A Land More Kind Than Home (Wiley Cash)

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For a curious boy like Jess Hall, growing up in Marshall means trouble when your mother catches you spying on grown-ups. Adventurous and precocious, Jess is enormously protective of his older brother, Christopher, a mute whom everyone calls Stump. Though their mother has warned them not to snoop, Stump can’t help sneaking a look at something he’s not supposed to—an act that will have catastrophic repercussions, shattering both his world and Jess’s. It’s a wrenching event that thrusts Jess into an adulthood for which he’s not prepared. While there is much about the world that still confuses him, he now knows that a new understanding can bring not only a growing danger and evil—but also the possibility of freedom and deliverance as well. Told by three resonant and evocative characters—Jess; Adelaide Lyle, the town midwife and moral conscience; and Clem Barefield, a sheriff with his own painful past—A Land More Kind Than Home is a haunting tale of courage in the face of cruelty and the power of love to overcome the darkness that lives in us all. These are masterful portrayals, written with assurance and truth, and they show us the extraordinary promise of this remarkable first novel.

This was the novel that had been on my TBR for the longest time. We all have those books that have been around forever but we never seem to get to them… well, it’s about time! I’m trying to read more of my own books (at least one or two every month) and this month’s choice was A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash.

If you’ve read the synopsis, you probably figured out that the evil preacher and the southern setting are what made me choose this book as soon as I found it. It’s basically about a cult with a handful of followers hiding suspicious deaths. When Jess’s brother Stump is the latest of the preacher’s victims, he tries to learn and understand what’s going on. He doesn’t get why his brother is dead and he isn’t sure if he saw something important.

We have three main narrators. First, there’s Jess, of course, and then we have the Sheriff, Clem Barefield, haunted by his son’s death, and Addie Lyle, an older woman who started suspecting that the preacher, Carson Chambliss, was not trustworthy many years ago. But no one seemed to believe her.

I read this book in Spanish and I think the translation wasn’t that good (or maybe I’ve been reading too many books in English lately), which sadly meant that I couldn’t enjoy the writing as I would’ve wanted, as it didn’t feel realistic. I think this aspect doesn’t matter that much with domestic suspense, for example, but in books like this where the location is practically another character, I think it’s better to read it in its original language.

The story and the dark atmosphere were top notch and I could feel the tension as if I were there as well. I wouldn’t say this was a real mystery, as you know what’s been happening from the very beginning, but it was still suspenseful and the ending chapters had me on the edge of my seat. It was quite a captivating story, no doubt about that. Maybe not as unforgettable as I expected, but definitely worth a read…

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William Morrow, 2012

Dollbaby (Laura Lane McNeal)

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When Ibby Bell’s father dies unexpectedly in the summer of 1964, her mother unceremoniously deposits Ibby with her eccentric grandmother Fannie and throws in her father’s urn for good measure. Fannie’s New Orleans house is like no place Ibby has ever been—and Fannie, who has a tendency to end up in the local asylum—is like no one she has ever met. Fortunately, Fannie’s black cook, Queenie, and her smart-mouthed daughter, Dollbaby, take it upon themselves to initiate Ibby into the ways of the South, both its grand traditions and its darkest secrets. For Fannie’s own family history is fraught with tragedy, hidden behind the closed rooms in her ornate Uptown mansion. It will take Ibby’s arrival to begin to unlock the mysteries there. And it will take Queenie and Dollbaby’s hard-won wisdom to show Ibby that family can sometimes be found in the least expected places.

This was undoubtedly the best book I could possibly read after finishing SirensDollbaby was a sweet and easy-to-read novel, a quirky southern tale for those who’re looking for a lovely adventure. After endless crime books and psychological thrillers, sometimes you need something different.

This is the story of Ibby, whose father suddenly dies after a silly bicycle accident. Her mother, who never showed she cared for her, takes Libby to live with her grandmother Fannie and her help: Queenie and Dollbaby. Throughout the years, Ibby will learn it all about family, secrets, and life in the south.

I can’t resist a good southern story, especially if it’s set in the past. Dollbaby had all those details I enjoy about this kind of novels, but the plot never seemed to advance, not until the very end. Quiet novels are among my favorites and the characters in this book were odd and adorable at the same time, but that wasn’t enough for me, not this time.

In addition, the “big secret” didn’t feel like something particularly innovative or surprising. What I’m trying to say is that Dollbaby was a nice and pleasant read, but nothing extraordinary that I hadn’t read or watched before in countless of movies.

Dollbaby was a short and fun book, and while I enjoyed Ibby’s story and grew to like her and her family, the novel didn’t manage to completely captivate me like other similar books (The Help, The Education of Dixie Dupree). It was definitely sweet and I read it in a matter of hours, but I don’t think it will stay with me forever.

⭐️⭐️⭐️

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Penguin Books, 2015

The Education of Dixie Dupree (Donna Everhart)

28814312.jpgIn 1969, Dixie Dupree is eleven years old and already an expert liar. Sometimes the lies are for her mama, Evie’s sake—to explain away a bruise brought on by her quick-as-lightning temper. And sometimes the lies are to spite Evie, who longs to leave her unhappy marriage in Perry County, Alabama, and return to her beloved New Hampshire. But for Dixie and her brother, Alabama is home, a place of pine-scented breezes and hot, languid afternoons. Though Dixie is learning that the family she once believed was happy has deep fractures, even her vivid imagination couldn’t concoct the events about to unfold. Dixie records everything in her diary—her parents’ fights, her father’s drinking and his unexplained departure, and the arrival of Uncle Ray. Only when Dixie desperately needs help and is met with disbelief does she realize how much damage her past lies have done. But she has courage and a spirit that may yet prevail, forcing secrets into the open and allowing her to forgive and become whole again.

Sometimes, a story captivates you and you don’t know exactly why. After only a few pages, The Education of Dixie Dupree had already won me over. There was something about it that made it special… or perhaps it was simply that everything seemed to click.

I’ve always loved southern stories, mostly in films (I don’t think there are more quirky southern films for me to watch… Ya-ya Sisterhood, Fried Green Tomatoes, Now & Then… I’ve seen them all), but I’d love to read more books set in this particular location. The Education of Dixie Dupree was narrated by an eleven-year-old kid from Alabama, and that is probably the main reason why I loved it so much: Dixie was absolutely delightful and I found her an incredibly strong main character, with her virtues and flaws, both realistic and unforgettable.

So what is it about? In a word: Abuse. If you want me to develop it a bit more, I’d say that this is the story of a young girl who starts lying to protect her mother (a woman who doesn’t know how to control herself) and so she earns a reputation as a liar. But what happens when she really needs help? Will people actually believe her?

By reading the blurb and my review, you can easily figure out what’ll happen to Dixie, can’t you? But don’t let that discourage you: this novel is a true gem. There aren’t many books that manage to make you laugh out loud and two pages later feel completely horrified. This is why I found this so unique. Dixie is sassy, smart and brave but deeply innocent at the same time, something which made me suffer a lot.

I’m going to be completely honest: this is not an easy read. No matter how lovely the cover is, there are some graphic scenes in here and they’re not nice to read. The Education of Dixie Dupree will make you feel uncomfortable, but I will recomend it anyway. However, if you have problems reading about violence towards kids and sexual abuse, you should keep this in mind.

The book had already earned my 5 stars, but then I finished reading the writer’s epilogue and I fell even more in love with it. I won’t mention what exactly (because of potential spoilers), but basically, the author stated not all stories about child abuse are the same and I simply loved her choice of perspective.

Similar recommendations:
The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (Rebecca Wells)
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt (Beth Hoffman)

Other reviews:
Bookish Regards
The Deb Chronicles

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Kensington Publishing Corp 2016

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