Tag Archives: Joshilyn Jackson

Vacation Reading

My extended family recently went on a quiet vacation to historic Virginia, and I chose a couple of light novels to read during the week.

Gods in AlabamaGods in Alabama, by Joshilyn Jackson

This was my second title by Jackson. I reviewed The Almost Sisters here. Gods in Alabama was Jackson’s first big hit, and a librarian friend had recommended it for me a couple of years ago.

Arlene Fleet is busy living in Chicago, working hard as a graduate assistant and happily dating an African-American man. In other words, she is trying her best to completely reject her white, Southern Baptist upbringing. Just as she thinks she has succeeded in leaving Alabama behind, one of the strangest girls from high school shows up at her door, hoping to involve Arlene in her attempt to cleanse her past and achieve perfect, holistic, self-actualization. Zany as this may sound, Arlene had serious reasons to leave home, and her classmate is veering dangerously close to uncovering a dark secret. Eventually, Arlene realizes that she has to go home, boyfriend in tow, to face her mentally-ill mother, her severe, overbearing aunt, and her beautiful, angelic cousin. Will her boyfriend still marry her if she’s headed to prison?

This book was far darker and grittier than The Almost Sisters. One of the major themes of the book requires some fairly graphic language and sexual content, so I spent some of the time feeling uncomfortable. On the other hand, Jackson sends the plot through so many twists and turns that the reader is constantly questioning her assumptions. Absolutely a page-turner, and the conclusion was not exactly what I was expecting.

Saturday Night Supper ClubThe Saturday Night Supper Club, by Carla Laureano

Rachel Bishop was too busy working as the star chef of a hot new Denver restaurant to pay attention when a friend told her that an article about her was going viral. Social media lit up over Alex Kanin’s essay, but Rachel figured it would all fizzle away if she ignored it and dealt instead with staffing issues and tomorrow night’s menu. When she walked out of the restaurant into a reporter’s microphone, she wasn’t prepared, and she said enough to be clipped and reworked into a very damaging statement. Before long, there was a social media movement against her, and her partners decided that the best way to save their shirts was to buy her out of her investment in the restaurant. Rachel went from rising star to unemployed in a day.

Alex had had one big hit book, but the contract on his next book was completely unfilled— and his agent was getting nervous. He kept on writing, mostly articles for good magazines, but the ideas he had for the book just wouldn’t come together. He was glad that his article about the anonymous chef had been such a success until someone told him that he had single-handedly destroyed her life. How could he make it up to her?

Good friends, food trucks, family, and the wealthy foodie scene in Denver keep this light romance moving. There is talk of faith and healing troubled pasts, but nothing gets too heavy or, actually, resolved in that arena. Readers who enjoy the writing process (check) or the food scene (check) will have fun with this novel, the first of a series.

Disclaimer: I read library copies of both of these novels. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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The Almost Sisters, by Joshilyn Jackson

Almost SistersThat little flutter in Leia’s belly makes her face the reality that Batman will be with her forever. Single and in her late thirties, she has decided to embrace her last chance at motherhood. Perhaps she had a bit too much fun at the Con where her famous graphic novel, Violence in Violet, was lauded before adoring fans, since she was several tequilas in when the Dark Knight ended up in her room. Now she can’t remember his name, and time is running out for her to find a way to tell her family before they can see the evidence for themselves.

Leia didn’t see the text that her step-sister sent, canceling the family’s weekly brunch, so she witnessed the messy break-up for herself. Standing in the collapse of Rachel’s marriage, Leia’s phone exploded with texts and calls from Birchville, Alabama, where her grandmother, the last reigning Birch, had just given scandalous evidence of her advanced dementia by revealing every dirty secret of her beloved First Baptist Church, and even her dear friend Wattie had been helpless to stop her. With her crushed thirteen-year-old niece in tow, Leia is rushing down to the small-town South to save the day, and as she drives, she realizes that one thing about Batman may suddenly become important. She does remember that he was black.

What is a graphic novel artist doing in a Southern chick-lit novel? How did this light read that I chose for fun end up so full of important issues? This is the first novel that I have read by Joshilyn Jackson, although a friend who is an expert reader’s advisor recommended her Gods in Alabama to me a couple of years ago. Always trust librarians, especially when they know you well.

In this novel, Jackson explores the phenomenon of two realities, two truths, existing at the same time and in the same place. This theme is woven throughout the story, and always through the lens of personal experience. She writes from the inside. When she describes the warm and loving Southern small town, where everyone knows and cares for everyone else, we feel the truth in our hearts. When she describes the cold and vicious Southern small town, where race and class divide everyone into rigid groups and hatred simmers just below the surface, we also feel the truth in our hearts. It is not a choice between two options; both are real, and it is just as appropriate to rejoice in one as it is to mourn the other. Similarly, her wide-ranging criticisms of the church are obviously made by a believer. Invective from an outside observer was never so insightful. Institutions that have forgotten the love of the gospel message can never be mended by emergency casseroles.

Beloved characters and a many-layered plot come together with Jackson’s friendly style to create a story that is more than meets the eye. Not just a glass of sweet tea—maybe with a bit of bourbon. I have a trip to the beach coming up, and Gods in Alabama is definitely coming with me.

Very highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not express those of my employer or anyone else.

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