Wednesday, February 28, 2018

What I'm Reading Wednesday: Promise by Minrose Gwin

Happy Wednesday, My Lovelies!  Today I have a fantastic Southern historical fiction book to share with you: Promise by Minrose Gwin.  I was very pleasantly surprised with this literary selection even though the topic is gruesome.

About Promise

• Hardcover: 400 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow (February 27, 2018)

In the aftermath of a devastating tornado that rips through the town of Tupelo, Mississippi, at the height of the Great Depression, two women worlds apart—one black, one white; one a great-grandmother, the other a teenager—fight for their families’ survival in this lyrical and powerful novel.

“Gwin’s gift shines in the complexity of her characters and their fraught relationships with each other, their capacity for courage and hope, coupled with their passion for justice.” -- Jonis Agee, bestselling author of The River Wife

A few minutes after 9 p.m. on Palm Sunday, April 5, 1936, a massive funnel cloud flashing a giant fireball and roaring like a runaway train careened into the thriving cotton-mill town of Tupelo, Mississippi, killing more than 200 people, not counting an unknown number of black citizens, one-third of Tupelo’s population, who were not included in the official casualty figures.

When the tornado hits, Dovey, a local laundress, is flung by the terrifying winds into a nearby lake. Bruised and nearly drowned, she makes her way across Tupelo to find her small family—her hardworking husband, Virgil, her clever sixteen-year-old granddaughter, Dreama, and Promise, Dreama’s beautiful light-skinned three-month-old son.

Slowly navigating the broken streets of Tupelo, Dovey stops at the house of the despised McNabb family. Inside, she discovers that the tornado has spared no one, including Jo, the McNabbs’ dutiful teenage daughter, who has suffered a terrible head wound. When Jo later discovers a baby in the wreckage, she is certain that she’s found her baby brother, Tommy, and vows to protect him.

During the harrowing hours and days of the chaos that follows, Jo and Dovey will struggle to navigate a landscape of disaster and to battle both the demons and the history that link and haunt them. Drawing on historical events, Minrose Gwin beautifully imagines natural and human destruction in the deep South of the 1930s through the experiences of two remarkable women whose lives are indelibly connected by forces beyond their control. A story of loss, hope, despair, grit, courage, and race, Promise reminds us of the transformative power and promise that come from confronting our most troubled relations with one another.


Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Photo by Steve Exum Photography

About Minrose Gwin

Minrose Gwin is the author of The Queen of Palmyra. She has written three scholarly books, coedited The Literature of the American South, and teaches contemporary fiction at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill. Find out more about Minrose at her website.

My Review:

This book far surpassed my expectations.  Lyrical, literary, and beautifully written, I'm fairly certain Promise will make my Best Three Books of 2018 List.  I know it's still early in the year, but I seriously doubt I'll read anything better this year, and here's why.

Gwin has a connection to Tupelo and this event from history: her grandparents' home survived the horrific F-5 tornado that hit on Palm Sunday, 1936.  The novel is very well-researched, and although the characters are fictitious, the events, places, and devastation are real.  It's hard for me to comprehend that more than 200 white people were killed in the disaster, yet there are no stats for the "colored people," and one of the hardest hit areas was an African American neighborhood.  I can tell that this subject is close to the writer's heart because it's that obvious in her writing.

The characters are so well-drawn that they remind me of the "freaks" depicted in Flannery O'Connor's fiction.  Many of the characters are unlikable, and even Jo, the teenage antagonist in the book, is awkward, damaged, and is handicapped with a broken arm and head injury. Some of her thoughts I could have done without quite frankly!  Dovey the protagonist is also flawed, and she has the gift of sight.  Aptly named, she flies through the air during the tornado and lands in a pond where she could've drowned like other citizens.  Once she pulls herself from the pond, she embarks on a quest to find her missing family members because she knows that they're alive.  

This book is not for the squeamish.  Some of the details about injuries, deaths, and medical care during the aftermath of the storm are graphic, not to mention the sanitary and living conditions.  Gwin is very descriptive about these things, but it enhances the mood and atmosphere of the segregated South during the height of the Great Depression after a devastating natural disaster.  Ironically, Tupelo was the first Tennessee Valley Authority city, and was a cotton mill town so her citizens hadn't suffered as badly as other areas until the tornado.  If Gwin's descriptive prose isn't enough, she includes several historical photos taken after the tornado of victims and damage.  

There are several things that a great Southern novel must have:  a sense of place; racial tension; a sense of family and community and one's role in it; Protestantism; a sense of justice; and unforgettable, flawed characters.  Promise delivers on all these elements, plus the story is fantastic with the added benefit of hope.  I highly recommend this book;  it's a new Southern classic.  

If you'd like to purchase Promise from your local independent bookstore, please click on the affiliate link below.

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Disclosure:  A received a hardback edition of Promise from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

My Happy List: Preparing for March

Happy Tuesday, My Lovelies!  I hope y'all have had a lovely week so far.  Today is a beautiful day after a wet weekend and Monday morning.  The trees are beautiful in our backyard, above.

Spring makes me so happy.  I guess I'm just not a winter girl at all!  

I've been busy prepping for March.  There's lots going on with our family, and our girls have spring break during March, but not the same week.  *sadface*  Yesterday and Sunday I started decorating for St. Patrick's Day, so expect several Irish-themed posts next month.

Don't you just love ranunculus?  

Decorating for St. Patrick's Day and greening-up our home makes me happy!

I'm participating in a challenge over at the Caffeinated Reviewer:

Oh, how this challenge is tailor-made for me!

Reading is supposed to be all about fun, yet sometimes my TBR pile makes me feel guilty. This month, I've chosen a few select books to check-off my TBR list, and this makes me very happy!

I've started a reading journal, and the entry about Holly Black's The Cruel Prince is my first (above). I'm still doing a little art journaling, but this is in a different, much smaller journal. Journaling always makes me happy!

Here are a few interesting articles I've read recently that I thought might interest y'all:

1.   How does a library handle a rare book of deadly wallpaper samples?  Read this article about rare arsenic-laced Victorian wallpaper.  By the end of the nineteenth century, the American Medical Association estimated that nearly 65% of all wallpaper in the United States contained arsenic as it was mixed with copper to make Paris green.  

2.   Over at Your Modern Family there's a nice article entitled The Scary Truth About What's Hurting Our Kids that draws from several sources.  The good news is parents are able to help (after all this is a Happy List).  

It would make me very happy if you'd subscribe to my newsletter.  Sent weekly, I share the top post of the week with extra content not shared on the blog.  Look at the top of my sidebar for the link!  Thanks so much!

What's making you happy this week?

Until next time...

Ricki Jill

Friday, February 23, 2018

Literary Friday: A Wrinkle in Time

Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!  Recently I re-read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. I wanted to read it for a couple of reasons: I wanted to read it before the movie comes out this spring, and I wanted to read it before creating my Sketchy Reader Letter.

According to Goodreads:

It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger. 

"Wild nights are my glory," the unearthly stranger told them. "I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me be on my way. Speaking of way, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract".

Meg's father had been experimenting with this fifth dimension of time travel when he mysteriously disappeared. Now the time has come for Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace to rescue him. But can they outwit the forces of evil they will encounter on their heart-stopping journey through space?

My review:

The first line of the book is in bold print in the Goodreads blurb, above.  How can one not love a book that begins with: "It was a dark and stormy night?"   There's so much to love about this story, and I must start with how much I love Meg Murray.  I can remember being able to relate to Meg in so many ways when I read it as a child (and even as an adult).  Meg is frustrated because it's been a long time since her family has heard from her father.  He's a physicist working on a secret project for the government, and Meg is not reassured that his work is "very important."  She wants him home!  

