September 30, 2016

Looking Back - Snow Falling on Cedars

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
1995 Vintage Contemporaries
Finished on November 15, 1996
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Publisher's Blurb:

San Piedro Island, north of Puget Sound, is a place so isolated that no one who lives there can afford to make enemies. But in 1954 a local fisherman is found suspiciously drowned, and a Japanese American named Kabuo Miyamoto is charged with his murder.

In the course of the ensuing trial, it becomes clear that what is at stake is more than one man's guilt. For on San Piedro, memory grows as thickly as cedar trees and the fields of ripe strawberries--memories of a charmed love affair between a white boy and the Japanese girl who grew up to become Kabuo's wife; memories of land desired, paid for, and lost. Above all, San Piedro is haunted by the memory of what happened to its Japanese residents during World War II, when an entire community was sent into exile while its neighbors watched. Gripping, tragic, and densely atmospheric, Snow Falling on Cedars is a masterpiece of suspense--but one that leaves us shaken and changed.

My Original Notes (1996):

Great novel! I couldn't put it down, once I got into it. At first I didn't care for it because it jumps around quite a bit. After I got used to the style, it was much easier to make the mental transition in time. Very enlightening to the Japanese-American experience during World War II. The murder mystery and courtroom suspense were well done. The descriptions of the geography and nautical lifestyle very also very interesting.

I chose this book for our reading group and am curious to hear how the others liked it. I bought a copy to give to my dad for Christmas. I thought he'd enjoy the nautical details, as well as the local interest (Puget Sound/Seattle).

My Current Thoughts:

Oh, this was such a good book! I'm pretty sure that I've read it more than just once and I know that I've seen the movie, although I don't remember too many details about the film other than I think it followed the book quite well. I love the Pacific Northwest and plan to read this again since I'm more familiar with the area than I was 20 years ago. Also, the details about the murder mystery are long forgotten, so it will almost feel like I'm reading a new book. :)

Final Thoughts:

Part historical fiction, part mystery with a strong sense of place, this one's a winner! Putting my copy back on my "keeper" shelf!

September 28, 2016

Wordless Wednesday

Book Signing Success!

Leveling the Playing Field
by Rod Scher

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September 26, 2016

A Land More Kind Than Home

A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash
2012 William Morrow
Finished on April 22, 2016
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

New York Times Bestseller - New York Times Notable Book of 2012 - Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance's Best Fiction of 2012 - Appalachian Writers' Association's Book of the Year - Crime Writers' Associations' Debut Novel of 2012 - Maine Readers' Choice Award - Thomas Wolfe Memorial Book Prize - Crook's Corner Book Prize for Debut Southern Novel - PEN Robert W. Bingham Award Finalist - Strand Magazine Critics Award Finalist for Debut of 2012 - Indies Choice Finalist for Debut of 2012 - Library Journal Top Ten Book of 2012 - Kirkus Reviews Best of 2012 - Indie Next Pick - SIBA Okra Pick - Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection

Publisher's Blurb:

Families are supposed to shield children from the horrors of the world, but one Sunday nine-year-old Jess Hall watches as his autistic brother is called into a little church in the mountains of North Carolina. What happens next forces Jess to question everything he once believed. Clem Barefield, the local sheriff, arrives to find a group of charismatic believers who are unwilling to utter a word about the things Jess has seen. At the center of the mystery is Carson Chambliss, a snake handling ex-convict turned preacher whose past is just as mysterious as the power he claims to possess.

Told by three resonant and evocative characters—Jess; Adelaide Lyle, the town midwife and moral conscience; and Clem Barefield, A Land More Kind than Home is a literary thriller, thick with characters connected by faith, infidelity, addiction, and a sense of hope that is as tragic as it is unforgettable. These are masterful portrayals, written with assurance and truth, and they show us the extraordinary promise of this remarkable first novel.

