african author, Book Related Topics, Chick-Lit, Fiction, literary fiction, Nigerian Author, race, romance, Uncategorized

Book Review: Ties That Tether by Jane Igharo

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“How much more of yourself, of your culture will you lose to accommodate him in your life?” 

As you may have heard me say a million times this year, it’s been a struggle reading year and I have been doing all I can just to read anything my attention can focus on. I have no recollection of being on a waitlist for this book but once it popped up as available and I saw a Nigerian author, I decided to go for it. Also, is the cover gorgeous or what?

Azere is a 25 year old Nigerian woman who lives in Canada. Before moving to Canada from Nigeria when she was 12 years old, she makes a promise to her dying father to preserve the culture and marry a Nigerian man. Her mother takes this promise to heart and is always on her case to get married and is always matchmaking and setting Azere up on dates. Azere always obliges her mom and goes on these dates and confines her dating pool to just Nigerian men.

Yet another date goes awry and Azere goes to the bar to decompress, meets Rafael and ends up in a one night stand with him. The relationship goes beyond the one night stand and Azere is torn between pleasing her mom and a chance at happiness.

It didn’t take long for me to realize I’d landed on a romance novel but I decided to stick through it to support a Nigerian author. I liked this book enough. Any Nigerian/immigrant can relate to the story and realize it is not far fetched. This book was very heavy on pop culture references but was a good balance of both Western and Nigerian pop culture. A bit on the nose at times but I think it symbolized Azere’s internal struggle of growing up Nigerian and Canadian and identifying as both.

I liked that the book provided insight into the Nigerian culture. Even as a Nigerian, I learned a bit more as Azere is from Edo state. For example, I didn’t know Ogbono soup was from that region. I liked the Edo names mentioned and their full meaning and Azere explains some traditions and their origin. I picked up some names that I thought were just beautiful. I liked the overall message of choosing your happiness and not being tethered due to unhealthy obligations.

The flip side of the book is that you can tell that it is a debut book. It has a slight amateurish feel to it and suffers from the verboseness most Nigerians have. Azere’s character came off as almost childlike/immature. The way she kept wanting to please her mom and keep a promise to her dying father annoyed me. I almost couldn’t believe she had the one night stand given the strong hold her mom seemed to have on her. To be quite honest, her mom came off as a bully to me.

Some storylines felt disjointed in a bid to create anticipation and further the story. It sometimes read like dress up where the story being told was like a recreation of all the various movie and book plot lines we’ve read so some conversations came off clunky. A big blowout between Rafael and Azere and their reaction to it had me scratching my head.

Overall, flaws withstanding, I think it worked. It goes by quickly and is an easy read. It’s one of those where you have to overlook things and just take it for what it is. I gave this 3stars on Goodreads.

Taynement

Fiction, literary fiction, race

Book Review: Luster by Raven Leilani

In 'Luster,' a Young Woman Moves in With Her Lover — and His Family - The  New York Times

“I am inclined to pray, but on principle, I don’t. God is not for women. He is for the fruit. He makes you want and he makes you wicked, and while you sleep, he plants a seed in your womb that will be born to die”

Edie is a 23 year old black woman and an artist that is aware of her dysfunctions and trying to navigate her way through life. She gets into a relationship with Eric, a white married man with a black adopted daughter, Akila. His wife, Rebecca is aware of their relationship as they are in an open marriage. Edie loses her job and while trying to figure out her finances and living arrangements, Rebecca invites her to live in their house while Eric is out of town on a work trip – without Eric’s knowledge. The book follows the strange dynamic of figuring out how she fits into the family, her relationship with Eric and her slow ease into a relationship with their daughter when she realizes that she might be the only black person in Akila’s life.

Cool premise huh? Yup. That’s why I promptly added to my TBR list. The accolades too. This book had so much high praise, I definitely didn’t want to be left out and this may be partly why this didn’t work for me. I have low tolerance for protagonists who seem to be lost but Edie is 23 so it makes sense. She is practically a baby. I think she had relatable struggles for her age especially being an actual “starving artist” so to speak. Struggles like being broke in NYC, having a raggedy apartment with a roommate and the politics at her 9-5 job and being one of only two black people.

“I think of how keenly I’ve been wrong. I think of all the gods I have made out of feeble men”

Edie’s biggest detriment seems to be the men she chooses to have sexual relations with and how she lets them treat her. We get a background of her family life that somewhat explains why but it didn’t stop me from cringing a little. At some point with Eric, she encourages him to hit her and that was a tad uncomfortable to read. And this leads to what I think is the major reason this book didn’t work for me – I just couldn’t connect.

Granted I am older than Edie and lived a very different life but I just couldn’t hunker down and feel anything for Edie, not even annoyance. For every new chapter and new revelation, I kept going “okay and..?” because I just was not moved. And while this may be a reality to some, I found a lot of it farfetched. I truly could never understand why Rebecca invited Edie to live with them especially without Eric’s knowledge. We also did not get much insight as to why they had an open marriage. At some point in the book, Edie sees Rebecca and Eric still having sex which makes it more complicated.

A part of why I could not connect is I found the author to be verbose. A line that could be so simple would be described in a complex way with so many words and I am not a fan of that kind of writing. What I thought would be the most interesting story line was the relationship between Edie and Akila, their adopted daughter but the book never really goes in depth with that. I should mention the book is told from Edie’s perspectives so we are privvy to her thoughts.

Its a short book at 227 pages but for me, it was a book in circles. It felt like we went around and around the block, where the views weren’t necessarily pretty and never quite landed at a destination. Basically, nothing made sense to me. I gave this two stars and I’d like to say I have learned my lesson and will not fall for the over-raving and over-hyping of a book but chances are high I will.

Taynement

Book Related Topics, Chick-Lit, Fiction, race, romance

Recommended Romance Books With Black Female Characters (NO STRUGGLE LOVE INCLUDED!)

I find a lot of times the romance marketed to black women in entertainment is very much limited to struggle love. I grew up on Mills & Boons where the devastatingly handsome Millionaire/Prince/Duke sweeps the girl off her feet, but the characters were always white.

Black women never get to see themselves this way in literature. We’re always portrayed as strong mules who can take whatever shitty love is offered and we never get the fantasy. Today, I want to introduce you to romance books that black women can escape into and find themselves very well loved and with all their romance fantasies fulfilled.

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

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“Just because their standards are low does not mean that we should lower ours.”

Alex Monroe gets stuck in an elevator with Drew Nichols and in a moment of insanity agrees to be his date to a wedding he’s in town for. They have a lot of fun and after they head back to their respective cities they can’t stop thinking about each other so they try to make it work. I enjoyed this one but this is not my favorite in the series. I think Guillory really found her stride as she wrote the other books in this series. Also, just fair warning, this is not a closed door romance, there is a LOT of sex! If that’s not your thing, you might consider skipping this one, or reading it anyway and just skimming the sex scenes.

Guillory has a whole series with great black female characters getting the love they deserve. Her female characters are always complete human beings who just need a man to complement them instead of complete them. So, if you read this first book and love it, there are many more where that comes from. Also, I think this might be the most mainstream of the books I recommend today.

A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole

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 “Everybody wants something from you, but sometimes there’s a person you want to give to. Sometimes what you give them makes you better for having given it.

Naledi Smith keeps getting a lot of emails telling her she’s betrothed to an African prince which she deletes constantly, very much convinced that it’s all a scam. Prince Thabiso is the sole heir to the throne of Thesolo, and the first thing on his mind is his duty to his people to find a wife. He tracks down Naledi and when a chance encounter makes Naledi think he’s just an ordinary guy, Thabiso grabs the opportunity to experience New York without the weight of his princedom.

I absolutely loved this one. It was funny and very charming. This one is also the first book in a series (The Reluctant Royals series) but I didn’t like the next two books and so I gave up after that. This first book though is fantastic and you should check it out!

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert:

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“You think this is a big deal because, no offense, you’ve had a lot of people in your life who claimed to care about you but didn’t act like it. That’s not me. I can cook, and right now, you can’t. So I’m doing it for you because that’s how people should behave; they should fill in each other’s gaps”

I just finished reading this one exactly 10 minutes before I started writing this post and I credit it for giving me the idea for this post. Chloe Brown is chronically ill but has decided to get out there and get on with her life. She has moved out of her parents’ mansion and moved into a flat armed with a list of things to do to get on with her life so that her funeral speech would have more than her illness in it.

Redford Morgan used to be the toast of the art world but after being dumped by his verbally abusive posh girlfriend he’s hiding out as a superintendent in Chloe’s building. As Chloe and Red become close, she enlists him to help her achieve her list, sparks fly and Chloe and Red might just be the answer to each other’s prayers.

I really enjoy British romance and this one was no different. I thoroughly enjoyed it! There are other books after this one in this series (The Brown Sisters) but I haven’t read it so I don’t know how good they are.

Have your read any of these? Let me know what you thought in the comments! Have a great reading week, everybody!

Leggy

Book Related Topics, Fiction, literary fiction, race, Uncategorized

Book Review: Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

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“My memories of him, though few, are mostly pleasant, but memories of people you hardly know are often permitted a kind of pleasantness in their absence. It’s those who stay who are judged the harshest, simply by virtue of being around to be judged.”

Gifty is a fifth-year candidate in neuroscience at Stanford School of Medicine studying reward-seeking behavior in mice and the neural circuits of depression and addiction. Her brother, Nana, was a gifted high school athlete who died of a heroin overdose after a knee injury left him hooked on OxyContin. Her mother’s pastor calls to let her know that her mother is going through a depressive episode and she asks him to send her to California.

While Gyasi’s outstanding debut novel, Homegoing, zooms out with its broad story spanning generations across Ghana and the United States, Transcendent Kingdom zooms in to a specific Ghanaian immigrant family in Huntsville, Alabama as the family explores grief, faith, racism in the evangelical church, addiction, science, and trying to develop a sense of belonging.

“You cannot go around claiming that an idea or an item was imported into a given society unless you could also conclude that to the best of your knowledge, there is not, and never was any word or phrase in that society’s indigenous language which describes that idea or item”

This book is written in a first person point of view. Gifty tells us the history of her family as best as she can remember it reading as a stream of thoughts. It’s not chronological in its retelling as it jumps between present day California and her family’s history in Alabama. We know from the very first page and the novel’s blurb that her brother, Nana, died from a drug overdose so every time she comes close to getting to his addiction you almost hold your breath, dreading it.

Reading the kind of child and kind older brother Nana was, made you dread his inevitable end that you know is coming. Nana was kind, smart and talented and had no history of previous misdemeanors. He was a star in whatever sport he decided he wanted to be a part of. Already attracting college scouts by the time he was 15, his future was so bright and promising. Gyasi paints a picture of Nana so heartbreaking that just like Gifty, even you are praying for his death to come and go already to spare us the anticipation distress.

“…We humans are reckless with our bodies, reckless with our lives, for no other reason than that we want to know what would happen, what it might feel like to brush up against death, to run right up to the edge of our lives, which is, in some ways, to live fully.”

Gifty’s family is the only black family in their congregation. Her mother, not knowing the politics of race in Alabama figured the God in Ghana was the same as the God in Alabama and did not have second thoughts about sending her family to a congregation that feared God but hated them. I liked the juxtaposition of the head pastor – who was so kind to Gifty’s family and the congregation – who treated them badly and traded on racial stereotypes to justify Nana’s dependence on drugs. The most heartbreaking being when Gifty overhears a conversation where one of the women in church says – “these people have always had a taste for drugs”. Everything is tinged in racial bias, from the praises heaped on Nana for his brilliance in sports to the insults after his fall from grace.

