Princess Noire: The Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simone (Pantheon)
Musician Weldon Irvine once told me about auditioning for Nina Simone's band. Apparently, he showed up an hour late, sat down behind a keyboard, and started to jam with the band. He'd just started when Simone halted the rehearsal, announced that Irvine had "perfect pitch," and asked the other musicians to leave the room. She then asked him a series of questions: What's your name? Where are you from? How old are you? Where did you go to school? Are you gay? Do you drink? Do you date white women? Satisfied with his answers, Simone hired Irvine on the spot, and he went on to become her bandleader and co-write the classic "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black" (which Simone debuted at a Morgan State jazz festival). The audition story made me long for a lively biography of Simone, one that would shed light on the complexities of such an audacious and talented artist. Cohodas, a resident of Washington, D.C., has written that book, and it will appeal to not only jazz fans, but also anyone interested in the development of an uncompromising and singular personality.
Roger Alan Skipper
Bone Dogs (Counterpoint)
About one-quarter of the way through Skipper's third novel, the narrator notes that some folks "weren't attuned to the subtleties of good storytellin'." Skipper, a Garrett County native, isn't one of them: He's all about nuance and subtlety. His protagonist, Tuesday Price, navigates the gray area between admiration and shame and deliverance and damnation, while confronting ghosts from the past and struggling to keep inner demons in check. His wife, Linda, does her best to prop him up, but, ultimately, he must sort through a web of alcohol, violence, family issues, and self-loathing on his own. For Price—who's a one step forward, two steps back type of guy—this path to respectability is fraught with setbacks and frustration. Still, he's a decent man, and we root for his survival, because Skipper is a master of good storytellin'.