Tag Archives: Damera

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

I’ve almost always been pretty reluctant to read any books that are deemed as classics. It has something to do with going to school and having a teacher telling you what book you should read. I never really wanted to read those books. Anytime a teacher said that this is the book that we are going to read for an assignment, I always pulled away from it and never really read the book like I would if I was reading it for pleasure.

I made a promise to myself that I would go back and re-read the books that I was “forced” to read in high school and see if I could enjoy them without the threat of an incomplete grade hanging over my head. One of the books that I selected was Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston. I started with Their Eyes Were Watching God because it was also given to my son as an assignment for a college paper. I tried to act really tough by telling him that it was a great book and that he would love it, but on the inside I had to tell myself, “you don’t even remember reading this book.” I felt pure shame with my motherly fib.

I took one for the team and started to read. The book tells the life story of a woman named Janie. Janie is a very beautiful woman who hasn’t been that lucky in love. When she meets Tea Cake, her world changes. He’s unlike any man that she has met before and Janie is swept off her feet in a whirlwind romance that is both beautiful and sad.

This book is told as if Janie is telling the story of her life to a friend named Pheoby. Janie is what Southern blacks considered different. She had very fair skin and could pass for white. As a small child, her grandmother worked for a white family and she was practically raised like one of their children. She even wore their expensive hand me downs.

As Janie matured, she was deemed beautiful and exotic by men and women didn’t really like her because she was so different from them. They took to gossiping about her behind her back and sometimes within earshot so that she would know how they really felt about her. Janie wasn’t the type of woman that tried to fit in. In fact, she marched by the beat of her own drum and this drove the women in her small town crazy with jealousy and envy. She really only had one true friend and her name was Pheoby Watson.

At the beginning of the book, Ms. Hurston writes about how there was this woman, who had just come back from burying the dead. Not just any dead, however. The “sodden and the bloated; the sudden dead, their eyes flung wide open in judgment.” It’s one of those openings that piques your interest. Why was she with dead people? What brought her to this fate.

This is one of those books that you read without prior knowledge of past events and then it takes you on a journey into the past when black people didn’t have all of the rights that white people did. It shows how they tried to come together as a community and have something that was a little bit better than what they previously had. It is also a love story. One that is so raw with emotions that I often found myself putting the book down so that I could let certain events seep into my brain. There were several instances when I had to read certain passages over and over to allow the message within to sink in.

This is one of those books that you want to read. It shouldn’t be one that people feel that they are forced to read. When the true beauty of Ms. Hurston’s words come to fruition, you feel the pleasure just from having picked it up.

If you’ve never read Their Eyes Were Watching God, you need to head to your nearest library branch and check out a copy. You will not be disappointed. Happy reading.

– Reviewed by Damera, Okolona Branch

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

After simmering on this book for a couple of weeks now, I’m changing my original 4 stars to a 2 ½ stars.

Ruth Jefferson is a Labor and Delivery nurse in Connecticut. She has worked more than twenty years in this field. For all intents and purposes, she is good at what she does.

One morning, she meets Davis Bauer, a beautiful baby boy. As she is giving him his newborn checkup, she senses something off with the parents. When she hands the baby back to his mother, his father requests to see her manager. When her manager returns from meeting with the new baby’s parents, Ruth is made aware that she is no longer allowed to work on their case.

You see, Ruth is African-American and the Bauer’s are white supremacists. What happens later is both sad and eye opening. After a sudden turn of events, the Bauer’s baby dies and Ruth is put on trial for his murder.

As I delved more into this book, it felt more like racism was on trial. This woman, who was simply doing her job, was thrown to the wolves by her employer because they knew that the parents wanted blood. It made me angry and it also made me very sad.

Small Great Things is told from the points of view of Ruth Jefferson, Turk Bauer and Ruth’s lawyer, Kennedy McQuarrie. I can completely relate to Ruth. I, too, am an African-American woman, raising a teenage son, albeit with my husband, in a time when it’s not very easy to be an African-American. Especially when it feels like our sons are targets for all types of things. I, like Ruth, have raised my son with integrity and the knowledge that he can be anything that he wants to be as long as he puts in the work. I, like Ruth, just want to prove that I can do my job just as well as anyone else.

When I started to read the words of Turk Bauer, my stomach clenched up in metaphorical knots. I wanted to vomit. I felt pent up rage and anger coursing through my blood. His words were vile and spoken with vitriol and I hated him instantly. I wanted to hate Jodi Picoult, too, because she had written these words for this character. I also know that, in order to be a great writer, you have to be able to draw out your reader’s emotions. She did just that.

