Friday, June 29, 2012

#BookReview: Imperfect Bliss - Susan Fales-Hill

In what's a clear departure from 2010's One Flight Up, Imperfect Bliss falls short of what I expected from someone that once wrote for The Cosby Show, A Different World and Linc's.  Today's television networks rely heavily on reality TV and that's the world that Fales-Hill plunges us into with her latest.

The overly dramatic Forsythia and mild mannered Harold have successfully raised four daughters.  Well, successfully may be a bit of a stretch.  Oldest daughter Victoria is just this side of becoming an old maid.  Second eldest daughter Bliss, a recent divorcee, has returned home with her four year old daughter, Bella, in tow.  Third daughter Charlotte desperately seeks attention in all of the wrong places.  And youngest daughter Diana is about to turn everyone's world upside down.

Diana undoubtedly grew up watching reality TV shows like The Bachelor, so it shouldn't have come as a shock to anyone in the family when she announces that she's been picked to star in her own reality show called The Virgin.  Always ready to claim the spotlight that is rightfully hers, Forsythia is on board from day one, but the rest of the family, especially Bliss, isn't so sure they want their everyday lives broadcast across the country for eight months.  It doesn't matter.  Eventually all of the Harcourts are swept up in the madness of The Virgin, whether they want to be or not.

There are a lot of story lines going on throughout the book and, honestly, it was hard to muster up a care about any of them.  I found Forsythia to be highly annoying with her obsession with skin color and her perceived idea of perfection.  Watching her reject her grandchild and anyone else didn't meet her standards of perfection was painful.  Charlotte as the promiscuous bad girl seeking her family's attention seemed very stereotypical.  Interestingly, the daughter upon whom the reality show is based, almost gets the smallest story line.  It's interesting that Fales-Hill would choose to build the book around Bliss, given that Diana's appearing on The Virgin is the basis for so much of the family drama and interaction.

Imperfect Bliss really could have been a much more enjoyable story  had it taken away several of the distractions in the forms of Forsythia and The Virgin and spent more time focusing on Bliss' relationship with her father, daughter and the men in her life.  I would have also loved to see more attention paid to Victoria.  In my opinion, her story line was the most interesting of all.

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


Theme: We Are Family by Sister Sledge

Friday, June 22, 2012

#BookReview: Secret Daughter - Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Kavita and Jasu live in a rural Indian village and are pregnant with their second child. The first, a daughter, was brutally murdered by a family member of Jasu at birth because the girl child was thought to be more of a burden than benefit to the family.  The second child is a girl as well, but Kavita refuses to let Jasu handle her like he did their first. Instead, she and her sister travel to an orphanage in Mumbai with the baby, Usha, and place her up for adoption.

Somer and Krishnan are a young married couple living in California. Despite being busy medical professionals, Somer desperately wants a child. After a couple of miscarriages, Krishnan tries to convince Somer to travel back to his home country to adopt. His mother has ties to an orphanage in Mumbai. Somer finally relents and they travel to India to adopt…yep, you’ve guessed it—Kavita’s baby girl, Usha.

Renamed Asha (thanks to some illegible penmanship), Somer and Krishnan's daughter has grown up knowing she was adopted from India her entire life. In the back of her mind, she always wondered about her biological parents and why they put her up for adoption. Offered a chance to travel back to India for a year on a journalism fellowship, Asha learns more about herself, her adoptive parents, and biological parents in that short time span. Narrated by nearly every character mentioned above at some point, Secret Daughter is a novel that spans decades and continents while exploring the family dynamic.

Gowda's debut work was a smash, in my opinion. Her writing is very reminscent of one of my favorite authors, Jhumpa Lahiri. Not only because of the superficial connection of them both being Indian, but in the way they let a story unfold. This story was carefully layered so that the we could get a feel for each character, their motivation for behavior as well as interactions with other characters. The tenuous relationships between characters in the book lead to some tense moments, but overall it's a pleasurable read. It's part coming-of-age, part cultural enlightenment.


Friday, June 15, 2012

#BookReview: Colored Sugar Water - Venise Berry

I remember thinking a few months ago that I missed the writing of authors like Venise Berry.  Then I re-read Colored Sugar Water during a read-a-thon and wondered what exactly it was that I was missing.  The book was okay, but I think I oversold myself on the story line before.  Maybe I liked her other books, So Good and All of Me, but this one? I found myself giving it the ultimate side eye on several occasions.

Colored Sugar Water is Lucy Merriweather's story.  The granddaughter of a Louisiana healer, Lucy believes in a little of everything, from fortune telling to voodoo to God.  Lucy, the regional manager of a successful chain of fitness centers, is stuck in a stable, but boring, relationship with Spencer, a McDonald's franchise owner.  Spencer is dependable, but far too predictable for Lucy.

Adel Kelly has been Lucy's best friend since their college days.  Married to Thad, who's always on the brink of the next great idea, Adel is tired of carrying the weight of their household on her shoulders.  At her age, she should be thinking about having babies, but if Thad doesn't get it together, she'll be raising any future kids as a single mother.

When the two happen across a late night commercial for psychics, Lucy dares to call the number, even as Adel warns her not to.  Before she knows it, Lucy is caught up in a whirlwind romance with Kuba, the man that answered the phone, and Spencer and Adel are both losing the Lucy they used to know.

This book started off fairly decent and then it evolved into Christianity versus voodoo versus the supernatural.  It just didn't work for me.  I prefer to keep my genres separate.  I know that when I pick up a Tananarive Due book, I'm going to get vampires and what not.  When I picked up this book, there was no indication that Venise Berry was going to try to take me there.  If I had realized that before I started reading, I probably wouldn't have picked it up.

