Monday, February 24, 2014

#BookReview: Bedrock Faith by Eric Charles May

Synopsis: After fourteen years in prison, Gerald “Stew Pot” Reeves, age thirty-one, returns home to live with his mom in Parkland, a black middle-class neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. A frightening delinquent before being sent away (his infamies included butchering a neighbor’s cat, torching another neighbor’s garage, and terrorizing the locals with a scary pit bull named Hitler), his return sends Parkland residents into a religiously infused tailspin, which only increases when Stew Pot announces that he experienced a religious awakening in prison. Most neighbors are skeptical of this claim, with one notable exception: Mrs. Motley, a widowed retiree and the Reeves’s next-door neighbor who loans Stew Pot a Bible, which is seen by Stew Pot and many in the community as a friendly gesture.

Review: If you've ever seen or heard of the 1978 film, Harper Valley PTA, you know it's about a woman in the community who's accused of raising her daughter wrong and just generally being a poor representative of womanhood.  Well Stew Pot is no one's mother, but the community around him has already passed judgement on him based on his actions as a teenager.  He spent his teens making life for the residents of Parkland a living hell.  Fourteen years, and much sooner than anyone thought they'd ever see him again, Stew Pot is back in Parkland, living with his mother.

With the exception of his mother, absolutely no one is happy to see Stew Pot back.  But this is a new and improved Stew Pot, come to right the wrongs of the past.  Now a Bible thumper, Stew Pot just wants to spread the good news, but as he's rejected by all of his wary (and rightly so) neighbors, he realizes that he needs to take some drastic measures to bring this gaggle of heathens to the Lord.

At first I thought Stew Pot was a crack pot, but as he seemed to work his way down a list extracting revenge on each and every neighbor that dared to question his sincerity and faith, I couldn't wait to find out what dirt he'd expose next.  He drives those around him crazy, so much so that they can't even pay attention to what's going on in their own homes.  By the time he's done, Stew Pot has made the old ways he used to torture neighborhood seem like the child's play that they really were.

I didn't expect to get drawn in to Bedrock Faith as much as I did, but once I got started, I could not put it down.  I couldn't wait to see what was coming next, which of the neighbor's would get their comeuppance and who would emerge as the final victor, Stew Pot or the people of Parkland.  You'll have to give this a read yourself and determine who you think is the ultimate winner.  I'd be interested in hearing who you think came out on top.

Published: March 2014
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.
Pre-order your copy here.

Monday, February 17, 2014

#BookReview: In Dependence by Sarah Ladipo Manyika

Synopsis:  It is the early-sixties when a young Tayo Ajayi sails to England from Nigeria to take up a scholarship at Oxford University. In this city of dreaming spires, he finds himself among a generation high on visions of a new and better world. The whole world seems ablaze with change: independence at home, the Civil Rights movement and the first tremors of cultural and sexual revolutions.

It is then that Tayo meets Vanessa Richardson, the beautiful daughter of an ex-colonial officer. In Dependence is Tayo and Vanessa's story of a brave but bittersweet love affair. It is the story of two people struggling to find themselves and each other - a story of passion and idealism, courage and betrayal, and the universal desire to fall, madly, deeply, in love

Review: I wish I could have liked this book more than I did.  It was just an okay story line with okay characters.  Tayo's life in Nigeria pre-Oxford was far more interesting than his life in England.  In addition, Tayo's life outside of his relationship with Vanessa was much more interesting than his life with her.

When they first meet, Tayo and Vanessa are drawn to each other, him to her because she's different than women he knows in Nigeria, her to him because she seems to have a fascination with all things from the continent of Africa.  As their relationship progresses, it seems that her love for him is also rooted in antagonizing her conservative, colonialist father.  While she watches other interracial relationships around them implode, she begins to wonder if she is simply something for Tayo to do until he meets a Nigerian woman, as she's witnessed with friends of his.

Called back home to Nigeria, Tayo leaves England with every intention of returning to Vanessa.  Delayed first by his father's illness and then by a military coup, Tayo resigns himself to staying in Nigeria and marrying a local woman.  A chance meeting with Vanessa many years later provides him with an opportunity to rekindle his romance with her, but just like their earlier encounters, it feels stiff and wooden.

I can't really tell if it was the author's intention or perhaps the words she chose to describe the characters and/or put in their mouths, but at no point did I ever feel like the two characters were really in love.  Though the book did a good job of highlighting the civil uprising in Nigeria and capturing the feel of 1960s England, it just wasn't enough to really hold my attention.  I made it through the book, but left it not really caring about the characters or their future.

Published: September 2008
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Friday, February 14, 2014

#ComingAttractions: Books I Can't Wait to Read (Winter/Spring 2014)

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina
Misty Copeland
On Sale Date: March 4, 2014

Summary:  In this deeply felt and beautifully written memoir, Misty Copeland reveals her inspiring and at times heartbreaking journey to become the third African-American soloist in the history of the American Ballet Theatre.

Boy, Snow, Bird
Helen Oyeyemi
On Sale Date: March 4, 2014

Summary:  In the winter of 1953, Boy Novak arrives by chance in a small town in Massachusetts, looking, she believes, for beauty—the opposite of the life she’s left behind in New York. She marries a local widower and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow Whitman.

A wicked stepmother is a creature Boy never imagined she’d become, but elements of the familiar tale of aesthetic obsession begin to play themselves out when the birth of Boy’s daughter, Bird, who is dark-skinned, exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African Americans passing for white. Among them, Boy, Snow, and Bird confront the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold.

