Tag Archives: literary

Mudbound or Sex and Racism

I recently read the awesome and amazing When She Woke which you all know that I loved beyond words so I had to check out Hillary Jordan’s first novel – Mudbound. I blasted through this novel in about two days. It is really not typically something I like to read about – 1940’s Mississippi but this was very well done. I have come to two conclusions from this book : Sex = awesome and life-renewing, Racism = sucks. Really who can’t get behind that message….

Laura is this city girl who is somewhat plain and everybody thought she was going to be an old maid, until the day she meets Henry McAllan. He’s older and has some prospects so she agrees to marry him. They have some kids and life is going okay. Then he decides to move her to Mississippi to his farm, with his Pappy – a horrifying old racist a-hole. She is somewhat resentful and kind of over the whole thing when the war ends (WWII) and who comes back but Jamie – younger brother of Henry. He is everything Henry is not, handsome, young, witty, charming, but also full of PTSD issues and dealing with it the old-fashioned way – getting drunk a lot. You might be able to see where this is going…..Meanwhile, the oldest son of the black sharecropper family on the farm also comes back from war and he is having issues with war as well, but also coming back from fighting for a country where he is a second-class citizen. Soon Jamie and Ronsel, the sharecropper’s son, strike up a friendship – a dangerous thing in 1940s Mississippi. All of these relationships clash in an intense climax that will leave you shocked and thoughtful.

This book stuck with me long after I read it…..something I love. The relationships between all of the characters struck me as interesting and realistic. The entire book is written where each chapter is from the viewpoint of a different character, which is great because so much of the turmoil is within these characters and only bubbles out at the end. All of the characters are flawed and sympathetic, they do things you can’t understand and then you somehow do understand. Can you tell I really liked this book? I can’t wait to see what Hillary Jordan writes next! I give this book eight and a half shoes – sparkly Ugg boots – it’s not something I would usually go for but I totally like them anyway.

If you like the aspect of a woman dealing with moving in with family she is uncomfortable with try Vinegar Hill by A. Manette Ansay  about a woman who is forced to move in with her in-laws when her husband loses his job but finds living unbearable with her father-in-law, a cruel religious fanatic. Or try Wallace Stegner’s Angel of Repose, a Pulitzer Prize winner. In this novel,  Lyman Ward, a wheelchair-bound historian whose marriage has failed, decides to write a fictional biography about his pioneer grandparents to discover why they grew apart over the years. Through their letters and documents, Lyman pieces together the story of Susan, his grandmother, who moved from the East Coast when she married his grandfather, Oliver Ward, a mining engineer in the late nineteenth century. (taken from RA Online)

For some non-fiction books on racism try Sons of Mississippi by Paul Hendrickson. The author has taken the photograph on the cover of seven men, all white and county sheriffs in Mississippi who were determined to keep James Meredith from integrating the University of Mississippi. He weaves together their life stories with that of their children and James Meredith’s children to provide a context for race relations then and today. For a first-person account, try Bone Black by bell hooks in which she describes her own childhood as a “challenging” child who wanted to think for herself.

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Filed under eight and a half shoes, Jordan;Hillary, Literary, Mudbound, Uncategorized

A New Title, Look and Format for the Blog!! Get Excited Readers!

After some time off to get through this holiday thing (whew!) and finish up a Master’s Degree (yeah!) I did some research in the blogosphere of book reviews and decided this blog needed some sprucing up. I hope everybody likes it and I’d love to see some comments on the new look. As you can see (———–>>>) I’ve fallen behind on the reviews but NOT on the reading. Soooooo in an effort to atone for my silence in the blog, I will be featuring a book review a day for the month of January! Fair warning, although most of the books have been pretty awesome there may be some stinkers thrown in…. Without further ado here is my first review of the new year – one of my favorite books of this year When She Woke by Hillary Jordan.

When She Woke is a retelling of the classic The Scarlett Letter except in this version the heroine’s skin bears the color red instead of just a letter on her dress and it is set in a future theocratic America where conservative evangelical values have taken over the government. Hannah Payne is sentenced to life as a Red through a process called “chroming” -where an injection changes the color of the skin of the offender. These Chromes are then thrust back into society where they must survive as best they can. Hannah has been convicted of the murder of her unborn child. Her sentence is extended even further because she refuses to reveal the identity of the baby’s father, a prominent married minister. We follow Hannah through her initial incarceration where her every movement is broadcast for live television for millions to watch, then to a half-way house for other women in her situation and finally as she makes an escape hopefully to a better life. In between we find out the story of her passionate love affair and how she came to be convicted.

