April Wrap Up 2018

April was a successful month of reading. Why, you ask?  Duh, I read a five-star book!  The last book I finished in April was read on the 28th and it really rocked my literary fiction world.  Slave Old Man by Patrick Chamoiseau is 152 pages of pure literary genius.  It’s a must read for all of you lovers of literary fiction.  Having only read excerpts of Texaco in French, another great book by Chamoiseau, I’m anxious to buddy read it this month with Claire from Word by Word and Leslie from Folklore & Literacy.  I’m excited to extend my journey through Caribbean literature with two awesome reading buddies.

Slave Old Man explores the escape of a slave.  He escapes as if it’s something he was always planning to do.  There was no inner struggle, no people in particular left behind, and no fear.  He just decides one day that that’s the day and he walks calmly right off the plantation and is gone for quite a bit before anyone notices.

Quickly, savage nature impresses him as it does to the master and the mastiff that are searching with much difficulty for the old slave man’s trail. I suggest you pick up this well written novel filled with beautiful descriptions. You won’t want to miss this novella which was newly released on May 1st by The New Press.  As for the other books I read, I’m going to start from the four-star books and work my way down to the two-stars ones.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi was the book club pick for April.  It was a re-read for me.   Two years later and I still felt the same way about it.  It was a powerful generational story of slavery and how it affects families.  Each characters’ story was interesting however, I wish we could have learned more about the characters.  Gyasi is brilliant with writing male characters because they seemed to be more memorable than some of the female characters.  I’d say this book felt like reading a linked short story collection more than a real novel.  The characters have to share the pages since the voice changes every twenty or so pages.  I still found myself having to look back at the family tree to remember the names.  This being said it is well worth the read and sparked some passionate conversation at my book club.  We could all agree that we could see how she was trying to make the family history go round 360° to give it depth and more historical meaning.

The next four-star book I read was a poetry collection by Nicole Sealey called Ordinary Beast.  I don’t read poetry as much as I should but this collection was a real surprise.  Sealey’s poems are odes to life the real things we’re feeling and won’t necessarily want to say aloud.  Her poems are unapologetically real, from the words chosen to how they are printed on the page.  She’s telling us about race, gender, beauty, death and more.  It may not be the best collection for debuting poetry readers, being that it’s slightly experimental in its wording and structure, but for those who love poetry that touches you deeply and makes you think, Ordinary Beast is ideal.

I’ll be counting Ordinary Beast as part of my Caribbean literature challenge since Nicole Sealey was born in St. Thomas, although she was raised in Florida.  Just so you can get a taste of her poetry here’s one of my favorites:

unframed

Handle this body. Spoil

it with oils.  Let the

residue corrode, ruin it.

I have no finish, no

fragile edge.  (On what

scrap of me have we

not made desire paths,

so tried as to bury

ourselves therein?)  I

beg:  spare me gloved

hands, monuments to

nothing. I mean to die a

relief against every wall.

  Nicole Sealey, Ordinary Beast, p. 58

Black Betty is Walter Mosley’s fourth book in the Easy Rawlins series. I won’t be able to talk much about it because I don’t want to give anything away if you’re reading it too.  I rated it three stars because It wasn’t as good as Devil in a Blue Dress and White Butterfly but it was surely better than A Red Death.  Black Betty is great with setting the scene and story because it’s 1961 and Easy has some changes to his household.  Mouse and Mofass are back and of course there is a wide range of new characters.  There are a few new twists and turns to the novel but not enough happens to warrant it more stars unfortunately.  I’m still enjoying this series and can’t wait to pick up A Little Yellow Dog this month.

