Adult Book Reviews by Genre: African American

The Paragon Hotel
Faye, Lyndsay
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

1922. Alice James finds herself on a westbound train with two bullets in her stomach and $50,000 worth of counterfeit cash. On the run from the mob, she befriends a black porter who saves her life by taking her to his doctor friend in the only black hotel in Portland, Oregon. When a mixed race child goes missing from the hotel, the residents panic as KKK activity in Portland has been escalating. This excellent novel switches back and forth from the events leading up to Alice’s shooting and then her experiences at the hotel after arriving.

Alice James is one of my favorite characters in recent memory – she’s flawed, but self-aware, whip-smart and most importantly compassionate. Her empathy gets her into the trouble and she knows it, but she’s the sort who is willing to sacrifice herself for the greater cause. The supporting characters, especially Blossom, are equally flawed but lovable, especially as their truths slowly come to light. I’m a sucker for a 20s setting, and we get a lot of the good stuff here, especially linguistically. Our Alice has quite the endearing way of explaining herself in 20s style aphorisms.

In addition to being a charming read, the book covers some really important issues around race, gender and sexuality. The author has a deft enough hand at covering these issues that she manages to make the commentary work for the 20s as well as present day. If you decide to read this book, you’ll laught, cry and rage along with the characters at the injustices handed to them based on their gender, race or sexuality. My one complaint is that the middle sagged a bit – this is book that’s largely focused on character development and the mystery really just served to get Alice to learn things about her new friends.

I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, but the promise of mob-excitement, mystery and racial commentary brought me to this book, and I’m so glad it did. Richly drawn characters and a fascinating setting pretty much guarantee that most fiction (historical or otherwise) readers will enjoy this one, and I’ll be pre-ordering a copy for my mother. 5 stars – I adored it.

Thanks to Netgalley and G.P. Putnam’s Sons for the advance copy, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Paragon Hotel goes on sale on 08 January, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Sing, Unburied, Sing
Ward, Jesmyn
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Jo Jo and his mother Leonie have been living on a farm in rural Missisippi for their entire lives. Jo Jo's father, Michael, has been in jail for drug related crimes, and thus most of Jo Jo and his sister Kayla's upbringing has been done by their grandparents: the gruff but ultimately loving Pop and the cancer-ridden matriarch, Mam. Everyone's world is about to be upended, though, as time grows near for Michael to get out of prison.

Writing any sort of synopsis for this book was particularly challenging, as there's not much in the way of plot. I don't mean that in a bad way. I sometimes love books that focus solely character development, and that is absolutely what this is. The writing is insanely gorgeous and it's obvious from the gruesome beginning scene as to why this won the National Book Award.

Ward manages to make almost all of the characters relatable or lovable even as they do and say and think terrible things. She absolutely captures some of the wonderfully horrible aspects of the human condition, and here is a lot to love in this book.

That being said, I did not much care for certain aspects of the audiobook. First, by the time I got the book, I had forgotten what it was actually about. I did not remember that ghosts were a part of the story and was really confused for the first part of the book (are these flashbacks? how is that character here? I thought he was dead?), but I eventually figured it out. For me, the ghosts detracted from the story and I could have done without that element, even though magical realism is often my jam. The biggest problem for me, however, was Rutina Wesley's performance (which, hilariously enough, is why I went for this in audiobook format - I liked her in the few seasons I watched of True Blood). It was over enunciated especially given that Leonie is from Mississippi, and I found her parts to be melodramatic as there were a lot of weird pauses and words said breathlessly. It just didn't work for me, and I wanted to skip all of Leonie's parts.

If you would like to read a gorgeously written character study/family drama with a compelling setting, then this is a great bet. Just read it, don't listen to it. 3 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Octavia E. Butler's Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
Duffy, Damian
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Octavia Butler's Kindred broke so much ground both as a flawless time travel novel and visceral retelling of the slave experience. As an African-American author writing science fiction, her body of work changed the field while winning its top honors -- the Nebula and Hugo awards -- and the author herself was awarded a MacArthur genius grant. This graphic novel is an excellent introduction to her work, and is highly recommended for YA and adult readers alike.

Reviewer's Name: Rebecca
A Lesson Before Dying
Gaines, Ernest J.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Two characters. Grant and Jefferson. Playing the roles of God in Jesus in society, as saviors. Jefferson is on death row for killing a man. Grant is a man who would rather have nothing to do with the sinner, Jefferson. However, Grant is persuaded to help Jefferson. The two men develop a crazy relationship. Grant’s job is to help Jefferson find his humanity again, after Jefferson’s astonishing defense in trial that compared him to a swine who wouldn’t know better than to kill a man, for he is just that dumb. This book teaches so many lessons, but most important how to be a hero for others. Read this book for nothing else than to get to Jefferson’s tragic journal in the end, where you should be prepared with tears and tissues, for your heart will break for these characters.

Reviewer Grade: 12

Reviewer's Name: Madison H.
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Hurston, Zora Neale
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Set in the 1930’s and 40’s, Janie is a woman who just wants love. She was raised by her grandmother, but the two did not agree on what Janie’s perfect life should be like. Janie’s grandmother sets Janie up with a man who will take care of her. This is just the beginning, though. As Janie meets more people, she becomes a different person herself. Eventually, she meets Tea Cake, a mere boy to her womanness that swoons her with the love that she’s been searching for all along. Be prepared, though for the teary ending that was bound to happen from the beginning.

Reviewer Grade: 12

Reviewer's Name: Madison H.
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Hurston, Zora Neale
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Actual Rating: 4.5

When I first saw the cover and title of this book, I was intrigued. The title of this novel does not reveal much about what the plot was all "about". The main character of the book, Janie, is a woman of mixed race who is trying to find her happiness, which she believes is love. Hurston writes this novel in a way that the readers too, can feel what Janie is feeling, and see what Janie is seeing. Even though this book was written in the 1930's, the topics that pop up are still relevant today, including Feminism. This book may have been predictable at certain times, it was surprising as well. I have never read a novel like this one before. I encourage others to read this book, so they too can experience the journey of Janie's coming of age.

Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Jessica J.
Bryant, Lynne
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I chose this book for my book group to read not knowing much about it. As one person in my book group put it "An unexpected pleasant surprise of a book". Lynne Bryant told a gripping story of a small town in the south that even though things in our country have progressed, they really haven't. It is the story of Roxanne who has her own secrets and how she becomes friends with an elderly black woman and her life is changed forever. Lynne Bryant really knows how to write characters that are so life-like, that you just want to meet someone like Grace, Adelle, and Mattie in person. This is a wonderful book for book groups because there is lots to discuss.

Reviewer's Name: Melissa