All Boys Aren’t Blue | Book Review

Title: All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto
Author: George M. Johnson
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux
Publish Date: April 28, 2020
Genre: Young Adult, Memoir
Pages: 304
Format: eBook

Both a primer for teens eager to be allies as well as a reassuring testimony for young queer men of color, All Boys Aren’t Blue covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, consent, and Black joy.

In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, to flea marketing with his loving grandmother, to his first sexual relationships, this young-adult memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys.

Johnson’s emotionally frank style of writing will appeal directly to young adults

I haven’t read a memoir in forever, and wow did I forget how much I enjoy them. I just wanted to preface this review by stating that I think there’s a lot to be learned from memoirs, a lot of lives and stories to be shared through these works. We all have our own experiences and journeys, and having the honor and privilege to read them is wonderful.

With that said, I highly enjoyed this memoir. Within the first two chapters I found myself reflecting on my own life, upbringing, past traumas, childhood, etc. to see what happened in my own life. Getting to read about Johnson’s was a journey, for sure.

One important aspect about this memoir is that (almost) every chapter is filled with love. He expressed that numerous times about how his family was so full of unconditional love for one another, which I think is a truly beautiful thing. I love seeing it in fiction, but love hearing about it more in real life. He expresses how even though his family knew his secret from the time he was young, they never forced him to be anything other than himself, and they accepted him regardless of anything. I loved seeing that dynamic, for sure.

Johnson talks a lot about being Black in this book, and it was another prime example for me as a white woman to understand another part of the Black experience, if I may call it that. I think that Johnson connecting so heavily to his heritage and culture was something that was inspiring to see, and once again allowed me to reflect on my own dynamics not just in my family, but of the environment around me. I will say that even though I don’t understand on a fundamental level what his experience of being Black was like, I still appreciate being able to have a glimpse into what it was like – and continues to be – for him.

He also talked about what being queer and his sexual identity was like as a young Black boy growing up in New Jersey, and he stated multiple times that he hoped other young, queer Black kids would also be able to see themselves in his words. I think seeing his journey of identity was eye opening. As an adult, I’ve been struggling with “labeling” my own sexuality, even though I hate labeling myself for that specific category. This book is giving me a lot to think about and to understand that it’s okay if you don’t get it right away.

I think it’s also important to note that he talks about some traumatic times, including sexual abuse, so please be aware of that going into this novel (it’s not until much later on in the manifesto). I definitely felt uncomfortable, but only in the sense that I knew he was opening up a dark portion of his past that I feel I was not meant to see or know. If it helped him, though, I’m glad it was in there, and if it helps others work through their own traumas, I’m glad it’s in their for them (and you), too.

From family, to friendships, to sexual identity, to Blackness, to much more, I found myself captivated by this memoir. I have been reflecting a lot on myself, and how I’m digesting the memoir to understand what it’s like for Black LGBTQIAP+ people out there.

The writing is very straightforward, and he gives a lot of stories into his background to give weight to the words he shares with you as the reader. I think that’s part of what drew me in so steadily is because I could definitely feel his voice through the pages.

Overall, I think it’s a great book for anyone to read, understand, listen, and reflect on themselves and their own identities and such.

I’m conflicted on rating a memoir, given it’s about a person’s life, but for the purposes of this review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Hate U Give | Book Review

Title: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publish Date: February 28, 2017
Genre: Young Adult, Fiction, Contemporary
Pages: 444
Format: Hardcover

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice.

I bought this book when it first came out and I didn’t read it until now. There was an incredible amount of hype behind it – and rightly so – but I just couldn’t bring myself to read it. A lot was going on in my personal life, but I knew I wanted to read it eventually.

And boy, am I finally glad I did. I started to read it at the height of the protests this past June, and I wanted to take it slow, so it wasn’t until almost a full month later that I started reading and couldn’t put it down. It’s such a fast, impactful read.