I have one word for this book – AMAZEBALLS! I loved it. This was a great combination of the Scarlett Letter with tones of The Handmaid’s Tale (another of my favorite books). The characters were interesting, flawed, sympathetic, and complex. The story was exciting and fast-paced but still took the time for back story. There was definitely an underlying message about the dangers of blurring the lines between church and state, but Jordan managed not to make it too preachy. The end of the book was great, a journey with Hannah as discovers herself and questions her upbringing.  I highly recommend this book – I give it nine shoes (oooooh my first!).

First Line : When she woke, she was red.

Three Appeals : futuristic dystopian sci-fi, interesting characters, retelling of a classic

Red Flags : I’m gonna guess you will not enjoy this if you are a conservative Christian…. the subject matter is also probably not for children, some violence and language, sexual situations.

If you like this book then try:

1) The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Hester Prynne has been sentenced to wear the scarlett letter A for having a child from an adulterous affair. She refuses to name the father but when her estranged husband shows up, he is determined to find out who it is. A classic.

2) The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Offred is a Handmaid in the house of the Commander and his wife in the Republic of Gilead, a conservative theocratic society which is a feminist’s nightmare. Women are not allowed to read or hold jobs, and are seperated into classes : the Wives who are childless but morally superior, the Marthas who are housekeepers and the Handmaids who are supposed to have children to then turn over to the Wives. However, Offred can remember a time when she had a husband, a daughter and a job and starts to question her place in this society. An amazing classic and one of my favorite books of all time – definitely also take the time to check out some of Atwood’s other books including Alias Grace.

3) Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

It is 1946, and city-bred Laura McAllan is trying to raise her children on her husband’s Mississippi Delta farm—a place she finds foreign and frightening. In the midst of the family’s struggles, two young men return from the war to work the land. Jamie McAllan, Laura’s brother-in-law, is everything her husband is not—charming, handsome, and haunted by his memories of combat. Ronsel Jackson, eldest son of the black sharecroppers who live on the McAllan farm, has come home with the shine of a war hero. But no matter his bravery in defense of his country, he is still considered less than a man in the Jim Crow South. It is the unlikely friendship of these brothers-in-arms that drives this powerful novel to its inexorable conclusion. (taken from Amazon.com)

Enjoy this one my friends, and let me know if you like it.

Don’t forget to sign up for an email subscription to my blog.


Trina B.


Filed under book review, Jordan;Hillary, Literary, nine shoes

A little soapbox and then a book review – Middlesex

Many of you may already know this but this week (Sept. 24 – Oct. 1) is Banned Books Week – one of my favorite weeks of the year (after Shark week natch;) So many classic, amazing books have been challenged in schools, public libraries and bookstores due to some perceived detrimental effect on society. Banned Books Week is all about remembering to fight for our freedom! To highlight this week I wanted to post the top ten challenged books from 2010 :

1) And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson – this is a sweet story of two male penguins who fell in love and took care of an adopted baby together is partially based on fact! This is my pick this year for my banned books read.

2) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

3) Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

4) Crank, by Ellen Hopkins;

5) The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins  (Who would want to miss out on this awesome book?!)

6) Lush, by Natasha Friend;

7) What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones

8 ) Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich

9) Revolutionary Voices, edited by Amy Sonnie

10) Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer (I could almost get behind this one but only for horrendous writing…)

So take some time out this week to pick up a banned book and see what all the fuss is about. For more information about Banned Books Week check out the ALA’s page on it (http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/bannedbooksweek/index.cfm ). They are holding a virtual read out and asking people to record themselves reading from banned books. Thanks for letting me get on my little soapbox.

