Being brutally honest about books

Showing posts with label contemporary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label contemporary. Show all posts

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Review: Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

Jamaica? No, she wanted to.

This is possibly the grittiest and most "literary" book I'll read this year. I mean it. It's the kind of book you study in high school and hate, but read on your own and love. It's one powerful piece of writing, and it reminded me of The Color Purple but even bleaker.

Here Comes the Sun is set in Jamaica in 1994. The basic plot is a queer, black woman (Margot) trying to build a better life for herself and her loved ones. This involves working for a posh, white hotel owner and prostituting herself.

It's a character-based novel written in the third person, present tense (my favourite) and switches POVs between Margot, her secret lover (Verdene), her sister (Thandi), and her mother (Delores). All four are very flawed and complex, and they feel real. I thought Thandi and Delores were interesting, but I was much more invested in Margot and Verdene's lives. They're opposites in some ways but similar in others, and their relationship is pretty complicated.

One interesting feature of this book is the dialogue, which is written phonetically/in the Jamaican dialect. This gives the setting and characters authenticity, but I struggled to understand a few of the words and phrases. I got the gist of what they were saying, though.

I enjoyed the writing style. The non-dialogue parts are quite sophisticated and flow well, and I could picture the setting in my head. It made me want to go to Jamaica and see what it's like for myself, the good and the bad.

I liked the idea that this island we think of as paradise is really not. The book deals with some horrible themes: poverty, racism, rape, homophobia, forced prostitution... It's not for the faint-hearted. But, as I said, it makes an interesting contrast with the island setting.

Remember I said this book is bleak? Yep. It doesn't have a happy ending. Margot achieves her goal of having money and owning her own big house, but she loses everyone. It's a warning to be careful what you wish for. I don't blame Margot for her ambition - she just wants to exit the cycle of poverty - but the way she goes about it is unethical and she betrays her family and her lover. The book ends on a bitter note.

Overall, I really enjoyed Here Comes the Sun. (Well, "enjoyed" is a bit strong for such a dark book...) If you're interested in reading about Jamaica or just want to read something that's not set in the UK/US/Australia, this might be worth a try. If you're looking for something gritty with queer women of colour as two of the main characters, I definitely recommend this one.


Capturing the distinct rhythms of Jamaican life and dialect, Nicole Dennis-Benn pens a tender hymn to a world hidden among pristine beaches and the wide expanse of turquoise seas.

At an opulent resort in Montego Bay, Margot hustles to send her younger sister, Thandi, to school. Taught as a girl to trade her sexuality for survival, Margot is ruthlessly determined to shield Thandi from the same fate. When plans for a new hotel threaten their village, Margot sees not only an opportunity for her own financial independence but also perhaps a chance to admit a shocking secret: her forbidden love for another woman. As they face the impending destruction of their community, each woman—fighting to balance the burdens she shoulders with the freedom she craves—must confront long-hidden scars.

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Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Mini review: Love in the Land of Midas by Kapka Kassabova

Clickbait summary: Not as corny or romantic as the blurb makes it appear.

Actual summary

A love story that crosses generations and continents, from post-war Europe to the present day. The legends of the Greek myths are diffused with the complicated history of the Balkans in a story that takes the reader into the lives of an unforgettable cast of characters.
This book was excellent, almost a five-star read. It's got lots of characters, which gets confusing because some have more than one name and remembering how they were connected is a pain. The characterisations are, however, strong and interesting. 

The main problem I had with this book was the flashback structure, which was very confusing at first - it started in 1998 and switched to 1949 to 1997 to 1998 to 1997 to 1998 and so on until it switched to 1947. Thankfully, each chapter has a date and location, and after a while I got the hang of it.

The central issue/event in Love in the Land of Midas is something completely new to me - the Greek Civil War. I didn't even know there was one! But yes, after World War 2, Greece had a three-year civil war. This is explained in the author's note at the start of the novel, and it's fascinating in the story. The politics and the war were new to me, and very intriguing.

Being published in 2000, and the latest date in the book being 1998, it's a little dated now in terms of communication. Now, the characters could use the internet and mobile phones to research or keep in contact. However, the themes and ideas (eg. love, passion, war, family) are still relevant and always will be.

Another issue I had was knowing that the author (at the time it was written) lived in New Zealand. To me, the book has a definite NZ flavour to it, especially in the dialogue, but the characters were European and Australian - no Kiwis at all. But if I hadn't known about the author, I might not have been distracted by this.

So much for a mini review! I will finish by recommending this book to adult readers/readers of adult books who have an interest in Ancient Greece and post-war Europe. It's well-written and so worth your while.

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Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner
Date finished: 5 April 2014

I have to study this for English and let me tell you, I don't agree with "don't judge a book by its cover" one little bit. Just looking at the cover when my teacher handed me a copy, I knew that I was not going to enjoy this book. And I was right. To be fair, I hate any text I've studied in English, but this book didn't even interest me at all.

For a start, how am I, a sixteen year old white girl in New Zealand, supposed to relate to a young boy in 1970s Afghanistan? I couldn't sympathise with Amir, I didn't get his culture, I didn't really get him. I knew all this by the second chapter. Interesting setting and character are the two things I look for in a novel, and I was deprived of these. So I wasn't exactly hooked by the beginning.

For the whole first hundred or so pages, I was waiting and waiting for something to happen. The narrator's way of recounting every little detail about his childhood slowed down the novel to an unbearable pace. When I read a book, I need action, not a character's memories that will become totally irrelevant later on. The story in general was boring and I predicted that Amir would marry Soraya as soon as she was introduced, and I knew that he would adopt Sohrab as soon as it was mentioned that Hassan had a son. One of the other English teachers at school said that there are "so many plot twists" in The Kite Runner. So I read it anticipating those. There were literally two.

In short, I'm glad that I didn't expect anything great from this book. I would have been extremely let down if I had. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone - in fact, I would recommend that you don't read it. Why it has a 4.20 average rating on Goodreads I will never know.
I'm Alexandria, a 19-year-old reader/writer/blogger from New Zealand. I love language, history, and sci-fi. Hi! I'm always around if you want to talk, which you can do via comments, the contact form, or Facebook.

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