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A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

Paris, 1923 

The daughter of a scandalous mother, Delilah Drummond is already notorious, even amongst Paris society. But her latest scandal is big enough to make even her oft-married mother blanch. Delilah is exiled to Kenya and her favorite stepfather’s savannah manor house until gossip subsides. 

Fairlight is the crumbling, sun-bleached skeleton of a faded African dream, a world where dissolute expats are bolstered by gin and jazz records, cigarettes and safaris. As mistress of this wasted estate, Delilah falls into the decadent pleasures of society.  

Against the frivolity of her peers, Ryder White stands in sharp contrast. As foreign to Delilah as Africa, Ryder becomes her guide to the complex beauty of this unknown world. Giraffes, buffalo, lions and elephants roam the shores of Lake Wanyama amid swirls of red dust. Here, life is lush and teeming-yet fleeting and often cheap.  

Amidst the wonders-and dangers-of Africa, Delilah awakes to a land out of all proportion: extremes of heat, darkness, beauty and joy that cut to her very heart. Only when this sacred place is profaned by bloodshed does Delilah discover what is truly worth fighting for-and what she can no longer live without.

Pages: 370

Published: 2013

My Thoughts

I finished this book over a week ago and am struggling to write a review. Did I enjoy it? Yes, I did; there were some great parts. But… Oh, the ‘but.’ It was so problematic. And infuriating. And doused in the “White Savior Complex.”

I don’t want to get too into it but, let’s just say that the main character, Delilah, is presented as this forward thinker, innovator and general overall lover of equality while the rest of the characters are racists with antiquated views of the world. Delilah, in addition to the audience, recognizes the other Caucasian characters as sexist, racist, privileged bigots who want to white-wash all of Africa. (And I say Africa, not Kenya, because that is exactly how the author speaks. Raybourn never makes the point to mention that there are different countries, and Kenya just so happens to be the location of this story.)

My problem with the characters and how Raybourn addresses the African continent that it illustrates Delilah is the white woman who has come to save Africa from… well, their culture. She wants to fix just about everything about their way of life there because she believes her way of life to be better. But in doing this, both Raybourn, Delilah and other characters clump the plethora of cultures and countries in Africa together, effectively erasing their individuality and therefore presenting the audience with an entirely Western perspective.

That’s my main problem with this book. Other than the fact that the male characters are inherently sexists towards just about every woman they meet but we all can’t live in a world where men are glamour beings who never disrespect women.

 Would I recommend this book…. Eh, yes I would. Maybe a bit begrudgingly because I did enjoy it.  There’s romance, adventure, and great one-liners.

Book Cliches that need to be executed

Insta-love that Lasts Forever

Cringe. Total cringe. Completely unrealistic. If someone falls in love, there should at least be some form of character development. Make it interesting for the reader, but also better for the author as it makes us think about how these two characters will come together. 

Using Rape as a Backstory When it’s Not Essential to the Plot

Check out my other post about why this is completely disgusting. 

Boy/Girl Next Door

I’m sorry, but do any of us actually fall in love with our next door neighbor? Maybe it’s just me, but my neighbors are 70 years old so can’t say I want to fall in love with someone of that age. 

Starting the Story with the MC Waking Up

It’s about as ‘original’ as you can get. PLEASE! Please, start another way. 

The Makeover 

Just because she wears glasses, doesn’t mean she’s ugly. And taking said glasses off doesn’t automatically make her attractive. Also, be who you are! Don’t change just because someone likes you. You’re not Sandy and Danny. 

Stereotyping 

Just don’t do it. If you need to write a book based on stereotypes, then it’s not a book worth writing. 

10 Books to Read

Here are ten books that I’ve read in 2017, maybe for the second time, that you should check out! 

  1. Flame Tree Road- Shona Patel 
  2. Up at the Villa- W. Somerset Maugham
  3. Atonement- Ian McEwan
  4. The Hating Game- Sally Thorne
  5. The Virgin Widow- Anne O’Brien 
  6. Blurred Lines- Lauren Layne
  7. Charlotte Gray- Sebastian Faulkes
  8. The Mighty Storm- Samantha Towle
  9. Sex and the Soul- Donna Freitas
  10. Forget Me Not- Jade Goodmore

 

Triggering a Trigger Warning

TW: Mentions of sexual assault

Over a week ago, I finished ‘On a Tuesday’ by Whitney G and, it has failed to leave my mind like most silly romance books do. Instead, I’ve been constantly thinking about this book and not for the reasons Whitney G should hope for. It’s so effing problematic. Now, I’m not talking about the cringy virginity complex the MCs have or the cliche beginning, middle and end of the story. No, I’m talking about the way that Whitney G (which is a name that, btw, sounds like a white girl trying to be a rapper) throws sexual assault into the story. With no relevance. 

Spoilers: The main male character, Grayson, was falsely accused of raping a woman. It is said that he lost friends, his football career was jeopardized and, girls no longer wanted to fuck him. The horror!

Yet, despite all of this, he is still is popular, still is the star of the football team, and still can shag anyone he likes. Despite Whitney G. failing to incorporate how a false accusation could alter Grayson’s life, the more problematic part of this is that this ‘assault’ is referenced once in the entire story. Maybe twice, if I missed one. 

Before getting to the meat of why I’m so annoyed, you have to understand the high standards I hold all books to, and the rules I have.  When incorporating sexual assault into a story, I truly believe the author needs to follow a few rules. 

  1. It’s imperative to the plot/character’s lives. 
  2. It heightens the story and character development. 
  3. It’s presented in a way that allows the delicacy of the situation to be treated appropriately. 

 

On a Tuesday does none- I repeat NONE- of that. As I already mentioned, the assault is mentioned ONCE, when the woman comes forward to say she lied. What bullshit. Not only is that a terrible thing to do, but it’s pretty terrible of Whitney G. to include that if she was never going to make assault an integral aspect of the story. 

Whitney G. uses assault as a fluffer backstory so that she can show her ‘perfect’ male character has gone through. It’s literary clickbait! I’m really not too sure why Whitney G. decided she needed to include this subplot in the story since it added nothing to the characters and only made me uncomfortable. 

I truly hate when authors do this because I feel it cheapens the severity of assault. When used as a fluffer, it’s just something that authors fall back on when they have nothing else to add. 

Oh my god— wait. I just realized something. Alright, no, I’m giving Whitney G. much more credit than I problem should but… what if, she included sexual assault having no repercussions in his life because she knows as a straight, white male, Grayson is invincible Genius. Flawed, but genius. Probably not her intention at all.

Flame Tree Road

 

While this is a book that I may not have normally picked up, I judged the book by the cover and got it from the library. And thank the writing gods I did because… wow. This book may be the best one I read in 2017.  Patel has this fabulous way of describing one man’s mission to beat against the caste system in an effort to elevate women’s lives and create an equal future- equal for women, Indians and the British alike. Patel’s language was breathtaking. Even a month later, I’m still thinking about the way she brought to life the Assam tea plantations and described a world that I know very little about. And that’s part of why I’m enamored by this book. Since I know relatively little about India beyond stereotypes, reading Flame Tree Road let me discover another world. IMG_9788IMG_9877

If He Weren’t Famous, It Would Be Sad

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This is the first of Niven’s books that I’ve read, and, let me tell ya, it won’t be the last. I don’t mean this in the cliché way, but I laughed, I cried, and this book changed my life. Well, no, maybe it didn’t change my life exactly but I did laugh, and I did nearly cry. If I were a real human with actual emotions, I would have cried, though. So, hats off to you, Niven; you can sucker punch the emotions right out of me and have the ability to write a hilarious and heartbreaking novel.

Summary: Kennedy Marr is a novelist from the old school. Irish, acerbic, and a borderline alcoholic and sex-addict, his mantra is drink hard, write hard and try to screw every woman you meet. 
He’s writing film scripts in LA, fucking, drinking and insulting his way through Californian society, but also suffering from writers block and unpaid taxes. Then a solution presents itself – Marr is to be the unlikely recipient of the W. F. Bingham Prize for Outstanding Contribution to Modern Literature, an award worth half a million pounds. But it does not come without a price: he must spend a year teaching at the English university where his ex-wife and estranged daughter now reside.
As Kennedy acclimatises to the sleepy campus, inspiring revulsion and worship in equal measure, he’s forced to reconsider his precarious lifestyle. Incredible as it may seem, there might actually be a father and a teacher lurking inside this ‘preening, narcissistic, priapic, sociopath’. Or is there
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The first part did… drag on a bit, I’ll admit that but, if you can stick it out to the end this book is well worth it. It’s much more moving than I ever imagined it would be, since the main character, Kennedy, is a “philandering, self-regarding fantasist with anger-management issues who has clearly spent most of his adult life struggling with a deeply denied sense of homosexual panic.” His ex-wife’s words, not mine. There were moments where I laughed my nonexistent ass right off, and then ten seconds later wanted to curl up into a ball, grab a bottle of wine and chug it down.

