Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes is a sweeping tale of a girl, Aminata Diallo, who is captured from what she eventually learns is her homeland of Sierra Leone and what she endures as a slave in pre-Revolutionary Colonial America. She is a gifted midwife like her mother. She is also somewhat learned in her father’s Muslim faith which is what sustains her on the treacherous Middle Passage. Immediately she stands out as special in the eyes of the many whites or, toubab, she encounters. It is obvious that she is very bright and a quick study of almost anything thrown at her. We see her propensity for midwifery and languages take her from an indigo plantation on St. Helena Island off the coast of the Carolinas to being a house servant in the home of a Jewish couple to Nova Scotia as a free woman to Sierra Leone as part of a resettlement group to London to speak to Parliament in the fight to abolish the slave trade. It is a story involving slavery that Americans are not often privy. Yet, for the obviously amazing amount of historical research that went into this tome, Hill did not, for me, deliver a tour de force book focused on the Colonial period of American slavery. His writing style fluctuated from broad strokes to ones quite narrow. I was jarred several times from lengthy details about one event just to have its conclusion or the next event glossed over. Everything seemed to always come to too neat an ending including the entire novel itself. Better developed characters could have made this read more epic for me. The prose lacked any real color but moved along at a steady pace. It is also heavy on dialogue and dialogue that is...in the pocket. Again, the ending was very neat and a bit fantastical. He took some judicious liberties with some real life characters that our heroine, Aminata, would have encountered in this era. Hill does a decent job of revealing the irony of the colonists who rebelled and demanded their freedom from British rule with its juxtaposition against the enslavement pf Africans. What also shines is the use of place and how it impacted the treatment and well-being of enslaved and freed people of African descent in the burgeoning U.S. The Book of Negroes is, with its flaws, an engaging read that is strong in the history it puts forth during the time when the Atlantic Slave trade was at its peak and being challenged by abolitionists and what one woman endured to find freedom and her own sense of place.
Fire Baptized by Kenya Wright
January 16, 2012
Urban and Fantasy are not genres I typically read let alone a hybrid of the two. However, I said that I would diversify my reading a bit more this year and I think this was a great book to shake things up.
Fire Baptized is inhabited by several different beings labeled as belonging to one of three groups: Humans, Pureblood Supernaturals or, Supes, and Mixies. They are relegated to the caged city Santeria Supernatural Habitat in Miami. Lanore, the novel's heroine, is a college student accustomed to pilfering her textbooks from the university library but finally gets caught and witnesses a heinous crime in her flee from the campus trolls. She's also a Mixie. Mixie's are half breed humans and supernaturals brandished with an X and have an ongoing struggle for equality in the community. She lives with MeShack, a womanizer who Lanore has known since childhood and considers family. Meanwhile, Zulu, a fellow Mixbreed, heads up the Rebel organization, MFE whose main agenda is to obtain equality for his group by any means necessary. He also has his sights set on Lanore.
What ensues in this urban fantasy novel is a murder mystery with Lanore caught in the middle as the lone witness and determined to discover the killer before more lives are lost. In the midst of this is a love triangle and social activism. Kenya Wright quite seamlessly covers a lot of territory in this first of a trilogy. The pace is great as there is action from the first page to the last and the characters are all engaging. Although, MeShack, a blatant example of a male double-standard, is annoying. The blossoming romance between Lanore and Zulu is sexy to say the least. References to the Santeria religion and culture, both obvious and subtle, added another layer of appeal. What was most intriguing was how Wright cleverly incorporated sociological issues of gender and identity stratifications.
"Professor Rodrigues was from the old school of thought, believing Mixbreeds were abominations and should be euthanized. When she denied my registration for her class, she wrote me a letter, explaining that most interspecies' offspring had serious mental illnesses and the rest were only fit to be criminals or janitors" (46).
