Posts Tagged ‘African-American’

Best New Books of 2013: Pam W’s Picks

December 11, 2013

My reading tastes are kind of all over the map, but I especially enjoy mysteries and historical fiction.  This year my list is full of lots of new authors.  I’ve read and really liked many of the books that are at the top of the best seller’s lists, but here are five of my favorites that might be less well known.

The House Girl by Tara Conklin
Conkin’s novel alternates between the story of Josephine, a slave in Virginia during the 1850’s at a failing plantation; and Lina, a first year associate of a large corporate law firm in present day New York who is working on what her boss calls a history making case. Lina’s case requires her to find a descendant of a slave who would like to be a plaintiff in a case over who painted a series of famous paintings that have long been attributed to Lu Ann Bell, but now are believed to have been painted by her slave.  As Lina investigates the case, the novel switches back to tell Josephine’s story.  Josephine’s was the more riveting tale, but the modern story was interesting as well. I look forward to more by this author.

Bay of Fires by Poppy Gee
Bay of Fires, a wonderful debut novel by Poppy Gee, is set in a remote holiday town on the east coast of Tasmania. Sarah Avery has lost her job and is spending some time with her parents in the cabin they visit every summer.  Sarah is fishing when she finds the body of a young woman on her favorite beach.   Suddenly, Sarah’s family and friends become murder suspects.  I loved the unusual setting and the spooky atmosphere of this book.  The author does a wonderful job of describing the wild nature of Tasmania’s east coast, and the insular nature of a small, isolated community. Check out my full-length post here.

Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda
Pochoda’s novel starts off with two bored young girls on a slow, hot evening in Brooklyn.  The girls want to do exciting, something that will make their lives more interesting and prove they are more grown up.  Later that evening, one girl is found on the shore unconscious and the other is missing.  What happened, and who is responsible?  Is it the teacher who found the unconscious Val?  The young man who was known to be the last to speak to the girls? Pochoda’s focus is less on the police investigation than on the description of the neighborhood and its residents.  But this is the beauty of her book.  By the time I finished, I felt like had visited Red Hook, Brooklyn, and that her characters had become my neighbors.  I hated to leave them when the book ended.

Amity and Sorrow by Peggy Riley
Amity and Sorrow is a moving tale of a woman trying to undo a terrible mistake she made when she was young.  After losing her family, she took up with a charismatic man who took her to live in a remote area.  Years later, she is fleeing from him and the cult he has created. Amaranth is terrified that her husband will follow her to force her and her two daughters to return.  The girls are unable to imagine what their lives will be like outside of the family.  The older daughter, Sorrow, has no intention of leaving the only life she has ever known and is fighting her mother every step of the way.  The younger daughter, Amity, is caught between her mother and her sister.  Riley’s writing is spare but she is able to paint a vivid picture.  You will find yourself hoping for redemption for Amaranth and her family, no matter what she has done in the past. See my full-length post here.

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier
Honor Bright is from a Quaker community in England.  Jilted by her fiance, she decides to go with her sister to Ohio for her sister’s wedding.  Tragedy strikes, though, and when her sister dies, Honor doesn’t know what to do except finish the journey and bring the news to the man who was to be her brother-in-law.  Along the way, she is introduced to the issue of slavery and the return of escaped slaves in a frightening incident.  As a Quaker, Honor is firmly against slavery.  But the small community she has come to is in a difficult situation.  If they are seen to help the runaways, they risk losing their own lively hoods or more.  This dilemma is what Honor has to navigate in her new unexpected situation. She is dependent on the kindness of people she is not related to, and cannot upset them.  But she also wants to live according to her morals. Chevalier’s take on the issue of slavery is unique, and Honor was an engaging character.  Fans of historical fiction will really enjoy this one.

Best New Books of 2013: Sarah K’s Picks

December 5, 2013

This year a study came out that demonstrated that after reading literary fiction, people scored better on tests measuring empathy. With that in mind, I present you five of my favorite novels and memoirs from 2013.  All of them pack an emotional wallop with characters that will linger with you, long after you finish their stories. After a year filled with impasses and increasing polarity, it wouldn’t hurt to see things from another point of view!

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Young lovers Ifemelu and Obinze separate when Ifemelu goes to university in the United States leaving Obinze behind in Nigeria. Stymied by post-9/11 immigration policies, he is unable to join her, and instead journeys to England to live illegally. Reunited years later, the pair must decide whether to begin anew or to return to their current life trajectories. Adichie’s keen observations and precise wit put her in the tradition of Jane Austen’s social and romantic explorations.

