Wednesday, November 2, 2016

#BookReview: THE MOTHERS by Brit Bennett

Much has been made about the debut novel from Brit Bennett and, quite honestly, I’m not sure why. Recognizing that everything isn’t for everyone, I still find it difficult to get excited over what reminds me of a mashup of Christian lit author Reshonda Tate Billingsley and a lesser version of Tina McElroy Ansa. And while I appreciate Tate Billingsley for what she brings to the table and loved McElroy Ansa’s work in the 90s, surely we’ve progressed beyond rehashing overly familiar story lines.

At 17, Nadia Turner is mourning her recently deceased mother, her father’s inability to communicate with her, and her lack of any lasting human connections. Enter Luke Sheppard, a 21 year old preacher’s son – the same preacher of the church her family has attended for as long as she can remember. Nadia is ripe for the picking, but what is Luke’s excuse for getting tangled up with a minor?

His promising football career ended in college, Luke returned to town to lick his wounds. He’s had a few years to get himself together, though he still hasn’t. For now, he’s content to wait tables at a local restaurant. Nadia sees beyond Luke’s limp and his destroyed dreams. He feels important when he’s with her, but not so important that he wants anyone to know he’s seeing Nadia.

It wouldn’t do for the preacher’s son to be seen around town with the local wild child, never mind that her wildness is the direct result of losing her mother and, in effect, her father. The mothers of the church’s tongues are always wagging and news like this would set them on edge. But instead of reaching out to Nadia lovingly and setting her on the right path, she’s judged from beginning to end by all of them, including Luke’s mother.

Love triangles, maturity and distance move the book and characters forward, but at no point does it ever become interesting enough to become a page turner. I guess I kept waiting for something earth shattering to happen, for some revelation to be made, but neither happened. This wasn’t even an average read, just a recycled narrative that’s played itself out far too many times in literature for anyone to get excited by it.

288 p.
Published: October 2016

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

#BookReview: SMALL GREAT THINGS by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult just might be woke af. While reading her latest, I realized that she didn't write this book for me or any other person of colour that's the victim of daily microaggressions from well-intentioned friends, coworkers, family members or perfect strangers. Jodi Picoult wrote this book because she finally gets it.

Small Great Things, as all other Picoult novels, tells a story from the points of view of several characters. In the past, her books have touched upon teen pregnancy (The Pact), a child birthed specifically to save her older sister (My Sister's Keeper), a former Nazi soldier hiding in plain sight (The Storyteller), and a number of other topics. What I've always admired, and sometimes been annoyed by, is how deeply Picoult is willing to delve into a topic. It's obvious that she did her homework before tackling race in her latest.

Ruth Jefferson has always played by the rules. As a black woman born and raised in Harlem, she's always fought to be an exemplary person. More importantly, an exemplary black woman. While her sister resisted that role, Ruth excelled first in public school, then in private school. Years later, she's a graduate of Yale Nursing school. Within the cocoon of campus, she's a brilliant student, period. Outside of that bubble, she's the black woman on the bus that white people look past when searching for a seat, even though there's usually one available next to her. Carrying her Yale coffee cup around acts as her shield, a notice, if you will, to the rest of the world that she's a safe black person, she's not like those other people.

Turk Bauer doesn't like blacks, Jews, lesbians, Asians or anyone else that isn't a straight white person. Once upon a time he might have tolerated them, but his upbringing and subsequent events changed that. When he and his wife, white supremacists, give birth at a local hospital, he's already on edge worrying about their newborn son. His anxiety is only magnified when Ruth Jefferson walks into their room. And what happens next becomes Ruth's wake up call. Black is black is black.

Kennedy McQuarrie fancies herself a liberal at heart and defender of the defenseless. When Ruth's case falls in her lap, Kennedy refuses to believe that race has played a part in Ruth being charged and arrested. She refuses to believe race has anything to do with Ruth being the only nurse of color in her unit with seniority who has only been promoted once in 20 years, despite her glowing reviews. And she refuses to believe that the hospital has thrown Ruth under the bus because of her color. Kennedy refuses to see race in anything simply because she doesn't have to. And that gets right to the heart of Picoult's point.

As a black woman, it can be exhausting trying to explain microaggressions to people that don't notice or claim not to notice them. Being followed around stores, the look of surprise when someone you've only talked to on the phone realizes you're black when you see them in person, the assumption that you got into an institution simply because of your color - Picoult hits on all of these things and more as Ruth becomes Kennedy's personal guide to what day to day life looks like as a person of color. Ruth teaches these lessons not because they're fun, but because she's fighting to save her life.

It's been awhile since a Jodi Picoult novel has hit so close to home, and I've read almost all of her books. As I said earlier, though race plays a huge role in Small Great Things, she didn't write this book for me. Those things that Ruth experiences, that's my daily life. More than anything, Picoult wrote this novel to open the eyes of those people that don't know this experience, white people in particular. I can only hope that those people that need to learn and understand how their actions and interactions affect others read it and take it to heart.

480 p.
Published: October 2016

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Friday, October 7, 2016

New Books Coming Your Way, October 11, 2016

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
Fiction; China

Master storyteller Madeleine Thien takes us inside an extended family in China, showing us the lives of two successive generations—those who lived through Mao’s Cultural Revolution and their children, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square. At the center of this epic story are two young women, Marie and Ai-Ming. Through their relationship Marie strives to piece together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver, seeking answers in the fragile layers of their collective story. Her quest will unveil how Kai, her enigmatic father, a talented pianist, and Ai-Ming’s father, the shy and brilliant composer, Sparrow, along with the violin prodigy Zhuli were forced to reimagine their artistic and private selves during China’s political campaigns and how their fates reverberate through the years with lasting consequences.

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Wannabe Hoochie Mama Gallery of Realities' Red Dress Code: New and Selected Poems by Thylias Moss

A poet whose innovations have influenced generations of writers, Thylias Moss is a sort of taxonomist-preacher, whose profound meditation on American culture underlies and propels the dazzling lyrical and impassioned passages she writes in outraged response. This new volume gathers together substantial selections from her previous books and follows them with more than fifty pages of daring new work. Whether in early poems or more recent output, Moss make no promises of smooth sailing: even when they begin with beloved cultural icons (Robert Frost, Dr. Who, the Statue of Liberty), her poems spiral outward, insisting on new perspectives, truths, and realities—particularly of African American experience.

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Gone 'Til November: A Journal of Rikers Island by Lil Wayne
Non-fiction; memoir

In 2010, recording artist Lil Wayne was at the height of his career. A fixture in the rap game for over a decade, Lil Wayne (aka Weezy) had established himself as both a prolific musician and a savvy businessman, smashing long-held industry records, winning multiple Grammy awards, and signing up-and-coming talent like Drake and Nicki Minaj to his Young Money label. All of this momentum came to a halt when he was convicted of possession of a firearm and sentenced to a year-long stay at Rikers Island. Suddenly, the artist at the top of his game was now an inmate at the mercy of the American penal system.

At long last, Gone 'Til November reveals the true story of what really happened while Wayne was behind bars, exploring everything from his daily rituals to his interactions with other inmates to how he was able to keep himself motivated and grateful. Taken directly from Wayne’s own journal, this intimate, personal account of his incarceration is an utterly humane look at the man behind the artist.

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Precious and Grace: No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
by Alexander McCall Smith
Mystery; Botswana

Changes are afoot at the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, where Mma Makutsi, who has recently been promoted to co-director, has been encouraging Mma Ramotswe to update to more modern office practices. However, an unusual case will require both of them to turn their attention firmly to the past. A young Canadian woman who spent her early childhood in Botswana requests the agency’s help in recovering important pieces of her life there. With only a faded photograph—and, of course, some good old-fashioned detective skills—to guide them, Precious and Grace set out to locate the house that the woman used to live in and the caretaker who looked after her many years ago. But when the journey takes an unexpected turn, they are forced to consider whether some lost things may be better off unfound.

Busy as she is with this challenging investigation, Mma Ramotswe can always be relied on to come to the aid of her friends—who seem to have a special knack for landing in hot water. Mr. Polopetsi, an occasional assistant at the agency, has made an ill-advised business decision that may lead to serious trouble. And next door at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, Fanwell, the junior mechanic, has become helplessly attached to a stray dog who proves to be a bigger responsibility than he can handle. With Mma Makutsi by her side, Mma Ramotswe dispenses help and sympathy with the graciousness and warmth for which she is so well known, and everyone is led to surprising insights into the healing power of compassion, forgiveness, and new beginnings.

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Around the Way Girl by Taraji P. Henson
Non-fiction; memoir

With a sensibility that recalls her beloved screen characters, including Yvette, Queenie, Shug, and the iconic Cookie from Empire, yet is all Taraji, the screen actress writes of her family, the one she was born into and the one she created. She shares stories of her father, a Vietnam vet who was bowed but never broken by life's challenges, and of her mother who survived violence both in the home and on DC's volatile streets. Here too she opens up about her experiences as a single mother, a journey some saw as a burden but which she saw as a gift.

Around the Way Girl is also a classic actor’s memoir in which Taraji reflects on the world-class instruction she received at Howard University and the pitfalls that come with being a black actress. With laugh-out-loud humor and candor, she shares the challenges and disappointments of the actor’s journey and shows us that behind the red carpet moments, she is ever authentic. She is at heart just a girl in pursuit of her dreams.

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Never Look an American in the Eye: A Memoir of Flying Turtles, Colonial Ghosts, and the Making of a Nigerian American by Okey Ndibe
Memoir; Nigeria

Okey Ndibe’s funny, charming, and penetrating memoir tells of his move from Nigeria to America, where he came to edit the influential—but forever teetering on the verge of insolvency—African Commentary magazine. It recounts stories of Ndibe’s relationships with Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, and other literary figures; examines the differences between Nigerian and American etiquette and politics; recalls an incident of racial profiling just thirteen days after he arrived in the US, in which he was mistaken for a bank robber; considers American stereotypes about Africa (and vice-versa); and juxtaposes African folk tales with Wall Street trickery. All these stories and more come together in a generous, encompassing book about the making of a writer and a new American.

