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review 2017-12-28 20:06
The Beguiled
The Beguiled - Thomas Cullinan

The Beguiled is an atmopheric read and the gothic feel pulled me through this book in no amount of time. And yet this novel is too long and drawn out. My physical copy has 372 pages with a tiny font, which makes this book in reality (and with a normal font-size) a 600+ page novel.

 

So it´s a big novel, told from the perspective of eight different characters (the women in the boarding school) and everyone has their own background story. Unfortunately not every background story is relevant for the overall storyline and some things could easily have been left out of the novel.

 

It doesn´t help either that the climax of the story lies about the halfway mark of the novel and after that the story just peters out. There is a lot of quarreling and tensions arise every now and then, but most of the women/girls behaved so incredibly stupid that I had a hard time believing in the credibility of the story. 

 

Having said that, I really enjoyed reading this book. All the characters are disturbing and by omitting the point of view of the only man in the house, I had ambigious feelings towards him in the end. He is a manipulating, lying, seducing creep, who is only interested in himself. And yet I have my doubts if he deserved what he has got. And did the other characters get what they deserved? No one is clearly good or bad or without sin in this novel.

 

 Book themes for St. Martin’s Day: Read a book set on a vineyard, or in a rural setting, –OR– a story where the MC searches for/gets a new job. –OR– A book with a lantern on the cover, or books set before the age of electricity. –OR– A story dealing with an act of selfless generosity (like St. Martin sharing his cloak with a beggar).

 

 

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review 2017-12-25 00:43
The Road to Bittersweet
The Road to Bittersweet - Donna Everhart

By:  Donna Everhart

ISBN:  9781496709493

Publisher: Kensington

Publication Date:  12/26/2017

Format: Paperback 

My Rating:  4 Stars 

 

Donna Everhart takes readers to Stampers Creek, 1940 North Carolina along the Tuckasegee River with the Stampers family. THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET —a gritty Southern tale of despair, family, and hope. A perfect and fitting title for this coming-of-age journey through life's ups and downs from childhood to womanhood. 

"It takes courage to find your way." 

In the Appalachian mountains, near Cashiers, NC, we meet Wallis Ann. Fourteen-years-old and wise beyond her years. She takes most of the burden caring for her sister, Laci. Her sister is two years older, yet she will never be able to read or write or solve problems. They all wondered what she must be thinking. There was also the younger brother, Seph; only three-years-old. 

Laci is "savant." Gifted. A person affected with a mental disability (such as autism or mental retardation) who exhibits exceptional skill or brilliance in some limited field (such as mathematics or music).In this case, music. The family played music, known as The Stamper Family. From the piano, banjo, fiddle, among others. 

There is a devastating flood after the waters broke over the dam. The worst this area had ever seen. Torrential rains. This event scared Wallis more than anything she had ever experienced. They are swept away by the strong currents. 

After losing everything, the Papa takes them to his brother, Hardy in South Carolina. They are on the road trying to survive by singing for money to have enough to eat. 

 



The momma depended on Wallis Ann for so much of Laci's care, and Laci experienced guilt from some of the events happening in the story. Wallis Ann feels somewhat invisible at times due to her sister's disability. 

Along the way, there are more struggles, and challenges striving for survival amid life's storms. Burdens to carry. Hearts broken. Dreams unfulfilled. Guilt-ridden. Betrayal. 

Heartstrings are pulled especially with Wallis Ann. She is brave, and resilient while suffering from hardships, hopelessness, and other situations and emotions she encounters. Deeply emotional a mix of Southern fiction/Gothic, coming-of-age, historical, and literary fiction. 

 


“Windows give you a view. Otherwise you can't see nothing, no matter how hard you try. It ain't much different in how we look at our world from inside ourselves."

I enjoyed the theme of water which is apparent throughout the novel from the river, the flood, the waterfalls and symbolic in many ways to the peaceful trickle of water sliding over the rocks. On a side note: My favorite places in the NC mountains are the Highlands and Cashiers. Beautiful waterfalls and scenic mountains. I miss my log cabin in Big Canoe, GA. 

