Review: The Secrets on Chicory Lane by @RaymondBenson @skyhorsepub

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Sixty-one-year-old Shelby Truman, a romance novelist, has received a request to visit her childhood friend, Eddie, who is on Death Row. Though mentally ill, Eddie is scheduled to be executed for the disturbing, brutal murders of his wife and unborn child. As Shelby travels home to Texas for the unnerving reunion, she steps back into memories of her past, recalling her five-decade-long relationship with Eddie in order to understand what led the beautiful but troubled boy who lived across the street to become a murderer. Shelby and Eddie used to visit an abandoned fallout shelter in his backyard, their “secret hiding place” where they could escape Eddie’s abusive father, enjoy innocent playtime, and, later, adolescent explorations. As they grow increasingly close, a tragedy occurs one July fourth, an event that sets in motion a lifelong struggle against an Evil–with a capital “E”–that has corrupted their all-American neighborhood. With only a few days left for Eddie to live, Shelby braces herself for a reunion that promises to shed light on the traumatic events that transpired on her street, changing everything Shelby thought she knew about the boy on Chicory Lane.

I don’t know what I expected from The Secrets on Chicory Lane but it was definitely not what I got. And I don’t really know how to describe this book. Is it a mystery? Not really. But it’s definitely suspenseful. And it’s also sad and memorable and it won’t leave anyone indifferent.

I admit I wasn’t sure I would like it when I started reading. The writing was not what I expected and at first, I didn’t feel I’d enjoy the novel’s structure. This was a weird one. The narration was told entirely from Shelby’s point of view, only she tells us her life story instead of focusing on the present matters. I thought the present would be important, but it was not. Yes, we know that Shelby is traveling to Texas, but what actually matters are her thoughts, as she recalls her relationship with Eddie during five decades, from the time when they were kids until the last time she saw him during the trial.

While I didn’t think much of it during the first chapter, as soon as I started reading about Eddie and Shelby’s relationship, I was hooked. Theirs was one unforgettable tale and I was so immersed in their story that I almost didn’t want to finish the book. Shelby was a character that grew on me as I got to know her better. I definitely thought she made some mistakes (who hasn’t?) but she was a good person overall. Eddie… truthfully, I didn’t like him from the very first moment he was introduced, but I felt sad for him anyway.

As much as I liked The Secrets On Chicory Lane, I can’t say I was surprised by how the story progressed. I thought I knew what had happened and eventually, I was right. It was still heartbreaking and it definitely made me feel uneasy, but I believe it was the right way to finish the story.

This is not a happy book by any means and it touches several themes that make it a tough read sometimes. This book makes you reflect on how childhood experiences can affect our life paths, and how easily things could’ve been different.

Netgalley, Skyhorse Publishing, 2017

 

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Review: Hum If You Don’t Know The Words by @BiancaM_author @PutnamBooks

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Life under Apartheid has created a secure future for Robin Conrad, a ten-year-old white girl living with her parents in 1970s Johannesburg. In the same nation but worlds apart, Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei, struggles to raise her children alone after her husband’s death. Both lives have been built upon the division of race, and their meeting should never have occurred . . . until the Soweto Uprising, in which a protest by black students ignites racial conflict, alters the fault lines on which their society is built, and shatters their worlds when Robin’s parents are left dead and Beauty’s daughter goes missing. After Robin is sent to live with her loving but irresponsible aunt, Beauty is hired to care for Robin while continuing the search for her daughter. In Beauty, Robin finds the security and family that she craves, and the two forge an inextricable bond through their deep personal losses. But Robin knows that if Beauty finds her daughter, Robin could lose her new caretaker forever, so she makes a desperate decision with devastating consequences. Her quest to make amends and find redemption is a journey of self-discovery in which she learns the harsh truths of the society that once promised her protection.

It’s already October but I’ve found another favorite. Hum If You Don’t Know The Words will definitely make my Best Of 2017 list and it’s already one of those books I know I will keep recommending to everyone. I devoured this beautiful novel in less than two days and I highlighted many quotes and dialogues, which is always a great sign. I haven’t felt this way since I read The Trouble With Goats and Sheep, which, incidentally, has a similar main character, which must be part of the reason why I love them both.

I was recommended this book by two of my favorite bloggers, Renee and Susie. Like them, I was attracted to this story because of the comparisons to two of my favorites: The Help & The Secret Life of Bees. And yes, I can see the resemblance, especially when it comes to female friendship and racism (although the stories are obviously really different). I’m happy to say that Hum If You Don’t Know The Words deeply moved me and left a lasting impression too. I won’t forget about this novel.

This is the story of two women: Robin Conrad, a nine-year-old white girl, and Beauty Mbali, a black woman searching for her daughter. These two characters have apparently nothing in common, but their lives will connect in a wonderful way. Most of the reviews I read praised Beauty’s narration and I agree that hers was a heartbreaking and engaging story. I admired her courage and determination. But I also fell in love with Robin’s perspective (and I admit I totally didn’t see that first “twist” coming). I get that she acted too mature for her age, but I’ve realized I don’t mind that when reading fiction, as long as it helps with the story. And yes, I’m fully aware that the last part of the story wasn’t realistic at all, but I was enjoying the book so much that it didn’t even bother me. I deeply enjoyed reading about Robin’s relationship with Cat, her aunt Edith (whom, despite her flaws, I really liked!), and, of course, Beauty and her Jewish neighbour.

What I liked the most about Hum If You Don’t Know The Words was that both women showed us two different perspectives of the same world. By following Beauty’s journey, we learn about students protests and racial conflicts and we also get a glimpse of how the world used to treat black women. Beauty’s difficult relationship with her daughter Nomsa was also key in understanding how everything worked back then. How could she possibly come to terms with her daughter’s decisions? On the other hand, Robin’s story was more focused on grief, innocence and it shed light on a different kind of prejudice as well: homosexuality in the 70s South Africa.

One thing that I found extremely interesting was the portrayal of Robin’s parents. They were clearly racists but the author didn’t try to turn them into “villains”; in fact, they were really good with Robin -especially her father-. Like with Lightning Men, I find it so shocking that people could behave that way and discrimination wasn’t even unusual. Even Edith, who clearly prides herself on being modern and tolerant, has a very disturbing scene that made me feel quite ashamed.

As you can see, I could talk about this book for ages, but I don’t want to spoil the experience for you. Hum If You Don’t Know The Words is a wonderful exploration of grief, loss, tolerance, friendship and family and it helped me learn a lot about the Apartheid and South Africa. I wish all books I read made me feel this way.

P.S; Not that it’s important, but this is probably also my favorite book title of the year.

P.S 2: I was so happy when Rodriguez was mentioned! I love him and the fact that he was so popular in South Africa.

Netgalley, G. P. Putnam’s Sons , 2017

#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?

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