Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Wild Rain by Beverly Jenkins

Stories about women living in the newly settled western parts of America fascinate me. I remember reading Ann Weisgarber’s The Personal History of Rachel Dupree years ago. The story of a Black woman who left a big city to move to the Badlands of South Dakota with her new husband and homestead in the early 20th century was mind blowing. But with Wild Rain, Beverly Jenkins introduces an even bigger badass! 

 Spring Lee is a fierce, no nonsense, kick ass now ask questions later “lady.” And while it's true that the romance between her and Garrett McCray, a formerly enslaved journalist who's come to Paradise, Wyoming to interview Spring’s brother, is the overarching theme of the book, Spring’s approach to life is the heartbeat of Wild Rain. Eschewing social norms of the times, she's a land owning rancher, she hangs out in saloons, she breaks wild horses and she embraces her sexuality! It's so refreshing to see a female character who doesn't pretend she doesn't have a past, is open about what and who she wants, and makes the first, second or third move, if she has to. 

 Wild Rain is the second novel in the Women Who Dare series, Rebel was the first. If you're trying to remember where you've seen Spring Lee before, check out Tempest, the third book in Beverly Jenkins's Old West series, where we first meet Spring’s brother Dr. Colton Lee and his bride to be, Regan Carmichael. 

 Thanks to the people at William Morrow Books/Avon for sending this my way!

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Just As I Am by Cicely Tyson with Michelle Burford

It's fitting that Aretha Franklin's version of Mary, Don't You Weep started playing in the background as I began this review because Aretha was a dear friend of Ms. Tyson and because I found myself crying unexpectedly as I finished her memoir. And I say unexpectedly because I shed no tears when her death was first announced. In my mind, she'd lived a long and fascinating life and deserved to rest in eternal peace. So why did wrapping up her book move me so much?

The first time I saw Cicely Tyson I was in the second grade and she was on my TV screen playing Binta, the mother of Kunta Kinte. I didn't know who she was, but I knew her hair was like nothing I'd seen on TV - Bantu knots she asked her hairdresser to replicate in homage to women she'd met in previous travels to countries in Africa. There were so many stars in Roots: OJ Simpson (back when we still claimed him), Maya Angelou, Leslie Uggams, Ben Vereen, etc. But Ms. Tyson's portrayal stood out.

Immersing herself in her roles to the point where she wore her characters like a second skin was the norm for her. From the raspy voice she took on in her portrayal of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, shunning the call for an older actress to provide the voiceover, to her claiming the role of Mrs. Carrie Watts back in 1985 and patiently waiting for it to come to fruition in 2012 with first the Broadway production of The Trip to Bountiful and then the Lifetime TV production, she breathed life into her roles. Her acting is so convincing as Jane Pittman that arguments arise on social media at least once a year as to whether or not Ms. Pittman was a real person. (She was not.)

Who was Ms. Tyson when she wasn't acting? She was a daughter, a sister, a wife, a friend and a mother - the last role being one she says has been rewarding, but also a journey requiring continuous work. Twice married, she readily admits that while she didn't love her first husband, Miles Davis was the love of her life. Growing up in East St. Louis, I still remember when Longfellow Elementary School was renamed for Miles Davis and he and Ms. Tyson came to town for the ceremony. Much has been written about the volatility of their relationship. You'll have to read the book to understand their love story, which started over 20 years before they ever married.

Toward the end of the book, Ms. Tyson says "... I'm still here because God hasn't finished with me. And when I've completed my job, he'll take me." Imagine not starting your acting career until you're 30 and continuing to act until your last days. While the rest of us contemplate retirement at 65, Ms. Tyson simply was not having it! Having inspired generations through her roles, through her life story, through her friendship, through her generous spirit and wanting to do even more, I have to believe God looked down on her one last time and said, well done, good and faithful servant. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

You'll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey by Amber Ruffin & Lacey Lamar

Ask any Black woman how many microaggressions she deals with daily and she’ll likely laugh at you and tell you there’s no way she could keep count because they happen so often. Is it tiring, yes. Does it make you want to pluck your eyelashes out one by one at times, yes. But occasionally you stop and think about the ridiculousness of it all and you have no other choice than to laugh. 

Amber Ruffin and her sister Lacey Lamar have written a book that perfectly encapsulates the world that so many of us live in. However, Lacey seems to have a microaggression magnet on her forehead. You know how some people attract crazy? Lacey attracts polite, and sometimes not so polite, racists. Living in Omaha (or anywhere in the U.S.) can’t help, but I promise the stories she tells are relatable whether you’re in the midwest or the mid-atlantic region. Whether it’s a cashier asking if the Harriet Tubman image on your checks is actually you, being the only Black person at work, being told you’re safe as a Black woman because no one kidnaps Black women or the assumption that you’re from a single parent household even though you grew up with both parents in the house - being Black in perceived white spaces can be a lot. And yet, Lacey seems to find the humor in it all.

The stories are told with enough lightheartedness that I found myself cackling, and I can appreciate this somewhat strategic move to put white readers at ease as they slowly, but surely, start to think about which of the cringeworthy and downright offensive acts they’ve committed themselves. But this book isn’t meant just for white readers who are looking to learn how to be and do better, it’s also an affirmation for Black women who’ve questioned their sanity after a day in the life where their humanity is questioned simply for existing in a world that dares them to be in its space.


Thursday, January 7, 2021

Life After Death by Sister Souljah

Let me just start with sis, what in the entire hell was this? Also, I'm about to drop spoilers so if you don't want to know why I gave this such a low rating, go ahead and click out, scroll past, do what you have to do.

When I read The Coldest Winter Ever back in 99, it was unlike anything I'd ever read, and I've always read a lot. Up until then, there wasn't a wide variety of street/urban lit. Donald Goines was one of the originators of the genre, but his books were most popular in the early 70s and were mostly out of print by then, as were Iceberg Slim's books. So Sister Souljah, she who inspired some and was a controversial figure for others in the 90s (revisit the role she played in Bill Clinton's 92 presidential campaign), was a fresh, new voice in the realm of urban lit.

I was 28 when I read CWE and it wasn't the amazing read others said it was, in my humble opinion, but like I said, it was a different voice. I read Midnight, based on a character from CWE, years later and was also unimpressed. So why would I read Life After Death given how underwhelmed I was by her previous work? Growth. I thought that surely 22 years later, the author would recognize that even readers who were teens when CWE first came out were grown now. Like grown, grown. Unfortunately, it appears neither the author, her characters nor her writing have grown.

Winter Santiaga is still the unlikeable, delusional chick she was in CWE. For the life of me, I can't figure out how your only claim to fame is that your father was once a big time drug dealer in the 90s and you think that should earn you respect well into your 30s? The book opens with her in jail, serving a 15 year bid because, as you'll remember from the end of CWE, she got sentenced for being in Bullet's car which was full of drugs and guns and had been rented with her credit card. She's just about to get released and has secured a reality TV show gig that will center on her release from jail, along with a few of her recently released jail crew. Girl, what? In what world would anyone care about watching that based on her? She was someone with no claim to fame other than who her father was and people are supposed to be interested 15 years later when she gets out of jail? I guess this was supposed to be like Mob Wives, right? Dealer Daughters?

Anyway, Winter makes these ridiculous requests for her reality show, including her father's release from prison where he's serving a life sentence, designer clothes with a matching white mink (I guess she's the Lisa Raye of the prison set), a red carpet from the door of the prison to a new Bentley, etc. Completely ridiculous foolishness. As she exits the jail, she's shot and this is where things go left (just in case you didn't think they'd already gone left). She "wakes" up in what seems like purgatory. First she visits her jail crew and finds out one of them shot her - same chick who held a grudge for 15 years and slashed her face in CWE. Then she visits an over the top palatial estate where she sees Midnight with one of his wives (don't ask) and instead of pondering her death, she's trying to figure out how she can have sex with him. Like, sis, don't you have more important things to worry about?

Then it really gets gets, and by good I mean even more ridiculous, she becomes the son of Satan's sidechick. Y'all. Y'ALL! She's joyriding through hell and is completely unfazed. Like on some, "he's got a nice ride and sexes me up well, what more could a girl ask for?" At some point her turns her into a snake and then a dog and then I quit, because life is short and who has time for bullshit?

I don't know how this got greenlit. What editor read this and was like this is it?!?! Did they think this would get by based on her name alone? Yes, I'm betting they did. This was some hot garbage full of a materialistic character who has learned absolutely nothing in her 33 years on earth and then takes her astounding ignorance on a roadshow through hell. I quit about 35% in because I couldn't imagine it getting any better and didn't want to see how much worse it could get. I know the bookstagram kids were really excited about this one, but nah, fam. Save your coins and your time.

Disclaimer: A copy of this book was received from the publisher.