Writing My Wrongs by Shaka Senghor

Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Convergent Books
Price: $14.00
Purchase: Amazon | BN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Description

Shaka Senghor was raised in a middle class neighborhood on Detroit’s east side during the height of the 1980s crack epidemic. An honor roll student and a natural leader, he dreamed of becoming a doctor—but at age 11, his parents’ marriage began to unravel, and the beatings from his mother worsened, sending him on a downward spiral that saw him run away from home, turn to drug dealing to survive, and end up in prison for murder at the age of 19, fuming with anger and despair.
Writing My Wrongs is the story of what came next. During his nineteen-year incarceration, seven of which were spent in solitary confinement, Senghor discovered literature, meditation, self-examination, and the kindness of others—tools he used to confront the demons of his past, forgive the people who hurt him, and begin atoning for the wrongs he had committed. Upon his release at age thirty-eight, Senghor became an activist and mentor to young men and women facing circumstances like his. His work in the community and the courage to share his story led him to fellowships at the MIT Media Lab and the Kellogg Foundation and invitations to speak at events like TED and the Aspen Ideas Festival.

In equal turns, Writing My Wrongs is a page-turning portrait of life in the shadow of poverty, violence, and fear; an unforgettable story of redemption, reminding us that our worst deeds don’t define us; and a compelling witness to our country’s need for rethinking its approach to crime, prison, and the men and women sent there.

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Vlog Review: https://youtu.be/ER3t-xnHgE4

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Review

Writing My Wrongs is about the power of hope, change, and redemption. It sheds light on the reality and truth of mass incarceration.

I have read many books about prison, but never as poignant, gritty, and honest as this one. This memoir provoked me in ways I had not expected.

Shaka Senghor is an inspiration and a great writer. He was born with a gift which he was able to develop during his time in solitary confinement. It was through reading and writing that he was able to heal and find himself.

His story taught me that people deserve a second chance, and should not be limited or defined by their past.

Writing My Wrongs is an important and powerful book, which touched, inspired and encouraged me. I hope it gets into the hands of the youth in public schools, detention centers, and prisons across America. I highly recommend it.

In conclusion, I want to thank Convergent for sending me this complimentary book in exchange for an honest review.

Locked up for nearly nineteen years, Shaka Senghor has used his incarceration as a vehicle for change. Through years of study and self-reflection, he has transformed himself from an uncaring “thug” into a principled, progressive man who refuses to allow his circumstances to define who he is or what he’s capable of.

Once a very angry, bitter young man, it was books that saved him from self-destructing and allowed him to see beyond the barbed-wire fences that held him captive. In an environment where hopelessness and despair grow like weeds, writing became his refuge. Eventually, he began writing creatively, tapping into the growing interest in street/hip hop literature. The author of six books and countless articles and short stories, he is inspired by revolutionary prison writers like George Jackson, Malcolm X and Donald Goines.

Whether writing street lit or poetry, Shaka speaks the truth about the oppressive conditions of the ‘hood and the not-so-glamorous side of the streets. He writes in a way that compels his readers to see the hope and humanity of a discarded generation shaped by the crack epidemic, the fall of the auto industry and the rise of the prison industrial complex. He is soon to be released and is eager to begin working with youth through gun and violence prevention programs in his hometown of Detroit.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Anchor
Price: $16.00
Purchase: Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Description

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.'”

Review

What I got out of Bird by Bird is the love and respect for the craft. Writers shouldn’t get into writing because they want to be the next John Grisham or Jackie Collins, or to make thousands of dollars, or to see their name up in lights. Writers don’t write for fame, fortune or accolades. They write because they love the art and respect the craft.

This was the first book I’ve read by Anne Lamott, and I enjoyed her voice and writing style. She writes from the heart and in truth about the craft and her life. She doesn’t avoid difficult topics, and tackles them with humor.

She doesn’t sell you pipe dreams or pie in the sky fantasies about writing. She encourages you to write, and not stop, even if your work never gets published.

This excerpt spoke volumes to me:

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose or their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on the boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”

All in all, Bird by Bird is a wonderful book which I will read again. This is a book you will want to keep in your library. If you write or want to write, I highly recommend this book.

