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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#MarchMysteryMadness

#MarchMystery Madness has been in full swing since March 1st and I decided to participate for the first time.  I’m also doing #ReadingBlackout this month for the second time.  January was a #ReadingBlackout month and February was of course #ReadSoulLit, specifically in honor of African-American writers.

March Mystery Madness is giving me the opportunity to explore mystery crime novels specifically written by African-American writers.  I started 2018 discovering the Easy Rawlins series written by Walter Mosley.  In January I read Devil in a Blue Dress, February I read A Red Death, and I’m currently reading White Butterfly.  The series starts in the late 1940s and each novel moves on in time.  So, once you get to White Butterfly the series will have already moved to 1956.  There’s a lot to say about this addictive series, which has a strong group of recurring characters, set in Los Angeles, and an ambience that will draw you in and won’t let you go.  The additional bonus is that the Easy Rawlins series gives you the authentic historical background while you’re trying to figure out whodunnit.  Reading this series so far has been like meeting up with an old friend.

The first book I read this month was Icognegro – a graphic mystery written by Mat Johnson and artwork by Warren Pleece.   Johnson examines the idea of “passing” (=the ability for a fair-skinned black person to move in society as a white person because of his/her light skin color) through the storyline involving a journalist from the New Holland Herald newspaper.  Zane Pinchback, alias icognegro,  travels south as a “white” man from New York to report on lynchings. However, his last incognegro story almost goes wrong and he barely escapes when he is recognized as being black.  He makes it back to New York to the unfortunate news that his brother has been arrested in Mississippi for brutally murdering a white woman.  And the story unfolds……

Incognegro is a good mix of mystery and history.  Johnson gives you the facts about the horrors of lynching and the troubled race relations between whites and blacks.  The story takes place in the early twentieth century so the setting and ambience drag the reader into a very dark place.  I was on edge from page one and it got worse and worse as the story moved on.  I couldn’t put it down.  Beautifully executed and there was even some humor in there believe it or not.  The artwork complemented the story perfectly and the black and white images help accentuate the brutality of the time period.  Check out the video below where you can hear Mat Johnson talking about how he got the idea for this ingenious graphic novel.

 

 

 

The second book I picked up this month for March Mystery Madness was called Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely. This is the first book in the Blanche White cosy mystery series.  It contains three other books, Blanche Among the Talented Tenth, Blanche Cleans Up, and finally Blanche Passes Go.  This one was a big surprise to me because it is definitely an atypical mystery novel.  Blanche on the Lam begins with Blanche standing in front of a judge for writing bad checks for the second time.  The judge decided to condemn her to spend some time in jail and that’s when Blanche’s bladder starts to nag her.  You’ll just have to read the book for the rest of the details.  Anyway, this novel will appear to be slow-moving but Neely is giving you the clues and information with her detailed storytelling, which may appear to be off the subject.  It’s not. The reader follows the story through Blanche’s eyes and through her thoughts.  She is hysterical but mostly she’s very intelligent and intuitive to people’s behavior.  Neely uses the story to astutely talk about racism, sexism, and classicism.  It’s brilliant! I can’t wait to pick up book 2 Blanche Among the Talented Tenth.  You can already see from its title that it will be as vivid if not more than Blanche on the Lam.  You can check out the video below where Barbara Neely talks about using her writing as a way to talk about her activism. There’s one thing I’d like to know and that’s where is Barbara Neely these days.  Why hasn’t Neely hasn’t Neely written anything else since the Blanche White series?  Her writing is a breath of fresh air in this genre.  The Blanche White series is a must read.

