Sunday Spotlight on: Some Sing, Some Cry by Ntozake Shange and Ifa Bayeza

Today I want to talk about a book I am dying to read, but which I was not able to fit in in time to review it for my Chicago Author Month.

At 560 pages, “Some Sing, Some Cry” is a sweeping epic of the African American experience from emancipation through Vietnam, told through the lives of one family. Interestingly enough, “Some Sing, Some Cry” is actually the result of a collaborative effort between sisters. Ntozake Shange and Ifa Bayeza are both successful playwrights, with Shange also having published fiction and poetry. Although Shange lives in New York, Bayeza makes her home in Chicago, which is why I chose to spotlight this during my Chicago Author’s Month.

I am typically not a huge fan of historical fiction set in the United States, but this is exactly the sort of thing that sways me. I love epics like “Some Sing, Some Cry” that showcase a nation and a people’s history while at the same time personalizing events through a focused group, such as a single family.

From the few pages I read, “Some Sing, Some Cry” seems to be well-written and moving, just the sort of book I’d like to settle in with over a long weekend.

Have read “Some Sing, Some Cry?” If so, what did you think of it? Is this the type of book that appeals to you?

I received no compensation for this post, including a copy of the book for review.

Addicting Series – The Results

On Tuesday I asked you all to recommend some addicting series, and boy did you come through! By Thursday afternoon we had 49 comments (including a few replies of mine) for a total of 48 series recommendations. The most-mentioned series by far was “Outlander” which I am reading now, with seven mentions, followed by a handful of series which were mentioned 4 times. Apologies if any are mis-cataloged here, but I was going off either what people said or a very cursory Google search. Historical mysteries are listed with historical fiction. Without further ado, here they are:

Mystery/Crime fiction

  • M.C. Beaton – Hamish Macbeth series
  • Lee Child – Jack Reacher series (2 mentions)
  • Arthur Conan Doyle – Sherlock Holmes
  • Janet Evanovich – Stephanie Plum series (2 mentions)
  • Tess Gerritsen – Rizzoli and Isles
  • Sue Grafton – Kinsey Milhone series (2 mentions)
  • Martha Grimes – Richard Jury series
  • Charlaine Harris – Harper Connelly series
  • Arnaldur Indridason – Reykjavik murder mystery series
  • P.D. James – Adam Digliesh series
  • Faye Kellerman – Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus (2 mentions)
  • Laurie R. King – Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series
  • Stieg Larsson – The Millennium Trilogy
  • Jeff Lindsay – Dexter series
  • J.D. Robb – Eve Dallas/In Death series (2 mentions)
  • Dorothy L. Sayers – Lord Peter Wimsey series (3 mentions)
  • Alexander McCall Smith – Number 1 Ladies’ Detectives Agency series
  • Jacqueline Winspear – Maisie Dobbs series (2 mentions)

Historical Fiction

  • Sarah Donati – Into the Wilderness series
  • Ariana Franklin – Mistress of the Art of Death mystery series
  • Margaret Frazer – Sister Frevisse mystery series
  • Diana Gabaldon – Outlander series (7 mentions)
  • Sandra Gulland – Josephine trilogy
  • Patrick O’Brian – Jack Aubrey series (3 mentions)
  • Ellis Peters – Brother Cadfael mystery series (2 mentions)
  • Deanna Raybourn – Lady Julia Grey mystery series (2 mentions)
  • Penny Vincenzi – No Angel

Speculative Fiction: Dystopian/Science Fiction/Paranormal/Fantasy

  • Ilona Andrews – Kate Daniels series
  • Libba Bray – The Gemma Doyle series (YA)
  • Patricia Briggs – Mercedes Thompson series
  • Jim Butcher – Harry Dresden series (4 mentions)
  • Cassandra Clare – Mortal Instruments series (YA)
  • Jasper Fforde – Thursday Next series
  • Jeaniene Frost – Night Huntress series
  • Charlaine Harris – Sookie Stackhouse series (4 mentions)
  • Kim Harrison – The Hollows series
  • Robert Jordan – Wheel of Time series (2 mentions)
  • Stephen King – The Dark Tower series
  • John Marsdon – Tomorrow series (YA, 4 mentions)
  • George R.R. Martins – A Song of Fire and Ice
  • Lisa McMann – Wake series
  • Karen Marie Moning – MacKayla Lane series (3 mentions)

General/Christian Fiction

  • Jan Karon – The Mitford Years series
  • Sophie Kinsella – Shopaholic series
  • Debbie Macomber – Cedar Cove series
  • Brendan O’Carroll – The Mammy series
  • Francine Rivers – The Mark of the Lion trilogy
  • Ann B. Ross – Miss Julia (Christian fiction)

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – Book Review

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Published by Delta, an imprint of Random House

Life has been in upheaval for Claire and Frank for some time. The majority of their married life was spent apart during World War II, where Claire acted as a nurse. Now is their time to reconnect on a romantic retreat in the Scottish highlands. One morning on their vacation, Claire heads up to an old stone circle (a la Stonehenge). As she nears the structure she begins to hear odd sounds and suddenly is whisked 200 years back in time where she is rescued/kidnapped by a group of Scottish clansmen. One of them, a young man in his early 20s named Jaime, has been badly injured and Claire immediately uses her nursing skills to help heal him. The longer Claire spends in the 18th century, the more time she and Jaime spend around one another, until something happens that will force them together.

When I first joined LibraryThing, one of my first stops was the historical fiction group, where it seemed like everyone was talking about one series. It was universal love, nary a dissenting opinion to be found. That series was, of course, Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series. After that initial introduction, I began hearing praises for “Outlander” all over the place; it seemed that everyone but me had read it. And yet, I resisted. I resisted for a good three years. I was scared by the fact it was a long series of hefty books (the mass market edition of Outlander I read has about 850 pages, and it appears that many of the sequels are longer). I also wasn’t sure how I felt about the time travel aspect or the whole description of the series as historical romance, since I generally feel like romance aspects add very little to historical fiction.

What I want to know now is this:

WHY did none of you sit me down and make me read “Outlander” before this?

Seriously? Because I L-O-V-E LOVE it.

And what of my objections? Okay, first, the time travel thing. It really isn’t time travel. Yes, Claire goes back in time, but it more about the magical qualities of the Scottish highlands, finding that there is truth to the basis of the old myths, not that there is some science fiction-type thing stuck in the middle of what is primarily historical fiction, just a touch of fantasy. Of course, I was also put off by everyone’s description of this book as romance, because historical romance usually makes me roll my eyes or skip pages. However, I was talking to Michelle from That’s What She Read trying to sum up my thoughts on the romance angle and I think that she put it very well: most sex scenes in historical fiction are either gratuitous or insignificant. She’s absolutely right, but the romantic encounters in “Outlander” and neither of those things. By and large they really do advance the plot and the character development. Plus, Gabaldon perfectly walks the line between too vague and too graphic and writes love scenes that don’t make me want to throw the book against the wall, miracle of miracles!

If you are like me and have heard of these books but failed to read them, please stop what you’re doing and go and find the first one. They’re long, but they’re fast reads and they’re terrific. And now I’m out of here, because I’m on my way to buy the next two books in the series!

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

I read this book as part of a TLC Book Tour.  Check out some of the other tour hosts for more reviews.  Links go to the host’s site, not to their specific review.

Monday, August 2nd:  Jenn’s Bookshelves (An Echo in the Bone)

Wednesday, August 4th:  The Literate Housewife Review (Voyager)

Monday, August 9th:  Musings of an All Purpose Monkey (Outlander)

Thursday, August 12th:  Under the Boardwalk (An Echo in the Bone)

Friday, August 13th:  Starting Fresh (An Echo in the Bone)

Monday, August 16th:  Planet Books (Outlander)

Wednesday, August 25th:  MoonCat Farms Meanderings (An Echo in the Bone)

Tuesday, August 31st:  The Brain Lair (Outlander)

Wednesday, September 1st:  My Two Blessings (Outlander)

Thursday, September 2nd:  Life in the Thumb (An Echo in the Bone)

Tuesday, September 7th:  That’s What She Read (Dragonfly in Amber)

Monday, September 13th:  Suko’s Notebook (Outlander)

Tuesday, September 14th:  Luxury Reading (Outlander)

Wednesday, September 15th:  The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader (An Echo in the Bone)

Friday, September 17th:  Devourer of Books (Outlander)

Tuesday, September 21st:  Rundpinne (An Echo in the Bone)

Monday, September 27th:  Hey, Lady!  Whatcha Readin’? (Outlander)

Thursday, September 30th:  Pop Culture Junkie (Outlander)

* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

Forgotten Treasure: The Book You Should Be Reading

I don’t know exactly if I would call this forgotten treasure, because it is really quiet new, has only been out for a couple of weeks, but “The Report” by Jessica Francis Kane is a largely undiscovered (at least by book bloggers) treasure. It does seem to be getting great reviews in traditional media, but I haven’t seen (m)any reviews other than mine on book blogs.

