Friday, April 6, 2018

February/March Wrap Up

I read thirteen books during February and March which isn't too bad. My reading list for the past two months was full of new and new to me authors, with a couple of old favorites and a classic thrown in for good measure. I also read a book that absolutely blew me away and is my favorite read so far this year. 

In February I participated in the #ReadSoulLit Instagram photo challenge for the second year which was so much fun. If you missed it, just scroll through my February posts to check them out. I read Tar Baby as well, which was the read along book for #ReadSoulLit. 

I kinda participated in #MarchMysteryMadness. By kinda, I mean that I only read mysteries during March, but I didn't participate in the Instagram challenges. I also finished off the short story collections that I received from Nothing But The Truth Publishing which I thoroughly enjoyed! 

I am continuing on with the #readingblackout challenge and I am enjoying it so much. I am finally working through my piles of books written by Black authors and it feels so good! 

I read all three of the books in the Gethsemane Brown series in February. These are quick reads featuring a young African American classical musician, set in Ireland, and have an element of the paranormal. Gethsemane finds herself solving murders with the help and because of ghosts that are communicating with her whether she wants them to or not. If you are looking for a well written and fun to read mystery series that features an AA woman, I recommend picking up Murder in G Major and starting from the beginning. It's a series that I will continue to read. I have a full review of Killing in C Sharp that you can read here

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones is one of those stories where I didn't like any of the characters, but I easily and quickly read through the book. Jones' writing is engaging enough that I was able to get annoyed when the characters just refused to take responsibility for their own actions causing the problems and complications in their lives. I started out having plenty of empathy for the situation that Celestial and Roy found themselves in, but my good will quickly ran out. 

Celestial being willing to stay with Roy in order to support him in a situation that is terrifying for both of them, made me want to see her as what she thinks that she is; a strong woman who knows in her heart what is right. But dang if Celestial starts falling off that pedestal almost immediately. And Roy. Heaven help me I wanted to be behind him as well, but his decisions didn't exactly make me think of him as a solid man. 

The first part of An American Marriage hooked me in and made me want to keep reading, however the second half is where things went wrong for me as a reader. Celestial and Roy became so ridiculous in their actions that it was more like soap opera characters than people dealing with the fall out from their serious difficulties. Although, the writing is good, I just didn't have much empathy for Celestial and Roy. 

Because I do enjoy the way that Tayari Jones writes, I will read another of her books in the hopes that I will enjoy the characters more. 

Bella Mafia is the latest in the long running Mafia romance by Sienna Mynx. Things are falling apart for Mira and she is being forced into a role that she never dreamed of having to fulfill. As with all of the installments in this series, folks are losing their dang minds, making bad decisions, and participating in all kinds of shenanigans. Gio is out of commission and unable to take control of the spiraling chaos. Catalina is so far out of compliance that I don't even know what to say about her foolishness. While Lorenzo and Marietta are plotting and trying to figure out how to climb out of the hole that their jealousies, secrets, and lies have put them in. So, yes; this is another enjoyable installment in the series.

A Darker Shade of Crimson is a good but slower paced mystery. Thomas-Graham is able to mix in the difficulties of being African American in an affluent environment like Harvard with the desire to fit in and just be. She showcases not only the divide between race, but also class and privilege in the tight knit and exclusionary bubble that encases the lives of the people involved. 

The issue that I had with this one though, is that there seemed to be too much thrown in and the characters didn't get to feel as developed as I would have liked. However, this may be just first book in the series issues, so I will be reading book two, Blue Blood at some point. 

I don't have to say much about Waiting to Exhale! It was a reread and I enjoyed it just as much this time around! Y'all know this was a good one!

Tar Baby was the #ReadSoulLit read along selection for this year and I am truly conflicted about how I felt about this story. Toni Morrison is not an author that writes stories that you can just blow through. It takes true concentration and thoughtfulness to work your way through one of her books. She will take her readers to some truly dark places and leave you to figure out a character's true motivation, which is a good thing. 

Tar Baby of course explores themes of race and tensions among people of the same race through how we treat each other. Also, the acceptance of being treated less than because that is how you see yourself. The interactions among the characters are strange and their reasoning sometimes confusing. 

I am still not sure how I feel about Tar Baby overall, but the ending is what did me in. I do not agree with the lack of action taken to protect a child at the end. I understand protecting yourself and wanting to stay out of the cross hairs of people that you know would be vindictive, but when children are involved I think that risks should be taken. There are two adult women who chose to not take action for very different reasons but they were both deal breakers for me. 

Tar Baby is one that I am going to need to read several times before I can say that I understand most of what was presented, because right now I know that I don't. I'm sure that I didn't invest the amount of attention to the details that I should have. I really regret not participating in the discussion of this one, but I didn't feel at the time that my thoughts were coherent enough to even share!

This book y'all! I am blown away by the fact that this is Tomi Adyemi's debut novel. This book is everything that I could ask for in a story and left me desperately wanting more. 

Children of Blood and Bone transcends YA or even fantasy fiction. You don't need to enjoy either of those genres to love this book. It is a book that I would want to put into every readers hands. Adeyemi tells a story that will resonate with anyone who has ever felt like an 'other'. Zélie is going down as one of my favorite characters. She is written with such a honest rawness that I almost teared up in several scenes. Zélie acknowledges and accepts her anger and bitterness that is the result of the hateful bigotry towards anyone with the potential for magic. Why shouldn't she be bitter and angry when everything that she loves has either been destroyed or damaged by people who used their strength to crush what they fear? 

Zélie has to deal with the frustration of having to take the high road and show mercy when little to none has been shown to those like her. She witnesses the daily cruelties dealt out to people whose only crime is being born the wrong type of person. How little value is placed on their lives and how they are taken advantage of in every conceivable way. Zélie is often torn between wanting to punish the wrong doers and understanding that what you see from the outside doesn't necessarily match what is true.

Zélie's journey, although incomplete, is extraordinary. She is tasked to do something that she feels she isn't capable of, but with the help of her brother, members of the very family that destroyed her personal world, and others she encounters along the way, she is able to keep moving towards the goal of restoring magic and meeting her destiny. 

Adyemi explores so many important themes in this one book. Bigotry, hate, death, the tearing down of culture, the elusiveness but necessity of hope, working through justifiable fears, trust, betrayal, disappointment, love (familial, romantic, and friendship), the cost of forgiveness, mercy, and grace both given and received, and the importance of believing in something bigger and more important than yourself.  

I'm going to leave it there, because I could write an essay on why this book is so wonderful. If you are hesitant to pick this book up because it's YA or because it's fantasy please don't let that deter you! This is a book that lives up to ALL of the hype! Believe the praise, give into the pressure, and throw yourself into this wonderful story! I received an eARC for this one and I still went out and bought three copies! One for me and one for each of my daughters; it's that spectacular! Okay, my gush is over!

If I Should Die is a good first book to the series. Edward does a really good job with atmosphere and details. I could clearly picture the neighborhood and characters described. The story is a little gritty which I thought was a good twist since the protagonist is an African American woman and not a man. Mali Anderson is a complicated character that has relatable anxieties and concerns when it comes to moving on with her life after experiencing some real discrimination and unfairness as a police officer. I believe that there are four books in this series and I'm looking forward to moving on to the next book.

If you enjoy authors like Judith Smith-Levin and Rachel Howzell Hall, I recommend picking this one up!

White Butterfly is my favorite installment of the Easy Rawlins series so far. In this one Mosley gives the reader a much better glimpse into Easy's personal life. We get to see just how much damage has been done to Easy over his lifetime of simply being a Black man. Easy, like so many others fleeing the smothering oppression of blackness in the south has built a life in California, but he still has baggage that makes him keep his business to himself. Easy and his new wife Regina have a marriage that is built on half truths and unasked questions. Easy can't bring himself to show Regina who he really is and Regina doesn't trust Easy with all of herself. 

The murder in White Butterfly underscores how the death of black women do not become important until the body of a white woman is tied to them. With this turn of events, the local police look to Easy to help them find a killer who up until that point didn't warrant immediate attention. 

Although I did enjoy the main plot of finding the killer, what I enjoyed the most was the fuller look into who Easy is as a man and human being in general. Also, Mouse played a small part and that man always provides head shaking entertainment when he enters a scene. 

The only complaint I have with these books is that I read them too fast because they are so enjoyable! Luckily for me I am late to the Easy Rawlins game, so there are plenty more for me to enjoy. I read White Butterfly as a buddy read with Didi at Brown Girl Reading and this month we are going to read Black Betty which I am very much looking forward to!

All the Women in My Family Sing is a wonderful collection of  essays by women on color from a wide variety of backgrounds writing about a interesting set of topics. I worked my way pretty slowly through this anthology so that I didn't have any issues with the essays running together in my mind. If you are the kind of reader who skips forwards, don't with this one! The forward is written by Deborah Santana and nicely sets the tone for the entire collection. 

Although I enjoyed the collection as a whole there are three that were my favorites. This Is How You Do by Phirooza Petigara, Outlaw by Matilda Smith, and Black Dolls For Everyone by Mercy L. Tullis-Bukhari. To showcase some of the goodness in this collection the best thing is to just share a snippet from each of my three favorites.

From This Is How You Do:
'But while I marveled at all the things I was getting to do, the people in the tiny Parsi community to which I belong were appalled at all the things that I was not doing. It took time for the subtext to sink in. "So, where is your husband?" Actually meant, " Why aren't you home feeding him?" "When are you going to have children?" meant, "Writing is not an appropriate use of time for a young woman with viable ovaries." My claim that I was child-free by choice was ignored: "Don't worry there's still time!"

From Outlaw by Matilda Smith: 
'My brother, who was ten years older than I, was a major criminal: He read banned literature-magazines written by the Teachers' League with articles about what history children should be learning. 

From Black Dolls For Everyone:
"Why wouldn't she have a Black Barbie?" I responded. "Her mother is Black, she is Black, so why wouldn't she have a Black Barbie?'

This is very readable collection of relatable essays that I am glad to have read. 

Too Beautiful To Die is another grittier mystery that I enjoyed. The language/dialogue felt very much like what I consider 'dude' talk. Abrasive and straight forward, with no soft edges, yet still readable. Blades Overstreet is an ex-cop that is facing problems in both his professional and personal life. His wife has moved across the country, he's suing the NYPD, and is now beeing drug into what turns out to be murder through a 'friend' who holds the fact that he saved Blade's life over his head to help out a woman he barely knows. To top things off, the FBI has a vested interest in what's going on too. Lovell wastes no time jumping into the thick of the story and does a good job bringing the reader along quickly. 

Lovell has created complicated characters that you don't get to figure out all at once or even all in this first installment. I've already ordered and received book two, Love and Death in Brooklyn, so I'm looking forward to continuing with the series. 

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