Friday, October 29, 2010

#BookReview: Page from A Tennessee Journal - Francine Thomas Howard

After reading about how great this book was over at BrownGirlSpeaks, I knew I had to add it to my "to be read" list.  I'll admit that I added it February, but just now got around to reading it.  What can I say? My list is long.

Page from A Tennessee Journal tells the story of a mother struggling to raise her four children in 1913 Tennessee after her husband leaves them.  Annalaura Welles knew better than to marry John.  Her Aunt Becky told her he was a sporting man, but she was too enamored with his good looks and flattered that he chose her from all of the women in town.  Twelve years after they said, "I do," John took off in the middle of the night leaving Annalaura to figure out how to harvest the 40 acres their family sharecropped for the McNaughtons.

When John Welles left his family he didn't plan to be gone for long.  There's no way Annalaura could understand how he felt.  No man in his right mind wanted to sharecrop for the rest of his life.  He knew that Alex McNaughton had cheated his family out of what they rightfully earned the previous season and he thought that if he could just get up to Nashville, he would be able to earn enough money to buy his own farm.  He would have told Annalaura, but he knew she'd find the words to stop him.

Much like Annalaura, Eula McNaughton was in awe of her husband, Alex.  Eula was homely and knew it, so when Alex McNaughton showed up at her family's door asking for her hand in marriage, she readily accepted.  Though tending a farm was a step down for her, it was better than being an old maid, which was where she was headed just shy of her 21st birthday.  Eula runs the farm like clockwork and caters to Alex's every whim.

Alex McNaughton has no use for the coloreds.  As long as they work his land and stay out of his way, they're alright with him.  Noticing that the middle 40 acres of his land aren't being harvested properly, he sets out to confront John Welles.  He doesn't get a chance to talk to the long gone man, but he does have a chance to speak with his wife and that meeting sparks more than a passing interest for him.

What did you like about this book?
I loved that each of the four main characters was fully developed.  As a reader, I was able to see everyone's side to the story and even some background on why they behaved as they did.

What didn't you like about this book?
I can't say that it was the book, but I disliked the way women were treated as property.  I know that it was due to the time period, but I still didn't care for it.  Both John and Alex were in love with Annalaura and both, especially John, treated her as less than human.  For John to leave without word and stay gone for over a year, then magically reappear like a few gifts and kind words would make everything okay? No sir!  I was mad for Annalaura.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Not a thing.

Published March 2010

Theme: Billie's Blues by Billie Holiday

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

#BookReview: Karma II - Sabrina A. Eubanks

I loved Karma and I was really looking forward to reading the sequel to it.  Unfortunately, Karma II doesn't quite live up to the promise of the initial book.  Even so, it's still a fairly decent read.

The loss of his fiance left Lucas Cain devastated.  With the support of his best friend and fellow detective, Noah, Lucas has gotten his head straight, at least on the job.  Noah's womanizing ways amuse Lucas, but he's in no rush to connect with another woman as long as Jasmine remains on his mind.

When the two detectives are paired with lady detectives Leah and Nichole, sparks immediately fly.  The case that the foursome is working on really gets buried under the blossoming romance between Lucas and Nichole and Noah's personal problems.  In fact, the undercover operation could have been left out of the book and I don't know that anyone would have cared or noticed.

The one thing that really stood out in this book was the treatment of women as property and/or less than human.  Several women in the book are abused at the hands of men, both physically and emotionally.  While I realize that that is a reality, especially in the world that the author has created, it made for quite a few cringe worthy moments.

What did you like about this book?
The relationship with Lucas and Nichole was cute, but it evolved entirely too soon to be realistic.

What didn't you like about this book?
As I said above, the mistreatment of women left a bad taste in my mouth.  I got no sense that any of the men perpetrating the abuse regretted it or apologized for it either.  Just as disturbing as the physical abuse was the mental abuse carried out by someone that would otherwise be a likable character.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Returning to what worked for the first book would be helpful.

Published March 2010

Theme: Black and Blue by Raheem Devaughn

Monday, October 18, 2010

#BookReview: Sweet Georgia Brown - Cheryl Robinson

Georgia Brown firmly believes in supporting her man.  So even though Marvin hasn't held down a job since he was laid off from the plant, she continues to support him.  Living with his parents is no walk in the park, especially with two kids, but it's all they can afford while Marvin insists on working on a comedy career.

Fast forward and Marvin's spot on a prime time comedy competition has launched his career in radio.  Much like the jokes that he told to win the competition, his radio show focuses on what a bad wife Georgia is.  She's been the butt of his jokes for so many years that she doesn't even bother listening to his show anymore.

