Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Mocha Girl Musings by Me!

#SheReads #SheWrites and #SheWritesSomeMore 

I've been asked to write for a very wonderful, nationwide and online book club, Mocha Girls Read. I will still be reviewing all the books I read here at A Page Before Bedtime. But I'll also be talking about some bookish things over at the Mocha Girls site. Please check out my first post, leave a comment, and maybe buy a book from there!

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Rating:  4.5 of 5 stars
Length: 432 pages

Published: April 2017

Beartown by Fredrik Backman is about a fictional town in Sweden where the boy's hockey team is the nucleus of the community. The players, the staff, the parents, and the residents all are invested in the sport and the team because hockey has touched them all in some way - whether in the past or present times. And beyond hockey, there isn't much going on in this town ... until there is. A tragic decision made by the star player shatters the life of a young girl and transforms the town forever. 

Beartown is a story about division and the major events that divide families, friends, and an entire town. Backman sets up examples of this theme through the illustration of several dichotomies of character pairings. There are about two dozen characters in this book that all play a role in the book's forward-moving plot. You'd think with that many characters, the reader might get confused. Quite the contrary, the author does an excellent job of setting up the characters and the plot in the first half of the book that you, as the reader, get the feeling that he's sharing information about people who could live in your community. Backman does a superb job of developing these characters so that everyone is equally represented and their role in the story is executed perfectly. 

The only thing I did not care of in this book was the quick jumping from one character to the next as a literary device to reveal events and the timeline of the story. On many occasions the story was told in small paragraph vignettes, and I would have preferred more cohesive scenes developed within longer written passages. That is my only reason for the less than 5-star rating. 

I've read most all of Backman's novels and novellas. As usual, he won me over with his prose. He has a writing style that digs deep in my soul and hangs on tight for many days after the story ends. However, I won't have much time to recover from this one. The Beartown sequel, Us Against You, was readily available at my local library at the time I finished this book, and I've already borrowed it! 

Recommendation: Backman took on a darker topic with Beartown, but he handled it well. This story will give you all the feels. Get your copy today, and get emotionally invested in this intriguing cast of characters. 

Other Fredrik Backman books I've reviewed on A Page Before Bedtime
A Man Called Ove
My Grandmother Asked me to Tell You She's Sorry
Britt-Marie was Here
And Every Morning the Way Home gets Longer and Longer

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Courageous Creative by Jenny Randle

Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Length: 160 pages

Published: October 2018

During the Christmas season, Facebook displayed a sponsored advertisement on my feed for Jenny Randle's Courageous Creative book and the companion online 31-day devotional study. I was intrigued, so I purchased a copy from my local Barnes & Noble reseller, signed up for the Facebook group, and eagerly awaited for January 1, 2019 when the study was scheduled to begin. 

Jenny is an Emmy award-winning creative, but moreover, she is a Christian with a genuine heart. (I feel like I really go to know her through the Facebook group, so I am referring to her by her first name in this post.) She loves the Lord, and she loves His people. In her book, she demonstrates how everyone is and can be creative through the guiding of the Holy Spirit (or as she refers to him without the article i.e., Holy Spirit.) 

Jenny has written this book in such a way that it's easy digestible. The daily content is not overwhelming and offers practical applications. Each reading has an accompanying challenge. The challenges are diverse, ranging from reading and writing to more visual tasks like drawing, coloring, and photography. The book even includes some video and voice over prompts. As you might guess from this blog, reading and writing is where I shine, so the challenges outside of those took me a little more time. There are some I still want to go back and perfect. And that's the beauty of this book is that you can pick it up at any time and revisit some of Jenny's nuggets of knowledge as well as prime your creative juices by engaging in the challenges again. 

This was a really fun devotional that allowed me to grow as a Christian and create some beautiful work. I am thankful for Jenny showing me that I was created to create by the Ultimate Creator. 

