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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

#BookReview: Ain't She Sweet - Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Sugar Beth Carey is back in town.  Parrish, Mississippi's bad girl has returned home to the people that loved and now loath her.  When she left town after high school, she left behind her friends, the Seawillows.  She also left her doting mother, Diddie, the father that couldn't stand her and a teacher whose career she tried to ruin, vowing to never return.  And now she's back.

From the outside looking in, it would appear that Sugar Beth had everything going for her in high school.  She was the richest girl in town, dated the most popular boy at school, Ryan Gallantine, and she was the leader of the Seawillows, the most popular girls in school.  More than any of that, Sugar Beth wanted her father's attention and affection.  Both of those went to Winnie Davis instead, his father's daughter with his mistress.  So Sugar Beth acts out...a lot. When your mother is the most powerful woman in town, you can get away with a lot.

In her high school days, Sugar Beth made Winnie's life a living hell.  And when Mr. Byrnes, the new teacher from England lands in Parrish and sticks up for Winnie, Sugar Beth sets out to make his life hell too.  Fast forward almost 20 years and Winnie Davis is the new Diddie and the leader of the Seawillows and Mr. Byrnes now owns Frenchman's Bride, the home where Sugar Beth grew up.  Sugar Beth could give less than a damn about any of that.  She's only in town to find the painting her Great-aunt Tallulah left her and then she'll be gone.  Too bad things are never that simple.

I absolutely loved the character names in Ain't She Sweet.  I'm a sucker for a good southern name and it doesn't get much better than Sugar Beth Carey or Diddie.  The narrator did a good job of bringing out Sugar Beth's sarcastic tone and giving a voice to the other characters.  The only character's voice I didn't care for was Mr. Byrne.  Early on, we're told that he was in his early 20s when he came to Parrish, which would put him in his late 30s/very early 40s for most of the story.  Why then did he sound like Sean Connery?  Not only did he have the wrong accent (Scottish), he sounded over 60.  It was hard to reconcile that voice with the description of the character.  Other than that, the narrator gave a solid performance.







416pp
Published: February 2004
Listening time: 11 hours, 35 minutes



Theme: Long Way Around by The Dixie Chicks

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Monday, February 27, 2012

#BookReview: Snitch - Booker T. Mattison


One of the codes of the streets is "no snitching."  So when bus driver Andre Bolden sees a man get shot while he's driving his route, he knows that his best bet is to keep his mouth shut.  The problem is, the killer, Clops, saw him and now, whether he snitches or not, he's become a moving target.

A former college football stand out, a run in with the law left Andre expelled from school.  Lying about his criminal conviction on a job application gets him fired.  And his displaced anger and an unwillingness to show emotion have left him without the love of his life and his son.

Snitch is really about a man who is slowly descending to rock bottom.  I wouldn't call it urban lit or Christian lit, though it seemed to have a tinge of both.  I'm not a big fan of either genre, but Mattison keeps it light enough that it doesn't interfere with the overall story telling.

One problem that I did have with the book was the nice and neat way that people were connected and the frequent near misses.  Andre and Clops traveled in different circles, but somebody's grandmother went to church with somebody's girlfriend who was friends with someone's brother, yada yada yada.  Coincidences are fine, but it was just a little too unrealistic.

I was also confused by the ending.  Even now, I'm not quite sure what happened at the end. I went back and re-read it several times and it's still unclear.  Maybe the author's goal was to create a cliffhanger, leaving the door open to a potential sequel.  Um...no.  I was confused enough this go round. I won't be jumping back on that ride any time soon.







290pp
Published: May 2011

 

Theme: Forget I Was a G by The Whitehead Brothers

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Free for All Friday, Feb. 24

What does this cat have to do with anything? Nothing.  He's just fierce!  I go back and forth on whether or not this is a girl or a boy cat.  If you saw some of her pictures floating around a few months ago, she was definitely giving girl vibes.  As a matter of fact, she was so fierce in her white beret, I named her Sasha.  Since Sasha can be either a boy or girl's name, this cat is stuck with it regardless of gender.

Anywho, I can't believe this is the first Free for All Friday I've done this year, but it is.  So how is everyone's year going? Anyone doing any interesting reading challenges?  I've challenged myself to read 144 books this year, which really isn't a lot when you figure all I have to read is 12 books a month.  Now that my guilty pleasure, Downton Abbey, is over, I'll have plenty of time for reading.

Speaking of Downton Abbey, Shirley Maclaine joins the cast next season as Lady Grantham's (Elizabeth McGovern) mother. I can't wait to see her butt heads with the Dowager Countess (Dame Maggie Smith).  And while we're talking about Maggie, here are my top five favorite moments with her.






And finally, just wanted to make another plug for donations to the River City Readers program.  I've added a PayPal button for those that would prefer to donate that way instead of through Fundly.  Whether or not we meet the goal, all donations will go to the program.


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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

#BookReview: The Wedding Wallah - Farahad Zama

Mr. Ali of The Marriage Bureau for Rich People is still up to his usual antics.  As we saw in The Many Conditions of Love, the follow up to Marriage Bureau, the marriage bureau has taken on yet again a smaller role.  Though it was the focus of the first book in the series, it now only serves as a point of reference to tie the various characters together.

Aruna, who we initially met in Marriage Bureau, is happily married.  Even though her husband is a doctor and she can afford to be a housewife, she continues to work at the bureau and sends her salary to help support her parents and younger sister.

Rehman, the son of Mr. Ali, is heartbroken following his broken engagement to Usha.  Her family would have preferred a son-in-law with a safe profession.  Rehman tried to stay on the engineering path, but with so much unrest going on in the countryside, he feels that his talents would be put to better use by helping those less fortunate than himself.

Pari, the Ali's niece, who we met in Many Conditions is a recent widow with an adopted son.  She knows that her status as a widow limits the number of men that may be willing to marry her, but she's in no rush to remarry.  She agrees to think about a proposal from the handsome Dilawar, but he seems to be harboring a few secrets that could potentially end any thoughts of engagement.

When several characters in the book are kidnapped by a group of Naxalites, everyone is forced to come to grip with truths and consequences.  Moving more slowly than Many Conditions, which moved much slower than Marriage Bureau, I have to wonder if Zama is running out of steam.  While I can appreciate him using the books to bring awareness to social issues, I  think it's time for him to explore either another series of books or different characters to get his point across.  Although Marriage Bureau was hilarious, The Wedding Wallah falls painfully short.







352pp
Published: April 2011

 

Theme: Mauja Hi Mauja from the Jab We Met soundtrack


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Monday, February 20, 2012

#BookReview: The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories 2011 - Joseph Gordon-Levitt


Let's talk about how adorable this little book is.  It's all tiny and cute, kind of like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the guy that put this together.  If his name sounds familiar, it's because you've seen him in 3rd Rock from the Sun and various movies, including one of my favorites, (500) Days of Summer.

Can I digress for a minute and talk about how much I wanted to punch Zooey Deschanel's character in the stomach for hurting this diminutive creature in that movie?  He was all, "Oh, I love her. The birds sing sweeter, the sun shines brighter, etc. when she's around." And she was all, "Whatever."  Think I'm playing?  (500) Days of Summer came out in 2009.  It took me until last year to like Zooey again and that's only because her show, New Girl, is hilarious.  Before that, I was still mean mugging her when she showed up on my screen.

Anyway, if you are or were a fan of Shel Silverstein's work (and who doesn't love Where the Sidewalk Ends), you're going to adore The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories.  Created by Gordon-Levitt as a way to give artists a way to express themselves, it's a tiny, cute, quick read from a tiny, cute guy.

Below are some of my favorites from the book.

"Okay, I'll admit, I have a few skeletons in my closet, but they weren't skeletons when I put them there."

One day before breakfast, an orange rolled off the counter and escaped its fate, bounding happily through the kitchen door.  Filled with hope, the egg followed.

His hands were weak and shaking from carrying far too many books from the bookshop.  It was the best feeling.

As the sugar cube sank in the cup of tea, he did his best Wicked Witch of the West.  "I'm melting," he screamed, MELTING!"








