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Gone South

Title: Gone South
Author: Meg Moseley
Publisher: Multnomah Books
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Pages: 339
How I Got It: requested from publicist

***This Review Contains Spoilers***
Leaving frosty Michigan for the Deep South was never a blip in the simple plans Tish McComb imagined for her life, dreams of marriage and family that were dashed five years earlier in a tragic accident.  Now an opportunity to buy her great-great-great-grandparents' Civil War-era home beckons Tish to Noble, Alabama, a Southern town in every sense of the word.  She wonders if God has given her a new dream-the old house filled with friends, her vintage percolator bubbling on the sideboard.
When Tish discovers that McCombs aren't welcome in town, she feels like a Yankee behind enemy lines.  Only local antiques dealer George Zorbas seems willing to give her a chance. What's a lonely oucast to do but take in Noble's resident prodigal, Melanie Hamilton, and hope that the two can find some much needed acceptance in each other. 
Problem is, old habits die hard, and Mel is quite set in her destructive ways. With Melanie blocked from going home, Tish must try to manage her incorrigible houseguest as she attempst to prove her own worth in a town that seems to have forgoten that every sinner needs God-given mercy, love, and forgiveness. 

It's hard not to love Tish McComb.  Following her heart and taking a chance on a new beginning in an ancestral home is a decision not taken lightly. But you have to respect a woman who acts on her desires (no matter how irresponsible.) With little savings, Tish is need of a job. This proves difficult due to the McComb name being mud in the small town of Noble. But in a perfect example of "someone always has it worse than you" Tish finds herself aligned with a teen runaway returning to town, outcast by the town and her own family. 
The runaway, Melanie Hamilton, overpowers this story. While a reader will be crossing their fingers for Tish, they will be cheering on Melanie. As her story unfolds, it is hard not to want to hug her and tell her that she got a bad rap. Lacking basic math and reading skills due to a previously undiagnosed learning disability, it is no wonder she was a "bad" student and cashier. Add to that her lack of parental guidance and a stubborn streak and you end up with a teenager speeding toward destruction. The thing is, Melanie doesn't want to rebel and act out, she only wants what she was promised from her grandfather, but her father disregards her wishes. 
Meg Moseley perfectly exposes the ugly alliances of small town life. Too often portrayed as idyllic and welcoming, it is refreshing to read a story of a town's outcasts. In a small town, everyone's nose is in your business and if you aren't in a position of power, your version of events will not be the one that is listened to.  I loved that Moseley gave those citizens a voice.

** I received this book in exchange for an honest review**

The Returned

Title: The Returned
Author: Jason Mott
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication Date: August 27,2013
ISBN: 9780778315339
Pages: 340
How I Got It: at Decatur book festival author announcements 

Harold and Lucille Hargrave's lives have been both joyful and sorrowful in the decades since their only son, Jacob, died tragically at his eighth birthday party in 1966.  In their old age they've settled comfortably into life without him, their wounds tempered through the grace of time...Until one day Jacob mysteriously appears on their doorstep-flesh ad blood, their sweet, precocious child, still eight years old. 
All over the world, people's loved ones are returning from beyond.  No one knows how or why, whether it's a miracle or a sign of the end.  Not even Harold and Lucille can agree on whether the boy is real or a wondrous imitation, but one thing they know for sure: he's their son.  As chaos erupts around the globe, the newly reunited Hargrave family finds itself at the center of a community on the brink of collapse, forced to navigate a mysterious new reality and conflict that threatens to unravel the very meaning of what it is to be human. 

** This review contains spoilers **
The premise of this book caught my attention as soon as I read the back cover. The whole idea of "what if" when applied to life after death is fascinating and I was interested to see what Mott's moral was going to be. In what could be described as the opposite of the "Left Behind" series, The Returned forces us to ask ourselves what we would do if a long dead loved one suddenly "returned"?  As Mott layers in the government forces and growing unrest of the small town's citizens, he exposes the ugliness of humanity. It is not difficult to draw parallels to Japanese internment or Nazi concentration camps. The novel proves the point of not knowing someone's true character until pressure is applied. Previously harmless women and men incite riots and carry out vigilante justice, while others protect and provide for others.  Mott pushes the boundaries of skin color, race and religion to now include a previously unimaginable group of citizens. My disappointment in the fact that Mott never provides the cause of the "returned" is wrapped up in some faint hope that this may be the beginning of a series. While there are three prequels to The ReturnedThe FirstThe Sparrow, and The Choice, there is no confirmation of any sequels. I wanted....more. I wanted a story about the afterlife, a lesson about grief, anything more than what I got.  I was anticipating a turn, especially when Lucille leaves the family at her house and she "feels" something.  I thought "yes, here comes the reason for the return" but nope. I was even expecting something similar to Stephen King's Under the Dome (which had me pretty disappointed as well.) The underlying question all the other characters wanted to know was not addressed. Is there an afterlife? I understand that Mott was attempting to show the patterns of humanity but I would have appreciated a moral.  

My Decatur Book Festival Schedule

This is my tentative plan. What is everyone else's plan? 

10:00-10:45: Hauntings and Healings featuring Ann Hite, Karen Spears Zacharias (Decatur Library Stage)

11:00 SheReads lunch (Raging Burrito) 

1:45-2:30: The Strength Of Character: Self Discovery in Fiction  featuring Jennifer Haigh and Jill McCorkle (Decatur Recreation Center Gym)

3:00-3:45: Women on the Verge of A Breakdown / Breakthrough  featuring Sheri Joseph, Susanna Daniel (Decatur Library Stage)

4:15-5:00: The Astronauts Wives Club: A True Story featuring Lily  Koppel (Decatur High School Stage)

5:30-6:15: The First Affair - Book Launch! featuring Nicola Kraus, Emma McLaughlin (Decatur Recreation Center Gym)

 7:00-9:00: art | DBF After Dark (Decatur Plaza)


1:15-2:00: Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father featuring Alysia Abbott
Teen Stage (Marriott Conference Center Ballroom B)

2:00-2:45: When Good Girls Go Bad Panel featuring Terra Elan McVoy,  Caprice Crane, Sara Shepard (Teen Stage)

3:45-4:30: Lookaway, Lookaway featuring Wilton Barnhardt (Decatur High School Stage)

5:00-5:45: Beneath the Surface featuring Gillian Royes, Joshilyn Jackson (Eddie's Attic)

7:00-9:00: Hidden Away: The Library at Night 

A Place at the Table

Title: A Place at the Table
Author: Susan Rebecca White
Publisher: Touchstone
Publication Date: 
ISBN: 9781451608878
Pages: 309
How I Got It: from author (via Alison Law)

A Place at the Table tells the story of three richly nuanced characters whose paths converge in a chic Manhattan cafe: Bobby, a gay Southern boy who has been ostracized by his family; Amelia, a wealthy Connecticut woman whose life is upended when a family secret finally comes to light; and Alice, an African-American chef whose heritage is the basis of a famous cookbook but whose past is a mystery tho those who know her. 
As it sweeps from a freed-slave settlement in 1920s North Carolina to the Manhattan of the deadly AIDS epidemic of the 1980s to today's mansions of Old Greenwich, APlace at the Table celebrates the healing power of food and the magic of New York City as three seekers come together in the understanding that when you embrace the thing that makes you different, you become whole. 

Susan Rebecca White's novel opens in 1929 with a brother and sister discovering a lynched boy hanging in the woods.  White then switchs storylines and settings to idyllic 1970s Georgia, complete with decorated bicycle "license" plates and professional housewives. Bobby is by all manner "a good Southern boy" but his family finds some of his tendencies troubling. As Bobby's story progresses, White draws attention to his internal guilt as a gay teen coming of age in an unwelcome environment as well as the self-acceptance and strength necessary to follow one's own path. 

In recent years the question of "what makes a family?" has changed. The traditional definition no longer applies. Divorce,  adoption, inter-racial and same-sex parents have become more common but the time these were not even talked about is in the near enough past that we can all remember. White's ability to personalize the struggles of not fitting into an expected set of social norms is equal parts heartbreaking and eye-opening. The tangibility of societal undercurrents is evident in every character's interaction. Encompassing race, sexuality, and class as well as every degree of love, friendship and family, White emphasizes that nothing and no one is superior to another.  We are each one point on an infinite spectrum and must learn to respect and accept that no one else embodies that point except us. We may gravitate toward others we feel share our thoughts and beliefs but believing that our way is the only "right" way will only bring us pain and frustration.  

