Category Archives: book reviews

Jean Spradlin-Miller’s Monday Book

Jean Spradlin-Miller, an animal lover from Birmingham, Alabama brings us the Monday Book this week!

w204The Truest Pleasure, by Robert Morgan, has become one of my favorite books. I stumbled over it several years ago when browsing through the bookstore in search of a new book to read. What attracted me to Morgan’s novel are the time and the location. I’ve always loved books, such as Cataloochee and Cold Mountain, which are about the people in the southern Appalachian Mountains, since many of my ancestors came from this area.

The Truest Pleasure tells the story of the marriage of Ginny and Tom Powell, who marry near the turn of the last century. There is much that they have in common. They both love the land, both had fathers who fought in the Civil War, and both have a powerful attraction to each other. Ginny’s father survived the War, returning to cultivate his land in western North Carolina and create a secure home for his family. Tom’s father, however, died in a prison camp, and Tom has had to struggle most of his life to provide for his mother and siblings. Ginny and Tom’s marriage, they know, is also an advantageous one for them both – security and peace of mind for Tom, and a proper husband for Ginny.

But there are things that cause a rift in their marriage. Because of the poverty of his youth, Tom is consumed with work and the accumulation of money, which haven’t really brought him the peace of mind he seeks. On the other hand, Ginny is passionate about her Pentecostal beliefs and is swept up in the fervent spirit of the brush arbor meetings, where she “speaks in tongues” and becomes filled with the Holy Spirit. Tom is horrified by what he sees as her loss of dignity and self-control, but Ginny sees it as a blessing from God for her spiritual well-being. Over time, Ginny becomes jealous and impatient with Tom’s preoccupation with work and money. These obsessions cause a deep division between Tom and Ginny, where they no longer speak, nor are they even physical with one another.

Ginny and Tom’s marriage ultimately reaches a major crisis. Ginny finally realizes that her truest pleasure is not her love of God, but that through her love and personal sacrifice for her husband Tom, she shows her love for God. This is a beautifully written novel, giving you a real understanding of the time, and the place and its people, without ridicule or condescension. Morgan personally knows this place, and shows it through his respect for the characters and their way of life.

I met Robert Morgan several years ago at a book signing, shortly after the release of his biography of Daniel Boone. For years, I had been praising his work to anyone who would listen, and I was excited about meeting him. I had the good fortune in being able to speak to Mr. Morgan alone for more than a few seconds. He was very generous with his time; we spoke at length about writing and character development, and his personal method of working. He was such a gentleman, and I will always be grateful to him for sharing with me.

 

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Fighting with Time

Exactly half-way through this three-month writing residency, I’m aware that the hours left in which to write tick down the slope now. While this is motivating, it’s not a big deal. I’m feeling really good about having drafted the book I’ve always wanted to write, and getting the first feedback from the very helpful beta readers. (Mostly: good idea, bad execution – this is fixable and fun. It’s those bad ideas in good writing that make one ashamed, because you might try to sell it anyway.)

That’s not the kind of time fight I’m having, the fear that I won’t get enough done while here. I’ve been diligent.

No, the problem is the other book I’m working on as the feedback rolls in from the January draft. I’m trying to write a memoir that doesn’t run chronologically, but around ideas related in clusters. When you’re trying to string your smaller narratives, your pearls of storytelling, onto a connecting thread, time is the simplest one to use. It only makes sense, doesn’t it, to tell a story in the order in which it happened?

Until it doesn’t, and those of you who write know the frustration. That didn’t happen then, but it relates, so it gets put there, and then you realize you’re relying on a character in Chapter 3 who doesn’t come into his own until Chapter 8. Or a setting that hasn’t been built yet.

It’s part of the fun, putting faces to people and places without using the face of a clock. Meticulous fun, one might say, but fun nonetheless.

The transitions of time can be the most poetic pieces in a book. The Cost of Hope by Amanda Bennett comes to mind; she hops between 1980 and 2010 like there’s no tomorrow OR yesterday. And it works, hooking concepts together and increasing irony with her juxtapositions of then and now. I’m learning a good bit from her.time

And from trial and error. As Ira Glass says, if you’re making mistakes, you’re learning. Fair enough. I’ve got time to make the mistakes–six weeks left–and I’ve got time to write about, and time to write in. Who could ask for anything more?