The next two books were both rated two stars.  Oh well everything you read can’t be wonderful.  Vernon Subutex by Virgine Despentes has been nominated on the shortlist of the Man Book International prize.  So, I decided to pick it up knowing already a bit about Despentes and what she likes to write about.  I also looked at it as a chance to try something new but also to read at least one of the books on the Man Booker International shortlist before the winner is announced.  I even read this one in French.  Now I’m curious to read a bit of the English version to see how the translator made out with all the French slang.  As for the story it wasn’t really for me.  The first 150 pages had me engaged with its critical, pessimistic view on society, the economy, and everything else having to do with adulting and living in the world.  Vernon Subutex is ignoble, lazy, and misogynous.  He used to own a record store called Revolver that went out of business.  So in the beginning of the book he is being evicted from his apartment.  He has to accept some generosity from past friends and eventually winds up having to live on the streets of Paris.  Since he was a good friend with a famous rock star called Alex Bleach and possesses a last recording from him, everyone is trying to get their hands on it.   Sounds intriguing right? However, past page 200 I checked out mentally and became bored with the  all of the off the wall characters and the incessant rants (Virginie Descents’ rants). Vernon Subtext could win the prize though.  It has all the right characteristics – being different from what’s expected, it critiques society heavily, and its divisiveness.  There are 3 other books in the Vernon Subutex series and that idea alone tires me out just thinking about it.

Lastly, I read Bad Men and Wicked Women by Eric Jerome Dickey to review for Dutton Books.  I’m always willing to try out  a new Eric Jerome Dickey novel because I have fond memories of reading his earlier works.  I didn’t love this one.  I feel like he’s abandoned the good story writing he used to do in exchange for trying to impress millennials to read his books these days.  Bad Men and Wicked Women contains a ton of bad Men  and only one true “wicked” woman.  So the title needs to be reviewed.

Ken Swift is the main character  and he is a strong-arm for a big gangster called San Bernadino.  Swift makes his money roughing up customers to get them to pay up.  At the beginning of the novel,  Swift has a meeting with his daughter who he hasn’t seen since she was a child.  This storyline is supposed to depict the more sensitive side and family life that he had in the past.  Then Swift and his partner are sent off to rough up somebody that owes money to San Bernadino and from that incident the story begins.  Problems? Yes.   Nothing really happens during the first three-quarters of the book.  The dialogue doesn’t come off naturally and all of the action takes place within the last quarter of the novel.   The action can best be described as Tarantinoesque.   I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re a die hard fan of Eric Jerome Dickey and don’t mind the lack of plot.

So, as a whole reading in April turned out to be unexceptional, except for Slave Old Man.  My month’s reading was an overall average rating of three stars.  I read 6 books which at least keeps me on track for my goal of reading 60 books by the end of the year. In fact, I’m ahead of schedule by five books.  Unfortunately, I’ve only read 1,690 pages this month.  I was hoping to read over 2,000 pages.  I’m going to have to step up on reading bigger books because I’m already behind on the Big Book Challenge by 2 books.   I pledged to read 12 books over 400+ pages this year and I’ve actually only read two.  But, I’m going to end this on a positive note. I’m keeping up with my reviewing and that’s great and I’m basically reading what I want to while not being too influenced by what others are reading.  So, how did reading go for you in the month of April?  Are you hitting your reading goals?

 

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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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Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2017 Longlist Predictions

The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction is one of the literary prizes  thatI look forward to the most.  It is a prestigious UK  prize, founded in 1996, that honors great women writers from all over the world. Wednesday, March 8th the Baileys Women’s Prize Longlist will be announced.  Traditionally the longlist contains 20 choices however this year it may contain less than that.  Regardless of the amount decided on, the longlist should be extremely competitive.  There have been a plethora of excellent novels from well-known powerhouses as well as debut novelists in the period from April 1, 2016  to March 31, 2017 (of course all novels have to be published in the UK during this period to be eligible).  The list is long and illustrious.  I can’t say I’ve read enough of the books that I think would fit the prize’s longlist this year, but I believe I have a pretty good idea of what might wind up on it.

So here are my predictions starting with the books that I’ve read:

 

From the books I haven’t read yet but looking forward to:

 

And finally for the titles I don’t plan on reading that could make it on the list:

 

Those are my predictions but I could be totally wrong. There are really so many great books by women out there.  So what are your predictions for the Baileys Women’s Prize Longlist 2017?  Do you follow this prize or are you anti-literary prizes?

 

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Festival America

 

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The Passenger

What would you do if the identity you’ve embraced for some time has fallen through and the passengeryour only option is to leave town precipitously and try to get another one?  This is the beginning of the newly released thriller, The Passenger by Lisa Lutz.  This story follows the chaotic journey of “Tanya DuBois” to her final truthful destination.

The story is told from Tanya’s point of view. She has a steady unsure voice, slightly naive and gladly not the bitchy deranged voice as the main character in The Girl on the Train.  Compared to The Girl on the Train, The Passenger takes a more realistic view of what can happen when one is all alone and must try to make the right decisions.  Often Tanya surprised me with her decisions but things become a lot clearer during the last thirty percent of the book.

I’d say there is quite a lot of suspense, however a few predictable parts.  I think it’s hard to event the wheel these days with thrillers.  All in all a good read. The chapters weren’t too long and a few of them are cut with emails to add to the suspense.  It was a page turner and not dragged out any longer than it really needed to be.  The only disservice to this book is to compare it to two other successful thrillers with irascible crazy lead female characters, which was done on the inside flap.  It didn’t need that comparison.  The Passenger is capable of enticing readers on its own.  Definitely check it out if you’re looking for a fast pace thriller, with a clever title.

My Copy:  The Passenger – Lisa Lutz (hardcover) 304 pages

Rating:  ***

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The Man Booker International Prize 2016

Man Booker International PrizeThe Man Booker International Prize 2016 longlist was announced earlier today.  The list is comprised of some very impressive and appealing titles.  It won’t be easy for the judges to choose the shortlist.  I’m thrilled to see a little bit of #ReadSoulLit on the list with Marie NDiyae and Fiston Mwanza Mujila.  Both of their books are on my TBR for 2016 so that works out perfectly. I’ll be bumping them up my tremendously long TBR list (2016).  The £50,000 prize will be divided between the winning author and translator.   Each shortlisted author and translator will be awarded £1,000.  The shortlist will be announced 14 April and the winners will be announced 16 May at a dinner at the V&A in London.  So let’s check out the list of the thirteen nominees:

A General Theory of Oblivion -José Eduardo Agualusa (Angola) Daniel Hahn,  (Harvill Secker)

The Story of the Lost Child – Elena Ferrante (Italy) Ann Goldstein,  (Europa Editions)

The Vegetarian  – Han Kang (South Korea) Deborah Smith, (Portobello Books)

Mend the Living – Maylis de Kerangal (France) Jessica Moore,  (Maclehose Press)

Man Tiger – Eka Kurniawan (Indonesia) Labodalih Sembiring,  (Verso Books)

The Four Books – Yan Lianke (China) Carlos Rojas,  (Chatto & Windus)

Tram 83  – Fiston Mwanza Mujila (Democratic Republic of Congo/Austria) Roland Glasser, (Jacaranda)

A Cup of Rage – Raduan Nassar (Brazil) Stefan Tobler,  (Penguin Modern Classics)

Ladivine – Marie NDiaye (France) Jordan Stump,  (Maclehose Press)

Death by Water – Kenzaburō Ōe (Japan) Deborah Boliner Boem,  (Atlantic Books)

White Hunger – Aki Ollikainen (Finland) Emily Jeremiah & Fleur Jeremiah,  (Peirene Press)

A Strangeness in My Mind – Orhan Pamuk (Turkey) Ekin Oklap,  (Faber & Faber)

A Whole Life  – Robert Seethaler (Austria) Charlotte Collins, (Picador)

So do you keep up with the Man Booker International Prize? Or just the Man Booker?  Do you think we as readers give too much attention to literary awards? Which literary awards do you enjoy keeping up with?

