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│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│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 Mausoleum by David Mark

david markI was immediately drawn to this book and was really excited when the advanced galley was delivered to my kindle. The novel starts out with an elderly man on his death bed wracked with pain with two women standing over him in 2010. The women, Cordelia Hemlock and Felicity Goose have known each other for many years and have been investigating this unfolding historical mystery since the 1960’s when they first met.

A Chance Meeting in a Graveyard

In 1967, Cordelia is a disgraced academic who has recently arrived in a small town in Scotland called Gisland. She is deep in her grief over the loss of her 2-year-old son. She finds solace in the neighboring graveyard and spends her time among the tombstones, perhaps longing to some connection to her deceased son or to death itself. Felicity comes upon her one day, laying among the graves. The two women strike up a conversation just as a storm blows in bringing heavy rain and severe lightning with it. Felicity offers to let Cordelia come back to her cottage with her since it is closer than where Cordelia is staying. Just as the two are leaving, lightning strikes a nearby mausoleum causing it to break open and reveals a body that is only days old. The two women rush to Felicity’s home where they tell her neighbor Fairfax about it. He then rushes out to see the body and get the constable. Only, he is killed and it is found that the body is gone from the mausoleum. Thus begins a long friendship between Cordelia and Felicity that spans decades as they try to uncover the mystery of the body that they found all those years ago.

A Nazi Gestapo & the French Milice

The Mausoleum became an engrossing historical investigation that plunges the two women into the world of Nazi’s and their supporters. This story takes us back to the horrors of World War II and the pervading evilness that the Gestapo enacted on countless victims that for some, continued on even after the war was over. The French Milice are also part of the torture of this novel. While the Nazis dominated Germany, the Milice were a political group in France during the same time that aided in rounding up and deporting French Jews and their families to the concentration and death camps. Also similar to the Nazis who had Hitler Youths, the French Milice also encouraged youth to participate in their youth program known as the Avant-Garde.

The Mysterious Abel

Fairfax, prior to his untimely death, is a writer who records everything that he can get his hands on. One of the things he has recorded is the testimony of a man who describes his life and the torture he endured under the hands of the Nazi Gestapo and the French Milice. The account is horrendous and the abuse and torture seemed to be neverending. The testimony records the Gestapo’s name as being Abel. Could this Abel be the man that the two women found in the grave? The mystery only expands from here, sending the women deep into history to uncover the truth in the present. If you’re looking for a novel that unravels slowly and plunges you deep into a historical investigation then this is a mystery that you will have to pick up.

Book Information

The Mausoleum by David Mark will be released on June 1, 2019, from Severn House Publishers with ISBN 9780727888723. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review. To be linked to special pre-order pricing, click the link above!

Book Review│The Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll by Thomas Kingsley Troupe

dead eyed dollThomas Kingsley Troupe’s The Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll is scheduled to be released just in time for my favorite season: FALL!! Troupe’s book is a fictional encounter with one of the creepier things that exist in the world. Have you ever heard of Robert the Doll? He currently lives in a museum in Florida, but legend has it, he haunted the life of his former owner for years…well into the boy’s adulthood, marriage and eventual death.

Robert the Doll

Robert the Doll belonged to Robert Eugene Otto who lived in Key West, Florida. The doll was a gift to Robert from his grandfather for his birthday. As legend has it, the Robert used to blame any childhood mishap on the doll and soon the doll developed his own awareness to the world around him and later would move things around the room and disappear and reappear in different areas of the house. In his later years, Robert would the doll his own room where he would live until Robert and his wife later died. The new owner of their home described many supernatural occurrences involving the doll which would later be blamed for a variety of misfortunes including broken bones, car accidents and divorces. Today, Robert the Doll has a new home in a museum where visitors can see him first hand, but must heed his warnings of asking permission before taking his picture and must mind their manners, if not, Robert will take his revenge on you.

The Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll

Troupe’s novel is a short read, about 47 pages. It tells the story of Al, a young boy who takes part in a field trip to the museum to meet Robert the Doll. He and his friend, Selma are skeptical about Robert the Doll, but Selma also is fearful of the doll because as she says, but what if it IS real? She leaves Al alone with the doll and Al takes it upon himself to take a picture of Robert without his permission, completely disregarding the warning signs and the letters from people who have done the exact same thing to Robert in the past and have later had to apologize for their behavior. Al will later come to regret his decision as strange things start happening to Al and to those around him. Al must figure out how to accept that there are certain things in life that are just unexplainable and need to be respected…Robert the Doll is one of them.

The Haunted States of America Series

The Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll by Thomas Kingsley Troupe is the latest middle grades horror story in the Haunted States of America Series. This book series showcases a haunted tale from one of the 50 states with easy language and mild illustrations that help bring the creepy story to life. As a kid who grew up on RL Stine, I would definitely invest in this series for my son when he is older and looking for a creepy bedtime story. As a teacher, I would pick these up for early middle-grade readers who need a high-interest story to keep them motivated. Other books in Troupe’s Haunted States of America Series include Beware the Bell Witch, Ghostly Reunion, Spirits of the Storm and Trapped in Room 217

About the Author

Thomas Kingsley Troupe is a native of Minnesota. He has written numerous fiction and non-fiction books with many being geared more towards kids. His series include the Haunted in America Series as well as Hauntiques and Furry & Flo. When he is not writing, he enjoys ghost hunts and campy movies.

Book Information

Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll (Haunted States of America) by Thomas Kingsley Troupe will be released on September 1, 2019 from Jolly Fish Press with ISBN 9781631633485. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review │Charleston Fancy by Witold Rybczynski

When I was an undergraduate at Rutgers University studying art history, one of my all time favorite books that I continually went back to and even now, will pick up from time to time were any of Peter Mayle’s Provence series. What I loved so much about them was that I was learning about life in Provence as an ex-pat through the life of someone who clearly loved Provence. I was learning through someone else’s passion and in so many ways that is the best way to learn because they will never cease to be an endless treasure trove of information about their subject.

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Charleston, South Carolina

I felt the same concept of learning through someone else’s passion with Witold Rybczynski’s Charleston Fancy. Instead of Provence, we are emersed in the world of Charleston, South Carolina, and its beautiful architecture. Charleston is a town with roots that go back to a time before the 1700’s when it was first occupied by British colonists who had landed on the Carolina coast. The city grew and has attracted varieties of people to its warm climate and abundance of different architecture that is notable throughout the town.

Rybczynski opens the world of Charleston, South Carolina up to his readers as we are informed about the various types of architecture that are present and the different types of people and characters we meet along the way. The novel brings Charleston to life through small vignettes and glimpses of Rybczynski’s cast of characters and homeowners as we are further exposed to the varied world of Charleston and its architecture.

Southern Architecture

When I think of Charleston, my mind immediately wonders off to verandas, wicker chairs and huge porches that are all sprinkled along tree-lined streets with brick sidewalks and beautiful masonry. While some parts of the south are like this, Rybczynski focuses his book on the surprises that Charleston has to bring us. From the small houses that hide beautiful courtyard verandas to Byzantine and Moorish beauties that are tucked away– he takes us on a ride through the surprises and beauty that is the prevailing sense of creativity that abounds throughout Charleston’s homes and architecture. It is detailed and colorful in his approach to bringing the world of Charleston, South Carolina for those of us who aren’t familiar.

Book Information

Charleston Fancy: Little Houses and Big Dreams in the Holy City by Witold Rybczynski will be released on May 28, 2019, from Yale University Press with ISBN 9780300229073. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review │ Cherry Scones and Broken Bones by Darci Hannah

This is the second book of the Very Cherry Mystery Series. If you are looking for a cozy sort of mystery mixed up with a love triangle then this is one you have to pick up. We meet our main character Whitney, who has returned to her small Wisconsin town to take over control of her family’s bed and breakfast, The Cherry Orchard Inn.

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Whitney is an experienced manager and baker with her signature dish being cherry scones. Everything seems to be going well for Whitney, until, Silvia Lumiere a renowned portrait painter decides to book a two-month stay at the Inn. At first, everyone is extremely excited to have such a celebrity staying there, however, the tides quickly turn when Silvia’s true character comes out. She is the most unhappy of people and will find anything to complain about which gets on everyone’s last nerve.

It’s almost not shocking when she is found dead at the bottom of the stairs of the Inn with a cherry scone jammed in her mouth. Someone has shut her up permanently and everything seems to be pointing to Whitney as her murderer.

Despite being at the center of a murder mystery, Whitney does find time to find herself in the middle of a love triangle between herself, Jake and Jack’s friend Tate. This is where a lot of the drama happens as even though Whitney is a 30-something-year-old woman, she is incredibly immature when it comes to her romantic life. She’s too afraid to turn down Tate, but also too afraid to be rejected by Jack and it lends itself to much of the drama between all of them.

However, the twist at the end really brought this book together for me. While this is not a murder mystery that is littered with clues and it is more of a cozy, quick read than something more substantial, Darci Hannah does deliver a good, shocking end with a murderer that is not our romantically entwined heroin.

Cherry Scones & Broken Bones (A Very Cherry Mystery Book 2) by Darci Hannah will be released on June 8, 2019 from Midnight Ink with ISBN 9780738758381. This review refers to an advanced electronic galley that was shared in exchange for a review.

Book Review │ Manet and Modern Beauty

The following volume corresponds to exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago which runs from May 26 to September 8, 2019 and the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center which runs from October 8, 2019, to January 12, 2020.

manet

Unlike most Manet exhibitions, the curators of Manet and Modern Beauty chose to focus their show on a less popular period within Manet’s life: his later years. This is a period for the artist that is largely overlooked because it is such a shift from what Manet is so well-known for. The shift in his work is often attributed to his decline in health and his growing interest in fashion and women painters, namely Berthe Morisot, a woman created with being a source of inspiration for this period of his work.

Weaving together gorgeous reproductions of Manet’s works with essays and correspondence from the artist during this period in his life, Allan, Beeny, and Groom create an in-depth view of Manet and his later works. While the writing is academic in tone, the inclusion of the personal correspondence really illuminates where the artist was during this part of his life and how it could relate to why there is such a shift in his work from previous paintings.

As viewers, we get to see the lush social world that Manet found himself in during the 1870’s and 1880’s and in many ways, we can also uncover his commentary on this world that he lived in during his later years. With nearly 300 beautiful reproductions, Manet and Modern Beauty stands as a gorgeous literacy and artistic work that brings to life the later years of Eugène Manet.

Manet and Modern Beauty: The Artist’s Last Years edited by Scott Allan, Emily A. Beeny, and Gloria Groom will be released on June 25, 2019 from Getty Publishing with ISBN 9781606066041. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was shared in exchange for a review.