“The Report” is the story of Britain’s worst civilian disaster during World War II, The Bethnal Green incident, and the subsequent government investigation and report. You may think that a government investigation and report sounds like a total snoozefest, and I would understand that, but I promise you, but it is not. Seriously, this is a fantastic and absolutely engaging work of very realistic historical fiction. It is actually fairly amazing how engaged Kane gets her reader, considering she has such a large cast of characters, but she does it.

“The Report” is published by Graywolf Press, a very cool small press. If you’ve thought about spending more time reading books by small presses, this is a good place to start. Or if you just like well-written fiction that is evocative of time and place, this is a must-read.

Catholicism and Perceived Witchcraft in Reformation-Era England – Guest Post by Mary Sharratt, Author of “Daughters of the Witching Hill”

Please read through to the bottom of this post for giveaway details.

In 1612, seven women and two men from Pendle Forest in Lancashire, Northern England were hanged as witches, accused of committing murderous acts of diabolical sorcery. My novel, Daughters of the Witching Hill, is based on this tragic history.

The prosecution, wishing to provide evidence of this alleged satanic magic, cited the charms and spells of accused witch Mother Demdike’s family. (Mother Demdike, whose real name was Elizabeth Southerns, died in prison before she could come to trial, but she was the most notorious of the accused, the supposed ringleader who had initiated all the others.) Her charms, recorded in the trial transcripts, reveal absolutely no evidence of devil worship, but instead use the ecclesiastical language of the Catholic Church, the old religion outlawed and literally demonized in Reformation era England. Mother Demdike’s incantation to cure a bewitched person—quoted by her granddaughter Jennet Device, one of the main witnesses for the prosecution, and considered damning evidence of diabolical sorcery—is, in fact, a moving and poetic depiction of the passion of Christ, as witnessed by the Virgin Mary.

What is yonder that casts a light so farrandly,
Mine owne deare Sonne that’s naild to the Tree . . . .

In places, the text of this charm is very similar to the White Pater Noster, an Elizabethan prayer charm which Eamon Duffy discusses in his landmark book, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580.

Her charm to get drink is in ecclesiastical Latin:

Crucifixus hoc signum vitam Eternam. Amen.

(Literal translation: the crucifix is the sign of eternal life.)

Mother Chattox, Demdike’s sometimes friend, sometimes rival, also employed charms full of this same Catholic imagery. The following is Chattox’s incantation to cure a bewitched person:

Three Biters hast thou bitten,
The Hart, ill Eye, ill Tonge:
Three bitter shall be thy Boote,
Father, Sonne, and Holy Ghost
a Gods name,
Fiue Pater-nosters, fiue Auies,
and a Creede,
In worship of fiue wounds
of our Lord.

In modern language the last part would read: five Pater Nosters, five Ave Marias, and a Creed, in the worship of the five wounds of our Lord—the cunning woman would then say these prayers while contemplating the five wounds of Christ.

It appears that Mother Demdike and Mother Chattox were practitioners of Catholic folk magic that would have been fairly common before the Reformation. Pre-Reformation Catholicism embraced many practises that seemed magical and mystical. People used holy water and communion bread for healing. They went on pilgrimages, left offerings at holy wells, and prayed to the saints for intercession. Some practises, such as the blessing of the wells and fields, may indeed have Pagan origins. Indeed, looking at pre-Reformation folk magic, it is very hard to untangle the strands of Catholicism from the remnants of Pagan belief, which had become so tightly interwoven.

Unfortunately these cunning folk of Pendle Forest had the misfortune to live in a place and time when Catholicism was conflated with witchcraft. Even Reginald Scot, one of the most enlightened men of the English Renaissance and a great skeptic regarding witchcraft accusations, believed the act of transubstantiation, the point in the Catholic mass where it is believed that the host becomes the body and blood of Christ, was an act of sorcery. In 1645, in a pamphlet by Edward Fleetwood entitled A Declaration of a Strange and Wonderfull Monster, describing how a royalist woman in Lancashire supposedly gave birth to a headless baby, Lancashire is described thusly: ‘No part of England hath so many witches, none fuller of Papists.’ Keith Thomas’s social history Religion and the Decline of Magic is an excellent study on how the Reformation literally took the magic out of Christianity.

Mary Sharratt’s acclaimed new novel, DAUGHTERS OF THE WITCHING HILL (my review), is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. To learn more about her and the history of the Pendle Witches, visit her website: www.marysharratt.com

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