Monday, April 28, 2014

#BookReview: Heart of Gold by Beverly Jenkins

Synopsis: Henry Adams has had its fair share of drama ever since Bernadine Brown bought the town with her divorce settlement. Now just when things are starting to settle down, it's about to get crazy again . . .

Cephas Patterson doesn't just want to be left alone--if you dare step onto his property, he'll meet you with a shotgun and a warning to stay away from his gold. He reminds Zoey of the lonely time she spent living on the streets, so she quietly begins leaving him small offerings. But then Cephas dies and leaves a saddlebag of gold--to Zoey.

And that's not all. Zoey's parents are going through a trial separation, her former BFF Devon is giving her fits, and friend Crystal has run away from home. Then there's Bernadine's mean-spirited baby sister who has arrived unexpectedly, and an ongoing battle with a neighboring town is about to heat up.

Will Henry Adams ever be the same again?

Review: I always get excited when the next book in the Blessings series is announced.  Not only does Beverly Jenkins bring the historical aspect to the series, she's created a town that I want to live in.  This is the fifth book in the series and it's yet to get stale.

Things aren't always perfect in the town of Henry Adams, Kansas, but you know there will always be a happy ending.

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

Friday, April 25, 2014

What Book Changed Your Life?

That seems like such a dramatic question, right?  Can books change lives?  Do the words on pages have the ability to start you on a new path?  I think they do and here's why.

Even though I grew up in a predominantly black city, I spent quite a bit of time in a predominantly white world.  The number of books I read with characters that looked like me was limited.  That's not because my mother didn't take me to the library or bookstore, it's because authors that looked like me may have been writing, but those books weren't readily available for various reasons.

I read the "classics" as defined by American standards and tons of young adult lit while growing up, but for every book like Mildred Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, there were hundreds of books with characters that looked like Nancy Drew or the Sweet Valley High twins.  So I read them because that's what was available on the shelves.

But in college, I discovered Breaking Ice and it was everything!  There were authors I'd never heard of in all my years of private school.  Marita Golden, Gloria Naylor and so many others leaped off the pages.  I was no longer limited to the few authors that had managed to squeak through and cross over, like Maya Angelou and Alice Walker. I found myself reading stories by people that looked like me who wrote stories about my life and things I could relate to. I looked into the mirror held up by what I found in that book and liked what I saw.  I've held on to my copy for 24 years and it's as raggedy as all get out, but I still love it.  It's part of the reason why I blog, part of the reason why I seek out books by black authors, part of the reason why I'm so interested in promoting diversity in lit.

So that's my story.  What's yours?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Whatcha Readin'?

How y'all feeling out there?  Seems like it's been a long time since we just chatted about random books and what not.  There's no book review today because I'm:  a) a slacker;  b) too busy catching up on TV and music (Anita Wilson has been on constant loop for weeks now); and c) most of the books I've read aren't due out until May or June and publishers asked that I hold reviews until then.

So what are y'all reading, watching or listening to?  What books have just blown you away or underwhelmed you?  Share with the class so we can add to (or remove from) our "To Be Read" lists.

Monday, April 14, 2014

#BookReview: Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile

Why would anyone leave the bright lights and big city feel of Los Angeles for a small, “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity,” town in southern Louisiana? If you’re Charley Bordelon, it’s because you’ve inherited eight hundred acres of sugarcane land from your late father; land you didn’t even know existed before his death. Far braver and more confident than most, Charley takes on the farm, doubters and her own fears.

With Charley, Baszile deals with the socioeconomic and racial divides of America. Coming from L.A., Charley is already an odd duck in Louisiana. Adding her privileged upbringing, her brown skin  and the fact that she's a woman in a world dominated by white men sets her apart from the rest even more. Immediately the other farmers, and even some of her family members, doubt that she’ll be able to plant and harvest the fields together in time.

While Charley’s story is interesting, I was much more interested in that of her derelict brother, Ralph Angel. Where Charley is educated, sensible and by the book, Ralph Angel is spur of the moment, resentful and spontaneous. From the time we meet him, he makes bad decisions but refuses to take the blame for them. It’s always someone else’s fault. As we learn his back story, it becomes evident that his resentment of Charley (and the world, in general) comes from a feeling that Charley was given opportunities that he wasn’t. Wallowing in a whirl of self-pity, coupled with coddling by Miss Honey, their grandmother, Ralph Angel was destined to become the terror that he ends up being. In a society where we love our sons and raise our daughters, it seems that Miss Honey is the biggest culprit in how Ralph Angel has turned out and, fully recognizing this, continues to make excuses for him and see the goodness in him where all others see the truth. 

The descriptions of the cane fields and Louisiana reminded me of Attica Locke’s wonderful book, The Cutting Season. Both ladies have done a great job of bringing the fields and bayous of Louisiana to life. I can’t recommend Queen Sugar enough.

