#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge Day 4 – Sign of the Times (Non-Fic)

I decided to go with Another Day in the Death of America because it’s on my 2018 TBR.  It’d a book hat I’m hesitant about reading because of the tragedy it contains.  However, I realize and accept that these stories need to be told. Sadly, gun control is something we still can’t seem to tackle properly in the US. Let’s hope we won’t wait until the number of dead rises far beyond its current number.  “Saturday, 23 November 2013, ten children and teens were shot dead.  The youngest was nine; the oldest was nineteen.  White, black, and Latino, they fell in suburbs, hamlets, and ghettos.  None made the national news. There was no outrage about their passing.  It was just another day in the death of America, where on average seven children and teens are killed by guns daily.” (Inside flap of Another Day in the Death of America) “24 hours. 8 states. 10 young lives lost to gun violence.”

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#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge Day 3 – A Family Saga

I thought about quite a few novels to suggest for today but the one that stood out is Nowhere Is a Place, which I had the pleasure of reading last year.  I took the time to read through all Bernice L. McFadden’s novels last year.  It was great to see how she has developed over her writing career.  She is a wonderful writer who knows how to create and to grow a character throughout a story.  Sherry is haunted by an unexplained incident from when she was young and it leads her on a discovery of her family as an adult.  It was hard to put this book down.  I was completely engrossed and fell in love with Sherry and her straight shooting, hysterical mother, Dumpling.  This would be a great place to start reading McFadden if you’re interested.  Have you read Nowhere Is a Place? What titles of family sagas from African-American authors would you recommend?

 

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#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge Day 1 – #ReadSoulLit TBR

I don’t usually make TBRs because I have a lot of trouble following them.  Remember I’m Fickle Fred. I’m totally capable of quitting a book for no apparent reason, sometimes even when I’m enjoying it.  I know strange. So my TBR list for February is eclectic but interesting – Tar Baby by Toni Morrison, A Red Death by Walter Mosley, Buffalo Dance The journey of York and When Winter Come  The Ascension of York by Frank X Walker, The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis, Halsey Street by Naima Coster, and Debbie Doesn’t Do It Anymore by Walter Mosley.  There is one debut novel, one Middle Grade, 2 Poetry books, 1 detective novel, and a great American Classic, which is a reread.  I feel like if I can manage to get through all of these then I can maybe work in a 400+ page book towards the end of the month. Big plans! Let’s see if I can keep my eyes on the books I’ve chosen. I’m mostly looking forward to rereading Tar Baby.  It’s been a long while since I picked it up.  I remember it sparking some lively discussions in college.  I hope it will do the same during our discussions on Goodreads. So what are you picking up this month?  Will you be exclusively reading African-American authors?  Are you joining me in reading Tar Baby?

 

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#ReadSoulLit Read Along 2018 Announcement

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Literary Goals in 2018

                  

Hello All! I’m back and ready to write.  I took a very significant break from this blog and from my YouTube channel.  Needless to say, it was a lot.  I was everywhere and nowhere and that wasn’t what I wanted.  Having taken the time to reflect and to make some changes to my blog, I feel I’m more clear-headed about what I want to achieve through blogging.  But before I tell you all about those goals, let me take you back briefly through my year reading in 2017 because despite not blogging I was reading.

Now my reading goals for 2017 were specific and sadly I didn’t accomplish them completely.  However I’m still pretty happy about what I read and how much I read. I had a goal to read all of Bernice McFadden’s novels and I failed.  I read all of her novels except, My Name is a Butterfly (out of print but is being released this year :)) and Finding Amos.  I didn’t reread The Book of Harlan and Glorious.  Although, I’m sure I’ll reread The Book of Harlan one day.  As for  the others I read for the first time, they were all very good and each had something special about them. They are like her children.  McFadden really has a way with telling a story and inventing characters.  Of all the ones I read I think Glorious is the book I least preferred and that was because I felt it was too short.

I encourage you all to take a year to read one author in order of publication.  It’s a wonderful way to learn about writing and how an author hones her/his skills over time.  We are all passionate readers but when we sit down to write we forget about the challenge of the exercise of writing.  It’s not easy and it is quite a solitary activity for most of the time.

My next challenge was to read more Caribbean authors.  Unfortunately I didn’t read as many as I wanted to, but I’m not giving up on that one.  I also wanted to read more pages last year than I did in 2016 but failed at that too.  I was short about 200 pages. Oh well but I read 59 books and almost got to the page count so I read more big books this year.  That really showed for my Goodreads Big Book challenge last year when I read 13 and had pledged to read 10.  I was really happy about that.  I read some great big books and only 2 of them were disappointing – American Pastoral by Philip Roth and Small Great Things by Jodi Piccoult.  Let’s just try not to dwell on those 2.  Two duds out of 59 ain’t bad!  Lastly I pledged to read at least one Russian novel and that just never happened.  Every time I culled my shelves for something to read, I skipped right over the Russian novels – too daunting.  One day…

Now on to my goals for 2018, I have set my Goodreads challenge to read 60 books this year.  I usually set my goal at 50 and always go over.  I hope this will push me to read more and watch less YouTube and television.  I’m primarily looking forward to increasing my page count significantly.   Next challenge will be to read more Caribbean authors. I hope to read at least ten. My last reading challenge is to participate in #readingblackout which is spearheaded by Denise D. Cooper at Art Books Live Denise D. Cooper on YouTube.  She’ll be reading only African – American writers this year.  I’ll be joining her for January, February, and March.  I may join in again later on in the year.  If you’re interested I encourage you to join in too if only for a month.

You know #readsoullit will be going on in February in honor of Black History Month as usual with a photo challenge on Instagram and a read along on YouTube.  I’ll be posting on that shortly.  Now another literary challenge will be for me to keep a bullet journal of my reading and my life and most of all to continue writing the novel I’ve been working on.  I’d really liked to write more and to eventually get to the point where I finish something – short story collection, novel, etc. anything!

 

So that’s all on what I’m reading and on what I’m doing literary wise for the year.  I hope I haven’t once again bitten off more than I can chew but I think I can make these challenges work for me.  What about you?  Have you decided to make any plans to read or to write something?  Or are you one of those people who clams up once the challenge has been announced?  If you are no worries.  I can be like that sometimes too.  You know I’m Fickle Fred. 😉

Happy New Year to you all!!! I wish you loads of excellent reading and writing in 2018!!!

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Festival America

 

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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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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 Book of Harlan

 

My copy: The Book of Harlan – hardcover, 346 pages

Rating: *****

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The Birds of Opulence

img_2760If you don’t know how much mad love I have for Crystal Wilkinson’s writing, you’re going to hear all about it in this review of The Birds of Opulence, newly released in March 2016.  The story explores life in small town Opulence, focalizing on the Goode-Brown family.  The four generations of women, led by the spirited and strong-minded Minnie Mae.

The novel explores themes of womanhood, coming of age, mental illness, duty, and life.  Wilkinson introduces the characters, while planting the seed of this town and the culture that resides there.  The atmosphere Wilkinson cultivates will seize you and bring you along for the ride right from page one.  This is what is so incredible about her storytelling aptitude.  I was mentioning this to Andi from Estella’s Revenge and she said that she loved when that happened because a lot of authors don’t seem to know how to do that.  I gave that a long hard thought and I have to agree with her.  It isn’t easy to create an atmosphere and to maintain it throughout the story.

The descriptions of Opulence’s beautiful countryside, from the different women and the tests of life they go through, to the food, and the memories they recount, the story gives off deep meaning on many levels in very few pages.  As you may have guessed the birds are the principal women in the book.  We read about the the older women in the story and then we go full circle to the stories of their daughters.  Another interesting aspect is that Wilkinson has brought in characters from her previous connected short story collection called Water Street, which I reviewed and also loved.  So we have the chance to see Mona and Yolanda in The Birds of Opulence growing up and becoming young women, whereas in Water Street we only see them as women and one episode which is a memory is reality in The Birds of Opulence.  We also understand their how they become friends and their connection to each other which is not explained in detail in Water Street.

“Boy give you less to worry about.” (The Birds of Opulence, p. 5) is the phrase that rings like an alarm through the entire book, uttered by Minnie Mae.  Women and men aren’t equal in life’s challenges as much as we would like that to be the contrary and we witness the many injustices that happen to the different female characters.  However tragic these stories, there is still a silver lining despite its bittersweetness and an entryway to more future stories about the people of Opulence.

I encourage you all to check out Crystal Wilkinson’s other short story collections Blackberries, Blackberries and Water Street.  Her sensitive realistic writing style will suck you in and you won’t be able to put the book down.  The Birds of Opulence is a perfect puzzle piece to her previous work and I look forward to seeing what she writes next. Who knows maybe we’ll get to learn even more about Mona….

My copy: The Birds of Opulence – hardcover, 199 pages

Rating:  ****

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