Red Clay and Roses – a review

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Red Clay and Roses
by S.K. Nicholls

Purchase copies here

A Different Kind of Book Review

Melissa set the tray of coffee mugs, sugar bowl and creamer on the table, and quickly began to pour the coffee. Her hands shook a bit and she missed Maggie’s cup by a hair. Maggie cocked an eyebrow in wonder. Mary was fixing plates of mini-scones and cookies for them to nibble on, oblivious to her cousin’s anxiety. This was their first book club meeting, although Melissa wondered if a book club could have as few as three people and still be a club. She told herself it didn’t matter. Now that she and Maggie were living in town, it would be a way for the three cousins to see each other regularly.

“Well, I can’t wait to talk about the book we read for tonight.” Mary put the plates of goodies on the table and sat down. Both Melissa and Maggie paused in mid-sip of their coffee. They didn’t think Mary was that much of a reader. She hadn’t even seemed that interested in reading the book Maggie had suggested: Red Clay and Roses by S.K. Nicholls.

“I loved this book,” Mary went on, while adding two teaspoons of sugar and some cream to her coffee. “I mean the story of Moses and Althea, Sybil and Nathan. It was all so sad, so tragic, and it all happened.”

Maggie had planned to start the meeting with a brief overview of the book, and she had even prepared questions in case her cousins failed for words. But Mary was charging ahead.

“And the detail in the book. I felt like I could go back to that time and know exactly how to find the old house, the beauty salon, the juke joint, the swamp.”

“Ah … ” Maggie wanted to interject. Mary had a tendency to rule over discussions, but the book club was her idea. “I agree. I was impressed by the detail of her journey in the Introduction, almost like she was recording the trip as she traveled.”

“I didn’t read the Introduction.” Mary took a bite out of a vanilla creme scone. “I didn’t read the Conclusion either.”

Maggie’s mouth fell open and then shut it when Melissa gave her a sideways glance.

“Well, I read the whole book,” Melissa said, placing emphasis on the word “whole” and narrowing her eyes at Mary. “The point of a book club is to read the book.”

Mary shrugged. “I started to read those parts, but they were kind of slow-going. I wanted to get to the meat of the book. I had read some reviews online so I knew there was a diamond in the rough there.”

Melissa sighed. “Well, how can we discuss the book if you haven’t read it all?”

Maggie squirmed. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Five minutes into it and they’re already starting to argue. She cleared her throat and braced herself.

“Melissa’s right. I mean, the flow of the Introduction and the Conclusion bothered me too; there was so much detail and I got lost a couple of times.”

Melissa nodded. “It was the same way for me. I don’t even know if those parts of the book are necessary.”

“Oh, they are necessary to the book as a whole.” Maggie grabbed the vanilla creme scone from her plate. Mary had already stolen Melissa’s. “Even though she has a disclaimer at the beginning, making it clear that the book is based on facts, it’s still important to know how she comes upon these facts and then to bring it all into present day. After all that happened to Althea, Moses, Sybil, and Nathan, some resolution was necessary. She couldn’t just end it with … .”

“Sure,” Melissa interrupted. She picked up a shortbread cookie, seemingly unaware that the vanilla creme scones were all gone. “I understand what you are saying. It would have been different if I hadn’t read the Conclusion and found out what happened later.”

Mary’s head jerked up. “What happened later? You mean, it didn’t end with …”

Melissa swerved back to face Mary. “No, if you had read the whole book, Mary, you would know.”

Maggie jumped up and began refilling their coffee mugs. Tensions are rising, she thought to herself. Please God, don’t make me regret this.

“You don’t need to get testy, Melissa. I started to read the Conclusion, but it seemed to me that the author had finished telling the story of Sybil and Nathan, so I just put it down.” Mary’s voice was soft but earnest. She didn’t want to argue. She had actually loved much of Red Clay and Roses. “Does it really matter? I mean, I loved the core of the book. Once Moses started talking, relating the tragedy of his daughter Althea, and then the forbidden love between Sybil and Nathan. It’s an incredibly powerful story in and of itself. And that it was a true story made it so compelling.”

“Did it have to be a true story for you to like it?” Maggie felt intrigued by Mary’s view of the book.

“No, actually, the author’s writing would have swept me into that world of the pre-Civil Rights South if it had been fiction. It was really the level of detail, the sense of place, and the dialogue that made it all come together. Have either of you read An American Tragedy by Dresier?”

Maggie and Melissa put down their coffee and stared at Mary. Maggie wanted to call Randy and ask him if there was a pod with Mary’s body in it somewhere in her house.

“Well, Red Clay and Roses is similar in that both books are based on true events, but both are also fictionalized for the sake of the story. And both have this level of detail that makes the story play out in your mind as if you were really there, with the characters, traveling with them, eavesdropping on them. It doesn’t matter whether it’s fiction, fact, or some hybrid like faction.”

Melissa tried to stop herself but couldn’t help but snort coffee through her nose when Mary said “faction.” She realized that despite all the years they’ve known each other, she actually didn’t know Mary very well. At least, not this side of Mary.

“Ok, well, how would you rate the book?” Maggie pulled over a napkin and took a pen from the counter behind her.

“Five,” said Mary.

“How can you give her a five when you didn’t read the whole book?” Melissa sat back in her chair, arms crossed. “I give it a three because I think the author could have done better with the Introduction and Conclusion.”

“Christ.” Mary scowled and took a sip of coffee. She felt her cousins’ eyes on her. She liked surprising them from time to time. Everyone thought they knew her because she was outspoken and gregarious. But all those nights when Christopher was away. What the hell did they think she was doing? Playing with herself? Well, there was some of that, but for the most part she read. “What’s your rating, Maggie?”

Maggie paused. She was torn. There was much she liked, even loved, about the book. Sure, it had its flaws but so did some bestsellers she had read. “Four.”

Mary nodded. “Then four for me, too. That book is a diamond in the rough.”

Maggie looked over at Melissa and waited. Her cousin picked up another cookie and quietly said, “Four.” Maggie smiled. Maybe this book club would work after all.

Marie Bailey
(This review has appeared elsewhere.)

S.K. Nicholls has been previously featured on Reading Recommendations. Marie Bailey writes “a different kind of book review” on her blog, 1WriteWay.



  1. Let's CUT the Crap! · January 26, 2016

    This must be the most delightful book review I’ve read. Tells it like it is and softens the blow on a couple details.

    Liked by 3 people

    • sknicholls · January 27, 2016

      Marie is a sweetheart. I laughed at the bickering between the ladies of the book club. I always love her “different kind of reviews”. I wonder if she plans to have them all integrated into her real novels when they’re completed. That would be a hoot.

      Liked by 3 people

      • 1WriteWay · January 27, 2016

        Thank you for your kind words, SK! It was so much fun reading this review! It was my first “different kind of book review” and I remember being quite nervous about it. Funny too how reading it makes me want to read RCR again 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      • Let's CUT the Crap! · January 28, 2016

        I truly loved this approach. Not cut and dried. We all love stories and she gave us another one. ❤

        Liked by 2 people

  2. sknicholls · January 27, 2016

    Thank you Susan, for posting Marie’s fun review. I love her blog and the little old lady crime fighter characters she’s keeping in the trunk. Can’t wait until she brings them all out for us to really get to know.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Susan Toy features a different kind of book review and it is very entertaining and I enjoyed hugely.. It actually brought the book to life in a very interesting way.. Head over and read Marie Bailey’s review of Red Clay and Roses by S.K. Nicholls

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Sue Vincent · January 27, 2016

    Reblogged this on Daily Echo.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. annabellefranklinauthor · January 27, 2016

    I liked this review with a difference. I actually started to read Red Clay and Roses a while back, but got bogged down in the introduction and put it aside – now I might give it another go.
    The three cousins in this imaginary (?) book club are doing well! In our book club, people often turn up not having read ANY of the book under discussion!

    Liked by 2 people

    • sknicholls · January 27, 2016

      Oh please do give it another try. A debut novel, it had an introduction (that did meander) a Part one written in first person, and a Part Two in third person, and came back to a satisfying conclusion in first person. It’s a romana clef, which was a historic way to tell a scandalous true story. An experiment in contemporary times, but a deep and meaningful read I hope you’ll enjoy.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Mary Smith · January 27, 2016

    What a brilliant way to do a book review.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. 1WriteWay · January 27, 2016

    Susan, thank you so much for selecting this review of mine to post! I appreciate all the wonderful comments.

    Liked by 2 people

    • islandeditions · February 1, 2016

      I think the consensus is in, Marie, and everyone enjoys your “fresh” approach to reviewing. I hope that you will write more!

      Liked by 1 person

      • 1WriteWay · February 1, 2016

        Thank you, Susan! I do plan to write more … Just don’t know when yet 😬

        Liked by 1 person

  8. 1WriteWay · January 27, 2016

    Reblogged this on 1WriteWay and commented:
    I am honored that Susan Toy, author supporter extraordinaire, has posted one of my “different kind of book review” on her blog, Reading Recommendations Reviewed. This particular review is of S.K. Nicholls’ Red Clay and Roses, a wonderful book that blends a bit of fiction with a lot of facts. Go on over to Reading Recommendations Reviewed and then pick up a copy of Red Clay and Roses for yourself 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • sknicholls · January 27, 2016

      Considering all that has transpired concerning the issues in the past two years, it makes me want to read the book again, too. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Ali Isaac · January 28, 2016

    What a wonderful way to review a book! And highly entertaining. Well done! 😁

    Liked by 3 people

    • sknicholls · February 1, 2016

      It truly amused me, too. This was written a while back and I recall reading it the first time and laughing out loud at the ladies debating. It tickled me how cleverly Marie approached with delicacy what she found favorable and unfavorable. I haven’t read many books that I loved everything about, and being one of my most earliest reviews, she was so gentle with me. Loved it.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Tricia Drammeh · January 29, 2016

    Reblogged this on Authors to Watch.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. L. Marie · February 1, 2016

    Loved this review! I wish all book reviews were entertaining like this.

    Liked by 2 people

    • sknicholls · February 1, 2016

      I agree. A much more valuable experience hearing dissenting opinions on a controversial book than laying out a list of I liked this, but I didn’t like this. Marie has a knack for unique writing. I can’t wait until she gets her series published. I’m eager to read more about these ladies.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Luanne · February 1, 2016

    This is such a hilarious and compelling review. I loved this book, by the way. Including the intro and conclusion :)!

    Liked by 2 people

    • sknicholls · February 1, 2016

      You are most kind, Luanne. I want you to know that I had a debate with my editor about ethnic tag identifiers in the first chapter of my new book with your words in mind and I won. If he felt that they shouldn’t be necessary for Brandi, then they shouldn’t be necessary for Cara either. Will send you an email about that.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Luanne · February 1, 2016

        Yes, I can’t wait to hear more about it!

        Liked by 2 people

  13. sknicholls · February 1, 2016

    Reblogged this on S.K. Nicholls and commented:
    Susan Toy featured a review from Marie Bailey on her Reading Recommendations–Reviews blog yesterday. The review was Marie’s first “Different” sort of review and is quite amusing in and of itself. Marie was one of the first people I met on my blogging journey when I first published. I applaud her creativity. Since this review, Red Clay and Roses has received a revision. This is a perfect example of why your reviews as readers mean so much. Authors learn so much from readers who honestly express their opinions about the works they read, and Marie really handled her concerns with grace and charm. Have a read. It’s delightful.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Mae Clair · February 1, 2016

    What a clever way to post a review. I loved seeing the book this way!

    Liked by 1 person

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