VOTE for Academic Curveball – Critters Award

This Is My Truth Now

Friends,

Academic Curveball has been nominated for a Critters Workshop award in the ‘Other Novels’ category. I’m grateful for the nomination and the support. The polls are opened through January 14th. I’d love your help if you want to promote the first book in my Braxton Campus Mysteries series. You can see current standings here.

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To vote, go to this page. You will scroll down, find ‘Academic Curveball’ and click the radio button. It will be under “Other Novels” if you can’t find it. You will need to enter your email address and then click “Confirm” in the email once it arrives in order to complete the voting process. If you don’t want to create an account, you can skip that process and opt out of any emails once done. This is to ensure voters aren’t able to vote multiple times.

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If you’re up for voting in other…

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“The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt” by Andrea Bobotis

Genre:           Southern Literary Fiction/Mysterythe last list
Publisher:    Sourcebooks Landmark
Pub.  Date:   July 9, 2019

This novel has such a crisp Southern voice that the reader will be surprised that the book is a debut novel.   The author, Andrea Bobotis, is no stranger to good writing.   She holds a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Virginia.  Her fiction has received awards from the Raymond Carver Short Story Contest and the James Jones First Novel Fellowship.  The novel is based in a fictional town in South Carolina (Bobotis is a native of South Carolina) and splits its time between1989 and 1929.  The author interweaves the moving timelines throughout the novel without missing a heartbeat.   Miss Judith Kratt is a white woman now aged into her late seventies.  She is the eldest daughter in the family.  The Kratts were once the most powerful family in a cotton town that they owned.   Now their once-stately home, as well as the town, is falling apart.  She lives in her family home with her black companion, Olva.   Judith views her relationship with Olva as part family member, part friend, and part housemaid.   Judith is writing her last list, which is made up of family heirlooms.  The writing can move at a slow, Southern pace, but is never boring.  In the present, through Judith’s memories, we learn of her family’s dark secrets.  Some you will be able to guess.  Others you will not.

There are similarities in “The Last List” to the novel, “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café.”  Both books are narrated by the protagonist through the time period changes.  They both explore the themes of the segregated south, family, aging, male brutality towards females, and the dehumanizing effects of racism.  Still, both tales give the reader demonstrations of female strength while also managing to squeeze in some humor.    Judith is a quirky one.   It is fun to read how Olva, who is one year older than Judith, deals with her companion’s eccentric ways.  “The Last List” is obviously racially charged.   It is sad to realize that these same racial tensions are still around in the year 2019.  It can make one feel weary. Still, the author does a good job of capturing the aspects of what can be called the genteel South and its sweet southern style.  But make no mistake, the book is truly about the ugly truth hidden behind those grand Southern mansions.  After most chapters, the inventory grows.  Each listed item is cleverly written to connect to the story-line.  Bobotis does an excellent job in these thought-provoking connections.  Possibly, the author created the list to challenge the reader to examine the imprints of their own memories.   And to acknowledge the unfair power that comes from the objects (or once people) that we own, begging the question:  Will we ever truly live in a world of equality?   The story may read slowly, but it is a page-turner.

Open Link to Pre-Order “The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt”

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“Keeping Lucy” by T. Greenwood

Genre:         General FictionKeeping Lucy
Publisher:    St. Martin’s Press
Pub. Date:   August 6, 2019

The latest novel by T. Greenwood, author of “Rust & Stardust,” is about a heartbroken mother who gave up her baby girl born with Down Syndrome.  That sounds too harsh.   Let me clarify.  The year is 1969, when women gave birth while under anesthesia.  While still under the influence of the ether, and pressure from her doctor, husband, and father-in-law, the baby, who she named Lucy, is taken from her.  Her husband tells her she is going to a boarding school for the developmentally disabled and that visitations are not recommended since it would confuse the child.  She believes this is what is best for her daughter.  Two years later she learns through the newspapers that the school is actually an institution currently under investigation for all sorts of abuse (the author does a good job with visuals of the abused children).  Still, there are lots of pulling on the heartstrings type of drama that simply didn’t feel real.

It didn’t feel believable, at least to me, because the mother does a complete one-eighty.  She and her friend go on a “Thelma and Louise” sort of adventure to kidnap Lucy.   They go on the run with a broken down car and nowhere to go.  This is done to save Lucy from going back to the fictional Willowridge School.   I am sure that the author chose that name on purpose for its similarities to the infamous Willowbrook State School.   Do you remember that downright evil school located in Staten Island, NY?  I do because as a teen I went to demonstrate against the place.  “The horrors endured at the Willowbrook State School will never be forgotten. Built for developmentally disabled children and adults in the 1930s, the school became an institution where the borough’s most vulnerable residents were abused, starved and neglected…”— January 17, 2017, https://www.silive.com/news/2017/01/the_horrors_of_willowbrook_sta.html

Once the mother character learns the true nature of the school, her maternal instincts kicks in.  I want to know where those feelings have been for the past two years of Lucy’s life.  I believe that the story is about a depressed woman, totally under her husband’s thumb, who finally learns to think and do for herself.   But the writing is not up to par with the author’s last novel, which was a historical fiction.  There are so many clichés in this book, complete with an ending tied up in a bow, that I often rolled my eyes.   Maybe my own experience with such an institution is the reason why I found the story unbelievable.   Parents who left their children in such a horrible place were not the type to look back.  I am sure others may enjoy this novel, but it wasn’t for me.

Pre Order “Keeping Lucy” on Amazon

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my book reviews at:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
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“Baby of the Family” by Maura Roosevelt

Genre:           Literary FictionBaby of the family
Publisher:    PENGUIN GROUP Dutton
Pub. Date:    March 5, 2019

The author, Maura Roosevelt, is the great-granddaughter of Eleanor and Franklin.  Her novel is about a fictional modern-day American dynasty, the Whitbys.  I admit the author’s own family lineage is what captured my eye in choosing this book to review.  The fictional Whitbys will make you think of the once enormously wealthy real-life Astor family.   In the past, the Astors were known as “The Landlords of New York.”  I love how this novel begins:  First, with a quote from George W. Bush: “When I was young and foolish, I was young and foolish.”  Then, in the book’s opening, we learn that the always-foolish, current family patriarch, Roger Whitby Jr., dies after squandering away a fortune.   We learn that, half a century prior, a Whitby death would’ve made headlines around the world—not anymore.  The reader immediately knows that we will be entering the world of Roger’s offspring and their children as they learn to live minus the billions.

Roger Whitby Jr. has many children from four marriages that all ended in divorce.  (The author added in a family tree, which is a nice touch).   After his death, he bequeaths what is left of the fortune to his last son, who is adopted, as well as the baby in the family.  This naturally becomes the tension in the story.  The reader will become familiar with three of his children, each from a different marriage, who play major roles in the novel.  They are half-siblings but still, they share the same feeling of abandonment.   In these three, we learn that the story is not actually about the inheritance, but rather the half-siblings’ childhood and adult struggles that stem from being a member of a famous clan (Heh, I can’t help but wonder about the author’s motives for writing this book).

I believe that Roosevelt attempted to write a novel on family love and healing.  If so, that is not what I read.  Basically, this is a poor little rich kid tale.  There are so many subplots with each grown child that I became confused, which led to lack of interest.  Spoiler:  One daughter, in her early twenties (in the first job of her life) is clearly being sexually abused by the man she works for, yet I didn’t feel the anger that I should have felt.   Her story gets lost in between the others.  This is a shame as the novel has such potential.  It reminded me of Jonathan Franzen’s novel “The Corrections.”   There are strong similarities (meaning lots of Tolstoy-like soap).  I am not comparing the talents of the famous Russian author to either of these current day writers.  I am trying to say that Roosevelt’s “Baby” is missing the American Gothic feel that “Corrections” managed to catch.

Pre Order on Amazon

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
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MERRY CHRISTMAS EVE TO ALL MY BLOGGER BUDDIES

Why I am behind on my reviews:

Homemade from scratch (by yours truly) Christmas Cookies:

1. Ricotta 
2. Oatmeal with cranberries and walnuts
3. Pizzelles
4. Gingerbread men
5. Cinnamon and brown sugar (AKA Snickerdoodles)
6. Peanut butter and milk chocolate
7. Sugar cookies shaped like Christmas trees, Christmas stockings, snowflakes and others (until my rolling pin almost broke in half)

done

“The Paragon Hotel” by Lyndsay Faye

Genre:         Historical Fiction Mystery Hotel
Publisher:    PENGUIN GROUP Putmam
Pub. Date:   January 8, 2019

In a nutshell, this novel is about racism and the American underworld in the early twentieth century.  The novel begins in 1921, during the time of America’s Prohibition.  A young white female protagonist is on a train out of Harlem running to escape her Mafia boss who is displeased with her.  She is suffering from an untreated bullet wound.  A black male Pullman porter takes pity on her and brings her with him to his home in Portland, Oregon, which happens to be in an all-black hotel.   The story goes back and forth in chapters and settings from NYC to Oregon.

This is a difficult review to write since I had different opinions throughout the novel on whether I did or did not like the book.  I appreciate that the alternating settings begin with a real quote from each area’s non-fictional newspapers.  Plus, the author has historical endnotes.   Good research is always a plus in historical fiction.  I liked that the author chose that the scrappy little kid character, who grows up to be a mobster, is a girl rather than a boy.  This is unheard of in most mob stories.  I got a kick out of learning that at one time Harlem NY had a large Italian population know as Little Italy.  As a native New Yorker, I really should have known this.  For me, Little Italy is the infamous neighborhood located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  (I used to push my, now-grown, baby in a stroller right there on Mulberry St.)    And I thoroughly enjoyed how skillful the author is in immersing the reader in the feel of the era.  I was hooked on the visuals and the slang of the times. I was expecting Bogey or Cagney to materialize on any given page.

Then the historical fiction morphs into a mystery.  Although it is a well-written mystery, it is not needed to enhance the already interesting tale on the happenings of the young woman’s two lives:  One in white America and another in black America.  Both are filled with police that are as corrupt as the mobsters.  Nor was I wild about a couple of twists that seem thrown in for good measure.  They are decent twists, but again, not needed.  Maybe I just don’t care for the mixing of genres.  I also was not pleased that in this book, and recent others is that the theme and characters are pointedly aligned to this current dysfunctional White House administration.   I am growing weary of all the new historical novels that make anti-Trump statements without using his name.  (And, I am no fan of the 45th American President).  In this tale, I read over and over how in the 1920s the KKK expanded into the north because of the hatred against people who deemed not “truly” American.  Their motto was “America First.”  Sound familiar?  I am aware that these historical connections need to be repeated in words to serve as reminders of what can happen when politics run amok.  But, after finding this Trump-metaphor linking trend so often I, as a reader and a reviewer, need a breather from political teachable moments in my fiction.

After writing down my thoughts on the pros and cons in “The Paragon Hotel,” I discover I am still confused on whether I would recommend the book or not.  I guess it depends upon what your expectations are when venturing into the story.  I was not expecting a mystery.   Hopefully my confusion will help give you a clear picture of what you may like or dislike in the story.

Pre-Order on Amazon

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesrecord
https://www.amazon.com/gp/profile/amzn1.account.AG62PSO4DKIDR23WFXRPYGSYK65Q