Saturday, December 7, 2019

Gods of Jade and Shadow

Title:  Gods of Jade and Shadow
Author:  Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Publication Information:  Del Ray. 2019. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0525620753 / 978-0525620754

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Some people are born under a lucky star, while others have their misfortune telegraphed by the position of the planets."

Favorite Quote:  "Words are seeds, Casiopea. With words you embroider narratives, and the narratives breed myths, and there's power in the myth. Yes, the things you name have power."

Casiopea Tun is the poor relation. She is being raised by a single mother, whose family does not approve of the choices she has made. Circumstances and economics have forced Casiopea and her mother to live with the family. They are treated as the servants of the house somewhat like a Cinderella.

Casiopea dreams of more, and in this, she is very much unlike Cinderella. The dream is not of a prince charming, but of independence, escape, and a future that lies beyond the small town in the Yucatan in which they live. This is the very "real" story of a young woman finding courage and strength to live that dream.

She is, however, very much forced into this choice by a god. One day she opens a box in her grandfather's room and gives rise to Hun-Kamé, the "Lord of Shadows and rightful ruler of Xibalba." Xibalba is the Underworld, and Hun-Kamé is the god of death. A fued with his brother left him defeated and only a set of bones in a locked box. Casiopea's grandfather is the keeper of the box.

Now released, Hun-Kamé is out for revenge and out to regain his throne. In this quest, he requires Casiopea's help. Casiopea, despite her fears, has no choice but to help. So begins a grand adventure that traverses the Yucatan and eventually makes it way to California.

This story is based on the Popul Vuh, a text of Mayan mythology about brothers, twins, the underworld, and a fight filled with tricks and treachery. The text dates from the sixteenth century and is purported to be the story of Creation. The title translates literally to "the Book of the Mat" for the woven mats people sat on to hear the text recited. The text has been referred to as the Mayan bible, but its history is not that of scripture but as a documentation of the universe as the people understood it.

Gods of Jade and Shadow sets its story in the Jazz Age, which is an interesting, almost modern, touch to a story that is ancient ancient mythology.

The book is violent at times, but, at the same time, has a light-hearted and sweet note. The fight amongst gods is a the background. So is the undercurrent of a brewing love story. Ultimately, this is, however, Casiopea's story, and she is a strong, female hero. She is often the one doing the saving rather than waiting to be saved. The final test is also hers to endure and decide. The final decision is completely a deliberate and conscious choice.

The presence of a strong female protagonist makes this book. Caseiopea and Hun-Kamé proceed from location to location on their quest. This episodic structure makes the book a very quick read. Casiopea's age and the adventure based plot give the book a young adult vibe. The basis in Mayan mythology points me in a direction to read a little bit more about that mythology. All in all, a dose of fun and adventure that is much needed.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Home for Erring and Outcast Girls

Title:  Home for Erring and Outcast Girls
Author:  Julie Kibler
Publication Information:  Crown. 2019. 400 pages.
ISBN:  0451499336 / 978-0451499332

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Even when Mattie's great big dreams had troubled Lizzie, she'd envied her something fierce, for Lizzie came from nightmares, too fearful to dream."

Favorite Quote:  "It's possible to long for home, even when you don't have one."

The Berachah Industrial Home for the Redemption of Erring Girls was founded in 1903 on the outskirts of Arlington, Texas by Reverend James T. Upchurch and his wife Maggie May Upchurch. The word berachah means blessing in Hebrew.

The concept was a revolutionary one. The home was to provide support and guidance for "erring girls" / "fallen women". The home took in young women, often pregnant, and provided a home, education, and work. There were two stipulations. The girls were to "err" no more, and the babies would not be given up for adoption but raised by the mothers. The home operated until 1935. All that remains of the home today is a cemetery which contains about 80 graves. Many are simply labeled "infant" to the point that the cemetery is referred to as the Lost Cemetary of Infants.

Inspired by this history, Julie Kibler brings to life the Berachah Home in this fictional story. The book uses the approach of two time periods - a current day character who stumbles upon the history of the home and two women - Lizzie and Mattie - who were residents of the home.

Cate Sutton is a university librarian with a history and a past that results in a solitary life. In her new job, she stumbles on to the cemetery that is the only remaining monument to the home. That sets her on a search to uncover more. At the same time, she stumbles upon a tenuous friendship with a student, who has a hidden history and past of her own.

Lizzie and Mattie come to the Berachah Home for the same reason that many others did. There was simply no other option if they were to survive and perhaps protect their children. The two form an instant bond that lasts throughout their lifetime. The two make very different choices for their lives, yet throughout, the bond of friendship - a family found - remains.

Through Lizzie and Mattie, the book explores the work of the Berachah Home - its workshops providing dignity of work, its faith based teachings, its sometimes contentious presence in the community, and its ability to create a family and a sanctuary for women who had no other. It also explores the other end of this story in that "everyone might be worth saving, but not everyone can be saved."

Both the current day story and the story of the past put forth an emotional connection. The "surprise" of Cate's story is not really a surprise. The only connection of her story to Lizzie and Mattie's stories is that of acceptance - by family, by friends, and by certain parts of society. That connection too is at best tenuous.

As is common with books using this structure, I find the story of the past the more compelling and more emotional one. In addition, that story does what I love about historical fiction. It introduces me to history I did not know, and it motivates me to go and research that actual history. The fiction creates the introduction, and the research teaches me the history.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.