Wednesday, February 21, 2024

*Review* The Black Queen by Jumata Emill


Genre: YA Thriller
Published: January 31, 2023
Pages: 396

Nova Albright was going to be the first Black homecoming queen at Lovett High—but now she's dead. Murdered on coronation night. Fans of One of Us Is Lying and The Other Black Girl will love this unputdownable thriller.

Nova Albright, the first Black homecoming queen at Lovett High, is dead. Murdered the night of her coronation, her body found the next morning in the old slave cemetery she spent her weekends rehabilitating.

Tinsley McArthur was 
supposed to be queen. Not only is she beautiful, wealthy, and white, it’s her legacy—her grandmother, her mother, and even her sister wore the crown before her. Everyone in Lovett knows Tinsley would do anything to carry on the McArthur tradition.

No one is more certain of that than Duchess Simmons, Nova’s best friend. Duchess’s father is the first Black police captain in Lovett. For Duchess, Nova’s crown was more than just a win for Nova. It was a win for all the Black kids. Now her best friend is dead, and her father won’t face the fact that the main suspect is right in front of him. Duchess is convinced that Tinsley killed Nova—and that Tinsley is privileged enough to think she can get away with it. But Duchess’s father seems to be doing what he always does: fall behind the blue line. Which means that the white girl is going to walk.

Duchess is determined to prove Tinsley’s guilt. And to do that, she’ll have to get close to her.

But Tinsley has an agenda, too.

Everyone loved Nova. And sometimes, love is exactly what gets you killed.

For Black History Month this year, I decided I wanted to really focus my reading on books by Black authors, and as I'm currently on a YA horror/thriller kick, this was a great book to start me off. I was immediately drawn into the story, and although one of the two characters started out comparing situations to She's All That, I saw some serious Bring it On vibes at the beginning of things. In both cases Gabrielle Union is the reason for the comparisons (and even though she's over 40, she could probably STILL play a convincing teenager). 

This story is told from two perspectives, her best friend Duchess and her arch-enemy Tinsley. They ultimately have the same goal of finding out who killed Nova and will stop at nothing to do it. Duchess wants justice for her friend and Tinsley desperately needs to clear her name, because she's the number one suspect after a drunken rant goes viral. 

I'd love to tell you that I saw all the twists and turns coming, and figured out who the killer was immediately, but that would be a big fat stinking lie. This book consistently had me second-guessing myself, and I didn't really figure out who the killer was until Tinsley and Duchess did. That basically never happens to me. 

As an added bonus, this book gave me up close and personal insight into how Black police officers can be viewed in their community, and the extra pressure it puts on them. 

Overall I give The Black Queen 4.76854 out of 5 stars. - Katie 

Jumata Emill is a journalist who has covered crime and local politics in Mississippi and parts of Louisiana. He earned his BA in mass communications from Southern University and A&M College. He’s a Pitch Wars alum and a member of the Crime Writers of Color. When he’s not writing about murderous teens, he’s watching and obsessively tweeting about every franchise of the Real Housewives. Jumata lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and is the author of The Black Queen and Wander in the Dark.

*Review* The Unofficial Dollywood Cookbook by Erin Browne


Genre: Cookbook
Published: April 4, 2023
Pages: 240 

Bring the fun of Dollywood right to your own kitchen with 100 of the most delicious foods from Dollywood and its surrounding parks.

From favorite snacks and main dishes to refreshing drinks and popular desserts, Dollywood has some incredible food. And now, you can recreate all of your favorites—and discover some new favorites—with these 100 recipes in 
The Unofficial Dollywood Cookbook.

You’ll learn to make:
-Frannie’s Famous Fried Chicken Sandwich from Grandstand CafĂ©
-Meatloaf Stackers from Granny Ogle’s Ham ‘n’ Beans
-Fruity Pebbles Funnel Cakes from Crossroads Funnel Cakes
-And much more!

Perfect for everyone from Dollywood super fans who miss those familiar flavors in between trips to fans who have never visited but still want to experience the amazing food, 
The Unofficial Dollywood Cookbook has all the recipes you’ll need to make treats worthy of Dolly Parton herself.

