Monday, April 30, 2012

#BookReview: The Brenda Diaries - Margo Candela

The first time I heard about The Brenda Diaries was when a twitter account by that name started following me.  So, as I do when profiles or tweets interest me, I follow back.  And then I stopped following because I was confused as to what the point of the tweets were.  The person asked questions as if they wanted interaction, but never interacted with anyone.  Eventually I realized that it was part of the author's new book, an experiment, if you will.

I'm not sure what road Margo Candela was traveling when she decided to write this book, but if there was a fork in the road, she went left when she should have gone right. The whole premise of The Brenda Diaries is to follow the day to day activities of a twentysomething temp and her encounters with employers, coworkers, her roommate, etc.  Where I've found previous Candela heroines to be funny and sympathetic, there wasn't much to like about Brenda.

In addition to the unlikeable character, Candela writes the first three-fourth of the book in diary style and the last part as tweets.  As you read through the tweets, you realize that the diary entries are based on the tweets.  So couldn't I have just read the tweets at the back?  And wouldn't it have made more sense to maybe integrate the tweets with the diary? Maybe use the tweets as the header for each entry and then elaborate?  I don't know, it was just a very disjointed read.

Available in Kindle format only
Published: October 2011

Theme: Hey Girl by Zooey Deschanel

Friday, April 27, 2012

Free for All Friday, April 27

Today is my first day back at work in two weeks. Given that I've averaged no less than two naps a day daily in the last fourteen days, I anticipate struggling to make it through the day.  To perk me up, I'm sharing some of my favorite gifs with you.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

#BookReview: A Wish and A Prayer - Beverly Jenkins

Like returning home for a family reunion, Beverly Jenkins takes readers back to Henry Adams, Kansas and its town members.  We first met them in Bring on the Blessings, grew to love them in A Second Helping and were amazed by them in Something Old, Something New

In Bring on the Blessings, we learned of this town that had been founded by freed slaves after the Civil War.  When the mayor put the struggling town up for sale on eBay, Bernadine Brown, the ex-wife of a multimillionaire purchased it and began to turn the town around.  With Bernadine's help, town residents were able to foster and adopt needy children from around the country and bring them to a place filled with love and history.

In A Second Helping the residents and kids prepare for the adoption process and readers are treated to a history lesson about an August 1st parade.  If you're as unfamiliar with it as I was when I first read about it, here's some background.   Most of us are familiar with Juneteenth, which is celebrated on June 19 to commemorate the abolition of slavery in Texas, the last state to free their slaves in 1865. August 1st celebrates the abolishment of slavery in the British empire in 1834 and was celebrated throughout towns in the United States up until 1927. To this day it is also celebrated in Barbados, Bermuda, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, Anguilla, The Bahamas, Turks & Caicos and the British Virgin Isles.

With Something Old, Something New the town prepared for the wedding of mayor Trent July and his high school girlfriend, Lily Fontaine and a few of the adopted children began to wonder about their birth parents.  As Lily and Trent moved forward with wedding plans, they were challenged with assisting their foster kids with making the transition from the new home life they had come to love to being an extended family.

A Wish and A Prayer finds the town doing battle with the neighboring mayor who insists on trying to bring a big box store to their area and wants Henry Adams to pay for it.  Riley Curry, the former mayor and hog lover, shines the spotlight on the little town when he wages a full battle against the county to keep his prized hog and involves a PETA-like organization to assist him.  And Preston Miles finally has a chance to meet his birth mother.

As with any Jenkins' book, there's a historical lesson to be learned and there's no exception with her latest.  Readers are told of the Black Army Corp of Engineers during the building of the Alaska-Canadian Highway.  Not only does it serve as a lesson for the children of town, but for the reader as well.  Jenkins always finds a way to make books entertaining and educational.  If you've not visited Henry Adams yet, there's no time like the present.

Published: April 2012
Disclosure: Copy received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Theme: Already Alright by Yolanda Adams

Friday, April 13, 2012

My mirror ain't like yours

Think back to the last book you read that didn't include a picture of the characters on the cover.  Before you started reading, did you assume they were of a certain race?  Were you correct?  If you were wrong, were you disappointed?

