This is the first time I've read a book by this author, and I read it at the recommendation of someone who has given me some bum book advice in the pa...more This is the first time I've read a book by this author, and I read it at the recommendation of someone who has given me some bum book advice in the past . . . but was I in for a surprise!
See Me was well-written, well-paced, very visual, and has intriguing plot twists. It was one of the most original stories that I've read in a very long time, and I think it's a shame that more people don't know about it.
The protagonist is Olivia Moy, a middle-aged widow whose late husband was a world-renowned writer with a cult following that continues to worship him. When she is approached by a university dean -- a colleague and friend of her grown son -- to assist in a biography of her husband, she struggles on how much should she divulge.
Does she protect the public image and legacy of the late husband? Or does she finally open up and let the world gleam insight into his darker side -- and in doing so rid herself of the demons that have haunted her?
I beseech you to read this book, and then spread the word. This book worthy of much acclaim and attention than it has so far received. (less)
The story begins in 1940 which a young teenage 'negro' girl is brutally murdered, her 'private part' cut out an...more This book that has to be a new classic!
The story begins in 1940 which a young teenage 'negro' girl is brutally murdered, her 'private part' cut out and left alongside the road next to her butchered body. The murder is enough to set her family into a tailspin of despair, and threatens to send the mother -- Pearl -- totally insane as she mourns the loss of her only daughter.
But then, 15 years later, a stranger comes into town. Wearing high-heels, a gaudy wig, tight clothes, and toting a suitcase, she immediately raises the ire and suspicion of the residents of Bigelow, Arkansas. But when Pearl first sees the woman everyone is talking about she almost faints. She's almost the spitting image of her murdered daughter. When Sugar Lacey moves into vacant house next door, Pearl makes it her mission to get to know her mysterious neighbor -- despite the fact that Sugar has immediately started entertaining men willing to spend money to lay in her arms and in between her legs.
Despite a rocky start, a friendship blossoms between the two women; changing both of their lives.
But then revelations come to light that not only threatens to send Pearl back into her dark tailspin, but reveal long-ago buried secrets of many of the town's residents. (less)
Money. No, I’m not talking about the greenbacks in your wallet. I’m talking about Money, Mississippi – a small town in the northwestern tip of Mississ...moreMoney. No, I’m not talking about the greenbacks in your wallet. I’m talking about Money, Mississippi – a small town in the northwestern tip of Mississippi. A small town which is holds a tragic place in the annals of Civil Rights. The small town in Mississippi where 14-year-old African boy named Emmett Till was brutally murdered. Also the small town which is the main character for nationally best-selling author Bernice McFadden’s latest book – Gathering of Waters. The town is the narrator in this captivating novel, and details the horrific events that transpired there. Because, according to McFadden’s novel, all things – not just those breathing – possess a soul. And you did read correctly. Though the real-life Emmett Till is a main character in Gathering of Waters, this is not a biography, it is a novel. And it can’t really even be considered an historical novel, but a haunting novel that weaves a fictional storyline that spans three generations and includes the gruesome murder of an innocent teenager from up north, who didn’t understand how cruel and nasty the racism of the Old South could be. Emmett Till was in Money visiting his uncle, Moses Wright, in the summer of 1955. On August 28th, two white men came to his uncle’s house and accused him of whistling at one of their wives. They dragged out in the middle of the night vowing to teach him a lesson he wouldn’t forget. His badly beaten body was found three days later, in the Tallahatchie River. One of his eyes was gouged out, and he had been shot in the head. Till’s mother brought the boy’s body back to Chicago and gave him an open-casket, so that all the world could see how her son had been abused. Pictures of dead teenager laid out in the coffin were pictured in Jet Magazine, and eventually in national newspapers and magazines around the world. The two white men were charged with Till’s death, but then acquitted by an all-white jury. They later admitted their guilt and sold their story to a national magazine, but double jeopardy had attached, and they could not be retried. McFadden – whose other novels include the critically acclaimed and nationally best-selling novels Sugar, Camilla’s Rose, and Glorious – lives in Brooklyn, NY, but all of her 15 novels take place in the South. In 2001 she was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her 2001 novel, The Warmest December, and has twice won the Zora Neale Hurston Award for Creative Contribution to Fiction. In Gathering of Waters, McFadden weaves her novel around the story of Emmett Till, but does not begin the book in 1955, but near the turn of the century in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where a whore named Esther is stabbed to death. Esther’s spirit, we find out, possesses a 5-year-old girl, who grows up to be a sordid woman who eventually moves to Money, along with her preacher husband, and their two children. According to Money – remember the town itself is the narrator – the spirit of the dark whore, Esther, moves from body to body doing dastardly deeds which eventually leads to the lynching of Emmett Till. But just as the novel doesn’t begin with his lynching, nor does it end with it. You see, in the novel a 15-year-old girl from Money named Tillie falls in love with Emmett, and shares her first kiss with him. The blossoming relationship between the two teenagers is touching, but never makes it to full-bloom. Yet Tillie never forgets him, even after leaving Money, Mississippi, and it’s through her life that we continue to remember the deceased Chicago teenager. McFadden brings her novel all the way up into the new millennium, and it ends with a twist, that most readers will not see coming. Gathering of Waters is touching, captivating, well-written . . . if I could think of other complimentary adjectives I would also add those. Suffice it to say that this is a book that will appeal to the young and old; and those who are interested reading about history and those who primarily read fiction. In other words, it’s a book that simply should not be missed.
