Review: Forgiveness Road by Mandy Mikulencak @DurangoWriter

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On a hot, humid July morning, sixteen-year-old Cissy Pickering calmly and deliberately shoots her father in the back. To their Mississippi community, the death of well-regarded attorney Richard Pickering is a fascinating scandal. To Cissy’s distraught mother, Caroline, it’s an unforgivable crime. But in Cissy’s troubled mind, killing her father was the only way she knew to save the two people she loves most in the world. For years, Cissy has endured a devil’s bargain with her father, hoping that he would leave her younger sisters alone if she kept his abuse to herself. When that thin trust shattered, she saw no other choice. Janelle Clayton, the family’s matriarch, has kept her distance from her daughter, Caroline–a fact she now regrets–yet she hopes to do right by her granddaughter. Cissy has always been an unusual girl, given to compulsive counting and list-making, but Janelle believes her implicitly. When Cissy is remanded to the Greater Mississippi State Hospital, a caring psychiatrist tries to help, yet new revelations drive Cissy to retreat even further from reality. It will fall to Janelle, despite her own failing health, to become Cissy’s advocate and rescuer. And over the course of an unlikely road trip, Janelle and Cissy will confront the truths they’ve hidden from the world and themselves, finding courage, deep-rooted resilience, and a bond tender and tough enough to transform them both.

 

My review:

I read Mandy Mikulencak’s previous novel last year: The Last Suppers and I really enjoyed it. It was a very original novel and I’m glad to say that her new book FORGIVENESS ROAD was also quite unique and I loved it even more. This was a moving, beautiful and delicate book that I would recommend to fans of historical and southern fiction.

The book starts with a bang… literally. When shy and fragile Cissy kills is father, everyone is shocked and can’t understand why this has happened. Soon enough, Cissy begins telling the truth and my heart broke when I realized not everyone believed her. Cissy is then sent to a psychiatric hospital and her life will never be the same.

I don’t want to dive too much into the plot, but let me assure you that this book was a wonderful adventure. It’s sad, beautiful, emotional and, in the end, hopeful. What I loved the most is, of course, the relationship between Cissy and her grandmother Janelle. Janelle was such a fascinating character, I thought their dynamics were unique and depite Janelle’s apparent coldness, she was such a caring person underneath.

This book deals with important themes and topics, some of which are not easy to read about. And although what happens to Cissy in this book is definitely something that we’ve read in other books, I love how Mandy offers a unique perspective and strengthens the relationship between a girl and her grandmother. The road trip part was my favorite and I never knew how the story would end.

In the end, there wasn’t a moment when I was reading FORGIVENESS ROAD when I didn’t feel like I was reading something truly special. This book touched me deeply and had me crying more than once. I know I won’t ever forget it.

Have you read any of Mandy Mikulencak books? Would you be interested in reading this one? 💙

Review: The Forgiving Kind by Donna Everhart

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For twelve-year-old Martha “Sonny” Creech, there is no place more beautiful than her family’s cotton farm. She, her two brothers, and her parents work hard on their land—hoeing, planting, picking—but only Sonny loves the rich, dark earth the way her father does. When a tragic accident claims his life, her stricken family struggles to fend off ruin—until their rich, reclusive neighbor offers to help finance that year’s cotton crop. Sonny is dismayed when her mama accepts Frank Fowler’s offer; even more so when Sonny’s best friend, Daniel, points out that the man has ulterior motives. Sonny has a talent for divining water—an ability she shared with her father and earns her the hated nickname “water witch” in school. But uncanny as that skill may be, it won’t be enough to offset Mr. Fowler’s disturbing influence in her world. Even her bond with Daniel begins to collapse under the weight of Mr. Fowler’s bigoted taunts. Though she tries to bury her misgivings for the sake of her mama’s happiness, Sonny doesn’t need a willow branch to divine that a reckoning is coming, bringing with it heartache, violence—and perhaps, a fitting and surprising measure of justice.

My review:

As I said in my My Most Anticipated Books post, Donna Everhart books are always a priority. I requested this one as soon as I saw it on Netgalley, because her other two books had been favorites of mine. And while THE FORGIVING KIND was a different experience for me, I still believe Donna Everhart is a wonderful writer and this is a great and important book.

While I loved reading the first chapter and getting to know Sonny and her father, I admit I lost some interest when he died and the family had to continue with the business. I found the first half of the book rather slow, but I kept on going because I knew it wouldn’t disappoint me. And I’m so glad I did! This is a touching story about a family, about grief, love, racism, and friendship. And the importance of loyalty and never losng hope.

From one particular event on, I found this book unputdownable, and I couldn’t stop turning the pages. This is not a thriller or a fast-paced aventure, but I was so consumed by the story that I needed to know what would happen next. My favorite storyline was the one involving Sonny’s friend, Daniel. There were some scenes that broke my heart and the ending almost made me cry… it’s not a happy story, but it remains hopeful.

This is a book that talks about many important themes and even though it’s set in the 50s, it’s still relevant today. Also, I have never heard of divining water (I’m sorry!), and I found it fascinating. I believe that, like all three books by Everhart, this novel would translate beautifully to the big screen (picture something like The Secret Life of Bees).

Have you read any of Donna Everhart books? 💙

Review: The Last Suppers by Mandy Mikulencak @DurangoWriter @KensingtonBooks

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Release: 2018
Publisher: Kensington Books
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Southern Lit

From the moment I watched The Green Mile many years ago, I became fascinated with stories about death row and prison inmates. Surprisingly, I haven’t read as many books about the topic as I would’ve wanted, so I was obviously excited to read Mandy Mikulencak’s novel as soon as I came across its intriguing blurb.

The Last Suppers tells the story of Ginny Polk, a young woman working as the head cook in Louisiana’s Greenmount State Penitentiary in the 1950s. Ginny’s father was a prison guard at that same prison but was killed many years ago and the murderer was put to death when she was eight years old. Ginny is now dating her father’s best friend, Roscoe, who happens to be the prison warden, but they have a very complicated relationship. And Ginny’s life is about to become even more complicated when she starts looking into her father’s mysterious death…

I absolutely loved the concept in this novel. Ginny was both kind and strong-willed and I really loved her as a character. She provides the prisoners’ last suppers and always tries to cook their favorite meals, no matter what she has to do in order to achieve that. Ginny feels they should be shown a little humanity during their last hours, and I deeply admired her determination.

The Last Suppers by Mandy Mikulencak was unexpected in many ways, especially because I didn’t know how the story would evolve. The “mystery” plot didn’t pick up until the last section of the book, but I found it quite compelling. The book dealt with several themes like racism, human rights and family relationships and I must say this is a little gem that I feel should be way more appreciated.

Many thanks to the publishers and Edelweiss for providing me a copy in exchange for an honest review

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Review: The Road to Bittersweet by Donna Everhart @wordstogobuy @KensingtonBooks

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Set in the Carolinas in the 1940s, The Road to Bittersweet is a beautifully written, evocative account of a young woman reckoning not just with the unforgiving landscape, but with the rocky emotional terrain that leads from innocence to wisdom. For fourteen-year-old Wallis Ann Stamper and her family, life in the Appalachian Mountains is simple and satisfying, though not for the tenderhearted. While her older sister, Laci—a mute, musically gifted savant—is constantly watched over and protected, Wallis Ann is as practical and sturdy as her name. When the Tuckasegee River bursts its banks, forcing them to flee in the middle of the night, those qualities save her life…

The Road to Bittersweet came exactly at the right moment for me. This past month has been a bit difficult because of work stuff and I tried to keep myself busy, so I didn’t read as much as I usually do. However, I loved this book from the moment I started it, and even though it took me almost a week to finish it, I must say I adored every page. I had a feeling it would eventually drag a little because of the slow pace, but the truth is that it kept me engaged the whole time. I highly recommend it.