I started listening to the audio version of this book a few years ago, but couldn't get interested in the story so I decided to call it quits. Earlier this spring while searching through my stacks, I came across the ARC of this novel and decided to give it another try since I fell in love with Cash's masterful storytelling after reading This Dark Road to Mercy. I'm so glad I gave it another chance; this one's a winner!

On Sound:
"Listen," he said again.

I dropped my head and closed my eyes just like I'd seen Joe Bill do, and for a minute I couldn't hear nothing at all except for a few birds fussing in the trees above us and the sound of the breeze coming through the dry grass, and after a minute I couldn't even hear that. But then, real slow, the singing of the crickets raised up out of the woods behind me and their chirping sounded like somebody was scratching a spoon across a clean dinner plate, and past that, across the railroad tracks on the other side of the woods, I could hear the river running slow toward Marshall, and it was so soft that I wondered if I was making it up or remembering the sound of it just because it was supposed to be there. Then I couldn't hear nothing until I turned my ears to listen for what was in front of me out there in the field where the grasshoppers and the katydids hummed in the high grass. That was a noise I'd always heard without even knowing I could hear it, and when I heard it, I could finally hear what Joe Bill was talking about. At first I heard it like a heartbeat, and I felt it in my chest like a heartbeat too, like it was inside my body thumping up against my ribs because it wanted to get out. It made me think about the Madison High marching band at the football games and the marchers with the drums strapped to their chests and the feeling you get inside you when they march out onto the field at halftime with the batons and the horns and the drums and all that noise they make. And now I could hear other noises floating just above the sound of that heartbeat: the electric guitar came out over the field like a crackly old radio that wasn't tuned in good, and the sound of somebody banging away on the piano followed behind it. All of a sudden I knew that what I was hearing was music, and when I opened my eyes I knew it was coming from inside the church. I looked over at Joe Bill.

"It's music." I said.
Final Thoughts:

Reminiscent of The Homecoming of Samuel Lake (Jenny Wingfield) and Ordinary Grace (William Kent Krueger), this is sure to please fans of Southern fiction and lyrical mysteries. Highly recommend!

September 22, 2016

Looking Back - Leaving Cold Sassy

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

Leaving Cold Sassy by Olive Ann Burns and Katrina Kenison
1994 Delta (First published in 1992)
Finished on November 2, 1996
Rating: 2/5 (So-so)

Publisher's Blurb:

Cold Sassy Tree, Olive Ann Burns' unforgettable story of a Georgia town at the turn of the century, has captivated millions of readers with its tale of Grandpa Blakeslee, his young bride Miss Love, and the irrepressible fifteen-year-old Will Tweedy. Throughout her long battle with cancer, Olive Ann Burns worked passionately on a sequel to this magical book. Only during her final days did she realize she wouldn't complete it, dictating from her hospital bed her wishes that the finished chapters be published.

The result is Leaving Cold Sassy - a portrait of the grown-up Will Tweedy; of the feisty young schoolteacher who captures his heart; of the town that has claimed a place in the American imagination; and, in a fascinating reminiscence by her editor, of Olive Ann Burns, a writer who didn't get a chance to finish her extraordinary tale.

Complete with Olive Ann Burns' notes for later scenes and chapters exactly as she wrote them, Leaving Cold Sassy is a final, loving goodbye to Cold Sassy, Georgia.
My Original Notes (1996):

So-so. Not nearly as good as Cold Sassy Tree. I'm sure that has a lot to do with the fact the author wrote this as she lay dying of cancer. The working title was Time, Dirt, and Money and was intended to be a sequel to Cold Sassy Tree. Unfortunately, the characters and storyline are very thin/superficial. I was really disappointed. Olive Ann Burns didn't finish the book before her death, but her editor included Olive's notes for the remaining chapters, as well as a reminiscence by the editor. The family photos were a nice touch, too. I didn't realize that the characters were based on Olive Burns' family (particularly her parents).

