Friday, December 13, 2013

Brown Bodies as Props in Modern Lit

With the recent release of 12 Years A Slave and last year's Django Unchained, some in Hollywood have spoken out about their belief that there are too many movies about slavery being made.  Morgan Freeman has been vocal about not seeing it.  Then there's Nick Cannon, a man with the power to create his own television shows (as chairman of TeenNick and with MTV's Wild 'n Out) or movies about blacks who, instead, takes to Twitter to complain:

Back in March of this year, The Daily Beast lamented that 2013 was sure to be the year of the slavery film, though of the six listed, I'm only aware of two coming to the big screen, and neither has been shown in the states.

Savannah, starring James Caviezel and, again, Ejiofor; it’s loosely based on the book Ducks, Dogs and Friends by John Eugene Cay Jr. and tells the story of a well-educated white hunter who develops a friendship with a freed slave;
Something Whispered, starring Cuba Gooding Jr. as a man who attempts to free his family from slavery on a tobacco plantation in 1850;
The North Star, starring Keith David, the true story of Big Ben Jones, a slave who escaped from a Southern plantation in 1848 and is helped by local Quakers;
The Keeping Room, a Civil War drama about three Southern women forced to protect their home against a group of Union Army soldiers;
Belle, set in the 1700s, the story of a mixed-race girl who falls in love with an advocate for slave emancipation;
And Tula, with Danny Glover, focusing on a slave uprising on the Dutch colony of CuraƧao in 1795. - The Daily Beast
While I think it's important to tell our story, it's just as important to get it right.  We're seeing a generation of people that believes America went straight from slavery to the civil rights movement and some sort of equality fairy dust was sprinkled and there was a magical cleansing of prejudice and racism.  I don't care if a movie about slavery is released every month if it sets the record straight.  Seriously, go read message boards or comment sections.  They're full of people that want black America to get over it (it being slavery), and to stop whining about racism because it doesn't exist anymore.  So while Nick Cannon is shucking and jiving with Wild 'n Out, but whining on Twitter about there being too many movies about slavery, I don't see him doing anything to educate anyone or help the situation.

Now what does any of this have to do with literature and, specifically, brown bodies as props in modern lit?  While others may have noticed an influx of slavery films, I've noticed an overwhelming number of books in this past year that use slavery as the backdrop and black people as a vehicle to tell a white character's story or gain sympathy.

In Jessica Maria Tuccelli's Glow, the author throws characters, dates and events together to create a story, but at no point does it ever seem like she really understands her characters or knows what she's doing with them.  Instead, you're left with the impression that her publisher told her slavery was what's hot in the streets this year, so if she could find a way to build a story around slaves and their descendants, she'd have a hit on her hands.  I can't imagine any other reason why a first time author with no vested interest in the slave narrative would take on such a project of which she was incapable of handling.

But slaves don't necessarily fare better in the hands of authors of color either.  In The Wedding Gift, Marlen Supaya Golden tells the story of a slave girl given to her white playmate and their "friendship" as they grow into adults.  Though the story is meant to be told from the perspectives of the slave and the mother of the mistress, much more attention is given to the mistress and her family, while the slave's story is all but skipped over until the last few chapters when it's thrown together in haste and leaves the reader unsatisfied.

Books like Ann Hite's The Storycatcher rely on the spirits of slaves and their descendants to assist the featured white characters.  And contrary to its title, Mrs. Lincolns Dressmaker is less about the actual dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley, and much more about Mary Todd Lincoln and the goings on at the White House.  Lois Leveen tried her hand at writing a slave narrative in The Secrets of Mary Bowser and produced such a simplified version that I was sure it was written for a middle school reader and not adults. 

With Oprah's announcement of her next big read, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, I had to roll my eyes.  Kidd likes her magical Negroes (i.e., The Secret Lives of Bees), as does Oprah.  Based on real life suffragette and abolitionist Sarah Grimke, Kidd admittedly makes up the character of Handful Grimke, a slave given to Sarah as a child.  The book explores their wonderful (yes, I'm being sarcastic) friendship over 35 years.  If you want to tell your story, you want to do historical fiction, do that.  But what purpose does it serve to create characters if your only intent is to use them as a prop in the telling of your story?

