Book Review photoHow To Write A Book Review

By Jorge Antonio Vallejos

A large part of is dedicated to writing book reviews.  I also write book reviews for other publications.

I remember writing my first book review in grade five.  I had to write one book review a month and I always looked forward to it.

Most of the books I read and reviewed in grade five were bought via mail from the Scholastic company. Do you remember them? I’d order three or four books at a time and eagerly wait for them to arrive.  And I’d visit World’s Biggest Bookstore in downtown Toronto a couple of times a month with my mom on top of visiting my local library once or twice a week.

It’s fair to say that books have always been a part of my life.  And writing reviews throughout my academic career—grade school, high school, and university—prepared me for the reviews I write today. Here are some suggestions for writing book reviews I’ve come up with over the years:

Read the book.  This sounds simple but you’d be surprised at how many people do not read a book (entirely or at all) before writing a review.  I remember a university professor telling a seminar class I was part of that she had written reviews after reading the back of, and preface, of books.  Gross!

Be an active reader.  Take notes, highlight, write in the margins of the book; journal about the book; talk about the book with someone.

Re-read the book.  If you do not have time, go over your notes and read the parts you liked and disliked.

Plan out the review.  Look over your notes and see what you want readers to know.  Organize your points from most to least important.  Read other reviews and see what reviewers are not talking about.  Be different.

Think about your audience.  Who reads your work?  What do they like?  What politics do they believe and uphold?  Are they political or apolitical?  Do they like long or short reviews?  Do they like lots of quotations?  Do they prefer an overview or an in-depth review?

Include info about the author.  Are you familiar with the work of the author you are reviewing?  Is your audience familiar with the author?  Reference their previous work.  Opine whether this new book is as good, better, or worse than their previous books.  Give some background info on the author: how they started writing, where they are from, where they are now.

Hook the reader in.  Start your review with a line that is eye catching and mentally stimulating.  I often use a quote from the book, or I describe the cover, or I give my opinion.

State your opinion.  Is the book amazing, mediocre, or crap?  Say it.  Be honest.  Be bold.  And back up your opinion with quotes and observations.  A reader will appreciate your opinion from the strong argument your provide them.  You are critiquing the book, not summarizing it!

Do not include new material in the conclusion.  Your last paragraph should be a wrap up of the review.  Don’t start a new argument or make new points.  A conclusion is an ending not a beginning.

Do not bash!  You can be critical without bashing a writer.  It’s a review not a boxing match.

Do not make the review personal.  You are reviewing the book not the author’s character.  And if there is a conflict of interest between you and the author then do not review their book.  I know authors I do not like personally and I do not review their book(s); it would not be fair.  Of course, there are some exceptions.  One of my favourite short story writer’s is someone I cannot stand!  But they write good fiction and I have written favourable reviews of their work; it goes back to integrity and honesty.  Generally, I stay away from reviewing books by authors I do not like personally.

Remember: “The same people you see on your way up are the same people you see on your way down.” It’s a small world.  Someone might be reviewing your book one day.  The same energy you give out comes back at you.

I hope this helps!  Get reading and get writing.

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BCP reading Sherman Alexie What I've Stolen What I've EarnedI recently read What I’ve Stolen, What I’ve Earned by Sherman Alexie.  It was amazing!

Alexie is one of my favorite poets.  I own and have read, and re-read, his sex previous collections of poems.

While reading the book I wrote a found-sonnet made up of lines I loved in the book: Found Sonnet, Lines I Loved From Sherman Alexie’s What I’ve Stolen, What I’ve Earned.  It’s an experiment that people have liked.  I hope you enjoy it.

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Found Sonnet, Lines I Loved From Sherman Alexie’s What I’ve Stolen, What I’ve Earned

By Jorge Antonio Vallejos

1. My Indian name is Wants  To Tell You His Indian Name Because It Makes Him Feel More Indian.

2. …my big brother, who was eating and stealing food from the fruit department.

3. If my sons, Indian as they are, contract some preventable disease from those organic, free range white children and die, will it be legal for me to scalp and slaughter their white parents?

4. In Seattle, when white folks first gentrified this neighborhood, they built houses on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, but they turned the front doors of their homes so their street addresses would not be on MLK , Jr. Blvd.

5. Republican, n. One who has, in the past, lied to Indians. Also, one who is currently lying to Indians. Also, one who will, in the future, lie to Indians. See: Democrat.

6. Do you miss the strange women who loved to touch your hair? Do you miss being eroticized because of your braids?

7. White Jesus comes from white people; brown Jesus comes from brown people.

8.  Are you Chicano?

9. I want my coffee to taste like sex and rage.

10. Ariana X. Rodriguez wrote: “There is a word in Nahuatl that means: “All of the memory in the world.” Nobody remembers how to say the word.

11. And who do we become when we are confronted with the truth–with a direct refutation of our closely held beliefs–but still refuse to admit our sins?

12. Do we become liars when we don’t kiss those people who make us tremble and tremble for us?

13. …I drank coffee as strong and bitter as colonialism.

14. I can make up any shit about Indians and you will believe me because you don’t know shit about Indians or rather, all you know is bullshit about Indians, so I can just make up my own bullshit and you won’t know the difference.

Thanks to May Lui for introducing me to found poems.  BIG thanks to Maureen Hynes, one of my poetry Elders, for suggesting writing a found sonnet!

If you appreciate the work I do consider treating me to a coffee or making a donation to  Click on the CONTACT page above to find out how.

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Reading at SPINLAW 2014Last Saturday I had the honour of reading at the York University Osgoode Hall Law School conference SPINLAW (Student Public Interest Network Legal Action Workshop) for the second year in a row!

For SPINLAW 2013 I read a poem commissioned by SPINLAW: Spreading The Roots Of The Living Tree. I take great pride in my first commissioned poem being read, and well received, at a social justice conference.

This year I read an essay about the second time I was incarcerated, The Bull Pen, and a letter from me to my deceased friend, former Osgoode Hall student, Wendy Babcock.  The audience enjoyed both!

BIG thanks to the SPINLAW 2014 team:

Darcel Bullen, Jennifer Brown, Richard E Lanns, Emily Meuser, Juan de Villa, and Alison Mintoff.

And thanks Lorne Sossin, Dean of Osgoode Hall Law School.

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BCP reading The Will To Change by bell hooksThis video blog is a companion to my previous post Black Coffee Poet’s Book Recommendations for Black History Month 2014.

In this video I show the books while talking about them and their authors.

Watch, SHARE, Tweet and comment on this video.

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If you appreciate the work I do consider treating me to a coffee or making a donation to  Click on the CONTACT page above to find out how.

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BCP reading Audre LordeBlack Coffee Poet’s Book Recommendations For Black History Month 2014

By Jorge Antonio Vallejos

I remember growing up and listening to my Black friends (my first crew comprised of 5 Caribbean boys and I) make correct claims that our school system never taught books written by Black writers.  And they would point out the one green page that was used to teach Black history to students.

One page!

I hope things have changed.

Below is a list of books I have enjoyed and recommend.  In the photo to the left I am holding a collection of poems by Audre Lorde (1934-1992) who was seminal to women of colour and queer women writers being published, read, and heard.  Yesterday was Lorde’s birthday; Lorde is not physically with us anymore; I hold and list her book in honour of the historical and groundbreaking work she did.

All the books listed are great.  The list includes writers of different genders; straight and queer writers; writers from North America, the Caribbean, and the continent of Africa.

The book on this list that has impacted me the most is The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity and Change by bell hooks.  It’s a must for all men to read!  I read, underlined, re-read, journaled, and talked about this book after reading it.  And I will re-read it again and again.  I have changed and learned and will continue to change and learn, and as is life, I have messed up and will always mess up but I will learn from mess ups, question myself, and change and…

Read, SHARE, Tweet, and enjoy the books on this list!

There are many pages here, none of them green, and all of them worth your time.  Enjoy…


The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde by Audre Lorde

rivers…and other blackness..between us by d’bi.young.anitafrika

Mixology by Adrian Matejka

My Best Friend Is White by Klyde Broox

Black Hisotry 2014 Poetry books


Beloved by Toni Morrison

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Another Country by James Baldwin

Skinfolk by Nalo Hopkinson

Black Hisotry 2014 List Fiction books

Memoir and Essay

Affirmative Acts by June Jordan

One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainana

Brother I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat

Black History Month 2014 Memoir and Essay books

Social Science

Silenced by Makeda Silvera

The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love by bell hooks

Black History Month 2014 Social Science books


Far From Over: The Music and Life of Drake by Dalton Higgins

Black History Month 2014 Reportage book

Do you appreciate the work I do?  Do you have a book you’d like me to read? Consider treating me to a coffee, donating to my site, and sending me a book!  Click here to find out how. 

