Thursday, November 28, 2013

Introducing...Going Home by A. American

Introducing books through the first chapter or so...

This had been a good week. I worked from home all week until Wednesday, when I got a call and had to make a quick trip. The next day I had to run up to southern Georgia for a service call, but first I was going to finish polishing the stove. I picked up a little box woodstove at a yard sale. It looked rough, rusted all to hell. A little elbow grease and several wire wheels for the grinder, and she looked great. Now I was just finishing the stove polish.

-- Going Home by A. American

Friday, November 22, 2013

QUICK REVIEW: The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature by Tammi Hartung


This one-of-a-kind book shows you how to create a peaceful co-existence between your vegetable garden and the wildlife who consider it part of their habitat. By understanding and working with the surrounding environment instead of continually fighting it you ll reap a larger harvest with much less stress and effort. Tammi Hartungexplains how to start with a hardy and healthy garden, create beneficial relationships through smart planting, attract helpful insects and pollinators, intentionally create habitats for wildlife, and much more.

Paperback, 144 pages
Expected publication: December 31st 2013 by Storey Publishing
ISBN 1612120555 (ISBN13: 9781612120553)

My Thoughts

This book may be a guide to helping gardeners coexist with wildlife, but it doesn’t read like a reference manual. It is almost like a memoir of the life of a gardener. 

It is full of wonderful ideas for attracting wildlife to your garden, and living cordially with them when you succeed.

The author suggests keeping a “nature journal”. The author will sit in the garden with the journal and jot down her observations-- what she did (fertilizing, trimming, planting), what she saw, problems noted-- so she can see how her actions affect the garden, and what changes she may need to make. She also notes wildlife spotted, and what can be done to keep them coming around without causing conflict in the garden, or where they may need to be deterred.

This book was chock full of little ideas and lessons, many of which I had never heard:

  • There are lots of pollinators you have never considered, including bats and flies.
  • Bumblebees are attracted to blue flowers.
  • Honeybees aren’t native to the US, but were brought here by the colonists from Europe.
  • Butterflies and moths are often attracted to flowers similar in color to themselves.
  • Weeds aren’t always a bad thing. Some are edible (if you don’t treat your lawn with pesticides and the like), and many are food sources for wildlife.
  • Ants don't like cinnamon. Put a line of ground cinnamon on the baseboard at the entrance to your kitchen, or around lettuce and strawberries.
  • Sprinkle crushed chili peppers where animals dig (although this didn't work with keeping my cat out of my potted plants when I tried it years ago).
  • Birds have no sense of smell
  • Use decoy plants, like radishes to lure flea beetles away from broccoli, or sunflowers to lure birds from berry bushes.
  • Mint repels rodents
She also mentions a crafty way to deal with hornworms. One person grows an extra tomato plant, and whenever she finds a tomato hornworm, she just moves it to that plant in order preserve the others. It's a win-win!

The author also gives examples of how nature will take care of things, if you just leave it alone and allow it. She relays an example of discovering horned tomato caterpillars. But when viewing them with a magnifying glass, she then noticed little white rice-shaped bits on the backs of the caterpillars. She realized that parasitic wasps had laid eggs on the caterpillars, and those eggs had hatched into larvae which were now feeding on the caterpillars. Problem solved!
...I didn’t need to use an organic pesticide. The larvae of the wasps took care of the whole situation efficiently, and as nature intended, keeping my tomato plants safe.
This book helps you consider things you may not have otherwise.
...putting up a nest box for solitary bees (i.e., bee species that, unlike honeybees, are not communal) in a tree near a birdbath could result in the bees becoming snacks for the bathing birds. Better to put the bee box in a different part of the garden landscape.
If you are a gardener, or if you enjoy welcoming wildlife into your yard, but want to avoid conflict with it, this book is for you! Interspersed with charming, homey illustrations, it is like taking a walk with the author through her backyard while she teaches you a thing or two about nature and living harmoniously with it.

My Rating: B  


I received a free copy of this ebook through Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Introducing...Red Sky in Morning by Paul Lynch

Introducing books through the first chapter or so...

Night sky was black and then there was blood, morning crack of light on the edge of the earth. The crimson spill sent the bright stars to fade, hills stepping out of shadow and clouds finding flesh. First rain of the day from a soundless sky and music it made of the land. The trees let slip the mantle of darkness, stretched themselves, fingers of leaves shivering in the breeze, red then goldening rays of light catching. The rain stopped and he heard the birds wake. They blinked and shook their heads and scattered song upon the sky. The land, old and tremulous, turned slowly towards the rising sun.

-- Red Sky in Morning by Paul Lynch



NOS4A2 is a spine-tingling novel of supernatural suspense from master of horror Joe Hill, the New York Times bestselling author of Heart-Shaped Box and Horns.

Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.

Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”

Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.

Hardcover, 1st edition, 692 pages
Published April 30th 2013 by William Morrow
ISBN 0062200577 (ISBN13: 9780062200570)

About the Author
from Goodreads

Joseph Hillstrom King (born 1972) is an American writer of fiction, writing under the pen name of Joe Hill.

Hill is the the second child of authors Stephen King and Tabitha King. His younger brother Owen King is also a writer. He has three children.

Hill's first book, the limited edition collection 20th Century Ghosts published in 2005 by PS Publishing), showcases fourteen of his short stories and won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Fiction Collection, together with the British Fantasy Award for Best Collection and Best Short Story for "Best New Horror". In October 2007, Hill's mainstream US and UK publishers reprinted 20th Century Ghosts, without the extras published in the 2005 slipcased versions, but including one new story.

Hill's first novel, Heart-Shaped Box, was published by William Morrow/HarperCollins on February 13, 2007 and by Victor Gollancz Ltd in UK in March 2007. Simultaneous to these two editions, a limited edition of Heart-Shaped Box was also released by Subterranean Press; it sold out several months prior to publication. The novel reached number 8 on the New York Times bestseller list on April 1, 2007.

His new novel Horns was published in 2010.

Hill chose to use an abbreviated form of his given name (a reference to executed labor leader Joe Hill, for whom he was named) in 1997, out of a desire to succeed based solely on his own merits instead of as the son of Stephen King. After achieving a degree of independent success, Hill publicly confirmed his identity in 2007 after an article the previous year in Variety broke his cover (although online speculation about Hill's family background had been appearing since 2005).

Check out the author's website
Follow the author on Twitter

My Thoughts
Nurse Thornton dropped into the long-term-care ward a little before eight with a hot bag of blood for Charlie Manx.
Vic learns as a young girl that she has the unique ability to find things. See, she has this special bridge that she can ride across to wherever she wishes, and find things that were lost. One day she will need to use this ability in order to find her son, after he is kidnapped by child abductor Charles Manx, who drives around in a Rolls Royce Wraith with the license plate NOS4A2, grabbing up children to take them to Christmasland and do unspeakable things to them.

There were some great characters in this novel! I loved Vic, who is a very damaged woman, struggling to keep it together. Strong, tough, and loyal, Vic is one of those people who keeps most people at arm's length, but who loves and lives with a fierceness.

Lou is the one man Vic has been able to count on since that fateful day they met and he whisked her away to safety on the back of his motorcycle. A kind and patient man, he feels like the luckiest guy alive to have Vic as his woman.

Charlie Manx is a creepy character. The license plate NOS4A2 says it all! There is a passage where Manx explains the NOS4A2 license plate, and it sounded very familiar, as I seem to recall reading that the author had said something similar regarding an ex-girlfriend.
Manx said, “It is one of my little jokes. My first wife once accused me of being a Nosferatu. She did not use that exact word, but close enough...” (p. 56)
Enter the equally creepy Bing Partridge, and you have a dangerous team. But whereas Manx is a genuinely evil man, Bing is something of a farce-- dangerous, yet hard to take seriously.

But he most assuredly should be taken seriously. Him and that darn Wraith that Manx drives around in. That thing should definitely be taken seriously!

After Vic and Lou's son Wayne disappear, Tabitha Hutter is on the case as the lead FBI agent. I could identify with Hutter. She’s logical, something of a bookworm, detached from her emotions. There is a passage with which I could really identify, as Hutter was thinking...
His company did not cheer her but only made her more conscious of her own aloneness. Hutter had believed she would have more friends by now. The last man she’d dated said something to her, shortly before they broke up: “I don’t know, maybe I’m boring, but I never really feel like you’re there when we’re out to dinner. You live in your head. I can’t. No room for me in there. I don’t know, maybe you’d be more interested in me if I were a book.” (p. 589)
I "got" Hutter.