A quick search of "slavery historical fiction" on Amazon will bring up books like the Michael Phillips series of slave and mistress raised as sisters featuring: Angels Watching Over Me , Day to Pick Your Own Cotton, Color of Your Skin Ain't the Color of Your Heart. Or Linda Spalding's The Purchase in which a Quaker family struggles with the decision of what to do with the slave they've inherited, which is somewhat along the same lines as The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier.  None of these books sound especially appealing.

It's important that authors know what they're writing about.  Right now there are classrooms in which The Help is being used to teach the Civil Rights movement.  While the book does offer background on important historical events, it is by no means an authority on the movement and sugarcoats much of it.  For these reasons, and others, authors have got to learn how and what can be used as interchangeable props in historical fiction, and the lives of black people aren't it.  I know people long for the good old days, but quite honestly, those days were only good if you were a white male, first and a white female, second.  So when you use others for whom those days weren't so good and turn those often volatile relationships to rainbows and lollipops for the sake of your story, you're doing everyone a disservice.

All I can ever really ask of authors is to do their research, treat their characters
well and write what you know.  If you don't do the research, if your heart isn't in your characters, it shows.  If you're only writing about brown bodies because you think it'll sell well or your publisher is pushing for more diversity, don't.  Readers can see right through it and you're doing yourself no favors as an author.  Publishers would be better served putting out more works by authors that continue to do the work, like Leonard Pitts, Jr. with Freeman or Jonathon Odell with The Healing, than serving up a platter of historical fiction with brown bodies on the side.

And if, as an author, you really feel like you want to take on history from a black perspective, please know that we exist beyond slavery.  It's interesting to me that authors seem to be stuck in that time period as if our presence in both world wars wasn't historical.  Or as if the Harlem Renaissance didn't happen.  Tell some of those stories.  I promise our lives after slavery are just as important, even if you can't find a way to throw in white characters to whom you'd have us play second fiddle.  Do the work because if you don't, you're no better than slave masters who saw black bodies as property to be used however they saw fit.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

#BookReview: LOSING TO WIN by Michele Grant

I would be hotter than fish grease if what happened to Carissa Wayne happened to me.  Imagine looking your absolute worst and finding yourself on live national television with all of your business put out there for everyone to see.  Even worse, you had no warning that this was going to happen, but your family and friends knew and no one said a mumbling word.  Hotter. Than. Fish. Grease!

Luckily for those around her, Carissa is a Southern belle of the "bless your heart" variety, so while she's seething on the inside, she makes nice on TV.  I can hardly blame her.  Sure, Carissa has put on a few pounds in recent years, but that hasn't affected any parts of her life, except maybe her closet.  Even then, she always looked pulled together.  It's just that the day the cameras came calling, it was casual day at school as teachers and students cleaned out classrooms and lockers in preparation for the end of the school year and the beginning of summer.  And now everyone, including her ex-fiance, has seen her looking a hot mess and being told she's fat.

As if the humiliation of being told she needed to lose weight wasn't enough, Carissa finds herself paired with Malachi Knight, former homecoming king, former football star, former everything in Carissa's world, on the weight loss reality show.  Malachi realizes he screwed things up with Carissa years ago.  She was the only thing he ever wanted and he blew it by letting his career and aspirations go to his head.  By the time he got his head on straight, Carissa was gone and so was his career.  He could stand to lose some weight and, hopefully, by the time the summer is over, he'll have both his job and his Rissa back.

Michele Grant always writes great primary characters, but her secondary characters are just as good.  As nasty and ridiculous as she was, I loved the character of Suzette, if for no other reason than I wanted to get more background on her.  As Carissa's nemesis going all the way back to high school, she's still carrying all the hatred her little pea-sized heart can muster for Carissa twenty years later and she tries to sabotage her own team just to see Carissa lose.  There's a story there. And there are plenty of other characters that I could see getting their own book.  Niecy, Carissa's fabulous line sister, has just the right amount of confidence and "it girl" to her that she could certainly carry her own story.

And it goes without saying that I would love to see a follow up book about the two main characters.  However, I might have explored a story line with Carissa and another participant and dug deeper into that relationship before wrapping things up.  But who knows what's in store for Carissa and crew?  Grant has a way of bringing back characters in subsequent books, so anything could happen.  I'll be waiting to see what's next.

Published: September 2013

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

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Two years ago, Amy Tan put out an ebook called Rules for Virgins.  It was only available as an ebook, but at just 43 pages, it was intriguing.  It served as a guide for courtesans, one in particular, on becoming successful and being named one of Shanghai's Top Ten Beauties.  At the time, I commented that I would love to see a novel based on the short.  I didn't realize she was setting the ground work for The Valley of Amazement.

 The book opens in 1905 Shanghai with seven year old Violet living at Hidden Jade Path, a first-class courtesan house owned by her mother, Lulu Mintern, the only white woman to own such a house in Shanghai.  Courtesans differ from prostitutes in that they don't work the streets and they don't offer their services cheaply.  They're more like mistresses for wealthy men, most of whom are in business-like or arranged marriages.  These women are courted and wooed by wealthy men and enter into contractual relationships with them for periods of time.  Up until the age of 14, Violet is a witness to the goings on of Hidden Jade Path.

Lulu, or Lucia, Mintern is a difficult woman to understand when we initially meet her.  She dazzles the men that visit her establishment, never forgetting a name, making connections between her guests as she sees fit.  However, she's reserved and distant when it comes to Violet.  Her daughter seeks her attention and, much like Lulu's parents did her, she continues to brush off her child, a decision she will come to regret.

Tan's story is cyclical in nature.  We see Lulu's strained relationship with her parents in which she feels ignored and acts out as a result.  In turn, she becomes a parent much like her parents and ignores her child. We also see Lulu use her haughtiness and sense of entitlement to force her way into a forbidden relationship.  This is repeated later by Violet and neither woman ends up with the outcome that she'd predicted. 

It's interesting to see how Violet goes from a daughter of privilege to a courtesan.  In the same way that her mother has Golden Dove to act as her mentor and partner, Violet forms a partnership with Magic Gourd, history repeating itself once again.  I have to wonder if Violet's daughter, Flora, would have found herself in the same cycles.

I'm used to stories going back and forth between characters and locations, but it was strange that Tan waited until she was 400+ pages before she introduced Lulu's history.  When we meet her, she's an adult with a child, but we don't know how this white woman came to be living in Shanghai.  By the time she tells us, we're so invested in Violet's story that it's almost irrelevant.  It's just my opinion, but I would have preferred to know Lulu's background much earlier than it was introduced.

This book started off slow for me.  At 60 pages in, I began to wonder if I should finish it.  But this is Amy Tan.  I knew if I stuck with it, it would pay off in the end.  Indeed it did.

Published: November 2013

Monday, December 2, 2013

#BookReview: The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon: No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

The latest in this series set in Botswana focuses on cases, of course, but even more so on transitioning and growing.  In the previous book, The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection, Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi juggled multiple cases and finally got a chance to meet the author of their beloved book, The Principles of Private Detection, Clovis Andersen.  This time, detective work takes somewhat of a backseat to real life.

Mma Makutsi, now Mma Radiphuti, is with child.  Mma Ramotswe suspects as much, but since Grace hasn't made a formal announcement, Precious is hesitant to approach her about it.  But as JLB Matekoni reminds her, one of them will have to broach the subject eventually because a new baby means maternity leave.  The pregnancy and Mma Radiphuti's absence from the office causes Precious to rethink their relationship.  Whereas she'd always seen Grace as her assistant and co-worker, she begins to realize that she's more than that to her.

JLB Matekoni notices that his wife, Mma Ramotswe, isn't as cheerful as she usually is.  While he attributes some of that to her missing her friend in the office, he wonders if he might be contributing to her unhappiness as well.  A new class in town which teaches men how to become better house husbands has just started and JLB contemplates taking the class and learning how to be more help around the house.

In the last book, we saw Fanwell mature and this time around, he's passed his exams and become a full-fledged mechanic.  Charlie, however, is still an apprentice.  It seems he might never move beyond that position and never grow up, but the appearance of Mma Radiphuti's new baby in the office stirs something inside of him.

