Just Above My Head by James Baldwin

Just Above My Head

Just Above My Head by James Baldwin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am not qualified to speak on the creative genius that is James Baldwin. Hands down, he is one of the most prolific writers of all time. He is forever relevant and present and a master storyteller who grips you and hits you over the head with his intelligence so hard, you won’t even understand him for decades to come.

There is a metric ton to unpack in this book. James Baldwin is prolific and unapologetic in his stance concerning the United States, racism, and civil rights. You can hear Baldwin’s voice in this book so loud and clear as he talks to everyone… he leaves no one out.

His writing is to be cherished and sipped… not rushed. Baldwin is telling a story from a grieving brother’s point of view, who has just learned of his brother’s death in London. He recounts their entire life from memory, and takes us on a journey through time during the 1940’s-1960’s. This book deals with grief, death, love, incest, rape/sexual abuse, coming of age, LGBTQIA+, family, relationships, hardships, black life, sexuality, civil rights, racism, sadness, despair, and religious dynamics.

Baldwin has never betrayed us. He is unafraid and has held the US government accountable for their actions against the Black community. He is vicious in his accounts regarding social injustices, and demands accountability, warns of retribution, and showcases the love of Black solidarity. Baldwin forces you to slow down and really read his writing. You get caught up in his words… the emotions… the deepness and profoundness of his writing. You will find yourself re-reading passages over and over because of his lyrical and poetic style of writing. He is timeless. Everyday relevant. Brilliant.

He calls out the United States in their actions of ineptness when it comes to dealing with the Black community. He holds no punches on his anger and demands change. NOW! Otherwise, he will not hold back and will give it to you straight whether you’ve asked for it or not.

The book was so emotionally intense, it had me choked up and crying. Angry! Devastated. Baldwin is telling a story of catastrophic events on a large scale, while including every detail no matter how small, and invoking the reader to come along for a tough, tender, intimate ride of their lives as he describes what it is like being a Black male in society, dealing with grief, love and identity. He also discusses how racism threatens every aspect of life for the Black community. How white people will steal everything from you, including your life, if you let them. How religion has been used to keep Black people penned up and scared for their lives for generations. Overall, this book is passionate, demonstrative, emotional, and cathartic. There are an abundance of gems and prolific pieces of wisdom that is dropped in these pages, and this book has been one of the best I’ve read in a long time. 5 stars!

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Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

Take a Hint, Dani Brown (The Brown Sisters, #2)

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Take a Hint, Dani Brown is the second book in Talia Hibbert’s Brown Sister series which started with Get a Life, Chloe Brown. In this installment we follow middle sister Danika, a hard working bisexual PhD student who has a serious aversion to any kind of commitment beyond a casual booty call. Enter Zafir, ex-rugby pro player and lover of, get this, romance novels. When the two end up as unlikely Internet trending #DrRugBae and #couplegoals following a gas drill at the Echo building they both work in, the pair strike up a deal – “fake relationship” in return for exposure for Zafir’s ,Tackle It nonprofit organization, coupled with Dani’s prayer to Oshun for a perfect f*ck buddy. Both come up with some rules and boundaries to protect each other from getting hurt, the rules emphasis that at no point are either of them allowed to fall in love.

I am skeptical about romance novels, but I have to admit, I thoroughly enjoy the writing style of Talia Hibbert. She has an effortless way with humor and snarky banterΩ that is appealing in this type of Rom-Com. However, the voice of Dani, is freakishly similar to her sister Chloe, which you learn about in the first book, Get a Life, Chloe Brown. For me, the voices of the two sisters were too similar. I felt like I was reading an extended version of the first book, rather than a book about her sister. Although the characters are different, I didn’t really get a feel for Dani’s voice because it seemed like I was just reading about Chloe again.

Again, like in the first book, opposites attract, and Dani and Zafir, as opposite as they are, but have a very slick chemistry that melds them together quite well. They banter back and forth with charm and wit, complete with the appropriate amount of sexual tension, and it absolutely works between the two of them. Danika Brown, nicknamed Dani, is a Blerd, who is a bi-sexual, workaholic, and serious goal getter. She also is extremely guarded and protective of her heart and discourages herself and others to feel their feelings for her in any way possible. She is socially awkward in interpersonal relationships, and too afraid to really engage in romance at any level. Zafir, is hopelessly romantic, who reads actual romance novels for fun, but has serious anxiety when it comes to the matter of the heart due to a tragedy in his past. He has learned to be more open and demonstrative in his feelings through the help of therapy and his organization, Tackle It, which also helps youngsters be able to talk about their feelings as well.

The plot, as expected, is predictable because romance novels typically have happy endings. However, the way in which the reader found their way through the story was quite entertaining and good and charming and witty. I laughed out loud so many times during this story! I really enjoyed it. I was also able to reminisce about certain feelings this book invoked about past/current relationships.

One theme that was constant in this book that I appreciated was mental well-being. The author brought up anxiety, work-life-balance issues, career/school/work pressures, interpersonal relationship fears, commitment issues and social media pressure. I am glad this book had some substance versus just being an escapism type of romance novel.

If you are looking for a diverse, rom-com, with steamy sexy scenes, great character development and witty banter and hard-hitting themes of mental well-being and societal pressures to perform, this is the book for you.

Just as FYI, you do not need to read the first book in order to enjoy this book. I would rate this book a 4.

Thank you to Net Galley, Talia Hibbert and HarperCollins for providing me with an ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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Sula by Toni Morrison


Sula by Toni Morrison

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Toni Morrison writes for black people. This book is evidence of that.

Told from an omniscient narrator, we see the world created by Toni Morrison, the Bottom, located in Medallion, OH. The Bottom was really the hills above Medallion. Tricked by white farmers, black people agreed to take land way up in the hills based on a promise of rich fertile land with God looking down on them. Not really understanding how hilly land works, the Black people agreed to getting a piece of the bottom, which they were told was the best land there was. However, the land was hilly, backbreaking, and the wind lingered, but the Black people worked it as best as they could, taking small consolation that they could look down on White people everyday.

Toni Morrison discusses huge themes about race, sexuality, womanhood, feminism, and Black culture. She starts off with Shadrack, a black war Veteran, who was in WWI, and suffered from combat shock, combat fatigue, or presently known as PTSD (although it was never mentioned). He was hospitalized, although his condition was unknown, for a year before being released because the hospital needed more beds. Morrison sheds light on the treatment of black men after war, and how racism eats at everything, including the treatment of Black American war veterans. Black men were treated horrible, untreated for problems, barely tolerated, and left to fiend for themselves without any support, although they served their country.

Shadrack becomes the Bottom’s “crazy”, as he annually has a National Suicide Day on January 3rd, to allow people the option to give themselves a concrete death date. Shadrack was fearful of death because he couldn’t anticipate it. He was not afraid of death itself, but of the uncertainty of death. “He hit on the notion that if one day a year were devoted to it, everybody could get it out the way and the rest of the year would be safe and free. In this manner he instituted National Suicide Day.” (p. 14)

The novel breaks off into the lives and generations of women who hail from Medallion. Helene Wright, mother of Nel, wife of Wiley Wright, makes a place and a name for herself in the Bottom. She raises her daughter Nel with manipulation and ensures that little Nel does not have an imagination or enthusiasm. Nel, is a fixture of the Bottom, being raised there her whole life, she never ventures out of the bottom to see life in the outside world, except for one time when her mother took her to Louisiana to see her dying great-grandmother. However, Nel notices how Blacks are treated in the world, and either doesn’t understand, or despises the treatment received, as she is ashamed at how her mother acts around the white men they encounter. In this small view of traveling, we see Morrison identify the harsh realities of living while Black in the Jim Crow era, and how Blacks had to survive minute to minute tipping ever so carefully as to not be out of line around white people. The dehumanization, being emasculated, humiliation and loss of dignity is what Black people had to deal with during these times.

We also learn about Eva, and her generation of family. We quickly find out about Hannah and Plum and how they’re family survived. Here, Morrison talks about motherhood, the sacrifices, dangers and plights that go along with raising kids. We also see how Eva demonstrates tough love with her son Plum, but to the extreme, and how she explains what a mother’s love is to Hannah during their time growing up. The explanation she gives to Hannah about being loved is something the Black community doesn’t really talk about. Black people are often in the place of survival and don’t have time to know what real love is all about. All they know is that if food is on the table, clothes on your back, and a roof over your head, that’s love. However, love is more than that, but because of the nature of survival in the black community, love has a different meaning to most.

Sula, is the daughter of Hannah, and she is befriended by Nel, who wants to cultivate this friendship with Sula, who her Mother doesn’t approve of because of who Sula’s mother is. They grow to be best friends, sisters even, and are inseparable until they graduate from high school. Here, the story splits and we learn about the singular life of Sula and Nel, and how their choices have made them the woman they become.

To me, Sula and Nel represented choices that black women had in the community during that timeframe (1920-1965). You were either considered to be a whore/restless woman because you enjoyed sex, men, or freedom and had no morals or values, or you were a mother/wife with morals and values. There was no in between. Sula and Nel embodied those choices. One grew up to have morals and values (Nel) and one chose her freedom to do what she wanted (Sula). However, those choices spilled over into each other’s lives, and betrayal, loss of trust, and loss of friendship is all detailed in the lives of Nel and Sula as they lived their lives in the Bottom.

Toni Morrison is a classic novelist. She writes for black people. So reading this novel as a person who is not black, may not understand all the nuances and connections that happen while reading this book. However, to read and see a world such as this, is refreshing. However, the pain/terror/fear/acceptance of living while Black is also detailed in this book. There are so many layers to her writing that cannot be articulated, and that in itself makes this book a classic. Morrison is not just telling a story about 2 girls named Sula and Nel and their lives in the Bottom. Morrison is showing black life in all its glory, and allowing people to see for themselves how Black people overcome, adapt, survive, love, parent, and are resilient in life in this world made for whiteness.

I would recommend everyone reading Toni Morrison. I rate this a 5.

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The Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

Heads of the Colored People

Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book resurrected my interest in short-stories, which is saying a lot because I despise short-stories!

From the beginning, the author shared stories that went right to the heart of problems that we face today:
– Mental illness
– Racial Identity issues
– Body image
– Colorism in the black community
– Growing up black/coming of age
– Friendships/Acquaintances with black women
– Sexual harassment
– Parenting/mothering
– Suicidal ideation/attention seeking
– Black women mortality
– Social Media
– Classism in the black community
– Microaggression from whites
– Competition within the black community

The author focuses many pressures black people face today, with an extra emphasis on being the only black in some situations, and also dealing with classism and colorism in the upper middle class of the black community. Mental illness is also a subject, especially when it comes to social media pressures, addictive/extreme lifestyles, body image pressures, parenting, suicidal ideation, viewed by level of blackness, etc.

This collection of short-stories were well-written, intensive, engaging, and thought-provoking. One theme I saw in a few stories, were how black people had to deal with whiteness, being the only black, and/or hiding how black they were to fit in with societal norms. Black people are always having to suppress and deescalate to save themselves in certain situations. Thus, making us more volatile to people who look like us, and unleashing our frustrations on seemingly simple mishaps or miscommunications.

Some of the stories had some carry-over with characters, which I thoroughly enjoyed as it gave us other perspectives to view that particular character and see another angle of them.

Some of the stories that stood out to me were:
– The Necessary Changes Have Been Made
– Belles Lettres
– Not Today, Marjorie
– Suicide, Watch
– Fatima, the Biloquist

The entire collection is just a great piece of work, and provides many areas to discuss regarding the themes presented in this book. Very well worth the read! I went back and forth between 4 and 5 because some of the stories didn’t end conclusively for me, but overall, very well written.

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Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

Get a Life, Chloe Brown (The Brown Sisters, #1)

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This will be an unpopular opinion, but this book was just ‘ehhh’… ok. The Goodreads reviews are gushing with 5 star reviews, but honestly, I don’t see how.

Chloe was not a likable person! She was obnoxiously rude, a jerk, and snobby! I don’t care if she has a disability, that is no excuse to be such an asshole to people. Red, he was a sucka! Straight up! He irritated me to no end! How could he possibly like Chloe?? I understand opposites attract and all that, but she was downright snobbish and a bitch. He didn’t deserve her attitude or her ineptness to be a lady and treat him with respect. I get what the author tried to do with the wittiness, and dry humor, but for me, it fell flat. Maybe rom-com isn’t my genre, but I was just irritated with the rudeness levels in this book by Chloe. How dare she?! Red was a fool, and he had baggage, and they both didn’t know how to communicate well to each other without the bickering-humor back and forth.

The whole backdrop of the story wasn’t really that realistic to me… Rich girl, who has fibromyalgia, flees her home (mansion) in search of finding a meaningful life without her parents helicoptering around her, after a near death accident. She creates a list to get a life, and she winds up in an apartment, with a web design business (where did that come from?) and she has enough clients to obviously pay her bills, but you don’t really see her working on stuff besides Red’s site. She’s obviously not a tiny girl from the descriptors, but she throws herself around as if she’s this tiny princess and Red is able to pick her up and carry this obese woman around like she’s a sack of pillows. Her sisters are always checking on her, cutting up her food, and making sure she’s alive?? She falls in love with the last man she ever imagined, cause she hated him in the first quarter of the book, and they somehow mesh well with the back and forth bickering to fall hopelessly in love, only to find out they both have severe baggage and can’t trust each other at all. Chloe has this immature outlook on how love/relationships are supposed to go, and is socially awkward. Red, unable to really find himself, puts up with all of Chloe’s mess, and then overhears a conversation and royally walks out without actually talking about what made him upset. The story is just not all that realistic to me.

The sex scenes were written well. Not overly graphic, but I had a hard time picturing what was going on, especially since it seems like Chloe had severe fibromyalgia, and all of the sex they were having and hard kissing, I would have imagined she’d be in pain from the sex and movement, but she never was… just always tired when walking or climbing up a tree to save a cat.

The story was funny in various parts of the book. I definitely appreciated Chloe not being “normal,” and having a realistic type of disability. Sex scenes were written well, but that’s it.

The book felt like it was missing something in the middle. The story seemed to stall out in places, and I just wasn’t really sure where the book was going because Chloe was just so fickle!

I’m not even sure I can articulate all my thoughts about this book… it just wasn’t a good book for me. Although I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t like the character development or the storyline.

I give this book a 3, which is a little generous, but I am looking forward to reading part 2.

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