It’s time for my quasi-seasonal recommended books list. Luckily, I’ve had a spate of happy reading lately so there are some great books to mention.
1. Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill. I’m impressed beyond belief with this book and its deep, lengthy, complex look at one woman’s life. Aminata Diallo is only 11 years old when she’s snatched from her village in Africa and taken to Sierra Leone to undergo the Middle Passage to South Carolina. Moving from owner to owner and living through traumatic events, Aminata’s spirit and luminous grace carry her through. The author’s research was thorough to the point of Ph.D.hood, I’d think; the list of referenced nonfiction books in the Author’s Note was years’ worth of reading.
I enjoyed the fruits of that research: learning how indigo dye is made, what it was like to be a slave at the time of the American Revolution and all its rhetoric referring to Americans as “slaves” of Britain, learning about the different languages of Africa and having a Muslim woman as the protagonist, on and on. Every page is rich with information and a loving look at this intelligent woman (did I mention the author Lawrence Hill is male and writes this in the first person? What an accomplishment.)
With such a topic, you’d imagine the book might be too painful to read. It’s not. Hill has a deft touch so that while you agonize for the fates that befall Aminata, you continue hoping a good end will come. And you will cheer when one slender yet unforgettable piece of happiness comes (back) to her.
I honestly think this book should have received a Pulitzer or Nobel prize. Maybe both. I’ve never read such a thorough and heartfelt book about a slave. Hill truly did this fictional woman honor.
2. Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz. I LOVED this book. Pretty much perfect in every way, just like Mary Poppins. There are always books you read and enjoy, and then there are books that hit on topics that already fascinate you and seem tailor-made to you. For me, Splendors and Glooms was the latter kind of book. With Victorian orphans, a mansion shrouded in snow, a locked tower, a character named Clara, dark magic, a smart and honest main character, inklings of romance and more….it was a sheer pleasure from page one to the end. I first learned of the book in the freebie magazine Book Page that my library carries; I dogeared the page it appeared on to remind myself, and then hunted down the book. It’s considered a young adult book, but I relished it as an adult.
3. Mistress of the Revolution by Catherine Delors.
The tale of a country noblewoman’s life in the years leading up to the French Revolution, this book follows her path through an arranged marriage to a brute, her necessary turn to courtesanship to support herself, and her imprisonment during the bloodthirsty days of revolution. I won’t give any plot spoilers, so will silence myself there. One thing I appreciated about this book is that it didn’t, as many books depicting the Revolution do, gloss over the fate of the Princesse de Lamballe. The viciousness of the Revolution almost seems apocryphal; did people really dip their bread in the freeflowing blood from the guillotine and exultedly eat it? Was the Princess of Lamballe’s story exaggerated and blown up out of proportion? If not, Paris was a desperately violent place, and how could you continue to trust your neighbor even after events calmed? The term “The Terror” best illustrates the era. This novel is unflinching.
Friends’ Books: I’m lucky to be part of a writing community and to announce the release of books written by friends.
Quest of the Warrior Maiden by Linda C. McCabe: Based on the legends of Charlemagne and featuring a strong woman warrior protagonist. I met Linda years ago at the East of Eden writing conference; we were assigned to share a room at Asilomar, and a year later we voluntarily shared a room at the next gathering. We’ve kept in touch over the years and had a strange friendship involving the repeated loss of keys! Once her husband had to fly down in a Cessna to bring spare car keys to her. To his credit, he greeted her with a big kiss. Linda’s book is available through Destrier Books.
A Time to Cast Away Stones by Elise Miller: Elise’s novel is about the 1968 May Revolution in Paris, an event few talk about or know about. I heard snippets of it years ago in a writers group we both belonged to in San Francisco. Believe it or not, this group required writers to read their work aloud for critique; I’ll never forget how much my hands trembled in the beginning holding up my pages. Elise was confident and continued honing her novel, now available through Sand Hill Review Press.
Forged in Grace by Jordan Rosenfeld: Jordan’s novel is about a burn victim who learns she can heal people--but not herself--through supernatural powers. She also voyages to learn more about the events surrounding the fire, and the best friend who was there at the time. I met Jordan and was good friends with her during the time I lived in Gilroy and she was in nearby Morgan Hill. It was a bummer not to make her recent March 2 launch party, which I blogged about a few weeks ago. I read an early version of her novel, then called Little Alien, and thought it was great; I know the version she launched was much different and can’t wait to read it. Her novel is available through Indie-Visible Ink, a collective she formed with a wonderful roster of fellow women writers. (What a great name, a play on indivisible! Surprised it wasn’t already taken.)
Up in the Air by Ann Marie Meyers. Anne Marie’s book is a children’s picture book. I know Ann Marie from the same group that Elise Miller belonged to as well. Such a fun community of writers! Ann Marie is from Trinidad and now lives in Toronto. What a climate change. Ann Marie invited me to guest blog at her site in a few days; I’ll provide a link soon. Her book is available from Jolly Fish Press. P.S. I was in error; her book doesn't launch until July. I'll show the jacket jpeg then.
Claws of the Cat by Susan Spann: This is cheating, because Susan’s book isn’t out yet! But you can preorder it and then enjoy the best-ever summer beach read. Available through Minotaur, Susan’s novel is the first installment of a fantastic mystery series featuring a Watson and Holmesian combination: a samurai warrior (a shinobi, as I learned, part of millions of fascinating facts Susan has hipped me to) and a Portuguese priest, set in medieval Japan. They’re great partners, because Hiro the shinobi is taciturn and very Japanese, hiding many secrets, while Father Mateo is a man of the cloth and concerned to do the right thing, even while violating cultural expectations. I’ve read two of her books in the series and am waiting expectantly for #3 (clearing throat)…they are wonderful books and I can’t wait for them to hit the world. Watch this space for lots of Hiro content as the launch date approaches. I met Susan at the Historical Novels Society conference in San Diego in 2011. We had a great time getting to know each other, and I was delighted to learn she lived near Folsom, a city my family was about to move to (and did). We’ve had many an impassioned breakfast talking about writing and publishing, many a hushed evening talking about the same, and a few great walks talking about…you got it…the same. Susan’s a dear friend and thanks to HNS for getting us together! (I’ll be blogging soon about the upcoming conference in St. Petersburg, Florida this June, which both of us will again be attending.)
Before I close, I want to say I saw an amazing documentary this afternoon, courtesy of my cousin who works at Intel, which sponsored the film: Girl Rising. It was emotional, stirring, and well worth its own blog post, which I’ll post in a few days once I get a chance to mull it over and think how to approach it. (This post on my book picks has been underway for weeks, a sad commentary on how slowly I create these posts.)
There is a connection between Girl Rising and this post: the idea that literacy, that reading, can change lives and improve lives. I’m so grateful that I live a life of words and joyous reading and happy writing. I wish this was a liberty people worldwide enjoyed.
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