I love that Alexander McCall Smith continues to bring us these characters and allows them to grow.  The cases that the ladies work on are always interesting, but even more interesting is the depiction of life in Botswana and the everyday lives of the characters we've come to know and love.

Published: November 2013

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

#BookReview: The Returned by Jason Mott

Given a chance, who wouldn't want a few more minutes with their loved ones?  If a deceased friend or relative showed up on your doorstep, complete as they were prior to death (but not all zombie like), would you welcome them back into your home and life with no questions asked, or would you be skeptical of them?

When Harold and Lucille Hargrave's eight year old son, Jacob, shows up at their door, Lucille doesn't care how it happened, she's just glad he's there. Harold, on the other hand, is more than a little skeptical.  They buried their only child in 1966, now here they are over 40 years later and while they have aged, he hasn't.  He's very much alive and he's very much the same eight year old he was so many years ago.

The Returned, as the government has taken to calling them, are popping up all around the world.  There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to who returns and who doesn't.  At first they're welcomed back, but for reasons known only to them, the government begins to round them up and place them in modern day internment camps.

When I first started reading this, it reminded me of the USA show, The 4400, from a few years ago.  In that show, the returned hadn't died, they'd simply disappeared years ago.  Upon returning, they came back with powers that weren't always immediately apparent.  They were almost a superhuman species.  In this first book in what I've learned is a series, the returned don't seem to possess any powers.

It's an interesting concept, one that seems to keep popping up in movies and television.  In fact, the book is being made into a series called The Resurrection, coming in 2014, developed by the author and Brad Pitt.  Though I was hesitant to read this initially, I was drawn in enough by book one to seriously consider giving the rest of the series a try.

Published: August 2013
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Free for All Friday: All About Idris

How do I love thee, Idris, let me count the ways!  My favorite man to watch do just about anything has been making the rounds promoting his upcoming movie, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.  I'm going to a screening tomorrow night and in anticipation of that, I'm posting a few of his most recent pics out and about.

Jimmy Kimmel, Nov. 20

Kelly & Michael, Nov. 14

Even Idris takes selfies, Nov. 13

How can you not love watching this man?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

#BookReview: Mama's Child by Joan Steinau Lester

Any time you read a book, you bring your own history and experiences along with you.  They shape your perception of what you're reading.  So it wasn't surprising to me that when I looked at other reader's reviews of Mama's Child on Goodreads, the people that loved it versus those that barely tolerated were firmly divided into two camps.

Consistency is important in stories.  I expect that if an author is inconsistent, his or her editor will help them.  The author couldn't decided whether or not Ruby, one of the main characters, was 11 or 13 in 1978.  As a result, I counted no less than 10 times where her age was changed.  In one paragraph, she would be referred to as a teen, where just a sentence or two ago, the author noted that she was 11, not exactly how I would define teen.  Because of the subject matter and the way in which the daughter was expected to react to situations, it was important to get her age right.  There are matters you would expect 13 year olds to handle better than an 11 year old.  This set the tone for me and lead to my initial dislike for the book and the author.  If you're not careful and don't care about your characters, how can you expect the readers to?

There are some that thought the book was "too racial."  To quote a fellow reader on Goodreads, "To be honest, I got tired of the book going on and on about everything being racial," which is laughable, because if you're writing a book about a biracial child's conflict with her white mother that's firmly rooted in identity, I'm not sure how it can be written without touching on race.  And if I'm being honest, this book irked me because of the mother's inability to deal with race, though that's just one of the reasons I had a problem with the story.

Solomon Jordan of Atlanta and Elizabeth O'Leary of Cleveland first meet in Greenwood, Mississippi in the summer of 1963 as members of the SNCC teaching at the Freedom School.  Bonding over music and literature, the two head for Oakland, California at the end of the summer to begin their lives together.  In their infatuation with each other, neither really takes the time to wonder how the racial makeup of their relationship will affect them and those around them.