Anyone looking for an engaging read filled with colorful, unapologetic characters set in a space where there is seemingly no hope for those deemed second class citizens and the exhibition of an assortment of supernatural powers, you'd be remiss to not give this book a read. There's no question I'll be checking out the rest of this series.
I received this book from the author.
Embroideries is a sharp witted graphic novel revealing the lives and loves of a group of Iranian women. During an afternoon at the home of the author's grandmother, the women talk openly about men and sex. Everything that they share--virginity, arranged marriages, gay or cheating husbands-- is anecdotal and reads like a "hen party". It's just all over the place and hilarious. I actually found myself laughing out loud. They cover the gamut of characterizations from the adventurous to the prudish. Most women readers will find some connection with one of the women in this novel.
After reading both Persepolis novels, I had to read Embroideries and was not disappointed. Satrapi has such a way of exposing the dynamics of relationships among women and between women and men that is just blunt, honest, and humorous. What she's also done is reveal that "the veil" is just that...a veil. It's one that when pulled back, we see little difference in our experiences navigating relationships with men.
*I purchased this book.
Ernessa T. Carter's debut novel, 32 Candles, introduces us to Davie Jones. She lives in small town Mississippi with an abusive and wanton mother. Davie is also the school's target for taunting and teasing with a nickname only mean-spirited children could concoct. She soon finds solace in Molly Ringwald movies namely, Sixteen Candles. Enter the new kids, the ultra-atrractive Farrells who are heirs to a prominent hair care company. Naturally she falls hard for the lone son, James. After Davie spends months pining over him and thinks she has finally gotten him to notice her, she falls victim to a humiliating prank and running away takes her to the other side of the country. In L.A. she begins to thrive as a night club singer and one day, she literally crashes into her past. James is now the one falling hard for Davie, a woman he no longer recognizes from high school. However, others soon show up in L.A. and they do remember and pose a big threat to Davie's Sixteen Candles happy ending.
What can I say about Davie Jones? She's a little neurotic but who wouldn't be after spending several years voluntarily mute to avoid her mother's abuse and being called "monkey night" by her peers. I ♥ Davie Jones for being able to not let life's bullsh*t keep her down...even the kinda psycho schemes she pulled off to later retaliate against the Farrells. Carter has written such a real character that a lot of us can (unfortunately) relate to and not just in Davie but those Farrells as well. They're those popular kids that others made even more larger-than-life through adoration and fantasizing. What Carter reveals through them, however, is that they even know that things and status are not always what make you awesome but resilience, wit, and bravery. Of course, it's always wonderful to see Black characters who cover a variety of lifestyles and experiences. Even the author's approach to the often materialistic world of the Farrells is not overdone or obnoxious. Rounded out by a gloriously flawed supporting cast including a short-tempered but fatherly club owner, 32 Candles should be on everyone's reading list.
Mi Barrio by Robert Renteria as told to Corey Michael Blake, illustrated by Shane Clester (Writers of the Round Table Press/SmarterComics, 2011)
From the Barrio Foundation CPS Vendor Number: 63134
Mi Barrio is comic book version of Renteria's part memoir, part motivational book, From the Barrio to the Boardroom. We get a look at a life that starts with baby Robert sleeping in a drawer in his parents' tiny apartment. From there are most of the hardships one would anticipate for someone from a marginalized group of people living in East L.A. in the 1960s and 1970s. There's also one the reader won't see coming. Mi Barrio is a cautionary tale about making wise choices, not letting a rough start in life hinder you from success, and to always be your authentic self. What is so delightful about Mi Barrio is that it expands Renteria's reach in his obvious agenda to motivate other disadvantaged young people. It is so important to reach people where they are and I think this is a great way to make his message accessible to everyone. The message I loved the most dealt with the author's realization that he had lost himself, his passion in his work and was brave enough to walk away and step out on faith for reconciliation. So often we see young people allowing others to hold them back or dictate their lives or afraid to be their true self for fear of backlash. I believe Renteria's story does and should resonate with everyone no matter what their station in life.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book free from the publisher as part of a Condor Book Tour. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
Since Robert Renteria will be available for answering questions via comments today, I'll ask that those who would like to win a copy of Mi Barrio send an email to terri (at) browngirlspeaks (dot) com. Please make the subject "Mi Barrio giveaway". I will randomly select a winner form all entrants. For a bonus entry, you can subscribe to my blog feed. Simply include that you did so in the body of the email message. Good luck!
