Defense of An Other by Grace Mead

Defense of An Other is gripping book ripped from today’s headlines. Sort of.

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Matt is an up and coming young attorney practicing in post-Katrina New Orleans for a prestigious law firm. While his career is on the fast track, his personal life is not. He has just ended a long-term relationship with his girlfriend and is exploring his attraction to men – something he has felt since he was a young boy. He has not, of course, come out to anyone, not even to himself. After a tough day at work, he decides to go to a gay club in the French Quarter where he meets Joey. The two don’t necessarily hook up but they do spend a nice, fun night at the club together. When they step out back to take a leak – the men’s room being stuffed full – they are attacked by three thugs looking to beat up some “faggots.” One of them ends up dead and Matt is arrested for the murder – first degree murder, no less. It is, after all, the south in the early 2000s – not that much has changed since then – and it is the word of the “bubbas” against “gay boy” Matt. You can see where this story is going, right?

The author is a successful attorney herself, very intelligent, and it shows throughout the book. The legal aspect of the pre-trial and courtroom drama is spot-on and captivating. I love legal thrillers and, from that aspect, Defense of An Other, is terrific and well written. I also spent half of my life in Arkansas, a stone’s throw from New Orleans, and nearly every summer of my adult life we traveled down to NOLA. The description of New Orleans, the French Quarter, the people there is vivid and real. I could almost smell the stench of the garbage and vomit of Bourbon Street and remember how amazing the Café du Monde looked and smelled at dawn. However, when it came to the actual characters of the book, I thought Mead drew up short. Matt and his mother never were quite angry enough to be believable. If it was me or my son, I would have been livid. Everyone stayed so calm, cool, collected. I have been arrested on false charges – that’s a story for another post – and my son has been arrested for protesting. I know first hand how these characters should have reacted and calm and cool were not in our wheelhouse on those occasions. You also had a mother who, in a round-about manner, just found out that her son may or may not be gay and she just shoved that discussion aside and talked about going back to work instead. Totally bizarre. From a legal stand point, the book is brilliant. From a personal perspective it was lacking and that missing element made all the difference in the world for me. The ending, too, was abrupt and unfulfilling. I’m unclear if it was meant to be a cliffhanger or if we were meant to extrapolate our own interpretation of what would come next but, either way, it simply didn’t work.  Defense of An Other is being billed as a legal thriller and LGBTQ. It is legal fiction that features a young man who was in a gay bar and is tried as a gay man. I’ve read a lot of other books featuring LGBTQ characters that were not labeled as such for the simple premise that they are, in fact, human beings just like the rest of us. I’m not sure I appreciated the distinction for this particular work. While his sexual orientation is the reason for the beating and storyline in this particular instance, Matt could just as well have been African American or a prostitute or Asian American or a liberal or Muslim or, or, or An Other that Southern Bubbas find offensive. “They” are the issue, the point – if you will – not his sexual orientation. Three stars, middle of the road, because of the great legalese versus the poor character development.

I was given this book to review by #Netgalley and #ClinkStreetPublishing.

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The Jemima Code @ToniTiptonMartin #BannedBookWeek

There is more than one way to burn a book and there are plenty of people running around with matches.  ~Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451

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#BannedBookWeek continues here at #Macsbooks as I take a look at The Jemima Code by Toni Tipton-Martin. While this book has not been “banned,” the contents of the book have been questioned, hidden and lied about for centuries. As Bradbury states in the quote above, you don’t have to literally ban or burn a book in order to suppress the information.That is exactly what has happened to African American cooks, chefs, Nannies and Mammies over the years.

In The Jemima Code – which is NOT a cookbook, by the way – Tipton-Martin has compiled and curated the stories, histories and covers of many lost African-American cookbooks. The books were “lost” to us for the simple fact that they are authored or written by or about African American cooks. It was long held as a “fact” that southern cooking came from the white homes in the southern part of the US. It was also believed that the African Americans who cooked in these homes were “uncreative” and merely copied the recipes that they were taught. Furthermore, we are told that these recipes are unhealthy, lead to obesity, and should not be replicated in today’s “healthier” homes. Yeah, right.

I was raised in the south and love southern food. However, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that white southern women did none of their cooking well into the latter part of the 20th century. Our grandmothers, great aunts, great grandmothers had “help,” if not outright slaves who did their cooking and cleaning for them. As a result, nearly all of the recipes that today are considered “southern” by cooks in the south, actually originated by African slaves and Creoles living in the south. Cornbread, fried fish, waffles, grits, black-eyed peas, “southern” fried chicken and biscuits – all were originated by African Americans. Furthermore, in order for white southerners to take credit for these recipes and fine cooking, they suppressed the cookbooks that these African American chefs had printed.

Interestingly, I was raised in Arkansas, home to Bill Clinton. While governor there, he boasted about the great food that was served at the Governor’s Mansion. For years, it was assumed that the chef at the mansion was a world renown chef. It turns out that for nearly a half century the food was prepared by a marvelous chef name Eliza Ashley. She had cooked for presidents, the Rockefellers, dignitaries and movie stars but until the 1980s, she received no credit as being the chef behind the delectable food. The Jemima Code is filled with similar stories and it is tragic. To completely “white-wash” the contributions made by these cooks is egregious. Thanks to Tipton-Martin, we now are able to see just how pervasive this cover up was.

I highly recommend reading The Jemima Code for its historical contribution to our heritage.

Thank you to @ToniTipton Martin, #Netgalley and the University of Texas Press for my copy of this fabulous book! And now I am off to put on a pot of black eyed peas and bake up a pan of cornbread. Yummy!