Saturday, April 7, 2018

Camilla's Roses

Camilla's RosesCamilla's Roses by Bernice L. McFadden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There was a lot of pain in this story. The mother of the girls in the family gave each one a middle name of "Rose." First there was Maggie Rose who never seemed to grow up even after a tragic automobile accident that killed Lloyd, the love of her life. And there was Audrey Rose who could not shake her addiction. The mother, Velma was never able to give Audrey the help she needed and abandoned her emotionally. The father, Chuck tried his hardest to lead Audrey on the right path. Sometimes it's the Dad who loves that child "in spite of."

Audrey got married and bore a baby-girl, Camilla, who should have been the love of Audrey's life. But it was always Velma who did the most for Camilla, while Audrey was doing drugs, stealing anything that could bring a little money, in the street, in prison, while Camilla was watching it all.

Camilla was the smart one, got good grades in school, and went off to a major college. But she could not shake the presence of Audrey from her life. Camilla was fair-skinned to start with, but bleached her skin to remove the presence of Audrey from Camilla's psyche. Camilla married and moved to the suburbs with her husband and baby Zola. When she got cancer, the husband stopped being attentive and cheated on Camilla with one of her best friends.

And then there was the backdrop of September 11, 2001. The whole world was watching. Camilla gathered up her wigs and her baby and went HOME! Home to mother Velma and sister Maggie.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

An American Marriage

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An American Marriage"An American Marriage" or "American Tragedy" or "American Triangle?" And it happened in the Piney Woods. Roy and Celestial decided not to stay at his Mama's house that night and went instead to the Piney Woods, where Roy went to get a bucket of ice and ran into a woman who needed help with her ice due to a rotator cuff. Roy cautioned her to lock the door, and he left. Then another man opened the door and raped the woman.

After weeks of motions and depositions, Roy slept behind bars 100 nights before he was brought to trial, and the woman could not identify Roy...sent to prison for 15 years, an innocent man.

The story continues with chapters back and forth between Roy and Celestial, both hopeful that Roy will be vindicated. The years go on weighing on both of them, a difficult time to be going to visit Roy in prison, until he tells Celestial not to come anymore.

And then after five years of depositions with the help of "Uncle Banks," Roy is released and doesn't know what to do with his life. During that time his mother, Olive has died, Celestial and her friend Andre have attended the funeral and burial.

I had a tearful time when Celestial sang "Jesus Promised me a Home." I had to dig up Jennifer Hudson to listen to the song a few times.

When "Big Roy" stayed to bury Olive without the help of the crew of men provided, himself using only a shovel, Celestial and Andre stayed until Olive was sufficiently buried.

Finally Roy is released, and goes to Big Roy's house to decide how his life should proceed. He still has a wife and struggles with his relationship with Celestial as well as with Andre.

There were some gut-wrenching scenes before it was all over, and Roy finally gave in to continue his own life.

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Monday, January 2, 2017

Small Great Things

Small Great ThingsSmall Great Things by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just picked up this book yesterday (December 23, 2016) from the library, the Large Print edition. (The large print editions are usually available more quickly than the regular print.) My "white ladies book club" asked me to lead the discussion for this book when we meet in January. ("Damned if I do, damned if I don't. So I agreed, dammit.) The story centers around, Ruth Jefferson, a black Labor and Delivery nurse who does her routine checkup of a newborn, whose parents are white supremacists and don't want her to touch their child.

I hope the story doesn't evolve the way many novels by white authors attempting to tell of the black experience often do. Jodi Picoult has many best-selling novels under her belt, so maybe I can trust her "chops."

I have to praise Jodi Picoult for her research. If you read the "Author's Note" at the end of the book, you will see that she does not take the subject of racism lightly. She recognizes her own "white privilege" and has taken great pains to do the research and educate herself about the differences in black culture and everyday life. Picoult reached out to numerous black women to educate herself, and enrolled in a social justice workshop called Undoing Racism, to "peel back the veneer of 'who I thought I was from who I truly am.'"

And then there is the whole Neo-Nazi culture. She did her research there too on the white power groups who believe in the separation of the races.

Jodi Picoult is not Kathryn Stockett, the author of "The Help," whose simplistic view of racism offended a lot of black people.

Now for the story, without giving away too much. Ruth Jefferson is a black Labor and Delivery nurse, who is told by her supervisor that the white supremacist parents of the newborn she is checking, don't want her to touch the baby. When the baby subsequently dies, the parents accuse Ruth of murder.

Ruth, who has worked over 20 years in Labor and Delivery at that hospital, is fired from the job, and is arrested in the middle of the night at her home where she lives with her A-student son, Edison, only child of Ruth's late husband who lost his life while deployed in Afghanistan.

Ruth has no resources to hire an attorney, but requests the services of a public defender, Ms. Kennedy McQuarrie, who takes her case. Kennedy lives the life of "white privilege" with little understanding of what "people of color" experience on a daily basis. Ruth and Kennedy have to gain each other's trust, and come to understand what their lives mean to each other.

The scenes of Ruth in jail, then released to find work at McDonald's were heart-breaking. Her son starts to act out, while he tries to make sense of his life, and his future with his mother's life in jeopardy.

Picoult tells the story with back and forth chapters of Ruth, Kennedy, and Turk, the white supremacist. It was difficult to see Ruth in a state of depression. Kennedy stayed on the case and tried to come to an understanding of the daily life of African Americans. The Neo-Nazi chapters were very disturbing.

When we come to the trial, the action is a page-turner. No spoilers here. As I often say, "you have to read it for yourself."

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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Ordinary GraceOrdinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was another book club selection, following on the heals of "Peace Like a River." The common thread in the two books is faith, and belief in God during a summer in New Bremen, Minnesota, when too many people died. The story is told by young Frank Drum looking back over the years when he "came of age." Frank and his younger brother Jake, mostly inseparable through that summer, found themselves burying a young friend, an unknown "itinerant," and their sister Ariel.

The story unfolded against the backdrop of wealth and privilege of two households of the Brandt family. The older Brandts, Axel and Julia Brandt, owned the brewery in New Bremen which had prospered for more than a hundred years. Emil Brandt was Frank's mother Ruth's good friend since childhood, and a talented musician. Lise Brandt was Emil's younger sister, born deaf and subject to fits of rage. When Emil returns from the war, blind and facially disfigured, it is Lise who takes care of her brother. Lise and Jake, who stutters when he is with strangers, forge a bond. They understand each other even through Lise's deafness.

Nathan Drum, father of Frank and Jake, had studied law, and expected to become an attorney before the war interrupted his life, and the expectations of his wife Ruth. When Nathan returned from the war, he had no interest in law, and chose to become a minister, much to Ruth's dismay.

It is Nathan's gentle nature and unwavering faith that keeps his family together even during the darkest times of their lives. The mysterious death of Ariel shakes them all, and it is Frank and Jake who gradually solve the mystery.

It was a good read. I think my book club will enjoy this one much more than "Peace Like a River." I won't tell how it ended.

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