Review: Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garrett

hollywood homicide

How cool is this cover!?

Summary:

Dayna Anderson doesn’t set out to solve a murder. All the semi-famous, mega-broke black actress wants is to help her parents keep their house. After witnessing a deadly hit-and-run, she figures pursuing the fifteen-grand reward isn’t the craziest thing a Hollywood actress has done for some cash.

But what starts as simply trying to remember a speeding car soon blossoms into a full-on investigation. As Dayna digs deeper into the victim’s life, she wants more than just reward money. She’s determined to find the poor woman’s killer too. When she connects the accident to a notorious Hollywood crime spree, Dayna chases down leads at paparazzi hot spots, celeb homes and movie premieres. She loves every second—until someone tries to kill her.

And there are no second takes in real life.

I adore a good mystery, it’s really my favorite genre, but I don’t read it all the time since it’s also often a very white genre. So, I’m thrilled to have found another book for my #DiverseDetectives shelf! I’m working on putting a list together on my blog, as a resource.

The amateur sleuth in Hollywood Homicide is the retired Black actress Dayna Anderson. Trying to keep her parents from losing their house, she decides to solve a local hit-and-run case for the reward money.

The main character is really the biggest draw for me, even though I can’t relate at all to her fascination with shopping and such, but she really came alive. Being worried about bills and taking care of her parents and being close with her friends made her a likeable heroine. That and Dayna is just super fun, her running commentary is hilarious. I had a great time reading about her somewhat disastrous start to sleuthing, accusing people left and right, but eventually figuring things out. It took me till nearly the end to figure out whodunnit, so the mystery was set up well.

The story is not just set in Hollywood, it also reads like a detective show. I think the author also wrote for tv, and it shows in the style and pacing. So someone should really get on this! And please add a Dayna voice-over!

Did you know Hollywood Homicide recently won an Agatha award? The first time a woman of color writer has won in ages and it’ so wonderful a Black mystery writer won! Also, I’m happy that this is going to be a series now, with book two, Hollywood Ending, coming out August 8th.

Thinking of reviving the #DiverseDetectives challenge, but not sure anyone would be all that into it? 😕

 

Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.

*****

Are you a mystery fan? Who’s your favorite sleuth?

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Review: Amla Mater by Devi Menon

mala mater

“In the stillness of autumn, I feel I can almost hear someone hum ‘Lokame tharavadu (the world is my home)….’

In her tiny flat in East London, as Mili waits for her baby to arrive, little things remind her of her life in India—-the scent of jasmine flowers, a heavy downpour, a late-night cup of coffee, an amla or gooseberry–and she is overcome with a deep desire to recreate the flavors of her childhood. Can a jar of amla pickle help her travel back to that safe haven she once called home?” (goodreads)

*****

Amla Mater is a graphic novel about identity, migration, and the meaning of home through food culture. Through smells and flavors, the very act of making gooseberry pickle, we join Mili in remembering her childhood in Kerala with best friend Maya. We learn that the amla tree is a constant theme through Mili’s life: It’s at the heart of the games she plays, offers a place in the shade under which to read, provides the gooseberries for Maya’s grandmother to make her pickle.

Amla pic

There is such a heavy sense of nostalgia and the meaning of home that is evoked through smells and sounds. I’m sure all of us have something that brings back memories of home so vividly. For me it’s the smell of my dad’s spicy scrambled eggs, a Sunday family tradition, and sitting at the table for hours eating and chatting (to the confusion of white German friends and family who by this time had already finished whole biking tours and like saved the world 😀 ).

And surprisingly, the reduced black-and-white artwork works really well, as it does not distract from the sensory goodness evoked by Mili’s memories of amla. I also found the images created in this style with its light strokes utterly charming.

Amla Mater emphasizes the importance of food culture in the migration experience. Food and not just its consumption, but its preparation as well are heavily tied to identity and Menon takes us on Mili’s journey – not just geographically from India to London-  but also her coming of age from being a young Indian girl to an immigrant in London. I think readers from South India will find a lot of cultural references and nods to enjoy. I probably missed many, but really enjoyed Mili’s story and now I’m hungry for amla pickle!

