Monday, July 22, 2013

Book Review: The Story of Sassy Sweetwater by Vera Jane Cook

The Story of Sassy Sweetwater
by Vera Jane Cook
Publisher: Musa Publishing (January 20, 2012)
eBook,  289 Pages

This story was as sweet and sassy as its narrator and title character. But not the sweet of syrup, no, more like the pucker-power sweet of a persimmon.  The sweetness is in the delicious prose, the pucker in the dark plot and the sassy in its protagonist's stance towards her life.

Named by her teenage mother, Violet, for the attitude she hoped her daughter would face life with and the stream that ran beside the abandoned backwoods shack she was born in, Sassy Sweetwater was a precocious 13 year old when they returned to the South Carolina estate of Violet's raising. There she is confronted with one riddle after another as she meets aunts and uncles, a grandmother and servants and others who'd known her mother when.  Sensitive to the nuances of interactions between the adults in her presence she notices that there is much going on that isn't being spoken of and much that is said can't be relied on.  She is soon submerged in the violence, pain and dark family secrets that Violet had run from at age 17.

Until nearly the middle, around the time Sassy graduates High School, this reads much like a coming of age story and but for the graphic nature of the violence and sex could stand next to some of the better YA in that category but it would be a different and probably lesser story without them.  Possibly tho, minors 15-17 whose own lives had been rife with similar encounters with the dark side of human nature could benefit from a adult supervised, guided reading as there could be much potential for healing of their own trauma in a story that acknowledges these realities and shows them how to put their own experience into a wider perspective and give them a way to think and talk about it.  But I am no professional in child psychology or education so don't take that as prescription.

I am just a strong believer in the power of a well told story to reach places in the heart that have been walled off and precipitate a metamorphosis of the spirit--a kind of rebirth.  I'm not sure how or why this happens I just know it can as it has happened for me and several I've known and I've encountered it in story itself in both fiction and memoir.  But stories in which those dark elements are there for little more than shock value, plot shenanigans or titillation are more likely to wound than heal so I guess this was my roundabout way of saying this is not that kind of shallow, light-entertainment read but a literary story with profound depth and startling insights.

The second half of the book, from around the time of Sassy's return from her time in France the year she graduated High School on to the decade of her fifties when she returns to live in France, reads a bit like a family saga but more like a memoir that hits the highlights of a life full shocks and both joy and despair that Sassy faces with that sass that sometimes gets her through that which fate flings at her and sometimes brings on the consequences of her impetuous choices.

From the Publishers:

After thirteen years on the run Violet McLaughlin returns to Carter's Crossing, South Carolina, in 1962, with her young daughter, Sassy. The Crossing is right outside of Beaufort and the turmoil of the Civil Rights movement will forever leave its scars on the young and impressionable girl. As Sassy stands before the imposing white farmhouse for the first time, with no knowledge of her history but that the McLaughlin's are her kin, Sassy begins a journey that will tear her apart before it heals her. Growing up among secrets that will forever damage her relationship with her mother, she attempts to make sense of her past. But will her passion for art and her love for Thomas Tierney be enough to sustain her future? Will the puzzles she must solve to discover who she is be worth the journey?

What they are saying:

"An extraordinary second in the southern fiction genre, Vera Jane Cook explores the bonds of family and the fragility of love. The Story of Sassy Sweetwater is a sparkling debut novel.
Cook has penned a sweeping coming-of-age saga that is sure to appeal to fans of romance and drama. Sassy, an assertive, observant protagonist, gains the reader's sympathy at the outset; in the manner of Jane Eyre, she survives the hand fortune has dealt her through sheer will, rising up to meet every challenge.
It is not just the gripping love story that will hold the audience's interest; it is also Cook's nuanced portrayal of Sassy's positive relationships with people whom others are prejudiced against.
Drama lovers will be pleased to note that Sassy faces lies, cover-ups, violence, murder attempts, and the rediscovery of loved ones once thought dead. None of this descends into soap opera, however, because Cook skillfully grounds these events in her protagonist's emotions. Those who know the agony of a family rupture will feel Sassy's pain as she wishes for Violet to return, yet hates her for leaving. Along with the main story, as Cook delves into the lives of Sassy's family (particularly those of Violet and Edna) she paints a haunting portrait of physical abuse filtering through multiple generations. Despite its violence, though, The Story of Sassy Sweetwater is an uplifting read."- 5 Star ForeWord Clarion Review

"The Story of Sassy Sweetwater" by Vera Jane Cook was an excellent read. This story was one that I couldn't put down until I had finished I read all nite long ... (smile).
Sassy (meaning....attitude and Sweetwater..a stream.... was a very strong, desirous, and daring person. How this author was able to present such a well written novel was simply amazing....dealing with a young Sassy trying to understand the grownups in her life....mainly her mother...going from one relationship to another...then returning home... to Carter's Crossing, South Carolina.....where Sassy remained there until the end... then it was France.
Ms. Cook worked her magic in bringing out Sassy emotions to the audience. The writing was well written and each of the characters were brought to life in this great read.  I know you will find it a great read. These characters really made this a well understood novel.
The Story of Sassy Sweetwater" is a real journey that while you are on it, you will find out just what Sassy needed most in her life. Will Sassy be able to get this in the end? I found this novel an excellent novel and I would recommend this for the Adult audience."- Arlena Dean, GMTA Literary Community
"Vera Jane Cook has quickly become one my favorite writers. Her stories are always interesting and lively and The Story of Sassy Sweetwater is no exception.
In this book we follow the journey of Sassy Sweetwater as she grows and matures from a child to a woman. What a ride it is! Sassy's life is full of ups and downs but through it all she stays sweet and endearing. She is a strong and passionate character and she always seems to find a way to prevail.
If you love strong, character-driven stories you'll love The Story of Sassy Sweetwater."-Sweet Tea, Reviewer

" I really enjoyed how the author brought Sassy Sweetwater to life. You can almost hear her southern drawl as you read her words. The characters are richly created and bring the story even more to life. Other than Sassy, my favorite character was Grandma Edna. This woman starts out as someone who seems untouchable, and turns out to be Sassy's greatest champion. She has so many facets, like a true southern lady who married young and to a very volatile man, she finds her own way of taking control of things and people around her and still keep her charm.
Anyone looking for a solid story of life, its ups and downs with great female characters would really enjoy this book."- Kmusings, Reviewer

Vera Jane Cook, writer of Award Winning Women's Fiction, is the author of The Story of Sassy Sweetwater, Lies a River Deep, Where the Wildflowers Grow, Dancing Backward in Paradise and Annabel Horton, Lost Witch of Salem.

Jane, as she is known to family and friends, was born in New York City and grew up amid the eccentricity of her southern and glamorous mother on the Upper West and Upper East Side of Manhattan.

An only child, Jane turned to reading novels at an early age and was deeply influenced by an eclectic group of authors. Some of her favorite authors today are Nelson DeMille, Calib Carr, Wally Lamb, Anne Rice, Sue Monk Kidd, Anita Shreve, Jodi Picoult, Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. Her favorite novels are too long to list but include The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, Cheri and The Last of Cheri, The Picture of Dorian Grey, Wuthering Heights, Look at Me, Dogs of Babel, The Bluest Eye, The Art of Racing in the Rain, Body Surfing, Lolita, The Brothers Karamazov, She's Come Undone, Tale of Two Cities, etc., etc., etc.

The Story of Sassy Sweetwater is a finalist for the ForeWord Book of the Year Awards for 2012. Her first novel, Dancing Backward in Paradise won the Eric Hoffer Award for publishing excellence and the Indie Excellence Award for notable new fiction, 2007. The Story of Sassy Sweetwater and Dancing Backward in Paradise received five stars from ForeWord Clarion Reviews. The Story of Annabel Horton, Lost Witch of Salem is her first paranormal novel.

The author works by day for an education publishing company as an account manager and lives on the Upper West side of Manhattan with her long term partner, her Pomeranian, Daisy, her Basenji/Chihuahua mix, Roxie, her Chihuahua, Peanut and her two pussy cats, Sassy and Sweetie Pie.

Vera Jane Cook's Website
Vera Jane Cook on Twitter
Vera Jane Cook on Facebook

Follow the blog tour for more reviews, giveaways, author interviews and guest posts:

1 tell me a story:

Teddy Rose 7/22/2013 3:19 PM  

Thanks for taking part in the tour! It sounds like you loved The Story of Sassy Sweetwater as much as I did! I didn't want it to end!

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