Category Archives: Shydel

Book Review: Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon


First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.
–Epictetus

Await Your Reply, written by Dan Chaon, spans several countries and weaves together three separate stories to create one taut, fast paced psychological page-turner.

Through one of the main characters, Chaon asks: “What kind of person decides that they can throw everything away and – reinvent themselves?  As if you could just discard the parts of your life that you didn’t want anymore.”

These kinds of people.

Ryan fakes his own death and drops out of college to live in seclusion with his estranged father.  Lucy falls in love and runs away with her history teacher only to find out that he’s not the person that he says he is.  And Miles hunts down his ever-disappearing, identity changing twin brother for some closure once and for all.

It sounds like a lot, right?  It is.  But Chaon’s crisp, yet, subtle writing takes you on the journey with ease, making it all easy to digest, all the while raising the bar higher and higher with each chapter.

The title, Await Your Reply, is borrowed from the emails we’ve all gotten from those mysterious rich folks from oversees who asks us to harbor millions of dollars in our US bank accounts.  Who are these people?  Of course they’re not who they say they are.  But what’s their story?  Who are the real people sitting behind the computer?  Reply takes you on the other side of their world.  The hackers who ruin lives and steal identities with the click of a mouse; the motivation behind why folks do away with the identity bestowed upon them.

In an age when we’re all fingers on a keyboard behind computers posting status updates to social media outlets with avatars that represent what we may (or may not) look like, who are we really? Nowadays, it’s incredibly easy to reinvent yourself; to choose an identity and be whom or whatever your want.  The novel is a study on individualism turned on its head: be anyone you want to be by being someone other than yourself.

Lucy, the orphaned high school student who falls in love with the identity her history teacher tailor-made for himself asks herself (and us): “Who would you be if you weren’t Lucy?  What life will you choose for yourselves?”

Chaon forces us to ponder questions like these and many more in this arresting novel that will leave you hiding your social security card, side-eyeing internet shopping, second guessing the true identity of the people you interact with – and wondering who you would become if you had the courage or desire to expunge your very own identity and start all over again.

– Shydel James

Teaser Tuesdays: Group Post

As part of a new weekly feature, The Page Turners are here to share a piece of what we’re currently reading. Anyone can participate! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • 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, page number & author, too, so that other readers can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

“I never came on to her, so I wasn’t any kind of threat.  With no sexual investment, she couldn’t lose with me. She couldn’t win either, but that suited us best, with Lorna you had to keep your distance.”

pg. 35, “K” is for Killer,
by Sue Grafton




This new girl had better be taking note that this was no flim-flack family that she was moving in with, I thought. We had a sister who went to boarding school in England!” 

pg 40, The House at Sugar Beach
by Helene Cooper





Breaking away and moving a comfortable distance from poverty seems to require a perfect lineup of favorable conditions. A set of skills, a good starting wage, and a job with the likelihood of promotion are prerequisites. But so are clarity of purpose, courageous self-esteem, a lack of substantial debt, the freedom from illness or addiction, a functional family, a network of upstanding friends and the right help from private or governmental agencies. Any gap in that array is an entry point for trouble because being poor means being unprotected. You might as well try playing quarterback with no helmet, no padding, no training and no experience, behind a line of hundred-pound weaklings.”
pg. 5, The Working Poor: Invisible In America,
by David K. Shipler

“My brother ran away in fright. I found a piece of rope, made a noose, slipped it about the kitten’s neck, pulled it over a nail, then jerked the animal clear of the ground. It gasped, slobbered, spun, doubled, clawed the air frantically’ finally its mouth gaped and its pink-white tongue shot out stiffly. I tied the rope to a nail and went to find my brother. He was crouching behind a corner of the building.
pg. 11, Black Boy,
by Richard Wright
Alex



“Ma takes her pill from the silver pack that has twenty-eight little spaceships and I take a vitamin from the bottle with the boy doing a handstand and she takes one from the big bottle with a picture of a woman doing Tennis. Vitamins are medicine for not getting sick and going back to Heaven yet.”
(read via Kindle) Room,
by Emma Donoghue
What are you reading??

