By: Sterling Watson - Akashic Books, $16.95)
Description: In the late 1950s, Gainesville, Florida, seems to be a sleepy university town. Its residents live, by outward appearances, ordinary lives.
And yet the town is far from ordinary.
The most private acts of professors, students, townspeople rich and poor, and politicians are under the close scrutiny of a shadowy group of men — the Committee — who use the powers of government and the police to investigate, threaten, and control this increasingly fearful community.
Verdict: In truth, books like 'The Committee' are my go-to for a Sunday, rain falling afternoon in. At around 350 pages, and with mid-sized print, I sat down to read the book at 1pm this past Sunday and come 6pm had finished it!
The reason is simple: It's just such an engrossing, if not at times dark tale in which at the end of each chapter you simply cannot afford to put it down long enough to let your mind run riot on what you believe to be happening!
Set in 1950s Florida, 'The Committee' pits friends against friends and threatens careers and lives in a struggle for the soul of a town, a university, and an ideal.
Based on actual historical events and set against the backdrop of political, cultural, and class turmoil, this is a story of love — both licit and hidden — war, friendship, betrayal, compromise, and finally the necessity to stand firm against the encroachments upon freedom by men who believe they are doing God’s and the government’s righteous work.
Sure, that sounds heavy, I'll grant you that, but the way Watson writes, composing his sentences and their inclusion within the sanctity of some enthralling paragraphs means the reading is never labored.
Furthermore, 'The Committee' will teach you things along the way, will definitely open your eyes to multilayered "facts" - both old and new - that you may or may not have known, and will always enlighten, enrapture and provoke your little grey cells - to the point, much like me, that you simply cannot put the book down until the full picture has been revealed.
About The Author: Sterling Watson is The Peter Meinke Professor of Literature and Creative Writing at Eckerd College. He and Dennis Lehane are Co-directors of the Eckerd College Writers' Conference: Writers in Paradise.
Watson is the author of six novels: Weep No More My Brother, The Calling, Blind Tongues, Deadly Sweet, Sweet Dream Baby and Fighting in the Shade.
Watson is the recipient of three Florida Fine Arts Council Awards for fiction writing. His short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in Prairie Schooner, The Georgia Review, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Michigan Quarterly Review, and The Southern Review.
His main professional interests are fiction, play and screenwriting, American and British and European short and long fiction, and the theatre. He served for five years as the fiction editor of The Florida Quarterly, and taught secondary English and later fiction writing at Raiford Prison.
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'The Schrödinger Girl'
By: Laurel Brett - Kaylie Jones Books, $16.95)
Description: Garrett Adams, an uptight behavioral psychology professor who refuses to embrace the 1960s, is in a slump.
The dispirited rats in his latest experiment aren’t yielding results, and his beloved Yankees are losing.
As he sits at a New York City bar watching the Yanks strike out, he knows he needs a change.
Verdict: Not my usual go-to for an afternoon's read, I sat down with Laurel Brett's new book 'The Schrödinger Girl' and page by page let it work its typeset magic on me.
Running at 330 pages, it's not a short read, nor an overly long one, so for those akin to the writing of Brett I'm sure you will find it very nourishing.
Set in the '60s, where our central character, Garrett Adams is seated at a bar, staring up at a picture behind it of Miss Rheingold, a Hitchcock blonde elected by twenty-three million votes in 1964 (just before the contest ended), Garrett is already tired of the decade; let alone still hearing about the one before it.
However, at a Columbus Circle bookstore he meets a mysterious young woman, Daphne, who is in the children's aisle reading softly aloud to two enthralled young girls.
Soon Daphne has drawn Garrett into the turbulent and exciting world of Vietnam War protest politics and the music of Bob Dylan and the Beatles. Amongst other things, Garrett then begins to emerge from his self-induced numbness and grief over his father’s death in World War II.
When Daphne evolves into four separate versions of herself, Garrett’s life becomes complicated as he devotes himself to answering questions about character and destiny raised by her iterations.
His obsession threatens to upend his relationship with Caroline, a beautiful art historian, destroy his teaching job, and dissolve his friendship with his old pal Jerry.
The Daphne's seem to exist in separate realities that challenge the laws of physics and call into question everything Garrett thought he knew.
Ergo, and as the book lovingly mirrors from the very same story that the original Daphne was reading upon their meeting, he must decide what is vision, what is science, and what is delusion before he himself falls down the Rabbit-Hole.
About The Author: Laurel Brett, a refugee from the 1960s, was born in Manhattan in the middle of the last century. Her passionate interest in the arts and social justice led her to a PhD and a long career as a community college professor.
She expanded her award-winning dissertation on Thomas Pynchon's work into a groundbreaking analysis, Disquiet on the Western Front: World War II and Postmodern Fiction, which was published by Cambridge Scholars.
She lives in Port Jefferson, New York.
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'I Am a Promise'
By: Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce - Black Sheep/Akashic Books, $15.95
Description: 'I Am a Promise' takes readers on Shelly Ann’s journey from her childhood in the tough inner-city community of Waterhouse in Kingston, Jamaica, through her development as a young athlete, to her first Olympic gold medal in the 100-meter sprint in 2008.
Verdict: In this short (24-page), yet agreeably enthralling new book, the story charts how Shelly Ann’s commitment to hard work as well as the encouragement of loved ones helped her achieve her dreams against great odds and challenging life experiences.
Most importantly, 'I Am a Promise' encourages young readers to believe in themselves and to maximize their own promise to the world.
First and foremost a colorful children's book, chock full of vividly wonderful, bright and brilliant illustrations from by Rachel Moss, we discover early on that Shelly loved to run as a little girl.
Then, as her love of running grew as much as she herself did, so too did her desire to not simply run, but run FAST!
She ran to school, to the shop, to the park. She ran like a rocket, ran to be free, because, well, that was who she knew she was born to be.
One day her grandmother saw her running and was the very first person to inform her that she was "... a promise." Confused by these words, her grandmother simply smiled and added, "Don't worry, child, one day you will see."
Even through he big school days she ran, harder and faster, still like a rocket, this time on fire and ready to soar. But times were hard for Shelly at home and sometimes there simply wasn't even enough money to pay bills or put food on the table.
But she never let her dream, her "promise" escape her and soon she was chosen to run in the Olympics for her country. Nervous before the race, her coach told her, "You represent the promise of our country. Go show the world what this promise is.
The race began. Shelly ran for her country. For her friends and family. Like that rocket she always knew was there inside her. The rest, as they say, is now history.
Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce is a six-time Olympic medal winner and holds several prestigious national and world athletic titles including the 2013 IAAF World Female Athlete of the Year.
In recognizing her contribution to sport and the country as a whole, the government of Jamaica awarded Fraser Pryce the Order of Distinction, and, in 2018, unveiled a statue of her at the National Stadium.
A UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Fraser Pryce is also the founder of the Pocket Rocket Foundation which assists promising high school athletes, the owner of a café, Shelly's Café, and a hair salon named Lady Shelly Beauty.
Ashley Rousseau studied creative writing at Lesley University's MFA program. Her short stories have been published in Calabash: A Journal of Caribbean Arts and Letters and Small Axe.
She was born in Jamaica, where she continues to live with her family and work as a designer with local artisans.
Rachel Moss is an illustrator in love with the bright colors and vibrant energy of the Caribbean. She was born in Jamaica and studied animation in England at UCA.
Moss now lives in Jamaica where she spends her days illustrating children's books such as Abigail's Glorious Hair, Milo & Myra Learn Manners with Mr. Mongoose, and The Happiness Dress.
Visit www.rachelmossillustration.com for more information.
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By: Peter Kimani - Akashic Books, $15.95
Description: Nairobi is a city of 3 million souls, so it makes sense as a setting Akashic Books' famed noir series.
14 new stories fill a collection with Nairobi old and new; authors range in age from 24 to 81, and many layers of the city and its complex subcultures will be revealed as the reader makes their way through.
Verdict: The quietly compelling short story collection 'Nairobi Noir' features brand new stories by: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Stanley Gazemba, Ngumi Kibera, Peter Kimani, Winfred Kiunga, Kinyanjui Kombani, Caroline Mose, Kevin Mwachiro, Wanjikũ wa Ngũgĩ, Faith Oneya, Makena Onjerika, Troy Onyango, J.E. Sibi-Okumu, and Rasna Warah.
'Nairobi Noir' - a book that leaves an indelible impression on you from just the opening sentences of the very first story - has three parts: The Hunters, The Hunted, the Herders.
Each story within each section takes place in a unique area of the city and not only shines a light into the darkness of Kenya’s capital city, but closely examines those living and working there; no matter which side of the law, which side of the darkness they find themselves.