Marvin's bank account and ego have grown since he won the show.  He knows that Georgia is a supportive wife, in fact, she's his rock.  That doesn't stop him from seeking the attention of other women who are only too happy to please a nationally syndicated radio host.  His arrogance knows no bounds and the only thing that humbles him is the gambling debt he owes.

When a woman from Marvin's past shows up on Georgia's doorstep with a 13 year old daughter in tow, Georgia has just about reached her limit.  The sweet Georgia Brown that Marvin has walked over for years is no more.  In her place is a woman that knows what she wants and how to get it.

What did you like about this book?
It was a quick and easy read.  The author does a good job of making Georgia very likable and Marvin very unlikable.  I also appreciated the fact that the story line wasn't predictable, though it could have been.

What didn't you like about this book?

What could the author do to improve this book?
As despicable as Marvin was, I would have liked to see him suffer more.

Published January 2008

Theme: Love T.K.O. by Regina Belle

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

#BookReview: Feminista - Erica Kennedy

I can't tell you how many times I glanced at this book on the shelves of the library and kept right on walking.  Everything about the cover screamed typical chick lit.  I had no use for it.  I only wanted to read books that would improve my world and impress me.  Meh, so I'm slow sometimes.  Feminista was great!

Sydney Zamora bounced around from job to job until a temping gig landed her a permanent position as a writer at Cachet.  Along with that position came a nice, fat paycheck and all she had to do was write a few articles a month about celebrities. Easy, peasy, right?

Sydney has a reputation for discarding people from her life like yesterday's newspaper.  Friends that got married? Gone.  Having a baby? It's been nice knowing you.  Fiercely competitive and an eternal feminist, she doesn't suffer fools and that includes the men she dates.  When her sister tries to hook her up with Mitzi Berman, THE matchmaker, Syd fights her every step of the way.

Maximillion Harvey is an heir to one of the biggest department stores in the country.  He's also a slacker.  While his sister is content to run their empire, he'd much rather slide through life having fun.  He's left a trail of brokenhearted women in his wake and sees no reason to change that.  Mitzi would love to see him shackled to one of the women in her stable, but he has no intention of falling in line with her program.

Ok, I know what you're thinking.  Typical romance, right? Nope.  This is a hilariously funny take on what you think you know about fiercely independent women and the wealthy men that woo them.

What did you like about the book?
Sydney was an absolute mess.  Instead of being Pollyanna Perfect, Erica King makes her very relatable.   There was just the right touch of drama and comedy sprinkled throughout to make this a page turner.

What didn't you like about the book?
The cover doesn't do it justice.  From my initial glances I made assumptions that kept me, and perhaps others like me, from picking it up.  Nothing about the cover tells you that the lead character isn't scrawny white chick, but is actual a person of color.

What could the author do to improve this book?
I know that it's not necessarily within her power to determine the outcome of the cover art, but it would really go a long way to make it more eye catching.

Published September 2009

Theme: Independent Women by Destiny's Child

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

#BookReview: THE FALL OF ROME by Martha Southgate

The Fall of Rome really is a play on words.  The opening character is Jerome Washington, the only African American faculty member at a prestigious, predominantly white, all boys boarding school, The Chelsea School, in Connecticut.  Jerome firmly believes in pulling one up by one's own bootstraps without reaching back to help anyone else that might be struggling along the way.  Thanks to his hard work and his Harvard training, he's been on staff at The Chelsea teaching Latin for numerous years.  One of his greatest passions is studying Rome.

...but I share the view of those scholars who have argued that ancient Rome was a place of racial egalitarianism.  I am not so naive as to believe that this country's long history of racial prejudice has been eradicated.  But I do believe that those of us whom Du Bois called "the darker brothers" could profit from accepting the values that Chelsea at its best espouses.   And while I see this school's standards softening under the relentless onslaught of preferential treatment, I want to continue to uphold the values that the school's founders held dear.

Mr. Washington can barely disguise his contempt for Rashid Bryson, the young freshman from New York.  Rashid has come to Connecticut after the death of his brother, a death that has left his parents shells of their former selves.  Adapting to Chelsea, and its student body, will be difficult for a brown boy Brooklyn.  When he notices that the Latin class is taught by Mr. Washington, he takes the class in hopes that he'll find an ally or mentor in him.

There are so many factors at play within this story.  Rashid is looking for acceptance in a world in which he's unfamiliar.  Mr. Washington is haunted by the ghost of his past and is determined to keep boys that don't belong at a place like Chelsea out of it.  Jana needs a chance to redeem herself from her last failure to save a promising student.

