CeeCee’s Supernatural Saturdays

Hooray for Saturday!!! After another looooooong workweek, I never thought the weekend would come. I don’t know about y’all but the summer workweek doldrums are a real thing. I need a vacation STAT! Thankfully, I have plenty of books to transport me to far and distant lands—dark and spooky places filled with ghosts, werewolves and the occasional sparkly vampire! What more could a girl ask for? I ask you!

Here, CeeCee has rounded up some of our most recent spooktacular reads—some good, some not so much. Listed below are our hits and misses from our June/July reading list!

Read This!

The Ghost and the Haunted Portrait by Cleo Coyle

Cozy fans—you can’t go wrong with any of Cleo Coyle’s books, especially her Haunted Bookshop series! I just love the humorous quips among the leading lady Penelope Thornton-McClure and her two neurotic sidekicks Seymour and Professor J. Brainert. There’s also a hint of a romance brewing between the bookish sleuth and her resident ghost Jack Shepherd, a sultry PI from the ‘40s whose death is a mystery all unto itself! This is a rather welcome departure from the amateur sleuth/detective love-hate plot device that has been done to death in the cozy mystery genre. As for the story itself, I rather enjoyed the mystery of the cursed portrait—and how it was all tied to a cold case involving the untimely demise of a pulp fiction cover illustrator. Albeit, cold case mysteries can be rather dull, yet there were some rather suspenseful moments when our intrepid sleuth closed in on the case of the murdered book/art collector who fell prey to the cursed portrait! Oh how I love mysteries shrouded in deadly curses—such fun!

The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon


Let me start off by saying Jennifer McMahon is becoming one of my most favorite horror writers! She consistently churns out extremely creepy, slow-burning ghost stories that are often steeped in urban legends. This latest title did not disappoint! The story surrounds two sisters who spent their summers at their reclusive grandmother’s house, where they spent much of their time swimming in a pool filled with mystical—dare I say cursed—water. Adding to the creep-factor, their aunt drowned in that very pool due to mysterious causes. The author masterfully ratchets up the suspense by time-skipping from the girls’ early childhood to their present-day reality, to a time long ago when a happy couple moved to that property and fell victim to mysterious forces surrounding the “healing” spring waters. It all comes together in the end in the most horrific way possible! You know you’ve read something good when fellow readers post a “Please discuss your feelings about the ending” thread in a Facebook reading group. Hats off to Ms. McMahon for pulling the rug out from under me yet again!  


Hypnosis is for Hacks by Tamara Berry

Disclaimer: I received a free ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

As expected, this fourth installment of the Eleanor Wilde mystery series did not disappoint! This is absolutely a cozy mystery–but yet it is a welcome departure from the tried-and-true formula that makes this sub-genre tiresome. Eleanor, our leading lady, is unlike the typical sweet and lovable “Mary Sues” of the cozy mystery scene. She’s a wise-cracking charlatan who cons people into believing she speaks to dead people. Hey, sometimes you have to go to extremes to make a buck these days! In her defense, she resorted to this unsavory line of work to pay for her dying sister’s medical bills, so she can’t be all that bad. To be honest, I rather prefer a protagonist with some real flaws instead of the cliched “flaws” attached to female characters to make them “relatable,” such being a perennial klutz or a carb-fanatic. Is this really the only way women can relate with other women? Strange. Either way, I digress. Eleanor is a fantastic protagonist with some really fun sidekicks including magical cats (aka familiars) and some ghostly spirit guides. In this mystery, she’s vacationing at a posh hotel in a quaint coastal English village. Ahh…such bliss. The mystery begins when she and her brother witness a man being pushed off a boat by two shadowy perpetrators. Adding to the mystery, there’s a jewel thief afoot! Could the two crimes be connected? Will the salty head detective ever take her seriously? Could all of these wrongdoings be tied to Eleanor’s ex partner-in-crime and current blackmailer? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Not That!

The Lost Village by Camilla Sten


I’m sorry, but no. This book was such a dud, and I am kicking myself yet again for getting suckered into the “Blair Witch meets Midsomer” sales pitch. The only thing commonality between this book and the Blair Witch Project is the incessant bickering among the feeble-minded characters.  As for Midsomer (not such a great horror flick, in my opinion), the only link I can think of is that both stories are set in Sweden. What else is thee? I ask you! Either way, the false advertising and provocative book cover lured me in like a catfish to a plastic worm. The characters were all horrible, especially the flat-as-a-pancake leading lady. She kept so many secrets from the group for no apparent reason, and she kept moving forward with the documentary—or I should say pre-documentary photo shoot—when she should have been taking an injured member of the crew straight to the emergency room. There’s very little action other than the crew creeping around dark and gloomy buildings. The only hint of a ghostly presence in a sporadic shadow person just kind of hanging around…blarg. Everything about this book was sorely disappointing. I honestly don’t know how it received so many raves on GoodReads, but to each their own.


Goblin by Josh Walerman 

Again, I fell prey to a gorgeous cover. I mean look at this thing! The Alice in Wonderland motif set against the backdrop of a looming haunted mansion is like catnip! And then there’s the glowing review from none other than Stephen King, so this had to be a surefire hit, right? Wrong! Well, I guess for some people who like weird Twilight Zone-esque short stories, this is a winner. I, however, want a classic ghost story that will make me want to recheck my door locks and turn on all the lights. Aside from the first really spooky short story (or prelude? I’m not sure since I didn’t make it to the end), I could not get into the novellas that were just disorienting and strange. Even though the stories were relatively short, they felt long and rambling. Also, I should warn all my fellow dog lovers, and animal lovers in general, that there are some triggers in the “Man in Slices” and “Happy Birthday, Hunter!”. Some stories I wish I could just unread…sigh. Either way, this was a no for me, dog. DNF pile, all the way.

The Maple Murders by Micol Ostow 

Admittedly, I have not watched the show, so it took a while to get a grasp on the many, many characters. There are so many problems, I don’t even know where to begin. Ok, for starters, the book lacks a main character—making it impossible to connect with anyone or anything. Each chapter is narrated by a different member of the super duper diverse and inclusive Riverdale clique, and I am not digging any of them. Also, the characters and storylines are sooooo far removed from the Archie and Jughead comics, so why bother with this whole gimmick in the first place? I’m guessing that without this throwback, another random teen melodrama TV show couldn’t stand on its own two legs…am I right? I went into this book hoping for a good YA murder mystery about ghosts coming back to haunt a cursed town, but it seemed that all took a backseat to chapters upon chapters of mundane teenage crap. Some chapters teeter off into sub-plots that had zero ties to the story—like a lesbian love affair road trip to LA or a fruitless excursion to a gay bar. None of these little side trips had anything to do with the actual plot, but they did let all the readers know that this story is WOKE AF! I embrace diversity in mainstream fiction, but when it seems to be shoehorned in there with the sole agenda of check-marking all the boxes, I get a little annoyed. That said, this was a dud with a major let-down of an ending. By the time I got to the final chapters, it seemed very apparent that the author realized “Oh, whoopsies, I need to tie up this mystery, too.” At least she got her main message across.

Into the Pit by Scott Cawthon, Elley Cooper

I’ve been eyeing this Fazbear Frights series for quite some time now—again with the alluring book covers! Sometimes even middle-grade horror stories can be rather spooky, so I figured why not give it a go? All I can say is this is no R.L. Stine—not even close. All the little stories in here are life lessons for the kiddos in the guise of horror stories—cautionary tales like don’t take your parents for granted, don’t be a crummy, social-climbing friend, don’t fat-shame yourself and others, blah, blah, blah. What’s wrong with just writing a horror story with the sole intention of scaring the pants off of little children? Why can’t a story be just a story without an agenda? Either way, this is the first and last book I’ll read in this series.

Meowder Mondays: Big Little Spies by Krista Davis

In short: A pet detective gets murdered in the adorable little animal-friendly small town of Wagtail and everybody—all 5,698 characters—is a suspect! So I might’ve exaggerated about the number of suspects, but dang, there’s a LOT of people and pets to sort out in this confusing mess of a mystery. It’s up to the local innkeeper Holly to sort through the massive list of suspects because you know the local law enforcement ain’t worth  hill of beans in these cozy mysteries!

What I liked: I quite enjoyed the cute little touristy small town setting with all the pooch-themed shops and eateries. If this place existed in real life, I’d certainly put it on the ol’ bucket list. I also love, love, love everything about this cover. The adorable Jack Russell throwing off the side-eye at a hoity-toity society event just cracks me up!

What didn’t work: Judging by the hundreds of rave reviews on Goodreads, I’m the odd girl out here, but this book just didn’t do it for me. There’s just way, way, way too many names to keep up with, and I found myself re-reading pages and sifting back to previous chapters to figure out who’s who. First you have a group of women in the WAG high society club, then you have the assorted townies—and then if that’s not enough, there’s a bunch of animal names thrown in the mix! The multitude of red herrings confused matters even more! I know that’s the whole point of a red herring, but the tangled web of family feuds and romantic trysts were a little much for my tired, overworked brain. I thought cozy mysteries were supposed to be easy, relaxing reads!

Favorite characters: Of course, Twinkletoes and Trixie are my most favorite characters—Fritz the loyal German Shepherd comes in as a close second! As for the humans, I most enjoyed Aunt Birdie because, quite frankly, she’s not boring. Sure Grandma Oma and Holly are sweet and all… like a bland vanilla ice cream cone. Aunt Biride’s kind of a tool, but she seems to have a soft underbelly and an interesting backstory.

Overall: If you love formulaic cozy mysteries with sweet Mary Sue sleuths and furry, heroic sidekicks, this book’s for you. Just keep a notepad handy so you can keep the characters and complicated storylines straight!

The Lake by Natasha Preston

In short: Two best friends with one big scary secret return to summer camp as CIT’s (counselors-in-training) and get terrorized by a camera-toting, deer-killing weirdo in the woods. 

What I liked: I’m giving this one a generous 3-star review because I enjoyed the summer camp setting and the whole Fear Street vibe. The whodunnit guessing game was fun, and I really liked playing along with the conspiracy theory game. Could the killer be in cahoots with the uptight camp director in high-waisted shorts? Or could it be the hunky CIT’s with questionable backstories? Maybe it’s the quiet, Nervous Nelly CIT with secrets to hide? The ending had me…what are the kids saying these days…all shook! I really thought I had the conspiracy theory all worked out, but then the author ripped the rug out from under me with the grand finale! 

What didn’t work: I had to knock off a couple of stars because there were quite a few problems with this book. First, I’m not convinced the author ever attended sleep-away camp and/or did much research in that area. As a veteran camper/CIT/camp counselor (my parents couldn’t wait to get rid of me every summer), I can tell you that CIT’s do not have that much alone time. When I wasn’t flirting shamelessly with the kitchen staff, I was chasing after kiddos, making sure they didn’t drown!

That said, our two main characters Esme and Kayla seemed to be on a vacation that just happened to be at camp. I think they may have had two or three interactions with their little campers throughout the whole book. Also, I really wanted more summer campy scenes–like skit night or dance night or food fights! Sure there were a few hikes and swims in the lake, but that’s about it. Hell–there weren’t even any scary stories around the campfire! All I’m saying is more camp nostalgia would’ve been nice. 

Last but not least, I’m a little mad at Esme for taking some seriously stupid risks without thinking them through. It takes a special kind of stupid to go out in the woods alone at night knowing full-well that a killer out there and stalking you around the clock. Just sayin! 

Trigger warning: There are some scenes involving mutilated deer involved. Just putting that out there for all my animal-loving friends! 

Overall: If you’re looking for a semi-suspenseful campy YA thriller on par with R.L. Stine’s works, this book’s for you. This review is a little rough, so I should note that I did enjoy the story, for the most part, and will give the author another chance. I’m just happy to see these classic YA spooky thriller books are still gracing the shelves at Barnes & Noble. It’s nice to have a few other choices besides the ever-present fantasy/Dystopian books that dominate the YA shelves these days.

Meowder Mondays: The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

Shout out to Netgalley and Macmillan for providing a free ARC in exchange for an honest review! This book will be hitting the shelves this September.

In short: We’ve got a handful of unreliable narrators who are more than what they seem: Ted, a reclusive, grossly unhygienic oddball who may or may not be a psychopathic kidnapper; a cat named Olivia who’s on a mission from God to rescue Ted; a little girl (age unknown) with anger issues who may or may not be the little lost girl from the lake: and then there’s Dee, the new next-door neighbor who’s on a quest to avenge her missing sister.

What I liked: First of all, this cover is nothing short of masterful! I’m a sucker for haunted houses and cats, so count me in! Aside from that, this book is definitely a departure from anything else I’ve read in the horror genre. I was in a constant state of disorientation and had no idea where the story was going until I reached the final chapters and got pummeled with a flurry of bombshells. I can’t say anything more without giving away spoilers, but I will say that you will be deceived…multiple times. So yeah, if you love those M. Night Shyamalan plot twists, this book’s for you.

What I didn’t like: I, for one, do NOT like being deceived. I’m sorry, y’all, but I didn’t much care for the big “this isn’t so scary” surprise ending of “The Sixth Sense.” Don’t even get me started on “The Village.” So yeah, I’m not all too jazzed about how this book shaped out when the hundreds of questions finally got answered. When I pick up a horror paperback, I expect the author to deliver on the promise that it will indeed be a scary story. To be fair, there were some scary elements weaved into this psychological thriller–Ted’s childhood flashbacks, in particular. His mother was downright terrifying. And then there’s the creepy vibe happening in the woods, where “The Gods” are always watching. To be fair, there’s a lot of spooky buildup, so readers are likely to get creeped out…well until they get slapped in the face with the big reveal.

Character development: All of the characters, cat included, were indeed complex with fascinating backstories, but here’s the problem: they are all unreliable and strange. I want to feel a connection with at least one character, but that’s impossible when there’s clearly something very off and you don’t get the full story.

Overall: I think this is one of those books readers either love or hate. Judging by all the glowing reviews, this book is a big hit, so maybe give it a go and see what you think. This unreliable narrator stuff just isn’t for me, but it seems to be a growing trend and a clever way for authors to pull the rug out from under you with a big ol’ “FOOLED YA!” at the very end. Nope, not my cup of tea.

Four Paws up for Ghosts of New York by Jim Lewis

I have to be honest with you. Pretty much all the New York-themed books I’ve read involve man-chasing, Manolo Blahnik-obsessed shopaholics. When I think of Manhattan, I envision Broadway shows, enchanting parks lit up with fairy lights and fashionable women strolling arm-in-arm down bustling sidewalks. I have since grown out of this chick lit genre, but the glossy veneer of New York life still lives long in my mind.

As you have probably surmised, I have never been to the Big Apple. Yet after reading Ghosts of New York, I feel like I’ve been given a tour by a local. To be clear, this isn’t a whimsical romanticized depiction of the city, but an unfiltered slice-of-life look into the people who live in the nondescript outlying neighborhoods, the studio apartments, the walk-up Brownstones. Told by an all-omniscient—in some cases prophetic—narrator, the chapters contain vignettes about troubled New Yorkers who are facing some serious blows—from losing everything to bankruptcy, to falling in and out of love, to realizing you can never come home again. The latter hits home with me, big time.

And therein lies the beauty of this book. So many of these stories are relatable to readers because the characters (Caruso excluded) are much like you and me. They’re not on a quest to vanquish evil sorcerers or to solve a whodunnit—they’re just making their way through this game of life the best they can. Needless to say, this isn’t a light read, but it was definitely worth my while because sometimes it’s good to lean into life’s dirty, gritty underbelly. Sometimes it’s good to feel these raw emotions and to know others have felt them too.

Deep stuff, I know. But hey, it’s good to go outside your comfort zones and read what I like to call “Intellectual Fiction,” not just for the stories themselves but for the beautiful prose. Hats off to Mr. Lewis for taking the art of writing to stratospheric heights! Most books I read are heavy on the dialogue, but this is mostly narration—a rather bold move for an author, but it works because it casts a voyeuristic effect. Some reviewers knocked a few stars off for this rather unorthodox story structure, but I rather liked it. The mystery of time was also an interesting, albeit disorienting, effect. Some chapters were told in the future tense, others in the past, but it’s anyone’s guess which decade we’re in. If I were to go out on a limb here, I’d say this was a nod to the “ghosts” theme of the book…because time and space is always a big question in the Great Beyond, isn’t it?

This review is turning into a novella, and I give you snaps for making it this far! There’s so much more to say about the poetic metaphors, the complex characters, my many questions about the mysterious virus and so on, but I’ll stop right here before giving away any spoilers. Even if this genre isn’t your cup of tea, I encourage you to venture off into uncharted territory and read something that stretches your thoughts about life, existence and the hereafter a little further.

Well done, Mr. Lewis! Keep ‘em coming!

ARC Review: The River Has Teeth by Erica Waters

the river has teeth by erica waters Note: I received and ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The book hits the shelves this July!

The Gist: Two girls, Natasha and Della, forge an unlikely friendship whilst searching for Natasha’s lost sister. More girls go missing in the cursed river bend, and a bloodthirsty shapeshifting madwoman is afoot! It’s up to Della and Natasha to vanquish the monsters of the bend before it’s too late!

What worked: I enjoyed the spooky atmosphere surrounding the bend and all of its enchanted winged creatures. The mystery of the missing sister was well spun, leaving me with so many questions the moment they found her abandoned car out in the woods. I do enjoy a good whodunnit—especially one with magic and shape-shifting monsters lurking in the woods. There’s also another mystery within the mystery involving Della’s mother, her dead aunt and some woo woo magic—such fun!

What irked me: Female empowerment is great, and I love that it’s becoming more of a trend in pop culture. That said, the “we don’t need men in this world” message in the final chapter of this book didn’t sit well with me. I like to think of myself as a left-leaning feminist, but I’m not down with misandry.

Overall: Needless to say, I have mixed feelings about this one. If this becomes a trilogy, I may give it another chance since there’s so much more to Natasha’s story nowt that she knows a bit more about herself and what’s fueling her deep-seated rage. Also, I’m interested to see what else is lurking in the cursed bend!

Happy Caturday! Four Paws Up for Nala’s World

Nala's World I’m sure most of you fellow animal lovers have seen the Dodo video of Nala and Dean’s moment of insta-love when he found her lost, desperate and abandoned on some rocks somewhere in the Bosnia wastelands. If not, you must drop everything (unless if you’re holding a cat) and watch it right now!

As with most attention-challenged social media viewers, I watched the short video, swooned and then moved on to the next new sparkly thing in never-ending feed of Tick Tock video nothingness…talk about wastelands. Social media, man. It’s a blessing and a curse, isn’t it? Without it, Dean’s story wouldn’t have gone viral, and the world wouldn’t know his story—and the story of so many other hurt and abandoned animals he helped along the way with some crowd-funding assistance from his massive online fan club! Yet, it’s rather disturbing that my mind instantly flitted off to the next Dodo video, and I forgot about this epic rescue story in a nanosecond. All I can say is THANK GOD FOR BOOKS!

When I discovered this memoir existed, I immediately downloaded the audiobook so I could listen to it on my long MS150 training rides. This was a good call because the book is narrated by a Scottish voice artist with a fantastic brogue! Oh how I love the Scotts! It was such a pleasure taking this journey alongside Dean and his newfound kitty soul mate Nala as he pursued his “One Bike, One World” expedition that unexpectedly turned into an animal rescue mission. Not only did he save little Nala, he also rescued some stray pups and used his massive social media following to help out fledgling rescues and sanctuaries. Needless to say, this is a man after my own heart! Also, he’s a globe-traversing cyclist, which in and of itself is fascinating!

As for Nala, oh my goodness—I’m in love! This little girl knew she found her person the instant she meowed at him. She refused to let him pedal away and used all of her cute powers to land herself right into his little handlebar bag—where she happily stayed throughout his quest. It’s amazing to me how animals magically know they found their person—and refuse to let them go. This happened in another book I read called “Finding Gobi,” in which a fiercely determined tiny dog (also a Dodo video star) ran alongside an ultra-marathon runner in the blistering heat of the Gobi desert. That story—and Nala’s story—will always have a place in my heart. I’m just so glad both of these big-hearted animal rescuers wrote books so the world can connect with these stories in a way that just can’t be done in a 30-second flash-in-the-pan video.

SPOILER ALERT! The cat lives in the end. So don’t let that completely understandable fear stand in your way. In fact, I’m hoping there will be a Part II installment because Dean’s worldly biking adventure was cut short by this blasted pandemic! He and Nala have many, many more miles to go, which makes me and my Lil Bootz purr with delight! Oh and you can watch their adventures unfold in real time (#OneBikeOneWorld) on all the social media channels!

Meowder Mondays: Without a Brew

Let me start off with OMG YASS! This is a new cozy mystery book theme that I never knew I needed in my life! I’ve never met a microbrewery I didn’t like, and now I am yearning to fly to the Bavarian tourist town of Leavenworth, WA and sample all of the delicious IPAs!

Naturally, I decided to read this during dry January because I love to torture myself. I do not advise this! I actually extended my torture into the first week of February since I cheated here and there. But hey, January was a tough month, so I give myself a little slack!

But I digress. Let’s get back to mystery, shall we? It all begins when Sloane (the nano-brewery/B&B manager) finds herself in the middle of a simmering bar brawl between a mysterious woman named Liv and an overgrown frat boy from Hell named, what else, Brad. Liv’s dead body turns up on a river bank the very next day and more suspects come out of the woodwork.

I quite enjoyed puzzling out this beer-infused mystery and was pleased that it had nothing to do with nefarious real estate developers. That plot device is getting old in these cozies. Just sayin! Most of all, I loved, loved, loved the setting and all of the little bits of beer-brewing knowledge. Adding to the intrigue is a mystery on top of the mystery involving Sloane’s mysterious past. Growing up in foster care, she knew nothing about her mother–and why she was abandoned. Somehow, her former in-laws seem to know a lot more about her biological mother than they’re letting on. I won’t give anything away, but I will say there’s more to this mystery that will unfold in the next book. Way to dangle that carrot, Miss Alexander!

I only have a couple gripes. Firstly, this book is devoid of animals. That’s a problem. Also, Sloane is…well how should I put this? Personality-free, might be the best description. She always has that customer service hat on and is as pleasant as can be, but she could use a few quirks. Maybe throw in a few jokes here and there and get a little sloppy? She’s the kind of person who intentionally blends into the crowd and clutches those cards close to her chest. Not the most relatable or likable, in my opinion.

Other than that little gripe, I’m down with this series and am already starting on the first book so I can learn more about Sloane’s early beginnings at Nitro Brewery, and how all the drama went down when she walked in on her husband–ex-husband, I should say– doing the deed with the beer wench.

Overall, this is a quality cozy for beer enthusiasts such as myself who miss frequenting microbreweries amidst this unending social-distancing way of life. When this pandemic is over, I’m going on a long-overdue Hill Country beer crawl!

 

Lil Bootz’s Book of the Month: A Curse So Dark and Lonely

I don’t normally read fantasy books, but my dad randomly gifted me with this gorgeous paperback, and he usually knows what he’s doing when it comes to book selections. We tend to read the same things, especially Texas noir and anything from BookPeople’s horror aisle, so this was somewhat of a surprise coming from him! In all honesty, I think it was the cover that did it.

At first, I was intimidated by the size of this thing. A 470-page tome is a commitment, y’all! Turns out, this was a super-fast read that I was able to knock out in a weekend. I was hooked right from the beginning when the kidnapped Harper landed in Emberfall, a fantastical land of lush forests, evil sorcerers and enchanted castles. It’s basically Fantasyland…only with lots of bloodshed and a man-eating beast.

This really is a creative spin on the Beauty and the Beast cannon. The main character is a departure from the book-toting, ball-dancing Belle. She has cerebral palsy and lacks the ballerina-esque grace and ethereal beauty that all the Disney princesses posses. She’s scrappy, street-smart and impermeable to the prince’s charms. I must gives the author snaps for keeping up with the times and giving the readers what they want: a tough-as-nails anti-princess protagonist! Move over, Prince Rhen, and leave it to the women to save the land of Emberfall! Ya Ya!

I also love how the author deviates from the Disney tale while also keeping with some of the themes. The prince is in a race against time (sans the falling rose petals) to save himself and his kingdom from doom. The trapped “Beauty” must rescue the kingdom and her family back at home. Inanimate objects take on a life of their own–only instead of singing teapots and candelabras, there’s wind instruments that relentlessly play the same songs day after day after day, and so on. If that’s not enough to throw myself off the highest castle turret, I don’t know what is!

Either way, this is a fantastic reimagining of and old tale that so many of us just can’t get enough of–myself included! I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve watched the animated classic. Only in this newest iteration, the beast is a tad more frightening than that fluffy, overgrown Chow dog looking thing in the movie.

Needless to say, I’m excited to dive into the next installment of this series. This is the perfect break from reality that I need these days. I couldn’t’ think of a better way to spend a Sunday than in Emberfall, where I can sword-fight with hot guardsmen and ride through the forest on a magnificent steed. Such fun!

Celebrating MLK Day With ‘The Sword and the Shield’

Happy MLK Day!!! After all that the horrors and atrocities we witnessed at our nation’s capital, I’m hoping more people—especially the lily white folks such as myself—will take this day to reflect on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and this hard-won civil rights victory. And what better time than now for us all to be cognizant of the past and present struggles for racial equality? If our latest dark chapter in American history didn’t hit home, let me paint a couple of scenes that highlight glaring hypocrisy and double standards in law enforcement.

Exhibit A: Masses of Black protestors marching in the streets holding signs with images of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, Trayvon Martin and many others Black Americans murdered by cops. They’re shouting with their fists held high, demanding justice and equality amidst clouds of pepper spray and an armada of police. Red faced, angry talking heads on Fox News are labeling them as “looters” and “crybabies.” Millions of Americans nod their heads to this rhetoric and pledge their allegiance to Trump and his promise to “Make America Great Again,” whilst  people fighting for Black lives get shoved in police cruisers, mowed down by angry drivers and shot with rubber bullets.

Exhibit B: Thousands of enraged, entitled white people storm our nation’s capital with weapons, Confederate flags, American flags (that incidentally double as weapons), zip-ties and, Molotov cocktails and pepper spray. Their cause? To hijack the democratic process and overturn the election. Basically, they’re throwing a big hissy fit because their demagogue didn’t win. They storm the front gates–beating down the few policemen who got in their way- and break into what should be a highly secure building. Why? Because they can.  Hell, some even stopped to take selfies with the police who were helpful enough to move some of those pesky barricades. They had a grand ol’ time of it running amok in the Senate Chamber and trashing offices  All of Trump’s stormtroopers except for one managed to avoid death-by-cop.  In fact, they filed out of there like a crowd of people casually exiting a movie theater, taking selfies all the way. Such fun!

Now imagine if these rioters were all Black people. I’ll just leave that right there since there’s no need to spell it out.

That said, our nation continues to be rife with systematic racism and discrimination. True, we did have a Black president, but we are far, far, far away from living in a just society. If anything positive could be taken away from our recent turn of events, it’s the heightened awareness that Black lives STILL don’t matter to millions of white people in this country. After our latest presidential election, the divide is very clear.

So I asked a bunch of college students (I work in higher ed) to tell me how white people can be better allies. They all agreed that the first step is to read up–and that means credible, researched sources, not memes, y’all! Next, you have to sit down and listen to all the viewpoints—even from your crazy MAGA hat-wearing uncle. Really listen and think carefully before responding. Another tip, don’t just post a black square on social media and call it a day. Sorry, that’s just lazy.

“The Sword and the Shield” is an excellent source for building your knowledge base on the lives of our great civil rights visionaries, Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. I’m sure you can easily translate the sword and shield metaphors, yet this book tells a different story that shows a lot of gray area around MLK’s peaceful, non-violence stance and Malcolm’s radical Black Power ideology.  As you read further into it, you’ll see they were anything but one-dimensional, despite what you read in textbooks.

I dog-eared the heck out of this book and narrowed down a few take-aways to share with you all as we all celebrate this great man’s birthday. You can also go to UT’s book blog to read my Q&A with the author!

Both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. recognized how deeply institutionalized racism threatened the hopes, dreams and lives of Blacks living in America. They each brilliantly diagnosed flaws within the American democracy, yet they embraced different strategies for Black liberation at this point—with King maintaining faith in legal and political solutions to combat racial injustice and Malcolm relying on the growing strength, political sophistication and worldliness of the Black community as the true measure of power.

King’s visit to Ghana and Europe, where he marveled at the resilience of ordinary Africans and paused to consider the vastness of a rapidly crumbling British empire, found him firmly in the camp of Black internationalism, a political ideology shared by Malcolm X. Malcolm’s thirst for radical Black dignity and King’s quest for Black citizenship most comfortably met on the world stage.

On the tenth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s death, King published an editorial arguing humanity faced a choice between “non-violence” and “non-existence.” He was confident in the ability of Christianity’s love ethic to spur social transformation across whole societies, regions, nation-states, and, eventually the entire world. He would begin by confronting Southern racial mores that viewed Black subjugation as the divine right of whites, who blissfully attended segregated churches, wept at Billy Graham’s religious crusades and prayed to God to maintain a way of life based on Black misery.

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. would never meet in a formal debate; however, both of them were acutely aware of one another. More than that, they were building—both consciously and unconsciously—a public persona that served in response to each other.

King believed that racial justice required more than new laws. The birth of a new American age required the transformation of hearts and minds, a quest that king now embarked on to teach to the president, the attorney general and the entire nation the depth and breadth of an unfolding “social revolution” that he endeavored to remain at the center of.

If King sought to persuade the highest bastions of white power of the worthiness of Black citizenship, Malcolm remained convinced that Black people needed to recognize the strength of their own humanity before they could rightfully expect others to do so.

I could add more, but I’ll stop right here so you can download this book or—gasp!—purchase an old school hardback and dog-ear your own favorite passages. The hardback is gorgeous, so go ahead and splurge! At that, I’ll leave you with these words that perfectly encapsulate the largely unknown truths about Dr. King.

King would not recognize himself in the uncomplicated, largely timid figure that much of the nation and the world celebrate today. The Radical King who gathered an army of the poor to descend upon the nation’s capital in defiance of critics, is airbrushed from history. The risk-taking King who defied a sitting president to protest war, is missing from our popular memory. The revolutionary King who marched shoulder-to-shoulder with garbage workers, locked arms with Black Power militants, and lived in Chicago ghettos in an effort to stimulate social change, is forgotten. The King who proclaimed that America’s greatness remained “the right to protest for right,” has all but vanished, replaced by generic platitudes about freedom and justice.

I’m sad the march isn’t happening today, but we can all look back at my favorite MLK Day oratory speech contest winner circa 2016. This little guy is fierce and on point!