“They are skeptical of the rhetoric of addiction as disease, something akin to high blood pressure or diabetes, and I get that. What they’re really saying is that they may have partied in high school and college but look at them now. Look how strong-willed they are, how many good choices they’ve made. They want reassurances. They want to believe that they have been loved enough and have raised their children well enough that the things that I research will never, ever touch their own lives.”

I genuinely enjoyed this book and pondered so many of the questions Gifty raises as she straddles the fence between christianity and science. Ultimately, I felt that this book was too short. I wish she had talked more about her mother’s recovery or non recovery. The book ends rather abruptly, the last chapter a wrap up of her and her mother’s life but I was curious. Did she ever get help? Did she ever get out of her depressive episode? What led Gifty to the place her life ended up? How has she reconciled her faith with her career?

I feel like Gyasi left so many questions unanswered. This book is less than 300 pages. I think 267 to be exact so it’s not like she ran out of pages. I still highly recommend this book. This is nothing like her first book but I think she escapes the sophomore slump by drilling down instead of writing yet another sprawling book that can be compared to her fantastic debut novel. I gave this one 4 stars on Goodreads.

Leggy

Chick-Lit, Fantasy, Fiction, literary fiction, Mystery, race, thriller, Uncategorized

Book Review: The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

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“He thinks we’re what we look like on the outside: nice Southern ladies. Let me tell you something…there’s nothing nice about Southern ladies.”

Patricia Campbell is a housewife in Charleston who can’t catch a break. She gave up a career as a nurse to marry an ambitious doctor who’s never home. She doesn’t have any help, her kids are ungrateful and on top of that, her mother-in-law just moved in with her. The only thing Patricia looks forward to during the week is her true crime book club. They read the filthiest of murders and discuss them in great detail even though their husbands believe that their group is a church group getting together to discuss the Bible.

A mysterious and handsome stranger moves into the neighborhood and the women spend a lot of time during their meetings speculating about him. Patricia finds him very attractive at first and invites him over to her house for dinner often. Until a few children over on the black side of town go missing and the car seen around the neighborhood looks exactly like his. Patricia starts having doubts about him and starts investigating what is really going on in their town.

“A no-good man will tell you he’s going to change,” she said. “He’ll tell you whatever you want to hear, but you’re the fool if you don’t believe what you see.”

I had a very different idea of what this book would be before I went in. I thought it would be funny and heartwarming. I mean the premise is ridiculous and I thought the author was going to run with it but he didn’t. I found this book to be way more serious than it needed to be, given the subject matter – for crying out loud, middle class women fighting a vampire .

It started out that way and I personally think it took a turn for the worse. I found this book to be both gory and gross. It’s very, very gory so, if you are a sensitive reader, I don’t think this book is for you. For example, there is an entire scene with rats eating someone alive. I found that terrifying and I don’t know why I kept reading it.

I also found this book to be over written. There were so many details that the author included that didn’t need to be in the book. This book is 400 pages when it didn’t need to be more than 300 with the dumbest characters I’ve read about in so long. All the men are super sexist while all the women are housewives and demure except the black woman who is a – I’ll wait for you to guess – housekeeper!

The main character presented enough evidence proving that their new neighbor wasn’t who he claimed to be and everyone just turned a blind eye at it. Sure, if it was real life and someone told me that my new neighbor is a vampire, I’d be skeptical too, but what is the fun in a book where a couple dead kids mean nothing.

One part of this book that rang true and mirrored real life to me was the fact that the vampire started out killing and sucking on black kids. It was easier for the white characters to ignore because it wasn’t happening to their kids and Patricia told them that bluntly. As long as it wasn’t happening on their side of town, they were content to do nothing. They only acted when he started coming after them and their kids and they were appropriately called out and the subject was well addressed in the book.

This book just did way too much. It has vampires, housewives, abusive husbands, sexist men, Nazis (yes, Nazis!), racism, book clubs, raccoons, rats and the list keeps going. I gave this book 2 stars on Goodreads. You can read it if it checks out to you on your library app on a day you’re bored and have nothing else to read.

 

Leggy

Book Related Topics, Fiction, Historical, literary fiction, race, Uncategorized

Book Review : The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

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“You can escape a town, but you cannot escape blood. Somehow, the Vignes twins believed themselves capable of both.”

The Vignes twin sisters – Stella and Desiree were born in a small town in Louisiana called Mallard filled with very light skinned black people. At age 16, they run away to New Orleans to escape their small town and live bigger lives. After a year in new Orleans, their lives completely diverge. They both go on to live completely different lives – one passing as white, while the other marries the darkest black man she can find. Bennett takes us through the years, weaving together multiple strands and generations of these women, from Louisiana to Boston to California, she tells a remarkable story of trying to survive while black in America.

“There were many ways to be alienated from someone, few to actually belong”

Bennett describes the town of Mallard so well that it is almost a character in this book (I googled “is Mallard a real town?” even though the logical part of my brain knew it wasn’t). This town is a black community with a very unusual beginning:

The idea arrived to Alphonse Decuir in 1848, as he stood in the sugarcane fields he’d inherited from the father who’d once owned him. The father now dead, the now-freed son wished to build something on those acres of land that would last for centuries to come. A town for men like him, who would never be accepted as white but refused to be treated like Negroes. A third place.

So they strived to create a better negro with each generation breeding specifically for white features – skin lighter, hair wavier, eyes colored but this still didn’t inoculate them from the hands of racism. The twins’ father was still dragged out of bed in the middle of the day and lynched while his little girls watched when they were only 7 and it didn’t stop race from shaping everything about their lives for the 40 years the book spans.

10 years after she leaves, Desiree comes back to Mallard while trying to escape an abusive husband with the darkest baby the town had ever seen. Desiree’s daughter, Jude, is the darkest person in a town filled with light skinned black people. The way Mallard treats and talks about dark skinned people is quite riveting to read. The cognitive dissonance is fascinating. They throw out all the dark skinned insults – dark baby, black you’re almost blue, tar baby, if you swim with us i’m sure the water would be filled with crude oil and on and on. They never see the irony in the way they treat Jude and the way white people treat them.

“But the passe blanc were a mystery. You could never meet one who’d passed over undetected, the same way you’d never know someone who successfully faked her own death; the act could only be successful if no one ever discovered it was a ruse.”

Reading about Stella’s passing as white and being immersed in a world that absolutely hated her was fantastic to read. Bennett paints such a vivid picture of fear and hiding in plain sight in a world that wants nothing to do with you and actively participating in that world and in the prejudice that comes with finally being the oppressor. Stella marries a white man and gives birth to a blonde, blue eyed daughter who had no idea that she was anything but white.

The way little micro aggressions are laid out and “good people” are shown to think their prejudices are for everyone’s good and even the feminist movement’s exclusion of black women is explored. At first, you judge Stella for her choices but as you read more about her story you can’t help but ache for her – the loneliness, the lies her entire life is built on, the struggle of not being able to belong to your people and the surety that the people who claim to love you now would absolutely hate you if they knew who you really were.

“She hadn’t realized how long it takes to become somebody else, or how lonely it can be living in a world not meant for you.”

Bennett’s debut novel “The Mothers” was very good but this book is FANTASTIC. I loved every second of this book. This story is so well written, emotional, and is one that stays with you long after you’ve stopped reading. I truly enjoyed every character and setting used by the author. Every single line belonged here. I think everyone should read this one. I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads and I would give it more if I could. This will definitely make my top 5 books of the year. Absolutely recommend. You should read this one and come talk to me on twitter about it.

 

Leggy