Buba’s Book Reviews: Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile

Title: Queen Sugar

Author: Natalie Baszile

Genre: Mystery, Contemporary literature, Domestic Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Books

Publication date: 11/05/19

Nominations: NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work – Debut Author

Rating: 8/10

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Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile is a riveting family drama that follows Charley Bordelon, a widowed black single mother from California moving with her daughter, Micah, to her father’s hometown in the rural south after discovering that he has sold all his California properties to purchase a struggling 800 acre sugar cane farm in Louisiana. The land held in trust precludes her selling or the proceeds will go to charity. On this premise that exposes the complicated, loving, yet controlling relationship between Charley and her father we along with Charley and Micah are sucked into the realities of rural Louisiana, the intricacies and back breaking labor of running a successful cane farm, Charley’s colorful family, the tense realities of an industry dominated by white men who are the sons of the sons of plantation owners.

This book didn’t shy away from digging into the social realities and struggles of the rural south and I trusted Baszile’s handling of these difficult subjects implicitly from the beginning and she never let me down.  I was particularly impressed with her handling of Charley’s romantic relationship with Remy, a white sugar cane farmer, Baszile did not shy away from all of the biases and cultural assumptions and even casual racism that have to be tackled in an interracial relationship and I appreciated that she didn’t sugarcoat the situation.

In parallel to Charley’s story is that of her half-brother Ralph Angel, also widowed and raising his son Blue, except due to dropping out of college and stealing tuition money to fuel his drug habit he was cut out of the will by their father. While Charley’s story is one of successfully adapting to every challenge that life throws at her, with pluck, creativity, a lot of damned stubborn, and never being afraid to reach out to family and friends for support, Ralph Angel’s is a lament of a man who has been so traumatized that he is, at his core, too fragile to face what his life has become and what he might need to do to turn it around. His story is not a triumph, it is the bitter counter note needed to balance the tale, to remind us that even in a feel good save the farm story, nothing is that simple, and there is always grief, and we live with the consequences of our actions and those of the people around us. Ralph Angel is a reminder of how the deck is stacked, that Charley’s triumphs are as much luck as anything, and that it can all be lost just as quickly.

I listened to this as an audio book and have to say the narrator did a beautiful job, her voice really helped drag me into the narrative.

Buba’s Book Reviews: A Memoir Of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Title: Hunger, A Memoir Of (My) Body 

Author: Roxane Gay

Genre: Memoir

Publisher: Harper Collins

Publication date: June 2017

Rating: 9/10

Content Warning: Sexual Assault, Self-Harm, Eating Disorder, Trauma, PTSD

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This memoir sat with me, it stayed on my mind and kept me thinking about how I interact with the world and with my body. This is a memoir about trauma. In the early chapters Gay claims this is not a story of triumph over her body. And it is true. This is no weight loss success story, but it is none the less a story of triumph. And that triumph is no less for being a hard won triumph over the damaging and toxic stories that society tells us so often we begin to tell it to ourselves.

While my struggles are not PTSD and weight, the candidness with which Gay discussed her trauma, a rape at the age of 12, and how she was dependent on the comfort of food, the secretiveness she imposed on herself for 20 years, the determination to make herself impervious to harm by making herself large was breathtaking. The way she describes and forgives herself for her self-destructive coping mechanisms is something I think every woman needs to hear. The way she discussed her weight, her family, and her love life a complicated and congealed tangle all tied together by her ravenous hunger, for food, to be loved, to be accepted, to be seen, and how that hunger is inextricably tied to her body spoke to me. At times it brought me to tears.

This is a memoir that not only asks you to look more closely at those around you who struggle with weight when society would have you look past or through them, it asks you to forgive yourself for your own self-destructive tendencies and asks you to be more gentle in your own healing.

I cannot thank the author enough for sharing this story with the world. If you like audiobooks this one is author-read and truly moving.

Buba’s Book Reviews: The Hob’s Bargain by Patricia Briggs

Title: The Hob’s Bargain

Author: Patricia Briggs

Genre: Fantasy Fiction

Publisher: Ace Books

Publication date: 2001

Rating: 6/10

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Patricia Briggs is one of my favorite contemporary fantasy authors, so I thought I would dig into some of her early work. This standalone traditional fantasy was a really great read that brought a lot of great things into a genre that can get really tied up in its own tropes.

