Friday, August 31, 2012

The Good Books are Coming! The Good Books are Coming!

Typically I read books way before the average reader does.  It's difficult to hold in my enthusiasm in August for books that won't be published until April.  Yes, I'm reading books that you won't be able to get your hands on until April 2013.  So while I can't give you my full review of most books until the week of release, at the publisher's request, I can share snippets of my reviews with you and encourage you to pre-order your little hearts out.

Luther: The Calling by Neil Cross: Fans of the BBC miniseries are no stranger to the brooding figure who observes crime scenes with his hands stuffed in his pockets.  But they'll learn in Luther: The Calling where that habit came from and why lead character, John Luther, does just that.  In this prequel to the miniseries, Neil Cross introduces John Luther before we, as television viewers, come to know him.  And in introducing him this way, Cross ties up some loose ends that we weren't even aware of before.
Available September 4, 2012

Count on Me: Tales of Sisterhoods and Fierce Friendships by Las Comadres Para Las AmericasThe concept of friendship that goes beyond everyday acquaintances is nothing new.  Count On Me serves to remind us of those friendships that are so strong and so important that the only word that can define them is comadre.  Told in twelve narratives, Count On Me highlights the friendships between co-workers, neighbors, confidants and complete strangers.
Available September 4, 2012

The Cutting Season by Attica LockeLovers of historical fiction, thrillers or both, come near.  This is the book for you.  In her latest, Attica Locke deftly weaves the history of a Louisiana plantation with a modern day who done it, and you're going to love it.
Available September 18, 2012

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana MathisIs there a limit on the amount of love a parent can have for their child?  If you have more than one child, is it possible to have loved your other children so much that you have nothing left for the others?  Or is it just possible for life to beat you down so much so that you have nothing left to give your children except a place to stay, food to eat and a determination to survive?
Available January 15, 2013

Are there any ARCs you've gotten your hands on that the rest of us should look forward to reading? Any books you're interested in hearing more about before you order it? Drop a comment and let us know.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

#BookReview: HALF OF A YELLOW SUN by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Set in the late 1960s, Half of a Yellow Sun looks at southeastern Nigeria before, during and after the Biafran war.  Through the eyes of Ugwu, a 13 year old houseboy; Odenigbo, a university professor; and Olanna, the professor's fiancee', readers are given an up close glimpse of the affects of war.  To a lesser degree, we see them through the eyes of Kainene, Olanna's twin sister, and Richard, an English writer who's in love with Kainene.

When Nigeria's, which gained its independence from Britain in 1960, boundaries were initially created, Great Britain failed to take into account the 300 different cultural and ethnic groups comprised of 60 million people.  It was almost inevitable that groups would clash.  For economic reasons and cultural, ethnic and religious tensions, the mostly Igbo inhabited, oil rich area of southeastern Nigeria chose to secede and create their own state of Biafra.  The result of this secession was the Nigerian-Biafran war.

While Odenigbo is most involved in the call for revolution, backed by Olanna, it is really Ugwu that observes and notes the changes that the household goes through over the course of three years.  He serves as a witness to Odenigbo's gatherings of other intellectuals to discuss the state of Nigeria.  He witnesses the arrival of Baby in an already tumultuous household.  And he serves in the Biafran army, giving a firsthand account of the atrocities of war.

As a British expatriate, Richard stays in Nigeria to do research for a book and because of Kainene.  Though Olanna is seen as the beautiful and intelligent twin, Kainene is the ambitious and business savvy twin.  Richard loves her direct way of speaking and falls hard for the sharp-tongued woman.  To a degree, their lives are less affected by the war, but affected nonetheless.

Through her writing, Adichie portrays every facet of emotion in her characters.  From the fall and rise of Odenigbo to the meltdown of the long suffering Olanna, the new found humanity of Kainene and the steadfastness of Ugwu, Half of a Yellow Sun is not just the story of Biafra, it's the story of her people.

Listening time: 19 hours
Published: September 2006


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

When is Reading not Reading?

Last week on Twitter, I saw a retweet come across my timeline that made me pause.  I can't remember who the original tweeter was or their exact wording, but the gist of the tweet was that people that listen to audio books can't claim to have read them.  Really now?  Not only do I listen to audio books, I tend to remember them better than books I've literally read.

For most readers, their earliest memories of books are those that were read to them by a family member or teacher.  As a toddler, my parents read to me. By age 3, I was reading on my own.  Reading to children increases their intelligence and their vocabulary. One of my fondest memories of grade school is of my third grade teacher, Mr. Benke, reading the class the complete Chronicles of Narnia.  Even though I read the books myself, Mr. Benke had a way of doing the voices that made me remember his telling of them much better than I remember my reading of them.