The characters are well-drawn (as the secondary ones) and the times researched, drawing you into their world of survival and vivid settings. 

"We're going to keep on having hope until there's no possibility of having it anymore. That's all we can do."

Descriptive storytelling, a well-written emotional Southern coming-of-age novel of family, heartbreak, love, loss, and acceptance. 

For fans of Southern historical fiction and authors: Leah Weiss, Kim Michele Richardson, Wiley Cash, Emilie Richards, Diane Chamberlain, and David Joy. 

A special thank you to Kensington for an advanced reading copy and the introduction to this talented North Carolina author. Look forward to reading more.

JDCMustReadBooks

  

About the Author

 

Donna Everhart is a USA Today bestselling author of THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE, an Amazon Best Book/Debut Spotlight, Indie Next Pick for November 2016 and longlisted for the Southern Book Prize,
(formerly the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize)

 

Her next novel, THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET, January 2018, is a Publisher’s Lunch Buzz Book for Fall/Winter 2017-2018 and a 2018 Southern
Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) Trio pick.

 

Born in Raleigh, North Carolina, she has lived close to her hometown for most of her life. For several years she worked for high tech companies, specializing in project management and product introduction. She carries a Bachelor of Science in Business Management. She lives in Dunn, North Carolina with her husband, Blaine,
and a tiny, heart-stealing Yorkshire terrier, named Mister.

 

She is a member of the North Carolina Writers’ Network, and Women’s
Fiction Writers Association. Read More 

 

Source: www.judithdcollinsconsulting.com/single-post/2017/11/03/The-Road-to-Bittersweet
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review 2017-12-24 17:07
The Last Suppers
The Last Suppers - Mandy Mikulencak

By: Mandy Mikulencak

ISBN: 9781496710031

Publisher: Kensington

Publication Date: 12/26/2017 

Format: Hardcover 

My Rating: 5 Stars (ARC)

Featured Friday Read

“A gorgeous novel that finds beauty in the most unlikely of places.” —Susan Wiggs, #1 New York Times bestselling author

 

A beautifully written story, both absorbing and haunting, Mandy Mikulencak delivers a breakout book, THE LAST SUPPERS —a heartbreaking tale of secrets, racism, inequality, the death penalty, and prisoner rights. 

A courageous young woman becomes obsessed with the preparation of the last meals for death row inmates, and a lover haunted by his related past. 

However, there is a mystery to be unraveled about her own father’s murder and secrets of the past. A strong need for justice. 

Part Southern, historical, mystery, and suspense. From the 1920s-1960s, a young woman Ginny works at the fictional Greenmount Penitentiary in Louisiana. Her father was a guard at the same prison years ago and murdered when she was six-years-old.

Ginny Polk currently resides with Roscoe (Warden Simms), who also works at the prison as a warden. He is old enough to be her father. 

Her father, Joe (a heavy drinker) and Roscoe were best friends for years. He promised her father he would take care of her and her mother, Miriam. Roscoe and Ginny keep their relationship a secret inside the prison. Warden and cook. 

Executions were hard on Ginny. The cruelty and darkness of the prison often overwhelmed her and gave her panic attacks and nightmares. Her mom, Miriam forced her to attend the execution of the man who murdered her dad, when she was only eight-years-old. 

His name was Silas Barnes. She recalled his wife and son. She also remembered the horrors of his claim of innocence until the very end. She is haunted by the family he left behind. She always suspected something was not right. 

Dot, an African woman, also works in the kitchen with Ginny. She is like a mother to her. (loved her). She has always been there for her to pick up the pieces. 

On a side note: Love the show "Queen Sugar." If there is a movie based on this book, would love to see Dot played by Tina Lifford or one of the strong leading ladies. Ginny played by Jessica Elise De Gouw, and Roscoe by Christopher Meloni from "Underground." Love this show and hope it comes back for another season. 

No one can understand why Ginny is so concerned about the death row prisoners, and their last meal. Her madness started the day she was forced to witness the execution of her father’s killer. 

Ginny is now almost thirty years old. She is unsure she loves Roscoe, but she has feelings for him. She knew she did not want to raise children in this compound. 

Currently, Ginny is concerned about the next execution in less than a week. Samuel LeBoux. He will be her nineteenth execution she has witnessed. 

She wants to ensure he has his last meal. She would seek out the prisoner, the family, and try to determine their most memorable dish. Ginny would do her best to replicate it, even using her own money. 

Some thought a man only hours from dying would not be able to enjoy a meal. He has done horrible things. Does he deserve such a right?

Ginny feels differently. It was not the act of eating. It was something memorable the prisoner may have treasured from his past. 

Memory and loss, more than hunger and pleasure. She believed it was a sign of respect to offer them a last meal. A prisoner is a human no matter the crimes they have committed. Ginny wanted to do something special for them. 

She has fond memories of her dad enjoying a tasty dessert. Even after his death, she would learn how to make a new dessert each week. 

Haunted by the families who watched their loved ones die. Her grandmother always said a person’s soul drifted up from his body at the moment of death and some could see it. She still watches. 

“Their fear and anger usually surpassed that of the death row inmate’s emotions, and it was a horrible thing to witness.” 

The executions. The electric chairs. The families. "Ginny always wondered if taking one life for another— meant justice served?" 

She volunteered to witness every execution and take down the prisoners’ last words, although all she had to do was drop off a tray of food and leave. 

Ginny’s scrapbook of these men included the recipe of the dish he requested as his last supper and the words he uttered seconds before dying in the electric chair. 

From rape, murder, and robbery and unspeakable crimes. However, the men had a family. Wives, mothers, children, and friends. What torture did they undergo inside the prison walls?

Roscoe and Ginny’s relationship becomes strained since the board visited often and Roscoe was under a lot of pressure trying to protect inmates. 

Roscoe thought Ginny was trying to make up for something as if she believed the family of her dad’s murderer blamed her. 

He does not want her getting to close to this current execution. What is he hiding? Roscoe has his demons from the past. Those secrets he has been forced to keep quiet. 

Ginny still has nightmares about the family. The worst was the guilt of the family—Taking a father away from his son. She begged his forgiveness. 

Only once in all the years had anyone screamed out he was innocent. It was Silas, her dad’s murderer. He did not receive "the last supper. " This incident still haunts her. Why does she remember now? She feels their utter despair. 

 



Joe hadn’t died at the prison, but rather just outside of Baton Rouge. However, Miriam blamed the penitentiary. What was the real reason he died that night? 

The secrets of the past surface as Ginny becomes involved with Samuel’s last meal. The real truth about that night so long ago is slowly revealed and the events leading up to the murder. 

No matter how many suppers she cooked, she could never undo the pain his family endured. The devastating and lasting memory of Silas Barnes’ death. Was he innocent?

Ginny soon uncovers a shameful part of her daddy’s past. The ugly truths intertwined with Dot’s family history. From the Klan, rape, racial injustice, coverups, and murder. She must make the wrongs, rights. 

Filled with sympathy and compassion, as a reader your heart goes out to Ginny. Secrets, truth, lies, heartbreak, mercy, despair, hope and, redemption. 

She finds comfort in food. Food is an ongoing theme throughout the book, as well as the stories of different inmates and their requests for last meals. A sharing of cooking secrets with the writing of a cookbook. 

Mikulencak deftly unravels a compelling story of heartache, courage, mercy, and love. The author has put her heart into this novel and reflective throughout. Well-researched, an astounding job with the highly-charged subject material and character-development. Darkness and light. Even though historic, we are faced with similar destructive issues today, decades later. 

For fans of Diane Chamberlain, Heather Gudenkauf, Karen White, Vanessa Lafaye, Mary Marcus, Amy Conner, and Kim Richardson. THE LAST SUPPERS is an ideal choice for book clubs and further discussions. (guide included as well as featured recipes). 

Thought-provoking fiction that exposes the dark side of our racial past and present and our ongoing corruption within our distressing prison and justice system, yet today. 

Highly recommend! 

A special thank you to Kensington/John Scognamiglio Imprint for an advanced reading copy. It was a pleasure meeting this talented author. Look forward to more.

