A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh

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“A Burglar’s Guide to the City” by Geoff Manaugh
c.2016, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
$16.00 / $26.00  Canada
296 pages
The back door was unlocked when you got home last night.
It was locked when you left the house; you remember checking it. And though you’re trying not to panic, things have been slightly moved and it’s very, very unsettling… so don’t read “A Burglar’s Guide to the City” by Geoff Manaugh.
It’ll just make you feel worse.
The house under construction down the street is going to be a nice one; plenty of big windows, fancy landscaping. You’ve noticed many expensive details.
Burglars have noticed, too. And they “understand architecture,” says Manaugh, “better than the rest of us.
They know that sliding doors are easy to remove and that a C-note spent at a hardware store can get them inside pretty much any building. They know that doors and windows aren’t the only way into your house. But, says Manaugh, it’s not just that burglars steal things, “it’s how they move that’s so consistently interesting.”
They’ll cut through walls, hide in suitcases or appliances, sleuth out floor plans, wiggle through doggy-doors or up garbage chutes, down chimneys or sewers, and sneak through roofs. They’re patient: they’ll study a building until they find a way in. They’ll study your habits and your schedule. They’ll wait until they know your building better than you do.Call the police? Sure, they’ve got equipment that can see in the dark and through walls. They know how to set traps. But as quickly as they devise ways to thwart criminals, criminals try to be one step ahead.Buy a security system?
Sure, but alarms will only slow a burglar down. Ultimately, when it comes to burglary, “…you just might not be able to do much about it.”
Oh, my. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book more fascinating or more dang creepy than “A Burglar’s Guide to the City.”
But here’s the surprise: this isn’t a true crime book.
Sure, there are crimes described here. Author Geoff Manaugh discusses burglary throughout history and he writes of boneheaded, bungling burglars. Those great stories mostly serve to highlight the reason for this book, though, which is that the buildings in which we live and work have an influence on the way burglars operate. Cities, Manaugh says, are almost built with thieves in mind; in fact, he offers a challenge: look closely at any random building you’ve driven past many times.
How would you get inside?
Try it. You’ll be shocked.
And yet – don’t think that this is a book of instruction. Manaugh cautions that, even if you’re genius at breaking-and-entering, officials are usually smarter. He also goes on to explain how homeowners can lessen the chances of a burglary, why B&E guys aren’t interested in your expensive door locks, and why you should smile pretty when entering a casino.
This book had me stuck to my sofa. It’s lively, informative, oh-so-fun to read, and a must-have for anyone with real-estate. If that sounds like your kinda book, then “A Burglar’s Guide to the City” will be a steal.

The Blackbirds by Eric Jerome Dickey

 Blackbirds-eric-jerome-dickey
“The Blackbirds” by Eric Jerome Dickey
c.2016, Dutton                        
$27.00 / $36.00 Canada
519 pages
You and your girls are birds of a feather.
You flock together, preen together, share your nest when needed and, while you happily sing one another’s praises, you’d never open your beak to spill their secrets. Then again, as in the new book “The Blackbirds” by Eric Jerome Dickey, you’d never crow about all the details of your own life, either.
A mere birthday wasn’t good enough for Indigo Abdulrahaman. Oh, no – she got a birth month.
She decreed it, planned it, and made her friends follow along with her wishes. A strong-willed woman born to Nigerian parents, Indigo was the tallest of the four women, dark-skinned, with a hunger for the finer things – including men, of which she had two. And when a woman caught Indigo’s eye, she wasn’t above giving that a go, too.
Kwanzaa Browne spent the weeks before her birthday crying over a man: she caught her fiancé cheating with a Brazilian woman, which was the last straw for Kwanzaa. It would take a lot for her to forget her ex. A lot – including, perhaps, a romance with a handsome man she’d been watching for months.
Kwanzaa snagged him three weeks before Destiny Jones’ birthday, which didn’t matter to Destiny; she had nothing to celebrate. The man she loved didn’t know an important truth about her, and she didn’t know how to tell him – but before she could figure it out, he learned of her fame-not-fame, and it threatened to ruin everything.
As for Ericka Stockwell, some things were already in ruins by the time her birthday arrived: her once-abusive mother was around again, as was cancer for the second time. Even so, grateful for life, Ericka’s bucket list was full that anniversary of her birth, and it included finding the Love of Her Life. Unfortunately, once she found him, she knew she could never share the good news with her friends…
Aside from the gorgeous cover, size is likely the first thing you’ll notice about “The Blackbirds.”  At just over 500 pages, it’s a brick – and I daresay it’s an unnecessary one, at that.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s a decent plot here; Oh-My-Goodness twists; and characters that are gorgeous, loyal, and cheated-upon every few pages. Since I love a good scandal, wow, that was fun – until those characters launched into mattress gymnastics and cutesy raunch-code, both of which become tiresome in short order. Cut half the ubiquitous (and rather humdrum) bedroom scenes and most of the silly faux sex-words, and I’d have been just fine. Even so, I would’ve missed the action usually found in more recent Eric Jerome Dickey novels. Sigh.
Much as I gleefully anticipate author Dickey’s novels, I didn’t think this wordy one was his best – but it’s not the worst, either. It’s not as good as his thrillers, not as good as “One Night,” but better than his more-erotic novels. So cautiously, I guess I’d say don’t discount “The Blackbirds.”
It has issues, yes, but diehard fans may still crow about it.

“The Prince of Darkness

 

 

 

 

 

Prince of Darkness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Prince of Darkness: The Untold Story of Jeremiah Hamilton, Wall Street’s First Black Millionaire” by Shane White
c.2015,Palgrave McMillan

$27.99 / $32.50 Canada

368 pages

Your numbers weren’t picked last night.

Ah, another worthless lottery ticket. No shopping spree or mortgage payoff for you. You’ll have to go to work and get your incredible wealth just like everybody else. Or, as you’ll read in “Prince of Darkness” by Shane White, you could become rich the old-fashioned way: through grift.

Though he showed up in New York City in the wake of scandal, nobody knew for sure where Jeremiah G. Hamilton had come from. Some sources said he was born in the Caribbean – which he admitted to, but he also claimed Richmond, Virginia, as his first home. Nobody knew, though, because Hamilton, an African American man, spent most of his adult life hiding facts and creating fiction.

Wherever he got his start, Hamilton launched himself early: in 1828, and “barely into his twenties,” he was involved in a counterfeit scam in Haiti that would’ve meant death, had he been caught. With the help of locals, however, he escaped and arrived in “Gotham,” but not without notice: newspapers of the day splashed the story, but Hamilton managed to keep mum on who’d helped him.

Almost immediately, he started borrowing money in a “frenetic, almost desperate” way, money he had no intention of paying back, which ultimately landed Hamilton in court: there were at least ten lawsuits against him between 1830 and 1835, and there may’ve been more. Then came The Great Fire of 1835 in which “dozens of acres” of Manhattan were burned to the ground, along with the records of several businessmen who’d been convinced to invest with him. Hamilton denied the transactions, kept their $25,000, and gained the moniker of “Prince of Darkness.”

For the rest of his life – even after being forced to declare bankruptcy – Hamilton always landed on his feet, “shunned” other African Americans, and even invested in companies that overtly practiced racism. He died in 1875 in a “comfortable and elegant” residence he shared with his white wife and family.

So why are history books silent on Hamilton’s story? That’s a question author Shane White had, after he discovered Hamilton’s name and began digging. Could it have been due to the color of Hamilton’s skin?

It’s possible, White says, but in “Prince of Darkness,” he also indicates that the lack of documentation may’ve been because Hamilton rankled white financiers and investors, and didn’t appear to care that he’d done so. That insouciance, in light of the racism that Hamilton surely endured, would be an interesting story itself but White embellishes the tale with an abundance of history and extensive biographies of other influential people of Hamilton’s time. That’s good – to a point – but it occasionally can also makes this book deadly dull. I found my mind wandering much more than I might’ve liked.

So is this book worth reading? I think so, but you may want to give it a rest now and then to regenerate yourself. Start it, take a break, repeat as necessary and you might find “Prince of Darkness” to be just the ticket.

Incarceration Nations: A Journey to Justice in Prisons Around the World

Incarceration Nations
Incarceration Nations by Baz Dreisinger
c.2016, Other Press                         
$27.95 / $35.95 Canada
336 pages
Reviewed by Terri S.
You do the crime, you do the time.
If you’re willing, in other words, to misbehave or break the law, you need to be willing to face consequences. But what if the crime doesn’t match the punishment? What if your sentence doesn’t have a period at the end?  Or what if, as you’ll see in “Incarceration Nations” by Baz Dreisinger, you didn’t commit a crime at all?
As a white Jewish English professor who focuses on African American cultural studies and is passionate about working with about-to-be-released prisoners, Baz Dreisinger says she’s used to surprising people. Her “peculiar blend of identities” is unique – and so was her idea of a two-year journey to visit prisons around the world.
The statistics that spurred her are “devastating:” More than 2 million people are behind bars in America , making the U.S. the “world’s largest jailer.” There are more African Americans in jail today than were enslaved 166 years ago; one in fourteen black men is incarcerated in the States. American prisons hold 160,000 “lifers,” as compared to fewer than sixty lifers in Australia.
America ’s prison model, says Dreisinger, is exported around the world. But the world, as she discovered, altered those plans.
In Rwanda , where violence between Hutus and Tutsis horrified us a generation ago, she discovered that bribery and corruption are “rampant” but prison programs bring criminals and victims together to attempt forgiveness.
In South Africa , in the prison where Nelson Mandela was held, she learned that apologies are nice, but a phone call to a prisoner’s mother does even more.
In Uganda , where overcrowding leads to horrific conditions and corruption is “endemic,” she learns that prisoners are hungry for beauty in words. In Thailand , she toured women’s prisons where guards are required to know women by their names and faces, not their numbers. She visited Australia , which began as a penal colony; Singapore , a “Disneyland with a death penalty” and an exciting reentry program; and Norway , where prisoners can “spend up to half” their sentences off-premises.
When “Incarceration Nations” first crossed my desk, I expected to read horror story after horror story but, surprisingly, that’s not at all what I got. Instead, there’s a lot in here about recidivism, reentry, and forgiveness.
While I suppose one could argue that, in the making of this book, author Baz Dreisinger saw only what officials wanted her to see, there’s much more to this story: Dreisinger was nevertheless still able to draw statistical parallels between American prisons and, say, Singapore’s, where recidivism rates are far less than in the U.S.; or Norway’s, where prisoners are jailed near their home communities. Furthermore, Dreisinger uses her experiences as the founder of the Prison-to-College Pipeline program in New York to show how punishment is more effective if there’s a glint of hope tied up in it.
This is not a soft-on-crime book; instead, it’s more a meditation on making prisons more productive, instead of merely a warehouse for individuals. And if that’s a concern of yours, then “Incarceration Nations” is truly worth your time.

What Color is Your Hoodie? Essays on Black Gay Identity by Jarrett Neal

What Color is Your Hoodie
“What Color is Your Hoodie? Essays on Black Gay Identity” by Jarrett Neal
c.2015, Chelsea Station Editions
$18.00 / higher in Canada
175 pages
Some days, it seems as though you have SuperPowers.
That must be the explanation for being unseen. That’s why there are days when nobody looks at you. There’s no acknowledgment that you exist. You’re suddenly Invisible Man, and in the new book “What Color is Your Hoodie? Essays on Black Gay Identity” by Jarrett Neal, the reason is not so transparent.
Born to a fourteen-year-old mother, raised in a household with an alcoholic grandfather, Jarrett Neal was in eighth grade when his gym class accidentally walked in on their coach, showering. It was Neal’s first glimpse of a naked man and it “ended my boyhood,” he says.
He was well into college when he finally admitted to himself that he was attracted to men; still, the “daily taunts” from his more athletic, more self-confident peers and the absence of a father haunted him for many years. To counteract it, Neal joined a gym and worked out tirelessly, until he realized that he’d never have a body like He-Man. He was never going to make a living with his physique.
Instead, Neal knew that he had to write.
It was “write or die,” he says, though he’s been told that his style is “either too black of too gay” and he once assumed that “as a boy I wasn’t supposed to care about books…”  Even so, he devoured the works of gay men – particularly those who were black. That voracity for books led to a teaching career.
In his essays here, Neal discusses the dearth of gay black men in films and television, and he decries the lack of interest by white readers in the works of black authors. He looks at the sexuality of gay black men who, like most African American men, live under “sexual stereotypes” that cause “a tremendous onus… to live up to…” He writes about black men (some, gay) who have made history and changed perceptions within their neighborhoods or industries. And as a black man married to a white man, he notes that racism within the gay community is as big a problem as it is anywhere else.
Author Jarrett Neal is not shy.
There’s no waffling inside this book, and nothing held back. Neal discusses gay porn as blithely as he does modern literature; he remembers his childhood with the same passion as he does coming out. Such power and force in writing serves to give readers – straight or gay – a solid understanding of the points he tries to make. We might laugh or raise our eyebrows but we also empathize or, as the case may be, sympathize.
What mars this otherwise well-done collection of essays is its sloppiness. “What Color is Your Hoodie?” is riddled with misspellings and punctuation mistakes which, because of the frequency, almost made me want to quit this book too many times.
If you can forgive that distraction, then this unusual book is a good read that may actually change minds. Truthful, blunt, and thought-provoking, regretful mistakes aside, “What Color is Your Hoodie?” should be seen.

All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister

All The Single Ladies
“All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation” by Rebecca Traister
c.2016, Simon & Schuster
$27.00 / $36.00 Canada
352 pages
Naked.
That describes your left hand, third finger: naked, uncovered, especially by anything diamond, platinum, or gold. Nope, no rings there, although it might not be so forever.  Only you can decide but “All the Single Ladies” by Rebecca Traister” may make you vow to keep it that way.
Back in Grandma’s day – and perhaps even for Mom – life’s path for most women included marriage. At some point in their early twenties, they were expected to give up careers or jobs they loved in order to be wed – and if that didn’t happen by a societally-determined age, well, then something was wrong.
In contrast, by 2009, less than fifty percent of American women were married; overall, we’re doing it later, too. In the meantime, unmarried women impact the way America works, votes, plays, spends, and sleeps together.
Women who are single (a word many hate) hold fifty-one percent of all management positions in this country, Traister says; conversely, nearly half of America’s minimum wage earners are unmarried females. The term “sexual harassment” entered our language because of a single woman at work, and a fictional working mom once became a political talking point.
Politics, in fact, and ultra-conservatives in particular, seem to fear single women economically, socially, sexually, and in childrearing, says Traister. Many of the country’s woes have been laid on the shoulders of single women but, as she indicates, pessimistic pols should beware before finger-pointing: four years ago, unmarried women made up nearly a quarter of the voting population.
Unmarried women have redefined friendships because men were off exploring or at war. They’ve changed land ownership laws, increased the literacy rate, become activists to change policy, upended birth rates, and altered the way people approach the altar. They were half the reason “dating” is allowed, unchaperoned. They embrace higher education, relish their independence, love their freedom, and yes, sometimes mourn their aloneness and the poverty that can accompany the lack of a legal partner…
“I Never Will Marry” is more than just a country song, that’s for sure. It’s also a force to be reckoned with, as you’ll see in “All the Single Ladies.”
Starting with Anita Hill, author Rebecca Traister moves through women’s history with interviews, her own experiences, and little-known stories that illustrate how not putting a ring on it has made an impact on America in more ways than one.
And yet – it might seem, at first look, that this book is only about privileged college-age women, though Traister isn’t so limiting: also included are anecdotes from African American women, struggling single mothers, the Childless by Choice, and immigrant women bucking Old World trends and parental pressure. I liked that balance, which offers a more rounded read.
Beware that this is a gigantic subject; tackling it wholly would’ve killed an entire forest, so this book is a bit limited in scope because it has to be. Still, if you’ve wondered how “I Do” has become “I Don’t” and what that means, then “All the Single Ladies” has you covered.

Corruption Officer by Gary Heyward

Corruption Officer
“Corruption Officer” by Gary L. Heyward
c.2015, Atria                         
$16.00 / $18.99 Canada
276 pages
Sometimes, you have to choose sides.
Republican or Democrat?  For something, or against it?  Grateful for what you have or irritated by what you don’t?  And you want fries with that?
Sometimes you choose your sides, and sometimes they’re chosen for you. And in the new book “Corruption Officer” by Gary L. Heyward, the preferred option is outside.
“Big Hey” had “the shakes.”
Evenings, he spent almost all his paycheck shaking dice, winning some nights and some nights, not. He still lived with his Moms because of that, which was shameful – he was 29 years old, a Gulf War veteran – but, though a good friend urged him to job-search, Heyward figured that better employment was out of reach.
When he learned that his application to Corrections Academy was accepted, he grabbed his mother and danced in their kitchen. “Hello, pension,” he says.
Hello, Rikers Island .
In the first days of Academy, Heyward had plenty to learn: inmates knew how to intimidate, which Corrections Officers were taught to ignore. Counting “mates” was essential, avoiding “undue familiarity” was important, the hours were lousy, but the money was good. Heyward was flush with cash for the first time in a long time. He bought a car.
Then his Baby Mama took him to court for child support.
Weeks later, shortly after his paycheck amounted to $68 post-deductions, after the “hood booga” said she was pregnant and his car was repo’ed, Heyward started hearing temptation. Inmates had been bugging him to smuggle in cash, drugs, and smokes. He’d done it once; the money was there and he knew it was easy. Other COs got away with bending the rules, and just about every male guard was doing whatever he could to pay child support. If they did it, why couldn’t Heyward do it, too?
“I begin to panic,” Heyward says. “I got to get this money up.”  And so, he went in search of someone to introduce him to an inside partner, a move that would prove dangerously, devastatingly risky…
At first, I was quite unimpressed with “Corruption Officer.”  There’s a lot of profanity in here, and what’s left after that is mostly sophomoric. I kept waiting for this book to grow up.
And then it hit me: it didn’t need to. This memoir of jail from both sides of the bars is really better suited for a young audience anyhow, since it’s ultimately more cautionary tale than not. In the end of his story, author Gary L. Heyward even writes, “Prison should be feared at all times. [It] should be thought about every time a person thinks about doing something wrong.”
Doesn’t that put a different spin on what, in its first many pages, felt like a jokey book?  That sure seemed the case to me, as I read “Corruption Officer” in one sitting, alternately horrified and fascinated.
Grandma isn’t the targeted audience for this book. Young people are; they’ll like reading it and it may scare some straight. They’ll find that “Corruption Officer” has very powerful words inside.

One Night by Eric Jerome Dickey

One Night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“One Night” by Eric Jerome Dickey
c.2015, Dutton $26.95 / $31.00 Canada 357 pages

Would you look at that.
Actually, probably, you already have. You’re one of the most observant people you know, never missing a thing, always noticing. You make a great witness because you see everything. And in the new book “One Night” by Eric Jerome Dickey, you see two people about to make a mistake.

It was pouring rain that evening and it perfectly matched her mood.

Once she’d been a comedian and an actress. She’d been someone’s mother but now she was dressed in a pilfered shirt from an electronics store, driving a stolen truck and trying to con somebody into paying for a box of rocks because the rent was due and she didn’t have it. The man putting gas in his expensive car looked like an easy mark.

He had a bruise over his eye, which was fine: she had a bruised heart. She offered the box for sale and he handed her the money, knowing full well that it was a con. He also handed her a business card with an Orange County number before he drove off. She knew he wouldn’t get far; L.A. traffic was backed up, police were everywhere, sirens blasting. Her boyfriend wasn’t answering his phone, so she dialed the man’s number to explain that conning really wasn’t what she was all about.

He was skeptical. She challenged him to meet her at a diner.

Dinner was strained but pleasant, a get-to-know-you where very little information was exchanged. She didn’t want to be alone; he didn’t want to go home to a wife he no longer loved, so they went to a movie before he kissed her in a way she’d never been kissed. She was the first to mention a hotel. He paid for the luxury room.

She thought she’d been in love before: with the father of her daughter, certainly with her daughter but she’d never been with a man who did to her what the man from Orange County did. He made her moan and call out things that she didn’t know she had a voice for calling.

It was only supposed to be a one-night stand. But she wasn’t being entirely truthful with him. And he definitely wasn’t telling her everything, either…

Let’s start here: “One Night” is steamy. Like, burn-your-mind, hott-with-two-Ts steamy.
But it’s not just that. Author Eric Jerome Dickey ekes this novel out slowly, minute-by-minute, like a slow dance between two people who aren’t forthcoming with facts to one another – or to readers. That can be snail-like, but it’s also fascinating: we know there’s something we’re not quite seeing, but we’re too distracted by the tryst to figure it out – that is, until Dickey repeatedly interrupts the action with smartly-timed shocks that reset everything.

There are a few moments of silliness in this book but overall, I couldn’t let it go and if you can handle the lengthy bedroom scenes, you won’t be able to, either. For readers who crave a boatload of spice with their novels, “One Night” is worth two looks.

This is What You Put in Your Mouth by Patrick Di Justo

This Is What You Just Put in Your Mouth
“This is What You Just Put in Your Mouth?” by Patrick Di Justo
c.2015, Three Rivers Press
$15.00 / $18.00 Canada
255 pages
Borborygmus.
That’s the technical term for what you’re experiencing now: great big rumbles from ‘neath your navel. Snarls from your stomach, a reminder that it’s snack time. Aside from sugary-salty goodness, though, and a feeling of satisfaction, what will you consume? To find out, read “This is What You Just Put in Your Mouth?” by Patrick Di Justo, and hang on to your gut…
But first – the vending machine.
The vending machine is close, so let’s start out with a cuppa joe, which includes an ingredient that “helps give real butter its flavor” and one that actually keeps bacteria off your teeth.
So far, so good.  Real good, in fact, so you might follow it up with something sweet to get you through your day, complete with “artificial human salivary enzymes,” perhaps topped with a product that contains “a high percentage of air.”
Uhhh, or maybe not. How ‘bout something cheesy – some “cheese, processed cheese, cheese food, [or] cheese spread” – each of which are different, says Di Justo. Or salty, which might contain three ingredients that cause addiction in lab rats. If you’re watching your weight, though, beware: federal regulations state that serving size is generally based on what a four-year-old can consume. And expiration dates?  Nope. There’s “no federal regulation to date food at all…”
Well, now, your appetite is gone; in fact, you might want to lie down somewhere… like, in front of a fire, where you might burn birdseed and “a giant sideways candle in your fireplace.” Or maybe you just need to be with friends, so put in your contacts (the solution for which may contain a product used with anticancer drugs) and mascara (which you definitely do not want to wear near a magnet!) and head down for your favorite libation (which could cause irregular heartbeat). Or maybe you’ll just skip it all to spend time with the dog (and feed him something that’s “deliberately stinky”) or the kids (and give them what “attempts to artificially re-create something that already exists…”).  Bon appétit!
“If you’re looking for shocking stories of the gigantic corporate conspiracy to poison America … you’re reading the wrong book,” says author Patrick Di Justo of “This is What You Just Put in Your Mouth?”  Without intending to scare, he says he looked at various products with curiosity and the notion that knowing what’s there is better than not knowing. It can’t be an accident that he also entertains readers, then, can it?
I don’t think it is: in this collection of Wired magazine articles, Di Justo is hilarious, as he explains how he learned what’s inside everyday products, not just food. What he finds may surprise and delight you.
For sure, you’ll read ingredient labels a whole lot closer.
Depending on how you look at it, this is a consumer’s dream, or it’s a nightmare. Either way, it’s a twistedly-fun and very eye-opening book to have. “This is What You Just Put in Your Mouth?” will give you food for thought – and it may make you growl.

Miss Jessie’s by Miko Branch

Miss Jessie's
“Miss Jessie’s: Creating a Successful Business from Scratch – Naturally” by Miko Branch
c.2015, Atria                         
$24.99 / $31.00 Canada
256 pages
Starting a business is not for the faint of heart.
It takes brains and guts enough to step out of a comfort zone. It requires going against the grain, letting go of pride, and a dash of innocence. Starting a business is the worst, most difficult, wonderful, magnificent thing you’ll ever do – but as in the new book “Miss Jessie’s” by Miko Branch, sometimes it’s also quite hair-raising.
Jessie Mae Pittman was born in 1919 to a sharecropper family in North Carolina , and grew up hating fieldwork. To avoid picking cotton, she taught herself to cook and later became renowned for her skills. That independent self-sufficiency impressed her granddaughters; Miko Branch and her sister, Titi, were raised knowing that they’d someday be businesswomen.
Throughout their childhood, the Branch sisters learned and dreamed. They also toiled long hours with their father at various family businesses, which was work they did for free. That eventually taught Branch the value of her labor and gave her a sense of what owning her own business might entail.
When it was time to enroll in college, Branch decided on a career in fashion but her schooling taught her what she didn’t want. Upon graduating from Fashion Institute of Technology, she’d realized that she needed to work with hair; specifically, she wanted to work in a high-end salon that catered to a certain kind of clientele.
“There is a long, rich… complex history surrounding African-American women’s hair that ties to… self-image,” Branch says. As a woman with curls, she knew she could make a better product than what was available. She experimented with gels, crèmes, and technique before she and her sister opened a salon that ultimately grew into a full-fledged, hip and trendy mini-empire with products named after their grandmother.
But, like many fledgling entrepreneurs, the sisters made mistakes – one of which led to a split, lawyers, and a months-long parting that hurt Branch in more ways than one. It took two years, two moves, and too much money to fix what broke.
Business book or memoir?  Though it may appear more the latter, the answer is that “Miss Jessie’s” is both.
Sometimes, of course, the story of a business is the story of its creators, and author Miko Branch takes her readers back nearly 100 years to see where the very roots of her company began. That’s a very interesting tale but if it’s not what you read a business book for, well, Branch has that part covered, too. She subtly includes business advice for entrepreneurs in nearly each chapter, and a nicely succinct epilogue as a final takeaway. That serves to entertain and inform readers on one hand, while steadily encouraging entrepreneurship on the other.
Though I thought there was a bit too much repetition here, I did enjoy this by-the-bootstraps story of a growing company, and I think you will, too – especially if you’re up for the unique format of it. Still, business book or memoir, “Miss Jessie’s” is something you won’t mind curling up with.
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