Friday, December 16, 2011

The Top Ten Absolute Must Reads of 2011

10. The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore (@WesMoore1)

It was strictly a coincidence that I listened to The Other Wes Moore the same week I was reading Patches of Grey, but it turned out to be the perfect compliment to it.  Both books dealt with young men of color coming of age and, though one was a memoir and the other was fictional, I found myself comparing the characters in both.

9. Third Girl from the Left by Martha Southgate (@mesouthgate)

There comes a time in every woman's life when she realizes that her mother is human.  I mean, logically, you know that your mother is human, of course.  And to any other observer, it's extremely obvious.  But there's a point, as a daughter, when you realize that she's just as imperfect and capable of making mistakes as anyone else.  Martha Southgate's Third Girl From the Left beautifully exposes the flaws of three generations of women who are anything but perfect.  Disclaimer: Though this book wasn't written in 2011, I read it this year and it was just too perfect not to include.

8. Roseflower Creek by Jackie Lee Miles

At times The Lovely Bones, at other times Bastard Out of Carolina, Roseflower Creek is a sad and unforgettable story.  Set in the 1950s, it tells the tale of Lori Jean.  Abandoned by her birth father, she's being raised by her mother and an abusive stepfather.

 7. Best Kept Secret by Amy Hatvany (@AmyHatvany)

Admitting failure is never an easy thing to do.  And for a mother to admit that she's failed, it can be devastating. In Amy Hatvany's Best Kept Secret the reader is given a front row seat into what can happen when a parent falls apart.

6. Tiny Sunbirds,, Far Away by Christie Watson (@tinysunbird)

Told from the point of view of Blessing, who is twelve when we first meet her, Tiny Sunbirds is the story of a Nigerian family uprooted from their comfortable existence in Lagos when the mother catches the father cheating.

5. Patches of Grey by Roy L. Pickering, Jr. (@AuthorofPatches)

In a story that at times reminded me of Matty Rich's Straight Out of Brooklyn, Roy L. Pickering, Jr. deftly weaves a coming of age tale of Tony Johnson in Patches of Grey.  And while Pickering could have taken the easy way out and strictly focused on one main character, he takes the time to tell not only Tony's story, but that of his siblings and parents as well, each as fascinating as Tony's.

4. If Sons, Then Heirs by Lorene Cary (@LoreneCary)

It's impossible to read the latest from Lorene Cary and not reflect on your family's legacy.  Whether it be physical property or simply your family history, there are things passed down through the generations for which no monetary compensation will suffice. If Sons, Then Heirs touches on both of these.

3. When She Woke by Hillary Jordan 

In this reimagined, futuristic version of The Scarlet Letter, sinners don't wear a letter indicating their crime.  They wear the color on their skin.  The need to direct funds away from prisons and to law abiding citizens has led to the non-existence of prisons.  Through a process called chroming, criminals are color coded and microchipped, allowing anyone that passes them on the street to know what their crime is and allowing the government, and anyone with a computer, to track them at all times.  Yellows  serve short sentences for misdemeanors and Blues are child molesters.  Red is the color for murder.

2. This Burns My Heart by Samuel Park (@SamuelPark_)

Easily one of my favorite reads this year, This Burns My Heart is the moving story of Soo-Ja.  As a young lady in 1960 South Korea, she longed to move to Seoul and become a diplomat.  When her wealthy father forbids her to join the Foreign State Department, she plots, at her mother's suggestion, to marry an easily pliable man who will let her have her way.  But when you try to run game on someone, there's always a good chance that game is being run on you. And while Soo-Ja thinks she's using Min, she finds that she really is not the master of her fate, as she thought.

1. Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones (@tayari)

With the opening line, "My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist," Tayari Jones skillfully pulls the reader into the world of two sisters: Dana and Chaurisse.  Told in first person by each of the sisters, Silver Sparrow is absolutely remarkable.

I hope you've enjoyed the year in reading as much as I have.  I'll be on hiatus from posting after today.  Look for new posts starting January 17.  Enjoy your holidays and have a Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

#BookReview: Busted in Bollywood - Nicola Marsh

When her romance with a wealthy, married man ends, Shari Jones finds herself without a job and without a place to live.  Her best friend, Amrita, is engaged to a man she's never met, in India.  Determined not to go through with the marriage, Amrita convinces Shari to meet him in her place.  After all, her groom has never seen her since the families arranged the marriage.  With the assistance of Amrita's wacky aunt, Anjali,  Shari is off on the adventure of a life time and finds romance where she least expects it.  From the busy streets of New York to the bustling streets of Mumbai, Nicola Marsh takes readers along for the ride.

