Welcome to the MOSL Book Challenge

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"The Hour I First Believed" by Wally Lamb

Susan M. lent me this book because I had read "Columbine" earlier this year.  At the beginning, the fictional narrator and his wife are working at Columbine High School when two of its students go on a killing rampage in 1999.  The book deals not only with its aftermath and how they each cope but how their lives unfold once they leave Colorado and move back to the narrator's boyhood home, a former dairy farm down the road from a women's prison founded by and named for his great-grandmother.

Part family saga, part historical fiction, this novel is Forrest Gump-ian in the way some of the characters meet and interact with well known figures, such as Mark Twain and Dorothea Dix, and have their lives influenced by real historical events, like Hurricane Katrina and the war in Iraq.  Throw in a bit of chaos-complexity theory, family secrets, and unpredictable plot twists, and I was hooked.  I don't usually read fiction written by men, but I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed this story.  It took the author about 10 years to write it, and he did a great job.  725 pages (including notes from the author).

The Confessor by Daniel Silva

If you like spy novels and stories about secret Catholic power groups, then this novel's elaborate conspiracies will appeal to you. Silva matches up a top Israeli secret agent against the Catholic Crux Vera and its hired thugs. Silva convincingly sets the scene and builds plot complexity gradually, as a murder investigation uncovers Catholic ties to Hitler's Germany and their lack of protest against the Holocaust. This is clearly fiction, but there's just enough plausibility in the skillfully built setting and characters to make this a satisfying read. 397 p.

Roadside Crosses / Jeffrey Deaver

I've been a fan of Deaver for a while (love the Lincoln Rhyme novels) and this one does not disappoint. The protagonist is a cross-over character from the Rhyme storyline, Kathryn Dance. Her character is fairly well developed (which is a rare enough occurance with male mystery authors, IMHO), and the action in the book is mostly believable. Best yet, there are enough plot twists that it's nearly impossible to guess the bad guy. There is a sub-plot involving Dance's mother that seems a little gratuitous, but not enough to dilute reading enjoyment.
397 p.

Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg

(Posted for Paul Mathews)

Elner Shimfissle falls from a tree. Then her adventure tells her that heaven is here with people and neighbors you love and friends.  375 pages.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Shack by William P. Young

(Posted for Paul Mathews)

The story of a man overcoming the loss of a daughter through the intervention of GOD who met him at the vacation place where it happened. 304 pages.

The Night Train by Clyde Edgerton

(Posted for Ann Roberts)

Having read many southern writers in my lifetime, Clyde Edgerton of North Carolina being one of them, I was pleased to see he has a new book out.  The Night Train is set in 1963, in a small North Carolina town where race relations leave much to be desired.  Two good friends of different races are both pursuing their dreams of making it big in the music world. Dwayne Hallston has discovered what his white family and friends refer to as “race music” and wants to sing and dance like James Brown, while his good friend Larry Lime Beacon of Time Reckoning Breathe on Me Nolan aspires to play jazz piano and finds a hemophiliac jazz musician, AKA The Bleeder, to instruct him.  Each of the boys progress musically during the telling of this tale, and in a way, end up achieving their dreams. Dwayne and his group the Amazing Rumblers are finally featured on the Bobby Lee Reese Show (best known for its dog food snacking host) and Larry Lime takes the stage at the Frog, the local jazz dive, where he realizes that playing jazz is what he was meant to do.  With a crazy cast of characters that one might expect to find in a small southern town, The Night Train is a sweet story of coming of age in the south. The story is told without sentimentality or anger, yet manages to evoke, in turn, righteous indignation and reminders of the simple joys of friendship in a not-so-simple time in our history. If all of this isn’t enough, the book also features two chickens, one of which is a very talented dancer.
Hardback, 215 pages

Face the Winter Naked: A Novel of the Great Depression by Bonnie Turner

(Posted for Ann Roberts)

This book was set in Missouri, and once again, great title.  I was all set to be hypercritical of this book until I read Rivers Last Longer.  This is actually a rather sweet story of a Missouri family during the Great Depression. Daniel Tomelin, a veteran of World War I, leaves his wife and children in Independence to ostensibly look for work at a time when there is little work to be found.  Through the telling of the story, we learn that Daniel is looking for more than work.  He is trying to escape from the horrors of war that still haunt him, the pain that poverty is causing his family, and the uncertainty of the future.  While some of the plot seems contrived and not entirely necessary, the characters are for the most part, fully realized and believable… and that title?  Fantastic!
Paperback, 283 pages

Rivers Last Longer by Richard Burgin

(Posted for Ann Roberts)

I determined that I should read more Missouri writers and chose this one because I read a few good reviews and the title intrigued me. You gotta admit, that’s a good title, and I have been known to judge a book by its title.  Rivers Last Longer is about the lifelong friendship of Barry and Elliot. Elliot is a fiction writer, teaching English at a college in Philadelphia, when he meets a charming young lady on a visit to see his old friend Barry in New York. Barry invites Elliot to stay rent-free in the apartment his recently deceased mother used to occupy in Beekman Place on Manhattan's east side, as well as launch the literary magazine he and Elliot have talked about for a long time.

Unbeknownst to Elliot, Barry has some latent sociopathic tendencies that his mother’s recent passing seem to have exacerbated and becomes himself, obsessed with Elliot’s new girl. While reading this book, I found myself asking, “How can someone just put their deranged fantasies on paper and call it writing?”  I guess they can, and I guess they do, and they get it published. So, as far as my reading Missouri authors experiment goes, I can only say, “Next, please!”
Hardback, 215 pages

Bootlegger's Daughter by Margaret Maron

(Posted for Ann Roberts)

          This book was recommended to me by a WRITER so I had great expectations for it and was, of course, disappointed.  I like whodunits.  I don’t know why.  But, I like well-written whodunits and this one fell short of the mark for me.  It is possible to write really nice, even what we might call beautiful prose in the course of divulging a mystery.  James Lee Burke can do it.  He writes beautifully descriptive passages about the landscape or a character, and it makes reading all his works compelling. Set in South Carolina, this book offers up the same kind of opportunity for descriptive writing as the setting in Burke’s novels, and Maron did eventually write some nice descriptive passages about the setting-but it was too little too late for me.  It almost felt like the last chapter started out as a stand alone essay, and evolved into a thrown together novel, employing cheap tricks and red herrings aplenty. 
          In the first of a series of mysteries involving the character Deborah Knott, a defense attorney, finds herself running for district court judge in the midst of trying to solve a cold case, the murder of the mother of a little girl for whom she once baby sat in her teens. Throwing her political career and life in jeopardy, Deborah uncovers the dark past of the murdered mom and stumbles upon troubling truths about many of the upstanding members of her community, including evidence of many unhappy domestic relationships. I will admit, the ending is a surprise, but it’s one of those “Seriously, this is the best you could come up with?”  surprise endings, that I can live without.  A few almost fully realized characters round out the tale, including Deborah’s “daddy”, the quite elderly and supportive former bootlegger of Colleton County. The figure of daddy offers the most complete, believable character this book has too offer.
          All that negativity aside, I might read more, just to see if the series improves and I have an idea that it might.

Paperback, 261 (typo ridden) pages