I’m just going to say it now: I really loved this book. It filled me with anger, sadness, relief, happiness, love, hope, disgust; pretty much a whole range of emotions. Let’s talk about my thoughts on the story itself:

First of all, the family aspect in this book is AMAZING! I never get to read a lot about family dynamics in any books I read, regardless if they’re YA, adult, middle grade, whatever. So being able to see such a strongly rooted family was so refreshing. I loved not just the relationship Starr has with her parents and siblings, but also her uncle and how he’s very much like a second father to her.

Of course, with this greatly tight-knit family comes the opposite for many of the other characters in Starr’s world, like her half-brother Seven’s mom and stepfather, or Khalil’s mom. There’s many sides to the dice, and I appreciated getting even just a glimpse into some of the other relationships some of the other characters had.

I felt sadness for Starr, not just because of what happened to Khalil right in front of her eyes (which is obviously tragic and horrible and no one should ever have to witness that), but also that she felt such a need to separate who she was depending on where she was: if she was in Garden Heights, she was one person; if she was at her school at Williamson, she was a completely different person, a held back version of herself. As the book goes through many ups and downs, Starr has many realizations about herself and the world and people around her, including one of her “friends.” I’m glad that she figures it out, to some degree, by the end as to who she is and where she fits in with all of it.

Reading about the gangs in the book kind of put in to perspective just how much gangs can be like a family to people, as well as how hard it can be to leave if you no longer want to be part of them. It can be scary, for sure, but it was also cool to see rival gangs come together for a similar purpose.

I felt that the whole journey that Starr took to reevaluate her stance on everything – her friend groups, her family, her race, everything – was handled really well and felt very real. I could see her struggle with it, especially when it came to opening up and being more vulnerable with her white boyfriend, Chris. I could see her struggle and how she really handled it with a lot of consideration and care for herself.

Of course, some of the hardest parts to read were her recounting the murder of her best friend. I almost cried at the very end of a chapter where she was recounting it in front of people and just her last sentence felt so impactful, so raw, so real, that I almost started to ball my eyes out because… wow. I’ll most likely never have to experience or think something like that ever in my life, and how she had to think that at 16? It hurts.

And how she had to call out one of her friends for having said several racist things over the years, and the white girl never admitted to it and would always play the victim. It was frustrating and I wanted to slap her, but I was also glad to see that there was also Chris, Starr’s boyfriend, who wanted to prove that he loves her for her, nothing else. It was nice to see.

Overall, this whole story is incredible. I’m not doing it justice by talking about it here (other than the fact that I’m rusty at these book reviews lol), but I can understand the hype, and I highly recommend you read this book – especially if you’re white – just to get a glimpse into the world Black people experience every day.

Also remember: Black Lives Matter, all day, every day.

★★★★★

Sorcery of Thorns | Book Review

Title: Sorcery of Thorns
Author: Margaret Rogerson
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books.
Publish Date: June 4, 2019
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 465
Format: Kindle eBook

All sorcerers are evil. Elisabeth has known that as long as she has known anything. Raised as a foundling in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries, Elisabeth has grown up among the tools of sorcery: magical grimoires that whisper on shelves and rattle beneath iron chains. If provoked, they transform into grotesque monsters of ink and leather. She hopes to become a warden, charged with protecting the kingdom from their power.

Then an act of sabotage releases the library’s most dangerous grimoire. Elisabeth’s desperate intervention implicates her in the crime, and she is torn from her home to face justice in the capital. With no one to turn to but her sworn enemy, the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, and his mysterious demonic servant, she finds herself entangled in a centuries-old conspiracy. Not only could the Great Libraries go up in flames, but the world along with them.

As her alliance with Nathaniel grows stronger, Elisabeth starts to question everything she’s been taught – about sorcerers, about the libraries she loves, even about herself. For Elisabeth has a power she has never guessed, and a future she could never have imagined.

