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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Summer Reading List Update: It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times...

At the beginning of June I posted a list of books I planned to read for the month. Some I read and thoroughly enjoyed, others didn't quite make it in from the library in time for me to read them. And then there were those that I started but realized they were too heavy for summer reading. I'll get to the heavy books later, but I'm trying to keep my summer reads light. So let's talk about what I read, what's moving to the July list and what you read in the month of June.

June's Reading List
(bold = read; m = moved to July list)

Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of An American People by Helen Zia (x)
32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter (m)
Sima's Undergarments for Women by Ilana Stanger-Ross
The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama
The Sport of the Gods by Paul Laurence Dunbar
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin (m)
Colorblind by Precious Williams
Black Men Built the Capitol: Discovering African-American History In and Around Washington, DC by Jesse J. Holland (x)
A Taste of Honey: Stories by Jabari Asim (m)
Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black by Gregory Howard Williams
Persian Girls: A Memoir by Nahid Rachlin (x)
Under the Dome by Stephen King (m)
The King of Colored Town by Darryl Wimberley
The Double Comfort Safari Club by Alexander McCall Smith
Jenniemae & James by Brooke Newman
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler
From Cape Town with Love by Blair Underwood, Tananarive Due & Steven Barnes

July Reading List
32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter (Attending book signing on the 8th)
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin
A Taste of Honey: Stories by Jabari Asim
Under the Dome by Stephen King
The Sacred Place by Daniel Black
The Gettin Place by Susan Straight
Blacker Than A Thousand Midnights by Susan Straight
Red Hats by Damon Wayans
Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls
Eddie Signwriter by Adam Schwartzman
Confessions of A Prep School Mommy Handler by Wade Rouse

I'm making the July list fairly short because Under the Dome is a little over a thousand pages and will probably take up a week of reading.

So what about you? Did you read anything good in June? Are there any books that I must add to my list?
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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Teaser Tuesday, June 29 - The Condemnation of Little B

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page either in the comments below or on your own blog (give a link to your blog so we can check it out!)
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
This week's teaser:


"In 1996 journalist Gary Webb produced a series of articles in the San Jose Mercury News about a connection between crack cocaine in black America and covert operations of the CIA that should have triggered congressional investigations on the scale of Watergate.  There was, instead, a haunting silence, even on the part of the Congressional Black Caucus -- notwithstanding its idle threats or empty promises to "hold hearings," as echoed by Los Angeles congresswoman Maxine Waters and California senator Barbara Boxer, or the promise of then-director of the CIA John Deutch to order "investigations.'"

p. 163, The Condemnation of Little B by Elaine Brown


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Friday, June 25, 2010

#BookReview: From Cape Town with Love - Blair Underwood, Tananarive Due & Steven Barnes

Okay ladies, let's just take a moment to marinate on the sexiness that is Blair Underwood.  I'll give you a minute or two...notice how I made the picture a little larger than usual.  That's my Friday gift to you.  Now let's move on to the book.  I mean, that is why we're here, right?

The third in the series that started with In the Night of the Heat and followed by Casanegra, From Cape Town with Love is the best of the three.  I liked the first two books, but there were segments of the previous books that moved too slowly.  There is none of that in From Cape Town.

Tennyson "Ten" Hardwick is a sometimes actor, sometimes gigolo, sometimes detective.  He's also the guardian of a 17-year old girl, Chela, that he saved from the former madame for whom he previously worked; and caretaker of his father, a recent stroke victim and former Los Angeles Police chief.  His relationship with journalist April Forrest left him reeling and in an effort to rekindle their romance, he tracks her down in South Africa.

Through April's connections Ten is offered the job of body guarding Hollywood actress Sophia Maitlin, who is in the country to adopt a baby girl.  Ten and Sophia have an immediate bond that is only made stronger through their mutual admiration of adoptive parents.  When baby Nandi is kidnapped back in the states, Ten is the one person Sophia trusts to bring her baby girl home.

What did you like about this book?
The pace of the book was just right.  There was never a slow moment and, at the same time, it never felt rushed. The storyline and characters were equally exciting and made this book a real page turner.

What did you dislike about this book?
I can't think of a thing.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Insert a pullout poster of Blair Underwood...No? Well a girl can dream, can't she?




365pp
Published May 2010



Theme: Agent Double-O Soul by Edwin Starr
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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Throwback Thursday: Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh


Throwback Thursday, an event hosted by Jenny over at Take Me Away Reading, is a new meme I'll be featuring at least once a month  It's the time to recognize those older books… an older book you’ve always wanted to read, or one that you have read and love; maybe one from your childhood; or review an older book -- how about even a classic!

Synopsis:  Harriet M. Welsch is a spy. In her notebook, she writes down everything she knows about everyone, even her classmates and her best friends. Then Harriet loses track of her notebook, and it ends up in the wrong hands. Before she can stop them, her friends have read the always truthful, sometimes awful things she’s written about each of them. Will Harriet find a way to put her life and her friendships back together?

This book was everything to me in grade school, second only to Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret.  I can't even begin to tell you how often I walked around with a notebook taking notes in hopes that I might solve some great mystery.  Alas, it never happened, but I had a great time trying.  Regular readers of the blog know that I absolutely hate the film version of the book and I was even more appalled to learn that one of the cable channels created a made-for-tv film called "Blog Wars."  Ugh, they should do us all a favor and leave the classics alone.

Originally published: 1964

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Guest Post: Time and the River by Zee Edgell

Published in 2007, Time and the River is by far the most intriguing and enlightening work by the Belizean author Zee Edgell, author of highly acclaimed novel Beka Lamb. In the literary circles of United States, the slave narrative is an established form of writing that is read and discussed in the academia as well as in the popular sphere. What makes Time and the River an amazing tour de force is the complex thematic foci mobilized to enlighten us about the nature, functioning, and consequences of the Belizean slave economy.  Based on real-life figures from Belizean history, the novels three main characters–Leah, Will, and Sharper–teach us not just the nature of human existence under oppression but also about the destructive power of slavery as an institution and its undeniable connection to the rise of early mercantile capitalism.

Leah, the main character, is probably the most complex character in the novel: she grows up as a slave and eventually, through her marriage to a slave owner, ends up inheriting more than three hundred slaves. Edgell, using court records and other archives, reconstructs for us the experiences of a female gendered subject who does earn her freedom but is not free enough to exercise her full agency as she does not free her slaves until after her death. Leah perplexes the readers as she defies our basic hope that when the oppressed are free of oppressors, they will not become oppressors themselves. But through her we learn the all-important lesson: slavery does not end simply because it is abolished or if one has gained one’s freedom. Instead, true human freedom arrives only when the structures of the material culture that underwrite slavery are altered and restructured.

Another important aspect of the novel is that it teaches us about a different kind of slavery: that of timber extraction instead of plantation slavery. The entire edifice of Belize’s colonial economy was built around the extraction and export of mahogany. The slaves were employed to locate, cut, and move the trees to the harbor for export to Europe. This mechanism involved housing slaves in forest encampments and created a hierarchy of jobs performed by the slaves: highest on this graded scale was the role of the spotters who located suitable mahogany trees in the thick forest. Thus, the slaves were not as closely monitored as their counterparts in the Caribbean cane economy or as those in the cotton fields of American south. The slaves were also free to move about in the towns and could also learn a trade and purchase their freedom. None of this implies that their experience of slavery was any less dehumanizing than that of their counterparts elsewhere.

Will and Sharper are two characters whose real historical names are used in the novel. Edgell’s reason, as shared with me in an email: “I kept the names Will and Sharper because a number of young people would know about them from one of their elementary history books, in which Will and Sharper are listed as Belizean heroes of the last known slave revolt in Belize, in 1820.” Will and Sharper also represent two different slave subjectivities: that of a captured slave and of the one who was born as a slave respectively. Will, the perpetual fighter, was captured in Africa when he was twelve and thus retains a part of his cultural memory of his free life. Throughout the novel, during all his revolts, he struggles with the loss of his cultural memory as he slowly starts forgetting the faces of his family, even that of his mother. His story then is also a personalized account of loss of a self through the process of slavery informing us what happens when a people are deracinated and thrown into a new world without any connection to their primary culture or a bank of narratives and stories essential to articulating an individual and collective identity.

On the whole,
Time and the River is a fascinating exploration of selfhood, heroism, and traumas of slavery and a fitting tribute to the resilient spirits of those who never gave up their quest for freedom no matter what the circumstances. The novel also teaches us another important lesson: slavery is not over and continues in the form of wage slavery all over the world and that like Will and Sharper, we all must come together, even when the odds are impossible, to fight oppression wherever it exists.