Fast forward 15 years and Solomon and "Lizzy" are parents to 13 year old Che and 11 year old (sometimes) Ruby.  While Che is content to go along to get along, Ruby finds herself questioning the white authority at school and in other aspects of her life, as she's been taught to do by her parents.  Bigger problems are in store as Solomon, who begins to feel ashamed of his white wife in the presence of his Black Panther friends, pulls away from her.  Though Ruby adores her father, I found him to be lazy when it comes to his relationship with Elizabeth.  Rather than discuss why her presence makes him uncomfortable around other black people, he instead uses the women's liberation movement against her.  The truth is, he never thought about how he would be viewed by others because of her and comes to resent her for making him appear as less than down for the cause.

With Ruby as an observer, she begins to resent her mother as well.  I'm able to sympathize with Ruby much more than Solomon or Lizzy because of all the people affected by their divorce, she received the brunt of the fallout.  With Solomon and Che gone from the house, Elizabeth/Lizzy becomes Liz, a woman who no longer cooks, who no longer wants the responsibility of parenting.  Eleven year old Ruby rebels, telling her mother that one does not simply decide that they no longer want to be a parent.  The reality is people decide everyday that they no longer want to be parents, but to expect the child in that situation to not be confused is absurd.  Then to move from that to making significant lifestyle changes with no warning and expecting Ruby to be on board with them, it's no wonder that she rebelled. 

The book begins with an adult Ruby cutting Liz off.  And though other reviewers tried to say it was all about race, I'd say it was a combination of that and resentment of bad parenting.  This was a difficult book to read.  I honestly got tired of Liz and her whining white woman tears.  As someone that prided herself on interacting with the black community and being in touch with her daughter's feelings, she quickly retreated to her privileged mindset as soon as she was called out on her actions, supported by her fellow "progressive" friends.  At no point does she ever take into consideration Ruby's point of view, choosing to believe that the fact that she was her mother trumped all.  As much as I wanted to feel sorry for Liz as a mother, I couldn't.  She entered into the relationship with Solomon with rose-colored glasses on and didn't adequately prepare herself for the road she would travel as the mother of biracial children or the difficulties she might face in an interracial relationship.  Simply wishing something is easy doesn't make it so.

I've no doubt that who you are plays a great role in how you perceive what you're reading.  I've no doubt that my opinions on Mama's Child vary greatly from others.  One glance at Goodreads' reviews will confirm that, but I stand by my low rating of the book.  I initially only gave it 3 stars on Goodreads (and later changed it to 2), only because 2 1/2 stars aren't an option. Going back and reading my notes, I think that even that half star was too generous.  The whole book reads as a "look at me, I told my black child to be aware of the world around her and when she realized I was a part of that world, and not necessarily the good part, her survival instincts kicked in and she disowned me.  Woe is me."

Published: May 2013
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Monday, November 18, 2013

#BookReview: Marching to Zion by Mary Glickman

In 1916, East St. Louis, Illinois was a hub of activity.  Less sophisticated than St. Louis to its west, it was full of factories and slaughterhouses.  It was also full of immigrants working those factory jobs and blacks recently migrated from the South in search of better jobs than they'd been able to find in places like Mississippi or Alabama.  It's to this city that Mags Preacher arrives in 1916, hoping to make her fortune as a hairdresser.

With nothing more than a dream, Mags approaches Magnus Bailey, a local gentleman that she believes can loan her the money to fulfill her dream, in St. Louis.  Magnus doesn't give her the $100 that she asks for, but he does give her $ 10 and points her toward Miss Emily's boardinghouse on the east side.  In need of a job to raise money for her beauty salon, Mags finds a job preparing the dead at a local funeral home owned by the Fishbeins.

As a small town country girl, Mags is ignorant to the hateful words spoken to her by the Polish and German immigrants that live on her street, and just as ignorant to their hatred of the Fishbeins.  Had she been more aware, she might have been prepared for the riots that began in July 1917 and left her indebted to Magnus Bailey, Fishbein and his feisty daughter, Minerva.

Where Mags is humble and hard working, Minerva Fishbein is everything Mags is not.  Her sense of entitlement leaps from the page from the moment she appears.  That entitlement, coupled with stubbornness, leads her to believe that Magnus Bailey, a man 15 years her senior, belongs to her and no other woman.  Her obsession with Magnus sets off a series of events that leave him confused and running from the red hair.  In turn, his rejection turns Minerva into someone that no one ever expected her to become.

