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Friday, January 29, 2010

#BookReview: The Untelling - Tayari Jones

The Untelling is a breath of fresh air in a market saturated with street lit passing for real writing. In her second novel, author Tayari Jones introduces us to such fully developed and well articulated characters that the reader is immediately able to visualize them and their surroundings.

As a nine year old, Ariadne Jackson (Aria for short) loses her baby sister and father in a car accident. She also loses her mother and older sister, though they're still alive. The death of her husband has left Aria's mother emotionally unstable and has left her oldest daughter emotionally unavailable. Aria and her sister have always had a close relationship, but shortly after her father's death, Hermione begins to distance herself from Aria.

Determined to get away from her mother's crazy ways, Hermione marries her deceased father's best friend shortly after graduating high school, leaving Aria to fend for herself with a mother that serves raw chicken and overcooked potatoes as punishment. Aria is a survivor and makes her own escape when she graduates a few years later and heads across town to Spelman College.

Beginning life at a school where no one knows her, Aria creates a self-improvement list. In an effort to meet her goal of "being known for something decent," she decides to run for freshman class secretary. When she finds out that her worldly roommate is also seeking the position, she decides not to run, but in the process meets Rochelle Satterwhite. Rochelle is everything Aria is not; poised and confident with supportive parents, and at ease in front of people. Scrapping her plans to run for office, Aria throws her support behind Rochelle, who is running for class president, and barely acknowledges Aria.

To earn money for a data processor, Aria begins working temp jobs and finds herself working in a call center with several older women. She's surprised to see a disheveled and humbled Rochelle working at the same place, seemingly desperate for money. When Rochelle confides in Aria, Aria willingly turns over her paycheck to assist Rochelle and is able to check off two of the goals on her self-improvement list: being known for something decent and making a new friend.

Fast forward a few years and Rochelle and Aria are roommates, working at the same non-profit literacy program and living in a rundown part of town. Rochelle is engaged to be married while Aria dates the dependable locksmith, Dwayne. When her period is late and she begins to experience morning sickness, Aria assumes she's pregnant and Dwayne proposes marriage. This sets in motion reunions with both her sister and her mother.

In meeting with her family members, Aria confronts them about their past actions and their truths, but must also come face to face with her own actions, truths and untruths.

What did you like about this book?
I loved the descriptions of the characters. When Rochelle tells Aria that she looks like Penny from "Good Times," I'm immediately able to picture her. Rochelle is described as prematurely grey with locs and though not a lot of detail is given about her face, I'm able to create a character that in my mind. Even minor characters in the story are fully dimensional, making for a more enjoyable and fully comprehensible read.

What did you dislike about this book?
Nothing. I wouldn't change a thing about it.

How can the author improve this book?
I needed another chapter. Let me be honest, I need another book. I wanted to know what happened to characters when I closed the book. That is truly the sign of a great novel.

336 pp
Published April 2006

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

#BookReview: Guest Post: I Was Right On Time: My Journey from the Negro Leagues to the Majors by Buck O'Neil with Steve Wulf and David Conrads

Today's guest blogger is Sarah Lake.

The news of John Jordan "Buck" O'Neil's death in 2006 at the age of 94 was well covered by all major sports media. At the time, I was unfamiliar with the man who was a four-time Negro League All-Star and played in two Negro World Series'. The extensive news coverage informed me that he had been the first black man to coach in the Major Leagues and had dedicated his latter years petitioning for Negro Leaguers to be included in the baseball Hall of Fame. A few years after his passing, I happened upon his gem of a memoir, I Was Right On Time, in the bookstore. It turned out to be one of the best impulse buys of my life.

I Was Right On Time is an extremely endearing and informative read. It's like listening to your grandpa tell stories about the good old days, except your grandpa played with some of the best baseball players in history. O'Neil's tales about playing on the same team with the great Satchel Paige and playing against the almost mythical Josh Gibson in the Negro World Series will fill your mind with wonderment and make you hunger for a greater knowledge of the Negro Leagues. This is truly a unique first person account of a period in history that has mostly been forgotten.

Buck is, undoubtedly, a historian of the game but he doesn't bog you down with statistics and baseball jargon. This book is enjoyable for all whether you are a baseball fanatic or history enthusiast. His colorful commentary and passionate storytelling will entertain, as well as educate you on less obvious aspects of the Negro Leagues such as its connection to Jazz culture and co-ed sports.

