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February 27, 2010

Impatient with Desire


Impatient with Desire by Gabrielle Burton
Historical Fiction - Epistolary
2010 Voice (Hyperion)
Finished on 2/16/10
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)
ARC ~ Due out on March 9th



Product Description

A great adventure.

A haunting tragedy.

An enduring love.

In the spring of 1846, Tamsen Donner, her husband, George, their five daughters, and eighty other pioneers headed to California on the California-Oregon Trail in eager anticipation of new lives out West. Everything that could go wrong did, and an American legend was born.

The Donner Party. We think we know their story—pioneers trapped in the mountains performing an unspeakable act to survive—but we know only that one harrowing part of it. Impatient with Desire brings us answers to the unanswerable question: What really happened in the four months the Donners were trapped in the mountains? And it brings to stunning life a woman—and a love story—behind the myth.

Tamsen Eustis Donner, born in 1801, taught school, wrote poetry, painted, botanized, and was fluent in French. At twenty-three, she sailed alone from Massachusetts to North Carolina when respectable women didn't travel alone. Years after losing her first husband, Tully, she married again for love, this time to George Donner, a prosperous farmer, and in 1846, they set out for California with their five youngest children. Unlike many women who embarked reluctantly on the Oregon Trail, Tamsen was eager to go. Later, trapped in the mountains by early snows, she had plenty of time to contemplate the wisdom of her decision and the cost of her wanderlust.

Historians have long known that Tamsen kept a journal, though it was never found. In Impatient with Desire, Burton draws on years of historical research to vividly imagine this lost journal—and paints a picture of a remarkable heroine in an extraordinary situation. Tamsen's unforgettable journey takes us from the cornfields of Illinois to the dusty Oregon Trail to the freezing Sierra Nevada Mountains, where she was forced to confront an impossible choice.

Impatient with Desire is a passionate, heart-wrenching story of courage, hope, and love in hardship, all told at a breathless pace. Intimate in tone and epic in scope, Impatient with Desire is absolutely hypnotic.

I've been trying to remember if I've ever been to Donner Pass. I lived in Central California (Gridley and Red Bluff) in the late '60s, early '70s. I've skied and camped at Lake Tahoe and driven through Truckee and Reno, so I'm fairly certain I've seen Donner Lake. After reading Impatient with Desire, I find myself wishing that I lived closer to that area so I could visit the Donner Memorial State Park. But only in the warm, summer months! Just reading about the treacherous weather the Donner Party endured (and to which they ultimately succumbed), chilled me to the bone.

I enjoyed Burton's epistolary tale, but felt it could have been better. As noted in the publisher's blurb, the narrative is comprised of imagined journal entries (and actual letters from Tamsen to her sister Betsey) and the details of the expedition unfold in a haphazard fashion. Generally, I don't mind a nonlinear structure, but in this case I would have preferred a more straightforward story. Keeping track of when certain events took place and remembering "who's who" in each family was also a bit confusing. I lost count of all the Jameses, Johns, Williams, Margarets, Eleanors, and Georges who were involved in this journey and found it a bit distracting to have to keep flipping to the front of the book to see who was living in which shelter, who had gone out seeking help, and who had perished (either in the Sierra Nevada Mountains or along the Oregon trail).

On being snowbound:

In the beginning of course we were on ground level, but now we are underground inside walls of snow. We're not sure how much snow has fallen—twenty feet?— but from the poles Jean Baptiste thrusts into the ground, we estimate snowpack at twelve feet. Near the opening of our shelter, we began with three carved snow stairs, and now there are eleven. George figured out an ingenious plan. After a storm, I pace out the number of steps from "the fireplace" to our "front door," then Jean Baptiste, whose stride is not much longer than mine, scrambles up through "the fireplace," paces out the same number of steps across the roof, shovels till he reaches our snow stairs, and then we make more stairs as needed. It sounds easy, but it often takes much of the day because George can no longer shovel and we all move slower now.

