Tag Archives: African Americans

Sherry Richburg. Love, Lies and Betrayal. Denver, CO: Outskirts Press, 2009.

lovelies&betrayal In this novel, we follow our protagonist, known on the streets as India, from age twelve until her mid-20s. Early on in the tale India, at age fourteen, leaves home for the streets and a reckless lifestyle. India immerses herself in a world of drugs by dating one of the most well-known drug dealers in the area, having no qualms about using her womanly wiles to get what she wants. By doing so, India quickly becomes widely known and respected on the streets. But, she hides all of this from her family. India claims to be living with her best friend when she is actually living with a man fifteen years older than her.

Throughout the novel India is confronted with the challenges her lifestyle brings about and she must make some tough decisions. However, she continually displays her strength and determination to be her own woman and run things her way. Everything seems to be going great for India; she has dodged several violent episodes and many confrontations with the law, even while others of her team are brought down. Then one day someone tries to rob her crew and everything goes downhill from there. Was it someone they trusted? Will India be able to overcome this challenge as she has done all others? Will her well-built team support her or turn on her?

Love, Lies and Betrayal is based on a true story and provides an explicit look into India’s lifestyle.

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2009, Piedmont, Richberg, Sherry, Urban Fiction, Wake

Shelia P. Moses. The Sittin’ Up. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2014.

The Sittin' UpStanbury “Bean” Jones Jr. is excited to take part in his first “sittin’ up.” Now that he’s twelve, his parents agree that he’s old enough to be a part of the custom. A “sittin’ up” is equivalent to a wake. Novelist Shelia P. Moses explains in an author’s note that this tradition occurred in the town of Rich Square, North Carolina because after embalming, the undertaker would not keep the bodies of deceased black townspeople, so they were taken home the night before the funeral. The ritual of bringing the body home was phased out over time, however, the ritual of gathering of family and friends to honor the deceased remained.  A “sittin’ up,” according to Moses, is held for the sake of living, to comfort those left behind and suffering from the loss of loved ones.

The year is 1940, and the people of Low Meadows are still struggling with the economic fallout of the Great Depression. The novel opens with Bro. Wiley on his death bed. At the ripe old age of about 100, Bro. Wiley is at peace that his death is drawing near. He is ready to join his forebears in the so-called “Slave Grave.” That sentiment is not shared with the rest of the community. News of Bro. Wiley’s passing weighs heavy with grief and sadness.

Although Bean is interested in the prospect of participating in his first “sittin’ up,” he feels regret that Bro. Wiley had to die. The novel focuses upon the process of preparing for Bro. Wiley’s sittin’ up. What should normally be a routine custom though goes awry with an impending storm that threatens to disrupt arrangements for the sittin’ up. No matter the forecast, Bro Wiley’s sittin’ up ends up being a transformative experience for Bean and the rest of Low Meadows.

Moses’ story is driven by characters, their culture, and a strong sense of place. She covers plenty of ground in 226 pages. The Sittin’ Up addresses a number of small-scale community dynamics from the local outcasts like the town drunk, Real Kill, and Florenza, a flirty bootlegger who is busy making sweet eyes at Reverend Hornbuckle, to tensions between Bean’s father Stanbury and his lazy, lying brother-in-law, Uncle Goat. The novel touches upon historical elements like the enduring effects of the Great Depression and the economic and social environment of sharecropping. Moses also creates additional tension with the town school teacher, Mr. Creecy, who refuses to excuse his students, and Mr. Thomas Wiley, the landowner who wants the children to stay home and harvest crops. Racial tensions between whites and blacks are featured.

Moses balances death and tragedy with life and new beginnings, and she explores the close bond between Bean and his friend Martha Rose “Pole” Cofield, and Bean’s maturation as a young adult. Moses includes an author note at the conclusion of the book, referenced at the beginning of this post. Read it first (there aren’t any spoilers) because it gives great context to the novel and it shows Moses’ personal experience as a native of Rich Square, North Carolina. In 2008, UNC-TV featured Moses on a half-hour Bookwatch segment. Read past blog posts on Moses’ work here.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2014, Children & Young Adults, Coastal Plain, Historical, Moses, Shelia P., Northampton

Monique Miller. Redemption Lake. New York: Kensington Books, 2012.

Redemption LakeAnd it was all relative when she thought about it; a person’s perception was truly their reality.

