Friday, January 29, 2010

#BookReview: The Untelling - Tayari Jones

The Untelling is a breath of fresh air in a market saturated with street lit passing for real writing. In her second novel, author Tayari Jones introduces us to such fully developed and well articulated characters that the reader is immediately able to visualize them and their surroundings.

As a nine year old, Ariadne Jackson (Aria for short) loses her baby sister and father in a car accident. She also loses her mother and older sister, though they're still alive. The death of her husband has left Aria's mother emotionally unstable and has left her oldest daughter emotionally unavailable. Aria and her sister have always had a close relationship, but shortly after her father's death, Hermione begins to distance herself from Aria.

Determined to get away from her mother's crazy ways, Hermione marries her deceased father's best friend shortly after graduating high school, leaving Aria to fend for herself with a mother that serves raw chicken and overcooked potatoes as punishment. Aria is a survivor and makes her own escape when she graduates a few years later and heads across town to Spelman College.

Beginning life at a school where no one knows her, Aria creates a self-improvement list. In an effort to meet her goal of "being known for something decent," she decides to run for freshman class secretary. When she finds out that her worldly roommate is also seeking the position, she decides not to run, but in the process meets Rochelle Satterwhite. Rochelle is everything Aria is not; poised and confident with supportive parents, and at ease in front of people. Scrapping her plans to run for office, Aria throws her support behind Rochelle, who is running for class president, and barely acknowledges Aria.

To earn money for a data processor, Aria begins working temp jobs and finds herself working in a call center with several older women. She's surprised to see a disheveled and humbled Rochelle working at the same place, seemingly desperate for money. When Rochelle confides in Aria, Aria willingly turns over her paycheck to assist Rochelle and is able to check off two of the goals on her self-improvement list: being known for something decent and making a new friend.

Fast forward a few years and Rochelle and Aria are roommates, working at the same non-profit literacy program and living in a rundown part of town. Rochelle is engaged to be married while Aria dates the dependable locksmith, Dwayne. When her period is late and she begins to experience morning sickness, Aria assumes she's pregnant and Dwayne proposes marriage. This sets in motion reunions with both her sister and her mother.

In meeting with her family members, Aria confronts them about their past actions and their truths, but must also come face to face with her own actions, truths and untruths.

What did you like about this book?
I loved the descriptions of the characters. When Rochelle tells Aria that she looks like Penny from "Good Times," I'm immediately able to picture her. Rochelle is described as prematurely grey with locs and though not a lot of detail is given about her face, I'm able to create a character that in my mind. Even minor characters in the story are fully dimensional, making for a more enjoyable and fully comprehensible read.

What did you dislike about this book?
Nothing. I wouldn't change a thing about it.

How can the author improve this book?
I needed another chapter. Let me be honest, I need another book. I wanted to know what happened to characters when I closed the book. That is truly the sign of a great novel.

336 pp
Published April 2006

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

#BookReview: Guest Post: I Was Right On Time: My Journey from the Negro Leagues to the Majors by Buck O'Neil with Steve Wulf and David Conrads

Today's guest blogger is Sarah Lake.

The news of John Jordan "Buck" O'Neil's death in 2006 at the age of 94 was well covered by all major sports media. At the time, I was unfamiliar with the man who was a four-time Negro League All-Star and played in two Negro World Series'. The extensive news coverage informed me that he had been the first black man to coach in the Major Leagues and had dedicated his latter years petitioning for Negro Leaguers to be included in the baseball Hall of Fame. A few years after his passing, I happened upon his gem of a memoir, I Was Right On Time, in the bookstore. It turned out to be one of the best impulse buys of my life.

I Was Right On Time is an extremely endearing and informative read. It's like listening to your grandpa tell stories about the good old days, except your grandpa played with some of the best baseball players in history. O'Neil's tales about playing on the same team with the great Satchel Paige and playing against the almost mythical Josh Gibson in the Negro World Series will fill your mind with wonderment and make you hunger for a greater knowledge of the Negro Leagues. This is truly a unique first person account of a period in history that has mostly been forgotten.

Buck is, undoubtedly, a historian of the game but he doesn't bog you down with statistics and baseball jargon. This book is enjoyable for all whether you are a baseball fanatic or history enthusiast. His colorful commentary and passionate storytelling will entertain, as well as educate you on less obvious aspects of the Negro Leagues such as its connection to Jazz culture and co-ed sports.

Although O'Neil never made it to the Majors, as a player, in telling his story there is not one ounce of bitterness. He recounts being shot at by a racist police officer, having to hobo across the country to play baseball in Jim Crow America, and mistakenly arriving to a baseball field full of Klansmen in full KKK regalia. He doesn't sulk about the discrimination and hatred which he and his fellow Negro Leaguers faced. He doesn't dwell on the racism, but tells a triumphant story of the Negro Leagues and the obstacles they were able to overcome before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in the Major Leagues. O'Neill uses I Was Right On Time to honor those baseball heroes that will probably never get the recognition they deserve simply because of their skin color.

"The thing is, white kids even today know about Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth. Black kids should know about Cool Papa Bell and Turkey Stearnes. African-American heroes didn't start with Willie Mays. This is their history, and I hope I've helped give it life." Well done, Mr. O'Neil. Well done.

272 pp
Published January 1996

Sarah Lake is an aspiring author, Howard University graduate, and D.C. resident with interests in Hip Hop and Soul music and all things related to the African-American experience. Follow her random mind on Twitter at and check out her blog,

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

#BookReview: Sinful Too - Victor McGlothin

Whether or not you've read the prequel to Sinful Too, you'll have no problems getting acquainted with the ruthless and scheming Dior Wicker. When I began reading this, I was unaware that there was indeed a lead-in book, but upon browsing the internet, I learned that though Dior was mentioned in the original Sinful, her story line was not so important that I would be lost while reading the sequel.

A young lady that is used to getting what she wants, when she wants it and from whom she wants it, Dior does not take no for an answer…ever. Carrying on an affair with the married owner of the clothing store at which she works has its perks. In addition to the extra attention she receives in the back of the store, the extra money Giorgio slips into her pay envelope is more than enough to cover the low rent she pays to live in her twin brother’s 3-bedroom Section 8 house, a second hand BMW, and designer clothes.

Satisfied with the material things in life, Dior is thrown off balance the day the handsome Pastor Richard Allamay PhD comes into the high-priced men’s clothing store. Unaware that he’s a man of God, and of means, Dior ignores his subtle advances. When her friend Tangie happens to mention that Richard is the pastor of the largest congregation in Dallas, Dior immediately sees dollar signs and begins to work her master plan. Having been the side chick to several married men in the past has been okay with her, but this time she’s set her sights on becoming the First Lady.

Richard Allamay had no idea when he stumbled into Giorgio’s that his world was about to turn upside down. Happily married to Nadeen and father to two girls, Richard hasn’t thought about stepping out on his wife since his first and last affair, 10 years ago. But there’s something about Dior that makes him lose his cool and at the first sign that she’s willing to see him outside of her job, all thoughts of his wife, kids and his mega-church fly out the window.

When his closest friend, and deacon, Phillip begins to question where his head is, Richard realizes that he’s so caught up that he’s at risk of losing his wife, kids, church and the respect of everyone around him. It would be easy to gain them back if only he could find a way to remove Dior from his life, but she’s not ready to let him out of her clutches just yet.

What did you like about the book?
The author does a good job of writing with both a feminine and masculine voice. His writing style reminds me of early Eric Jerome Dickey writings.

What did you dislike about the book?
Dior's relationship with her mother seemed to be an unnecessary part of the storyline, as did her relationship with her brother. Outside of renting a home from him, he didn’t figure into the storyline so I was unsure why he was mentioned.

How can the author improve this book?
There were sections that seemed like filler material and distracted from the main story. In addition, the narration by characters switched in the middle of chapters with no warning. At one point, Richard was narrating and in the next paragraph, his wife was. Perhaps dividers or another way of flagging a change in narrators would be helpful.

320 pp
Published October 2008

Friday, January 15, 2010

#BookReview: Guest Post: The Book of Night Women by Marlon James

Today's guest blogger is Yolonda Spinks.

Imagine yourself on a sugar plantation in Jamaica during the late eighteenth century. You are forced to endure the stronghold of slavery but you feel out of place, peculiar and different. Something deep inside is telling you that you don’t belong here but you have no where to run and no where to hide. All you have is a dream that someone will see past your black skin into your green eyes and rescue you. I know it seems crazy but this is the life of Lillith, the main character in The Book of Night Women.

