Saturday, October 31, 2015

Ordinary Grace

I recently talked about this book over on my new writing blog The Chorus of the Crows I'm just starting to admit to people that I'm writing a novel. And after telling my cousin Jane about my story, she noticed definite similarities with the novel she had just finished. She handed me Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger and told me to read it. She said she could barely put it down. And it was her go to book for nocturnal reading sessions. So I dove right in. Research, right? During the day, mind you.

The voice of teenage Frank narrates the novel. He's the son of a Methodist minister. Unfortunately, the life of Frank and his family become awash in un-ordinary deaths. A literal laundry list of his neighbors and even sadder still, people even closer to him. The small town scene comes to life visually. The train takes off and doesn't stop. And the characters are real citizens of the time. My favorite character was Gus. He was boarding in the basement of the church across the street from the central family. And plenty of mischief ensues from that simple fact. There's a bonus for us Minnesotans too. It's set here.

 Being of devious mind, I guessed what the mystery revealed in the end. But it didn't matter. It was still a great book. 


Friday, October 30, 2015

Two Midwest Choices

I have been doing a LOT of reading, and am trying to catch up with my reviews, so you will have two this time from me (as you did last time).  These two books are very different from each other....different styles and different subject matter as well as different periods of time.  But both reflect the life of the mid-west with all its charm and struggles.

The first, The Cold Dish, by Craig Johnson was my response to Longmire being cancelled as a series on TV that I thoroughly enjoyed.  I was sad to see it go, and wanted to read at least one of the books it was based on.  Craig Johnson is a wonderful writer, and the book does not disappoint as a detective mystery with strong mid-western characters and an interesting, hard-to-figure-out story.  It is set in modern time.  Walt Longmire is a Wyoming sheriff with strength, savvy, and some inner pain.  The title of the book (and its premise) is based on the saying that "Revenge is a dish best served cold."  He and his best friend, Henry Standing Bear unravel the threads of this twisted mystery.  I really loved that both Walt and Henry were well represented by actors in the TV series.  Loved them both in the series, and saw them reflected reversely in the book.  Enjoyed it very much!

The second book as I said is very different.  If you like happy stories, this book will probably not be for you. The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout is based on a lot of research about the trials and difficulties of opening up the west in the early years, especially in the lives of the women who followed their men west.  Though it isn't a true story, it rings true in many things that happened in those early years. As a writer, Swarthout is wonderful!   It is also a fabulous movie starring Tommy Lee Jones and Hillary Swank.  I have to say that the character Mary Bee Cuddy is now one of my all-time favorite strong female characters from any book EVER!!!  Her story is so deep and rich and disturbing.  I loved this book so much, and also the movie.  Tommy Lee Jones and Hillary Swank do amazing jobs capturing their characters' lives and personalities.  But, read the is wonderful!

If you have a book ready to review, please go ahead....we don't have to wait several days between reviews.  Happy Reading!!!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

new contributor

                       I am so excited to announce that we have a new contributor/reviewer!!!

                                       Her name is Sharon Wagner. You can find her Here

                                            We all look forward to your reviews, Sharon. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

"The Girl On The Train"

I wasn't too thrilled when "The Girl On The Train" was suggested in our book club but, hey, it was was a mystery and we hadn't had any mysteries on our reading list. So, I picked it up, opened it to the first chapter. hmmmm..... second chapter..... still not getting it. But, I hung in there. The author was busy laying out the characters and how they would fit into this tale of intrigue.

Rachel is a divorcee, an alcoholic, truly a mess, emotionally, physically, pychocologically. She's lost her job but everyday she rides the train to 'work' so her roommate won't suspect her situation. She watches out the window. She passes the house she and her ex had called home, only now a new wife is sharing 'her' house with her ex. And, then there is a couple a few doors down that are often on their terrace. She names them Jess and Jason. One day she sees Jess kissing a man. It's not Jason!! And, then Jess goes missing.