I really didn't expect to enjoy this book as much as I did.  I really liked the characters, including Mr. Fishbein, who Glickman describes as kind of a creepy looking man, but his goodness and sense of loyalty come across really well.  The flashy Magnus Bailey and the shrewd Minerva are two characters that normally I could take or leave, but I found myself rooting for them, together and apart.  I would have liked to see more of Aurora Mae, a cousin of Mags, who plays a role in Magnus' later life.  Her back story was briefly mentioned, but sounded so intriguing that I would have read a book based on her alone. Overall, this is a solid effort from Mary Glickman.

Published: November 2013
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

#Whatever Wednesday: Judging a Book by Its Cover

Monday night I was browsing publisher’s catalogs, because that’s what book bloggers do for entertainment. As I went through and added books to my “to be read” shelf, I thought about how I pick books and wondered if others use the same methods.

 I’d say it depends on whether I’m viewing virtually or in person. In person, I’m usually drawn in by a pretty and/or unusual cover. Rarely do I go into bookstores looking for a book by an author I’ve already read unless I’m specifically going in for that book. When I’m just browsing the shelves for the next great read, covers play a huge part. I wonder how many really good books I may have missed out on because of sucktastic covers.

With virtual browsing, though just having a great cover doesn’t always work out well, it’s enough to make me read the synopsis and determine if the book is worth my time. However, when browsing a catalog of books that aren’t due out for another six to eight months, often cover art doesn’t exist yet. So I tend to look for authors that I’m already familiar with or interesting titles. Again, that means I’m probably missing out on some really good books. But if your catalog contains 650 books, surely you don’t expect me to read the synopsis for all of them, right?

So how do you pick books in person and/or online? Do you have a sure fire way of picking a winner?

Because he's Idris & I really don't need an excuse to post his picture

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Here's a hodgepodge of things I threw out about three years ago and they're all relevant today.

Reviewing bad books: What's a bad book or a good book is really subjective. I guess instead I should have said reviewing a book that doesn't work for you. I was following a twittersation between two book bloggers recently and one of them said if she reads a book that she doesn't care for, she won't tell her readership about it. Instead she discusses it among her circle of friends. That made me pause and wonder, aren't you doing a disservice to people if you don't at least tell them about it and let them form their own opinion? I know that there are books that I've reviewed here and hated that others loved. By the same token, there have been books that I loved and people questioned my sanity.

Would you rather reviews of the not-so-good books or would you prefer the rainbows and unicorns reviews?

I'm not doing NaNoWriMo and here's why: For those that don't know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It starts November 1st and ends November 30th. There's a website dedicated to all of the wannabe writers out there who cheer each other on and encourage them to complete their 175-page (50,000 word) novel. I tried it last year. I was hyped about it. And by November 11, I quit. As I said last year, I'm a reader, not a writer. Some people can do both, and do both well. I'm not one of those people.

For all of you that feel the inner author in you struggling to get out, I encourage you to participate. If you're an author trying to complete that book you've been working on for the last ten years, this is for you. In the meantime, I'll be raising the roof in my Snuggie, cheering you on, while reading.

Anyone participating?

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: I stan for all things Peanuts, especially Snoopy. One of the reasons I love this time of the year is the seasonal Charlie Brown shows are starting. Never mind the fact that I own them all on DVD and can watch them at any time (and do). It's all about Snoopy rising up out of the pumpkin patch and scaring the fool out of Linus. Last year someone on Twitter swore up and down that one year the Great Pumpkin actually rose up out of the patch? I've been watching Snoopy do his thing for almost 40 years. Ain't no Great Pumpkin rose up outta no patch! (And yes, it was very necessary to say it just like that, grammatically incorrect and all).

I don't know where you'll be tomorrow at 7 p.m. central, but I'll be parked in front of the TV watching Linus make a fool of himself once again.

 So what is your favorite Peanuts holiday cartoon?

Monday, October 28, 2013

#BookReview: The World We Found - Thrity Umrigar

To say I'm disappointed in this latest novel from Thrity Umrigar would be an exaggeration, but in no way was I as engrossed in this story as I have been with her previous work.  The World We Found centers around four women who were friends in university.  Years later, only two of them are still close.  Yet, when called on by one, all respond.

