I've been reading quite a lot lately and today I have three reviews for you. The first book is one of the best historical fiction/romance novels I've ever read, the second one discusses black hair and its role in the history of the US, while the third one is an essential read for every budding author who is thinking of self-publishing. Let's get started then!
Belle Epoque France. American painter Mary Cassatt moved to France ten years ago to purse an artistic career but, when the Salon rejects her paintings, she's about to pack her bags and go back home. And she would have, if she hadn't met her idol, Edgar Degas, who invites her to exhibit her works with the Impressionists. Mary is sensible, independent and focused on her work, while Edgar is arrogant, unpredictable, and uncompromising. He is also a genius who helps Mary develop her talent to its full potential. They fall in love, but they are too different and yet too similar, to make it work.
Mary becomes friends with the Impressionists too, including Berthe Morisot, whose relationship with the Manet brothers, Edouard and Eugene, is also explored in the book. Through them all we also have a feel of what it was like to be a painter, and especially one who went against the strict and old-fashioned rules imposed on artists by the Salon, in Paris, striving to get their works exhibited, understood, recognized as true art and just to make ends meet. Thanks to Oliveira's in-depth research and close attention to details, their world is vividly evoked. You'll feel like you're in Paris too, just next to Mary and her friends.
However, this is not your regular love story. You know from the beginning that there won't be an "happy ever after". It's a bittersweet story, full of both the beauty and ugliness of love, of its pleasures and its pains, and the loneliness and regrets its loss can bring. And yet Mary and Edgar's love is more true and profound than that most of us ever get to experience. Theirs is a love of minds and souls, not just of bodies.
The pace is a bit slow at times, but not in a bad way. It's more Austen-slow than boring slow as the author describes in-depth the emotions the characters are feeling, their day-to-day lives, and the process of creating art works, rather than packing the story with action, twists and turns in every chapter. Instead, I Always Loved You features well-rounded, interesting characters, deep emotional insights and a beautifully-written prose. It's one of the best historical fiction/romance novels I have ever read and I can't wait to devour more works from this author. Highly recommended.
Available at: amazon
“Everything I know about American history I learned from looking at Black people’s hair. It’s the perfect metaphor for the African experiment here: the toll of slavery and the costs of remaining. It’s all in the hair.” - Lisa Jones, screenwriter.
Hair is a big deal to women of all colours, but while most decide how to wear theirs based on aesthetic considerations alone, for African Americans, and black people all over the world, it is still a political and social statement and a big part of their identity. The history of black hair in the US started when Africans, both free and enslaved, arrived there in the 17th century and found a culture that was hostile to them and their kinky hair. Kinky hair, and dark skin, clashed with the Western ideal of beauty which was, and still is, characterized by white skin and straight hair, and many black women, buying into this racist propaganda, spent a lot of time, ingenuity, effort, and once finally freed, money, into straightening their hair.
Things started to change in the '60s and '70s when more and more American people decided to go natural, and wear their hair in afros, cornrows and other natural and braided hairstyles, which often confused and scared White Americans. Going natural meant freedom of expression and from arbitrary beauty standards, but it could also cost people their jobs as these hairstyles weren't considered, and sometimes still aren't, appropriate for the workplace. In those decades, your hairstyle became a political statement.
These days, these traditional African hairstyles have become common and normal, and the political debate has calmed down somewhat, but there are still too few black celebrities and public figures with natural hair and, the prevalent ideal of beauty is still a Western one. Still, black hair, and black people, have gone a long way since their arrival in the States.
Black hair also gave women a way to support themselves. Madame C. J. Walker, for instance, started selling her homemade hair care products from home to home, creating an empire that employed, and thus gave financial freedom, to many black women. Today too, there are lots of black entrepreneurs that have created small companies that make haircare products for black hair, although most of the market is now dominated by giant corporations owned by white men.
Although the authors tend to repeat themselves at times, Hair Story is a well-written, well-researched, and beautifully illustrated book that tells the fascinating story of black hair in the USA, providing valuable insights into a topic too many people ignore. That's why I recommend this book not just to black people, but also to anyone who want to educate themselves about black hair and the role it has played in the history of the United States.
Available at: amazon
If you're thinking of self-publishing a book or already have, but with very poor results, I encourage you to pick up a copy of The Fine Print Of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine, which has now arrived at his fifth edition.
The book starts by explaining the difference between self-publishing proper, a process in which the author does everything, - writing, formatting, designing the book cover, marketing and all the other gazillion of things necessary to create a book - on its own, and self-publishing assisted, in which the author pays a self-publishing company to perform most of these services. Levine is a CEO of a publishing company (which he mentions only when relevant and never insists that they're better than other companies or that you should only use their services), so it's not wonder that, while providing valuable tips for authors who decide to self-publishing on their own, he recommends they go down the self-publishing assisted route. This bugged me at first, but by the time I reached the end and realised how complicated and expensive self-publishing a book is, I see the value in getting help from the experts, if you can afford it.
The book covers all the basics of self-publishing, including how to format a book, how to promote it, how to read legal contracts, how to get your ISBN and, if you live in the US, LCCN numbers, how you can prepare your files for print, how to turn your book into a mobi or epub, how to choose a good self-publishing company that won't take advantage of you, how to price your books and how royalties work and much more. This new edition also features an entire new chapter about ebooks. It's not as in-depth as I would have liked it to be, but, once again it covers all the basics, giving you lots of useful tips on how to turn your manuscript into an ebook.
There are also several appendixes, where the author reviews and compares various self-publishing companies, giving them a grade for how well and quickly they respond to emails from potential customers, how much their charge for their services, and what their polices regarding the return of book production files are.
While the book provides helpful tips and a fascinating insight into the self-publishing world, it is also a somewhat disheartening read. Self-publishing is tough and expensive, and most authors, far from becoming the next J.K.Rowling, actually end up losing money. Levine doesn't want to discourage you from following your dream of finally publishing your book, but rather prepare you for what you're going to face, while also giving you tips to create the best book you can and market it in the best way you can to increase your chances of success. The Fine Print Of Self-Publishing is definitely a book that any author should have on his/her bookshelf.
Available at: amazon
Disclaimer: I received these book in exchange for my honest opinion. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.