Fire Baptized by Kenya Wright
January 16, 2012
Urban and Fantasy are not genres I typically read let alone a hybrid of the two. However, I said that I would diversify my reading a bit more this year and I think this was a great book to shake things up.
Fire Baptized is inhabited by several different beings labeled as belonging to one of three groups: Humans, Pureblood Supernaturals or, Supes, and Mixies. They are relegated to the caged city Santeria Supernatural Habitat in Miami. Lanore, the novel's heroine, is a college student accustomed to pilfering her textbooks from the university library but finally gets caught and witnesses a heinous crime in her flee from the campus trolls. She's also a Mixie. Mixie's are half breed humans and supernaturals brandished with an X and have an ongoing struggle for equality in the community. She lives with MeShack, a womanizer who Lanore has known since childhood and considers family. Meanwhile, Zulu, a fellow Mixbreed, heads up the Rebel organization, MFE whose main agenda is to obtain equality for his group by any means necessary. He also has his sights set on Lanore.
What ensues in this urban fantasy novel is a murder mystery with Lanore caught in the middle as the lone witness and determined to discover the killer before more lives are lost. In the midst of this is a love triangle and social activism. Kenya Wright quite seamlessly covers a lot of territory in this first of a trilogy. The pace is great as there is action from the first page to the last and the characters are all engaging. Although, MeShack, a blatant example of a male double-standard, is annoying. The blossoming romance between Lanore and Zulu is sexy to say the least. References to the Santeria religion and culture, both obvious and subtle, added another layer of appeal. What was most intriguing was how Wright cleverly incorporated sociological issues of gender and identity stratifications.
"Professor Rodrigues was from the old school of thought, believing Mixbreeds were abominations and should be euthanized. When she denied my registration for her class, she wrote me a letter, explaining that most interspecies' offspring had serious mental illnesses and the rest were only fit to be criminals or janitors" (46).
Anyone looking for an engaging read filled with colorful, unapologetic characters set in a space where there is seemingly no hope for those deemed second class citizens and the exhibition of an assortment of supernatural powers, you'd be remiss to not give this book a read. There's no question I'll be checking out the rest of this series.
I received this book from the author.
To those so kind enough to read my blog, I'm still here. I'm close to finishing my degree...finally. So, getting in some pleasure reading is tough most days. I am, however, going to continue the Quirky Brown Reading Challenge in 2012. Yay! I am all about POC literature in general but I really want to give readers a reason to seek out even more diversity in stories about people of African descent. I hope everyone enjoyed the holiday season and that you all are getting in lots of "un"required reading. :)
If you feel so inclined, you are more than welcome to link to your reviews and thoughts on books appropriate to the Quirky Brown Reading Challenge.
Here's a reminder of details...
Quirky Brown is about challenging the overly subscribed to depictions of the so-called “Black experience”. I hope participants also discover some of our lesser known contributions to American literature. This challenge will run from January 2012 through December 2012. I'm supplying a list of authors and titles here
but, these are merely suggestions. The only requirement is that they are Black authors depicting an offbeat Black experience.
No need to sign up, just start adding links to your blog posts. :)
I actually don't know if I had any real adventures except maybe when speed walking through the festival going from an indoor panel discussion in the Capital building to the book signing tent and back to Capital building for another discussion. But, let me back up to the beginning...
As some of you may know, I live in Memphis, TN. We have no book festival and that's all I'll say about that. The Texas Book Festival is fortunately in a city I already adore and my best friend happens to live there as well.
After a not so cheap plane trip, I'm there and already thinking about how much I'll want to make this stay permanent. The day of the fest my best friend drops me off (mom duties kept her away for a few hours) and I begin to navigate a small section of downtown Austin solo. I was a little emotional (judge me!) at seeing all of the tents, especially the one with the Book-TV sign and the ubiquitous host of the live book festival broadcasts. Hey, I'm 30-something and have never been to a book fest. I was moved seeing shoulders saddled with tote bags filled with books, eternal lines in the Barnes & Noble tent to purchase books for author signings, and eyes scanning the weekend's itinerary then bodies urgently searching for the room of their favorite author's discussion panel. But what was the highlight of the event for me was meeting a fairly new favorite author, Mat Johnson. Now, if you follow my tweets, you already know what went down. But in case you don't....
The first panel I attended was a discussion titled "Wrestling with the Classics" that featured Mat Johnson, Hilary Jordan, and David Liss. They each released this year novels that were takes on literary classics. For Jordan's When She Woke inspiration came from The Scarlet Letter and Johnson wrestled with Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. Each author discussed and answered questions on why and how they approach the respective classic for which they were inspired. As an aside, Hilary Jordan's dystopian novel has a very fascinating premise: Individuals are physically colored according to their crime. The main character is red because she has an abortion which in the dystopian future is illegal. After the panel, I bravely went up to where the authors were seated and introduced myself to Mat Johnson who was very gracious. After a mad dash to the book signing tent, he signed my copy of Pym and suggested we take a picture of which I was all too pleased to oblige.
After my mad dash back to the Capital building, I enjoyed a great presentation from artist and author Kadir Nelson on his newest children's book, Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. Of course, I purchased a copy and got it signed for my son. This is when my best friend joined me and we perused and shopped a bit before leaving for lunch.
Later that night, we went to Cheer Up Charlie's in East Austin for the festival's first lit crawl which featured various authors at local venues all in close proximity like a pub crawl. The event at CUC was called Five Things and the invited authors from the fest had to prepare an original piece based around a spirit filled beverage. The chosen five were Erin Morgenstern, Dominic Smith, Hillary Jordan, Mat Johnson, and Kathleen Flinn. I have to say I was most impressed with Dominic Smith's piece which incorporated gin and I was not familiar with this author before that night. His writing was very vivid and captivating. Johnson was hysterical just as he is on Twitter. He wrote a lively piece about a teenage boy who was basically tired of masturbating and ready for his first real sexual experience which then explodes into major drama. I'm having technical difficulty with the crude snippet of video I took on my cell phone. But trust me, it was hilarious.
That brought my adventure with the Texas Book Festival to a close. I had a blast during that and the rest of my time in Austin. I'm already looking forward to next year's festival and hopefully I'll be able attend at least one other (*ahem* Harlem Book Festival).
I like to think of Martha Southgate as an author's author. She's not only a wonderful writer but she's well read and well spoken. BGBS is delighted to share some insight into the author of Third Girl From the Left
, The Fall of Rome
and, the recently released, The Taste of Salt
. And be sure to follow @mesouthgate
.What fictional character do you most identify with and why?
The first character that leaps to mind is Harriet M. Welsch, the protagonist of Harriet The Spy
, which I read when I was 10 or 11 and never got over. Harriet is smart, kind of arrogant, intensely observant, funny and altogether unforgettable. She set a high standard which I'm not sure I've lived up to. But she remains a role model--especially in her unblinking acceptance of ambiguity and the realization that complete honesty may not always be the best policy. How do you live "quirky brown"? (quirky brown is my year long reading challenge focused on fiction depicting atypical Black experiences, like your work!)
A big part of my work is to posit the idea that there are no "atypical" black experiences. We live a million different ways and do a million different things. To define blackness or brownness as a set of behaviors or beliefs is I think, very problematic, especially at this time in history. This is not to say that there isn't an African-American culture--just that it shouldn't and needn't be a straitjacket. So I don't think I can really answer that. I live brown, as myself. I don't know if it's all that quirky. What books would readers be most surprised to find on your bookshelves?
I have a number of Stephen King books. I think some of his early work is really compelling, entertaining and scary in a good way. Carrie
--all have a lot going for them. I particularly like the "revenge of the nerd" theme that he so often returns to. There have been times when I have found myself re-reading "Carrie
" for comfort at stressful times (a little weird I know but hey...writers are weird) . I'm also a big fan of The Best of Everything
by Rona Jaffe--the template for Sex and the City
and its ilk written
way back in the late '50's. Who's your favorite quirky brown author and why?
Of course, whenever people ask me this, I go immediately blank. So I'll name a recent book by a young novelist who I think works with (and ignores) race in an interesting way: Open City
by Teju Cole. The character in this book is a young Nigerian-American psychiatrist. He is of course aware of his race but it's not the main thing on his mind. I think that's true of a lot of us these days and it's something I find interesting in his work (besides how beautifully written it is). What's your favorite quirky brown book and why?
I think I'd have to say ZZ Packer's Drinking Coffee Elsewhere
. When I read the title story in the New Yorker a number of years ago I said out loud--"That's me!" Finally some fiction that dealt with the experience of being in that all white elite world when you weren't all white and/or elite. Most of the other stories in the collection also deal with characters who are alienated for one reason and another, sometimes race, sometimes not. This resonated very deeply with me. And I know you just asked for one book but I've gotta give a quick shout-out to Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
. I love that book's enormous ambition and reach and it's willingness to let its nerd flag fly high. What 5 songs would you consider the soundtrack to encompass your literary work?
Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me) The Temptations
Theme from Shaft Isaac Hayes
Nothing Compares 2 U Prince
All By Myself Eric Carmen
How can you mend a broken heart?--the Al Green version, not the Bee Gees What 5 songs would you consider part of your life soundtrack?
Born to Run Bruce Springsteen
I Want You Back, The Jackson 5
A Hard Day's Night The Beatles
When Did I Fall In Love? Audra McDonald
Yeah! Usher Which, if any, of your works would you like to see in a film adaptation?
I'd love to see any of them in film and two of them (The Fall of Rome
and Third Girl From The Left)
have been under option for some time. I think Third Girl would make a really visually interesting film with all the different eras and beingpartially set in the film industry itself. But like I said--either, both--it's all good to me. I'd love to see The Taste of Salt made too. I should add--I'd like to see them made into good movies. A dear friend of mine had his book made into a bad movie and even though he tried to detach, it was hard. I can't say I'd turn the check down--but should any of them ever get made, I really want them to be good. What's next for Martha Southgate?
A nap. I am writing this as I recover from a cold that really knocked me out. Then I'm off on more book promoting gigs--two conventions and a reading in Cleveland on October 20, then an appearance at the Books By the Bank festival on the 22nd. After that? I'd really like to make my way into some new fiction. I've got some ideas--they need some time and attention from me. I look forward to giving them that.
I am so thrilled that the ever snarky and brilliant Mat Johnson agreed to a quirky brown interview. If you do not follow this man on twitter, please do so @mat_johnson
. He is the author of Drop, Hunting in Harlem, Incognegro, and the recently published, Pym. After a bit of internet stalking, ahem, searching, I discovered he'll be at the Texas book Festival next month and yours truly will be there trolling for Mat Johnson. So let's get a glimpse at what makes him quirky brown...What fictional character do you most identify with and why?
Comic book hero Mr. Terrific. He's the black nerd superhero. I love him because he's really smart, which makes up for the fact that his super hero power is almost useless- the ability to not be noticed by electronics. That is so amazingly lame it's amazing. No one has ever thought, You know what would be cool? To be unable to use a touch-screen.
I find myself to a combination of really lame attributes that I sometimes manage to turn into advantages. It's a great feeling, winning when you know you're a loser.How do you live "quirky brown"? (quirky brown is my year long reading challenge focused on fiction depicting atypical Black experiences, like your work!)
I think all you have to do be quirky is to be true to yourself. If you kill off your impulses because you think, Oh that's weird, or, How would that look, then you kill what is unique about you. Learning to listen to your own impulses is one of the greatest paths to freedom.What books would readers be most surprised to find on your bookshelves?
I'm not sure, because I don't know what people expect of me anymore. I'm looking over at the shelf now. I have Lose Your Gut Now! Is that good? Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom? How about Raising Your Spirited Child?Who's your favorite quirky brown author and why?
Samuel R. Delany. I used to see him walking around Manhattan. He had a big white beard, suspenders, big grey afro. He looked like a black gay Santa Claus. You gotta love that dude. Also, he's a brilliant writer, with one of the best essays on writing as well.What's your favorite quirky brown book and why?
Almost anything by Percival Everett. He's one of the baddest dude's in the game. He's the writer all the other writers jock. Specifically, I would choose Erasure. That book really opened my eyes about what could be done in a novel, but that's just for sentimental reasons, he has so many great books.What 5 songs would you consider the soundtrack to encompass your literary work?
Wow, that's a tough one. Try this:
Pharcyde: Passing Me By
Tricky: Black Steel
Junior Kimbrough: Meet Me In The City
Keith Frank and the Zydeco Allstars: Co Fa
John Coltrane: My Favorite Things. What 5 songs would you consider part of your life soundtrack?
Songs? I got to do albums:
John Coltrane: Love Supreme
Tribe Called Quest: Low End Theory
Bob Marley: Confrontation
Bois Sec and Canray Fontenot: La Musique Creole
Fela Kuti: LiveWhich, if any, of your works would you like to see in a film adaptation?
Shit, I'll take any of them, I could send my kids to college. But probably just the graphic novels, the novel aren't made for it. Seeing a book I worked on so hard turned into two hours of mediocrity, that would be horrible. I'd still take the check, but it would kill something in me.What's next for Mat Johnson?
More books, a few nice reviews, some sales, and then slowly I grow older until I die. Party!
Embroideries is a sharp witted graphic novel revealing the lives and loves of a group of Iranian women. During an afternoon at the home of the author's grandmother, the women talk openly about men and sex. Everything that they share--virginity, arranged marriages, gay or cheating husbands-- is anecdotal and reads like a "hen party". It's just all over the place and hilarious. I actually found myself laughing out loud. They cover the gamut of characterizations from the adventurous to the prudish. Most women readers will find some connection with one of the women in this novel.
After reading both Persepolis novels, I had to read Embroideries and was not disappointed. Satrapi has such a way of exposing the dynamics of relationships among women and between women and men that is just blunt, honest, and humorous. What she's also done is reveal that "the veil" is just that...a veil. It's one that when pulled back, we see little difference in our experiences navigating relationships with men.
*I purchased this book.
After sharing my top 25 books via Twitter last weekend which included Animal Farm
, a few tweeters noted they wanted to re-read it. I suggested we read it for another Twitter book discussion and somehow I was hoodwinked, ahem, nudged into hosting it.
So join in the Twitter discussion of Orwell's brilliant political allegory beginning August 15, 2011 at 4pm CST (5pm EST). You can follow me @browngirlspeaks
and the hashtag will be #AnimalFarm.
Discussion schedule (tentative):
Monday (8/15) - ch. 1-4
Tuesday (8/16) - ch. 5-7
Wednesday (8/17) - ch. 8-10
Twitter chum, @sweat_btwn
, asked me to share my top 25 books
to show support for the upcoming launch of a new literary piece: Specter Magazine
. Then I was asked to make this a permanent post so others could bookmark it. Sure. Why not?
This list is composed of books that transformed me in some way...emotionally, intellectually, and the like. These are the books I typically ask others if they've ever read and feel that they should. These are the books I bring when discussing reads that were "mind blowing", "life altering", "game changers", and so on.
I'm sure this list will evolve as I read more amazing works but for now, here it is and in no certain order...
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
- Possessing the Secret of Joy by Alice Walker
- In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens by Alice Walker
- She by Saul Williams
- Does Your House Have Lions? by Sonia Sanchez
- Like the Singing Coming Off the Drum by Sonia Sanchez
- The Wife of His Youth by Charles Chesnutt
- The Big Sea by Langston Hughes
- I Put a Spell on You: Autobiography of Nina Simone
10. Slumberland by Paul Beatty
11. Mama Black Widow by Iceberg Slim
12. Let the Lion Eat Straw by Ellease Southerland
13. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
14. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
15. Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler
16. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
17. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie
18. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
19. No Longer at Ease by Chinua Achebe
20. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
21. Animal Farm by George Orwell
22. The Book of Night Women by Marlon James
23. The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson
24. Girl In Translation by Jean Kwok
25. The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
Ernessa T. Carter's debut novel, 32 Candles, introduces us to Davie Jones. She lives in small town Mississippi with an abusive and wanton mother. Davie is also the school's target for taunting and teasing with a nickname only mean-spirited children could concoct. She soon finds solace in Molly Ringwald movies namely, Sixteen Candles. Enter the new kids, the ultra-atrractive Farrells who are heirs to a prominent hair care company. Naturally she falls hard for the lone son, James. After Davie spends months pining over him and thinks she has finally gotten him to notice her, she falls victim to a humiliating prank and running away takes her to the other side of the country. In L.A. she begins to thrive as a night club singer and one day, she literally crashes into her past. James is now the one falling hard for Davie, a woman he no longer recognizes from high school. However, others soon show up in L.A. and they do remember and pose a big threat to Davie's Sixteen Candles happy ending.
What can I say about Davie Jones? She's a little neurotic but who wouldn't be after spending several years voluntarily mute to avoid her mother's abuse and being called "monkey night" by her peers. I ♥ Davie Jones for being able to not let life's bullsh*t keep her down...even the kinda psycho schemes she pulled off to later retaliate against the Farrells. Carter has written such a real character that a lot of us can (unfortunately) relate to and not just in Davie but those Farrells as well. They're those popular kids that others made even more larger-than-life through adoration and fantasizing. What Carter reveals through them, however, is that they even know that things and status are not always what make you awesome but resilience, wit, and bravery. Of course, it's always wonderful to see Black characters who cover a variety of lifestyles and experiences. Even the author's approach to the often materialistic world of the Farrells is not overdone or obnoxious. Rounded out by a gloriously flawed supporting cast including a short-tempered but fatherly club owner, 32 Candles should be on everyone's reading list.