Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Last Child by John Hart

This is the third book by this North Carolina author. In fact, he's not only a North Carolina author, he's also from my home town, which is pretty darn cool. His first two books, King of Lies and Down River, are both set in Rowan County. I read King of Lies, and I have Down River but haven't read it, yet. Hart has sold the film rights to both of these books, and I think they would both make great movies. He won the Edgar Award for Down River, as well. I finished The Last Child over the weekend and really enjoyed it. In fact, I liked it better than the first book. They are all stand alone books so it doesn't really matter in what order you read them -- just read them, especially if you like well-written, mystery/suspense/thrillers.

This book has quite a bit going on, but it all comes together nicely in the end. There are two main characters -- Johnny Merrimon and Clyde Hunt. Hunt is a lead detective in charge of the most serious crimes. Johnny is a 13 year old boy who lost his twin sister a year previously to an apparent abduction. Hunt has been investigating the case, but has yet to find Alyssa or anyone who may have taken her. Of course, as you can well imagine, this event takes its toll on everyone in this small community. A once happy family is torn apart. Johnny's dad walks out the door one day following the incident and never comes back. Johnny's mom drinks herself into a stupor because she can't cope with the situation. Johnny is left to care for his mother while obsessively looking for his sister and whoever may have taken her. He skips school and sneaks out of the house as he methodically searches every street focusing on the addresses of known sex offenders.

This is a very brief summary of the book. There is a great deal more to the plot, but I don't want to risk spoiling anything. I thought I had part of it figured out early on, but then I began to doubt myself at the midway point. In the end, I figured out part of it, but not the whole thing. I wasn't sure how Hart was going to tie all the loose ends together, but in the end he does. This genre is not always my first choice in reading, but I enjoy a good mystery/suspense book every once in a while. This one is well written and done in such a way as not to rely on too many coincidences to further the plot. I think Hart is an author we will definitely be hearing more from. I love it when a hometown boy (or girl) makes it big.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Still Alive and Reading

It has been a month since I last posted. I'm not really sure why, either. I've been reading, and I've been keeping up with everyone else's blogs. But, for whatever reason I can't seem to find the time to post. I enjoy blogging immensely, but it has begun to stress me out a little bit. I'm way behind on my reading challenges, as well. Therefore, I'm making some mid-year resolutions. I contemplated giving up the blog, but I do enjoy it. So, as a compromise with myself, I will no longer stress over how long it has been since my last post. Hopefully, you'll keep reading it even if I don't add to it weekly. I'm also going to drop all of my reading challenges. I love the idea of reading challenges, but I just can't stick to a reading schedule. I'm a mood reader and don't want to feel like I have to stick to a timetable. There is just way too much going on in my life for me to stress over one of the things that brings me the most joy -- reading. Maybe, one day when I'm retired I'll be able to devote more time to blogging and can join the ranks of some of you super bloggers who post daily. It's just not realistic for me right now. O.K., if you're still reading this, I do have a few quickie reviews just to catch up.

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
I liked this book even though it is rather dark. It's definitely not one you want to read if you're already depressed. It's about two sisters who are raised by a succession of family members, all of whom have different degrees of eccentricity and/or mental illness. This is the first book I've read by this author, and it was the first book she wrote. I have Gilead and Home in the tbr pile. I'm not sure how similar they will be to this book, but I've heard great things about them both. My favorite thing about this book is Robinson's language. Her prose is beautiful.

Valeria's Last Stand by Marc Fitten
This was a really fun book. It reminds me a little of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in that it is funny while also dealing with serious issues. At it's heart, is Valeria who has spent her entire life alone and standing in judgment of everyone in her tiny village. Unexpectedly, she falls for the local potter, which sets into motion a string of events that changes the little village and Valeria forever. This book is not necessarily on the same literary level as Housekeeping; however, it is a perfect antidote the melancholy you may feel after reading Robinson's book.

The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton
I read this book for one of my book clubs. I had heard of the real camel bookmobile and assumed that this was a nonfiction account. However, this is indeed a novel, which is loosely based on the Kenyan Camel Bookmobile. The heart of this story for me is the culture clash between the traditional ways of the itinerant villagers and the well-meaning American librarian who wants to bring literacy to the desert. This was probably one of our better discussions for this reason. Western society tends to assume that we have all the answers and that our way of life is always better. However, what happens if people are happy living the life they are living? This is brought up in the novel when someone brings to Fi's attention the fact that even though Westerners are literate, they rarely know their ancestors just a couple generations back. In stark contrast, the nomadic tribes enjoy an oral tradition in which they remember, recite, and pass on the stories of their forefathers. Of course, I believe in the value of literacy and education, but we must always be careful to try to understand and respect the cultures we encounter and not just assume that different means not as good.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
I don't really even know where to start with this book. I know people either usually love or hate Woolf's work. I'm quickly falling into the LOVE category. Her writing is so different and does take a little getting used to; however, it is well worth the effort. It is so difficult to explain. She tells very intricate stories, and the reader gets to know quite a few characters all from inside the characters own heads. There is very little direct dialogue and very little background information. I'm not sure how she pulls it off, but it works. To say that her writing is gorgeous is an understatement. In this book, we get a glimpse into the lives of the Ramsey family as they live out one summer at the beach. Again, it defies description. If you haven't tried her writing before, give it a try. Just know that you can't read this fast or you'll miss too much. This is the kind of writing that you should linger over. In fact, I found myself rereading the same passages over and over.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


...well sort of, anyway. It's been so long since I read the following books, that I really don't feel I can say all that much about them. But, in an effort to get back on track and get caught up with some things, I'll just briefly mention my thoughts on each one.

The Spare Room by Helen Garner

I first heard of this book from dovegreyreader. It is a short little book, but it is absolutely packed with emotion and heart. It's the story of two women, one of whom has terminal cancer. As the book opens, Helen is getting her guest room ready for her friend, Nicola who is coming to stay with her for a couple weeks while she gets some experimental treatments. It becomes obvious right away that Helen is not at all prepared for the horrible reality of cancer. The book is so realistic in its description of not only the physical effects of cancer on the patient, but also the emotional toll it takes on everyone around the patient, as well. Having watched my brother lose his wife to cancer, I recognized so much of what they experienced in this book. The main caregiver for a cancer patient experiences so many emotions, including anger and guilt. You expect them to experience sadness and grief, but I don't think most people are prepared for the anger they feel towards the person and then the ensuing guilt. That was the hardest thing for my brother to deal with after his wife died. I don't mean to make this book sound so depressing, because it really isn't. Yes, it is sad to read about what cancer does to people, but Nicola herself handles it so well. She is uplifting and encouraging to everyone around her. She refuses to give up and maintains her dignity through it all. In an interview, the author confirmed my suspicion that she had indeed experienced such a situation herself. I knew she could not have written this book otherwise. I wish I had read this book before my brother went through what he did. I think it would have helped me to understand and possibly help him to know that he wasn't alone. Everyone experiences those feelings. I think it could have helped him with the guilt, especially.

Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks

This book is written in short little chapters that tell the story of a Maud Martha. Each chapter tells the story of her life at different stages beginning with her as a young girl and following her through her teenage years, young adulthood, marriage and motherhood. Brooks was the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize (1950). She mostly wrote poetry, which is obvious when you read this novel. The language paints beautiful pictures that give the reader a brief glimpse into the life of Maud Martha at a particular moment in her life. I'm not sure if this will make sense or not, but reading this book is like looking at a photo album, which documents someone's life. Brooks uses few words to tell her story. But, the reader learns more about the character than you would in a book length biography of a person.

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines

I read this book for my book club, which I didn't get to attend. I was really looking forward to the meeting because this book really lends itself to thought and discussion. The book is set in the deep South during the late 1940s and tells the story of two young, Black men. They both are born and raised in the same small town, but their lives take drastically different paths. However, one random act will bring them together and change them both forever. Ernest Gaines is a master at evoking time and place. He also does a great job with developing characters. The reader can't help but ache for the young men who are victims of circumstances. This is a must read, especially for anyone who wants to know what is meant by the term Southern Literature.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

I wasn't really sure what this book was all about when I picked it up. It turns out that it's a genre that I absolutely love -- retellings of classic fairy tales. Carter takes some of the fairy tales we all loved as children and puts her own special twist on them. Some remain somewhat light-hearted, but the majority of them are much darker. The story for which the book is named is a great example. The Bloody Chamber is the longest of the stories in this collection, as well as the darkest. The author does a great job at building suspense even though the reader knows from the beginning what is coming. I highly recommend this one.

So, now I'm caught up with reviews. I'm in somewhat of a reading slump right now. You can tell from the "Currently Reading" section in the sidebar that I'm still reading Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, as well as A Jury of Her Peers by Elaine Showalter. They are both great books, and I'm really enjoying them. I'm not sure why I'm not picking them up more often. I have been doing quite a bit of knitting lately. I have been trying to finish a gift for my mother-in-law's birthday, which is tomorrow. I have pretty finished it, but I just have to weave in the loose ends. It turned out very pretty, but it took forever. I actually had to rip it out and start over twice. It is a wrap, which is usually simple; however, this one is a complicated lace pattern. What made it more difficult is the yarn is very slippery, which means a slipped stitch can ravel back through quite a few rows before you catch it. There's also been quite a few things going on at home, as well. So, I hope to get back in my reading groove soon. But, until then I'll just keep up with what you guys are reading through your blogs.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Southern Reading Challenge

I've been trying to decide what I want to read for Maggie's annual Southern Reading Challenge. I still haven't narrowed it down, but I do have a list of potentials. In no particular order, here are some of the books I'm considering for this fun challenge:

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
Confederacy of Dunces
Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons
Killer Diller by Clyde Edgerton
A Long and Happy Life by Reynolds Price
something by William Faulkner?

As you can see, I'm very undecided. I think it's because I enjoy Southern Lit so much that I have a hard time deciding what to read. I may even end up reading something totally different.

On a side note, I have been reading even though I haven't been posting any reviews. It's just that when the weather begins to warm up, I'm ready to be outside. Since, I don't have a laptop, that means I'm away from the computer. Hopefully, I'll post some quick reviews of four books I've recently finished so I can get caught up.

I hope everyone had a nice Mother's Day weekend! I enjoyed myself immensely. Hubby had to work, but both the boys came to church with me and then we all ate at my mother's for lunch. We didn't do anything special, but it was just nice spending time with everyone.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Weekend reading and shopping

I know this is already Tuesday, but I haven't had a chance to post until now. Saturday was an absolutely gorgeous day here in the Piedmont of North Carolina. I just love this time of year. It was probably in the mid-80s with bright sunshine and a light breeze. I went downtown to go to the farmer's market and decided before I stopped in there I'd walk around downtown since it was such a beautiful day. I'm glad I did because I found two new shops that haven't been open for very long. One is called Southern Spirit and the lady who runs it is really nice. Everything in her store is handmade by an artist in North Carolina. I love that! There is a little bit of everything, too -- pottery, photography, painting, sculpture, wood turning, knitting, jewelry, soaps and candles, quilts and on and on. She is planning on hosting classes at the shop with some of the artists. I think she has a jewelry making class coming up. The other new shop is called Pottery 101. She is a local artist as well with some really nice pieces. She also teaches pottery classes. Of course, I went to one of my favorite independent bookstores -- The Literary Bookpost. I know I shouldn't have gone in, but I just couldn't help myself. I bought five books:

A Jury of Her Peers by Elaine Showalter
A Room of Her Own by Virginia Woolf (already read this one but wanted my own copy)
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf
The Awakening by Kate Chopin (Everyman's Library edition)

When I got home and my husband got up (he was working the night shift this past weekend), I showed him my purchases and he just grins and says, "That's exactly what you needed -- a few more books." He doesn't really care, he just likes to kid me about my little obsession.

Oh, and I actually did make it by the farmer's market, but they were getting ready to close. I didn't get the wonderful sourdough bread that I usually buy. She was out. So, I got some cinnamon bread, which is wonderful. I also picked up some cherry pecan bread, some oyster mushrooms and some homemade preserves -- damson and strawberry-rhubarb.

I stopped by the Sidewalk Deli and took something home for lunch. After I ate, I settled in on the front porch with my books. I actually read uninterrupted for a couple hours. It was heavenly. I am actually reading all the books that are in my Currently Reading sidebar. It's pretty unusual for me to have more than two books going at one time. I'm absolutely loving The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. I've also read the first three chapters in the Showalter book, which is really good, as well. This is literary criticism/history. It sounds pretty dry, but it's really not. Showalter is a good writer, and it's interesting to hear about some of the earliest American women writers. I'll talk more about it when I finish. Of course, I still have three books that I've read recently that I haven't reviewed, yet. I'll get caught up some time, I guess.

Unfortunately, later Saturday afternoon, we got a call that my husband's uncle had passed away. He was 82 years old and lived in Asheville, NC, which is about 2 1/2 hours from us. So, we made the trip to Asheville Sunday for the visitation and again on Monday for the service. This means I had to be out of work again, which I hate after being out for a week when I was sick. Oh well, that's the way it goes. I hope everyone had a good weekend and your week has started nicely. I'm off to check in on all the blogs I missed reading over the last couple days.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

First Book and random good thoughts

I first heard about this nonprofit organization when I attended a literacy conference at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (you know, the home of the 2009 National Champions!!) back in 2007. I'm sure that many of you have heard of it, but if you haven't, you should really check out the website. They provide books for kids in an attempt to foster early literacy and a lifelong love of reading. I chose this organization to read for during Dewey's Read-a-thon last weekend. Even though I didn't get much reading done, I still wanted to donate to this very worthwhile cause. I know many of the read-a-thon participants read for a worthy cause during the event, as well. In fact, there was a nice list of possible charities on the Dewey's Read-a-thon site you may want to check out if you haven't been there already.

Oh, and as most everyone in the world knows by now -- she won!! For the first time ever, the person I was rooting for actually won. Elizabeth Strout won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her book Olive Kitteridge. I loved this book and have gushed about it often.

I just wanted to thank everyone for their kind thoughts and wishes over the last week. I'm much better and actually glad to be back in a routine and at work. :) It sure is nice to know that there are so many wonderful book bloggers out there who care.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Best Laid Plans...

You know what they say about the best laid plans. Within five minutes of my last post yesterday morning at 10:30, my husband's grandfather stopped by unexpectedly to check on me since I had been sick. So, we sat out on the porch and visited for over an hour, which was really nice. He's one of my favorite people in the world. Before he left, my oldest son came driving up ready to help his dad and brother clean out our attic. So, I went to pick up some lunch for everybody. At this point, I still thought I would get some reading in that afternoon, which I did finally about 4:30. After lunch, I got stuck in the garage helping sort things out as they brought things down from the attic. We're going to have to have a big yard sale or else borrow a truck and take a load of stuff to the Goodwill. That took longer than it should have because I kept getting sidetracked looking at some of the boys' stuff from when they were younger. There were favorite books like Gus was a Friendly Ghost and A Day on the Farm. Of course, there were also favorite toys, such as the Jack and the Beanstalk stuffed book that Kyle loved when he was little. Well, you get the picture. It was nice though having everyone home and reminiscing a little.

But, late that afternoon, I finally did settle down in the chaise lounge on the front porch and read a little before everyone wanted to go out for dinner. I read another hour or so before bed, which probably brought me to a grand total of between 2-3 hours for the day. I want to get caught up with everyone else and how they did. I know it was a lot of fun for everyone. Maybe next year, I'll have more luck. So by the numbers, my read-a-thon was not very successful, but I had a great day, which did include a little reading. I'm off to watch The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and then turn in early. I'll be back at work tomorrow after being out all last week. I know I'll have a great deal of catching up to do. I hope everyone has a great week!