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Dear Thursday: ORANGE, MINT AND HONEY by Carleen Brice [Book 7 of 2010]

Let me tell you, I was in the reading and listening habit before, but this book-a-week stuff is the straight-up business. Just wanted to say that before giving you my thoughts on ORANGE, MINT, AND HONEY by Carleen Brice.

carleenbriceWhy I Decided To Listen To It: I’ve been meaning to read or listen to this book for over a year now. I first saw it featured in a rave review in Essence Magazine. Then I rediscovered Ms. Brice online. I love both of her blogs: White Readers Meet Black Authors and The Pajama Gardener. Then Ms. Brice announced that ORANGE was being made into a Lifetime movie, which will air this Sunday, so I made it a priority to listen to the book before I saw the movie.

What’s It About: Shay, the neurotic daughter of an alcoholic is forced to leave her doctorate program, due to her deteriorating mental health. When the ghost of Nina Simone encourages her to go home to her alcoholic mother, she is surprised to find her mother in full recovery. She’s also being the mother to her 3yo half-sister, Sunny, that Shay always wanted growing up. Cue the resentment, drama, and comedy.

What Makes It Different: Well, first of all Shay is a big ol’ nerd. She studies public health and she is awkward. But get this, her love interest is also a big ol’ nerd! As someone who used to call herself the black female version of Woody Allen (w/o all the icky IRL stuff) and who wrote a play about God being a drag queen Nina Simone impersonator, this book had me from the get.

What I Loved: What didn’t I love? The relationship between Shay and her mother is so well-crafted. Their back story is harrowing, and made me want to hug my daughter. And while different, it felt like a gentle and authentic slice of life. I don’t want to say too much, because you must, must, must read this yourself, but if you’ve ever had major issues with a parent, you’re going to get something out of this book. I know I did. I think this is going to make a fantastic movie and can’t wait to see it THIS SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 21 at 8pm et/5pm pt on the Lifetime Movie Network.

What I Didn’t Like: Apparently in the physical version, there were recipes dispersed throughout. But in the audio version, the recipes are run down at the end. I think this takes away from the power of hearing about food and drink throughout the story. The producer(s) should have left the recipes where they were and trusted that the listener would get it.

Writing Lessons Learned:

Slow-burn conflict. Authors are in the weird position of having to both craft and tell a story, and no matter what your medium is, structural rules do apply — including the one that states that the major “battle scene” must come toward the back part of the novel. But often, I get frustrated when I see characters not communicating to the point of stupidity, because the author wants them to save any meaningful communication for the big battle scene. ORANGE doesn’t have this problem, b/c the conflict is slow-burn and feels authentic. Shay’s mother tries to communicate with her, but Shay represses her feelings and hides inside herself until she can’t take it anymore and blows her top. This seems very in character and I loved that Ms. Brice managed to get to her battle scene in an organic way, without manipulating the characters or her readers.

Keep the poetry to a minimum to make it more effective. I would call this a literary novel, but one of the things I really liked about ORANGE was that it didn’t have a ton of flourishes. Ms. Brice has a straight-forward and sturdy writing style that makes the few flashes of poetic phrasing and moments really stand out.

Overarching metaphor. The garden that Shay’s mother keeps does amazing things to illuminate this story. It made me think about how writers can use projects and hobbies as a mirror to what’s going on in their stories. For example, if you’re writing a romantic comedy, your main character’s career can have the same arc as her relationship. If she meets a great new guy, maybe she also gets a promotion at work or a great new job. And if she quits her bad boyfriend, she can also quit her terrible job to signify that she’s finally free.

To Whom Would I Recommend This Book: Mothers, Daughters, Recovering Alcoholics, Children of Alcoholics, Those Who Haven’t Quite Figured Out How To Forgive Yet.

TEN PEOPLE WHO WANT TO READ THIS YESTERDAY: Liz C, Donna K-B, Monique K, Jill B, Sallie P, Kalimba B, Aunt Mildred, Gudrun C-D, Tamara L, Angela G.

Click on the cover pic to buy the book and check out the trailer for Sins of the Mother after the jump: