Words Worth Noting

Favorite Quotes

"Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait point. French. Pascal. The heart has its reasons, whereof reason knows nothing."— Madeleine L'Engle

Thursday, June 30, 2022

What's New-- Media, Book Criticism and more

11/14/22  I recently interviewed author Kathryn Ma for Publishers Weekly and reviewed Celeste Ng's Our Missing Hearts for Oprah Daily. Next up: A guide to new bookish television adaptations and a conversation with literary icon Percival Everett.  For a full list of work with links, please click over to: "Bio and Recent Writing."


I'm excited to have two new reviews to share today. Both make great summer reading:

Honey and Spice, New York Times July 1, 2022 

In this witty and incisive first romance novel, Black British author Bolu Babalola plays with familiar literary romance tropes to explore questions about gender, sexuality and modern dating.

Little Nothings, BookPage July 2022 (Print edition)

In Julie Mayhew's Greek island-set thriller, little cuts do lasting damage and friendships are as intense and heartbreaking as romantic relationships. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Review: A Play for the End of the World

A Play for the End of the World A Play for the End of the World by Jai Chakrabarti
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book affected me profoundly. It's beautifully rendered historical fiction that begins in World War II and then jumps to the 1970s. It addresses some of the core themes found in fiction of that post war period—the role of art and love in survival.

In Jai Chakrabarti’s debut novel, a play by Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore is a magical and malleable symbol, used to help children accept a dark reality and as a tool for resistance. By staging the play during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, Jaryk and his fellow orphans experienced a kind of liberation by imagination. But while the other children’s relief was temporary, Jaryk had the life-altering fortune and burden of becoming the orphanage’s lone survivor. Unlike his fellow orphans, unlike almost everyone else he had known in the meager years he enjoyed before the war, Jaryk got a chance at a long life.

A Play for the End of the World primarily focuses on what happens next, how new life takes root after extreme ruin. Highly recommend.

Read my full review at BookPage: https://www.bookpage.com/reviews/2657...

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Thursday, September 30, 2021

Review: Scandalous

Scandalous Scandalous by Minerva Spencer
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

I don’t really have words for how much I hated this. Hated that the author exploits slavery for titillation, playing up the idea of the sexy brute and savage at every turn. I have a pretty thick hide by now and yet this elicited a surprisingly painful reaction. There’s nothing modern about this brutal retread/ mashup of the tragic mulatto and pirate romance. I disliked everything about how the male lead, a former enslaved man, was portrayed throughout. But what really made it worse was that the climax and resolution pivot on a secondary character, a Black woman whose voice is obliterated. She’s used as a plot point and then denigrated and replaced as a mother to facilitate the white female lead’s HEA. Just intolerable.

I’m not going to spend more time on this author but I’ll just put this here. This is Martin taking stock of himself after Sarah challenges him about not being able to read and he reacts defensively:

“He turned away from her, as if he could turn away from the vision she had forced him to look at: that of an illiterate brute only aping his betters with fine clothes, rich trappings, and books he could not read.”

That “brute” characterization and the dehumanizing terminology of Martin being like an animal “aping” his betters (a metaphor like this used in a racial context has double meaning) would be less glaring if the text didn’t *repeatedly* and sensationally treat him as such. That's not countered just because Martin is supposedly saved by Sarah. Even Martin's work against the slave trade doesn't come into full view until it's used to prop up their union and her virtue. I understand that the nonsense idea of women humanizing terrible men is a popular trope. But when it's used in this racialized way with a man of color it is egregious and grotesque.

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Friday, June 11, 2021

Review: The Accidental Diva

The Accidental DivaThe Accidental Diva by Tia Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"She was a skittish, trembling Question, and he was the Answer."

This is now a Tia Williams stan account. Truly. Her three adult novels share two things in common that I love: sharp humor and excellent contemporary world-building. Williams builds a social environment that is so rich and authentic it gives me a sense memory of being that Black girl living in New York. And she does all that by showing not simply telling: the dialogue, the cultural references, the characters are all so real, it give me shivers.
So I enjoyed this one a lot. In a nutshell, a smart, talented and well-loved southern girl moves to New York and soon finds her professional footing on the beauty magazine beat. Though she's the lone Black girl in the office, in her social life, she's surrounded by a tight circle of Black women in similar creative positions at the center of the beating heart of the city. It's like if Sex and the City actually looked like the multicultural city it was set in. And she falls in love with a man who's irresistible, brilliant, and, on the surface, all wrong for her. Drama ensues— and it gets messy at times—but The Accidental Diva is a delight all the same.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2021

NPR's Code Switch Celebrates Black Kiss-Story (and I'm there for it)!

So NPR Code Switch did a fun and thoughtful episode on Black historical romance and invited me to be a part of it. Listening to these amazing authors—Beverly Jenkins, Alyssa Cole, and Piper Huguley talk Black history and romance on Code Switch was a treat and a half this Valentine's week. Getting to take part in it and say my piece? Unreal! 

You can listen to the episode and read the essay referenced in the discussion here: Black Kiss-Story

For a list of some of the best Black-authored and centered histroms out there see my list on Book Riot: 15 MUST READ BLACK-AUTHORED HISTORICAL ROMANCE NOVELS OF THE LAST 25 YEARS

My Review of Wild Rain in The New York Times

Wild Rain Wild Rain by Beverly Jenkins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an exciting one. I had the extreme pleasure of writing about WILD RAIN for The New York Times. You can read my review online:

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Review: Snapped

Snapped Snapped by Alexa Martin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are several different things going on here and some definitely work better than others. First and foremost, Snapped is an unusually candid portrait of a biracial woman coming to terms with the internalized anti-black attitudes she swallowed while growing up in a white family and predominantly white community. And the toxic folly of the color blind philosophy she was steeped in for so long. Author Alexa Martin knows this territory from the inside out— this aspect of the story is very personal for her— and she writes Elliot incredibly specifically and well.

As a result of Martin’s insight, Elle is infuriating at times but she’s also very real. Some Black people raised the way she was go out of their way to deny racism as a form of self protection and protection for the families that raised them. That’s a serious phenomenon and I haven’t seen that laid out so clearly in romance before in a story that acknowledges how messed up that is. It’s humane but honest.

That said, there were some things I didn’t get about Elliot—parts of the portrayal that undermined the strengths Elliot was supposed to have. She’s supposed to be good with people but doesn’t think that Quinton might have a really good reason for keeping his father out of his movement and his foundation? People have complicated relationships with their family for many very good reasons and yet she assumes he’s just ungrateful or petulant. That’s a silly way to generate more conflict. Even worse, Elliot has watched and studied football all her life and prides herself in being at least sensible to really blatant racism even if she doesn’t see racism as ubiquitous, but doesn’t understand that the league has discriminated against black quarterbacks, and isn't familiar with the racist stereotypes about Black athletes and how they influence who gets to play what position in the league. This might just be an awkward and unintended consequence of using Elliot as a proxy when the author wants to educate readers about a point, but it's a pretty big part of NFL history. Elliott's ignorance strains both credulity and threatens her credibility, tipping her turning a blind eye to race to the absurd.

Apart from these points, the other ways that Elliot has swallowed micro and macro racial aggression in order to get along generally tracked. Snapped is also a romance and that works too even if the burn is very slow. Elliot’s love interest Quinton is a fictionalized Colin Kaepernick type character with a secret, very personal motivation for his activism. He’s fighting for better and more equitable treatment of Black athletes and veteran, retired football players struggling with the devastating health effects of the brutal sport they play. Elliot and Quinton are thrown together when Elliot is tasked by the team owner with channeling his protest into more socially acceptable forms that reflect well on the team. I liked Quinton as a romantic hero, but the portrayal of the movement politics he’s engaged in is by far the weakest link, especially at the climax which goes off the rails and is far too simplistic and ahistorical about how change is made. Overall Snapped tells a difficult and meaningful story about a woman coming to terms with her family and identity imperfectly but well. For me it was well worth the time and consideration.

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Saturday, November 21, 2020

Review: The Prophets

The Prophets The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my favorite parts of a heartbreaking but thoroughly beautiful book.

“They thought we was something dirty, but it won’t nothing like that at all. It was easy, really. He the only one who understand me without me saying a word. Can tell what I thinking just by where I looking—or not looking. So when he took my hand . . . the first time anybody or anything ever touch me so, everything in my head wanna say naw, but nothing in my body let me.”

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Saturday, October 10, 2020

Girl, Woman, Other. Chapter 2: Her Warring Thoughts

Book cover of Girl Woman Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Chapter 2: Carole, Bummi, and LaTisha.

Fictional Carole's story caught me by surprise with its sort of duality—how it contained two things at war with each other in the same space— her privileged adult life with a pretty happy ending, loving mother and genuinely loving husband on one hand, and the violations she's endured, big and small, as an adult and as a child, and how hard she works to expunge thoughts that don't fit the life/ narrative she's built or simply don't serve her in it.

Like, for example, this section in which Carole is psyching herself up for an early morning meeting with a "new client based in Hong Kong whose net worth is multiple times the GDP of the world's poorest countries" but "can't help remembering all the little hurts":


   she can’t help thinking about the customs officers who pull her over when she’s jetting the world looking as brief-cased and be-suited as all the other business people sailing through customs – un-harassed

   oh to be one of the privileged of this world who take it for granted that it’s their right to surf the globe unhindered, unsuspected, respected

   damn, damn, damn, as the escalator goes up, up, up

   c’mon, delete all negative thoughts, Carole, release the past and look to the future with positivity and the lightness of a child unencumbered by emotional baggage

   life is an adventure to be embraced with an open mind and loving heart 


Also, that last sentence reminds me of another nice detail revealed just prior to this quote, that Carole's bookshelves are stacked with motivational books "ordered from America." She vows that the meeting will be "fan-bloody-tastic!" Just as the books say— "if you project a powerful person, you will attract respect." 

She's retrained her mind with these self-help books. Or she's trying to. But it seems like a constant fight to keep reality at bay. Carole's story isn't as dramatic as some of the others in Girl, Woman, Other, and she isn't always entirely sympathetic. But she seemed really human to me and not just because of her name. ;)

Please note: All book links to Amazon on this site are affiliate ones. If you buy a book through those links, I will make a small amount of money on that sale, which comes out of the company’s profits. It does not change the cost of your purchase.

Sunday, October 04, 2020

Review: Girl, Woman, Other

Girl, Woman, Other Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I truly loved it. I couldn't stop reading and stayed up late, then got up early to finish. The only challenge in writing a review is that my highlights aren't as useful as they usually are because I highlighted way too much (literally hundreds of paragraphs), seemingly almost everything because every line has meaning. For example, this passage on the indelible Amma:

Amma was shorter, with African hips and thighs perfect slave girl material one director told her when she walked into an audition for a play about Emancipation whereupon she walked right back out again

Girl, Woman, Other is many things: a brilliant social novel, heavy on well-observed, sharp societal commentary, but organically so, and never weighed down by it. Very specific in its characterizations and voice. A tapestry in verse. An engrossing, often witty, ensemble drama about Black British women of different backgrounds, sexuality, and social strata with some surprising formal anomalies like no periods and little capitalization. Those formal elements are partly responsible for creating Girl, Woman, Other's wonderful sense of lyricism. They also effectively mimic trains of thought and conversation. Eventually, though, they easily fade into the background.

One passage I loved in the first section, partly because it made me laugh, was when Yazz, the daughter of Amma, now a playwright/theatre director, and Roland, a professor/public intellectual, was mentally running through how she had won an argument with her Dad, taking him down a notch by questioning lofty position as "the country's first Professor of Modern Life." I enjoyed Yazz's loving intergenerational warfare with people who are used to being/thinking of themselves as the avant garde.

Dad didn’t reply
he wasn’t expecting this, the student outwitting the master (grasshopper rocks!)
I mean, how on earth can you be a Professor of Modern Life when your terms of reference are all male, and actually all-white (even when you’re not, she refrained from adding),

And I was moved by the interplay between Yazz and her uni friend Waris, who's from Somalia, which appears shortly after that, and the conversation with her white working class friend Courtney about relative privilege and context, which is an interesting counterpart to Yazz's triumph over Roland:

Yazz doesn’t know what to say, when did Court read Roxane Gay – who’s amaaaazing?
was this a student outwitting the master moment? #whitegirltrumpsblackgirl

Funny, poignant, ironic. Brilliant.

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