Although O'Neil never made it to the Majors, as a player, in telling his story there is not one ounce of bitterness. He recounts being shot at by a racist police officer, having to hobo across the country to play baseball in Jim Crow America, and mistakenly arriving to a baseball field full of Klansmen in full KKK regalia. He doesn't sulk about the discrimination and hatred which he and his fellow Negro Leaguers faced. He doesn't dwell on the racism, but tells a triumphant story of the Negro Leagues and the obstacles they were able to overcome before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in the Major Leagues. O'Neill uses I Was Right On Time to honor those baseball heroes that will probably never get the recognition they deserve simply because of their skin color.

"The thing is, white kids even today know about Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth. Black kids should know about Cool Papa Bell and Turkey Stearnes. African-American heroes didn't start with Willie Mays. This is their history, and I hope I've helped give it life." Well done, Mr. O'Neil. Well done.

272 pp
Published January 1996

Sarah Lake is an aspiring author, Howard University graduate, and D.C. resident with interests in Hip Hop and Soul music and all things related to the African-American experience. Follow her random mind on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sarahsosincere and check out her blog, http://sarahsosincere.blogspot.com
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Friday, January 22, 2010

#BookReview: Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea - Chelsea Handler

This is THE funniest book I've read in a long time. I giggled. I snickered. I cackled!

I've never watched Chelsea Lately, but I was somewhat familiar with Chelsea Handler from her Girls Behaving Badly days. Others had told me how funny she was, but I didn’t understand just how funny until I started reading.

The book opens with a story about Chelsea as a third grade misfit. Trying to become one of the popular girls, and catch the eye of a fifth grade boy, she announces that she will be starring in the sequel to Private Benjamin. As the news of a star in their midst spreads through the school, the principal catches wind of it and contacts her parents.

This is the scene that follows:

"You're shooting a movie with Goldie Hawn and flying to the Galapagos?"

My whole day deflated in a matter of seconds. "Mrs. Schectman was making a big deal about me not doing my homework and the Goldie Hawn story was the only thing I could think of," I told him.

"Well, why didn't you do your homework?" he asked me.

"Because, Dad!" I wailed, bursting into tears and stomping my left foot. "It was the season premiere of Charles in Charge! Are you out of your tree?"

"Chelsea, sweetie, you don't have to make up such far-fetched lies," my mother said in her ultracalm tone. "Couldn't you have come up with something a little more reasonable?"
If that's not funny enough for you, there are stories about the nights she spent in jail for a DUI and federal warrants, bonding with her cell mate appropriately nicknamed Hammertime, while waiting on her family to post bail. Or there's the trip to London which includes nude dining in the dark and a lengthy conversation with someone whom she thought was Don Henley of The Eagles. There's also the boyfriend who seems to have an unusual relationship with dogs; her sister, the Jewish Mormon; and Chelsea's obsession with little people.

What did you like about this book?
I absolutely loved this book. I tried to take a peek at her show while reading and quickly determined that I'm not ready to watch it, but I'd be willing to read just about anything she writes. She's just that funny.

What did you dislike about this book?
Nothing. I wouldn't change a thing about it.

How can the author improve this book?
It could have been longer. In the meantime, I suggest she write another one and soon!

272 pp
Published April 2008

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

#BookReview: Sinful Too - Victor McGlothin

Whether or not you've read the prequel to Sinful Too, you'll have no problems getting acquainted with the ruthless and scheming Dior Wicker. When I began reading this, I was unaware that there was indeed a lead-in book, but upon browsing the internet, I learned that though Dior was mentioned in the original Sinful, her story line was not so important that I would be lost while reading the sequel.

A young lady that is used to getting what she wants, when she wants it and from whom she wants it, Dior does not take no for an answer…ever. Carrying on an affair with the married owner of the clothing store at which she works has its perks. In addition to the extra attention she receives in the back of the store, the extra money Giorgio slips into her pay envelope is more than enough to cover the low rent she pays to live in her twin brother’s 3-bedroom Section 8 house, a second hand BMW, and designer clothes.