About the reviewer:
Author of Constructing Pakistan (Oxford UP), Dr. Masood Ashraf Raja is an Assistant Professor of Postcolonial Literature and the editor of Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies. Dr. Raja can be found at http://postcoloniality.org/
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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Teaser Tuesday, June 22 - From Cape Town with Love

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page either in the comments below or on your own blog (give a link to your blog so we can check it out!)
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
This week's teaser:


"The men were behind me, closing in, but I didn't break away from Nandi's eyes or abandon my smile.  My smile was the only thing I could give her.  'You'll see your mommy soon.  Hear me?  I'll come back and take you to your mommy.  That's a promise.'"

p. 149, From Cape Town with Love by Blair Underwood with Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes



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Monday, June 21, 2010

#BookReview: Life on the Color Line - Gregory Howard Williams

Billed as "the true story of a white boy who discovered he was black", Life on the Color Line is the story of the author and his brother. Initially raised by their white parents in Virginia, the boys are surprised to find that the father they were always told was Italian is, in fact, biracial.

Upon their parents separation, the two boys are left with their father, Buster, while their mother takes their younger siblings. Realizing that he cannot raise the boys without help, and because he's lost all of the families' money, Buster moves the brothers to his aunt's home, and the black family members they never knew existed, in Muncie, Indiana.

It is in 1950s Muncie that the brothers learn that even passing is not an option. As in many towns there is a black section and while both boys are white by all appearances, living with their father's family guarantees that no one in town will mistake them for being anything other than black.

Though their race is indeed a hindrance, their father's alcoholism coupled with their mother's abandonment seems to be just as detrimental to the lives of the brothers.


What did you like about this book?
The author rarely blames either parent for his lot in life, though he would be well within his rights to do so.

What did you dislike about this book?
It seemed to have ended abruptly and without a clean break.


What could the author do to improve this book?
The author wrote in detail about his life up until high school, but glossed over his college years and beyond. I would be interested to know how he faired in the world beyond Muncie and if he still identified as black.




304pp
Published February 1996



Theme: Everything Must Change by Oleta Adams
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Sunday, June 20, 2010

I Read Because He Reads

As a child I always wanted to do whatever my father was doing. If it meant watching the 76ers battle the Lakers, I was there. If it meant sitting outside watching the neighborhood fathers do battle on our basketball court, I was there. But more than anything else, my father read (and still reads) and so did I.

While he prefers science fiction and spy novels, I prefer literary fiction, short stories and world lit. I remember the Lord of the Rings series sitting on the bookcase while I was growing up. Though he tried to get me to read it, I had no desire to. It wasn't until I got sick on vacation and could find nothing else on tv that I watched Lord of the Rings and could appreciate it. I can remember how excited he was when I told him that I had seen the first two movies in the series and asked if he wanted to see the third together.

I also got my love of music from him. A Saturday morning of housecleaning was incomplete without him playing DJ. This was in the 70s when 8-tracks were the latest thing and you actually had to listen to segments of albums all the way through since you couldn't fast forward or rewind. Natalie Cole, Chuck Mangione, The Commodores and Earth, Wind & Fire have remained my favorites simply because they remind me of those days.

So Happy Father's Day to the man that introduced me to good books and good music, my dad.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

#BookReview: The Marriage Bureau for Rich People - Farahad Zama

What's a man to do when he retires?  When his puttering around the house starts to drive his wife crazy, Mr. Ali comes up with the perfect plan.  He starts The Marriage Bureau for Rich People.  

In India, a country where arranged marriages are still traditional for an overwhelming majority, author Farahad Zama has found the perfect setting for his story.  The criteria for picking a bride or groom can be extensive, so it's no wonder that families turn to Mr. Ali and his trusty assistant, Aruna for help.

The following factors are generally considered in Indian marriages to search for compatibility:
  • Values and personal expectations: should match
  • Age and height: girl should generally be younger and shorter
  • Looks: should be acceptable to the other
  • Religion: should be same, preferably same sect
  • Mother tongue, caste: should be preferably same
  • Diet (veg/non-veg/alcohol/smoking): may differ only if acceptable to the other
  • Education: comparable educational levels or the boy should be more educated than the girl
  • Profession: the profession should be acceptable to the other
  • Financial: The boy's current and future financial situation should be acceptable to the girl.
  • Astrological signs/attributes: should be compatible, if the two families believe in it.
From the attractive divorcee disowned by her family for choosing her career over a husband to the lonely valve salesman that can't seem to find a bride, each person that walks through the door of the marriage bureau has a story to tell in this hilarious tale.

What did you like about this book?
I loved the fact that in between the laughter, the author weaves in background information about Indian customs and castes.  It makes for a much richer reading experience, especially for readers unfamiliar with the culture.

What did you dislike about this book?
There were a few sections that moved slowly, but it did nothing to take away from the overall story.