Published: February 2014

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

#BookReview: Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons & Love Affairs by Pearl Cleage

It has occurred to me that I have no close woman friends with whom to share confidences, fears, lusts, dreams. I am keeping an entire area of woman thoughts tucked away with no outlet or possibility of exchange! - Pearl Cleage

When I initially started the latest from the fabulous Pearl Cleage, I think I expected it to be a letter to her daughter or some kind of "do this, don't do that" list.  Instead, I got so much more.  My acquaintance and fascination with Cleage and her work started back in the 90s.  I guess I never really gave any thought to how she, or any other author, arrived at the point in their lives where they had enough experiences to write about anything.  But Mother Pearl has lived!

Pulling bits and pieces from her personal journals, Things I Should Have Told My Daughter, feels like a mother introducing her real self to her daughter.  I think as daughters, we sometimes forget that our mothers existed in the world before us and lived lives that we can't imagine.  We realize they're human, but forget that they're not just mothers.  It's wonderful to watch Cleage go back through her journals and expose herself as a woman, sister, daughter and lover.

She's an unashamed feminist.
“If women said they were sorry only when we really meant it, most of our conversations would be cut in half.”

She's an fierce womanist.
“Note on Ms.: It has some fairly decent articles, but they are all/all/all, down to the last woman, middle class and overwhelmingly white…The women working on the magazine all try to identify with non-white women and say that among women “there are no barriers,” but the only black woman in the whole issue is a black welfare mother who is in the fucking back of the magazine. She is obviously being used as a token.”

Her thoughts on love:
"I don't think you can love a man and be free.  There is too much bullshit."
“Whew. This must be Joe Louis love. If you not careful, it will knock you out."

And sexuality:
"Some people like to do sit ups in the morning. I like to have orgasms."

You shouldn't just buy this book because of all of the quotable quotes (I haven't even included a fourth of what I highlighted as I read it).  You should buy it because as you watch Cleage go from a young twentysomething recruiting black grad students to teach at southern black colleges to a speechwriter for Maynard Jackson, when you see her hanging with her friend Shirley and realize that it's the same Shirley Jackson that goes on to become the mayor of Atlanta, you're witnessing history unfold before your eyes.  Cleage is witty and wise from start to finish, writing and sharing her thoughts unabashedly; what an absolute treasure for anyone lucky enough to stumble upon her words.

“This morning, we saw a big roach in the kitchen. “Kill it,” I say, “I don’t kill roaches,” he says, “they have powerful karma.” “Roaches,” I answer, swatting at it with my house shoe, “are the only creatures on earth who have no karma whatsoever. Who ever heard of roach karma? In fact,” I continued, “God doesn’t even admit to creating roaches. He looked up at the nasty little things one day and said, who created this motherfucka?”

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

Monday, April 7, 2014

#BookReview: Calling Me Home by Julie Kibbler

I’d seen so many book bloggers whose opinions I respect heap praise on Calling Me Home. I was wary of it because, from reading blurbs and reviews, it looked like a modern day version of Driving Miss Daisy and I’m so over anything that remotely resembles that. I can’t say that I was pleasantly surprised and totally changed my mind after reading it, but it wasn’t as Miss Daisy-ish as I thought it would be.

Octogenarian Isabelle McAllister is determined to make it to Cincinnati for a funeral and enlists her hairdresser, Dorrie Curtis, to help her get there. An 89 year old white woman and a 30something black woman on the road from Texas to Ohio certainly raises a few eyebrows, but Dorrie is fiercely loyal to Isabelle, who she sees as a mother figure. She’s not sure whose funeral they’re attending, but if Isabelle wants to go, she’ll get her there.

Told through a series of flashbacks, we learn that as a teen in Kentucky, Isabelle engaged in a forbidden affair with the son of her family’s housekeeper. Isabelle would disagree that it was an affair. For her, it was the great love of her life. For Robert, her lover, it was life threatening.

While I tried to keep an open mind as I read Calling Me Home, I was frustrated by Isabelle’s naivete that could have resulted in harm to Robert several times. I could blame some of it on youth, but most of the blame rests on living a privileged life without regard to how your actions affect others. In the meantime, Robert is willing to put his college career on hold to make this petulant child happy. Knowing that her brothers would kill him if given a chance, he’s still willing to risk it all for her. It feels like he makes life changing adult decisions while she’s a child playing grown up, so very annoying.

The present day story doesn’t do much for me either, as it focuses on Dorrie who is, of course, a single mother that makes bad decisions when it comes to men. And now her son is stealing money from her and probably knocked up his girlfriend. Luckily, Isabelle is going to tell her exactly what she needs to do to fix her life because…Miss Daisy.

I really tried to like this book, but the author relies too heavily on stereotypes and benevolent white women and magical Negroes, pretty much everything I hate in books.

Published: February 2013