All John Estem wanted out of life was to feel important – to feel needed. Stricken with polio at a young age, and with only average intelligence and a...moreAll John Estem wanted out of life was to feel important – to feel needed. Stricken with polio at a young age, and with only average intelligence and average looks, it doesn’t seem that wish will ever be fulfilled. But when he starts working for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference – the civil rights organization headed by his hero Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. –he wants to believe his fortunes may soon change. “Martin and I are very close,” he tells anyone who will listen. He even intimates that he writes some of the great man’s speeches. It’s too bad no one believes him, and that he’s so often reminded that he’s only the organization’s bookkeeper. He’s put down by his supervisor, who pays him little attention unless he needs him to crunch some numbers or run errands to the dry cleaner. He’s ignored by a semi-talented nightclub singer who he’s had a crush on since childhood. He’s bullied by the nightclub owner, who laughs at his disability and has his goons beat him up – just for fun. So when someone finally tells him that he’s just as valuable as he always thought he was, and offers him the opportunity to prove it, he jumps at the chance. “Mr. Estem, the country is under attack. You may not see it on the surface – our enemy is cowardly and attacks from the shadows – but every day, foreign interests threaten to unravel the very fabric of American society. This is a matter of national security. Our agents can’t do it alone. We need help from the public, good American men like you. We are at war, Mr. Estem, and the FBI – America – needs your help.” All he has to do is report on the activities of the SCLC, he’s told. And in return he’ll receive a stipend of one hundred dollars a week, the appreciation of his country, and the promise that the FBI won’t inform the SCLC that Estem has embezzled ten thousand dollars from the organization. Estem readily agrees, imagining himself a patriot for doing so. However, when he finds that’s he’s also expected to report on the extramarital activities of Dr. King he wants to bow out, but finds out he’s in too deep to simply walk away. Our Man in the Dark is a debut novel written by Rashad Harrison, a contributor to MedicineAgency.com, an online journal of political and cultural commentary. Touted as a thriller and historical noir, Harrison’s book mixes fictional characters with real-life people, and the very real intrigues carried out by the FBI against civil rights leaders in the name of protecting national security, preventing violence, and maintaining the existing social and political order. It’s well-known that King and the SCLC were favorite targets of the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) designed by the FBI to monitor, infiltrate, and discredit domestic political organizations; which serves to seem to make Our Man in the Dark all the more believable. Believable? Yes. Thrilling? Historical noir? While the novel is entertaining and has its good points, I’d hesitate to say that it rises to the thrilling or historical noir level. One of the problems is that while Estem is a well-developed and realistic character he is, well, simply boring. He’s not very likable, but he’s not totally unlikable, either. He’s simply ordinary – not the stuff that heroes or anti-heroes are usually made of. Even when Estem was running for his life I read, with interest, to see what would happen, but my blood never raced with excitement or anticipation. There were also no new titillating details revealed about the inner-working of the SCLC or the personal life of Dr. King as it is pretty well-known that some of the organizers had homosexual leanings, some had Communist connections, and some carried on extramarital affairs. And while there were a few twists thrown into the plot, they were just not exciting. Nothing that might make you say, “Oh wow! I didn’t see that coming.” While Our Man in the Dark is a decent read, a page-turner it is not. For those looking for a thriller – or historic noir – my advice would be to look elsewhere. (less)
As a teenager growing up in Texas, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts read all of the classic literature about Harlem – books by James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Ral...moreAs a teenager growing up in Texas, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts read all of the classic literature about Harlem – books by James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, to name just a few. Harlem fascinated her. She wanted to visit there. She wanted to live there. And in 2002, she got her chance.
When she first moved there, Rhodes-Pitts – a Harvard graduate -- worked as a researcher for a Harlem-based publisher. Somewhere along the line she decided to write her own book, and Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America is the result.
It reads like part essay, part memoir, and part anthropologic study, and quite fascinating and informative – especially for those who are unfamiliar with the history of Harlem. It’s well-written, full of anecdotes, and generally entertaining, but, unfortunately, it is also sometimes off-putting. There is often a distinct feeling that Rhodes-Pitts is writing from the view of someone who is studying a community of which she is not a member.
Rhodes-Pitts borrowed the title from a 1948 Ralph Ellison essay: Harlem is Nowhere, which reads in part:
. . . Negro Americans are in search for an identity. Rejecting the second-class status assigned them, they feel alienated and their whole lives have become a search for answers to the questions: Who am I, What am I, and Where? Significantly in Harlem the reply to the greeting, “How are you?” is often, “Oh, man, I’m nowhere” – a phrase revealing an attitude so common that it has been reduced to a gesture, a seemingly trivial word.”
Entitling her book Harlem is Nowhere suggests that Rhodes-Pitts believes Harlem is a community still in search of an identity – not accepting the status given to it by others, and looking to define itself. Neither the goal nor the focus of the book is stated or ever made clear, but reading the book it is easy to surmise that Rhodes-Pitts is not just seeking the definition of Harlem – past and present – but also trying to find her own status within that definition.
When someone asks, how long must one live in Harlem in order to write a book about it, Rhodes-Pitts gives no answer. And when she asks an acquaintance if by moving to Harlem she has contributed to the gentrification and is told no – because she’s both black and poor – she leaves dissatisfied with the answer.
After settling into her cramped Harlem apartment she began taking steps to settle within the community. She states there is a pecking order to be followed – make friends with the neighborhood women first, then you can become friendly with the men. To this end she makes the acquaintance of Ms Minnie, and Ms Bessie – a couple of elderly women who live on her block.
Miss Minnie, we find out, hailed from South Carolina, and used to love automobiles treks from her home state to Georgia for a night of dancing with her girlfriends. Miss Bessie was originally from Scotland Neck, NC and told the author of the many letters she wrote home when she first arrived in Harlem.
And once having met the these neighborhood women, Rhodes-Pitss was able to meet some of the men; like Monroe who once lived near a river in Mississippi, and Bing, who insists he knew everything that anyone could ever want to know about Harlem.
Fascinating characters, and if Rhodes had actually interviewed them and wrote their full stories, what a wonderful book Harlem is Nowhere would have been. But you get the feeling Rhodes listened to their stories with as much bemusement as interest. And it is the reader’s loss.
It’s remarkable to note that, while Rhodes is in early thirties, she seemingly makes no attempts to befriend anyone her own age – and the book lacks any of the energy of young Harlem; the music, the fashion, the manner of speaking, and – most importantly – the views. In the one instance when she mentions being in their company it’s after a parade, and police are herding the crowd as if they were cattle – allowing them to move in only one direction while whites had the freedom to move as they want. Rhodes-Pitts becomes indignant, but finds her indignation does nothing to help her escape being identified with the young cows and bulls.
Rhodes spent many days doing research at the Schomburg Museum, and often ventured through the streets of Harlem seeking out some of the places she’d come across in her research. It’s because of this we learn about little-known but colorful characters of Harlem’s past; like L. S. Alexander Gumby, a former butler who, in 1907, became the kept man of a male white benefactor, and started scrapbooks about Negro Americana which are now housed in the Schomburg. And then there was Raven Chanticleer, who started what he called the first wax museum dedicated to famous figures of black history. (The founders of the Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, however, might dispute this claim.) He was a flamboyant man who said that if upon his death “they” didn’t carry out his wishes for the museum he would “come back and haunt the hell out of them.”
Both made significant contributions to cultural Harlem, and if Rhodes-Pitss had decided to write a book about them and other overlooked figures of Harlem, how delightful this book might have been.
Rhodes-Pitts sprinkles her book with passages from the works of various writers, such as Ellison, Hughes, Claude McKay, and Ann Petrie. And if she’d decided to write a book of colorful excerpts of famous authors – again we would have an appealing book to add to our personal libraries.
But it is perhaps Harlem Nowhere lack of focus that makes it fascinating. You get the feeling that Rhodes-Pitts is searching, but not quite sure herself what she is searching for. Because she’s not sure of the questions, the book lacks any answers.
And so, still – just as the title states – Harlem is Nowhere. To our disappointment, Rhodes-Pitts has not found it. But she has to be commended for looking. (less)
For all those who thought – like me – that the Hamptons was simply the summer playground for the rich and beautiful, Sag Harbor, by Colson Whitehead m...more For all those who thought – like me – that the Hamptons was simply the summer playground for the rich and beautiful, Sag Harbor, by Colson Whitehead may come as a surprise. It seems that upper-middle class African-Americans have owned summer homes there since the 1940s.
And in 1985 15-year-old Benji summered there for his 15th year. Only for the first time he’s pretty much on his own since his parents have decided that he and his younger brother are old enough to hold down the home front, while they only make the 2 ½ hour trek from New York City on the occasional weekend.
To Benji, this is the chance of a lifetime; a chance to prove how cool he really is.
Forget the fact that his classmates in the predominantly white prep school he attends have labeled him a nerd, due in large part to his penchant for Dungeons and Dragons. Forget the fact that he still wears braces, has only a few straggly strands of hair on his chin, and the Afro he sports is misshapen beyond recognition. Forget the fact that, despite his best efforts, he’s never mastered the art of the ever changing soul-brother handshake, and that’s he’s never kissed a girl. Benji is on a mission.
The question that readers are left to ponder after reading this much awaited novel by renowned author Colson Whitehead: is it mission impossible or never a mission at all.
Whitehead, whose previous novels include The Intuitionist, and John Henry Days – which was on the shortlist for the Pulitzer Prize – continues to show off his wonderfully literary style in this fictionalized autobiography. But unlike his other works, Sag Harbor suffers from lack of focus.
Early on, Sag Harbor shows promise of being a wonderful coming of age story like the classic book The Summer of ’42, or the movie The Inkwell; but the promise is never fulfilled.
The Summer of ’42, details a summer in the life a teenager during World War II, who is vacationing with his family in Maine. Although the protagonist was white, and I’m black;, was a teenager in the 40s more than a decade before I was born; and a male while I’m female, I quickly found myself enraptured by the story.
The Inkwell tells the story of an awkward African-American teenager summering in an all-black section of Martha’s Vineyard in the 1970s who pines for a popular and unattainable girl. Again, the protagonist’s reality was far from mine, but I was engrossed.
It wasn’t until after I read Sag Harbor that I realized why I loved these stories so much – it was because both had intriguing plots which enticed me to read about characters with whom I had nothing in common, and in continuing reading I learned about people and lifestyles very different from my own.
While Sag Harbor is beautifully written, I found it much too easy to put down the book. There was nothing to urge me to continue reading. There was no defined plot, and I found myself desperately searching for one. If the plot was supposed to be his determination to prove his coolness, the only move he seems to have made toward this was an unsuccessful attempt to get his summer buddies to call him Ben instead of Benji.
The novel both benefits and suffers from Whitehead’s frequent use of flashbacks – though sometimes entertaining, they often had nothing to do with the story being told.
I did learn a lot about the history of the African-American enclave on Sag Harbor, though, and I was able to laugh –sometimes out loud – at the teenage angst that Benji suffers. I also found myself pitying him his dysfunctional family which includes a mentally and physically abusive father, and a distant mother. But my occasional laughter and pity, notwithstanding, I had a hard time getting into this novel.
As a coming of age tale, Sag Harbor fails because we see no real development on Benji’s part. As a slice of live story, Sag Harbor fails because there was nothing intriguing enough to make me care about the slice – or want more.
I’m sure it would have been a lot easier if I’d been a male African-American teenager in the 1980s growing up in an upper-middle class family who summered in the Hamptons. But I wasn’t. And with no plot to egg me on and enable me to relate rather than just read, I found myself often falling asleep while attempting to get through this almost 300 page novel. (less)
I am is awe of F. Scott Fitzgerald . . . he is -- hands down -- one of my favorite writers. In the Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald manages to capture the lon...moreI am is awe of F. Scott Fitzgerald . . . he is -- hands down -- one of my favorite writers. In the Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald manages to capture the longing of Jay Gatsby without it ever seeming maudlin; and the capriciousness of Daisy, without our ever losing sympathy for her character. The characters, in like all of Fitzgerald's books, are fully-developed. Truly three-dimensional. In my view, this is one of his best! (less)
I LOVED Perfect Peace by Daniel Black, and really enjoyed They Tell Me of a Home, and so I couldn't wait to read Twelve Gates...more Why, why, why, why???????
I LOVED Perfect Peace by Daniel Black, and really enjoyed They Tell Me of a Home, and so I couldn't wait to read Twelve Gates to the City -- the prequel to They Tell Me of a Home. I can't even begin to express how disappointed I was!
I give you this, though . . . no one can capture the spirit and feel of the rural South like Daniel Black can. I loved reading about the Meeting Tree and the stories told and antics displayed there. Lawdy, Lawdy, Lawdy . . . felt like I was there. Wished I was there! I also enjoyed the family reunion, and seeing how the family member interacted, and viewed each other.
Unfortunately, those were not only the best parts of the book, it was probably the only parts of the book I can say I enjoyed.
This book starts out where They Tell Me of a Home leaves off; when T.L. gets off the bus and decides to stay in Arkansas rather than return to his home in New York City.
The problem is the book destroys many of the things readers think they learned about T.L.'s sister's death. Then it adds a supernatural bent that just doesn't ever really come together or make sense.
If so many of the things we learned in They Tell Me of a Home were untrue, the question is why did we read the book in a first place. And the new information revealed, is a LOT less interesting that the information given in the first place.
In short, not only did I not enjoy Twelve Gates, it made me rethink my view of They Tell Me of a Home.
I hate giving a book a bad review, but since I did promise a review -- I felt obligated to do an honest one. (less)
She's an old Asian woman who lives by routine - making weekly visits to the store, to the laundry, doing what old women do.
Most important, she goes to...more She's an old Asian woman who lives by routine - making weekly visits to the store, to the laundry, doing what old women do.
Most important, she goes to the archive section of the library every Saturday to visit the book - the book that contained her photograph, surrounded by a story filled with lies but that revealed one truth: She can communicate with ghosts. Then, one Saturday she finds the book she's been quietly visiting for decades has been vandalized. Most of the pages have been torn out. In the photograph, her head has been blackened out with marker. A feeling of dread descends upon her - someone, she decides, is trying to erase her life.
As she slowly makes her way back to her apartment, she sees two crows collide and then plummet to the ground. That, she decides, can't be good. Later that evening, she receives a telephone call from a woman who identifies herself as a university professor writing a book on "superstition in 20th-century Asia," and asking for an interview. The professor punctuates her request with an ominous statement: "Someone - and this person or persons must really be obsessed - has been cutting you out of history."
The old woman hangs up, deciding she will not let herself be wiped out. "I will not become a ghost."
The Black Isle, the debut novel of Sandi Tan, tells the story of Ling, born to a middle-class family in 1922 Shanghai. She has a twin brother, Li, and a set of younger twin sisters. Ling's mother is agoraphobic, and her father is a quiet, hen-pecked schoolteacher.
She sees her first ghost when she's 7 - one of her mother's former housemaids who killed herself when Ling was an infant. The uproar created when she lets the household know about her vision leads her to vow not to mention her spiritual abilities again.
Shortly afterward, the family's fortunes take a drastic turn for the worse. The Great Depression that followed the 1929 American stock market crash makes its way around the world, and Shanghai is not spared. The family's savings are erased and the family patriarch loses his job. The only thing to do, the parents decide, is for the father to travel to the Black Isle to work and send his salary back to support the homestead. It is also decided that Ling and Li will accompany their father.
And it is while living in the Black Isle - actually, a band of tropical islands in the South Seas - that Ling's spiritual powers seem to go wild. She sees ghosts everywhere and spends most of her time trying to ignore their questions regarding their deaths or the whereabouts of their loved ones. At one point, her father becomes the caretaker of a rubber plantation that is not only filled with ghosts that Ling alone can see, but that is supposedly haunted by pontianaks - spirits of women who die in childbirth. When a pontianak attacks Ling's family, she decapitates the supposedly mythical creature after it kills a visitor.
Shortly after, Ling separates from her brother and father and finds employment as a companion for the rich Wee family. World II looms, and the Japanese invasion and occupation of the Black Isle forever changes Ling's life - and she becomes an important part of the Black Isle's history. Her contribution is so important the few who know about her role realize the Black Isle might never have made it into the 21st century without Ling's help. So why would someone want her removed from the history books?
Beautifully written, with a storyline that spans 70 years, The Black Isle is a historical novel that is both breathtaking and haunting. The characters are vivid - some simply charming, some horrifyingly scary - and the plot has so many twists and turns it seems as though you're reading a winding country road.
There are some plot points, however, that some might find a bit more than controversial, including a somewhat incestuous relationship and an incident of bestiality that, to be honest, is so mind boggling it's hard to believe. And because the episode did nothing to move the plot forward, it probably would have been best to simply excise it from the story.
Minor flaws notwithstanding, The Black Isle is an engaging and engrossing novel that will absolutely captivate you and should not be missed. It will take you on a journey you will not soon forget. (less)