Saturday, October 4, 2014

#BookReview: The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs

That Rob Peace dies so young isn't a spoiler.  The author tells you up front in the title that it's going to happen. But to watch such a promising life squelched is still tragic, regardless of how it came to be.  Jeff Hobbs goes into lengthy detail to explain how his college roommate, a man with a degree in molecular biochemistry and biophysics from Yale, came to be gunned down in a basement in Newark less than 10 years after graduation.

Like a cartoon character with an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other, Robert DeShaun Peace grows up with a mother that encourages reading and book learning (the angel) and a father that encourages street learning (the devil).  In her thirties when she gets pregnant with Rob, Jackie already knows that life in Newark can be tough, but she's prepared to raise her son to be the brilliant man she knows he can be.  Rob excels in school and earns the nickname of the professor from his classmates and teachers.  Sacrificing and working long hours to keep her son in private schools and focused on life beyond the family home, no one is happier than Jackie when Rob is accepted to Yale.

Known around the neighborhood by all, Skeet is a born hustler.  He's smart, Jackie wouldn't have dated a man that wasn't, and he's a good person.  Though he dabbles in selling drugs, he watches out for others.  Everyone that knows him likes him and Rob delights in walking the neighborhood with his father, stopping to talk on someone's stoop on one block and joining someone else's barbecue on another.

The ability to balance walking the straight and narrow while keeping your ear to the streets is difficult and Jeff Hobbs does a great job of portraying his friend's struggle to do just that.  Rob Peace had a lot of friends.  With his quiet, yet unassuming presence, he seemed to draw people to him like bees to honey.  He straddled many worlds from the streets of Newark, to the world of water polo, from Yale to a favela in Rio and a small town in Croatia.  His father's grooming trained him to be a leader among men and make friends wherever he went.  His mother's home training groomed him to be a protector of all, men and women alike, but especially women.

So how does a man who breezes through biophysics turn to drug dealing?  Hobbs doesn't really have an answer for this, but his portrayal of Rob leads me to believe it was a combination of a few things: lack of direction and a vested interest in seeing others around him succeed to the detriment of himself.  His mother seems to realize that the latter was his biggest downfall, but never seemed to be able to get that message through to him.  Like his father, Rob always wanted to be the man that everyone could depend on and, while he was alive, he was.  The need to hustle to help his mother and grandparents pay bill; giving others money to pay rent when he was barely getting by himself; forming study groups to help his friends pass classes; all things that weigh heavily on someone.  While Rob had everyone else's back, very few had his.  Jackie recognized that, saw it weighing him down, but was helpless to do anything about it.

Though I said Rob had lack of direction, I don't even know if that was it.  He seemed to know what he wanted, he just didn't know how to get there and, as the leader of his friends, there was no one there to tell him because everyone looked to him to tell them how to achieve their dreams, including the author.  It's obvious that Rob Peace's story is dear to the author.  The amount of time he had to have spent interviewing people Rob knew to reconstruct his life story had to have been overwhelming, but he does a good job of putting it all together and presenting it in a way that keeps you captivated and hoping that, in the final pages, you'll learn that Rob is still alive and working a boring lab job on the campus of Yale.







416pp
Published: September 2014
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Changes are Afoot!

You may or may not have noticed that I've been taking more frequent blogging breaks and posting sporadically when I do blog.  That's happened for a few reasons, but mostly because I'd rather read than review any day.  But if I want the good people that publish books to continue sending me books I want to read, I have to review them.  However, I don't have to review them all here.

Starting this week, I'll be posting reviews of books that I've given four or five luxurious chairs to here.  All other books will be reviewed very briefly over on my Goodreads account as time allows.  Also, instead of posting Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I'll be posting on Saturdays and Sundays, since those tend to be the days that people read my posts the most.

Occasionally, I'll post during the week, but only if I'm participating in a blog tour or if a publisher requests that I post on a specific date.  Otherwise, check me out on the weekends.

Monday, September 22, 2014

#BookReview: Into the Go-Slow - Bridgett M. Davis

Often when someone dies, our memories of them become exaggerated.  We remember all of their good traits and focus on them as if they were some kind of superhuman while they walked the earth.  Instead of reflecting on their bad qualities and remembering them as they were, it's almost as if we put on blinders and elevate them an angel-like level.  In Bridgett M. Davis' Into the Go-Slow, we find 21 year old Angie tracing the footsteps of her deceased sister, Ella, and trying to fit in the missing pieces of the puzzle that she was.

As the youngest of three sisters, Angie witnessed Ella's need to shine in the eyes of their father and her rebellious spirit when dealing with her mother.  Middle sister Denise was always sensible.  And baby Angie just fit in where she could, carrying the heavy load of watching Angie tumble off her pedestal and trying to save her when no one else would.

 Whether Angie's recollection of Ella is clouded because of her young age at the time of Ella's death or because she engaged in older sibling hero worship, it becomes apparent that the Ella she thought she knew was not the person she really was.  Deciding to reconnect with those who really did know Ella, Angie goes to Nigeria to find out what really happened to her in her final days.

From Detroit to Nigeria, Davis takes readers on a sometimes painful, yet engaging, journey. She captures the spirit of  the late eighties; a Detroit beginning to crumble under Reaganomics, student activists' newly found awareness of South Africa's apartheid structure, and injustices around the world.  She vividly paints a picture of Fela's Nigeria as experienced through Ella and re-told to Angie.  And she does it all masterfully.







320pp
Published: September 2014
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Monday, September 15, 2014

#BookReview: The Pearl That Broke Its Shell - Nadia Hashimi #Giveaway

It’s not shocking that being a boy is more advantageous than being a girl in most parts of the world. Every morning in Afghanistan there are girls that wake up, dress and leave the house acting as boys, or bacha posh, as they’re called. The reasons for this vary, but the bottom line is that it is safer and more privileges are afforded when you’re seen as a boy. In some homes, girls become bacha posh because it allows them to work and bring in income to a household that greatly needs it. In others, mothers need a child that can run to the store for them. As bacha posh, it is safer and allowable for a boy to walk the streets when women and girls cannot. The stories of two generations of women posing as bacha posh are at the heart of The Pearl That Broke Its Shell.

Initially, readers are drawn into the story of Rahima. In 2007 Kabul, she’s one of five sisters living with their mother and opium-addicted father. Prior to his addiction, Rahima’s father worked, but only sporadically gave enough money to support the household. Having a son would provide the family with money, since Rahima would be allowed to work. It would also allow her sisters safe passage to school, since she would be able to walk with them and serve as their protector. It seems like a win-win situation for all and, as the most rambunctious of the sisters, Rahima readily agrees.

Generations ago, Rahima’s great-aunt Shekiba also became bacha posh and while Rahima’s story is interesting, I found Shekiba’s most fascinating. A beautiful child, Shekiba was scarred and left disfigured at an early age. Already undervalued by her extended family, she’s shunned even more for her appearance. She’s kept close to the family home where her parents and brothers adore her. As her family succumbs to illness, a teenage Shekiba finds herself living alone, but determined to keep it a secret from her father’s family. Married off against her will, she soon finds herself living in the royal palace as bacha posh.

With Rahima’s life juxtaposed against Shekiba’s, it’s difficult to say who leads a more difficult life, but as Rahima’s Aunt Khala tells her Shekiba’s life story, you can see Rahima gathering strength from it. Though the circumstances and outcomes of becoming bacha posh differ for them, both endure and are triumphant in the end.

This is absolutely an amazing effort from Nadia Hashimi. She puts such thought into her characters and their emotions; it’s easy to tell that she was heavily invested in telling the story of these women and doing it properly. In addition to Rahima and Shekiba’s stories, she takes care to explore what happens with Rahima’s sisters, her mother and fellow wives, as well as Shekiba’s fellow eunuchs, offering a peek into the lives of other Afghani women. There were no lulls in any of the story lines and, at the end, I sad to say goodbye to Rahima and Shekiba, but grateful for what I learned from them.






464pp
Published: May 2014
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.


I have two copies of The Pearl That Broke Its Shell to give away.  If you'd like a copy, leave an answer in the comments to the following question: Would you live as bacha posh if your family asked you to?  Two winners will be chosen and announced on Sunday, September 21, 2014.


Friday, September 12, 2014

#BookReview: Any Man I Want - Michele Grant

Katrina Montgomery is a hell cat. As the youngest in her family, she’s used to getting what she wants, even if it means inconveniencing others. That attitude served her well as a model and even now, as a fashion designer. Up until a certain point, it has also served her well in the romance department. But the hell cat runs across a scorned man determined to bring her, and the business she’s created with her family and friends, down. Enter her knight in shining armor, or at least a well-tailored suit, Carter Parks.

Known as Big Sexy to his friends, Carter Parks is a man who knows what he wants. A former football player, he’s now a successful businessman. His ties with the Montgomerys go back far. As a friend of Beau, spotlighted in Pretty Boy Problems, Carter would have never imagined that the strong willed brat he used to watch with amusement at Montgomery family gatherings would turn into the beautiful woman Katrina has become. Crossing the line from family friend to lover can be difficult, especially when your family and friends are watching every move you make.

It’s fun to see the give and take between Katrina and Carter. I do find that he’s a bit more pliable and willing to bend for Katrina long before she’s willing to do the same for him. That’s refreshing to me because so many female characters are written as damsels in distress who are willing to change who they are to please a man. While Katrina may eventually bend, she’s not a woman that would ever do a complete 180 degree turn to please anyone. Make no mistake, Carter isn’t doing a 180 for anyone either, so watching them struggle to find mutual ground is entertaining.

I love watching all of Grant’s characters interact and they do it well because they know each other. Similar to what Susan Elizabeth Phillips has done with a number of her books, the characters in Any Man I Want have appeared in Grant’s earlier works, the aforementioned Pretty Boy Problems and Heard It All Before. So when you read their interactions, they make sense and it’s like watching a group of friends. They feel familiar and comfortable and you’re glad that they’re back together even if this is the last time you’ll see them.







288pp
Published: July 2014

Friday, August 29, 2014

#BookReview: I Did Not Kill My Husband by Liu Zhenyun

In reading more lit from Asian authors, I'm finding that like Russian literature, there's almost always a moral to the story.  I Did Not Kill My Husband from Liu Zhenyun is certainly no exception to this rule. Li Xuelian is a foolish woman when we meet her and when we leave her.

Li and her husband, Qin Yuhe, already have a son.  With China's one child policy in effect, Li's existing pregnancy is breaking the law.  In an attempt to skirt the law, Li proposes divorcing her husband.  He'll take their son and she'll take their newborn daughter and, in a few months, they'll reunite in marriage, except her plan backfires.  Qin has his own ideas and takes advantage of their "fake" divorce to marry another woman.

Li wages war against her ex-husband, the state, regional and national officials that refuse to take her claim of a fake divorce seriously.  Reading about the different bureaucrats that she approaches for help and their reactions to her, I'm reminded of Kafka's The Trial, in which the main character is sent from place to place and person to person, seeking help, with no rhyme or reason.  Everyone else seems to know what's going on except the person who is actually requesting assistance.  Both are shuffled through the system and passed on to someone else without having their problem resolved.

While Li continues to fight the good fight, others question her motivation.  After all, her husband has been happily remarried for 20 years while she's fought to have their divorce recognized, and for what?  By denying herself the opportunity to marry her longtime friend and proposed suitor, she keeps herself bound to anger and to a man that thinks no more of her than a fly he would shoo away.

This was an interesting read, very satirical and makes a lot of good points.  The whole premise of the story is a reminder of the effects that China's one child policy can have on families, though it has been eased in some provinces.  Fans of satire or Kafka-like lit should definitely give it a read.







224pp
Published: September 2014
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

#BookReview: The Story Hour - Thrity Umrigar

I’m so blown away by the latest from Thrity Umrigar. I was a bit underwhelmed by her previous book, The World We Found, but I loved The Space Between Us, so my hope was that her new book would lean more toward The Space than The World. It seems my prayers were answered because The Story Hour is a fantastic read.

Brought to the U.S. by a husband who is a relative stranger to her, Lakshmi’s world is extremely small, consisting of days working in the store/restaurant her husband owns and nights in the apartment above the store. So small is her world that her interactions are limited to her husband, a co-worker and customers. When a long time customer that she considers her only friend announces that he’s moving away, Lakshmi is devastated. Lonely and faced with spending the rest of her life friendless and in a loveless marriage, she tries to kill herself.

Maggie has a good life with her husband, Sudhir. She enjoys her work as a psychologist and, while she likes most of her patients, she’s always kept a personal distance from them. When she encounters the young Indian woman in the hospital, she’s immediately drawn to her and her story. As the two work to create a stronger and more confident Lakshmi, that lines between personal and professional are blurred, resulting in an unexpected friendship.

Umrigar is at her best when she explores the complexity of relationships. Whether they’re between spouses, family members, friends or strangers, she expertly peels back the complex layers and displays the simplistic nature that lies at the heart of all relationships. In The Story Hour, this is especially important as she dissects the fragile relationship between an Indian immigrant and black American woman.

Often, when immigrants arrive in the U.S., it’s with preconceived notions. Western television and media influences how they view people they’ve had little to no contact with. Because of this, immigrants are more likely to believe that African Americans are dangerous and should be avoided, while believing that white means safety and whiteness is something to aspire to. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that broached this subject and Umrigar handles it extremely well.







336pp
Published: August 2014
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Monday, August 25, 2014

#BookReview: The Choir Director 2: Runaway Bride - Carl Weber

If asked, I would be hard pressed to tell you whose work is more unbelievable and overly dramatic these days, Tyler Perry or Carl Weber. Both are experts at taking the far-fetched and turning it into something palatable. I’ve missed out on the last few Tyler Perry movies, but I think I can safely say that Carl Weber gives him a run for his money.

When I read The Choir Director last year, I didn’t realize it was part of a series that includes The First Lady and The Preacher’s Son. Honestly, when I picked up The Choir Director 2, I still had a hard time remembering that it was a part of a series. The characters are no more memorable than they were before. And, if possible, the story line is even more implausible.

Choir director Aaron Mackie is just about to marry church secretary Tia Gregory when she leaves him at the altar with no warning. Haunted by memories of her past, Tia feels it’s in the best interest of everyone if she disappears for a time. Cutting off her church family, she goes into detective mode and begins to hunt down the men who harmed her years earlier. While Tia is off doing God knows what, a new secretary appears on the scene. On a mission to make Aaron pay for the suffering he inflicted on her family, Desiree will stop at nothing to get her wish.

So those story lines seem simple enough, right? But they’re soooo ridiculous. We’ve got Tia hoo riding through the suburbs looking for men who victimized her; Aaron turning into a raging alcoholic and sex addict days after being left at the altar; and Desiree setting up a false business to bring Aaron down and, just in case that doesn’t work, contracting syphilis in hopes of getting a chance to sleep with Aaron and giving it to him. Sir, what???

Did I not tell you Carl Weber gives Tyler Perry a serious run for the money with this one? I loved Weber’s earlier books. Along with other male authors like Van Whitfield, Eric Jerome Dickey and Omar Tyree, to a lesser extent, he showed such promise. His stories and their characters were fully developed. Now, it seems that he’s far more interested in producing quantity over quality. It would be great to see him return to the writing style that first attracted his audiences.








304pp
Published: August 2014
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Friday, August 15, 2014

#BookReview: Glow: The Autobiography of Rick James - David Ritz

Rick James sure did think highly of himself. I know I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know, especially if you saw him strut across a stage in the 80s, but wow. From his belief that he musically influenced Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye to his strange one-sided feud with Prince, who he thought was copying his style and stealing his ideas, it’s apparent that cocaine really is a hell of a drug.

His life story, told in conversation with a jailhouse preacher, is somewhat reminiscent of Malcolm Little’s conversations that ended with his conversion to Malcolm X. There was never any doubt that Rick James was going to be anything but Rick James. Even as his listener tries to guide him on the correct path and make him question his life up until that point, James has little regret and takes little responsibility for his action.

Coming from humble beginnings in Buffalo, New York as the son of a number’s runner, I just had to keep wondering, where did that huge ego come from? More than that, where did his complete disregard for women come from? I will say that I learned a few things about Rick that I’d never known. Living a Forest Gump-like existence, he seems to have rubbed shoulders early on with a number of musicians that would go on to have huge careers. It’s hard to imagine the Rick James of Superfreak fame hanging with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

That he refers to all women, with the exception of his mother and sisters, as bitches comes as no surprise, but it’s no less stinging to read it repeatedly. If you thought his degradation of women was all part of an act, reading Glow leaves no doubt that he had quite a distorted view of love and how women should be treated. I was never a big fan of him or his music and this book did little to change that, but it certainly offered an interesting glimpse into his life.







352pp
Published: July 2014
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Monday, August 11, 2014

#BookReview: On the Other Side - Michelle Janine Robinson

True Life: I don’t know what book I’m reading. No, really. I started this book thinking it was a different book, then realized almost halfway through that none of the characters mentioned had showed up and the story line was extremely different from what I’d read in the summary. Somehow, when the publisher uploaded the book I was supposed to read, this got uploaded instead, but with the cover and acknowledgements from the first book, so I was clueless to the fact that what I was reading what not what I was really reading. Make sense?

The general premise of the story is that a woman who never thought she’d find love has just married the perfect man. Her mother and best friend can see right through him, but as Micki Howard says, “when you’re in love, can’t nobody tell you nothin’.” Her family and friend’s concerns are warranted as her dream man turns out to be an abusive and controlling nightmare, a nightmare that starts on their wedding night and doesn’t end until she finds the courage to walk away.

Since I had already invested an hour in On the Other Side, and it wasn’t horrible, I figured finishing it wouldn’t hurt. I did have a few problems with the author’s timeline and thought process though. For example, she had the female protagonist telling her husband that she wasn’t sleeping with her female best friend, yet the husband never implied that she was. So I’m not sure if some lines were edited out and the author just failed to circle back and update the conversation or what. In another instance, the husband and wife had just woken up extremely early and commented on how early it was, then turned around and mentioned having a burger. Unless hamburgers are the norm for breakfast now, it just seemed like another instance where the timeline should have been cleaned up better.

While On the Other Side was a fairly decent read, the timeline issues and the script discrepancies stood out and distracted from the overall story line.








