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The Monday Book: THE PEARL THAT BROKE ITS SHELL by Nadia Hashimi

pearlIt’s been awhile since I devoured a novel so thoroughly as this one. Hashimi writes in a simple, straightforward way. (And be warned, a couple of times the point of view shifts because the copy editor didn’t catch it.)

The book follows two women, Rahima the young daughter of a drug addict, and her great-aunt Shekiba (maybe a few greats in there) a century earlier. Rahima has only sisters, so by Afghani law she can be turned into a son until she is “too old.” That time comes all too quickly for Rahima, who like two of her sisters is married off to sons of the warlord her father serves (and owes for his opium).

Rahima tries to draw strength from Shekiba’s story, told by her unmarried aunt, who grows increasingly impation with Rahima’s mother when she follows her husband into opium despair. But that’s after several more tragedies pretty much rip out her heart.

Told with not as much sentiment as one might expect, and showing the unique ways in which women can find power in the strangest places, the story parallels Rahima’s brief life as a schoolboy and Shekiba’s man-guarding of the palace harem. (The king couldn’t trust men there, so he got ugly women to do it. Shekiba had been harmed by a fire, before the plague carried off her family. She managed to live independently for a bit, too, before her father’s brothers figured out the land was available. Nothing goes too well after that.)

Although the book is intense in its depictions of violence and toxic masculinity, it also shows the ways in which women work together or gang up against each other to work their will. And it is a gripping read, moving quickly through the action with just the right amount of characterization. Dressed in period clothing and speaking Afghani to one another, you still feel like you know these people. Nothing new here, just the usual family jealousy and economic troubles revealing what’s in people’s hearts.

Hashimi combines words in an interesting way, unique almost. Prosaic yet lyrical, as in this quote: “The human spirit, you know what they say about the human spirit? Is is harder than a rock and more delicate than a flower petal.” And for all the cultural awareness of the work, there are some lovely character moments that transcend setting, as in when someone tells Rashima she must accept her destiny, or naseeb: “The hell with naseeb. Naseeb is what people blame for every thing they can’t fix.”

Heartily recommended.

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The Monday Book: THE HARDER THEY COME by TC Boyle

the harderThis week’s Monday Book comes from Paul Garrett.

When Sara, a part time substitute teacher and full-time anarchist, picks up a bedraggled hitchhiker near Willits, in northern California, she soon realizes his name is Adam and he is one of her former students.  Or no; not just a former student but the ne’er do well son of the principle of the school at which she taught.

She recruits him as a co-conspirator in a scheme to break in to the local humane society and “rescue” her dog which was impounded after biting a police officer during a traffic stop that went south after she informed the policeman that she was insusceptible to the laws of the state of California and the nation.

Though she is several years his senior (at one point a friend calls her a cougar, and she doesn’t deny it), they begin an affair, bound together by their mutual hatred of authority. The book unfolds in a kind of dance between Sara, Adam and, Stenson, Adam’s father, a troubled Vietnam vet, as Adam spins further and further into madness pulling the other two with him and eventually making Sara an unwilling accomplice in his own, much more sinister crime wave.

This happens against the backdrop of the beautiful but threatened landscape of Northern California’s Mendocino County

Anyone who has had a child with emotional difficulties can empathize with Stenson as he helplessly watches his son fall away into mental oblivion, all his efforts to save his son having been ineffectual.  Sara is hopelessly in love with the boy, and, though she tries to turn a blind eye to his lunacy, she must eventually face it head on.

The Harder They Come (Harper-Collins, 2015) is T. Coraghessan Boyle’s fifteenth novel and it is easy to see why he has won several awards for his previous work. Boyle is a pro.  His prose is right on target, making the characters come alive with all their strengths and weaknesses, assets and imperfections. He has a superlative eye for detail to the point that he sometimes gets lost in the minutia of a scene, as if he enjoys living in a state where recreational marijuana use is legal. His sardonic wit infuses his books with both absurdity and anguish and provides an exposition about the consequences of our decisions, both good and bad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Harder They Come

A Review

 

When Sara, a part time substitute teacher and full-time anarchist, picks up a bedraggled hitchhiker near Willits, in northern California, she soon realizes his name is Adam and he is one of her former students.  Or no; not just a former student but the ne’er do well son of the principle of the school at which she taught.

She recruits him as a co-conspirator in a scheme to break in to the local humane society and “rescue” her dog which was impounded after biting a police officer during a traffic stop that went south after she informed the policeman that she was insusceptible to the laws of the state of California and the nation.

Though she is several years his senior (at one point a friend calls her a cougar, and she doesn’t deny it), they begin an affair, bound together by their mutual hatred of authority. The book unfolds in a kind of dance between Sara, Adam and, Stenson, Adam’s father, a troubled Vietnam vet, as Adam spins further and further into madness pulling the other two with him and eventually making Sara an unwilling accomplice in his own, much more sinister crime wave.

This happens against the backdrop of the beautiful but threatened landscape of Northern California’s Mendocino County

Anyone who has had a child with emotional difficulties can empathize with Stenson as he helplessly watches his son fall away into mental oblivion, all his efforts to save his son having been ineffectual.  Sara is hopelessly in love with the boy, and, though she tries to turn a blind eye to his lunacy, she must eventually face it head on.

The Harder They Come (Harper-Collins, 2015) is T. Coraghessan Boyle’s fifteenth novel and it is easy to see why he has won several awards for his previous work. Boyle is a pro.  His prose is right on target, making the characters come alive with all their strengths and weaknesses, assets and imperfections. He has a superlative eye for detail to the point that he sometimes gets lost in the minutia of a scene, as if he enjoys living in a state where recreational marijuana use is legal. His sardonic wit infuses his books with both absurdity and anguish and provides an exposition about the consequences of our decisions, both good and bad.

 

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The Harder They Come

A Review

 

When Sara, a part time substitute teacher and full-time anarchist, picks up a bedraggled hitchhiker near Willits, in northern California, she soon realizes his name is Adam and he is one of her former students.  Or no; not just a former student but the ne’er do well son of the principle of the school at which she taught.

She recruits him as a co-conspirator in a scheme to break in to the local humane society and “rescue” her dog which was impounded after biting a police officer during a traffic stop that went south after she informed the policeman that she was insusceptible to the laws of the state of California and the nation.

Though she is several years his senior (at one point a friend calls her a cougar, and she doesn’t deny it), they begin an affair, bound together by their mutual hatred of authority. The book unfolds in a kind of dance between Sara, Adam and, Stenson, Adam’s father, a troubled Vietnam vet, as Adam spins further and further into madness pulling the other two with him and eventually making Sara an unwilling accomplice in his own, much more sinister crime wave.

This happens against the backdrop of the beautiful but threatened landscape of Northern California’s Mendocino County

Anyone who has had a child with emotional difficulties can empathize with Stenson as he helplessly watches his son fall away into mental oblivion, all his efforts to save his son having been ineffectual.  Sara is hopelessly in love with the boy, and, though she tries to turn a blind eye to his lunacy, she must eventually face it head on.

The Harder They Come (Harper-Collins, 2015) is T. Coraghessan Boyle’s fifteenth novel and it is easy to see why he has won several awards for his previous work. Boyle is a pro.  His prose is right on target, making the characters come alive with all their strengths and weaknesses, assets and imperfections. He has a superlative eye for detail to the point that he sometimes gets lost in the minutia of a scene, as if he enjoys living in a state where recreational marijuana use is legal. His sardonic wit infuses his books with both absurdity and anguish and provides an exposition about the consequences of our decisions, both good and bad.

 

#

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Harder They Come

A Review

 

When Sara, a part time substitute teacher and full-time anarchist, picks up a bedraggled hitchhiker near Willits, in northern California, she soon realizes his name is Adam and he is one of her former students.  Or no; not just a former student but the ne’er do well son of the principle of the school at which she taught.

She recruits him as a co-conspirator in a scheme to break in to the local humane society and “rescue” her dog which was impounded after biting a police officer during a traffic stop that went south after she informed the policeman that she was insusceptible to the laws of the state of California and the nation.

Though she is several years his senior (at one point a friend calls her a cougar, and she doesn’t deny it), they begin an affair, bound together by their mutual hatred of authority. The book unfolds in a kind of dance between Sara, Adam and, Stenson, Adam’s father, a troubled Vietnam vet, as Adam spins further and further into madness pulling the other two with him and eventually making Sara an unwilling accomplice in his own, much more sinister crime wave.

This happens against the backdrop of the beautiful but threatened landscape of Northern California’s Mendocino County

Anyone who has had a child with emotional difficulties can empathize with Stenson as he helplessly watches his son fall away into mental oblivion, all his efforts to save his son having been ineffectual.  Sara is hopelessly in love with the boy, and, though she tries to turn a blind eye to his lunacy, she must eventually face it head on.

The Harder They Come (Harper-Collins, 2015) is T. Coraghessan Boyle’s fifteenth novel and it is easy to see why he has won several awards for his previous work. Boyle is a pro.  His prose is right on target, making the characters come alive with all their strengths and weaknesses, assets and imperfections. He has a superlative eye for detail to the point that he sometimes gets lost in the minutia of a scene, as if he enjoys living in a state where recreational marijuana use is legal. His sardonic wit infuses his books with both absurdity and anguish and provides an exposition about the consequences of our decisions, both good and bad.

 

#

 

 

 

 

The Harder They Come

A Review

 

When Sara, a part time substitute teacher and full-time anarchist, picks up a bedraggled hitchhiker near Willits, in northern California, she soon realizes his name is Adam and he is one of her former students.  Or no; not just a former student but the ne’er do well son of the principle of the school at which she taught.

She recruits him as a co-conspirator in a scheme to break in to the local humane society and “rescue” her dog which was impounded after biting a police officer during a traffic stop that went south after she informed the policeman that she was insusceptible to the laws of the state of California and the nation.

Though she is several years his senior (at one point a friend calls her a cougar, and she doesn’t deny it), they begin an affair, bound together by their mutual hatred of authority. The book unfolds in a kind of dance between Sara, Adam and, Stenson, Adam’s father, a troubled Vietnam vet, as Adam spins further and further into madness pulling the other two with him and eventually making Sara an unwilling accomplice in his own, much more sinister crime wave.

This happens against the backdrop of the beautiful but threatened landscape of Northern California’s Mendocino County

Anyone who has had a child with emotional difficulties can empathize with Stenson as he helplessly watches his son fall away into mental oblivion, all his efforts to save his son having been ineffectual.  Sara is hopelessly in love with the boy, and, though she tries to turn a blind eye to his lunacy, she must eventually face it head on.

The Harder They Come (Harper-Collins, 2015) is T. Coraghessan Boyle’s fifteenth novel and it is easy to see why he has won several awards for his previous work. Boyle is a pro.  His prose is right on target, making the characters come alive with all their strengths and weaknesses, assets and imperfections. He has a superlative eye for detail to the point that he sometimes gets lost in the minutia of a scene, as if he enjoys living in a state where recreational marijuana use is legal. His sardonic wit infuses his books with both absurdity and anguish and provides an exposition about the consequences of our decisions, both good and bad.

 

#

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The Monday Book: GNOMELAND by Margaret Egleton

Many thanks to Jeanne Powers for this review!

gnomelandGnomeland:  An Introduction to the Little People

 

First off, this is not a sequel to Gnomes by Wil Huygen, the marvelous and charming “natural history” of the shy Holland gnomes.  No, this is a book about garden gnomes.

 

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, garden gnomes seem to pop up everywhere.  Travelocity even has a spokesgnome, possibly inspired by a rash of gnome-nappings a few years back, in which a person or persons would swipe a garden gnome and take photos of it in various settings, sometimes sending postcards back to the owner from the gnome to illustrate its travels.

Egleton devotes the first few pages of the book to a very brief overview of gnomes in general, noting that there are several variations and tracing the origin both gnomes and their appearance. Then she delves specifically into the evolution of the classic garden gnome.

The earliest statues of the “classic” garden gnome apparently were created in the late 19th century when a large ceramic industry met an enthusiasm for garden decoration. The early figures were more of the bearded and wizened little old man variety before morphing into bright and merry little figures, which Egleton attributes to Disney’s cute little dwarf characters from Snow White.

For me, the most interesting part of the book was about the early creators of garden gnomes. Philipp Griebel added the figure to his factory shortly after opening in 1874, causing Grafenroda, Germany to lay claim to being the birthplace of the modern gnome, though there are those who would challenge this.  August Heissner apparently began creating hand-painted clay gnomes for sale around 1870.

But all of this pales beside the glorious photos of gnomes of all sorts. There are bathing beauties, politicians (there are several versions of George W. Bush), athletes, naughty gnomes, and smoking and drinking gnomes.  “Mobile Joe” is a gnome with a cell phone who crashed the Chelsea Flower Show, despite the “no gnomes” rule.  There are some astounding photos of “gnome gardens” with large collections.  One woman took inspiration from George Harrison, who had posed with the Friar Park gnomes for two albums, and created a gnome garden in tribute to the Beatle.

