Book Reviews From the Vault: The Polished Hoe

This review of The Polished Hoe by Austin Clarke was one of the quickest that I have ever written. Since I first posted this review, I found out that it has become a play. Stay tuned for a review of that in the future!

For all of the books that I have read in my lifetime, there are only TWO books that I did not finish. One of those books was The Polished Hoe. I will explain why I was not able to read it completely.

Written by Barbados-born Austin Clarke, The Polished Hoe is about Mary-Mathilda -a black woman who has worked on a Barbados plantation in a variety of positions including mistress to its powerful manager. It takes place over one day, in which she confesses a crime committed against the manager to the constable and sergeant on the island.

Let’s start off with the good. The book offers interesting commentary on the collective experience of the slavery-characterized society in the Barbados, especially about the role of women in said society. In one passage, the main character explains this to the sergeant:

“It was common practice on plantations in Bimshire [Barbados] for a Plantation Manager to breed any woman he rested his two eyes on…. And so it was with me. And with Ma. And with Ma’s mother, until we get far-far-far back, get-back on the ships leaving Africa, sailing on the high seas, crossing the Atlantic Ocean, trying to reach Amurca, …. And they decide to jump overboard [to avoid that fate], and face the broiling green waves of the Deep; and God; taking suicides, which was better” (442-443).

I find it fascinating to read about the past and to see how both real and fictionalized individuals deal with the problems of their times.

Even though the book possesses an interesting premise, it is a slog to get through. Even a snail could move faster than this. It doesn’t help that it is over 450 pages! In the midst of passages discussing Mary-Mathilda’s life an enslaved woman on the plantation, it repeats itself about almost every detail. Also, for some reason, the book likes to have its male characters picture the female ones naked every now and then. I am not sure why. Additionally, the main character is obsessed with her garden hoe – the title object – even to the point of sleeping with it. What a way to shove the item’s significance down our throats! And if you are wondering, yes, it plays a huge role in the crime that she committed. Finally, the best (used ironically) part is that the book itself is even not divided into chapters. In fact, it is divided into THREE PARTS! Someone should have edited it prior to publishing it.

The book is a bestseller in Canada. It won many awards like the Giller Prize, which is a literary award given to Canadian authors (Clarke resides in Canada). In other words, there are people who have enough patience to get through it. Clearly, I am not one of them, but that doesn’t mean I have given up on it. The plot alone is compelling to explore, but it is certainly not a story that one reads before going to bed although it is great if you want to fall asleep quickly. In conclusion, this is why I could not finish The Polished Hoe.

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Confessions of a Campaign Manager Book Review

Confessions of a Campaign Manager Book Review

Full disclosure: I was given a free PDF copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I am not usually the type to read about politics in a straight manner. However, since I recently read Confessions of a Campaign Manager by Bharat Krishnan, it allowed me to have a greater understanding of what goes on behind the scenes of a political campaign.

Confessions of a Campaign Manager is a memoir about Krishnan’s involvement in politics for roughly a decade. It all started with hearing a racist comment spoken by a senator against an Indian American and ended with him realizing that working on various Democratic campaigns was taking a toll on his life.

Krishnan writes his memoir in the most honest manner possible, while also balancing the fine line between conventional and analytical prose. For instance, he has a chapter called “Race Problems”, in which he discusses how American politics has tackled these issues within the last decade. He takes a two-tiered approach by utilizing both various articles and personal experience as an Indian American to discuss how America has refused to talk about its racist past, which has now exploded into the headlines. To balance that out, he offers some suggestions to improve race relations like allowing all kinds of people – women, people of color, and people of different sexual orientations, etc. – to run for all levels of office.

In addition, it contains some interesting stories about various campaigns that he worked for. For example, while Krishnan was working on a campaign for an Indian American politician looking to get into local office in northern Virginia, he gave him a discounted rate for his services since he wanted to see a person of his own heritage win. To justify this, he put a fundraising bonus into his contract, so when they raised a certain amount, he got said bonus. They did reach that amount, but Krishnan was not given the bonus because the politician refused to honor that part in the contract. These and other stories paint a real picture of the campaigning world.

Coincidentally, the one story that does not directly involve campaigning was arguably the most impactful. That story was about Kevin Sutherland – Krishnan’s friend from college who was stabbed to death on July 4, 2015. Krishnan relates that he took plenty of advice from Kevin, including the importance of paid internships and of family. The latter made Krishnan realize that he “didn’t want to waste [his] life in random states in an office late at night” (p. 58).

Additionally, Krishnan gives advice for anybody who is looking to get into politics, including how much time one is willing to be away from family, starting out at the grassroots level, and how much money to raise depending on the position in office. It helps that the chapters are relatively short. However, this advice is targeted more towards Democrat-leaning readers. While I personally do not have a problem with this, I can see it alienating readers who could have loyalty to the Republican party.

Overall, Confessions of a Campaign Manager by Bharat Krishnan is a very useful book for anyone looking to work in a political campaign. Even though he has a bias for Democrats, he is still very honest and analytical while writing in an effective conversational tone with short chapters to help keep readers glued to the book.

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Book Reviews From the Vault: Where’d You Go Bernadette

Before I started this website, I had posted reviews of books on social media. Since I have been reviewing books for a year now, I wanted to show you these posts in a new series called “Book Reviews From the Vault!” starting with the excellent Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple.

I run a book club at my workplace, and we discussed Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple awhile back. It is about a daughter who tries to piece together what happened during her mom’s – the title character – disappearance as the family plans for a Christmas trip to Antarctica. I had initially chosen this book because I had figured that with a title like that, it would be more light-hearted and quirkier than the previously examined books, which tended to have intense themes. It also helped that its movie version is slated for a release date in August 2019 with Cate Blanchett as the titular person. It certainly fulfilled my expectations of light and fun.

The best parts of the novel were the characters and the one-of-a-kind structure. The characters felt real as they all had their winning traits as well as their flaws. These can be seen especially in both the title character and her Christian-loving nemesis Audrey Griffin. In addition, Semple writes most of the story epistolary-style aka through letters (both print and email). This unique style allows the author to explore various characters’ relationships to one another, beliefs, and their motivations at their most personal. The only complaint I have is that she does not use it throughout the entire novel. She uses for two-thirds of it, and the third act uses a conventional first-point-of-view structure. I wonder why she did that, for it seems odd to switch from a distinctive style to an ordinary one. Nonetheless, I have never seen a book written in the epistolary form before, but in terms of enhancing the story, it was very effective.

Additionally, I listened to the audiobook, which is narrated by Kathleen Wilhoite. Wilhoite does a good job at bringing the characters even more to life even if the vocal differences were subtle at times. The only problem that I had with her performance was with the character Bee – the protagonist. Bee is supposed to be 14 years old, yet Wilhoite makes her sound like as if she was 10. This was not too much of a problem when Bee is naïve of what was going on with her mom, but once she finds out, it got annoying. The audiobook is still worth listening despite the vocal realization of Bee.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book for anyone interested in reading something that is light, fun, and quirky. It keeps the story interesting through its well-rounded characters and epistolary structure.

Before We Were Yours Review

Before We Were Yours Book Review

If you were to ask me what one of my favorite books was, I would immediately say Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. I read this book about a year ago, and I loved it the moment I read the first page. It is historical fiction at its best; it creates an emotionally gripping story based on an actual historical event. I re-read it (technically I listened to the audiobook) for book club, and I didn’t realize that this was possible, but I loved it even more.

Before We Were Yours has two separate stories that eventually come together. The main story involves a 12-year-old girl named Rill and her four siblings, who live on a shanty boat with their parents in 1939 Memphis. When their parents leave for the hospital one stormy night, the children are taken away to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage. Having been put in charge that night, Rill fights to keep her siblings together. The other story revolves around Avery Stafford – a federal prosecutor who comes from a privileged family in present day Aiken, South Carolina. As she helps her senator father with his health crisis, an encounter with an elderly woman in a nursing care facility leads her to a journey through her family’s hidden history.

When I said that the best historical fiction creates an emotionally gripping story based on an actual event, I really mean it. The actual event in this case was Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. For over two decades until 1950, Tann and her cohorts kidnapped poor children, and sold them to wealthy families across the country, even to Joan Crawford and June Allyson. It is sadly estimated that some 500 children died due to disease, poor care, and possibly abuse while in the society’s hands. (https://nypost.com/2017/06/17/this-woman-stole-children-from-the-poor-to-give-to-the-rich/). Many of them were molested as well.

I had no idea that this event even occurred, and to think that this happened to children of all ages AND that Tann managed to get away with it frightens me all the more. That fear translated into sympathy for Rill and her siblings in their quest to not only make it out alive, but also to tell their stories while still in the orphanage. Even when she had no choice but to obey, I understood because for Rill, that meant survival. This is why Rill’s story gripped me to the bone more than Avery’s story even though I have nothing against the latter.

It was the audiobook that made my read the second time around all the more enjoyable. Emily Rankin and Catherine Taber put on some great vocal performances. Rankin – a well-known audiobook narrator and creator of the popular web short Jane Austin’s Fight Club – plays Avery, and she voices her in a professional east coast manner with hints of a Southern accent. This is highly appropriate since Avery lives in the east coast, but grew up in South Carolina. I extremely respect this particular detail that Rankin made to Avery’s character. Taber is also a well-known audiobook narrator, and she has appeared in television shows like Jane the Virgin and Star Wars: Clone Wars as well as gaming franchises like Final Fantasy. In my opinion, Taber is the standout.She voices Rill as a southern 12-year-old girl, who is perfectly fine with living by the river, yet it never gets too juvenile, especially when Rill experiences several traumatic episodes at the orphanage. There is also a sense of maturity in Rill that Taber also provides with such honesty. In addition, Taber shines when voicing Georgia Tann, who could be sweet and manipulative to not only the children, but also to the wealthy families. It is through Taber’s vocal performance of Tann that I could imagine an evil smile draping across her face when she said many of her lines.

If you have not read Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate yet, do so as soon as possible. The story and the horrific events that it is based on are why many people have praised the novel. I can’t say enough good things about it, and I will continue to enjoy it forevermore.

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Hi Everybody!

Hi Everybody!

My name is Emily Blakowski, and I work at two public libraries in southeast Michigan. At one of them, I facilitate a book club, where we read a wide variety of novels. I started reviewing books in October 2018 with my Facebook page “Book Reviews by a Person Who Reads Everything” after a year of doing the book club because I wanted to express my thoughts on the books that we were discussing. The page has grown so much that I decided that it was time to create a website for “Book Reviews”.

For those who are not familiar with this blog, I read every kind of book from the absolute serious to the downright silly. Therefore, I review everything! If you have something of interest that you want me to review, feel free to contact me at chickwhoreadseverything@gmail.com!