Friday, December 21, 2012

The Best in Books 2012

With just a few days left to get in your holiday shopping, I thought I'd give you my top picks of the year.  Maybe you'll be inspired to buy them for someone on your list.  Now normally I would list everything I gave five purple armchairs, but that list ended up being lengthy this year, which is good because it means I read a lot of good books.  However, to keep things simple and to stick with the theme of "The Best in 2012," I'm just going to limit it to books published in the U.S. in 2012.  Since all of these received my highest rating, I'm not going to rank them, just list them in the order I read them.

Gathering of Waters by Bernice L. McFadden

I've often said that reading a J. California Cooper book is like sitting on the porch listening to your grandmother tell you a story.  Using lush words and phrases that make you long for those days, McFadden's latest will leave you breathless from start to end. Once you start Gathering of Waters, you won't want to put it down until you've finished it.

Perfect for: Fans of J. California Cooper, Toni Morrison & Tayari Jones
Tags: historical fiction, civil rights

Home by Toni Morrison
160 pp

For the last few years I've told myself and anyone that would listen that I'm just not smart enough to read Toni Morrison.  I watch ToMo stans like Tayari Jones expound on her greatness and all I can think is, it must be over my head.  The last time I read a ToMo book and was able to comprehend it the first time around was pre-Beloved.  I read Song of Solomon, Sula and The Bluest Eye in high school and college and loved them.  Then Beloved came along and I had to read the book, see the movie and read the book again before it finally made sense to me.

After that came Jazz, Paradise, Love and A Mercy. I struggled with the first three and didn't even try with A Mercy.  So when I saw that Morrison was publishing a new book, I was hesitant to request a copy from the publisher.  But they sent it and so I read it.  And I loved it!  I feel like the ToMo that wrote Song of Solomon is back.  Or maybe she never left. Maybe I've just come full circle.

Perfect for: Fans of Bernice McFadden, Alice Walker & Gloria Naylor
Tags: women, South, coming of age, PTSD

My Name is Butterfly by Bernice L. McFadden
Only available as an ebook

Never one to shy away from sensitive topics, Bernice McFadden takes readers into the world of the Trokosi.  In simple terms, Trokosi are girls given by their family to a deity as a sacrifice in exchange for better luck, fortune or things along those terms.  Adebe Tsikata is such a girl, but she's also a survivor.

Perfect for: Fans of reading about different cultures, Chika Unigwe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Tags: Ghana, family secrets, deception

Tell A Thousand Lies by Rasana Atreya
352 pp

In 1986 India, four of the most important determinants of a woman's future were the tone of her skin, her caste, her home village and her family's wealth.  Based on these things, Pullamma, at the age of 16,  has resigned herself to living with her grandmother forever.  As one of three orphaned sisters, Pullamma is the darkest and most unattractive.

I loved this book because Atreya kept me on my toes while reading it.  At no point did I ever really know how the story was going to end.  And a sure sign that a book has pulled me in, I found myself talking out loud to the characters, knowing good and well they couldn't hear me.  If you love learning about new cultures and love a good story, do yourself a favor and give Tell A Thousand Lies a read.

Perfect for: Fans of Anjali Banerjee, Shilpi Somaya Gowda & Shobhan Bantwal
Tags: India, women, colorism

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

A while back on Twitter I began describing certain books as #facepunchlit. They’re the type of books that are so surprisingly good that it feels like you’ve been punched in the face after reading them. You're in sort of a punch drunk haze where nothing seems clear and everything you previously understood to be right about the world is a bit askew. After reading Flynn’s Gone Girl, I had a similar feeling.

Perfect for: Fans of face punch lit
Tags: thriller, suspense, surprise ending

The Healing by Jonathon Odell

Who is Polly Shine, you ask? She's the healer and giver of sight to those around her.  Things on the Satterfield plantation surely changed for the better the day Polly Shine arrived.  Prior to her arrival, Granada, the teller of The Healing, only thought she knew who she was.

