Wednesday, November 27, 2013

#BookReview: The Returned by Jason Mott

Given a chance, who wouldn't want a few more minutes with their loved ones?  If a deceased friend or relative showed up on your doorstep, complete as they were prior to death (but not all zombie like), would you welcome them back into your home and life with no questions asked, or would you be skeptical of them?

When Harold and Lucille Hargrave's eight year old son, Jacob, shows up at their door, Lucille doesn't care how it happened, she's just glad he's there. Harold, on the other hand, is more than a little skeptical.  They buried their only child in 1966, now here they are over 40 years later and while they have aged, he hasn't.  He's very much alive and he's very much the same eight year old he was so many years ago.

The Returned, as the government has taken to calling them, are popping up all around the world.  There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to who returns and who doesn't.  At first they're welcomed back, but for reasons known only to them, the government begins to round them up and place them in modern day internment camps.

When I first started reading this, it reminded me of the USA show, The 4400, from a few years ago.  In that show, the returned hadn't died, they'd simply disappeared years ago.  Upon returning, they came back with powers that weren't always immediately apparent.  They were almost a superhuman species.  In this first book in what I've learned is a series, the returned don't seem to possess any powers.

It's an interesting concept, one that seems to keep popping up in movies and television.  In fact, the book is being made into a series called The Resurrection, coming in 2014, developed by the author and Brad Pitt.  Though I was hesitant to read this initially, I was drawn in enough by book one to seriously consider giving the rest of the series a try.

Published: August 2013
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Free for All Friday: All About Idris

How do I love thee, Idris, let me count the ways!  My favorite man to watch do just about anything has been making the rounds promoting his upcoming movie, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.  I'm going to a screening tomorrow night and in anticipation of that, I'm posting a few of his most recent pics out and about.

Jimmy Kimmel, Nov. 20

Kelly & Michael, Nov. 14

Even Idris takes selfies, Nov. 13

How can you not love watching this man?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

#BookReview: Mama's Child by Joan Steinau Lester

Any time you read a book, you bring your own history and experiences along with you.  They shape your perception of what you're reading.  So it wasn't surprising to me that when I looked at other reader's reviews of Mama's Child on Goodreads, the people that loved it versus those that barely tolerated were firmly divided into two camps.

Consistency is important in stories.  I expect that if an author is inconsistent, his or her editor will help them.  The author couldn't decided whether or not Ruby, one of the main characters, was 11 or 13 in 1978.  As a result, I counted no less than 10 times where her age was changed.  In one paragraph, she would be referred to as a teen, where just a sentence or two ago, the author noted that she was 11, not exactly how I would define teen.  Because of the subject matter and the way in which the daughter was expected to react to situations, it was important to get her age right.  There are matters you would expect 13 year olds to handle better than an 11 year old.  This set the tone for me and lead to my initial dislike for the book and the author.  If you're not careful and don't care about your characters, how can you expect the readers to?

There are some that thought the book was "too racial."  To quote a fellow reader on Goodreads, "To be honest, I got tired of the book going on and on about everything being racial," which is laughable, because if you're writing a book about a biracial child's conflict with her white mother that's firmly rooted in identity, I'm not sure how it can be written without touching on race.  And if I'm being honest, this book irked me because of the mother's inability to deal with race, though that's just one of the reasons I had a problem with the story.

Solomon Jordan of Atlanta and Elizabeth O'Leary of Cleveland first meet in Greenwood, Mississippi in the summer of 1963 as members of the SNCC teaching at the Freedom School.  Bonding over music and literature, the two head for Oakland, California at the end of the summer to begin their lives together.  In their infatuation with each other, neither really takes the time to wonder how the racial makeup of their relationship will affect them and those around them.

Fast forward 15 years and Solomon and "Lizzy" are parents to 13 year old Che and 11 year old (sometimes) Ruby.  While Che is content to go along to get along, Ruby finds herself questioning the white authority at school and in other aspects of her life, as she's been taught to do by her parents.  Bigger problems are in store as Solomon, who begins to feel ashamed of his white wife in the presence of his Black Panther friends, pulls away from her.  Though Ruby adores her father, I found him to be lazy when it comes to his relationship with Elizabeth.  Rather than discuss why her presence makes him uncomfortable around other black people, he instead uses the women's liberation movement against her.  The truth is, he never thought about how he would be viewed by others because of her and comes to resent her for making him appear as less than down for the cause.

With Ruby as an observer, she begins to resent her mother as well.  I'm able to sympathize with Ruby much more than Solomon or Lizzy because of all the people affected by their divorce, she received the brunt of the fallout.  With Solomon and Che gone from the house, Elizabeth/Lizzy becomes Liz, a woman who no longer cooks, who no longer wants the responsibility of parenting.  Eleven year old Ruby rebels, telling her mother that one does not simply decide that they no longer want to be a parent.  The reality is people decide everyday that they no longer want to be parents, but to expect the child in that situation to not be confused is absurd.  Then to move from that to making significant lifestyle changes with no warning and expecting Ruby to be on board with them, it's no wonder that she rebelled. 

