#BookReview: The Southern Way Of Life by Charles Reagan Wilson

Solid Exposition, Lacking Bibliography. This book is truly a phenomenal look at southern culture from the time the first Europeans came to the southern North American region through today and how various in and out groups have viewed and shaped that culture along the way. Divided into a few different eras, Reagan truly does an excellent job of showing just what Southern culture and Southern Civilization meant to the various peoples of the given eras and how those views would come to shape later generations. Indeed, the only issue I could find with this book (even given its 600+ page length!) was that its bibliography comprised just 10% or so of the text, when 20-30% is more normal for a nonfiction text in my experience across literally hundreds of Advance Review Copies over the last few years alone. Thus, the one star deduction – which even I admit may be debatable in this particular case, as 10% of a 600+ page book *is* 20-30% of a 200-300 page book. Still, I’ve seen similar length books still hit that 20-30% mark, so I’m sticking to my guns here even as I openly admit others may feel different. Very much recommended.

This review of The Southern Way of Life by Charles Reagan Wilson was originally written on November 22, 2022.

#BookReview: Bet On It by Jodie Slaughter

Gen Z Mental Health Dang Near Erotica… Romantic Comedy? Up front, there was nothing technically wrong about this story – hence the five stars here. There is nothing for me to hang a star deduction on as objectively wrong here, and indeed there are several things to actively like. Such as the interracial romance in the South, where neither character tries to bring in bygone eras that were dead long before either of them were alive. As a Xennial / elder Millenial Southerner, this was genuinely refreshing to see in novel form, since so many try to depict the South as some racial tension hotbed that isn’t actually present in reality. Or at least that’s not what the *entire* South is, nor any that I’ve ever experienced in a lifetime of living here. So for fellow Southerners tired of so many novels looking down on us and trying to force depictions of us that aren’t always accurate… give this one a try, I think you’ll like it. ๐Ÿ™‚

Now, onto the stuff that those same fellow Southerners might actually have more of an issue with.

For one, if you don’t like hot and heavy, dang near erotica level sex in a book… this one isn’t for you, no matter where you’re from. If you prefer “sweet” / “clean” romances where the couple barely kisses or where anything beyond maybe heavy kissing is “behind closed doors”… this book isn’t going to be something you enjoy. There are two sex acts performed essentially in public – one in a car in a parking lot, the other inside the Mayor’s Mansion during a town festival (and on a couch in a room, rather than in some closet!). Along these lines, there was much talk of condoms and STI testing (at least at first), and again, these are some issues that I know some will LOVE being included but others will wish had not been, so either way you now know to expect them and can proceed according to your own attitudes on the subject. ๐Ÿ™‚

For another, and this is absolutely one where your mileage may vary depending on any number of factors, there is a LOT of talk about mental health here, to the level of being fairly preachy at times – particularly in espousing a more Gen Z view of the field. Both of our leads suffer from anxiety, and at times it feels the focus of the book is on these issues rather than anything remotely romantic or even comedic. While it is absolutely refreshing to see these issues discussed so openly, and I absolutely love that a book featuring this is on the market, I also realize that it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. So hey, better to skip the book because I warned you than to read it and leave a 1 star review complaining about all the “pansy ass whiny bullcrap” or some such that I know several people personally would absolutely complain about. ๐Ÿ™‚

In the end though, this *was* a mostly fun, relatively light (particularly given its subject matter) romantic comedy, and it *does* work within that genre, just far from your typical entry there. As someone who constantly seeks new wrinkles I hadn’t seen before, I enjoyed it from that side in particular. Very much recommended.

This review of Bet On It by Jodie Slaughter was originally written on July 6, 2022.

#BlogTour: The German Wife by Kelly Rimmer

For this blog tour, we’re looking at an excellent book where I found some of the secondary characters even more intriguing than our leads. For this blog tour, we’re looking at The German Wife by Kelly Rimmer.