This sequel wasn't very good, but the biography by the editor was wonderful! Very sad and moving. Feels like I know Olive Ann and her husband Andy, who also died of cancer. I'm glad I kept reading. 

My Current Thoughts:

I wrote about Cold Sassy Tree a couple of weeks ago and I'm a little surprised that I read this sequel so soon after finishing the first book, but back in the late '90s, I didn't have a huge TBR stack (if any at all!), so I probably went straight to the bookstore and bought this book to read right away. As much as I love having a lot of books to choose from here in my house, there's something refreshing about the idea of going out to buy a book as soon as I hear about it and actually reading it right away rather than letting it languish on a shelf for years. Ah, the good old days! :) But I digress. 

I no longer have a copy of Leaving Cold Sassy and if I did, I'm pretty sure it would go in the donation box, as I don't plan to read it a second time. However, I do plan to read Cold Sassy Tree sometime in the near future. 

September 21, 2016

Wordless Wednesday

Seattle Great Wheel
July 2016

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September 18, 2016

Be Frank with Me

Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
2016 HarperCollins Audio
Read by Tavia Gilbert
Finished on April 15, 2016
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Publisher's Blurb:

A sparkling talent makes her fiction debut with this infectious novel that combines the charming pluck of Eloise, the poignant psychological quirks of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and the page-turning spirit of Where'd You Go, Bernadette.

Reclusive literary legend M. M. "Mimi" Banning has been holed up in her Bel Air mansion for years. But after falling prey to a Bernie Madoff-style ponzi scheme, she's flat broke. Now Mimi must write a new book for the first time in decades, and to ensure the timely delivery of her manuscript, her New York publisher sends an assistant to monitor her progress. The prickly Mimi reluctantly complies—with a few stipulations: No Ivy-Leaguers or English majors. Must drive, cook, tidy. Computer whiz. Good with kids. Quiet, discreet, sane.

When Alice Whitley arrives at the Banning mansion, she's put to work right away—as a full-time companion to Frank, the writer's eccentric nine-year-old, a boy with the wit of Noel Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth-graders.

As she slowly gets to know Frank, Alice becomes consumed with finding out who Frank's father is, how his gorgeous "piano teacher and itinerant male role model" Xander fits into the Banning family equation—and whether Mimi will ever finish that book.

Full of heart and countless "only-in-Hollywood" moments, Be Frank with Me is a captivating and unconventional story of an unusual mother and son, and the intrepid young woman who finds herself irresistibly pulled into their unforgettable world.

I adored this book and fell in love with Frank and his naive curiosity and hilarious non sequiturs. If you've ever watched The Big Bang Theory, Frank is exactly how I would imagine Sheldon at the age of nine. I found myself laughing out loud on more than one occasion, as well as having my heartstrings tugged during the sweet tender moments between Frank and Alice. I zipped through the audiobook very quickly, but not wanting it to end, worrying just a bit that it was going to have a tearful ending. I was really more sad to say goodbye to these endearing characters. 

On Being "Tackless":
"I have uncanny intuition unencumbered by the editorial reflex," he said. "I heard Dr. Abrams explain it that way to my mother when I pressed my ear to the door during one of their marathon discussions. My mother's response was, 'Where I come from we call that tactless.' Can you tell me what she meant by that? I have tacks. Quite a nice collections, in many colors. I understand that thumbtacks have fallen out of favor since the invention of the Post-it note, but my mother knows I am still a fan. When I asked her why she said I was tackless, all she did was sigh. Can you explain that to me?" 
On Fashion:
After Frank got the tape off his eyebrows, he'd refreshed himself with a pass through Wardrobe. Now he was wearing an outfit more suited to an afternoon's motoring: white canvas duster over chinos and a white shirt, leather aviator's cap and goggles, a silk scarf and old-school binoculars around his neck. He had his plastic machete stuck in his belt and his pith helmet under his arm. "Is that what you're wearing?" he asked.

