Category Archives: book reviews

The Monday Book: RISE- how a house built a family by Cara Brookins

houseI heard about this house on Facebook long before the book came floating through our shop. Tiny houses and self-built places fascinate me, so I pulled it to read. It’s a quick read, not heavy on building details.

Cara was married to a succession of abusive men after being born into poverty and pretty much having a miserable time in school. She got herself into college and a good job, and began writing teen books, and things were looking up – except for the guys. It didn’t go well and she wound up married to someone who was certifiably insane in a kind of “could kill somebody” way.

So part of the book is about the safety needs of her four children, three of them old enough to participate in building a house, one of them a toddler. Part of the book is about her becoming a competent and confident enough woman to stride into a bank and come out with a builder’s loan–and then do the building. Part of it is about watching her children rise to the challenge.

I’m not sure this book would please everyone. I got bored with the parts about guided meditation and the places where she glossed over things — her childhood being so poor, she ate one meal a day, why her mom and dad are divorced, whether the abuse she accepted in marriage started at home, for instance. There are stories here she’s not telling.

For all that, I loved reading about how she kept the kids entertained and safe and fed while they were toting and lifting and literally bleeding their life’s blood into making a house. Two nails up for RISE

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Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Jack’s Monday Book on Wednesday

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

Just to confuse everyone, Jack’s Wednesday blog post is the Monday book – –

The first thing to say before I get going is that we already knew that this book is set in the offices of the agency that handled the launching of Wendy’s best seller, ‘The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap’. Although the agency isn’t actually named in the book it’s a very open secret which New York literary agency it is. We are both, therefore, familiar with the rather old fashioned but cozy interior and the amazing collection of books lining the walls.

This is really at least two intertwining stories and I’m not sure that’s done terribly well. One is very much about the culture and characters of the agency itself, while the other is focused more on what’s going on in Rakoff’s life.

The first half of the book is mainly about her success in finding a job at what she refers to simply as ‘The Agency’, discovering how hard it is to live frugally in New York, getting to know her co-workers and being groomed by ‘The Boss’. I have to admit that I found that strand of the book unnecessarily gloomy and dark, as that’s certainly not what we experienced on or visits to the place. Something else that emerges in this early part of her book is the impression that the only famous author represented by the agency is JD Salinger, which is simply not true.

Her main job is to send form letters to fans of Salinger, who refuses to engage with them and is somewhat reclusive. She eventually strikes up something of a relationship with him on the phone and is finally on first name terms with him (Jerry and Joanna).

For me, the book really only takes off about halfway through when we begin to discover what’s going in Rakoff’s personal life. This strand is all about the self-discovery that anyone over the age of thirty will find excruciatingly familiar. It’s all about growing, maturing and making difficult decisions about what you want to do with your life.

The book ends with a jump forward to a married Rakoff with a husband and kids and a successful career as a novelist, poet and journalist.

I didn’t find this book disappointing overall, but I did find the beginning a bit heavy going.

6 out of 10 from me!

PS – it’s The Harold Ober Agency and Wendy’s agent doesn’t work there any more – – –

 

 

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PAUL GARRETT’S MONDAY BOOK

Mary Coin by Marisa Silver

maryIt is one of the most iconic photos in American history. You’ve seen it, I’m sure: The black and white image puts the figures in stark relief; A mother holds a baby who is barely visible, bundled in a thick blanket against the wind.  Two of her other children, half Cherokee on their mother’s side, hide their faces as if, like some Native Americans in the 19th century, they are afraid the camera would steal their souls. Their hair shows the results of what was once called a “bowl cut,” wherein the vessel is placed upside down on the head and the hair trimmed to fit the rim.

And there is the mother, exhibiting what approaches the “thousand-yard stare;” the look that appears on the faces of soldiers after long periods of intense combat.

Look closer: See the torn fabric of her threadbare dress? Closer again: Notice the dirt caked around her fingernails? What the photo doesn’t show, can’t show, except for the after effects manifested on her face, are the conditions of her squalid life. She has been in close combat with that immutable enemy, starvation. She is sitting at a “pea camp,” where she came to eke out a few cents a day picking peas. But there are no peas to pick.  A freezing rain wiped out the crop the night before she arrived. They have been surviving by gleaning produce from the ruined fields and eating what birds her children can kill.

