Book Review: Yellow Crocus by Laila Ibrahim

The beginning of this book intrigued me; I was extremely interested in the charecter of Mattie and mistakenly assumed the story would be told from her perspective – a slave narrative in the third person. Midway through the book Mattie makes a life changing decision and I was excited to follow her charecter through a new diretion, but sadly the author chose to drop Mattie’s story and go into boring detail of another charecter, Elizabeth, the child of the plantation owners that Mattie was charged to be a wet nurse and nanny. We follow Elizabeth through her teen years in antebellum Virginia, with all of the privledges afforded white families who owned enslaved African descendents. Way too much sugar coating of life on a plantation for the enslaved residents, and the implied innocence and naivete of the white women in the story is insulting, misleading, and inaccurate. While the reader eventually finds out what happens to Mattie, it is too little and too late, for my satisfaction anyway.

Book Review: Heaven, My Home (Highway 59 #2) by Attica Locke

A great read! Texas Ranger Darren Mathews continues to find more mysteries to solve than the one/s he is originally assigned to investigate. I read this story slowly because I didn’t want it to end and now Ms. Attica Locke has left me wanting MORE! From the red dirt to the piney woods to the Caddo Lake and its bayous, this is pure East Texas gold. The characters come to life in such a way that I can hear and smell them. Some I want to shake their hands, others I just want to shake! Thank you, Ms. Locke, for bringing a great detective story so full of East Texas flavor that I savor for more.

Book Review: Bluebird, Bluebird (Highway 59 #1) by Attica Locke

When I learned the location of this story was in East Texas, I knew I had to read it. Darren, the African-American Texas Ranger, reminds me of a couple of my own nephews who grew up not far from the towns named in this book, one of them still living in the area and works in law enforcement. A VERY realistic portrayal of the ‘dance’ between Black and White and the law enforcement in this part of the country. The ignorance of these ways can be dangerous and costly, as was evident in the story. I finished this book just in time to begin book two of the series, “Heaven, My Home.” I would love it if a television program was created around this series of books, a modern day version of ‘In the Heat of the Night.’

Author Resources: Manners

This man, Jay Reeves, is a THIEF! At the recent IABE conference in Des Moines, he was caught, on camera, stealing a shop owner’s purse. He lied to police and the conference coordinators, and then tried to change his story once he discovered his crime had been recorded. Please be careful with your personal property if you see him at other conferences or book signings!

Indie Author Book Expo

With the 4th annual IABE just a few weeks behind us now, I feel the need to talk manners once again. We had an author steal a purse on camera from a shop owner at the mall. Now the cops have settled everything, and I know I said I was over it, but fact is my buns are still burnt by this. A grown man stealing on camera, then trying to lie further to the police and us. Needless to say, here are a few things authors should keep in mind while attending events.

  1. DON’T STEAL. 99% of venues have cameras now and film doesn’t lie. Especially if you go out of your way, on said film, to reach under a desk and grab a bag. While, walking away from a crime like this, especially don’t look through the bag as your running away.
  2. Don’t Leave Early. I get family…

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Book Review: The Book of Night Women by Marlon James

What an incredible journey! I began reading this book in a similar fashion I enter the ocean, beginning with dipping my toe in the water to gauge the temperature. I slowly but surely enter the water with both feet, steadying myself, and begin to wade out as my body adjusts to the power of the waves. When I am confident I can handle the current, I dive in head first and begin swimming out as far as my energy will take me.

As with the ocean, I took my time, reading the first few chapters carefully, unsure of how powerful a story this would be. I waded slowly through most of the first half of the book, reading only a few chapters each day, even skipping a day or two. Midway through I was ready for the deep dive and read with a vengeance. Like the ocean, this story is powerful; it will take your breath away, and your soul if you aren’t careful. And much like the gentle lapping of the waves, James’ words lull you into a false sense of knowing what comes next, until the horror hits you from behind and swallows you into its powerfully brutal tale of life in 18th century Jamaica. As you drown in the violence, confusion, and sorrow of the circumstances of enslaved people, a breath of fresh air saves you – in the form of women who posses a knowledge and power not of this world.

By the end of the story I felt so battered that I did not think I would survive the ending, but in the last few paragraphs this brilliant storyteller throws out a life preserver, allowing the reader to float back to shore, not only relieved they have survived, but grateful for the experience.

Book Review: NAAMAH by Sarah Blake

This was not the story I was expecting! Take a little Old Testament mythology, add in the Divine Feminine, some good old Mother Earth paganism, a few scenes of lesbian erotica and then read it after washing down a couple of peyote buttons with a bottle of red wine. Yep, that is what my experience reading this story felt like. The character of Naamah is someone I aspire to be before I leave this life – unpretentious, completely honest with herself, and as authentic of a person I have ever come across – in person or in literature. Sarah Blake has done a masterful job of sharing her image of the mother of humanity (post flood), as well as defining the kind of partner/husband she pictured Noah as being. In fact, I loved these two characters so much I almost wish I believed the ancient fable. Life on the ark is described from Naamah’s perspective as the ultimate caregiver to both her family and the animals, and it is quite a refreshing outlook. The reader is also treated to the magical adventures of Naamah when she is OFF of the ark as well. If I say anymore it would include spoilers, so I will conclude with a strong recommendation to read this book if you are hungry for a mystical fantastic story.

Book Review: White Oleander by Janet Fitch

Janet Fitch is an incredible wordsmith. The language in this book is so beautiful, I found myself rereading several passages just so I could experience the beauty of her writing over and over again. The plot itself was captivating as well. As a woman who had my own very complicated relationship with my mother, I could identify with Astrid in many ways, although I was spared the horrors she experienced in foster care. I found myself nodding in recognition and understanding of the brilliance, beauty, and selfishness of Ingrid. I wondered more than once if my own mother would have been capable of murder given the same circumstances. My mother was enough like Ingrid’s character that I could relate to Astrid, and I could definitely see myself making many of the same choices Astrid did had I been thrown into her life. Both Ingrid and Astrid felt like people I already knew quite intimately, but Fitch’s writing still lead me places I didn’t expect the story to go and revealed sides of the mother and the daughter that I found surprising. A painful story that I couldn’t get enough of and I was sorry when the book ended, I wasn’t ready to let go of either of these women.

The Joys of Grandparenting

One of the greatest joys of my life is spending time with my three youngest grandchildren. The boys are ages ten and seven, the only granddaughter is eight.

Living in Los Angeles affords my husband and I a variety of activities to enjoy with these rambunctious yet well-mannered and inquisitive little ones. Besides the occasional treat to a local theme park, our time together outside of the house is spent camping, bowling, going to movies, participating in cultural festivals, and visits to the beach and mountains. Watching the children play in the ocean waves of the Pacific and build in the sand on the beach allows me to relax and enjoy them at the same time; eventually I join in with the fort building and wave chasing. On camping trips, I cherish the times spent roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over a campfire and making up stories and skits around that same campfire; the more ridiculous the performances, the better. These talent shows also include singing, including classic tunes, but most are original and hilarious.

At home my husband enjoys playing video games with the kidlets; specifically choosing a Wii gaming system because it has the best selection of child-friendly games. I cheer them on as they race one another in Super Mario Kart and hold regular dance competitions with Dance Dance Revolution. We also have a vast collection of movies that we enjoy watching together, complete with popcorn made on the stove top.

During the summer months, free from the responsibility and schedules of school, the grandchildren often stay with us for several days at a time. We take advantage of the extended time together by working on experiments and science projects that require more than a day or two for results. Another favorite summer activity is participating in the library’s summer reading program. In addition to reading books on their own, I read chapter books to them in the evening. We are currently reading “The Family Under the Bridge” by Natalie Savage Carlson, one of my favorite stories as a child. This Newbery Award winning book includes beautiful illustrations by Garth Williams and together tell the story of creating family and community wherever you are, whatever your circumstances.

On a recent afternoon we searched YouTube together for funny songs to sing and came across ‘The Duck Song.’  We quickly discovered there is a part two and three to the song. The video was funny the first few times; now I offer ice cream or some other treat to distract them making me sit through the videos for the umpteenth time.

In the evenings after dinner, the children insist on playing Uno; they are ruthless. Last night they teamed up against me to help their grandfather win, can you believe that?! To celebrate, my husband opened a bottle of sparkling cider, with each of us making a toast, and then a second toast, and then a third. The toasts ranged from sincere to silly, with a couple of close calls of cider spewing out of our mouths from laughing so hard!

These are precious moments with precious people. As I often remind them, they are my favorite people in all the world. I look forward to more adventures, trips, and memory making opportunities throughout their childhood and teen years, knowing how quickly that time will pass. I hope they will have some great memories to reflect on after I am gone. I know once they are grown and living their own lives, those memories will become even more precious to me, even the ones with that damn duck song.