Rachel has a faint recollection of something she saw the night Jess disappeared. But, Rachel was drunk so she wasn't sure. Was it her drunken stupor or did she really see what she thought she did? In an effort to be 'important', 'accepted', 'wanted' Rachel tells what she knows (or thinks she knows) to the police. Will it drag her deeply into more trouble than she has ever imagined or will she help solve the case?

After a slow start for me, I soon became intrigued and found myself reading and reading and reading some more. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Paris In Love

I loved this book. Maybe it is because I have been to Paris and LOVE that city. This book took me back, to places I had not seen, and exposed me to the everyday flavor of being Parisian. I recently said, when asked what I'd do if I won a million dollars in the lottery, that I'd go to Paris, get me a little apartment on the Rue de Seine and stay there for maybe six months, maybe a year.

That is exactly what the author, Eloise James, did. She was a professor teaching Shakespeare!! She decided to sell her house, take a leave from her job and move her family to Paris for a year. What an adventurer she is... how I admire her.

So, along with her came her husband, who happens to be Italian, and her two children ages 11 and 15. The Italian husband has a different view of Paris life than Eloise does and that often presents amusing situations. Then there are her poor children, having to change schools, learn new friends, learn a new language and they are also going through puberty. And then there is the fat cat, Milo, who gets overfed by Eloise's Mother-in-law. Mother-in-law visits are funny and we all can relate!

Eloise is set on learning as much as she can about the Parisian life and walks the streets everywhere, observing everything, discovering places and people that tourists never see. This is not a tourist guide, believe you me. The book is enchanting, funny, cute and I loved it. I think you would, too. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Siesta Lane by Amy Minato

I came by this book browsing through
my favorite used book store 
and something about it caught my eye. 

Perhaps it was the sub-title, 
as it closely mirrors my own experience
living off the grid while we built our rustic cottage
here in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains
 of Washington State. 

I paid my $3.00 and hoped this would 
be a book I could actually finish. 

I have so many half-finished books, 
cast aside due to poor writing
and drab plot lines. 

One rainy evening I opened 
the pages and was pleasantly surprised. 
I couldn't put it down. 

Siesta Lane is a delightful account of the author's
year of living off the grid in the countryside
of Oregon. 

Leaving the big city of Chicago behind
to pursue a graduate degree in creative writing, 
and seeking a simpler life,
she heads west to Eugene, Oregon. 

When her studies are over, her yearning 
for a simpler, more natural lifestyle
leads her to Siesta Lane, where she rents
a cottage in a small community of 
like-minded individuals. 

Living without electricity or running water, 
Amy gains an appreciation for the simple
things in life - silence, fire, insects, wind, 
mud, rain, and a warm bath. 

Her lyrical and poetic writing makes this 
the kind of book you wish would never end. 
It calls upon each of us to stop and take heed
of the things we take for granted and to 
pay more attention to the natural world 
around us. 

Amy accomplishes this task with her soul-stirring
essays describing this year-long journey. 


This book was published in 2009
by Skyhorse Publishing

It has wonderful pen and ink illustrations
by Jan Muir
black and white photos
by Beth Stein

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Two From Me and One From Stewart

Both of these books have been reviewed, but this is my "take" on them, however brief, since I took the recommendations after reading your reviews.  I know Mom is out of town and won't be posting, and I am hoping a couple of others will jump in here soon....

Look Away Dixieland is the first in a trilogy by Marona Posey.  I can't say this is my favorite genre BUT having said that I could not put this book down!  It is fast-paced and fascinating.  You wonder what is going to happen next.  From that standpoint this is a roller coaster ride of a read that you will completely enjoy.  I had hoped it would revolve more around my areas of Alabama (I think Posey is from my hometown of Jasper) but it is closer to Decatur, and moves away from Decatur at a rapid pace, going to venues far and wide with the characters of this twisted tale.  Check it out if you love mysteries and romance-style adventures with memorable characters.  You won't be disappointed.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is another roller coaster ride in a different style of writing.  It is contemporary thriller fiction and Gillian Flynn proves to be a master of this genre!  I had this book recommended to me on our book club site, and by my daughter.  She and Mom couldn't wait till I read it, and I could see why.  It's excellent.  You will not be disappointed in this twisting, interesting tale.   I also waited to see the movie until after I read the book, and I now have a Netflix disc waiting over on the TV table...our daughter wants to come over and watch it (again for her) with us! :-)

