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Les Femmes Folles

Title: Les Femmes Folles: The Women 2013
Author: Sally Deskins
Publication Date: March 1, 2014
Publisher: LFF Books
Number of Pages: 120
How I Got It: from Author
Format: PDF

Info on LFFB:
Les Femmes Folles is a completely volunteer run organization founded in 2011 with the mission to support and promote women in all forms, styles and levels of art with the online journal, anthologies, books, exhibitions and events; originally inspired by artist Wanda Ewing and her curated exhibit by the name Les Femmes Folles (Wild Women). LFF was created and is curated by Sally Deskins.  LFF Books is a micro-feminist press that publishes 1-2 books per year by the creators of Les Femmes Folles including Intimates & Fools (Laura Madeline Wiseman, 2014). Other titles include Les Femmes Folles: The Women 2011, 2012 and 2013, available on blurb.com, including art, poetry and interview excerpts from women artists. A portion of the proceeds from LFF books and products benefit the University of Nebraska-Omaha’s Wanda Ewing Scholarship Fund.

My Review:
If you want to support women in the arts, I can think of no better book to purchase for yourself or to give as a gift. Each page of Les Femmes Folles: The Women 2013 is graced with women writers, poets, photographers, musicians, sculptors, and illustrators along with their amazing artwork and profound statements about the art they create and themselves as artists.  In this male dominated world, many women find self-expression to be a difficult task, but these amazing women are offering their talents every day. This compilation is sure to inspire any woman and motivate readers to pursue or embrace their own artistic talents. A necessary addition to any modern art collection, this book is dedicated to a close friend and mentor of author Sally Deskins, Wanda Ewing. The following quote from Ewing points out the struggles of female artists in all genres:

"It's a double-edged sword. If you're anything but a white-male. straight artist, you're always going to be 'the other;' whatever seperates you is going to define you initially. For myself, 'black, female artist;' those things come first. They don't just say 'artist Wanda Ewing,' they say 'African-American artist...' or 'black female artist'... But I do think it [feminism]is totally relevant, because let's face it, that glass ceiling was installed with perma-ceilant..."

Rather than lament the inequalities faced by women artists, Deskins shines a light on them. By doing this she (and her fellow artists) is/are pushing back against the patriarchy of the art world by carving out places for themselves. These women aren't waiting to be accepted on pre-defined terms, they are creating their own terms, their own stories, their own art. And that is legendary. 

You can preview Les Femmes Folles 2013 here

Deskins illustrated another book that I recently reviewed, Intimates and Fools

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

Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening

Title: Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening
Author: Carol Wall
Publisher: Putnam / Amy Einhorn
Publication Date: March 4, 2014
ISBN: 97803999157981
Number of Pages: 295
How I Got It: contacted by publicist
Format: Hardcover

With echoes of The Last Lecture and The Middle Place, Carol Wall tells the inspiring true story of her unlikely friendship with Giles Owita, a Kenyan man who arrives one day to tend her bedraggled garden. As their relationship grows, Giles begins to not only transform her garden, but her life as well. What begins as a tentative relationship gradually blossoms into a friendship of great respect, sensitivity, and mutual support.  As these two seemingly dissimilar people reveal long-held secrets to each other, Carol takes heart from Giles’s unbounded joy in life, in gardening, and in the restorative cycles of nature, despite circumstances even more difficult than her own. The memoir is also, perhaps more importantly, an ode to Giles Owita himself. As this intelligent and complex man copes with his own challenges, he also simultaneously illuminates what truly matters in our lives – spouses, parents, children, illness, death, faith, joy, and, of course, flowers. 

Watch the trailer here
Reading Group Discussion Questions

My Review:
This novel is a heartwarming story about an unexpected friendship. Carol Wall has battled cancer, lost her sister at a young age, and is now solely responsible for her two aging parents. Her yard is the least of her worries until she sees her neighbor's oasis. Finding that this neighbor is employing a gardener to transform her yard, Wall approaches the gardener to assist her as well. The man with the green thumb is Giles Owita, a native Kenyan working at her local grocery store. His polite manners and sunny dispostion are pleasing to Wall but they disagree on the very first task in her yard transformation.  Wall eventually learns to trust Owita's decisions regarding the garden and they begin opening up a bit more to each other during their work. 
As this book progresses, the reader empathisizes with Wall's and Owita's struggles. Each chapter is a mini lesson that will make a reader laugh, cry, and then laugh while they cry. Wall provides a story that is both specific and universal. 
This would make a great gift book for anyone who believes certain people come into our lives to teach us a lesson and allow us to learn something about ourselves as well. 

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

The Lost Sisterhood

I guest posted about this novel over on Becca "Lostinbooks" blog for a Women's Lit Event. Be sure to check it out here and read my review below.

Title: The Lost Sisterhood
Author: Anne Fortier
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group / Ballantine 
Publication Date: March 11, 2014
Number of Pages: 608

From the author of the New York Times bestseller Juliet comes a mesmerizing novel about a young scholar who risks her reputation—and her life—on a thrilling journey to prove that the legendary warrior women known as the Amazons actually existed.
Oxford lecturer Diana Morgan is an expert on Greek mythology. Her obsession with the Amazons started in childhood when her eccentric grandmother claimed to be one herself—before vanishing without a trace. Diana’s colleagues shake their heads at her Amazon fixation. But then a mysterious, well-financed foundation makes Diana an offer she cannot refuse.
Traveling to North Africa, Diana teams up with Nick Barran, an enigmatic Middle Eastern guide, and begins deciphering an unusual inscription on the wall of a recently unearthed temple. 
There she discovers the name of the first Amazon queen, Myrina, who crossed the Mediterranean in a heroic attempt to liberate her kidnapped sisters from Greek pirates, only to become embroiled in the most famous conflict of the ancient world—the Trojan War. Taking their cue from the inscription, Diana and Nick set out to find the fabled treasure that Myrina and her Amazon sisters salvaged from the embattled city of Troy so long ago. Diana doesn’t know the nature of the treasure, but she does know that someone is shadowing her, and that Nick has a sinister agenda of his own. With danger lurking at every turn, and unsure of whom to trust, Diana finds herself on a daring and dangerous quest for truth that will forever change her world.
Sweeping from England to North Africa to Greece and the ruins of ancient Troy, and navigating between present and past, The Lost Sisterhood is a breathtaking, passionate adventure of two women on parallel journeys, separated by time, who must fight to keep the lives and legacy of the Amazons from being lost forever.

My Review:
I love a story with strong female characters and Anne Fortier gives us not one, but two strong female characters in her new release, "The Lost Sisterhood." Fortier weaves a dual storyline between modern day scholar, Diana Morgan, and ancient warrior, Myrina. 

Myrina and her sister, Lilli, travel from their plague-ridden village to the Temple of the Moon Goddess. After proving themselves worthy, they are allowed to join the priestesses. 

Diana's fascination with Amazons begins when her grandmother claims to be an Amazon and fills a notebook with what Diana's father dismisses as an imaginary language created by a medicated and psychologically unbalanced woman. Diana's interest grows and eventually becomes well known among her fellow Oxford academics. When a stranger approaches her claiming to have found evidence of the Amazons' existence, she is skeptical. Excavations often turn up women who were allowed to fight alongside men in battles, but The City of Women, Themiscyra, has never been found and is considered a myth. Only when Diana is shown an inscription that looks like the writings in her grandmother's notebook does she embark on her academic quest. Arriving at a drilling site in Africa, armed with her grandmother's notebook, Diana translates the name "Myrina" and her world-wide journey begins. 

Both women encounter love and danger throughout modern day England, the Greek Islands, Africa and Turkey and readers are transported through time and across continents. The subject of a female scholar on an academic quest is similar to Elizabeth Kostova's "The Historian" mixed with Indiana Jones-style treasure hunts, and Greek mythology retellings comparable to Anita Diamant's "The Red Tent" and Margaret Atwood's "The Penelopiad." "The Lost Sisterhood" contained everything I want in a novel and will definitely be on my "Best Books of 2014" list. 

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

Lost Lake

Title: Lost Lake
Author: Sarah Addison Allen
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: January 21, 2014
ISBN: 9781250019806
Number of Pages: 296
How I Got It: SheReads
Format: Hardcover

NetGalley Description:
From the author of New York Times bestseller Garden Spellscomes a beautiful, haunting story of old loves and new, and the power of the connections that bind us forever…
The first time Eby Pim saw Lost Lake, it was on a picture postcard. Just an old photo and a few words on a small square of heavy stock, but when she saw it, she knew she was seeing her future.
That was half a life ago. Now Lost Lake is about to slip into Eby’s past. Her husband George is long passed. Most of her demanding extended family are gone. All that’s left is a once-charming collection of lakeside cabins succumbing to the Southern Georgia heat and damp, and an assortment of faithful misfits drawn back to Lost Lake year after year by their own unspoken dreams and desires.
It’s a lot, but not enough to keep Eby from relinquishing Lost Lake to a developer with cash in hand, and calling this her final summer at the lake. Until one last chance at family knocks on her door.
Lost Lake is where Kate Pheris spent her last best summer at the age of twelve, before she learned of loneliness, and heartbreak, and loss. Now she’s all too familiar with those things, but she knows about hope too, thanks to her resilient daughter Devin, and her own willingness to start moving forward. Perhaps at Lost Lake her little girl can cling to her own childhood for just a little longer… and maybe Kate herself can rediscover something that slipped through her fingers so long ago.
One after another, people find their way to Lost Lake, looking for something that they weren’t sure they needed in the first place: love, closure, a second chance, peace, a mystery solved, a heart mended. Can they find what they need before it’s too late?
At once atmospheric and enchanting, Lost Lake shows Sarah Addison Allen at her finest, illuminating the secret longings and the everyday magic that wait to be discovered in the unlikeliest of places.
My Review:
The draw of a lazy lake resort equipped with whimsical (albeit run-down) cabins has been on the decline and Eby Pim decides she is ready to sell, thus setting in motion a magical chain of events. Little girl Devin plays dress up and finds a postcard in her attic addressed to her mourning mother, Kate. This postcard sends the two on an adventure and saves them from a wickedly overbearing mother-in-law. Oh Cricket. Control freak Cricket. You had me hating you by page 20! 

Returning to Lost Lake along with Kate and Devin are the elderly spitfires Buhladeen and Selma. These two women's relationship reminds me of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood ladies. Underneath all the bickering and pretended annoyances are two women with tough life stories who are both fiercely independent and interdependent. 

The storyline jumps around a bit with Eby's honeymoon, present day, each character's past, and a bit in between. I had an initial problem keeping the lineage straight between Eby and Kate and how the disconnect happened, but the story does come to light. Eby's family, especially her sister Marilee, became another storyline that had me spitting nails. I've known too many Marilees and Crickets in my life, thankyouverymuch! These storylines had a Gilmore Girls feel to them. Entitlements, money, and control outweigh true family connections. 

Town handyman / pizzeria owner, Wes, and Kate were best buddies during what they both called the best summer of their lives so many years ago. Wes's story is one of heartbreak and abuse, but the forgotten friendship between him and Kate resurfaces and with the help of her daughter, he finds closure and healing. 

Add to all this goodness the aspect of magic realism. Alligators and ghosts made me fondly think of The River Witch. Love charms and familial bonds give a taste of Practical Magic and The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow. 

I was very pleased with this book and glad it was chosen as the She Reads March selection. Read what some of my fellow She Reads bloggers have to say here

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

American Afterlife

Title: American Afterlife: Encounters in the Customs of Mourning
Author: Kate Sweeney
Publisher: University of Georgia Press
Publication Date: March 15, 2014
ISBN:  9780820346007
Number of Pages: 232
How I Got It: NetGalley / Alison Law
Format: Kindle 

Someone dies. What happens next?
A family inters its matriarch’s ashes on the floor of the Atlantic. Another holds a memorial weenie roast at a green burial cemetery. An 1898 ad for embalming fluid promises, “You can make mummies with it!” while a contemporary leading burial vault is touted as impervious to the elements. 150 years ago, a grieving mother might tend a garden at her daughter’s grave. Today, she might tend the roadside memorial she erected at the spot her daughter was killed. One woman wears a locket containing her brother’s hair, the other, a necklace containing his ashes. Someone dies. What happens next depends both upon our personal stories and where those stories fall in a larger tale—that of death in America. It’s a powerful tale. And yet it’s usually hidden from our everyday lives until it happens to us. 
American Afterlife explores the experiences of individual Americans involved with death in a culture where even discussing such things is practically taboo. These chapters follow ordinary people making memorial choices as well as the purveyors of those choices to investigate how we memorialize our dead, where these practices came from, and what this says about us.
The details in these personal stories build upon one another to reveal a landscape that’s usually hidden in our ordinary lives—until the day it’s not. At once strange and familiar, and by turns odd, poignant, and funny, American Afterlife brings fresh insight to the oldest of concerns.

My Review: 
NPR Affiliate Producer Kate Sweeney Explores Americas Traditions and Trends Regarding Death in "American Afterlife: Encounters in the Customs of Mourning”

What originally began as a graduate thesis to explore why death dually fascinates and terrifies most Americans, eventually became the book "American Afterlife: Encounters in the Customs of Mourning." Atlantan Kate Sweeney was a fan of the HBO series "Six Feet Under," and found herself intrigued with "alternative" burials, as well as the Victorian memorial traditions of visiting cemetaries when courting, photographing the dead, and creating memorial jewlery incorporating the deceased's hair. She found that memorial photography was so popular at the end of the 19th century, not because of morbid fascination, but due to the fact that photography was a new technology and someone having their picture taken was rare. Family members chose to have have photos made of their dead relative because that person may have never had their photograph taken while they were alive. A memorial photograph could have been the only photograph ever taken of that person. As for memorial jewelry, the prevelance was more sentimental than factual. The hair of the deceased was woven into "bracelet chains, earrings, wreaths—even purses and tiaras." Hundreds of years before Pinterest, Victorian women’s magazines "featured vexingly difficult craft projects featuring hair."

While the book covers past customs, it also sheds light on changing trends. Such as the fact it is no longer true that cemetaries are the only option for the dead. The rate of cemetary alternatives is rising and The Cremation Association of North America predicts cremation "to outpace “traditional” whole-body burial by 2017."  Other options are "green" burials, which means no metal casket fixtures or embalming fluid, or the deceased can choose to become any variety of gems, ink drawings, plant mulch, artifical coral reefs, fireworks or vinyl records.
Wanting "to satisfy her own curiosity about death, loss and bereavement," Sweeney found it "best to just look the phenomenon in the face to figure it out." She began interviewing obituary writers, funeral home owners and a multitude of people involved in the business of death. Sweeney traveled to New Mexico, Minnesota, Illinois, and South Carolina to visit the National Funeral Director Association headquarters, the Museum of Funeral Customs, attend the 10th Great Obituarist Conference, and participate in an artificial reef "burial." She researched and visited Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery, and spoke with officials about roadside memorial regulations, online sellers of cremation urns, chaplains, a memorial tattoo artist, and a volunteer memorial photographer. After meeting a volunteer photographer who takes photos of stillborn infants she had a revelation and her focus shifted from "Why were the Victorians so death-obsessed?" to "What is our relationship to death now, and maybe: are we a little alienated from it?"

This book explores "how we memorialize our dead, where these practices came from, and what this says about us." Sweeney emphasizes that "this is a book that’s equally about death and life. They’re just two sides of the same coin."

Kate Sweeney teaches workshops for creative writing and is the NPR Affiliate Producer responsible for the bimonthly non-fiction reading series, True Story, on WABE 90.1 FM. Her award winning writing (three Edward R. Murrow awards plus several from the Associated Press) has been featured in an assortment of local and national magazines. "American Afterlife: Encounters in the Customs of Mourning” releases March 15, 2014 from University of Georgia Press. For more information visitAmericanAfterlifeBook.com

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

** This review is due to appear in the April edition of Buckhaven Lifestyle magazine (BuckhavenLifestyle.com) **

A Place at the Table

Yippee!!  I'm so excited that the paperback edition of A Place at the Table, has been named a Target Club Pick for March! You can pick up your copy on Tuesday, March 4th.   

I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of this wonderful novel in August and I loved it. I chose it as one of my Top Reads of 2013 and am so happy that more readers will be able to enjoy this novel now in a paperback edition.

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. 

My Review:
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. Especially Meemaw's Pound Cake!

Susan is expecting her first baby on April 7 and recently wrote a blog post about Upcoming Births

Follow Susan is on Twitter at @susanrebwhite and visit her Facebook author page http://www.facebook.com/susanrebeccawhitebooks.