Wednesday, June 29, 2016

#BookReview: STEPPING TO A NEW DAY by Beverly Jenkins

Oh to live in a town where everyone knows your business and loves or accepts you anyway, even if you're the former mayor who terrorized the town and your wife with a 600 lb. hog. Henry Adams, Kansas is indeed a forgiving town, a land of second chances. When Riley Curry blows back into town stirring up trouble, the town's residents have to look deep into their hearts to forgive him, but it's going to take some time.

Genevieve Gibbs has finally gotten herself back together financially after Riley's prized pig destroyed her house. Living with her best friend has been fun, but there's a new man in town who's caught her eye. After dealing with Riley, Gen isn't sure that she's ready to get involved with anyone. If she does, she'd like to keep it under wraps and it's hard to keep secrets about her new romance while living in such close quarters.

The children of the town are growing up and some of them are starting to see the boy or girl next door in a different light. And while Henry Adams is an idyllic place to live, it's time for some of the kids we've met along the way spread their wings. But just as they can always come back home to Henry Adams, so can readers.

Some series get stale after awhile, but Beverly Jenkins has a way of keeping characters and storylines fresh. Introducing new characters introduces new perspectives and new storylines. In seven books, I have yet to get tired of Henry Adams, its people or the Blessings series.

If you're just hearing about the Blessing series and like what you hear, be sure to go back and read the previous titles.  All of the books can stand alone, but reading them in order gives you a more complete view of who is who and the history behind why things are the way they are.

Book 1: Bring on the Blessings
Book 2: A Second Helping
Book 3: Something Old, Something New
Book 4: A Wish and A Prayer
Book 5: Heart of Gold
Book 6: For Your Love

304 p.
Published: June 2016
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

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Friday, June 24, 2016

New Books Coming Your Way, June 28, 2016

The Bones of Grace by Tahmima Anam
432 p. (Fiction; Bangladesh)

On the eve of her departure to find the bones of the walking whale—the fossil that provides a missing link in our evolution—Zubaida Haque falls in love with Elijah Strong, a man she meets in a darkened concert hall in Boston. Their connection is immediate and intense, despite their differences: Elijah belongs to a prototypical American family; Zubaida is the adopted daughter of a wealthy Bangladeshi family in Dhaka. When a twist of fate sends her back to her hometown, the inevitable force of society compels her to take a very different path: she marries her childhood best friend and settles into a traditional Bangladeshi life.

While her family is pleased by her obedience, Zubaida seethes with discontent. Desperate to finally free herself from her familial constraints, she moves to Chittagong to work on a documentary film about the infamous beaches where ships are destroyed, and their remains salvaged by locals who depend on the goods for their survival. Among them is Anwar, a shipbreaker whose story holds a key that will unlock the mysteries of Zubaida’s past—and the possibilities of a new life. As she witnesses a ship being torn down to its bones, this woman torn between the social mores of her two homes—Bangladesh and America—will be forced to strip away the vestiges of her own life . . . and make a choice from which she can never turn back.

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Stepping to a New Day: A Blessings Novel by Beverly Jenkins
304 p. (Fiction; African-American)

In Henry Adams, Kansas, you can’t start over without stirring things up . . .

Many a good woman has had to leave a no-good man, but how many of them took a back-seat to his 600-lb. hog? On her own for the first time, Genevieve Gibbs is ecstatic, even if certain people preferred the doormat version of Ms. Gibbs. Finding someone who appreciates the “new” her has only just hit Gen’s to-do list when T.C. Barbour appears in her life.

A tiny Kansas town is a far cry from his native Oakland, California, but it’s just the change T. C. needs. While helping his divorced nephew acclimate to single fatherhood, T. C. lands a gig driving a limo for the most powerful woman in Henry Adams. It’s a great way to meet people—and one in particular has already made the job worthwhile. All it takes is a short trip from the airport for Genevieve to snag T.C.’s attention for good.

But it wouldn’t be Henry Adams without adding more drama to the mix. When Gen’s ex Riley returns with his hog in tow, it sets off a chain of events that can ruin everything—unless the residents pull together once again to save the day.

