Tope Folarin’s A Particular Kind of Black Man

No one fits precisely into a cubby marked this, that or the other.  No one.  So why do we, much like hermit crabs, try to squeeze into one shell after another to see which one fits, to find the one in which we feel at home?  We all do it, but for young Tunde Akinola there are so many shells, so many identities to try and nothing feels like home.  In this coming of age novel, Tunde grows to be a “particular kind of black man”, a first generation African-American, born in the U.S. to Nigerian parents.  But what is that?

Tunde begins school in Utah where he looks around and sees…..no one like himself.  Utah is mostly white and Mormon.  What, then, is he?  His mother develops mental illness and returns to Nigeria, leaving Tunde and his brother with their father, hard-working, deeply religious and now a single parent.  Enter a Nigerian-born step-mother and her two Nigerian-born sons, a family blended in name only.  His Nigerian grandmother, a voice on the phone, is a constant and steadying influence, but he never meets her face to face.

Small town Utah, next small town Texas, then Dallas, college in Atlanta and Maine, on to D.C.  Son, brother, Nigerian, black, white, juju, pop, Western, Southern, small towns, rural, hip-hop, urban, New England, American, male.  How does a wide-eyed child born into this kaleidoscope find his way, navigate, come to grips…….when, more often than not, exploration is squelched, and welcome is never guaranteed?  And how does one such child grow with assurance into the kind of man he is to become?  What will the essence of this man be?  Tope Folarin’s book is not a “how to”.  It is simply the story of Tunde growing up, but it is revelatory, and, I believe, will leave you changed.  A recommended read.

In bookstores everywhere on August 6 from Simon & Schuster.  Shop your local indie bookstore here.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Simon & Schuster via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe

What wild wretched excess this book is.  A creative furor.  You know how we’re often told that it’s not wise to do something or other just because we can, that some things are better left undone?  Well, Trent Dalton can and does.  He not only pulls out all the stops, he pulls it off, and it is wonderful – over the top, packed to the brim, a real gusher of a read.  We meet Eli Bell at the age of twelve, an old soul with a lucky freckle on his right forefinger.  He is younger brother to Augustus, who is mute by choice and otherworldly.  When too young to remember, both boys were nearly drowned by their biological father and now live with their Mum and boyfriend Lyle, small time drug dealers and users.  Their babysitter is Slim Halliday, a notorious prison escapee, who may or may not have murdered a taxi driver with a hammer, and something of a philosopher.  You tend to get that way when, like Slim, you’ve been through some stuff.  But it’s not all bad ‘cause the boys love and are loved by Mum, Lyle and Slim.

Don’t you know, though, original sin will get you every time.  Lyle gets ambitious and runs afoul of some seriously ugly evil in the drug trade:  “Back Off” Bich Dang, Vietnamese entrepreneur, pillar of the community, supplier to Lyle and a wicked, wicked woman; the wonderfully named Tytus Broz, manufacturer of prosthetic limbs, also pillar of the community, filthy rich drug kingpin and truly heartless bastard; and Iwan Kroll, unlikely llama farmer, cadaverous, shivery, sadistically cruel, and Tytus Broz’s hitman.  Sub-plots, mysterious depths and reflections, secondary twists, back stories, side roads and diversions in abundance, lyrical, silly and gory; but, good gravy, it all works, so let’s not analyze it.  Set in Australia by an Australian.  Some of the best writers on the planet.  Nature or nurture?

Boy Swallows Universe is in bookstores now.  Shop your local indie bookstore for it.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by HarperCollins Publishers / Harper via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

It Was the Best of Lines, It Was the Worst of Lines – April 8, 2019

Dog Late GIF - Dog Late Cat GIFs

“The dog is late, and I’m wearing pajamas made from the same material as Handi Wipes, which is reason enough for me to wish I were dead.”

          Binnie Kirshenbaum, Rabbits for Food.

Since the last Best of Lines was about a train called the Yellow Dog, you’re probably figuring that, if there’s “dog” in it, I’m there.  And you are so right.  But, no.  This line is such an unlikely combination of imponderables with all of them, every one, leading to, guess what………..pondering.  Ta damn da.

The dog is late.  A dog with an appointment?  Dogs don’t know time.  All dogs know is “supper time, supper time, sup-sup-supper time”.  I thought immediately of Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series and that delightful canine Oberon, who’s hilarious and hopelessly muddled on the subject of time.  Dogs just don’t get it.  So what’s this with the non-punctual pup?

Moving on, Handi Wipes pajamas suggests disposable, maybe institutional, but I don’t know.  Doesn’t sound like something one would choose, though.  Then the speaker wishes to be dead.  So not good.  Tough times, unfortunate circumstances, perhaps even the edge of the abyss?  I WANT TO KNOW!  No details, no weather report, no trees or flowers, no location, no characters introduced or described.  This line is not about filling us in; it does not front load; rather, it intrigues.  We have no clue whether this individual is male or female, and we know absolutely nothing about that tardy dog, but, by golly, WE WANT TO KNOW!  Don’t we?

