Monday, July 27, 2009

#BookReview: The Trial of Ruby McCollum - Drs. C. Arthur & Leslie Ellis

On August 3, 1952, Ruby McCollum, a wealthy African American woman, shot Dr. C. Leroy Adams, her white doctor, lover and father of one of her children with another on the way. Initially sentenced to death, the ruling was overturned in 1954 and she was instead sentenced to twenty years in the Florida State Hospital for mental patients.

The Trial of Ruby McCollum is a compelling story in that Ruby McCollum was actually brought to trial and not lynched, as many, both black and white, proposed. Sam and Ruby accumulated their wealth by running the biggest numbers game and moonshine racket in the county. Several white men benefited from the operation, including Dr. Adams, up until Ruby's imprisonment and Sam's death. Killing the only doctor in town that would tend to African American patients was a grave offense for many.

So how does the daughter of sharecropper's find herself in this situation in 1950s Florida? Ruby's husband, Sam, takes a mistress. Seeking revenge, Ruby takes Dr. Adams up on his offer for a fling. What starts as revenge against her husband turns into years of abuse, forced drug addiction and degradation for one woman. Although they have three children together, Ruby finds herself pregnant a fourth time, but not by her husband who has moved in with his mistress across town. Dr. Adams, who, by the way, has no love for black folks, tells Ruby that he'll kill her or have her locked up in a mental hospital if she tries to get rid of his baby. After having the baby, Ruby finds herself in constant pain and Adams begins offering her daily shots of what he says is penicillin and giving her powder to keep in her compact. Ruby has no way of knowing that he's hooking her on heroin and cocaine.

Two years into the affair Ruby is ready to call it quits, but Dr. Adams refuses to let her go. When she finds herself pregnant by him a second time her husband threatens to kill her if she doesn't get rid of it. The doctor threatens to kill her if she does. The solution to her problem? Killing Dr. Adams. Ruby is clearly driven to madness by the actions of both men towards her, not to mention her drug addiction and Dr. Adams constant threats of having her locked up in the mental hospital.

In what was reported by Zora Neale Hurston as one of the most fascinating trials of its time, Hurston wrote "McCollum's trial sounded the death knell for "paramour rights", the presumed right of a white man to take a black woman to whom he was not married as his concubine."

Though the story portion of the book moves swiftly, all trial proceedings are included in the book as well and take a bit more time to work through, but it's an extremely interesting read.

#BookReview: Sag Harbor - Colson Whitehead

Based on reviews of this book and comments from other readers, I expected great things from this book. Unfortunately, I didn't receive them. The main character, Benji, an African American teen from New York doesn't really fit in at his predominantly white private school. Sag Harbor, the African American community in the Hamptons, is supposed to be the one place that he connects with his "blackness" every summer, except I get the feeling that he doesn't really. I understand the whole trying to fit into whatever world you're living in at the time, but Benji's not fitting in has nothing to do with being too black or too white, he's just too weird.

#BookReview: Caged Innocence - A.P. Ri'chard

Ugh, I can't stand parents that sell out their kids to save themselves. It just overcooks my grits! So you know I was boiling the whole time I read this book.

Larry Henderson is the son of the first black police officer in his small Mississippi town. Through series of flashbacks, we learn that Larry's favorite cousin was murdered by the Klan when Larry was a small boy. And before that, his father's best friend was murdered by them when they were in high school. As the men suspected of involvement in both murders start to die, the evidence begins to point at Perry Henderson, Larry's father. Larry, who has been sent to live with relatives in Las Vegas, is brought back to town by his father who turns him over to the police without hesitation. Upon questioning his father about his reasons for doing so, Larry is told that because he's only 17, the judge will be lenient on him and give him no more than four years, if he pleads guilty. Believing his father, Larry does just that and finds himself sentenced to 25 years in prison.

What kind of parent lets his son take the fall for a crime he knows he didn't commit? What kind of mother doesn't stand up for her child when she knows he's a helpless victim? This story has so many twists and turns and even when you think you have it figured out, you really don't.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Black Noir & Best African American fiction

I'm a big fan of compilations/anthologies/etc. when I really want something good to read, but don't have a lot of time to read. Black Noir and Best African American Fiction are excellent compilations of authors from the past, present and future doing what they do best. I love being introduced to new authors and reintroduced to "seasoned" authors. I look forward to reading more from just about every writer in these books.

#BookReview: A Price to Pay - Angela Winters

They're back! The Chases of View Park make their return in the fourth volume in the series. I love that the author brings you up to speed in each of her books, just in case you haven't read the earlier books.

So, picking up where we left off, Chase Carter and Avery, the only woman that he's ever cared about, just became the proud parents of a baby girl, Connor. The only complication is Avery's marriage to Anthony, a mild-mannered statistics professor. Never one to let anything stand in his way, Chase is determined to bide his time until Avery realizes that he's the man she should really be with.

Michael Chase has been given an ultimatum by his parents to divorce Kimberly after the family covered up her recent murder of her former pimp. Kimberly is willing to leave, but not without her twin boys, who are starting to feel the effects of the continuous fighting between their parents.

Haley Chase, the family bad girl, is once again caught up in madness and mayhem and it's up to Officer Sean Haley to save her from herself.

I am so hooked on this series. I said before that it reminds me of the tv series, Dynasty, with people that look like me and it still does. I'll be on the lookout for the next book, because from the ending of this one, things are far from over.

#BookReview: Maneater - Mary B. Morrison & Sugar-Honey-Ice Tee - Noire

You know how there are some books that you can only read at home because you don't want someone walking up to you asking what you're reading and you have to admit that you're reading pure smut? This is one of those books.

Authors Mary B. Morrison and Noire team up to give readers two short stories under the header, Maneater. In the first story, Character of a Man, Seven is surprised when her fiance, Maverick, tells her she needs to lose weight or the wedding is off. With six weeks before the ceremony, Seven has to decide if this man is worth losing the twenty-five pounds she's gained or if he's just playing Jedi mind games with her. In the meantime, her best friend Zena makes an interesting discovery about Maverick that explains why he's been so cold to Seven and whether his issue is really about her or him.

Sugar-Honey-Ice Tee are the nicknames for a trio of sisters sent to bring down three NFL players that have ruined the career of their brother and engaged in several other shady deals. Narrated by a friend of the players, Ribs, the story is entertaining, but very unbelievable. Yeah, I know it's fiction, but make me believe it could happen.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

#BookReview: The Black Girl Next Door - Jennifer Baszile

The American dream has always been for our kids to have more and do better than their parents have done. In The Black Girl Next Door, Jennifer Baszile finds herself moving not once, but twice as her parents pursue the American Dream. Moving is an adjustment, but at the age of 7, she thinks she can handle it. That's until her parents come home to graffiti on the sidewalk telling them to leave the neighborhood and a classmate accuses her of being able to run faster because "black people have something special in their feet" and her teacher agrees.

While Jennifer and her sister have adapted to their predominantly white world, their blackness is questioned by their parents on family vacation and they are made to meet and learn the names of every black child on the cruise. In this completely relatable memoir you'll find the struggle of a lot of African American children of "upwardly mobile parents" of the 70s with their feet in both world, seeking to find the perfect balance.

#BookReview: God Gave Me Some Bad Advice - Byron Harmon

I'll admit that I picked this book up based on the title alone. It's a quick read about a boy growing up in Louisiana with little drive or ambition. His poor grades land him in the Army, at his father's insistence. While serving during Operation Desert Storm, he begins to grow up, though not enough to keep him from coming home and wasting the $ 15,000 that he's built up in his account in two months. Remembering that he still qualifies for the GI Bill, he enrolls in Southern University and studies communications. Along the way he realizes he likes what he's doing and when offered a job with a small station, takes them up on the offer, dropping out of school.

It's unclear if he ever returns to finish his degree, but what is clear is that his newly found drive and ambition take him from market to market until he lands a position as executive producer at CNN. Based on his life as he remembers it, God Gave Me Some Bad Advice is an entertaining story from this first time author.

#BookReview: Before I Forget - Leonard Pitts

James Moses Johnson, Jr., Mo as he's known to his fans, knows that he hasn't been the best father he could be, but neither was his father that he hasn't spoken to in 30 years. A series of events lead him to believe he can and must do better. First, he's diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's at the age of 50. Second, he receives a call that the father he hasn't seen since he killed his mother 30 years ago is dying from cancer. Third, his son is in jail on robbery-homicide charges. Though he initially refuses to visit his dying father, his Alzheimer's diagnosis makes it important to him to reconnect with his own son and tell him all of the things he should know about being a man Before I Forget.

#BookReview: Finding Me - Darnella Ford

Eleven year old Blaze James is a firecracker and I love her! Well, I do until she grows up and the book goes off on a tangent. Blaze and her twin, Aerial, live with their drunkard father and former beauty queen turned waitress mother in a small shack in Shreveport, Louisiana. At the age of 11, Blaze is still peeing in the bed. Her father threatens to beat her if she pees in the bed one more time. Waking up to find the bed wet again, Blaze decides to dry it outside before her mother gets home from her night shift. An explosion levels the house and Blaze's father dies in the fire and her twin, Aerial, is horribly burned.

While the twin's mother takes off for the hospital in Baton Rouge with Aerial, Blaze is sent down the street to Miss Felicity Hardaway's house where's she's told "grown folks shit" happens and it's none of her business. Never one to backdown, Blaze has a few things to say about what goes on in Miss Felicity's house. Blaze has just gotten settled in when her mother announces they're moving to California because it will be better for Aerial.

