Review: A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney

October 23, 2018
A Blade So Black, L.L. McKinney, Book Review, InToriLex
Published By: Imprint on September 25, 2018
Format Read: ARC Edition (364 pages)
Genre: Young Adult/ Fantasy/ Retelling
Series: Stand Alone (for now)
Source: Karen from For What It's Worth Reviews
A Blade So Black
The first time the Nightmares came, it nearly cost Alice her life. Now she's trained to battle monstrous creatures in the dark dream realm known as Wonderland with magic weapons and hardcore fighting skills. Yet even warriors have a curfew.

Life in real-world Atlanta isn't always so simple, as Alice juggles an overprotective mom, a high-maintenance best friend, and a slipping GPA. Keeping the Nightmares at bay is turning into a full-time job. But when Alice's handsome and mysterious mentor is poisoned, she has to find the antidote by venturing deeper into Wonderland than she’s ever gone before. And she'll need to use everything she's learned in both worlds to keep from losing her head . . . literally.


Content Warning: Graphic Violence


This was written perfectly to appeal to black teens who never knew they could enjoy fantasy. Alice is a courageous teen who discovers her own power to kill monsters called Nightmares from the mysterious Wonderland. She has to grapple with real monsters in Wonderland while also dealing with the trauma of feeling unsafe and gun violence in her neighborhood. Alice's best friends are Courtney and Chess they make endearing jokes about race and try to empathize with her experience. All of the characters were well developed which added great realism and contrasted well with whimsical Wonderland.

I was pleasantly surprised by how multifaceted the plot and story was. Alice is tormented by guilt because she has to be supportive for her family while leaving for long periods to kill Nightmares. While she trains with her mentor Hatta to navigate Wonderland she has to deal with normal teenage hormones and romantic feelings. Alice is not the only one who is recruited from our world to hunt and kill Nightmares. Dee and Dum are Russian teenage boys who hunt Nightmares to keep them at bay, they work with Alice as she encounters evil in Wonderland. The magical grasses, bubbles and strange passage of time in Wonderland created satisfying world building. The action was believable and the fast pace kept me engaged the whole time.
"And to those black kids searching countless shelves and between endless pages, hoping to catch a glimpse of themselves in galaxies far away, fantasies long ago, and stories here and now: this one's for you. Shine on, and drive back the darkness."~Author's Note
The stakes are high, the villains are awful and the diverse representation was refreshing. Some of the romantic elements were less than perfect but that was a small part of the book. The ending left me wanting more after a cliff hanger. I'm hoping that this is the beginning of a new series because I want to return to these characters and learn more about how they will continue to battle the evils of Wonderland. This was a really enjoyable read I would recommend to all readers.

Recommended for Readers who
- enjoy action packed and multifaceted fantasy's
- want to return to the wonderful whimsical Wonderland
- appreciate racial and sexual diversity


L.L. McKinney, InToriLex
Leatrice "Elle" McKinney, writing as L.L. McKinney, is a poet and active member of the kidlit community. She’s an advocate for equality and inclusion in publishing, and the creator of the hashtag #WhatWoCWritersHear. She’s spent time in the slush by serving as a reader for agents and participating as a judge in various online writing contests.

Elle's also a gamer, Blerd, and adamant Hei Hei stan, living in Kansas, surrounded by more nieces and nephews than she knows what to do with. Aside from rockin' the Favorite Aunt thing, she spends her free time plagued by her cat--Sir Chester Fluffmire Boopsnoot Purrington Wigglebottom Flooferson III, esquire, Baron o'Butterscotch or #SirChester for short--or defending the realm from the enemies of Azeroth. FOR THE HORDE!



Sunday Post #24 October 14, 2018

October 14, 2018
InToriLex, Sunday Post
Sunday Post is a Book Blog Meme hosted at the Caffeinated Reviewer. It's a post used to summarize what has happened on your blog for the past week, and preview what's next.


