Wednesday, May 30, 2012

#BookReview: Being Lara - Lola Jaye

Dating back to the 1950s, it was not uncommon for Nigerian families to send their children to live with white families in England in a situation best described as private fostering.  Rather than go through agencies similar to those here in America, families would simply advertise their child in the local papers, in hopes that a family would be willing to raise them until they were ready to do so themselves.  Unlike foster care in the U.S., the birth parents paid the families directly for the care of their child.  In most instances, the parents were not poor or seemingly neglectful, as are many parents in America's system.  Rather, these were parents that came to England to pursue education or job opportunities and, hindered by their children, sent them to a full time family to care for them until time and money afforded them the chance to do so themselves.  
- excerpt from my review of Colorblind by Precious Williams

Being Lara is the story of Lara Reid, Nigerian by birth, English in spirit.  Adopted at three by a former English pop star and her husband, Lara has grown up in a household where she knows she is loved, but still longs for the piece of herself that she intuitively knows is missing.  When the missing piece shows up in the form of her birth mother on her thirtieth birthday, Lara questions if this is a prayer she truly wanted answered.

Though the situation in Being Lara is not the same as the situation in Colorblind, I still found myself comparing the two.  While Precious in Colorblind, which is based on the author's true life story, was fostered to a family, Lara, a fictional character, is adopted.  However, both women find themselves questioning their differences from their white playmates as children and again, as adults, their co-workers, friends, etc. In both situations, the characters had problems with introduction to the Nigerian world that was unfamiliar to them.  The assumption from their birth parents seemed to be that they should naturally know and understand all things Nigerian. 

I appreciated Lola Jaye taking the time to not only tell Lara's story, but telling her mother's as well.  Too often the story is only told from the perspective of the adoptee, so I found Yomi's story fascinating.  It was also interesting to see Yomi's interactions with Lara's adopted parents. Most enjoyable, though, were Lara and her grandmother's conversations.  There was a lot of self-discovery for several of the characters.  This was my first read from Lola Jaye, but I was impressed enough that I'll be checking out more from her.

Note: If you're interested in reading more about fostering and the long-term affects, I encourage you to read Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje's, best known as Adebisi in HBO's Oz and Mr. Eko in Lost,  recent article in The Guardian.

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

Theme: Come In by Dianne Reeves

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

You Stick to Your List, I'll Stick to Mine

Last week several newspapers and what not published "Summer Reading Lists." I was too busy doing the job I'm actually paid to do, so I couldn't join in on the conversation that broke out on Twitter, but I did read my time line enough to know that people can find something offensive in anything.

Roy L. Pickering, author of Patches of Grey, who blogs over at A Line A Day, answered a question posed by another user.

Fair enough. Question asked and answered.  Then Roy's latest post showed up in my reader and it was apparent that he really had issues with books being labeled summer reads.  What gives?  He commented that he didn't read brainless books and he'd prefer not to get dumber over the summer. Really?  There are books that I classify as summer reads, not because they're not smart books or are part of the dumbing down of America, they just tend to match the lighter mood that I find myself in during the summer.  I wouldn't call any of them brainless though.

While I can understand Pickering's fear that this is yet another classification placed on books, I'd say it's a sub-genre and not the overall genre of any book.  I also feel that there are some books that are decidedly meant to be read at certain times when you're in a certain mood.  For example, last summer I tried to read Sapphire's The Kid, the sequel to Push.  If you read Push or saw Precious, the movie upon which it was based, you know it was a heavy book with extremely heavy topics.  Within the first few chapters I knew it wasn't something I could read and enjoy while the sun was shining, the birds were singing and kids were out playing.  I could almost imagine the dark gray cloud hovering over my head as I tried to read it.  I moved it to my "to be read much later" shelf and moved on to something that matched my light mood.

Pickering also pointed out that during school days, the summer reading list often included the classics.  I filled my summer with Judy Blume books and Trixie Belden Mysteries when I was in school. I don't recall us having a list.  But thinking back on my daughter's reading list, in high school she had to read books like Toni Morrison's Beloved and, as much as she loves to read, it would take her all summer to make it through a book like that, yet she sped through books on her personal reading list.  Part of it is when we read for enjoyment, we tend to read quicker.  When we read because we have to, it feels like a chore and we drag.  So I don't think you can compare the summer reading lists of school days to a personal summer reading list.  The purposes for reading are too different.