What did you like about this book?
It was a short, cute read.

What didn't you like about this book?
I'm used to my chick lit heroine's being smarter than Shari.  Actually, I can't say that Shari wasn't smart, because her character wasn't really developed enough for me to know if she was or not.  For her to be the main character, it really felt like the author glossed over developing her and, instead, chose to focus on other characters, like Anjali.

The ending also felt really rushed and, unlike chick lit heroines who choose to marry for love or because they're headed down that path, Shari seems to have chosen marriage because she ran out of money...and the guy was loaded

What could the author do to improve this book?
There were areas that could have been funnier and other sections that could have been removed entirely.  Also, the synopsis and title would lead one to believe that a good portion of the story deals with Shari's time in Bollywood, when, in fact, it makes up very little of the story.  Perhaps a title that aptly reflects what the book is about would be more appropriate.

Published: December 2011
Disclaimer: Book provided by the publisher.


Theme: Would I Lie to You by The Eurythmics

Friday, December 2, 2011

Free for All Friday, December 2

If you missed the Black Friday giveaways last week, don't worry.  There are still quite a few books up for grabs.  I consolidated them into one list and they can be found under the Giveaway tab at the top of the blog.  Now, *cue the shooting star*

In the course of my work day, I proof a lot of documents, so the AP Style Guide and are close, personal friends of mine.  While reading Wednesday, I ran across a document in which the writer kept using predominate instead of predominant.  What's the difference? Predominate is a verb, predominant is an adjective.  Anywho, as I edited, I tweeted a grammar PSA stating the difference between the two.  @GammasWorld & @CaliGirlED immediately jumped in with SchoolHouse Rock requests.  Thanks to those two, you're being treated to "Unpack Your Adjectives" and "Verb: That's What's Happening."

As a kid, and admittedly as an adult, I loved the School House Rock series.  In my world, the only thing better than Saturday morning cartoons were the SHR videos that appeared between cartoons.  Lolly, Lolly, Lolly Get Your Adverbs Here? Conjunction Junction? I'm Just A Bill? Who needed to pay attention in school? School House Rock taught me everything I needed to know.  Which videos were your favorites?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

#BookReview: Substitute Me - Lori L. Tharp

Thirty year old Zora Anderson has floated from place to place and job to job on a whim.  Moving on when things become too much to handle, she finds herself in New York with a place to stay, but in desperate need of a job.  The college-educated daughter of upwardly mobile parents, Zora realizes that she's not living up to the goal her parents have set for her.  Even still, the former au pair in France decides to give being a New York nanny a try.

Kate Carter is headed back to work after an extended maternity leave and the search is on to find the perfect nanny.  She has regrets about leaving her infant son home with a stranger, but figures the ad she's placed will guarantee a perfect fit.

Substitute Me: Looking for a nanny who will take care of my six-month-old baby as if he were her own.  Five full days a week.  No cooking or cleaning required.  Must love children and be prepared to show it.  References required.

Raised in a working class neighborhood, Brad Carter is hesitant to bring in a nanny to watch his son, Oliver.   While his and Kate's jobs afford them certain privileges, he's unsure that this new situation meshes well with the way he was raised.  As Kate begins to work longer hours and Brad becomes more accustomed to Zora's presence in the house, it seems that the 'substitute me' is beginning to take on additional duties that have nothing to do with baby Oliver.

It's important to note that while Zora is black and the Carters are white, their races are not necessarily the central issue.  It seems to me that the issue is one woman completely giving power over her life to someone else and then questioning it when that person steps in and does a better job at it.  Kate and her mother make racially charged comments about Zora, but if they were being honest with themselves, they would realize that her race has nothing to do with the situation Kate finds herself in. 

In Jodi Picoult fashion, Lori L. Tharp has crafted a nanny story that gives the reader all sides.  Often the story is only told from the point of view of the nanny.  In Substitute Me, you really get a chance to learn the characters and understand that perception really is reality.

What did you like about this book?
It really made me think beyond the obvious.  As a black woman, I think I see race first sometimes and sex second.  This book made me realize that in this case, while race played a small part, overall it was not caused the real conflict.

What didn't you like about this book?
Zora's relationship with Keith isn't as fleshed out as I would have liked to see it.

What could the author do to improve this book?
 I don't know that I love the cover of the book.  Nothing about it screams nanny lit or anything else that would grab my eye.  If I saw it in the bookstore, I would assume it was a thriller/murder mystery just based on its darkness.

368 pp
Published August 2010 
Disclaimer: A copy was provided by the publisher.

Theme: I'd Rather Go Blind by Etta James

Monday, November 28, 2011

#BookReview: Satan's Sisters - Star Jones

Sweet Jesus, when I say people should stay in their lane, I do mean people should stay in their lane.  But I digress.  I'll get to why I said that later.

I remember all the buzz when Satan's Sisters first came out and everyone assumed it would be about  the women of The View.  Though the women are co-hosts of a daytime talk show, the similarities seem to end there.  As a former co-host is set to release her new book, aptly titled Satan's Sisters, the current co-hosts are in a tizzy over the potentially explosive information her book could hold.

None of the hosts has led a perfect life and each woman has her own secrets.  Maxine, the Barbara Walters of the show, is ruthless.  Her carefully created media persona has made her the darling of America.  Behind closed doors, Maxine will stop at nothing to get what she wants, even if she has to destroy lives and careers along the way.  Lesbian, Latina Dara Cruz loves her girlfriend, but she's not out to her family or the public.  Whitney Harlington is too busy carrying on an affair with the network president to realize her husband's wicked ways.  And Molly, the Joy Behar of the crew, has a pill addiction that's getting out of control.  Satan's Sisters threatens to expose all of their secrets and force them to come clean with the public and themselves.

What did you like about this book?
I appreciated the fact that the characters were fully developed.  Each woman's story line was fleshed out well.  In a recent appearance on The Wendy Williams Show, Jones announced that the book has been optioned as a series and will be coming to television screens in the near future.  It will be interesting to see how the book and characters come across on the small screen.

What didn't you like about this book?
Much like the agony I endured while listening to Terry McMillan narrate Getting to Happy, it was just as painful to listen to Star Jones narrate Satan's Sisters.  What could have been a four star book easily became three stars because Ms. Jones hasn't met a period or comma she liked.  With her always breathless and extremely dry voice, she rushed sentences together and added pauses where none were necessary.  Her disjointed reading made for a terrible listening experience and her snarky tone of voice did not serve her characters well at all.  Had I another audio book on standby, I would have ejected her CD from the player and listened to it instead.  With all that being said, I wonder what makes authors decide to narrate their own work instead of leaving it to professionals.  It seems to make more sense when narrating a memoir, as was the case with Michele Norris and Condoleezza Rice, though the latter's tone was drier than a camel's tongue in the Sahara.  But neither Star or Terry should try their hand at narrating ever, ever, ever again.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Just write and leave the narration to a professional.

Published March 2011
Listening time: 10 hours, 27 minutes

Theme: Segredos (Secrets) by Eliane Elias

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

An Interview with Sibylla Nash, author of Bumped

When and why did you begin writing? 
There were stories I wanted to tell and there were stories that needed to be told. I was the type of kid that always had her head in a book. I have an insatiable need to figure out the world around me by writing things down, pulling back the layers of character and asking what if? When I discovered that people could actually make a living from writing, I was all in.

When did you first consider yourself a writer? 
I’ve always written, ever since I was kid, I was banging away on a typewriter (yes, I’m dating myself) writing short stories. Professionally though, I didn’t really consider myself a “writer” until I was in my 20s and started seeing my byline in magazines.

Is Bumped your first book?
Bumped is actually my second novel, fifth book. I’ve written three non-fiction books, one of which was co-written with a friend. In fact, I’m re-releasing a guide for parents later this year – Baby Modeling & Beyond: From the Stroller to the Red Carpet. My daughter began working as a model/actress when she was a baby. I wanted to share our experiences with parents who may be considering getting their child in the business.

What inspired you to write your first book?
My first novel was DreamCity. It came out 11 years ago (eegads!!) and it feels like it was during the prehistoric times pre-social media. I had a new cover created for it and I’m updating it for a re-release in December. I wanted to write that book because I’ve always kept a journal. I loved Bridget Jones’ Diary and really wanted to create a story using the diary format. I wanted to capture the experience about an actress who moves from the east coast to the west. It’s funny because DreamCity was fictional but now I find myself really seeing that lifestyle up close because of my daughter. When I originally wrote DreamCity, I had worked in talent agencies and production companies and saw the business from that perspective.

What was the hardest part of writing Bumped? 
Bumped was a long work-in-progress. If you were to ask my daughter how long it took me to finish it, she would probably say “forever.” In the beginning, the hardest part was just trying to find the time. I was a new mom when the idea for the book came to me. As I wrestled with the time management issue, the challenge became keeping the tone consistent after so much starting and stopping. I think in one version I mentioned Sky Pagers! The other challenge was reigning in the story, trying to find its heart.

In hosting the Colorful Chick Lit challenge, I’ve found it difficult to find books about “colorful” chicks that fit into the genre. Did you write Bumped intentionally as chick lit or did you just fall into that category? 
I always saw Bumped as chick lit. Early on, when I was work-shopping the book, I had some folks say it was more literary, but I love the chick lit genre. I wanted it to be in the same vein as Shopaholic and In Her Shoes.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? 
I didn’t start off with the intention of conveying a message to my readers – I’m not a fan of books that are too message-y because it takes away from the story (in my opinion, although I have to say I did like the Left Behind series). Bumped is one woman’s journey and I hope it kept the readers entertained and enthralled. If it makes them reflect on decisions they have made, great! If it makes them give the next smooth-talker the side-eye, even better.

What books have most influenced your life most? 
Notebooks. I have a thing for journals, notebooks, sketchpads and anything bound that I can write in. I have boxes of journals and notes that have captured moments in my life and being able to write down my thoughts, plan out my dreams, it’s allowed me to be the architect of my life.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor? 
That’s a tough one, I read so much and soak in everything. I love Stephen King for his pacing and ability to scare the crap out of me, the VC Andrews Flowers in the Attic series for its high concept/hooks. I once interviewed the late LA Banks and she was so inspiring and prolific. She didn’t find time to write, she made time to write. The list goes on. I’ll read books and see how someone made a transition or how they structured their novel and it goes into a pot that I stir and will later pick out bits and pieces and figure out how I can put my own spin on it.

What book are you reading now?
It’s not even funny, I have a backlog of books stacked up in the house and on the iPad. The one that I’m almost finished with is Rob Sharma’s The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. This book has been life-changing for me because it’s helping me to regain my focus and really concentrate on what’s important. I also have an excellent book on screenwriting I’m getting ready to start called Save the Cat.

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I don’t know if they’re new, but they are new to me. I enjoyed Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones and 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter.

What are your current projects?
I have two books that I’m updating this year that I mentioned and I’m also working on a sequel to Bumped and I’ve outlined the sequel to DreamCity. So 2012 should be pretty busy.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? 
Writing can be very solitary and it’s work, some days you have to really wrestle the words on the page. It’s totally self-directed and self-motivated and the hardest thing for me is tuning out the noise of the day and really challenging myself to write outside of my comfort zone, push the boundaries of the craft and become the writer I’ve always wanted to be. Once I actually get my butt in the chair, it’s all good. It’s getting there that tends to be a problem.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work? 
We were driving past a section in Los Angeles the other day and I was telling my daughter that the homes reminded me something out of an Easy Rawlins’ mystery. I read those books years ago and even now the imagery and characters are just as vivid as the day I read the book. As an author, that’s what we all strive to do: create characters and settings that are so real, they become memories of places you’ve been, not stories you’ve read. Walter Mosley does that, he has the ability to pull you into the story headfirst.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers? 
Thank you for reading my work and going with me on this journey as an artist. I hope you are having as much fun as I am. Life’s short: Live large, dream big and love hard!

Monday, November 14, 2011

#BookReview: FAIRY TALE FAIL by Mina V. Esguerra

We all know someone who's in love with the idea of love, right?  They're living life like a Disney fairytale, walking around with birds singing in their ears and bunny rabbits and squirrels following them like Snow White or Cinderella.  And then reality hits and they realize they're not Snow White or Cinderella.  They're not even Sleeping Beauty, who I always felt was the most boring Disney princess, but I digress.

Ellie Manuel loves love.  She's lived her whole life believing that her Prince Charming exists and that he'll come along and sweep her off her feet.  Well that doesn't happen.  What does happen is she falls for her friend, coworker and current Prince Charming, Don. Though working in the same office could be a testy situation, Ellie is happy to see Don day and night, until things fall apart.

You know how when you break up with someone and you share common friends, someone gets the friends when you split? Imagine that your coworkers are your friends, your only friends.  So how does one deal with a break up where she's suddenly the odd woman out at work and in her personal life? She changes departments.

Set in Manila, Mina V. Esguerra gives readers another quirky chick to cheer for in Fairy Tale Fail.  Ellie's journey from sappy dingbat to savvy adult is an absolute pleasure to watch.

What did you like about this book?
 Like her other books, Esguerra set this book in her hometown of Manila, so readers unfamiliar with customs and the culture are introduced to new and fun facts.

What didn't you like about the book?
At times, the story line was predictable.

What could the author do to improve this book?
 Other than the predictability issue, not much.

110 p.
Published April 2010
Available in Kindle format only

Purchase: Amazon

Friday, November 11, 2011

Free for All Friday, November 11

Who else is happy it's Friday?  The time change has been killing me all week and I'm glad to have this weekend to try to correct my sleeping pattern and what not.  Before I start my weekend, let's run through the usual hodgepodge that makes up Free for All Fridays around here.

By this time next Friday, I'll be snuggled up with the new man in my life.  Though I wish this was who I'm talking about,

the reality is, I'm talking about
That's right!  Someone that feeds my addiction for books and gadgets ordered this for my birthday last month and it should arrive next Thursday.  I'm considering staying up late Thursday night to play with it so I can report back to you next Friday on whether or not upgrading from a regular Kindle to the Fire is worth it.  Meh, we'll see.  At any rate, I'm excited like

In other news, if you're on tumblr, I've started two different accounts. is updated randomly through the day with things I find of interest.  Sometimes it's literary quotes, other times it's songs, pictures of some of my favorites (like Ella Fitzgerald) or just plain foolishness.  If you follow the blog through Facebook, you'll notice that the feed there is updated more frequently.  Facebook fans get the feed from both the blog and the tumblr account.  So if you want to make sure you don't miss out on a thing, follow me on Facebook and/or tumblr.

The other tumblr account, is all about, you guessed it, my love for Idris. There's really nothing I love more than a good book, but let a picture of Driis cross my screen...let me hear that voice and I'm all

Lastly, I'd like to wish a very special birthday to @GammasWorld.  Today is her big day.  If you see her on Twitter, be sure to sprinkle her with birthday greetings.

Anywho, that's all I've got this week.  What's on your mind?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

#BookReview: Bumped - Sibylla Nash

This book has been on my radar for a minute, but I was saving it for the read-a-thon. One of the things I've learned with read-a-thons is that it's best to keep your reading material short and lighthearted.  That way you don't get weighed down with any one book for too long and you don't get bogged down with deep thoughts or heavy feelings about the subject matter.

With that thought in mind, I added Bumped by first time author Sibylla Nash to my must read list for the read-a-thon and I'm glad I did.  I recently started the Spying in High Heels series by Gemma Halliday and Bumped reminded me of that series meets Platinum by Aliya S. King.  So picture a quirky every day girl turned detective who just happens to be involved in the music scene and you've got Elle Nixon.

PR maven by day (and a lot of nights), Elle is at the top of her game.  She loves her job and she's gearing up for a promotion.  Her love life is going pretty well too, or at least it was before her boyfriend disappeared on her.  Now pregnant, disgraced and jobless, Elle is having a heck of a time trying to make sense of it all.

What did you like about this book?
Nash blends just the right amount of fun and quirky with mystery to give a delightful read for lovers of chick lit.

What didn't you like about this book?
Off the top of my head, I can't think of a thing.

What could the author do to improve this book?
I'd be perfectly happy with a series of books about Elle.  The chick lit world could definitely use a colorful chick like her.

Published August 2011


Theme: Crumblin' Down by John Mellencamp

Monday, November 7, 2011

#BookReview: The Buddha in the Attic - Julie Otsuka

Told in a collective voice that speaks for Japanese women that came to America, specifically San Francisco, a century ago, The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka is a compelling read.  At only 144 pages, it should be a quick read, but it's not.  That's not because it's a complicated read or because it's boring, but it's so good that you'll want to savor each word and each story as they come.

Broken down into eight sections, it starts with their time on the boat from Japan to America as they imagined their new  lives with husbands they'd never met before, introduced only through letters and pictures.  It covers their disappoint with some of those husbands who had promised them a solid, middle class life and instead could only offer them work, side by side, as a field laborer.

Not all were field laborers and so it also covers their time working as a maid in a private house or at a hotel.  One line in particular stuck with me, as it made me think of the way people of color are sometimes made to feel in and out of the work place. 

“One of them greeted us warmly every morning in the kitchen, but whenever she passed us outside on the street, she had no idea who we were.”

I don't work in a kitchen, but the general idea is that I have co-workers that only know me within the context of our workplace.  Should I happen to pass them on the street during the lunch hour or run into them on the weekend, their eyes pass over me as if they have no idea who I am.  So it was interesting to me that these women, other people of color, had this same observation.

This group of women also speaks about the shame, the sadness, the fear and the loss that came about as a result of the relocation and internment of Japanese and Japanese American citizens, particularly those on the west coast, in the United States, as a result of the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II.  With their collective voice we hear of how homes and businesses were lost as families were forced to leave.  Children were removed from schools and friends as neighbors stood by and watched, often forgetting about them shortly after their removal.

Though it is at times sad, The Buddha in the Attic is not a sad book by any stretch.  For me it is simply a different look at another chapter in American history through the eyes of a group that I've not been exposed to previously.

What did you like about this book?
It really forced me to think. In reading the women's stories, it made me reflect on various immigrant's stories and their adjustments to a new life.  Most fascinating was a section in which the women speak of their white employers who tell them about how they cannot trust blacks to do certain things and how the Chinese are better at this, that or the other.  Consciously, or subconsciously, it becomes the basis of stereotyping of races and creates the foundation for pitting people of color against one another based on the stereotypes taught to them by those in power.

What didn't you like about this book?
At just 144 pages, it was too short.  It ended just after the families were taken away to the internment camps and I would have loved to explore further and find out about their lives in the camps and after their eventual release or relocation.

What could the author do to improve this book?
As I said, I could have used a few more chapters.  Otherwise, it was the perfect read.

Published August 2011

Theme: Another Day in Paradise by Phil Collins

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

#BookReview: Love Your Frenemies - Mina V. Esguerra

I'm finally getting back on track with the Colorful Chick Lit challenge and Love Your Frenemies is the perfect read for it.  Set in the Philippines, it's the story of Kimmy Domingo, the girl everyone loves to hate, at least that's what Kimmy believes.

When her fiance' ditched her the week before their wedding, Kimmy took off to parts unknown.  With an occasional phone call to her mother, Kimmy let her friends and family know she was okay, but for a year she traipsed around the world trying to find herself and forget the humiliation of being left at the altar.  The wedding of her BFF has brought her back to Manila and that's not necessarily a good thing.

Faced with the same demons that haunted her before she left, Kimmy returns to a clingy and needy mother, a tense relationship with her childhood friends and blatant hostility from coworkers.  So how does she plan to resolve these problems? It's simple.  She'll cut off unnecessary contact with all of them after the wedding.

What did you like about this book?
I always enjoy reading stories from a different perspective.  Though Love Your Frenemies is chick lit in nature, it's also a short study in Filipino culture.

What didn't you like about this book?
There were a few cultural references that readers outside of the Filipino culture may not understand.  It would have been nice to have footnotes or a short glossary in the back to help bring the reader up to speed.  On the other hand, Google is always available for readers willing to do the legwork.

What could the author have done to improve this book?
Kimmy is a likable character.  I could definitely see a series based around her.  Hopefully, the author will make that happen.

Published May 2011

Theme: Do You Know Where You're Going To (theme from Mahogany) by Diana Ross

Friday, October 28, 2011 ain't for everyone

On Wednesday I touched on five elements that can make or break a book in my opinion.  Authors that get it right consistently find ways to incorporate all of the elements.  They've studied their craft and combined it with their passion for writing to produce an end product that readers love.  And then there are those other people.

You, Tyrese, I'm talking about you and your little friend Steve Harvey, along with a host of others.  Remember when Tyrese was all about this:

Oh how we loved that little chocolate boy.  When he crossed over from singing into acting, we went along for the ride.  Sure, he couldn't act (Baby Boy flashbacks, anyone?), but we were okay with that.  He was exploring new thangs and what not.  Then he crossed over into my territory and started writing books.  It wasn't bad enough that Steve Harvey convinced himself he was an author, Tyrese caught a whiff of the dollars Steve was bringing in and decided he could do just as well, if not better.  No ma'am, no sir!

Writing, or should I say attempted writing, isn't just limited to singers, rappers are also getting in on the game.  50 Cent and TI have thrown their hats in the ring and are now writing for the urban youth.  Never mind the fact that neither of them can enunciate worth a damn and I'm always tempted to turn the closed captioning on when they're on the screen. They're writing books for your children to read! 50 Cent, who strikes me as a long time bully, is writing a book guessed it, bullying.  And TI is writing about, hell, who knows? 101 Things to do Before My Next Prison Stint? 

What I do know is that it overcooks my grits to see celebrities get book deals and put out absolute garbage that the masses will consume while terrific authors languish in the Twitterverse practically begging people to buy their wonderful books.  Is there enough room in the universe for real authors and these other people, sure.  But who gets the press and the big publicity campaigns and appearances on The Today Show?  It's certainly not the authors that eat, sleep and breath their characters.

Anyway, that's the end of my rant.  Since it's Friday, I'll leave you with this for the weekend.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What makes a good book a good book

Brian over at Don't Sweat the Technique approached me about writing a post on what makes a good book to a reviewer.  I'm not a professional reviewer, just a chick that loves to read.  At any rate, I took a stab at it and my thoughts are below.

Though what makes a good book is really subjective, I’d have to say the basis of a good book is well-developed story lines; fleshed out characters; unpredictable plots; descriptive imagery and fluid writing.  Not sure what I mean?  Let’s explore a little further and I’ll give you examples of books in which authors get it right.

1) Well-Developed Story Lines
I want to know that the author has taken the time to think the story all the way through to the end.  Don’t draw me so deep into the book that I’m staying up past my bedtime to finish it, then drop me off a cliff with no warning at the end!  That’s not to say that every story needs to be nice and neatly wrapped with a bow at the ending, but I shouldn’t get a feeling that your editor told you that you only needed to write 200 pages and you quit at page 199. Finish that story.

On the other hand, don’t give me fluff. There are a million ways to say the same thing. Don’t try them all out in one book.

And please remember what part of the story you’ve already told. There’s nothing worse than feeling like I’m stuck in the movie Groundhog Day because the author keeps rehashing the same scene.

Example: Room by Emma Donoghue, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

2) Fleshed-out Characters
If you want me to like, love, hate your characters, you’ve got to tell me who they are. I’m more likely to keep reading and cheering (or booing) for characters if I feel like I know them.

Circle back to the character that you made me like in chapter three and never spoke of again beyond chapter four. What purpose did he/she serve? If she was important enough to add to your storyline initially, why wasn’t she important later?

Get me emotionally invested in your characters and I’m yours forever. However, if they’re forgettable, trust me, so is your book.

Example: Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones, The Stand by Stephen King.

3) Unpredictable Plots
Readers love twists, turns and what not. If I already know how the story is going to end, why should I bother to read it? We read as an escape from our day to day routine.  Life is, generally, predictable. Plots should not be.

Example: This Burns My Heart by Samuel Park, The Sport of the Gods by Paul Laurence Dunbar  

4) Descriptive Imagery
Unless I’m reviewing a kid’s book, there are no pictures included. The author should write in such a way that I can envision what characters look like. A really well written book will not only allow me to see the character, but hear them as well.  And if the setting for the story is magnificent/gritty/etc., I should be able to feel that from what the author has written.

Example: The Personal History of Rachel Dupree by Ann Weisgarber, The Last Empress by Anchee Min

5) Fluid writing
 Journalist and author Norman Cousins once said, “Words have to be crafted, not sprayed.  They need to be fitted together with infinite care.”  

One of the reasons J. California Cooper is my favorite author is that reading her writing is like curling up on my Granny’s lap and listening to her tell a story. Cooper doesn’t get extra fancy with her words.  She simply tells the story in a relatable, conversational, sitting on the back porch kind of way. Her storyline, her characters, her words and her imagery flow together in such a way that when the book has ended, you find yourself wishing she’d give you just one more chapter.

In contrast, some authors write so choppily that you may find yourself seasick a few chapters in. Bumpy writing will have me ready to jump ship in a heartbeat. The goal should always be to tell a story in such a way that the reader doesn’t want it to end.

Example: Some People, Some Other Place by J. California Cooper, 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter

I don’t have a degree in English or a MFA in Creative Writing; I’m simply a reader. But if these basic elements are included, I can almost guarantee that I’ll give a book a five star rating.

What makes a good book a good book for you?