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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My Book Club Shortlist 2016-2017

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The Blackbirds

The Blackbirds is the latest release from Eric Jerome Dickey, known for writing contemporary novels about African-American life.  Naughtier than Nice, the sequel to Naughty or Nice and One Night, a standalone were the last two novels he published in 2015.  For me, It’s been a while since I’ve read anything from him so I sort of knew what I was going to be getting into with this one.  Exquisite cover, 400 plus pages, this is that “girlfriend book” that everybody has been anticipating this 2016.

img_2867Four best friends as close as sisters, Kwanzaa, Ericka, Destiny, and Indigo are all trying to find love and solutions to their personal quandaries.  The novel is plot driven like only Dickey knows how to do.  He has his writing formula down to a science.  It’s funny, zany, sexy, over the top, heartbreaking, and explanatory.  Dickey has found a way to balance what would be considered a typical urban erotica novel, while packing it with loads of social commentary.  He makes references to all sorts of incidents from police brutality to political to social media, etc.  The Blackbirds is brimful of urban expressions and millennial lingo, so if you’re not hip to the groove I suggest you read it with the urban dictionary open.

The themes seem to be typical of what Dickey writes – sexuality, homosexuality, male/female – mother/daughter – father/daughter relationships, cheating, female friendships, illness, etc.  It touches on just about everything. The thing that surprised me the most was the quantity of sex in the novel.  I knew it would contain sex but not to that extent.  Sex scenes took over the story in the second and third parts of the novel.  So if you have a problem with reading erotica, this won’t be the book for you.  Surprisingly, there is no mention on the stunning cover about the novel being erotica, but when you look on the inside flap it’s written at the top in red.  Now this has intrigued me because when books are written by white authors they always put some kind of trigger warning that it contains copious amounts of sex, etc.  So I’m wondering how is it that this novel has no mention of it on the front cover.  Could it be that Dutton thought that the way the book was going to be marketed that only black readers would be interested in it?  Or is it that Dutton assumed that black readers like reading about sex so no need to point out the obvious?  Or maybe it’s just that Dutton doesn’t think that white readers will go for this one anyway because essentially it will be in the black interests section in Barnes & Noble, so no need?

To exacerbate my previous questions, I saw a comment made in the review section of Goodreads where a white man said he was disappointed by The Blackbirds.  “He said he had to quit before he plucked out his eyes and that it was dreadful.  He then commented that he was obviously not the the target audience and moreover he thought Dickey’s talent would shine through. Alas!”  (Goodreads user)  I didn’t realize the reader had to be the target audience to enjoy a book.  That’s a new one for me.  Granted, Dickey’s book isn’t 5-star in my opinion, but it isn’t totally bad either.  If anything he’s guilty of, it is of sensationalizing his book with too much sex and trying to develop too many story lines at once; which I believe is always a trap when there are several main characters.  For instance, there are a few story lines which are thrown together quickly to end the book just over 500 pages.  Those story lines should have been treated with more care, but instead their development was bypassed for some juicy sex scenes, which made the last 200 pages feel rushed.

Nevertheless, The Blackbirds is a nice escape read that titillates, amuses,  makes you smile, makes the head shake, and the mind say Amen (at times). It’s loud, hysterical, ratchet, violent, sexy, etc.  It’s a story that reads quickly, plot developing as well as characters growing.  It’s definitely worth picking up if you want erotica with a bit more real storyline.  EL James could take a few pointers from Eric Jerome Dickey.  I’m just sayin’ y’all.😉

My copy:  The Blackbirds – hardcover, 508 pages

Rating:  ***

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The Housekeeper and the Professor

The Professor is an expert in Mathematics.  After a car accident his memory is blocked in 1975.  He lives alone in a little house in the back of his sister-in-law’s garden.  His main img_2902problem is that his short term memory only lasts 80 minutes.  As a result, he wears a black suit everyday that he pins little notes on to remind him of things he has just experienced.  This is how he can remember his housekeeper and her son Root.

The Housekeeper and the Professor was the last book I read with my book club this 2015-2016 school year.  What a pleasant quiet read to end on.  This will be the third book I’ve read from Yoko Ogawa who is a brilliant writer.  I read Revenge, Hotel Iris, and then this one.  The books were totally different in subject matter, but each as passionate as the other.  The Housekeeper and the Professor sensitively explores memory, memories, being understood, and relationships.

An element that stands out the most is the fact that only one person has a name and that’s Root, the Housekeeper’s son.  The Professor gave him this name “because…the flat top of his head reminded him of the square root sign.”  “With this one little sign we can come to know an infinite range of numbers, even those we can’t see.”  (The Housekeeper and the Professor, p.1) Ogawa has chosen to give no one else a name.  I believe this is so that she immerses the reader into the story quickly, while the focal point being Root.  Along with the series of math problems that essentially the reader can try to solve along with the main characters, Ogawa is trying to invite us into the Professor’s world (how he looks at people and situations) and the Houskeeper’s world(what she has to go through to connect and understand the Professor).  The Professor lives life in rapport with numbers, equations, and their relationship to each other.  He uses numbers to comprehend life around himself.  He tells his Housekeeper, “Math has proven the existence of God because it is absolute and without contra-diction; but the devil must exist as well, because we cannot prove it.” (The Housekeeper and the Professor, p.100)  However, love and memory are always filled with contradiction.  Besides the precedent themes, Ogawa is surely making commentary on what is considered to be a real family and  is it important how it is composed.

As the story goes on we witness a profound bond that is growing between these three individuals.  It’s touching, thought-provoking, and truly poetic.  With each page and each situation there is a comparison with an equation or something related to Mathematics.  Now for me this entire book could have been a disaster, since I hate Mathematics; but somehow, despite that,  I was compelled to read about the relationship that was growing between these three characters.  I’m sure you will get a tremendous amount of meaning and emotion from the story too.  It’s hard to believe Ogawa could say so much in so few pages, 180 to be exact.  Just a simple reminder to all those authors out there who feel the need to write 500+page books, get to the point or risk that nobody gets it and worse gives up.

Yoko Ogawa is a Japanese author who has written over 40+ books.  She is known for her simplistic but poignant writing style full of detail.  Her protagonists are often women depicting the roles of women in Japanese society.  She also covers other themes relating to Japanese culture.  If you haven’t read anything by her, absolutely make the next book that you pick up be from Ogawa.  You won’t be disappointed.

My copy: The Housekeeper and the Professor, paperback, 180 pages

Rating:  **** 1/2 stars

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