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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER: WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE 2019 by Bernardine Evaristo (@PenguinUKBooks) Diverse, joyful, and inclusive #Bookreview

Hi all:

I bring you the review of one of the books that won the Booker Prize in 2019. I hope to read Atwood’s novel as well at some point.

Girl, Woman, Other: WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE 2019 by Bernardine Evaristo

BRITISH BOOK AWARDS AUTHOR & FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR 2020

WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE 2019
THE SUNDAY TIMES 1# BESTSELLER

‘The most absorbing book I read all year.’ Roxane Gay


This is Britain as you’ve never read it.
This is Britain as it has never been told.

From Newcastle to Cornwall, from the birth of the twentieth century to the teens of the twenty-first, Girl, Woman, Other follows a cast of twelve characters on their personal journeys through this country and the last hundred years. They’re each looking for something – a shared past, an unexpected future, a place to call home, somewhere to fit in, a lover, a missed mother, a lost father, even just a touch of hope . . .
____________________________

[Bernardine Evaristo] is one of the very best that we have’ Nikesh Shukla on Twitter

‘A choral love song to black womanhood in modern Great Britain’ Elle

‘Beautifully interwoven stories of identity, race, womanhood, and the realities of modern Britain. The characters are so vivid, the writing is beautiful and it brims with humanity’ Nicola Sturgeon on Twitter

‘Bernardine Evaristo can take any story from any time and turn it into something vibrating with life’ Ali Smith, author of How to be both

‘Exceptional. You have to order it right now’ Stylist

‘Sparkling, inventive’ Sunday Times

https://www.amazon.com/Girl-Woman-Other-Bernardine-Evaristo-ebook/dp/B07GSXWFSZ/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Girl-Woman-Other-Bernardine-Evaristo-ebook/dp/B07GSXWFSZ/

https://www.amazon.es/Girl-Woman-Other-Bernardine-Evaristo-ebook/dp/B07GSXWFSZ/

Author Bernardine Evaristo

About the author:

www.bevaristo.com

Award-winning British writer Bernardine Evaristo is the author of seven books. She is also an editor, critic, dramatist and essayist. Her writing spans the genres of prose novels, verse-novels, a novel-with-verse, a novella, poetry, non-fiction, literary criticism and radio and theatre drama. Her latest novel, Mr Loverman, is about a 74 yr old Caribbean London man who is closet homosexual (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, 2013 & Akashic Books, USA, 2014). Her writing is characterised by experimentation, daring and subverting the myths of various Afro-diasporic histories and identities. She has published widely in a variety of publications and anthologies.

Her books are: MR LOVERMAN (Penguin, 2013), HELLO MUM (Penguin 2010), LARA (Bloodaxe 2009), BLONDE ROOTS (Penguin 2008), SOUL TOURISTS (Penguin 2005), THE EMPEROR’S BABE (Penguin 2001), the first version of LARA (ARP 1997), ISLAND OF ABRAHAM (Peepal Tree, 1994). For more information visit BOOKS.

Her awards include a Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize, EMMA Best Book Award, Big Red Read, Orange Youth Panel Award, NESTA Fellowship Award and an Arts Council Writer’s Award. Her books have been a ‘Book of the Year’ thirteen times in British newspapers and magazines and The Emperor’s Babe was a (London) Times ‘Book of the Decade’. Hello Mum has been chosen as one of twenty titles for World Book Night in 2014. She was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2004, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 2006, and she received an MBE in 2009.

Her verse novel The Emperor’s Babe was adapted into a BBC Radio 4 play in 2013 and her novella Hello Mum was broadcast as a BBC Radio 4 play in 2012. Her new novel Mr Loverman was optioned by BBC television drama in 2014.

She is co-editor of two recent anthologies and a special issue of Wasafiri magazine: BlackBritain: Beyond Definition, which celebrated and reevaluated the black writing scene in Britain. In 2012 she was guest editor of the winter issue of Poetry Review, Britain’s leading poetry journal, in its centenary year. Her issue, Offending Frequencies, featured more poets of colour than had ever previously been published in a single issue of the journal, as well as many female, radical, experimental and outspoken voices. She is guest-editing the September 2014 issue of Mslexia magazine.
Her literary criticism appears in the national newspapers such as the Guardian and Independent and she has judged many literary awards.

She has judged many prizes and she founded the Brunel University African Poetry Prize in 2011. http://www.africanpoetryprize.org/

Since 1997 she has accepted invitations to take part in over 100 international visits as a writer. She gives readings and delivers talks, keynotes, workshops and courses.

The first monograph on her work, Fiction Unbound by Sebnem Toplu, was published in August 2011 by Cambridge Scholars Publishing. http://www.c-s-p.org/Flyers/Fiction-Unbound-Bernardine-Evaristo1-4438-3153-0.htm

Bernardine’s books have been translated into several languages including Mandarin.