Thus, 'Nairobi Noir' is an act of excavation, rediscovering the city’s ossified past and infusing life to preserve it for future generations.
That all said, sure it has a mighty impressive light shone on areas, and tales of Nairobi that one might never have heard before, but woven within the stories are acts of celebration.
They help remind readers of the brilliance of the best-known writers to emerge from this part of the world, and herald the birth of new writers whose gifts, we can safely predict, will shine brightly in the years ahead.
Edited by Peter Kimani, a rather well-known African author, who obviously knows Nairobi rather intimately, his own piece "Blood Sister” is also one of the stand out literary moments here.
Given that Kimani himself refers to Nairobi as a “concrete jungle” where "traffic jams are so bad, even lions come out of the wild to marvel at the snarl-ups," you kind of know going in what to expect from this vastly overheated jumping-off point for safari trips elsewhere in Kenya.
The oldest writer in this anthology is eighty-one, the youngest is only twenty-four; if there is any inference one can draw from this demographic it is that this anthology offers an entire spectrum of Kenyan writing: the past, present, and future.
If we can allow one extravagant claim, a collection of this nature is unprecedented in Kenya’s literary history.
In conclusion, although the range of issues explored in 'Nairobi Noir' is as diverse as its contributors, it all gestures toward a common theme. In this concrete jungle, the hunters and herders live on. As do the hunted!
If you read this and love it as much as I think you will, please check out other Akashic Noir books, including 'Montana Noir,' 'Vancouver Noir,' 'Lagos Noir,' and 'Milwaukee Noir.'
Peter Kimani is a leading Kenyan journalist and the author of, most recently, Dance of the Jakaranda, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
The novel was nominated for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in the US and long-listed for the inaugural Big Book Awards in the UK.
He has taught at Amherst College and the University of Houston and is presently based at Aga Khan University's Graduate School of Media and Communications in Nairobi.
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'The Freedom Artist'
By: Ben Okri - Akashic Books, $16.95
Description: In a world uncomfortably like our own, a young woman called Amalantis is arrested for asking a question. Her question is this: Who is the Prisoner?
When Amalantis disappears, her lover Karnak goes looking for her. He searches desperately at first, then with a growing realization that to find Amalantis, he must first understand the meaning of her question.
Karnak’s search leads him into a terrifying world of deception, oppression, and fear at the heart of which lies the prison. Then Karnak discovers that he is not the only one looking for the truth.
Verdict: From the off, the book - which is written in a postmodern style - posits the theory that we are all in an inescapable prison, adding in garishly chilling prose that the rhythmic "folk tale" that is 'The Freedom Artist' is a vision of the world as one infinite possibility.
On a lead in page all of its own, situation quietly at its base, Okri begs of us to "read slowly," but given that the book is broken down into six sections, each one containing bite size chapters, well, that's easier said than done, trust me!
That said, and as much as the book truly free flows with unflinching beauty and profound wisdom nd grace, you might find yourself a little lost at times come its midsection.
For it's around there that prose and collected thoughts and imagines from Okri can, to some, start to unhinge the reader from the authors raison-d'être. But luckily I would advise you to continue onward, perhaps even re-read that middle ground, for come the end the messages are not only subtle and thought-provoking, but loud and clear.
Simply put, 'The Freedom Artist' is an impassioned plea for justice and a penetrating examination of how freedom is threatened in a post-truth society.
In Ben Okri’s most significant novel since the Booker Prize–winning The Famished Road, he delivers a powerful and haunting call to arms that everyone should take notice of.
Ben Okri was born in Minna, Nigeria. His childhood was divided between Nigeria, where he saw firsthand the consequences of war, and London. He won the Booker Prize in 1991 for The Famished Road.
He has published eleven novels, four volumes of short stories, four books of essays, and four collections of poems. His work has been translated into more than twenty-five languages. He also writes plays and screenplays.
He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a vice president of English PEN, and has been awarded the OBE as well as numerous international prizes and honorary doctorates.
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'Be The Artist: The Interactive Guide to ...'
By: Thomas "Detour" Evans - Fulcrum Publishing, $21.95
Description: This go-to guide can be your handbook as you enter the art world and navigate the nuances of becoming self-sufficient.
Instead of feeding you new techniques, it will provide you with insights to help you make decisions based on your specific situation and goals.
By the end of this book, you will have a set of guidelines for scenarios that range from taking on commission work and conducting negotiations to dealing with rejection and improving your organization.
Verdict: Simply put, 'Be the Artist' is designed to help up-and-coming creatives educate themselves on essential yet seldom-discussed strategies, learn about new and relevant artists, and gather the resources they need to build their business.
As an active artist navigating the world of social media, "Detour" is often asked for advice and so after four years of posting weekly career tips every Tuesday on his Instagram page, he decided to expand his outreach and put all his good thoughts into this expansive, and rather fulfilling new book.
'Be the Artist: The Interactive Guide to a Lasting Art Career' is that book and was released on February 11th, 2020 via Fulcrum Publishing. The book, which I have now personally read twice, and two others in the office once each, is an amalgamation of personal anecdotes, interviews, answers to frequently asked questions, and resources for further education.
Opening with a quote from Pablo Picasso, and next inspiring you to follow your passion, blocks of sample laddering interview snippets, homework (that's right, readers, you will have homework to do here as you progress), questions to ask yourself, the benefits of having mentors, and more are brought forth for you to ask the most important question of yourself: Who do you want to be?
As is now known, it took a year for "Detour" to pull everything together for this brilliant new book and thus you shouldn't feel obliged to rush your way, or even skip your way through it, trust me.
Detailing some of the most impactful tips he has been giving artists and the students that come through his studio since day one, a lot of the advice that he gives can actually be translated into other areas of life.
So having those broader tips enables "Detour" to venture into different directions within the book without breaking stride, discussing not only a lot of the nuances of being an artist, but things that you can learn throughout your journey also.
Such as the fact that you don’t have to be a creative, or an artist to really get something from this book. There are tips here that not only are offered up to us to adhere to, but that he himself leans on day to day also.
The way the book is laid out is simplistic for the eye also: The left side is more the text, and the right side is more the space where people can doodle and take notes.
There's also a section called Your Googles, where some of the different sections have search terms that are relevant to that topic. Simply put, if "Detour" is referencing something specific he then would like you to include it in your search terms once you begin to, well, Google for yourself thereafter.
Oh, and his advice, as a whole? Start as soon as possible in terms of what you want to do, and find exactly how to do that.
For, as he stresses, it’s going to be different in every creative practice, everything from being a musician or being a full-time sculptor or whatever your career path might provide, but find a way to start it as soon as possible; and you’ll know when you can transition to full-time thereafter.
With so much more to be discovered about this book, "Detour" has even added reading and resources in the back pages of it. Indeed come those last few pages you will discover a slew of resources that are available in terms of podcasts, documentaries, books, blog postings and other websites and organizations that artists can go to; to help add value to their practice or find residencies, studios, grants, podcasts that a lot of other artists listen to.
Oh, and just because it comes complete in bite-size, easily digestible pieces (oh, and that homework too, of course), the fact that you now have such a workbook to guide you is, well, just perfect.
It's not a large, heavyweight book, but it's not small, lightweight one either. So, we'll call it a quite wondrous, medium-weighted and sized resource guide for those that wish to start and then have a long lasting career in the Arts.
About the Author:
Thomas “Detour” Evans is a professional American artist. Born into a military family, Detour spent his youth traveling the world, eventually settling in Colorado, where he attended the University of Colorado.
While he initially studied business, his passion was art. Initially working out of his kitchen, creating art for himself, Detour has transitioned to full-time visual arts, creating artwork for major brands and large corporations.
He now spends his days carving out new and alternative paths in the art world and sharing his discoveries and insights on his popular Instagram account, @detour303.
'The Ballad of Tommy LiPuma'
By: Ben Sidran - Nardis Books, $24.95
Description: For those not in the know, Tommy LiPuma was one of America's most successful record producers whose work with seminal artists like Miles Davis, Diana Krall, Barbra Streisand, Rickie Lee Jones, George Benson, and Willie Nelson went on to sell over seventy-five million records.
'The Ballad of Tommy LiPuma' captures seven hit-making decades during the American record industry’s glittering, freewheeling years.
Verdict: After a Prelude (where DiPuma is described as a self-invented polymath straight from the streets), and then the Intro (where the moment in time captured was in 1977 when George Benson's smooth jazz guitar album Breezin' had been nominated for four Grammy Awards), Track One opens on a small Sicilian village on a windswept mountainside, and the murder of a man on a dirt path.
