Friday, May 20, 2011

Confessions of an Unapologetic Book Snob

I hate street lit.  I can't fault anyone for liking what they like.  Lord knows I have a love of a few things that no one else understands, but I absolutely cannot stand street lit.  I love literary fiction, historical fiction, a splash of chick lit, thrillers/mysteries, etc.  I'll read just about anything that causes me to think or broadens my horizons in a positive way.  If you're a regular reader of the blog, you already know that. Why am I bringing it up again?  There are two reasons.

First, I've been inundated in recent weeks with requests from authors of street and/or erotic lit.  I'm no fan of either.  I'm not from the streets, I'm not entertained by the streets and I have a hard time understanding why anyone would want to read about them.  I read as an escape from real world problems, so it's difficult to imagine anyone wanting to escape to the world of street lit.  If I want to see what's happening in the streets, I can turn on the five or six o'clock news on any given day of the week and play catch up.   To each their own, but for the authors that keep reaching out asking me to not only review their self-published work, but also purchase it to do so, please save yourself some keystrokes.  There are plenty of bloggers that would love to read your work, I'm just not one of them.

The second reason I bring this up is I watched an author on Twitter lament about the classification of her work.  By her own admission it's neither literary fiction, nor is it street lit.  However, it is generally about people in hip hop and, sometimes, that touches on the streets.  A few months ago she posed the same question about one of her past works and I noted that while some parts could be classified as chick lit, depending on who was giving the narrative at the time, other parts certainly had a touch of street to them.  But I agreed that her work was not literary fiction.

She was also concerned that because of the cover her publisher has given her forthcoming book, her book will be overlooked by book snobs such as myself in the bookstore.  Why? Because without knowing what the book is about, the cover makes it look like another typical piece of street lit.

So what's the middle ground when your work doesn't fit neatly into the already defined genres? Do authors or publishers create new genres?  Authors don't necessarily have control of the cover art for their books.  Do the marketing departments know something readers don't know?  And can the wrong cover spell disaster for a book? And lastly, am I way off base on street lit?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

#BookReview: The Grace of Silence - Michele Norris

This is the book I expected when I read Condoleezza Rice's Extraordinary, Ordinary People.  Where Condi failed me, Michele Norris came through with flying colors.  This is truly one of those books that everyone needs to read.

What originally started as a book about post-racial America following the election of President Barack Obama turned into a discussion about race within Norris' own family.  Though Norris herself was born and raised in Minnesota, which may have made for a fascinating story in and of itself, her father was from the deep south.  It's his story she tells, as well as that of her maternal grandmother and other family members.

The Grace of Silence really made me reflect on the conversations I've had with my older relatives.  While they touch on the fun times, rarely do they ever talk about the reasons why they left Mississippi (my mother's side) or Tennessee (my father's side).  There's no mention of how they transitioned from the South to the Midwest, though some would argue that St. Louis is just the upper South.  Encouraged by Norris' words, I plan to have conversations with them about growing up in segregated America and living through the Civil Rights Movement.  If you haven't already, you should plan to do the same, regardless of race.

What did you like about this book?
In listening to Michele Norris narrate her book, the pride in her voice as she spoke of her parents, grandparents, etc. was so apparent.  I could tell that this book was a real labor of love for her.  I'm glad that she was so willing to share so much of their story.

What didn't you like about this book?
I can't think of a thing.

What could the author do to improve this book?
I have no doubts that Norris' life and career are just as fascinating as the lives of her relatives.  I would love to read an autobiography from her.

Listening time: 5 hours, 48 minutes
Published: September 2010

Theme: Better People by India.Arie

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Vote for Me is a Vote for...

Literacy? Books? Book lovers everywhere?  Am I reaching here? Probably so.  Thanks to your nominations, I've been placed on the ballot for Best Literary/Author/Book Blog for the 2011 Black Weblog Awards.  I'd love it if you took the time to tip on over there and vote for me.

My category is on the last of the five page ballot.  So as you click through, take the time to vote for some of my favorites.  Black 'n Bougie is nominated in three categories: Best Writing in a Blog, Best Blog Post Series for those Bougie Bachelorette Chronicles and Blog of the Year.  Shadow and Act is nominated for Best Film Blog.  Ari over at Reading in Color has been nominated for Best Teen Blog. Urban Science Adventures is nominated for Best Science or Technology Blog.

I appreciate your votes and the time you take to visit my literary world.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

#BookReview: A Good Man is Hard to Find - ReShonda Tate Billingsley

A noted Christian lit author, ReShonda Tate Billingsley takes the leap into the chick lit/mystery genres with A Good Man is Hard to Find.  I've not read any of her Christian lit, that I can recall, so I can't say if the transition is a smooth one.  What I can say is this was an easy read, but not necessarily a memorable one.

Ava Cole has always been known as a hard-hitting journalist.  When the company she works for is bought out, she's offered a job as a writer at a tabloid.  Reluctantly she accepts and finds herself in Aruba trying to get dirt on superstar India Wright, who's just days from getting married.

As Ava digs deeper into India's fiance's background, she finds quite a few interesting details that could derail India's marriage and put Ava's life at risk.  A mystery interwoven with a love triangle, A Good Man is Hard to Find certainly holds your attention as  you read it, but you'd be hard pressed to remember what it is about a month after you read it.

What did you like about this book?
It was a quick and easy read.

What didn't you like about this book?
For some reason  Billingsley felt the need to include a younger sister for the lead character.  She added absolutely nothing to the story line and, at times, was more of a distraction than was needed.

What could the author do to improve this book?
There is potential to turn this character and her story into a series, but the author will need to dig deeper and flesh out the character.  The reader never gets to go below the surface with the lead character and so, ultimately, there's not a level of caring about her that one would find with leads in other books.

Published: March 2011

Theme: If Your Girl Only Knew by Aaliyah

Friday, May 6, 2011

And the nominees are...

The Black Weblog Awards have finally added a category recognizing book/literary/author blogs.  Often it feels like book blogs are overlooked in favor of the glitz and glam of gossip blogs and other ratchetness.  If you enjoy, I'd love it if you took a minute to click the link (Black Weblog Awards) and nominated this blog for Best Book/Literary/Author blog.  It's wayyyy at the bottom of their list, so get to clicking and get to scrolling!  Nominations end tomorrow.

By the way, if you have problems with that link, try the one they provide on the site for Internet Explorer users.

#BookReview: The Choir Director - Carl Weber

You know what doesn't work for me? Books that look alike.  Much like Kimberla Lawson Roby's bad preacher series covers, Carl Weber's covers are all starting to look alike. And you know what that means? It means I can't tell the difference between them and I'm probably less likely to read them.  On the flip side, there are probably fans of both authors that appreciate the uniformity of covers because it makes them easy to find in stores and libraries

The Choir Director is the follow up to The Preacher's Son and The First Lady.  Though I don't remember either title, at some point I read The First Lady because a few of the characters were familiar.  The fact that it took me so long to remember them didn't bode well for the book.  Simply put, the story lines are forgettable, as are the characters.

In the latest installment centered around Bishop T.K. Wilson and his First Lady, Monique, the pastor finds himself trying to put his church family back together after the stunning revelation that his married choir director had been sleeping with male choir members and was outted by his wife during Sunday service.  On top of that, the churches board of directors seems to have turned against the pastor and is determined to have him ousted as the leader of First Jamaica Ministries.  Can a choir director from a small town in Virginia really be the answer to all that ails the church?  Well sure.  This is fiction, after all. 

What did you like about this book?
As with most Weber books, this was a quick and easy read.

What didn't you like about this book?
The characters just weren't memorable, especially for this to be the third book in this series.  Outside of the pastor and his wife, I don't remember any of these characters from previous books.  Either they didn't exist or they weren't developed enough to stand out.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Much like Kimberla Lawson Roby needs to do with the Curtis Black series, Carl Weber needs to let this series go.

Published: February 2011

Theme: Backstabbers by The O'Jays

Monday, May 2, 2011

#BookReview: All Different Kinds of Free - Jessica McCann

First time novelist Jessica McCann skillfully brings the story of Margaret Morgan and her family to life in the historical novel All Different Kinds of Free, based on the Supreme Court case Prigg v. Pennsylvania.  Though the author takes creative license in some parts, it is done to fill in the gaps in an effort to bring the reader a complete story.

There are conflicting stories about whether or not Margaret was indeed a free woman, manumitted by her master upon his death; or an escaped slave from Maryland living in Pennsylvania, a free state.  According to several public records, including the county sheriff's census, her family was listed as "free blacks."  What is known for sure is that Margaret was married to a former slave that bought his way out of slavery and that they had three children, two boys and a girl, all born free. Finding herself in financial distress, the widow of Margaret's former owner sends a slave catcher into Pennsylvania to retrieve "her property," in hopes that they can be sold and bring her enough money to pay her debts.

McCann does an excellent job of capturing not only Margaret and her family's story, but also that of the widow Ashmore.  She brings the case, which really became less about Margaret and her family and more about state's rights versus federal law, to the forefront and magnifies the showdown between the North and the South.

What did you like about this book?
Before starting this book, I had never heard of Margaret Morgan and was clueless that she sued Mrs. Ashmore for her freedom 20 years before the famous Dred Scott case.

What didn't you like about this book?
Not a thing.

What could the author do to improve this book?
The author's publishing house should do a much better job of promoting it.  It's an absolute must read and very few people I've spoken with have heard of it.

Published: April 2011

Theme: True Friends and Family by Naturally 7