Camilla's Roses

Camilla’s Roses is Bernice L. McFadden’s sixth novel.  I’ll have just reached the halfway mark on my book challenge to read all of her books in order of publication this year. So far this has been an interesting challenge.  I’m enjoying observing how her writing style has developed and improved with each novel.

Not knowing what to expect, I have to say that Camilla’s Roses took me on a rollercoaster ride of emotions.  The novella is separated into three distinct parts – the present, the past, and the present.  McFadden uses the section on the past to show us img_4109Camilla’s upbringing, her relationship with her family, and her coming of age.  She is born to two parents who are weak, incompetent, and driven by their personal demons.  Luckily for Camilla she is raised by her grand-parents despite the difficulty of having to take care of so many people in their home.  With all the difficulty of growing up that Camilla had she only wanted to leave and to never look back once she went off to college.

The novella develops twists and turns in ways you won’t be able to predict.  With sensitivity McFadden exposes the good, the bad, and the ugly of the ups and downs of life.  “We forget about the people we love sometimes.” (Camilla’s Roses, p. 120)  Camilla learns that she can’t hide from her past and her family, for this is what has  made her who she is.  However, is she ready to reconcile with all of those difficulties in her past and become an even better black woman in the end?

Bernice L. McFadden’s writing style in Camilla’s Roses can be described as rhythmic and  sharp.  At times the transitions are so quick that if you’re not paying attention you just might miss a piece of important information that’s been dropped unexpectedly.  This story is tightly recounted and gives loads of information throughout, which is probably why the second part, the past, is the longest part of the novella.  It gives Camilla’s and her family’s back story.  Despite it’s 203 pages, I didn’t feel too unsatisfied at the end, although I’d have liked to have seen what became of her husband.

For any of  you out there interested in reading more from black women writers Camilla’s Roses wouldn’t be a bad place to start.  I’d say it’s a little snack of what is to come if it’s your first read of Bernice L. McFadden.  I think I’d have to suggest  Sugar as the ideal first book to pick up from McFadden’s list of novels because it is an incredible story with complex and unforgettable characters.   If you’re interested in themes that touch on black women, black community, mother/daughter relationships, colorism, and more Camilla’s Roses is for you too.  Check out the video below to learn more about how Bernice L. McFadden started her writing career.

My copy:  Camilla’s Roses, hardcover, 203 pages (Dutton)

My rating:  * * * * 

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The Book of Harlan

 

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

Rating: *****

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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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#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge – Day 3 Anticipated Release

The Book of Harlan

Day 3 – Anticipated Release:  This wasn’t hard for me to choose at all.  I’ve been waiting impatiently for the arrival of The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden.  It is due to be released on May 3, 2016 by Akashic Books.

“During World War II, two African American musicians are captured by the Nazis in Paris and imprisoned at the Buchenwald concentration camp.

The Book of Harlan opens with the courtship of Harlan’s parents and his 1917 birth in Macon, Georgia. After his prominent minister grandfather dies, Harlan and his parents move to Harlem, where he becomes a musician. Soon, Harlan and his best friend, trumpeter Lizard Robbins, are lured across the Atlantic Ocean to perform at a popular cabaret in the Parisian enclave of Montmartre—affectionately referred to as “The Harlem of Paris” by black American musicians.

When the City of Light falls under Nazi occupation, Harlan and Lizard are thrown into Buchenwald, the notorious concentration camp in Weimar, Germany. The experience irreparably changes the course of Harlan’s life.

Based on exhaustive research and told in McFadden’s mesmeric prose, The Book of Harlan skillfully blends the stories of McFadden’s familial ancestors with those of real and imagined characters.” (Goodreads site description of The Book of Harlan)

Bernice L. McFadden, born and raised in Brooklyn, has always known she wanted to write since she was a child.  “I guess all of the literature I was consuming helped to fuel my already active imagination and so very early on I began writing short stories and plays. I would say my first story was penned by age eight.” (quote from Bernice L. McFadden)  After her studies she ventured out to work as an  international clothing buyer.  Feeling dissatisfied with that job she went back to school and earned a degree in tourism.  However it wasn’t until being laid off in 1990 that McFadden attempted writing seriously.  It was during this period that she wrote her first novel, Sugar, which wasn’t published until 2000.  Yes it took 10 years to find an interested publisher.  McFadden has gone on to write many more interesting contemporary novels  The Warmest December, Gathering of Waters, Nowhere is a Place, Glorious, Loving Donovan, and the list goes on.  Her influences are writers such as Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Ann Petry, Zora Neale Hurston, J. California Cooper, Terry McMillan and many others.  So if you’re into any or all of these writers, there’s no reason why you wouldn’t love McFadden’s writing too.

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Loving Donovan

IMG_1392Loving Donovan is the third novel I’ve picked up from Bernice L. McFadden.  And I surely won’t wait so long to pick up another.  I previously read Glorious and then Gathering of Waters.  I really enjoyed both of these books.  In light of Loving Donovan being re-released this year with a modern fresh new cover, I was enticed to pick it up.  Loving Donovan, as all of McFadden’s work, shares some unique characteristics that define particularities in her writing style.  She manages to balance character development and plot to a fault, particularly in this one.  The two principal characters Campbell and Donovan are developed from childhood to adulthood.  We are given the chance to know them integrally. The book is split into 3 main sections:  Her, Him, and Them.  Through Campbell’s and Donovan’s development, the story develops too, while we are introduced to a myriad of spirited characters and some thought-provoking situations.

McFadden is clearly adept in keeping the reader entertained, captivated, and on our toes to try to figure out what’s going to happen next.  The rich characters, life situations, and language all wrapped up in such a small book and saying so much is a feat.  You will laugh. You will be profoundly saddened and you will be rooting for love the entire time.  This book is about love of all types – family, friendship, romantic.  It’s also about how one becomes who they become and how family and unexpected encounters shape a big part of who they become and how they can change one’s life profoundly.  It is part coming of age story and part love story.  I think that’s what makes it so special.  I do feel that if you haven’t read any of McFadden’s work you should definitely give this one a try.  She is a contemporary African-American writer that I feel should be getting a lot more press.  I’ll surely continue to read through her many treasures to discover more of her touching memorable characters.  As a matter of fact, next month I’ll probably be picking up Sugar and This Bitter Earth, a two-part story about a young African-American prostitute called Sugar Lacey who moves to Arkansas to start a new life.

Gathering of Waters

I can’t say I’ve read lots of books by Bernice L. McFadden.  Actually I’ve only read two, Glorious and 11225026Gathering of Waters.  Glorious was a story about a Harlem renaissance writer, which I enjoyed until it ended abruptly and left me searching for more.  I embarked on Gathering of Waters for three reasons; 1. because it was written by Bernice L. McFadden, 2. because it was the 2013 Clutch Reading group on Goodreads title choice for the month of May, and 3.  after I read the inside flap of the book with this stunning cover, I was immediately sold and knew I had to read it.

The story basically follows three generations of women from 1900 to 2005.  So, it covers life leading up to the week before Emmett Till is murdered and goes on beyond that.  I found this story beautifully recounted and that dash of magical realism that makes the entire story come to life unexpectedly.  There are a range of engrossing characters who are defined and developed perfectly.  The book isn’t very long so McFadden was successful in depicting the characters in particular situations and with rich, moving, and sassy dialogue.  Gathering of Waters, has that bold, direct storytelling style that makes African-American literature so thought-provoking.  It’s stuffed full of excellent one liners that mean so much.

Now I have to mention the debate I’ve been hearing about the usage of Emmett Till in the story.  There are people out there who think McFadden is using the Emmett Till murder to plug her book.  I can see how people would think that but it’s not the case.  If you read the inside flap of the book, that is basically a short synopsis of the story that you will be reading.  What McFadden does is set Emmett Till in a real space of life so that he becomes more than just a murdered young black man.  There was a before, a now, and an after and McFadden explores all that.  The fact that she decided to write this book is also edifying.  There are people out there who don’t even know who Emmett Till was and I’m not just talking about white people.  This incident was one of  many stains on American history that hasn’t made it in the history books.  How did I learn about that tragic night for Emmett Till?  – Of course from my mother and my grand-mother.  Oral discourse, the oldest way to pass on family traditions, history, and cultural habits.  Gathering of Waters is a perfect example of that.

Money, Mississippi is the narrator.  It lets you in on all the workings and secrets of this microcosm.  The ‘gathering of waters’ is more than a place that’s squashed between bodies of water, a place called Mississippi.  It is also symbolic of that fine line that separates blacks from whites.  It is the place where they meet like bouncing molecules off one another.  They come together for a moment only to separate soon there after.

Bernice L. McFadden has been writing since she was eight years old.  Her first novel, Sugar, which is part of a duo, was published in 2000.  She’s written other compelling novels like Glorious, This Bitter Earth (second part of Sugar), Nowhere is a Place, Loving Donovan, and others.  She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Warmest December.  She is strongly influenced by authors like Toni Morrison, Ann Petry, Alice Walker,  J. California Cooper, and Rita Dove.  McFadden describes writing as something that comes to her and a necessity.  McFadden says, “I write to breathe life back into memory.”

Title: Gathering of Waters

Genre:  African-American Literature/Historical Fiction/Southern

Published:  2012

Edition:  Akashic Books

Pages:  252

Language:  English

My rating:  * * * * 1/2

+5,761

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