JDCMustReadBooks

Source: www.judithdcollinsconsulting.com/single-post/2017/11/07/The-Last-Suppers
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review 2017-12-20 23:49
Review: Sweet Tea & Spirits
Sweet Tea and Spirits (Southern Ghost Hunter) (Volume 5) - Angie Fox

After a puzzling phone call predicting a murder, Verity and gangster ghost buddy Frankie are hired on the sly by Julia Harper Youngblood to investigate who is leaving the Sugarland Heritage Society’s mannequins in compromising positions at a Civil War era home for widows and children. When she later finds Julia dead, she’s going to need the ghostly inhabitants to help her find a killer, and uncovers a very salacious history that no one expected.

 

Every time I read the newest book in the Southern Ghost Hunter series, I rave that it’s the best book so far. So, it should come as no surprise to you when I say Sweet Tea and Spirits is the best one so far in this series! Virginia, the MIL you love to hate, offers up a few surprises and even gangster Frankie shows off an unexpected side. I loved the glimpse into Verity’s family history, and I hope Ida will make an appearance at a later point. The exciting ending capped up a suspenseful plot that weaved a bit of saucy Southern history with spectral shenanigans into a thrilling adventure sprinkled with humor.

 

Overall, Sweet Tea & Spirits is an excellent addition to the Southern Ghost Hunter series and a must read for any paranormal mystery fan.

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review 2017-12-17 16:47
Mississippi Blood
Mississippi Blood: A Novel (Natchez Burning) - Greg Iles

By: Greg Iles

Natchez Burning #3

ISBN: 9780062311153

Publisher:  William Morrow

Publication Date: 3/21/2017 

Format:  Hardcover 

My Rating: 5 Stars +++

 

The 30 Best Books of 2017

EPIC! 10 stars — Secrets of Mississipi’s violent past and a KKK group called Double Eagles are revealed. At the heart, the big question: Who killed Viola Turner?

Natchez Burning The first installment in an epic trilogy that weaves crimes, lies, and secrets past and present into a mesmerizing thriller featuring Southern mayor and former prosecutor Penn Cage, whose quest for the truth sends him deep into his father’s past. Top Books of 2014 

The Bone Tree In this second volume, Penn is caught in the darkest maelstrom of his life, as he fights his way out of the war he unwittingly started with a violent offshoot of the KKK, the Double Eagles, and continues to hunt for the truth about dark deeds from the 1960s. Top Books of 2015 

MISSISSIPPI BLOOD The endgame is at hand for Penn, his family, and the enemies working to destroy them. Featuring a trial scene that Publishers Weekly calls “among the most exciting ever written in the genre,” this novel delivers the shocking resolution Greg Iles’s fans have eagerly awaited.Top Books of 2017

The King of Southern Fiction, Greg Iles returns with his highly anticipated Natchez Burning trilogy, with his finale: MISSISSIPPI BLOOD – where we pick up following the murder of Viola Turner and the high profile trial of Dr. Tom Cage. 

The Penn family is in crisis. Sins of the past still haunt the present. 

Greg Iles is a master Southern storyteller and no one can compare! Skillfully crafted, a brilliant mix of Southern, historic, crime thriller, suspense, and classic literary fiction at its finest. He uncovers the moral outrage of racism, corruption, and hatred which has been a part of our history and still exists today- years after the Civil Rights era. 

“Mississippi blood is different. It’s got some river in it. Delta soil, turpentine, asbestos, cotton poison. But there’s strength in it, too. Strength that’s been beaten but not broke.” ― Greg Iles, Mississippi Blood 

 


Picking up from The Bone Tree, the Mayor of Natchez, Mississippi, former Houston prosecutor, and novelist Penn Cage is still grieving the loss of his fiancée Caitlin Masters. He still wonders if ghosts exist. He spends time visiting graves. Henry Sexton is dead. Caitlin is dead. Annie’s mother is gone —cancer took her to her death. 

Presently, Penn is dealing with his dad’s upcoming murder trial. Local physician, Thomas J. Cage is being held in protective custody in Louisiana by the FBI for the murder of Viola Turner, his former black nurse, and mistress. He was not even allowed to attend Caitlin’s funeral. Penn has not spoken to his dad, Tom since Caitlin’s death. 

