Monday, May 3, 2021

#atozchallenge Reflection 2021

Reflections 2021 #atozchallenge


J: Not enough time! So many great blogs out there. Not as many blogs as previous years, but still, so many great ones. I loved getting to review books this month for OA, even if that's not our usual jam. The books I used were all by debut authors, and only one was an author I hadn't interviewed yet. (X is *hard* -- but at least I used a debut author's book with an X title!) 
https://operationawesome6.blogspot.com/2021/04/bookreview-fragile-remedy-atozchallenge.html -- This is my favorite post on this blog from the challenge. It's a 5-star review. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐📙

Amren: Goodness I'm always surprised by how many ways people choose to use and interpret A to Z. It's cool to see how other creators use the month, and bring their own spin to the event. I loved reviewing books for OA this year. Sometimes as a writer, it's hard to make time to read because the pressure is on to always be producing my own material - this was a great way to take a step back. I found some new favorites for sure!

Kate: What a blast the A to Z was this year!  I visited a bunch of fantastic blogs with such a wide variety of interesting posts, yet feel like I only scratched the surface of what was available.  It was fantastic to be able to share reviews of books I've loved on the Operation Awesome site, and to read all the other reviews.  Believe me, my TBR pile has grown!

Dena: I agree with J.  Too many great blogs, not enough time.  This happens to me every April though, so I can't say I didn't have sufficient advance notice.  I had a lot of fun writing reviews for great books I read over the past year.  It was also fun to read the reviews written by others, especially if I had also read the book and had an entirely different opinion.  Just goes to show that two people can read the same book and come away from it with an entirely different experience.  Visiting the other blogs participating in the A-to-Z Challenge was fun too.  So many different themes!  Overall a great experience and I can't wait to do it again next year!

Suzanna: words

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Friday, April 30, 2021

#BookReview of My Eyes Are Up Here by Laura Zimmerman

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter Z

The Operation Awesome theme for the #atozchallenge 2021 is book reviews. I had the chance to re-read some old favorites to see how my perspective has changed over time, as well as some new loves!



Z is for My Eyes Are Up Here by Laura Zimmerman

MY EYES ARE UP HERE is a YA contemporary novel about high school sophomore Greer Walsh who seriously got done dirty by puberty - last time she checked, her bra size was 30H. Greer is constantly trying to fade into the background with her oversized shirts and slouchy posture, while her best friend is always making waves. When Greer is voluntold to help the new boy at her school, Jackson Oates, she has to grapple with her crush on Jackson vs. her desire to be seen as more than a walking pair of boobs. 

As someone with gender dysphoria, I totally got Greer's unhappiness with her body. I hated everything about going through puberty - especially no longer being able to cross my arms tight over my chest. Greer constantly struggles with finding a bra that fits, going swimming with her friends, even finding a volleyball uniform she can wear. She's always self-conscious, and while that was certainly relatable, it got repetitive at times. I wanted the novel to show some growth on Greer's part, whether that was her deciding that she wanted to pursue breast reduction surgery (which she does consider during the novel), or her coming to terms with her body the way it is and accepting herself. By the end of the novel, though, neither of those things happen. I felt that the novel ended before it should have and didn't really resolve the main conflict. 

I liked that it was Greer's friend Maggie and not Greer herself who was making waves. I often find that the main character in YA contemporary is the Everything Girl: cute and funny and quirky and stands up against prejudice and, and, and. It was nice to see a main character who would rather be on the sidelines, someone who is relatable to those of us who were too shy to ever want to be the center of attention. Maggie is the one protesting the dress code, or speaking up against the sexist nature of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, the spring musical. (I've been in that show, and let me tell you, yuck. Maggie had the right idea.) Towards the end of the novel, Greer does stand up on behalf of Maggie, which was some well-needed character development on Greer's part. The romance subplot was also enjoyable, since it wasn't the main focus of the novel. It felt more real for Greer to be dealing with things other than her attraction to Jackson. 

I would recommend MY EYES ARE UP HERE to YA readers of all ages. In addition to the body image issues, there are also discussions of how moving often makes life difficult, family dynamics, and sexism. 


Thursday, April 29, 2021

#BookReview of Yes, No, Maybe So by Becky Albertalli & Aisha Said #atozchallenge




Set during a local election campaign, this is a cross-race, cross-religious romance with a strong political message.  Jamie is a shy, socially anxious guy who struggles to speak to strangers.  Forget about speaking in public.  So he's perfectly happy to be behind the scenes for his state senator's election campaign, stuffing envelopes, fetching coffee or whatever.  But everything changes when he's paired up with Maya to go canvassing door to door.

Maya isn't having a great summer.  Her parents are separating and her best friend is so busy working and preparing to go to college she seems to have forgotten she even has a best friend. Maya's mother suggests getting involved with the campaign might give her days some purpose and Maya grudgingly agrees even if it does mean hanging out with a childhood friend she hasn't seen in years.

As Jamie and Maya get more deeply involved in the campaign and what it means to them and the people around them, they realize that they have more in common than they might have thought.  The more time they spend together, the more they enjoy each other's company.  But no romance runs smoothly and things get more complicated when one person is Jewish American and the other is from an Indian Muslim background.

I enjoyed this book.  It was light and fun and Jamie was so adorably inept.  Yet under all the frothy romance there was some strong messaging about hate speech, politics and speaking up for what you believe in.  There was also some messaging around the power of social media to invoke change (and, as usual, create chaos for our happy couple).

I believe strongly that everyone who has the right to vote, should vote.  People have no right to complain about the political situation they're in if they didn't use their right to vote, even if their candidate didn't win.  Yet I felt this message was pushed a little too hard through this book.  The political campaign wasn't just the background for the romance at the forefront of the book, it felt like the reason for the book.  Like the authors were really, really intent on getting their political message across, at any cost.

Now I'm all for messages in books and for books to teach readers things, but I hate it when I feel like an author is bashing me over the head with their ideology.  Even if I'm on the same page as them.  So I didn't love this book as much as I wanted to.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

New York Times bestselling authors Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed have crafted a resonant, funny, and memorable story about the power of love and resistance.

YES
Jamie Goldberg is cool with volunteering for his local state senate candidate—as long as he’s behind the scenes. When it comes to speaking to strangers (or, let’s face it, speaking at allto almost anyone), Jamie’s a choke artist. There’s no way he’d ever knock on doors to ask people for their votes…until he meets Maya.

NO
Maya Rehman’s having the worst Ramadan ever. Her best friend is too busy to hang out, her summer trip is canceled, and now her parents are separating. Why her mother thinks the solution to her problems is political canvassing—with some awkward dude she hardly knows—is beyond her.

MAYBE SO
Going door to door isn’t exactly glamorous, but maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world. After all, the polls are getting closer—and so are Maya and Jamie. Mastering local activism is one thing. Navigating the cross-cultural romance of the century is another thing entirely.



Wednesday, April 28, 2021

#BookReview Xodus #atozchallenge

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter X

The Operation Awesome theme for the #atozchallenge 2021 is book reviews (even though we're a blog about the publication journey, not a book review blog-- the team loves to read!). I've selected books by Debut Authors.

K.J. McPike
Xodus (Astralis #1) (Souls Untethered Saga #1) / This book has been rebranded as Souls Untethered. Souls Untethered (The Souls Untethered Saga Book 1)


4 star rating image on the Operation Awesome blog
"When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time." - Maya Angelou

That quote is appropriate for this book, in my opinion. This was a good book that was full of suspense, a strong family core, a tiny splash of romance (heat level= one simple kiss), and Astral projection (which is fantasy, sci-fi, speculative fiction, or real-- depending on who you ask). It's YA because the main character turns 16 at the opening of the book. I do enjoy reading YA and urban fantasy, both categories of which this book falls into. The book is well-edited.

Several forms of Astral projection are used in this book, including teleportation, telepathy, time-travel, and mind-reading. There's a reason for this expanded version of Astral projection. That might make the book more or less interesting, depending on your feelings about the expanded definition. I imagine the rebranded title, "Souls Untethered," is related to Astral projection. In the older version of the book I have "Xodus (Astralis #1)" -- the word "soul" is never used in place of Astral projection (spirit-moving-out-of-the-body is mentioned once), and the word "untethered" isn't in the book. Xodus, however, is used in the book. (And if you enjoy word games, you'll figure out one meaning before the story even opens!) I got a free copy of this book years ago. This is my honest and unbiased review.

There are some funny scenes. For example, there's banter between the five siblings:
"Thank you, Captain Obvious."
"I'd say she's more of a Petty Officer Obvious," Ulyxses mused. He, Dixon, and Oxanna cackled. Salaxia gave them her meanest stare, which was about as intimidating as a pouncing kitten. 

I was eager to read to the end to find out if the two objectives of two of the main characters would be reached. One was. I supposed if I want to find out about the other, I'd need to read the next book in the series! 

There is a happily-ever-after ending for the most part. It's an entertaining read. As for diversity:
Five main characters are described as having deep olive skin, raven hair, and crystal gray eyes. Another main character has black hair, russet or tan or tawny skin, and emerald eyes. And another has ivory skin. There is mention of "skin-toned" make-up, but I'm not sure what that looks like. 

The book cover I have has a female silhouette cut from a dark blue night sky over the San Fransico Golden Gate Bridge, and the green thing that she searches for among the stars. It makes perfect sense when reading the novel. The cover I currently see for sale has the bridge in the background with someone that looks much like the main character, and I guess she's holding a stone from the story, though it looks more like an orb. That cover looks more like a slightly altered stock cover. 

Trigger warning, there are kidnapping scenes in this book. Both turn out okay in the end, but it might upset some readers. 

Something that bothered me was the school is a one-story brick building. It has stairs. History class is upstairs. This implies at least two stories. 

Though I enjoyed the characters, I can't say I especially related to any of them. They didn't especially remind me of anyone, except perhaps for Jessica (a minor character). I enjoyed that there was a pronunciation guide at the opening of the book. I also liked that the dad gave dinosaur-inspired nicknames to the five children. The setting in the middle of nowhere with lots of cows, I've lived there (different state, but still). 

pronunciation guide cover I have

GOODREADS review

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Tuesday, April 27, 2021

#BookReview of Black Fatigue by Mary-Frances Winters #atozchallenge

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter W

The Operation Awesome theme for the #atozchallenge 2021 is book reviews (even though we're a blog about the publication journey, not a book review blog-- the team loves to read!). I've selected books that I have been itching to read that corresponded with the letter.

 

 

#WeNeedDiverseBooks

This book is an excellent choice for everyone who is pursuing antiracism and learning more about antiracism. Winters leads the reader through definitions of terms about racism, facts and misconceptions of the racism, and is a great starting point paired with Ibram X. Kendi's How to Be an Antiracist. Winters draws on her own life experiences and the stories of others to illustrate the systemic issues of racism. The pacing is fantastic and fits well into small sections.

I would recommend this book for everyone who wants to learn more about racism and how to be antiracist. I will caution that some of the material may be difficult, especially if this is the first time facing discussion of race. The book is an excellent choice for those who are looking to educate themselves about racism and work through bias. This is the first book I have read by Winters, and I am eager to read her additional work. I am reading diverse books as part of my journey of cultural humility. As a white woman, I am eager to continue my cultural humility journey and do the work of educating myself as I work toward how I can be more antiracist, advocate for social justice, and reduce my biases.

I finished the book. It was enlightening for me to encounter Winters's perspective and training in the field training others about diversity, equality, and inclusion. She references additional resources and books to read on the topic, and I look forward to reading her recommendations. I anticipate reading more by Winters, and I will happily follow Winters's future work. One of my key factors for reading books is if I would recommend it to others, and if I would reread the book. I would do both for Black Fatigue, with high recommendations and I would definitely read it again and use Winters as a reference and resource.

The theme is captured by the following sentences: “It is paradoxical that with all the attention over the last 50 years on social justice and diversity and inclusion, we have made little progress in actualizing the vision of an equitable society.”

Overall the book was easy to read and informative. I appreciated Winter's experiences and knowledge throughout this book. Learning about racism is part of my journey toward antiracism and dissolving my biases as much as humanly possible. I appreciate Winters's as a resource, and I look forward to using Black Fatigue as a resource and reference as I continue to learn and grow.  

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What is your favorite book discussing racism and how to be antiracist?




Monday, April 26, 2021

#BookReview of Virgil Wander by Leif Enger #atozchallenge

 

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter V

 


I discovered Leif Enger's first book, Peace Like A River on the bargain table outside the discount bookshop that used to be in the same mall as a cinema I ran, and it soon became one of my all-time favourite books.  I sought out other books by the author, but there did not seem to be any.  Until ten years later, Virgil Wander appeared on bookstore shelves.

You better believe I snapped up a copy as soon as I saw it.  Especially when I discovered Virgil lives above a fading and failing movie theatre.

Set in a small midwestern town, Virgil Wander begins with its titular protagonist being rescued from the frigid waters of Lake Superior after his car plunges from a bridge.  Concussed, Virgil has problems with speech and memory even after he goes home from the hospital.  Because of this, the narrative has a slightly dream-like, fractured quality.  We're never quite sure what Virgil is actually experiencing, and what might be the result of his damaged brain.

So when a kite-flying stranger shows up in town to try and discover that happened to his missing son, we're not sure if he is real.

The book features an eccentric cast of characters that reminded me somewhat of the residents of Fannie Flag's Elmwood Springs.  Like that fictional town, this one is also fading and down at the heels, the population largely aging as the younger people depart for opportunities in bigger, more exciting locales.  The people here are stoic and survive the best they can, but can't help reminiscing about the days in which the town thrived and grew.

It is a town more accustomed to people leaving, than those arriving, so when Rune arrives with his kites and zest for life, and the wealthy film producer whose house has long stood abandoned both turn up, the community begins to feel the whisper of change and new life.

I really enjoyed this book despite the fact it's very quiet.  The characters are delightful and so well drawn I felt like they could be my neighbors by the end of it.  It would be so easy to make fun of these simple people and their simple lives, but Enger has such obvious affection for them that it's impossible to.

I would definitely recommend this one.

But don't just listen to me. Here's the blurb:

The first novel in ten years from award-winning, million-copy bestselling author Leif Enger, Virgil Wander is an enchanting and timeless all-American story that follows the inhabitants of a small Midwestern town in their quest to revive its flagging heart.

Midwestern movie house owner Virgil Wander is "cruising along at medium altitude" when his car flies off the road into icy Lake Superior. Virgil survives but his language and memory are altered and he emerges into a world no longer familiar to him. Awakening in this new life, Virgil begins to piece together his personal history and the lore of his broken town, with the help of a cast of affable and curious locals--from Rune, a twinkling, pipe-smoking, kite-flying stranger investigating the mystery of his disappeared son; to Nadine, the reserved, enchanting wife of the vanished man; to Tom, a journalist and Virgil's oldest friend; and various members of the Pea family who must confront tragedies of their own. Into this community returns a shimmering prodigal son who may hold the key to reviving their town.

With intelligent humor and captivating whimsy, Leif Enger conjures a remarkable portrait of a region and its residents, who, for reasons of choice or circumstance, never made it out of their defunct industrial district. Carried aloft by quotidian pleasures including movies, fishing, necking in parked cars, playing baseball and falling in love, Virgil Wander is a swift, full journey into the heart and heartache of an often overlooked American Upper Midwest by a "formidably gifted" (Chicago Tribune) master storyteller.



Saturday, April 24, 2021

#BookReview of Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly #atozchallenge

Our theme for this year's A-to-Z Blogging Challenge is BOOK REVIEWS.  We don't normally post book reviews but it was fun to review some of the amazing books I've read in the last year.

U is for Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly.

https://www.amazon.com/Hello-Universe-Erin-Entrada-Kelly/dp/006241416X/

This book follows four middle school kids as their lives intersect one fateful day.  Virgil Salinas is a shy bookworm who feels like a misfit in his sports-crazy family.  Valencia Somerset is deaf, smart, brave, and a nature lover.  Kaori Tanaka believes in psychic powers and enlists her little sister to help her with projects.  And Chet Bullens is the town bully who needs to be put in his place.  One day, Chet pulls a prank on Virgil which results in Virgil and his guinea pig trapped at the bottom of a well.  The girls get together to search for him.

Told in four POV, Hello Universe is a diverse, character-based story about friendship and being different.  I first started reading this as an e-book but I couldn't get into it so didn't finish.  This has happened to me before, and when it happens, I try a different format.  I was able to finish the audio book, and I did enjoy it, although it did move a bit slow for me.  If you like character driven stories or literary fiction, you'll probably enjoy this book.

Three stars.



Friday, April 23, 2021

#BookReview of This Will Be Funny Someday by Katie Henry

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter T

The Operation Awesome theme for the #atozchallenge 2021 is book reviews. I had the chance to re-read some old favorites to see how my perspective has changed over time, as well as some new loves!


T is for This Will Be Funny Someday by Katie Henry

THIS WILL BE FUNNY SOMEDAY is a YA contemporary novel about the hapless, quiet high school student Isabel, who always thinks of something witty to say to people but can't ever bring herself to say it out loud. Her boyfriend is overbearing, she hasn't talked to her best friend in months, and her family seems content to leave her to her own devices. So when Isabel stumbles into a comedy club in downtown Chicago, she suddenly finds that she has a pretty good voice for comedy. Isabel falls in with a group of college students who think she's in college as well, and increasingly finds herself lying to everyone in her life to keep her comedy a secret. (Quick warning: this review contains some spoilers.)

If you liked The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, you may like this book - the "funny woman hides her comedy life from everyone" plot is pretty similar, and I've seen the book pitched as "Mrs. Maisel goes to high school." That said, my main criticism is that the reader never really sees Isabel be all that funny. She performs a couple five-minute sets and has an epic takedown of a bully at the end of the novel, but there's no sense of growth. She seemed as funny in her first set as she was in her last, and because we don't get to see her process of working through a joke like we do in Mrs. Maisel, I had a hard time believing that she becomes this amazing comic by the end of the novel, which is just a few months later. Isabel ends up beating out a bunch of college students to perform in a highly-exclusive college comedy showcase, which didn't make sense to me. She's been doing comedy for a few months; how could she really be that innately good that she could succeed over college students who have been doing this for several years? I just didn't buy it. 

