Source: purchased

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Book Review: Coptown

July 26, 2014 Book Review, reviews 5

Book Review: CoptownCoptown by Karin Slaughter
Published by Delacorte Press on June 24th, 2014
Genres: Fiction, Thriller
Pages: 416
Source: purchased
Amazon
Goodreads

 

Atlanta, Georgia, 1974.  Racial tensions are high.  Women are pushing the standard.  Anyone not white male is suspect and marginalized.  Enter Maggie, a female cop in a family of cops, but not one of the family.  Maggie is pushed, belittled, abused and in essence “encouraged” to find a man, have babies and let the men do the real jobs.  Maggie’s not giving in, not giving up.  Trained by Gail, a hardened chain-smoking undercover playing prostitute, Maggie has learned how to let most of the squad’s antics roll off of her back.  The antics of her bigoted self-righteous uncle and golden-boy brother not so much.

Coptown begins with Katy joining the force and Maggie stuck with the blonde, buxom Dutch from the ritzy side of town known to this day as Buckhead.  The day Katy enters the station for roll call is the first day after Maggie’s brother escaped “The Shooter” by carrying his injured partner ten blocks to Grady Hospital on a bum knee.  The station is in an uproar as this is the third pair of cops targeted by The Shooter.  The women on the force are expected to handle minor offenses while the ‘real men’ go after the bad guys.  That means all the male cops are rounding up anyone who moves or breathes on the street and not really doing any detecting.  Maggie’s not having that though – her brother was shot and, though they don’t speak, she’s got his back.  But Maggie is also stuck with a newbie.

The character development of Maggie and Kate weaves in and out like a beautiful tapestry.  The partners are completely different from one another yet their stories overlap to create this perfect symbiotic relationship.  The strength of both women awed me but it was their weaknesses that revealed the true strength of Kate and Maggie.

I’ve seen a couple of presentations by Karin Slaughter at the Decatur Book Festival and she is such an engaging speaker that immerses herself in research before writing her novels and, man, does it show.  Y’all know I’m from North Georgia so having Atlanta as the backdrop was especially great for me.  But Slaughter didn’t just make Atlanta a backdrop – she made Atlanta a living, breathing entity.  {from the author’s Acknowledgments: “Please keep in mind that Atlanta is not just one city — every experience is unique.}.  From Cabbage Town to Buckhead to Grady Hospital, Slaughter had me nodding my head and thankful she gets the city.  Of course she should as she’s from Atlanta!

Since finishing Coptown I’ve been asking those in the know about their experiences in the early 1970’s.  To see what these women went through in order to bust through the system and be on the police force it’s astonishing they survived!  Same with every other population not white male – the Jewish culture was still reeling from WWII AND prejudice on the home front not to mention what the blacks were going through.

Coptown is on my very short list of most favorite books for 2014.  Coptown has everything a good thriller should have and yet so much more – great characters, a plot that just does not slow down, evil bad guys and even evil good guys.  Don’t miss this one if you like a good thriller.  The only reason you’ll put it down is to take a deep breath between chapters {especially if you fit into any of the marginalized society populations – black, Jewish, female, Chinese, Japanese, purple dinosaur, etc}.

Do share – what sticks out in your memory of 1974?

 

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Book Review: Dollbaby

July 11, 2014 Book Review, reviews 7

Book Review: DollbabyDollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal
Published by Pamela Dorman Imprint on July 3rd, 2014
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 352
Source: purchased
Goodreads

 

I cannot recall where I read about this book but it sounded like THE perfect southern fiction read to tempt me away from the tumbling stack of review books.  Southern fiction has soared to the top of my favorite genre – it’s like coming home although I’m already home.  I’m guessing most of us feel that way when we read novels from our particular culture?

Twelve year old Ibby {short for Liberty Alice Bell} loses her beloved father in a tragic biking accident, Ibby’s mother moves her from Washington state to New Orleans {practically another country} and then drops Liberty off in front of her paternal grandmother’s home holding the urn with her father’s ashes.  Ibby’s mother, Vidrine, doesn’t even see fit to walk Ibby inside to meet the grandmother she never knew.  Vidrine and her late husband’s mother, Fannie, did not get along to put things a bit mildly.  Fannie is a unique creature.  To say much more about her would give the story away.

Whenever there’s a loss, there’s bound to be a gain somewhere else.  You just have to know where to look for it. {Fannie}

Fannie’s long-time servants, Queenie and Dollbaby round out the household in the old rambling antebellum mansion in the heart of New Orleans.  Queenie and Dollbaby take it upon themselves to teach Ibby the ins and outs of southern culture.

To tell you that McNeal used the backdrop of New Orleans as a primary character would not be spoiler-material.  To tell you that McNeal’s best, most thoroughly drawn out character is the Crescent City would also not be spoiler-material.  Finally, to tell you that you’ll be craving, and I do mean CRAVING, some good gumbo or crawfish after reading Dollbaby is  only fair warning 😉

This here is the Holy Trinity.  Onion, celery, and poivron, or what some folks call bell pepper.  Along with a touch of garlic and a smidgen of cayenne pepper, the Holy Trinity goes into just about everything I cook. {Queenie}

I have mixed feelings with my recommendation of Dollbaby.  Why?  Well, I felt like there were moments in the book that felt disjointed and characters who did not really change over time other than get a few years older.  Events would happen and rather than seamlessly moving on I felt like the next events did not flow with what just happened.   Suspending belief is the term I’m looking for – a couple of situations in the book were wrapped up way too neatly and I felt like the author could not decide which type of message she wanted Dollbaby to be – was it about Vietnam War? changes in America during the 60s? racial relations and tensions? the evolving role of the woman both white and black in the 60s. . .there were several story lines that could have been more fleshed out.

While I have a bit of reservation in wholeheartedly recommending Dollbaby, I do plan to read Laura Lane McNeal’s next novel, especially if it’s set in New Orleans {I’ll just make sure to put the gumbo on early}.  Seriously, she’s got star talent.  If she can make her characters come alive like she can her city then her books will soar off the shelves.

Dollbaby is a story about overcoming the obstacles we find in our lives and living life to the fullest every moment of every day.  Life changes on a dime haven’t you heard?  Have you read it?  Do you find yourself drawn to books about your geographical culture, i.e.- Southern, Midwestern, Canadian, etc?

 

 

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Book Club Read: Orange is the New Black

July 8, 2014 Book Review, reviews 16

Book Club Read: Orange is the New BlackOrange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
Published by Clarkson Potter, Crown Publishing Group on April 6th, 2010
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction
Pages: 298
Source: purchased
Goodreads

 

So y’all know I adore my book club with all my heart and think they are the coolest bunch of ladies in town, right? Well, now I have proof! Check out this picture of us vamping for the camera in our best orange {and black} for the July book club event. We are missing a handful of ladies but we still had an intense discussion about Orange is the New Black {both the book and the Netflix series.}

I didn’t get a picture of the food we had as I was starving and not even thinking about sharing with y’all. We decided that none of us wanted a taste of prison food so instead each of us brought a dish we would miss the most if we found ourselves in a prison cell. I have to tell you the absolute sweetest thing – my daughter Gabrielle {below on far left} brought chili. Y’all know how chili is my favorite food of all time and has been since I was about 8 years old. I’ve worried in the past that my kids would turn into chili-haters because I would make it all. the. time. Instead, chili was Gabrielle’s ‘would miss the most dish’ along with Red Lobster cheese biscuits. We also had fresh fruit and dip made by my oldest daughter {2nd from the left} which was inhaled  before we even started on the meal. A watermelon salad, fresh-from-the-garden veggie wraps and creamed corn rounded out our meal. Of course wine and beer were a necessity – can’t have book club without the wine!

bookclub

If you’ve been under a rock {like me} and have not read this one or seen the series it’s about Piper Kerman and her year in a women’s prison in Connecticut. Piper found herself out of sorts after graduating from Smith College, sought adventure and ended up immersed in drug trafficking. She quickly realized that this was not the adventure she had been seeking, blew off all of her ties, moved to San Francisco and proceeded to get on with her life. Piper eventually met Larry, they moved in together and it seemed that happily ever after was attainable. Dun, dun, dun. . . .then came the knock on the door 5 years after Piper escaped the drug business. People had been arrested, names were being thrown around and although she was a pretty blonde/blue eyed white girl from an Ivy League school that did not prevent her from being charged and convicted. For a variety of reasons, it was another 5 years before she had to surrender to the Danbury Federal Prison. Orange is the New Black takes us behind the prison bars to what life is really like in a federal prison and to Piper’s realization of the consequences of her actions as a wayward adventure-seeker.

What made me finally recognize the indifferent cruelty of my own past wasn’t the constraints put on me by the U.S. government, nor the debt I had amassed for legal fees, nor the fact that I could not be with the man I loved. It was sitting and talking and working with and knowing the people who suffered because of what people like me had done.

Although there are sections that tend to drag just a little in the book {and the series}, we all felt Orange is the New Black should be required reading for all women. Why? Yes these women are criminals and yes they should do their time but, at the minimum, basic human needs must be met. Women in prison should be safe from attack by the guards and treated with a modicum of dignity. Did you know that with Bush’s War on Drugs we now have over 800,000 women in prison for minor drug crimes. There were accounts of women in federal prison who were serving years due to conviction as a non-violent protester while a guard convicted of raping an inmate served ONE MONTH. Tell me the rationale in that.