The Education of Dixie Dupree was one of my favorite books last year and I was excited to dive into Donna Everhart’s new novel. That being said, I was instantly surprised when I started reading it because although both books are set in the southern United States, in my humble opinion, they have nothing else in common. Dixie Dupree was a tougher read, dealing with darker themes and featuring a more cynical perspective. On the other hand, The Road to Bittersweet had more of an “epic” feeling and I think it was much more hopeful and innocent in some ways.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a happy book. It’s actually so dramatic that for the first 50%, I kept wondering how could anyone endure so many tragedies and still be willing to go on. I loved the Stamper family and wanted them to be happy, but Donna Everhart kept making that particular goal less clear with every page. So I guess the title fits perfectly, since this novel truly felt like a journey. The Road to Bittwesweet tells us all about Wallis Ann’s coming of age (although not your usual one by any means) and how families never give up, even under the worst of circumstances.

The book was emotional (I cried when something terrible happened) but it never felt overly sentimental, I think it portrayed everything in a very realistic way and I loved the writing. As for the characters, Wallis Ann was amazing, I loved everything about her and I could understand her jealousy and insecurities as well. She was fourteen years old, after all. She was the main protagonist of the story, but it was nice to read about Laci, Seph, the parents, and Clayton too.

All in all, this was such a beautiful book that I would recommend it to all those looking for a different kind of historical read, one that deals with a family’s struggle to live happily ever after. I removed part of the blurb because I feel it reveals way too much and it’s better to read it without knowing some things.

Edelweiss, Kensington, 2017

Review: The Stolen Marriage by @D_Chamberlain @panmacmillan

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In 1944, twenty-three-year-old Tess DeMello abruptly moves to Hickory, North Carolina, a small town struggling with racial tension and the hardships imposed by World War II. Tess’s new husband, Henry Kraft, is a secretive man who often stays out all night, hides money from his new wife, and shows no interest in making love. Tess quickly realizes she’s trapped in a strange and loveless marriage with no way out…

I read a couple of books by Diane Chamberlain in the past and thoroughly enjoyed them. I was eagerly anticipating The Stolen Marriage and found myself completely hooked from the first page. I adore when that happens. I couldn’t wait to keep on reading! The truth is, I love Diane Chamberlain’s writing and the way she creates such cinematic stories. While reading her books, you can picture everything in your head and easily imagine the story as a film. Her stories are always engaging and filled with “action” in the sense that you never ever get bored. There’s plenty of drama and twists and you care about the characters and what will happen to them.

The Stolen Marriage tells the story of a young woman called Tess DeMello who suddenly sees her life change completely after a weekend in Washington DC. I don’t want to say too much and I’ve already changed the blurb because I felt like it practically told you the whole story. Basically, Tess’s life does not go exactly the way she had planned it and she needs to come to terms with her new future: marriage, family, and friends.

This is a historical novel because it’s set in the 1940s, but it reads like contemporary fiction and I believe you don’t need to be into hist-fic in order to enjoy it. It is such an easy and delightful read, perfect for a cozy evening with a cup of hot chocolate and the sound of rain as your soundtrack. And admit it, all of us need one of those books every once in a while!

Even though I didn’t enjoy it as much as, for example, Necessary Lies, I’ll definitely read many more books by this author (I’m already planning on starting another one really soon). As for the secret, in my humble opinion, it was kind of a disappointment, and not because I guessed it -I actually shared the same suspicions as Hank’s mom- but because I didn’t really care about that part of the story.

Still, I loved Tess’s and really enjoyed reading about her journey, especially when she fought for what she wanted professionally. I wanted her to be happy, but did she achieve that? I guess you’ll have to read to find out…

ARC, Pan Macmillan , 2017