Wednesday, June 29, 2011

#BookReview: Guest Post: Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention - Manning Marable

Today's guest post is from Sarah Lake of Sarah So Sincere.

I was in elementary school in the late 1980s and early 1990s at the height of Malcolm X’s rebirth in our consciousness. I had an over sized “X” t-shirt and would steal my older cousin’s red, black and green Africa medallion to complete the outfit. I eventually found a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X in my house and read it so, in 1992, when Spike Lee’s biopic came out, my 9-year-old self was fully prepped. 

After repeatedly reading the autobiography and viewing the movie over the years, the legend of Malcolm X was firmly ingrained in my mind. To me, he was indeed, “our shining black prince,” our dignity and honor incarnate, a martyr who laid down his life for righteousness. New insights into the life of my hero through Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention was overdue and highly anticipated. Marable’s reputation as a premier historian and this being his life’s work made the anticipation greater. “Oh, man. This is going to be good,” I thought when I cracked open the hardcover. 

Marable makes his goal abundantly clear in the prologue: he’s on a myth busting mission. Finding discrepancies in The Autobiography, Marable’s goal is to expose the truth. Using myth busting as a foundation for this work proves itself problematic throughout this book. There are times when Marable not only contradicts Malcolm’s assertions about the details of his life but also contradicts first hand accounts from Malcolm’s own family. Other times, Marable’s allegations are not supported by any evidence in the text and you are left to make a decision: do I take Manning Marable’s word for it or not? 

These instances do not make up the bulk of the book but they do coincide with the more salacious revelations in the text. These instances, though off-putting, would not deter me from recommending this book to one and all. Marable does a phenomenal job of putting the events of Malcolm’s life into context. Malcolm’s black nationalism and patriarchal attitudes did not develop in a vacuum. Examining his background and the various movements of the day, allow the reader to go deeper into Malcolm’s thought process and motives. In this way, Malcolm becomes less of a myth and more of a man. 

This book is invaluable for its insight into Malcolm’s relationship with the Nation of Islam. His total dedication to Elijah Muhammed is downright scary at times and puts into perspective how much the split from the NOI affected him. Marable does a great job of detailing the inner workings of the NOI. I found myself both enthralled and disgusted by the cult. Stories of their organized thuggery and the fact that Malcolm was not the first person killed for crossing them were a surprise to me. 

Another invaluable aspect of this book is the detailed account of Malcolm’s travels to Africa and the Middle East. Malcolm’s reception as a dignitary everywhere he went in these regions floored me in its contrast to his treatment in Europe and the U.S. His relationship with the orthodox Muslim world and how it lead, in part, to his demise was another fascinating new detail.

Some people have charged that Marable did “the man’s” bidding in attempting to disparage Malcolm’s legacy but I came away from this book with his legacy and my love for him very much intact. Marable, having died shortly before the release of this book, is not here to defend his scholarship but I thank him for this work. Despite my misgivings about some of the allegations, this book is a shining testament of Malcolm’s depth, complexity and dedication to growth, not only for himself but also for us. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Who's Your Literary BFF?

A few weeks ago @SageSistah sent me the link to a Huffington Post article that asked what book character would you love to be best friends with.  None of the characters they listed really appealed to me, so I thought I'd create a poll geared more toward my readership.  And before you ask, I'd pick Davie from 32 Candles for a variety of reasons.  Who's your pick and why? If none of the choices below appeal to you, tell us who you'd pick instead and why.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

#BookReview: Just Wanna Testify - Pearl Cleage

Before I ever picked up Just Wanna Testify I read several tweets and posts on Goodreads about how it was unlike anything Pearl Cleage had written before, and that that wasn't necessarily a good thing.  So you can understand why I was hesitant to pick it up.  I'm so glad I ignored the tweets and ratings and read it myself. I LOVED IT!

I'm going to tell you upfront  that Cleage has brought vampires to the West End.  For those not familiar with her work, the West End is an area of town that Cleage has created.  Made up of hard working men and women, it's protected by the otherworldly Blue Hamilton.  Blue and his security crew keep criminals and a bad element out of the West End, offering women and children a safe space.  Married to Regina and father to Sweetie, he's as content as any man can be.  And then the vamps show up.

