Friday, December 8, 2017

#BookReview: THE MOTHER OF BLACK HOLLYWOOD by Jenifer Lewis

Synopsis: Told in the audacious voice her fans adore, Jenifer describes a road to fame made treacherous by dysfunction and undiagnosed mental illness, including a sex addiction. Yet, supported by loving friends and strengthened by "inner soldiers," Jenifer never stopped entertaining and creating.

We watch as Jenifer develops icon status stemming from a series of legendary screen roles as the sassy, yet loveable, mama or auntie. And we watch as her emotional disturbances, culminating in a breakdown while filming The Temptations movie, launch her on a continuing search for answers, love and healing.

Written with no-holds-barred honesty and illustrated with sixteen-pages of color photos, this gripping memoir is filled with insights gained through a unique life that offers a universal message: “Love yourself so that love will not be a stranger when it comes.”

Candid, warm and wonderfully inspiring, The Mother of Black Hollywood intimately reveals the heart of a woman who lives life to the fullest.

From her first taste of applause at five years old to landing on Broadway within 11 days of graduation and ultimately achieving success in movies, television and global concert halls, Jenifer reveals her outrageous life story with lots of humor, a few regrets and most importantly, unbridled joy.

Review: How will you know you've made it in Black Hollywood? When Jenifer Lewis plays your mama, your auntie and, now, your grandmother. The dynamic diva with a distinctive voice and personality to match has appeared on stage, on TV and in movies as characters as unapologetic as she is in real life. It's a fact that I'll watch any movie, regardless of the rest of the cast, if Jenifer Lewis is in it because she brings it every time. But there was a time when she was afraid that her light could be dimmed.

Ms. Lewis isn't shy about discussing her bipolar diagnosis now, but before her therapist and life were able to convince her she could take meds and still be just as fabulous, the diva was spinning out of control. Between home and the theater, she filled her days and nights with a multitude of sexual partners. Yes, mother has lived, y'all and she's not ashamed of it, but she knows now that sex was her addiction, a way to fill in the gaps, but it was neither the solution or the cure for what ailed her. Her openness and honesty about this part of her life is so refreshing. It's her truth and she's unafraid to tell you about it.

336 p.
Published: November 2017

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

THE LAST BLACK UNICORN by Tiffany Haddish

Synopsis: Growing up in one of the poorest neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles, Tiffany learned to survive by making people laugh. If she could do that, then her classmates would let her copy their homework, the other foster kids she lived with wouldn’t beat her up, and she might even get a boyfriend. Or at least she could make enough money—as the paid school mascot and in-demand Bar Mitzvah hype woman—to get her hair and nails done, so then she might get a boyfriend.

None of that worked (and she’s still single), but it allowed Tiffany to imagine a place for herself where she could do something she loved for a living: comedy.

Tiffany can’t avoid being funny—it’s just who she is, whether she’s plotting shocking, jaw-dropping revenge on an ex-boyfriend or learning how to handle her newfound fame despite still having a broke person’s mind-set. Finally poised to become a household name, she recounts with heart and humor how she came from nothing and nowhere to achieve her dreams by owning, sharing, and using her pain to heal others.

By turns hilarious, filthy, and brutally honest, The Last Black Unicorn shows the world who Tiffany Haddish really is—humble, grateful, down-to-earth, and funny as hell. And now, she’s ready to inspire others through the power of laughter.

Review: Tiffany Haddish is fucking delightful. In spite of a difficult childhood with a mother struggling with mental illness, in spite of her time in foster care where she told jokes to keep from getting beat up, in spite of some raggedy boyfriends in her life, she succeeded. I don't know that I've ever seen a celebrity that makes me laugh as effortlessly as she does just by being herself.

Though Haddish first came to most people's attention with Girls Trip, and The Carmichael Show to a lesser extent, I remember her from her days on a variety of VH1's shows, e.g., I Love the 80s, I Love the 90s, Best Week Ever, etc. I didn't fully appreciate her then (that wouldn't come until Girls Trip), but reading her book and knowing the struggles she went through to get where she is now gives me an even greater appreciation for her.

There aren't any major life lessons to learn from The Last Black Unicorn as she hilariously recounts past jobs, past relationships and interactions with other comedians. Haddish isn't preachy and isn't out here to turn anyone's life around. She simply shares what she's gone through, in her hilarious way, and you take from it what you will. Her biggest goal, even with all the fame and fortune she has now, is to get her mother the help she needs to stay well so she can get back to being her mom. If the laughter, the smile that lights up her face when she tells a story, the ability to shine but not take herself too seriously, the fact that she's still out here using Groupons like the rest of us, if none of that makes you want to claim Tiffany Haddish as your BFF, I don't know what will.

288 p.
Published: December 2017
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are mine.

Friday, December 1, 2017

New Books Coming Your Way, December 5, 2017

The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish
288 p.; Humor

Growing up in one of the poorest neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles, Tiffany learned to survive by making people laugh. If she could do that, then her classmates would let her copy their homework, the other foster kids she lived with wouldn’t beat her up, and she might even get a boyfriend. Or at least she could make enough money—as the paid school mascot and in-demand Bar Mitzvah hype woman—to get her hair and nails done, so then she might get a boyfriend.

None of that worked (and she’s still single), but it allowed Tiffany to imagine a place for herself where she could do something she loved for a living: comedy.

Tiffany can’t avoid being funny—it’s just who she is, whether she’s plotting shocking, jaw-dropping revenge on an ex-boyfriend or learning how to handle her newfound fame despite still having a broke person’s mind-set. Finally poised to become a household name, she recounts with heart and humor how she came from nothing and nowhere to achieve her dreams by owning, sharing, and using her pain to heal others.

Goddess of Anarchy: The Life and Times of Lucy Parsons, American Radical by Jacqueline Jones
480 p.; Biography

Goddess of Anarchy recounts the formidable life of the militant writer, orator, and agitator Lucy Parsons. Born to an enslaved woman in Virginia in 1851 and raised in Texas-where she met her husband, the Haymarket "martyr" Albert Parsons-Lucy was a fearless advocate of First Amendment rights, a champion of the working classes, and one of the most prominent figures of African descent of her era. And yet, her life was riddled with contradictions-she advocated violence without apology, concocted a Hispanic-Indian identity for herself, and ignored the plight of African Americans.

Drawing on a wealth of new sources, Jacqueline Jones presents not only the exceptional life of the famous American-born anarchist but also an authoritative account of her times-from slavery through the Great Depression.

Searching for Sycorax: Black Women's Hauntings of Contemporary Horror by Kinitra D. Brooks
228 p.; Literary criticism

Searching for Sycorax highlights the unique position of Black women in horror as both characters and creators. Kinitra D. Brooks creates a racially gendered critical analysis of African diasporic women, challenging the horror genre’s historic themes and interrogating forms of literature that have often been ignored by Black feminist theory.

Brooks examines the works of women across the African diaspora, from Haiti, Trinidad, and Jamaica, to England and the United States, looking at new and canonized horror texts by Nalo Hopkinson, NK Jemisin, Gloria Naylor, and Chesya Burke. These Black women fiction writers take advantage of horror’s ability to highlight U.S. white dominant cultural anxieties by using Africana folklore to revise horror’s semiotics within their own imaginary. Ultimately, Brooks compares the legacy of Shakespeare’s Sycorax (of The Tempest) to Black women writers themselves, who, deprived of mainstream access to self-articulation, nevertheless influence the trajectory of horror criticism by forcing the genre to de-centralize whiteness and maleness.

Record of a Night Too Brief by Hiromi Kawakami
158 p.; Fiction

In these three haunting and lyrical stories, three young women experience unsettling loss and romance.

In a dreamlike adventure, one woman travels through an apparently unending night with a porcelain girlfriend, mist-monsters and villainous monkeys; a sister mourns her invisible brother whom only she can still see, while the rest of her family welcome his would-be wife into their home; and an accident with a snake leads a shop girl to discover the snake-families everyone else seems to be concealing.

Sensual, yearning, and filled with the tricks of memory and grief, Record of a Night Too Brief is an atmospheric trio of unforgettable tales.

How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
200 p.; Social science

The Combahee River Collective, a path-breaking group of radical black feminists, was one of the most important organizations to develop out of the antiracist and women’s liberation movements of the 1960s and 70s. In this collection of essays and interviews edited by activist-scholar Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, founding members of the organization and contemporary activists reflect on the legacy of its contributions to Black feminism and its impact on today’s struggles.

The Forgetting Tree: A Rememory by Rae Paris
166 p.; Poetry

Rae Paris began writing The Forgetting Tree: A Rememory in 2010, while traveling the United States, visiting sites of racial trauma, horror, and defiance. The desire to do this work came from being a child of parents born and raised in New Orleans during segregation, who ultimately left for California in the late 1950s. After the death of her father in 2011, the fiction Paris had been writing gave way to poetry and short prose, which were heavily influenced by the questions she’d long been considering about narrative, power, memory, and freedom. The need to write this story became even more personal and pressing.

While Paris sometimes uses the genre of "memoir" or "hybrid memoir" when referring to her work, in this case the term "rememory," born from Toni Morrison’s Beloved, feels most accurate. Paris is driven by the familial and historical spaces and by what happens when we remember seemingly disparate images and moments. The collection is not fully prose or poetry, but more of an extended funeral program or a prayer for those who have passed through us.

A perfect blending of prose, poetry, and images, The Forgetting Tree is a unique and thought-provoking collection that argues for a deeper understanding of past and present so that we might imagine a more hopeful, sustainable, and loving future.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

#BookReview: HAVE YOU MET NORA? by Nicole Blades

Summary: She’s blossomed from a wealthy surgeon’s beautiful daughter to elegant socialite to being the top fashion stylist in the country. And Nora Mackenzie is only days away from marrying into one of New York’s richest, most powerful families. But her fairy tale rise is rooted in an incredible deception—one scandal away from turning her perfect world to ashes…

What no one knows is that Nora is the biracial daughter of a Caribbean woman and a long-gone white father. Adopted—and abused—by her mother’s employer, then sent to an exclusive boarding school to buy her silence, Nora found that “passing” as a white woman could give her everything she never had.

Now, an ex-classmate who Nora betrayed many years ago has returned to her life to even the score. Her machinations are turning Nora’s privilege into one gilded trap after another. Running out of choices, Nora must decide how far she will go to protect a lie or give up and finally face the truth.

ReviewWhile I didn't love Nicole Blades' The Thunder Beneath Us, I can see where she's made progress in developing story lines and characters, and I can appreciate that. The story line of Have You Met Nora? is interesting in that we tend to think of passing as something done during and post-slavery, but not recently. However, a collection of essays edited by Brando Skyhorse in this year's We Wear the Mask indicates that passing is not a thing of the past and is very much alive and well.

It is somewhat understandable as to why one might pass if it affords them opportunities they might not otherwise have. But to forfeit your right to your culture and heritage and limit yourself in other ways in the future is a hefty price to pay. Nora seems willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that she is always and only seen as white.

In a recent conversation on Twitter, I noted that though others seem to accept whatever race one might present as, black people recognize other black people regardless of the shade of their skin.The most interesting character in Have You Met Nora? is the character that I would have loved more development of. That would be the black, former classmate of Nora who knew at first glance that she was passing and tormented her with that knowledge.

This wasn't an OMG or earth shattering read, but it's passable if you have some time and a few coins to spare. Blades progressively gets better with each book. My hope is that she really knocks it out of the park the next time.


320 p.
Published: October 2017

Friday, November 10, 2017

New Books Coming Your Way, November 14, 2017

The Mother of Black Hollywood by Jenifer Lewis
336 p.; Memoir

Jenifer Lewis keeps it real in this provocative and touching memoir by a mid-western girl with a dream whose journey from poverty to Hollywood will move, shock, and inspire readers.

Told in the audacious voice her fans adore, Jenifer describes a road to fame made treacherous by dysfunction and undiagnosed mental illness, including a sex addiction. Yet, supported by loving friends and strengthened by "inner soldiers," Jenifer never stopped entertaining and creating.

We watch as Jenifer develops icon status stemming from a series of legendary screen roles as the sassy, yet loveable, mama or auntie. And we watch as her emotional disturbances, culminating in a breakdown while filming The Temptations movie, launch her on a continuing search for answers, love and healing.

Written with no-holds-barred honesty and illustrated with sixteen-pages of color photos, this gripping memoir is filled with insights gained through a unique life that offers a universal message: “Love yourself so that love will not be a stranger when it comes.”

Wild Beauty: New and Selected Poems by Ntozake Shange
288 p.; Poetry

In this stirring collection of more than sixty original and selected poems in both English and Spanish, Ntozake Shange shares her utterly unique, unapologetic, and deeply emotional writing that has made her one of the most iconic literary figures of our time.

With a clear, raw, and affecting voice, Shange draws from her experience as a feminist black woman in American to craft groundbreaking poetry about pain, beauty, and color. In the bestselling tradition of Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey, Wild Beauty is more than a poetry collection; it is an exquisite call to action for a new generation of women, people of color, feminists, and activists to follow in the author’s footsteps in the pursuit of equality and understanding. As The New York Times raves, “Ntozake Shange writes with such exquisite care and beauty that anyone can relate to her message.”

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich
288 p.; Fiction

The world as we know it is ending. Evolution has reversed itself, affecting every living creature on earth. Science cannot stop the world from running backwards, as woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of humans. Thirty-two-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, adopted daughter of a pair of big-hearted, open-minded Minneapolis liberals, is as disturbed and uncertain as the rest of America around her. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant.

Though she wants to tell the adoptive parents who raised her from infancy, Cedar first feels compelled to find her birth mother, Mary Potts, an Ojibwe living on the reservation, to understand both her and her baby’s origins. As Cedar goes back to her own biological beginnings, society around her begins to disintegrate, fueled by a swelling panic about the end of humanity.

There are rumors of martial law, of Congress confining pregnant women. Of a registry, and rewards for those who turn these wanted women in. Flickering through the chaos are signs of increasing repression: a shaken Cedar witnesses a family wrenched apart when police violently drag a mother from her husband and child in a parking lot. The streets of her neighborhood have been renamed with Bible verses. A stranger answers the phone when she calls her adoptive parents, who have vanished without a trace. It will take all Cedar has to avoid the prying eyes of potential informants and keep her baby safe.

The Annotated African American Folktales edited by Henry Louis Gates
752 p.; Literary collection

Opening with two introductory essays and twenty seminal African tales as historical background, Gates and Tatar present nearly 150 African American stories, among them familiar Brer Rabbit classics, but also stories like “The Talking Skull” and “Witches Who Ride,” as well as out-of-print tales from the 1890s’ Southern Workman. Beginning with the figure of Anansi, the African trickster, master of improvisation—a spider who plots and weaves in scandalous ways—The Annotated African American Folktales then goes on to draw Caribbean and Creole tales into the orbit of the folkloric canon. It retrieves stories not seen since the Harlem Renaissance and brings back archival tales of “Negro folklore” that Booker T. Washington proclaimed had emanated from a “grapevine” that existed even before the American Revolution, stories brought over by slaves who had survived the Middle Passage. Furthermore, Gates and Tatar’s volume not only defines a new canon but reveals how these folktales were hijacked and misappropriated in previous incarnations, egregiously by Joel Chandler Harris, a Southern newspaperman, as well as by Walt Disney, who cannibalized and capitalized on Harris’s volumes by creating cartoon characters drawn from this African American lore.

Nobody Checks the Time When They're Happy by Heekyung Eun
190 p.; Short stories

No One Checks the Time When They're Happy is a collection of stories, by turns sad and funny, about the thwarted expectations of the young as they grow older. Eun Heeyung's characters are misfits who, by virtue of their bodies or their lack of social status, are left to dream of momentous changes that will never come. Unsatisfied with work, with family, and with friends, they lose themselves in diets, books, and blogs. Her work humorously but humanely depicts the loneliness and monotony found in many modern lives.

Mother of All Pigs by Malu Halasa
266 p.; Fiction

Hussein's illegal pork business has started to cause some headaches, and not just because of his permanent hangovers-- the town is tired of the smell, a mujahid has arrived on his doorstep, his American niece is visiting, and his sister has joined the Syrian rebel cause, but worst of all, his sow is severely depressed

The Sabas family lives in a small Jordanian town that for centuries has been descended upon by all manner of invader, the latest a scourge of disconcerting Evangelical tourists. The border town relies on a blackmarket trade of clothes, trinkets , and appliances — the quality of which depends entirely on who’s fighting — but the conflict in nearby Syria has the place even more on edge than usual.

Meanwhile, the Sabas home is ruled by women — Mother Fadhma, Laila, Samira, and now, Muna, a niece visiting from America for the first time — and it is brimming with regrets and desires. Clandestine pasts in love, politics, even espionage, threaten the delicate balance of order in the household, as generations clash. The family’s ostensible patriarch — Laila’s husband Hussein — enjoys no such secrets, not in his family or in town, where Hussein is known as the Levant’s only pig butcher, dealing in chops, sausages, and hams, much to the chagrin of his observant neighbors.

When a long-lost soldier from Hussein's military past arrives, the Sabas clan must decide whether to protect or expose him, bringing long-simmering rivalries and injustices to the surface. Enchanting and fearless, Halasa's prose intertwines the lives of three generations of women as they navigate the often stifling, sometimes absurd realities of everyday life in the Middle East.

Friday, November 3, 2017

New Books Coming Your Way, November 7, 2017

Black Tudors: The Untold Story edited by Miranda Kaufmann
384 p.; History

A black porter publicly whips a white English gentleman in a Gloucestershire manor house. A heavily pregnant African woman is abandoned on an Indonesian island by Sir Francis Drake. A Mauritanian diver is dispatched to salvage lost treasures from the Mary Rose… Miranda Kaufmann reveals the absorbing stories of some of the Africans who lived free in Tudor England.

From long-forgotten records, remarkable characters emerge. They were baptized, married and buried by the Church of England. They were paid wages like any other Tudors. Their stories, brought viscerally to life by Kaufmann, provide unprecedented insights into how Africans came to be in Tudor England, what they did there and how they were treated. A ground-breaking, seminal work, Black Tudors challenges the accepted narrative that racial slavery was all but inevitable and forces us to re-examine the seventeenth century to determine what caused perceptions to change so radically.

