There are a couple books I tend to be more likely to recommend than others. There are a small number that I think virtually anyone will read and love. I try to pick books people may not have heard about.
One of these books, perhaps the one I recommend most often, is gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson. It is so full of Southern-fried charm, quirky characters and a killer mystery plot that I don’t see how anyone could read it and not love it.
gods is her first novel, but now she’s on her fifth, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, and I follow her and take pride in her the way I would one of my closest friends. So we haven’t ever actually met. But I read her blog faithfully. (I would tell you to read her blog, but then you will see how constantly witty and funny she is and YOU will want to be her BFF and you will find a way to steal her from me and then I would hate you forever.) After I read another of her books I loved, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, I sent her a fangirly email and she sent me a very nice thank you response. So obviously we are besties, no? (Yes. Obviously.)
Now before you think I’m completely biased in my review, I will admit that while I have my favorites of her novels, I have not-as-much-favorites, too. I liked Between, Georgia but found it a bit too twee for my liking. And I didn’t actually finish Backseat Saints because it and I just weren’t getting along. We respected each other and all, but we are not meant to be friends. So I went into AGUKOP with high hopes but knowing we weren’t necessarily destined for each other.
Turns out, it’s her best book yet. It has the darkness of her last couple novels, a willingness to get into real sadness and pain. It has the brightness of her voice, full of spirit. It is, of course, fantastically plotted. And it contains, of course, wonderful, full characters. More than anything, though, I think her writing here is spectacular.
Jackson’s books are all related to one another. They’re all spread throughout the South. They follow gutsy and willful women through missteps and hard times and love. Still, I would never classify them as “chick lit.” They are not fluffy, even if their covers are sweet like sugar. I’d say they’re more like molasses: distinctive, strangely sweet, rich and darkly warm.
A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty is about 3 generations of women: Big, Liza and Mosey Slocumb. Every 15 years they’re cursed. Big was 15 when she had Liza. Liza was 15 when she had Mosey. And now another 15th year has come. So far Mosey is safely out of trouble, but they’ve already been stricken with tragedy when Liza had a stroke. And now everything will get more dangerous when a mysterious box is unearthed in the backyard.
The three women are all quite different. Big was a good girl who made one big mistake and then worked as hard as she could to make up for it. Liza was a wild child who ran off shortly after Mosey was born, only to return later in need of rehab from drugs, alcohol and men. Mosey is their pet who loves them both but is struggling to find her own identity.
All three of them find themselves reeling. Big struggles to keep her family together. Liza has more secrets to explain but doesn’t have the words to say them. And Mosey finds herself careening towards the kind of mistakes her mother and grandmother have made before her.
While I have tried to make it clear that there’s plenty of darkness in Jackson’s novels, I also want to be clear that they are a JOY to read. This is the kind of book I stay up too late reading. It propels you along but not so quickly that you can’t get to know the characters.
Once again, I feel like I’ve found a book I can recommend to nearly anyone. If you like chick-lit, I know you’ll like it. If you avoid chick-lit like the plague (as I do), you’ll like it. When a book is just plain good, one needn’t worry about such silly things as genre or whether the cover has a pretty picture.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go tweet this post so that my bestie Joss will see it.
Thanks to Netgalley and Grand Central Publishing for giving me an advanced e-galley of the book. A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty comes out Tuesday, January 24th and should be available in bookstores everywhere. As part of her book tour, you can get signed first editions from The Alabama Booksmith of this or any of Joshilyn’s books.