review: Ship of Souls

"Different readers will take away different messages, all of them powerful—quite an accomplishment for so few pages" Booklist

review: Ship of Souls

author: Zetta Elliott

date: Amazon Publishing; 28 February

main character: Dmitri “D”

D never really had a lot of friends so the loss of his mother is particularly devastating to him. As the only child of a single mother, there’s little else for him other than the foster care system. D doesn’t know much about the workings of the system, but he knows that nothing in his life will be secure anymore. Elliott does a masterful job of writing this story on so many levels! Where we see how much D has: his quick placement in a caring home, a good school with teachers who care about him and two true friends; we also feel his immense insecurity and loneliness. D had so little and lost so much that he couldn’t realize his own blessings. There was something in him, though, something from his mother that never allowed him to give up on himself or others. His pain makes him doubtful in his relationships but his upbringing demands him to be thoughtful and giving.

It’s this depth of character that brought Nuru, the bird creature to him so that D could work with her to save the lost souls in the netherworld.

It’s D’s intelligence in math that brings him his new friend, Hakeem, ‘Keem’, the basketball star who needs help in math. While working together, the meet Nyla, an elusive and carefree soul in whom Keem has a bit of an interest. Keem and Nyla prove to be true friends to D as they fight save D from the creatures below.

Some authors are writers while others are storytellers. I think this short novel attests to Elliott’s skills as both. The events flow flawlessly, without contradictions or miscues. Historic elements are woven into the story from the American Revolution to 9/11 which speak to the presence of so many ethnic groups in the creation of America and the historic misinterpretation of their contribution. Water, trees and birds are magical elements of nature that serve as portals between the physical world and other dimensions. And then there’s Nyla and Keem, two supporting characters who are developed so well that we cannot help but wonder what more will happen to them, alone and/or together.

D couldn’t do it alone and America couldn’t be American without the Germans, Africans and other groups of people who have blended—who have fused—their lives, rhythms, beliefs, foods, fashions and stories to make us who we are. I can’t help but to pair, or fuse, this book with this German Music Chart. The day I accessed the chart, it was filled with songs from the US, UK, Germany and Sweden. Even within each song we can find elements of fusion with Madonna, the American living in England; Rea Garvey an Irish singer who plays guitar for the German group Reamonn. “Ai Se Eu Te Pego”/Ah When I Get My Hands On You is sung in Portuguese by Brazilian singer Michel Teló.

 

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“Ai Se Eu Te Pego” Michel Teló

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“She Doesn’t Mind” Sean Paul

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“Somebody That I Used To Know” Gotye Feat. Kimbra

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“Heart Skips A Beat” Olly Murs Feat. Rizzle Kicks

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“Himmel Auf” Silbermond

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“Jar Of Hearts” Christina Perri

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“Video Games” Lana Del Rey

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“Give Me All Your Luvin'” Madonna Feat. Nicki Minaj & M.I.A.

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“Levels” Avicii

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“Anti Hero” Marlon Roudette

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“Troublemaker” Taio Cruz

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“Don’t Gimme That” The BossHoss

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“Hangover” Taio Cruz Feat. Flo Rida

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“Bück Dich Hoch” Deichkind

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“Ma Cherie” DJ Antoine Feat. The Beat Shaker

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“Wildes Ding” Culcha Candela

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“Young, Wild & Free (Feat. Wiz Khalifa &, Bruno Mars)” Snoop Dogg

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“Good Feeling” Flo Rida

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“Someone Like You” Adele

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“Colour Me In” Rea Garvey

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Ask readers what songs from what countries, remind them of characters, emotions and situations in the book.

I must disclose that I reviewed a copy of the book that I received from Zetta Elliott who is also a friend. It’s hard reading a book by a friend. You know so much about the story while it is developing, you know how important the book is to the author and you want it to be good. Zetta didn’t let me down with Ship of Souls, she doesn’t let any of us down with this one. Ship of Souls recently received a starred review from Booklist.

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Cookie Traditions

Today, author Zetta Elliott shares a recipe and warm baking memories. I really could smell the chocolate chips in the air while reading about all the cookies she makes! I don’t think it matters how many hours we spend in the kitchen or in walking to a bakery. I think making the effort to give something we find special with others is a tangible way of sharing the love.

Zetta does a lot of sharing on her blog, Fledgling. She’s the author of the award winning Bird (illustrated by Shadra Strickland), Stranger in the Family, YA novel Wish After Midnight and her soon to be released second YA novel, Ship of Souls.  Set in New York City, Ship of Souls features a cast of three African-American teens: D, a math whiz; Hakeem, a Muslim basketball star; and Nyla, a beautiful military brat. This unique blend of speculative fiction and history explores the quest for belonging, the power of friendship, and the value of loyalty. And, she bakes cookies!