Mark your calendars: Amla Mater comes out June 15th from Yali Books! GR

Disclaimer: I received a free e-galley of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

 

Other thoughts:

Vishy’s Blog

Review: The Leavers by Lisa Ko

blog tour lisa ko

One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant named Polly, goes to her job at the nail salon and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her.
With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left with no one to care for him. He is eventually adopted by two white college professors who move him from the Bronx to a small town upstate. They rename him Daniel Wilkinson in their efforts to make him over into their version of an “all-American boy.” But far away from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his new life with his mother’s disappearance and the memories of the family and community he left behind. (goodreads)

***

The Leavers is Lisa Ko’s debut novel, a tale about belonging, transracial adoption and the Asian-American diaspora. Told from several points-of-view and in unchronological arrangement, the novel presents its themes of disconnection and fractured identity and relationships in form as well. The Leavers lends itself to an immersive reading in few sittings, but it is not overly complicated to follow the story despite the structure.

At eleven years-old, Chinese-American Deming Guo is left behind when his mother Peilan/ Polly doesn’t come home from work one day. Adopted by a white couple, Deming is ripped from his home in New York and everything he knows, and moved to privileged, white suburbia. Taking even his name from Deming, the Wilkinsons call him Daniel instead, trying to make him their all-American boy, completely cut-off from his Chinese identity. The Wilkinsons stand in for so many educated, middle-class white people, utterly clueless in the way they enact racial trauma upon children of color. Deming struggles to live up to their expectations but also knows it isn’t where he belongs. In this white liberal culture between color blindness and exoticization, he’s subjected to a constant Othering.

Struggling to belong, Deming is shown as somewhat floating through life, struggling but in college and with a gambling addiction, unable to connect and form roots anywhere. It is only surrounded by music that he is present and connected. Composing his own melodies, he creates a language of his own, in which he feels at home and that is able to express exactly what he feels. Of course, the rest of the world doesn’t understand.

It is only near the end of the story that we as readers find out what happened to Peilan. I suppose this might be called a spoiler but let me assure you that it is issues of capitalism, the nation-state and citizenship which come between mother and son.

I found The Leavers to be a beautifully written, sweeping tale of a Chinese immigrant experience in contemporary America and absolutely recommend it. Ko’s novel has rightly been awarded the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for socially engaged fiction.

 

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest opinion.

 

Other thoughts:

Biblio Nyan

Review: All The Women In My Family Sing

all the women

All The Women In My Family Sing: Women Write the World – Essays On Equality, Justice, and Freedom by Deborah Santana, ed. GR
Nothing But The Truth Publishing
Pub. date: January 30th, 2018

 

Edited by Deborah Santana, All the Women in My Family Sing is an anthology by and about women of color. In 69 short essays and poems the contributors bear witness to the woman of color experience. The collection is subdivided into 8 different but connected foci: identity, home, work, justice, family, beauty, illness and travel, each being a point of departure on which to reflect questions of race, gender and sexuality. The anthology features a diverse range of women of color: Black women, trans women, Asian women, biracial women, Chicana women, queer women, indigenous women.

Here are some of my favorite contributions: Shyla Margaret Machanda’s reflections on being biracial resonated with me a lot. Being mixed, a certain shade of Brown, fielding “but what are you?” questions, but also not being connected to one’s ancestors’ culture. Then there’s Mila Jam’s essay on her transgender journey, being an artist and how being successful helped with being accepted. Blaire Topash-Caldwell writes on the projects of reclaiming indigenous space and Porochista Khakpour shares the difficulties and experiences of traveling with chronic illness and under the Muslim ban. Samina Ali reminds us that women’s pain is rarely taken seriously, our symptoms brushed off and of the dangerous and lasting consequences of this.

Reading this anthology was such an amazing experience! I’ve never felt so validated, connecting with these women’s similar experiences and learning about where theirs differed. This is why I focus on women of color and it makes me so happy to see this project come to fruition. All the Women In My Family gave me that rare feeling that, as Khakpour writes, “someone, anyone, close enough, might voice a reality somewhere even remotely close to your own” (87). I read through it slowly, trying not to rush and determined to savor each contribution. Sadly, at some point I did come upon the last page, but I also know that I will treasure this book and keep it on my nightstand, knowing that whenever I need it, there will be wisdom and solidarity waiting for me.

Make sure to follow Nothing But The Truth Publishing, who brought us this gem, that has been completely produced by women of color, including publishing, editing, process management, book cover design, and promotions. And finally, remember to check out the author bio at the end of each essay, which will often lead you to more amazing works! I can’t wait to explore!

 

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

5 Reasons to Read: Reenu-You by Michele Tracy Berger

reenu

“New York City, August 1998. On a muggy summer day, five women wake up to discover purple scab-like lesions on their faces—a rash that pulses, oozes, and spreads in spiral patterns. City clinic doctors dismiss the women’s fears as common dermatitis, a regular skin rash. But as more women show up with the symptoms, one clear correlation emerges: an all-natural, first-of-its-kind hair relaxer called Reenu-You.

As the outbreak spreads, and cases of new rashes pop up in black and latino communities throughout New York, panic and anger also grows. When the malady begins to kill, medical providers and the corporation behind the so-called hair tonic face charges of conspiracy and coercion from outraged minority communities and leaders across the country.” (GR)

*****

I recently read Michele Tracy Berger’s science-fiction novella Reenu-You and it was excellent! So here are 5 reasons to read the story, in no particular order:

 

1

It’s a quietly creepy and atmospheric (post-) apocalyptic SFF story. Between the muggy weather and the 90s lack of smartphones, Berger creates an outside/inside and us/them divide that feels in turn safe or claustrophobic.

2

The characters are all women of color, mostly Black women, and all differ in background, age and class. And the main character Kat is a biracial Black ski enthusiast and instructor, how cool is that!

3

The story is very much about the politics of Black hair. It targets Black women as consumers, promising an all-natural relaxed hair. The company comes up with the name, asserting they need to use “ebonics,” something simple for the customers to understand and buy the product. Also, the company that betrays their trust used to be Black owned and is now under white management. It’s the women who figure out they’ve all been using this product that must have caused the horrible rash, the authorities are useless.

4

A central aspect of Reenu-You is that of sisterhood and community. With the breakout of the virus happening mostly in Black and LatinX neighborhoods, the officials’ racism first fails the women and also of course fails to keep the virus contained. And so the women, despite their differences, connect with and care for each other.

5

It’s a short book, a novella, and perfect to read on a Sunday afternoon. I took my time, choosing to savor the story, but it would also be a perfect choice for the next readathon!

 

What do you think? Is this something for your tbr?

Also, does this review format work for you?

 

*****

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GR Add to your goodreads tbr.

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Review: Two Moons – Stories by Krystal A. Smith

cover two moons(Gorgeous cover art by Mirlande Jean-Gilles)

 

Happy very belated 2018! Hope you had a great start to the new year! Mine started with a flare-up unfortunately, but I’m back now and I’ve got such a good book rec for you.

Krystal A. Smith’s Two Moons GR is a Black speculative short story collection published by BLF Press. Founded by Stephanie Andrea Allen, Ph.D, it’s an excellent independent Black feminist press promoting the voices of women of color.

You may be familiar with Smith’s titular story “Two Moons,” if you’ve read the anthology Lez Talk from 2016. Her own new work collects 14 short stories of speculative fiction centering Black lesbian characters. As with any collection, I have my favorites of the bunch, though I pretty much loved them all. Here are some that particularly stood out to me:

Smith draws the reader into the collection with “Search,” a story in poetic style about a Black woman searching for her own self and setting out to find St. LaDonta. This story got me hooked right away, as it’s written in the second person, which I love and don’t come across often enough. It’s not easy to pull off, but when done well it’s something extra and Smith delivers.

In the titular “Two Moons,” Selene has always been drawn to the moon and when she’s grown up falls in love with her. But the Moon, so many miles away, loves her too. This story was very sweet and I loved the positivity of the relationship.

Meena & Ziyah meanwhile is about Ziyah, a healer priestess, and her lover Meena who is gifted with herbal medicine. The story stood out to me because it presents spirituality outside of Western religion and also shows the ways in which Black women care for and heal their community.

“Harvest” is an amazing story about Korinthia who also helps her community by growing plants and vegetables and is blessed by plentiful harvests. However she experiences several miscarriages and stillbirths and fears her current pregnancy will end the same way. This time around will be quite different though and it involves talking rabbits of all things!

