An engrossing tale about the integration of a Louisiana town.

SOUTHERN JUSTICE

A debut social novel tells the story of how a murder drives a small Southern community to confront its deeply ingrained racism.

Louisiana, 1969. Nineteen-year-old Meadow Williams, a biracial sex worker with no knowledge of her origins, is required to come to the small town of Bumkin to work for the secret prostitution ring run by the white local sheriff. She won’t be a regular prostitute, however: Her job is to seduce local cop Quincy Tremblay Jackson, or “Quinine” as he’s known, due to his addiction to alcohol-based cough syrup. For this, she will be paid $100,000 and maybe find out who her parents were. Quinine is also biracial, and he owns a large portion of land that his oil-drilling white cousin, the local bigwig Bubba Tremblay, desperately desires. The racial dynamics of Bumkin have become especially sensitive because of a recent judicial order to integrate the schools, which has placed significant pressure on the local white scholar of black history, Dr. Sally Callahan. When Sally isn’t trying to make sure her brilliant but mischievous son, Bam, gets into college early, she’s fielding questions from the various local factions—civil rights organizations, teachers’ unions, segregationists—hoping her work will help prop up their various worldviews. “Integration was going to be a crash course in chaos,” thinks Sally. “Quickly. Everywhere. It was hard to see any winners any time soon. Integration was indeed overdue, but instant integration was going to be overwhelming. It wasn’t what anyone had expected. But then, who could have known?” When Quinine, the bagman for the local sheriff-run syndicate, is murdered and Meadow becomes the chief suspect, Sally and a few other progress-minded locals attempt to intervene, but the full story has roots deep in Bumkin’s past. Eakin’s prose is sharp and expansive, weaving historical and political trends into the lives and conflicts of his characters. Here he explains the troubles of the white pastor of Bumkin’s Baptist Church: “Now southern religion and southern politics were becoming indistinguishable. Broadcast preachers…had literally stolen the microphones right out from under local preachers like him with a new evangelical message of neo-fundamentalism laced with a message of prosperity and inherently, racial overtones.” The author also has a talent for the concise, aphoristic phrase: “That’s part of the problem Sally,” one character says. “Southern manners can’t survive both integration and the Sixties.” While some of the tale’s language is unpleasantly old-fashioned—the narrator repeatedly refers to Meadow as a “mulatto”—the ambitious novel generally seeks to confront racism and show how foundational it is to communities like Bumkin. The book’s length and large cast of characters allow Eakin to explore the issue in great depth and from many perspectives. While some of the storylines are of less interest than others—the audience probably won’t be as infatuated with Bam as the author is—they intersect and inform one another in ways that will remind readers how connected we all are.

An engrossing tale about the integration of a Louisiana town.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 409

Publisher: Kurti Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2019

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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