Friday, December 18, 2015

#BookReview: WHEN BALDWIN LOVED BRENDAN by Electa Rome Parks

If you miss the 90s, an era where black ensemble films were the norm and not an anomaly, When Baldwin Loved Brendan is the book for you. Remember your college days where you struggled to find your crew, but once you found them, they became your world? What parties you were going to, where you were hanging out, sometimes what classes you took all depended on what everyone in your clique was doing. Centered on the lives of four former college friends that come together to send another friend off, When Baldwin Loved Brendan tells the story of forgiveness and redemption.

Each member of the clique has a role to play and within their clique, Rihanna was the peacemaker. A plus-sized beauty with a heart of gold (I know, so cliché), Rihanna played the role of confidante to her friends. While the friends have drifted apart since graduation, Rihanna has stayed in contact with each of them, holding them dear to her heart. As the group assembles in Rihanna’s home in the days leading up to her funeral, the book takes on a 30 Years to Life/Lovejones/The Wood feel. Told through a series of flashbacks, combined with present day, we learn the role each played in the group and why they fell out.

A playboy, Christopher could have any woman on campus he wanted, but he wanted Baldwin. Unfortunately, Baldwin’s heart belonged to another member of the group, Brendan. Bria’s heart belonged to no one in college. Too busy bedding her next conquest; she didn’t want to be tied down to any man. Watching the friends come back together, their roles then and now are easily identifiable. Although they’ve aged and matured some, they’re still very much the people they were back in the day.

The author ties their stories together well and while you think you know how things are going to play out, she does a good job of throwing in a twist here and there. However, the biggest twist she threw in came in the final pages and really made me pause because, girl, what? I think the author thought she was giving readers a big a-ha moment, but it was unnecessary and added nothing to the story line. In fact, I found myself a bit annoyed by it because it seems as if she did it simply to shock the reader. Had she thrown this twist in earlier in the book, there would have been time to explore the implications. By waiting until the last minute, the shocker fell flat and left me feeling a little let down. A very good read turned into a very okay read.

260 p.
Published: January 2013

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

New Books Coming Your Way, early January 2016

Bricktop's Paris: African American Women in Paris between the Two World Wars by T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting
398 p. (Non-fiction)
Publication date: January 2, 2016

During the Jazz Age, France became a place where an African American woman could realize personal freedom and creativity, in narrative or in performance, in clay or on canvas, in life and in love. These women were participants in the life of the American expatriate colony, which included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Cole Porter, and they commingled with bohemian avant-garde writers and artists like Picasso, Breton, Colette, and Matisse. Bricktop’s Paris introduces the reader to twenty-five of these women and the city they encountered. Following this nonfiction account, T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting provides a fictionalized autobiography of Ada “Bricktop” Smith, which brings the players from the world of nonfiction into a Paris whose elegance masks a thriving underworld.

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

The Kindness of Enemies by Leila Aboulela
320 p. (Fiction)
Publication date: January 5, 2016

It’s 2010 and Natasha, a half Russian, half Sudanese professor of history, is researching the life of Imam Shamil, the 19th century Muslim leader who led the anti-Russian resistance in the Caucasian War. When shy, single Natasha discovers that her star student, Oz, is not only descended from the warrior but also possesses Shamil’s priceless sword, the Imam’s story comes vividly to life. As Natasha’s relationship with Oz and his alluring actress mother intensifies, Natasha is forced to confront issues she had long tried to avoid—that of her Muslim heritage. When Oz is suddenly arrested at his home one morning, Natasha realizes that everything she values stands in jeopardy.

Told with Aboulela’s inimitable elegance and narrated from the point of view of both Natasha and the historical characters she is researching, The Kindness of Enemies is both an engrossing story of a provocative period in history and an important examination of what it is to be a Muslim in a post 9/11 world.

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The Family Tree: A Lynching in Georgia, a Legacy of Secrets, and My Search for the Truth by Karen Branan
304 p. (Non-fiction)
Publication date: January 5, 2016

Harris County, Georgia, 1912. A white man, the beloved nephew of the county sheriff, is shot dead on the porch of a black woman. Days later, the sheriff sanctions the lynching of a black woman and three black men, all of them innocent. For Karen Branan, the great-granddaughter of that sheriff, this isn’t just history, this is family history.

Branan spent nearly twenty years combing through diaries and letters, hunting for clues in libraries and archives throughout the United States, and interviewing community elders to piece together the events and motives that led a group of people to murder four of their fellow citizens in such a brutal public display. Her research revealed surprising new insights into the day-to-day reality of race relations in the Jim Crow–era South, but what she ultimately discovered was far more personal. As she dug into the past, Branan was forced to confront her own deep-rooted beliefs surrounding race and family, a process that came to a head when Branan learned a shocking truth: she is related not only to the sheriff, but also to one of the four who were murdered. Both identities—perpetrator and victim—are her inheritance to bear.

A gripping story of privilege and power, anger, and atonement, The Family Tree transports readers to a small Southern town steeped in racial tension and bound by powerful family ties. Branan takes us back in time to the Civil War, demonstrating how plantation politics and the Lost Cause movement set the stage for the fiery racial dynamics of the twentieth century, delving into the prevalence of mob rule, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and the role of miscegenation in an unceasing cycle of bigotry.