 

Incognegro – Mat Johnson, hardcover, 136 pages (Berger Books)

Blanche on the Lam – Barbara Neely, Kindle edition, 304

White Butterfly – Walter Mosley, paperback, 309 pages (Washington Square Press)

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#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge Day 28 #ReadSoulLit Wrap Up

 

 Unbelievable I stuck to a TBR!😅 Sadly Black History Month will soon be over but luckily #readsoullit can continue on.  Hope you all had a good one and have discovered some new authors and new books to read throughout the rest of 2018. My #readsoullit stack was pretty good. No duds and I managed to read 7 books. Wish I could have gotten in a 400+ page book so it looks like that will be a priority for next month. Happy continued #readsoullit reading and Thanks to you all for participating!  Please check out the video below of Frank X Walker, a great Affrilachian poet from Kentucky.  The best works I read this month were from him.  Buffalo Dance and When Winter Come are two excellent poetry collections – MUST READS!

What did I read this month:

Tar Baby – Toni Morrison, paperback, 306 pages (Vintage) ****

Buffalo Dance The Journey of York – Frank X Walker, paperback, 69 pages (The University Press of Kentucky) *****

When Winter Come The Ascension of York – Frank X Walker, paperback, 115 pages (The University Press of Kentucky) *****

A Red Death – Walter Mosley, paperback, 312 pages (Washington Square Press) ****

Debbie Doesn’t Do It Anymore – Walter Mosley, hardcover, 265 pages (Doubleday) ***

The Mighty Miss Malone – Christopher Paul Curtis, hardcover, 307 pages (Wendy Lamb Books) ****

Halsey Street – Naima Coster, hardcover, 320 pages (Little A)

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Book to Movie Review – Devil in a Blue Dress

Book to movie adaptations never seem to be quite right.  In spite of the great idea to adapt the book because the story is good, it seems as if all the good points about the book get literally lost in cinematography translation.  I know you’re probably thinking, you can’t expect the same thing from a movie that you get from a book and rightfully so, but I still can’t help comparing them and being disappointed most of the time.

After my second reading of Devil in a Blue Dress I was so happy to have reconnected with Easy Rawlins.  My memory of the story is even more vivid.  He is an all around good guy that revels in his freedom.  He owns his own house, has no wife, and kids and is as free as the time period will let him be.  In the beginning of the story he loses his job and has no way to pay his mortgage.  He is then enticed into a job working for a white man called Dewitt Albright, who hires Easy for $100, to find a white woman who hangs out in predominantly black bars.  The setting is Los Angeles 1948.  From there the story takes off on a criss-cross of events leading Easy down dangerous paths.

So, I decided to check out the movie which I watched late on a Saturday night on my computer.  Devil in a Blue Dress was released in 1995 staring Denzel Washington as Easy and Jennifer Beals as Daphne Monet.  Firstly I was happy with Denzel being Easy because he seemed to fit the part perfectly.   The other character that was really good was Lisa Nicole Carson as Coretta James.  She was flirtatious, while being evasive about what she knew.  However, Jennifer Beals as Daphne Monet absolutely didn’t work.  I couldn’t understand the choice.  Daphne Monet is described as being a very beautiful blond, sultry woman.  She’s supposed to be the kind of woman who can tun the head of any man.  So no, Jennifer Beals didn’t exude sexy nor mysterious.  She looked more aloof and absent on-screen than crafty and sultry.

Another character that didn’t work for me was Tom Sizemore as Dewitt Albright.  He looked like a typical Italian mafia type and that wasn’t at all how I pictured him.  Albright’s character in the book is cold, calculating, and unpredictable.  I pictured him blond, tall, and slim – a man who could pass as a businessman.  Instead the Albright character was played as a mafia type like what we’d see in a New York city gangster movie.  Another character that didn’t work was Mouse played by Don Cheadie.  His character seemed to appear out of nowhere and was too crazy in the film.  I think I preferred Mouse in the book because his presence was more believable.  His character was explained, so he didn’t appear in the story like a bull in a china shop.  I felt as if Cheadie took away from Washington when they were on-screen together.  I believe that was because Mouse’s character seemed to have the upper hand in every scene they were together, not to mention we aren’t in Easy’s head as much as we are in the book.