There was a great flow to the story. Easy to read, graphic and descriptive without bogging down the story in superfluous narration. And there were "aha!" moments as well. For instance, when there is a discussion of how innocence isn't what people make it out to be.
Innocence ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, you know. Innocent little kids rip the wings off flies, because they don’t know any better. That’s innocence. (p. 552)

It's one of those moments when I found myself nodding and thinking, "I never thought of it that way, but that is oh-so-true!"

My final word: This book is good, old-fashioned horror that is hard to come by anymore. You can definitely see the influence of Stephen King in the author's writing, as it gave me the same feeling as an old Stephen King novel from the 80s or 90s, like the classic It. Absorbing and imaginative, author Joe Hill has definitely found a fan in me! I only hope if I ever encounter a Rolls Royce Wraith, perhaps out on a deserted country road, all I see of it is the license plate NOS4A2 as it passes me by...

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher William Morrow, I have an extra copy of NOS4A2 to giveaway. This giveaway is open to US residents only this time. Just use the entry form to enter. Don't miss your chance!

I would like to thank TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour! Check out the website for the full tour schedule:

Tuesday, October 22nd: A Bookish Way of Life
Thursday, October 24th: The Best Books Ever
Monday, November 4th: Bibliophilia, Please
Tuesday, November 5th: The House of Crime and Mystery
Thursday, November 7th: Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity
Friday, November 8th: Drey’s Library
Sunday, November 10th: Ageless Pages Reviews
Monday, November 11th: Entomology of a Bookworm
Tuesday, November 12th: The Book Bag
Wednesday, November 13th: The Reader’s Hollow
Monday, November 18th:  The Road to Here
Tuesday, November 19th: Olduvai Reads
Wednesday, November 20th: The Scarlet Letter
Thursday, November 21st: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Thursday, November 28th: My Shelf Confessions
TBD: red headed book child

Buy Now:
Barnes and Noble

Cover: A-
Writing Style:

My Rating:


I received a copy of this book to review through TLC Book Tours and the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Introducing...NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Introducing books through the first chapter or so...

Nurse Thornton dropped into the long-term-care ward a little before eight with a hot bag of blood for Charlie Manx.

-- NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

REVIEW: Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois


Written with the riveting storytelling and moral seriousness of authors like Emma Donoghue, Adam Johnson, Ann Patchett, and Curtis Sittenfeld, Cartwheel is a suspenseful and haunting novel of an American foreign exchange student arrested for murder, and a father trying to hold his family together.
When Lily Hayes arrives in Buenos Aires for her semester abroad, she is enchanted by everything she encounters: the colorful buildings, the street food, the handsome, elusive man next door. Her studious roommate Katy is a bit of a bore, but Lily didn’t come to Argentina to hang out with other Americans.

Five weeks later, Katy is found brutally murdered in their shared home, and Lily is the prime suspect. But who is Lily Hayes? It depends on who’s asking. As the case takes shape—revealing deceptions, secrets, and suspicious DNA—Lily appears alternately sinister and guileless through the eyes of those around her: the media, her family, the man who loves her and the man who seeks her conviction. With mordant wit and keen emotional insight, Cartwheel offers a prismatic investigation of the ways we decide what to see—and to believe—in one another and ourselves.

Jennifer duBois’s debut novel, A Partial History of Lost Causes, was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction and was honored by the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 program. In Cartwheel, duBois delivers a novel of propulsive psychological suspense and rare moral nuance. Who is Lily Hayes? What happened to her roommate? No two readers will agree. Cartwheel will keep you guessing until the final page, and its questions about how much we really know about ourselves will linger well beyond.

Hardcover, 384 pages
Published September 24th 2013 by Random House (first published January 1st 2013)
ISBN  0812995864 (ISBN13: 9780812995862)

About the Author
from the author's website

Jennifer duBois was born in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1983. She earned a B.A. in political science and philosophy from Tufts University and an M.F.A. in fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Teaching-Writing Fellow. After completing a Stegner Fellowship in fiction, Jennifer served as the Nancy Packer Lecturer in Continuing Studies at Stanford University. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Playboy, The Wall Street Journal, The Missouri Review, The Kenyon Review, The Florida Review, Narrative, ZYZZYVA, and FiveChapters, and has been anthologized in Imaginary Oklahoma, Esquire/Byliner’s "New Voices" collection, and Narrative 4’s "How To Be A Man" project. Her short story “Wolf” was named a Notable Story in Best American Short Stories 2012, and the first chapter of A Partial History of Lost Causes was selected as a Top Five Story of 2011-2012 by Narrative. Honored by the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 program, A Partial History of Lost Causes was the winner of the Northern California Book Award for Fiction and the California Book Award for First Fiction, and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Prize for Debut Fiction. She currently teaches in the MFA program at Texas State University-San Marcos.

Check out the author's website 
Like the author on Facebook
Follow the author on Twitter

My Thoughts

Andrew's plane landed at EZE, as promised, at seven a.m. local time. Outside the window, the sun was a hideous orb, bleeding orange light through wavering heat. 
Lily is a student in Argentina for a semester. She is enamored with the culture, but feels unwelcome and uncomfortable in her host home, and her roommate Katy is a bit of a drag. She becomes friendly with the odd, isolated young neighbor next door. 

Sebastian, a wealthy diplomat's son, lost his parents when he was a teenager and now lives the life of a hermit, rarely leaving his neglected, dark and depressing mansion of sorts.

Several weeks later, Katy is found brutally murdered, and Lily is the prime suspect arrested in her murder.

The author clarifies that, while inspired by Amanda Knox, this story is entirely fictional.
Although the themes of this book were loosely inspired by the story of Amanda Knox, this is entirely a work of fiction. None of the characters are real. None of the events ever happened. Nothing in the book should be read as a factual statement about real life events or people (p. 6)
This book alternates viewpoints, so one minute Lily seems to be a self-absorbed and thoughtless brat, and the next when you see it through her own eyes you think maybe she is those things, but also just a little misunderstood. 

I didn’t understand some of the things the author did to try and relay who Lily was-- self-serving, self-absorbed, shallow, socially awkward. For example, in the book the prosecution uses Lily’s pictures against her, using them to depict a woman who is callous and lacks humility.
On the camera was a picture of a woman with a blood-colored lesion on her face, clearly taken on the sly. There was a picture of a tiny pantsless boy. There was a picture of Lily Hayes herself, giving an exaggerated thumbs-up as she points to her bug bites. Here, Eduardo saw, was a person without humility. And Eduardo believed that humility, more than anything, was the basis for morality. (p. 55)
I just didn't get this conclusion. I don’t think her pictures depict someone lacking humility, but rather someone fascinated with the world and the human condition.

Sebastian is a very odd character that I just couldn't understand. Whether I was seeing him through his own eyes or those of someone else, I was totally confused over what is motivation was for his bizarre behavior.
He was his parents’ son, after all. If there was anything he could endure, it was solitude. If there was anything he could endure, it was abandonment. If there was anything he could endure, it was everything. (p. 224)
This was why he was so often insufferable, he knew. The real answers were unutterable and strange and upsetting, so he had no choice but to give fake ones.(p. 75)
If they were handing out prison terms for murky moral impulses, Sebastian figured, he might as well go ahead and turn himself in. (p.235)
Katy is a rather studious and serious girl. She's thoughtful and self-aware. She's something of the antithesis of Lily. Her death is shocking to everyone. While Lily might go to nightclubs and worked at a local restaurant, Katy was quiet and seemed to always have her nose in a book. She is the last person you would expect to find murdered.

Lily calls her divorced parents back in the states, and first her father Andrew travels with her sister Anna to be with her, and later they are joined by her mother Maureen.

Andrew is really clueless when it comes to his daughters. He always seems to feel inadequate as a father, and views Maureen as the perfect mother. He seems to view daughter Lily as his little golden child, and there is sort of an uncomfortable distance with daughter Anna. Lily is quite obviously his favorite, and you find later on that he really doesn't seem to really know either of his daughters. 

Anna, on the other hand, seems to have a better handle on who Lily really is. Anna is the younger sister, but the dynamic with Lily seems to be more as the big sister. Anna is the disciplined athlete, more serious and focused and responsible, where Lily is irresponsible, flighty and unaware.

This book unfurls like a Dateline murder mystery, piece by piece, first one view then another. You lean this way with one person’s view, and then another person’s view of the exact same event has you feeling totally different about it all. There really is a Gone Girl aspect to this book.

This story is constantly getting you to look at the same thing from different angles. “What if I told you this guy had robbed a bank at gunpoint? Would you think he’s a bad guy? Now what if I told you that guy volunteers every weekend at an old folk’s home, he’d recently lost his job, was about to lose his home, his wife died of cancer last year and he’s raising 3 kids on his own, and one of them is horribly ill and needs an expensive medical procedure to make him feel better, and the family has no medical insurance. Now is he a bad guy?”

My final word:  This was my first Jennifer duBois novel, and I would definitely read her again. Everything in this story is interwoven. One thing mentioned at one point will be addressed again later from a different perspective, and you think “Oh” in wonder as you realize your initial assessment is all wrong. It had great suspense. With only 70 pages left in the story, I still wasn’t sure “whodunit”. It definitely has a Gone Girl feel to it. However, unlike in Gone Girl, where the characters were so unlikable I just wanted to finish it to get away from them, with this novel, I wanted to reach the end to find out what happened! Peculiar, uncustomary and provocative, I've gotta recommend this one!

Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble

Cover: B-
Writing Style: B+
Characters: B+
Interest/Uniqueness: A

My Rating: B+


I received a copy of this book to review through the Netgalley and the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel. The ebook that I received was an uncorrected proof, and quotes could differ from the final release.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

TLC BOOK TOURS and REVIEW: The Preservationist by Justin Kramon


To Sam Blount, meeting Julia is the best thing that has ever happened to him.

Working at the local college and unsuccessful in his previous relationships, he'd been feeling troubled about his approaching fortieth birthday, "a great beast of a birthday," as he sees it, but being with Julia makes him feel young and hopeful. Julia Stilwell, a freshman trying to come to terms with a recent tragedy that has stripped her of her greatest talent, is flattered by Sam's attention. But their relationship is tested by a shy young man with a secret, Marcus Broley, who is also infatuated with Julia.

Told in alternating points of view, The Preservationist is the riveting tale of Julia and Sam's relationship, which begins to unravel as the threat of violence approaches and Julia becomes less and less sure whom she can trust.

Hardcover, 284 pages
Published October 10th 2013 by Pegasus Books
ISBN 1605984809 (ISBN13: 9781605984803)

About the Author

Justin Kramon is the author of the novel Finny, published by Random House in July, 2010.

A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he has published stories in Glimmer Train, Story Quarterly, Boulevard, Fence, TriQuarterly, and others. He has received honors from the Michener-Copernicus Society of America, Best American Short Stories, the Hawthornden International Writers’ Fellowship, and the Bogliasco Foundation. He teaches at Gotham Writers’ Workshop in New York City and at the Iowa Young Writers’ Workshop.

Check out the author's website
Like the author on Facebook

My Thoughts
Of all the places Julia Stilwell thought she might be on a September afternoon, less than a year after the accident, this was the last she would have imagined. 
Julia is a freshman in college. She is coming out of an unimaginable year in which she lost her brother, and her life is finally beginning to feel normal once again. Then she meets two men. One man, Marcus, is a young man she met in class. He's cute and seems sweet, and she is comfortable talking with him, bantering lightheartedly.

The second man is an older man she met at a cafe on campus, and she feels a shared sympathy with him, as he seems to understand her pain over losing her brother. Sam is intense and almost ingratiatingly easy to get along with. He does appear to be a bit of a hoarder though.
He was a preservationist. That was how he put it to himself, the word he used for the particular way he got by. He’d never been able to let go of things easily. (p.59)
Julia makes her choice between these two men, but then begins to wonder whether she made the right choice. Both men accuse the other of dishonesty and dangerous behavior. At the same time, there are rapes occurring on campus, and both men appear as possible suspects. Could either of them be guilty of such a thing? And then there is a third man thrown into the mix, just to confuse things further.

Before you know it, Julia is being consumed with paranoia, trusting no one. She no longer can trust her own judgements, and doubts her own decisions. And then she finds herself in real danger, and doesn't know which way to turn.

I think this story was really character-driven. It flits through alternating perspectives, and you are always inside of the head of one of the characters, seeing things through their eyes. You are fed little bits of the story, and it builds slowly. And even though you are in the heads of the characters, you still aren't sure what the truth really is.

