Posts Tagged ‘African American Fiction’

Best New Books of 2014: Sharon S’s Picks

December 12, 2014

It is said that “Truth is stranger than fiction,” and to me it is just as interesting. I read fiction and nonfiction for the same reasons: to be entertained, instructed, and inspired. Here are my favorite new books for this year:

Pastor Needs a BooPastor Needs a Boo by Michele Andrea Bowen
A former FBI agent as well as a dedicated pastor, Denzelle Flowers of New Jerusalem Church in Durham got burned on the romance scene when his wife left him for a richer man. When the perfect Proverbs 31 woman shows up in his life he’s not ready to admit it, even though everyone else sees that she’s the one for him. Meanwhile, Pastor Denzelle decides to run for bishop, and has to pack both his gun and his Bible as major corruption sweeps through their denomination.

What Makes Olga Run?What Makes Olga Run? by Bruce Grierson
What makes a 93-year-old woman participate in track events worldwide, and set records that compare (in her age category) with those of the best athletes in the world? Well, she loves doing it, and her ability to do it stretches our stereotypes about aging. She is not alone—there are other “super seniors” like her around the world. Bruce Grierson leads us through a fascinating investigation of what keeps them going strong. See my full review.

William Shakespeare's Star WarsWilliam Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope by Ian Doescher
Hang on to your lightsabers! Doescher cleverly conflates famous lines from Shakespeare with famous scenes from Star Wars, making for a blend of comedy and drama worthy of the Bard himself. What I like best is getting to see into the minds of the characters through the asides and soliloquys. The series is continued in The Empire Striketh Back and The Jedi Doth Return. My family and I have been reading it aloud to each other (my husband plays the role of Chewbacca, and my 12-year-old son plays R2D2). See my full review.

Life is a WheelLife is a Wheel: Love, Death, Etc., and a Bike Ride Across America by Bruce Weber
The death of his parents and other major changes shook Weber up and gave him a lot to think about concerning life, love, and death. It didn’t help matters that he had spent the last three years of his middle-aged life writing obituaries for The New York Times. He decided to do something to prove to himself that he was still alive and kicking — bike across America! I love books like this, where someone decides to do something semi-crazy, and I can go along for the ride without the expense or the sore leg muscles! Based on the daily blogs he sent back to the newspaper, this book is a very entertaining and interesting read.

The Owl Who Liked Sitting on CaesarThe Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar by Martin Windrow
One reason I like to read is to experience vicariously things I may never experience myself, or at least not in the same way. I love owls, and Martin Windrow gives me a window into what they are really like, close-up and personal. Mumbles is a charming little tawny owl who is nevertheless no pushover! I loved reading about her daily life, and her and Martin’s close relationship of many years. See my full review.

Church Folk by Michele Andrea Bowen

November 5, 2014

I am sure many First Ladies can attest, their job is not an easy one. They have nothing on Essie Lee Lane, a plain girl from a small town who knows her way around a kitchen (that means she can cook really well). Essie does not know what she is getting into when she marries the Reverend Theophilus Simmons. Reverend Simmons is an up and coming theological star in the 1960’s South. Not only is he easy on the eyes (that means he is handsome), but a respected Southern preacher is a position of power in the South especially as the Civil Rights Movement is taking hold. Reverend Simmons is everything you would ever want in a husband—let me re-phrase that, Reverend Simmons is everything every woman in the community wants as a husband. When Reverend Simmons chooses Essie as his wife, the townfolk do not silently sit with their hands folded on their lap, instead they put Essie and their marriage to the test.  Lots of drama ensues in this sometimes funny, sometimes serious but always lively book.

If you found my parenthetical definitions tedious and too obvious then I really think you will like this book. The loose vernacular style is a delight. The colloquial language is not just for show, it comes from the heart and captures precisely the emotions felt. This book is a real treat. And if you like it, be sure to read its sequel, More Church Folk.

Michele Andrea Bowen is one of several North Carolina authors visiting our regional libraries in November. You can meet her and learn about her work at Southeast Regional Library on Saturday, November 8, at 2:30 p.m.  Click here to register.

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Grown Folks Business by Victoria Christopher Murray

October 17, 2014

Grown Folks BusinessSheridan meets Quentin while serving as an intern at her doctor’s office; it’s love at first sight. Sheridan marries Quentin right out of college despite her parents’ objection. They have two beautiful children, Tori, nine years old and Chris, sixteen, and live a perfect life as a family.

But Sheridan and Quentin’s seventeen years of marital bliss collapse all of a sudden when Quentin gives a shocking announcement that he is in love with someone else, and that someone else is a man, a close family friend named Jett.