So before you go into this "I don't do vamp lit and I'm not going to read this" tirade, much like the one I went on, let me tell you what this book is not.  It's not vamp lit.  There's no Sookie Stackhouse and friends coming to take on the vamps.  There's no Bill or Eric trying to prove that not all vamps are bad.

Instead, there are the Mayflower sisters (perhaps Cleage's hat tip to Anne Rice's Mayfair witch family of the same name and same state), natives of Louisiana, international top models and tomato drinking vampires.  The Mayflowers arrive in town under the pretense of a photo shoot, but they're really there for something much more important to the survival of their breed.  And that's as far as I'm going with the synopsis.

Sure, the vamps could have been a turn off, but very rarely does Cleage get it wrong, so readers should have known she was going to bring it sooner or later.  And bring it she does. Now let's talk about the message in the book.

Readers that put the book down too early missed the message and should kick themselves for giving up so soon.  Actually there are three messages.  The first is that black women have historically stood by black men no matter how badly they've treated them and should continue to do so, though not to the detriment of themselves.  The second message is that black men have got to be accountable for themselves and other black men.  It's not enough to say you've made it and not reach back to help someone else, especially the generations that come after you.  And the third message is that love changes everything.

Could Cleage have just written an essay with these three messages and called it a day? Sure, but she didn't. These are things I took away from the book. Maybe I'm right, maybe I'm as wrong as two left shoes.  To be sure, you should pick up a copy and read for yourself.

What did you like about the book?
Duh, the messages.

What didn't you like about the book?
The models didn't really have to be vampires.  They really could have been any otherworldly creature or a regular human devoid of emotion,  so the decision to make them vampires is somewhat confusing.

What could the author do to improve this book?
I'd say stay in her own lane and leave the supernatural to others, like Tananarive Due or the late Octavia Butler, since her readers seem to have a problem with it.  On the other hand, Blue and Abbie have always been supernatural beings, so perhaps she should have refreshed reader's memories upfront and eased them into the concept of vampires in West End.

Published May 2011

Theme: I Want to Testify by The Parliaments

Monday, June 20, 2011

#BookReview: If Sons, Then Heirs - Lorene Cary

"In Christ you are not slaves, but sons, and if sons, then heirs." Galatians 4:7

It's impossible to read the latest from Lorene Cary and not reflect on your family's legacy.  Whether it be physical property or simply your family history, there are things passed down through the generations for which no monetary compensation will suffice. If Sons, Then Heirs touches on both of these.

It's the story of Alonzo Rayne, a man struggling to become a parent to his girlfriend's son, an especially difficult task because he was abandoned by his own mother.   It's the story of Jewell Thompson, who abandoned not only her son, but her identity as a black woman, in a quest for a better life.  And it's the story of Selma Needham, widow of the family patriarch, King, who has held on to the family's land, legacy and secrets in South Carolina while everyone else migrated North.

Cary manages to weave several messages into the story so skillfully, that you may not recognize all of them until well after you've finished the book.  For example, how can one be successful in a relationship (as a partner or parent) when you've never seen one?  Is there such a thing as too late when it comes to re-establishing a relationship with someone? Is walking away from your child ever justifiable? And can a family  that's been scattered across the country come back together for one purpose and form a united front?

What did you like about this book?
Lacking a good example of what a stable family looks like, it's understandable that Rayne is hesitant to commit to his girlfriend, Lillie, and her son, Khalil. As Rayne grows more and more throughout the book, the relationship between Rayne and Khalil grows and it's such a wonderful thing to watch unfold.

