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REVIEW:  The Tilted World by Tom Franklin & Beth Ann Fennelly

REVIEW: The Tilted World by Tom Franklin & Beth Ann...

The year is 1927. As rains swell the Mississippi, the mighty river threatens to burst its banks and engulf all in its path, including federal revenue agent Ted Ingersoll and his partner, Ham Johnson. Arriving in the tiny hamlet of Hobnob, Mississippi, to investigate the disappearance of two fellow agents on the trail of a local bootlegger, they unexpectedly find an abandoned baby boy at a crime scene.

An orphan raised by nuns, Ingersoll is determined to find the infant a home, a search that leads him to Dixie Clay Holliver. A lonely woman married too young to a charming and sometimes violent philanderer, Dixie Clay has lost her only child to illness and is powerless to resist this second chance at motherhood. From the moment they meet, Ingersoll and Dixie Clay are drawn to each other. He has no idea that she’s the best bootlegger in the county and may be connected to the missing agents. And while he seems kind and gentle, Dixie Clay knows he is the enemy and must not be trusted.

Then a deadly new peril arises, endangering them all. A saboteur, hired by rich New Orleans bankers eager to protect their city, is planning to dynamite the levee and flood Hobnob, where the river bends precariously. Now, with time running out, Ingersoll, Ham, and Dixie Clay must make desperate choices, choices that will radically transform their lives-if they survive.

Hot Coffee, MS and Toad Suck, AR – those town names make Hobnob practically normal, don’t they? Promise me something different in a blurb and I’m Pavlov’s dog in a heartbeat. So when I read the set up and the time frame of this novel I knew I had to try it.

The Tilted World by Tom Franklin & Beth Ann FennellyThe writing is fairly smoothly knit together for two people having a hand in it. Kind of reminds me of the old Sergeann Golon Angelique novels in that way. I couldn’t really tell where one person’s input ended and another began. The writing style might drive some people nuts with short and/or incomplete sentences but since I write that way myself, it didn’t bother me.

1927 Mississippi comes alive in all its insular, redneck, rural bootlegging glory. I say this as a daughter of the South so please don’t think I’m being snooty. There are good things about it and some awful aspects that rear up and smack you. The mind frame of the people there is what I’d expect so be prepared for words and expressions not used in polite company anymore. But for these people to have spoken and thought otherwise would also be wrong and papering over the ugliness of it.

I love the fact that Dixie Clay is the bootlegger and also that she makes the best illegal whiskey that Ham and Ingersoll, along with most folks around Hobnob, have ever tasted. Dixie Clay is an artiste of whiskey. Meanwhile Ingersoll is among the best agents, second only to Ham Johnson as Ham will no doubt expansively tell you, in the business of busting illegal hootch production. He and Ham are unbribable and determined to find out what happened to the missing agents and to stop anyone from trying to breech the levee holding back the angry, flooding Mississippi River.

The romance is a slow and gentle falling in love. Ingersoll thinks that someone as pretty and smart as Dixie Clay would never have fallen for him without first having her romantic dreams soured by Jesse. He’s the type, thinks Dixie Clay, who gets more handsome as the years go by and who she just knew would come after her once the river burst over the levee and the world was flooded. They show their love by what they do and how they act rather than with fancy phrases.

I enjoyed stepping back in time to when booze was illegal, women wore hats and gloves, men had just recently fought in the Great War and automobiles were still a bit of a novelty in the rural South. Dixie Clay and Tom started the book resigned to lives of quiet, unfulfilled dreams but end up with a family and a future and I loved watching them get there. B+


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REVIEW: Beautiful Days by Anna Godbersen

REVIEW: Beautiful Days by Anna Godbersen

Dear Ms. Godbersen,

This review took me far longer to produce than it should have. It was no fault of the book. The blame rests entirely upon my shoulders. But once I was able to clear some time to devote to reading, I devoured the first book in this series, Bright Young Things, in an afternoon. The same thing can be said about this book. What can I say? I’m a sucker for great relationships between female characters.

beautiful days anna godbersonBeautiful Days picks up where its predecessor, Bright Young Things, left off, following the lives of three remarkable young women in New York City during the 1920s. Stunning socialite Astrid continues her tempestuous relationship with a bootlegger’s son, Charlie. Charlie’s half-sister, Cordelia, has joined the family’s illicit business after the violent murder of her father. And Cordelia’s childhood friend, Letty, continues to dream of becoming a star.

Things aren’t easy for them, however. Despite her newly announced engagement to Charlie, Astrid remains discontent. After the death of his father, Charlie has had to take the reins of the family’s bootlegging business. This leaves little time to spend with Astrid, who is used to being the center of attention and the darling of everyone’s eye. She dislikes taking second place to anything and the strain begins to show on their relationship.

Cordelia, on the other hand, feels inadvertently responsible for her father’s death after an ill-advised affair with the son of the family’s main rival. To make her feel better, Charlie puts her in charge of opening the family’s first speakeasy. Unfortunately, she finds her attention distracted by the straitlaced flyboy, Max Darby, who is the only man immune to her charm.

Meanwhile, Letty finds herself adrift. While she finds herself esconed in luxurious surroundings, it takes her far away from the city where she thought she’d find her destiny. Instead of becoming the star she thought she was meant to be, Letty shadows Cordelia and Astrid, being drawn into their lives and intrigue.

I won’t lie. This isn’t a deep book. It’s easy fluff. But it’s entertaining fluff, filled with glitz, glamour, romance, and a little action and intrigue. Essentially, it’s better-written Gossip Girl without the catty narrator. It’s not to everyone’s taste but if you’re in the mood for it, it can really hit the spot.

What I like best is that the focus remains solidly on the female characters. Yes, their romantic lives and interests do play a role in the story but why shouldn’t it? Their relationships with men are as important as their relationships with each other. I really enjoyed how different each girl was from another — and not in the stereotypical beauty, brain, and brawn sort of delineations either. All three girls are definitely beautiful but each in their own ways: Astrid is the stunning ingenue, Cordelia is the mysterious beauty, and Letty is the waifish starlet. Each behaved in completely believable ways relevant to their backgrounds — Astrid is privileged, Cordelia was the unwanted orphan, and Letty came from a very conservative family.

I also liked that they supported each other despite each having their own lives independent of their friends and the men in the life. When they needed distractions or a shoulder to cry on or just someone to talk to, they were there for each other. Sometimes other things got in the way but there was always a reason for it and even better, the girls were aware of being unable to support the others. After reading so many books in which there’s a loner heroine with a chip on her shoulder (yet who’s always surrounded by guys!) or girls who fight each other for whatever reason, sometimes I just like being able to read those sorts of interactions in fiction. It’s a palate cleanser.

Of the three girls, I do think Letty’s storyline is the weakest in this book. I suppose it can’t be helped. With Astrid’s melodramatic antics and Cordelia’s troubles, her simple struggle to get on the stage would get overshadowed. Given the way Beautiful Days ended, I’m hopeful we’ll see more of her blossom in the next book. I definitely liked the turn of events at the end.

While I’m still lukewarm on the idea of Astrid and Charlie — all that fighting and making up must get exhausting and I still not-so-secretly hope for something between Astrid and the riding instructor at the country club — I am particularly intrigued by Cordelia and Max’s relationship. I like the push and pull of this particular couple because it makes sense: Cordelia is a bootlegger’s daughter who recently joined the family business while Max is a media darling and complete teetotaler. But the reveal at the end of the book made me root for them even while it made me terrified of what might be in store for them in the next book. Even if I hadn’t read Bright Young Things’s prologue, I’ve read your previous series. I know how these things go — one of the girls ends up dead!

I thought Beautiful Days was a great addition to this series and in fact, I liked it better than the first novel. What can I say? I prefer danger and intrigue over Romeo and Juliet star-crossed forbidden-style romance. I understand the allure, but it’s been done to death. So far, I’m on-board for the next one! B

My regards,

Previous book in this series: Bright Young Things

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