Anne Lamott is the New York Times bestselling author of Help, Thanks, Wow; Small Victories; Stitches; Some Assembly Required; Grace (Eventually); Plan B; Traveling Mercies; Bird by Bird; Operating Instructions, and the forthcoming Hallelujah Anyway. She is also the author of several novels, including Imperfect Birds and Rosie. A past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an inductee to the California Hall of Fame, she lives in Northern California.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: On Writing by Stephen King

Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Scribner; 10 Anv edition
ISBN-10: 1439156816
Price: $17.00
Purchase: Amazon | BN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Description

Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported, near-fatal accident in 1999—and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it—fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.

Review

I’ve had this book on my book shelf for awhile. I was intending to read it, but never got to it until a week ago. Now I could kick myself for not reading it sooner.

In my opinion, On Writing is one of the best books on the craft of writing. Novelist Stephen King gives you the nuts and bolts of what it takes to be a writer.

If I were to sum up the book in a few words, it would be… “Read a lot, Write a lot.”

What I found encouraging (since I don’t have a college degree), is that Stephen King says it is not necessary to attend college to be a writer. He doesn’t deter people from attending college, he just says you don’t need a degree to write books. You just need to read a lot and write a lot. Every day. Without fail.

Writing requires work, discipline and perseverance to succeed. There are no short cuts.

On Writing is a goldmine filled with helpful nuggets. It is the kind of book you want to have in your library to refer to. I highly recommend it.

Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes The Bill Hodges Trilogy, Revival, and Doctor Sleep. His novel 11/22/63 was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller as well as the Best Hardcover Book Award from the International Thriller Writers Association. He is the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.

 

 

 

 

 

What Side Are You On?

How many times have you heard… “I’m a Christian,” “I believe in Jesus,” “God speaks to me.”  But when you look closely, you see no evidence of Him.

Courtesy of Creative Commons

They profess Christ. They pray. They attend church faithfully, or not. They post Scripture memes on Facebook, and have all their Christianese down pat. Yet, somehow, they carry on as if He doesn’t exist.

They live in outright sin, but think because they were born with gifts and talents, that makes them special and gives them license to do whatever they want. No holds barred. Never once bending their knee and recognizing Jesus as Lord.

They have made a god of their own understanding.

For a couple of years, I went in a different direction. I had stopped reading my Bible and attending Church to assuage my conscience. The deeper I got, the more convicted I felt, until I came to the end of myself.

Whatever you let in, or surround yourself with, will influence you.

I had to make a choice, either I was going to do things my way or God’s way. It wasn’t about what people thought of me, it was about what God thought, and I knew what I needed to do. I needed to break away from all of those associations and influences that had me walking the opposite direction.

Bad company corrupts good morals. (1 Cor. 15:33)

Was it easy? Absolutely not, because I am back at square one. I pressed the reset button and started over again. But this time, I’m doing things God’s way.

The Bible is clear, we can’t live on both sides of the fence. Either we are serving God or the devil, there is no in between.

Some “Christians” will justify what they are doing with a million excuses, which may even sound plausible, but they are deceiving themselves.

This world is governed by the spirit of rebellion.

Ironically, the ones with all the excuses, are the first to criticize those who are actually trying to follow the Bible.

One thing is certain, they may be successful at whatever it is they are doing in the world, but there won’t be any evidence of Jesus in their life. Because they are not pursuing Him, they are chasing after their own worldly pursuits. They made their dream an idol.

Personally, I’d rather be criticized and called names, however unpleasant that is, than bear no fruit in my life.

What about you? What side are you on? 

Book Review: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Scribner
ISBN-10: 074324754X
ISBN-13: 978-0743247542
Price: $17.00
Purchase: Amazon | BN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Description

Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn’t stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an “excitement addict.” Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.

Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town — and the family — Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents’ betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.

What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.

For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells her own story.

[Click to see my vlog review here: https://youtu.be/LniPt3nakdw]

Review

The Glass Castle is one of the best memoirs I have ever read, and I have read many.

