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Book review: "Stay Sweet"

I haven't spent much time in the South-sure, I've been to Disney World and I had what felt like an eternity-long layover in Georgia-but after reading Chris Chandler's book "Stay Sweet: Tales of Quirky Southern Love," I almost feel as though I've lived there.

The beauty of this book is its raw honesty. It's part-memoir, part-historical text, and part-personal musings on life, family, and love. Through a series of vignettes, Chandler shares moments throughout her life, many concerning her maternal grandmother, May. Some of these vignettes, however, instead focus on other members of her family, such as her great grandmother, Wea Wea.

In essence, this book is an ode to Chandler's family, community and more. I loved her inclusion and perspectives on the power (and importance) of storytelling and of going through family photos. It was lovely to read about her and her family's antics-hearing about how May would often throw burned food out "for the birds"-–made me laugh at the mental image, totally able to see myself in the same situation.

That's another huge reason to love this book, Chandler writes in such a relatable way, her stories feel like they could be your own.

I thought it was interesting, however, that the various anecdotes are not in any particular order. There are chapters where she shares a moment of her childhood, followed by an account from her college days, and then a memory of her wedding cake made by May (complete with recipe), before telling yet another story from her childhood.

Normally, the nonlinear timeline would bother me, but I think it really lends itself well to the conversational and nostalgic tone of the book. Often, I find that when sharing personal stories with others-familial or otherwise-these accounts are seldom told in terms of an accurate timeline of events. Instead, the flow is determined almost randomly, fueled by the narrator's feelings, or stories that prompt other stories.

When I first received this book from the Inkberry Books team, I wasn't sure what to expect. Would it be filled with tales that celebrate the South and long for a time long passed? No, not really.

There is definitely a sense of nostalgia, but there is also a sense of acceptance and gratitude. This feeling is expertly conveyed in one of the final chapters titled "Hands," in which Chandler describes the initial feeling of dread when seeing her aging hands, and then realizing that hers now mirror those of her ancestors. She misses the powerful women who shaped her and her perception of the world, but she is also grateful for the support they gave her, for the opportunity to grow as a person under their mentorship and love.

In sum, this is simply a lovely book. You can practically feel the affection and appreciation Chandler has for her family, her childhood, the South, and moving away from it. It's a relatable collection of mini-tales that explore the ideas of family, memory and more. I think this would make a lovely gift while also serving as a fun and engaging way to get you out of a reading slump. I highly recommend it and am thankful to Inkberry Books for sharing it with me.

Happy reading!

 

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