I ask these questions in light of the recent flare ups around the Internet in regards to characters in The Hunger Games.  I've not read the book or seen the movie, but one of the most beloved characters, who was described in the book as having brown skin turned out to be...brown in the movie.  And people were all "boo hiss, why's this little black girl in the movie, she totally ruined it.  Instead of an innocent white girl, we got a black girl."  The implication being that white equals innocence and black equals blah.  I don't even know how you look at this adorable kid and not ooh and ahh over her.  She's totally adorbs!

From the audience reaction comes an interesting conversation about what we see when we read.  Is it your assumption that characters are white, black, Asian? Why?  How do you decide, without a description of characters (and sometimes with), what your character looks like?  It would be easy to say that readers project their own image onto characters, but that's not always the case.

As a child, I distinctly remember assuming all of the characters I read about were white unless it was specifically pointed out that they were not.  I'm not white, so why that assumption? Because American history and media have dictated that white is the default color and everything else is "other."  It's this subliminal messaging that causes readers to disregard descriptions of characters and re-imagine them the way they think they should be.

As an adult, I'm much more likely to imagine characters based on the race of the author (if given no description), with the thought that writers write about what they know.  And that's not to say writers have to limit themselves when creating characters.  I believe that writers can do a fair job with enough dedication and research to the topic, as I touched on in last year's post Does It Matter Who Writes the Story As Long As It's Written?

So what's your default? When you pick up a book, what do you see?

Monday, April 9, 2012

#BookReview: Four of A Kind - Valerie Frankel

Typically when I read a jacket cover and find that one of the characters in a book about mostly white characters is black, I prepare myself to cringe.  Far too often authors that are not of color get characters of color wrong.  In the wrong hands, black female characters are sassy or they’re cold and distant.  My favorite is when they’re “of regal stature.”  It’s like authors don’t know any black women in real life, so they create characters based on what they’ve seen on TV (and that’s another conversation for another time) or what they imagine the barista at Starbucks is like when she’s not making their venti grande blah blah blah.  And then there’s Valerie Frankel.

This is my first Frankel novel, so I’m not sure how her other work reads, but I could kiss her for Four of A Kind. Why? A story of four women that become friends because their kids attend school together, and they serve on a committee together, is likely. Even more likely is that each of those women brings something to the table, holds back some things and doesn’t easily let her guard down. These are not cookie cutter characters. Each is unique. Now let’s talk about why I personally loved the character of Dr. Carla Morgan.

As I stated previously, so many authors don't know anyone of color personally (and by personally I mean someone they actually talk to/socialize with outside of work), so they make the character of color one-dimensional.  She's angry or she's bitter or she's "exotic."  What does that even mean?  I don't know, but I can't count how many times exotic pops up in books to describe these women.  But Frankel's Carla is like any other mother, she just happens to be black.  She's a married doctor with a passive aggressive husband and two kids.  She wonders how she fits in with this group of women with which she has nothing in common, but so do the other characters.  Her blackness isn't on display.  It's a part of her, but it doesn't define her. 

The same can be said of characters Robin, a Jewish single mother; Alicia, an unhappily married mother; and Bess, the blond WASP that seems to have it all.  I found all of the characters and their interactions with each other, their spouses and their children to be believable.  The story lines were fully fleshed out and I felt like I really knew these women by the time I finished the book.  This was my first read of Frankel's work, but I'll definitely be checking out her other writing.

Published: February 2012
Disclosure: Copy received from publisher. Opinions are my own.

Theme: Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves by Aretha Franklin & Annie Lennox

Friday, April 6, 2012

Free for all Friday, April 6

I was going to write another post about why I'm raising money to help students start their own libraries, but you don't need a long post (if you do, here it is).  Here's all you need to know:

  • Nationwide, high school students are reading on a fifth grade level;
  • A child's reading level in third grade determines their likelihood of graduating high school;
  • Reading increases vocabulary and improves analytical thinking and writing skills;
  • Reading gives children glimpses into other countries and cultures that they may have never heard of or be able to visit; and
  • For less than you spend at Starbucks on your morning coffee or your own book addiction on Amazon, you can make a donation to the River City Readers and help students in St. Louis schools build their own libraries.
Please donate by April 30.

