“For centuries the Koh-i-Noor diamond has set man against man and king against king. Now part of the British Crown Jewels, the priceless gem is a prize that many have killed to possess. So when the Crown Jewels go on display in Mumbai, security is everyone’s principal concern. And yet, on the very day Inspector Chopra visits the exhibition, the diamond is stolen from under his nose. The heist was daring and seemingly impossible. The hunt is on for the culprits. But it soon becomes clear that only one man – and his elephant – can possibly crack this case…“
More baby elephant mysteries!How could I resist?
“Some people would call Lowryland the amusement park. It’s one of the largest in Florida, the keystone of the Lowry entertainment empire…but for Annie, it’s a place to hide. She’s just trying to keep her head down long enough to come up with a plan that will get her home without getting anyone killed. No small order when she’s rooming with gorgons and sylphs, trying to placate frustrated ghosts, and rushing to get to work on time.
Then the accidents begin. The discovery of a dead man brings Annie to the attention of the secret cabal of magic users running Lowryland from behind the scenes. They want the fire that sleeps in her fingers. They want her on their side. They want to help her—although their help, like everything else, comes with a price.”
Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.
When the bodies of the dead come back and attack people, the fighting in the Civil War stops. What doesn’t stop is the racism that was inherent in the United States. Now, 20 years after the shamblers first appeared, black children are taken and trained for combat duty.
The system replicates the hierarchy of slavery. “Better” girls are trained in elite schools to be bodyguards to wealthy white women. They guard them from shamblers and serve as chaperones as the white ladies socialize. Other girls end up working in the fields clearing shamblers as they approach towns. Those people don’t have a long life span.
For me the story got most interesting when Jane and some companions are sent west to a planned community run by a pastor and his son, the sheriff. Everything is set up for the safety and protection of white families but it is all run on the forced labor of black people. The white overseers are so terrified of their black charges that they deliberately undermine their ability to fight shamblers by not giving them adequate weapons thus weakening the defenses of the whole town. They won’t listen to the advice and expertise of black women until it is literally life or death.
This book didn’t interest me as a zombie/horror story. It was at its best when showing off the absurdities of racism. From phrenology to tell who is white and who is black to medical experimentation on unwilling black people to unequal distribution of assets this book highlights many aspects of systemic racism by placing them in a fantasy setting where people should be more interested in working together for survival than upholding an arbitrary hierarchy.
The smallest items can hold centuries of secrets...
Inara Erickson is exploring her deceased aunt's island estate when she finds an elaborately stitched piece of fabric hidden in the house. As she peels back layer upon layer of the secrets it holds, Inara's life becomes interwoven with that of Mei Lein, a young Chinese girl mysteriously driven from her home a century before. Through the stories Mei Lein tells in silk, Inara uncovers a tragic truth that will shake her family to its core — and force her to make an impossible choice.
Inspired by true events, Kelli Estes's brilliant and atmospheric debut serves as a poignant tale of two women determined to do the right thing, and the power of our own stories.
This book is absolutely tragic. I read it in one day and then it took me a while to break out of the emotional dead space this left me in.
This is a story about the Chinese Exclusion Acts. Basically, a lot of Chinese immigrants came to the West Coast of the U.S. to build railroads. When that work was finished, many towns decided that they didn’t want Asian people living there anymore. Mobs would form to force Asian people away from their homes with just what they could gather rapidly and carry. Other towns just murdered their Asian inhabitants. This history isn’t as well known as it should be. I read about it in detail for the first time in Sundown Towns.
This book is set during the ethnic cleansing of Seattle. Mei Lein and her family are forced onto a boat supposedly heading for China. When they suspect that the ship’s captain is up to no good, her father throws her overboard near an island because she can swim. It is remote enough that she is able to mostly hide with the white man who finds her but she is still treated horribly by the others on the island.
The second timeline in this book takes place in modern times. The daughter of a wealthy white family wants to develop her family’s island vacation home into a hotel. She finds an embroidered sleeve hidden in the stairs. The embroidery tells a graphic story of Chinese people being killed. In attempting to find out about the sleeve, she starts to uncover her family’s part in the ethnic cleansing of Seattle.
This book was written by a white woman. Some people may have a problem with the historical part of the story not being told by an Asian person. I think where this book shines though is in pointing out all the ways in which white people try to avoid looking at the impact of racism.
In the historical sections when Mei Lein can point out people who were there when her family was rounded up, the white person who is helping her has a hard time believing her. They are his neighbors. They’ve always been nice to him.
In the present Mara’s first instinct is to hide evidence that reflects poorly on her family. Other family members don’t want to hear that their inherited wealth is based in racist acts.
This is absolutely relevant to today where people are trying to decide on the legacy of historical people and people in our own families who have been found to be involved in hideous behavior.
After being on an absolute tear last week and finishing six books, I only finished one this week.
What Am I Reading?
I’m still working through After the Wedding. It has some mistaken identity themes which isn’t a trope I like. I think that’s what’s slowing me down since I normally inhale Courtney Milan’s books in a day.
I picked up this book from the library to add to my AsianLitBingo reading.
“On the day he retires, Inspector Ashwin Chopra inherits two unexpected mysteries.
The first is the case of a drowned boy, whose suspicious death no one seems to want solved. And the second is a baby elephant. As his search for clues takes him across the teeming city of Mumbai, from its grand high rises to its sprawling slums and deep into its murky underworld, Chopra begins to suspect that there may be a great deal more to both his last case and his new ward than he thought. And he soon learns that when the going gets tough, a determined elephant may be exactly what an honest man needs…”
A baby elephant helps solve mysteries! I’m not a mystery fan but that was before baby elephants were helping.
Ramadan Readathon starts this week and lasts for a month. All the details are here. I don’t have a full TBR for this but I’ll finish up A World of Three Zeros once I find where I put it. I was quite enjoying it. I put it down. It disappeared into the abyss.
“Peri, a married, wealthy, beautiful Turkish woman, is on her way to a dinner party at a seaside mansion in Istanbul when a beggar snatches her handbag. As she wrestles to get it back, a photograph falls to the ground — an old polaroid of three young women and their university professor. A relic from a past — and a love — Peri had tried desperately to forget.
Three Daughters of Eve is set over an evening in contemporary Istanbul, as Peri arrives at the party and navigates the tensions that simmer in this crossroads country between East and West, religious and secular, rich and poor. Over the course of the dinner, and amidst an opulence that is surely ill-begotten, terrorist attacks occur across the city. Competing in Peri’s mind however are the memories invoked by her almost-lost polaroid, of the time years earlier when she was sent abroad for the first time, to attend Oxford University. As a young woman there, she had become friends with the charming, adventurous Shirin, a fully assimilated Iranian girl, and Mona, a devout Egyptian-American. Their arguments about Islam and feminism find focus in the charismatic but controversial Professor Azur, who teaches divinity, but in unorthodox ways. As the terrorist attacks come ever closer, Peri is moved to recall the scandal that tore them all apart.”
“Indelbed is a lonely kid living in a crumbling mansion in the super dense, super chaotic third world capital of Bangladesh. When he learns that his dead mother was a djinn — more commonly known as a genie — and that his drunken loutish father is a sitting emissary to the djinns (e.g. a magician), his whole world is turned inside out. Suddenly, and for reasons that totally escape him, his father is found in a supernatural coma, and Indelbed is kidnapped by the djinn and delivered to a subterranean prison. Back in the city, his cousin Rais and his family struggle to make sense of it all, as an impending catastrophe threatens to destroy everything they know. Needless to say, everything is resting on Indelbed’s next move — and he’s got a new partner to help him: the world’s most evil djinn.”
Danny Cheng has always known his parents have secrets. But when he discovers a taped-up box in his father's closet filled with old letters and a file on a powerful Silicon Valley family, he realizes there's much more to his family's past than he ever imagined.
Danny has been an artist for as long as he can remember and it seems his path is set, with a scholarship to RISD and his family's blessing to pursue the career he's always dreamed of. Still, contemplating a future without his best friend, Harry Wong, by his side makes Danny feel a panic he can barely put into words. Harry and Danny's lives are deeply intertwined and as they approach the one-year anniversary of a tragedy that shook their friend group to its core, Danny can't stop asking himself if Harry is truly in love with his girlfriend, Regina Chan.
When Danny digs deeper into his parents' past, he uncovers a secret that disturbs the foundations of his family history and the carefully constructed facade his parents have maintained begins to crumble. With everything he loves in danger of being stripped away, Danny must face the ghosts of the past in order to build a future that belongs to him.
I’ve heard a lot of hype for Picture Us in the Light but I didn’t really know what it was about. That’s the point, I suppose. This is a book about mysteries.
For me the main mystery in Danny’s family’s past was obvious from the first few pages of discussion of it. That contributed to my frustration with this book. It is hard to listen to people go on and on about how strange it all is and how they can’t figure it out when you, the reader, is sitting there thinking, “Dude, it’s obvious.”
There is another story line about a friend of Danny’s who died of suicide a year before. There is a lot of good writing about how the different characters deal with survivor’s guilt and their feelings about whether their last interactions with her may have added to her decision to kill herself.
I admit that I was not that interested in this book while I was reading it. But I had been in a bit of a reading slump where I was only interested in romance and nonfiction. I was determined to finish something that didn’t fit into those categories. People like this book. I was going to finish this book even if I wasted away from boredom in the process.
Then I got to the ending. I love an unexpected ending. They make me want to stand up and cheer. It perked me up and made me pay close attention again. I loved it. It made me glad I read the book for the last two chapters.
I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially who don’t tend to get bored to tears reading about teenagers and their angst, just for the ending.
Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker. Though an ABC (America-born Chinese), Charlie’s entire world has been limited to this small area. Now grown, she lives in the same tiny apartment with her widower father and her eleven-year-old sister, and works—miserably—as a dishwasher.
But when she lands a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio, Charlie gains access to a world she hardly knew existed, and everything she once took to be certain turns upside down. Gradually, at the dance studio, awkward Charlie’s natural talents begin to emerge. With them, her perspective, expectations, and sense of self are transformed—something she must take great pains to hide from her father and his suspicion of all things Western. As Charlie blossoms, though, her sister becomes chronically ill. As Pa insists on treating his ailing child exclusively with Eastern practices to no avail, Charlie is forced to try to reconcile her two selves and her two worlds—Eastern and Western, old world and new—to rescue her little sister without sacrificing her newfound confidence and identity.
I’ve had this book on my TBR for a long time. Once I realized that I was going to do AsianLitBingo, I downloaded the ebook from the library.
