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second chances

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+

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  The Bridge by Rebecca Rogers Maher

REVIEW: The Bridge by Rebecca Rogers Maher

 

“Henry meets Christa on the west tower of the Brooklyn Bridge, just as they’re both about to jump off and kill themselves. Despite his paralyzing depression—and her panic over a second bout of cancer—they can’t go through with their plans knowing that the other is going to die. So they make a pact—they’ll stay alive for 24 hours, and try to convince each other to live.

From the Staten Island Ferry to Chinatown to the Museum of Modern Art—Henry and Christa embark on a New York City odyssey that exposes the darkest moments of their lives. Is it too late for them? Or will love give them the courage to face the terrifying possibility of hope?”

Dear Ms. Maher,

When Jane sent me the email with the blurb of your newest novella I told her, something like, “That’s just different enough that I’m interested in trying it.” I mean I honestly can’t think of another romance story that starts with a duel/dual suicide gone wrong. Maybe that’s not the response that every author dreams of but it got me to read the book, right? I mean no disrespect to anyone going through the mental and physical pain these two characters have to deal with but the set up of the story is truly unique.

The Bridge - Rebecca Rogers Maher

The Bridge by Rebecca Rogers Maher [Contemporary]( A | BN | K | S | G )

From the beginning the story takes on a grim humor that had me laughing. Christa and Henry have both chosen the same early morning time and place to jump to their deaths off the Brooklyn Bridge. They’ve even thought about which side would be better to jump from – as they discuss later in an almost surreal scene while they eat ice cream – and come complete in black clothes so as to be less visible and thus stoppable. When what they think will be a private last moment is abruptly squashed by the presence of the other, annoyance is the emotion that quickly surfaces.

“What the hell are you doing up here?
Of all the things she could have said, this is not what I expected. She looked fragile a minute ago, delicate. I’d feared scaring her.
But I’m the one who shrinks back now.
I could say the same thing, after all. I want to say the same thing. What the hell are you doing up here ruining my perfectly good suicide attempt? Was there a sign-up sheet or something that I didn’t know about? Or more succinctly: Get out of my way. But there are some rules of civilization you can’t flout, even in extremis. A question is asked; you must answer it. Not to do so would be rude, and I’m not a rude person. Even when being yelled at by a stranger.

But they’re basically good people and what quickly follows – once they both acknowledge that the moment to jump is past for the morning – is the desire to help the other. To show him/her that s/he does have something to live for. To save the other as his/her last good deed on earth. Over an early morning breakfast they make their bargain. Each has three things they will do together over the coming 24 hours and maybe, though neither plans to change his/her mind, the other will have a change of heart.

Christa and Henry both have eminently – I hesitate to use the word – good reasons for why they plan to commit suicide. Perhaps understandable is a better choice. He’s lived with a lifelong depression while she’s facing a second diagnosis of breast cancer. Once the other is told what is behind these choices, Christa and Henry both fight each other’s decision.

Readers will have to decide how to view Christa and Henry’s backgrounds and choices but you do a good job in presenting them without judgment and describing what might be incomprehensible to anyone who’s never faced what they do. Henry is exhausted by living in a tornado of mental pain and despair while Christa views facing another round of debilitating chemo treatments, with the very real possibility of dying anyway, as an endless desert to cross with no water or help in sight.

While Christa and Henry might not totally understand each other’s reasons, and their discussions do lead to arguments about whether or not those should lead to the finality of suicide, they do understand each other’s pain. Finding someone who does that without then resorting to pat “feel good” answers or knee-jerk reactions begins to build links between them that leads to feelings each doesn’t particularly want. An awakening of emotions – including pain – like raw nerve endings suddenly stimulated. They both thought they were numb to this but discover differently.

I like that punches aren’t pulled. Christa and Henry are honest about why they ended up on that bridge. Some readers will understand and some probably won’t. Their issues aren’t made light of and are still there when the book ends. The things they didn’t want to face still exist and just maybe those things will win in the end. Who knows? But for now, they’ve found each other, hope and a new will to try again. And I’ll say that I appreciate this unique book that presents characters with bone deep issues that can’t be solved by a quick conversation or better communication. B+

~Jayne

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