Tag Archives: Book reviews

Book Review: Right As Rain

“The finer points don’t matter to her. All those theories you read about, whether or not I was doing my job, or if I made a bad split-second decision, or if it was the lack of training, or the Glock…none of that matters to her and I can understand it. She looks at me, the only thing she sees is the guy who killed her son.”

Right As Rain was given to me by a good friend of mine. It’s a mystery-thriller, a genre that I would have never chosen for myself. My friend told me that the story was set here in D.C. and since I am a daughter of The Capital City, I decided to give it a go. I am so glad that I did. With Right As Rain, George Pelecanos has offered an intriguing and authentic tale of police corruption, race relations and the drug trade in Washington, D.C.

Right As Rain centers around Derek Strange, a DC cop turned private investigator who has been hired by the mother of Chris Wilson, a young black police officer who was killed while out of uniform by Terry Quinn, a fellow officer who is white with a well known short fuse. Mrs. Wilson believes that her son has been dishonored and wants his name cleared. Strange reluctantly takes on the case and quickly enlists the help of Chris’ killer, Quinn, to help him get to the bottom of the case.

Derek Strange is a smooth and intelligent man and is very good at what he does. He understands the realities of the city and how things work and why. He sees everything clearly except for his on-again, off-again love relationship with Janine who is his office administrator. Terry Quinn has struggled with his personal demons surrounding how he perceives race ever since the shooting. It especially affects his attempt at a relationship with a young law student named Juana, a black woman with whom he is absolutely smitten.

These characters are so believable and I was able to sympathize with them right away. My favorite character was Terry Quinn. I was surprised that I was able to have so much sympathy for this man that killed a black man on a dark street basically just because he was black. His demons were so real and his struggle with them was significant to the story.

Strange and Quinn uncovered more than they ever thought they would in investigating why Chris Wilson was killed. Who would have thought that a cop murder in downtown D.C. would lead to the slaughter of Columbian drug mules in the exurbs, dirty cops and one good girl gone terribly bad thanks to a heroin addiction? The story took so many twists and turns, I never knew what was coming next, but with every turn of the page I wanted to know more. This was one of those books that you end up staying up way past your bedtime because you just can’t put it down!

What impressed me the most about Right As Rain was how authentically “D.C.” it was. Many movies and books have been made and written about the Nation’s Capital and very few of them stay true to the spirit of this town. They’re usually about “Washington”- the monuments, museums and federal government. This story was about D.C. as I know it: Brookland, Georgia Avenue, Union Station, North Capitol Street, The Metro’s Red Line and Crisfield’s in Silver Spring. My own neighborhood and street was even mentioned a few times. I was able to picture every location mentioned which made it all even more exciting for me.

This is a great book. It lived up to everything I’ve been told about George Pelecanos and I look forward to reading more from this author.

-Cashawn

Book Review: Leaving Atlanta

Leaving Atlanta tells the story of classmates Tasha Baxter, Rodney Green and Octavia Harrison during their fifth-grade year at Oglethorpe Elementary in Atlanta.

Might nothing.  Think about it.  You ain’t never heard of nobody black going around killing people for no reason.  That’s white people’s shit.

Tasha is eager to return to school to show off her jump rope skills after practicing all summer to perfect her moves.  If she can perfect her foot work then she may gain a spot in the clique of Monica and Forsythia.  However, those dreams come to a halt when she finds out that jumping rope in fifth-grade is “baby stuff” according to Monica.   As the girls graduate from jumping rope to playing jacks, Tasha shows off her skills and puts a whipping on Monica.  That doesn’t help her chances of gaining access to the in-crowd but it does cause her to question the state of her family.

You now know, as undeniably as if you had read it in the World Book Encyclopedia, that Officer Brown has nothing useful to share.  As a matter of fact, you are more fearful than ever to know that this man is all that stands between your generation and an early death.

Rodney is a loner who has little to say but his thoughts are priceless.  He spends his days trying to make himself invisible as he comes to grips with the fact that he’ll never please his father.   If only “an epidemic of disappearing black fathers” hit his home like so many of his friends everything would be okay.  Instead his dad appears at the school after Rodney falls asleep at recess and misses lunch.  After being humiliated in front of his peers he is convinced that any place is better than home.

Kodak commercials say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but the one they showed of ____ ain’t worth more than three or four.  ____. Black. Dead.

Octavia, another outcast, is affectionately called “Sweet Pea” by her single mom but is ostracized for her dark skin and is teasingly called “Watusi” by her classmates.   Unlike her “almost friend” Rodney who tries to make himself invisible, Octavia has a good aim and will fight back with words and rocks.  But when two people she knows goes missing she is forced to deal with the consequences.

Leaving Atlanta is one of the few stories that make you start your sentence with, “Girl let me tell you about this book…”  when asked how you like it.

This novel is a fictional story set in Atlanta during one of Atlanta’s America’s darkest hours, Atlanta’s Child Murders.  During the years of 1979-1982, twenty-nine children went missing and some were found dead.

Born  in 1978, I’m too young to remember these events but author Tayari Jones delivers a first hand account from the third person narrative of Tasha, the second person narrative of Rodney and a first person account by Octavia.   Each of the fifth-graders tell the story from their own unbiased point-of-view.

As I read the book I felt like I was in Atlanta during these events.  The feelings that resonated from the characters were feelings I could remember having as a child.  I found myself thinking on many occasions, “Tayari had to have really dug deep in her past to nail these childlike characteristics.”

I also wondered if writing this book had affected her mental state since two of her classmates were among the twenty-nine missing.

I’m not sure I could have told this story but Tayari did and it was done with a style that is  to be envied.  Her descriptive words and language never failed to paint a picture or conjure feelings of my childhood.

What I loved most about this book was that it didn’t talk so much about the Atlanta Child Murders but focused more on how the community reacted to it, especially the children.  I couldn’t imagine having to walk home from school with a serial killer on the loose.

This novel is broken into three parts with a three, two, one punch that hits you hard below the belt.  Initially you would think that the three different perspectives would be ill-fitting but they all meshed together to tell a wonderful story about an unfortunate time in our history.

Leaving Atlanta will soon be in theaters.  Check out Nakia’s post, Leaving Atlanta at the Movies for more information on the project and a sneak peek trailer.

You can also find me at www.notoriousspinks.com.

Nakia’s Favorite Reads of 2010

With the help of GoodReads.com, I recently set my 2011 reading goal at 24 books. That may not seem like a lot to some of you, but as someone who just two years ago only read five books in an entire year, and is internationally known as a lazy procrastanista, twenty four books is commendable. Let’s pray I reach my goal (I’m 4% done already lol)

I read 21 books in 2010 though, and I’d like to share a few of my favorites.

10. Bitch is the New Black by Helena Andrews (pub. June 2010):  This memoir was the June selection for my bookclub. I enjoyed it because I identified with Andrews’ shenanigans as a late-20 something Black woman, witty, smart, attractive, and still wondering why she’s single. She is hilarious and insightful when sharing her life experiences. Some of the chapters lagged when she ventured away from her dating mishaps, but Andrews’ is a wonderful writer and with Bitch is the New Black having already having been optioned for the big screen by Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy), I’m looking forward to the movie.

9 Orange Mint & Honey by Carleen Brice (pub. Feb 2008): I wouldn’t have known about this book had it not been for Jill Scott. I love me some her, and when friends got word that she would be starring in the television adaptation of Orange Mint and Honey, titled “Sins of the Mother”, I received links and emails out of the ying yang telling me to tune in. I of course picked up the book a few weeks before the movie premiered on the Lifetime Movie Network. I’m so glad I did. This story of Shay, stumbling grad student and daughter of an alcoholic who suddenly becomes sober and has another baby, was riveting. It was hard not to cry during certain parts of the book, especially when Shay agonized over the pain from her past and used that as an excuse not to forgive her mother, who did everything in her power to make it up to her . Brice handled the mother-daughter relationship superbly, and I give her two thumbs up on accurately introducing the audience to how children are affected by living in a home filled with alcoholism.