336pp
Published: May 2014
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are mine.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

#BookReview: The Other Side of the Pillow - Zane

Guest Post:  Today's post was written by the fabulous Dominique White who lives over at The Sweet Escape where she blogs about her adventures as a Literary Fiction/Romance/ Women's Fiction reader and writer. Her work has appeared at IndieInk.org, Short-Story.net and Storyfix.com. She enjoys reading (lots and lots of reading) writing, candy, Sprite, and things flavored with raspberry... but not raspberries themselves.

Review:  Yep, you read that right. Zane has penned another novel!

When I told my friends that Zane was publishing a new novel, I could sense them bracing for the storyline reveal. Zane is the author you look up when you want to read about characters getting down, in the biblical sense (if that reference even make sense, because....anyway). Imagine the surprised eyebrow raises and concerned forehead lines that appeared when I explained that, no seriously, Zane wrote a novel. It's erotic fiction,but an actual novel with like... a story.

"Does it have a plot?" My bestie asked. You know? It does.

I try not to rehash stories in my reviews, but just from a point of reference, The Other Side of the Pillow opens with the prologue, which is a scene from Jemistry's past. Granted, if any of her exes are like the piece of excrement from the prologue, then Jemistry deserved to be bitter for a long, long time. Forward to chapter one and we catch up with Jemistry (who I really want to call JerMajesty) years later. She's raised herself up by her bootstraps and become a successful high school Principal. She loves her job and the school and she's dedicated to her students.

But that's really where the good part ends for her, because outside of work Jemistry seems miserable. She's taken what the world handed to her and thrown it back. Instead of seeing men as partners, equals, someone to build a life with, she sees them as sex machines, objects placed in her path for her pleasure. She is angry...this pulses from her, especially when she's uttering a heartfelt man bashing poem at a poetry slam one night.

Tevin is your typical tall dark and handsome hunk, out for the night and not looking to meet anyone. He comes face to face with Jemistry's hurt and pain as he listens to her words... but instead of tucking his tail between his legs like most men, he decides to approach her.

Let me just stop here and say.........really? My theory about men is that they are astute, especially about bitterness or desperation. They can smell either from a mile away and they either avoid it or take advantage of it. Right away my ears are perked because I do not want to read about this female lead slicing this guy's manhood off.

This is a love story, so of course the two hit it off. We knew that was gonna happen, it's not a spoiler or a surprise. My surprise lies in how quickly it happens. For two people who have trust and security issues, they move awfully quickly into a relationship. Jemistry goes from 'I hate you and I want to cut your thing off' to 'yes, baby, I'll make you dinner and massage your shoulders and just be quiet, because you've had a long, hard day.'. I'd imagine that someone that spent years being abused and mistreated, that had so much anger inside her that it spewed into a microphone on a weekly basis would have resisted much longer and much harder.

For his part, I found Tevin to be controlling about certain aspects of their relationship. I'll say I was surprised at how often Jemistry caved to what he wanted instead of him listening to what was important to her.

The story line is predictable if you know the formula-- boy meets girl, boy and girl fall for each other, boy loses girl and has to fight for her, boy and girl reunite. The story doesn't waver much from this and for those who love a great romance and a happy ending (so to speak) Zane does bring it.

My nits with this novel are that it's predictable (but romances are, for the most part), and the dialog is stiff. There are a lot of 'morals wrapped in seven line paragraphs' and self serving speeches full of words real people don't use in regular conversation, no matter how smart they are. Using the word purchased instead of bought, for example, drove me up a wall. For someone who's been in the game as long as Zane has, I expect better dialog.

This is erotic fiction and what Zane does best is boil down the sexual experience into prose that make you feel like you're there in the room. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is up to the reader, but as someone who's read a bit of erotic fiction/erotic romance, it wasn't a bad thing at all. Not. At. All.

I gave this novel three stars, which means it was good, but not earth moving for me. If you're a Zane fan, you'll really enjoy this novel and if you're new to her catalog, it'd be good to start with a plot based story like this one before jumping into her more sex based novels.

Want another opinion on Zane's latest? Be sure to check out my review over at The Sweet Escape.







288pp
Published: August 2014
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are blogger's own.


Monday, August 4, 2014

#BookReview: A PINCH OF OOH LA LA by Renee Swindle

There's so much to love about this book.  At first glance, it may seem like a typical girl meets boy story, but it's so much more.  I'll get into what really won me over, but first let me give you a quick synopsis.

A bad breakup left Abbey Ross living on her couch with too much time on her hands.  Reliving the public humiliation of finding out on the big screen that her fiance was cheating on her dealt her a huge blow.  But out of that incident is born her idea to attend culinary school and then open her own bakery in Oakland.  With her bakery a success, her best friend since high school, Bendrix, pushes her to get back out on the dating scene; when she doesn't take enough of an initiative, he does it for her.

