My Reading in February 2019

We are now well into March and finally I’m taking a moment to reflect on what I managed to read during last month.  February was very active since I was celebrating Black History Month through #ReadSoulLit.  Firstly I’d like to thank everyone deeply for taking the time to post, to share, to encourage others to join in, to follow, to subscribe, to comment, and mostly to read and promote black authors in February. Thank you! Thank you! Every year #ReadSoulLit is growing and I’m really happy that people are reading and promoting black authors more and more.  We must keep it going all year-long not just for Black History Month.  Always remember to tag your posts and pictures with #ReadSoulLit so that they can be found.

As for my reading in February I didn’t do so badly. I read a total of 8 books.  Most of them were short.  The only book I didn’t finish was the short story collection called Black Enough.  I didn’t quit because I was bored.  I think I was just a bit too preoccupied with everything.  There was a lot going on between the read along, the Instagram Photo Challenge, Booktube  Black Chats, and book reviews.  Despite all that was going on I still feel like my reading was very good and most of all meaningful.  So here’s the break down:

Unforgivable Love by Sophfronia Scott was the read along pick for February.  This year I decided to choose something that was very different from what we usually read in February.  Unforgivable Love is a retelling of the 18th century French novel Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, set in 1940s Harlem.  What a stunning read!  The writing was beautiful and the characters were messy and kept me looking for what was going to happen next.  There were quite a few poignant, unforgettable scenes too.  The original French work was written in epistolary form but this was written as a novel allowing for more creative license to fit the story to 1940s Harlem.  I highly recommend it.  I also held a live discussion on my YouTube with a few Booktubers and the author Sophfronia Scott.  That was AWESOME!  If you’d like to watch it just click here.  I suggest not watching if you plan to read the book because the video contains spoilers.

We Cast A Shadow is by debut novelist Maurice Carlos Ruffin from my hometown New Orleans.  I was really excited to pick this one up but sadly it didn’t wow me as much as I thought it would.  I liked it because of the premise and the bold statements it makes but I felt like the main character’s voice was so domineering  that it took me away from the overall feeling of the novel.  The tone of  We Cast a Shadow is very particular. I’m not sure how to describe it – dystopian but not really.  The book explores the black unnamed main character who is married to a white woman and has a son named Nigel. The main character would like his son to undergo a demelanization(change his skin color and features to that of a white person’s) operation so that he can no longer have problems living in the world as a black person.  The book is full of hard, sad truths, even today.  You can see more about how I felt in my video review here.

Next I read The Negro Motorist Green-Book  which brought me back to the Jim Crow period. It was a book used by black people when they wanted to travel within the US. It gave them recommendations of hotels where they could stay, restaurants, and even gas stations that accepted black dollars.

The Post-Racial Negro Green Book is a must read. It gives the statistics on race relations in the United States state by state. It give the percentage of blacks per state in proportion to whites. The poverty rate, unemployment rate, imprisonment ratio are given as well as information on whether the state has an open permit and stand your ground law. The number of hate groups are numbered and it is mind-boggling the quantity per state. We have some serious issues to work through in the states if we ever want to improve and get to a peaceful existence. Finally the percentage of black victims of law enforcement killings from 2013 – 2016 are TOO DAMN high! Whether there are large demographic of blacks in the state or not racism is still rampant. Incidents of racism being perpetrated by not only police officers but by mayors, fire chiefs, sheriffs, etc. The book cites racist incidents after another throughout the union from racial slurs oral and written everywhere even universities and incidents that have led to deaths. White America when are you going to fix this? You’re in control!  This book left me feeling helpless, pessimistic, and dejected.

Dear Ancestors was the only poetry collection I read and it was a real treat.  I’ll link my blog review here.  It recounts the Trans Atlantic slave trade to today.  After I picked up Praise Song for the Butterflies which explores the terrible African tradition of religious shrines where young girls mostly are literally sold into slavery in atonement for the family’s misfortune. It’s a beautiful story of redemption and recovery.  You can click here for my video review.  Praise Song for the Butterflies has also been longlisted for the Women’s Prize 2019.

The last #readsoullit book I read in February was Eva’s Man by Gayl Jones. Wow! Wow! Wow!  Gayl Jones does NOT play.  Her writing is so direct and brutal.  Haven’t read that many writers that have that power in their writing.  Why is she so underrated? Corregidora was at the same level of potency. Eva’s Man tells the story of Eva Medina Canada who is serving time in prison for poisoning her lover Davis Carter.  This book essentially tries to uncover the effect of sexual abuse, trauma, exploitation, and promiscuity.  It’s for this reason I will warn you about the graphic sexual content of the book.  Powerful short read that says so much in so few pages.  Can’t wait to start The Healing by her next.

Finally the last book I read in February was The Tattooist of Auschwitz.  This book is a historical fiction novel based on the life of real people.  This was my book club’s March pick.  Sadly this one was not my cup of tea.  You can check out my Goodreads review here.

All in all, this was a fantastic reading month for me.  Wish February was 31 days, but #readsoullit is 365 day of the year. Hope you all had a great February reading month.  Let’s chat about that below!  What were some of your memorable #readsoiullit books from February?

 

 

 

 

Dear Ancestors Poems & Reflections on the African Diaspora

Poetry is not something I pick up very much but in the past 4 years I’ve had the pleasure of reading some fantastic poetry collections.  This year has started with Dear Ancestors Poems & Reflections on the African Diaspora by CP Patrick, author of the compelling novel The Truth About Awiti.  There are poems in this collection that come from The Truth About Awiti.  I strongly recommend you check it out because it is quite the story with a dash of fantasy and deals with the African diaspora and the transAtlantic slave trade.

It’s a slim collection containing only 58 pages, a short poem on each page.  To the eye that would appear to be slither to discuss such a complex subject, but believe me it’s more than enough.  From the first poem I was thrown into the African diaspora, my emotions rising within.  I could put it down and when I did I had finished and reread it a second time.

The collection is structured in 4 parts – Home, Middle Passage/Second Home, Bondage, Freedom or Something Like It.  The poems in each section are perfectly understandable.  These poems are not obscure or difficult to understand.  They are written with nuance and a perspective that will touch you before you realize it.  These poems made me reflect but also made me remember how proud I am to be black.  I come from strong people.  People that have a history that doesn’t just start with slavery.

The fact that CP Patrick begins the collection with poems from the section Home that cherishes the beginnings of black people in Africa – free with their own lives and customs, good and bad, exhibits her desire to tell our entire story.

“if but for a moment

you were

stillborn

descending from the heavens

leaving the safety of my warm womb

you saw this sad world

and changed your mind”

clairvoyant stillborn

  • CP Patrick, Dear Ancestors Poems & Reflections on the African Diaspora, p. 28

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#ReadSoulLit 2019 in Honor of Black History Month

February always gets me so excited about reading.  Black History Month always makes me want to delve deeper into the books written by black Americans and to learn more about my culture.  I feel that black literature, is getting more recognition these days although I still feel that more consideration is given to African Literature.  We have ways to go to get to the same level of recognition.

This is why I’m hoping that the photo challenge on Instagram and my videos this month on YouTube will give African-American authors the spotlight they so desperately need.  I’d love to be able to mention Bernice L. McFadden, Dolen Perkins-Vladez, Gayl Jones, and so many others and have everybody know who they are and what their writing is about.

As you can see in the picture above, this is just a fraction of one of my book shelves that contains quite a few books by African-American authors – 11 to be exact including the June Jordan novel that’s just at the edge of the picture on the right.  There are a few of these that I plan on reading this year that frankly I should have read many years before.  I’m looking forward to reading So Much Blue this month by Perceval Everett.  It will be my first attempt and I hope I’ll love it, having heard so many great things about this author and how he tells stories.  Another one on this shelf that is long overdue is Perfect Peace by Daniel Black.  So many people have recommended this one to me over the years and I’m not sure why I have continued to neglect picking it up.  Promise to myself and others that this one will get read this year.  Ann Petry’s The Street is another one that I’d like to finally read completely.  I had one failed attempt during a buddy read.  I didn’t finish because I didn’t like it. It was mostly because I was too busy to concentrate on it.  The classic The Wedding by Dorothy West has been on my list for ages and I finally picked up a copy 3 years ago but have been putting it off.  The Darkest Child I’ve been putting of because of its story.  I’ll definitely need a pallet cleanser after reading it. I’m sure it’s going to make me mad as hell.  So these are just a few books among many others that will continue my #readsoullit reading of African-American writers throughout the year.   I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing these as well as checking out a few new ones this year.  Happy Black History Month and reading!