On hunger:

Our thoughts are consumed with food. We dream about food. My sister-in-law, Elizabeth, endlessly comes up with more and more elaborate recipes to cook until I think I will go mad. When the children talk about food, I discourage it. "A rasher of bacon," Elitha blurts out. "Oh, wouldn't a rasher of fatty bacon taste heavenly—" "You hated fatty bacon," Leanna says angrily, "Mother had to practically cook it to char to get you to taste it," and Elitha bursts into tears, lamenting all the food she wasted. "We'll have plenty of bacon in California," I say. Then twenty minutes or an hour later, Elitha says, "A fried egg swimming in that bacon grease. That has to be the most perfect food—" "Just keep quiet!" Leanna yells. "Please, children," I say.

We lost most of the cattle in the snow, and the few we found and immediately butchered were so scrawny their meat was quickly gone. For some time we have subsisted on oxen hides.

Impatient with Desire is a story of courage and endurance and I found myself wondering just how far I would go to save not only the lives of children and husband, but my own life. I can certainly sympathize with the desperation these families experienced, but could I resort to cannibalism in order to live?

I set down bowls of stew, and Georgia and Eliza gobbled.

Frances [six-years-old] looks at the chunks of meat suspiciously and then at me.

I look steadily back at her. If she asked, I planned to tell her Jean Baptiste had found an ox in the snow.

She took a spoonful and broke the gaze, and her eyes went blank. She continued to spoon stew into her mouth mechanically, her arm completely detached from wherever she had gone.

I offered George a bowl. He shook his head. "Save it for the children," he said, tears rolling down his cheeks before he turned away.

Dry-eyed, I ate a bowl of gluey ox hide, remembering the December night when Joseph Reinhardt staggered into our shelter and said he was going to Hell.

We're already in Hell.

On the price of emigration and adventure:

All that just to get us here. All that grief and confusion and chicanery and betrayal and carelessness and death just to get us here to these dull, thudding, stuporous, barely noticeable deaths. Our teamsters lay in their shelter deathlike, and when life left there was hardly a difference. Mrs. Wolfinger might as well have been a ghost for all the life she brought us.

All of this we bring with us. "We will carve out a new country," we shouted, not realizing that the new country will be no more and no less than the worst and best of us.

I log deaths. Accidents. When death stalks, do some people go out to meet it? Why do some people lie down and die? How far can a person be pushed until she stops caring about others? I am a schoolteacher doing life and death sums.

This story has taken hold of me and after a week (and the completion of another haunting story), I find my thoughts drifting back to Tamsen Donner and her incredible will to survive. I am intrigued by the story and have my own impatient desire to learn more. I plan to read Gabrielle Burton's Searching for Tamsen Donner, as well as Ethan Rarick's Desperate Passage: The Donner Party's Perilous Journey West later this year and wonder if I can convince my book group to join me. I can just imagine the intensity of the discussion!

The next time I find myself lamenting the bitter Nebraska cold, I hope I remember instead to rejoice in the fact that I'm living in a cozy, warm house — not a shack or a snow cave, and that rather than being reduced to eating oxen hides (or worse), I have plenty of food: shelves and shelves of canned goods, breads and staples; a refrigerator full of vegetables and meat and milk and fruit. What those poor people wouldn't have given for even half of what I take for granted every day.

February 25, 2010

Await Your Reply



Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon
Fiction
2009 Ballantine Books
Quit on 2/16/10
Rating: DNF




Product Description

The lives of three strangers interconnect in unforeseen ways—and with unexpected consequences—in acclaimed author Dan Chaon’s gripping, brilliantly written new novel.

Longing to get on with his life, Miles Cheshire nevertheless can’t stop searching for his troubled twin brother, Hayden, who has been missing for ten years. Hayden has covered his tracks skillfully, moving stealthily from place to place, managing along the way to hold down various jobs and seem, to the people he meets, entirely normal. But some version of the truth is always concealed.

A few days after graduating from high school, Lucy Lattimore sneaks away from the small town of Pompey, Ohio, with her charismatic former history teacher. They arrive in Nebraska, in the middle of nowhere, at a long-deserted motel next to a dried-up reservoir, to figure out the next move on their path to a new life. But soon Lucy begins to feel quietly uneasy.

My whole life is a lie, thinks Ryan Schuyler, who has recently learned some shocking news. In response, he walks off the Northwestern University campus, hops on a bus, and breaks loose from his existence, which suddenly seems abstract and tenuous. Presumed dead, Ryan decides to remake himself—through unconventional and precarious means.

