Friday, October 13, 2017

New Books Coming Your Way, October 17, 2017

We're Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True by Gabrielle Union
272 p.; Memoir

One month before the release of the highly anticipated film The Birth of a Nation, actress Gabrielle Union shook the world with a vulnerable and impassioned editorial in which she urged our society to have compassion for victims of sexual violence. In the wake of rape allegations made against director and actor Nate Parker, Union—a forty-four-year-old actress who launched her career with roles in iconic ’90s movies—instantly became the insightful, outspoken actress that Hollywood has been desperately awaiting. With honesty and heartbreaking wisdom she revealed her own trauma as a victim of sexual assault: “It is for you that I am speaking. This is real. We are real.”

In this moving collection of thought provoking essays infused with her unique wisdom and deep humor, Union uses that same fearlessness to tell astonishingly personal and true stories about power, color, gender, feminism, and fame. Union tackles a range of experiences, including bullying, beauty standards, and competition between women in Hollywood, growing up in white California suburbia and then spending summers with her black relatives in Nebraska, coping with crushes, puberty, and the divorce of her parents. Genuine and perceptive, Union bravely lays herself bare, uncovering a complex and courageous life of self-doubt and self-discovery with incredible poise and brutal honesty. Throughout, she compels us to be ethical and empathetic, and reminds us of the importance of confidence, self-awareness, and the power of sharing truth, laughter, and support.

Unseen: Unpublished Black History from the New York Times Photo Archives
304 p.; Photography/History

It all started with Times photo editor Darcy Eveleigh discovering dozens of these photographs. She and three colleagues, Dana Canedy, Damien Cave and Rachel L. Swarns, began exploring the history behind them, and subsequently chronicling them in a series entitled Unpublished Black History, that ran in print and online editions of The Times in February 2016. It garnered 1.7 million views on The Times website and thousands of comments from readers. This book includes those photographs and many more, among them: a 27-year-old Jesse Jackson leading an anti-discrimination rally of in Chicago, Rosa Parks arriving at a Montgomery Courthouse in Alabama a candid behind-the-scenes shot of Aretha Franklin backstage at the Apollo Theater, Ralph Ellison on the streets of his Manhattan neighborhood, the firebombed home of Malcolm X, Myrlie Evans and her children at the funeral of her slain husband , Medgar, a wheelchair-bound Roy Campanella at the razing of Ebbets Field.

Were the photos--or the people in them--not deemed newsworthy enough? Did the images not arrive in time for publication? Were they pushed aside by words at an institution long known as the Gray Lady? Eveleigh, Canedy, Cave, and Swarms explore all these questions and more in this one-of-a-kind book.

The Floating World by C. Morgan Babst
384 p.; Fiction

A dazzling debut about family, home, and grief, The Floating World takes readers into the heart of Hurricane Katrina with the story of the Boisdorés, whose roots stretch back nearly to the foundation of New Orleans. Though the storm is fast approaching the Louisiana coast, Cora, the family’s fragile elder daughter, refuses to leave the city, forcing her parents, Joe Boisdoré, an artist descended from a freed slave who became one of the city’s preeminent furniture makers, and his white “Uptown” wife, Dr. Tess Eshleman, to evacuate without her, setting off a chain of events that leaves their marriage in shambles and Cora catatonic--the victim or perpetrator of some violence mysterious even to herself.

This mystery is at the center of C. Morgan Babst’s haunting, lyrical novel. Cora’s sister, Del, returns to New Orleans from the life she has tried to build in New York City to find her hometown in ruins and her family deeply alienated from one another. As Del attempts to figure out what happened to her sister, she must also reckon with the racial history of the city, and the trauma of destruction that was not, in fact, some random act of God, but an avoidable tragedy visited upon New Orleans’s most helpless and forgotten citizens.

Where the Past Begins: A Writer's Memoir by Amy Tan
368 p.; Memoir/Writing

In Where the Past Begins, bestselling author of The Joy Luck Club and The Valley of Amazement Amy Tan is at her most intimate in revealing the truths and inspirations that underlie her extraordinary fiction. By delving into vivid memories of her traumatic childhood, confessions of self-doubt in her journals, and heartbreaking letters to and from her mother, she gives evidence to all that made it both unlikely and inevitable that she would become a writer. Through spontaneous storytelling, she shows how a fluid fictional state of mind unleashed near-forgotten memories that became the emotional nucleus of her novels.

Tan explores shocking truths uncovered by family memorabilia—the real reason behind an I.Q. test she took at age six, why her parents lied about their education, mysteries surrounding her maternal grandmother—and, for the first time publicly, writes about her complex relationship with her father, who died when she was fifteen. Supplied with candor and characteristic humor, Where the Past Begins takes readers into the idiosyncratic workings of her writer’s mind, a journey that explores memory, imagination, and truth, with fiction serving as both her divining rod and link to meaning.

River Hymns by Tyree Daye
72 p.; Poetry

Winner of the 2017 American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize, River Hymns invites the reader into the complex lineage of the values, contradictions, and secrets of a southern family. These poems reflect on the rich legacy of a young black man’s ancestry: what to use, what to leave behind, and what haunts.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

#BookReview: THE TWELVE-MILE STRAIGHT by Eleanor Henderson

Summary: Cotton County, Georgia, 1930: in a house full of secrets, two babies-one light-skinned, the other dark-are born to Elma Jesup, a white sharecropper’s daughter. Accused of her rape, field hand Genus Jackson is lynched and dragged behind a truck down the Twelve-Mile Straight, the road to the nearby town. In the aftermath, the farm’s inhabitants are forced to contend with their complicity in a series of events that left a man dead and a family irrevocably fractured.

Despite the prying eyes and curious whispers of the townspeople, Elma begins to raise her babies as best as she can, under the roof of her mercurial father, Juke, and with the help of Nan, the young black housekeeper who is as close to Elma as a sister. But soon it becomes clear that the ties that bind all of them together are more intricate than any could have ever imagined. As startling revelations mount, a web of lies begins to collapse around the family, destabilizing their precarious world and forcing all to reckon with the painful truth.

Review: So 1930's Georgia is a lot to take in, right? Like slavery ended decades before, but it just rebranded itself as sharecropping and black bodies are still subject to the abuse of white people. Slavery by any other name is still slavery.

The Twelve-Mile Straight is a lengthy read at almost 600 pages, but not once did I ever want to give up on reading it because I was fascinated by the characters. Juke, the white overseer (for lack of a better word), is a poor man with little power, but the power that he does have he exerts over his daughter and others around him that he deems to be lower than him. He loathes blackness, yet he loves it. In this way, his daughter Elma is no better. Driven by jealousy, she easily denounces someone that's only been kind to her, resulting in his death. It's a rare moment that readers will see her remorseful for her actions.

The direct recipient of so much wrongdoing throughout the story is Nan, referred to as their housekeeper who's like a sister, but Nan is a prisoner of the Jesups. While Elma and Nan are both held captive by the lies Juke has forced upon them, Nan's mother and Elma have their own ways of keeping Nan captive. The actions of Nan's mother early on ensure Nan will never have a voice to speak for herself. And Elma's selfishness keeps Nan tethered to her with little regard for whether or not that's what Nan wants.

I spent so much of the book wanting both girls, then women, to get free, to find a piece of happiness. And it comes eventually, but it's a long time coming.

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

Friday, October 6, 2017

New Books Coming Your Way, October 10, 2017

The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao
by Martha Batalha
272 p.; Fiction

Euridice is young, beautiful and ambitious, but when her rebellious sister Guida elopes, she sets her own aspirations aside and vows to settle down as a model wife and daughter. And yet as her husband's professional success grows, so does Euridice's feeling of restlessness. She embarks on a series of secret projects from creating recipe books to becoming the most sought-after seamstress in town — but each is doomed to failure. Her tradition-loving husband is not interested in an independent wife. And then one day Guida appears at the door with her young son and a terrible story of hardship and abandonment.

As Lie Is to Grin by Simeon Marsalis
160 p.; Fiction

David, the narrator of Simeon Marsalis’s singular first novel, is a freshman at the University of Vermont who is struggling to define himself against the white backdrop of his school. He is also mourning the loss of his New York girlfriend, whose grandfather’s alma mater he has chosen to attend. When David met Melody, he lied to her about who he was and where he lived, creating a more intriguing story than his own. This lie haunts and almost unhinges him as he attempts to find his true voice and identity.

On campus in Vermont, David imagines encounters with a student from the past who might represent either Melody’s grandfather or Jean Toomer, the author of the acclaimed Harlem Renaissance novel Cane (1923). He becomes obsessed with the varieties of American architecture “upon land that was stolen,” and with the university’s past and attitudes as recorded in its newspaper, The Cynic. And he is frustrated with the way the Internet and libraries are curated, making it difficult to find the information he needs to make connections between the university’s history, African American history, and his own life.

In New York, the previous year, Melody confides a shocking secret about her grandfather’s student days at the University of Vermont. When she and her father collude with the intent to meet David’s mother in Harlem—craving what they consider an authentic experience of the black world—their plan ends explosively. The title of this impressive and emotionally powerful novel is inspired by Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “We Wear the Mask” (1896): “We wear the mask that grins and lies . . .”

We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America edited by Brando Skyhorse & Lisa Page
216 p.; Social Science

For some, “passing” means opportunity, access, or safety. Others don’t willingly pass but are “passed” in specific situations by someone else. We Wear the Mask, edited by Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Page, is an illuminating and timely anthology that examines the complex reality of passing in America.

Skyhorse, a Mexican American, writes about how his mother passed him as an American Indian before he learned who he really is. Page shares how her white mother didn’t tell friends about her black ex-husband or that her children were, in fact, biracial.

The anthology includes writing from Gabrielle Bellot, who shares the disquieting truths of passing as a woman after coming out as trans, and MG Lord, who, after the murder of her female lover, embraced heterosexuality. Patrick Rosal writes of how he “accidentally” passes as a waiter at the National Book Awards ceremony, and Rafia Zakaria agonizes over her Muslim American identity while traveling through domestic and international airports. Other writers include Trey Ellis, Marc Fitten, Susan Golomb, Margo Jefferson, Achy Obejas, Clarence Page, Sergio Troncoso, Dolen Perkins-Valdez, and Teresa Wiltz.

Run For It: Stories Of Slaves Who Fought For Their Freedom by Marcelo D'Salete
180 p.; Graphic novel

Run For It — a stunning graphic novel by internationally acclaimed illustrator Marcelo d’Salete — is one of the first literary and artistic efforts to face up to Brazil’s hidden history of slavery. Originally published in Brazil — where it was nominated for three of the country’s most prestigious comics awards — Run For It has received rave reviews worldwide, including, in the U.S., The Huffington Post. These intense tales offer a tragic and gripping portrait of one of history’s darkest corners. It’s hard to look away.

Chuck D Presents This Day in Rap and Hip-Hop History by Chuck D
352 p.; Music

Based on Chuck's long-running show on, this massive compendium details the most iconic moments and influential songs in the genre's recorded history, from Kurtis Blow's "Christmas Rappin'" to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill to Kendrick Lamar's ground-breaking verse on "Control." Also included are key events in hip hop history, from Grandmaster Flash's first scratch through Tupac's holographic appearance at Coachella.

Throughout, Chuck offers his insider's perspective on the chart toppers and show stoppers as he lived it. Illustrating the pages are more than 100 portraits from the talented artists specializing in hip hop.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

#BookReview: LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng

Summary: In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned—from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principal is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren- an enigmatic artist and single mother- who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family—and Mia’s.

"The firemen said there were little fires everywhere," Lexie said. "Multiple points of origin. Possible use of accelerant. Not an accident."

Little Fires Everywhere is very much a Pretty in Pink meets Sixteen Candles meets The Breakfast Club. That is to say initially it seems like a John Hughes '80s infused light-hearted story line. The Richardsons are a picture perfect family - two parents with four children: Trip the golden boy, Lexie the most popular girl in school, Moody with a name that befits him, and awkward youngest sister Izzy. And as in any John Hughes movie, their perfect lives are turned upside down when people that don't quite fit into their carefully crafted world crash into it.

Mia Warren is a rebel, a free thinker. And she's raised her daughter Pearl to be the same way, but secretly, Pearl craves the normalcy of a family like the Richardsons. As Pearl ingratiates herself with the Richardson clan, she finds a best friend in Moody, an older sister in Lexie and a crush on Trip.

While Pearl is spending her time swooning over the Richardsons, Izzy is soaking up Mia's presence in her life. When Mia is caught up in helping Bebe Chow, a Chinese immigrant who gives birth to and abandons her baby at a fire station, only to try to reclaim her later, Izzy is a witness to the battle between Mia, her mother and the McCulloughs, the white family that plans to adopt and raise Bebe's baby as their own.

And let's talk about Elena Richardson, because if anyone is threatened by Mia's presence, it's her. It's not enough that she's given Mia and Pearl a place to stay, treated Pearl as her own child and given Mia a job. Mia's decision to side with Bebe instead of Elena and the McCulloughs is an affront to Elena and whiteness. It's unfathomable to Elena that Bebe could care for her own child and she begins digging into Mia's past in hopes of finding what? A way to push the Warrens out of her life? A way to embarrass Mia? Or is Elena simply a mean girl that doesn't know when to quit?

Battle lines are drawn, though the rest of the Richardson children are somewhat indifferent. But words mean things and if Izzy later sets little fires everywhere, Mia is the accelerant. She is the one adult that listens to Izzy and takes her seriously. So it's no wonder that when she finds her world crashing down with the threat of losing Mia, Izzy recalls her words.

Like after a prairie fire… It seems like the end of the world. The earth is all scorched and black and everything green is gone. But after the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow… People are like that too, you know. They start over. They find a way.

Was Mia telling Izzy to burn everything down and start over? Was she referencing the new starts that she and Pearl made each time they packed up and moved on to a new city? I'd say that's up to each reader's interpretation.

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