Monday, April 22, 2013

#BookReview: You Can't Plan Love - Synithia Williams

As you may have noticed from my previous reviews of romance novels, I'm not big on them.  A lot have formulaic Harlequin feels to them.  You know, there's a damsel in distress who lives in (fill in the blank), works as a (fill in the blank) and hates, but falls in love with her (fill in the blank).  The names, locations and occupations change, but the story line is always the same.  I have a cousin that reads Harlequins constantly and I'm just amazed because the covers and characters are the same no matter what they or the book is called.  So I was pleasantly surprised when I read Synithia Williams' You Can't Plan Love.

Kenyatta Copeland is a capable leading lady.  As an environmental engineer in a male dominated field, she's learned to hold her own.  She loves her job and where her career is heading.  According to her mother and friends, it's about time she gets married and whom better to marry than Brad Johnson?  An accomplished attorney, Brad is the man of any woman's dreams, except Kenyatta's.  She doesn't feel the passion for him that she should, but she knows he'll be a good provider and she'll eventually learn to love him. But...and there's always a but, Brad wants her to quit her job when they get married.

Blair Underwood
Quitting her job would mean giving up something she loves and losing her identity.  It would also mean giving up Malcolm, her boss.  While we can clearly see what Kenyatta is supposed to look like from the cover, Malcolm is in the background and not so easy to see.  So in my mind, he looks like Blair Underwood.  Let me have my fantasy!  Anywho, Malcolm appreciates Kenyatta's mind and the way it works, among other things.  But lest you think this is one of those books where he silently smolders with passion for her (I've read too many romances lately. I'm writing like a Harlequin author!), he's very vocal about how he feels about her.

Synithia Williams could have taken the tried and true road with You Can't Plan Love, but she's done so much more with it.  If you're like me and you don't particularly care for romances, I recommend you give this a try.  I think you'll be pleasantly surprised from the start to spectacular finish.

Published: November 2012

Theme: You Can't Hurry Love by The Supremes

Monday, April 15, 2013

#BookReview: No Strings Attached - Bridget Gray

Mei Jing, or MJ as she's known to friends, just met Rod, yet she already knows him.  Years ago on holiday, she saved his life, but he was unconscious and never knew who saved him.  When he re-enters her life, she's hesitant to tell him because she doesn't want him to feel like he owes her anything.

Rod has traveled the world studying sustainable architecture.  He's back home in Australia, but has never forgotten the mystery woman that saved his life years ago.  He's paid a detective to find her, but each lead comes up short.

The two meet, flames flicker and what not, you get the idea.  MJ and Rod are just okay as characters.  Much more interesting are their friends and what's going on in their lives and MJ's mom's never ending quest to find her the perfect husband.

I was taken aback by a blatantly racist statement made by one of Rod's friends in front of MJ along the line of "all Asians look alike." I was even more dumbfounded that the author thought MJ would have let such a comment slide.  I mean, it's one thing to let some crap like that fall out of your mouth, but you're going to let it fall out in front of me AND I'm not going to say a word? Like, not even mention it later like it was perfectly fine?  That just didn't ring true to me.

Published: December 2012

Theme: He Doesn't Know I'm Alive by Janet Jackson

Friday, April 12, 2013

#BookReview: The Guardian's Heart - Michel Prince

I found a lot of fault with this read from Michel Prince.  I gave it three purple arm chairs, but I was far more generous than I should have been.  I won't go into all of the reasons why I don't think it deserved three stars, but I will touch upon a few of them.

The Guardian's Heart is about a mid-20s graduate student whose parents have been killed in a car accident and left him to raise his twin toddler siblings.  The story starts off with him, Case, meeting his love interest, Gabbie, in the aisle of a store as he's trying to figure out what kind of diapers to buy for the kids.  Gabbie assists him, sparks fly, yada yada yada.

So in their initial conversations, Case mentions that he has to go back to school to finish his last six weeks before graduation.  Problem is, he never goes back!  After it's mentioned early on, no other mention of school is made until almost the end of the book when it's magically time for graduation.  Instead, those six weeks are used to bring him and Gabbie close enough that she's ready to let his sibling calls her mom and he's ready to marry her.

Gabbie meets Case in a store, feels sorry for him struggling with two kids, follows him home, cleans house, bathes the kids, etc. for a man she just met.'am...WDDDA??? You don't know this dude from the man on the moon, but you're that trusting?  And that leads to the next scattered plot line.

Because of past relationships, Gabbie is hesitant to get involved or even interact with men.  But Case is so charming and what not that she dives right in with little to no hesitation.  One minute just the thought of a guy you dated in high school seven years ago is enough to have you on the brink of mental collapse, the next you're playing house with Diaper King??

I understand that magic is supposed to happen in books, but it works better if it's believable.  The author would have us believe that a group of high school seniors forfeited scholarships and going to college when one of their friends got pregnant, pooled their money together to open a day care center (when none of them had any previous experience) right out of high school.  Or that a mid-20s woman with no kids would add water and have instant family in six weeks and think nothing of it.  She would also have us to believe several other outlandish story lines that all end up wrapped in a nice bow at the end of the book.  Girl, I guess.

Published: September 2012

Theme: Ebony and Ivory by Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

#BookReview: Through the Lens - K.M. Jackson

Mika Walters loves being a photographer. She does not, however, enjoy being an assistant to Alejandro Vega, the photographer. Mika has worked long hours for three years, putting her own dreams on the backburner.  She's finally been offered her dream job and she's sure Ale will be as happy to see her leave as she is to go.