Juxtaposed against the harsh reality of exclusion, White layers in love, tenderness, and the role of food as an expression.  I could write a paper on the symbolic detail of each of the dishes and ingredients White peppers into her story. (Seriously, somebody talk to me about salmon mousse as a red flag!!) Every detail is so perfect that the food deserves to be listed as a character in this novel. 

I can never pick a favorite book but this is in my top 3 for 2013 and I've been recommending it left and right. I also rarely re-read a novel but I definitely will be re-reading this one. (Maybe I'll make note and do a second review about the food symbolism)

** I received this book in exchange for an honest review **

The Perfume Collector

Title: The Perfume Collector
Author: Kathleen Tessaro
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: May 14, 2013
ISBN: 9780062257833
Pages: 456
How I Got It: SheReads

Stuck in an unhappy marriage and uncomfortable social settings, Grace Monroe is depressed. The options for women in her situation in 1955 are bleak. As her best friend Mallory states "Face it, a woman has to be very rich indeed to change husbands the way one changes clothes and get away with it." Although Grace is of a comfortable standing, when she receives "an inheritance from a mysterious stranger" her life takes a new direction. Curious to know the full background of her benefactor she takes off for Paris and unravels the mysterious connection between her and Eva D'Orsey. 

The settings are absolutely delicious whether author Kathleen Tessaro is describing New York, London or Monte Carlo, you will sigh as a reader and wish that you were at that cafe, this office or that hotel. When Valmort walks into the Hotel Hermitage in Monte Carlo, Tessaro provides my favorite descriptive sentence of the book: " Guests were checking in and out, flowers were being delivered, and valets were scurrying to procure tickets for luggage and dinner reservations while exquisite women lounged on the rose silk settees, pulling lazily at the fingers of their white gloves and smoking gold-tipped Russian cigarettes behind the veils of their hats." Lovers, mistresses, and prostitutes were kept in grand style in the 1920s. Hotels were places of entertainment both public and private and there is just as much going on behind the scenes with the servants as there is in the ballroom with the guests. The decadence pours off the page. 

The characters provide wonderful cutting remarks and insight to personal frictions, such as Madame's warning of "Some day you will have a nemesis...someone who has the ability to do everything you wish you could, but with greater ease, style, success." 

And of course, perfume plays as prominent of a role as any character in this story. I myself have never been a fan of perfume however, I love that Valmort found that the perfume "blended naturally" and "finished her." I believe it is true that a person "adds to the composition" of a scent, that it doesn't exist to stand alone.  Scent triggers memories and one scent can evoke such different responses in people. To one the scent may invoke happiness while another may experience bleakness. I liked the concept of a perfumerie where you concoct a scent specifically for you rather than purchasing a a mass produced scent where you may smell exactly like the next woman on the train or at a party. 

I have not read anything previously by Kathleen Tessaro but based on how much I enjoyed the mental vacation. 

** I received this book in exchange for an honest review **

During a Twitter chat Tessaro provided this bit of advice (dismiss the typo): 

Kathleen Tessaro (@KathleenTessaro)
For those who love the smell of old books, try L'Air De Rein by Miller Harris, designed for Jane Birkin to small like old books #srbkchat

Mid-Month Rearranged Reading for #ctbs

I've been crossing out and moving around some of my reads this month.  My plan is still to complete my August review reads and then try to "Conquer the Book Stacks" but I've made some changes. I needed to add a book for an upcoming article (Mrs. Poe,) delete a book because I couldn't renew it at the library (The Well and the Mine,) add a book I'm re-reading to review in preparation for upcoming third book in trilogy release (Oryx & Crake,) and cross off a book that I abandoned (The Color Master.) Plus just some edits that were taking up valuable #ctbs space. Whew! With all that crossing off and moving around I decided to post a new list for the second half of the month. See my initial and follow-up #CTBS posts for previous plans and completed reading / reviews.