The Hobb’s Bargain is a twist on beauty and the beast, where beauty is a happily married 30 year-old with the second sight named Aren. She loses her family and her husband to raiders and then the village is plunged into peril when the blood magic that held the magic of the land is released and the very earth shifts. Aren’s occasional visions become true power. Another consequence is that wildlings, creatures of magic, are returning to the world. The combined threats of the raiders and the wildlings place the village in great peril and so she goes to the Hob and offers to make a bargain with him for his protection of the village.

I loved every single concept in this book.

I loved that it had a 30-year-old woman as the heroine discovering her powers and saving the day, I want more stories with women in their 30s. I loved that she was involved with and invested in her community. I loved that there was no weird much ado about sacrificing a virgin to the demons/dragon/Faries. I loved that she made the decision to make the bargain with the Hob.

I loved that there was disability representation in Kith, who was awesome and deserves everything. I loved that Aren and Kith had an honest to goodness friendship between a man and a woman and did not fall in love.

I loved that the traditional beauty and the beast twist did not have the traditional Stockholm Syndrome.

I loved that they made a deal with a magical creature and then were like wait, you have got to hold up your end for a year before we pay the price.

I loved that this was a book about courtship.

And I loved the Hob, he was fantastic, and a true “beast” as in this is no spoiled princeling turned monster, this is a wildling, it thinks like a wildling and it stays a wildling, and I loved his mischievous bent and his ability to love the heroine exactly as she was.

I loved the world and its fascinating details and myriad wildlings coming alive.

Yet somehow with all these lovely pieces together I was never in love with the story. I never disliked it. I made it all the way through quickly and easily, but I was never quite swept away by the story. I cannot quite answer why. I loved all the pieces separately, and having dissected the experience for a week I cannot pick out any one thing that I disliked. Except perhaps the assumed voice the narrator used for the MC Aren. I cannot suss out if my lack of enthusiasm for this book is due only to my mild irritation with the tone of the narrator or the story itself. If I ever have the chance to pick this up at my library I may give it another read and see if without the audio the book can successfully suck me in. If you love beauty and the beast re-tellings this book is certainly worth the read.

 

Buba’s Book Reviews:  On Swift Horses by Shannon Pufahl

Title: On Swift Horses

Author: Shannon Pufahl

Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction/LGBT lit

Publisher: Riverhead

Publication date: 11/05/19

Rating: 7/10

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On Swift Horses is a haunting and beautiful historical fiction set in the late 1950s. It follows the story of Muriel, a newly married waitress from Kansas who with her new husband, Lee, has set out to San Diego to make a new life. Intertwined with it and in parallel to it, is the story of Julius, Lee’s brother, a drifter, gambler, petty thief, and a gay man. Although she doesn’t originally know what it is about Julius that draws her in, Muriel recognizes the otherness of him that is growing slowly within herself and is fascinated.

The story is a coming into self-possession for Muriel, as she uses the gossip of her jockey patrons at her work to bet on racehorses eventually winning enough for build a home in California and start a future together with Lee, at least until she discovers that perhaps perfect domesticity is not at all what she wants.  Muriel is a woman who lost her mother young and cut adrift, follows the script that was left for her. She finds a serious young man back from the war and sets about building a world of obligations to tie herself down and build walls so that her life will make sense again. It doesn’t begin to become about joy until she discovers that the otherness she admires in Julius is in her too.

Meanwhile, Julius is a man only at home on the edges. The war and the difficulties he faced in the navy due to his closeted lifestyle have made him cynical and unwilling to settle. He spends much of the book fruitlessly chasing after his gay lover in a search that is both haunting and endlessly hopeful.

The book is a beautiful read, lyrical and evocative even as it takes the post-war idealism and scratches away the gilt, looking straight into the eyes of atomic tests, the rapidly chilling cold war, gay men struggling to not be constantly at the fringes, and women striving to be seen.

I admit that I spent much of the book in pleasant confusion, drifting along on the lyricism and sweet melancholy. I also despite my best efforts began to dislike Julius, I kept wanting him to take charge of his life, instead of repeating the same mistakes, but that didn’t happen, and honestly, I don’t think it should have, that’s not what his story was about. On the other hand, I was deeply engrossed in and enchanted with Muriel’s journey of self-discovery, her bald fearlessness, and her determination.

If you like historical fiction from this era I cannot recommend it enough, it’s really a peek behind the curtain of all the huge momentous happenings of the era into the smaller happenings of little lives that are just as momentous. I’ll also say I went into the book knowing I’d rather burn money than gamble with it, so while the window into the world of gambling and betting was fascinating it really only cemented my desire to never ever gamble.