Someone You Love Is Gone by Gurjinder Basran
256 p.; Fiction

I sit at the table and forget myself for a moment and the past steps forward. The house is as it was before Father died, and even before that, before Diwa left and before Jyoti was born. The house had a different light then or perhaps that’s just memory casting a glow on everything, candlelight and sunset, everything only slightly visible. Mother is in the kitchen, washing the dinner dishes. Steam is rising and the window in front of her fogs over her reflection. Even here, she is a ghost.


Simran’s mother has died but is not gone. Haunted by her mother’s spirit and memories of the past, she struggles to make sense of her world. Faced with disillusion in her marriage, growing distance from her daughter and sister, and the return of her long-estranged brother, she is troubled by questions to which she has no answers. As the life Simran has carefully constructed unravels, she must confront the truth of why her brother was separated from the family at a young age, and in doing so she uncovers an ancestral inheritance that changes everything. She allows her grief to transform her life, but in ways that ultimately give her the deep sense of self she has been craving, discovering along the way family secrets that cross continents, generations, and even lifetimes.

Spring Garden by Tomoka Shibasaki
154 p.; Fiction

Divorced and cut off from his family, Taro lives alone in one of the few occupied apartments in his block, a block that is to be torn down as soon as the remaining tenants leave. Since the death of his father, Taro keeps to himself, but is soon drawn into an unusual relationship with the woman upstairs, Nishi, as she passes on the strange tale of the sky-blue house next door.

First discovered by Nishi in the little-known photo-book ’Spring Garden’, the sky-blue house soon becomes a focus for both Nishi and Taro: of what is lost, of what has been destroyed, and of what hope may yet lie in the future for both of them, if only they can seize it.

Langston's Salvation: American Religion and the Bard of Harlem by Wallace D. Best
320 p.; Religion

Langston's Salvation offers a fascinating exploration into the religious thought of Langston Hughes. Known for his poetry, plays, and social activism, the importance of religion in Hughes’ work has historically been ignored or dismissed. This book puts this aspect of Hughes work front and center, placing it into the wider context of twentieth-century American and African American religious cultures. Best brings to life the religious orientation of Hughes work, illuminating how this powerful figure helped to expand the definition of African American religion during this time.

Through a rigorous analysis that includes attention to Hughes’s unpublished religious poems, Langston’s Salvation reveals new insights into Hughes’s body of work, and demonstrates that while Hughes is seen as one of the most important voices of the Harlem Renaissance, his writing also needs to be understood within the context of twentieth-century American religious liberalism and of the larger modernist movement. Combining historical and literary analyses with biographical explorations of Langston Hughes as a writer and individual, Langston’s Salvation opens a space to read Langston Hughes’ writing religiously, in order to fully understand the writer and the world he inhabited.

The House of Unexpected Sisters: No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
240 p.; Mystery

Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi are approached by their part-time colleague, Mr. Polopetsi, with a troubling story: a woman, accused of being rude to a valued customer, has been wrongly dismissed from her job at an office furniture store. Never one to let an act of injustice go unanswered, Mma Ramotswe begins to investigate, but soon discovers unexpected information that causes her to reluctantly change her views about the case.

Other surprises await our intrepid proprietress in the course of her inquiries. Mma Ramotswe is puzzled when she happens to hear of a local nurse named Mingie Ramotswe. She thought she knew everybody by the name of Ramotswe, and that they were all related. Who is this mystery lady? Then, she is alerted by Mma Potokwani that an unpleasant figure from her past has recently been spotted in town. Mma Ramotswe does her best to avoid the man, but it seems that he may have returned to Botswana specifically to seek her out. What could he want from her?

With the generosity and good humor that guide all her endeavors, Mma Ramotswe will untangle these questions for herself and for her loved ones, ultimately bringing to light important truths about friendship and family—both the one you’re born with and the one you choose.

Mean by Myriam Gurba
160 p.; Memoir

True crime, memoir, and ghost story, Mean is the bold and hilarious tale of Myriam Gurba’s coming of age as a queer, mixed-race Chicana. Blending radical formal fluidity and caustic humor, Gurba takes on sexual violence, small towns, and race, turning what might be tragic into piercing, revealing comedy. This is a confident, intoxicating, brassy book that takes the cost of sexual assault, racism, misogyny, and homophobia deadly seriously.

We act mean to defend ourselves from boredom and from those who would cut off our breasts. We act mean to defend our clubs and institutions. We act mean because we like to laugh. Being mean to boys is fun and a second-wave feminist duty. Being mean to men who deserve it is a holy mission. Sisterhood is powerful, but being mean is more exhilarating.

Being mean isn't for everybody.

Being mean is best practiced by those who understand it as an art form.

These virtuosos live closer to the divine than the rest of humanity. They're queers.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

#BookReview: UNFORGIVABLE LOVE by Sophfronia Scott

Summary: In this vivid reimagining of the French classic Les Liaisons Dangereuses, it’s the summer when Jackie Robinson breaks Major League Baseball’s color barrier and a sweltering stretch has Harlem’s elite fleeing the city for Westchester County’s breezier climes, two predators stalk amidst the manicured gardens and fine old homes

Heiress Mae Malveaux rules society with an angel’s smile and a heart of stone. She made up her mind long ago that nobody would decide her fate. To have the pleasure she craves, control is paramount, especially control of the men Mae attracts like moths to a flame.

Valiant Jackson always gets what he wants—and he’s wanted Mae for years. The door finally opens for him when Mae strikes a bargain: seduce her virginal young cousin, Cecily, who is engaged to Frank Washington. Frank values her innocence above all else. If successful, Val’s reward will be a night with Mae.

But Val secretly seeks another prize. Elizabeth Townsend is fiercely loyal to her church and her civil rights attorney husband. Certain there is something redeemable in Mr. Jackson. Little does she know that her worst mistake will be Val’s greatest triumph.

Review: I have to be up front with you and tell you I've never read Dangerous Liaisons and I've never watched the movie. Yet, I was fascinated at the thought of a more modern day telling of a book originally set in 18th century France, in the royal court no less. With scenes set in 1940s Harlem and tony Westchester County, Unforgivable Love is full of luscious people and settings.

