The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is Ayana Mathis's first novel, but you wouldn't know that from reading it. She has the gift of holding the reader's attentThe Twelve Tribes of Hattie is Ayana Mathis's first novel, but you wouldn't know that from reading it. She has the gift of holding the reader's attention rapt with masterful character development and expert turns of phrase. She tells the story of Hattie Shepherd in an unconventional way - through the filter of Hattie's 11 children and her granddaughter Sala. It's almost like a collection of interlinked short stories rather than a novel, but it does have consistent themes and interlocking story lines.
In many ways, Hattie and her children are representative of the African American experience in the 20th century. She was born in Georgia to a solidly middle-class family. At age 15, she had a casual fling with August, a 17-year-old she liked but considered too much of a country boy to be a serious relationship prospect. She became pregnant, though, and the two of them married. They moved to Philadelphia to be near Hattie's sister. In that way, they became part of the Great Migration of African-American families from the South to the North.
The young mother gave birth to fraternal twins. Despite August's reservations, she named the boy Philadelphia and the girl Jubilee. Sadly, the twins would succumb to pneumonia before their first birthday. Hattie would never completely recover from the loss of her first- and second-born.
She would, however, go on to give birth to (not in this order) Alice, Bell, Billups, Cassie, Ella, Floyd, Franklin, Ruthie (also known as Margaret), and Six. We get little vignettes about each of them:
- Alice grows up to marry a doctor. He wants children, but she secretly takes birth control pills to delay that from happening. Although she lives in a mansion, her life is empty.
- Bell works in a sleazy bar.
Sidebar: Mathis describes its windows as opaque. That phrase really stuck in my head and bothered me. Opaque windows would essentially be ceramic. Opaque means that light can't pass through it, as we all learned in junior high science class. The glass was probably tinted so that it was translucent without being transparent, but I really don't think it was opaque. It irks both the word nerd and the science nerd in me.
She takes up with a ne'er-do-well in his cockroach-infested apartment in a neighborhood Bell's siblings term "the ghetto." She intends to commit a kind of slow suicide by tuberculosis. (This is the 1970s, mind you, when tuberculosis was highly treatable - before the HIV epidemic contributed to antibiotic-resistant TB.) She is saved by a chance run-in with Willie, a former neighbor who should, by rights, be the Herbology professor at the U.S. equivalent of Hogwarts. She is also saved by discovering that Hattie never stopped loving her - as best Hattie can.
- Billups is terribly abused by a tutor as a child.
- Cassie struggles with mental illness. She's the mother of Sala, whose story makes up the last section of the book. Hattie's last act in the book is to deny a religious calling to the 12-year-old, since Cassie's illness (possibly schizophrenia) takes the form of religious mania (with delusions of persecution). Hattie and August must raise Sala after Cassie must finally be admitted to a mental health hospital.
- Ella is born when Hattie is in her 40s. Because the family is struggling financially when the youngest comes along, Hattie makes the incredibly difficult decision to give Ella to her childless (and financially well-off) sister to raise in Georgia.
- Floyd is musically talented. As a traveling horn player, he's developed a reputation as a ladies' man. This reputation masks the fact that he's gay. When he visits a Southern town and takes part in a wild, Pagan-like festival called the Seven Days, he meets a young man named Lafayette with whom he has a chance to find love. Floyd can't summon the strength to let love overcome his fear.
- Franklin serves in the navy during the Vietnam War. While he is overseas, in charge of patrolling a bay through which weapons are smuggled, he learns in a letter from his ex-wife that they have a daughter. Franklin struggles with alcoholism and wonders if he'll ever have a relationship with his daughter.
- We know very little about the kind of person Ruthie turns out to be, because we see her mostly as a baby. She's the only one of Hattie's children who has a father other than Augustus.
- Six was burned in an accident when he was a child. Given a low chance of survival, he defies the odds. When another child teases him about Hattie having a boyfriend, Six beats the boy savagely. He's sent off down South with the preacher for a few weeks, during which Six discovers he has a talent for preaching from the pulpit, if not an actual inclination to be good.
Throughout the book, Hattie is often portrayed as being aloof, cold, distant, and angry. The revelations of her life story, however, make this attitude seem perfectly reasonable. Hattie has often been given the short end of the stick of life. Even when she tries to leave August (who's a bit of a drunk and a womanizer) for another man, the other man (Lawrence) turns out to be just as bad, if not worse. Her "running away from home" episode (told through Ruthie's story) lasts less than 24 hours.
August is a bad husband, but he's a great father. In the end, as his health begins to fail, he begins attending church regularly, stops seeing other women, and regularly tells Hattie he loves her. His story arc is more redemptive than Hattie's - perhaps because, in many ways, she's stuck as that teenage mother from the 1930s, helpless to care for her own children, no matter how much she loves them and wants the best for them. Life simply overwhelms Hattie. She never seems to achieve her own happiness; rather, the suggestion is that the cycle of familial misery will be broken in Sala.
I bought this 8-disc audiobook at a library used media sale and was not obligated to review it in any way. I chose it because Irish Granny had already read the paperback version and she recommended it....more
First, a caveat: this will be a very difficult book to read for anyone who is sensitive to depictions of sexual assault. An incident of sexual violencFirst, a caveat: this will be a very difficult book to read for anyone who is sensitive to depictions of sexual assault. An incident of sexual violence is described in detail and becomes a key plot point for the second half of the novel.
That said, this novel is a winning depiction of a fictionalized Emily Dickinson, told in part in Dickinson's own voice and in part through the voice of her Irish-born housemaid, Ada Concannon. Emily sees Ada as a friend and an equal. Over the course of the novel, Emily will confront her own agoraphobia (if we may apply that late 19th-century word to a mid-19th-century woman) and put herself in danger for her new friend. My favorite thing about this novel is its beautiful depiction of female friendship.
My second-favorite thing about this novel is the fiction Dickinson's characterization. Personally, I believe Emily Dickinson is the English language's second-greatest genius after Mr. William Shakespeare. It's wonderful to spend time with the poet in her home environment, getting peeks into the origins of some of her best-known verse. If you read Seth Grahame-Smith's 'The Last American Vampire' (and I don't necessarily recommend that you do), you may remember a footnote that suggests Emily Dickinson's famous reclusiveness was a result of her being a vampire, and a not-heterosexual one at that. I liked that image, and although this novel has nothing to do with vampirism, it does make it clear that Emily's feelings toward her sister-in-law are of a romantic nature. This Emily may be married to words and to her homestead, but she's clearly neither asexual nor heterosexual. And it works as characterization in this context, whatever one may believe about the historical Emily Dickinson.
Nuala O'Connor is the Anglicized name of Irish author Nuala Ní Chonchúir (not to be confused with Northern Irish technology expert Nuala O'Connor). I'm not sure why, in the 21st century, an Irish name would need to be Anglicized, even for the American market. That the English tried to ban the speaking of the Irish language and cut my European cousins off from our ancestral tongue is a sad historical fact. Our indigenous language might well have died out if not for the systematic attempt in Irish public schools to reconnect the current generation with the mother tongue. So I say, at the risk of sounding like a Hyperbole and a Half comic: Irish language all the things!
But that's a bit beside the point unless you're a passionate Irish-American word nerd like me. Bottom line: this is a beautifully written novel about two amazing women and the people and things they care about. Whether you're a devoted American literature fan or simply a lover of authentically-told historical fiction, you will find much to appreciate here.
I received this book through the Amazon Vine program in exchange for this review....more
Kate Reardon is a high school freshman. Her father has passed away when Kate was small. She lives with her mother, her mom's boyfriend Travis (the locKate Reardon is a high school freshman. Her father has passed away when Kate was small. She lives with her mother, her mom's boyfriend Travis (the local sheriff's deputy, and a nice guy although a bit of a stoner), and her older sister Maggie. They live in the small Southern town of Swan River. The river is the town's predominant feature. Many of the residents spend their whole lives without crossing the bridge out of town, but not Kate and Maggie. Mother Reardon is an administrative assistant for Dr. Bell, the dean of the local girls' academy. Through her, the working-class Reardon girls are able to attend the fancy-pants preparatory academy.
But as one might expect in an atmospheric piece of Southern gothic/borderline horror fiction, Swan River is a town with a secret. It's an open secret and a mystery among the residents, but hidden from the outside world: Swan River is the home of the Wild Girls. These paranormal creatures start out as ordinary teenager girls, generally between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. (Dangerous 16th Birthday trope, anyone?) Seemingly at random, they're transformed: glowing skin, the ability to spark fire with their bare fingertips, extraordinary strength and violence, and the propensity to fly away. Then, just as suddenly, they return to normal girls, left to deal with the consequences of their supernatural mayhem and, occasionally, murder.
Kate is terrified she'll become a Wild Girl, and at the same time, she's a little afraid that she won't.
In the book's prologue, Kate and Maggie attend the town's yearly festival with Mom and Travis. It's held on the local commune, Bloodwort Farm, home of the Deadnecks. The nickname is a portmanteau of Deadhead (used as a general term for hippie types, whether they actually listen to the Grateful Dead or not) and redneck (used as a general term for socioeconomically disadvantaged Caucasian-Americans). Although Kate and her friend Willow aren't aware of it at first, it will be the town's last summer festival because of the strange events that occur that night. A seemingly innocent(ish) prank by local bully Crystal Lemons involving Roman candles turns into something far more sinister and threatening. By the morning, Crystal is dead, the commune-dwelling Bird Man (so called for his tattoo) is grievously injured, and the commune has mostly burned down.
An equally important development that night is that Kate and Willow meet Mason Lemons, Crystal's bad-boy brother. The three of them will become something of a love triangle, but all the relationships in the triangle are doomed from the start. Dr. Bell is a student of folklore and mythology, and he knows much more than he's letting on about the Wild Girls. He theorizes a connection between them and the Maenads of ancient Greek myth. (You may remember the Maenads from such literary works as Charlaine Harris's Living Dead in Dallas.)
An important literary reference - and one which, I admit, I haven't read - is The Bacchae by the ancient Athenian playwright Euripides. The play describes an attempt by a king to outlaw the worship of the god Dionysus and the subsequent revenge enacted upon that king by Dionysus's followers, the crazed Maenads. Dr. Bell fancies himself a modern Dionysus, but it turns out he is merely the king.
One of the interesting themes throughout this novel is the relationship between male authority and female wildness. We see it in the relationship between Mama Reardon and Travis, in the relationship between banjo-playing Maggie and her bandmate/lover Kevin (a.k.a. Kayak Boy), and we see it in the relationships between Kate, Willow, Mason, and Mason's pal/organic gardening enthusiast Clancy. (Clancy may or may not become the great love of Kate's life - the novel leaves it open-ended. They do share a passion for the environment.) We even see glimpses of it in the relationship between Willow and her parents. To what extent is a woman to put aside her own wildness, her own passions and enthusiasms, in exchange for the love and/or civilizing influence of a man? The author's answer seems to be, "It is a delicate balance. Different women will land of different sides of the equation."
The writing throughout this novel is beautiful and strange, even more poetic and lovely than the Southern-style writing I admired in Beautiful Creatures. Kate is a smart, savvy heroine well able to handle the dangers that creep into her world. She thinks she's not as tough as her sister Maggie, but she's wrong. She is both physically and emotionally stronger than she ever imagined.
I would recommend this book to anyone with the caveat that it contains scenes of graphic violence and an attempted rape scene. Those who are sensitive to violence may want to sit this one out.
In the novel, Willow and the other women drink bloodwort tea. Bloodwort, also known as bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), is a real plant, and it has been used in traditional medicinal practices. However, it should be noted that ingesting bloodroot extracts is NOT recommended, since it contains substances that are known to be toxic to animal cells. (It is, however, being studied as a potential cancer treatment.) Perhaps the best traditional use of bloodroot is as a red dye; it is so used by some American Indian basket weavers.
I checked this audiobook out of my local public library and wasn't obligated to review it in any way. ...more
First, full disclosure: Cheryl Pillsbury is or was the publisher at AG Press, a small press for which I once did some editing. I edited poetry, fictioFirst, full disclosure: Cheryl Pillsbury is or was the publisher at AG Press, a small press for which I once did some editing. I edited poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for several authors, including Cheryl, only some of which I was paid for.
I don't think she ever had any bad intentions, but I do think she wasn't quite financially or organizationally prepared to deal with the publishing business. I didn't make money on the experience, but I did learn to be more skeptical of small press publishers I met online. It was a good learning experience.
As an editor of Cheryl's books, I noticed some consistent writing errors, such as run-on sentences, and overall poor sentence structure. To be perfectly fair, Cheryl is, for a large part, a fan fiction author writing for her own pleasure. She has written works using characters from several franchises, some of which have run her into occasional trouble with the copyright holders. This book can be thought of as a work of fan fiction, not of a copyrighted franchise but of Norse mythology.
