Book of the Month: Paper Gods by Goldie Taylor

Finally, a book of the month! I can NOT believe the last book of the month post on this blog was in MAY. May, ya'll! First of all, let's do black church praise dance for a second. *cue shouting, screaming, and stomping the floor*. That, as you will see below, is a little aligned with the book of this month. Okay, now that we're back, I'm very excited to bring you the book of this month titled, "Paper Gods" by Goldie Taylor. I first heard of the book from Joy Behar on The View.  Actually, I just double checked and it was in fact Sunny Hostin who mentioned it as one of her summer books recommendation. 

It's a political thriller about a fictional Atlanta Mayor Victoria "Torie"  Dobbs, a Harvard and Spelman College-trained attorney and politician whose mentor, a congressman and civil rights activist, is gunned down in her presence in a historic Atlanta church. The book journeys through how Victoria and a washed-up journalist, Hampton Bridges (both of whom can't stand each other) take their individual paths to investigate a series of assassinations. When Victoria's mentor is killed, she finds a  piece of origami, a paper god, tucked inside the congressman's bible. These paper gods continue to turn up again and again, always after someone is killed. She and Bridges (though not together) each uncover a conspiracy that reaches deep into the city's political machine. 

Goldie Taylor gives us two compelling protagonists in Victoria Dobbs and Hampton Bridges. Dobbs has this seemingly perfect life: married to a surgeon and two beautiful daughters, and on a political ascent that is almost a coronation, if there ever was one. She is the protege to the murdered congressman and seen as the obvious candidate to succeed him, but Atlanta's white money in the form of a group called "The League" has decided they no longer want her.  On the other hand is Bridges, the flawed but complex character who takes on bigger than himself but remains committed to his passion for journalism. But of course, as we turn the pages of the book, we soon realize that it's all a shimmering facade and there is much more than meets the eye. 

It's a story about faith, politics, money, entertainment. Y'all know how we all know Atlanta is MESSY. Yeah, exactly. This book brings out all that messy glory raised to the tenth power. Let's start with what I liked about the book. Number one is, I appreciated the story. It's rare to see this type of story that infuses important social issues but is not preachy at all and does not take a stand. In fact, hardly do the characters themselves really take a stand. That's not necessarily good, but is a more realistic portrayal of human beings as inherently selfish. I love how the author displays her knowledge of Atlanta and the city's politics. You can tell she KNOWS the city. This can be a double edged sword and we'll come back to this below. Her political knowledge is what makes this book shine, which is not surprising given the author was in fact a campaign strategist and political news analyst.  This is a gripping book that portrays characters that feel so real, you'd actually think you know them. Hello, fierce Torie Dobbs! The dialogue is astute. The political speeches thrive and bring life and inspiration without trying too hard. That's what makes it a brilliant book. Dobbs' speeches are so good, I think the author should look into a career in speechwriting, tbh

Okay now to the other side. I think it is a little slow at first and although it does pick up the pace gradually, I have to say it may be a little lukewarm for you, depending on the type of books you like. I always say about my books of the month that I had a hard time putting them down. I didn't have a hard time putting this down.

One of the most annoying features of this book is the amount of characters embedded within its pages. Chileee. It definitely needs a character tree or something similar. The author addresses many characters by their last names, which is fine given her journalistic background, but then in the dialogues, of course, people use first names so it becomes all the more confusing.  I can't say it enough how frustrating it is to deal with so many characters in one book, most of whom had a major stake. Just before you get fully acquainted with one character, she drops another one. Related to that, why are there so many names in this book? I do not mean the sheer amount of characters. I literally mean names. Like one person could legit have like 5 different names including nicknames. And these were not names like John, Jack. No no no. Delacourte. Overstreet. Loudermilk. Overstreet-Dobbs. Prentiss. Chips. Clearwater. Haverty. Patsy Jo.  Hyphenated names. Pseudonyms. One person went by like 5 names. It all gets rather complicated.

That's not the only confusing aspect of this book. See, this book IS great. I know that. It has all the important elements that make a book....well, know, murder, race, politics, secrets, intrigue (God knows these are the things I watch on T.V.), BUT something happens along the way and it sort of feels less engaging than it should be. I just..found it a little lacking of...something. Someone said, "it didn't stick the landing" and that's exactly it.  I think it's because there was a lot of build up about a huge conspiracy and a little bit of whodonit and it is a little bit of a let down when we figure it out. I will say though that there are  other unexpected bombshells that kind of make up for it. Yet, the main conspiracy ends up being a little underwhelming. If you can read it without that build up and just ignore the idea of a conspiracy, you'll see it's a fantastic book.

Now, the actual writing. I'm again conflicted here. I enjoyed it. It's brilliant AND creative. But perhaps, a little too creative? Let me explain. It sometimes gets too flowery. I for one do not like when a book is too flowery. I find it insulting.  Actually, even when I write at work or on this blog or wherever, I try really hard to keep things simple and straight to the point.  But here is an example from this book:

Honey, you know black don’t crack, but it shole do move around.

WHAT? NO MA'AM. Just no. 

I think for me, the less flowery and the more to the point the story is, the more I like it. I am just a sucker for good storytelling without all the weird language. 

"As drunk as a henchman on a southern road in a summer."

Okay, that's enough simile to last a lifetime in one sentence. NO. let's just get to the story, please.

Now, her knowledge of Atlanta. Like I said above, it's quite nice until it isn't.  Too much knowledge can come off as esoteric when writing fiction. In this case, it is not esoteric as much as it feels like a painful excursion of Atlanta. There's just too much details about every street corner, every drive, every county, every intersection, every road. Too much. Combine this with the insurmountable number of names and then you almost lose your mind. It's worse for me because I don't skim novels, I  literally read every word and line. Imagine adding the names of churches, of buildings, of hotels, of highways, of streets, of centers. My God. At one point, she tells us the name of the trauma center within a hospital and tells us who this center is named after. That's WAY too much information getting in the way of the story as far as I'm concerned. 

We don't need to know that, "the facility situated along the downtown connector on Jesse Hill drive was less than a mile away from downtown Hyatt, a brisk walk across Woodruff Park, and through the Georgia State University campus on a pleasant day." This is an actual sentence (word for word) from the book.

COME ON. And this is not even the worst. She tells us every single street everything happened lmao. I know you know Atlanta but there's gotta be a limit. Yes, situate your novel or your story  in a setting and show us a good knowledge of that setting but you don't want us getting bogged down in unnecessary details. Give us enough to go with.  Maybe if it was somewhere else I've never been to, perhaps, but I've been to Atlanta and no shade, but I don't want to rehash the history of Atlanta. 

As a political fiction, I like that she does her best to not refer to real life people but one thing I find a little tacky is how she uses the Congressman John Lewis (may his soul rest in peace). Nothing salacious, but she does all this work to sidestep using real political figures altogether except for him and she even lumps his "character" with one of the main characters of the book, more so in the beginning parts of the book where this character has, in the words of the author, "questionable ethics".  And then John Lewis comes on the campaign trail and gives a speech. It's a little weird to me but perhaps I'm being unnecessarily protective of John Lewis? Why not make it purely fictional? Why cross that line and make it blurry, even referring to Lewis' history as a civil rights icon and leader?  Why not at least use a fictional version?  It's especially strange considering that for every other person, she doesn't refer to real life people. 

I will say I did enjoy some of the suspense towards the end. In fact, at some point, I start getting anxious for the characters. Towards the end, I also start to know the characters even more and this is something I look out for in a book: a sense of familiarity with the characters; feeling like you're part of everything going on; worrying about characters and their fate. Thats how you know it's a good book. There are also  twists and turns you could not have seen coming or predicted. It's  definitely a good book.

This story will SHINE as a TV show, because we would see more about what makes the characters tick. I really hope it gets made into a TV show, which I will certainly watch.  

In sum, political thrillers and even dramas are hard to nail down, so even attempting it the way this book does is already quite brilliant. I remember when Scandal started so powerfully and went downhill lmaoo.  Anyway, Paper Gods is an interesting story, it's complex, it's beautifully written, and I like it. And for these reasons, it is the book of this month.



If you made it all the way here, you're the real MVP and your attention span deserves an award.  Look, it's been so long we had a book of the month, you had to know the next one would be really long. Haha.

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