Sunday, August 24, 2014

Etta Mae's Worst Bad Luck Day by Ann B. Ross

“Pushing aside the hangers in the closet, I pulled out by newest and best dress that I’d worn to church on Easter and only a couple of times since then. I was real proud of it because it was a designer dress from the Kathie Lee Collection at Walmart’s and looked like a million dollars on me. If I’d had the chance, I’d have bought something new for my wedding, but at least this was mostly white. A quality 100 percent rayon classic white dress with black polka dots. Signifying, I guess, my marital experiences of the past.”

Some people may recognize the author of Etta Mae's Worst Bad Luck Day, as well as the small town of Abbottsville, North Carolina, where the book takes place. Ann B. Ross is the writer of the well-known Miss Julia series. But this book follows a different character: Etta Mae Wiggins, who appears in the Miss Julia books but has never had a story of her own before.

Etta Mae is a tough but good-hearted young woman who, tired of being written off as trailer trash, has come up with a plan to finally get ahead in life. That plan is to tie the knot with the elderly and well-off Mr. Howard Connard, for whom she works as a home nurse.  Surely, she believes, Etta Mae Connard will command the respect Etta Mae Wiggins never could, and in the process she can brighten an old man's life, however much he has left. As Etta Mae anticipates the approaching wedding— velvet-clad bridesmaids, baby’s breath bouquets and all—things are complicated by the appearance of two unwelcome faces: Mr. Connard’s ill-tempered son and one of Etta Mae’s deadbeat ex-husbands.

Etta Mae is a charming heroine, immediately sympathetic for her pragmatism, kindness, and Southern style. Despite the book’s humor, this makes for some profoundly sad moments when we see Etta Mae crushed by the shallow judgments of her neighbors. The story has some elements of a mystery—a crime, an unknown perpetrator-- but doesn’t have a lot of tension or gravity; instead, what makes it an easy and enjoyable read is how Etta Mae deals with the many roadblocks on her path to a better life.  

If you would like a copy of this book, leave a comment with an email address and I will choose a random winner in a few days. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little

“I stepped forward and pushed open the front door—which promptly fell off its hinges. I caught it just as it hit the floor, the crack of wood on wood echoing through the hall. I went still and silent and waited. For the sound of footsteps. For the sound of voices. But, thank god, no one came.

I replaced the door as best I could and peered around. Your standard foyer, with two large rooms on either side. I had stirred up dust with my graceless entry and for a brief moment the sun refracted through motes so profuse the air glittered like a fairy glen. But then the dust settled, and the room took on the hue of the water at the bottom of a tub after you plunge up a muck of soap-scummed hair."

Jane Jenkins is the star of Dear Daughter, and we meet her moments after she’s released from prison on a legal technicality, having been convicted for the murder of her manipulative socialite mother. Instead of trying to return to her old life in L.A., dating actors and starving for fame, Jane dons a disguise and flees across the country to look for the truth about the night of the killing, a night she can’t recall well enough to know if she committed the crime or not. Her pursuit takes her to a tiny, stagnant town in the Midwest, the kind of place that carefully keeps its secrets.

Elizabeth Little’s first novel stars a complex protagonist with a voice and personality that really shine. Every page drips with Jane’s bitterness and sharp humor; Little pries deep into Jane's psyche, uncovering damages from a decade in prison and a lifetime as a scapegoat for her apparently flawless mother. The descriptions genuinely feel like Jane’s own words so readers get to see the people and places in the book through the unique lens of someone who is both a released convict and a former Hollywood darling.

A solid mystery, the book holds a handful of surprises although only one or two feel really meaningful. All in all, it was entertaining with a pace that picked up in the second half, and a book where I'll probably remember the protagonist more than I'll remember the story. 

You can buy Dear Daughter on Amazon here or you can win a free copy by commenting here with your email. US only.