Lillith, the daughter of a teenage slave girl and the plantation overseer, is raised in a home with a man and woman that she calls mother and father but she shares no resemblance. Deep in her heart she knows that she is different. Not only does Lillith know that she is different but the Night Women also know as they secretly keep an eye on her. As Lillith matures and comes face-to-face with her “darkness,” she is rescued by Homer, the leader of the Night Women. Homer is sure that Lillith just may be the one that will make their plot of a slave revolt successful.

I must admit, I have never read a book written with the eloquence, detail and imagery used by Marlon James to bring the Night Women to life. James not only created characters that I could relate to but he created women characters that any woman could relate to. The Night Women possessed strength, gumption, skill and a desire for freedom and they were willing to get it at any cost. These women led by Homer, a house slave, were not fazed by the absence of men in this plot. They carried the load as they strategically used their plantation jobs to work for them so they could have eyes everywhere at once.

I must add, in the beginning I wasn’t sure about this book because the patois/dialect frustrated me initially but I endured and it was well worth my time. I would recommend this book to anyone as a must-read and I nominate James for the Pulitzer Prize (if he is an American citizen that is.) However, for now, Marlon James is the 2009 award winner of the Spinks Prize for literary fiction.

P.S. I will be re-reading this book. It was just that good!

Yolonda Spinks is new to the blogging world, but loves reading books and sharing her opinions. A senior in college majoring in journalism, she also gives community presentations on infant mortality and its affect on African Americans.

For more reviews by Yolonda, please visit her at Notorious Spinks Talks or follow her on Twitter @NotoriousSpinks.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

#BookReview: Alex Cross's Trial - James Patterson

At last, Patterson has redeemed himself in my eyes. For too long he has cranked out book after book full of fill-in-the-blank story lines. The names and scenery would change, but the story remained the same. It had gotten to the point where I could figure out "who done it" within the first five chapters of any of his books. But this book? This book here? The master storyteller is back!

Titled Alex Cross's Trial, don't be fooled. Alex Cross is briefly mentioned in the first two pages, but the story is that of Washington, DC attorney Ben Corbett. Set in the early 1900s, Ben finds himself summoned to the White House by President Theodore Roosevelt. At the president's request, Ben is dispatched to Eudora, Mississippi to investigate the rise in lynchings. A native of Eudora, Ben is familiar with the ways of the south, but isn't prepared for the journey that lies ahead of him. With the assistance of Abraham Cross, Alex's great great uncle, Ben sets out to complete the task at hand. Along the way he discovers that old friends can't be trusted and new friends come from the most unlikely places.

At times I had to simply put the book down and take a break because it set my emotions on edge. Patterson and his co-author, Richard Dilallo, do a fine job of capturing the essence of the town's characters, both black and white. There is no sugar coating of the horror of lynching and the era in history that most of mainstream America would like to pretend never existed. This is a definite must read from Patterson for the first time in a long time.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Author of the Month - J. California Cooper

The people have spoken and it turns out that my favorite author is admired by several of my fellow readers. Why do I love J. California Cooper so much? When I read her stories I can hear the voice of her characters. I feel like I'm sitting at the feet of my grandmother listening to her spin a tale. Simply put, J. California Cooper's stories feel like home.

"Her style is deceptively simple and direct, and the vale of tears in which her characters reside is never so deep that a rich chuckle at a foolish person's foolishness cannot be heard." —Alice Walker

"Cooper's stories beckon. It's as if she is patting the seat next to her, enticing us to come sit and listen as she tells complex tales about women, often poor women, chasing dreams of love, a house, and a family." — Ms.

"Cooper is humorous, wise, self-deprecating, and always expressive...her stories are about simple truths told with great energy that makes them shine." —Kirkus Reviews

"Cooper knows how to 'talk' her stories to us, as though each of them is told by a kindly and concerned friend. The sound of them is lovely, memorable, haunting." —San Francisco Chronicle

J. California Cooper first found acclaim as a playwright. The author of seventeen plays, she was named Black Playwright of the Year in 1978. It was through her work in the theater that she caught the attention of acclaimed poet and novelist Alice Walker. Encouraged by Walker to turn her popular storytelling skills to fiction, Cooper wrote her first collection of short stories, A Piece of Mine, in 1984. Called "rich in wisdom and insight" and "a book that's worth reading," A Piece of Mine introduced Cooper's trademark style: her intimate and energetic narration, sympathetic yet sometimes troubled characters, and the profound moral messages that underlie seemingly simple stories.

If you've never read any of her work, you are truly missing out on some kind of wonderful.