Friday, March 23, 2012

I'm so over you!

Have you ever had a series that you loved or a character that you adored?  When you first started reading about them, you couldn’t get enough, right? You anxiously anticipated the next book in the series.  You wondered what the characters were doing in their down time.  And then it happened.  One day the series sucked and you wouldn’t care if your character got mowed down by the cross town bus.  So what goes wrong? Has the author run out of new ideas or has the character just outlived their usefulness?  Sometimes it’s a combination of both.

Back in 2000 when Kimberla Lawson Roby’s “Reverend Curtis Black” series first started, it was mildly entertaining. It was Christian lit with less focus on the Christian part and more focus on drama. I like to say that it was as close to secular entertainment as good Christians could come without falling from God’s grace. Anyway, fast forward to 2012 and nine books later, Rev. Black is STILL around. Given that she’s still churning out books and people are still buying them, I guess Lawson Roby plans to ride this wagon until the wheels fall off, but I see far too many negative tweets and comments about them to believe that people are still interested in the misadventures of the Rev, his wife, kids and women.

As much as I used to love James Patterson’s Alex Cross series, let my people go! Remember when the series was really good? Before some movie executive thought Morgan Freeman’s old grizzled self made a decent Alex and way before some misguided movie exec thought Tyler Perry (rather than Idris Elba) personified Alex, there were just the books. And they were good. Patterson has been off his game for awhile as far as his other books and series were concerned, but the Alex Cross series seemed to be a sure thing for the longest. I don’t know if, like with his other books, he started bringing in fledgling writers to assist (read: write for) him, but the plots and developed characters are no longer there. The last Alex Cross book I truly enjoyed wasn’t even about Alex, it was about a distant relative of his.

Has Patterson lost the magic all the way around? Looking at the Women’s Murder Club series, I have to say yes. With the exception of the first book in the series, they’ve all been co-written. I think I lost interest about book five. Beginning in 2000, he published a book about them each year, stopping in 2009 with The 9th Judgement.  Let's pause to give him a collective thank you.

Another series that used to leave me breathless was Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series. Kay was funny, she was beautiful and she was absolutely brilliant. The series about a medical examiner with both a J.D. and an M.D. who canoodled with the FBI and hung out with a cop that reminded me of NYPD Blue’s Andy Sipowitz was so much fun to read. So what happened? About nine books into the series, Cornwell changed the voice of Scarpetta from first person to third person. Honestly, I felt like I was having a conversation with Bob Dole. After poor sales and complaints from readers, Cornwell admitted that she had been “going through some things,” some of which she blamed on George W. Bush (don’t ask how she came up with that), and returned to writing Scarpetta as the way she was meant to be written. Unfortunately, most of her readership, including me, had moved on to other authors and characters.

So what series are you over? Is there a character that you wouldn’t mind seeing take a long walk off a short pier?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

#BookReview: Running from Solace - Nakia Laushaul

In this sometimes predictable and, at other times, jawdropping novel, Nakia Laushaul takes readers on an emotional rollercoaster with Running from Solace.  This is one of those books I stumbled upon on Amazon one day.  It's biggest selling factors were the price ($ 2.99) and the recommendation based on another book I'd purchased, which I can't remember now.  For $ 2.99, I certainly got my money's worth.

As a social worker, Naomi has seen her fair share of endangered children.  Growing up in less than desirable circumstances, Naomi understands what it's like to have a drug addicted mother and watch numerous men parade in and out of your house.  And while others may have grown a thick skin and blocked out the past, Naomi is still haunted by her childhood.  It's her past that allows her to connect with the kids she sees daily.  That past also keeps her from connecting to her husband.

When Naomi is called to remove a trio of children from their mother, she makes a connection with one of them, Xavier, and promises to be there for him and his siblings.  Her personal life proves to be a distraction, as she watches her churchgoing husband being seduced by the words and actions of a new female preacher, and she lets Xavier, his siblings and everyone around her down.  But Naomi is a survivor and eventually, with the help of a therapist and the love of her husband, she becomes the person she was always meant to be.

Laushaul does a good job of keeping readers in suspense.  Normally I can figure out the ending of a book before I get to it, but I was pleasantly surprised this time around.  It's easy to tell that the subjects approached in Running from Solace are near to the author's heart and she's determined to make you care just as much about her characters and their stories as she does.

Published: April 2011

Theme: No More Drama by Mary J. Blige

Monday, March 19, 2012

Q & A and Giveaway with Samuel Park, author of This Burns My Heart

This Burns My Heart was one of my favorite reads last year.  I was so excited when I found the author, Samuel Park, on Twitter.  He's witty, charming and down to earth.  I've not run across many authors on Twitter that live tweet reality TV in one breath and discuss Jane Austen in the next, but he does it well.  To celebrate the release of This Burns My Heart in paperback, he's doing a tour around the blogosphere.  Luckily, he's landed with us today.  Check out the interview, book trailer and a giveaway below.