Of course, all this pondering occurs simultaneously with the reading of the sentence, in the blink of an eye, half a blink, and we simply read on, not even aware that we have pondered.  We read on because we want to know.  This tantalizing book’s not out yet (advance reader copy), but I’m going to read it (and post a review, of course), and you know why.  Because I…………everybody, let me hear you say it!  Louder!  In the meantime, here’s a reader’s tip.  If you don’t know the Iron Druid series and Oberon, literary love of my life, Kevin Hearne’s light-hearted fantasy series is great good fun.

Caite Dolan-Leach’s We Went to the Woods

Ms. Dolan-Leach’s second novel is a good one, well-told and smartly paced.  Its strength, however, is in the characters, a thoroughly unappealing lot, a nest of millennial vipers.  Five self-absorbed twenty-somethings take to an ancient rustic farm/camp in New York State to live a utopian life and show the corrupt and misguided (everybody else, pretty much) a different way to live, how to do it right and save the planet…….in other words.  Why are they the anointed appointed?  Oh, you know.  They are educated, hip, mostly privileged and just all ‘round superior.  They know nothing of agriculture and choose to ignore the failure of previous utopian attempts, but they do have one singular advantage.  The property belongs to the lawyer father of Louisa, the driving force.  Well, hey, now.  That was easy.  And, yet, in Ms. Dolan-Leach’s deft hands, you really want to know what happens to the little snots.  You really, really do.

The story of this ill-fated group is told in the first person by Mack (MacKenzie), the fifth member, and she tells a riveting tale.  The last to join the group, Mack is besotted by them at first and worries whether or not she can truly belong.  With the passage of time, growing hardship and some research, Mack’s perception begins to crumble.  As does the undertaking itself.  You might not like most of these folks, but you will like this book.  You will read, you will care, and you’ll wonder what they’d be like twenty-five years later.

Drops July 2 from Random House.  Shop your local indie bookstore for Caite Dolan-Leach’s intriguing tale.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Random House Publishing Group – Random House via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Sharon Kernot’s The Art of Taxidermy

Australian author.  Beautiful book.  I love my Aussies.  The Art of Taxidermy is described as Ms. Kernot’s second novel, but it’s very short, maybe an hour and a half to read, so…..a novella?  Maybe, but who cares?  It is (drum roll, please) poetry.  Read it as poetry, and let the words sing.  Eleven year old Lottie has lost too many loved ones in her short life, including her mother, and she develops a fascination with death.  She begins to collect dead things as she struggles to come to grips with transformation – from life to death to what?  And what again after that?  I was entranced.  Got in bed one night, started to read, and simply did not stop until this book was done.  Spare, lovely and unforgettable.

You can get this gorgeous book with the gorgeous cover on August 23 from Text Publishing. Shop your local indie bookstore to pre-order this title.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Text Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Bette Lee Crosby’s Emily, Gone

Eureka!  Ms. Bette Lee Crosby knows how to write a decent “feel good” novel.  You can invest yourself in the story without sacrificing all standards or, for that matter, a single brain cell, no, not one.  Yes, it is women’s lit, but not a romance, and, hell, somebody’s gonna write ‘em.  Might as well be Ms. Crosby.  Six month old Emily, asleep in her crib, is taken from her home at the height of a Woodstock type music festival in Hesterville, Georgia and remains missing from her family for years.  Readers, however, know the “who” and “what” all along.  What we don’t know is the “how”, “when” or “whether”.  Now I must admit that the completely coincidental nature of the “how”, when it arrives, does strain credulity, but Ms. Crosby has to make it happen somehow, so I squinted and kept going – to an ending that leaves no string a-dangling.  No, not deathless prose and the characters won’t stay with you forever, but it is a well-crafted read by a good story-teller, so if the cockles of your heart need warming, try this one.

Lake Union Publishing ships this to booksellers on April 30.  Pre-order now at Amazon.com or shop your local indie bookstore.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Lake Union Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Glendy Vanderah’s Where the Forest Meets the Stars

Looking for more of a “beach read”, I guess, and, while this debut novel is not exactly that, it served its purpose pretty well.  A “just take me away” sort of read even though the basic, stripped down plot manages to sound both goofy and foreboding.  A tiny little girl is on the lam after having witnessed the murder of her drug-addicted mother.  Eight-year-old Ursa has a genius IQ level and claims to be from the Pinwheel Galaxy, here on Earth to earn a Ph.D. in humans by witnessing five miracles.  Under all that, she is so very frightened and attaches herself to an actual Ph.D. candidate, Joanna, who’s living in a woodsy cabin studying the nesting habits of indigo buntings.  If this sounds……, well, yeah.  However, Ursa is charming and quirky, and, by George, you wonder if she’s not going to make that alien gambit fly.  It’s her story, and she’s sticking to it.  There’s a little romance (young farmer next door), the mystery behind Ursa and what will become of her, a gun battle, and a “happily ever after”.  I wish I could tell you how well done this is, but characters are a mite flat, the story is a little much, and you’ll wonder why some elements are even there.  However, unblinking reality was the last thing I needed or wanted, so I hid out with Ursa, and, eventually, this old world looked better for both of us.

If this fits your bill, you can pick up this title at Amazon.com or, if you prefer, support and shop your local indie bookstore.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Lake Union Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.