So fast forward to 2010, I'm tired of Steve Harvey on the radio telling women what they're doing wrong; I'm not there for Tom Joyner and his undercooked, over cackling self; and once Gary spills the Tea on the Ricky Smiley show, I have no use for them either.  I had previously shunned audio books as an old lady kind of thing (thanks, in part, to the fact that the only people I knew that listened to them were, um...old ladies).  But when I couldn't take any more of the testosterone heavy morning radio, I grabbed the first audio book that looked appealing at the library.

My first listen was Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.  Now this is a book that I might have put down or would not have given serious consideration if I were to physically read it.  But to listen to it was magical.  My drive time seemed to fly by and I found myself delaying going into the office so I could listen just a few more minutes.  Now while I have delayed going in because I'm reading a particularly good book, I never mastered reading and driving.  Audio books became the perfect solution to my problem.

For anyone that thinks listening to an audio book doesn't count and offers an easy way out, it takes me an hour to read 100 pages.  I can plow through the average book in three to four hours.  Audio books, not so much.  I'm currently listening to Chimimanda Ngozi Adiche's Half of a Yellow Sun.  At 433 pages, I could have read it on a Saturday afternoon.  Listening time is 19 hours.  Given that I only listen when I'm driving, it's taken me two weeks and I still have two CDs left.

Granted, audio books provide a pleasant distraction when I'm driving, but they also give me time to really digest what I've just heard.  This summer I've gone back and listened to several Bernice McFadden books that I previously read.  Each and every time I've heard something I didn't catch when I was reading the book.  And as much as I loved Erin Morganstern's The Night Circus, I probably wouldn't have been as enthralled with it had I read the physical book.

Make no mistake, listening to an audiobook is not the same as watching a movie and claiming to have read the book.  Studios, writers, etc. often change plots, lines, characters in movies that vary greatly from the book.  Audiobooks, unless abridged, are the book, in its entirety, simply being read aloud.  There's no doubt, at least in my mind, that listening to a book is just as worthwhile as reading it.

Monday, August 20, 2012

#BookReview: Love Comes Later - Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

Knowing my love of colorful chick lit, @AMWLoveWideOpen brought this book to my attention and I'm so glad she did.  While I've managed to find chick lit that covers various cultures, this is the first one I've read that focuses on the Arab world, particularly Qatar.  And as an added bonus, the author throws in an Indian American point of view.

Three months into his marriage to Fatima, a marriage he initially resisted, Abdulla loses her in a fatal car accident.  Though he had resisted the idea of marriage, he'd grown accustomed to having Fatima around and had grown to love her.  Her sudden death left a void and he vowed to never marry again.  It's unfortunate, then, that part of his duty to his family is to re-marry, specifically, one of his cousins.

Abdulla's cousin, Hind, has no desire to get married either.  A bookish, yet stylish, woman, she'd like nothing more than to get her master's and work.  Whereas most Qatari wives are content with shopping, she wants more from life.  Feeling pressure from the family, Abdulla and Hind agree to marry after Hind has spent a year in London working on her degree.

I thoroughly enjoyed the relationship between Hind and Sangita, her classmate turned roommate and best friend.  An American of Indian descent, Sangita was raised in a Hindu household.  While she's familiar with some of the aspects of Hind's religion, Islam, she's not aware of them all and the author does a great job of highlighting the similarities and differences.  With time running out, it's up to Sangita to help Abdulla and Hind figure out how they can, or if they want to, make the marriage work.

I had to laugh at some comments and nod in agreement with others as Rajakumar pokes fun at stereotypes and ideology.  For example,

When she arrives for orientation, bang on time, which would have been considered early in Doha, she is the last student there.  So much for trying to avoid the stereotype of being on Arab time.

Growing up in the African American community, there's always been a joke about people that consistently run late being on CP time.  CP meaning colored people.

In another instance, Abdulla is called a Paki (short for Pakistani) and Sangita is surprised to see that he doesn't react, only commenting to her that he's Arab, not Asian.  To which she responds, in reference to the West,

"They colonize the world and don't even bother to notice that we're different?"
"Brown is brown.  Sometimes brown is even black," he says.

While the author doesn't spend a lot of time dwelling on how the Asian or Arab world is perceived by Europeans or Americans, it is interesting to note that the perceptions and stereotypes of people of color can be just as damaging in Europe as they are in America.

This was a short and enjoyable read.  At only $ 2.99 (free for Prime members) in the Amazon store, you should definitely check it out if you're looking to broaden your mind.

Published: July 2012

Theme: Balle Balle from Bride and Prejudice

Friday, August 17, 2012

#BookReview: Trading Dreams at Midnight - Diane McKinney-Whetstone

A while ago I was waxing nostalgic about writers I miss.  Diane McKinney-Whetstone is on that list, so when I ran out of audio books, I picked up Trading Dreams at Midnight even though I'd already read it.  I really believe that you learn or hear new things when you go back and read or listen to books you've previously read.  I don't remember being as intrigued with the family dynamic before, but this time, I was blown away.

Trading Dreams centers around two sisters, Trish and Neena; their mother, Freeda; and their grandmother, Nan.  Like so many that migrated from the South, Nan came to Philadelphia in search of a better life.  What she found was Alfred, a pretty man with a penchant for drinking.  What she got from him was a daughter.  Freeda was a strange child and an even stranger teen.  While Alfred tried to explain it away, Nan suspected that her daughter was mentally ill.  I think, to some degree, Alfred knew she was, because he heard voices in his head just like Freeda.  He drank to keep the voices at bay, while Freeda hadn't yet found an outlet.

Freeda's demons drove her out into the streets, only to return to Nan with the birth of each daughter, Trish and Neena.  Freeda tried to stay and be a good mother, but the voices that told her to kill her daughters sent her away for good and the girls found themselves staying with Nan.  As the eldest, Neena had more memories of the good times with Freeda.  So it only makes sense that she's the daughter that feels the abandonment more deeply.  Each girl deals with Freeda's departure in different ways.  While Trish dives deep into books, church and social clubs, Neena takes to the streets to find her mother, chasing one lead after another, only to return when money has dried up. 

I found myself so angry and upset with Nan.  As she watched Neena mirror so many of the same mistakes Freeda made, she never stepped in to offer words of encouragement nor was she truthful about Freeda's whereabouts.  As a teen and adult, Neena seemed to bear the brunt of Nan's anger about, and disappointment in, Freeda.  While Freeda's disappearance had an effect on the girls, Nan's actions toward them affected them just as much.  Weeding Neena and watering Trish led to two very different lives for the sisters.  As college dropout Neena wandered the country, blackmailing married men for money and searching for Freeda; degreed and happily pregnant Trish married the love of her life and worked her dream job.  A single statement from Nan could have put Neena on the same path.

Just as maddening as Nan's silence during Neena's search for Freeda is the wedge she's determined to drive and keep between the sisters.  Upon Neena's return to Philadelphia, she's trying to locate her sister.  Nan refuses to tell her she's in the hospital because her pregnancy is at risk and she doesn't want Neena to upset Trish.  My grace, Nan, have a thousand seats already!   At no point was I ever given the idea that Trish didn't want her sister around. Neena wasn't a crackhead, thief, Freeda reincarnate or any other imaginable reason I could think of for Nan to keep her away.  She was just a controlling old biddy. 

Interestingly enough, Nan was no angel in her heyday.  And that's the beauty of McKinney-Whetstone's writing, her characters are human.  While they may want to believe that they're beyond reproach and have always lived saintly lives, they're not and McKinney-Whetstone is going to peel back enough layers for you to see that.

I would have liked to hear more from and about Trish.  She was a central part of Neena and Nan's lives, but didn't really have a voice in the story as a child or adult.  Instead, she's like an inanimate object that gets tossed around by Nan, Freeda and Neena like a group of kids playing Hot Potato. We're given a brief look into her current state in the hospital, but nothing more. 

Overall, this was an enjoyable listen and I got so much more out of it this time around.

Listening time: 10 hours
Published: June 2008

Theme: Clouds by Chaka Khan

Monday, August 13, 2012

Shining the Spotlight on Book Bloggers

I feel like I should cue the Julie Andrews' version of My Favorite Things and twirl around the blogosphere like Fraulein Maria on top of a hill while I introduce you to some of my favorite book blogs.  Most of my reading choices come from reading publisher catalogs and pitch emails from publicists, but I also read tons of book blogs and add suggested titles to my to be read list.  Though this list doesn't hardly include all of the book blogs I read, they're the ones I can usually count on to find my next great read.  Make a note of them and give them a follow.

African Literature News and Reviews

As I Turn the Pages

The Happy Nappy Bookseller

Literate Housewife

Reading Rendezvous Reviewz

Reading While Riding

Reflections of a Bookaholic

Sew Transformed

Take Me Away

White Readers Meet Black Authors

Friday, August 10, 2012

#BookReview: Powder Necklace - Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond

Sending your daughter away from London, the only home she's ever known, to your native country of Ghana, may seem extreme to some.  But that's just what Lila's mother does when she suspects her 14 year old daughter is becoming too wild and loose.  Telling her that they're going to visit her Auntie Flora, Lila's mother instead takes her to the airport and puts her on a flight to Kumasi.

Just as she's adjusted to life with Auntie Irene, for what she believes is a short visit, Lila learns that her mother intends for her to stay in Ghana for the duration of the school year.  At the Dadaba Girls' Secondary School, Lila is forced to endure water shortages, harassment because of her British accent, and finally learns the real reason her mother sent her away.  She needed time for herself.  WHAT? I almost threw this book across the room when I read that.  Lila's father lived in United States. He was perfectly willing to have Lila come live with him, but her mother sent her to Ghana because she needed time to herself AND to spite him? Ugh.

Eventually Lila's  mother brings her back to England.  In the six months that Lila has been gone, her mother has managed to get engaged to a man with a daughter Lila's age and they all live together.  Ma'am, you couldn't deal with your own child, who by all accounts was a good kid, but you're parenting someone else's child while yours is living in less than favorable conditions for months?

When her mother again decides she can't deal with Lila, she tells her she's going to visit her father for the summer in New York.  Look, I don't know why this woman wasn't just upfront with her daughter each time she shipped her off.  And I don't know why Lila kept falling for the okey doke, because by this time I already knew her mother was sending her there permanently.

Lila is much more optimistic than I am though.  Even after getting shuttled from house to house, continent to continent, she was able to find the good in the situation.  I would have been really interested in reading this story from the mother's point of view.  Without hearing her side of the story, she just comes across as extremely self-centered and uncaring.  That made it difficult to enjoy the book.  While Brew-Hammond has been compared to Edwidge Danticat and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I have to say she's not even close to being in their league.

Published: April 2010

Theme: Unconditional Love by Donna Summer & Musical Youth

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

#BookReview: On Black Sisters Street - Chika Unigwe

Often when we read of women that work in the sex industry, they're there because they've been tricked or forced into it.  But, for the most part, the women of On Black Sisters Street left their homes in Nigeria for Belgium willingly.  In her sophomore novel, Chika Unigwe tells their stories skillfully.

Joyce, Ama, Efe and Sisi work in the red light district of Antwerp, while living under the same roof.  Though the women are polite to each other, as flat mates are, they are really just acquaintances, not friends.  Joined together by their profession, for whom they work and from where they've come, they only know of each other the little that is shared.  All of that changes the day Sisi goes missing.

As the women grieve for their departed friend, each begins to tell her story.  One came to Antwerp to make money to send back home for the child she had with a married man; another came because even with a degree from university, she could not find a job and she was tired of disappointing her parents who believed that a degree would surely lift them out of poverty.  Still another comes because her mother has chosen between her and the father that raped her for years and another because she felt she had no other choice.

Intertwined with the women's stories is Sisi's story.  While the author does not go into detail about the lives of the other women outside of the house, we can imagine that it's much like Sisi's, whose story is told from the past and present perspectives.  Each of the women pays the gentleman that brought them over from Nigeria, as well as the madam of their house, so that little is left over for them.  Yet each woman dreams of the day her debt is repaid and she can begin the life that she has imagined for herself.  The hopelessness that comes with the realization that you may never repay your debt might be enough for you to walk away from it all.  And if you do, do you tell your flat mates, or do you let them believe otherwise?

I bought On Black Sisters Street earlier this year while @Litfangrl was in town and we were leisurely perusing the used book section of Left Bank Books.  While the book had been on my to be read list on Goodreads for awhile, I hadn't made much effort to purchase it.  I could kick myself for waiting so long.  I was intrigued by each woman's story and I'm dying to read more from Unigwe.  Her first book, The Phoenix, has yet to be published in the states, but  I can't wait to dig into her new novel, Night Dancer.

Published: April 2011

Four Women by Simone, Lizz Wright & Dianne Reeves

Monday, August 6, 2012

#BookReview: I Do Not Come To You By Chance - Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

When Augustina meets the engineer, Paulinus, it is indeed a fortuitous occasion.  While most men of their time and place would frown on a woman attending university, including Augustina's own father, Paulinus encourages it.  With their engagement depending upon her getting a degree, Augustina applies to study clothing and textile.  Together, she and Paulinus plan to raise a brood of future engineers, doctors, lawyers and scientists.

Armed with master's degrees, Augustina and Paulinus settle into opening a tailoring shop and working for the Ministry of Works and Transport, respectively.  But, things being as they are, their plans for financial success are short lived.  Paulinus' diabetes, and wages as a civil servant, put a strain on the families already strained finances.  Though the family is not financially successful, they are successful in that they've managed to instill a love for learning in their children.

Oldest son, Kingsley, has a degree in chemical engineering, yet can't find a job in Umuahia.  Having been put on notice that he stands to lose his fiancee if he cannot find a suitable position, Kingsley asks his parent's permission to look for work in Lagos, where his Uncle Boniface owns a home.  The only problem is Paulinus detests Boniface.

Known as Cash Daddy outside of the family, rich Uncle Boniface heads up one of the largest 419 operations in Lagos. You know the email that shows up in your spam box saying you've won money and need to send a fee to collect all of it?  They tend to be in all caps with misspelled words and poorly worded sentences.  There's someone like Cash Daddy behind scams just like that.  So it's no wonder that Paulinus is disgusted by the mere thought of him.

But when Paulinus falls sick and Augustina needs money for his hospital stay, she sends Kingsley to find her brother.  What she fails to realize is that she's setting Kingsley up for a life as Cash Daddy's protege.  While Kingsley is hesitant to step into the role, he quickly becomes accustomed to the perks of being associated with Cash Daddy and the money.  Ultimately Kingsley will have to decide whether or not he is morally corrupt enough to keep scamming money from greedy foreigners or if he still has a thread of the moral fiber instilled in him by his parents buried deep inside.

I ran across this book while looking for another.  Like so many, I've received the scam email before and always wondered who was foolish enough to fall for them.  It was interesting to read about how the emails are crafted and how the 419ers reel their prey in.  This was a very quick read, even though it's a little over 400 pages, so if you're even slightly interested in knowing what goes on behind the scenes of these kinds of operations, definitely give it a read.

Published: April 2009

Theme: Look At Me Now by Chris Brown featuring Busta Rhymes & Lil Wayne

Friday, August 3, 2012

#BookReview: Pretty Boy Problems - Michele Grant God, I would do him on a bed of quesadillas at high noon in the middle of Times Square...

A bed of what, where and at what time? Now you know when a man is worthy of a public display and a description like that, he's got to be all that and a bag of chips (Munchos, please).  Okay, I really just took it back to the 90s with that phrase, judge me if you must.

In her latest book, Michele Grant offers us Avery Beau Montgomery.  From the moment we first meet him, it's apparent that Beau is a scamp.  With his pretty boy, model good looks and his flair for sprinkling his sentences with French (falling back on his Cajun roots), Beau is the man you call on for a romp in the hay.  If you're looking for anything more than that, you'll just be waiting, unless you're Belle Richards.

From the moment he sees her, Beau plans to get the gorgeous southern belle, Belle, in bed.  But Belle's not so quick to fall for the okey doke.  She knows Beau's kind when she sees them.  And as a former model herself, she's heard more than enough stories about Mr. Hit 'Em & Quit 'Em.  Now that they're working on a project together, it's going to be pretty hard to resist the charms of one Beau Montgomery.  If anyone can do it, it's Belle.

Fans of Grant's work may remember Beau's family from her first novel, Heard It All Before.  Beau is the older brother of Roman, one of that book's main characters, who is now married to Jewellen.  I was glad to see Roman and Jewellen make appearances.  I was even happy to see old trifling Renee.

It's rare to see romances that are told from the point of view of the male.  Though Grant does give Belle a voice, it's obvious that this is Beau's story to tell.  Readers are the first to know that he's not as confident and secure as he always appears to be, at least in the arena of love, he's pretty confident and secure in everything else.  But he's not arrogant and I appreciated that.  Had he been, he wouldn't have been likable.

As a reader of Grant's blog, Black N Bougie, and Twitter follower, @onechele, I'm familiar with her catch phrases, but it's always amusing when they pop up in her writing.  A few examples are bullshiggity and 'the Facebook,' but my absolute favorite, because I'm pretty sure it came from Michael Jackson's This Is It is

We do this with love.  It's all with the L-O-V-E.

Well played ma'am.  Well played.

Published: July 2012
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from author, opinions are my own.

Theme: Once in a Lifetime Groove by New Edition