Wednesday, November 18, 2015

#BookReview: PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE by Renee Swindle

I read Renee Swindle’s most recent titles, Shake Down the Stars and A Pinch of Ooo La La, and was blown away by both of them. Had I read Please, Please, Please first, it’s likely that I would have dismissed her as another fly by night author. Written in 2000, there’s a 13 year stretch between Swindle’s first book and Shake Down the Stars. The amount of growth that her writing underwent in the meantime is apparent. And that’s not to say that Please…isn’t a decent a read, but it was a bit lacking in the depth that readers find in her latter works.

Babysister, the lead character, is a spoiled brat. A witness to her mother’s death at a young age, she has used it to her advantage. All she has to do is bring a tear to her eye or invoke the name of her late mother and her father caves. Her best friend, Deborah, has been by her side since childhood and bends to Babysister’s wishes just like her father. What Babysister wants, she gets and when she wants Deborah’s new boyfriend, Deborah is just enough of a doormat to let her have him.

I got sick of Babysister’s antics early on in the book, but I was just as tired of her family and friends. Her brother was annoying as hell. If Twitter had existed when this book was written, he would have been a founding father of Hotep Twitter, just wrapped up in misogyny, homophobia and being loud, proud and wrong about everything. Darren, Deborah’s boyfriend, is trifling as hell, no matter how fine the package he’s wrapped in is. And Deborah is just stupid. No matter how many times and how deeply Babysister stabs her in the back, she keeps coming back for more.

Please, Please, Please had a very 90s R & B feel to it, if that makes sense. I could totally see Babysister riding around listening to Rumpshaker and wearing Cross Colours. By the way, I hated her name, like seriously hated it. I kept hoping that at some point her real name would be revealed, but nope. Every last person from her coworkers at the bank to customers at the restaurant called her Babysister, which was just a little weird and a smidge creepy.

There were good characters and good storylines in the book. Please don’t skip over the book just because of a few annoying people. I’m just glad to see the progress Swindle has made from 2000 to now.

336 p.
Published: June 2000

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Friday, November 13, 2015

#BookReview: YEAR OF YES: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

The thing about Shonda Rhimes is I love her TV shows (OK, sometimes Grey’s Anatomy not so much and that one show about hot doctors on a beach was hot garbage), but overall I really like what she puts out. But I’ve never really liked her. When I would see her on TV she always came across as stiff and uncomfortable with a fake smile on her face. I know that smile because it’s the one I use when I’m stiff and uncomfortable. But we expect people in the spotlight to be different, right? She’s practically a superhero in the television arena, so we think that should carry over into her personal life. Again, not so much.

What Shonda did in a little over a year was life changing and it all started with six words, “You never say yes to anything.” A phrase mumbled by her sister as they prepared for Thanksgiving dinner stuck in her craw. She didn’t say anything right away, didn’t even acknowledge that it bothered her or that her sister was right. But weeks later, it hit her like a ton of bricks and woke her up at 4 a.m. And what does the woman that created Olivia Pope do at four in the morning when she needs to sort things out? She drinks red wine.

That morning Rhimes realized that while she had the career she wanted and the children she wanted and was surrounded by family and friends, overall she was unhappy. In fact, she says she was miserable. She made the decision to stop shutting herself in the house and to stop saying no to interview requests and speaking appearances and all of the other things that she’d been hiding from over the years.

Those frozen stiff appearances she used to give? They were because she was nervous. While she presented a perfectly poised persona, the woman who once accidentally threw a chicken bone across the room while making her point was terrified that she would have the same mishap at an industry event. Even though she’d been interviewed by Oprah a number of times, she couldn’t remember any of those interviews because, “chicken bone, Janet Jackson boob, fear-snot” – all of things that she thought could go wrong. So she fake smiled her way through it and declined invitations right and left.

The year of yes brought about a lot of changes: saying yes to speaking engagements and college commencement speeches; yes to playing more with her children; yes to difficult conversations; yes to losing weight; yes to dancing it out in the sun; yes to badassery; and yes to being her authentic self. When you see her giving interviews now, when you see on her red carpets, the change in her physical being is apparent and, as she emerges from her cocoon, the change in her mental being is just as apparent. The woman who once froze on a speaker’s panel now easily controls the conversation. The woman that once let her body merely serve as a container for her brain while wearing whatever her stylist put on her has become a fashionista. All of those sentences that she created for Christina Yang to say on her behalf, she says them for herself now.

Rhimes’ tone throughout the book is very conversational. It feels like sitting on the couch with your best girlfriend, shooting the breeze and drinking red wine and eating popcorn while she fills you in on what she’s been doing since you last saw her. I tore through the book in less than 24 hours and was sorry to see it end, but I came out of it with a healthy appreciation of the woman formerly behind the mask. I'm already planning to start dancing things out when life gets too stressful. And I just might start saying yes to a few things myself.

336 p.
Published: November 2015

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

#BookReview: BECOMING BEYONCÉ: THE UNTOLD STORY by J. Randy Taraborrelli

J. Randy Taraborrelli has made a living off of tell all books about celebrities. He promises to give you the juicy details behind their rise to fame and glimpses into their everyday lives. The truth is, he can only give readers what insiders are willing to share. Fans of Beyoncé know that the bedazzled queen of onesies holds things close to the vest. According to Taraborrelli, she mastered her poker face at a young age and has only perfected it as she’s gotten older.

The Beyhive won’t learn much about present day Bey, but people who knew her when she was just getting her start in Houston were more than willing to spill the tea. I won't bore you with all of the details, but I will point out a few things that made me clutch my pearls. If you don't want any spoilers, stop reading now.

  • Mathew’s cheating began almost as soon as he married Tina. He still proves to be about that trifling life. He's never met the son he had during a two year affair and, while he has remarried, he had another child with a much younger, different  woman during that marriage.
  • Mathew & Tina separated during Bey’s tween years for at least two years. Mother Tina didn't skip a beat during the separation, moving Bey, Solange and Kelly into a townhouse while she continued raising them and running her own salon. Up until that point, Bey had been a daddy's girl, but seeing how strong and determined her mother was swayed her to Miss Tina's way of seeing things and a feminist was born.

  • Solange has always had a fighter’s spirit and has been sticking up for her sister since they were kids.
  • Bey dated Lyndall for 10 years, but he didn’t get himself together until after he & Beyonce broke up. He cheated on her and wouldn’t get a real job. He's now a chef.
  • Early in her solo career, Bey and cousin Angie would count totals at the end of the night and make sure she received every penny she had coming to her. She's a serous businesswoman who sued her own father when she found out he'd been stealing money from her.
  • Kelly Rowland and Bey have been tight since childhood. That's not shocking, but did you know that they teamed up to put Latavia out of the group when they were still in Girls Tyme? The two are about their business and anyone that's not willing to put in the work to become a success had better move out of their way.

  • Jay had to tell Bey that he wasn’t her father so there was no need to bend to his will and that she should be independent and make her decisions not based on his opinions.  Bey had spent so many years trying to please her demanding father while keeping control of her career. Being with Jay has allowed her to flourish as a woman and an artist. They balance each other out.

  • Her record company and critics didn’t think there were any hits on B’day (how wrong were they?) and thought I Am Sasha Fierce was a much better album (how wrong are they?)

  • Critics think Etta James in Cadillac Records was her best role. They hated Fighting Temptations and Obsessed. Though she was disappointed that her role as Deena in Dreamgirls didn't garner much praise, she's not jealous of Jennifer Hudson.

  •  A young Keke Wyatt opened for Girls Tyme when they were still looking for a record deal. She was nervous and had a meltdown on stage.

464 p.
Published; October 2015

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Friday, November 6, 2015


Darkowaa at African Book Addict! tagged me in on the TBR (to-be-read) tag. It’s been awhile since I’ve participated in blog shenanigans, so I’m happily joining in.

