A Bitter Pill To Swallow by Tiffany Gholar

Date Read: February 15th 2017

Published: 2016

PublisherBlurb Books

Pages: 315

 

 

 

 

The Blurb 

Winner of the 2016 Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year Award for Fiction, Non-Traditionally Published.

On the edge of the Chicago medical district, the Harrison School for Exceptional Youth looks like a castle in a snow globe. Janina has been there since she was ten years old, and now she’s fourteen. She feels so safe inside its walls that she’s afraid to leave.
Devante’s parents bring him there after a tragedy leaves him depressed and suicidal. Even though he’s in a different place, he can’t escape the memories that come flooding back when he least expects them.
Dr. Gail Thomas comes to work there after quitting her medical residency. Frustrated and on the verge of giving up on her dreams, she sees becoming a counselor as her last chance to put her skills to the test.
When he founded the school, Dr. Lutkin designed its unique environment to be a place that would change the students’ lives. He works hard as the keeper of other people’s secrets, though he never shares any of his own.
But everything changes late in the winter of 1994 when these four characters’ lives intersect in unexpected ways. None of them will ever be the same.

 Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)

A Bitter Pill To Swallow is a young adult novel set in 1994 Chicago that closely follows three characters as they battle with various stresses life brought them. Devante is a young black high school student, suffering from intense PTSD; Janina is a quirky young black high school student, who has been diagnosed with some features of schizotypal personality disorder; Dr. Gail Thomas is a determined young black women who is finally a medical resident after taking a break from her residency program, due to family issues. All three characters have their own bitter pills to swallow and eventually meet at a therapeutic boarding school- The Harrison School, run by a kind and gentle psychiatrist, Dr. Lutkin.

Each chapter alternates between the three characters’ or Dr. Lutkin’s point of view; no, it’s not confusing – Gholar does a great job at allowing the story to flow quite nicely. The characters have their own storylines, which eventually merge towards the end, making this an absorbing, suspenseful read. Dr. Gail’s chapters were bold and readers see black girl magic at work in her character. In my opinion, she’s the heroine of this novel – you’ll have to get your copy to find out why!

The Harrison School is not your average therapeutic boarding school. It is an ideal environment for anyone – not just students who battle with mental illness. Tiffany Gholar’s palpable descriptions of various rooms decorated in tones like amethyst purples, sapphire blues and emerald greens as well as descriptions of students having their own comfy bedrooms with medical staff always on call, made me wish this sanctuary actually existed. Since Tiffany Gholar is an artist (she designed the four different book covers for this novel), writer and interior designer, trust and believe that her descriptions are impressively vivid and vibrant. Vivid descriptions + great storytelling sprinkled with suspense made this an enjoyable read.

Tiffany Gholar’s A Bitter Pill to Swallow is a reminder of why we need to support more Indie writers. I would give this novel 5 stars, but the words ‘crazy’ and ‘normal’ were over-used for a story of this nature. Maybe the use of these words were intentional, but it made me a bit uncomfortable. One theme that’s constant in this novel is the theme of mental health awareness. Each character is dealing which his/her own stresses that have an effect on their mental and emotional health. From reading the blurb, one may think this novel is super heavy and dark, but it’s not at all. Readers will encounter a blossoming romance, crazy pharmaceutical politics, issues surrounding race, funny commentary on various students and events. Be prepared to enter a time-capsule as you travel back to 1994 when singer Tevin Campbell, Digable Planets (hip hop group) and the film ET were still popular. The novel isn’t bogged down with excessive depressing happenings – trust me on this one!

Lately, there is more and more talk in the Black community around mental health and ‘self-care’ to the point where it’s even (unfortunately) commercialized. Black/African communities rarely used to speak on the issue of mental health because they/we think everything can be prayed away. But I strongly believe seeking help through psychotherapy or finding a counsellor can be the first step towards healing – Devante, Janina, Dr. Gail and Dr. Lutkin are proof of this! I hope this novel gets the attention of various middle and high schools because Gholar’s sensitive writing is a great tool for discussing various personal issues, with young adults of color.

Special thanks to Tiffany Gholar for sending me the Dr. Gail Thomas edition of the book!

 ★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

Purchase A Bitter Pill To Swallow on Amazon

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker

Date Read:  February 22nd 2017

Published: February 14th 2017

Publisher: Tin House Books

Pages: 80

 

The Blurb

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé uses political and pop-cultural references as a framework to explore 21st century black American womanhood and its complexities: performance, depression, isolation, exoticism, racism, femininity, and politics. The poems weave between personal narrative and pop-cultural criticism, examining and confronting modern media, consumption, feminism, and Blackness.

This collection explores femininity and race in the contemporary American political climate, folding in references from jazz standards, visual art, personal family history, and Hip Hop. The voice of this book is a multifarious one: writing and rewriting bodies, stories, and histories of the past, as well as uttering and bearing witness to the truth of the present, and actively probing toward a new self, an actualized self. This is a book at the intersections of mythology and sorrow, of vulnerability and posturing, of desire and disgust, of tragedy and excellence.

