Monday, June 17, 2013

#BookReview: Crawfish Dreams - Nancy Rawles

I picked up Crawfish Dreams on a recent trip to the local, indie bookstore.  I love exploring their used book section, because you never know what gems you'll find.  And though I didn't think the story was terribly exciting, I loved the recipes interspersed throughout the book.

Camille Broussard is a Creole transplant from a small town in Louisiana to Watts.  Moving from the south in the 1940s, she remembers a thriving community that changed with the Watts Riots in 1965.  One of the last homeowners on her block, Camille refuses to leave the block she loves.  Convinced that her cooking will pay off in a big way one day, she's constantly coming up with new side hustles.

Camille's adult children are a motley bunch.  From her practically virginal, yet married, 40something daughter to her overly Christian, in words but rarely actions, son to her confused and lazy lesbian daughter, and all of the kids in between, Camille hasn't got a leg to stand on.  While her sons debate about which one should take their ailing mother in, and it certainly won't be the son that "made it," she's plotting to open a her home.

Rawles touches on a lot in Crawfish Dreams: the abandonment of whole communities; father-son relationships; recidivism; religion; self-esteem; families and starting over.  Although I enjoyed the story line overall, the book had a tendency to drag.  I think toward the end I had to force myself to finish it just so I could say I was done.  It's not that the book was predictable, but there were sections and some stories that I felt could have been cut to make this a more compact read.  I do, however, plan to try a few of the recipes listed in the book.  I'll be sure to let you know how that works out.

Published: February 2004

Theme: Jambalaya (on the Bayou) by Del McCoury Band and Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Monday, June 10, 2013

#BookReview: Oleander Girl - Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

When you've read a really good book by an author, you have high expectations for anything they write after that.  I loved Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's Sister of My Heart and Mistress of the Spices and I was sure I'd be just as entertained by her new book.  I wanted to love Oleander Girl so desperately, but (there's always a but, isn't there) the story line was too unbelievable in my opinion.

Seventeen year old Korobi Roy comes from a prominent Hindu family.  After her mother's death, Korobi is raised by her strong-willed grandfather and humble grandmother and educated at prestigious boarding schools. Betrothed to Rajat, the son of wealthy art dealers, Korobi refuses to get married without first researching a family secret that has been withheld from her since birth. Various events and people threaten to keep Korobi and Rajat from actually making it to the altar.

 The problem I had with the story was that Korobi was supposed to be a sheltered 17 year old who only knew life in Kolkata and at boarding school.  So it takes a great suspension of belief to go along with the story of her hopping on a plane to America alone, navigating the streets of New York first, and traveling to California.  It just seemed implausible.  Based on that, it was difficult for me to really enjoy the book.

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

Theme: Impossible/It's Possible from Cinderella - Brandy & Whitney Houston

Friday, June 7, 2013

BEA Day 3: Why Are Those Girls from Brave Dressed as Ninjas?

I was pretty much over BEA when I left the Javits Center on Thursday.  I'd already shipped a box of books home and had no desire to ship anymore or try to carry them on the plane.  But Octavia Spencer was going to be signing her new book on Friday and I didn't want to miss her, especially after I saw that she'd favorited one of my tweets.

 Yes, people.  Academy Award winning actress Octavia Spencer is also author Octavia Spencer.  Her first foray into the world of writing is a series aimed at the middle school crowd, Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective: The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit.  I hadn't seen the book cover before receiving my copy, so when I saw a bunch of short women wearing red wigs, I kept wondering, "Why is that little girl from Brave dressed in all black?"  I've not seen Brave and I can't tell you what the girl wore in it, but it wasn't until I realized all of the actresses were wearing ninja outfits that it dawned on me.  They were supposed to be Randi Rhodes!

Unlike the other authors that I met at BEA who took time to talk to readers, Ms. Spencer really didn't have time for that.  Her signing started at 11 a.m. and when I got on line at 10:40, I was number 41 and the line quickly got longer.  With just an hour to sign, there was no way she could stop and chit chat with everyone that came through or personalize each book.  She did smile and ask how I was though.  I've seen her promoting Sensa in her tweets and I could definitely tell that she'd lost weight, so you know, got get your Sensa on if you feel the need.

Since I was back at the Javits that day, I went to check out another author whose publicist had reached out to me about her book before the conference.  Her website described her as Chelsea Handler-like, and while I liked one of Chelsea's books, I don't care for her overall, so I was hesitant about picking up On My Knees by Periel Aschenbrand.  I was expecting an obnoxious, abrasive, loud and opinionated woman, but Periel was sooooo nice...and hot.  No, really. One of the first things she said to me was that she was hot, then she pushed back from the table and I could see why.  She was pregnant, very pregnant.  We commiserated about summer pregnancies and other things.

Once I escaped the Javits, it was only appropriate that I get my tourist on.  We hopped on one of the 'Hop On, Hop Off" buses and headed uptown...where we ate...Popeye's.  I swear we did.  Yes, we have Popeye's right here in St. Louis, so don't ask me why I was all excited to be eating at one in Harlem like the chicken was going to be more authentic or something.  I was impressed by their fancy new soda machine and their five wing meal deal, since we only get three wings here and pay just $ 1 less than they do.

A few of the books I picked up
So yeah, we tried to do tourist stuff, but that didn't work out so well.  We had a great dinner at Ruby Foo's that night and I finally got to meet @kevinrfree and he is <Oprah voice> fabuloussssssss.  Kevin is an actor who also narrates audio books.  I'm really fascinated by the whole audio book process so I peppered him with questions until the other dinner guests started giving me the, "girl, would you shut the hell up" look.  Kevin has agreed to let me interview him in the near future for the blog, so if you have questions you'd like him to answer, be sure to send them my way.

More books
I can't say for sure if I'll do BEA again next year.  For the amount of money I spent on registration, plane tickets, hotel and meals (not to mention cabs), I don't know if it was worth it for the 20 or so books I came home with.  I'll have to see how I feel about it next year.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

BEA Day 2: African American Authors are NOT a Genre!

I can't count how many times I've ranted about how publishing lumps African-American writers and books together regardless of their actual genre and lo and behold, BEA turned around and did the same thing.  If you look at the picture I posted, you'll see a section in the program highlighting the autographing area and types of books available for signing.  It includes genres like romance, self-help, cooking...and African-American authors.  <sigh> What in the entire hell???  After the sessions the day before, I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was.  Silly me.

Any who, BEA created an iPhone app that I'd downloaded before arriving.  I'd already plotted out which authors I wanted to meet, what books I wanted to pick up, etc.  What I didn't account for was that a lot of books weren't mentioned in the pre-convention information.  It wasn't until stopping at some publisher's booths that I saw unlisted titles available.  Publisher's Weekly also published a daily magazine that highlighted books and authors making appearances that I otherwise would not have known about.  One of the unexpected surprises that I picked up was the new Terry McMillan books, Who Asked You?, due out in September.  I tore through it on the plane back home and I'm giving it four purple chairs.

Amy Hatvany signing for a fan.
One of the biggest highlights of my day was meeting author Amy Hatvany (Heart Like Mine).  I've read all of Amy's books and I love her work.  Imagine my surprise when she looked at my name tag and immediately recognized me!  I was speechless (remember, I stan for authors, not musicians), but managed to utter something intelligible and smile.  Even though I've already read Heart Like Mine, I had Amy autograph a new copy that I'll be giving away at a later date.

I see brown people!
Now back to that African-American authors "genre," I searched high and low for it, but alas, it was nowhere to be found. Stanley Crouch, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Ishmael Beah and Octavia Spencer were all scheduled to speak and/or sign autographs, but guess what? They all write in different genres!  Stanley's book was about jazz musician Charlie Parker, Kareem's was a semi-biographical book about basketball, and Octavia's book is about a girl detective.  But BEA just lumped them all together as one genre.  What I did find was a small group of black romance authors who write for Harlequin's Kimani division doing a signing.  It was also where I got to meet @femme40, who has been in the publishing game for years.  In talking to her and some others that stopped by to greet her, I found out that there's a separate event called Black Pack where the brown people at BEA get together for a mini reunion.  I had tickets to a play that night, otherwise I definitely would have been there to get the inside scoop on what goes on in the vanilla halls of publishing.

I was honored to be in the presence of greatness Thursday night as I sat in the Stephen Sondheim theater and witnessed the queen mother do her thing.  Cicely Tyson was in the house, ladies and gentlemen, and she put on a show!  At 88, Ms. Tyson is still a force to be reckoned with.  As Carrie Watts, she's an elderly woman who lives with her spineless son Lutie, played by Cuba Gooding, Jr., and her strong willed daughter-in-law, Jessie Mae, played by the gorgeous and talented Vanessa Williams.

Lutie has just gotten back on his feet after being sick for awhile and he and Jessie Mae depend on Carrie's pension checks to keep them afloat in Houston.  But Carrie wants to return to her hometown of Bountiful to feel the dirt and see the sights and be around those that she loves.  She's promised Lutie she won't run away to Bountiful again as she has in the past, but promises are made to be broken. Along the way, Carrie meets Thelma, played by Condola Rashad, daughter of Phylicia and Ahmad Rashad, who attempts to help her find her way to Bountiful, and the sheriff, played by Tom Wopat of Dukes of Hazzard fame.  This was a beautiful production and if I had the time, I would have seen it again.

