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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