Friday, July 21, 2017

New Books Coming Your Way, July 25, 2017

The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers
656 p.; Fiction

The Portable Nineteenth Century Black Women Writers
is the most comprehensive anthology of its kind—an extraordinary range of voices offering the expressions of black American women in print before, during, and after the Civil War. Edited by Hollis Robbins and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., this collection comprises work from forty-nine writers arranged into sections of memoir, poetry, and essays on feminism, education, and the legacy of black women writers. Many of these pieces engage with social movements like abolition, women’s suffrage, temperance, and civil rights, but the thematic center is black womens’ intellect and personal ambition.

The diverse selection includes well-known writers like Sojourner Truth, Hannah Crafts, and Harriet Jacobs, as well as lesser-known writers like Ella Sheppard, who offers a firsthand account of life in a world-famous singing group. Taken together, these incredible works insist that the writing of black women writers be read, remembered, and addressed.

Chester B. Himes: A Biography by Lawrence P. Jackson
624 p.; Biography

Chester B. Himes has been called “one of the towering figures of the black literary tradition” (Henry Louis Gates Jr.), “the best writer of mayhem yarns since Raymond Chandler” (San Francisco Chronicle), and “a quirky American genius” (Walter Mosely). He was the twentieth century’s most prolific black writer, captured the spirit of his times expertly, and left a distinctive mark on American literature. Yet today he stands largely forgotten.

In this definitive biography of Chester B. Himes (1909–1984), Lawrence P. Jackson uses exclusive interviews and unrestricted access to Himes’s full archives to portray a controversial American writer whose novels unflinchingly confront sex, racism, and black identity. Himes brutally rendered racial politics in the best-selling novel If He Hollers Let Him Go, but he became famous for his Harlem detective series, including Cotton Comes to Harlem. A serious literary tastemaker in his day, Himes had friendships—sometimes uneasy—with such luminaries as Ralph Ellison, Carl Van Vechten, and Richard Wright.

Jackson’s scholarship and astute commentary illuminates Himes’s improbable life—his middle-class origins, his eight years in prison, his painful odyssey as a black World War II–era artist, and his escape to Europe for success. More than ten years in the writing, Jackson’s biography restores the legacy of a fascinating maverick caught between his aspirations for commercial success and his disturbing, vivid portraits of the United States.

Talon of God by Wesley Snipes
368 p.; Fantasy

Set in the mean streets of Chicago, Talon of God is the action-packed adventure centered around the Lauryn Jefferson, a beautiful young doctor who is dragged into a seemingly impossible battle against the invisible forces of Satan’s army and their human agents that are bent on enslaving humanity in a mission to establish the kingdom of hell on Earth.

But Lauryn is a skeptic, and it’s only as she sees a diabolical drug sweep her city and begins to train in the ways of a spirit warrior by the legendary man of God, Talon Hunter, that she discovers her true nature and inner strength. Facing dangerous trials and tests, it’s a true baptism by fire. And if they fail, millions could die. And rivers of blood would flow throughout the land.

Imagine such horror. Such pain. And imagine what it would take to fight against it. For only the strongest and most faithful will survive?

Get ready. Armageddon approaches quickly.

The Body Where I Was Born by Guadalupe Nettel
176 p.; Fiction

From a psychoanalyst’s couch, the narrator looks back on her bizarre childhood—in which she was born with a birth defect into a family intent on fixing it—having somehow survived the emotional havoc she went through. And survive she did, but not unscathed. This intimate narrative echoes the voice of the narrator’s younger self: a sharp, sensitive girl who is keen to life’s gifts and hardships.

With bare language and smart humor, both delicate and unafraid, the narrator strings a strand of touching moments together to create a portrait of an unconventional childhood that crushed her, scarred her, mended her, tore her apart, and ultimately made her whole.

Atlanta Noir edited by Tayari Jones
280 p.; Short stories

Brand-new stories by: Tananarive Due, Kenji Jasper, Tayari Jones, Dallas Hudgens, Jim Grimsley, Brandon Massey, Jennifer Harlow, Sheri Joseph, Alesia Parker, Gillian Royes, Anthony Grooms, John Holman, Daniel Black, and David James Poissant.

From the introduction by Tayari Jones:

Atlanta itself is a crime scene. After all, Georgia was founded as a de facto penal colony and in 1864, Sherman burned the city to the ground. We might argue about whether the arson was the crime or the response to the crime, but this is indisputable: Atlanta is a city sewn from the ashes and everything that grows here is at once fertilized and corrupted by the past...

These stories do not necessarily conform to the traditional expectations of noir...However, they all share the quality of exposing the rot underneath the scent of magnolia and pine. Noir, in my opinion, is more a question of tone than content. The moral universe of the story is as significant as the physical space. Noir is a realm where the good guys seldom win; perhaps they hardly exist at all. Few bad deeds go unrewarded, and good intentions are not the road to hell, but are hell itself...Welcome to Atlanta Noir. Come sit on the veranda, or the terrace of a high-rise condo. Pour yourself a glass of sweet tea, and fortify it with a slug of bourbon. Put your feet up. Enjoy these stories, and watch your back.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

#BookReview: THE ALMOST SISTERS by Joshilyn Jackson

Summary: Superheroes have always been Leia Birch Briggs’ weakness. One tequila-soaked night at a comics convention, the usually level-headed graphic novelist is swept off her bar stool by a handsome and anonymous Batman.

It turns out the caped crusader has left her with more than just a nice, fuzzy memory. She’s having a baby boy-an unexpected but not unhappy development in the thirty-eight year-old’s life. But before Leia can break the news of her impending single-motherhood (including the fact that her baby is biracial) to her conventional, Southern family, her step-sister Rachel’s marriage implodes. Worse, she learns her beloved ninety-year-old grandmother, Birchie, is losing her mind, and she’s been hiding her dementia with the help of Wattie, her best friend since girlhood.

Leia returns to Alabama to put her grandmother’s affairs in order, clean out the big Victorian that has been in the Birch family for generations, and tell her family that she’s pregnant. Yet just when Leia thinks she’s got it all under control, she learns that illness is not the only thing Birchie’s been hiding. Tucked in the attic is a dangerous secret with roots that reach all the way back to the Civil War. Its exposure threatens the family’s freedom and future, and it will change everything about how Leia sees herself and her sister, her son and his missing father, and the world she thinks she knows.

Review: Right about now you're probably wondering why a blog about characters of color or authors of color is reviewing a Joshilyn Jackson book. Well first and foremost, Joshilyn Jackson is a writing ass writer. Out of her nine published novels & novellas, only one has left me even slightly disappointed. Another reason I'm reviewing The Almost Sisters is because Jackson tackles race in her most recent work in a nice, nasty way that only a woman of the South can.

Jackson's characters aren't perfect, as a matter of fact, they're downright messy. From outward appearances this doesn't seem to be the case, but scratching the surface reveals a whole layer of hidden dirt. And that's what The Almost Sisters revolves around.

Leia is the sister that doesn't have her shit together. While her stepsister Rachel lives a perfect, almost Stepford Wives existence, Leia is a mess. A one-night stand at a comic book convention has left her pregnant by a man she barely remembers. Messy, right? But the facade that covers Rachel's messiness begins to crack too. In addition to that, Leia's beloved grandmother is losing it down in Alabama, saying things in public that no proper southern lady should ever say. So Leia to the rescue, but how do you rescue two old ladies who have more secrets between them than one would think possible?

As Leia tries to save her beloved Birchie and Wattie from themselves, she discovers (with the help of her nosy niece) that she's a lot stronger than she thought. It's interesting to read her take on dealing with race and racism from a thoughtful white woman's point of view. She exposes the dual reality that towns split by race live with and the fear that every mother, but especially the soon to be mother of a black child, confronts upon realizing that their child will have to deal with racism in a way that she may not have. With weird and quirky characters that we've all come to know and appreciate from Jackson, she tells this story of old southern women, race and family in a way that only she could.

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

Friday, July 14, 2017


Summary: When a late-in-life love affair blooms between Mr. Forrest Payne, the owner of the Pink Slipper Gentleman’s Club, and Miss Beatrice Jordan, famous for stationing herself outside the club and yelling warnings of eternal damnation at the departing patrons, their wedding brings a legend to town. Mr. El Walker, the great guitar bluesman, gives a command performance in Plainview, Indiana, a place he’d sworn—for good reason—he’d never set foot in again.

But El is not the only Plainview native with a hurdle to overcome. A wildly philandering husband struggles at last to prove his faithfulness to his wife. A young transwoman lights out for Chicago to escape her father’s wrath and live an authentic life.

And then there are the lifelong friends, known locally as “The Supremes,” who show up every Sunday after church for lunch at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat—Clarice, facing down her longed-for chance at a great career; Barbara Jean, grappling at last with the loss of a mother whose life humiliated both of them, and Odette, reaching for her husband through an anger of his that she does not understand.

Review: It goes without saying that the latest from Edward Kelsey Moore is a delightful read. Not since Eric Jerome Dickey burst upon the literary scene in the 90s has a male author written such well rounded, fully realized female characters. Moore's characters are thoughtful, insightful, funny women. They value friendship, family and love, and heaven help you if you mess with anyone they consider a friend or family member.

The author was in St. Louis last night to talk about his latest and he dazzled the audience with his infectious smile and sense of humor. Though I've read both of the Supremes books, the characters came to life once again through his jocular style of reading. He even managed to find the humor in a loud book store patron who didn't seem to know, or care, that he'd interrupted an artist at work.

As Moore tells it, he came later in life to writing. A professional cellist for over 30 years, he's just now starting to realize that the writing could be a thing for him. He told us the story of an aunt that attended funerals regularly, even if the deceased was just a passing acquaintance - a real life Weeping Wanda if you will. But she didn't just attend the funerals, she took him along as a child, and when she returned home, she'd call her friends and rate them on the floral arrangements, how many were in attendance, how much people cried, etc. So when his publisher called to let him know that his first book had hit the New York Times bestseller list, what was his immediate thought? My obituary is going to be fabulous! How can you not love an author like that?

I'd certainly love to see more from the Supremes and the residents of Plainview, Indiana, but I'd be just as happy with anything else he writes. And I promise that if you read just one of Moore's books, you're going to want to read the other. And then you'll be like me, sitting around waiting to see what he does next. And whatever it is, you know that just like his obituary, it's going to be fabulous!

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

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

#BookReview: GETTING IT RIGHT by Karen E. Osborne

Summary: Getting It Right is the story of Kara and Alex, half-sisters who have never met—one the product of an abusive foster-care setting, the other of dysfunctional privilege. Haunted by crippling memories, Kara falls for the wrong men, tries to help her foster-care siblings suffering from PTSD, and longs for the father and half-sister she only knows from a photograph. Alex, meanwhile, struggles to keep her younger sisters out of trouble, her mother sane, and her marketing business afloat.

Now Alex has a new responsibility: from his hospital bed, her father tasks her with finding Kara, the mixed-race child he abandoned. Alex is stunned to learn of Kara's existence but reluctantly agrees.

To make things more complicated, Kara loves a married man whom the FBI is pursuing for insider trading. When Alex eventually finds her half-sister, she becomes embroiled in Kara's dangers, which threaten to drag them both down. If Kara doesn't help the FBI, she could face prosecution and possible incarceration, and if Alex can't persuade Kara to meet their father, she will let him down during the final days of his life.

Review: Imagine growing up in foster care because your beloved mother has succumbed to cancer and your grandmother can no longer care for you and you never even knew your father existed. Imagine being subjected to abuse for so long that just the thought of your tormentor leaves you in fear even after they've died. Now imagine a world where you're a princess and your father is at your beck and call. You take care of your siblings because your mother is otherwise engaged in her own shenanigans, but still, you're daddy's princess. To say Kara and Alex have lived vastly different lives is an understatement, but both women have daddy issues.

As the oldest, Alex is the daughter that doesn't say no even when her family asks her to do the impossible. Even as it becomes clear that her parents' marriage has been a charade for years, Alex is still trying to paint a pretty picture and make things look nice. Between her youngest sister fleeing across the country with a much older musician and her middle sister quietly cracking under pressure, it's not really fair to expect Alex to carry the burdens of both her cheating father and her bigoted mother. Perhaps that's why she's so adamant about connecting with Kara.

Kara has enough issues of her own, she certainly doesn't need Alex's burdens added to her pile. Much like Alex, she's played older sister to her foster siblings for years, only to find that they blame her for much of what happened to her and them. Her daddy issues have lead her to make a lot of poor life choices, dating married men being one of them.

This isn't a book where Alex is a white savior coming to rescue Kara, though I can see how it might read that way. Alex steps in to help Kara in some ways, but Kara rescues Alex right back by being the one family member that really asks nothing of her.

This was a quick and easy read, though it did take me a minute to get into it. I was also a bit confused about one of the scenes with Kara and her foster siblings, so I'm not sure if I missed something or if the scene just wasn't fleshed out well. Either way, it didn't take a lot away from the story, it just left me scratching my head.

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

Friday, July 7, 2017

#BookReview: CHASING DOWN A DREAM by Beverly Jenkins

Summary: There’s never a dull day in Henry Adams, Kansas.

Tamar July has never had a great relationship with certain members of her family. In fact, she’d characterize it as a “hate/hate relationship.” But when her cousin calls her with the news that she’s dying and wants Tamar to plan the funeral, she’s shocked but is willing to drop everything for her.

After a horrendous storm, Gemma finds a young boy and his little sister walking on the side of the road. She takes them in, and quickly falls in love with the orphaned siblings. But when Gemma contacts Social Services to try to become their foster mother, she’s told a white woman cannot foster African-American children.

In the midst of these trials, Jack and Rocky are trying to plan their wedding. The entire town comes together to lend a helping hand.

Though the residents of Henry Adams face seemingly insurmountable obstacles, each of them will discover that family comes in many forms, especially during the most trying of times.

Review:  A recent Instagram challenge prompted the question, what books would you like to see become a series. Immediately the Blessing series came to mind because I love the characters and I love the small town feel of Henry Adams. Beverly Jenkins has created a town that the Hallmark channel would be proud of. For the life of me, I can't understand why they haven't jumped at a chance to bring Henry Adams to life. I tune in to The Good Witch regularly for the small town living vibe that Middleton has. And I loved the unique characters found in The Gilmore Girls' Star's Hollow. If I could pack my bags and head for Henry Adams, I would, but I'd settle for just seeing this lively bunch on TV weekly. But I digress.

Jenkins' strength lies in the fact that she creates so many rich characters in her stories that any of them can take the lead and hold a story line of their own at any point. In her latest, Chasing Down a Dream, we see Gemma, a character with a lesser role in previous books, take the lead as she deals with workplace issues, pursuing college at a seasoned age, and fostering two children, in addition to raising her grandson. She has a lot going on, right? The author doesn't sugarcoat how difficult of a time Gemma is having adapting to her life, but she does give her a great support system.

The illness of a member of the July clan brings Tamar's hell raising, motorcycle riding family to town, which is predictably an adventure. It's always great to see them because they tend to bring history right along with them. And they get Tamar's hackles up, which is quite entertaining.

Some of the children we met in Bring on the Blessings and subsequent books are starting to grow up and move on. It's bittersweet to see this. As a reader, I'm happy to see these kids overcome obstacles and become thriving adults, but what if they decide to leave Henry Adams? Will Jenkins bring them back? Will she follow them on their new adventures? Can you tell how much I love Henry Adams and the Blessings' series? I can't wait to see what's next for this small town's residents.

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

Monday, July 3, 2017

New Books Coming Your Way, July 4, 2017

Chasing Down a Dream by Beverly Jenkins
336 p.; Fiction

There’s never a dull day in Henry Adams, Kansas.

Tamar July has never had a great relationship with certain members of her family. In fact, she’d characterize it as a “hate/hate relationship.” But when her cousin calls her with the news that she’s dying and wants Tamar to plan the funeral, she’s shocked but is willing to drop everything for her.

After a horrendous storm, Gemma finds a young boy and his little sister walking on the side of the road. She takes them in, and quickly falls in love with the orphaned siblings. But when Gemma contacts Social Services to try to become their foster mother, she’s told a white woman cannot foster African-American children.

In the midst of these trials, Jack and Rocky are trying to plan their wedding. The entire town comes together to lend a helping hand.

Though the residents of Henry Adams face seemingly insurmountable obstacles, each of them will discover that family comes in many forms, especially during the most trying of times.

Queen of Bebop: The Musical Lives of Sarah Vaughan
by Elaine M. Hayes
432 p.; Biography

Sarah Vaughan, a pivotal figure in the formation of bebop, influenced a broad array of singers who followed in her wake, yet the breadth and depth of her impact—not just as an artist, but also as an African-American woman—remain overlooked.

Drawing from a wealth of sources as well as on exclusive interviews with Vaughan’s friends and former colleagues, Queen of Bebop unravels the many myths and misunderstandings that have surrounded Vaughan while offering insights into this notoriously private woman, her creative process, and, ultimately, her genius. Hayes deftly traces the influence that Vaughan’s singing had on the perception and appreciation of vocalists—not to mention women—in jazz. She reveals how, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Vaughan helped desegregate American airwaves, opening doors for future African-American artists seeking mainstream success, while also setting the stage for the civil rights activism of the 1960s and 1970s. She follows Vaughan from her hometown of Newark, New Jersey, and her first performances at the Apollo, to the Waldorf Astoria and on to the world stage, breathing life into a thrilling time in American music nearly lost to us today.

Equal parts biography, criticism, and good old-fashioned American success story, Queen of Bebop is the definitive biography of a hugely influential artist. This absorbing and sensitive treatment of a singular personality updates and corrects the historical record on Vaughan and elevates her status as a jazz great.

The Sisters of Alameda Street by Lorena Hughes
368 p.; Fiction

When Malena Sevilla's tidy, carefully planned world collapses following her father’s mysterious suicide, she finds a letter—signed with an “A”—which reveals that her mother is very much alive and living in San Isidro, a quaint town tucked in the Andes Mountains. Intent on meeting her, Malena arrives at Alameda Street and meets four sisters who couldn’t be more different from one another, but who share one thing in common: all of their names begin with an A.

To avoid a scandal, Malena assumes another woman’s identity and enters their home to discover the truth. Could her mother be Amanda, the iconoclastic widow who opens the first tango nightclub in a conservative town? Ana, the ideal housewife with a less-than-ideal past? Abigail, the sickly sister in love with a forbidden man? Or Alejandra, the artistic introvert scarred by her cousin’s murder? But living a lie will bring Malena additional problems, such as falling for the wrong man and loving a family she may lose when they learn of her deceit. Worse, her arrival threatens to expose long-buried secrets and a truth that may wreck her life forever.

Set in 1960s Ecuador, The Sisters of Alameda Street is a sweeping story of how one woman’s search for the truth of her identity forces a family to confront their own past.

Man on the Run by Carl Weber
320 p.; Fiction

It was the night before his wedding, fifteen years ago, that the nightmare began for Jay Crawford--locked up for a crime he never committed. Now, he's escaped prison and wants nothing more than to clear his name and protect his family. To get justice, he'll need the help of the three best friends who have always had his back--Wil, Kyle and Allan. But a man on the run requires absolute trust...and Jay may just be setting himself up for the ultimate betrayal.

Thousand Star Hotel 
by Bao Phi
112 p.; Poetry

Thousand Star Hotel confronts the silence around racism, police brutality, and the invisibility of the Asian American urban poor.

From “with thanks to Sahra Nguyen for the refugee style slogan”:

They give the kids candy to bet.

My daughter loses the first four rounds,
she’s a quiet wire as they take her candy away, piece by piece.
When she finally wins, I ask if she wants to play again.
No! she shouts, grabbing her candy, I want to go home!
True refugee style:
take everything you got and run with it.