Wednesday, June 28, 2017

#BookReview: THE CHANGELING by Victor LaValle

Summary: Apollo Kagwa has had strange dreams that have haunted him since childhood. An antiquarian book dealer with a business called Improbabilia, he is just beginning to settle into his new life as a committed and involved father, unlike his own father who abandoned him, when his wife Emma begins acting strange.

Disconnected and uninterested in their new baby boy, Emma at first seems to be exhibiting all the signs of post-partum depression, but it quickly becomes clear that her troubles go far beyond that. Before Apollo can do anything to help, Emma commits a horrific act—beyond any parent’s comprehension—and vanishes, seemingly into thin air.

Thus begins Apollo’s odyssey through a world he only thought he understood to find a wife and child who are nothing like he’d imagined. His quest begins when he meets a mysterious stranger who claims to have information about Emma’s whereabouts. Apollo then begins a journey that takes him to a forgotten island in the East River of New York City, a graveyard full of secrets, a forest in Queens where immigrant legends still live, and finally back to a place he thought he had lost forever. This dizzying tale is ultimately a story about family and the unfathomable secrets of the people we love.

Review: I was blown away when I read Victor LaValle's novella, The Ballad of Black Tom, last year. Supernatural, spooky happenings from Harlem to Queens to Brooklyn? It definitely wasn't the average read. When I saw The Changeling pop up in the publisher's catalog, I immediately added it to my list of must reads.

The latest from LaValle starts off like any other story: boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, girl snubs boy, girl eventually gives boy a chance and they live happily ever after. Well scratch that last part, they don't live happily ever after. They split up and boy disappears into the night leaving girl (now ex-wife) with a baby boy. And that baby boy becomes Apollo Kagwa, a man haunted by childhood dreams that have returned, and filled with love for his newborn son, Brian.

This seemingly everyday story starts to take twists and turns as Emma, the love of Apollo's life, begins to act strangely toward their baby. At first, he brushes it off as post-partum depression, but it's more than that. Soon the police are on the lookout for Emma and so is Apollo. This is where the adventure begins and nothing and no one are as they seem.

You know how when a book is really good, you don't want it to end? I stretched this book out for three days because I needed to comprehend everything that was going on and I was afraid of what the outcome would be. It was like watching a scary movie that you're afraid to look at with both eyes open so you hide behind your hands and peek through your fingers. Even if this isn't a genre you'd normally read and you don't think you'll enjoy it, you're going to be blown away.


448 p.
Published: June 2017
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Friday, June 23, 2017

New Books Coming Your Way, June 27, 2017

The Windfall by Diksha Basu
304 p.; Fiction

A charming social satire and family drama set in the world of the modern upper class of India, The Windfall centers around Mr. and Mrs. Jha, who, having come into quite a bit of money from the sale of Mr. Jha’s website, move from the apartment complex in East Delhi where they raised their son, now studying in America, to a mansion in Gurgaon, the neighborhood that houses India’s most wealthy and most ostentatious elite. They are fish out of water in their new home, and their move sets off a chain of events that rocks their son, struggling with romantic dilemmas and questioning how his parents’ new world will affect his own life choices, their nosy neighbors (new and old), and their evolving marriage, bringing unintended consequences and forcing them to reckon with what they really care about and who they want to be.

Hilarious, rollicking, and heartfelt, The Windfall is a story of one family as they try to stay true to themselves while finding out what it means to be upwardly mobile in modern India.

Escape Velocity: A Dire Earth Novel 
by Jason M. Hough
432 p.; Science Fiction

Selected by an alien AI to save her makers, Skyler Luiken and his crew are headed deep into space…and enemy territory! With the terrifying Swarm Blockade in ruin, Skyler and company have landed on a mysterious world in need of saving…but they have been scattered! Working against a ticking clock and a violent, technologically superior foe, these brave Earthlings must bring down an alien menace if they ever wish to return to Earth.