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

Morgan Parker’s There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé was one of the top poetry collections released this year that I was eager to read. I have been following Parker for a while and I love this short documentary (from 2015) that explores a bit of Parker’s life as a writer and her relationship with Brooklyn, NY. I’m simply a fan of any black woman writer with a unique, quirky character – hence my love for Morgan Parker.

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé is more of a 3.5 stars book for me though. Initially, I wished Beyoncé wasn’t Parker’s muse because it made the poems that were named after her (Beyoncé) seem trivial and nonsensical. BUT, after meditating on select poems, I realize Parker uses the poems as political commentary on the criticism Beyoncé has received over the years, and how these criticisms spill over into how society views black women as a whole.

This collection explores Black American womanhood, performance, oppression, loneliness, power, sexuality and mental health – but in a whiny way. I like to believe Parker wrote this collection targeting (black) women, millennials and true poetry lovers as her audience. To be honest, only a few of these poems will actually stick with me. I think I’d love this collection more if they were read out to me, maybe at a reading and with some background to the randomness of it all. Don’t get me wrong, these poems are well-thought-out and layered with lots of (black) pop culture references, but the wordiness of it all could go over your head if your mind isn’t alert while reading.

Above is a screenshot (from my Kindle app) of one of the poems that’s oh-so relevant to the times, which I especially loved –13 Ways of Looking at a Black Girl’. The haphazard display of the words spilled unto the pages, in and of itself, is telling of how society regards black women. Are words like ‘thick, diva, nappy, flawless, loud, sex, wifey, chocolate, sassy, carefree, strong, exotic, slut’ accurate depictions of how people view black women? From whose lens are black women regarded in these ways? (please click on the image above to get a closer glimpse of the poem).

I’m in awe of the artistry of There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, but most poems may seem abstract and meaningless to the oblivious reader of the times. I wouldn’t highly recommend this collection to anyone who isn’t a hardcore poetry fiend, but I personally admire this body of work for its eccentric nature.

★★★ (3 stars) – Good book. I recommend it, I guess.

Purchase There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé on Amazon

2017 New Releases to Anticipate!

Happy New Year, everyone!

What books are you excited to read this year? Below are some (this is just a snippet of books 2017 has to offer!) new African, African-American and Caribbean novels that look very promising.

Please click on the images to read the blurbs and/or to purchase the books.

(this post contains Amazon affiliate links)

Other books to look out for:

What new releases are you excited about? Please do share!

2016 Recap & My Top 5!

Hey everyone!

I hope the holiday season has been relaxing for you all. 2016 is almost over and it’s time for a recap of the year! I ended up reading 24 books this year. The break down of my 2016 reading experience is as follows:

Average books read per month: 2 books

e-books read: 11 books (wow! I didn’t realize this, even though I really dislike e-books) 

African literature: 17 books

Caribbean literature: 2 books

African-American literature: 3 books

Other: 2 books (these are non-African/non-diaspora books. I read books written by – Rupi Kaur and Tim LaHaye).

19 women writers ;  5 men writers


Top 5 favorite books of 2016

  1. Fairytales for Lost Children by Diriye Osman
  2. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  3. Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
  4. So The Path Does Not Die by Pede Hollist
  5. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat

These books took a toll on my emotions the most! If you’ve read my reviews for these books, you know exactly why they’re my top 5 of the year. Definitely look into reading these 5 books if you haven’t already!

Reviews for books read this year are in the Book Reviews section of the book blog. [Missing reviews (6 of them) will be posted in 2017].

What were your top 5 favorite books of 2016?


Favorite bookish events / images of the year:

Also:

  • African Book Addict! was featured on Mary Okeke Reviews and Brown Books & Green Tea for the blogger spotlight project and #DiverseBookBloggers feature, respectively.
  • In May, I joined the ladies of Not Your African Cliché podcast to discuss Somali-Brit writer – Warsan Shire, Beyonce’s album Lemonade, and the need for us (Africans) to support our art/artists more.

2016 Reading Goals round up:

At the beginning of the year, I set 4 reading goals and I believe I’ve achieved most of them!

  • I planned to read a wider array of African novels: I ended up reading wonderful books from 10 African countries: Botswana, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Sudan, Ghana, Somalia, Nigeria, South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire and Zimbabwe. (All reviews are in the book reviews section of the book blog)
  • I also set out to read more poetry: I wasn’t a big fan of poetry prior this goal, but I ended up reading 5 poetry collections and seriously enjoyed them! I hope to continue reading and feeling the words of many more great contemporary poets in the years ahead.
  • I wanted to broaden my horizon and read 1 African romance novel and/or 1 African thriller: Thanks to Ankara Press, I was sent 2 African romance novels in exchange for honest reviews. With regards to an African thriller, I read Tendai by Boakyewaa Glover which is actually of the science-fiction genre, but felt like a thriller to me! (watch out for the review in 2017). So maybe I kinda sorta missed the mark on the African thriller goal?
  • My final goal was to give back by hosting 2 or 3 giveaways this year: I achieved this by officially hosting 2 international giveaways and gave away 3 books in total (plus a cute African City tote bag to hold books!).

It’s truly rewarding to see that I have reached my goals, especially with my hectic (dental) school schedule. I always had these goals at the back of my mind and slowly tried to achieve them on a daily monthly basis. I’m proud of these achievements!

Were you able to achieve some of your 2016 Reading Goals? 

[Don’t beat yourself up if you weren’t able to – its definitely not that serious and you can still achieve them in 2017!]

Total books read in 2016

I’m truly grateful to everyone who frequents this book blog and for the great discussions (agreements, disagreements and recommendations) we have in the comments section. I really appreciate the support and love shown here from you all. This year, I’ve enjoyed discovering lots of new book blogs + book lovers and hope to connect with more in the future! Here’s to more great years of reading ahead, for all of us. 🙂  

2016 Christmas Wish List

Hey everyone!

Christmas is right around the corner! I honestly have no business buying any new books, anytime soon. But a simple wish list won’t hurt would it? Below are books I’d love Santa to drop into my imaginary Christmas stockings (not in order of preference; click titles to read the blurbs on Goodreads):

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy has been on my TBR for a while. It actually got bumped up my list after Flournoy was shortlisted for the National Book Prize last year + some of my friends highly recommend this novel. I hear there are similarities between The Turner House and Ayana Mathis’s The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, which I LOVED (and reviewed).


The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu is a book I’m very keen to read. I haven’t read anything by Mengestu but I’ve seen many reviews of his books – especially his 2014 novel, All Our Names on several book blogs. I’m eager to read about the immigrant experience in the U.S through an Ethiopian lens in this book!


Birth of a Dream Weaver: A Memoir of a Writer’s Awakening by Ngūgī wa Thiong’o was released late October of this year. I found out about this book from highlights of the 2016 Aké Arts and Books Festival and was surprised this book existed, as I didn’t even know Ngūgī wa Thiong’o was actively writing a new memoir! I deeply enjoy anything Thiong’o writes, so this would be a great addition to my already growing Ngūgī wa Thiong’o collection.


Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson has been on my TBR for a looong time. I love, love, love The Roots (hip hop group) and for those who don’t know, Questlove is the drummer and one of the leaders of the group (the other leader is rapper – Black Thought). My life was semi-complete when The Roots came to Middlebury back in 2009 and I admired Questlove’s finesse with the drums! He came out with another book this year – Something to Food About: Exploring Creativity with Innovative Chefs. But I hope to read Mo’ Meta Blues first!


Longthroat Memoirs: Soups, Sex and Nigerian Taste Buds by Yemisi Aribisala was published back in November (2016) by Cassava Republic. I have been waiting for a book like this for a while! If you’ve read my review of Pig Tails ‘n Breadfruit: A Culinary Memoir by Barbadian writer Austin Clarke (RIP), I spoke on my desire to read more books that highlight African food. Longthroat Memoirs showcases Nigerian cuisine while discussing various feminist issues. I need this book.


My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal has the best book cover! From what I hear, My Name is Leon is a story about 9 year old Leon – who is biracial and his new baby brother Jake – who is white. Once their mother is deemed unfit to care for them, they are taken into the foster care system. When Leon’s baby brother is adopted before he is, readers see Leon face various prejudices, while trying to save his broken family. I’m ready to have all the feels reading this book.


You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have To Explain by Phoebe Robinson looks like it’d be a great book to get anyone out of a reading slump. Every once in a while I like to let loose and read something humorous and light. The author, Phoebe Robinson – is a comedian and hosts a podcast with Jessica Williams called 2 Dope Queens. I’ve given their fun podcast a couple of listens and even downloaded a sample of this book on Kindle. All I can say is, I know I’ll be entertained by this book!


What books are on your Christmas wish list? Please share some titles!🙂

Happy Holidays & Merry Christmas, everyone!

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Yaa GyasiDate Read: July 16th 2016

Published: 2016

Publisher: A.A Knopf

Pages: 305

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

A novel of breathtaking sweep and emotional power that traces three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becomes a truly great American novel. Extraordinary for its exquisite language, its implacable sorrow, its soaring beauty, and for its monumental portrait of the forces that shape families and nations, Homegoing heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.

 

Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Yaa Gyasi’s debut – Homegoing, is historical fiction at its best. I honestly thought Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah hit home for me back in 2013 when I read it. But Homegoing IS home. Homegoing is about my home. I never thought I’d read book that perfectly articulates the dynamics of being Ghanaian-American. The only book I’ve read that somewhat touches on the identity complexities of being Ghanaian by blood and American (or British) by birth, was Powder Necklace by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond (another awesome Ghanaian-American writer). I might have to re-read Powder Necklace and review it on this platform soon!