I also thought that the reveal of Isabel's secret comedy life to her family was a bit over-the-top: one of her bits, in which she mentions details about a lawsuit her high-powered lawyer mom is litigating, ends up being videotaped and sent to her mom as blackmail. Isabel's mom pays a lot of money to keep the video from ending up on the internet. I hate to keep going back to the TV show, but it almost seemed like a better reveal would have been Mrs. Maisel-style, where Isabel suddenly looks up and realizes her parents are in the audience. Her whole reason for not speaking up at home is that she constantly feels talked over and ignored - what better way would there have been for Isabel's parents to see her actually in her element, and then Isabel would have to deal with it in the moment while she's on stage? The blackmail plot was so quickly resolved that it didn't have as much weight as I would've liked. 

The relationships in Isabel's life were what really brought this book to life for me. I loved the tension between Isabel and her (ex) best friend; I've been in similar situations and it truly felt real. When the two of them were paired up to do a project together, the awkwardness was so tangible that I actually cringed. There's bad blood between them about Isabel's boyfriend, and they dance around the topic in a way I think only us Midwesterners can truly accomplish. Isabel's relationship with her boyfriend was okay, but not quite as relatable. The summary in the book flap calls her boyfriend "controlling," which was disappointing because I wanted to find that out as I read. His controlling and gaslighting nature is blatant from page one. I would have liked for his character to be more subtle at first, so that the reader sees in him what Isabel sees - more like Nick Manter in Rainbow Rowell's FANGIRL. I wanted to be able to root for them as a couple and slowly be proven wrong, not be told before I even started reading that their relationship was doomed. What I really loved was Isabel's family dynamic. She slowly finds ways to engage with her older sister, who always seemed to pick on her and reject her. Isabel feels ignored and forgotten, and this feeling is bolstered many times throughout the novel as her family forgets about lunch dates with her or ignores her problems so they can talk about their own. 

THIS WILL BE FUNNY SOMEDAY is a good read for anyone looking for something light and casual yet so compelling that they can devour it in two days. 


Thursday, April 22, 2021

#BookReview of Stick by Andrew Smith #atozchallenge



I've been a huge fan of Andrew Smith since I read Ghost Medicine, and I thought I'd read all his books.  So it was a surprise to discover this one I'd never heard of before.  So I quickly snapped it up for my Kindle and dove right in.

Stark (or Stick as he gets called because of his height) is fourteen and was born missing an ear.  Years of bullying about it have made him self-conscious about it so he rarely leaves the house without a hat.  His older brother Bosten does his best to protect Stick, but he can't be there all the time. And even if he can stave off the school bullies, there's no way he can keep Stick (and himself) safe from the abuse at home.

Luckily both Bosten and Stick have good friends with families who embrace them - Stick with Emily and Bosten with Paul 'Buck" Buckley.  But as they get older, the friendships turn into something more.  Stick discovers he likes kissing Emily and when her parents are out of the house, sharing a bath.

When Stick comes across Bosten and Paul kissing in the woods and realizes Bosten is gay, he knows this isn't going to go down well at home.  So he keeps Bosten's secret.  But Bosten's secret is exposed anyway, and the only way Bosten can stay safe is to leave home.

Unable to feel safe or whole without Bosten, Stick leaves too, unsure where Bosten is, but suspecting he may have gone to their aunt's, the one place they felt loved and accepted for who they are.  On the way Stick finds good people who genuinely seem to care about him and his well-being, and others who do terrible things.

Despite the challenges - some of them terrifying - Stick keeps going, certain that he'll find his brother and the safe, loving home he knows he deserves.

I loved this book.  Stick was such an endearing character and the relationship between him and Bosten was beautifully realized.  It was clear that the pair of them had stuck together through all kinds of indignities and horrors meted out by their parents.

The contrasts between their home with its rules and petty demands and the homes of their friends and most particularly their aunt were well drawn, and Stick's amazement as the differences felt very real.

There are some very obvious parallels between this book and my own Standing Too Close, so that may be why I responded so much to it (and hello, new comp title!)

But that aside, this is a powerfully emotional story with a spunky central character with a raw, real voice.  I definitely recommend it.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

Fourteen-year-old Stark McClellan (nicknamed Stick because he’s tall and thin) is bullied for being “deformed” – he was born with only one ear. His older brother Bosten is always there to defend Stick. But the boys can’t defend one another from their abusive parents.

When Stick realizes Bosten is gay, he knows that to survive his father's anger, Bosten must leave home. Stick has to find his brother, or he will never feel whole again. In his search, he will encounter good people, bad people, and people who are simply indifferent to kids from the wrong side of the tracks. But he never loses hope of finding love – and his brother.



Tuesday, April 20, 2021

#BookReview Fragile Remedy #atozchallenge

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter R

The Operation Awesome theme for the #atozchallenge 2021 is book reviews (even though we're a blog about the publication journey, not a book review blog-- the team loves to read!). I've selected books by Debut Authors that I've interviewed on this blog. Read Maria Ingrande Mora's interview here.


Fragile Remedy --  Publisher site

5 star rating image on the Operation Awesome blog LGBTQ+ Science Fiction

I'm giving this book only five stars because that's the highest quantity available on review sites. (There's no "click here to give all the stars in the sky" ... that I know of, anyway.) To say this book is good is an understatement. Exceptional, marvelous, superb, wonderful-- I LOVE this book. I had to update my NaNoWriMo profile to reflect having a new favorite. Can I add some hearts instead of just stars?

💗🤍❤💕😍

Set in the fictional future (which doesn't feel so fictional-- thanks, 2020), on the poor side of town- the quarantined island, everyone struggles to survive. Nate wasn't born but created, and his blood can do amazing healing on others, at a painful cost to him. (It sounds like "donor babies," but since they're grown in a lab, people care even less.) The world has a drug problem (like the opioid crisis) and a respiratory problem (do I even have to mention the "C" word that ruined and ruled all of our lives in 2020???). All the science in this science fiction is plausible. You might think that kind of reality-smacking-into-fiction would make this harder to read, yet I found the opposite to be true. Because the book isn't really about those things, that's just well-written background noise. The book is about relationships, making your own family, loyalty, love, and giving everything and anything for the one you love. 

