Monday, December 3, 2012

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Time to buy a book by somebody black and give it to somebody not black. What, you say you haven't heard of National Buy a Book By a Black Author and Give it to Somebody Not Black Month? Well, it goes way back to 2008 when I proposed it as a way for everybody to introduced to books by black people. It seemed that there were some (mostly) white readers who felt that if the book was written by someone black and/or the people on the cover were black then the book wasn't for them. So publishers would promote a book with black characters written by a white author to all readers, but a book with black characters written by a black author would be promoted to black readers with the hopes that it would "cross over" and become popular enough that it could be then promoted to everyone.

Want suggestions for some good new books by black authors? Just look around. Over the last four years I and readers have suggested hundreds of great books. If you have a specific question about someone you're shopping for, leave a question in the comments and I will do my best to recommend a few that might work. Happy Holidays!

Monday, October 8, 2012

RIP Dee Stewart, aka Miranda Parker

Dee Stewart, co-founder of Twitter's Black Lit Chat and author of the Angel Crawford Series (as Miranda Parker), passed away last week.

Dee was a sweet soul filled with kindness and good humor. I enjoyed getting to know her some over the years. Mostly online, but I was fortunate enough to meet her last year at the National Book Club Conference in Atlanta. I'm very saddened by her loss and send my condolences to her daughter and the rest of her family. I hope when they are able, they will read the many tributes on Dee's Facebook page and on blogs to see how much she meant as a writer and an advocate for writers and as a person to so many people.

Sadly, I never did a "Meet Miranda Parker" interview here, but here's a good one on the Reads For Pleasure blog. Dee did write a blog post for this blog on her favorite romance novels.

May she rest in peace.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Fresh ARCs! Get your fresh, hot ARCs!

NOTE: THIS CONTEST IS CLOSED. And the winners are...Anonymous, who gets FREEMAN; Carla, who gets THE MAN WHO TURNED BOTH CHEEKS; Stacy Michelle, who gets SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST; and Tea, who gets BEAUTIFUL, DIRTY, RICH. Winners, please email me your mailing addresses (carleenbrice AT gmail DOT com).

ARCs are advanced readers' copies, and I've received 4 recently from publishers that I want to pass along. So before 10 p.m. MDT Monday, July 9th leave a comment on this post. Tell us the title of a good book you just read or what you're looking forward to reading next and which of the 4 books (Beautiful, Dirty, Rich; Freeman; South by Southeast; or The Man Who Turned Both Cheeks) that you'd like to win. I'll pick names at random using

Beautiful, Dirty, Rich by J.D. Mason. On sale tomorrow, July 2nd! First in a new series about Blink, Texas, a tiny town with lots of secrets. If you're psyched because "Dallas" is back on the air, you should know the Ewings have got nothing on Mason's Gatewood clan! From RT Book Reviews: "This is a captivating story with so many twists and turns that readers may feel dizzy. The clues to Desi's mystery are as intriguing as the characters, who all hide deep secrets. Readers will find this one hard to put down."

Freeman by Leonard Pitts, Jr. In stores now! Django Unchained isn't the only story about a former slave on a search to find the love of his life. See post with a Q&A with Pitts here.

South by Southeast by Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes (presented by Blair Underwood). The fourth in the Tennyson Hardwick mystery series is due out in September. If hearing that it could be could be described "as Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins meets Miami Vice" doesn't make you want to buy the book, just watch the video below. Perhaps something about it will get your attention. :) Remember, Barnes and Due also have their zombie novel The Devil's Wake out at the end of this month!

The Man Who Turned Both Cheeks, second in a series by Gillian Royes. This one isn't out until December. Talk about getting an early sneak peek!
From the publisher: "Jamaica is the picturesque background for this explosive novel about love, fear, and intolerance, the second in Gillian Royes’s mystery series featuring charming and charismatic bartender-turned-detective Shad. Hopes for the impoverished village of Largo Bay come alive with the arrival of Joseph, estranged son of bar owner Eric. Janna, who has returned to the island, falls for Joseph’s good looks and charm, but she isn’t the only one with an eye for this mysterious man. As questions about Joseph’s sexuality arise, Shad struggles with protecting the survival of his beloved birthplace amidst the deeply ingrained culture of intolerance that surrounds him. Questions arise about what it means to be a man and a father, and Shad feels pressure to defend what he knows is right. As in the acclaimed The Goat Woman of Largo Bay, the first book in this series, Gillian Royes paints an indelible picture of a beautiful land where religion is strong but life is cheap, and explores what happens when a village must confront its own darkness or lose a bright future."

A good list of new and upcoming releases from Mala Nunn, Stephen Carter, Susan Fales-Hill and more can be found on the APOOO Book Club site. Thanks to APOOO, I found one I'm especially interested in: Elsewhere, California by Dana Johnson. Danzy Senna, author of one of my favorite novels Caucasia, says "Dana Johnson’s extraordinary novel offers an arresting vision of black female identity that transcends color and class even as it reveals its continuing power in our lives. The main character, Avery, is everything at once: struggling and middle-class, black and not-quite-black-enough, sexually invisible and sexually exoticized. Avery is about as complex and compelling a heroine as I’ve read recently, and Elsewhere, California is a luminous, funny, and poignant tale that speaks directly to a whole generation raised in a state of cultural confusion.”

The Go On Girl Book Club has posted a list of the books they're reading between now and the end of the year. Check it out. Maybe you'll see something you like!

In other news, The Bat Segundo Show has some new author podcasts up you might want to check out, including talks with Samuel R. Delany, author of Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders, and Jesymn Ward, author of Salvage the Bones.

Note to readers: Full disclosure: I know J.D. Mason, Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes. Agate Bolden, publisher of Freeman, will also publish a writing book by me tentatively titled The Not So Fearless Writer. However, I never post about books that I don't believe in. Even if a book is not my particular cup of tea, people who like the genre or type of book may like it and I enjoy letting readers know it's out there.

Monday, June 18, 2012

In Memory of Author Erica Kennedy

Note: This has details about how to make a donation in Erica's honor, per her family's request.

Erica Kennedy, author of Bling and Feminista, died last week. There are several moving tributes and remembrances of her as a friend and writer of social commentary and articles. Here, I wanted to remember her as an author with a re-post of the Q&A she did here on this blog and a tribute from Doret at The Happy Nappy Bookseller blog.

In her own words
I published the "Meet Erica Kennedy" Q&A when Feminista published in 2009. This weekend, I felt a deep pang rereading some of her comments, like the following:

"I tackle most things with humor and that's how I think of myself: as a humorist. Sometimes I think that comes out of the fact that I had a very dysfunctional childhood and I have suffered from depression so it's a 'tears of a clown' thing. You need to find the humor in everything just to survive. Like if I were ever to write an Augusten Burroughs-style memoir of dysfunction -- and I could -- it would still be funny like his always are."

But overall, I found her answers to be funny, wickedly smart and full of energy and ideas and wanted more people to read them. For example, check out this almost throw-away analysis of Beyonce and Jay-Z that could literally have sparked a magazine article, PhD thesis or a nonfiction book or novel.

"I think everyone loves Beyonce, this global superstar who literally has it all at 27, because she always takes the 'I'm so blessed just to be here' road and shunts all of her aggression and ambition off on an ALTER EGO. I swear I could write a whole DISSERTATION on the meaning of Sasha Fierce which is at once totally brilliant and totally terrifying that you have to go to that extent to be wildly successful and still be liked if you are a woman. Meanwhile, her husband, the former drug dealer who once shot his brother, stabbed a record executive, brags endlessly, like all male rappers, about how much dough he makes, can let everyone know exactly who he is. The difference in what they each had to do to get and maintain their success is ASTOUNDING."
I thought it fitting for my tribute to be to let Erica's own words about the meaning of her work honor her. When I go, I know that part of what I will leave behind is my words. I hope they represent me as well as Erica's do her. May she rest in peace.

Book give-away and tribute from a reader
And let's not forget the novels themselves! Doret certainly hasn't and doesn't want you to either. She so strongly wants us to remember that she's giving away 2 copies of Feminista. To be entered to win, leave a comment on this blog post. This contest is open until 7 p.m. Eastern Friday, June 22, 2012. I'll pick winners at random. You must live in the lower 48 United States to be eligible.

Everything below is from Doret:

On June 16th, I was having a very nice uneventful Saturday. The weather was good. I spent a few hours at Cozee Tea, a new Black-owned tea shop in Decatur, GA, and got some reading in. While I was enjoying my day, news of author Erica Kennedy's death was quickly making its way around twitter. Since I don't have a twitter account, I was blissfully unaware until a friend emailed the news. It took a moment for the news to sink in, and when it did I wish it hadn't. I haven't been this upset about an author's death since Bebe Campbell Moore and Octavia Butler died in 2006. Kennedy only published two novels, Bling and Feminista, however anyone who has read either will attest to her talent.   Especially Feminista, which showed growth, range and added some much needed depth to the chick lit genre.

If we lived in a world that fully embraced talented Black women writers, Feminista would've gotten the recognition it deserved. After said praise, Kennedy would've received a well-earned new book deal. I should be anticipating Kennedy's next novel but now there is no next. That cannot be undone, but what can be done is to read what we have.

Artists live on through their work and I like to believe that they know when their work is loved even after they left us. Wherever the after is, I like to believe that writers are touched that the words they've left behind are remembered and still move us in some way. So one day I will reread Bling and Feminista, but not anytime soon. When I am strong enough to immerse myself in one of Kennedy's novels again, I will say a silent prayer for the author, and send her my thanks for giving the world two novels that make laughter so easy.  

Thursday, June 7, 2012

And now for some good news!

Congratulations to Natasha Trethewey who will be named our new poet laureate today!

Watch the video below to hear in her own words what motivates her to write.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

On Race and Book Reviews

It's been a while since I've done a blog post about the state of things regarding race and publishing. The reality makes me tired and I'm busy and can't afford to be tired. It can make me depressed and I sure can't afford to get depressed. Plus, I feel like I've said what I had to say on the subject.

Fortunately, there are others not so tired. For example, Roxane Gay decided to take a look at race and book reviews, specifically at The New York Times. The analysis reveals what most of the readers of this blog probably suspect. The Times, they are not really changin' so much.

From her article published by The Rumpus:

"The numbers are grim. Nearly 90% of the books reviewed by The New York Times are written by white writers. That is not even remotely reflective of the racial makeup of this country, where 72% of the population, according to the 2010 census, is white. We know that far more than 81 books were published by writers of color in 2011. You don’t really need other datasets to see this rather glaring imbalance."

Hopefully these numbers will encourage review outlets to be more inclusive in reviewing books—considering race, gender and let us not forget sexuality or other brands of difference—rather than treating diversity as a compartmentalized issue where we can only focus on one kind of inequity at a time. Such mindfulness is important. If we want to encourage people to be better, broader readers, that effort starts by giving readers a better, broader selection of books to choose from.
But go read the whole thing. Look at the pie chart. The sad, sad pie chart. Like Gay, I sure don't pretend to have all the answers, but clearly one is to shed light on the situation as Gay does here.

In related news author Jennifer Weiner (mentioned in Gay's article) shouted out this blog at BEA this week and posted her speech on her blog.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Win a copy of The Devil in Silver

Hat tip to Twitter and author @matjohnson for the news that Victor LaValle is giving away a copy of his upcoming novel The Devil in Silver. I loved Big Machine, which was a little scary. This new one sounds really scary! (Devils are big this summer Devil's Wake, Tananarive Due's and Steven Barnes' zombie novel is out soon too!)

Thursday, April 26, 2012


I fell in love with Leonard Pitts Jr.'s fiction with Before I Forget. Now he's out with a new one, Freeman, coming in May (available for pre-order now). His publisher (which, full disclosure, is set to publish a book by me for writers) sent me a copy. It's a beautiful book, and I highly recommend it.

Set after Abraham Lincoln is assassinated, it's the story of Sam, a runaway slave who sets out on a long journey to find his wife who was still stuck in slavery. Freeman is a love story, as you can tell when you read the first line: "His first thought was of her."

Following is part of a Q&A with Pitts from Agate's press kit on their website. At this link you can read the entire interview and Chapter One of Freeman. I'm excited to see the tour that Pitts and Agate have put together to promote this book. Pitts will follow the same route that Sam does in the book. Go here to see if he's coming to your city.

Q: What was the genesis for Freeman? Where did the idea first come from?

A: Years ago, I read the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Been In The Storm So Long, by Leon F. Litwack, about the lives of the slaves during and immediately after the Civil War. One of the most poignant things I learned from that book was the ordeal freed slaves went through to find their lost and separated family members. Men and women wrote letters, haunted the offices of the Freedmen’s Bureau, and walked hundreds of miles in search of their mothers and brothers and sisters and sons and husbands and wives. The quests were rarely successful; it was not uncommon, for example, for a man to find his wife only to discover that she had given him up for dead and taken up with another man. The idea that freed men and women would strive to be reunited that way, against such impossible odds, struck me as a profound and inspiring statement about the importance they attached to family and to loved ones. It also struck me that this is an aspect of history about which most of us have no clue. It’s something I’ve always kept in the back of my mind. I always thought it would provide the framework for a compelling novel.

Q: Why did you write Freeman? What were you hoping to accomplish with this story?

A: Well, obviously, the first goal of any novel is to entertain. Beyond that, though, there were a number of things I was out to accomplish. I wanted to write a love story that I thought would have a particular resonance for African-American women. I think there is something inherently affirming in the idea that a man would walk a thousand miles in a nearly hopeless search for one particular woman. I wanted to question, albeit indirectly, the whole stereotype of African Americans as a people who are frivolous about family connections, particularly paternal connections. That was certainly not the case right after the Civil War. Finally, I wanted to deal with questions of identity. We tend to treat race as something obvious and immutable, a bright, hard line of separation that cannot be crossed. But from science’s point of view, race does not exist—it’s a myth—and if you look at the history of race, you find it’s a lot more complicated and self-contradictory than we typically believe. I liked the idea of characters grappling with identity in the context of a country that was forced to do the same.

Q: What kind of research did you do in working on the book? Did you learn anything
that surprised you?

A: Researching a historical novel is less about finding out what happened when than about trying to unearth the small details that will help you recreate the physical look of a given time and place, i.e., a grocery story in 1865. I spent a lot of time in the Library of Congress. I also toured a railroad museum and a place that uses horses to help rehabilitate the physically handicapped. I should mention, also, that some of the minor episodes in Freeman—for example, the woman who approaches Sam and Ben in the courthouse, looking for her long lost baby—are fictionalized renditions of things that I learned had actually happened.

Note to readers: I recently signed a contract with Agate to publish a book for writers. The reason I signed on with them is because I admire their list. I was telling folks about their books long before I became one of their authors, but I thought I ought to make it public.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hot off the presses!

Get your fresh, hot fiction! It's a popping April and May! A few upcoming or recent releases I'm delighted to tell you about:

The six novels in Gar Anthony Haywood's mystery series featuring Aaron Gunner, a South-Central Los Angeles native and African-American private investigator, are being rereleased by Mysterious Press!

Speaking of mysteries, Robert Greer has a new one in his CJ Floyd series: Astrid a Pink Horse. See my Q&A with Greer here!

Creeping With the Enemy, the second in Kim Reid's Langdon Prep YA mystery series is out April 24th!

Tayari Jones' big hit Silver Sparrow is out in May in paperback!

Leonard Pitts Jr.'s Freeman also comes out in May! A sweeping historical love story about a runaway slave who goes in search of his wife after the Civil War ends.

Speaking of love stories, Sadeqa Johnson's Love in a Carry On Bag is an old-school love story in the Terry McMillan tradition (and the movie Love Jones). If you're in the Black Expressions Book Club, it's an Alternate Selection for May!

Beverly Jenkins just released A Wish and a Prayer, a new one in her Blessings series. This is the fourth one, so you might want to hurry up and get started on the first three!

And if you like Christian fiction, check out Stacy Hawkins Adams' latest, Coming Home!

You probably already know this, but just in case you missed it: Eric Jerome Dickey and Toni Morrison also have new books. Dickey's is out now and Morrison's comes in May.

I'm reading Freeman now. What are you reading? What are you looking forward to?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Black women writers on Zora Neale Hurston

Alice Walker, Sonia Sanchez and Ruby Dee discussed Zora Neale Hurston at The Greene Space earlier this week in a panel moderated by Hurston's niece Lucy Anne Hurston. Here's the video. (Thanks to @VictoriainVerse for tweeting!)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Guest Interview with Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

NOTE: Carl, you won the copy of No Crystal Stair! Congrats! You can either leave your email in comments below or send me your mailing address via my website. This contest is now closed.

It's my treat to present a wonderful discussion between Doret of The Happy Nappy Bookseller blog and Vaunda Nelson, author of No Crystal Stair. Doret is also giving away a copy of the book! Just leave her a comment on this post. If you don't win here, in the spirit of the book, may I suggest purchasing it from an independent African American bookstore such as: Hue-Man in NYC, EsoWon in L.A., Marcus Books in San Francisco or The Wild Fig Bookstore in Lexington, KY?

Also, you may be interested in reading the NY Times obituary of another famous Harlem bookseller, Una Mulzac.

Everything below is from Doret. Enjoy!

Leave a comment to be entered to win a copy!

When I finished No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, I wanted to give the book a hug but since that wasn't possible I figured I'd do the next best thing and interview the author.

Hi, Vaunda and welcome. Can you tell us a little about No Crystal Stair

No Crystal Stair is a 15-year labor of love. It’s about two things near and dear to my heart -- books and family. It’s is the story of a remarkable man who was a pioneer in the struggle toward literary diversity, a pioneer in the efforts to make more African and African American literature available in America. The man was the Harlem Professor, Lewis Michaux, my great uncle. His National Memorial African Bookstore became a Harlem landmark -- a gathering place for scholars, politicians, activists,writers,artists, actors, and athletes -- until its closing in 1975.

Congratulations on the starred Kirkus Review . What exactly is a documentary novel? (After this interview was complete, No Crystal Stair received another starred review from Horn Book Magazine)

Thank you. Insecurity, doubt, lack of confidence are often a writer’s companions, so when the work is recognized in a positive way, as with the Kirkus star, it does the heart good. I’m thrilled!

After this project evolved from straight biography to its current format, my husband, Drew, started calling it ‘documentary fiction’. Think of it as the book equivalent of a film documentary in which individuals with some connection to the subject share their thoughts and experiences amidst historical photos and footage -- all filtered through a writer’s imagination. I included as much factual information
as I could, while filling in the gaps with some informed speculation (my best guess) about what might have happened to, or been said about, Lewis.

What was your family’s response when you told them about this project?

They were -- and are -- happy, supportive, proud.

Were you able to find any writings or journals of any kind that were kept by Lewis or his brothers Lightfoot and Norris?

No, but I was able to acquire audio tapes and transcripts of interviews with Lewis. Reading his words and hearing his voice were invaluable to developing his character in No Crystal Stair. There’s a short, online clip of Lightfoot preaching that is priceless.

In the book there are photographs of a lot of important African Americans including Malcolm X and some of the Black Panthers. Also, I was actually surprised (happily so) that you really got into the close relationship Lewis had with Malcolm X, a man who was important to the movement, yet seems to be overlooked a lot. Were you ever worried your publisher would say don't focus so much on Malcolm X?

Actually my editor, Andrew Karre, was very excited about Lewis’s friendship with Malcolm X and, early in the process, I thought he might want me to expand this aspect of the story. But Malcolm is such a powerful and fascinating figure, he could easily have taken over the story. Andrew and I worked together to keep him in perspective, to include only Malcolm X materials which were relevant to Lewis’s story. It is, after all, Lewis’s story.

There's a photo of Nikki Giovanni's first book of poems, Black Feeling, Black Talk, published in 1967, along with her thoughts on the National Memorial African Bookstore.

Did you have the opportunity to interview Giovanni?

Yes, by telephone. It was one of the wonderful gifts that working on the project provided. She was kind, funny, and generous with her time and stories.

Interspersed throughout are files that the FBI kept on Lewis Michaux. How did you know such files existed?

I suspected they might exist for several reasons: the rallies that were held outside the store; Lewis’s black nationalist, often controversial, views combined with his outspoken nature; and his close relationship with Malcolm X.

Did Lewis really let people who couldn't buy a book read for free in a back room?

My research says he did. It was a crowded space and his office was back there, so he may not have directed everyone to the office area, but customers certainly could read in the store. I even have an old photo showing the store with a sign out front that reads, “Harlem’s Most Complete Lending Library.”

Lewis Michaux and the National Memorial African Bookstore was a great influence on the Black community. Why do you think a book hasn’t been written about Lewis or his bookstore before now?

Honestly, I don’t know. There were articles about him and the interviews I noted earlier. He and the bookstore are mentioned in numerous books, but none solely on him. This is one of the reasons it was important for me to take on the task. But I don’t consider No Crystal Stair the definitive work on Lewis Michaux.

I was telling a friend (while in a bookstore) who has worked at several, including black owned, about No Crystal Stair. In return she told me about a Swedish documentary she watched recently called The Black Power Mixtape. Have you seen it yet?

Lewis Jr. told me about it, but I have not yet had the opportunity to view it. I look forward to seeing it. I haven't had a chance to watch the documentary either but I have seen a few clips, including one with Lewis Michaux.

Were you ever worried about capturing the essence of your great uncle's larger-than-life personality?

Yes. This is a major reason I abandoned the straight biography and shifted to documentary fiction. Those early attempts lacked the heart I hope I was able to convey in the final book. The new format gave me more options and flexibility to help readers see Lewis’s spirit, his intelligence, his charm, as well as his weaknesses.

Many book lovers, no matter their age, have dreamed of owning a bookstore. Do you think or hope Lewis Michaux’s success with the National Memorial African Bookstore will inspire someone to ignore today's obstacles and take a chance on their own store?

I love spending an afternoon in a cozy independent book store and patronize these stores when I can. It would be a fine thing if reading about Lewis led others to take on the challenge of opening stores of their own. As you suggest, there are obstacles today that didn’t exist when Lewis was in business, but Lewis had to overcome many difficulties, too. Owning and operating a bookstore is hard work whatever the time period. It would take passion and courage to take the risk, but passion and courage often lead to great things.

Vaunda, thanks so much for your time. I hope you and No Crystal Stair have a great year.

Thank you for your kind enthusiasm for No Crystal Stair.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Congratulations and gratitude

Marian is the winner of Panther Baby! Congratulations! You can leave your email in the comments or email me your mailing address through my website.

Thanks so much to everyone for entering! If you didn't win the book you wanted, please consider buying it.

Thanks to authors Bernice McFadden and Trice Hickman for the autographed copies! And thanks to publishers Agate Bolden and Algonquin Books for providing copies.

Next week watch for an interview with Vaunda Nelson, author of No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Giveaway Day 4: Win Panther Baby!

The winner of Keeping Secrets and Telling Lies is As the Page Turns. Congratulations! Thanks everybody for your comments and posts and tweets all week!

We finish up Giveaway Week with Panther Baby by Jamal Joseph, Panther, poet, prisoner, professor and Oscar nominee. (How's that for a curriculum vitae?) It's a memoir about coming of age during the Black Panther movement, which Kirkus called "an inspiring, unapologetic account of his transformation from armed revolutionary to revolutionary artist." For more about the book (supplied by Algonquin), watch the (great!) trailer below.

And read an excerpt here. If you'd like to win a copy, leave a comment below. I'll announce the winner (chosen at random) tomorrow morning...unless power goes out. Denver's getting hit with a monster snowstorm!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Giveaway Day 3: Win Keeping Secrets and Telling Lies!

Congratulations Sidne! You've won Creatures Here Below. Leave your email address in the comments below or email me your snail mail address via my website.

Here's the book trailer for today's giveaway: Keeping Secrets and Telling Lies by Trice Hickman. This one is a re-issue, just out this week. It was self-published and did well enough to garner attention from a traditional publisher. It's a sequel, so if you win it, you might want to pick up Unexpected Interruptions and read it first. Check out this interview with Trice for more about the story.

If you like romance and women's fiction, leave a comment below and you'll have a chance to win! All comments must be left before midnight eastern.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Giveaway Day 2: Win Creatures Here Below!

The winner of Gathering of Waters is Lisa DeNeal. Congratulations! 

Today's book is Creatures Here Below, by O.H. Bennett. The Philadelphia Tribune's review says, " O.H. Bennett grabs his readers by the hand and leads them through a house of miscommunication where everybody thinks too much and talks too little. Despite what I thought was a rocky start, Bennett’s characters become likeable in their frailties and failures, and the back-and-forth ripens into a welcome addition. Grab this book, and if you’re willing to be patient for a few pages, you’ll be rewarded by a bold story. In the end, Creatures Here Below is a novel you’ll be talking about."

The publisher is comparing this book to some of Edward P. Jones' work. I think it also bears favorable comparison to another Agate Bolden novel, Before I Forget by Leonard Pitts Jr. From the publisher's synopsis:

This powerful new novel by O.H. Bennett tells the story of a makeshift family struggling to stay together as life wears away at their bonds of blood and love. At the center of the family is Gail Neighbors, the hardworking single mother of two sons, Mason and Tyler. Mason, the older, grew up without knowing his father, Pony Reed, a feckless gambler and womanizer. Tyler, the younger, sings in the church choir and enjoys a close relationship with his father, Dan, who left Gail a few years before but still spends plenty of time at the house. To make ends meet, Gail has taken in two boarders: Annie, an elderly woman with a diminishing grip on reality, and Jackie, the twenty-year-old single mother of baby Cole, who can't fully accept her overwhelming new responsibilities.

To give you a feel for Bennett's writing, this is Mason in the first chapter, after a fight with a boy who made a joke "something about missing fathers and bastards":

"Most of the blood was Mason's. It caused his ripped shirt sleeve to cling to his upper arm. Small drops landed on the white leather toe of his right sneaker. Mason turned the key and pushed the door open. He tried to do everything softly. He held his hand under his elbow to catch the drips and moved silently through the dark house. He slipped into the downstairs bathroom, easing the door shut with his shoulder before pulling the chain on the light over the sink. Instantly a face appeared in front of him, a dark, narrow, and closed face with brooding eyes, and tiny dots of blood sprayed from hairline to chin. That blood would belong to the that brother who grinned too much, who talked too much."

This is Miss Annie, one of the two boarders, in chapter two:

"Miss Annie Gant woke gripped by pain in her left leg. The leg felt as if it was petrifying from her knee, hardening into a crooked column of stone beneath the sheets....She wanted to ask God for relief so she would not wake anyone, but Miss Annie was too afraid even to breathe. She wanted to disturb no one. No one must rush to her in the middle of the night as if she were a baby. Long, tortuous moments passed and she silently struggled in the dark. She could feel blood finally begin to flow back into her limb, feel the relief of veins, once like the twisting hairs through marble, as they swelled again, returning life to her leg. She let out her breath and with lips moving against the fabric of the pillowcase, whispered thanks to God for allowing her to keep quiet. She heard her prayer answered with an inquisitive whine. A wet, black nose shoved toward her face. 'Shh, Sarrie girl, don't wake nobody. I'm all right now Everything's all better. It's going away. I feel it letting go.'"
And Gail, Mason's mother, who runs the boarding house:

"God is elusive. A preacher told Gail when she was still quiet young that to live life right is to search for Him each and every day like a miner in the deepest hold looking for that vein of gold. Gail searches on her knees in her dark closet. She is an old thirty-nine. She has borne three children: the first, the girl, Gail's mother took from her arms right after delivery. Gail could not find God then, though she called for Him. Gail's father, who would not stand for her mother's scheme, came back to help, but he was days late. He patted her hand while she remained bed-ridden and assured her he would find out where the child was sent and bring her back. But two days later he died of a heart attack and no one remained to champion Gail's cause. She called on God then too. But He did not come. A preacher who found Gail in the last pew late one Sunday night told her God would not come when she called, but if she lived a Christian life, she could go to Him and He would always be there for. So Gail began her search for God at every church and every sanctuary she came across. There were sweet, sweet times when she came close or thought she'd found Him, when the music of the choir and the shouted word of the gospel seized her and she swayed and rocked, burned in the divine light. But the moments of communion were brief and rare. Now, when others hopped and flailed in the aisles and professed their love for Jesus, she too clapped hands and gave praise, but eyed them with skepticism."

Right away, you can see this is a story about people in pain and their connection to one another. A connection that may see them through life's pain.

If you'd like a free copy of Creatures Here Below, leave a comment. Winner chosen at random and announced tomorrow. Please leave only one comment per person. Thanks and good luck! Remember, tomorrow, I'm giving away Keeping Secrets and Telling Lies by Trice Hickman.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Giveaway Day 1: Win Gathering of Waters!

Gathering of Waters is the latest from Bernice McFadden. Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River, said of it: "As strange as this may sound, Bernice L. McFadden has created a magical, fantastic novel centered around the notorious tragedy of Emmett Till's murder. This is a startling, beautifully written piece of work."

Bernice has offered to give a signed copy to one lucky blog reader! All you have to do to enter is leave a comment below. Using, I'll pick a winner. One entry per person. All comments left before midnight Eastern will be eligible to win. The winner will be announced tomorrow. If you don't win, you're free to enter the next day. Good luck! Come back tomorrow to enter for a copy of Creatures Here Below by O.H. Bennett.

Bernice's tour kicks off this week. Check out this video of her reading from the first chapter.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Giveaway Week!

The discussions about how books are marketed according to race, gender, genre, etc. continue, but frankly dear reader, I'm tired of talking about it. I believe I've said what I have to say on the matter. I was gratified to see a commenter on a blog post about NPR reviewing more books by men than women mention this blog. To her, I say a big fat thank you! To all of you who keep coming here scouting for new books to read, I say a big fat thank you!

I'll keep doing my best to point you toward good books. This week I'm happy to say I can go one better than just mentioning books. I'm going to give some away! Four to be exact. All the deets are below.


On Tuesday, January 31st, you could win an autographed copy of Gathering of Waters by Bernice McFadden, which, ironically, was recently glowingly reviewed on NPR.

On Wednesday, February 1st, you could win Creatures Here Below, by O.H. Bennett (supplied by Agate Bolden). Publishers Weekly said, "In his third novel, Bennett (The Lie) brings an African-American community to vivid life with strong and compelling characters and narrative themes to match—growing up, the struggles of parenthood and young adulthood, the responsibilities we all have to each other as people....Bennett handles the multiple plot lines with grace and skill, and readers will appreciate the subtle growth of the characters, as well as the diverse array of experience."

On Thursday, February 2nd, you could win an autographed copy of Keeping Secrets, Telling Lies by Trice Hickman. Originally self-published, it's now being reissued by Kensington. APOOO Book Club said,"Keeping Secrets & Telling Lies, is filled with interesting, three-dimensional characters and a juicy, thought-provoking storyline that explores issues of race, racial identity, class, and fidelity. This book will have you discussing it long after the story ends!"

On Friday, February 3rd, you could win a copy of Panther Baby, a memoir by Jamal Joseph (supplied by Algonquin Books). It'll be released on February 7th. Publishers Weekly called it "spirited," "well-honed" and called Joseph a "fine storyteller." You can read an excerpt here.


Leave a comment on the post of the day of the book you wish to win. Comments left before 10 p.m. Mountain/9 p.m. Pacific/11 p.m. Central/Midnight Eastern will be considered. Winners will be chosen at random and announced the following day. Only one entry per day, please. A person can only win one book. If you don't win the first day you enter, you are welcome to try on another day for a different book. Questions? Leave them in the comments here.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

African American Read In

The 23rd National African American Read In starts in February. It's an effort designed to encourage people to read and discuss books by black authors.

Three book bloggers (Vasilly, Doret, who shared this info with me, and Edi) are hosting an online version on February 22nd. There's a poll up now to vote on what book they will read and chat about. You can vote at Vasilly's site. The winning book will be announced Monday, January 30th.

Friday, January 13, 2012

News and notes

Happy Friday the 13th everyone! Over the course of the week I've picked up a few interesting bits of news from the internets and decided to share them.

A group of YA and kids' books bloggers I respect and admire have started a movement to get people to buy diverse books as birthday gifts for the young folks in our lives. The mission is to encourage a new generation of readers. Have you taken the Birthday Party Pledge yet?

TODAY ONLY, download a FREE ebook of Creatures Here Below by O.H. Bennett from publisher Agate Bolden. It's a really good novel, well worth the money, so to get it for free is really special. Hopefully, this kind of marketing will help it get some well-deserved attention. Download it today and help spread the word. (Watch this blog for a Q&A with Bennett soon.)

ReShonda Tate Billingsley and Victoria Christopher Murray have joined forces with a book just released this week featuring the heroines of their respective series. Sinners and Saints promises to be a fun read, especially if you enjoy Christian fiction. Or if you, like me, enjoy the shenanigans on "The Real Housewives" (Can a "Real Pastors Wives" be far off?). The two are on tour and may be coming to a book store near you!

Hat tip to Connie Briscoe for pointing me to this article on HuffPo about how books are segmented by genre, race, gender and class.

I had not heard of The Book Look online show, until Dolen Perkins-Valdez posted this on Facebook.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Meet: Jacqueline Luckett, author of Passing Love

Our first "White Readers Meet" Q&A of 2012 is with Jacqueline Luckett, author of Searching for Tina Turner. She's here to tell us about her new book Passing Love, which getting lots of other good buzz! The glowing Publisher's Weekly review called it "a dreamy and lyrical paean to all things French..."


Passing Love hits stores (and e-readers) January 25th. But Jackie is offering WRMBA readers an incentive to pre-order. She's going to send a lovely journal to the first 10 people who pre-order and email proof of receipt to info AT jacquelineluckett DOT com!

Passing Love is a story about a woman who has had a lifelong dream to go to Paris. She goes and discovers more than she imagine. Win one of the free journals and use it to reflect on your own life and dreams.

On to the Q&A with Jackie:

White Readers Meet Black Authors: Tell us about your new book. What's the plot? Who are the characters?

Jacqueline Luckett: The new novel is titled PASSING LOVE. It’s quite different from Searching for Tina Turner, and I hope that readers will enjoy. The story alternates between two very different women. Publisher’s Weekly wrote a lovely review. The novel will be a Good Housekeeping February Book Pick.

Moving back and forth in time between the sparkling Paris of today and the jazz-fueled city filled with expatriates in the 1950s, PASSING LOVE is the story of two women dealing with lost love, secrets, and betrayal and how the City of Light may hold all of the answers.

In the present day, Nichole-Marie Handy has loved all things French since she was a child. After the death of her best friend, determined to get out of her rut, she goes to Paris, leaving behind a marriage proposal. Ruby Mae Garrett lives in rural Mississippi in the late 1940s. Ruby believes that she is destined for a big life, and she’s determined to make sure that happens.

"Without fail, each woman had (or was forced) to decide what came next. The only way to figure that out is to take a journey to self. We have to re-discover ourselves, make choices about what comes next, re-invent who we are, and move forward. A hero’s journey is the crux of a good story. I like to show that an emotional journey is just as interesting as a physical one."

WRMBA: Why France? You wrote about it some in Searching for Tina Turner, and now more in Passing Love. Were you French in a past life?

JL: Good question. I’m not sure where the fascination comes from. It’s been a part of me my whole life. My father was in the Army and spent some time in France. The only thing I recall him telling me about his time in France was that the French treated the black American soldiers better than their own countrymen. Both my sister and I have French names, so I figure that something rubbed off on him.

It wasn’t my intention to write about France in Searching for Tina Turner, but once I discovered that she makes her home in the South of France, my character had to go there.

My original idea for PASSING LOVE was to write about an American woman who wanted to make a change in her life and live abroad. Since I was so familiar with France and had spent time in Paris—I decided to write about what I knew. That’s what all the books tell us to do. So, Paris was my logical choice for an ex-pat.

The story changed, as your readers will find out, but it all takes place in Paris.

I once asked a psychic why she thought I was so fascinated with France. She told me that in a past life I was French royalty. Hmmm. I didn't take much stock in her reading, though it does make sense if you believe that we have past lives. Her theory was that I had unfinished business. You could say that I’m taking care of that business in this life.

I studied French in high school, a couple of years in college and now I take weekly lessons. I can understand and make myself understand when I’m in France. I’ve traveled to France several times, and I feel comfortable there. It’s weird, but I learned long ago to roll with it. And look what it’s done for me!

WRMBA: You seem to write a lot about women finding themselves. Why do you think that is?

JL: I want my characters to mirror real life, and “finding” is what all of us will have to do at some point in our lives.

When I first started writing Searching for Tina Turner, I was lost. I mean that in the emotional sense, of course. I still had a home, friends, and my mother lives in a nearby city. I’d just gotten divorced. After all the “dust” settled, I was determined to make a new life for myself.

It took a while to figure out my direction and it occurred to me that other women were probably on the same emotional roller coaster. I spoke to quite a few women who were divorced or in the middle of one. Most were baby boomers with “empty nests.” They all described this feeling of being lost. Disconnected might be a better word. Some of those feelings came from no longer being grounded by children; some from having to start all over again in midlife. I’ve only known of one woman who supposedly planned out her departure from her marriage, but I’m sure she still had to take this same journey to self.

In most cases, divorce, and the lifestyle change, was unexpected. Without fail, each woman had (or was forced) to decide what came next. The only way to figure that out is to take a journey to self. We have to re-discover ourselves, make choices about what comes next, re-invent who we are, and move forward. A hero’s journey is the crux of a good story. I like to show that an emotional journey is just as interesting as a physical one.

WRMBA: You know a bit about wines, I believe. What type of wine(s) would you recommend to readers to enjoy as they read Passing Love?

JL: This is my all time favorite question!

I enjoy wine and recently took a Wine Tasting class to refresh my skills and expand my interest in European wines. Besides champagne (only the French can use this appellation) and sparkling wines (describes the bubbly from any other country), California wines remain my favorite. Frankly, I’m torn. For white wines, I love robust, creamy Chardonnays with a lot of oak. Full-bodied, fruity cabernets, merlots, and zinfandels are my favorite reds, in that order.

At the beginning of PASSING LOVE, Nicole pulls out a bottle of 100-year-old tequila to celebrate her trip. In Paris, she’s introduced to red wine. Ruby doesn’t drink; she’s in love with strong French coffee with lots of milk.

I suggest a combo. A nice shot of your favorite tequila—and a good one is smooth and worth sipping. Since the first two chapters introduce Ruby and Nicole, tequila works well. Then I’d switch to a nice Chardonnay for the rest of the book. Switch to a cabernet when Nicole does.

Finish with a glass of your favorite bubbly—that’s what I intend to do!

WRMBA: What's next for you?

JL: I’ve got several ideas brewing that I want to turn into reality. Novel number three, for sure. (This book will not even have the word Paris in it, but my fingers are crossed behind my back.) I sketched a lot of scenes in a frenzied month-long NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) writing spree.

A few readers have asked about a sequel to Searching for Tina Turner, but unless there’s a lot of demand, I don’t expect to write one (never say never, right?). I’d like to see the novel turned into a movie or a Broadway musical. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for either one of those dreams to come true.

This past summer, I took a class at Berkeley Repertory Theater and wrote a one-act play. At the end of the class, we staged public readings in front of a small group of my friends. It was exciting to hear my words read out loud. I’m going to look for theaters and try to get the play produced.

I have an idea for a screenplay that I’ll probably outline in 2012.

So, I have a lot of ideas. What’s next? Implementation. And maybe, Paris.

WRMBA: What's the best book (or who’s the best writer) that not enough people know about?

JL: Best is hard to say, because I’ve read so many beautiful books by authors well- and little-known. Dianne McKinney-Whetstone is a writer I love. Though she’s received a lot of awards, few people I speak to seem to know her work. I’ve read four of her five novels and loved them all. She lives in Philadelphia and her novels take place there.

McKinney-Whetstone inspired me. Before I started writing, I read an article of how she worked full-time and managed her family, then wrote in the wee hours at her kitchen table. I’m not sure if the story is true, but as a working mother, it gave me hope.

She may be better known than I think, but I haven't seen anything new from her in a while. I checked her website and I see she teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. I don’t see a new novel listed. I wonder if she’s writing.

If I could mention another author, it would be Emily Raboteau (The Professor’s Daughter).

Thanks, Carleen for this opportunity.

WRMBA: You're very welcome! Thank you for telling my readers a little about you and your work!