Monday, April 25, 2016

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

Starla Claudelle, a white girl, lives in Mississippi with her not so nice grandmother, Maime.  Her father works on an oil rig, only making it home every few months.  Lucinda, her mother has gone to Nashville to become a star.  At nine years old, Starla feels that no one loves her.

Starla is a redhead and has a temper to match.  So when she punches the school bully, Maime grounds her just in time for the Fourth of July fireworks display.  When she's discovered outside the confines of her bedroom, she decides to head to Nashville in search of her mother.  Eula, a colored woman, picks up the pint sized hitchhiker along the side of the road.

The year is 1963 and the civil rights movement is beginning to take shape in the deep south.  Their journey together shows the bad and the ugly of this time in America.  But it also shows that people can be kind and caring while staring adversity in the face.

What I loved about Whistling Past the Graveyard is the development of the rich array of characters.  Starla is a child and we see the story through her eyes.  Eula shows us what a life of abuse means for a colored woman in a white world.  Both of them learn about themselves growing through the course of the story. That is not always easy for an author to accomplish and the way it played out in Whistling Past the Graveyard warmed my heart.  

Thursday, April 21, 2016

On Gold Mountain by Lisa See

On Gold Mountain by Lisa See

In 1867 Lisa See's great great grandfather arrived in America from China.  As an herbalist, his services were in great demand by immigrant laborers.  This is where her family history begins.

Fong See, her great grandfather started making ladies underwear, married Ticie, a Caucasian woman before building a successful antique business.  The family's story involves racism, romance, secret marriages and betrayals.  Not only does On Gold Mountain tell the story of a family, it documents the history of America from the building of the railroads through the Great Depression into the post war boom of the fifties.

That is a lot of territory to cover.  The story is meticulously researched and Ms. See does a good job of keeping the reader's head focused on the family tree. There is a lot going on and people and places to keep track of.  In some areas the story dragged on.  I felt some parts were important to document for the family but maybe not so interesting to the average reader.

I love Lisa See's fiction much more than this book, but I fully understand her desire to write it. In any event On Gold Mountain is a wide and sweeping history lesson in the people that help to make American the wonderful place it is.  And I'm glad I read it.  I learned so much.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

My reading life follows a predictable pattern. I muddle through a string of so so and decent but unexciting novels and then Boom!  I find something absolutely delightful.  So here I go again and this time I found Ella Minnow Pea. We were meant to find each other.  I had a $5 coupon at the bookstore and forgot to use it for my relaxing cup of coffee.  I searched the aisles for a book, which I didn't really need but I couldn't let $5 go to waste.  I picked up and put down dozens before Ella Minnow Pea finally spoke to me.

The story is set on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina.  The island has been named for Nevin Nollop, the man who wrote the panagram, "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog".  When the statue in his honor in the town square begins losing its letters, the councilmen ban each letter from use within hours of it crashing to the ground.  It's an omen they say from the great Nollop.  The punishment is strict for using a banned letter and the citizens either get creative or are banished to the mainland.

Ella Minnow Pea is wonderful fun!  The story is told through letters written by cousins Ella and Tassie and sometimes their parents missives are sprinkled in.  If you love language and letters, which I do, you will find Ella Minnow Pea a crazy wild ride through words.  It will bring a smile to your face!

Monday, April 11, 2016

The World Made Straight by Ron Rash

The World Made Straight by Ron Rash

Travis Shelton is by all accounts a typical teenage boy.  While fishing for speckled trout in his out of the way spot, he comes across what appears to be unattended marijuana plants and helps himself.  He sells them to Leonard, the local drug dealer, who lives a quiet life in a rundown trailer outside of town.  Travis sees easy money and goes back for more, only this time he's caught by the Toomeys, owners of the plants.

The chain of events lands Travis in a heap of trouble.  Leonard takes him in when he has nowhere else to go.  Once a teacher, Leonard encourages Travis to study for his GED and shares his love of the Civil War, in particular, the 1863 Shelton Laurel Massacre.  The Toomeys meanwhile are laying in wait, watching Travis' and Leonard's every move.

The World Made Straight is a story of conflicts, conflicts within families, between cultures and in history. It is the story of who we are and where we've come from. This novel is a book club selection and as always, I'm grateful to be pushed into reading a story I never would have picked up on my own.  But I have to say I just didn't like this book all that much.  For me the multiple story lines didn't connect and I felt like I was jumping around in and out of several completely distinct books.  The pace was slow and grinding.

I've talked to a lot of people who love Ron Rash.  I'd never heard of him until now.  Maybe this wasn't the book I should have started with, he's written several others.  I wouldn't say the book was good or bad, only that The World Made Straight is much more crooked than I'd like it to be.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

I'm not sure where to begin with Miss Jean Brodie.  She's a teacher at the very proper Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh, Scotland and she is in her prime.  She's passionate about her unorthodox teaching methods of impressionable young girls and makes sure they know she's in her prime, whatever that means.

The group of girls become known as the Brodie set for their loyalty to her.  They are highly sought after by the headmistress who hopes to glean information from them that will allow her to fire Miss Brodie.  She's in love with the married art teacher but carries on an affair with the single, but not so interesting music teacher.

Miss Jean Brodie tries her best to manipulate the set.  But the girls, well trained by her, are able to turn the tables.  The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie doesn't have much of a plot.  The reader is however, taken deep inside the ego of a woman who insists she's in her prime.  And we hike through the minds of children as they grow to maturity.  This novel is really a brilliant psychological mind trip.

I had no idea where this book would take me when I started reading it.  I often hoped for more twists and turns but in the end I was left feeling fully satisfied.  Unusual is the best word I can think of to describe a woman in her prime.  I'm still wondering if I'm in my own prime or if it as already passed me by.  Where is Miss Jean Brodie when I need her?

Monday, April 4, 2016

All That Ails You: The Adventures of a Canine Caregiver by Mark J. Asher

All That Ails You: The Adventures of a Canine Caregiver by Mark J. Asher

Wrigley is the house dog at the SunRidge Assisted Living home.  In his short life, he's lived in several different homes, none of which had been all that happy.  So when he came to SunRidge, his prayers had been answered, a soft cozy bed, an endless supply of rubs behind his ears and peanut butter treats simply for the asking.

I toyed with the idea of simply not writing a review of this book. I don't have a feeling about it one way or the other. I'm too addicted however, to the process to stop and I enjoy adding my two cents worth. In some small way I feel I'm helping not only people who are considering reading the book but the authors too, to know how readers are reacting to their work.

What's not to love about a dog story?  Nothing really.  This is a very simple story, told from the dog's point of view.  He's smart in a dog kind of way.  But the story telling from a human point of view lacked excitement, color and tension.  Wrigley is a sweet guy, but that's all I can say.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

It's spring!  That means it's time for a fresh start and spring cleaning!

I happen to be a pretty neat person.  My clothes are hung up the minute I take them off, I throw out all the junk mail as soon as it comes,and I take out the trash on a regular basis.  But I still often feel like I have too much stuff.  Frankly, too much stuff can be overwhelming.

Are there too many clothes in my closet?  Yes, but my real issue is books.  Books have their own chapter in this book so I know I'm not alone.  Ms. Kondo requires that I take all my books off the shelf and put them in a pile.  This will make it easier for me to decide if the book sparks joy in my heart.  If I bought the book and then never read it, most likely it gave me some kind of joy when I bought it, but quickly lost it's spark.  It needs to go.  This same theory can apply to clothing, mementos and even all that stuff I didn't know I had under the bathroom sink.

Ms. Kondo loves being tidy and she discovered her passion for it at a very early age.  What she conveys so well in this book is that tidying up is not only about our clothing, books, and papers, it's about how we live our lives.  We must ask ourselves, do the things we have spark joy?  If they don't, do we really need to keep them?

I'm not quite ready to empty all my drawers, shelves and closets, looking for joy, but I did take a load of items that no longer delighted me to Goodwill today.  I'm looking for joy and when I don't feel it, I can more easily let it go.  I've been given a great tool to use in all aspects of living.  What a better world we would live in if we could take the time to feel a spark of joy. I highly recommend this life changing magic even though the title may be frightening.  It will change your life.

City of Thieves by David Benioff

City of Thieves by David Benioff It's World War II in Leningrad, Russia.  17 year old Lev elected to stay behind in the city when h...