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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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, and 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.

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.

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