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Yellow sing Your Sisters Are Our SistersHundreds of Indigenous women have gone missing or been murdered in the land now known as Canada.  Every February 14th, Indigenous peoples and their allies gather in front of police headquarters in Toronto, Canada (and various places across the country) to Honour and Remember these women.

The photo essay below is from today (February 14, 2014) at the 9th Annual Strawberry Ceremony for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

Photos taken by Jorge Antonio Vallejos aka Black Coffee Poet (ask for use of photos)

Originally appearing on the No More Silence website is an incomplete list of Indigenous women who have died violent and premature deaths in Ontario, Canada:

♥ Alice Quoquat Netemegesic, murdered in Thunder Bay in the late 1970s.
♥ Alissa Martin-Travers, 5, murdered in Cornwall, April 2008.
♥ Audrey Brown, murdered in Lac La Croix First Nation, Sept. 2007.
♥ Barbara Shapwaykeesic, murdered in Thunder Bay in 1989.
♥ Bella (Nancy Marie) LaBoucan McLean, 25, fell from 31st floor of a Toronto condo on July 20, 2013.
♥ Bernadette Leclair, 16, murdered in Thunder Bay in 1987.
♥ Caroll Lou Viau, 41, missing from Thunder Bay in September 1985.
♥ Carolyn Connolly, 54. beaten and repeatedly stabbed to death, her body found on August 2, 2008 near Sherbourne and Dundas Streets, Toronto.
♥ Cheyenne Fox, 20, fell from 24th floor of a Don Mills condo on April 25, 2013.
♥ Cynthia Lynette Jamieson, 44 of Six Nations; beaten, brutally raped and murdered in Hamilton on June 12, 2002.

Mother holding photo of daughter
♥ Deanna Daw, of Fort Frances; shot to death on Oct. 29, 2000.
♥ Debbie Sloss- Clarke, 42, found dead in her room at Gerrard and Sherbourne, Toronto on July 29, 1997.
♥ Deborah Toulouse, 41, murdered in Wikwemikong on May 18, 2002.
♥ Denise Bourdeau, 39, murdered in Kitchener Waterloo in Jan. 2007.
♥ Diane Dobson, 36, found dead in ditch in Windsor in Feb. 1995.
♥ Diane Marshall, 43, found dead in Toronto in May 2006.
♥ Donna Kabatay, approx. late teens; murdered in Seine River First Nation.
♥ Donna Tebbenham, raped and murdered in Thunder Bay in 1987.
♥ Doreen Hardy, 18, murdered in Thunder Bay in 1996.
♥ Edith McGinnis Quagon, 42; murdered in Minneapolis.

Medicine Wheel Drum
♥ Elaine LaForme, 48, murdered in New Credit on Jan. 22, 2012
♥ Elena Assam-Thunderbird, 17, sexually assaulted and beaten to death on June 1, 2002.
♥ Helen Gillings; murdered in Hamilton, February 1995.
♥ Helen Louise Jacobs, 73, murdered in Elliot Lake, July 2005.
♥ Helyna Rivera of Six Nations 25, murdered in 2011 in Buffalo
♥ Holly Anne Painter, missing from East York since June 1995.
♥ Jane Jack, stabbed to death in Kenora on April 28, 1995.
♥ Jane Louise Sutherland, 20, fully clothed body found on Oct. 23, 1984 in Hull’s Jacques Cartier Park across the Ottawa River from Lowertown.
♥ Jennifer Stewart, stabbed to death in Ottawa in August 2010.
♥ Jordina Skunk, 29, found frozen to death in Fort Severin First Nation on January 31, 2008.

Group Photo
♥ Josephine Thompson, 18; murdered in 1971 – her body found by the railway tracks in Macdiarmid/Rocky Bay.
♥ Judie Thibault, 57, murdered in Thunder Bay in November 2000.
Katelynne Sampson, 7, found dead with signs of bodily trauma on August 3, 2008 in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood.
♥ Kelly Morrisseau, 27 and 7 months pregnant; murdered in Ottawa; her body found in Gatineau Park on December 10, 2006.
♥ Laura Pilon, 22, murdered in Thunder Bay in 1992.
♥ Lisa Lynn Anstey, 21, last seen getting into a car on Bleeker St; found murdered behind Street City in Toronto on May 12, 1997.
♥ Liz Bonney, murdered in Cat Lake First Nation in 1992.
♥ Lorraine Rivers, murdered in Thunder Bay.
♥ Mae Morton, 17, raped and left to freeze to death outside Beardmore in 1962.
♥ Margaret Yvonne Guylee, disappeared in Toronto in 1965.

Young Jibwe holding photo
♥ Margaret Perrault (Bluebird), 32, murdered in Thunder Bay in 1988.
♥ Mary Ann Davis, 25, murdered in Zhiibaahassing (Manitoulin Island) First Nation.
♥ Mary Peters King, murdered in Thunder Bay.
♥ Maxine Susanne Peters, 34, of Walpole Island First Nation; shot and killed on June 13, 2004.
♥ Meloni Sutton, 18, of Fort Frances; reported missing on March 13, 2003 and found murdered in Kenora
a month later.
♥ Mercedes Stevens, 9, murdered in Kashechewan First Nation, Sept. 2006.
♥ Minnie Sutherland, 40, killed in Hull on Dec. 31, 1988.
♥ Pamela Holopainen, 22, of Schumacher; last seen in Timmins on Dec. 14, 2003.
♥ Petrina Whitecrow; murdered in Fort Frances.
♥ Rebecca Jean King, 22, missing since Oct. 21, 1999 from North Bay.

♥ Rena Fox, 38, murdered in Thunder Bay, Feb. 2003.
♥ Samantha Johnings, of Hamilton, 19 months; sexually assaulted and murdered on Dec. 13, 1992.
♥ Sandra Kaye Johnson, 18, found dead on Feb. 13, 1992 near 110 Ave in Thunder Bay.
♥ Sarah Jane Wawia Bernard, murdered in Thunder Bay in 1966.
♥ Sarah Mason, 44, murdered in Thunder Bay in 1997.
♥ Sarah Skunk, 43, missing from Thunder Bay since 1995.
♥ Shelley Lynne Joseph, of Six Nations, 43, stabbed to death in Hamilton on July 2nd 2004.
♥ Sonya Nadine Mae Cywink, 31, found dead in 1994 at Southwold Prehistoric Earthworks near Iona.
♥ Spring Phillips, 26, murdered in Toronto in December 2009.
♥ Stacey Diabo, 18 of Kahnawake; killed in Sept. 2003.

Terra Jean Gardner
♥ Susan Asslin, 19, brutally stabbed to death near Dryden in 1974.
♥ Sylvia Gaudet, 52 of Hamilton; found murdered on Jan. 5, 2005.
♥ Tashina Cheyenne Vaughn General, 21, murdered along with her unborn child, body found on
April 26, 2008 at Six Nations, near Chiefswood Road and Indian Line.
♥ Terra Gardener, 26, was killed by a train in Toronto on May 14, 2013.
♥ Theresa Wilkins Jamieson, body found Spring 2011 in Thames River, Chatham.
♥ Therese Labbe, 47, body found in Mountjoy River in October 1989.
♥ Tricia Paquette, 8, murdered in Brantford, February 1978.
♥ Viola Melvin, 67, murdered in Toronto on April 14, 1977.
♥ Viola Panacheese, 42, missing from Sioux Lookout since August 1991.
♥ Virginia Carol Kitty, 46, missing from Swastika since March 2008.

Cheyenne Wesley holding photo
♥ Virginia Nootchchtai, 31, missing from Whitefish, October 1988
♥ Vivian Cada, 53, found dead on June 30, 2005 in apt. at 285 Shuter St, Toronto.

Every February 14th we will honour and remember Indigenous women who have gone missing or been murdered. In the words of 2 Spirit Menominee poet Chrystos:

We pray for her

We sing for her

We drum for her

We pray

Do you appreciate the work I do?  Do you have a book you’d like me to read? Consider treating me to a coffee, donating to my site, and sending me a book!  Click here to find out how. 
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