Later.

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Jeanne Powers’ Monday Book

Billy Feather BrainedFeather Brained:  My Bumbling Quest to Become a Birder & Find a Rare Bird on My Own by Bob Tarte

Let me start out by saying I am a not a birder.  I can identify cardinals, robins, blue jays, and woodpeckers—providing the latter are pecking on wood when I see them.  That’s about it.  I thought birders must be born, not made.

Then I read Bob Tarte’s book Feather Brained. Bob was not a natural birder.  At the tender age of nine in an effort to be cool, he set out for the park armed with a second-hand book on birds and a set of opera glasses. Let’s just say that first foray was less than successful.

A mere twenty five years later, Bob was ready to strike out again.  This time the impetus was due to an even rarer find: a red haired lady named Linda with a love of life in general and nature in particular.  He gets identification books, listens to recordings of bird song, and joins online birding groups where alerts are posted so members can rush to an area and maybe, just maybe, spot a bird for their life list. It becomes Bob’s mission in life to spot such a bird so he can alert the group and be the hero for once.

The phrase “easier said than done” springs to mind at this juncture.

As with his earlier books (Enslaved by Ducks; Fowl Weather; Kitty Cornered), Bob writes with a self-deprecating humor.  Comparisons to Charlie Brown and his little red haired girl will not go amiss, although Bob also has to deal with Churchill’s black dog of depression.  His eye for detail and description is as keen as ever, even when prowling around a sewage pond for rare birds.  He’s accompanied on many of his expeditions by Bill Holm who, as Bob explains, “didn’t particularly like birds, but he liked them more than he liked people.” Bob’s strength as a birder is to identify birds by their songs, so he depends on Bill to spot the birds, point out his errors, and make unmerciful fun of him for being so wrong.  Even though some of the episodes border on slapstick in Bob’s recounting—I laughed out loud as he and Linda risk life and limb to check out an osprey’s nest built on a train trestle—the book was a wonderful look at how birders can indeed be made, not born.  I found it reassuring as Bob misidentified wrens, grew frustrated at distinguishing calls, and sulked at birds that wouldn’t show up where they were supposed to be.

But above all else, Feather Brained is a romance. Oh, sure, Bob learns to love birds and birding, but it is his love for Linda that shines through the pages.  They would seem to be polar opposites:  Linda is the free spirit who lived happily in a small trailer in the woods while Bob enjoys creature comforts like electricity and running water. Where Linda sees rainbows, Bob sees dark clouds with tornado potential.  Love conquers all, however, and throughout the book Bob’s devotion never waivers, not through feeding mealworms to orphaned starlings, chipping away ice for the ducks, or being pelted with soggy monkey chow by a cantankerous parrot.  It must be true love.

And, hey—maybe I’ll take another look at that bird book I have in the basement.

 

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Erica Susan Jones’ Monday Book

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
The Age of Innocence againWhen I was a teenager, Penguin produced a range of classics for a pound a book. I’m not sure how mid-90s money translates across the Atlantic, but for this reader who’d only very recently discovered the joy of bookshops it was a revelation.
All of a sudden I went from being able to afford a book a month to what felt like an unlimited supply of new reading material. No matter that some of the classics I bought were as inaccessible to a teenage girl as A Clockwork Orange is to most human beings, I suddenly had the ability to visit a bookshop and buy more than one book. I browsed, I bought, I read.
Among these purchases was The Age of Innocence. If bookshops inspired my love of reading, it’s this book that opened my eyes to the possibilities of what books can hold. This book grabbed me, shook me, chewed me up and spat me out the other side, leaving an exhausted woman wondering what I could possibly read next that could ensnare me in such a way.
All this in what many misinterpret as being just another society love story.
In some ways that interpretation is correct. The main strand of the book is Boy Meets Girl, but the setting of that introduction (I don’t just mean 1870s New York) and the subtle storytelling are what make it so much more than a story of love versus responsibility. After all, this was the first Pulitzer Prize-winning book by a woman.
The Age of Innocence is the book I recommend and/or gift the most, and I’m currently re-reading it for a book club. For some, like teenage me, I fully expect them to comment on the love story, but I’m also looking forward to the other aspects they question: the freedom, or otherwise, of the different women; the rules that constrict our hero’s choices; and maybe even the impact today’s societal conventions have on our own lives – we’re technically more free than the characters in the book, but how much do we bind ourselves in our attempts to fit in?
Edith Wharton writes with intelligence and humour, encouraging her readers to question the sense of that world and its hypocrisies, and while her focus might have been a few centuries ago The Age of Innocence is as relevant now as it was then.
dolly readingErica Jones is a bookshop blogger, owned by a rescue cat called Dolly.
Feel free to either link to my blog as a whole or to this post: http://www.thebookshoparoundthecorner.co.uk/2014/02/the-little-bookstore-of-big-stone-gap.html

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Janelle Bailey’s Monday Book

518IrDgn2hLAs an English teacher for 25 years, I assigned a lot of reading to a lot of kids! One of them from a few years back recently messaged me on Goodreads to start a conversation about her own reading and mine; she also made a recommendation to me of something she’d really enjoyed. I saw it as not only fair but wonderful, to have a former student “assign” me some reading.
The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne was the book she recommended, and I am not disappointed to have taken her up on it, even though Lee Child’s cover blurb of “sensationally good psychological suspense” may have made me less likely, rather than more, to pick it up on my own.
The main character, Helena, is the product of an unusual–criminal, even–pairing. Her father kidnapped her mother at age 14 and literally “took” her for his wife; they lived together in seclusion in the northern woods of the UP (that’s the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, north of Wisconsin) and had then raised Helena there. His parenting practices are extremely questionable, yet Helena sure has little for comparison, given the circumstances. Her mother is not a lot better at it, given her young age, inexperience, and limitations placed on her by her “husband” and their lifestyle.
The novel begins, though, many years later, when Helena’s father escapes from prison. And oh, what tangled ways it moves from there, both in the current search as well as the revealing of the back story of Helena’s childhood and upbringing, chapter by chapter working through both time periods and also braiding in allusive excerpts to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale by the same title.
While some elements are completely dark and violent, others are homey, even–such as how Helena makes her living (I’ll let you learn for yourself by reading the book), and it doesn’t dwell but moves; it’s got a good share of hope and forgiveness and light.
Whether you are one who’d grab the first thriller you saw or one who would not…possibly at all, I think you’ll find the good writing and great storytelling here to be well worth your reading time.

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Kate Belt’s Monday Book: MINK RIVER

The message from Wendy contained not another cat video, but an invitation to write a Monday Book column while she labors to birth her own new book. We temp reviewers like me (I’m a reader not a writer) move everyone closer to a new book by Wendy. I get to introduce Brian Doyle to Wendy’s reading community. Win-win!

The Monday Book is Mink River. I suspect few have heard of Brian, but who can watch this eight minute clip, which also includes exquisite Oregon scenery, and not love him immediately? http://watch.opb.org/video/2365599863/

 

Brian has prolifically published five novels, books of prayers, poems, essays, children’s stories, and a fun read about Oregon Pinot Noir. Of his novels, Mink River ties with Martin Marten as my favorite. Sadly, there will be no 6th because Brian died of brain cancer last year at age 60, not long after his diagnosis. It’s a devastating loss to his readers and loved ones.

Any one, every one of his novels is worthy of the Pulitzer or National Book Award, but inexplicably he is little known outside of the Pacific Northwest.

 

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Mink River is a fictional town set on the Oregon Coast. It’s a slice of life book about life in community. It is about us, us Oregonians, Pacific Northwesterners, Westcoasterners.  We are loggers, fisherfolk, conservationists, farmers, tree huggers, artists, poets, and priests, and teachers, and doers of public works.

There’s Moses, the crow, who makes the town’s business his business. He helps save people when he can and gives them his presence when he can’t. It’s not a mystery story, but there is a mystery and Moses helps solve it. There’s a nun who is dying, and there are two men who work for the Department of Public Works, defining their job as doing good works for the public. They wander around watching for opportunities to provide assistance, such as giving haircuts. It’s also about time, in a metaphysical way you’ll just have to read for yourself. And then there is Blake. You’ll find instances of the poet William Blake throughout the story.