Homegoing was an emotional read – throughout! I started reading during the wake of the horrific Alton Sterling and Philando Castile police shootings of early July, so you can imagine how haunting these real life events paralleled with this particular historical fiction, which focuses on the legacy of slavery in America and Ghana. Homegoing follows two half sisters – Effia and Esi who live in 18th century Ghana and the generations after them, making Effia and Esi the matriarchs of dual lineages. Effia becomes the wench (not wife) of the British governor of Cape Coast Castle (a slave castle here in Ghana) and is the matriarch of the Ghanaian line of the family; while Esi, who is kept as a slave in the dungeons of this same Cape Coast Castle where Effia resides with the governor, is the matriarch of the American line of the family. Homegoing alternates between the descendants of the two sisters, chronologically from 18th century Ghana to present day (after the millennium), in both Ghana and the US. As with most books of the historical fiction genre, a family tree is provided on the first page of the novel which makes following the two lineages and the different family members pretty easy.

To be honest, I don’t think it’s possible to read Homegoing without harboring some resentment for the insanity white folks forced people of African descent to endure. From the events of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, to the injustice and discrimination black folks faced in the American south as slaves, to the Anglo-Ashanti wars in Ghana, to present day racial tensions and disregard for black bodies, are all legacies of slavery. I truly admire how Gyasi manages to personalize slavery and its effects through the use of character development in each chapter. In every chapter, readers witness how each generation got some inheritance of slavery – be it through mass incarceration, the need to pass as white, lynching, colorism, the fragmenting of families and so much more.

As much as the terrors white folks caused black people are highlighted in Homegoing, I appreciate Gyasi for not letting Africans off the hook for being complicit in the slave trade. Unfortunately, the role African nations played in enabling slavery are  rarely addressed. All the ethnic wars, kidnapping of innocent people and trading of human beings in exchange for goods from the British, Dutch and Portuguese were all selfish, contributing factors to the slave trade and the inhumane effects they still manifest. While reading Homegoing, I kept thinking about Maya Angelou’s autobiography – All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes and her valid feelings of anger and disappointment she expressed after visiting the Elmina Castle (a Portuguese slave castle here in Ghana) in Cape Coast, Ghana back in the 1970’s. I understood her anger, as she was a descendent of our people who were captured and sold to the Europeans. As upsetting as the slave trade was, I applaud Gyasi for using Homegoing as a way for opening up conversations on the obscure relationship between Africans and African-Americans today, thanks to our disturbed past.

Gyasi’s ability to seamlessly weave Ghanaian and African-American histories into this story was very ambitious and exciting to read! I was impressed with the plethora of themes, actual historical events and icons that made realistic cameos in this novel. Don’t get me wrong – Homegoing is not rigid with historical facts. It’s very much a holistic novel with issues like interracial relationships, sharecropping, racial passing, lynching, homosexuality, mental illness, abelism, colorism and so much more, embedded into the storyline with respect to the times in which the characters live. Real historic icons and happenings like Yaa Asantewaa of Ejisu, The Asantehene, the civil rights movement & non-violent resistance headed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the Harlem heroin epidemic of the late 1960’s and others are all impressively packed into this novel of 305 pages!

I enjoyed most of the chapters and characters in Homegoing. But my favorite character was Marjorie. I like to believe Marjorie’s chapter is Yaa Gyasi – fictionalized. Marjorie was born in Ghana and raised in the US, just like Yaa Gyasi. In Marjorie’s chapter, I loved how the character articulates how she doesn’t identify fully as Ghanaian or ‘Black American’ which is sometimes used synonymously with the ambiguous term – ‘akata’ by some Africans. I especially loved that Marjorie found joy in reading books by writers of African descent,

Her work was in African and African American literature, and when Marcus asked her why she choose those subjects, she said that those were the books that she could feel inside her. (pg. 295)

Is Marjorie me? That quote is basically the essence of why I created African Book Addict! It was refreshing to read Majorie’s chapter, as I completely understood her identity struggles. While my life story is a little different from Majorie’s/Yaa Gyasi’s, reading a character with a similar background as yours is deeply gratifying. You begin to realize that there are others like you in the world; that you’re not alone in your confusion as to where you call home; that your convictions on your ever evolving identities are valid.

While discussing Homegoing with other book lovers here in Accra, I realized there were some minor inaccuracies in the novel. But I didn’t mind the minor inaccuracies others felt the need to point out. I did however find the ending of this phenomenal book a bit corny. Marcus’s chapter should have ended with a bang – as all the other chapters did! Regardless, Homegoing was emotional and heartbreaking, yet exhilarating to read. I hope Yaa Gyasi makes a trip to Ghana soon or adds Accra to her book tour. I’d love a good ole’ chat with a fellow Ghanaian-American and of course, for my copy of the book to be graced with her signature!

I’d like to extend a special thank you to my new friend – Trish Tchume and publishers A. A Knopf  for my copy of the book.  Homegoing is definitely one of my top 5 favorite books of this year. Don’t be surprised when it is required reading in schools soon.

★★★★★ (5 stars) – Amazing book, I loved it. Absolutely recommend!

My copy of Homegoing before and after reading.

P.S: I’ve typed all of the quotes I highlighted while reading and I’m open to sending anyone who’s interested, the PDF file of the compiled quotes via email. Some of the quotes, notes and suggested readings I highlighted would make for amazing book club discussions 🙂

Purchase Homegoing on Amazon

Mini Reviews | Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime & Letter to My Daughter

Hey everyone!

Last year, thanks to finals week, I wasn’t able to review the books I read by legendary mothers – J. California Cooper and Maya Angelou. Below are mini reviews of two books written by two brilliant, African-American literature pioneer writers.

Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime: stories by J. California Cooper

J. California CooperDate Read: December 26th 2015

Published: 1996

Publisher: Anchor Books / Doubleday

Pages: 273

 

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

Whether through her stories or her legendary readings, J. California Cooper has an uncanny ability to reach out to readers like an old and dear friend. Her characters are plain-spoken and direct: simple people for whom life, despite its ever-present struggles, is always worth the journey.

In Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime, Cooper’s characteristic themes of romance, heartbreak, struggle and faith resonate. We meet Darlin, a self-proclaimed femme fatale who uses her wiles to try to find a husband; MLee, whose life seems to be coming to an end at the age of forty until she decides to set out and see if she can make a new life for herself; Kissy and Buddy, both trying and failing to find them until they finally meet each other; and Aberdeen, whose daughter Uniqua shows her how to educate herself and move up in the world.

These characters and others offer inspiration, laughter, instruction and pure enjoyment in what is one of J. California Cooper’s finest story collections.

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

I discovered J. California Cooper back in 2013. But the announcement of her passing in 2014 had me wishing I’d read her work earlier. After reading Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime, I realized I had really been missing out on Ms. Cooper’s yummy ways of storytelling! As I was reading the stories in this collection, I felt as if I was chatting with a good friend in my living room. Cooper’s stories have a juicy, gossipy-feel that make for an exciting, yet comforting read!

My favorite stories were:

‘Femme Fatale’ – In this story, readers are invited into Darlin’s life as she tries to find herself. After losing both parents and her beloved grandmother, Darlin does all she can to be happy and to be loved by a good man, while in the process grooming herself to be a ‘femme fatale’. This story was an emotional rollercoaster and I loved how it ended. J. California Cooper puts a lot of sass into this story!

‘Sure Is a Shame’ 

You know, it’s a fact and I seen it, sometimes when you think you taking a bite out of life, chewing hard on it, life be done taken a bite out of you and done already swallowed. Sho is a shame, sho is (pg. 159)

This is a cautionary tale on the consequences of taking the little things and good people for granted. It was a long-winded story, but also a wake up call and good reminder to appreciate each day in life, as well as the people placed in it.

Most of the characters in Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime are either 50 years and older or they grow well into old age as they recollect different events of their lives. All the stories have an element of self-help to them, as J. California Cooper drops lots of wisdom on how to live a fulfilling life, through the characters in the stories. But I wished some of the protagonists were younger and that there was more variety to the stories in this collection. Honestly, I can only remember about 3 stories out of this collection. I found the rest of the stories redundant, predictable and quite simple – without much depth. With that said, I still look forward to reading some of J. California Cooper’s full novels – like Family and The Wake of The Wind in the near future. Definitely read this if you’re in the mood for a chatty, comforting collection of stories!

★★★ (3 stars) – Good book. I recommend it, I guess.

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Purchase Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime on Amazon


Letter to My Daughter (ebook) by Maya Angelou

Letter_to_My_DaughterDate Read: November 27th 2015

Published: September 2008

Publisher: Random House

Pages: 166

 

 

The Blurb

Dedicated to the daughter she never had but sees all around her, Letter to My Daughter reveals Maya Angelou’s path to living well and living a life with meaning. Told in her own inimitable style, this book transcends genres and categories: guidebook, memoir, poetry, and pure delight.

Here in short spellbinding essays are glimpses of the tumultuous life that led Angelou to an exalted place in American letters and taught her lessons in compassion and fortitude: how she was brought up by her indomitable grandmother in segregated Arkansas, taken in at thirteen by her more worldly and less religious mother, and grew to be an awkward, six-foot-tall teenager whose first experience of loveless sex paradoxically left her with her greatest gift, a son.

Whether she is recalling such lost friends as Coretta Scott King and Ossie Davis, extolling honesty, decrying vulgarity, explaining why becoming a Christian is a “lifelong endeavor,” or simply singing the praises of a meal of red rice–Maya Angelou writes from the heart to millions of women she considers her extended family.

Like the rest of her remarkable work, Letter to My Daughter entertains and teaches; it is a book to cherish, savor, re-read, and share.

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

Maya Angelou is one of the writers who got me truly interested in African-American literature and reading in general, back when I was 13 years old. When I was younger, I wasn’t particularly excited about the ‘classics’ I was forced to read, like – Black Beauty, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, To Kill A Mockingbird, Little Women, The Catcher in the RyeAnn of Green Gables, just to name a few. I appreciated those books, but I didn’t deeply connect with the characters of the novels. When my mother suggested for me to start reading Maya Angelou’s autobiography series which she owned in her bookshelf (my mother is an original bookworm. Me and my siblings will inherit a whooole library of books!), I started with – I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. Angelou’s storytelling grasps all of your attention with her vivid descriptions, poetic writing style and punches of wisdom in each chapter of her work. *sigh* I’m still bitter that she passed away on my birthday in 2014. I really wanted to meet her or just be in her presence at a literary event.

Letter to My Daughter is my sixth read from Maya Angelou’s work and I believe it’s a timeless gem of essays!

My favorite essays were:

‘Accident, Coincident, or Answered Prayer’ – This story was very familiar, as I’ve read a similar version of the account in Angelou’s final book in her autobiography series – Mom & Me & Mom (2013). In ‘Accident, Coincident, or Answered Prayer,’ Maya Angelou takes readers back to when she dated a physically abusive man and the (emotional, physical) pain it caused her life as a young woman. To think Angelou could have died in the serious brawl she describes in this essay is horrifying. However her fierce mother – Vivian Baxter, is the real MVP of this account as her love and fearless nature save Angelou. In this account, readers ultimately learn that Maya Angelou believed in the power of prayer.

‘Violence’

Too many sociologist and social scientists have declared that the act of rape is not a sexual act at all, but rather a need to feel powerful… The sounds of the premeditated rape, the grunts and gurgles, the sputtering and spitting, which commences when the predator spots and then targets the victim, is sexual. The stalking becomes, in the rapist’s mind, a private courtship, where the courted is unaware of her suitor, but the suitor is obsessed with the object of desire. He follows, observes, and is the excited protagonist in his sexual drama… I am concerned that the pundits, who wish to shape our thinking and, subsequently, our laws, too often make rape an acceptable and even explainable social occurrence… We must call the ravening act of rape, the bloody, heart-stopping, breath-snatching, bone-crushing act of violence, which it is. The threat makes some female and male victims unable to open their front doors, unable to venture into streets in which they grew up, unable to trust other human beings and even themselves. Let us call it a violent unredeemable sexual act… (pages 39-41).

This is an excerpt from ‘Violence,’ one of the powerful (and self-explanatory) essays from this collection which is ever so relevant to us today in 2016. I wonder what Maya Angelou would make of the several, deeply upsetting rape cases that seem to be pushed under the rug today – especially the terrible Stanford rape case. Angelou picks readers’ brains and questions society’s complacency in combatting violent acts against women. This was a compelling, necessary essay.

Mother Maya Angelou can do no wrong in my eyes! This collection of essays is uplifting and familiar if you’ve read any of her autobiographies. Even if you aren’t familiar with her work, this is nevertheless a riveting collection to start with, as readers can get a feel of her storytelling, essays and poetry. Maya Angelou was a well of wisdom who touched many lives through her wonderful words – she will always be one of my favorites!

P.S: Has anyone seen the Maya Angelou Documentary yet – Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise ? It was released June 7th of this year!

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

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I hope to purchase the physical copy of Letter to My Daughter soon! Above is my Mom’s super old Maya Angelou collection from our personal library. I have two books left to read from this pile 🙂

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The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson

The Star Side of Bird HillDate Read: June 14th 2016

Published: 2015

Publisher: Penguin Press

Pages: 304

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

After their mother can no longer care for them, young Phaedra and her older sister, Dionne, are exiled from Brooklyn to Bird Hill in Barbados to live with their grandmother Hyacinth, a midwife and practitioner of the local spiritual practice of obeah.

Dionne spends the summer in search of love, testing her grandmother’s limits, and wanting to go home. Phaedra explores Bird Hill, where her family has lived for generations, accompanies her grandmother in her role as a midwife, and investigates their mother’s mysterious life.

When the father they barely know comes to Bird Hill to reclaim his daughters, both Phaedra and Dionne must choose between the Brooklyn they once knew and loved or the Barbados of their family.

 

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

I bought The Star Side of Bird Hill late last year for 2 reasons: I absolutely adored the super chic, sassy cover art (designed by an amazing contemporary Caribbean artist from Barbados – Sheena Rose) and I just had to support Naomi Jackson, as she’s an alum of Williams College – Middlebury’s (my alma mater) sister liberal arts school!

The Star Side of Bird Hill is a decent coming-of-age story that focuses on Barbadian-American sisters – Dionne (16 years old) and Phaedra (10 years old) as they learn new things about their family, culture and even themselves during their summer vacation in Bird Hill, Barbados. I really appreciated Jackson’s easy-going and descriptive writing style in this novel. Her vivid descriptions of Barbados definitely made this a great summer read! I felt as if I was with the characters during the lively carnival and on the sandy, pristine beaches against the backdrop of the serene sunsets. I could even hear the voices of both Dionne and Phaedra during their dialogues – that’s how thorough Jackson’s descriptions were!

But I kept wondering if The Star Side of Bird Hill was considered a YA (Young Adult) novel because it was surprisingly a heavy read. Tough issues like depression, mental illness, death, divorce, suicide, homosexuality, bi-cultural upbringing, Christianity, voodoo etc are all tackled in this book. I must say, Dionne and Phaedra’s grandma – Hyacinth, is the real MVP of this novel. I was in awe of her strength, courage and emotional stability given the series of unexpected, unfortunate incidents that occur at Bird Hill. It seemed as if Naomi Jackson was paying homage to the women of Bird Hill by showcasing the amazing strength the Barbadian women possess.

While reading, I sensed some similarities in this storyline to Haitian writer,  Edwidge Danticat’s novel Breath, Eyes, Memory – even though Danticat takes the themes of mother-daughter relationships, depression, sexual assault and suicide up a notch! I wanted to gift one of my friends who is of Grenadian heritage with this book, as I initially thought she’d easily relate to Caribbean/Caribbean-American storyline, but I’ve been having second thoughts since the story becomes super depressing for a good 100 pages. I wasn’t really blown away by The Star Side of Bird Hill when I finished the book. I enjoyed how most incidents and issues were sort of resolved by the end, but The Star Side of Bird Hill is not more than 3.5 stars for me. I do look forward to whatever Naomi Jackson writes next though!

★★★ (3 stars) – Good book. I recommend it, I guess.

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Summer in Igboland (ebook) by Ifeanyi Awachie

AwachieDate Read: January 4th 2016

Published: July 1st 2015

Publisher: Pronoun

Pages: 73

 

The Blurb

Ifeanyi Awachie, a Nigerian-American Yale University student, was tired of images of terrorism, corruption, and poverty– the only images Western media seemed to use to portray her birth country. So she went back to Nigeria for the first time in nineteen years to change the narrative.
Through Awachie’s vivid photos and honest, poetic writing, Summer in Igboland presents contemporary Nigeria from a unique perspective. The book takes on everything from Nigerian nightlife to the politics of hair to vibrant foods to meeting extended family for the first time as an adult.
As intimate as a diary and as informative as a travel blog, Summer in Igboland is a story of finding fun, personal struggle, and most importantly, one’s roots in a country whose negative stories are often the most prominent. Explore it, and discover modern Nigeria through the eyes and voice of an adventurous, passionate first-generation Nigerian.

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

Ifeanyi Awachie, a rising senior of Yale at the time won a fellowship to conduct an independent study in Nigeria. The aim of the study was to use photography to challenge the negative stereotypes associated with Nigeria. Ifeanyi was born in Nigeria, left when she was eighteen months old and was raised in Atlanta, Georgia. She had never been back to Nigeria since her move to the United States, so this summer project was supposed to be a great way to connect with her heritage.

Summer in Igboland is a travelogue where Ifeanyi takes readers to different towns in Nigeria and discusses random happenings of the places she visits, while trying to gain a sense of belonging at the place of her birth. This was a fast and easy read! I enjoyed how the travelogue was written with a personal diary feel and that it wasn’t heavy with historical facts about Nigeria.

As Ifeanyi interacts with Nigeria natives and some relatives, she begins to feel her ‘Americanness’ is a flaw, as her differences are very apparent, like: her American accent, her natural hair (she did not wear a weave as most young Nigerian women did), being a vegetarian (even though she hides this from her family) and her inability to speak the language – Igbo. She poses a lot of thought provoking questions with respect to her identity as she navigates her way through Nigeria. When people call her oyibo (which means ‘white person’) or make a fuss about her not speaking the language, she found that her own people tended to relegate her and made her feel less Nigerian. I could completely understand Ifeanyi feeling her Americanness was a flaw, especially with respect to sounding American and not being very fluent in the native language. Why is it that whenever people find that you are different from them, they tend to make you feel guilty for being different? Will we ever live in a world where differences are appreciated?

I particularly enjoyed the anecdotes on Ifeanyi’s new love for fufu*. Before her trip to Nigeria, she detested fufu. Whenever she was forced to eat fufu as a young girl, she would take bites of it with a fork. Fork? WHO EATS FUFU WITH A FORK? is what I asked myself as I read this. In Ghana, when you don’t use your fingers to eat fufu, you simply use a spoon! But then it occurred to me that Nigerians eat fufu differently from Ghanaians – Ghanaian fufu is usually embedded in bowl of soup. Whereas, the dense pounded yam of Nigerian fufu is usually in a separate bowl from the preferred soup. Once I remembered these differences, I was able to understand why Ifeanyi used to eat fufu with a fork, I guess. Check out what Nigerian fufu looks like – here ; Check out what Ghanaian fufu looks like – here. (Nigerian readers, please correct me if I’m wrong with the fufu comparisons!)

Throughout her exploration of different types of fufu and soups, Ifeanyi even states some fufu facts she learned while in Nigeria:

  1. One does not eat fufu with utensils.
  2. One does not chew fufu – one simply swallows.

With respect to the latter, lots of people chew fufu – myself included! *sigh* I can write a whole thesis on this swallowing of fufu phenomenon but I’ll save that for another day. But it was cute to read on Ifeanyi’s love for a dish she initially disliked as I could completely relate to her fufu-eating experience.

