Thursday, July 25, 2013

Silver Star

Title: Silver Star Author: Jeannette Walls Publisher: Thorndike Press Pages: 390

From Amazon:
The Silver Star, Jeannette Walls has written a heartbreaking and redemptive novel about an intrepid girl who challenges the injustice of the adult world—a triumph of imagination and storytelling.It is 1970 in a small town in California. “Bean” Holladay is twelve and her sister, Liz, is fifteen when their artistic mother, Charlotte, a woman who “found something wrong with every place she ever lived,” takes off to find herself, leaving her girls enough money to last a month or two. When Bean returns from school one day and sees a police car outside the house, she and Liz decide to take the bus to Virginia, where their Uncle Tinsley lives in the decaying mansion that’s been in Charlotte’s family for generations.

An impetuous optimist, Bean soon discovers who her father was, and hears many stories about why their mother left Virginia in the first place. Because money is tight, Liz and Bean start babysitting and doing office work for Jerry Maddox, foreman of the mill in town—a big man who bullies his workers, his tenants, his children, and his wife. Bean adores her whip-smart older sister—inventor of word games, reader of Edgar Allan Poe, nonconformist. But when school starts in the fall, it’s Bean who easily adjusts and makes friends, and Liz who becomes increasingly withdrawn. And then something happens to Liz.

Jeannette Walls, supremely alert to abuse of adult power, has written a deeply moving novel about triumph over adversity and about people who find a way to love each other and the world, despite its flaws and injustices.

I loved this book. But then, I knew I would. I loved The Glass Castle. After reading the description, I couldn't wait to read this book, It didn't disappoint. Liz and Bean are two sisters basically left to raise themselves. Their mother, a spoiled, self-absorbed brat in an adult body deals with life by simply running away from all difficulty. After she abandons them for yet another attempt at furthering her musical career, they take a bus to her family farm in West Virginia. It is here that they finally find roots, family, and a home. Bean captures the heart with her headstrong, forthright ways. This was a heart warming story. I read it in two days because I couldn't bear to put it down. This is a wonderful book. I highly recommend it.

Read this book if:
*you love southern fiction
*you love novels set in Appalachia
*you love novels set in small towns
*you love novels about family

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Title: Bloodroot Author: Amy Greene Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Pages: 291 Copyright: 2010

From Amazon:
Named for a flower whose blood-red sap possesses the power both to heal and poison, Bloodroot is a stunning fiction debut about the legacies—of magic and madness, faith and secrets, passion and loss—that haunt one family across the generations, from the Great Depression to today.

The novel is told in a kaleidoscope of seamlessly woven voices and centers around an incendiary romance that consumes everyone in its path: Myra Lamb, a wild young girl with mysterious, haint blue eyes who grows up on remote Bloodroot Mountain; her grandmother Byrdie Lamb, who protects Myra fiercely and passes down “the touch” that bewitches people and animals alike; the neighbor boy who longs for Myra yet is destined never to have her; the twin children Myra is forced to abandon but who never forget their mother’s deep love; and John Odom, the man who tries to tame Myra and meets with shocking, violent disaster. Against the backdrop of a beautiful but often unforgiving country, these lives come together—only to be torn apart—as a dark, riveting mystery unfolds.

With grace and unflinching verisimilitude, Amy Greene brings her native Appalachia—and the faith and fury of its people—to rich and vivid life. Here is a spellbinding tour de force that announces a dazzlingly fresh, natural-born storyteller in our midst.

The first time I picked this book up, I put it back down. It just didn't appeal to me at first. Later, I picked it up and tried again. I liked it, but not as well as some other Appalachian novels. This is a tough, gritty, no-holds-barred novel. You can't have a weak stomach with this one. It is what it is. I'd have liked it better if it had played more upon the supernatural qualities brought forth in the beginning, but that's just my personal preference. There is a great deal of sadness and abuse here. I realize this can mimic real life in some cases. It's just a grittier story than I normally care for. Still, it was ok. Will I read her next one? Yes, probably. Will this be on my favorites list? No, but I didn't hate it either.

Read this book if...
*you love novels set in Appalachia
*you love southern fiction

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Swim to Me

Title: Swim to Me  Author: Betsy Carter Publisher: Bantam Books Pages:325

From: Amazon
It's a fresh start for Delores Walker when she boards a Greyhound bus bound for Florida. Leaving the Bronx far behind, she's headed for sunny Weeki Wachee Springs, frayed roadside attraction in danger of becoming obsolete with the opening of Walt Disney's latest creation, only miles up the road. Always more suited for a life underwater, Delores joins a group of other aquatic hopefuls in this City of Live Mermaids, where she discovers a world of sequined tails and amphibious theme shows that even Disney couldn't dream up. It's in this fantastic place of make-believe and reinvention that Delores Walker becomes Delores Taurus, Florida's most unlikely celebrity. 

Bringing together an eccentric assortment of outcasts, poseurs, and underdogs, this wise and poignant novel conjures up a time in America when anything was possible, especially in the Sunshine State. A story of family, chasing dreams and finding your way, Swim To Me will have you believing the impossible—even in mermaids from the Bronx.

I think it is the setting for this story that makes it so appealing- Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida- home of the famous mermaids. Delores Walker first sees the mermaids perform at age 14. An avid swimmer, she dreams of returning to Weeki Wachee and becoming a mermaid. Her father left home shortly after their return from the trip to Florida. Her self-pitying and unloving mother faded into a shadow of herself. The only hard part of leaving New York was leaving behind her baby brother, Westie.
It is 1973 and Delores' dreams are all out in front of her. Away from the sadness of her family, she comes into herself.
This isn't one of those hanging-on-the-edge-of-your-seat novels, but neither was it boring. It was interesting enough to keep the reader coming back. Interesting, also, was the brief appearance of Crystal Landy from Orange Blossom Special, Carter's previous novel. I think the most compelling part of the story, other than the setting, was the way Delores' parents changed for the better after they were apart. 
All in all, it's a decent read.

Read this story if...
*you like stories about families
*you like stories that take place in Florida
*you like stories set in the mermaid town of Weeki Wachee
*you like stories that take place in the 1970's

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Midwife of Hope River

Title: The Midwife of Hope River Author: Patricia Harmon Publisher: William Morrow Pages: 382 Copyright: 2012

The Midwife of Hope River: A Novel of an American Midwife

From the back cover:
Midwife Patience Murphy has a gift:  a talent for escorting mothers through the challenges of bringing children into the world. Working in the hardscrabble conditions of Appalachia during the Depression, Patience takes the jobs that no one else wants, helping those most in need- and least likely to pay. She knows a successful midwifery practice must be built on a foundation of openness and trust- but the secrets Patience is keeping are far too intimate and fragile for her to ever let anyone in.

I loved every page of this book. I was drawn in from the first page to the descriptive imagery of Depression Era Appalachia. This was a very hard novel to put down. Patience is strong, yet vulnerable. She is brave, yet fearful of her past catching up with her. Her lack of prejudice and openness make her different from her neighbors in West Virginia.  Many of them view her with mistrust, yet they need her in a community where the only doctor refuses to help black people or poor people.
It wasn't just the midwife aspect that made this book appealing. The everyday life of two women- Patience and Bitsy (a young black woman)- making their way in rural Appalachia makes this book a page turner. There is so much more to this book than just the midwife aspect. The book deals with prejudice, spousal abuse, exploitation of Coal Miners, heartbreak, and redemption. 
I love Harman's simple writing style.  I look forward to reading more of her work.
This one is definitely a keeper.

Read this book if....
*you love novels set in Appalachia
*you love southern fiction
*you love novels about midwifery
*you love novels set in the Depression Era
*you love novels about race relations and racial issues in the early 20th century