Book Reviews

A Love Letter From the South

Kathryn Stockett’s debut novel The Help focuses on the complex, heartwarming and at times dangerous relationships between whites and the blacks who worked for them during the racially charged Civil Rights movement of rural Mississippi in the 1960s.

The Help has many heroines, perhaps most importantly Miss Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan and Aibileen Clark, who team up to write the powerful essays based on the stories of the maids and nannies of Jackson’s most influential socialites.

Miss Skeeter is a young woman with very different ideals than that of her traditional family and friends. She is struggling to find a place in her family and town with roots firmly entrenched in the past. Her dreams of becoming a writer in the big city are squelched and she then has to be content with writing a weekly column for the local newspaper on household cleaning tips. When she turns to her fellow bridge club player for assistance with her column, she gains access to Aibileen, whose simple storytelling technique creates a unique perspective heretofore unconsidered by Miss Skeeter and her debutante friends. Miss Skeeter and Aibileen embark on a journey to recruit other blacks to speak out about their experiences, both good and bad, to illuminate the issues of the racially divided South.

The central theme of The Help is that we are all human, have the same hopes dreams and fears; that so much of the racial tension of the time stemmed from a fundamental lack of understanding of the Other, and a deep willingness to remain in the dark.

While the book certainly has a serious message, there is humor as well. The villain of the novel, Two-Slice Hilly, is at the same time Clown and Devil, struggling to maintain her perfect-on-the-outside and hollow-and-lonely-on-the-inside existence. Then there is Miss Celia, the misguided transplant from Mississippi’s worse neighborhood, Sugar Ditch, who experiences the same social ostracism that some blacks do–because she comes from meager beginnings. Still, Miss Celia manages to snag the best man in town with her dyed blonde hair and pink body suits.

The real heart of The Help comes from Stockett’s own voice as both author and character. Stockett melds her own life experiences into the characters of Miss Skeeter, Aibileen and Mae Mobley, a young woman whose life is forever changed by the tender loving care she receives from her nanny.

As a native Mississippian, also from Jackson, this book was like opening a love letter from home. Stockett was concerned about writing in the voice of Southern black women when she is white, but it is the author’s willingness to be honest about her relationships (good and bad) that allows the true voices of the characters to come shining through. She gets it just right.

The Help is a fantastic read.


A Different Kind of Female Protagonist!

Soulless is the debut novel by author Gail Carriger. Crossing multiple genres, the novel is both romance, historical fiction, and a genre new to me—“steampunk”.

That’s a word that’ll surely set off your spell check. Harkening back to the worlds created by H.G. Wells and the like, steampunk novels give a front seat to characters that have a special relationship with their copper gadgets, goggles and leather. Mix that in with the traditional romantic themes of historical romance bodice-rippers and add in the horror of Victorian London in which vampires, werewolves and ghosts socialize among society’s elite, and you’ve got one hilarious, sizzling, mysterious novel.

The heroine is plucky Alexia Tarabotti, who unlike most traditional romance leads, is not blond, short, or helpless. She’s also not stick thin and has her own money. Alexia joins the local supernatural police force to solve the mystery of dead and missing vampires. She rises to the suspect list herself when she accidentally kills a vampire during a dinner party. You see, Alexia is soulless—which means any supernatural being’s powers are neutralized as soon as they come into physical contact with her. This comes in really handy when you’re in love with a werewolf.

I enjoyed the author’s continuous references to Alexia’s lover’s appreciation of her full-figured form and the fact that Alexia is a good friend, devoted daughter, and can still be focused on the height of fashion–always finding the right hat and gloves to go along with her silver-tipped parasols in case any of the undead gets too frisky. Readers will also enjoy the parade of supporting characters such as the handsome, brooding love interest Conall Macon who becomes a puppy in Alexia’s hands, pun intended; and her best friend Ivy Hisselpenny, who unfortunately doesn’t have Alexia’s same good taste in parasols.

Carriger takes great care to create this Dickensian world and it is just the beginning of the Parasol Protectorate series. Soulless is definitely worth a read.


Pleasure’s Edge Brings the Heat!

Pleasure’s Edge by Eve Berlin is not your ordinary romance novel. This contemporary romance delves into a subject that is still relatively new for traditional romance readers–the complex, at times scary, but always titillating world of BDSM.
Our Heroine Dylan Ivory is no damsel in distress and she’s not a virgin either–another example of how this novel strays from the norm. Dylan is an accomplished writer and sexually open woman who jumps feet first into a world she knows nothing about. And our Hero the amazing Alec Walker not only seduces Dylan, but seduces the reader right along with her. Whether bondage is your thing or not, Alec is just the type of man to make a woman reconsider!
Berlin wastes little time getting to the good stuff. Dylan and Alec meet, sparks fly, and by page 50 we’re already in love. Alec is just the kind of intellectual hero I love–confident, sophisticated, just a teeny bit arrogant, and full of more love and emotion than even he is aware. In the end, this novel isn’t about fetishes. Alec and Dylan barely begin to scratch the surface of what is possible–or even the norm– in the BDSM world. Really their exchanges and power play is just a backdrop for what’s really going on between them–they’re learning to trust each other, themselves, and in the meantime they’re falling in love.
Though each and every sex scene sizzles with the expected breathless moans and sated sighs, Berlin explores what Dylan goes through in allowing Alec to dominate and control her even when they aren’t in the bedroom; treating us to another view of sexuality, romance and seduction, that has absolutely nothing to do with heaving bosoms. If you are looking for a new and different contemporary romance to bridge the gap between traditional romance and erotica, Pleasure’s Edge by Eve Berlin is for you.

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