It might not sound like it, but this is my honest and unbiased review. I got an ARC copy of this book when I interviewed this debut author for Operation Awesome. (To be clear-- this is a DEBUT book! 😲 Ground-level fandom. Start the party!) I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a really great story with a teenage chaotic good main character. There's diversity in that most of the main characters are extremely poor, multiple characters are gay, Sparks is probably trans ("when her appearance matched who she was"), and various skin colors are mentioned (bronze, brown, pale). I don't read a lot of science fiction, but I do love diverse books and especially ones with such well-written characters and storylines, and this book is an example of the kind of scifi I like the most. I would absolutely read another book from this author. Even though Fragile Remedy is a stand-alone book, I'm hoping it will turn into a series. The ending does wrap up the story, but it leaves room to add to it. (Reed for mayor, president, whatever leadership roles exist!) Plus, I want to read about Pixel growing up, I want to see her improve the world. And what about other GEMs in the Gathos City towers? We need more books so Nate can go save them!

This book is realistic fiction with a bit of science that hasn't happened yet. It was happily-ever-after (as much as it can). It's romantic in that will-they-or-won't-they way where the reader can see how perfect Nate and Reed are for each other but Nate's anxiety needs to get out of the way first. (And also, shower first, guys! There's a great scene where they kiss, but it gets interrupted by sneezing. LOVE that part of the book.) Fragile Remedy is thrilling, action-packed, fast-paced, and has many plot twists. (The current book description, that's just the first third of the story. There is so much more!) It's fun and entertaining (especially Alden). "Only Alden could make falling asleep a dramatic exit." 

It seems like the antagonist is everyone from Gathos City, since they've abandoned all of these people, leaving them with sickness and poverty. But there's another antagonist who is revealed later. "We didn't start riots, people did," the antagonist says. Similarly, the backstory of how the characters met each other is skillfully woven into the book, each revealed at precisely the right moment. Also excellently done is how Mora wrote Nate's fear of heights without being direct about it. 

I learned the term hiccoughed from reading this book. A word that instantly makes sense and has an obvious meaning and sound, yet I've never seen used before. 

#BookReview Fragile Remedy #atozchallenge

The scratchy blue cover with the crumbling city and the vial makes sense when reading the book. The title also matches the story. I saw only one possible typo in the entire ARC. 

I imagine Pixel is the author's favorite character, though there are many excellent characters in this story. The book was hard to put down because there is so much action and so much heart. Every action, every choice, has a purpose in this book. I could relate to several of the characters because of my life, and I've known some people who remind me of several of the characters. (Notably Alden and Brick.) Speaking of Brick, I enjoyed that the character names were easy to remember because the names "fit" the characters. Though there's a strong romance element, it just barely hints at PG-13 level of steam. The setting is well fleshed-out, allowing the reader to feel the poverty and ruin in which the characters reside. Nothing came easy for any of the characters. The book absolutely holds up a mirror to society, to how we too often treat the sick, how people can turn on one another and use each other, but also how people can really love and give everything for someone. It's the very best of people versus the very worst, which is what makes it so wonderful. 



@jlennidorner on #nanowrimo
J's favorite books and authors- NaNoWriMo profile
https://nanowrimo.org/participants/j-lenni-dorner



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#BookReview of Queen's Gambit by Walter Trevis #atozchallenge

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter Q

The Operation Awesome theme for the #atozchallenge 2021 is book reviews (even though we're a blog about the publication journey, not a book review blog-- the team loves to read!). I've selected books that I have been itching to read that corresponded with the letter.

This book is an excellent choice. The story follows Beth, an orphan, and her professional chess career. The narrative addresses themes of mastery, loneliness, substance use, and games. The pacing is on point, and even though I am certainly not a chess expert, I enjoyed how the author described the chess matches and how Beth prepared for tournaments. It ignited my interest in learning more about chess.

I would recommend this book for those who want to learn more about chess in a way that is historical, educational, and fun. I will caution that there is some drug use throughout the story and sexual violence in the beginning. This is the first novel I have read by Trevis, and I am curious to read his other novels.

I finished the book. Beth’s journey was engaging and intriguing and it was difficult to stop reading. I anticipate reading more by Trevis and watching the show on Netflix. One of my key factors for reading books is if I would recommend it to others, and if I would reread the book. I would do both for The Queen’s Gambit, and I would definitely read it again with a chess board in front of me to play along.

The theme is captured by the following sentences: “She had been playing grandmaster games in her head from the time she first discovered Chess Review, but she had not been disciplined about it. She played them to exult in the win—to feel the stab of excitement at a sacrifice or a forced mate, especially in the games that were printed in books precisely because they incorporated drama of that kind.”

Overall the novel was hard to put down and an easy read. I appreciated the way chess was portrayed as a conflict and a character, and Beth’s motivations for playing the game. Though the ending was probably more like a quick end game, the novel contained obstacles throughout the novel.

 

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What is your favorite part about chess? Do you have a preferred opening strategy like the Queen's Gambit? Have you seen the Netflix show?




Monday, April 19, 2021

#BookReview of Real Pigeons Fight Crime by Andrew McDonald and Ben Wood #atozchallenge

Our theme for this year's A-to-Z Blogging Challenge is BOOK REVIEWS.  We don't normally post book reviews but it was fun to review some of the amazing books I've read in the last year.

P is for Real Pigeons Fight Crime by Andrew McDonald [author] and Ben Wood [illustrator].

https://www.amazon.com/Real-Pigeons-Fight-Crime-Book/dp/0593119428/

This is a graphic novel with three parts – The Great Breadcrumb Mystery, The Bat Trapper, and Danger at the Food Truck Fair.  In their first mystery, all the breadcrumbs have disappeared from the local park.  Oh the horror!  But don't worry, the pigeons are on the case!  The second and third parts are related cases the pigeons are called to solve.

