Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

A dark haired young woman sits in a coral colored party dress. Her skirts fade into the skyline of Havana's seaside.

by Kristen B.

“Next Year in Havana” is apparently a traditional toast for those of Cuban descent living in the US. It’s also the title of a thought-provoking historical novel that takes place in 1959 and the present.

I have to admit … I know almost nothing about Cuban politics and history beyond the obvious. The ongoing, repressive Castro regime brings communism to our back porch, cars are beautifully well-preserved old models, and Miami is home to exiles/immigrants. The revolution happened before I was born, and these are fleeting impressions left from public school and news programs.

Next Year in Havana added some details to that rough sketch. In the first timeline, Elisa Perez is the wealthy, privileged daughter of a sugar “king,” who supports Batista … or at least has every interest in maintaining the status quo. In the present day, her granddaughter Marisol returns to Havana after Elisa’s death to fulfill her final wishes. Beautiful descriptions of the island, the sea-walk, the old city, and the beaches complete this love story Cleeton has written to the country her family left.

As Castro’s forces are lobbing bombs, Elisa sneaks out one night with her older sisters to a party in a working class neighborhood where a friend of a friend of a boyfriend is throwing a get-together. Here she meets Pablo, a university student who is part of the 26th of July movement. Also, Elisa’s brother has been disowned for being part of the rebellion, but he works with a different faction. It all gets complicated, and it all goes wrong.

In the opening scene, the Perez family flees Havana for Coral Gables, Florida, where they rebuild their fortunes. As she and her sisters become the family matriarchs, Elisa essentially raises Marisol. And so we transition to the present, when Marisol makes arrangements to stay with her grandmother’s best friend and old neighbor, Ana, as she returns her grandmother’s ashes to Havana. Ana’s grandson, a professor of history and underground blogger, picks up Marisol from the airport, and their attraction is immediate and electric. Luis becomes her guide to Cuba, both physically and historically. The addition of a Perez scion in his life attracts the wrong sort of attention from the government, for both of them.

Everyone has to make hard choices entangled by expectations, family dynamics, and politics. Money and power have very little grace for young lovers, either 60 years ago or now. While the stories share certain parallels, the women carry these plots each in their own way. The supporting cast of sisters/aunts and extended family makes it all more believable. These characters truly behave like people grounded in their families, cultures, and belief systems.

This book, however, is not really a romance – despite the couples at the heart of both stories. The soft focus packaging is disingenuous marketing and does this excellent historical novel no favors. This book is a sucker punch of how real world choices can have devastating consequences. I enjoyed this book immensely. It may have helped that I read it during a weekend at the beach, with the sounds of the ocean in the background.

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton is available in print, as an eBook, and as an eAudiobook through OverDrive and CloudLibrary.

Women’s Stories from World War II

The cover is mostly in shades of grey, with a woman's face seen from behind turned to the side, smelling a rose. A plane, in a downward spiral, appears across the top. Spots of red in the smoke from the plane, the rose, and circling the name Verity provide a pop of color.

by Kristen B.

One of the current hot trends in publishing involves telling the previously overlooked stories of women during World War II, from code breakers at Bletchley Park and Arlington Hall to spies who worked with the Resistance. It seems they are everywhere right now. My all-time favorite, and one of the first in this sub-genre, is Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (technically YA, but I have no idea why).

Two young British women become bosom friends and compatriots in supplying occupied France with intelligence. Maddie is an amateur mechanic and pilot, who works ferrying planes around the UK to various RAF bases and sometimes across the Channel. She loves flying with an undying passion. I learned more about early aircraft than I wanted, to be honest. Men were needed as combat pilots, so women flew most of the personnel and supply shuttles. Maddie has a heart of gold and a desire to make a difference despite her lack of social standing or eduction. She’s the perfect foil to Queenie (code name Verity), a member of the upper class with a wicked ability with languages and acting, who is recruited directly into intelligence work. Not to put too fine a point on it, our girl is a perfect spy. Her nom de guerre means truth, and the entire book hinges on figuring out which parts of her story are true.

The two become unlikely friends through their brief careers, including one scene where they end up lost on their bikes in the rain because all the road signs have been removed. When Queenie ends up captured behind enemy lines, everyone fears the worst. Verity is the main narrator for the book, and to say she’s unreliable doesn’t even begin to capture the reality. The plot is a breathless dash of misadventure and raw calculation, and you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next. Sometimes friendship saves the day, and sometimes a book rips your heart from your chest and leaves you a wreck on the sofa. Maybe I’m saying too much … but really, just read it!

Code Name Verity is also available as an eBook from Libby/OverDrive and as an audiobook on CD.

All in shades of blue, the outline of a castle appears in the foggy background with a hedge in the foreground and a plane high overheard.

Equally fraught if less devastating, The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck gives us an unusual and moving look at German women in the immediate aftermath of the war. Three women and their children find themselves living together in a derelict castle in Bavaria, doing their utmost simply to survive. The property belongs to Marianne von Lingenfels, member of the landed aristocracy and wife of one of Hitler’s detractors. When her husband and other conspirators in the 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler are summarily executed, she tries to fulfill her promise to save as many other wives and children as possible.

She manages to find two: Benita and Ania. Benita, a classic German beauty, flees her family’s impoverished life by marrying Marianne’s best friend from childhood. Ania and her two boys escape from the far eastern regions and trudge through much of the country, dodging Russian soldiers and American GIs, before reaching the safety of the castle. The three women and their six children band together in unlikely friendship to outlast the worst depredations and devastations. In one of the most moving scenes, everyone in the castle and the connected village attends an Advent service in the local ruined church, and the power of the sacred music and a clear, cold night brings a much-needed moment of hope.

As the book progresses, we learn each woman’s history and gain some understanding of how they come to be within the castle. Benita suffers all a beautiful woman at the mercy of an enemy can expect. Marianne, used to privilege and a life filled with intellectual rigor, maintains a moral viewpoint that allows for very few shades of grey – despite being in a time and space that demands them. And Ania, my favorite character by far, lives almost entirely within those grey spaces in the most practical manner possible. Her background of supporting the Nazi agenda until she could no longer ignore the atrocities portrays the “good German” conundrum all too well.

The book catalogs the necessary sacrifices and compromises, from the reality of marauding renegade soldiers to the plight of Displaced Persons. It’s a fascinating portrayal of how people move forward, trying to make it through today, tomorrow, this week, this month, this year. It made me think about how this is not a sexy, heroic story, nor is it a tragic tale of valiant derring-do and winning through at all costs. Shattuck gives us – gifts us – three fairly ordinary German women thrown together in dire circumstances who survive … because what else was there to do?

The Women in the Castle is also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook from Libby/OverDrive and as an audiobook on CD.

Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to read, stitch, and take walks in the park.

Author works: Gail Tsukiyama

The book cover depicts the small town of Hilo at the shoreline, with buildings in shades of white and brown against a foreground and backdrop of turquoise sea and sky; in the distance, Mauna Loa is erupting into the sky, with yellow flame and reddish clouds above the silhouette of the mountain.

JOIN US! Author presentation: Thursday, Aug 5 from 7 – 8 pm, online
Register via this link or at hclibrary.org > classes & events. Once you register, a Zoom link will be emailed to you.

By Julie F.

The beloved bestselling author and recipient of the Academy of American Poets Award and the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award, Gail Tsukiyama returns with The Color of Air. A novelist whose dual Chinese and Japanese background features prominently in her writing, Tsukiyama presents a novel whose prose flows like the lava threatening her characters, with the grace of stringing leis with fragrant jasmine, kukui nuts, and ti leaves. The literal and figurative emblems of Hawai’i leap off the page and into the vision, sounds, taste, and touch of readers as they live alongside the Hilo locals, and hear the voices of the ghosts they cannot let go.

