Book Review│Conjure Women by Afia Atakora

cover174871-mediumAfia Atakora’s Conjure Women is a richly detailed narrative that takes us back to the pre and post Civil War South through the eyes of Miss May Belle and her daughter, Miss Rue. The chapters alternate viewpoints between the two women to showcase how different and still yet similar life is for women of color in the South during and after the war when freedom really didn’t mean that these women were in fact free.

For Miss May Belle, it is 1854. She is a practicing midwife and conjurer. Her special talents give her a life with benefits that she wouldn’t have had other wise or as she puts it,  “Hoodoo is black folks currency.” Other slaves seek her out for help and at times, so do the wealthy white men who are too embarrassed by an ailment to seek out a doctor. Rue is young and growing up under Miss May Belle’s watchful eyes, learning her secrets and seeing first hand what conjuring can do to a person’s body and soul.

The two live in a large plantation owned by the prosperous Marse Charles and his daughter, Varina. His young daughter becomes a playmate for Rue who is eager to act out her rebellions which usually ends in punishment for Rue. Miss May Belle knows that her talents afford her freedoms, but that she is still a slave and as such must adhere to the unspoken rules of the white-men who control her life. She makes sure Rue learns her place while learning the ways of hoodoo and conjuring to ensure that Rue keeps her place with Marse Charles long after she is gone.

For Rue, it is 1867 and the war is over. Her mother is long gone and she has taken over the hoodooing that Miss May Belle had abandoned after a horrific tragedy. Rue is intimately involved in many of the townspeople’s lives as she has delivered every baby since the war. When a fair skinned, black eyed child is born the town views the arrival more as a curse than a blessing and the praise they used to give Rue turns to criticism as suspicion begins to swirl. Suspicion is only heightened with the arrival of a preacher to town who is bent on ruining Rue because the bible marks her as impure and evil with her hoodoo and magic. However, is the preacher all that pure and truthful himself? Rue’s story is filled with suspicion and conniving scheming that fuels much of the conflict in her story.

Fear overtakes the town and trust is lost. Rue is overwhelmed by the burden of the secrets and magic that she carries. Will she ever truly be free or will she be forever bartering for other people’s well-being while sacrificing her own? Ultimately, what is the price of her freedom?

Afia Atakora’s Conjure Women is a fantastic debut novel that makes Atakora an author to watch. Her poetic prose and use of magical realism make the details of this novel come to life. You become immersed in her world–a fantastic read that brings the world of slavery and life before reconstruction to life.

Book Information

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora is scheduled to be released on April 7, 2020 from Random House Publishing with ISBN 9780525511489. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review│A Hundred Suns by Karin Tanabe

cover171056-mediumStep into a  bygone era where travel was luxurious and living abroad was just a thing that young, rich couples did with Karin Tanabe’s A Hundred Suns. It is 1933 when America Jesse Lesage steps off a boat from Paris and into the exotic world of pre-war Vietnam. Along with their young daughter, Lucie, Jesse has accompanied her husband Victor Lessage, cousin to the French rubber barons Edouard and André Michelin, for a three year period where he will over see the rubber plantations.

However, everything is not as it seems as Jesse is hiding deep secrets of her own about the life that she left behind in America. The epitome of the modern woman in most respects, Jesse narrates the novel with sympathy and compassion as her story unfolds. She explains the struggles of living in Indochina and those of her husband as he struggles to maintain the plantation while up against political and personal attacks that stem from the rise of communism in the region as well as workers who are wanting their fair share.

Outside of the politics of Indochina in the novel, you also have the politics of love and relationships fueling the novel. Similar to Jesse, Marcelle is another who arrives in Hanoi, eager to put her rural, underprivileged life behind her, but who is also bent on revenge against the Michelin family. She has come to Hanoi to be near her love, who is part of a wealthy silk family who is not her husband and she plans to befriend and use Jesse to her advantage– having studied her from afar for sometime before their paths inevitably crossed.

Karin Tanabe’s A Hundred Suns has it all: politics, colonialism, love affairs and revenge all set against the vast backdrop of Vietnam in the early 1930’s. The lushness of the setting drives the novel and turns this work of historical fiction into a thriller in most parts– eager to find out who survives, who benefits and ultimately, who falters. Tanabe’s talent for bringing the world of the elite and how it often clashes with those around them shines in her fifth novel.

It is gearing up to be a busy time for the author as Tanabe’s earlier work, The Gilded Years,  is scheduled to become a major motion picture starring Zendaya and produced by Zendaya and Reese Witherspoon for Sony/Tristar according to the author’s website. Karin Tanabe is a former reporter whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer and in the anthology Crush: Writers Reflect on Love, Longing and the Lasting Power of Their First Celebrity Crush. Currently, she works as a journalist focusing on lifestyle pieces and book reviews. This is her first novel for St. Martin’s Press.

Book Information

A Hundred Suns by Karin Tanabe is scheduled for release on April 7, 2020 from St. Martin’s Press with ISBN 9781250231475. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

 

Book Review│Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner

jackJL Markham is a 15-year-old girl who is out of sorts with her world around her. She lives with her mentally-ill mother, has lost her best friend to a group of other girls and her dad is on a business trip that keeps getting extended. She decides to write a long-flowing letter to her friend Aubrey, letting her know what has happened since the two girls had parted ways. She is hopelessly trying to cling to things from her old life even if those things are leading her down a path of self-destruction. 

Additionally, JL is also madly in puppy love with a senior named Max who is rough on the outside, but also shows her that on the inside he has the soul of a poet. Their age difference causes problems in that Max is ready to pack up and get the heck out of town once senior year ends, but what about JL? At only 15, she’s stuck between staying and disobeying her parents to run away with Max.

Gae Polisner’s Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is a story of coming of age and the frailty of female friendships during that pivotal time in young women’s lives. JL is stuck between who she is going to become and who she is going to have let go of. It is never an easy time or decision to begin living in your future instead of your past. This is Polisner’s fifth young adult novel and she shines with it. The voice of JL is poignantly 15-years-old and not overly dramatic or overly subtle like some writers go when writing younger characters. Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is a believable story of a young girl trying to find herself on the other side of adolescence while not completely losing who and what she was before. I would recommend this book for adults as well as middle-grade readers who are looking for something a little more in-depth.

While a 15-year-old’s love story might not be something most adults would pick up, I think you will find that Polisner has written this so well that it brings you back to your own time as a young girl in love for the first time, trying to navigate your relationships, your friendships and your own dreams. The darkness and the tragedies that befall JL show the strength of youth in times of adversity and how even though we may be young when we face them, we very much feel them every step of our journey through them. When you pick this one up, get ready for an authentic and emotionally raw journey through adolescence and your first love.

Book Information

Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner is scheduled to be released on April 7, 2020 from Wednesday Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press with ISBN 9781250312235. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review. All thoughts are entirely my own and I have not received any compensation for this review.

Book Review│The Companion by Kim Taylor Blakemore

the companionIn the same vein as Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, we meet a young woman, accused of a horrible crime, but even when she begins to tell us her story, we can only help but wonder just how innocent and truthful she really is. Kim Taylor Blakemore delivers with The Companion. Set in 1855 New Hampshire, The Companion, follows Lucy Blunt as she is set to hang for a double murder. However, as readers, we are kept in the dark as to who she is actually accused of killing and the events the led up to the murders.

Instead, we spend the novel feeling tense and isolated as the story of Lucy Blunt unfolds. She is a sheltered servant who is spending a winter at a remote estate– the Burton mansion– which is almost as cold and isolating as the winter. Lucy arrives at the estate with a fake letter of reference in pursuit of employment. She is taken in by the Burtons and quickly develops a close bond with Eugenie Burton, the lady of the house who is also blind and hyper-aware of her surroundings. This happens in part because her companion, Rebecca, a rather insufferable woman, falls ill early on. When she recovers, there is a clear jealousy between the two women over the affection of Eugenie. This is further fueled by the ideas of class and placement in society– Lucy is just the kitchen help, who is she to be favored by the lady of the house?

The tension is further fueled by the nuances of a lesbian relationship that begins to unfold in the house. The sex scenes are there and they are not graphic or out of the blue. They align with the overall gothic feel of the book and lend to the tension and bleak excitement of the story. Overall, a solid read that will keep you guessing and immersed in the world of 1855 New Hampshire and the gray winter that surrounds and lends to the emotions of much of the novel.

Book Information

The Companion by Kim Taylor Blakemore was released on January 14, 2020 from Lake Union Publishing with ISBN 9781542006392. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review│The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters

cover165462-medium I recently got really into Marianne on Netflix. I binged the entire series in a weekend and was superbly creeped out the entire time. I loved the idea of a centuries old demonic witch having controlled a young writer into telling the world of her stories so that she could use the magic of influence to continue to kill and mame through brutal accidents each time the woman wrote a book. It was really well done and if you have a weekend where you just want to binge something creepy, I highly recommend it.

Similarly, Damien Angelica Walters takes us on a journey through the past and present to bring to life the story of a decades old murder and the tale of The Red Lady. Years ago, Heather was part of a club with her friends. They called it The Dead Girls Club because they would sit around and tell stories about death, the macabre and serial killers. Somewhere along the line, one of the girls, Becca, introduces the story of The Red Lady, who is a witch that was killed centuries ago.

After the story is shared, strange things start happening to the girls and ultimately tragedy strikes that summer when one of the girls is killed. Was it really The Red Lady or was it just hysteria among a group of 12-year-old girls? Years later, Heather is bent on finding the answer as she takes us back through her story and we weave into the past and present trying to put the pieces together. As Heather gets closer to the truth, mysterious threats and clues arrive, bringing Heather into a panic…who could really know what happened that summer? Who would know and why are they coming forward now? Heather becomes lost in a sea of time and regret, unable to distinguish between what is real and what is not, leaving us readers in just as panicked a state as we try to reach our own conclusions on whether or not Heather had killed Becca 30 years ago or if The Red Lady is, in fact, very real.

The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters is the kind of horror thriller that will keep you reading until the early hours of the morning. This is a book that will keep you on your toes and won’t let you go until it’s done. Walters crafted a solid plot that immediately pulls you in and drives you through a roller coaster of events and moments before reaching it’s inevitable end. Just be sure to read this one with your lights on and your husband near by because you will feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and little noises will send  your book flying across the room– a wonderfully written thriller.

Book Information

The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters is scheduled to be released on December 10, 2019, from Crooked Lane Books with ISBN 9781643851631. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review│The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Eisenberg

cover163695-mediumDid you ever find that you have something that constantly pops into your life? For me, that is West Virginia. When I was little, my dad’s company would often send him to WV for work and those were the longest weeks, waiting for him to come home. When I got older, my first real-world love was from West Virginia and ironically, worked for that same company. Now, I have to laugh when our new principal talks about her life growing up in West Virginia and our other vice principal walks around the halls with a WVU alumni mug. Last week, I had one of my students tell me that he was going to be missing class this afternoon because he was leaving to head on down to…West Virginia…to see the WVU game. West Virginia…I feel like it finds me everywhere.

When I was offered the chance to review Emma Copley Eisenberg’s The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia I knew that it was kismet and therefore, had to be reviewed here on my blog. Because? Well, West Virginia of course!

“Misogny is in the groundwater of every American city and every American town, but for me, it was done here.”

– Emma Copley Eisenberg

If you aren’t familiar with Eisenberg’s book, then you should know that it is a true crime novel centered around the events that occurred on the evening of June 25, 1980 when three girls were traveling to the Rainbow Gathering in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. Two of the women, Vicki Durian, 26, and Nancy Santomero, 19 were killed in a clearing while the third woman lived. In 1993, a local farmer was convicted of the crimes, but was ultimately cleared of the charges when a known serial killer and diagnosed schizophrenic named Joseph Paul Franklin claimed responsibility.

West Virginia is a mixed bag of extremely rural, mountains and small city life once you edge into Charleston or to Morgantown. Where the murders occurred, the area is still extremely rural and most view it as being an area filled with people who are poor, uneducated and backward– capable of extreme measures.

Eisenberg lived in Pocahontas County for a few years and the novel that she writes weaves together pieces of her memoir, facts about the case and the uniting thread that brings together the ideas about the case with a way through the haze of the passage and time and grief that has seemingly buried this cold case into local lore. Eisenberg takes facts from documentaries, local accounts and documents which do become lost and almost overwhelmed by her own opinions and thoughts on the murders and her views on life overall.

At points in the novel, I felt as though I was reading an extremely condescending view of West Virginia and everything that transpired because there was such a focus on the writer being “woke” as opposed to focusing on what the novel was ultimately about: true crime and the murder of these two women in a clearing. I would be interested to read more from Eisenberg as she finds her voice as a true crime writer. What really could not allow me to pick my own jaw off the floor as I read, was the pervading misogyny throughout the investigation and evidence files that Eisenberg presented. I couldn’t believe how many hands that were involved in this felt in some way that the two women almost deserved what they got because of the hippie lifestyle that they chose to live. Overall, a very interesting case and a solid start for an emerging new true crime writer.