She has just sold the tires off her car to buy food.

In her book, Mary Coin (Penguin Group, 2014) Marisa Silver takes a very close look at this woman, whose real name was Florence Owens Thompson, and also Vera Duerr (Dorthea Lang), the woman who took the photo while working in FDR’s New Deal. The photo was colorized for the book cover.

Vera is handicapped, as was Dorthea, with a limp due to a bout of polio as a child. Mary is handicapped by being poorly educated, widowed, pregnant with her sixth child, and left to follow the crops as a migrant worker across the West.

The picture and its provenance form the heart of the story, which closely tracks the real lives of the two women. Not much is made about how their paths crossed. In the book as in life it was more-or-less accidental, or, one might say, providential.

After a somewhat confusing start the story picks up speed in the middle and races to the end with a surprising and somewhat disquieting plot twist.

The book poses questions about what constitutes one’s identity in a technological world, and what a mother may sacrifice for the sake of her children.

Neither Dorothea nor Florence were ever remunerated for the photo. Since Dorthea was working for the government, the picture is in the public domain. When Florence, who spent her life doing menial labor, had a stroke in 1983, her children tried to use her notoriety to solicit contributions to help pay her medical bills. They garnered $35,000. Florence died the same year.

Mary Coin, in the end, is left to contemplate who she is, what she has lost, and what her future holds.

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Jeanne Powers’ Monday Book

 

041389b2caf661540eb4ebe445ddcf5dd96a288dThe Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Young solicitor Arthur Kipps is sent by his firm to a rather secluded English village in order to tie up the affairs of the late Mrs. Alice Drablow, a recently deceased elderly client. The villagers don’t seem inclined to discuss Mrs. Drablow, or anything else for that matter, though they do make Arthur welcome. At the funeral service, Arthur catches a glimpse of a woman in black lurking around the churchyard, but his inquiries are brushed aside. Resolutely, he prepares to go to Eel Marsh House, Mrs. Drablow’s residence, which is in a marshy area accessible only at certain times due to the tides. Once there, he will be cut off from the outside world until such a time as the pony cart can cross the causeway to fetch him.

He’s going to wish he had taken a tide chart with him.

The subtitle of the book is “A Ghost Story” and that’s exactly what this is, in the best sense of the phrase. The old fashioned setting, the formal narration, even the nature of the story itself harkens back to those wonderful early ghost tales where the chills and thrills came from the mind and not blood spatter. Hill has perfectly captured the flavor of these Victorian tales . It’s beautifully written; Arthur, the narrator, is looking back at an event which shaped his life and he tells his tale without hyperbole or exaggeration. It has the ring of authenticity.

The book is just so wonderfully atmospheric. I could practically smell the sea air and shivered a bit in the dampness. While there were definitely warning signs, the book wasn’t over laden with signs and portents. The villagers may not have been over communicative, but there was nary a pitchfork nor cackling crone in sight. Arthur enjoys a hearty meal at the inn, a warm fire and a comfortable bed. The skies are blue and largely clear but cold. No air of menace hangs overhead.

The haunted aspects come later.

The ending is abrupt and I was taken aback at first, but it is the perfect ending. He has told his tale; there’s no analyzing or rationalization that this might have been just his imagination. This is what happened and, like the villagers, he has no wish to discuss it further.

There is a theatrical production of the book and there has been at least two movie versions but I don’t think either could ever capture the book, especially not the ending.

 

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Kate Belt’s Monday Book

51YTWanqMVL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Monday Book – My Abandonment

My Abandonment, a novel by Peter Rock, was inspired by a local news story about a Vietnam war veteran and his 13 year-old daughter living off the grid in Forest Park, a huge municipal nature reserve in Portland, Oregon.  Anyone who has hiked this 5,100 acre, 7 mile long park will find the story credible.

When discovered by authorities after off-trail hikers report suspicious traces of the makeshift home, the daughter was found to be highly intelligent, adequately nourished, well-educated having been home schooled, and in good health. She had not been neglected nor abused in any way. After the two are discovered and captured by police, the story turns into an emotional page -turner wondering how it will end. Will child protective services leave the family together? Can they? What will happen to the dad? Will the girl end up in foster care?

This novel is fast paced and heart tugging. All of the characters are engaging and evoke empathy, with everyone doing the best they can and rooting for the best possible outcome for this family.

Last year a movie based on the novel was filmed in Portland, under the title Leave No Trace. After premiering at Sundance a few weeks ago, it has been purchased by both national and international movie studios, so hopefully will be in theaters soon.

Reviewed by Kate Belt

 

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GINA DUNCAN’S MONDAY BOOK

“The Secret to Hummingbird Cake” by Celeste Fletcher McHale

 

26893373For over two years, I have been reading mostly historical fiction and suspense/thriller mystery books.  Not wanting to get “burned out” or “stuck” on the same types of books, I thought I’d try reading a contemporary Christian or southern women’s fiction book.  By making a change in my reading genres, I discovered a new author and her first book. (As an avid reader, I am open to reading new or “new to me” authors’ books.)  Celeste Fletcher McHale’s book “Secret to Hummingbird Cake” was such a wonderful change for me.

In case you didn’t know, the South is not only famous for good manners, great football, juicy gossip, but also delicious food. Most of the time food and maybe the recipe is shared with extended family and/or true friends. Since Hummingbird Cake is one of my favorite cakes and one that I make for my family’s dinner every Christmas Eve, I was drawn to this book by its title and the cover of the book, a Hummingbird Cake.
It’s been a long time that I’ve read such an emotional book which made me laugh and cry, sometimes close together or maybe simultaneously. (And yes, women can cry and laugh at the same time!) While reading “Secrets to Hummingbird Cake,” there were times when I wanted to even scream out loud and shake some sense into the characters. But when three truly devoted, life-long friends with such different personalities get together, you never know what can happen. Sure, I didn’t agree with some of the language or choices made, but this book is a wonderful story about friendship, forgiveness, and faithfulness.

I won’t spoil the ending of this book.  But I can’t remember reading a book that kept me so enthralled that I not only read it in one sitting, but I also stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it.  “Secrets to Hummingbird Cake,” is one of my all-time favorite books, and I am looking forward to reading more books by Ms. Hale.

 

Gina Duncan

 

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ELLEN KEY’S MONDAY BOOK


Dragon and Thief
Timothy Zahn
A Starscape Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
First Starscape edition published March 2004
248 pages
US $5.99
ISBN 0-765-34272-3

26754248_1710858812270915_1194046930_nJack has a secret that he’s been keeping for quite some time. If this secret gets out, he could be in a world of trouble. As it is, he’s already in that – on a whole different world. In a whole different galaxy.

Hiding out on the uninhabited planet of Iota Klestis, Jack and his Uncle Virgil are witnesses to an aerial battle in the sky above their concealed spaceship. As they watch, four little ships are firing on four large and lumbering spaceships. At the end of the short and deadly battle, one of the large ships has crashed on their hideaway planet. Uncle Virge urges Jack to go search for survivors or anything else worth salvaging.

This is when the story gets interesting. Jack comes face-to-face, or should I say, back-to-front, with an alien K’da dragon warrior named Draycos, who is like nothing that Jack has ever experienced before. Draycos changes from a three-dimensional dragon to a two-dimensional form that flows onto Jack’s body, and transforms himself into a living tattoo that wraps itself across Jack’s back, shoulders and arms.

Needless to say, Jack is freaked out! This book will keep you fully engaged in the adventures that Jack and Draycos encounter, while continuing to establish their relationship as host and symbiont. Draycos also teaches Jack about ethical behavior, as befitting a K’da dragon warrior.

This book is the first of six books in the Dragonback series, written by none other than Timothy Zahn, who is well known as the author of eighteen science fiction novels, among those two Star Wars© series.

I stumbled across this book (written for young adults aged 10+) at my local “used books” bookstore. Intrigued, I stood there reading it for a good 30 minutes, before finally putting it down; but not before I had taken a quick photo of the cover. A year later, I went back to find it. I had been so impressed by the creativity of the author that I just HAD to finish reading it! It’s a good 2-hour read from start to finish. You will enjoy it – if you are looking for the feeling of having finished something light and satisfying, when you turn the last page.

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