Three Books from My Old TBR Pile and One New Book

by Afia Atakora, Allegra Goodman, Corrie Lynn White, Kiese Laymon
Published by Random House Audio, Scribner, Southeast Missouri State University Press, The Dial Press Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Memoir, Poetry
Format: Audio, Audiobook, E-Book, eBook, Paperback
Source: Library

I recently finished reading three books I’ve had in my TBR pile for a long time. In fact, The Cookbook Collector and Heavy have been on my Kindle for years. Here are some quick reviews.

Full disclosure, Corrie Lynn White and I attended a Kenyon Writing Workshop for Teachers some years ago. We were not in the same group, so I didn’t hear much of her writing at the workshop, but I did hear her work at our final reading and was very impressed. I enjoyed her collection. My favorite poem was “To Mother or To Be Lonely,” mainly because the line “They put stale cornbread in their milk and let it soften” made me think of my grandmother, who used to crumble cornbread into her buttermilk.

I was a bit disappointed that this book had a misleading title. I thought it would be much more about this old bookstore and the collection of cookbooks. I found it kind of improbable that some of the cookbooks in the collection existed, as I know a bit about collecting cookbooks—I collect them myself. A “signed Mrs. Fisher“? Doesn’t exist!  Details like that will just take you out of the plot. The book was much more about the Dot-Com Bubble. I can see this book is pretty polarizing on review sites. It seems like a lot of people hate it. I didn’t. It was good, even if it wasn’t what I was expecting. However, I don’t think anyone does Allegra Goodman any favors by comparing her to Jane Austen. The only comparison I see is that the plot is loosely lifted from Sense and Sensibility.

I struggled with how to rate this one. The characters and story were compelling, but the story dragged in parts. The book is clearly well-researched, and Bruh Abel is like a character out of Flannery O’Connor or William Faulkner. Atakora has excellent writing chops. I think the storytelling could have been more taut. Moments in this debut novel dazzle, but finishing this novel was hard-going at times.

Heavy is a fantastic, well-written memoir. It’s unflinching, honest, raw, and beautiful. Fair warning: it is extremely sad and deals with some difficult issues, including addiction, weight fixation, anorexia, physical abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, and racism.

Review: Memphis, Tara M. Stringfellow

Review: Memphis, Tara M. StringfellowMemphis by Tara M. Stringfellow
Published by The Dial Press on April 5, 2022
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 272
Format: E-Book, eBook
Source: Library
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A spellbinding debut novel tracing three generations of a Southern Black family and one daughter’s discovery that she has the power to change her family’s legacy.

In the summer of 1995, ten-year-old Joan, her mother, and her younger sister flee her father’s violence, seeking refuge at her mother’s ancestral home in Memphis. Half a century ago, Joan’s grandfather built this majestic house in the historic Black neighborhood of Douglass—only to be lynched days after becoming the first Black detective in Memphis. This wasn’t the first time violence altered the course of Joan’s family’s trajectory, and she knows it won’t be the last. Longing to become an artist, Joan pours her rage and grief into sketching portraits of the women of North Memphis—including their enigmatic neighbor Miss Dawn, who seems to know something about curses.

Unfolding over seventy years through a chorus of voices, Memphis weaves back and forth in time to show how the past and future are forever intertwined. It is only when Joan comes to see herself as a continuation of a long matrilineal tradition--and the women in her family as her guides to healing—that she understands that her life does not have to be defined by vengeance. That the sole weapon she needs is her paintbrush.

Inspired by the author's own family history, Memphis—the Black fairy tale she always wanted to read—explores the complexity of what we pass down, not only in our families, but in our country: police brutality and justice, powerlessness and freedom, fate and forgiveness, doubt and faith, sacrifice and love.

This was an enjoyable read. The writing was lyrical in places, and the acknowledgments section was possibly one of the most fun I’ve ever read. I was expecting this story to be more of an ode to the city of Memphis than it was, but I wasn’t disappointed in the multigenerational family saga I got instead. I only wish there had been more about Hazel’story. I found her to be a compelling character. The characters are realistic and well-drawn. This book should make a pretty good movie should anyone decide to turn it into one.