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Jackson, 1964: And Other Dispatches from Fifty Years of Reporting on Race in America by Calvin Trillin
304 p. (Non-fiction)

In this collection, Calvin Trillin returns to the early years of his storied career, when he was a young journalist posted in a fitfully-desegregating Georgia. The people he met there, the country-shaking events he covered, and the changes he saw being made - or blocked - would impact him deeply, and for the next fifty years, Trillin would return to stories about race, racism, and segregation across the entire country. Now, for the first time, the best of Trillin’s pieces on this period and its legacy in the years that followed are collected in one volume.

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Chronicle of a Last Summer by Yasmine El Rashidi
192 p. (Fiction; Egypt)

Cairo, 1984. A blisteringly hot summer. A young girl in a sprawling family house. Her days pass quietly: listening to her mother’s phone conversations, looking at the Nile from a bedroom window, watching the three state-sanctioned TV stations with the volume off, daydreaming about other lives. Underlying this claustrophobic routine is mystery and loss. Relatives mutter darkly about the newly-appointed President Mubarak. Everyone talks with melancholy about the past. People disappear overnight. Her own father has left, too—why, or to where, no one will say.

The story unfolds over three pivotal summers, from her youth to adulthood: As a six-year old absorbing the world around her, filled with questions she can’t ask; as a college student and aspiring filmmaker pre-occupied with love, language, and the repression that surrounds her; and later, in the turbulent aftermath of Mubarak’s overthrow, as a writer exploring her own past. Reunited with her father, she wonders about the silences that have marked and shaped her life.

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The Swan Book by Alexis Wright
320 p. (Fiction; Aboriginal Australia)

Oblivia Ethelyne was given her name by an old woman who found her deep in the bowels of a gum tree, tattered and fragile, the victim of a brutal assault by wayward local youths. These are the years leading up to Australia’s third centenary, and the woman who finds her, Bella Donna of the Champions, is a refugee from climate change wars that devastated her country in the northern hemisphere. Bella Donna takes Oblivia to live with her on an old warship in a polluted dry swamp and there she fills Oblivia’s head with story upon story of swans. Fenced off from the rest of Australia by the Army, its traditional custodians left destitute, the swamp has become “the world’s most unknown detention camp” for Indigenous Australians. When Warren Finch, the first Aboriginal president of Australia invades the swamp with his charismatic persona and the promise of salvation, Oblivia agrees to marry him, becoming First Lady, a role that has her confined to a tower in a flooded and lawless southern city.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

#BookReview: A THOUSAND STEPS by Anita Bunkley

I sincerely want to thank the person that tweeted about A Thousand Steps being free on Amazon a few weeks ago. I’d never heard of the book or the author, Anita Bunkley, but I immediately fell in love with the story of Tama and Hakan. I’ve never read a story that intertwined the lives of slaves and Native Americans in such a way. I’m sure there are other books that exist, I’m just not familiar with them.

Set in 1855, A Thousand Steps follows the lives of Tama, a runaway slave from North Carolina trying to escape her master/father; Hakan, a Creek Indian fighting to keep his village in Georgia from being displaced; Elinore, an abolitionist traveling west from Ohio to meet her husband, an army officer working in Indian Territory; and Julee, a free black woman traveling west with Elinore to escape the drudgery of her life in St. Louis. Tama’s initial flight to freedom brings her into contact with Hakan and sets in motion this breathtaking story that leads the fugitives from North Carolina to Georgia, through Louisiana and, eventually, Arkansas.

When Tama first flees the plantation where she’s watched her father rape her mother for years, no one notices that she’s gone. But once the vengeful master, Thorne, realizes that his only remaining daughter (and property) has fled, he’s determined to get her back. Having already lost his white wife and daughter, he’ll stop at nothing to remind Tama that he is her master and her father.

Tama meets Hakan in a cabin in the snowy mountains of North Carolina. While she’s fleeing from the plantation and Thorne, he’s fleeing from men out to hang him. Though initially hesitant to take her on and help her flee, the kind hearted Hakan takes pity on Tama and not only helps her get away from the trackers who’ve found her, he takes her back to his village in the woods of Georgia.

It’s not unusual to see slaves and free blacks within Hakan’s village, but falling in love with them is forbidden for the next leader of this Creek tribe. And while Hakan can’t help his feelings, his sister will do everything within her power to make sure that Hakan and Tama aren’t together. Unfortunately, that’s not always to her benefit or the benefit of her people.

