Friday, June 23, 2017

Book Reviews

Your boss is a VIP: a Very Important Person.

Nothing gets done without approval from the Executive Suite and nothing is unnoticed; there’s a finger on the pulse of your company at all times, which is probably how The Boss got to the top. And in the new book “Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?” by Alyssa Mastromonaco (with Lauren Oyler), you’ll see what it’s like to work for a guy who’s more than just the president of any corporation …

Born in the mid-1970s and raised in small-town Vermont, Mastromonaco says she was independent early-on and marched to her own drummer but wasn’t particularly political unless it was “cool.” Nevertheless, one summer between college semesters, she interned for Bernie Sanders and discovered what she wanted to do with her life.

But first, she worked as a paralegal. She had a short stint in finance, and she worked at Sotheby’s. Finally, she practically begged for a job with John Kerry’s team, but she says she knew that she didn’t want to work for anyone who’d ever want to run for president, so she procured a job with Senator Barack Obama’s team. Ha!

There were no working manuals for the youngest woman to ever assume the office of deputy chief of staff to the president. It was hard to find advice (“… all my mentors were men”) and so Mastromonaco decided to write a book in answer the question of do-ability for the average job-seeker.

If you want a job in politics, “always be prepared” because “Preparation is protection you can create for yourself.” Walk with purpose; try “to look like you belong.” Before you take a job, “ask to see where you’ll be sitting.” Be “reasonable, savvy, and polite …” to the entire staff, and know as much as possible about the people you meet. Remember that “your credit score matters.” Watch what you do on social media. Take care of yourself. And finally, when it’s time to go, go … but do it with class.

Though author Alyssa Mastromonaco (with Lauren Oyler) says she hadn’t planned on making this book a biography, that’s about half of what you get here. The other half is sass and swagger and more profanity than you should expect, mixed with business advice that sometimes hovers between the lines.

“Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?” indeed.

Actually, you will. This book is a unique insider’s peek at how presidential campaigns are run, how POTUS travels seemingly seamlessly, and how one person does the 24/7 job of six. Readers with their sights set on major behind-the-scenes political employment will appreciate Mastromonaco’s truthfulness: she writes of sleepless nights and “the loneliest time of my life,” as well as the rewards of an interesting job – all of which she tells with humor and not just a little pride.

This is an easy-to-enjoy book that makes readers feel more in-the-know, especially if you’re curious, business-minded, or love politics. For you, the VIP in “Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?” is in its Very Important Pages.

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?”
by Alyssa Mastromonaco with Lauren Oyler
© 2017, Twelve
$27/$35 Canada
256 pages

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

You really can’t remember. For sure, something important happened years ago, something you should recall very easily, but time’s made things fuzzy. Have you forgotten or, worse yet, have you just remembered everything wrong?

Usually, you suppose, it wouldn’t matter but in the new book “The Blood of Emmett Till” by Timothy B. Tyson, it surely does.

For decades, Carolyn Bryant Donham didn’t talk about Emmett Till, her accusations, or his murder in 1955. Stories about that day swirled through the years, in court and out, depending on who was asked, but she kept mum until she read a book by Tyson, about a similar incident that happened fifteen years after Till was killed.

She reached out to Tyson, he claims, ready to talk.

She’d written a biography, she said, and wanted it, and some other documents, to be archived appropriately. She denied remembering much, really, but it was during one of their interviews that Carolyn, at whom Till supposedly flirted, dropped a bombshell: she said Till never did what he was accused of doing.

He didn’t do it.

Contrary to popular notions, says Tyson, it’s unlikely that Emmett Till wasn’t aware of the dangers of interacting with white folks in 1955 Mississippi . Chicago , where Till grew up, was segregated, too, and he’d surely heard northward-migrating Mississippians talk about trouble.

Fourteen years old and filled with adolescence, he knew the dangers but he might have underestimated them.

He’d begged his mother to let him take a train south to visit kin. She’d probably warned him anew of the risks; Mamie Till Mobley had lived in Mississippi , and she knew that “Citizens Councils” existed in the South, that they’d use intimidation and violence as tools of enforcement. The Brown v. Board of Education decision had also been released not long before and she must’ve sensed that the South was bubbling, when Emmett Till stepped into a grocery store in Money, Mississippi.

He was there, they claimed, less than a minute …

As author Timothy B. Tyson says, we may never know exactly what happened on that day in 1955. Some key people are dead, some have memories muddied by time or threats – but with those facts in mind, there’s still no denying that “The Blood of Emmett Till,” contains historical TNT.

Donham’s confession aside (as if that’s not reason enough to read this book), Tyson does a fine job recounting what happened to Till, and afterward. No book on Till is complete without that, but the difference is that this one seems to ferret out small details that feel more uncommon; absolutely, Tyson gives additional back-story to Till, his mother, their family, to the accuser and her family, and to the atmosphere that surrounded them then. Those things are interesting – they’ll keep you reading – but that’s probably not what you’d come to this book for.

Indeed, this is as hot-button as they come, and it’s likely not the definitive word on this murder. Stay tuned – and in the meantime, “The Blood of Emmett Till” is the title to remember.

“The Blood of Emmett Till”
by Timothy B. Tyson
c.2017, Simon & Schuster
$27.00 / $36.00 Canada
304 pages

Coretta Scott King – wife of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., founder of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (The King Center), and twentieth-century American civil and human rights hero toward the end of her life commissioned Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds to write her memoir.  It will be released on January 17th 2017.

Dr. Reynolds, a journalist and author of six books, first came into contact with Coretta King in 1975 when she was assigned to write a magazine article for the Chicago Tribune. From that encounter a 30-year life-changing relationship of mentorship and friendship evolved, resulting in King turning to Reynolds, an ordained minister, to write about her most noteworthy accomplishments but also her deepest pain and setbacks.

From the pages of this compelling book, Coretta King emerges from the shadows, the margins of history and more importantly from behind the labels of wife of … mother of … and leader of … which – while correct – never went deep enough to reveal the fullness of her life.

In her memoir, readers will see both character and courage, a woman who was not only married to Dr. King, but was married to the movement of which she was a partner.  She  was born in April 27, 1927  into the troubled and twisted times in Alabama, where her house was burned down as a teenager; she was in her home with her 2-year-old baby when her home was fire-bombed during the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Although she never knew if the same hate that killed the love of her life would also claim her life and those of her children, she refused to step aside even as threats continued long after the assassination of her husband.

In her own voice, the book reveals a Coretta, moving on through many lonely days as the architect of her husband’s legacy working tirelessly to found and develop The King Center as a quasi-international West Point of Non-violence, lobbying for 15 years for the U.S. national holiday in honor of her husband and campaigning for the rights of the disadvantaged around the globe and at home.
In this memoir, for the first time Coretta King talks candidly about her marriage and the rumored reports of Dr. King’s infidelity; she offers her thoughts on the reasons behind SCLC co-founder Ralph Abernathy’s unfavorable characterization of Martin in his autobiography, as well as some unproductive characteristics within the inner circle of the civil rights movement.
Legendary leaders, such as Maya Angelou, former U.N. ambassador and U.S. congressmen Andrew Young;  Myrlie Evers-Williams, a past chairman of the NAACP, whose civil rights active husband Medgar Evers was assassinated; Rep. John Conyers,  who played a major role in legislating the King Holiday bill as well as Dr. Bernice King, also provide reflections in this historic work.
Dr. Reynolds views Coretta King as one of the world’s most trusted moral leaders, and effective disciples of non-violent direct action, who left a model of self-less, compassionate leadership that is sorely needed today.

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

Growing up is hard.

Sad, but true: you might have to go through disappointments. Other kids might call you names or pick on you. Things won’t always go your way, but the good news is that your parents will help you through the bad times and, as you’ll see in the new book “Ella Fitzgerald” by Stéphane Olliver, illustrated by Rémi Courgeon, you’ll also have yourself to rely on.

Born in Virginia in April 1917, Ella Fitzgerald was just a little girl when her parents split. Hoping to find a job, her mother took little Ella to New York , where they settled with family; she married again and Ella soon became a big sister.

Life was good then, but it still wasn’t easy. Most of the people in her neighborhood – and there were lots of them, from many cultures – were poor. Ella’s family was, too, but Ella was a happy kid who loved to play baseball with the boys, and she took odd jobs after school to help earn money for her family.

While she was doing that, she began to get a “real taste for… music.” She loved to listen to it on the radio: Duke Ellington, blues, and ballads were all her favorites. Ella liked to sing along and she became “the star of the school choir.” When she wasn’t singing, she was dancing but Ella never thought she was any good.

Even so, everybody enjoyed watching her and she became locally famous for her fancy footwork. She wanted to be a professional dancer, but the one time she entered a contest, she got scared: the act before her was very talented, and she knew she’d never win against them. So when Ella got onstage, she opened her mouth and did the other thing she was known for: she sang.

People loved it, and they loved her but it didn’t last. Ella was homeless for awhile after her mother died. She had a hard time getting hired, too, but she persevered until Chick Webb, a Harlem bandleader, finally saw Ella’s talent.

And that talent?  You can still listen to it today.

It’s difficult to decide what to love best about “Ella Fitzgerald.”

The first thing your child will see, obviously, is the book. It’s small enough that it won’t scare anyone off, but big enough to give a kid a comprehensive biography. Author Stéphane Olliver hits the highlights of Fitzgerald’s life, and illustrator Rémi Courgeon nicely mixes colorful artwork with authentic photographs.

The other half of this book is hidden inside its front cover: a CD of its words, read by John Chancer, with music by Fitzgerald wrapped around the narrative. You get the book, and thirteen songs, which allows your child to follow along with the story and listen to blues, scat, and bebop.

For kids ages 8 to 12, that makes this a book they’ll enjoy in more ways than one, and it makes this an excellent gift. Reading the book will be quick; loving “Ella Fitzgerald: First Discovery Music” won’t be hard.

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

Your parents always taught you to stand up for yourself. Form your own opinions, they say, and don’t follow the crowd. If so-and-so wanted to jump off a cliff, be brave enough to not go, too. Speak up when something’s not right, and hold your head high. Stand up for yourself and, in the new book “She Stood for Freedom” by Loki Mulholland, stand up for others, too.
Growing up in Virginia in the 1940s and ‘50s, Joan Trumpauer knew about segregation. It was the law in most parts of the South, but Trumpauer’s parents were split on the issue: her father was a Northerner who believed in equality for all, while her mother was a Southerner who demanded racial separation.

When she was still a girl, Trumpauer learned who was right: on a dare, she went to a neighborhood that her mother had forbidden her to visit. There, she saw a tumbledown school for Black children, and it shocked her. Treating people differently wasn’t fair! She became determined to do something about it when she grew up. After graduating from high school, Trumpauer went to college, where she was invited to join a demonstration. That was something new for her, but she sensed that it would anger her parents. Still, how could she not go?

In 1960, Trumpauer formally joined the Civil Rights Movement, to stand with others in equality. She participated in sit-ins, where people literally sat at lunch counters until the stores closed or the police came. She picketed a segregated Maryland amusement park that summer, and helped her Black friends gain admittance. People warned her family that she was making trouble, but Trumpauer didn’t care.

When she had a chance to be one of the Freedom Riders, she seized it. It was dangerous, and it eventually landed Trumpauer in prison, but that didn’t stop her. Even as an adult with children of her own, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland continued with her efforts for equality. Today, she continues to remind people that you don’t have to change the whole world. You just have to change your corner of it.

Remember how it felt to think that your one small voice wasn’t going to make a dent in anything important? Yep, and “She Stood for Freedom” proves otherwise. Starting when his subject was roughly the same age as his intended readers, author Loki Mulholland tells the little-known story of his mother, Joan, and the unsung work she did for Civil Rights. I found that to be the most interesting aspect of this book – that one woman did so much for the Movement, but her name is rarely mentioned in any history books. To read this book, in fact, is like focusing on one spot of a painting – or, more aptly, to look at one square of artist Charlotta Janssen’s illustrations here. There is a version of this book out there for preschoolers, so be careful which one you choose. This version of “She Stood for Freedom” is meant for 8-to-12-year-olds and it can stand alone.

“She Stood for Freedom”
by Loki Mulholland, artwork by Charlotta Janssen

© 2016, Shadow Mountain
$14.99 / higher in Canada
64 pages

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

Charges dropped. You were surprised, but not surprised. Hopeful that it might be different, but only barely. You know that these days, the idea of justice can be a slippery issue that’s sometimes based on all the wrong things, and in the new book “Nobody” by Marc Lamont Hill, you’ll see how we’ve come to this.

On the afternoon of May 1, 2015, when Baltimore ’s chief prosecutor, Marilyn Mosby, said she was bringing charges “on six… police officers involved in the arrest and detention of Freddie Gray,” her pronouncement was met with “cheers.” Gray’s case then was the latest in a long line, nation-wide, but it wouldn’t be the last of its kind. Gray, says Hill, was Nobody.

“To be Nobody is to be vulnerable,” he says in his preface. It’s being “poor, black, Brown, immigrant, queer, or trans” and living in an atmosphere that’s “more rather than less unsafe.”  Nobody is “considered disposable.” Take, for instance, Michael Brown. By all indications, Brown was a normal guy who acted spontaneously: he stole cigarillos from a c-store and shoved the shopkeeper, who called authorities and the rest is history. The way it happened, though, the dehumanization, and the aftermath of Brown’s “random encounter” with police will be talked about for generations, says Hill.

How did we get here?  The answer is found in crowded, ill-maintained, depressing neighborhoods where schools are sub-par and few in charge care. It’s in the way the justice system operates for those who are too poor to hire a lawyer or afford their bail. Also to blame: so-called “quotas” within police departments, a lack of differentiation between serious infraction and minor annoyance, and the relative ease of targeting minorities in all of the above.

And yet, says Hill, we cannot “individualize this crisis.” We must fix housing, schools, the justice system, and the economy overall, in all corners of the country.
“We must reinvest in communities. We must imagine the world that is not yet.” You brace yourself, take a deep breath, unfold the newspaper at the corner and quickly peek at the headline to see if it’s about yet another shooting of a young person. So begins your day. Shoulda read “Nobody” first.

Before you do, though, let’s get the elephant out of the room: author Marc Lamont Hill isn’t anti-cop in this book. Instead, I saw a thoughtful, balanced, thought-provoking look at how today’s authorities, police departments, and government entities have evolved to be what they are, and how that can be turned around. In his examination of the past, in fact, Hill paints real solutions to the problems that put vulnerable citizens in harm’s way. I also saw that those solutions don’t lie one-hundred-percent with those in Blue. This is not an easy book to read; it’s not fun, either, and it demands that you think about what’s said.  Still, if you only read one book with the intention of making change, then this is what you want. Start “Nobody” today, and there’ll be no dropping this one.

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter
New Journal and Guide

Throughout American history, African-Americans have worked to overcome slavery, racism, Jim Crow, and massive resistance to laws and judicial rulings which have supported racial equality under the law. At each turn, especially after the  Civil War, African-American efforts to secure an equal economic, political, legal and social footing in this country have been met with legal, political and physical obstacles.

Today, though a Black man sits in the White House as President, elected by strong majorities of White, Black, Hispanic and gay people, Blacks  still face the same challenges.
In a new book “White Rage” (Bloomsbury Publications), Dr. Carol Anderson describes in very revealing details the historic thesis of Black struggle in America for racial equity and justice.

Anderson’s 247-page book is a concise read to pass the time this summer in your study or den, traveling, or on the beach with a friend. It is well to the point, and it describes the  “one step forward … one step back effort” that Black people have walked along the path to what we are experiencing today in terms of politics, education and money. She is an  associate Professor of  African  American Studies and History at Emory University and a Public Voices Fellow with the  Op-Ed Project. She also is the author of “Bourgeois Radicals: The NAACP and the Struggle for Colonial Liberal, 1941-60.”

In August 2014, in the aftermath of the Michael  Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, Anderson wrote a Washington Post Op-Ed entitled, “Ferguson isn’t about Black Rage Against Cops; It’s White Rage Against Progress” which was the model for her book. This is an excellent book to school today’s Millennial generation and others about the evolution of the Black struggle in  America. It puts the timeline very succinctly.

It starts with Black struggles to be free before the Civil War, such as the 1857 Dred Scott case. She looks  at President Abraham Lincoln and his conflicted views on slavery and whether Blacks should be free. Lincoln, like many other statesmen, would have preferred Blacks be exported from the states because he felt, as the book stated, their  presence in the nation prompted the conflict. If he had his way, a good portion of Black people  would all be in Panama.

It took considerable prodding and schooling from the likes of activist and abolitionist Frederick Douglass to convince him that such as idea was not moral. Thus the Emancipation Proclamation was conceived and the order to allow Blacks to have another hand in fighting for their freedom in the Union Army was allowed. This was achieved despite lingering doubts from the Commander in Chief and other Whites. Historians of Black History are now noting that freedom was not “given” to Blacks, but earned and secured  as they illustrated their willingness to sacrifice for it as they do today.

But White resistance in the South was strong among the political elite, and they had a willing ally after President Lincoln was murdered and Andrew Johnson came to power.
According to historians, Lincoln favored allowing the Confederate states  back into the union with little penalty. Johnson was even more generous and fought against every law – public and private – to help Blacks, claiming it was favoritism and that poor Whites were not being given the same protections.

Despite  the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments which ended slavery, established citizenship and granted the right to vote to Blacks, Johnson and his allies fought against them. Johnson refused to allow the Freedman’s Bureau to create schools for Blacks, claiming federal over reach. Blacks, using churches and homes with the help from Whites supporting their cause, set up schools, shops and other venues to educate themselves.

When Whites denied services and goods  from their enterprises to Blacks, they created their  own. But Whites worked to undermine and destroy them because they felt Blacks were a threat  to White economic power and control over what Blacks bought, where they lived and were educated. Many southern states imposed the “Black Codes” which were used to achieve these goals.
These codes restricted the movement of Blacks, where they could live, work, how they were treated in public and restricted their ability to secure education,  the right to vote and safety from White men who feared Black men would harm their wives and families.

Using these codes, Whites reinstituted slavery by another name and form. Free Black men who could not work because they were squeezed out of the job market, Black men who were mentally ill or fell afoul of the law in any slight way were sent to jail. They were then loaned out to White plantations  and cities to work free. White businessmen would pay  the fines of Black  men in jail and work them for free to get their money back as part of the peonage systems.

Also, when Blacks sought to migrate from the South to the North, Whites blocked their path, fearing a loss of labor  they could exploit, oppress and use for profit. Some Black churches and Black newspapers joined in telling Blacks  to stay home and avoid the scourges of the North. In Anderson’s book you can read how the  Plessy vs. Ferguson ruling was written to legally keep Black people from riding in railroads cars with Whites, although it was illegal according to the federal law for states to forbid them to do so. The question never to be answered is what if Whites  had embraced Black people as equal, full and protected citizens after the Civil War? Instead, out of manipulation, fear and ignorance,  Anderson shows how Whites in power at every turn, sought to deter Blacks’ freedom and equality.

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter
New Journal and Guide

Thanks to the AMC network’s “Walking Dead” and Hollywood or publishing house folk, we are getting our fill on nightmare-inducing zombies who roam the streets seeking to gorge themselves on our body parts. Local writer and activist Synnika Lofton has added his contribution on the subject to his 14 books on various social and personal issues,
“Run Feed Run,” Lofton said, is a short entertaining and intense book detailing the story of a scientific experiment gone wrong and giving birth to a Zombie Apocalypse, as predicted by overzealous Facebook fans these days.

Run Feed Run Cover
But instead of New York or Cleveland, Lofton brings it home to Hampton Roads “Run Feed Run”  follows the experiences of  a small band of friends thrown together who find refuge in a  hotel which a pack of menacing and hungry zombies has not  discovered. But it’s only a matter of time before the pack sniffs out the five tasty human morsels. News from the outside world is sketch but our non-zombie heroes are surviving on their wiles and stockpiles of food left behind.

In the book, Lofton reveals a community of zombies physically evolving and being able to outrun and overtake any of  their prey. This puts our heroes at a disadvantage they must avoid at all cost or risk becoming a Zombie Happy Meal. Eventually our characters leave their hideout in the Virginia Beach area and find their way to an area which could be the urban core of  Norfolk. To make the book enticing, you will read about familiar sites and buildings (such as the Attucks Theater which has been given a different name), but you will appreciate the writer’s intent.

Lofton adds some spice to the plot  with the personal interaction and tensions between the non-zombie characters. By the end book, our heroes find their way to Williamsburg, where the plot takes a very interesting and surprising twist the writer wants you to find out for yourself this summer on the beach or in your favorite reading spot at home. For more information about the book and how to get a copy go to

You can’t remember what you came into the room for.
That happens with disturbing frequency. Forgetting your glasses, losing your keys, it really bothers you because you’re not sure if it’s a normal part of aging or something else. And in the new book “Before I Forget” by B. Smith & Dan Gasby with Michael Shnayerson, the worry isn’t yours alone.
For most of her life, B. Smith was a whirlwind of activity. She was a model, and had her own line of household goods, TV shows, and restaurants she co-owned with her husband, Dan Gasby. She was known for her sense of style and her elegance.

And then, a few years ago, something uncharacteristic began to happen: the woman who was put together, inside and out, began to display emotional outbursts, use inappropriate language, and her fashion sense faltered. Her memory faded until it frightened the couple and they sought help.
Smith, as it turned out, had mild-stage Alzheimer’s.

A take-charge kind of guy, Gasby did his research.
“Some 5.2 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s,” he says; half a million people die of it every year. Perhaps due to higher rates of diabetes and heart disease, it hits the Black community the hardest: by age 85, “half of all African-Americans have it.”

Knowing the facts can be empowering, but they don’t make dealing with the disease any easier. Smith lost things constantly; “hoarded” clothing, to Gasby’s irritation; and, though she was previously fastidious, ignored sloppiness. She shut family out physically and friends, emotionally. Long-ago recollections were sharp, but her short-term memory was all but lost.

When things got worse and Smith was inadvertently put in a dangerous situation, the family found expert advice, only to learn that there was little they could do. Alzheimer’s has no cure. It can barely be “managed.” They would just have to deal with the day-to-day challenges and learn to cope …
Of his wife, and their plans one day, author Dan Gasby says, “She sits…at the breakfast table, the love of my life, waiting quietly for me to tell her what to do.”

Is there a sentence more heartbreaking than that? I don’t think so, and you’d be likewise hard-pressed to find a book that will affect you more than “Before I Forget.”

Would you blame anyone if you saw a pity-party in this book? Probably not, but there’s no whining in Gasby’s words, nor will you find “poor me” in what B. Smith contributes (with Michael Shnayerson). Instead, there’s resignation here; a we’ll-get-through-this wrapped in a love story that gets more and more poignant as the story progresses. Gasby, who is fierce about Alzheimer’s education, also offers up-to-date information and advice on what worked for him and Smith, and what doesn’t.

Without being a spoiler, there is no happy ending to this book, save but the sheer love that makes it soar. If you’re an Alzheimer’s caretaker, or are facing the disease yourself, you absolutely will want this memoir. “Before I Forget” is a book you never will…

“Before I Forget”
by B. Smith & Dan Gasby with Michael Shnayerson, foreword by Rudolph Tanzi, PhD
c.2016, Harmony Books
$25.00 / $33.00 Canada
322 pages

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

There once was a girl who had a little curl …

Did you envy that nursery rhyme character? Or, like many women, have you had a love-hate relationship with your hair since you were old enough to hear nursery rhymes like that? Either way, you’re not alone, as you’ll see in “Me, My Hair, and I,” a collection of hair-raising essays edited by Elizabeth Benedict.

Continue reading…