The Seal of Approval

What’s in a seal?  Prestige, praise, protection, a blessing.  Seals have existed for many centuries.  They date back to some of the world’s first civilizations.  Today we use them mostly to award prizes.  If you’re a book lover of literary prizes, then you’re used to seeing seals on winning books and runners-up.  Seals are now also showing up on new releases and back list books for book clubs.  Oprah’s Book Club, Reese’s Book Club, Emma Watson’s Book Club, even Jimmy Fallon, and the list goes on.

I hope this trend isn’t going to continue but it seems as though people are really catching the reading bug because of them .  That’s fantastic!  However the thing that annoys me about some of these celebrity book clubs is that when the book is published there has to be a giant seal printed on the front cover for the book club.  This drives me mad!  Why is it that publishing companies have to put Oprah’s seal on every book she chooses for her book club?

When the public decides to buy a book that happens to have the Oprah book club seal, it looks like we’re all joining her book club when we aren’t.  It’s great for the author who gets loads of publicity because his/her book was chosen to be discussed for the club.  Sadly for collectors, like myself,  the Oprah and Reese cover seals don’t cut it.

November 13th, 2018 Becoming by Michelle Obama was released.  I was ecstatic but when I heard that Becoming was chosen for Oprah’s book club, I hoped that there would be some pre-orders that were published without the seal.  First edition hardcover books with a book club seal on the front is just disheartening.

The 13th I looked at all of the pictures on Instagram that rolled through my feed of Becoming.  Everybody was so proud and overjoyed by the release of this book.  But there was a common feeling lurking under many of these posts. “I would have preferred that the cover didn’t contain a Oprah Book Club seal.”  Now this is a very common thought contrary to what most people would think.  It’s time that publishing companies start listening more to their customers, the avid readers and book collectors on this one.  We are all prepared to buy books but we’d prefer you omit publishing them with book club seals.

I know publishers probably think that the seal of approval encourages the public to buy more books.  Avid readers who buy a lot of books don’t need a seal of approval on a book to be convinced to buy it.  Most of us do our research and we know what we want to buy and read.  There are people who just refuse to buy any books with book club and literary prize seals on them.  In my opinion, these so-called seals of approval make the value of the first edition decrease.

Now after pre-ordering my copy of Becoming from Amazon, it arrived sadly with the dreaded Oprah seal.  So I had to hunt for a copy with no seal.  I realized that the British copies do not have any seals on them.  On the hunt for a British copy, I found and ordered a copy of Becoming from The Book Depository.  My copy came from the UK and it doesn’t contain the Oprah seal of approval.  Thank goodness was my sigh of relief once the box was finally opened.  Becoming looking perfectly beautiful.

So what can we do to try to get books to not contain seals of approval from celebrity book clubs?  I think we should all take to our computers and write letters to publishing companies, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc and urge them to stop printing book club seals on book covers or at least print only half of them with seals.  At least this way there would be a possibility for book lovers to be able to buy a book without a seal.  This could be done since now we know that they produced all of the UK copies without seals.  What’s stopping publishing houses from publishing only half the books with seals?  Comment below and let me know what you think about this.

Incognegro Renaissance #1

Zane Pinchback, the light-skinned reporter from the black newspaper The New Holland Herald is back!  The graphic novel Incognegro introduced us to Zane and the daring way he goes about writing stories about the lynchings that were taking place all over the south during the 1920s.

Zane continues to use this approach in a new graphic novel called Incognegro Renaissance #1.  This will be the first in a series of graphic novels featuring Zane Pinchback and continues to take place in New York during the Harlem Renaissance, giving the name to the series.

The story begins of course with a murder as most mysteries do, but soon we see that Mat Johnson the author is setting central characters, setting, but most of all social complexities of this time period for black people.  We’re in New York and Johnson shows the race division was clearly traced of where black people were allowed to be even within the famous Cotton Club of the time located in the heart of Harlem.  Zane is a determined reporter and won’t stop until he uncovers the truth.

Incognegro Renaissance #1 is a pretty straight forward mystery, with beautiful black and white artwork from Warren Pleece who also drew for Incognegro.  The graphic novel is split into 5 major chapters.  The 2 major complaints I have with Incognegro Renaissance #1 is that it’s too short and secondly the pages aren’t numbered.  I was expecting the story to be a lot more developed like Incognegro, but I guess Mat Johnson is taking his time to build this series.  Despite those two complaints, it was a very quick and enjoyable read.  I’m looking forward to seeing how Zane passing for white helps him solve the murders of black people but also affects his relationships with his friends and colleagues in future volumes.

I recommend beginning with Incognegro because it will give you more background on the character of Zane Pinchback, as well as the other minor characters surrounding him.  You’ll then be able to get into the prequel, Incognegro Renaissance #1 with a better feel of the story.  I checked to see if the following graphic novels  Incognegro #2 and Incognegro #3 have been released.  I found that they have been but sadly only in Kindle format. I’ll have to wait until they come out in paper  format and I have no idea when that will be.  If and when I hear anything I’ll let you know.  If you hear anything please let me know. 🙂

Incognegro Renaissance #1, hardcover (Berger Books)

 

 

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)

If you’d like to pick up a copy of No Place To Call Home or any of my other recommendations please consider clicking my affiliate link for The Book Depository. It would be much appreciated. It will help fund my incessant book buying, reading, and reviewing. Thank you!
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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

If you’d like to pick up a copy of Sag Harbor or any of my other recommendations please consider clicking my affiliate link for The Book Depository.  It would be much appreciated. It will help fund my incessant book buying, reading, and reviewing. Thank you!
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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!

If you’d like to pick up a copy of The Unkind Hours or any of my other recommendations please consider clicking my affiliate link for The Book Depository.  It would be much appreciated. It will help fund my incessant book buying, reading, and reviewing. Thank you!
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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

 

 

Backlist Novels Series #1 Daughter by Asha Bandele

I was looking through my Instagram feed the other day and marveling over all of the new Bookstagram accounts popping up.  It’s great to see that people are getting the reading bug and that they want to share what they’re reading with others.  Openly sharing one’s reading journey is not always an easy thing to do.  It’s like trying to jump onto  a moving train in some cases. Yes I said it a moving train.  You’re probably wondering why I’ve decided to use that analogy.  We’re all trying to read the latest releases first so that we can gush like crazy over them before everyone else does.  We don’t want to feel left out of the reading arena of new books that are flooding the market everyday.   Well, while I was scrolling my feed and admiring all the lovely pics of the books; it struck me that the same books were being featured over and over.   Most of them are either literary prize shortlists and longlists, or the newest releases.  It’s easy to post about these types of books but I feel hearing about those backlist books is even more inspiring and important to our TBRs.

I’ve been wondering why backlist books haven’t been getting much love. So, here I am.  I’ll be coming to you the next few months with backlist novels that I think you should check out.  Not only are they backlist books, but they are also underrated in my opinion!  So I’ll be taking time over the next few months to shine a spotlight on some books that frankly, I can’t begin to understand why more people aren’t raving about them, particularly authors that are being read lately because of their new releases while their backlist novels remain untouched.

The first novel I’m going to start the series with is Daughter by Asha Bandele.  Daughter was originally published in 2003 by Scribner.  This was Bandele’s third novel and I hope to try to get to The Prisoner’s Wife, Something Like Beautiful:  One Single Mother’s Story, and of course the newly released When They Call You a Terrorist:  A Black Lives Matter Memoir, which she co-wrote with Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Angela Y. Davis.  Check out the video below where I review Daughter.  I hope this series will get you motivated to look for some brilliant backlist books on your shelves to read, re-read, and to showcase on your social media accounts.  And if you do decide to read and showcase any of these books please use #backlistbooks, so that maybe people will look at them a bit closer.  Happy reading!

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