Size Doesn’t Matter (149): The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell; The Emperor’s Riddle; And We’re Off; Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Size Doesn’t Matter (149): The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell; The Emperor’s Riddle; And We’re Off; Turning 15 on the Road to FreedomThe Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6' 4," African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama's Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian by W. Kamau Bell
Narrator: W. Kamau Bell
Length: 10 hrs, 31 mins
Published by Penguin Audio on May 2, 2017
Genres: Memoir, Humor
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher
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Goodreads
three-stars

You may know W. Kamau Bell from his new, Emmy-nominated hit show on CNN, United Shades of America. Or maybe you've read about him in the New York Times, which called him "the most promising new talent in political comedy in many years." Or maybe from The New Yorker, fawning over his brand of humor writing: "Bell's gimmick is intersectional progressivism: he treats racial, gay, and women's issues as inseparable."

After all this love and praise, it's time for the next step: a book. The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell is a humorous, well-informed take on the world today, tackling a wide range of issues, such as race relations; fatherhood; the state of law enforcement today; comedians and superheroes; right-wing politics; left-wing politics; failure; his interracial marriage; white men; his up-bringing by very strong-willed, race-conscious, yet ideologically opposite parents; his early days struggling to find his comedic voice, then his later days struggling to find his comedic voice; why he never seemed to fit in with the Black comedy scene . . . or the white comedy scene; how he was a Black nerd way before that became a thing; how it took his wife and an East Bay lesbian to teach him that racism and sexism often walk hand in hand; and much, much more.

Though I’d never heard of W. Kamau Bell (not that surprising since I don’t really follow political comedy much or stand up or Denzel Washington fandom), one of the subsets of memoir I enjoy is famous people, particularly if they’re comedic. The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell offered me an opportunity to learn, and I’m always grateful for that.

Somewhat like Phoebe Robinson’s You Can’t Touch My Hair, Bell’s partly here to tell stories of his life, partly here for political discussions, and partly here to explain to (white) people ways that it’s different being black. I really like listening to audiobooks like these, because it’s so nice of someone to sit down and educate. Bell wasn’t as funny as I might have expected of a comedian (though, again, I don’t listen to much stand up, and I’m not a great source on this), and I enjoyed Robinson’s more, but I’m glad I listened to both.

I will say that I find the book description pretty offensive. Calling Bell’s consistent desire to work towards intersectionality and progressivism a “gimmick” is ick, though I know that’s a quote from The New Yorker. Throughout, Bell’s really open about how much he doesn’t know and how he’s constantly learning himself. Yes, he does base his act around it, but a gimmick? *growls*

(I am so completely aware that I have no idea how to review memoirs, but whatever.)

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 

I received this book for free from ALA in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Size Doesn’t Matter (149): The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell; The Emperor’s Riddle; And We’re Off; Turning 15 on the Road to FreedomThe Emperor's Riddle by Kat Zhang
Published by Aladdin on May 2, 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Adventure, Mystery
Pages: 256
Format: ARC
Source: ALA
AmazonThe Book Depository
Goodreads
three-stars

Mia Chen is on what her mother calls a Grand Adventure. She’s not sure what to make of this family trip to China, and didn’t want to leave her friends for the summer, but she’s excited about the prospect of exploring with her Aunt Lin, the only adult who truly understands her.

Then Aunt Lin disappears, right after her old nemesis, a man named Ying, comes to visit. Mia knows that years ago, when Aunt Lin and Ying were sent to the Fuzhou countryside to work as laborers, the two searched for an ancient treasure together—one that still hasn’t been found. She’s suspicious that their shared history might be linked to Aunt Lin’s disappearance.

When Mia discovers an old map filled with riddles in Aunt Lin’s room, she quickly pieces together her mission: find the treasure, find her aunt. Now, Mia, along with her big brother, Jake, must solve the clues to rescue the person she knows best in the world—and maybe unearth a treasure greater than her wildest dreams.

The Emperor’s Riddle is an adorable, fast-paced mystery/adventure set in China. The plot’s very simple, at least for an older reader. The best part are the family dynamics, between Mia, her uncle, her brother, and her aunt. I’d have loved to see this story built out a bit more and made more complex, but it will be a great read for upper elementary schoolers.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:


Size Doesn’t Matter (149): The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell; The Emperor’s Riddle; And We’re Off; Turning 15 on the Road to FreedomAnd We're Off by Dana Schwartz
Narrator: Lauren Fortgang
Length: 6 hours, 30 minutes
Published by Listening Library on May 2, 2017
Genres: Contemporary
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher
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Goodreads
two-half-stars

Seventeen-year-old Nora Holmes is an artist, a painter from the moment she could hold a brush. She inherited the skill from her grandfather, Robert, who's always nurtured Nora's talent and encouraged her to follow her passion. Still, Nora is shocked and elated when Robert offers her a gift: an all-expenses-paid summer trip to Europe to immerse herself in the craft and to study history's most famous artists. The only catch? Nora has to create an original piece of artwork at every stop and send it back to her grandfather. It's a no-brainer: Nora is in!

Unfortunately, Nora's mother, Alice, is less than thrilled about the trip. She worries about what the future holds for her young, idealistic daughter--and her opinions haven't gone unnoticed. Nora couldn't feel more unsupported by her mother, and in the weeks leading up to the trip, the women are as disconnected as they've ever been. But seconds after saying goodbye to Alice at the airport terminal, Nora hears a voice call out: "Wait! Stop! I'm coming with you!"

And . . . they're off.

13 Little Blue Envelopes meets Gilmore Girls in this fun, funny, and bittersweet summer adventure from Observer writer and the hilarious voice behind @GuyInYourMFA, Dana Schwartz.

The reviews for And We’re Off haven’t been great, but I decided to give the audiobook a try anyway. I did enjoy listening to And We’re Off, but I also agree that a lot about this book is pretty frustrating.

Had I been reading the print book and not listening to the audiobook, I don’t think I would have made it through And We’re Off. Nora’s a convincing teen, but in the way that can be really incredibly frustrating to read. She’s selfish, entitled, naive (and not charmingly so), obsessive, self-centered, and grumpy. It can be difficult to like Nora, which I admire objectively because I’m pretty sure teen me would have been pretty similar. Subjectively, though, her attitude gets old fast. Teens may relate more to Nora’s epic summer vacation in Europe being crashed by her mother; I’m sure I would have been pissed too, but with age comes that annoying tendency to be like “bitch you still got a free trip to Europe.”

Nora and her mother do learn to relate to each other a bit better on the trip, though the big reveal of Nora’s mother’s secret was incredibly obvious from the very start of the book. Nora grows some but not as much as the reader has hoped. Though I like Nora’s love of art and that the book sort of upholds the talent involved in drawing a more cartoonish style, it does feel like Nora’s grand moment does come to her too easily because of her connections; it doesn’t feel earned.

There’s a small romance plot line, but I actually liked that things didn’t really work out, which will tell you about all you need to know re: shippiness. Nora’s very focused on the cute boy who hits on her at the bar, but this sort of travel romance is almost never going to work out, even without Nora not being nearly grown up enough emotionally for a real relationship.

And We’re Off does a nice job depicting a spoiled teen on her first solo trip to Europe only to have her mother come with her. Whether you will like it will depend on your tolerance for spoiled teens.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:


Size Doesn’t Matter (149): The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell; The Emperor’s Riddle; And We’re Off; Turning 15 on the Road to FreedomTurning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March by Lynda Blackmon Lowery, Elspeth Leacock, Susan Buckley
Narrator: Damaris Obi
Length: 1 hr, 1 min
Published by Listening Library on May 2, 2017
Genres: History, Memoir
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher
AmazonThe Book DepositoryAudible
Goodreads
five-stars

As the youngest marcher in the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Albama, Lynda Blackmon Lowery proved that young adults can be heroes. Jailed nine times before her fifteenth birthday, Lowery fought alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. for the rights of African-Americans. In this memoir, she shows today's young readers what it means to fight nonviolently (even when the police are using violence, as in the Bloody Sunday protest) and how it felt to be part of changing American history.

Straightforward and inspiring, this beautifully illustrated memoir brings readers into the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, complementing Common Core classroom learning and bringing history alive for young readers.

Blackmon’s brief memoir of the Selma Voting Rights marches packs a major wallop. It’s really beautifully done in its simplicity and straightforwardness, as well as very focused on its message. Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom I picked up on a whim, and I learned much more than I would have expected from such a slim book. Very much worth a read for adults and a must read for kids growing up in the current administration.

If you do audiobooks, this one is stellar. Damaras Obi does a completely beautiful job, especially with the singing. Very much recommended.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 

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