Personal: Bernardine Evaristo was born in Woolwich, south east London, the fourth of eight children, to an English mother and Nigerian father. Her father was a welder and local Labour councillor and her mother a school teacher. She was educated at Eltham Hill Girls Grammar School, the Rose Bruford College of Speech & Drama, and Goldsmiths, University of London, where she earned a PhD in Creative Writing. She spent her teenage years acting at Greenwich Young People’s Theatre.
She lives in London with her husband.

https://www.amazon.com/Bernardine-Evaristo/e/B000APTPRY/

My review:

I thank Penguin UK and NetGalley for the ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

My list of books to read has grown so long that sometimes I’m surprised when I realise some titles I’ve wanted to read for a while had been quietly waiting on my e-reader, and I’d completely lost track of them. This is one of them. I kept reading comments and reviews and thinking I had to read it once I got a copy, and I finally realised I had it already. Oh, well, a nice surprise for a change in a year that hasn’t had many.

I’ve never read any books by Evaristo before, although she’s been writing for quite a while and has become well-known and, judging by this book, deservedly so.

Although brief, the official book description gives a good idea of the content. There isn’t a plot in the traditional sense, a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. In fact, some reviewers have complained that this is not a novel, but rather a collection of twelve biographical notes, and they didn’t feel connected to any of the characters, as none of their stories were explored in detail. It is true that the book is a catalogue of the multi-faceted experience of British women from diverse ethnic backgrounds, social classes, locations (from the most rural to London and beyond), educational levels, professions, gender identities, politics, sexual interests, tastes… But rather than being true biographies (of fictional biographies), these are no stories told objectively from an outsider’s point of view. Although written in the third-person (the writing style is very special as well), we get each of these women’s stories from their own point of view, at least in their own chapter. The book is divided into 4 parts, each telling three stories that appear connected, as they are often the stories of relatives or close friends, sometimes going back several generations. The beauty of the way the book is constructed is that, as we keep reading, we come to realise that a lot of these women’s lives have intersected at some point or other, and that gives us also an outsider’s perspective on what they are like, or, rather, how they appear to others and what others think of them. Sometimes there is a huge gap between the two, but I found it difficult not to empathise with these women after seeing their lives through their own eyes, even when I might have nothing in common with some of them. When you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, it’s easier to understand who they are and to feel sorry when others dismiss them, misunderstand them, or even openly dislike them. Of course, I liked some characters more than others, but I was interested in their experiences, even those of the women I would never want as my friends.

As you can imagine from the above, the book deals in many important issues: race, gender, political views, aging, social changes, family relationships, identity in its many facets, prejudice, sexual and physical abuse, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse … The risk Evaristo runs in trying to cover such wide and numerous topics is to end up skimming over all of them and never getting into the nitty-gritty of anything. That might be true, but I see this book as a celebration of uniqueness and self-definition, rather than as an in-depth exploration of one single issue. We are not just one thing to the exclusion of everything else. We aren’t only daughters or only British, or only writers, or only adopted or only heterosexual… This book illustrates the multiple possibilities, the many combinations, and the complexity of womanhood (and humanity).

The author is well-known for her poetry, and she has called the style she uses in this book “fusion fiction” a form of rather fluid prose poetry, with no capital letters at the beginning of the sentence and no full stops to mark the end of a sentence. The lack of adherence to grammar rules has bothered quite a number of readers, who found it difficult to get used to, distracting, or pretentious. I was surprised at first, and more than once I had to go back to make sure I had got the right end of the conversation, but it seemed to work well with the text-to-speech option I often use (it adapted well to the natural reading rhythm), and I suspect the same might be the case for the audiobook version. I normally recommend that readers check a sample of a book when I think the writing style might not be to everybody’s liking, and this is a case in point. If you’re thinking about purchasing it, have a look first. (I am not sharing quotes because mine was an ARC copy and any quote would need to be fairly long to give any idea of what the reading experience might be like).

There is an epilogue at the very end of the book, which I wouldn’t call a twist, but it does put an interesting spin on some of the stories. If the idea that we are all connected somehow seems to flow through the whole book, the epilogue closes the circle. (I enjoyed it, although if this was a mystery, I’d say that I’d guessed what was likely to happen well before the last page).

I recommend this novel to readers who like to explore diverse characters and alternative voices, particularly in a UK setting; to those who like to experiment different writing styles, unusual formats, and unconventional stories.  And those who enjoy reading poetry should check it out as well. Some of the topics covered are quite hard and bound to be upsetting, even when not discussed in too much graphic detail, so caution is advised. I will keep track of Evaristo from now on, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one.

Thanks to NetGalley, to Penguin UK and to the author for this book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and above all, keep safe.

 

 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog FACE THE WIND (Little Sister Island #2) by Caren J. Werlinger A perfect reading refuge in these hard times#RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you the second book in a series not intended as such at first, but one I’m very happy to return to.