8 Jesus Boy by Allen L. Preston (pub. April 2010): Hilarious, satirical story that delves into the skeletons that clutter the closets of the leaders and most revered saints in the Black church. After his life long crush becomes pregnant and quickly marries a burgeoning minister away at Bible school, sixteen year old musical prodigy and devout Christian, Elwyn Parker, starts a risque affair with 42 year old Sister Morrisohn, the wife of his recently deceased godfather. Highly exaggerated, but still truthful to an extent, I was pleasantly entertained by how easily Allen was able to illustrate how hypocritical church members can be, without being a judgmental or condescending story teller. I can see many people in the church being offended by this story, but those who are more open minded may get a kick out of its primary theme: Nobody is perfect, no matter how much closer to God you think you are.

7 Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (pub. 2006): This was my book club’s pick for November. Even though I had to read a few hundred pages before it captured my full attention, I’m so happy I kept pushing through. Ngozi Adichie did an AMAZING job telling the story of the Biafran War of the 1960s through the eyes of Olanna, Odenigbo, Egwu, Richard, Kainene and countless other memorable, endearing characters. This story was about war, but it was also about love during a tumultuous time. I enjoyed this story immensely, and learned a huge amount of Nigerian history and the differences between ethnic groups in the process.

6 Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan (pub. 1992): Before reading “Getting to Happy”I decided to re-read Waiting to Exhale to familiarize myself with its characters and scenarios. McMillan is a hilarious writer and she is fantastic at showing the camaraderie that Black women share within their friendships. I saw a lot of the old me in Bernadine, Savannah, Gloria, and even Robin, which at some points made me sad, and at other points made me extremely happy that I’d learned my lesson at an earlier age. That is what I enjoyed most about this book. The meet ups and girls night outs definitely reminded me of how I interact with my friends. Check for my review, “Waiting to Exhale Revisited” here.

5 A Taste of Power by Elaine Brown (pub. 1993):  This is the memoir of Elaine Brown, chronicling her poverty laden childhood in Philadelphia; her migration to Los Angeles where her job in a strip club led to romantic liaisons with powerful celebrity connections; to becoming a pivotal part of the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panther Party, eventually becoming one of Huey Newton’s lovers, working tirelessly as the editor of their newspaper, abruptly becoming national president, and spawning the new, unheard of, and short lived era of female leadership within the highest ranks of the organization. My book club read this in February and I absolutely loved it, mainly because it gave me a peek into the history of my city, a first hand account of the historical significance of the Black Panther Party, and the treatment of women in such an organization.

4 Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (pub. Jan 2007): I never had any desire to read this memoir, but when it hit the movies, my book club decided to see it together after reading it in September. Words cannot express how much I loved this book! Emotional, funny, open, honest, descriptive. I feel like felt EVERYTHING that she went through while dealing with her divorce and the depression associated with her new lover. I fell in love with Italy right along with her, and I can’t wait to visit Bali after reading of the spiritual renewal, inner peace, and new love she found there. Elizabeth is definitely my kind of writer. Can’t wait to read the sequel, “Committed”.

3 Before I Forget by Leonard Pitts (pub. 2009) Found this book on a list of favorite books of 2009 on author Carleen Brice’s blog, which led me to suggest it to my book club, making it our first pick of 2010. Pitts brilliantly tells the story of Mo, former successful soul singer and recently diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers, who decides, before all of his memories are gone, to take a cross country road trip from Maryland to Los Angeles with his 18 year old son Trey, to visit his own dying father. Trey is headed down the wrong path fast, while Mo hasn’t talked to his own father in decades. The theme of manhood, fatherhood, and responsibility, is littered throughout this story of redemption and forgiveness. Pitts is a master at weaving layers to produce a full, powerful, and touching story. There were times when this book made my heart race (from chapter 18 until the end), when it made me angry, when I wanted to cry. Everyone in my book club LOVED it. We also felt that this is a book that all Black men should pick up, no matter their status, background, or history. The novel was multi generational, making it easy for a number of different ages to identify with the story.

2 After the Garden by DorisJean Austin (pub. 1987): What happens when Elzina Tompkins, raised and sheltered by her bible thumping and VERY judgmental grandmother, becomes pregnant and marries immediately after high school, Jesse James, from the James clan filled with boisterous, belligerent, and illegitimate alcoholics? One of the best love stories I’ve ever read. This novel chronicles the ups and downs of two completely different people who survive solely off of love, in Jersey City in the early to mid-1900s. This book was brilliant and I have no idea why it isnt a classic! Full review coming to The Page Turners soon.

1 Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (pub. 2002 , Pulitzer prize for Fiction 2003): I added this book to my reading list because it was an Oprah book club pick. It was brilliant, amazing, heart wrenching, mind boggling…this story made me feel every emotion. I wrinkled my nose in disgust, laughed, cheered, and felt compassion for every character in this epic saga. Eugenides weaves the tale of how and why Calliope Stephanides lived the life of a girl well into her teenaged years, before realizing that something was biologically wrong. Starting from the mistakes made and secrets kept by her grandparents, on down to her parents, unfolds the story of an hermaphrodite who is too scared to love. Eugenides knows how to make you root for these characters, no matter the laws of love and procreation that they break. He also shares the story of immigration and the development of Detroit from a booming auto center, to a desolate ghetto. Loved every minute of it. Almost cried when I lost the book halfway through the story. Thank God I found it. If one can get past the uncomfortable thoughts that may arise, you’ll be able to ingest a wonderful story. Adding this to my list of favorite book of all time!

Honorable mentions go to Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, and The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow.

Let me know if you’ve read any of these, or share some of your favorite reads of 2010.

-Nakia

Book Review: Third Girl From The Left

 I’m so excited to bring in the new year with a review of my latest read Third Girl From The Left by Martha Southgate.

Third Girl From The Left centers around  the lives of three generations of African-American women who come to realize that they share more than blood and familial relation as they discover their shared love of cinema is the thread that links their lives together.

Their lives didn’t matter to anyone but me. They were the only parents I knew. But not being able to talk about who they were, acting as if it wasn’t happening, that was the hard part. (p. 182)

Tamara, a self-described “film nerd”  has big dreams of becoming a film director with only a small budget to make it happen. Tamara has spent her whole life desperately wanting a family, affection, and a past to help her to decipher the meaning of her current life. When Tamara’s estranged grandmother gets sick, she leaves her job behind and flies from New York to Oklahoma and, with the permission of her family, she uses her ever present video camera to capture their stories.

My mother believed in the power of movies and the people in them to change her life. (p. 2)

Tamara’s mother, Angela, has star-studded dreams so big she can’t contain them in the small town of Tulsa, Oklahoma where she grew up. She moves to L.A to be “in the movies” and meets up with a fellow Playboy bunny Sheila who introduces her to the fast life and stays with her until Angela is forced to slow down and change her wild ways.  Angela didn’t look back once she got her first taste of stardom and alienates herself from her family and hometown, which trickles down to Tamera being forced to grow up without the presence of any of her family, besides her mother and Sheila.

There was always this need to do things right, to be seen to be right, never to be too mussed or too loud or too worked up or too anything. (p. 20)

For Angela’s mother, Mildred, life is boring and routine as a housewife and mother. She has everything a woman in her small town could want but she ends up finding what she needs in the most unlikely of places and from the most unlikely of people. Mildred later finds herself unable to deal with her wayward daughter because of the guilt she feels for satisfying those needs.

And there we are. My mother is beautiful and my grandmother is beautiful and I’m beautiful. You see that beauty as it finally is even though no one wants to see it as it is in a black woman in America, not a hoochie, not a ho, not a mammy, not a dyke, not a cliché,  just a woman. (p. 268)

And there you have it. This book was amazing. I love everything about 70’s culture so I was super excited reading about the era of Blaxploitation movies and foxy sistas with Afros. The author dedicates a good portion of the book to that era and even manages to squeeze in a guest appearance by Pam Grier. Southgate did a wonderful job of staying true to the time period each character lived in with so many details if felt like I was reading historical documents. The 1921 Tulsa race riots were of particular interest to me since I’m from the area and this book has inspired me to research the incident further.