About the author:
Robert Renteria, the successful businessman-turned-author of “From the Barrio to the Board Room and Mi Barrio,” is sharing his books with youth across America to replace violence, delinquency, gangs and drugs with education, pride, accomplishment, and self esteem.
Robert has dedicated his life to sharing his story with thousands of others so that they, too, can help break the vicious cycle of poverty through hard work, determination and education. His books and the accompanying curriculums, are forming our “leaders of tomorrow” by helping them to find their identity, establish core values, set goals for themselves, prioritize education, and strive to reach their full potential. His books are now being taught in schools to students all around America and in many communities all around the world.
Renteria has been the keynote speaker at the Hispanic Heritage Reception for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, where he was recognized for his achievements as a civic leader and Latino author. He has also presented at the Illinois Association of School Social Workers, McDonald’s Hamburger University, the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association annual conference, the Hispanic National Bar Association in Chicago, the Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus Foundation, and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. He has been profiled in major media, including USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Investor’s Business Daily, The Chicago Sun Times, WGN, Univision, and Chicago Public Radio. Robert is supported by political figures (at the local, state and national level), business owners, corporations, University Professors, and middle and high school teachers and principals who share his universal message that everyone has the right to live the American Dream!
Robert was recently honored the prestigious award of the 2010 Chicago Latino Professional of the Year.
Blog Tour Schedule
Mon June 20 Musings http://nilkibenitez.blogspot.com
Tues June 21 Dulce Bread & Book Shop http://dulcebreadandbookshop.com/
Wed June 22 Frankie Benitez http://juliorvarela.com/
Thurs June 23 Brown Girl BookSpeak http://books.browngirlspeaks.com/
Fri June 24 Latina Book Club http://www.latinabookclub.com/
Mon June 27 VivirLatino http://vivirlatino.com/
Tues June 28 Blogs By Latinas http://www.clicklatina.com/
Wed June 29 Dos Idiomas/Two Languages http://www.ofelianj.com/
Thurs June 30 Juan of Words http://www.juanofwords.com/
Fri July 1 Sammy Makes Six http://www.sammymakessix.com/
Live Chat with author Robert Renteria scheduled for Sunday, June 26 at 7 pm EST. http://condorbooktours.com/Author_Chat_Salon.php
Youngblood's debut novel is near equal parts beautiful and disturbing. Her prose is lyrical and gut-wrenching in this coming of age story of a spirited seven year old Mariah Santos. She's intensely attached to her military nurse mother in Kansas when her life is turned upside down and her mom abruptly takes her to Georgia, leaving her with two older aunts. Mariah, as any child would under the circumstances, has a long, hard adjustment to her new surroundings. Her aunts have very strict rules including Sunday church attendance and not playing with the "project" children across the railroad tracks. While she still live a comfy life, she aches for her mother's touch and the special words she would give her each day. She finds solace in a schoolmate with whom she shares her first kiss then in the cello that her Aunt Faith gives to her. Her bourgeoning young adulthood is spent exploring her sexuality and trying to connect with the father, in L.A., she has only known through the creative stories told by her mother. This relationship does not live up to her expectations as her father, Matisse, can only seem to append to Mariah via the lingering feelings for her mother and is otherwise distant. What feels as almost inevitable brings her back to Georgia and ready to accept the quiet love present in the "big white house".