What did you like about this book?
I absolutely loved this book!  Any time you find yourself talking back to the pages and wanting to punch a character in the throat, it's got to be a great book.  Martha Southgate has done an exquisite job of creating such a character in Jerome Washington.  From page one I hated him and, while I kept hoping he would have at least one redeemable quality by the end, he had none.

At one point Rashid gives a speech that sounds like something straight from the mouth of President Obama.  Given that the book was written in 2002, either the author is psychic or it's just a coincidence.  In either case, the speech he gave is just as applicable to the present day real world as it was in the fictional world in which Rashid resided.

What did you dislike about this book?
Nothing. I'm only sorry that more people haven't read it.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Not a thing.

Published January 2002

Theme: Can't Truss It by Public Enemy

Monday, October 4, 2010

#BookReview: The Girl from Purple Mountain: Love, Honor, War,and One Family's Journey from China to America - May-lee Chai & Winberg Chai

As a child I hated spending time with my "mean" grandmother. It wasn't so much that she was mean, it was more that I didn't understand her. In The Girl from Purple Mountain, May-lee and Winberg Chai tell the story of their grandmother and mother from their points of view.

With the passing of Ruth, the matriarch of the family, the Chais are thrown into a tizzy. To her family's astonishment, Ruth secretly arranged to be buried alone and away from the plots purchased by her husband. And so begins the story of how Ruth came to be the way she was. To May-lee she was the stern grandmother that rarely showed affection. To Winberg she was his extraordinary mother.

In a time when Christianity was new in China, Ruth was a proud Christian. Her determination led to her studying in America and earning a degree from Wittenberg University. Her cunning ways saved her from marrying a shallow man and instead marrying his younger, more studious brother. While the world around her crumbled, she continued to lift up her husband and sons. It's no wonder that with the weight of the world on her shoulders, she became the stern grandmother that May-lee came to know.

In reading this I found myself drawing parallels between Ruth and my grandmother, who raised twelve children while surviving a divorce and later the death of her second husband while living first in Mississippi and later in East St. Louis. She never told her children she loved them, but they always knew because of her actions. Her no nonsense manner, the result of living in a segregated and unjust world, was a steady in the lives of her children and in mine until she passed in 1988. It has always been strange to hear my aunts and uncles speak of her in such glowing terms. Much like I saw my grandmother differently than my mother did, I know that my daughter sees my mother much differently than I do.

What did you like about this book?
May-lee and Winberg Chai have done a magnificent job of presenting the same person in such a way that she almost seems like two different people.

What did you dislike about this book?
At times the portions written by Winberg can get wordy. I imagine that it's because he remembers China so vividly that he wants to share as much as possible.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Other than the wordiness here and there, I wouldn't change a thing.

Published June 2001

Theme: Grandma's Hands by Bill Withers

Friday, October 1, 2010

#BookReview: Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self - Danielle Evans

Frequent visitors to the blog know that I'm a big fan of well written short stories. Danielle Evans has hit the ball out of the park with Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self. From start to finish, there are no bad stories in this book.

The first short, Virgins, immerses you in the world of fifteen year old Erica and her friends Jasmine and Michael. It's written in such a way that you immediately remember what it was like to be their age and in a rush to grow up.

Snakes tells the story of a young woman on the road to success who confronts her painful past and the summer she spent with her grandmother.

While it would have been easier for the author to write strictly from the female point of view, in Someone Ought to Tell Her There's Nowhere to Go, she tackles the story of a young male soldier returning from war. His re-entrance into the world he left isn't easy and leads him to make questionable, yet seemingly harmless, decisions.

My favorite of all the shorts is Robert E. Lee is Dead. If you've ever been the good girl, the smart girl, the nerdy girl and wished you could gain entry into the popular crowd, this story will resonate with you. Crystal and Gina are best friends, but while Crystal is smart as a whip, school is just a place to see and be seen for Gina. When it comes to popularity, no one is more popular than Gina. A chance to make herself popular among the athletes and cheerleaders arises and Crystal rises to the occasion. Her place in their world is shaky and can be snatched any time Gina says so.

What did you like about this book?
I absolutely loved the variety in stories and in characters. There are eight stories in total and each is completely different, yet just as good as the rest.

What didn't you like about this book?
I honestly can't think of a thing.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Not a thing.

Published September 2010

Theme: It's My Life by Bon Jovi

*Update* Tayari Jones is giving away a copy of Before You Suffocate over on her blog.  Please visit her blog for a chance to win!