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review 2017-08-18 20:57
The Cost of Sugar by Cynthia McLeod
The cost of sugar - Cynthia Mc Leod

This is a lively, melodramatic work of historical fiction set in mid-18th century Suriname. At that time, the small nation on the northern coast of South America was a Dutch colony consisting of sugar and coffee plantations carved out of the jungle, many of them run by Jewish owners who arrived in Suriname via Portugal and Brazil, and all of them worked by slaves. Unlike in North America, however, proximity to the jungle meant that slaves often escaped to form their own communities, which were in constant conflict with the colonial government.

The story spans 14 years and has a large cast for under 300 pages, but its protagonists are stepsisters Elza and Sarith, both daughters of Jewish plantation owners. The two are best friends as girls, but soon find themselves opposed, primarily because Elza is a sweet young woman who treats the slaves well while Sarith is short-sighted and willing to ruin the lives of everyone around her in order to get her way. Yes, it’s that kind of book. The book focuses on Elza early on, then shifts its attention later in the story to Sarith, Sarith’s slave Mini-mini, and a young mercenary named Jan.

Which is to say that there’s no single plotline, and characters come and go rather oddly (I expected Alex to become more important than he did, and Amimba, as the first character we meet, to have something more than a walk-on role). But as a story about a place and a society, rather than any single protagonist, it flows well. The plot moves quickly and stays interesting, the translation is fluid, and the characters – if not particularly complex – are sympathetic, except when not intended to be. It presents a detailed picture of a historical era that doesn’t feel overly influenced by modern views, though it can be a little ham-fisted. The author has clearly done her share of research on Surinamese history and is able to bring her cultural knowledge to the pages.

Interestingly, most of the novel was originally written in Dutch, but slaves at the time were forbidden from learning Dutch, so conversed among themselves and with whites in Sranan, a creole language related to English as well as other European and African languages. The author originally wrote conversations involving slaves in Sranan, which is evidently still sufficiently widely-spoken in Suriname for the original audience to understand. In the English version, the Sranan dialogue is translated, but you can see the original in the footnotes. Helpful footnotes also explain those words or concepts that will be unfamiliar for the English-speaking reader (there’s a glossary at the end too, but I didn’t need it).

Overall, this is an entertaining work that will likely appeal to those who enjoy popular historical fiction. It’s not great literature but doesn’t try to be. And props to the author for writing a book for a country she was told “doesn’t have a reading tradition” – this book is now apparently beloved in Suriname after all.

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review 2017-06-07 07:01
Surprises
His Accidental Heir (Billionaires and Babies) - Joanne Rock

This is book #3, in The McNeill Magnates series.  This book can be read as a standalone novel.  For reader enjoyment and understanding, I recommend reading this series in order.

 

Cameron has already made a mess of proposing to a stranger in the past.  When he meets the real person he thinks he should marry, he wonders, is it for the right reasons?  They are already compatible.  Cannot keep their hands off one another.

 

Maresa is in the middle of so much.  She is the anchor for all around her.  Can she give in to what she wants or needs at the sake of so many others?  Or will being with Cam be the one thing that pulls it all together?  For the sake of her family and her heart she must keep it all together.

 

This series has been just terrific!  My only complaint, was that this book felt rushed somehow.  I love the characters, and really enjoyed the recurring favorites in this title as well.  I sure hope we see more of these McNeill's!  I give this story a 3/5 Kitty's Paws UP!

 

 

***This ARC copy was given in exchange for an honest review only.

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review 2017-06-04 17:36
You clever old thing, Miss Marple
A Caribbean Mystery (Miss Marple) - Agatha Christie

I read this one for the "overseas travel" square because it gets Miss Marple out of St. Mary's Mead on a long vacation to the sunny climes of the West Indies. As is often the case with Christie, the reader must, rather uncomfortably, wade through some casual racism/colonialism/sexism to enjoy the mystery.

 

I don't think that this is one of Christie's best, though. Her mysteries often rely strongly on coincidence, but this one takes the use of coincidence to a whole new level of ridiculously unbelievable. I did enjoy the introduction to Mr. Rafiel, and would've liked to hear more about him. He made a nice counterpoint to Miss Marple.

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review 2017-05-21 20:55
Nor Any Country by Garth St. Omer
Nor Any Country - Garth St Omer

This novella is only 96 pages long, plus a laudatory 20-page essay about the work by one Jeremy Poynting. (I was puzzled by how a work no one had a word to say about on Goodreads could have the sort of academic following implied by this essay, until a Google search revealed that Poynting is its publisher.) The book follows its protagonist, Peter, as he returns to his unnamed island home (presumed by the publisher to be St. Omer’s home country of St. Lucia) for a brief visit after many years of study abroad.

Unfortunately, where Mr. Poynting saw subtle brilliance, the novella seemed to me mostly a mundane catalogue of Peter’s wandering about the island conversing with various people; his role in the conversations consists largely of creating a sense of his own superiority by saying little and smiling often. While visiting, he must decide what to do about the wife with whom he had no communication during his years abroad, but the narrative does little to show us how he arrives at his choice. Mostly Peter, while traveling about the island, simply ruminates on his European ex-girlfriends. There’s precious little narrative momentum in any of this, and little to interest the reader in the protagonist. Some of the supporting characters seem more interesting, but have limited room to breathe in such a short work.

As for the writing itself, it is adequate but sometimes lacking in clarity; numerous times I had to re-read passages to figure out what the author was trying to say. Written in the 1960s, the book seems to assume cultural understanding that a modern, non-Caribbean reader is unlikely to have: while racial politics are quite important in this setting, readers are left to deduce the race of almost all of the characters on their own (and I’m still not sure about Daphne).

All that said, this is a very short book that will leave readers somewhat more informed about the issues facing a society in a particular time and place. While the lack of clarity sometimes slows down the reading, large amounts of dialogue should keep readers from getting too bogged down.

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review 2017-01-16 15:06
"Casino Caribbean", by Graham Tempest
Casino Caribbean - Graham Tempest

Book # 1, in The Casino series

I enjoyed this book for its appealing story that kept my attention from start to finish. Action-packed with frequent plot twists sending a freelance sleuth into a timely journey involving the lucrative world of internet gambling.

Oliver Steele the main character is a forensic accountant by profession who was hired by billionaire Carlton Tish to squash the operation of a casino in Antigua. Along with an exciting mystery we fall in a world of international laws concerning casinos, travel to different places from Antigua to the States, to London, Belize and other exotic places. The experience is very visual and the description of the locals and customs made everything seemed quite possible. This is a fast and suspenseful read with multiple characters showing up; some good guys but some tough ones to give our sleuth a hard time. The style is simple but well-done to be a captivating and an alluring adventure. This introduction was a fun read that combined many facets in which we find some humour, a lot of technology, a solid mystery with plenty of action and one populated with unconventional characters.

After this introduction I can say yes I will read more by this author.

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