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 )

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The Best Books of 2013

Well now that we’ve started 2014 and I’ve had the time to really reflect on my reading experience of 2013, I feel that it was pretty darn mediocre.  I’d hoped to read more books that would wow me but that wasn’t the case.  It was if I chose my books because they just fell in my lap.  That’s not how I want to proceed with my book choices this year.  You’ve already seen a select few of the big books I plan on reading this year, but just know that there will be more engaging and thought-provoking titles added to that list.

My reading goals of 2013 comprised:

1. reading more works of people of color

2. reading more classics

3. reading graphic novels

4. reading out of my comfort zone

I guess two out of four ain’t bad.  I managed to do one and three, but only really read one book that was a little out of my comfort zone.  So I know now what I need to concentrate on this year.  I’d like to have a well-rounded reading year but most of all I want to read more books that really speak to me, move me.  2014 is the year of quality! I hope.

So, in no particular order, let’s take a look at my top ten best books of 2013:

Firstly we have the books by authors of colour or about people of color:

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Well as you can see that’s half of my favourites list.  All I can say is these five books really stuck with me and enlightened my reading experience as well as taught me some things.  I was taken aback by the passages in Black Like Me.  The descriptions written by John Howard Griffin, a white man who was just being a black man for a few months struck me to my core.                                   If Beale 

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Street Could Talk weighed on me heavily as well reading about the injustices of the seventies, while in the back of my mind knowing these situations are still happening today.  Cutting for Stone was that epic African novel that surprised me at every page.  I really couldn’t anticipate what was going to happen next or where the author was leading me.  I felt like I’d traveled stretches of kilometres to Africa to  meet and follow Marion and Shiva from their beginnings to adulthood.  That was a rich and informative reading experience that taught me a lot about Ethiopia, a country that I almost visited over sixteen years ago.  Kindred took me back to the days of slavery, filling me with fear and disorienting me in a world where the codes didn’t correspond to me or Dana the main character.  Lastly, but not least The Cutting Season brought me back to my home state of Louisiana. The story brought out anticipation and fear of the unknown – who killed that young woman on the plantation grounds called Belle Vie?  I could feel the heat, the humidity, and smell the earth.  Darkness engulfed me and Caren the main character.  Running through it for fear of what she might find or worse what or who might be waiting for her.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman was the only classic I read last year.  That is if you don’t count Harry Potter and the Philosopher’ Stone and If Beale Street Could Talk.  Those two could technically be considered modern classics.  Ok enough of me trying to stretch my non-existent list of read classics.  In spite of it all,  I can thank my 56034book club for choosing this one.  For without them, I’m not really sure when I would have read it, in spite of it being on my physical and mental TBR for aeons.  I could also place this one under number four of my reading goals because it definitely got me out of my comfort zone.  In the beginning I didn’t think I’d make it through, but at the halfway mark something changed.  I became more invested in the story, not to mention that the writing style changed for the better.  I also started to get used to those omniscient footnotes that lead me through the story that was going on above like a dog on a leash.  Undeterred by it all I finished and loved it!  Now that doesn’t often happen to me.  I usually give up if I can’t get into a book by page 150.  It was a worthwhile reading experience and I persevered to the end!  So I definitely have to read more classics this year.

1261125351GiFItYmkLThe next two novels were my comic relief of the year.  I don’t often pick up comical books and that’s probably because it’s not a genre that I’m really familiar with.  I was compelled to pick up Where’d You Go Bernadette  since everybody was talking about it in the blogosphere and about its unorthodox style of being written in email and letter form.  I like epistolary so I thought why not.  It turned out to be a great choice.  I read it in one afternoon and laughed out loud a bit.  Oh Bernadette! She was a mess!  I liked her though.  Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff Christ’s Childhood Pal was the same.  It took me longer to read but boy did I have some laughs.  The wittiness of that novel is just simply brilliant!  It’s a must read if you haven’t gotten to it yet.

Now you know I’m not that over the moon about Young Adult novels and any time I read one it’s so that I can41WvR8-CBUL suggest it to the students I tutor in English or to my daughters, and of course because I suspect it might be good.  I ran across Speak because I saw a couple of bloggers talking about it.  I read it in one sitting and fell in love with the way the story was told but most of all with Melinda’s voice.  Superb!  A reader couldn’t ask for a better narrator, especially a young adult reader.

12280827Last but not least, my absolute favourite and best read of 2013 was The Sense of an Ending.  What a fantastic way to talk about memory!  I got so much from this little tiny 150-page book.  Unbelievable! There are so many themes packed into this book.  I was asking myself what took me so long to pick up a novel by Julian Barnes.  Nevertheless, I finally did and it was also thanks to my book club.  Book clubs can bring out the best and sometimes the worst in one’s reading however in my experience it’s been great at 100%.  Check out this wonderfully woven story of middle-aged Tony after school, marriage, children, and divorce.  Memory can be deceiving after the fact and at times spot on…

Well that’s my wrap up of my top ten books of 2013.  I hope you enjoyed reviewing some of them with me.  Clicking the titles will take you to the reviews.  So how about you guys?  Was your reading year a 3.0-3.5 like mine or better?  Let me know below and don’t forget to include your favourite books of the year.  I love getting recommendations from you!  Happy reading y’all!