Review of book, Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

I’ve always had admiration for farmers who have one of the hardest jobs of all—to attempt to make the earth bend to their will.  A farmer is entirely at the mercy of God and the elements.     A bad crop, storm, flood, pestilence, injuries, or drought can cost him everything he has.   Or, he can be a sharecropper (quarter-yield) or share tenant (half-yield) on that farmer’s land and suffer the same fate.

Such was the case for Henry McAllan’s family.  Henry was an engineer who decided to buy a farm—what he had always wanted.  He bought out the previous owner who had four other tenant farmers on his land.  Henry was the kind of white man who loved the land as if it were his mistress which his wife, Laura, observed.   Henry’s father Pappy and brother Jamie hated the land and only loved the alcohol, tobacco, food, etc. that any profit could bring them.

The story opens with Pappy having been murdered and his two sons Henry and Jamie are burying him in someone’s else’s old grave in the rain and mud.  Whenever it rained there, the creek would rise, and they’d be stranded for days.   That made me read on to find out why Pappy was murdered.  

Henry paid one of the townspeople $100 on a hand shake to rent a nice house for his wife, children, and Pappy.   When they arrived in 1940’s Mississippi, they found that the house was sold to someone else, and the seller was nowhere to be found.  So, they all had to live in the work shack on the land with no running water or electricity and a leaky roof with a shed on the side.   So, the gentle Laura, who was used to living better, had to do everything in that shack or in the barn with Pappy and the kids.   Laura and the kids were in for a hard life.   Pappy ruled over Laura and the kids as if he owned everything instead of his son, Henry.

In the middle of the harvest, Henry’s brother Jamie returned from the war after being a bomber pilot.   Henry, Laura, and the children loved the prodigal son though he drank heavily.

Hap and Florence’s black family was one of the share tenants who had to produce crops as part of the agreement.    Things were mostly all right if you can judge how black people were treated.  For example, black people could not sit on the seat next to a white person but had to ride in the back of a truck at the mercy of the elements.   They couldn’t walk through the front door of the town grocery store but had to come in and leave by the back door.   Blacks had to stay to themselves and couldn’t be seen to live better than whites.  And, the medical care for blacks was atrocious.

Hap and Florence had a son, Ronzel, who came home after being a tank commander in the military.   When he returned home, he felt worse than a second-class citizen after being a war hero.   This was what Jamie and Ronzel had in common—the horrors of war that they tried to drink away together, which was forbidden in this culture.

Read Hillary Jordan’s book to see what leads up to Pappy’s death.   It is an intense well-told story of cultures and sacrifices.

© 2008 Hillary Jordan

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2009

Written by Rosa L. Griffin

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Review of the book, The Devil You Know, by Mary Monroe

Ms. Monroe’s adult story is told simply without being too graphic or explicit.   It is a tale of people who are unsatisfied with their life situations as some of us are.

The three main characters are Lola Mae, an unmarried woman; Joan, a married woman; and Calvin, a married man.    All three join an online sex club where they meet a lot of other people who are strangers to them—an exciting, but possibly dangerous adventure any way.   They each get to meet other members of the opposite sex.  The remaining characters are sex club members, family members, church folk, and neighbors.

However, Calvin happens to be a serial killer which Ms. Monroe wastes no time in telling the reader.   We’ve all heard of similar dangerous situations, but the author has created meaty characters with their own individual lives.

Single Lola Mae has lived with and been tortured nearly daily by her step relatives since her father’s death.  Her step mom, Bertha, makes her do chores and prepare her step-mom’s “lack of hair.”   Her lazy married step-sister and step-nephew are always on Lola’s back.  Lola always has to explain herself to people who don’t give a damn about her as well as account for her whereabouts 24/7.   Lola has a job at a supermarket, but if you are going to do this much clandestine adventure, you need to have a house or apartment of your own at the age of 32.

Joan, a little older than Lola, is married to a boring guy, Reed, who had let himself go weight-wise and sex-wise.   Reed blackmails Joan into staying with him by often threatening to kill himself if Joan leaves him.   Joan is Lola’s best friend.    Lola helps Joan keep her sex club secret from her husband, but her husband also has a secret.

Calvin, the serial killer, has met Lola who he describes as “drop-dead gorgeous”.   But she has one major flaw—she looks like the wife he secretly killed a few years ago for being unfaithful.   Calvin had choices in this situation.   He could have divorced his wife, or they could have gone to couples’ therapy.  Not everything has to end in murder.   He paints Lola with the same characteristics, but she is not an unfaithful type and dreams of being married to Calvin.

