Friday, June 30, 2006

"There are gods in Alabama..." says Joshilyn Jackson

I can't believe I'm doing this again. I really can't. But alas, it can not be helped. You see, I am now smack dab in the middle of novelist-worship, and this is my altar. I am doing another book review. Right after the last one. And it's the same darn author. I've never done this before, this back-to-back review thing, and I don't think I've ever plugged an author more than once. You can check if you must, but I'm pretty sure I'm right on this one. There's a reason for that. It's because I don't do many reviews. Because I read so very much, I think I've become almost too stingy with my praise. If I don't get a feel for a story within the first 10 pages, I will stick with it to the very end, but I won't remember a thing about it an hour after it is finished. There aren't a whole lot of books that rate a review here, and there are very few authors that I ever mention more than once. You know my favorites, of course. I mean, The Cherry is at the top of the list, followed closely by any other Cherry authors I find. Well, my very Cherry friends, I have a secret for you... I totally adore the writing of Joshilyn Jackson!

For as much as I liked Between, Georgia, I was a little afraid that I wouldn't like gods in Alabama quite as much. I mean, it was Joshilyn's first book, right? How on earth could it be as good as her second book? We all know that writers take time to find themselves, to develop, to really deliver, right? Wrong, my friends. So very very wrong. Not all writers need that time. Some of them run the ball back for a touchdown from their own 1 yard line on the very first play of the game! Joshilyn Jackson is one of those.

If you haven't read this book yet, don't read any further, because I'm bound to give away some SPOLIERS, ok? (After reading this through, I realize that I really haven't put any true spoilers in here. So if you want to, go ahead and read this one through. It's safe.) I want you to know that this is unintentional, but inevitable. I simply must discuss this book. There is no alternative.

To anyone that has ever lived in the South, especially in the Deep South, or in any small town, really, the first paragraph of the book swallows you up whole. You know, or remember, those gods that are mentioned, or you have your own slightly different list of gods from your own town. Maybe it's a high school hockey goalie ins tead of a quarterback. Maybe it's fast cars instead of pickup trucks. But really, you know the gods of which she speaks. You revered them. You worshipped at their shrines, just like I did. They still have a hold on you, even though Jesus may or may not have a bigger hold now. In your heart of hearts, you know there are gods.

Arlene/Lena knows this as well. "There are gods in Alabama..." This is her mantra. She has a secret, she's made a deal with the big "g" GOD, yet she still practices this refrain in her head for the better part of ten years. When a person from her past shows up in her very Yankee new life asking questions about something Arlene has tried unsuccessfully to forget, the power of those gods is unleashed all over her poor, guilty, Southern soul. She hightails it back home to Alabama, thinking her journey will be anything but sweet. Those gods have some surprises up their sleeves though. See, Arlene did a Bad Thing when she was younger. That Bad Thing prompted her to make that deal with God. She kept up her end of the deal, but I think she was always scared that He might not keep up His end. When her past shows up on her doorstep, she's pretty sure that He has called off the Deal, and she must now face up to that Bad Thing.

When Arlene gets to Alabama with her boyfriend/pretend husband Burr by her side, she has to start facing her past. That past is rolled up in a family that includes a crazy momma, a perfect cousin, a sweet uncle, and the steeliest aunt anyone not familiar with steely Southern aunts has ever seen. I've known my share of steely Southern aunts. I have two of my own. But really, Arlene's Aunt Florence has them beat hands down. Her past also includes her unapologetically racist family, though they are really just mentioned, not heard from. And it includes the kudzu. We can't forget the kudzu, ok?

I fell in love with Arlene. I liked Lena, her Yankee all-grown-up self, too, but really, I loved Arlene. I could feel her shift from Lena, self-assured Deal-keeper, to Arlene, guilty little Bad Thing doer, as soon as she waved goodbye to Tennessee and hello to Alabama. Arlene has a quiet strength, a vulnerability, and a crazy streak, that would seem fake in any other character. It works for her. I felt her pain, her rage, her joy, her guilt, her passion, her jealousy, her indignation, her love. I became her for the day. It wasn't hard to do, Joshilyn made it virtually painless to slip into her skin.

I loved the alternating timelines of the chapters in this book. It starts in present day, then it eases you back in time 17 years. During those flashback chapters that aren't really written like flashbacks, you get to know Arlene as she was at 15. You get to live, every other chapter, inside her head, seeing everything that led up to the Bad Thing. You already know what the Bad Thing is. You find out at the very beginning of the second chapter, even though its pretty well spelled out in the first. It's not a secret anymore, because Joshilyn puts it right out there at the beginning. It's almost as if Joshilyn is saying,"This is my story, and she is my girl. She did this Bad Thing, I'm telling you that right now. But you may not judge her just yet. She's lived with the guilt for a good many years, and you will hear her out, every last word of her story, before I allow you to sit in your stifling glass house and pass judgement on her."

And that's exactly what I did. I sat there, transfixed, as the drama played out around me. I breathed in that fertile Alabama soil, I slurped that sweet tea (really, is there any other kind?), and I listened to all of the things that Aunt Flo didn't say, until I'd heard every last word.

When it was over, when it was just me staring at that very last page, I sat very still and could think of only one thing: There are gods in Alabama. And they bestowed a gift on Joshilyn Jackson. And I will praise them forevermore.

If you really need me to say it, I will say it for you now. GET. OUT. OF. YOUR. CHAIR. AND. GET. YOUR. BUTT. TO. YOUR NEAREST. BOOKSTORE. AND. GET. THIS. BOOK.

The gods will smile down upon you when you do.

Between, Georgia

Ok, you have the image of this gorgeous book, now get off your computer and go buy it. (See, Char, I'm GREAT at book reviews! lol)

My friend Charity got me hooked on Joshilyn Jackson. She didn't do it on purpose, but it happened all the same. Charity has Joss's site, Faster than Kudzu, linked on her blog. Charity also enters Joss's monthly contest, Blogging For Books (B4B). I had to check out the site after reading Char's entry last month, and I just can't seem to stay away from that place. I read it at night, when Shane and I are sitting in our office. Our desks are facing each other across the room, both in corners. I read it and start laughing and look over at him apologetically. He takes a break from code writing and raises his eyebrows. I ask "Do you have a second? I have to read you just one line from this..." He always replies with "Sure, go ahead." I start at the beginning of the blog and read it all the way through. By the time I'm done, we're both laughing hysterically. Sometimes, I've got tears rolling down my face from laughing so hard. I hadn't read either of her books, but I loved the way she wrote... Until today.

I bought "Between, Georgia" yesterday. I also bought her first book, "gods In Alabama". No, that isn't a typo, it really is a little "g" in gods. I had already started Between at the bookstore last week, and was pretty interested in the story. Last night I started reading it. I finally put it down around 2am. I woke up around 7am and reached for it right away. I just finished it.


What a roller coaster ride that book turned out to be. I want to gush about it and tell you all of the parts that I loved, but then you may learn too much and decide not to buy it, and that would just be a true crime. Because it is beautiful. And you need to read it.

The characters were as deep as the ocean, and the conflicts were as real as the screen you see before you. These were people that you could believe in, and even come to care about. Some of them have been in your very own world. You will recognize them. You will want to call them on the phone and tell them that you love them.

The basic premise is that two families in little Between, Georgia, really don't like each other much. They are from different sides of town, in every sense of the words. The Fretts are everything, and have everything, that the Crabtrees will never be or have. Frett's are respectable and kind, proper and well off, go to church, never drink, never curse, never do anything wrong. The Crabtrees are the polar opposite, drinking, carousing, cursing, going in and out of jail. A young Crabtree girl gets pregnant and ends up on the doorstep of the Frett house. She gives birth and walks out of the house sans baby. She just leaves her daughter. One of the Frett women takes the child and makes her a Frett, setting in motion a chain of events that takes 30 years to play out.

The baby, Nonny, knows her history. She tries to reconcile her Frett upbringing with her Crabtree blood all throughout the book. She's in a marriage that is about to end, though she's not sure if that's what she wants. She's in a job that she's comfortable with, though she wanted to do more. She's basically been rolling along on the wave of her life, not daring to stick her neck out for anything. Then the Crabtrees and the Fretts come head to head in the middle of Between, and Nonny's life spirals. If you think that means 'out of control' you really need to read this book.