What didn't you like about this book?
Nothing. So let me tell you what else I liked about it.  I was absolutely fascinated with the concept of heir property.  It's not uncommon for people "up north" to lay claim to family property in the south.  Depending on how that land has been passed down, it's not as easy to sell that property as some may think.  So If Sons, Then Heirs deals with the problem of what happens when one person wants to sell and has to get the approval of all the heirs.  My grandmother had twelve children.  I can't even begin to imagine how difficult it would be to wrangle all of her kids and their kids and their kids together.  Now imagine if the land belonged to my great-grandmother.  So not only would all of my grandmother's lineage have to come to an agreement, all of her siblings offspring would as well.  Just thinking about it is a daunting task.  But if you think of it as an opportunity to reunite your family and to connect with family members you never knew, it becomes an exciting prospect.

What can the author do to improve this book?
I can't think of a thing.

Published April 2011

Theme: Beach Chair by Jay-Z featuring Chris Martin

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Warmth of Other Suns lecture, Isabel Wilkerson

I've been reading The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson for months.  It's an intriguing story, but I always seem to put it down in favor of fiction.  After attending Wilkerson's lecture at the Missouri History Museum today, I'm encouraged to keep reading.  Check out a few excerpts from today's lecture. (Note: Please excuse the picture quality, I videoed from my phone.)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

An Interview with Miranda Parker, author of A Good Excuse to be Bad

1.  When and why did you begin writing?
Unlike most authors I didn’t think I was going to be a writer when I was a small child. I was an avid reader as a small child. I began reading around four-years-old. I was very curious about the world and read the dictionary, the almanac, my encyclopedias…anything I could get my hands on. I became a writer when I couldn’t find the kind of story I would like to read.

2.   Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I participated in a year- long writing workshop hosted by Chuck Palahniuk, who wrote Fight Club. At the time I was the only woman in the group. After I completed the workshop I received a letter and a gift package from Chucky P. In the letter he told me lighten up and have fun in my writing. (I took my writing way too seriously during critique.) He stated, “Don’t write the story unless it’s fun to you, else what’s the point?” That stuck with me. When I created this story I wanted to write a story I would love to read and feel like fun while doing it. If I find myself writing a scene that seems like a chore I chunk it. Whether it’s a suspenseful or the black moment for Angel if I’m not emotionally invested in that scene I know it will be a waste to a reader. So my challenge has been how to tell the tough part of my stories in a way that entertains me. After all, I am the first reader of my books.

3. What inspired you to write your first book?
I covered a story about eight years ago for a newspaper I once wrote for, but we had to kill it.  It was too sensational for our core readers and some advertisers had relationships with some of the parties that were the focus of the story. Yet, I couldn’t let it go. 
So a few years ago while workshopping another novel about a hot missionary’s return to the states I began thinking about this story. How can I build a readtastic story around it? I needed an antihero that my missionary couldn’t help but fall hard for and keep her on her toes. Angel was created.

4. How much of the book is realistic?
I questioned local bounty hunters in this state and DeKalb County Police about the probability of events in the story and how the bail bonds process works here. I wrote a few articles years ago about the IRS’ investigation of two Atlanta megachurches and the rise of Armor Bearers as security forces in nondenominational megachurches. These stories became the background I needed to flesh out my story. Moreover, I am a twin, so that didn’t require special research.

5.  What books have most influenced your life most?
Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Ubbervilles, Alice Walker’s Color Purple, Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club

6.    If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor? 
As I mentioned earlier I took a year-long writing workshop with Chuck Palahniuk, so I consider him a writing mentor. However, I’ve been blessed to have some great writers on my speed dial when I needed encouragement, a line edit, and an introduction to an agent or publisher. I speak about them in the acknowledgments of A Good Excuse to Be Bad. In short some of them are:  Reshonda Tate Billingsley, Creston Mapes, and Sharon Ewell Foster.  

7.  What book are you reading now? 
I’m reading Shana Burton’s Catt Chasin and Jane Eyre.

8.   What are your current projects?
I am editing the sequel Someone Bad and Something Blue (releases July 2012) and writing the first draft of the third novel in the series. 

