Banned Book Week – Day 4: Beulah Land by Lonnie Coleman

I had no idea this book was still around but I’m so glad that it is!! When I was 15 years old, I was reading this book at the suggestion of a US history buff (I wanted to go to university and major in history – and did) who said it was the antithesis of Gone With the Wind; that Beulah Land was the real version of the “old south.” They were correct – to an extent. The book centers on the Kendrick family, a wealthy southern family who owned hundreds of slaves. What I remember most about the book is the Kendrick sons who repeatedly either raped or had non-violent but non-consensual sex with the young female slaves. Certainly Scarlett Ohara never talked about that, did she? Can you imagine Rhett Butler raping a slave girl? Well, yes, yes I can! But, of course, we never see that in Martha Mitchell’s rose colored tale. The Kendrick family’s saga is typical of the old south: the gentrified white plantation owner barely hanging on to his land, wealthy sons who think they can take whatever they want, hardworking African Americans – some treated decently while others are whipped to death. If you’re going to read a book about the “old south” this is the one to read.

I’m highlighting this book during banned book week – not because it was banned by a community but because it was “banned” by my parents. When my mother caught me reading the sex scenes in this book, she promptly threw the book in the trash. That is what well-meaning parents do, right? Not so fast…. first, I went to my local library, checked out the book and read it in secret! I now OWN the book and my kids have read it. My mother did the same thing with the book, “Go Ask Alice.” I own a copy of that one, too, and my kids read it as well. Parents are not going to stop kids from reading books with which the parent disagrees. Wouldn’t it be better to discuss the book like intelligent human beings rather than “banning” the books in question? The sex scenes in Beulah Land are not so different from the biblical account of Solomon and his lover (whom we now know was Ethiopian) but parents don’t throw away the Bible to keep their child from reading the Songs of Solomon, now do they? Or the stories of David who “took” Bathsheba and had her husband killed so that he could marry her. “Took” being the Catholic monk version of rape.

My point of today’s post to shine a little light on the ways we “ban” books without banning them at all and the hypocrisy of those who do choose to ban books. Censorship is just another form of ignorance – don’t pass this on to your children, please.

The Girls With No Names @serenaburdick

I finally understood what my fortune meant….I was bone and skin and earth and sky. Death was not literal, Time was infinite, my Existence..eternal.

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Set in the early 1900s, a time of great change and social reforms, The Girls With No Names is the story of young girls, some wealthy and other travelers or from among the working poor. It is a brilliant example of all that was wonderful and horrific about “the gilded age.”

Luella and Effie Tildon are children from a wealthier family. Their lives are spent in school, wandering the land around their home and obeying the strict rules set forth by their parents. They know that if they don’t obey these rules they will be sent to the House of Mercy, a work house wayward girls. The institution was meant to be home for young women without support or who were unmarried and pregnant. What it became was a place for men to send women and girls who didn’t conform to the “rules.” A house of horror, hunger, torture and worse, the House of Mercy was used as a cautionary reminder for all females to obey. When Luella discovers a secret her father is hiding, she begins to rebel against him to the point that, when she disappears, Effie immediately assumes Luella has been banished to the House of Mercy. Effie, who has a debilitating heart condition, decides she will find a way to get sent to the house so that Luella will not be alone. What transpires is a horror show for the young girl and for all of the girls held captive within those walls.

Serena Burdick has woven together a story of the rich and the poor, of the Suffragette movement, of work houses run by “the church”, of an age that glorified the male while subjugating women. The stories of these young women is one of friendship, love, bravery and hope. It is, by far, one of the most remarkable stories I have read and, sadly, it is based on the true stories of the House of Mercy in Innwood Park.

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The Girls With No Names is a cautionary reminder about how new and how fleeting our rights as women actually are or could be, a wake up call for women around the world.

#Netgalley, #Harlequin-ParkRow and @SerenaBurkick – thank you!

 

Paris Never Leaves You by Ellen Feldman

War is hell. I often find that reading books about war is the same. I do my best to avoid them. The premise of Paris Never Leaves You is that it was post WWII, however, that isn’t totally accurate. Set in a dual timeline, the story alternates between the 1950s in NYC where we find Charlotte and her daughter living post-war and the 1940s in France and what Charlotte had to do to survive the war to get to that point. Charlotte lives with the guilt as so many survivors do.

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In the past year there have been numerous books set during WWII, many of which were based on a one sided view of what happened during the war. After all, how books about the Russians during WWII have you read? It was a traumatic awful time for those in France particularly and most of the books reflect that. Paris Never Leaves You is the same. I found myself skimming pages more often than not and this is a very short book so there were not a lot of pages to skim. I never fully connected to the characters, didn’t really care about them. I suspect that reflects more on me than the book itself. However, there are tremendously well written books that deal with the war and the people who endured it. I just don’t think Paris Never Leaves You is one of those books.

RecentReads and RapidReviews

Recent and Rapid I have two quick reviews for you today. Let me know if you’ve read them and what you thought about them.

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I actually read two books within a week of each other involving an “escape room” and I could have sworn that I reviewed both. Wrong. Luckily, the review today is for the one that I enjoyed most: The Escape Room by Megan Goldin.

The setting is Wall Street in a brokerage firm that either is everyone’s worst nightmare working environment or is dead-on regarding the cut throat nature of Wall Street. The book is told in present day and through flashbacks of one its workers, Sara, who was a brilliant recent graduate in need of a break. When she is hired at Stanhope and Sons, she believes that all of her dreams have been fulfilled and her problems are over. She could not have been more wrong. In the present, four fellow workers of Sara’s – the most successful team at Stanhope – are summoned to a late night meeting in what appears to be an abandoned building. After entering the elevator, the four discover that they are part of an escape room puzzle that goes horribly and terrifyingly wrong. As the team solves more of the puzzles’ clues, they realize that it is not a game, unless it’s a game to the death.

There were parts of the story line that were questionable and took a little suspension of belief, however, I absolutely loved this book. The characters are developed so well and so thoroughly that I despised each of the four in the elevator. By the end of the book, I was actually hoping they all would die. Seriously. They are bad people. At the same time, the background story of Sara was fascinating and realistically well told. I read this one in one night without stopping. If you like thrilling thrillers and despicable characters, then this is a must-read book for you!

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Laura Lippman is a “hit or miss” author for me, more often hit than miss. Lady in the Lake demonstrates why I keep coming back to her work. It is a stellar mystery set in the perfect era. She manages to capture the frustration of women in the 1960s, the racial tension of then and now and lays out an incredible mystery that keeps readers guessing until the very end. That she does all of this with a very likeable and witty character is “icing on the cake.”

Lady in the Lake is actually inspired by a true story of the unsolved murder of Shirley Parker in Baltimore. Although that case remains unsolved, Lippman’s indomitable character, Maddie, is on a mission to prove that she has what it takes to be an ace reporter and solve the mysterious death of Cleo aka The Woman in the Lake. The story is told from multiple points of view but Lippman seamlessly transitions through each of them as she makes each of their voices clear and understood. Lippman’s past as a reporter shows in her astute descriptions of the newsroom. Add to that the nuances of racial tension that was simmering throughout America at this time and you have a winner of book. To say that this was one of my favorite books of the summer is an understatement. I loved the characters, the era and the writing immensely.

Thank you to the publishers, #Netgalley, #MeganGoldin and #LauraLippman for my copies of #LadyintheLake and #TheEscapeRoom.