The Unkind Hours – Dwayne Alexander Smith

The Unkind Hours is the latest exciting thriller from Dwayne Alexander Smith, the author of terribly underrated Forty Acres. (You need to read Forty Acres if you haven’t already!)  We meet an ex-baseball player Steven who’s married to Nichole. They are happily married and have a little girl named Luna who is four years old.   She’s the apple of her father’s eye.  Steven and Nichole work together in their successful home decorating business.  It seems as if they have the ideal life, as if nothing can touch them, until something tragic happens that will alter their lives and make Steven do the unthinkable.  Smith explores the difficulty of doing the right thing by placing Steve in a moral predicament the reader is not likely to forget.  Is there real justice out there or should we take matters into our own hands.

Everything about this books screams excellent thriller for summer. Steven is the main character and is written in a fairly realistic manner. The story turns mostly around two characters so all the other characters are secondary.  However, that doesn’t make the story boring.  The strong dynamic between these two characters is what makes The Unkind Hours so suspenseful.  The pacing of the book is fast-moving enough with its short chapters and twists and turns.  The plot is interesting and Smith throws in enough surprises to keep the reader not only occupied with the story, but keeping us guessing on what’s to come.  Smith has even added a little surprise touch towards the end of the book that made me grin from ear-to-ear.  Can’t tell you what it is because that wouldn’t be fair to you. You’ll get it as soon as you read it.

Sadly this book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger because I was expecting the story to be tied up at the end.  This being said the villain in this novel is going to be an excellent character for Smith to play around with in future novels.  We’ll have to stay tuned to see when and if a part 2 comes out of The Unkind Hours.

The Unkind Hours, 340 pages, Damn Good Books

Rating: 4 stars

Recommended to: lovers of thrillers, readers who enjoyed Forty Acres, summer beach read!

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What Truth Sounds Like – Michael Eric Dyson

Michael Eric Dyson is back with his newly released book today, What Truth Sounds Like.  What Truth Sounds Like is  Dyson’s continued discussion of race in America, carried over from his book last year called Tears We Cannot Stop A Sermon to White America.  It was a book that was written specifically to speak to white America, whereas What Truth Sounds Like is written for us all.

Dyson begins the book focused on a discussion about race in 1963 between Robert Kennedy, James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, and Lena Horne among others.  Kennedy was trying to find out their views on fighting segregation and discrimination in the north.  There weren’t any civil rights leaders there, just “well-known writers and other professional persons who have served as unofficial spokesmen for their race.”(What Truth Sounds Like, p. 14)

This historical meeting is the catalyst for Dyson to talk about race in America.  The opening chapter is an excellent beginning because it brings to light the difficulty of segregation and discrimination during one of the most critical moments in American history.  Baldwin and his friends were accusing Kennedy of not knowing anything about black life or the struggles of black people.  This is exactly the same reflection that could be made about white people today.

“Baldwin knew that America could only survive if it underwent an extraordinary social transformation-equality for all, hatred for none-that echoed the most noble ideals set out by our founding fathers.” (What Truth Sounds Like, p. 7)

As What Truth Sounds Like develops into chapters discussing the martyrs, the meeting, the politicians, the artists, the intellectuals, and the activists, Dyson goes through many of the different racial situations that have happened in the US in the past but specifically during this past 1 year and 136 days of Trumps presidency.  He also talks about specific famous people like Mohammed Ali and his activism as well a mistake he made referring to Frazier with “You seen the gorilla? From Manila?”.  He talks about President Obama – what he represented, his good points and the things that didn’t go so well.  He mentions so many people from Harry Belafonte to Chadwick Boseman, yes Black Panther and Wakanda. Yes, Wakanda Forever!

If Dyson does anything, he portrays the complexity of race in America and how the country has systematically refused to deal with the problem at all.   White people believed because President Obama was elected twice that there was no racism in America.  How naive is that thought?   One thing is for sure that Dyson says is that racism will have to be fought by both black and white people.  What Truth Sounds Like breaks down the good, the bad and the ugly and even tries to give solutions to some issues.   His style of writing is clear and detailed.  The masses of information he writes about is backed up with notes found in the back of the book.

I highly recommend both What Truth Sounds Like and Tears We Cannot Speak.  Moreover, if you prefer, get the audiobook which  is being read by Dyson, who has a powerful, rich voice that will have you captivated.  I urge you to watch the clip below of Michael Eric Dyson on The View, especially if you don’t know who he is.  He’s highly intelligent and doesn’t sugar coat.  He gives me life!