Shortly after the move, her mother starts a job as a maid, marries her employer and ships Blaze off to boarding school in Connecticut and this is where the book falls apart. The Blaze that returns from boarding school is not the spunky girl that left. It's almost like the author forgot the character of her character and created someone new like the reader wouldn't notice. The rest of the book continues with a blah and nonconvincing storyline and no real resolution at the end.

#BookReview: Gather Together in My Name - Tracy Price-Thompson

Ignorant, backwoods, hateful...the mother in Gather Together in My Name is all of these things. Three brothers are born on the same day, a set of twins and a separate birth. Della loses her husband Bo while in childbirth, as a result of him fainting and hitting his head. She decides that it's the birth of the unexpected third baby that actually kills him and from that point on, she wants nothing to do with him. She puts all of her efforts into the first twin until he dies.

Believing that Shyne, the child she's shunned, has killed the twin, she continues to push him even further away while now focusing her attention on the remaining twin. It's no surprise that 20 years later Shyne is on death row for the rape and murder of an ex-girlfriend and her child. What is surprising is that he's given up all appeals and is prepared to die. In the meantime, his brother is preparing to run for mayor, unless someone finds out the secrets he's held all these years.

Monday, July 6, 2009

#BookReview: Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We're Not Hurting - Terrie Williams

This is not a feel good book, and it's not meant to be. Depression runs rampant in the black community and I don't think we talk about it nearly enough. Black Pain is full of stories and quotes from celebrities, athletes, activists and every day people that have all suffered from some form of depression.

While we, and especially women, have become good at masking what's really bothering us, this book helps to shed light on why your best friend seems to have it all together when you know she doesn't or why you gauge your interactions with your father on his mood for the day. All too often black women suffer from Super Woman Syndrome and make everyone except themselves a priority in their world. This can lead to resentment, stress which manifests itself in different ways, or just being plain evil. Ever wonder why Sister So and So always seems so nasty? Chances are she's depressed and doesn't even know it. As someone that suffers from depression and encourages anyone that thinks they need therapy to RUN to a good therapist, the book gives an accurate portrayal of what those suffering from this disease go through.

#BookReview: The True Story of Florence Ballard - Maxine Ballard

Self-serving...Those are the only words I can come up with to accurately describe this bio of former Supreme, Florence Ballard. Written by her sister, Maxine "Precious" Ballard, who by the way is selling this 147-page bio for $ 49.95, is nothing more than a recap of what you already know about Florence and her tumultuous time with the Supremes and her life after.

While one-third of the book is about Florence, the rest is entirely about Maxine, her desire to be a singer (even though early in the book she says she wasn't interested in singing, just dancing), and pictures of Maxine and her relatives. I'm guessing that "Precious" didn't do research on pricing, otherwise she would have known that no one is going to pay $ 49.95 for a small, double spaced, large font, poorly written book. Or perhaps she thought that the love of the fans would be enough to get them to pay for anything about Florence. She's wrong.

#BookReview: Stormy Weather: the Life of Lena Horne - James Gavin

I can't decide if I didn't like this book or Lena Horne herself. The author portrays her has an airhead in some instances and as an evil shrew in others. She's a victim of Ethel Waters in some sections and a "feeling a need to marry a white man to secure her place in society" woman in others. While I know she can be all of these things, it's hard to reconcile these images with what I've read about her before.

I'll admit that the previous bio that I read,The Hornes, was written by her daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, so it's entirely possible that she sugarcoated it to portray her mother in the best light. The author does a good job of referencing other bios about Ms. Horne and quotes them so that there's no need to go back and forth doing comparisons.

If you're not familiar with Lena Horne, you may be shocked to read how she viewed herself, her place in society and her place in Hollywood. You'll need to decide for yourself whether or not it's worth reading.

#BookReview: Take Her Man - Grace Octavia

The 3Ts (Troy, Tamia & Tasha) have been friends since college, setting their own rules for getting and keeping a man. When Troy is ditched by her doctor-boyfriend, the girls quickly launch a plan to help her re-gain his interest and keep him. Along the way, Troy finds that what she wants isn't always good for her and the thing she needs the most could be staring her in the face.

#BookReview: Hell Has No Fury - Keith Lee Johnson

Hell Has No Fury is part of a series of books about Phoenix Perry, an FBI agent based in Washington, DC. I didn't realize the book was part of a sequel when I picked it up, but the author does a good job of bringing you up to speed so that you don't feel lost. On to the book...When Phoenix receives a call that her cousin, Michelle, is suspected of killing a couple and is in a coma, she and her BFF jet to the west coast to clear Michelle's name and find out what really happened. She's shocked to find that Michelle did indeed commit the murders and even more shocked to find out why.

This is a quick read, no deep meaning behind it and it won't change your life, but it's an easy read if you're looking to pass the time.