I don't think it's completely forthcoming when the introduction states that the Marvel Comic Universe film franchise was not an influencing factor, though. For example, reference is made to Jane Foster, who is clearly a Marvel Comics character and not a person from Norse mythology. But that's okay. Authors are allowed to be inspired, although not allowed to infringe. They are two different things. Even bestselling author Linda Lael Miller admits she finds inspiration in TV, movies, and country music. The trick is to make the characters original enough that they are clearly your own creations.
Cheryl is a practicing Neopagan, and she claims in her introduction to the book that her work of fiction is based on the deities whom she worships. I don't have a problem with that. I wrote Shiva into Midsummer Night in a scene that is both reverential and erotic; I don't belong to any one religion, but I do love Hinduism's Shiva and Kali. They are some of my deities.
And Cheryl and I are certainly not the only ones who incorporate erotic writing into a form of religious worship or ceremony. See, for example, "Jesus and Mary Magdalene: Partners in the Hieros Gamos" by Joan Borysenko. That said, you would not be completely out of your mind if you were to envision Tom Hiddleston in his role as Loki Laufeyson as the Norse deity described in the text.
The Brass Tacks:
Why Should I Read This Book?
Read this book is you've longed for erotic fan fiction featuring the Norse trickster god Loki in a relationship with an original character (OC).
Note that I am not an affiliate of Lulu.com and you going to the above URL will not benefit me in any way. I purchased a copy of this book with my own funds and was not compensated in any way for reviewing it.
Why Shouldn't I Read This Book?
You shouldn't read this book if you'll be bothered by unpolished writing that needs an editor. You can offer to edit for Cheryl if you're a kind-hearted and very patient beta reader who does it for love of the genre without any expectation of financial reward - if, for example, you're a high school student who just wants to get some editing experience under his or her belt before majoring in English in college.
Are There Any Thorki Moments in This Book?
Only one comes to mind: a scene of Thor and Loki sleeping side-by-side. For the most part, it's a love story between Loki and the OC, a Midgardian woman named Sira. There's even a Neopagan-style handfasting ceremony between them.
Bottom Line: Read this diamond in the rough if you're a fan of contemporary Norse mythology retellings and some unpolished edges won't disappoint you. ...more
(Heads up: I'm going to use "they" as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun.) I enjoyed Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but this sequel much less so. I(Heads up: I'm going to use "they" as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun.) I enjoyed Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but this sequel much less so. I don't understand the plot. What is A. Grander VIII's motivation for doing all the awful things they do? I can't enthusiastically endorse a book in which the villain's actions are so nonsensical.
Seth Grahame-Smith's consistent insensitivity to the female half of the species continues to baffle and irk me. It's not only his refusal to join us in the 21st century and, in the voices of his narrators, use the inclusive word "humankind" rather than the outdated, gender-biased "mankind." On the "Facts" page that proceeds the title page in this first edition, in the voice of his narrator - not, mind you, a character from an earlier century - Grahame-Smith uses "mankind" twice in three paragraphs.
It's also a return on Grahame-Smith's part to the "I used to love her, but I had to kill her" theme I so detested in his screenplay of the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp/Helena Bonham Carter travesty 'Dark Shadows.' "But she was a witch!" and "But she was an evil vampire!" may be acceptable excuses for violence against fictional women, but such scenes are not the least bit entertaining in a world where real violence against real women is a disturbing constant.
I really enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but Seth Grahame-Smith disappoints me as often as he impresses me. I did like the footnote in which Emily Dickinson's reclusiveness is explained by her being a lesbian or bisexual/pansexual vampire. Alas, the women in Grahame-Smith's fiction since Elizabeth Bennet have all been footnotes, plot devices to be used at the service of the male characters' plotlines and then violently disposed of when no longer necessary. If Grahame-Smith's next book is titled 'Emily Dickinson: Pansexual Vampire,' I'll probably read it. Otherwise, I think I'll be done with his casually sexist, anachronistic ass. I read for fun, not to be made to feel as if my entire gender is disposable.
I got a tremendous amount of pleasure from listening to this audiobook - but then, I've been a fan of the Simpson clan since the days of the Tracey UlI got a tremendous amount of pleasure from listening to this audiobook - but then, I've been a fan of the Simpson clan since the days of the Tracey Ullman shorts. Turner's writing is humorous and insightful. He does show a bit of bias, however, and I hope you won't think it too, as the French say, Lisa-esque of me to point out that Turner:
- Uses the word "mankind" when, clearly, he means "humankind" - Uses the word "coed" when, clearly, he means "student" - an anachronism which, by the way, makes a person sound as if he or she is as old as Mr. Burns - Assumes the reader finds Lisa shrill/strident/obnoxious while at the same time admitting she is the closest thing to the voice of the (almost exclusively male) writers - Throws out the suggestion that Marge Simpson is "anti-feminist" because she's a homemaker, when in reality feminism is all about empowering women to have choices and to be homemakers if they choose to do so.
I could do without the casual sexism and anti-feminist assumptions. However, Turner's analysis of the major characters and themes of the long-running cartoon series seem accurate and useful. ...more
The author, Michael B. Regele, is a pastor and the father of a woman who happens to be a lesbian. I couldn't quite follow each and every one of his arThe author, Michael B. Regele, is a pastor and the father of a woman who happens to be a lesbian. I couldn't quite follow each and every one of his arguments, but I get the main ideas. His main conclusion, summed up well in the book's second-to-last chapter, is that there is a Biblical basis for believing and acting as if loving, life-affirming, non-exploitative, long-term relationships between two people of the same sex can be moral. The arguments used in this book are scientific, Biblical, and ethical. While it won't appeal to a general audience that doesn't specifically have a Christian worldview, many Christians will find it engaging food for thought. ...more
I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong about the identities of the murderers. I didn't enjoy this as much as the first Sookie Stackhouse book becauseI was pleasantly surprised to be wrong about the identities of the murderers. I didn't enjoy this as much as the first Sookie Stackhouse book because it wasn't as romantic, but that's just a personal preference. This was a perfectly satisfactory story with an interesting heroine with an unusual ability. I don't know yet whether or not I'll finish this series, but I certainly enjoyed listening to this audio book. ...more
I really could not have enjoyed this book more. Bless Megan Hart for writing Elise, a fully-formed character so realistic she practically could have wI really could not have enjoyed this book more. Bless Megan Hart for writing Elise, a fully-formed character so realistic she practically could have walked off the page and into the nearest ice cream parlor. Yes, she's a woman who enjoys femdom (female-dominant) sex. No, she is not a caricature based on male fantasy. She's a well-rounded person with a past and a future, with a family, with a complicated Jewish mother. Elise isn't perfect, but she is a likable protagonist. After a bad heartbreak, she's chagrined to find her heart is slipping into the hands of Niall, a "vanilla" guy who doesn't really understand femdom. He's seen too much bad porn. But this book is NOT bad porn. It's beautifully written, demonstrating once again that good sex writing is just plain good writing, period. You may count me as a Megan Hart fan now.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review through Amazon Vine....more
I majored in psychology in college, and I'm still fascinated by the science of how the human mind works. For that reason, I decided to read Just BabieI majored in psychology in college, and I'm still fascinated by the science of how the human mind works. For that reason, I decided to read Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil.
The author, Yale psychology professor Paul Bloom, states in the preface that some of his inspiration for this work combining developmental and evolutionary psychology with moral philosophy was a book by Adam Smith which Bloom had studied in Edinburgh. Smith is more widely known for An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (often shortened to The Wealth of Nations), but the volume that concerned Bloom was The Theory of the Moral Sentiments.
In his 1749 work, Smith claimed human beings were born with a sense of morality. Bloom also brings in Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in 1787, "The moral sense, or conscience, is as much part of [a hu]man as his [or her] leg or arm. It is given to all human beings in a stronger or weaker degree, as force of members is given them in a greater or less degree."
Bloom goes on to demonstrate, using evidence gleaned from various scientific studies, that psychologists tend to favor the view that some of what we call morality is inborn to human beings. The first chapter deals explicitly with what "morality" might mean in human beings who are less than two years old. Subsequent chapters branch out into what morality means in adults, because we have to understand what kinds of behaviors we're talking about when we try to define what moral behavior is.
Overall, Bloom's evidence suggests the moral picture of the human species is a fairly optimistic one. Human beings do seem to be wired to be empathetic and helpful to one another, even when acts of kindness do not immediately reward us. Interestingly, Bloom also cites evidence of empathetic behavior in non-human animals. Even rats hate to see other rats suffering.
Even though the title is a bit of a misdirect, since the entire construction doesn't deal exclusively with infant morality, the research itself is fascinating. Not only that, but Bloom has organized it into chapters that are clear, intuitive, and readable. I don't think one would need to be a psychology major to understand this book. Like Michio Kaku, Neil deGrasse Tyson, or Bill Nye the Science Guy, Bloom has the gift of translating scientific concepts into everyday language.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. ...more