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The River Witch

I am so excited to be able to finally post the following review!  It is my very first published book review.  Please check it out in the online edition of the November's Buckhaven Lifestyle Magazine

The New Voice of Southern Fiction:  Kimberly Brock
Remember when you first read Harper Lee, Flannery O’Connor or Terry Kay?  Prepare to feel that way again when you experience Kimberly Brock’s “The River Witch.”  In a recipe as perfect as Granny’s biscuits, “The River Witch” provides everything you love about Southern fiction with an edge of Southern Gothic.  Family, faith and resentment mix with love and loss, broken bodies and souls, and a stranger in a strange place. Add to this mix some mythology, fable and folktale and you will find a story that stays with you long after the final page. 
After a car accident ends her career with the Atlanta ballet, Roslyn Byrne retreats to her Mama’s house. A miscarriage drives her to seek further seclusion and refuge at one of Georgia’s mystical Sea Isles, Manny’s Island. The small island’s inhabitants are each recovering from a death in their community as well.  A death that places everyone at a crossroad in life and ties them all to the house Roslyn is renting for her recovery.  As in any small community, a stranger brings whispers and in Roslyn’s Byrne’s case, those whispers claim that she is responsible for the sudden abundance of the alligators in the marshes.  The novel’s spitfire, 10-year-old pumpkin-growing protagonist, Damascus, claims Roslyn has called the alligators up to feed on all the broken hearts.  Brock weaves magic, love and music into a community’s journey from despair to redemption during the course of one long summer.  
In this era of zombie and vampire overload, don’t let the title fool you.  When asked about the possible confusion, Brock stated that she “didn’t change the title because the women in the book call to question moral actions.  People use witch as a derogatory term, but these women bring healing to one another and their communities.”  While you may have heard stories of Southern women and their communities, you haven’t heard one quite like this.
“The River Witch” was included on the summer reading lists of Deep South magazine and the Huffington Post.  Kimberly was this year’s AJC Decatur Book Festival Local Prose keynote speaker and is the blog network coordinator for the She Reads national book club.
You can contact Kimberly Brock on Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook or kimberlybrockbooks.com.  Her website lists her upcoming events, and be sure to check out the section with a corresponding playlist for “The River Witch.” She resides north of Atlanta with her husband and three children and is working on her second novel.

The White Tiger

Balram Halwai divulges all his secrets in a letter he writes over the course of seven nights.  His letter includes full descriptions of "the two Indias" and how he has grown from a boyhood in the Darkness to an entrepreneur in the Light.   He divulges all of his secrets.  Hit and run accidents, blackmail, prostitution, politics, religion, and every other situation that so clearly divides a society.  

Balram is born into a famiy so large that he is not even given a name.  He is simply called Munna (boy) by his family.  He is given the name "The White Tiger" by a government official that visits his school after he is quizzed and is smarter than all of his classmates. He is told that a white tiger is a magical animal that comes around once in a generation. 

Balram's stories of Darkness and Light as well as his master/ slave relationships are fluid and  relative to where his is and where he is going.  He tells of an India that is full of lies and blackmail at every level.  That no one is on the straight and narrow.

At the end of the novel, when his letter is complete, his original blessing has become a curse.  A White Tiger keeps no friends.


This novel was released almost exactly 10 years ago.  I read it for the first time in 2009.  I recently was referencing it in a conversation and decided to revisit it.

Sandra Cisneros' novel, Caramelo, grapples with the many societal and cultural rules imposed on the Reyes family.  Most notable among these rules is sexuality.  Each member of the Reyes family struggles with their sexuality and what is deemed "acceptable" by society's standards.  Premarital sex, children born out of wedlock, unrequited love, and voyeuristic family members place the Reyes family in culturally unacceptable situations.  Also, while almost every family member finds themselves in situations due to their sexuality, there is a clear gender divide as to how these situations are handled. Cisneros uses the Reyes family to exemplify the expectations of family and society.  Men are not punished or held accountable for their actions but women must suffer the consequences for their sexuality in the Reyes family.   Cisneros draws the reader's attention to the societal standards at the time of the story and illuminates the double standards that still exist.

The Giver

How have I never read this book before now?  It has been referenced by authors I enjoy.  It was on my daughters' freshman reading lists.  But somehow I had overlooked it.  Until today.  I was sick on the couch all day and thought I'd read something light/easy.  I grabbed "The Giver" by Lois Lowry off the girls' bookshelf and figured I'd take a nap before I got too far along.  Wrong!

It's a beginner's "Brave New World."  It's a prequel to "The Testament of Jessie Lamb."  It is definitely not the story I was expecting.  The edition I read today was 169 pages.  I read it in about 4 hours.  If you have not read it, I strongly recommend doing so.

