Sorting White Trash

indexIt was a hard call, but I’d say White Trash by Nancy Isenberg was my Number 2 Must Read of 2016 (after Chasing the Scream), but oh, have I put off writing about it because it played so much into last year’s politics it seemed as if it were written for it – but it couldn’t, because it was written before last year’s one-of-a-kind election year.

“White Trash” is a term that began just before the Civil War and became entrenched afterward, a term for the poorest white people who were absolutely uneducated, dirty, poorer than slaves – and had no desire to change their ways. They considered themselves perfectly fine and above anyone else. Rich people were to be sneered at, since they considered themselves better. Educated people were sneered at, because they considered themselves better. Yet as a class they were so despised for their lack of morals and work ethic, even slaves considered themselves above Poor White Trash.

Isenberg feels the concept goes back further than that. Who did England send over to1400306193764-cached America to pad out their colonies? Who would not be missed from the overcrowded prisons and cities? Not the landed gentry, but those persons who for whatever reason did not fit into society and were unsuccessful at supporting themselves. The Virginia Colony had to go so far as to set a death sentence for people who did not work and did not attend church on Sundays. Starvation was so bad that people resorted to cannibalism. The people sent over refused to work, preferring to run off to unsettled land (which was “owned” by others) and fend for themselves. Getting people to do the hard labor of setting up a colony was quite difficult.

Further, Isenberg says that as the country expanded, the first to move west were… the folk who refused to work for others, could not function in a society, and would rather starve than work. Each time, the ones who pushed west first were the dregs, seeking escape from prisons, debt collectors, tax men, and others who “infringed” upon them. The wild west was wild because the people who colonized it couldn’t get along with anyone.

“White Trash” has many names, depending on geography – Crackers, Okies, Rednecks, Hillbillies, Trailer Trash, Mud Eaters – all people who shun government, distrust education, live in abject poverty, and have a very flexible moral code. I don’t mean “flexible” as a pejorative but as a term to describe a juxtaposition of ideals: your baby out of wedlock is a sin, but it’s okay for me. Never take charity, but taking free stuff from this agency over here isn’t charity, it’s just free stuff. They have quite the knack for making things acceptable for them but a sin for anyone else.

Isenberg digs into both politics and popularism, citing Andrew Jack110932-004-3f4811e2son (the first person running for President who lost despite getting the most popular votes the first time he ran) as an uneducated, crass boor who appealed to the lowest masses and yet was elected President, and how he loved to flaunt that boorishness, to the distress of the American Gentry. She cites the 1970’s as a time when White Trash became hip – from Smokey and the Bandit, to the Dukes of Hazzard, to Tammy Faye Bakker and the  whole Televangelist craze. Today’s exploitainment shows like Duck Dynasty, Honey Boo Boo, and 16 and Pregnant continue to flaunt poverty, lawlessness, and lack of education as something chic and desirable.

Of course race and politics play into it. Much of the divide still stems from the Civil War, with Southern States blaming Northern States for the outcomes, and the Northern States holding the South in utter contempt. Isenberg shows how that all translates into votes, and political forums, and how those in turn affect our elections – including the recent one.

indexIsenberg is not alone in her observations. Numerous authors have also written similar observations, making her research more plausible. One is Deer Hunting With Jesus, by Joe Bageant, in which he talks about going home to rural Virginia, and why such places are becoming  a permanent underclass.  Lee Smith touches on a little of it in her dreamy autobiography Dimestore, about growing up in rural Appalachia.  Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance does a fantastic job presenting the issues from the first-hand experience of growing up in 1980’s Kentucky.

No matter what your political leanings, White Trash815bv15ciol will open your eyes to why current politics are playing out the way they are and how people are being exploited in the process, why you can’t seem to educate people out of poverty, and how that poverty persists generation after generation – and no, it’s not due to Welfare. How do we change it? How do we shape it? Or should we allow an uneducated underclass to dictate policies it knows nothing about – and chooses not to learn?  There’s no easy answer to be had, but this book is a must read and will open your eyes to a lot of things you never learned in school.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

chocolatIn Chocolat, Vianne is trying to break  away from her mother’s nomadic way of life. Determined to make a new life for herself and her daughter Anouk, Vianne settles down in a French village and opens a chocolate shop. However, the villagers and priest are less than thrilled with her presence since she has very different ideas on life. She does not attend the local church, she was never married to Anouk’s father, and she seems set on bringing about changes that will affect everyone’s lives.

This book was well-written and very enjoyable. It mostly takes place from  Vianne’s point of view as she becomes a driving force in the changes that come to the town. The writing style keeps you involved from the beginning, and the characters are fully developed. As you progress through the book, you delve into the pasts of the characters, learning how they came to the positions they currently occupy. You learn why Vianne wants to settle down, why Jacqueline is trapped in her marriage, and why the priest is against everything Vianne stands for. In addition, the protagonist is an intelligent woman who is very independent and strong-willed, which is part of what makes this book so interesting. Note: You will crave chocolate while reading this.

Genre: Fiction, but it is not truly a romance, despite the cover.

Setting: Twentieth-century French village called Lansquenet.

Is this good for a book club? Yes. It is a good length and allows for plenty of discussion, including character analysis, recurring themes, and what could potentially happen to everyone after the book ends.

Is there a movie version? Yes, but it is different enough from the book that it would provide a good comparison. Personally, I did not enjoy the movie because I felt that it took the characters and overall tone in directions that the author did not intend. However, you should watch it to see what you think. Click here for the movie version.

Themes: Including, but not limited to, letting go and moving on with life, overcoming feelings of powerlessness, retaining one’s morality, religion, and friction between people of different classes and walks of life.

Objectionable content? Very little, and nothing explicit. Some people may not like that the antagonist is a Catholic priest. However, despite being the antagonist, he is not a villainous character.

Can children read this? Teens would enjoy this.

 Who would like this? Anyone who enjoys reading fiction that involves good character development and a non-traditional protagonist.

Rating: Five stars. I highly recommend Chocolat.

A Beautiful Ending To A Wonderful Romantic Series

Back in August 2016, I introduced you to a new series, Wild Aces, by Chanel Cleeton.   on-broken-wingsYou can read about it here.  Available now is the third and final book in the series, On Broken Wings.   Here’s the official summary:

A year after losing her husband, Joker, the squadron commander of the Wild Aces, Dani Peterson gets an offer from his best friend, Alex “Easy” Rogers, to help fix up her house. Dani accepts, and their friendship grows—along with an undeniable attraction.

Racked by guilt for loving his best friend’s widow, Easy’s caught between what he wants and can’t have. Until one night everything changes, and the woman who’s always held his heart ends up in his arms. Yet as Easy leaves for his next deployment, he and Dani are torn between their feelings and their loyalty to Joker’s memory.

But when Dani discovers something that sends them both into a spin, the conflicted lovers must overcome the past to navigate a future together…

I can’t remember when I have ever been so moved by a fictional book.  When I finished reading it, I just sat in my chair stunned, only able to think “wow”.  The three books in the series can stand on their own, but On Broken Wings ties all the books together with a genuinely authentic military love story full of emotion, humor, love, passion, heartache and triumph.

What a way to end a series.  This book was completely captivating and everything a romance should be.

Hot New Contemporary Romance Series

heart-2I’ve been reading contemporary romance books for a very long time.  It’s getting harder to find a book that grabs my attention and captures it until the end of the book. After awhile, the plots seem to be so similar and the endings predictable.  After starting three books and returning them to the library after just two chapters, I was thrilled to find a book that held my interest all the way to the end!  Author Tessa Bailey has come up with a fresh new series, Romancing the Clarksons, about four siblings coming to terms with the death of their mother.

tooThe first book in the series is Too Hot to Handle.
The road trip was definitely a bad idea. Having already flambéed her culinary career beyond recognition, Rita Clarkson is now stranded in God-Knows-Where, New Mexico, with a busted car and her three temperamental siblings, who she hasn’t seen in years. When rescue shows up—six-feet-plus of hot, charming sex on a motorcycle—Rita’s pretty certain she’s gone from the frying pan right into the fire . . .

Jasper Ellis has a bad boy reputation in town, and he loathes it. The moment he sees Rita, though, Jasper knows he’s about to be sorely tempted. There’s something real between them. Something raw. And Jasper has only a few days to show Rita that he isn’t just for tonight—he’s forever.

The author managed to surprise me with intricate story telling and dramatic turns of events – a complex story hidden beneath excellent writing, with an intriguing cast of characters.  This dysfunctional cast of four siblings literally leads you on a journey of anguish, vulnerability, sorrow, humor and passion.  This is a book full of life and passion!

I will admit that parts of Too Hot to Handle were, well, too hot for me!  There are several explicit sex scenes throughout the book, but not enough for me to stop reading it.  Whatever your comfort level is, the book is worth reading to the end.  Just skip what is uncomfortable for you!

too-wildBook two in the series is Too Wild to Tame – due out January 31, 2017.  Hired to work for the country’s most powerful senator, Aaron Clarkson, known for his prowess in the bedroom, finds it hard to not mix business with pleasure when he meets the senator’s daughter, the black sheep of her conservative family who is wild, gorgeous and 100 percent trouble.

too-hardBook three in the series is Too Hard to Forget – due out April 25, 2017.  Peggy Clarkson is returning to her alma mater with one goal in mind: confront Elliott Brooks, the man who ruined her for all others, and remind him of what he’s been missing. Even after three years, seeing him again is like a punch in the gut, but Peggy’s determined to stick to her plan. Maybe then, once she has the upper hand, she’ll finally be able to move on.

In the years since Peggy left Cincinnati, Elliott has kept his focus on football. No distractions and no complications. But when Peggy walks back onto his practice field and into his life, he knows she could unravel everything in his carefully controlled world. Because the girl who was hard to forget is now a woman impossible to resist.

highres-MJB_5140.jpgAuthor Tessa Bailey – Tessa Bailey is originally from Carlsbad, California. The day after high school graduation, she packed her yearbook, ripped jeans and laptop, driving cross-country to New York City in under four days.

Her most valuable life experiences were learned thereafter while waitressing at K-Dees, a Manhattan pub owned by her uncle. Inside those four walls, she met her husband, best friend and discovered the magic of classic rock, managing to put herself through Kingsborough Community College and the English program at Pace University at the same time. Several stunted attempts to enter the work force as a journalist followed, but romance writing continued to demand her attention.

 She now lives in Long Island, New York with her husband of nine years and four-year-old daughter. Although she is severely sleep-deprived, she is incredibly happy to be living her dream of writing about people falling in love.

Enjoyable Reads

Life has a way of getting in the way, and I’ve had to cut back on my reading.  I used to finish a book even if I didn’t like it.  But now, if it doesn’t draw me in after the first two chapters, it goes back to the library.  It’s been awhile since I’ve finished a book.  But, finally, I actually finished two in a row!  Not only finished, but I actually finished each one in a day!  On two beautiful Sunday afternoons, I sat and read, and read, and read.  It was wonderful!

robbThe first one was J.D. Robb’s Apprentice in DeathIf you’ve been a fan of Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, you probably noticed that her last several books were, well……different.  Some say she has a ghost writer (which she vehemently denies), others say writer’s block, and others say she’s just spreading her wings and trying something new.  Apprentice in Death is more in line with her earlier writings and I was hooked in the first chapter.  There is a subtle difference.  In the earlier In Death books, Ms. Robb spent a lot of time writing about the actual killings in very graphic detail.  In Apprentice, she spends her time inside the characters’ heads and their lives.   I love how Roarke and Eve have ‘grown up’.  There is a quiet maturity about them, but they still sizzle and crackle.  All the supporting characters are back and a few new ones have been introduced, giving hope that future books will be as entertaining as this.  This is my favorite book of the In Death series.

Summary

“The shots came quickly, silently, and with deadly accuracy. Within seconds, three people were dead at Central Park’s ice skating rink. The victims: a talented young skater, a doctor, and a teacher. As random as random can be. Eve Dallas has seen a lot of killers during her time with the NYPSD, but never one like this. After reviewing security videos, it becomes clear that the victims were killed by a sniper firing a tactical laser rifle, who could have been miles away when the trigger was pulled. And though the locations where the shooter could have set up seem endless, the list of people with that particular skill set is finite: police, military, professional killer. Eve’s husband, Roarke, has unlimited resources–and genius–at his disposal. And when his computer program leads Eve to the location of the sniper, she learns a shocking fact: There were two–one older,one younger. Someone is being trained by an expert in the science of killing, and they have an agenda. Central Park was just a warm-up. And as another sniper attack shakes the city to its core, Eve realizes that though we’re all shaped by the people around us, there are those who are just born evil.”

 

alwaysThe second book I finished was Always A Cowboy (The Carsons of Mustang Creek) by Linda Lael Miller.  This is book two of a trilogy.  Ms. Miller has been writing about cowboys for a very long time.  You think she couldn’t possibly write something new and different, but she proves over and over that she can!  Again, I was hooked in the first chapter.  This is a gentle romance with just the right amount of spice and it gives us a good look into modern life in the American West.  Ms. Miller has a way of making her characters come to life and the settings are rich with details.  The story moves along quickly and there is an eclectic assortment of secondary characters that adds a richness to the story.

This book has an added bonus.  At the end of the book, Ms. Miller wrote a very personal essay giving us a glimpse into her life.  Ms. Miller is one of those authors who shares a lot about herself.  She has a wonderful website with news, a blog, and contests.  Check it out here.

Summary

Drake Carson is the quintessential cowboy. In charge of the family ranch, he knows the realities of this life, its pleasures and heartbreaks. Lately, managing the wild stallions on his property is wearing him down. When an interfering so-called expert arrives and starts offering her opinion, Drake is wary, but he can’t deny the longing—and the challenge—she stirs in him.

Luce Hale is researching how wild horses interact with ranch animals—and with ranchers. The Carson matriarch invites her to stay with the family, which guarantees frequent encounters with Drake, her ruggedly handsome and decidedly unwelcoming son. Luce and Drake are at odds from the very beginning, especially when it comes to the rogue stallion who’s stealing the ranch mares. But when Drake believes Luce is in danger, that changes everything—for both of them.

rancherBook one in this trilogy is Once A Rancher.  It too, was an outstanding read.  “ Offering a troubled boy a job on the ranch he shares with his younger siblings, Wyoming businessman Slater Carson falls for the youth’s beautiful guardian, Grace, a resort manager whose busy life is threatened by dangers from her past.”