Sorcery of Thorns is a standalone YA fantasy novel, which is not something that you often come by. It’s a story that began (and technically ended) in a library, with books that could talk, move, make noise, snore, etc. That part was super fascinating to imagine! Like, can you picture hundreds of grimoires just mumbling to themselves or trying to spit ink at you? It sounds fun, not gonna lie.

The main female protagonist, Elisabeth, grew up in one of the Great Libraries in the kingdom, as she was abandoned there as a baby. She grew up amongst the stacks and loved them very much. She was also very much trained in what it was that the librarians should expect of the novels: that they’re dangerous – especially those of higher class levels – and that they could kill people if they changed into Maleficts.

Also that sorcerer’s are evil and will kill you for the hell of it.

As she is thrust into a much different, much larger city than the one she grew up in due to tragic circumstances at the library she grew up in, she discovers that not everything that was taught is as it seems, and she slowly learns and grows from that over time.

However, I will say, I really didn’t like her character through 80% of the story. I found her to be just… too afraid of everything. She felt incredibly weak and not quite three-dimensional for a large portion of the story. It kind of felt like her growth was stunted for a while. As the story and the stakes grew, I saw more of her potential, but as a main character, there was a lot that I just wasn’t personally drawn to. Like, I felt like, especially in the beginning, that her biggest defining “trait” was her height, because it was pointed out so often. It was just very frustrating at times.

As for the secondary main character, Nathanial, who is a sorcerer, I really liked him! Quite the contrast to Elisabeth, I really liked his character. Yes, he has a dark past (that some parts weren’t explored too much or in too much detail, which is a shame), so sometimes he comes off as standoffish, but his humor genuinely made me laugh. I loved his sarcasm so much!

I also enjoyed seeing the magic and how it worked in this world from a couple of sorcerers. Nathanial’s magic was dark, much like his family’s past, and it was very powerful. I think the caveat of having a higher-demon being your patron in order for you to have magic was a great way to incorporate magic into the world – and one I don’t see often in stories!

I do wish, however, that there was more of him in the novel, and more interactions between him, Elisabeth, and Silas, who is Nathanial’s demon. When the two of them – and even the three of them, or just Silas and Elisabeth – were together, it felt like there was a lot more life added to the page, and I was just so curious about the two male protagonists and what they were going through.

Silas, the demon, is very forthright in his feelings towards humans, emotions, and other such things, and he really sticks to it through to the end. I can’t explain much more than that without spoiling it, but I really enjoyed how a high-born demon, in a bound pact with a human, is such a stickler for decorum as a butler. It’s a great juxtaposition, and one of the best highlights throughout the book.

I found myself often predicting a lot of what was going to happen next as I was reading, and then found myself becoming frustrated when it wasn’t obvious to Elisabeth for a bit after. I don’t know why it bugged me so much that she didn’t get it, but also I’m not the biggest fan of being able to predict things that are going to happen (I’m talking multiple times; once or twice is okay). And then when it did happen and Elisabeth would react the way she did just… didn’t help.

I found the plot to be interesting, though, especially with the lore behind the demons, the grimoires, the magic, and ancestors involved in the story. It was very intricate and I found it to be pretty enjoyable as a result.

The romance was both subtle and rushed all at once. I mean, I thought it was sweet and I enjoyed the scenes, but also, wow, they almost moved really fast and it caught me off guard. I do think, though, that they compliment each other well.

The epilogue, also, I enjoyed (and predicted, but I was glad I did), and found myself wanting more afterward.

Despite all that, I liked the book. I definitely think that if you’re interested in reading it, if you like books about books, magic, betrayal, and romance, that you’ll enjoy the story. Overall, it wasn’t bad, but it’s not something I’ll gravitate back towards anytime soon.

★★★☆☆

Stay At Home Book Tag

Hey everyone! Hope you’re all doing well and staying safe! Today I wanted to do a tag that’s pretty cozy as it’s all about books to read while just staying at home.

This tag was originally created by Madison of Princess of Paperback, so go check out her video for her answers!