The residents’ stories move through alternating sections from 1935 to the even deeper past — a rich, vibrant, bittersweet chorus which tells the interweaving stories and a lifelong bond to each other and to others in their immigrant community. Even as the eruption of the Mauna Loa volcano threatens their lives and livelihoods, it also unearths long-held secrets that have been simmering just below the surface.

What I love about the book is that there is a subplot for everyone. If you’ve had a relative challenged by dementia or Alzheimer’s, you see how Mama Natua’s family tries to cope with the help of Daniel, the Hilo native and urban Chicago doctor who has returned to the island to work among his people. Daniel himself wrestles with paternal abandonment, maternal loss, and the guilty sting of feeling that he failed a patient on the mainland. His high school sweetheart, Maile, has an abusive relationship in her past and is tentative about finding happiness again. Razor, the best friend of Daniel’s uncle Koji, tries to unionize the immigrant workers who are taken advantage of by the sugar and pineapple plantation owners and overseers. Each person has their secrets and struggles, yet all come together to find solutions. That’s one of the best things about Tsukiyama’s novels: the sense of love, community, and found family that permeates each page, with characters who learn to face and overcome their fears in order to adapt and grow.

Another strength is the remarkable visual and sensual imagery of the island, which is like a living being itself: “just as volatile and unpredictable as anything a big city could offer” (48). The native Hawaiian words interspersed throughout give the reader a sense of the geology, the fruit, the pikake blossoms, the music of the Filipino bands in the town, and the diversity of languages spoken on the island (at one point, she notes that signs on the street were printed in Tagalog, Portuguese, and Japanese). Hawai’i is truly a distinct cultural melding of sounds, sights, and scents, and Tsukiyama’s descriptive language conveys its unique beauty.

In her years aside from writing, Tsukiyama co-founded the nonprofit WaterBridge Outreach: Books + Water. Alongside bestselling authors Ann Patchett, Gillian Flynn, Karen Joy Fowler, Mary Roach, and Lisa See, the foundation’s mission is to give children in developing communities hope for the future through nourishing their minds and bodies with books and water.

Gail Tsukiyama was born in San Francisco, California to a Chinese mother from Hong Kong and a Japanese father from Hawai’i. She is the bestselling author of Women of the Silk (available from HCLS in eAudiobook format from Libby/OverDrive) and The Samurai’s Garden, as well as the more recent A Hundred Flowers (also available as a book on CD and as an eAudiobook from CloudLibrary).

Julie is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch. She loves gardening, birds, books, all kinds of music, and the great outdoors.

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

The book cover shows a brunette woman with red lips in profile against a blue background, with a frond of peach-colored leaves in the foreground. One of the leaves obscures her eye, which gives her a mysterious appearance.

By Gabriela P.

In 1926, Agatha Christie could have had Hercule Poirot, her own creation, scratching his head. Her 11 day disappearance has no credible explanation to this day, and remains shrouded in conjecture. In her book The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, novelist Marie Benedict gives readers an exhilarating glimpse into what Christie may have been like. It is a fascinating blend of fact and fiction that is truly an empowering tribute to one of the most sensational mystery writers of all time.

The book is set up with alternating chapters between the past and the present, with Agatha giving a heart-rendering account of her life through her early years and marriage to Archie (Col. Archibald). The shackles of social norms and expectations that governed her marriage shape reveal an unexpectedly tragic side to her that not many readers may have imagined. As the story turns to her disappearance and the ensuing search, the book becomes a captivating back and forth between her own reflections and the increasingly loathsome Archie’s. 

I have always admired Agatha Christie. In my youth, I was a faithful fan and read each and every one of her novels.  Not a single one failed to keep me glued to the pages until the very end with their delightful characters. Of course I dreamt of being like Hercule Poirot, with his sense of humor, knowledge of human emotions, and effortless  brilliance. I was often left trying to solve each of the mysteries alongside him as his imagined assistant… but of course my personal theories always ended up missing the mark completely!

With Benedict’s book, I was given the opportunity to imagine a brilliant but naive young Agatha stifled by society. How could someone so intelligent and capable of creating characters that rivaled Sherlock Holmes lose themselves in an impossible journey to be a perfect wife in a perfect marriage? Benedict’s writing led me to feel all of Agatha’s fear, love, and frustration while sharing her journeys that inspired so many of her prided and celebrated characters.

As with her previous novels, Marie Benedict does not disappoint. She is a master in picturing both famous and not-so-famous people in history with wonderfully-researched work and rich storytelling.

Also available to borrow as an eBook.

Gabriela is a customer service specialist at the Miller Branch. She loves long walks, reading with her dog, and a good cup of coffee.

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

The book depicts the next of a swan as a winding river, with flowers scattered alongside and the title, "Once Upon a River," superimposed.

By Piyali C.

There are many ancient inns on the bank of the river Thames, providing their patrons with more than just ale and cider. Patrons looking for music go to The Red Lion at Kelmscott; for deep contemplation, they go to the Green Dragon at Inglesham; the Stag at Eaton Hastings is the place for gambling. But if they are looking for stories, they go to The Swan at Radcot, the most ancient inn of them all and only a day’s walk from the source of the Thames. On a dark winter’s night, sometime in the mid-nineteenth century, a seriously injured man enters The Swan with the body of a four-year-old girl in his arms whom he found floating in the river. Before he can give any explanations, he collapses in the arms of the storytellers at the inn. The innkeeper’s son Jonathan catches the body of the girl before the man falls. The child, presumed dead, is kept in a separate room while everyone gets busy looking after the man, who is still breathing, but just barely. Rita Sunday, the resident nurse of the village, is summoned immediately. She first tends to the injuries of the man, who we learn later is a photographer named Daunt, and then goes to look at the little girl’s dead body. Rita checks her pulse and her breathing and, finding none, she holds the hands of the girl and sits with her awhile, lamenting the death of one so young in such mysterious circumstances. In her hand, however, Rita suddenly feels a flutter of life! The girl, who had no pulse, comes alive.

The thread of the story unspools at this point just like the surge of the Thames roaring outside the inn. Like tributaries that feed the powerful river, each of the characters in this tale veers off to run his or her own course, only to come together to enrich the main body of the story. The narrator takes us on the journey of life with each of her characters and explains how their actions and decisions converge to solve the mystery of the little girl. The river, with its myriad turns and crossings and innumerable tributaries, becomes a powerful character in itself within the plot, always present in the background propelling the story forward with its mighty surge. There are so many intriguing questions that the reader wants answered. Who is the mystery girl who came back from the dead? Is she the kidnapped daughter of the wealthy Vaughan family? Is she the granddaughter of the black farmer Robert Armstrong, whose wayward son Robin married a woman and then left her alone with their little daughter, Alice? Or is the four-year-old girl the sister of 44-year-old Mrs. Lily White, as she adamantly claims? How is that possible? Who does she belong to and why won’t she speak?

The storyteller of this tale, which is fortified with folklore, magic, science, and myth, is one of the best, sweeping readers in the turbulent current of her fast-paced, hypnotic plot and then delivering them safely back to their own worlds to attend to their own rivers. “And now, dear reader, the story is over. It is time for you to cross the bridge once more and return to the world you came from. This river, which is and is not the Thames, must continue flowing without you. You have haunted here long enough, and besides, you surely have rivers of your own to attend to?” (460) Before leaving us, though, she makes sure each tangle of the plot is smoothly and expertly untangled, each question satisfactorily answered. Once Upon a River is yet another testament to the power of stories and storytelling that has captivated and transformed lives through centuries. This title is also available as an ebook and eaudiobook from Howard County Library System. In my opinion, this novel is best enjoyed in your cozy reading spot on a cold winter’s night, snuggled in your favorite blanket with a cup of hot chocolate by your side.

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at the Miller Branch of HCLS, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.

Book Theater

By Cherise T.

Nature setting in bluish tint. Trees, clouds, horizon.

If you’re like me, you really miss live theater. The Playbills. Waiting for the curtain to rise, the actors to appear. Entering another world. Audiobooks can offer a similar exhilarating trip. Recently, some audiobooks go beyond one or two readers. They offer a whole cast of performers who immerse you in the books’ texts like only a theatrical performance can. Publishers have started to invest in larger ensembles of characters. These audiobooks provide a different experience from the written word. 

Those of you who have listened to the Harry Potter series on audio are already familiar with Jim Dale, the award-winning British actor with the unique ability to create special voices for all of Rowling’s Hogwarts characters. Dale has talked about children recognizing his voice at McDonald’s and asking him to order a burger as Dumbledore. It’s the rare audiobook narrator who can convincingly perform multiple characters on his own, but Dale can. If you haven’t heard Harry on audio, I recommend giving the series a try. 

The largest audio cast to date belongs to the Lincoln in the Bardo recording. In his first novel, George Saunders, an acclaimed speculative short story writer, brings us an otherworldly vision of President Abraham Lincoln mourning the death of his 11-year-old son, Willie. We meet Willie’s fellow cemetery spirits who linger between death and rebirth. One of the protagonists is voiced by Nick Offerman of Parks and Recreation fame and another by David Sedaris, the bestselling humor essayist. (Sedaris’s audiobooks are wonderful too as he reads his own works.) There are 166 performers in all. Although it’s fun to see how many voices you can recognize – Ben Stiller! Julianne Moore! – I recommend exploring the full cast list to enjoy the complete experience. 

Daisy Jones and the Six is a novel that takes the form of an oral history of a fictional 1970’s rock band. The members of The Six embody sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. Author Taylor Jenkins Reid even pens lyrics for the group’s hit songs. Now, what if you could hear the oral history? You can, in the amazing audiobook. Jennifer Beals of Flashdance and The L Word fame is the voice of Daisy, a character loosely inspired by Stevie Nicks. There are 21 cast members on this audiobook, and they bring the chaotic world of recording, tours, and relationships to life. 

If you’ve not explored the joys of audiobooks, give them a try. On free book promotion sites such as Goodreads and Book Riot, you can find reviews specifically of audiobooks. The readers are as unique as the books themselves, so don’t hesitate to give different voices a try. 

Cherise Tasker is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks.

Virtual Visit with Lisa See

On a sea blue background, two Korean women stand ready to dive. The title and author information interweaves with line drawings of water grass and squids.

On Tuesday, October 6 at 11 am, 2020 One Maryland One Book author Lisa See visits virtually to discuss her book The Island of Sea Women. She will be in conversation with Laura Yoo, Professor of English at Howard Community College and a board member of Howard County Poetry and Literature Society. Register to receive a link to this free event.

Spanning generations, and set against the backdrop of the Japanese occupation of Korea, the Korean War, and the broader geopolitics of the Cold War, The Island of Sea Women takes place on the island of Jeju. It focuses on haenyeo – female divers, who cooperated to create a matrifocal society. These women were the primary earners in their families, while their husbands took on more domestic roles. However, the complexity of the narrative captures the broader theme of nearly 70 years of friendship.

See writes, “No one picks a friend for us; we come together by choice,” and such was the case for Young-sook, the daughter of the chief haenyeo, and Mi-ja, an orphan whose father was a Japanese collaborator. Young-sook’s family, in spite of being wary of Mi-ja’s stained reputation, practically adopts her, and their friendship is a beautiful and rare sort. It is, “not tied together through ceremony or the responsibility to create a son; we tie ourselves together through moments. The spark when we first meet. Laughter and tears shared. Secrets packed away to be treasured, hoarded and protected. The wonder that someone can be so different from you and yet still understand your heart in a way no one else ever will.” Such deeply shared moments, secrets, and experiences define the nature of their friendship.

As the girls reach adulthood, the prospect of their respective arranged marriages begins to strain their friendship. Mi-ja looks to marry the wealthy and handsome son of a Japanese collaborator, who resides in the city, while Young-sook has an understanding with a neighbor boy, Jun-bu. Yet, their friendship further solidifies through the shared experiences of their “leaving-home water-work” in Russia’s Vladivostok and motherhood.