* I’d like to thank St. Martin’s Press for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.

What Truth Sounds Like, 304 pages, St. Martin’s Press

Rating: 5 stars

Recommended to:  Readers interested in reading about race relations in the United States

 

 

Backlist Novels Series #1 Daughter by Asha Bandele

I was looking through my Instagram feed the other day and marveling over all of the new Bookstagram accounts popping up.  It’s great to see that people are getting the reading bug and that they want to share what they’re reading with others.  Openly sharing one’s reading journey is not always an easy thing to do.  It’s like trying to jump onto  a moving train in some cases. Yes I said it a moving train.  You’re probably wondering why I’ve decided to use that analogy.  We’re all trying to read the latest releases first so that we can gush like crazy over them before everyone else does.  We don’t want to feel left out of the reading arena of new books that are flooding the market everyday.   Well, while I was scrolling my feed and admiring all the lovely pics of the books; it struck me that the same books were being featured over and over.   Most of them are either literary prize shortlists and longlists, or the newest releases.  It’s easy to post about these types of books but I feel hearing about those backlist books is even more inspiring and important to our TBRs.

I’ve been wondering why backlist books haven’t been getting much love. So, here I am.  I’ll be coming to you the next few months with backlist novels that I think you should check out.  Not only are they backlist books, but they are also underrated in my opinion!  So I’ll be taking time over the next few months to shine a spotlight on some books that frankly, I can’t begin to understand why more people aren’t raving about them, particularly authors that are being read lately because of their new releases while their backlist novels remain untouched.

The first novel I’m going to start the series with is Daughter by Asha Bandele.  Daughter was originally published in 2003 by Scribner.  This was Bandele’s third novel and I hope to try to get to The Prisoner’s Wife, Something Like Beautiful:  One Single Mother’s Story, and of course the newly released When They Call You a Terrorist:  A Black Lives Matter Memoir, which she co-wrote with Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Angela Y. Davis.  Check out the video below where I review Daughter.  I hope this series will get you motivated to look for some brilliant backlist books on your shelves to read, re-read, and to showcase on your social media accounts.  And if you do decide to read and showcase any of these books please use #backlistbooks, so that maybe people will look at them a bit closer.  Happy reading!

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April Wrap Up 2018

April was a successful month of reading. Why, you ask?  Duh, I read a five-star book!  The last book I finished in April was read on the 28th and it really rocked my literary fiction world.  Slave Old Man by Patrick Chamoiseau is 152 pages of pure literary genius.  It’s a must read for all of you lovers of literary fiction.  Having only read excerpts of Texaco in French, another great book by Chamoiseau, I’m anxious to buddy read it this month with Claire from Word by Word and Leslie from Folklore & Literacy.  I’m excited to extend my journey through Caribbean literature with two awesome reading buddies.

Slave Old Man explores the escape of a slave.  He escapes as if it’s something he was always planning to do.  There was no inner struggle, no people in particular left behind, and no fear.  He just decides one day that that’s the day and he walks calmly right off the plantation and is gone for quite a bit before anyone notices.

Quickly, savage nature impresses him as it does to the master and the mastiff that are searching with much difficulty for the old slave man’s trail. I suggest you pick up this well written novel filled with beautiful descriptions. You won’t want to miss this novella which was newly released on May 1st by The New Press.  As for the other books I read, I’m going to start from the four-star books and work my way down to the two-stars ones.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi was the book club pick for April.  It was a re-read for me.   Two years later and I still felt the same way about it.  It was a powerful generational story of slavery and how it affects families.  Each characters’ story was interesting however, I wish we could have learned more about the characters.  Gyasi is brilliant with writing male characters because they seemed to be more memorable than some of the female characters.  I’d say this book felt like reading a linked short story collection more than a real novel.  The characters have to share the pages since the voice changes every twenty or so pages.  I still found myself having to look back at the family tree to remember the names.  This being said it is well worth the read and sparked some passionate conversation at my book club.  We could all agree that we could see how she was trying to make the family history go round 360° to give it depth and more historical meaning.

The next four-star book I read was a poetry collection by Nicole Sealey called Ordinary Beast.  I don’t read poetry as much as I should but this collection was a real surprise.  Sealey’s poems are odes to life the real things we’re feeling and won’t necessarily want to say aloud.  Her poems are unapologetically real, from the words chosen to how they are printed on the page.  She’s telling us about race, gender, beauty, death and more.  It may not be the best collection for debuting poetry readers, being that it’s slightly experimental in its wording and structure, but for those who love poetry that touches you deeply and makes you think, Ordinary Beast is ideal.