I received a copy of this book through Netgalley. This is my honest review. 

I have never been to Dollywood and before reading this cookbook didn't really know a whole lot about Dolly Parton either. I'm familiar with a few of her songs and knew what she looks like, but that's about it. After reading this cookbook, I feel like I know quite a bit more about Dolly Parton herself, and she seems like a pretty fantastic human being. I also feel like I know a fair bit about Dollywood now too (it seems to be a theme park along the lines of Silver Dollar City in Branson). And I have all of this information because it was included as information explaining the various different recipes and their inspiration. 

I unfortunately did not have the opportunity to try any of the recipes from this book while I had access to the eARC, so I can't tell you if they are actually good, and I wouldn't know if they were at all accurate anyway. But boy, when I tell you this book made me so hungry. I was basically salivating over the recipes, and not only do I intend to buy myself a copy of this book so that I can actually try them out at home, but I also really wanna go to Dollywood now just to eat all the food. And while I'm no slouch in the kitchen, I'm also not a gourmet chef, but these recipes seemed fairly simple, with easy to follow instructions. 

Overall I give The Unofficial Dollywood Cookbook 4.8756 out of 5 stars. - Katie 

Erin K. Browne is the blogger and photographer behind Brownie Bites, where she shares approachable, easy recipes that are as fun to make as they are to eat. She especially loves pop culture and fandom-inspired recipes, with Dollywood being a major source of such inspiration as the park is just a short drive from her home. Outside of the kitchen, Erin enjoys reading in a cozy chair, hiking in the mountains, and exploring the country in her family’s RV. She currently lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her husband, Matt, her two children, Jasper and Shelby, her goofball corgi, Dewey, and the sweetest kitty who ever lived, Ham. Learn more at

*Review* The Man or the Monster by Aamna Qureshi


Genre: YA Historical Fantasy
Published: August 30, 2022
Pages: 450

She made her decision. Now she has to live with it.

Durkhanai Miangul sealed her lover’s fate when she sent him through a door where either a lady or a lion awaited him. But her decision was only the beginning of her troubles. Durkhanai worries that she might not be the queen her people need or deserve when conflict threatens her kingdom.

Her presumed-dead father comes back with a vengeance and wishes she join him in his cause. But her family’s denial of his revenge forces Durkhanai to take matters into her own hands and she must decide whether to follow the traditions of her forefathers or forge a new path on her own.

I received a copy of this audiobook through Netgalley. This is my honest review. 

I went into this book not realizing that it was the second book in a duology. This means that there was a lot of background information that readers are expected to have that I didn't. For instance, I have no idea why Asfandyar was in the arena facing the challenge in the first place. I can make some assumptions based on what happens in The Man or the Monster, but I don't know for sure. Which also means there are aspects of the court intrigue that I just don't have a full understanding of. But while I was listening to this audiobook, it didn't actually occur to me that it might be a sequel. I honestly kind of assumed I'd get some flashbacks to see where things went wrong between Durkhanai and Asfandyar. In spite of the missing background information, I felt like I understood the way this world worked as much as I was supposed to at the time, now I'm not so sure that's true. 

This story was told from a few different perspectives, which allowed me to see a broad range of the events as they were happening, but also led to frustration as certain characters were clearly unnecessarily at odds with each other, they just didn't know that. I do feel like this approach helped me to feel less lost by coming into the tale halfway through. 

The narration was a little rough for me at first, trying to listen through the accent, but once I got used to that, it sounded perfect. It helped to transport me across the world to another land and pulled me into the story. 

