Desert Isle Keeper
Confessions in B-Flat
Confessions in B-Flat is a resonant and romantic novel, filled with truth and history and finely-etched details. Featuring two young lovers who are passionate about changing the world but unsure of how to accomplish their goals, the reader will remember them and their story long after finishing the book.
It’s 1963, and Atlanta native Jason Tanner is a part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He dreams of both achieving the American Dream for himself and the advancement of Black Americans everywhere, and he hopes to bring these goals to life through non-violent resistance and protest, just as his mentor Martin Luther King Jr. is trying to do. Their unifying goal: to get President Lyndon Johnson to sign the civil rights bill into law.
Anita – Nita -Hopkins, meanwhile, is a Brooklyn native. She organizes protests between working long, killer shifts as a waitress and agrees with Malcolm X’s core belief system – that Black Americans should seize power from a racist and corrupt system stacked against them by any means necessary, and should never back down in the face of the enemy. She’s been arrested in recent protest actions, a fact she wears with fearless pride. She dreams, too, of a better world as she reads her poetry to the beat of a wailing saxophone in the B-Flat Lounge. She is never without her notepad, and uses her words to further the cause.
While King respects Malcolm X’s resist-by-all-means-available ethos, he thinks it might be an impediment to getting the civil rights bill passed. X doesn’t hesitate to condemn the white devils with whom King is trying to work. So too do Jason and Anita struggle to make their belief systems work together.
Somewhat wide-eyed Jason moves to New York to help spread King’s message of non-violence, register voters and train community organizers. The first time he sees Anita, she’s writing poetry on the bus, and he’s struck by the figure she cuts. They have a meeting of the minds and soul over music – and are immediately torn apart by their differing reactions to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.
Three more months pass before they see each other again, this time in Harlem, where Jason now lives in his aunt’s friend’s rooming house. One night, Jason walks into the B-Flat, and he hears Anita read her poetry. He has never forgotten her, and is further enchanted by her art. They strike up a friendship as they share the world around them, and this slowly blossoms into romance. But as 1963 wends toward 1964 – toward the assassinations of Kennedy, X and King, toward the Vietnam War – Jason and Anita must learn to understand one another before the world and their core beliefs tear them apart for good.
Confessions in B-Flat has so many good things to say about love, faith, art, politics and family that it astonishes. A wonderful portrait of life in the early 1960s, it also provides a sweet and sometimes heartbreaking romance.
Jason and Anita are both very realistic characters. Jason is driven by patriotism and a thirst for justice; Anita’s thirst for justice has nothing to do with patriotism at all. Anita has moments of selfishness; Jason has moments of blind idealism. But they believe in the worth and goodness of their families and the people closest to them. Their romance is just the right mix of fiery and sweet, and they never allow their true selves to be consumed by their developing love story.
They’re both lacking in the friend department when they meet, but together manage to blossom and grow. Their families are great, especially Jason’s big, warm extended family.
Hill’s Brooklyn jumps to life (as it should; she grew up in the neighborhood where Jason and Anita live), and her period details are excellent as well. She does a beautiful job balancing Jason and Anita’s love story with the turbulent period in which they live, and the novel’s use of real text from X and King’s speeches, as well as archival newspaper clippings and photographs, help the reader step into Hill’s world.
Confessions in B-Flat has a wonderfully timeless quality to it. It comes with my very highest recommendation, and may it provoke strong feelings in whoever picks it up.
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Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier
|Review Date:||November 24, 2020|
|Book Type:||American Historical Romance | Historical Romance|
|Review Tags:||1960s | activist | AoC | Modern Historical | New York City | PoC|
This sounds wonderful! I’ve found that I really enjoy modern historicals. Even though I sometimes read just so that my mind would shut up for once and I’d get to think not much at all, most of the time it is good to read books that make me think and from which I can perhaps learn something new, and based on this excellent review, this novel sounds like that kind of book. Also, like Elaine S, I’m drawn to books with political themes, so I think this should be right down my alley in that regard as well.
I really hope you like it!
Great review Lisa! Thank you for bringing it to my attention. Onto the tbr it goes.
BTW – for whoever tags reviews at AAR – in “library land” any (principal) setting more than 50 years from the point at which the author wrote the book is generally catalogued/classified as “historical”. So, Catcher in the Rye, published in 1951 and set in its own time, isn’t considered historical fiction. But The Help, set in the early 60s but published in 2009, is catalogued as historical fiction. This isn’t hard and fast in the library cataloging world but it is a rule of thumb.
Just curious how is AAR is defining “historical” and “modern historical”? Thanks!
I made this term up for a blog post a while back. A modern historical is also a historical, in that it’s not contemporary for the author, but a historical specifically set post-WWII. Our other categories are much larger than a decade (Victorian, for instance, or Georgian), so “1960s” felt too small. The idea was to create a category that was analogous to those fifty-plus year terms to group books set in the more recent past.
I believe I used a decade as the cut off for how long between setting and publication.
Here’s the blog post: https://allaboutromance.com/aar-loves-modern-historicals/
This is the most relevant text:
“There’s a book you love set in 1960, but is it a modern historical? Modern historicals differ from classic contemporaries in that contemporaries were written when the setting was “now,” but to a modern historical author, the setting was “then.” If that 1960 book was written in the sixties, it’s a classic contemp. That same 1960 story written and published a decade later? That’s a modern historical!”
The idea is that you might want to read a book set in the 60s, but a Betty Neels is definitely different from Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner’s Fly Me To The Moon series, or Alyssa Cole’s civil rights novella. The 1960s tag gives you setting; the “modern historical” is meant to help you identify the tone/perspective.
Thanks for all the clarification!
I think you’ve created a good definition for AAR. It’s disappointing to me that a number of historical romance publishers use WW2 as a cutoff and then provide no category for anything set between 1945 and today. Part of it I’m sure has to do with marketing as in, “You’re calling a time period I grew up in historical? How dare you!” But couldn’t these publishers come up with a less bristly name so readers and writers can enjoy those “missing” decades in romance? I’m sure romance happened every single year!
Honestly, given how rapidly the world is changing, I would consider a story set in the year 2000 to be “historical.” Pay phones and dial-up internet, anyone? Minitel in France? The end of the golden age of late-90s sitcoms? Analog television? Don’t try to tell me that stuff’s “contemporary.” And, as I heard someone joke, “If it happened yesterday, it’s history.”
Maybe a new rule should be if a story written today is set 10-20+ years ago, it’s historical fiction- no hard feelings or accusations of old age intended. I give the historical fiction magazine Timeworn Literary Journal credit for including any story set before 1996 in its definition as opposed to 1945.
I recently reviewed an audiobook at AG of a book set in the 1980s (Forget about Me by Karen Grey). I was 16 in 1980 so calling it an “historical” felt so weird! But it can’t be called contemporary either. I like the ‘modern historical’ label; another is ‘vintage romance’ (I used both as tags on that particular AG review).
I’ve never taken the “historical” thing personally. Decades ago, my mother recognized that the historical belongings of Molly, the World War II American Girl doll, came from her own childhood. When I watch Antiques Roadshow, I often see things from the 1970s. Time moves forward! It happens!
I also feel that “historical,” in publishing is more of a perspective – similar tof the difference between a primary and secondary source. If you are writing about a time you’re not living in while writing, it becomes a historical. It doesn’t have to be that old for this to be true.
I’m so glad this was good. I’ve been looking forward to it – I love modern historicals!
Would you say it’s more of a novel with romantic elements or a romance novel?
It’s a romance novel, and the historical elements help flesh the characters out.
This sounds very interesting. It’s longer than I care to remember since I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X or the assassination of MLK, a day of horror and deep, shocking tragedy. There was so much going on at that time: Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, the church killings, the full extension, finally, of enfranchisement, etc., etc. The flip side of Gov. George Wallace, Sen. Strom Thurmond and so on. However, I also think that this may not be for those who have previously remarked here that they don’t like books with political themes and this one certainly appears to have strong feelings about that very seminal period in the 1960s which for me only increases its appeal. Good review, Lisa, thanks.
Oh yes, there are (obviously) heavy political themes in this book.
I have it and looking forward reading it soon. Thank you for the review.
Hope you love it!