Here’s what I had to say on Goodreads:

Evil Isn’t Born. It Is Created. Of all the WWII historical fiction books I’ve read over the years – and at this point, it is a decent number – this is the first to highlight one particular scenario that I’m almost positive has impacted my own life. Specifically, Rimmer does a phenomenal job with one of her characters fighting in WWII and having a particular experience that I’m nearly positive (as much as I can be, given the dearth of records) my own grandfather had a very similar one. She shows how, particularly if the soldier perhaps had already endured some level of trauma, this particular experience (and I’m being intentionally vague to avoid spoilers) could truly push them off the deep end and take them from troubled-yet-manageable to outright evil. But even there, Rimmer takes care to show that there is still hope that the person can be redeemed. Similarly, she also uses another character in a similar mold, but at a much different age and on the opposite side of the war. Rimmer does a great job with making the story hit notes not always seen in this genre, and in the process manages to humanize many types of people that are all too often dehumanized by various groups today. Truly an astounding work, and very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The German Wife by Kelly Rimmer”

#BookReview: The Lost Book Of Eleanor Dare by Kimberly Brock

Interesting Twist On Dual Timeline Historical Fiction. Over the course of 800+ books in the last three years alone, I’ve read quite a few dual timeline historical fiction books. Generally, one of the timelines is “current”, or at least mostly current – end of the 20th century at its oldest. Here, the “current” timeline is actually much older – the last months of WWII – and the “older” timeline is *much* older – 16th century. The poetic prose here highlights the idealized South of the pre-air conditioning era… and yet also doesn’t shy away from discussing some of its lower points, including both slavery and extrajudicial murders. (I intentionally don’t use a particular “l” word there, as it generally has connotations that do not apply in the particular situation in the book.) All of this is wrapped around the mysterious Dare stones and how so many of them could be judged to be fake… except the first one, Eleanor Dare’s stone and the tale therein inscribed isn’t necessarily so easily dismissed. The care Brock takes to show an atypical yet also completely realistic and plausible tale of what happened and why to Ms. Dare is quite remarkable, and indeed this shines through in the variety of other situations portrayed in this book as well. It quickly becomes readily apparent that Ms. Brock is a Southern storyteller of the best form – one that doesn’t excuse the atrocities of our past, yet one that also respects the real and vibrant cultures of the era, showing that even while misguided on particular points, the overall people were not the monsters many non-Southern (or even Southern of particular political persuasions) writers portray them as. Truly a remarkable work in so many ways, and very much recommended.

This review of The Lost Book Of Eleanor Dare by Kimberly Brock was originally written on April 23, 2022.

#BookReview: The Santa Suit by Mary Kay Andrews

Book Version of Hallmark Christmas Movie. The title is basically all you need to know here. If you like the Hallmark Christmas Movie craze, you’re going to love this book. If that isn’t really your thing… you should still try this book out, since it *is* funny and includes a compelling small-town mystery of long-lost family. This is an excellently written story that fits well within the space intended, and thus is another sure-fire winner for an author who seems to be in that “groove” now. All the feels, a touch of humor, a dash of Christmas magic, and no true anxiety/ fear inducing drama. Truly, all you can really ask for in a story of this type. Oh, and this one is a short and easy read too – perfect for a quick bite to get you in the Christmas spirit or to kick off your three months of Christmas. Or for when your family is over for Christmas and you need a break! ๐Ÿ™‚ Very much recommended.

This review of The Santa Suit by Mary Kay Andrews was originally written on August 19, 2021.

Featured New Release Of The Week: What’s Left Unsaid by Emily Bleeker

This week we’re looking at an interesting look at race relations in the South by an author who was raised in the South yet lives deep within Yankee country now. This week we’re looking at What’s Left Unsaid by Emily Bleeker.

Here’s what I had to say about it on Goodreads:

Solid Work of Fiction. This is a difficult one. There is *so much* “white people are evil” “racial discussion” through the first 2/3 of the book that at the time it looked like it would be my first *ever* 4* review for this author (and I’ve reviewed *all* of her prior books, either after publication or, as in this case, as advance reader copies). That noted, it *did* have a couple of moments of calling out the white guilt in ways I’ve often wanted to scream myself. Between these moments and the back third largely dropping these discussions in favor of more deeply diving into the substance of the tale at hand, the latest 5* review was indeed saved, as the story overall is in fact that strong – particularly that back third, when the various discussions and plot threads are woven together quite remarkably… and explosively. Indeed, while it is not known if the *exact* resolution of everything is real, one could very easily imagine it being so. I read for escapism, and if you’re looking for that particular goal in the current environment… maybe wait a few years to read this one. But realize that this one was effectively finished (minus the polishing and publication mechanics) right as the race wars of the summer of 2020 were exploding, which alone provides a degree of context for much of those discussions. Overall a truly strong book for what it is, and still very much recommended.

And for the first time in a very long time, I actually have some additional commentary here. ๐Ÿ˜€

Emily is a long time Facebook friend. Indeed, a lot of the areas I now work heavily in within the ARC world, she was the one that got me into the early steps of. I had read her debut book, WRECKAGE, years ago and LOVE it, and when she posted about an opportunity to join up with an ARC group for her publisher, I jumped on it. But she and I have had *dramatically* different experiences with race in the South, even as white adults of a similar age (+/- just 5 yrs or so). This book is actually based in part on letters uncovered in her own family research there in the actual town in Mississippi she places the book in, and the book is what she saw growing up.

But for me, my own formative years as a Child of the South were truly *extremely* different. Right around the time I was reading this book – and likely why I had such a strong reaction to it those weeks ago – I found out that my former elementary school Principal had died seemingly unknown in a minor one car accident on a somewhat back road in my hometown – the very day of the Atlanta Spa Shootings that grabbed national headline among accusations of racism. What is significant here is my own relationship with that man, Mr. Ralph Lowe, in particular. Mr. Lowe was a black teacher in the exurbs outside of Atlanta in the late 1970s, when he would become one of my dad’s high school teachers. A few years later, he was my own elementary school Principal, and just given the era had to be among the first – possibly *the* first – of his race to hold that title in that school system. But despite being active in causes and boards seeking to genuinely help his people – often quietly/ without media attention – throughout his life, and despite being of an age when he or his siblings likely actively participated in the Civil Rights Movement, Mr. Lowe demanded one thing and one thing only: That everyone treat him with the respect of his position, but otherwise exactly as they would anyone else. This was a point my dad emphasized himself emphatically in one memorable situation where I don’t remember what exactly I did to cause it (though I know that given the era, I did in fact do *something*), but dad – a product of his own era and location – made it *crystal* clear that I was to respect and obey Mr. Lowe just as much as I did my dad himself. In another foundational moment – really moments, as this was repeated much throughout my childhood, whenever my own step grandfather, the only “second grandfather” I ever knew after my natural one (dad’s father) died five weeks after my birth – would utter the infamous “N” word – my mom made it equally emphatic that her children were to *never* use that word under *any* circumstances. And again, my step-grandfather had been the product of his own generation and location, having been born deep in the Jim Crowe area in the area in the northwest corner of Alabama near Muscle Shoals. But I grew up in the 80s and 90s along the very route of that war criminal terrorist bastard William Tecumseh Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. I literally graduated high school within steps of rails of the Great Locomotive Chase at Adairsville and I graduated college in the same town the event had begun in, Kennesaw, Georgia. My college alma mater’s logo for years bore the outline of the mountain made famous during Sherman’s campaign that sits just a few miles from campus. My hometown, along the rails of the Locomotive Chase roughly halfway between the two, literally still bears the scars of Sherman’s actions via former train track pylons in the Etowah River whose tracks his men destroyed. And yet despite being steeped in so much history just from growing up where I did, my parents taught me *very* different lessons than what so much of society then and now wanted to preach. Growing up on the lower end of middle class (if we were even that high), I was shielded from the worst effects of American poverty – which is admittedly a much higher standard of living than the truly abject poverty I’ve seen even in my adult travels in the Caribbean. While I grew up in a trailer until just after I turned 12, my parents made it a point that we would always have food, clothing, shelter, and each other. Yes, this was helped at times by family (including my farmer/ hunter grandfather who would give us enough venison to last the winter, and who himself had not only survived the Battle of the Bulge, but had won a Purple Heart and Silver Star for his actions there… and then *never spoke of them*, not in the 20 years I knew the man and apparently not even in the 40+ my mother knew her own father). So with regards to *race*, I was taught to neither see nor treat anyone any differently at all, and any time I fell out of that standard the standard was very pointedly reinforced. With regards to *socioeconomic status*… other than one cousin (in a *very* large family) that I never really knew, I am the first to actually graduate college in my family. And thus in going from trailer park kid to now Assistant Vice President of a Forbes 50 company… I’ve seen a bit along the way. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But that is an entirely different story.

Read Emily’s book. It really is excellent, and she really is a truly amazing storyteller. My point with the above is more that hers, and the common media narrative, are not the *only* stories of my homeland and its people. And I urge you to seek out others, perhaps more similar to my own, as well.

But stop reading this and go read Emily’s book. ๐Ÿ˜€