Wednesday, February 22, 2017

#BookReview: THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR by Yewande Omotoso

Summary: Hortensia James and Marion Agostino are neighbors. One is black, the other white. Both are successful women with impressive careers. Both have recently been widowed, and are living with questions, disappointments, and secrets that have brought them shame. And each has something that the woman next door deeply desires.

Sworn enemies, the two share a hedge and a deliberate hostility, which they maintain with a zeal that belies their age. But, one day, an unexpected event forces Hortensia and Marion together. As the physical barriers between them collapse, their bickering gradually softens into conversation, which yields a discovery of shared experiences. But are these sparks of connection enough to ignite a friendship, or is it too late to expect these women to change?

Review: When you've found yourself in a marriage with little love for decades, in a country and, particularly a suburb, which you have no use for, it's likely that you might become bitter. Hortensia James is bitter and it shows in everything she does, aside from her career. And while it's amusing to read of her attending home owner meetings just to antagonize the other women, Marion Agostino specifically, it's also sad. If you're like me, you find yourself wondering what could have happened in her life to lead her to this point. Thankfully, the author takes us on a leisurely stroll through Hortensia's past.

An accomplished woman in her field of architecture, one might think Marion Agostino is confident, but she's not. She's an insecure and controlling woman who's driven her adult children away. The only thing she controls is the local home owner's meeting and Hortensia won't even let her do that without starting an argument. She tries to include her neighbor in discussions, but Hortensia has a knack for knocking her down and putting her in her place.

My biggest takeaways are that Hortensia is bitter because she's unforgiving and a bit of a bully, but also scared. It's also interesting that while she seemed to have no problem confronting other when she had a problem with them, she never confronted her husband, instead choosing to let her anger toward him build for years. And Marion is a nag because she knows that no one truly likes her, she even questions whether her husband and children ever did, given her circumstances. While others are afraid to confront either lady, they have no problem calling each other out. It was clever of Omotoso to put these two women, so alike and yet so different, together.

288 p.
Published: February 2017



Friday, February 17, 2017

#BookReview: MATTERS OF CONVENIENCE by Roy L. Pickering, Jr.

Summary: Marshall yearns for Audrey but she sees a future with James. When her personal and professional plans veer off course, their relationships are shuffled. Can it work out with Marshall after he provides support at a critical juncture? Or is it doomed to fail when paths cross with James, secrets are revealed, and commitments are put to the test? Matters of Convenience examines the repercussions of unpredictable timing and rash solutions, asking if happiness results from choice, fate or serendipity.

Review: Can men write romance novels? That was my initial thought when the author of Patches of Grey reached out to me asking for a review of his latest work. I racked my brain trying to come up with any other romances that I've read that have been written by men and couldn't. Do men not write romance? Are they not capable of writing romance? Pickering answers all of those questions in Matters of Convenience.

Audrey has everything going for her. She has a great job, good friends and impeccable taste. She’s been unlucky in love, but that’s okay because she’s focused on her career and a possible promotion. Her best friend, Marshall, provides the male shoulder she needs to lean on occasionally, so she has male company, it’s just platonic.

It’s undeniable that Marshall is in love with Audrey. They tried dating years ago, but where he felt flames, she barely felt a flicker. Marshall has comfortably settled into the friend zone while he watches Audrey date other men, believing that one day she’ll realize that he’s the only constant in her life and should be the man in her life.

James has played the fields for years. As his friends move into steady relationships, marriage and kids, he’s content to date several women. A BMW (black man working) in New York certainly has his pick of women and he takes full advantage of it.

When James meets Audrey, he’s immediately taken with her and theirs is almost a story book romance, but almost doesn’t count. Pickering could have taken the easy route and given readers their happily ever after and wrapped the story up with a nice bow, but nope. He explores what happens if there’s no happily ever after and it’s a bumpy but enjoyable ride.

Pickering’s characters are interesting and he uses them well. I found myself rooting for James and Audrey, of course, but I also wanted Marshall, Sarah and others to find their happy endings. A true sign of a good book and characters is that they stay with you after you’ve finished the book and these characters did. If Pickering decides to stay in the romance lane, I have a feeling he’ll do well.

427 p.
Published: November 2016
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from author, opinions are mine.


