Monday, March 28, 2011

#BookReview: Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away - Christie Watson

An absolutely brilliant effort from first time novelist Christie Watson, Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away, is definitely a must read.  Watson tackles several issues head on and does so with ease.

Told from the point of view of Blessing, who is twelve when we first meet her, Tiny Sunbirds is the story of a Nigerian family uprooted from their comfortable existence in Lagos when the mother catches the father cheating.  Forced to move to Warri in the Niger Delta, Blessing and her brother Ezikiel are introduced to a lifestyle quite different from what they've known.  They're also re-introduced to their somewhat mysterious grandmother and their proud grandfather and this is where the adventure really begins.  Through the eyes of twelve year old Blessing, the reader is made aware of female circumcision and environmental issues resulting from foreign oil companies.

When the children first arrive in Warri, Ezikiel seems to be the responsible one while Blessing has her head in the clouds.  As they mature, and they're influenced both by the company they keep and their surroundings, their roles are reversed.  Blessing becomes the more stable of the two, while Ezikiel becomes restless and out of control.  His direct confrontations with her mother's white boyfriend are not at all in character for who he was.  It's fascinating to watch him evolve from a polite, studious teen to a disrespectful, fanatical one.

What did you like about this book?
I loved the moments shared between Blessing and her grandmother.  Even though her mother doesn't want her to, Blessing follows in the footsteps of her grandmother and I loved watching her pass on her knowledge.

Every character was fully utilized in this story.  Often secondary characters are given a line or two, but the author makes full use of them and it makes the story more complete. I was especially appreciative of Celestine.  Like a court jester, she provided comic relief at times when it was much needed.

What didn't you like about this book?
I wouldn't say it was a dislike, but when Blessing is finally reunited with the father she worships, he's in such a distasteful state.  I would have almost rather she had never reunited with him than to deal with what he had become since she last saw him.

What could the author do to improve this book?
 At first I was skeptical of the children's mother's relationship with Dan, an oil worker.  Perhaps if the author had given us a first person glimpse of Mama's life outside of the household, it would have been easier to accept.

Published: May 2011
Disclosure: Galley received from the publisher.

Theme: Bye Bye Blackbird by Rachelle Ferrell

Friday, March 25, 2011

#BookReview: We Ain't the Brontes - Rosalyn McMillan

Does the title of the book refer to the characters in the book or the author and her famous sister? Frankly, it's hard to tell and by the time you finish this book, if you're able to, you probably won't even care.

We Ain't the Brontes is the story of authors Charity Lavender Evans and her more famous sister, Lynzee Lavender.  While Charity is all love and light, Lynzee is hell on wheels and she's determined to make her sister's life miserable.

Ok, so that's the premise of the book, now let's get into the ridiculousness of it all and why you shouldn't waste your time on it:

  1. Repetitive scenes - I swear on a stack of card catalogs that some scenes were repeated no less than three times, causing me to go back to the initial scene to make sure I wasn't just imagining things.  So Lynzee plays Jedi mind games with Charity, Charity gets upset, Lynzee calls back and says, "I'm just playin'!" and Charity is all "My sister really loves me." And then 50 pages later, it happens again.
  2. Know your character - So not only does Charity play a doormat to Lynzee, she also plays one to her husband.  So you're a doormat, fine, whatever.  But don't get steel in your spine in chapter 27 and then turnaround in chapter 28 and you're back to being a doormat like your "Ain't I A Woman" speech never happened.
  3. If you're going to incorporate real people into your story, get your facts straight - In the opening pages, Charity is attending an awards show with Lynzee and they see Denzel Washington and his wife, Juanita.  Except Denzel's wife's name is Pauletta.  You know whose wife is named Juanita? Michael Jordan (well ex-wife, but whatevs).  So either the male character was originally Jordan and McMillan forgot to change the wife's name later or she really doesn't know who Denzel is married to and in the day of Google, um, really?
  4. What in the entire All My Children hell is this? By now I'm assuming that you're not going to read this book anyway, but if you plan to, skip this part because I have a spoiler for you.  Now Charity and her husband Jett have been married for 30 years, but Jett and Lynzee slept together before Jett hooked up with Charity.  Jett and Lynzee had a daughter that Jett and Charity never knew about because Lynzee gave it up for adoption. Following so far?  So then Lynzee tells Charity that if she (Charity) doesn't tell Jett about the child that she (Lynzee) had with Jett, she'll tell him herself.  My reaction as I read it? AND SO? Charity and Jett were headed for divorce anyway, so #1 why should she care about his love child with Lynzee and #2 how does it become Charity's problem for Lynzee to hold over her head?
Like I said, this book was just ridiculous.  Every other chapter was either Lynzee and Charity fighting and making up or Charity and Jett fighting and making up.  The most interesting thing I can say about this book is it left me wondering how much of the story line was true as it relates to the McMillan sisters themselves.

What did you like about this book?

What didn't you like about this book?

What could the author do to improve this book?
There was a time when Rosalyn McMillan wrote fairly decent books.  I'm not sure if the wide gap between her last book and this one was a factor or if a change in publishers caused this one to be so poorly written, edited and lacking.  At any rate, she would do well to go back to whatever formula worked for her before because this isn't it.

Published February 2011


Theme: My Mistake Was to Love You by Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

#BookReview: Good-bye To All That - Margo Candela

Raquel Azorian has a lot going on.  As assistant to Bert Floss, the vice president of marketing for one of the big studios in Hollywood, she knows that her success is contingent on his success.  Working long hours, playing office politics and sucking up to those in power is just a necessary evil.  She's confident that she's on her way to a promotion until her boss has a meltdown that leaves her vulnerable.

Bert made plenty of enemies in his position and now the chickens have come home to roost.  Cris Fuller, the number two man in Bert's department, despises him. Bert's leave of absence perfectly positions him to take over the department and drive Raquel out at the same time.  Raquel believes she may have an ally in Kyle Martin, the charming vice president of corporate who's rumored to be next in line to take over Belmore, but she could be wrong.

In the midst of all this madness is Raquel's overly dramatic mother and her passive father.  Believing that her husband doesn't love or appreciate her, Marlene has left him and moved into Raquel's place with no warning.  Between work and home, it's a wonder that Raquel doesn't have her own breakdown.

Margo Candela does a masterful job of giving readers a glimpse into the world of Hollywood studios and the cut throat competition it takes to succeed there.

What did you like about this book?
I just knew this story line would be predictable and it really wasn't.  I also enjoyed Marlene.  Her antics provided just the right amount of comic relief.

What didn't you like about this book?
I don't know if it was dislike, but at times I was unclear on what role Raquel's friend Frappa played.  At times she seemed like a friend, at other times I was unsure if she was acting in Raquel's best interest.  I guess I could have used either a more developed story line for her or a better defined understanding of her role.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Other than clarifying Frappa's relationship with Raquel, I can't think of a thing.

Published July 2010


Theme: Power by Kanye West

Monday, March 21, 2011

#BookReview: Invisible Lives - Anjali Banerjee

Lakshmi Sen put her life on hold to help her mother continue her dream of running a sari shop.  Lakshmi is blessed with the gift of intuition and instinctively knows what everyone entering the shop needs.  Unfortunately she's so busy tending to the needs of others that she overlooks her own needs.

Bowing to the wishes of her deceased father, Lakshmi is prepared to marry the Indian doctor her mother has picked for her.  Upon initial introduction, the couple is instantly attracted to each other. Lakshmi can find no reason why she shouldn't marry him, but she still longs for the limo driver that visits her shop with his client.

What did you like about this book?
As always, I love Banerjee's style of writing.  Her books tend to be chick lit-like, but without the girl that needs to be rescued.

What didn't you like about this book?
I started to say that all of the male romantic leads in Banerjee's books end up being white, then I remembered that the male lead in Imaginary Men was, in fact, Indian.  I have no problem with interracial relationships, but I think romantic leads can, and should, come in all colors.

What could the author do to improve this?
Nothing.  Overall, it was an extremely enjoyable read.

Published September 2006

Theme: Since I Fell For You by Al Jarreau

Friday, March 18, 2011

#BookReview: The Lies That Bind - D.L. Sparks

If your husband cheats on you, is it fair of him to give you a time limit for getting over it?  That topic was broached the other night on the Black 'n Bougie radio show the other night and the answers varied.  Overall, the panel of male guests said that women were expected to forgive their men, but men were not ready to be so forgiving.  Author D.L. Sparks captures that very sentiment in The Lies That Bind.

Dr. Teresa McCall is married to a cheater.  Of course, let him tell it, he only cheated because Teresa worked so much.  As a therapist building her practice, Teresa does put in long hours.  Donovan knew that when they got married, but now that he's established as a partner and owner in investment banking, he'd prefer if she stayed home and had some babies.  If she can't do that, at least cut back on her hours at work, right?

No matter how much she tries, Teresa can't get past the fact that Donovan was emotionally connected to another woman. So when the opportunity to have an affair of her own presents itself, it doesn't take much for her to give in to temptation.  After all, what's good for the goose is good for the gander.  The only problem is Teresa is in over her head and has no idea of just how much.

What did you like about this book?
It was an extremely quick read.

What didn't you like about this book?
Teresa is extremely naive.  The quickness with which she hops in bed with a stranger seems a great contradiction to the person that she is originally portrayed as.  And I know that doctors make the worst patients, but it was hard to believe that a therapist would allow marital issues fester for two years without either taking steps toward divorce or participating in serious therapy herself.

What could the author do to improve this book?
I never felt like Donovan's side of the story was truly told.  The reasons for his anger, cheating, etc. weren't explored in depth.  Given that his cheating is what drove the story line, it deserved more attention.  The best friend, Renee, seemed to swoop in occasionally to give a dose of advice, provide an alibi and invite Teri to church.  Either fleshing out the characters more or completely removing some of them would have made it a smoother, more believable, read.

Published January 2010

Theme: Cheatin' Is by Millie Jackson

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

#BookReview: Silver Sparrow - Tayari Jones

With the opening line, "My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist," Tayari Jones skillfully pulls the reader into the world of two sisters: Dana and Chaurisse.  Told in first person by each of the sisters, Silver Sparrow is absolutely remarkable.

As James' outside child, Dana lives in a world where she's limited by a sister with whom she can't communicate.  The product of James' "marriage" to her mother, Gwen, Dana can't work at Six Flags, can't attend a summer program, can't do this and can't do this.  Why? Simply because there's a chance that in a big town that can be small like Atlanta, there's a chance that she could meet her sister.  While Dana is well aware of Chaurisse's existence, Chaurisse is ignorant of Dana's.

Chaurisse is the product of James' marriage to Laverne.  She is actually the daughter for whom I feel the most pity.  She is not the pretty daughter and nothing about her stands out.  Her parents married at extremely young ages and seem to be together more out of familiarity than anything else.  While Dana's mother plays an active part in her life, I almost get the impression that Chaurisse is overlooked by both parents.  Not only is she overlooked by her parents, she's overlooked by most people outside of their home as well.

Used to being overlooked, Chaurisse has a name for girls that seem to sparkle and shine; silver.  Silver girls are naturally beautiful, but don't mind using makeup to enhance their beauty.  Not only are they beautiful on the outside, they're beautiful on the inside.  And because birds of feather flock together, they associate with other silver girls, not regular nobodies like her.  But one day in the drugstore, Chaurisse meets a silver girl who does want to be her friend and their friendship will be life changing.

It was simply gut-wrenching at times to watch Dana be denied simple pleasures.  Can you imagine living a life less than what you deserve because your father is a selfish man? As I kept reading, I repeatedly asked of James, "what kind of coward are you that you would ask a child to carry this burden?"  Jones leads the reader through this world, allowing them to get so invested in the character that when she acts out, it feels justified.  And when she's in pain, it's only natural for the reader to empathize.

What did you like about this book?
Tayari Jones weaves words together like a beautiful tapestry.  I honestly had to put the book down the closer I got to the end because I wasn't ready to be done.  Often in stories like this, readers feel the need to choose a side, someone has to be right and someone has to be wrong.  It's virtually impossible to do that here.

What didn't you like about this book?
I really wanted James to be held more accountable for his actions.  I wanted him to be punished and, with the exception of Dana, it seemed that all of the women were willing to forgive him. 

What could the author do to improve this book?
Through Dana and Chaurisse, the reader learns the mother's opinions on what's going on and get glimpses into their thoughts.  James felt like a character on the fringe, even though his actions were responsible for the drama happening.  I would have loved to hear the story from his voice, in addition to the girls.

Published: May 2011

Theme: Love Child by Diana Ross & the Supremes

Monday, March 14, 2011

#BookReview: Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family - Condoleezza Rice

I've never really had an opinion of Condoleezza Rice before now.  My daughter questioned why I picked up her audio book and the only explanation I could come up with was that she has accomplished some things that should be recognized.  She has always come across as uptight, in my opinion, and I hoped that listening to her narrate her book would give me some insight into who she really was.  On top of that, as someone that majored in Russian and East European Studies 20 years after she did, I felt some affinity to her.

As someone in the global intelligence and security realm, I absolutely admire Condoleezza Rice.  As a person, she leaves something to be desired. I can't question that she's extremely knowledgeable in matters of foreign policy, but she's completely lacking in matters of domestic policy, particularly as it relates to those that look like her.

Raised in a Republican household, simply because the Republicans were the party willing to allow her father register as a voter, she declared herself a Democrat given the opportunity to vote for the first time.  A differing of opinions with Jimmy Carter's foreign policy led her to change parties and become a fervent Republican.  The line that especially stood out to me when she talked of her love of the party was, "I would rather be ignored than pandered to."  I'll admit that I had to rewind that a few times to make sure I heard her right.  The Republican party is not known for diversity, so to hear someone say that they're okay with being ignored by their own party really struck me as odd.  But politics aside, I forged on.

In another section of the book, she speaks of attending a program at Harvard and visiting friends in the area on several occasions while in the area.  When she arrives at their house before them one day, she unwittingly sets off their alarm.  Her first thought of what to tell the police when they arrive is, "I'll tell them I'm the maid."  What in the entire hell??? What does it say about your view of yourself and people that look like you when your immediate thought is that being black and being the maid makes sense, but being a black woman with a master's degree or a PhD doesn't?

At any rate, this book was intended to be a memoir.  I came away feeling that I didn't know any more about her personally than I did before I picked it up.  She didn't sound like a black woman born and raised in Birmingham during the heart of the civil rights era.  She sounded like an out of touch upper class white man that couldn't relate to anyone that wasn't a part of the isolated world that can be created when one has the means to do so.

By no means am I saying that anyone of any race is obligated to reach back and help others, but as the daughter of parents that worked tirelessly to help those around them that struggled, it's shocking that none of her parent's good works seemed to rub off on her.  In fact, it took her father moving to California and once again getting involved in the community for her to recognize that there were indeed people that looked like her struggling in an area in which she had lived for over ten years. 

Rice chose to narrate the audio book herself and her cadence was a bit off and she was quite formal the entire time.  As my daughter put it, "She sounds so unimpressed with her own life."  I'd have to agree.  The only times she sounded excited were when she spoke of the fall of the Berlin wall and meeting the Bushes.  Everything else, including her parent's deaths, was spoken of in such a flat tone that I wouldn't be surprised if she put people to sleep while listening.

What did you like about this book?
The author's parents sounded like really good people.  Perhaps a book about them and their work would have been more interesting.

What didn't you like about this book?

What could the author do to improve this book?
I mean, you can't tell someone to live better, but if she was truly writing a memoir to show people who she was and who her family was, it would have been helpful if she took down the mask and showed a human side of herself.  This was less of a memoir about her family, but more about the various jobs she's held.

Published October 2010

Theme: So Appalled by Kanye West featuring Jay-Z, Swiss Beatz, The RZA, Pusha T & Prynce Cy Hi

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

An Interview with Kathy Cano-Murillo, Author of Miss Scarlet's School of Patternless Sewing


1. When and why did you begin writing?
The first time I had that rush, or sense of belonging with writing was in fifth grade. Around that time I used to love to read Erma Bombeck's humor essays in the newspaper. My language arts teacher gave us a weekly assignment to write a story and then draw a matching picture. I looked forward to that assignment every week. I observed my family and took little scenarios and made them into humor essays. I knew I had a good one when my teacher would invite me to read it in front of the class. Of course my parents were horrified when they went to parent-teacher conferences and had the teachers tell them all about it. On the drive home, my folks were like, "I can't believe you wrote that for a school paper!"

I went on to journalism and yearbook all through high school. My dream was to be a features reporter for The Arizona Republic. It took a lot of work (almost 9 nine years), but I did it! I loved writing articles, reviewing movies, books and concerts. I also started blogging in 2003, where I wrote essays about crazy things that went down in my life. Happy, funny things. I just love to write, any outlet I can find, I go for it. Around the time I started my blog, I knew I wanted to write a novel. I always wanted to, but didn't have the confidence. I'm a very project-oriented person. I put my mind to something and go full force. After outlining for a year, I knew I needed a kick in the butt, so I joined National Novel Writing Month. It worked! That was in 2004. My book finally hit store shelves last year!

2. I'd venture to say that crafting is your first love.  What was it that drove you to combine your love of crafting and writing?
Many people think that. Writing was my first love. That's what I excelled in at school, I used to get Cs and Ds in art class! Never in a million years did I ever think I would make a living by being an artist and crafter. I think that's why I spent 13 years as a newspaper reporter, I did my crafts on the side. I didn't think I was good enough to do  it as a "real" job. I do know I enjoyed it immensely and I often think of my grade school and high school art teachers that discouraged me. That's why I preach to people to create because they want to, and not to think about being judged, just let yourself be happy and enjoy the process.

Combining writing and crafts came so natural for me, I love both. I love the stories I hear about the ladies who are in the craft industry, and art enthusiasts in general. They make things because they are releasing emotion and passion! My books are about what happens before the jar of glue is opened.

3. Your lead characters in Waking Up in the Land of Glitter and Miss Scarlet's School of Patternless Sewing are such strong women, much stronger than women we usually see in chick lit.  Would you classify your books as such?  Are Star and Scarlet based on people you know?
Thank you! I call my style contemporary Latina fiction, or else "crafty lit." I want to show positive, creative role models. Star is a little bit of me when I was her age in the book. I started off judgy and 'all talk' and had to be humbled. As far as Scarlet, at first I didn't think I had anything in common with her, but now that I've had time to step back,I do see some of my experiences in her story. Like the way her family never seems impressed by what she does, and how she refuses to give in to the easiest route. And the coffee! I really did taste VIA coffee grounds to get more energy, just like Scarlet.

4. Have you seen a lot of crossover between your crafting fans and readers of your books?
With this second book, I really am. I did have a lot of crafters who didn't have time to read novels (because they were crafting!) take time to read mine. I love when they tell me how reading my book motivated them to read other books. That was always my goal - to get crafters reading and readers to try crafts! I was worried there would be snobby book people that would not respect me as a novelist because of my craft background, but luckily I've only encountered one or two of those. They assume I started crafting and then tacked on a writing career like Snookie or Lauren Conrad. It feels good to tell them, "Actually, I spent 13 years as a newspaper reporter and have almost 10 years of essays on my personal blog!"

That's why I always tell people, in order to stay relevant you have to reinvent yourself every so often to keep the interest. Try new things, challenge yourself, make people raise their eyebrows at your accomplishments because they underestimated you. Show them what you can do! As far as crossover - so far it's working! I think anything we, as authors, can do to build the book market and keep it thriving the better - especially if glitter is involved!

5. Is there a message in your novels that you want readers to grasp?
My messages are always about honoring family, having your girlfriend's back, not settling for easy, letting go of your fears so you can fly and have a magical, wonderful life...on that journey you may encounter heartbreak or tragedy or set backs, but the only choice is to move forward and learn from it! I love happy endings!

 About the author 
With a life motto of “Crafts! Drama! Glitter!” Crafty Chica Kathy Cano-Murillo is a creative force of nature. A former syndicated columnist for The Arizona Republic, she is the founder of the award-winning Web site, and the author of seven nonfiction craft books and a Web series on Kathy has a Crafty Chica line of art supplies that are sold nationwide. She also has been featured in numerous media outlets such as The New York Times Magazine, NPR’s Weekend Edition, USA Today, Bust, and Latina magazine.

For more on Kathy, visit her website The Crafty Chica, like her Facebook page or follow her on Twitter @CraftyChica.

Monday, March 7, 2011

#BookReview: Ms. Scarlet's School of Patternless Sewing - Kathy Cano-Murillo

Scarlet Santana is a spitfire.  With two degrees in engineering, her family wants her to settle down and work a real job.  Scarlet, however, has her own ideas.

By day she works for local designer, Carly Fontaine.  At night, and in her spare time, she designs her own wardrobe and items to sell on her Etsy site and blogs about her heroine, Daisy de la Flora. The deceased Daisy was a designer and person Scarlet most admires.  Through her blog, she shares with her readers her dreams and passion for living a Daisy-inspired life.

Given the chance to attend a designer's program offered by the late Daisy's nephew, Scarlet creates her own class to teach others the style of patternless sewing that her Nana taught her, in an effort to raise money.  It's through this class that the reader meets a variety of characters that could all use some help with getting their lives on track, Scarlet included.

An absolutely delightful read, you'll find that Miss Scarlet's School of Patternless Sewing is a book that you won't want to put down once you start it.  Kathy Cano-Murillo creates such strong female characters that you can't help cheering for them and hoping they reach whatever goal it is they've set.

What did you like about this book?
I loved the friendships all of the women shared, even though their backgrounds were remarkably different and they had little to nothing in common.

What didn't you like about this book?
I honestly can't think of a thing.

What could the author do to improve this book?
I would have loved to see some sketches of the outfits Scarlet created.  The way the author described them made them sound quite stylish.

Published March 2011
Disclosure: ARC received from publisher.

  Theme: Firework by Katy Perry