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review 2018-09-23 02:44
The Solace of Water by Elizabeth Byler Younts
The Solace of Water - Elizabeth Byler Younts

After leaving her son’s grave behind in Montgomery, Alabama, Delilah Evans has little faith that moving to her husband’s hometown in Pennsylvania will bring a fresh start. Enveloped by grief and doubt, the last thing Delilah imagines is becoming friends with her reclusive Amish neighbor, Emma Mullet—yet the secrets that keep Emma isolated from her own community bond her to Delilah in delicate and unexpected ways. Delilah’s eldest daughter, Sparrow, bears the brunt of her mother’s pain, never allowed for a moment to forget she is responsible for her brother’s death. When tensions at home become unbearable for her, she seeks peace at Emma’s house and becomes the daughter Emma has always wanted. Sparrow, however, is hiding secrets of her own—secrets that could devastate them all.

With the white, black, and Amish communities of Sinking Creek at their most divided, there seems to be little hope for reconciliation. But long-buried hurts have their way of surfacing, and Delilah and Emma find themselves facing their own self-deceptions. Together they must learn how to face the future through the healing power of forgiveness. Eminently relevant to the beauty and struggle in America today, The Solace of Water offers a glimpse into the turbulent 1950s and reminds us that friendship rises above religion, race, and custom—and has the power to transform a broken heart.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel touches upon the topic of self harm.

 

 

After the death of their young son, Carver, African American couple Delilah Evans and her preacher husband, Malachi, decide to move the family from Montgomery, Alabama back to the small town community of Sinking Creek, PA near where Malachi grew up. Malachi gets to work settling in as the new preacher of a local church in the area, but he finds resistance in his congregation. When he sits down with a family member for perspective on the problem, it's explained to him that he's simply been gone from the community too long and people need their trust with him restored. 

 

Delilah blames Carver's death on her daughter, Sparrow, who was supposed to be watching Carver when tragedy struck. Right from the beginning of the story, it's obvious that Delilah takes out her grieving on Sparrow in cruel ways. Struggling with feelings of guilt and abandonment by her mother, Sparrow, over the course of the novel, turns to self harm to alleviate her inner pain, turning to things such as stinging nettles, glass, even a clothes wringer to leave marks on her physical body as a way to let off steam from inner turmoil. Sparrow comes to find comfort in the presence of Emma, a local Amish woman who knows a thing or two about loss herself.

 

She had this warm milk sort of way about her. A body just couldn't walk away from somebody like that. You just want to drink it in 'cause you don't know if you ever gonna meet anyone like that again.

>> Sparrow, on getting to know Emma

 

 

But once the interactions come to the attention of Delilah, both she and Malachi warn Sparrow that she should probably keep her distance. This novel is set in the racially tense times of the 1950s and interracial friendships (and relationships otherwise) play a big part in the novel's dramatic moments. Emma hears similar warnings from her Amish neighbors and even her husband, a head deacon within the Amish community. It doesn't concern them so much that their new neighbors are black, but simply that they are "Englishers", or non-Amish. In their own ways, both the African-American and Amish communities push on these characters the damaging idea that "we'll all do a lot better if we just stick to our own kind." But as we the readers know, the world doesn't really work like that. We either cultivate love, kindness and appreciation for a multi-cultural world, or our lives face potential implosion, just as the characters in The Solace of Water learn for themselves.

 

"Since when do you know them?" John asked (after he discovers Emma knows the Evans family)

 

"I met them when they moved in. They're a nice family."

 

"The bishop said to leave them all alone because there always seems to be trouble between them and the white Englishers. We aren't like either of them and need to keep to ourselves."

 

Within Emma, we see a vessel for change. She has a poet's soul, full of curiosity in the stories of others, a love of words and a desire for knowledge. But she struggles against the darker corners of her life that threaten to tamp out her light. Her husband's secret struggle with alcoholism, his dislike of her "fancy lines" (her habit of crafting her own bits of poetry) that he sees as a form of vanity, quite the sin in Amish culture. Emma is weighted down with heavy guilt from being an enabler for her husband's drinking. She knows it's not only wrong but dangerous as well. It's not addressed directly, but parts of Emma's story suggest that perhaps John turned to drinking as a way to cope with crippling social anxiety, but over the years his bouts of aggression seem to have escalated along with the amount of alcohol he needs to consume to feel able to function. 

 

Emma's teenage son, Johnny, has had years of spoiling from his father and is progressively drawing more and more toward English ways -- drinking, late night carousing, sneaking pornographic magazines, even befriending an out-and-out racist! What changes Johnny is the first sight of Sparrow, whom he describes as the prettiest, most interesting and different girl he's ever met. You can imagine the firestorm that develops for a man who simultaneously maintains a friendship with a racist AND secretly tries to court a black teenage girl!

 

**Sidenote: I wasn't all that impressed with Johnny as a character. I couldn't help but feel that he saw Sparrow as something exotic and interesting in his Amish life rather than someone he honestly wanted to have a deep loving friendship with... even if he does talk about running away together (I think that was more about "young man caught up in the moment" than anything) and tells his mother that "Sparrow taught me things I never knew before"... What? WHEN? Their interaction throughout the whole book added up to only a handful of rushed conversations in secret! I just didn't buy that his feelings ran as deep as he claimed.**

 

The novel is presented in alternating POVs, rotating between Delilah, daughter Sparrow, and Amish neighbor Emma. To date, the novel seems to have gotten solid 4-5 star ratings across the board but I just did not have the same reaction as so many others. To be honest, I actually struggled to get to the end of this book. I DID finish it but for a book this size (under 400 pages), it took me WEEKS to get there. Highly unusual for me, especially for a historical fiction novel -- one of my favorite genres! The pace felt molasses-slow... which is sometimes nice in a novel if the writer brings the right tone... but when you combine slow with a deeply depressing plot for most of the novel... that alone left me exhausted enough.

 

But then add in Delilah as a character. That woman had a personality that just came off as almost straight vinegar. Yes, it is explained later (through her conversations with Malachi and later, Emma) that much of her acidic demeanor is driven by a combination of fear and grieving, even fear that letting go of the grieving will somehow dishonor the memory of Carver. Full disclosure: I do not have children, have never personally experienced the loss of my own child. BUT, in my own circle of family and friends, there are a number of women who have had that experience in one form or another, whether through miscarriage, stillbirth, or tragedy. With that, I can say that none of the women in my circle have ever come anywhere near the unpleasantness of Delilah. They've known the sadness for sure, but they went on to live the best lives they could, full of love and appreciation for the people they still had around them. Delilah was just EXHAUSTING in the way she never gave anyone or anything a chance, she just assumed everything was more misery in disguise ... at least for a large part of the story.

 

So what kept me reading? Well, this is one of those stories that does have its important, moving moments, even if they are few and far between for some readers. But as I said, I stuck with it, and the plot's pace FINALLY picked up for me around the 250 page mark. But remember, the entire book is less than 400 pages. That's a long wait to a payoff. But readers who choose to stay with it do witness revelatory conversations, where women ask the important questions such as "Is that what you want --- to be separate?" and we come to realize that though the details and the POVs may differ, one commonality bonds these women together: they are all desperate for unconditional love and affectionate touch, something to remind them they are still important to others... yet their actions show just how scared all of them are to voice that need.

 

Aaron believed his arrival was a surprise, but I knew better. John's forgetfulness was getting worse the more he drank. His gentleness toward me was diminishing like dampness whisked away in a May breeze. And anytime he was gentle, I was filled with my own regrets and in my guilt I pushed him away. 

>> Emma

 

Good concepts for a novel, the problem for me mainly fell on the characters not having enough dimension for me to have much emotional investment in them.

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

 

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review 2018-09-20 02:59
First half to see good, then the shots are fired
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - John Berendt

When I was around two thirds in, I started idly concocting a review in my brain, about how the almost surreal elements and characters was what gave this narrative such a verisimilitude. Cue me over the 80% mark, just going to search for a detail, and finding out this is nonfiction. Sure, there are artistic licenses, but in essence?

 

I love it when knowing absolutely nothing about a book pays up in such ways.

 

As I mentioned previously in an update, the general tone reminded me a lot of latinoamerican writing. This has a lot to do with the conservative (and quirky) societies that brew in relatively small, isolated towns. You have the sedate and beautiful surface, and the decades, generations, long ugly undercurrents. Everyone "behaves" in public out of a certain need for society and peace, and whomever "pops" may as well go the whole nine-yards and wear it like a flag.

 

So, that's basically the aim: to illustrate Savannah. The plot as it were serves the theme. We go into the deep ugly undercurrents. Almost every ugly you can imagine. Sometimes you are enraged and amused at the same time from the sheer hypocrisy rampant. I spent most of the book in some queer state of entertained stupefaction because it is so grotesque you almost can't believe it. But you do. You recognize it. It is your hometown.

 

 

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review 2018-09-19 02:16
Mrs. Brodie's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies by Shana Galen & Theresa Romain
Mrs. Brodie's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies - Shana Galen,Theresa Romain

Mrs. Brodie's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies - Shana Galen,Theresa Romain 

 

I'd describe this duo as one of those that give you an AWWWW! feeling and that feeling stays with you long after you put the book down. Both stories are about second chances. 

The Way to A Gentleman's Heart by Theresa Romain stars Marianne, a lady of society-turned cook, and James, a man with plenty to regret but willing to make amends and hoping for forgiveness. I always find this author’s stories kind of hard to understand in the sense that I don’t connect with the characters right away. At first I thought James had hurt Marianne too much and grueling for the rest of his life wouldn’t be enough to deserve forgiveness, however once Marianne’s musing put their relationship in a different light and she realized he was a worthy man I too realized just as much. 

Counterfeit Scandal by Shana Galen intertwines characters from No Earls Allowed, book 2 in her The Survivors series but you don’t need to read that book first in order to read this one. Bridget and Caleb were forced to part ways at a moment when Bridget needed him the most. Fast forward several years later and Caleb seems to be the only one to help her find what she once lost but loves the most. I liked this story a lot. The author was able to pack plenty of character development, emotions, action, and redemption in only a few pages. The fact that Caleb was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for Bridget was kind of the cherry on top. 

I think this set perfectly represents what each author is about so if anyone's thought about trying something by either one I encourage you to give these novellas a go. 

I received this book at no cost to me and I volunteered to read it; this is my honest opinion and given without any influence by the author or publisher.

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review 2018-09-17 01:59
Book Review: Truth & Betrayal by K.C. Wells
Truth & Betrayal - K.C. Wells
This was a tearjerker, for sure, but also a book that tackled some big issues.

Jacob is a young man living in a small town in Eastern Tennessee (close to Knoxville) and working for his daddy's construction company. His older brother Caleb left for Atlanta a few years ago and only returns home sporadically, having forged a life for himself in the big city. Jacob knows he's gay, but has no desire to come out to his parents, because he's sure of their negative reaction. He's been taking a few steps to distance himself from their church, but he knows that coming out in such a small town isn't going to go over well. His group of friends are more like acquaintances at this point, since he no longer has anything much in common with them, and the secret he's keeping isn't conducive to a close friendship anyway. Small-town bigots don't make for good friends. 

Then Jacob and his parents get word that Caleb has died in a car accident, while riding in a car with another man who was also injured. And Jacob's whole world crashes down around him.

The author does a fine job describing his grief and his anger at losing Caleb, while slowly coming to the realization that he lost his big brother long before his death. 

Liam is the friend who was driving the car at the time of the accident. Injured himself in the crash, he nonetheless shows up at Caleb's funeral, fully realizing that he's probably not welcome, but needing a bit of closure for himself. The reader is at this point likely aware that Caleb and Liam were more than friends, even if Jake and his parents are not. The scene at the grave - gah, that felt as if plucked from real life, and my thoughts were drawn to Shane Bitney Crone (if you don't know who that is, google his name), and how he must have felt visiting Tom's grave all alone after the fact because he wasn't welcome at the funeral either. 

Going to his late brother's apartment to clean out his belongings brings Jake face to face with the secret Caleb has been keeping. And slowly Jake comes to terms with what he finds out. 

This could have been icky, obviously - one MC feeling attraction to his late boyfriend's little brother, who also happens to be gay, would usually make me feel really squicked out, but the author did a fine job laying out how the relationship between Liam and Caleb wasn't one of true and lasting love, so Liam slowly falling for Jake and vice versa didn't feel weird to me. The fact that it's a super slow burn also helped with this. At first, Liam takes the place of a friend, giving Jake a glimpse into Caleb's life, meeting his friends, visiting his favorite places, and such. He becomes a confidante of sorts as Jake gets more comfortable with who he is, and who he's attracted to. It didn't feel as if falling in love with Jake was what Liam had planned for - it simply happened.

Both Jake and Liam are really likable characters, and the author drew them with complexity and flaws. Their actions and reactions made sense within the overall plot, and the dialogue felt authentic for the most part. What grated after a while was Jake's accent - he often sounded a bit too much like a country bumpkin for my taste, but that's on me, I'm sure. Jake has quite a few hurdles to clear, before he can ride off into the sunset, his mama's machinations being the least of his worries. Jake finds his backbone - and that was a wondrous sight to behold when he told off the bigot preacher. Liam's family is made from a different cloth - fully supportive, warm and welcoming, and embracing Jake for who he is. 

KC Wells always delivers with the emotions in her writing, and this book is no different than what I'm used to from this author. There are heart-wrenching moments of grief and pain that made me cry, but there are also moments full of love and light, and those made me cry also. There is passion between two young men who finally found what they've been looking for, there is courage and strength in the face of adversity, and there are surprise reactions you didn't expect. 

I couldn't stop reading until the very end, and this is no surprise to me at all, really - It's a KC Wells book, after all.

Recommended.


** I received a free copy of this book from its author in exchange for an honest review. **

 

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text 2018-09-14 02:51
At Least It Was Free
Emma: An Audible Original Drama - Morgan... Emma: An Audible Original Drama - Morgana Robinson,Joseph Millson,Aisling Loftus,Isabella Inchbald,Anna Lea - adaptation,Audible Studios,Jane Austen,Joanne Froggatt,Emma Thompson

Introducing Audible Originals. Each month, members may pick two out of six selected Audible Originals to download for free. The only one that had any appeal this month was Austen's Emma. Sadly it is an adapted dramatization, Austen Light for those whose only knowledge of Austen is from the television. After 8 minutes I had had more than enough, DNF'ed it and moved on.

 

It flips back and forth between dramatized dialogue and narration, with little connection between the narrator the subsequent dialogue, The dialogue sections are Foley-enhanced and the background noise is super annoying. Enough. You get the point. Don't say I didn't warn you.

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