Zetta Elliott, stirring up good things at a young age!

There aren’t a lot of great cooks in my family, but there are some serious bakers. I definitely inherited the family sweet tooth, but I lack the commitment it takes to spend hours in the kitchen. I don’t bake bread and I don’t own a rolling pin. I’ve never made a pie, and I owe most of my cake consumption to Billy’s Bakery and Entenmann’s. But when Christmas rolls around, I roll up my sleeves and clear out my oven (which I use for storage most of the year). I put on my Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole Christmas CD and make dozens and dozens of chocolate chip cookies. Now, I’m honest about my process—the cookies are made with love but they are also made from a mix (Betty Crocker, to be exact). I blend a stick of butter with an egg, then I tear open the packet and let Betty do her thing. So far I haven’t had any complaints from recipients and it’s not uncommon for my irresistible gift of a dozen cookies to disappear in one day (or one sitting!).

This Christmas—armed with a brand new nonstick cookie tray—I may branch out and try Betty’s peanut butter cookie mix. When I was a child, my mother used to take me and my sister to visit her favorite aunt, Eunice. Aunt Eunice, like my grandmother (her eldest sister) was a fabulous baker and she always had a plate of peanut butter cookies waiting for us. I remember being fascinated by the criss-cross mark on top of each cookie and marveling at my aunt’s explanation that it was made with a mere fork! In the fifth grade I bought a recipe book from the school catalog that showed me how to make different cookies for each month of the year. I was a curious cook throughout my teen years, but by the time I reached my 20s the thrill was gone. The kitchen is the most under-utilized room in my apartment, and my gas bill is only $15 a month—until December rolls around. Then, for a few days, I practically live in the kitchen. My inner baker emerges and I bake and freeze, bake and freeze, until I’ve got enough cookies to share with my friends, coworkers, and neighbors.

My tradition of baking gifts for the holidays can be attributed to my aversion to shopping and my concern for the environment. I get to give something homemade that leaves a small carbon footprint, and I also get to recycle the innumerable takeout containers that I’ve accumulated over the course of the year. I guess I could try making cookies from scratch, but chances are I wouldn’t have half the ingredients or the equipment I needed. Keeping it simple keeps the cookies flowing and keeps me in the Christmas spirit. Baking twenty dozen cookies also cures me of my need to “sample the goods” and so by Christmas eve I’m content to settle down with just a cup of egg nog as I watch Scrooge for the twentieth time.

book review: A Wish After Midnight

Title: A Wish After Midnight

Author: Zetta Elliottwish

Publisher: Zetta Elliott, 2008

Main character: Genna Colon

Genna’s mother probably never told her to be careful what she wished and she probably never told Genna that she was beautiful, or smart or a wonderful daughter. Mom was too busy struggling with a son and a daughter she already lost to the streets, trying to make ends meet on her single income and getting through life’s daily demands. No, life was not easy for Genna and her family in Brooklyn. We know that Gemma is intelligent, tall, responsible, friendless and losing hope. She’s a young girl who doesn’t know her gifts or her options. She really leads a sheltered life and is unaware of much in the world around her, except for the world that exists in her garden.

She’s crushin’ on Judah and when they finally get together, her world expands. There is much tension brought in her home because of the decisions of her older siblings and how they affect the dynamics of the household.

Genna comes of age in this story, but not before she makes one fateful wish that takes her to the past. She transcends time and space to land in Civil War era Brooklyn. Her relationships lead her to uncover the depths of racial relations in New York City, what freedom really means, her true beauty and her real love.

This historical novel is a well written tale, penned by Zetta Elliott, author of Bird and numerous works of published poetry, one act plays and other works. She is a scholar and researcher who is well versed in Brooklyn’s diverse history. Even with these accomplishments, Elliott has had to go the route of self publishing in order to get this book to market. Don’t let that stop you from purchasing it! Adding this book to any young adult collection will be a wise investment. The historical evidence of the Draft Riots, and conditions for Irish and African Americans is sound. Messages in the book are clear but not overpowering. The suspense created by the story remains with me even now as I wonder how Judah found Genna and if he will indeed find her again.

Zetta Elliott be careful what you wish for because you should have a bestseller on your hands with this one!

For purchase information: http://www.zettaelliott.com/books.html

THEMES: race relations; Brooklyn; Civil War; coming of age; identity