Gnomes are a world-wide phenomenon: they can be found all over Europe, North and South America, and even Antarctica.  Australia seems to be particularly fond of gnomes, harboring several large gnome gardens and organizations dedicated to preservation and proliferation of gnomes. “Gnomesville” in Australia has become quite the tourist attraction, despite a lack of parking and toilets.

Even if you think gnomes are tackiness personified (the book says they’ve “been restored to their rightful place of kitsch honor”) you’ll smile at some of the creative ways people have used gnomes.  It may just inspire you to add a gnome or two to your own garden. Or not.

 

Note:  this review is written by a person who has pink flamingos in the garden

 

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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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LIZBETH PHILLIPS’ MONDAY BOOK

It has been just over twenty-MC Beaton The Witches' Tree Book Jacketfive years since Marion Chesney, under the name  M. C. Beaton, penned the first Agatha Raisin detective mystery. Her most recent in the twenty-eight novel series, The Witches’ Tree (Minotaur Books, October 2017, 277 pages), is by design a not-so-cozy cozy mystery.

The Witches’ Tree takes place in the Cotswold village of Sumpton Harcourt, not far from Agatha Raisin’s cottage in Carsley. The novel begins at the home of bumbling Sir Edward Chumble with a disastrous dinner party to welcome the new vicar and his wife to the village.  It is a foggy night, but the dense mist thins enough for Rory and Mollie Devere to discover an elderly woman’s body hanging from a gnarled witches’ tree on the edge of the village.  Later two more bodies show up, and Agatha Raisin feels pressured to find the murderer so her Mircester detective agency benefits from positive press coverage.

People who live in Cotswold cottages do not lead squeaky-clean lives, so Agatha enlists the help of her ex-husband James and potential love interest Sir Charles Fraith to dig up dirt on the neighbors and ferret out the killer. A coven of witches in Sumpton Harcourt complicates the plot, and Agatha soon becomes a target because she does not scare off easily.  In the end, though, she gets her man—the villain, not a love interest.

One of the driving forces through the entire cozy series is Agatha’s desire to be successful, settled down, and madly in love with her husband.  She is successful (retired public relations executive, owner of a respected detective agency) owns a lovely thatched cottage in the Cotswolds (instead of a luxury London flat), and—whoops—no husband yet.  Time and again, Agatha’s pursuit of eligible bachelors sets her up for grave disappointment, which keeps her life far from perfect. By the end of this particular novel, Agatha has an epiphany, and diehard fans can appreciate the poignant moment when she finally sees her knight.  For once she doesn’t mess things up, and readers feel her pain and disillusionment when her love interest recognizes the moment of truth and blows it.  The chaotic pace of Agatha’s life is reflected in the book, and in the end, readers are desperate for a twenty-ninth Agatha Raisin novel so their heroine can take another stab at happiness.  Hopefully, the next murder weapon is not a knife.

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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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The Monday Book: ENTERING THE SILENCE by Thomas Merton

capI picked this up in Philly at Neighborhood Books, run by the kind colorful local character Curtis. I didn’t know at the time it was a near-famous book; I was writing about silence and thought it would be interesting as research. But it’s actually the second volume of Thomas Merton’s surprising bestselling autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain. Merton became a Cistercian (Trappist) monk and wrote a lot about his spiritual journey. In Silence, he wrote about visiting two other orders, and how he decided to join.

The book is in three sections, each dealing with an order. One is the hardworking Trappists, who Merton says pretty much consider prayer, work, and hardship as all under the umbrella of prayer. When he asks one of the monks what it feels like to be part of such an order, the monk asks, “Have you ever been in love?” When Merton affirms, the monk says, “Well, like that.”

The first description will speak to writers, because it’s as much about Merton–who has come to the silence of the monks to get away from distractions and allow himself to write–discovering he is distracted by the silence. He needs to fill it up, get away from it, silence it. He almost fears it. And it doesn’t help him write, not until he gets to a new idea of time and commitment and passion (which is very eloquently described).

The next two descriptions are more just depictions of the living Trappists and the deceased Capadocians, where he visits the little caves that used to be their homes and pretty much comes out of that description thanking God it isn’t a choice anymore, or he might have felt compelled to make it. (That’s them in the photo at the top.) This isn’t a book with a story, more like getting inside someone’s head for an hour. If you’ve ever read A Grief Observed, it kinda reads like that – completely different subject matter, but just “here, and that’s all I have to say.” Yet said with such thoughtful eloquence.

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