| | General Fiction
| || My Brother Michael (1997)|
From Kirkus Reviews
A luminously written first novel that celebrates--not always convincingly--a surviving sibling's redemption and gratitude. When younger brother Gabe Catts comes home to north Florida for his brother Michael's funeral, he's been drinking, and he soon flees the family and heads back to New York, where he teaches college. Gabe is overcome by more than conventional grief, it seems, and the story he tells is as much a journey of self- discovery as of brotherly love and destructive jealousy. It begins in the small neighborhood of Magnolia Hill, where Gabe grew up and where his mother still lives. His father was a millworker. He had two siblings, a sister, Candace, and then Michael, named (like Gabe) after an angel. Next door, in a tumbledown house, lived the Sims--a mother and father with two children, Ira and Myra. Gabe falls in love with Myra. But the Simses are different: Dad beats up Ira and sexually abuses Myra, and when Dad is arrested, the family moves away. Meanwhile, Michael, a promising baseball player, turns down offers and stays home to help his parents, and Gabe, who's never forgotten Myra, goes on to college and graduate school. Myra comes back to Magnolia Hill and soon marries Michael, a union that the self-absorbed Gabe finds tough to accept. He flees north, combining a successful academic career with bouts of heavy, near- suicidal, drinking. Having taken time off to write a book, he returns home once more, seduces and impregnates Myra, by now being treated for schizophrenia, then flees when his betrayal is discovered. Ten years later, dying from cancer, Michael asks Gabe to look after his family. He also leaves him a lot of money, and with some bumps along the way, Gabe finds both happiness and his soul, just as his brother had hoped. A bit too schematic, but a refreshingly different take on fraternal rivalry. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
| || Myra Sims (1999)|
From Library Journal
Readers got a refreshing introduction to the Sims and Catts families in Owens's first novel, My Brother Michael (LJ 12/96), but there is more than one side to every story. Here to tell her side is Myra Sims. Perhaps it is her fresh perspective as narrator, or perhaps it is Owens's more confident and poignant writing, but this retelling adds depth to an already complex and haunting tale. Readers will become engrossed in the stories of brothers Gabe and Michael Catts and the woman, Myra, with whom their lives are entangled. For those who are new to their story, these strong and refreshing characters will not disappoint. Owens has proven she is a Southern writer who is here to stay, at least in the hearts of her readers.AShannon Haddock, BellSouth Corporate Lib., Birmingham, AL
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
| || The Schooling of Claybird Catts (2003)|
From Publishers Weekly
Owens's third novel about the Florida Catts family covers much of the same territory as the earlier volumes, but her fans will likely enjoy this affectionate portrait of teenage narrator Clayton "Claybird" Catts. Clayton is 11 when his beloved father, Michael, dies, the first event that intrudes into Clayton's innocence. He had idealized Michael, but his relationship with his mother, Myra, is chillier; he and his best friend decide that she is a vampire, though the real reason behind her grim pallor is her dependence on a pharmacopoeia of antidepressants that leave her unable to sleep or tan. After Michael's death, his brother, Gabe, moves in with the Cattses, and eventually marries Clayton's mother. Clayton and his siblings, Sim and Missy, like Gabe well enough, in spite of the eyebrow-raising arrangement. But two years later, just before he starts high school, Clayton learns a secret about his family that drives him to leave the house and move in with his aunt. Clayton narrates these events retrospectively while describing his first year in high school. He's dyslexic and his self-esteem is heartbreakingly low ("being the token idiot in a family of child geniuses has always been a burden to me"), but, as his narration reveals, he is imaginative and perceptive. Owens infuses the story with warm humor as she traces Clayton's gradual, poignant reconciliation to his less-than-perfect family.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
| || The Cracker Kitchen: A Cookbook in Celebration of Cornbread-Fed, Down Home Family Stories and Cuisine (2009)|
Though our roots are in the Colonial South, we Crackers are essentially just another American fusion culture, and our table and our stories are constantly expanding -- nearly as fast as our waistlines. We aren't ashamed of either, and we're always delighted with the prospect of company: someone to feed and make laugh, to listen to our hundred thousand stories of food and family and our long American past.
Crackers, rednecks, hillbillies, and country boys have long been the brunt of many jokes, yet this old Southern culture is a rich and vibrant part of Amer-ican history. In The Cracker Kitchen, Janis Owens traces the root of the word Cracker back to its origins in Shakespeare's Elizabethan England -- when it meant braggart or big shot -- through its proliferation in America, where it became a derogatory term to describe poor and working-class Southerners. This compelling anthropological exploration peels back the historic misconceptions connected with the word to reveal a breed of proud, fiercely independent Americans with a deep love of their families, their country, their stories, and, most important, their food. With 150 recipes from over twenty different seasonal menus, The Cracker Kitchen offers a full year's worth of eating and rejoicing: from spring's Easter Dinner -- which includes recipes for Easter Ham, Green Bean Bundles, and, of course, Cracklin' Cornbread -- to summer's Fish Frys, fall's Tailgate Parties, and winter's In Celebration of Soul, honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. Recounted in Owens's delightful and hilarious voice, the family legends accompanying each of these menus leap off the page. We meet Uncle Kelly, the Prince of the Funny Funeral Story, who has family and friends howling with laughter at otherwise solemn occasions. We spend a morning with Janis and her friends at a Christmas Cookie Brunch as they bake delectable gifts for everyone on their holiday lists. And Janis's own father donates his famous fundamentalist biscuit recipe; truly a foretaste of glory divine. The Cracker Kitchen is a charming, irresistible celebration of family, storytelling, and good old-fashioned eating sure to appeal to anyone with an appreciation of Americana.
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