Face the Wind (Little Sister Island #2) by Caren J. Werlinger

Face the Wind (Little Sister Island #2) by Caren J. Werlinger

Kathleen Halloran has never been happier. She and Molly Cooper have built a life together, living in her grandmother’s cottage. The family drama of the past has calmed down. She and Molly will soon be aunts. Life on Little Sister Island is everything Kathleen could wish for… until the island begins to send ominous signals that change is in the wind.

Living beside a different ocean, Meredith Turner tries to make sense of her dreams—dreams of an island she’s never seen but can’t forget. After an ancestry test throws her family into chaos, the tempest that follows blows Meredith and her parents clear across the country, to the island of her dreams.

For Louisa Woodhouse, it feels the end is near. With no one to follow after her, she’s the last of her line on Little Sister, and her secrets will go with her. Soon, the Woodhouse name will join the others that now exist only in the island’s genealogy records.

But Little Sister Island has its own magic—rhythms and seasons and tides and currents that even the best-laid human plans can’t fight. And in that magic is a warning—a storm is coming.

https://www.amazon.com/Face-Wind-Little-Sister-Island-ebook/dp/B08GJQRXQK/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Face-Wind-Little-Sister-Island-ebook/dp/B08GJQRXQK/

https://www.amazon.es/Face-Wind-Little-Sister-Island-ebook/dp/B08GJQRXQK/

Author Caren J. Werlinger
Author Caren J. Werlinger

About the author:

Bestselling author Caren Werlinger published her first award-winning novel, Looking Through Windows, in 2008. Since then, she has published fifteen more novels, winning several more awards. Influenced by a diverse array of authors, including Rumer Godden, J.R.R. Tolkein, Ursula LeGuin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Willa Cather and the Brontë sisters, Caren writes literary fiction that features the struggles and joys of characters readers can identify with. Her stories cover a wide range of genres: historical fiction, contemporary drama, and fantasy, including the award-winning Dragonmage Saga, a fantasy trilogy set in ancient Ireland. She has lived in Virginia for nearly thirty years where she practices physical therapy, teaches anatomy, and lives with her wife and their canine fur-children.

https://www.amazon.com/Caren-J.-Werlinger/e/B002BOI2ZI

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, check here if you want to get your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for the ARC copy of the book, which I freely chose to review.

I have read and reviewed two of Werlinger’s novels before this one, and I’ve become a fan (although I have yet to read any of her fantasy novels, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time). I read When the Stars Sang, the first book in the Little Sister Island series (although I don’t think it was intended as a series at first), a while ago and loved it. (You can check my review here). I couldn’t wait to go back to Little Sister, and my second visit more than lived up to my expectations. I am not sure I’d dare to say that I enjoyed this novel more, but I had, at least, as great a time reading it as I did the first, and I was happy to see that this second instalment revisits the characters and places we have come to love, rather than being a totally separate story, although I am sure readers who come across this book first will catch on pretty quickly (but will end up going back to read the first one, no doubt).

All I said about the first novel applies to this one as well. I wasn’t surprised when I read that the author had many requests to carry on writing about the island and its characters, because both, the setting and the people in it are unforgettable. The mix of Celtic and old-Irish tradition with Native-American folklore, the strong sense of community, the way the inhabitants bond with each other and are like a big family, the way of life there (beautiful but harsh at times, stripped down to the bare bones but precious, not fully “connected” [no mobile phone signal], in tune with nature but at times at the mercy of its whims, gentle but risky and dangerous…), and the way they hold onto ancient rituals and traditions whilst at the same time embracing diversity, new technologies, and adapt to changes and challenges, makes it a place where many of us would love to live in, even if we’d never be allowed to (or perhaps because of it).

The story is told in the third person, as the previous one, although we see things from more perspectives this time. We follow Katheen and Molly’s adventures again, and we get to see how their life has been since we last met them. Kathleen has taken to the island and is growing into her new role with gusto, and Molly is happy as well, even with some ongoing concerns about her family, especially two of her brothers. But there are also new characters, Rae and her parents the most important of those. Rae and her mother, Irene, who live all the way across the country, in Oregon, have been having vivid dreams about a storm and a sinking ship most of their lives. A series of coincidences and decisions with unexpected consequences make them travel to Little Island looking for answers. And let me tell you that they find much more than they bargained for.

Little Island is sending its inhabitants messages they are having some trouble deciphering, and Louisa Woodhouse has to face a secret from her past that she had kept hidden from everybody, even her father and sister. How will it affect the island and its inhabitants?

I warmed up to Rae quickly. Although she seems a bit insecure at first (her boyfriend has cheated on her, and she is determined not to let anybody else hurt her), she is also determined to find an explanation for her dreams, loves her parents (even when they do things she doesn’t like and annoy her no end), and has a strong bond with her dog, Jasper. Her mother, her father, and the dog are wonderful in their own right, and few of us would hesitate to invite them into our homes. They quickly become attuned to life in Little Sister and wish they could stay. Most of the characters we met in the previous novel appear again, and Aidan, Molly’s older brother, plays an important part in the plot. Of course, Blossom, Kathleen and Molly’s dog, also plays a role; he and Jasper become pals, and they make a strong winning team. (I do so love them)!

