Category Archives: book reviews

The Monday Book: QUICK, BEFORE THE MUSIC STOPS by

janet-carlsonThe test of a really good book is when the author makes you interested in something you don’t particularly care about. This book was left in our cabin at some point by someone staying there, and on a writing weekend, just to have a diversion, I picked it up.

Mostly I wanted to see how Carlson would handle a subject not everyone can connect with, but the writing style and her very gentle use of dancing as a metaphor for human relationships reeled me in. Yeah, dancing couple as married/courting steps is not a far stretch, but her blunt writing with the delicacy of describing human emotions were a nice juxtaposition.

Carlson tells how her marriage dissolved, how dancing kept her busy and diverted her attention toward other men, for good or ill, and how she got her groove back. And she makes it interesting – not too much technical information, but she she needs to describe how she had a head-on on the dance floor, she gives you just enough detail to be able to see it in your mind.

And although she uses a very obvious allegory as the overall premise of the book, there aren’t many cliches in her. Dancing backwards in high heels is not recurring as “pity me” stuff. The Russian Dance Master who is slightly mysogynist is not a straw man for all men.

I really enjoyed this book, as much for the writing as what she was writing about. Jack and I ceilidh dance socially, but that’s a far cry from this world. So kudos to Carlson for bringing her readers into her world with such elegance. She made it look easy. :]

 

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

Be Sure your Sins will – – -?

Jack gets to do the Monday book this week –

The Big Short –  Michael Lewis

Of course, the movie is probably just as famous as the book and I’ll have something to say about that later.

Our good friend and financial guru David recommended this to us because he reckoned it was one of the most eye-opening books he’d ever read about the financial shenanigans that led to the great meltdown of 2008. He described it as “really, really frightening” and he should know!

He also said that he saw no evidence that any lessons had been learned since then (except perhaps in Iceland, where they jailed the bankers, changed the banking regulations and turned around their economy in record time).

The book follows the experiences of a number of people who separately stumbled across an enormous flaw in the mortgage market based on a complete lack of oversight by the rating agencies. The folk involved had different motives for pursuing this: some realized they could make enormous amounts of money by betting that the market would crash, while others were more interested in exposing the crooks and getting the banking regulations changed. The book follows these characters as their paths cross and they become aware of each other, ultimately more or less working together. As they variously stumble across ever more blatant disregard for financial common sense among financial professionals who should also have seen what was wrong, they begin to home in on the rating agencies. That’s when they discover that these agencies, supposedly holding the banks to account, are actually in their pockets.

So, what of the movie?

I actually enjoyed it just as much as the book but for different reasons. Of course the movie has to be much shorter and that’s hard to pull off. You need to keep the essentials and be careful what gets cut out. I think, in this case, it was a good idea to not have the author of the book write the screenplay (in fact I think it almost always is.) I recently watched a film that was directed and cast by the author of the book it was based on, and who also wrote the screenplay – it went straight from a limited theater run to the Netflix ‘B list’ with barely a pause.

So, what’s the ‘take away’ from the book? In the case of this reader, a profound belief that human greed will always manage to dress itself in respectable clothes, attend the right Church, give to the most fashionable charities (or start one) and find the most influential politicians to bribe.

Something else I took away – potential move to Iceland – – –

 

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The Monday TV adaptation of a book: JOHNATHAN STRANGE AND MR NORRELL by Susanna Clarke

Eddie MarsanSo when this book came to me as a pre-publication edition, sent to several bookstore, I couldn’t get into it. Timing probably had a lot to do with this, but I didn’t give the fantasy novel a second shot.

The other night, in a weird frame of mind, I was looking for something to crochet by on Netflix and saw “Season 1” of the BBC adaptation. And thought, “Why not?”

It’s so much fun, watching this. I’m sure the special effects of written magic have something to do with it – reading about sand horses and ships made of rain only works in some writing styles, but watching them appear? Oh yes, very nice.

