Book Reviews

New: Twelve Years a Slave

By Gary Rawlins, Black Books and

Twelve Years a Slave, By Solomon Northup, Enhanced Edition by Dr. Sue Eakin, Audio Edition Narrated By Louis Gossett Jr., Telemachus Press, Paperback, 362 pp., $17.95

Twelve Years a Slave, By Solomon Northup, Enhanced Edition by Dr. Sue Eakin, Audio Edition Narrated By Louis Gossett Jr., Telemachus Press, Paperback, 362 pp., $17.95

Soon after Solomon Northup, a kidnapped free black from New York, is sold to a planter in Louisiana, he learns a bitter lesson about speaking truth to evil.

Northup, who had been abducted two years earlier, is asked if he could read and write. He thoughtlessly answers yes. His master assures Northup that if he ever catches him with a book or with pen and paper, he will give him 100 lashes. The planter wants Northup to understand that he is nothing but livestock, meant to pick cotton and chop sugar cane and to mindlessly do whatever he’s told.

Northup should have known better. He had spoken truth at the time of his abduction, and was brutally whipped at a Washington, D.C., slave pen for protesting that he was a free man.

Such was the fate of Northup, who had been happily living in  Saratoga Springs, N.Y., with his wife and three children. We know his story thanks to his autobiography, Twelve Years a Slave, published in the year of his freedom in 1853. Though literate, Northup dictated his story to ghostwriter David Wilson, who allowed Northup to exercise final editorial decisions over the events in the narrative. Northup’s absorbing mind had captured the reality of slavery in shocking detail.

A bestseller in its time, the book validated Harriet Beecher Stowe’s fictional account of southern slavery in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published the year before in 1852. Despite its pre-Civil War success, Twelve Years a Slave had been largely forgotten save for the efforts of the late Sue Eakin, a professor of history at Louisiana State University.

Eakin first discovered the story of Northup in 1931 when she was an adolescent living not far from where Northup was enslaved. She made the story her life’s work. Eakin wrote her master’s thesis about Northup and, after nearly 40 years of research, produced the first authenticated edition of the book in 1968. In 2007, at age 88, she completed a definitive edition with more than 100 pages of ancillary material. Read more →

Montaro Caine: A Novel


Montaro Caine: A Novel, By Sidney Poitier, Spiegel & Grau, Hardcover, 320 pp., $26.00

Montaro Caine: A Novel, By Sidney Poitier, Spiegel & Grau, Hardcover, 320 pp., $26.00

By Mike Tucker, Black Books and

 In this novel of corporate intrigue, exotic locales and bizarre mysticism, Sidney Poitier’s title character endures several prominent pains in the neck simultaneously: a major scandal resulting from a tragic work-related accident, covert attempts by insiders and raiders to wrest control of his company and a teenaged daughter determined to turn bad choices into an art form.

But Montaro Caine keeps his cool with a little booze, adherence to his grandfather’s advice and a dutiful wife who keeps tabs on the home front. He is not given to rash retaliation, empty threats, and hissy fits. As CEO of a major corporation he understands the underlying psychology of winning friends and influencing people—listen before talking, think before reacting.

Caine marshals all his people, business, and spiritual acumen to deal with the discovery of two mysterious coins and their supernatural properties, and to survive the fighting, conniving and thieving that goes on to gain control of these objects and the commercial exploitation they represent.

What is enjoyable in this first novel by Poitier is the storytelling because as an actor and film director he is used to spinning yarns.  Montaro Caine is a good one. Read more →

The Laura Line: “Love yourself. Love your ‘Line.’ Live your dreams.”

The Laura Line, By Crystal Allen, Balzer and Bray, Hardcover, 336 pp, $16.99

The Laura Line, By Crystal Allen, Balzer and Bray, Hardcover, 336 pp, $16.99

By Donna Williams Vance,

Crystal Allen, author of The Laura Line, says the moral of the story is: “Love yourself. Love your ‘Line.’ Live your dreams.”

Your “Line?” What’s that, you say?

Stay tuned.

In the meantime, know that those words sum up the many messages in “The Laura Line,” Allen’s second book for folks ages 8 to 12.  Her first for that age group is How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy.

“I seem to naturally write for middle graders,” Allen says. “Their voices flow so easily for me, and I love that age group.”

“The Laura Line” protagonist is Laura Eboni Dyson, who uses the modern vernacular of a 13-year-old.  She emphasizes her thoughts with “heck to the double yes!” Laura’s analogies reflect an early teen’s mindset, and her language, in general, is colorful and expressive, and conveys grown-up thoughts just as an adolescent would.  From Laura’s feelings and self-assessments to her crush on her “hunky chunky,” Troy, to the realization of her ancestry – her “line” – Allen transforms herself into an early teen, not only with language, but with imagery.

For example, Laura imagines herself in the facial dimple – yes, inside the dimple – of her “ultra-cute” crush, Troy.  Silly, perhaps, but typical for a seventh-grader.  Or, in describing her grandmother’s hallway, Laura evokes this picture: “The walls leading down the hall are painted a green I’ve never seen in any crayon box … It’s not gross-green or even puke-green, but it definitely belongs in the sick-green family.” (Is this not the voice of a 13-year-old?!) Read more →

Little Green: An Easy Rawlins Mystery, by Walter Mosley

Little Green: An Easy Rawlins Mystery, By Walter Mosley, Doubleday, Hardcover, 305 pp., $25.95.

Little Green: An Easy Rawlins Mystery, By Walter Mosley, Doubleday, Hardcover, 305 pp., $25.95.

By R.A. Brooks Sr., Black Books and

He’s alive!

Some five years after author Walter Mosley sends the iconic private detective Easy Rawlins plunging over a California cliff in a car crash in Blonde Faith, we find out that he didn’t die after all.

So, here it is — a 12th Easy Rawlins mystery – Little Green. And it is a classic Walter Mosley detective mystery. After he is found dying and nursed back to health by his best friend, the cold-blooded killer Mouse, Easy Rawlins is off on another adventurous case that immediately reminds us just how much we missed him.

While Rawlins was gone, Mosley gave us another series, this one featuring Leonid McGill. (The new character has appeared in four books to be exact.)  But as much as I enjoyed McGill, he was no Easy Rawlins. And boy did we miss our favorite 60s-era black private eye.

We see quickly why we missed Easy so much. Still, not quite recovered, physically or mentally from the tragic accident, Rawlins embarks on a search for a teenager known as Little Green. And he takes on this assignment as a personal favor to Mouse.

Powered by some weird concoction called Gator’s Blood given to him by good friend and conjure woman Mama Jo, his latest journey takes him to the Los Angeles hippy culture and community in 1967. It is a world of free love, psychedelic drugs and for the first time since his days as a soldier in World War II France, Rawlins sees a truly color-blind world.

But once he steps back outside that world, all the demons, evil and racism remain, stronger than ever. There are the racist cops who want to arrest and destroy him, and the racist thugs who want to kill him. And, oh, the black thugs too.

Read more →

New: Young Thurgood: The Making of a Supreme Court Justice

Young Thurgood: The Making of a Supreme Court Justice,  By Larry S. Gibson, Prometheus Books, Hardcover, 413 pp., $19.29

Young Thurgood: The Making of a Supreme Court Justice,
By Larry S. Gibson, Prometheus Books, Hardcover, 413 pp., $19.29

By Gary Rawlins, Black Books and

Thurgood Marshall devoted his life to forging legal principles that advanced equal rights for all Americans. Marshall first gained national acclaim for winning Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, one of the single most important and controversial decisions in Supreme Court history. Afterward, his star continued to rise. He would become a member of the U.S Court of Appeals, solicitor general of the United States, and an associate justice to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Larry S. Gibson, a law professor at the University of Maryland, has written a book about Marshall that focuses on the early career of the civil rights crusader. Young Thurgood: The Making of a Supreme Court Justice stops short of a detailed examination of his work as the NAACP lawyer assigned to represent the parents when the High Court opened arguments in the Brown case.

Gibson begins at the beginning, introducing the extended family: grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins. It’s a family of achievers — some with remarkable names: Uncle Fearless Williams, personal assistant to president of the B&O Railroad; grandfathers Isaiah Olive Branch Williams and Thorney Good Marshall, both successful Baltimore grocers.

His mother’s father was born free in rural Maryland and served on Union vessels during the Civil War. His paternal grandfather had been a slave, a Union volunteer and a Buffalo Soldier. Like his grandson decades later, Thorney changed his name from Thoroughgood. Gibson doesn’t say so but, according to some accounts, Thorney made up the name Thoroughgood when he joined the Union Army. Read more →

The House Girl: A Novel


The House Girl: A Novel By Tara Conklin,  HarperCollins, Hardback, 372 pp, $25.99

The House Girl: A Novel
By Tara Conklin,
HarperCollins, Hardback, 372 pp, $25.99

By Donna Williams Vance, Black Books and

When you finish a novel, and bask with the same satisfaction you get from a good meal, a stimulating phone conversation, or a successful business pitch, you know you’ve read a good book.

Tara Conklin’s debut, “The House Girl: A Novel,” is such a book. Conklin lays all those forms of contentment right in the reader’s lap, as her braided novel rewinds and fast-forwards between a fallow tobacco farm from which a young slave named Josephine flees, and the modern-day New York City streets upon which budding lawyer Lina Sparrow trods.

In leading the reader through “The House Girl,” Conklin uses language to mold her tale as deftly as a potter uses clay to craft a functional and beautiful vessel.

From the abruptness of the first sentence through the compassion of the last, Conklin’s “The House Girl” has the reader rapt and baited for the stories that lay ahead. Conklin’s first sentence, ”Mister hit Josephine with the palm of his hand across her left cheek…”  is as gripping as Claude Brown’s ”Run!” from “Manchild in the Promised Land.”  There begins our fulfilling relationship with Josephine, Lina and this thoughtful book.

In some abstract way, “House Girl,” could be deemed a mystery.  Sometimes a whodunnit, but also a how-dunnit, what-dunnit and what has happened and what will happen next.  One of her main characters has disappeared without a trace (or so it seems).

Conklin begins her story – not her book – when a young law associate is given a case for slave reparations. In her quest for a slave descendent to receive those reparations, Lina finds herself mired in controversy: one of art; one of authenticity; and one of her own: Is the art Josephine’s or her mistress’?  Who foiled her escape attempt?  What happened to Lina’s mother? Read more →

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, By Tom Reiss, Crown, Hardcover, 432 pp., $16.08

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, By Tom Reiss, Crown, Hardcover, 432 pp., $16.08

By Gary Rawlins, Black Books and

Author Tom Reiss has something to add to the debate, now two centuries old, on the legacy of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Scholars have quarreled over the merits of the little Corsican’s reign since his epoch-ending defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Reiss has little regard for the French emperor and weighs in splendidly with his latest book.

Napoleon’s unique influence is indisputable. In an age of monarchy, he granted constitutions, reformed laws, abolished feudalism, and made government more efficient, according to scholars. He encouraged the growth of science, literature, education and the arts.

Though the French Revolution ultimately failed, thanks to Napoleon its ideals spread across a continent, scholars agree. Marching across Europe, Napoleon’s soldiers carried with them ideas of equality. Later monarchs found the seeds of liberalism planted by the French were impossible to eradicate.

Napoleon has been known either as this liberator from a tyranny that gripped Europe for a millennium or as the instigator of an eponymous age of violent upheaval and constant war. Reiss shatters this binary perception, producing a clear-eyed picture of an ambitious revolutionary turned vainglorious despot.

Reiss makes his case in a book not about Napoleon but about one of his generals, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, the protagonist of The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo.

Reiss’ research is an essential part of the narrative thread. Searching for documentation, the author tells how he blew open a safe in the general’s hometown to get at his papers and discovered a trove of material that no earlier biographer had seen. Reiss took what had to be dusty piles of documents and produced a book that is at once illuminating biography and riveting adventure.
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My Story, My Song: Mother-Daughter Reflections on Life and Faith, by Lucimarian Roberts

My Song: Mother-Daughter Reflections on Life and Faith
By Lucimarian Roberts as told to Missy Buchanan, Upper Room Books, Hardcover, 144 pp., $10.98

By Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb, Black Books and

Robin Roberts received welcome after heartfelt welcome from people famous and ordinary when she returned to the Good Morning America anchor desk February 20, five months after a bone marrow transplant. In between delivering the news, Roberts heard scores of people tell her how inspired they were by her courage and strength.

While standing together in the Good Morning America studio, Robin Roberts and sisters Dorothy and Sally Ann, who was her transplant donor, agreed they and their brother Lawrence were all following their mother’s legacy when it came to inspiration and survival against the odds. Lucimarian Tolliver Roberts left them– and us– a life narrative teeming with faith, hope and grace amid adversity when she died at age 88 last August. Her death came months after her new book was released and on the same day that Robin Roberts left Good Morning America to prepare for cancer treatment.

In her book, My Story, My Song: Mother-Daughter Reflections on Life and Faith, Lucimarian Roberts opened up her life to give us an engaging glimpse at what a journey of stead-fast faith looks like, even when disappointment  and resistance are encountered along the way. Her daughter, Robin, lent her star influence to the book by adding an introduction and personal reflections at the end of several chapters. Together the Roberts duo provide a striking portrait, much like the one on the book’s cover, of the sustaining power of God, family, love and living purposeful lives.

Mrs. Robert’s story takes us through the ups and downs of the black experience. Along the way, we get to see the making of a strong African American woman and her family, as well as formative moments in the history of a people from a fresh perspective.  She begins her story with her sharecropper grandparents who moved from Alabama to Akron, Ohio, as part of the great Southern migration. She grew up with a father who was entrepreneurial but unpredictable because of his drinking and a mother who held the family together with determination and commitment to her Christian faith.  Read more →

Redefining Diva: Life Lessons from the Original Dreamgirl

By Lorrie Grant, Black Books and

Redefining Diva: Life Lessons from the Original Dreamgirl
By Sheryl Lee Ralph
Gallery Books/Karen Hunter Publishing, Paperback, 224 pp., $14.00

Actress Sheryl Lee Ralph beams from the cover of her new book resplendent in red, draped in pearls, and as if you couldn’t already figure out an apropos title, there it blings: “DIVA.”

Ralph tells you up front that the diva she’s speaking of is not the familiar trope assigned to the uber needy or those who otherwise think too highly of themselves.  Instead she redefines diva using acronyms:

Divinely Inspired Victoriously Anointed

Definitely Inspirational and Vivaciously Alive

Daringly Inquisitive and Valiantly Aware

She gives you a number of versions not because she wants you to pick, but because she wants you to create your own simply by embracing the diva that you already are.

Throughout the book she leaves diva lessons – “A diva always finds her joy,” “A diva doesn’t quit,” “Real divas have their highs and lows,” “A diva knows when to make an exit” – that saw her through a successful career in the movies, on TV and Broadway’s smash hit “Dreamgirls.”

Ralph knew early on that she was special. Academically gifted, her working-class family headed by her dad who was an educator boosted her self-esteem.  They saw her through youth beauty pageants that exposed her flair for the dramatic as well as her historic entry into Rutgers University – at 16, she was in the first class to accept women and was one of only two African-American women admitted.

She started out trying to become the doctor or lawyer her mother wanted. But something about a dead rabbit and scalpel put in front of young Sheryl made her bow out of her Organic Chemistry on the first day; and she couldn’t stomach Constitutional Law any better.  But while wandering

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American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama

American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama
by Rachel L. Swarns, Hardcover, 400pp., $18.47

By Isidra Person-Lynn, Black Books and

When America’s current First Family moved in to the White House, researchers, reporters and gossip bloggers dug and dug deep for any shred of information about them, especially the multiracial family of President Barack Obama.   Despite numerous items of proof to the contrary, there is still a growing birther movement that as recently as Dec. 1 has filed a challenge to the president’s “birthright” to hold the highest office in the land.  Until now, First Lady Michelle Obama was taken at face value.  Until now, the first lady and the American melting pot (or tapestry) that she represents rendered her as a monolithic black person. The sum total of her rich brown melanin and genes of helix hair rendered her simply African American.

Until, that is, New York Times reporter-turned-genealogist Rachel L. Swarns, armed with research by a number of sources, dug deep into the roots of Mrs. Obama’s family tree and confirmed –through DNA–branches that  “The First Lady is the descendant of both Irish Immigrants who nurtured their dreams in a new land and of African Americans who triumphed over servitude and segregation.  Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama is the inheritor of our nation’s complex, often unspoken lineage,” wrote Swarns on page 299 in American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama, (Amistad) published this year.

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NEW! A Father First: How My Life Became Bigger Than Basketball

Curtis R. Austin, Black Books and

A Father First: How My Life Became Bigger Than Basketball
by Dwyane Wade
William Morrow, Hardcover, 352 pp., $26.99

Basketball superstar Dwyane Wade’s autobiography “A Father First: How My Life Became Bigger than Basketball” is less a locker room peek at the inner world of professional basketball, as it is a touching glimpse at a poverty-stricken kid’s unshakeable faith in his drug addicted mother and how the kid-turned-dad wages an against-all-odds legal battle for the two sons he so adores. In his first literary outing, Wade delivers an emotionally thunderous slam dunk.

Wade, who was awarded 2006 Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated  and named the NBA Finals MVP after leading his Miami Heat to the first of their two NBA Championships that same year, uses basketball as a backdrop as he tells his story of growing up on the Southside of Chicago, arguably one of the toughest cities in America.

Wade, aka “D-Wade” or “Flash,” drafts veteran writer Mim Eichler Rivas help him tell his tale. Eichler was the ghost writer  on the New York Times’ bestsellers “The Pursuit  of Happyness ” with Chris Gardner that became a movie of the same name starring Will Smith; and “Finding Fish,”  with Antwone  Fisher, which was the basis of the Denzel Washington film “Antwone Fisher.”

Through Wade’s voice, Rivas is at the top of her game as the story begins to unfold as Wade, now an established NBA superstar, is at home resting in preparation for a playoff run after beating the Los Angeles Lakers the night before. At home, he receives a text message from his lawyer informing  him  that the judge has made a decision  in “the very public, drawn-out custody battle for my sons, nine-year-old Zaire and almost four-year-old Zion. ..  It’s over.”

The lawyer’s news that night in March 2011 triggers memories for Wade of his own hard scrabble youth: “I’m taken back to the memory of something that happened to another boy, age eight and a half, who – twenty years earlier – felt he also had been left on the doorstep of uncertainty. …. The year was 1990 … The place was the Southside of Chicago, on the corner of Fifty-Ninth and Prairie,  not the projects but a place hard-hit by poverty and drugs, where the sound of gunfire was more or less constant and knowing someone who died young was a reality. The boy I’m remembering is me.”

Fifty-Ninth and Prairie, if memory serves me correct, is in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, less than 20 blocks from the Windy City’s Bronzeville neighborhood, Chicago’s answer to New York City’s fabled Harlem. Like Harlem, Bronzeville is steeped in historical and cultural landmarks, a breathing monument to the generations of Blacks who migrated there from the South.  And just like Harlem, there is an undercurrent there: gangs, violence and drugs.
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The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln

Gary Rawlins, Black Books and

The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln
by Stephen L. Carter
Knopf, Hardcover, 528 pp., $26.95

What if Abraham Lincoln had never been assassinated? It’s a pointless supposition. History is history — it is a progression of events chiseled into the granite of time. Historians can only piece together events and say as little about them as is needed to avoid inaccuracies. The writer can adorn and embellish.

Stephen Carter is both scholar and fiction writer, thus able to expertly trod the factual ground before crossing the frontier into fiction. Carter, a Yale University law professor, is the author of 11 books of fiction and nonfiction. In his latest novel, The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln, Carter spins a tale for which he is well-suited as a legal scholar.

Lincoln is probably the most admired of all American presidents. But his cult status did not emerge until after his assassination. Indeed, Lincoln might never have been re-elected had Union General William Tecumseh Sherman failed to take Atlanta in the summer of 1864. In winning the war, Lincoln kept the country whole, securing a place in the presidential pantheon. Had it not been for him, perhaps the United States would be two, possibly three, nations.

By keeping the 16th president alive after John Wilkes Booth, Carter imagines a country in which Lincoln is no longer looked upon as a martyr for the cause of abolition and union. Carter extrapolates from the historical record, extending truths about the Lincoln presidency into the realm of alternate history.

What is true about Lincoln is that his enemies were not all Confederates. Hatred of Lincoln was not confined to the South. Animus ran deep in the North as well, particularly among opposition Democrats inflamed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Making slave liberation a war aim ignited an anti-war movement.

Lincoln’s way of prosecuting the war prompted accusations that he was a tyrant perverting the Constitution. Accusations set forth in Carter’s novel are nearly all matters of history. Lincoln arrested opposition spokesmen. He suspended habeas corpus and ignored court orders demanding the release of prisoners. He placed Northern cities under martial law.

Hard as Lincoln fought to knock out the Confederacy, zealous anti-slavery members of his own party accused him of pulling his punches. Waving the flag of abolition, Radical Republicans decried what they viewed as Lincoln’s timidity. To crusading abolitionists like Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner and Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens (background characters in Carter’s book), Lincoln was no friend of the black man, slave or free. His early policy initiatives would almost invite this conclusion.

During the first year of the war, several generals with abolitionist sympathies advocated black enlistment. A few of them actually exceeded their authority and organized army regiments composed of African-Americans. Each time, Lincoln rebuffed their efforts. At a meeting with black leaders on August 14, 1862, Lincoln tried to persuade his listeners to establish a colony of free black people in Central America.

Lincoln’s hesitancy on racial matters and his apparent disregard for the Constitution forms the basis of Carter’s fictional foray into impeachment.

As the story begins, the year is 1867. Lincoln has returned to office, fully recovered from the assassination attempt by Booth. His legal team is preparing a defense of their client against a Radical Republican attempt to remove him from office. Included on the team is the fictional Abigail Canter, a 21-year-old black woman whose ambition is to be a lawyer. Abigail, a recent graduate of Oberlin College in Ohio, has been recommended to the firm by her college mentor.

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NEW! Michael Vick, Finally Free: An Autobiography

By Lee Ivory, Black Books and

Michael Vick: Finally Free
By Michael Vick
Worthy Publishing, Hardcover, 304pp., $24.99

The world of sports – like life – is full of cautionary tales. The basketball player who turns to drugs and ruins a promising career. The boxer who dies broke and broken. And the football player who spends his last days doing menial jobs for pats on the back.

Michael Vick, Finally Free: An Autobiography (Worthy Publishing) is in itself a cautionary tale of huge proportions, albeit one that, so far, is shaping into a happy ending. Make no mistake, the book – written with Brett Honeycutt and Stephen Copeland of Sports Spectrum magazine — is full of lessons large and small about the perils of choosing shady friends and shrugging off advice from people who have your best interests at heart. But in the end, Vick doesn’t blame anyone but himself for his downfall from the top of the heap in the NFL. And he vows to do better.

By now, we all know that Vick, 32, served 23 months in federal prison for his role in a dogfighting enterprise. The book goes into fairly deep detail about how he got into dogfighting and how involved he was in the illicit and barbaric enterprise.

Vick eloquently writes about his poor upbringing in the Ridley Circle housing project – Unit 667 – in a crime-ridden area of Newport News, Va., or as it is sometimes referred, Newport Nam. Violence, he writes, was rampant and often sudden. He even lost one of his childhood friends to a random shooting as the boy walked down the street.

But Vick was insulated from the violence of the streets of Newport News by two things  – his immediate family, especially his grandmother, Caletha Vick, and football.

An athletic prodigy, Vick first showed brilliance playing football for the Boys and Girls Club, where for the first time he heard the roar of an approving crowd. After throwing a touchdown pass on his first play, “… People started grabbing me. I was so happy and excited. I loved that feeling. I chased that feeling,” he said.

Even though Vick dodged most of what he calls “the neighborhood nonsense” by embracing sports, he admits he was no angel. He talks about stealing seafood from a local restaurant to sell later to his friends and walking or riding his bike far from the confines of his neighborhood without the knowledge of his parents.

On the subject of his parents, Vick describes his mother, Brenda, as the “rock” of his family. He goes on to say that his friends thought his family was special because both parents lived together in the house.

Aside from his father, Vick had a couple of strong male figures in his life who tried to keep him on the straight and narrow – James “Poo” Johnson, who ran the Boys and Girls Club, and Tommy Reamon, a local football coach who encouraged the young talent and even paid for him to go to football camps. To this day, both men are still in Vick’s life.

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You Have No Idea: A Famous Daughter, Her No-nonsense Mother, and How They Survived Pageants, Hollywood, Love, Loss (and Each Other)

By Nekisha Mohan, Black Books and

You Have No Idea
A Famous Daughter, Her No-Nonsense Mother, and How They Survived Pageants, Hollywood, Love, Loss (and Each Other)
By Vanessa Williams & Helen Williams
Gotham, Hardcover, 304pp., $28.00

No matter how badly you have ever screwed up, chances are it wasn’t as highly publicized as Vanessa Williams’ racy nude photos that eventually led to her resigning as Miss America.

In her autobiography, “You have no idea, a famous daughter and her no nonsense mother: How we survived pageants, Hollywood, love and loss and each other, ” Williams does not beat around the bush getting to the scandal.

It is how most of America was introduced to her and she knows it. Williams tells her side, how a naive young rebellious woman was enticed into taking her clothes off and shooting photos with another naked woman, all shot by a photographer who “promised” they would never go anywhere.

We know how that turned out. Her mother never found out about it until it threatened her reign as Miss America, the first black woman to hold that title. In her words Helen Williams walks us through her end of the scandal in the pragmatic way she raised her rebellious daughter Vanessa.

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A Golden Voice: How Faith, Hard Work, and Humility Brought Me from the Streets to Salvation

By Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb, Black Books and Reviews

A Golden Voice
How Faith, Hard Work, and Humility Brought Me from the Streets to Salvation
by Ted Williams with Bret Witter
Gotham Books, 272 pp., $26.00

Ted Williams lays his life bare in his new book, A Golden Voice, and he tells you upfront that the book and his life are not pretty. He’s right when he says the book is painful to read and that you will not like him for some of what you read. Williams is honest –in graphic detail — about his descent into a crack cocaine ravaged hell of his own making. It is that candor, told in a conversational, readable style, which makes his struggle to regain his spiritual center and his life all the more powerful.

I am drawn to stories of faith and redemption, to the personal testimonies of how God can take a messed up life and restore it beyond what it was before. Williams certainly personifies that in his book. He was a popular Columbus, Ohio radio personality with a deep and melodious voice before he allowed his life to tumble into a 20-year morass of alcohol then crack addiction, stealing and jail time, abandoning his family and prostituting his girlfriend. He moved from apartment living to seedy motels before becoming homeless and living in the woods. He was a con man and a thief who used his rich voice when he needed money to buy drugs. Williams enjoyed 15 minutes of media fame last year after a YouTube video of him panhandling on a street corner and using his “golden voice” went viral. Read more →

The One: The Life and Music of James Brown

By Calvin Lawrence Jr., Black Books and Reviews

The Life and Music of James Brown
By RJ Smith
Illustrated. 455 pp. Gotham Books. $27.50.

Singer James Brown was no more inclined to explain his interpretation of the “One” than he was his penchant for abusing some of the women in his life. But that didn’t stop the late Godfather of Soul from using the “One” — his signature though mysterious rhythm count — to his advantage, as when band members fell short of his notoriously unforgiving stage directives to find that beat.

“You just ain’t on the One,” Brown would grumble to a barely-20-year-old Bootsy Collins in the early-’70s, the funk bassist recalls in The One: The Life and Music of James Brown. “As far as he was concerned,” Bootsy, now 60, says, “we were never on the One.”

Jazz and funk trombonist Fred Wesley was more put off and even less impressed by Brown’s efforts to maintain the upper hand. “It’s really — it’s a joke,” he tells The One author RJ Smith. “He didn’t know what the One was to him. To him it’s the downbeat. But he didn’t know what it was … as far as it being some kind of concept — I don’t think so.”

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Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge

By Curtis Austin, Black Books and Reviews

Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge

Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge
By Etan Thomas with Nick Chiles
Hardcover, New American Library
290 pages, $25.95

For anyone who has ever experienced the awe of becoming a father, or the anguish of having grown up without one, the collection of celebrity essays in “Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge” offers a kaleidoscope of feelings and opinions that will either elicit a knowing smile or the wince of a painful recollection as men of many different races, professions and backgrounds weigh in on the importance of being daddy.

Thomas, a veteran NBA player, most recently with the Atlanta Hawks, teams with Nick Charles, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author, to explore the world of fatherhood through the lenses of such celebrities as Isaiah Washington, Howard Dean, Will Downing and Ice Cube to name a few.

The essays are threaded with Thomas’ own philosophy of fathering and his memories of how having a Dad he saw only once a month created waves of anger and frustration that took him years to let go.

If there is a common thread that runs through all of these pieces it is that for good or ill, fathers leave in indelible imprint on the lives of their offspring. Read more →

Ledesi’s Better than Alright: Finding Peace, Love & Power

By Tahira Brooks , Black Books and Reviews

ESSENCE Presents Ledisi Better Than Alright: Finding Peace, Love & Power

Essence Presents Ledisi
Better than Alright: Finding Peace, Love & Power

By Ledisi
Hardcover, Essence, 176 pages, $16.95

Miguel Ruiz & Harriet Tubman, John F. Kennedy & Diana Ross,
Ruby Dee & Barak Obama…

What do these leaders, writers and entertainers have in common? They all wrote or said words that inspire singer, songwriter and, most recently, author, Ledisi Anibade Young.

Ledisi, a seven-time Grammy nominee, has inspired the masses with heartfelt, soulful and uplifting music for years. Her music is a soundtrack to the struggle for self-acceptance and self-love. Among other titles, her acclaimed releases of songs Pieces of Me and, more recently, Bravo, deliver lyrics that truly motivate the soul.

I got a new walk and a new point of view
A new purpose for everything I gotta do…
All I really want to see is the whole world stand up tonight.

Ledisi’s music has brought inspiration to many. But who inspires her courage, her peace and her overwhelming love? Read more →