The book reminds me of everything I loved about my Oregon home in Portland for over 20 years. Its essence will remain with me always. Doyle has captured its flora, fauna, and people, tatting us across time in this powerfully written novel. Everything Brian wrote reflects an awe and reverence for creation and The Creator. His eye seemed to observe everything, missing nothing. He called Mink River a love song to Oregon and Martin Marten a love song to Wy’East, the original Native American name of Mount Hood. The absolutely exquisite writing flows lyrically, drawing me into Brian’s current, making me want to let myself go and float along inside the story. Brian’s disdain for punctuation contributes to this, though it made his editors crazy! As for me, I become the salmon swimming upstream to spawn, the old man climbing the mountain in search of time.

Here’s one more link, one of many tributes to Brian after his death: http://www.oregonlive.com/books/index.ssf/2017/05/brian_doyle.html

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Angelic’s MONDAY BOOK

THE STORY OF ARTHUR TRULUV By Elizabeth Berg

Angelic Salyer Veasman is this week’s book blogger. Thanks, Angelic!

truluvI attended the reading and signing of Berg’s latest release in early December 2017.  Kind of a Christmas present to myself. I purchased my book, took my line number and found a seat. I started reading the book immediately, while waiting for the event to start, but it was a week or two before I could get back to it again. I finished the book just after the New Year and thoroughly enjoyed it.  The author stated, of all of the books she’d written, this was her new favorite.  While it isn’t MY favorite of hers (that would be The Year of Pleasures), I wasn’t in the least disappointed. But, I’ve not read all of her books yet.

The Story of Arthur Truluv is several intersecting tales of loss and love, heartbreak and healing, family and friendship, aging and coming of age and the legacies we leave behind – intentional or not. While the main characters are Arthur, Maddy and Lucille, Berg’s ability to create deep, meaningful supporting characters is again wielded with her signature grace.  As with so many of her books and the lives she creates within them; you fall in love, learn to dislike, shake your head at, laugh with and care for these people.  They are easy to relate to; in some characteristic way or another they are your neighbor, your grandfather, that one teacher you had in junior high. Speaking of junior high, Maddy is in high school and I commend Berg for broaching the subject of bullying to her audience with a spare honesty that is still moving for the reader, without being imposing or cumbersome.

It’s a quick read – it wasn’t so much an I-can’t-put-it-down-kind-of-book – the story just moved forward, beautifully and effortlessly. The prose was ethereal at times, especially when it came to Arthur, who has a way of sharing his thoughts and feelings that is often poetic, floating through time and memories and  always a gentlemanly host.

Nestled within the pages of this little tome is a bit of advice or what could be considered an admonishment or even a challenge for some.  I plan to take it to heart.  I hope you do too.

Then Lucille says, “It’s so embarrassing to be useless.”

            “Why, you’re not useless!” Arthur says.

            “Yes I am.”

            “You’re just going through a hard time!”

            “Yes, I am, but also I am useless. I do nothing. I realized this was happening some time ago, everything falling off, but I made do. I had church. I read books, and the paper. I had my garden. And then . . . lights off! All the lights are off now. And I really don’t want to live anymore, Arthur. What is left for me now?  I am useless.  And so are you!”

            Arthur straightens in his chair, indignant. “I’m not useless!”

            Arthur rocks for a while. Lucille’s chair has gone still, but Arthur rocks for a while.

            “Let me ask you something,” he says, finally.

            “What.”

            “Did you ever hear anyone say they wanted to be a writer?”

            “Yes, I’ve heard lots of people say that.”

            “Everybody wants to be a writer” Arthur says.

            “Seems like.”

            He stops his rocking to look over at her. “But what we need are readers. Right? Where would writers be without readers?  Who are they going to write for? And actors, what are they without an audience? Actors, painters, dancers, comedians, even just ordinary people doing ordinary things, what are they without an audience of some sort?

            “See, that’s what I do.  I am the audience. I am the witness. I am the great appreciator, that’s what I do and that’s all I want to do. I worked for a lot of years. I did a lot of things for a lot of years. Now, well, here I am in the rocking chair, and I don’t mind it Lucille, I don’t feel useless.  I feel lucky.”

Angelic lives in Southern Missouri with her husband and their two cats and posts sporadically on her blog.

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