Book Reviews

The Age of Phillis by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers: A review

The Age of Phillis by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers illuminates the life and significance of Phillis Wheatley Peters, the enslaved African American whose 1773 book of poetry, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, challenged prevailing assumptions about the intellectual and moral abilities of Africans and women.

In The Age of Phillis (Wesleyan University Press, 2020), which won the 2021 NAACP Image Award for “Outstanding Literary Work—Poetry” and was long-listed for the National Book Award, Jeffers portrays the life of the poet both before she was taken from her home in West Africa and throughout her lifetime in the United States, first enslaved and later free.

I became aware of the book by attending a virtual reading and can attest that Jeffers’s reading style is dynamic and worth searching out in audio and video recordings on the internet. Read More→


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Square Haunting: Five Writers in London Between the Wars by Francesca Wade

Square Haunting: Five Writers in London Between the Wars by Francesca Wade (2020) sheds new light on fascinating female literary figures of twentieth century and their sojourns in the Bloomsbury district of London the interwar years. First, a brief description from the publisher:

“In the pivotal era between the two world wars, the lives of five remarkable women intertwined at this one address: modernist poet H. D., detective novelist Dorothy L. Sayers, classicist Jane Harrison, economic historian Eileen Power, and author and publisher Virginia Woolf. In an era when women’s freedoms were fast expanding, they each sought a space where they could live, love, and—above all—work independently.

With sparkling insight and a novelistic style, Francesca Wade sheds new light on a group of artists and thinkers whose pioneering work would enrich the possibilities of women’s lives for generations to come.” Read More→


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Two Under the Indian Sun: A Memoir by Jon and Rumer Godden

It’s not often that you find two sisters collaborating on a joint memoir, as is the case with Two Under the Indian Sun (1966). That Jon and Rumer Godden did so after becoming successful authors in their own right is all the more interesting.

Among Rumer’s successes were her bestselling novels Black Narcissus and The River, as well as her memoirs, A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep and A House with Four Rooms. Jon’s works include The Bird Escaped, The House by the Sea, and A Winter’s Tale. The two sisters also collaborated on other highly acclaimed works like Shiva’s Pigeon and Indian Dust. Read More→


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Tomorrow Will Be Better by Betty Smith (1948)

Betty Smith’s first novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943), was a tough act to follow. And while her subsequent novels were all solid efforts, they didn’t achieve the phenomenal success of her debut. Tomorrow Will Be Better (1948), Smith’s second novel, is still very much worth discovering.

The families depicted in Tomorrow Will Be Better — the Shannons and the Malones — might be fictional neighbors of the Nolan family of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  Set in the tenements of Brooklyn in the 1920s, it’s a quintessentially American tale of pursuing dreams in the face of obstacles — not the least of which is poverty. 

Margy Shannon, a young woman filled with hope, is central to the narrative. In search of happiness and a better life, she faces disappointment with fortitude and dignity. As the review that follows noted, “Miss Smith has written a quiet, warm book about people she obviously knows and loves well.” Read More→


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Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier (1943)

Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier is a 1943 novel by the prolific British author and playwright. Her seventh novel takes the form of a multigenerational family saga taking place from 1820 to 1920.

Inspired by actual events and places, the story follows the fortunes of the Brodricks, Anglo-Irish landowners who inhabit Clonmere castle.

While Hungry Hill  hasn’t remained as well-known as some of du Maurier’s more famous novels, notably Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, Jamaica Inn, Frenchman’s Creek, and The Scapegoat, it was successful in its time. It went through dozens of editions, and like many of du Maurier’s other works, it was adapted to film. However, the 1947 movie version was roundly panned. Read More→


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