Category Archives: book reviews

The Monday Book: THE COMFORT OF LIES by Randy Susan Myers

This book was in a “Free books” bin at Asheville Public Library. I’d liked her earlier book The Murderer’s Daughters so snagged it. This one is bigger in its character list and plot maneuvers, but like her others, character drives plot. Which is cool.

The two couples and the birth mom/floater in this book are really well drawn. You know them. And you can kind of guess what they’re going to do, but reading how they do it goes from heartbreaking to yelling at the pages “NO DON’T” to laughing because it’s just so funny, what they say as they screw up their own lives.

Dark comedy, or the comedy of human errors, maybe. The premise is that married man Nathan has an affair with Tia, then goes back to his wife. Tia adopts out the resultant daughter, but Nathan’s wife finds out when she opens a letter addressed to her husband. And then finds the adoptive parents, and it just goes kablooey from there. This is a finely chiseled portrait of marriages falling apart and people making choices based on very real issues, some of them rather like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

If you like the genre of fiction Brits call “aga saga,” literate portraits of families and people teetering at the edge of crisis, you’ll love The Comfort of Lies.

2 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, VA, writing

The Monday Book: MURDER ON ROSEMARY STREET by Mary Fulk Larson

murderonrosemarystreetauthorsThe authors (there are three of them) sent me this book with a request that I review it for the Monday Book. The writing team is based in Virginia, and I’m always happy to bat for the home team.

There are not a lot of surprises in this whodunit that is more charm than thrills. Think Mitford meets Guidepost Mystery series. Nothing R-rated, lots of fun stereotypes (the library committee members all talk too much, etc.) and some really cute zinger lines between friends. (“Did you just file those elbows?” says one after her friend nudges her to be quiet.)

Two of the three authors are librarians, so the library was a natural setting for this debut in their series on the small town of Custer’s Mill. The poisoning (via a cuppa tea) of the town’s wealthy matriarch sets the book’s plot in motion, after development threatens to take the historic library and she finds some dark secrets pertaining thereto.

It’s not an unusual plot, and sometimes the wording is heavy. Much of its chuckle factor rests on the apt (if you can’t say ha, say ouch) depictions of everyday small town life. If you liked Mitford and enjoy character-filled books, you’re going to love Custer’s Mill. The authors certainly hope you do; some of the characters in this book are set up to take their own mysteries forward in future series. Which I look forward to.

Two small-town  thumbs up for Murder on Rosemary Street. And if you’re interested in the real town inspiring these fictitious mysteries, visit the authors’ website.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

The Monday Book: ASTRAY by Emma Donoghue

Astray is a collection of short stories themed around old newspaper clippings. In each, someone is adrift, out of sync with life, expecting one thing but getting another. They are really powerful stories in some cases.

The opener is about an elephant keeper whose charge is sold off to America, and his running conversation with his charge. It’s adorable. Less adorable but quite hard-hitting is the woman traveling with two small children, expecting to meet her husband in America, having been lucky enough to get passage out of famine Ireland.

Then there’s the Revolutionary War story, “The Hunt,” which covers a side of troop behavior that doesn’t make it into patriotic celebrations. Many of these stories have that undercurrent theme, the “alternate reality” feeling that makes them good fiction. So when you find out each is based on actual events, with just some ideas and feelings and motivations colored in between the lines sketched in by history, it’s a powerful thing. This is history with a small h, and therefore more accurate.

And of course it’s no small feat to pack an equal wallop of caring about a fully developed character in less than 10,000 words. Donoghue’s words are each carrying their own weight. She’s one of those rare gestalt writers, whose sum exceeds the parts. She makes you feel as though you know someone well, even though you’ve read two sentences about her.

An enthusiastic shout out for this book; you don’t have to be interested in history to enjoy the many dramas unfolding in this compact volume’s pages. Big things come in little packages.

Leave a comment

Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

The Monday Book: THE BOOK OF SPECULATION by Erika Swindler

bookThis book came into the bookstore, and its cover attracted me. (Yes, I know about that saying you can’t judge a book by its cover; it’s a lie. People go to special marketing schools just so you can.)

I’m not the biggest fan of surprise endings – let’s start with the ending, shall we – but this one had a great twist. I’m also not a big fan of time-hopping books, but this one moved between the eighteenth and twenty-first century with some smooth maneuvers.

I am a big fan of well-developed characters, which this book has in spades. Even the minor players get major development.

The basic plot is some families have been hanging around each other for a few centuries, working the carnival circuit, and some of them keep dying the same way. It all comes down to a very old curse, some very new secrets revealed, and a cast of quirky misfits.

I’d call this something between a mystery and a family saga. It’s too gentle for a thriller (Gott sei dank) and too mysterious for general fiction. Now might be a good time to say, if you’re afraid of water, you won’t like this book. I’m a certified lifeguard, and parts of it made me queasy. (Also, let me just say now, don’t try any of that stuff at the lake.)

The writing doesn’t get in the way of the story; this is character-driven well-plotted book that would be enjoyable anywhere, except the beach. Trust me; don’t read it at the beach. Your bathtub is safe.

Two hands up, waving not drowning.

Leave a comment

Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

The Monday Book: CALLING ME HOME by Julie Kibler

Apologies for the failure-to-appear of Friday’s blog. We threw a party for friends newly married on Saturday, and that kinda sucked all the oxygen out of the weekend.

homeI plucked this book from our shop shelves one day and was glad I did. Eighty-nine-year-old Isabelle McAllister asks her hairdresser Dorrie Curtis to drive her cross-country to a funeral. Why she does becomes clear as the book unfolds, hopping back and forth between Dorrie’s present-day relationship, and Isabelle’s just before World War II. It’s a tear-jerker for sure, but it also explores not just male-female relations, but friendships between women, and between mothers and daughters. Kibler’s writing is easy and fast, like a spring all flowing in one direction. Very few diversions, and nothing overly poetic to get in the way of a gripping read.

Normally I’m not a big fan of time-hop books but this one worked particularly well, making some subtle points about how the times, they may not be a-changing as fast as people think when it comes to race relations.

There are not many surprises in the book, and not all the characters are fleshed out, but Dorrie, Isabelle, the men in their lives, and Isabelle’s mother and Dorrie’s son are well-drawn. Which, as you will see, is enough to tell this tale with bittersweet dignity.

2 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

Monday Book Review

Jack’s guest Monday book review –

Birdmen by Lawrence Goldstone (Ballantine; 2015)

Well – my guilty secret was bound to come out eventually! I am an aviation nut, from my teenage years building flying models for competition, through a wonderfully memorable gliding vacation in Yorkshire, and on up to re-discovering the delights of model building in my retirement.

I have a particular love of planes from the early days of aviation – the glorified box-kites, with barely enough power to sustain them flown by intrepid heroes who learned through trial and (often fatal) error.

I really thought I had a good handle on the history of those times, but Goldstone reveals a story of rivalry and pig-headedness that almost defies belief!

Everyone knows, of course, that the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, were the first men to design and fly successfully a heavier than air flying machine with the means of controlling its path through the air. What most folk don’t necessarily know, however, is how much they owed to other contemporary pioneers. They communicated regularly with Octave Chanute and Samuel Langley among others, incorporating many of their ideas into the design of their ‘Flyers’. Finally, they had the work of the German designer Otto Lilienthal to draw on – particularly with regard to weight distribution and the curved airfoil needed to generate lift.

1909_Model_A_Flying_in_France

A Wright Flyer in France frightening the horses.

Sadly, the Wrights came to believe that because they were the first to successfully demonstrate flight by a heavier than air machine, they were entitled to royalty payments on every other machine made by anyone after that. It didn’t matter to them if the designs were radically different from theirs – the mere fact that it could fly meant to them that the principles they pioneered were being unfairly utilized.

The pursuit of an ever growing number of law suits against other plane manufacturers quickly began to consume all their energies, and meant that they didn’t have any left to spend improving and developing their designs. The most famous dispute was with the other great American aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss and this one probably contributed to Wilbur’s early death. Worn out by all the court appearances he succumbed to typhoid. Orville lasted longer but didn’t have the same drive as his brother, either to improve the planes or to pursue the litigation.

H-8 1916 r r

The Curtiss H8 in a 1916 demonstration.

Goldstone, in this book, argues that because of all the disputes and court cases the fledgling aircraft industry in the US fell behind those in other countries – particularly France, Britain and Germany. He maintains that it wasn’t until some years after the end of WW1 that America began to catch up with the others.

For anyone with an interest in early aviation and ‘those magnificent men in their flying machines’ this is a must read. At least five thumbs up!

2 Comments

Filed under book reviews, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

The Monday Book: A GONE PECAN by Dusty Thompson

Okay, so this book is full of typos. And it’s more about being funny and enjoying the moment than pulling a plot together.

So?

It was such a fun read. The characters are so Southern-believable. I first encountered Thompson because of a Virginia Young Leaders speech her gave that is viewable online. I often used it in my speech classes. And one day I looked online to see if he’d speechified anything else, and whaddaya know, Thompson had written a book!

So I contacted him and said I reviewed them, and if he cared to send one…. which he did… about six months later with an apologetic note.

And that’s kind of how the writing goes – fun, not necessarily fast, no necessarily aiming for a goal. Just fun.

Maybe that’s why I liked it so much. Who cares whodunit or why? Just enjoy the ride. These people are so believably over the top. Southerners may get more out of this mystery than other readers, but the humor stretches wider than regional. It’s just, some of these people, well, I worked with them in college….

 

Please remember: there are more places to get self-published books than that A-word. Try Powell’s.

Leave a comment

Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing