Friday, September 28, 2012

Free for All Friday, September 28

I'm so excited because my literary partner in crime, @litfangrl, is coming to town this weekend.  There'll be eating, drinking, people watching, foolishness and fuckery.  She doesn't know it yet, but I also plan to drag her to a few indie bookstores in search of books that made the list for my Books: Passports to the World challenge.  I've added in all of the recommendations I received last week and I'm still accepting titles in the comments sections.








So what's on your agenda this weekend?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

#BookReview: Jesus Boy - Preston L. Allen

I don't even know where to begin with this review.  At the recommendation of two readers and writers that I greatly respect, I gave Jesus Boy a try.  It's hilarious, they said.  You'll love it, they said.  Fine. I'll admit that there were funny bits and pieces, but honestly, the only reason I continued listening to it was my other requested audio books had not come in at the library.

Some books are better read than listened to and I think, in this instance, I would have been better off reading.  For some reason, it was decided that there should be three narrators for the story.  And that would have been great had those three narrators been assigned specific characters.  Instead, the narrators were alternated throughout sections of the book, while still voicing the characters in first person, so it became difficult to figure out which character they were supposed to be until they said something or something was said to them that clued you in on which character was speaking.

When we first meet Elwyn Parker, he's an upright and judgmental musical prodigy.  While other teens spend their time hanging out, flirting with members of the opposite sex and having a good time, Elwyn uses the teachings he's learned the Church of Our Blessed Redeemer Who Walked Upon the Waters to evangelize at school.  Elwyn's crush since high school has been Peachie McGowan, but Peachie is in love with Barry, another church member.

As Elwyn's Bible thumping Grandmother tries to keep him on the straight and narrow, he gets caught in Sister Morrison's web. A widowed forty something, Sister Morrison is the late wife of Elwyn's benefactor.  After all, Brother Morrison not only bought Elwyn's first piano, he also financed his college education through a special scholarship. In the meantime, Elwyn's grandmother hasn't always been the God fearing woman she claims to be, and her dealings with the Morrisons go back several years.

Preston L. Allen calls out every kind of hypocrite imaginable with Jesus Boy.  Some of the twists and turns were unexpected, while some were slightly obvious.  Overall, I enjoyed the story line, even with the narration confusion, but I didn't necessarily care for the ending.  After dragging out the story line for so long, Allen seemed anxious to wrap it up quickly and skipped over detailed storytelling for several years, instead giving readers a summary of what had happened through conversations between characters.  I would have preferred to see the story line more evenly distributed.






364pp
Listening time: 10 hours 30 minutes
Published: April 2010


Theme: Old Time Religion by The Caravans

Monday, September 24, 2012

#BookReview: So Much Pretty - Cara Hoffman

People thought butterflies were beautiful, but really, they were strange, so strange, and almost ugly, resting and working, hovering camouflaged as one thing -- so they could one day be another.

This could possibly be one of the most confusing, way too much going on books I've read in a minute.  Had the author eliminated some of the character background and given more detailed story lines, I probably would have rated it higher than three purple chairs.  It was an okay read, but not great.  Here's why.

So Much Pretty is set in small town Haeden, New York.  Big city (if you can call Cleveland the big city) reporter Stacy Flynn has moved there looking for her big break.  The disappearance of Wendy White could very well be the break she's been looking for.

Wendy White has never dreamed of leaving her small farm community.  While her classmates couldn't wait to escape Haeden  after high school graduation, she's content to stay and work as a waitress at a local restaurant. Overlooked by most, she begins to attract attention when she loses weight, attracting a man many would consider the best catch in town.

Fifteen year old Alice Piper has been raised by two doctors that checked out of city living for the slower pace of Haeden.  Being raised with few boundaries and encouraged to explore her own passions, Alice is loved by all, though everyone in town agrees that there's just something about her that's a little different.  And that includes her parents.  Alice doesn't miss much and when Wendy White goes missing, Haeden's newly appointed Harriet the Spy discovers what happened to her.

