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The Last Holiday A Memoir by Gil Scott Heron

The power of the late great Gil Scott Heron’s way with words is hard to ignore. His poetic ability makes this much anticipated book a joy to read. It not only engages, but it also educates. If it were just a biography tracing Heron’s 1950’s Southern roots, it would satisfy. But, it goes beyond a personal history to trace a national history in the story of Stevie Wonder’s successful campaign to have slain Civil Rights leader Dr Martin Luther King’s birthday declared a National Holiday.

From candid tales of his well-respected grandparents and parents, with their flair for sports, advocacy for academia or quiet personalities, to his relationships with his own children, we get a great insight into Heron’s influences. Aside from familial role models, iconic musicians such as Wonder made a huge impact on Heron’s world. It is fascinating to read about Heron’s longstanding friendship with Wonder or his brief encounters with a young Bob Marley and Michael Jackson while on tour.

There are many exciting tales from the road once Heron, who was awarded a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award this year, had made it big as a performance poet/musician signed to Arista records, and as an author of The Vulture.  But, his early years at university are equally noteworthy demonstrating musical prowess, a social conscience, and his defiant rallying voice in student politics at Pennslyvania’s Lincoln University.

Much lauded, cool and laidback, Heron’s determination and conviction to follow his dream of becoming a writer is inspiring. A few beautiful pictures add extra character to this already charismatic book. A world of jazz, race, and activism, it details how dreams became reality.

The Last Holiday ­– A Memoir by Gil Scott Heron, priced £20 is out now published by Canongate Books.

http://www.canongate.tv/the-last-holiday.html

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The UK Corner Book review: I didn’t ask to be born (but I’m glad I was) By Bill Cosby

From its title, you may assume that New York Times Bestselling Author Bill Cosby’s latest book is another social commentary. However, surprisingly, it is more a collection of humorous tales of varied lengths about his observations of family and friends. Insightful, Cosby writes about everything from romance to religion. He introduces us to the characters in his life from a young Peanut Armhouse who he grew up with in a Philadelphia housing project, to his Godzilla-loving grandson, and his first love Bernadette.

The latter is my favourite part of the book. I laughed out loud as Cosby recalled being a fifteen-year-old boy in the tale of cologne and catastrophe that even a Miles Davis LP cannot soothe. The Missing Pages is another great story focusing on what simply must have been edited out of Genesis and the story of how God created the world. Cosby even traces Adam and Eve’s DNA to marriages in 2011. With hilarious illustrations by George Booth, the book is full of charm and charisma.

Cosby is loved as a comedian, producer, musician, activist, educator and actor. His first humor book since Cosbyology does not disappoint. Only Cosby can tell a story with so much vibrancy from emphasizing the pronunciation of names (Peee –Nut), to subtly exuding the characteristics of the bygone era from which he came where voice mails were not on the horizon!

Reflecting on technological advances, Cosby notes that he had no TV and grew up in the radio age, while enjoying trips to the movie theater to watch Westerns. With his great imagination Cosby has conquered the multimedia age and fans are lucky to experience his comedy and wisdom on multiple platforms.

Read an excerpt

Cosby deals with the title of his book as a subject, dispensing more of the fatherly advice he has become associated with since The Cosby Show from single children, to handling demands for toys and manipulative advertising. There is even a seasonal story about his grandchildren’s encounter with Santa Claus’ assistant.

This quirky book is a gift that inspires you to indulge in all the other gifts Cosby has bestowed on the world from his TV shows, to his comedy albums, to his other books. But the biggest gift was from his mother who birthed his genius.

I didn’t ask to be born but I’m glad I was by Bill Cosby is out now published by Hachette Book Group.

For more information visit:

http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/books_9781455505944.htm

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The UK Corner Book review: My Story so far by Tinie Tempah

At 23, Patrick Chukwuemeka Okogwu Jr, AKA Tinie Tempah, has admitted that it is a bit early for an autobiography, but as the title suggests, this book is more of an insight into the journey that has led him to become one of the UK’s most successful recording artists. His youth means that the book is largely comprised of photographs representing the key moments of the last two years.

For fans, the book traces Tempah’s roots in South London and life with his Nigerian family with childhood photos to make the tales of Jollof rice and extended family more vivid. He reveals that he was creative from an early age creating animated characters. As the oldest child he was also responsible, and this marriage of maturity and creativity are key to his career successes.

His passion for music was one of the main reasons he avoided the perils of the streets which some of his school friends fell victim to that, and his vigilant parents. It was his mother who encouraged him to work with his cousin Dumi who was to be come his manager.

Dumi saw the potential in his young cousin who diligently studied the emerging grime scene and began to make mix tapes and do PAs and appear on pirate radio stations alongside the MCs he idolized. Tempah worked hard while studying at school and college, and worked to pay for music videos. With confessionals about early insecurities and doubts, the book provides great inspiration for those keen to break into the music industry and any one with a dream.

Tinie Tempah

Tempah’s main message is to seize the day and follow those dreams. He explicitly analyzes the dreams, which have been realized for him including his number one singles such as Pass Out and Written in the Stars (the official theme song for Wrestlemania 27), and his double platinum-selling debut album Disc-Overy, his music videos, life on tour including life backstage and his non-controversial rider and experiences in America (he appeared on Jay Leno and David Letterman and played Coachella), and his relationships with the artists, producers and famous faces he has met and worked with such as Prince William, Labrinth, Snoop Dogg, Pharrell Williams, Adele, Kylie, Diddy, Wiz Khalifa, Usher and Lindsay Lohan who messages him on Twitter! Famous names such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Jay-Z and Jessie J are also quoted.

Having joined the ranks of those big name, MOBO and Brit award winning Tempah is not afraid to show his cards as he talks about the way fame has affected him and those around him. Tempah’s voice is definitely recognizable in the book. Known for his insightful lyrics and clever word play, readers can be confident that his intellect comes across.

The self-assured comfortable in his own skin persona is what has made Tempah so well received. His character comes across in the book and you get to know him, from his crushes and musical tastes, to his hobbies and passion for fashion. The story so far is only the beginning and if it is anything to go by, the next chapters can only get bigger and better.

My story so far by Tinie Tempah is out now, published by Ebury Publishing, priced £14.99. For more visit: http://www.eburypublishing.co.uk/viewbook.asp?isbn=0091945232

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The UK Corner Book review: Modelland by Tyra Banks

From the outset, Modelland overpowers your senses. A form of literature candy, it gives a sugar rush with its metaphors and flamboyant world. Initially trying to acclimatize to the characters such as the De La Crèmes, the places such as Peppertown, Metopia, and the unrelenting alliteration, is almost too much. Yet it is worth the effort to fully immerse oneself into this fashionable fictional world.

In Modelland, the exclusive, mysterious place on top of the mountain, some recognizable facts are worn. Banks skillfully takes the reader through a fantastical journey reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In this book Smizes not chocolate bars are key to life changing adventure.

15-year-old whipped cream loving Tookie De La Crème is the female Charlie; though she comes from a less loving family. A lonely Forgetta-Girl, she longs to become memorable. But not even her untamed hair, mismatched eyes, large forehead and gawky body can make her stand out from the crowd. Surprisingly on the Day of Discovery or T-DOD, she, not her perfect sister Myraccle, is chosen to become a Bella and a potential Intoxibella (supermodel).

The plot echoes a series of America’s Next Top Model, the show former supermodel and Talk Show host Banks created, which is now shown in 170 countries. The worldliness of Banks’ personal experience is also evident in the book with a plurality of cultures featured.

In this luminescent world of Thigh High Boot Camp, Catwalk Corridor, CaraCaraCara, The OohAh! Spa; Flashback Females and Manattack; where Teachers are Gurus, Servants are Mannecants, Nurses are Purses on skates, and time is told by shades of colour, there is much to learn and experience. This includes first love for Tookie who encounters the charming Bravo.

But it is not all fun in the Dorms and M Building; there is the threat of Ci-L and the Belladonna, and the danger of the Diabolical Divide and diabolically bitchy Bellas such as Zarpessa. Not once will Tookie and her new found friends bid to escape ironically while her mother and sister try to break into Modelland via the Pilgrim Passage.

But the challenges Tookie faces are worth it; they make her into a Rememba-girl rather than breaking her. Banks uses Tookie as an exemplar of teen angst and no doubt builds on her experience running the TZONE Foundation to highlight teen insecurity, self-harming, and eating disorders.

Tyra Banks

Though aimed at teenagers, the book has wide appeal with its insight into the world of fashion, and keen observations on the world’s obsession with fashion and limited conceptions of beauty, a cause that Banks has dedicated herself to redefining. Indeed, fans will see a lot of Banks’ personality in the book as well as fashion iconography in the form ‘Evanjalinda’ and ‘Bevjo’.

Havard Business School graduate Banks has crafted a greatly detailed story with believable characters and a far from predictable plot. Modelland would make a great film and with Bankable productions, Banks’ production company, it may be on the cards. In the meantime, the sequel in this trilogy is one to watch out for.

Modelland by Tyra Banks and published by Delacorte press, is out now.

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The UK Corner book review: The kid by Sapphire

There is no getting around it; The Kid is a disturbing read. Those familiar with Author Sapphire’s first novel Push published in 1996, filmed as the 2009 Oscar winning Precious, will be familiar with her talent for penning dark characters in still darker scenarios. From the outset, the lights are dim in this book. Nine-year-old Abdul Jones’ only reason for sunglasses is for a funeral.

The death of his childhood is swift and violent. Few adults mourn its passing. Few adults notice the symptomatic motifs of his terminal illness: abusive environments, sexual predators, anger, violence, and systematic failures. Few adults exist to medicate his need for love, nurture and belonging, once his mother’s friend Rita and foster carer Miss Lillie disappear. So the nails are knocked into the coffin, which will carry Abdul’s innocence with sledgehammers of self-harm, prostitution and rape. Even the police fail to rescue the vulnerable child from the hypocritical Brothers at St Ailanthus Boys’ Catholic orphanage. So, forced into adulthood, Abdul buries his head in fantasies about Crazy Horse and other Native Americans. Even death becomes fantastical, “My mother died in a car accident, my father died in the war.”

Death haunts Abdul and ghosts from his past scare him to his core. From his maternal great grandmother, who he calls Slavery Days, he has inherited tragedy. The genetic disorder of pain has been passed on from Mississippi to New York; generation-to-generation. Moments of light lift the heavy mood in the book. The family history of suffering and an uncouth nature is juxtaposed with high art and culture when Slavery Days recalls her time spent in Harlem cotton clubs listening to Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Billie Holiday. But, not even the soothing sounds of jazz can dampen the harshness of incest that is the family story. “You de seed”, Slavery Days insists.

What have been planted in this desolate graveyard are weeds. But Abdul seeks to run away and grow even in his wayward manner. Bravely he still attempts to navigate life despite the constant and sudden upheaval without explanation. A chance encounter with African dance threatens to save his life. Before long, Abdul’s body, which aches, becomes stretched by Ballet. Plié and relevés become his paramedics. But by age 14, his French dance teacher Roman seeks to derail the ambulance.

There are glimmers of hope for this bright child with knowledge of Frida Kahlo and Picasso, a passion for black history, earth science, and his precious Kaleidoscope. His ordinary dream of a home, college, professional dance career, and family taunts and teases him, though we will for his relationship with his girlfriend My Lai and residency in the downtown artist loft to work out. But, no matter what way we look at it, Abdul’s dreams are an illusion. There is no happy ending; the cold streets of New York pull no punches.

Sapphire, who has a background in social services, was hit by assumptions that the book was autobiographical but she should not be offended; it is testimony to the story’s authenticity. This sad story is too real for the one million and still counting orphaned by HIV-AIDS to who the book is dedicated. The book eulogises the voices of the many affected by this epidemic, by abuse and the failings of child welfare systems.

In this master class on writing, skillfully, Sapphire puts the devil in the detail with quotes from singer Sade to Author Doestoevsky. Four books house chapters marking the deteriorating state of Abdul’s health from nine, to falling, to ascension, to dirty 4 dirty. Soiled by life and with few possessions, Abdul has forgotten his identity. Scars, both physical and psychological, overpower his few precious memories.

Another perfect candidate for a film, it is hard to forget the graphic images of abuse, which unapologetically pop up to suddenly attack both Abdul and the reader amid the most innocuous circumstances. No parents; no parental warnings. As Abdul seeks an understanding he never quite gets, the reader too is left without a perfectly resolved journey. But as we remember the real Abduls of the world, we must pray they have a better life. They must be confined to fiction expired in the real word: ashes to ashes dust to dust.

The kid by Sapphire, published by Penguin, is out now priced £12.99. For more information visit: http://www.penguin.co.uk/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780241145296,00.html

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