1. This Burns My Heart was one of my favorite reads last year. You did an excellent job of telling the story from a woman’s point of view. What inspired you to tell what is loosely your mother’s story and how did you manage to capture the female voice so well?
Thank you for your kind words--I’m thrilled that you liked the book! I was inspired to tell my mother’s story by two things that happened around the same time: one, my sister gave birth to a daughter, which led me to wonder about mother-daughter relationships; two, I moved for my job, and for the first time in years, I was living in a different state than my mother. Being apart from her helped me think of her as her own person, rather than just as my mother, and it helped me realize what an incredible life she’d led, and what an amazing story it would make. In terms of capturing a female voice, I think it comes from growing up around older sisters. From an early age, I cared about what they cared about, and essentially would adopt their point of view in most matters, especially matters of the heart.

2. What was the hardest part of writing This Burns My Heart?
Writing the central love relationship between Yul and Soo-Ja. I had to rewrite that many times, because it was very tricky to get it right. Weirdly enough, it’s the part that’s at the heart of the book, and what keeps the readers connected to the story. I have a suspicion that whatever you happen to have the most trouble with—the stumbling block—always ends up being the thing that readers like most.

3. Would you consider This Burns My Heart to be historical fiction or contemporary
literature and why?

I think the book is actually very difficult to classify. I could see it as being contemporary in the sense that the ‘60s were not so long ago, but it feels historical in the sense that the customs and the culture I describe at the beginning of the book are not all that different from how they might have been a century earlier. That’s partly the tension in the story: a nation moving from its past history onto the modern world. I guess I would call it historical fiction. I’d be curious to hear what you think!

4. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
The book is about a woman who makes a wrong choice and has to live with the consequences of that choice. And I think the message is that there’s no point in dwelling on what could’ve been, or what might’ve been, because whatever life you led—no matter how hard it was—was the life you were meant to have. And if you eschew bitterness and approach your days with virtue, strength, and kindness, eventually that life you lost—the good life—will find its way back to you. And this time you’ll have really earned it and will doubly appreciate it, because of what came before.

5. What books have most influenced your life most?
I learned to write from reading Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. That was like my M.F.A. in Creative Writing: just reading that book line by line, sentence by sentence, and seeing how he would craft beautiful language. I’m also a big, big fan of Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld. That book really taught me that you could create great drama from everyday life, and you could just focus on the domestic routines of the characters. Finally, I adore Pride and Prejudice, especially Austen’s unerring sense of character and plot.

6. If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I had an actual mentor in Don Roos, the screenwriter. I was something like 22 at the time I met him, and I was a terrible, terrible writer. But Don did something amazing to me: he said, “You’re very talented, and I really enjoyed what you wrote.” At that age, that can be a transformative moment. I guess it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I try to do the same to young writers who come my way. I have this saying that goes, “You cannot overestimate people enough.”

7. What book are you reading now?
Right now I’ve been researching a lot for my next book, so I’ve been reading old annual agricultural reports. I’ve also been reading books about history and architecture.

8. What’s next for you?
I’m working on a new book, and because I’m superstitious I try to say as little as possible about it until I’m completely finished. But I can share that it’s again about a mother-daughter relationship, and again it’s set in a foreign country. And, like This Burns My Heart, it’ll deal with a lot of strong emotions.

9. I know from your tweets that you’re a fan of reality TV. What’s your favorite show and
which reality TV character do you love to hate and why?

My favorite show is Survivor, which I watch obsessively. My friends know better than to call me on Wednesdays when it’s on! She’s not on anymore, but I used to love to hate Kelly Bensimon of Real Housewives of New York City. As a writer, you’re also an amateur therapist. I would have a field day with Ms. Bensimon if she were my patient. We could really go to town.

10. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I want to say that I’m super, super grateful to readers for supporting the book. I’m always amazed when I go online and see people quoting lines from the book, or having discussions about the characters. It’s incredible to me that the world of the book feels as real to my readers as it does to me. They talk about the characters as if they were real people, and for a writer, I can’t imagine anything more gratifying than that!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

#BookReview: Lost Boundaries - William White

Watching old movies is a guilty pleasure of mine.  A few years ago I caught the end of a movie on TCM that fascinated me, but I didn't catch the name of it.  After doing some research, I learned that it was Lost Boundaries.

I was excited to find that TCM was showing it earlier this year so I set my DVR for it.  After watching, the host mentioned that it was based on a book by William White.  Of course, you know I had to read it.  At only 91 pages, it's a brief but fascinating read.  For reference, the family name in the book is Johnston; in the movie, it's Carter.

The book and the movie are both about a black family that passes out of necessity.  For those unfamiliar with what passing is, it's when a person from one racial group assumes the identity of another racial group, generally because they have a skin tone or features that allow them to do so.  In Lost Boundaries, a young couple comes from families that have been passing for years.  While the couple is proud to be black, it becomes difficult to find work as a doctor when internships for blacks are so limited.  To make a living and provide for his family, the doctor accepts a position in a small New England town as the local doctor.

The family continues on for years in their small town, even moving to another small town at one point, and their racial identity is never questioned, at least not to their faces.  But when the father wants to join the navy, a background inquiry reveals that he's a member of Kappa Alpha Psi, a historically black fraternity.  In both the book and the movie, the parents decide to reveal to their children that they are black, which sets the oldest son off on a journey to find himself and explore his new identity.

Written in 1948, Lost Boundaries is based in fact. It's interesting to note that the movie, made in 1949, didn't cast a single black person to play the roles of the Carter/Johnston family.  Mel Ferrer, who played the lead, was Cuban-Irish.  The others cast as the family members were white.

91 pp
Published: March 1948

Scene from Lost Boundaries

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

#BookReview: Camilla's Roses - Bernice McFadden

From the outside looking in, Camilla Rose has everything - a good looking husband, a beautiful daughter, a successful career and a nice home.  If you googled 'living the American dream,' there would probably be a picture of her front and center.  But it's all a facade that's slowly, but surely crumbling.

Before you're able to dive too deep into Camilla's issues, Bernice McFadden takes us back a few generations.  All of the women in Camilla's family have the middle name Rose, and Velma and Maggie are no exception.  Raised in the South, the beautiful, but dimwitted Maggie, and the homely Velma move north for better lives.  When tragedy leaves the beautiful Maggie disfigured, she moves in with Velma and her husband and becomes a constant presence in the lives of their children.  And while it's true that Maggie doesn't see as well as she used to, she misses absolutely nothing.

Audrey Rose is Velma's baby girl and she has such a promising future.  Then she meets Lloyd and suddenly the future is not so bright.  Succumbing to pressure, Audrey throws everything away and leaves her own baby girl, Camilla to be raised by Velma and Maggie.  In a house that's already running over with countless cousins, all left behind by their own parents, Camilla is just another mouth to feed.  She's determined to be different though.

As we watch Camilla grow up, it becomes obvious that she's working to distance herself from this family and this life that she didn't ask for.  So it's no surprise that she sheds her skin and her loved ones the moment she leaves for college and she's perfectly content to keep living in a world without them until she realizes that they're what she's been missing and they're what she needs the most.

I read this a number of years ago and remembered it being good, but I went back and listened to it and was blown away.  The narrator breathed life into the story and made it absolutely unforgettable, so much so that I'm tempted to go back and listen to everything McFadden has written.

224 pp
Listening time: 6 hours, 9 minutes
Published: April 2004

Theme: Lean On Me by Melba Moore

Friday, March 2, 2012

Free for All Friday, March 2 - Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

Before we go into the weekend, I thought I'd share some fun and interesting facts about the birthday boy, Dr. Seuss.

Dr. Seuss created the word "nerd" in his 1950 book, If I Ran the Zoo.  The adjective "nerdy" popped up in the late 70s.

Dr. Seuss also created the word "grinch" in 1958.  Converse has a line of Chuck Taylor shoes based on characters from Dr. Seuss books.  I bought my daughter the Green Eggs & Ham high tops for Christmas and she squealed like a toddler.

 The Cat in the Hat was written because Dr. Seuss found the Dick and Jane primers boring and didn't think kids would learn to read if they used them.

Green Eggs & Ham was written on a bet with his editor that Dr. Seuss could not write a book using 50 words or less.  Dr. Seuss used exactly 50 words and won $ 50 in the process.  The words are: a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you.

"Geisel's cartoons also called attention to the early stages of the Holocaust and denounced discrimination in the USA against African Americans and Jews. Geisel himself experienced anti-Semitism: in his college days, he was mistaken for a Jew and denied entry into conservative social circles, although he was actually of German ancestry and a practicing Christian.

Seuss has stated that the titular character Yertle represented Adolf Hitler, with Yertle's despotic rule of the pond and takeover of the surrounding area parallel to Hitler's regime in Germany and invasion of various parts of Europe."

Dr. Seuss' real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel