Cover Reveal + Q&A | The Deep Blue Between by Ayesha Harruna Attah

Hello everyone!

It’s been a very trying time, worldwide. I hope everyone is staying (home) safe and not allowing COVID-19 to get us down. Hopefully, all this chaos will subside sooner than later – let’s stay positive!


Anyone who frequents this book blog knows I admire the work of Ghanaian writer, Ayesha Harruna Attah. I’ve read (and reviewed) all of her books and I just really resonate with her writing – the subject matter, the writing style, the character-driven plots etc. In my annual post on New Books To Anticipate this year, I mentioned that she would be releasing a YA novel. Today, we are revealing the book cover of this new novel – The Deep Blue Between, which will be published by Pushkin Press in October 2020!

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Check out the synopsis for The Deep Blue Between below:

A sudden, brutal slave raid tears twins Hassana and Vitória apart, taking them far away from each other. Hassana goes to Accra, where she builds a new family and finds a place for herself in the political world; Vitória goes to Salvador, Bahia where she lives and works with a Priestess, worshipping the gods of the motherland.

But no matter the different obstacles and adventures they encounter, the sisters never forget one another. They remain bound together by their dreams, and slowly their fates begin to draw them back together.

Rich in historical detail, this epic, moving novel evokes a time of great change in West Africa, when slavery has been abolished but colonialism is taking hold, through the lives of two bold young women who are shaping their changing society.

[Cover design by Helen Crawford-White]

A TEEN FEMINIST EPIC OF LOVE, COURAGE AND DETERMINATION

I connected with Ayesha for some insight into The Deep Blue Between. Enjoy our short book chat below, where she talks about the inspiration for her forthcoming novel and gives us a sneak-peek into the main characters!

(note – ‘AHA’ represents Ayesha Harruna Attah’s responses)

  • The Deep Blue Between is your 4th forthcoming novel, congratulations on this achievement! The book cover is so vibrant and glorious. It feels like yesterday that your 3rd novel, The Hundred Wells of Salaga was published. What was your inspiration for this new novel and how long did it take you to write?

AHA: Thank you! The Hundred Wells of Salaga was the direct inspiration for The Deep Blue Between. This new novel follows twins Hassana and Vitória after they are separated in a human caravan – the same one which sent Aminah to Kintampo and then on to Salaga. Hassana and Vitória are Aminah’s little sisters! After writing The Hundred Wells of Salaga, I couldn’t let go of the girls and had to find out what happened next. Since I knew the sisters well – or at least what they were like at age nine – the story poured out of me and I was able to complete a first draft of the book in five months.


  • From my knowledge of your previous novels, this is your first book in the (Young Adult) YA genre. Did this genre affect your approach in writing The Deep Blue Between? Does writing a YA novel target a specific audience?

AHA: Yes, it is my first YA book, but in my second novel Saturday’s Shadows, Kojo, one of the four protagonists, is a teenager. I had such a good time writing his character that I was excited for the chance to do so again, even if this time I was working with teenagers living in the 19th century. I let the girls guide me and just wrote the story. It was in rewriting that I started worrying about which parts might have been a stretch for a young adult reader.

Even though I wanted to write a book that teenage Ayesha would have loved to get lost in, I also know that when done well, even adults love YA!


  • What was the best part about writing Hassana and Vitória’s dynamic?

AHA: I think it was the magic of their journeys. It almost felt as if I were a medium. All I had to do was allow my senses to be open to let their stories in. I also especially loved researching the worlds of Accra, Lagos, and Bahia in the 1890s.


  • While reading Harmattan Rain, I saw bits of my life reflected in Sugri’s character and in The Hundred Wells of Salaga, Wurche’s character traits mirrored some of mine. How much of your personal life is seeped into The Deep Blue Between?

AHA: My family is filled with twins, so I tried to tap into that energy to write The Deep Blue Between; even my last name – Attah – means twin. Although Hassana and Vitória are so different, it’s inevitable that they both have parts of me. While I probably identify more with Vitória’s introversion, some of Hassana’s compulsions are totally mine!


  • Why would you like readers to indulge in your forthcoming, The Deep Blue Between? What would you like us to take away from the story?

AHA: I really enjoyed working on The Deep Blue Between and I hope the reader feels that sense of joy and wonder that kept me going as I wrote. It’s a fantastic story about the connection between people, and the unseen things that are at work in this strange world of ours – the strength of community and the power of dreams.

Special thanks to Elise Jackson, Poppy Stimpson (of Pushkin Press) + the rest of the team at Pushkin Press and Ayesha Harruna Attah for this wonderful Cover Reveal collaboration!

Pre-order The Deep Blue Between on Amazon


P.S: GHANAIAN readers – stay tuned for a giveaway of The Deep Blue Between, soon!

Check out my thoughts on Ayesha Harruna Attah’s novels:

Harmattan Rain | Saturday’s Shadows | The Hundred Wells of Salaga 

#ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 Book chat with Ayesha Harruna Attah

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Date Read: February 22nd 2020

Published: May 2nd 2019

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton

Pages: 453

The Blurb

Teeming with life and crackling with energy — a love song to modern Britain and black womanhood.

Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years.

Joyfully polyphonic and vibrantly contemporary, this is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic and utterly irresistible.

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Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Whew! It’s been a while since I read and reviewed a 5-star book. Girl, Woman, Other is probably really 4.5 stars, but I’m giving this novel 5 stars purely because of how this book made me feel. Yes, believe the hype!

Girl, Woman, Other is an inter-generational novel that follows 12 different characters in the UK. The book is divided into 5 parts, with each part containing 3 chapters/character storylines.

Part 1 follows – Amma, Yazz and Dominique; Part 2 follows Carole, Bummi and LaTisha; Part 3 follows Shirley, Winsome and Penelope; Part 4 follows Megan/Morgan, Hattie and Grace; Part 5 is the Epilogue (which I found a bit unnecessary). Each chapter in this book is dedicated to a character and the characters are mostly woman of color (either Black or bi- or multiracial), with one character being non-binary.

Readers follow characters through their lives, as their stories oscillate from past to present. All characters and stories are interconnected in such a fascinating way. Even in this book, readers see just how small the world is. Bernardine Evaristo’s sharp wit and ability to fabricate such nuanced characters, displaying all their idiosyncrasies is such an awesome feat! The writing style of this novel is unique. It’s so unique that you might need some patience getting used to it. Once I got acclimated to Evaristo not using punctuation marks, I was easily able to vividly hear the voices of the characters.

Having all 12 characters interconnected made this book so enjoyable for me! I’ve always been a sucker for inter-connected short stories (Edwidge Danticat does this well!) and family sagas. I felt like I was part of the wonderful community Evaristo created. Each character has her/their own set of issues and the icing on the cake for me was analyzing how each character viewed themselves, and others. I loved the way perspective and our views/opinions/feelings about people play a huge role in this book. Evaristo did an incredible job of showing us how the characters viewed themselves and others from different angles.

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Anyway, that’s enough gushing over how much I enjoyed Girl, Woman, Other, as a whole. Let’s now delve into 9 of the characters I loved/disliked.

NOTE – kindly tread lightly. I do my best not to include spoilers in my analysis of these characters. But also, just know that whatever I say here can’t even do the actual characters justice. You really get the full scope of the characters when you read the book!

Yazz: she’s the daughter of Amma Bonsu – a badass lesbian playwright and Ronald Quartey – a pissy, arrogant gay professor (sorry, but I hated his arrogance and self-hate). Yazz’s chapter was second in this book and really had me revved up to continue reading. She almost embodies the modern day enlightened teen. She’s a 19 year old super ambitious University student who is open-minded, opinionated, self-assured, woke (conscious of social issues and inequalities in the world) and not down with the bullshit. I had fun witnessing her trying to find herself and maintain a solid friend group, while dealing with her annoying, yet hilarious parents.

Dominique: poor Dominique! Her chapter was almost the most frustrating to read. Dominique is Amma’s bestie and the duo started a production company as young adults, while navigating their broke lives in London. She’s a lesbian of Caribbean heritage and from a family who disowns her after she comes out as a lesbian teen. Dominique follows an African-American woman to the States and almost loses herself. That’s all I’ll say on Dominique. I loved how her chapter shed light on abuse that happens within relationships and how oblivious the one being abused can be.

Carole: I think Carole’s character was complex. I liked Carole as I read her chapter, but when I read her mother’s chapter – Bummi, and even her school teacher’s chapter – Shirley, I realized how trash Carole actually was! I think she was a victim of her circumstances. As a young teen, Carole followed the wrong group of girls and had some unfortunate events happen in her life. She excels as an adult, but throws away her heritage. What made me dislike Carole was how negative she was. Her actions and views on innocent folks who had good intentions towards her were just off! I wonder if other readers saw her to be an opportunist… She’s a brilliant young lady, but the self-hate she displays was quite disappointing (but so real in many peoples’ lives today).

Bummi: what a woman! Bummi is Carole’s mother. Her chapter brought tears to my eyes – tears from feeling her pain, struggle and joy, all at once! Bummi is a heroine.

LaTisha: she’s Carole’s childhood friend, who isn’t the brightest of the bunch. As a teen and young adult, LaTisha’s dysfunctional family led her to fall into the arms of many men. I was shocked at how fertile she was and how dumb she was every time she slept with a man that lied to her. Like the great J. Cole once said: ‘Fool me one time shame on you; Fool me twice, can’t put the blame on you’. Given that LaTisha was fooled sooo many times, who is the fool here?

Shirley: she’s another one of Amma’s friends, but from childhood. Shirley’s a plain Jane teacher of high school students. She starts out teaching with a passion, but burns-out as the years go by. I personally think she has a perfect family – her loving husband, Lennox, is perfect for her (or so I thought….); her daughters are wonderful and Shirley’s parents are well-off pensioners with a beach house in Barbados. Like I said before, Shirley’s chapter made me see how ungrateful Carole was. But Shirley is a complainer! Her life really had no problems, but she saw problems with most things, which was hilarious and annoying at the same time. Oh, and she might be a closeted homophobe…

Winsome: she’s Shirley’s mother. Her chapter will make your jaw drop! What a wild, deprived, shameless woman! She’s the epitome of the Ghanaian phrase – ‘onipa yɛ bad’ which literally means ‘human beings are bad’ but actually means – ‘be weary of people/ you can’t trust anyone’. Period. 

Morgan: They are the non-binary character, who was initially called Megan. I didn’t find their chapter convincing, to be honest. I didn’t like the flow of their storyline and found their eventual fame so random and misplaced.

Grace: she’s Morgan’s great-grandmother. I ended up loving Grace especially when she snapped out of her postpartum depression. Flossie’s (Grace’s maid) unsympathetic attitude towards Grace was unfortunate, but so real! People are quick to judge other mothers, without knowing the misery and sadness mothers who’ve experienced multiple miscarriages, or just had zero luck in seeing their babies survive after 3 months. Grace’s chapter tackled tough motherhood issues so beautifully. Grace is definitely an MVP.

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I hope my brief discussion of some of the characters whetted your appetite to pick up this book! While there are a ton of characters in this book, their storylines are not hard to follow and appreciate. Bernardine Evaristo managed to make this novel modern and timeless and I really wish she didn’t have to share the 2019 Booker Prize with anyone.

This is an apt book to enjoy during International Women’s Day, which is today! Girl, Woman, Other is Evaristo celebration of Black British womanhood.

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

Purchase Girl, Woman, Other on Amazon

2020 NEW RELEASES TO ANTICIPATE!

Happy New Year, everyone!

We are in the year 2020 – how crazy is that? 2020 sounds like a year in a Sci-Fi novel, doesn’t it?!

Below is my annual collage of new books to anticipate this year. I’ve compiled about 80 new African, African-American and Caribbean books that look very promising. Please note – this list/collage is just a snippet of books by Black authors 2020 has to offer!

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

(this post contains Amazon affiliate links)

MORE books to look out for in 2020:

image via Essence

Bamboozled by Jesus: How God Tricked Me into the Life of My Dreams by Yvonne Orji 

The Blurb

In Bamboozled by Jesus, a frank and fresh advice book, Orji takes readers on a journey through twenty life lessons, gleaned from her own experiences and her favorite source of inspiration: the Bible. She infuses wit and heart along with practical pointers―such as why being talented is not as sexy as being available, and how fear is similar to food poisoning―with the goal of helping others live the most fulfilling, audacious life possible.

With bold authenticity and practical relatability, Orji will inspire everyone to catapult themselves out of the mundane and into the magnificent. Bamboozled by Jesus paints a powerful picture of what it means to say “yes” to your most rewarding life―no matter your beliefs.

To be published May 2020

 


image via Twitter

An Ordinary Wonder by Buki Papillon

 

The Blurb

An Ordinary Wonder is the powerful coming of age story of an intersex twin, Oto, who is forced to live as a boy despite his heartfelt belief that he is a girl. His wealthy and powerful family are ashamed of him and treat him cruelly to secure his silence. His twin sister’s love wavers in a world of secrets and lies that seems determined to tear them apart, and Oto must make drastic choices that will alter their lives forever.

Richly imagined with African mythology, art and folk tales, this moving and modern book follows Oto through his life at home and at boarding school in Nigeria, and his ultimate dream of emigrating to a new life in the United States. It is a novel that explores complex desires as well as challenges of family, identity, gender and culture. An Ordinary Wonder takes us on a beautiful journey of what it means to feel whole.

To be published April 2020

 


image via Big Friendship

Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman

The Blurb

Two of the nation’s leading feminists and hosts of the hit podcast Call Your Girlfriend make the bold and compelling argument that a close friendship is the most influential and important relationship a human life can contain—helping you improve as a person and in your relationships with others.

To be published July 2020

 


Also look out for work from: Ayesha Harruna Attah’s YA novel – The Deep Blue Between, Maame Blue, Thando Mgqolozana, Bryan Washington.

 

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

The Africa Center: Blogger Spotlight + LIT links mélange III

Hey everyone!

The Africa Center – which is based in New York, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, multidisciplinary institution, provides a gateway for engagement with contemporary Africa. They’ve started a Bloggers Spotlight series that features African bloggers who have caught their eye. African Book Addict! is the first feature of the series.

Click the image below to check out the interview where I speak with Evelyn Owen about African Book Addict!, literature by writers of African descent, the literary scene in Accra and more:

Special thanks to Evelyn Owen and the team over at The Africa Center for the feature. I’m super grateful 🙂


Other interesting LIT links to indulge in:

  • Chigozie Obioma: who should I write for – Nigerians, Africans, or everyone? via The Guardian. I know a couple of Nigerians who weren’t crazy about Obioma’s debut – The Fishermen. They simply weren’t blown away by the storyline and some felt the text was laden with petty details – details that seem commonplace to the average Nigerian. I absolutely loved Obioma’s debut, but hearing a couple of readers’ complaints made me question his target audience. In this article, Obioma eloquently asserts that his writing is for everyone as he believes the best literature is accessibly to all.
  • Book bloggers are real readers via The Irish Times. Tunrayo of the blog Tunrayo’s Thoughts tweeted this AMAZING article to me last week. The article articulates and basically defends the role of book bloggers and the influence we hold. I loved it!
  •  We Can Be Heroes via Lenny Letter. In this very timely piece (Black History Month, duh!), black women writers pay homage to the women who’ve inspired them most. Featured writers include Zinzi Clemmons, Nicole Dennis-Benn, Jazmine Hughes and more!

Images via #ReadSoulLit Twitter hashtag timeline

I hope Black History Month 2017 has been inspiring so far! If you’re active on social media (Twitter & Instagram), definitely follow the annual #ReadSoulLit photo challenge (curated by Didi of Brown Girl Reading) to engage with other book lovers of African-American literature and discover many recommendations of books written by Black authors!

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!

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Date Read: July 16th 2016

Published: 2016

Publisher: A.A Knopf

Pages: 305

Yaa Gyasi

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.

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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 a 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 🙂

Purchase Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou on Amazon

The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson

Date Read: June 14th 2016

Published: 2015

Publisher: Penguin Press

Pages: 304

The Star Side of Bird Hill

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.

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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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Purchase The Star Side of Bird Hill on Amazon