Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Promise - TLC Book Review

Promise by Minrose Gwin

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

The Publisher's Summary
*highlighted in red are the tidbits that piqued my interest in reading Promise*

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
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


My home state drives me crazy sometimes...but it's mine.  
It's home. 
Anything that involves Mississippi, especially stories with Mississippi as the setting are almost guilty pleasures for me.  I'm going to respond predictably most of the time.
Unless, of course, the book is done poorly.
I didn't have to worry about that in the case of Promise.

First Impressions - Chapter 1

I'm hooked.
I'm a white woman.  Dovey is not.
To hear her voice, just the first part of it and her story, pretty much committed me.
I'm not a fan of the white woman saving the black woman narrative, but at this point, I don't think that is what is going to happen.
The descriptions are surreal, from the environment to the arrival of the tornado itself, the aftermath (the horse), the people, their words, their lives...

Golden Lines 
(seriously, I could post 50+ Golden Lines for Promise)

Now she felt the old rumble in her throat, something between a growl and a song that came from a low place, calling back to the train, saying she was sad, sad, she wanted her brother and sisters back. (7)

The wind shrieked through the house, knocking a china cabinet on its side, dishes clattering and breaking.  It slammed the dining room table up against the wall, shattering the plaster.  It tore the front door off its hinges and sent it flying onto the front porch and out into the darkness beyond.  There was a popping noise as the nails from the boards in the woodwork shot across the room like bullets. (55)

Old storm, you ain't got me yet. (56)

Dead white folks good for something. (59)

Old storm, you get ahold of that Devil?  That why you come to town? (72)

The McNabb place was in pieces.  She couldn't say she was sorry. (99)

Dovey spotted a scarf and pulled it down and wrapped it around her neck, then thought the better of taking white folks' clothes without permission.  Who knew what some Miss Lady might accuse her of? (139)

The woman's neck had been twisted into an unnatural angle, sideways and peeled back, white and tender as a radish, not forward and down and burnt black, the way the merman's had been. (144)

A piece of her covering had crept over one side of her face, and all the laundry of the past fifty years, all the laundry in her tally books once so neatly stacked and now cast to the four corners of the earth, came tumbling down on her, heavy and slick and gray with white folks' dirt.  (200)

Hello, foot.  Is that you?
I'm here, old woman. (232)

"The paper's running lists of the deceased, but only the white folks.  Ain't bothering to count our people." (234)

When Dovey found the gun, loaded, propped up out in the shed behind the house, she stormed back into the house and woke Virgil from a dead sleep to ask if he could tolerate being strung up on a tree for shooting the Devil, if he thought that might improve Dreama's mood. (284)

My Perspective

Not only was I born and raised in Mississippi, my husband and I lived the first 3 years of our marriage in Itawamba County, just 20 or so miles from the setting of Promise
Our first baby, a Chow Chow named Honey, was born in Iuka, another place mentioned in the novel.
I've visited Reed's Dept. Store many more times than I could count.
My mom worked at People's Bank.
My husband's family STILL lives in Meridian.
etc. etc. etc.

Tornados...we've lived through a few.  Thankfully, we've never had our own home destroyed, but the tornado of 1936 wasn't and still isn't a rare event.
Tornado season is, in fact, a southern season...integrated within Winter, Spring, and Summer, followed by Hurricane season...yeesh.
We watch the afternoon sky and The Weather Channel carefully.

The setting of Promise was my home...but not my experience...not my story.
The Tupelo of 1936 was not the Tupelo where I lived.
I struggle with words to describe the feelings I have as I read my homeland's history.
I don't seem to be able to describe my thoughts here well at all...every time I try, I end up deleting.
I'm thankful for Minrose Gwin's words.
I'm not a re-reader, but I could re-read hers.

Characters and Details That Will Stay with Me


Dovey (laundress),
Dreama (Charlsetta's daughter, raped by Son),
Promise (Dreama's light skinned son by Son),
Virgil (millworker, Dovey's husband),
Charlsetta (Virgil and Dovey's daughter, died in New Orleans),

Son - the Devil
Mort McNabb (the "good" father),
Alice (high school English teacher),
Tommy (McNabb's 3rd child, after whose birth, Alice struggled with depression),
Etherene - Thursday nights

Miss Edwina - piano teacher, her dog Major - Major knew Jo was in trouble.

Snowball the cat and her kittens - throughout the story, cats and kittens play a huge role, literal and figurative

Glendola Harris - trained as a nurse and returned to help "her people"

the coat hanger - Jo and Son

Jo's "Words to Keep" notebook with her mother

Jo and Dreama's rapes
the tornado victims' injuries
what Dovey and her father saw in the woods - the merman
Son's friends in the house after the storm

"Tommy" in the Crepe Myrtle

Alice's substitute hanging from the tree

The Trick

One of my favorite aspects of Dovey was her spirit...her assertiveness...She and Dreama both seem to represent a new generation of women finding their voices...more than likely they wouldn't find their voices in their lifetimes, but they would set the stage for many young women to come.

trains loading wounded, shipping them to Memphis, unloading and coming back for more

Jo - her smarts, her Campfire Girls knowledge, particularly her medical skills

the imagery...thoughts, feelings became real - hot irons, monsters, birds, winged and taloned creatures, scurrying creatures, the voices, the dreams...I read these portions over and over.

The realization that life wasn't at all what you thought it was all along.

The realization that in order to be saved, you have to be able and willing to save yourself...Glendola, Dreama, Dovey, and Jo

The Ending

The Google Factor (I'm a nerd)

F5 tornado, Tupelo, MS, April 5, 1936

Shake Rag, MS

***there is a shocking set of photos included in the back of the book as well.

Holly Springs - Rust College - Ida B. Wells


Charleston to frontier Mississippi
servants walked with chains
Chickasaws - cleared out of the state for settlement

President Roosevelt's CCC - Civilian Conservation Corps

the shortage of pine coffins

Red Cross - 1936

hospital at the Lyric Theatre - separate places and areas within those places for "whites" and "coloreds"

boxcars assigned to the newly homeless

Heroines of Jericho

What Next?

Promise is a keeper.
I've already added The Queen of Palmyra and Wishing for Snow to my Goodreads list.
How the heck did I miss Minrose Gwin????

The Author

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.

Other Stops on the Tour

Tuesday, February 27th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Wednesday, February 28th: The Sketchy Reader
Thursday, March 1st: Readaholic Zone
Monday, March 5th: Lit.Wit.Wine.Dine.
Tuesday, March 6th: Tina Says…
Wednesday, March 7th: Peppermint PhD
Thursday, March 8th: Instagram: @_literary_dreamer_
Monday, March 12th: Literary Lindsey
Tuesday, March 13th: Into the Hall of Books
Wednesday, March 14th: Broken Teepee

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover- HFVBT Book Review and Giveaway

The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover by Susan Wittig Albert

Publication Date: March 6, 2018
Presevero Press
Hardcover; ISBN-13: 978-0996904032
eBook; ISBN 978-0-9969040-5-6

Series: The Darling Dahlias, Book 7
Genre: Historical Mystery

Publisher's Summary 

NYT bestselling author Susan Wittig Albert returns to Depression-era Darling, Alabama…​where the ladies of the Dahliasthe local garden club, are happy to dig a little dirt!
In the seventh book of this popular series, it looks like the music has ended for Darling’s favorite barbershop uiquartet, the Lucky Four Clovers—just days before theDixie Regional Barbershop Competition. Another unlucky break: a serious foul-up in Darling’s telephone system—and not a penny for repairs. And while liquor is legal again, moonshine isn’t. Sheriff Buddy Norris needs a little luck when he goes into Briar Swamp to confront Cypress County’s most notorious bootlegger. What he finds upends his sense of justice.

Once again, Susan Wittig Albert has told a charming story filled with richly human characters who face the Great Depression with courage and grace. She reminds us that friends offer the best of themselves to each other, community is what holds us together, and luck is what you make it.
Bonus features: Liz Lacy’s Garden Gate column on “lucky” plants, plus the Dahlias’ collection of traditional Southern pie recipes and a dash of cookery history

Reading group questions, more recipes, and Depression-era info at

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound


I'm a sucker for anything written about the South...especially Mississippi and Alabama.  
Throw in a ladies' group, a mystery, some history, and a comforting series, and I'm all yours.
**marked in red above are the aspects of this story that made me say yes to reading it.

First Impressions

I was a little worried at first because The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover is the 7th book in the "Darling Dahlias" series.  I've read a lot of series in the past.  Sometimes I need to start from the beginning and sometimes not.  It just depends.
I did appreciate the Susan Wittig's "Club Roster" at the beginning of the book and letter to the reader to help me make a few necessary connections and most importantly, a quick place to look back to later in the story if I was confused about characters.  