Safe With Me
Amy Hatvany
On Sale Date: March 4, 2014

Summary:  The screech of tires brought Hannah Scott’s world as she knew it to a devastating end. Even a year after she signed the papers to donate her daughter’s organs, Hannah is still reeling with grief when she unexpectedly stumbles into the life of the Bell family, whose child, Maddie, survived only because hers had died. Mesmerized by this fragile connection to her own daughter and afraid to reveal who she actually is, Hannah develops a surprising friendship with Maddie’s mother, Olivia.

Every Day is for the Thief
Teju Cole
On Sale Date: March 25, 2014

Summary:  Visiting Lagos after many years away, Teju Cole's unnamed narrator rediscovers his hometown as both a foreigner and a local. A young writer uncertain of what he wants to say, the man moves through tableaus of life in one of the most dynamic cities in the world: he hears the muezzin's call to prayer in the early morning light, and listens to John Coltrane during the late afternoon heat. He witnesses teenagers diligently perpetrating e-mail frauds from internet cafes, longs after a woman reading Michael Ondaatje on a public bus, and visits the impoverished National Museum. Along the way, he reconnects with old school friends and his family, who force him to ask himself profound questions of personal and national history. Over long, wandering days, the narrator compares present-day Lagos to the Lagos of his memory, and in doing so reveals changes that have taken place in himself.

Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons & Love Affairs
Pearl Cleage
On Sale Date: April 8, 2014

Summary:  Though born and raised in Detroit, it was in Atlanta that Cleage encountered the forces that would most shape her experience. Married to Michael Lomax, now head of the United Negro College Fund, she worked with Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first African-American mayor. Lies, Lessons & Love Affairs charts not only the political fights, but also the pull she began to feel to focus on her own passions, including writing—a pull that led her away from Lomax as she grappled with ideas of feminism and self-fulfillment. This fascinating memoir follows her journey from a columnist for a local weekly (bought by Larry Flynt) to a playwright and Hollywood script writer, an artist at the crossroads of culture and politics whose circle came to include luminaries like Richard Pryor, Avery Brooks, Phylicia Rashad, Shirley Franklin, and Jesse Jackson. By the time Oprah Winfrey picked What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day as a favorite, Cleage had long since arrived as a writer of renown.

Monday, February 10, 2014

#BookReview: The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

Synopsis: Henry Shackleford is a young slave living in the Kansas Territory in 1857, when the region is a battleground between anti- and pro-slavery forces. When John Brown, the legendary abolitionist, arrives in the area, an argument between Brown and Henry’s master quickly turns violent. Henry is forced to leave town—with Brown, who believes he’s a girl.

Over the ensuing months, Henry—whom Brown nicknames Little Onion—conceals his true identity as he struggles to stay alive. Eventually Little Onion finds himself with Brown at the historic raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859—one of the great catalysts for the Civil War.

Review: I LOVE James McBride.  He has a tendency to see things that others don't and bring them to our attention.  I really enjoyed Song Yet Unsung a few years back.  I would say it's my favorite from him so far.  He has a good grasp on historical fiction, as witnessed in Song and Miracle at St. Anna.  After it won the National Book Award, I knew I had to give The Good Lord Bird a read.

It should be noted that while the book is based in history, it is mostly satirical.  While at first I found that amusing, it grew old and stale quickly.  A boy pretending to be a girl, living in the wilderness with John Brown and his group of men, can be a sticky situation.  It's an even stickier situation when the boy is a bit dense and doesn't always make the most logical decisions.

The book tended to drag on in parts and by the time I made it to the end, I just wanted McBride to bring on the raid and wrap up the story.  It reminded me of a joke that's gone on entirely too long, but no one wants to tell the comedian so they continue to listen in hopes that it'll be over soon.  Make no mistake, McBride is a great storyteller, this story just wasn't enough to really interest me.

Much more entertaining was an appearance by McBride and the Good Lord Bird Band at the New York Public Library last month.  In between McBride reading excerpts from the book, the band (of which he is a part) sang and played songs that fit the book scenes.  It was simply amazing.  I watched the live stream on YouTube and have included a part of it below for your enjoyment.

Published: August 2013

Monday, February 3, 2014

#BookReview: The Mommy Group by Reon Laudat

Synopsis: The Mommy Group explores the lives of four women coping with the complexities of love, friendship, finances, and motherhood. Nicole must fight her attraction to the married father of her child. Courtney must tell her husband that their savings have dwindled due to her lavish spending. And there's the hot ex, who wants her back in his bed. Penny-pinching workaholic Taryn must fend off the rival gunning for the same promotion. Jessica is elated with her first pregnancy until she receives shocking news challenging long-held beliefs.

Review:  The Mommy Group is a fairly decent read.  There's nothing about any of the characters that really stands out.  Each woman is dealing with her own issues and the only thing that really ties them all together is that they're moms or mothers to be.  Three of them have known each other for years, while one of them, Nicole, is a new addition to the group.  Courtney's insecurities not only lead her to spend money foolishly, but also lead her to pick at Nicole in a typical mean girl way.  The interactions of these two are probably the most interesting, followed by Jessica's with her perfectionist mother. That aside, neither Taryn or Jessica are very memorable characters.  I had to refresh my memory a few times to remember them and their story lines.

This was my first introduction to "mommy lit."  When I was first approached about reading it, I wasn't even sure what mommy lit was.  From what I can determine, it's not necessarily lit targeted at women that are mothers, but lit that is about women that are mothers.  Make sense?  It's not really my thing because, while I am a mom, my kid is an adult, so while I could somewhat relate to what the characters were going through, worrying about daycare and labor are both distant memories for me.  I won't deny that there are a fair amount of readers that will enjoy this particular niche, I'm just not one of them.

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