So what we have is three women tied together loosely.  Wendy's disappearance is the trigger for Stacy's newspaper articles, which are the trigger for Alice's research and subsequent actions.  So every action has a reaction, yada yada yada.  I was there for that story line, loved the way it worked out.  But what I wasn't there for was all the background on Alice's parents and their friends.  Alice's school papers? Totally unnecessary.

I also felt slighted by lack of details surrounding the whole Wendy White situation.  For as much background as Hoffman gave us about Alice Piper, she failed to go into detail about why Wendy was victimized.  In fact, it felt like everyone in the book was treated better than Wendy, by the characters and by the author.  Overall, I just think this could have been a much better book than it was.








304pp
Published: March 2011


 
Theme: Suzanne by Dianne Reeves

Friday, September 21, 2012

Books: Passports to the World


It's a little early to announce reading challenges for next year, but it requires a little planning and I need your help.  I've created the Books: Passports to the World challenge, where the goal is to read a book a week set in a different country.  There are just under 200 recognized countries in the world today, my plan is to come up with books set in 52 of those places.  Why 52? There are 52 weeks in a year, so each week I'll be posting a review of a book from one of the countries.

Here's where I need your help.  I've created a list, and come up with a good number of books so far, but I'm hoping that you've read a book set in a country that I've not already found a book for and will share it with me.  The list of countries and books can be found here.  Please take a look and submit your suggestions for books that should be added to the list below.  And don't worry, sign ups for the challenge are coming soon.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

#BookReview: South by Southeast - Blair Underwood, Tananarive Due & Steven Barnes

I'm always surprised when my Twitter followers are shocked to find out that Blair Underwood writes.  Okay, really, the man is like a fine wine that just gets better with time, but he's more than just a handsome face.  In addition to being an actor with a long career that I've been drooling over since his LA Law days, he's the co-author of the Tennyson Hardwick series.  Yes, series.  South by Southeast is the fourth in a series that started with Casanegra, In the Night of the Heat and From Cape Town with Love.

To bring those of you who haven't read the previous books up to speed, here's a quick recap.  Ten is a gigolo turned actor with a side order of private investigator.  His wheelchair bound, retired police captain father and his nurse turned girlfriend, Marcela, live with him in a house he inherited from a former client.  When he's not rescuing kidnapped babies or pining over his ex-girlfriend, but still a good friend, April, he's guardian to Chela, a fiesty 17 year old that he rescued from his former madam.

Life is finally on track for Ten.  He's been handpicked by the famous director Gustavo Escobar for a part in his next zombie flick.  Temporarily relocating the family from Los Angeles to Miami is just what the doctor ordered.  Marcela will get to see her family, the captain will get to relax and Chela will have a chance to shed her LA baggage in a city where no one knows about her past as a prostitute.  But trouble has a way of finding the Hardwick clan and it's not long before Ten is thrown back into the role of protector and private investigator.

I don't know how the three authors work out writing amongst themselves.  Perhaps one of them writes the outline, someone else does character development and the third fleshes out the meat of the project.  What I do know is they seem to work seamlessly together.  Even though the only character that we have an actual image of is Tennyson, it's not difficult to imagine what the others look like based on the descriptions we're given.  Because of that, it's easier to visualize each scene as it plays out.  It's like the books are written as a screenplay, but without the stilted directions and scene set ups that you'd see in an actual screenplay.  It was reported back in August of this year that Blair Underwood signed a major development/talent holding deal with Universal Television.  Let's all keep our fingers crossed in hopes that we see Ten, Captain Hardwick, Marcela and Chela gracing our television screens in the near future.






384pp
Published: September 2012
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Theme: Quimbara by Celia Cruz

Monday, September 17, 2012

#BookReview: The Cutting Season - Attica Locke

Lovers of historical fiction, thrillers or both, come near.  This is the book for you.  In her latest, Attica Locke deftly weaves the history of a Louisiana plantation with a modern day who done it, and you're going to love it.

Growing up, Caren Gray couldn't wait to escape the grounds of Belle Vie, the plantation her family worked on for generations.   Now she's back in Ascension Parish dealing with the Clancy clan, a cantankerous cook, distrustful staff and a murder.  And she's raising a child in the midst of all that.

Raised on Belle Vie with the Clancy boys, Caren knows them well.  But the murder of a migrant worker has her shook and, suddenly, she's not sure that she can trust either.  Childhood alliances don't mean much when you're dealing with property, money and the family name.

There are rumors of the plantation being sold.  If that were to happen, her staff, already wary of the woman that's one of them, but not really one of them, would think she had something to do with it.  As it is, they're already keeping secrets from her regarding the relationship between the deceased women and the student worker that's being held for the murder. With time running out, and threats being made against her family's life, it's up to Caren to figure out how to save the place she's finally come to love.

When I first started reading The Cutting Season, I wondered what would bring the descendant of slaves back to the very plantation upon which her family was enslaved.  As if the history of the plantation isn't haunting enough, Caren is confronted daily with the cabins in which her ancestors lived, the fields in which they worked and a re-enactment of their lives.  But as I continued to read, it became clear that her family ties to the place were just as deep, if not deeper, than the Clancy's.

The present day story focusing on the murder is interesting, but the more interesting story is found in the history of the plantation and the history of Caren's family, as it relates to the Clancys.  This is a brilliant sophomore effort from Attica Locke.  When I read her first book, Black Water Rising, I complained that it dragged in spots and took entirely too long to get really good.  You won't hear those complaints this time around.  The Cutting Season will pull you in from page one.








384pp
Published: September 2012
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

 

Theme: The Pressure (Part I) by Sounds of Blackness


Friday, September 14, 2012

#BookReview: Those We Love Most - Lee Woodruff

In the blink of an eye, Maura Corrigan's world is turned upside down.  One minute she's walking her kids to school, in the next, her eldest is lying in the street, hit by a car.  And in that instant, everything changed.

The death of James affects everyone in the family, but the author chooses to focus on Margaret and Roger, James' grandparents, and his mother, Maura.  Interestingly enough, Pete, James' father and Maura's husband, seems to take a back seat.  It would have been much more interesting to read a first hand account of how he dealt with his son's death than hearing it third person, or even reading about how either of the grandparents coped.

Margaret, a modern day June Cleaver, is the family martyr.  Always there to lend a helping hand, she takes charge when James dies and makes valiant efforts to get Maura and Pete back on the right track.  Through her comments and flashbacks, we learn that she has always been the person everyone in the family depends on in times of need.  But beyond that, we really don't get the idea of Margaret as a whole person.  Her life, it seems, has been solely dedicated to raising her children and catering to her husband, but her children are adults with children of their own and Roger travels non-stop for work.  So who has Margaret been for the past forty years when she wasn't being Roger's wife or the kid's mother? Beyond a gardener that likes to sneak an occasional cigarette, readers have no idea.

Maura's guilt has forced her to push people away, including her husband Pete, who she suspects is well on his way to being an alcoholic.  Even before the death of James, they were distant.  Now the gap between them is more noticeable to everyone.  Prior to losing her son, Maura was on her way to destroying her marriage, repeating the same mistakes her father made.  A year later, she's still not sure if it's worth fighting to keep.

At 65, Roger is the consummate business man.  He helped build the real estate firm where he's been employed for as long as anyone can remember.  On his many travels he's dipped his toes in other waters, but he's always come back home to Margaret.  And what she doesn't know won't hurt her, or will it?

When Roger's unforgivable act leaves Margaret to pick up the pieces, I hoped she'd finally get herself together and start living for herself.  Then it dawned on me that this was the life she wanted, good or bad, whether I could relate to it or not.  While I can't imagine setting my daily schedule around everyone around me except myself, that's exactly what Margaret wanted.  She felt most in control when caring for those around her.

Those We Love Most is the first novel from Lee Woodruff.  It's a slow read, not because it's difficult to read, but because it's difficult to care about the characters.  The story line of James dying could have been removed completely.  With a few exceptions, very little about these people's lives is affected by the event.  In fact, the story doesn't even pick up until about a third of the way through the book when everyone has returned to their everyday lives.  The fact that the author dwells on the grandparents still seems strange to me.  If she wanted to tell a story about them, she could have done so without bringing in the other characters, including the grandson.







320pp
Published: September 2012
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

 
Theme: Coming Around Again by Carly Simon
 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

#BookReview: A Cupboard Full of Coats - Yvette Edwards

Jinx has wrapped herself in a coat of guilt and shame since her mother's passing.  Though she was only a teenager when it happened, Jinx has shouldered the blame for what took place in their house years ago.  The heavy burden on her heart has caused her to push her husband and young son away.  Believing that she deserves nothing, she lives in a world of solitude among the dead.  And then Lemon appears on her doorstep.

Initially, it's unclear why Lemon is there and that causes the story to drag just a little.  He offers no explanation, yet Jinx still welcomes him in.  As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that he's there to ease her load and, at the same time, unburden himself.  Knowing that she has blamed herself for that tragic night, he's come to absolve her.

The adult Lemon was around to witness the deterioration of the relationship between Jinx and her mother.  Their once close relationship is fractured when Joy begins to date Berris.  As Berris' closest friend, Lemon is well aware of his friend's insecurities, but that doesn't stop him from baiting him occasionally.  In fact, rather than calling them friends, I'd say they were frenemies.  Berris' badmouthing has gotten him banned from Lemon's house and Lemon covets Berris' most prized possession, Joy.

Jealousy rears its ugly head repeatedly as Jinx begins to feel pushed aside by her mother in favor of Berris.  Berris' jealousy knows no bounds and he delivers brutal blows to say with his fists what he can't say with words.  Lemon's jealousy sets in motion a chain of events that ultimately lead to the demise of the woman all three love.

As I stated before, this book started off slow with a tendency to drag.  I was tempted to put it down, but it picked up dramatically after a few chapters.  Once it got good, I was so drawn in that I stayed up late, and would have continued reading until I finished if I hadn't had to work the next day.  It was all I could do to make it to lunch so I could find out what happened next.  Edwards' style is reminiscent of Zadie Smith, a beloved author by most, but one I've never been able to really get into.  However, I thoroughly enjoyed A Cupboard Full of Coats.

Now let's talk about the cover.  In the book, whenever Joy and Berris fight, he always buys her a gorgeous coat, hence, she ends up with a cupboard full of coats.  So, in my opinion, a cover showing said coats would have been gorgeous, but I can live with the current cover.  The characters are originally from, or descendants of, Montserrat, a Caribbean island.  Many of the scenes are centered around food, the cooking and eating of it.  So to me, the cover shows the ingredients needed to make sorrel, a Caribbean drink, which Lemon does.
 

Not everyone agrees, but I'll let you read the book and form your own opinion.  In the meantime, what are your thoughts on Caribbean lit covers? Have you noticed an overabundance of fruit and flowers where their covers are concerned?






272pp
Published: July 2012
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher as part of TLC Book Tours, opinions are my own.










Theme: Hot, Hot, Hot by Arrow

Monday, September 10, 2012

#BookReview: Kinky Gazpacho - Lori L. Tharps

There aren't many people who chart their destiny in the seventh grade and follow through with it, but by that time, Lori L. Tharps already knew that somehow Spain would play a role in her life.  Kinky Gazpacho takes us on a journey as Tharps tries to reconcile her love for a place where she doesn't necessarily feel loved.  But that's not the most interesting part of the story for me.