Jeannette Walls is a beautiful writer, and her memoir reads like novel. It is moving and unforgettable. It left a lasting impression on me.

If I were to describe this memoir in one word, it would be resilience.

If you have never read a memoir before or if you love memoirs, The Glass Castle is the one to read.  I highly recommend it.

Jeannette Walls is a regular contributor to MSNBC.com, she lives in New York and Virginia and is married to the writer John Taylor.

 

 

 

 

 

Lust: A Seven Deadly Sins Novel by Victoria Christopher Murray

Series: Seven Deadly Sins
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Touchstone (February 7, 2017)
ISBN-10: 1501134108
ISBN-13: 978-1501134104
Price: $15.00
Purchase: Amazon | BN

 

 

 

 

 

 

Description

From the NAACP Image award winner and national bestselling author Victoria Christopher Murray, a novel inspired by the seven deadly sins about a woman caught between an entertainment mogul with a shady past and his childhood friend who is out for revenge.

Tiffanie has lived a sheltered life in a very strict household with her pastor-grandfather and grandmother in Washington, DC. But when she meets Damon King, she falls for the successful entertainment business man despite his history as a drug dealer. Everyone sees nothing but the brightest future for the couple—but there’s one person who wants to destroy them.

Trey Johnson is Damon’s childhood best friend with whom he built quite a successful drug business. But when the game got hot and Damon decided to leave, Trey stayed and continued to sell drugs, until he was arrested and spent seven years in prison.

But now he’s out and able to attend the wedding. While Damon is thrilled to have Trey back and hopes to bring his best friend into his business, Trey has other plans. He blames Damon for his demise and plans to ruin him, even if that means bringing Tiffanie down as well.

Trey is sure he will succeed, but he doesn’t know that there will be deadly consequences. And at the end, there will only be one man standing…

Review

Lust is full of intrigue and suspense. I could not put this book down, which is common in all of Victoria Christopher Murray’s books. She is a phenomenal story teller and master wordsmith.

I have steered away from reading urban books because of the profanity, violence, blood shed and graphic sex scenes. However, Lust is different. This is the kind of urban literature I would like to read, which why I appreciate Victoria Christopher Murray’s writing style. She makes her points, without it being in your face, which is also a tell-tale sign of a good writer.

Lust had a moral lesson in it. I don’t believe it was Victoria Christopher Murray’s intention, as she writes to entertain, however, she dropped a few gems in this story that made think and remember… which is why I identified with the female protagonist, Tiffanie.

While I read this story, my emotions were all over the place. There were some lines in this book, that made me laugh out loud. Victoria Christopher Murray’s character development and pacing is awesome, which is why I love reading her books, and Lust was no exception. I rate this book five stars, and highly recommend it.

In conclusion, I want to thank Touchstone for sending me a complimentary copy of LustA Seven Deadly Sins Novel in exchange for an honest review.

Victoria Christopher Murray has been writing inspiration African-American fiction since she left the financial services industry in 1997 to write her self-published debut Temptation. Her most recent novel Stand Your Ground (Touchstone, June 2015) won the 2015 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work. Lust marks the twentieth anniversary since the publication of Temptation.

 

 

 

 

 

Christianity Today

I don’t know about you, but lately, I see so much confusion within Christianity. What happened to the simplicity of the gospel? Where did it go?

Courtesy of Creative Commons

I was one of those Christians who never read their Bible, but in the past couple of years, I have been reading it diligently. To my surprise, I am slowly becoming aware of things I used to passed over, and not pay attention to.

Some Christians get offended when you speak on various pastors who preach a false gospel. They call you judgmental or negative. However, what they fail to understand is how contrary their messages are to the Bible. And yes, I’m deliberately not calling them out.

What I have analyzed is how certain groups of Christians will focus on key scriptures as their premise or basis of doctrinal belief. When they spout these particular scriptures, it does sound exactly as it’s being conveyed. However, that’s the deception. The scriptures are being taken out of context and not going along with the entire theme of the Bible. This is why I say it’s so important to read the Bible.

There was a time I bought into the lie of seeking Heaven on earth. Where everyone will be as one and in unity. Where there is unlimited grace and favor, no matter what you did. A god who supports gay marriage, adultery, murder, child pornography. Anything goes, because God is a loving God and He doesn’t condemn people to hell.

I’m sorry, but that’s not true. God loves the sinner, but hates the sin. He loves the homosexual, prostitute, pimp, drug dealer, murderer, child molester, and adulterer, but He doesn’t love their sin. He doesn’t condone any of these things that specifically go against His very nature and Word. No, He doesn’t accept it, and yes, there is a hell, and it’s real.

Christianity today is do it your way. Where grace abounds, no matter what you do. A feel-good Christianity, where they worship a Jesus who laughs all the time and slaps you on your back, and says, “ata-boy or girl”.

Yes, God is a merciful, and forgiving God. He rains on the just and unjust. (Matthew 5:45) However, He doesn’t accept everything. We shouldn’t abuse or take His grace for granted either. (Hebrews 6:6)

As Christians, we have to make a choice. Either we are all in or all out, but there is no in-between. He hates lukewarm and spews it out of his mouth. (Revelation 3:16)

What kind of Christian are you?

Another Gospel

They tell you to ignore and deny your sickness, depression, and pain. And when you pray, and nothing changes, it’s YOUR fault, because you don’t have enough faith.

Courtesy of Creative Commons

How many of you know that’s a bunch of hogwash?

For whatever reason, some people have a hard time wrapping their minds around the fact that depression and anxiety is an illness and disability. Much like someone who lost an arm or a limb.

However, there are some in Christendom who believe if you are struggling with any kind of illness or disease, it is either a result of unrepentant sin, demons, or a lack of faith. So, on top of suffering, there is the guilt, blame and shame added to the mix for good measure.

I happen to be an open minded person, but I have a real problem with this false teaching being purported as truth. I have been exposed to a lot in my life, and have learned a great deal in my search for God. The one thing I can tell you is that these so-called faith healers are fake, and if they do exhibit any so-called power to heal, you must question the origin from hence it came, because not everything “supernatural” is of God.

I am here to tell you, that if you are a Christian who struggles with any kind of illness or disability, you are not alone and are no less a Christian for it. Jesus never said we wouldn’t be sick or suffer here on earth. He said we will have to pick up our Cross and follow Him.

I read this morning in Matthew 10:18, “And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” Hmm, did you catch that… “not worthy of me.”

Jesus said it like it is. These fresh revelations, or new insights of the Word of God that these self-proclaimed apostles and prophets tell you is not biblical doctrine, but another gospel.

Today, the Church has strayed so far away from the truth, it’s sad. They have a distorted, confused and mixed up doctrine. What makes matters worse is that Christians don’t like to read their Bible. They’d rather be spoon feed, than dig into it themselves. What they fail to realize is they are doing themselves a huge disservice.

I do believe God heals. However, I no longer believe in those who claim to be used of God to heal others. God is God. He doesn’t need intermediaries. All God desires that we pray, have faith, and follow Him, whether we get healed or not.

The Day I Deleted 3,000 Friends

From 2014 through 2015, I went from blogging and reviewing Christian genre, to crime fiction and urban literature. I enjoyed it, and in the process, learned a great deal about myself, and others.

However, once I rededicated my life to Christ in the beginning of 2016, I had to reevaluate things. What I was doing, where I was going, and mostly, what God wanted for me.

Courtesy of Creative Commons

My deleting over 3,000 “friends” wasn’t personal, it was something the Lord impressed on me to do. He wanted me to put the past behind me, and start anew. As it was, not all of my decisions were lining up with His, and something needed to change.

The Bible says, in Hosea 4:6a, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.

Life is a journey, and the road can either be smooth or tumultuous based on our decisions. Our choices have to be aligned with His for things to go right in our lives.

The devil likes to confuse us and take us on rides, to get us off course, so that we get frustrated, give up, and abort our calling. This is what happened to me. So, I had to repent, recalibrate and get my life back on track.

As an artist, I do appreciate all art forms, however, I had to reconcile with the fact that a lot of what I was reading and reviewing was no longer feasible. The books I read were well-written by some talented authors, however, the genre was no longer one I could indulge in as a follower of Christ. So I had to make a decision, I was either going to follow Him or do it my way. And trust, that doing it my way didn’t result in anything good for me.

Thus, I am returning to blogging about my faith, reviewing Christian books, and classical literature. My goal is to continue to do my best and provide you with a variety of relevant content; full of substance, meaning and depth. Thank you for traveling on this journey with me.

Ta-Ta 2016… Hello 2017!

2016… what can I say? You were like a bad marriage on steroids. Lots of downs, and not enough ups. But like any other commitment, we trudged along together through every obstacle with gritted teeth. But boy did you hit us with some doozies.

There were a lot of disappointments, shedding, and letting go of people, places, and things. Which is why, I’m not sorry to say, ta-ta, arrivederci, and good riddance!

Courtesy of Creative Commons

In 2016, I learned to surrender, obey, pray, and trust Jesus. He taught me how to stand in the midst of each relentless and incessant storm. As a result, my faith got stronger. My Comforter gave me the courage, and strength of a lioness to confront things without fear.

Through every wind and wave of adversity, He taught me not to cower or give up. I am determined to walk with Jesus every single day, every step of the way, with no turning back. Ever again.

This verse became real and personal to me,

“No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise up against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD.” (Isaiah 54:17)

When others turned against me, Jesus never did. He never left me nor forsook me. He showed me His faithfulness, and showered me with His unfailing love, grace and mercy. He truly is a good, good Father, which is why I will follow Him all the days of my life. No matter what. Even if I must walk it alone.

No, I didn’t like you very much, 2016, however, I would be remiss not to thank you for every lesson, test, trial, tribulation, storm and adversity you’ve sent my way. My circumstances may not have changed, but gratefully, I have.

Happy New Year!

A Spectacle of Glory by Joni Eareckson Tada

Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (October 4, 2016)
ISBN-10: 0310346770
Price: $11.72
Purchase: CBD | Amazon | BN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Description

Do you ever wonder why God created you? The Bible spells it out plainly: God created you to showcase His glory—to enjoy it, display it, and demonstrate it every day to all those you encounter.

After nearly 50 years of living as a quadriplegic, and dealing with chronic pain on a daily basis, Joni has learned firsthand the importance of glorifying God through the toughest of situations. Through this devotional, Joni will help you discover how to put God’s glory on display—how to say no to complaining and say yes to daily following God down even the most difficult paths. Along the way, you will find great comfort and encouragement by focusing on the one who longs to lead and guide you every step of the way, every day.

Don’t ever think your life is too ordinary, your world too small, or your work too insignificant. All of it is a stage set for you to glorify God.

Review

Many years ago I had the pleasure of reading When God Weeps by Joni Eareckson Tada. So, when I was offered the opportunity to review her new devotional, A Spectacle of GloryI gladly accepted.

Just as her book spoke to me, so is her devotional. She writes from a deep place. Her words are rich and full of substance. There is no fluff or superficiality.

I relate to her, in that she knows what it’s like to suffer, and not get healed. She had a diving accident which left her paralyzed, and she has been a quadriplegic now for forty-nine years. She prayed that God would heal her, and went to several healing services, but was never healed. Yet, she never lost her faith, which is why she is my hero.

I read A Spectacle of Glory every morning and it ministers to me. I highly recommend it.

In conclusion, I want to thank Handlebar Publishing and Zondervan for sending me a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review.

Joni Eareckson Tada is founder and CEO of Joni and Friends, an organization that accelerates Christian outreach in the disability community. Joni and Friends provides practical support and spiritual help to special needs families worldwide, and equips thousands of churches in developing disability ministry. Joni is the author of numerous bestselling books, including Joni, Diamonds in the Dust, Heaven, When God Weeps, and A Step Further, winner of the Gold Medallion Award. Joni and her husband, Ken, have been married for over 30 years. For more information on Joni and Friends, visit www.joniandfriends.org