Just go get it so we can gab about it. And pick up gods while you're at it. I've read the blog for a while. Now I've read one of the books. I can't imagine gods not being just as awesome.

Do it and tell me about it when you're done. I can't wait to hear what you think!

Oh, and please go on over to Charity's blog and tell her thanks for turning me onto Joss. While you're over there, check out her music meme. And NO CHEATING!

Guys & Dogs

I just finished Guys & Dogs by Elaine Fox. I've never read any of her books before, though I have noticed them in stores. I actually went to Borders to look for this book last week, but couldn't find it, so they ordered it for me. I really wanted to read it after reading a very short review in my local newspaper. Normally, I'm not big on reviews, because everyone has different feelings about books, and I don't trust very many people out there when it comes to recommendations. I have different standards than most people, and I also hate being told what is 'good' or 'really awful'. Please know that this doesn't apply to my friends, though, and I truly love it when you guys tell me what books I should get. I mean, I TRUST you guys, and besides, you all have great taste.

Anyhoooo... I had to pick up this book because it's supposedly set in my town. The heroine, Megan Rose, has recently moved to Fredericksburg. Basically, reading it was a study in research, to see how much of a place shows up in books, if the author had actually ever been here, if the places were real. See, it just ticks me off when I read a book that is set someplace that I've been, but I can't recognize the place from the description. I mean, if you've ever been to NYC, you know that you can't see the Statue of Liberty from Tiffany, right? You also know that the Crab Cooker is NOT on the beach in Newport Beach, California. It's close to the beach. You can see the beach. They have damn good clam chowder. But on the beach? Not so much. It's a pet peeve of mine, and I wanted to see how close Ms. Fox came to capturing the spirit of my 'Burg.

She did ok. Well, better than ok, really. She made up a few places, and that's to be expected. She made the town seem much smaller than it really is, but not smaller than many of its longtime residents want it to be. But all in all, she did a decent job of letting the reader get a feel for my town, without the town losing anything. Plus, she mentioned Sammy T's, for which she deserves my undying loyalty.

Sammy T's is such a cool place. She calls it "a Fredericksburg institution". And it is. It's also happens to be the end-of-the-mommy-daddy-date-night place for me and Shane. It's our secret escape to the days before the rest of our lives seemed so busy. We discovered it our first year here, almost 6 years ago. It was my mission to go to every restaurant in "Old Town" with my husband. We found Sammy T's after wandering the streets one night. It seemed inviting, so we snuck in. The place was awesome. The waitress was welcoming, the atmosphere was relaxed, and they had beer bottles from all over lining the walls. Plus, they make the best chocolate mousse I've ever had in my life. And Shane swears by their Apple Crisp. The coffee cups are bottomless, and the booths are comfortable. It has since become the place we head to before we head home, if we're out alone. We love it there. So Ms. Fox gets bonus points for adding it to her book.

The story was pretty good too. Megan is a vet, and she's come to town and taken over her dad's animal hospital. She ends up befriending a Brittish billionaire, Sutter Foley, talking him into adopting a dog, and falling in love. Along the way, there are new friends, tabloid reporters, a wacky secretary, and dog-napping charges to keep Megan and Sutter on their toes. It was cute.

This was not a "You must rush out RIGHT NOW and buy this book" like some of the others that I've reviewed. The book did distract me for the morning, and that was bad. But I enjoyed the distraction, so that was good. If you're at the store, and you need something light to read, and you see it, pick it up. It's worth the few hours of your time. It had a good feel, and was pretty enjoyable.

And besides, she mentions Sammy T's. That alone is worth the price I paid for the book!

Madame Mirabou's School of Love

It's been a while since I've been here. I took a totally unplanned week off from blogging. I still checked out my friends' blogs daily, but just didn't have a whole lot to say on my own. I had stuff brewing up there in my head, and I think I was afraid to let anything spill out that I might need. Some of you may know how that goes. I will blog all about my lost week, but first I must tell you about this book.

I picked up "Madame Mirabou's School of Love" by Barbara Samuel on Sunday evening. I was in Richmond with friends, and we simply HAD to get to the bookstore. There is more to that story, and it will be in another blog. I needed some unread books, new blood if you will. I'd read most everything in my house a few times, and really wanted something like springtime, breezes blowing after a rain, flowers blooming. FRESH.

I remembered this book from the HW/SW blog. Jenny Crusie talked about the cover. I have to agree with her, it is FABULOUS. There is just something about this cover that makes me LONG for a claw-footed tub and a bottle of Ms. Clairol. It's not sexy, this cover. It's beyond sexy. It's sensuous. That's not a word that I use every day, and it is generally reserved for something needing highest praise. This book's cover earns the word, and then some.

The book lived up to the cover.

Yes, that sentence is it's very own paragraph. You don't get much more to the point than that. I can't tell you much about this book, because I want you to go out and buy it. Today. And read it all at once. Tonight. I don't say that about many books. This one warrants it.

Nikki/Nicole is reeling from her recent divorce. She's moved into an apartment complex full of other recent singletons. She is struggling with betrayal, and loss, and fear. She is middle-aged, and feeling it. She feels adrift, and disconnected from what is now her life. These are common themes in books today, and I wasn't expecting anything much different from the hundred other books (yes, literally!) that I read every month.

I was transported to Colorado, breathed in the crisp air, marveled at Pike's Peak, tasted the wholesome quiche from Annie's. I ached for Wanda and Roxanne, Nikki's new friends. I could see them as MY friends (in fact, I know a Roxanne, and they are similar in many ways). My stomach fluttered with Nikki's as she rediscovered dating and the singles scene.

Nikki loves to mix scents. She has a nose that can identify smells. She creates exotic and personal perfumes. It's her passion. It became my passion as well. I could smell these things that she described. I felt transported to picnics, and walks, and lazy afternoons with my children. The way that the author uses words to create the feelings and memories that the smells evoke for Nikki was nothing less than breathtaking for me.

Ok, I can't tell you anymore. You just have to buy it. And tell me all about how you got lost in the pages, how you found something of yourself that you'd forgotten. How you discovered something new. It's all in there. I hated it when I reached the last page. Nothing tells me a book was REALLY GREAT more than that feeling of despair in my gut when I realize it's over. I finished this book an hour ago, and I still have that feeling.

Bye now. I'm off to read it again.

Why I'm HERE

I just realized how much fun I have reviewing books. Now, this is not to be compared with the fun that I have WRITING, or the fun that I have BLOGGING. But still, it is fun. I know that I'll never be one of those big reviewers, because frankly, I can't stand most of them. And I know I'll never be as cool as the Smart Bitches
While they have a great style, it is sooo not me. I love reading them, but really, I just am not that 'smart'. Or something. Still though, I do love me a good book. And I love to share when a book has really touched a place in my soul.

I read almost a book a day. That gives me the opportunity to tell you guys lots of things about lots of books. I've been doing just that over on my other blog. Today though, after realizing just how much I loved doing the review-thang, I decided to have an offshoot blog. I want to be able to do reviews on any old book that I feel like, without having to worry about boring my few readers to death by making them read yet another book review. See, I don't review all that many books over there, because, well, I only liked to take the time to recommend books. That means that I have to actually like the books that I review. See the thing?

I want to be able to tell you if a book is a wallbanger without taking up all of my time that you give me to read my blog. I'm pretty sure that most of you don't show up over there to read what I thought about books. Actually, I'm still not quite sure why many of you show up there, but I am oh-so-glad that you do.

So here, in this new blog, I will tell you about books that I read. I will be brutally honest. I will tell you if I think it sucks, or bites, or rocks, or whatever. You have an obligation or two here though, ok? You must tell me if you've read the book already, and if you agree or not. You must also drop me lines to let me know what sorts of books I should read next. I will be waiting for your comments and suggestions.

Now, I'm going to spend the next few days moving my reviews off the other blog, or at least copying them over to here. Then, bright and early, or dark and late, one day very soon, I will post a brand new review.

Let the fun begin!