Tag Archive: Barbara Hambly

Aug 24

Book Review — A Free Man of Color by Barbara Hambly

WHAT’S PLAYING: Hugh Laurie “Ain’t Necessarily So”

 

This week’s book is A Free Man of Color by Barbara Hambly.

 

 

When beautiful and ruthless octoroon Angelique Crozat is found strangled to death in the midst of an opulent Mardi Gras costume ball, dark-skinned Benjamin January—physician, music teacher, and son of a former slave—soon finds himself the prime suspect in her murder. With his freedom and life at stake, January sets out to find the real killer. His quest will take him from the opulent mansions of rich white planters to the huts of voodoo-worshipping slaves, and through the dark streets of 1833 New Orleans in search of a murderer who is poised to strike again.

I’ve been a fan of Barbara Hambly since I read Dragonsbane. One of the things I admired most about her writing is her methodical attention to detail. A Free Man of Color is no exception. Hambly focuses on the delicate, twilit world of 1830’sNew Orleans, managing to capture the city’s exotic strangeness, while maintaining an absolute sense of physical reality. The landed aristocracy and their colored mistresses celebrate Mardi Gras, completely oblivious to the squalor surrounding them. The period detail—fashion, food, manners, music, and voodoo—is rich and decadent, full of sights, textures, sounds and tastes of the city.

The prose is a bit clunky at times (“crimson with rage”, etc.), but Benjamin January shines as a good man in a bad situation, trying to do what is right in a society that classifies people according to an intricate scale of color and bloodline from mulatto to octoroon and everything in between.

 

Favorite Line/Image: “Phrasie, don’t be a fool.” Livia thrust herself into the fray, slapped Euphrasie loudly on her plump cheek.

Euphrasie fell back, opening her mouth to scream, and Livia picked up the water pitcher from the sideboard. “You scream and I dump this over you.”

Clisson, Odile, and Agnes Pellicot promptly retreated to the doorway, hands pressing their mountains of petticoats back for safety. January reflected that they’d all known his mother for thirty years.

Euphrasie, too, wisely forbore to scream.

 

Bottom Line: A sharp portrait of curiously nuanced class divisions.

 

Coming up next: The Siren by Tiffany Reisz

 

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.jacquitalbot.com/2012/08/book-review-a-free-man-of-color-by-barbara-hambly/

Aug 03

Book Review – My Own Worst Frenemy by Kimberly Reid

WHAT’S PLAYING: Rihanna “Cheers (Drink to That)

 

This week’s book is My Own Worst Frenemy by Kimberly Reid.

 

 

Chanti Evans is not looking forward to starting school in the fall. While all of her friends will be together at North High, she’ll be stuck at Langdon Prep—a private school for the insanely rich—as one of three scholarship students. Chanti’s used to flying under the radar and keeping secrets. Her mother, Lana, is a vice cop, and in a neighborhood where cops are considered only one step above cockroaches, it’s safer to keep her mother’s real occupation under wraps. When a rash of thefts hit Langdon Prep, the new kids catch the blame. Chanti didn’t do it, and she knows the other two scholarship students didn’t either. Then the thefts get bigger and Chanti figures the only way to prove her innocence is to find the real thief herself.

Chanti is a likable and compelling character. Like Nancy Drew for the next generation, she is smart, smooth, and sassy, a sleuth with style and snap. She has a great sense of humor and enough flaws and doubts to keep her relatable. I couldn’t help but like her.

The other characters aren’t quite as well-developed. Some of them are even a bit stereotypical, from the rich mean girl and snobby headmistress to the drug-addled jock. Also, the frequent flashbacks threw me off.

Still, this was a fun little mystery, well paced and full of surprises. Reid does a superb job describing the environment, and Chanti’s smart and sassy voice will keep me coming back for more.

 

Favorite Line/Image: I keep it to myself because that’s one of the things I do well, hold on to other people’s business. You never know when you might need it.

Information is negotiable, like currency.

 

Bottom Line: This clever mystery with a biting look at class and privilege is a breath of fresh air and a great work of urban fiction that will undoubtedly appeal to mystery fans.

 

Coming Up Next: A Free Man of Color by Barbara Hambly

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.jacquitalbot.com/2012/08/book-review-my-own-worst-frenemy-by-kimberly-reid/