Satisfied with the material things in life, Dior is thrown off balance the day the handsome Pastor Richard Allamay PhD comes into the high-priced men’s clothing store. Unaware that he’s a man of God, and of means, Dior ignores his subtle advances. When her friend Tangie happens to mention that Richard is the pastor of the largest congregation in Dallas, Dior immediately sees dollar signs and begins to work her master plan. Having been the side chick to several married men in the past has been okay with her, but this time she’s set her sights on becoming the First Lady.

Richard Allamay had no idea when he stumbled into Giorgio’s that his world was about to turn upside down. Happily married to Nadeen and father to two girls, Richard hasn’t thought about stepping out on his wife since his first and last affair, 10 years ago. But there’s something about Dior that makes him lose his cool and at the first sign that she’s willing to see him outside of her job, all thoughts of his wife, kids and his mega-church fly out the window.

When his closest friend, and deacon, Phillip begins to question where his head is, Richard realizes that he’s so caught up that he’s at risk of losing his wife, kids, church and the respect of everyone around him. It would be easy to gain them back if only he could find a way to remove Dior from his life, but she’s not ready to let him out of her clutches just yet.

What did you like about the book?
The author does a good job of writing with both a feminine and masculine voice. His writing style reminds me of early Eric Jerome Dickey writings.

What did you dislike about the book?
Dior's relationship with her mother seemed to be an unnecessary part of the storyline, as did her relationship with her brother. Outside of renting a home from him, he didn’t figure into the storyline so I was unsure why he was mentioned.

How can the author improve this book?
There were sections that seemed like filler material and distracted from the main story. In addition, the narration by characters switched in the middle of chapters with no warning. At one point, Richard was narrating and in the next paragraph, his wife was. Perhaps dividers or another way of flagging a change in narrators would be helpful.

320 pp
Published October 2008

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Friday, January 15, 2010

#BookReview: Guest Post: The Book of Night Women by Marlon James

Today's guest blogger is Yolonda Spinks.

Imagine yourself on a sugar plantation in Jamaica during the late eighteenth century. You are forced to endure the stronghold of slavery but you feel out of place, peculiar and different. Something deep inside is telling you that you don’t belong here but you have no where to run and no where to hide. All you have is a dream that someone will see past your black skin into your green eyes and rescue you. I know it seems crazy but this is the life of Lillith, the main character in The Book of Night Women.

Lillith, the daughter of a teenage slave girl and the plantation overseer, is raised in a home with a man and woman that she calls mother and father but she shares no resemblance. Deep in her heart she knows that she is different. Not only does Lillith know that she is different but the Night Women also know as they secretly keep an eye on her. As Lillith matures and comes face-to-face with her “darkness,” she is rescued by Homer, the leader of the Night Women. Homer is sure that Lillith just may be the one that will make their plot of a slave revolt successful.

I must admit, I have never read a book written with the eloquence, detail and imagery used by Marlon James to bring the Night Women to life. James not only created characters that I could relate to but he created women characters that any woman could relate to. The Night Women possessed strength, gumption, skill and a desire for freedom and they were willing to get it at any cost. These women led by Homer, a house slave, were not fazed by the absence of men in this plot. They carried the load as they strategically used their plantation jobs to work for them so they could have eyes everywhere at once.

I must add, in the beginning I wasn’t sure about this book because the patois/dialect frustrated me initially but I endured and it was well worth my time. I would recommend this book to anyone as a must-read and I nominate James for the Pulitzer Prize (if he is an American citizen that is.) However, for now, Marlon James is the 2009 award winner of the Spinks Prize for literary fiction.

P.S. I will be re-reading this book. It was just that good!

Yolonda Spinks is new to the blogging world, but loves reading books and sharing her opinions. A senior in college majoring in journalism, she also gives community presentations on infant mortality and its affect on African Americans.

For more reviews by Yolonda, please visit her at Notorious Spinks Talks or follow her on Twitter @NotoriousSpinks.
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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

#BookReview: sounds like crazy - Shana Mahaffey

"Six more hours and I, Holly Miller, could mark off another milestone - twelve Christmases spent alone. Well, technically not alone if you counted the Committee."