Book Information

The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia by Emma Copley Eisenberg is a true crime novel that is scheduled to be released on January 21, 2020 from Hachette Books with ISBN 9780316449236. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review│Raven Lane by Amber Cowie

raven laneI originally requested a galley of this novel because I was most interested in the author. Amber Cowie has most definitely lived the writerly life. She has worked as a smalltown newspaper reporter, as a front desk person for a remote hotel between England and France and served hot chocolate in Scotland’s only ski resort. It’s safe to say she has many more stories to tell us. What I also loved so much about her is that she is also a wife and a mother now which gave me hope, especially after my last post.

I found the premise of the book to be interesting, in that, so many of us leave the flightly world of being young for the more settled version of life on a cul-de-sac with our partners and families. For some of us, that life is idyllic and it means that we have made it. For others like,  Esme Werner, she struggles with life on the cul-de-sac. She is haunted by old ghosts, including the fact that she had been raped and she still questions the paternity of the daughter that she loves so much. This also leads her to question her love or lack of love for her husband, Benedict.  Everything begins to culminate when Torn, the street’s omni-sexual and local best-selling author, is the victim of a hit and run. His voice continues throughout the book as there is also a story within a story as we are taken through the events juxtaposed with Torn’s book, The Call.

Through the use of Torn’s novel, we get a deeper look at the monsters that are fictionalized within the story and those “real-world” monsters that are living every day on Raven Lane. Benedict and Esme had been celebrating Benedict’s new contract at work, sharing some wine and enjoying each other’s company when he decides to go to the liquor store for more wine. While backing out of his driveway, he hits and kills Torn. At first, this looks like a horrible accident, but upon further investigation, the police uncover that not only had Benedict been drinking, but that there were also drugs in his system. This propels the novel forward, creating a rich narrative that takes us from past and present and unleashes many of the dark secrets that Esme and Benedict held as well as the secrets that suburbia overall likes to hide behind white picket fences.

In the same breath as Big, Little Lies, Cowie’s Raven Lane takes the reader on a spiral down past the glittery images of suburbia and deep into the lives and lies of the people who live on the cul-de-sac. Overall, a quick and enjoyable read that will leave you with a few surprises and an understandable ending–a solid weekend kind of read.

Book Information

Raven Lane by Amber Cowie is scheduled to be released on November 12, 2019, from Lake Union Publishing with ISBN 9781542003728. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

 

Book Review│Don’t Keep Your Day Job by Cathy Heller

day jobI am in a really weird phase of my life. I have a job that I have loved for years, but now I had my doctorate and the job that I do have really only requires a bachelors. I find myself growing bored with my day to day life and I feel resentment building when it comes to being unable to stay home with my son and write books all day and teach college classes. It’s a sore spot in my marriage lately and we both feel my overall frustration in feeling stuck in a job that in many ways I have mastered. I am stuck between wanting more and less at the same time.

It’s a weird phase in my life like I said. I also feel really stifled creatively and sometimes when I daydream lately I find myself thinking back to that time in my life when I was newly graduated from college and maybe if I hadn’t pursued this life, maybe if I had just struggled even harder than I did, maybe I would be doing something more along the lines of writing full time and teaching college part-time. I don’t know for sure and I definitely don’t regret the life I have built, but I think I am just at a point where I want to see a change in my professional life that would allow me to be home with my baby more and would challenge me in new ways than teaching hs been lately.

I was excited to receive a galley of Don’t Keep Your Day Job because I thought that it might give me some great advice or some great push towards pursuing something new and exciting in my life. However, there was no great secret to how the author got to where they were and I also found that there was a profound lack of gratitude for the luck and support she received in abandoning the every day 9 to 5 life for the creative life.

I think many of us would like to quit our jobs today and pursue a life that we are passionate about, but with real-life responsibilities like kids, families, mortgages and paying for health insurance…I just didn’t see how I would ever be able to take that leap like so many described in this book. It’s a well-written book and if you like her podcast, this would seem to be a new way to look at it, but for me, I was just disappointed that there wasn’t some magical answer about how I could change my life today. Unlike those that have been able to make careers out of their passions, I do not have a support system…I am my own support system nor do I have the funds to pin together finances while I fight to make a living like I do through teaching. The basis of the book, seemed completely unrealistic to me unless you were someone much younger with access to parents who could financially help you and few to none responsbilities.

Which, I suppose, is more reflective of me than it is of this book. Overall, though, I will stick to listening to the podcast.

Book Information

Don’t Keep Your Day Jobs by Cathy Heller will be released on November 12, 2019, from St. Martin’s Press with ISBN  9781250193605. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

 

Book Review│Across a Broken Shore by Amy Trueblood

cover163516-mediumWilhelmina “Willa” MacCarthy is your typical 18-year-old girl. She is stuck between what her devotedly religous family wants for her and what she wants for herself as she strives to find her own way in the world as a young woman. It is 1936 and her family would like nothing more than to see her become a nun. However, Willa has other plans. She is ahead of her time and longs to find her footing in medicine, a field that is almost completely male-dominated at the time. Change is coming though, both within the ideas that are held for women and within the physical area where Willa lives and works. The Golden Gate Bridge is being built and in many ways can serve as a metaphor for Willa’s ow bridge between her family obligations and her own dreams for herself.

As the story unfolds, we learn that Dr. Maloy, the local physician has retired and in his place, Dr. Katherine Winston has arrived. The town is buzzing with news of a female doctor and many are unsure if she can handle the position. Willa and Katherine spark up a friendship which leads to Willa accompanying Dr. Winston on her appointments and visits to patients. In her journey of self-discovery, we also get to fall in love with characters like, Paddy, the brother who believes in Willa from the very start. There is also Sam, a total sweetheart, that makes for that subtle young love that makes both Willa and Sam completely endearing overall.

This novel was a quick read with an enjoyable backdrop that illuminated Willa’s journey. Depression-era 1930’s San Francisco drove much of the story and made the setting enjoyable overall.

Book Information

Across a Broken Shore by Amy Trueblood is scheduled to be released on November 5, 2019, from Flux: North Star Editions with ISBN 9781635830422. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review│The Bright Unknown by Elizabeth Byler Younts

bright unknownAs a Christian woman, I was super excited when I received the galley for Elizabeth Byler Younts’ The Bright Unknown. I was further geeking out upon my receipt of it because it takes place in the 1940’s and I just love that era all together. Sometimes I really feel as though I was born too late, but then you read a story like this one and you’re reminded of how dark and unfair society could be back then, especially towards women…and even more so when those women were poor.

The Bright Unknown begins with Brighton explaining, “I’m not sure whom I should thank – or blame – for the chance to become an old woman. Though as a young girl, sixty-seven seemed much older than it actually is.” We open at the end of the story, but are quickly thrown back into Brighton’s life before her freedom, in a place that we come to know as a horrific, malevolent institution where the darkest sides of humanity pervaded for many years.

Born in the Riverside Home for the Insane  in 1923, Brighton Friedrich’s life revolves around her unstable mother and her overall care. With little exposure to the real world, Brighton is ill-equipped for anything outside of the asylum’s walls and at times, the true nature of what really is within. Eventually, Brighton meets Grace Douglass, a young woman who is sent to the asylum by her parents for behavioral issues.

Just as naive as Brighton, Grace struggles to adjust to her life inside of the walls of the institution. Grace draws Brighton out into the world through her love of photography and the two soon grow close.

Staying true to the time, the therapies that destroyed people inside asylums in the 1940’s are at their peak use. Hydrotherapy, insulin shock, lobotomies…and so much more, are at the forefront of the treatment of patients. Brighton becomes driven to find a way to save herself and her friends from life in the asylum, eager to get the out and into a place where they can find piece. The Riverside Home for the Insane is not where these women belong and Brighton is determined to find her own life along side the people that she loves.

However, her unrest leads to a sudden change in how Brighton is treated by the staff and she goes from being a person to a patient. Undergoing the treatments that other have had, including insulin shock, sparks a fire in Brighton that sets her and Grace on a journey towards their own freedom. They grow up fast and hard, but their journey towards a new life is riveting and the overall prose of the novel keeps you engaged as you journey through the insanity that is an insane asylum in the 1940’s and the life that comes after.

“My driveway reminds me of the freedom I have to come and go as I please. Things were not always this way.”
-Brighton Friedrich

Book Information

The Bright Unknown by Elizabeth Byler Younts is scheduled to be released on October 22, 2019 from Thomas Nelson with ISBN 9780718075682. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.