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Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2016

Baileys Women's Prize badgeIt’s that time of year again!  The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016 longlist was announced earlier today.  The list is surprising and vast in subject matter.  These 20 novels were chosen from a list of 150 books which the judges read and narrowed down between themselves.  There are some oldies and some debut novels too.  On the longlist of 20 titles there are approximately 8 that I’m interested in reading and one of those 8, I already started to read last year, A Little Life.  I got to page 200 and quit.  There are actually two I’ve already read.  Now that’s a first for me:  Ruby and The Green Road.  I was happy to see three black women on the list: Ruby a debut novel by Cythinia Bond which I read in 2014 at its release, Pleasantville by Attica Locke which is the second thriller, starring the lawyer Jay Porter from her first award winning Black Water Rising, and lastly The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah, a Zimbabwean author.

Sci-fi lovers will be happy to see The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, which has been getting oodles of love everywhere since its release in 2014.  Now what I’m a little surprised at are the novels on the list that were released in 2014.  I thought the majority of the list would contain books from 2016 and January 2015 at the latest.  I’m a little disappointed that Jam on the Vine (2015) by LaShonda Katrice Barnett didn’t make it to the longlist.  So since books from 2014 can be nominated as well, let’s just hope A Little Life doesn’t cast a shadow over the newer books.  It’s obvious it will make its way onto the shortlist because of it enormous popularity.  Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.  I’ll definitely let you know if and when I finally finish it. 😉

The shortlist will be announced Monday, 11 April and there will be a shortlist reading and discussion event on the eve of the announcement of the winner, 7 June.  The winner will take home £30,000 and a limited edition bronze known as a ‘Bessie’ on 8 June 2016 in the Royal Festival Hall in London.  This year’s presiding Chair of Judges is Margaret Mountford, a lawyer and businesswoman accompanied by judges Laurie Penny, award-winning author Elif Shafak, singer-songwriter and author Tracey Thorn and broadcast journalist, Naga Munchetty.

Good luck and may the best books go on to the shortlist!

Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016 longlist:

A God in Ruins – Kate Atkinson

Rush Oh! – Shirley Barrett

Ruby – Cynthia Bond

The Secret Chord – Geraldine Brooks

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding – Jackie Copleton

Whispers Through a Megaphone – Rachel Elliott

The Green Road – Anne Enright

The Book of Memory – Petina Gappah

Gorsky – Vesna Goldsworthy

The Anatomist’s Dream – Clio Gray

At Hawthorn Time – Melissa Harrison

Pleasantville – Attica Locke

The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney

The Portable Veblen – Elizabeth McKenzie

Girl at War – Sara Nović

The House at the Edge of the World – Julia Rochester

The Improbability of Love – Hannah Rothschild

My Name is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

 

The Miniaturist

The Miniaturist is the story of eighteen year old Nella who’s marriage to Johannes Brandt has been arranged due to her family’s drastic money problems.  Johannes is a very wealthy IMG_2582merchant from Amsterdam and he is twice her age.  Arriving in her new home, Nella, a simple girl from the countryside, is greeted with indifference and her husband isn’t even there to welcome her.  Quickly Nella realizes the lady of the house seems to be her sister-in-law Marin, who’s in her  early thirties.  Marin is shrewish and unwelcoming.  There is also a young maid named Cornelia and Otto, Johannes’ manservant described “skin is dark, dark brown everywhere, his neck coming out from the collar, his wrists and hands from his sleeves – all unending, dark brown skin.”(The Miniaturist, p.11)

Johannes eventually appears and bestows upon Nella an exceptional cabinet-sized replica of their home.  He also leaves her quite a bit of money so that she can take the time to have pieces made for it by a miniaturist.  Nella isn’t impressed with this gift for she  anxiously wants to inhabit her role as wife and doesn’t want to be thought of as frivolous. After contracting a miniaturist to make pieces for the cabinet, Nella begins to receive pieces that she has commissioned from the miniaturist along with others she hasn’t and they replicate her actual life exactly.  From there we follow Nella’s discovery of her new home and the secrets of its inhabitants.

