American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin – Terrance Hayes

When I heard about the release of this American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, I knew I had to read it.  I don’t often read poetry but when I do it’s because I’m sure the collection is going to move me.  And this one did that and more.

This collection was savvy, intelligent, angry, creative, and has its pages and words on the pulse of what’s wrong with America.  How does a poet cope with the election of a new president?  Lyrical and rhythmic, Hayes let’s us know what the deal is.  So you need to be ready.  He’s angry. Every sonnet in the collection has the same title, ‘American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin’.  One of the coolest things about this collection is that there is a sonnet index at the back.  The first line of each sonnet with its page number moreover when you read each line in the index it makes another poem.

In this collection, Hayes is the assassin but so are we if we feel as angry as he does.  He makes it clear that we are all linked and that we need to realize that and act like it.  He also reiterates that we’re in the shit! He uses everything from police brutality to pop culture to express his thoughts so if you aren’t up on the news, music, literature, tv, shows, movies, etc., it might be difficult to understand the meaning behind these sonnets.  I personally found them excellent and would recommend them to everyone, especially to Americans.  I’ve already read it twice.  Finding new meaning throughout the collection and I will surely pick it up again.  We are going through a difficult and unprecedented period in the United States that needs to change for the better!  All I can say is read American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin for some consolation and most of all vote!  Check out the video below where Terrance Hayes talks about his writing and reads a few of his poems.  He’s brilliant!

“AMERICAN SONNET FOR MY PAST AND FUTURE ASSASSIN

The umpteenth thump on the rump of a badunkadunk
Stumps us. The link, the chump, the hunk of plunder.
The umpteenth horny, honky stump speech pumps
A funky rumble over air. The umpteenth slump
In our humming democracy, a bumble bureaucracy
With teeny tiny wings too small for its rumpled,
Dumpling of a body. Humpty-Dumpy. Frumpy
Suit. The umpteenth honk of hollow thunder.
The umpteenth Believe me. The umpteenth grumpy,
Jumpy retort. Chump change, casino game, tuxedo,
Teeth bleach, stump speech. Junk science. Junk bond.
Junk country, sum speech. The umpteenth boast
Stumps our toe. The umpteenth falsehood stumps
Our elbows & eyeballs, our Nos, Whoahs, wows, woes.”

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassins, p. 48 – Terrance Hayes  (Penguin Books) 89 pages, paperback

Rating: 5 stars

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No Place To Call Home – JJ Bola

JJ Bola’s, debut novel, No Place To Call Home attentively develops the themes expected in a novel about refugees surviving in a strange new country. Bola touches on language, community, parent-child relationships, specifically father-son and father-daughter relationships, expectations of first generation African children, religion, moeurs, and most of all home. All of these subjects are catalysts for developing each of the main characters.

The personable third person voice of No Place To Call Home tells the story of Papa, Mami, Jean, and Marie. The ingenuity of the narrator’s voice gently pulls us into the complex life of this family. Refugees from the Congo living in London, we follow the difficulty of Papa and Mami to survive while waiting to get their papers, which will allow them to stay in the UK legally. They are fleeing political horrors of the dictator Le Maréchal.

The story quickly focuses mostly on their family life. Jean is about 11 years old, trying to fit in and master the English language. This comes with many tests, from fitting in with the boys to making excellent grades to pleasing his exigent father. Jean’s sister Marie is the model child and student. She is younger and not the first-born boy so she doesn’t have the same expectations placed upon her as, her brother, Jean.

Bola does an excellent comparison of Papa and Jean by starting out developing Jean’s character at school in the UK and then later paralleling that with Papa’s adaptation to École Polytechinique in Brussels. They are two different ages in these scenes but it depicts similar difficulties they have, how they deal with them and how they develop and reinforce their personalities. This also depicts the way Bola has chosen to talk about African societal expectations for African men and women. The roles of men are incorporated in the story and juxtaposed with those of women. For example, there is Tonton, the lazy womanizer, Pastor Kaddi the dishonest evangelical priest, and Koko Patrice, Papa’s manipulative, elusive father, and Koko Mobali, Mami’s domineering father.

I strongly urge you to pick up No Place To Call Home.  Its touching characters and well-developed story lines will have you completely submerged.  I read this book in two sittings. I couldn’t put it down.  However the only thing that disappointed me about this book was the ending.  I was hoping for something a bit more concrete.

“JJ Bola is a Kinshasa-born, London-raised writer, poet, educator, and workshop facilitator. He has published two books of poetry, Elevate and Word, and performs regularly at shows and festivals.  In 2015-2016, Bola performed on a US poetry slam tour that took him to San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Toronto, and more.  He lives in London.” (back cover of No Place To Call home)

No Place to Call Home, 286 pages, Arcade Publishing

Rating: 4 stars

Recommended to: Readers looking for interesting fiction novels about refugees in the UK

Book quote:  “If you are lucky, you will never have to remember home through your mother’s tears or the rage in your father’s voice when it shakes. Home will be somewhere you run to, never away from. It will never chase you away; a rabid dog hot on your heels with teeth like a shark, teeth so sharp you can already feel it cutting into you.” (No Place to Call Home, p. 285)

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Sag Harbor Live Discussion

Sag Harbor – Colson Whitehead, 329 pages, Anchor Books

Rating: 4,5 stars

Recommended to: Lovers of coming-of-age stories, summer read…

Particularity: Coming-of-age story by a black man

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The Unkind Hours – Dwayne Alexander Smith

The Unkind Hours is the latest exciting thriller from Dwayne Alexander Smith, the author of terribly underrated Forty Acres. (You need to read Forty Acres if you haven’t already!)  We meet an ex-baseball player Steven who’s married to Nichole. They are happily married and have a little girl named Luna who is four years old.   She’s the apple of her father’s eye.  Steven and Nichole work together in their successful home decorating business.  It seems as if they have the ideal life, as if nothing can touch them, until something tragic happens that will alter their lives and make Steven do the unthinkable.  Smith explores the difficulty of doing the right thing by placing Steve in a moral predicament the reader is not likely to forget.  Is there real justice out there or should we take matters into our own hands.

Everything about this books screams excellent thriller for summer. Steven is the main character and is written in a fairly realistic manner. The story turns mostly around two characters so all the other characters are secondary.  However, that doesn’t make the story boring.  The strong dynamic between these two characters is what makes The Unkind Hours so suspenseful.  The pacing of the book is fast-moving enough with its short chapters and twists and turns.  The plot is interesting and Smith throws in enough surprises to keep the reader not only occupied with the story, but keeping us guessing on what’s to come.  Smith has even added a little surprise touch towards the end of the book that made me grin from ear-to-ear.  Can’t tell you what it is because that wouldn’t be fair to you. You’ll get it as soon as you read it.

Sadly this book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger because I was expecting the story to be tied up at the end.  This being said the villain in this novel is going to be an excellent character for Smith to play around with in future novels.  We’ll have to stay tuned to see when and if a part 2 comes out of The Unkind Hours.

The Unkind Hours, 340 pages, Damn Good Books

Rating: 4 stars

Recommended to: lovers of thrillers, readers who enjoyed Forty Acres, summer beach read!

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What Truth Sounds Like – Michael Eric Dyson

Michael Eric Dyson is back with his newly released book today, What Truth Sounds Like.  What Truth Sounds Like is  Dyson’s continued discussion of race in America, carried over from his book last year called Tears We Cannot Stop A Sermon to White America.  It was a book that was written specifically to speak to white America, whereas What Truth Sounds Like is written for us all.

Dyson begins the book focused on a discussion about race in 1963 between Robert Kennedy, James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, and Lena Horne among others.  Kennedy was trying to find out their views on fighting segregation and discrimination in the north.  There weren’t any civil rights leaders there, just “well-known writers and other professional persons who have served as unofficial spokesmen for their race.”(What Truth Sounds Like, p. 14)

This historical meeting is the catalyst for Dyson to talk about race in America.  The opening chapter is an excellent beginning because it brings to light the difficulty of segregation and discrimination during one of the most critical moments in American history.  Baldwin and his friends were accusing Kennedy of not knowing anything about black life or the struggles of black people.  This is exactly the same reflection that could be made about white people today.

“Baldwin knew that America could only survive if it underwent an extraordinary social transformation-equality for all, hatred for none-that echoed the most noble ideals set out by our founding fathers.” (What Truth Sounds Like, p. 7)

As What Truth Sounds Like develops into chapters discussing the martyrs, the meeting, the politicians, the artists, the intellectuals, and the activists, Dyson goes through many of the different racial situations that have happened in the US in the past but specifically during this past 1 year and 136 days of Trumps presidency.  He also talks about specific famous people like Mohammed Ali and his activism as well a mistake he made referring to Frazier with “You seen the gorilla? From Manila?”.  He talks about President Obama – what he represented, his good points and the things that didn’t go so well.  He mentions so many people from Harry Belafonte to Chadwick Boseman, yes Black Panther and Wakanda. Yes, Wakanda Forever!

If Dyson does anything, he portrays the complexity of race in America and how the country has systematically refused to deal with the problem at all.   White people believed because President Obama was elected twice that there was no racism in America.  How naive is that thought?   One thing is for sure that Dyson says is that racism will have to be fought by both black and white people.  What Truth Sounds Like breaks down the good, the bad and the ugly and even tries to give solutions to some issues.   His style of writing is clear and detailed.  The masses of information he writes about is backed up with notes found in the back of the book.

I highly recommend both What Truth Sounds Like and Tears We Cannot Speak.  Moreover, if you prefer, get the audiobook which  is being read by Dyson, who has a powerful, rich voice that will have you captivated.  I urge you to watch the clip below of Michael Eric Dyson on The View, especially if you don’t know who he is.  He’s highly intelligent and doesn’t sugar coat.  He gives me life!

* I’d like to thank St. Martin’s Press for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.

What Truth Sounds Like, 304 pages, St. Martin’s Press

Rating: 5 stars

Recommended to:  Readers interested in reading about race relations in the United States

 

 

#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge Day 26 Book and Music

Here’s another book that is on my 2018 TBR by an African-American writer called Jedah Mayberry.  It’s a coming of age story. “It’s a lushly told reflection on a young man’s passage into manhood.” (back of The Unheralded King of Preston Plains Middle)  Check out the video below with an interview with Jedah Mayberry talking about the inspiration he had for this book.

 

The Unheralded King of Preston Plains Middle – Jedah Mayberry, paperback, 315 pages (River Grove Books)

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#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge Day 22 Book and a Drink

Black No More has been on my TBR for quite a while. It’s on my list of #SundayShorts to read this year. Black No More is a Harlem Renaissance Classic that explores race in an unexpected way, that will spark much thought and deep conversation. « What would happen to the race problem in America if black people turned white? Would everybody be happy? These questions and more are answered hilariously in Black No More, George S. Schuyler’s satiric romp. »(back cover of Black No More) Of course there’s tea in this picture because that’s what I’m usually drinking when I’m reading. What do you usually drink when you’re reading?

Black No More – George S. Schuyler, paperback, 180 pages

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#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge Day 20 Middle Grade

I had to choose this one especially since I finished it a few days ago.  The Mighty Miss Malone is my first Middle Grade read of 2018.  Hope it won’t be my last.  I can see why its author Christopher Paul Curtis won the Newberry Medal. This was not my first read from Curtis.  I read and enjoyed The Watsons Go to Birmingham -1963 a few years ago.  Christopher Paul Curtis is an author who writes historical fiction very well  for young people.  As you know I’m usually not a fan of YA but for some reason Middle Grade just warms my heart.  Do you like to read Middle Grade and/or YA if so why and what titles have impressed you the most? Check out the video below of Christopher Paul Curtis talking about his writing and how he got started.  It’s inspiring!

The Mighty Miss Malone – Christopher Paul Curtis, hardcover, 307 pages

 

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#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge Day 18 Selfie and a Book

Wakanda Forever! This is Book One of the Black Panther series written by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Check it out and also check out the film. It’s a feast for the sens!

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#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge Day 9 Want to Reread

There are so many novels that I’d like to reread but the one that comes to mind from an African-American author is Native Son.  I first read Native Son in college for a third year literary course.  I was blown away by the precision in Richard Wright’s writing style.  You will literally go through all emotions while reading this tragic and infuriating novel, which show cases Bigger Thomas one of the most intriguing main characters in an American modern classic.  Native son has to be one of the greatest American classics and should be read by all.  Have you read it?  Were you blown away by it?

Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Wright’s powerful novel is an unsparing reflection on the poverty and feelings of hopelessness experienced by people in inner cities across the country and of what it means to be black in America.” (Native Son, description from Goodreads)

Native Son – Richard Wright, paperback, 454 pages (Vintage Classics)

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