The Color of Water by James McBride

This is an amazing story of a Jewish woman who married a Black man, had eight children by him, and when he died, she married another Black man and had four more children.  James McBride was the 8th child of Ruth and Dennis McBride.  Ruth was staying in New York away from her Mother, Father and sister in Suffolk, Virginia.  She met Dennis at a factory that her aunt owned and both of them worked.  After she quit the job, she still kept in touch with Dennis.  At one point she reaches out to him when she is spending time with some unsavory characters.  Soon she falls for Dennis, and they settle in an apartment in New York.  Dennis brought love into her life.  She didn’t feel love at home, certainly not from her father who molested her.  Her mother loved her, but she was not demonstrative.  After Ruth  married Dennis, she became a Christian and helped him start a church.   She felt accepted by Black people.  The book gets its title from Ruth’s answer to her son James when he asked what color they were.  The Color of Water alternates between James telling the story of his growing up years with his siblings and his mother’s story as she tells the story of her past.  It is very engaging and heartwarming.  After reading the book I came away admiring her for her strength and faith to raise her kids mostly as a single mother.  I highly recommend it.

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Noah’s Compass by Anne Tyler

Noah’s Compass is a story about a 60 year-old man who is forced to retire from teaching 5th grade when the school has to cut back. He downsizes to a smaller apartment with no plan for his life, but on his first night in the new apartment a burglar attacks him. He wakes up in the hospital with no memory of what happened. Liam obsesses about trying to remember the event. He meets a young woman named Eunice who assists an elderly man. Liam sees her as a rememberer. Liam and Eunice begin seeing each other at first she is to help him with his resume. Eunice helps to get him out of his funk, but the real catalyst is Bootsie Tyler. She is the mother of the young man who broke into Liam’s apartment. She wants Liam to be a character witness for her son at his trial saying that he is really “good hearted, kindhearted… the product of a broken home,” who might be bipolar. Liam tells her to get out. By this time Liam values himself decides that he retired too soon. He gets a job teaching preschool. I didn’t like the book at first, but it grew on me. It’s kind of slow moving, but it is thought provoking. I think it’s realistic in a way. People change gradually. Sometimes people go through experiences that help them grow, but I think sometimes it’s not one thing that makes people change. It is different people influencing us.

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Savages by Bill Pronzini

This is one of Bill Pronzini’s nameless detective series. He really should rename the series because he has revealed the detective’s name is “Bill.” I think he should have given the character a different name than his own, but I wasn’t consulted. Regardless, it’s a good series. There are two storylines going with this mystery. Bill runs a detective agency, and the book follows a case that Bill is working on as well as one Jake, one of the detectives with the agency, is working on. The agency is based in San Francisco, and Jake has the task of delivering a subpoena to a man in a town called Grey’s Landing about a three hour drive north of San Francisco. While at the young man’s home, a farm house, he hears noises near the barn. He goes inside the barn and finds a man hanging. As he leaves the barn to call the authorities, he is hit on the head. He is hospitalized with a concession, and when he gets out, he tries to find the person to serve the subpoena to as well as find out who attacked him. Bill is hired by a woman whose sister died by falling down the stairs in her home. It is ruled an accidental death, but she is sure that her brother-in-law is responsible. Pronzini does a good job of keeping both mysteries interesting and solving them at the end.

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The Color of Water by James McBride

Growing up, author James McBride wondered why his mother looked and acted different than other parents in his neighborhood.  He describes feeling like something was missing in his life because his mother never discussed her background. This book fully titled The Color of Water A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother tells the story in alternating chapters of the author’s upbringing in Brooklyn and Queens with eleven siblings and his mother Ruth’s Jewish upbringing in the south.  His mother agreed to discuss her background with her son only if he would also include each of her grown children’s many accomplishments in the book (all have college degrees).  The author paints the whole picture when it comes to recounting his mother’s life including the good times and the bad, which only makes you appreciate her resiliency even more.  I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to get to know the author’s family through these pages, and I highly recommend this uplifting title.

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Soulless by Gail Carriger

Soulless coverAlexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.  Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire — and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

At first, all I knew about this book was that it was a Steampunk mystery and I was excited to begin it. I quickly found that it includes vampires, werewolves, and ghosts, which made me less excited to begin it. I’ve found that novels containing the supernatural can be very good, but most of them are simply awful. Nevertheless, as this was scheduled for book group, I began reading.

I was very pleasantly surprised. There’s no other way for me to explain Soulless than to say it is a Steampunk-Sherlock Holmes-Twilight-Jane Austen romance novel. It’s got a little bit of everything. I thoroughly enjoyed the humor in it as well. I think my favorite line is after Alexia’s family discusses how horrible it is that scientists are moving in next door to an acquaintance of theirs and Alexia replies, “How ghastly for her, people actually thinking, with their brains, and right next door. Oh, the travesty of it all.”

I recommend this to fans of paranormal romance and paranormal mystery who like a little something extra in their reading material. I also recommend it to fans of Jane Austen who have an interest in the supernatural.

Five stars!

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The Fate of Mercy Alban by Wendy Webb

The-Fate-of-Mercy-Alban

Grace Alban has spent more than twenty years avoiding her childhood home, the stately Alban House on the shores of Lake Superior, for reasons she would rather forget. But when her mother’s unexpected death brings Grace and her teenage daughter back, she finds more is haunting the halls and passageways of Alban House than her own personal demons.

Long-buried family secrets, a packet of old love letters, and a lost manuscript plunge Grace into a decades-old mystery about a scandalous party at Alban House, when a world-famous author took his own life and Grace’s aunt disappeared without a trace. The night has been shrouded in secrecy by the powerful Alban family for all of these years. Her mother intended to tell the truth about that night to a reporter on the very day she died—could it have been murder? Or was she a victim of the supposed Alban curse?

I loved this book! I’m a fan of Gothic literature anyway, and The Fate of Mercy Alban is a modern Gothic novel. The story really drew me in, which is important to me. It is definitely a page turner. Wendy Webb knows just how to terrify a reader without overwhelming them. She has also written a story within a story here, which impressed me very much.

Reminiscent of stories such as Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, I highly recommend this to fans of the genre.

Five stars!

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The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the age of colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

 

A few of my very smart friends enthusiastically recommended The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander to me, so I expected that it would be an interesting book. But I wasn’t expecting it to be as readable and compelling as it was. Michelle Alexander is a legal scholar and I was afraid this book would be very dry and dense, but I was extremely impressed with how clear, concise, and eloquent her arguments were. You definitely do not need to be a lawyer or legal scholar to perfectly follow this book.

As indicated by the title, Alexander makes the case that the American prison and justice system acts in the same way the old Jim Crow laws did to create a permanent undercaste  (she explains that it is indeed a caste and not an underclass, because there is no way out of a caste, while class is more fluid). In her introduction she admits that this argument sounds extreme and it took her many years to become convinced of it, but the more she learned about our current systems of justice, the more concerned she became. In the United States, felons are the last group of people who can be legally discriminated against. They cannot vote, serve on juries, or receive public assistance (such as food stamps or public housing).

This is a difficult topic to talk about–many find it difficult to sympathize with felons, since they must have committed a crime and brought this situation upon themselves, right? Alexander’s book outlines how difficult it truly is for poor Americans to get a fair trial. Since public defenders are so overworked, many who are accused of crimes are convinced to plead guilty in exchange for a shorter sentence, without being informed about all the rights they will lose once they become convicted felons. Studies have shown that white and black Americans use illegal drugs in equal proportions, or that white Americans use more illegal drugs than black Americans. Yet in some states, as many as 90% of drug offenders in prison are black. In Kentucky, 1 in 5 black men of voting age are unable to vote due to felonies. If this information concerns you, or if you don’t believe that such a thing could be possible in the United States in 2013–especially if you don’t believe it could be possible–I highly recommend The New Jim Crow. It’s a stunning and important book, and Alexander is an exceptionally clear and thorough writer. I recommend this book even to readers who don’t normally pick up works of heavy nonfiction.

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