Gossip and Passion are Alive; In West Mills by De’Shawn Charles Winslow takes us to 1940s North Carolina

In West Mills by De'Shawn Charles Winslow

My Review:

I loved the heartfelt debut, In West Mills by De’Shawn Charles Winslow. In this charming story about an African American family in North Carolina spanning from the 1940s – 1987, and the difficult struggles and complexities of love, we meet Knot.  She has an unconventional lifestyle, always reveling in her freedom, as she lives alone, reads books and drinks a lot and whenever she pleases.  When Knot gets herself into a bit of trouble, she reaches out to her neighbor and friend, Otis Lee for help. Otis Lee is loyal and trustworthy and steps up for his friend, but there are deeply hidden family secrets he is unaware of that have unknowingly altered his life and are making an impact on the ones he loves.

The troubled past and longtime friendships weave this small town community together through the generations and De’Shawn Charles Winslow captures our attention with his vivid voice and memorable characters.  From out of wedlock pregnancies to disowned family members, Winslow depicts this big-hearted, southern community as gossip-filled and passionate, with tension and hurt along with love and support.  I loved this story and highly recommend the heart warming and heart breaking In West Mills. 

Recommendation:

If you enjoyed this African American North Carolina community, check out No One Is Coming To Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts.

Goodreads Summary

Author De'Shawn Charles Winslow

About the Author:

De’Shawn Charles Winslow’s recent book is In West Mills. He was born and raised in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and in 2003 moved to Brooklyn, New York. He is a 2017 graduate of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and holds a BFA in creative writing and an MA in English literature from Brooklyn College. He has received scholarships from the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. De’Shawn lives in East Harlem.

Being Alone, Delia Owens, and Where the Crawdads Sing…PLUS CBS interview

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Habitually early, I walked into the Fairfield Library book event and took a seat in the front row.  I prefer to have an unobstructed view to the speaker and don’t feel shy about sitting alone in the center of the first row, but clearly, if others like to have an unobstructed view, their preference for being more obscure or part of a crowd, protected in a pack in the middle or back, surrounded by others and not so close, outweighs the desire to be directly in front.  The author, Delia Owens was at the podium getting herself prepared for her book talk on Where the Crawdads Sing, her first fiction book, and she looked directly at me sitting alone and smiled.  She came over to say hello, thanked me for attending and told me she knew me from Instagram.

The room started to fill up and Delia sat down next to me in the front row and I had the wonderful opportunity to talk with her for a while before the program began.  She told me she lived in Africa with her husband, now ex-husband for 23 years.  They were married for over 40 and several years ago divorced.  They still live together on the same property in Idaho but it is a huge piece of land so it is working out fine for now.  We talked about the pressure her relationship endured in those years, being so secluded from other humans while they did research, and how the hopes of it repairing itself upon their return went unfulfilled.

This one on one conversation along with Delia Owens’ public talk on Where the Crawdads Sing, her research on the social biology of animals, and her book’s main character Kya, who grew up on her own in the marsh in North Carolina got me thinking about seclusion, women, being alone and how everyone has different levels of enjoyment and tolerance when they are solo.  According to Delia, just as in a troop of baboons, a herd of elephants, and a pride of lions, human females tend to travel in groups, play, eat and sleep together.  There are many benefits of having alone time, but how much is too much? Isolation can change a person, and in Kya, a character based on many women the author knows, we can see how being alone can have major impact.  But as Delia said, women are strong.  We can do a lot more than we think we can and when put in the situation, we do it.

She said she wrote Where the Crawdads Sing in two parts, PART 1 is The Marsh – a beautiful place of light and sparkling water.  Part 2 is The Swamp – a dark place.  Like Kya, her character in the book, sometimes in our lives we go to The Swamp, but we always strive for the Marsh.

Delia Owens is an inspiring speaker, well prepared as one would expect a researcher would be.  She did say, standing up in front of a room full of women caused her to experience the same feelings she has when being rushed by lions in Africa – a sign to me that she does not crave crowds and probably feels most peaceful alone and riding horses.   She did mention her house is many miles from civilization and she goes to town one a week to see people when she is at home in Idaho.  It was incredible to meet her in person and observe how her life experiences influenced her and how so much of that is evident in her writing.  Where the Crawdads Sing was chosen for Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club and I agree with Reese when she says she didn’t want the book to end!

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My Review: 

A love story, a mystery and a courtroom drama… Where the Crawdads Sing has all that it takes for a compelling and beautifully rich novel.  Just as author Delia Owens’ went way out yonder where the crawdads sing to connect with nature, the main character, Kya becomes one with her surroundings.  As each important person in her life abandoned her, Kya learned to be self sufficient and survive alone in the marsh as a very young child.  With limited human contact and lack of strong friendships, her natural surroundings became her mother.  She is awkward around other people yet capable and self reliant.  She learned all she needed to know to sustain a comfortable life, until her desire for personal connection, touch and love emerged as she grew up.  She muddled her way through the hurt of abandonment as she embarked on a new adventure of companionship – but life is complicated.  Now she is a grown woman, and there is a murder in the marsh.  Her isolation over the years influenced her odd behaviors and has made her a target for ridicule and an obvious earmark for blame.  Most of the townspeople are agains her – will anyone come to her rescue as she is accused of the unthinkable or will she have to fend for herself as she has done her entire life?

The natural beauty of the marsh, the heartbreak and loneliness of Kya, the suspense and unfolding of the mysterious murder and the love story that beats all odds combined into an emotional, descriptive and addictive, well written novel made it impossible for me to put down.  I highly recommend Where the Crawdads Sing!

* On March 17, 2019, CBS aired an interview with Delia Owens and here it is.  *

CBS This Morning Interview

Goodreads Summary

7043934.jpgAbout the author:

Delia Owens is the co-author of three internationally bestselling nonfiction books about her life as a wildlife scientist in Africa—Cry of the Kalahari, The Eye of the Elephant, and Secrets of the Savanna. She has won the John Burroughs Award for Nature Writing and has been published in Nature, The African Journal of Ecology, and International Wildlife, among many others. She currently lives in Idaho, where she continues her support for the people and wildlife of Zambia. Where the Crawdads Sing is her first novel.

The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin

 

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My Review:

Combine late hours working at the hospital with an irresistible, handsome, charming and persistent doctor…friendships and disasters go hand in hand in Kimmery Martin’s debut, The Queen of Hearts.  Zadie and Emma are best friends, from medical school to the present, currently living in North Carolina and both practicing doctors.  But as close as they were and are, there are still deep secrets they haven’t shared with each other, and when an old colleague moves to town, it conjures up the past memories, and they are forced to reveal some painful truths from their youth.

Kimmery Martin shows us how relationships evolve and grow overtime, so much so that when lives become intertwined, lifelong friendship can prevail and even the worst betrayal can be forgiven.

I do love a love triangle in a medical setting, and for those who enjoy tv shows like ER, Grey’s Anatomy and Chicago Med, this wonderful tale of the heart is for you!

As Seen on Goodreads:

Zadie Anson and Emma Colley have been best friends since their early twenties, when they first began navigating serious romantic relationships amid the intensity of medical school. Now they’re happily married wives and mothers with successful careers–Zadie as a pediatric cardiologist and Emma as a trauma surgeon. Their lives in Charlotte, North Carolina are chaotic but fulfilling, until the return of a former colleague unearths a secret one of them has been harboring for years.

As chief resident, Nick Xenokostas was the center of Zadie’s life–both professionally and personally–throughout a tragic chain of events in her third year of medical school that she has long since put behind her. Nick’s unexpected reappearance during a time of new professional crisis shocks both women into a deeper look at the difficult choices they made at the beginning of their careers. As it becomes evident that Emma must have known more than she revealed about circumstances that nearly derailed both their lives, Zadie starts to question everything she thought she knew about her closest friend.

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About the Author:

Kimmery Martin is a physician, book reviewer, author interviewer, travel blogger, obsessive reader, and general all-around literary nerd who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband and three children. The Queen of Hearts is her first novel.

 

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

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My Review:

In The Underground Railroad, Cora is a slave in the early 1800’s working on a plantation in Georgia.  She is an outcast, has been abandoned by  her mother, and has been asked by Caesar, an educated slave, to travel on the underground railroad to escape slavery and the horrible conditions.  Ridgeway, the slave catcher is in hot pursuit of Cora as she is on the run and travels to other states by train.  In each location black people are treated differently; in Georgia the slaves are needed to work on the plantations, in South Carolina the black people are free to work and have homes yet they are secretly being sterilized so as not to grow the population.  In other states the white people are afraid of being outnumbered so they want to kill all the black people.  The horrific examples of torture and attitudes of white people are based on history, and the gory details are unapologetically presented throughout the narrative.

This was not a fun book to read. Graphic descriptions of torture, oppression, beatings, murders and struggle are uncomfortable, but it is crucial to know our attitudes and actions of the past, that it is remembered and never repeated.  Author Colson Whitehead was effective in portraying history, but did not create characters I could connect with; I was rooting for Cora but I did not tap in to her emotional state or feel what any of the other characters were feeling.  I was disgusted and upset with how people were being treated but I was disconnected from their hearts. I am not sure if the author wanted the reader to feel Cora’s anxiety when she was on the run, or her sadness, but it was interesting for me to read a book about slavery, such an emotionally charged topic, and not shed a tear.  I wonder if the author were a woman writing from Cora’s perspective would my reaction have been different….if I were black would I have related to and empathized more with the characters emotionally?

The element of magical realism, the actual underground railroad, is a clever way to depict how the slaves escaped and traveled from place to place, but for me it created more questions.  The idea was developed a bit, the trains were unpredictable and they stopped in random states, train stations were manned by people who helped the slaves hide, but I wanted to know how the system was built, who dug the tunnels and laid the tracks, it was a physical system in the land…how did slave owners not know about it?  I prefer the magical realism in Exit West by Mohsin Hamid where the idea of doors leading to other countries is not developed any further that a brief explanation but serves the purpose of transporting the characters to another time and place.

The Underground Railroad is an important book that depicts history; a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award Winner, it has been recommended by Barack Obama and is an Oprah’s Book Club 2016 selection.  Read it at your own risk.  Would love to know your reaction to the book so feel free to comment.

 

As seen on Goodreads:

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood – where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor – engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven – but the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. Even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

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About the Author:

I’m the author of the novels Zone One; Sag Harbor; The Intuitionist, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award; John Henry Days, which won the Young Lions Fiction Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Apex Hides the Hurt, winner of the PEN Oakland Award. I’ve also written a book of essays about my home town, The Colossus of New York, and a non-fiction account of the 2011 World Series of Poker called The Noble Hustle. A recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a MacArthur Fellowship, I live in New York City.

My latest book, The Underground Railroad, is an Oprah’s Book Club pick.