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text 2017-10-30 00:51
Books I Read in October 2017
The Diamond Empire (A Diamonds Novel) - K'wan
Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel - Jesmyn Ward
Brazen - Katherine Longshore
The Longest Memory - Fred D'Aguiar
The Tragedy of Brady Sims (Vintage Contemporaries) - Ernest J. Gaines
The Nightingale - Kristin Hannah

I read 6 books in October and am pleasantly surprised. I thought I'd only read 2 or 3. Has that ever happened to you? My highly anticipated read was The Tragedy of Brady Sims by Earnest J. Gaines. It was also my biggest disappointment. I was not wowed by it and the interest I had for the build up in this short novellla wasn't and was what I thought it would be. The other shocker was Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. I connected with only one of the characters (the son Jojo) and the story was a bit of multiple stories I'd read before. I didn't enjoy Salvage the Bones by her either. I think I stopped 75% through. I don't think her style of writing is for me. However, she is well regarded, loved and accoladed. 

 

The Nightingale and The Longest Memory were the "show stoppers" this month. These stories gutted me. Oh, the pain I felt. These two books I would highly recommend to anyone. It doesn't matter if you pick them up today, next month or years from now. Put them on your tbr or wishlist and read them! You won't regret it, I promise. I'm clearing out my YA shelves and have donated hundreds to date. This last purge I decided to keep some series that I started and loved, but didn't finish. Brazen (Royal Circle) is one of those I decided to keep. I had already read Guilt and Tarnish and enjoyed them. Brazen didn't disappoint. I do love historical fiction. Longshore wrote these in a style I could enjoy as well as her intended audience. 

 

 

 

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review 2017-10-28 14:37
The Fifth Ward: First Watch - Dale Lucas

This is a light hearted buddy copy meets police procedural. Oh yeah, it's set in a fantasy world.  Sound fun? It's worth a look.

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review 2017-10-26 19:00
The plight of people of color is carefully outlined and exposed.
Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel - Jesmyn Ward

Sing Unburied Sing, Jesmyn Ward. Author, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Chris Chalk, Rutina Wesley, narrators This book is very hard to read; aside from the fact that the subject matter is current, as well as historic, it is also about the horrific brutality, that was and still is, often inflicted upon a people, regardless of their guilt or innocence; this behavior is unjustified regardless of the innocence or guilt, color, creed, nationality, religion or any other defining aspect of that victim. No behavior on the part of anyone can justify the unimaginable punishments meted out; the mutilation, the torture or even merely the humiliation of another, should not be tolerated by society, but in an advanced society, this criminal behavior of those in power seems much more egregious. This book is an intense examination of the racial situation and the victimization they experience in their ordinary daily lives. Avoiding the injustice perpetrated upon them is almost impossible since it is rained down upon them according to the whims of the angry mob mentality of their abusers. It is not, however, I believe, because of white supremacy, a catch term that has taken hold as a rallying cry. Rather, to me, it is because there are simply hateful people with evil in their hearts who will justify their despicable behavior with any excuse they can muster up that will gain the support of other likeminded despicable creatures. This behavior is often obvious on both sides of any conflict, none is defensible. Each chapter of this book presents the voice of one of the three major characters, Leonie, Jojo and Richie. Most of the dialogue takes place as Leonie drives her friend Misty and her two children, to pick up Michael, their father, from Parchman prison, as he has served out his sentence. On that ride, black life is very fully presented in view of their behavior and approach to life, and the behavior of others in the world toward them. Each of them, in their own way, is a victim of society’s injustice and the injustice of their own cultural environment. Each has to fight a system that overpowers them, that does not provide them with the tools they need to achieve parity. As the book explores the history and lifestyle of its characters, it uses the dialogue between them, coupled with their individual thoughts and memories, to highlight the injustices that they have had to suffer, and even ignore, to avoid further retaliation. They were often in a position of vulnerability that allowed no bridge to justice. Although it is not specifically addressed in this book, it is this backward and forward looking at the situation that they faced that allows the reader to understand the anger that is boiling over in today’s society, even if they disagree with the methods now being used by some of those who are angry, since they justify their own brutality in ways not very different from the justification of abusive power used by their “enemies”. Those without power often seek not justice, but to overpower those in power to assume the same mantle of superiority, rather than equality. I listened to the book and thought it might be better to have read it in print. Although the book was read well by several readers, to delineate the characters, I thought some portrayals were a bit excessive. At times, Leonie seemed too sultry and Jojo’s speech pattern, too stereotyped in its presentation. Richie was alternately portrayed as a young boy and as a man, in his tone of voice, perhaps to emphasize the passage of time. There was no way, however, to find any fault in the prose of this author; it is so far superior to that in many books written today. The choice of vocabulary and the way in which the words were combined made for an eloquent and often poetic presentation, painting pictures and images for the reader to see in their mind’s eye, sometimes making some of the scenes almost too horrific to imagine. The influence of the fear and often shame that constantly haunted the life of the victims, created hopelessness and an “underground” lifestyle. Norms in their world were often at odds with the norms in the world of others. Throughout history, groups that have been abused by the prejudices of others have been blamed for bringing this abuse upon themselves because of their own behavior. If nothing else, this book will disabuse the reader of that fact. Nothing justifies the brutality or bigotry that the people of color have had to deal with because nothing makes brutal behavior toward anyone acceptable. No behavior on anyone’s part, no biological aspect of anyone’s body or cultural and religious choice makes cruelty toward anyone acceptable, in my opinion. While it may be impossible to prevent the expression of opinions, there is a proper and improper way to express those opinions. No behavior that threatens another should be acceptable. No behavior that intimidates another should be applauded. Everyone, I believe, has a responsibility to behave in an acceptable manner, at all times, without bringing harm to another, except in cases of unavoidable war to prevent just that kind of inhumane behavior, but we must be fully aware of the fact, that, that makes us guilty of being “the pot calling the kettle black”. At the end of the book, while I felt I had really learned a great deal about society’s mistreatment of others, specifically, in this book, of those of color, but universally, as well, of all people who are powerless, I did not feel that there was any viable solution offered to make things more tolerable, to right the wrongs of racial injustice, or to bring back a return or an insurgence of common decency. Just as some of the characters were haunted by visions, so our society was and still is haunted by unjustified feelings of hate. Also, while the idea of the injustice and horrific prejudice and hateful behavior toward a group of people was excellently and honestly rendered, I wasn’t certain that the expectation of responsible behavior on the part of those victims was as fully explored. As both worlds were examined, however, the world of color and the world without, the bias and overt injustice experienced by those who were powerless were horrifying. It is a virulent disease spreading all over the world, as we witness, daily, the horrific violence inflicted upon populations that are weaker or less in favor then the one in power. Regardless of the victim’s behavior, which is ridiculously, somehow supposed to justify the injustice, there is no acceptable excuse for any of the brutality or expressions of violence and hate that have become almost daily occurrences. Perhaps the haters have mastered the art of making this behavior so common that we have become inured to it and are beginning to accept it as normal rather than what it is, totally abnormal, a total aberration of the human condition and merely an expression of man’s inhumanity toward man.

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review 2017-10-23 17:05
The Girl from Rawblood by Catriona Ward
The Girl from Rawblood: A Novel - Catriona Ward

The genre-bending creativity of David Mitchell meets the gothic voice of Susan Hill in this highly praised debut

Iris and her father are the last of the Villarca line. For generations, the Villarcas have been haunted by "her." Her origins are a mystery, but her purpose is clear: when a Villarca marries, when they love, when they have a child—she comes, and death follows.

Confined in their lonely mansion on Dartmoor, Iris makes her father a promise—to remain alone all her life. But when she's fifteen, Iris breaks that promise. She dares to fall in love, and the consequences of her choice are immediate and heartbreaking. From the sun-spotted hills of Italy to the biting chill of Victorian dissection halls, The Girl from Rawblood is a lyrical and haunting historical novel of darkness, love, and the ghosts of the past.

 
**********
 

When it comes to horror a Gothic tale has something that with all likelihood always will appeal to me. Add a mysterious family haunted by an entity just called "her" and I'm sold. THE GIRL FROM RAWBLOOD instantly appealed to me with its fascinating cover and interesting description. Iris and her father live in a lonely old mansion on Dartmoor and he warns her that she should never fall in love because strong feelings bring on "her" and when she comes, brutal death will follow. Nevertheless, Iris does fall in love and with that, a series of events begin that lead Iris to learn the truth about "her."

 
READ THE REST OF THE REVIEW OVER AT FRESH FICTION!
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review 2017-10-13 14:39
Magic realism in the heart of darkness. A must read.
Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel - Jesmyn Ward

Thanks to NetGalley and to Scribner for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Sometimes, I’d try to write them down, but they were just bad poems, limping down the page: Training a horse. The next line. Cut with the knees.

It stays with me, a bruise in the memory that hurts when I touch it.

I would throw up everything. All of it: food and bile and stomach and intestines and esophagus, organs all, bones and muscle, until all that was left was skin. And then maybe that could turn inside out, and I wouldn’t be nothing no more. Not this…

“Because we don’t walk no straight lines. It’s all happening at once. All of it. We are all here at once. My mama and daddy and they mamas and daddies.” Mam looks to the wall, closes her eyes. “My son.”

Both of us bow together as Richie goes darker and darker, until he’s a black hole in the middle of the yard, like he done sucked all the light and darkness over them miles, over them years, into him, until he’s burning black, and then he isn’t. There…

“Let’s go,” I say. Knowing that tree is there makes the skin on my back burn, like hundreds of ants are crawling up my spine, seeking tenderness between the bones to bit. I know the boy is there, watching, waving like grass in water.

I decided to start with some quotes (and I would happily quote the whole book, but there would be no point) because I know I could not make its language justice. This is a book about a family, three generations of an African-American family in the South and it has been compared to works by Morrison and Faulkner, and that was what made me request the book as they are among my favourite authors. And then, I kept reading about it and, well, in my opinion, they are not wrong. We have incredible descriptions of life in the South for this rural family (smells, touch, sound, sight, taste, and even the sixth sense too), we have a nightmarish road trip to a prison, with some detours, we have characters that we get to know intimately in their beauty and ugliness, and we have their story and that of many others whose lives have been touched by them.

There are two main narrators, Leonie, a young woman, mother of two children, whose life seems to be on a downward spiral. Her white partner is in prison for cooking Amphetamines, she does drugs as often as she can and lives with her parents, who look after her children, and seems to live denying her true nature and her feelings. Her son, Jojo, is a teenager who has become the main support of the family, looking after his kid sister, Michaela, or Kayla, helping his grandfather and grandmother, rebellious and more grown-up and responsible than his mother and father. Oh, and he hears and understands what animals say, and later on, can also see and communicate with ghosts. His grandmother is also a healer and knows things, although she is riddled with cancer, and his baby sister also seems to have the gift. The third narrator is one of the ghosts, Richie, who before he makes his physical (ghostly?) appearance has been the subject of a story Jojo’s grandfather has been telling him, without ever quite finishing it, seemingly waiting for the right moment to tell him what really happened. When we get to that point, the story is devastating, but so are most of the stories in the novel. Fathers who physically fight with their sons because they love an African-American woman, young men killed because it was not right that a black man win a bet, men imprisoned for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and for being the wrong race… The stories pile up and even the ghosts fight with each other to try and gain a sense of self, to try to belong.

This is magic realism at its best. As I said, the descriptions of the characters, the locations, and the family relationships are compelling and detailed. But there are elements that break the boundaries of realism (yes, the ghosts, and the style of the narration, where we follow interrupted stories, stream of consciousness, and where the living and those who are not really there are given equal weight), and that might make the novel not suitable for everybody. As beautiful as the language is, it is also harsh and raw at times, and incredibly moving.

Although it is short and, for me at least, a page turner, this is not a light read and I’d recommend approaching it with caution if you are particularly sensitive to abuse, violence, drug use, or if you prefer your stories straight, with no otherworldly interferences. Otherwise, check a sample, and do yourselves a favour. Read it. I hadn’t read any of this author’s books before, but I’ll be on the lookout and I’ll try and catch up on her previous work. She is going places.  

 

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