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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 Review & Giveaway: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Welcome to the halfway point of the United States of books! We have now reached review number twenty-five and six months of reviews. I can’t thank the team of reviewers enough and our fantastic readers. To say thanks to you all, we are giving away a $25.00 Amazon gift card for 1st place and then a copy of any of the US of Books books (winners choice) Kindle or physical copy (INT) as long as Book Depository delivers, for 2nd place.

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To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Review by Laura at 125Pages.com
4 ½ Stars

tokillamockingbirdSynopsis:

Harper Lee’s Pulitzer prize-winning masterwork of honor and injustice in the deep south—and the heroism of one man in the face of blind and violent hatred. One of the best-loved stories of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird has been translated into more than forty languages, sold more than thirty million copies worldwide, served as the basis for an enormously popular motion picture, and was voted one of the best novels of the twentieth century by librarians across the country. A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of- age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father-a crusading local lawyer-risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.

Review:

This week takes us to Alabama with To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. EW says – “Forget the dubious sequel. Lee’s exceptional work is a perfectly contained miracle about the struggle for justice in a system built to destroy it. From Birmingham to Tuskegee, Alabama was a burning center of racial conflict, and this novel takes place right on the outskirts of that crucible.”

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee is one of the first “grown-up” books I remember reading. It was the summer before 7th grade and I was a precocious twelve-year- old. I loved that the person telling the story was a smart young girl and that she was so very different from other book narrators that I had been exposed to. I read it at least once a year and loved when it was on the book list in sophomore year, as it made the book report easy to do. As I got older, I stopped reading it as often, and as I picked it up this time realized it had been at least ten years since I had last picked it up. As I cracked the cover on my old worn copy, it was like stepping back in time to a period in my life that had long since passed.

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

To Kill A Mockingbird is a complex story of a young girl, six-year- old Jean Louise Finch (Scout), who lives with her lawyer and widower father Atticus and her older brother Jem. Scout and Jem, together with the neighbor boy Dill, are fascinated with their reclusive neighbor “Boo” Radley, a recluse that is never seen. They begin to spin tales about him and try to entice him outside. Meanwhile their father is assigned a case defending a black man, Tom Robinson, who has been accused of raping a young white woman. The two stories weave together in a powerful tale of race relations in a small southern town coming out of the Depression. Harper Lee crafted a tale of morality and family that still resonates today.

“As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it—whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.”

Love and murder, racism and redemption, all combine to make To Kill A Mockingbird a classic that will remain read for years to come. The way that Harper Lee combined wide-eyed youthful curiosity with the recollections of a grown woman make this a very interesting read. The style of the story telling is unique and matches the very detailed plot. The world created and described by Scout is vivid and real, and I could picture the scenes unfolding quite clearly.

Now that I have rediscovered Lee and Mockingbird, I regret ever leaving her world. A Pulitzer Prize winner, To Kill A Mockingbird is a book that well deserves its accolades as well as its criticisms. It does feature many difficult topics and language that in today’s world is considered unacceptable. I believe stories such as this still need to be told as we need to remember what used to be commonplace. I will now try to plan an annual re-read to return to this fascinating world. And, as said so well by Scout “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

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United States of Books: The Betsy-Tacy Treasury by Maud Hart Lovelace

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 736 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Betsy-Tacy Treasury by Maud Hart Lovelace, which is the first four books in this 10 book series, was praised by Entertainment Weekly as “a rosy remembrance of a region already known for its niceness.”  My daughter and I read these together over many weeks, reading little more than a chapter every couple of evenings.

Betsy-Tacy is the first book in the series, and young readers are introduced to five-year-old Betsy who lives in Deep Valley, Minnesota.  She lives in a small mill town at the end of Hill Street, but she’s soon to have a new neighbor, as a new family moves into the house across the street.  My daughter was thrilled to hear about a girl her age, and she was even more excited when I told her that there were pencil-like sketches inside for her to visualize what we were reading.  Transitioning from only picture books to chapter books can be hard, especially for kids who love visuals.  Betsy soon has a new friend, Tacy, and they share big imaginary adventures together before her baby sister arrives and before they even meet Tib, whose family is from Milwaukee and live in the chocolate-colored house they covet.  Entertainment Weekly‘s assessment of a “rosy” picture of a “nice” little town is highly accurate, and it’s clear that this story takes place some time ago before many worried about strangers, criminals, or had cars, cellphones, and televisions.  Imagination was a commodity that children needed in large supply.  This is not to say that Betsy, Tacy, and Tib do not get into trouble.

Rating: Cinquain

Betsy-Tacy and Tib is the second book, and the girls are now eight years old.  It becomes clear that even though these books were written during a time when women were supposed to be mothers and wives, these girls have bigger dreams.  Betsy is a storyteller and she seems to have dreams of writing books, while Tacy wants to be a mother to a number of kids, just as her mother is.  Tib is torn.  To be an architect/engineer, mother, dancer, or something else.  When kids think about what they want to be when they grow up, their dreams are big and seem to be out of reach.  They are fantasies, like many of the stories these girls create in this book for Tib’s Aunt Dolly and themselves.  My daughter is riveted by these books and the fun and trouble these girls get into, from visiting the Mirror Palace to cutting chunks of their hair off to put in lockets.  These books remind me of the good old days when dreams were interchangeable and wonderful.

Rating: Cinquain

Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill is the third book and the girls are now age 10.  It’s great how accurate Maud Hart Lovelace captures the competition between young kids when it comes to celebrating birthdays and feeling left out when others have birthday parties and they do not.  But, ultimately, everything turns out well between Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, only to have a quarrel between Betsy and Tacy and their older sisters over who will become queen.  This book has a lot in it about conflict resolution, which younger kids can definitely use as friendships grow and change, as well as in their relationships with siblings.  My daughter enjoyed this one, but was a little unsure of the hubbub about kings and queens, even though she is an avid fan of princesses.  I liked the historical details about the Syrian immigrants and foreign affairs involving the King of Spain, as well as a tidbit about the current president being Theodore Roosevelt.  However, there are some “old-fashioned” ideas about immigrants and other cultures here that might need further explanation.

Rating: Quatrain

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown is the fourth book, and at age 12, Betsy, Tacy, and Tib are a little too old for my daughter.  She lost interest in this book series with this book, as their adventures downtown and their prodding of Winona to take them to see the play Uncle Tom’s Cabin did not resonate with her.  She’s more interested in make-believe games and stories, and while these girls act as girls probably do at this age, manipulating a classmate is not a lesson I’d like my daughter to learn.  It’s also interesting from an adult perspective to see how times have changed — a prized possession for one of the girls is a beer calendar!  But here, we also see Betsy grow up and take an adventure to the new library on her own.  While she apprehensive, she’s happy to be on her own and she thrives in the books she finds and reads, but also in the attention she seems to receive from others about her own writing.  It’s wonderful to see her parents support her writing/art.  It’s a lesson that is often not passed on today, as kids are tested and too focused on subjects that will net them lucrative careers.

Rating: Tercet

Average rating for all 4 books: 4.25

About the Author:

Maud Hart Lovelace was born on April 25, 1892, in Mankato, Minnesota. She was the middle of three children born to Thomas and Stella (Palmer) Hart. Her sister, Kathleen, was three years older, and her other sister, Helen, was six years younger. “That dear family” was the model for the fictional Ray family. Maud’s birthplace was a small house on a hilly residential street several blocks above Mankato’s center business district. The street, Center Street, dead-ended at one of the town’s many hills. When Maud was a few months old, the Hart family moved two blocks up the street to 333 Center.

Shortly before Maud’s fifth birthday a “large merry Irish family” moved into the house directly across the street. Among its many children was a girl Maud’s age, Frances, nicknamed Bick, who was to be Maud’s best friend and the model for Tacy Kelly. Tib’s character was based on another playmate, Marjorie (Midge) Gerlach, who lived nearby in a large house designed by her architect father. Maud, Bick, and Midge became lifelong friends. Maud once stated that the three couldn’t have been closer if they’d been sisters.

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Guest Review: The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington

magamb★ ★ ★ ½

… the grandeur of the Amberson family was instantly conspicuous as a permanent thing: it was impossible to doubt that the Ambersons were entrenched, in their nobility and riches, behind polished and glittering barriers which were as solid as they were brilliant, and would last.

If only, if only …

How do you enjoy a 300+ page book with a protagonist who is an arrogant, petulant, jackwad with no obviously redeeming qualities for the first 300 pages? Well, it’s tough. But if it’s as well The Magnificent Ambersons, it’s possible.

Sure, that’s a little bit of a spoiler — George Amberson Minafer does develop a couple of redeeming qualities in the last 30 pages or so. But you know what? The book is almost a century old, you’ve had plenty of time to read it if you’re worried about spoilers.

The plot is straightforward: At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, an impossibly rich family produces an arrogant twit as the only heir. Unbeknownst to him, the economy is changing and the family is beginning to fall on hard times. Too proud to admit it, they continue living as if they have all the money in the world. Meanwhile, the twit falls for a girl who’s humble, kind, and wise. For some inexplicable reason, she falls for him, too. Things happen, they don’t get together and the bottom falls out on the Ambersons. There’s family drama, too — between the financial crisis, health problems, love, old flames, and scandal, there’s plenty to entertain a reader (if they can put up with younger George).

Most of the characters are pretty thin — there are exceptions (George’s mother, aunt, and non-ambassador uncle, are the best) — but even the developed ones aren’t as fleshed out as we would have them today. But it fits with Tarkington’s overall style. It’s very, very difficult to like most of the people on these pages. So the ones you’d normally sort-of like, you end up really enjoying.

What makes this book work is Tarkington’s style. It’s hard to describe — highly detailed (for example, there’s so much attention paid to clothing and fashion that you’d almost think Gail Carriger had a hand in this), with a dry sense of humor, and plenty of cultural commentary. He changes his focus repeatedly: he’ll jump months or years at at time, and summarize events from those months in a paragraph or less and then cover a single evening in 15 pages, so he can highlight what matters and ignore the rest. But better than the plot (or characters), you get lines like this: “Some day the laws of glamour must be discovered, because they are so important that the world would be wiser now if Sir Isaac Newton had been hit on the head, not by an apple, but by a young lady.” How do you not keep reading for things like that?

Tarkington takes time out from the narrative to say:

Youth cannot imagine romance apart from youth. That is why the roles of the heroes and heroines of plays are given by the managers to the most youthful actors they can find among the competent. Both middle-aged people and young people enjoy a play about young lovers; but only middle-aged people will tolerate a play about middle-aged lovers; young people will not come to see such a play, because, for them, middle-aged lovers are a joke– not a very funny one. Therefore, to bring both the middle-aged people and the young people into his house, the manager makes his romance as young as he can. Youth will indeed be served, and its profound instinct is to be not only scornfully amused but vaguely angered by middle-age romance.

I assume that captures the spirit of the late 19th early 20th Century — if you take out the word “play”; and put in “film” or “show” it does a pretty good job of capturing the spirit of the early 21st Century, too. Which is a pretty nice achievement for a piece of writing.

The book isn’t a chronicle of the changes to the American culture/economy due to industrialization, it’s a family drama. But if you pay attention to what’s going around the lovebirds, cads and gossips, you can see those changes taking place. It’s a temptation for someone to cheat a little when writing historical fiction and make characters seem smarter than they are by knowing how predictions would actually turn out, Takington’s not above falling into that. Note what Eugene Morgan, early designer of automobiles says:

“With all their speed forward [automobiles] may be a step backward in civilization– that is, in spiritual civilization. It may be that they will not add to the beauty of the world, nor to the life of men’s souls. I am not sure. But automobiles have come, and they bring a greater change in our life than most of us suspect. They are here, and almost all outward things are going to be different because of what they bring. They are going to alter war, and they are going to alter peace. I think men’s minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles; just how, though, I could hardly guess. But you can’t have the immense outward changes that they will cause without some inward ones, and it may be that George is right, and that the spiritual alteration will be bad for us. Perhaps, ten or twenty years from now, if we can see the inward change in men by that time, I shouldn’t be able to defend the gasoline engine, but would have to agree with him that automobiles ‘had no business to being invented.'”

That was 98 years ago, think what he’d say now about the automobile’s impact on culture (he’d probably cite James Howard Kunstler’s The Geography of Nowhere).

A dull(ish) story, full of unsympathetic characters acting foolishly (on the whole), with a quaint writing style that somehow makes it all work. I can’t explain it, I’m just glad I read it. You just might feel the same way, give it a shot.

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United States of Books: Drown by Junot Díaz

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 208 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Drown by Junot Díaz, which Entertainment Weekly selected to represent New York, is not set in New York.  It is set in New Jersey.  In most cases, the neighborhoods in New Jersey can be transposed over those in New York City.  However, given that the young boy views a trip across the bridge as a trip to another world, these New Jersey neighborhoods are unique in terms of how many residents are Dominican and how those residents interact with other minorities.  EW said that the “book of stories stands out for its depiction of immigrants striving for their own versions of the American dream,” which is an accurate description.