Twelve Days by Steven Barnes
368 p.; Science Fiction

Around the world, leaders and notorious criminals alike are mysteriously dying. A terrorist group promises a series of deaths within two months. And against the backdrop of the apocalypse, the lives of a small shattered family and a broken soldier are transformed in the bustling city of Atlanta.

Olympia Dorsey is a journalist and mother, with a cynical teenage daughter and an autistic son named Hannibal, all trying to heal from a personal tragedy. Across the street, Ex–Special Forces soldier Terry Nicolas and his wartime unit have reunited Stateside to carry out a risky heist that will not only right a terrible injustice, but also set them up for life—at the cost of their honor. Terry and the family's visit to an unusual martial arts exhibition brings them into contact with Madame Gupta, a teacher of singular skill who offers not just a way for Terry to tap into mastery beyond his dreams, but also for Hannibal to transcend the limits of his condition. But to see these promises realized, Terry will need to betray those with whom he fought and bled.

Meanwhile, as the death toll gains momentum and society itself teeters on the edge of collapse, Olympia's fragile clan is placed in jeopardy, and Terry comes to understand the terrible price he must pay to prevent catastrophe.

A House Divided by Donna Hill
320 p.; Fiction

Journalist Zoie Crawford had to leave New Orleans to finally make her own life. Her grandmother, Claudia, inspired her to follow her dreams—just as her mother, Rose, held on too tight. But with Claudia’s passing, Zoie reluctantly returns home, where the past is written in the lonely corners of the bayou and the New South’s supercharged corridors of power. And there she discovers a stunning, painstakingly kept secret—one that could skyrocket her career, but destroy another woman’s—and change both their vastly different lives, for better or for much worse.

Zoie has always put the truth first. Now, as the line between the personal and professional blurs, and she tries to understand her relatives’ deception, she must face some tough questions. Is there a way to expose the truth and save those you love? And at what cost? Heartfelt, emotional, and revelatory, A House Divided is an unforgettable tale about making the hardest of choices, coming to terms with all you could lose—and finding what forgiveness and family truly mean.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

#BookReview: HUNGER by Roxane Gay

Summary: “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.

Review: Roxane Gay shares a lot of herself, probably more than we as readers deserve, in Hunger. She shares the story of her rape in her early years and how it propelled her toward a life long affair with food. As the summary says, she intentionally ate to become larger so that her body would became her safe place. The problem with creating this space is that it can also become your prison.

Gay talks a lot about how her weight affects not only how she sees herself, but how others see her. From the not so discreet stares of others on the airplane when they're hoping that she's not about to sit next to them to the rude stewardesses that won't let her use her own seat belt extender, insisting that she use theirs instead "for safety purposes." People are careful not to make fun of or show bias to other groups, e.g., disabled, but fat shaming seems to be par for the course in America.

Hunger is highly relatable and I found myself nodding my head along with Gay when she talked about how we try to make ourselves smaller for other people so as not to take up too much space. Or settling for relationships with people we wouldn't tolerate under different circumstances, just to be able to say that you're in a relationship and someone wants to be with you. And even putting up with verbal abuse because you think you deserve it.

At times it seemed that Gay was repetitive in her story telling, but I wonder if that was intentional. Though I complained a bit about it, by repeating the message, she drives home her points. Telling her story, writing Hunger was hard for her. I know this because she has said so in interviews, likely because it's deeply personal and her scars are put on display for all to see. I'm grateful to her for being so willing to share just a bit of herself with us.

320 p.
Published: June 2017
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher; opinions are my own.

Friday, June 16, 2017

#BookReview: MARRIAGE OF A THOUSAND LIES by SJ Sindu

Summary: Lucky and her husband, Krishna, are gay. They present an illusion of marital bliss to their conservative Sri Lankan–American families, while each dates on the side. It’s not ideal, but for Lucky, it seems to be working. She goes out dancing, she drinks a bit, she makes ends meet by doing digital art on commission. But when Lucky’s grandmother has a nasty fall, Lucky returns to her childhood home and unexpectedly reconnects with her former best friend and first lover, Nisha, who is preparing for her own arranged wedding with a man she’s never met.