The case has drawn national attention. Dr. Cage is accused of murdering his former 65-year-old black nurse in the wake of a pact that would have required him to euthanize the terminally ill woman who had been his employee thirty-eight years earlier.

In the final stages of lung cancer, she had returned to Natchez to die from Chicago. Being Cage is white and Nurse Turner was black, also complicated matters. In addition, it was recently revealed she had a child (Lincoln Turner) by Dr. Cage in 1968 while he was married. She was a widow at the time after her husband had been killed in the Vietnam War. 

Assisted suicide? Or if administers the drugs, it is murder. A mercy killing? He was charged with first-degree murder.

However, what really happened that night? Did he administer drugs, or when he left, who came in next? Did Viola inject herself or something more sinister at play? A botched injection? A heart attack? An overdose or the wrong drug? So many questions and few answers. 

What about the Double Eagles? Are they to blame? They have a history. Viola’s family wants justice. Lincoln set the investigation in motion. Does he have his own agenda? 

There is John Kaiser of the FBI. Cage is being held in protective custody because he is a material witness in a major federal investigation and his life is in danger. He is being represented by African-American civil rights attorney Quentin Avery of Jefferson County, Mississippi, and Washington, DC. 

Dr. Cage is keeping quiet. Avery his African American attorney in a wheelchair cannot discuss his case with Penn. What does Snake have to do with Viola’s murder? A recording of that night? Who are they protecting? 

The civil rights era of the 1960s remains present. Viola Turner’s brother (a civil rights activist) was murdered by the Double Eagle in 1968. She was also raped repeatedly by the same group and the KKK. Upon returning to Natchez, this brought fear to the group. They want her dead. They had warned her. 

Penn’s family is still under attack by Snake Knox and Double Eagles and the FBI cannot be counted on to protect them even though they live surrounded by bodyguards. Penn is raising his 11-yr. old daughter, Annie and his mom is staying near the prison in a motel, so he brings in the babysitter, Mia who has worked with them previously. His mom wants him to forgive his Dad enough to visit him in prison. 

However, if his father had not hidden the truth of what inspired on the night Viola Turner died, Caitlin would never have become obsessed with Henry Sexton’s quest or picked up his torch after he martyred himself to save them, or followed a bloody trail to the abomination called The Bone Tree. She would be alive. They would be together in Edelweiss, their dream home with Annie and well on their way to a child together. 

Penn’s work is suffering, and he is questioning his own sanity. Who is Quinton trying to protect? His family has imploded. 

His father had two sons and one of them was doomed to be an orphan. The happiness of his childhood was bought with the pain of a black boy who had hurt no one. He had a brother and long after his father passes his blood will flow through both their veins.

. . . “A man who has known love and grief and understands that one is the price of the other.”

 



An upstanding physician and friend to many. A man, not perfect. Dr. Cage is self-destructing and has every puzzled. Penn’s half-brother, Lincoln Turner, is hell-bent on destroying the Cages. Race relations, violence, corruption, evil, and those with hatred. Even though Lincoln and Penn have the same blood running through them, they grew up differently. 

To Lincoln, he had nothing growing up and Penn had it all. They are opposites. When Penn was striving for a baseball championship, with a highly respected physician and mother, Lincoln was scrapping in the streets and running from the Chicago PD. His stepfather was in and out of prison or gambling away his wife’s salary. 

All along while Penn was moving from a successful legal career to an author of legal thrillers, Lincoln was slaving in a small firm, chasing small-time cases until he was finally busted for embezzling escrow funds from a client trust fund. Doing so in a desperate attempt to save his stepfather (which he thought was his father), from a long prison term and had his license suspended. 

Penn can only image Lincoln’s rage. Now his mother is dead, and he wants someone to pay. Justice. Payback. Lincoln is the living symbol of his father’s sin. Perhaps, his crime. After all, it was Lincoln who set in motion the murder investigation. And now Lincoln haunts his city, his family like some dark, retributive spirit. 