In my first high school Language Arts class I loved two stories the best:  "The Most Dangerous Game" and "The Lottery."  I remember thinking that we were finally being allowed to read something that was not boring, vanilla, plain Literature.  I would love to be a fly on the wall of a class discussing this story.  To see their revelations and watch them question each other, themselves, and the status quo.

Lois Lowry has recently released the fourth book in this series.  I will be grabbing up the second as soon as I can get my hands on it.

Least Favorite Books

I'm a book lover. I love almost everything I read. But I have a few that I would say are not my favorite.  Here are just a few:

Dare Me by Meg Abbott:  My Goodreads review for this was "Ok. I give up!  I tried.  I truly tried.  But pg 180 was all the further I could go.  And I had to force myself to get that far.  Terrible.  Disgusting. Sad. I like to watch a crappy movie every once in a while but I can't make myself read a D-list book.  Ugh."

The Magicians by Lev Grossman:  I tried to read this book for a book club but it is not my genre.  The book has been described as a grown-up Harry Potter.  I may be one of the only people that has not read the Harry Potter series but I don't knock it.  It's just not a series I am interested in, so I was not drawn to another version. 

Anything by Henry James:  These were so hard for me to get through in college.  The stream of conciousness, run on sentences were agonizing.

Tristram Shandy:  My #1 most hated book.  The same problem as I had with James.  

Do you have a #1 "bad" book?  Why did you not like it?  

The Age of Miracles

We've all heard that time is relative.  We learn in school how Egyptians established the 24 hour day.  We learn in college (or as parents of newborns) about circadian rhythms and how much sleep we need to function.  A majority of the world is active in the hours of sunlight and sleeps in the darkness.  In Karen Thompson Walker's "The Age of Miracles" all of these established patterns are tested.  A shift in the earth has caused the days to continuously grow longer.  The people divide into two camps:  those that follow the 24 hour clock and those that follow the light=active/dark=sleep routine.  History teaches us that anytime humans divide into opposing factions, the outcome is conflict and this situation is no different.

 The story makes the reader revert back to their own adolescence.  How lonely afternoons felt as if they stretched on forever, how a great time with a friend or first love flashed by so fast.  Our young adult concept of time does not fit into the "every-minute-of-my-day-is-scheduled" adults we have become.

Julia is 11.  A very tender age of newly blossoming interest in the opposite sex, crumbling friendships, impending puberty and the realization that your parents are *gasp* "People"! While Julia is busy worrying about the end of the world, she is also navigating the torturous landscape of growing up.  She is confronted with friends moving or running away.  neighbors turning on each other, sickness, affairs, death and most importantly love. 

Where Did All the Non-Porn Free e-Books Go?

I have a complaint today.  It is about free e-books.  I shouldn't complain about something that is free, right?  Well, I am.  I love the access to the classics and I WAS loving checking out new authors from a variety of genres. Until "the-book-that-shall-not-be-named" came out.  Now it's all varieties of porn.  Soft porn, borderline porn, bondage porn.  I don't want to knock it, but it is not my choice of reading material.  Is there really such a demand for this style of writing? Maybe readers were embarrassed to read this genre before the e-reader boom and now they are thankful for the fact that they can enjoy these reads anonymously?  Or are authors thinking they will be discovered by riding the coat-tails of this phenomenon?  If the latter is true, let me please beg these authors to reconsider and branch out.  For further motivation, check out how these Kindle singles authors are doing.

Female Voices and Villians

I'm drawn to female voices most of the time.  This list of 21st century literature by women is my kind of list.  I've probably read about half but would love to read them all.  I've got most on my "to-read" list already, but this compilation allows me to add some that may have slipped through the cracks.

My favorites on the list are:
**Margaret Atwood (absolutely everything she writes I love)
**Alice Hoffman (The Dovekeepers is beautiful)
**Joshilyn Jackson (love everything by her.  You should experience audio versions-see previous post)
**Barbara Kingsolver (again, great audio experience.  I like all her work but did not like The Lacuna)
**Elisabeth Kostova (I look forward to re-reading The Historian every October.)
**Nicole Krauss (The History of Love.)
**Jhumpa Lahiri (The Emperor of Maladies was a college read that I was glad to be exposed to)
**Audrey Niffenegger ( I did not like the Time Traveler's Wife but I loved Her Fearful Symmetry)
**Joyce Carol Oates (has produced a plethora of work, too many to read in its entirety, but my favorite thus far is We Were the Mulvaneys
**Elissa Schappell (Blueprints for Building Better Girls is a great collection of stories to add to non-fiction works (like Peggy Orenstein) regarding changing landscapes of teenage girls
**Kathryn Stockett (has anyone NOT read The Help? Great addition to the Southern genre)

I like a dark and gothic story.  Here are 10 Female Villains.  I wish there were more.  I think I will try to dig into this.  A female villain sounds good at this time of the year.

If you are writing a story yourself, you need to make your reader love to hate your villain.  Here are some tips to make us Love Your Villains.

Read to Me

Emily Dickinson

Paul Legault has rewritten over 1,000 of Emily Dickinson's poetry into modern English.  I love Emily Dickinson's poetry and this should not be taught instead of her work, but it would be a great addition in schools.  The introductory snippet makes a valid point in that Legault actually creates individual and independent poems out of his reworkings.  Here is a short introduction (under 3 min)to his creations.

Sylvia Plath

I could reread Sylvia Plath's Unabridged Journals or "The Bell Jar" over and over again, but I never really embraced her poetry.  Until we deconstructed her poem "Daddy" in a Women's Studies class at college.  I was amazed that so much story could be packaged into such a small space.  Listen here to Sylvia reading the poem.

Barbara Kingsolver

If you listen to audio books, you know that a narrator can make or break how much you will enjoy the book.  I have stopped many books within the first half hour of listening because I know that I can not stand to hear that voice for another 8 to 12 hours.  I was lucky enough to choose Prodigal Summer as an audio book rather than print and have never heard a more beautiful narrating voice.

Joshilyn Jackson

I read all of Jackson's previous works but listened to the audio version of "A Grown Up Kind of Pretty" and fell in love with her smooth, clear, Southern voice.  I'd listen to her read the back of shampoo bottles if she'd record it!

Do you have a favorite audio author?  Please leave a comment.

The Testament of Jessie Lamb

During my mindful wanderings reading "The Immortal Henrietta Lacks," I contemplated the future uses of frozen embryos.  This drew me to pull "The Testament of Jessie Lamb" by Jane Rogers from my "to-read" pile.

To be fair, I love dystopian novels and have a strong personal interest in the evolution of women's rights.   So when I originally heard about this book, I knew I would enjoy it.  The back cover tells the reader that "a rogue virus that kills pregnant women has been let loose in the world and nothing less than the survival of the human race is at stake."  Sign me up! In the vein of Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" post-apocolyptic birth worship, Rogers introduces us to Sleeping Beauties, comatose women being kept alive for the sole purpose of their wombs.  Add the mandatory contraception implantation of Huxley's "Brave New World" and tell the story from the point of view of an angst-filled 16-year-old Katniss Jesse.
This will definitely be embraced by young adults who all identify with doing something to change the world, who want to make a difference, who want to do better than their parents, who want to be seen and treated as adults.

In the future will young adults be treated as children until the age of 18 as they are now?  Will they be viewed as adults at a younger age?  This book reverses the pro-life vs pro-choice argument to make women live only by not becoming pregnant and dying if they do.  The ideal Sleeping Beauties are 16-years-olds, but are they able to make the choice themselves to be martyrs?  Or can their parents prevent them?  A whole spin on parental consent laws, right?

While I'm anxiously awaiting the third installment in Atwood's Maddaddam trilogy, this novel filled a bit of the void.
Who will like this novel: anyone who enjoys dystopian novels with female protagonists, also readers interested in alternative futures for reproductive technology.

Who will NOT like this novel:  the reading police.  It will definitely be on a banned books list and be challenged in schools on sexuality and political grounds.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I had the pleasure of participating in the Women's Brookhaven / Buckhead Book Club (that's me in the tan sweater!) to discuss "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot yesterday.  The meeting was at Mosaic, a great cafe / bistro near the Buckhead Diner.

I was excited to hear a discussion around this book.  The fact that the book is non-fiction and ethically controversial made me wonder if it would be like college discussions where each side dug in their heels and didn't listen to much their opponents had to say.  I was interested to know how readers may have interpreted situations differently from me (I enjoy an opposing viewpoint sometimes to merely present a previously unknown angle to me.)

When I read the book it was sad and frustrating.  I was constantly comparing it in my mind to "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down," which was my first foray into a family's medical journey conflicting with medical protocol.  Ethics is a constantly evolving field and obviously there will be those patients who fall just short of or are the springboard for establishing guidelines.  Henrietta's cancer cells were cultured and went on to create the most prominent cell line for scientific research.  Unfortunately, she gave no consent for their use and her family was not notified for 20 years.  The fact that Henrietta was an under-educated, low-income, "colored" woman being treated free of charge at Johns Hopkins in the 50's meant that she was not even presented with the option.

We discussed what could be done to rectify the situation now and agreed that the Lacks family or a foundation should receive a percentage of every vial of HeLa sold from this point forward and the immediate family should be given complimentary health care and and educational scholarships.

While the book makes the reader consider how ethics have changed in the last 60 years, it also gets your imagination wandering to all the future possibilities.  We discussed how we rarely read the fine print on medical consent forms, the new push for harvesting umbilical cord blood, and the changing concept of doctor as omnipotent being.

An entire course could be built around this novel and medical ethics, but we only had an hour or so to touch on the main points.  We all agreed that Rebecca Skloot was a patient, unbiased, organized reporter and are thankful that she let the whole world know who HeLa really was.