Laying in bed: a book you could/have read in one day

Not counting manga, because I can read multiple volumes in one day, I’m going to say that I have read the Illuminae Files by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman in about a day each (or at least in 24 hours each). These books sucked me in and put me right into the world. I think that the mix media feel of the books played a huge part in my enjoyment of them, but I was genuinely captivated by the story and characters and was rooting for them and such. Such a great science fiction YA trilogy if you’re interested in reading it.

Check out my full thoughts: Illuminae | Gemina | Obsidio

Snacking: guilty pleasure book

These steamy new adult romances by Elle Kennedy are SUCH a guilty pleasure read! I love to read about romance and look for it in the stories I read all the time, so throw in some hot dudes and ladies, some drama, steamy scenes, and romance, and it’s like the perfect combo. There is talk of hockey in these, but it’s not all encompassing, but it does play a big part in them given the guys are college hockey players, so.

Really any romance that Elle Kennedy writes is a guilty pleasure read for me. I enjoy her writing style a lot and how she writes her characters.

Check out my reviews: The Deal | The Mistake | The Score | The Goal

Netflix: series you want to start

For this, I was staring at my shelves and I have a few series I’d love to start sooner rather than later, but I think the one that intrigues me is the Graceling Realm trilogy by Kristen Cashore. It’s an older companion trilogy that my husband actual owned, and so I figured I’d read it eventually, you know? I had tried to start reading it a year or so ago, but I just never did, so… that needs to change eventually lol

Oh, another “older” series I’d love to read that’s been on my shelves for forever is Splintered by A.G. Howard. I started reading them a long while ago (they’re an Alice in Wonderland retelling, if you couldn’t tell), but I never finished the first book. One day I will!

Deep clean: been on your TBR for ages

*stares at my shelves* ….Yes.

No, but I think one of the ones that have been there the longest is the Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer. I’ve read both Cinder and Scarlet years ago, and made it part way through Cress, but I’ve never actually finished. It’s not like I lost interest, I think I just got distracted and never picked it back up. I’m thinking I might restart the series, or just restart Cress, but we’ll see!

Animal Crossing: book you bought because of the hype

Alright, flashback to about…what, five or six years ago? When To All the Boys I Loved Before by Jenny Han came out, there was a huge buzz in the book community about them, so of course I got them. I remember liking them, and I haven’t read the third book, but I don’t think I’d reread them again.

Check out my reviews: To All the Boys I Loved Before | P.S. I Still Love You

Productivity: book you learnt from or had an impact on you

I don’t read a lot of books outside of fiction, so I’m going to say one that had a big impact on me was A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. When I read this, I was fully enamored by it. The story hit me hard due to similar circumstances and emotions I was going through at the time, and the writing itself was just lovely. It’s seriously a great book, fairly short, but packed with emotion.

Check out my review: A Monster Calls

FaceTime: a book you were gifted

Over the holidays, my parents gifted me two books: one was The Art of Neon Genesis Evangelion: 2007-2017, and the other was The Ultimate Guide to Creating Comics by William C. Potter and Juan Calle. They both know how much into drawing I am, as well as anime and manga, and so they got me these books! They’re pretty neat and inspiring.

Self care: what is one thing you’ve done recently to look after yourself

Image is the initial loading screen of the game.

I’ve been playing Final Fantasy VII remake since it came out at midnight on Friday April 10 and have only logged a little over 30 hours at the point in which I’m writing this, so…. And I’m sad that this is only part one and not the full game, but if it had been then it would have been much larger than 100GB, that’s for sure. I am, however, really enjoying it as it’s my first time ever playing the game since I never played the original.

The graphics are beautiful, the story is really great, I love the characters, and I can see why this is one of the most hyped and beloved of the franchise.

BONUS: name a book coming out soon that you’re excited for

I’ve got to be honest, I have no clue what’s coming out anymore. I haven’t been active in the community for so long that I no longer really know what’s coming out and such. And, well, I’m trying to be careful with money and buying things as much as I can, so yeah.