Recommendation: This book would be a great study for a small group with your church. Whether you participate in this interactive devotional with a group, like I did, or take on the challenges on your own, I am certain you will be motivated and blessed by Jenny's work. She truly is a courageous creative! Visit Jenny online and connect with her on all social media platforms. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Rating: 4.5+ of 5 stars
Length: 325 pages

Published: August 2018

The majority of the members in my bookish groups had been telling me to run, not walk, to the nearest library or bookstore and get Delia Owens' Where the Crawdads Sing. As luck would have it, I was able to get on the list at my local library and the ebook became available ... about six hours before Fredrik Backman's Beartown also became available, so I dug in right away. 

Where the Crawdads Sing is a coming of age story about Kya Clark who, at a young age, was abandoned by her family. We learn of her tale of survival through a chronological telling from age 6 through young adulthood. The book's setting alternates between this historical, biographical backdrop in the 1950s and 1960s and a more present day decade of the 1970s. In this more recent timeline, the reader learns that Chase Andrews, the town's heartthrob, has been found dead and probably murdered. From there, the story vacillates between the two time periods until they converge on the pinnacle point of the mysterious death. 

This story has everything: great writing, a compelling plot, mystery, suspense, and romance. Ms. Owens is a talented writer creating powerful imagery of the marsh and swamplands of the North Carolina coast. She does such a great job depicting scenes in her novel that I felt like I was there. Owens writes in such a way that the reader can't help but be transported to the very time and place in which she is describing. This book and this author's writing is a true illustration of what readers mean when they say books can take you places you've never been before. Additionally, the suspenseful elements of the book propel the reader forward. The book had a little bit of a slow start for me (hence the rating just shy of 5 stars), but the momentum quickly picked up and didn't let me go until the surprising, plot twist-filled conclusion. 

Recommendation: I was pressed for time on this book because I needed to get to my next ebook loan; however, I suspect that I would have devoured it without a deadline just the same. Do yourself a favor and travel to North Carolina through Ms. Owens' words. Run, don't walk, and pick up a copy of Where the Crawdads Sing today! 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Rating: 2 of 5 stars
Length: 354 pages

Published: August 2012

People have been telling me for years that Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is hi-larious. With the upcoming movie, starring Cate Blanchett, to release in March, I thought I'd better get on the ball and read the book before the movie - it's what true bibliophiles do - read then watch. 

The titular character in this adult fiction book suffers from agoraphobia, so when her 8th grade daughter, Bee, asks for a family trip to Antartica as a reward for her perfect grades Bernadette Fox is filled with anxiety. Bernadette initially moved to Seattle, where the story primarily takes place, so that her husband, Elgin Branch, could take a job with Microsoft. This move came after a traumatic professional experience in California that resulted in Bernadette's current condition and abandoning her career in architecture. Add to that several miscarriages and a rocky pregnancy with Bee, Bernadette understandably has some mental and emotional health issues. She doesn't fit into the Seattle community, and for all intents and purposes, has banished herself to their mansion-sized home (that used to be a school for girls - yes, really!) Her interactions with the busy body/helicopter moms (to whom she refers to as "gnats"), especially antagonist Audrey, who is Bernadette's nemesis, finally push her over the edge and she goes missing. More than half the book is Bee on a quest to find her mother. 

The book is written in an epistolary format including emails, letters, and other correspondence. I usually find this a fun format to read because, as a reader, I can be a guilt-free voyeur of the inner thoughts of the characters. However, the way in which this novel was constructed actually added confusion to the plot. It slowed me down, and I almost gave up on it a couple of times. As I stated before, several reading friends told me this book was humorous. I, however, did not find it as amusing as my peers. I actually found it a bit depressing because the protagonist clearly has some issues and her family - especially her daughter, Bee - has paid the price. But this book is not all bad. I did appreciate the resolved conclusion. Semple could have left the audience hanging, but I am glad she did not. I also took satisfaction in two of the women coming together at the end - girl power! (I'll leave it vague so as not to give any spoilers.)  

RecommendationWhere'd You Go, Bernadette is a quick read. It has clearly been enjoyable for many. It is a bestseller, and it's going to be a movie. I'll probably still go see the movie. I just don't think this book was for me. I won't dwell here too long ... on to the next read! 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Black Girl in Paris by Shay Youngblood

Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Length: 256 pages

Published: January 2001

The theme for the Mocha Girls Read book of the month in January was Paris. As a group, we voted to read Black Girl in Paris by Shay Youngblood. This relatively short and extremely beautiful book was essentially a coming of age story for its protagonist, Eden, and a lovely way to kick off 2019.