I've never read anything by Chaon, but a friend recommended this book, so I thought I'd give it a try. I took it with me to the courthouse while on jury duty last week and had plenty of quiet time to get started. Unfortunately, after 30+ pages, I decided to call it quits. Neither of the three disparate characters or their plights captured my attention. After reading the reviews on Amazon, I have no second thoughts about trying again. This one's not for moi!

February 21, 2010

Love Begins in Winter


Love Begins in Winter: Five Stories by Simon Van Booy
Fiction - Short Stories
2009 Harper Perennial
Finished on 2/16/10
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)
Winner of the Frank O'Connor Prize 2009



Product Description

On the verge of giving up—anchored to dreams that never came true and to people who have long since disappeared from their lives—Van Booy's characters walk the streets of these stark and beautiful stories until chance meetings with strangers force them to face responsibility for lives they thought had continued on without them.

I've been hearing about Simon Van Booy's writing for a few years now. Bookfool is a huge fan and has mentioned Van Booy in over a dozen blog posts. (It's probably closer to 16, but I stopped counting when I hit a dozen.) She also has a marvelous interview with Simon posted on Estella's Revenge that I encourage you to read.

Being the romantic fool that I am, I chose to start Love Begins in Winter: Five Stories during the week prior to Valentine's Day. I was happy to see that this collection is comprised of only five stories. I like to spend as much time as possible with each character, plus I find it a little difficult to remember the details of the individual stories if there are too many in a single book. This was just right. Each story stood alone and I have no trouble visualizing the setting or the elements of each plot now that several days have passed since finishing the book. As Bookfool mentioned in one of her posts, this is the sort of book that calls out to be picked up, thumbed through for a re-read of a random passage or story. And I have to agree. The writing is exquisite.

I think music is what language once aspired to be. Music allows us to face God on our own terms because it reaches beyond life.

and

Grief is sometimes a quiet but obsessive madness.

and

If there is such a thing as marriage, it takes place long before the ceremony; in a car on the way to the airport; or as a gray bedroom fills with dawn, one lover watching the other; or as two strangers stand together in the rain with no bus in sight, arms weighed down with shopping bags. You don't know then. But later you realize--that was the moment.

And always without words.

Language is like looking at a map of somewhere. Love is living there and surviving on the land.

How could two people know each other so intimately without ever having told the old stories? You get to an age where the stories don't matter anymore, and the stories once told so passionately become a tide that never quite reaches the point of being said. And there is no such thing as fate, but there are no accidents either.

I didn't fall in love with Bruno then. I had always loved him and we were always together.

Love is like life but starts before and continues after—we arrive and depart in the middle.

And so I ask myself: Why didn't I fall in love with this book? I was easily drawn into each story. And the writing truly is quite poetic.

The billowing sail of a faraway boat holding the last of the day like a nugget of gold.

and

The beach was dark, and the sand had been packed hard by the outgoing tide. Rain lingered; like something said but not forgotten.

Maybe this is the sort of book that requires multiple readings. I can see myself taking the book on vacation, reading one story while flying to my destination. Reading another while lounging by a pool and reading yet another while sipping a cup of coffee in a bookstore. Perhaps it's not the sort of book to read cover-to-cover. So, yes, I'll keep the book, full of its quiet, spare prose, and come back to it again sometime in the future.

Read what other bloggers have to say about Love Begins in Winter:

Simon's writing is unflinchingly honest, an exploration of the flaws of humans and the love that binds them together. Unlike a lot of readers, I enjoy short stories but am well aware that very few people know how to do them right. Simon's stories never leave you dangling or drag on long after they should end. They vary in length and each is paced with perfection. (Nancy, of Bookfoolery and Babble)

Van Booy captures the essence of what makes us human, and how love can be found in the most unexpected places. Readers who love poetry will enjoy this collection of stories which often feel like long, narrative poems. (Wendy, of Caribousmom)

Both Wendy and Nancy have done great jobs summarizing each story, so be sure to click on the links to read their reviews.