Teaser Tuesdays: Group Post

As part of a new weekly feature, The Page Turners are here to share a piece of what we’re currently reading. Anyone can participate! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • 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, page number & author, too, so that other readers can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

“If you took away all of the pieces that made up George Orson – his lighthouse Motel childhood and his Ivy League education, his funny anecdotes and subtly iconic teaching style and the tender, attentive concern he’d had for Lucy as a student – if all of that was an invention, what was left?  There was, presumably, someone inside the George Orson disguise, a personality, a pair of eyes peering out; a soul, she supposed you might call it, though she still didn’t know the soul’s real name.”

[no page number, reading via Kindle], Await Your Reply
By Dan Chaon
Shydel

This, like so many other things, was not a joking matter for Julius, who preferred to instigate and to control his comedies.  More than his friends, Julius was interested in power; It wasn’t a focused preoccpation: there wasn’t a type of power that he sought, just the absolute, brute fact it.

pg. 28, The Emperor’s Children
by Calire Messud

 

“We were the kind of girls who would always be very pretty if but if never seemed to happen. If Jasmine’s skin cleared up and she could keep her hair done and she did something about her teeth, which were a little crooked, and if I lost five pounds and got contact lenses and did something about the way my skin was always ashy, maybe we’d be the prettiest girls in Mount Vernon, but we weren’t, we were just us”.

pg. 10, “Virgins”, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self
by Danielle Evans
 
“I even bragged to my friends how good I felt about the whole matter. When they were at my apartment during times when there wasn’t any food to eat, I told them that even though I starved, my time was my own and I could do anything I wanted with it.”
pg. 81 , “Revolutionary Suicide”
by Huey Newton
Alex


 

 

“As the smoke entered her lungs, she seemed to return to who she really was, who she was now. A forty-eight-year-old who was a receptionist for a plastic surgeon and rented DVDs and videos and looked for herself in the backgrounds of old movies.”

-pg. 5, “Third Girl From The Left” by Martha Southgate
Malca

 
 
 
 
 
What are you reading???

Teaser Tuesdays: Group Post

As part of a new weekly feature, The Page Turners are here to share a piece of what we’re currently reading. Anyone can participate! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • 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, page number & author, too, so that other readers can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

“With a loud grunt, he flung the severed hand halfway across the library floor.  Then he reached into his wound and yanked at the spurting ulna and radial artery, pinching and twisting it closed as best he could.”

by Wally Lamb
-Shydel


“For here the past survives in the scent of a coffee bean, a person’s  history is captured in the shape of an ear, and those most precious memories are hidden in the safest place of all. In stories.”

– page 11 & 12, Ancestor Stones by Aminatta Forna

Malca


“Randolf stayed for ten days, returning home by bus shortly after a neighbor cornered him in the hallway, asking if he might be so kind as to enter his penis in a blind taste test. Veronica and I left three months later, headed up to Oregon, where we hoped to make a killing picking apples and pears.”
-page 130 Naked by David Sedaris
-Alex





“I roll over to check the clock on the milk crate doubling as a mightstand, nudging aside the tiny stack of business cards I garnered at the ‘job fair.’  Eleven-fifty-three. I inhale deeply, trying to slow my buzzing brain from replaying the phone calls I’ve put into every half-baked Remy-stained lead.
pg. 53 from Citizen Girl by Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus
-Alise




What are you reading??

Book Review: When You Reach Me

Book Cover

Rebecca Stead’s intelligent children’s novel When You Reach Me is full of your typical tween fair: hush-hush middle school crushes, teenage insecurities and tiffs with Mom about not checking in when you’re going to be home late from school. But what separates this 199-page genre-bending novel from its kiddy fiction counterparts is its ability to weave together mystery, suspense, humor and fantasy into one thought provoking story.

Reach Me tells the story of Miranda, a 12-year-old, 6th grade latchkey kid who narrates her life experiences living in upper Manhattan in the late 1970’s.  Her mom, a single mother who works as a typist in a law firm and dates one of the lawyers at her firm is obsessed with her upcoming stint as a contestant on the $20,000 Pyramid.  It’s their chance at a brighter future and they’ve already begun to make plans for the money (a new rug, an exotic vacation). When Miranda isn’t doing practice rounds with her Mom, she’s trying to figure out who is writing cryptic, mysterious notes to her, predicting her very-near future.

It’s these notes that propels the drama and provides the tension in the book and forces a frightened, yet, intrigued Miranda to put together the clues to find out who’s writing her these notes – and why. Along the way, she loses a longtime friend, develops a crush on the boy she works with at the local sandwich shop and makes friends with a well-to-do classmate who lives in a posh NYC apartment that puts her rundown tenement to shame.

Reach Me is an easy read and the chapters are super short.  On the flip side, it does lull a bit midstream as Stead spends a lot of unnecessary time giving expository information about secondary characters. The explanation that was lacking was that of Miranda’s absentee father. But her unspoken feelings about her father’s absence leap off the page in the chapter where she visit’s her new BFF’s apartment for the first time and instantly realizes how involved her father is in her life.

The novel picks up steam in two explosive chapters towards the end when Miranda goes to watch her mother compete on the $20,000 Pyramid and discovers who (or what) has been leaving her those obscure notes. You’re forced to play back every detail of the story to pick up the clues you (and Miranda) both missed that were there all along.

When You Reach Me is a great read for children between the ages of 9 and 14 who love thought provoking fiction and who are curious about the inner workings of class, race and personal relationships.

Wanna Get to Know Me? Study My Bookshelf.

There are a ton of ways you can get to know someone: Observe how a man treats his mother; ask to use someone’s bathroom and peak behind the shower curtain to see if their tub is clean; bring up FICO scores on the first date and see if the person gets hot under the collar and begins to fidget in their seat.

Sure, those are all good suggestions, but I recommend a much easier solution: Peruse a person’s bookshelf and you’ll find out everything you need to know about them – and more.

Take my six-tier, dark brown bookcase from Ikea for instance. It’s a hodgepodge of juicy novels, self-help books, journalism and communication textbooks from college, classic plays I’ve performed in and even a few books that I never finished reading. Yep, my bookshelf is a direct reflection of me.

I used to be anal about the arrangement of the books. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night knowing Suze Orman was mingling on the same shelf with Shakespeare.  I would sit all of the taller books to the left and all of the smaller books to the right, making a nice, descending slope as you gazed the titles from left to right. I’ve since relaxed the requirement on size order. After I moved and unpacked all the books from the boxes, I was too lazy to reorganize them the way I had them before so I just mixed everything together.

On the top shelf you’ll find all of my favorite plays: A Raisin the Sun and the The Sign in Sidney Brunstein’s Window by Lorraine Hansberry, a tattered marked up copy of Fences by August Wilson, which I had the pleasure of performing on stage a few years ago and a collection of wonderful plays by African American women from the Harlem Renaissance to the present called Wines in the Wilderness.

There are also some Modern American classics on my shelf by Neil Simon, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, Clifford Odets, Arthur Miller and a rare copy of the 1916 play Trifles by Susan Glaspell.  And some contemporary classics like Prelude to a Kiss by Craig Lucas and Lobby Hero by Kenneth Lonergan who penned one of my favorite films You Can Count on Me.  Many of these plays were required reading for an American Theatre course I took in college.

In fact, many of the books on my shelf are expensive textbooks I bought for college and the acting conservatory I attended: The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Reinventing the Museum, Understanding Art and my favorite TRIANGLE: The Fire that Changed America by David Von Drehle. Triangle is a study on social history in New York City during the early 20th century. Fantastic read!

Then there are my beloved novels: Middlesex, Notes on a Scandal: What Was She Thinking?, Getting Mother’s Body, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky. And staples by Bebe Moore Campbell, Omar Tyree, Walter Mosely and E. Lynn Harris that you’re bound to find on most black folks’ bookshelves.

I’ve also have a few books I’ve never finished: The Known World by Edward P. Jones, The Corrections by Jonathan Frazen and The Sidney Poitier memoir The Measure of a Man.  All three are great reads, but for some inexplicable reason, I just never got through them.

Oh. And I love a good self-help book too.  One Day My Eyes Just Opened Up by Iyanla Vanzant changed my life when I was 19-years-old. I’ve also got copies of Dealing with People You Can’t Stand (self-explanatory), Fighting for Time (how to multitask and manage time – I need to reread this one *sigh*) and of course I’ve got The Secret up in there too.

