Tag Archive | State Challenge

Tupelo Honey

by Lis Anna-Langston

Coming from a very dysfunctional childhood, at 52 both my parents and my brothers are now gone and I find myself drawn to novels which deal with childhoods filled with hardship.  If I was Oprah or Dr. Phil I’d probably say I’m using fictional works to help myself reflect on my past and mourn the imperfect world in which I lived until marriage.  Whatever the reason, I can definitely say that when I find a gem like “Tupelo Honey” and when the tears fall over that character, I feel a cleansing of my own pain.  And it is good.


Set in Mississippi in the 1970s, author Lis Anna-Langston has penned a story which is touching and insightful. Main character Tupelo Honey is an 11 year old with an absentee junkie-mom, a loving grandma called Marmalade and slightly ‘off’ uncle Randall.  She is a smart, savvy child who faces more challenges at her young age than most will see in a lifetime.  As all of us do, Tupelo Honey craves a feeling of being wanted.  Loved.  This is a need which is supposed to be lavished on us as youngster by our parents, but never knowing her dad and a mom not interested in parenting leaves a void in her young life.

Interestingly, mom introduces a boyfriend into the picture who ends up being a blessing.  Nash, a low level drug dealer initially made my own mom-hairs on the arm rise, but Anna-Langston uses him to show normalcy and love the way a parent should behave.  I enjoyed this unexpected character twist and appreciated the fact that the author shows the reader appearances can be deceiving.

My other favorite thing about this novel is the feeling of nostalgia it offers.  I found myself smiling at my own childhood fondness for bologna sandwiches with mayonnaise.  Our world of gluten free ancient grain whole wheat bread with organic mustard and sprouts is just not the same as Wonder Bread and Kraft Mayo.  Anna-Langston does not punch us in the face with the fact this is set in the 70s, but there are enough mentions to bring that time period to life.

This is a can’t-put-it-down page turner. Despite my feelings of guilt that the author likely spent thousands of hours writing, and I’m whipping through it like a tornado, I read this in two days. And my emo was high through most of it. I cannot praise enough a book which makes the reader feel all range of emotions – sadness, laughter, joy, relief….  To be completely honest it took three days to finish the book. I had just 20 or so pages left to go at 2am, but I forced myself to stop. I knew my heart needed to see the end during the light of day and not while I laid awake processing the ache of this character.

I don’t keep every book I read because I don’t have shelf space and I won’t waste precious reading time going back to re-read something which was not wonderful.  “Tupelo Honey” gets my highest recommendation when I tell you this one sits in pride of place on my bookshelf to be picked up again and again in the years to come.




by John L. Monk

I may be unique in the universe, but after 2 years of not being able to read due to an illness, my return to the world of books included a complete change in the way I select material.  Many readers stick to their list of known authors.  I did that for a long time.  If a Grisham, King, Cook, Clark, hit the stands, that was who I read.  This is fine, but now that indie authors have many ways to get their work out to the public, sticking to known authors is a disservice to yourself, and some pretty talented people who didn’t necessarily get a big break from publishing companies.

I also no longer stick to genres.  In my younger days, I was post-apocalypse (before it suddenly became the “in” thing), medical and legal thrillers and some real life crime drama.  I still like that stuff, but I’ve learned that if I’m willing to take a chance, there is a huge selection of material out there.  I don’t even read the back of a book to see what the story is about.  I will admit, shallowly, to judging by a cover.  If it’s a beauty, I’m drawn to it.

Finally, given that I’m now living on the income of a retired person (despite still being “youthful”), my book habit could become costly.  I’ve had some luck winning books via twitter, Facebook and blogs and this has been a fun and interesting way to find new authors without breaking the bank.  And, in case you are a new author and wondering if a contest is worth the time and effort – it is.  I have several writers who I discovered this way and I’ve gone on to buy print and Audible versions of more of their work.  I likely would not have known about them unless I stumbled onto a contest.

So, why was that preamble part of the review for “Kick” by John L. Monk? I won this through https://audiobookreviewer.com/ which is an awesome resource if you like audio books. They sent me a signed (my fangirl heart loves this) paperback as well as the Audible version of “Kick.”  This review was not required for the contest, and I have only read the book, not yet listened to it.   blog

When I opened the pages, and started reading this first person narrative, I actually stopped.  Then I went to the back of the book and read the description.  And sighed.  And thought, oh no what have you gotten yourself into??  Here’s part of the back cover:

They say suicides are damned for eternity. But if possessing the bodies of violent criminals is Hell, then Dan Jenkins will take it.  And he does, every time a portal arrives to whisk him from his ghostly exile in limbo.

Dan rides the living like a supernatural jockey…..For three weeks at a time, it’s a chance to relax and watch movies, read fantasy novels, and have random conversations with perfect strangers.

This story seemed so far out of my comfort zone, I didn’t know if I could push through.  If I hadn’t won this and if it hadn’t had very thoughtful notes from the author and Audible narrator, I would likely have put this aside to be attempted once more at a later date.  But, my guilt that the author himself sent a sweet note, kept me going.  And going.  And going.  Until suddenly I realized – I am LOVING this book.  I was floored that Monk got me with his writing style.  The guy is funny.  He writes a funny character dealing with very odd situations that (I hope) could not actually happen.

Having grown up in the 70s and 80s, I was struck by how similar the idea of the plot was to Quantum Leap starring Scott Bakula, but was also completely different from that show’s premise.  Dan seems to be tasked by some unknown entity which he refers to as the Great Whomever, to right some moral wrongs among living bad guys.  He transports into the bodies of very bad people, lives their life for 3 weeks, but doesn’t live those lives in the manner they would.  He attempts a sort of redemption for their behavior and acts as karma enabling police to arrest these guys, or perhaps acting as judge and executioner.

“Kick” includes several jumps between characters, so the story moves very quickly.  These changes of identity also allow Monk to craft some very creative situations, and demonstrate his ability to make the reader laugh despite death, murder, BAD smells, poverty or obscene wealth.

As I was reading the story, I could very easily see it on the large screen and would be unsurprised to hear some day that Monk sold the rights to a production company.  I was pleased to also discover this previously unknown to me author has published 5 books, including two more in this Jenkins Cycle series.  I will be back to read more.

STATE CHALLENGE – the book took place in several parts of the US, but the final character, and my favorite character, lived in Virginia, so that’s where I’m placing this one on my map.

Barefoot by Elin Hilderbrand

For 17 months I battled a brain injury which left me unable to read, process anything complex, follow plots or retain information. I could only listen to chapter 1 of my favorite childhood book, Alas Babylon, every night as I battled insomnia because I knew that story for 30+ years pre-injury. I was a mess.

Then at about the two year mark, my brain recovered. One of the greatest gifts I received was my ability to read. Believe me, your world becomes hopelessly small when you are unable to escape into the pages of a book and nothing of substance crosses your frontal lobe.

I attempted to restart my book review blog shortly after healed, but I was paralyzed with fear. How could I judge the quality of anyone’s work? What if my brain was still broken and I was incorrect in my opinions or understanding of the material? Who was I to judge anyone’s efforts? After so long with a silent brain, I now even embrace “bad” material because I can. I can follow a plot and care about characters again. Give me something to read, and I will find something to celebrate about it because I’m so joyous to understand words.

So, I’m back to try again, but this time with a goal. I saw this challenge on the internet and thought it a good way to dip my toes back into book reviewing. I’m going to travel the US state by state via books set in each of the 50 states, and DC because she should be one.

My reading speed is much slower than before the illness, but I will make my way across the country eventually.


I am starting this journey in one of my favorite places in the world – the beach.  “Barefoot” by Elin Hilderbrand is set on Nantucket Island off the coast of Massachusetts.  Featuring three women, each with baggage far too heavy to carry, this novel evokes a lot of feels.  I found myself dog-earring pages (a sin for some, but to me the sign of a well loved book) which I wanted to come back and reflect upon.  Although these women are younger than me, I could relate to their troubles – illness, stupid choices, impulsive behavior.  I also fell in love with their community of support they created. In our world of long distance relationships, I yearn for close girlfriends who could put aside daily life and rally around me in a pinch.  blog.jpg

Hilderbrand does an excellent job of weaving the stories together.   Each character is developed enough that the reader can relate to her and root for her, while also making the communal story just as important.  In life we each walk our own journey, and if we are lucky enough, we have a path filled with friends and family who weave their way to our destination with us.  I also appreciated the locale as an important character in itself.  The sounds, smells, visual descriptions of this place of peace reminded me of my own frequent trips to the Jersey shore, and how important the summer feel was to my childhood.

This was my first Hilderbrand book, but it won’t be my last.  I really enjoyed her style and characters.  I read this one versus audio book, my first book purchase from a brick and mortar since getting well!  Because much of the writing hit home with me, I was glad that this was one I could read slowly, highlight and re-read versus the narrator determining the speed for me.

To see more works by this author, please visit: http://www.elinhilderbrand.net/


If you have suggestions for books set within the US for me to try (including Young Adult please), comment and I’ll check them out.

And to track my journey, please use this link (also found at the top of the blog) to see the map:

US Book Reading Challenge Map