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Guest Review: Empire Falls by Richard Russo

Empire Falls by Richard Russo
Reviewed by H. C. at The Irresponsible Reader (where you can find a longer, more rambly and personal version of this post)

It is just daunting to try to talk about this book — especially in something that’d make a decent-length blog post and not a full-fledged dissertation. Empire Falls won Richard Russo his (seemingly) inevitable Pulitzer Prize in 2002 and stands as one of the greatest achievements in his storied career. It is at once a story about a town and a man, microcosms for the state and the nation; it’s both sweeping and epic while being personal and intimate.

empirefThe story centers on Miles Roby, manager of the Empire Grill in Empire Falls, ME. He has an ex-wife (who I truly despised), a daughter (who I wanted more of), an ex-mother- in-law that seems to like and respect him a lot more than her own daughter, s (even if they don’t see eye to eye much lately). But more importantly he has a patron — the town matriarch, owner of the Empire Grill, and most of the various places of employment in town. She’s a patron, a would-be surrogate mother (for a select few), and petty tyrant over the city. It’s one of those small towns where the mayor/council/etc. have real power, but it’s only the power she lets them have, you know? Francine Whiting isn’t evil — well, I’ll let you decide for yourself — but at the end of the day, she thinks she’s doing what is right for Empire Falls, the Whiting legacy and her daughter — whether or not anyone wants what she thinks is best. She still could be evil, I guess, and I could very likely made a case for it. Anyhow, let the reader decide.

The trials and dreams and efforts of Miles and his family as he tries to do something different with his life are the core of the novel — but they’re not all of it. The town is full of interesting people — many aren’t vital to the overall story (but you can’t know until the end who those are), but they all add flavor. Most are so fleshed out that you could imagine a short story/novel centered on them. While reading Song in Ordinary Time a few months back, I kept asking myself what made the people in that novel so unlikeable when in many ways they reminded me of Empire Falls‘ cast. I came to this conclusion (and have since reconsidered and still think it’s basically right): Russo uses the flaws in his characters to emphasize their humanity, Morris uses the flaws to emphasize their flaws.

But I come not to bury Morris (again), but to talk about Empire Falls, so let me focus on this a bit more: the flawed humanity isn’t pretty, it’s frequently ugly, people who make mistakes (some tragic, some dumb) are usually trying to do the right/moral/noble thing and it doesn’t work. But it’s real. This could all be real. Even Janice, Miles’ ex, is a well-developed character — and I think I’ve met a handful of people just like her — and I wouldn’t dislike her as much as I did if Russo hadn’t nailed the writing.

There’s an event towards the end — one of the two or three that you ultimately realize the whole novel has been leading up to — that in 2001 would’ve been truly shocking (shocked me a few years ago), but in many ways it’s de rigueur now. 2016 readers might be bored by it, but I can’t imagine that many readers in 2001 were. I’m not going to say more — just if you read this, put yourself in the shoes of readers from 15 years ago when you get to that bit. Yes, Empire Falls is slow (sometimes), ponderous (sometimes) but it’s also inspiring (sometimes), heartwarming (sometimes) and many other things that I could parenthetically qualify. But every negative about it is utterly worth it for the positives.

What I learned about Maine: (haven’t done this in awhile, whoops). It’s a beautiful state, filled with people who could be better educated, who aren’t vocationally ready for what’s coming for them thanks to the technological shift in jobs. It’s a state where people, nature and industry who have been damaged by reckless policies and practices. It’s a state where nature exerts itself every now and then to remind people how powerful it is. Basically, Maine’s just like every other state in the union — just a little different.

One more thing, not that this’ll surprise many, but I’d advise skipping the HBO miniseries — yeah, it’s a fairly faithful adaptation, it just doesn’t have the heart.

I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t read this book for this series of posts — breaking a personal resolution. There were 3 reasons for this: 1. Time; 2. I really wasn’t up for the emotional punches this delivers, and 3. I didn’t need to — I still remember it well enough to discuss at a length greater than I have despite being 4 years and change since I read it. That right there should tell you something about the book — hundreds of books later and I almost feel like I read it a couple of weeks ago. I’m not sure this is the Russo novel I’d tell people to start with (probably Straight Man), and I don’t think it’s his best (probably Bridge of Sighs (tells a story almost as epic in scope, with greater economy and greater depth when it comes to individual characters), but there’s no denying the talent on display here, the greatness of the execution, the vibrancy of the characters, or the impact it has on the reader. No brainer, 5 Stars from me.

Guest Review: Inkspirations Fruit of the Spirit: Coloring Designs to Nourish You with Love, Joy, Faith, Peace and More by Lorrie Bennett

tlc tour hostI’ve always loved coloring books, and while the adult coloring book craze has finally taken hold, I find myself more caught up in coloring in kids books with my daughter than I do engaging with my own adult coloring books.

Today, I’ve got a guest reviewer, Michelle Best, sharing her thoughts on the latest adult coloring book, Inkspirations Fruit of the Spirit: Coloring Designs to Nourish You with Love, Joy, Faith, Peace and More by Lorrie Bennett.

I was so excited when I received my coloring book in the mail, I had to look through it right away. At first glance, I noticed I really liked the pictures in the coloring book. Many of the adult coloring books today have designs, patterns, etc. and I really do enjoy an actual scene, which this book provides. There are also very good motivational sayings on each page which are Bible verses.