I’ll be counting Ordinary Beast as part of my Caribbean literature challenge since Nicole Sealey was born in St. Thomas, although she was raised in Florida.  Just so you can get a taste of her poetry here’s one of my favorites:

unframed

Handle this body. Spoil

it with oils.  Let the

residue corrode, ruin it.

I have no finish, no

fragile edge.  (On what

scrap of me have we

not made desire paths,

so tried as to bury

ourselves therein?)  I

beg:  spare me gloved

hands, monuments to

nothing. I mean to die a

relief against every wall.

  Nicole Sealey, Ordinary Beast, p. 58

Black Betty is Walter Mosley’s fourth book in the Easy Rawlins series. I won’t be able to talk much about it because I don’t want to give anything away if you’re reading it too.  I rated it three stars because It wasn’t as good as Devil in a Blue Dress and White Butterfly but it was surely better than A Red Death.  Black Betty is great with setting the scene and story because it’s 1961 and Easy has some changes to his household.  Mouse and Mofass are back and of course there is a wide range of new characters.  There are a few new twists and turns to the novel but not enough happens to warrant it more stars unfortunately.  I’m still enjoying this series and can’t wait to pick up A Little Yellow Dog this month.

The next two books were both rated two stars.  Oh well everything you read can’t be wonderful.  Vernon Subutex by Virgine Despentes has been nominated on the shortlist of the Man Book International prize.  So, I decided to pick it up knowing already a bit about Despentes and what she likes to write about.  I also looked at it as a chance to try something new but also to read at least one of the books on the Man Booker International shortlist before the winner is announced.  I even read this one in French.  Now I’m curious to read a bit of the English version to see how the translator made out with all the French slang.  As for the story it wasn’t really for me.  The first 150 pages had me engaged with its critical, pessimistic view on society, the economy, and everything else having to do with adulting and living in the world.  Vernon Subutex is ignoble, lazy, and misogynous.  He used to own a record store called Revolver that went out of business.  So in the beginning of the book he is being evicted from his apartment.  He has to accept some generosity from past friends and eventually winds up having to live on the streets of Paris.  Since he was a good friend with a famous rock star called Alex Bleach and possesses a last recording from him, everyone is trying to get their hands on it.   Sounds intriguing right? However, past page 200 I checked out mentally and became bored with the  all of the off the wall characters and the incessant rants (Virginie Descents’ rants). Vernon Subtext could win the prize though.  It has all the right characteristics – being different from what’s expected, it critiques society heavily, and its divisiveness.  There are 3 other books in the Vernon Subutex series and that idea alone tires me out just thinking about it.

Lastly, I read Bad Men and Wicked Women by Eric Jerome Dickey to review for Dutton Books.  I’m always willing to try out  a new Eric Jerome Dickey novel because I have fond memories of reading his earlier works.  I didn’t love this one.  I feel like he’s abandoned the good story writing he used to do in exchange for trying to impress millennials to read his books these days.  Bad Men and Wicked Women contains a ton of bad Men  and only one true “wicked” woman.  So the title needs to be reviewed.

Ken Swift is the main character  and he is a strong-arm for a big gangster called San Bernadino.  Swift makes his money roughing up customers to get them to pay up.  At the beginning of the novel,  Swift has a meeting with his daughter who he hasn’t seen since she was a child.  This storyline is supposed to depict the more sensitive side and family life that he had in the past.  Then Swift and his partner are sent off to rough up somebody that owes money to San Bernadino and from that incident the story begins.  Problems? Yes.   Nothing really happens during the first three-quarters of the book.  The dialogue doesn’t come off naturally and all of the action takes place within the last quarter of the novel.   The action can best be described as Tarantinoesque.   I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re a die hard fan of Eric Jerome Dickey and don’t mind the lack of plot.

So, as a whole reading in April turned out to be unexceptional, except for Slave Old Man.  My month’s reading was an overall average rating of three stars.  I read 6 books which at least keeps me on track for my goal of reading 60 books by the end of the year. In fact, I’m ahead of schedule by five books.  Unfortunately, I’ve only read 1,690 pages this month.  I was hoping to read over 2,000 pages.  I’m going to have to step up on reading bigger books because I’m already behind on the Big Book Challenge by 2 books.   I pledged to read 12 books over 400+ pages this year and I’ve actually only read two.  But, I’m going to end this on a positive note. I’m keeping up with my reviewing and that’s great and I’m basically reading what I want to while not being too influenced by what others are reading.  So, how did reading go for you in the month of April?  Are you hitting your reading goals?