By all accounts, Samuel Howard is a catch. A grown man with an adult job and his own house, he's definitely got a leg up on other men Abbey has run across.  Polite and attentive, he's the man Abbey has dreamed of for so long.  She's hesitant to get involved with him, but throws caution to the wind and dives head first into a relationship with the successful attorney.

Now that you have a basic idea of the story line, let's get into why I loved it so much.  Abbey's father is a famous pianist.  A jazz master, he's named all of his kids after other jazz musicians.  Before I even knew this, I wondered what the history of Abbey's name was.  My first thought was, oh, like Abbey Lincoln, since most of the time the name is spelled without an e (i.e., Abby).  Reading further confirmed this, so then I was excited as I stumbled upon more of Abbey's siblings.  Her father was quite prolific in the baby making department and, as such, has 13 children in total.  Each time a new offspring was mentioned, I immediately started trying to figure out which musician they were named for.  As a jazz fan, I adored the part of the story.

Another thing I really liked was Abbey's unconventional family structure.  Papa was definitely a rolling stone, but insisted that his children and their mothers know each other.  I was fascinated by Abbey's relationships with her father's ex-wives and how each one played a different role in her life.  It's almost like the joke about women creating the perfect man from several different men.  By gifting Abbey with the different stepmothers, Swindle created the perfect mother for her.  To have the ability to turn to this person for a specific need and another one for a different need just sounds absolutely amazing.

I was way too invested in Abbey's story.  How do I know this? Any time I start talking to characters in the book like they can hear me, I know that I am doing the absolutely most. At the heart of it, A Pinch of Ooh La La is a love story made up of the perfect ingredients of family, friends and self-discovery.  Renee Swindle definitely has another hit on her hands.

336pp
Published: August 2014
Disclaimer: A copy of the book was received from the publisher, opinions are my own.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Friday, July 11, 2014

#UMightLike: Time of the Locust by Morowa Yejide

U Might Like is a new meme where I'll feature books that are from genres I don't normally read, but I think some of you might enjoy.  Please note that I've not read this book.

Time of the Locust
256pp
Published: June 2014

Goodreads Synopsis: Travel into the heart and mind of an extraordinary autistic boy in this deeply imaginative debut novel of a mother’s devotion, a father’s punishment, and the power of love.

Sephiri is an autistic boy who lives in a world of his own making, where he dwells among imagined sea creatures that help him process information in the “real world” in which he is forced to live. But lately he has been having dreams of a mysterious place, and he starts creating fantastical sketches of this strange, inner world.

Brenda, Sephiri’s mother, struggles with raising her challenged child alone. Her only wish is to connect with him—a smile on his face would be a triumph. Meanwhile, Sephiri’s father, Horus, is sentenced to life in prison, making life even lonelier for Brenda and Sephiri. Yet prison is still not enough to separate father and son. In the seventh year of his imprisonment and the height of his isolation, Horus develops supernatural mental abilities that allow him to reach his son. Memory and yearning carry him outside his body, and through the realities of their ordeals and dreamscape, Horus and Sephiri find each other—and find hope in ways never imagined.



Sound interesting? Be sure to let me know if you pick up a copy!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

#BookReview: The Amado Women by Desiree Zamorano

If we knew each other's secrets, what comforts we should find. - John Churton Collins

Desiree Zamorano “ is appalled by stereotypical rendering of Latinas in mainstream literature, saying that true-to-life middle-class Latinas are invisible in the fabric of American culture.”  I’d have to agree with her. Whether it be in literature, in the media or TV programming, too often people of color are relegated to the roles that the “mainstream” allows for them. Typically, Latinas are cast as maids or cleaners of some sort, living in low-income neighborhoods, maintaining close family ties. Even in writing from some Latin authors, it seems to be a struggle to create characters that step outside of the set boundaries. So it’s refreshing to see Zamorano’s approach to the story of three women and their mother in The Amado Women.

Having grown up watching their mother struggle when their alcoholic father would use the grocery money to quench his thirst instead of providing food for his children, the oldest two girls create paths for themselves to ensure they’ll never have to struggle like Mercy. Also like their mother, the three sisters have secrets that they tell only to themselves.
You had to parcel out your secrets, you couldn’t trust any single person with the entire, authentic you. That was far too risky.
Oldest daughter, Celeste, is a financial whiz. She makes money hand over fist for her clients, and herself, but she’s not really happy. Money affords her the creature comforts, but it doesn’t keep her company at night. In this way, she’s very much like her mother. With her three daughters out on their own, Mercy is lonely. She has friends and co-workers, but when she asks to be set up with men, it’s because she’s ready to start the next act of her life, not because she’s joking, as some seem to think.

Middle sister, Sylvia, suffers from a need to please people, in particular, her husband. While being Jack’s wife means a beautiful home in the suburbs with the requisite two children, it also means that she has to keep up a happy housewife fa├žade. What was once a loving marriage has turned into a lie filled with secrets and shame.