The Liars’ Gospel by Naomi Alderman
A year after Yehoshuah’s crucifixion, Roman-occupied Judea is in a state of unrest. Four people, Miryam, Iehuda, Caiaphas and Bar-Avo, try to make sense of the past as well as present life under their Roman oppressors. Alderman’s provocative retelling of the life of Christ is filled with vibrant descriptions of temple rites, riots, and assassinations, which bring immediacy to its ancient setting. Throughout the book, both Alderman and her characters wrestle with who Yehoshuah really was; the Messiah, or a roving preacher from a backwater town.

The Flame Throwers by Rachel Kushner
Reno leaves the deserts of her hometown to join the New York art world in 1975. There she meets Sandro Valera, heir to an Italian motorcycle and tire company along with other bohemian characters in his creative sphere. She begins to develop her art and on the way races high speed vehicles to become the fastest woman in the world. After a crushing betrayal, Reno joins a radical group in Italy. Kushner’s writing is a delight, deft and sharp and surprising; she describes Pat Nixon as “a ratted beauty-parlor tough who became first lady.” She layers stories upon stories to create a rich buffet of a book that you won’t be able to put down.

With or Without You by Domenica Ruta
Domenica Ruta’s memoir of growing up in working class Massachusetts with her mother Kathi is both incredibly vivid and unsettling. As a reader I couldn’t turn away from her path of destruction, beginning with the opening pages as Kathi takes a crowbar to her brother’s ex-girlfriend’s car.  Kathi, whose life is a cascading series of high highs and low lows, is one of the most compelling characters to appear in a book this year. Loud, reckless, and chaotic, Kathi is the human equivalent of a V-2 rocket and Ruta neither glamorizes nor demonizes her difficult upbringing.

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
After losing four close friends and a brother over four years, Jesmyn Ward tries to make sense of their premature deaths in this devastating memoir. Ward’s narrative moves back and forth in time as she explores life in her rural Mississippi community and the ways that the men in her life try to escape the snares of poverty, racism, and plain bad luck.  She writes to bring these men back from the dead and to draw our eyes to lives we would otherwise ignore.  As she says, “There is a great darkness bearing down on our lives, and no one acknowledges it.”

Best New Books of 2013: Marcy H’s Picks

December 2, 2013

While I work primarily in Youth Services, for pure pleasure I mostly read adult contemporary fiction.  I have read quite a few new books published this year and here are my list of favorites.  I hope you’ll enjoy them too!

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin
This is the fictionalized story of Anne Morrow Lindberg and her marriage to Charles Lindbergh.  This well-written novel is filled with historical information in the context of a deeply moving story about Anne’s journey to find herself and her voice through the tragedies of her life and the difficulty of her marriage to America’s hero.

Insane City by Dave Barry
Wildly entertaining and seriously funny, this wild romp through Miami with Seth Weinstein on the eve of his wedding has everything from pirate, illegal immigrants, an orangutan, a snake, and medicinal brownies…a crazy plot that could easily be envisioned as a successful movie (think Hangover or Bridesmaids).  This book is pure escapism but with enough social commentary to give it a little substance as well.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
This is a story of first love between two 16 year old misfits who by happenstance have to sit next to each other on the school bus. What starts out as awkward indifference to each other transcends into a sweet, and endearing loving relationship that helps each other cope with the realities in their lives. You will find yourself reliving your own teenage angst while rooting hard for these two characters.

The Supremes at Earl’s All You Can Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore
While not in the genre of highbrow literature, this delightful book takes you into the world of three engaging middle class African American women, Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean, as they deal with life and death issues over the course of one year’s time.  The three have been fast friends since high school days when the proprietor of the local hangout christened them “The Supremes,” hence the name of the book.  Warm, witty and intelligently written, this book was a page turner that didn’t disappoint and one I was sorry to see end.

Z:  A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Ann Fowler
This fictionalized autobiography of Zelda Fitzgerald is a very compassionate, well-written book that fleshes out this oft-maligned wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald.  This book shows us a fully-formed, somewhat flawed individual filled with dreams and aspirations of her own that were never fully realized due to the intensity and volatility of her relationship with her husband and the excessive lifestyle they lived.  A well-researched book that immerses the reader into the lives of these larger than life characters.

Motherhood Diaries by Reshonda Tate Billingsley

August 27, 2013

When I came across Reshonda Tate Billingsley’s, Motherhood Diaries, I had to read it. As a mother of a 7-year-old, I was curious to read about the parenting experiences of the contributors. Motherhood Diaries is a collection of short stories by mothers from diverse backgrounds, each highlighting various situations. The stories in this book speak to mothers dealing with adoption, forgetfulness, poverty, disabilities, and everyday parenting issues.