From my blog friend Stewart, here is another of his reviews. Because of this review, I realized that a huge chunk of my childhood literary education was missing because I had never read The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham!  I had never read it to my daughter or grandson.  So I set out to correct this mistake of mine, and bought a used paperback copy and have been reading this wonderful, delightful tale!  Now, I can read The Wild Wood as well.  Here is Stewart's review:

The Wild Wood - Jan Needle  4/5

This book is a cracking re-telling of the classic, The Wind in the Willows. 

If Wind In the Willows is a view from the river, then this book is a view from the wood.  The strength of this version comes from the simple believability of the humanised characters and the voice of Baxter then main narrator.

Some of the tricks of the original remain – such has the (unacknowledged) change in size of the animals depending on need.  In the original Toad becomes a washer-women and deals with ‘gypsies’ and similar things happen in the new version.

What is really wonderful about this book is the way that both the original characters and plot lines remain intact and only motivation and purpose change.  We don’t have to un-learn anything from the original for the new version to make sense.

And this I think leads to the only issue I have with the book – I really do think you need at least a working knowledge of the plot of Wind in Willows to see how wonderful this book itself is. Which, I suppose leads to the recommendation, that you should read both of them!

Highly Recommended.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The River of Doubt by Candice Millard

There was no doubt at all that this was going to be a wonderful journey with Theodore Roosevelt!  I had no idea before I found this book that he had made such a treacherous exploratory venture into the unknown jungles of the Amazon!  He is one of my favorite Presidents and I have read at least two biographies of him over the years and had introduced him to my grandson when I read Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Margeurite Henry to him when he was small.  Roosevelt has even cropped up in the book I am reading now (I have four others to review though before I share it!) He was larger than life, and fascinating!  I never tire of learning more about him. 

This book was well-written, well-researched and really interesting.  It opened up an unknown chapter in Teddy's life, one of explorer of unknown areas, for the River of Doubt (later named for him) had never been traversed before he did so with his oddly-matched team.  They go through unbelievable dangers, crossing areas of cannibalistic Indians and fighting the river itself with its many unpassable rapids and falls, and they face dangerous animals and diseases as well.  For months no one knows where they are or if they are even still alive.  The fact that they are using boats that are completely un-suited for the type of river they are following makes it all the worse.  Really great bit of historic writing!  Loved it!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

"Boys in the Boat"

I had the opportunity to attend the Baltimore Book Festival on Sunday, September 27th.  I went to hear Daniel James Brown speak about his wonderful book 
"Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics."

This is such a marvelous story of grit, determination, perseverance, all those words that mean they don't just give up.

Brown describes his writing technique as narrative history.  It isn't dry in the least with fact after fact.  Rather it weaves in feelings and depth of character so that you feel you are there cheering them on from the shoreline, in the boat pulling on those oars, and experiencing the emotional upheavals of life in the Great Depression. 

Brown met the daughter of one of the rowers in Seattle where Brown lived.  She brought him then to meet her father who had read some of Brown's other work.  The daughter, Judy, had an ulterior motive - she wanted someone to write about her father's achievement and that of the other eight.  Her father was in his last months when Brown met him, but Judy had for years pumped her father about his life and made meticulous notes.  With the research Judy had done and four years more that Brown did, the tale of these 8 rowers and the coxswain, their coaches, the boatbuilder, the City of Seattle, and the Great Depression come to life.

Here's Daniel James Brown's website to read more.  But then you must get this book and read it.

My book club discussed in at our meeting in September and it was unanimous that it is outstanding!