The setting and the costumes were perfect.  These two things are visually necessary in making the story come full circle,  since the time period is the late 40s.  The prominent scenes in the book seemed to be played out far too quickly in the film, therefore losing the ongoing tension of the story.  Throughout the book the reader has an on-going fear that something tragic is going to happen to Easy from the police, Albright, Frank Green, passing cars,… Mosley paints a picture of a black person living in the late 40s in a very realistic manner.  The simple act of walking down the street can be dangerous.  The book makes the threat against black people an ongoing fear throughout the mystery.  This adds supplementary tension to the story.  That aspect is lost a bit and seems to focus more on the storyline which slightly changes the last third of the book.  I think that is what disappointed me the most.  Seeing that the movie was produced in 1995, I should have expected these changes.

So should you watch it?  I guess I’d say yes if you don’t ever plan on reading the book.  Having said that, if you read the book first the movie adaptation won’t bring you anything more than a watered down version that you’ll be disappointed watching.

 

Devil in a Blue Dress (Easy Rawlins #1) – Walter Mosley (hardcover)

Washington Square Press

263 pages

Rating – 4 stars

 

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All the Missing Girls

img_2938Here we go with a another new thriller with “girl” in the title.  Released on June 28 2016, All the Missing Girls  is pegged as the next thriller to be loved by those fans of The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl.   That should have been a clue for me to abstain but I was game to read another thriller this summer.

Nicolette Farrell left her small hometown in Cooley Ridge ten years earlier after the mysterious disappearance of her best friend Corinne.  She started a new life in Philadelphia after finishing her studies, with great job and rich lawyer boyfriend coming after.  It’s ten years later and Nicolette, alias Nic is enticed into returning to her hometown to help organize the family home, which will go up for sale to help take care of her ailing father. After only being there for a few days, Annaleise disappears and the mystery continues.  The key to this novel is its structure since the author, Megan Miranda decided to tell the story backward from Day 15 to Day 1.

Essentially I was intrigued by this book mostly because of the structure, but as I started  I quickly realized it wasn’t for me.  Firstly, all of the characters are unlikely and untrustworthy.  As the reader I was thrown into a setting that I was trying to figure out the entire time but there weren’t any clues.  The story is told from Nic’s point of view and she basically tells the reader everything.  Nothing is being shown.  The development is very natural so I just read to see what was happening next with no real desire.  I feel like the structure of the novel really impeded any real mystery in the story.  Not to mention, I didn’t care about the characters, what they went through ten years ago or what they were going through in the present.  They seemed to be two dimensional at best.  There was even one character who served no real purpose to the story.

As for the good stuff, Megan Miranda does have an easy to read writing style.  It flows very well.  Some of the best passages were those that conjured up atmosphere and a bit of spookiness and particularly for the scenes mentioning the woods, which are a very crucial part of the story.  She also had a clever idea of changing up the structure by telling the story backward, however it wasn’t enough to keep me intrigued. I was bored and couldn’t wait for it to be over.

Meghan Miranda is the author of four YA novels called Soulprint, Vengeance, Hysteria, and Fracture. She has also released another YA novel called The Safest Lies on May 24th of this year.  All the Missing Girls was Miranda’s first attempt at writing a novel for adults.

My Copy:  All the Missing Girls, ARC paperback, 368 pages

Rating: **

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The Cutting Season

13623785I received this book last year for my birthday and am thrilled that I finally got the chance to enjoy it.  I don’t often choose to read thrillers but this one was intriguing to me because it takes place in Louisiana and because   one of my reading goals of 2013 is to read more books by African-Americans.  The Cutting Season is a mystery that takes place in 2009 on a plantation called Belle Vie (Beautiful Life), which is located somewhere between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.  Belle Vie is based on a real plantation in Vachery, Louisiana called Oak Alley.  The principal protagonist is Caren Gray.  She’s a thirty-seven year old African-American woman who has returned to her roots after some major changes in her life.  She is the manager at Belle Vie and lives there rent free with her nine-year old daughter Morgan.  The Cutting Season begins following Caren on her morning round checking what needs to be fixed, replanted, and cleaned before the day begins.  Noticing, at a distance, a dug up spot near the far wall of the plantation near the old slave quarters, she calls her Mexican help to go and clean up the area.  Soon after, she’s called back on the spot where a woman’s bloody body had been found faced down in the mud next to the fence.  There the intrigue ensues.

