#ThrowbackThursday Gods in Alabama by @JoshilynJackson

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Renee @It’sBookTalk began this Throwback Thursday meme as a way to share some of our old favorites as well as sharing books that we’re FINALLY getting around to reading that were published over a year ago. I’ve wanted to join this meme for a long time and I thought it would be a great idea because it forces me to read books from the TBR and not only new releases. And, of course, I can also include some old favorites!

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For 10 years Arlene has kept her promises, and God has kept His end of the bargain. Until now. When an old schoolmate from Possett turns up at Arlene’s door in Chicago asking questions about Jim Beverly, former quarterback and god of Possett High, Arlene’s break with her former hometown is forced to an end. At the same time, Burr, her long-time boyfriend, has raised an ultimatum: introduce him to her family or consider him gone. Arlene loves him dearly but knows her lily white (not to mention deeply racist) Southern Baptist family will not understand her relationship with an African American boyfriend. Reluctantly, Arlene bows to the pressure, and she and Burr embark on the long-avoided road trip back home. As Arlene digs through guilt and deception, her patched-together alibi begins to unravel, and she discovers how far she will go for love and a chance at redemption.

I haven’t had time to read much this past week, so I thought I could feature an old title today. I read Gods in Alabama back in 2010 and it was one of those books that make me realize what kind of books I like. It depicted everything I love about a story. The kind of novel I’d love to write one day. And it might not be the best in the genre, but it was my first and so it’s still today one of my favorite reads.

Gods in Alabama deals with various themes like family, racism, rape, feminism and, it’s set, obviously, in Alabama. It’s a mystery and a drama at the same time, but the characters stayed with me forever. In addition, it made me laugh. Despite all the drama, the writing was sharp and witty.

Oh, and the ending was brilliant, in my opinion, exactly what I would’ve chosen. I’ve read other books by Jackson and while I’ve enjoyed some, my first is still my favorite. What are you waiting for?

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Review: My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent @4thEstateBooks

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At 14, Turtle Alveston knows the use of every gun on her wall; That chaos is coming and only the strong will survive it; That her daddy loves her more than anything else in this world. And he’ll do whatever it takes to keep her with him. She doesn’t know why she feels so different from the other girls at school; Why the line between love and pain can be so hard to see; Why making a friend may be the bravest and most terrifying thing she has ever done. And what her daddy will do when he finds out… Sometimes strength is not the same as courage. Sometimes leaving is not the only way to escape. Sometimes surviving isn’t enough.

Did you love The Marsh King’s Daughter? Well, this is the hardcore version.

This is probably one of the hardest reviews I’m ever going to write. Because My Absolute Darling is no ordinary novel. This is not the kind of book I usually read. It’s not an easy book, by any means. Some will fall helplessly in love with it, others will struggle and abandon it. It’s that kind of book.

I don’t want to say too much, but I can assure you this book is brutal and twisted. It’s about Turtle’s coming of age… but this is not your classic young adult tale. Turtle’s childhood and early adolescence has been different from anyone else’s. Her father, Martin, is physically, sexually and psychologically abusing her and she’s conflicted. She loves him and hates him at the same time. He’s her father, after all. Her saviour, her only world.

The writing by Gabriel Tallent was wonderful. Hard to read, definitely, but gorgeous nevertheless. We follow Turtle’s voice throughout the novel, and her thoughts are devastating, hilarious at times, raw and complicated. She’s not particularly nice to anyone, especially women, but how can we possibly hold that against her?

I admit I struggled more than once, but I couldn’t stop reading or thinking about it either. I just wanted Turtle to be free. I wanted her to realize that other teenagers live different lives. That she deserved to live surrounded by love and kindness. That she was strong enough to rebel against Martin.

My favorite scenes were the ones featuring Turtle’s interactions with the two boys, Brett and Jacob, and her teacher, Anna. They were so genuinely kind and selfless that the contrast was even more palpable. Plus, Brett and Jacob’s dialogue scenes were so funny to read. Which was kind of a relief after all the terrible things that were happening.

Did I enjoy this book? I’d have to say no, enjoy is not the right word. Would I read it again? Definitely not. BUT IT’S SUCH A GREAT NOVEL. Read at your own risk.

Netgalley, 4th Estate, 2017

Review: A Lesson In Violence by @jordan_harper @simonschusterUK

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Meet Polly: eleven years old and smart beyond her years. But she’s a loner, always on the outside, until she is unexpectedly reunited with her father. Meet Nate: fresh out of jail and driving a stolen car, Nate takes Polly from the safety of her quiet existence into a world of robbery, violence and the constant threat of death. And he does it to save her life. A Lesson in Violence is a gripping and emotionally wrenching novel that upends even our most long-held expectations about heroes, villains and victims. Nate takes Polly to save her life, but in the end it may very well be Polly who saves him.

As soon as I read the synopsis, I knew this was going to be an unforgettable ride. It seems like complex father-daughter relationships are a popular theme in recent books and I couldn’t be happier. A Lesson In Violence (aka She Rides Shotgun) was one of my favorite reads of the summer.

I don’t usually enjoy action-packed stories in books as much as in movies, but A Lesson In Violence was the exception to the rule. I was completely addicted from the moment I started it. This book tells the story of a man, Nate, who has just been released from prison but is wanted by some dangerous men. The Aryan Steel gang wants him and his family dead and Nate can’t allow them to harm his daughter Polly. So he picks her up from school and makes her travel with him.

Road trip stories are usually wonderful and this one is just the perfect adventure. You will read it quickly and you will immensely enjoy the ride. Polly and Nate’s bond grows strong, she learns how to be brave and fierce and he discovers that he might have a weakness, after all. The novel is dark and gritty, but with a lovely side at the same time.

As for other characters, I think that the detective’s perspective was interesting as well and I couldn’t wait to find out how he would behave when catching up with the fugitives. Help them or hurt them? And how is this journey going to end? It surely can’t go on forever…

Haven’t read Jordan Harper’s short story collection, but I’ll surely pick up his next book. A Lesson In Violence is an unforgettable tale of family and redemption.

Netgalley, Simon and Schuster UK, 2017

Review: Perennials by Mandy Berman @MandyBerman

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The quintessential summer read: a sharp, poignant coming-of-age novel about the magic of camp and the enduring power of female friendship, for readers of Stephanie Danler, Anton DiSclafani, Jennifer Close, and Curtis Sittenfeld. At what point does childhood end and adulthood begin? Mandy Berman s evocative debut novel captures, through the lens of summer camp, a place that only appears to be untouched by the passing of time, both the thrills and pain of growing up. Rachel Rivkin and Fiona Larkin used to treasure their summers together as campers at Camp Marigold. Now, reunited as counselors after their first year of college, their relationship is more complicated. Rebellious Rachel, a street-smart city kid raised by a single mother, has been losing patience with her best friend s insecurities; Fiona, the middle child of a not-so-perfect suburban family, envies Rachel s popularity with their campers and fellow counselors. For the first time, the two friends start keeping secrets from each other. Through them, as well as from the perspectives of their fellow counselors, campers, and families, we witness the tensions of the turbulent summer build to a tragic event, which forces Rachel and Fiona to confront their pasts and the adults they re becoming. A seductive blast of nostalgia, a striking portrait of adolescent longing, and a tribute to both the complicated nature and the enduring power of female friendship, Perennials will speak to everyone who still remembers that bittersweet moment when innocence is lost forever.

To be honest, as soon as I read the blurb, I was already in love with this novel. Female friendships AND camp? Count me in! And yes. I’m perfectly aware that most of the reviews aren’t glowing and that some of you didn’t fall in love with this book as I did. But hey, sometimes those books are the most interesting ones. The same thing happened with You Don’t Know Me. While I was reading, I knew it wouldn’t be a story that I could recommend to everyone, but I was enjoying it so much that I didn’t care.

Perennials was so not what I expected in the first place. There wasn’t a main character or two, but various protagonists sharing their camp routines. Some of the book was set in the year 2000, but most of it was in 2006, when two of the main characters, Rachel and Fiona, are nineteen and working as counselors in Camp Marigold. We also meet Helen, Fiona’s much wilder sister, Sheera, Mo, Nell… and some of the other counselors as well.

My favorite character was, surprisingly, Rachel. I know that Rachel is not the typical choice and she did make some mistakes, but I admired her attitude towards life. Despite her flaws, she was a really good person and she loved Fiona for who she really was: they were opposites but they complemented each other. I think I enjoyed their interactions so much because we’ve all had those friends from childhood: years go by and you know you have nothing in common anymore, but you still try to stay friends because of everything you’ve been through together. Too many memories.

There are various themes portrayed in this beautiful novel. I’d say friendship is the most obvious one, but this was also what I’d call the “perfect coming of age novel”. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel that captures the coming of age phase as well as Perennials did. It’s about feeling left out, about first loves, about grief and, of course, about family, too.

The writing was my favorite part. Although there wasn’t much going on here (this is not a novel filled with action) Mandy Berman had a way of describing their everyday lives that had me utterly absorbed. I could’ve read about this people’s dreams and hopes forever. The writing was smooth and simple, beautiful and emotional at the same time. And by the time I reached the final part of the book, I was in tears.

Netgalley, Lake Union Publishing, 2017

Blog Tour | When We Danced at the End of the Pier (Sandy Taylor)

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Brighton 1930: Maureen O’Connell is a carefree girl, but her family is on the brink of tragedy, war is looming and life will never be the same again. Jack and Nelson have always been dear friends to Maureen. Despite their different backgrounds, they’ve seen each other through thick and thin. As Maureen blossoms from a little girl into a young woman, the candle she’s always held for Jack burns bright. But just as she’s found love, war wrenches them apart. The man she cherishes with all her heart is leaving. When the bombs start to fall, Maureen and her family find themselves living in the most dangerous of times. With Jack no longer by her side and Nelson at war, Maureen has never felt more alone. Can she look to a brighter future? And will she find the true happiness she’s dreamt of? An utterly gripping and heart-wrenching story about the enduring power of love, hope and friendship during the darkest of days. Perfect for fans of Pam Jenoff, Nadine Dorries and Diney Costeloe.

First things first: the title. Isn’t it beautiful? I absolutely adore it. I was worried: what if I didn’t like the book? No one wants to say they dislike a book with such a beautiful title :O Fortunately, When We Danced at the End of the Pier was a truly enjoyable novel that I can’t wait for you to read.

This is a story about family, friendship and love. A family saga that spans quite a few years and features Maureen, Brenda, Jack, Nelson, Monica, and Maureen and Brenda’s parents. If I had to choose a favorite part, I’d say that the father story broke my heart (and it will break yours too). I desperately wanted to know what was going on, although I kind of suspected. He was a sweet and loving dad and I wanted him to get better. When We Danced at the End of the Pier is one of those novels where all the main characters are good-natured people and you can’t help but root for them. They deserve to be happy (especially my little Brenda!)

Maureen was the protagonist and a classic goody two-shoes. I’m not saying she wasn’t as interesting as the others (after all, she was the key of everything), but there were times when I wanted to sit down and talk to her, knock some sense into her. For example, she falls in love with Jack the very first time they meet and she already knows they’re going to marry one day. She doesn’t even tell him about it! I wanted to tell her that you can fall in love more than once, that there are different types of love, and that your teenage sweetheart isn’t always the person you’re supposed to be with. Maybe yes, of course, but not always. I think you can now guess who I was rooting for 😉

Even though I was completely engaged from the beginning, I still felt the writing was maybe too saccharine, as I don’t have much patience when it comes to cheesy stuff. However, I noticed that, as the main characters grew up, the writing evolved as well. And I kind of liked that, as it felt natural and fitting: the writing being a reflection of the characters’ minds. It was a rather short book but it made a lasting impression.

This is not a book filled with action, as you can expect from the title, the cover and the blurb. I remember reaching 25% and thinking that not much had happened yet, but still, there hadn’t been a dull moment. I was totally engrossed by the setting, the story and these characters. I already felt they were part of my family and their day-to-day tribulations were as engaging as any thriller I’ve recently read.

I also remember moments when I felt I had something in my eye… Finally, don’t worry if you see this is #3 in a trilogy. I didn’t know that but this can be read as a standalone. And what a lovely read!

 

Netgalley, Bookouture, 2017

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About the author
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Sandy Taylor grew up on a council estate near Brighton. There were no books in the house, so Sandy’s love of the written word was nurtured in the little local library. Leaving school at fifteen, Sandy worked in a series of factories before landing a job at Butlins in Minehead. This career change led her to becoming a singer, a stand up comic and eventually a playwright and novelist.