As the connection between the two women is rekindled, Lucky tries to save Nisha from entering a marriage based on a lie. But does Nisha really want to be saved? And after a decade’s worth of lying, can Lucky break free of her own circumstances and build a new life? Is she willing to walk away from all that she values about her parents and community to live in a new truth? As Lucky—an outsider no matter what choices she makes—is pushed to the breaking point, Marriage of a Thousand Lies offers a vivid exploration of a life lived at a complex intersection of race, sexuality, and nationality.

Review: Lucky is a disappointment to her mother as a Sri Lankan daughter, not because she's a lesbian, but because she's just not the responsible and respectful daughter that she's expected to be. If her mother knew that she's been in love with her best friend Nisha for years, it would probably kill her. So we see Lucky hiding her identity from her mother in two ways. She's married to Kris to give the appearance of a "decent" married woman and hides her unemployment, though technically selling her art helps, but isn't a respectable career to her mother or community.

Lucky is content with playing out these lies in front of mother while frequenting bars at night with her husband to pick up women and men (women for her, men for him).But when an opportunity to be with Nisha, whom she'd lost contact with shortly before her sham of a wedding happened, presents itself, Lucky finds herself ready to kick open the closet door. What does that mean to the others around her? What does this do to Kris, whom she married partially to give her cover, but also so that he could legally stay in the country? What does this mean for Nisha whose wedding is just days away? What does it mean for Lucky's mother who has already lost one daughter because of her unwillingness to accept who she was and whom she loved?

Marriage of a Thousand Lies is what happens when culture and sexuality collide and Lucky, Nisha and Kris are sitting in the intersection trying to navigate it. This isn't a can't put down book, but it does prompt to you to think about ways in which you might have hidden aspects of yourself to make others feel comfortable or less judgmental. Is it more important that you be with happy with yourself or is it more important that your parents/family/friends/culture are happy with who they perceive you to be?


288 p.
Published: June 2017
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

#BookReview: THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Summary: Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jump start her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo gives all kinds of Elizabeth Taylor vibes. Seven husbands to Liz's seven, eight if you count her two time marriage to Eddie Fisher, puts Evelyn right up there in the big leagues of Hollywood leading ladies that loved them and left them. So when Monique is given the chance for a once in a lifetime interview with Evelyn, she jumps at it. But why does a movie star like Evelyn Hugo pick a relatively unknown black writer for her final interview? Through twists and turns, long days and nights spent with the reclusive Hugo, it's not readily apparent.

As Evelyn shares the story of her life (and her men) and the love of her life, it is almost as if she is giving Monique pointers on how to live a better life. She allows her access to her small world that very few get to see, with the exception of her house manager/assistant who gave shades of Joan Crawford's assistant, Mamacita, including the fact that she's not the white woman America has come to know her as. Does she share this secret with Monique because she's black and she thinks it'll go over better with her than one of the white writers Monique's magazine would typically send to cover Evelyn? Does she think that as a woman of color, Monique will empathize with her need to cover up who she really was for years? While all of that may have factored into her decision, the truth is Evelyn holds a secret that will change Monique's life. (No, she's not her birth mother or some other Lifetime-like twist.)

I initially resisted reading this book because I like to focus on stories about people of color. So it was a shock to find that both Monique and Evelyn were. That brought a little more comfort to my reading, but beyond that, Jenkins Reid has written a fascinating look at the life of celebrity. Even at 400 pages, it was a quick read that drew me in from the beginning and held my attention in the two days it took me to read it. If you need something lighthearted, perhaps a beach read, be sure to check this one out.

400 p.
Published: June 2017
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher; opinions are my own.

Friday, June 9, 2017

New Books Coming Your Way, June 13, 2017

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

Adua by Igiaba Scego
185 p.; Fiction

Adua, an immigrant from Somalia to Italy, has lived in Rome for nearly forty years. She came seeking freedom from a strict father and an oppressive regime, but her dreams of becoming a film star ended in shame. Now that the civil war in Somalia is over, her homeland beckons. Yet Adua has a husband who needs her, a young man, also an immigrant, who braved a dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea.

When her father, who worked as an interpreter for Mussolini’s fascist regime, dies, Adua inherits the family home. She must decide whether to make the journey back to reclaim her material inheritance, but also how to take charge of her own story and build a future.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
304 p.; Fiction

Nikki, a modern young Punjabi, lives in cosmopolitan London, where she tends bar at the local pub. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she’s spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent (that is, Western) life. When her father’s death leaves the family financially strapped, Nikki, a law school dropout, impulsively takes a job teaching a “creative writing” course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community.

The proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn English, not short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing creativity of the most unexpected—and exciting—kind.

As more women are drawn to the class, Nikki warns her students to keep their work secret from the Brotherhood, a group of highly conservative young men who have appointed themselves the community’s “moral police.” But when the widows’ gossip offer shocking insights into the death of a young wife—a modern woman like Nikki—and some of the class erotica is shared among friends, it sparks a scandal that threatens them all.

Marriage of a Thousand Lies by SJ Sindu
288 p.; Fiction

Lucky and her husband, Krishna, are gay. They present an illusion of marital bliss to their conservative Sri Lankan–American families, while each dates on the side. It’s not ideal, but for Lucky, it seems to be working. She goes out dancing, she drinks a bit, she makes ends meet by doing digital art on commission. But when Lucky’s grandmother has a nasty fall, Lucky returns to her childhood home and unexpectedly reconnects with her former best friend and first lover, Nisha, who is preparing for her own arranged wedding with a man she’s never met.

As the connection between the two women is rekindled, Lucky tries to save Nisha from entering a marriage based on a lie. But does Nisha really want to be saved? And after a decade’s worth of lying, can Lucky break free of her own circumstances and build a new life? Is she willing to walk away from all that she values about her parents and community to live in a new truth? As Lucky—an outsider no matter what choices she makes—is pushed to the breaking point, Marriage of a Thousand Lies offers a vivid exploration of a life lived at a complex intersection of race, sexuality, and nationality. The result is a profoundly American debut novel shot through with humor and loss, a story of love, family, and the truths that define us all.

You Don't Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir
by Sherman Alexie
464 p.; Memoir

Family relationships are never simple. But Sherman Alexie's bond with his mother Lillian was more complex than most. She plunged her family into chaos with a drinking habit, but shed her addiction when it was on the brink of costing her everything. She survived a violent past, but created an elaborate facade to hide the truth. She selflessly cared for strangers, but was often incapable of showering her children with the affection that they so desperately craved. She wanted a better life for her son, but it was only by leaving her behind that he could hope to achieve it. It's these contradictions that made Lillian Alexie a beautiful, mercurial, abusive, intelligent, complicated, and very human woman.

When she passed away, the incongruities that defined his mother shook Sherman and his remembrance of her. Grappling with the haunting ghosts of the past in the wake of loss, he responded the only way he knew how: he wrote. The result is a stunning memoir filled with raw, angry, funny, profane, tender memories of a childhood few can imagine, much less survive. An unflinching and unforgettable remembrance, You Don't Have To Say You Love Me is a powerful, deeply felt account of a complicated relationship.

Since I Laid My Burden Down by Brontez Purnell
208 p.; Fiction

DeShawn lives a high, creative, and promiscuous life in San Francisco. But when he’s called back to his cramped Alabama hometown for his uncle’s funeral, he’s hit by flashbacks of handsome, doomed neighbors and sweltering Sunday services. Amidst prickly reminders of his childhood, DeShawn ponders family, church, and the men in his life, prompting the question: Who deserves love?

A raw, funny, and uninhibited stumble down memory lane, Brontez Purnell’s debut novel explores how one man’s early sexual and artistic escapades grow into a life.

The Changeling by Victor LaValle
448 p.; Fiction

Apollo Kagwa has had strange dreams that have haunted him since childhood. An antiquarian book dealer with a business called Improbabilia, he is just beginning to settle into his new life as a committed and involved father, unlike his own father who abandoned him, when his wife Emma begins acting strange. Disconnected and uninterested in their new baby boy, Emma at first seems to be exhibiting all the signs of post-partum depression, but it quickly becomes clear that her troubles go far beyond that. Before Apollo can do anything to help, Emma commits a horrific act—beyond any parent’s comprehension—and vanishes, seemingly into thin air.

Thus begins Apollo’s odyssey through a world he only thought he understood to find a wife and child who are nothing like he’d imagined. His quest begins when he meets a mysterious stranger who claims to have information about Emma’s whereabouts. Apollo then begins a journey that takes him to a forgotten island in the East River of New York City, a graveyard full of secrets, a forest in Queens where immigrant legends still live, and finally back to a place he thought he had lost forever. This dizzying tale is ultimately a story about family and the unfathomable secrets of the people we love.

Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me
by Janet Mock
256 p.; Biography

The journey begins a few months before her twentieth birthday. Janet Mock is adjusting to her days as a first-generation college student at the University of Hawaii and her nights as a dancer at a strip club. Finally content in her body, she vacillates between flaunting and concealing herself as she navigates dating and disclosure, sex and intimacy, and most important, letting herself be truly seen. Under the neon lights of Club Nu, Janet meets Troy, a yeoman stationed at Pearl Harbor naval base, who becomes her first. The pleasures and perils of their union serve as a backdrop for Janet’s progression through her early twenties with all the universal growing pains—falling in and out of love, living away from home, and figuring out what she wants to do with her life.

Despite her disadvantages, fueled by her dreams and inimitable drive, Janet makes her way through New York City while holding her truth close. She builds a career in the highly competitive world of magazine publishing—within the unique context of being trans, a woman, and a person of color.

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden
400 p.; Fiction/Fantasy

In South Africa, the future looks promising. Personal robots are making life easier for the working class. The government is harnessing renewable energy to provide infrastructure for the poor. And in the bustling coastal town of Port Elizabeth, the economy is booming thanks to the genetic engineering industry which has found a welcome home there. Yes—the days to come are looking very good for South Africans. That is, if they can survive the present challenges:

A new hallucinogenic drug sweeping the country . . .

An emerging AI uprising . . .

And an ancient demigoddess hellbent on regaining her former status by preying on the blood and sweat (but mostly blood) of every human she encounters.


It’s up to a young Zulu girl powerful enough to destroy her entire township, a queer teen plagued with the ability to control minds, a pop diva with serious daddy issues, and a politician with even more serious mommy issues to band together to ensure there’s a future left to worry about.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
400 p.; Fiction

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

#BookReview: EVERYBODY'S SON by Thrity Umrigar

Summary: During a terrible heatwave in 1991—the worst in a decade—ten-year old Anton has been locked in an apartment in the projects, alone, for seven days, without air conditioning or a fan. With no electricity, the refrigerator and lights do not work. Hot, hungry, and desperate, Anton shatters a window and climbs out. Cutting his leg on the broken glass, he is covered in blood when the police find him. Juanita, his mother, is discovered in a crack house less than three blocks away, nearly unconscious and half-naked. When she comes to, she repeatedly asks for her baby boy. She never meant to leave Anton—she went out for a quick hit and was headed right back, until her drug dealer raped her and kept her high. Though the bond between mother and son is extremely strong, Anton is placed with child services while Juanita goes to jail.

The Harvard-educated son of a U. S. senator, Judge David Coleman is a scion of northeastern white privilege. Desperate to have a child in the house again after the tragic death of his teenage son, David uses his power and connections to keep his new foster son, Anton, with him and his wife, Delores—actions that will have devastating consequences in the years to come. Following in his adopted family’s footsteps, Anton, too, rises within the establishment. But when he discovers the truth about his life, his birth mother, and his adopted parents, this man of the law must come to terms with the moral complexities of crimes committed by the people he loves most.

Review: Thrity Umrigar most recently approached race relations in her 2014 novel, The Story Hour. After dipping her toe in the water with that, she fully wades in with her latest, Everybody's Son. Much like Shanthi Sekaran did in Lucky Boy, she explores the topic of who deserves to be a parent. Is is the person best able to care for a child financially or emotionally?

Umrigar tells the story from the perspective of the adoptive parents and Anton. So much of who the parents are is tied to their wealth and their legacy, which already gives them a one up on Anton's biological mother. While they seemingly start off with good intentions, and no doubt believe that their intentions are good from start to end, their selfishness and arrogance are their undoing, at least in my eyes. In their attempts to give him a "good" life, they strip him of kinship with other African-Americans and, at the core, who he is as a black boy and man in America.

Early on, Anton struggles with who is his in the lily white world of the Colemans, but eventually dwells in and thrives in the sunken place. It's no surprise that it's a shock to his system when he meets a black woman in college who challenges his belief system, as instilled in him by the Colemans, and forces him to open his eyes to how his adoptive parents have manipulated him and his mother.

Umrigar tackles a lot in her latest and does it well. Is it fair to remove a child completely from his environment and/or his culture? Are you doing more harm than good? I think every case would have to be viewed individually. Anton is a smart character and may well have thrived had he stayed with his mother. In moving him away from what he was familiar with, the Colemans give him a better chance at success, but at what price? There's a lot to unpack and think about in just 352 pages. I can't wait to see what Thrity Umrigar takes on next.



352 p.
Published: June 2017
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher; opinions are my own.

Friday, June 2, 2017

New Books Coming Your Way, June 6, 2017

Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou
208 p.; Fiction

It’s not easy being Tokumisa Nzambe po Mose yamoyindo abotami namboka ya Bakoko. There’s that long name of his for a start, which means, "Let us thank God, the black Moses is born on the lands of the ancestors." Most people just call him Moses. Then there’s the orphanage where he lives, run by a malicious political stooge, Dieudonn√© Ngoulmoumako, and where he’s terrorized by two fellow orphans—the twins Songi-Songi and Tala-Tala.

But after Moses exacts revenge on the twins by lacing their food with hot pepper, the twins take Moses under their wing, escape the orphanage, and move to the bustling port town of Pointe-Noire, where they form a gang that survives on petty theft. What follows is a funny, moving, larger-than-life tale that chronicles

Everybody's Son by Thrity Umrigar
352 p.; Fiction

During a terrible heatwave in 1991—the worst in a decade—ten-year old Anton has been locked in an apartment in the projects, alone, for seven days, without air conditioning or a fan. With no electricity, the refrigerator and lights do not work. Hot, hungry, and desperate, Anton shatters a window and climbs out. Cutting his leg on the broken glass, he is covered in blood when the police find him. Juanita, his mother, is discovered in a crack house less than three blocks away, nearly unconscious and half-naked. When she comes to, she repeatedly asks for her baby boy. She never meant to leave Anton—she went out for a quick hit and was headed right back, until her drug dealer raped her and kept her high. Though the bond between mother and son is extremely strong, Anton is placed with child services while Juanita goes to jail.

The Harvard-educated son of a U. S. senator, Judge David Coleman is a scion of northeastern white privilege. Desperate to have a child in the house again after the tragic death of his teenage son, David uses his power and connections to keep his new foster son, Anton, with him and his wife, Delores—actions that will have devastating consequences in the years to come. Following in his adopted family’s footsteps, Anton, too, rises within the establishment. But when he discovers the truth about his life, his birth mother, and his adopted parents, this man of the law must come to terms with the moral complexities of crimes committed by the people he loves most.

The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami
224 p.; Fiction

Objects for sale at the Nakano Thrift Shop appear as commonplace as the staff and customers that handle them. But like those same customers and staff, they hold many secrets. If examined carefully, they show the signs of innumerable extravagancies, of immeasurable pleasure and pain, and of the deep mysteries of the human heart.

Hitomi, the inexperienced young woman who works the register at Mr. Nakano’s thrift shop, has fallen for her coworker, the oddly reserved Takeo. Unsure of how to attract his attention, she seeks advice from her employer’s sister, Masayo, whose sentimental entanglements make her a somewhat unconventional guide. But thanks in part to Masayo, Hitomi will come to realize that love, desire, and intimacy require acceptance not only of idiosyncrasies but also of the delicate waltz between open and hidden secrets.

Making Rent in Bed-Stuy: A Memoir of Trying to Make It in New York City by Brandon Harris
320 p.; Biography

Making Rent in Bed-Stuy explores the history and socio-cultural importance of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn’s largest historically black community, through the lens of a coming-of-age young African-American artist, living at the dawn of an era in which urban class warfare is politely referred to as gentrification. Bookended by accounts of two different breakups, a roommate and a lover, both who come from the white American elite, the book oscillates between chapters of urban bildungsroman and historical examination of some of Bed-Stuy’s most salient aesthetic and political legacies.

Filled with personal stories and a vibrant cast of iconoclastic characters—friends and acquaintances such as Spike Lee, Lena Dunham, and Paul McCloud, who makes a living charging $5 for a tour of his extensive Elvis collection—Making Rent in Bed-Stuy poignantly captures what happens when youthful idealism clashes head on with adult reality.

James Baldwin: The FBI File by William J. Maxwell
440 p.; History

Decades before Black Lives Matter returned James Baldwin to prominence, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI considered the Harlem-born author the most powerful broker between black art and black power. Baldwin’s 1,884-page FBI file, covering the period from 1958 to 1974, was the largest compiled on any African American artist of the Civil Rights era. This collection of once-secret documents, never before published in book form, captures the FBI’s anxious tracking of Baldwin’s writings, phone conversations, and sexual habits—and Baldwin’s defiant efforts to spy back at Hoover and his G-men.

James Baldwin: The FBI File reproduces over one hundred original FBI records, selected by the noted literary historian whose award-winning book, F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature, brought renewed attention to bureau surveillance. William J. Maxwell also provides an introduction exploring Baldwin's enduring relevance in the time of Black Lives Matter along with running commentaries that orient the reader and offer historical context, making this book a revealing look at a crucial slice of the American past—and present.


Getting It Right by Karen E. Osborne
280 p.; Fiction

Getting It Right is the story of Kara and Alex, half-sisters who have never met--one the product of an abusive foster-care setting, the other of dysfunctional privilege. Haunted by crippling memories, Kara falls for the wrong men, tries to help her foster-care siblings suffering from PTSD, and longs for the father and half-sister she only knows from a photograph. Alex, meanwhile, struggles to keep her younger sisters out of trouble, her mother sane, and her marketing business afloat.

Now Alex has a new responsibility: from his hospital bed, her father tasks her with finding Kara, the mixed-race child he abandoned. Alex is stunned to learn of Kara's existence but reluctantly agrees.

To make things more complicated, Kara loves a married man whom the FBI is pursuing for insider trading. When Alex eventually finds her half-sister, she becomes embroiled in Kara's dangers, which threaten to drag them both down. If Kara doesn't help the FBI, she could face prosecution and possible incarceration, and if Alex can't persuade Kara to meet their father, she will let him down during the final days of his life.

Dear Cyborgs by Eugene Lim
176 p.; Fiction

In a small Midwestern town, two Asian American boys bond over their outcast status and a mutual love of comic books. Meanwhile, in an alternative or perhaps future universe, a team of superheroes ponders modern society during their time off. Between black-ops missions and rescuing hostages, they swap stories of artistic malaise and muse on the seemingly inescapable grip of market economics.

Gleefully toying with the conventions of the novel, Dear Cyborgs weaves together the story of a friendship’s dissolution with a provocative and lively meditation on protest. Through a series of linked monologues, a surprising cast of characters explores narratives of resistance—protest art, eco-terrorists, Occupy squatters, pyromaniacal militants—and the extent to which any of these can truly withstand the pragmatic demands of contemporary capitalism. All the while, a mysterious cybernetic book of clairvoyance beckons, and trusted allies start to disappear.