The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton

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My Review:  

The Sun Does Shine is a powerful and important memoir, showing a discouraging side of our legal system and an incredible testament of stamina and hope.

In 1985, Anthony Ray Hinton was convicted of murder in Alabama and sentenced to the electric chair.  He was a 29 year old, poor, black man who had a job, a happy disposition and was a devoted son to his loving mother.  The judicial system did not protect Hinton as it should have and he chose not speak for the first 3 years of his incarceration. Rebelling in silence as he wavered between anger and despair, he anticipated being put to death in the electric chair, knowing he was innocent but unable to prove it, despite every bit of evidence indicating the truth.

As time went on, and the legal system repeatedly failed him, Hinton decided to speak up, fight for justice, and he found a way to survive death row…for almost 30 years.  Visitation with his mother and best friend, Lester kept his spirits up.  He learned to exercise his imagination and transport himself to different times and places.   Finding comfort in this, he wanted to share the pleasure of escaping with his fellow inmates and he started a book club. He researched the law while spending his allotted “free” time in the prison library.  He sought out an attorney who had his best interests in mind and the drive to prove innocence.  He befriended the most unlikely alleged criminals and created a supportive and caring family for himself; sadly 54 of them were executed during his incarceration.

With joy and appreciation for his relentless attorney, the unwavering love and friendship of him mother and Lester, and genuine forgiveness in his heart, Anthony Ray Hinton was released in his late 50s, in 2015.

This memoir was upsetting and joyful at the same time.  The judicial system, race relations, prison conditions, and the death penalty all need to be reviewed, discussed, examined and improved so innocent people are not sent to jail, and people in jail are treated humanely.  We are not meant to live in a 5 x 7 cell for any amount of time and these conditions with little human contact can contribute to negativity, violence and hopelessness.  Putting people to death is barbaric and a poor precedent for a government of a free country to support.  Anthony Ray Hinton had incredible strength of character and faith to be able to re-enter life outside prison and find joy and purpose.  I admire his immense fortitude and ability to forgive.

I highly recommend this book.  Check out Oprah’s interview with the author.

Goodreads Summary

 

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About the Author:

ANTHONY RAY HINTON spent nearly thirty years on death row for crimes he didn’t commit. Released in April 2015, Hinton now speaks widely on prison reform and the power of faith and forgiveness. He lives in Alabama.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage

My Review:

In An American Marriage, circumstances put loyalty to the test.  After just a year of marriage, Celestial and Roy find themselves in an undesirable situation and Roy is sent to jail for a crime he didn’t commit. How does a new relationship endure such a setback? During Roy’s incarceration, the couple grows apart; they exchange letters about their feelings and family, but is it enough to keep them together?  Ultimately Celestial’s prison visits dwindle to nothing and Celestial turns to her old friend Andre for support.  Roy is continually hopeful he and his wife will pick up where they left off when he is released but is naive when it comes to her true feelings.

This uniquely written character driven novel let’s us in on the struggles of an incarcerated man, an independent woman and their marriage during a 12 year sentence.  Through the exchange of letters we learn of their past, their families and their desires, yet their communications are cause for misunderstandings.  Celestial’s family hires a lawyer to fight for justice and after a long time working on the case and five years served, Roy is set free.  He hopes to return to his previous live, but time has moved on and even though Celestial has stood by him in his innocence, she has mixed feelings about his release as she has changed direction in her personal life.

I enjoyed this book although the consensus of my bookclub was that even though it was well written and worthwhile to read, the characters were not likable.  Celestial and Roy’s choices and behaviors are fodder for good discussion:  Should she visit Roy in jail?  Divorce Roy?  Should Roy give Celestial permission to leave him?  Should he act upon his jealousy?  Are they clear with each other about their desires regarding a family?  Did their role models in life effect the way they behave and think?

Race and the justice system are undercurrent themes in this story of love, marriage, commitment and the pursuit of the American Dream, and I recommend it, especially for book groups.

Goodreads summary

Tayari Jones

About the Author:

Tayari Jones is the author of the novels Leaving Atlanta, The Untelling, Silver Sparrow, and An American Marriage (Algonquin Books, February 2018). Her writing has appeared in Tin House, The Believer, The New York Times, and Callaloo. A member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, she has also been a recipient of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, Lifetime Achievement Award in Fine Arts from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, United States Artist Fellowship, NEA Fellowship and Radcliffe Institute Bunting Fellowship. Silver Sparrow was named a #1 Indie Next Pick by booksellers in 2011, and the NEA added it to its Big Read Library of classics in 2016. Jones is a graduate of Spelman College, University of Iowa, and Arizona State University. She is currently an Associate Professor in the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark University.

The Last Suppers by Mandy Mikulencak

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My Review:

The Last Suppers is a captivating novel set in a Louisiana penitentiary where Ginny, young daughter of a murdered prison guard, is now all grown up and cooking for the inmates at the jail.  She meets with the prisoners on death row to find out what they want for their last meal and does her best to create the requested dishes.  The drama began two decades prior, when her father was killed and his supposed murderer was put to death while she and her mother were present.  Her dad’s best friend, Roscoe promised to take care of Ginny and her mother, and now, Ginny and Roscoe, currently the jail warden, work together and are a couple, intimately involved.  Despite the age difference, their comfortable routine has been beneficial to both of them over the years but things change when Ginny learns more about the man who paid the price for her father’s murder.
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Before the Rain Falls by Camille Di Maio

 

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As stated in Goodreads:

After serving seventy years in prison for the murder of her sister, Eula, Della Lee has finally returned home to the Texas town of Puerto Pesar. She’s free from confinement—and ready to tell her secrets before it’s too late.

She finds a willing audience in journalist Mick Anders, who is reeling after his suspension from a Boston newspaper and in town, reluctantly, to investigate a mysterious portrait of Eula that reportedly sheds tears. He crosses paths with Dr. Paloma Vega, who’s visiting Puerto Pesar with her own mission: to take care of her ailing grandmother and to rescue her rebellious younger sister before something terrible happens. Paloma and Mick have their reasons to be in the hot, parched border town whose name translates as “Port of Regret.” But they don’t anticipate how their lives will be changed forever.

Moving and engrossing, this dual story alternates between Della’s dark ordeals of the 1940s and Paloma and Mick’s present-day search for answers about roots, family, love, and what is truly important in life.

 

My Comments:

Ok, still wiping away tears! Thank you Lake Union Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of Before the Rain Falls. Author Camille Di Maio hit another home run with this emotional story of family, love, loss and secrets. Add to your TBR list right away; book will be available May 2, 2017.

In the 1940s Della was charged with murdering her sister and spent many years of her life in jail.  Now an old woman, she returns to her family home in Puerto Pesar, Texas, with no family or friends.  Around the same time, Paloma returns to the Texas home she grew up in to care for her grandma and reconnect with her teenage sister.  In Boston, aggressive journalist Mick, reprimanded for running a story with inaccuracies is sent to Puerto Pesar on a mission for a soft news story about a painting of a girl that appears to be crying.  Each chapter reveals more about Della and Paloma, and we get a glimpse into their families histories, revealing  how their lives are surprisingly intertwined.   Mick is the catalyst to bring Della, the old woman just out of jail who knows about the painting, and Paloma, his new friend together as he learns how asking the right questions and moving at a slower pace can lead to greater results and bring understanding, joy and love.

Through storytelling, author Camille Di Maio brings to light how decisions based on faith can be life changing, offering hope and a reason to live, but also causing one to protect a loved one leading to their own demise.  In contrast, always being pragmatic and factual may push one to achieve their goals to reach financial and career success, but relationships and a personal life may suffer and have an emptiness to it.  Before the Rain Falls is simultaneously heartbreaking, hopeful, and joyous: a story of complex characters with varied pasts and bright futures.  Loved it!

 

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If you missed Camille Di Maio’s stellar debut novel, The Memory of Us, you can order it here on Amazon.  I loved this one too!  Scroll back to read my book review in an earlier blog post.