Responsibility

As the eldest of four siblings and seven grandchildren, it was and is expected that I model responsibility, for myself as well as others. My behavior, my performance at school, my personal choices, my ability to keep secrets. I should clarify that I only grew up with one sibling, meeting my youngest two siblings many years later, but my younger cousins grew up in the same small community as my sister and I and we were, for the most part, raised together collectively by our parents and grandparents.

The responsibility I felt regarding my behavior and performance at school: My role as the responsible good girl was expected, and, I admit, not too difficult a role for a pleaser, but I am also strong willed and a bit of a rebel, so it has been tricky. I felt responsibility to myself to be my authentic self, and at the same time to be the role model my family expected. I was the child that was the most obedient at home and school unless I felt an injustice was being done, then my responsibility for the greater good overrode what my family and community expected of me. I felt responsible to defend the classmates who were bullied, but I also felt responsibility to lead a peaceful protest for the shootings at Kent State, so in sixth grade I wore a black arm band to school and initiated a walk out of the cafeteria during lunch time. Praised for defending bullies, threatened with suspension for the walk out.

In addition to being well behaved at school, I felt responsible to earn good grades. Good grades would please my teachers, the adults in my family, and most of my friends as well as myself; it would also set the example for my younger family members. I admit I slacked off my first semester in high school, but otherwise stayed true to my course of being the good student. I even felt responsible to share my academic success and tutored fellow students. There is nothing like tutoring a few juniors to help them avoid failing a required public health class when you are only a freshman. Did I mention I also partied with these juniors on the weekends? The difference, I felt responsible to please EVERYONE with my grades, and it also kept my family from suspecting my weekend recreational drug use.

The responsibility I felt regarding my personal choices and how they would impact others: Personal choices aren’t always the individual’s first choice. I felt a responsibility to honor what I had been taught were my moral obligations as well as honor my own beliefs, but this isn’t where the conflict even begins, at least not in my case.

I had veterans in my family, some of them combat veterans, some of them women veterans. There were also pacifists and border-line anarchists in the family. One grandparent was a WWII combat vet, one parent was a closeted gay vet, one parent was a leftist radical and member of the SDS. I have cousins who were willing to risk jail over fighting a war they didn’t believe in, and cousins coming home from Viet Nam with PTSD and drug addictions. Each of these individuals were acting on their own moral compass when they made their choices regarding how to serve their country. They all made responsible choices, whether to themselves or someone/something else, and they all paid a heavy price for following their sense of responsibility. All of this weighed heavily on me when it was my time to make a choice.

As a child, every adult family member had graduated from high school and some from college. Even my mother, who had to leave high school when she became pregnant with me, later went back to school and graduated with a degree. Obviously, I felt the ONLY choice after high school was to attend and graduate from college; it was my responsibility to myself, my younger sibling and cousins, and to those who had raised me. After three years of attending college off and on, I decided to enlist in the Air Force. I was exhausted going to school AND working full time. Joining the Air Force offered me the opportunity to remain independent and support myself, continue with school, travel, meet new people, and serve my country. It also gave me an acceptable “way out” of leaving college full time before earning a degree.

The responsibilities and duties placed upon me during the four years I served active duty were many; some I liked, some I didn’t, but once again, I was driven by my sense of responsibility. I felt an additional responsibility to make my family members proud, especially the women who had served before me.

While serving in the military, I met and married my first husband and we raised a son together. The marriage was a rocky one, with as many good moments as bad, but the responsibility I felt towards making the marriage work was greater than the responsibility to my own happiness. Greater than even the marriage itself or my happiness, was my sense of responsibility and commitment to my son, a male child of color, and to raising him WITH his father, his parent of the same gender who is also a person of color. When our son was nineteen, I left the marriage, and while it took me years to find my authentic self again, I have no regrets. I don’t recommend my choice for others, but the responsibility I felt to my son weighed greater on me than anything, so it was the correct choice for me.

While raising my son, there was also the responsibility to lead by example. Modeling a strong work ethic, giving back by volunteering at his school, becoming a community activist, voting in each election, and just the simple act of being present – being there for him.

The responsibility I felt to keep secrets: There is no doubt in my mind that my ability to keep secrets is directly related to my strong belief in what my responsibilities are as the eldest of my generation in the family and to hold the family together. Keeping the confidences of others is not limited to family members and extends to friends and classmates as well. Secrets of extra marital affairs, terminated pregnancies, adoptions, drug and alcohol abuse, serious illness, sexual orientation, and yes, even keeping the dreaded secret of sexual abuse. While I was fortunate not to experience any sexual abuse directly, other members of my family and friends weren’t so lucky, and each one who confided in me made me swear to secrecy – to this very day. Fortunately, the sex offenders are no longer alive, so I can keep these confidences without the conflict of betraying those who trusted me by choosing to protect others by exposing the offenders.

Now as I enter my senior years, I can relax a little. Yes, I am still a role model, now to my grandchildren, but this is both an easy and pleasurable “responsibility.” There are still secrets to be kept, but it is easier when you are the old woman of the family, no one expects you to spill the goods and most know better than to even ask. Now my biggest responsibility is to myself, to be true to myself, to honor myself, and to take care of myself. Becoming more focused on eating well and getting exercise so that I feel better. Pampering myself with trips to the nail and hair salon, as well as the occasional facial and massage. Reading books that I WANT to read, watching movies that I WANT to watch. Taking time to reflect daily on all that I have and to feel gratitude for the simplest of things. Saying NO when something does not serve me and saying YES when it does. Giving myself the time to write about whatever I want, no longer worrying if something will be published – although it sure is nice when that happens! And finally, the responsibility of loving myself, sharing love to those I am blessed to have in my life, and spreading love to everyone else. That last one, I admit, isn’t always easy, but I’m working on it. After all, it’s my responsibility.

Reflections On Friendship

As we get older, the dynamics of our friendships can change, some of them drastically. I have been thinking about and processing this for the past few years, and as time progresses, the changes become even more apparent.

One friend of mine described relationships as particles in space, orbiting around us in rings. We determine how close or far away these relationships are to us emotionally. Someone may have existed in our most inner ring for years, but now may be farther out in our ‘relationship universe’ due to not maintaining the close level of the relationship, or out of necessity for one’s emotional and mental well-being. Some relationships have even been flung out to the farthest ring in our personal universe and the individual isn’t even aware they have been placed there. As I processed the relationships in my life, I found this explanation to be helpful, bringing some people closer and moving some people as far out as possible. It was a healthy exercise for me, and because I kept this process to myself, no one’s feelings were hurt.

Some of us are fortunate to have a few friendships that survive the trials of time and distance. You know, the ones that pick up right where they left off? I am blessed to have such a friendship with the woman who was my best friend in high school. We always stayed in touch, attended one another’s weddings, sent announcements when our children graduated, married, or had a child. We rarely visited but made the effort to check in with each other a few times each year. And now we share a bond one never wishes for – we have both been diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Sometimes we can take this type of friendship for granted, and then when reality hits – like a serious illness – we are reminded why this person is so precious to us. I would do anything for this woman, anything, and she would do the same for me. Our friendship has never been tested seriously because long ago we agreed there were certain things that would stay out of the relationship, like politics. We each have plenty of other friends who share our individual views and beliefs, allowing us to concentrate on what we do have in common and to admire our differences. And recently I discovered an unexpected gift from this particular relationship – the friendship that is developing between myself and one of her adult children. I now appreciate how my father felt when he enjoyed friendships with some of my friends when they became adults.

On the flip side are the friendships with people we have known for years but have simply outgrown; we no longer share any real interests, or we recognize they are not the type of person we want to associate with. People grow and change, and not always for the better, or not always into people we remain compatible with. I was well into my fifties before I discovered long term relationships that turn sour are not exclusive to romantic relationships. I was one of those folks who believed once a friend, always a friend – unless someone did something genuinely awful. But as time wore on, I began to realize that I was holding onto friendships and family relationships that no longer served me, and some of them were toxic to the point of my becoming anxious and physically ill.

As I was trying to figure out what to do with these relationships, a tumor was discovered in my colon. It would be several weeks of scans and tests before doctors could determine when they could operate and if the tumor was malignant or benign. During this waiting period, I had time to think about what was TRULY important to me. I began to think about my choices in chunks of time, did I have six months or two years left? Did I even have to worry at all? It took less than a week for me to decide what and who was important in my life. I thought of the people I wanted to see if I only had a little time left, who I wanted to spend those precious moments with, either in person or on the phone. Who I wanted to email or chat with online and who I wanted to forget altogether. I was surprised by my choices and relayed this experience to a trusted childhood friend. They, in turn, shared their method of dealing with the complexities of relationships – the particles in space/orbiting rings method.

Fast forward a year and a half later to the present. The tumor was malignant but successfully removed and I am cancer-free. I am back to living a ‘normal’ life, making plans for the future. I am reconnecting with some folks and have disconnected with others. I am grateful for all the friendships and most of the relationships in my life; they have served their purpose in one way or another. I am most grateful for a friendship I never even imagined I would have, the “best friend” type of relationship I have with my husband. This is one friendship that will always be in the most inner ring of my universe, even when I cross over to the next realm.