I'm currently reading:
  • The Perfume Collector 
  • Oryx & Crake 
  • Mrs. Poe 
Next up is:
  • A Fatal Likeness
  • The Affairs of Others
  • An Arsonist's Guide to Writer's Homes in New England
  • Slammerkin
  • I Don't
  • The Means of Reprodution
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

August's Ambitious Adventure Update #CTBS

Some of us have been "Conquering The Book Shelves" this month. The only rules are:
No book purchases (except at book signings) and read some of the books that have been begging to be read in our TBR piles. I posted my planned reading schedule at the beginning the month and here is my update.

So far this month I've read:

I'm currently reading:
  • The Perfume Collector
I'm going "off list" and made two variations so far:
  • Oryx & Crake (re-reading)
  • Mrs. Poe
I abandoned:
  • The Color Master
Next up is:
  • A Fatal Likeness
  • The Affairs of Others
  • Hardscrabble Road
  • Shorter's Way
  • The Well and the Mine
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
  • An Arsonist's Guide to Writer's Homes in New England
  • Slammerkin
  • I Don't
  • The Means of Reprodution
I'm not exactly following the original list.  I want to fulfill my review obligations for the month before I dive into the #ctbs. How's everyone else doing?

Lowcountry Spirit

Title: Lowcountry Spirit
Author: Ann Hite
Publisher: Pocket Star
Publication Date: August 12, 2013
ISBN: 9781451692327
Pages: 80
How I got it: NetGalley

In a prequel to Ghost on Black Mountain, Ann Hite follows Nellie Pritchard's family tree back to three slaves girls on  Georgia's Sapelo Island. Whether in the field or the kitchen of the sea island cotton plantation, each girl possesses her own form of magic. A marsh witch appears to Emmaline, Celestia and Liza individually. She protects women and girls... but at a price. In a  neo-slave narrative with magic realism,this e-novella starts to unravel hidden stories and touches on the too common question of paternity among slave children. Transitioning from North Carolina to Black Mountain at the end of the novella, Hite provides the stories of the rest of the three girls' lives but not the full link to Nellie Pritchard. There is ample opportunity to expand this connection and I hope that this novella becomes a full prequel to Ghost on Black Mountain. 

I received an advanced copy of this work in exchange for an honest review

**Read Ann Hite's Where Our Words Land on It's Only A Novel's blog

The Penelopiad

Title: The Penelopiad
Author: Margaret Atwood
Publisher: Canongate
Publication Date: 2005
ISBN: 9781841957982
Pages: 196
How I got it: Library

Margaret Atwood gives voices to Penelope and her twelve hanged maids in this feminist retelling of Homer's The Odyssey.  Alternating between Penelope and the Chorus Line, the book is written for an easy stage adaptation.  The Chorus Line: A Rope-Jumping Rhyme" sets the mood for the accusations brought forth from the maids.  

Penelope tells of her upbringing (her father tried to kill her and then attempts to smother her with affection.) Penelope discusses her lifelong rivalry with her cousin Helen, her marriage to macho jock / philanderer Odysseus, and her role as Telemachus's mother. Beyond the weaving of the shroud we were not given any background to Penelope's house arrest in the original story. Here we are given modern viewpoints to many inequalities of the time, such as rape:

This plan came to grief. Several of the girls were unfortunately raped, others were seduced, or were hard pressed and decided that it was better to give in than to resist. 

Set in a 21st century Hades, the novella ends in a courtroom.  All of the inconsistencies and unfair judgements of the original story are presented. This will be enjoyed by anyone that enjoys a new spin on a classic story.  Also a must read and necessary edition to the feminist canon.  

August's Ambitious Adventure: #CTBS

Tamara Welch (aka @Rockstar1023 ) had a great idea for all of us who have books in our TBR pile begging to be read.  I am joining her in declaring August as "Conquering the Book Stacks" month.  Read about how she came up with her idea here.  We will be tweeting with the #CTBS hashtag on Twitter and blogging about accomplishments. I am planning to read 15 books this month between #ctbs and reviews. Are you participating in #ctbs? Comment below with a link to your list. 

SheReads August selection

Reviewing for 8/27 release. 

Reviewing for 8/12 release.

Reviewing for 8/13 release.

Reviewing for 8/20 release.

Reviewing for 8/27 release. 

listening to audio version

I've not read any HP books