As the Creek Indians make the journey to Indian Territory, Elinore and Julee set out from St. Louis in the caravan of the Creole wagon train leader, Big Tim. Julee is eager to get away from her cruel employer at the boarding house and Elinore is eager to be reunited with the husband she hasn’t seen in months. The women form a bond that is only disrupted when Elinore’s husband catches wind of it. Originally from the South, Paul had assured is wife the abolitionist that he harbored no ill will toward African Americans, but his attitude and actions prove otherwise.

The lives of the characters intersect and make for an intense story. There’s a lot to be learned from a historical perspective. While we know that some slaves chose to flee west instead of north, it’s rare that we see a story about those that made that decision. It’s even more of a rarity that Native Americans are portrayed in a positive light or that their owning slaves is discussed in historical fiction. Anita Bunkley has done a masterful job of creating characters and giving readers food for thought. I look forward to reading more from her.

312 p.
Published: February 2013

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

#BookReview: CHARCOAL JOE by Walter Mosley

A few years and a few books ago, Walter Mosley toyed with the idea of killing off his most famous character. I’m so glad that he had a change of heart because Easy Rawlins is one of my favorite characters in the literary realm, and not just because I still picture him as the smooth talking chocolate man Denzel portrayed in Devil in a Blue Dress. Easy is a thinking man’s man and a lady’s man.

This new chapter in his life finds Easy at the advent of a new business venture. He’s partnered with two other “detectives,” Saul Lynx and Whisper Natly, two men who know and are known in the streets as well as he is. Before Easy can get comfortable in his newly formed partnership, his old friend Mouse knocks on his door with an offer he can’t refuse. And actually, Easy would have refused if it had been anyone other than Mouse asking.

As Easy cruises the streets of LA looking for a missing college student, at the request of Charcoal Joe via Mouse, he runs across a variety of characters that typically round out any Walter Mosley book. However, you’re in for a treat if you’ve read other Mosley series because he brings in the one and only Fearless Jones. If you’ve read the Fearless series, you already know that he’s an unassuming man, a quality that causes his opponents to underestimate him. But Fearless is a quick thinker and he’s nice with his hands, two qualities that Easy needs if he’s going to find Seymour Brathwaite and get him back home to his mother, Jazmine, and her benefactor, the infamous Charcoal Joe.

I love Easy, but I LOVE Fearless and my heart did a little squeal when I realized they were going to be working together on this case. Occasionally, Mosley brings characters from other books into the picture, but they play bit parts. For example, Brawly Brown from an Easy novel written 15 years ago pops up in Charcoal Joe, but only for a minute. Reference is made to Paris Minton, Fearless’ partner in crime, but we don’t see him in the book. So I was excited to find that Fearless would be in the picture for a great deal of the story. The only character missing from what I would consider to be Mosley’s great triumvirate is Socrates Fortlow, the ex-con that Mosley introduced readers to back in the late 1990s. Each man is a great character in his own right, but when they come together, you just know something is about to jump off and whatever it is, they’ll be able to handle it.

320 p.
Published: June 2016
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

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Friday, June 10, 2016

New Books Coming Your Way, June 14, 2016

Charcoal Joe: An Easy Rawlins Mystery by Walter Mosley
320 p. (Fiction; mystery)

Picking up where his last adventures in Rose Gold left off in L.A. in the late 1960s, Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins finds his life in transition. He’s ready—finally—to propose to his girlfriend, Bonnie Shay, and start a life together. And he’s taken the money he got from the Rose Gold case and, together with two partners, Saul Lynx and Tinsford “Whisper” Natly, has started a new detective agency. But, inevitably, a case gets in the way: Easy’s friend Mouse introduces him to Rufus Tyler, a very old man everyone calls Charcoal Joe. Joe’s friend’s son, Seymour (young, bright, top of his class in physics at Stanford), has been arrested and charged with the murder of a white man from Redondo Beach. Joe tells Easy he will pay and pay well to see this young man exonerated, but seeing as how Seymour literally was found standing over the man’s dead body at his cabin home, and considering the racially charged motives seemingly behind the murder, that might prove to be a tall order.

Between his new company, a heart that should be broken but is not, a whole raft of new bad guys on his tail, and a bad odor that surrounds Charcoal Joe, Easy has his hands full, his horizons askew, and his life in shambles around his feet.

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The House of Hidden Mothers by Meera Syal
432 p. (Fiction; India)

Shyama, a forty-eight-year-old London divorcée, already has an unruly teenage daughter, but that doesn't stop her and her younger lover, Toby, from wanting a child together. Their relationship may look like a cliché, but despite the news from her doctor that she no longer has any viable eggs, Shyama's not ready to give up on their dream of having a baby. So they decide to find an Indian surrogate to carry their child, which is how they meet Mala, a young woman trapped in an oppressive marriage in a small Indian town from which she's desperate to escape. But as the pregnancy progresses, they discover that their simple arrangement may be far more complicated than it seems.

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Every Little Step: My Story by Bobby Brown
336 p. (Non-fiction; autobiography

Bobby Brown has been one of the most compelling American artists of the past 30 years, a magnetic and talented figure who successfully crossed over many musical genres, including R&B and hip hop, as well as the mainstream. In the late 1980s, the former front man of New Edition had a wildly successful solo career—especially with the launch of Don't Be Cruel—garnering multiple hits on the Billboard top ten list, as well as several Grammy, American Music, and Soul Train awards. But Brown put his career on hold to be with the woman he loved—American music royalty Whitney Houston. The marriage between Brown and Houston was perhaps the most closely watched and talked about marriage of the 1990s—a pairing that obsessed the public and the gossip industry. Now, for the first time, the world will be able to hear the truth from the mouth of America’s “bad boy” himself. Raw and powerful, Every Little Step is the story of a man who has been on the top of the mountain and in the depths of the valley and who is now finally ready to talk about his career and family life, from the passion and the excess to his creative inspirations and massive musical success.

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Walking with the Muses: A Memoir by Pat Cleveland
352 p. (Non-fiction; autobiography)

New York in the sixties and seventies was glamorous and gritty at the same time, a place where people like Warhol, Avedon, and Halston as well their muses came to pursue their wildest ambitions, and when the well began to run dry they darted off to Paris. Though born on the very fringes of this world, Patricia Cleveland, through a combination of luck, incandescent beauty, and enviable style, soon found herself in the center of all that was creative, bohemian, and elegant. A “walking girl,” a runway fashion model whose inimitable style still turns heads on the runways of New York, Paris, Milan, and Tokyo, Cleveland was in high demand.

Ranging from the streets of New York to the jet-set beaches of Mexico, from the designer retailers of Paris to the offices of Diana Vreeland, here is Cleveland’s larger-than-life story. One minute she's in a Harlem tenement making her own clothes and dreaming of something bigger, the next she’s about to walk Halston’s show alongside fellow model Anjelica Huston. One minute she's partying with Mick Jagger and Jack Nicholson, the next she's sharing the dance floor next to a man with stark white hair, an artist the world would later know as Warhol. One moment she’s idolizing the silver screen sensation Warren Beatty, years later, she’s deciding whether to resist his considerable amorous charms. In New York, she struggles to secure her first cover of a major magazine. In Paris, she's the toast of the town. And through the whirlwind of it all, she is forever in pursuit of love, truth, and beauty.

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Grace by Natashia Deon
400 p. (Fiction; African-American)

For a runaway slave in the 1840s south, life on the run can be just as dangerous as life under a sadistic Massa. That’s what fifteen-year-old Naomi learns after she escapes the brutal confines of life on an Alabama plantation. Striking out on her own, she must leave behind her beloved Momma and sister Hazel and takes refuge in a Georgia brothel run by a freewheeling, gun-toting Jewish madam named Cynthia. There, amidst a revolving door of gamblers, prostitutes, and drunks, Naomi falls into a star-crossed love affair with a smooth-talking white man named Jeremy who frequents the brothel’s dice tables all too often.

The product of Naomi and Jeremy’s union is Josey, whose white skin and blonde hair mark her as different from the other slave children on the plantation. Having been taken in as an infant by a free slave named Charles, Josey has never known her mother, who was murdered at her birth. Josey soon becomes caught in the tide of history when news of the Emancipation Proclamation reaches the declining estate and a day of supposed freedom quickly turns into a day of unfathomable violence that will define Josey—and her lost mother—for years to come.

Deftly weaving together the stories of Josey and Naomi—who narrates the entire novel unable to leave her daughter alone in the land of the living—Grace is a sweeping, intergenerational saga featuring a group of outcast women during one of the most compelling eras in American history. It is a universal story of freedom, love, and motherhood, told in a dazzling and original voice set against a rich and transporting historical backdrop.

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Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man's Education by Mychal Denzel Smith
240 p. (Non-fiction; African-American studies)

How do you learn to be a black man in America? For young black men today, it means coming of age during the presidency of Barack Obama. It means witnessing the deaths of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, and too many more. It means celebrating powerful moments of black self-determination for LeBron James, Dave Chappelle, and Frank Ocean.

In Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching, Mychal Denzel Smith chronicles his own personal and political education during these tumultuous years, describing his efforts to come into his own in a world that denied his humanity. Smith unapologetically upends reigning assumptions about black masculinity, rewriting the script for black manhood so that depression and anxiety aren’t considered taboo, and feminism and LGBTQ rights become part of the fight. The questions Smith asks in this book are urgent—for him, for the martyrs and the tokens, and for the Trayvons that could have been and are still waiting.

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Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
320 p. (Non-fiction; memoir)

“I ate and ate and ate in the hopes that if I made myself big, my body would be safe. I buried the girl I was because she ran into all kinds of trouble. I tried to erase every memory of her, but she is still there, somewhere. . . . I was trapped in my body, one that I barely recognized or understood, but at least I was safe.”

In her phenomenally popular essays and long-running Tumblr blog, Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and body, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. As a woman who describes her own body as “wildly undisciplined,” Roxane understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care. In Hunger, she explores her own past—including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life—and brings readers along on her journey to understand and ultimately save herself.

With the bracing candor, vulnerability, and power that have made her one of the most admired writers of her generation, Roxane explores what it means to learn to take care of yourself: how to feed your hungers for delicious and satisfying food, a smaller and safer body, and a body that can love and be loved—in a time when the bigger you are, the smaller your world becomes.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound
Note: The release date varies in catalogs & Goodreads. While I think it will be out June 14, it may be postponed.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

#BookReview: I ALMOST FORGOT ABOUT YOU by Terry McMillan

When you've always done what's expected of you, doing the unexpected can throw people off. It's expected that Friday nights will find Dr. Georgia Young at home watching reruns of Law & Order: Criminal Intent (I'm partial to the original and SVU myself). Twice married and divorced, a patient in for an eye exam piques her interest. It turns out that she's the daughter of an old college boyfriend.

This brief conversation sets Georgia on a path of shoulda, coulda, wouldas. What if that old boyfriend was the real love of her life? Why didn't she tell him she loved him instead of playing it cool? Given the chance, should she track down the great loves of her life and tell them how important they were to her, why she loved them, find out why they loved her, why they stopped loving her, etc.? Well I wouldn't do it, because whew! That's a Pandora's box I wouldn't be willing to open. But I'm not a Terry McMillan character, so there's that.

Georgia has been stuck in a rut for a while so she's ready for some changes in her life. Her journey to find past loves sets her on course to make other changes (like telling her BFF how much she hates her hobby) and take on more adventures. Her approach to relationships with her daughter, friends and even her ex-husbands changes and she finds herself stepping out of her comfort zone and maybe, perhaps into a new romantic relationship.

This book gave me all the feels for so many reasons. I love, love, LOVE that McMillan's characters are age appropriate. By that, I mean she seems to write what she knows. So when I started reading her when I was in college, her characters were 20somethings. Instead of staying in that age group, the age of her characters has progressively gotten older, as she has, and I appreciate that. Because she's slightly older than me, her books tend to feel like a, "girl, this is what's coming up for you down the road, so beware" warning. Like I said, this book spoke to me for reasons and had me questioning life decisions, next steps and possibilities. Though I think people of all ages can certainly relate to Georgia, women of a certain age will definitely embrace and relate to this character.

368 p.
Published: June 2016
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

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

Friday, June 3, 2016

New Books Coming Your Way, June 7, 2016

I Almost Forgot About You by Terry McMillan
368 p. (Fiction; U.S.)

In I Almost Forgot About You, Dr. Georgia Young’s wonderful life—great friends, family, and a successful career—aren’t enough to keep her from feeling stuck and restless. When she decides to make some major changes in her life, she finds herself on a wild journey that may or may not include a second chance at love. Like Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back, I Almost Forgot About You will show legions of readers what can happen when you face your fears, take a chance, and open yourself up to the world.

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
320 p. (Fiction; U.S./Ghana)

Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery.

One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

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The Lynching: The Epic Courtroom Battle That Brought Down the Klan by Laurence Leamer
384 p. (Non-fiction; U.S.)

On a Friday night in March 1981 Henry Hays and James Knowles scoured the streets of Mobile in their car, hunting for a black man. The young men were members of Klavern 900 of the United Klans of America. They were seeking to retaliate after a largely black jury could not reach a verdict in a trial involving a black man accused of the murder of a white man. The two Klansmen found nineteen-year-old Michael Donald walking home alone. Hays and Knowles abducted him, beat him, cut his throat, and left his body hanging from a tree branch in a racially-mixed residential neighborhood.

Arrested, charged, and convicted, Hays was sentenced to death—the first time in nearly a century that the state of Alabama had found a white man guilty of killing a black man. On behalf of Michael’s grieving mother, Morris Dees, the legendary civil rights lawyer and co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, filed a civil suit against the members of the local Klan unit involved and the UKA, the largest Klan organization. Charging them with conspiracy, Dees put the Klan on trial, resulting in a verdict that would level a deadly blow to its organization.

Based on countless interviews and extensive archival research, The Lynching brings to life two dramatic trials, during which the Alabama Klan's motives and philosophy were exposed for the evil they represent. In addition to telling a gripping and consequential story, Laurence Leamer chronicles the KKK and its activities in the second half the twentieth century, and illuminates its lingering effect on race relations in America today.

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The Root: A Novel of the Wrath & Athenaeum by Na'amen Gobert Tilahun
420 p. (Fiction; fantasy)

Erik, a former teen star living in San Francisco, thought his life was complicated; having his ex-boyfriend in jail because of the scandal that destroyed his career seemed overwhelming. Then Erik learned he was Blooded: descended from the Gods.

Struggling with a power he doesn’t understand and can barely control, Erik discovers that a secret government agency is selling off Blooded like lab rats to a rival branch of preternatural beings in ’Zebub—San Francisco’s mirror city in an alternate dimension.

Lil, a timid apprentice in ’Zebub, is searching for answers to her parents’ sudden and mysterious deaths. Surrounded by those who wish her harm and view her as a lesser being, Lil delves into a forgotten history that those in power will go to dangerous lengths to keep buried.

What neither Erik nor Lil realize is that a darkness is coming, something none have faced in living memory. It eats. It hunts. And it knows them. In The Root, the dark and surging urban fantasy debut from Na’amen Tilahun, two worlds must come together if even a remnant of one is to survive.

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The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe
400 p. (Fiction; U.S.)

Since childhood, Anita Hemmings has longed to attend the country’s most exclusive school for women, Vassar College. Now, a bright, beautiful senior in the class of 1897, she is hiding a secret that would have banned her from admission: Anita is the only African-American student ever to attend Vassar. With her olive complexion and dark hair, this daughter of a janitor and descendant of slaves has successfully passed as white, but now finds herself rooming with Louise “Lottie” Taylor, the scion of one of New York’s most prominent families.

Though Anita has kept herself at a distance from her classmates, Lottie’s sphere of influence is inescapable, her energy irresistible, and the two become fast friends. Pulled into her elite world, Anita learns what it’s like to be treated as a wealthy, educated white woman—the person everyone believes her to be—and even finds herself in a heady romance with a moneyed Harvard student. It’s only when Lottie becomes infatuated with Anita’s brother, Frederick, whose skin is almost as light as his sister’s, that the situation becomes particularly perilous. And as Anita’s college graduation looms, those closest to her will be the ones to dangerously threaten her secret.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

#BookReview: MUDBOUND by Hillary Jordan

I can't imagine that taking on racism and prejudice in a story is an easy task for any author.  As an author, you have to know that each person reading your novel is going to approach it with their own opinions shaped by their reality.  I would imagine their reality would be colored by their experiences, this particular case as they relate to prejudice and racism, and their history, specifically as it relates to this book.