The book begins with an adult Ruby cutting Liz off.  And though other reviewers tried to say it was all about race, I'd say it was a combination of that and resentment of bad parenting.  This was a difficult book to read.  I honestly got tired of Liz and her whining white woman tears.  As someone that prided herself on interacting with the black community and being in touch with her daughter's feelings, she quickly retreated to her privileged mindset as soon as she was called out on her actions, supported by her fellow "progressive" friends.  At no point does she ever take into consideration Ruby's point of view, choosing to believe that the fact that she was her mother trumped all.  As much as I wanted to feel sorry for Liz as a mother, I couldn't.  She entered into the relationship with Solomon with rose-colored glasses on and didn't adequately prepare herself for the road she would travel as the mother of biracial children or the difficulties she might face in an interracial relationship.  Simply wishing something is easy doesn't make it so.

I've no doubt that who you are plays a great role in how you perceive what you're reading.  I've no doubt that my opinions on Mama's Child vary greatly from others.  One glance at Goodreads' reviews will confirm that, but I stand by my low rating of the book.  I initially only gave it 3 stars on Goodreads (and later changed it to 2), only because 2 1/2 stars aren't an option. Going back and reading my notes, I think that even that half star was too generous.  The whole book reads as a "look at me, I told my black child to be aware of the world around her and when she realized I was a part of that world, and not necessarily the good part, her survival instincts kicked in and she disowned me.  Woe is me."

Published: May 2013
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Monday, November 18, 2013

#BookReview: Marching to Zion by Mary Glickman

In 1916, East St. Louis, Illinois was a hub of activity.  Less sophisticated than St. Louis to its west, it was full of factories and slaughterhouses.  It was also full of immigrants working those factory jobs and blacks recently migrated from the South in search of better jobs than they'd been able to find in places like Mississippi or Alabama.  It's to this city that Mags Preacher arrives in 1916, hoping to make her fortune as a hairdresser.

With nothing more than a dream, Mags approaches Magnus Bailey, a local gentleman that she believes can loan her the money to fulfill her dream, in St. Louis.  Magnus doesn't give her the $100 that she asks for, but he does give her $ 10 and points her toward Miss Emily's boardinghouse on the east side.  In need of a job to raise money for her beauty salon, Mags finds a job preparing the dead at a local funeral home owned by the Fishbeins.

As a small town country girl, Mags is ignorant to the hateful words spoken to her by the Polish and German immigrants that live on her street, and just as ignorant to their hatred of the Fishbeins.  Had she been more aware, she might have been prepared for the riots that began in July 1917 and left her indebted to Magnus Bailey, Fishbein and his feisty daughter, Minerva.

Where Mags is humble and hard working, Minerva Fishbein is everything Mags is not.  Her sense of entitlement leaps from the page from the moment she appears.  That entitlement, coupled with stubbornness, leads her to believe that Magnus Bailey, a man 15 years her senior, belongs to her and no other woman.  Her obsession with Magnus sets off a series of events that leave him confused and running from the red hair.  In turn, his rejection turns Minerva into someone that no one ever expected her to become.

I really didn't expect to enjoy this book as much as I did.  I really liked the characters, including Mr. Fishbein, who Glickman describes as kind of a creepy looking man, but his goodness and sense of loyalty come across really well.  The flashy Magnus Bailey and the shrewd Minerva are two characters that normally I could take or leave, but I found myself rooting for them, together and apart.  I would have liked to see more of Aurora Mae, a cousin of Mags, who plays a role in Magnus' later life.  Her back story was briefly mentioned, but sounded so intriguing that I would have read a book based on her alone. Overall, this is a solid effort from Mary Glickman.

Published: November 2013
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

#Whatever Wednesday: Judging a Book by Its Cover

Monday night I was browsing publisher’s catalogs, because that’s what book bloggers do for entertainment. As I went through and added books to my “to be read” shelf, I thought about how I pick books and wondered if others use the same methods.

 I’d say it depends on whether I’m viewing virtually or in person. In person, I’m usually drawn in by a pretty and/or unusual cover. Rarely do I go into bookstores looking for a book by an author I’ve already read unless I’m specifically going in for that book. When I’m just browsing the shelves for the next great read, covers play a huge part. I wonder how many really good books I may have missed out on because of sucktastic covers.

With virtual browsing, though just having a great cover doesn’t always work out well, it’s enough to make me read the synopsis and determine if the book is worth my time. However, when browsing a catalog of books that aren’t due out for another six to eight months, often cover art doesn’t exist yet. So I tend to look for authors that I’m already familiar with or interesting titles. Again, that means I’m probably missing out on some really good books. But if your catalog contains 650 books, surely you don’t expect me to read the synopsis for all of them, right?

So how do you pick books in person and/or online? Do you have a sure fire way of picking a winner?

Because he's Idris & I really don't need an excuse to post his picture