A lengthy term of community service working with addicts on the outside world would probably have driven the same truth home and been a hell of a lot more productive for the community. But our current criminal justice system has no provision for restorative justice, in which an offender confronts the damage they have done and tries to make it right to the people they have harmed. . .Instead, our system of “corrections” is about arm’s-length revenge and retribution, all day and all night. Then its overseers wonder why people leave prison more broken than when they went in.

I could go on and on about the atrocities of our social justice system. You’re here to know if the book is good or not; not to hear my rantings about social justice. Read it folks. There’s a bit of something for everyone in it. While I’ve never been a fan of a memoir, Orange is the New Black reads like a fiction novel. Piper is conversational, a bit sarcastic at times, and a character that, while you may not feel relatable, you will at least find yourself immersed in her story. Personally, I have not seen the show. Everyone else at book club raved about it and we compared notes about similarities/differences to the book. The biggest difference we found is that in the book, Larry, the boyfriend, is uber supportive of Piper throughout the entire ordeal. In the Netflix series, Larry and Piper have a much different relationship. The questions we used came straight from Piper’s website. There’s an excerpt available on her site as well.

I’d love to know if you’ve read the book or watched the series. What’s your opinion about our social justice system – is it ok? does it need work? or a complete overhaul? Share with me in the comments your thoughts and let’s get a discussion going!

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Book Review: The Hurricane Sisters

June 24, 2014 Book Review, reviews 5

Book Review:  The Hurricane SistersThe Hurricane Sisters by Dorothea Benton Frank
Published by William Morrow on June 3rd, 2014
Genres: chick-lit, Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: purchased
Amazon
Goodreads

 

The Hurricane Sisters follows three generations of women living in Charleston and adjacent Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina.  As in any family, this one has its share of dysfunctions, secrets and drama.  The novel opens with the celebration of Maisie’s 80th birthday – mother to Liz and grandmother to Ivy {childhood nickname from his  Clayton Bernard Waters, IV} and his younger sister, Ashley.  Ivy escaped the family drama and emotional digs by moving to San Francisco, but when he brings his partner both in business and in life to the birthday celebration, mom and dad cannot help but express their disapproval of his lifestyle.

The same is true for Ashley.  She is living in her parent’s beach house on Sullivan’s Island with roommate and best friend, Mary Beth {for free}.  Both girls are only making around $10/hour in their respective jobs although roommate Mary Beth has her teaching degree and Ashley “wasted” her time in college studying art.  Clayton and Liz express their disapproval of daughter and Ashley’s seemingly wasting her life away {and parental financial support} by working in an art gallery and painting in the shed behind the beach house.

Grandmother Maisie gets her shots in by being overly supportive of her grandkids and their choices and by bringing up her deceased daughter and Liz’s sister, Juliet, in every other sentence.  This, of course, leads Liz to be extremely jealous and even more combative towards her mother and hateful to her daughter.

Whew! With a family like that who needs enemies, right?

Father Clayton does some kind of investment work in New York City during the week and is home in Charleston on the weekends.  Mother Liz works for the local domestic violence shelter and is quite passionate about her work with the shelter.   Clayton and Liz hired 60 years young debonair, Skipper, to be Maisie’s driver and helpmate but to their mortification, Skipper becomes Maisie’s young stud and moves in with her {the announcement is made at Maisie’s birthday dinner!}.

Just your average southern family.

I really wanted to like this one.  I’ve only read one of Frank’s fifteen novels, Shem Creek, probably a hundred years ago and remember enjoying it, and everything I’ve ever read is so glowing about Dottie Frank’s novels.  I just knew I would love this one.

But.

Perhaps it’s that I’ve been reading more literary fiction rather than contemporary women’s fiction?  I found the dialogue to be grating and stilted.  I understand how the slang words used were part of the storyline, but overall the conversations between the characters {in my opinion} just did not seem real or to flow well.  What does “YOLO” mean anyways? I have an 18, 20, and 22 year old and they don’t talk like that.  At all.

The point of view disagreed with me.  While typically I enjoy hearing from different characters, The Hurricane Sisters had Maisie, Clayton, Liz, and Ashley all taking on different chapters and talking to the reader as if we were sitting in a bar and they were disclosing their most intimate family secrets to me, a perfect stranger.  For example, Clayton’s chapter begins with “Sorry to interrupt but you need to know my story too.”

The neat wrap-up, during an almost hurricane no less, did not seem to be plausible, and it felt rushed – as if Frank had run out of steam with the story.

The things I DID like about The Hurricane Sisters are solid and shows Frank’s ability to know her characters.

The research Frank did into domestic violence was spot on.  The grooming and mind control of a victim;  the victim second and third guessing her own judgment; family members discounting or not recognizing signs and perpetrators being the least expected guy in the room.  Frank did an excellent job showing how even the brightest person can fall under the spell of a sweet-tongued devil.