I don't think I'm any less intelligent than someone that spends their summer reading Dostoevsky or Moliere.  If that's what you want to spend your days reading, that's on you.  I'm perfectly happy to spend the warm, sunshine filled days, whether they fall in the summer, spring, fall or winter, with Mary Kay Andrews, Ernessa T. Carter and Ann B. Ross. In summation, a summer reading label doesn't mean strictly summer.  It means, if you're looking for a good book that is likely to enhance your mood, this is the book for you.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Memorial Weekend

I don't really know how to grill, but if I did, I'd invite you all over for the holiday. Anyway, have a safe holiday weekend and I'll meet you back here on Tuesday.

Friday, May 18, 2012

In Search of Satisfaction

One of the challenges of being a book blogger is finding books that interest you enough to want to talk about them.  Some books are just blah and I have a hard time stringing together enough words to interest others in reading them.  Some books blow me away and I have a hard time organizing my thoughts enough to get the words out in a coherent fashion.  Lately, I feel like I'm reading more blah books and not enough "shiver me timbers" books.

As much as I read as a kid, the college bookstore opened up a whole new world of authors for me.  While other students charged sweatshirts to their student accounts, I was charging books.  It was there that I discovered Maya Angelou beyond I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings; Gloria Naylor; and the Terry McMillan edited anthology, Breaking Ice.

There was an overabundance of good work and good authors in the nineties.  The shelves at The Knowledge Center, the neighborhood bookstore, overflowed with books by Barbara Neeley, Bebe Moore Campbell, J. California Cooper and Lolita Files.  When my budget couldn't keep up with all of the good books, the library of  the mid-nineties through 2005 or so gave me Grace F. Edwards, April Sinclair, Tina McElroy Ansa, Diane McKinney-Whetstone, Dawn Turner Trice, Tananarive Due, Lorene Cary, Virginia DeBerry & Donna Grant. 

Today I can walk in and pick up (or download from home) books by Bernice McFadden, Ernessa T. Carter, Martha Southgate, Mary Monroe, Tayari Jones, Carleen Brice, Beverly Jenkins, Michele Grant, Aliya S. King and Danielle Evans.  Do you notice how much shorter that list is in comparison to what awaited me just ten years ago? Yes, there's a flood of self-published and/or street lit authors, but where are the quality writers of the future?  Some of the authors of 20 years ago continue to write, but I worry about who will replace them.  I don't doubt that there are plenty of good writers waiting in the wing, but I do worry that publishers won't give them a chance to be heard.

Last year saw books like Silver Sparrow, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self and If Sons Then Heirs.  This year has brought Gathering of Waters, Home and The Cutting Season (okay, the last one doesn't come out until October, but trust me, you're going to love it), but when I look at the publisher's summer, fall and winter catalogs, I don't see a lot coming down the pipeline by writers that I'm interested in reading. Knowing what authors and books I enjoy, who do you recommend I read? What authors have I overlooked in the past that I should give another glance?  If all of the good books are already read, what do I read next?

Monday, May 7, 2012

#BookReview: Home - Toni Morrison

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.  I gave it to my mother as an audio book for Christmas and I swear she wrote me out of her will.  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.

Before I get into the review, let me just say that Tayari Jones has written a brilliant review of this also.  Mine isn't nearly as eloquent as hers.  When I talked to her about Home a few weeks ago, she tied characters & stories from previous ToMo works together in ways I would have never imagined.  So I'll give you my regular reader thoughts on why I loved the book, but if you're looking for something deep and meaningful, read her review when you finish reading my ramblings.

Simply put, Home is the story of Frank Money, a Korean War veteran returned home a fraction of the man that he was before he left.  While he returns whole physically, mentally, he is shattered. Back in the states a little over a year, he receives the news that his beloved sister, Cee, is ill.  As he journeys from Seattle, Washington to Atlanta and then Lotus, Georgia, the reader begins to understand that something is not quite right about Frank.  His anxiety levels are high and he can be impulsive.  As to whether or not his anxiety is a result of the war or his life prior to the war, it’s hard to tell.  He works hard, though, to keep the anxiety at bay.

From the moment her step-grandmother Noella saw Cee, she hated her.   Cee represents everything she resents about her husband Salem and his family.  Forced to flee Texas, in a scene repeated too often in towns like Rosewood, Florida and Tulsa, Oklahoma, Frank and Cee end up in Lotus, Georgia with their parents.  While their parents work the fields, Frank is responsible for Cee.  He sees the way Noella treats her and vows to always be responsible for her.

 “Misery don’t call ahead.  That’s why you have to stay awake - otherwise it just walks on in your door.”

With Frank off at war and no one else to guide her, Cee falls for the first pretty boy that looks her way. Ditched by him shortly after arriving in Atlanta, Cee is determined to stay there and make a decent life for herself instead of returning to Lotus and Noella.  She lands a dream job working in a doctor’s office, but we already know that all that glitters isn’t gold.