Marriage is a two-way street, and it takes plenty of effort and patience to resolve disputes and stave off conflict. Problems can erupt from a single source and branch off to create additional complications. Often, it’s tough to definitively pinpoint who is right and who is wrong. Redemption Lake covers three couples struggling to support their marriages. The spouses here have been pushed so far they can barely manage to talk to each other without contempt or anger, let alone hear what the other person is saying.

Readers of Miller’s work will recognize Phillip and Shelby Tomlinson, characters from her first novel, Secret Sisterhood. In Secret Sisterhood, Shelby and Phillip confronted their marital difficulties. After attending a marriage counseling retreat and helping with the couples’ ministry, Phillip has been tasked with leading a week-long retreat at a mountain resort for three couples, and Shelby has come along to help. Phillip is worried that he isn’t skilled enough to facilitate effective communication between the couples and guide them through their problems to a successful resolution. Based on the general profiles of each couple, this isn’t going to be an easy week for anyone.

Charlotte Knight has been collecting proof of her husband Xavier’s infidelities meticulously. She knows, in secret, that Xavier visits a number of diverse sources to stray, from the Internet to a neighbor down the street. The news of her positive STD test was the final piece of evidence that pushed her over the edge. Beryl Highgate is fed up with her lazy husband Travis. He promises to find a job and pull his weight, but he never delivers. She’s exhausted from taking care of their children, their finances, and him. Something has to change. Beryl can’t take his excuses any longer. Pastor George Jones was surprised and embarrassed to learn of his wife Nina’s hidden gambling problem. Recently, he’s found out that her addiction has affected not only their finances, but also those of his church in Greenville, North Carolina. He has to find a remedy before her gambling destroys both of their lives.

Phillip knows that there are always three sides to any story: “his side, her side, and the truth.” Novelist Monique Miller structured Redemption Lake so that readers will see the stories of the three couples from all angles. The novel is organized with brief prologue documenting the surface grievances of each couple. The remainder is largely broken up in chapters that rotate between the three husbands and Phillip, followed by the three wives and Shelby. Miller concludes with “the truth” as seen through Phillip’s eyes, observing the end of the retreat and the final outcomes among the couples. Miller doesn’t gloss over her characters and write a neat, happy ending for every couple. She sticks closer to the side of realism, where sometimes things work out but sometimes things are too far gone to fix.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under Coastal Plain, Miller, Monique, Mountains, Pitt, Religious/Inspirational, Romance/Relationship

J. J. Murray. A Good Man. New York: Kensington Books, 2013.

goodmanSonya Richardson likes a quiet life.  After ten years in the WNBA and some wise investments, Sonya has a nice income stream and a lovely home in Charlotte. But she’s living in that big house by herself and feeling a bit lonely and bored.  Out of the blue, her publicist calls to ask her to star in  “Hunk or Punk,” a reality TV show in which a bachelorette must pick a partner from dozen men vying for her hand.  Sonya knows better than to get involved, but when her publicist signs the contract, Sonya has no choice but to be “the Nubian princess” at the center of the show.

But Sonya is her own person.  Her unscripted behavior–taking off her uncomfortable shoes in the first episode, the odd “challenges” she gives the men, her unwillingness to dump suitors on schedule–make for interesting viewing. And Sonya is not the only surprisingly element in the show.  John Bond, a widower from Burnt Corn, Alabama, is the token white suitor.  John is an assistant deacon at the AME church in Burnt Corn, a deeply religious man who has been mourning his late wife for fifteen years.  He and Sonya connect in ways that the producers could not anticipate.

A Good Man takes readers behind the scene of reality TV with funny situations and crisp dialogue. It’s clear that Sonya and John are strangers in that strange land, but their faith and their self-knowledge guide them, and even some of the people around them, to a true happily-ever-after.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Mecklenburg, Piedmont, Religious/Inspirational, Romance/Relationship

Monique Miller. Secret Sisterhood. Deer Park, NY: Urban Books, 2010.

Secret SisterhoodInfertility can be all-consuming. It’s a devastating setback for couples ready to start their families. Novelist Monique Miller writes a story of three women from different backgrounds united by their struggles with infertility.

At first Shelby Tomlinson loved her job as a registered nurse with the Silvermont Women’s Center. Her patients’ happiness at their good news rubbed off on Shelby. She felt excited to come to work in such a positive atmosphere. That elation has fizzled out ever since Shelby and her husband Phillip started trying for a baby. They’ve tried for two years without any luck. Now, whenever Shelby deals with prenatal patients their good fortune depresses her. Suddenly, she feels a stronger bond with the patients who suffer from infertility too. However, her anxiety attacks, a lifelong problem, are increasing and Phillip has been distant whenever she broaches the topic of children. Shelby can’t figure out his odd behavior. Does he have a secret he’s hiding? In the face of all this stress, Shelby manages to find some hope when a patient struggling with infertility gets pregnant. Maybe Shelby still stands a chance at beating her infertility.