Overall I give The Man or the Monster 4.2875 out of 5 stars. - Katie 

Aamna Qureshi is a Pakistani, Muslim American who adores words. She grew up in a very loud household, surrounded by English (for school), Urdu (for conversation), and Punjabi (for emotion). Through her writing, she wishes to inspire a love for the beautiful country and rich culture that informed much of her identity. When she's not writing, she loves to travel to new places where she can explore different cultures or to Pakistan where she can revitalize her roots. She also loves baking complicated desserts, drinking fancy teas and coffees, watching sappy rom-coms, and going for walks about the estate (her backyard). She currently lives in New York. Look for her on IG @aamna_qureshi and Twitter @aamnaqureshi_ and at her website

Monday, February 12, 2024

*Review* Smarty Ants by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call

Genre: Children's 3-7 years
Published: August 1, 2023
Pages: 37

Ants are busy little creatures, and these smarty ants are extra busy using their math skills! They are ready to build one gigantic home, filled with everything an ant could want. But what happens when disaster strikes? Dynamic author duo Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call (Mootilda’s Bad Mood and Cold Turkey) use simple addition, word play, and rhyming text to create a memorable math book that you will want to read over and over again.

I received a copy of this book through Netgalley. This is my honest review. 

This was a cute mathematical story about ants building a new house. The story itself progresses through the numbers 1-10, with some very simple sums as we go along, and then we even count back down from 10-1. Additionally, the story made a point of emphasizing all the words that contain ant, which I found cute. 

The illustrations were super bold and colorful, really drawing your attention in and providing items for the children to count as you read along. I could read this book a few times before I'd want to hide it for a while to read something else. Overall I give Smarty Ants 3.9758 out of 5 stars. - Katie 

Corey Rosen Schwartz is the author of The Three Ninja Pigs and a significant number of other rhyming picture books. She lives with her family in Warren, NJ, but is getting antsy and plans to relocate soon.

Kirsti Call is an inhabitant of Antover, Massachusetts, where she can't stop reading and writing books. She's the author of Mootila's Bad Mood, Cold Turkey, Cow Says Meow, and The Big Scream. Find her at

Erin Taylor loves to travel: by plane, train, automobile, and pencil. She has lived in three different hemispheres and strives to reflect her world experiences in her artwork. When Erin's feet are on the ground she loves time with her family, getting lost in the wild, and visiting the zoo. Drawing is a daily necessity, just like eating, which she also enjoys quite a bit!

*Review* The Secret Garden of Yanagi Inn by Amber Logan


Genre: Mystery
Published: November 15, 2022
Pages: 466

Cracked doesn’t always mean broken.

Grieving her mother’s death, Mari Lennox travels to Kyoto, Japan to take photographs of Yanagi Inn for a client. As she explores the inn and its grounds, her camera captures striking images, uncovering layers of mystery shrouding the old resort—including an overgrown, secret garden on a forbidden island. But then eerie weeping no one else in the inn seems to hear starts keeping her awake at night.

Despite the warnings of the staff, Mari searches the deep recesses of the old building to discover the source of the ghostly sound, only to realize that her own family’s history is tied to the inn, its mysterious, forlorn garden . . . and the secrets it holds.

I received a copy of this audiobook through Netgalley. This is my honest review. 

I listened to this audiobook over three months ago, and I still think about it often. For me, it was a ghost story wrapped up in a mystery. There were a lot of things about the story that didn't seem to make much sense at first, like why Mari was invited to take photos of Yanagi Inn in the first place, since the owner seems to avoid it as much as possible. But as I learned more about the inn and Mari's connection to it, everything made so much more sense. I imagine a second reading/listen with the knowledge I now have would reveal some details and clues that I missed on my first listen. 

Although the story got off to a slow start for me, once Mari started exploring the inn, I was drawn into the story in a big way. I wanted to know why she was so strongly discouraged from roaming around the grounds and why she kept hearing crying in the middle of the night. I was excited to see the reactions to her secret project. I really just wanted to ignore my responsibilities and keep listening. 

The narration fit the character perfectly, at least the way I pictured the character in my mind. Although it's possible the narrators voice led to the picture in my head. Overall I give The Secret Garden of Yanagi Inn 4.99836 out of 5 stars. - Katie 

Amber A. Logan is a university instructor, freelance editor, and author of speculative fiction living in Kansas with her husband and two children—Fox and Willow. In addition to her degrees in Psychology, Liberal Arts, and International Relations, Amber holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge.

When she’s not writing, Amber enjoys trips to Japan, exploring unusual vegetarian foods, and reading Haruki Murakami.