February 14, 2010

4 Year Blogiversary!


I've been busy catching up on my book reviews and just realized that my blogiversary came and went (yesterday). Have I really been blogging for four years?? I had to double-check to be sure. The time has certainly flown by! I want to thank each and every one of you who take the time to stop by and read my reviews, leave comments, and hang in there when I get quiet. To show my appreciation, I'd like to offer a book to four (yes, you read that correctly!) visitors. Just leave me a comment with the title of a book I've reviewed here on my blog. I'll draw four names on March 1st and send you that very book! Be sure to include your email address so I can get in touch with you, should you be one of the lucky winners.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt


Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman
Fiction
2010 Pamela Dorman Books
Finished on 2/10/10
Rating: 2.5/5 (Average)





Product Description

Steel Magnolias meets The Help in this Southern debut novel sparkling with humor, heart, and feminine wisdom

Twelve-year-old CeeCee Honeycutt is in trouble. For years, she has been the caretaker of her psychotic mother, Camille-the tiara-toting, lipstick-smeared laughingstock of an entire town-a woman trapped in her long-ago moment of glory as the 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen. But when Camille is hit by a truck and killed, CeeCee is left to fend for herself. To the rescue comes her previously unknown great-aunt, Tootie Caldwell.

In her vintage Packard convertible, Tootie whisks CeeCee away to Savannah's perfumed world of prosperity and Southern eccentricity, a world that seems to be run entirely by women. From the exotic Miz Thelma Rae Goodpepper, who bathes in her backyard bathtub and uses garden slugs as her secret weapons, to Tootie's all-knowing housekeeper, Oletta Jones, to Violene Hobbs, who entertains a local police officer in her canary-yellow peignoir, the women of Gaston Street keep CeeCee entertained and enthralled for an entire summer.

Laugh-out-loud funny and deeply touching, Beth Hoffman's sparkling debut is, as Kristin Hannah says, "packed full of Southern charm, strong women, wacky humor, and good old-fashioned heart." It is a novel that explores the indomitable strengths of female friendship and gives us the story of a young girl who loses one mother and finds many others.

Bookreporter.com's reviewer gave this debut novel five stars on Amazon. Lesa (of Lesa's Book Critiques) and Kathy (of Bermudaonion) also gave Saving CeeCee Honeycutt five stars. Kay (of My Random Acts of Reading) says it's one of the best books she's ever read. These are all people whose opinions I respect. (Click on the links to read their reviews.)

So what's my problem? Why didn't I fall in love with this new release as so many others have? Maybe, since it's been compared to The Help and The Secret Life of Bees, I was expecting another deep, thought-provoking read full of realistic and memorable characters. Instead, Hoffman's characters are one-dimensional stereotypes. The narrative lacks tension and there were far too many sugary scenes for my taste. Honestly, I felt the writing was simplistic and, if not for some of the language (and one particularly racy scene), I would have thought it was written for young readers (a la The Penderwicks).

While many will compare Hoffman's coming-of-age novel to The Help, The Secret Life of Bees and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, the only comparison I see is that they're all set in the South. If asked what I would compare it to, the first book that comes to my mind is A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg. I loved Fried Green Tomatoes and Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man, but A Redbird Christmas is a sentimental, saccharine, over-wrought tale all too obviously intended to tug at your heartstrings. Of course many readers loved that book, so maybe I'm just not cut out to read Southern feel-good stories.

Final thoughts: Grab the book at your local library. If you love it, head to your nearest bookstore and buy a copy for a reread. If you're disappointed, you've saved enough to buy a copy of The Postmistress. From what I hear, it's "The Help" of 2010. Hmmm.

Little Heathens


Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression by Mildred Armstrong Kalish
Nonfiction - Memoir
2007 Bantam Books
Finished on 2/8/10
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)




Publisher's Blurb:

"I tell of a time, a place, and a way of life long gone but still indelible in my memory. For many years I have had the urge to describe that treasure trove, lest it vanish forever. So, partly in response to the basic human instinct to share feelings and experiences, and partly for the sheer joy and excitement of it all, I report on my early life. It was quite a romp..."

So begins Mildred Kalish's story of growing up on her grandparents' Iowa farm during the depths of the Great Depression. This, however, is not a tale of suffering but the story of a childhood that "built character, fed the intellect, and stirred the imagination."


Filled with stories of a family that gave its members a remarkable legacy of kinship, kindness, and remembered pleasures, and brimming with recipes and how-tos for everything from catching and skinning a rabbit to preparing homemade skin and hair beautifiers, apple cream pie, and the world's best head cheese, Little Heathens portrays a world of hard work tempered by simple rewards--and shows how the right stuff can make even the bleakest of times seem like "quite a romp."

