Monday, February 28, 2011

#BookReview: Tambourines to Glory - Langston Hughes

:::::whispering::::: This is my first Langston Hughes book.  I'm so ashamed to admit that.  Sure I've read his poem.  Who doesn't know Mother to Son? But before now, I've never taken the time to read any of Hughes' other work, so when I saw an audio version of Tambourines to Glory on the shelf at the library, I took it as a sign that it was time.

Set in Harlem during the Korean War, this is the story of the good-natured Essie and her good time girl neighbor Laura.  Both women are living on relief (what is now known as public aid/welfare/government assistance), but while Essie is saving her little bit of money to bring her daughter up from the south, Laura is using hers to drink and have fun.  Scheming up ways to get more money, the women decide to start their own church, right on the street corners of Harlem.

While Essie approaches the venture with a pure heart and good intentions; Laura, whose knowledge of the Bible is extremely limited, is constantly thinking of ways to increase their weekly income, including bottling tap water and selling it as holy water and using the hymnal numbers to encourage parishioners to play the numbers (lottery).  All is going well for the ladies until Laura's greed and jealousy put them both in jeopardy.

What did you like about the book?
The conversations between the Laura and Essie were priceless and very telling. Essie was more trusting of Laura than she should have been.  I think deep down she knew that Laura had no loyalty to anyone but herself, but she was determined to find the good in her to her own detriment.

What didn't you like about the book?
Really? How does one criticize Langston Hughes?

What could the author do to improve this book?
The character of Birdie Lee was hilarious. I would have loved to see more of her.

Listening time: 4 hours, 17 minutes
Published 1956, made into a musical in 1958

Theme: Tambourines to Glory from the musical Tambourines to Glory

Friday, February 25, 2011

#BookReview: IMAGINARY MEN by Anjali Banerjee

Who hasn't lied to keep their family happy?  Everyone wants to live up to their parent's expectations in some way.  A little lie couldn't possibly hurt anyone, but a big lie such as a fiance' could be detrimental. 

San Francisco matchmaker Lina Ray has a talent for seeing a connection between people.  It makes her an excellent matchmaker.  Lina's family wishes she could find herself the perfect match.  A family visit to India leaves Lina overwhelmed by the prospect of an arranged marriage to a Pee Wee Herman-like man and she finds herself creating an imaginary fiance' to give herself some breathing room.

Without thinking about it, Lina gives her "fiance'" the name of a breathtaking man she briefly met in India.  When he turns up in her San Francisco matchmaking office asking her to find a wife for his younger brother, she finds herself drawn to him.  Unfortunately for her, Raja is a prince and engaged to a princess back home.  As Lina's own wedding date draws near, she's working feverishly to find someone to fill the shoes of her imaginary man.

What did you like about this book?
Lina was an absolutely delightful character.  I honestly didn't want this book to end.

What didn't you like about this book?
At just 258 pages, Imaginary Men just wasn't long enough for me.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Send it to Bollywood.  I would love to see this on the big or little screen.

Published September 2005

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

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

#BookReview: The Accidental Diva - Tia Williams

Beauty editor Billie Burke has a great career and great friends.  She's not done as well in the romance department.  Raised by two free spirits, Billie raised herself to be the exact opposite of them.  Instead of pursuing boys as a teen, she pursued straight As.  It wasn't until she went to college that she found kindred spirits in Vida and Renee.

With a thriving career in publishing, Renee is happy complaining about her man Moses, or "go down Moses" as she calls him when he's not around.  A transplant from the island, Vida has recreated herself as a sought after DJ with a wanna be rapper for a boyfriend.  While her friends enjoy their relationships, Billie is left with work, work and more work.  A chance meeting with spoken word artist Jay Lane changes that.  Jay introduces the good girl from suburbia to a side of New York she's never seen.

Growing up in the projects with junkie parents, Jay raised himself from the age of 13.  He created his own family with Tammy, the crack whore who saved him after a bullet left him wounded.  Now he's found a way to turn his life's tragedies into stories that people are willing to pay to hear.  He's never met a girl like Billie before and he's not sure how long he'll be able to hold on to her once she learns everything in his background.

What did you like about this book?
It was the typical boy meets girl story.  There really are no surprises here.

What didn't you like about this book?
::::Climbing on my soap box:::: So when I mentioned I was reading this on Twitter, people started tweeting me that it was their favorite book and that they'd read it multiple times.  Okay, you liked it, fine.  I was okay with the book up until I realized that Billie was about to give up a career changing chance to move to London for a man she met 30 days prior.  Now the whole time I was listening to the story, I thought they had been together for months, but later found that it was just 30 days.  If she had been with this man for a year, or six months even, I MIGHT have been like, well yeah, okay, think about it.  But 30 days?  You're about to make a life decision based on some dude you've known for 30 days? Girl bye!

What could the author do to improve this book?
You already read my rant so... Oh wait, I thought of something else.  I totally cannot figure out why the author or publisher chose the title The Accidental Diva.  There was nothing divaish about the character.  She didn't stumble into divadom so using accidental is misleading.

Listening time: 7 hours, 50 minutes
Published: April 2004

Theme: Love Drug by Raheem DeVaughn

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

An Interview with Michele Grant, Author of Sweet Little Lies & the blogger behind Black 'n Bougie

You've read her books, Heard It All Before and Sweet Little Lies, you read her blog religiously and you follow her on Twitter.  Now it's your turn to find out more about the woman behind the books and Black 'n Bougie.  Join us here, follow along on the BnB network or call in to (646) 378-1171 at 8:00 p.m. CST for a one hour chat with author and blogger Michele Grant. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

#BookReview: Sweet Little Lies - Michele Grant

I truly believe that some writers and musicians only have one really good book or album in them.  Usher's Confessions was great, Raymond v. Raymond not so much.  Sean Paul's Dutty Rock was enough to make me spend a year flying back and forth to Jamaica trying to capture the essence of which he sang.  Everything he's put out since then is just meh.  Do you see where I'm going with this?  So I was worried when I received Sweet Little Lies.  What if it wasn't as good as the author's first book, Heard It All Before?  I shouldn't have spent a minute worrying because Sweet Little Lies is just as good, if not better.

Christina Brinsley has created the perfect world for herself.  She has the career, the house, the car and the fiance'.  Scratch that. She HAD the fiance, her third fiance' to be exact.  When he dropped a bomb on her just days before their wedding, her world went into a spin.  A week later she finds herself on the plane to New York for work, seated next to the same delivery guy who was a witness to her melt down at home just days ago.

In honoring the phrase, "there's more to him than meets the eye," the handsome delivery guy who witnessed Christina's breakup with her fiance' is really a grad student flying back to New York to finish school after a summer in the Bay area.  Sure Christina Brinsley is hot, but Steven Williams can already tell that she's a high maintenance bougie chick that may be more trouble than she's worth. So is it destiny or a bad twist of fate that lands him on her flight?

In between pursuing their careers, Christina and Steven burn up the pages with an intense game of cat and mouse that takes them from coast to coast and challenges them both to learn to trust again.

What did you like about this book?
Christina is such a real character.  Like a lot of people she's so busy trying to control situations and second guessing everyone else that she stands in the way of her own happiness.  I kept wanting to scream out, "Get out of your way!"

And Steven? If a man as perfect as this exists, I can only hope that Michele Grant has patented him and started producing his clone in mass quantities.

What didn't you like about this book?
I hate the cover.  The woman on it is pretty enough, but she's not at all what I imagine Christina would look like.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Keep writing.  I'm appreciative of books that feature grown characters and Grant does an excellent job of bringing both the grown and sexy.

Published February 2011
Disclosure: ARC received from the publisher.

Theme: Here I Stand by Usher

Join us here this Wednesday at 8 p.m. CST for a live chat with the author.

Friday, February 11, 2011

An Interview with Anjali Banerjee, Author of Haunting Jasmine

Q: When and why did you begin writing?
A: I began writing, or I should say scribbling, the moment I could pick up a crayon. As a kid, I loved to type stories on my little toy typewriter. I stapled the pages together and made little “books” with illustrations and copyright notices inside the front covers. I didn’t know any other kids who did that. 

Q: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
A: I’ve always considered myself a writer to some degree, but I didn’t take my writing seriously until I was in my late twenties, when I signed up for the Writers’ Digest School correspondence course in short story writing. Only after I moved to Washington State and joined a critique group of working women authors, did I believe I could get published in book-length fiction.

Q: What inspired you to write your first book?
A: Before I wrote my first novel, I penned many short stories, many of which were published in literary journals such as the University of Baltimore’s Passager: A Journal of Remembrance and Discovery, The Green Hills Literary Lantern, Lynx Eye, Writing for Our Lives, and an anthology called New to North America. After moving to Washington, I also wrote feature articles for local newspapers and company profiles for coffee table history books. In a sense, I was gearing up to write a book, building my publishing credits and experience. Then I found my writing group made up of working, published novelists who inspired me to try writing a romantic suspense novel. I thought it would be easy to write romance, but my critiquers humbled me. I had a lot to learn, and over 50 agents rejected that first novel. One agent wrote, “It’s not different enough.”

That agent doesn’t know it, but she inspired me to write my next novel, MAYA RUNNING, based on my experience as an Indian immigrant growing up in Canada. What could be more different? I got an agent almost immediately, and a couple of weeks later, we had a two-book deal with Wendy Lamb Books/Random House.

Q: What was the hardest part of writing Haunting Jasmine?
A: It took me a while to hone in on a story arc for Jasmine that would lead to a hopeful ending without being too predictable. I knew she would reinvent herself and find the promise of happiness, but I didn’t want the path to be too formulaic. I can’t tell you how I figured out what to do, or I would be giving away the plot!

Q: From reading Haunting Jasmine, I can tell that you have a love for literature.  I noticed that you managed to weave in The Chronicles of Narnia and Curious George into the story.  Did any more of your favorite works find a home in Haunting Jasmine?
A: I love THE FUR PERSON by May Sarton, and of course I love all the other authors as well. I ended up deleting a few of my favorites in the final draft – Rumer Godden, Paula Danziger, and Alexander Key, for example.

Q: I don’t know if you’re familiar with Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Mistress of the Spices, in which the lead character intuitively knows which spices her customers seek because the spices “speak” to her.  If you are familiar with that work, did it influence Haunting Jasmine? If not, how did you come up with the premise for the book?
A: I have not read MISTRESS OF SPICES, although I’ve heard it’s good! My idea came out of nowhere. One day I thought, What if dead authors could come to life in a bookstore and try to get people to read their books? The idea seemed “high concept” to me –easily pictured and easily explained in a sentence or two.

Q: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
A: I try not to force any message onto readers. I believe my job is to try to write an entertaining story. My values and interests will naturally emerge (can you tell that I love animals, booksellers, books, love stories, Pacific Northwest islands, and ghosts?), and an underlying theme also naturally emerges (for example, a theme might be that love can heal all emotional wounds if you only take a chance and believe – that kind of thing). But in the end, the readers will interpret the story in his or her own way.

Q: What books have most influenced your life most?
A: Too many books to name! If I mention a few authors, I will inevitably exclude many other important ones. I read widely. I enjoy children’s books, literary novels, mysteries, commercial fiction, memoir, historical fiction and nonfiction – a wide range of genres.

Q: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
A: I would choose many writers, but mainly other authors who are in or have been in my critique group and have taught me what they know: Sheila Roberts, Elsa Watson, Carol Cassella, Suzanne Selfors, Susan Wiggs, Lois Dyer, and others.