Mae Malveaux is a petty and heartless woman who uses her fame and wealth to control those around her like puppets. Val Jackson is a conquering hero, and while he's bedded most of Harlem, he's never had Mae. And so the two decide to play a game. If Val gives Mae what she wants most, which is revenge, she'll give him what he wants most. Petty McPettington, right? But Val agrees to Mae's foolishness because male pride and dumb ideas typically go hand in hand.

Scott creates the perfect ingenue in Cecily. Sent down South by her mother to reign in her free spirited ways, she's newly arrived back in Harlem and she's country dumb. Elizabeth Townsend loves her husband, but as a civil rights attorney, he's traveling the country trying cases like his name is Thurgood. Elizabeth is a virtuous woman with a generous heart and that's what draws Val to her. Though he's more like Mae than he'd care to admit, he strives to be like Elizabeth. These two women are nothing like the fiery Mae, but they are at the center of the game Val is playing on Mae's behalf.

Val's aunt, who has raised him since his parents died, may be the only woman Val loves unconditionally and without motive. She's no shrinking violet, in fact, I get the idea that in her heyday, she was as ruthless as Mae, but not as vindictive. In many ways, she's Val's moral compass.

I loved so much about this book: the characters, the descriptive scenery, the dialogue. Though the men are important in this story, the contrasting personalities of the women are most fascinating. It's obvious that the author put a lot of thought and care into the characters and details. I'm not sure if Scott plans to continue her journey in writing with more retellings and/or historical fiction, but I sincerely hope she will give it consideration.

528 p.
Published: September 2017
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Friday, October 27, 2017

New Books Coming Your Way, October 31, 2017

Invocation to Daughters by Barbara Jane Reyes
96 p.; Poetry

Invocation to Daughters is a book of prayers, psalms, and odes for Filipina girls and women trying to survive and make sense of their own situations. Writing in an English inflected with Tagalog and Spanish, in meditations on the relationship between fathers and daughters and impassioned pleas on behalf of victims of brutality, Barbara Jane Reyes unleashes the colonized tongue in a lyrical feminist broadside written from a place of shared humanity.

Have You Met Nora? by Nicole Blades
320 p.; Fiction

She’s blossomed from a wealthy surgeon’s beautiful daughter to elegant socialite to being the top fashion stylist in the country. And Nora Mackenzie is only days away from marrying into one of New York’s richest, most powerful families. But her fairy tale rise is rooted in an incredible deception—one scandal away from turning her perfect world to ashes…

What no one knows is that Nora is the biracial daughter of a Caribbean woman and a long-gone white father. Adopted—and abused—by her mother’s employer, then sent to an exclusive boarding school to buy her silence, Nora found that “passing” as a white woman could give her everything she never had.

Now, an ex-classmate who Nora betrayed many years ago has returned to her life to even the score. Her machinations are turning Nora’s privilege into one gilded trap after another. Running out of choices, Nora must decide how far she will go to protect a lie or give up and finally face the truth.

The King Is Always Above the People: Stories by Daniel Alarcón
256 p.; Short stories

Migration. Betrayal. Family history. Art. Doomed love. In Alarcon’s hands, these topics are taken to heights of emotion and revelation. In “The Thousands,” people are on the move and forging into new lands, hopes and heartbreak abound. A man deals with the fallout of his blind relatives’ mysterious deaths and his father’s mental break down and incarceration in “The Bridge.” And in the tour de force story, “The Auroras”, a man severs from his old life and seeks to make a new one in a new city, only to find himself acting out the manipulations and desires of a powerful woman.

Deeply humane and richly drawn, full of unforgettable characters, these stories reveal a time and a place that is both foreign and yet eerily familiar. Throughout the book, you are in the hands of an accomplished master.

Justice for All: Selected Writings of Lloyd A. Barbee edited by Daphne E. Barbee-Wooten
304 p.; Political Science

Civil rights leader and legislator Lloyd A. Barbee frequently signed his correspondence with "Justice for All," a phrase that embodied his life’s work of fighting for equality and fairness. An attorney most remembered for the landmark case that desegregated Milwaukee Public Schools in 1972, Barbee stood up for justice throughout his career, from defending University of Wisconsin students who were expelled after pushing the school to offer black history courses, to representing a famous comedian who was arrested after stepping out of a line at a protest march. As the only African American in the Wisconsin legislature from 1965 to 1977, Barbee advocated for fair housing, criminal justice reform, equal employment opportunities, women’s rights, and access to quality education for all, as well as being an early advocate for gay rights and abortion access.

This collection features Barbee’s writings from the front lines of the civil rights movement, along with his reflections from later in life on the challenges of legislating as a minority, the logistics of coalition building, and the value of moving the needle on issues that would outlast him. Edited by his daughter, civil rights lawyer Daphne E. Barbee-Wooten, these documents are both a record of a significant period of conflict and progress, as well as a resource on issues that continue to be relevant to activists, lawmakers, and educators.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

#BookReview: WE'RE GOING TO NEED MORE WINE by Gabrielle Union

Summary: One month before the release of the highly anticipated film The Birth of a Nation, actress Gabrielle Union shook the world with a vulnerable and impassioned editorial in which she urged our society to have compassion for victims of sexual violence. In the wake of rape allegations made against director and actor Nate Parker, Union—a forty-four-year-old actress who launched her career with roles in iconic ’90s movies—instantly became the insightful, outspoken actress that Hollywood has been desperately awaiting. With honesty and heartbreaking wisdom she revealed her own trauma as a victim of sexual assault: “It is for you that I am speaking. This is real. We are real.”

In this moving collection of thought provoking essays infused with her unique wisdom and deep humor, Union uses that same fearlessness to tell astonishingly personal and true stories about power, color, gender, feminism, and fame. Union tackles a range of experiences, including bullying, beauty standards, and competition between women in Hollywood, growing up in white California suburbia and then spending summers with her black relatives in Nebraska, coping with crushes, puberty, and the divorce of her parents. Genuine and perceptive, Union bravely lays herself bare, uncovering a complex and courageous life of self-doubt and self-discovery with incredible poise and brutal honesty. Throughout, she compels us to be ethical and empathetic, and reminds us of the importance of confidence, self-awareness, and the power of sharing truth, laughter, and support.

Review: Early on in her book, Gabrielle Union encourages you to grab a seat, get comfortable and grab a glass of wine because she has a lot to say, and she's not kidding. We're Going to Need More Wine is a thoughtful, honest and sometimes funny portrayal of the life and times of the ageless actress and activist.

Union tackles subjects that others might shy away from with tact and grace. Her willingness to share not only the highs of her life, but also the lows, is refreshing. Rape and the aftermath, the anxiety that comes with raising black boys, and growing up as an only (as in one of the few black people in her area, not an only child), are just some of the lows that she shares with us. She celebrates the sisterhood of black women in Hollywood, marrying her best friend, and reconnecting with her roots by spending summers in Nebraska (I know, right?).

We're Going to Need More Wine gives you an up close and personal, unflinching view of Gabrielle Union and I love it. I kind of want to be her best friend now. I don't really drink wine, but I'd curl up on the couch for a session of girl chat with her with a mai tai in hand. I'm willing to bet you would too.

272 p.
Published: October 2017
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher; opinions are my own.

Friday, October 20, 2017

New Books Coming Your Way, October 24, 2017

A Good Cry: What We Learn From Tears and Laughter by Nikki Giovanni
128 p.; Poetry

The poetry of Nikki Giovanni has spurred movements, turned hearts and informed generations. She’s been hailed as a firebrand, a radical, a healer, and a sage; a wise and courageous voice who has spoken out on the sensitive issues, including race and gender, that touch our national consciousness.

As energetic and relevant as ever, Nikki now offers us an intimate, affecting, and illuminating look at her personal history and the mysteries of her own heart. In A Good Cry, she takes us into her confidence, describing the joy and peril of aging and recalling the violence that permeated her parents’ marriage and her early life. She pays homage to the people who have given her life meaning and joy: her grandparents, who took her in and saved her life; the poets and thinkers who have influenced her; and the students who have surrounded her. Nikki also celebrates her good friend, Maya Angelou, and the many years of friendship, poetry, and kitchen-table laughter they shared before Angelou’s death in 2014.

Longthroat Memoirs: Soups, Sex and Nigerian Taste Buds by Yemisi Aribisala
357 p.; Cooking/Essays

A sumptuous menu of essays about Nigerian cuisine, lovingly presented by the nation's top epicurean writer. As well as a mouth-watering appraisal of Nigerian food, Longthroat Memoirs is a series of love letters to the Nigerian palate. From the cultural history of soup, to fish as aphrodisiac and the sensual allure of snails, Longthroat Memoirs explores the complexities, the meticulousness, and the tactile joy of Nigerian gastronomy.

Calling My Name by Liara Tamani
320 p.; Young Adult

Liara Tamani’s debut novel deftly and beautifully explores the universal struggles of growing up, battling family expectations, discovering a sense of self, and finding a unique voice and purpose. Taja Brown lives with her parents and older brother and younger sister, in Houston, Texas. Taja has always known what the expectations of her conservative and tightly knit African American family are—do well in school, go to church every Sunday, no intimacy before marriage. But Taja is trying to keep up with friends as they get their first kisses, first boyfriends, first everythings. And she’s tired of cheering for her athletic younger sister and an older brother who has more freedom just because he’s a boy. Taja dreams of going to college and forging her own relationship with the world and with God, but when she falls in love for the first time, those dreams are suddenly in danger of evaporating.

Told in fifty-four short, episodic, moving, and iridescent chapters, Calling My Name follows Taja on her journey from middle school to high school. Literary and noteworthy, this is a beauty of a novel, a divine and tender enchantment. Calling My Name deftly captures the multifaceted struggle of finding where you belong and why you matter.

Courage Is Contagious: And Other Reasons to Be Grateful for Michelle Obama edited by Nick Haramis
128 p.; Essays

In October of 2016, in response to Michelle Obama’s now famous campaign speech—a powerful salvo for women’s rights and common decency—T Magazine published a dazzling feature called “To the First Lady with Love,” edited by Nicholas Haramis. Here, Haramis expands the T Magazine tribute, by gathering together nineteen essays, fifteen of which have never been published before, from a stunning array of prize-winning writers, Hollywood stars, fashion gurus, and famous chefs including Chimamanda Ngochi Adichie, Tracee Ellis Ross, Alice Waters, Charlamagne tha God, Issa Rae, Jason Wu, and Gloria Steinem—and two of the new essays are by eighth-grade girls.

Not only did Michelle Obama use her time in the White House to build a substantial legacy for women, minorities, and health and education advocates, she’s vowed to keep fighting for the causes that matter, now that her husband is out of office. And her impact continues to transcend easy categorization; her cultural imprint is as nuanced as it is indelible. Her influence, it was clear, had been felt in many different ways. Michelle’s persona freed people—especially women—to speak, engage, even dress as they wanted to; she was an accessible insider, representing a thrilling combination of establishment culture (Princeton, where she went to school) and the striving middle class (the South side of Chicago, where she grew up); she was an equal partner in her marriage and parenthood; she had an unabashedly ethical bent; and she had genre-busting style.

Still Can't Do My Daughter's Hair by William Evans
96 p.; Poetry

Still Can't Do My Daughter's Hair
is the latest book by author William Evans, founder of Black Nerd Problems. Evans is a long-standing voice in the performance poetry scene, who has performed at venues across the country and been featured on numerous final stages, including the National Poetry Slam and Individual World Poetry Slam. Evans's commanding, confident style shines through in these poems, which explore masculinity, fatherhood, and family, and what it means to make a home as a black man in contemporary America.

100 Amazing Facts About the Negro by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
496 p.; History

The first edition of Joel Augustus Rogers’s now legendary 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro with Complete Proof, published in 1957, was billed as “A Negro ‘Believe It or Not.’” Rogers’s little book was priceless because he was delivering enlightenment and pride, steeped in historical research, to a people too long starved on the lie that they were worth nothing. For African Americans of the Jim Crow era, Rogers’s was their first black history teacher. But Rogers was not always shy about embellishing the “facts” and minimizing ambiguity; neither was he above shock journalism now and then.

