The Final Revival of Opal & Nev

I used to spend a lot of time back in the day devouring Rolling Stone magazines and Behind the Music/Unsung style documentaries of musicians and their journeys to “success”. The Final Revival of Opal and Nev is a novel that puts me in mind of those.

Opal, an African American woman from Detroit and Nev, a white British man are an unlikely rock duo who enjoyed short-lived success and cult following until a tragedy derailed their group. Their story is being told in a series of interviews by the editor of a music magazine in preparation of a rumored comeback by the two. The editor is invested in the story in more ways than one.

The interview format that Dawnie Walton used is brilliant in that it gives each character a very specific voice in a way that you wouldn’t get otherwise. Also, there’s so much insight into the music industry’s treatment of Black women and the challenges of navigating it.

I especially enjoy fiction that reads like non-fiction (and vice versa) and that made The Final Revival of Opal and Nev a wonderful read for me and hard to put down.

Favorite Line: (After being repeatedly asked by a white writer about her security while out on tour.)

I got a better question for you. Why are you so deeply invested in proving I’m scared? Does a Black person showing they’re scared make you feel safer? I suggest you sit back and interrogate that.

Goodreads Rating: 5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this e-book from Simon & Schuster and Edelweiss in exchange for my honest review.

Plan a Happy Life

Full Disclosure: I am a Happy Planner.

I like to-do lists and getting things out of my head and onto paper. I’m much more productive that way. I’m also a recovering self-help book junkie. When I used to be a bookseller and had the entire Self Help section available to me, I took full advantage and read all that I could in an attempt to continually better myself.

Plan a Happy Life is written by the co-founder of Me And My Big Ideas, the company that makes the popular Happy Planner. It’s a hugely popular planning system largely because it’s easy to personalize and has several accessories that allow you to explore your creativity. For me, and a lot of folks, making your to-do list attractive increases the chances of our productivity.

As far as self help books go, there’s not a lot new here. But Fleming talks to her readers as friends and offers several questions and exercises to help them along their journey to becoming happier, healthier and more goal oriented. The emphasis is most definitely on the “happy” part and putting your well-being first in your life. Where Plan a Happy Life proves to be most helpful is in teaching you to use your planner, whatever that is, to be a more useful part of your everyday life. I’m in a couple of planning groups on Facebook and almost every day someone new will say that they’re new to using a planner and ask for tips on how to get started. This book can answer questions for newbies and also veterans who need a refresher to get them back on track.

Goodreads rating: 3 1/2 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this e-book from Edelweiss and Thomas Nelson Books in exchange for my honest review.

A Song Below Water

A Song Below Water is a magical realism, young-adult novel about play-sisters Tavia and Effie in Portland, Oregon. Tavia is a siren, but must keep that a secret from everyone except her family because they are vilified in society. A high profile siren murder trial forces her to reckon with how she can keep her secret and still be her full self. Effie is most comfortable in the water and has followed in her late mother’s footsteps as a mermaid performer at the Renaissance Faire. She has come to live with Tavia’s family after “The Incident”, but that seems to have followed her to her new home.

Don’t let the words “magical realism” scare you away from reading this if you aren’t a fantasy type of person. The parallels between how sirens are treated in this book and the silencing of Black women in modern times (especially in respect to the Black Lives Movement) are spot on. There are other magical characters, too, but Morrow has so seamlessly integrated them into the story that it all seems plausible. (The gargoyle is my favorite.)

By far, the best thing about this book is the friendship between Tavia and Effie. Their devotion, love, and support for each other drives the story throughout, especially their selflessness. I’m sure it’s been said in almost every review, but it’s truly Black Girl Magic. I highly recommend for teenagers and adults alike.

Goodreads Rating: 4 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tor Teen in exchange for my honest review.

Men to Avoid in Art and Life

I know that “laugh out loud funny” is a cliche, but I really did LOL all through this book. The chapters: The Mansplainer, The Concern Troll, The Comedian, The Sexpert, and The Patronizer. If you are a woman, you’ve met one or all of these men in real life. Seeing the hilarious captions and Twitter memes on classic paintings is brilliant.

Goodreads Rating: 4 stars (I wish it were longer)

I received a complimentary copy of this e-book from Chronicle Books and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Secrets of a Fake Fiancée

Secrets of a Fake Fiancée (The Stewart Heirs Book 4)

This is the fourth book in The Stewart Heirs series that follows the offspring of a pretty terrible businessman, Henry Stewart. At least two of these books feature children he had outside of his marriages. Morgan Young has been the assistant to Hollywood star Dane Stewart (Red Carpet Redemption) for the last year and she’s ready to reveal that she’s actually his baby sister and plans to confront their father. The problem is that she chooses an inopportune time to drop this bombshell and wasn’t prepared for the rejection and repercussions. Fortunately, Dane’s good friend, Jared Robinson is there to rescue her and has a proposal that could benefit both of them.

Yahrah St. John is one of the few Black authors that is able to transcend the Harlequin formula and give you good character development in the process. It did contain some romance tropes like the virgin and the super experienced playboy, and the poor girl and the rich guy, but the plot development behind those choices made sense.

I realized while writing this that I missed reading Fallon Stewart’s story in this series, but I’m going to go take care of this now! 🙂

Goodreads Rating: 4 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this e-book from Harlequin and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

(Im)Perfectly Happy

(Im)perfectly Happy

You would think that someone who reads as much as I do would relish having to social distance at home surrounded by (physical and electronic) books. But I’ve had a hard time picking up something to read. The last book I read, a collection of science fiction short stories, was amazing but the subject matter combined with our real life circumstances (the pandemic that shall not be named) made it difficult to concentrate. (Im)perfectly Happy is the palate cleanser I needed.

Raina is a late-night radio host who gives relationship advice and she’s just made the commitment to move in with her boyfriend and that’s all she’s able to commit to. Kara has taken (and failed) the rigorous test to be a Master Sommelier (shout out to me for getting the spelling right on the first try) three times and is taking the all-encompassing, stressful steps to take it again. But the death of her mother and lack of support from her husband have her spiraling. Nikki is the perfect suburban, stay-at-home mom with a super loving husband and cool kids. She’s also an incredible musician and singer-songwriter who gave it all up to have the life she has now. Sienna, a public defender who actually cares about her clients, has set aside her dream of running for government office in order to support her fiance in his campaign to do the same. When the women were in college, they The Brown Sugarettes Mastermind group as a way to empower themselves and keep each other focused on their goals. Now that they’re in their 30’s, Raina decides that they need to resurrect the group so that everyone can reconnect with their true desires and goals.

I loved the four distinct voices of these women and the real life, grown-up situations that the author placed them in. While a couple of the stories wrapped up a little too nicely for me, I am very happy with the journey that Sharina Harris took me on to get there. I may or may not have stayed up past my bedtime because I was so engrossed in these women’s stories. Also, shout out to a book set in the city that I live in and also my neighborhood mentioned twice!! (Yes, I kept count)

Goodreads Rating: 4 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this e-book from Kensington Books and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Read Soul Lit 2020 Days 1 & 2

Day 1 “ReadSoulLit TBR”

TBR (to be read) lists are hard for me because I read by instinct and seldom plan it. Usually in February I read an African American classic, but I still haven’t decided on one yet.

Hopefully, I will finally pick up Black Leopard Red Wolf because a friend keeps asking me to read it so we can compare. There’s lots of mixed reviews out there, but I loved his Brief History of Seven Killings and am ready to dive in.

Day 2 “Sci-Fi High”

I was about 20 pages away from the end when I took this photo. Didn’t like it as much as the first one, but I’m still looking forward to the third in the trilogy.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton

I never would have done what they say I’ve done, to Madame, because I loved her. Yet they say I must be put to death for it, and they want me to confess. But how can I confess what I don’t believe I’ve done?

In the last few years, I’ve made it a point to read very little about a book before I pick it up. If it’s before publication, I skim over the publisher’s description. If it’s after, I avoid all published reviews from professionals and laymen alike. By the time I picked up The Confessions of Frannie Langton, I couldn’t remember what it was about and was able to read it unencumbered by any outside noise.

It’s 1826, and Frannie awaits trial in London for the murder of her employer and his wife. She claims that she doesn’t remember anything about that night. This book serves as her account of the events of her life that led her to this point, interspersed with the testimony of witnesses and those around her. From her childhood as a slave on a sugar plantation in Jamaica where she’s groomed to be an assistant to her master as he works on his scientific race theories, to her new life in London, where Frannie is set to work for one of her master’s colleagues.

Confessions covers a lot of ground: slavery, the plight of women, love, sex, class, science. I remember being only a quarter way through the book feeling like I’d already read an entire novel. The good thing about that is the story unfolds in a way that you rarely see coming. The bad news is that around the middle, it seemed like it was taking foreeeever to get through, because there’s so much introspection and details. I was getting anxious to finally find out what happened that fateful night.

Covering so many things did slow down the book a bit, but I still learned lots and am glad I stuck through it. It’s always enjoyable to read a novel about slavery and it’s effects that feels like a fresh perspective.

Goodreads Rating: 3 stars (really 3 1/2)

I received a complimentary copy of this e-book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Everyday People: The Color of Life – a Short Story Anthology

Over the years I’ve developed an appreciation for short stories. I used to resent not having the ending and knowing what happened. Now I can enjoy them from a different place. I’m enjoying not knowing the full stories. Because that’s how life is.

Everyday People is a collection of fourteen short stories by a diverse group of writers of color. While the work can be considered contemporary fiction, the writing spans several different writing styles, experiences and points of view. It’s almost impossible to choose a favorite, but A Sheltered Woman by Yiyun Li is very close. A Chinese woman works taking care of newborn babies and helping their breastfeeding moms. She doesn’t stay past the time she is needed, moving on to another family when the babies are a month old. Her current employer, however, is finding it difficult to accept her new role as a mother.

Other favorites include High Pursuit by Mitchell S. Jackson (something about it just felt like ‘home’), Wisdom by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, and The Kontrabida by Mia Alvar. A great bonus at the end of the book is a Reading List of Contemporary Works by Women, Nonbinary, and Transgender Writers of Color/Indigenous Writers. It’s a very comprehensive list covering many genres that I will revisit again and again.

Goodreads Rating: 4 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this e-book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.