Here’s where the suspense comes in.    Oh, there’s no doubt that Calvin’s going to kill Lola, but when?  So, for several chapters, when you think Lola had breathed her last, she doesn’t.    But you know the hammer is going to drop any minute.   In your mind, eventually you start thinking, why doesn’t he just get it over with?   But, no, he uses many substitutes to satisfy his murder monkey before he can set the right time to kill Lola.

The novel is light and entertainingly pleasant—a book to take your mind off your own troubles.   Each chapter is titled by the person’s name who is telling their side of the story, which makes it very personal.  Put all the ingredients together and you get a wild ride that keeps you on your toes.   The book was not boring!   Per Calvin, “murder is complicated”.

© 2017 Mary Monroe, Kensington Publishing Corporation

Review by Rosa L. Griffin

Review of book:  Bloodsworth—the True Story of the First Death Row Inmate Exonerated by DNA Evidence, by Tim Junkin

Bloodsworth is the nonfiction account of how Kirk Bloodworth was wrongfully accused and spent 9 years in prison for the alleged heinous rape and murder of a child.    The book includes a short history of how DNA came about (“clearing the innocent as well as identifying the guilty”), the history of the Maryland Penitentiary, and a short Baltimore history beginning in 1661.  I love a book that gives the historical backstory to explain why things happened and what was going on in the country at the same time.

“In her news conference, Sandra A. O’Connor declined to say that Bloodsworth was innocent and offered no apologies.   ‘There are no other suspects at this time’, she said.  ‘Based on the evidence, our office did the right thing in prosecuting him,’ she said.   ‘I believe he is not guilty,” O’Conor added.  ‘I am not prepared to say he’s innocent.’  This public statement of hers caused some people to think he was still guilty despite the proof of his innocence.

The author says “There is a strain of hubris that affects certain people in power, people with authority.  It can be slow to develop, like a dormant infection.  If not guarded against, it can breed an unhealthy arrogance, a cocksureness that their judgments are beyond fallacy.  Such self-righteousness allows them to close their minds to new possibilities.  It can cause right-thinking people to do terrible things.  The devil has a long tail.”   In addition, it can cause these professionals to not consider any other options like the four other local men who had criminal records and creepy ways that caught their co-workers’ attentions, but not the prosecution investigators’ attentions.

Kirk’s personal story of triumph is intermingled with the above in an interesting and far from boring way.  There was no evidence to even bring him in as a suspect.   But, think of what he and other innocent men and women have gone through.   Some say, well, the cover tells you that he was proven innocent, why should I read his story?   Who knows, maybe you will need the information that he learned from his experience being locked up in the Maryland Penitentiary, being trapped with the guilty, using every bit of money your elderly parents have in trying to prove your innocence, etc.   This could have been your story.

And, what was his crime?   This former waterman, Marine, and discus-throwing champion allowed his life to spiral out of control in pursuit of the wife whom he loved.  So much so that he wasn’t prepared physically or emotionally to bring his life back on track.   He and his wife were living with a group of like-minded party animals who only lived to party until his wife grew bored with him and ran away to find some other like-minded fellow.  Bloodsworth was high and miserable about his wife when he was arrested.   What a time to be arrested when you are not thinking clearly at all and having to come down off that high in prison.

This book was selected by the Maryland Humanities One Maryland One Book campaign.   Copyright 2004 by Tim Junkin and Kirk Bloodsworth, Published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Submitted by Rosa L. Griffin

Review of book:  Heavy is the Rain, by Stella Adams

Ms. Adams’ book is wonderful.   You know the old saying, “When it rains—it pours”?   Well, little Billie (named after Baltimore singer Billie Holiday) has had her share of ups and downs, and most of her downs were brought on by unsavory adults as well as by an emotionally unavailable mother (not taking either her new husband or Billie’s side) and an absent father.   The story takes place between 1948 and 1966 between Baltimore and South Carolina.

I can’t leave out Grandma Gertie in South Carolina who had a special bond with her granddaughter, Billie, to the point of always knowing when Billie was in trouble in Baltimore.   Ms. Adams did her due diligence in researching Baltimore City, Maryland, locales and history for her fiction novel.   And, if you have lived in Baltimore, the locales in her book will hopefully dredge up pleasant memories for you.  It brought back many memories for me.

Her book is fast-paced and thrilling because there are mysteries going on during the novel that make for a lot of suspense.   Issues confronted are child molestation and revenge for same (the word “honeymoon” and its special meaning, age-old dilemma of who can a child tell), female child made into a numbers runner, the danger of payback, and whether love is even in Billie’s future.

Copyright 2013 Stella Adams, Plenary Publishing, Charleston.  Look for her new book, Beneficial Life, just published in 2018 by Stargo LLC.

Written by Rosa L. Griffin

 

 

 

 

Review of book: Power Walking, A Journey to Wholeness by Maxine Bigby Cunningham

I found Maxine’s book very inspiring.   Her book, Power Walking, is a memoir containing poetry, affirmations, and Scripture.  It is filled with prayers to God.  And, the most unique part of all is her life in falling.

Maxine has physically fallen many times in her life because of medical conditions.    Many I suspect were caused by a type of perfectionism in which she must carry on at any cost despite a broken ankle, fainting spells, stroke, anxiety attacks, mental health, etc.   Sometimes she was hospitalized, and other times released from the hospital on the same day.  The Scriptures are appropriately related to her seeking God’s help or successfully coming out of each circumstance.

She has a unique history of the suffering in her life, but also how God brought her through.   Maxine is not beating you down with Scripture but asking you to join her in standing up after a fall.

Maxine is made of stronger stuff than me.  It is a book small enough to be read often and should be.   I plan on referring to her book again.

Her book may be purchased at https://www.amazon.com/Power-Walking-Maxine-Bigby-Cunningham/dp/1419643916/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1535328050&sr=1-1&keywords=Power+walking+cunningham

Publisher:  BookSurge Publishing, 2008

Written by Rosa L. Griffin

 

Review of book:  My Life as a Mermaid, A Tale to be Shared, by Michelle D. Smith

Imagine a society where everyone is treated the same.   A mermaid/merman decides what they want to be and do before birth.   Their friends are whales and dolphins.   There is no necessity for money.   Clothing is unnecessary.   Couples mate for life.

Everything is done for the society/collective’s benefit.   There is no greed or crime.

But lest you think mermaids are pushovers, small sea animals are killed but only for each meal, not for storage or mass production.

Humans are the mer peoples’ only natural predators and biggest polluters of the sea.

Michelle has written a book about a perfect community as told to her by her mermaid guide, Shahia.  I believe her book would make a great fantasy or inspirational movie.

Her book can be purchased at https://www.amazon.com/My-Life-As-Mermaid-Shared/dp/1329964780 2015

Contact:   Michelle D. Smith’s website is www.YourSpiritualGarden.com, blackrefer.com/michelle.html, and lulu.com/spotlight/MermaidLife.

Written by Rosa L. Griffin

 

Review of book: Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James

Last week, I borrowed and read the book Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James.  This is her first book of three in the series.  This week, I’m reading Fifty Shades Darker, the second book in the series.   I already have the third book, Fifty Shades Freed.

I borrowed all 3 books from the library at the same time.   However, I paid to see all three movies (my control-freak side) on the big screen.  I needed closure to see how their sado-masochistic (S&M) adventure worked out.    I have to find the review I wrote of the first movie and I will be writing a review of the book trilogy as a whole.

I read someone’s comment before I saw the first movie that her books couldn’t possibly be bestsellers because they are so poorly written.  That commenter was a liar.   E. L. James’ books are well-written from pretty sex-novice character Anastasia Steele’s point of view in her turbulent affair with handsome rich young man, Christian Grey.

Another commenter asked why Christian Grey had to be rich.   Being poor is not something I want to fantasize about.  Fantasy is how we escape a condition we don’t want to be in.   Been there–lived that!

“Laters, baby!”

Written by Rosa L. Griffin

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m still writing a review of Jodi Picoult’s book, Small Great Things.   The review is coming soon.

 

Another comment was that

Libraries are still FUN!

Since the first group of cave dwellers, there have been story tellers.  A great deal of human history was passed on by librarian-types, those who wanted to share survival tactics, knowledge, and history.

In recent years, some people have said that libraries are no longer necessary because we have technology at our fingertips with our “smart phones”—iPhone, Android, etc., with which we can do research, but nothing can take the place of the enthusiasm of a great librarian.

Years ago, I went into the library and never looked back.    My first job ever was a page (a job which entails shelving and retrieving library materials and even circulating materials) in my local branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in East Baltimore.   I shelved books and magazines daily and gladly while in high school.   I fell in love with reading.   With a book or magazine, my imagination was able to travel warp-speed to other people’s lives, investigate dangerous places and situations, and fantasize safely.

I worked in a library for the next 30 years from the time before Baltimore Junior College became Baltimore City Community College—from student worker to secretary to circulation technician.  I loaned books, magazines, rooms for meetings, and computers to our college population.   Even some community members were provided limited library services as well.

After that, I worked at the Johns Hopkins University Press as a Permissions/Office Assistant for a short time where I had the pleasure of handling and reading books and professional journals, as well as copyrighting the same.   I also got a chance to work with authors which was a thrill!

Now, I’m an author (see my website at https://nervikularose.com).   In the past year, I joined a book club, Woodlawn Page Turners, for which I have read a book a month.   We are reading Jodie Picoult’s book Small Great Things for June, but we will be off-site discussing it over great food.   I will be writing a review of that book for my blog (https://nervikularose.wordpress.com).

To this day, I am more likely to have a book or journal in my hands rather than using my phone or laptop to read a book.   I use an audio book only when the physical book is not available or when I’ll be doing a lot of driving.  It was great hearing Ta-Nehisi Coates, a former Woodlawn High School graduate, reading his own audio book, Between the World and Me, to me.   It would make a great book assignment for high school students as it was written to his teenage son.

And, let’s not forget the TNT television show, The Librarians, in which an ensemble of librarians live out the adventures we can only imagine.

Libraries today are staying in the thick of things, providing computers for typing papers and game play, conducting classes and workshops, having speakers, providing musical entertainment for all ages, etc.    Visit your local library especially if you’ve never been to one in your life and not just for the computer games!

Written by Rosa L. Griffin

Review of book, Had I Listened: The Things You Do Before You Know, by Hines Early

If you’ve lived in Baltimore, Maryland, from the 1950’s on, you will certainly be able to relate to Hines Early’s first non-fiction book, Had I Listened.  He vividly describes the hustles that were available to African-Americans to keep their heads above water back in the day.

Hines Early started out smart.  At the age of 9, he schooled his young mother about a colored television she bought on time, meaning $5 per week until it was paid for.  Hines figured out that the used television that she bought from a door-to-door salesman would end up costing three times what it was worth.  She sent it back and they eventually bought their own outright.

Hines had jobs like cleaning out A-rabbers’ horse stables that his grandmother used for manure in her plants.  A-rabbers were the entrepreneurs of their day, bringing fresh fruit, vegetables, and fresh fish daily to our doors via horse and wagon, a rare sight these days.  Hines has been everything from show promoter to clothing salesmen to mail business owner.  Can you imagine seeing Jackie Wilson, soul singer extraordinaire, live at the Royal Theater in Baltimore, Maryland?

Along the way, he had a few good advisors like his grandpa Steve.  But, Hines was no different than we are.  He chose the things he wanted to assimilate into his life from his advisors, but mostly went by his own instincts, making mistakes along the way, experimenting with various vices like gambling and drugs.

Hines can proudly say that he and his wife raised their own children and a few others with college aspirations.  He came out of it all, giving back to the community.  In his first book, he imparts the things he learned along the way, even after he knew.  You will laugh with him and cry with him. His story was more than “interesting enough to read about”.  His book was later produced as a play.

Publisher:  Graphic Imaging, Inc.  © Hines 2007.

Written by Rosa L. Griffin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review of Book, Once Upon a Wedding, by A.N. Hopps

This book, Once Upon A Wedding, is an emotion-packed ride from beginning to end.   A.N. Hopps makes you laugh, cry and lust after her characters in her first novel.  But, the most burdensome emotion is the constant frustration of not being able to strangle Norma Jean.

The author’s voice is natural and plain-speaking, the way real people talk.  I like the way she doesn’t over-detail the descriptions of her characters, leaving us to use our own imaginations to envision them.  You can feel the pauses, embarrassments, tension, and need to murder.  I certainly used my imagination.

Everyone has known someone like Norma Jean, the “friend” who tries to control you and constantly puts you down.  Edith, the “side-kick” who bowed to the “queen’s” wishes most of her school years.  Although Edith eventually became her own woman, she was still haunted by Norma Jean’s influence over her.

I hated to put the book down between readings to carry on my daily commitments.  A.N. Hopps has written a true romance in every sense of the word.  And, the author has done it in such a way that anyone could put themselves into the story, whether as one of the male or female characters.  I plan on reading it again.

Publisher:  Xlibris Corporation.  © A.N. Hopps 2009.

Review written by Rosa L. Griffin