College grad Holly Miller can't seem to hold a job for more than three months. She's waited tables at every greasy spoon imaginable and is about to get fired yet again when a chance encounter with a personal assistant changes her life. When he hears his dowdy waitress speaking in a voice straight out of Gone with the Wind, Michael is determined to get her in front of his boss, who just happens to be working on a new animated series. Everyone falls for "the voice" and Holly doesn't have the nerve to tell them that it's not really her speaking, but Betty Jane. Holly Miller has five people living inside her head.

The most explosive of her voices, Betty Jane is a spoiled southern belle. While the other members of "the committee" would love to see her go, Holly isn't ready to give her up. Thanks to the voice of Betty Jane, Holly is able to upgrade her life, but when Betty Jane asks for full control, Holly's world is turned upside and the last straw is a meltdown on national TV.

Forced back into therapy, Holly begins to discover the reasons Betty Jane, Sarge, the Silent One, the little boy and Ruffles entered her life and must make the decision to keep the Committee with Betty Jane in charge, or take charge of her own life.

I really liked this book. There were so many layers to peel back and in discovering Holly's child hood, it wasn't hard to figure out why her different voices emerged in an attempt to protect her. I was shocked at the way her parents treated her as a child and even more at the way she is kept at a distance even as an adult, being told not to come home for the holidays because she's too much to handle.

In her debut novel, author Shana Mahaffey, does an excellent job of capturing the ups and downs of someone living with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Unlike multiple personalities, which were highlighted in book and on screen in Sybil, where people lose track of time as other personalities take over and is usually unaware that these other personalities exist; with DID the person is well aware that another personality is in control, but does not have the ability to stop them. While this is a serious matter, sounds like crazy approaches this disorder with just enough humor to keep the reader interested.

367 pp
Published: October 2009

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Guest Bloggers Needed - Apply Within!

Reads4Pleasure is all about sharing books that I enjoy with fellow readers. The time has come for you to tell us about the books you love, or don’t.

I’m seeking guest bloggers who will tell everyone what books they’ve enjoyed, what books they haven’t enjoyed, what books they look forward to reading, which books could stay on the shelf collecting dust forever and they’d never miss them… You get the point.

The rules for participation are pretty simple. You have to be a reader who is willing to share your story. I’m not looking for professionals. I want my fellow readers and bloggers to write the blog posts about their experiences.

What do you get in return? More publicity for your blog, if you’re blogger, and personal satisfaction if you’re a fellow reader (and I know that all of you are or you wouldn’t be here). You can link liberally to your blog(s) and your social media profiles. I’ll promote your post on Twitter and possibly other social media outlets. I ask that you also promote your guest post on your blog and on social media.

I’d like to post at least one article a week from a guest blogger. I’ll post them more often if there is enough interest and participation. To participate, send me an email (Reads4Pleasure@gmail.com) with the following information:

§ Your name

§ The name of the book about which you’ll be blogging

§ A 200 - 500 word review of the book

§ A link to your blog and/or Twitter name

§ A few sentences about you so that you can be properly introduced to the rest of the reading community

I know that you’ve read something that you’re just dying to share with all of us, so get to writing!

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Monday, January 11, 2010

#BookReview: Swimsuit - James Patterson & Maxine Paetro

"I know things I don't want to know." So begins the latest from James Patterson and his Women's Murder Club collaborator, Maxine Paetro. In a story that veers far off course from anything previously released by Paetro, readers are introduced to a psychopath, the likes of which haven't been since Patterson's character, Kyle Craig, Alex Cross' former FBI colleague.

A man of many names and many faces, Henri Benoit is on a killing spree that takes him from the United States to Amsterdam. When a model from the Midwest goes missing while on a photo shoot in Hawaii the police are convinced that her former boyfriend and current stalker, a professional football player, has something to do with it. Her parents aren't so sure, especially after they receive a late night phone call that, "Kim has fallen into bad hands."

Arriving in Hawaii to search for their daughter, the parents meet former detective turned reporter, Ben Hawkins. Feeling that the local police aren't doing enough to find their daughter, the McDaniels turn to Ben for assistance. Ben's efforts to find Kim's killer leads him to Marco the limo driver, Charlie Rollins the photographer, and Nils Bjorn the arms dealer; all of whom turn out to be Henri Benoit. Though he's a psychopath, Henri isn't killing just for fun. He's being paid by the Alliance, wealthy men and women spanning the globe, who enjoy watching murders.

Delighted that he has Ben's attention, Henri has an interesting proposition for him. Write his life story and he may let him live. The story that Henri tells will leave you absolutely speechless.

I really enjoyed this book. Unlike a lot of Patterson's latest books, it's not predictable. Though other reviewers have said that it's too graphic, I don't think it's any more graphic than his other novels.

At one point in the book Ben asks Henri why he wants the book written. Henri responds, "If you're half the writer I think you are, if you're half the cop you used to be, you'll figure out why I want to do this book. I think you'll be surprised." I'm no cop or a writer, so I'm still trying to figure it out. Do I smell a new series or, at the very least, a sequel?
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Friday, January 8, 2010

#BookReview: Levittown: Two Families, One Tycoon, and the Fight for the Civil Rights in America's Legendary Suburb - David Kushner/A Stronger Kinship - Anna-Lisa C

Junior year in college I took a sociology class that introduced me to Levittown. I was fascinated by the idea of a community created by two sons and their father. I didn't know at the time, perhaps because my professor didn't mention it and neither did the text we used, combined with the fact that I was naive, that the community was created specifically for and promoted as whites only. While this should not have been surprising given that these types of communities sprung up in the early 50s in response to the overwhelming number of soldiers returning home from World War II; it is surprising, at least in my opinion, that sons of Jewish immigrants that fled the Nazis would then turn around and discriminate against someone else with the approval of the Federal Housing Administration.

The original Levittown was built in Long Island, NY and came with a long list of rules that included: no fences, strict regulations regarding grass length, no blacks and no Jews. Levitt, who claimed that 90 to 95 percent of whites would refuse to buy into an integrated Levittown, had once said, "We can solve the housing problem or we can solve the racial problem, but we cannot combine the two."

Proving to be a success for both homeowners and the Levitts, plans were made to create another community in Pennsylvania. Allowances were made for Jewish homeowners in the new community and the Levitts went so far as to allow a few Mexican and Indian families. One Jewish family, the Weschlers, opened the door for the first black family in Levittown.

Freedom fighters and communists, the Weschlers believed in fighting for what was right. When the property next door to them became available, they contacted fellow members of their like-minded neighborhood group and arranged for Bill and Dee Myers, a black couple, to purchase it. Pulled from interviews with Mrs. Myers, the local attorney general and state congressman who both assisted the Myers when local police failed to do so, as well as news articles of the day; David Kushner has created a detailed portrait of the integration of Levittown and the challenges faced in doing so.

The Myers risked their lives and the lives of their child, as did the Weschlers, for doing something as simple as pursuing the American dream. Bill Myers was a veteran, the very person for whom the Levittown communities were created. The outpouring of hate from the community really made me question the notion that northern cities were better than southern cities when it came to race relations. I would have expected such strong reactions in perhaps Alabama or Mississippi, but I was shocked at the near riots that occurred in Pennsylvania simply because two black adults and their three children wanted a decent home.

To counter the effects of this book on my spirit, I picked up Anna-Lisa Cox's A Stronger Kinship. IB Reading mentioned it on Twitter one night and it sounded interesting. I started reading the book and quickly lost focus. Since her thoughts mirrored mine, this is her review of the book.
A Stronger Kinship by Anna-Lisa Cox is a nonfictional look at one of the first fully integrated towns in the United States, Covert, Michigan. Cox's book takes a look at all of the town's settlers and how they managed to run a town in the 1800s where race was not an issue. Through a combination of archived town reports, pictures, and first hand recounts, Cox's view of Covert was a bird's eye view.

I was torn with this one. I really wanted to like it because the subject matter was something that interests me greatly. The book started off strong, but kind of fizzled mid way through for me. I would have liked it more if Cox was able to get more personal anecdotes. Granted most of the town's original settlers were long gone by the time Cox begna writing her book, but I'm sure some of their descendants were still in town. I'm also sure that there had to have been stories passed down throughout generations. That little added extra would have made the book read less like a textboor and more like a nonfictional journey through a difficult time in history. It's a good read if you're like me and fascinated by race relations, but if you're not? Pass on it.
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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

#BookReview: Alex Cross's Trial - James Patterson

At last, Patterson has redeemed himself in my eyes. For too long he has cranked out book after book full of fill-in-the-blank story lines. The names and scenery would change, but the story remained the same. It had gotten to the point where I could figure out "who done it" within the first five chapters of any of his books. But this book? This book here? The master storyteller is back!

Titled Alex Cross's Trial, don't be fooled. Alex Cross is briefly mentioned in the first two pages, but the story is that of Washington, DC attorney Ben Corbett. Set in the early 1900s, Ben finds himself summoned to the White House by President Theodore Roosevelt. At the president's request, Ben is dispatched to Eudora, Mississippi to investigate the rise in lynchings. A native of Eudora, Ben is familiar with the ways of the south, but isn't prepared for the journey that lies ahead of him. With the assistance of Abraham Cross, Alex's great great uncle, Ben sets out to complete the task at hand. Along the way he discovers that old friends can't be trusted and new friends come from the most unlikely places.

At times I had to simply put the book down and take a break because it set my emotions on edge. Patterson and his co-author, Richard Dilallo, do a fine job of capturing the essence of the town's characters, both black and white. There is no sugar coating of the horror of lynching and the era in history that most of mainstream America would like to pretend never existed. This is a definite must read from Patterson for the first time in a long time.
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Monday, January 4, 2010

#BookReview: Mossy Creek

I've finally found a series to tied me over while Fannie Flagg, author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe, works on her next book. Fans of small town humor will adore the Mossy Creek series. I downloaded the first book in the series because it was free from Amazon.com. Normally it takes me forever to read an ebook, but the short stories were so entertaining that I breezed right through.

Billed as a small, southern town, Mossy Creek could be Anywhere, USA. The result of a collaboration of several authors, Mossy Creek is full of characters with distinct personalities. From the over the top mayor, Big Miss Ida, who starts the book off by shooting down the new sign her nephew, the governor, has just installed at the entrance to Mossy Creek to Bob, the anxious chihuahua that takes flight when an injured hawk mistakes him for a rat and takes him on a magic carpet ride, this book is simply hilarious.

You'll also meet Casey, a former softball standout with Olympic dreams, now confined to a wheelchair; and an 80 year old kleptomaniac who steals everything from tiaras to wedding dresses. In addition to the day to day lives of the characters, there's also the ongoing rivalry with Bigelow, where the well-to-do, including the mayor's hoity toity sister (and mother of the governor) live.

It's stories like these that make me long for small town living, but only if characters like the ones I've been introduced to in this book reside there. I'm already looking forward to reading the next book in the series.
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Friday, January 1, 2010

Author of the Month - J. California Cooper

The people have spoken and it turns out that my favorite author is admired by several of my fellow readers. Why do I love J. California Cooper so much? When I read her stories I can hear the voice of her characters. I feel like I'm sitting at the feet of my grandmother listening to her spin a tale. Simply put, J. California Cooper's stories feel like home.

"Her style is deceptively simple and direct, and the vale of tears in which her characters reside is never so deep that a rich chuckle at a foolish person's foolishness cannot be heard." —Alice Walker

"Cooper's stories beckon. It's as if she is patting the seat next to her, enticing us to come sit and listen as she tells complex tales about women, often poor women, chasing dreams of love, a house, and a family." — Ms.

"Cooper is humorous, wise, self-deprecating, and always expressive...her stories are about simple truths told with great energy that makes them shine." —Kirkus Reviews

"Cooper knows how to 'talk' her stories to us, as though each of them is told by a kindly and concerned friend. The sound of them is lovely, memorable, haunting." —San Francisco Chronicle

J. California Cooper first found acclaim as a playwright. The author of seventeen plays, she was named Black Playwright of the Year in 1978. It was through her work in the theater that she caught the attention of acclaimed poet and novelist Alice Walker. Encouraged by Walker to turn her popular storytelling skills to fiction, Cooper wrote her first collection of short stories, A Piece of Mine, in 1984. Called "rich in wisdom and insight" and "a book that's worth reading," A Piece of Mine introduced Cooper's trademark style: her intimate and energetic narration, sympathetic yet sometimes troubled characters, and the profound moral messages that underlie seemingly simple stories.

If you've never read any of her work, you are truly missing out on some kind of wonderful.
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