Three ancient beings, Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which aid Meg, her precocious little brother Charles Wallace, and a popular upperclassman from her high school named Calvin, "tesser" or travel through wrinkles in time.  Their goal is to reach Mr. Murray because he needs help, and the three otherworldly women think that only Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin can help him.  Guided by their knowledge of the tesseract (fifth dimension) and scriptural wisdom, the three ladies tesser them through space to odd planets filled with even more odd beings (one of my favorites is the Happy Medium who quotes from Shakespeare's The Tempest).  When the kids find Mr. Murray on an insidious planet ruled by an evil entity, it's refreshing that one of Meg's faults might be their salvation.

This is a story of good versus evil.  It's a story filled with hope and biblical wisdom.  It's also one of the most banned and challenged books of our lifetime.  A Wrinkle in Time means the world to me, and it's one of my Top Ten Books that's influenced the adult I've become.  I hope that the movie does the story justice; I hope that the producers didn't leave out any of the biblical references.  In her Newberry Medal Acceptance Speech, Madeleine L'Engle said:

"What a child doesn't realize until he is grown is that in responding to fantasy, fairy tale, and myth he is responding to what Erich Fromm calls the one universal language, the one and only language in the world that cuts across all harriers of time, place, race, and culture...The best children's books so this....They partake of the universal language, and this is why we turn to them again and again when we are children, and still again when we have grown up."

A Wrinkle in Time is that book to me, along with a handful of others like Little Women, Charlotte's Web, and The Little House series.  They shaped, comforted, and entertained me as a child, and now again as an adult.  I read these classics to my children along with some new classics of their generation:  But none hold my heart like A Wrinkle in Time because an awkward, nerdy, and clearly imperfect girl saves the day.

Below is the official US trailer for A Wrinkle in Time:

Below is an affiliate link for purchasing A Wrinkle in Time via IndieBound.

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What are your favorite childhood books?

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Rachel Ashwell's Shabby Chic Books Round-Up

Happy Thursday, My Lovelies!  Spring has sprung in Central Alabama.  Yesterday, we took the Westies for a long walk and enjoyed the sunshine and 80 degree weather.  It was like heaven in February, and I loved it!

As I promised in yesterday's post, today I have a round-up post of my favorite Rachel Ashwell books.  Below each photo I'll give a brief synopsis of why I love the book.

Published in 1996, it's easy to understand why Rachel's style in Shabby Chic has stood the test of time.  Chapter One covers diverse styles: casual beach, contemporary, traditional, and eclectic.  The featured rooms are so pretty, and there's nothing in any of these rooms I wouldn't have in our home today.  My favorite chapter in this book is Chapter Four: Fabrics. Several of Rachel's early printed linen fabrics are featured, and I would be so happy if she'd look in the archives and bring back some of them!  The last chapter, Chapter 7: Flowers, has the prettiest selection of roses I've ever seen, and I'd like to plant a few of the varieties shared in this chapter.

Rachel Ashwell's Shabby Chic: Treasure Hunting & Decorating Guide was first published in 1998.  This is more like a resource book to me on all things flea markets and estate sales. Rachel not only shares her best shopping tips; she also explains what to do with treasures once you've found them.  There are countless tips on cleaning, restoring, and decorating your home with your found things.  Some of her best tips are on how to clean and treat vintage fabrics.  This is a keeper because I love old linens, and I'm not as worried about buying something stained since I have this handy book.  

Shabby Chic Inspirations and Beautiful Spaces was published in 2011.  Of all the books, this one has the most diverse selection of homes and rooms.  Among some of the features of this book are Rachel's Texas Prairie property and Notting Hill apartment; Sharon and Ozzy Osborne's stunningly gorgeous dining room and foyer; and probably the most pinned tiny shabby chic cottage in the world, Sandy Foster's Catskill cottage.  

Published in 2013, Couture Prairie and Flea Market Treasures is all about Rachel's property near Round Top, Texas.  Each building on the property is featured along with the store and outbuildings.  Because The Prairie is an event venue, there's also a chapter entitled "Making magical moments."  There's also a chapter on flea market finds, and a handy reference guide for all things Round Top.  This book will be my go-to guide if I ever get to visit the Round Top Antiques Fair.

The World of Shabby Chic was published in 2015.
Mine is a little faded because it was sitting in the sun in my family room.

This is the book without the dust jacket.  Isn't it beautiful!

The World of Shabby Chic has three sections:  The Shabby Chic Story, At the Heart of Shabby Chic, and The Looks of Shabby Chic.  This book details the history and evolution of the brand, and I found it a very interesting read.  One thing that stands out in this book are the unique vignettes featuring flowers in unusual yet beautiful containers.

This is Rachel's new book, and in case you missed it, you can read my post about My Floral Affair HERE.

I love Rachel's style, and her influence can be seen in our home.

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

What I'm Reading Wednesday: My Floral Affair by Rachel Ashwell

Happy Wednesday, My Lovelies!  Today I'm reading My Floral Affair by Rachel Ashwell.  I can't seem to put this book down.  It's my favorite of her books so far, and I took advantage of the post Valentine's Day flower sales to help me produce this post.

According to Goodreads:

Discover Rachel Ashwell’s floral inspirations and the unique touch she brings to interiors in her first book dedicated to flowers, a deeply-held passion come to life.

Flowers and floral decoration are at the core of Rachel Ashwell’s world and her designs. From her showcase rose garden in California, she set out with photographer Amy Neunsinger to capture the full-blown romance of the quintessential English country house, the dramatic colorways of northern Europe, and the faded opulence of a Parisian apartment. This is the story of that magical journey, which takes us through a variety of beautiful spaces large and small, some ornate and others simple. Every aspect of floral accents is showcased, from wallpaper to fabrics, floors to ceilings, architectural details, lighting and, of course, flower arrangements, some breathtaking and some simple… but all beautiful in their own right.

My Review:

Like Rachel, I adore flowers.  I purchase fresh flowers at least weekly:  We budget for flowers monthly.  We think they're that important; flowers are welcoming, comforting, and soothing.  I love the floral arrangements in My Floral Affair: Some are over the top opulent, and some are as simple as a few blossoms on a small floral plate.  Another added bonus is in the back of the book: Rachel has included diagrams of the floral arrangements with the flowers listed so the reader can recreate the gorgeous arrangements in his or her own home.  I'm still deciding which one I'll try first, and when I create one of Rachel's arrangements I'll share it here on the blog and on Instagram.

But this book isn't only about fresh flowers: It's about anything floral that brings beauty into a space.  The floral architectural features and lighting are beautiful as is the artwork.  I enjoyed seeing so many different styles: English Country, Paris Apartment, California Contemporary, and Scandinavian.  The photography is stunning: Amy Neunsinger is a gifted photographer. She captured Rachel's vision well, and I have been so inspired by this book that I've thought of a variety of floral projects to make or install in our home.

I decided to play with the book in our kitchen.  Some days I have way too much fun!

Shabby Chic napkins

A couple of my tiny floral paintings

Shabby Chic fabric-lined blueberry crate
I usually keep my library books in it!

There are bold colors in this book as well as stark white.  I love it all!

I was inspired by some of the darker blues to place the peonies in the midnight blue flower frog vase.

Do you like Rachel's Shabby Chic style?  I love it!  If you'd like to order a copy, the book cover below is an affiliate link for IndieBound.

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Please come back tomorrow for a round-up of my favorite Rachel Ashwell books!

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill  

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

My Happy List: Valentine's Day Edition

This is the beginnings of an art journal page I made inspired by the book Forty Ways to Write I Love You.

Happy Tuesday, My Lovelies!  It's time for another my Happy List, and this is the Valentine's day edition.  Another Valentine's Day is in the books, and in spite of all the hate and hateful acts in the world, we choose love.

I love Katherine Reay's books, and I can't wait to start this one.  Jane Austen inspired books make me happy!

Look at these sweet Valentine's Day cards from Jenna and Sarah.  Aren't they the cutest!  Valentine cards always make me happy!

Mr. Sketchy Reader bought me another MacKenzie-Childs heart bowl to add to my collection.  He's the best!  Plus he bought me Louis Sherry chocolates!  

I've found some interesting things around the web I want to share with y'all.

Book Riot published a post for their Read Harder challenge about books you can read in one sitting.  Check out some of the titles listed because there must be at least one to suit your reading taste.

Jeanie recommended this book to me last week based on my post about Footnotes* from the World's Greatest Bookstores, and it can certainly be read in one sitting.  

Apartment Therapy shared some of their favorite pieces from Chip and Joanna Gaines' new spring collection at Target. 

Thirteen staffers at Real Simple Magazine shared their stress-busting books, or "comfort reading," on a post recently.  Comfort books make me so happy, and I tend to re-read Lynne Kurland books and Bible verses for comfort.   

I'm still enjoying getting inspired by reading about the daily habits of artists throughout history.  I like that I can pick it up and read about a couple of artists, and put it away.  I'm currently keeping it on my work table in my art studio.  

Now that all the Valentine's Day decor is put away, I'll fluff the house for spring this week until I decorate for St. Patrick's Day next week.  Maybe I'll "call it up" and spring will arrive with some sunshine!

What's making you happy today?

Until next time...

Ricki Jill

P.S.  If you haven't already, please subscribe to my weekly newsletter.  It's short, and I always share neat content not shared on the blog.  Have you seen the pop-up for it?

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Monday, February 19, 2018

Book Organization Challenge: February Goal

Happy Monday, My Lovelies!  It's time for another Book Organizational Challenge post.  In JANUARY the focus was on purging, selling, and donating books you no longer want to keep.  For February, the focus will be on organizing books by room.

This might seem intuitive to you, and if it is I do apologize.  I spoke to several friends of mine who read and have large book collections.  What I discovered is that their bookshelves might be neat and tidy, but they are not organized, and certainly not organized by room.  I have found that when I put books in rooms where I'm most likely to use them, I enjoy them more.

Let's look at examples from around our home.

If you own cookbooks, they should be in your kitchen where you use them.  You are more likely to use them and pick them up for culinary inspiration if you find space for them in your kitchen.  If you don't think you have room in your kitchen for cookbooks,  I've seen some very creative solutions for this very problem on Pinterest.  We had the same problem, and what we did was have a custom low bookcase made to fit behind our sofa for cookbooks (our living room is totally open to our kitchen, and the bookcase is in the kitchen).

You can see the sofa through the back of our bookcase.

Finlay kept photo bombing me while I was trying to take photos for this post. I had a small window of opportunity with the gray overcast skies we've had (pardon the pun).

I keep all of my home decor books in the family room so I can be inspired while thinking about fluffing the house.  This is the least filled bookcase in our home!

I keep art books in the art studio.  I like having them close by when I need a little creative inspiration.

On my nightstand, I keep current reads and a couple of short story collections.  I like reading at night before I go to bed, and when I'm in between books and don't want to start another one, I can read a story and I feel like I've accomplished something!   ;P

Okay so this isn't our nightstand, it's our chest of drawers, but it's on my side of the bed, and I like that it's larger if I want to look at magazines, my iPad, and books while in bed.  

I keep books that I'll soon blog or bookstagram about (from TLC Book Tours and publishers) on my desk in the kitchen.  That's where I sort our mail, and I don't want to lose or misplace one of those books.  I put them away or donate them once I'm finished with my blog or Instagram posts.

You can get a sneak peek at what's to come on the blog and Instagram.

Last but not least, I keep all fiction upstairs in the library.

Finlay was very helpful during the production of this post....

That's basically how I organize books around our home.  Our daughters have books in their rooms, but since Shanley has moved two states away, she'll eventually get the rest of her books.  In the meantime, we're working on converting her old bedroom into a library, and the current library will serve as more of a blogging office for me.  Stay tuned for more!

Until next time...

Ricki Jill