Book Review: The Secret Life of Winnie Cox by Sharon Maas

It is 1910, South America. Winnie Cox is living a privileged life as the daughter of sugarcane plantation owner.

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Winnie and her sister want for nothing. Everything they want is there for them. Servants at their beck and call, they don’t even realise the inequalities that exist around them. She gets small glimpses of a life very different to theirs however things come to a head when she meets George, a young man who does not fit the bill by any standards for someone like Winnie. George is a post office boy, a ‘darkie’. Winnie face to face with a reality that until then had been unknown to her. Not just that, she discovers the truth about people close to her. The people she had considered blameless had a side completely unknown to her.

The story follows the Winnie’s story at a time and place where racial prejudice and social inequality reigned. When falling in love with someone inappropriate would mean the end of you. The tale of two people bound by love, separated by society. How far is Winnie willing to go?

The story is not just about Winnie, it is about that time in history when things where literally ‘black and white’, when breaking social boundaries meant ostracism and heart break.

A beautifully written book, one which transports you to the place it is set in – which I absolutely love, as most of you who read me must know. As with all of Sharon Maas’ books, they evoke such strong imagery of the settings. I’ve learnt so much of British Guyana since I’ve started reading her. It captivated me so much that I’ve even gone and read up about it. I love it when books do that to you, when the place the story is set in, is more than just a setting, it’s so vibrantly described that it is a character in its own right.

My Rating: A 4.5/5 read for me. The story, the plot, the twist, the setting, everything was perfect. I can’t wait to pick up the next Sharon Maas book.

About the Author
Sharon Maas was born in Georgetown, Guyana in 1951, and spent many childhood hours either curled up behind a novel or writing her own adventure stories. Sometimes she had adventures of her own, and found fifteen minutes of Guyanese fame for salvaging an old horse-drawn coach from a funeral parlor, fixing it up, painting it bright blue, and tearing around Georgetown with all her teenage friends. The coach ended up in a ditch, but thankfully neither teens nor horse were injured. Boarding school in England tamed her somewhat; but after a few years as a reporter with the Guyana Graphic in Georgetown she plunged off to discover South America by the seat of her pants.

A powerful story balancing the different points of views, the circumstances that existed and the struggles, both Winnie and George’s and the communities that
bore the brunt of the racial and social discrimination.

Her first novel, Of Marriageable Age, was published in 1999 by HarperCollins, and is set in India, Guyana and England. Two further novels, Peacocks Dancing and The Speech of Angels, followed.

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Book Review: The Small Fortune of Dorothea Q by Sharon Maas

I came across this book when author Diane Chamberlain ( whose books I adore) tweeted about it.

I looked it up and found it interesting enough to order it on Amazon immediately.

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A family saga spanning three generations of women. Inky and her mother Rika are preparing for her grandmother, Dorothea’s arrival in London. Dorothea needs looking after, and Rika’s sister who had been taking care of her needed to go to Canada, so Rika had to step up. Estranged for years, from her family, this is the first time in years that Rika would be in the same room as her mother. Inky knows is that she would have to do what it takes to get things sorted, for Rika, with her unworldliness would be completely oblivious to most necessities in life. Inky, despite being the daughter, is the one who gets things done in the house. Rika on the other hand, lives in a world of her own, where bills and other worldly things don’t matter as much.

Inky has never met her grandmother, she’d only written her letters when she was younger. All she knows that her mother and grandmother do not get along. Her mother refuses to talk about what it was that created the rift. The passage of time seems to have made no dent in the resentment or the apprehension that Rika and Dorothea hold against each other. Inky is the relief, almost a go-between for them.

Dorothea enters Rika and Inky’s small world – changing it beyond recognition. As Rika, Dorothea and Inky learn to live together, old wounds are re-opened and buried pasts unearthed. A sprawling family saga spanning generations, countries and lifestyles.

As Rika, Inky and Dorothea go about their lives in London, we are also told in parallel Dorothea and Rika’s past in Guyana. I love books that do this, even more so when the past and the present connect so very well, as it does in this book.

It is such an elaborate novel, rich in details, be it food, or descriptions of places or the attitudes of people. We see a totally different Dorothea when she was younger. We see her in love, being rebellious, and we see her change into the person she is now. The author does such a beautiful job of portraying love, family, misfortune and loss. The story touches upon so many aspects of life, a story that sends out so many powerful messages about life, and how life experiences can change or shape us, our thinking, and the way we treat the people around us. The parts of the book that touched upon racism was very beautifully handled. Things that are quite unthinkable and unacceptable today, were so common place once.

I particularly loved the characters. Each unique, each very detailed. I love Rika’s dreamy character, her naivety and her beliefs. I loved Inky. So responsible, so sensible and so caring. She was the child who grew up too soon, who had to be the mother, her mother refused to be, and yet the mother and daughter share such a lovely relationship. One that both cherish, even though not conventional in any way. Dorothea, at first, comes across as a cantankerous old woman, but as the story progresses, we get to see various aspects to Dorothea’s personality. Colourful, vibrant characters, no black and white characters here!

The story itself is powerful, but when you add a wonderful setting and some amazing descriptions, of Guyana, the food, and even the markets in London, I have to say, it takes it to such levels! It even had me looking up Guyana, a place I knew, next to nothing, about. A book I took my time to read, to relish and enjoy.

This book easily goes on my ‘must-recommend’ books. I absolutely loved it. A 5/5 book for me. If you want more proof of how much I loved the book, let me tell you, I went and bought another book by the author – ‘Of Marriageable Age’!

About the Author
Sharon Maas was born in Georgetown, Guyana in 1951, and spent many childhood hours either curled up behind a novel or writing her own adventure stories. Sometimes she had adventures of her own, and found fifteen minutes of Guyanese fame for salvaging an old horse-drawn coach from a funeral parlor, fixing it up, painting it bright blue, and tearing around Georgetown with all her teenage friends. The coach ended up in a ditch, but thankfully neither teens nor horse were injured. Boarding school in England tamed her somewhat; but after a few years as a reporter with the Guyana Graphic in Georgetown she plunged off to discover South America by the seat of her pants.

Her first novel, Of Marriageable Age, was published in 1999 by HarperCollins, and is set in India, Guyana and England. Two further novels, Peacocks Dancing and The Speech of Angels, followed.