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In West Mills by De’Shawn Charles Winslow {Review}

Blurb:

Azalea “Knot” Centre is determined to live life as she pleases. Let the people of West Mills say what they will; the neighbors’ gossip won’t keep Knot from what she loves best: cheap moonshine, nineteenth-century literature, and the company of men. And yet, Knot is starting to learn that her freedom comes at a high price. Alone in her one-room shack, ostracized from her relatives and cut off from her hometown, Knot turns to her neighbor, Otis Lee Loving, in search of some semblance of family and home.

Otis Lee is eager to help. A lifelong fixer, Otis Lee is determined to steer his friends and family away from decisions that will cause them heartache and ridicule. After his failed attempt as a teenager to help his older sister, Otis Lee discovers a possible path to redemption in the chaos Knot brings to his doorstep. But while he’s busy trying to fix Knot’s life, Otis Lee finds himself powerless to repair the many troubles within his own family, as the long-buried secrets of his troubled past begin to come to light.

Set in an African American community in rural North Carolina from 1941 to 1987, In West Mills is a magnificent, big-hearted small-town story about family, friendship, storytelling, and the redemptive power of love.

Review:

I knew I was going to love this book when I read the synopsis. I related to this story and I felt this story on so many levels. Mr. Winslow tells a story that is all too familiar in the African-American community. Secrets are kept because people honestly believe  it’s the right thing to do when in reality the secrets are more harmful than helpful. All the while, hiding pain and suffering behind alcohol and being closed off from others. Knot is the prime example for all of that. She hides behind a mason jar of liquor, she pushes away the person who loves her so much. She keeps people at bay to avoid being hurt or disappointed and uses the excuse of being independent.

Otis is living in a world that he doesn’t realize is one big lie. A lie that he doesn’t even know exist. Not only a lie about him but his wife holds a secret that affects his dear friend Knot.

Secrets that are kept about true parentage  or other life events are much more detrimental than people realize. So many of the issues are presented in a historical sense but are still relevant today. Keeping secrets such as these can cause one to miss out on so much and when the truth does come out it can cause pain and anger. Knot had one daughter who built a relationship with her and her other daughter didn’t really have much to do with her.

I related to this story so much because I was adopted by a family member but it was a secret that was kept from me until I was 21 years old. My family believed that keeping the secret was better than knowing the truth and it was not the case. Keeping secrets such as these can cause one to miss out on so much and when the truth does come out it can cause pain and anger.

I highly recommend this story. I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to read and review it. I look forward to Mr. Winslow’s next novel.

Rating:

5 Stars

Availability:

Available now in hardcover, ebook and audiobook

A special thank you to Bloomsbury Publishing for my gifted finished copy of this novel.

 

 

abuse · book review · books · crime · diversity · Historical fiction · mystery · own voices review · reading

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins {Review}

Blurb:

A servant and former slave is accused of murdering her employer and his wife in this astonishing historical thriller that moves from a Jamaican sugar plantation to the fetid streets of Georgian London—a remarkable literary debut with echoes of Alias Grace, The Underground Railroad, and The Paying Guests.

All of London is abuzz with the scandalous case of Frannie Langton, accused of the brutal double murder of her employers, renowned scientist George Benham and his eccentric French wife, Marguerite. Crowds pack the courtroom, eagerly following every twist, while the newspapers print lurid theories about the killings and the mysterious woman being held in the Old Bailey.

The testimonies against Frannie are damning. She is a seductress, a witch, a master manipulator, a whore.

But Frannie claims she cannot recall what happened that fateful evening, even if remembering could save her life. She doesn’t know how she came to be covered in the victims’ blood. But she does have a tale to tell: a story of her childhood on a Jamaican plantation, her apprenticeship under a debauched scientist who stretched all bounds of ethics, and the events that brought her into the Benhams’ London home—and into a passionate and forbidden relationship.