As a black woman, I'm very hesitant to read books along the line of Mudbound because I don't want a sugar-coated, holding hands, singing Kumbayah version of the story.  In reading Mudbound, I also realized that I can't necessarily stomach the hardcore, in your face version of a story either.  I trudged through it, but I have to say that I enjoyed Jordan's When She Woke far more than I did this story.

Set in the 1940's Mississippi Delta, Mudbound is told from the points of view of Laura, a confirmed spinster who finally marries in her thirties; Henry, her by the book, engineer turned farmer husband; Jamie, Henry's fun loving brother who comes back from the war with his light dimmed just a bit; Florence, the McAllan's housekeeper and  wife of a tenant farmer; Ronsel, the son of Florence, who has also recently returned from the war.

When we first meet Laura, she's a spinster teacher in Memphis who lives with her parents.  She's resigned herself to the fact that she'll never get married.  She seems likable enough.  Her brother brings home Henry, a friend of his who works for the Army Corps of Engineers.  He's older than Laura, though no one seems to have a problem with him being a confirmed bachelor, and the two begin to court.  When he proposes marriage, Laura agrees and is under the assumption that they'll take up residence in Memphis.

Henry has always longed to own a farm and without discussing it with Laura, buys one in the Mississippi Delta.  I was already side-eying him for moving his wife and two small daughters down there, but then his outspoken racist father comes as part of the package and I was screaming at Laura to take her babies back home to Memphis and leave those two in the delta by themselves.  But like a dutiful wife, she went with him.

Up until this point, there hadn't been any real interaction with people of color, so I wasn't aware of how the McAllans felt about them.  Their arrival in Mississippi changed all of that.  It became all too obvious that Henry, his father and Laura, to a lesser extent, had no compassion for anyone that didn't look like them.
“Damn niggers,” Orris said. “Moving up north, leaving folks with no way to make a crop. Ought to be a law against it.”

“In my day we didn’t let em leave,” Pappy said. “And the ones that tried sneaking off in the middle of the night ended up sorry they had.”

Orris nodded approvingly. “My brother has a farm down to Yazoo City. Do you know, last October he had cotton rotting in the fields because he couldn’t find enough niggers to pick it?
Did I really read that right? Did you read that right? Yes! These men were actually mad that black people moved up north in search of a better life instead of staying in Mississippi to pick their crop and make them money while living as sharecroppers that could never hope to pay off their debt.  So this is the attitude of his countrymen that Ronsel faces as he returns home from the war.  It explains his statement:
We didn’t stay in their country long, but I’ll always be grateful to those English folks for how they welcomed us. First time in my life I ever felt like a man first and a black man second.
And lest we believe that the comments of whites regarding blacks were reserved for black men:
Most of them use their women harder than their mules. I’ve seen colored women out in the fields so big with child they could barely bend over to hoe the cotton. Of course, a colored woman is sturdier than a white woman to begin with.
So I turn to the women of the story and expect, for some reason, that women will be more sympathetic.  And while Florence sees Laura McAllan as a woman and mother, which is apparent when they first meet:
First time I laid eyes on Laura McAllan she was out of her head with mama worry. When that mama worry takes ahold of a woman you can’t expect no sense from her. She’ll do or say anything at all and you just better hope you ain’t in her way.
Laura is unable to see Florence as anything other than a negro when she comes to her after Ronsel goes missing:
There was real animosity in Florence’s eyes, and it woke an answering flare in me. How dared she threaten me, and under my own roof? I remembered Pappy telling the girls one time that Lilly May wasn’t their friend and never would be; that if it came down to a war between the niggers and the whites, she’d be on the side of the niggers and wouldn’t hesitate to kill them both. It had angered me at the time, but now I wondered if there wasn’t a brutal kernel of truth in what he’d said.
I would have loved to say that by the time I was done with this book, I'd found any redeeming qualities in the McAllans, but I didn't.  Above all they looked out for themselves and other whites before ever showing regard or compassion for a woman who brought their children back from the brink of death or nursed Laura through a miscarriage.  I don't know.  Maybe the author didn't mean for them to have any redeeming qualities.  I'd be interested in knowing what others that have read this took from it.

Published: March 2009