Monday, August 26, 2019

Book Review: Stars of Alabama by Sean Dietrich

Happy Monday, My Lovelies!  I hope y'all had a wonderful weekend.  It has been wedding central around here, but I'm ready to put planning on the back burner and let the (very) capable wedding planners take over from here!

Recently I read Stars of Alabama by Sean Dietrich, AKA Sean of the South.  This book reminds me so much of John Steinbeck's work, only with a Southern accent.

According to Goodreads:

With a voice both humorous and heartfelt, Sean Dietrich—also known as Sean of the South—weaves together a tale about the dignity of humanity and the value of enduring hope.

One child preacher traveling across the plains.

One young woman with a mysterious touch.

Two old friends, their baby, and their bloodhound.

And all the stars that shine above them.

When fifteen-year-old Marigold becomes pregnant amid the Great Depression, she is rejected by her family and forced to fend for herself. And when she loses her baby in the forest, her whole world turns upside down. She’s even more distraught upon discovering she has an inexplicable power that makes her both beautiful and terrifying—and something of a local legend.

Meanwhile, migrant workers Vern and Paul discover a violet-eyed baby and take it upon themselves to care for her. The men soon pair up with a widow and her two children, and the misfit family finds its way in fits and starts toward taking care of each other.

As survival brings one family together, a young boy finds himself with nary a friend to his name as the dust storms rage across Kansas. Fourteen-year-old Coot, a child preacher with a prodigy’s memory, is on the run with thousands of stolen dollars—and the only thing he’s sure of is that Mobile, Alabama, is his destination.

As the years pass and a world war looms, these stories intertwine in surprising ways, reminding us that when the dust clears, we can still see the stars.

My Review:

I don't normally enjoy Depression-era books for obvious reasons:  The Dust Bowl of the Midwest is suffocating and frightening; the demoralization of grown men is devastating; and the desperation of mothers for their children is heartbreaking.  This book has all three, yet I still enjoyed it.

As the Goodreads blurb says, there are three storylines interwoven throughout the book.  Only two of them are connected: Marigold, the miraculous healer who lives in an Alabama brothel, and her lost daughter, Ruth, who was found in a Mobile-area forest by two friends.  Ruth and her new "family" are joined by a young mother and her two children.  The third narrative is about Coot, the prodigious 14 year old evangelist who narrowly escapes the Midwest Dust Bowl.  Coot's storyline meshes with the other two at the end of the book in a very surprising way.

One interesting aspect of the story is that Marigold and Coot seem to get stuck in their situation for a very long time unlike Vern, Paul, Ruth, and the rest of their little family.  Vern and Paul's family migrate to where they can find work, and although they don't have much, they are not shy about picking up and moving on in order to better their lives.  Marigold, once she moves into the brothel and works basically as a laundress, never leaves.  The prostitutes are kind to her, and they sort of have a little family, but nothing like the bonds of Vern and Paul's makeshift family.  Coot makes a huge mistake in judgment and ends-up near death near a railroad car where an older man who seems to have Jake-leg saves him.  They roam around for a very long time.  Both Coot and Marigold seem lost compared to the third storyline, and maybe Sean of the South is making a point about the strength in numbers, especially when it comes to family.

Hope is an underlying theme in the book, but action is as well.  The narrative is sluggish at times, which is a direct reflection of the choices to remain static by a couple of the main characters.  But once they decide to boldly choose another path, their hope is rewarded.  Lesson learned...and I will carry these characters in my heart, especially Marigold and Coot, for a very long time.  If you enjoy Southern fiction, then you must add Stars of Alabama to your reading list.

Below is an IndieBound affiliate link for purchasing the book.

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Disclosure:  I recieved this hardbound copy of Stars of Alabama from the publiser, Thomas Nelson, via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review.  

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Friday, August 23, 2019

Literary Friday: Midnight at the Blackbird Café

Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!  I hope you have had a wonderful week.

Today I'm sharing with you one of the best reads of summer:  Midnight at the Blackbird Café by Heather Webber.  Though she has been award-nominated for her mysteries, Webber now turns to something quite unique with her latest novel.   According to the media packet: "It's a captivating blend of magical realism, heartwarming romance, and small-town Southern charm, perfect for fans of Sarah Addison Allen."  And y'all, it is!  I love Webber's voice, and this is such a wonderful story with several, well-drawn and quirky characters.

According to Goodreads:

Nestled in the mountain shadows of Alabama lies the little town of Wicklow. It is here that Anna Kate has returned to bury her beloved Granny Zee, owner of the Blackbird Café.

It was supposed to be a quick trip to close the café and settle her grandmother’s estate, but despite her best intentions to avoid forming ties or even getting to know her father’s side of the family, Anna Kate finds herself inexplicably drawn to the quirky Southern town her mother ran away from so many years ago, and the mysterious blackbird pie everybody can’t stop talking about.

As the truth about her past slowly becomes clear, Anna Kate will need to decide if this lone blackbird will finally be able to take her broken wings and fly.

My Review:

As many of my long-time readers know: I love magical realism.  I also love books with a strong sense of place, especially when they are set in the South.  Midnight at the Blackbird Café transports the reader to a sleepy Northeast Alabama town that has seen better days.  I felt the humidity; could see the valley with its loblolly pines; hear the loud slap of the screened door as it slammed; smell the honeysuckle; and taste the sweet homemade blackberry iced tea.  (I must confess that I was inspired by the book to make and sip the latter.)  

The magical realism is subtle as the Callow women are of Celtic ancestry, and they are keepers of magical mulberry trees and four and twenty blackbirds that are not indigenous to Northeast Alabama.  Slices of pie from the Blackbird Café provide patrons with messages from their deceased loved ones as they dream.  The messages are facilitated by the midnight songs of the blackbirds that sing in the branches of the trees behind the café.

Anna Kate, the sole Callow woman still living, has arrived in Wicklow, Alabama upon her grandmother's death.  She has inherited the café and her grandmother's estate just as long as she runs the café for a specific amount of time.  Anna Kate does not want to stay because she is enrolled to begin medical school in Boston in the autumn.  Plus her late mother hated the idea of her ever visiting Wicklow: Eden left Wicklow not only with a broken heart, but pregnant with Anna Kate.

The tragic circumstances of Eden and the young man she loved is heartbreaking.  Anna Kate was sheltered from his family by Eden, but upon arriving in town, she is suddenly thrown into the circle of her late father's family.  Determined not to make connections or get attached to the town, Anna Kate tries to keep everyone at arm's length.  Unfortunately for her, she has her mother's genes of caring for others and the need to heal others unconventionally.

There are so many elements that make this book great: sense of place; well-drawn characters; Southern (and Alabama) sense of place; familial secrets and drama; budding romances for Anna Kate and her young aunt, Natalie; and laugh-out-loud dialogue.  The story is told from both Natalie and Anna Kate's points of view, and as hard as "head hopping" is for some writers, Heather Webber pulls it off well.  If you enjoy Southern fiction that's a bit literary and a whole lot of magical realism, then you will absolutely LOVE Midnight at the Blackbird Café.


I received an Advanced Reader's Copy (ARC) of Midnight at the Blackbird Cafè from the publisher (Tor-Forge Books) via Wunderkind PR in exchange for a fair and honest review.  

Below is an IndieBound Affiliate link for purchasing the book.

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Until next time...
Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Monday, August 5, 2019

Wild Horse Blog Tour *plus* an Amazon Giveaway!

Happy Monday, My Lovelies!  If your children or grandchildren need to get some last minute summer reading in before school starts, I have a super, I mean superhero idea:  Kyle Richardson's novelette, Wild Horse.

I'm super excited to be a part of this Blog Tour!  Here's some information about this book:

WILD HORSE (a novelette) by Kyle Richardson


GENRE: Dystopian, Superhero, YA, Novelette


SUMMARY: Grady has found a crack in the wall—a crack to the outside world. But all he knows about life outside the compound comes from books, magazines, and a photograph of a creature that no longer exists. Things change when he meets a girl with raspberry-yellow hair, and a secret that could lead them to a world beyond the walls. A world where their abilities could change everything … or lead them both to ruin.

BUY LINKS: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Goodreads

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kyle lives in the suburban wilds of Canada with his adorable wife, their rambunctious son, and their adventurous daughter. He writes about shapeshifters, superheroes, and the occasional clockwork beast, moonlights as an editor at Meerkat Press, and has a terrible habit of saying the wrong thing at the most inopportune moments. His short fiction has appeared in places such as Love Hurts: A Speculative Fiction Anthology and Daily Science Fiction.

AUTHOR LINKS: Website | Twitter | Goodreads


a Rafflecopter giveaway


Grady finds it in the spring, when the leaves are sprouting from the trees in tiny pink-green buds. There are no trees in the courtyard, there's only dirt and rocks and other kids that look like Grady—their heads shaven, their clothes loose and gray, the skin under their eyes a creamy blue and red. But Grady has found a crack in the wall, a crack that wasn't there before—a crack that isn't supposed to be. Whenever the guards aren't looking, he leans his face against the wall and peers through the crack at the world outside. He does this with his left eye first. Always his left eye first. The gap is so tiny it's like squinting through a nostril. But in that nostril there's the sky, purple as a bruise, and beneath it there are scrawny trees with tiny pink-green buds. Today the trees bend and sway, like they know Grady's watching. Like they're dancing just for him. And his cracked lips spread until he's smiling, big and dumb.

This is when he hears the voice. "What're you looking at?" The voice comes from behind him, small and smooth and wild, like the picture of the horse taped to the ceiling above his cot. It knocks something loose in him, something that tumbles free, something that falls but doesn't seem to ever land. Whatever it is, it just keeps on falling, lost somewhere inside him. Grady frowns and squirms, but the stupid feeling doesn't quit. "Go away," he tells the voice. He doesn't bother to turn. "I'm looking at spring," he adds, "but you wouldn't know what that is."

The voice that's like a wild horse, it tells him, "I do too know what spring is. And I know that you're mean and I don't like you." Then the voice is gone, and a guard walks by, and Grady looks away from the wall as if the crack isn’t there at all. And stomping away from him straight across the courtyard, like she's trying to knock the world off orbit with the weight of her footsteps alone, is a skinny girl with loose gray clothes and raspberry-yellow hair.

Grady raises his eyebrows. Whatever that thing is inside him, it tumbles even faster.

So what do you think?  I know I'm intrigued.  Just from this excerpt I know I like Grady's voice.

Your kids can instantly download this book today.  Don't forget to enter the giveaway!

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill