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review 2017-04-21 18:11
Sunny Side Up (graphic novel) by Jennifer & Matthew Holm
Sunny Side Up - Jennifer L. Holm,Matthew Holm

Sunny Lewin has been packed off to Florida to live with her grandfather for the summer.  At first she thought Florida might be fun -- it is  the home of Disney World, after all.  But the place where Gramps lives is no amusement park.  It’s full of . . . old people.  Really old people. Luckily, Sunny isn’t the only kid around.  She meets Buzz, a boy who is completely obsessed with comic books, and soon they’re having adventures of their own: facing off against golfball-eating alligators, runaway cats, and mysteriously disappearing neighbors.  But the question remains -- why is Sunny down in Florida in the first place?  The answer lies in a family secret that won’t be secret to Sunny much longer. . .

Amazon.com

 

 

 

It's the year of America's Bicentennial celebration (1976) and Pennsylvania preteen Sunny Lewin cannot be more excited for the family's summer trip to their beach house! But when her older brother's demons end up ruining family time at the fireworks show, Sunny's parents quickly decide it would be better for her to spend the summer visiting her grandfather in West Palm Beach, Florida. 

 

Not only is Sunny still reeling from the family drama brought on by her brother's struggle with alcoholism, but she's also not sure what to do with herself while trying to acclimate to her grandfather's retirement community, Pine Palms. Pine Palms has strict rules limiting the number of pets or children allowed on the property, so it's not so easy for young Sunny to find her place. Not to mention everyone is old and the place itself is about 2 hours away from Disney World! What's a kid to do?!

 

Luckily, it's not long before she does run into another child her age, Buzz. Buzz and Sunny are soon sharing a love of comic book stories as well as developing a little side business of tracking down "secret" (aka not technically allowed) pet cats of Pine Palms. Just as Sunny starts to settle into a "bloom where you are planted" mentality about the retirement community, she's struck by yet another struggle within the family -- her grandfather trying to hide his smoking habit from her. This is the last straw for Sunny. She is tired of trying to shoulder everyone's secrets and addictions on her small shoulders! Sunny gives the adults in her life a wake-up call that she is a child and needs to be allowed to experience these fleeting moments of innocence before it's too late. 

 

Adults that grew up in the 70s and 80s will have great nostalgic fun with this one! I myself was more of the 80s-90s era, but I could still spot plenty of pop culture references worked into the artwork: the unmistakeable 70s stylin' of the characters' clothing, Donny Osmond posters on the wall, loading up the station wagon to go to Sears to do school shopping, Sunny browsing lunchboxes with a Holly Hobby design faintly noticeable among the selections... it was just fun to make a sort of "I Spy" game of it all! 

 

 

The artwork style itself also brought to mind similar lines and colors seen in Sunday cartoons like For Better Or Worse and LuAnn, maybe even Zits. The coloring in Sunny Side Up is done by none other than Lark Pien, who also did the coloring for the Printz Award winning graphic novel American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang as well as Yang's follow-up work, the duology Boxers & Saints.

 

Even if the timeframe isn't your childhood era, there are some universal topics addressed within Sunny's story. I got a particular kick out of her starting school and getting a teacher her older brother had, and having to get the scowl when the teacher makes the connection between her and the troublemaker brother. O.M.G., do I ever remember going through that myself! LOL.

 

 

No doubt, Sunny Side Up touches upon some tough themes for young readers: a grandfather's secret cigarette habit, a brother's struggle with alcoholism, certain residents of Pine Palms showing signs of the early stages of dementia, even talk of the Cuban Revolution / immigration issues of the 1970s gets thrown into the mix.

 

 

Possibly uncomfortable reading for the young ones, but there is a point to it all, and an important one at that! In a brief author's note at the end, brother / sister author team Jennifer and Matthew Holm reveal that the idea for this graphic novel stemmed from their own tough childhood experiences. They figured there were likely other kids out there who have had or are having similar struggles that need to find stories they can relate to, stories that will possibly help direct them toward the help they need to get through these kinds of challenges. While some moments within this story are undoubtedly hard-hitting, the Holm siblings leave readers with a sense of optimism for the future and a reassurance that there is help and hope out there if you just stay the course and, as Sunny's grandpa reminds her, "keep your sunny side up!"

 

 

Fans of YA literature, note the shout-out to David Levithan in the acknowledgments section at the end! 

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review 2017-04-19 03:53
Slightly South of Simple
Slightly South of Simple: A Novel (The Peachtree Bluff Series) - Kristy Woodson Harvey

By: Kristy Woodson Harvey

The Peachtree Bluff Series #1

ISBN:1501158058
Publisher: Gallery Books

Publication Date: 4/25/2017 

Format: Other 

My Rating: 5 Stars +

Top Books of 2017 

 

Talented Southern storyteller, Kristy Woodson Harvey returns following her debut Dear Carolina and her strong follow-up, Lies and Other Acts of Love landing on my Top 50 Books of 2016 with the first of a new series, Peachtree Bluff: (Top Books of 2017) SLIGHTLY SOUTH OF SIMPLE — a mother and her three grown daughters are all at a crossroad in their lives, and each has choices to make.

Compelling, emotional, full of humor, infused with love, life, tears, and joy with a little romance sprinkled in and some scandalous family secrets! A poignant and heartwarming story of three daughters and their mother determined to help them rediscover their southern roots and family bonds.

Matriarch (mother), Ansley Murphy has made a simple life for herself in the small harbor town of Peachtree Bluff, GA. Her grandmother left her the beautiful and spacious coastal large clapboard home with a guesthouse.

Her husband Carter was killed seventeen years earlier in the 9/11 tragedy, and she has carved out a nice life for herself with a successful waterfront design business. Her own mother lives in Florida. She also has an annoying neighbor next door, Mr. Solomon, with some great local friends and clients.

Ansley has some secrets about her husband. Others about herself. Things the girls do not know. She has put her family first all these years. Will her time finally arrive at long last?

An attractive woman, age fifty-eight, she works out and stays in shape. She does not date and pretty much has thrown herself into her business, her grown daughters (when they allow) and grandchildren. It was difficult being a mother of grown children. They are strong willed and have a mind of their own.

However, living alone with her normal routine will soon change. She may get more than she bargained for. Three grown daughters return to move in with her and soon to be four grandchildren. Man, do they have different personalities!

Caroline was her least favorite daughter, even though she loves her, she could be difficult at times. She even named her interior design shop: Sloane Emerson (after her two younger daughters), since Caroline wanted no part of it, referring to it even today as a camper-trailer design business. She had said if she named the store after her she would die. No one lives up to Caroline’s standards.

Eldest: Caroline, a New Yorker thinks of this small Southern town as hick-hellhole. However, now she may have no choice but to return to the place she tried hard to escape. When she married James (14yrs), she thought they had in all, until she was six months pregnant with her second child and he informs her he is in love with his twenty-one-year-old supermodel, Edie Fitzgerald.

So she decides to take a short sabbatical with her eleven-year-old daughter Vivi and head to Peachtree. Maybe she can take over the guesthouse. She is very picky, high maintenance, and does not like germs. She worries about what others think and say. Only the best of fashion and ultimate fitness will do.

Sloane, the middle child was the selfless one. Of course, she was laid back and could care less about germs or any of the things which mattered to Caroline. She is the timid one, married a local boy had her family and remained in the area. Her military husband is overseas so she decides to crash at the house as well to spend time with her sisters.

Emerson is a successful film star. She is thin, eats healthy and stars in a movie shooting in the Georgia town, so decides to stay at the house to spend time with her sisters and mom.

 



With all the emotions running high of three different personalities of grown daughters, sisters bickering, grandchildren and an old boyfriend back in town, Ansley has her hands full. In the midst of it all, Ansley fears the secret (s) will come out. Those she has harbored for years to protect everyone.

After Ansley’s pain from losing Carter, and sometimes her daughters hating her (like most girls), hiding Carter’s secrets, and hiding her own. She just could never imagine starting over with anyone new. No one else could possibly understand her life.

Jack was Ansley’s first love. However, back then they decided to go their separate ways because he did not care about having a family. This was important to Ansley. Now, Ansley is shocked to learn Jack is here in Peachtree Bluff and wants her to redo the design for his boat. He has made his money and can travel.

Everyone knows she is the best yacht designer this side of the Mason-Dixon. She cannot let this happen, especially now since her girls were coming home. Is he a threat to her safe family world? Why?

However, as the complexities of these sisters get tense, the family come together, the girls find they want their mom to be happy, and at the same time, they all may just learn something from one another. They may figure it out together. Peachtree Bluff is a town of hidden truths and stolen moments and a family who loves one another. A time of discovery for all of the women.

Crossing generations, Harvey always brings out some dark family secrets which have been securely buried. A poignant journey of healing, bonding, forgiveness, and redemption. Things, people, and places which shape our lives.

Kristy once again delivers a charming Southern story of family, sisters, relationships, motherhood and reinvention. As you are reading you will relate to certain characters. My favorite was Ansley. Such a strong woman and continued to root for her. Hoping she would find some happiness.

She is protecting herself from something she didn’t need to be protected from. She was protecting her daughters from a threat that wasn’t really a threat at all. But she is opening her heart. One that had been closed for so long.

Character-driven, the author has made her way quickly to the top of my favorite author list and one of the best Southern contemporary storytellers of today. (Highly recommend all three books).

As a native NC /GA gal myself, so refreshing to discover an author who breathes life into each of her characters, while transporting you to the beautiful coastal areas of the Southeast we love. She writes about strong women and the challenges of life, both personally and professionally.

From her first debut, I fell in love with the author's richly textured, authentic heartwarming style. You can come to expect strong family bonds, romance, secrets, plus someone will be a little wiser after the journey. If you have not read this author, get busy. SLIGHTLY SOUTH OF SIMPLE should be at the top of your beach bag! Summer doesn't begin without a Kristy book.

Yay! I hear from an online interview we can expect more from these characters with #2 Peachtree Bluff THE SECRET TO SOUTHERN CHARM, featuring the middle sister, Sloane and of course more from Ansley and Grammy.

I will be anxiously awaiting. Cannot wait to see what is in store next for the Murphy women! More Ansley/Jack, please!

A special thank you to Gallery Books and NetGalley for an early reading copy.

JDCMustReadBooks

 

Source: www.judithdcollinsconsulting.com/single-post/2016/09/04/Slightly-South-of-Simple
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review 2017-04-19 00:00
Sweet Southern Trouble
Sweet Southern Trouble - Michele Summers ARC Review: Sweet Southern Trouble by Michele Summers

Nick and Marabelle are magically delicious. She's the sugar, he's the spice. Put them together and they make for the hottest of vices. Sweet Southern Trouble is an organic blend of humor, heart and smart writing. Ms. Summers has a lock on temperature rising, incredibly entertaining down home southern charm. When it comes to romance author, characters and story delivers a one, two punch to the heart.
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review 2017-04-17 06:59
The Weight of This World
The Weight of This World - David Joy

By: David Joy

ISBN: 9780399173110

Publisher: Penguin/Putnam

Publication Date: 3/7/2017 

Format: Hardcover

My Rating: 5 Stars

 

Talented storyteller, David Joy returns following his outstanding debut, Where All the Light Tends to Go to rural North Carolina mountains of Appalachia with another dark, gritty Southern noir THE WEIGHT OF THIS WORLD. From flawed and tortured souls, in search of light within the darkness.

“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.”— F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby.

In Sylva, NC Aiden McCall, at the young age of twelve, witnessed his dad murder his mother, then turn the gun on himself. A sight which would haunt him for the rest of his life. His worst fear was becoming his father one day.

Growing up in a group home he only had one friend, Thad Broom. Thad had his own past. Aiden had always believed that as time moved on the world would open up, that life would get easier rather than harder.

Hard led to harder. Life had a way of wearing a man down into nothing. The older he got the more complicated the world had become.

With enough money and a fresh start, Aiden and Thad could set things right. However, the housing bubble burst and jobs dried up. Thad was on deployment in Afghanistan when the construction business went to pot.

Those years Thad got to leave Aiden was jealous. But when Thad came back, Aiden was not sure who had it better or worse. If they could only leave the mountains. Aiden thought somewhere like Asheville, Hendersonville, or Atlanta for a fresh start. An opportunity for a better life.

April Trantham, Thad’s mother, had her own problems and past, starting from a young age. When the boys were in high school April inherited six acres and an old run down house and a single wide from the old man George had cancer.

April and Aiden find comfort in one another while Thad is away. Thad returns after a traumatic tour of duty in Afghanistan he is never the same, more damaged than when he left. The three of them want to escape their traumas; however, the weight of the world is heavy around them, and they cannot seem to escape.

. . . “There were so many horrible things they had buried inside themselves, all of the memories that had come to govern their lives. He found himself wishing that he could have been the one to bear it all. He wished that he could have taken all of the bad in this world and piled it onto himself so that he would have been the one to ever know that kind of suffering.”



From drugs, hatred, murder, crime and violence. Thad and Aiden’s drug dealer accidentally kills himself, leaving the two young men with drugs and cash; however, they cannot seem to pull themselves from the darkness. A drug- deal gone, bad.

. . . “Things weren’t okay. Everything wasn’t going to be all right. The world was entirely broken,”

Thad soon realizes that dying was a one-way ticket to judgment and it made no difference whether it came now or years down the road. He would be judged on his way to find redemption.

A mother who had not fully given herself to motherhood and her son, due to her own demons of pain and her innocence stolen. Aiden, trying to forget his haunted past. Did some people deserve to die? People had choices. These three may have more in common than they know.

As in his first book, David Joy skillfully balances the all-consuming brutality and darkness of his characters with the lyrical beauty of his writing. He captures the emotions, the setting, the culture; from crimes, dysfunction, hatred and poison, and struggles of the wounded human spirit, often with limited choices and repeating their own environment.

Told with compassion, from sadness to hope. Fans of gritty Southern noirs/literature and authors Ron Rash, Wiley Cash and John Hart will appreciate this skillfully written tale.

A special thank you to Penguin Putman and NetGalley for an early reading copy. (Also purchased audiobook)

JDCMustReadBooks

David Joy's books are always meant to be read, pondered, and listened to. MacLeod Andrews is a perfect narrator for THE WEIGHT OF THIS WORLD, as he was for Where All Light Tends to Go. Both 5 Stars.

A great Q&A with the Author: Smoky Mountain News
The weight of desire: David Joy releases second book

 

Source: www.judithdcollinsconsulting.com/single-post/2016/11/01/The-Weight-of-This-World
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review 2017-04-16 12:18
The Angels' Share by James Markert
The Angels' Share - James Markert

Now that Prohibition has ended, what the townspeople of Twisted Tree, Kentucky, need most is the revival of the Old Sam Bourbon distillery. But William McFee knows it’ll take a miracle to convince his father, Barley, to once more fill his family’s aging house with barrels full of bourbon. When a drifter recently buried near the distillery begins to draw crowds of pilgrims, the McFees are dubious. Yet miracles seem to come to those who once interacted with the deceased and to those now praying at his grave. As people descend on the town to visit the “Potter’s Field Christ,” William seeks to find the connection between the tragic death of his younger brother and the mysterious drifter. But as news spreads about the miracles at the potter’s field, the publicity threatens to bring the depth of Barley’s secret past to light and put the entire McFee family in jeopardy. The Angels’ Share is a story of fathers and sons, of young romance, of revenge and redemption, and of the mystery of miracles.

 

 

 

 

It's post-Prohibition in Twisted Tree, Kentucky. William McFee, an aspiring journalist, is feeling a little stagnant with his writing lately and is just itching to get to work rebooting the McFee family's distillery business. William's father, Barley, doesn't exactly share his eldest son's level of enthusiasm, but still allows William to go forward with the reboot to see what might come of it. All William is certain of is that the family desperately needs a new, healthier direction to move toward. 

 

Barley is tough on William, referring to him as "a daisy" (a sentiment echoed by William's brother, Johnny) -- weak-natured, prone to panic attacks, preferring to read in the woods rather than hunt. But William doesn't exactly see his father as a role model. Quite the opposite, though he still holds out hope for his father to come around. Already emotionally strained with the difficulties that come along with raising William's physically disabled younger sister, Annie, Barley was left a shell of a man after the death of his son, Henry, from a car crash. Barley was driving the car with Henry as a passenger. Since that day, Barley has largely formed himself into a severely emotionally damaged alcoholic, hesitant to pull himself away from the safe space of his living room recliner. William is forced to watch as over time his parents slowly grow apart and his bonds with his siblings suffer cracks. It's not the life he wants for his family. Before long, just one seemingly insignificant act brings proves to be the impetus that brings about the new life William so desperately craves. 

 

Behind the family's distillery lies what's known as a "potter's field", a place where poor or homeless deceased with little or no family to claim them can be laid to rest. One such soul is brought to the McFee place. Shortly after the burial is completed, a band of twelve indigent people show up and set up nightly vigils around the plot, even squatting in a portion of the McFee's bourbon rackhouse. These travellers claim that they were followers of the man buried in that grave, a man known as Asher Keating, whom they believed may have actually been the second coming of Christ. William is skeptical. That is, until he sees that his sister Annie's legs seem to naturally free themselves of their crippled state with no immediate explanation. He then starts to suspect that this Asher Keating might have had a connection to the death of William's brother, Henry. 

 

Soon word travels of the site, bringing more and more people wanting to pray over the grave, needing a miracle. Keating gets dubbed the "Potter's Field Christ". One priest who visits the location even later claims he experienced stigmata upon returning to his church. Once the newspapers start writing of the wonders going on out at the McFee place, patriarch Barley starts to fear the media coverage will begin to swing light on the less noble, long buried secrets of the family's past. When Barley and William decide to team up and travel around to discover what the real story behind Asher Keating was, they discover that even he might have had secrets of his own. They hear plenty tales of Asher using only the laying of his hands on someone to heal depression, consumption (tuberculosis), even blindness. But then there are also accounts of Asher himself battling drug addiction, or even possibly being mentally unhinged or delusional. The McFee men aren't sure what to think, but they can't deny that the lives of so many seem to be changing for the better. It leaves the reader to ponder on the idea that it's not one's past that has to define a soul, only what their heart's true, pure intent is in the here and now. Mistakes of youth or demons of the mind don't have to add up to a life sentence of misery. Every new day presents an opportunity for a clean slate! A realization that comes to Barley almost too late in life, but even he makes his final moments count. 

 

Personally, I was so pumped to dive into this story. My fella and I travel around the South visiting distilleries as a mutual hobby of ours and I'm well acquainted with the area where this story takes place. Though the town of Twisted Tree itself is ficitonal, there is a brief shout-out given to the very real, very charming town of Bardstown, KY! A beautiful, quaint place to walk around, if you're ever in the area. So yes, right out the gate I would recommend this as a fun read for all the bourbon / whiskey connoisseurs out there.

 

If you do not consider yourself such, your enjoyment of this story may depend on your sensitivity level as a reader. Though some scenes of violence are depicted, I didn't find much in the way of overtly graphic material in the novel. However, it does touch upon some sensitive topics such as alcoholism, rum-running (bootlegging booze), racism and the KKK, and dealings with the Irish Mob. If this kind of material is of concern to you, you may want to tread carefully and see how you do. Otherwise, The Angels' Share is a quite enjoyable piece of historical fiction with a unique theme that doesn't come up in a ton of novels -- the inner workings of the business of distilling spirits, even the buildings themselves! {I can tell you from experience, standing inside a rackroom, taking in that dusty quiet while you look up at towers of barrels brewing is truly an experience of wonder!} Author James Markert infuses a healthy dose of slang from the era, which gives the whole work a fun, authentic feel that helps immerse the reader into that post-Prohibition time period. 

 

I also highly recommend reading the author's historical note provided after the close of the novel. Seeing as how the novel is entitled The Angels' Share, I was curious if Markert would likewise mention the flip side of that, what is known as the Devil's Cut. While "angel's share" is explained within the story of the McFees, "devil's cut" is not worked into the novel itself, at least not in the traditional sense. Markert explains that there is a scene within the story that is inspired by the idea of the "devil's cut", but he puts his own unique spin on it. For readers interested in the true history behind the terms, he does provide that in this historical note, along with some notes on "The Golden Age" when, as he says, "there were more bourbon barrels aging in Kentucky than people." :-)

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: In the case of this title, both TNZ Fiction Guild and BookLookBloggers kindly provided me with complimentary copies of this book with a request that I might check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

-------------------

 

EXTRAS

 

"Angels' Share" : The amount of whiskey / bourbon that naturally evaporates from the barrels during the aging process. A portion of the brew evaporates & rises towards the heavens, hence, "angels' share".

 

"Devil's Cut": The portion of whiskey / bourbon that seeps into the wood of the barrels. Distilleries (namely, Jim Beam) now offer a "devil's cut" strain of their spirits, where they claim they are able to now extract the alcohol that was once considered just a small brewing loss. 

 

 

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