Golden Lines

Yes, it was all very old fashioned and staid and decorous.  But it seemed to Lizzy to represent what people were seeking when they climbed the stairs: if not justice, then something close to it, something established, reliable, constant, and trustworthy.  (47)

Can't somebody have a talk with Mr. Whitworth?  He needs to know he's a stumbling block in the path of Darling's progress. (69)

Darling was behind the times, for nearby Monroeville had real post-office boxes with brass-plated doors and little glass windows and combination locks, so you didn't have to ask the postmaster for your mail.  Lizzy's mailman (a pleasant fellow named Tootie Blue) carried the mail in a big leather shoulder bag and delivered hers right to the door.  (112)

The woman seated in the chair on the other side of Lizzy's desk was wearing a plain cotton housedress and no gloves, and her going-to-town straw hat was trimmed with a wilted-looking red crepe paper rose. (174)

Once it was all in the blackpot, the mash was left to ferment, with an occasional stir.  Then a fire was lit under it and the mash was boiled, releasing the alcohol in the form of steam.  The steam was run through a coil of copper pipe (the worm) in a vat or box of cold water, cooling it into a liquid.  At its most potent, what came out of the worm was 150 proof - 75 percent alcohol, with a knife-edged, explosive jolt.  White lightning.  White dog.  Tiger spit. Hooch. (194)

My Perspective

As I mentioned before I have been a big series reader in the past, but lately have not been in the least bit interested in starting another. 
Y'all, I'm interested. 
While the gardening "stuff" and the clover theme of this particular story didn't necessarily grab me, the Darling community got me hook, line, and sinker. 
Oh those slow days.  
The days when everybody knew everybody from birth to death.
Days when the simplest aspects of life were celebrated...with pie :)

While the mystery was well-written...and the murderer out of the blue...never saw that coming...I felt compelled to wonder what's next.  The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover almost feels like just a there's more to this mystery that might be worked out further in the next installment.  I also may or may not have missed the conclusion of the $50 a month mystery?

I left the Dahlias story wanting to get to know them more and disappointed that when I curl up with a book tonight, I won't be getting caught up in Darling, Alabama.

Cast of Characters and Tidbits I Can't Wait to Read more about...
Whitney Whitworth
Ophelia - the female reporter
Charlie Dickens - editor The Dispatch
Mr. Mosely and Lizzy, his secretary, the aspiring writer
Grady - Lizzy's ex whose wife just died...their history and maybe future?
Beulah's beauty shop - reminded me of Steel Magnolias
Champaign's Darling Chapeaux - Charlie's wife's hat business (Fannie) - love a small town girl makes it big story.
Sheriff Buddy Norris
DessaRae, Sally-Lou, and Fremon
Regina Whitworth and her driving instructor
bootlegger Bodeen Pyle
ordering from Sears and Roebuck catalogue
"chipped chocolate cookies" - I love this kind of trivia when built into a story just right. 
Betty Crocker radio program - what the what?  
Deputy Wayne's cat - The Beast

The Google Factor (I'm a nerd)

bullet fingerprints
FDR social security
Black Monday, 1929
The CCC Camp
Huey P. Long
Babcock cylinder press
Miles proofing press
Kellogg Switchboard Company 
Alabama State Prison Farm - 
Woolworth's - Frank Woolworth
Five & Dime
FDR's right-hand-man, Harry Hopkins
the WPA - the Works Progress Administration
Publishing industry during The Depression
the switchboard

The Author

Susan Wittig Albert 
is the NYT bestselling author of over 100 books. Her work includes four mystery series: China Bayles, the Darling Dahliasthe Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, and the Robin Paige Victorian mysteries. She has published three award-winning historical novels, as well as YA fiction, memoirs, and nonfiction. Susan currently serves as an editor of StoryCircleBookReviews and helps to coordinate SCN’s online class program. She and her husband Bill live in the Texas Hill Country, where she writes, gardens, and raises a varying assortment of barnyard creatures.

For more information please visit Susan Wittig Albert’s website

You can also find Susan on FacebookTwitterGoodreadsGoogle+Instagram, and Pinterest.

Blog Tour Schedule

Wednesday, February 28

Thursday, March 1
Review at A Chick Who Reads

Friday, March 2
Review at Trisha Jenn Reads

Saturday, March 3
Review at Cup of Sensibility

Monday, March 5
Review at Peppermint Ph.D.

Tuesday, March 6
Feature at A Literary Vacation

Wednesday, March 7

Thursday, March 8
Interview at Jorie Loves a Story

Monday, March 12

Tuesday, March 13
Review at The Lit Bitch

Wednesday, March 14
Interview at Passages to the Past

Thursday, March 15
Review at A Bookaholic Swede

Friday, March 16
Interview at Donna’s Book Blog

Darling Dahlias

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Muse of Fire by Carol M. Cram - HFVBT Book Review and Giveaway

The Muse of Fire by Carol M. Cram

Publication Date: December 26, 2017
eBook; Kindle Press
Paperback; New Arcadia Publishing
Genre: Historical Fiction



A young woman on her own, escaped from an abusive father and learning her way in the world of Shakespearean Theatre.  
Women's lives in the theatre.

First Impressions

I wasn't sure about the cover close up...the lady is obviously Grace, but I'm not sure why her eyes are closed...I'm not a Shakespearean scholar, so I feel sure I'm showing my ignorance by admitting this ;)

Publisher's Summary 
Abandoned at birth, the grandly christened Edward Plantagenet rises from London’s Foundling Hospital to take charge back stage at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, only to be blind-sided when he rescues Grace—a young woman escaping an abusive father.
Grace finds an outlet for her passions as a Shakespearean actress, becoming ensnared by intrigues and setbacks that mar the pathway to stardom she craves.
Set against the tumultuous backdrop of the Old Price Riots of 1809, Grace and Ned find common purpose in a quest that threatens to tear both their worlds apart.
My Perspective 

One of my colleagues is a Shakespearean guru and loves any and all things related to the Bard.  I wondered many times with the mentions of Shakespeare's plays and quotes throughout the chapters and the narrative what he would think of The Muse of Fire.  
There was definitely a learning curve for me, and I wished many times that I knew more about Shakespeare and the early days of the theatre.
I liked Grace's character but I wondered many times just how much freedom a woman of her standing would have been allowed if her husband had not given her permission.  
Grace's future also seems to fall very conveniently into the hands of others who mean her no harm...I also wondered how often that would have happened.  
Of course, all was not perfect in Grace's life, and the episode where she really steps across the line bothered me a great deal.  I'm not really sure right now why exactly I'm bothered.  
I just wondered if everything worked out a little too conveniently.

The baby mystery in the end woke me up quickly.
Anybody else notice that?

The Google Factor (I'm nerd)

Old Price Riots
John Philip Kemble
Sarah Siddons
Theatre Royal, Covent Garden fire
The King's Theatre at the Haymarket
The Duke of Northumberland's loan forgiveness to John Philip Kemble in order to build the New Theatre
Astley's Amphitheatre
The Theatre Royal at Drury Lane fire
the Riot Act
Kemble hiring "boxers" to keep the rioters under control
"We are satisfied"

About the Author

Carol M. Cram 
is the author of A Woman of Note (Lake Union Publishing, 2015) and The Towers of Tuscany (Lake Union Publishing 2014). In addition to writing fiction, Carol has enjoyed a great career as an educator, teaching at Capilano University in North Vancouver for over twenty years and authoring forty-plus bestselling textbooks on business communications and software applications for Cengage Learning. She holds an MA in Drama from the University of Toronto and an MBA from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. Carol is currently focusing as much of her attention as she can spare between walks in the woods on writing historical novels with an arts twist and sharing her Nia practice as a Nia teacher. She and her husband, painter Gregg Simpson, share a life on beautiful Bowen Island near Vancouver, Canada.
For more information, please visit Carol M. Cram’s website. 
You can also find her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Goodreads.

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, February 26
Review at Peppermint Ph.D.

Tuesday, February 27
Interview at Donna’s Book Blog

Thursday, March 1

Friday, March 2
Review at A Bookaholic Swede
Feature at A Literary Vacation

Monday, March 5

Thursday, March 8
Interview at Passages to the Past

Friday, March 9
Review at Pursuing Stacie

Wednesday, March 14

Monday, March 19
Guest Post at Let Them Read Books

Tuesday, March 20

Thursday, March 22


During the Book Blast, we will be giving away a copies of The Muse of Fire! 
Three copies are up for grabs! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.
Giveaway Rules
– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on March 22nd. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to residents in the US and UK.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

The Muse of Fire