 

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#MarchMysteryMadness

#MarchMystery Madness has been in full swing since March 1st and I decided to participate for the first time.  I’m also doing #ReadingBlackout this month for the second time.  January was a #ReadingBlackout month and February was of course #ReadSoulLit, specifically in honor of African-American writers.

March Mystery Madness is giving me the opportunity to explore mystery crime novels specifically written by African-American writers.  I started 2018 discovering the Easy Rawlins series written by Walter Mosley.  In January I read Devil in a Blue Dress, February I read A Red Death, and I’m currently reading White Butterfly.  The series starts in the late 1940s and each novel moves on in time.  So, once you get to White Butterfly the series will have already moved to 1956.  There’s a lot to say about this addictive series, which has a strong group of recurring characters, set in Los Angeles, and an ambience that will draw you in and won’t let you go.  The additional bonus is that the Easy Rawlins series gives you the authentic historical background while you’re trying to figure out whodunnit.  Reading this series so far has been like meeting up with an old friend.

The first book I read this month was Icognegro – a graphic mystery written by Mat Johnson and artwork by Warren Pleece.   Johnson examines the idea of “passing” (=the ability for a fair-skinned black person to move in society as a white person because of his/her light skin color) through the storyline involving a journalist from the New Holland Herald newspaper.  Zane Pinchback, alias icognegro,  travels south as a “white” man from New York to report on lynchings. However, his last incognegro story almost goes wrong and he barely escapes when he is recognized as being black.  He makes it back to New York to the unfortunate news that his brother has been arrested in Mississippi for brutally murdering a white woman.  And the story unfolds……

Incognegro is a good mix of mystery and history.  Johnson gives you the facts about the horrors of lynching and the troubled race relations between whites and blacks.  The story takes place in the early twentieth century so the setting and ambience drag the reader into a very dark place.  I was on edge from page one and it got worse and worse as the story moved on.  I couldn’t put it down.  Beautifully executed and there was even some humor in there believe it or not.  The artwork complemented the story perfectly and the black and white images help accentuate the brutality of the time period.  Check out the video below where you can hear Mat Johnson talking about how he got the idea for this ingenious graphic novel.

 

 

 

The second book I picked up this month for March Mystery Madness was called Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely. This is the first book in the Blanche White cosy mystery series.  It contains three other books, Blanche Among the Talented Tenth, Blanche Cleans Up, and finally Blanche Passes Go.  This one was a big surprise to me because it is definitely an atypical mystery novel.  Blanche on the Lam begins with Blanche standing in front of a judge for writing bad checks for the second time.  The judge decided to condemn her to spend some time in jail and that’s when Blanche’s bladder starts to nag her.  You’ll just have to read the book for the rest of the details.  Anyway, this novel will appear to be slow-moving but Neely is giving you the clues and information with her detailed storytelling, which may appear to be off the subject.  It’s not. The reader follows the story through Blanche’s eyes and through her thoughts.  She is hysterical but mostly she’s very intelligent and intuitive to people’s behavior.  Neely uses the story to astutely talk about racism, sexism, and classicism.  It’s brilliant! I can’t wait to pick up book 2 Blanche Among the Talented Tenth.  You can already see from its title that it will be as vivid if not more than Blanche on the Lam.  You can check out the video below where Barbara Neely talks about using her writing as a way to talk about her activism. There’s one thing I’d like to know and that’s where is Barbara Neely these days.  Why hasn’t Neely hasn’t Neely written anything else since the Blanche White series?  Her writing is a breath of fresh air in this genre.  The Blanche White series is a must read.

 

Incognegro – Mat Johnson, hardcover, 136 pages (Berger Books)

Blanche on the Lam – Barbara Neely, Kindle edition, 304

White Butterfly – Walter Mosley, paperback, 309 pages (Washington Square Press)

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Man Booker International Prize 2018 Longlist

I had to come on here to talk about the Man Booker International Prize 2018 longlist.  It looks a lot more interesting than The Women’s Prize 2018 longlist, which didn’t move me one iota.  The Man Booker International Prize always seems to have that right amount of flavor and difference to get a lot of readers of literary fiction interested.  Sadly this year’s list contains no black authors but despite that I’ve found at least 8 books out of the 16 that I’d like to check out at some point; whether they wind up on the shortlist or not.   The shortlist will be announced on April 12th and the winner will be announced on May 22nd.  The judges are all powerhouses in their jobs and that should make it hard for them to agree on the shortlist and in the end the winner.  They will be looking at different aspects of novel-writing and it will be hard to predict which books will wind up on the shortlist.  The judges are being chaired by Lisa Appignanesi OBE, author and cultural commentator.  The panel consists of translator Michael Hofmann, novelist and essayist Hari Kunzru, critic Tim Martin, and novelist and short story writer Helen Oyeyemi.

Happily France has 2 entries with Vernon Subutext 1 by Virginie Despentes and The 7th Function of Language by Lauren Binet.  The former I’ve heard a lot of French people rave about here and the latter I haven’t heard much about but it sounds intriguing, especially since Laurent Binet is known for HHhH which was a very successful novel and adapted to film.  There is a strong Latin representation on this longlist with 3 books from Spain and 1 from Argentina.

The list is very eclectic as usual and all sorts of genres are represented in this longlist.  There’s even a horror book on the list called Frankenstein in Bagdad by Iraqi writer Ahmed Saadawi.  I’m not sure what I’ll be able to read before the shortlist is announced in April or even what I will be able to find, since sometimes some titles may not be readily available.  I’m in no hurry.  If I read anything, firstly I will probably pick up Vernon Subutex 1 and/or The 7th Function of Language because I can get them both here very easily in French.  So that’s my take on this literary prize. Will you be reading anything from this longlist?  Will you be following this prize closely?  If so what are you interested in reading?  I’ll leave the longlist below with the books I’d like to read at some point in bold.

The 13 books on this year’s longlist are:

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Tar Baby Live discussion!

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#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge Day 28 #ReadSoulLit Wrap Up

 

 Unbelievable I stuck to a TBR!😅 Sadly Black History Month will soon be over but luckily #readsoullit can continue on.  Hope you all had a good one and have discovered some new authors and new books to read throughout the rest of 2018. My #readsoullit stack was pretty good. No duds and I managed to read 7 books. Wish I could have gotten in a 400+ page book so it looks like that will be a priority for next month. Happy continued #readsoullit reading and Thanks to you all for participating!  Please check out the video below of Frank X Walker, a great Affrilachian poet from Kentucky.  The best works I read this month were from him.  Buffalo Dance and When Winter Come are two excellent poetry collections – MUST READS!

What did I read this month:

Tar Baby – Toni Morrison, paperback, 306 pages (Vintage) ****

Buffalo Dance The Journey of York – Frank X Walker, paperback, 69 pages (The University Press of Kentucky) *****

When Winter Come The Ascension of York – Frank X Walker, paperback, 115 pages (The University Press of Kentucky) *****

A Red Death – Walter Mosley, paperback, 312 pages (Washington Square Press) ****

Debbie Doesn’t Do It Anymore – Walter Mosley, hardcover, 265 pages (Doubleday) ***

The Mighty Miss Malone – Christopher Paul Curtis, hardcover, 307 pages (Wendy Lamb Books) ****

Halsey Street – Naima Coster, hardcover, 320 pages (Little A)

I’m an affiliate for The Book Depository. It would be much appreciated to click the link below if you’re interested in picking up any of my recommendations. It will help fund my incessant book buying, reading, and reviewing.
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#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge Day 27 A Book To Cosy Up With

 

  This was the first book I read by J. California Cooper and I was forever hooked on her captivating and life lessons-filled short stories. They were Wonderful stories, especially since I’m not a fan of short story collections. Homemade Love changed all that for me. So if you haven’t tried J. California Cooper this short story collection would be a great place to start.

Check out below my review of Homemade Love and another video with J. California Cooper talking about her story writing.

Homemade Love – J. California Cooper, paperback, 175 pages (St. Martin’s Griffin)

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#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge Day 26 Book and Music

Here’s another book that is on my 2018 TBR by an African-American writer called Jedah Mayberry.  It’s a coming of age story. “It’s a lushly told reflection on a young man’s passage into manhood.” (back of The Unheralded King of Preston Plains Middle)  Check out the video below with an interview with Jedah Mayberry talking about the inspiration he had for this book.

 

The Unheralded King of Preston Plains Middle – Jedah Mayberry, paperback, 315 pages (River Grove Books)

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