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