Crystal Shaw wants to open a day care center of her own one day. She also wants to have a baby, but it doesn’t look like that dream is going to come true any time soon. Crystal is envious of the pregnant women around her, especially those who don’t seem worthy in her eyes. Everyone around her is getting pregnant, including her sister Shanice, who already has a baby with another man and refuses to work, relying on public assistance and her “Man of the Quarter” instead.  Crystal is tired of breezily claiming that she’s not quite ready for kids. Even her work toward establishing a day care center is difficult. Spending all her time around children only reminds Crystal how she and her husband Warren, her childhood sweetheart, haven’t been able to conceive despite trying for years. Crystal starts thinking how nice a desk job might be so she could stop confronting the harsh reality of her childlessness.

When she was young, Vivian Parker made a promise to her grandmother, Eva – a promise that she has managed to fulfill, and then some. Eva emphasized the importance of an education as a priceless investment. Once Vivian earned an education, she insisted, it could never be taken away. After Eva passed away, Vivian focused all her energy on her grades and her career. She obtained her bachelor’s and master’s, eventually becoming a successful and esteemed architect with careful planning and hard work. But she’s behind on her plans for her personal life. By thirty she assumed she would be married, and then a child or two would follow shortly thereafter. Instead, Vivian didn’t get married until thirty-eight. Her husband Roland is the CEO of the company Vivian works for. Together, they’re a powerful couple professionally. But now that they’re more serious about having a baby, they learn that even though they can bankroll expensive procedures like in vitro fertilization, they still might not be able to fight time.

Faith is a central element to Secret Sisterhood. Shelby, Crystal, and Vivian turn to their religion to strengthen themselves in the midst of hardships. Miller breaks the story up, chapter by chapter, alternating the perspectives of the three main characters, although she also creates some areas of overlap and interconnection between the women during their journey to become mothers.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010, 2010-2019, Miller, Monique, Piedmont, Religious/Inspirational

Monique Miller. Nobody’s Angel. Deer Park, NY: Urban Christian, 2013.

nobodyCi Ci Jackson really is no angel.  As soon as she finished high school she jumped into a hasty marriage to a man who had no intention of being a steady husband to her and father to their children.  When that marriage broke up and Ci Ci lost custody of her children, she left rural Duplin County heading for the Research Triangle region of North Carolina, planning to start over.

And start over she did–with a new name, a new husband, and the habit of weighing all relationships based on what she can get out of them.  But she still carries a lot of hurt and anger from her earlier life and this spills out from time-to-time.  As Nobody’s Angel opens, Ci Ci (now calling herself Morgan Tracy) is about to be arrested for attempting to murder her new husband, Will.  While in jail awaiting trial, another prisoner, Desiree, offers Ci Ci/Morgan her friendship and Will visits to say that he has forgiven her, but she rebuffs their kindnesses and the religious sentiments attached to them.  Once she is again a free woman, Morgan resumes her ways, searching with a cold determination for the things that money can buy and a man to provide them.  Only when she meets her match does she come to realize that the path that Desiree, Will, and their church friends follow is the better way.

Nobody’s Angel is the latest book in Miller’s series of novels set in on near the fiction city of Silvermont, North Carolina.  For the earlier novel in the series, see The Marrying Kind and Quiet As It’s Kept.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Miller, Monique, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Piedmont, Religious/Inspirational

Monique Miller. Quiet as It’s Kept. Deer Park, NY: Urban Christian, 2011.

Quiet as It's KeptA pretty face, a great body, and a chaste attitude? Morgan Tracy seems too good to be true. Her new husband Will can’t believe his good luck in landing his dream woman. He wonders if Morgan was a god-sent blessing — after all they first met at church. Following a quick romance, Will and Morgan raced to the altar and immediately, but by accident, welcomed a baby son named Isaiah nine months after their wedding. Will doesn’t mind the jump from husband to husband and father. He’s elated when he sets eyes on newborn Isaiah. But there’s trouble lingering over him that casts a dark cloud over his happiness. Three weeks before Isaiah was born, Will got laid off from his successful, six-figure job.