Yet, as funny as this all is to read, it’s a sad story about a man who just hasn’t, and can’t, grow up. He can’t adjust to life, or fame, or fortune, and can’t escape his past, constantly reliving the ‘what is’ moments. If he weren’t famous, he would be in rehab and nobody would find his actions funny. I truly recommend this books to anyone and everyone who loves reading about the sexcapades of a middle-aged, alcoholic man.

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So Many Women!

In 2017, a beautiful, beautiful thing happened. The National Book Award authors are- overwhelmingly- women. From fiction to poetry, women such as Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Elana K. Arnold dominated the literary world’s awards. Check out the other finalists here

Here’s a picture of happy women that’s basically me. 

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Worth It: Banned Books

I don’t believe in banning books, or censorship. But, a lot of these books were written, or banned, in a time when not everyone was enlightened as I am. These are the banned books that I believe are worth the read. ‘Worth it’ may be a bit subjective…. but here are some of my favorite books that have been banned* 

(I may be a bit late to this but, deal with it!) 

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All Quiet on the Western Front- Erich Maria Remarque

Banned in Nazi Germany because it was anti-German and portrayed Germans as ‘weak’. Although, others argue that it simply shows the harsh reality of war and the Nazi’s resented how that made them seen as cowards. 

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Canterbury Tales- Chaucer

American government banned this (brilliant) book in 1837 because it was a bit… uh… raunchy. Filthy, more like it. But…. it’s Chaucer! What else can you expect! 

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Candide- Voltaire

1930’s Americans thought this was too obscene. I mean there’s a lot of death… and resurrection. 

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The Jungle- Upton Sinclair

East Germany’s communist-Russian-controlled government outlawed this book because it wasn’t in line with communist ideals. Yet, when you think about it, that’s not saying all that much considering how much was banned in East Germany. ie…basically everything. 

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Lolita- Vladimir Nabokov

France, New Zealand, Canada, UK andSouth Africa all, at one point or another, banned this book for its obscenity. Interestingly enough, the obscenity that made this book inappropriate had more to do with how ‘sexual’ the book was and not the fact that Humbert Humbert is a sexual predator. Classic 1950’s mentality, right?

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Uncle Tom’s Cabin- Harriet Beecher Stowe

The Confederacy (what a shocker!) banned it because of its portrayal of slavery. And, the Russian Tsar, Nicholas I, disliked how the book illustrated the benefits of equality… and because it wasn’t super duper cool with religion. 

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Frankenstein- Mary Shelley

Obscene in South Africa, 1956. Not too shocked, tbh. Everything’s obscene. The Immortality Act outlawed sexual relations between European and non-Europeans, and since the monster was a brilliant combination of people, South Africa was uncomfortable, to say the least, with this. 

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*By entire governments. Not just local schools.  

Silly Rabbit, Libraries Aren’t​ Just for Kids

One of my first memories is at my town’s library, standing next to my nanny’s car, getting out of the car and looking up at the wonderful brick facade. Unfortunately, it’s not some glorified memory where I fall in love with how books smell. No, it’s me getting out of the car, picking up my dress and yelling at my –horrified– nanny, “I forgot to wear underwear!”

Great, right? Who doesn’t love a toddler flashing the public? 

Ever since then, and probably before that, the library has been a constant fixture in my life. I go there on rainy days. I go there when I can’t study at home. Heck, I even go there when I want to procrastinate. All in all, I love the library. But, over the course of a few years, I’ve noticed something that’s incredibly disheartening: there is a decreasing amount of actual physical books there. Now, of course, I know about the phenomenon of books becoming less paper and more electronic, (Super pissed about that, actually, and have a whole different post planned where I want to talk/vent about that) but something else hit me when thinking about libraries dying. 

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If libraries, where books are free, become a thing of the past, then literature and reading for pleasure then becomes something for the elite. 

Wealth

This is really where the elitist aspect comes in. If libraries are taken away, then it’s assumed that those who wish to read either have the money to buy books, or have the money, and access, to an electronic device whether it’s a computer or a kindle/nook. Those can be expensive. Even bookstores are expensive, with most books costing upwards of ten dollars (in my experience) and even closer to $20. I fear that if people, especially children, don’t have access to the wonderful resources that libraries are, then literacy rates could go down. Another fall of Rome, huh? 

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Community

Aside from the fact that I want everyone, especially children to read, libraries aren’t just for books, duh. In many towns, like my own, they offer lectures and events for the public. They have programs that focus on children reading and offer language classes. During storms, they have electricity and open their doors to all that don’t. Libraries aren’t just a place to drop your child off at when you need alone time. I would love to believe that there’s something special about the library in my town, and there is, but I know that my library is not the only one to be a pillar of the community. In fact, I think many towns and cities use their libraries as learning centers and places to enhance the community. So, where does the community go if the library goes online?