How do you keep track of your TBR pile?
I read publisher’s catalogs weekly. I try to use their online system to keep track of upcoming books to request and be on the lookout for, but I really use Goodreads for everything. Occasionally I run into books that aren’t in their system yet, but it’s easy to add them. I also like that I can scan the barcode with their mobile app and add books to any of my shelves.

Is your TBR mostly print or e-book?
I’m not sure. I just add books and read them as they’re available, either through print or e-book.

How do you determine which book from your TBR to read next?
It depends on my mood. Since my list is so lengthy and my local library has a huge catalog, I can get just about any published book on my list as an e-book or request it in print and get it within a few days.

A book that has been on your TBR the longest?
This Child’s Gonna Live by Sarah E. Wright (since Nov. 5, 2009)

A book you recently added to your TBR?
Cold Creek Running by Zelda Lockhart (added Nov. 3, 2015)

A book on your TBR strictly because of its beautiful cover?
The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson

A book on your TBR that you never plan on reading?
The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an IKEA Wardrobe by Romain Puértolas - I love the title, but it’s not likely that I’ll read any time soon or ever.

An unpublished book on your TBR that you’re excited for?
Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, The House with No Windows by Nadia Hashimi (no cover yet) and The Mother by Yvette Edwards (no cover yet)

A book on your TBR that everyone recommends to you?
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

A book on your TBR that everyone has read but you?
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

A book on your TBR that you’re dying to read?
Glory over Everything: Beyond The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

How many books are in your Goodreads TBR shelf?
I’m almost embarrassed to admit, but 492 as I write this. By the time it posts, there will probably be 506. I’m always adding to it.

I'm tagging some of my fellow book loving bloggers:

Marie at Literary Marie
Nakia at ZoraToniMaya
Maya at The Reading Diva
Dominique at The Sweet Escape

and whoever else wants to join in.  What books are on your TBR list?

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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

#BookReview: THE WOMAN WHO WALKED IN SUNSHINE No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (16) by Alexander McCall Smith

Synopsis: Business is slow at the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, so slow in fact that for the first time in her estimable career Precious Ramotswe has reluctantly agreed to take a holiday. The promise of a week of uninterrupted peace is short-lived, however, when she meets a young boy named Samuel, a troublemaker who is himself in some trouble. Once she learns more about Samuel’s sad story, Mma Ramotswe feels compelled to step in and help him find his way out of a bad situation.

Despite this unexpected diversion, Mma Ramotswe still finds herself concerned about how the agency is faring in her absence. Her worries grow when she hears that Mma Makutsi is handling a new and rather complicated case. A well-respected Botswanan politician is up for a major public honor, and his reputation is now being called into question by his rivals. The man’s daughter has contacted the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency to investigate these troubling claims, but, as in so many cases, all is not as it seems. In the end, the investigation will affect everyone at the agency and will also serve as a reminder that ordinary human failings should be treated with a large helping of charity and compassion.

Review: I've loved Mma Ramotswe and her sidekick, Grace Makutsi, for a long time. Their adventures have always entertained me. Unfortunately, it may be time to bid Mma Ramotswe, Mma Makutsi & JLB Matekoni a fond farewell.

It's rare that I continue reading a book that hasn't caught my attention by page 50. Since I read this on my trusty Kindle, I wasn't sure of how far I was into it when I realized it wasn't holding my attention. To my surprise, I was almost halfway through the book and was fighting hard to keep from nodding off. Mind you, I wasn't reading in bed late at night, I was on my lunch hour. That should give you some idea of just how slow moving and uninteresting the first 40% of the book was.

Eventually things picked up and I was treated to Mma Ramotswe's meddling ways and Mma Makutsi's always ruffled feathers, but even that wasn't enough to save the overall story line. The men that work in JLB's car repair shop always provide a dose of humor, but their antics were lacking and they were sorely missed by this reader. All good things must come to an end and, at book 16, perhaps it's time for Smith to turn his focus to one of his other series and let Mma Ramotswe and friends peacefully fade away.

224 p.
Published: October 2015

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