Camilla's Roses

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating:  * * * * 

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Hunger A Memoir of (My) Body

According to my electronic dictionary, hunger means a feeling of discomfort or weakness caused by lack of food, coupled with the desire to eat or a strong desire or craving.  I must say that Roxane Gay’s memoir Hunger A Memoir of (My) Body was named appropriately.  She has a hunger but so did I as a reader and lover of her writing.  I have to admit I didn’t love Difficult Women.  I couldn’t understand the emphasis on these lost women who found themselvesimg_4070 in the most appalling situations.  I kept asking myself why.

I have read all of Gay’s works, except An Untamed State.  It is the novel I seem to be putting off.  I have been anticipating its true life brutally; even more now that I’ve read Hunger.  Nevertheless, I will be reading it and completing Gay’s list of writing.  I feel that now having finished Hunger, I understand her a bit more and can bring myself to accept the brutality and authenticity of her writing with my eyes wide open.  Difficult Women presented me a real challenge, as did Hunger.

Hunger is a confession of sorts.  It discusses sexual assault and recovering from that horrible experience alone.  It also discusses being a big woman and all the challenges that she faces from society and family.  Gay gave me a lot to think about in this memoir – everything from fat shaming, to eating disorders, to dating, family, and more.  She BREAKS it down!  There were things she speaks about in Hunger that I can relate to because I am also a big woman.  When she said “It is a powerful lie to equate thinness with self-worth.” (Hunger, p. 135), I just wanted to rent a billboard and have that phrase written on it.

The best thing about this novel for me was its natural perfect progression.  It begins and ends with the right tone.  We learn quite a lot about Gay’s feelings on many different subjects and I commend her for her raw openness.  She is brave, yet vulnerable.  I couldn’t begin to imagine how honest this memoir was going to be.  She is unbiased and unabashedly honest about some of the deepest problems in her life.  Hunger is a way for Gay to exorcise those demons from her past.  I’d like to think this memoir could help some people out there to accept and understand themselves better and to get help if they need it.

“I am realizing I am not worthless. Knowing that feels good.  My sad stories will always be there. I am going to keep telling them even though I hate having the stories to tell.  These sad stories will always weigh on me, though that burden lessens the more  I realize  who I am and what I am worth.” (Hunger, p. 251)

I read this book while listening to the audiobook with Roxane Gay’s voice – stong, unflinching and expressive.  She manages to make the reader smirk and smile despite the seriousness of the memoir.  She even uses pop culture and real examples, in order to make her thoughts crystal clear.  I recommend listening to the audiobook if you’re thinking about reading Hunger.  I’d even suggest reading Hunger first even if you haven’t read any of her other works.  Watch the video below where Roxane Gay is interviewed in Australia about Difficult Women.  It’s EXCELLENT!  Roxane Gay doesn’t sugar coat anything and that’s what makes her so awe-inspiring.

My copy:  Hunger  A Memoir of (My) Body, Roxane Gay (Harper Collins), p. 304

My rating:  * * * * *

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He Never Came Home – Interview with the author Regina R. Robertson

I must admit the first time I saw this cover and read this title I was immediately drawn in and was curious to see what this book was all about.  As soon as, I realized that it was a collection of essays written by women recounting life living without their fathers and their sometimesimg_3775 subsequent and turbulent reunions, I knew it was for me.  It’s the first time in a very long time that the back cover of a novel as truly spoken to me.  It was calling me.  Of course it was, since I too am a woman who grew up without my father.  I’m so glad I took the time to read it, ponder it, and even shed tears over it.  This is a must read for everybody.  Read below and discover Regina R. Robertson’s answers to my interview questions about her poignant debut novel He Never Came Home.

Me:  How did you get into writing?
Regina:  When I think back, I can admit that I was always a bit of a “closet writer.” As a kid, I spent a great deal of afterschool time at the library, read lots of books and was completely head-over-heels in love with magazines. I also loved my English classes. Oh, and I’m very proud to say that I was a master of sentence diagramming!

I studied marketing in college and after graduation, I landed my first “real job” at a record company. There, I did a lot of writing – marketing plans and such – and over time, I noticed that my writing stood out. That was probably the first time the “light bulb” switched on for me. Until then, I just assumed that everybody knew how to write.

After leaving the world of music and moving from New York to Los Angeles, I did some job-hopping in the film marketing and advertising industries. My paychecks covered the bills, to a point, but I wasn’t happy, at all. Then, on one fateful day in January 2001, I was fired from a job that I really hated. My immediate thought was, “What do you want to do with your life, like seriously? What will make you happy?” Because I’d always loved magazines, I figured I’d try my hand at writing for my favorite publications. My first writing assignments were press releases and artist bios…and I just kept building from there.

Me:  Could you tell my readers how He Never Came Home came to be?
Regina: He Never Came Home began its journey to publication as a 1,500-word article I wrote for Honey magazine entitled, “Where’s Daddy?” For that story, I interviewed three women who grew up without their fathers as well as an author who’d written a book on the subject and a psychologist. After the article ran (in October 2002), a colleague of mine, Tresa L. Sanders, asked why I hadn’t thought to interview her. Although I didn’t know her family history at the time, her question made me wonder how many other women saw their upbringing reflected in that story. That’s when I had the first thought about writing a book. Oh, and Tresa’s heartfelt story, “He Always Said, ‘I Love You,’” is featured in He Never Came Home, page 107.

More than a decade after that Honey article was published – and after enduring my fair share of rejection and many, many starts-and-stops – I scored a book deal, finally, and began my search for (and found) 21 brave women who trusted me to share their stories. So, it’s been quite a long road.

Me:  How did you go about writing the stories that were told to you? Was it difficult to do?
Regina:  Writing and editing the as-told-to stories was rather seamless. The biggest challenge was working around everybody’s schedule, but it was manageable. We got it done.

For these stories, I either hopped on the phone (with my out-of-town contributors) or scheduled a time for a sit-down (with my Los Angeles-based contributors). After each interview, I’d do my transcribing and think about where I wanted to start. Once I had the opening mapped out, I’d send along a few paragraphs to the contributor and ask, “Did I get it right? Is this your voice? Are those the facts?” Thankfully, the feedback was mostly along the lines of, “Yup, that’s what happened,” or “Wow, that really does sound like me!” From there, I’d continue crafting the story and we’d go back-and-forth with editing. In the case of Regina King (whose essay is entitled, “Redefining Family”), we were editing while she was juggling two, primetime shows and also, winning Emmy Awards! There were a few times when I’d missed a fact or didn’t understand a piece of a story, so I might have a quick follow-up call or a few frantic email exchanges.

Once I was all done, I sent the final version to the contributor and said, “Okay, this is what’s going in the manuscript…what do you think?” Each of my contributors were happy with the way their stories were told, even the tough parts. Ultimately, I wanted to make sure that everybody had the space to tell their story and “hear” their own voice when they read it.

Me:  The pacing of He Never Came Home was perfect. How did you decide the order of the stories?
Regina:  Writing and editing the book was therapeutic, but also quite taxing, emotionally. Once all of the stories were written and edited, I was actually quite excited about the sequencing process.

My plan had always been to section the book into three categories – distant, divorced, deceased. If I recall correctly, I whipped up the table of contents in a few hours, in a single day. I knew I wanted to open with a young woman’s voice, so I gave that slot to Niko Amber (“The Birthday Present”). Then I thought maybe my essay (“Death of a Stranger”) might be a good way to close the collection. From there, I looked over the list of contributors and thought about how their stories might flow together. Although everybody’s circumstances are different, I started to see that there was some “connective tissue,” if you will.

After I submitted the manuscript, my publisher thought the sequence was perfect! So, I’d say that writing the table of contents was the easiest part of my publishing journey!

Me:  He Never Came Home is your first book.  Will you be writing any fiction novels in the future or other non-fiction novels?
Regina:  Yes, He Never Came Home is my first book…and there are more to come! I’m definitely thinking about what I’d like to write about next, but I’m also trying to catch my breath. The publishing process is intense – worth it, of course, but intense! So, for now, I’m tossing around a few ideas and mapping out my next book proposal…in my head.

Me: Will you be exploring this theme of missing fathers in future novels?
Regina:  We shall see what comes to mind.

Me:  How has He Never Came Home been received by the public and in literary circles?
Regina:  So far, the response has been amazing. I’ve received such positive feedback from women, many of whom have shared with me their personal stories, whether on social media, at book signings or just out in the world. I’ve been quite surprised by the amount of feedback I’ve received from men, too. In fact, I had a man tell me that reading the book made him “want to be a better man.” That was really touching.

In literary circles, the response has been quite positive as well. Again, I’ve received such interesting feedback from men. Whether they are fathers or uncles or brothers, so many men were moved by the stories and seemed to have found some enlightenment about how important their presence is.

Me:  Would you consider making He Never Came Home in documentary form?
Regina:  Absolutely…and fingers crossed!

Me:  How and why did you get Joy-Ann Reid to write the foreword?
Regina:  During the entire time I was writing and editing the book, I was thinking about who I’d like to pen the foreword. As I got closer to my deadline, I started panicking. One of my contributors, Wendy L. Wilson – whose essay is entitled “That Day in April” and with whom I’d worked during her tenure as the News Editor at Essence – sent me a note suggesting Joy-Ann Reid.

In short, Joy-Ann had recently lost her mostly-absent dad and wrote a very personal Facebook status about how she felt about his passing as well as the ways his absence affected her family. When I read her words, my first thought was, “Wow, this piece could have been in the book.” Then I thought, “Wait…of course she should write the foreword!” After asking around, I found my way to her within about a week’s time and sent her an email outlining the project and asked if she might have time to talk. We scheduled a call, she heard my long-winded spiel – ha! – and she was onboard, which completely blew me away.

I sent her the manuscript and in response, she crafted the most wonderful opening for the book. Again, I was completely blown away and still am, honestly. She was supportive from the start and it means so much to me that she is a part of the project. And although it might sound a bit cliché, working with Joy-Ann was an absolute joy!”

Me:  Do you feel your book will bring more attention to this problem of girls growing up without their fathers?
Regina:  The book is shedding more light on the issue, for sure, and sadly, there are so many fatherless young girls and women out in the world whom are still unpacking their feelings.

The stories in the book are triumphant, which makes me quite proud. We all made it, or are making it, and I think that’s what speaks to readers. I want people to know that no matter where you come from or what you’ve been through, there can be love and light and hope on the other side of it all.

I’d like to extend a big thank you to Regina R. Robertson for agreeing to do this interview, in spite of her extremely busy schedule.  I enjoyed our brief connections around He Never Came Home and I wish you tremendous success for He Never Came Home and for your future writing.

My copy:  He Never Came Home – Regina Robertson – paperback, 208 pages

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Finding Gideon

img_3611Eric Jerome Dickey is back with his newest release Finding Gideon, which came out on April 18th, published by Dutton.  I’m sure if you’re a fan of  Eric Jerome Dickey’s Gideon series you’ll be happy about this new release focusing on Gideon.  Having not read any of the Gideon series I was afraid that I would be a little lost trying to follow the story of Finding Gideon.  However, the publisher assured me that it wasn’t necessary to have read the other books in the series to be able to get into this book and said that it wasn’t a sequel.  I can confirm that this is true.  It wasn’t hard to follow the story, even though there are some references made to previous books.  In essence, Finding Gideon focuses on Gideon’s archenemy Medianoche (Midnight) who has targeted Gideon and wants him dead at all costs.  “Sam I am. Green eggs and ham.” Gideon is a smooth talking, ruthless, and sexy hitman who won’t stop until his job is done.  Remorseless and formidable, he still has some scruples.

The book contains all the right amounts of action and sex to keep the reader interested.  Nevertheless, the first 70-80 pages of the book are the least interesting to read .  The pacing is a bit slow and some readers may be convinced to quit.  I suggest hanging in there to really see what this story is about.  It’s best to read the book in very few sittings. That will help to keep your interest.  More interesting aspects are all the different cities that Finding Gideon takes us to – London, Buenos Aires, Miami, and Antigua.   That’s when the story gets better.  He even manages to wedge in a mention of Lake Char­gogg­a­gogg­man­chaugg­a­gogg­chau­bun­a­gung­a­maugg, located in Webster, Massachusetts.  It’s the longest place-name in the United States.

Spanish is also a big part of the novel, so be prepared to accept the Spanish even when you don’t understand it or look it up on a translating site if you must know what everything means.  I just let it fly and tried to use my instincts.  I also enjoyed the dialogue which made me crack up sometimes.  “Foxy Brown and Hercules wore identical suits; both wore paisley ties, green the dominant color.  They looked like Gladys Knight and a Pip who would never Pip again.” (Finding Gideon, p. 241) Eric Jerome Dickey has a way with writing women characters.  Loved Hawks! She’s a badass with a smart mouth.  She’s very intelligent and isn’t prepared to be used by anyone, Gideon included.  Some of the best dialogues are between Hawks and Gideon.  He doesn’t hold anything back.  Gideon could be considered fairly stereotypical in his actions and reactions but in spite of that he makes the reader want to root for him.  In any case, Gideon is searching for answers and trying to find out who he really is and what is true about his past.

The thing I hated most about this book was the ending and a scene which is literally repeated and doesn’t give any extra useful information. Wow!  Unfortunately, the reader is left hanging clear off the cliff by a shoestring because there are many questions left unanswered and that is unfortunate; especially since these questions are alluded to during 50% of the book.  I was expecting something to be answered by the end.  I suspect that means that there will surely be another Gideon book on the way.  I feel slightly manipulated by that.

So would I recommend finding Gideon? Yes if you’re looking for an easy to read thriller which contains some violence and erotica.  If this isn’t the kind of genre you usually read I’d say give it a miss.

My copy:  Finding Gideon, 367 pages

Big thanks to Dutton for providing me with this beautiful hardcover in exchange for an honest review.

My rating:  3 stars

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Festival America

 

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Krik? Krak!

img_2994I’d never heard the words Kirk? Krak! and wondered what they meant when I picked this book up.  Reading the back cover, I learned that storytellers say Krik? and listeners say Krak! in Haiti.  Krik? Krak! is a poetic collection of connected short stories that explores the Haitian community in the United States and in Haiti.  The tradition of storytelling is a way of passing down moeurs and is an important part of Haitian culture.  This is specifically treated in this collection – passing culture from mother to daughter.

Krik? Krak! opens with a short story of Haitian refugees that are attempting to escape the political strife and horrors of their country and are floating out to sea desperately trying to reach Miami, while shedding their personal items along the way and in some cases their lives.  Each story is told from the poignant point of view of Haitians however surprising these stories have a strong sense of universality about them as well.  Everyone has a sense of home, a sense of family, of culture, and a desire for a good life.  Danticat does a brilliant job of integrating the recurring themes of water, suffering, and hope.  Water is often portrayed as a barrier.  The barrier that surrounds the island of Haiti and separates it from the Dominican Republic.  Just as the ocean must be crossed to attain a hopeful life in the United States, water is the notion of escape along with the reminder of all the Haitians that didn’t/don’t make it.

It’s very hard to read these stories and not think about the refugees fleeing the horrors of Syria and immigrating to Europe.  Leaving one’s country and having to find the balance between acceptance into a new country and preserving the culture that was left behind.  Danticat’s writing is infectious with a dynamism of superstition and it enlightens the reader to Haitian history.  I strongly recommend reading this short story collection to learn more about Haiti and its people but mostly to experience the passionate manner in which Danticat evokes the honesty, courage, sensitivity, and authenticity of their stories.

Edwidge Danticat is a Haitian-American writer born in Port-au-Prince in 1969.  She was raised in Haiti by her aunt and uncle.  She finally joined her parens, who had left for the United States earlier, at the age of 12 in Brooklyn.  Danticat began writing at the age of 9 years old.  Her move to Brooklyn was difficult so she turned to literature for comfort.  Her first published writing in English was A Haitian-American Christmas: Cremace and Creole Theatre.   Some of the major themes that are dealt with in her writings are mother-daughter relationships, national identity, and Haitian diaspora.

She has been decorated with  countless literary awards and honorary degrees.  Having earned a Masters of Fine Arts from Brown University, Danticat has gone on to write many well-known titled books such as The Farming of the Bones, The Dew Breaker, and her latest novel Claire of the Sea Light.  On a high note, a young director named Easmanie Michel fell in love with Krik? Krak! and is working diligently to bring Edwidge Danticat’s short story Caroline’s Wedding to the big screen.  She believes that Danticat’s work will translate well on-screen and she has been entrusted to make it happen.  If you’re interested in keeping up with the new developments on this film project head over and check out Easmanie Michel’s Facebook page Caroline’s Wedding.

 

My Copy:  Krik? Krak!, paperback 224 pages

Rating: *****

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The Fire This Time

The Fire This Time.  Police brutality and systemic racism are plaguing the United States as if we hadn’t gone through the Civil Rights movement.  I living in France, a country without worry or anxiety when I go out, don’t have to face so much overt racism, nor too many microagressions, sit and listethe fire this timen to the countless horrific cases of police brutality ending in fatality.  I am almost fifty years old and am proud to have seen a black president and hopefully a female one.  However the hate crimes, police brutality, and systemic racism I fear I won’t see an end before my death.

Jesmyn Ward compiled a series of poignant essays called, The Fire This Time, that each explore the difficulty that black Americans are having today concerning race.  Some Americans may not even be aware of these difficulties that are well known to black Americans.  The subjects in this collection range from the  role of the black father, to Phillis Wheatly, to preserving our dead, to to simply walking. Each essay is just as important as the other.  There are important lessons to be learned through this read by ALL Americans.  It is a must read.  We can all learn something from The Fire this Time.  For example, I hadn’t heard about the Know Your Rights murals informing citizens of their rights when confronted with the police.  I also hadn’t heard about the remains of slaves found in the New England area that have been conveniently paved over and left to be forgotten.

Powerful, informative, and moving The Fire this Time will make you think and sadden your heart.  It will make you wonder why and where have we gone wrong and why do some Americans not feel that there’s anything wrong about all these recent events which have been going on for longer than a few years. “What Baldwin understood is that to be black in America is to have the demand for dignity be at absolute odds with the national anthem.”(The Fire This Time, )

Another important essay is by Garnett Cadoan. Since when is it a crime to walk. Apparently only if one is black is it a problem.  As a matter of fact a black man running, walking, and waiting on street corners for friends can get him into trouble and in some cases killed. “Walking while black restricts the experience of walking, renders in accessible the classic Romantic experience of walking alone.”(The Fire This Time, Black and blue by Garnette Cadogan)

If you don’t pick up Between the World and Me, I get it, but definitely check out this 5-star collection containing essays from important writers such as Edwidge Danticat, Jesmyn Ward, Mitchell S. Jackson, Claudia Rankine, Isabel Wilkerson, and many more.

My copy: The Fire This Time, ebook 240 pages

Rating: *****

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My Book Club Shortlist 2016-2017

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The Blackbirds

The Blackbirds is the latest release from Eric Jerome Dickey, known for writing contemporary novels about African-American life.  Naughtier than Nice, the sequel to Naughty or Nice and One Night, a standalone were the last two novels he published in 2015.  For me, It’s been a while since I’ve read anything from him so I sort of knew what I was going to be getting into with this one.  Exquisite cover, 400 plus pages, this is that “girlfriend book” that everybody has been anticipating this 2016.

img_2867Four best friends as close as sisters, Kwanzaa, Ericka, Destiny, and Indigo are all trying to find love and solutions to their personal quandaries.  The novel is plot driven like only Dickey knows how to do.  He has his writing formula down to a science.  It’s funny, zany, sexy, over the top, heartbreaking, and explanatory.  Dickey has found a way to balance what would be considered a typical urban erotica novel, while packing it with loads of social commentary.  He makes references to all sorts of incidents from police brutality to political to social media, etc.  The Blackbirds is brimful of urban expressions and millennial lingo, so if you’re not hip to the groove I suggest you read it with the urban dictionary open.

The themes seem to be typical of what Dickey writes – sexuality, homosexuality, male/female – mother/daughter – father/daughter relationships, cheating, female friendships, illness, etc.  It touches on just about everything. The thing that surprised me the most was the quantity of sex in the novel.  I knew it would contain sex but not to that extent.  Sex scenes took over the story in the second and third parts of the novel.  So if you have a problem with reading erotica, this won’t be the book for you.  Surprisingly, there is no mention on the stunning cover about the novel being erotica, but when you look on the inside flap it’s written at the top in red.  Now this has intrigued me because when books are written by white authors they always put some kind of trigger warning that it contains copious amounts of sex, etc.  So I’m wondering how is it that this novel has no mention of it on the front cover.  Could it be that Dutton thought that the way the book was going to be marketed that only black readers would be interested in it?  Or is it that Dutton assumed that black readers like reading about sex so no need to point out the obvious?  Or maybe it’s just that Dutton doesn’t think that white readers will go for this one anyway because essentially it will be in the black interests section in Barnes & Noble, so no need?

To exacerbate my previous questions, I saw a comment made in the review section of Goodreads where a white man said he was disappointed by The Blackbirds.  “He said he had to quit before he plucked out his eyes and that it was dreadful.  He then commented that he was obviously not the the target audience and moreover he thought Dickey’s talent would shine through. Alas!”  (Goodreads user)  I didn’t realize the reader had to be the target audience to enjoy a book.  That’s a new one for me.  Granted, Dickey’s book isn’t 5-star in my opinion, but it isn’t totally bad either.  If anything he’s guilty of, it is of sensationalizing his book with too much sex and trying to develop too many story lines at once; which I believe is always a trap when there are several main characters.  For instance, there are a few story lines which are thrown together quickly to end the book just over 500 pages.  Those story lines should have been treated with more care, but instead their development was bypassed for some juicy sex scenes, which made the last 200 pages feel rushed.

Nevertheless, The Blackbirds is a nice escape read that titillates, amuses,  makes you smile, makes the head shake, and the mind say Amen (at times). It’s loud, hysterical, ratchet, violent, sexy, etc.  It’s a story that reads quickly, plot developing as well as characters growing.  It’s definitely worth picking up if you want erotica with a bit more real storyline.  EL James could take a few pointers from Eric Jerome Dickey.  I’m just sayin’ y’all. 😉

My copy:  The Blackbirds – hardcover, 508 pages

Rating:  ***

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