Review: A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney

Review: The Final Six by Alexandra Monir

Review: Point Blank by Alan King  

Book Scoop October 12- October 19, 2018


The Girls at 17 Swann Street, Yara Zgheib, InToriLex
The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib-  I am so excited I was sent this book to review. This is a poetic book about a woman seeking treatment for a eating disorder and trying to get her life together. 
OUT February 5, 2019 from St Martin's Press

Electric Arches, Black Queer Hoe, Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work, InToriLex
Electric Arches by Eve L. Ewing- This is a awesome poetry collection I picked up about black girlhood which includes visual art as well as prose. I'm also a huge fan of Eve's Twitter.
 OUT NOW from Haymarket Books

Black Queer Hoe by Britteney Black Rose Kapri- Another great poetry collection that should be on you radar. It's a great collection that explores sexuality and Identity.
OUT NOW from Haymarket Books
Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work (Jacobin) by Melissa Gira Grant- This is a short non-fiction book that challenges how we look at the sex trade. I've read a few fiction books about children and teens involved in the sex trade, so this piqued my interest.
OUT NOW from Haymarket Books

Her Body and Other Parties, What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky, Don't Call Us Dead, InToriLex
I'm so happy I made time to go to the Boston Book Festival this weekend. I was able to attend a panel with some of my favorite author's from this year.  They discussed why awards are important and shared their experiences judging and being awarded. I'll list my gushing reviews for them below: 
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado  
Don't Call Us Dead by Danez Smith- I haven't reviewed yet, but plan to, it's a unforgettable read, full of poetry and emotion. 

I took a week off to reset a few things in my life. I haven't been working out, reading or blogging and I definitely needed the break. Spending sometime not so worried about everything I had to do everyday, helped me remember why I'm committed to pursuing so many things in my life. I've been taking driving lessons which is a huge fear of mine I'm taking head on. I have bad driving anxiety and really struggle to feel confident so I plan to take as many lessons as I need. I'm excited to be back this week and am happy I received some great books recently. 


Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe #2) by Neal Shusterman-This is a sequel to Scythe, I'm really enjoying exploring this fascinating world where immortality is achieved in a world controlled by the all knowing AI, the Thunderhead. This is a great series for fans of action packed, sci-fi, dystopias. 
Waiting for Eden by Elliot Ackerman- I'm listening to this on audio and really enjoying it. It's a quick 3 hour book about three lives, one of which is confined to a hospital bed, half alive after deploying to war.  

How did your reading go this week?

Book Scoop September 28- October 5, 2018

October 5, 2018
InToriLex, Book Scoop, Weekly Feature




When We Caught Fire by Anna Godbersen
When We Caught Fire, Anna Godbersen, InToriLex
When We Caught Fire
  It’s 1871 and Emmeline Carter is poised to take Chicago’s high society by storm. Between her father’s sudden rise to wealth, and her recent engagement to Chicago’s most eligible bachelor, Emmeline has it all. But she can’t stop thinking about the life she left behind, including her childhood sweetheart, Anders Magnuson. Fiona Byrne, Emmeline’s childhood best friend, is delighted by her friend’s sudden rise to prominence, especially since it means Fiona is free to pursue Anders herself. But when Emmeline risks everything for one final fling with Anders, Fiona feels completely betrayed.

As the summer turns to fall, the city is at a tipping point: friendships are tested, hearts are broken, and the tiniest spark might set everything ablaze. Sweeping, soapy, and romantic, this is a story about an epic love triangle—one that will literally set the city ablaze, and change the lives of three childhood friends forever. 
Dry by Neal Shusterman & Jarrod Shusterman
Dry by Neal Shusterman, Jarrod Shusterman, InToriLex
The drought—or the Tap-Out, as everyone calls it—has been going on for a while now. Everyone’s lives have become an endless list of don’ts: don’t water the lawn, don’t fill up your pool, don’t take long showers.

Until the taps run dry.

Suddenly, Alyssa’s quiet suburban street spirals into a warzone of desperation; neighbours and families turned against each other on the hunt for water. And when her parents don’t return and her life—and the life of her brother—is threatened, Alyssa has to make impossible choices if she’s going to survive.
Under My Skin by Lisa Unger
Under My Skin, Lisa Unger, InToriLex
Under My Skin
  What if the nightmares are actually memories?

It's been a year since Poppy's husband, Jack, was brutally murdered during his morning run through Manhattan's Riverside Park. In the immediate aftermath, Poppy spiraled into an oblivion of grief, disappearing for several days only to turn up ragged and confused wearing a tight red dress she didn't recognize. What happened to Poppy during those lost days? And more importantly, what happened to Jack?

