Monday, May 26, 2008

Popcorn trio

Natural Born Charmer - Susan Elizabeth Phillips - A Greek-god handsome NFL superstar, a feisty girl in a Beaver costume, an aging rock star and a former groupie - all find love and trust in a small Tennessee town. Throw in an eleven year-old who just lost her mother and you've got a warm and fuzzy story that will leave you warm and happy at its end. A real charmer. Whenever you're feeling down and out, Phillips picks you right up.

Heart Sick - Chelsea Cain - A killer is stalking teenage girls in Portland Oregon. To solve the case and stop the killing, detective Archie Sheridan consults Gretchen Lowell, one of the nastiest psychopaths ever to appear in print. For ten years Archie had tracked a mass murderer, only to become her victim, tortured for days and almost losing his life. He finds he is still her captive in a sick dance of psychological bondage. Heart Sick is not only about Archie's current case, but also about his own scars, both internal and external. Gripping, but not for the squeamish.

What the Dead Know - Laura Lippman- A woman involved in a hit-and-run accident claims to be one of the two Bethany sisters who disappeared from a shopping mall decades earlier . The more police probe her story, the more questions arise. The woman is not completely forthcoming, erratically doling out hints and small details. Is she who she claims to be and if she is, what happened to her sister? Taut with expectation and suspense, delivering a real ending twist.

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

Powerful. Mudbound is a book with staying power, creating images and emotions that resonate long after the last page is read. Laura, a proper city girl, was resigned to spinsterhood until she meets and marries Henry McAllan. Henry had gone to college and was a successful engineer in Memphis, but his real dream was to farm his own land. He buys some property and takes Laura away from Memphis and her family to an isolated Mississippi Delta farmhouse without indoor plumbing, a place Laura names "Mudbound." "When it rained, as it often did, the yard turned into a thick gumbo, with the house floating in it like a soggy cracker." Not only is her life now a never ending cycle of "pumping, churning, scouring,scraping. And cooking," Laura must also share her small farm house with Henry's racist, redneck father. The old man embodies bigotry and ignorance.

World War II has just ended, and two young veterans return to the Delta: Jamie, Henry's charming younger brother, and Ronsel, the son of black tenant farmers. Even though black soldiers had fought in the war, serving with honor, they were isolated in segregated companies and encountered unchanged attitudes of racial prejudice and hatred when they came home. The tensions created by these hatreds curl sharp talons of danger and brutality around life in the small community.
The book begins with the two brothers burying their father's body in the mud. The story unfolds through six different voices, six different viewpoints. Jordan makes each voice distinct and identifiable. She masterfully uses language to define her characters. Mudbound is a story of love, betrayal, and evil. A rarity - a thought-provoking historical page-tuner with three-dimensional, unforgettable characters. One the best - right up there with To Kill a Mockingbird.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch

The minute I read the first review, I knew I HAD to get my hands on this book. Reading the dust jacket - "Meet Sarah Walters, a Charleston debutante with questionable manners and an inherited weakness for bad ideas" - I felt a tremendous shock of recognition. Granted I was from Atlanta, but take it from me, this book rings so true I was transported back to another time and place. Charleston society was Atlanta times 3 - or 4. In the South, Charleston is the top of the heap, the grand dame of southern gentility and manners. Southerners care about and know who your great-great-great grandfather was and adhere to a convoluted set of social rules. The society Crouch depicts really existed and still lives. Her setting is drawn with detail that truly conveys the place - not only the town with its hot, sticky summers and old homes, but also the stifling "old family" milieu.
Sarah is a Camellia. She is the daughter of an old family, so she is a Camellia by birth, and as she says, "once a Camellia, always a Camellia," whether you really want it or not. So true, so true. With charm and wit, Crouch unfolds the story of a small group of girls as they grow up, leave, but never entirely get away from their Camellia roots. Crouch gives us romance with a dark edge and endings that, while not necessarily happy, are very satisfying. Sarah and her friends (by birth but not by choice) leave Charleston with relief, liberated, going "North" to college and escaping the strictures of a culture built on rules for proper behavior. (Southerners really do say "yes, ma'am.") They build new lives around the inheritance of their past, like setting furniture around a large elephant in the living room. Most of the book relates what happens to these Charleston flowers after they leave home. The plot is not sugar-coated and what happens to the Camellias easily flows from the background and story structure.
Highly recommended for the Southern Reading Challenge. A great summer book. I could almost taste the sweet tea.
Reviewed by Vidalia - Cotillon member and graduate of the Margaret Bryan school of ballroom dance, where you would have found me (step ball step), maybe, on row four, a little confused about why I was there. (one, two, cha, cha, cha)

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson

I had read, and enjoyed, Jackson's Between, Georgia; so, upon hearing that she had written a new book, I immediately placed a hold request at the library. While I wasn't disappointed and found the plot compelling, the tone of The Girl Who Stopped Swimming is much darker than that of its predecessor.
Laurel Hawthorne thought she had eluded the ghosts that haunted her, but after 13 specter-free years, she abruptly awakens in the middle of the night to find the spirit of a drowned girl in her bedroom and the body of her daughter's best friend floating in the swimming pool. Laurel is convinced she sees a shadowy figure run from the yard. Concluding that a neighbor with suspicious habits was the shadow and that he was somehow involved in Molly's death, Laurel sets out to prove her hypothesis with the aid of her free-spirited, but acidly honest, sister, Thalia. She also suspects that her daughter Shelby knows more that she is telling. Intertwined with Molly's drowning are memories of Laurel's uncle Marty, shot by her father on a hunting trip.
As in Between, Georgia, Jackson highlights the chasm separating southern social classes. The impoverished "white trash" are both to be pitied and feared. Her portrayal of Laurel's mother's hometown, DeLop, shows rotten roots that the family has tried to ignore. Ignorance and want. Secret upon secret, fortified with steady denial, has created a fragile illusion of family stability.
The Girl Who Stopped Swimming is a mystery, a domestic drama, and a social portrayal.
Jackson considers the question of nature versus nurture in both books. With the character of Bet Clemmens, a young cousin visiting for the summer, we see the damage caused by environment.
Yes, this book is a page-turner, but after the mysteries were solved, the characters and the questions remained.