Other than reading comic books when I was in elementary school, this is the first graphic novel I've ever read.  The pigeons all have different personalities.  The stories and the illustrations are funny.  I'm not really a graphic novel reader, but this book was quick and easy to read and a lot of fun.

Four stars.


Saturday, April 17, 2021

#atozchallenge #BookReview O for Plunge: One Woman's Pursuit of a Life Less Ordinary

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter O

The Operation Awesome theme for the #atozchallenge 2021 is book reviews (even though we're a blog about the publication journey, not a book review blog-- the team loves to read!). I've selected books by Debut Authors that I've interviewed on this blog.
Today's post is late because I have had a *Day.* 😒
You can check out my interview with this awesome author here: Interview



4 star rating image on the Operation Awesome blog  This review contains spoilers
This was an interesting book to read. It's sprinkled with sailing lingo (such as mooring balls). Anyone planning on taking up sailing, or going on long-term travels across continents, should certainly read this book first. It's realistic and honest, a behind-the-scenes that shows the grit, not just the glory. I rarely read travel memoirs.

I feel it was brave of Liesbet to share so much with the audience. Parts of this are like reading a diary. There are some relationship ups and downs that not everyone would be so comfortable sharing. And there are worrisome parts, like some of her descriptions of Mark. She talks about his habit of criticizing her in public in front of their friends. "When Mark is in these frustrated moods... I feel their anxiety... we all lower our heads." He was willing to wear a ring in his previous marriage, but argues (though caves) about doing it for this one. "Fact is, each time he yells or boils over with frustration, I can't focus on things I enjoy, like writing. All I do is cower." 

I interviewed this debut author at Operation Awesome, and was given a free copy of this book. This is my honest and unbiased review. We are both members of the Insecure Writer's Support Group, which is thanked in the acknowledgments. 

There are a lot of great excerpts I could share. And the pictures at the end of the book are absolutely stunning. "Happiness comes from within. It's presented in fleeting moments; it's found when you feel at peace with the decision you've made." That's a really profound quote.
"When we arrive in (spoiler location), we're homeless." That's something to really take in, something people don't really think about. It matches chapter 18, where she mentions the difference between buying things for enjoyment instead of things to survive and prevent sinking. 
"I chose travel over stuff."
"What does luck have to do with making decisions or shaking responsibilities to pursue freedom?" The author has such a strong and unique mindset, it's very inspiring. 
Mayonnaise with fries... I've never had that. 

The scene with the sea lions was my favorite. I read the whole book to see how it would turn out. Having interviewed the author, I know where she was and how she was living in 2020, so I wanted to know why she "got off the boat" so to say. The book is tragic at times (cancer, cancer, more cancer, freaking cancer again, oh look- it's cancer). Mini-spoiler but also trigger warning: the dogs do not survive in this book. The book has as many plot twists as life can throw at a person. But it's inspirational and entertaining, and makes one think about travel and all the places there are to go on our "blue marble." The author is certainly an authority on the subject, having lived it and getting magazines to publish her articles about her various adventures. The book is well-edited and the author's voice is strong.

"The Pan-American highway does not connect the American continents." I never knew that. Or really thought about it. I always assumed that it was possible to travel directly to South America from North America- but apparently, it is not simple. (The highway ends in Yaviza. I just looked it up on Google Maps.) 

Liesbet briefly mentions that being from a socialist country is the reason she wasn't broke and could travel. And how it saves her country money. Fascinating. It doesn't cover everything, but it certainly helps. 

The book is hard to put down because the chapters each end with a reason to need the next one. Good suspense! If Liesbet ever gets into writing mystery novels, they'll be excellent. 

I couldn't relate to sailing, as I've never done that on this scale. But I've dumped and been dumped, I've traveled, and I've lost loved ones. The animals and wildlife were the best parts of the settings. There's a scene in the book where they make a friend who has the same name as my spouse! That was fun for me, "Hey, what are you doing in this book? Sailing without me?" Haha.

The book is beneficial to society because it gives the reader a reason to think about how a different mindset and choices can result in an entirely different life. Not an easier one, but certainly a different one. 

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Friday, April 16, 2021

#BookReview of Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

 


The Operation Awesome theme for the #atozchallenge 2021 is book reviews. I had the chance to re-read some old favorites to see how my perspective has changed over time, as well as some new loves!


N is for Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

A friend sent me a copy of BINTI as a gift last Christmas. Both of us were looking to support more Black creators, and since this novella had won several awards, it seemed like a good story to pick up. 

BINTI is an Africanfuturist science fiction horror novella about the titular character, Binti, a Himba girl who is the first of her people to be accepted to the prestigious Oomsa University elsewhere in the Milky Way. She gives up her traditional life to travel on a spaceship to Oomsa, but along the way, the ship is attacked and taken over by the jellyfish-like Medusae. The Medusae kill everyone but Binti, and their next target is Oomsa University, where their chief’s stinger is on display in a museum. Using a mysterious piece of technology called an edan, Binti acts as a go-between for the Medusae and Oomsa University and manages to negotiate the safe return of the stinger without loss of life. 

Before I really start on my review, I just need to say off the top that I did not enjoy this novella. There were a lot of elements that didn’t work for me, even though I really wish they did. 

I had a hard time with Okorafor’s style, especially in the first half of the novella. Events would go from the present, to Binti explaining her culture, to random events in the past, back to the present – the narrative was constantly bouncing around. For example, when the ship is attacked, an extremely dramatic moment that will change Binti’s life forever, the narrative is told in a very broken way, with Binti jumping around from the event itself, to the weeks leading up to it, to her running out of the room, back to when the Medusae first attacked…it would have been much more impactful if it had been told straight through. Additionally, every two to three pages there would be a section break that implied time had passed, but not how much. Sometimes these breaks would be between a long section about culture or history and the present, a stylistic choice that seemed like a lot of telling and very little showing. I would much rather have seen the info integrated into the story, revealed slowly within the narrative. 

