the immediacy of emotional kerfuffles

available as Kindle on Amazon; can’t find it through WorldCat…

Greenberg, KJ Hannah. The Immediacy of Emotional Kerfuffles. Bellmawr, New Jersey: Bards and Sages Publishing, 2013.

The summary for this book states that Greenberg is a Pushcart Prize nominee and a National Endowment for the Humanities awardee. So yes, I fell for the “author with prizes” trick in picking up this collection of short stories.

The summation also suggested the stories would be “fiction sprinkled with friendly insanity” and, at times, “profound realism.”

I’ve read about four of the eighty stories and I just can’t continue.

I. Just. Can’t.

The writing reminds me of a college student’s first foray into creative writing, being weird for the sake of being weird to the point where it isn’t weird but incomprehensible. One sentence follows the next and they often don’t seem related. I think there is supposed to be humor, laughing at adversity (remember “profound realism”), but the reader has to spend so much time deciphering the language that everyone misses the joke.

I know this writer has her reader. Those already reading Fallopian Falafel Magazine and Winamop and AlienSkin Magazine (these are all real zines, I checked) will be delighted with Greenberg’s collection. Those of us looking for something different might find Greenberg has a bit too much “friendly insanity.”

The cover is cute, though.

Please note I received a free advanced reading copy of this book through LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

bedrock faith by eric charles may

May, Eric Charles. Bedrock Faith. New York: Akashic Books, 2014.

Parkland, a black neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, is turned upside-down by the return of Gerald Reeves, aka Stew Pot. Stew Pot’s reign of terror ended when he was imprisoned. With his release and return home to his mother’s house, many of Parkland’s residents are terrified and want Stew Pot removed. Mrs. Motley, Stew Pot’s neighbor and ever the good Christian, is willing to wait and see.

And Stew Pot has changed since being in jail. He’s now full of religious fervor that borders on insanity. Parkland folk aren’t convinced of Stew Pot’s conversion, his childhood crimes and abuses still fresh in their memory, and his faith-based antics only further fuel Parkland’s fire for revenge.

Sounds intense, doesn’t it? It is, yet Eric Charles May’s first novel is delightful to read. There are a host of characters, each given the opportunity to tell their story, and there is plenty of action. Readers are welcomed into Parkland from the first page. He tackles issues of racism, homophobia, religion, and violence with the language of storytellers like Flannie Flagg or Rebecca Wells.

Yet, as I read the final chapters, I felt disappointment at May’s ending. It didn’t seem fulfilling, though perhaps a bit expected. After I finished the book I realized the source of my dismay; it wasn’t that May had written a bad ending, it’s that I didn’t want it to end. May will have a huge following of readers expectantly awaiting his second novel about Parkland!

Please note I received a free advanced reading copy of this book through LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

the prom book

Metz, Lauren. The Prom Book. San Francisco: Zest Books, 2013.

After only looking at the cover, I understood this book was a marketing ploy to get cheap bucks coming into the publisher. It offers nothing of substance and even less than that if you are anything but an upper-middle class white girl from the suburbs.

Maybe that’s harsh but I was hoping for something different in 2013. The book is like a special issue of Seventeen that I would have read in the 90s. The budget breakdown includes spray tan and waxing. Makeup tips and last minute toning workouts (these don’t work, girls) lead into hosting pre- and post prom parties. The content is skim and what gives the book actual volume are the pages for Notes, Appointments, Photos, and Favorite Memories.

If you have a prom girl in your life, get her subscription to Seventeen. The pages here are just as glossy and the tips just as shallow.

Please note I received a free advanced reading copy of this book through LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

the good lord bird by james mcbride

McBride, James. The Good Lord Bird. New York: Riverhead Books, 2013.

When abolitionist John Brown passes through the Kansas Territory in 1856, he leaves with Henry Shackleford. Henry’s master is killed by Brown, leaving the young boy no choice to but travel with Brown and his band of Free Staters. At first glance, Old Man Brown assumes Henry is a girl and Henry, eager to stay alive, quietly announces himself as Henrietta; Brown nicknames her Onion.

Onion recounts for the reader her years living with Old Man Brown and the battles he and his men fought, ending with Harper’s Ferry. Part history, part fiction, The Good Lord Bird sheds new light on the years leading up to the Civil War. Good intentions are examined against reality in Onion’s innocent, but ever-watching eyes.

I was eager to read The Good Lord Bird because I enjoyed McBride’s The Color of Water (1995) and Miracle at St. Anna (2002). However, this novel didn’t meet my expectations. McBride is probably the best writer to tell this story, but it was exhausting and often felt repetitive. Part of this is because of my own limited interest in Civil War history. However, there was little character development of either Old Man Brown or Onion throughout the 400+ pages. The narrative progressed but the people didn’t.

A true American history buff, through, will find this a captivating read.

Please note I received a free advanced reading copy of this book through LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

among the bloodpeople

Glave, Thomas. (2013). Among the bloodpeople: Politics and flesh. New York: Akashic Books.

This is my first introduction to Glave, a gay Jamaican who fully embodies his country and sexuality. This collection of essays follows years of  public praises for his writing and a handful of awards from the biggest and the best (O. Henry award). In his introduction, Yusef Komunyakaa states that, like Glave’s earlier books, “these essays pulsate with the same charged lyrical, moral authority. No one easily wriggles off the hook.” I assumed he meant Glave’s adversaries; turns out he means the readers of Bloodpeople.

Glave mostly writes about homosexuality and Jamaica. I didn’t know how hated homosexuals are in Jamaica. I didn’t know they were disemboweled with machetes. And I didn’t consider one could be poetic about fear and anger and isolation. But the touchingly phrased sentences don’t soften the impact of reading about murder and political corruption. Instead, it eats at you because it makes you attentive to every word, feel the pauses as Glaves takes a breath and speaks with the pulse of his heartbeat. It takes a few moments to find Glave’s rhythm and read with it, pulling the poetry from the prose. If you do, however, you’ll be forever changed.

That might be a bit dramatic for a poet’s anthology of non-fiction essays, but to date I haven’t finished Bloodpeople. I’ve found I need some time between readings. Glave’s doesn’t shout but whispers in your ear and sometimes you can know too many secrets.

Please note I received a free advanced reading copy of this book through LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

contemporary dance in cuba: tecnica cubana as revolutionary movement

John, Suki. (2012). Contemporary Dance in Cuba: Tecnica Cubana as Revolutionary Movement. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.

Suki John has written a well-researched yet personal memoir on a contemporary dance movement in Cuba. Tecnica Cubana is both an art form and a political entity; it requires an understanding of many dance practices as well as knowing popular Cuban culture. Ms. John’s frequent travels to the island account for the book’s personal narrative and interviews with Cuba’s most important choreographers. Because of this, Contemporary Dance in Cuba is a necessary text for anyone studying dance or Cuban culture. In an age lacking strong communication between the island and the United States, Ms. John’s book also provides an unusual glimpse into the national pride of the Cuban people.

I received a free copy of this book through LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

after visiting friends

After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey (Scribner, 2013). Screen Shot 2013-02-21 at 6.45.22 PM

Michael Hainey’s father, an accomplished journalist, died young and, according to the obits, alone on a street at night. Hainey follows in his father’s footsteps by becoming a newspaperman. As a reporter, Hainey is determined to learn the full story of his father’s death.

Excellent reporting requires excellent investigation skills. After Visiting Friends proves Hainey’s ability to objectively report the facts while still telling a personal story. It’s a very heart-warming story told through conversations and memory. Hainey invites the reader to follow him across the country and into the homes of family, friends, and many new acquaintances. As he searches for the truth about his father, he becomes much closer to his mother – the one person who may not be able to accept that truth.

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review as a LibraryThing Early Reviewer).

high school prom

Anderson, Ann. (2012). High School Prom: Marketing, Morals and the American Teen. McFarland & Company, Inc.

With a passionate interest in women’s studies, mass culture, and all things kitsch (face it, prom is kitsch), I am delighted to report on Anderson’s new text High School Prom. Though it isn’t lengthy she manages to cover all aspects of prom’s history, commercialism, and pop culture status. Women readers – get ready to self-reflect and men, well, you’re mentioned sometimes too.

Part I – History – is the most in-depth and, unfortunately, the most tedious. Her writing style is a blend of nostalgic longing and well-researched scholarship. Sometimes it feels as if Anderson’s wishful thinking for her own prom do-over is the only reason she invested so much time into this research. However, it pulls through in Parts II and III – Marketing and Prom in Popular Culture, respectively. In these chapters she moves away from memory and writes more analytically about teen magazines, limo companies, and prom-themed B-movies.

Though prom is the core of the text, Anderson has to bring in many other elements of girlhood culture to round out her research. The evolution of the teenager as a social class and generational differences are routinely mentioned. The history and development of the magazine Seventeen play a starring role in marketing and peer pressure issues. And such a strong lure that even Anderson succumbs to it in her writing, the power of prom nostalgia and innocent romance both work to increase movie box office sales.

Anderson’s latest work is better as popular reading and layman’s interest than academic research. This is a bit disappointing for more serious readers, but a lengthy bibliography is sure to please these folks (librarians included!).

(Please note I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.)