With élan and erudition—and with winning enthusiasm—Henry Louis Gates, Jr. gives us a corrective yet loving homage to Roger’s work. Relying on the latest scholarship, Gates leads us on a romp through African, diasporic, and African-American history in question-and-answer format. Among the one hundred questions: Who were Africa’s first ambassadors to Europe? Who was the first black president in North America? Did Lincoln really free the slaves? Who was history’s wealthiest person? What percentage of white Americans have recent African ancestry? Why did free black people living in the South before the end of the Civil War stay there? Who was the first black head of state in modern Western history? Where was the first Underground Railroad? Who was the first black American woman to be a self-made millionaire? Which black man made many of our favorite household products better?

Friday, October 13, 2017

New Books Coming Your Way, October 17, 2017

We're Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True by Gabrielle Union
272 p.; Memoir

One month before the release of the highly anticipated film The Birth of a Nation, actress Gabrielle Union shook the world with a vulnerable and impassioned editorial in which she urged our society to have compassion for victims of sexual violence. In the wake of rape allegations made against director and actor Nate Parker, Union—a forty-four-year-old actress who launched her career with roles in iconic ’90s movies—instantly became the insightful, outspoken actress that Hollywood has been desperately awaiting. With honesty and heartbreaking wisdom she revealed her own trauma as a victim of sexual assault: “It is for you that I am speaking. This is real. We are real.”

In this moving collection of thought provoking essays infused with her unique wisdom and deep humor, Union uses that same fearlessness to tell astonishingly personal and true stories about power, color, gender, feminism, and fame. Union tackles a range of experiences, including bullying, beauty standards, and competition between women in Hollywood, growing up in white California suburbia and then spending summers with her black relatives in Nebraska, coping with crushes, puberty, and the divorce of her parents. Genuine and perceptive, Union bravely lays herself bare, uncovering a complex and courageous life of self-doubt and self-discovery with incredible poise and brutal honesty. Throughout, she compels us to be ethical and empathetic, and reminds us of the importance of confidence, self-awareness, and the power of sharing truth, laughter, and support.

Unseen: Unpublished Black History from the New York Times Photo Archives
304 p.; Photography/History

It all started with Times photo editor Darcy Eveleigh discovering dozens of these photographs. She and three colleagues, Dana Canedy, Damien Cave and Rachel L. Swarns, began exploring the history behind them, and subsequently chronicling them in a series entitled Unpublished Black History, that ran in print and online editions of The Times in February 2016. It garnered 1.7 million views on The Times website and thousands of comments from readers. This book includes those photographs and many more, among them: a 27-year-old Jesse Jackson leading an anti-discrimination rally of in Chicago, Rosa Parks arriving at a Montgomery Courthouse in Alabama a candid behind-the-scenes shot of Aretha Franklin backstage at the Apollo Theater, Ralph Ellison on the streets of his Manhattan neighborhood, the firebombed home of Malcolm X, Myrlie Evans and her children at the funeral of her slain husband , Medgar, a wheelchair-bound Roy Campanella at the razing of Ebbets Field.

Were the photos--or the people in them--not deemed newsworthy enough? Did the images not arrive in time for publication? Were they pushed aside by words at an institution long known as the Gray Lady? Eveleigh, Canedy, Cave, and Swarms explore all these questions and more in this one-of-a-kind book.

The Floating World by C. Morgan Babst
384 p.; Fiction

A dazzling debut about family, home, and grief, The Floating World takes readers into the heart of Hurricane Katrina with the story of the Boisdorés, whose roots stretch back nearly to the foundation of New Orleans. Though the storm is fast approaching the Louisiana coast, Cora, the family’s fragile elder daughter, refuses to leave the city, forcing her parents, Joe Boisdoré, an artist descended from a freed slave who became one of the city’s preeminent furniture makers, and his white “Uptown” wife, Dr. Tess Eshleman, to evacuate without her, setting off a chain of events that leaves their marriage in shambles and Cora catatonic--the victim or perpetrator of some violence mysterious even to herself.

This mystery is at the center of C. Morgan Babst’s haunting, lyrical novel. Cora’s sister, Del, returns to New Orleans from the life she has tried to build in New York City to find her hometown in ruins and her family deeply alienated from one another. As Del attempts to figure out what happened to her sister, she must also reckon with the racial history of the city, and the trauma of destruction that was not, in fact, some random act of God, but an avoidable tragedy visited upon New Orleans’s most helpless and forgotten citizens.

Where the Past Begins: A Writer's Memoir by Amy Tan
368 p.; Memoir/Writing

In Where the Past Begins, bestselling author of The Joy Luck Club and The Valley of Amazement Amy Tan is at her most intimate in revealing the truths and inspirations that underlie her extraordinary fiction. By delving into vivid memories of her traumatic childhood, confessions of self-doubt in her journals, and heartbreaking letters to and from her mother, she gives evidence to all that made it both unlikely and inevitable that she would become a writer. Through spontaneous storytelling, she shows how a fluid fictional state of mind unleashed near-forgotten memories that became the emotional nucleus of her novels.

Tan explores shocking truths uncovered by family memorabilia—the real reason behind an I.Q. test she took at age six, why her parents lied about their education, mysteries surrounding her maternal grandmother—and, for the first time publicly, writes about her complex relationship with her father, who died when she was fifteen. Supplied with candor and characteristic humor, Where the Past Begins takes readers into the idiosyncratic workings of her writer’s mind, a journey that explores memory, imagination, and truth, with fiction serving as both her divining rod and link to meaning.

River Hymns by Tyree Daye
72 p.; Poetry

Winner of the 2017 American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize, River Hymns invites the reader into the complex lineage of the values, contradictions, and secrets of a southern family. These poems reflect on the rich legacy of a young black man’s ancestry: what to use, what to leave behind, and what haunts.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

#BookReview: THE TWELVE-MILE STRAIGHT by Eleanor Henderson

Summary: Cotton County, Georgia, 1930: in a house full of secrets, two babies-one light-skinned, the other dark-are born to Elma Jesup, a white sharecropper’s daughter. Accused of her rape, field hand Genus Jackson is lynched and dragged behind a truck down the Twelve-Mile Straight, the road to the nearby town. In the aftermath, the farm’s inhabitants are forced to contend with their complicity in a series of events that left a man dead and a family irrevocably fractured.

Despite the prying eyes and curious whispers of the townspeople, Elma begins to raise her babies as best as she can, under the roof of her mercurial father, Juke, and with the help of Nan, the young black housekeeper who is as close to Elma as a sister. But soon it becomes clear that the ties that bind all of them together are more intricate than any could have ever imagined. As startling revelations mount, a web of lies begins to collapse around the family, destabilizing their precarious world and forcing all to reckon with the painful truth.

Review: So 1930's Georgia is a lot to take in, right? Like slavery ended decades before, but it just rebranded itself as sharecropping and black bodies are still subject to the abuse of white people. Slavery by any other name is still slavery.

The Twelve-Mile Straight is a lengthy read at almost 600 pages, but not once did I ever want to give up on reading it because I was fascinated by the characters. Juke, the white overseer (for lack of a better word), is a poor man with little power, but the power that he does have he exerts over his daughter and others around him that he deems to be lower than him. He loathes blackness, yet he loves it. In this way, his daughter Elma is no better. Driven by jealousy, she easily denounces someone that's only been kind to her, resulting in his death. It's a rare moment that readers will see her remorseful for her actions.

The direct recipient of so much wrongdoing throughout the story is Nan, referred to as their housekeeper who's like a sister, but Nan is a prisoner of the Jesups. While Elma and Nan are both held captive by the lies Juke has forced upon them, Nan's mother and Elma have their own ways of keeping Nan captive. The actions of Nan's mother early on ensure Nan will never have a voice to speak for herself. And Elma's selfishness keeps Nan tethered to her with little regard for whether or not that's what Nan wants.

I spent so much of the book wanting both girls, then women, to get free, to find a piece of happiness. And it comes eventually, but it's a long time coming.

560 p.
Published: September 2017
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Friday, October 6, 2017

New Books Coming Your Way, October 10, 2017

The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao
by Martha Batalha
272 p.; Fiction

Euridice is young, beautiful and ambitious, but when her rebellious sister Guida elopes, she sets her own aspirations aside and vows to settle down as a model wife and daughter. And yet as her husband's professional success grows, so does Euridice's feeling of restlessness. She embarks on a series of secret projects from creating recipe books to becoming the most sought-after seamstress in town — but each is doomed to failure. Her tradition-loving husband is not interested in an independent wife. And then one day Guida appears at the door with her young son and a terrible story of hardship and abandonment.

As Lie Is to Grin by Simeon Marsalis
160 p.; Fiction

David, the narrator of Simeon Marsalis’s singular first novel, is a freshman at the University of Vermont who is struggling to define himself against the white backdrop of his school. He is also mourning the loss of his New York girlfriend, whose grandfather’s alma mater he has chosen to attend. When David met Melody, he lied to her about who he was and where he lived, creating a more intriguing story than his own. This lie haunts and almost unhinges him as he attempts to find his true voice and identity.

On campus in Vermont, David imagines encounters with a student from the past who might represent either Melody’s grandfather or Jean Toomer, the author of the acclaimed Harlem Renaissance novel Cane (1923). He becomes obsessed with the varieties of American architecture “upon land that was stolen,” and with the university’s past and attitudes as recorded in its newspaper, The Cynic. And he is frustrated with the way the Internet and libraries are curated, making it difficult to find the information he needs to make connections between the university’s history, African American history, and his own life.

In New York, the previous year, Melody confides a shocking secret about her grandfather’s student days at the University of Vermont. When she and her father collude with the intent to meet David’s mother in Harlem—craving what they consider an authentic experience of the black world—their plan ends explosively. The title of this impressive and emotionally powerful novel is inspired by Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “We Wear the Mask” (1896): “We wear the mask that grins and lies . . .”

We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America edited by Brando Skyhorse & Lisa Page
216 p.; Social Science

For some, “passing” means opportunity, access, or safety. Others don’t willingly pass but are “passed” in specific situations by someone else. We Wear the Mask, edited by Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Page, is an illuminating and timely anthology that examines the complex reality of passing in America.

Skyhorse, a Mexican American, writes about how his mother passed him as an American Indian before he learned who he really is. Page shares how her white mother didn’t tell friends about her black ex-husband or that her children were, in fact, biracial.

The anthology includes writing from Gabrielle Bellot, who shares the disquieting truths of passing as a woman after coming out as trans, and MG Lord, who, after the murder of her female lover, embraced heterosexuality. Patrick Rosal writes of how he “accidentally” passes as a waiter at the National Book Awards ceremony, and Rafia Zakaria agonizes over her Muslim American identity while traveling through domestic and international airports. Other writers include Trey Ellis, Marc Fitten, Susan Golomb, Margo Jefferson, Achy Obejas, Clarence Page, Sergio Troncoso, Dolen Perkins-Valdez, and Teresa Wiltz.

Run For It: Stories Of Slaves Who Fought For Their Freedom by Marcelo D'Salete
180 p.; Graphic novel

Run For It — a stunning graphic novel by internationally acclaimed illustrator Marcelo d’Salete — is one of the first literary and artistic efforts to face up to Brazil’s hidden history of slavery. Originally published in Brazil — where it was nominated for three of the country’s most prestigious comics awards — Run For It has received rave reviews worldwide, including, in the U.S., The Huffington Post. These intense tales offer a tragic and gripping portrait of one of history’s darkest corners. It’s hard to look away.

Chuck D Presents This Day in Rap and Hip-Hop History by Chuck D
352 p.; Music

Based on Chuck's long-running show on Rapstation.com, this massive compendium details the most iconic moments and influential songs in the genre's recorded history, from Kurtis Blow's "Christmas Rappin'" to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill to Kendrick Lamar's ground-breaking verse on "Control." Also included are key events in hip hop history, from Grandmaster Flash's first scratch through Tupac's holographic appearance at Coachella.

Throughout, Chuck offers his insider's perspective on the chart toppers and show stoppers as he lived it. Illustrating the pages are more than 100 portraits from the talented artists specializing in hip hop.