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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#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge Day 29 -A Few Favorite Books from Last Year

Day 29A Few Favorite Books from Last Year  Today’s the last day of Black History Month but certainly not the last day of #ReadSoulLit.  I encourage all of you to keep posting and talking about books by black authors, while using #ReadSoulLit! Thanks to you all for supporting and participating…

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#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge Day 28 – Favorite Cover

Day 28Favorite Cover  I had to put up this beautiful cover of the Middle Grade novel about the Gaither sisters from the series of that name.   I first read One Crazy Summer four years ago and  loved.  It’s the first novel in this trilogy and is followed by  P.S. Be Eleven and Gone Crazy in Alabama.  This is a great little series for children learning aboutimg_2567 African-American issues, history, and most of all with relatable characters.  I recommend this for children ages 8-12 years old.  How could anyone resist that cover?! The person behind the cover is an artist named Frank Morrison.  Click his name to find out more about him. Awesome stuff!

“Newbery Honor winner and New York Times bestselling author Rita Williams-Garcia tells the story of the Gaither sisters, who are about to learn what it’s like to be fish out of water as they travel from the streets of Brooklyn to the rural South for the summer of a lifetime.

Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern are off to Alabama to visit their grandmother, Big Ma, and her mother, Ma Charles. Across the way lives Ma Charles’s half sister, Miss Trotter. The two half sisters haven’t spoken in years. As Delphine hears about her family history, she uncovers the surprising truth that’s been keeping the sisters apart. But when tragedy strikes, Delphine discovers that the bonds of family run deeper than she ever knew possible.

Powerful and humorous, this companion to the award-winning One Crazy Summer and P.S. Be Eleven will be enjoyed by fans of the first two books as well as by readers meeting these memorable sisters for the first time.” (Gone Crazy in Alabama, inside cover)

My copy:  Gone Crazy in Alabama, hardcover 289 pages

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#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge Day 26 Recommended to you

Day 26 – Recommended to you I had to pick The Street by Ann Petry. It was recommended to me by Girl Danielle from OneSmallPaw on You Tube, who’s co-hosting this photo img_2553challenge with me.

“THE STREET tells the poignant, often heartbreaking story of Lutie Johnson, a young black woman, and her spirited struggle to raise her son amid the violence, poverty, and racial dissonance of Harlem in the late 1940s. Originally published in 1946 and hailed by critics as a masterwork, The Street was Ann Petry’s first novel, a beloved bestseller with more than a million copies in print. Its haunting tale still resonates today.” (The Street, Goodreads description)

My copy:  The Street, paperback 448 pages

Check out Danielle’s review of The Street

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFYuw3EZftw

 

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#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge Day 20 – A Red Book

Day 20A Red Book:  Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present

“From the era of slavery to the present day, the first full history of black America’s shocking mistreatment as unwilling and unwitting experimental subjects at the hands of the medical establishment.

Medical Apartheid is the first and only comprehensive history of medical experimentation on African Americans. Starting with the earliest encounters between black Americans and img_2526Western medical researchers and the racist pseudoscience that resulted, it details the ways both slaves and freedmen were used in hospitals for experiments conducted without their knowledge—a tradition that continues today within some black populations. It reveals how blacks have historically been prey to grave-robbing as well as unauthorized autopsies and dissections. Moving into the twentieth century, it shows how the pseudoscience of eugenics and social Darwinism was used to justify experimental exploitation and shoddy medical treatment of blacks, and the view that they were biologically inferior, oversexed, and unfit for adult responsibilities. Shocking new details about the government’s notorious Tuskegee experiment are revealed, as are similar, less-well-known medical atrocities conducted by the government, the armed forces, prisons, and private institutions.
The product of years of prodigious research into medical journals and experimental reports long undisturbed, Medical Apartheid reveals the hidden underbelly of scientific research and makes possible, for the first time, an understanding of the roots of the African American health deficit. At last, it provides the fullest possible context for comprehending the behavioral fallout that has caused black Americans to view researchers—and indeed the whole medical establishment—with such deep distrust. No one concerned with issues of public health and racial justice can afford not to read Medical Apartheid, a masterful book that will stir up both controversy and long-needed debate.” (Medical Apartheid, Goodreads description)

My copy:  Medical Apartheid, paperback 528 pages

Absolutely watch the two videos. They are informative and chilling.  We really have some work to do in the United States concerning race relations and being aware of OUR history!

 

 

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#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge – Day 18 An Underrated Book

Day 18An Underrated Book  One of my prize discoveries in literature last year was Daughter by Asha Bandele.  The writing and the message were both beautiful.  I hadn’t heard of this author and hadn’t heard anyone speak of her nor of her novels.  Daughter img_2517was published in 2003, but being read today is very modern and unfortunately deals with problems of today in the United States for African-Americans.  If you haven’t read Daughter, you should definitely take the time to read and savor the writing, where every word counts and none are wasted.

asha bandele is a journalist, author, and poet.  She was a features editor and journalist at Essence magazine.  Her memoir A Prisoner’s Wife depicts her relationship with her husband who was serving a twenty-two year life sentence in prison.  Her second memoir Something Like Beautiful: One Single Mother’s Story explores the outcome of that relationship and the birth of her daughter, Nisa and her struggle after her husband is refused parole and is deported.

“At nineteen, Aya is a promising Black college student from Brooklyn who is struggling through a difficult relationship with her emotionally distant mother, Miriam. One winter asha bandelenight, Aya is shot by a white police officer in a case of mistaken identity. Keeping vigil by her daughter’s hospital bed, Miriam remembers her own youth: her battle for independence from her parents, her affair with Aya’s father, and the challenges of raising her daughter. But as Miriam confronts her past — her losses and regrets — she begins to heal and discovers a tentative hopefulness.”(Daughter, back cover description)

My copy: Daughter, paperback 260 pages

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#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge – Day 13 Jilted Love

Day 13 – Jilted Love –  I had to go with Loving Donovan! That’s all I’m going to say since I’ll be getting into spoiler territory.

“The first section of this unconventional love story belongs to Campbell. Despite being born to a broken-hearted mother and a faithless father, Campbell still believes in the img_2493power of love…if she can ever find it. Living in the same neighborhood, but unknown to Campbell until a chance meeting brings them together, is Donovan, the “little man” of a shattered home-a family torn apart by anger and bitterness. In the face of these daunting obstacles, Donovan dreams of someday marrying, raising a family, and playing for the NBA. But, deep inside, Campbell and Donovan live with the histories that have shaped their lives. What they discover-together and apart-forms the basis of this compelling, sensual, and surprising novel.

A deeply thoughtful novel about hope, forgiveness, and the cost of Loving Donovan, this is certain to be another bestseller from a supremely gifted author.”(Loving Donovan, back cover)

My copy:  Loving Donovan, paperback 224 pages

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Live Show Discussion – Some Sing, Some Cry

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Daughter

Have you ever read a book that evoked so much emotion that you felt it was familiar and it made you shed a tear?  That hasn’t happened to me in ages.  Daughter begins with the story of Miriam and her daughter Aya.  They are keeping things together and getting on the best they can with no other family links.  One night Aya goes out for her usual run and doesn’t come back.  She is shot down by a police officer who mistakes her for a young black male suspect in a recent robbery in the area.  Aya is IMG_1798wearing a hoodie and listening to music, so doesn’t hear the officer approaching her.  As she turns and sees the officer she reaches in her pocket to turn off her music and the officer assumes she is reaching for a gun and shoots her.  From there the story of Miriam and Aya unfolds.

Miriam is a beautiful woman who is no longer living life to the fullest.  She is overwhelmed by life’s disappointments.  It’s as if she has made a pact with God to keep her and Aya safe if she upholds the highest standards of living – work, school, and church.  This means she expects the same from her daughter.  Problem is her connection to her daughter is minimal.  Miriam doesn’t have time for the attention that her daughter so craves.  Aya on the other hand finds her mother cold without feeling.  Aya doesn’t think her mother listens to her and secretly wishes for her father’s return.  Miriam wants to speak with Aya and understand her, however she refuses to tell Aya the complete family story, specifically about her father because she wants to protect her.  Nevertheless, this has its consequences.

Daughter is a perfect story about the roles of black women and men in the family and mother-daughter relationships.  It covers the difficulty of blacks to be seen as human trying to get better jobs and support their families.  Police brutality is a constant underlying theme, along with its impact on families and the black community.  Currently, there are often stories on the news and online about unarmed black men and women who have fallen victim to unmindful police officers.  This is nothing new in the U.S..  It’s been going on for a long while now.  “Since 1990, at least 2,000 people have been killed by law enforcement in the U.S.  Most of these people were black or Latino.  Most were unarmed.” (Daughter, p. 260)  The author, Asha Bandele, writes about the fall out from police brutality, through the development of Miriam’s character.  We see her change so much – from the naive over-positive adolescent to hard-working, silenced mother to destroyed and finally redeemed.

The structure and language of Daughter help depict the emotions and reality of the story.  The utilization of italics is inner thoughts and poetic passages, while blank pages after certain sections show a shift in the story or show something important is about to happen.  Bandele’s writing style flows beautifully and paints an exact picture of what she wants the reader to see.  This could easily be based on someone’s life story because it’s told with such attention to detail that nothing seems to be out-of-place.

Asha Bandele is a journalist(editor for Essence magazine) and writer.  She wrote her first memoir in 1999 called The Prisoner’s Wife, which is about her relationship and marriage to a prisoner serving a minimum sentence of twenty years.  She also wrote short stories like The Subtle Art of Breathing and short story collections and poems, Absence in the Palm of My Hands and Other Poems.  I’m looking forward to trying any one of these just to experience the quality, relevance, and sensitivity of her writing again.  Check out the video below to hear Bandele talking about writing. It’s really pertinent.

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