88pp
Published: December 2011

 

Theme: They're Coming to Take me Away by Napolean XIV

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Friday, February 17, 2012

#BookReview: Mama Does Time - Deborah Sharp


"Mace is one of those Christmas and Easter Christians, Delilah. You know, the ones who crowd the pews on the holidays? They think the Lord will forget He hasn't seen them the rest of the year."

Mace Bauer has enough on her hands.  As an outdoor ranger in Himmarshee, Florida, she spends her days tracking down gators in pools, wild possums and the like.  But when a local man with mob connections is found in the trunk of her mama's car, Mace adds detective to her list of job duties.

 With her judgmental older sister, Maddie, prodding her to find out who really murdered the dead man and her younger sister, Marty, encouraging her romance with the handsome Detective Martinez, it's all Mace can do to stay on track. Her mama doesn't make it any easier by dragging Mace to her storefront church and ignoring the constant death threats against her.

Fans of chick lit, especially southern lit, will enjoy this.  Full of a lively cast of characters, Mama Does Time is an enjoyable read and a lively beginning to the Mace Bauer series.






336pp
Published: October 2008


 

Theme: Some Days You Gotta Dance by The Dixie Chicks


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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

#BookReview: black and (A)broad: traveling beyond the limitations of identity - Carolyn Vines


I stumbled upon the author's blog back in December and thought the premise was absolutely fascinating.  I don't necessarily have a desire to live abroad, but traveling abroad is definitely on the must do list.  It's too bad that this book is less about Vine's experience living abroad while identifying as a black woman and more about her self-hate.

The author spends time as a college student in Spain, which was of great interest since it's on my bucket list of places to visit.  Unfortunately, she glosses over the experience.  Instead, she chooses to dwell on meeting her Dutch boyfriend in Washington, DC; moving to New Orleans to live with him; and eventually following him back to the Netherlands.

So I'm thinking, okay, show me what the Netherlands has to offer a brown woman.  But other than a few passages here and there, I didn't get that either.  What I got was a book about a woman who was taught to distrust other black women and to marry a white man talking about how difficult it was to raise a child while working.  That happens to women all over the world daily, right? Is it book worthy? I suppose.  But it wasn't what I was looking for.

Circling back to my comment about the author's self-hate, there is no doubt based on her comments that the seeds of hatred were planted by her mother.  It lives on in the author's belief as a college student that if she were light with long hair by Lisa Bonet that she'd be more readily accepted by her peers.

I'd already heard that a girl from my high school had commented that “Carolyn isn’t black anymore; she hangs out with white people.” I kept my mouth shut and went into a self-imposed exile from the black community and took refuge in the white, where androgyny was acceptable and sexuality forbidden (so I believed), the only safe place for a black girl like me who needed to get away from the expectations of black people regarding the way I spoke, who I had sex with, the grades I got, who my friends should be, which sports I could play, what music I could listen to, and the list goes on.

I was disheartened by her view of the black community as bad overall, while the white community represented safety.  In fact, it seems that at some point she starts to see herself as "other" as if being black was less than any other race.

I couldn’t articulate my most terrifying fear of not working: I’d become a white woman, and I couldn’t have that. As a child trying to visualize what I wanted to be when I grew up, a white housewife never even made the shortlist. On the contrary, I imagined myself single and supporting my kids on my executive’s salary. In a few words – a strong, independent, black woman who didn’t need anybody, not even the father of my children. After all, it was my birthright, handed down to me from my mother who’d inherited it from her mother and so on for generations.

I would love to have a conversation with her and ask at what point did being a housewife become synonymous with being a white woman, while struggling to survive became synonymous with being a black woman. And yes, we're all aware of what TV and the media show us, but we know that women of all races are housewives and women of all races struggle.  And if you see that your mother struggled, why would you readily accept that that's your fate?

The author also seems to have a romanticized view of her current homeland.  Though a Dutch magazine did a spread in December 2011 about Rihanna with a headline calling her a "Niggerbitch," Vines would have us believe that the Netherlands are post-racial.  In fact, in her mind they don't see race at all.  However, she contradicts herself.

For example, Dutch television broadcast positive images of blacks that I’d never seen in America... Blacks were not depicted as stereotypes but as part of the Dutch community, participating in healthy relationships. They were not shown leading “black” lives, they were leading Dutch lives.

The America I grew up in disparaged black culture, relegating it to the margins of mainstream culture.Black Americans, including myself, internalized the message that we were of no consequence, mere outcasts trespassing on the American Dream. Dutch people, on the other hand, were curious about my black culture, taking a genuine interest in its particularities.

Many Dutch people were quick to deny their ancestors’ role as the oppressor, which I’d found unsettling, at the very least. Rationalizations abounded, such as Dutch slave owners not being as cruel as the Spanish or their not being involved with the slave trade as long as the French or that Dutch slavers hadn’t shipped as many Africans as the English. Dutch people themselves had admitted that their educational system, formal and informal, had glossed over Dutch colonial history.

However, the gravest problem I could see was that the Dutch didn’t question their country’s involvement in the colonization of Asia and America and the enslavement of Africans, just as they did not question Black Pete, even amidst the reproach he inspired. In my opinion Black Pete would be an ideal starting point for the Dutch to engage their racial politics.

Also disturbing to me was the author's need to talk about her sister's alcoholism in a way that almost seemed to belittle her.  It was almost if she was using that particular chapter to show that she had "made" it while her sister fell prey to the exact men and life that her mother had always predicted for her. So the author is winning at life by playing by the rules her mother laid out.

So what did I take away from this book?  The author is proud of her marriage to a Dutchman (which her mother surely approved of, though she didn't bother attending the wedding) and her biracial daughters. She finally found a group of women of color, mostly married to Dutchmen, that she can relate to, thereby disproving her mother's notion that other black women can't be trusted. Meh.








316pp
Published: October 2010
 

 

Theme: Leaving on a Jet Plane by Mos Def

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Monday, February 13, 2012

#BookReview: I've Got Your Number - Sophie Kinsella


 How does one manage to lose her cell phone AND engagement ring on the same day? If you're a Sophie Kinsella heroine, it's to be expected.  And as a reader, would you really want anything less from Kinsella?

I've  Got Your Number is the story of Poppy (isn't that an awesome sauce name?) Wyatt, a physical therapist who is engaged to what she thinks is the most wonderful man in the world.  Mind you, he sounded like an awful bore from the moment I read about him, but this is Poppy's story, not mine.  Anywho, after a brief romance, Poppy finds herself engaged to Dr. Magnus Tavish, a university lecturer.  See what I'm saying? He has an awful name AND a boring career.  Poppy was destined for someone better from the time I started reading this book.

Unfortunately,  Poppy loses her phone within minutes of losing her engagement ring at a luncheon.  So when she stumbles upon a brand new phone in the trash bin, she retrieves it and decides to use it until she has a chance to replace their phone.  I know what you're thinking. Who does that? Look, this is a Kinsella book. Anything can happen...and it always works.  Minutes after retrieving the phone, Poppy begins to receives texts and emails for someone named Violet.  It turns out this was Violet's work phone and she ditched it, along with the job, for a career in modeling.

Sam, Violet's former boss, agrees to let Poppy keep the phone for awhile as long as she forwards his emails and texts.  Of course Poppy agrees and of course hijinks and hilarity ensues.

Previously I've only listened to Kinsella books.  I worried that the humor wouldn't translate well on paper.  I've had that problem before with other books where the written version was better than the audio version and vice versa.  I was worried for no reason because Kinsella's words are just as funny on paper as they are being read aloud.  I'm anxiously awaiting her next book.







448pp
Published: February 2012

 

Theme: When Sly Calls (Don't Touch That Phone) by Michael Franks


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Friday, February 10, 2012

#BookReview: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) - Mindy Kaling

With gems like this:

You know those books called From Homeless to Harvard or From Jail to Yale or From Skid Row to Skidmore? They’re these inspirational memoirs about young people overcoming the bleakest of circumstances and going on to succeed in college. I was worried I would be the subject of a reverse kind of book: a pathetic tale of a girl with a great education who frittered it away watching syndicated Law & Order episodes on a sofa in Brooklyn. From Dartmouth to Dickhead it would be called. I needed a job.

and this:

I always identified with Peppermint Patty, in case you were wondering—the loud, opinionated man-girl who chased around her crush without even fully knowing she liked him.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? should have been hilarious.  And it was, at first.  Halfway through it, I realized that it wasn't as funny as I initially thought it was.  Her childhood? Hysterical.  Post college? It was just okay.

I don't watch The Office, so I was unfamiliar with Kaling and her brand of humor.  I think the only reason I added it to my "to be read" list was because so many people I follow on Twitter and Goodreads recommended it.   Maybe you have to be a fan of hers already for this to really click for you.  I'm not, so with a chuckle here and a cackle there, it was just a meh read for me.






240pp
Published: November 2011



Theme: The Song That Doesn't End by Sheri Lewis & Lamb Chop

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

#BookReview: Diamond Life - Aliya S. King


When I read Platinum back in 2010, I couldn't wait for a sequel.  The author, Aliya S. King, did a great job of making you dislike the characters you were supposed to and like the characters that you should.  When I added up which characters I liked and which I despised, I came up with only a handful that I could tolerate.  It doesn't matter, because King brought most of them back for Diamond Life and introduced a few new ones.

In my review of Platinum I mentioned Jackie Collins' Hollywood WivesPlatinum definitely gave me that kind of vibe as it focused on the women in the lives of the rappers, producers, etc.  If Platinum was Hollywood Wives-like, Diamond Life is Hollywood Husbands.  Though we were introduced to the men in the last book, and some had prominent roles, readers really get a chance to meet them this go round.

Birdie and Alex find themselves dealing with Birdie's new found fame.  Beth and Z are dealing with Z's post-rehab views on life.  Josephine and Ras find themselves adjusting to life with a new baby, while fending off an unwanted (by one) and wanted (by the other) intruder in their lives.  And Jake is having a hard time putting his life back together following the tragedy that befell his beloved wife Kipenzi.

I love that King has taken time to develop both the male and female characters.  Often times, one group tells the story from their point of view and the reader is left to draw their own conclusions as to how the other side thinks, feels or reacts.  With so many characters and story lines, it might be difficult for another author to develop both and keep readers interested in so many, but in King's capable hands, readers find themselves totally and completely immersed in everyone's story.

This was truly a can't put down book.  I've already stalked ask the author if we'll see more of these characters in the future.


So it looks like while we may not see everyone, there's a small chance that we may get to explore the Jack and Lily story line.  I'd also like to see more of Beth and Z.  They were the one couple that really had too many loose ends for me at the end.  I wasn't very clear on where they stood and King didn't give any big hints either.  I guess it's up to each reader to interpret as they choose.






416pp
Published: February 2012
Disclaimer: Copy received from publisher.  Opinions are my own.

 

Theme: The Originators by Jas & Jay-Z


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Monday, February 6, 2012

#BookReview: Outside the Lines - Amy Hatvany


All my father's secrets felt like stones in my belly. I was sure if I fell over the side of a ship, I'd sink.

Ever since she was a little girl, Eden West has kept a closely guarded secret.  Her father's mental embarrassed her more times than she cared to remember.  Causing scenes at school, in restaurants and with the neighbors, Eden knows he would do better if only he would take his medicine.

David West has no desire to take the pills that suppress his creative instincts.  He's an artists and artists should be allowed to express themselves freely.  In his heart, he wants to do right by his wife and his daughter, and he manages to in small spates.  But it's inevitable that he'll stop taking the meds and find himself right back  in a manic episode, leaving his wife and daughter to deal with the fallout.

As an adult, Eden's "daddy problems" have kept her from participating in fully functioning adult relationships.  On a mission to find the father she hasn't seen in over 20 years, she begins to volunteer at a homeless shelter, where she gains a greater understanding of the homeless and mentally ill.  

I was a fan of Amy Hatvany's from the moment I read her previous book Best Kept Secret.  Much like Jodi Picoult, Hatvany tackles difficult subjects.  In Best Kept Secret, it was alcoholism.  With Outside the Lines, it's mental illness.  Regardless of the topic, she handles it skillfully.  Much like Jodi Picoult, she tells the story from the points of view of several characters, creating a clear picture.  Unlike Picoult, Hatvany does not bog the reader down with pages and pages of detailed facts that start to read more like a medical book than a work of fiction.  Hatvany recognizes that her readers are smart enough to do in depth research if they so desire.  And they are definitely smart enough to stick with Amy Hatvany.








384pp
Published: February 2012
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher.  Opinions are my own.



Theme: Daughters by John Mayer

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Friday, February 3, 2012

#BookReview: Rules for Virgins - Amy Tan


Her writing has definitely been missed and Amy Tan offers her loyal readers just a taste of what they have to look forward to when she returns to the literary scene with The Valley of Amazement.  With her short, at just 43 pages, e-book only release of Rules for Virgins, she reminds us all of why her story telling is timeless.

Written in almost lecture format, Rules is a conversation that Magic Gourd, a former Shanghai beauty, has with Violet, her protege.  Tasked with preparing Violet for her debut as a courtesan, with the desire to eventually be named one of Shanghai's "Top Ten Beauties," Magic Gourd covers topics such as "Patrons & Cheapskates," "Reputation," "Fashion" and "Preparing the Boudoir."

As she relives her glory days, you can almost hear the delight in Magic Gourd's words as she details how Violet will be dressed, stories she will learn to entertain her suitors and such.  After all, in the words of Magic Gourd:

As a courtesan, you must work toward the Four Necessities; jewelry, furniture, a seasonal contract with a stipend, and a comfortable retirement.  Forget about love.  You will receive that many times, but none of it is lasting.  You can't eat it, even if it leads to marriage.

At times reminiscent of Arthur Golden's Memoirs of A Geisha, Rules is set in 1912 Shanghai, whereas Memoirs  was set in 1929 Kyoto.  Different times and different places, but similar end goals for the main characters in each.  If you enjoyed Memoirs, or are a fan of any of Amy Tan's previous work, you'll be sure to enjoy Rules.

What did you like about this book?
Though I initially didn't care for the lecture-like tone the narrator took, I soon found that I enjoyed it.  I could almost hear the excitement in Magic Gourd's voice as she planned their future together.

What didn't you like about this book?
At just 43 pages, it was extremely short.  The other drawback is that it's only available in eformat, so readers that only use traditional means for reading will miss out on it.

What could the author do to improve this book?
I'd love to see a full length novel based on this short.








Format: Kindle & Nook only
Published: December 2011 
 





Theme: Erotic City by Prince and the Revolution

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Raising a new generation of readers

Last summer I attended a trivia night at Left Bank Books, an independent bookstore here in St. Louis.  While there, I had the opportunity to sign up for their River City Readers program.  This is a program that funds books for area school students.  A $ 100 donation provides a student with a new book every other month during the school year.  By the end of the school year, the student has the beginning of their own library collection.

Left Bank's goal this year is to raise $ 20,000 in an effort to reach more students.  I would love to sponsor a classroom, but I can't do it alone.  I thought that since you're here, you're obviously a reader.  Chances are, your love for reading started as a child.  Wouldn't it be great if we could sponsor a classroom?  The average classroom has 25 students.  At $ 100 per child, we would need to raise $ 2,500.  My goal is to have that amount by the end of April so that I can submit a check to Left Bank on our behalf at the beginning of May.

I've set up a fundly page that you can bookmark and you'll find a donation button on the right.  If you're on Facebook, you can donate by clicking on the donate icon on the left side of the Reads4Pleasure Facebook page.  Give as much or as little as you choose.  Every bit helps!






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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

#BookReview: Mudbound - Hillary Jordan


 I can't imagine that taking on racism and prejudice in a story is an easy task for any author.  As an author, you have to know that each person reading your novel is going to approach it with their own opinions shaped by their reality.  I would imagine their reality would be colored by their experiences, this particular case as they relate to prejudice and racism, and their history, specifically as it relates to this book.

As a black woman, I'm very hesitant to read books along the line of Mudbound because I don't want a sugar-coated, holding hands, singing Kumbayah version of the story.  In reading Mudbound, I also realized that I can't necessarily stomach the hardcore, in your face version of a story either.  I trudged through it, but I have to say that I enjoyed Jordan's When She Woke far more than I did this story.

Set in the 1940's Mississippi Delta, Mudbound is told from the points of view of Laura, a confirmed spinster who finally marries in her thirties; Henry, her by the book, engineer turned farmer husband; Jamie, Henry's fun loving brother who comes back from the war with his light dimmed just a bit; Florence, the McAllan's housekeeper and  wife of a tenant farmer; Ronsel, the son of Florence, who has also recently returned from the war.

When we first meet Laura, she's a spinster teacher in Memphis who lives with her parents.  She's resigned herself to the fact that she'll never get married.  She seems likable enough.  Her brother brings home Henry, a friend of his who works for the Army Corps of Engineers.  He's older than Laura, though no one seems to have a problem with him being a confirmed bachelor, and the two begin to court.  When he proposes marriage, Laura agrees and is under the assumption that they'll take up residence in Memphis.

Henry has always longed to own a farm and without discussing it with Laura, buys one in the Mississippi Delta.  I was already side-eying him for moving his wife and two small daughters down there, but then his outspoken racist father comes as part of the package and I was screaming at Laura to take her babies back home to Memphis and leave those two in the delta by themselves.  But like a dutiful wife, she went with him.

Up until this point, there hadn't been any real interaction with people of color, so I wasn't aware of how the McAllans felt about them.  Their arrival in Mississippi changed all of that.  It became all too obvious that Henry, his father and Laura, to a lesser extent, had no compassion for anyone that didn't look like them.

“Damn niggers,” Orris said. “Moving up north, leaving folks with no way to make a crop. Ought to be a law against it.”

“In my day we didn’t let em leave,” Pappy said. “And the ones that tried sneaking off in the middle of the night ended up sorry they had.”

Orris nodded approvingly. “My brother has a farm down to Yazoo City. Do you know, last October he had cotton rotting in the fields because he couldn’t find enough niggers to pick it?

Did I really read that right? Did you read that right? Yes! These men were actually mad that black people moved up north in search of a better life instead of staying in Mississippi to pick their crop and make them money while living as sharecroppers that could never hope to pay off their debt.  So this is the attitude of his countrymen that Ronsel faces as he returns home from the war.  It explains his statement:

We didn’t stay in their country long, but I’ll always be grateful to those English folks for how they welcomed us. First time in my life I ever felt like a man first and a black man second.

And lest we believe that the comments of whites regarding blacks were reserved for black men:

Most of them use their women harder than their mules. I’ve seen colored women out in the fields so big with child they could barely bend over to hoe the cotton. Of course, a colored woman is sturdier than a white woman to begin with.


So I turn to the women of the story and expect, for some reason, that women will be more sympathetic.  And while Florence sees Laura McAllan as a woman and mother, which is apparent when they first meet:

First time I laid eyes on Laura McAllan she was out of her head with mama worry. When that mama worry takes ahold of a woman you can’t expect no sense from her. She’ll do or say anything at all and you just better hope you ain’t in her way.

Laura is unable to see Florence as anything other than a negro when she comes to her after Ronsel goes missing:

There was real animosity in Florence’s eyes, and it woke an answering flare in me. How dared she threaten me, and under my own roof? I remembered Pappy telling the girls one time that Lilly May wasn’t their friend and never would be; that if it came down to a war between the niggers and the whites, she’d be on the side of the niggers and wouldn’t hesitate to kill them both. It had angered me at the time, but now I wondered if there wasn’t a brutal kernel of truth in what he’d said.

I would have loved to say that by the time I was done with this book, I'd found any redeeming qualities in the McAllans, but I didn't.  Above all they looked out for themselves and other whites before ever showing regard or compassion for a woman who brought their children back from the brink of death or nursed Laura through a miscarriage.  I don't know.  Maybe the author didn't mean for them to have any redeeming qualities.  I'd be interested in knowing what others that have read this took from it.





340pp
Published: March 2009


 

Theme: The Lord Will Make A Way by Sounds of Blackness

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