Amazon

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

#BookReview: AMERICAN STREET by Ibi Zoboi

Summary: On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life. But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own. Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola must learn that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

Review: It can be difficult to play by the rules when you don’t know what those rules are. So finding herself in Detroit without her mother and with family she only knows from phone calls is a bit overwhelming for Fabiola. Readers of a certain age will remember when we first met Omar Tyree’s Flyy Girl, Tracy Ellison, over 20 years ago. Fabiola’s Detroit cousins, known as the Three Bs (brains, beauty & brawn), Chantal, Donna and Princess are Tracy meets the Gross sisters from the Proud Family, hardened in ways that Fabiola isn’t. Is it that Fabiola is rooted in Haitian tradition and culture, while her cousins have become Americanized? She’s not preoccupied with trendy clothes and weaves or getting her nails done. Her simple wish is to be reunited with her mother, whatever the cost.

I love that even as Fabi begins to adjust to life in Detroit and learns about the family business, she never loses who she is. On the outside, she does dress differently, goes out with friends, and keeps a few secrets, but she still loves her natural hair, she still says her prayers at night, she’s still a bit naive and she can still differentiate between wrong and right. She’s a typical teenager, but has stronger convictions and moral codes than most. Ibi Zoboi never lets her lose that throughout the story.

With a foot firmly planted in both the crossroads of Haiti and Detroit and American Street and Joy Road, she faces difficult decisions when it comes to her cousins, her aunt, her mother and her new love. Fabi sees Papa Legba in the homeless man on the corner where others see a bum. It’s her deep faith in Vodou that allows her to see him for who he is and, because of her faith, Zoboi is able to bring a bit of mystical, supernaturalness to the story. It's this faith that keeps Fabi believing that one day she'll be reunited with her mother.

Now let's talk about this gorgeous book cover! It caught my eye while I was browsing the publisher catalog and I immediately knew that I wanted to read the story before I even knew what it was about. Publishers have to know that covers mean things and can make all the difference when it comes to a reader picking up a book. Also, it's important to note that though the main character is in high school, this is a great read for all ages. Ibi Zoboi has such a way with words and characters that I’m looking forward to whatever she puts out next.


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

Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Friday, February 10, 2017

#BookReview: COPYCAT by Kimberla Lawson Roby

Summary: Befriending Traci Calloway Cole is the best thing Simone Phillips has ever done. Traci is the kind of woman Simone wants to be-in every way possible. She begins copying her role model. Not because she wants to be Traci. She just wants to be exactly like Traci.

Traci doesn't worry, though. She knows Simone doesn't mean any harm and that her mimicry is only sincere admiration. Until she discovers how far Simone's obsession has gone. It is then that Simone's entire world begins unraveling, and dreadful secrets from her past are exposed with no warning. Secrets that she'll do almost anything to protect.

Review: From the very beginning, Copycat felt familiar and that's because Kimberla Lawson Roby continues to stick to her tried and true, simplistic plot lines and story telling. Much like her 2011 Secret Obsession, Copycat is predictable from page one. As a reader, I felt like a movie patron that screams at characters on the screen to, "Get out! You're in danger, girl!" But the characters didn't heed my warning and, instead, readers are subjected to 192 pages of meh.

When I read 2016's Best Friends Forever, I swore I would never read a Lawson Roby book again.
The flat characters mixed in with one dimensional characters and weak story lines continue to be a theme in Lawson Roby’s work. After all of these years, and books, one would think that there would be progress with her writing. It continues to be formulaic and predictable. I know that her books sell well, but that says more about lazy readers than it does about her writing. I would imagine that the bulk of her faithful readers are the same people that shill out money to watch Tyler Perry’s gun toting, foul mouthed, wisdom spewing Madea. I can honestly say that this is the last Lawson Roby book that I’ll pick up.
And yet here I am again. Nothing has changed. Her writing still falls flat and I'm still unimpressed. No more, I say! No more!

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

Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

#BookReview: LUCKY BOY by Shanthi Sekaran

Summary: Solimar Castro-Valdez is eighteen and drunk on optimism when she embarks on a perilous journey across the U.S./Mexican border. Weeks later she arrives on her cousin’s doorstep in Berkeley, CA, dazed by first love found then lost, and pregnant. This was not the plan. But amid the uncertainty of new motherhood and her American identity, Soli learns that when you have just one precious possession, you guard it with your life. For Soli, motherhood becomes her dwelling and the boy at her breast her hearth.

Kavya Reddy has always followed her heart, much to her parents’ chagrin. A mostly contented chef at a UC Berkeley sorority house, the unexpected desire to have a child descends like a cyclone in Kavya’s mid-thirties. When she can’t get pregnant, this desire will test her marriage, it will test her sanity, and it will set Kavya and her husband, Rishi, on a collision course with Soli, when she is detained and her infant son comes under Kavya’s care. As Kavya learns to be a mother—the singing, story-telling, inventor-of-the-universe kind of mother she fantasized about being—she builds her love on a fault line, her heart wrapped around someone else’s child.

