I’ve wanted to get my hands on this book for quite some time and the Clutch 2013 reading group on 6751356Goodreads gave me the shove I needed.  Wench is the four-part story of Lizzie, Reenie, Sweet, and Mawu.  They are more than wenches.  In the beginning, before the novel really starts, Perkins-Valdez depicts the change in meaning of the word wench.  “In the middle ages the word wench simply meant a girl, maid, young woman; a female child, but in the United States from 1812-1832 a wench was a black or colored female servant; a negress and by 1848 the definition became a colored woman of any age; a negress or mulattress, especially one in service.”(Wench)  This sets the lugubrious tone of what is yet to come in the novel.

Tawawa House was a resort built in the free state of Ohio.  It was built for the white Northern elite to partake of the natural spring water which was deemed good for the health, but over time Southern slave owners began frequenting the resort accompanied by their slave concubines for the summer.  Here these women bonded with each other  in their own way through their condition of utter servitude.  At Tawawa House the women were subjected to all kinds of mistreatment, sordid situations, and persistent promiscuous sex in an animalistic way.  It’s obvious that the author is trying to show the backward thinking of the period,i.e. that slaves were like animals and extremely promiscuous.  “I felt that given the sexual servitude of my female characters, this word would most accurately evoke the set of cultural expectations they were entangled within.” (Wench About the author, p. 4)

Lizzie was the only one of the four that didn’t seem to understand her place as a slave.  She loved Drayle, her master, and she seemed to believe that he loved her.  It is very hard to imagine that to be true, but I believe this is the main controversy of the story.  At times she even imagined herself dressed as if she was a lady and tried to adopt their mannerisms.  The only time she thought of freedom was for her two children, Nate and Rabbit.  Mawu, however, was head-strong and determined.  She didn’t mind saying what was on her mind and it was clear that freedom was on her mind from the beginning of the story.  She spoke of how she tried to devise ways to discourage her master from sleeping with her.  Sweet was pregnant with her fifth child, the embodiment of motherhood, whereas Reenie was the oldest of the group, trying to hide herself anyway that she could.

Surprisingly, Tawawa House was not the only resort around but low and behold existed another resort not very far away for free coloreds.  The slaves’ first encounter with free blacks, other than the blacks working in Tawawa House’s kitchen, was a moment of freedom in itself, yet darkened by a large dose of fear.  It opened Pandora’s box.  In spite of the fear, the visit sparked a desire for freedom that never stopped growing.  It compelled them all to reflect on their individual situations.  It was like a disease seeping into their veins for which there was no cure.  How did this all affect them?  You’ll just have to read for yourself and find out.

The writing style was beautiful and sensitive.  The descriptions were detailed, realistic, and poignant.  In my opinion, the characters were endearing, but for me Lizzie was a total enigma.  I didn’t feel very sympathetic toward her as a character and I was always anticipating the worst to happen when she was involved.  Her character made me uncomfortable.  The controversy around Wench lies there.  Could there have actually been love between a master and a slave?  What kinds of horrendous stereotypes go through the minds of people today when they see white men and black women in relationships? And, why? Perkins-Valdez definitely has a way with words; so much so that there were scenes that made me want to cry.  Wench is heart-rending.

Perkins-Valdez has painted a story that focuses quite closely on slavery in a way that hasn’t been explored in literary fiction before.  This is mainly because of the taboo nature of the novel.  She was inspired to write this book after reading  the biography of W.E.B. Dubois where he mentioned slave masters taking their slave mistresses to a resort in Ohio.  So, Tawawa House really existed.  Although she could never find any documented specific stories about this place, she began to imagine what it would be like to be one of those slave mistresses.  It’s a known fact that these unusual arrangements were existent and widespread among slave owners, but the resort adds a new facet, which allowed her to explore and focus on the slave mistresses.

Unfortunately, I have to talk about what I didn’t like about Wench. There were two things in particular.  The first problem was sometimes when she switched topics within the story, it was sometimes done with no warning.  That threw me off guard at times and I found myself rereading certain passages.  The second real disappointment was the ending.  It fell totally flat for me, while leaving so many unanswered questions.  It was as if she had no idea how she was going to end  the story, especially since she’d worked so hard to spin an interesting one.  Perkins-Valdez wrapped the package up, but forgot to put ribbon and a card on it.  That really killed me.

This is Dolen Perkins-Vladez’s first novel.  She was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee.  She is a Harvard graduate and has written essays appearing in the North Carolina Literary Review and The Kenyon Review.  She is currently working on her second novel.

Title: Wench

Genre:  Women’s/African-American/Historical Fiction

Published:  2010

Edition:  Harper Collins Publishers – Amistad

Pages:  290

Language:  English

My rating:  * * *  1/2 

My favorite quote:  ”Don’t be afraid to say how you feel.  Learn a craft so you always have something to barter other than your private parts. ” (Wench, p. 288)


Teacher Feature #2

stephanieName: Stephanie Thomas

Nationality: French-American

How long have you been teaching?

I’ve been teaching in France since 1996, though not always to the same public.

What are you teaching? EFL/ESL

I’m teaching EFL to middle school students. Having done both, I have to say I’ve always been a bit dubious about the EFL/ESL distinction.  English as a foreign language is meant to be for people living outside of English speaking countries, and English as a second language for those living in a country in which primarily English is spoken (think teaching little French kids in Normandy VS teaching Mexican laborers in California–just an example)I think the ESL/EFL distinction is artificial and our focus as teachers has a lot more to do with the WHO and the WHY. Who are we teahing and why do they need to learn English? Do they know why (think those little French kids again) ?

What certifications do you have? 

Besides a Master’s degree, I have a *TEFL certificate and a *CAPES.

How did you get into teaching English?

Unlike a lot of people, teaching English was my first choice. Of course, back in college, I thought I’d be teaching literature and writing to native speakers! Never mind. Girl meets boy and they move to France. Girl gets job teaching English. And likes it.

Where are you working? country, school, companies, etc.

I’m working in a French middle school, in the private system.

What kind of contract are you working under?

I have a permanent contract. It’s so permanent that we call ourselves “lifers,” except in this case, I can decide to leave the “prison” through the front door while I still have some dignity left.

How long have you been working there?

I started in September 2012!

Where else have you worked?

I worked for a couple of training companies offering mostly business English courses, from 1996 to 2008. Afterwards, I set up on my own for a few years–it was financially rewarding, but I missed having colleagues and someone else to call up late payers.

Where do you prefer teaching English?

My favorite courses were small groups in companies, probably for the social aspect as much as anything. I also liked intensive one-on-one courses–just a week with a good set of really precise objectives. That was fun.

What do you love about teaching English?

In my current position, the students can be really endearing, and their breakthrough moments are really special. When a kid gets up in front of the class to talk about his last vacation, and he’s red as a beet and stutters through it–it’s very satisfying to see him smiling at the end, proud. It takes a lot of hard work to get even some of the students to that point!

What are the advantages to teaching for you?

Teaching in companies allowed me to more or less set my schedule, particularly with individual students. I never had to worry much about missing a day, as we could always reschedule. This flexibility was really important to me as my family grew (and grew…). In the school system, I like having a set salary and lots of time off with my kids.

What are the disadvantages to teaching for you?

Again, corporate language training was much different from school teaching. I loved teaching adults, but I think being privy to certain personal information about my adult students (they tended to share freely) made the job challenging in ways I wasn’t equipped to handle. I don’t mean to be enigmatic, but it was largely these “intimacy” issues that drove me out of corporate training. In my school, I also have access to information about my students, but I think it helps me understand them better and teach more effectively. Sometimes it’s just plain depressing, though.

Do you like teaching English?  Why?

I like it most days. I can think of things I’d rather be doing, but they don’t pay for plane tickets. I like to think I’m making a difference to some of these students, igniting an interest or uncovering a talent.

Do you do another job?

I’m a devoted wife and mother of 4 awesome kids; these are the things, I hope, I’ll be remembered for. That… and my irregular verbs rap. It rocks.

*TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language.  TEFL is one of the certificates required to teach English abroad.

*CAPES stands for Certificat d’Aptitude au Professorat de l’Enseignement du Second Degré.  This French diploma is needed to become a civil servant teacher in middle and high school.

Big thank you to Stephanie for sharing a bit of her teaching experience with us.

Books you should read?

Yesterday, a book I’d ordered from TheBookDepository.co.uk came and as usual I found one of their original IMG_1626paper bookmarks inside the package next to my spanking brand new book, The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal,and the Real Count of Monte Cristo.  Love these bookmarks!  I already have a collection of them; even one that glows in the dark that has a Halloween theme.  This time the bookmark was labeled on one side ‘International Books you should read as voted for by our customers’.  The titles were marked in different languages.  The other side was marked ‘Books you should read as voted for by our customers’.  I’m not sure when this survey took place but I would guess within the last year.  From what was listed, I’d personally like to finish Harry Potter, and read The Fault in Our Stars, A Game of Thrones, The Lord of the Rings, We Need to Talk About Kevin, and The Road.  What do you think of the list?  Is there anything that surprised you on this list?  What would you like to read on this list? Here is what was listed:

Life of Pi                                                      The Lord of the Rings

Great Expectations                                       The Hobbit

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy            The Slap

Catch-22                                                       Tomorrow When the War Began

The Alchemist                                               Little Women

The Book Thief                                              A Game of Thrones

Pride & Prejudice                                          The Catcher in the Rye

Jane Eyre                                                      The Hunger Games

The Thorn Birds                                            Wuthering Heights

1984                                                              The Great Gatsby

Cloudstreet                                                    A Fortunate Life

Harry Potter                                                   American Gods

To Kill a Mockingbird                                    Alice in Wonderland

Animal Farm                                                  My Sister’s Keeper

Dracula                                                          The Road

The Help                                                        We Need to Talk About Kevin

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo                     Twilight

The Time Traveler’s Wife                                The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Fault in Our Stars                                    The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Cutting Season

13623785I received this book last year for my birthday and am thrilled that I finally got the chance to enjoy it.  I don’t often choose to read thrillers but this one was intriguing to me because it takes place in Louisiana and because   one of my reading goals of 2013 is to read more books by African-Americans.  The Cutting Season is a mystery that takes place in 2009 on a plantation called Belle Vie (Beautiful Life), which is located somewhere between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.  Belle Vie is based on a real plantation in Vachery, Louisiana called Oak Alley.  The principal protagonist is Caren Gray.  She’s a thirty-seven year old African-American woman who has returned to her roots after some major changes in her life.  She is the manager at Belle Vie and lives there rent free with her nine-year old daughter Morgan.  The Cutting Season begins following Caren on her morning round checking what needs to be fixed, replanted, and cleaned before the day begins.  Noticing, at a distance, a dug up spot near the far wall of the plantation near the old slave quarters, she calls her Mexican help to go and clean up the area.  Soon after, she’s called back on the spot where a woman’s bloody body had been found faced down in the mud next to the fence.  There the intrigue ensues.

The Cutting Season could be described simply as a thriller, but it is much more than that.  It is an intricate story paralleling the past and the present.  Certainly things have changed at Belle Vie since the nineteenth century, although as readers we are compelled to question how much.  There is a strong comparison being made between the migrant workers from Mexico and slaves.  Not to mention, choosing Louisiana as the setting, Attica Locke submerges the reader in the rich, deep, complex history between race and social status that persists there even today.  Caren Gray is strong-willed, stand-offish, and flawed.  Her character isn’t easily endearing, although as readers we’re captivated by her and the story because she seems to be on the outside looking in like us.  She returns to Belle Vie after trying to run away from it for so long – hiding her heritage.  Her mother Helen was the cook at this plantation and her ancestors were slaves there.  Helen who was also the bearer of all the family history, which is important to understand where the story is going and most of all where it started.  Caren comes to terms with the life she lived there with her mother, with the relationships she had with the Clancy family, and with the tumultuous break up with her mother while she was studying law at Tulane University in New Orleans.

In the beginning of the story, the reader meets a myriad of characters that Locke has brilliantly developed for purposes of perpetrating the mystery, depicting role reversals, and questioning social identity.  Donovan is the character I found to be the most interesting of them all because he represents a class difference compared to Caren.  He is a young black man and has a lengthy police record, but has a desire to write a play about the real history of Belle Vie.  Just as Caren struggled to hide her origins from Eric, there is a definite class difference between them as well.  Eric is a law school graduate and from a middle class family in Chicago and working in Obama’s cabinet.  In their past relationship, Caren is ashamed of her Louisiana background and does everything for Eric to leave her.  She doesn’t feel as though she could ever fit with him.

Attica Locke does a great job with intriguing the reader and most of all with building up the mystery.  I really tried to work it out, but I guess I was a little slow on this one.  There are a few red herrings.  Even though, it was incredibly enjoyable and cleverly developed.  There were scenes where I could feel the fear and smell the descriptions.  Locke has an engaging writing style which flows perfectly and pinpoints exactly what she wants you to understand.  The pacing was impeccable.  The other thing that was interesting was how Locke included the importance of history within the story.  She makes slight references to the relationships between slaves and masters, but she focuses primarily on today’s relationships between blacks, whites and the new migrant workers from South America that have invaded this area taking the jobs that were primarily for blacks before.  Belle Vie is the place that connects them and emulates the past.

The setting is natural, wild, mysterious, and majestic all in one.  The cover of the book was the right choice, which I think looks like Oak Alley plantation engulfed in fog.  As a reader, you’ll wonder how Caren could think raising her daughter  at Belle Vie could be a healthy decision.  Caren and Morgan are secluded on a plantation surrounded by staff that aren’t close to her and even more so once a murder has been committed.  The Cutting Season is definitely a must read.

Attica Locke is a fiction writer and her first highly successful novel is called Black Water Rising in 2009.  It 250px-Attica_locke_2012was short-listed for the Orange Prize in 2010.  She was a graduate from Northwest University and was born in Houston, Texas.  She began her writing career writing film scripts and television pilots.  She’s worked for Silver Pictures, Dreamworks, and HBO.

Title: The Cutting Season

Genre:  Mystery/Thriller/African-American/Historical Fiction

Published:  2012

Edition:  Harper Collins Publishers – Dennis Lehane Books

Pages:  384

Language:  English

My rating:  * * * * 1/2 

My favorite quote:  ”The sun was higher now, baking the wet earth and encircling the southern end of Belle Vie with the damp fragrance of jasmine and dogwood ” (The Cutting Season, p. 28 )


Summer Spirit

banner summer spirit

frontsmallcoverSummer Spirit Book Summary:

Ryan Kinkaid, a successful gay Manhattan antique dealer has had it with life in New York City, especially his random love life. Ryan has what most New Yorkers want — his own successful business, and a mortgage-free brownstone on West 71st Street. However, at age forty-one he discovers he is lacking one very important thing in his life: a meaningful and loving relationship. With summer just around the corner, the approaching heat and his restlessness are reasons for his escape from the city. A four-month rental in historic and picturesque Portsmouth, New Hampshire, with his best friend Lauren was the answer.

Renting a house built in 1810, kindred spirit Nicholas reaches out for contact, and Ryan finds himself wanting to know about the past. However, Nicholas is not the only one wanting Ryan’s attention. Ty, a handsome local man, also has strong desires for Ryan.

The stark contrast of the past collides with the present in this tale of lost and betrayed love, and irrational and undying prejudice.

In the end, all that is left is the affirmation of the value of honesty and commitment in love.

Review:  In the beginning, I wasn’t really sure what this book was about.  I haven’t read much gay literature besides E. Lynn Harris and Summer Spirit is significantly different and that’s not all bad.  There is a great lagging in the first 25% of the book because you want to know what it’s all about.  I guess this was Jay’s way of introducing us to his characters.  As a reader, I was searching for a story line, which wasn’t coming quick enough for me.  The descriptions mostly contain meeting for coffee, eating, and having sex, but I longed for something more solid.  All of that boredom changed when Ryan and Lauren moved into the old house in Portsmouth.

Ryan is a likeable enough character, who is desperate to find a steady relationship.  I found myself rooting for him to succeed.  Lauren seemed to portray a typical New Yorker enjoying the art scene and all the activity New York offers, while wanting a serious relationship at the same time.  Jason, Ryan’s friend, was the stereotype of the young, promiscuous, and effeminate gay guy, that a lot of people imagine.  I especially enjoyed that the stereotype was broken by focusing on Ryan’s desire to really want to have a meaningful relationship.  There was a scene when Ryan thinks that Eric is gay and tries to kiss him.  For me this broke another stereotype because people always seem to think that gay people always know when someone else is gay.  Not to mention, Eric doesn’t react badly, like we would think.

There are some interesting twists which can’t be revealed because they make this story a little special and different.  I loved reading about the old big house, the mystery, and the antiques. Hell, I even enjoyed the scruffy cat Brownie and I don’t even really like cats that much in real life.  I’m allergic.  However, I’m putting out a caution for those that don’t like reading about sex because there is plenty of it and it’s very descriptive.  All in all it’s a different, light read.  G. Jay also has another Ryan Kincaid mystery coming out soon called Autumn Reveal.

G. Jay’s writing style is easy and the novel can be read quickly, within a few hours since it’s just a little over one hundred pages.

G. Jay’s Bio:Headshot1

A communications graduate of the City Universities of New York, and after twenty-nine years as a human resources administrator, Jay decided to apply his understanding of the complexities and foibles of the human character in a more creative way.

Like the main character, Ryan Kinkaid, Jay is a gay man who believes in love and commitment. He and his husband have been together for over thirty years and live on the West coast of Florida with their two cats. A transplant from New York, Jay continues to travel regularly to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to connect with the New England life which he so loves.

G. Jay’s web site:


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Link to Summer Spirit excerpts:


Format/Price: $3.99 ebook

Pages: 132

mobi ISBN: 9781938008665

ePub ISBN: 9781938008672

Publisher: Publish Green

Release: October 15, 2012

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Warm Bodies

7619057It seems as if my reading experience at the end of January has gone down slightly.  I strayed from my intentions of sticking to really good sure thing four-star and five-star books.  I was enticed into reading Warm Bodies – 1. because it was the YT book club pick for the 2nd of February, 2.  because I’ve never read a zombie book before, and 3.  because of the description on the back of the book was tempting and I was sure it was going be a good read.

Warm Bodies is a story of R, a zombie who cannot remember his name, his age, or how he’s become what he is.  He and other zombies spend their time wandering aimlessly in an abandoned airport, which is ruled by the terrifying  Bonies.  Bonies are zombies in the most decomposed state, essentially skeletons, that are vicious and dangerous.  R is a different kind of zombie because he has dreams.  One evening while R and some other zombies are out on a “food” run, he meets a “living” girl named Julie.  She is the total opposite of what he knows and an affectionate relationship grows between the two.  Sounds pretty interesting, but in essence reading about it was a total bore for me.

The best thing about this book is the writing style.  Isaac Marion is a talented writer.  He does an excellent job of describing situations and especially the feelings of R, however I found some parts of this story uninteresting and very slow.   Another good thing about Warm Bodies is the Vintage Originals paperback cover, white with the red raised nerves.  I also loved how each chapter begins with a labeled sketch of a part of the human body.  The sketches at the beginning of the chapters seem to correlate with what happens in the chapter where it appears.  There is a strong underlying theme from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette and I found that a little cliché at times.  It was as if he was trying much too hard to intellectualize this zombie story.  Since Isaac Marion apparently wrote this book for adults, he was surprised that his book is being shelved in the Young Adult section and thinks that adolescents aged 16-19 should be reading what he reads and that these classifications shouldn’t need to exist.  He believes this is mostly because of the quote from Stephanie Meyer on the back of his book.  Needless to say, they put Stephanie Meyer’s quote on the back and the front of the Vintage Originals paperback edition.  Marion feels “the YA label is reductive to any book.”  So there are probably a lot more adolescents picking this one up than adults, moreover I can’t see this story really  appealing to adults.  Who knows?  I could be wrong, certainly when you read Audrey Niffenegger’s quote on the back cover:

“Warm Bodies is a strange and unexpected treat.  R is the thinking woman’s zombie — he could be the perfect boyfriend (though somewhat grey-skinned and monosyllabic).  This is a wonderful book, elegantly written, touching and fun, as delightful as a mouthful of fresh brains.”

“Monosyllabic and grey-skinned “are not the only problem, R is a walking, smelly, rotting corpse for Christ’s sake.  Warm Bodies was published in 2010 and I don’t think I remember hearing anything about it before now, but the movie was released yesterday in the States and next week in Europe.  It is evidently more comical than the book, at least from what I can tell from the movie trailer.  It did well at the box office this past weekend, but will it be classified as another movie about love between a living being and an undead, like Twilight.  I’m sure the masses will be attracted to this film because of the comedy and I’d say go see the movie because you’ll have a better time than reading the book.

The New Hunger is the prequel to Warm Bodies, which is the beginning and ending of R and a few other characters.  It foreshadows the second part to Warm Bodies.  Isaac Marion has written since he was 14 years old.  He has done lots of different jobs, including delivering death beds to hospice patients and supervising parental visits for foster-kids.  Isaac Marion is the writer who has reinvented the zombie story, without really wanting to. He’s currently working on a sequel to Warm Bodies, which is due to be released in 2014.  Check out the clip below to find out more about his path to success.

Title: Warm Bodies

Genre:  Zombies/Horror/Fantasy/Romance

Published:  2010

Edition: Vintage Originals – Cool cover!

Pages:  240

Language:  English

My rating:  

My favorite quote:  ” ‘Why is beautiful that humanity keeps coming back?  Herpes does that, too.’ ” (Warm Bodies, p. 147)