Afraid that he might upset Morgan during the end of her three-month long bed rest, Will decides to delay sharing the unfortunate information with his wife who has been increasingly moody during her pregnancy. Besides, Will is hopeful that he will secure another job before he has to tell Morgan the bad news. Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, Will struggles to find a position to replace his lost income.

With Will’s unemployment, Morgan is forced to support the Tracy household, which she reminds Will every day. Seven months after Isaiah’s birth, Will is still out of a job and Morgan is just as temperamental as she was during her pregnancy. But Will attributes her continued sourness to stress at work and their financial strain. He spends his days and nights caring for Isaiah and searching desperately for a job. The toll of his marital discontent in addition to his unemployment and his constant work as a temporary stay-at-home-dad has weighed heavily on Will.

Will accepts more than his fair share of the blame for Morgan’s hostile attitude and her snide behavior toward him. Since being laid off, it seems that Will can’t make Morgan happy. Anything from his attempt to revise the family budget to leaving lights on around the house sets Morgan off.  But when her behavior grows suspicious and even dangerous, Will questions his wife’s intentions. After a few strange accidents, Will realizes that he doesn’t know all that much about his wife’s background. She’s remained closemouthed on the details of her home town and her deceased parents. Maybe Morgan Tracy is too good to be true.

Novelist Monique Miller covers topics of domestic violence, female-on-male violence, and childhood abuse. Miller’s story emphasizes Christian faith. Will is a devout Christian who attends church regularly and prays about the difficulties and troubles in his life. Although tested, Will’s faith is one element that helps him through his ordeal of unemployment, fatherhood, and marital strife. Quiet as It’s Kept delivers plenty of suspense and an interesting twist on a familiar plot line about abuse and deception. Miller is a North Carolina native who graduated from North Carolina Central University and resides in the Raleigh/Durham area.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Miller, Monique, Piedmont, Religious/Inspirational, Suspense/Thriller

Electra Rome Parks. When Baldwin Loved Brenden. Deer Park, NY: Urban Books, 2013.

when baldwin lovedFor many people, those college years are the most intense period of their lives.  Friendship are made, identities are established, and hearts are won and lost.  So it was for “The Group,” five African Americans in the 1980s attending a school similar to North Carolina State University.  Brenden, Christopher, Bria, Baldwin, and Rihanna had good times–Christopher and Bria partying and hooking up with abandon, Brenden and Baldwin falling in love, and Rihanna keeping everyone from getting too far off track.

But as tight as their friendships were, The Group came apart. In the ten years since their graduation, communications were infrequent, and face-to-face get-togethers just didn’t happen.  It’s Rihanna’s death that brings them back together, at least for a few days.  In that time the friends confront their mistakes, bad choices, and secrets. Readers learn what happened between Brenden and Baldwin, the things that Christopher and Rihanna did that made a bad situation worse, and the secret that wild child Bria was keeping even from herself.  Their few days together, mourning Rihanna and reconsidering the past, allow them to move on with their lives and for them to support each other in the good–and sad–times ahead.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Parks, Electra Rome, Piedmont, Wake

C. J. Lyons. Black Sheep. New York: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2013.

Black SheepCaitlyn Tierney likes to keep her enemies closer than her friends. In fact, she doesn’t like to be close to her friends at all. A skilled FBI agent, Tierney is a loner by choice. She pushes away well-meaning coworkers trying to bond and casual boyfriends interested in getting serious. Caitlyn isn’t much of a rule-follower. Sometimes her unorthodox approach ruffles the attitudes of more rigid agents. She suspects they would like to goad her into quitting. Tierney doesn’t have total contempt for standard regulations and textbook procedures though. She just recognizes that bad guys don’t play by the rules, so occasionally the good guys can’t either, not if they want to win.

Without friendships, Tierney’s life is her work, and she feels no regrets for committing herself fully to her job, even though it has nearly killed her twice. She is dedicated to her career despite recent difficulty that has left her scarred, literally and figuratively. However, Caitlyn is no stranger to trauma. And regardless of the physical danger and the strict protocol, she loves teaching fledgling officers. Also, her work fulfills her beloved, deceased father’s unrealized aspiration of joining the FBI.

Caitlyn grew up in the fictional mountain town of Evergreen, North Carolina. Her father, Sean, dreamed of joining the FBI, but once he met Caitlyn’s mother, Jessalyn, he abandoned his goals and became a sheriff’s deputy instead. Love overruled his ambitions. Although Sean found contentment in a future different from his initial life plan, Jessalyn never seemed satisfied with their lives. The Tierney family’s farmhouse and their small-town disappointed Jessalyn. She juggled two jobs and strove to improve their standing. When Caitlyn decided to join the FBI, Jessalyn did not approve of her only child’s career choice. Rather, Jessalyn considered it a waste of all her effort to improve the family’s stature. Needless to say, Caitlyn and Jessalyn’s relationship is strained.

But mysterious circumstances surrounding Caitlyn’s father, Sean, and her childhood friend Vonnie’s father, Eli Hale is the major source of strain within the Tierney family. After Eli was accused of murdering a Cherokee tribal elder, Sean was forced to arrest him. Like Caitlyn and Vonnie, Sean and Eli were close friends, so the arrest disturbed Sean. He argued in defense of Eli and believed firmly in his friend’s innocence. Sean’s persistence came close to costing him his job. More unfortunately however, it cost him his life. After the toll of sticking up for Eli, Sean committed suicide. Eli was convicted. And Caitlyn carried indelible scars into her future.

Now, twenty-six years later, the man Tierney holds responsible for her father’s death attempts to contact her. Eli’s youngest daughter Lena has gone missing and he begs Caitlyn to help look for her. At first, Caitlyn refuses to listen to Eli’s desperate request. Strong, unsettled memories of the past draw her into the case. Before she went missing, Lena was rooting around for evidence to verify her father’s innocence. During the unofficial manhunt, Tierney runs across a distinctive collection of clues–zoo animals, a casino, and a motorcycle club–that relate to Lena’s disappearance and her father’s strange suicide.

Before she started writing, novelist C.J. Lyons was a pediatric ER doctor. This is her second novel focused on FBI agent Caitlyn Tierney, yet it could be read easily as a stand-alone story. Lyons’ first Caitlyn Tierney novel was Hollow Bones. Black Sheep packs a surprising ending that might hoodwink even the best armchair mystery detectives.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Granville, Jackson, Lyons, C. J., Mountains, Piedmont

Ann Hite. The Storycatcher. New York: Gallery Books, 2013.

The Storycatcher“I heard tell there was a colored woman’s ghost who walked the Ridge. She was what old-timers called a story-catcher. Her job was to set life stories straight, ‘cause the Lord only knew how many were all twisted in a knot.”

Ann Hite’s The Storycatcher is a Southern Gothic that will keep readers awake at night tracing the interconnections between the different families and characters. Hite’s novel is lush, complex and ambitious in style. She splits the tale between location: Black Mountain, North Carolina and Darien, Georgia and time: the action occurs in the 1930s but there are letters and recollections from the late 1800s. Like any true Gothic, Hite incorporates paranormal elements. A few of the primary characters are no longer living. They are known as “haints” to the people of Black Mountain. Essentially, they are ghosts who are waiting for their stories to be finished.

Although the story has several voices, it centers around two young girls named Shelly Parker and Faith Dobbins. Shelly is a servant to the Dobbins family. As a rule, she dislikes the Dobbins clan. Pastor Dobbins, the patriarch of the family, exerts his influence over the town. The mountain people of the area relent before Pastor Dobbins’ divine authority. Although his title gives him power however, the locals doesn’t respect Pastor Dobbins so much as fear him. Pastor Dobbins is a fire and brimstone preacher who speaks of eternal damnation. Regardless of his theological trade, he is an evil man motivated by secrets and violence. But Shelly has greater initial contempt for Pastor Dobbins’ spoiled daughter, Faith, who orders her around on silly tasks. “Miss Prissy” Faith is “the neediest white girl,” who, in Shelly’s eyes, doesn’t lift a finger. What truly agitates Shelly is Faith’s closeness to her mother, Amanda, and her brother, Will.

However, when shrouded secrets emerge and point toward Pastor Dobbins, the girls investigate. In fact, they are forced together out of necessity. Shelly can see spirits; Faith is haunted by spirits, namely Arleen Brown who died during childbirth five years prior and was buried with her infant boy. Arleen alludes to the fact that she did not become pregnant of her own accord. Arleen occupies Faith’s body and compels the novel forward. What stories will Shelly and Faith find that are left to be told?

The Storycatcher dwells on the theme of retribution. Hite adopts a splintered narrative that features multiple perspectives, specifically six female point-of-view characters. She also braids in mountain superstitions and pieces of folklore, including charm quilts, death quilts, and hoodoo. These traditions, along with the racially-charged environment of the South during the 1800s and 1930s, reiterate the sense of interrelation and the desire for vengeance to adjust past inequities.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Buncombe, Historical, Hite, Ann, Mountains, Suspense/Thriller