The Cutting Season could be described simply as a thriller, but it is much more than that.  It is an intricate story paralleling the past and the present.  Certainly things have changed at Belle Vie since the nineteenth century, although as readers we are compelled to question how much.  There is a strong comparison being made between the migrant workers from Mexico and slaves.  Not to mention, choosing Louisiana as the setting, Attica Locke submerges the reader in the rich, deep, complex history between race and social status that persists there even today.  Caren Gray is strong-willed, stand-offish, and flawed.  Her character isn’t easily endearing, although as readers we’re captivated by her and the story because she seems to be on the outside looking in like us.  She returns to Belle Vie after trying to run away from it for so long – hiding her heritage.  Her mother Helen was the cook at this plantation and her ancestors were slaves there.  Helen who was also the bearer of all the family history, which is important to understand where the story is going and most of all where it started.  Caren comes to terms with the life she lived there with her mother, with the relationships she had with the Clancy family, and with the tumultuous break up with her mother while she was studying law at Tulane University in New Orleans.

In the beginning of the story, the reader meets a myriad of characters that Locke has brilliantly developed for purposes of perpetrating the mystery, depicting role reversals, and questioning social identity.  Donovan is the character I found to be the most interesting of them all because he represents a class difference compared to Caren.  He is a young black man and has a lengthy police record, but has a desire to write a play about the real history of Belle Vie.  Just as Caren struggled to hide her origins from Eric, there is a definite class difference between them as well.  Eric is a law school graduate and from a middle class family in Chicago and working in Obama’s cabinet.  In their past relationship, Caren is ashamed of her Louisiana background and does everything for Eric to leave her.  She doesn’t feel as though she could ever fit with him.

Attica Locke does a great job with intriguing the reader and most of all with building up the mystery.  I really tried to work it out, but I guess I was a little slow on this one.  There are a few red herrings.  Even though, it was incredibly enjoyable and cleverly developed.  There were scenes where I could feel the fear and smell the descriptions.  Locke has an engaging writing style which flows perfectly and pinpoints exactly what she wants you to understand.  The pacing was impeccable.  The other thing that was interesting was how Locke included the importance of history within the story.  She makes slight references to the relationships between slaves and masters, but she focuses primarily on today’s relationships between blacks, whites and the new migrant workers from South America that have invaded this area taking the jobs that were primarily for blacks before.  Belle Vie is the place that connects them and emulates the past.

The setting is natural, wild, mysterious, and majestic all in one.  The cover of the book was the right choice, which I think looks like Oak Alley plantation engulfed in fog.  As a reader, you’ll wonder how Caren could think raising her daughter  at Belle Vie could be a healthy decision.  Caren and Morgan are secluded on a plantation surrounded by staff that aren’t close to her and even more so once a murder has been committed.  The Cutting Season is definitely a must read.

Attica Locke is a fiction writer and her first highly successful novel is called Black Water Rising in 2009.  It 250px-Attica_locke_2012was short-listed for the Orange Prize in 2010.  She was a graduate from Northwest University and was born in Houston, Texas.  She began her writing career writing film scripts and television pilots.  She’s worked for Silver Pictures, Dreamworks, and HBO.

Title: The Cutting Season

Genre:  Mystery/Thriller/African-American/Historical Fiction

Published:  2012

Edition:  Harper Collins Publishers – Dennis Lehane Books

Pages:  384

Language:  English

My rating:  * * * * 1/2 

My favorite quote:  ”The sun was higher now, baking the wet earth and encircling the southern end of Belle Vie with the damp fragrance of jasmine and dogwood ” (The Cutting Season, p. 28 )

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