Sunday, June 13, 2021

A Lowcountry Bride by Preslaysa Williams

There are so many images that come to mind when I think of the Lowcountry. Of course, the food and the landscape, but also the rich history of the people who live in the region. Preslaysa Williams' A Lowcountry Bride doesn't reflect many of those aspects. The main character isn't a bride and, though Charleston is the setting, the story could have been set in any town. Does that mean it's not an entertaining read? No, but you may want to adjust your expectations.

Maya left Charleston for New York to pursue a career with famed bridal designer. In a Working Girl/Devil Wears Prada kind of mashup, her boss doesn't appreciate her work and finds flaws in most of her designs. When Maya's father gets sick, she heads to the Lowcountry to nurse him back to health and is given an opportunity to help save a family's business and, possibly, her career.

Derek inherited his mother's bridal shop, something to brag about in the 80s when it first opened, but not so much in present day. His deceased wife loved it though and so does his daughter. The business is struggling and so is Derek until Maya comes into his life with her unique designs and can do attitude.

A Lowcountry Bride is the stuff Hallmark movies are made for. It's predictable in parts, from the story line to the characters, but they all play a role in bringing readers the happy ending that they're expecting. And while I said the location in the book could be set anywhere based on the lack of descriptors that would give it a true Charleston feel, I've no doubt that on the screen, it would be absolutely lush and gorgeous. Has it been optioned for TV yet? I don't know, but fingers crossed!

Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher in exchange for honest review.

Monday, May 31, 2021

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

If you've worked in corporate America as a Black woman, at one point in time you've likely been the "only." Heck, you may still be the only. Regardless, there has been or will come a time when you see another Black woman being introduced around the office. Are you excited to see her or do you need to suss out the situation first? Does she get to hear your outside voice or are you keeping it corporate for her? Zakiya Dalila Harris covers these thoughts and feelings and more in The Other Black Girl, a book I like to think of as a mashup between Lauren Wilkinson's American Spy, The Matrix and The Devil Wears Prada.

Publishing is a competitive field and Nella has worked hard to prove herself in hopes of a promotion, but she knows she doesn't come from the right background. She doesn't summer in the right places and doesn't always get the cultural references that come from watching shows like Friends or Seinfeld. And then Hazel shows up in her office one day and she's everything Nella isn't. She's able to hold conversations with coworkers about what makes Boston a great town. She jumps right into team meetings and others hang on her every word. Nella thinks she's found a friend in Hazel, but maybe not so much. Nella's attempts to find out just who Hazel really is takes readers deep into a world that will ultimately leave them asking how do I define blackness, who am I to define blackness and, if given the choice to stir things up or assimilate,  would I or wouldn't I?

The Other Black Girl has so many twists and turns. When I say it's a mashup of other books and movies, it really is. I wouldn't even begin to know how to classify it. But I will say it's an absolute page turner that will leave you thinking long after you've put it down. A film version has been optioned for Hulu.

Disclaimer: A copy of the book was received from the publisher in an exchange for an honest review. 

Monday, May 3, 2021

The Eleanor Taylor Bland Award for Emerging BIPOC Crime Writers Could be Your Entry Into Traditional Book Publishing Success.

Sisters in Crime, a literary organization that promotes the advancement, recognition, and professional development of women crime writers, is seeking applicants for its eighth annual Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award. 

Noting a study which found only 11% of published books were authored by writers of color, Sisters in Crime President, Sandra Wong, added, “This grant serves a greater purpose in highlighting and uplifting work which shares valuable perspectives from writers in, and of, communities sorely under-represented in publishing." 

Sisters in Crime was founded in 1986 by 26 women crime writers who faced roadblocks in getting their novels published. The organization has grown to more than 4,000 members worldwide. 

Sisters in Crime created the grant to celebrate excellence and diversity in crime writing. It honors the trailblazing African-American crime fiction writer Eleanor Taylor Bland, who used the genre as a platform to introduce characters that were largely marginalized or excluded from crime fiction novels. The $2,000 grant is intended to help an emerging BIPOC writer with a novel-in-progress or early-career work of crime fiction. It also supports developmental opportunities, including workshops, online courses and research. 

“Authors like Ms. Bland have shown me that women of color—writers of color—can be authors in any genre they want and really bridge gaps,” said Sisters in Crime’s 2020 winner Yasmin A. McClinton. McClinton considered quitting writing until she heard about the Bland award. She submitted her opening pages of her manuscript, a revenge and redemption story about a female Ghanaian assassin, expecting rejection. However, the judging panel of bestselling authors Rachel Howzell Hall, Alex Segura and 2019’s winner Jessica Martinez, restored her dream in becoming a published author when they selected her manuscript. Since winning the award, McClinton landed a two-book publishing deal with Thomas and Mercer as well as a book option for a television series. She was also selected as a 2021 judge along with Clark and Edgar-nominated “Winter Counts” author David Heska Wanbli Weiden. 

Mia P. Manansala found an agent and landed a publishing deal since she won the same award in 2018. Her debut, “Arsenic and Adobo,” releases on May 4, 2021 with Berkley. "Without Sisters in Crime and the Bland Award, my debut novel might never have existed," said Manansala. 

The no-fee submission is open from March 15 to May 15, 2021. Applicants should not have more than 2 published novels and 10 published works of short fiction. Submission form available at The winner will be announced in Summer 2021 and honored during Bouchercon, the world mystery convention. The winner will also be featured in Sisters in Crime’s quarterly newsletter, inSinC.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Book Review: Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto

" many aunties we could have an auntie team" - Kanye West (old Ye, never current day Ye) 

I have a lot of aunts and like the book's protagonist, Meddelin, they try to stay in my business. Unfortunately - but often fortunately for Meddy - they succeed in doing just that. When she accidentally kills her date, her aunts and her mother don't even blink an eye when she asks for help. Low key it made me wonder if they'd disposed of a few bodies before. Hijinks ensue as Meddy and her aunts try to balance running their various wedding-related businesses and keep the deceased hidden long enough to get rid of him. 

 Sutanto gives readers a perfect blend of family relationships, fated romances, cultural identity and quirkiness. I can't recommend Dial A for Aunties enough and I can't wait to see what comes next for Meddy and her aunts because I'm already desperately hoping for a series featuring these ladies.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Book Review: Summer on the Bluffs by Sunny Hostin

It's not possible to read any book about Oak Bluffs and not think of Dorothy West's The Wedding or the movie The Inkwell or the Obamas. When you hear about Martha's Vineyard you think of an overly white, extremely upper class of people. We don't typically get stories of wealthy black people in fiction, at least not in this kind of fiction. It's refreshing. 

 Sunny Hostin invites readers to a world of wealth and class in the form of Amelia Vaux Tanner. I really like that Hostin doesn't overtly name drop, but she does drop artist names and brands that you definitely want to bookmark so you can go back and look them up later. The secrets that Ama is keeping took me back to 80s dramatic sagas like Lace or the Thornbirds. Like I knew something was coming but I never figured out what was coming, so I gasped as each secret was revealed. 

How hooked was I? When I started reading the book, I was about a quarter ways through and didn't turn on the TV or my computer until I was done four hours later. I loved the characters, I loved their backstories. I do wish she'd delved a little deeper into some relationships, but overall I just really enjoyed this book. 

Summer on the Bluffs is out May 4th. Thanks to the publisher for sending the book and this cute tote my way!

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Wild Rain by Beverly Jenkins

Stories about women living in the newly settled western parts of America fascinate me. I remember reading Ann Weisgarber’s The Personal History of Rachel Dupree years ago. The story of a Black woman who left a big city to move to the Badlands of South Dakota with her new husband and homestead in the early 20th century was mind blowing. But with Wild Rain, Beverly Jenkins introduces an even bigger badass! 

 Spring Lee is a fierce, no nonsense, kick ass now ask questions later “lady.” And while it's true that the romance between her and Garrett McCray, a formerly enslaved journalist who's come to Paradise, Wyoming to interview Spring’s brother, is the overarching theme of the book, Spring’s approach to life is the heartbeat of Wild Rain. Eschewing social norms of the times, she's a land owning rancher, she hangs out in saloons, she breaks wild horses and she embraces her sexuality! It's so refreshing to see a female character who doesn't pretend she doesn't have a past, is open about what and who she wants, and makes the first, second or third move, if she has to. 