Agreed, it's not exactly what I expected to feel my way into this book through having first read, but it most certainly sets a scene for what's to come; and how a close knit immigrant family would bond together to finally bring LiPuma's tale to an end with five trips up the Grammy red carpet.
Ergo, the versatile, hit-making career of one of the American recording industry’s legendary producers and executives is lovingly told here in award-winning musician, writer and broadcaster Ben Sidran’s engrossing 'The Ballad of Tommy LiPuma.'
It's been said that this magnificent volume was drawn from more than 80 hours of interviews with LiPuma by Sidran, who recorded three albums for LiPuma’s Blue Thumb Records in the early ’70s, and having now finished it, I have to say I wish I had been there alongside Sidran to also bask in LiPuma's first hand memories.
Reading it, page turning every few minutes, first learning more about LiPuma's humble upbringing, then about his ascent within the music business, it is most definitely an inspired account of how music saved one man’s life, and how he went on to affect the lives of millions of others.
'The Ballad of Tommy LiPuma' is not only a enthralling thirteen track/chapter dossier on the man, but reveals more behind the scenes workings on how decisions were made, and how even when come the end of the twentieth century, and the record industry having taken a nasty turn, he still managed to stand tall, head held high, making the right choices for both him and those around him.
Explaining that due to the development of video games come the late '80s, gangsta rap's appearance on the music scene and then things getting worse for them in the early '90s with Napster, it was when the big corporate fish were finally swallowing up all the smaller corporate fishes that LiPuma knew it was time for a change.
That meant eventually leaving Elektra and accepting a job at GRP Records, a smooth jazz label that LiPuma wasn't overly happy with sliding into, he reveals.
It was at that time of change, early on in his tenure at GRP that he was played a tape of a new young talent. One that, at first blush, LiPuma didn't have any time for, stating that she sounded like she played "cocktail music from a hotel lounge."
He was then played a video of the singer taken from BET, just her singing 'Body and Soul' at the piano, and suddenly LiPuma took notice and agreed she was something special.
And yes, as I'm sure you have all guessed by now, that lone piano songstress was indeed Diana Krall.
So from his origins as a jazz-obsessed tenor saxophonist in Midwestern territory bands, to fame and fortune as the Grammy-winning producer of such multi-platinum albums as guitarist-singer George Benson’s Breezin’ (1976) and Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable … With Love (1991), author Sidran opens our eyes to one of the most incredible men to have ever held the music industry aloft.
The book also delves deeply into LiPuma’s deft work as a jazz producer, ranging from work on hit albums by talents like David Sanborn and Bob James to memorable sessions with Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Horace Silver, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Jimmy Scott.
It concludes with a comprehensive look at the bestselling, career-making series of albums LiPuma produced for singer-pianist Diana Krall before his death at the age of 80 in 2017.
Sidran notes, “He was opening boxes of records in the basement at MS Distributing — talk about ground-level experience! And then he was involved in all the stages of promotion and music publishing."
"It’s just remarkable. The most successful producers today probably never opened a box or packed a box of anything.”
“Tommy really loved being with the artists,” Sidran says. “He wouldn’t sit in the control room — he was out on the floor with earphones. Through his whole life, he loved being with creative people, hip people.”
About the Author: Ben Sidran was a major force in the contemporary history of jazz and rock & roll, having played keyboards with or produced such artists as Steve Miller, Mose Allison, Diana Ross, Boz Scaggs, Phil Upchurch, Tony Williams, Jon Hendricks, Richie Cole and Van Morrison.
Though primarily renowned as a gifted pianist, composer, producer, among other music-related roles, Ben Sidran has also made a name for himself as a writer.
Sidran's first book, Black Talk: How the Music of Black America Created a Radical Alternative to Western Literary Tradition (Da Capo Press), is based on his doctoral dissertation.
Talking Jazz: An Oral History (Da Capo Press), published twenty-four years later, collects personal interviews with jazz greats such as Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins.
His third literary endeavor, Ben Sidran: A Life in the Music (Unlimited Media), expresses his life-long affair with music and all its functions: as prayer, as community, as legacy, and as nothing but a party.
He delves into the complex relationships between African-Americans and Jews, fathers and sons, history and hope, money and technology, ecstasy and transformation.
His penultimate book, There Was a Fire: Jews, Music and the American Dream, was a 2011 finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and remains a teaching text in Jewish Studies programs everywhere.
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