For three years Mika has been his right hand, so why has it taken so long for Ale to realize that he feels something for her?  He's never given a thought to how his life would be without her, but Mika will always be there.  So when she drops a bombshell on him, he's not sure how to react.

Formulaic and predictable, Through the Lens is still a pretty decent read.  Even so, I would have restructured the chapter order.  When we meet Mika and Ale, they're on an isolated island for a photo shoot.  The author plunges right into their story without giving much personal background.  It's not until over halfway through the book that we're given a better sense of their history and the events that have shaped them.

Published: November 2012

Theme: Photograph by Def Leppard

Friday, April 5, 2013

Otherization in Lit & Life

We've had conversations before on this blog and on Twitter about readers' tendency to assume characters they're reading about are the same ethnicity as them unless the author specifically states otherwise.  There was an uproar last year when a character in Hunger Games was clearly described as having brown skin and was cast as such.  Some of mainstream (and by mainstream, I mean white) America was upset and took to Tumblr and other social media sites to complain because they thought Rue was white.  Some went so far as to say that they cried when she died in the book, but couldn't work up any emotion over her dying in the movie because, "she was just a black girl." Why would they have thought this even though the author described her?   They probably skimmed over the fact and in their mind, she looked like them.  The idea that a character or person that doesn't look like them is not what they perceive as the norm, and is somehow less than human or a different kind of human, is what I call otherization.

Columbus Short
Otherization happens not only in the literary world, but in the media and every day life.  I was reading a book this week where the author felt the need to describe a bartender as "a big black guy." His ethnicity played no part in how he served drinks.  And, in this instance, that's all he did.  The character had no lines.  His blackness didn't make the drinks taste any better.   But, for some reason, the author thought readers needed to know that a BIG black man was making drinks at a bar.

Type in "big black guy" on Google and 771,000,000 results pop up.  If you've lived as a black person in America, you already know that "big black guy" is supposed to be code for "oh my God, he was so scary and I thought he was going to kill/rape/maim me."  The reality is, more than likely, said big black guy is under 5'9" and weighs 180 lbs. soaking wet, if that much. How scary and menacing does Columbus Short (and praise God for him!) look at 5'10"?

Think I'm exaggerating the tendency to otherize people? Look at all of the instances where white people, in real life not in some book, have conveniently blamed incidents on big, black guys, only to recant their statements after the police have rounded up every black man in the area and harassed them.  Remember Susan Smith, the woman who killed her kids because they didn't fit the plans she had with a new boyfriend? She sat on national TV begging for the big, black guy that stole her children to return them.  Remember Ashley Todd?  During the 2008 presidential election, she falsely claimed that a big, black guy mugged her AND scratched a B on her face for Barack Obama.  Why did these women think they could blame their attacks on black men and not be questioned for it? Because the media and America have bought into the belief that big, black guy equals trouble.  And that's boiled over into literature.

I read to escape the every day world.  I don't read to make social statements.  When the every day BS of the world creeps into what I'm reading, it's a problem.  Now here's your homework, the next book you read, I want you to note how often characters of color have their race mentioned and whether or not it plays into the typical stereotypes (e.g., sassy black woman, submissive Asian woman, etc.).  Then I want you to note how many white characters are described by their race and/or stereotypes.  Listen the next time your friends or co-workers tell a story that involves people of color and note whether or not they mention the race of that person to describe the story and whether or not it's relevant.  I bet some of you will be surprised.  Not me.

Monday, April 1, 2013

#BookReview: Mom & Me & Mom - Maya Angelou

The average person knows that she wrote I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings or they remember her inaugural speech for President Clinton, On the Pulse of Morning. You may know her for her poetic stylings in Still I Rise or for the younger generation, as an elder in Tyler Perry movies.

Readers, I'm here to tell you that Madame Angelou has lived! I picked up her then complete collection as a freshmen in college 20 years ago and was blown away. The books shown below cover her life from the beginning with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969); the ages 17 through 19 as a single mother working as a prostitute and madam in a brothel in Gather Together in My Name (1974); Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas (1976) covers her marriage to a Greek sailor, her dance career (did you know she once partnered with THE Alvin Ailey), and the recording of her first album.

The Heart of A Woman (1981) reflects on her time as a member of the noted Harlem Writer's Guild; her time in Egypt and Ghana; her close friendship with Malcolm X; and raising a black man in America. All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986) finds her back in the United States working as a songwriter for Roberta Flack, writing short stories and preparing for her role in Alex Haley's Roots miniseries.

In her latest, Mom & Me & Mom, she finally touches upon the backbone of her greatness.  If you're like me, you remember that in I Know Why... she mentions being raised by her grandmother in Arkansas, briefly mentioning her time in California with her mother and then jumps straight into being an adult.  There is so much that was missing and it's covered now.

With a mother like Vivian Baxter, I don't know how Maya Angelou could have been anything but great.  There's nothing like a mother's love and Vivian stood in the gap for Maya like no one else could.  The confidence she instilled in Maya at a young age and support she continued to give her throughout her life was just amazing.  Not only did she serve as a sounding board and backbone for her daughter, she served as one for her communities.  She was a truly amazing woman for her time and Maya came by her spunk honestly.

When I tell you Madam Angelou has lived a full life, she truly has. As an impressionable young woman, I was so blown away by her story. Recounting now all that she has done in the time period that's not even covered by these books is even more stunning. My hope is that you will take the time  to read all of her autobiographies and get to know and appreciate this woman who is truly an American treasure.

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

Theme: Tell Mama by Etta James