Saturday, August 1, 2020

Low Country by Anne Rivers Siddons

Low Country

While this made me homesick for the coast in my home state - I could just smell the marsh and the Old Man's Beard! - the main character in this story is just short of annoying.  She is not the typical strong southern woman with a tragic past - she has the tragic past alright but not the shutz-pah I expected.  What strength she does have she pulls from her island (or sometimes, her bottle).  And, somewhat from her husband, who also did not get a fair shake or a fully fleshed out chance here.

The best thing about this story is not the main character though - or maybe I should say that the main character is not Caroline but the people who live on her island.  They have been there for centuries and they have their ways, their language, their connections.  And nothing and nobody will, nor should, move them.  Or the wild horses that live alongside.

Until Caroline's developer husband tries.

More devastation, more crying, more collapsing with disbelief, and one ghost child later, we have a story.  And secondary characters that are much more interesting than Caro and Clay.  (And listen, I am Southern born and raised and I never heard anyone named Caroline called Caro, but that's just me.)  Caroline stands up for what she believes in even through betrayal and loss, and I will say Clay completely redeems himself in the end, which made me happy.  

So, overall, an easy quick read, perfect for the beach or if you are looking for some relatively good, if slushy, Southern literature.   Now, if you want EXCELLENT Southern literature, go grab Pat Conroy.  Meanwhile, this will do (and won't require a dictionary like Conroy does, haha!)

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Revolution of Marina M. by Janet Fitch

The Revolution of Marina M. by Janet Fitch

The Revolution of Marina M.
By Janet Fitch

First off, this tome is 800 pages, so get ready.

Secondly, the last four words of the book are "End of Book 1." 


Now y'all know I love historical fiction. It has been a while since I read anything set in Russia, much less in 1916-1918 Russia. And this author has done her research. I could feel the cold, I could feel the despair and I could feel the revolutionary frustrations and energy from the Bolsheviks. And while I thought it would be a bit of a slog to get through and kind of heavy for summer, I could not put it down. I did get a little tired at the end and I was not jumping up and down to read the next book even with so many story lines unfinished. (What will become of Marina? What happened back at the summer home? Where is her one true love???) Of course there is a lot of conflict, and there are a few quite violent scenes, including a pretty graphic sexual assault (trigger alert here!). And in the last half some situations seem really really far fetched and unnecessary and just plain weird. Some of Marina's decisions don't fit with the person she is becoming, I think she gives up on Koyla too easily much to her disadvantage, and the whole scene at her old summer home with the people now living there - meh. Not sure I will dive into the second book, especially if it is this long again, but this is a good book if you are into epic novels about Russia or historical fiction. Very well written even with its plot flaws (imho). 

Into The Free by Julie Cantrell

Into the Free by Julie Cantrell

(Note: I point out triggers in this novel which some may find to be spoilers, so proceed with caution. I don't name names or give too much away I don't think, but there you go. More than fair warning.)


I just skimmed several other reviews of this book and am vindicated in my opinion here somewhat. Yet, still conflicted. Mightily.

I gave it four stars because it is so beautifully written. And, that is hard to do in the present tense I think! Made it kind of dreamy. Millie is a girl to root for, who has everything stacked against her, and we yearn with her in all her hopes and dreams. She has an abusive rodeo star father (tough to read about - in detail - but only abusive to her mother, let me clarify), a mother who slides between painkillers and severe depression, grandparents who want nothing to do with her, and a big ole' crush on a travelling gypsy. By the time she is 16 she has decided to run away with the gypsies. I would too!!!

Of course - conflict intervenes. Tragedy strikes. A nice nurse and a nice cowboy enter the picture and things change. As does the novel. I did not like the second half of this story - it is almost like two different stories - and the ending chapters really turned me off. There is a big trigger scene for sexual abuse that is graphic, terrible, and the aftermath is NOT well handled in my opinion. Maybe that is the way it (the aftermath) was back then, but I was not impressed at all with the reactions, or lack thereof. My only half hope for why that was even part of the story was because there is a book two and it must have repercussions. But, I am probably not going to read book two. Which is a shame because, like I said, this book was otherwise a pleasure to read, for the prose more than the storylines. I was annoyed with Millie and her seemingly Oh Well decision at the end, her treatment of her gypsy friend - almost like the book is almost over gotta sort this out! I would be willing to try other books by this author, but I think I am done with Millie, bless her messed up little heart. 

*Funny, I just listened to a podcast about trigger warnings. Did I mess up the story by revealing a rape? Am I turning some people away from this book because I have mentioned domestic abuse and sexual assault? Maybe. But I am a big advocate for knowing what you are getting into if you have triggers. I was shocked and so disappointed that the story took this turn in this book. So yes, this review seems very negative in the re-reading of it and I don't mean it to turn everyone off the story. It is worth reading, hence the four stars. BUT, if you are triggered by these things, or even if you are like me and just DON'T WANT TO READ ABOUT IT, especially right now during this pandemic where things are already stressful, then I do not want to lead you to a book that is upsetting, even if it is beautiful. Just my opinion, in my review. Happy to discuss further!

The Invention of Exile by Vanessa Manko

The Invention of Exile by Vanessa Manko

(If receiving this via email, please click on the title above to read the entire review, and check out other reviews on my blog at!)

A very different writing style here - broken, gauzy, flowing.....not much dialogue but I think that is on purpose - really suits the story.  The story is Austin's - a Russian immigrant to the US who because of a language misunderstanding, ends up deported to Russia, then flees to Mexico, and begins the process of trying to legally enter the US.  His American wife takes their three children home to wait for him.

Begin Heartbreak.

This was a bit too depressing for me this summer - lots of themes here including family, loss, mental breaks, and lots of stubbornness!  Because Manko based this story on the true story of her grandfather, there is a certain poignancy as well.  But I was bored.  I skimmed.  Nothing much happened.  Which, as another reviewer pointed out, might be just exactly what the author was going for in atmosphere.  

I appreciated that Austin was so determined to enter the country legally, and was dogged in his efforts to make the Consulate hear him.  My husband is foreign as well (citizen now), and we went through all the hoops to get him into the US legally.  But this is 1934 and things are different.  Reds are the enemy; they will not listen to Austin.  So he keeps up with his inventions, his drafts, his brilliance, just knowing that they will see how much his work will help the US so they have to let him in to be with his family.

Bless his heart.

I expected the ending to be tragic.  Or at least hopeful.  But I did not feel either of these things.  I felt like I was missing the last chapter, it was that sudden.  I found myself even WISHING for the tragic ending over that.  Sigh.  What I will say is that the title makes a lot more sense at the end.  That, at least, was brilliant.  I think this author is worth watching as well.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

In Another Life by Julie Christine Johnson

In Another Life by Julie Christine Johnson

(As always, please click on the title to be taken to the blog for the entire review!  Please leave me a comment if you decide to read this one too!)

I actually really liked this book!  I frowned at the cover's statement that this book was in the vein of Outlander - you know that is my favorite series EVER, right?  So, nothing compares to Outlander.  

However, this was a good twist - more modern, no time traveling back and forth, but only the idea that a soul lost in one life can find comfort and closure through another.  So, yeah, you have to have an open mind here.  I liked the parallels to a previous time and the flashbacks that explained what might be happening. I liked that the flashbacks contained real life historical figures, and a real life "yes it happened but maybe not the way history said it happened" murder.  I liked how well fleshed out our main character is, even if the men in the story remained sketchy (double entendre, I love it).  This is a passionate love story too, but not racy.  A perfect beach read, if anyone is actually going to the beach........

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Hanging Mary by Susan Higginbotham

Hanging Mary

Very pleasantly surprised by this book!  I am a fan of historical fiction, but I don't read much US history.  (Shame on me)  But after finishing Dan Abrams' Lincoln's Last Trial (about Lincoln's law career before he became President) earlier this year, I felt it fitting to read this book that has been on my shelf for a year or two about Lincoln's assassination.  And it is not even about the assassination itself - it is about the people involved and not involved and partially involved in the plot to bring the South back into the war and get revenge on Lincoln.  Specifically, Mary Surratt, John Surratt, Nora Fitzpatrick and of course, John Wilkes Booth.  Very strange to read a story about Booth as a man rather than just a wicked assassin.  But the focus really is on Mary and her part in the plot.  Higginbotham imagines things from Mary and Nora's (a young boarder in Mary's boarding house) alternating perspectives in the months leading up to April 1865.  Was Mary guilty of conspiring to kill the President?  Was she complicit or an innocent bystander, or somewhere in between?  How guilty was her son?  Students of history know there is no spoiler here regarding the ending; this story is more about the journey to that end.  Very well done!!!

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet by H.P. Wood

Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet

What a delightful surprise this book was!

My sister in law started giving the same books to my mother and me (and her own self!) for Christmas a few years ago so that we could do a family book club.  This is one of those books!  She gave me all sorts of disclaimers - she had not read it, wasn't sure it would be any good, etc etc.  I always feel like with a random selection like this, you win some and you lose some.  Well, this one was a winner.

In further full disclosure, this is also a fictional account of a black plague like disease hitting Coney Island, NY, so that was also a surprise considering I picked it up to read during 2020's Pandemic Quarantine.  Truth is stranger than fiction, eh??

In 1904, 19-year old Kitty Heyward is newly arrived in NY from England after a traumatic discovery, only to be traumatized again by being mysteriously separated from her mother.  Enter a con man, a half man, a machine man, and a half and half, among other Colorful Carnival Characters.  Kitty and the others begin to form a new family while facing an unknown assailant in both the illness and the city's reaction to it as well as the "normal" and now increased discrimination towards the carnies.

The author debuts tremendous talent and potential with this book in my opinion.  She tackles so many issues with kindness, education, humor, tenderness and honesty.  The book alternates narrators so we get a view of life on both sides of the economy, while several of the characters also come to a new understanding of their own prejudices - and that works both ways.  No matter which character's head we are in, the reader feels fully invested and the characters are fully fleshed out.  Everything from automatons to leopards to gender fluidity to politics to fleas are covered here.

After all, real life is circus, too. 

PS - even with a handful of f-bombs, I would let my older teenagers read this one.  Not really historical fiction as there was no plague in NY at that time, but the other themes of acceptance of physical deformities, differing lifestyles, working together, and forming families are really well done here. As is the writing, which sometimes for me overrules all else.  I will definitely be searching up this author!!!