The biggest takeaway for me, and I feel like this was Cee’s “a-ha” moment, came in the form of a conversation with Miss Ethel, a local woman who nursed Cee back to wholeness after a run-in with the good doctor nearly killed her:

“See what I mean? Look to yourself.  You free.  Nothing and nobody is obliged to save you but you.  Seed your own land.  You young and a woman and there’s serious limitation in both, but you a person too.  Don’t let Noella or some trifling boyfriend and certainly no devil doctor decide who you are.  That’s slavery.  Somewhere inside you is that free person I’m talking about.  Locate her and let her do some good in the world.”

Though those words were said to Cee, I felt like that were meant for Frank as well.  While Cee was held back by physical pain, Frank’s pain was mental.  Those words and that way of living allowed both to move forward and become the complete people they were meant to be.

Published: May 2012
Disclosure: Copy received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Theme: Zoom by The Commodores 

Friday, May 4, 2012

If Your Favorite Author is Zane, Don’t Add Me On Goodreads

Guest Post from @sarahsosincere

Just call me the big bad book snob now. Once you’re done rolling your eyes at the title of this post, or nodding your head in agreement, hear me out. 

What’s the first thing you do when you get a request to connect with someone on a social networking site? You check out their profile page and see what you have in common, right? Friends, interests or whatever, usually there’s SOMETHING that would bring you two together on the interweb. 

Yesterday, I got a request to be friends with a lady on the social networking site for booklovers, Goodreads.  The first thing I noticed when perusing her profile was that her favorite authors were Zane and Sister Souljah.   On her “Currently Reading” shelf was “Missionary No More: Purple Panties 2.”  And this is the point when I completely closed my web browser. 

Let’s not discuss my disbelief at there being a SERIES called “Missionary No More.” Let’s not even get into the fact that someone read the first book in the “Missionary No More” series and then made the conscious decision to read the second. (Obviously, a lot of somebodies did since they published a sequel!) Let’s just talk about why anyone making these types of literary decisions shouldn’t add me on Goodreads.
Social networks are generally for the likeminded. I don’t like anything about Zane’s mind and neither should you. But you do. So, don’t add me on Goodreads. 

While I’m being snarky, I’m also being serious. Enjoying trashy and egregiously poorly written novels isn’t a crime but to say the author of said novels is your all-time fave? No ma’am, I will not take your book reviews seriously. I just can’t do it. 

Maybe this woman was trying to diversify her reading by following my reviews on Goodreads. That’s great but I still don’t want to see the review for “Missionary No More: Purple Panties 2” on my timeline. Purple Panties 2? Word? 

As much as I really really hate it, this isn’t about my abhorrence of Zane’s writing. This is about knowing your audience. You have the option to simply follow another Goodreads user’s reviews without asking them to subject themselves to your own. If you’re going to be reviewing Zane and other filth flarn filth, please use this option. Please.

I'm already a well-documented book snob, so you know that I agree with Sarah wholeheartedly.  Where do you stand?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

#BookReview: Ada's Rules: A Sexy Skinny Novel - Alice Randall

I know several people who loved this book. I've watched them gush over it and wondered, did we read the same book?  I didn't dislike the book, but I didn't love it like they did.  The biggest problem I had with it was that I couldn't decide what it wanted to be, a work of fiction or a diet guide.  I get the feeling that the author really wanted it to be both, but what if the reader only wants one or the other?

Ada Howard is a preacher's wife who has managed to pack on a few pounds over the years.  Her husband, Lucious, or Preach as he's called, says he loves her as she is, but his distance and lack of lovemaking lead her to believe otherwise.  When she receives an invite from a long ago boyfriend to her 25th college reunion, she decides to get in shape.  If Preach doesn't want her, maybe Matt Mason will.

How did Ada get out of shape to in the first place? The same way a lot of people, especially women, do.  Burdened with caring for elderly parents, raising two daughters of her own, running her own business and being a wife, Ada neglected herself.  As Ada begins her journey to her new self, she transforms not only physically, but mentally and spiritually.  And because she has a spirit of giving, she can't keep the things she learns to herself.  Her daughters, the families at her daycare center and everyone around her benefits from the changes she's making.  The only person that doesn't seem to realize how good the changes are is her husband.

While I can appreciate the author wanting to share her guide to weight loss with readers, I really wish she'd written this as either two separate books or the fictional part up front with tips for weight loss in the back or vice versa.

Published: April 2012

Theme: Let's Get Physical by Olivia Newton-John