15 January 2015

"Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind" by Ann B. Ross

Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind (Miss Julia, #1)

Summary from Goodreads:

Miss Julia, a recently bereaved and newly wealthy widow, is only slightly bemused when one Hazel Marie Puckett appears at her door with a youngster in tow and unceremoniously announces that the child is the bastard son of Miss Julia's late husband. Suddenly, this longtime church member and pillar of her small Southern community finds herself in the center of an unseemly scandal-and the guardian of a wan nine-year-old whose mere presence turns her life upside down.

Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind is the first book in a long-running series by Ann B. Ross. I can't quite remember why I added this book to my TBR list. It was probably during one of my phases when I wanted to find more books set in North Carolina. While the book ticked that box, I'm still not sure how I feel about it overall.

Even though there were crazy things going on all around Miss Julia, I kept waiting for her to "speak her mind". The book is written in first person, and she is very opinionated in her thoughts. However, she never really speaks OUT the way I thought she should. Miss Julia's housekeeper fit into the sassy Southern woman mold more than Miss Julia did.

Speaking of the housekeeper, the characterization of the only black character in the book made me uneasy. Generally, I'm not overly sensitive about black characters written to speak in the black vernacular, but something about the housekeeper in this book made me uncomfortable. It wasn't only the way that the housekeeper talked but the way she acted and the way other people treated her as if what she said should be disregarded because she is black. The book was written in 1999 and supposed to be contemporary for the time (there were monster trucks and cell phones), yet it felt like it was set in the 1960s or 1970s. In one scene, Miss Julia tells her housekeeper as she is going into a building to be careful because there weren't any of "your people" in there. What? I reminded myself that Miss Julia is almost 70 and kept reading, but it is easier for me to accept that kind of thing when I am reading a historical novel.

There are a few good things about this book. For one, it is fairly clean. Even though it is based on the premise of a cheating spouse, I think most people wouldn't hesitate to hand it to their mothers or grandmothers. There was one surprisingly tender moment between Miss Julia and her late husband's mistress toward the end of the book that sticks out as the highlight for me. Also, the book doesn't end in a cliffhanger so you can feel free to try it for yourself without getting stuck in a bad series (something that has happened to me more than once).

As for me, I think I will try at least one more book in the series. It is up to 16 books now, so there must be a lot of readers out there enjoying them. Perhaps I will figure out the attraction.

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