In the above quote, Kalish notes that she will "report on" her early life and that's exactly how this book read: like a report. Or a laundry list. It began with a humorous anecdote or two, but quickly dissolved into a straightforward and dull recounting of an unremarkable childhood, simply (or perhaps simplistically) written and not very enticing.

A much-admired accomplishment in those days was the ability to make smooth starch. Here is how you made and used it. First of all, you prepared a paste...

Family members are mentioned, yet remain flat. Memories are recalled, yet the stories lack emotion and drama. Or introspection. I was disappointed in this memoir and will be curious to see what the members of my book club members have to say about it. I know several tried to get interested in the book, but gave up early on, so it may not be the best of discussions. The New York Times Book Review claims this was one of the 10 best books of the year. Hmmm... I thought it was rather dull and pedestrian. Based on the reviews on Amazon, reactions to this book are mixed. I wonder if those who lived through the Depression or grew up in Iowa had a more positive reading experience with Little Heathens. If it hadn't been a book club selection, I would've quit after the first 50 pages.

This book is for my three families—

To my birth family, who share the everlasting bonds of kinship.

To my husband's warm and loving family, who welcomed me to their bosom in total acceptance from the day I walked into their lives over sixty-two years ago.

And finally, to my immediate family, who give my life meaning.

Perhaps the above dedication says it all. This is really a story that will be appreciated and cherished by Kalish's family members. It needed more polish and editing to create an interesting read for the general public. My mom has written her memoirs and while I loved reading every single page, I wonder how many strangers would have enjoyed her stories. They mean something to me simply because I know the people of whom she speaks and have heard some of the stories during my own childhood. I found Mom's memoirs compelling and thought them well-written. But would a stranger take the same pleasure in her reminiscings?

Maybe I'm being too critical, but the tone of the memoir was also annoying. There's a bit of haughtiness, or a holier-than-thou attitude, throughout Kalish's stories.

Susannah and Jacob helped establish two churches; broke sod three times in their lives, plowing virgin soil to prepare it for raising crops; and were almost totally self-sufficient. Like other pioneers, they did their own doctoring from home remedies. They raised, butchered, canned, and cured their own cows, hogs, and chickens. They hunted squirrels, rabbits, pheasants, and quail right there in Yankee Grove. They tanned their own leather in a hollowed-out hickory log. For the most part, they mended their harnesses for their horses and repaired their own shoes.

They made their own bread and sometimes ground their own flour of oats and wheat; they ground the corn to feed to their chickens and to make cornmeal mush for themselves. They made their own shirts, knitted their own sweaters, scarves, and socks, and sewed their own wool quilts. Their industry and independence were nothing short of astonishing. Ralph Waldo Emerson could have learned a thing or two about self-reliance from my great-great-grandparents.

and

These days, growing up in households where both parents work, children have a limited chance to learn how to prepare simple foods. Let's remedy that. Fresh fried potatoes are delicious; here's how to make them:...

and

Is there any sense in trying to make the modern-day reader understand the immense satisfaction we experienced in viewing our bright, clean wash arranged in such a meticulous fashion on the clothesline? Heaven knows we had more than enough to do without this added display of superhousewifery. But the whole ritual was a matter of pride.

And yet, I did enjoy the chapter about farm food and plan to try Mildred's recipe for apple cream pie. And her grandmother's shortcake recipe. I can guarantee, however, that I will never ever consider making headcheese. Ugh!!!

As far as I can tell, only one of my blogging friends has read and reviewed Little Heathens. Leave me a comment if I missed yours. I'd love to read your thoughts on the book!

Go here to read what Maudeen has to say about Little Heathens.

February 10, 2010

The Cold





The cold was our pride,
the snow was our beauty.
It fell and fell,
lacing day and night together in a milky haze,
making everything quieter as it fell,
so that winter seemed to partake of religion
in a way no other season did,
hushed,
solemn.

Patricia Hampl
A Romantic Education

February 6, 2010

Mudbound



Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
Fiction
2008 Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Finished on 1/30/10
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent!)
Winner of the 2006 Bellwether Prize for Fiction




Publisher's Blurb:

Sometimes it's necessary to do wrong.
Sometimes it's the only way to make things right.