This is one of those stories that I feel seems to have a moral or lesson to be learned from it, but I'm not really sure what it is. What is to be learned from all of this? I don't know. How NOT to be? Where poor judgement will get you? How foolish the young can be? Perhaps it isn't intended to have a moral to the story, but it has that feeling.

The story felt a little choppy at times. There were some things that sort of left off unfinished or vague or simply alluded to. But overall it had a good flow.

My final word: This book was very easy to read, and the characters were pretty well developed. I found myself on the edge of my seat for much of it, not sure where it was going to go. There were so many suspicious characters introduced that you just weren’t sure “whodunit”. It was enjoyable, yet left me with a frustratingly disappointed feeling that I can't quite put a finger on. Although I was left with the feeling that the story was somewhat...insubstantial, I found it overall to be a worthwhile read, and I would give the author another go-around.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour! Check out the website for the full tour schedule:

Tuesday, October 15th: Booksie’s Blog
Wednesday, October 16th: Book-a-licious Mama
Thursday, October 17th: The Lost Entwife
Tuesday, October 22nd: BoundbyWords
Wednesday, October 23rd: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, October 24th: Books in the Burbs
Monday, October 28th: Book Addict Katie
Wednesday, October 30th: A Novel Review
Thursday, October 31st: Lectus
Monday, November 4th: Under My Apple Tree
Wednesday, November 6th: The Well-Read Redhead
Thursday, November 7th: nomadreader
Friday, November 8th: Kritters Ramblings
Tuesday, November 12th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Thursday, November 14th: Tina’s Book Reviews
Date TBD: Seaside Book Corner

Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble

Cover: A
Writing Style: B+
Characters: B+
Storyline/Plot: A-
Interest/Uniqueness: B+

My Rating:


I received a copy of this book to review through TLC Book Tours and the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel. The book that I received was an uncorrected proof, and any quotes used could differ from the official release.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Introducing...The Preservationist by Justin Kramon

Introducing books through the first chapter or so...

Of all the places Julia Stilwell thought she might be on a September afternoon, less than a year after the accident, this was the last she would have imagined. College. A freshman headed out on a first date. It was too normal. She felt like she'd snuck into the wrong movie, like any minute a guy in a little hat would come running up the aisle, shine a flashlight in her eyes, and ask to see her ticket.

-- The Preservationist by Justin Kramon

Monday, November 4, 2013

REVIEW: Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones


With the opening line of Silver Sparrow, My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist, author Tayari Jones unveils a breathtaking story about a man's deception, a family's complicity, and the two teenage girls caught in the middle.

Set in a middle-class neighborhood in Atlanta in the 1980s, the novel revolves around James Witherspoon's two families;the public one and the secret one. When the daughters from each family meet and form a friendship, only one of them knows they are sisters. It is a relationship destined to explode. This is the third stunning novel from an author deemed one of the most important writers of her generation (the Atlanta Journal Constitution).

Hardcover, 352 pages
Published May 24th 2011 by Algonquin Books (first published January 1st 2011)
ISBN 1565129903 (ISBN13: 9781565129900)

About the Author

Tayari Jones is an African American author and winner of the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for Debut Fiction. Born in 1970, she was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia and educated at Spelman College, the University of Iowa and Arizona State University.

She started writing seriously at Spelman College, where she studied with Pearl Cleage, who published her first story, "Eugenics", in Catalyst magazine. Jones went on to University of Iowa where she worked toward a Ph.D. in English, but she left after completing her masters degree. She also studied at The University of Georgia where she worked with Kevin Young and Judith Ortiz Cofer. She left UGA to enroll in the MFA program at Arizona State University where she worked with Ron Carlson and Jewell Parker Rhodes.

Her first novel, Leaving Atlanta, is a three-voiced coming of age story set against the backdrop of The Atlanta Child Murders of 1979-81. This novel, which was written while she was a graduate student at Arizona State University, is based on the experience as a child in Atlanta during that period. It won the 2003 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Debut Fiction. Aletha Spann of 30Nineteen Productions has purchased the film option for Leaving Atlanta.

Jones herself, an Atlanta native, was a child during these murders. Two of her fifth grade classmates, Yusef Bell and Terry Pugh, were students at Oglethorpe Elementary School.

Her second novel, The Untelling, is also set in Atlanta. This novel is the story of a woman seeking to overcome the trauma of her past. The book has been described as a "woman's novel" because it deals with issues such as infertility. It was awarded the Lillian C. Smith Award for New Voices.

Tayari Jones has taught creative writing at The University of Illinois and also at George Washington University, where she served as the Jenny McKean Moore Writer in Washington. She is now a member of the MFA faculty at the Newark Campus of Rutgers University.

My Thoughts
My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist. He was already married ten years when he first clamped eyes on my mother.
This story begins through the eyes of Dana Lynn, a young girl of color being raised in relatively poor circumstances. She and her mother don't live in poverty, but they are surviving on a single mother's nursing salary. As the first line in the book states quite bluntly, Dana's father is a bigamist, already married to another woman and yet married to her mother as well.

The book reveals Dana's life with her mother Gwen, and what she knows of the life of her father's other family with his wife Laverne and other daughter Chaurisse. It was fascinating to see the story through Dana’s eyes, and to build your impression of Chaurisse and her mother and everything else through Dana, and then to suddenly have that shift a little over halfway through the story, and see things from Chaurisse’s perspective. I loved that about this story.

Dana's mother Gwen married young, a boy she knew from middle school. She married him after graduation, and they divorced a couple of years later. Working a store counter, she met James Witherspoon one day while he was looking for a gift for his wife. Within a year after her divorce, she was living in a rooming house and pregnant with a married man's child.

At one point, she wanted to return home, and she sent her father a letter.
I am having a baby, and I want to come home... (p.48)
Her father responded.
This is not your home. Wherever you are is home... (p. 48)
So Gwen has her baby and puts herself through school to become a nurse. Shortly after Dana's birth, James and Gwen marry in a neighboring state. Dana is raised knowing from a young age about her father's other family, and getting the sense that she must spend her life playing second fiddle to sister Chaurisse.

However sister Chaurisse and the family know nothing of Dana and her mother. It isn't until grandmother Bunny is on her deathbed that her grandmother is finally told of Dana, and Dana is brought to meet her.
My grandmother took my living hand in her dying one. "I never had no quarrel with the truth. I hope somebody says something like that at my wake." (p.102)

Bunny was my favorite character, as brief as she was in the story. She wished her boys would have told her sooner of Dana's existence, and that she'd had time to get to know her.

I read this one for my book club, and the consensus was that the characters weren't very likable. In fact, one woman in the group really disliked this book! It's one of those books that can just leave a bad taste in your mouth, because you are so frustrated with the characters and the way they handle the events in their lives.

And father James, while you give him credit for trying to be a part of his "illegitimate" daughter's life, you see the unfairness of it all. Dana is always given second best. She gets her father one day a week while here sister gets him every day. Throughout her life she has to sacrifice her wants for that of her sister (when her sister wants a summer job at the same place as Dana or wants to attend the same program, it is Dana that must forfeit her desire). And while her father and his wife Laverne make a good living and are able to provide their daughter Chaurisse with a comfortable life that include debutante balls, Dana lives in the projects, being raised on her mother's salary and whatever scraps her father tosses their way.

James' brother Raleigh is sort of likable, but his general inaction and silence in the face of what his brother is doing to Dana and her mother is infuriating at times. He is his brother's accomplice in his duplicity, and James could not have pulled off the dual lives (one public and one secret) without Raleigh, who is even named as Dana's father on her birth certificate.

Aside from the story content or writing style, I was surprised at the poor formatting of the ebook. There were a lot of typos and I could swear there were missing passages. There were strange stilted endings to chapters. Others in my book club agreed that some of the chapters ended rather abruptly. For instance, the end of Chapter 10:
...any redneck passing by wouldn’t see three black people, they would see a white man, a black woman, and a little girl. When we passed the sign to get on the interstate highway, he didn’t put on his turn signal and instead kept driving along the two-lane road. He slowed a bit at every intersection, giving my mother the chance to ask him to change course.

I assume that the wording used as a metaphor for what was occurring in their relationship at that moment, but it felt really strange.

My final word: This book was "okay". I enjoyed the unique dual perspective, I was intrigued by the concept. But when it came down to it, I just didn't like the characters very much. Bunny was the only one I really cared for, and the daughter Chaurisse and uncle Raleigh I liked a bit. The writing style was okay, but not thoroughly engaging. It gets an "eh" from me. Kind of intriguing, but the characters are ultimately unlikable.

Buy Now:
Barnes and Noble

My Rating: