#NonfictionNovember 2016

This is the second year that Olive from abookolive and Gemma from Non Fic Books are hosting #NonfictionNovember over on Booktube.  It entails reading as much nonfiction as you want in the month of November.  It’s already the first of November, so I thought it would be a good idea to introduce it to you in case you’d be interested in joining in.  There is a Goodreads group called Nonfiction November that you can join and partake in the discussions and they have already begun.  The hostesses have chosen four general categories for the reading challenges:  New, Fascinating, Controversial, Important.

So here are the books I’ve chosen to read this month in honor of nonfiction.

New:  I’ve chosen The Night Wanderers Uganda’s Children and the Lord’s Resistance Army by Wojciech Jagielski.  I received it from my Booktube friend Kamil from img_3163WhatKamilReads for my birthday.  You should check him out becuase he always suggests great books and lately loads of great nonfiction recommendations.  I’m counting on this book to really entice me to read more  nonfiction regularly.  He sent me this book before I had decided to do #NonficitonNovember. So I guess you could say it came at just the right moment.

Fascinating:  I’ve chosen 2 books for this category. The first one is Jhuma Lahiri’s In other Words, where she talks about learning Italian and moving her family to Italy.  Since I teach English and am always interesteimg_3162d in the way people go about learning languages I figured that this one would be perfect.  I also chose a second book which also fits well under fascinating and it’s called Soldier A Poet’s Childhood by June Jordan.  She was a prolific poet, essayist, and author (writing African img_3160American Literature and LGBT Literature) who isn’t talked about enough.  She died  in 2002 at the age of 65.  I’m excited to get to this memoir of her childhood and to follow-up with more of her work later.

Controversial:  I wasn’t sure what to choose for this category so I’m reading Negroland by Margo Jefferson.  Now I’m not really sure if it’s controversial but I think it might be since Jefferson’s memoir covers her img_3164life as part of upper crust Chicago in the 50s, 60s, and 70s.  This is a point of view that we rarely hear about and I suspect some people don’t think it really exists. I’ll be buddy reading it with 2 other Booktubers: Manika Wangata and Kathleen Ann.  You should also go check out their channels. We’d decided to read this together over a month ago and we are all really excited about it.

Important:  Obviously I had to choose Hidden Figures The Untold Story of the African img_3161American Women who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. Learning about these intelligent, not talked about black women, is very high up on my list.  I can’t wait to get into the book.  There is also a movie adaptation for those who prefer seeing the movie first, which is going to be released December 25th 2016, starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae.  I’m sure this going to be a must see.

 

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Here Comes the Sun

Nicole Dennis-Benn’s debut novel explores living on the island of Jamaica.  Masquerading img_3150behind a jovial gay cover in bright orange, yellow, and green, Here Comes the Sun, starts gently and insidiously goes places we aren’t prepared for.  The novel revolves around three unlikable main characters – Delores, Margot, and Thandi, who form an unforgettable trio.  Delores is a mother preoccupied with money and not enough to the real well-being of her daughters.  Margot her oldest daughter is motivated to work in the hotel and she gets to the point of selling her body to hotel guests to earn enough money to pay for Thandi’s education and the family’s house expenses.  Thandi, Delores’ youngest daughter, is 15 years younger than Margot.  She’s brilliant in school and is searching to be loved and accepted.  All the family’s desires of escaping poverty in River Bank are tied up in the hopes of Thandi succeeding at school and eventually going to medical school to become a doctor.

The setting of this novel is River Bank a quiet little village situated near a resort hotel, where cruise ships make frequent stops with nonchalant tourists.  Life in poverty on an island can make people do things they would have never thought of doing to survive.  The way Dennis-Benn uses light and darkness to convey the moods of the characters and to set a scene is masterly.  Told with luscious language and poignant analogies, she accurately paints the picture of the horrific situations facing Jamaicans in little sleepy towns near luxurious high-rise resorts.  As I was reading this novel, it made me think of A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid and the rage that ran through the novel.

“The darkness claims her, encircles her with black walls that eventually open up into a path for her to walk through.  She takes a few steps, aware of the one foot in front of the other; of the strangeness creeping up her spine, wrapping itself around her belly, shooting up into her chest, The scent of the bougainvilleas that line the fence is like a sweet embrace. The darkness becomes a friendly accomplice. Yet, the familiar apprehension ambushes her: Can she be seen?  She looks over her shoulder  and contemplates the distance it would take for her to walk to her house from here.  A good mile.  She stands in front of the bright pink house that emerges from the shadows.  It seems to gloss in the dark….”(Here Comes the Sun, pp. 15-16)

Here Comes the Sun is a novel that mixes a good plot with excellent character development. It’s obvious that Dennis-Benn set out to depict a story showing the sociological implications of the difficulties people on the island face, while balancing the plot with pertinent themes such as homosexuality, mother/daughter relationships, colorism, sexism, class, race, missing fathers and of course the long-lasting effects of colonialism on the thoughts and behavior of the island people.  You’re probably thinking that this sounds like a lot to put in a 345 page book, but it’s brilliantly balanced, paced, and speaks clearly to the reader.

Having four generations living under the same roof was Dennis-Benn’s way of having the reader follow and understand the difficulties of each character.  Dolores is a horrible mother but her discourse is obviously that of the after effects of colonialism.  Money is the only thing that she believes will get them out of where they are.  She would subscribe to the expression – You gotta do what you gotta do.  Delores’ voice and a few of the other secondary characters like Charles, Miss Ruby, and Maxi are always in Jamaican dialect which roots the reader into the tradition of life in River Bank.  The dialect isn’t hard to understand.  Saying the lines out loud can help you understand the meaning better if you struggle with reading dialect.  Margot hiding her homosexuality, her deep hatred for her mother, and her desire to earn enough money to leave River Bank and set up elsewhere drive her throughout the story and the lengths she goes to make this happen are mind-blowing.  Thandi who has the weight on her shoulders to succeed in school to save her family from poverty and at the same time doesn’t feel accepted in her school;  has seemed to take in all the derogatory things she hears about dark skin.  “Tsk, tsk. Well, God played a cruel joke on you.  Because, chile, if yuh skin was as pretty as yuh hair, you’d be one gorgeous woman.” (Here Comes the Sun, p. 25)  Sadly, she is so sure that she’ll be accepted if her skin is lighter.

You’ll be glued from the moment you begin to read this story, anxious to find out what’s going to happen next, shocked as you’re pulled through all the twists and turns.  All the secondary characters are just as memorable as Delores, Margot, and Thandi.  The only real problem I had with Here Comes the Sun was the ending, to be exact the last chapter.  I was really disappointed to not get the closure I was hoping for once the novel was finished.  I wanted to know what happened to the characters.  Chapter 40 left me dissatisfied.  I really enjoyed all the other parts of the novel and felt they were perfect.  Unfortunately, the outcomes of the characters are left hanging and inferred.  It felt like she had no idea how to finish this book or maybe she was reluctant to end the book with all the loose ends perfectly tied up.  Could she have felt that ending the book this way shows that life goes on, as if we the readers were just witnesses to a part of these characters’ lives?  I’m wondering if maybe she plans on using these characters for another book.  That would make a great second book.😉  So, have you read this one and if not are you interested in trying it?

My copy:   Here Comes the Sun, 345 pages

Rating: ****

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Festival America

 

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Krik? Krak!

img_2994I’d never heard the words Kirk? Krak! and wondered what they meant when I picked this book up.  Reading the back cover, I learned that storytellers say Krik? and listeners say Krak! in Haiti.  Krik? Krak! is a poetic collection of connected short stories that explores the Haitian community in the United States and in Haiti.  The tradition of storytelling is a way of passing down moeurs and is an important part of Haitian culture.  This is specifically treated in this collection – passing culture from mother to daughter.

Krik? Krak! opens with a short story of Haitian refugees that are attempting to escape the political strife and horrors of their country and are floating out to sea desperately trying to reach Miami, while shedding their personal items along the way and in some cases their lives.  Each story is told from the poignant point of view of Haitians however surprising these stories have a strong sense of universality about them as well.  Everyone has a sense of home, a sense of family, of culture, and a desire for a good life.  Danticat does a brilliant job of integrating the recurring themes of water, suffering, and hope.  Water is often portrayed as a barrier.  The barrier that surrounds the island of Haiti and separates it from the Dominican Republic.  Just as the ocean must be crossed to attain a hopeful life in the United States, water is the notion of escape along with the reminder of all the Haitians that didn’t/don’t make it.

It’s very hard to read these stories and not think about the refugees fleeing the horrors of Syria and immigrating to Europe.  Leaving one’s country and having to find the balance between acceptance into a new country and preserving the culture that was left behind.  Danticat’s writing is infectious with a dynamism of superstition and it enlightens the reader to Haitian history.  I strongly recommend reading this short story collection to learn more about Haiti and its people but mostly to experience the passionate manner in which Danticat evokes the honesty, courage, sensitivity, and authenticity of their stories.

Edwidge Danticat is a Haitian-American writer born in Port-au-Prince in 1969.  She was raised in Haiti by her aunt and uncle.  She finally joined her parens, who had left for the United States earlier, at the age of 12 in Brooklyn.  Danticat began writing at the age of 9 years old.  Her move to Brooklyn was difficult so she turned to literature for comfort.  Her first published writing in English was A Haitian-American Christmas: Cremace and Creole Theatre.   Some of the major themes that are dealt with in her writings are mother-daughter relationships, national identity, and Haitian diaspora.