Of the four women, Armaiti, Nishta, Laleh and Kavita, I found Kavita the most interesting and Armaiti the least.  In college, the women were revolutionaries, but as adults, they're far removed from those optimistic, carefree, world-changing days.  As each woman prepares to be reunited with her friends, the reader is given a glimpse into their present-day lives.

Nishta's circumstances changed the most, from an outgoing and outspoken college student to a quiet and obedient wife to a husband who had also changed drastically from his college days.  Laleh used her family's money as a college student to address any and all problems and that didn't change as an adult.  Armaiti, though the focal point of the story and the reason why the women were reuniting, was an extremely uninteresting character.  Kavita was most interesting to me because, in her, Umrigar presents a character unlike others I've read about from this area.  Her lifestyle is not one that's readily talked about in that region, so it was nice to see that subject tackled.

Overall, I didn't feel a connection with any of the women, so it made listening to the book a task, rather than something I enjoyed doing. 

Listening time: 10 hours, 41 minutes
Published: January 2012

Theme: Get Here by Oleta Adams

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

#BookReview: Family Business by Carl Weber & Eric Pete

Look, I have been down with Carl Weber's books since the beginning.  If his last book, The Man in 3B, left a bad taste in my mouth, Family Business scraped the taste buds off my tongue, stepped on them, doused them with sriracha and set them on fire.  It was the most formulaic, predictable, God awful crap I've ever read from him.  It's my fault though.  I didn't do my research on Weber's writing partner.  I'd never read anything from Eric Pete.  Perhaps if I had, I'd have known what to expect, street lit wrapped up in a literary fiction book cover.

Now Carl Weber is nowhere near on the same level as James Patterson, but I felt like he made a Patterson move by partnering with another writer who completely changes his writing style.  If you've read Patterson for years, as I have, you've noticed that his recent books are of a lesser quality than his earlier books.  In an effort to churn out as many books as possible, and pocket as many dollars as possible, Patterson simply outlines books and turns them over to lesser authors to flesh out.  I can't say that that's what Weber did for sure, allow a lesser known author to get the come up by using his name, but no.  It was horrible. It was sucktastic.  It should never be done again (except that part 2 to this nonsense is due out, so apparently he is doing it again).

What was so bad about the book? I'm glad you asked.  It started off with the introduction of family members at a meeting called by the parents to announce their retirement from the family business.  Now the reader is lead to believe the business is a fine car dealership.  And it seems feasible.  The youngest daughter, Paris, is rebellious and rough around the edges, but it's something you come to expect from rich kids who are acting out for attention, right?  Third oldest son, Orlando, is all about the business and set to take over when his father steps down.  Oldest brother, Junior, is content with managing the fleet of automobiles and overseeing their transportation.  Oldest daughter, London, used to work in the business, but when she married her attorney husband, Harrison, she backed out and became a stay at home mother.  All of these things are feasible, right?

This is the point when I decided Weber said he was done and turned everything over to Pete, because 44% into this book, the family business flipped from being a car dealership to a heroin ring.  Girl, WHAT?!?!?! I should have just deleted the book from Kinderella right then and there, but nooooo. I kept reading.  I'm sure in their minds, Weber and Pete thought they were creating some Godfather-like saga when, in reality, this was some old crap.  The finishing school Paris had gone to was actually a training camp for assassins, Orlando had a degree in pharmacy, London was an accountant, and her husband, Harrison, was her father's consigliere.

The characters sucked.  The story lines sucked. Everything sucked.  Just...don't read this.  If you've even thought about picking it up, don't do it.  Run, don't walk, away from this garbage.  If Carl Weber wants to enter the world of street lit, he's welcome to do so, but this is where I bid him adieu.

Published: February 2012

Monday, October 21, 2013

#BookReview: Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli

Opening with a middle of the night escape from an intolerant town, we first see 11 year old Ella McGhee on a bus from Washington, DC heading to Georgia. A miscommunication leads to a missed connection and Ella finds herself fending off strangers until help arrives in the form of an elderly woman. This is really where the story begins, and though the book blurb leads us to believe Glow is about Ella and her mother, Amelia, it’s really about everyone but them.