I loved the main character of this book. She’s always been told that she isn’t special enough to do anything. She struggled in school and works as a dishwasher. She wears hand me down clothes from the old ladies in her neighborhood. The only skill she has is tai chi. Her mother was a ballerina in China and she started Charlie in tai chi as a child. But she doesn’t think of this as a talent. She just thinks that she was bound to have picked up some skills since she’s been doing it for twenty years.
Her father and uncle tightly control her life. So when she gets a job as a receptionist at a dance studio outside Chinatown, she keeps it secret. She wants the extra money to help put her little sister into a private school.
At the school she is thrust into a world where people pay hundreds of dollars a week for dance lessons. This isn’t a world that she knows. Her coworkers take her on as a project to find the real person beneath the hand me down clothes and deferential manner.
This book is about branching out beyond what you’ve always been told your limits are. How far do you go without losing parts of yourself?
I noticed the Eat the World challenge mentioned on Wendy’s blog. I figured this would be a great way to combine reading around the world with food. The country chosen for this month was Kenya.
When researching Kenyan meals I was drawn to the category of Things Mixed with Mashed Potatoes. Let’s face it. You really can’t go wrong there. In Kenyan cuisine usually these are topped with some kind of curry or meat stew. I can’t serve curry because of the husband’s food allergies and I don’t eat meat. I needed to find something else. Later, I was paging through a cookbook and found a portabella fajita recipe that would taste really good on Things Mixed with Mashed Potatoes. But I hesitated. For my first time posting in this group, I’m going to try to justify Kenyan-Mexican fusion?
Then a voice from the back of my brain piped up and said, “Lupita.”
Sometimes I’m so proud of my brain for coming up with the perfect pop culture references when needed.
Of course then I had to feel bad because Lupita Nyong’o’s family had to flee Kenya to Mexico because her uncle was killed. Really, you should watch her episode of Finding Your Roots. It is a very sad story.
But, anyway, Kenya-Mexican fusion is OBVIOUSLY a real and glorious thing and I am sticking with it.
I used Kenyan food blogger Talking To Nelly for inspiration. I had to choose between Matoke, which is potatoes mashed with plantains, and Irio, which is potatoes with corn and peas. I chose the irio because I had the ingredients available but I will definitely be trying matoke in the future. I love plantains.
This is a simple dish that doesn’t require an exact recipe. I like to prepare potatoes for mashing in the slow cooker. I used 3 lbs of potatoes slow cooked for 6 hours. When the potatoes are able to be easily pierced with a fork, I turned off the slow cooker and tossed in the frozen corn and peas.
Let the retained heat of the cooker thaw the vegetables and then mash.
Cook potatoes in slow cooker for 6-8 hours on low until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork.
Turn off slow cooker. Add corn and peas to potatoes and replace lid of slow cooker until vegetables are thawed.
Mash potatoes, corn, and peas.
Add salt to taste.
Combine lime juice, garlic, and vegetable broth to make a marinade.
Marinade mushroom slices for at least 1 hour.
Set an electric pressure cooker to saute. Add the mushrooms and any remaining marinade. Cook 3 minutes.
Add the peppers and chiles and cook for 2 more minutes.
Lock the lid on the pressure cooker. Cook on high pressure for 2 minutes. Release the pressure.
Add the tomatoes and chili powder. Close the lid and allow to sit for 3 minutes.
Serve the mushroom and pepper sauce over the irio.
So what book did I read that was set in Kenya? I read Find Me Unafraid and reviewed it yesterday.
Check out all the wonderful Kenyan dishes prepared by fellow Eat the World members and share with #eattheworld. Click here to find out how to join and have fun exploring a country a month in the kitchen with us!
his is the story of two young people from completely different worlds: Kennedy Odede from Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, and Jessica Posner from Denver, Colorado. Kennedy foraged for food, lived on the street, and taught himself to read with old newspapers. When an American volunteer gave him the work of Mandela, Garvey, and King, teenaged Kennedy decided he was going to change his life and his community. He bought a soccer ball and started a youth empowerment group he called Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO). Then in 2007, Wesleyan undergraduate Jessica Posner spent a semester abroad in Kenya working with SHOFCO. Breaking all convention, she decided to live in Kibera with Kennedy, and they fell in love.Their connection persisted, and Jessica helped Kennedy to escape political violence and fulfill his lifelong dream of an education, at Wesleyan University.
The alchemy of their remarkable union has drawn the support of community members and celebrities alike—The Clintons, Mia Farrow, and Nicholas Kristof are among their fans—and their work has changed the lives of many of Kibera’s most vulnerable population: its girls. Jess and Kennedy founded Kibera’s first tuition-free school for girls, a large, bright blue building, which stands as a bastion of hope in what once felt like a hopeless place. But Jessica and Kennedy are just getting started—they have expanded their model to connect essential services like health care, clean water, and economic empowerment programs. They’ve opened an identical project in Mathare, Kenya’s second largest slum, and intend to expand their remarkably successful program for change.
I had first heard of SHOFCO in the wonderful book A Path Appears. It is also featured in the documentary made from that book. Since reading that, I’ve been contributing monthly to the program.
I had heard that they had written their own book. I’m glad that I decided to read it even though I was aware of the basic premise of their story. This book goes much deeper into Kennedy’s childhood than the previous book did. It is a brutally honest book. Content warnings for rape, abuse, genocide.
Kennedy experienced every kind of abuse that a child could. The book goes into detail about his life with an abusive step-father. He left home at a young age to escape him and lived with a group of homeless kids who lived through crime. He tried to get out by appealing to the church only to be sexually abused there. It is amazing that he grew up to try to do something positive for the community. He wanted something besides crime in people’s lives. It all started with a 20 cent soccer ball and organized soccer games. That led to a theater group that tried to teach people how to live better lives. That’s how he met Jessica. She was a rich, white American college student who wanted to help with the theater. She does just about everything that you’d expect an American to do. She’s pushy. She makes many faux pas. She doesn’t understand the community. But eventually she learned to fit in and learned to love Kibera and Kennedy.
She went back to college and Kennedy was forced to flee Kenya because of violence. Jessica was able to get him into college in the U.S. for his own safety. The book does a good job detailing how difficult it was for him to move back and forth from Ohio to Kenya and function in both places.
It was the epidemic of child rapes around him that led him to decide to open a school for girls to prove that they are valuable. The school is the center of a whole-life program in Kibera. There is clean water provided and meals. There are safe houses if the girls are being sexually or physically abused at home.
This is an important story and an even more important program to know about. It shows how grass roots community organizing in places in need can help lift up everyone involved.
What thirteen-year-old Abby wants most is to meet her father. She just never imagined he would be a huge film star--in Bollywood! Now she's traveling to Mumbai to get to know her famous father. Abby is overwhelmed by the culture clash, the pressures of being the daughter of India's most famous celebrity, and the burden of keeping her identity a secret. But as she learns to navigate her new surroundings, she just might discover where she really belongs.
This book was so cute! I don’t read a lot of middle grade but I loved the sound of this one.
Abby’s mother found out she was pregnant after her college boyfriend moved back to India. She was able to contact his family but he never returned her calls. Now thirteen, Abby develops an allergy that starts her asking more questions than ever before about her father’s side of the family.
Her father changed his name and became a famous actor after he returned to India. Attempts to contact him for his medical history are finally successful. Now he wants to get to know her but it all needs to be carefully controlled because he is a huge star and he needs to control his image.
Abby’s a biracial child who has never had any contact with the Indian part of identity. There is tension between her parents because of her father being absent for all of her life. Her father is used to calling the shots in his life and her mother is not about to just go along with his ideas now that he’s back in the picture. Abby’s also finding out that her wealthy father’s life in India is not typical for the country.
The book does a good job of making each of the characters multidimensional. All of them have well developed concerns and personalities. I really hoped that there was a sequel to see what came next in their lives because there is so much to explore but there isn’t a second book. That made me sad. I didn’t want to leave these characters behind.
I’m about halfway through Dread Nation. It doesn’t fit the theme but it is a library book that needs to go back soon.
“Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies.”
“Adrian Hunter has concealed his identity and posed as a servant to assist his powerful uncle. He’s on the verge of obtaining the information he needs when circumstances spiral out of his control. He’s caught alone with a woman he scarcely knows. When they’re discovered in this compromising circumstance, he’s forced to marry her at gunpoint. Luckily, his uncle should be able to obtain an annulment. All Adrian has to do is complete his mission…and not consummate the marriage, no matter how enticing the bride may be.
Lady Camilla Worth has never expected much out of life—not since her father was convicted of treason and she was passed from family to family. A marriage, no matter how unfortunate the circumstances under which it was contracted, should mean stability. It’s unfortunate that her groom doesn’t agree. But Camilla has made the best of worse circumstances. She is determined to make her marriage work. All she has to do is seduce her reluctant husband.“
I didn’t pay any attention to AsianLitBingo until yesterday. I did it last year and planned and everything. Yesterday I saw the game board again and realized that I had read 3 books so far in May and I was on my way to pick up another at the library AND EVERY ONE WAS ASIAN. Yeah, maybe I should play along again this year.
What I have so far
So far everything fits into multiple categories. I hate to limit them to one square until I see what all I end up reading.
Her Every Wish by Courtney Milan – Poor or Working Class Asian MC or Historical Fiction with Asian MC or Multiracial Multiethnic MC
Picture Us in The Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert – LGBTQIAP+ Asian MC or Contemporary with Asian MC
Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj – South Asian MC or Contemporary with Asian MC or Multiracial MC
The other Courtney Milan book I read doesn’t fit although she’s part Asian because none of the characters are.
I read 13 books this month. This month the books were either depressing nonfiction or fluffy historical romance. I don’t seem to have an in-between right now. I have instituted a rule that I can only read historical fiction authors recommended by people on romance Twitter. So far, that has served me well.
The books were:
0 audio books because I started from the beginning of The West Wing Weekly podcast
Set in England, Yemen, Kenya, Zimbabwe/Mozambique and the U.S.
The authors were:
8unique white women, 2 white men, 1 African-American woman, 1 African man, and 1 Middle Eastern man
Over on my Twitter feed I’ve been making a list of books I’ve DNFed this year and why. I’ve realized that I have a whole subcategory of books I don’t finish reading that could be considered “This is a really well done book but I don’t care.”
I think recognizing this in your reading requires empathy and the realization that if it isn’t right for you that doesn’t mean that it is automatically bad. These are books that I would actually recommend in the right circumstances to someone else.
Everyone loves Children of Blood and Bone. They should love this book. It is imaginative. It is well written. I read about halfway through it and then realized that I totally did not care to find out what happened. This is something that I find myself thinking a lot in YA fantasy. For some reason, many of the stories don’t draw me in enough to get invested in the outcome. I happily put this book down and don’t wonder at all about the outcome. But, you should totally read this book if YA fantasy makes you happy. It is very, very, well done.
I like this author on Twitter. I knew from her feed that her books were more explicit than I generally enjoy. But Beyond Shame is the free first ebook in the series so I tried it. I was not a fan of the premise or the explicit sex so I quit about a quarter of the way through. Big surprise. However, the writing was very well done. I would recommend this one if someone liked gritty dystopian-ish naughty books. That person isn’t me. I could have predicted that and now I know for sure.
I tried to like Ninefox Gambit. I really did. People rave about it. They also say sometimes that you have to power through the math to get to the good parts. I figured I could do that. I was the person in school who won all the math awards. I was also the person who hated every minute I ever spent in a math class and can still remember the feeling of walking out of the last math class I would ever need to take in college. It is still the happiest day of my life. But I could do this. I read The Three-Body Problem and I think I understood it. I could understand Ninefox Gambit.
I got about a quarter of the way through before running away screaming. Battle formations described as mathematical formulas that change based on calendars that change based on something… Not for me. I can see how if you have a mind that actually enjoys math that this is creative and wonderful. I’m not that person.
What books have you DNFed but would still recommend?
“All leaders are constrained by geography. Their choices are limited by mountains, rivers, seas and concrete. Yes, to follow world events you need to understand people, ideas and movements – but if you don’t know geography, you’ll never have the full picture.“
Praise for Nicola May’s books
‘This book will twang your funny bone & your heartstrings’ – Milly Johnson‘A fun and flighty read’ the Sun‘A funny and fast-paced romp – thoroughly enjoyable!’ Rosa Larkin is down on her luck in London, so when she inherits a near-derelict corner shop in a quaint Devon village, her first thought is to sell it for cash and sort out her life. But nothing is straightforward about this legacy. While the identity of her benefactor remains a mystery, he - or she - has left one important legal proviso: that the shop cannot be sold, only passed on to somebody who really deserves it. Rosa makes up her mind to give it a go: to put everything she has into getting the shop up and running again in the small seaside community of Cockleberry Bay. But can she do it all on her own? And if not, who will help her succeed - and who among the following will work secretly to see her fail? There is a handsome rugby player, a sexy plumber, a charlatan reporter and a selection of meddling locals. Add in a hit and run incident and the disappearance of a valuable engraved necklace – and what you get is a journey of self-discovery and unpredictable events. With surprising and heartfelt results, Rosa, accompanied at all times by her little sausage dog Hot, will slowly unravel the shadowy secrets of the inheritance, and also bring her own, long-hidden heritage into the light.
It seems like I’m going with the unpopular opinion based on the reviews I’ve read from other people. From the description I expected a light-hearted, funny read typical of the chick lit genre. This book is not that. It is surprisingly dark especially considering how it is being marketed.
The main character is self-destructive. She drinks excessively and can’t keep a job. Her main human contact is a series of one night sexual encounters. She uses sex to help make up for the fact that she can’t always pay for the rent on her flat. The only thing she loves at all is her dog, Hot. Getting an inheritance is a way for her to get out of her current life and start fresh.
Usually in this type of book the small town the heroine goes to is full of lovely characters. Here that isn’t the case. In short order she is scammed, sexually assaulted, and her secret is outed against her express wishes. Then she is threatened to provide someone with an alibi for a hit and run.
She eventually finds some nicer people but they have secrets too. Then people keep breaking into her house, she ends up with a pregnant teenager living with her, she gets scammed a few more times, she finds out about a decades old affair, and her dog gets hurt (but he’s ok). This isn’t a bad book but I didn’t read it anything like the laugh a minute romp I’m seeing other people review it as. I read it more as a cautionary tale about trying to keep secrets and the need to have someone who you can confide in. Rosa is very damaged emotionally and trying to move past that in her own way isn’t easy. Trying to open up and let other people in when you have learned over and over not to trust is hard. When those people then repeatedly violate your tentative trust, what do you do?
I read an ARC so hopefully things have been cleaned up but there was an error in my copy. She was reading letters about a person who was only referred to by an initial. But when she thought about the person she thought of them by their full first name. She had no way of knowing that.
‘A letter is handed to you. In broken English, it tells you that you must now vacate your farm; that this is no longer your home, for it now belongs to the crowd on your doorstep. Then the drums begin to beat.’
As the land invasions gather pace, the Retzlaffs begin an epic journey across Zimbabwe, facing eviction after eviction, trying to save the group of animals with whom they feel a deep and enduring bond – the horses.
When their neighbours flee to New Zealand, the Retzlaffs promise to look after their horses, and making similar promises to other farmers along their journey, not knowing whether they will be able to feed or save them, they amass an astonishing herd of over 300 animals. But the final journey to freedom will be arduous, and they can take only 104 horses.
Each with a different personality and story, it is not just the family who rescue the horses, but the horses who rescue the family. Grey, the silver gelding: the leader. Brutus, the untamed colt. Princess, the temperamental mare.
One Hundred and Four Horses is the story of an idyllic existence that falls apart at the seams, and a story of incredible bonds – a love of the land, the strength of a family, and of the connection between man and the most majestic of animals, the horse.
What would you do if you had to leave your home in a few hours? Could you leave your animals behind knowing that animals left on other farms had been killed? That was one of the issues facing farmers in Zimbabwe when Robert Mugabe’s government instituted a series of land seizures.
The Retzlaff family didn’t leave Zimbabwe right away like many of the other white farmers they knew did. They moved farm to farm but the chaos followed them. As they moved across the country over a series of years, they collected animals. Eventually, they moved to the neighboring country of Mozambique.
I imagine that this is a book that could have a hard time finding an audience. Readers who care more deeply about people than animals might be offended by the effort and resources that went into moving and housing the horses when so many people were suffering. Horse lovers don’t like to read books where horses are mistreated. Horse lovers do need to be warned. Most of the horses you meet in this book don’t survive until the end. Many bad things happen to them regardless of the efforts of the Retzlaffs.
Another issue in this book is historical accuracy versus personal experience. Reading the book, the land reform movement seems to come on suddenly. I’ve been looking a bit more into the history because I assumed that there had to have been some colonial shenanigans that resulted in all these large landowners being white people. Yes, Rhodesia (the former name of Zimbabwe) had favored whites in land distribution. The black population was put onto the least productive land.
“Following Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence, land legislation was again amended with the Rhodesian Land Tenure Act of 1969. The Land Tenure Act upended the Land Apportionment Act of 1930 and was designed to rectify the issue of insufficient land available to the rapidly expanding black population. It reduced the amount of land reserved for white ownership to 45 million acres and reserved another 45 million acres for black ownership, introducing parity in theory; however, the most fertile farmland in Regions I, II, and III continued to be included in the white enclave. Abuses of the system continued to abound; some white farmers took advantage of the legislation to shift their property boundaries into land formerly designated for black settlement, often without notifying the other landowners.”
“In 1977, the Land Tenure Act was amended by the Rhodesian parliament, which further reduced the amount of land reserved for white ownership to 200,000 hectares, or 500,000 acres. Over 15 million hectares were thus opened to purchase by persons of any race.Two years later, as part of the Internal Settlement, Zimbabwe Rhodesia‘s incoming biracial government under Bishop Abel Muzorewa abolished the reservation of land according to race. White farmers continued to own 73.8% of the most fertile land suited for intensive cash crop cultivation and livestock grazing, in addition to generating 80% of the country’s total agricultural output.”
“The Lancaster House Agreement  stipulated that farms could only be taken from whites on a “willing buyer, willing seller” principle for at least ten years. White farmers were not to be placed under any pressure or intimidation, and if they decided to sell their farms they were allowed to determine their own asking prices”
“Between April 1980 and September 1987, the acreage of land occupied by white-owned commercial farms was reduced by about 20%.” – all quoted from Wikipedia
Ok, so they can’t say they didn’t know this was coming. They talk a little about the politics of it and how they weren’t paying any attention. They mention the vote on a referendum in 2000 only because their black workers asked to borrow transportation so they could all vote. It was the day before voting and they hadn’t really considered it?
“The government organised a referendum on the new constitution in February 2000, despite having a sufficiently large majority in parliament to pass any amendment it wished. Had it been approved, the new constitution would have empowered the government to acquire land compulsorily without compensation. Despite vast support in the media, the new constitution was defeated, 55% to 45%.” Wikipedia
It was after this failed that the government started to encourage mob violence to steal land without compensation. I understand that they were both born and raised in Africa and felt protected because they legally owned their land but the writing was on the wall. Things were about to get ugly and they were completely unprepared.
What happened as a result of the seizure of white-owned farms was a complete disaster. They were given as gifts to friends and family of powerful people who didn’t know the first thing about farming. Zimbabwe’s economy was based on farming and when the farms collapsed it collapsed. So no one is saying that this was a good and just plan but it couldn’t have been completely unexpected.
There are also some other statements that come across as very colonial. One time when they move to a new farm she discusses her family moving into the farm house and then talks about her workers settling into the huts around the property. She also has this quote – “John’s was a good old-fashioned cattle ranch of the kind the first pioneers in this part of the world had kept.” Sure, they were the first people in the area if you ignore millennia of existence before then. The author has commented negatively on reviews on Goodreads that bring up these aspects of the book. That’s never a good look.
As a horse person I wish there were more details. They talk about sometimes transporting horses in trucks. Where did the trucks come from? How many trips did you make? How many horses did you have at any given time? The synopsis refers to over 300 but the book doesn’t talk about that number. How are you affording all this?
What happened to this family is bad. But I can’t muster 100% sympathy for them. I would have liked to see a bit more self awareness. This book would have benefited from including the perspectives of the black workers who traveled with them. A few of these people are mentioned once or twice by name but generally they are described as a faceless group of grooms. That’s a big oversight in a book that describes many different white horse owners in detail.
I am just not feeling my reading lately. I need something that is going to suck me into its world.
What Am I Reading?
“IN SPACE EVERYONE CAN HEAR YOU SING
A century ago, the Sentience Wars tore the galaxy apart and nearly ended the entire concept of intelligent space-faring life. In the aftermath, a curious tradition was invented-something to cheer up everyone who was left and bring the shattered worlds together in the spirit of peace, unity, and understanding.
Once every cycle, the civilizations gather for the Metagalactic Grand Prix – part gladiatorial contest, part beauty pageant, part concert extravaganza, and part continuation of the wars of the past. Instead of competing in orbital combat, the powerful species that survived face off in a competition of song, dance, or whatever can be physically performed in an intergalactic talent show. The stakes are high for this new game, and everyone is forced to compete.
This year, though, humankind has discovered the enormous universe. And while they expected to discover a grand drama of diplomacy, gunships, wormholes, and stoic councils of aliens, they have instead found glitter, lipstick and electric guitars. Mankind will not get to fight for its destiny – they must sing.
A one-hit-wonder band of human musicians, dancers and roadies from London – Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes – have been chosen to represent Earth on the greatest stage in the galaxy. And the fate of their species lies in their ability to rock.”
One Hundred and Four Horses
“‘A letter is handed to you. In broken English, it tells you that you must now vacate your farm; that this is no longer your home, for it now belongs to the crowd on your doorstep. Then the drums begin to beat.’
As the land invasions gather pace, the Retzlaffs begin an epic journey across Zimbabwe, facing eviction after eviction, trying to save the group of animals with whom they feel a deep and enduring bond – the horses.
When their neighbours flee to New Zealand, the Retzlaffs promise to look after their horses, and making similar promises to other farmers along their journey, not knowing whether they will be able to feed or save them, they amass an astonishing herd of over 300 animals. But the final journey to freedom will be arduous, and they can take only 104 horses.”
After innumerable suggestions, I read my first Tessa Dare book in March. Immediately after the first one I binged on her Spindle Cove series.
I loved the premise of this series. Spindle Cove is a small community that has become known as a place to send unusual women to get them out of society. As the series starts, an injured soldier has been given the title to the area. He is expected to set up a militia to defend this part of the coast. The last thing the women of Spindle Cove want is a bunch of soldiers messing up their happy settlement.
In the first book, A Night to Surrender, Susanna is the woman who has nurtured Spindle Cove to the haven it is now. She is the daughter of an eccentric inventor of firearms. She is furious that her father has handed over a ruined castle above the village and the earldom to this soldier who needs to retire due to his injuries. The male lead character in this book was just on the brink of being too alpha-male bossy for my tastes. Dare does a good job of having Susanna stand up for herself and her ladies. That’s not an easy job because it can be seen as falling back into the patriarchal society that they are trying to avoid or being forced against their will into relationships with these men. That could easily have been very off putting.
The second book, A Week to Be Wicked, is probably my favorite. It is the first to feature one of the Highwood family. Mrs. Highwood and her three daughters came to Spindle Cove in book one. Mrs. Highwood plans for her daughters to marry very well, especially her oldest, Diana. The pressure was getting to her and they came to Spindle Cove to rest. The second daughter, Minerva, is a scientist. She’s been submitting papers under her initials and now has been invited to speak in Scotland. She needs to find a way to get there. She decides to fake an elopement with one of the less scrupulous friends of the Earl as a way to travel to Scotland.
Kate Taylor is the music teacher in Spindle Cove. She has no plans to marry because she was raised in an orphanage with no idea where she came from and she has a large port wine birthmark on her face. In book three, A Lady by Midnight, an eccentric noble family shows up in Spindle Cove looking for her. They claim to have found out that she is related to them. At the same time the very grumpy Corporal Thorne of the local militia starts to pay attention to her. He seems suspicious of her new family. Is it possible that he knows something about her past that he isn’t sharing?
Any Dutchess Will Do is book four. A duke’s mother tricks him into accompanying her to Spindle Cove. She tells him to pick a woman, any woman sitting in the tea room, and marry her. To spite her he chooses the serving girl. Pauline has no time for this nonsense. She is trying to save up money to get herself and her developmentally disabled sister out of their abusive father’s house. Her goal is to open a small store and lending library. The duke’s mother says she can pass her off as a lady in one week. The duke promises to pay her enough money to start her store if she goes along with his mother’s plan and fails miserably.
One of the things that annoys me most about historical romances is the concept of women being ruined by being alone with a man. I know the books didn’t invent that but I hate the idea. People were so worried about what other people thought about a woman’s sexual experience that if there was even the possibility that she had had time and opportunity to have a sexual experience then she was “ruined”. It also presumes that no one has any self control at all and will fall all over a person of the opposite sex if given a chance. It makes me mad on behalf all humankind every time it is brought up. Do You Want to Start a Scandal‘s story is all about this. The youngest Highwood daughter, Charlotte, explains to the latest noble dude to show up in Spindle Cove that her mother will be trying to marry her off to him. She wants him to know that it isn’t coming from her and she is just as embarrassed about it as he will be. They are found alone in a room as a result of this discussion. To make it worse, they had been hiding from an unknown amorous couple whose sounds where overheard and commented upon loudly by a child. Now it is “known” that they had sex and have to get married. Now Charlotte is determined to get the real couple to confess and save her from this marriage.
I did enjoy all four novels. There was enough humor and sweetness for me to be able to not be totally annoyed by the sex.
There are three novellas that go along with this series.
I didn’t really care for these as much. I didn’t think the shorter format gave her enough time to develop the characters and their relationships before the story was over and they were married. The events of the novellas are referred to in the novels but you can get an idea what happened without reading them all in order.
A young man’s moving story of war, friendship, and hope in which he recounts his harrowing escape from a brutal civil war in Yemen with the help of a daring plan engineered on social media by a small group of interfaith activists in the West.
Born in the Old City of Sana’a, Yemen, to a pair of middle-class doctors, Mohammed Al Samawi was a devout Muslim raised to think of Christians and Jews as his enemy. But when Mohammed was twenty-three, he secretly received a copy of the Bible, and what he read cast doubt on everything he’d previously believed. After connecting with Jews and Christians on social media, and at various international interfaith conferences, Mohammed became an activist, making it his mission to promote dialogue and cooperation in Yemen.
Then came the death threats: first on Facebook, then through terrifying anonymous phone calls. To protect himself and his family, Mohammed fled to the southern port city of Aden. He had no way of knowing that Aden was about to become the heart of a north-south civil war, and the battleground for a well-funded proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. As gunfire and grenades exploded throughout the city, Mohammed hid in the bathroom of his apartment and desperately appealed to his contacts on Facebook.
Miraculously, a handful of people he barely knew responded. Over thirteen days, four ordinary young people with zero experience in diplomacy or military exfiltration worked across six technology platforms and ten time zones to save this innocent young man trapped between deadly forces— rebel fighters from the north and Al Qaeda operatives from the south.
The story of an improbable escape as riveting as the best page-turning thrillers, The Fox Hunt reminds us that goodness and decency can triumph in the darkest circumstances.
I didn’t know much about the causes of the war in Yemen until I read this book. It still doesn’t make much sense to me because it boils down to “Those people look different than us and think differently than us.” It is that kind of mindset that Mohammed Al Samawi was working against prior to the war.
The stars of this story of the activists around the world who play a high stakes game of Six Degrees of Separation. Who do you know? Who do they know? Can you get one man from Aden to Africa?
What struck me while reading this is the problems that are caused by Yemen’s patriarchy/toxic combination of masculinity and religion:
The whole conflict could be put down to this
He was unable to shelter with his uncle’s family because his uncle wouldn’t let him in the house where his unmarried female cousins lived. How messed up is that? Your nephew is alone in an apartment in a war zone but you won’t take him in because you assume he wouldn’t be able to sexually control himself around his female relatives?
Because he was male he was completely unprepared to live on his own without women to care for him. He moved to Aden and was living alone. He ate out daily since he didn’t cook so he had minimal food and supplies in the house when all the shops closed down.
After he was out of Yemen due to the help of a group of interfaith activists he was still too afraid to tell him mother (still living in a war zone) that he had been talking to Jews.
I found the beginning of this book with his entry into interfaith dialogue more interesting than the story of his escape from Yemen. I think that is partially because the writing is very plain. It reads like “This happened and then this happened and then this happened…” Secondly, I mostly just wanted to shake the guy. This is not a heroic memoir. Mohammed Al Samawi isn’t brave. He isn’t very good at planning. He moves from Sanaa to Aden but neglects to bring his passport even though he travels for work. These things all make trying to flee the country harder. He uses the distraction of a Northern man like himself being publicly tortured to death in the street by Al Qaeda to escape from his apartment while wondering why no one tries to help that man. He even refers to himself occasionally as a man-child. He was in his late 20s in 2015 when this happened.
In the end there were so many different lobbying efforts going on that it is not clear who succeeded in getting the order given to let him on the ship from Aden to Djibouti. I wish this had been investigated. It seems to be a very strange thing not to know who allowed his transport in a book about arranging his transport.
In the absence of facts, he falls back on the idea that God arranged his rescue. While comforting for religious people, this makes nonreligious people want to pull their hair out. Basically he saying that his God ignored everyone else stuck in a war (about religion and power) to concentrate on giving him special attention. It also diminishes all the hard work that people did on his behalf.
Fleeing from a romance gone wrong, Ellie Farmer arrives in the pretty little village of Sunnybrook, hoping for a brand new start that most definitely does not include love! Following an unscheduled soak in the village duck pond, she meets Sylvia, who runs the nearby Duck Pond Café. Renting the little flat above the café seems like the answer to Ellie's prayers. It's only for six months, which will give her time to sort out her life, far away from cheating boyfriend Richard.
But is running away from your past ever really the answer?
Clashing with the mysterious and brooding Zack Chamberlain, an author with a bad case of writer's block, is definitely not what Ellie needs right now. And then there's Sylvia, who's clinging so hard to her past, she's in danger of losing the quaint but run-down Duck Pond Café altogether.
Can Ellie find the answers she desperately needs in Sunnybrook? And will she be able to help save Sylvia's little Duck Pond Café from closure?
Books set in cafes in England are my favorites. This story features both a bakery and a cafe.
This is the first of a planned series of three books in this small town. This section has the task of setting up all the characters and situations which is a lot to do in such a small space. As a result it felt a bit like the author was ticking off the boxes of what is expected in this genre.
A woman who just was dumped by her long term boyfriend for another woman
A conveniently single man at her new location complete with an adorable child
An aging proprietor of a failing cafe who wants to take in a total stranger
The story was enjoyable but it never rose above the predictable. There wasn’t enough depth of emotion in the story to draw me in fully. This may be a series read best when it is all completed so the characters have room to develop and grow.
I’m most interested in seeing the development of some of the secondary characters like the secret baker who is learning to stand up for herself.