Black Girl in Paris is the story of a young lady and budding writer who picks up from her home in the United States with a little money and travels to Europe in search of the greatness that author James Baldwin wrote about. While there she encounters many people while trying to make a living and find creative inspiration in Paris. 

One thing I found it interesting about this book is that Youngblood set it in the 80s while writing it in the millennium. It could have just as easily been set in the time in which it was written. I suspect the author may have done this to demonstrate just how far way from home Eden traveled. With the technology today (and in the early part of the turn of the century), it's so much easier to be close even when there's great physical distance. 

Black Girl in Paris reads like a collection of chronological essays. Youngblood's prose is excellent and you want to follow her as a writer and Eden as the main character on this journey of self discovery. This book definitely kept me interested. This is not something I would have read but for book club. And that is one of the greater purposes of book club. I am glad I was able to partake and participate. 

My ultimate takeaway from this story is that we cannot escape racism no matter the time nor location. 

Recommendation: If you love Paris and the pursuit of one's dreams, this quick read might pique your interest. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Length: 320 pages

Published: January 2018

In December, I read Jasmine Guillory's latest book - The Proposal with my book club. In January, The Wedding Date, Guillory's debut book was selected by another book club. It didn't make too much of a difference that I read the books out of order. They stand alone but also some of the characters crossover. I enjoyed The Proposal, and because of that I'm giving The Wedding Date 4 stars on social sites. However, my overall rating is 3.5 stars. 

The Wedding Date and The Proposal are very similar. They both fall in the chick lit genre with a young woman at the center as the protagonist who unexpectedly meets a guy and jumps in to a fast-moving relationship that is halted by some internal struggle. Guillory seems to be developing a bit of a predictable formula with her books. While The Wedding Date seemed a little redundant to me, I do appreciate the fact that the author attempts to tackle some important issues like race, body image, and the criminal justice system in a fun and light read. That certainly takes skill! 

My main criticism with both of her books is the overabundance of sex and intimate scenes. I thought it was a little much in The Proposal, almost to the point of over-sexualizing Nik. In The Wedding Date, I feel that Guillory definitely over-sexualized Alexa. The scenes are tastefully written, but there's just too many of them. I am hopeful that her next book The Wedding Party (set to publish in July) will include more character and relationship development and less bedroom scenes. (Ms. Guillory, if you are reading this, I know you know that women of color are more than sexual beings. There are many facets to us. Please don't forget to share those other facets in your literary quests.) 

This was another fun read. I can see the growth and progression of the author's craft from book 1 to 2, even though I read them in reverse. I look forward to seeing where her next adventure takes me. 

Recommendation: With Valentine's Day and Galentine's Day quickly approaching, pick up a copy of The Wedding Date. It will be a fun and quick read over a cold winter weekend. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Length: 262 pages

Published: May 2014

Last week, I watched Bird Box on Netflix, starring Sandra Bullock. While I found the movie enjoyable, I felt like the plot was missing some essential elements. So, I decided to read the relatively short book by Josh Malerman in hopes of answering some questions I had. The novel, Bird Box, serves as my last completed read for 2018. 

Bird Box is an apocalyptic suspenseful work of fiction. Set in Michigan, there is something taking over the world that causes people to commit suicide once they make eye contact with it. The "it" isn't really clearly defined, but it has caused the world to go into complete chaos. Most people are struggling to survive by living indoors most of the time. 

The book opens with the main character, Malorie, learning that she is pregnant from a seemingly one-night stand. Shortly thereafter, chaos ensues. She and her sister, Shannon, bunker down at home. After some time the inevitable occurs, and Malorie is forced to seek alternate shelter. She answers an ad posted by a group of people who have combined resources in a community home. From there, the book alternates between the past, providing a back story and the present day where Malorie and her children and traveling down a river (blindfolded) to a new safe house. 

Malerman does an excellent job of providing insight to Malorie's personality and psyche through mental, self talk. This is a lot easier to do in print versus on screen, which is why I believe the novel is more complete and leaves the reader more satisfied. The author also creates tension and suspense with his writing style. I kept reading one more chapter until I was quickly done - even though I already had a pretty good idea of the ending, having watched the movie. 

Reading the book provides more depth as to what "bird box" could mean. There are several events in the book that lead the reader to speculate on the title's meaning.

RecommendationI read on Goodreads that Malerman intends to write more books that focus on each of the senses. If his subsequent books are anywhere near as suspenseful as Bird Box, I have a feeling he will garner a cult following. I highly recommend this book. You can probably finish it over a weekend. Read the book first, then check out the Netflix movie. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Length: 513 pages

Published: June 2018

Earlier this year, I purchased a copy of The President is Missing by former President Bill Clinton and James Patterson during a blitz sale for $4.99. I really hadn't done much research into the plot, but I thought: a former President, a bestselling author, for less than $5 bucks, how can I go wrong? 

I do enjoy reading mystery and suspense novels, but this isn't a book I would normally read. I get plenty of politics via the talking heads on news commentary shows and via social media soapboxes. However, I was intrigued by this author pairing. I dove right into the story, and it kept my attention the whole way through. I was reading and listening to two other books while I read The President is Missing, so it took me a little longer than usual to get through it. For 500 pages, the story flowed well. The details and technical jargon were not overdone, making it easier to comprehend. You don't have to be in politics or even a U.S. citizen to appreciate the story. 

The story was suspenseful propelling this reader to the satisfying conclusion. There were some thought-provoking passages (check out my highlights on Goodreads.) The best thing about this book is that fact that President Clinton could offer a perspective that James Patterson could not have accomplished on his own. The only critique I could offer is that perhaps the book could have been edited down another 50-75 pages making it a little more digestible.  

Recommendation: I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to someone looking to read a story from an insider's perspective. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Length: 19:03:00

Narrated by: Michelle Obama
Published: November 2018

Unless you live under a rock, you know that this fall Becoming by former First Lady of the United States of America, Michelle Obama, was published and has quickly become (aha, see what I did there?) a bestseller. I pre-ordered the book via Audible earlier this year and began listening as soon as it was available. 

As I was selecting keyword tags for this post, I considered choosing politics. I decided against it because this is a book about the life of Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama. While she does share behind the scenes information about her husband's politics and his successful, consecutive presidential campaigns, the book is her life story. Furthermore, she makes it very clear that she does not enjoy politics nor does she have any political aspirations of her own. During the 2018 mid-term elections, I read an article about Heidi Cruz (wife of Texas Senator Ted Cruz) and how she, at times, feels relegated to simply being the wife of Ted Cruz rather than the educated, professional, individual person she is. I think this happens to many women who are connected with high profile men - once again proving what the Obamas have often said - we are all more alike than we are different. So, if you have not read Becoming and decide to embark on Mrs. Obama's life journey thus far, please read it with an autobiographical lens that happens to include the 44th President of the United States. 

The book begins with Mrs. Obama's childhood and she works her way chronologically through her formative years, her Princeton and Harvard years, meeting Barack Obama, her struggles conceiving their children, the family's journey to the White House, pretty much through present day. It is her detailed, personal account. While listening to her masterfully read the book, I felt like she was a good friend sharing a phenomenal story. Many of the stories she shared I recalled from the not too distant past, some were new to me, and others offered a different view from the accounts by the news media. 

The aspect of Mrs. Obama's life that resonated most with me was her constant relationship with the media - traditional and social. In the book, she often mentions being under the never-ending microscope of society by way of the media. This, of course, is what politicians and their families take on in their service to their city, county, state, and country. However, as anyone could imagine, it seemed to weigh on Mrs. Obama at times. A full two years post-office, and just the other day I witnessed one of my Facebook connections refer to Mrs. Obama as an animal. It's sad. It's demoralizing, and it's not right. As Mrs. Obama noted in her book, the "office" of First Lady isn't an official one nor is it a paid position. When the current First Lady said that she is one of the "most bullied" people, her statement was met with laughter and jokes. But I don't really think she was far off the mark. Being in the public eye can be exhausting. We, as private citizens, experience that via social media (some of us to a greater degree if one's messaging is extremely controversial and goes viral). I think our society would be much better served if we all extended some grace and kindness to one another - especially to those who are serving our country in various capacities. 

While the Mrs. Obama's memoir is just over 19 listening hours, it really didn't seem that long. Mrs. Obama has a great reading voice that helps guide the reader through her life story. There is so much detail, I certainly cannot give a comprehensive review. I can just say this - many First Ladies have written a book about their time in the White House, and this one is historical and worth reading. 

Recommendation: I would definitely recommend this read, especially the audio version. It was nice hearing Mrs. Obama's inflection and tone as she recounted some interesting and funny stories. It also evoked emotion when she demonstrated her vulnerabilities, making her more relatable to African Americans, women, and, most importantly, Americans. I'm told the hard copy book has a nice inset of photos. So, maybe buy a hard copy and get the audio companion also! 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Breathe: Making Room for Sabbath by Priscilla Shirer

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Length: 127 pages
Published: September 2014

Breathe by Priscilla Shirer is the latest online Bible study program in which I participated with Proverbs 31 Ministries. In the past, I've reaped great benefits from 5 Habits of a Woman Who Doesn't Quit by Nicki Koziarz, Unglued by Lysa Terkeurst, Wait and See by Wendy Pope, Listen, Love, Repeat by Karen Ehman, and Seamless by Angie Smith. Prior to reading her book, I'd only heard of Ms. Shirer through her father, who is a paster in the Dallas/Fort Worth area - Tony Evans. The things I had heard about her were very positive, so I was quite excited to dig into this study. And I'm not going to lie, I was happy it was a short one since we are in the midst of the busy holiday season. 

The overall premise of Breathe is we are overly busy. We don't slow down and smell the roses. Shirer posits that God designed us and the world in such a way that we must take time to rest and remember - remember our purpose, remember to love, remember to spend time with Him. She calls this the #SabbathMargin - creating space for God to enter in. She further explains, after six days of creating, He saw that it was good and rested on the seventh day. In doing this, He illustrates the importance of us taking that same time. It may be difficult to carve out an entire Saturday or Sunday. But what if we took a few minutes each day to stop and meditate on His goodness? 

The book is written in a relatable and practical way for both women and men. There are several areas and pages to jot down notes of your own as well as from Shirer's video presentations that can be purchased via LifeWay. I wish there was a little more written content and less questions. Some of the questions tended to be repetitive, and some of them were not relevant to me. However, it was helpful to reflect and commit to some Sabbath practices by memorializing them in writing. 

My biggest takeaway from this book was that people who tend to hoard (things, time, etc.) live with a slave mentality, and "Slaves live from a position of deficiency. Free people live from a place of holy expectation." After completing this study, I have a renewed commitment to thinking, walking, and living in freedom. Rather than hold on to the temporary things of this world, I hope to hold on to things that contribute to my eternal life. I will not always be perfect, but the goal is to be better. And I hope God blesses my progress (and yours too!). 

Recommendation: Priscilla Shirer is a powerful writer and speaker. This short book is packed with motivational messages, and it's the perfect antidote this time of year when we all tend to be more busy than usual. 

The next Proverbs 31 Study is Lysa Terkeurst's It's Not Supposed to be this Way. Sign up for free on the P31 website. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Length: 336 pages
Published: October 2018

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory was December's light and fun pick by my new book club Planner Girls Read Too. This is the second book written by Guillory, preceded by The Wedding Date. Many readers seem to think The Wedding Date is prerequisite reading for The Proposal. I've only read The Proposal, but it sounds like Ms. Guillory simply recycles some characters within her books (Her third book, The Wedding Party, will debut in 2019 and will feature some secondary characters from The Proposal.) 

I preface this review with some pertinent information: The Proposal is chick lit. It's meant to be read for entertainment — an escape from reality. There are several steamy sex scenes as well as a generous amount of colorful language. If this is not your cup of tea, you may want to pass it up. However, if you're looking for a quick, fun read over the holidays or even on summer vacay, The Proposal fits the bill. 

The story begins with a very public proposal to the book's protagonist, Nikole (Nik), by her superficial actor boyfriend of five months. Not to be bullied into saying yes, even though she has to answer in front of 45,000 people, Nik does the right thing and says no. In swoops Carlos (from The Wedding Date) and his sister, Angela to save her from the unwanted publicity. The three of them make fast friends, and Carlos becomes Nik's new romantic interest of the "rebound" type. A mix of friendship, food, and frequent sex all become factors in the lines being blurred for these two. 

I enjoyed the fast-paced nature of this book. I finished it in just a few days. I like the diversity among the characters in the book. I didn't feel like anyone was put in a stereotypical box with respect to race, gender, culture, etc. I found it nice to read a book that features people of color without race or ethnicity being the primary issue of the book. We need more books like this. I wasn't a fan of the language or sex scenes. At times, I felt the author got dangerously close to over-sexualizing Nik. Some of the other scenes in the book were a little unrealistic (like the scene where Nik encounters her ex-boyfriend). But then other parts of the book were quite relatable (like when Nik re-evaluates her motives for dating the men she has in the past.) There are a few life lessons in the book that are served up without beating the reader over the head with them. 

I had a lot of fun with this book. It made me laugh, and despite being chick lit, it made me think. I closed the book with a soft smile on my face. This is an enjoyable story for readers who appreciate matters of the heart.

Recommendation: I like to read light material as the year comes to a close to keep myself upbeat and my spirits high during the holiday season. This selection was a perfect fit for those tasks. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Length: 193 pages
Published: May 2018

For a little over a year, I've devoted most of my reading time and review space to promotion of new (and often Texas) authors. I made the decision in the last quarter of this year to focus on reading some books on my personal to-be-read list. Barracoon: The Story of the "Last Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston was a find through an Amazon daily deal back in July of this year that I have been meaning to get back to. I took some time over a long weekend to dig in and read this amazing work of non-fiction by Hurston, who is most notably remembered for her work of fiction - Their Eyes were Watching God

Barracoon is a biographical account of the last known surviving and formerly enslaved African, Cudjo Lewis*, his capture and forced voyage in the trans-Atlantic slave trade on the Clotilda - the reported last slave ship to come to the United States from Africa. Barracoon is a Spanish word that translates to "barracks." It is the facility where Africans were held before being sold and transported into slavery. Koosula ended up in Alabama and eventually became a free man at the conclusion of the U.S. Civil War. He lived through capture, forced detainment, slavery, and the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras. At 94, Koosula died in 1935. 

*[Cudjo was known as Koosula in the motherland, and he seemed overjoyed for Hurston to refer to him by his real name. Therefore, for the remainder of this review, he will be Koosula.]

Hurston met Koosula at the request of Charlotte Osgood Mason, who funded Hurston's trips to Alabama to interview and write Koosula's story. As it happens with most biographers, Hurston developed a personal yet professional relationship with Koosula giving her an excellent vantage point from which to tell this very important story. I do feel it is important to read many stories and perspectives about slavery, lest we forget our sordid history, and I am thankful Hurston wrote this one.  

As a reader, I could tell how much time and effort Hurston put into this book. I like that she stuck to her guns and demanded that it be published as she had written it - in Koosula's dialect. Unfortunately, this delayed the book's publication for nearly 90 years. However, I can understand her insistence on this. We, as the audience, need to hear Koosula. Writing it any other way would have muted his very emotional story. I appreciated the abundance of direct quotes provided. I could almost hear Koosula speaking, and I definitely could feel his emotion. Koosula was not really black or what we'd call African American today. He was an African forever displaced in this strange land he was forced to call home. His story is a sad one. Even after being freed he, like many African Americans today, and his family were grossly disenfranchised. All six of his children and his wife preceded him in death as a result.  

While I read this book on my Kindle app, I think I'd like to hear the audio version. I have a feeling an oral re-telling would be an even more powerful vehicle for this story. I am overjoyed that Common has purchased the rights and is making this into a TV movie, and I can't wait to watch it. I gave this book four stars because I felt that there was some unnecessary repetition, and I wished Hurston had given us a little more biographical information on Koosula once he was in the United States. Even so, this short book is information-filled and an important part of American history. 

RecommendationThis story is a must read. It won't take you long to finish it, so why not pick up a copy today? 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.