The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop by Fannie Flagg (Fiction)

Thank you to Random House and Net Galley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on Oct. 27, 2020.

Writing: 4/5 Characters: 4.5/5 Plot: 4/5

The ultimate feel good book, The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop takes up where Fried Green Tomatoes left off, following the beloved residents of Whistle Stop, Alabama as they disperse through the South. Told vignette style, we bounce between time periods, characters, and locales — like a collection of friendly gossip between friends about people they love in common. The main narrative arc follows Buddy and his daughter, Ruth, in the present. You may remember Buddy as the six-year-old who lost his arm in a train crossing accident in Fried Green Tomatoes. It’s an amazing journey.

The ending is absolutely delightful, and I won’t give it away with any hints. Let’s just say I’m in a much happier space than I was when I started. Thank you, Fannie Flagg!

Great for fans of Elizabeth Berg.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Writing: 5 Plot: 4 Characters: 4

Salvage the Bones is an utterly gripping depiction of life in Bois Sauvage, Mississippi for the Batiste family during the twelve days before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina — as seen through the eyes of 15-year-old Esch.

This family puts the “hard” in hardscrabble — a mother dead from childbirth 8 years prior, a hard-drinking father who shambles about trying to take care of his family, and four children each following their own path to survival. 17-year-old Randall aims for the one basketball camp spot that may get him scout-spotted; 16-year-old Skeetah applies hyper focus to China, his prize pitbull, and her new litter, hoping for cash sales; Esch has sex with any boy who asks — it’s all she feels she has to offer; and 8-year-old Junior simply doesn’t want to be left behind. When Esch finds herself pregnant, she looks to China, Greek mythological figures such as Medea, and even the hurricane itself for insight into what it means to be a mother in her world.

Ward is the master of setting the scene — both external and internal — through small details. She manages to portray raw emotions through the tiniest gesture, or even absence of look or touch without ever resorting to over dramatization. It was a difficult book for me to read as I read casual violence, low expectations, poverty, and children being raised by circumstance rather than design — but speaking through Esch, she doesn’t focus on any of that. From Esch’s perspective, this is what life is, and she is optimistic about her survival, her family, and her community. Although Esch is as the center of the story as the first person narrator, the book is filled with wonderfully portrayed men — each focussed on their own story, some flawed, but most are good men trying to do right in the world in which they find themselves.

In truth I enjoyed Sing, Unburied Sing more — perhaps because I read it first, or perhaps because I read this equally powerful novel a little too soon afterwards. I found it disturbing to read and yet found that I couldn’t put it down. I read it within a 24 hour period.

Secrets, Lies, and Crawfish Pies by Abby L. Vandiver

Thank you to Henery Press and NetGalley for an early review copy of Secrets, Lies, and Crawfish Pies by Abby L Vandiver, which will publish June 12, 2018. All thoughts are my own.
Writing: 3.5 Plot: 3.5 Characters: 4

A fun, cozy, mystery – full of colorful Southern characters surrounded by good food and music.

Romaine Gabriela Sadie Heloise Wilder is a medical examiner in Chicago, in love with the married Chief of Staff of her hospital. When she loses her job and man through one swift act of downsizing, she is dragged home to East Texas (Roble, to be exact) by her voodoo and herbal remedy-wielding Aunt Zanne. When they arrive they find a surprise guest at the Ball Funeral Home and Crematorium — the family business. He fits right in, though, as he is quite, quite, dead. Romie solves the mystery with the help of her Aunt, the sheriff (a first cousin), and a couple of attractive beaux-in-waiting.

Fun, light, well-written. For those who care about these kinds of things, the author and most (perhaps all) of the characters are African American. I hadn’t heard of this author before, but she is quite prolific with three additional mystery series to her name — so if you like this one, you’ll have a lot more to read!