Monthly Archives: September 2009

Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice

Orange Mint and Honey: A Novel

Orange Mint and Honey starts with Shay burnt out from grad school and unable to complete her master’s thesis in epidemiology. Nina Simone (yes, THE Nina Simone) appears to her and tells her that she needs to return home to Denver Colorado to see her mother. What results is a whirlwind of emotion, self-discovery, forgiveness, and understanding around her mother’s past alcohol addiction, her younger half-sister, old friends, new loves, and of course growing up and facing the demons that live within. Brice creates characters that are unapologetic and at the same time remorseful for their situations. Rounded out by the cyclical connections of sister/mother/daughter relationships and gardening, this novel puts emotions past and present into full view.

Shay is constantly plagued by her childhood and wants her mother to pay for what she still feels today. She has no male or really female friends, she pulls her hair, and she can’t finish her thesis. She wants so much to not be like her mother that in some ways she is just like her. With difficulty the two seem to push against each other less and the kinks begin to loosen. In this story we see that forgiveness takes great effort and is only the beginning and that the amount of love that women hold for each other is powerful.

I read and enjoyed this book last year and was reminded of it when I saw a post on the author’s blog. The book is being adapted into a tv movie and Jill Scott is set to play the mother. So I wanted to revisit my thoughts on this book. Brice has released Children of the Waters this year which is something that I want to check out.

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Teaser Tuesdays

teaser tuespic

From your current read, share a few spoiler-free sentences to tempt others.

“The committee? Regrade? I knew they graded eggs and milk, I did not know that they also had this word for human. Regrade me?…As what?”
-The Ha-Ha by Jennifer Dawson


Kindred by Octavia Butler

Kindred
I read Kindred in October of last year. It was my first Butler and a year later I’m still thinking about it. I was flipping through my journal and found my thoughts on the book, so I thought I would share them.

Dana Frankilin is a black woman living in LA with her white husband, Kevin. They are unpacking books when Dana is suddenly transported back to the antebellum south to save a boy named Rufus. Rufus, who Dana rescues from drowning, is the son of a white plantation owner. Dana is called back to help Rufus a total of 6 times. Each time her life in the south becomes more dangerous and more involved with the people who live there. Transporting between the times leaves Dana to wonder about family ties, ethics, morals, and her purposes both in modern times and in the past.

This is a book that rushed, if I didn’t stop myself and come up for air I would have devoured it. Butler’s book brings to light the complexities of the African-American experience of today; learning about slavery and ancestry and dealing with the those pains and triumphs. There are many pivotal choices that Dana has to make and Butler presents many parallels. We see the characters changing as their experiences swell and burst, they are forced to assume new identities and accept new truths. The book is about history, about breaking away from all that we thought we learned about history in order to view the players as real people with real stories. Dana is able to really learn about the slave experience. She muses that nothing she knows has prepared her for this experience. Dana learns that humans are indeed human and are capable of wonderful and terrible things. She learns that the decisions that you thought you’d make can change under a different set of circumstances. Dana and Kevin also discuss the idea that people can be conditioned to accept slavery. Even today, I think we are taught in our school texts to have a certain view and thus response to slavery. We learn to separate ourselves from it and in some instances it becomes a crutch. We may view slavery as a single experience when in fact there were complexities, ambiguities, and cold hard truths. We travel with Dana on her trips so that we can hear the cries, smell the sweat, make heart-wrenching decisions, and experience the joys. We see that it is possible to adapt to any circumstance. Dana begins to call the plantation home, she makes friends and to them she belongs. When Dana returns to LA she feels that the past is sharper, she is learning. Butler shows us that we are all connected to the past as we are products of the past.

In addition to this being my first Butler, it was also one of my first science fiction reads as an adult. I am glad for the reintroduction into science fiction and have enjoyed the immense variety. Other books that I have enjoyed by Octavia Butler are Fledgling and Bloodchild. I have others waiting and will get to them soon.

Are you still thinking about a particular book a year later?


Oroonoko review featured on Girlebooks site

The piece that I wrote after reading Oroonoko, an ebook that I downloaded from Girlebooks about an enslaved African prince, has been featured on the site.
This is exciting news for me and I am humbled that Laura thought my review worthy of posting. You can see the post here.


Banned Books Week Sept 26-Oct 3

Banned Books Weeks (BBW) starts today. To celebrate these lovely books and in a slight act of defiance I’m going to read some this week 🙂 Sponsored by the American Library Association, BBW has been celebrated yearly since 1982. For more details look here and here.

There are a slew of books to pick from. Somehow I’m pretty sure that if the challengers and objectioners actually read books regularly the list would be miles long. Anyhow, to keep it manageable, I selected books that have been challenged in the last few years (2004-2009). I also only selected books that I currently own and have not previously read. The lucky winners are:

  • Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • Bless Me, UltimaThe Handmaid's Tale

    Others that made my list that I hope to get to soon:

  • Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
  • Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling (I know! I’m behind in my HP. I have read books 1-4 but grad school got in the way)
  • Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
  • Twilight Series by Stephanie Myer (I read book 1 only so that I could talk junk about it, so I guess I will read the others)
    1. Which banned books have you read lately?


    Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns

    DSCN0303

    Odd characters, odd events, and I chuckled throughout. Barbara Comyns’ Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead is described on the back cover as a novel of macabre humour. Originally published in 1954, it is the story of the Willoweed family and the small village in which they live. In June they suffer a flood submerging everything and killing many of the animals. That is just the beginning of this summer’s events. At once inappropriate and bizarre Comyns manages to paint a ghastly (and funny) scene that I would assume most likely only seems ghastly to the reader. There are deaths, suicides, lurking madness, and an outrageous grandmother. What can you expect from a novel that begins: “The ducks swam through the drawing-room windows”.


    Beauty by Sheri Tepper

    DSCN0376
    Beauty is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty set in three periods: the 1300s (the century in which Beauty was born), the 1990s which functions as modern day and is when the book was written, and the future (around 2100).

    We meet Beauty, the title character, as a young girl who lives in a castle with her father, the Duke of Westfaire and her aunts who are named after herbs. Beauty is accompanied by her cat Grumpkin and longs to know what happened to her mother who she has never met and knows little about. Her aunts evade this and other questions that Beauty has. Beauty’s story, as recounted through her intensely detailed journal, gets interesting as she finds ways to escape from the curse that befalls Westfaire that left the Disney Sleeping Beauty waiting for her Prince Charming. Beauty is nothing like the Disney versions that we have become accustomed to. Tepper makes that perfectly clear. Through enchantments she travels back and forth through time, to a land called Faery, and even to Hell.

    It is interesting that Beauty is aware of fairy tales, as she has traveled to modern times, and read them during her days as a young college student where she studied literature. So we see a kind of meta thinking on her part of how the fairy tales became tales and how her actions can dictate what will happen in the future. We see the connection between what really happens in the life of the real Sleeping Beauty as compared to the story that we learn, with changed details and all. Beauty is aware of this and at one instance she thinks that she may as well do what the fairy tale said she did.

    In addition to Sleeping Beauty there are hints and elements of other well-known fairy tales. Tepper spins Rapunzel, Cinderella, The Frog Prince, & Snow White into a story that is as much fantasy as it is fairytale. There were allusions to Puss and Boots, Little Red Riding Hood, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as well.

    Underneath the retelling of these fairy tales is Tepper’s message that mankind and faeries alike must be cognizant of the Earth and the fragile nature of the environment (and thus our own existence) or we will destroy it. This is clear in Beauty’s trip to the dystopic “twentieth” where she is dismayed by the inhabitant’s behavior, their lack of windows and fresh food, among other things. Beauty is able to fully appreciate the ramifications of man’s impact on Earth and society during her stint in Hell. Tepper is not subtle here, though nothing about her tale is. Other issues that are brought up are brutality against women, aging and perceptions of beauty, women’s rights, and the idea of magic versus religion.

    Two of my favorite passages:

      “Though I have always known it will be my fate to marry and leave it, still I love Westfaire hopelessly. I love the lowe of sunset on the lake at our back, the blossoming trees in the orchard close, the gentle curve of the outer walls resting in the arms of the forest. I love the towers, the shining dome, the delicate buttresses, and the lacy windows. From a hill not far away (we always go there on the first of May to collect herbs and wildflowers) one can look down on Westfaire and see it whole. Whenever I look at it thus, the burning within me grows into a fire, closing my throat, catching at my heart, as though Westfaire and I burned with the same holy light”

      “But there’s this unexpected thing about man. He climbs. That’s the thing about him. He climbs. Not all of him, oh no, or there’d be no more living with him than with the angels, but now and then there’s one who does…And when a man or woman climbs, Beauty, he or she can end up as high as the angels or higher”

    Brigindo has previously blogged about Beauty in her 3 part exploration into fairy tales here. Her series on fairy tales is intriguing and I am now reading more fairy and folk tales.


    Oroonoko by Aphra Behn

    oroonoko

    In an earlier post I blogged briefly about Girlebooks and selecting my very first ebook to read.

    Oroonoko is the story of an enslaved African prince. Our narrator recounts the events from Oroonoko’s coming into princedom, his enslavement, and his struggle for love. After becoming a prince, Oroonoko meets the beautiful Imoinda and immediately falls in love with her. The King learns of Imoinda and would like to have her join him as one of his wives so he sends her an invitation which she can not refuse because he is the king. In efforts to get Imoinda back Oroonoko infuriates the king and is banished. He is then tricked and sold into slavery. Oroonoko is handsome, tall, and strong. He is a prince, he falls in love with a very beautiful woman. He fights wild beasts and armies single-handedly. He is captured and he escapes only to be captured again. Oroonoko puzzles over the white man and his Gods. He is at once very human and vulnerable yet has a superhero quality.

    It took a while to get started but soon I found that I was intrigued, much occurs in this short novel. There are commentaries about slavery and race, social class, gender, colonialism, and religion. The actions and imagery of our hero are reminiscent of Greek mythology. He survives armies, beasts, and brutal whippings. His story is also tragic: he faces loosing his love, he can not understand the ways and lies of his captors, and he must make life-changing choices.

    A female narrator recounts the events of our hero. We really do not know much about her. She wants us to believe that her account is accurate because she says that she was there to witness it first hand, however I was suspicious of her. Her story is told from a very safe distance…safe from slavery, safe from the fighting, safe behind her social class. She seemed to conveniently disappear during the uncomfortable parts of the story and managed to reappear just in time to tell us what happened. A particular instance stuck out in which Oroonoko is fighting for his freedom and the narrator says: “This apprehension made all the females of us fly down the river to be secured and while we were away they acted this cruelty…” And later returning from hiding says:

      “We said all things to him that trouble, pity, and good-nature could suggest, protesting our innocency of the fact, and our abhorrence of such cruelties; making a thousand professions and services to him, and begging as many pardons for the offenders, till we said so much that he believed we had no hand in his ill treatment: but told us, he could never pardon Byam…”

    This narrator seems to act just as Oroonoko’s captors act. They will say anything to make him comfortable and unsuspecting before they do or allow something to happen to him. So, how much of her story can we believe, and generally how much of history can we believe as told by the eyewitnesses?

    A quick search for Aphra Behn returns that she was a dramatist and one of the first professional English female writers.

    I started out reading my ebook using my laptop but I quickly tired of that. I even tried to have the software read to me but it was slow, the voice unnatural, and I found that I had to read along to understand. So I printed it out and finished rather quickly.

    Have you tried ebooks? If so, how did it go?


    Teaser Tuesdays

    teaser tuespic

    From your current read, share a few spoiler-free sentences to tempt others.

      “Vanity was the beginning and the end of Sir Walter Elliot’s character: vanity of person and of situation”
      Persuasion-Jane Austen

    The Tales of Uncle Remus: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit told by Julius Lester

    Tales of Uncle Remus: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit (Puffin Modern Classics)

    It seems that most of us grew up hearing stories told by adults. These could be fairy tales or folks tales or in my case cleverly crafted tales in which my grandfather was the hero. A tale I remember best is my grandfather’s adventures in the Navy. He would tell us the tale of how he had to jump off the side of the ship in the middle of nowhere smack dab in the ocean and swim under the ship and come out on the other side (while it was still moving mind you) before he could go to the mess hall to receive his dinner. All of this while in full uniform and not losing his cap and chewing his plug of tobacco. We’d sit wide-eyed and gobble his stories. We never believed him but that didn’t mean we didn’t want to hear them.

    I don’t remember specifically hearing Uncle Remus’ tales as a child but I did know the story of Brer Rabbit, a very cunning cotton-tail. (I do remember devouring Beatrix Potter’s stories of Peter Rabbit but that is a post for another day) Julius Lester does a wonderful job retelling these African-American folktales that his grandmother told him. We learn how the animals got to Earth, why they quarrel, and in some cases why they look the way they do. These are stories of greed, mischief, and outwitting the other. There are valuable lessons to learn, but most of all these are entertaining stories. The animals are so busy trying to outsmart the next or to get by that they don’t see that they are being outsmarted. It’s all very entertaining, especially because the smallest of them all is the biggest trickster.

    Lester tells the stories just like you are sitting there listening, even breaking the story to provide commentary or perhaps an answer to the reader’s questions. For example In Brer Rabbit Gets Even:

      “About a week later Brer Rabbit decided to visit with Miz Meadows and the girls. Don’t come asking me who Miz Meadows and her girls were. I don’t know, but then again, ain’t no reason I got to know. Miz Meadows and the girls were in the tale when it was handed to me, and they gon’ be in it when I hand it to you. And that’s the way the rain falls on that one.”

    I read them straight through. Lester’s retellings are accessible and flow from one story to the next, picking up where the last left off. The Introduction provides insight into the language and the structure of the stories. Uncle Remus is omitted from this volume along with the original interpretation of Southern Black dialogue as provided by Joel Chandler Harris. I have not read previous versions of Uncle Remus so I can not compare. From the introduction it is clear that stereotypical and racist aspects of the stories have been changed, “the stories could be removed from their slave setting without losing any of their unique qualities” to make them accessible to new generations of children and for the ease of retelling in group settings to children who might be sensitive to the subject.