I’m glad I read this ebook. I just wish some of the anecdotes were concluded in a more cohesive way. From the blurb, Ifeanyi wanted to change the negative stereotypes associated with Nigeria, but I didn’t really get that from this short ebook. Nevertheless, Summer in Igboland made me think back to the time when I first arrived in Accra at the age of 10 and how I now identify as Ghanaian as well as American. Reading books like Summer in Igboland affirm my love of reading books written by people of African descent / people of the Diaspora because you see yourself in these stories! You start to see and feel that your experience as African, African-American, Caribbean, Black – whatever your heritage or (bi-)cultural upbringing, are all valid. Please consider reading this book, I’d love to discuss it with other readers!

 

  • fufu* – Fufu is a West African dish that consists of pounded boiled yam, cassava, plantain or coco-yam tubers; usually pounded into a dough-like consistency and eaten with soup.

★★★ (3 stars) – Good book. I recommend it, I guess.

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Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

RhimesDate Read: January 14th 2016

Published: November 2015

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Pages: 311

 

The Blurb

In this poignant, hilarious and deeply intimate call to arms, Hollywood’s most powerful woman, the mega-talented creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How To Get Away With Murder, reveals how saying Yes changed her life- and how it can change yours too.

 

Review –  ★★★★ (4 stars)

Who would have thought Shonda Rhimes’ sister’s six words: ‘You never say yes to anything’ during their Thanksgiving dinner preparations in 2013 would push her to a Year of Yes Challenge? Shonda Rhimes – television producer, writer and Hollywood powerhouse is a hard worker and used to drown herself in work to keep her two, super popular television shows –Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal on ABC (television network). Work was Rhimes’ excuse to avoid attending interviews, red carpet events, speaking engagements and the like. Shonda Rhimes was just your typical introvert: focused on reading, writing and just sticking to herself without being in the spotlight. Her sister’s words pushed her out of her comfort zone to dare to say yes to everything and all the invitations that came her way. Through this challenge, she learned to become more comfortable with herself, to love herself more, to have less awkward conversations, to take her health seriously and to even speak at Dartmouth College – her alma mater, during commencement in 2014.

Year of Yes: How To Dance It Out, Stand In The Sun And Be Your Own Person was a relatively easy and entertaining page-turner. I finally understand the magic behind Rhimes’ badass career (in the book, she coins the word ‘badassery’ haha), especially after her Year of Yes challenge to herself. This was an inspiring read with lots of positive affirmations and quotes. Some of my favorite quotes were:

Lucky implies that I was handed something I did not earn, that I did not work hard for. Gentle reader, may you never be lucky. I am not lucky. You know what I am? I am smart, I am talented, I take advantage of the opportunities that come my way and I work really, really hard. Don’t call me lucky. Call me badass. (pg. 181)

An awesome quote on what she wishes to achieve through her television shows:

The need to hear the words: ‘You are not alone’. The fundamental human need for one human being to hear another human being say to them ‘You are not alone. You are seen. I am with you. You are not alone’. I get asked a lot by reporters and tweeters why I am so invested in ‘diversity’ on television. ‘Why is it so important to have diversity on TV?’ they say. I really hate the word diversity. It suggests something… other. As if it is something…special. Or rare. Diversity! As if there is something unusual about telling stories involving women, people of color and LGBTQ characters on TV. I have a different word: NORMALIZING. I’m normalizing TV. I am making TV look like the world looks. Women, people of color, LGBTQ people equal way more than 50 percent of the population. Which means it ain’t out of the ordinary. I am making the world of television NORMAL. I am normalizing television. You should get to turn on the TV and see your tribe. Your tribe can be any kind of person, anyone you identify with, anyone who feels like you, who feels like home, who feels like truth. (pg. 235)

 

I especially appreciated the commentary on the challenges of balancing motherhood and being a successful career woman. Having 3 successful shows on prime time television AND being a mother of 3 young girls are not easy feats! Rhimes constantly has to find balance when it comes to either being in the studio during writing and filming sessions or finding time to attend her daughters’ recitals and simply spending enough time with them at home. With more women in the workforce nowadays, I feel a lot of women readers who balance motherhood and their careers would identify with Rhimes’ hilarious and thoughtful discourse on finding balance.

I have been a faithful fan of Grey’s Anatomy since 2009, and the writing style of this book is quite similar to that of the show – chatty, funny and conversational. But one thing that bugged me about Year of Yes was how chatty Rhimes’ thought process was in the beginning of the book. It reminded me of the ever so annoying Dr. April Kepner character of Grey’s Anatomy and I was almost put to sleep at times by this. But all in all, I admire Rhimes and I can’t wait to see what other groundbreaking projects she has up her sleeve in the future. Even if you aren’t a fan of her shows, please do read this – its a motivating, brave memoir by an incredible black woman. You might even want to try the Year of Yes challenge for yourself!

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

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