The second half of the novella flowed better with little interruption, although for me this was when the suspension of disbelief became far too much. There were just so many coincidences that centered on Binti: she found an edan – a mysterious piece of technology – in the desert several years previously and she never figured out how to use it until the Medusae attacked, at which point she realized it could be used as a translation device. Somehow the edan protects her from the Medusae – they say that the edan is “shame,” but that’s never explained. It’s also referred to as a godstone, but again, no explanation. Later in the novella, when Binti has to give up the edan, she somehow is still able to understand the Medusae. She says it’s because she’s a “master harmonizer,” but never explains what that means. At one point it's said that her father passed down this oral tradition to her about circuits, currents, and math, but what that means for harmonizing is...unknown. Then there’s the otjize, a mixture of clay and oil that Binti’s people coat their hair and skin with. For Binti, it’s a part of her cultural identity. For the Medusae, however, it has magic healing powers, although the reader never finds out why. Somehow Binti is stung by one of the Medusae and grows tentacles from her head like hair, but again, it’s not explained. There were simply too many coincidences and questions left unanswered. 

There was also a lot of repetition that seemed wholly unnecessary. The reader never gets to know Binti’s friends – there are six of them – but their names are recited over and over, as if they mean something to the reader. When Binti learns she can understand the Medusae with the edan, the Medusae ask her over and over “How do you understand us?” and her answer is always, “I don’t know.” And because she doesn’t know, the reader doesn’t know. That never changes. There's no info that lets the reader figure it out before Binti does, so why have this question be asked so many times? If Binti suddenly understood, she’s the type of character who would volunteer that information. She repeats how important otjize is to her, but that information had been given to the reader many times already and I started to wonder if Okorafor thought the reader wouldn’t be paying attention.  

The pacing was both too fast and too slow in turns. This could have been better as a stripped-down version and turned into a short story – toss all that needless repetition and just start with the Medusae attacking the ship – or fleshed out into a full novel, where at least there would have been better space to introduce other characters and see more of Binti’s friends, family, and journey. Binti mentions that she’s received a lot of messages from her family back on Earth, but we never find out what they say. She says she’s a master harmonizer, but we don’t know what that entails. She repeats the names of her friends so many times, but we don’t know them. Even the ending dragged on, going through Binti’s process of applying otjize to herself yet again – we know how this works already – then her having to find clay to make more once she runs out. 

Binti is clearly clever and wise, able to come up with a way to save herself and Oomsa University and appease the Medusae. She is scared and alone, and those feelings are made clear. The best I can say for it is that Binti is a relatable, realistic character in a story that felt new. This novella won several awards, including a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award, so clearly there’s something about it that other readers liked that just totally went over my head. 

Have you read BINTI? What did you think of it? 


Thursday, April 15, 2021

#BookReview of Monday's Not Coming by Tiffany D Jackson #atozchallenge

 

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter M 

Here at Operation Awesome we don't usually review books, but for this year's #atozchallenge we decided to focus on the books we love to read instead of our usual mission - helping authors navigate their writing and publishing journey.  I'm delighted to be able to share this review of a book by one of my all time favourite authors.


 


I loved this book.  It was one of those stories I picked up to read a few chapters in the morning, and didn't put down until I had read the whole thing. It's about friendship and loyalty and deception and delusion and unfolds so delicately that the ending is a complete surprise.

Claudia and Monday have been best friends forever, so when Monday doesn't show up on the first day of school, Claudia is concerned.  As the days pass, with no sign of Monday, she becomes increasingly worried.  Especially since she can't seem to get her on the phone either.

Claudia has always depended on Monday, to champion her, to help with her schoolwork, and to run off the bullies who torment her.  Yet she remains gone.  And Claudia's mother doesn't seem as concerned about it as she should be, considering Monday practically lived in Claudia's room for years.

And April, Monday's sister, isn't any help either.

As Claudia searches for answers to her friend's disappearance, it becomes clear that no one can really remember when they last saw Monday.  Or where.  It's like she's vanished through a crack in the space-time continuum and left no trace behind her.

This book was real and raw and compelling.  The MC is flawed and has her own, real issues and problems to suffer through.  Her parents are protective and struggling with their own problems.  They are hard-working people who want the best for their daughter.  They stay in touch with their roots even as they forge their way to a better life and social class.

The ending was devastating, but I won't go into that here lest I ruin the book for you.  Just know that it's a complete surprise without feeling like it has come out of nowhere.  Once it has been revealed, the clues are all there through the rest of the story.  I'm almost tempted to re-read, just so I can enjoy those moments.

Highly recommended!

But you don't have to trust me.  Here's the blurb:

Monday Charles is missing, and only Claudia seems to notice. Claudia and Monday have always been inseparable—more sisters than friends. So when Monday doesn’t turn up for the first day of school, Claudia’s worried. When she doesn’t show for the second day, or second week, Claudia knows that something is wrong. Monday wouldn’t just leave her to endure tests and bullies alone. Not after last year’s rumors and not with her grades on the line. Now Claudia needs her best—and only—friend more than ever. But Monday’s mother refuses to give Claudia a straight answer, and Monday’s sister April is even less help.

As Claudia digs deeper into her friend’s disappearance, she discovers that no one seems to remember the last time they saw Monday. How can a teenage girl just vanish without anyone noticing that she’s gone?


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

#BookReview Summer of L.U.C.K. #atozchallenge

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter L

The Operation Awesome theme for the #atozchallenge 2021 is book reviews (even though we're a blog about the publication journey, not a book review blog-- the team loves to read!). I've selected books by Debut Authors that I've interviewed on this blog.
Yes, this is the second week in a row that I'm reviewing a children's book with a main character who has a dead parent.

Summer of L.U.C.K. by Laura Segal Stegman

(See the interview: https://operationawesome6.blogspot.com/2020/08/operation-awesome-20questions-in-2020_26.html)


three star rating image on the Operation Awesome blog

In some ways, I enjoyed this book; but because of my own life experience, my enjoyment was depleted. 

Three children (all who have trouble related to vocalization) become friends at summer camp, help a ghost to unify his broken family, and grow as people. 
In the year 1999, three city kids are lured away from summer camp, multiple times, to an abandoned building in the woods that is filled with music, games, and candy. 
(Same story. Same kids.)

The book is interesting within its genre because the odds are that the reader will be able to relate to at least one main character. 
I got a copy of this book when I interviewed the author about writing a debut book. This review is honest and unbiased, all opinions are my own.

I would not recommend this book to school libraries. I feel that a parent or guardian should read it first, then have a long discussion with their child about not following random music, going off alone into the woods at night, taking food from strangers, breaking into abandoned buildings, talking to strangers (including ghosts), and wandering off without telling an adult where you're going. Once those warnings are drilled into their heads, then carry on with reading this book and enjoying the happy magic of a world where breaking all of those rules goes perfectly fine. 

I don't read a lot of middle-grade novels. I do like books about self-acceptance, especially as it relates to vocalization. But I don't encounter many books where horrific-sounding situations all turn out to be peachy fine. Darby sometimes bugged me because I felt she had "poor little rich-girl" problems, which I tend to find annoying. I nearly didn't finish reading this book. My spouse kept taking it away from me because it triggered me too much. The reason I finally did finish this book was because I talked to a teammate (Dena) who assured me that the children would all live happily ever after. (I honestly thought someone was going to die, possibly be eaten.) 


I don't think I'll read the next books in the series. I'm sure they'll be just as good as this one, but it isn't my cup of tea. 
The book has a happily-ever-after. It's a good story of friendship.  (It isn't meant to be scary or haunting, but for me it was absolutely edge-of-my-seat panic-induced terrifying.) It's not predictable. It is a bit spiritual and meaningful. In some ways, it's fun and entertaining. Chapter 13 had a tear-jerker moment.

It might be a diverse book. Naz is from Morocco. Darby has a stutter, and her mother tells her she'll never get anywhere if she doesn't overcome it. (I love that I read this book after Biden became President. I want to shove that in the mother's face. Though eventually, the mother becomes a sympathetic character. But still, she never taught her daughter not to wander off alone in the woods in the middle of the night and not to take candy from strangers, so I'm gonna keep judging her harshly because she's fictional and I can.) Visually, Katie Usher and Darby have reddish-brown curly hair. Geoff Usher (and possibly Chad Usher) and Justin have sandy hair. Geoff Usher and Naz have olive skin and blue eyes. Mrs. Usher had dark skin and was born in India. Chad Usher has dark skin. Leroy Usher has wavy black hair and blue eyes. The Usher family has a totem pole (so someone is a Native American from a tribe of the Northwest Coast of the United States or Canada - though they live near Chicago). 

Chad and Katie have names with initials that could also be used in the word LUCK. Their brother, Geoff, does not. 

There are minor characters in the book, such as a set of twin girls. One twin, Jessica, grows as a character and a person, but her sister does not. 

An excerpt that caught my attention:
~No one listens, so what's the point? Eventually, it was natural to simply remain silent all the time.~ 
Justin thinks that, and it's the reasoning he used when he decided to stop speaking after his father's death. 
 

I learned about calliope music from looking it up because of this book. I had also never heard of Johnny Rebeck before. (It's a song.) I've never heard of Jack Sprat before. I learned that headlamps are another word for headlights. 

The book cover is okay (the one with the orange building, neon Ferris wheel, and silhouettes of three children), but I wish it showed the trolley so I'd have a better idea of what that looked like. The title makes sense, and L.U.C.K. is used many times in the book. The book is well-edited.

The book's life lessons are about believing in yourself and seeing things from the point of view of others. The main setting is Camp Inch, which seems like a very expensive camp with absolutely no security and minimum supervision for the young children. The magic of the book reminded me of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (but without a parent accompanying their child), or Mary Poppins (but without the parents having ever met Mary), and Hansel and Gretel (but thankfully without the cannibal witch). 

If the children had proper supervision, a camp counselor going with them perhaps, or an older sibling who knew what was going on, I would give the book five stars. If any of the adults at Camp Inch had at least noticed three children under their charge going missing (it happens several times) and searched for them, I'd give the book four stars (five if the kids got a lecture about not being lured off into the forest by music, candy, rides and games in an abandoned building, why trespassing is illegal, how dangerous walking by a highway can be - especially at night, that an adult should always know where you are...). As it is, I worried my head off for these three fictional children, and that the dangers are never addressed bothers me enough that I'm giving it only three stars. The writing is excellent, the characters are well-developed, the plot is interesting-- it's just the things that didn't go wrong and could have (the real "luck" of the story, in my opinion, is that no children were seriously injured in the woods at night, not kidnapped while so near a highway alone, not arrested for trespassing or breaking and entering, and that interacting with a stranger didn't have tragic results). 


GOODREADS review

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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

#BookReview of How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi #atozchallenge

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter K

The Operation Awesome theme for the #atozchallenge 2021 is book reviews (even though we're a blog about the publication journey, not a book review blog-- the team loves to read!). I've selected books that I have been itching to read that corresponded with the letter.

#WeNeedDiverseBooks

This book is an excellent choice for everyone who is learning more about racism and how to be antiracist. Kendi shared his background, facts, and definitions throughout the book. I appreciate the conversational and supported approach. The definitions that Kendi provided further illustrate the facts and narratives. I found the quotes and facts profound and eloquently stated. Words matter when describing racism. The key term is that the opposite of “racist” is not “not racist,” but “antiracist” (p. 9). How can I as a white person promote antiracism in a conscious way with my cognitions, emotions, and behaviors from this day forward as I advocate and reduce my personal bias?

I would recommend this book for everyone who wants to learn more about racism and how to be antiracist. I will caution that some of the material may be difficult, especially if this is the first time facing discussion of race. As a white woman, I am eager to continue my cultural humility journey and do the work of educating myself as I work toward how I can be more antiracist and dissolve my biases. The book is an excellent starting point for the antiracist journey.

The theme is captured by the following sentences: “racist ideas make people of color think less of themselves, which makes them more vulnerable to racist ideas. Racist ideas make White people think more of themselves, which further attracts them to racist ideas” (p. 6).

Overall the book was easy to read and informative. I appreciated learning about racism, antiracism, and my own biases. I look forward to rereading this book and reading more of Kendi’s work as I continue to learn and grow. 

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 Also on my reading list is Stamped from the Beginning and Four Hundred Souls.

 

How are you approaching antiracism? What resources have you found helpful?