In this award-winning portrait of two families caught up in the blind hatred of a small Southern town, prejudice takes many forms—some subtle, some ruthless. Mudbound is the saga of the McAllan family, who struggle to survive on a remote ramshackle farm, and the Jacksons, their black sharecroppers. When two sons return from World War II to work the land, the unlikely friendship between these brothers-in-arms—one white, one black—arouses the passions of their neighbors. As the men and women of each family tell their version of events we are drawn into their lives. Striving for love and honor in a brutal time and place, they become players in a tragedy on the grandest scale and find redemption where they least expect it.

Wow. This is an incredible book. One of my regular customers at work loaned it to me and as soon as I finished, I knew it was one I wanted to own. And read again. And have my husband read. And have my book club read. And have high school teachers read and teach to their students. I haven't felt this way about a novel since, well, The Help. And The Book Thief. Powerful stuff.

Told in six alternating first-person narratives, we come to know Laura McAllan, her husband Henry, and his brother Jamie, as well as Ronsel Jackson and his parents, Hap and Florence, the family who work the land of the McAllan family. Like Kathryn Stockett's beautiful debut novel of the social injustices of Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s, Hillary Jordan creates a powerful debut novel of her own, depicting the often shameful treatment of the returning African-American soldiers during and after WWII. I love the way Jordan draws the reader in close to each character, giving different perspectives to a single act. The chapters are full of suspense and tension, creating a page-turner that sucked me in from the opening pages and made me wish for a hundred pages more as I approached the concluding chapter.

Unlike The Help, this novel is fairly serious, lacking any levity or humor. And yet, Jordan is a superb storyteller, shedding light on a dark and often ignored portion of our history without sounding pedantic or preachy.

On Mississippi farm life in the 1940s:

When I think of the farm, I think of mud. Limning my husband's fingernails and encrusting the children's knees and hair. Sucking at my feet like a greedy newborn on the breast. Marching in boot-shaped patches across the plank floors of the house. There was no defeating it. The mud coated everything. I dreamed in brown.

When it rained, as it often did, the yard turned into a thick gumbo, with the house floating in it like a soggy cracker. When the rains came hard, the river rose and swallowed the bridge that was the only way across. The world was on the other side of that bridge, the world of light bulbs and paved roads and shirts that stayed white. When the river rose, the world was lost to us and we to it.

One day slid into the next. My hands did what was necessary: pumping, churning, scouring, scraping. And cooking, always cooking. Snapping beans and the necks of chickens. Kneading dough, shucking corn and digging the eyes out of the potatoes. No sooner was breakfast over and the mess cleaned up than it was time to start on dinner. After dinner came supper, then breakfast again the next morning.

On the power of the land:

Slept four nights in that house and by the end of em I'd a bet money there was gone be trouble in it. Soft citybred woman like Laura McAllan weren't meant for living in the Delta. Delta'll take a woman like that and suck all the sap out of her till there ain't nothing left but bone and grudge, against him that brung her here and the land that holds him and her with him. Henry McAllan was as landsick as any man I ever seen and I seen plenty of em, white and colored both. It's in their eyes, the way they look at the land like a woman they's itching for. White men already got her, they thinking, You mine now, just you wait and see what I'm gone do to you. Colored men ain't got her and ain't never gone get her but they dreaming bout her just the same, with every push of that plow and every chop of that hoe. White or colored, none of em got sense enough to see that she the one owns them. She takes their sweat and blood and the sweat and blood of their women and children and when she done took it all she takes their bodies too, churning and churning em up till they one and the same, them and her.

Some of the language is difficult to read, but it rings true and wouldn't be accurate if Jordan had toned it down in order to make it fit today's standards of political correctness.

On the return of the African-American soldier:

Home again, home again, jiggety-jig. Coon, spade, darky, nigger. Went off to fight for my country and came back to find it hadn't changed a bit. Black folks still riding in the back of the bus and coming in the back door, still picking the white folks' cotton and begging the white folks' pardon. Nevermind we'd answered their call and fought their war, to them we were still just niggers. And the black soldiers who'd died were just dead niggers.

I usually wait until I've finished reading a book to read the back cover and I rarely ever read the blurbs or endorsements found at the beginning of a book. There are 28 review blurbs in Mudbound and I read each and every one. I wanted to read what others were saying about this stunning debut. I found myself nodding my head in agreement on several occasions, but my favorite was written by Barbara Kingsolver:

This is storytelling at the height of its powers: the ache of wrongs not yet made right, the fierce attendance of history made as real as rain, as true as this minute. Hillary Jordan writes with the force of a Delta storm. Her characters walked straight out of 1940s Mississippi and into the part of my brain where sympathy and anger and love reside, leaving my heart racing. They are still with me.

I finally got around to setting my 2009 Top Ten endcap at work. I'm still handselling lots of copies of my #1 book (The Help), but more and more, I find the customers I talk to have already read it. So I've added one more shelf and placed a couple of copies of Mudbound right next to it. I explain to those who have already read (and loved) The Help that Mudbound is just as good, just as thought-provoking, and just as beautifully written. I've already sold all the copies we have in the store. I may have found my #1 book for 2010.

I know I'll read Mudbound again in the coming years, but now I'm looking forward to the release of Hillary Jordan's upcoming dystopic novel, Red, set thirty years in the future in Crawford, Texas!

See what other bloggers have to say about Mudbound:

Mudbound is not a perfect book, but it is absolutely spellbinding. It's the sort of book you begin to read and suddenly you've read 100 pages and the next thing you know you've finished. It's the sort of book that creates an atmosphere from which it's difficult to surface. It's astonishing really, to read something like this from a first time novelist. Hillary Jordan is an author to watch. (Tara of Books and Cooks)

Jordan has impressive talent and I eagerly await her next novel. This successful Southern read goes on my Best Reads of 2008 list! (Joy of Thoughts of Joy)

Click here to watch the Mudbound book trailer

Click here to listen to Hillary Jordan read a passage from Mudbound, as well as hear speak of the inspiration for this remarkable story.

Click here to visit the author's website and blog.

February 5, 2010

Album du Jour

The Canadian Tenors

I could listen to this album every day. Actually, I pretty much did during the month of January, as it was on our in-store play list at work. Love, love, love it!

Go here to preview all the tracks.

Visit their website here.

Oh, how I wish I had tickets to tonight's concert in Topeka, KS. For my friends in Southern California, they'll be in El Cajon and Rancho Santa Fe in March!

February 2, 2010

Teaser Tuesday/Mudbound


When I think of the farm, I think of mud. Limning my husband's fingernails and encrusting the children's knees and hair. Sucking at my feet like a greedy newborn on the breast. Marching in boot-shaped patches across the plank floors of the house. There was no defeating it. The mud coated everything. I dreamed in brown.

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan


Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read

* Open to a random page

* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

February 1, 2010

Mailbox Monday

It's been ages since I've participated in Mailbox Monday. I splurged right after Christmas and bought a few new books, but I'll save those for a separate post since, technically, they didn't arrive in my mailbox.



Kitchen Essays by Agnes Jekyll is my very first Persephone Classic! Don't you just love the cover art? I haven't had a chance to start in on this lovely book, but I was thrilled to receive it for my birthday from my dear friend, Bellezza. She knows me so well and this was just the perfect gift. Thanks again, Bellezza!

From the back cover -- 'An enchanting period piece and, in its own quirkily intelligent way, a culinary gem.' ~ Nigella Lawson


Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt arrived late last week from Ecco Books via Shelf Awareness. I'm going to have to find the right time to read this beautiful little memoir, as I suspect it's one which will tug at my heartstrings with all the familiarity of loss and grief.

From the back cover -- "The blow of the improbable: a highly achieved daughter who is the mother of very young children is tragically struck down in her radiant prime. Husband, children, and grandparents are bereft, and what can come of such a maelstrom of grief? Making Toast, Roger Rosenblatt's piercing account of broken hearts, records how love, hurt, and responsibility can, through antic wit and tenderness, turn a shattered household into a luminous new-made family." ~ Cynthia Ozick

Making Toast will be available for purchase on February 16th.

Mailbox Monday is the place for bloggers to share the books that arrived in their homes last week. For more Mailbox Monday posts, visit Marcia at The Printed Page.


Click on the titles for more information.