The major theme in the novel that ties the characters lives together, second to their blood relation, is their love of movies. Mildred used watching movies as a way to escape her mundane life, Angela desired to be in the movies, and Tamara wanted to be behind the camera creating them.

I loved how Tamara filming the women for her documentary made them feel comfortable enough to reveal their secrets to each other which, as a result, helped them to heal. Southgate addresses issues like infidelity, sex and drugs, homosexuality and racism. And I must say she does a wonderful job of fully exploring these themes in only 268 pages. 

I was able to relate to each of the main characters and I loved that none of them were perfect. The women had flaws and some of the relationships that were broken were never fully mended in the story…like real life. The author wasn’t afraid to take risks or approach subject matters in depth  that others would shy away from and that’s why her characters and story are so dynamic. I can’t wait to get my hands on the other books shes’ written so I can get my read on!

I want to thank Author Carleen Brice who recommended Third Girl From The  Left on her blog.

– Malca

 

“The Between”: A Brilliant Introduction to Science Fiction

“The Between” is a riveting science-fiction tale by Tananarive Due. I picked this novel up in a thrift store about two years ago for only $.80 and after finally reading it, I can say it was the best $.80 I’ve ever spent. It is a brilliant first novel by a woman who has drawn me into the sci-fi genre in a way that I never thought I’d be able to enjoy. I appreciate finding an author who can introduce me to a different style of writing to which I can relate so heavily.

“The Between” tells the story of Hilton James, a husband, father and director of a drug treatment facility in Florida. He is loved by his wife Dede, a newly-elected circuit judge in Dade County and the only black woman in that position, although they have had some rough times in the past. His children, eight year-old Jamil and thirteen year-old Kaya are bright kids and reflect the love and support that Hilton and Dede have showered upon them. Hilton is admired and respected by his friends and colleagues for going above and beyond the call of duty in his position at work. Seems as if he has the idyllic life that dreams are made of, right? But for Hilton, dreams are far from idyllic. They are haunting and menacing night terrors that are driving him to the very brink of insanity.

Hilton has been carrying a secret around deep within since he was a small child: he found his dear Nana, who had raised him since his mother ran off, dead on the kitchen floor when he was seven years-old…or did he? When he went to find help, he returned to find Nana singing hymns and cooking their dinner. From that day on, little Hilton was afraid of the woman he loved most in the world. He couldn’t understand how he could find Nana lifeless, clammy and cold to the touch on the floor one moment and in the next she’s up and about as usual.

Hilton did lose his Nana after she rescued him from drowning while on a family trip to the beach not long after she died in the kitchen the first time. She gave her life for his that fateful day in the ocean. He was adopted and raised by distant cousins, given all the love possible but he was haunted: The Dreams. The night terrors persisted even after he left home and went to college, met his future wife, began his career and started his life. They were finally alleviated through intensive therapy and hypnosis and lay dormant for five years. Five years of peace that suddenly comes to a screeching halt when Dede begins to receive threatening racist hate mail after winning her judgeship.

Hilton goes from a rational and well-respected man attempting to protect his home and family to a raging, sleep deprived maniac, unable to tell the difference between what is real and what is happening in his dreams. His wife and children fear him and his friends and co-workers think he is losing his mind. Hilton indeed hovers powerlessly in “The Between”.

This story is suspenseful, as it draws the reader in and forces you to accompany Hilton on his descent into madness. You as the reader also begin to question where the line between the natural and supernatural, between here and there, and between good and evil lie. With each turn of the page, I found myself asking “Where are WE going from here??” I got so spooked out reading this book at times, I had to put it down and take a few breaths.

Despite the ending of this book not being as explosive as I expected it to be, I would give this book a 5 out of 5 star rating. The characters were believable and attractive. The plot was well fleshed-out and the pace was deliberate and served its purpose as a suspense novel. Ms. Due definitely set the bar high for herself as a science-fiction writer with this debut novel. I look forward to reading more books by Tananarive Due as I delve deeper into the sci-fi genre.

Alex’s Bookshelf

The first book I can remember purchasing with my own money was Billy, by Albert French. It was a dark, gut-wrenching tale about a ten-year old boy, Billy Lee Turner, who was found guilty and executed for stabbing a young white girl in 1930’s Mississippi. I read this book in the sixth grade and its colloquial delivery and ever-present tension struck me more than any book I had read up until that point. It was heavy. Billy Lee lived in a time where Blacks were less than second class citizens, and seeing such hate directed at a child stuck with me for a long time.

Billy opened the door of my imagination. I remember being fascinated by the use of language as the dialog was true to speech used in rural, segregated South at the time. It was a powerful moment for me; I began to read not just for the story, but to absorb the language and take note of varying writing styles. That signaled the beginning of my love affair with books.

In a book I could imagine my awkward self decades, centuries in the past, light years in the future, in any place or situation imaginable or unimaginable. They offered me an escape from reality, and I sought refuge in books when my social dealings weren’t exactly satisfactory. I began accumulating books, reading anything I could get my hands on. In Miss Sexton’s seventh grade class, I was introduced to Uncle James Baldwin, with If Beale Street Could Talk. Fonny and Tish’s saga drew me completely into the world of Black literature.

Moving to New York in 2006, my collection grew. Drifting from one temporary living situation to another, my box of books got heavier with each impromptu move. New York is the perfect place for the bibliophile. Most of my reading happened underground. With the train being the preferred mode of transit, most days I had between 30 and 45 minutes of travel time in each direction to devour a new title. Above ground, I had Union Square (center of my universe) and thousands of ledges, staircases, stoops, fire escapes, cozy corners, coffee shops and bookstores to drop my bag and get away. Falling into conversation on the subway about a book I or someone was reading was the norm. It was heaven.

In New York, I also learned about bargain booksellers. Aside from the Barnes & Noble, Union Square, Strand bookstore on Broadway is easily responsible for 25% of my book collection. The sprawling $1 and $.50 book collection that covers the sidewalk outside is endless, disorganized bliss. Classics mixed in with kiddie books, mixed in with cookbooks and the occasional damaged new release makes for a great way to while the day away.

Between Strand and other book retailers, I was introduced to The Autobiography of Malcolm X As Told To Alex Haley (among my top 5 favorites), the drug-fueled magical mind of James Fry, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (finished in 3 days) and other brilliance by Walter Mosely and dozens of others. Here, I also happened across Native Son by Richard Wright, my favorite book ever.

Then I moved West, to Lost Angeles. I sent three sizable boxes home to Virginia to store at Mom and Dad’s house, and came here to rebuild my collection. I carried about nine essential books with me. Among them, Self Reliance, by Ralph Waldo Emerson, which I will soon cover here. After some shady living arrangements, I felt it was time to get a proper shelf for my friends books.

I am a lover of all things second-hand, and have developed quite the keen eye for things to be potentially re-purposed. I spotted this gem on the side of the road:

…and tied that hoe to the roof of my car, brought it home, and went to work. With some spraypaint…

and some creativity (plus some wood, nails, a power drill, and aerosol fumes galore), I added five shelves and turned that discarded entertainment center into this:

A home for my books. Hooray. Since my time here felt a little more permanent that originally intended, I have had my parents gradually ship books from Virginia. Like fellow Page Turner Alise, thrift stores and many free book finds have helped contribute to the madness. Since January, my California-based collection has gone from this:

…to this:

Some people hoard teeth and backfat. My thing is books. I’ve discovered tons of new authors recently, including favorites Thomas Chatterton Williams, Junot Diaz, and Dave Eggers, two of which will be covered in future book reviews.  Mentioned in my intro, books have been there when people have fallen short. I’ve failed at several self-imposed “book-buying freezes”, but what’s the use? I see no chance of slowing down.

Look forward to the collections from the rest of the gang. How did your collection come to be?