Perfect for: Fans of Bernice McFadden, Kathleen Grissom & Leonard Pitts, Jr.
Tags: historical fiction, post-slavery, family secrets, women

Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society by Amy Hill Hearth

If someone were to ask me to summarize Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society, I'd have to say that it's a cross between Fanny Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe and the movie To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Love Julie Newmar.

For those thinking that Hearth's name sounds familiar, you'll remember her as the coauthor of Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years.  This is her first foray into fiction and she does an amazing job.  As Camille O. Cosby says of her, she "Honors and humanizes people and their wonderful diversities."

Perfect for: Fans of Fanny Flagg
Tags: civil rights, women, empowerment

The Cleaner by Paul Cleave

Joe is nuttier than a fruitcake, but he truly believes that he's doing the world a favor by killing some of his victims.  But Joe gets too comfortable and lazy.  So confident is he that he never sees Melissa coming for him.  If you've watched BBC's Luther, you're already familiar with the character of Alice.  Well, Melissa is The Cleaner's Alice.  If it's possible, she's an even bigger psychopath than Joe and now, she's running things.

Perfect for: Fans of Gillian Flynn, The Usual Suspects & Neil Cross
Tags: deception, thriller, ruthless

Now hit up your local indie bookstore!  And if you didn't see the perfect book for the reader in your life, feel free to ask for recommendations below or ask me on Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, December 17, 2012

#BookReview: Loving Donovan - Bernice L. McFadden

When you choose to love someone, you agree to take on all of their baggage, knowingly or not.  The day Campbell chose to love Donovan was the day she took on the voice of ghost in his head, a domineering and ever present grandmother in his ear and a life time of watching his father just exist.  Indeed, Campbell took on much more than she knew.

Growing up, Campbell watched her father cheat on and leave his wife for another family.  As a teen mother, Campbell watched her daughter's father leave her.  As an adult, Campbell watched her best friend give herself away because the man she loved didn't love her enough.  With all those factors working against her, it would be easy to write off men, to write off love altogether.  Yet Campbell still believes in love and, though she's hesitant to seek it for herself, she's willing to take a chance.

Donovan had no business looking for love.  In all fairness, it feels like he knew that, but then he met Campbell and, for a time, logic and reasoning escaped him.  Everyone is entitled to love, but Donovan had things in his past he needed to work through before bringing anyone else into the picture.  Having been loved the wrong way in the past and the present, it's no wonder that he doesn't know how to accept being loved well and right.

Though both Donovan and Campbell come from "broken homes," Donovan's demons are more difficult to overcome.  In great part, it's because he's faced with one of them daily.  We often hear or experience mothers raising their daughters and loving their sons.  One of Donovan's biggest problems is that he's been raised by a weak father and an overbearing grandmother.  Shrouded in her love for Donovan is a need to keep him broken down enough to stay with her and, should he find the strength to leave, playing on his insecurities and fears enough to make him stay.  I find fault with Solomon, Donovan's father, as well, because its his weakness and his mother's forked tongue that is to blame for the demise of his marriage to Daisy and drives him and the young Donovan back to his mother's home.

The underlying reason for Grammy keeping first Solomon and then Donovan so close to her is selfishness and her fear of being left.  Being domineering and demeaning drove her husband away, but that's not enough to make her change her ways.  Instead, she directs her attention at Solomon, at first building him up, only to break him down later when he dares to love Daisy.  And when Donovan dares to love Campbell, she steps in and begins to slowly whittle away at the confidence that Campbell's love has given Donovan, planting seeds of doubt.

I've spent this year going back and listening to McFadden works that I've previously read.  I've heard and learned something new from each book by listening that I didn't get from reading and Loving Donovan is no exception.  Perhaps it's because there's a tendency to skim pages when reading that you can't do when listening.  However you choose to, you absolutely must give McFadden's works a try.