I don’t even want to call Turk a man because he acted like an animal. He was out for revenge and the driving factor was the color of Ruth’s skin. Although I knew that he wasn’t real, he was a caricature of people that we all know exist.

Kennedy McQuarrie was also a character that I don’t know if I liked or just tolerated. She existed in her own world with her physician husband and outspoken young daughter. Until she met Ruth, her main thought was that she didn’t see color. Her character seemed to be one that was added for readers who may not like the content of Ms. Picoult’s new book yet would find comfort in reading about someone that was just like them. She is that person that insists they aren’t racist.

The more I read about race and how it pertained to the plight that Ruth Jefferson was going through, the more that I realized that the color of my skin is more than just a color. It symbolizes who I am in this country, in this state, in this city, in my life. This book brought out so many emotions that I didn’t really understand that I had. I felt anger at times and I wanted to punch Turk Bauer in the throat with all that I had. I also felt helpless and very sad. Most of all, I felt hurt.

The more I read this book, I became a little bit more perturbed and questioned the author’s motives. Like The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, Ms. Picoult has taken to writing a book from the viewpoint of an African-American woman, even though she is white. What bothers me about books like this are, although they are written well, if you have not had the African-American experience, how can you portray it as though you have? When you leave your pen and paper behind, you are able to settle back into your privilege and reap the benefits of it.

Like Ms. Stockett, Jodi Picoult is set to make money from the movie about this book. A book about experiences that she has never had. A book off the back of a fictional, African-American character with real world problems.

Picoult says, in an interview that she did with NPR’s Scott Simon, that she has wanted to write a book on race relations for about twenty years. Why did she wait until now, when so many things are happening with regards to race, to cash in on this movement? Maybe that is what bothers me the most.

I implore you to read the book. Maybe I read too much into it and am completely absorbed by my feelings about it. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll give it a 3.

Formats Available:  Regular Type, Large Type, eBook, Audiobook

Reviewed by Damera, Okolona Branch

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

whataliceforgotWhen Alice Love wakes up on the cold gym floor, she’s astonished at her surroundings. What in the world is she doing at the gym? She doesn’t even like the gym. What about her unborn child? She’s worried that something has happened. It is only when she reaches the hospital that she realizes that not only is she not twenty-nine years old and pregnant, she’s actually thirty-nine years old with three children that she doesn’t remember. What happens next is Alice coming to the realization that she has not become the woman that she thought she would be in the ten years that she is missing.

I will be completely honest and tell you that it took me a while to get into the story. I read so many books for children, so when I actually read a book written for adults, it takes a while for my mind to switch over from kittens and puppies to adult emotions and feelings. The story takes place in Sydney, Australia and as I listened to it, I was drawn into the lyrical voice of the narrator. I honestly don’t know what I would do if I suddenly lost ten years of my life. What type of person would I have been? I can barely remember ten minutes ago, let alone ten years.

Alice believes that she is currently pregnant with her first child and doesn’t really believe the doctors when they say that this isn’t true. She is even thrown off by the way her sister, Elizabeth, treats her. After all, she thinks its ten years before, when she and her sister had a wonderful relationship.

I’m absolutely enthralled by this book. I don’t know if it was the thought of having to start fresh on your own, when others know what you have done but you can’t seem to remember. I was very fascinated with Alice and how she kept on chugging along. Ms. Moriarty has written several books and it usually takes me a while to start to like any of the characters but this one was one I couldn’t wait to continue. Once I was able to get into the story, I wanted it to continue. This is one you won’t want to miss. Check it out.

Formats Available:  Book (Regular and Large Type), eBook, Audiobook (CD and Downloadable), Foreign Language Book (Spanish)

Reviewed by Damera, Okolona Branch

Waiting for The Walking Dead

So you love The Walking Dead but it’s killing you that you have to wait until October for the new season, right?  Well, I’ve come across two really great graphic novel series that you may enjoy while you wait.

The first series, written by Robert Kirkman, is called Outcast. This series is focused on a man named Kyle Barnes who sees demons.  For a recent review by a fellow staff member, click here.

outcast

These installments (currently the library has three volumes) fascinate me because the main threat comes from within people rather than from something external like the zombie apocalypse. Outcast is a complete contrast to The Walking Dead series but also shows that Kirkman is a great writer of horror graphics.

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The second series is Postal by Matt Hawkins. The main character, Mark Shiffron, lives in a town where not everything is quite as it seems. His mother, Mayor Shiffron wants Mark, a postal worker, to provide her with transcripts of all of the mail that enters the town. Seems legit, right? Mark, on the other hand, has Asperger’s and sees thing in a way that others don’t. Is this a good or bad thing?

I really recommend both series. Drop me a comment and tell me what you think.

Formats Available:  Graphic Novel

Reviewed by Damera, Okolona Branch

Caught Up by Shannon Holmes

caughtupholmesDixyn Greene is living the life that she believes she has always been meant to live. She has a beautiful daughter and is finally going to marry the man of her dreams, her daughter’s father, Bryce Winters. Bryce is a hustler and it isn’t until he is arrested in a raid of their home that Dixyn realizes the consequences of living the life with a narcotics dealer.

How will she cope in the aftermath?

If you are looking for a book that is fast-paced, Caught Up is the book for you. Mr. Holmes has created an intriguing plot that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It has all the elements of a gritty tale of the street: drugs, murder, and mayhem. It’s a page turner and I’m happy that I had a chance to read it.

shanon-holmesImage courtesy of African American Literature Book Club (http://aalbc.com/authors/shannon_holmes.htm)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Caught Up made Library Journal’s 2015 Best Book Books for African American Fiction.  If you are interested, their other picks in this and other genres can be viewed here

Formats Available:  Book

Reviewed by Damera, Okolona Branch

A to Z Mysteries by Ron Roy

If you are looking for an awesome book series to read with your children (ages 6-10), I suggest the A to Z Mysteries by Ron Roy.

Starting with the first letter of the alphabet, best friends Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose put their minds together to solve mysteries in their home town of Green Lawn, Connecticut.  There are lots of twists and turns in these books and plenty of excitement for all. Each mystery is separate from the others so that you can read them in order or out of sequence as you choose.

Don’t miss out on the fun!

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Ron Roy also has a website dedicated to the series.  You check it out by clicking here.

Formats Available:  Book, Audiobook

Reviewed by Damera, Okolona Branch

Stealing Candy by Allison Hobbs

stealing candy

Allison Hobbs has written a book that is gritty, raw and brutally honest about the dark underworld of sex trafficking.  Fifteen year old Gianna “Lollipop” Strand goes to the boardwalk to meet a friend and befriends Bullet.  Unbeknownst to her, he is an ex-con who abducts her so that he can be her pimp.

Not intended to be a book with a happy ending, Stealing Candy warns about the dangers of living on the streets.  It reminds you to keep a close eye on your children so that they know about the hidden dangers of talking to strangers.  It also reminds you to focus on what is important in life.

I wish this book was more kid friendly.  I would definitely have recommended it to some of my younger readers but Hobbs has created a very graphic tale that can, at times, be utterly disgusting.  I’m not saying that she isn’t a fabulous writer but even I had to skip lines because they were too strong for me to take.

Formats Available:  Book

Reviewed by Damera, Okolona Branch

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

Everyone knew all the rumors about Alice.

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I mean, she’d had sex with two boys in one night, right? But can you really believe everything that you hear? Sometimes you should just go with your gut.

The events that surrounded Alice Franklin’s eventual fall from popularity are some that had me thinking that teenagers are so superficial. Supposedly, Alice sleeps with two boys at a party and before you know it, the rumor has spread around town. Everyone knows about it. But, to make matters worse, the popular quarterback dies in a car crash and she is also blamed for his death.

As a teenager, I wouldn’t say that I was a social outcast. I wasn’t a part of the popular clique, but I was a cheerleader, so everyone knew who I was. But, I didn’t have a car or wear the latest designer clothes, so in that aspect, I could almost relate to just about every character in this book.

This book is told from the point of view of four different people that are either directly or indirectly involved with Alice. There is Elaine, who was the on and off girlfriend of Brandon, one of the guys that Alice is rumored to have slept with and also the guy that passes away. There is Kelsie, Alice’s former best friend, who was once a social outcast. She turns her back on Alice once the rumors begin to swirl. Then there is Josh, Brandon’s best friend and Kurt, the school nerd, who harbors deep feelings for Alice.

Masterfully written, The Truth About Alice is a teenaged cliché, woven into the book pages. It brings to light those rumors we heard as children, about words not hurting and crushes them into tiny dust particles. Words can sting to the core. I felt strange emotions for Alice and wanted to hug her and tell her that things would eventually work themselves out. I like how the author told the story from different perspectives and allowed each character to have their own reasons as to why they treated Alice the way that they did. My favorite character above all was Kurt. He won my heart because no matter what people thought about him, he simply didn’t care.

I’m giving this book five stars. Why? Because it deserves them. It is by far one of the best young adult books that I read in 2014. Great job, Ms. Mathieu!

Formats Available:  Book

Reviewed by Damera, Okolona Branch

We Are The Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

WeRTheGoldens

Nell is completely enamored with her older sister, Layla.  So much in fact that, when they were little girls, she called herself “Nellayla” because she felt that their bond was so close, they were like one soul.  During Nell’s freshman year of high school, she discovers that Layla is having an inappropriate relationship with a teacher.  This puts Nell in a serious bind. She wants to keep her sister’s secret, but she also feels like the situation Layla has gotten herself into is wrong.  Thrown unwittingly into her sister’s secret, what should she do?

When I read the synopsis of the book, I was hoping that it delivered a punch that would have me cursing in the air because I was so mad.  I didn’t find myself spewing vulgarity to the heavens but was entranced as I read, my eyes transfixed on my Kindle.  The story is told from Nell’s point of view.  Nell is a very inquisitive and responsible (to a point) teenager, who looks up to her older sister in a way that is borderline loving, hero worship with a touch of creepiness.

Her best friend Felix is her confidant.  He doesn’t sugar coat anything for her, mince words, or treat her like she is special.  Nell loves that about him.  I really liked how the author describes this friendship and was very surprised that this wasn’t one where the two of them eventually fall in love with each other.

Nell has so many things on her plate.  She is just beginning high school, she has a crush on a boy, she makes the soccer team and she is worried about the strange way her older sister is beginning to behave.  She is going through typical teenage emotions and the author mixes words so that you feel each one.

When Nell learns of Layla’s secret, it is purely by accident.  As rumors start to spread about her sister and a teacher who has a reputation of being with a different female student each year, Nell chalks it up as just being gossip.  But when she catches Layla in the act of video chatting with this teacher, Nell knows that nothing good can come of it and just how bad the situation can become.

The moral compass is stretched to the limit with this story and I really wish that the author wouldn’t have ended the book the way that she did.  Layla was involved in something that teenagers shouldn’t be aware of.  She was completely taken advantage of but she felt that it was love.  There could have been so much more that would have made this a five star book.

All in all, I really liked the book and would very much encourage people to read it, especially if you are the parent of a teenager.

Formats Available:  Book

Reviewed by Damera, Okolona Branch

 

Don’t Look Back by Jennifer L. Armentrout

dont look back

What would you do if you woke up in the hospital, not knowing who you were, and also learning that your best friend went missing on the same day and hasn’t been found? Do you try and solve the mystery on your own or do you just give up?

When I first began reading Don’t Look Back by Jennifer L. Armentrout, I thought to myself that is seemed like I had read it before. The storyline seemed to be a little bit overused. But once I got past the first three chapters, I could tell that it was going to be nothing like I had ever read.

This book had mystery, intrigue, love and horror, all wrapped up into one crazy book. The main character, Samantha, known to her friends as Sam, wakes up in the hospital, not knowing who she is, where she was when they found her, and how she got to the hospital. She also finds out that her best friend, Cassie, is also missing. We learn that she has suffered some form of traumatic amnesia and she must learn who she is all over again. As she starts to talk to the people that were closest to her, including her twin brother Scott, she finds out that she was the queen bee of a group of mean girls who “ruled the school.”

As the story progresses, Sam begins to disassociate with her previous “friends” and begins the task of trying to mend some broken friendships, including that of Carson, whose father works for Samantha’s family and whom she learns used to be her best friend. Of course, she was an utter crazy person to him but he begins to see that maybe she has changed for the better.

As new facts begin to surface, Samantha begins to see that things were the way they were in her life because she was trying to be someone that she wasn’t.  Once she took her life in her own hands, the people around her begin to drastically change. All the while, she is trying to figure out what happened the night that she and Cassie disappeared and, more importantly, where in the heck was Cassie?

There are so many things in the book that make it exceptional. If I write too much, I would give the story away and then what would be the point of you reading it on your own? Let me just say this, you will be very shocked to find out the surprise twist. I would highly recommend this book to teenagers over the age of fifteen. The reasoning behind this is because there are some subject matter in the book that is very mature. I would almost say that it borders on being a New Adult book, but older teenagers would find it very intriguing.

I gave the book four stars and not five because the amnesia story has been done so many times. As a matter of fact, there was a book published recently with the same premise, girl has amnesia, finds out she is super rich and that she was a super-bitch. You know, been there, read that. I almost put it down and did not finish but I also wanted to see if it had any redeeming qualities and if it was like any of the others that I ever read and I’m glad I did. It completely blew my mind. I’m super glad that I didn’t judge this book by the storyline.

Formats Available:  Book

Reviewed by Damera, Okolona Branch