9.  Can you share a little of your current work with us?
A Good Excuse to Be Bad has a groove that is a throwback to my favorite romantic suspense television series like Moonlighting and Remington Steele with a new kind of hero, a kick butt woman lead who is grounded because she’s a young mom.  Most of my favorite television shows (Castle, The Closer, Rizzoli & Isles) have great heroines, but none of them are moms. Therefore, Angel Crawford’s story is unique, because she’s put in a rock and a hard place position. She needs to find her brother-in-laws murderer, make sure her overly dramatic twin sister not take the fall for the murder, keep from falling in love with her pastor who wants to tagalong on her hunt, and prepare her daughter for Kindergarten at the same time. Can she do it all is what makes the book exciting. 

10.   What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The hardest part of writing my book is trying to keep the reader guessing until the end and at the same time leaving hints so that when the reader gets to the end they want to read it over again, because although they are surprised they can now see it. I want my readers to ask themselves, “Oh, why didn’t I miss that?” 

11.  Do you have any advice for other writers?
 Begin now on creating a writing discipline. Once you become published you’re expected to produce a novel length work every year, while promoting one book, and editing another. So require some discipline now, so that you won’t become overwhelmed and you can meet your editor’s deadline. I’m speaking from experience. In the past year my home was broken into, my laptop-which housed book2—was stolen, had to rewrite from scratch once I got a new laptop, then mom was diagnosed with cancer, twin brother expecting first baby, father ill, took care ofmom, I became sick after taking care of her, niece was born, I got sicker…had to ask for an extension. Trust me my case isn’t extraordinary. Every published author has a good excuse, but having a writing discipline gets you threw it. My writing discipline now is 1000 words a day, which is the equivalent of four pages or in one scene and a sequel.

12.   Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I love reader feedback and would love for you to help me write the third book in the series. Email me at and if chosen you will get casted in the third novel. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

#BookReview: A Good Excuse to be Bad - Miranda Parker

Angel Crawford is nothing like her twin sister, Ava.  Older by just four minutes, Ava is poised and professional, the wife of one of Georgia's most prominent ministers.  Angel, on the other hand, is a bounty hunter and also happens to be a single mother.

When Ava's minister husband is found murdered, with Ava close by, it's up to Angel to find out what happened to the brother-in-law she didn't care for and the sister she does.  With assistance from her own minister, Justus Morgan, and her mother breathing down her back to get her baby out of jail, Angel finds herself under the gun, literally.  She calls in favors and relives her own painful past in an effort to clear her sister's name and bring her back home to her children.

Though A Good Excuse to be Bad is not your typical colorful chick lit, there is the banter between Angel and her minister, Justus, that masks sexual attraction between the two.  With Justus acting as her sidekick while she tries to solve the mystery, there is plenty of time for them to flirt, though it's often interrupted by life's situations or simply because it's inappropriate in light of what's happening around them.

In Angel Crawford, Miranda Parker has the makings of a character with potential longevity, but she should be careful to pick a genre and stick with it.  At times this felt like a true mystery, in the vein of Valerie Wilson Wesley's Tamara Hayle character or Grace Edwards' Mali Anderson character.  There were times though when it felt like there was a strong desire to make this Christian lit, and not just because the story involved ministers, their families and their parishioners.  And, as I said earlier, the flirting and banter between Justus and Angel gives it a chick lit feel, though Angel is a much stronger character than the typical woman you might find in chick lit.  Parker should be careful going forward to define which genre this series belongs in, otherwise it may get lost in the crowd.

What did you like about this book?
Angel and Ava's mother was a riot.  She really reminded me of Jenifer Lewis, who seems to have played everyone's mother in black Hollywood at this point.

What didn't you like about this book?
At times it felt like there was too much going on.  Everything leading up to the solving of the mystery was planned out, but the point where the mystery was solved seemed rushed.  I'm still not sure that I understood exactly why what happened did.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Find a genre and stick with it.  And balance the story out so that it flows consistently throughout.

Published July 2011 (pre-order!)

Theme: I Got A Thing 4 Ya by Lo-Key

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

#BookReview: In Love With A Younger Man - Cheryl Robinson

Having read another book by the author, I was looking forward to reading/listening to another work by her. I should have taken a pass on In Love With A Younger Man though. From the bizarre timeline to the less than well fleshed out characters, it was a hot mess.

If you're planning to read this book at any time, you should probably stop reading this review now because I'm about to tell you in detail about how ridiculous it is. If you're still here, I'll assume you have no plans to read it and want to hear why I think the pages of this book would be better off lining the bottom of a bird's cage. Actually I listened to this, so it would be more accurate to say the CDs could be used as coasters.

So what made it so ridiculous and why did I keep listening? I kept thinking it would get better. And, honestly, the first six hours weren't so bad. They focused on the character's college years, so her shallowness and naivete were characteristics that could easily be attributed to her age. Wait, let me back up and tell you what this book is about.

Oleana Day grew up overlooked by her classmates, boys and girls alike, with the exception of her high school boyfriend, Stan, in her hometown of Detroit. She believed that things would be different once she began college at Howard University in DC. Unfortunately, the girls there either ignore or dislike her, just like the ones in Detroit. The men do notice her now though and she hasn't even settled into college life well before she's caught up in an affair with an upperclassman. It turns out that the senior she's dating is already engaged to someone else and Oleana, the girl who started out as a promising student, ends up a college drop out after two years. You like how I summed that up in a paragraph? Yes? So why did it take the author six hours to get that across? Your guess is as good as mine.

Fast forward 25 years and Oleana is the top salesperson for her company. She's worked hard for years and saved almost every dime she's made, forgoing vacations and a personal life. As the realization that she has no real friends or a life hits her, Oleana decides to take a sabbatical. Now most people I know have a plan when they take a sabbatical. Whether it's building houses in a devastated area, working on their art, etc., there tends to be a plan. Oleana's only plan was to buy a Lexus. No, that's not a typo, that was her plan.

Somewhere along the line, she decides to move to Atlanta to see if she likes it and decides to buy the car there. The beginning of the new year finds her in Atlanta celebrating the new year with Jason, the 31 year old ex-football player she met on an airplane. Her relationship with Jason is put on hold when she meets Matthew, the 24 year old finance manager at the car dealership. Sparks fly and they become a couple...or bed buddies...friends with benefits? Okay, fine. She becomes his sugar mama.

I'm all for women getting their cougar on, but don't be stupid about it. By day two she was professing her love for him. Seriously, I had to rewind the CD to make sure I had the timeline correct. So you're 43, you're with a 24 year old, fine. But then you berate him every chance you get about the differences in your ages and sound like his mother instead of his girlfriend. Why are you with him again?

So what follows from that is almost six hours of a storyline where it's apparent that this woman is in lust, wouldn't know love if it smacked her in broad daylight, suffers from low self-esteem and isn't naive, just shallow and stupid. Mix in a two minute PSA about the plight of the homeless, a project Oleana considered taking on during her sabbatical that was briefly highlighted but never mentioned again, and Jason's prostate cancer that took up the last 30 minutes of the set and you have a hot pile of steaming mess.

Oh and if you haven't figured it out yet, the 24 year old she was dating turned out to be the son of the man that ditched her for his pregnant, pre-med fiancee back in college. I almost forgot, Oleana decided to become a writer at some point in her sabbatical and it turns out there was a writer's agent that lived in her building that read her book and loved it. Did I mention that the mortgage on the condo she purchased was $ 12,000 a month? Ma'am? A $ 4 million condo on a salesperson turned author's salary? The ridiculousness just never ends!

What did you like about this book?

What didn't you like about this book?
Oleana Day learned not one thing. She was the same silly girl as a grown woman that she was in high school and college. There were so many things that the author seemed to throw in for no apparent reason: the suicide of her high school boyfriend, color issues, etc.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Flesh out a better storyline, make the timeline more realistic, give readers at least one character to like and stop writing to meet deadline. It was obvious that this story wasn't thought out. And don't use songs in your book when you obviously haven't listened to the lyrics. During a fight with Matthew, Oleana keeps referencing a Lauryn Hill song "Nothing Even Matters," which would have been relevant if she was professing her love for him instead of spitting it out at him in anger and accusation.  Do your homework people!

Listening time: 11 hours, 59 minutes

Published January 2009

Theme: Nothing Even Matters by Lauryn Hill and D'Angelo