Published: January 2003
Theme: Hello Like Before by Bill Withers

Friday, December 14, 2012

Free for All Friday, Dec. 14

I'm winding down my reading schedule for 2012.  This year has flown by and I can't believe there are only there are only two weeks left before we roll into 2013.  I've got to start reading for the Books: Passports to the Word Challenge (this is my gentle reminder for you to sign up if you haven't), write up my top 10 of 2012 post (which is turning out to be 14 or 15), and write reviews for the miscellaneous books I've read and forgot to write about.

But today is all about The Hobbit.  As a kid, I watched my father read tons of science fiction and fantasy, but the series that stood out the most  J.R.R. Tolkien's.  I don't usually do fantasy books or movies, but I found myself watching Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring one year while on a cruise.  If you've cruised before, you know that the movies are on a repeat loop, so I saw it quite a few times.  By the time I disembarked, I was hooked.  Since then, it's become a tradition that my family see Tolkien films together.  I'm so excited to see The Hobbit today.  If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I've been tweeting random memorable lines from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I'm sure that by next week, I'll be tweeting random memorable lines from The Hobbit.

So what are your plans for the weekend? Anyone else planning to check out Smeagol, Bilbo and Gandalf?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

#BookReview: The View from Delphi - Jonathon Odell

Set in pre-Civil Rights Mississippi, The View from Delphi is the story of Hazel and Vida, women on opposite ends of the spectrum. While one comes from a place of privilege and soon finds herself on the opposite end; the other comes from very humble beginnings, only to find herself surrounded by the material things she always dreamed of.  Unfortunately, she didn't dream beyond acquiring those possessions.

Vida Snow is the daughter of a preacher.  Her father is not just a preacher, he's the Fix It man for the sharecroppers in the area.  Raised with the Senator, Levi Snow has the ear of the biggest landowner in Delphi.  In return for Levi apprising the Senator of any grumblings among the workers, the Senator allows Levi the privilege of preaching, something Levi feels he was called to do.  As a preacher's daughter, Vida Snow has never worked a day in the fields.  Her job is to go to school and wear the pretty dresses her father keeps her in.

Hazel is poorer than dirt.  Worse than that, she's homely.  With her limp hair and plain features, she cries when she finally gets to see a picture of herself.  As a teen, she decided to do something about her looks and by the time she was fifteen, she'd completely transformed herself into a movie star-like creature, the likes of which folks in her part of Appalachia had never seen.  When she meets Floyd Graham and his big ideas, she's ready to ditch the farm and her family and get on with living.

By the time they meet, life has been unkind to Hazel and Vida.  Vida's father's fall from grace propels her into the fields.  Her longing to right the wrongs that have been done to her propels her into a white woman's kitchen.

Hazel is a woman without a plan.  Her immediate plan was to marry Floyd, but she didn't think far beyond that.  Being a mother overwhelms her.  The simplest tasks leave her flustered.  Her most recent episodes leave Floyd with no other choice than to bring in outside help to watch over her during the day to make sure she doesn't do anything foolish again.

Hazel and Vida's friendship is unlikely, and I begrudgingly call it a friendship.  I would be more apt to call it mutual respect.   Hazel draws strength from being around Vida and her group of fellow maids.  In return, Hazel assists the group with copying and distributing voting rights materials.  But are they the kind of friends that share secrets?  I wouldn't go that far.

Had I read this before the acclaimed The Healing, I don't know that I would have been inspired to read about Polly Shine.  The View from Delphi is about 100 pages longer than it needs to be.  It's obvious that by the time Odell got around to writing The Healing, he'd learned to trim the fat in his writing.  Still, it was a noble effort for a first novel.

Published: August 2005

Theme: Mississippi Goddamn by Nina Simone

Friday, December 7, 2012

Tell Me Something Good!

It's hard to believe 2012 is almost over! This has been a fairly decent year for books and I'll be posting my year in review in the following weeks, but in the meantime, I'd love it if you would take three or four minutes to take the survey below.  I'll share the results with you at a later date and use your comments and suggestions to improve


Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

#BookReview: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie - Ayana Mathis

Is there a limit on the amount of love a parent can have for their child?  If you have more than one child, is it possible to have loved your other children so much that you have nothing left for the others?  Or is it just possible for life to beat you down so much so that you have nothing left to give your children except a place to stay, food to eat and a determination to survive?

I can't find fault with Hattie Shepherd.  Giving birth to your first children at the age of 19 in a new city can be overwhelming.  To find yourself giving birth years later at the age of 46 is surprising.  Then to turn around at 74 and find yourself mothering your grandchildren, is not an easy road.  But how do you explain that to your children who only see you as cold and uncaring?

"Somebody always wants something from me," she said in a near whisper.  "They're eating me alive."

As you read, you'll be caught up in the lives of Lloyd, the musician; Six, the wonder boy preacher; the high strung and insecure Alice, who pretends her brother Billups needs her when, in reality, she's the one that desperately needs him; Bell, who seeks revenge against Hattie when all she really wants is to know the secret joy her mother found once upon a time; and countless others.  Mathis dedicates chapters to the various offspring, but their interactions as children aren't explored as much as they are as adults.  She wants you to see who they've become as a result of living in the house.

I love the set up of the book.  It feels like a compilation of short stories that are loosely tied together, with the only common thread being that Hattie and August have given birth to them.  With the exception of Alice and Billups, we see very little interaction among the siblings once they leave home.  It's as if Hattie's lack of love spread to them and there's nothing that bonds any of them together.

Part of the great migration to the north, I wonder how much of Hattie's coldness is a reflection of her surroundings.  While her husband, August, longs for the Georgia he remembers, minus Jim Crow, Hattie refuses to even speak its name.  Still, you have to wonder if August lamenting over leaving the south is valid.  Would Hattie have been different, would the children have had different lives, had they been surrounded by paper shell pecans, sweet gum trees, gigantic peaches and neighbors whose names they could recite years later? 

Published: December 2012
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Theme: A Song for Mama by Boyz II Men

Monday, December 3, 2012

#BookReview: She's the Boss - Lisa Lim

When I reviewed Confessions of A Call Center Gal last year, I mentioned that it would have been nice to get updates on Karsynn, Truong and the rest of the crew.  Well Lisa Lim did me one better and wrote a sequel!  Now while I encourage you to read Confessions first, please know that She's the Boss can be read as a stand alone book.

While Confessions focused mostly on Maddy and her transition to small town Idaho, where she joined her best friend from college, Karsynn, She's the Boss turns the tables and is told from Karsynn's perspective.  Still working at the call center with the hilarious Truong, whose antics remind me of an Alec Mapa character, Kars is working her way up the ladder.  Unfortunately, she's run into a roadblock by the name of Carter Lockwood.

As the new director of Lightning Speed Communications, Carter Lockwood arrives to find a floor full of inappropriately dressed characters who swear like sailors, and Karsynn is the ringleader of this motley crew. Now that there's a new sheriff in town, things are definitely going to change.  And boy, do they change.

She's the Boss is just as delightful and as quick a read as Confessions of A Call Center Gal.  Lim keeps the characters light, even the serious Carter Lockwood.  Truong is still as outrageous as ever and proves to be the most entertaining of all the characters.  Inge is also along for the ride, though her speaking role is kept to a minimum.

With plenty of current pop culture references, it reads as something hot off the presses.  I love that the workplace situation touches on such a relevant issue in today's world.  And lest you think the book may get heavy in parts, know that there's a yodeling stripper rocking lederhosen that is sure to bring tears of laughter to your eyes.

Published: November 2012
Currently available only on  Kindle & Nook

Theme: We Can't Be Friends by Deborah Cox featuring RL

Monday, November 19, 2012


It's a short week for most of us, so rather than bore you with a review that you probably wouldn't get around to reading until this weekend -- after you've stuffed yourself with turkey, fought your way through Black Friday and mentally prepared yourself for Cyber Monday -- I'll just wish you happy holidays.  Think of me slaving over a hot stove and dancing to my Christmas play list, which I officially break out on Thanksgiving Eve, while you're enjoying time with family and friends.  See you back here next week.

Friday, November 16, 2012

#BookReview: Please Look After Mom - Kyung-Sook Shin

Would it take your mother's disappearance for you to realize how little you knew of her?

"Do you remember asking me a while ago to tell you something that only I knew about Mom? I told you I didn't know Mom.  All I knew was that Mom was missing.  It's the same now.  I especially don't know where her strength came from."

It's not until your wife goes missing that you even see her as your counterpart.

"Before you lost sight of your wife on the Seoul Station subway platform, she was merely your children's mother to you."

"Before she went missing, you spent your days without thinking about her.  When you did think about her, it was to ask her to do something, or to blame her or ignore her.  Habit can be a frightening thing.  You spoke politely with others, but your words turned sullen toward your wife.  Sometimes you even cursed at her.  You acted as if it had been decreed that you couldn't speak politely to your wife. That's what you did."

When 69 year old Park So-nyo goes missing, her husband and her children come to understand how little they knew of her and how much they took her for granted for so long.  Born into poverty, she married a man that she didn't know, or initially love, yet raised five children to become productive members of society.  Yet, like many adult children, she became an afterthought as they became successful, seen as an annoyance by some.

Still, their successes were all built firmly on the foundation that she set for them.  The eldest son for whom she saved and sacrificed to send to school; a younger daughter that was sent off to live with that same son to receive an even better education; the daughter who tries to manage being both a pharmacist and a mother to three, while wondering how Mom managed to raise five children and make it seem so easy and natural.

"Since she went missing, I often think: Was I a good daughter? Could I do the kind of things for my kids she did for me?  I know one thing.  I can't do it like she did.  Even if I wanted to.  When I'm feeding my kids, I often feel annoyed, burdened, as if they're holding on to my ankles.  I love my kids, and I am moved - wondering, did I really give birth to them?  But I can't give them my entire life like Mom did.  Depending on the situation, I act as if I would give them my eyes if they need them, but I'm not Mom."

Over the course of this short read, each member of the family reflects on the role Mom played in his/her life, realizing that not once did they see as anything other than their mother.  And as mothers sometimes do, she downplayed any problems she had the few times that anyone asked.  Ultimately, it's the inability to express her pain (and her family's willingness to overlook it) that leads to the disappearance of Park.

"So why did we think of Mom as a mom from the very beginning?  She didn't have the opportunity to pursue her dreams and, all by herself, faced everything the era dealt her, poverty and sadness, and she couldn't do anything about her very bad lot in life other than suffer through it and get beyond it and live her life to the very best of her ability, giving her body and her heart to it completely.

Published: April 2011

Theme: Acknowledgement by John Coltrane

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

#BookReview: Where Did We Go Wrong? - Monica Mathis-Stowe

Ahhh, to be young and dumb.  You couldn't pay me to go back to those days.  Reading Monica Mathis-Stowe's Where Did We Go Wrong? certainly did nothing to make me miss them.

Joy, Maxine and Gabby have been friends since their days at Morgan State University, though I'm unsure as to why Joy and Maxine have tolerated Gabby's foolishness for so long.  If you were to look up the word golddigger in the dictionary, you'd find a perfectly posed picture of Gabby.  And she's not ashamed of it either.

Never mind that she was in a relationship with a good man, when the opportunity to hook up with a pro football player came along, she hopped on it.  The day he signed a $ 75 million dollar contract was the day she stopped taking birth control.  The fact that he was already married with kids was just a small stumbling block.  When Gabby wanted something, nothing stood in her way.

Former teacher and current homemaker Maxine has the perfect family life, if you're on the outside looking in.  But she sees her attorney husband sinking them deeper into debt as he tries to keep up with the Joneses.  They can't afford their home, cars or any of the other luxury items he insists on.  Things would be much more manageable if he would allow her to go back to work, but Trent doesn't want the mother of his children to have to work, like his own mother did after leaving his abusive father.

Joy's fear of her mother has kept her from being truly happy.  Mind you, her mother isn't abusive, but she is very opinionated and, in her opinion, Joy has no business thinking about any man until she's completed her doctoral program.  She and her longtime boyfriend Allen have been sneaking around behind her mother's back since they were teens, but Allen is tired of being her secret.  If she can't be open about their relationship, he'd rather not be with her.

While Joy and Maxine seem to have each other's backs, they also have Gabby's, even though she's undeserving.  Joy and Maxine are likable enough characters, though Joy does make some rash decisions that I really questioned, but Gabby? This chick is the skankiest of all skanks.  The way she schemes and plots against others without any remorse is unconscionable.  Like Mitt Romney, even when it's obvious that she's playing a losing game, she continues to play it.  I don't know how the two of them tolerated her in college and beyond.

I'm eager to read the sequel to the book because I'm interested in finding out what happened with Joy and Maxine.  More than anything, I want to know if Gabby has changed at all and, if she hasn't, has karma finally slapped her in the face.  I can only hope so.

Published: May 2012

Theme: What About Your Friends by TLC

Monday, November 12, 2012

#BookReview: The Bridegroom - Ha Jin

In this collection of short stories from Ha Jin, winner of the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, readers are treated to plenty of tongue in cheek humor.  Of the 12 shorts, it would be hard to pick just one favorite.  I'd have to say In the Kindergarten and After Cowboy Chicken Came to Town are tied for first.

In In the Kindergarten, little Shaona hates that she's been sent away to kindergarten, sure that her parents will forget her now that her mother has given birth to a new baby.  Between being bullied by Dabin, the biggest boy in the class, and being tricked by her teacher, Shaona is at her wit's end.  But when she sees a chance to get revenge, she takes it and the results are hilarious.

When a Western fast food place makes its way to Muji City, its presence is met with glee by some and disdain by others.  For the workers at Cowboy Chicken, there's much confusion over traditional Chinese ways and the foreign, western way of doing things.  While "the customer is always right" may be the corporate motto, it doesn't go over well with the employees.  As the employees continue to work at Cowboy Chicken, they become more disgruntled with the actions of their American boss, Mr. Shapiro, and Peter, their Chinese born/American educated manager.  As the employees plot and plan their coup, they have no idea what's in store for them.

Written just over 10 years ago, it seems hard to believe that some of the stories in The Bridegroom are supposed to be set in present day.  In fact, it was only because of references to modern day technology that I was able to tell that the stories weren't set during the reign of Chairman Mao.  Regardless of the time period in which the stories take place, I found them all to be enjoyable.

Published: October 2000

Theme: That's It, I Quit, I'm Moving On by Adele

Friday, November 9, 2012

World Book Night 2013

World Book Night isn't until April 2013, but they're accepting sign ups now.  If you've never heard of it, you're not alone.  It gets a lot of publicity in the book community, but not so much outside of that.  Each year, book givers sign up to receive a copy of 20 books that they hand out to light or non-readers.  It's completely up to the giver where they distribute them.  It can be anywhere from a subway station, a school parking lot to the grocery store.

2013 books include Sandra Cisneros The House on Mango Street, Paulo Coehlo's The Alchemist, John Grisham's Playing for Pizza, Walter Mosley's Devil in a Blue Dress, Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Hillary Jordan's Mudbound and Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones, among others.  I didn't get to participate this year, but I'm definitely signing up for next year.

Care to join me? Sign ups are here.  You'll be asked to choose three books, why you're interested in giving them away and where you plan to do it.

If you could give away any book, not just the ones on the list, what would it be, who would you give it to and why?

Monday, November 5, 2012

I Didn't Get My Groove Back, But...

Villa Walkway, Grand Palladium Resort
Last year for my birthday, I wanted to go to Savannah.  I made plans with friends and they all fell through.  I didn't go because I didn't want to travel alone.  Instead, I spent the day at a day spa that I hope to never set foot in again, got a hair cut, had lunch with my dad and squealed with glee over gifts from the guy I was dating at the time.  Overall, it was a decent birthday, but it wasn't what I really wanted.

This year I decided that come hell or high water, I was going to Jamaica.  I mentioned it to friends, most of whom wanted to go.  I threw out dates, gave them deadlines, received assurances that they would indeed attend...and I got crickets.  Mentioned it to the guy I had been dating and he asked if I could wait until February to go.  Dude, you do understand that this is for my birthday, right? And my birthday is in October, right? So going in February kind of misses the point, right?  When it came down to deadlines, dates and what not, no one came through.  So what's a woman to do? She rolls solo.

I'll admit that I was hesitant to go by myself.  I've been to Jamaica several times, so I was already familiar with parts of the island, but I've never gone alone.  I wanted to stay some place that would allow me to do as much or as little as I wanted.  I didn't want to stay at a couples resort and stick out like a sore thumb, but I also didn't want to stay at a super family friendly place and be surrounded by kids.  I had to have a spa on site and I had to have a beach.  And I found those things and a little bit more.

Las Brisas Beach, Lucea, Jamaica
Most mornings after breakfast, I set up shop in a shady spot on the beach.  Though I tried to read, I found myself just staring at the water for hours.  Okay, I did pause to grab a drink (or two or three) from the bar.  I chitchatted with those around me.  But mostly I just sat in silence and let the stress in my shoulders slowly melt away.

I did venture off site a few times and was highly amused by first time visitors to the island.  At a local craft market, I watched naive newlyweds get suckered into buying items they'd have no need for later or "one of of kind" wood carvings that they'd surely see in another store at a lower price.  I waved off some vendors and talked with others, while answering the often asked question, "Sis, are you Jamaican?"  I still haven't figured out what triggered that question, but in my week there, I was asked that no less than three times a day.

Sunset at Rick's Cafe, Negril
I laughed at a German woman who kept staring at me at dinner one night trying to figure out where my dinner companion was, all while she looked terribly bored with whatever it was her husband was saying to her.  I gaped at a young couple arguing another night (seriously, who argues in paradise???), which resulted in him leaving the table abruptly and her chasing after him.  You know who wasn't bored and who wasn't arguing with anyone? Me.  I set my own scheduled, changed my mind without needing to run anything by anyone and had the best vacation ever.

On the shuttle back to the airport I met some twentysomethings from Wisconsin who were amazed that I'd traveled alone.  They asked for suggestions on how to do it successfully.  The following is what I shared with them.

  • Now what works for some may not work for others, but first and foremost, you have to be okay with spending time with yourself.  As an emptynester, I'm used to doing things by myself.  If you can't imagine going out to dinner or to the movies alone, a solo trip probably isn't for you.  

  • I'm an introvert by nature.  I can go a whole weekend without actually speaking to anyone.  Social media provides as much of an outlet as I need at times. Whether you're an introvert or extrovert, pick a resort that offers activities that fit your behavior.  

  • Do your research.  These ladies picked a resort based on its website.  A lot of places use stock pictures and that's exactly what their hotel did.  They were disappointed in the hotel and their area of the beach.  As a result, they'd been ready to go home long before their trip was over.  Check out sites like, where previous guests post honest reviews and pictures, before booking your hotel.  

  • And lastly, use common sense.  Don't go wandering off with someone you don't know.  You may be in paradise, but anything can happen.

I didn't miss traveling with a companion. The hours I spent on the beach, the time I spent at the spa, the peace of mind I found, I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.  The freedom to set my own course was worth every dime I spent.  As far as getting my groove back, I'm no Stella.  It turns out I  never lost it

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

#BookReview: The Floater - Sheryl Sorrentino

At the age of 46, Norma Reyes graduated with her law degree, fully expecting to be offered a spot as a first year associate at Robertson, Levine & Shemke (RLS), the firm where she'd clerked the previous summer and received such high praise.  Twenty years of working her way up to supervisor of phone operators while going to school at night have finally paid off.  And even though her ailing mother ridicules her dreams, Norma is determined to make it.