 Wild Rain is the second novel in the Women Who Dare series, Rebel was the first. If you're trying to remember where you've seen Spring Lee before, check out Tempest, the third book in Beverly Jenkins's Old West series, where we first meet Spring’s brother Dr. Colton Lee and his bride to be, Regan Carmichael. 

 Thanks to the people at William Morrow Books/Avon for sending this my way!

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Just As I Am by Cicely Tyson with Michelle Burford

It's fitting that Aretha Franklin's version of Mary, Don't You Weep started playing in the background as I began this review because Aretha was a dear friend of Ms. Tyson and because I found myself crying unexpectedly as I finished her memoir. And I say unexpectedly because I shed no tears when her death was first announced. In my mind, she'd lived a long and fascinating life and deserved to rest in eternal peace. So why did wrapping up her book move me so much?

The first time I saw Cicely Tyson I was in the second grade and she was on my TV screen playing Binta, the mother of Kunta Kinte. I didn't know who she was, but I knew her hair was like nothing I'd seen on TV - Bantu knots she asked her hairdresser to replicate in homage to women she'd met in previous travels to countries in Africa. There were so many stars in Roots: OJ Simpson (back when we still claimed him), Maya Angelou, Leslie Uggams, Ben Vereen, etc. But Ms. Tyson's portrayal stood out.

Immersing herself in her roles to the point where she wore her characters like a second skin was the norm for her. From the raspy voice she took on in her portrayal of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, shunning the call for an older actress to provide the voiceover, to her claiming the role of Mrs. Carrie Watts back in 1985 and patiently waiting for it to come to fruition in 2012 with first the Broadway production of The Trip to Bountiful and then the Lifetime TV production, she breathed life into her roles. Her acting is so convincing as Jane Pittman that arguments arise on social media at least once a year as to whether or not Ms. Pittman was a real person. (She was not.)

Who was Ms. Tyson when she wasn't acting? She was a daughter, a sister, a wife, a friend and a mother - the last role being one she says has been rewarding, but also a journey requiring continuous work. Twice married, she readily admits that while she didn't love her first husband, Miles Davis was the love of her life. Growing up in East St. Louis, I still remember when Longfellow Elementary School was renamed for Miles Davis and he and Ms. Tyson came to town for the ceremony. Much has been written about the volatility of their relationship. You'll have to read the book to understand their love story, which started over 20 years before they ever married.

Toward the end of the book, Ms. Tyson says "... I'm still here because God hasn't finished with me. And when I've completed my job, he'll take me." Imagine not starting your acting career until you're 30 and continuing to act until your last days. While the rest of us contemplate retirement at 65, Ms. Tyson simply was not having it! Having inspired generations through her roles, through her life story, through her friendship, through her generous spirit and wanting to do even more, I have to believe God looked down on her one last time and said, well done, good and faithful servant. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

You'll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey by Amber Ruffin & Lacey Lamar

Ask any Black woman how many microaggressions she deals with daily and she’ll likely laugh at you and tell you there’s no way she could keep count because they happen so often. Is it tiring, yes. Does it make you want to pluck your eyelashes out one by one at times, yes. But occasionally you stop and think about the ridiculousness of it all and you have no other choice than to laugh. 

Amber Ruffin and her sister Lacey Lamar have written a book that perfectly encapsulates the world that so many of us live in. However, Lacey seems to have a microaggression magnet on her forehead. You know how some people attract crazy? Lacey attracts polite, and sometimes not so polite, racists. Living in Omaha (or anywhere in the U.S.) can’t help, but I promise the stories she tells are relatable whether you’re in the midwest or the mid-atlantic region. Whether it’s a cashier asking if the Harriet Tubman image on your checks is actually you, being the only Black person at work, being told you’re safe as a Black woman because no one kidnaps Black women or the assumption that you’re from a single parent household even though you grew up with both parents in the house - being Black in perceived white spaces can be a lot. And yet, Lacey seems to find the humor in it all.