The case was never solved, and Poppy has finally begun to move on. But those lost days have never stopped haunting her. Poppy starts having nightmares and blackouts--there are periods of time she can't remember, and she's unable to tell the difference between what is real and what she's imagining. When she begins to sense that someone is following her, Poppy is plunged into a game of cat and mouse, determined to unravel the mystery around her husband's death. But can she handle the truth about what really happened?
The Flame: Poems Notebooks Lyrics Drawings by Leonard Cohen
The Flame: Poems Notebooks Lyrics Drawings, Leonard Cohen, InToriLex
The Flame: Poems Notebooks Lyrics Drawings
The Flame is the final work from Leonard Cohen, the revered poet and musician whose fans span generations and whose work is celebrated throughout the world. Featuring poems, excerpts from his private notebooks, lyrics, and hand-drawn self-portraits, The Flame offers an unprecedentedly intimate look inside the life and mind of a singular artist.

A reckoning with a life lived deeply and passionately, with wit and panache, The Flame is a valedictory work.

"This volume contains my father's final efforts as a poet," writes Cohen's son, Adam Cohen, in his foreword. "It was what he was staying alive to do, his sole breathing purpose at the end."

Leonard Cohen died in late 2016. But "each page of paper that he blackened," in the words of his son, "was lasting evidence of a burning soul." 
Did I miss anything in the book world? Let me know in the comments below

Review: How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs

October 4, 2018
How to Love a Jamaican, Alexia Arthurs, InToriLex
Published By: Ballantine Books on July 24, 2018
Format Read:  ARC Edition (pages)
Genre: Short Story/ Jamaican/ LGBTQA
Series: Stand Alone
Source: Author Request
Rating: Publisher Giveaway
How to Love a Jamaican
Tenderness and cruelty, loyalty and betrayal, ambition and regret--Alexia Arthurs navigates these tensions to extraordinary effect in her debut collection about Jamaican immigrants and their families back home. Sweeping from close-knit island communities to the streets of New York City and midwestern university towns, these eleven stories form a portrait of a nation, a people, and a way of life.

In "Light Skinned Girls and Kelly Rowlands," an NYU student befriends a fellow Jamaican whose privileged West Coast upbringing has blinded her to the hard realities of race. In "Mash Up Love," a twin's chance sighting of his estranged brother--the prodigal son of the family--stirs up unresolved feelings of resentment. In "Bad Behavior," a mother and father leave their wild teenage daughter with her grandmother in Jamaica, hoping the old ways will straighten her out. In "Mermaid River," a Jamaican teenage boy is reunited with his mother in New York after eight years apart. In "The Ghost of Jia Yi," a recently murdered international student haunts a despairing Jamaican athlete recruited to an Iowa college. And in "Shirley from a Small Place," a world-famous pop star retreats to her mother's big new house in Jamaica, which still holds the power to restore something vital.


Content Warning: Substance Abuse, Statutory Rape, Child Death, Mental Illness


These short stories wove great storytelling and Jamaican culture together effortlessly. In Light Skinned Girls and Kelly Rowland's an NYU student has to hold fast to her own culture while witnessing someone who is far removed it. Two girls struggle to be friends while being honest about how their choices carry much more meaning because if where their from. This was my favorite story and it illustrated how identity and race can become problematic when you have to educate and defend it to everyone you meet. Throughout these stories characters have to take defensive stances which often leave them lonely.
"It's saying exactly what you think, regardless of how it will affect the listener. Perhaps this is the language of the oppressed- the colonized, the enslaved. Maybe our kind doesn't have time for soft words."
How to love a Jamaican is a hard road map because being Jamaican carries weights and meaning that is hard to convey. The author uses great imagery and hard circumstances to build resilient, diverse, and complex characters. These were great reflections on love, coming of age and grief. While the stories weren't connected the Jamaican characters gave glimpses into their culture in relatable ways. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys short stories and learning about other cultures.
"But they used to call her Blackie or Dry head when she was in school, and no one had to tell her she wasn't the kind of woman anybody looked at more than once. Maybe that's why she lay down for the first man who paid her any mind, even though he was a married man with four children and had only three good teeth his mouth."
Recommended for Readers who
- appreciate cultural diversity and memorable characters
- enjoy reading about serious topics from many point of views
- want to read awesome prose that makes you think


I'm Alexia. I was born in Jamaica, raised in New York, and grew up in Iowa City. I started writing my first book, "How to Love a Jamaican" during my first year of graduate school. I wrote "Slack" over winter break in 2013. These stories are personal experiments--my anxieties, what I think about. If you have thoughts or questions about the book, I'd love to hear from you. You can ask questions here or feel free to write me at sayhello@AlexiaArthurs.com. Please don't be misogynistic, homophobic, or unkind.  

Review: Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

October 2, 2018
Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi, InToriLex
Published By: Grove Press on February 13, 2018
Format Read: Hardcover Edition (229 pages)
Genre: Adult/ African/ Mental Health
Series: Stand Alone
Source: Purchased
Ada begins her life in the south of Nigeria as a troubled baby and a source of deep concern to her family. Her parents, Saul and Saachi, successfully prayed her into existence, but as she grows into a volatile and splintered child, it becomes clear that something went terribly awry. When Ada comes of age and moves to America for college, the group of selves within her grows in power and agency. A traumatic assault leads to a crystallization of her alternate selves: Asụghara and Saint Vincent. As Ada fades into the background of her own mind and these selves--now protective, now hedonistic--move into control, Ada's life spirals in a dark and dangerous direction.

Narrated by the various selves within Ada and based in the author's realities, Freshwater dazzles with ferocious energy and serpentine grace, heralding the arrival of a fierce new literary voice. 


Content Warning: Rape, Sexual Abuse, Suicide, Substance Abuse, Self Harm


I didn't know what I was in for when I started this reading this road map into Ada's mind. Ada is a woman whose group of identities control and direct her life. The spectacular prose morphed this exploration of mental illness, into a memorable character study of  identity, gender and race. The novel follows Ada's life from birth through adulthood as she grapples with her relationships and changing personality. Ada's inner dialogue was insightful and straight forward which made her complex emotions accessible for any reader.  
“We understood what was necessary -humans often fail at listening, as if their stubbornness will convince the truth to change, as if they have that kind of power. They do, however, understand forceful things, cruelties--they obey those.”
Ada's experiences tragedy and heart break as she struggles to identify how to help her self. She also explores her sexuality and gender in different ways as her other selves possess her. All of it is told through a non- judgemental persona who does not want to limit their ability to experience humanity in brutal ways through sex and self harm. Ada moves from Nigeria to America to attend college and encounters other cultures, races and love. In college she is able to find other students and friends that help her adjust and cope with her other selves. The described intersections and otherness she feels as she develops into a woman in a clash of cultures was very relateable.
“But I've learned that you can't force forever on the wrong people. They belong exactly where they are, giving exactly what they want to. I don't ask for anything more. I figure I shouldn't have to.” 
I connected with Ada and her experiences emotionally in so many ways. After reading this book I was reminded of my own problematic relationships and experiences. This book forces the reader to dissect their own humanity and confront their emotions as Ada does. The African mythology and spirituality discussed also added great layers to this labyrinth of a story. The diversity, characters and plot flowed together effortlessly.  I would recommend this book to everyone, bless your self and read it as soon as possible.

Recommended for Readers who
- enjoy diverse character driven stories that address mental illness
- are comfortable reading about mature topics and self harm
- enjoy unconventional and compelling storytelling


Akwaeke Emezi, InToriLex
Akwaeke Emezi is an Igbo and Tamil writer and video artist based in liminal spaces. They are a recipient of the National Book Foundation's '5 Under 35' award for 2018, selected by Carmen Maria Machado. Currently short-listed for the Center for Fiction's First Novel Prize, their debut autobiographical novel FRESHWATER (Grove Press) was also long-listed for The Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize and is a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice and an Indies Introduce Title.

Emezi's first young adult novel, PET, will be published in 2019 by Make Me a World, Christopher Myers' imprint in partnership with Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Born in Umuahia and raised in Aba, Nigeria, Emezi holds two degrees, including an MPA from New York University. In 2017, they were awarded a Global Arts Fund grant for the video art in their project The Unblinding, and a Sozopol Fellowship for Creative Nonfiction. Emezi's writing has been published by Dazed Magazine, The Cut, Buzzfeed, Granta Online, Vogue.com, and Commonwealth Writers, among others. Their memoir work was included in The Fader's 'Best Culture Writing of 2015' ('Who Will Claim You?') and their experimental short UDUDEAGU won the Audience Award for Best Short Experimental at the 2014 BlackStar Film Festival.
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