Welcome to our community book reviews post! This month features 5 novels that you can find at Bookmarks. Get to know our local reviewers, who each told us either something they love about Winston, their relationship to Winston, or their favorite place to read a book in Winston!
Books were donated by Bookmarks, and we’ll post new reviews monthly.
Nobody’s Magic by Destiny O. Birdsong
Nobody’s Magic is Destiny O. Birdsong’s debut novel, and she shares several traits with her 3 protagonists. Suzette, Maple, Agnes (and author Birdsong) are all black women from Louisiana with the genetic condition, albinism, which leads to lack of pigment in the skin, hair, and eyes. The book is divided into three sections, and in each one we are given glimpses into the lives of the three women as they grapple not only with the way that albinism has affected their lives but also with their family dynamics, race, sexuality, grief and heartache and happiness. Suzette is a sheltered young woman desperate for more than her privileged existence. Maple is fierce, smart, and independent, reeling from the sudden death of her mother. Finally, we meet Agnes, an untethered, struggling academic attempting to deal with her childhood wounds. Each story takes place mainly in Shreveport, Louisiana, and there are references peppered throughout that remind us that these women exist in the same world, though they never meet or interact. Birdsong’s writing shines in the dialogue of her characters, particularly in Suzette’s novella which is heavily reliant on both the 20-year-old’s internal monologue and the conversations between her friends, who speak in AAVE (African American Vernacular English), dotted with millennial and Southern slang. Each story includes a romance, and it may be tempting to think that Birdsong’s characters rely on these men to move their lives forward, but each woman still feels wholly in control of her own story. Given that we only spend 1/3 of the novel with each woman, their characters don’t feel fully fleshed out in the end, and you won’t get all their loose ends tied up in a bow. Birdsong strikes a perfect balance in approaching each character’s albinism – it is a part of them, but not who they are. It’s exciting to see this unique experience represented, but the issues affecting these women are universal.
Reviewed by Victoria Britt (pictured above!)
My perfect day in Winston would include a long walk on the Muddy Creek Greenway, a coffee and pastry from any of our fantastic coffee shops, lunch and a stroll through Reynolda Village and meeting friends at a brewery for drinks and pizza. My favorite place to read is my own backyard.
Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo
In Sankofa, Nigerian-born Londoner Chibundu Onuzo’s third novel, Anna Graham stumbles upon a diary while sorting through the belongings of her recently deceased mother. Impelled by her mother’s death, her only daughter’s increasing independence, and her ongoing trial separation with her husband, Anna is enthralled by the diary’s contents, which reveal much more about her formerly mysterious father-figure than she ever knew. The novel intertwines passages of her father’s diary—a peek into the life of a rapidly radicalizing student and intellectual in 1970s London and the family with which he’s increasingly entangled—with Anna’s modern-day journey to connect with her father- from England to the fictional West African country of Bamana.
As Anna reconciles what she thought she knew about her father with the man she meets in the pages of his diary and his current, outsized profile, Onuzo deftly wrestles with what defines a family, how we provide for each other, and ultimately, the Ghanaian concept of “sankofa,” which encourages one to retrieve from his/her past what can inform his/her present. Vivid in its depictions of scholarly haunts of London and the beaches, markets, and villages of West Africa, Sankofa peppers hints of romance and humor into a deep probe of identity.
Reviewed by Maia Dickinson (pictured above!)
My favorite place to read a book in Winston is the Central Library’s balcony!
Wildcat by Amelia Morris
Wildcat is a contemporary novel that explores how relationships change after having a child. Leanne, the main character, experiences this with many of her relationships but especially with someone she considered a friend. When the two friends differ on how to raise their children, tensions rise and pettiness ensues.
I personally could connect to Wildcat because it is so relevant with our current world and also with being a new mother. Leanne has experienced loss with not only losing the relationship with her friend but also losing her father before her son was born and losing her relationship with her step sister. It’s not all sad, though; Leanne makes real connections with new people who support her and lift her up.
This book will really make you think about the relationships in your life and what we do to feel in control of our own lives. Definitely recommend this book for a fast, contemporary read.
Reviewed by Michelle Colbert (pictured above!)
Michelle is a book reviewer and stay-at-home mom living in Winston-Salem. She loves Camel City Coffee and Old Winston! Find her Booktube channel at Michelle’s Library.
The Lesson by Cadwell Turnbull
The Lesson by Cadwell Turnbull is a modern-day science fiction novel set in the U.S. Virgin Islands. When an alien race known as the Ynaa attempts cohabitation on Earth, world viewpoints, religious views, and moral standings clash in this multi-perspective, futuristic take on colonialism. What may be considered blessings and gifts to some are viewed as a curse and signs of end-times to others. Switching between multiple points of view allows the reader to understand the frustration, fear and fascination society encounters when the Ynaa bless them with medicinal miracles but also extreme violence when provoked. Turnbull writes in a very easy-to-digest manner, with this book being an easy “day read,” clocking in at only 268 pages. I’d recommend The Lesson as a perfect take-along to the beach this summer, especially if you’re visiting the Virgin Islands. I would also recommend this book for anyone aged 14 and above interested in alien life or Caribbean and/or slave history.
Reviewed by Alex Justus (pictured above!)
My name is Alex. I moved to Winston-Salem on a whim a few years ago and fell in love with the city and the overwhelming kindness and sense of community its residents provided. My favorite place to kick back and read is under a shady tree in Reynolda Gardens.
The Family She Never Met by Caridad Piñeiro
During the last two years, we have all longed for travel. We have missed the freedom to explore the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of new places. I, like so many of my friends, found the next best thing between the pages of a book- missives from places I long to explore.
The Family She Never Met is one such postcard, a snapshot of the vibrant culture of Cuban Miami. While fiction, the author, Caridad Piñeiro is open about the fact that this novel is somewhat autobiographical, exploring the culture of her childhood and the pain of being political exiles from the country her family calls home. The book is full of tiny snapshots of a different life: food, music, and the joy-filled chaos of family gatherings. The book aims to be a multi-generational story of family trauma and healing, flipping back and forth in time. The central conflict is the emotional fallout that haunts a family seeking political asylum in the early days of Castro. Throw in a romance and some absolutely delectable passages describing food, and you’ve got the recipe for an amazing book.
Unfortunately, like a postcard, many of the details fell flat. The characters felt one-dimensional, the family conflict at the heart of the novel was never fully explained, and the love story felt lacking. It reminded me of being a kid and smooshing my dolls’ faces together to kiss- the right parts in the right places, but the desired effect was entirely lacking.
As a travelog, this book was spot on, and now Miami is on my bucket list! As a mental vacation, the novel left me craving something more, kind of like the buttered toast I had for breakfast compared with the mysteriously magical tostadas Cubanos the characters dipped in their café con leche throughout the book.
Reviewed by Marissa Joyce (pictured above!)
Marissa Joyce is an avid reader who is a lifetime fan girl of the Reynolda Manor Branch Library. Her ideal afternoon would be spent under a tree in a hammock, in the sunshine, with an utterly delicious book.