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Junot Díaz and the Decolonial Imagination edited by Monica Hanna, Jennifer Harford Vargas & José David Saldívar
464 p. (literary criticism)
Publication date: January 8, 2016

This interdisciplinary collection considers how Dominican-American writer Junot Díaz's aesthetic and activist practice reflect an unprecedented maturation of a shift in American letters toward a hemispheric and planetary culture. Career spanning, the essays examine the intersections of race, Afro-Latinidad, gender, sexuality, disability, poverty, and power in Díaz's work.

The first sustained critical examination of the work of Dominican-American writer Junot Díaz, this interdisciplinary collection considers how Díaz's writing illuminates the world of Latino cultural expression and trans-American and diasporic literary history. Interested in conceptualizing Díaz's decolonial imagination and his radically re-envisioned world, the contributors show how his aesthetic and activist practice reflect a significant shift in American letters toward a hemispheric and planetary culture. They examine the intersections of race, Afro-Latinidad, gender, sexuality, disability, poverty, and power in Díaz's work. Essays in the volume explore issues of narration, language, and humor in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the racialized constructions of gender and sexuality in Drown and This Is How You Lose Her, and the role of the zombie in the short story "Monstro." Collectively, they situate Díaz’s writing in relation to American and Latin American literary practices and reveal the author’s activist investments. The volume concludes with Paula Moya's interview with Díaz.

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My Time with the Kings: A Reporter's Recollections of Martin, Coretta and the Civil Rights Movement by Kathryn Johnson
Publication date: January 12, 2016

"Let Kathryn in," said Coretta Scott King to authorities.

Three simple words that provided Kathryn Johnson, a reporter for The Associated Press's Atlanta bureau, unprecedented access to the grieving widow in the days following her husband's death.

Johnson was on her way to a movie date when word came from Memphis that Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated. She immediately headed for the King home where, despite resistance from authorities on the scene, she was the only reporter allowed inside. Johnson's many years covering King and his family had earned her the trust to be a discreet, observant witness to the aftermath of a defining moment in American history.

Kathryn Johnson covered the civil rights movement across the South in the 1960s, often risking her own safety to observe first-hand the events of this great era. Her stories took her from witnessing the integration of the University of Georgia by dressing as a student, to hiding unobserved under a table near an infamous schoolhouse door in Alabama, to marching with the massive crowd from Selma to Montgomery.

Purchase from: B & N |IndieBound

The Drowning Eyes by Emily Foster
144 p. (fiction, fantasy)
Publication date: January 19, 2016

When the Dragon Ships began to tear through the trade lanes and ravage coastal towns, the hopes of the arichipelago turned to the Windspeakers on Tash. The solemn weather-shapers with their eyes of stone can steal the breeze from raiders' sails and save the islands from their wrath. But the Windspeakers' magic has been stolen, and only their young apprentice Shina can bring their power back and save her people.

Tazir has seen more than her share of storms and pirates in her many years as captain, and she's not much interested in getting involved in the affairs of Windspeakers and Dragon Ships. Shina's caught her eye, but that might not be enough to convince the grizzled sailor to risk her ship, her crew, and her neck.

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Friday, December 11, 2015


Originally posted Dec. 24, 2009

A visit to Philadelphia his sophomore year at Princeton, and an unlikely friendship with three Quaker brothers, starts the young man on the path to question the morality of slavery. Though he's managed to avoid facing his parents, returning home for Christmas can't be avoided. Agreeing to assist with the Underground Railroad proves to be the biggest challenge he's faced in his 19 years, especially when he finds out that his assignment places him in direct conflict with his family. With assistance from an unlikely source, Fletcher works to right the wrongs that his family has perpetuated for generations.

At just 112 pages, this is a very quick read. I received this as a gift in 1991.  The detail given to characters like those that appear in other Haley novels is not as evident here. I suppose if it had been, the story would have been more memorable without re-reading it. Nonetheless, it was fairly enjoyable.

112 p.
Published: November 1988

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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

#BookReview: I HEARD A RUMOR by Cheris Hodges

I didn’t read the first book in the Rumor series, Rumor Has It, but the author provides enough background that it’s not really necessary to do so unless you’d like to. In Rumor Has It, Chante Britt, an up and coming attorney at a Charlotte law firm, falls for congressional candidate, Robert Montgomery. Robert’s indiscretions with ladies of the night leaves Chante humiliated not only at work, but in the media. When Robert tells the media that Chante has forgiven him and will be joining him on his new quest to become mayor of Charlotte, the southern belle dips out for some quiet time and recovery with her nana in South Carolina.

Stella got her groove back and so did nana. By the time Chante arrives on her door, she’s setting sail on a cruise with her long time “friend” turned lover and her house is being renovated. Instead of hanging with her favorite girl, Chante finds herself at a cozy bed and breakfast where she runs across Zach Harrington, the perfect distraction from all of the chaos in her life.