Published: December 2001

Theme: Nightmares by Dana Dane

Monday, June 11, 2012

#BookReview: Tell A Thousand Lies - Rasana Atreya

In 1986 India, four of the most important determinants of a woman's future were the tone of her skin, her caste, her home village and her family's wealth.  Based on these things, Pullamma, at the age of 16,  has resigned herself to living with her grandmother forever.  As one of three orphaned sisters, Pullamma is the darkest and most unattractive.

 With her oldest granddaughter married off, Ammamma begins to worry about the fate of Pullamma.  While it should be easy enough to marry off Lata, Pullamma's beautiful, light skin twin, it won't be easy to find a match for Pullamma.  The only hitch in Ammamma's plan is Lata has no desire to get married.  In a time and village that placed little emphasis on girls beyond the 12th class, and actually frowned upon girls doing well in school, Lata not only passes the 12th class, but does so with distinction.  A smart girl, she dreams of becoming a doctor, but as Ammamma asks, "With such good marks, how am I to find her a suitable groom..."  Pullamma, on the other hand, only dreams of getting married.

Just as Lata is about to wed into a family that respects her dreams and will allow her to continue her studies to become a doctor, a local politician intervenes and changes the fate of both Lata and Pullamma.  Suddenly, Pullamma has the life Lata always wanted and the beautiful Lata becomes a shrewd and bitter woman out for revenge at any cost, even if it means destroying her twin.

I can't remember how this book came across my radar.  I think it was recommended by Amazon based on other books I've read, but I can't be sure.  Regardless of how I stumbled across it, I'm glad I did.  Tell A Thousand Lies is a brilliant effort from Rasana Atreya.  As she tells the story of Pullamma and her family, she also gives glimpses into the Telugu community and Hindu beliefs ad practices

I loved this book because Atreya kept me on my toes while reading it.  At no point did I ever really know how the story was going to end.  And a sure sign that a book has pulled me in, I found myself talking out loud to the characters, knowing good and well they couldn't hear me.  If you love learning about new cultures and love a good story, do yourself a favor and give Tell A Thousand Lies a read.

Published: March 2012

Theme: Everything She Wants by Wham

Monday, June 4, 2012

#BookReview: My Name is Butterfly - Bernice McFadden

Never one to shy away from sensitive topics, Bernice McFadden takes readers into the world of the Trokosi.  In simple terms, Trokosi are girls given by their family to a deity as a sacrifice in exchange for better luck, fortune or things along those terms.  Adebe Tsikata is such a girl, but she's also a survivor.

Growing up in Accra, Ghana, Adebe leads a charmed life.  Her father, Kwasi, with a degree from an English university, works as a government accountant.  Her mother, Lemusi, a former model, is a teacher.  They lead an extremely comfortable life and Adebe is the apple of their eye.

Adebe is just as fortunate to have an aunt that adores her.  Aunt Serwa spoils Adebe whenever she visits from the United States.  The two share an unbreakable bond and Serwa promises that one day she'll send for Adebe to visit her in the states.

With so many people that love her, how does Adebe become Trokosi?  Superstition, lack of faith and jealousy on the parts of her grandmother and father are probably the easiest explanations, but it goes farther than that.  The end result, though, is that Adebe is forced from the only home she's known into an existence that bares great resemblance to hell on earth.

My Name is Butterfly is a remarkable story of surviving some of the worst circumstances known to men, rebuilding yourself and learning to survive again and again.  McFadden is indeed a master storyteller.

Available in Nook & Kindle format only
Published: April 2012

Theme: Black Butterfly by Deniece Williams

Friday, June 1, 2012

#BookReview: The Warmest December - Bernice L. McFadden

What would it take for you to go sit at the deathbed of the person that brought you the most unhappiness?  As a child, Kenzie Lowe watched her father abuse her mother physically and emotionally, all the while losing his battle with alcoholism.  But Kenzie's father wasn't just abusive when drinking, he was down right mean.  So why does she catch buses and trudge through the snow daily  to sit at his bedside as he dies?

I've said it before, but it bears repeating.  Bernice McFadden sure can tell a tale.  Sitting at her father, Hy-Lo's, bedside, Kenzie reminisces on her childhood and once she starts, there's no way you can put the book down until she finishes.  Through her flashbacks you learn that the mother that used to protect her and her brother became an alcoholic and that Kenzie, herself, is a recovering alcoholic, continuing the cycle that started with her paternal grandmother.  Hy-Lo gets his nasty spirit honestly from his mother, a woman that would turn her back on her fleeing daughter-in-law and grandchildren in their time of need.

The bright spot in Kenzie's world is her maternal grandmother.  Escaping to Mable's house is a welcome respite from the verbal and emotional abuse Kenzie deals with at home, but her mother, Delia, is never strong enough to keep Hy-Lo at bay.  In a way, it reminded me of people that commit suicide, but feel the need to take someone else with them.  Instead of Delia recognizing and putting her children's happiness ahead of Hy-Lo's and allowing them to stay with Mable, she took them back each and every time, as if to say, "If I'm going to suffer, you're going to suffer too."  It's Mable who eventually gives Kenzie the tools to escape her parents, but with an already shattered foundation, Kenzie is set up to fail and repeat the cycle herself.

One of the things I found quite interesting was that Kenzie was angry with her father, but not her mother.  Her father was the abuser, but her mother was the enabler.  Perhaps Kenzie had already made peace with her mother, but their conversations as adults seemed stunted, so it was difficult to tell.  Of all things, The Warmest December is a story of forgiveness, not necessarily out of love, but out of a need to close a bad chapter in life so that one can move on to other things.

Published: February 2001

Theme: Too Late by Rachelle Ferrell