Now on to my review…. Every once in a great while, I get this urge, which is mostly based on guilt of being a librarian who doesn’t particularly go for the literary stuff, that I should be more “well read.” I go to all of these lists and review sites and torture myself with counting how many of the book I have not read so I can point to obvious evidence that despite my reading 1-2 books a week consistently for a good 20+years that I am not “well read.” In doing this recently I kept seeing all this stuff about Jeffrey Eugenides’ new book (the soon to be released The Marriage Plot) which included EVERYBODY saying how amazing and life changing blah ba doo blah ba doo Middlesex is. This peaked my interest so I decided to actually read a literary novel despite my worry that it would be slow and boring and deal with maybe existentialism or surrealism or some other -ism. And guess what? It was a little slow, but definitely not boring and mostly just made me think about what it means to be a woman and to be in a family. Middlesex is all about Cal Stephanides born Calliope who is genetically a hermaphrodite. In order to really understand his life, Cal takes the reader all the way back to his grandparent’s generation as they are escaping from war-torn Greece to show how this genetic mutation happened. We follow the Stephanides through their escape to America, survival in the Depression in Detroit through Cal’s awkward adolescence as a girl and eventual discovery of his condition. It is only through understanding the WHOLE family history that we can appreciate his decision to become a male and the book’s final scenes.

As I said, this book can be slow and deals with some serious issues but it is an interesting and detailed journey through this family’s history. This is a super well-written book filled with awkward, fabulous and emotionally filled moments. Being the genre reader I am, a part of me would still like that excitement you get from reading an enthralling fantasy or mystery novel but  I would definitely recommend this book. I give it seven shoes because it wasn’t my absolute favorite but it was pretty darn good…a pair of clogs comfy but maybe not super fashion forward. BTW – this was a Pulitzer Prize winner if that means anything to you 😉

Three Appeals : Literary style, amazing family history, unusual subject matter

Red Flags : Sexual Situations and descriptions, some language

If you want to read more stories dealing with hermaphrodites or people dealing with bodies that feel foreign to them try :

1) Annabel by Kathleen Winter

In 1968, into the devastating, spare atmosphere of the remote coastal town of Labrador, Canada, a child is born: a baby who appears to be neither fully boy nor fully girl, but both at once. Only three people are privy to the secret–the baby’s parents, Jacinta and Treadway, and a trusted neighbor and midwife, Thomasina. Though Treadway makes the difficult decision to raise the child as a boy named Wayne, the women continue to quietly nurture the boy’s female side. And as Wayne grows into adulthood within the hyper-masculine hunting society of his father, his shadow-self, a girl he thinks of as “Annabel,’  is never entirely extinguished. (taken from Fantastic Fiction)

2) Sacred Country by Rose Tremain

This novel begins in rural East Anglia in 1952. At the age of six, Mary Ward has the revelation that she is in fact, someone else and will grow up to be a man eventually. One, tragic, ineradicable belief alters a life in ways unimaginable to the rest of humanity, safe within fixed genders. (taken from Fantastic Fiction)

For similar literary quality and writing styles try :

1) The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

In the years just before World War II, the beginning of the Golden Age of comic books, native Brooklynite Sammy Klayman, a Jew, teams up with his cousin Josef Kavalier, newly arrived from Nazi-occupied Prague. Together they create a magnificent comic-book hero, the Escapist, who battles Hitler and his minions on the printed page. At the same time, Joe tries unsuccessfully to rescue his
family from Prague. Pulitzer Prize Winner. (taken from Reader’s Advisor Online)

2) The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

Genre-bending” is an understated description for this novel: Chabon has written an alternative history featuring a murder mystery plot with elements of a noir thriller, and thrown in a good deal of Yiddish terms and phrases to boot. The novel takes place in modern day Alaska, in a settlement of Jewish residents who were displaced there when the separate state of Israel failed to become a reality in 1948 (this concept is grounded in historical fact), and follows the actions of Meyer Landsman, a cop trying to make sense of a neighbor’s murder. (taken from Reader’s Advisor Online)

3) The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Enid, the mother of a quintessentially dysfunctional Midwestern family, struggles to reunite her three adult children with their ailing father for “one last Christmas,” in this darkly funny postmodern novel. (taken from Reader’s Advisor Online)

So there you have it, my stalwart readers. As always let me know if you have read this or any of these books and how you like it. If you haven’t already– take some time and subscribe to my blog.





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Filed under book review, Literary, RA, seven shoes