Our Man in the Dark

by Rashad Harrison

By this time we are all familiar with the FBI’s activities in trying to discredit the reputation and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and all of the information they acquired during their lengthy investigation. Someone had to be on the inside, right, to feed them the info that they wanted. In this debut novel, John Estem, is that person. Estem, who could have easily been the protagonist in Ellison’s Invisible Man, embezzles money from the SCLC, where he is employed as a bookkeeper. He has lofty dreams of starting his own branch of the movement in Chicago, an area he believes is overlooked. Estem instead blows the money. The FBI is already monitoring the activity of Dr. King and the SCLC and they use the knowledge of Estem’s indiscretion to recruit him to their ranks.¬†

Our Man in the Dark is at it’s essence a noir mystery that follows John Estem’s journey as he is torn between his¬†allegiance¬†to his people and the movement, his duty to his country, and his desire to be seen as someone important. Two things I had a problem with:

  • The dialogue attributed to Dr. King during personal moments sounded a little too “speechy” and formal.
  • There’s a scene where the rumors about J. Edgar Hoover’s alleged homosexuality are discussed. That’s something that we know about now, but I doubt that FBI field agents in the 60’s would have heard about it. Especially since Hoover was still alive and would have squashed any talk of that.
Other than that, I enjoyed reading about how the motives of one seemingly insignificant person can affect an entire movement.

King’s Pleasure

by Adrianne Byrd

The three King brothers have always held fast to their player cards. Easy to do since they own a series of clubs around the country specializing in bachelor parties. But, with his brothers Eamon (King’s Passion) and Xavier (King’s Promise) setting fire to their cards and¬†settling¬†down, Jeremy gladly accepts that there are now just more¬†women¬†for him. He can’t believe his luck when he encounters a woman at one of his parties and the incredible, unforgettable night they share. In fact she’s still on his mind when she shows up a few weeks later to plan her bachelorette party.¬†

This is the last in the House of Kings series and I’m going to miss these guys and their paranoid cousin, Quentin Hinton, who takes it especially hard when each one¬†succumbs¬†to their fate. I know his story is coming in the future and I can’t wait.

My Top 20 Books of 2011

As of this writing, according to Goodreads, I have read 266 books this year. That’s a lot. A good number of them are romance novels that only take a few hours to consume and since losing my full-time job in May, I have lots of extra hours in the day. None of those appear on my “best of” list, however, so those of you who don’t read that genre don’t have to worry.

This list is in no particular order and consists of the books that I gave 4 and 5 stars this year on Goodreads. I have included links to the full reviews on my blog. Here goes:

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

My Soul to Take by Tananarive Due

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

Hurricane by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Pym by Mat Johnson

Surrender the Dark by L.A. Banks

Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman
A very clever novel about an man who aspires to leave the corporate world and be a great American novelist. Unfortunately, his father has already achieved great notoriety as just that. Lots of funny anecdotes about the workplace.

The New Kids: Big Dreams and Brave Journeys at a High School for Immigrant Teens by Brooke Hauser
Exactly what the subtitle says. Interesting stories about teens who have emigrated from all over the world and the lengths they have to go through to get an education in this country.

Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools¬†by Steven Brill
Outlines the real problems in our schools today and gives a great history lesson on how they got that way. Especially eye-opening was the information about teacher’s unions and the power they¬†wield.

The Gift by Elle

The GQ Candidate by Kelli Goff

The Shopping Diet by Phillip Bloch

Voice of America by E.C. Osondu

The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate

Peace From Broken Pieces by Iyanla Vanzant

 If Sons, Then Heirs by Lorene Cary

Veganist: Lose Weight, Get Healthy, Change the World by Kathy Freston
An easy way to ease into the vegan lifestyle.

So, there you have it. Sorry it was so long, but I just couldn’t limit it to just 10.¬†

Zone One

by Colson Whitehead

Let me preface this review by saying that Colson Whitehead can do no wrong in my mind. At least when it comes to writing books, I don’t know about his personal life. One thing that I love about his writing is that he has a way of making you believe that every word is true by placing outlandish scenarios in an everyday context. Whether it is elevator repair in The Intuitionist, advertising in Apex Hides the Hurt, or freelance writing in John Henry Days, I hung on every word as gospel.

In Zone One, Whitehead tackles the aftermath of an event that has turned the majority of the population into zombies. Unlike other books or movies that focus on the cause and gore and escape from these creatures, he instead chooses to chronicle the machinations involved in bouncing back from such a thing.  Mark Spitz (not his real name) is a civilian volunteer for a sweeper unit tasked with cleaning out the zombie stragglers in Manhattan after the military has dealt with the bulk of the infected. We follow Spitz and his team over the course of three days as they go through the motions of their unusual task. 

What I loved most about Zone One is the attention to detail given to things that I doubt other “zombie apocalypse” books miss. Like, what would you miss from your old life? What songs would you like to hear again? What food do you miss eating? ¬†Whitehead’s attention to these kind of details are why I am a huge fan.

Sidenote: In July while reading the book, I tweeted that Colson Whitehead is the only author for whom I will read a book about zombies. And he replied:

colson whitehead
 I wrote it for you!
*literary swoon*

Romancing the M.D.

by Maureen Smith

Tamara St. John is a busy intern at Hopewell General, working long hours, making a name for herself and loving every minute of it. But her colleague, Victor Aguilar, seems intent on not making anything easy for her. The two constantly bicker and argue over patient care and just about anything else and everyone around them notices.

But it seems that underneath all that animosity is a desire for each other that neither is ready for…especially since hospital rules forbid it. Another impediment is that they are from different countries and cultures and that may prove to be a problem.¬†

This entry in the Hopewell General summer series, like the earlier two, is another example of two people who are forced to decide if their love is strong enough to risk losing everything they’ve worked so hard for. I will be sad to see this series end.

You Can Create An Exceptional Life

by Louise Hay & Cheryl Richardson

Hi, my name is Toni, and I’m a self-help book addict. Well, I used to be. I read every book in that section of the bookstore at one point. A few years ago, I stopped because it was getting a little repetitive and I felt that I had the core principles down by this time. But I still peek in every now and then and couldn’t resist this one.

Louise Hay and Cheryl Richardson are two bestselling authors in the genre. Hay wrote the classic and hugely popular You Can Heal Your Life, a book of affirmations tailored to every aspect of your well-being, that I refer to constantly and she started a successful publishing company. Richardson’s books, including Life Makeovers, provide step-by-step blueprints on creating the life that you desire.

You Can Create an Exceptional Life is written as a conversation between the two women, with Richardson mainly interviewing Hay about her beginnings as an author and healer. Interesting concept, but I felt that this technique would have worked better at a seminar or in a documentary. Having read several books by both authors, I already knew a lot of the personal things that they discussed and found it distracting. I didn’t really perk up until Chapter 3: How You Start Your Day Is How You Live Your Day and Chapter 4: How You Live Your Day Is How You Live Your Life. Both of those chapters included really useful affirmations specific to situations that you come across in everyday life: choosing something from your closet, mealtime, etc. The book really picked up for me in those parts.

I found the section at the back of the book that collected the affirmations featured in earlier chapters useful and will refer to it often. In fact, I wish they were published as a separate book.

The Taste of Salt

by Martha Southgate

The cure for anything is salt water-
sweat, tears, or the sea.

These words by Isak Dinesen begin The Taste of Salt and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a quote used more appropriately. All three play roles in this family story mostly about how addiction affects the members – users and non-users.

Josie Henderson has always been drawn to the sea. Even when the only body of water she could get to was a river in her hometown of Cleveland. Growing up as the daughter of an alcoholic, Josie left home as soon as she was able and created a life for herself as a marine scientist, one of the few black women in her field. But when her younger brother Tick, an addict himself, is released from yet another rehab, the past that she has worked so hard to put behind her comes rushing back. Josie is forced to face her own addictions and the fragility of the marriage that she is in.

One of the reasons that I love Martha Southgate’s works, is that she is a master at relating the subleties of family dynamics and she also writes about issues of race in a compelling and thoughtful way. Her decision to make Josie a scientist made me really happy. You don’t see black women (or men, for that matter) portrayed in novels in fields of study like science. Loved it.¬†

I also recommend you read one of my favorites by Southgate, Third Girl From the Left.

One Day It’ll All Make Sense

by Common (with Adam Bradley)

Even though he is not quite 40, Common has written a thoughtful account of his life so far. He covers his growing up in Chicago, the decision to leave college to pursue his rap career, diversifying into acting, and his much publicized love life. 

What really makes this book shine is his mother’s input (she really should have been listed as co-author) and the letters that Common writes to loved ones at the beginning of each chapter. I loved that throughout the book as he shares his life journey and the decisions he made, his mother writes about her reaction to those different points in his life. Also, the letters he writes frame the subject matter of each chapter to give you more insight into what is about to be told. The book begins and ends with letters to the reader and includes others to his mother, father, Kanye West, Erykah Badu, his deceased cousin Ajile and others. I thought that was a great choice.

I would normally recommend a book like this to young men in high school and college because Common is really candid about his growth as a person, flaws and all. The only thing holding me back is that he is also quite open about his sexual history, so discretion must be used.

The Gift

by Elle

This is the second book in the 3-part series that the author refers to as “mature erotica”. And I have to say that as a woman of a certain age, I am really enjoying them.¬†

Aleesa (who was also in the first book, The I.O.U) is missing her husband, Walter, a dentist on reserve duty in Afghanistan. To deal with the frustration of him being away, she has created a journal of her sexual fantasies and wants to gift it to him when he returns. She also breaks out of her comfort zone by doing a sexy photo shoot to enhance the journal.

But the Walter that returns homes is not the same man that left her months ago. This man is impotent and emotionally unavailable and pushes her away when she tries to comfort him. He discovers Aleesa’s journal, and feeling guilty about not being able to give her what she wants, offers her a gift: 48 hours to live out a fantasy she has written about, with someone other than him.

Elle does a great job of broaching the subject of women’s sexuality as they get older, while also teaching us about the trauma of war and what our veteran’s bring home home with them. It was a complex journey that Aleesa and Walter embarked on, but it was never boring and still really hot!

My Soul To Take

by Tananarive Due

Fana Wolde has come to a crossroads. As an immortal who possesses healing blood and telepathic powers, she must decide whether she wants to continue helping the world or fulfilling a promise to her prophesied soulmate and fiance, Michel. Healing is not a priority for Michel, who would rather use his gifts to rid the world of those he doesn’t feel worthy. Complicating matters further is mortal Johnny Wright, Fana’s friend and comrade in healing, who is hopelessly in love with her and vehemently opposed to her union with Michel.

If you know me then it goes without saying that I loved this book, as I am a huge fan of Tananarive Due and everything she writes. This is the latest entry in the Living Blood series that tells of the immortal Life Brothers whose story begins in the book My Soul to Keep. Every book in this series is a page turner, but My Soul to Take is also enjoyable as a stand-alone if you haven’t read the others. Enriching the story more is the appearance of Phoenix, a character from another one of Due’s awesome books, Joplin’s Ghost.¬†