Category Archives: 2021 Book Reviews

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 77: Joplin’s Ghost by Tananarive Due

As a reader, you notice what kinds of books that you keep gravitating towards. Even though I’m an eclectic reader, I keep gravitating recently towards novels that are about the creative process (books, art, food, or music).  Human creativity has always been fascinating to me, because it showcases the power of imagination in interesting and unexpected ways.

Joplin’s Ghost by Tananarive Due presents creativity as a theme in the form of upcoming R&B singer, Phoenix Smalls. Phoenix is on the verge of stardom and recently got signed to rapper-entrepreneur G-Ronn’s Three Strikes Records.  Throughout the novel, I thought of Phoenix as the late Aaliyah and G-Ronn as Master P of No Limit Records.

The story begins with Phoenix as a ten-year-old at her parents’ jazz club. She dreams of becoming of singer like Janet Jackson or Madonna.  Phoenix’s hard-charging father, Marcus “Sarge” Smalls bought her a piano, and she wanted to go play something on it.  However, Phoenix’s life would change after the accident with that piano.

The novel moves forward to Phoenix’s current life on a radio tour in St. Louis promoting her hit song, Party Patrol. Party Patrol is a summer dance hit but Phoenix is ambivalent about the song’s success.  To get her mind off it, she goes to the Scott Joplin Museum to kill some time and learn some musical history.  Joplin is known as the “King of Ragtime” music and one of America’s greatest musicians.  While touring the museum, there is a mysterious presence that connects with Phoenix.  That mysterious presence will become a part of Phoenix’s life from now on.

Due takes the story back to the early 1900s as we read how Joplin tried to make a living as a musician. Joplin seems troubled about everything in his life but music. The story captures his dilemma well and connects it to Phoenix’s current feelings about her music.

Phoenix and the mysterious presence are becoming linked in ways that will threaten her career and family. I will admit there are a lot of elements I liked in Joplin’s Ghost starting with Phoenix, her father Sarge, the relationship with her boyfriend, Carlos Harris.  Those elements kept me reading.  However, I don’t know if the ghost story element using Scott Joplin as a conduit worked for me.  Due does an excellent storytelling job of making those two worlds connect.  I guess I was more interested in Phoenix and her rise into becoming a singing star.

Joplin’s Ghost is part historical fiction, part urban drama, and part ghost story that creates an interesting mix unlike anything I’ve read in quite some time.  While I may not liked the entire novel, there’s plenty I really liked and will recommend the novel for readers who are looking for something different to read.

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 76: Mama Day by Gloria Naylor

I have always been more of a backlist reader than a new release reader.  There are so many books published, and it is impossible to keep up as a reader.  However, on social media and throughout the publishing world, the new release books especially in fiction are celebrated and promoted.  I totally get it.  There… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 75: Invisible Men by Ken Quattro

Black History Month is in full swing and I have seen many social media posts recognizing the achievements of African Americans throughout the nation’s history.  However, I have always wanted to find out something that does not get much recognition or overlooked during this annual celebration in February. Invisible Men: The Trailblazing Black Artists of… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 74: Playing in the Dark by Toni Morrison

I still consider realistic fiction the standard for American Literature.  However, imaginative fiction has made significant strides in the past two decades to create its own place in American Literature. As one who prefers imaginative fiction over realistic fiction, this is a much-needed development for the survival of literature as an art form. As a… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 73: The Dark Fantastic by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

“The principles of the dark fantastic are so ingrained in our collective consciousness that when the expected pattern is subverted, most audiences cannot suspend disbelief. Readers and viewers complain that dark heroic protagonists are not likable. Critics observe that the characters, settings, circumstances, and resolutions are unbelievable. Agents regret that they just cannot connect with… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 72: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

  If your spouse was wrongly accused of rape and went to prison for five years but gets released, would you remain married? That was the question An American Marriage by Tayari Jones attempted to answer in her popular novel.  An American Marriage was selected for Oprah’s Book Club in 2018 and has been a… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 71: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

I have a question. Has there been a well-regarded or lauded author you keep trying out as a reader but have never connected with their books? Toni Morrison is my answer to that question.  I have attempted several of her books (Jazz, Paradise, and Love) over the years but have never truly connected with them. … Continue Reading