The Brown Beatnik Tomes (KMW Studio $40) by Danny Simmons features 35 paintings and 41 poems, all works by the artist-poet himself. To make this product even more unique, the jacket design features a spiral ring binding so one can flip pages like a color palate. In a way, it’s a collection of palates, due to the dominant hues in Simmons abstract-expressionist artwork blending into the backgrounds of the text. Both the poetry and word play are well matched to Simmons’s pieces. The voice is that of the neighborhood philosopher who sees all and comments. Visually, Brown Beatnik Tomes is a winner—but when the poetry comes into play, it makes the paintings seemingly vibrate. Don’t miss out on this collection of words and visuals from an accomplished creative. Take a gander here.

When the Beat was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip-Hop (Roaring Brook Press $17.99) by Laban Cammrick Hill, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III, is a great children’s picture book fantasy tale chronicling the life of DJ Kool Herc and how he created hip-hop. In it, he had childhood dreams of “deejaying” in the Jamaican sense of the term, rocking the party with the music and the vocals. Truth is, this dream became reality at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx, New York. So enjoy this origin story for an American musical style the world enjoys and critiques today. When the Beat was Born is a well-executed introduction for any child wondering where hip-hop came from. (Just make sure you pass them Can’t Stop Won’t Stop by Jeff Chang when they get older.) Peruse some pages online here

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Song of the Shank (Greywolf Press $18) by Jeffrey Renard Allen is wistful, slow, and rich. Eliza is the caretaker of the main character, Blind Tom, a piano player alone with family to care of him. But then a strange Black man comes to town wanting to whisk Blind Tom away to visit his birth mother, a newly freed slave. So what’s Eliza to do?  What does Tom do? He’s autistic. It’s the year after the Civil War. They are in New York City, far from what they both find familiar. What would you do?

Forever an Ex (Touchstone $17) by Victoria Christopher Murray is the follow-up to her bestselling novel, The Ex Files. The three heroines are back, and while they’ve moved on into other relationships and marriages, their exes have returned to haunt them. With over a million books in print, Murray’s success rate is undeniable. She’s great at dialogue and well-versed in suspense, plus her attention to detail, action and pacing are superb. I read the first three chapters and was hooked. Do the same here.

Brook Stephenson