Sisters in Strange (to Me) Places – Bloggin on the ETC [BOOK WEEK]

Since moving to a walking neighborhood almost two years ago, the quality of our overall lives have gone up, but sadly the quality of my reading life has gone down. I barely drive any more, so there’s no chance to listen to audiobooks. And now that my daughter is in pre-school, I can fully work from home, which means no more long walks to the “office”/coffee shop. Added to all of this, I’ve actually been writing a lot over the past year, so less time for books all around. It’s very sad. However, I did manage to squeeze in three books by fellow black women authors, and strangely enough, they all involved women living and/or working in places I wasn’t familiar with. Here’s my list of the best black books I’ve read this year (so far).

PASSING LOVE by Jacqueline Luckett

I’ve met Ms. Luckett at two different writing festivals, and have always been impressed by her warm-yet-really-glamorous spirit. I’m so happy that I finally got a chance to read one of her books.

PASSING LOVE is ostensibly about two different woman from two different times, who both find themselves in France. But nestled within pages of superior description and amazing character work is a mystery that will keep you guessing until the end.

What I Loved: This novel is beautifully written, and does what every good novel set in France should: make you want to go there. This is black history from a different angle and fascinating on several different levels. Perfect for mothers and daughters alike.

Writing Lesson Learned: A novel can be poetic without being overly flowery or unclear. Ms. Luckett walks this line well.

Click HERE to buy the book at Amazon.


A TASTE OF SALT by Martha Southgate

I’ve never met Ms. Southgate in real life, but she is a fellow Smithie, so she must be awesome, right? Also, my MFA screenwriting thesis, involved a little girl, living in the projects, who dreamed of becoming a marine biologist, so really this book had me at employing a black marine biologist as its central character.

What I Loved: Most people talk about this book in terms of the addiction(s) it highlights, but I really liked its take on the awkwardness of dreams achieved. Like what happens after you throw off your shabby background, which includes an alcoholic father, and substance-abusing brother; excel in a field that doesn’t exactly embrace black women; and marry a kind man. What then? I’ve seen (and written) novels about about black girls from “less than” backgrounds breaking through barriers to achieve their dreams. But rarely do we get to see the other side of a life successfully lived. It was sobering and heart wrenching. And I highlighted so many lines of perfectly-rendered prose that it felt like reading a love letter to damn good writing. I adore when a novel inspires me to work even harder at my own craft.

Writing Lesson Learned: An omniscient first person narrator can really make a story if handled deftly.

Click HERE to buy it at Amazon.


BY LOVE POSSESSED by Lorna Goodison

Back in April, my Amistad editor, Dawn Davis, sent round a note asking if I wanted to read this book. She included a picture of the stunning cover, but told me nothing else about it. I said yes, and it showed up in the mail a few days later. I can’t remember the last time I went into a reading experience this pure. I read the first page, and didn’t turn the book over to read the back cover until I was three stories in.

This was the book that inspired me to establish my “at 7:30pm mama reads and Betty plays quietly by herself rule.” I read a story a day, never, two, skipping the three days of the week that my husband has off work, or when my daughter had an after school activity. There are many stories in this collection, so this made for rather slow reading, but in the end, every tale was savored and every character has stayed with me. I was sad to finish it.

What I Liked: I love when literary writers turn their pens to subjects usually ascribed to genre fiction. This collection is very concerned with love, all sorts of love: relationship love, withered love, doomed love, scorned love, triumphant love, familial love — when I closed the book it felt like I had experienced every type of love story known to man. Having only read about contemporary Jamaica from either an American or a male point of view, I also appreciated getting so many perspectives on day-to-day life in this island nation.

Writing Lessons Learned: I would never attempt any kind of patois in my own writing, but if I were going to, I would read this book first. Many of the voices Ms. Goodison employs are almost intelligible to the American ear, but the meaning is somehow always understood. I’ll be trying to figure out how she pulled off this feat for a very long time.

Click HERE to buy this book at Amazon.