The story includes a variety of topics: adoption, what makes a family, secrets, lineage, history, destiny, romance (there are no explicit sexual scenes but I think fans of romantic novels will find much to enjoy) and second chances, life and death, how our priorities change with age, pets, new beginnings, and what is really important. There is a price to pay for living in a place like Little Island, and the characters, both old and new, get a harsh reminder of that in this novel.

The writing is gorgeous. There are lyrical moments, beautiful descriptions of landscapes, food, and even feelings and emotions. There are also scary and action-packed moments, which we experience at times as observers and other times as full participants. There are contemplative moments and reflections that made me pause in my reading and will stay with me. There is much joy but also tragedy. As happens in life, it is not all sunny and rosy, and we close the book sad to leave, but with a smile on our faces because things are as they should, and the future looks hopeful and full of opportunity.

A few samples from the book to offer you a taster:

“Life here is no more tragic than elsewhere. It’s just more condensed. When you know everyone, when it involves visitors to your home, when things threaten your home, you feel them more deeply than when it’s just something you hear on the evening news.”

“Beauty isn’t one-sided. Sometimes it comes up with a terrible cost.”

“I think some people need the storm, they need that rush of constantly fighting to stay afloat. For years, I was like that, but now I know, it was only because I was afraid of the calm. In the calm, there’s nothing to fight, no waves battering you from outside, trying to sink you. The calm forces you to listen, to look at your own reflection. And I never liked what I saw.”

Do I recommend this novel? Yes. It is beautiful, it takes place in a wonderful setting, it’s inspiring, its characters are engaging and easy to bond with, and there are intrigues, mystery, and magic to keep us coming back for more. I’d love to live inside this book, and I’d love life to be a bit like it is in Little Island, but I guess  I’ll have to make do with reading about it, and I hope you give it a go as well. You’ll feel better for it.

Thanks to Rosie and all the members of her team for the support, thanks to the author for this wonderful book, and thanks to all of you for reading. Remember to keep safe, and like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling under your masks!

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog KNIGHT IN PAPER ARMOR by Nicholas Conley (@NicholasConley1) Scary, inspiring, and ultimately life-affirming #RBRT #Sci-fi

Hi all:

Today I bring you the review of a book by an author that impressed me with one of his novels a few years back:

Knight in Paper Armor by Nicholas Conley

Knight in Paper Armor by Nicholas Conley

Billy Jakobek has always been different. Born with strange and powerful psychic abilities, he has grown up in the laboratories of Thorne Century, a ruthless megacorporation that economically, socially, and politically dominates American society. Every day, Billy absorbs the emotional energies, dreams, and traumas of everyone he meets—from his grandmother’s memories of the Holocaust, to the terror his sheer existence inflicts upon his captors—and he yearns to break free, so he can use his powers to help others.

Natalia Gonzalez, a rebellious artist and daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, lives in Heaven’s Hole, an industrial town built inside a meteor crater, where the poverty-stricken population struggles to survive the nightmarish working conditions of the local Thorne Century factory. Natalia takes care of her ailing mother, her grandmother, and her two younger brothers, and while she dreams of escape, she knows she cannot leave her family behind.

When Billy is transferred to Heaven’s Hole, his chance encounter with Natalia sends shockwaves rippling across the blighted landscape. The two outsiders are pitted against the all-powerful monopoly, while Billy experiences visions of an otherworldly figure known as the Shape, which prophesizes an apocalyptic future that could decimate the world they know.

https://www.amazon.com/Knight-Paper-Armor-Nicholas-Conley-ebook/dp/B08CLSSX8Z/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Knight-Paper-Armor-Nicholas-Conley-ebook/dp/B08CLSSX8Z/

https://www.amazon.es/Knight-Paper-Armor-Nicholas-Conley-ebook/dp/B08CLSSX8Z/

Author Nicholas Conley
Author Nicholas Conley

About the author:

Nicholas Conley is an award-winning Jewish American author, journalist, playwright, and coffee vigilante. His books, such as Knight in Paper Armor, Pale Highway, Clay Tongue: A Novelette, and Intraterrestrial, merge science fiction narratives with hard-hitting examinations of social issues. Originally from California, he now lives in New Hampshire.

www.NicholasConley.com

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

I read and reviewed Conley’s novel Pale Highway (you can check my review here) a while back, and it left a long-lasting impression. A book that although falling under the aegis of Science Fiction did not easily fit into any category and provided a unique reading experience.