Review: Who deserves to be a mother? Is it determined by your station in life? By your wealth? Perhaps by your citizenship status? Lucky Boy asks, and sometimes answers, all of these questions and more.

In Soli’s story, we see a young undocumented mother that’s come to the U.S. from her small town in Mexico where jobs have dried up. Her journey hasn’t been easy, but she’s working for a wealthy, white family and saving money for the baby she didn’t know she was carrying. Giving birth to him in America makes him a U.S. citizen, but she is not, regardless of what her papers say. Her cousin’s recklessness lands her in detainment and she’s scheduled to be deported without her son.

What could be your typical wealthy white family taking advantage of an undocumented immigrant comes with a spin when the typical wealthy white family is instead a somewhat comfortable Indian American family. Does that change the dynamic just a bit?

Kavya is the whirlwind that has fascinated Rishi for years. But her new obsession with having a baby is something he can’t reconcile with the free spirit that is his wife. While he doesn’t readily take to fostering Ignacio, he grows to love him and the family that the three of them have created. Though he’s repeatedly reminded Kavya that this is just temporary, he finds himself forgetting that, especially when Ignacio begins calling his dada. They're good people for raising someone else's child, right? But are they good people for wanting to keep that child from its mother?

This book! From chapter to chapter, I changed who I was rooting for. Ignacio is Soli’s baby, but is she in the position to raise a child? She’s his mother though, right? And Kavya and Rishi have created such a good life for Ignacio, but is it fair of the wealthy American citizens to keep an immigrant’s son from her? Like I said, this book!


480 p
Published: January 2017


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Friday, February 3, 2017

New Books Coming Your Way, Feb. 7, 2017



Amiable with Big Teeth by Claude McKay
Historical; African-American
352 p.

The unexpected discovery in 2012 of a completed manuscript of Claude McKay’s final novel was hailed by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. as “a major event [which] dramatically expands the canon of novels written by Harlem Renaissance writers.” Building on the already extraordinary legacy of McKay’s life and work, this colorful, dramatic novel centers on the effort by Harlem intelligentsia to organize support for the liberation of Mussolini-occupied Ethiopia, a crucial but largely forgotten event in American history. At once a penetrating satire of political machinations in Depression-era Harlem and a far-reaching story of global intrigue and romance, Amiable with Big Teeth plunges into the concerns, anxieties, hopes, and dreams of African-Americans at a moment of crisis for the soul of Harlem—and America.

Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound


Ghachar Ghochar: A Novel
by Vivek Shanbhag
Fiction; India
128 p.

A young man’s close-knit family is nearly destitute when his uncle founds a successful spice company, changing their fortunes almost overnight. As the narrator—a sensitive, passive man who is never named—his mother, father, sister, and uncle move from a cramped, ant-infested shack to a large new house on the other side of Bangalore, the family dynamic starts to shift. Allegiances realign, marriages are arranged and begin to falter, and conflict brews ominously in the background. Before he knows it, things are “ghachar ghochar”—a nonsense phrase meaning something tangled beyond repair, a knot that can’t be untied.

Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound


High Cotton: A Novel by Darryl Pinckney
Fiction; African-American
320 p.

An elegant, insightful novel that evokes the world of upper-middle-class blacks, following an unnamed narrator from a safe childhood in conservative Indianapolis, to a brief tenure as minister of information for a local radical organization, to the life of an expatriate in Paris. Through it all, his imagination is increasingly dominated by his elderly relations and the lessons of their experiences in the “Old Country” of the South.

Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound


The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Fiction; Vietnam
224 p.

From a young Vietnamese refugee who suffers profound culture shock when he comes to live with two gay men in San Francisco, to a woman whose husband is suffering from dementia and starts to confuse her for a former lover, to a girl living in Ho Chi Minh City whose older half-sister comes back from America having seemingly accomplished everything she never will, the stories are a captivating testament to the dreams and hardships of immigration.

Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound


The Woman Next Door: A Novel by Yewande Omotoso
Fiction; South Africa
288 p

Hortensia James and Marion Agostino are neighbors. One is black, the other white. Both are successful women with impressive careers. Both have recently been widowed, and are living with questions, disappointments, and secrets that have brought them shame. And each has something that the woman next door deeply desires.