Though her testimony may seal her conviction, the truth will unmask the perpetrators of crimes far beyond murder and indict the whole of English society itself.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is a breathtaking debut: a murder mystery that travels across the Atlantic and through the darkest channels of history. A brilliant, searing depiction of race, class, and oppression that penetrates the skin and sears the soul, it is the story of a woman of her own making in a world that would see her unmade.

Review:

What attracted me initially to this story was that it put me in the mindframe of one of my all time favorite books, I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Conde. It takes during slavery, but not American slavery.

Frannie is writing her story, not to dispute her guilt of the horrendous crimes she may or may not have committed but to clear her conscience of the things she has done in her life. Things that were done by force and by choice.

Frannie is born into a life that she has no control over what happens to her but at the same time is given the slight freedom of having a bit of education. Being taught how to read has both its advantages and its setbacks for her as she grows up with the Langton’s but is later practically thrown to the Benham’s.

As I progressed thru this story, I quickly realized how different it was from my favorite novel and I loved the differences. Frannie’s story made me feel sorry for her while at the same time infuriating me. There were things I felt that she could have had more control over even if she were a slave and later a servant as intelligent as she was, but these flaws showed her vulnerability. At the same time she faced issues that not even a free person could have avoided.

Although this isn’t your typical summer read, if given the chance it will tick off more boxes on your list than you can think to imagine. Along with being a historical fiction, there is also the element of mystery and the hint of romance regardless of how socially unacceptable it was for its time period.

This is a beautifully written debut that will hold your attention not only with the storyline but with the lyrical writing style. I look forward to seeing what else Sara Collins will write in the future.

Rating:

4 Stars

Availability:

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook

*A special thank you to Harper Books for my review copy in exchange for my honest review*

book review · books · dedication · diversity · Family · own voices review · reading · secrets

Around Harvard Square by CJ Farley {Review}

Blurb:

It’s the nineties, and Tosh Livingston, straight-A student and superstar athlete, is living the dream—he’s made it out of upstate New York and into the incoming freshman class at Harvard University. But after an accident blows up his basketball-playing hopes, he discovers a new purpose in life—to win the frenzied competition for a spot on the staff of the Harvard Harpoon, the school’s legendary humor magazine.

Along with Lao, his pot-smoking roommate from China, their friend Meera, a passive-aggressive science major from India, and Zippa, a Jamaican student-activist with a flair for cartooning, Tosh finds that becoming a member of the Harpoonis weirder and more dangerous than anyone could have imagined. Success requires pushing themselves to their limits and unearthing long-buried secrets that will rock their school and change all of their lives forever.

Review:

This was one of those books I went into partially unaware of what it was going to be about and I also had some of the plot mixed up with another book, lol. Even with all that I ended up enjoying this story.  There were so many relatable aspects and scenarios. Farley explores privilege and race in a way that is not subtle but also not in your face. There were events that happened with Tosh that I have not only experienced in similar fashion but also have been witness to. He is a black male who is a first generation college student even though his father took a few classes at a community college. He is not your typical star athlete who has gotten in an ivy league school because of his sports talent but because of his intellectual ability.  He has to fight stereotypes while also having to manage not stereotyping others. For example, his roommate Lao and their friend Meera. Each of them has a background that they all try to hide from each other. They are all using Harvard as a clean slate to reinvent themselves.

When an opportunity comes to become part of the Harpoon, one of the school’s long-standing publications they are each tested in their morale and in their friendship.

The story is told from Tosh’s point of view to an unnamed person who you find out later is Zippa and that she plays a much bigger part in the story than is realized. This person has even more at stake than the others and much more to prove.

Farley not only explores the topics of racism, he also explores sexism as well. This story takes place in the 90s but it is so similar to what is currently going on today.

There is not a clear-cut ending to this novel and it basically leaves you to your own thoughts and assumptions as to what happens. I find that although that is not a desirable ending for most, it fit this story perfectly.

Rating:

4 Stars

Availability:

Available now in paperback and ebook

 

Thank you to Akashic Books for my free copy in exchange for an honest review.