goodness. However, if you request a review from me, please understand the chances I will love and hate the book are the same. If you want me to lie or write up some general mess, there are several book tour hosts that will provide this service to you. 

If you want constructive truth, I got you. Otherwise, there are exits to your left and your right. Escape and delete.

I'm sure some people will roll their eyes at this, but you know what so what. It needed to be said. Don't think for one second I haven't talked to several black bloggers and reviewers who don't feel the same. Show us some damn respect. Or catch these hands or whatever Aretha Franklin said.

Good day and Happy Friday, God is still good.



Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Healing Hannah's Heart by Preslaysa Williams

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Healing Hannah's Heart by Preslaysa Williams
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Hannah Hart may have been burned by the breakup of her rocky marriage, but the ambitious Afro-Filipina model has big plans for her future. Her stunning looks and flawless skin provide the opening she craves to become a celebrity in the fashion world. Then an arsonist’s match brings Hannah’s world crashing down around her.

While Hannah recovers from her burns, she is forced to accept help from the last person on earth she wants, her estranged husband, Jake Hart. Jake isn't ready to give up on their marriage. The return of Jake's teenage son from a one-night stand had been the catalyst for their breakup. Can Jake help both the son who resents his abandonment and the woman he still loves? He can do nothing about the scars on her skin, but can he heal Hannah's heart?
As she struggles to rebuild her life from the ashes of her shattered dreams, does Hannah have the courage to give Jake a second chance? And is the world ready for a differently-abled model who will redefine what it means to be beautiful? 
I sat on my feelings for Healing Hannah's Heart for a while because I wasn't sure how to encapsulate my feelings for this book. I wanted to be eloquent and not sound like a raging maniac. However, even after all of that time, though my feelings are not as strong—I still do not and will never like this book.

I try not to make everything about race but with the portrayal of black women; it gets my hackles up to see us portrayed stereotypically. AAVE is a part of our culture, but it is always blatantly obvious when an author is using it to portray a character's blackness; as opposed to something that is inherently a part of their everyday vernacular and or lifestyle. That's what Hannah was(is) to me. The author is a black woman and I am not using this space to question her blackness, but her character reads false. I could tell by how the words were used and then spoken. Like, if someone spoke Spanish, you can tell the difference from someone who has spoken it for a long period of time, compared to someone who is just learning. The blackness of one’s character is not determined by how many aint’s or periods they can fit in a paragraph or a sentence. Don’t use it as a determining factor for blacknessas for me and my house, it won't be well received.

The son (the illegitimate child) has these barber cut designs in his hair, tattoos, and the clothes to boot. He read like the gang banger he wound up being. Though the understanding is that he’s a troubled kid due to the lack of a present father, I would have just as quickly believed it simply based on his actions—and found no need for the stereotyped exterior.

Also, the race card was played like a bad hand in this story. It wasn’t unbelievable by any means but it doesn’t seem believable at the same time. As a black person, in this world, race will play a role in our lives no matter what we do—but if you're going to discuss it, do it with care, not with the reckless abandon of someone seeking to grab a certain audience.

Even aside from that, I could not stand Hannah. She was rude and judgemental. She was basically that way to almost every single person who crossed her path. From her mother down to the son her husband had. She made that man forgo a relationship with his child because she needed to be more important to him—and in no way, shape, form or fashion could I get behind this ideology.

Not to mention the beginning of the book was a tailspin I got caught up in and could not find my way out of. I don't claim to know a lot but I don't hear of many gym fires. The author too easily set up the one thing that would hinder the character's development and the thing that would progress the plot. I mean I can't imagine being in a gym pedaling away, walking away momentarily, and the whole thing going up in flames---and then getting caught in said fire.

It was laughable. I literally laughed because I couldn't believe it. I knew from that point the story wouldn't go well. I was not wrong. The MC is awful and though everyone around her tried to do right by her, "her burns" hindered her from moving forward. While I don't doubt going from a swan to an ugly duckling would put many a people into a funk, she was funky long before she became a model burn victim. It served her right for treating her plus-sized model friend like trash because she was a plus-sized model. Who by the way forgave her far too quickly and easily than she deserved.

Hannah does make a turn around at about 95-100% percent, but by then I gave up on her because even with that swift and too late change, I do believe she's still an asshole.

The characters were dreadful. The representation was poor. The plot was boring and the story itself needs restructuring. I won't say I'm able or unable to make this assessment but it's going to be a complete no ma'am for me. 

Monday, September 23, 2019

Release Day Review: White Whiskey Bargain by Jodie THE FAVE Slaughter

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White Whiskey Bargain by Jodie THEE Slaughter
The Butterfly Reader: City of Ashes - Review

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"Like I said before, I know we ain’t in love, and I don’t expect us to ever fall in love, but I want us to be good to each other. People have been gettin married in situations like this for hundreds of years, and they’ve made it work. It doesn’t matter if this doesn’t last forever. I’m goin’ to make sure I’m good to you, and I’d appreciate it if you extended me the same courtesy.” - Javier Meza

The sudden and tragic death of her mother throws Hannah Hawkins into a position she doesn’t feel at all prepared for. With the duty of leading her family’s decades-long moonshining business weighing heavy on her shoulders, the last thing she needs is something making her transition even harder. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what she gets. A band of vicious new players has arrived in small-town Harlan, Kentucky, and while what they really want remains a mystery, it quickly becomes clear they’re willing to stoop to dark lengths to get it. To fight off a beast, Hannah realizes she needs to join forces with a rival. 

Javier Meza may be the sole heir to his family’s moonshining empire, but he’s certainly no leader. He has no head for business or diplomacy, preferring to spend his days in the trenches, making corn liquor with the rest of the “cooks.” That doesn’t mean he isn’t more than willing to step up and take charge when his family finds themselves in danger. Forming a shaky partnership with the Hawkins family is one thing, but marrying Hannah Hawkins to keep their deal on the straight and narrow is something else entirely. 

While Hannah is determined to keep their marriage as something that exists in name only, Javier is eager not to leave this wife hurt and disappointed like his last one. They both quickly learn that their feelings, much like their enemies, don’t plan on going away without a fight.

From All Things Burn author, Jodie Slaughter - illegal white whiskey, a marriage of convenience between decades-long rival families, and Black Appalachia. Jodie blends romance and suspense to bring to the forefront a spotlight on the impact of populations of color in small-town Kentucky. A full-length romance novel with a very satisfying HEA.
Slaughter has a certain languidness to her writing. It's not that it's slow on the action, but her books take their time reaching the climax. It builds you up and lets you down slowly. It's a perfect balance between slow and just right. This second book, like the first, starts off with an interesting and collar grabbing bang.

Hannah is in the moonshine business. Her mother died recently, and it's now her turn at the helm. Though she's not fully seated in her boss position, she's ready willing and able to do whatever it takes to keep the business running successfully. Even if that means marrying her rival's son.

I liked Hannah. She wasn't too much. She wasn't insecure or questioning her very being because of a man. She might not have been completely comfortable filling her mother's shoes, but she maintained a reasonable and likable amount of confidence. I liked what she brought to the table as a young black woman in the seat of a boss.

Javier is a gentle giant. It's not that he's a punk or anything, he's just soft when he needs to be. And tough when he doesn't. He's the perfect balance of hard and soft. Hannah was a lucky woman I'm just saying.

He's loyal to his family and to the business they've built. It's admirable and sexy if I might say so myself. He handles the arranged marriage like a man on a mission and I was not mad at that.

I liked him most of all. He's the ultimate book boyfriend—but you can't have him he's mine. We're married. The paperwork is in the mail.

The story itself was exciting. I don't read a lot of stories that focus on these type of career paths, so it's unique plot definitely pulled me in and kept me reading. It does the standard thing with the romance, meet, resist, fall in love—but I rooted for them all the way. It was a slow burn, but it was worth the wait. Slaughter did what I've learned she can do, which is rock my socks off with a unique tantalizing romance that's sure to singe my eyebrows with its sexy hotness.

I had high expectations; she met them all—and that's why I stan.