Now I must say I did vote for this one but once I got started reading I found it very hard to get into for the first 60 or so pages.  I realized I needed to concentrate more and that allowed me to get into the story.  I found myself sucked into the beautifully descriptive passages and the semi-dark mysterious home and life in 17th century Amsterdam.  The best thing about this novel is the writing.  However, literary fiction it is not.  For those who don’t care about that, you can still enjoy the story and development of Nella’s character.

As for the things I had problems with, the main one was the miniaturist. I thought because the novel was called The Miniaturist there would be more explanation as to who he/she was and what he/she was about.  Instead the miniaturist was, in my opinion, a sort magical realism element to connect the characters and the storylines.  Now this will work for some, but it didn’t work for me at all.  How did the miniaturist know what to make and when to leave the dolls?  Nothing of that is explained.  The second thing I had trouble with was the way Nella reacted to things and how she did things.  Her reactions and behavior seemed to be very 21st century.  In the end I had to reason myself to this and get on with the reading.  There are some twist and turns throughout which I found to be predictable but that some people at my book club hadn’t caught on to in advance.  I’m going to leave that untouched because I’m approaching spoiler territory if I continue.

Lastly what I didn’t like about the novel was the ending.  What the heck?!  I recommend jessieburtonthat you go reread the first Chapter once you’ve finished the novel, but still… What?!  That ending left me with too many unanswered questions.  This can sometimes influence to what degree I like a novel.  I have to say after much thought I’m rating this one 3 stars because it does have some very strong points that do overweigh the bad points.  So yes The Miniaturist is a good book. Is it great?  Did it merit to be so hyped up?  I’m sure everybody has an opinion on both of those questions and I’d like to read it below.

The Miniaturist is Jessie Burton’s debut novel and has been a major success selling over a million copies by 2015.  She worked on this novel for four years, while working a day job as a PA in London.  She’s currently working on her second novel, The Muse, which concentrates on four heroines set in Civil War Spain and 60s London.

My Copy: The Miniaturist, hardcover 435 pages

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#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge Day 10 – Favorite Antagonist

Day 10Favorite Antagonist   I to think a bit to decide who I would put for my favorite IMG_2458antagonist.  It has to be Dr. Kasim from Forty Acres by Dwayne Alexander Smith!  This character is introduced about one third of the way into the story and he is introduced like a slithering, silent, snake waiting to strike.  If you get a chance to read Forty Acres keep your eyes on Dr. Kasim.  I do hope Smith decides to write a part 2 to this novel because it really needs one and that’s coming from me who is really a fan of part twos and series.

What if overcoming the legacy of American slavery meant bringing back that very institution? A young black attorney is thrown headlong into controversial issues of race and power in this page-turning and provocative new novel.

“Martin Grey, a smart, talented black lawyer working out of a storefront in Queens, becomes friendly with a group of some of the most powerful, wealthy, and esteemed black men in America. He’s dazzled by what they’ve accomplished, and they seem to think he has the potential to be as successful as they are. They invite him for a weekend away from it all—no wives, no cell phones, no talk of business. But far from home and cut off from everyone he loves, he discovers a disturbing secret that challenges some of his deepest convictions…

Martin finds out that his glittering new friends are part of a secret society dedicated to the preservation of the institution of slavery—but this time around, the black men are called “Master.” Joining them seems to guarantee a future without limits; rebuking them almost certainly guarantees his death. Trapped inside a picture-perfect, make-believe world that is home to a frightening reality, Martin must find a way out that will allow him to stay dwayne-alexander-smithalive without becoming the very thing he hates.

A novel of rage and compassion, good and evil, trust and betrayal, Forty Acres is the thought-provoking story of one man’s desperate attempt to escape the clutches of a terrifying new moral order.” (Forty Acres, inside flap)

My copy:  Forty Acres, hardcover 369 pages

I’m an affiliate for The Book Depository. It would be much appreciated to click the link below if you’re interested in picking up any of my recommendations. It will help fund my incessant book buying.

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