Review: Betty – Tiffany McDaniel

**Best reads of 2020 Must reads of 2020**

Tiffany McDaniel who is quickly becoming one of my favourite writers, ever!

Betty
Tiffany McDaniel
W & N :
H
achette Australia
ISBN: 9781474617536

Description:

A stunning, lyrical coming-of-age novel set in the rolling foothills of the Appalachians in which a young girl, with only the compass of her father’s imagination, must navigate racism, sexism, and the dark secrets that will haunt her for the rest of her life.

“A girl comes of age against the knife.”

So begins the story of Betty Carpenter. Born in a bathtub in Arkansas in 1954 to a Cherokee father and white mother, Betty is the sixth of eight siblings. The world they inhabit is one of poverty, racism, abuse, and violence–both from outside the family, and also, devastatingly, from within. After years on the road, searching in vain for a better life, the Carpenters return to their hometown of Breathed, Ohio, in northern Appalachia. There, they move into a sprawling wreck of a farmhouse that local legend says is cursed. The townsfolk decide the Carpenters are cursed, too: “My mother gave birth to eight of us,” Betty tells us in her frank, wry voice. “More than one would die for no good reason in the prizewinning years of their youth. Some blamed God for taking too few. Others accused the Devil of leaving too many.”

But Betty is resilient. Her father’s inventive stories are kindling for the fire of her own imagination and even in the face of tragedy and death, her creativity is irrepressible. Against overwhelming odds, she may be the first member of her family to break the cycle of abuse and trauma–and escape.

 

My View:

I Love Tiffany McDaniel’s writing – I just want to grab a pen an underline or flag words to read again – and I never ever mark my books! Or read again. Just like her debut The Summer That Melted Everything – I love love love the writing, the emotions, the themes, the protagonists, the contemporary issues and that this writing is based on family history.   What a story! Grab the tissues there are so many poignant moments without being melodramatic – in fact melodrama is the opposite of how this book is written.

 

Let me share an example of the scintillating writing:

After dinner Old Woman Slipperwort went to bed. I fell asleep watching TV through the crawling ants and static. I woke a few hours later, needing to pee. I walked quietly toward her bedroom, hoping I could pass through to the bathroom.

Like the night before, I found her naked and sitting on the edge of her bed. Unaware I was there, she continued to massage her legs, their blue -green veins twisting beneath her skin.  I wasn’t as afraid seeing her body this second night. In the folds and creases, I saw her history. Her skin the diary of her soul. All the springs she had watched the flowers bloom. The summers she had stood before the moon and kissed its face. The autumns she had grown wiser. The winter that had frozen the initials of her name. Each wrinkle was a record of this and every hour, minute an second she had lived. The things she had asked God for. The things she had cursed the devil about. In the folds and creases I saw beauty.“p 294 ( The back story to this will make your heart break) I am tearing up revisiting this section. This writer can see into the souls of people and transform that vision in words on the page

 

READ THIS BOOK.

 

Like The Summer That Melted Everything I predict awards for Betty.

Post Script: Sweet Wattle Creek – Kaye Dobbie

History has never been so important.

Sweet Wattle Creek Kaye Dobbie Cover

Sweet Wattle Creek

Kaye Dobbie

Harlequin Australia

ISBN: 9781743693087

 Description:

A vintage wedding dress reveals family secrets she never knew…

 

The chance discovery of a vintage wedding dress weaves together the fascinating stories of three women from different eras: Sophie, in hiding from a troubled past; Belle, who must lose everything to learn what really matters; and Martha, forced to give up those she loves in order to avoid exposure.

 

It’s 1930 and Belle Bartholomew has arrived in rural Sweet Wattle Creek to claim her inheritance – a run-down grand hotel formerly owned by Martha Ambrose. Determined to solve the mystery of her birth and the reason why she was bequeathed the hotel Belle runs into difficulties with the townsfolk and their desire to keep their secrets safe.

 

Sixty years later Sophie Matheson is on a quest to find Belle and her family after discovering the wedding dress. The Sweet Wattle Creek Centenary brings more challenges when her past catches up and she must fight for all that matters to her. Who were Belle and Martha and what links their lives together?

 

 

My View:

Kaye Dobbie has masterfully married two times fames to produce an exciting narrative that is both historical (1930’s) and contemporary (1980’s) fiction and there are aspects of life in both time periods that are relevant to the world we live in today. I found the history and social commentary of Australia between the wars and of the Great Depression illuminating; PTSD, the aftermath of war on families and communities, poverty, the role of women in society, unemployment were and are significant worldwide issues and it was exciting to learn a little more about this period by the device of using Sophie and Ian’s search for the provenance of the wedding dress.

 

Chapters alternate between the two periods and each chapter is clearly marked with the location, the year and whose voice we are listening to– Sophie’s (1980’s) or Belle’s (1930’s) – there is no chance of getting lost in this duality of time that sometimes happens in novels that employ this device – all is very clear and I thank the author for making it so – I never had to go back and re read to work out where I was or who I was listening to.

 

In both time periods we have protagonists that are strong, determined, resourceful and caring women. Dobbie writes her lead characters with poise, grace and humanity. The issue of small town attitudes and prejudices of the 1930’s – in particular the perceived social, economic and moral attitudes towards the “travellers,” the displaced victims of the Depression is comparable to attitudes today to the to the displaced people of Syria – the same fears and misconceptions surrounding their plight leapt out at me as I read this book. I think there is a lesson or two here we can all take from Belle and Michael’s attitudes of social responsibility.

 

Belle lived in a time of great upheaval, upheaval is a theme that is also prevalent in Sophie’s life too. Sophie’s story evokes much empathy and her situation is just as relevant to many women today as it was back in the 1980’s (no spoilers here.) Dobbie successfully reflects upon attitudes of the time as we discover more about the life and history of both female protagonists.

 

A blend of historical and contemporary fiction, with a dash of empathetic characters, drama, suspense and social commentary and Kaye Dobbie has created a recipe for success.