My favorite stories were, “Diary of a Special Needs Mother”, “Diary of a Breast Cancer Survivor”, and “Diary of an Overachieving Mom (Who Longs for a Drink)”. “Diary of a Special Needs Mother” talks about how an accident left her 3-year-old son brain damaged, and her rise to the challenge of parenting him along with her other two children. In “Breast Cancer Survivor”, we meet a mother who is struggling with telling her teenage daughter that she has cancer, and how her daughter’s harsh words encourage her to seek treatment that she originally planned to forego. “Overachieving Mom” opens with her hiding in the closet from her children–she is at her wits’ end. She is the mother who has her kids enrolled in the best private schools and every extracurricular activity possible. This story is full of humorous situations that made me laugh out loud.

These stories are funny, eye opening, and heartbreaking. I highly recommend this book; there is something here for every mom. Motherhood Diaries is a friendly reminder that you are not alone in your struggles and doubts about parenting.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Between by Tananarive Due

September 19, 2012

When Hilton James was a boy, he found his nana’s cold body on the kitchen floor, and a hysterical Hilton ran next door to get a neighbor. When they walked into the house, nana was standing at the stove humming. When Hilton asked nana what happened, she said she fainted. Nana was never quite the same after that day and Hilton was convinced that she had died on that kitchen floor. Months later at a family reunion, Hilton was swimming in the ocean and nearly drowned. While his Nana was trying to save him, the current swept her away and she was never seen again. Both of those days would be burned into Hilton’s memory and haunt him for the remainder of his life.

Thirty years later, Hilton James is married with a family and living in Miami, Hilton is a social worker and his wife Dede, is a Judge. The James’s live a quiet life, until Dede starts receiving threats. The threats against his family are racially motivated and Hilton is not taking them lightly, unlike his wife. Around the same time that the threats start, weird things start happening to Hilton. Hilton starts to see and experience things and he cannot recall if they actually happened or not. Every time Hilton closes his eyes he experiences frightening dreams, he gives up on sleeping altogether. On top of the dreams and strange occurrences, his wife is continuing to receive threats. The odd thing about his dreams and strange happenings is that they usually foretell something that is about to happen. Hilton attributes the strange thoughts and dreams to him cheating death as a youngster and thinks that his time has finally come. The combination of Hilton’s paranoia and lack of sleep start to have a negative effect on his personal life and work, his life is spiraling out of control. Is Hilton losing his mind or is it something much deeper?

I was anxious to see what would happen next with the James family. Tananarive  Due  captures your attention and you feel like you are Hilton’s shadow as he struggles for clarity each day. This was a great read but my favorite is The Good House, also by Due. In her usual fashion, Due works in a good bit of the eerie unexplained which keeps you on edge and eagerly awaiting the end result.

Find and reserve this book in the catalog.

Home Across the Road by Nancy Peacock

February 29, 2012

Meet the Redd family: a formerly wealthy southern clan whose fortunes have fallen so far that the current generation is selling the family mansion.  Also, meet the Redd family: an African American family founded in 1855 when plantation owner Jannis Redd fathered a child by his slave.  For five generations the two family’s lives have been intertwined.

Currently, the African American Redd family lives across the road from the run down plantation called Roseberry.   China Redd cooked and cleaned for the white Redd’s for 48 years.  Before that her parents worked for them, and before that, her grandparents were owned by them.  Years ago, a terrible thing happened between the two families which has affected the fortunes of both families.  Locals tell ghost stories about Roseberry, and in 1965 the matron  of the Redd family who China worked for wrote a book called The Legends of Roseberry.  But there is no one left alive who knows the true story of the two Redd families, except China. Now she wants to pass them to her grandchild before she dies so that her family will always know the truth.

Although told primarily by China, different portions of the book are told from points of view of various members of both families, giving us a fuller picture of life on the plantation.  This is moving story, and is even more fascinating because it is set locally, in Chatham County, NC.

Find and request this book in our catalog.

When Death Comes Stealing by Valerie Wilson Wesley

February 16, 2012

My January book club selection, When Death Comes Stealing, sparked quite the discussion.  We went back and forth about our early speculation of whodunit and the characters we loathed and loved.  The last time our discussion was that lively was when we were reading the Easy Rawlins series by Walter Mosley. This was my first time reading a Valerie Wilson Wesley book and I’m looking forward to reading her others.

When Death Comes Stealing is the first book in the Tamara Hayle series. Hayle is an ex-cop turned private investigator who lives a modest life with her teenage son, Jamal. One Sunday morning, Tamara receives a phone call from her ex-husband, Dwayne Curtis. Dwayne informs Tamara that his son, Terrence has died. The authorities suspect that drugs played a part in Terrence’s death but Dwayne is convinced foul play is involved. Dwayne hires Tamara to investigate Terrence’s death and as she starts digging around she is pretty sure Terrence was a victim of murder, not a drug overdose. Five days after Terrence’s death, Dwayne’s son Gerard is found dead. Dwayne’s sons are being killed one by one and Tamara is starting to worry about the safety of their son, Jamal. As Tamara works her way through this case she finds out some things about Dwayne she never knew and wonders if there is a connection between his past and the murders of his sons.

Wesley does a great job of keeping you on your toes and guessing; before the book was over, I had several of the main characters pegged as the suspect. This book has a great mixture of thrill, suspense, treachery and even some sprinklings of romance.

This was Valerie Wilson Wesley’s debut novel and she did not disappoint. The book hooked me around page five. Wesley did an excellent job of pulling you into Hayle’s world, she introduces you to a multitude of characters and each one is looking more and more like the prime suspect. Hayle is an extremely likeable character, by the end of the story you feel as if Hayle is an old girlfriend. If you decide to read this one you may also want to check out Devil’s Gonna Get Him.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Happy MLK Day from Wake County Public Libraries

January 16, 2012

Happy MLK Day! As a reminder, all Wake County Public Libraries are closed Monday, January 16th for Martin Luther King Day.

In honor of King’s work toward Civil Rights, take a look at this non-fiction reading list on African American History!

Looking for other book recommendations? Check out the large variety of reading lists and other resources we have to help you find great books on our Library’s Reading page, including the best ways to find new and upcoming books.

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

January 28, 2011

In December 2000, Wes Moore made the pages of the Baltimore Sun twice in
one day. One story was about a native son who was headed to Oxford
University on a Rhodes scholarship. The other was about a suspected cop
killer on the loose.

The book recounts conversations that took place when the Rhodes Scholar met the convicted felon in prison to try to get some understanding of why fate
had been so kind to him and so rough to his same-name counterpart.

The story will have vicarious appeal if you have ever imagined meeting your
Google twins, those mysterious people who use your name but are not you and whose information comes up when you type your names into a search engine. Fans of Malcom Gladwell’s vignettes about little coincidences that alter the course of a life will also appreciate this book-length story along the
same theme.

What you won’t find in this book is any of the biting commentary on social
justice that the book’s premise seems ripe for.  Throughout the book, the
author gently encourages support for agencies and organizations that create
opportunities for the disenfranchised, but shies away from taking credit
for his own accomplishments or laying blame for the course of the title
character’s life.

At nearly 400 pages of dense text, this book pushed the limits of how much
time and attention I am generally willing to devote to one story. But I
become so absorbed that I felt a tinge of disappointment when the book ends
just as the girls’ lives are getting started. But then again, shouldn’t any
coming of age story worth reading leave you wanting more?

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Blood Done Sign My Name by Timothy Tyson

July 12, 2010

Once in a while, a book will touch me deeply.     It might be the subject, or the language or the memories it evokes.  It was all of these, and more, that make Blood Done Sign My Name such a book.  Author Timothy Tyson and I have a few things in common.  We are the same age.  We both were raised in North Carolina during a very tumultuous time.  We both had parents who were open minded and taught us to treat all our neighbors, of all races, with respect.  We both had mothers who taught us a love of reading.  There the similarities end, but that was enough to make his story very personal for me.

Blood Done Sign My Name is the horrifying, true story of the murder of Henry Marrow, a twenty-three year old black veteran.   The murder sparked violence throughout the small community of Oxford, North Carolina.  The mayhem eventually touched the very heart of the community’s economy, with the burning of the town’s tobacco warehouses.  Tyson’s father, the pastor of Oxford’s all white Methodist church, urged the town to find peace and face its racial past.   Because of his courageous voice, the family was forced to leave Oxford.

Two things about this were surprising for me.  That it happened in 1970, and that I had never heard of these events, despite having a strong background in history.

Tyson does a masterful job of making this tragic story a fabulous book.  He infuses it with warmth, compassion, and at times humor.  It is a page turner.  But at times I had to put it down catch my breath.

A movie version of Blood Done Sign My Name was released earlier this year.  I haven’t seen it yet, but it is certainly on my list.

Find and reserve Blood Done Sign My Name in our catalog.

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