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A Greater Music by Bae Suah
Fiction; Korean German

Near the beginning of A Greater Music, the narrator, a young Korean writer, falls into an icy river in the Berlin suburbs, where she's been housesitting for her on-off boyfriend Joachim. This sets into motion a series of memories that move between the hazily defined present and the period three years ago when she first lived in Berlin. Throughout, the narrator's relationship with Joachim, a rough-and-ready metalworker, is contrasted with her friendship with a woman called M, an ultra-refined music-loving German teacher who was once her lover.

A novel of memories and wandering, A Greater Music blends riffs on music, language, and literature with a gut-punch of an emotional ending, establishing Bae Suah as one of the most exciting novelists working today.

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Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
Short stories; Arab

Award-winning novelist Randa Jarrar's new story collection moves seamlessly between realism and fable, history and the present, capturing the lives of Muslim women and men across myriad geographies and circumstances. With acerbic wit, deep tenderness, and boundless imagination, Jarrar brings to life a memorable cast of characters, many of them "accidental transients"a term for migratory birds who have gone astrayseeking their circuitous routes back home. Fierce and feeling, Him, Me, Muhammad Ali is a testament to survival in the face of love, loss, and displacement.

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Friday, September 30, 2016

New Books Coming Your Way, October 4, 2016

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang
Fiction; Chinese-American

Charles Wang is mad at America. A brash, lovable immigrant businessman who built a cosmetics empire and made a fortune, he’s just been ruined by the financial crisis. Now all Charles wants is to get his kids safely stowed away so that he can go to China and attempt to reclaim his family’s ancestral lands—and his pride.

Charles pulls Andrew, his aspiring comedian son, and Grace, his style-obsessed daughter, out of schools he can no longer afford. Together with their stepmother, Barbra, they embark on a cross-country road trip from their foreclosed Bel-Air home to the upstate New York hideout of the eldest daughter, disgraced art world it-girl Saina. But with his son waylaid by a temptress in New Orleans, his wife ready to defect for a set of 1,000-thread-count sheets, and an epic smash-up in North Carolina, Charles may have to choose between the old world and the new, between keeping his family intact and finally fulfilling his dream of starting anew in China.

Outrageously funny and full of charm, The Wangs vs. the World is an entirely fresh look at what it means to belong in America—and how going from glorious riches to (still name-brand) rags brings one family together in a way money never could.

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"All the Real Indians Died Off": And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans 
by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz & Dina Gilio-Whitaker
Social Science; Native American Studies

In this enlightening book, scholars and activists Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker tackle a wide range of myths about Native American culture and history that have misinformed generations. Tracing how these ideas evolved, and drawing from history, the authors disrupt long-held and enduring myths such as:

“Columbus Discovered America”
“Thanksgiving Proves the Indians Welcomed Pilgrims”
“Indians Were Savage and Warlike”
“Europeans Brought Civilization to Backward Indians”
“The United States Did Not Have a Policy of Genocide”
“Sports Mascots Honor Native Americans”
“Most Indians Are on Government Welfare”
“Indian Casinos Make Them All Rich”
“Indians Are Naturally Predisposed to Alcohol”

Each chapter deftly shows how these myths are rooted in the fears and prejudice of European settlers and in the larger political agendas of a settler state aimed at acquiring Indigenous land and tied to narratives of erasure and disappearance. Accessibly written and revelatory, “All the Real Indians Died Off” challenges readers to rethink what they have been taught about Native Americans and history.

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Same Family, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America's Diverse Families by Lori L. Tharps
Family & relationships; Multicultural

Colorism and color bias—the preference for or presumed superiority of people based on the color of their skin—is a pervasive and damaging but rarely openly discussed phenomenon. In this unprecedented book, Lori L. Tharps explores the issue in African American, Latino, Asian American, and mixed-race families and communities by weaving together personal stories, history, and analysis. The result is a compelling portrait of the myriad ways skin-color politics affect family dynamics in the United States.

Tharps, the mother of three mixed-race children with three distinct skin colors, uses her own family as a starting point to investigate how skin-color difference is dealt with. Her journey takes her across the country and into the lives of dozens of diverse individuals, all of whom have grappled with skin-color politics and speak candidly about experiences that sometimes scarred them. From a Latina woman who was told she couldn’t be in her best friend’s wedding photos because her dark skin would “spoil” the pictures, to a light-skinned African American man who spent his entire childhood “trying to be Black,” Tharps illuminates the complex and multifaceted ways that colorism affects our self-esteem and shapes our lives and relationships. Along with intimate and revealing stories, Tharps adds a historical overview and a contemporary cultural critique to contextualize how various communities and individuals navigate skin-color politics.

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Birth of a Dream Weaver: A Writer's Awakening
by Ngugi wa Thiong'o
Biography; Kenya/Uganda

Birth of a Dream Weaver charts the very beginnings of a writer’s creative output. In this wonderful memoir, Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o recounts the four years he spent in Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda—threshold years where he found his voice as a playwright, journalist, and novelist, just as Uganda, Kenya, Congo, and other countries were in the final throes of their independence struggles.

James Ngugi, as he was known then, is haunted by the emergency period of the previous decade in Kenya, when his friends and relatives were killed during the Mau Mau Rebellion. He is also haunted by the experience of his childhood in a polygamous family and the brave break his mother made from his father’s home. Accompanied by these ghosts, Ngugi begins to weave stories from the fibers of memory, history, and a shockingly vibrant and turbulent present.

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You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson
Humor; Essays

Phoebe Robinson is a stand-up comic, which means that, often, her everyday experiences become points of comedic fodder. And as a black woman in America, she asserts, sometimes you need to have a sense of humor to deal with the nonsense you are handed every day. Robinson has experienced her fair share over the years: she’s been unceremoniously relegated to the role of “the minority friend,” as if she is somehow the authority on all things racial; she’s been questioned about her love of U2 and Billy Joel (“isn’t that…white people music?”); she’s been called “uppity” for having an opinion in the workplace; she’s been followed around stores by security guards; and yes, people do ask her whether they can touch her hair all. the. time. Now, she’s ready to take these topics to the page. As personal as it is political, You Can’t Touch My Hair is an utterly modern essay collection: one that examines our cultural climate and skewers our biases, all told from Robinson’s singularly witty point of view.

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Blackness Is Burning: Civil Rights, Popular Culture, and the Problem of Recognition by TreaAndrea M. Russworm
Pop Culture; Criticism

Blackness Is Burning is one of the first books to examine the ways race and psychological rhetoric collided in the public and popular culture of the civil rights era. In analyzing a range of media forms, including Sidney Poitier’s popular films, black mother and daughter family melodramas, Bill Cosby’s comedy routine and cartoon Fat Albert, pulpy black pimp narratives, and several aspects of post–civil rights black/American culture, TreaAndrea M. Russworm identifies and problematizes the many ways in which psychoanalytic culture has functioned as a governing racial ideology that is built around a flawed understanding of trying to "recognize" the racial other as human.

The main argument of Blackness Is Burning is that humanizing, or trying to represent in narrative and popular culture that #BlackLivesMatter, has long been barely attainable and impossible to sustain cultural agenda. But Blackness Is Burning makes two additional interdisciplinary interventions: the book makes a historical and temporal intervention because Russworm is committed to showing the relationship between civil rights discourses on theories of recognition and how we continue to represent and talk about race today. The book also makes a formal intervention since the chapter-length case studies take seemingly banal popular forms seriously. She argues that the popular forms and disreputable works are integral parts of our shared cultural knowledge.

Blackness Is Burning’s interdisciplinary reach is what makes it a vital component to nearly any scholar’s library, particularly those with an interest in African American popular culture, film and media studies, or psychoanalytic theory.

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Traveling Soul: The Life of Curtis Mayfield by Todd Mayfield

Curtis Mayfield was one of the seminal vocalists and most talented guitarists of his era. But perhaps more important is his role as a social critic, and the vital influence his music had on the civil rights movement. "People Get Ready" is the black anthem of the 1960s, and on his soundtrack to the 1972 movie Super Fly, rather than glorifying the blaxploitation imagery of the film, Mayfield wrote and sang one of the most incisive audio portraits of black America on record.

In Traveling Soul, Todd Mayfield tells his famously private father’s story in riveting detail. Born into dire poverty, raised in the slums of Chicago, Curtis became a musical prodigy, not only singing like a dream but also growing into a brilliant songwriter. In the 1960s he became a pioneer, opening his own label and production company and working with many other top artists, including the Staple Singers. Curtis’s life was famously cut short by an accident that left him paralyzed, but in his declining health he received the long-awaited recognition of the music industry.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

#BookReview: TRAIL OF ECHOES by Rachel Howzell Hall

The only thing I love better than binge watching a good show on Netflix is binge reading a good series. In June, a publicist reached out to me asking if I’d be interested in reading the latest from Rachel Howzell Hall, a series that focused on a black, female homicide detective in Los Angeles. I’d seen a few of my fellow book bloggers mention the author before, but since I hadn’t read the previous books in the series, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to read the author’s latest. Lucky for me, the publicist offered to send not only the most recent book, but the backlist, as well.

Readers are first introduced to tough, homicide detective Elouise "Lou" Norton in Land of Shadows. Working the homicide of a teen found strangled near a construction site brings back memories of Lou’s own sister that went missing years ago. As Lou deals with her new partner and her crumbling marriage to a video game designer, she’s on a personal mission to not only find the person or persons that killed Monique Darson, but also justice for her sister, Tori.

Skies of Ash, the second book in the series, finds Lou investigating a fire-related homicide. Cheating spouses, nosy neighbors and secretive friends make it difficult for Lou and Colin, her partner, to get the job done. Though the fire could be the work of a serial arsonist, it could have just as well have been a coverup for murder. And when Lou is personally affected by the job, all hell breaks loose.

My favorite of the series so far is definitely the most recent, Trail of Echoes, for a number of reasons. Lou has finally settled into her partnership with Colin, who transferred from serene Colorado to the mean streets of Los Angeles, and she’s got a new man. It’s about time she gets some happy. But just like a Shonda Rhimes character, happy doesn’t last always. Sometimes it doesn’t even last until the next commercial break.

Lou’s long lost daddy turns up on her doorstep demanding her attention. Her mother is beside herself wondering what his return could mean to her new relationship. Lou is camping out at her friend’s house while going through her own divorce. And now, someone is killing young black girls with promising futures from the Jungle. A product of the low-income, crime-infested area commonly referred to as the Jungle herself, Lou takes the disappearance of these girls more seriously than the average detective.

But, like I said, Lou has a lot going on herself. The friend she happens to be living with is also an editor at a local paper. She’s always trusted her friend, but can she trust her not to print articles about her case? Her new man understands her line of work, he doesn’t frown when she has to cut dates short because she’s been called to the scene of a homicide, but can she trust him to be faithful? And what in the hell does her father want?

There are a lot of twists and turns in all of the Elouise Norton books. Howzell Hall definitely keeps readers on their toes and ready for more. I’ve already added the next book in the series to my to-be-read list. I just hate that I’ll have to wait until August of next year to read it.

318 p.
Published: June 2016
Disclaimer; Copy of books received from publisher; opinions are my own.

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Friday, September 23, 2016

New Books Coming Your Way, September 27, 2016

A Change of Heart by Sonali Dev
352 p. (Fiction; India)

Dr. Nikhil ’Nic’ Joshi had it all—marriage, career, purpose. Until, while working for Doctors Without Borders in a Mumbai slum, his wife, Jen, discovered a black market organ transplant ring. Before she could expose the truth, Jen was killed.

Two years after the tragedy, Nic is a cruise ship doctor who spends his days treating seasickness and sunburn and his nights in a boozy haze. On one of those blurry evenings on deck, Nic meets a woman who makes a startling claim: she received Jen’s heart in a transplant and has a message for him. Nic wants to discount Jess Koirala’s story as absurd, but there’s something about her reckless desperation that resonates despite his doubts.

Jess has spent years working her way out of a nightmarish life in Calcutta and into a respectable Bollywood dance troupe. Now she faces losing the one thing that matters—her young son, Joy. She needs to uncover the secrets Jen risked everything for; but the unforeseen bond that results between her and Nic is both a lifeline and a perilous complication.

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Holiday Temptation by Donna Hill, Farrah Rochon & K.M. Jackson
384 p. (Fiction; romance)

’Tis the season to satisfy your holiday desires with this festive trio of sexy stories…

Drama professor Traci Long spends her free time at the CoffeeMate café, pursuing her true passion—writing her own plays. Meanwhile, sexy barista Noah Jefferson is doing his best to distract her. But once they get involved, past betrayals make Traci wary. She’s right that Noah is keeping something from her—but it might be something that will make this Christmas as sweet as a rave review—and steamier than her favorite chai latté…

A Christmas-time tragedy took photographer Miranda Lawson’s holiday spirit with it. Since then, she’s traveled the world, determined to outrun her demons. This year she’s off to Istanbul. But the scenery isn’t the only gorgeous site she spots through her camera lens….Kyle Daniels loves Christmas, but he’s looking for escape too—and soon he and Miranda find it in each other’s arms. Yet their connection doesn’t end there. Maybe staying put isn’t such a bad idea after all—especially when there’s someone to celebrate with…

Unstoppable real-estate developer Ross Montgomery is under orders to get some holiday R&R. A cruise to Miami on his yacht, “The Serenity,” is the perfect place to start—especially when he meets his new personal chef, Essie Bradford. Between her calming presence, her amazing food, and her delectable beauty, Ross just might develop a taste for the good life. And when the two discover they have a lot in common—including an irresistible attraction—the next course may be a spicy New Year…

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Tanya Tania by Antara Ganguli
224 p. (Fiction; India/Pakistan)

The first letter in Tanya Tania a novel in letters, is from Tanya Tilati, a Pakistani student at an American university, in the winter of 1996. The letter is to Tania Ghosh, her mother’s best friend’s daughter in Bombay, India. Except this is not her first letter. Tanya and Tania wrote thirty-eight letters to each other between the summer of 1991 and January 8, 1992 when they abruptly stopped. Until now.

It is 1991. Mangoes, biker shorts, and liberalization are in. Hips, boom boxes, and Whitney Houston are out. The letters reveal mysteries at home and hazards at school. They introduce two young women who work at the homes of the two girls. Chhoti Bibi has been sent to Tanya’s house because she bit her husband on her wedding night. Nusrat, a mute girl who washes dishes at Tania’s house, listens intently to her diatribes, makes funny faces in the mirror and looks grave when Tania talks about her bad-ass boyfriend.

The letters begin to reflect growing uncertainty in India and Pakistan. In Tanya’s house, her American mother has gone from quiet to silent. Tania is terrified her father is having an affair. But then something happens that makes these heartaches pale. Nusrat disappears.

Through an unlikely friendship between two girls coming of age in two countries that are coming of age, Tanya Tania makes us question identity: Indian and Pakistani, Hindu and Muslim, rich and poor, educated and uneducated.

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Sing for Your Life: A Story of Race, Music, and Family
by Daniel Bergner
320 p. (Non-fiction; biography)

Ryan Speedo Green had a tough upbringing in southeastern Virginia: his family lived in a trailer park and later a bullet-riddled house across the street from drug dealers. His father was absent; his mother was volatile and abusive.

At the age of twelve, Ryan was sent to Virginia's juvenile facility of last resort. He was placed in solitary confinement. He was uncontrollable, uncontainable, with little hope for the future.

In 2011, at the age of twenty-four, Ryan won a nationwide competition hosted by New York's Metropolitan Opera, beating out 1,200 other talented singers. Today, he is a rising star performing major roles at the Met and Europe's most prestigious opera houses.

Sing for Your Life chronicles Ryan's suspenseful, racially charged and artistically intricate journey from solitary confinement to stardom. Daniel Bergner takes readers on Ryan's path toward redemption, introducing us to a cast of memorable characters--including the two teachers from his childhood who redirect his rage into music, and his long-lost father who finally reappears to hear Ryan sing. Bergner illuminates all that it takes--technically, creatively--to find and foster the beauty of the human voice. And Sing for Your Life sheds unique light on the enduring and complex realities of race in America.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

#BookReview: BEACH THING by D.L. White

Who among us hasn’t dipped our toes in a friends with benefits situation only to find ourselves falling just a little bit for the person we swore was just a temporary thing, or as my friends and I called it in college, something to do. You know how it is. The summer comes upon us, the sun is out, days are longer and you’re feeling good about life. Finding someone to do the horizontal hokey pokey with on those warm summer nights is an added bonus. (I’m talking about single people. You married people need to go get your groove on with your spouse.) Summer flings are great, right? No long-term commitment, just three short months of bliss and then you go on your merry way and I go on mine. Or do I? Author D.L. White tackles this very topic in her latest, Beach Thing.

Ameenah Porter has left the mean streets of New York behind for a simpler life on Black Diamond Isles. Actually, life in New York wasn’t that mean. The daughter of well-respected restauranteurs, Ameenah has been groomed to take over the family business. However, she’d rather move to Black Diamond into the house her grandmother left her and start her own business on the board walk.

Wade Marshall is a super producer for one of the hottest rappers in the game, hopefully not one that insists on shouting his name out in every song he produces though. (I’m looking at your Diddy, DJ Khaled, Rodney Jerkins, etc. Y’all know who you are.) He’s come to Black Diamond to work on some beats while his most important artist, and best friend, Gage Coleman takes a vacation in Jamaica with his family. Wade has never been the long-term relationship man. He can barely tolerate women spending the night and keeps an arsenal of excuses on hand. But the day he bumps into Ameenah Porter coming out of Tikis & Cream, everything changes.

I’ve told you all repeatedly that I don’t do romance. Very few authors keep my interest because their story lines are so formulaic, but D. L. White creates great characters and give them even better story lines. Her character interactions feel authentic and not forced. Beach Thing is a perfect read for the beach or otherwise and I’d love to see more from the characters. I’ve already whined to the author about the possibility of a book two or three. Much like Farrah Rochon makes me want to pick up and move to the small Louisiana towns in her Bayou Dreams series, D. L. White has me ready to pack my bags for Black Diamond Isles.

147 p.
Published: September 2016
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from author, opinions are my own.

Purchase: Amazon

Friday, September 16, 2016


I enjoy a good mystery every now and then but I really love them when they involve kick ass women. The 70s brought us Cleopatra Jones on the big screen. A secret agent for the government, she was fierce enough to pose as a model while bringing corrupt men and women to their knees. A recent binge reading of Rachel Howzell Hall’s Elouise “Lou” Norton’s books brought to mind some other fierce women detectives, private investigators and just flat out nosy women that have entertained me over the years.

Blanche White, the star of Barbara Neely’s series, is a housekeeper and cook with a penchant for sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong. Using her own personal invisibility cloak of being a black, female, domestic worker, Blanche often goes unnoticed, allowing her to get the dirt on everything and everyone around her. There are only four books in the Blanche series, but she’s an unforgettable character.

The Mali Anderson mysteries by Grace F. Edwards is one of my favorite series. With the first book, If I Should Die, published in 1997, I was hooked. Through Edwards' writing readers were introduced to former cop, Mali Anderson, her jazz loving father and the nephew, Alvin, she's raising in Harlem. As the characters on The Wire would say, Mali is "real police," even though she's no longer on the job.

Kendra Clayton is no one’s detective, at least not one with any formal training. She’s just a nosy teacher with too much time on her hands. Stuck in her small Ohio town, one would think there wasn’t a lot going on, but Kendra manages to stick her nose into quite a few places they don’t belong. There are five books in the recently re-published series from Angela Henry and they’re all enjoyable.

Valerie Wilson-Wesley is the GOAT when it comes to creating female detectives. A former cop turned private investigator, Tamara Hayle is a single mom trying to raise her son on the mean streets for Newark. She’s on a one woman mission to save her city and the people in it.

By profession, Vernetta Henderson is an attorney, but working on her clients’ behalf means that she spends a great deal of time looking into shady dealings and people. Though she can find herself in some pretty tense situations, comic relief is provided in the form of her outrageous friend, Special, who truly lives up to her name. With just five books in the series, you’re sure to plow through them and find yourself wishing Pamela Samuels Young would hurry up and put out a new one.

Recently Rachel Howzell Hall’s publisher reached out to me to ask if I’d be interested in her latest book, Trail of Echoes, the third in her series about seasoned L.A. detective Elouise “Lou” Norton. When I asked if I could read it as a standalone since I hadn’t read the previous books, she graciously offered to send me the first two books in the series as well. I’ve torn through the first two books this week and I’m starting the third book today. Lou is a no-nonsense detective, though she’s a bit of a pushover when it comes to her cheating husband. With a new partner who’s still got milk on his breath and her lieutenant breathing down her neck, a sista can’t catch a break. But Lou always comes out on top, even when it isn’t pretty.

So those are the ladies of mystery that I’m loving. What other series featuring women of colour or characters am I missing out on?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

#BookReview: I'M JUDGING YOU by Luvvie Ajayi

If you've been on social media for the last few years and haven't been following Luvvie Ajayi, then you've missed out on her hilarious take on life and pop culture. Fear not! With the debut of her first collection of essays, I'm Judging You, she's here to not only entertain you, but to get your life right.

I have to admit that I wasn't sure how Luvvie's day to day musings on this, that and the third would play out in print, but I was pleasantly surprised. While she tends to take on more lighthearted subjects over on, in I'm Judging You she tackles racism, privilege, rape and a number of other sensitive topics in her own special way. With a vocabulary of her own making, I found myself cackling with every SweaterGawd (swear to God), ijot (idiot) and alphet (outfit) that rolled off her fingertips. Luvvie's takes on nastiness ("Don't Be a Pigpen"), horrible friends ("Why Must You Suck at Friendship"), American ignorance ("Zamunda is not a Country, Neither is Africa") and a variety of topics are both humorous and thought provoking.

As someone who has observed Luvvie from her early blogging days until now, it's been a joy to watch her rise. Though she hobnobs with people like Shonda Rhimes and Oprah (OMG! Yaaaassss!), she still finds time to be an AIDS awareness activist through an organization she co-founded, The Red Pump Project. And in the epilogue of I'm Judging You, she reminds readers to get involved and "do something that matters." This is such a refreshing attitude from someone that could take her accolades and go home to eat jollof rice in peace. Instead, she encourages people to recognize their blessings and find a way to be a blessing to someone else. Luvvie's sense of humor is only outmatched by her big heart.

Do yourself a favor and click one of the links below to order I'm Judging You. If you don't, not only will I judge you, so will Max.

256 p.
Published; September 2016
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Friday, September 9, 2016

New Books Coming Your Way, September 13, 2016

My Life with Earth, Wind & Fire by Maurice White
400 p. (Non-fiction; biography)

With its dynamic horns, contrasting vocals, and vivid stage shows, Earth, Wind & Fire was one of the most popular acts of the late twentieth century—the band “that changed the sound of black pop” (Rolling Stone)—and its music continues to inspire modern artists including Usher, Jay-Z, Cee-Lo Green, and Outkast. At last, the band’s founder, Maurice White, shares the story of his success.

Written just prior to his death, White reflects on the great blessings music has brought to his life and the struggles he’s endured: his mother leaving him behind in Memphis when he was four; learning to play the drums with Booker T. Jones; moving to Chicago at eighteen and later Los Angeles after leaving the Ramsey Lewis Trio; forming EWF, only to have the original group fall apart; working with Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond; his diagnosis of Parkinson’s; and his final public performance with the group at the 2006 Grammy Awards. Through it all, White credits his faith for his amazing success and guidance in overcoming his many challenges.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

The Boys of Dunbar: A Story of Love, Hope, and Basketball
by Alejandro Danois
288 p. (Non-fiction; sports)

As the crack epidemic swept across inner-city America in the early 1980s, the streets of Baltimore were crime ridden. For poor kids from the housing projects, the future looked bleak. But basketball could provide the quickest ticket out, an opportunity to earn a college scholarship and perhaps even play in the NBA.

Dunbar High School had one of the most successful basketball programs, not only in Baltimore but in the entire country, and in the early 1980s, the Dunbar Poets were arguably the best high school team of all time. Four starting players—Muggsy Bogues, Reggie Williams, David Wingate, and Reggie Lewis—would eventually play in the NBA, an unheard-of success rate. In The Boys of Dunbar, Alejandro Danois takes us through the 1981-1982 season with the Poets as the team conquered all its opponents. But more than that, he takes us into the lives of these kids, and especially of Coach Bob Wade, a former NFL player from the same neighborhood who knew that the basketball court, and the lessons his players would learn there, held the key to the future.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

even this page is white by Vivek Shraya
72 p. (Poetry)

Vivek Shraya's debut collection of poetry is a bold and timely interrogation of skin—its origins, functions, and limitations. Poems that range in style from starkly concrete to limber break down the barriers that prevent understanding of what it means to be racialized. Shraya paints the face of everyday racism with words, rendering it visible, tangible and undeniable.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

We Gon' Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation by Jeff Chang
208 p. (Social science; essays)

In his most recent book, Who We Be, Jeff Chang looked at how art and culture effected massive social changes in American society. Since the book was published, the country has been gripped by waves of racial discord, most notably the protests in Ferguson, Missouri. In these highly relevant, powerful essays, Chang examines some of the most contentious issues in the current discussion of race and inequality.

Built around a central essay looking at the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the events in Ferguson, Missouri, surrounding the death of Michael Brown, Chang questions the value of "the diversity discussion" in an era of increasing racial and economic segregation. He unpacks the return of student protest across the country and reveals how the debate over inclusion and free speech was presaged by similar protests in the 1980s and 1990s. The author of Can't Stop Won't Stop looks at how culture impacts our understanding of the politics of this polarized moment. Throughout these essays Chang includes the voices of many of the leading activists as he charts how popular voices on the ground and in social media have catalyzed the push for protest and change.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

I'm Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi
256 p. (Humor; essays)

With over 500,000 readers a month at her enormously popular blog,, Luvvie Ajayi has become a go-to source for smart takes on pop culture. I'm Judging You is her debut book of humorous essays that dissects our cultural obsessions and calls out bad behavior in our increasingly digital, connected lives—from the cultural importance of the newest Shonda Rhimes television drama to serious discussions of race and media representation to what to do about your fool cousin sharing casket pictures from Grandma's wake on Facebook. With a lighthearted, rapier wit and a unique perspective, I'm Judging You is the handbook the world needs, doling out the hard truths and a road map for bringing some "act right" into our lives, social media, and popular culture.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Umami by Laia Jufresa
240 p. (Fiction; Mexico)

It started with a drowning.

Deep in the heart of Mexico City, where five houses cluster around a sun-drenched courtyard, lives Ana, a precocious twelve-year-old who spends her days buried in Agatha Christie novels to forget the mysterious death of her little sister years earlier. Over the summer she decides to plant a milpa in her backyard, and as she digs the ground and plants her seeds, her neighbors in turn delve into their past. The ripple effects of grief, childlessness, illness and displacement saturate their stories, secrets seep out and questions emerge — Who was my wife? Why did my Mom leave? Can I turn back the clock? And how could a girl who knew how to swim drown?

In prose that is dazzlingly inventive, funny and tender, Laia Jufresa immerses us in the troubled lives of her narrators, deftly unpicking their stories to offer a darkly comic portrait of contemporary Mexico, as whimsical as it is heart-wrenching.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

#BookReview: HIDDEN FIGURES: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

By now you’ve most likely seen stills from the upcoming movie, Hidden Figures, which focuses on the women behind NASA’s great space race. Based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, it promises to be an entertaining and educational look at this little known part of history. In fact, had it not been for Shetterly’s husband, she might not have ever thought to tell the tale of these extraordinary women.

Growing up in Hampton, VA, Shetterly never gave much thought to women’s, black women in particular, limitations. While her father worked at NASA for 40 years as an engineer, her mother was an English professor. Though she was surrounded by a wealth of black people employed in a variety of fields ranging from undertaking to medicine, from shoe repair to wedding planning, many of the adults she came in contact with worked in science, math and engineering. As she says in her foreword, she “thought that’s just what black folks did.”

Christine Darden poses in a Langley
wind tunnel with a supersonic aircraft model,
 early 1970s (NASA)
Hidden Figures focuses on a number of women, but specifically Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Christine Darden, and Gloria Champine. These women studied math and not just algebra, but complex math. However, living in an era when limitations were placed on women in the sciences, most of them took on teaching jobs or whatever else they could to make ends meet, even with their advanced degrees. As early as 1943, NASA, or NACA as it was known then, afforded opportunities for these women to put their math and science skills to use as human computers and, eventually for some, engineers.

Mary Jackson, first row, far right,
in 4x4 Supersonic Pressure Tunnel Group photo,
1950s (NASA)
Though I’m not usually one for non-fiction, I couldn’t resist a chance to read about these women who were not only amazing in their fields, but just as renowned in their communities. From leading Girl Scout trips to serving as their sorority presidents, truly welcoming new arrivals to their community and assisting them in finding housing, it was fascinating to read about the grace and aplomb with which they moved through the world of science and segregation without stumbling.

Dorothy Vaughan (left) with fellow computers
 Lessie Hunter (center),
 Vivian Adair (center right), and an engineer,
at a Langley social event in the 1960s (NASA)
The only place where the author falls short, and to be fair this is probably my own shortcoming, is getting bogged down in the scientific explanations behind the work the women were doing. Yes, the book focuses on women in science, math and engineering, but the language goes far more in depth than needed and over the head of the average reader. I suspect that, in great part, this is due to the fact that the author wanted to make sure we fully understand the complexity involved in the women’s daily tasks, but that wasn’t necessary. Simply knowing the qualifications needed to take on these tasks was impressive enough for the reader to understand that these were brilliant women. I, for one, can’t wait to see these women portrayed on the big screen. Also, there's a tendency to do a deep dive into some of the women's stories, while glossing over others. Though the author did say that she had to cut out large amounts of the book, otherwise she could have gone on for another 400 pages.

Katherine Johnson

NASA mathematicians Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson),
Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe)
cross gender and race lines to help launch astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) into outer space.
Release date: January 13, 2017

368 p.
Published: September 2016
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound