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Finna by Nate Marshall


After seeing Finna on what I'll call the "spotlight rack" at the library, I decided to borrow a copy. I had never heard of Nate Marshall and hadn't seen this poetry collection anywhere else. I went in completely blind.

I loved the usage of Black vernacular English. It felt raw and honest, something I feel most contemporary poetry lacks. If you're looking for a poetry collection that hits differently than most, I recommend finding a copy and settling in for a quick yet poignant read.

PS. For those who'd like to know, my favorite poem was "which art? what art?".

Before and After the Book Deal by Courtney Maum


Before and After the Book Deal: A Writer's Guide to Finishing, Publishing, Promoting, and Surviving Your First Book is a fantastic book that lays out everything an emerging author needs to know about the publishing industry. Though I'm still in the querying phase of my debut novel, I found the "After" section extremely helpful. I thought I knew the ins and out of the publishing process, and how postpublication worked, but it turned out there was a lot I wasn't privy to.

Whether you're an aspiring writer or already have a publication or two under your belt, you need to read this book! It's full of resources and information and provides words of wisdom from numerous authors who have been through what you're feeling.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli


Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a light-hearted novel about a teenage boy's online relationship with a mysterious boy from his school. I enjoyed the ambiguous nature of their budding romance and loved Simon attempting to piece together the clues "Blue" left for him.

Though the blackmail aspect grew tiring, I was happy Martin didn't turn out to be the love interest.

If this had been published when I was in high school, I believe I would have enjoyed it more. As a 28-year-old mother of two writing a YA romance, this didn't live up to my expectations--especially after all the hype the book and movie received.

Nevertheless, I'd recommend the novel to younger LGBTQ+ readers looking to see themselves in print.

The Yellow Oak by Victor Vahl


If you're looking for something weird and dreamy with a fair amount of body and psychological horror sprinkled in, The Yellow Oak might be the book for you.

Victor Vahl crafted an intriguing story about two men who get lost in a forest run by living, cannibalistic trees. Though the premise is decent, and much of the visuals are fantastic, I was hoping for more atmosphere. I would have appreciated a slower pace to build up the tension and flesh out the characters. My favorite thing about psychological horror, and what really makes House of Leaves phenomenal, is the slow build toward the climax. Not everything is thrown at you at once, meaning there's a ton of detail and hints at the full picture before the terror is revealed. In The Yellow Oak, things happen to Rye and Spencer too early. Due to the near-immediate dive into the horror, I didn't care about what happened to the characters. Backstory came too late; I already felt detached from the main cast when the story reached its peak.

From the editorial side of things (and how could I not touch on it given my background in copy editing), the diction was occasionally problematic. There were plenty of words that took me out of the narrative. It felt like the author had a thesaurus handy and ended up choosing words that were technically synonymous with the obvious word but that didn't fit within the text. This is where I'd have to side with Stephen King's advice; the first word you choose/write is likely the one you should use. Don't worry so much about how sophisticated your prose sounds. The point is to tell a great story and you hinder your reader's enjoyment if they have to weed through odd words and/or phrases. When in doubt, keep it simple.

Overall, the book was interesting and I had no idea where it was going the majority of the time. Though not everything worked for me, I'm sure it will appease much of the horror/thriller fan base.

Misfits by Michaela Coel


I love Michaela Coel. After watching Chewing Gum and I May Destroy You, she became one of my favorite writers/directors. Her storytelling, particularly in I May Destroy You, was so brilliant that I had a difficult time not rewatching the limited series as soon as I was finished. Coel has a knack for character development that I admire and aspire toward.

When I heard about Misfits, I immediately placed it on my TBR. Though not as gripping as her TV dramas, I found Coel's message inspiring and thought-provoking. I'm sure her words will find the "misfits" and provide wisdom and light to those needing encouragement.

The Fallen in Soura Heights by Amanda Jaeger


*I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.*

The Fallen in Soura Heights is a phenomenal thriller debut. Fey is a great protagonist and Soura Heights is the perfect backdrop for a murder mystery. From the first page, I was hooked. It didn't hurt that the characters were compelling and the descriptions of the landscape and town were easy to visualize. Though the "twist" was an easy call, I appreciated the way everything played out. Amanda Jaeger is a writer to watch out for.

I recommend picking up this quick read if you enjoy a good thriller/mystery.

Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor


Binti: The Night Masquerade is the final book in the Binti trilogy. Though I had my issues with the first two books, I was happy to see more world-building and better pacing in the final installment.

Without giving anything away, the book can be summarized as Binti coming to terms with who she's become. I've always enjoyed her as a character and am happy Okorafor didn't disappoint. If anything, I felt more connected to Binti by the end.

I also enjoyed the backstory that came with her newly acquired sight. Her awakening provided a great deal of missing information, filling in the gaps of this futuristic world.

Though there were a few slow sections throughout the trilogy, and I would have liked to see more of Oomza Uni overall, I closed this book feeling satisfied and intend to pick up other books by Nnedi Okorafor. She is a fantastic writer that needs more recognition in the science fiction community.

Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor


Binti: Home is a decent sequel. The main character, Binti, is an intriguing and inspiring character that I look forward to seeing more of in the final installment of the trilogy.

Though this book is about Binti returning home to cleanse herself of the impurities she believes she accumulated since beginning her studies at Oomza Uni, I felt like there wasn't enough time dedicated to her time at the university. I feel it would have had a stronger impact on the overarching plot if more emphasis was spent somewhere other than Earth.

My main criticism is that not much seemed to happen in 162 pages. Okorafor could have said the same amount in 30 pages, keeping the story concise and effective.

Despite the poor pacing, I look forward to seeing how the trilogy ends and recommend this series to fans of Afrofuturism and science fiction.

The Alkonost's Egg by K. Panikian


*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.*

The Alkonost's Egg is the final book in a trilogy but works just as well as a standalone novel. If you're looking for a quick fantasy with a dose of romance, I recommend giving this a go. The characters were interesting and fleshed out, the world-building was great and easy to digest, and the plot didn't drag. I appreciated the detailed fight scenes; instead of getting caught up in the placement of limbs and weapons, thoughtful descriptions were used. My only criticism is I felt the romance between Callie and Bard didn't receive the attention it so needed; I never invested in their future and felt their connection was never as strong as it could have been. There needed to be more intimate scenes between the two of them to make it 100% believable.

Though I did not read the first two novels in this series, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and will definitely be giving the preceding titles a look.

The Mad Girl by Andrew Colvin


*I received a copy in exchange for an honest review. *

The Mad Girl, at its core, is about trauma. Cee Stark finds herself under the influence of a cultish priest who instills in her shaky beliefs and questionable coping mechanisms. Because she believes so strongly in slaying the evil in the world and rewriting her story, Cee lashes out at a man who attacks her in the neighborhood park. Once the police take on the case, it soon becomes clear that nothing is quite what it seems.

What Worked

  1. Suspense and tension were sprinkled throughout, offering a fist-clenching read. It was difficult to determine who was telling the truth, and that's exactly what readers are looking for.
  2. Each character had an arc. Everyone had baggage or trauma they were attempting to cope with, offering more intricate storylines.
  3. I appreciated how unreliable Cee's scenes were. I could never tell whether her recollection of an event was true.
  4. A great deal of time was spent on the case. Oftentimes, writers don't put a lot of time into police matters unless it is an explicit detective novel.

What Didn't

  1. Instead of using typical descriptions, there were many mixed or otherwise confusing metaphors. It wasn't uncommon to have to reread a sentence to understand its meaning.
  2. Much of the dialogue was wonky. Either the conversations were too robotic or too concise. The sentence "Understand." was used multiple times in place of "I understand" or "understood". It was jarring and often took me out of the scene.
  3. The teen interactions were not accurate or realistic. As the story is set in late 2012, and I graduated high school in 2011, I feel I can say the following with confidence.
  4. On a similar note, girls would have generally avoided Chris Holman after how he treated other girls. Not everyone wants to be popular, especially when the only way to reach popularity is to sleep with the biggest asshole on campus.

Overall, I enjoyed the read. There were aspects of the plot I found lacking or didn't fully appreciate but I was gripped by the story and wanted to know how it ended.

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