There are 10 stories in this collection, and Díaz never shies away from the darkness that can envelop an immigrant’s life, especially when jobs and money are scarce and discrimination is around many corners.  A young immigrant boy must come to terms with his new life in the United States, after spending his early years feeling abandoned by his father.  Living an impoverished life with his mother and brother in the Dominican Republic, waiting for money from their father or even word from him, was somewhat easier because of its familiarity.  In the United States, these children must learn to live with a father they barely know, and it is a jarring experience.

“The uniforms Mami could do nothing about but with the mascotas she improvised, sewing together sheets of loose paper she had collected from her friends.  We each had one pencil and if we lost that pencil, like I once did, we had to stay home from school until Mami could borrow another one for us.” (pg. 71, “Aguantando”)

The immigrants in these stories are from the Dominican Republic, but even that does not summarize the power of these tales.  A family is fractured by a man with big dreams, but even those dreams are not enough to keep his focus most of the time.  One day after pledging his devotion to his wife and children, he takes his family’s money and flies to the United States, leaving his wife and two sons behind.  They live a squalid life to say the least, and while they make the best of it with the girls and the friends they have on the dirty streets, they know that there is something missing, and in some cases even blame themselves for the empty space.

Drown by Junot Díaz is gritty.  There are dark alleys, drug deals, fights, and sexual promiscuity, but there also is a desolation as these immigrants find that they are without an anchor in American but unable to return comfortably to their former lives.  Immigration can provide opportunity, but it also can provide paths that are unsavory and dark, leading to loss and hardship, similar to those left behind in their home countries.  These stories seek to shed light on the darker side of immigration and the breakup of families in search of an American dream.

Rating: Quatrain

About the Author:

Junot Díaz was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Drown; The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and This Is How You Lose Her, a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist. He is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, PEN/Malamud Award, Dayton Literary Peace Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship, and PEN/O. Henry Award. A graduate of Rutgers College, Díaz is currently the fiction editor at Boston Review and the Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Guest Review: Doc by Mary Doria Russell


Kansas U.S. of Books — Review by Elisha at Rainy Day Reviews 

Entertainment Weekly says – “Set in the saloons of Dodge City in 1878 before the shoot-out at the O.K. Corral, this murder mystery paints Doc Holiday as a tragic hero and gambler, bringing one of the state’s most legendary events and personages to life.”

Synopsis from GoodReads:

Born to the life of a Southern gentleman, Dr. John Henry Holliday arrives on the Texas frontier hoping that the dry air and sunshine of the West will restore him to health. Soon, with few job prospects, Doc Holliday is gambling professionally with his partner, Mária Katarina Harony, a high-strung, classically educated Hungarian whore. In search of high-stakes poker, the couple hits the saloons of Dodge City. And that is where the unlikely friendship of Doc Holliday and a fearless lawman named Wyatt Earp begins– before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral links their names forever in American frontier mythology when neither man wanted fame or deserved notoriety

Review:

I have to say, I had heard of this book, was told about this book, but never read the book. Until now. The synopsis was intriguing yet kept an air of mystery. I was even more intrigued and excited to read this book after finding out it was based off of a true story. I love a good non-fiction read, and this did not disappoint. Set in western Texas during the frontier, Doc Holliday makes his name known through gambling with his co-conspirators. Then, there’s a twist among all the other twists in the story…a murder. Or was it a murder?

I loved the thick plot, the western touch, the “old days” feel, the relationships…especially with Doc’s “special” on again-off again friend. I found this story very interesting and it did captivate my attention. I was worried it wouldn’t because I am not a fan of a lot of westerns, I am a but picky in that area. But all in all, it was really good and I would definitely recommend this story.

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Guest Review: The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey

Review by Laura at 125Pages.

Rating: 1 star

EdwardAbbeyTheMonkeyWrenchGangGoodReads Synopsis:

Ed Abbey called The Monkey Wrench Gang, his 1975 novel, a “comic extravaganza.” Some readers have remarked that the book is more a comic book than a real novel, and it’s true that reading this incendiary call to protect the American wilderness requires more than a little of the old willing suspension of disbelief.

The story centers on Vietnam veteran George Washington Hayduke III, who returns to the desert to find his beloved canyons and rivers threatened by industrial development. On a rafting trip down the Colorado River, Hayduke joins forces with feminist saboteur Bonnie Abbzug, wilderness guide Seldom Seen Smith, and billboard torcher Doc Sarvis, M.D., and together they wander off to wage war on the big yellow machines, on dam builders and road builders and strip miners.

As they do, his characters voice Abbey’s concerns about wilderness preservation (“Hell of a place to lose a cow,” Smith thinks to himself while roaming through the canyonlands of southern Utah. “Hell of a place to lose your heart. Hell of a place… to lose. Period”). Moving from one improbable situation to the next, packing more adventure into the space of a few weeks than most real people do in a lifetime, the motley gang puts fear into the hearts of their enemies, laughing all the while. It’s comic, yes, and required reading for anyone who has come to love the desert.

Review:

Today we visit Utah with The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey. EW says – “Abbey’s tale of four ecological activists seeking to destroy the Glen Canyon Dam became a primer for other green-minded saboteurs.”

The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey is touted as a comic look at social justice warriors. True environmentalists that strive to bring the land back to its natural state. Um, no. That is not at all the book I read. What I read was a book steeped in misogyny, homophobia, stereotyping and stupidity. From the derision of Native Americans, to showing the only Mormon member of the group as a polygamist, this book played everyone as a buffoon.

The plot was a grand look at what a bored drunk man will concoct when he gives no thought to others. George is painted as a lover of the natural state who is upset by the creeping industrialism on the desert he calls home. He decides that action must be taken, extreme action. Because blowing up bridges is cool but littering is just fine – “Of course I litter the public highway. Every chance I get. After all, it’s not the beer cans that are ugly; it’s the highway that is ugly.”  The writing was a mishmash of clichés and was difficult to read at times due to the constant changing of tone and pace. The world built was also difficult to navigate as locations moved frequently and at times I was unsure what state they were even in. The emotions and the characters were also all over the place. Everyone but the “gang” was painted as ignorant and useless and it became quite grating.

Some books get better with age and become classics. The Monkey Wrench Gang is not one of those books. It was a draining experience to read it and I cannot understand why it is considered by many to be so good. It has a 4.3 star rating on Amazon but I cannot fathom how. An example of the comedic showcases, to me, what was once thought great, but I just see it as super lowbrow.

“All this violence,” Doc said. “We are a law-abiding people.” “What’s more American than violence?” Hayduke wanted to know. “Violence, it’s asmerican as pizza pie.” “Chop suey,” said Bonnie. “Chile con carne.” “Bagels and lox.”

As for the connection to Utah, I did not really see it as an overall. Utah was not mentioned until 60% into the book and then as more of a joke (see the polygamist). Sadly my home state of Arizona fielded most of the action with New Mexico coming in second and Utah as third. The Glen Canyon Dam, the featured target, is also in Arizona not Utah, so again, I have to wonder if the EW staff read the books before placing them in the states.

The five players are Dr. and Mrs. Sarvis, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and their communal probation officer, a young fellow named Greenspan, who is a relative newcomer to the state of Utah. (Newcomers are always welcome in the Beehive State but are advised to set their watches back fifty years when entering.)

Favorite lines – “The river in its measureless sublimity rolled softly by, whispering of time. Which heals, they say, all. But does it? The stars looked kindly down. A lie. A wind in the willows suggested sleep.”

Biggest cliché – I will save you even if you do not want saving.

Have you read The Monkey Wrench Gang, or added it to your TBR?

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See all of the United States of Books here.

Guest Review: Close Range by Annie Proulx

The United States of Books: the State of Wyoming

Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx
Reviewed by: Teri at Sportochick’s Musings

Book: ★ ★
Narrators: ★ ★ ★ ★

CloseRange~ SYNOPSIS ~

Annie Proulx’s masterful language and fierce love of Wyoming are evident in this collection of stories about loneliness, quick violence, and wrong kinds of love. In “The Mud Below”, a rodeo rider’s obsession marks the deepening fissures between his family life and self-imposed isolation. In “The Half-Skinned Steer”, an elderly fool drives west to the ranch he grew up on for his brother’s funeral, and dies a mile from home. In “Brokeback Mountain”, the difficult affair between two cowboys survives everything but the world’s violent intolerance. These are stories of desperation, hard times, and unlikely elation, set in a landscape both brutal and magnificent. Enlivened by folk tales, flights of fancy, and details of ranch and rural work, they juxtapose Wyoming’s traditional character and attitudes, confrontation of tough problems, prejudice, persistence in the face of difficulty, with the more benign values of the new west.

This collection includes:

  • “The Half-Skinned Steer”, read by Bruce Greenwood
  • “A Lonely Coast”, read by Frances Fisher
  • “People in Hell Just Want a Drink of Water”, read by Campbell Scott
  • “The Mud Below”, read by Bruce Greenwood
  • “The Blood Bay”, read by Campbell Scott
  • “The Bunch-Grass Edge of the World”, read by Frances Fisher
  • “Brokeback Mountain”, read by Campbell Scott

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~ REVIEW ~

The best part of the book as far as the stories go was Brokeback Mountain. A movie was from that story and it won 3 Oscars. I never saw the movie so I can’t give a review on the differences between the two though. This story walks the reader through a relationship between two cowboys that last years. While written with a slow western pace it shows how these two love each other through the years and opens the readers heart to their love for each other and their families.

As for the other stories, I understand that there are many people in the world that love this type of writing and I am afraid to say it is not me. I love to read for pleasure and to escape reality. This book is written in a harsh, blunt, no nonsense style. It was for me too brutal and depressing regarding how women and family were treated.

The narrators were great but hearing it instead of reading it made it much worse for it was so much more vivid. I know the old days were very rough but yikes this was so graphic it had me cringing.

For all you people out there that like this kind of reading I am sure you would rate it much higher than I did.

So will you give this a try and form your own decision?

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Guest Review: Songs In Ordinary Time by Mary McGarry Morris

Review by H. C. Newton at The Irresponsible Reader

Rating:

songsinordinarytimeThere’s a stereotype about Oscar-bait movies the come out late in the year, super-serious movies with super-serious actors about families in crisis, social unrest, a woman standing on her own, and so on. Nothing anyone really wants to see, but we all take it seriously. Yes, that’s a stereotype, an over-generalization, blah blah blah — but we all know that kind of movie. This book is like that — deadly serious, grim, full of people with no capacity for joy or to make a wise decision — or any action that involves a lack of melodrama.

I just couldn’t force myself to care about this one — not one bit.

The book centers on a divorced mother of three, Marie Fermoyle, and her children: Alice, Norm and Benjy. Marie’s barely scraping by, teeters between despondency and angry outbursts. Until Omar Duvall comes to town. The best thing that could possibly be said about Omar is that he’s a two-bit hustler and womanizer. Much worse could be said about him. Marie is so desperate for a way out of her life, that she falls for his flummery. Sam, Marie’s ex, is the town drunkard — an hopeless alcoholic, surviving on crumbs his sister gives him to get by, the children go out of their way to avoid him — as does pretty much everyone. The new priest in town, and Sam’s brother-in-law are pretty much the only exceptions to that. The priest is, well — he has problems, and the brother-in-law is henpecked and an obscene phone-caller. There are other characters — several, in fact — but let’s limit this to these characters. I could go on and on. Not unlike Morris.

This collection of characters are the greatest conglomeration of self-centered, self-pitying, self-deceived (often), self-justifying, and miserable people I can imagine. And everything they do (well, 99% of the things they do, anyway) make their lives worse (and half of that other 1% is ruined almost immediately). On page 508, I jotted down in my notes, “Please, someone, stop this book — just put these people out of their misery! Mine, too!”

These people are so miserable, so self-pitying that I laughed out loud when I read Marie thinking, “Hope . . . there was more of that in her veins than blood.” Really? I couldn’t believe that for a second. About 200 pages later, we read, “She was so very, very tired. All this, she thought, biting her lip, all this because once, a long time ago, she had made a fatal mistake. She had fallen in love too young with the wrong man. Imagine, it was as simple as that and now she would never catch up. She would never be happy.” That I could believe. That’s one of the most honest sentences in the book.

Each male character (I think without exception — two children, are probably exempt) is able to talk a good game, able to spin a tale about something to make the people around him believe in him — and typically even fools himself. It happens at least once for every character — each time I disliked them more and more for it.

The main plot centers around Marie falling for Omar’s line and risking everything while underwriting a pyramid scheme that he’s peddling (as does a whole lot of the town), while alienating her two older children along the way. Her youngest knows better than the others suspect how terrible Omar is, but he suppresses that information and knowledge so his mother can hopefully be happy. There are crimes not associated with Omar, people dying, people suffering, people trying (and generally failing) to escape their pasts and improve their life. There are two characters out of this that might succeed in improving their lot in life, but we’re not given enough information to know for sure — a couple of others that seem to have turned a corner, but if the 700 previous pages are any indication these latter characters are 5 pages away from running back around that corner the other way.

So why did Entertainment Weekly put this one on their list for Vermont? I’m only guessing here — there aren’t that many novels set in the Green Mountain State. There was nothing distinctly Vermont about this book, as far as I could tell. It was Anytown, USA — there was a lake nearby, a university not too far away (but far enough), a Roman Catholic Church in town (maybe a Protestant one, too — but I’m not sure), one drive in, and a few small towns within an hour or two by car. That’s really all we learn about the geography. The state name is invoked a few times, but otherwise, it could literally be anywhere — like The Simpsons‘ Springfield. I learned nothing about that state, its people, or anything beyond another lesson in endurance in the face of overwhelming tedium.

Plot(s), character, setting — this book failed on all three. It was well-written, I guess, but there was nothing special about even that. I really have nothing positive to say about this one, if you haven’t noticed.

VT Map US of Books

Guest Review: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by Hunter S. Thompson, Narrated by Ron McLarty

Review by Wattle @ Whimsical Nature

fearandloathinginlasvegasFear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, Narrated by Ron McLarty

Rating: 2/5

Synopsis: In Las Vegas to cover a motorcycle race, Raoul Duke (Thompson) and his attorney Dr. Gonzo (inspired by a friend of Thompson) are quickly diverted to search for the American dream. Their quest is fueled by nearly every drug imaginable and quickly becomes a surreal experience that blurs the line between reality and fantasy. But there is more to this hilarious tale than reckless behavior, for underneath the hallucinogenic facade is a stinging criticism of American greed and consumerism.

Review: I’ve been to Las Vegas exactly once, I thought it was a bit odd, a bit dirty and not a place I would like to spend any considerable amount of time in. I felt similar things toward this book. I’ve tried to read it before in paperback, and I put it down after five pages or so. I have seen the film and hated it; so when I saw this on my list for review I was a little worried.

Rightly so, it turns out.

I opted to listen to the audiobook in the hope that I would find it more engaging than if it were text. Ron McLarty did a wonderful job with the narration, I really liked listening to him, but Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was such a tedious story. The 6 hours I spent listening to it felt like 6 years.

This story is meant to be hilarious and surreal. I think I laughed once, and it was more of a derisive snort than actual laughter. I’m still not entirely sure what the point of the book was, there was such excess and stupidity and vastly irresponsible behavior.

If it was trying to teach me a lesson, I failed to see it (unless that lesson was – don’t do drugs). The characters were all unlikeable; the story felt like it was just a rambling bunch of sentences thrown together with little direction. The content was definitely not for me (I don’t even drink, so the characters desire to be constantly wasted was beyond me), I felt the casualness of their drug taking and ridiculous behavior in general was more worrying than amusing.

I gave it two stars, 1.5 for the narration (which was really very good) and 0.5 for the work itself – it was much too far out of my comfort zone and just a bit too strange for me to get into. A pity, because I think if it had been different way, it would have been a much more engaging work.

USofBooksNevada4.25.16

Guest Review: Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion

Welcome to another installment of the United States of Books! See full details here. Today we will visit California with Play It as It Lays by Joan Didion. Entertainment Weekly say’s “Didion’s 1970 classic, about a woman and a marriage breaking down, is both an ode to the freedom of the freeways and a eulogy for dreams shriveled by the sun.”

playitasitlaysSYNOPSIS (From Goodreads.com)

A ruthless dissection of American life in the late 1960s, Play It as It Lays captures the mood of an entire generation, the ennui of contemporary society reflected in spare prose that blisters and haunts the reader. Set in a place beyond good and evil – literally in Hollywood, Las Vegas, and the barren wastes of the Mojave Desert, but figuratively in the landscape of an arid soul – it remains more than three decades after its original publication a profoundly disturbing novel, riveting in its exploration of a woman and a society in crisis and stunning in the still-startling intensity of its prose.

REVIEW by By Elisha at Rainy Day Reviews

I don’t think this book is your typical read, like a James Patterson or Jodi Picoult … not saying they are typical because they are amazing and talented authors. But Joan Didion is not a Jodi Picoult type author. Joan grabs you with this story from the very beginning, waiting for the other shoe to drop. With school, my child, and life in general, it took me a couple weeks to read this “can’t put this book down” book because I wanted to see if this ‘sad female with nothing but time and money’ would do something with herself and stop feeling sorry for herself. I did have empathy for her as the story continued because as the reader can tell she is truly sad and can’t pull herself out of it.

You want to go into the book and shake her but hug her at the same time. There was twists and turns in this story I was not expecting but was pleasantly surprised by. I tend to be a cynical person (in the Miranda from Sex in the City kind of way) so when I started reading Maria’s character, I thought oh good Lord…but then, something happens (no spoilers!) This was a memorable read, for sure. It is also one that I would recommend to others.

USofBooksCali4.18.16

Guest Review: The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Today’s guest review is from Laura at 125Pages.com

Rating: 3 Stars

Welcome to another installment of the United States of Books! See full details here. Today we will visit Florida with The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Entertainment Weekly say’s “Working with Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s editor, Rawlings was pushed to look into her own history for literary fodder, which led to her 1938 Pulitzer winner about a Florida boy and his pet deer.”

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The Yearling is a book I have heard about over the years, but was never super interested in reading. I could guess the outcome of a book centered around a young boy and his pet deer living on a hardscrabble farm in the 1870’s. I had read Old Yeller and seen Bambi, I knew what was coming. So I wasn’t thrilled when the random picking for the United States of Books challenge offered me up The Yearling. I don’t think I can really spoil a book that is over 75 years old, but just in case, I will only say I was right about the ending. However, I was mistaken about how I would feel about the book as a whole.

The tale of the Jody, Ora and Ezra “Penny” Baxter is not one of an easy life.  Farming a small plot of land in central Florida, they hunt and trade for what they need. Jody is the only child of seven born, who lived past the age of three. Trailing his pa and learning to do what is necessary to survive, Jody wants nothing more than a pet to call his own. Then on a hunt, he finds a small deer and is determined to make it his own. Flag soon becomes part of the family and even goes on hunts with Jody and his father. Weaving around the story of the fawn and his boy was the epic hunt of a troublesome bear, a snakebite, and a very unique cast of characters.

Now that I have read it, I am glad I had the chance to, as some of the writing was just lyrical.  Especially the parts describing the land surrounding the farm.

Around a bend in the road, the dry growth of pines and scrub oak disappeared. There was a new lushness. Sweet gums and bay were here, and, like sign-posts indicating the river, cypress. Wild azaleas were blooming late in the low places, and the passion flower opened its lavender corollas along the road.

I could see why this was EW’s Florida pick as the location was almost a secondary character in the story. The wildlife and flora inhabited every scene.

The fall fruits were not yet ripe, papaw and gallberry and persimmon. The mast of the pines, the acorns of the oaks, the berries of the palmetto, would not be ready until the first frost. The deer were feeding on the tender growth, bud of sweet bay and of myrtle, sprigs of wire-grass, tips of arrowroot in the ponds and prairies, and succulent lily stems and pads. The type of food kept them in the low, wet places, the swamps, the prairies and the bay-heads.

Unfortunately, the jarring difference between the lyrical descriptions and the regional dialect of the characters when they spoke, made this a difficult read for me. The way they thought in their heads did not match the words they said and this made the transitions very hard. I would almost prefer a read like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn where, while there were numerous regional dialects, all the characters thought and spoke in them. When you read a description as beautiful as the one above then the very next life is something along the lines of “Don’t go gittin faintified on me.”, it pulls you out to the story and throws a wrench in your pacing.

Cover_of_The_Yearling_1938The Yearling had some amazing moments with the descriptions by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. It is not a book that I would personally read again as the storyline is not what I enjoy and the transitions between characters thinking and speaking was too harsh. For the time it was written though, I can see why it received such high praise. It contained heartbreak, action and basic human survival tempered by a strong family bond.

Favorite lines – “A mark was on him from the day’s delight, so that all his life, when April was a thin green and the flavor of rain was on his tongue, an old wound would throb and a nostalgia would fill him for something he could not quite remember.”

Have you read The Yearling, or added it to your TBR?