Another aspect of the novel that resonated with me {probably because of the age of my own children} was the push and pull of Ashley and her parents regarding parental support.  At what point do you push your babies out of the nest and expect them to fly?  Frank really got it with her ability to show the relationship of allowing your child to grow up, stepping back as a parent while learning to be that parent to your adult children.  does that make sense? Much different from being a parent to a 10 year old that’s for sure!

Dorothea Benton Frank is the loveliest of authors – I was fortunate to attend a luncheon with her recently and was completely charmed by her.  Which makes not loving this book the much harder to actually share with you.  With that said, please do tell me in the comments above what you thought of this one if you’ve read it.  Goodreads is filled with positive reviews of The Hurricane Sisters so please do check out some of the other opinions.

What was the last book you read that you expected to enjoy but really just didn’t?  

Was it by an author you truly like and admired?  

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Beyond the Borders with Please Look After Mom

May 29, 2014 Book Review, reviews 15

Beyond the Borders with Please Look After MomPlease Look After Mom by Shin Kyung-sook
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing on April 5, 2011 {originally 2008}
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Pages: 280
Source: purchased
Amazon
Goodreads

 

 

Several years ago I attended a specialized leadership course with a concentration on cultural diversity.  Of all the courses and conferences and workshops I’ve ever attended, that one was probably the most overall beneficial to my work and my life.  We all have prejudices; that’s a fact.  How we choose to act or even react to those prejudices is what makes us or breaks us.

Diversity takes on new meaning when looking inside the publishing world.  Accusations/discussions of book covers being whitewashed, disproportionate numbers of male authors winning literary awards as compared to their female counterparts, and the hoopla around BookExpo America that the Associated Press calls a “convention predominantly organized by whites, spotlighting books predominantly written, edited and published by whites.”  With all that it seems to me that the publishing industry could use that cultural diversity course I took!

So, in discovering what the discussion topics would be for this week’s Armchair BEA I was so pleased to have saved this particular book review.  Last weekend our book club met to discuss Please Look After Mom, an award-winning translated novel set in South Korea.  Yes, you read that right – the location was South Korea, the characters were ALL South Korean and the author was a female with a female translator!  {oh, and she won a few awards for this book too!}  A beautiful yet heart-breaking portrait of how a family discovers mom is an individual and not “just mom.”

The mom in this novel disappears at a hectic subway station in Seoul while trying to keep up with her husband.  When the family gathers to create flyers to post around the neighborhood they realize that they don’t have a recent picture of mom.  The story continues in the voice of the daughter, Chi-hon, eldest son Hyong-chol and the husband.  Each takes a turn at inner reflection and guilt in their part in mom’s disappearance, lack of photos, and basic deplorable behavior toward their mother.

In our book club we talked about our own mother’s and how this book made us look at the relationship {or lack thereof} that we have with this woman who gave us life.

To you, Mom was always Mom.  It never occurred to you that she had once taken her first step, or had once been three or twelve or twenty years old. Mom was Mom.  She was born as Mom.

This is a book that should be read by anyone with a mom.  The initial diving in takes a bit of getting used to as it is written in 2nd person “You.”  At first I thought it was the way the book was translated but by the end of the first section the point of view was apparent, easily understood and added to the reading experience.

The fourth part is Mom’s own story, in her words, and had me anxious to get to book club so I could see if I was guessing correctly about where mom went – sometimes I can be just a little slower on the uptake 😉

It was fascinating to read about some of the differences in culture and yet also some of the very same ways marriage and motherhood are viewed the world over.  How the first-born, especially the male first-born, is revered in the South Korean culture was disconcerting yet also reminded me of how things are in the Southern United States.  In my family on my mom’s side, the males were also revered.  Was it a cultural thing? a farming thing? Who knows – but it was interesting to see the similarities and differences.

I wish I had taken pictures of the food – especially the Kimchi with squid – but alas, I didn’t.  I can tell you what all we had though!  My book club likes to cook food that goes along with the book so for Please Look After Mom we had traditional Korean food.  Our resident vegetarian brought the most delicious Korean Veggie Pancakes aka Pajun.  One of our members couldn’t make it, but she cooked enough food for all of us AND all of YOU  – she sent three huge containers of Kimchi – the one with the squid, a fermented version and a regular version.  Oh my gosh was it s.p.i.c.y.  We also had fried rice and Korean barbecue beef, Spicy Korean Cucumber Salad aka Oi Muchim, and copious amounts of wine.  My oldest daughter hosted so we had an extra attendee – the Little Monkey provided the first dessert of Chips Ahoy cookies – he made certain to pass one cookie to each of us which was too too precious. . .then we had fresh strawberries and cream. . .of which the Little Monkey ate half.  All in all we had a marvelous time and so much food!  Please join us for our next book club – we will probably have enough food!

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