Shay Youngblood has written this novel with so much passion and honesty that it brims over in its intensity. This is not your typical coming of age tale filled with ubiquitous, inexplicable teen angst. Instead, Mariah Santos is a young female character unlike any I've encountered in this genre. Her story is erotic, elicit, and enchanting. It nearly rocked my ideas of parent-child dynamics to the foundation. Absolutely a must read.
Cosmopolitan Girls is an urban chick lit novel about the male-centric lives of two up and coming Black women living in NYC. They have an accidental meeting at a local bar that leads to blossoming friendship where cosmos are the drink of choice. Lindsey and Charlie are both dealing with men woes each of a different variety. Charlie's fiance is questionably faithful and Lindsey's hip hop video maker boyfriend is not the prince charming he seems to be. They also are struggling with their careers and climbing that corporate ladder that's always that much tougher for women of color. As Lindsey and Charlie bond, they come up with a set of rules for navigating the rest of their lives as drama free as possible, especially when it comes to men and taking care of self. Think the slightly sloshed, scaled down version of The Rules but without the whole marriage goal.
This book was kinda, sorta on the verge of being cute and "a fun read," but didn't quite make it. I think I'm biased to more substantial works and my reading palette has lost all taste for this kind of novel. What drives me nuts about urban fiction is the vexing materialistic inclination ever present in this genre. I don't care that your characters are burning up thirty dollar candles or wearing this brand or that one and how much it cost. Money and that misguided notion of wealth seem to become a character itself in this book. Unfortunately, I find it irresponsible on the part of the authors to promote materialism when Black folks suffer enough from it and is the reason we're lagging behind in true wealth. The issues with the men were stereotypical to say the least but ended with a satisfactory conclusion although getting there involved some juvenile acts. Before I further this rant, I'll end by saying that the book was barely alright. The one small saving grace was the strong slant towards Black female bonding. That's always welcome in this world hung up on "haters" and "throwing shade" and general unsupportiveness of others' success. Check it out from the library as I did, if you must.
Colorful Chick Lit
Lori Tharps has already well established herself as a nonfiction writer navigating the politics of Black hair in Hair Story and her witty, observant memoir, Kinky Gazpacho. Now she's taking her turn at fiction in Substitute Me. Tharps explores the nanny-employer relationship in this head shaking, "uhn" inducing novel. Zora Anderson is the classic underachiever. Lingering between self-discovery and complacency, she transplants to New York and sublets a friends apartment. For income, she falls back into being a nanny and her near perfect job slowly but surely gets into emotionally dangerous territory. Her charge, Ollie, is the infant son of Kate and Brad. Kate is career-oriented and Brad has a career that's just a job to him and other aspirations that his wife doesn't necessarily support. Kate's ad stating that she's looking for someone to "substitute me" gets her more than she bargained for.
This book is so many things--an entertaining read, a conversation on race, gender, and class, a look at today's working moms, etc. What stands out for me most is what this novel explores regarding what some may view as the modern mammy and crossing boundaries. It's just ripe with debate. A refreshing component is characterization. The people inhabiting Substitute Me are often not depicted in literature that features Black main characters. Zora and her fellow nanny friend are both cultured, worldly women who are merely on a pit stop in life as caretakers. Tharps does a great job of contrasting eccentric and confident painter, Angel and Zora who's afraid to admit she just might like being a nanny because her family wouldn't approve. Kate is the typical career woman coping with fitting in her other roles of wife and mother. Her and Brad's banter on race and class are classic. While the supporting hold their own, this novel is ultimately Zora and Kate's stories.
Lori Tharps' writing shines here in Zora's observation of Fort Greene and Park Slope neighborhoods of Brooklyn:
Fort Greene was populated mostly by Black people, with a smattering of young hipster Asians and White people sprinkled in the mix, and Park Slope was an inverse mix of mostly White people, with enough spots of color to make it feel multicultural in a Coca-Cola-commercial kind of way.
And here on being Black and living in Paris v. New York:
"Yeah, but Paris does it better. With more style." Zora shrugged. "I don't know how to explain it. Paris is just Paris. She calls you to her with no judgment and offers all of her charms to you. Paris is like a sensuous woman." Zora laughed at what she was about to say. "And New York," she finished, "is a whore."
I only have one teeny tiny qualm about a minor detail. I find Kate's ignorance of Zora Neale Hurston's existence kinda implausible since she holds a degree in English literature. Even if she is white. But our fabulous author is a college professor and may have more insight on this than I, so I digress.
What's important is that this is a great quirky brown read navigating the lives of Black folks who are well travelled, aspirational, and some even bilingual. Do get book, get friends and family to as well, then engage in some awesome discussions.
I received this book from the publisher.
Monice Mitchell Simms is a storyteller. I don't mean that to sound light or insignificant. In this near epic tale of a bright young girl from Jim Crow era Locust Grove, Georgia to her tumultuous teen years in the Motor City, Simms demonstrates such dexterity in her debut novel. Merry's tale opens with her life in the South living with her grandmother and her "selfish" younger brother. After, Merry makes an unthinkable sacrifice to save him, the looming consequences leave her grandmother no choice but to send her "up North" to the mother who abandoned her children. In Detroit, her life seems to be heading towards triumph as she's a successful student and bourgeoning pianist and singer. However, her demons get the best of her and she begins to console her not quite teenaged self with alcohol. Merry quickly finds herself on a downward spiral as a teen mom, dealing with addictions, and a hole in her soul she can't seem to fill. Right up to the bittersweet end, Merry never seems to lose her fight even though she fouls up quite a bit along her journey to self. Don't think that this is a typical, or stereotypical, tale of Black youth gone rogue. There are nuances to this novel not quite expected and while flawed, Merry remains endearing throughout. Every character, from the closeted gay male to the stifled preacher's daughter gone bad to the alluring bad boy, is well thought and fleshed out.
Simms has written such a page turner that it's girth surprisingly never hits any lulls or feels overworked. This debut is also the promising beginning of a trilogy of which I highly anticipate the sequel, The Mailman's Daughter. If you like great, meaty stories, do get your hands on a copy of Address: House of Corrections.
I received this book from the author.
Marjane Satrapi's graphic memoir is masterfully written and illustrated. She reveals harsh yet sometimes comical realities of war and religious fanaticism through childhood memories. She exudes all the angst and precocity of youth mixed with the rebellion of a bourgeoning political activist. The setting is the late 1970s and early 1980s in Iran. The Islamic Revolution has begun. The veil has become a permanent part of women's wardrobes as their hair has been deemed "stimulating". Satrapi struggles with the frustration of being a child who wants to stand for something but is not always sure what that something is. She feels she can't stand idly by while her parents go into the streets to protest the Shah regime, so she stirs things up in her school and often to the chagrin of her teachers. After taking the reader on a journey through this time in Iran's history and seeing the lives of those Satrapi knew personally affected by it, she brings us to a heartbreaking conclusion.
While I'm no expert on graphic novels, I found Satrapi's illustrations so effective in moving the story along. There's a slight whimsy to them-mainly the characters' eyes- that serves as reminder that these are a child's experiences.
Persepolis 2 picks up just where the first volume ended. Marjane is trying to adjust to her new life as a teen student in Austria in the early 80s. Her political activism/ rebellions become more of a way to procure friends and slowly turn themselves into vices to her detriment. Satrapi explores her struggles with losing her sense of being temporarily and the general demise many young people engender. Later in this volume, we see her enter a questionable marriage and she delves more into the issues and place of women in Iran, or lack thereof, though it's a running theme in both books. Again, women seem to suffer the sharpest blow of the regime with the need to cover themselves as to not present men with temptations. The ending this time is definitely hopeful but still bittersweet.
I love Satrapi's voice and style in both books. She has a delicately acerbic tongue. She really captured the angst of youth and political activism as well as the jaded side of both. I'm now anxious to read her other works: Embroideries and Chicken with Plums.
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