Book Review: The Trial of Dr Kate by Michael E. Glasscock III

the trial of dr kateIn the summer of 1952, Lillian Johnson was found dead in her home, slumped in the wheelchair that had become her cage due to multiple sclerosis. An overdose of barbiturate had triggered a heart attack, but the scene was not quite right. It looked as though someone other than Lillian herself had injected the fatal dose.

Dr. Kate Marlow, Lillian’s physician, and best friend, now sits in the Round Rock city jail. The only country doctor for miles, Kate cannot remember her whereabouts at the time of Lillian’s death?and the small Tennessee town buzzes with judgment.

As Dr. Kate’s trial approaches, another woman is determined to uncover the truth about the night of Lillian’s death. Memphis reporter Shenandoah Coleman grew up in Round Rock on the wrong side of the tracks, but unlike the rest of her unsavory clan, escaped her destiny. Now, back in the town she grew up in, she’ll have to turn every stone to keep Kate from a guilty verdict.

From Netgalley in exchange for a review. This is the second in the Round Rock series, and I read the previous book in the series (Little Joe) and reviewed it here.

Set some decades after Little Joe, this finds the one and only county doctor in jail and to go on trial for the murder of a patient that had been suffering from MS. Dr Kate has one major problem – she can’t remember going out to Lillian’s house, never mind administering the fatal dose of sleeping powders.

A “Big City” reporter – Shenandoah Coleman – comes down from Memphis to cover the trial. She has more than a vested interest as she grew up in the area and knows all too well what it’s like to have people against you for no better reason than your name.

Shenandoah makes it her business to both support Dr. Kate, but to find if she can uncover anyone willing to take the side of the doctor.  Her plan takes her all over the county, and she comes across a wide range of people: those who’d support her but would never make it to the stand (usually poor, black people); those who wouldn’t support her (rich, white people); those who wouldn’t support Shenandoah (middle class working white people) etc.   Finally, the day of the trial comes along, but still it’s a time for surprises and shocks.

The language of this story is more mature than the telling of Little Joe – which I think even the author acknowledges was told in the voice of a lost, lonely, young boy. Shenandoah is older, better educated and has become aware of the limits of where she has come from (poor white trash) and that by existing she is already a grade above those around her.  She’s not necessarily better, but by being able to read, travel and work for the air force in flying planes, she has already done more than the illiterate women of her clan whose entire existence seems to be to drink, get married to cousins and produce babies every year or so.

The book also covers aspects of the deep south when it comes to “white trash”, a community still smarting from “losing” the slaves; and what people will forgive for successful white people.

On the whole, I enjoyed this book more than Little Joe, with the change in tone and style contributing in no small part to this. Whilst I enjoyed reading it, I’m not sure that I will seek out the other two books in the series, as I’m not invested enough emotionally in the community to wonder what happens next.

About this author

For the first eight years of his life Michael E. Glasscock III lived on his grandfather’s cattle ranch a few miles south of the small community of Utopia, Texas. At the beginning of World War II, he moved to a small town in Tennessee not unlike the mythical Round Rock portrayed in his fiction series. Michael decided to study medicine, and he graduated from the University of Tennessee Medical School at age twenty-four.

Nashville, Tennessee, was the site of his ontology/neurotology practice, where he was associated with Vanderbilt University as a clinical professor, and where he continues to be part of the faculty as an adjunct professor. He retired from full-time clinical practice in 1997 and moved back to Texas where he continues to work as a consultant for three major medical device companies. He currently resides in Austin, Texas

 

Book Review: Miss Chopsticks by Xinran, tr. Esther Tyldesley

miss chopsticksXinran takes her readers to the heart of modern Chinese society in this delightful and absorbing tale of three peasant girls getting to grips with life in the big city.

The Li sisters don’t have much education, but one thing has been drummed into them: their mother is a failure because she hasn’t managed to produce a son, and they themselves only merit a number as a name. Women, their father tells them, are like chopsticks: utilitarian and easily broken. Men, on the other hand, are the strong rafters that hold up the roof of a house.

Yet when circumstances lead the sisters to seek work in distant Nanjing, the shocking new urban environment opens their eyes. While Three contributes to the success of a small restaurant, Five and Six learn new talents at a health spa and a bookshop/tearoom. And when the money they earn starts arriving back at the village, their father is forced to recognize that daughters are not so dispensable after all.

As the Li sisters discover Nanjing, so do we: its past, its customs and culture, and its future as a place where people can change their lives.

Received as a Christmas present from my bookgroup.

The story starts in 2001, and tells of three sisters (Three, Five and Six), who travel from the countryside to make their way in the big city of Nanjing.  Since their parents never had boys – despite flaunting the “one child” rule – the girls have brought shame on their family, and they only warrant being given their birth order as names. The first two children have either committed suicide or been married off, and Four is deaf and dumb, so it is Three, Five and Six who go to the city. Each girl ends up getting a job that turns out to be suited to her skills – Three works in a restaurant, Five in a spa and Six in a tea house. Each learn a level of independence, as well as gaining self respect from being in the city and earning their own way.

We are presented with a modern China, not long out of the Cultural Revolution and where external investments are taking place, not all for the better. Recent history has been wiped out by Mao’s diktats on the destruction of photos, records etc., as being anti-party, anti-Chinese sentiment.  The restaurant that Three works in has to contend with the KFC next door, and a McDonald’s near by. The street they are on used to be a red light district but has been cleared out and is now renamed in respect for the party.

In the countryside, women are described as “Chopsticks” as they are seen to be easily breakable and not reliable to support a household. However, attitudes start to change when the girls go home and bring with them the money the money they have earned in the previous year.

All three girls also look at how their mother has been treated by her husband and the community and swear that this will never happen to them. Their mother has quashed her own dreams, married the man her parents told her too, and then never produced the much desired boy-child.  She has therefore brought much shame to her husband, her family and the wider community.

Despite the apparent relaxation of rules, even in the city some things are slow to change. The corruption and bureaucracy are there; for example the tea-house gets visited by the neighbourhood committee who are miffed at the lack of a “proper” opening ceremony and that they apparently haven’t been  consulted on whether the tea-shop should be allowed to open in the first place. There are also visits from men in suits until the son of the owners makes a stand and challenges them for their own anti-party behaviour. It goes some way to demonstrate how city people react to authority differently to the country people, and how the young react differently to the previous generations.

Written initially in Chinese and translated by Esther Tyldesley, there is an introduction that highlights how hard it is to translate such a book for audiences who dont know much of what it’s like to live in such a secretive place as China without coming over heavy handed. Thankfully it’s done with a light touch, which some may think as lacking a certain complexity, but  I find it all the nicer to read for that.

Book Review: Only Things by Brad Carter

only things Welcome to Barlow, Arkansas, a small town where life is anything but normal. It is on this quaint and quiet stage that an ancient supernatural battle will be fought. Meet the players: Myrna Wilson, a lonely woman haunted by the death of her son and gripped by the compulsion to acquire objects owned by the recently deceased… Chris Clanton, a library worker whose desire to rid the world of filth and clutter has become a murderous obsession… Constable Ray McFettridge, a small town lawman whose murky half-forgotten past has finally caught up to him… George Young, a recovering alcoholic with more than his share of demons to face… When these lives converge, they set in motion a chain of events that will threaten the very fabric of reality. This is a story of ghosts and demons …of possessions and the possessed …of psychics and skeptics …of death and redemption …of love lost and found.

Received from Librarything from their May 2015 list.  Published by Post Mortem Press.

I’ll be upfront from the beginning: I dont know why I requested this book, and unfortunately at time of writing (late June 2015) I haven’t finished it – I’ve managed about 35% of the way through. I have read other reviews that say “it’s a slow start but glad I stuck with it” so I might give it a second chance….but not right now.

Barlow is a small town in Arizona, with lots of different personalities, from uptight upstanding police men, through widowed authors returning home, to dropped out hippies on the edge of society. Dead bodies are stacking up around the place, and not all of the deaths are explainable – apart from the ones done by Chris the librarian who has an overwhelming need for things to be neat and tidy and will do anything to make sure that happens.

That’s as far as I get unfortunately….I see potential, lots of different voices are coming through, I just have other books that are calling me louder, and it hasn’t gripped me enough to make me drop them in favour of this book.

Book Review: The Major’s Faux Fiancée by Erica Ridley

the major's faux fianceeWhen Major Bartholomew Blackpool learns the girl-next-door from his childhood will be forced into an unwanted marriage, he returns home to play her pretend beau. He figures now that he’s missing a leg, a faux fiancée is the best an ex-soldier can get. He admires her pluck, but the lady deserves a whole man—and he’ll ensure she gets one.

Miss Daphne Vaughan hates that crying off will destroy Major Blackpool’s chances of finding a real bride. She plots to make him jilt her first. Who cares if it ruins her? She never wanted a husband anyway. But the major is equally determined that she breaks the engagement. With both of them on their worst behavior, neither expects their fake betrothal to lead to love…

From Netgalley in exchange for a review. I have read several stories in the Dukes of War series before, so when this book came up, it seemed rude to turn it down!

I have to admit I was less convinced with this one in terms of the plot device to get them together. Bartholemew (Tolly) and Daphne have known each other from childhood but haven’t seen each other since Tolly returned from war missing both a leg and his identical twin brother.  Daphne is being threatened with the mad house if she doesn’t get married by her next birthday and so ropes Tolly into the scheme. She doesn’t want to get married because she feels it’ll prevent her from investing in all her schemes to improve the lots of the lower classes.

In terms of the characters of Tolly and Daphne, these are better and both are strongly developed – Tolly is still not mentally ready for dealing with being in a society where being a soldier without a leg makes you not a man at all (at least in his head). Daphne is investing her time in trying to make a difference because no matter what she’s done or who she has loved before,  she hasn’t made a mark in the world.

Both damaged people need to realise that they need each other to become whole and that asking for help is not a bad thing sometimes.

Most of the secondary characters are sketched in, primarily because they have their own books in the series see my reviews of The Earl’s Defiant Wallflower, The Captain’s Bluestocking Mistress and The Viscount’s Christmas Temptation by the same author

 

Sunday Salon: Organization tips and tricks

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  1. There are plenty of free calenders out there – I currently use an excel spreadsheet, split down by month, that allows me to know what post I have scheduled when. It allows me to quickly determine if I have space free or if I need to move things round for a specific post.  Whilst they are printable, I keep them on my computer so that I can change them around as and when I need to

  2. Many of the free planners are variations of an excel spreadsheet with a basic month-by-day layout, but I did like the look of this one which was a bit more specific to blogs, so I’m considering making use of it (and hope a corresponding one is done for 2015!). There are others out there, not all of them free, but easily findable with a search

  3. Resist the urge to request everything from sites like netgalley, edelweiss etc. There will come a point that you will have too many books to realistically work through and manage.

  4. Block out time to both read and write the corresponding reviews. Both will take longer than you realise. An hour spent watching a TV program you dont like is an hour better spent reading a book. If you have kids – 20 minutes in the bathroom with the door locked as you pretend to use the toilet (yes I know – like you get privacy even whilst on the toilet).

  5. Keep your About and Review Policy pages visible and up to date. If you are overwhelmed with books to read – or you are simply taking a break – say so on your review policy (“I am accepting no more submissions this year/until x” etc). Put it on your out of office as well, for those who dont need to go to your website to find you. Take it off as soon as you’re free.

  6. Decide on a posting schedule (using the software suggested above as necessary). The matter of frequency is entirely up to you. Don’t commit to daily posts if you only have 4 posts in the bag – once a week/twice a month is much better until you build up a reserve.  I have/had a reserve of approximately 4 months worth of posts, based on publishing every other day, which brought me the time to read and review as I saw fit, and schedule posts as and when the need determined.

  7. Block out time to read and comment on other blogs, do your social media, take part in events etc.  You are not an island, and you will soon feel lonely if you dont engage with others (and get some traffic!)

 Any other tips for organising that I might have missed off?

Friday Salon: Modern, Vintage or retro?

When it comes to what you make, do you go modern, vintage or retro?

Most of the work I do is cross stitch, and whilst the designers are current, much of what I stitch could be classed as “vintage” or “timeless”. Many of the items I do are samplers, so – for instance – the Catherine Archer sampler by Jane Greenoff, which takes a 19th-century original sampler as inspiration.needle_thread_needles

Many of the other samplers I do, such as those designed by My Big Toe are traditional rather than modern.

I don’t make other items, such as dresses etc, so I have nothing that falls into these categories!

I sometimes see the dresses in Monsoon for the young girls – all satin and tulle for the princesses, and whilst I would love to be able to make one (I catch myself going “I’m sure I can make it for less than £65, oh wait, not I can’t cos I can’t make dresses!”).

What style do you prefer making?

Book Review: Property by Valerie Martin

propertyValerie Martin’s Property delivers an eerily mesmerizing inquiry into slavery’s venomous effects on the owner and the owned. The year is 1828, the setting a Louisiana sugar plantation where Manon Gaudet, pretty, bitterly intelligent, and monstrously self-absorbed, seethes under the dominion of her boorish husband. In particular his relationship with her slave Sarah, who is both his victim and his mistress.

Exploring the permutations of Manon’s own obsession with Sarah against the backdrop of an impending slave rebellion, Property unfolds with the speed and menace of heat lightning, casting a startling light from the past upon the assumptions we still make about the powerful and powerful.

This book is set in Louisiana, nearly 40 years before the Civil War. The title of the book has many layers of meaning: Manon Gaudet is the bitter and unhappy wife of a sugar plantation owner who is rapidly descending into bankruptcy; her house slave Sarah who was given to her as a wedding gift in part to get her out of Manon’s parent’s house; the house that is left to her on her mother’s death is scheduled to become her husband’s property, since everything belonging to a woman automatically becomes the property of her husband – she only gets to retain the house due to the death of her husband in a slave uprising. 

The story is told from the viewpoint of Manon, and how she sees her life and the fact she has to put up with Sarah, who whilst a talented housekeeper and maid, is sullen, usually silent woman, and is the mother of two children via Manon’s husband.

Sarah escapes during the Slave revolt, leaving her older child behind. Manon has her run to ground and returned to service. There is little financial gain for this and the two women hate each other, but Manon refuses to suffer alone – she will ensure that Sarah lives with the consequences, even if it means belonging to a woman she hates and looking after her deaf, mixed race child.

Manon’s bitterness isn’t directed just at her slave and her husband, but at life in general – people around her don’t come up to the standards she has set for them or they die.  Manon’s father died when Manon was young – for years she thought he was murdered, but she finally comes to the realisation that he committed suicide and was not the devoted father and husband that she thought he had been. She can’t even keep “hold” of her friend Joel, who fails to come through with a marriage proposal after Manon is widowed, instead marrying an uncouth but wealthy girl in order to live in town at a level he’s become used to.

The story does come to rather a bleak and sudden end. There is no redemption for any character here, there is no resolution to any issues; Manon seems to have learnt nothing from what has happened in the previous few months, and has condemned herself and those around her to bitterness and hatred in the years going forward. There seems to be some small softening towards Walter, the deaf bastard son, but that is more of a passive “doing nothing” rather than an active change in her behaviour.

About this author

Valerie Martin is the author of nine novels, including Trespass, Mary Reilly, Italian Fever, and Property, three collections of short fiction, and a biography of St. Francis of Assisi, titled Salvation. She has been awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, as well as the Kafka Prize (for Mary Reilly) and Britain’s Orange Prize (for Property).