*Review* Who Made This Mess by Laura Gehl

Genre: Children's 3-8 years
Published: August 1, 2023
Pages: 37

Mud splattered everywhere, tangled-up wool in huge piles, and carrot tops strewn about—what in the world is happening in this animal village? It’s quite a mystery! But thanks to rhyming clues, everyone will be able to easily guess the animal culprits—or will they? In this laugh-out-loud, expectation-defying picture book, Laura Gehl (May Saves the Day and The Hiking Viking) uses a rhyming mystery to help readers adjust their outlook, keep an open mind, and learn not to make assumptions.

I received a copy of this book through Netgalley. This is my honest review. 

This rhyming story is about a farmer who is woken to loud mooing from outside and when he goes to investigate he finds messes upon messes. Throughout the story, the reader is asked who they believe made each of the messes, but the actual answer is never the obvious one, but rather a silly alternative. 

The illustrations were colorful and bold, and also rather silly. I would have no problem reading this book several times as it had me giggling (although I'm sure it would get a little old after a while). I imagine the kids would appreciate when they learn the answers that aren't so obvious with multiple readings. Overall I give Who Made This Mess 4.3976 out of 5 stars. - Katie 

Laura Gehl is the author of popular picture books, board books, and early readers including One Big Pair of Underwear, My Pillow Keeps Moving, I Got a Chicken for My Birthday, the Peep and Egg series, and the Baby Scientist series. She lives in Chevy Chase, MD with her husband, four children, and large stash of dark chocolate.

*Review* Stronger Together by Terry Crews and Rebecca King Crews

 Genre: Memoir
Published: April 15, 2021
Duration: 4 hours, 44 minutes

America’s Got Talent host and comic personality Terry Crews and his wife, singer Rebecca King Crews, share the staggering ups and downs of their relationship and how they weathered the myriad crises that have rocked their marriage. 

In a unique narrative, Stronger Together begins on the day everything fell apart. In their own voices, Terry and Rebecca recount D-Day, as they call it - the moment that Terry admitted his unfaithfulness and addiction to porn, and Rebecca told him not to come home. Charting a course back to their earliest days, each one shares more about their difficult childhoods. Growing up in Flint with a devout mother and abusive father, Terry became fascinated by superheroes, landed a career in the NFL, then in Hollywood, while hiding an addiction to porn that fueled a toxic masculinity that led to that awful day. Rebecca, whose father died when she was a child, recounts being the only biracial child in Gary, Indiana, her passion for singing, her early pregnancy, her devotion to God, and her blind faith in Terry despite the challenges of being an NFL wife, her passion for motherhood, and the emotional pain when Terry’s hidden addiction was exposed. 

As they share their journey, the mistakes they made, the moments that shifted their worlds, and ultimately, what put them back together, they provide hope, reflection and comfort. In this audiobook, you will also hear the kindness in their voices, and what it sounds like to have a partner who truly listens, respects and loves. The book includes a final coda about the year 2020 when the couple endured Rebecca’s breast cancer diagnosis and controversy around Terry’s social media comments. 

Honest, intimate and filled with hope, Terry and Rebecca make you feel if they can survive it, you and your partner can, too.

This book is only available as an audiobook, but that just so happens to be my favorite way to indulge in celebrity memoirs so that was perfect for me. I really liked the way this audiobook was presented, with each person telling their part of things as it became relevant. It felt like they were right in front of me, telling me their story. 

It was really interesting to me to hear about how they each grew up, and how those experiences shaped them, especially Terry's story. I apparently have really only known feminist Terry, so it was a bit of a shock to me to hear some of the beliefs he had and the ways he acted before their D-Day. But that also gives me a measure of hope if we could just get the men to want to change for the better. He also briefly speaks about his sexual assault and the blowback he received from speaking about it during the Me Too movement, which just goes to show that women also have some work to do, because Me Too should be for everyone who has ever been victimized, regardless of their gender. 

Overall I give Stronger Together 4.56438 out of 5 stars. - Katie 

Amazon does not provide any information about that author.