Zach Harrington also came to South Carolina for a break from the scandal in his life. He’s not looking for love. In fact, after dealing with his crazy soon to be ex-wife, it’s safe to say that getting involved with any woman is far down on his list of things to do. When Chante walks into his hotel’s restaurant, all bets are off.

I Heard a Rumor skips the typical cat and mouse games you see in most romance novels. From the time they meet, the spark is ignited between Chante and Zach and, while Chante is a bit resistant at the beginning, that only lasts a few hours. But they’re grown and as Mary Jane Paul says, “grown people are going to do what grown people do.” I appreciated the lack of cat and mouse, but I could have done without so many sex scenes. I understand that a lot of people read romance novels for this exact purpose; I’m not one of them.

I’m also nitpicky about details, so I found myself asking, “girl, what?” when Hodges described an outfit Zach was wearing as a sleeveless undershirt (i.e., wife beater) and linen pants for a night out. Do men wear that? I can’t envision any form of that ensemble that doesn’t sound tacky as hell. What restaurant are you strolling into looking like that?

I also had a problem with timing. Zach’s assistant, Tia, was pregnant with twins. In one chapter she delivered the babies. In the next chapter, which was supposed to be a week later, Zach called and assigned her tasks. Ma’am! The woman just pushed out two babies the week before. She’s not working. She’s not even thinking about working. Perhaps if Zach owned a small, one man business that might make sense, but he owned a big company. A temp or floater from another department would have been filling in for Tia. She definitely wouldn’t be answering calls about anything unrelated to formula, diapers and getting some sleep.

If you can overlook minor details like that, and I suspect most people can, give I Heard a Rumor a try. The secondary characters are entertaining and Hodges has done her research on both the North and South Carolina locales. If nothing else, you’ll find yourself longing for the food and beaches mentioned throughout the book.

Published: November 2015
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

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Friday, December 4, 2015

#ColourfulChristmas: Personalized Book Recommendations

It's the time of year when reviewers are posting their top 10 or top 20 books of 2015 and I'll get to that in a week or so. Today, I want to focus on book recommendations. I'm often asked on Twitter to recommend books to people and I try to do that with the information I'm given. Most of the time, I'm spot on. Occasionally, not so much. At any rate, if you're buying books for the people in your life this season and aren't sure of what books or genres they might enjoy, hit me up in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or Instagram and I'll do my best to help you find what you're looking for.  I'll also post requests and recommendations in the Read In Colour weekly newsletter.

What books are you hoping to receive for Christmas?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

#BookReview: A TREASURE OF GOLD by Piper Huguley

I love good historical fiction, especially when it features people of colour. I "discovered" Piper Huguley's work earlier this year and fell in love with her characters almost immediately. Like Beverly Jenkins, the queen of historical fiction, Huguley does her research, recreating towns and characters of days gone by. Fans of her Migrations of the Heart series might think it strange that I start my review of the series, thus far, with book #3, but its story line is the one that has drawn me in the most.

The Bledsoe sisters are well known in their neck of the woods in rural Georgia. Just as her sisters Ruby and Pearl have done before her, Nettie leaves the country and heads for the big city, Philadelphia, Set before the depression in 1923, A Treasure of Gold is a delightful story that can either be read as part of the overall series or as a standalone book.

The most devout of her sisters, Nettie arrives in Philadelphia to help care for Mags (aka Pearl) who is due to have a baby any day. While she awaits the birth of her newest niece or nephew, she stumbles upon an injured man right outside of Ruby's door. Since Ruby's husband, Adam, is a doctor, it would only seem right that he doctor on the handsome stranger. But Adam and Ruby both have an adverse reaction to their new patient, Jay. Nettie's Christian duty won't allow her to turn a cold shoulder to Jay or his young daughter, Goldie, and before she knows it, she's taking care of both of them and the tongues down at the local church are wagging.

So this is the part that threw me, and had it not seemed so out of character for the characters I'd come to know and love, I wouldn't have questioned it. Jay is a numbers runner, not necessarily an honorable profession, but he wasn't a gangster either. With Ruby and Mags both coming from humble beginnings, and Ruby herself being subject to judgement and ridicule back home, I expected more of them. Both were rigid in their dislike of Jay, as were their husbands. On the flip side, Mag's mother-in-law, who was so cold in A Most Precious Pearl that ice wouldn't melt in her mouth, loved Jay. I also didn't care for the way Nettie's whole family treated her like damaged goods. It was all very strange, almost as if the author either forgot the character's personalities or decided to create completely new personas for them.

That aside, I loved this book for a number of reasons. As I said before, Huguley does her research. She captures the essence of Philadelphia during the Roaring Twenties. I found it to be much more interesting than the small town country living previously featured in the series. I also like that while she makes no secret of her character's being Christians, she doesn't try to beat readers over the head with it as some Christian authors are wont to do. And lastly, her romances involve actual courting. No one is jumping into bed with anyone any time soon. If that's your thing, you're going to want to find another author. But if you appreciate reading about a couple taking time to discover each other, Huguley is for you.  Definitely give this series and her Home to Milford College series a try.

340 p.
Published; November 2015

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