Category Archives: Book Review

Soul City ~ A Book Review

Toure’s Soul City is a laugh-out-loud satire about black life and the conditions of the people. It goes from moments of hilarity to moments of silence deemed by heart-wrenching truths. Cadillac Jackson is a writer who comes to town to write about the city but is soon too caught up in its daily activities to write the first sentence.

Toure uses aptronyms where the people’s names match either their jobs or personal traits. He has characters such as Spreadlove, Ubiquity, Jiggaboo, Emperor Jones and a host of others as he goes through the spectrum of any town. From city government to the church or to the town’s favorite eatery (a buttered biscuit shop), Toure takes the reader on a thorough ride through Soul City with its fun, pathos and sobering history until the last drop is savored!

Spreadlove is known for his many women who have a blind allegiance to him regardless while the very poor live in Ragamuffin Projects which has been designed to let in minimal light. Loud music is piped through the community and when the speakers malfunction one day, the people are lost and terrified by the silence. They are at total loss and do not know what to do with themselves. Whereas, Jiggaboo has taken such a low role for profit that no amount of therapy can help his self-loathing.

Ubiquity is the town gossip whose entire goal is to garner a shock-effect from her victims, while poor Unicorn is exploited for his physical prowess and ends up taking his own life to put a halt to the pain. Some even voluntarily sign up for The Slave Experience where they live in chains, wear rags and are subjected to beatings for a year. They vow that they can take it for one year, if their ancestors endured it for a lifetime. And then, there is the Reparations check scam where the citizens get the $100,000 deposited into their checking accounts, only to see it constantly diminish in increments, though they had made no withdrawals.

Toure’s bold and unabashed look into the harsh realities of the black condition will cause the reader to laugh-out loud at times. In other moments, the starkness of certain situations may cause the reader to wipe away a slow tear. These caricatures and their daily antics give aha moments, shake-your-head moments and moments of sheer wordless silence.

Lynn M.
January 7, 2023

I Would Die 4 U- A Book Review

Toure takes an in-depth look into Prince’s music in his book, I Would Die 4 U. He matches Prince’s lyrics to many of his songs to actual events that were happening in the musical genius’ life. Prince had a work ethic like no other and could easily work up to forty hours straight until he had achieved the right sound and effects. Some said that he could not be separated from his music, and it ruled him. 

He would hear a sound and he knew that he had to get it down before it vanished, which some artists may understand. He played all the instruments on a piece and then merged them together to create his own music. He studied many of the great musicians and composers from Mozart to Coltrane and it has been said that he came up with his own genre. 

Prince felt driven and called by God to accomplish things and he felt that time was ticking through the hourglass, so he had a lot to get done before making his exit. His androgynous   appearance, his petiteness and his boldness in mixing both male and female clothing put everyone on notice. It has been said that he could outshoot the guys on the basketball court while wearing high heels. 

Prince was wrapped in a cover that pulled in the generation X–ers because they too were latchkey kids like Prince and had often been left alone for too many hours to delve into adult worlds. He baited in his audiences with outrageous sexual antics but underneath the façade, he was deeply spiritual. He strongly felt that he was here on borrowed time and felt that his main mission was to spread the Word and evangelize the masses. 

Toure discusses how he started his concerts with hot, sensual movements and then once he had the audience’s full attention, he slowed the tempo down and started giving subtle sermons. We recall lyrics such as, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life,or he encouraged with lines like, “A feeling of self-worth will caress U.” He took risks and combined sexuality with spirituality and reminded his listeners that, “It’s always darkest before dawn.” He told one interviewer, “The whole point of the show was, I’m going to do the dirty half of me in the first half because that’s what you came to hear but in the second half, I’m gonna show you what it’s really supposed to be about.” 

Prince was keenly aware of his mortality and saw the afterlife as a world of never-ending happiness. Similar to many artists, his childhood was racked with pain but like the oyster’s agitations, the gods were creating a special pearl. Prince was gifted to the world in a small package, but he could sing both male and female parts in his lyrics, play all the instruments and most of all, he fascinated us all with his brilliance and mystique! 

Lynn M. 
December 31, 2022 

Three Girls from Bronzeville: A book review

When I saw a picture of Dawn Turner receiving the 2022 Pattis Foundation Chicago Book Award in the Newberry Magazine’s Fall/Winter 2022 edition, I took immediate notice. I looked up her book, Three Girls from Bronzeville: A Uniquely American Memoir of Race, Fate and Sisterhood and saw that it was available at our local library. I put on two jackets and warm clothing and walked to the Crown Library and thank goodness, it was there on the shelf.

I dived in and finished this page-turner in three days. Dawn Turner talked about the south side of Chicago and lived in places and spots that I have also frequented throughout my journey. She lived in Lawless Gardens where one of my sisters once lived. She went to Doolittle School which I drove by daily and spoke of Pershing School where I temporarily subbed. We both even attend Hyde Park High though I did so before her.

Her daily walks to Lake Meadows Shopping Center reminded me of when it was in its glory days and had stores such as Goldblatt’s and Woolworth’s. The nearby Alco Drugstore, which she also mentioned, was a place where many south siders traveled at all times of night because it stayed open 24 hours. We could purchase items like iodine, mercurochrome, BC or Goody powders, all virtually impossible to find these days.

For me, this was a deeply engaging tale as she remembered the off-limits Lake Meadows Complex where the black elite lived, a place I often visited to see a close friend. She too mentioned the elusive Prairie Shores Complex where I later resided for over a decade. Turner goes into detail about the early years of the three Bronzeville girls which include her, her younger sister Kim and her dear friend, Debra.

Quite typical of an observer who would go on to become a Chicago Tribune writer, Dawn was the silent onlooker as her sister Kim and friend Debra both took a walk on the wild side. They got caught up in the mean streets of Chicago and became dangling victims of its spewed venom. Every south sider from Chicago should pick up a copy of Three Girls from Bronzeville as they reminisce and see what happens to Dawn, Kim and Debra!

(Reviewed on Amazon and Goodreads) ***** 5 Stars

Lynn M.
December 10, 2022

Cycling through France!

Susie Kelly and her husband Terry cycle through the countryside of France in The Valley of Heaven and Hell: Cycling in the Shadow of Marie Antoinette. She is riding an electric bike while Terry pedals a regular one as they travel 500 miles in 17 days. Susie takes us on the ride with them as she sprinkles in tidbits of French history, battles, and new green spaces that now cover former tragedies. 

Initially, we see them start out in Versailles and cycle to Paris and stay at a hotel close to the Gare du Nord (train station).  Then, they set off and cycle halfway across France. She has studied the life of Marie Antoinette, so she consciously traces the steps of the lives of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. Through Susie Kelly’s descriptions, we can see her as a young Austrian child-bride used as a political pawn by her stern mother. Young Louis had a hard time accepting his married state but over time, they learn to love each other, mourn their lost children and nurture the remaining two children. The oldest daughter, Marie-Therese survives the Reign of Terror and tells the tale of what happened to her family, 

As Susie and Terry cycle through the various French towns, she humorously gives descriptions of the hotels, eateries, and the characters that they encounter along the way. There are several “laugh out loud” moments and she is even able laugh at herself when she thought she could not continue the feat. Once, she overhears an absurd conversation with a child who continually asks his parents why about six times. Amazingly, he received six full explanations and Susie just shook her head in the other room.  

They follow the plight of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette from the prison at the Tuileries all way to the guillotine where Louis is beheaded long before Marie Antoinette. Her wait time continues as well as her suffering until her final moment finally comes. Again, Susie tells the tale with such lightness as she goes back and forth from their time in the late 1700’s to the present. She allows her readers to enjoy the beauty of the French towns, cathedrals and other pristine moments and takes us back to a more in-depth tour around into Paris. I am so happy that Val Poore recommended this book!  

Sainte- Chapelle of Paris

Lynn M.
September 24, 2022

Still Learning!

It is interesting how a visitor can come to your hometown and bring such new information!  It may not be unusual because the tourist has hit the books and knows exactly what he or she is  looking for; whereas, the locals trudge right pass unknown treasures everyday.

To that point, a friend and I stopped to ask several locals for the MLK Memorial in Atlanta and we were shocked when several hunched their shoulders as if to say, “I dunno.”  After a while, it became both comical and mostly tragic and we found the humor in it rather than burst into tears.  That was in the late 70’s.

But, I digress.  This is about Brian Doyle’s book Chicago which I recently finished and relished. A lot of places were familiar but I had to admit that he gave me several lessons though this has been a home base for many moons.  Doyle came here for five seasons right after graduating from Notre Dame.  He wrote for a magazine and it was his task to find stories about everyday people.

Yes, I will ashamedly admit that Mr. Doyle had to tell me that Lincoln Park, which I have visited trillions of times was named for Abraham Lincoln. Maybe I knew it some point. I knew that the streets in the Loop are named for the US Presidents, but I guess the fact that the parks were named for them escaped me.

And that mighty Grant Park is named for Ulysses S. Grant and our beloved Jackson Park for Andrew Jackson.  I think I recently recall that Washington Park was named for George Washington because of the recent statue controversy.

In some aspects, I am just as guilty as those people were in Atlanta on that sunny day. In our busy, rapid lives, we rush right by these monuments as we hurry to catch a bus or wave down a taxi. We miss so much!

This book, Chicago, took me up and down so many traveled roads He added the love and cohesion of community, the importance of the generosity of spirit and the role of writers who help keep it real when people get lost in the shuffle. Doyle reminded us of the beauty of storytelling and how those stories keep us going as we remember past events.

And lastly, Brian Doyle talked about the name of Chicago which came from the Potawatomi  Native Americans.  Chicagouate or chicagoua was a form of garlic/onion which grew in abundance to where they say the river poured into the lake.  Further research revealed the Native Americans only traded with their kin.  Thus, Jean Point Baptist Dusable married a Potawatomi woman and was then able to participant in trading.  It has been written that she was ‘crucial to his success.’

Chicago recently renamed Lake Shore Drive to Jean Baptiste Point Dusable Lake Shore Drive. Yes, it is a mouth full, but it seeks to get the historical facts somewhat straight. What we do know is the trade industry gained traction from the point where the Chicago River empties into Lake Michigan. And the rest, as they say, is history.  Many thanks to Mr. Doyle who left us too soon, but whose words and good works shall remain.

Lynn M.
October 23, 2021

Rendered Speechless!

This is a spoiler alert! When I recently finished Louise Erdrich’s book The Night Watchman, I was rendered speechless by one of the subplots, not the main plot, of this engaging novel. One of the focal characters, Patrice (Pixie) is the breadwinner for her indigenous Chippewa family. 

She is the only one in the family who has a job, and she works at a jewel factory performing very delicate operations. Her father is broken from the many onslaughts of reservation life, and he has become an abusive alcoholic who is often gone away from the family. No one looks forward to his infrequent returns, especially their mother because of what they all must endure when he is at home.

Her older sister, Vera, has moved away to the Big City but is now considered to be missing and the family is deeply concerned about her. Pixie puts her job on the line as she borrows days from her co-workers to venture into the Big City to look for her sister. She is tricked at the train station and ends up in a would-be perilous situation herself. She temporarily works at a bar swimming in a fish-like tank with dyed water for the customers’ entertainment. 

One of their friends, a boxer named Wood Mountain, senses that she could be in danger, and he goes to the city to make sure that she is okay. No one will tell them where Vera is at that time, but they do end up bringing back Vera’s infant son after Pixie makes her get-away from  the bar.

The family embraces the baby and all cuddle and nurture him as Pixie returns to her regular job. She eventually begins to fall in love with Wood Mountain and finally gives into him as her first lover. Overtime, Vera surfaces and she has been detained against her will and trafficked on a ship. When she is used and nearly dead, they discard her on the side of a road in Duluth and fortunately a medic finds and helps her. 

Vera makes it back home, but she is damaged both physically and spiritually. They are happy to see her and she falls back into the embraces of the family. By, then, Wood Mountain is extremely attached to the child and often frequents the family home. And then, it happens. 

Pixie returns home from work one day and notices the rhythm between Vera and Wood Mountain as tries to say he loves them both. But Pixie, says, “No. It is not going to happen like that!”  Instead, she agrees to help fix up a small house on the property for Vera, Wood Mountain, and the baby Thomas Achilles.  

 I see Pixie going on to greater heights like on to college or choosing some new path for herself.  She has the strength of character to do so, but this part rendered me speechless. How much can one give? And how much can one accept from another’s labors? It reminded me of the movie The Valley of the Dolls, when Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins) walked away with a wrangled, wildly beating heart but definitely moving on! 

Lynn M. 
July 28, 2021 

The (Other) You: A Book Review

Joyce Carol Oates’ latest collection of short stories, The (Other) You is filled with ruminations about life’s journey. She ponders what life would be like if we had chosen other paths or made different choices. In fifteen short stories, she makes us think about our mortality as we look back over our years of living.

She has written stories that cause us to think deeply about the what-if’s as she takes us through snippets of her own journey as a literary writer. As she quibbles with a beloved spouse whose health is declining during a disappointing trip abroad, she has us thinking about the depth of enduring relationships. Yet, we are rudely awakened as we see that nothing lasts forever and she also notes how close friends and co-workers are aging and facing health challenges.

She visits her childhood home after many years and sees and hears about what happened to some her former classmates. Though she holds onto precious memories, the present conditions there do not mirror her past recollections. There are only fractures of what she experienced strewn here and there, once again reminding her that life is ever-moving and nothing stays the same.

In one story, a character wonders why her loved ones cannot see her, only to realize that she is no longer alive and they are mourning her accidental demise. Or, in other instances she experiments with speaking from several characters’ points of view though they are all involved in the same scenario.

Oates takes many risks, as she writes in a variety of genres and a couple of her stories even border on horror. She makes the valid point that we unconsciously dismiss the importance of others due to our own stereotypical beliefs. She labeled her writing best when she called it speculative fiction. She certainly makes us appreciate the gifts of our current paths which shaped us into who we are today because other choices would have molded us into becoming someone else!

Lynn M.

April 10, 2021

Cane by Jean Toomer

I first read Cane by Jean Toomer in college many years ago and I chose to revisit it after its title came up in a conversation.  Maya Angelou wrote:  “A breakthrough in prose and poetical writing …. This book should be on all readersand writers’ desks and in their minds.”   Those are her profound words about this collection of prose, poems, and brief vignettes

I am still enjoying Toomer’s book but I paused to write these words about Cane.  “This work is very lyrical.  It should be sung or at least read aloud as the spoken word to fully capture the rhythm and rapture of these moving stories and tales.”

He tells stories of people that he has either observed or met.  He truly sees them and hears their hearts whether their stories end happily or unhappily. There is an underlying beat like the hooves of feet on pavement as his characters flow through their lives.

This is such a re-gift for me during this summer’s readings because it has even greater meaning.  The words are like vintage wine that have increased in value over time.  I have matured and I can better see the depth of this writer’s craft. He was able to truly replicate life on a printed canvas.

I strongly agree with Dr. Maya and I think every writer should have a copy of Cane on the desk and in the personal library.  Jean Toomer, a writer from the Harlem Renaissance Era, has successfully put stories in multiple forms as he pours his words in a bottle to be kept as an eternal capsule in time!

Lynn M.

July 18, 2020

Candide in 2020!

The other day, I was surprised to see that Candide by Voltaire was trending in 2020 on Twitter.  It was written in 1759 and I read it many years ago, but I chose to revisit it to see why it is currently quite the rave.  I finished it in a couple of days and took copious notes to make sure that I did not miss a beat. 

Candide is a young man who is put out of his dwelling after he is caught exchanging kisses behind a screen with Cunégonde, the master’s daughter.   He is turned out and his mentor-philosopher Pangloss travels with him as they embark upon many adventures.  Though he cannot understand why these things are happening to him, Pangloss constantly assures him that, “All is for best.”

They travel far and wide and Pangloss also tells him that “All effects have a cause.”  He sees so many horrors along the way and hears that Cunégonde and her family have been slaughtered.  As he carries on, he discovers that she did indeed survive, and his entire goal is to be reunited with his beloved.

Everywhere Candide goes, he witnesses the cruelty that men inflict upon each another.  He is baffled when he sees that some of them pray regularly while still being mean and insensitive to his fellow man.  He talks to those who have been tortured, lost body parts, enslaved and brought low by life’s circumstances.

He continually looks for the silver lining as he listens to others’ stories.  He even meets former kings, princes and sultans who have lost their positions and fortunes.  He is shocked by one prominent man who has everything but finds no pleasure in anything nor anyone.

Candide travels from France through Europe and even makes it to South America where he finally finds Cunégonde alive and still beautiful; but before they can reunite, he has to run from the authorities for a murder he had committed along the way.  They are separated again and he vows to make it back to her though she is being hotly pursued by a wealthy Argentinian.

Finally, things begin to come full circle and Candide is reunited with other loved ones that he thought had perished.  Miracles continue to happen and he again finds his beloved Cunégonde, who is no longer beautiful. Woe! 

Yet, life has altered him and his viewpoints and he has learned that, “All is for best.”  He has seen through his winding journey that the greatest evils are, “Weariness, vice and want.”  He knows that he should not sit idly by, but stay busy. He moves on as he and his new wife cultivate their own garden together!

Lynn M.

July 11, 2020

The Fisher King: A Poetic Review

Oh! Ménage a’ trois,
In Gay Paree’.

A child’s prying eyes,
Combustion – but sees.

Ran away to be free.
Came back and left wanton baby.

Real family later shows up,
Stakes a claim on the pedigree.

Truths roll out about one who takes care,
Of Sonny’s grandson. She’s left with a stare.

No weapon to fight with; no plan in sight. 
After that curtain tear, no escape in the night.

Sitting still in speechless shame.
Hattie won’t have a stake on Little Sonny’s name!

Fisher King 2

Lynn M.                                                                August 31, 2019