For those unfamiliar (the book was a bestseller, after all) this is a novel about two magicians bringing magic back to England during the Georgian era. They play fast and loose with history timelines, but oh they’ve got the fops and pageantry down. The series is a visual feast with lots of cultural insider jokes and brilliant acting moments. The story that I found clunky on the page comes alive in cinematography.

Not that Clarke doesn’t write well, just to each their own. The plot is character-driven. Mr. Norrell is afraid of his own shadow. Johnathon Strange is two degrees off a nitwit. And all their supporters and detractors are very well drawn. There aren’t any paper thin people in this production.

So if you are inclined, pick up the book or tune into the series, whichever suits you better. Read about the King of Lost Hope, the would-be musicians who decide to open a lunatic asylum and wind up with more than they bargained for, the enigmatic Childermass, and the other unexplained mysteries of a world bound by rules that suddenly gets to break them all.

It’s fun.

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The Monday Book: SUITE FRANCAISE by Irene Nemirovsky

The Monday Book falls on a Tuesday this week due to Celtic Festivals and kitten spays.

suiteIrene Nemirovsky was a Ukranian-born Jewish woman who lived in Paris and enjoyed a successful writing  career. She planned five short novels to be part of a book titled Suite Francaise, but she had only written two and drafted the third when she was rounded up, deported, and murdered.

What’s amazing about the first novel “Storm in June” is how accurately it describes something ongoing. Nemirovsky never got the luxury of time to contemplate what she saw, so her characterizations of the upper class family, the pompous writer, the sweet middle-class couple, and the nasty antiques dealer fleeing (or trying to flee) Paris sprang almost fully formed as she watched it unfold in front of her. I wonder who (or how many) of her colleagues she skewered in the darkly hysterical portrait of the famous author and his mistress as they flee, first in pomp and style, then with whatever diminishing wits they can gather about them.

Then there’s “Dolce,” from which a film is/has been made. It’s more of an expected war story: women whose husbands are prisoners in Germany house German officers as occupiers; add community sentiment and stir. It’s fairly predictable. But “Storm in June” is amazing in its details of what human hearts turn into when combined with fear, breakdown of social order, and a few sudden chances to change everything. Nemirovsky saw through a lot of veneers.

The manuscripts were finally published in this century, when her daughter opened the suitcase and read them, realized they were novels rather than journals, and sent them to Denoel, a large publishing house. “Storm in June” is pretty much genius, making you laugh and sob at the same time.

How many people did we lose in that storm, who would have made us laugh or cry today?

 

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The Monday Book: THE FRIENDLY PERSUASION by Jessamyn West

You know how you start thinking about an old friend, and then look them up, and find they were thinking of you? This book is like that.

west-persuasionWest wrote it (and its companion volume Except for Me and Thee) more than 75 years ago, but it’s still just as funny and sweet, mostly because it’s about humans. Just humans, and how they interact, living on a farm in the Midwest as Quakers.

Well, there’s that Civil War bit, and their brush with the Underground Railroad, which is somehow more intense now reading it in these troubled years. So much should have changed by now…..

Not much has changed in human courtship, either, and the stories around love affairs (would be or actual) are as hysterical as they are accurate. If you want to just escape into a world that pre-dates Jan Karon but echoes our own modern troubles, this is a good one.

The author was a woman ahead of her time. She wrote two of my all-time favorite quotes about writing: “Talent is helpful in writing but guts are absolutely essential” and “Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.”

That kinda sums up The Friendly Persuasion. One of the reasons people will still be reading it years from now is its poignant accuracy in describing human interactions.

 

 

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Wesley Tells His Tail – Er, Tale

Today’s guest blog is from Wesley and his foster mom Willie Dalton. Willie is the author of THREE WITCHES IN A SMALL TOWN, from which the “dumpster six” take their names: Wesley, Steven, Cerulean, Agatha, Mabry, and Maeve. (Maeve is now of blessed memory). You’d love the book as much as the names. It’s available from Mountain Girl Press.

Take it away, Wesley!!!

wesleyHi, I’m Wesley. My five siblings and I had a rough start. Someone taped us up inside a box and dropped us in a dumpster when we were only a few weeks old. Can you believe it? We didn’t do nothin’ to nobody.

Luckily, a nice lady found us and helped us get the food and medicine we really needed. One of my sisters didn’t make it, and we all miss her. But the rest of us are happy and healthy now. I’m getting bigger and stronger every day!

And I sure am happy I can eat on my own now without having to wait for my foster mom to bring me a bottle and feed all my siblings too. I’m not very patient when I’m hungry. But who is, am I right?

My foster mom is great but I think I’m ready for a furever home. There’s a lot of other cats here and I’d appreciate a little more personal attention. Every time I find a nice warm lap to curl up in, my sister Cerulean comes along and hogs all the cuddles. She’s a bit of a diva.

ceruleanI guess I wouldn’t mind another cat or two to play with if the right family comes along but one I thing I definitely need is toys with feathers, lots of feathers, they’re really great.

Everyone who sees me says how handsome I am with my little white face and pink nose but so far no one has taken me home. Maybe it’s because I snore sometimes. I don’t know what else it could be! I’m cute, playful, cuddly and I have have very tidy litter box habits. I’m a real catch.

Mom says the right family will find me soon and fall in love with me, that sounds really nice. But until then I’ll just be napping on the softy blanket on the couch, ya know, until Cerulean tries to steal it from me.

To adopt Wesley, Cerulean, or any of the “dumpster six,” message Appalachian Feline Friends via Facebook.

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The Monday Book: TOGETHER TEA by Marjan Kamali

together-teaWhen this book came into the shop, I knew it would hit my reading list. I like books about Eastern culture, particularly latte lit. (Novels that have female protagonists dealing with general life, are smart, and don’t devolve into cooking lessons, is the best definition of latte lit I’ve heard.)

Kamali’s book has a couple of clunky bits where she just wants you to believe certain things about her characters without developing them. However. her sharp, sassy writing style makes up for it. She’s like a sweet cynic when she gets hold of words. The novel’s premise is that the mother and daughter in an Iranian family that fled after the Revolution decide to go back for a visit. They go because of love interests – Mom has picked up one she doesn’t one, and the daughter has rejected one Mom picked out for her.

At one point Mina (the daughter) describes herself as balanced on the hyphen between Iranian-American. It’s a lovely passage. In the course of the visit, the depiction of one mom dealing with her family’s everyday pressures compounded by a country flipping itself upside down in a near-civil-war is fascinating. This isn’t an intense political book; it’s one family’s experiences. And its power lies in the way Kamali writes more than the plot or characters.

Here are some examples of the little gems Kamali drops in her writing:

Explaining to her ten-year-old daughter why she now has to wear a hijab to school when a month ago the Shah’s guard were snatching scarves off women’s heads if they wore them:

It’s always through the women that the men express their agenda. Cover up so they can feel like they’re in power.

Iranian hospitality (which is Southern hospitality to the power of 10) requires you to beg the guest to eat and the guest swears it will kill them to do inconvenience you. On round three of one such exchange, Mina, returned to Iran after 15 years in the states, loses it in this gloriously subtle way:

Mina: Would you like some nuts.

Guests: Oh thank you, no, may your hands not ache.

Mina: Please take a nut.

Guests: No, No.

Mina: In God’s name, take a nut.

Her humor is understated like that.

When the family arrives in America, the mom, a quiet, sweet, simple woman by American standards, buys a box of red hair dye and colors herself. When  she comes out of the bathroom, her husband claps and then goes in and cleans up what looks like the scene of an ax murder. The mother turns to her daughter and says they’re going for a walk. Which they do, the daughter much cowed by Mom’s new hair. And Kamali writes this:

Was freedom just tiny movements like this? Simply knowing that no one cared if the sun shone on your hair? …. But dominating all the new colors was the jarring red of Darya’s hair, an unfamiliar defiance that screamed silently at the start of their American life.

And as the book comes to its predictable wedding conclusion, Darya (Mom) looks at the chaos of Iranian-American wedding traditions and messiness around her and reflects:

Real life was messy. It would never add up. It wasn’t perfect. It didn’t need to be.

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