Apr 23, 2015

Throwback Thursday: My First Year Revisited

In trying to come up with some new ideas for the blog, I thought it might be fun to go back to 2008, my first year of blogging, to see what I was reading back then. Though I started my blog in January of that year, it wasn't until April that I really started focusing primarily on books. It was the best path I've ever taken. So lets take a look back and see what was on my nightstand in April of 2008.

Reading these old reviews now shows me how my writing in these posts has changed over time. I was so green back then! But hey, you have to be able to laugh at yourself sometimes, right?! I posted three book reviews that month and judging by my choices, (these were not review copies), it is clear that I had eclectic taste from the start.  The three reviews were from three different genres. Two were novels, one non-fiction. One of the novels was Southern Chick-Lit, the other was darker fiction, which I still love reading. Give me dark and haunting any day and I'm happy!

I'm not at all surprised that one of my first reviews was from Mary Kay Andrews, a writer I adore! DEEP DISH, a new book of hers at the time, had just come out and I gobbled it up immediately.  Her breezy prose and wit along with the quirky, southern charm of her characters was what drew me to her from her first book, SAVANNAH BLUES.  It was fun going back and reading that review again.

THE LOVELY BONES by Alice Sebold was a difficult one to get through, but that's not to say I didn't love the book. The subject matter was disturbing but I do enjoy going to that darker side as well.  A few years after reading this book, I did watch the movie and I must say, I thought it was fantastic. Very true to the book and the cast was awesome! Rarely do I ever enjoy the movie as well as the book, but this was the exception for me.

The non-fiction book I reviewed that month contained a subject matter that, at that time, had not made it into main-stream, but now dominates our news media outlets daily. The book is INFIDEL by Ayaan Kirsi Ali. After seeing her in an interview on CNN, I was completely impressed by what she had been through, both as a Muslim child growing up in Somalia and as an adult living in refugee camps and later as a member of Dutch Parliament, living with the threat of being murdered because of her outspoken views against the Muslim religion. It was a fascinating read and one I will never forget.

Do you ever go back to see where you were in years past and what types of books had your attention back then? Once each month I'll be revisiting posts from my first year of blogging and sharing them with you. I hope you'll enjoy my trip down memory lane as much as I think I will. Thanks for stopping by!

Apr 16, 2015

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh (Kindle Edition)

As soon as I first learned of this novel, I knew I wanted to read it. Why? It was a debut novel written by a Southern author based in a time when the world still had an innocence to it that is, sadly, not present any longer. But mostly I was intrigued by descriptions of Southern Gothic undertones.

The main character and narrator of this somewhat dark book is an adult male, reflecting back on events that occurred during his childhood, starting at age fourteen.  Though it is a single event that has brought him to this thoughtful and reflective state, he is at the same time coming to some realizations about his life and that of his family. He also delves into the psychology of memories and how they manifest themselves differently

in people and can change through time as we mature.  When this man was a boy of fourteen in 1989, living in a nice, upper middle class neighborhood in a suburb of Baton Rouge, a terrible thing happened to the girl who lived across the street. This is the entire basis for this story and this now grown man is explaining what his role was in this and how it affected him and his family. There is much more to this, but I'm afraid if I elaborate further, I will give details that could ruin it for those who haven't read it.

My Thoughts:

This is one of those books that has left me conflicted. I didn't read a lot about this book before agreeing to read it so I knew little about what exactly it was about. As soon as I began reading, I realized that at its core, its about the sexual assault on a fifteen year old girl. That is not something I would normally choose to read about, but at this point, I was already committed so I read on. Thankfully, the writer spared us specific details of the actual crime, which I appreciated. There were, however, a few other issues I had with the book  Not enough to make me stop reading, but worth noting for this purpose. I realize the author was setting a tone and describing what it was like to be a young boy nearing puberty but in his attempt to get that point across, I feel it became redundant. I grew tired of all the stories/memories about boys and their sexual fantasies at that age. At one point, I was like, OK, I get it!  Enough already! 

One other small thing I'll mention is with the chapter about Hurricane Katrina. This chapter came more than halfway through and I just didn't get why it was there, especially because that terrible disaster didn't even happen until 2005 and had nothing at all to do with the story. I was really thrown by it and felt it was unnecessary for the author to try to make a connection between the two.

Now, with all that said, let me say what I did enjoy was Mr. Walsh's writing. It flowed quite smoothly and was pleasing to read. He expressed the characters' innermost thoughts beautifully and poignantly. The detail with which he relayed these memories was methodical and very well paced. The character development was very good and made it all seem very real.  I also think the premise of the book is original and the time frame nostalgic.  MY SUNSHINE AWAY is a good book. An exceptional debut. I was surprised also by the unexpected revelation at the very end of the book. It was subtle but impactful.

The bottom line for me, is that this book may not be for everyone.  If you are able to get past the difficult premise, and pubescent sexual fantasies don't bother you, you may enjoy this one. It didn't keep me from reading and even liking it but I must speak honestly about how it came across to me. Its been a difficult one for me to review because of my conflicting feelings about it. I don't want to discourage anyone from reading it but at the same time my reaction needs to be genuine.

Will I read more from M.O. Walsh? Absolutely. I am very curious to see what he comes up with next. If you've read this memorable debut novel I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.  I believe this would be a fantastic choice for any book club because there is so much to discuss.  I received a digital copy of this book via NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest, thoughtful review.

Author: M.O. Walsh
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Sold By: Penguin Group
Published February 2015
Length: 308 pp

Apr 5, 2015

Guest Reviewer: Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming

Today I'm excited to welcome back my friend and avid reader, Emerson Clauss to my blog. He has previously been a guest reviewer here on Southern Girl Reads and now has recently finished reading Alan Cumming's memoir, NOT MY FATHER'S SON and has offered to share his thoughts on the book. Hope you enjoy!

By Alan Cumming
Review by Emerson J. Clauss, III

I must admit, I bought this book because I like the role the Actor/Author, Alan Cumming plays on "The Good Wife".   Not knowing much else about Alan or really expecting much, I was pleasantly surprised with his book.

Alan explores his own past, sharing some details that in most families, stay the family secrets  forever.   Instead, he brings us inside a complicated world of relationships, family dynamics and his realities that are extraordinary.   And he shares the sometimes grizzly details with exceptional candor.

The journey through Alan's past is full of twists and plenty of surprises.  We are brought along on this journey, to feel his pain, anguish and elation in what new things he uncovers and tries to make sense of.   Alan's strength in growing up in some difficult circumstances, continue throughout his adult journey he captures in this story.   I couldn't help but think that this strength is the same he brings to all of his roles, in real life and on screen.

An easy read, this work is a testament to the triumph over the circumstances experienced while growing up, and is a great example of survival and coming of age.  I will look forward to Alan's next work, on screen or in print.

By Alan Cumming
Publisher: Dey Street Books
Published: October 2014
Length: 309 pp

Other Reviews by Emerson J. Clauss, III