Friday, May 20, 2016

The Book of Harlan

The Book of HarlanThe Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Can we say six stars? This is Bernice L. McFadden's best book ever! Her prose is stunning, gliding over an epic of horrific proportions.

We meet Harlan's parents Sam Elliot, and Emma Robinson before he was conceived, while Emma was too innocent to protect herself. But they did the best they could, leaving Harlan with his doting grandmother while the young couple goes off seeking their fortune from Macon to Louisville to Michigan, returning home to Macon when Emma's father Tenant Robinson dies. When Tenant's estate is settled, Emma and Sam move on to Harlem where Emma's best friend Lucille a famous blues singer, has settled in a large home, with rooms to spare.

McFadden weaves her story around historical facts of life in Harlem with famous singers and musicians of the 1920's. When Emma and Sam go back to get Harlan to join them in Harlem, he is at first defiant, but goes with his parents to New York where he discovers a life he never imagined. When Harlan learns to play the guitar, Lucille invites him to go on the road with her. But Harlan, who never has any personal discipline was often late, or drunk, until Lucille has to fire him and send him home.

Harlan lacked discipline, but he did love the music enough to form a jazz band. He found his partner in music in one Leo "Lizard" Rubenstein, who could play trumpet like Satchmo. Harlan called him his "brother from another mother." The band was invited to play in L'Escadrille in Montmarte in Paris. And so they went. Harlan, still lacking discipline, had a wild partying time in Paris, not aware of the Nazi invasion of France. (No spoilers here, it's in the book-blurb.)

McFadden continues the heartbreaking part of the story, leaving me in tears. The story ends in the 1960's, the Viet Nam War, "riots" in the cities, Imamu Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones), "free love." And a wonderful denouement.


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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Brooklyn

Brooklyn Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a selection from one of my book clubs, selected after it was made into a movie, and nominated for an Oscar. The movie didn't win, but many of the book club members saw the movie and read the book. Some read it before seeing the movie. I'm glad I read the book first.

Brooklyn is a coming-of-age story of young Eilis Lacey, whose sister along with a Priest recognizes there is little work in Ireland for a young woman, and help her to migrate to the US. The Priest helps her find a room in a rooming house, a job at department store, and entry into night school.

Eilis (it took me about a chapter before I stopped thinking her name was "Ellis." More on that later)...Eilis finds love at one of the weekly dances at the parish. Tragedy strikes the family back home in Ireland and Eilis goes home to help her mother for a few weeks.

I found the book to be rather slow moving, tedious at some points. The author is not specific about some of the details, and leaves it to the reader to wonder.

The movie, on the other hand, moved over a lot of the tedious moments as when Eilis was lonely and seriously homesick, before she met Tony. She was less of a tragic figure than the Eilis of the book.

The ending of the book was rife with conversations that were more "signifying" than specific, and made me wonder how Eilis would proceed. Those same conversations in the movie were direct and left no question of how Eilis would proceed.

I did love the Irish brogue. Eilis is pronounced "Eye-lish." And the singing of the down-trodden old men at the Christmas dinner was heart-breaking.

I give the book four stars. The movie I rate as five.



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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

It Happened in Eighty-Eight (Eighty-Eight, #1)It Happened in Eighty-Eight by Bettye Griffin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cornell Sebastian returns to the fictitious town of Eighty-Eight, Mississippi to handle the house her late uncle has willed to her. She hires kitchen and bath designer Ajay Vincent to upgrade the kitchen and spruce up the rest of the house. Ajay is enchanted by Cornell, takes her to meet his friends and family in the little town, and romance begins.

Cornell and Ajay both have secrets that make them "damaged goods." Ajay doesn't give up on Cornell who freezes up every time he touches her, even though she wants to be in a relationship with him. When she finally tells him her secret, it lifts a burden from Cornell but adds to the weight for Ajay who has his own secret.

I guessed Cornell's secret from the first time it was implied. Ajay's secret was more complicated.

It was a good read.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Purple Hibiscus

Purple HibiscusPurple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kambili and Jaja Achike live what seems to be a privileged life. But their father Eugene is tyrannical, controlling and abusive. He is respected in their Catholic church due to his wealth and position in the community, owning a newspaper, and several factories that produce various goods. But he refuses to allow his father to enter his house because Eugene considers him a "heathen" who holds on to his traditional African ways, refusing to become a Catholic.

Kambili and Jaja live in fear of their father who insists that both of his children must have the highest grades in their respective classes in Catholic school. They are both smart students, but when Kambili brings home her grades as the second highest in her class, she is whipped for that transgression.

Eugene's sister Ifeoma is a lecturer in the University at Nsukka several hours away from Eugene's family in Enugu. Aunty Ifeoma recognizes her brother's controlling and abusive nature, and invites Kambili and Jaja for a visit during the holidays. Aunty does not tell Eugene that the children will also visit their grandfather who lives in a traditional village. Kambili and Jaja's eyes are opened to a different way of living in Aunty's house, and Kambili finds her own voice, and her own freedom.

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