What could the author do to improve this book?
No improvements needed.  I'd love to see a series based on these characters.

304pp
Published June 2009





Theme: We Belong Together by Dianne Reeves
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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Throwback Thursday: The Street by Ann Petry

Throwback Thursday, an event hosted by Jenny over at Take Me Away Reading, is a new meme I'll be featuring at least once a month  It's the time to recognize those older books… an older book you’ve always wanted to read, or one that you have read and love; maybe one from your childhood; or review an older book -- how about even a classic!

Synopsis: Ann Petry's best-selling first novel, The Street, is the tragic story of Lutie Johnson, a young black woman, and her struggle to live decently and raise her son amidst the violence, poverty, desperation, and racial discord of Harlem in the late 1940s.

Lutie's marriage falls apart after she takes a job as a live-in nanny and maid in Connecticut, leaving her husband, Jim, and her son behind. When Lutie finds out that Jim "has taken up with another woman," she packs up her son and her things and moves out. She eventually ends up on 116th Street, signing the lease on the only apartment she can afford: three rooms in a building with narrow dark halls and prying, noisy neighbors.

Often compared to Richard Wright's
Native Son for its stark despair, The Street was the first book by an African American female writer to sell over one million copies.

Originally published: 1946


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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

#BookReview: Sima's Undergarments for Women - Ilana Stanger Ross

From her basement in Brooklyn, Sima Goldner runs a small shop specializing in women's undergarments.  A "bra whisperer", Sima can look at a woman and immediately tell what size bra she should be wearing.  Her life with her husband has been stable, but less than satisfying for over thirty years.  And then Timna enters her life.

When her in-shop seamstress quits, Sima hires a young woman that happens into her shop.  A young Israeli woman, Timna is everything Sima wishes she could be: young, fearless and beautiful.  Sima's Undergarments for Women is a the story of an unlikely friendship between a 60something Jewish woman and a 20something Israeli expatriate.

Estranged from her mother and missing her boyfriend, Timna seeks refuge in the small shop.  A former soldier in the Israeli army, an argument with her mother drove her away from her country and to America.  Living with  cousins she barely knows, spending time with Sima and the colorful cast of customers helps her pass time until her boyfriend's tour of duty is up and he can join her in America.

Having Timna in her life gives Sima the courage to rediscover the reasons why she married her stodgy husband, Lev, and move forward with the life she's put on hold for so many years.

What did you like about this book?
The cast of characters was very interesting.  Each customer had a backstory and those were the most entertaining parts of the book, in my opinion.

What didn't you like about this book?
It was a very slow read.  There were times that I really needed the pace to pick up and it just never did.  It was recommended as a beach read, but it wasn't the kind of light and fluffy read that I would suggest for the beach.

What could the author do to improve this book?
It's understandable that the book was about Sima, but because Timna played such a big part in it, I really felt like more of her story should have been told.  We only know as much about her as Sima is allowed to see, but nothing beyond that. There seemed to be a real story waiting to be told, but not necessarily enough to warrant a sequel or separate book.  Additional paragraphs and/or chapters to tell Timna's story would have been welcome.




304pp
Published February 2009




Theme: Easy Silence by The Dixie Chicks
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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Teaser Tuesday, June 15 - Sima's Undergarments for Women

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page either in the comments below or on your own blog (give a link to your blog so we can check it out!)
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
This week's teaser:


"At Bloomingdales Howie ran ahead, hiding behind clothing racks and slipping his feet, sneakers off and tossed to the side, into ladies' shoes.  'If Art saw him, he'd die,' Connie said, as Howie reached for a pair of mock-alligator heels, and Sima couldn't help but think that, after all, it wasn't fair to the saleswoman to let the child run about like that, making a mess."

p. 139, Sima's Undergarments for Women by Ilana Stanger-Ross





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Monday, June 14, 2010

Book Blogger Appreciation Week Nomination


Book Blogger Appreciation Week is coming up once again.  Hosted the week of September 13-17, it's a week long celebration of book blogs all across the netisphere (I may or may not have just made up a word).  At any rate, I put a lot of work into reading and reviewing books and while I think it's just tacky to toot your own horn, sometimes you have to.  I've put myself into the running for Best Cultural Book Blog.  I know, I know. I read a little and review a little bit of everything over here, but my focus is primarily books by and/or about African-Americans.

The good people at BBAW asked for a post with links to what I consider my five most representative posts, so here they go.  (By the way, if you think there's another post I should have submitted, feel free to let me know.)

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Friday, June 11, 2010

#BookReview: My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands - Chelsea Handler

What starts off as a hilarious story about walking in on her parents having sex quickly becomes just mildly entertaining.  While I love her later work, Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea, My Horizontal Life leaves much to be desired.

Readers of the latter while remember Chelsea's racist father and her token black friend, Shondrella.  Both are introduced in this book.  Chelsea's father is determined to keep her away from black men, which only makes her all the more determined to sleep with as many as she can.  In the meanwhile, happily married Shondrella is trying to hook her up with any many she considers a keeper.

I'm sure this was meant to be funny, but all in all, Chelsea Handler just comes off as pretty pathetic in this one.

What did you like about this book?
It had some funny moments, but not enough for me to really enjoy it.

What did you dislike about this book?
The author relies entirely too much on stereotypes when it comes to her sleeping partners and stories about them.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Considering that it's based on her life, not much at all.


213pp
Published June 2005





Theme: Lowdown by Boz Scaggs
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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Throwback Thursday: Weep Not, Child - Ngugi wa Thiong'o

Throwback Thursday, an event hosted by Jenny over at Take Me Away Reading, is a new meme I'll be featuring at least once a month  It's the time to recognize those older books… an older book you’ve always wanted to read, or one that you have read and love; maybe one from your childhood; or review an older book -- how about even a classic!

Synopsis: This is a powerful, moving story that details the effects of the infamous Mau Mau war, the African nationalist revolt against colonial oppression in Kenya, on the lives of ordinary men and women, and on one family in particular. 

Two brothers, Njoroge and Kamau, stand on a rubbish heap and look into their futures. Njoroge is excited; his family has decided that he will attend school, while Kamau will train to be a carpenter. Together they will serve their country - the teacher and the craftsman. 

But this is Kenya and the times are against them. In the forests, the Mau Mau is waging war against the white government, and the two brothers and their family need to decide where their loyalties lie. For the practical Kamau the choice is simple, but for Njoroge the scholar, the dream of progress through learning is a hard one to give up.

Originally published: 1964

I can't remember if I read this for a college class or just because, but I do remember enjoying it.  Has anyone else read this or other works by the author?
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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

#BookReview: Girl in Translation - Jean Kwok

"What is it like to be surrounded every day by a language and culture you only half understand?  How would it change your life?"

Girl in Translation is the story of Kimberly Chang and her mother, recent immigrants to the United States from Hong Kong.  With airfare and visas bought and paid for by her aunt and uncle, Kimberly and her mother must live and work in less than perfect conditions until their debts have been paid.  Though she speaks little English, Kimberly is determined to build a better life for herself.

While attending a local public school, teachers notice that while her English needs improvement, she has a natural talent for both math and science.  Kimberly continues to work on her English while at the same time working in her family's clothing factory in Chinatown.  It is at the factory that she meets Matt, the eldest son of another family of immigrants.  Matt's mother is sickly and his younger brother is disabled, so responsibility for the family rests on his shoulders.

Kimberly begins to thrive in school, even as her aunt continues to try keeping her and her mother in their place.  I found myself getting angry when reading about the conditions that the aunt forces Kimberly and mother to both live and work in.  Though she leads an above average life herself, the aunt has them staying in a vacant building in Brooklyn with rats and roaches and pays them a pitiful salary of 1 1/2 cent per dress.  In addition, she deducts the cost of their airfare, rent (for the abandoned building), etc. from this meager salary.   It would seem that her goal was to keep them as indentured servants for the rest of their lives.

With the help of her friends and caring school administrators, Kimberly's goal of building a better life almost seems to be possible.

What did you like about this book?
From the first paragraph, this book pulls you in and won't let you go.  It was a delightful and fascinating read.

What did you dislike about this book?
I didn't dislike anything, but I did find the ending shocking.

What could the author do to improve this book?
There is a gap of 12 years that I would like to see covered. I'm not sure that the author is working on a sequel, but with some of the loose ends left by the close of the book, I would love to read one.

304pp
Published April 2010



Theme: America by Neil Diamond
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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Teaser Tuesday, June 8 - Color Blind: A Memoir

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page either in the comments below or on your own blog (give a link to your blog so we can check it out!)
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
This week's teaser:


"Humiliated, I turn away from him and look at my Aunty Adaeze who is doing a dance my mother calls the 'funky chicken' and crooning, 'Hey, hey' in time to the music.  I envy Aunty Adaeze's lack of self-consciousness; her obvious joy in her own body."

p. 63, Color Blind: A Memoir by Precious Williams






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