By scanning the titles on my shelf, you’ll also learn that I’m passionate about my crafts: Writing and acting.

The Actor’s Way by Julia Cameron, The Power of the Actor, by Ivanna Chubbuck, Respect for Acting by famed acting teacher Uta Hagen, Sanford Meisner on Acting by Meisner and Dennis Longwell and The Camera Smart Actor by Richard Brestoff should be on every actor’s bookshelf.

I’ve also got The AP Stylebook, The Elements of Style, Keys for Writers, Making a Good Writer Great. And there’s evidence of my failed attempts at creating my own work: Making Short Films, Making a Winning Short and How to Write a Play and several books by famed screenwriting expert Syd Field.

There’s a complete shelf dedicated to magazines I’ve read over the years that have stories that have touched me in some kind of way or are so well-written that I just had to keep them as a reminder of how much growing I have left to do as a writer.

And finally, there’s an empty shelf just waiting to be stocked with books, but I’ve got the feeling it will be empty for a while.  Lately, I’ve been listening to audio books and I’m probably going to buy an iPad within the next few months and I’ll just buy books on the Kindle app and read them from there.

So there you have it, my beloved bookshelf and all its artsy glory.

How about you?

Do our bookshelves share some of the same titles and writers?

Are you a history buff?

Do you love to read, hot steamy romance novels?

If I were to come over to your house and scan your bookshelf, what would it tell me about you?

Talk to me.

I’d love to hear about your thoughts.

PS. I love food too but I don’t keep my cookbooks on my bookshelf. They stay stored in the kitchen for easy access.

Introducing The Page Turners: Shydel’s Niche

My love of books started very early.

I can remember being 5-years-old, sitting in front of the stereo in the living room with my picture books sprawled out across the floor.

Mom would always buy me books that came with records. That way, I could learn how to associate the way words looked with the way they sounded.

I had quite a few picture books, but the ones that I remember most are The Lady and the Tramp, Goldielocks and the Three Bears and another book that gave lessons on how to count money and cross the street.

I still remember the chorus to the song:

When it’s time to cross the street Make sure you use your eyes before you use your feet.

The older I got, the more I turned into a literary hustle man.

Mom would buy books from Scholastics and I would let folks in the neighborhood rent them for a couple of bucks. I even read most of them beforehand and would review them for my potential customers. One Scooby Doo sticker meant the booked sucked. Three Scooby Doo stickers meant it rocked!

Sadly, once I reached high school, my mind started to drift.  With so much required reading, (Malcolm X, Romeo and Juliet, The Great Gatsby) the last thing I wanted to do was to read for fun.

Today, that has all changed!

When I walk into a bookstore, my heart flutters.  I instantly turn into the 5-year-old book worm who sung along to the records that came with his picture books.

And while it’s difficult to find time to read (I’m a nine-to-fiver, blogger, freelance writer and sometime actor) I make it my business to bury my head in a book whenever I can, even if it takes me forever to finish it.

Currently, I’m engulfed in Wally Lamb’s identical twin drama I Know This Much is True. Lamb’s casual, conversational flow is brilliant.

Although I’m a pretty slow reader, I breezed through Zoe Heller’s What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal, in eight hours flat. It’s a witty, intense drama about a teacher who starts up an affair with one of her underage students.

Suzan-Lori Parks rocked my world with her debut novel, Getting Mother’s Body, a gutsy, unconventional family drama about a pregnant teenager who goes on a quest to dig up her mother’s body in the hopes of recovering some expensive jewelry she’s alleged to be buried with.

But the first and only novel that ever really touched my heart and made me cry was Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.

*Pulls out Kleenex*

Lawd! I can’t even go into details of the novel without falling out into the ugly cry.

*Waves Hand*

If you haven’t already, read it!

I also highly recommend Aliya S. King’s juicy, salacious page turner, Platinum and The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow.  Two phenomenal books, which feature Black female protagonists written by Black female authors. Dope!

You can expect me to explore the world of short stories and children’s books that tackle mature subject matter or feature a child protagonist.

I just started Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me, narrated by a sixth grade, fatherless latchkey kid who’s helping her mother practice for her upcoming stint on the $25,000 Pyramid. They’ve got big plans for the money, but something tells me things are not going to go according to plan.

Stay tuned for my review to find out…