Yet, Penn is resilient. Family and friendships are important. He must find a way to help. He can only hope that Lincoln can free himself from the lies that shrouded his youth and become what Viola dreamed he would be. A man who embodies the best of both his parents. 

Can the two brothers join forces and work together to solve this horrible wrong, to find the truth and attain justice for both father and mother? Time is running out for Dr. Cage. Unless Penn is successful at exposing the past to exonerate his father, his family will be destroyed. 

“ . . .Right meant more than might; that being faithful and good meant more than being rich; that honor superseded all.” 

Readers are introduced to a new character, Serenity Butler,(love her), a famous writer (light-skinned African American), and former army officer who steps in to tackle the Double Eagles. The beautiful and talented writer in Atlanta, from Mississippi originally. He cannot trust anyone, even his mother. However, he joins up with a young black author and former soldier named who has come to Natchez to write about Dr. Cage’s case. She may be his best ally. To help expose the dark secrets. 

Formed in the 1960s, the group’s mission is terrorizing and murdering African-Americans, and they are still at it today. The Double Eagles have reasons to want Viola Turner dead, and if their involvement can be proved, it will save Tom. Penn has to find a way. 

Heartwrenching, raw, emotional, complex, intelligent – Penn Cage desperately wants to believe in his father, the family martyr. The decisions his dad makes have terrible consequences for the entire family. Penn is tested. He wants to believe in truth and justice, but his beliefs and values are threatened and shaken to the core. 

No one can rest until the last of the Knoxes have been jailed, and the Double Eagles smashed for all time. 

Rich in Southern history, –From crusading journalists, racism, half-brothers, old lovers, old grudges, corruption, blacks-whites, fathers/sons, sons/mothers, strong family ties, protecting others, revenge, power, justice, and survival – Iles is at the top of his game with this extraordinary trilogy. 

Superb character development, action-packed with page-turning suspense —bringing the saga to a satisfying conclusion. While at the same time exposing the ugliness, cruelty and shameful episodes of our past. Unfortunately, not only does it exist in the American South - it is widespread. 

In 2011 the author was badly injured in an automobile accident and almost died, losing his right leg below the knee. Afterwards, he chose to go deeper with the story about family, race, prejudice, and secrets. His work is commendable! 

Of course, we fans are delighted with the news: Sony Pictures TV is developing a cable series based on the books, with producers Tobey Maguire and David Hudgins (a Dallas native) and director John Lee Hancock (“The Blind Side”) attached. Can't wait! Let's hope they film it where it all took place, due to the author being an expert. Would not have the same impact, filmed elsewhere. 

If you have reviewed Iles' website you know (house/office) property is for rent in Mississippi, due to the steps. One of these days, my wish is to visit and experience the journey, while touring the places and landmarks in the book. Enjoyed reviewing The Map. 

“Mississippi Blood” is the capstone to what could legitimately be called a magnum opus. Iles has emerged from an excruciating ordeal to create a superb entertainment that is a work of power, distinction and high seriousness. These are angry novels, filled with a sense of deeply-considered moral outrage. They are also prime examples of what the thriller— and other forms of “genre” fiction — can accomplish when pushed beyond traditional limits. 

Often grim and frequently horrifying, these Natchez Burning novels set their larger historical concerns against the credibly detailed backdrop of a family in crisis. As the Cage family endures its own trial by fire, Iles shows us both the weaknesses and strength of people tested by extreme circumstances and by secrets and lies that have festered for too long. In successfully illuminating both the inner life of a family in peril and “the troubled borderland between black and white,” he has created something memorable and true.” – Washington Post



Well said. 

As always, with Greg Iles books in this series, you need to experience MISSISSIPPI BLOOD in all formats. The audiobook is a must (narrated by Scott Brick) for an amazing performance (have listened several times). Then of course, you "must" purchase the Kindle format in order to highlight the beautiful lyrics; and last but not least, the print copy is a given, to add to your personal library collection. 

USA Today: Greg Iles has his first-ever No. 1 USA TODAY best seller with Mississippi Blood the final book in his searing Natchez Burning trilogy. 

JDCMustReadBooks

Source: www.judithdcollinsconsulting.com/single-post/2016/09/08/Mississippi-Blood
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