Tharps grew up in a world of otherness.  By that I mean, she grew up as one of the few black students in predominantly white schools.  At no point does she sound bitter about it.  In fact, she seems proud of the fact that can blend into the mainstream (read: White American culture) so well.  And I think that, in part, is why she's so troubled about what she feels is Spain's rejection of her.  She's Lori the lovable.  She's fit in in the Midwest, Northeast and Morocco.  How dare this country that she's longed for for so many years not accept her in the manner she sees fit?

Lest you think I'm faulting Tharps, be assured that I'm not.  Like her, I grew up in a world of otherness.  Navigating grade school and high school as an other can be a lonely place.  There can be a need to assimilate for acceptance, especially in a classroom setting where being different can lead to bullying or avoidance.  It makes life easier.  Often in these situations, members of other learn to code switch and the face/language/actions seen in school or workplace differ from those seen with members of their own race/culture/religion.  Whether it's done consciously or not, it becomes a coping mechanism for many.  

Not completely comfortable with assimilation, Tharps headed for Smith College determined not to become friends with any White people.  In her quest to make black friends, she decided to attend the Black Students' Alliance meeting, but left before the meeting started when no one made an effort to speak to, or acknowledge, her.  It's important to note that she doesn't mention reaching out to anyone at the meeting either and that most of the students were either returning students or first years that arrived on campus earlier in the week for a student of color orientation in which they met each other.  Though she could have made more of an effort, I understand that it's difficult to make new friends and try to insert yourself in a group where it feels like everyone already knows everyone else.

Tharps' problem seemed to be that she, like so many others, had defined what blackness was and, deciding that the other black girls were the epitome of it while she was not, judged them and returned to the world in which she was most comfortable.  And that's fine, but the idea that black women had rejected her because of the way she talked (when she had yet to utter a word) or the music she listened to, was a little absurd. For someone that didn't want to be defined by her color, she seemed to have no problem doing it to others.

Studying abroad in Spain her junior year of college begins Tharps' love-hate relationship with the country.  Though she first revels in the fact that her otherness there isn't based on being black, but being American, she soon tires of the stares from people that have rarely seen a black woman.  From the hooded figures of people celebrating Semana Santa, the lusty gazes of men curious about "wild" black women, the black-faced mammy figurines and costumes, to candy, Tharps is continually confronted with things that should make her denounce her adopted country.  But in marrying her husband and becoming a more frequent visitor to Spain, she begins to find a little of herself in the country.  Unfortunately, it took far too long in story for this to happen and far too little time was spent exploring it.







207pp
Published: March 2008



Theme: Stranger in Paradise by Diana Ross

Friday, September 7, 2012

#BookReview: Count on Me: Tales of Sisterhoods and Fierce Friendships by Las Comadres Para Las Americas

The concept of friendship that goes beyond everyday acquaintances is nothing new.  Count On Me serves to remind us of those friendships that are so strong and so important that the only word that can define them is comadre.  Told in twelve narratives, Count On Me highlights the friendships between co-workers, neighbors, confidants and complete strangers.

In Carolina De Robertis' narrative, Every Day of Her Life, we see her and others step in to complete the book of a classmate turned comadre who died before she had a chance to finish her novel.  Though completing someone else's work can be a tremendous amount of work, the deceased Leila taught Carolina and those around her so much about living and loving that they felt the need to complete her love letter to her home country of Lebanon.

In Crocodiles and Plovers, Lorraine Lopez describes her symbiotic relationship with Judith Ortiz Cofer, the mentor she initially rejected, who would eventually push her to recognize her own talent as a writer.  In return, Lorraine drives Judith around and offers her conversation or silence, depending on what she needs.

Comadrazgo fosters mutual benefit, not dependency.

My favorite narrative comes from Esmeralda Santiago in the form of Las Comais, in which she speaks of the relationship between her mother and her comadres.  From dona Zena, the praying comai, and comai Ana, the teller of dirty jokes, to dona Lola, the midwife, Esmeralda's mother was surrounded by her closest confidantes.  I think I was so moved by this story because it reminded me of my mother and what she calls her O and Ds, oldest and dearest friends.

My mother has known Barbara, Elena and Deidre since junior high.  They attended high school and college together and pledged the same sorority.  Growing up, they were a constant presence in my life.  Even today as retired grandmothers, they still hang tight, getting together for birthdays, holidays and no reason in particular to share a meal and catch up on what's going on.  A few years ago we threw a surprise birthday party for my mother.  Her O and Ds helped out by telling her they were going out to dinner and bringing her to the venue.  Another friend was miffed because I left her out of the planning and proudly told me, "I'm one of your mother's oldest and dearest friends."  I'm sure I may have appeared rude when I told her, "You may be one of her friends, but you're not one of her oldest and dearest."  Simply put, she was not a comadre.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to anyone that has ever experienced the comfort that comes in knowing you have a comadre that will stand by you through thick and thin, love you when you're wrong, applaud you when you're right and glow with happiness in celebration of your accomplishments.







272pp
Published: September 2012
Disclaimer: Copy of book provided by publisher, opinions are my own.




Theme: You Gotta Be by Des'ree

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

#BookReview: Luther: The Calling - Neil Cross

Fans of the BBC miniseries are no stranger to the brooding figure who observes crime scenes with his hands stuffed in his pockets.  But they'll learn in Luther: The Calling where that habit came from and why lead character, John Luther, does just that.  In this prequel to the miniseries, Neil Cross introduces John Luther before we, as television viewers, come to know him.  And in introducing him this way, Cross ties up some loose ends that we weren't even aware of before.

Neil Cross will tell you that he can't imagine anyone else playing John Luther.

I've said elsewhere that the moment Idris Elba put on that coat and strutted into the room -- a big man with a big walk -- it became unimaginable to me that anyone else might ever have played the role.  Idris made Luther.

 And as you read Luther, you can clearly see and hear Idris Elba in every thought, word and action of the character.   If you've not seen the show, please know that my love of Idris does not cloud my opinion of it.  It is simply one of the most brilliantly written and acted shows I've ever seen.

DCI John Luther has a lot going on.  Though he's married to his college girlfriend, Zoe, his intense focus on his job distracts him from said marriage and home life.  But through this prequel, we learn that John has always been focused and always, somewhat, distant and withholding.  As Zoe can admit, she may not know him as well as she'd like to.

So I tell him this, all about myself.  Then I ask him about himself, and he tells me about books.  As if he's made up of all these books he's read, or was going to read.



But it's his intensity that allows DCI Luther to excel at his profession.  As he tracks down a murdering kidnapper, he pulls out all stops to locate the missing children and figure out just who the kidnapper is.  While he has all of that going on, he still takes the time to assist an elderly man that's being harassed by a couple of thugs who feel he's blocking a high dollar real estate deal.  Because that's who John Luther is.  As much as he's able to serve and protect others, he can't get a grip on his personal life.  And that could ultimately lead to his downfall.

I highly suggest fans of the miniseries give this a read as it offers a lot of insight into Luther and provides background about his friendship with Ian Reed, whom you'll remember from season one.  One character that really impressed me, that I don't recall seeing in the television series, is DS Isobel Howie.  She fulfills the role that we see played by Justin Ripley in the series.  But where DS Justin Ripley is just a fringe character in the book, he plays a major role as Luther's subordinate on TV, and DS Howie disappears altogether.  I would have loved to find out what happens to her character.

For those wondering if you can read this book without seeing the series and still be able to follow along, yes!  This lays the groundwork for what's to come in the series.  If you've seen the series and you wonder if you'll be bored with a prequel, no!  Like I said earlier, this serves to tie up loose ends you were unaware of and provides more background on the complicated character, Luther.  For lovers and newcomers to the show, this book is well worth a read.






336pp
Published: September 2012
Disclaimer: Copy of book provided by publisher, opinions are my own.


Theme: Paradise Circus - Massive Attack
 
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