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Forget Xanax. Read this jawn and you'll be out within the first two chapters.

I really wanted to like this book. The cover didn’t make me want to set it on fire, and the “dirty whore” side of me was just itching to read something hot, salacious and well-written. Unfortunately, The Learning Curve was none of the above. I mean, it’s great if you’re um, new to the whole “reading books” thing. Not so much when you’ve been in the game like, all of your fucking life and know how a good book reads. Sadly, The Learning Curve reads like something Dr. Seuss would’ve written after masturbating to a “Red Shoe Diaries” marathon.

The book opens with Langston Rogers, a free-spirited magazine editor meeting  Aminah Anderson, her high-saddity, God-fearing best friend for their bi-monthly mani/pedi/brunch thing at their favorite chi chi salon. After being caught out there with no panties on [literally], Langston foolishly confesses about her new affair with some 20-something wunderkind with OMGTHEMOSTAMAZINGPENISEVER. Aminah, being the high saddity, God-fearing gal she is, clutches her Tiffany pearls in horror, cusses her best friend out, and peels off in her “shiny jet-black Range Rover” to head home to her husband Fame, a multi-platinum record producer who’s also the whoriest whore who ever whored. Crestfallen, Langston returns to her tony Huxtable brownstone, where her faithful husband Sean is presumably waiting for her in their bed [four-poster with 500-thread count Egyptian sheets, of course] with a 10-inch dick and a plate of fried tilapia garnished with baby greens.

Sound familiar? Of course it does. Because you’ve met variations of these characters over and over and over again in a gazillion Af-Am lit novels. There is absolutely nothing unique or fascinating about these cardboard cutouts. What is fascinating, however, is how many luxury items Renfroe can name-check in one paragraph. She definitely has the gift. Cate Blanchett. [Ugh. I really hate Wheelchair Jimmy.] Seriously, though. She’s the literary equivalent to 2008 Jay-Z, except Jay’s actually clever with his ish.

For the most part, The Learning Curve meanders along at a pace of an arthritic octogenarian searching for her missing Matlock tape, which may be due to Renfroe’s penchant for long-winded exposition. Clearly we dozed off during the “show, don’t tell” part of our Learning Annex “You Can Write A Novel, Too!” workshop. By the time Renfroe does rev up the action, it’s too late; your eyes are already drooping and the drool is slowly making its downward descent toward your chin.

Final Verdict: Use this book to chop your finest weed on.

This jumbled thriller from David Givens will make you commit seppuku. Want my sword?

This jumbled thriller from David Givens will make you commit seppuku. Want my sword?

It’s been a long time, I shouldn’t have left you…

Yeah, yeah. It’s been two years. What can I tell you? Shit happens. But hey, at least we can pick up where we left off: reading shitty books so that you won’t have to. All we can offer is our apologies and promise to update as often as we can. We’d offer you hookers and blow but um, I don’t like sharing my shit. So…let’s get into it, shall we?

Triple Crown farts out another one with David Givens Betrayed, a yawn-inducing thriller set in the mean streets of…Waterloo, Iowa? Anyway, it’s centered around a cold, calculating pharmaceutical representative named Darrell “The Sandman” Jenkins, who finally meets the love of his (brief) life when he crosses paths with high yella exotical stripper Sherrice Valdez. How do I know that she’s “exotical”? Because once it’s mentioned, we’re never allowed to forget it. We are reminded of Sherrice’s natural beauty and long, flowing hair in practically every chapter. In my head she’s an amalgam of Lisa Raye, Jennifer Freeman, and Spongebob Squarepants. By the way, her stripper name? Carmel Delight. I’ll never look at dairy creamer the same.

Of course, the road to true love is fraught with problems in the form of crazy babies mamas, rival drug dealers and Sherrice’s wackjob roomie Lashay, a swarthy slattern who can barely hide her contempt for her exotical “long hur don’t cur” girlfriend and her new “dick weighs a ton” beau. In fact it is her insane jealousy that causes her to set Sherrice up to be raped by Sandman’s rivals. When Sandman comes to her rescue, hilarity ensues. It’s clear that the author watched waaaaay too many episodes of Batman in his youth because his description of dude’s bad guy takedown reads like a bad voiceover script. At the end of the fight we’re rewarded with this witty exchange:

“What’s your name?” asked Darrell.

“They call me Lucky.”

“Well I guess today your luck just ran out.”

See? Doesn’t that just make you wanna run out to the nearest Borders with money in hand?

Now, I don’t wanna give too much away for the 1.5 people who are still interested in reading this drivel but there is an OMGSUPRISEENDING!!!!!111 that you’ll probably figure out like, 10 pages in. That is, if you can get that far without punching yourself in the face for using your own hard-earned money to buy this bullshit. [Trust, the urge to self-inflict pain will be an overwhelming one.] And yes, you’ll even wonder if the original manuscript was written in crayon.

Final Verdict: Douse book in gasoline. Set book atop Steve Harvey’s head. Strike match.

Ever wonder what would happen if a member of the KKK co-wrote a novel about rap beefs with a pseudo-revolutionary that was fixated on black urban legends? What’s that? It sounds like a hot mess that should never see the light of day? Well, that’s too bad because it’s in a bookstore near you right now.

dangerous

Sadly, I am well aware that more than likely no member of the KKK played a part in the writing of this ode to every ugly stereotype that has ever been trotted out about black people. But in this case it would be nice. The cast of characters includes Jack Lemon, his girlfriend Gina, Damon Dice, Monique, Rasheed, Georgia Mae aka Game, the rapper 40 and an assortment of people that are clearly just there to die. Oh, and a couple of cops that don’t seem to be able to investigate anything properly. In fact Lieutenant Brown is so busy framing black people to help advance his career that he doesn’t actually notice the people he’s framing are already committing crimes. No, it won’t make any more sense if you read the book.

Jack is fresh out of jail (released on a technicality) and angry that Damon Dice’s testimony put him behind bars for murders he did not commit. That should inspire some sympathy on the part of the reader. But then you turn the page and the sympathy runs out. Because Jack is a killer. He’s just not responsible for the deaths of those people. He murdered other people. Lots and lots of other people. And that’s part of a laundry list of crimes he’s committed, but he’s a victim of the system. Really. See, he’s not just a thug, he’s also a revolutionary because he spent his time in prison reading and learning and figuring out new and better ways to justify murder.

And just in case you forget that Jack is a victim of the system the book is peppered with bits of fictionalized history including Jack thinking about an incident in his childhood where he was protected during a police raid on the Black Panthers by Adia Shakur. After saving him by putting him in a metal cabinet Adia manages to survive a shootout with the cops and is living safely on an island despite being wanted by the federal government. Sound familiar? Are you looking at Damon Dice’s name and thinking about a certain rap mogul? Wondering about the rapper 40? Just wait, this thug Mary Sue isn’t done meeting all of his heroes yet.

Now, the one good thing about this book is that the sex scenes are few and far between so you don’t have to suffer through too much of the least erotic writing in the “Urban Lit” genre. But, the tradeoff is extremely graphic descriptions of torture and violence. Lots and lots and lots of violence complete with a detailed description of what an eye looks like once it has left the human body. Because that’s what thug revolutionaries do. They torture their enemies to death as part of their quest to take over a major rap label and start their revolution. Random plot twist? Oh, you have no idea how many of those are in front of you.

See, Jack does have some friends. Namely Rasheed and his girlfriend Monique. Apparently Rasheed was on track to a basketball scholarship at a Big Ten school and maybe a spot in the NBA until he got caught in a car with Jack that had been reported stolen. He wound up with a criminal record and no scholarship. Oh, and somewhere in there Monique (who had a dance scholarship) wound up pregnant and so now they have a baby to raise. Rasheed still winds up playing for a small private school, and he’s hoping to get another shot at the NBA. He doesn’t seem to be doing anything else with his time in college (like getting an actual education), and Monique has completely dropped out of school to support the three of them. She’s working as a stripper at an otherwise white gentleman’s club, and of course she has to fight one of the other dancers in order to be respected. Because the book doesn’t have enough violence. And really, how else to introduce Georgia Mae the token “down” white girl?

Georgia goes by the nickname Game, and she’s got a black girl’s body (no really, I’m quoting) so she’s *totally* invested in black culture. Somehow that’s why (despite having a Ph.D. and a J.D. from Ivy league schools) she’s addicted to drugs and working as a stripper with occasional detours into being a paid Dominatrix. And she really needs Monique to introduce her to a black man. Because she can’t just meet a guy the normal way, no she specifically needs an introduction to someone by Monique. Why is this sub plot going on? I have no idea. And it never does manage to tie in, though eventually it gets semi-resolved. See, despite being Monique’s friend in the beginning of the book Game winds up going after Rasheed once he gets into the NBA. Apparently she betrays her friend because there aren’t many available NBA players and if she’s going to be with a successful black man the only option is an NBA player. Oh, and Rasheed is vulnerable because Monique is on a trip for work (she gets a job modeling for a men’s magazine) and can’t make it back right away to take care of him after he gets injured while playing ball. What does any of this have to do with the main plot? Nothing. These characters are just there to be interspersed with the violent takeover of the rap label, the dirty cop storyline, the random bits of history about the Civil Rights Movement, and possibly to keep the reader from throwing the book across the room after reading about Jack justifying yet another gruesome murder to himself as being necessary for the revolution.

The key to the revolution’s success somehow hinges on ending the East Coast/West Coast rivalry between rappers by getting everyone focused on a charity aimed at aiding black children. Which sounds great, but the black on black violence still hasn’t stopped happening at Jack’s behest. Granted he’s got some help in the form of phony letters being to sent to various rivals dissing them in an effort to start up new beefs. But that plot line just gets dropped without any resolution, presumably this was a nod to COINTELPRO, but who knows? And just in case the rest of the book hasn’t convinced you that this is secretly a message from the KKK encouraging readers to think killing lots of black people is the key to social advancement? Wait until you get to the finale. Despite the fact that Jack is supposed to be all about helping his people advance, this thing reads like he’s killed more people than cancer and it’s a good approach to life. I’m going to spoil the ending and tell you that the epilogue involves him smoking weed with Tupac on that same island where Adia Shakur has taken refuge. This book is dangerous all right. It’s a danger to anyone naive enough to think Jack is a hero. Generally I plan for my reviews to be funny, but there are some things so awful that even gallows humor can’t help.

Final Verdict: Nuke it from orbit.

I hate picking the short straw. *sigh*

Wahida Clark's latest offering feels like it was written by a horny 10th grade boy.

Wahida Clark's latest offering feels like it was written by a horny 10th grade boy.

Payback With Ya Life, is a gritty, urban opus of love, loss, and large penises. Very large penises. No one in this novel has a small or average penis, and Wahida Clark wants to make sure you know that, each and every time someone has sex. Unfortunately, all of these wonderful instruments of pleasure are attached to total fucking assholes. There isn’t one male character who doesn’t have a serious character flaw. Still, that doesn’t stop Shan, the tragic heroine, from getting involved with drug dealin’, big pimpin’ Briggen, who has a slight problem with his hands. Shan, devastated by her best friend’s suicide and the betrayal of her incarcerated baby’s daddy, runs into his arms after he stops her from moving to California.

Meanwhile, her fresh-out-the-joint brother, Peanut, is hustling to get back in the drug game and hitting every broad moving, including Shan’s baby daddy’s wife, who is also to blame for setting up Shan. Confused yet? You will be. Because after Clark introduces us to these four, she throws in like, 70 more. It’s a veritable chorus line of unnecessary characters, and they too, have big penises and police records. And they’re ALL fucking each other. Soon there are too many people to keep up with, and if you cared enough to follow you’d probably reach for a pen and notepad to keep tally. But you don’t. You really, really don’t.

What really bothers me–aside from pedestrian prose–is the fact that this is being billed as a story of female empowerment. Now I don’t think having your main character run off with an abusive, drug dealing pimp screams “Girl Power!” but what do I know?

Anyway, the ending is just as violent and muddled as the beginning, so much so that you find yourself rewriting the the plot in your head. My version had a Mexican standoff between Shan, her baby’s daddy, and the Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Now that would’ve been GENIUS.

With plot holes a Mac truck could drive through, quantum leap storytelling, and uninspired “Paint By Numbers” sex scenes that read like an Oz script, Payback With Ya Life is 304 pages of “what the fuck?” complete with reading guide. Yes, this dreck comes with a reading guide, because this isn’t the type of shit one should suffer alone.

But I have to say, while Clark’s work leaves a lot to be desired, it’s still not the worst offender of the “Urban Lit” set. I mean, I suppose it’s a decent read if you’re doing a bid upstate, or if a virus wiped out your net porn stash. Ok, wait. I’m lying. This shit is awful. Save yourself $15 and watch Cinemax.

Final Verdict: Burn, baby, burn.

So, in recent years there’s been an influx of truly atrocious books masquerading as “urban” fiction. Suddenly the shelves are full of titles like “Bitch” or “Whore” with cover art better suited to an adult movie than a book claiming to be a glimpse into inner city life. The only common denominators in this genre seem to be misogyny, lack of plot, and a complete inability to use spellcheck. For some time now my friends and I have derived great amusement at mocking these works while we wade through the Af-Am section looking for a good read. It’s turned into a fun little game for us especially when we can out do each other’s finds of stilted dialogue, unbelievably bad sex scenes, and out and out ridiculous plot lines. A sex scene involving the words “bounced on his dick with the speed of a slave picking fresh cotton” sparked a response today very different from our usual giggles. Look people, there are limits to how much I can take before I start screaming. I know I’m not alone in my reaction to these works. So, thewayoftheid and I have decided to take our own little game public and invite folks to recommend books that could stand to be burned at the stake, as well as books that are worth buying. We’ll read them, review them, and occasionally rip them to shreds. Please come join the fun.