Quentin moves in with Jett. Sheridan now deals with how to inform their kids about their father’s new lifestyle, but Chris finds out anyway, and that begins a new drama in Sheridan’s household. Chris changes his name to Christopher fearing that Chris could be a girl’s name. He makes several changes in his life just to prove he is nothing like his father. Tori and a few family members accept Quentin’s new life while others find it unforgivable.

Sheridan receives emotional and spiritual support from her close friend, her parents, and her church pastor. At her pastor’s office, she accidentally runs into a UPS driver, Brock, when she is not ready for love but Brock will not let her rest until she finally falls for him.

Sheridan and Quentin come together in order to help their son, Chris, out of his own life crisis that leads to a rebirth in the life of Deja, his girlfriend.

I enjoyed this book because it’s an easy read, it’s full of love and support, disagree to agree, and friendship.

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Gone Fishin’ by Walter Mosley

September 22, 2014

Gone Fishin'Walter Mosley is perhaps best known for his Easy Rawlins mysteries (Devil in a Blue Dress, et al), but the man has written a lot and tackled many different genres. Therefore, it would be unfair to say that Gone Fishin’ is an unusual Walter Mosley book. But it is not a mystery. Instead, it is a Bildungsroman that contains some faces familiar to readers of the Easy Rawlins series.
The main characters are said Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins and his friend Raymond “Mouse” Alexander, and the year is 1939 – nine years before the events of Devil in a Blue Dress; the novel that launched the Rawlins’ series.

Late one night, a racket breaks out on Easy’s apartment door: “I knew it couldn’t be the police,” Rawlins says, “they just broke down the door in that neighborhood”. Instead, Mouse is the one who interrupts his rest. Mouse is about to marry EttaMae, a hugely popular woman, and thus he needs some money. To overcome his shortage of currency Mouse wants Easy to drive him from their home in Houston’s Fifth Ward to a Texas town called Pariah (!), where Mouse hopes to access to his “Momma’s dowry.” The problem is that his stepfather Reese Corn stands between Mouse and the dowry, and Mouse – who isn’t easily scared – is afraid of Reese.

Easy is offered 15 dollars and agrees, although he is mad because he is about to lose his friend. He’d help Mouse out without the “threats and the IOU,” but to make sure that Mouse doesn’t realize this, Easy says, “I want my fifteen dollars, man. You know I ain’t doin’ this fo’my health.”

And in a three year old car that Mouse has “borrowed,” they leave Houston for Pariah.

As they reach the bayou, Mouse suggests that they should visit his friend, Momma Jo. On a ledge over her fireplace, Easy sees thirteen skulls, one of them clearly human.

“’Domaque,’ Momma Jo said, and I turned to see her looking at me.

‘What?’

‘My husband.’”

Yes. They have entered the land of voodoo, and soon enough, sex, revenge, and death keep them company, too.
It has been pointed out elsewhere that Mosley’s books have strong existentialist traits. This is true for Gone Fishin’ which portraits a morally ambiguous world. And it is a novel filled with all kinds of tensions and questions: “Who knows?” Easy says, “Maybe I would’ve died out there in Pariah if Mouse hadn’t held me to his black heart.”

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Money Can’t Buy Love by Connie Briscoe

September 15, 2014

Money Can't Buy Love by Connie BriscoeLife is not so grand for thirty-something Lenora Stone, she’s struggling to pay her bills, despises her boss and her long time beau just won’t pop the question. Lenora is a photographer for the Baltimore Scene, a magazine that features Baltimore’s elite. Lenora could only wish for the life that her clients live. Lenora faithfully plays the lottery and one day she actually hits the jackpot, her life is definitely about to change.

Lenora is in a state of shock that she is millionaire. She holes up in her home and refuses to go to work until she can come to terms with her new found wealth. Lenora’s adjustment period is short lived; she quits her job and purchases a luxury vehicle, and a mini mansion in an exclusive neighborhood and Gerald is finally ready to propose. Everything seems to be going well for her.

After quitting her job, Lenora decides to go into business for herself and purchases a space for a studio. Ray Shearer, a handsome landscaper, is Lenora’s first client. She met Ray on a previous assignment and sparks fly immediately. This is obviously a problem since she is engaged. Lenora’s romantic relationships may be heating up but her friendship with longtime friends, Monica and Alise are on shaky ground. Lenora claims they are treating her differently because she won the lottery and thinks she has changed for the worse. Lenora has a lot going on in her life and is not quite sure how to handle it. Will Lenora make the right decisions, or will everything fall apart?

This is a great read for the beach or a lazy afternoon. Connie Briscoe does a great job of reminding us that money does not ensure happiness. You will enjoy following Lenora through her journey of ups and downs.

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When the Thrill Is Gone by Walter Mosley

September 2, 2014

When the Thrill is GoneWhen the Thrill is Gone was my first introduction to the Leonid McGill series, I’ve read the majority of Walter Mosley’s, Easy Rawlins series and thoroughly enjoyed them. Leonid, who is a private investigator in a pinch for money, wearily takes on a new client offering a stack of money for his services. Leonid’s new client, Chrystal Tyler, is afraid she is going to end up dead like her husband’s previous wives. Chrystal is hopeful that Leonid can keep her from becoming victim number three. Leonid is trying to focus on Chrystal’s case when he receives a phone call from Harris Vartan, a very dangerous man, he finds it hard to focus knowing that he is on Vartan’s radar, but Leonid is street savvy, well connected and makes the right moves to get his missions accomplished and stay alive.

Leonid has a bad feeling as he immerses himself into Chrystal’s case, he soon discovers that his client is not who she says she is. As the story unfolds, someone has killed Chrystal’s sister and her nieces and nephews are now parentless, Leonid is trying to find out if it has anything to do with Chrystal, and if she is in immediate danger. Mysterious persons and circumstances are waiting around every corner as Leonid gets deeper into this case.

Most of us can find some solace at home, unfortunately for Leonid this is not the case. His wife, Katrina has a history of being unfaithful and his friend, who is dying from cancer, is sleeping on his couch. Joy comes to Leonid through his three children and his sometimes girlfriend, Aura.

In this fast-paced read, you never know what will be revealed on the next page. Walter Mosley always does an excellent job of bringing his characters to life; you will love them or hate them. I am looking forward to reading the other books in this series.

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The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley

June 6, 2014

The Last Days of Ptolemy GreyAs the The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey opens, we meet Ptolemy Grey, a 91 year man, living in disarray in a tough neighborhood in Los Angeles. Ptolemy’s failing mind is garbled, so it’s a little confusing to figure out what is going on– what is real– at first. Reggie, his adult great nephew and the one person that he could depend on, has just died, which further upsets and confuses Ptolemy.

After a series of run-ins with unsavory characters and folks he can’t trust, Ptolemy meets Robin, a beautiful 17 year old family friend.  Robin and Ptolemy quickly bond, as neither has much in this world. They form a relationship based on mutual respect and compassion.  Robin gives Ptolemy protection and brings some much needed light into his life. She also cleans up Ptolemy’s apartment which has spiraled into disarray. This helps to guide his life back on track.

At the center of this novel is an interesting concept:  Ptolemy is offered a chance to have the health of his mind restored but at the cost of having his life cut short. This could be considered a science fiction aspect, but in this day and age it seems that this type of experimental drug may be a possibility. And this concept made me think about what I would do in Ptolemy’s place.

Because of Ptolemy’s dementia, there are many flash backs throughout the story in which we learn more about his history and about the people who have made a lasting impact on his long life. Coydog McCann is one of the characters who Ptolemy often still thinks about even though he died during Ptolemy’s childhood.  I thought it was unique how Coydog continued to be a guiding figure for Ptolemy and a part of the storyline many years after he died.

This is the first book I have read by author, Walter Mosley, known for his Easy Rawlins mystery series, and I was impressed.  I felt the characters were well written and compelling. I had a soft spot for Ptolemy and enjoyed the connection between Robin and Ptolemy Although gritty and heartbreaking at times, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey was an overall intriguing tale with some unique twists and a satisfying conclusion.

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The Returned by Jason Mott

February 17, 2014

Imagine if that person you loved so dearly who died years ago suddenly showed up on your doorstep, looking just exactly as they did when they were alive and well. Imagine if that started happening all over the world, day after day.

Harold and Lucille Hargrave were an elderly couple living in the small town of Arcadia, North Carolina. Since their only child, Jacob, had drowned on his eighth birthday decades ago, Harold and Lucille’s relationship had become a sharp pebble in a shoe: it was painful, but they just kept walking. Harold constantly battled his desire for cigarettes while he complained about everything, especially anything important to Lucille. She kept her world together by improving her vocabulary—much to Harold’s derision—and maintaining a prim exterior. She clung to a type of small-town religion, fiercely championing her own opinions by prefacing them with “the Bible says….” When Agent Martin Bellamy knocks on the door with little Jacob beside him, this fossilized couple is thrust back into the role of being the parents of a young boy.