Conley’s new novel shares some of the same characteristics. It is set in the not too-distant future, a dystopian future where the United States seems to have become more parcelled out and separate than ever —different populations are segregated into newly created states [immigrants have to live in certain areas, the Jewish population in another state, the well-to-do elsewhere…]—, where huge corporations have taken over everything, and prejudice is rampant. From that perspective, the book fits into the science-fiction genre, and there are also other elements (like Billy’s powers, the way the Thorne Corporation is trying to harness those powers…) that easily fit into that category, although, otherwise, the world depicted in it is worryingly similar to the one we live in. Although there aren’t lengthy descriptions of all aspects of the world, there are some scenes that vividly portray some parts of the town (Heaven’s Hole), and I would say the novel is best at creating a feeling or an impression of what life must be like there, rather than making us see it in detail. Somehow it is as if we had acquired some of Billy’s powers and could “sense” what the characters are going through.

I don’t want to discuss the plot in too much detail, as there is much to discover and enjoy, but the book is also, at some level, a rite of passage for the two young protagonists, who might come from very different backgrounds and traditions but have much in common (they’ve lost beloved family members to unfair treatment, discrimination, and manipulation; their grandmothers have played an important role in their lives; they are outsiders; they are strongly committed to others…), and who help each other become better versions of themselves. Although there is a romantic aspect to their relationship (it is reminiscent of “insta love” that so many readers dislike) and even a sex scene (very mild and not at all descriptive), the story of Billy and Natalia’s relationship goes beyond that. I don’t think I would class this novel as a Young Adult story, despite the ages of the protagonists (at least during most of the action), but that would depend on every reader. There is plenty of violence, death of adults and children, instances of physical abuse and serious injuries of both youths and adults, so I’d recommend caution depending on the age of the reader and their sensitivity to those types of subjects.

The book can be read as a metaphor for how the world might end up looking like if we don’t change our ways (and I thought about George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm often as I read this novel), or as a straight Sci-Fi novel where two young people, one with special powers and one without, confront the government/a powerful tyrannous corporation to free society from their clutches (think the Hunger Games, although many other examples exist). It’s easy to draw comparisons and parallels with the present (and with other historical eras) as one reads; and the examples of bullying, abuse, extortion, threats, corruption… might differ in detail from events we know, but not in the essence. There is also emphasis on tradition, memory (the role of the two grandmothers is very important in that respect), identity (Billy’s Jewish identity, Natalia’s Guatemalan one, although she and her family have to pass for Mexicans at some point), disability, diversity, poverty, power, the role of media…

I have talked about the two main characters, who are both heroes (each one in their own way) and well-matched, and their families feature as well and play an important part in grounding them and making us see who they are (although Billy’s family features mostly through his memories of them). We also have a baddie we can hate at will (he is despicable, but I didn’t find him too impressive compared to others, and I prefer baddies with a certain level of humanity rather than a purely evil one), another baddie who is just a bigot and nasty (not much characterization there), and some others whose actions are morally wrong but whose reasons we come to understand. The circumstances of Billy and Natalia are so hard, and they have such great hearts that it is impossible not to root for them (I’m a big fan of Natalia, perhaps because she saves the day without having any special powers and she is easier to identify with than Billy, who is such a singular character), and their relatives and friends are also very relatable, but as I said, things are very black and white, and the book does not offer much room for shades of grey.

The story is told in the third person, although each chapter follows the point of view of one of the characters, and this is not limited to the two protagonists, but also to Thorne, and to one of the scientists working on the project. There are also moments when we follow some of the characters into a “somewhere else”, a vision that might be a memory of the past, or sometimes a projection of something else (a possible future?, a different realm or dimension?, the collective unconscious), and these chapters are quite descriptive and have an almost hallucinatory intensity. The Shape plays a big part on some of those chapters, and it makes for a much more interesting evil character than Thorne (and it brought to my mind Lovecraft and Cthulhu). Readers must be prepared to follow the characters into these places, although the experience can be painful at times. I was touched and close to tears quite a few times while I read this book, sometimes due to sadness but others the experience was a happy one.

The book is divided up into 10 parts, each one with a Hebrew name, and as I’m not that familiar with the Jewish tradition I had to check and found out these refer to the ten nodes of the Kabbalah Tree of Life. This made me realise that the structure of the book is carefully designed and it has a significance that is not evident at first sight. That does not mean it is necessary to be conversant with this concept to read and enjoy the book, but I am sure there is more to it than meets the eye (and the Tree of Life pays and important role in the story, although I won’t say anything else to avoid spoilers). The writing is lyrical and beautiful in parts, and quite horrific and explicit when it comes to detailing violence and abuse. This is not a fast page-turner, and although there is plenty of action, there are also moments where characters talk, think, or are even suspended in non-reality, so this is not for those who are only interested in stories where the plot is king and its advancement the only justification for each and every word written. I often recommend readers to try a sample of a book before purchasing, and this is even more important for books such as this one, which are not easy to pin down or classify.