She has been decorated with  countless literary awards and honorary degrees.  Having earned a Masters of Fine Arts from Brown University, Danticat has gone on to write many well-known titled books such as The Farming of the Bones, The Dew Breaker, and her latest novel Claire of the Sea Light.  On a high note, a young director named Easmanie Michel fell in love with Krik? Krak! and is working diligently to bring Edwidge Danticat’s short story Caroline’s Wedding to the big screen.  She believes that Danticat’s work will translate well on-screen and she has been entrusted to make it happen.  If you’re interested in keeping up with the new developments on this film project head over and check out Easmanie Michel’s Facebook page Caroline’s Wedding.

 

My Copy:  Krik? Krak!, paperback 224 pages

Rating: *****

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The Fire This Time

The Fire This Time.  Police brutality and systemic racism are plaguing the United States as if we hadn’t gone through the Civil Rights movement.  I living in France, a country without worry or anxiety when I go out, don’t have to face so much overt racism, nor too many microagressions, sit and listethe fire this timen to the countless horrific cases of police brutality ending in fatality.  I am almost fifty years old and am proud to have seen a black president and hopefully a female one.  However the hate crimes, police brutality, and systemic racism I fear I won’t see an end before my death.

Jesmyn Ward compiled a series of poignant essays called, The Fire This Time, that each explore the difficulty that black Americans are having today concerning race.  Some Americans may not even be aware of these difficulties that are well known to black Americans.  The subjects in this collection range from the  role of the black father, to Phillis Wheatly, to preserving our dead, to to simply walking. Each essay is just as important as the other.  There are important lessons to be learned through this read by ALL Americans.  It is a must read.  We can all learn something from The Fire this Time.  For example, I hadn’t heard about the Know Your Rights murals informing citizens of their rights when confronted with the police.  I also hadn’t heard about the remains of slaves found in the New England area that have been conveniently paved over and left to be forgotten.

Powerful, informative, and moving The Fire this Time will make you think and sadden your heart.  It will make you wonder why and where have we gone wrong and why do some Americans not feel that there’s anything wrong about all these recent events which have been going on for longer than a few years. “What Baldwin understood is that to be black in America is to have the demand for dignity be at absolute odds with the national anthem.”(The Fire This Time, )

Another important essay is by Garnett Cadoan. Since when is it a crime to walk. Apparently only if one is black is it a problem.  As a matter of fact a black man running, walking, and waiting on street corners for friends can get him into trouble and in some cases killed. “Walking while black restricts the experience of walking, renders in accessible the classic Romantic experience of walking alone.”(The Fire This Time, Black and blue by Garnette Cadogan)

If you don’t pick up Between the World and Me, I get it, but definitely check out this 5-star collection containing essays from important writers such as Edwidge Danticat, Jesmyn Ward, Mitchell S. Jackson, Claudia Rankine, Isabel Wilkerson, and many more.

My copy: The Fire This Time, ebook 240 pages

Rating: *****

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All the Missing Girls

img_2938Here we go with a another new thriller with “girl” in the title.  Released on June 28 2016, All the Missing Girls  is pegged as the next thriller to be loved by those fans of The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl.   That should have been a clue for me to abstain but I was game to read another thriller this summer.

Nicolette Farrell left her small hometown in Cooley Ridge ten years earlier after the mysterious disappearance of her best friend Corinne.  She started a new life in Philadelphia after finishing her studies, with great job and rich lawyer boyfriend coming after.  It’s ten years later and Nicolette, alias Nic is enticed into returning to her hometown to help organize the family home, which will go up for sale to help take care of her ailing father. After only being there for a few days, Annaleise disappears and the mystery continues.  The key to this novel is its structure since the author, Megan Miranda decided to tell the story backward from Day 15 to Day 1.

Essentially I was intrigued by this book mostly because of the structure, but as I started  I quickly realized it wasn’t for me.  Firstly, all of the characters are unlikely and untrustworthy.  As the reader I was thrown into a setting that I was trying to figure out the entire time but there weren’t any clues.  The story is told from Nic’s point of view and she basically tells the reader everything.  Nothing is being shown.  The development is very natural so I just read to see what was happening next with no real desire.  I feel like the structure of the novel really impeded any real mystery in the story.  Not to mention, I didn’t care about the characters, what they went through ten years ago or what they were going through in the present.  They seemed to be two dimensional at best.  There was even one character who served no real purpose to the story.

As for the good stuff, Megan Miranda does have an easy to read writing style.  It flows very well.  Some of the best passages were those that conjured up atmosphere and a bit of spookiness and particularly for the scenes mentioning the woods, which are a very crucial part of the story.  She also had a clever idea of changing up the structure by telling the story backward, however it wasn’t enough to keep me intrigued. I was bored and couldn’t wait for it to be over.

Meghan Miranda is the author of four YA novels called Soulprint, Vengeance, Hysteria, and Fracture. She has also released another YA novel called The Safest Lies on May 24th of this year.  All the Missing Girls was Miranda’s first attempt at writing a novel for adults.

My Copy:  All the Missing Girls, ARC paperback, 368 pages

Rating: **

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