It’s happening everywhere. A Japanese man runs into a convenience store, screaming “I surrender!” No one knows what he’s surrendering for. A famous French artist comes back to life, but has no interest in enjoying his posthumous fame, only in worshipping the woman he loved, who is now well past caring. Others wait for their beloved dead, but they never appear. There are so many of the Returned. Are they really human? Where can we house them all? Should they be allowed to mix with the True Living?

In the Author’s Note, debut North Carolina author Jason Mott reveals that part of his reason for writing The Returned was to allow himself another chance to live through his own mother’s death, to try to love her more worthily this time. He walks through his own novel as one of the characters, and the reader can watch his heartfelt desire for closure. Both a fascinating study of human nature and a deeply personal journey, The Returned uses fantastical catastrophes to reveal the sometimes surprising depths of the human soul. This review appeared previously at http://eatingreadingsleeping.wordpress.com/.

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32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter

February 5, 2014

Most of us have felt like the ugly duckling at some point in time, but Davidia Jones deals with this from elementary school through high school.  Davidia has been nicknamed “Monkey Night” and this is how she is addressed by her peers. Davidia’s mother, Cora lacks compassion and her only concern seems to be alcohol and men.  After a harsh spanking and tongue lashing from her mother, six year old Davidia stops talking. Sixteen Candles is Davidia’s favorite movie and when she gets to high school she thinks she has found her Jake Ryan.  James Farrell is her Jake Ryan, he is handsome, rich and athletic, and she is totally smitten with him. Davidia finally has the opportunity to show her classmates and James Farrell that she is much more than the ugly duckling they think she is, but as luck would have it things don’t work in her favor. After being utterly humiliated by her classmates, Davidia flees Glass, Mississippi for California with a truck driver.

Davidia has found her voice again and when she gets to California, Mama Jane, the truck driver convinces her nephew, Nicky to give Davidia a job at his night club. Davidia shortens her name to Davie and is now a sultry nightclub singer at Nicky’s. Davidia has completely reinvented herself and life in California is good. After leaving a singing telegram gig, Davidia literally runs into James Farrell, her high school crush. Davidia and James start dating but James does not remember her from high school and she doesn’t bother to tell him. As the story progresses, we find out that Davidia has been getting revenge on her high school classmates by using some of her L.A. connections. Will Davidia get her Sixteen Candles ending with James Farrell or will her inability to let go of the past ruin everything?

Debut Author, Ernessa T. Carter did an excellent job with this coming of age story, it was refreshing to see Davidia escape her unfortunate home situation and eventually come into her own. Carter draws you into Davidia’s corner and you will find yourself rooting for her as she goes through her ups and downs. I hope that a sequel is in the works, I would love to what‘s next for Davidia. ”

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Glorious by Bernice McFadden

March 20, 2013

Waycross, Georgia is where this story begins and inevitably ends but in between, we follow Easter Bartlett on a journey as she runs from her painful past and searches for happiness. On July 4, 1910, a terrible thing happens to Rlizbeth Bartlett that became the ruin of the Bartlett family and sends Easter, Rlizbeth’s sister running away from Waycross with hopes of never looking back. Easter leaves Waycross and heads to Valdosta, Georgia to stay with relatives. Valdosta is just one of the many stops for Easter, she never stays in one place for long.

Easter’s travels eventually take her to New York City, Harlem to be exact. The majority of Easter’s time in Harlem is good but tragedy strikes several times throughout her stay. Easter finds love and marries Colin Gibbs who is heavily involved with Marcus Garvey and the Back to Africa Movement. Easter reunites with her dear friend, Rain who introduces her to Meredith Tomas. Easter eventually moves into 409 Edgecombe Avenue with Meredith Tomas and Rain. When Meredith discovers Easter’s talent and love of writing, she becomes her benefactor and helps to get her stories published in The Crisis under the moniker of E.V. Gibbs. Meredith introduces her to the right people and soon Easter is rubbing elbows with the likes of Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and a multitude of other Harlem Renaissance movers and shakers. Easter’s time in Harlem takes a turn for the worst when she enters her book into a contest. As the story ends, Easter finds herself back in Waycross, Georgia… where it all began.

Bernice McFadden paints a powerful story and easily draws you into Easter’s world. This is a great story about a strong, intelligent woman and her journey to overcome her past and make a way for her future. The story is peppered with historical experiences that took place from 1910-1960, like the Harlem Renaissance. I thoroughly enjoy McFadden’s work, her books always leave me with a sense of peace and delight.

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