The looming backdrop of the Korean Crisis and the 4.3 Incident (the massacre of thousands of Koreans on April 3, 1948 in response to a communist rebellion) at the hands of the new Korean government brought into power by the United States results in crimes against humanity and atrocities being committed against the innocent. The novel’s major dilemma revolves around Young-sook’s struggle with the traumatic and rather graphic barbarity of the 4.3 Incident and her subsequent rejection of Mi-ja’s friendship. 

While the novel deals with several themes, the overarching theme of friendship intersects and interacts with some of the other themes like male hegemony in Korean society, motherhood, religion and spirituality, war, injustice and finally, loss, betrayal and forgiveness. This book has much to teach about female companionship, trust, and, more importantly, the necessity to hear a friend without judgment. 

Review by Rohini G., who is an Adult Curriculum Specialist with Howard County Library System and is a member of the selection committee for One Maryland One Book

If you wish to discuss the novel, several HCLS Book Discussion groups have chosen it for upcoming meeting. Register to receive a Zoom link.

Stories of the World on Monday, Oct 5 at 7 pm

Books on Tap on Wednesday, Oct 7 at 6 pm

The Thursday Next Book Club on Thursday, Oct 8 at 7 pm

ELK Excellent Reads on Tuesday, Nov 10 at 12:30 pm

Read While Isolated

The cover depicts an open pocket watch against a black cloth background with small, glowing astrological symbols.

by Piyali C.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I found it difficult to focus on books. It seemed like Emily St. John Mandel’s dystopian novel, Station Eleven was playing out right in front of me. However, when physical distancing became a part of our daily routine, I took to reading so I could escape to other worlds created by authors. The books below are some of the ones that I truly enjoyed as I read them during isolation, borrowed from Howard County Library System.

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue (available in print, ebook, eaudiobook): A fascinating story of nurse Julia Powers, who works in the maternity ward of a hospital in war- and flu-ravaged Dublin in 1918. She takes care of expectant mothers fallen ill with the raging Spanish flu. With the help of a rebel woman doctor and a young orphaned woman, Nurse Powers tends to the needs of the quarantined pregnant women in her care to the best of her ability under the circumstances.

The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate: (available in print, ebook, eaudiobook) Told in the alternating voices of Hannie, a recently freed slave in 1875, and Benedetta Silva, a young new teacher in a tiny town in Louisiana in 1987, this story takes us through the Reconstruction era in America with Hannie, as she travels to Texas with two unwilling companions, Miss Lavinia and Juneau June, in the hope of finding her family members who were sold as slaves in different cities and towns. Benny Silva, while trying to engage her unwilling students in their own history, comes across the story of Hannie’s journey in the library of a run-down plantation house. The discovery of this quest brings forth a fascinating story of freed slaves trying desperately to reconnect with family members lost to slavery in 1870’s America.

The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai (available in print, eaudiobook): Drawn from the author’s own experiences of growing up in postwar Vietnam and from interviewing countless people who lived through the horrors of the Vietnam war, Ngyuen Phan Que Mai writes this amazing story of a family torn apart, not only by the war, but also by the subsequent division between north and south Vietnam. While the story talks about the unbelievable horror that wars inflict on human life, it also sings an ode to indomitable human resilience and a desperate mother’s inexplicable courage and determination to keep her children safe.

A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler (available in print, ebook, eaudiobook): Valerie is a 48-year-old Black woman, a single mom to Xavier, and an ecology professor who nurtures a deep love for plants and trees. Brad Whitman is an entrepreneur who has risen up in wealth and power from humble beginnings. Brad builds a gorgeous house next to Valerie’s and moves in with his wife Julia, step daughter Juniper and daughter Lily. As a relationship starts to build between Valerie and Julia, an incident regarding Valerie’s favorite tree causes a rift between the two families, resulting in a law suit. But Xavier, Valerie’s 18-year-old son, and Juniper, Julia’s 17-year-old daughter, are also building a beautiful relationship. How much acceptance will an interracial relationship receive, not only from society but also from Brad Whitman? Told from the perspective of the neighbors of both Valerie and Brad, this story explores complicated race relations between Black and White, loss of innocence, coming of age, struggles of women, and much more. 

What did you read during isolation? Tell us in the comments.

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at the Miller Branch of HCLS, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James

The sepia-toned book cover depicts a young Black woman seated in a wooden chair, wearing a plain sleeveless white cotton dress.

Review by Piyali C.

This has to be one of the most difficult books that I have read in a very long time. Difficult, powerful and absolutely brilliant. I had to take frequent breaks because of the inexplicable cruelty that is described in the book. However, I realized I was thinking about the story and the characters even during those breaks.

Lilith is born as a slave in the Montpelier plantation in Kingston, Jamaica in the eighteenth century. She is born with skin as dark as midnight, yet her eyes are a startling green. She is also born with an indomitable spirit which refuses to be tamed even within bondage. There is a group of women on the plantation, the Night Women, who are plotting a revolution. The head house slave, Homer, who is also the leader of the slave uprising, recognizes something dark within Lilith’s spirit. She raises Lilith with the hope that she will use that darkness towards the cause of the slave rebellion. Their dream is to recreate the villages of Africa that they were forced to abandon after the uprising. Lilith’s life, however, takes a slightly different turn than the rest of the slaves in Montpelier, and her decision to join the revolution is highly influenced by that turn of events. Where does Lilith’s loyalty lie? Will she harness the dark power within her to help free her people?

Marlon James poses a challenge to his readers to live the lives of both his Black and White characters in 18th century Jamaica; he dares them to stomach the inexplicable cruelty that was meted out to the slaves by the White overseers, plantation owners and ‘johnny jumpers,’ and then he invites them to put this all into the current context and analyze how much has really changed in the world that we inhabit. The topic was harsh and this was not a pleasant read, but I am determined not to run away from hard topics that deal with race. This book, through a thoroughly captivating story, sheds a spotlight on the White mentality of objectifying and dehumanizing Black people so they could inflict the cruelest of torture on them, physically and mentally. This is a brutally honest look at the genesis of racism.

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James is available from HCLS in print, audiobook on CD, and as an eaudiobook in Libby/Overdrive.

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.

November Road by Lou Berney

A young girl, perhaps 8 years old, is riding in a car with her head stuck out the window. We see only her back and the back of her head. She has on a light cardigan and has a brown braid.  Above this picture is a blurred piece of a manuscript, where all you can read is "Kennedy Assassinated."

Review by Cindy G.

The assassination of John F. Kennedy was one of the first monumental things that happened when I was a child.  There are so many angles to this time period in American history. November Road, by Lou Berney, is a fictional book that may help us understand one small but interesting piece of what happened in Dallas, Texas in November 1963.

We follow fictional mobster Frank Guidry, who works for the real-life mobster Carlos Marcello. As a known criminal, Marcello was eventually brought to trial as the possible mob boss who helped orchestrate the assassination. In the book, Frank knows too much about what happened in Dallas during that fateful week. The author describes how the mob may kill its own people in back alleys to protect itself from leaks. Frank has heard he needs to protect himself, decides to head to Las Vegas, and along the way runs into a runaway housewife named Charlotte. She has left her abusive husband on the spur of the moment, her car has broken down, and she is nearly panic-stricken. Frank has always been an independent and lonesome mobster, but feels that pretending to fall in love with Charlotte and have her and her two children with him would benefit him tremendously–while being potentially dangerous for them all.

Are mobsters following Frank, Charlotte and the kids as they make their trek across the country in his car? Charlotte falls in love quickly with this generous, worldly, handsome man. Does Frank have a hidden, softer side? Or is he simply using this struggling family as a cover as he approaches his actual “family,” criminals who may or may not have his back. I rate this book 5/5, a wonderful historical fiction, nicely swirled with an interesting mystery, that made me think of the 1960s in a new way.

Cindy G. has worked for Howard County Library System for 12 years. She loves cooking, reading, maps, and spending time with her family.