Addition: E-book
Genre: Fiction, legal-thriller
Rating: 4 out of 5
Synopsis:

The life of a ten-year-old girl is shattered by two drunken and remorseless young men. The mostly white town reacts with shock and horror at the inhuman crime. Until her black father acquires an assault rifle and takes matters into his hands.

For ten days, as burning crosses and the crack of sniper fire spread through the streets of Clanton, the nation sits spellbound as young defense attorney Jake Brigance struggles to save his client’s life…and then his own.

I have read a few novels by John Grisham and have enjoyed all of them. This is the first novel Grisham wrote, back in 1989. This is also the first book in the Jake Brigance series. The second novel is Sycamore Row, which was published in 2013.

It is hard to summarise this novel without giving too much away. The opening chapter was a tough read – two drunk white men get their hands on a ten-year-old black girl and have their way with her in the most awful way. She is left to die, but once found and cared for, she is able to identify her attackers. They are taken to court, where on their back to their transportation, they meet her father, who is armed. The rest of this novel follows Jake Brigance, who is tasked with trying to save the father from the ultimate punishment – the death sentence – in a district were racism is still rife. He also has to try and protect himself, as the Klan are keen to see the end of the white lawyer who defends a black man.

This wasn’t a quick read, and there was a lot of legal jargon I didn’t even try to follow, but this is probably one of the best books I have read this year. The first few chapters were horrendous to read – what happened to that girl was awful beyond words. I found it quite difficult to read, and it unsettled me every time we were reminded what happened to her. Once we were past the opening though, I found myself gripped. I’m not sure “enjoy” is the right word, but in want of another word, I did enjoy this book. I found myself in a moral dilemma. The father needed to pay for his crime, but he was avenging his daughter. I couldn’t decide if I wanted him sent to jail or let off completely. The jurors has the same problem, and I’m still not sure I am pleased with the outcome.

I wasn’t really bothered by the main character, Jake, but I don’t feel that this was a novel where my opinion of the characters mattered. Some of them were entertaining, some of them I disliked, but that didn’t make or break the story for me. The focus of the book was the trial, not whether I liked Jake or the decisions he made in his personal life.

This is a story that is hard for me to comprehend. Growing up and living in England, I have very limited experience for racism, especially not on the scale of the American white/black divide. It was eye-opening and shocking to see the depths that this racism extends. This novel isn’t that old, and yet the Ku Klux Klan feature heavily in the story, terrorising any white person who associates with a black person. I am just shocked that this behaviour, these attitudes exist in any form in the world today.

Like I said, this is one of the best books I have read this year. It isn’t for the faint-hearted – the opening chapters are truly awful, and really upsetting; but once past that, this is an excellent read. It is well written, there is suspense and drama. There was a load of legal stuff I didn’t understand, but that didn’t spoil the story. This is a great legal thriller, with the ultimate twist: what happens to the Dad? I am rating this book 4 out of 5, and would highly recommend it. I am looking forward to reading Sycamore Row, the second in the Jake Brigance series.

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Addition: Review e-book from Netgalley
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
Synopsis:

Mattie was never truly mine. That knowledge must have filled me as quickly and surely as the milk from her breasts. Although my family ‘owned’ her, although she occupied the center of my universe, her deepest affections lay elsewhere. So along with the comfort of her came the fear that I would lose her some day. This is our story…

So begins Lisbeth Wainwright’s compelling tale of coming-of-age in antebellum Virginia. Born to white plantation owners but raised by her enslaved black wet nurse, Mattie, Lisbeth’s childhood unfolds on the line between two very different worlds.

Growing up under the tender care of Mattie, Lisbeth adopts her surrogate mother’s deep-seated faith in God, her love of music and black-eyed peas, and the tradition of hunting for yellow crocuses in the early days of spring. In time, Lisbeth realizes she has freedoms and opportunities that Mattie does not have, though she’s confined by the societal expectations placed on women born to privilege. As Lisbeth grows up, she struggles to reconcile her love for her caregiver with her parents’ expectations, a task made all the more difficult as she becomes increasingly aware of the ugly realities of the American slavery system. When Lisbeth bears witness to a shockingly brutal act, the final vestiges of her naiveté crumble around her. Lisbeth realizes she must make a choice, one that will require every ounce of the courage she learned from her beloved Mattie.

This compelling historical novel is a richly evocative tale of love, loss, and redemption set during one of the most sinister chapters of American history.

I received this book from Netgalley some time ago and am ashamed to say I have only just found time to read it. I picked this book because I wondered if it would be like The Help by Kathryn Stockett, a book I really enjoyed. If I am honest, there are some similarities between the two stories and I would recommend them both.

Yellow Crocus follows two characters: Lisbeth, the daughter of the plantation owner and Mattie, her wet nurse, a slave on the plantation. Mattie is brought into the house to feed Lisbeth but Lisbeth is so attached to her that Mattie basically raises Lisbeth. Mattie longs to be able to raise her own son – Samuel – instead and finds ways of entwining Samuel and Lisbeth’s lives. However, this can’t continue forever and Samuel is soon sold to a neighbouring plantation. It is around this time that Lisbeth starts to realise that the life she leads is very different to Mattie’s. She is quietly outraged by the treatment of the slaves but keeps that to herself until one afternoon, as she is looking for her fiancee she finds him mistreating a young black girl. This is the last straw for Lisbeth who sets off on a course that will only upset and embarrass her parents, but one she knows is right.

When I was looking at this book on Goodreads I noticed that the rating for this book is 4.1 out of 5, based on 2059 votes. I have to say, I’m not surprised that the novel has such a high rating. I really enjoyed this book. I read huge chunks of it at a time because I was drawn in and found I just wanted to know what was going to happen to both Mattie and Lisbeth.

This is historical fiction at its best. It looked back to a turbulent time in America’s history, when the South was playing host to a great number of black slaves. I felt the book was written with discretion – although this is a sensitive subject, it was dealt with in an elegant manner. I would love this to be a true story – I can’t confirm that it is – but I really hope there were white people during that time who did stand up for what is right.

I liked both Lisbeth and Mattie. I was rooting for both of them throughout the whole book. I felt for Mattie, who was taken away from her child when he was only 3 months old to look after someone else’s baby but I loved the relationship she formed with Lisbeth. Lisbeth idolised Mattie and I found that very sweet. I loved that for Lisbeth, even with all the teaching she received, the colour of their skin did not stop them forming a strong bond. Both women were incredibly brave in completely different ways and I just wanted to see them both win the battles they were facing.

I’m glad I chose to read this book. I really enjoyed it and would highly recommend it. If you liked The Help, then I think you will like this book. The two novels are different but both show that there were some people who had compassion towards those in slavery and I love the idea that there are people who stand up for the rights of others – even today. This book is well worth reading.

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a small part of history

Synopsis from Amazon:

Remarkable. Inspiring. Heartbreaking.

In the summer of 1845 Rebecca Springer and her family join the Oregon wagon train in search of land thousands of miles away. It’s a hard and dangerous journey through blizzards and searing heat, over prairies, desert plains and mountains and, at times, it seems as if it will never end. But an unbreakable bond develops amongst the travelling women as they are tested, physically and emotionally, and their shared experiences of new life and tragic death will bring them closer than blood ever could.

How the west was won and the terrible price that was paid.

A Small Part of History is an epic, heartfelt story of courage in the face of appalling adversity, and a haunting portrayal of how America was forged. Above all, it is a story of people and how the ties that bind us most strongly are those of friendship, of family and of love.

The Springer’s are joining a train to Oregon. They are hoping a trip West will change their fortune. Yet it will not be an easy trip. When they leave tensions are high between the family. Rebecca, the step-mother is at her wit’s end with Sarah, her 15 year old step-daughter, and Matthew is newly married, and his wife does not want to travel. Early on the family splits with Matthew going home. But this is not the first split the family will suffer. As they travel friends and family suffer from the heat, the cold, lack of food, pregnancy and many other trials. They won’t all make it to Oregon City, but those on the journey form unbreakable bonds and learn how to survive and love each other.

I enjoyed this book. I have seen reviews where people have been unhappy that Elliott mixes up fact and fiction, but I read this as purely a fiction book, and found it highly readable. I loved the characters and how they recorded diary entries so we got to know them better. I enjoyed reading about how friendships were formed, and what it took to make those bonds.

This book was full of adventure. There were fights with Indians, death, a desert to cross, family feuds – all sorts. At all points of the story there was something going on; this was a not a boring book. This was a good historical novel. It may not have been specific and the facts correct, but for a generalised idea of what this era was like for the women crossing America this is a good book.

This is a gripping book, well worth reading. In fact, I have already lent out my copy I enjoyed it that much.

8/10

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Synopsis:

The Catcher in Rye is the ultimate novel for disaffected youth, but it’s relevant to all ages. The story is told by Holden Caulfield, a seventeen- year-old dropout who has just been kicked out of his fourth school. Throughout, Holden dissects the ‘phony’ aspects of society, and the ‘phonies’ themselves: the headmaster whose affability depends on the wealth of the parents, his roommate who scores with girls using sickly-sweet affection. Lazy in style, full of slang and swear words, it’s a novel whose interest and appeal comes from its observations rather than its plot intrigues (in conventional terms, there is hardly any plot at all). Salinger’s style creates an effect of conversation, it is as though Holden is speaking to you personally, as though you too have seen through the pretences of the American Dream and are growing up unable to see the point of living in, or contributing to, the society around you. Written with the clarity of a boy leaving childhood, it deals with society, love, loss, and expectations without ever falling into the clutch of a cliche.

What an interesting book. Very engaging but short – only 200 pages. The book is narrated by Holden Caulfield, who has just been kicked out of school – the fourth one in a row. He talks about experiences he has at school, with the people he shared the dormitory with; his experience in New York, including trying to get served in bars, going to the theatre and getting in cabs; his experience with his family, especially his wise younger sister Phoebe; and his discovery of sex and homosexuality. The book is ambigous in places, adding depth to the story.

Holden is an interesting character. He unpicks life, he is so negative. Everything is “phoney” or wants to make him “puke”. This is an interesting look at the American Dream – he seems to believe it doesn’t exist, that it is a simple idea that makes people act in a false manner.

My favourite character was Phoebe, the sister. She was important to Holden – spoken about regularly as he missed her. When he speaks to her she seems very wise and caring, as well likable and lovely.

I enjoyed this book. It was easy to read, with many issues to think over. Although Holden does not like anything, he still makes an interesting read. This book is well worth reading.

8/10

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