Youngest sister, Nataly, is a struggling artist, the only one of the three sisters who is not financially secure. Working as a waitress to support her artistic dreams, she’s the least grounded of the sisters and the only one willing to entertain a relationship with their father. Because she was the youngest, it’s likely that she was too young to remember her parent’s arguments and her father’s habits. Even though she’s admittedly Mercy’s favorite, she still seeks approval from her failure of a father, leading her to make plenty of bad decisions, including looking for love in all of the wrong places.

It’s always interesting to watch siblings interact and how easily they fall into the same roles in the family they’ve always had, even as adults. In this area, Zamorano stays true to the characteristics you would expect based on birth order. Celeste is the typical oldest child who thinks it’s her job to look out for the others. Sylvia is Switzerland, just wanting to keep the peace. And Nataly is the immature, spoiled brat we would expect her to be. While it’s typical for the youngest in the family to be a brat, I can appreciate that the reasons for Nataly acting like this are explored.

This is a good, solid read.  I'm definitely looking for more from this author.






240pp
Published: July 2014
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Monday, June 30, 2014

#BookReview: Forty Acres by Dwayne Alexander Smith

Okay, you know how you’re reading something and you know it’s fiction and you tell yourself something like this could never really happen, but then you start thinking, what if? That’s exactly what happened to me as I read Forty Acres. From start to finish, I didn’t want to put this book down. It was just that fascinating.

A young Queens lawyer, Martin Grey has just won the case of his life. Pulling in big money in a civil suit means he and his best friend and partner can finally stop struggling. Winning the case against a renowned attorney such as Damon Darrell is almost better than money. For so long, Martin admired the attorney with a proven track record for winning when it counted most. And he, Martin Grey, had bested him. So it comes as a surprise when Martin and his wife receive an invitation to dine at the home of Damon and his wife.

Sitting in this house, smoking cigars and drinking brandy with some of the most important men in the world is mind blowing, and an invitation to join them on a weekend getaway is more than he could have hoped for. Who knew where winning just one case would lead him? Suddenly, he’s a part of a group of African American men dedicated to righting the wrongs of the past. He’s drawn to their power and the potential of wealth, but he can’t reconcile those things with what he sees on a retreat with them.


I’ll admit that early on in reading this I got thrown for a loop. The author had the main character attending Spelman College for undergrad. As most of you know, Spelman is women’s college. I was a little disappointed in the author for not knowing this off the top of his head when he picked a school, and just as disappointed with his proofer and editor for not catching it either. When authors start with such blatant mistakes about something easily researched, I wonder how much effort they put into researching other areas of the book. When he saw me post about the mistake on Goodreads, Dwayne Smith actually took the time to reach out to me, apologize for his error and promised that it would be corrected in the final version. He gets major points from me for that.


Aside from that error, the book is an amazing read. The words of Dr. Kasim, the group’s leader, really give you pause to think. It’s obvious that Smith is a student of history and this is shown through the speeches and background of Dr. Kasim. The men who follow him completely buy into his theories, making it easy for him to accept his actions, and it’s easy to see how they are swayed. I can’t imagine that anyone will be able to read Forty Acres and not wonder, even just a little bit, about how the world would change if the scenarios written about were to actually happen.






384pp
Published: July 2014
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Friday, June 27, 2014

#BookReview: Long Division by Kiese Laymon

I’m so in love with this book that I’m not even sure where to start. I first listened to it back in February and couldn’t find the words to review. I gave it another listen last week and, this time, I took notes. Understand that I rarely take notes on books, but I ended up with 10 pages of them. It’s not that the concepts of the book are difficult to understand, it’s that there are so many gems to be found within that I didn’t want to miss any.

The first thing you need to know about Long Division is that it’s a book within a book and the names of the characters within and outside of the book are the same. Time shifts between 2013, 1985 and 1964. The main character is 2013 Citoyen (City) Coldson. He’s not a bad kid, but he has a smart mouth on him. It’s helped him win “Can You Use That Word in a Sentence” contests, but it’s also landed him in hot water with his mama, his principal, his grandmother and most people that come in contact with him. The book opens with City doing verbal battle with his biggest competitor, LaVander Peeler, which lands him in the principal’s office. Frustrated with his ignorance, Principal Reeves makes City take a test, which becomes a pre-cursor to his time traveling. The first time I listened, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the questions, but this time, they hit me hard. Those that stood out most really summed up what Long Division is all about:

“Only a fool would not travel through time and change their past if they could.”

“Past, present, and future exist within you and you change them by changing the way you live your life.”