Q: What book are you reading now?
A: I’m reading a few different books, including Fannie Flagg’s latest hardcover, I STILL DREAM ABOUT YOU (I love her humor), Anita Shreve’s RESCUE, Janna Cawrse Esarey’s memoir, THE MOTION OF THE OCEAN (she and I will be presenters at the upcoming Whidbey Island Writers’ Conference), MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND by Helen Simonson, and more…

Q: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
A: I’m reading a wonderful literary manuscript, a historical novel due out from Hawthorne Books in October: THE LUMINIST by David Rocklin. I will certainly give the book a glowing endorsement.

Q: What are your current projects?
A: I’m working on another women’s fiction novel for Berkley/Penguin, tentatively titled ENCHANTING LILY and due for release in February 2012. I’m also developing my next children’s book.

Q: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
A: I always have to work out story details, but I enjoy the process. The big challenge is balancing writing with my other job (I write reports for an investment consulting firm) and the other demands of daily life! For example, right now I’m trying to type answers to these questions on my laptop computer while a rather large cat is also trying to sit on my keyboard.

Q: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
A: I don’t have a favorite author. I love too many of them!

Q: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
A: Thank you, thank you, thank you. Whenever I receive a nice note from a reader, I’m walking on air. Authors live to hear from readers. We write for our readers.

Anjali Banerjee was born in India, raised in Canada and California and received degrees from the University of California, Berkeley. She has written five novels for youngsters and three for grownups, and she’s at work on her next novel for adults to be published by Berkley/Penguin. Her books have received accolades in many review journals and newspapers.

Be sure to visit her over at Anjali Banerjee.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

#BookReview: Haunting Jasmine - Anjali Banerjee

It's early in the year, but I can honestly say this book is a contender for my favorite book of the year.  If you know me, you know I'm a fan of Bollywood.  So it'll come as no surprise to you that I loved Haunting Jasmine.

The recently divorced Jasmine Mistry comes to Shelter Island in the middle of Puget Sound to run her aunt's bookstore for a month.  More than that, she's come to get away from the painful memory of her former husband's betrayal.  Her family believed that as a Bengali American she should have married a Bengali man.  Unfortunately she chose a cheating American.  Her Auntie believes that working in the store will help heal Jasmine's heart.

Left to run the store while her aunt goes to India, Jasmine doubts the store will heal anything.  What it may do is drive her crazy.  She could swear that she hears voices talking to her.  And people keep showing up in the strangest places in the Victorian mansion turned bookstore.  In addition, visitors to the store seem to expect her to know exactly what book they need without them telling her.  The only thing that seems sane in her bookstore world is the handsome Dr. Connor Hunt, a frequent visitor to the store.

What did you like about this book?
First, I have to say I loved the cover.  It's one of the prettiest that I've ever seen.  You can't tell by looking at your screen, but the scarf she's wearing has iridescent glitter in it.  And the colors are just beautiful.

I also loved the storyline.  It reminded me a lot of The Mistress of the Spices, which also happens to be one of my Bollywood favorites.  While the lead character in Mistress was guided by the spices, Jasmine is guided by the literary authors that speak to her.  This was an absolutely fascinating read.

What didn't you like about this book?
I really wanted Jasmine to have her happy ending.  Let me re-phrase that.  The book ends with a potential happy ending for her, but I wanted to read more about it only because I grew so fond of her and wanted to make sure she was really happy.

What could the author do to improve this book?
One of Jasmine's childhood acquaintances walks out on her family and though it's speculated that the pressure of being the perfect Indian wife/mother/daughter may have gotten to her, it's never confirmed.  She was a very minor character, but since she was introduced into the story, I felt like her story line should have been completed.

Published February 2011
Disclosure: Copy received from the publisher.

Theme: Sounds Like A Love Song by Phyllis Hyman

Monday, February 7, 2011

#BookReview: The Many Conditions of Love - Farahad Zama

The author of The Marriage Bureau for Rich People is back with, what I would consider, a little less funny but certainly as well thought out sequel.  Unlike some other authors, Farahad Zama does not spend a lot of time refreshing reader's memories about what happened in his previous book.  Nonetheless, it's quite easy to bring yourself up to speed or trudge forth without knowing a great deal of the character's history.