OH. One book I’m excited about that’s coming out later this year is book four, Rhythm of War, in the Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson. I’ve only read the first book, The Way of Kings, but it was phenomenal and I can’t wait to continue with the series. It’s set to hopefully come out in November 2020.

I tag everyone who wants to participate! Do you have a book you’re excited to come out soon or this year? What have you been doing to take care of yourself? What’s your guilty pleasure read? Tell me all the things in the comments below!

The Play | Book Review

Title: The Play
Series: Briar U #3
Author: Elle Kennedy
Publisher: Elle Kennedy, Inc.
Publish Date: October 7. 2019
Genre: New Adult, Romance, Sports
Pages: 422
Format: Kindle eBook

What I learned after last year’s distractions cost my hockey team our entire season? No more screwing up. No more screwing, period. As the new team captain, I need a new philosophy: hockey and school now, women later. Which means that I, Hunter Davenport, am officially going celibate…no matter how hard that makes things.

But there’s nothing in the rulebook that says I can’t be friends with a woman. And I won’t lie—my new classmate Demi Davis is one cool chick. Her smart mouth is hot as hell, and so is the rest of her, but the fact that she’s got a boyfriend eliminates the temptation to touch her.

Except three months into our friendship, Demi is single and looking for a rebound.

And she’s making a play for me.

Avoiding her is impossible. We’re paired up on a yearlong school project, but I’m confident I can resist her. We’d never work, anyway. Our backgrounds are too different, our goals aren’t aligned, and her parents hate my guts.

Hooking up is a very bad idea. Now I just have to convince my body—and my heart.

This is the third standalone novel within this series, and I really enjoyed it! I love readying about these characters from the same school and stuff, because you get to see their perspective and kind of grow and root for them when you see them in previous books. It’s great!

Anyway, this story follows two characters: Hunter and Demi. Demi is a character we’ve never met before, but I thought that she was a great addition to the ever-growing Briar Univers(ity) because she is a half-black, half-Latina young woman who wants to become a psychologist, even though her parents (particularly her father) want her to become a medical doctor like he is. But she has her own goals and fascinations, and she’s incredibly smart.

Hunter we first met in the first in the Briar University books and, well, he had quite a roller coaster of a time in that book, so it was nice to see him much more level-headed in this one. I felt that he was well-developed and matured for the time that this took place at, and that he was definitely much easier to take in that the first book. He just wanted to be the best team captain he could be – even going as far as to take a vow of celibacy from sex – and he does a great job at it… for a time (because you know these books have lots of steamy sex scenes in them, haha!).

Another interesting dynamic within this book was that Demi started off in an already existing long term relationship. She was the first character through all the books in the Briar Universe that was in a pre-existing relationship. As far as the relationship goes, it felt realistic in how it was portrayed. There was a sense of unease as the book went along, and I saw what was going to happen for a little while, but it still floored me! Demi handled the situation much better than I was expecting, so that was good.

The plot followed the two as they were both in the same psychology class, and through heartbreak and longing – and lots of shenanigans – and it felt like a very organic progression into the relationship that formed between them. It didn’t feel rushed, and though the situation was a bit stressful at first given what happened with Demi, they managed to face a lot of situations where they encouraged each other.

And of course there were steamy sex scenes. The two characters were extremely attracted to each other – which is great! – and they definitely showed it. If you like your naughty reads, I definitely recommend these books.

I do, however, feel like the ending was a bit… off? Like, I can totally see how it’s plausible, because it’s definitely happened in real life and such, but it just felt so sudden that I was blindsided by it. I didn’t really know how to feel, but I am glad of the end message that Elle put into the book about seeking help if you need it – and please, if you do need help, please seek it out. You’re not alone.

Overall, an enjoyable read in this series. I’m not sure if it’s the last book in the Briar U arc, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

★★★★☆