The stories are told with enough lightheartedness that I found myself cackling, and I can appreciate this somewhat strategic move to put white readers at ease as they slowly, but surely, start to think about which of the cringeworthy and downright offensive acts they’ve committed themselves. But this book isn’t meant just for white readers who are looking to learn how to be and do better, it’s also an affirmation for Black women who’ve questioned their sanity after a day in the life where their humanity is questioned simply for existing in a world that dares them to be in its space.


Thursday, January 7, 2021

Life After Death by Sister Souljah

Let me just start with sis, what in the entire hell was this? Also, I'm about to drop spoilers so if you don't want to know why I gave this such a low rating, go ahead and click out, scroll past, do what you have to do.

When I read The Coldest Winter Ever back in 99, it was unlike anything I'd ever read, and I've always read a lot. Up until then, there wasn't a wide variety of street/urban lit. Donald Goines was one of the originators of the genre, but his books were most popular in the early 70s and were mostly out of print by then, as were Iceberg Slim's books. So Sister Souljah, she who inspired some and was a controversial figure for others in the 90s (revisit the role she played in Bill Clinton's 92 presidential campaign), was a fresh, new voice in the realm of urban lit.

I was 28 when I read CWE and it wasn't the amazing read others said it was, in my humble opinion, but like I said, it was a different voice. I read Midnight, based on a character from CWE, years later and was also unimpressed. So why would I read Life After Death given how underwhelmed I was by her previous work? Growth. I thought that surely 22 years later, the author would recognize that even readers who were teens when CWE first came out were grown now. Like grown, grown. Unfortunately, it appears neither the author, her characters nor her writing have grown.

Winter Santiaga is still the unlikeable, delusional chick she was in CWE. For the life of me, I can't figure out how your only claim to fame is that your father was once a big time drug dealer in the 90s and you think that should earn you respect well into your 30s? The book opens with her in jail, serving a 15 year bid because, as you'll remember from the end of CWE, she got sentenced for being in Bullet's car which was full of drugs and guns and had been rented with her credit card. She's just about to get released and has secured a reality TV show gig that will center on her release from jail, along with a few of her recently released jail crew. Girl, what? In what world would anyone care about watching that based on her? She was someone with no claim to fame other than who her father was and people are supposed to be interested 15 years later when she gets out of jail? I guess this was supposed to be like Mob Wives, right? Dealer Daughters?

Anyway, Winter makes these ridiculous requests for her reality show, including her father's release from prison where he's serving a life sentence, designer clothes with a matching white mink (I guess she's the Lisa Raye of the prison set), a red carpet from the door of the prison to a new Bentley, etc. Completely ridiculous foolishness. As she exits the jail, she's shot and this is where things go left (just in case you didn't think they'd already gone left). She "wakes" up in what seems like purgatory. First she visits her jail crew and finds out one of them shot her - same chick who held a grudge for 15 years and slashed her face in CWE. Then she visits an over the top palatial estate where she sees Midnight with one of his wives (don't ask) and instead of pondering her death, she's trying to figure out how she can have sex with him. Like, sis, don't you have more important things to worry about?

Then it really gets gets, and by good I mean even more ridiculous, she becomes the son of Satan's sidechick. Y'all. Y'ALL! She's joyriding through hell and is completely unfazed. Like on some, "he's got a nice ride and sexes me up well, what more could a girl ask for?" At some point her turns her into a snake and then a dog and then I quit, because life is short and who has time for bullshit?

I don't know how this got greenlit. What editor read this and was like this is it?!?! Did they think this would get by based on her name alone? Yes, I'm betting they did. This was some hot garbage full of a materialistic character who has learned absolutely nothing in her 33 years on earth and then takes her astounding ignorance on a roadshow through hell. I quit about 35% in because I couldn't imagine it getting any better and didn't want to see how much worse it could get. I know the bookstagram kids were really excited about this one, but nah, fam. Save your coins and your time.

Disclaimer: A copy of this book was received from the publisher.