#5 Discover Iconic Authors of Colour
This was my first Langston Hughes but it won't be my last.
This is the story of Sandy and the people he loves. Sandy grows up in a poverty-stricken, African-America community in the post-slavery era.
Sandy's grandmother works dawn to dusk washing clothes for rich white folks. She ministers to the sick in the poor, black community. She looks after Sandy. Then there is Sandy's mother who is a domestic for a white woman, his two Aunts, both rebels in their own way and Sandy's father, Jimboy who is absent working on the railroads.
His aunts and his grandmother want Sandy to 'make something of himself'. Sandy does well at school and he has dreams of his own...
We get to know the characters. We see the detail of their daily lives and their toil, sacrifices and struggles.
Sandy (based, apparently, on the young Hughes) is insightful and kind. He understands a lot. He knows his aunts' secrets and his grandmother's worries and he does his best to navigate them.
Especially poignant was his desire for a sledge at Christmas when the family are barely able to put bread on the table. Then something surprising happens...
We learn what each person thinks of white folks (without bitterness).
We learn too, of the faith and strong spirit of the African-American community - who support and buoy each other up. This is particularly clear with Sandy - whom everyone wants to succeed.
A lovely book. Hughes gives us a gentle eye on the realities of that era.
#9 Discover Ten New Authors of Colour
Red Blood Yellow Skin by Linda L. T. Baer
This is the story of one girl's life in Vietnam.
She was born Nguyen Thi Loan in 1947 and she lived through three wars in Vietnam - between the Vietnamese and the French in the 1940s-50s, then the civil war between North and South Vietnam, then she is a young woman when America sent almost half a million soldiers to the country in the 1960s.
It's an incredible story, We learn of her life as a young child in rural Vietnam. We learn of her simple lifestyle and family traditions. We see how the fighting affected her family and neighbours. We learn of the mass exodus and flight to the south which left thousands homeless and starving.
We learn of how her family survived and the sacrifices they had to make.
Linda has such a strong spirit and she grew up in situations which are almost impossible to contemplate, yet she survived and found her own way, by her own initiative, by luck and by courage.
This book tells of events from the humble perspective of an ordinary person. There is no political agenda. It's a simple testimony. For that reason, it's an incredibly powerful and enthralling story.
Valentina by S. E. Lynes
This story is deceptively simple and surprisingly good.
There are three main characters - Shona, Mikey and Valentina.
I liked Shona. She’s struggling with her new baby and with her lovely new house. She's moved to the Scottish countryside and she's hundreds of miles from her friends. She wants to make her marriage work. She’s proud and doesn’t want to admit her new life isn’t working for her. Doesn’t want her new husband, nor her old friends and family, to know how alone and isolated she feels. Shone is also no push-over, as we’ll see as the story progresses.
Then there’s Valentina. Valentina is charismatic, charming and beautiful, and the new best friend Shona’s been longing for. But is Valentina really such a good friend?
Mikey wasn’t someone I liked and, as the story progressed, I liked him even less. He thinks he can have everything, and, for a while, he does.
The first part of this story was a bit slow for my liking. However, the author has a nice style of writing where Shona is talking directly to the reader and reflecting back on her choices. This feels very personal and deflects from, even makes up for, the slowish pace.
The friendship/love/hate triangle between the Shona, Valentina and Mikey, plays itself out in unexpected ways. Toward the end of the book, we switch from Shona to Valentina’s view point, and the story really becomes enthralling.
The tension builds throughout – going from innocent beginnings to disaster.
We had a lovely time in Barcelona - plenty of paella, tapas and a Flamenco show.
Then some fantastic days snorkelling at Platya d'Aro.
Here's a photo from the Flamenco show - they were wonderful musicians and, dramatic dancers.
It's time to say goodbye to our three lovely kittens.
They're all going to nice, new families. We are heartbroken to see them go.
#8 Discover Ten New Authors of Colour
The Orphan of India by Sharon Maas
We follow the story of Jyoti – told, at first, by her adoptive, British parents who cross Jyoti’s path in Bombay, India. After a tragedy, they are able to follow an exhausting procedure and bring the little Indian girl lawfully to England as theirs.
However, Jyoti's adoptive parents were never the ideal couple. Jack is a talented musician and teaches Jyoti, who has a natural love for music. Monika is side-lined. Then their marriage starts to go badly wrong and their dreams of having a child of their own may not, it seems, be sufficient to stop things going off the rails.
Jyoti will come into her own as a gifted violin player. As readers, we know her first love is for the sitar (an Indian instrument) and her private longing to play Indian music versus her success as a classical violin player, is handled masterfully by the author. Through this, we are shown Jyoti’s struggle with her life in England versus her roots in India.
Jyoti also has difficulties in her love life. As a little girl she falls for a young man who later comes back to her once she is rich and famous. They seem ideally suited, but what of the Indian sitar player who also entranced her? How can she ever reconcile her feelings for two men and two continents?
Jyoti must endure terrible losses and find a way to overcome her inner feelings of coming from nothing. She must learn to capitalise on her strengths. This is the part of the story which most captured my imagination and Maas deals with it sensitively and with profound insight. A very well written book in a literary style, that is far more than it seems.
Biopic Sharon Maas
Five things you didn’t know about Sharon Maas
1) I am a German citizen. Yes indeed. I first came to Germany in 1975, when I was 25, and married a German. I did not like it much and didn’t have an easy time getting adjusted – though I did learn the language pretty quickly. Again and again I tried to escape: to France, to the USA, to India--but it never worked out. I always returned to Germany. I even married another German after my divorce! And here I am still. Germany has changes so much over the last 40 years and now I love it, and feel very much at home and at ease. However, now that I am retired, I’m thinking of moving to a nice warm tropical country: how much are you betting it will work out?
2) I’m a social worker and my first employment was as a probation worker in Germany. I also worked with pre-release convicts in a halfway house in Boston, back in 1981. I had a long break to raise children and write books, after which I worked as a social worker in a German hospital. I had a second job helping young unaccompanied refugees in a home in Germany. That was the best job ever. But now I’m retired and have all the time in the world for my true calling: writing.
3) I was in jail myself! After hiking around South America for a year I was arrested for possession of a box of marijuana in 1972 – a long story I’ll tell someday. I was locked up for a couple of weeks, and then miraculously released. An experience that turned my life around…
4) My favourite book of all time is the Mahabharata, the Indian epic. It’s also the oldest and longest epic in the world. I thought it was much too long, that the main story got lost in the length, so I wrote my own version, hoping to catch the wonderful essence of that book, and self-published it. It’s called Sons of Gods. And I still think the Mahabharata is the best story of all time.
5) Apart from Germany I have two spiritual homes. One is Guyana, the country I grew up in. I wouldn’t change that for the world, as that childhood was simply wonderful. My spiritual home is in India, for it was there, as an adult, I found my bearings and my identity. But basically I just love being on earth, and feel that every country, every culture, is fantastic.
Thanks for talking to us, Sharon, and good luck with your latest release.
Top picks. Looking for a summer read?
For a bit of madness, I decided to compare five of my favourite crime/thriller reads. They’re all start of series books -
BLINDSIGHTED (Grant County #1) by Karin Slaughter
I liked most – the detailed back stories to the characters and how those stories come into the present. Strong tension and dynamics between police officer Lena and her murdered sister, Sara Linton the coroner and her ex-husband, police chief Jeffrey.
Didn’t like – the first murder which is bloody and graphic. Followed by graphic scenes at the autopsy.
THE MERMAIDS SINGING (Tony Hill and Carol Jordan #1) by Val McDermid
I liked most – Tony Hill. Tony is a creepy criminal profiler who is working with the police (Carol) to bring down a serial killer.
Didn’t like – the sadism and sexual gratification of the killer, which is described in detail for the first two killings.
TRIPTYCH (Will Trent #1) by Karin Slaughter
I liked most – the storyline which weaves together the past and the present in twisty ways you’d never predict. Will Trent has his work cut out bringing down the killer, and the killer is always one step ahead.
NOW YOU SEE ME (Lacey Flint #1) by SJ Bolton
I liked most - Detective Constable Lacey Flint’s secrets and her hidden past which gives this story its edge. A complex, intriguing plot.
SILENT SCREAM (DI Kim Stone #1) by Angela Marsons
I liked most – great storytelling with plenty of layers.
Didn’t like - a bit of a flat pace.
Top picks – TRIPTYCH and NOW YOU SEE ME.
Links to my full reviews on Goodreads –
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1595965133 Now You See Me
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1931304815 Mermaids Singing
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2027028064 Silent Scream
#7 Discover Ten New Authors of Colour
Lola's House by M.Evalina Galang
We are immersed in paragraphs and passages which describe Filipino women's memories of their experience during the Second World War, when the Filipines was invaded by the Japanese.
We read of abductions into sexual slavery, the witnessing of atrocities against family members, the witnessing of rape and torture of other women and young girls in the 'camps' set up by the invading Japanese army.
The author is a researcher and she mixes passages from the survivors, with her own impressions of them and of their lives currently at Lola's House, where the women meet after a campaign to 'out' the atrocities of the war, supported by the Filipino media and international women's organisations.
The author, an American with Filipino ancestry, is clearly moved by the women and their lives. When she first goes to interview the women, she takes with her several young American girls who befriend the survivors and we also see the reactions of these young girls. I found this mix riveting and we really experience the girls' view of the women.
The survivors accounts are horrific.
The accounts are told by women now in their eighties and nineties, many of whom had never told their family members what they suffered. They kept their experiences a secret because of the shame piled on them by society after the war.
This was made more complicated (I understood) by the fact that many villagers fought as guerrillas and fled to the mountains, whereas the camps were in the cities and urban areas full of Japanese - therefore there were few actual Filipino witnesses who were not either imprisoned themselves or collaborators.
At the end of this book, I felt the most sadness over the fact that the women's hopes and campaigning for an official apology from the Japanese government, have not been realised - even after years of fighting for justice and with the backing of the US Senate.
The women are so old, there will be few left soon.
I found their courage in the telling of their stories deeply moving.
I was glad to be an honest witness to their experiences and felt the reading of the book to be an act of solidarity - in defiance of the lack of political will to recognise how terribly these women suffered at the time and then throughout their lives in the silence.
I also could not help thinking of the Japanese perpetrators and whether any of them are still alive. Since most of the women were abducted when they were young (12, 13, 14 years old...) and the soldiers were older, then I suppose this is unlikely.
The photographs in the book make each of the women more real.
Congratulations to the author for her work in documenting these important stories.
I give this book 5 stars for the women's stories.
I dropped it to 4 stars because of the style of documenting, in which the experiences are mixed in with reflections, campaigning, visits to the women's home villages - but this was not done in a linear manner and made it a little difficult at times to follow the threads.
The women felt very real to me and this is a book that will stay in my mind for a long time.
I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley. These are my honest views.
#4 (2) Discover Ten Iconic Authors of Colour
There is a hunting accident and a child is killed.
Landreaux and his wife Emmaline follow the Native American tradition and take the terrible decision to give away their own son to the bereaved mother and father - Peter and Nola, who live next door but off the reservation.
Far from being depressing, I found it uplifting to read how this profound act affected everyone involved - the four parents, their other children, the Pastor, Landreaux's friend Romeo and Romeo's son, the elders on the reservation.
The beauty of the writing, the honesty (which is sometimes painful) and the theme of traditions and their root in history and path into the future - these were all lovely and rare to read about.
At the end of the story, I was left full of feeling.
In particular for Peter and Nola's difficult daughter, Maggie, who becomes Larose's new sister, and for Larose's own two feisty older sisters, Snow and Josette. I loved all their characters.
And of course, LaRose, who is five when the accident happens. Throughout the story, he takes events into his own hands and will become the person on whom they all depend to survive the years of ordeal.
Wonderful writing. Wonderful story.
And the results are in -
Delighted to announce GOOD GIRL BAD GIRL is a Finalist in the Eric Hoffer Book Award - First Runner Up, Ebook Fiction
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