A special thanks to Amy, Kay, Desiree, Jeanette, Pamela, Brieana, Loetitia, and Tamara for their generous donations.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

#BookReview: And Everything Nice - Kim Moritsugu

I requested this from the library after reading an article about the author.  While the article made her books sound interesting with well developed characters, I have to respectfully disagree.  Though it's an extremely quick read at only 128 pages, you'd do better to read the back of a cereal box.

The lead character, Stephanie, is presented as a 24 year old manager at The Gap.   The character's phrasing and her actions make her seem more like an angsty teen than a grown woman.  Perhaps her character would have been more believable as a 16 year old.  As an adult, she just came off as immature.

She lives with her mother and joins a local choir at her mother's urging. In the choir, she befriends a local newswoman who is nice to her, though she's standoffish to others.  When her diary goes missing, Stephanie and Anna (the newswoman) devise a plan to get it back.

I didn't realize until I picked the book up from the library that it was a "rapid read" and maybe that accounts for the lack of depth in character development and story line.  But I've seen plenty of authors write short stories and/or novellas that have much more substance than was found in these 128 pages.  And though the main character is 24 years old, this book would be better classified as YA lit because of the lack of maturity of Stephanie.

Published: April 2011

Theme: You're Standing On My Neck by Splendora

Monday, April 2, 2012

#BookReview: Point, Click, Love - Molly Shapiro

It's supposed to be fun, it's supposed to be sexy.  I missed that memo, because it's neither.  Don't get me wrong, it's not horribly bad, it's just not fun or sexy.  I get that authors and publishers are on the hunt for the next Sex and the City.  This so is not that.

Set in the Midwest, Kansas City to be exact, Point, Click, Love is the story of four unlikely friends whose ages range from early 30s to mid 40s.  And before someone accuses me of being anti-Midwest, let me point out that I live in St. Louis and I've been to Kansas City, Missouri AND Kansas.  There is nothing sexy about Kansas City, though the barbecue is to die for.  No really, check out Gates BBQ the next time you're there.

Recently divorced Katie is a banker who wants to get back out on the scene.  While she doesn't miss being married, she realizes that she does miss sex.  Armed with a laptop and a mouse pad, she takes on, Craigslist and a local dating site in hopes of getting her groove back.

A high powered PR guru, Claudia can be a bitch.  She knows it and her husband knows it, but he's okay with it so why should she worry?  Steve has been out of work for a few years and Claudia is tired of carrying the load by herself.  To add insult to injury, not only is he not looking for a job, he spends hours daily on Facebook talking to other women.

East coast transplant Annie moved to Kansas City to work for Sprint after completing her education at Yale and Wharton.  You would think she'd be bored with life in the Midwest, but she's enjoying it.  The realization that she wants a child sends her to the Internet on a search for the perfect sperm donor.

Maxine has a gorgeous doctor husband, the perfect kids and a burgeoning career as an artist.  Things haven't been very spicy in the bedroom lately.  Browsing stories of celebrity antics on the web do more than keep her entertained, it's her newest obsession.

While each woman's story is okay, there was nothing to really tie them together.  The author has them meet at a book club occasionally or at a bar, but there's nothing here to make you truly believe that these women are friends.  For example, all of the other women are or have been married and have children.  Annie has no prospects and no kids.  The author explains it by saying Annie prefers to have friends with kids. Um, why?  She doesn't offer to babysit her friend's kids. She doesn't seem to be into kids at all until she decides she wants to have one.  So why would she go out of her way to friend women with kids? Makes no sense.

It was just hard to figure out why any of their paths would have crossed.  Kansas City isn't THAT small. If you're looking for a quick and easy read that doesn't make you think too hard, this is the book for you.

Published: December 2011

Theme: What About Your Friends by TLC