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Maybe, just maybe, I’m being dramatic but if you think about it, it makes sense, right? 

Oy Vey: Woe is Me!

Who’s excited for Rosh Hashanah? Me! I’m Jewish. Well, Jew-emphasis-on-the-ISH, but only I’m allowed to say that. 😉 

  • A favorite TV show is The Nanny. 
  • Schindler’s List and Fiddler on the Roof are classics in my household.
  • I eat more bagels with lox than my stomach can handle.
  • I can guilt trip anybody.
  • Every Christmas Eve, I eat Chinese food. 

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But, I am not a stereotype. And though I grew up surrounded by many other people who share my religious and cultural practices, I still find that I am constantly questioning people’s view on Judaism, and defending my faith against anti-semitic stereotypes. All of this got me to think about how literature portrays Judaism, including culture and society. And the fact that the two high holidays (other one being Yum Kippur) coming up, faith has been on my mind a lot.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that a lot of non-Jewish authors write from the Jewish perspective. Whether or not they should do this is an article for another time, I’ve realized that Jewish people in literature tend to fall into two places: we’re victims (predominantly of the Holocaust) or we’re stereotypes (such as Merchant of Venice). 

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And that pisses me off. 😦 Actually, that photo aggravates me so much. What a ‘joke’…

The reason the Holocaust victim is such a popular subject to write about is pretty complicated (Maybe, who knows). It’s one of the biggest human tragedies in recent memory. The ramifications still impact culture, society and the economy of many countries.

And, more importantly, it is still something that weighs on people’s conscious. The Holocaust is what non-Jews know about Jewish culture. It’s way too easy to forget about the early 20th century Pogroms in Russia and Ukraine. (Actually, that’s part of why my great-grandmother immigrated from somewhere in the Russian Empire in 1904.) Or forget that we’ve been expelled from almost every European country at one point or another. (Another reason she left Russia.) 

The guilt associated with the Holocaust is something I believe to be profound. Whether it’s from people who didn’t want to allow refugees or from those who wished they had done something, the gilt of allowing millions of people to perish can never be erased or forgotten. In writing about Jews enduring this monstrosity, guilt can hopefully be lessened because literature can allow for posterity. It also gives the author a sense of comfort and washes away any guilt over the sadness and violence. 

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Yet, for a darker more cynical perception. The Holocaust is how non-Jews feel comfortable talking about Judaism because it portrays us as weak and in need of a savior. Which is why something like Number the Stars is so popular- because the Jews were able to be saved by a Christian.  Or the even David Gillham’s City of Women, that illustrates the love one woman has for her Jewish ex-lover, during the middle of World War Two, shows Jews as victims. I could go on and on about books that show Jews as victims but to list a few that you may have heard of: Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne; The Book Thief by Markus Zusak; Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. (In all my research I have not found anything that indicates these authors are Jewish but, if they are then please let me know and I’ll modify this post to include correct information!)

Or maybe people just write about it because it’s a fascinating time period to write about, filled with spies, easy to create villains and a set definition of good and bad. *Shrugs*

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And now for the stereotyping, that happens to every culture that isn’t the majority. Jews are the beautiful Jewess (ugh I hate that word), the nice Jewish boy, or even the overbearing mother. Yet, no matter which role Jews are portrayed as, it’s typically done for comedy or to contrast Jews against, typically, Christians to portray the Christian in a better light. To show that how the Christian lives their life is better than how the Jew does.

The beautiful Jewess makes Jews sinful. The nice Jewish boy makes us passive. The overbearing mother makes us bossy.

This stems back to the probable fact that a lot of people, in America and Western Culture, don’t actually know all that much about Judaism. From my experience, a lot of people are perfectly fine with accepting that Jews killed Jesus (really? C’mon) and that in the Medieval era Jews killed Christians for Passover Manischewitz.  Alright, maybe I’m being just a tad dramatic but… but…. I have no buts. I’m a very dramatic person! 

So, why are people reading so much ‘Holocaust literature’ that hasn’t actually been written by a group that experienced the Holocaust? Read This Way For the Gas, Ladies, and Gentlemen or Badenheim 1939 if you actually want to gain an authentic perception of the Holocaust. 

Now, if you can think of several books that show active Jews without stereotyping them, PLEASE! point me to those books and I’ll admit I’m wrong. I mean this is all from what I’ve seen and my perspective. But in the possibility that I’m wrong, I challenge you to go find a book where Jews are not victims. And the book is written by a non-Jewish author. 

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Please, someone, prove me wrong so that I can stop thinking about this weird and bad aspect of modern literature.