"What's wrong with it?" I had on a T-shirt, Bermuda shorts, and tennis shoes.

On the Little Prince:
"Of course you look like the Little Prince," I said. It was something I'd noticed when I worked in the kindergarten. On the days kids brought their favorite books to class, you could see the Pippi Longstockings and the Cats in the Hat and Courduroy Bears coming from a mile away. Bedtime Story as Destiny, I used to call it. And here we had another case in point: Frank, a snappy little dresser given to mood swings, scarves, and non sequiturs, just visiting our world from a small, eccentric planet of his own.

Me? Harriet the Spy. Of course.

On L.A. Traffic:
Back in the car we decided to try the freeway for the full-on traffic experience, driving toward the jagged cluster of downtown Los Angeles with the mountains propped up behind it like cardboard scenery. Though the "driving" I was doing felt more like being parked in Omaha at the Seventy-Second Street Wal-Mart, waiting for the store to open for its post-Thanksgiving Day sale. The freeway was so packed it was hard to believe there could be anyone left driving cars anywhere else in the world.

Final Thoughts:

This is an excellent debut novel and I can't wait to see what the author writes next. I'm glad the book is finally available in paperback. I loved the audio book, but have had a difficult time hand selling the hardcover to customers since most of my regulars prefer paperbacks. I have a feeling once it hits the shelves it will become a favorite about book clubs and quickly hit the bestseller list. I hope so since I think it's a great book. 

Highly recommend for fans of The Big Bang Theory, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, The Rosie Project and Lottery (by Patricia Wood). 

Note: If given a choice between the print edition or audio, I suggest audio for the full impact of Frank's humorous lines. Tavia Gilbert is an excellent reader and her rendition of Frank's monotone voice is perfect.

September 16, 2016

Looking Back - A White Bird Flying

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

A White Bird Flying by Bess Streeter Aldrich
Deal Family #2
1988 University of Nebraska Press (first published in 1931)
Finished on October 30, 1996
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good!)

"Miss Aldrich has recreated the spirit of the descendants of the early Scotch and German settlers of the great Nebraskan plains, the spirit of healthy morality and calm contentment that is characteristic of these people" ~ New York Times
Publisher's Blurb:

Abbie Deal, the matriarch of a pioneer Nebraska family, has died at the beginning of A White Bird Flying, leaving her china and heavy furniture to others and to her granddaughter Laura the secret of her dream of finer things. Grandma Deal's literary aspirations had been thwarted by the hard circumstances of her life, but Laura vows that nothing, no one, will deter her from a successful writing career. Childhood passes, and the more she repeats her vow the more life intervenes. Laura is at the center of a new generation of Deals in Bess Streeter Aldrich's worthy sequel to A Lantern in Her Hand.

My Original Notes (1996):

What a marvelous author! I loved this book just as much as A Lantern in Her Hand. I love to read about historical Nebraska; the area and points of interest are so familiar. The countryside descriptions, especially those of the grasses and trees (cottonwoods!) are so accurate. And what a good sequel. Having gotten to know Abbie Deal's family in A Lantern in Her Hand, it was wonderful to find out what happened next. I'm ready to buy all of Aldrich's remaining books! She reminds me a bit of Laura Ingalls Wilder. 

Great story!!

My Current Thoughts:

A Lantern in Her Hand was my first exposure to Nebraska literature. I hadn't discovered Willa Cather at this point and I fell in love with Bess Streeter Aldrich's depiction of the area I had recently moved to after living in San Diego for 20 years. Aldrich could have easily been writing about the acreage my husband and I had purchased, her details were all so recognizable. I really need to go back and re-read these two novels, although I wonder if they'll still have the same impact on me now that I've been in Nebraska for almost 25 years!

September 14, 2016

Wordless Wednesday - Oregon 2016

Yaquina Head Lighthouse
Newport, Oregon

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