Book Review: Glory Over Everything, Beyond the Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Glory Over Everything by Kathleen Grissom is so much more than a book about slavery. It looks at this difficult time from a unique perspective; that of a man who is born to a white man and black woman, who is therefore considered of mixed blood and subject to the same lack of rights that black people are in that time period. Personally, I found this revelation surprising that someone who looked white could still be enslaved because of their family history. Is this something that others found surprising, or am I just uneducated about this topic?blog tour

Jamie Pyke is the protagonist of the story, as mentioned above. Apparently he appeared in Grissom’s first novel The Kitchen House as a secondary character, but Glory Over Everything is firmly rooted in his life. We find him living the life of a wealthy white aristocrat when the book begins, but he is soon plunged into danger when he returns south where he escaped from his old life, fearful of being discovered and re-captured. He is one of the most well-developed characters I have ever read about. Although he has many redeeming features (his kindness towards the black people in his employ for instance), the reader is still faced with his other unsavoury qualities as well; for example he is disgusted by slaves that he sees in the streets even though he was technically once one himself. He begins to realize his hypocrisy and prejudice as the book continues, but he is very much a flawed character throughout.

Pearl clearly enjoyed this book as much as I did

Pearl clearly enjoyed this book as much as I did

There’s a bit of everything in the story to keep the pages turning too. A love story dominates the first half of the book, when Jamie finds himself falling for a woman stuck in a loveless marriage. However, things don’t end well there, and quickly the reader is dropped into an action novel of sorts when Jamie travels South. An underground railroad  of sorts becomes the main focus for the last half of the book, as Jamie and his fellow travellers try to outrun the slave runners and return north. It’s obvious that Grissom has done lots of research in this area, because the settings that the characters find themselves are in so beautifully described yet realistic, that it’s a joy to revel in their surroundings. I should mention I felt a bit guilty at the fact that I enjoyed these parts, because after all, many escaped slaves died in these same areas trying to outrun their captors, so it’s a gruesome part of history, but the Great Dismal Swamp sounded like such an exotic place that it made me want to visit!

Grissom has performed an interesting feat; she’s made an awful time in America’s history seem beautiful. People’s surprising kindness, an environment that is a feast for the senses, and a plot full of twists and turns have all come together to create a book that’s enjoyable to read. Especially good for book clubs, there’s lots of discussion topics that can be found in these pages.

This review is part of an ongoing book tour for this lovely novel; if you’d like to see what other bloggers thought, check out the poster above to see when other reviews are being posted. And of course-pick up a copy so you can see for yourself how wonderful these characters are.

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Book Review: Double Happiness by Tony Brasunas

Ok I think this is a first for ivreadthis.com-a travel memoir to review! Yes, how exciting, but not just for you dear readers, but for me as well, because I was lucky enough to experience some oft-overlooked areas of China by flipping through the pages of this book.

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Double Happiness recounts Tony Brasunas’s travels through China in 1997 (before the interwebs, cellphones, and ATMs). However, aside from the historical changes in politics that he experiences while there, this book could have taken place today as well, as I imagine (based on my broad assumptions only) that many things would have turned out/looked the same for him. While traveling, Brasunas wrote in a journal, and struggled to do things the right way, even if it was more difficult. For instance, when hawkers tried selling him things on the street, he would politely refuse, but then offer to help them carry their heavy burden up a steep hill, etc. They would always be surprised at first, but then gladly share the workload, immediately trusting the gwailo* (foreigner).

Speaking of run-ins with street vendors, one of the most poignant parts of the book for me was Brasunas’s struggle to successfully bargain with shopkeepers. He’s in an electronics shop and interested in buying a camera. When he tries to talk the price down, the vendor says “We’re a family, we have to buy our rice” (p. 145). That phrase struck me with it’s power. How could you argue with something like that? You later learn that this is a tactic that they use to keep the prices high, and Brasunas’s response back that he is a struggling teacher typically shuts down their earlier justifications, but this scene taught me something very obvious about myself-I would have paid the asking price right then and there, because the shop keeper has played to my ‘North American’ guilt that so many of us experience when traveling to poorer countries. Is paying the higher price the right thing to do, simply because you can afford it? Perhaps in some cases, but because Brasunas is travelling on such a tight budget, this question is never answered.index1

There’s a good balance of scenery description, inner reflection, historical reference and plot development in this book, and for that reason I devoured it in two days, eagerly diving back in to follow Brasunas on his adventures while safely nestled in my living room. As I mentioned before, I don’t typically read these types of books, mainly because they simultaneously make me want to go traveling, and then scare me away from it at the same time (the author got extremely sick when he was away, and he also experienced some near-death moments on some rickety buses in the mountains of Tibet), but I’m always so glad I did when I’m finished, because it literally transported me to another world.blog-great-wall-of-china

The subtitle of this book is: “One Man’s Tale of Love, Loss, and Wonder on the Long Roads of China”. This gives you an idea of how ‘spiritual’ the journey is for the author, so expect some heavy soul searching to go along with it, more soul-searching that I believed any man in their early 20’s would ever do. However, Brasunas has an interesting background (he grew up on a commune in West Virginia) so his voice throughout the book is entirely believable based on those circumstances. Although I can’t prove this, I do believe Double Happiness is the author’s first book, which to me is quite surprising, seeing as his narrative is so well developed and balanced. One trap he does fall into, which many first-time writers can as well, is the overuse of flowery metaphors. We all do it, and not until you’ve written many a book will you grow out of this tempting habit, but other than that nit picky detail, I’m very impressed by Brasunas’s journey and its recounting.

*Side note-this book includes a quick glossary at the end of it, and Brasunas threw in enough Chinese words throughout that I actually began to understand a few as a I read through the book (insert internal fist pump here).

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