I love books that include family trees, especially in instances where the book spans multi-generations. I found myself referring back to it often, trying to keep track of whom the author was speaking about throughout. I’m still not convinced that I kept everyone straight though.

Glow tells the stories of Amelia’s maternal and paternal sides of the family, which includes white, black and Native American ancestors.  The lives of the family members are intertwined.  Their stories are much more interesting than what's happening in the present in the book.  But like I said, the author tries to cover so many people and so many stories, that it's hard to keep them straight.

Tuccelli seems to want to make a connection between Amelia's activism and that of her ancestors, but falls short.  Not enough time is spent tying her back to her history to give readers a sense of how she became the person that she is.  I think time would have been better spent simply writing about the earlier generations and completely removing the Amelia and Ella connections.

Published: March 2012
Disclaimer: Copy received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

#ComingAttractions: Books I Can't Wait to Read

Earlier in the year I asked if anyone was interested in a monthly newsletter about upcoming books (kinda like the one Goodreads sends out that rarely has books you actually want to read).  Rather than email a newsletter, I thought it might be easier to just post them here on a random Saturday.  I'm not sure if I'll do these monthly or quarterly.  It'll probably depend on what I see in publisher's catalogs.  I can't wait to read the books below in this last quarter of the year.  Are any of these on your to be read list?  If not, what is?

Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China
Jung Chang
On Sale Date: October 29, 2013
Summary: "At the age of sixteen, in a nationwide selection for royal consorts, Cixi was chosen as one of the emperor's numerous concubines. When he died in 1861, their five-year-old son succeeded to the throne. Cixi at once launched a palace coup against the regents appointed by her husband and made herself the real ruler of China-behind the throne, literally, with a silk screen separating her from her officials who were all male."

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon: No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
Alexander McCall Smith
On Sale Date: November 5, 2013
Summary: "Modern ideas get tangled up with traditional ones in the latest intriguing installment in the beloved, best-selling No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series."

The Valley of Amazement
Amy Tan
On Sale Date: November 5, 2013
Summary: "A sweeping, evocative epic of two women's intertwined fates and their search for identity, from the lavish parlors of Shanghai courtesans to the fog-shrouded mountains of a remote Chinese village"

The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion: A Novel
Fannie Flagg
On Sale Date: November 5, 2013
Summary: "Spanning decades, generations, and America in the 1940s and today, The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion is a fun-loving mystery about an Alabama woman today, and five women who in 1943 worked in a Phillips 66 gas station, during the WWII years."

Friday, October 18, 2013

#BookReview: The House Behind the Cedars by Charles W. Chestnutt

We’ll probably never know how many blacks become white after the Civil War due to passing. 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. Though the subject of passing is later tackled in Nella Larsen’s 1929 Passing and 1948’s Lost Boundaries, Charles W. Chestnutt was one of the first to address it with 1900’s The House Behind the Cedars.

The story opens with the return of John Warwick to the town in North Carolina where he was formerly known as mulatto. Having lived in South Carolina for some years, where the laws governing who is and is not white are less stringent, John is no longer the same person he was when he left his mother and sister behind in their small community. Now an upstanding, white attorney, he’s returned to Patesville to convince his mother to allow his sister, Rena, to return to Clarence, South Carolina with him, where she might also pass and ascend to a higher racial and social class.

Charles W. Chestnutt
As Rena takes her place in society, she catches the eye of George Tryon, a client of John’s. Caught up in a whirlwind romance with him, Rena can’t help but to wonder if he would still love her if he knew that she was really black. Though John has no problem with passing, it becomes a source of frustration for Rena. She wants to believe that George will love her regardless and is tempted to confess to him, but to do so would out her brother.

It’s been said that Chestnutt based The House on family members. Given his appearance, he would have been a candidate to pass, but chose to identify as black.  He doesn't fault though who choose to pass.  However, it would seem that the message he sends with this story is that while passing for white can indeed move you higher up on the ladder of success, it comes with a price and ultimately it’s up to an individual to determine how much he or she is willing to pay.

Published: 1900