The first 8-10 pages are a little different than what I have seen before. They actually have instructions on how to color and how different colors compliment each other. There are also a few pages of samples of people who have actually colored some of the same pictures in the book. I thought this part of the book was unnecessary. Generally when adults will be coloring, they have colored before and are familiar with complimenting and contrasting colors.

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Each coloring page consists of two pages, left and right. I actually like this so when you are done coloring you can see the complete scene across both pages along with the Bible verse that goes along with the page. The book it pretty thin and most of the books I have are a little thicker. This isn’t good or bad, just depends on your preference, but if I had two books the same price and I really liked both of them I would probably choose the book that’s a little thicker.

I completed coloring a page, which I really enjoyed. The lines were nice and easy to read, even for those of us getting a little older and have “tired eyes”. Too many tiny little details makes coloring difficult and I didn’t have any problems coloring my page. There are a few pages with more small details but for the most part it has larger coloring spaces to make coloring more enjoyable and relaxing and less stressful, which is what adult coloring is supposed to provide. I am looking forward to coloring more pages/scenes in the near future. Come on, rainy days, so I can color more!!!

About the Author:

Lorrie Bennett is blessed to live her life as an artist, crafter, teacher, graphic designer, and best of all, a mother. She is passionate about the divine inspiration that is the source of her creativity, and the happiness and beauty that it can bring to others. Learn more about Inkspirations.

Reviewer Bio: Michelle Best lives in Oregon, has been married 17 years and has three daughters (22, 19, and 15). She loves to read, garden, do crafts, go to country music concerts, and drink wine. She also loves to color with her daughters, especially on rainy days.

Guest Review: The Known World by Edward P. Jones

This week takes us to Virginia with The Known World by Edward P. Jones. Entertainment Weekly says, “This award-winning examination of man’s ownership of man refuses to succumb to the calcifying effect of history, presenting Virginia’s past as raw, urgent, and human.”

Synopsis from GoodReads:

One of the most acclaimed novels in recent memory, The Known World is a daring and ambitious work by Pulitzer Prize winner Edward P. Jones.

The Known World tells the story of Henry Townsend, a black farmer and former slave who falls under the tutelage of William Robbins, the most powerful man in Manchester County, Virginia. Making certain he never circumvents the law, Townsend runs his affairs with unusual discipline. But when death takes him unexpectedly, his widow, Caldonia, can’t uphold the estate’s order, and chaos ensues. Jones has woven a footnote of history into an epic that takes an unflinching look at slavery in all its moral complexities.

Review by Laura at 125Pages.

½ Star

EdwardPJones_TheKnownWorldThe Known World by Edward P. Jones is a read that made me question. It made me question if editors actually read the whole book. It made me question if the Pulitzer judges read the whole book. It made me question if I had picked up the wrong book, because this could not be the book with all of those rave reviews. This novel won a National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2004. In 2005 it won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and it was a finalist for the 2003 National Book Award. In 2009, the website The Millions polled 48 critics, writers, and editors; the panel voted The Known World the second best novel since 2000. The book I read was a disjointed mess. No seriously, I can read difficult books. I like non-linear time lines and twisty prose but this took it to a whole new level. The synopsis tells us that this is the tale of Manchester County in Virginia during the antebellum era and a black former slave who is now a slave owner himself. This sounds like a deep and thought provoking read right? It would have been if it was actually readable.

There were approximately 80 characters, so I had no idea who anyone was.

The white man at the front door was from the Atlas Life, Casualty and Assurance Company, based in Hartford, Connecticut. His talking to Calvin at the door was what kept Bennett so long. Calvin eventually came back with Bennett and when Moses told him, Calvin went back and returned with Caldonia, followed by Maude, and Fern Elston.

The time line skipped back and forth often times decades in the future to tell what happened to just one person or object and then skipped back.

This series was Anderson’s most successful, and nothing was more successful within that series than the 1883 pamphlet on free Negroes who had owned other Negroes before the War between the States. The pamphlet on slaveowning Negroes went through ten printings. Only seven of those particular pamphlets survived until the late twentieth century. Five of them were in the Library of Congress in 1994 when the remaining two pamphlets were sold as part of a collection of black memorabilia owned by a black man in Cleveland, Ohio. That collection, upon the man’s death in 1994, sold for $1.7 million to an automobile manufacturer in Germany.

There was so much unnecessary description.

Clarence sat beside his wife and after a time he put a hand, the one not stained with milk, to the back of his wife’s head and rubbed her hair. The cow swung its tail and chewed its cud. It farted.

His horse, Sir Guilderham, was idling two or so paces behind his master. And just as the horse began to wander away, Robbins turned and picked up the reins, mounted. ‘No more visits for a month,’ he said, picking one piece of lint from the horse’s ear.

Seriously, I do not care about lint on a horse and a cow farting. This really detracted from the story for me. The Known World by Edward P. Jones could have and should have been a powerful read. Instead I got bogged down in the minutia and was not able to process the tale.

I had originally picked this up at the library and then, when I found the style to be so odd, I got the Audible version. I really want my credit and the 14 hours I spent listing to this back.

USbooks Virginia

Guest Post: The Gifts of Memoir by Christine Hale

tlc tour hostChristine Hale, author of A Piece of Sky, A Grain of Rice: A Memoir in Four Meditations, is stopping by to talk about the gifts of memoir.  Please give her a warm welcome.

Readers often ask me why I wrote a memoir. I began as a fiction writer (my first book, Basil’s Dream, published in 2009, is a novel). But the year my mother passed away, 2000, the material that would become this memoir asserted itself. In fact, it hijacked me. I was granted a 10-day residency at an artists’ colony, precious time to work on a revision of the novel. But when my busy life dropped away from me, all I could do was grieve my mother: her death, her hard life, and the tangle of love and misery that had been our relationship. I spent the whole residency writing about her life and my childhood. When I went home and got busy again, I completely forgot what I’d written. A year or so later, my computer’s hard drive was failing. Pulling off the files I wanted to save, I found that material– almost 100 pages! I read it, realized it was memoir, gulped, felt sick, and put it aside.

But I couldn’t stop writing about my life. Only after my mother died did I begin to really get to know my father, so that revelation had to be explored on the page. The solitary Buddhist retreats I undertook every year or so were other-worldly I just had to write about them. And the together-tattoos with my teen children, that strange and funny tale had to be told.

Much of what now comprises A PIECE OF SKY, A GRAIN OF RICE was originally published as separate personal essays. I had a nagging feeling that these apparently separate threads all belonged together, but for the longest time– years– I couldn’t figure out how or why. Only in retrospect is the answer crystal clear: the stories belong together because they are all about reconciliation: me coming to terms with the path I’ve traveled– and the people I bruised and learned from and was bruised by along the way.

By the time I began pulling the separate threads together into a book, around 2007, I’d been writing and teaching writing for a long time. So I knew I faced quite a technical challenge. Ultimately I figured that the only structure that could handle so many memories from so many points in time was collage. Think of photos pasted to a poster board– layered, overlapping, some partially obscured, others fore-grounded. The placement appears random, but the creator of the collage has a sense, conscious or intuitive, of where each photo belongs.

I worked on the book by shaping each memory into a little story, with careful attention to sensory detail (this is the advice I give to every would-be memoirist). I cut the longer stories into pieces and arrayed them in the way that felt “right.” I let the tattoo stories, which were happening as I worked on the book, be the through-line, because I wanted the book to have some momentum– some narrative drive– through time. I revised and refined the collage many times, with input from a small group of writer friends I rely on as first readers. It’s very rewarding to discover that my readers do “get” that the book’s structure mimics the way our own processes of recollection and introspection work: seldom a straight line.

I came to understand myself more clearly through the process of creating the book. When I work with people writing memoir, I tell them this is the gift they can expect to receive, if they can be both unflinching– courageous enough to see themselves and others as they really are– and self-compassionate- -merciful enough to accept, forgive, and learn from their humanity.

I want my readers to take away a feeling that they are not alone in their doubts, fears, confusion, strivings, and hopes. That these feelings are the essence of being human. I often hear from readers that they identify with the struggles and the triumphs in the book, that they are reminded of their own sweetest memories, that they feel reconnected with people they’ve lost, or that they have new insight into someone who was a powerful and painful mystery in their life. It’s amazing and satisfying that readers can get from the book their own personal version of what I got from writing it: clarity and release.

About the Book:

Christine Hale grew up amid abuse, depression, dysfunction, alienation and isolation—her mother’s, but also, because her view was the lens that controlled the family—her own, her father’s and her two sisters’. She became a writer, a prodigal daughter, a single parent, a Buddhist disciple, and, late in midlife, a newlywed. In this non-linear memoir, she meditates upon the broken path she’s traveled: two divorces, an abandoned career, too much solitude, an unconventional and transformative relationship with a female spiritual teacher, and two children lost to young adulthood but recovered, in part, through an odd ritual of repeated tattooing.

About the Author:

Christine Hale’s prose has appeared in Hippocampus, Arts & Letters, Prime Number, Shadowgraph, and The Sun, among other literary journals. Her debut novel Basil’s Dream (Livingston Press 2009) received honorable mention in the 2010 Library of Virginia Literary Awards. Hale has been a finalist for the Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers and the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. Presently, she teaches in the Antioch University-Los Angeles Low-Residency MFA Program as well as the Great Smokies Writing Program. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

Guest Review: A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean

A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean
– Reviewed by Elisha at Rainy Day Reviews

Entertainment Weekly says – “In his semiautobiographical story collection, Maclean paints a sumptuous portrait of the state’s beauty.”

NormanMacLean_ARiverRunsThroughItSummary form Goodreads:

Just as Norman Maclean writes at the end of “A River Runs through It” that he is “haunted by waters,” so have readers been haunted by his novella. A retired English professor who began writing fiction at the age of 70, Maclean produced what is now recognized as one of the classic American stories of the twentieth century. Originally published in 1976, A River Runs through It and Other Stories now celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary, marked by this new edition that includes a foreword by Annie Proulx.

Maclean grew up in the western Rocky Mountains in the first decades of the twentieth century. As a young man he worked many summers in logging camps and for the United States Forest Service. The two novellas and short story in this collection are based on his own experiences—the experiences of a young man who found that life was only a step from art in its structures and beauty. The beauty he found was in reality, and so he leaves a careful record of what it was like to work in the woods when it was still a world of horse and hand and foot, without power saws, “cats,” or four-wheel drives. Populated with drunks, loggers, card sharks, and whores, and set in the small towns and surrounding trout streams and mountains of western Montana, the stories concern themselves with the complexities of fly fishing, logging, fighting forest fires, playing cribbage, and being a husband, a son, and a father.

Review:

Firstly, I did not know this was turned into a movie. Now that is on my list.

The writing in this book was smooth, cohesive, eloquent, and smart. This novella was mixed with sadness of real life as well as the joys. This story has more than one level, at the surface, it is a good and well written story about Maclean and his father and brother; his family. They all have a shared bond of fishing, it is like the air that they breathe, what seems to hold them to hold them together.

However, going beneath this well-crafted story, I think the moral, the reason behind this book is: relationships that we have, memories that we create with those we hold dear, and the bonds that are made. I think the saddest but truest message to take is, from all that we can learn from this book is, those that are the ‘last survivor’ of those memories, those bonds that were made during the yesteryears, and the relationship that were made before it all changed and while it all changed.

I can definitely see why this is a classic. I’d recommend this to all.

USbooks Montana

Guest Review: The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

soundfuryThe Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
– reviewed by HC at The Irresponsible Reader

Wow, it took like 2 minutes for me to remember just how much work this guy is to read. This is not the kind of book you take to the breakroom at work for a few minutes during lunch. The Sound and the Fury, like all of Faulkner that I can remember, takes work. You have to think — especially here in Part 1. Don’t get me wrong, Part 2 is no walk in the park, but Benjy’s narration is just so difficult to wade through given his cognitive ability.

Maybe I should back up a bit — this is the story of the fall of the Compson family — a great Southern family from Jefferson, MS, through (primarily) various stream of consciousness points of view. Part 1 is told through the point of view of Benjy. Benjy is 33 year-old developmentally disabled man, and his section is almost impossible to follow. There’s no chronological sense to it, it’s impossible to follow on first read as Benjy talks about a variety of events over the course of his life. Which is not to say there’s not a certain poetry, a power to it. But man . . .

Part 2 is possibly more difficult to understand, honestly, despite being told from Benjy’s older brother’s POV. But I don’t want to talk about the details — I just hate spoilers (even if you’ve had around 90 years to catch up). There are other POVs (including — thankfully, an omniscient third-person).

The plot is one thing — the experience of reading the novel is another. You want to know the power of the English language? Read William Faulkner. I don’t know what else to say. I’m not sure I’m equipped to talk about this, really — P.I.s, wizards, werewolves, dogs? Sure. The kind of thing that wins Nobel Prizes? That’s just beyond me. This is the stuff of history — of legend, really.

There is horrible language used throughout — the kind of thing that gets books banned from schools and classrooms, so if you’re easily offended, skip this. But it’s how people talked (still do), it’s honest, it’s brutal, it’s ugly, it’s human.

This is not my favorite novel by Faulkner — nor is it something I recommend to someone who’s never read the man before (maybe, As I Lay Dying?). That said, it’s full of fantastic writing, insights into the human condition, strange southerners, tragedy, and complexity that I cannot describe. Faulkner, as always, stands so far above the pack that it’s almost not fair to other books. Of course, 5 stars, how could it be anything else?

USbooks Mississippi

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Guest Review: In Country by Bobbi Ann Mason

Reviewed by Teri at Sportochick’s Musings

In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason, narrated by: Jill Brennan
Length: 9 hrs and 48 mins
Unabridged Audiobook
Release Date:05-03- 11
Publisher: HarperAudio

In CountrySynopsis:

The bestselling novel and deeply affecting story of a young girl who comes to terms with her father’s death in Vietnam two decades earlier.

In the summer of 1984, the war in Vietnam came home to Sam Hughes, whose father was killed there before she was born. The soldier-boy in the picture never changed. In a way that made him dependable. But he seemed so innocent. “Astronauts have been to the moon,” she blurted out to the picture. “You missed Watergate. I was in the second grade.” She stared at the picture, squinting her eyes, as if she expected it to come to life. But Dwayne had died with his secrets. Emmett was walking around with his. Anyone who survived Vietnam seemed to regard it as something personal and embarrassing. Granddad had said they were embarrassed that they were still alive. “I guess you’re not embarrassed,” she said to the picture.

Review:

In Country takes place in Hopewell, Kentucky and is the story of recent high school graduate Sam and her Uncle Emmett, a Viet Nam war vet. Sam is searching for the answers to the past regarding her dad and why her Uncle is so messed up. Emmett is just trying to survive and live one day at a time after returning broken from Viet Nam.

Sam has a strong desire to know more about the father she never meet, a farm boy, who went to Vietnam and never came back. So she begins her search by asking any one she knows about her dad. There is a point where I felt she would drive me crazy with the persistent questions but the author smooths out this roughness with resolutions to some questions via talking to her paternal grandparents and her mother Irene. Through a series of letters and a diary she finds answers that bring her peace and upheaval as well. This upheaval causes her to be able to finally make a decision on how to move forward with her life.

Another part of the story that drove me crazy was her constantly hounding her Uncle about all the things she felt was wrong with him medically. I understand her love for him and her desire for him to not die but yikes the constant harping what was wrong with him was too much. She was a hypochondriac for him.

Emmet and some of his war friends portray an intricate part to the story with their inability to have relationships, work, and socialize plus their various health issues. But also added to the story were other war vets that were able to have normal lives. This balance greatly added to the story and it’s correctness to real life. The scene where Tom, a war vet, spent time with Sam was painful and sad causing me to wonder was there ever a time after that that he was able to love someone and be fulfilled.

At one point in the book Emmet says, “There’s something wrong with me. I’m damaged.” that I started to cry. There was overwhelming pain for all of them and grief for my part in disassociating myself from this area of life. It dawned on me that we were all damaged in some way from this war.

My Thoughts:

  • U.S. involvement for the Vietnam War lasted from 1955-1973 and consisted of approximately 58,200 Americans deaths and over 300,000 wounded.
  • In 1973 the military draft (only for males) ends and an all-volunteer military is formed creating opportunities for women.
  • In 1973, I graduated from high school with no good thoughts about our involvement in the Vietnam War. I lived through my friends’ fear of being drafted, death of loved ones, draft evasion, war protest, and the burning of college campuses. For me I disassociated myself from this war like many others and to this day I am ashamed to say I don’t get it. What I do get is how poorly we as a people and government treated the returning military.

This book caused me to think and open my mind to a time in my life that I had shutdown.

USBooks Kentucky

Guest Review: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

– Review by Wendy at BookLoverCircumspect4

State – Connecticut

Synopsis from Goodreads

Orphaned Kit Tyler knows, as she gazes for the first time at the cold, bleak shores of Connecticut Colony, that her new home will never be like the shimmering Caribbean island she left behind. In her relatives’ stern Puritan community, she feels like a tropical bird that has flown to the wrong part of the world, a bird that is now caged and lonely. The only place where Kit feels completely free is in the meadows, where she enjoys the company of the old Quaker woman known as the Witch of Blackbird Pond, and on occasion, her young sailor friend Nat. But when Kit’s friendship with the “witch” is discovered, Kit is faced with suspicion, fear, and anger. She herself is accused of witchcraft!

The_Witch_of_Blackbird_Pond_coverReview:

The Witch of Blackbird Pond is an historical novel and a love story. The main character, Kit, was raised by her grandfather in Barbados. When her grandfather dies, she leaves Barbados on a ship named the Dolphin to find her aunt and uncle in Connecticut. Needless to say, her aunt and uncle doesn’t know that she is coming.

Upon her arrival to her Aunt Rachel and Uncle Mercy’s home in Wethersfield, Connecticut, where she also has two cousins, Mercy (who is handicapped) and Judith. Kit’s life is far different from her life in Barbados, where she is forced to do chores and attend church, which she clearly hates. Kit becomes happier when she and Mercy began teaching the younger children in her town. An incident happens at the school and it is shut down, and Kit runs away and she meets Hannah Tupper, an older lady that has been outlawed from the colony. While visiting Hannah, she again runs into Nat Eaton, son of the captain of the Dolphin, and Kat falls in love with him.

A deadly illness sweeps through the town and Hannah is accused of being a witch and is to be killed. Kit warns Hannah who escapes with the help Nat and his boat. The town is also accusing Kit of being a witch and she must prove her innocence when Nat returns to Westherfield.

Does Nat return help Kit? Is Kit found to be a witch? Or is she able to escape Connecticut and return to Barbados? You will have to read the book.

I give this book three out of four onions. This book is rich in American history and is a commonly read book for older grade schoolers. It also has a nice mixture of romance, politics and suspense. It really is a good read especially for young adults.

USBooks Conn

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Guest Review: The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY TO THOSE IN THE UNITED STATES!

The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever reviewed by Rainy Day Reviews.

State – Massachusetts

Entertainment Weekly says – “Cheever’s glorious 1957 debut novel about a decidedly unconventional Massachusetts family was an instant classic, combining both humor and pathos in equal doses. It was also the first Book of the Month club pick that used the F-word.”

Synopsis:

When The Wapshot Chronicle was published in 1957, John Cheever was already recognized as a writer of superb short stories. But The Wapshot Chronicle, which won the 1958 National Book Award, established him as a major novelist.

Based in part on Cheever’s adolescence in New England, the novel follows the destinies of the impecunious and wildly eccentric Wapshots of St. Botolphs, a quintessential Massachusetts fishing village. Here are the stories of Captain Leander Wapshot, venerable sea dog and would-be suicide; of his licentious older son, Moses; and of Moses’ adoring and errant younger brother, Coverly. Tragic and funny, ribald and splendidly picaresque, The Wapshot Chronicle is a family narrative in the tradition of Trollope, Dickens, and Henry James.

WapshotChronicleReview:

I was hesitant to read this book even though the author is obviously talented, because the title threw me for a loop. However, the author proves himself to be quite the eloquent and talented writer. You can tell the timeframe of this book by not only the syntax but by how and why Cheever framed the story.

There were themes within this book that were very relatable to any family in this story. Even in today’s modern and fast paced world, and I think that takes some talent when this story was not written for today’s world because our world today was only thought about futuristically. I enjoyed the fact that Cheever gives the reader a chance to get to know the characters within the story without giving it all away and instead lets us read the characters and learn about them and what makes them an individual through our reading.

I was surprised to see quite a bit of lust and fantasizing in the story, but it wasn’t graphic. But I also found that perhaps lust was equated to love in this story. Because of this, whenever a person was fulfilled in their love, I found myself smiling. The older wealthy ladies on the other hand, Honora for example, I found a little irritating. Their way of thinking is almost the exact opposite of mine and because of this I would find it difficult and challenging to be around them on a daily basis.

I would recommend this story, not simply because it is a classic but, because the story between Captain Leander Wapshot and his sons as well as Lender’s diary, make this a very interesting read.

USBooks Mass

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Guest Review: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Reviewed by C.H. Armstrong Books & Blog

lonesome-dove-brookline-july-2012When I learned I would have the pleasure of reviewing Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, I quite literally did a fist pump of victory. Simply stated, this is one of my all-time favorite novels, and one of the very few I would consider reading more than once. For that reason, I’ll not beat around the bush: I enthusiastically give this novel a full 5-star review. If I could give it more than 5-stars, I most certainly would.

So what’s it about?

I asked this question of those who originally recommended it to me, and the answer I received didn’t inspire enthusiastic thoughts: It’s the story about a bunch of old cowboys who go on a cattle drive.

Huh? How is that even remotely interesting? Why would I want to read about a cattle drive?

The answer is this: Just do it. I promise: You won’t be sorry.

Lonesome Dove is about a cattle drive, but it’s more than that. It’s about the strong ties of friendship between two former Texas Rangers, Captain August “Gus” McCrae and Captain Woodrow F. Call, two men who couldn’t be more different. While Call is stoic and serious, McCrae is often seen as more laid back and carefree. But the truth is that the two men, for all of their differences, are like yen and yang or two sides of the same coin. It’s almost a love story without the romance element. They complement each other and, while they seem to have nothing at all in common, they are simply not the same without the other.

Besides the main characters is a series of supporting cast members who round out the story…a 17 year old boy, the son of a prostitute, who suspects that Call might be his father; a young prostitute, Lorie, who just wants to get out of town; and the reprehensible coward, Jake Spoon, who abandons her and leaves her defenseless against the elements and those who would do her harm.

In truth, I sat down to read this book because I wanted to silence someone who insisted I read it…and so I talked my best friend (700 miles away) into reading it with me, just so I would have some company in what I thought would be a grueling read. To my surprise, it was action-packed, funny, heartbreaking, and truly one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Trust me – you don’t want to miss this book. If you read nothing else this year, pick up a copy of Lonesome Dove. You won’t be sorry!

Texas US of Books

Guest Post & Giveaway: American Red Cross Heroines by Cat Gardiner, Author of A Moment Forever

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If you visited in the last month or so, you’ll have heard of Cat Gardiner, a voice who was new to me in the world of Austen-inspired fiction.  What really drew me to her writing was her love of WWII-era fiction and her thorough research for historical fiction.  She takes research to a whole new level.  She creates playlists for her books, Pinterest boards, and her and her husband often attend and participate in re-enactments!

Her latest novel, A Moment Forever, is a sweeping epic in which Juliana Martel is bequeathed a home that looks like a time capsule from 1942 and the mysterious love affair of her great uncle.  Martel embarks on a journalistic journey to uncover the past, which could end up healing herself.

Read more about the book on GoodReads or, better yet, buy it!  It’s sure to be a winner!  It’s available on Kindle or in paperback at Amazon.

Without further ado, please welcome Cat Gardiner.

Hi Serena & Friends! Thank you for inviting me back at Savvy Verse & Wit with my debut WWII romance novel, A Moment Forever (AMF). It’s swell to be here! Some of your readers who know me have recently learned―upon my own outing―my big secret: I’m a WWII Living Historian.

“A what? Is Cat really that old?”

No! I’m a WWII reenactor alongside my husband with the 1 st Infantry Division Reenactment Group out of Bradenton, Florida. He wears the GI combat uniform and I wear the frock and snood ―or hat― depending on the season. Together with the other “boys” of the 1 st I.D, we educate the public at various events and, on occasion, I’ve been seen hanging on my sweetheart’s arm, swooning after 23 years of marriage. I do so love a man in uniform. (In case you’re curious: Visit Here)

When considering this guest article, I, of course, wanted to discuss some relevant theme within AMF, but there were many. So I thought I’d share with you my own 1940s Experience in reenactment and how writing AMF has infused my commitment with new ideas!

This past Memorial Day (AMF’s book birthday,) the third year at a local museum where the 1 st I.D had encamped, and as the norm, I accompanied the men. Nothing more than their informative groupie, looking pretty (I hoped) in the bivouac, I reflected on one of AMF’s main characters and how her wartime service could be one that I could emulate at these events. I absolutely love engaging with the public and sharing with them a little about the home front experience and explaining the various military personal items in the display cases. On occasion, I’m even asked to pose in my vintage apparel and discuss gloves, hats, and handkerchiefs! But at this last event, I really got to thinking, “Can I teach more?” And that was when I considered A Moment Forever as my guide.

You see, Lillian Renner, our heroine’s “Irish Twin” volunteered locally with the American Red Cross’s Motor Corps. However, after training in late 1942 for the newly created Clubmobile service, she left for England and, although the service ended in 1945, she didn’t return back to the states until 1946. Personally, I had never heard of the clubmobile when I began writing the novel in 2013, but as research goes when putting together a saga such as AMF, you follow the lead-and it led me to WWII’s “Doughgirls”. In the following Korean and Vietnam wars, they’d come to be further loved and known as Donut Dollies.

Sitting in that hot canvas tent this past Memorial Day, I thought of Lillian and the other two girls driving their “club on wheels” ―a 2 ½ ton truck―from, at first, airfields and docks in Great Britain, and then four days after D-Day, they began their trek with the troops across Europe. These ARC clubmobilers also served along the very dangerous India/China/Burma front. Wherever the boys were, so were the doughgirls. They traveled behind and received their assignments from the army, serving the troops resting from battle at the frontlines. I could reenact this, I thought. I want to. I have to. If I had lived then, I would have done it! All I need now is a truck, a uniform, and all the qualities those girls had. Bravery being the first and foremost.

“The clubmobile consisted of a good-sized kitchen with a built-in doughnut machine. A primus stove was installed for heating water for coffee, which was prepared in 50-cup urns. On one side of the kitchen area, there was a counter and a large flap which opened out for serving coffee and doughnuts. In the back one-third of the clubmobile, was a lounge with a built-in bench on either side (which could be converted to sleeping bunks, if necessary), a victrola with loud speakers, a large selection of up-to- date music records, and paperback books.” – Official website clubmobiles.org

“The clubmobile consisted of a good-sized kitchen with a built-in doughnut machine. A primus stove was installed for heating water for coffee, which was prepared in 50-cup urns. On one side of the kitchen area, there was a counter and a large flap which opened out for serving coffee and doughnuts. In the back one-third of the clubmobile, was a lounge with a built-in bench on either side (which could be converted to sleeping bunks, if necessary), a victrola with loud speakers, a large selection of up-to- date music records, and paperback books.” – Official website clubmobiles.org

Although the concept of bringing doughnuts to the boys in battle began with the Salvation Army during WWI, in 1942, pretty girls between 25 and 35 years of age, trained with the American Red Cross. In Washington, DC they learned to dance, play poker, shoot the breeze, and make coffee and doughnuts―from a truck. What they couldn’t prepare for was the reality of war when fliers landed, returning from a mission. Nor could these American girls ready themselves for the tears―and yes there were tears―when battle-weary GIs saw in them SO MUCH MORE than just “a” woman from back home. To them, they were home; they represented the girl next door, their sisters, their sweethearts who they missed. The cigarettes and magazines, the music and candy were life savers, but the smiles and compassion, the attentive ears, laughter, and the dances were soul savers. These trailblazing clubmobiler girls were so much more than ARC volunteers offering hot coffee and doughnuts. Everything from the truck was free, but the shoulder she offered was priceless. Resting upon that shoulder was the power to restore the man and his humanity, particularly when the clubmobile was there at POW camp liberations.

Clubmobile Airfield

Finally recognized by the United States Senate in 2012 for their self-sacrifice and morale boosting efforts, these girls, oftentimes slept in the truck. They wore special field uniforms and if attached to an artillery unit, withstood the shelling. They also endured their own hardships, the homesickness and the heavy hearts they carried into their solitude after a long day of service to our fighting boys.

So, two weeks ago, after pondering these heroes, I told my husband to reach out to a few of his military vehicle collector friends and put out the word: find my wife either a truck we can convert or an actual clubmobile. Of course, I said it tongue and cheek, but he does have such a friend with big, deep pockets who loves this stuff. The guy even has three or four WWII tanks! What’s a little ole’ GMC 2-ton truck for a modern girl wearing a snood?

It’s my dream to be AMF’s Lillian Renner attached to the 1 st Infantry Division, attending reenactments and selling doughnuts to visitors. All proceeds would go to The Honor Flight or another worthy veteran cause. I’d have a uniform specially made and tell the stories of heroic girls such as Captain Elizabeth Richardson (see book: Slinging Doughnuts for the Boys) and tales such as this former volunteer:

I absolutely adored learning about this little-known piece of ARC history, and I’m delighted that Serena has given me an opportunity to tell you about these brave women who served during all the wars. Thank you!

Thanks, Cat, for the wonderful guest post! Readers, that’s not all, enter to win some swag below!

Check out her blog tour:

 

Giveaway!

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For domestic entries, I’d like to offer a special swag giveaway, which represents key themes within A Moment Forever.

  • An e-book A Moment Forever
  • Glass blown swans statue
  • Bath and Body Works gardenia hand cream
  • Bath and Body Works gardenia scented candle
  • A Moment Forever bookmarkDSC03877

Don’t think we forgot our international commenters!  You’ll be entered to win an ebook of A Moment Forever!

DEADLINE June 30, 2016.

GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED

Guest Excerpt: Love & Friendship by Whit Stillman

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Whit Stillman has written a companion novel to the recent Austen movie adaptation, Love & Friendship, which entered theaters in May.

Praise for the movie adaptation:

  • “FLAT-OUT-HILARIOUS. Jane Austen has never been funnier.” – The Telegraph
  • “Whit Stillman and English novelist Jane Austen make for a delightful pairing in this comedy of manners.” – The Star.com
  • “Kate Beckinsale magnetizes the screen.” – Variety

Love and Friendship Wit Stillman 2016About the Book:

Whit Stillman has taken Austen’s never-finished epistolary novella, Lady Susan, reimagined it as a straight narrative, and added the hilarious new character of Rufus, Susan’s apologist nephew, who aims to clear Susan’s good name come hell or high water (even if he is doing it from “the ignoble abode” of debtors’ prison ). Despite many indications to the contrary, Rufus insists that Susan is, “the kindest, most delightful woman anyone could know, a shining ornament to our Society and Nation.” Rufus then appends his earnest tale with a collection of his aunt’s letters, which he claims have been altered by Austen to cast the estimable Lady Susan in a bad light.

Impossibly beautiful, disarmingly witty, and completely self-absorbed, Lady Susan Vernon, is both the heart and the thorn of Love & Friendship. Recently widowed, with a daughter who’s coming of age as quickly as their funds are dwindling, Lady Susan makes it her mission to find them wealthy husbands——and fast.

But when her attempts to secure their futures result only in the wrath of a prominent conquest’s wife and the title of “most accomplished coquette in England,” Lady Susan must rethink her strategy.

Today, we have an excerpt from Stillman’s rendition of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan.

Mr. Reginald DeCourcy, Confounded

Returned early from hunting with the Lymans in Sussex, while shaking off the journey’s chill, Reginald DeCourcy inquired about his sister’s celebrated guest: “Is she as beautiful as they say? I confess to great curiosity to know this Lady and see first-hand her bewitching powers.”

“You worry me, Reginald.”

“No need for worry. It is only that I understand Lady Susan to possess a degree of captivating deceit which might be pleasing to detect.”

“You truly worry me.”

“Good evening!”

Lady Susan, descending the staircase, stopped to greet them, with Mrs. Cross just behind her. Reginald and Catherine looked strangely surprised.

“What charming expressions!”

Catherine recovered first: “Susan, let me introduce my brother, Reginald DeCourcy. Reginald, may I present Frederic Vernon’s widow, Lady Susan, and her friend Mrs. Cross.”

After a polite nod to Mrs. Cross, Reginald addressed Susan: “I am pleased to make your acquaintance — your renown precedes you.”

“I’m afraid the allusion escapes me,” she replied coolly. “Your reputation as an ornament to our Society.”

“That surprises me. Since the great sadness of my husband’s death I have lived in nearly perfect isolation. To better know his family, and further remove myself from Society, I came to Churchill — not to make new acquaintance of a frivolous sort. Though of course I am pleased to know my sister’s relations.”

Lady Susan and the ladies continued to the Gold Room, leaving Reginald free to consider her remarks.

* * * * * * * * *

Over the following weeks and days Lady Susan and Reginald DeCourcy found themselves often in each other’s company, to such a degree that it seemed this might have been their conscious choice. They strolled through the Churchill shrubbery and rode horseback up its downs.

Wherever they were within Catherine Vernon’s vicinity they could count on being spied upon. Every garden walk or chance conversation she monitored with mounting suspicion. In her mind she was only seeking to protect her younger brother’s heart from a wicked temptress. Certainly Reginald DeCourcy was in many ways a callow youth, but did he require his sister’s protection? Those whose malice is most apparent to others are often precisely those most convinced of their own virtue. Their machinations are ever in defence of worthy objectives, or the prevention of The Bad. But, in truth, for the Catherine Vernons of this world, the spreading of worry and discord is their true delight. An expression has it that “misery loves company.” Of its truth I am not certain but “misery-causing” most definitely loves accompaniment. In this spirit — that of sounding alarm and provoking discord — she wrote to her mother at Parklands:

. . . I am, indeed, provoked at the artifice of this unprincipled Woman. What stronger proof of her dangerous abilities can be given than this perversion of Reginald’s judgement, which when he entered the house was so against her? I did not wonder at his being much struck by the gentleness & delicacy of her Manners; but when he mentions her of late it has been in terms of extraordinary praise; & yesterday he actually said that he could not be surprised at any effect produced on the heart of Man by such Loveliness & such Abilities; & when I lamented, in reply, her notorious history, he observed that whatever might have been her errors, they were to be imputed to her neglected Education & early Marriage, & that she was altogether a wonderful Woman…

Mrs. Cross, who also noticed the time Lady Susan and Reginald spent in each other’s company — she sometimes paused from her tasks to observe the two walking in Churchill’s gardens — was not so arrogant as to presume to know their private feelings, let alone cast malicious aspersions.

“I take it you are finding Mr. DeCourcy’s society more pleasurable,” she lightly observed as Lady Susan returned from one such outing.

“To some extent . . . At first his conversation betrayed a sauciness and familiarity which is my aversion — but since I’ve found a quality of callow idealism which rather interests me. When I’ve inspired him with a greater respect than his sister’s kind offices have allowed, he might, in fact, be an agreeable flirt.”

“He’s handsome, isn’t he?”

Susan considered the question.

“Yes, but in a calf-like way — not like Manwaring . . . Yet I must confess that there’s a certain pleasure in making a person, pre-determined to dislike, instead acknowledge one’s superiority . . . How delightful it will be to humble the pride of these pompous DeCourcys!”

Check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour:

THE LOVE & FRIENDSHIP JANEITE BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE: 

  • June 13                  AustenBlog (Interview)
  • June 14                  The Calico Critic (Review)         
  • June 15                  Diary of Eccentric (Excerpt)      
  • June 16                  Laura’s Reviews (Review)
  • June 17                  My Jane Austen Book Club (Review)
  • June 17                  Confessions of a Book Addict (Excerpt)        
  • June 20                  Austenesque Reviews (Review)
  • June 20                  Austenprose (Interview)                      
  • June 21                  So Little Time…So Much to Read (Excerpt)
  • June 21                  Luxury Reading (Review)                    
  • June 22                  Just Jane 1813 (Review)                                         
  • June 23                  Savvy Verse & Wit (Excerpt)                         
  • June 24                  Austenprose (Review) 

GIVEAWAY WINNERS ANNOUNCED!

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