2013 City notices a book called Long Division in Principal Reeves office, borrows it and discovers 1985 City Coldson. 1985 City is in love with Shalaya Crump, the girl that lives next door to his grandmother in Melahatchie, Mississippi. Shalaya is a bit of a mystery to City. The way she talks, the things she says throw him off, especially, “I could love you if you helped me change the future in a special way…” Loving Shalaya the way he does, 1985 City takes off on a journey with her that takes him back to 1964 where he meets his grandmother and forward to 2013 where he meets Baize Shephard, a girl that’s missing in 2013 City’s world. If the future is to be changed, as Shalaya wants it to, will it be up to 1985 City or 2013 City?

It can be difficult to follow the story at times if you don’t keep track of what year the characters are in. Even if you’re keeping track, it can be hard. Laymon drops quiet hints from start to finish, but you really have to be on the lookout for them. Though both 2013 City and 1985 City can be obnoxious, know it alls, there is a slight distinction in how they talk and their mannerisms. 2013 City is never without his wave brush and has taken over YouTube. 1985 is much more respectful of his grandmother and doesn’t question or talk back the way 2013 City would. Shalaya Crump and Baize Shephard are tied together by an ellipses, or “dot dot dot” as both would say.

Laymon is masterful with capturing the words, dress, etc. of people in each era. It’s rare that I re-read or re-listen to a book. When I was younger, I re-read books because my mother had me on a book budget and if I was already at my limit for the month, I’d go back and re-read a book just because I had to have something to read. It’s been quite a while since I’ve been on her book budget, but I re-listened to Kiese Laymon’s Long Division recently just because I felt like I missed so much on the first listen. To be honest, there are some books that are meant to be read and some that are meant to be listened to. The written book differentiates by using a different font. Long Division is definitely meant to be read, simply because if you stop listening for just a second, you’re sure to miss something important.






276pp
Listening time: 7 hours, 41 minutes
Published: June 2013

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

#BookReview: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

In a family so full of secrets that it’s a wonder members aren’t choking on them, it’s really no surprise that when the eldest daughter, Lydia, goes missing, no one can fathom how or why. I was absolutely blown away by how well Celeste Ng dug into the insecurities of each family member and how it affected how they interacted with each other and the outside world. By the time I finished Everything I Never Told You, it felt like the layers had just been peeled off of the inauthentic lives the whole family had been living. Wow!

When Marilyn went off to Radcliffe in the 1950s, it was with the intention of becoming a doctor. Unlike her mother who was a home economics teacher and believed that keeping house was the most suitable job for women, Marilyn was determined to follow her passion. As fate would have it, she fell into the life that her mother predicted for her. Though she goes through an unhappy and frustrated period, outwardly she appears to be content with her life.

To his students, James is an anomaly at Harvard, an Asian-American professor teaching American history, specifically about cowboys. While the other students question how this is so, Marilyn is intrigued by the shy professor. James has never felt like he belonged anywhere; not in his small private school in Iowa as the only Chinese student and certainly not as an adult at Harvard. From the beginning, being with the white, blond Marilyn is like an acceptance letter to American normalcy.

Nath and Lydia both struggle with acceptance at school in the late 1970s. Nath makes good grades and can’t wait to escape their small Ohio town for Harvard.  While he appears to be the most well-adjusted of his family, he carries just as many secrets. His biggest one won't be revealed to readers until almost the end of the book.  At home, so much of the focus is on Lydia that neither parent really notices Nath. It’s interesting to watch Lydia complain about how much attention is paid to everything she does, but when the focus is re-directed to Nath, she always manages to swing it back her way. It’s true that her parents are much more invested in her than their other children. Hannah, the youngest child, is almost invisible to her parents and her siblings. I feel sorry for her the most because while the others are grieving the loss of Lydia, no one even thinks to check on Hannah, who likely misses her sister the most.

I have so many questions for James, like, if you know that you had a hard time being the only Asian student in school, why would you put your children in a situation where they’re the only Asian students? To be fair, I know that he felt Marilyn’s white side “normalized” the kids, but it didn’t. The kids are left dealing with the ridicule from others while, at the same time, hiding it from their parents because they know how desperately their father wants them to fit in. Lydia catches a double dose of parental guilt. James is overly invested in making sure she has friends, proving that she has been accepted; Marilyn crams her head with math and science, forcing her to shun the few potential friendships she’s been offered, instead spending her evenings and weekends studying and trying to live up to her mother’s expectations.

Hannah sees all of this. She sees Lydia sinking deeper and deeper into despair. She knows about her secret rendezvous with a neighbor. She knows that Lydia is afraid that once Nath leaves, she won’t have anyone to turn to, she won’t have anyone that can relate to what she’s going through at school and at home. I can’t help but to think that all problems could have been solved if only someone had asked Hannah earlier. Everything I Never Told You definitely proves that secrets will eat you alive.






304pp
Published: June 2014
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.