The partners at RLS have never taken Norma seriously.  Yes, she did good work in her summer position, but they would never hire an associate from a less than prestigious law school.  Norma didn't look like them and certainly wouldn't fit in with their client base, given her ethnic background. Luckily, the recession gives them an excuse when they deny her employment as an attorney. While they won't hire her as an attorney, they will hire her as a floater.  Grudgingly, Norma accepts the job, believing that it will only be temporary and that once she passes the bar, she'll be offered the position she deserves.  Poor, gullible Norma.

Weeks of being belittled by everyone from senior partners to first year associates (a group she should have been a part of) start to wear on Norma.  A chance encounter with Oscar Peterson, the mail room supervisor, makes Norma's life a little more bearable.  But their happily ever after is disrupted when Oscar gets wind of a memo about Norma, drafted by one of the senior partners.  Norma will have the fight of her life on her hand if she can get her courage up enough to do something about it.

I was torn between liking, pitying and hating Norma.  It was obvious from the beginning that dealing with her family and men had bruised her self-esteem, but she had to have guts to go back to law school at night at her age.  So while I loved that she was courageous enough to do that, I was mad that she let the attorneys mistreat and lie to her repeatedly while she accepted it.

I also vacillated between liking and disliking Oscar.  He seemed to have Norma's interests at heart, but he was so overly aggressive and insensitive at times that I kept waiting for him to break her heart like her previous boyfriends.  Even by the end of the book, I wasn't sure that she should be with him and wanted to yell out like Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, "You in danger, girl!"  Perhaps the author didn't develop Oscar enough to make him likable or maybe it was her intent to make the reader distrust him.  Either way, I can't say that I was happy to see Norma with him.

Another thing that bothered me was how long Norma stayed with the firm, because surely working there as a floater was not the first time she witnessed the assholeness of the place.  As a clerk during the summer, she had to see the way partners treated the support staff.  Or perhaps it was okay with her then because she saw herself as one of them (attorney) instead of one of them (support staff).  Which lends itself to the question, is the mistreatment of others excusable based on their rank in the company hierarchy?  Apparently it was at RLS.

Published: August 2012
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Theme: Do Something by Macy Grey

Monday, October 29, 2012

#BookReview: Passing Love - Jacqueline E. Luckett

Because you are to me a song,

I must not sing you over long.

Because you are to me a prayer,

I cannot say you everywhere.

Because you are to me a rose,

You will not stay when summer goes.

- Passing Love by Langston Hughes

Ruby Mae Garrett looked out for herself and made no apologies for it.  From the moment she saw Arnett Dupree, she was a woman possessed.  Actually, she was a girl possessed, but at 16, she thought she was a woman.  So when her strict mother caught wind of Ruby Mae sneaking off with the horn player, she put an end to it.  Never one to be outdone, Ruby Mae had to have the last word and the day she left her parent's house was the last day she spoke to them.

Nicole-Marie Roxane grew up loving all things French.  Her infatuation started with a small, blue French to English dictionary she found in her parent's cedar chest.  Speaking French with her father strengthened their special bond.  One day the dictionary was gone and not another word about it or French was spoken.

Fast forward to present day, 56 year old Nicole is tired of watching life pass her by. She's wasted over half of her life on a married man who still dangles the "I'll leave my wife and marry you when the time is right" carrot in front of her.  If it wasn't for her friend insisting that she go to Paris, Nicole probably would have continued to only dream of going.  But she's finally on her way to 30 days of exploring the country that's always fascinated her.

When Nicole's explorations lead to the discovery of a picture of her father in his military uniform over fifty years ago, she has to know why the picture is there, who owned it and what their connection is to her Alzheimer suffering father.  Though her mother offers little information over the phone, she does send her enough information to set Nicole off on a fact finding mission, knowing that she may not like what finds out.

As we've seen in Searching for Tina Turner, and as she again shows us in Passing Love, Jacqueline Luckett writes books about women who we rarely see as the protagonist.  As was Lena in Searching, Nicole is a woman of a certain age.  Both women feel under-valued and -appreciated by the people in their lives and set off on journeys to rediscover their self-worth and, of course, by the end of the books, they have.

Published: January 2012

Theme: April in Paris by SarahVaughan