“What the Heart Wants” is more whimsical even though it’s about Saachi who is unlucky in love. Deciding that she would be better off without her heart, Saachi pulls it out of her chest and asks it to leave. But it’s her heart that ends up taking care of her. A very cute and funny and weird story.

“Cosmic” is about the star Esme who is burdened by her family’s expectations and battling with drug addiction. Finally passing her exam and put on patrol duty, Esme believes in herself and takes a chance to redeem herself to her family and friends.

Now, these stories are quite short short stories. I really enjoy works that are concise, but just a heads-up if that’s important to you. I read one story before bed every night and it was a wonderful way to really focus on and savor each story. Hope to continue this new routine with other collections as reading more short stories is a reading resolution of mine this year.

The stories may be short but the characters come to live through unique voices. Finding themselves in difficult situations or at the cusp of change, Smith’s characters seek connections and relationships with the elements down on earth and up in space, but above all they find strength and magic in themselves. Much of Two Moons shows how happy and playful speculative fiction can be and gives happy endings to women loving women. I feel greedy saying this, as the book has not even been released, but I can’t wait to read more by this author!

finger iconTwo Moons: Stories comes out March 20th, you can pre-order directly from BLF Press or amazon and such of course!

Disclaimer: I received a free e-book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

*****

Trigger warnings: Miscarriage, stillbirth, terminal illness, addiction.

*****

About the author:

A North Carolina native, Krystal A. Smith, (i.e. K.A. Smith) is a Black lesbian writer of poetry and speculative fiction. Her poems have appeared in Tulips Touching (2011) and recent short stories have appeared in Ladylit Publishing’s Summer Love: Stories of Lesbian Holiday Romance (2015) and Lez Talk: A Collection of Black Lesbian Fiction (2016). Krystal holds an M.A. in English from Western Carolina University, and a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University.

Review & Giveaway: Juniper Leaves by Jaz Joyner

juniper leaves

How magical is this cover!? *swoons*

 

Fifteen year old Juniper Bray is a shy kinky-haired blerd off to spend the summer on a farm in North Carolina on her father’s research trip. Still reeling from the loss of her grandmother, her best friend, and immediately getting off on the wrong foot with her cool cousin Bree, Juniper is not looking forward to her stay. But magic returns to her in ways she never expected and Juniper ends up surprising herself the most.

GR  Juniper Leaves is a fantastic coming-of-age story starring a Black girl who is literally magic. Juniper is both utterly relatable and someone to look up to. When she and Bree fall through a vortex into the realm of Cantatis, home to fairies and unicorns, the girls are set on a journey that will require them to work together and believe in themselves. For Cantatis is under threat and it is up to Juniper, like her grandmother before her, to save them with her newly revealed powers.

Apart from the girls’ reluctant friendship I also really enjoyed the family members, from her smart, nerdy father and aunt studying plants for curing illness, to the food her uncle dished up and the McKinney’s bookshelf. And the annoying younger brother, oh I can relate! It was cute to see Juniper come out of her shell and crush on Bree’s friend Sen, and while not at the center of the story, falling for a girl and coming into her own is an integral part of Juniper’s journey. I also appreciate that the love interest Sen is Japanese-American.

My only complaint is that the book is too short, and I never say that. It’s fantastic to read of queer Black girls thriving, we need more books like this one. Juniper Leaves is out in print and e-book now! Get yourself a copy of this wonderful book and I think it would make a great holiday gift for the teens in your family. In fact, I’m giving away one print copy of Juniper Leaves! To enter the giveaway:

–> Update: We have a Winner! Congrats, Evelyn N. Alfred! 😊🎈 <–

  • follow my blog
  • leave a comment telling me why you’d like to win the book
  • don’t forget to leave your email/twitter/way to contact you
  • giveaway ends Dec 14th
  • I’ll send anywhere!

 

Disclaimer: I received a free e-book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

*****

About the author:

Jaz Joyner is a black trans essayist, humorist and author residing in Brooklyn, NY. Their work has been featured in Teen Vogue, HuffPo, and others, and one of their essays is featured in the LGBT anthology Outside the XY: Queer, Black and Brown Masculinity​. Most recently Jaz has become a regular on the YouTube discussion show TheGrapevine. In 2016, Jaz started their passion project, a humor site called QUNTFRONT with the goal of uplifting QTPoC voices and calling out white supremacy in media.