The Many Conditions of Love, unlike The Marriage Bureau, focuses less on Mr. Ali and his customers and more on Aruna and Ram.  Aruna's marriage to the handsome doctor she met when he walked into the marriage bureau has been an adjustment, but she's adapted well.  That is, until her sister-in-law  shows up.  Aruna finds herself being mistreated by, not only her in-laws, but her husband as well.

Readers will also be delighted to find that more attention is given to the Ali's son, Rehman.  In the first book, he was a fringe character and was only briefly touched upon as it related to political unrest in India.  This go round there is more focus on his love life.  Only, it is unfortunate for him, as a Muslim, that he's fallen in love with Usha, a Hindu journalist.

Keeping in line with The Marriage Bureau, attention is still paid to societal issues and the struggle of the older generation to keep pace with the ever changing, modernized world.  As with The Marriage Bureau, the limitations of ones caste and socioeconomic status are again brought to the forefront in The Many Conditions.  Overall this is a delightful and insightful read.

What did you like about this book?
I loved getting reacquainted with the characters and being introduced to new ones.  The author could have potentially limited the series by focusing on existing characters.  I'm appreciative of these new characters, not only because they truly serve a purpose and not just there as fillers or fringe characters, because their story lines give the author the option to continue the series for much longer than he may have been able to had the focus just stayed on his initial characters.

What didn't you like about this book?
It ended far too soon.  Readers are left with a cliffhanger.  Normally this would not frustrate me, but because the books are published outside of the states, it takes longer for them to become available in this market.

What could the author do to improve this book?
The humor from the first book seemed to be missing.  Although I still enjoyed the book, it was something I looking forward to and it was quite noticeable that it wasn't there.

Published 2009

Friday, February 4, 2011

Free for All Friday, February 4

James Patterson's Alex Cross series has been on the downhill slope for quite awhile now.  He did redeem himself briefly with Alex Cross's Trial, but then he returned to grinding out less than stellar work at a pace only matched by rabbits procreating.  Really, did you know rabbits can have four to eight litters a years? File that one in your useless knowledge data base!

Anyway, when it was announced last summer that Idris Elba, he of The Wire and Golden Globe nominated Luther, would be the next Alex Cross, readers everywhere applauded.  Elba was a much better choice age-wise and description-wise for the fortysomething detective turned psychologist.  I always felt that Morgan Freeman was too old for the character when he played him in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. So I was excited that an age appropriate actor would finally play Alex and, perhaps, get Patterson back in my good graces.

And then it was announced this week that Idris was out and Tyler Perry was in.  How does one go from a stellar actor like Elba to Madea?!?!?!?  Idris is all rough and tough and takes care of business.  Tyler is all howUdoin. In my opinion Perry just doesn't have the acting chops for the role.  He's never been convincing in any of the males roles I've seen him in.  As far as I'm concerned he should stick to playing Madea.  On the other hand, since he plays women so well maybe the director can have him play both Alex and his grandmother, Nana.

Am I dead wrong? Do you think Tyler can carry off the role or will you be joining me in skipping the movie?

I've been having a blast participating in my own challenge.  So far I've managed to read, or start reading, a book from each category: African-American, Latina, Asian and Indian.  I've also had a chance to talk to speak with several authors so I'll be sharing those conversations with you in the next few months.  Below are just a few of the books that will be featured in the next few months as part of the Colorful Chick Lit Challenge.

Upcoming Selections
Feb. 9: Haunting Jasmine by Anjali Banerjee
Feb. 11: An Interview with Anjali Banerjee, Author of Haunting Jasmine
Feb. 14: Sweet Little Lies by Michele Grant
Feb. 16: Live Chat with Michele Grant, Author of Sweet Little Lies and the blogger behind Black 'N Bougie
March: Good-bye to All That by Margo Candela
April: Miss Scarlet's School of Patternless Sewing by Kathy Cano-Murillo
May: All That Glitters by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez
June: The Bum Magnet by K.L. Brady
July: Cafe au Lait by Liane Spicer

How are your reading challenges coming? Read anything good?