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Pride–love in the ‘hood
Pride: A Pride and Prejudice Remix
by Ibi Zoboi
In a fun retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, similar themes of class differences and the prejudices that accompany them are the focus of Ibi Zoboi’s Pride. The characters are of Haitian-Dominican background and the setting is the “hood” of Bushwick in Brooklyn.
Life changes dramatically for the Benitez sisters when the rundown property across the street is renovated by the upper class Darcy family. Ainsley Darcy, who attends Cornell, is attracted to Janae Benitez, a student at Syracuse. His younger brother Darius is treated harshly and with suspicion by our narrator who is also the protagonist, Zuri Benitez, age 17. The Darcy’s clearly don’t fit into the hood, but when Zuri goes out of Bushwick, she finds that she doesn’t fit in easily there.
This young adult novel explores the barriers put up intentionally and often unwittingly by the community and by individuals. It seems that Bushwick will be forced to change, but where does that leave its residents? If you are not from that community, dear reader, you will find yourself immersed in an unfamiliar culture with new words and customs. I found myself liking the characters and the warmness of their world although it is outwardly a much tougher one than the home community in which I was cocooned. This book exposes the assumptions it is all too easy to make when we are confronted with dissonance. Reading it will expand your horizons and make you dive deeply into your soul to consider how you view those whose life circumstances are different from your own.
Category: Young Adult, Romance, Fiction
Notes: Contains a fair amount of cursing as appropriate to the street language of the community
Publication: 2018—Balzer and Bray (HarperCollins)
Every book is a different hood, a different country, a different world. Reading is how I visit places and people and ideas. And when something rings true or if I still have a question, I outline it with a bright yellow highlighter so that it’s lit up in my mind, like a lightbulb or a torch leading the way to somewhere new.
If Janae is the sticky sweetness keeping us sisters together, then I’m the hard candy shell, the protector. If anyone wants to get to the Benitez sisters, they’ll have to crack open my heart first.
I’d look back at them with defiance and a little pride; a look that says that I love my family and we may be messy and loud, but we’re all together and we love each other.
I Capture the Castle–class structure in mid-20th century England
I Capture the Castle
by Dodie Smith
To label I Capture the Castle as a “coming of age” story is true, but the novel is so much more. It is related in her journal by Cassandra who lives in poverty under the leaky roof of a crumbling castle. Her father Mortmain is a writer with one successful book to his credit before he hit a writing desert. He secured a forty-year lease on the castle on a whim. The other residents are his son, another daughter, a boy taken in when his servant mother passed, and Topaz, the children’s stepmother. All in the family realize that the only way out of their financial straits is for at least one of the girls to marry into a rich family.
Author Dodie Smith has gifted us with a book full of nonconventional characters, a beautiful romantic background, and moral dilemmas. The plot begins with touches reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice but deviates fairly quickly. There is a similar theme of class differences, but without Austen’s use of satire. Two of the potential romantic interests grew up in America, one in the East and one in the West. Their backgrounds add another layer of social and cultural differences. Cassandra’s family is caught in the middle. They clearly had money in the past, but they have sold off most of their belongings and are reduced to very meager meals and one or two threadbare outfits per person. They have to be very creative to be acceptable in the social milieu to which they aspire.
I Capture the Castle has the depth necessary for a book to stand the test of time and appeal to a wide audience. It includes topics like women’s roles, art and sexuality, depression, literary criticism, and the laws of inheritance in Great Britain. While it addresses these issues, it remains an interesting and well-told tale with an ending that does not tie everything up neatly. Instead, it gives the reader the opportunity to speculate on the characters’ future decisions and actions which is a good way for this novel to conclude.
Category: Romance, General Fiction
Notes: 1. There are discussion questions at the end.
2. The book has been made into a movie.
Publication: 1948—St. Martin’s Press
I am writing this journal partly to practice my newly acquired speed-writing and partly to teach myself how to write a novel—I intend to capture all our characters and put in conversations. It ought to be good for my style to dash along without much thought, as up to now my stories have been very stiff and self-conscious.
The taxi drew up at a wonderful shop—the sort of shop I would never dare to walk through without a reason. We went in by way of the glove and stocking department, but there were things from other departments just dotted about; bottles of scent and a little glass tree with cherries on it and a piece of white branched coral on a sea-green chiffon scarf. Oh, it was an artful place—it must make people who have money want to spend it madly!
In the end, Topaz got Stephen to take the hen-house door off its hinges and make some rough trestles to put it on, and we pushed it close to the window-seat, which saved us three chairs. We used the grey brocade curtains from the hall as a table-cloth—they looked magnificent though the join showed a bit and they got in the way of our feet. All our silver and good china and glass went long ago, but the Vicar lent us his, including his silver candelabra.
Under the Magnolias–a darkness of the mind
Under the Magnolias
by T. I. Lowe
Dave Foster is a tobacco farmer and the pastor of the church he fondly refers to as the First Riffraff of Magnolia. He has a large family including two sets of twins, a mentally challenged son, and another who is physically disabled. His wife Edith is a loving mother who somehow manages her husband’s dark times and keeps the family happy. The main character is the oldest daughter Austin, and the story is related from her point of view as she finds herself at the age of fourteen having to become a mother to her six siblings and walk the fine line of respect for her father while acting as a buffer between him and the other children. She works to maintain his standing in the community and keep the tobacco farm running.
Under the Magnolias is very much a character driven story as Austin struggles and sacrifices for others. She is a very intelligent young lady who puts aside her dreams to help her family survive. Unfortunately her father’s dark times become deeper and more frequent and his outbursts more violent. A teenager, Austin doesn’t really know how to deal with her father’s mental issues or get assistance.
Help does come in the form of the mayor’s handsome son. Although Austin won’t let him get close because she is driven to maintain family secrets, he continues to stand by her. Others in their little church and her siblings are important to the story as they all suffer from the occasions when Dave’s mental illness surfaces and bubbles over.
This book is very well-written. In terms of emotional impact, it is hard at times to read. The author, T. I. Lowe, puts the reader right in the middle of the struggles waiting, as Austin does, in the good times for the other shoe to drop. “It was too good. Too shiny. Too normal. No matter how much I wished, prayed, begged, I knew this season wouldn’t last.”
The story takes place from 1980 through 1988. There is a final chapter that relates how life works out for all of the characters. It makes a fitting conclusion because over the course of the book the reader has gotten to know each of them, understanding why they are the way they are. The pacing is excellent with about two chapters per year presenting cumulative snapshots rather than blow-by-blow descriptions. There is an authentic South Carolina flavor in both plot and language. I highly recommend Under the Magnolias as a tale whose characters resonate and linger long after the final page.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Category: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction
Notes: Clean—no inappropriate language, sex, or violence
Publication: May 4, 2021—Tyndale House Publishers
Looking through the innocent lens of adolescence, those happier days were perfection. Sadly, they had an expiration date just like those snack cakes. Happiness staled and nothing was pleasing after that. But just like the expired cakes in a meager season, we had no other choice but to stomach whatever life tossed our way next.
I figured it was a blessing that she could pretend something didn’t happen, but we would both learn later in life that pretending something away was no better than constantly dwelling on it. Both produced impactful wounds that tended to fester in other parts of living.
“Honey, the living creep me out. Not the dead.” He picked up a cosmetic brush and touched it to Mrs. Fannie’s pink cheek. “The living can be cruel, judgmental, quick to complain, and slow to please. The dead never yell or cuss you out. Or call you ugly names.” There was such a sadness to his gentle voice.
Picture Perfect Frame–art with a twist
Picture Perfect Frame
by Lynn Cahoon
Spring has arrived in South Cove, a small coastal town in California. Tourists are showing up, and businesses are gearing up for the St. Patrick’s Day Street Fair and the many festivals that will follow. Jill, avid reader and owner of Coffee, Books, and More, stays busy juggling her personal life centered around Emma her Pomeranian and Greg her boyfriend who heads up the police department. Her staff, including a new member Evie, work well together sharing responsibilities and functioning as a family. Jill’s best friend Amy is a bit of a bridezilla as she sets ups a second attempt at the perfect wedding; her fiancée’s family cancelled on the first scheduled ceremony.
Despite Jill’s acclaimed lack of creativity, she and Greg attend a painting event at the new Drunken Art Studio. Jill is unable to follow the directions that should result in a seascape, but her strengths as a nosey informal investigator are in full display when one of the guests shows up dead at the studio the next day.
Esmeralda, who handles administrative tasks for Greg, is a self-proclaimed psychic and also Jill’s neighbor; she is accused of the murder. Jill is convinced that the laid back Esmeralda, who catches flies and drives them to the mountains to release them, is innocent. Jill devotes herself to finding the real killer. In the process she discovers that some of her suspects have pasts they want to keep hidden as well as motives for killing the victim. Clearly, one of them is a murderer, and the identity is a surprise. There is also a happy personal twist at the end of Picture Perfect Frame that both provides closure and segues into the next book in the series.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: 1. #12 in the Tourist Trap Mystery Series. Lynn Cahoon is good at providing background so it could be read as a standalone, but there are a lot of references to characters in previous books. My advice: Go back and read some of the earlier books in the series first. It is worth the time and effort.
2. Includes a delicious sounding recipe for “Chocolate Gooey Butter Cake.”
Publication: March 16, 2021—Kensington
“As a lawyer, a lot of times the decisions the courts made weren’t about the truth. I don’t want someone to die and have the wrong person in jail for it. Or worse, for no one to be brought to justice. It doesn’t seem right.”
“I’ve always heard you can’t run from your problems because everywhere you go, you’re still there.”
“Of course we’ll schedule that lunch.” And then she opened the book and started reading. As a reader, I knew a dismissal when I saw it. I’d done it to others before too.