Sworn enemies, the two share a hedge and a deliberate hostility, which they maintain with a zeal that belies their age. But, one day, an unexpected event forces Hortensia and Marion together. As the physical barriers between them collapse, their bickering gradually softens into conversation, which yields a discovery of shared experiences. But are these sparks of connection enough to ignite a friendship, or is too late to expect these women to change?

Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound


Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Fiction; Asian
496 p.

Profoundly moving and gracefully told, Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them. Betrayed by her wealthy lover, Sunja finds unexpected salvation when a young tubercular minister offers to marry her and bring her to Japan to start a new life.

So begins a sweeping saga of exceptional people in exile from a homeland they never knew and caught in the indifferent arc of history. In Japan, Sunja's family members endure harsh discrimination, catastrophes, and poverty, yet they also encounter great joy as they pursue their passions and rise to meet the challenges this new home presents. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, they are bound together by deep roots as their family faces enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.

Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound


Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong
Biography; African-American
272 p.

When George Washington was elected president, he reluctantly left behind his beloved Mount Vernon to serve in Philadelphia, the temporary seat of the nation’s capital, after a brief stay in New York. In setting up his household he took Tobias Lear, his celebrated secretary, and nine slaves, including Ona Judge, about which little has been written. As he grew accustomed to Northern ways, there was one change he couldn’t get his arms around: Pennsylvania law required enslaved people be set free after six months of residency in the state. Rather than comply, Washington decided to circumvent the law. Every six months he sent the slaves back down south just as the clock was about to expire.

Though Ona Judge lived a life of relative comfort, the few pleasantries she was afforded were nothing compared to freedom, a glimpse of which she encountered first-hand in Philadelphia. So, when the opportunity presented itself one clear and pleasant spring day in Philadelphia, Judge left everything she knew to escape to New England. Yet freedom would not come without its costs.

At just twenty-two-years-old, Ona became the subject of an intense manhunt led by George Washington, who used his political and personal contacts to recapture his property.

Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound


Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
Fiction; Kenya
320 p.

Set in the shadow of Kenya's independence from Great Britain, Dance of the Jakaranda reimagines the special circumstances that brought black, brown and white men together to lay the railroad that heralded the birth of the nation.

The novel traces the lives and loves of three men--preacher Richard Turnbull, the colonial administrator Ian McDonald, and Indian technician Babu Salim--whose lives intersect when they are implicated in the controversial birth of a child. Years later, when Babu's grandson Rajan--who ekes out a living by singing Babu's epic tales of the railway's construction--accidentally kisses a mysterious stranger in a dark nightclub, the encounter provides the spark to illuminate the three men's shared, murky past.

Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

#BookReview: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF PERSIMMON WILSON by Nancy Peacock

Summary: Sitting in a jail cell on the eve of his hanging, April 1, 1875, freedman Persimmon “Persy” Wilson wants nothing more than to leave some record of the truth—his truth. He may be guilty, but not of what he stands accused: the kidnapping and rape of his former master’s wife.

In 1860, Persy had been sold to Sweetmore, a Louisiana sugar plantation, alongside a striking, light-skinned house slave named Chloe. Their deep and instant connection fueled a love affair and inspired plans to escape their owner, Master Wilson, who claimed Chloe as his concubine. But on the eve of the Union Army’s attack on New Orleans, Wilson shot Persy, leaving him for dead, and fled with Chloe and his other slaves to Texas. So began Persy’s journey across the frontier, determined to reunite with his lost love. Along the way, he would be captured by the Comanche, his only chance of survival to prove himself fierce and unbreakable enough to become a warrior. His odyssey of warfare, heartbreak, unlikely friendships, and newfound family would change the very core of his identity and teach him the meaning and the price of freedom.

Review: When you read a lot, it's not unusual to come across books with similar themes. While The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson was an interesting read, it didn't grab me like other books along this vein have. I try to be as non-biased as possible with books, but knowing that the author was white gave me a bit of discomfort when it came to usage of the n-word. It was sprinkled liberally from the mouths of the enslaved, even more so than their overseers and, at times, it felt forced and inauthentic. Perhaps it's in knowing that of her two novels, both are rooted in slavery themes. What is her fascination with the topic? She does the research but she never quite captures the true essence of her characters.

Though the plot line of The Life and Times is interesting, I'd suggest readers pick up two other books: Anita Bunkley's One Thousand Steps does a much better job of exploring the relationship between enslaved African-Americans and Native Americans; and Leonard Pitts' Freedom, does an amazing job of telling the story of a man that walks the country looking for his lost love following the end of slavery.

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

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