During summer my Twitter feed informed me Shonda Rhimes would be writing a memoir. I made a mental note to get it next year when it was released. I should have known that a woman who successfully juggles three primetime TV shows would be just as efficient about putting together a book. Still, I gave a squeal of delight when my friend waved the hardcover tome at me in the quaint bookshop we had been picking through.
Any writer who sets out to capture the essence of the changeable, frenetic, off-the-Richter-scale nation that is Nigeria sets themselves a tall order. However, Noo Saro-Wiwa, Teju Cole – and more recently – Ifeanyi Awachie have each produced insightful, perceptive chronicles of their travel experiences in the West African country.
However, summer isn’t off to a great start. My Twitter timeline blew up last week as a number of influential, literature-loving publications unveiled their summer reading lists. Like many others I was amazed at how strikingly white the lists were, especially when so many incredible books have been released in 2015 by writers of colour. So here’s the remedy, 10 book suggestions designed to compliment sun-loungers across the globe. Don’t forget your sunscreen.
Detective Elouise ‘Lou’ Norton works the homicide beat in South LA. Sometimes investigations pull her down into The Jungle, a neighbourhood once named for the surrounding vegetation, but now known for the drugs and gangs that give it a wild air. Other times her work daws her into the affluent neighbourhoods nestled in the surrounding hills. It is in these hills that she’s called to investigate a house fire.
Tut is mentally ill. At least her family thinks so. In the small town of Belle Place everybody knows about her four fatherless children. The local pastor has refused to baptize her offspring unless she reveals their paternity. But Tut isn’t talking.
I first heard of Christina C. Jones when she wrote a guest post for Quanie Miller’s blog on Five Ways To Build Your Author Platform. I nodded agreeably to all her advice, then did a double-take when I came to the Author Profile at the end and read that she’d written nine books since 2013. I immediately raced over to Amazon to read an extract from her latest novel at the time, the romantic suspense story Catch Me If You Can. I swiftly confirmed that she was not only a prolific writer but also a highly talented one.
When I was a kid I would use a torch to read under my quilt long after ‘lights out’. Some books were just too good to leave unfinished. Reading Black Diamond, Havana Adams’ current release, took me right back to those days. I started reading it for a review but I Could. Not. Put. It. Down. The story of abandoned twin girls whose lives take vastly different turns after one is adopted by a Hollywood star and the other by a cruel pastor, sucked me in like quicksand. It was utterly brilliant from start to end.
Maybe you’ve made a resolution to read more novels in 2015. Or possibly to read more widely, to explore new authors, new perspectives, alternative world views. I have compiled a list of 10 books scheduled for release in 2015 by 10 very individual authors. Whatever your goal, there’s something on this list that will meet it.
1. Disgruntled by Asali Solomon
3 Feb 2015
A coming-of-age story that follows pre-teen Kenya Curtis from her settled life in Philadelphia, through the breakdown of her afrocentric parents’ marriage and into the white, elite high school where she matures into womanhood.
Kenya is a larger-than-life personality and her experiences lead to explorations of race, feminism and sexuality that are witty and fresh.
2. God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison’s 11th novel explores how childhood trauma can ripple down through the entire length of a life.
3. Pleasantville by Attica Locke
It’s election night in 1996 in Pleasantville, a neighbourhood populated with well-heeled blacks. It has been a heated campaign and when a girl goes missing the nephew of a candidate is arrested and a local lawyer finds himself putting life and reputation on the line.
4. The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah
5 April 2015
We meet the central character, Memory, in a Harare jail. She has been convicted of murder and has been told to write a full account of the events in a bid to avoid the death penalty. Memory has been convicted of the murder of her adopted father but why did she kill him? And why does she feel no remorse? An intriguing tale unfolds.
5. A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Paperback out – 16 April 2015
Marlon James employs an impressive array of characters to tell the story of the attempted assassination of Bob Marley. It’s a sweeping story that delves into the tangled relationship between politics and violent criminal gangs in 1970s Jamaica.
6. Inside a Silver Box by Walter Mosley
27 Jan 2015
Two people brought together by a horrific act work together to save humanity from an alien race. The action continues from Mosley’s SF novel Crosstown to Oblivion and tackles cosmic questions about the nature of good and evil.
7. The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste
12-year-old Corrine La Mer is fearless. She’s not afraid of scorpions, boys or the mythical creatures, jumbies. But after encountering a jumbie in the forbidden forest one night, she discovers the beings are running rife on her island and if she doesn’t find a way to fight them everything she loves will be doomed.
8. Driving the King by Ravi Howard
It’s 1945 when jazz legend Nat King Cole is attacked during a show in Alabama, and his childhood friend, Nat Weary, jumps up to defend him. His act of bravery leads to a 10-year jail sentence but when he is released from jail, Nat King Cole repays the debt by taking him on as his driver and bodyguard. It’s the chance for a fresh start in LA, far from the violence of the Jim Crow South, but it turns out discrimination and intolerance will follow a black man wherever he goes, even one as talented and successful as Nat King Cole. The story – a work of fiction that rings with truth – reveals a remarkable friendship, cemented in the harsh climate of pre-Civil Rights America.
What was Malcolm X like as a boy? When he was Malcolm Little did he hear the message from his parents when they told him he could achieve anything? Or was he deflated by the teachers who warned him he could “be as good as you want in the classroom but out those doors, you’re just a nigger”? How did he handle the murder of his father and the removal of his mother by the authorities?
Malcolm X’s daughter has co-written a riveting, first-person narrative of young Malcolm. It takes readers into his head, imagines his mindscape, and follows him from childhood to the imprisonment at 20 that changed the course of his life. It’s a revealing portrait of a man in the years that formed the legend.
10. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
This award-winning memoir is already out and included in this list as an honourary mention. The book is written in verse and is the story of Woodson’s childhood growing up in Brooklyn and South Carolina in the 1960s and 70s. It really is as wonderful as it looks.
Leena has been looking forward to marrying the father of her child since he proposed on bended knee during a vacation in Myrtle Beach. Now the big day has arrived, Leena looks beautiful in her wedding dress, the church is packed with her loved ones, and happily-ever-after is barely a few “I dos” away.
Except Leena’s fiancé never makes it to the church. It turns out he’s fallen in love with another woman. A beautiful, poised, accomplished woman called Adira. And instead of running away, shamefaced, Leena’s cheating fiancé moves Adira into town and quickly marries her.
It’s a combustible situation, especially in a small, Southern town where people make a point of knowing (and sharing) their neighbours’ business.
Leena, hurt and humiliated, cannot let the betrayal go. But when she goes looking for dirt on Adira she uncovers secrets better left hidden and soon understands that it doesn’t pay to anger the new Mrs Collins.
Quanie Miller’s Southern Paranormal novel is a fantastically fun read. The narrative tugs you into the close-knit town of Carolville, introduces you to the quirky line-up of residents, then whips up a storm with the mysterious Adira.
Leena was no slouch in the looks department, but she could see why Johnny had been tempted! Adira had a behind that God made on the first day and hips he must have made on the second. And she didn’t walk; she sashayed, like she had honey between her thighs. The men near the moving vans watched her like they knew about the honey and were trying to figure out the most polite way to ask for some.
The tale is gripping and fresh, a new twist on a familiar tale. Man leaves old partner for new partner, man gets more than he bargained for.
Quanie has a particularly charming way with dialogue. Listening to her characters talk gives the story texture, it peels away whatever location you’re in and drops you into the sticky heat of the Deep South.
“Everyone in this town knows there’s something about that girl that would shake the devil himself.”
“Is it hoodoo?”
Mrs Ducet threw her head back and laughed. “Honey, she ran all those women out of town! Hoodoo is something that people study. Pluck a strand of hair, make a doll, learn a spell, what have you. Whatever that child is, she was born that way.”
The characters are rich and authentic. I found Leena, the jilted bride a spirited, sympathetic woman with real backbone. And interestingly, Quanie gives Adira a voice too, a great creative choice as it adds layers and dimensions to the conflict.
In short, The New Mrs Collins is a fascinating story, populated with strong characters embedded in a intriguing world where the atmosphere successfully shifts from light-hearted to eerie without losing pace or plausibility. It’s a wonderful read. Add it to your book list.
When I described the opening of 32 Candles to a friend –poor, dark-skinned, black teen obsessed with John Hughes films and their happy endings dreams about being the star of her own fairy tale romance – my friend said: “That sounds like a book about you.” I chose not to take offence to her comment, after all, it’s 95% true.
I love the novel’s lead character Davie Jones because like me she grew up on Pretty In Pink and The Breakfast Club and harboured the quiet hope that one day a gorgeous, charismatic guy would recognise the light hiding under her bushel and whisk her away from her hum-drum life. Unlike Davie Jones I did not grow up in Nowhere, Mississippi, the daughter of an alcoholic mother. I did not spend most of my childhood a selective mute after a traumatising incident. I was not called Monkey Night by colour-struck classmates. And I never made a play for the most popular boy town that went so badly wrong I was forced to flee town in the dead of the night.
Davie Jones moves to LA where she becomes a jazz singer. She resigns herself to an uneventful existence, but fate has other plans. Soon the bullies she left behind are reappearing in the most unexpected places and her dreams are once more within reach.
32 Candles is my favourite book this year. The prose is fun and frothy and rattles along at a swift clip. Davie Jones is resilient, bold, daring and determined to take her turn in the spotlight even in a world that says black girls don’t deserve magic.
The book is divided into five sections:
In Between Then and Now
In Between Then and Now (the amendment)
Back To Now
It’s a clever sequencing that manipulates chronology to thwart reader expectations and ramp up the tension. The combination of a Hollywood-worthy plot with thought-provoking themes adds up to a story that’s layered and interesting without being dogmatic or heavy. It’s like The Colour Purple meets I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings meets Molly Ringwald. Trust me, you’ve never read anything like it.
Ernessa’s latest book, The Awesome Girl’s Guide To Dating Extraordinary Men, is also out, now.