Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Review: Essie's Roses by Michelle Muriel

Publisher: Little Cabin Books, LLC
Pub. Date: March 23rd, 2015
Pages: 346


*Readers' Favorite Silver Medal Winner Southern Fiction

Growing up in the Deep South during the years leading to the Civil War, two young girls find freedom on a hillside overlooking Westland, an Alabama plantation. Essie Mae, an intuitive, intelligent slave girl, and Evie Winthrop, the sheltered, imaginative dreamer and planter’s daughter, strike up a secret friendship that thrives amidst the shadows of abuse.

Told from the viewpoint of four women: Katherine Winthrop, kind mistress and unexpected heiress to her father’s small, cotton plantation; Delly, her sassy and beloved house slave; Essie Mae, her slave girl; and Evie Winthrop, Katherine’s only child, Essie’s Roses tells of forbidden relationships flourishing in secret behind Westland’s protective trees and treasured roses.

After scandal befalls Westland, Evie and Essie, aged nineteen, travel to Richmond, Virginia, to escape their abusive pasts. There, they face the gross indecencies and divisions leading to the War Between the States. Though the horrors of slavery and discrimination prompt action, Evie and Essie’s struggles lie within. The secrets they hold and the pain of the past lead them away from one another and back home again.

A story about a black slave who frees a white woman, Essie’s Roses reveals the diverse meanings of freedom, the significance of a dream, and the power of love. In their efforts to save each other, will the women of Westland find the true freedom they desire?

What Did I Think About the Story?

I have to admit from the first sentence of this review that I have been just the worst reader ever! The lovely author of Essie's Roses, Michelle Muriel, sent me a copy almost a year ago, and I have just recently finished reading it. I started the book back in December 2015 (yes, you read that correctly) and at first attempt I just wasn't in the proper mood for a slowly unwinding story, as beautiful as it turned out to be. So it kept getting relegated to the bottom of my TBR pile, me stealing snippets of the story between other books. Then I resolved to buckle down and devote the time the book deserved to finish it, and I'm so glad I did. Essie's Rose's is a heartbreaking, heart mending look at the true meanings of love, family, and hope told in a unique and beautiful way.

The descriptions of Westland, the plantation much of the story takes place on, are absolutely stunning. This is not a story to be rushed as you really need to read it slowly and absorb all the imagery the author gives to the reader. So much of the story is taken up with building this background and the development of the characters, and their relationships, against it that you'll miss some of the key joy of the reading if you try and hurry through. This is especially true for the first part of the story, where not a lot of action happens but, instead, the reader is able to build a true understanding of and appreciation for the characters they'll be seeing go through some tremendously difficult times. Westland is both a salvation and a prison for these characters and it's only by the author's skill that this fact is fully realized.

And oh the characters you'll meet! I was really impressed with how the author gave wholly unique voices to our four main female characters. Each chapter begins with the name of the woman who's point of view we'll be seeing the story through in that chapter and each is written in that woman's voice, as you'd hear it in her own words. I have to admit that, because of this, it took me a little bit of time to get into the rhythm of speech of some of the characters, especially Delly, but once I got used to it the story flowed. There is so much that bonds these women and it was really interesting, if sad, seeing how each was living in her own personal prison and dealing with her own set of abuses, regardless of her skin color, age, or opportunities (or lack thereof) for a better future.  These women help each other in a myriad of ways, especially Evie and Essie Mae, and it is only when they are fully honest with each other that they can support each other to try and  move on from the horrors of the past.    

Essie's Roses deals with a lot of very difficult topics (slavery, abuse, rape) but does so in a very tender and sensitive way. The story, for me, became more about the bonds of these women and how they truly loved each other enough to push each other to get past the hurt of the past and have hope for a better future than anything else. It took some time for me to really get into the book, but this might have more to do with the sort of book that was drawing my attention at the time than about this one itself. It's a beautifully rendered story and one that deserves to be felt and not just read.

What Did I Think About the Cover?

I think the cover represents Westland very well, which is important for this story as Westland comes to represent so much to these characters. I will say that the roses shown aren't what I tend to think of as a rose garden (I think my image is of an English rose garden) but as these roses seem to be more wild and tangled it does fit the story better.

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Thank you to author Michelle Muriel for providing me with a free copy of Essie's Roses in exchange for a honest review. All opinions are solely my own. You can find more reviews of Essie's Roses and links to where you can purchase your own copy on Goodreads.

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