Friday: BEA Day 3: Why Are Those Girls from Brave Dressed as Ninjas?

Monday, June 3, 2013

BEA Day 1: Book Blogger's Conference & Motown

I arrived in New York last Tuesday night and checked into quite possibly the trendiest hotel ever, the W New York Times Square.  From the minute we walked in the door, it felt like we were in a club.  Pulsating music from the Blue Fin on the first floor greets you and plays in the elevator as you take it up to the seventh floor for check-in.  The seventh floor is another club scene and the whole time I was waiting to check in, I felt like I should be doing the Jersey Shore fist pump.  Seriously, the music was so loud and the bar that spills into the check-in area was full...on a Tuesday night.

With dimly lit halls on guest floors, the hotel seemed to be going for some kind of romantic ambiance, but at midnight, all I wanted to do was get to the room safely.  A few minutes later, I'm starting to settle in and unpack when I hear a plea from my daughter for help.  She couldn't figure out how to turn on the water in the sink and, before you laugh, I couldn't either.  Trendy hotel indeed.  We finally figured it out and then discovered that we couldn't turn off a set of lights that highlighted the wine glasses perched on a shelf.  Toto, we weren't in Kansas (or Missouri) anymore.  We finally gave up and went to bed with our built-in night light still on.

Wednesday, I hopped up ready to take on the world, or at least New York (side note: I saw the singer Tank in the elevator that morning.  I stan for authors, not musicians, so meh.), and headed over to the Javits Center for the blogger's conference portion of BEA.    Standing in line, I found myself next to an author that I'd been exchanging emails with for a few weeks and we talked about his latest book.  I'm an introvert by nature, so I patted myself on the back for striking up a conversation with him and holding my own.  After picking up my swag bag, I searched for a table and ended up at one with a bookseller from Joplin, MO and a YA blogger.  Okay, I thought, I can handle this.  And then, Gwen showed up.  I never caught the name of Gwen's blog, only that she's from Texas and she and her crew drove 26 hours to be there.  Gwen was very, very, VERY energetic and talked a lot.  She was very interested in what everyone was reading and what they blogged about and she was a huge YA fan.  Another blogger joined our table and she was a YA fan too.  At this point, I had nothing to add to the conversation.  I don't read YA, in general, and find grown people that read it exclusively to be a little strange.  Yes, I'm judging them.

The morning sessions were divided into adult book blogging and YA book blogging. As I sat through the adult sessions, they just didn't seem relevant to me.  The first session was an editor insight panel in which three editors told us about upcoming books out of their houses. The book that got the most buzz is an upcoming book called S. by JJ Abrams of Lost fame.  The Harlequin rep announced a "So You Think You Can Write" contest, while the rep from Tor spoke in quick, rushed tones and sounded like the Great Gazoo from The Flintstones.

The next session was supposed to be about blogger's success, struggles and insider secrets.  One of the panelists heads up a site made up of 50 contributors.  I don't know that I'd call that a blog, seems more like an e-zine.  Regardless of what it's called, it didn't seem comparable to a blog run by one or two people.  All three of the "bloggers" and the moderator knew each other prior to the panel and it seemed like the panel was one big inside joke/love fest in which they talked about how great (and modest) they were.  If I were a new blogger, there wouldn't have been much I would have taken from their session.

The rest of the day continued in this vein.  Sessions seemed genre-specific, with no love at all for literary fiction.  The majority of panelists and bloggers in attendance seemed to focus on the following genres: romance, erotica, paranormal and YA.  There didn't seem to be room for much more.  Like I said, I won't be attending the blogger's portion in the future.  I walked out of there so disappointed in the lack of diversity in genres, panelists and participants.

Moving right along, I had a chance to nab a piece of cheesecake at Junior's when I left and later that night, got to check out Motown: The Musical, Berry Gordy's love story to himself.  The play was heavy on Berry and Diana Ross' story, with a huge dose of Smokey Robinson, which makes sense because Smokey wrote so many Motown hits and is Berry's best friend.  Songs that other Motown artists sang were performed by Berry's character and the Diana Ross character was slightly annoying.  I couldn't tell if the actress really couldn't sing or if she was playing the role of Diana and shining the light on how weak her voice was.  Overall, I enjoyed the play, but it ran long (like this post) at three hours.  And on that note, I'm out.  Check back Wednesday for BEA Day 2: African American Authors are NOT a Genre.