From my references to Orwell you will know that this is a book with a clear message (or several) and not “just” light entertainment, but I don’t want you to think it is all doom and gloom. Quite the opposite, in fact. The ending is positive, hopeful and life-affirming. Those who like endings where everything is resolved will love this one, and those who are looking for an inspiring novel and are happy to boldly go where no reader has gone before will be handsomely rewarded.

I had to include the quote that opens the book, because it is at the heart of it all, and because it is so relevant:

The opposite of love I not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference. Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies. To be in the window and watch people being sent to concentration camps or being attacked in the street and do nothing, that’s being dead. Elie Wiesel.

Thanks to the author and to Rosie and all her group for their support, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep smiling, and always keep safe.

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE VANISHING HALF by Brit Bennett (@britrbennett) (@LittleBrownUK) Great story, memorable characters, and a subject that will make readers think #Bookreview

Hi all:

Today I bring you the review of a book that has been causing a bit of a stir.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The Vanishing Half is an utterly mesmerising novel. It seduces with its literary flair, surprises with its breath-taking plot twists, delights with its psychological insights, and challenges us to consider the corrupting consequences of racism on different communities and individual lives. I absolutely loved this book’ Bernardine Evaristo, winner of the Booker Prize 2019

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ story lines intersect?

Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passingLooking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.

Praise for Brit Bennett:

‘A writer to watch’ Washington Post

‘Bennett allows her characters to follow their worst impulses, and she handles provocative issues with intelligence, empathy and dark humour’ New York Times

‘A beautifully written, sad and lingering book’ Guardian on The Mothers

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B082KH5D4M/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B082KH5D4M/

https://www.amazon.es/dp/B082KH5D4M/

Author Brit Bennett

About the author:

Born and raised in Southern California, Brit Bennett graduated from Stanford University and earned her MFA in fiction at the University of Michigan, where she won a Hopwood Award in Graduate Short Fiction as well as the 2014 Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers. She is a National Book Foundation “5 under 35” honoree, and her essays are featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, and Jezebel.

https://www.amazon.com/Brit-Bennett/e/B00PZ44052/

My review:

I thank Little Brown Book, UK for providing me an ARC copy of this novel in the first place, although later I also purchased my own copy which I review here.

This is the first novel by Brit Bennett I read, although I’m aware that her first novel, The Mothers, was very well-received, and this one has been highly praised and regarded as well. And, in my opinion, it deserves it.

The description of the book provides a fairly accurate summary of the main points of the plot, and I won’t try to be too inclusive when I mention the many topics the author touches on: race is paramount (is race only skin-deep?, different types of racism, the changing attitudes over the years, the burden of internalising other people’s values and what that does to the characters’ sense of self…), identity (while one of the characters lives a lie, a trans man abandons his birth biological gender to truly become himself), domestic violence, family, LGTB, rural versus city life, the importance of education, mothers and daughters, Alzheimer’s disease, love… It is a family saga, a story of two twin sisters and their daughters and how their lives split up at some point, sending them into completely different directions.

I’ve mentioned the issue of race, and that is the main focus of the book. The little place, somewhere in Louisiana, where the sisters are born is peculiar already when it comes to race. Although all the inhabitants are African-American, they are all so light that an outsider would not be able to tell they are not white. They are proud of it and consider anybody who is a shade darker than they are their inferior.  But, of course, the local white people know, and that has terrible consequences for the girls, who lose their father due to a lynching (for an imagined crime the man had not committed). It’s not surprising that they leave the place as soon as they can, but once in New Orleans things are quite difficult, and one of the sisters, Stella, ends up passing for white to get a job. That changes everything, and the sisters’ lives end up going in totally different directions. Although from the reviews I read I realised that many readers might be unfamiliar with the concept of ‘passing’, it has appeared in novels and even movies over the years. I recommend Nella Larssen, a female author from the Harlem Renaissance, whose novels Passing and Quicksand are fascinating and deserve to be better known, but both movie versions of Imitation of Life, although in a far more melodramatic fashion, deal with the topic as well, and in the musical Showboat we have similar concerns (and talk of miscegenation and the ‘one drop of blood’ dictum), and concepts that might appear bizarre now (like quadroon, octoroon, [Alexandre Dumas Jr was an octoroon if we apply that classification, and Alexandre Dumas father a quadroon], or high yellow) but made a big difference in the past, when it came to the treatment somebody received. Some of the readers don’t feel the book goes into these issues deeply enough, but this is a novel, and realistically, it would be impossible to discuss all the aspects of it and create a fictional story readers cared for as well.

The main characters of the novel are the two sisters, Stella and Desiree, and their two daughters, Kennedy and Jude. While the two sisters are identical twins, Kennedy and Jude could not look and be more different —Kennedy is blonde, has blue eyes, has lived a life of privilege, and has always been self-centred. Jude is dark-skinned, suffered prejudice and abuse as a child and grew up without a father, is hard-working and determined, and has always cared for her family and for others— but their lives still converge and collide at times, bringing some momentous changes to their lives. There are many more characters in the story, some more important than others (Early plays an essential role in Desiree’s life, and Reese complements Jude), and there are many people they come across: friends (I particularly liked Barry, who becomes a drag queen on the weekends and is a great agony aunt), neighbours, work colleagues… The first two parts of the novel centre mostly on Desiree and her daughter, while we only get to know more about Stella and Kennedy later in the book. While the central characters are well-drawn, that is not the case for some of the others, and they are not all sympathetic, not even the protagonists, but I felt the author manages to make their actions and their emotions understandable, even if we don’t like them that much. I wasn’t totally sure about the way Reese’s experiences are dealt with in the book. We hear about his difficulties and his process as a trans man, but this at times feels like an afterthought, and some readers have questioned how his story might appear to be linked to the concept of ‘passing’, although I don’t think that was the author’s intention (he sheds his previous identity and is happy to leave it behind, with no regrets, no matter how hard the practicalities are, while Stella struggles and feels she is living a lie).

The story is narrated in the third person, mostly from the point of view of the four female protagonists, although we are also given a brief insight into some of the other characters that come into the sisters’ lives, and we hear a bit more about Early and Reese’s thoughts and experiences. The way the story is told might be problematic for many readers, as the point of view often changes within a chapter, and although the changes are not excessively difficult to follow, keeping the story straight does require a degree of attention, especially because the chronology is not linear either. We go forwards and backwards in time, from the 1950s to the 1990s, although the story moves forward overall.

The writing is lyrical and precious at times, harsh at others, and the rhythm flows and ebbs, being quite contemplative in parts (as it befits a book about memory and identity). This is not a page-turner, but I felt the pace suited the novel perfectly. I had to share a few highlights with you, although I recommend that people interested in the book check a sample to make first, to ensure it works for them.

In New Orleans, Stella split in two. She didn’t notice it at first because she’d been two people her whole life: she was herself and she was Desiree. The twins, beautiful and rare, were never called the girls, only the twins, as if it were a formal title. She’d always thought of herself as part of this pair, but in New Orleans, she splintered into a new woman altogether after she got fired from Dixie Laundry.

The hardest part about becoming someone else was deciding to. The rest was only logistics.

Sometimes you could understand why Stella passed over. Who didn’t dream of leaving herself behind and starting over as someone new? But how could she kill the people who’d loved her? How could she leave the people who still longed for her, years later, and never even look back?

The ending is perhaps a bit rushed, considering the length and depth of the novel, but it suits it and I enjoyed it. If you want to know if it’s a happy ending… Well, this is not that kind of book, but I’ll say it isn’t unhappy.

I recommend this book to people who enjoy literary fiction and novels that deal with complex and diverse topics, with a focus on female protagonists and their lives, who don’t mind a somewhat demanding and challenging writing style, and who are eager to discover talented female writers. Great story, memorable characters, and a subject that will make readers think. What else could anybody want?

Thanks to the publisher and the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it, remember to like, share, comment, click, and keep reading, and reviewing. And, always, keep smiling and stay safe!

 

 

 

 

 

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#TuesdayBookBlog #Bookreview THE REVENGERS (The Revengers Series, Vol. 1) by David Valdes Greenwood (@dvgtweets) For lovers of YA stories, revenge, paranormal subjects and mythology. And kick-ass female protagonists.

Hi all:

It is Tuesday and I have another great offering from Rosie Amber’s review group, Rosie’s Book Review Team (if you are looking for reviews, you might want to check here). When the author mentioned his interest in diverse characters, his writing credits and I read the description… Well, just check the review.

Revengers by David Valdes Greenwood
Revengers by David Valdes Greenwood

Revengers (The Revengers Series) (Volume 1) David Valdes Greenwood.

How far would you go to make things right? Ama, Mark, and Justin are about to find out. All three have each witnessed a murder that went unpunished, and they’ve lived broken lives ever since. In recent months, their dreams have been haunted by someone who understands their pain: a Fury who survived the witch hunts of Old Salem. Three days before Halloween, she enters their dreams and summons them to be Revengers, just as she has done for a new trio of teens every year for centuries. If they abide by her seemingly simple set of rules, she promises supernatural protection while they avenge their losses. One catch: exacting revenge means becoming killers themselves. And they don’t have much time to wrestle with the moral dilemma, as the Fury’s protection will end on the Day of the Dead. When they agree—setting in motion three bloody acts of vengeance—things begin to spiral out of control and they come to understand they are pawns in an ancient game. As the Fury toys with them, they race against the clock, hoping to live more than just a few more days…

https://www.amazon.com/Revengers-David-Valdes-Greenwood-ebook/dp/B06XFBMMKH/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Revengers-David-Valdes-Greenwood-ebook/dp/B06XFBMMKH/

Author David Valdes Greenwood

About the author:

David Valdes Greenwood is the author of Revengers, The Rhinestone Sisterhood, Homo Domesticus and A Little Fruitcake. As an award-winning playwright, his work has been staged coast to coast and in the UK. A former freelance journalist, Valdes Greenwood is best known for his Boston Globe columns. Currently, he details life as a parent as a Huffington Post blogger and may be followed at https://www.facebook.com/davidvaldesgreenwoodauthor and on Twitter @dvgtweets.

https://www.amazon.com/David-Valdes-Greenwood/e/B001IXQ3MW/

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Amber (from Rosie’s Book Review Team) and to the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

Revengers is the first in the YA Revengers Series, and it is the first work by the author, David Valdes Greenwood, better known for his non-fiction books and his plays, I have read. This is a revenge story with a supernatural twist. If that is not unusual (we all know revenge stories orchestrated by evil or sometimes simply very angry spirits), both the details and the characters are.

Those who love mythology, in particular, Greek (and Roman) mythology, will probably appreciate the thematic link to the Furies, ancient vengeful deities whose roles and interpretation changed over time. Because, the book tells the story of three adolescents who’ve experienced terrible losses at different ages (Marc, a Harvard dropout, only a year ago, whilst Justin and Ama were much younger) and who, for different reasons, have had to grieve alone. They’ve been experiencing terrifying nightmares since the events, that they witnessed, and suddenly, these nightmares become more real than before. A strange and scary female figure tells them to go to Salem and leaves them a journal. They feel compelled to obey Rebecca, the fury/spirit behind their nightmares whose story we learn later (and who had good reasons to seek revenge).

The story is told in the third person, mostly alternating the points of view of the three main characters (although also briefly from the victims and other characters with small parts in the story, including Rebecca herself), who, although don’t know each other at the beginning, end up becoming an ersatz family. They are as diverse as they could be (ethnically: African-American and Dominican blood, Chinese, old Massachusetts stock, sexually: Marc is gay and Ama and Justin haven’t had much time to think about such things so far; they also have different interests, studies and their economic and family circumstances are miles apart) but have to form a team to be able to fulfil the rules and get rid of their nightmares forever. Although killing somebody is not an easy task, they don’t realise how complicated things can get until later, when secrets and half-told truths come to light. The rules they are given, that seem to be clear-cut and not leave any room for ambiguity, aren’t so clear when one scratches beyond the surface, and there is no such a thing as getting off scotch-free.

The Salem of the story (I cannot comment on how much it resembles the real location, although for me it is more of a paranormal backdrop to the story than a real place, and it reminded me a bit of Demon Road where an alternative order and lifestyle existed side by side with normal life, without anybody other than those involved being aware of it) is full of secrets, tragedy, lessons not learned and people trying to maintain the status quo while pretending everything is fine. Although it might appear like business as usual to Halloween Tourists, to those in the know, witches are the least of their problems.

The three main characters have distinctive personalities and are realistically portrayed (Ama is quite suspicious, Justin can be quick to act, Marc is a bit of a softy) and they are all flawed, and not all that likeable at the beginning of the story but make a good team and learn to appreciate and accept their differences and skills. For me, one of the most appealing aspects of the book (apart from the suspense and the mystery) is the strong bond that develops between the three adolescents who at that point didn’t have a close connection or intimate friends who knew their secrets, shared their concerns and cared for them. I particularly liked Ama, who although is tough and determined, is also the character who often hesitates and questions the morality of their actions and who will go to any extent to try and keep everybody safe. And that is why in the end… (Don’t worry, no spoilers).

The book is compellingly written, with enough imagery and description to feel the changes in weather and scenery (that are all in tune with their experiences and the action providing visual and sensory emphasis to the events), without becoming cumbersome. The interactions between the adolescents and with other characters ring true and help build their characters more convincingly. There is plenty of action, it has many scary moments and the suspense builds up from the start (as we have a time-frame and the clock is ticking continuously, with the tension increasing towards the end of the story).  The inclusion of the point of view of some of the victims makes the story more morally ambiguous and complex. This is not just a revenge story with a few paranormal scary touches. It will make readers (and who hasn’t thought about getting revenge on somebody at some point) think twice about justice and revenge. Although the ending (no, no spoilers) opens up the series to the next book, do not worry about unfinished businesses or annoying cliff-hangers. This is not a story divided into several books where you never get any resolution. So you won’t feel disappointed because of a lack of ending (you might have preferred a different ending, but that’s a completely different matter).

I recommend this novel to readers of YA stories who love suspense, paranormal subjects, mythology and strong and diverse protagonists. Especially those looking for a new series with a kick-ass female protagonist. The author has promised to keep me informed when he publishes the next books in the series, so I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks so much to Rosie and to the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, CLICK and, if you read any books, remember to leave a review!

 

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