Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Very different books for a winter's reading

It's been a cool week of reading for me, an entry into two worlds I had little experience with, and a rewarding venture once taken.
Pressed for time, and always somewhat eclectic in my reading choices, I've gone back and forth through several selections, and two of them merit mention here. The first I read for my own reasons, the second relates to an article I'm preparing for the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester.
The first, Lawrence Hill's "The Book of Negroes," was published in Great Britain and Canada during the early 2000s (first published in the U.S. as "Someone Knows my Name").Hill's story is astonishing--a classic I'd put on a favorites shelf alongside such greats as "Gone With the Wind" and "East of Eden."
Aminata Diallo's fictional account of being kidnapped from a tiny African town and transported into slavery in the United States, with her subsequent journey toward freedom, is riveting, and reveals much of the drive an enslaved people have to be free. The story differs considerably from much that I've read about slavery and the events befalling slaves here, in Nova Scotia, Great Britain and the African coast (all true, although fictionalized).
Aminata's stamina and refusal to submit are truly heroic and likely to leave a lasting imprint on the reader.
Hill did a lot of research to recreate the world Aminata encountered after her capture at the age of 11, focusing on the losses, mistreatment and battered hopes of both Africans and Americans born into slavery on plantations (or in northern states). By the time she reaches London, she has become a figurehead for the abolitionist movement.
Aminata is an amazingly personal narrator, a young woman who bears all sorts of punishments and grief as she pursues her single-minded goal: escape to freedom.
This is not a book to be missed, and book clubs will find much to debate. While it's a long read, it's very absorbing; you won't want it to end.

The second book relates to an article I'm preparing about cozy mysteries.
Cozies, for those who aren't familiar, are lighter fare, easy to read and absent the horror, graphic violence and dark viewpoint of thrillers and modern mysteries. They are meant as a break from the day, a relaxing read that entertains, puzzles and rewards the reader with something at the end: often, recipes or knitting patterns!
Barbara Ross's "Iced Under" is part of a series Ross has entitled the Maine Clambake Mysteries. Her heroine in each is Julia Snowden, member of a family that has long operated a seafood restaurant at Busman's Harbor (think loosely of Boothbay Harbor, fictionalized).
Ross is skillful at constructing plots that don't give anything away and keep readers going. She is also good at creating characters we like. Fortunately for us, Julia is at the head of that line.
There's much of the flavor of Maine (and lobsters) to this mysteries series that will appeal to readers who are familiar with coastal New England, and love Maine's intricate coastline. But others will learn to love the state, too, through Ross's writing.