Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lonesome Dove Readalong Discussion 9: Chapters 81-90

Welcome to our second to last discussion of Lonesome Dove! Time has really flown by as it always does in the company of a good book.

I have to say things seem to be getting bleaker and bleaker! Melissa wrote the questions for this week..I hope you'll join in comments or on your own blogs!

The Hat Creek gang finally arrives in Ogallala – while in town, lots of things happen – Call beats up a Calvary officer, Dixon, over his “acquisition” of Dish’s mare AND the boys finally find themselves “whores” – first, what are your thoughts on Call’s temper? And, what do you think of the boys’ first “experience?”

Leah: The town scene was interesting for many reasons because they had built it up to mythical proportions being out in the middle of nowhere for so long so I figured it would be entertaining. For me, Call’s temper was justifiable in this instance. Dixon was whipping his son. Whether or not Call will ever admit to Newt that he is his boy, he has raised him as such and he is. Call is just a man of few words, as we’ve seen. But clearly, he will protect him from anything and anyone when given the chance. Call didn’t even know what came over him. As for the boys first experience with ‘whores’ it was comical and kind of what I expected. I’m sure they’ll still brag about it though!

Melissa: Leah, thank you for being so smart! When I thought of this question about Call’s altercation, I wasn’t thinking of it in terms of a parent/child relationship – but of course, that explains it. My initial reaction was the persona Call embodies – this brooding, loaner, who hasn’t, for the most part, shown much of what makes him tick. I’ve been so perplexed by him throughout the whole book. So, the violence in this scene just was another twist to who he is and why. As far as the boys – I thought it was hysterical. I laughed out loud when Buf was washing Newt… the imagery (as much as it made me uncomfortable) was priceless.

Amy: I thought Call beating up that guy was both a reaction to what he was doing to Newt as well as left over frustration. It was definitely new insight into his personality! I guess I was a bit surprised he flew into such a blind rage, because in every other aspect he has always seemed very controlled. I thought the boys experiences were funny--especially like Leah said after they had made it out to be so grand in their minds.

Gus and Clara reunite -- thoughts?

Leah: Those two together are great. I loved reading their interactions. Gus needs someone who can give it to him as good as he puts out and Clara is his match. I don’t blame Clara for being done with marrying though. I thought the whole day was sweet. Personally, I am glad Lorena stayed on. I think it was a good choice.

Melissa: I love them! I want McMurtry to write a Gus/Clara novel! My reaction last week to an imagined Clara/Gus relationship was much of the same as what she had with Bill, but different. Now, I’m not so sure. Their repartee, their enduring friendship – everything makes for a great love story. I too am glad Lorena stayed on – she finally gets to experience normalcy – whatever that is out on the plains.

Amy: I also loved them....they are kind of epic. :) I, too, was glad that Lorena stayed behind and that she made friends with the girls and that maybe she’ll be okay.

There is a huge sense of foreboding once the Hat Creek gang leaves Ogallala – many of the men don’t want to go and Po Campo is prophetic when he predicts that water will become scarcer. Then, the unthinkable happens – Deets is killed. Why is Call so stubborn in his quest for Montana? Should they have stayed? How did you feel when Deets died?

Leah: Who knows why Call is so stubborn? Why did anyone have the desire to tame the West? Because they want to be the first; because they want to make the most money; because they want the glory; because they did it in Texas; one last hurrah before they die? I don’t think Call has it in him to stay but everyone is a free agent and could have made their own choices. McMurtry’s writing and tribute to Deet’s passing was beautiful. Call and Gus loved Deets and it could not just be said in a couple of paragraphs. I think McMurtry wrote this beautifully. I feel like anything I say will be trite in comparison.

Melissa: I think one of the key lines in this section is when Gus says (and I’m paraphrasing, because I can’t seem to find it in the book), “I’m going to scatter Jake Spoon’s bones if this doesn’t work out.” This whole trek is based on some notion that Jake Spoon dreamt up back in Lonesome Dove – and it’s finally dawning on them that Jake was a loser, and they shouldn’t have listened to him. But Call is determined (why, I don’t know – see previous answer about what makes him tick) to continue in spite of all the reasons why they shouldn’t. It’s like a man not asking for directions. Then Deets. The truth is, I don’t cry in novels – but I was heaving when this happened. He was one of my favorite characters. And I hold Call responsible. Honestly, after that scene, it has been hard for me to pick it up again because I’m scared of what will happen next.

Amy: Deets death was horrific (as so many of these deaths are) and you’re right Leah, that it was written beautifully. I have no idea why Call is insisting on going and it annoys me to no end. They’ve already lost so many and they have no real idea of what they’re getting into. Yes I know the pioneer life, but most everyone had been quite content to stay in Lonesome Dove. Also, what about Elmira’s offscreen death? I felt bad for Zwey.

Next week we'll wrap up Lonesome Dove! Thanks so much for reading along everyone, it's been a ton of fun!


Monday, November 29, 2010

Review: Nightingale by Susan May Warren

Esther Lange surrendered to a night of passion with Linus Hahn before he left to fight in World War II and ended up pregnant with his daughter. With nowhere to go, Esther takes Linus's advice and moves in with his parents. She's also working as a nurse, and one day receives a letter from a soldier containing a final letter from Linus. Esther dreads opening it...having never loved Linus but knowing her daughter's future is more secure with his parents.

Esther does, however, strike up a correspondence with the soldier who sent her the letter that eases her loneliness and inspires hope in her until a couple of shocking discoveries are made.

This is a hard book for me to review, because I have always loved Susan May Warren's books, but for some reason her World War II books are just not working for me. The writing is as beautiful as ever, some phrases are just lovely, but the characterization is weaker than usual and the plotlines feel tired and forced and less organic. I wouldn't mind less ambitious plots and more detail actually. Usually Susan May Warren's romances melt my heart, but I just didn't feel this one.

Having said that, it was in some ways a very interesting read as it involved American POW's on our soil. Also it has loose ties to her first World War II book, Sons of Thunder, that don't make it necessary to read the books in order but will reward the careful reader.

I suspect I will be in the minority on this book. I did enjoy reading it, I've just come to expect a little bit more from one of my favorite authors.

Rating: 3.75/5
Things You Might Want to Know: Christian fiction
Source of Book: Received for review as part of a blog tour. You can find the other blog tour participants here.
Publisher: Summerside Press

The Letters From Home Giveaway!
Enter the Contest: Nightingale is about letters, the power of written correspondence to convey thoughts and emotions to those far away. And sometimes near. Letters are forever, they are something we savor and pull out to read again and again. They are often cherished and kept in a special place.

To celebrate the release of Nightingale, Susan would like you to write a letter. One grand prize winner will receive a Flip HD Camcorder. 5 runner's up winners will win a signed copy of Nightingale. There are two ways to enter the contest by writing letters.
1. Write a letter to a soldier. At the end of the contest we’ll print out and mail your letter for you.
2. Write a letter to a friend, loved one, family member, enemy. Tell them something you wished you’d told them before. Tell them you love them, or maybe how they touched your life. Perhaps an apology is in order or a thank you. Or perhaps you'd like to relate a funny tale or just share life. Whatever it is, submit it here along with your email address and we’ll send it for you.
Enter here or at the SHARE page on the Brothers in Arms website.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Vote on a Readalong Book

I recently asked for suggestions of what you all might like to readalong with me next year and I got so many fabulous suggestions I can't make up my mind. Thank you to you all for your suggestions! Additionally, I stumbled across another book I'd really like to read so I've thrown it into the mix. I've narrowed it down to the ones I think I would really like to read in the next year and even this was hard!...I asked for American suggestions because European classics scare me. Also, I think they get a lot of attention already in the world, and I've been surprised by how much I've been enjoying these American books.

If you'd be interested in reading along with me please vote on which book most interests you. There will be two readalongs one starting in April and one in October so that's why each book is listed twice.

The Choices (summaries taken from goodreads--which is why some of them are lame):
Winter's Tale
The Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
New York City is subsumed in arctic winds, dark nights, and white lights, its life unfolds, for it is an extraordinary hive of the imagination, the greatest house ever built, and nothing exists that can check its vitality. One night in winter, Peter Lake--orphan and master-mechanic, attempts to rob a fortress-like mansion on the Upper West Side.

Though he thinks the house is empty, the daughter of the house is home. Thus begins the love between Peter Lake, a middle-aged Irish burglar, and Beverly Penn, a young girl, who is dying.

Peter Lake, a simple, uneducated man, because of a love that, at first he does not fully understand, is driven to stop time and bring back the dead. His great struggle, in a city ever alight with its own energy and beseiged by unprecedented winters, is one of the most beautiful and extraordinary stories of American literature.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

East of Eden

The masterpiece of one of the greatest American writers of all time. East of Eden is an epic tale of good vs. evil with many biblical references and parallels. The story is ultimately that of good's triumph over evil and the human will's ability to make that happen.

Roots by Alex Haley


This "bold . . . extraordinary . . . blockbuster . . ." (Newsweek) begins with a birth in 1750, in an African village; it ends seven generations later at the Arkansas funeral of a black professor whose children are a teacher, a Navy architect, an assistant director of the U.S. Information Agency, and an author. The author is Alex Haley.

John Adams by David McCullough

One of America's greatest storytellers has turned to one of America's greatest stories as the source for his most recent inspiration: a tale of one of the most influential, and often the most misunderstood, Founding Fathers: John Adams. The result is a tour de force and pure joy for the reader.

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

Angle of Repose tells the story of Lyman Ward, a retired professor of history and author of books about the Western frontier, who returns to his ancestral home of Grass Valley, California, in the Sierra Nevada. Wheelchair-bound with a crippling bone disease and dependent on others for his every need, Ward is nonetheless embarking on a search of monumental proportions - to rediscover his grandmother, now long dead, who made her own journey to Grass Valley nearly a hundred years earlier. Like other great quests in literature, Lyman Ward's investigation leads him deep into the dark shadows of his own life.

Five Smooth Stones by Ann Fairbairn
Five Smooth Stones
This gripping bestseller, first published in 1966, has continued to captivate readers with its wide-ranging yet intimate portrait of an America sundered by racial conflict. David Champlin is a black man born into poverty in Depression-era New Orleans who makes his way up the ladder of success, only to sacrifice everything to lead his people in the civil rights movement. Sara Kent is the white girl who loves David from the moment she first sees him, and who struggles against his belief that a marriage for them would be wrong in the violent world he has to confront. And the “five smooth stones” are those the biblical David carried against Goliath. By the time this novel comes to its climax of horror, bloodshed, and hope, readers will be convinced that its enduring popularity is fully justified.

This one is not American but I'd love to read it (and being Australian still really fits why I wanted American classics):
The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

thorn birds

Powered by the dreams and struggles of three generations, THE THORN BIRDS is the epic saga of a family rooted in the Australian sheep country. At the story's heart is the love of Meggie Cleary, who can never possess the man she desperately adores, and Ralph de Bricassart, who rises from parish priest to the inner circles of the Vatican...but whose passion for Meggie will follow him all the days of his life.

Please vote and please readalong! (if you're reading this in a feed reader you'll have to click through for the poll...sorry!)


Challenge List for 2011 and my List Swap with Wordlily

At the beginning of 2010, I set out to make sure I read the following five books I'd wanted to read for awhile but never made time for:
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Um, I haven't exactly finished the list, but I will. And the best thing about it is that 3/5 reads are all great books I'm really glad I read and I expect I'll feel the same about the last two.

I decided to do the same thing this year but then I saw on Chris's blog that he and Debi were swapping books to read and I thought...what a brilliant idea! I asked on Twitter if anyone would do this with me and Hannah of Wordlily said yes. She was really the perfect person because we have spent a lot of time talking about books and what we like and what we wish we saw more of and we even worked on the Inspys together to help nudge publishers in the direction of what we'd like to see.

So the deal is this...we each chose five books for ourselves and five books for each other. Additionally, we'll be reading Lilith by George MacDonald (huge leap of faith for me) together.

Here's the list I picked for myself:
Bel Canto
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett first came to my attention, I believe, via Dawn of She is Too Fond of Books. I've been meaning to read it for a long time and haven't, and next year will be the year! I'm looking forward to it because so many people have differing opinions on it.

1984 by George Orwell is a classic dystopian novel I've both never read and often see referenced. It's about time I read this one.

Watership Down
Watership Down by Richard Adams has been on my LOST reading list for ages. It's also been recommended by Andrew Peterson. If I don't make it a priority, I'm likely to let it continue to languish in the TBR pile.

Andrew Peterson strikes again! He reviewed this book and the review was so breathtakingly beautiful I knew I had to read this classic children's book. Then I started seeing a bunch of other people say good things about it...so I put it on this year's list.

Germinal by Emile Zola is on this list in large part due to Amanda of The Zen Leaf raving about it and the fact that it's undoubtedly an influence on one of my favorite series of the past few years, The Hunger Games Trilogy. (Suzanne Collins called it a favorite book)

So those are my picks for myself!! Now here are Hannah's picks for me:

Srong Poison
Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers I am really excited to read because everyone has been raving Dorothy Sayers for awhile. I've been wanting to read her so I'm excited about this choice.

saints in limbo
Saints in Limbo by River Jordan is a book Hannah has raved about for awhile. I do already own it so I'm excited to finally get to it!

Mariette in Ecstasy
Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen is a book that was referenced a lot in Wounded by Claudia Mair Burney a book that both Hannah and I read this year and loved. I hadn't read this one in particular, so I'm excited to get the chance to do so. It has already arrived from Paperbackswap and I'm looking forward to it!

Shadow of the Wind
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is a book many bloggers certainly seem to love so I look forward to the chance to read it. I sincerely hope it's better than The Prince of Mist!

Owen Meany
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving is a book many many people have told me I should read, so good for Hannah for making sure I do! I suppose I should read a book by John Irving after all!

The books I picked for Hannah:
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins--she hasn't read this! She's a little scared to, but I hope she loves it and values just like she did with Buffy! :) Anyway, The Hunger Games trilogy are among my favorite books so I will continue to evangelize where need be, to the ends of the earth.

Songbird by Lisa Samson--Lisa Samson is one of my favorite authors for so many reasons. Songbird is one of the books I feel is a must read from her early career. (which I separate as before and after Quaker Summer). I love for ever and always the great humanity Samson brings to all of her characters.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte--a classic and one of my favorite books!

A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George--Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley series is one of my favorite mystery series (I am a few books behind) I know Hannah loves mysteries which is why I chose this one for her.

The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen--another of my favorite mystery/crime writers, I really loved this book and I think Hannah might like it, too!

In addition, we are planning to read Lilith by George MacDonald together.

And finally, I decided that I'd like to reread two books I love. Those are:
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (the movie trailer and Iris's posts have put me in the mood, what can I say?)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. I loved this book when I first read it, but I often see book bloggers have a negative reaction to it so I'd like to reread it and see if I still enjoy it as much as I did the first time.

That's it! You should head over to Hannah's blog though...she picked some REALLY hard books for herself! Makes me a like a bit of a cheater for having The Yearling on my list!

Have you read any of the books on my lists? Did I choose well for Hannah?


Saturday, November 27, 2010

My Yearly Defense of TV (and love for Buffy)

I was feeling sentimental and reflective this week after the announcement that Warner Brothers was going forward with the idea to reboot Buffy The Vampire Slayer without Joss Whedon. For the record, I do think it's quite early to reboot Buffy, it hasn't been 10 years since the show went off the air. And I love Joss Whedon, especially for Buffy, Angel, and Dr. Horrible, though I did enjoy Firefly and Serenity. Even so I think Buffy is an extraordinarily important character for our culture and I'm not opposed to the idea. It might, after all, introduce a new generation to Buffy as the show becomes more dated.

So since I was thinking about Buffy, I spent some time watching my favorite episodes from the sixth and seventh season, taken aback, again by how a story can reveal itself to you in fresh ways. While stories remain told as is, we as people change and new life experiences, relationships, and circumstances help us see the same tale from different perspectives. I loved it just as much as ever, fell in love with Buffy all over again, and was utterly delighted and moved again. I've watched the series through twice and some episodes multiple times but it's been awhile. I completely enjoyed feeling like I was both visiting a dear friend and discovering the show again.

This may be a politically incorrect thing to say on a book blog, but Buffy is one of the most important stories of my life. One that shapes the way I see story and the world, one that is in my personal "canon", when discussing other stories, I'll often say, "it's like when on Buffy..."

It's not, of course, just because it's a great story. I watched season 2 of Buffy when it originally aired. I went to college after that and when I heard a certain character was back on season 3 I felt like it cheapened the beautiful and dramatic ending of the second season and I stopped watching. I didn't watch again until I was living in Japan. The year and a half I spent in Japan are some of my most formative years...so much more happened than simply living in Japan and teaching English my entire worldview started to shift or expand and during that time I discovered Buffy again. I was completely obsessed. (this is how I get--can't help it!) I'd go home on Saturday night and my friends and I would order pizza and watch Buffy. (the cable channel would show 2 episodes at a time--this is also when I started watching Felicity, Friends, Sex and the City, and Angel--after years of not watching TV!) I loved it.

So I think that while I was changing as a person there was this story with these fabulous characters that I loved so much that filled in the down time in my life. The show of Buffy taught me so much about what I value in storytelling, it taught me about how deeply moving and transformational even watching TV can be. I realized it could be touching, funny, and thought provoking. And how could I not love this character--so complex, powerful, and yet alone. And even though Buffy isn't flawless, I love it for exactly what it is--as I always do with the most significant stories and art in my life. (think: Mockingjay)

Of all the arts TV gets the worst reputation. While you may be called nerdy for liking to read, when you like TV people assume you sit there in a vegetative state unable to think for yourself. While people will admit there are "fluffy" books, they think the act of reading is superior to watching TV. The assumption is that quality television is rare and that most of it is, well, American Idol. Reading--even if you've shut your brain off--somehow taxes you more.

But when I think about the stories that have impacted my life and the characters I love most, they are equal parts television characters and characters from books. I love both Scarlett O'Hara and Brenda Leigh Johnson, Katniss Everdeen and Buffy Summers, Jo March and Felicity Porter, Harry Potter and Dean Winchester, Peeta Mellark and Desmond Hume, Nancy Drew and Veronica Mars.

Television is just another excellent medium for telling a story, for inviting us to reflect on our own lives even as we get swept away into the lives of others. It IS an art and it can change your life if you let it. The best shows raise new ideas and reflect on age old concepts and entertain us all the while. They are layered and open to interpretation, discussion, and debate. Like books, it's up to the viewer to decide how much they want to invest.

I enjoyed my visit back to Sunnydale and will probably go back sooner this time. The end of the year makes me crave the comfort of dearly loved stories.

Want to give it a try? Some of my favorite smart shows are: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, LOST, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Closer, and Damages.

What are yours?


Friday, November 26, 2010

Faith and Fiction September Round Table: Resurrection in May by Lisa Samson

Welcome to the final Faith and Fiction round table of the year. We read Resurrection in May by Lisa Samson and chatted a bit about it by email. I invited each participant to post their general thoughts on the book. This post will be updated with their links when they send them to me.

Brief Synopsis: May is a bit of a lost soul when Claudius finds her on the side of the road. The two quickly form a friendship that will become invaluable to May after she survives the horrific massacre of a village in Rwanda.

My Thoughts
Lisa Samson is one of my favorite authors and this book reminded me of all the reasons why. It's written in her trademark quirky style and is populated with realistic, interesting characters.

In thinking about some of the themes of Resurrection in May, I've decided it's a strongly pro life book. By that I don't mean anti-abortion, but rather it's a book about the beauty and importance of life. It treats human life with a tremendous amount of respect--ALL human life. There are no one dimensional characters in this book, no characters cast with only a single stroke. This book is about people in all of their glory messy humanity who forge new bonds, create new community, and heal. Which is another thing...healing from very traumatic events is not something that can be easily done in this novel, it takes years, it takes working the land, and it takes fighting for life.

I admire so much about this book...I admire Samson's character choices, I admire her respect for sustainability. I appreciate a book about people who are otherwise rarely touched in fiction. I love the way a variety of different Christian churches work together and bring hope and healing.

I'm so thankful we have her voice in Christian fiction.

Hannah's review is here.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Review: The Charlatan's Boy by Jonathan Rogers

Grady is an orphan who has no idea where he came from. All of his memories are of travelling around with a man named Floyd, who supports them by coming up with quick scams or sideshows. When we first meet Grady they are in last stages of making money off of the Feechie (alleged swamp creatures) scare, in which Grady acts like a real live Feechie for all to see. Grady longs for knowledge of his background and a home, but is unable to really leave Floyd. Together they plan to revive the Feechie scare bigger and better than ever.

The Charlatan's Boy is in many ways several smaller stories about Grady and Floyd's travels that build up to a greater climatic finish. The book is utterly charming because Grady's voice is so completely likable. The language of the book is absorbing and the stories are funny, but Grady definitely tugs at your heartstrings with his search to belong. The many different people Floyd and Grady encounter on the road populate the book with a delightful cast of characters and situations. The dialect is consistent throughout as well and peppered with delightful phrases and language.

Andrew Peterson said something to the effect that it's Mark Twain meets C.S. Lewis and while I'm not sure about that due to my limited experience with Lewis's fiction, the book did remind me of Mark Twain with that same sort of imagination and adventure.

The book is sweet as well with so much heart, for example:
Except for Short Fronie, Barbary was the first person in this world who ever paid enough attention to say something true about me. Floyd only ever told me what he wanted me to hear, whatever worked in with his plans. But Barbary had looked at me and told me something I didn't know about myself. She had given me a name: friend.

And she was right. I was a born friend. And yet I had spent my whole life without a friend in this world. It was a sadness I had never let myself feel. Now that I felt it, I was afraid it was going to ruin me.

The central questions of Grady's life coupled with the fun antics of life on the road make The Charlatan's Boy a treat to savor and enjoy all the way up to the unexpected and delightful ending.

As a side note, for those looking for middle grade fiction for boys, look no further!

Rating: 4.25/5
Source of Book: Received from publisher for review
Publisher: Waterbrook


Thanksgiving Edition of The Underground Literary Society

Yesterday, Nicole and I chatted with author Jennifer Vanderbes about Thanksgiving and her book Strangers at the Feast. We also discussed how hard it is to find Thanksgiving themed books and what makes Thanksgiving a holiday of mixed feelings and conflict, as well as a valuable setting for stories of family drama. It's one of my favorite episodes yet, and I hastily edited it together and posted it last night. If you're unwinding from the holiday and not quite ready to jump into the Christmas music, I'd love it if you listen.

Just today, I discovered another book set at Thanksgiving reviewed on Tales from the Reading Room, Thanksgiving Night by Richard Bausch. I've added it to my list to keep in mind for next year.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I remain, as ever, grateful for the small ways in which our lives intersect and for all of the things you teach me about life and love. Hope you all have a great weekend!


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Lonesome Dove Readalong Discussion 8: Chapters 71-80

If you're new here, we're reading through the epic story Lonesome Dove about ten chapters a week.

I really loved this section for several reasons. I am really admiring the way McMurtry has woven together this story, casting many strands of storyline and weaving them back together in fitting ways. Stunning, shocking, even heartbreaking ways.

Our questions of the week, written by Leah are below! I hope you join in!

1. Jake Spoon has fallen in with the Suggs' brothers, a band of murderers and horse thieves. They leave a trail of misery in their wake. What do you think of the final outcome? Were you surprised by the ending of Jake? Did you think Call and Gus would do it?

Leah: Honestly someone had to stop them. The Suggs' were gruesome. The fact that Jake wasn't man enough to do anything makes him an accomplice and by default, guilty. Dealing with friends that have fallen from grace, I can't even imagine what Gus and Call were feeling towards Jake. I know Gus had no respect for Jake after the way he responded to Lorie's kidnapping. Newt's the one I really feel bad for though. He's young and he idolized Jake. Watching your idols fall is a hard lesson to learn. However, do I feel that Jake got what he deserved? Yep.

Melissa: Holy Cow!!! Death at the hands of your “friends!” I was shocked – but now that I’ve had a chance to think about it – it makes perfect literary sense. Another brilliantly written scene by McMurtry. And I loved how Jake was the one who kicked the horse that ended his life. Oh, and when Gus mentions Lorena, and Jake responds with, “Who?” I let out an audible GASP! How dare he! I wish they could have hung him twice.

Amy: I was really surprised and didn't expect this at all, but I found it perfect. Life was just so rough! I felt like these scenes illustrated that so well..Jake Suggs was a complete psychopath, as well. Jake's ending was unfortunate but even more unfortunate was the fact that he never seemed to make any really important wise decisions for himself.

2. We learn about Clara's life after Gus. Do you think she is happy with the life she has chosen?

Leah: It's hard to know. Obviously she loves her family and she chose the husband she did for a reason. Nobody can know the full insides of a marriage. However, life on the plains in the 1800s was difficult for women. Research has shown their tendency to go insane is pretty full on because they were alone so often and death of their children was rampant and this was touched on. Claire could have chosen an easier life for herself but she didn't.

Melissa: Happy – I don’t think there is such thing as happy on the plains. There is endurance, hardship, stamina, drudgery – but happy doesn’t seem to exist. But life with Gus wouldn’t have been any better – just different. I can’t imagine surviving her life – burying 3 children, raising two girls, nursing a brain-dead husband, running a business – all without a microwave. She’s got my vote for woman of the year.

Amy: I think Clara is kind of fascinating and I really enjoyed her backstory of life on the plains. What happened to Bob was horrific as well as the loss of her children, but at least she had Cholo! I think it's sad to think of what life was like then for the women and families. Didn't Natalie Merchant write a song about this? :)

3. Elmira leaves her second born son with Clara shortly after giving birth to him, leaves July for a second time, and doesn't even bat an eye when she learns about the death of Joe. How do you feel about Elmira now?

Leah: I'm going to keep this one short - whatever respect or sympathy I may have had for Elmira's situation up until now is gone after these chapters. She left her baby and didn't care about the death of her other son. July shouldn't have come after her, I get that. But she doesn't care about her kids. Peace out Elmira.

Melissa: I’m now done with Elmira too. What a selfish *&^%$. Ditto – Adios Elmira – hope those Sioux treat you well. But these scenes magnify how bleak July’s journey turned out – he went in search of Jake, who is now hanging from a tree, and lost Roscoe, Joe, Janey, and Elmira (again) in the process. He needs to get it thru his head that “she’s just not that into you.” I wish he’d grow a pair, because I’m beginning to lose sympathy for him as well.

Amy: I don't like her at all. I don't even understand her. I do feel like if July had shown some...other feelings towards her she might have been more interested, but his predictable faithfulness bores her and turns her off. I also couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for Zwey and wish he'd send her off on her own. I think they will meet an unfortunate end.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Christmas Mysteries for 2010

I had a delay in getting my round-up of new Christmas releases posted, but I'm back now! Many thanks to the publishers who responded with information about new releases! Here we go:

A Holiday Yarn by Sally Goldenbaum
About the Book: With the fourth book in her national bestselling knitting mystery series, Sally Goldenbaum is back to entertain readers. With A HOLIDAY YARN, featuring the Seaside Knitters of Sea Harbor, Massachusetts, who stitch and sleuth together. Sea Harbor at holiday time is a magical place and all the Seaside Knitters are participating in the cheer. Mary Pisano, a longtime resident of Sea Harbor, is about to open her very own Bed and Breakfast establishment and has already sold-out her first week to her extended family, who plans to hold their annual family business meeting at Mary’s charming B&B.

However, the charming appeal wears off as trouble and danger lurks on the horizon for the Pisano family. Soon after they settle in, Mary’s snooty cousin Pamela is found dead on the grounds. A heavy cloud gathers over the town, and the impending holiday season grows gloomy. But Nell, Izzy, and the other Seaside Knitters are more determined than ever to solve the crime, restore joy to the season and bring peace to Mary’s family and the town.
Published by Obsidian and available now!

Mistletoe and Mayhem by Kate Kingsbury
About the Book: MISTLETOE AND MAYHEM is the sixth Pennyfoot holiday mystery by Kate Kingsbury and readers will again meet the sleuths from the Pennyfoot Hotel. While Cecily is decorating the hotel for Christmas festivities, her husband informs her that a serial killer is terrorizing London. Even in the midst of this dreadful news, she is determined to make her guests feel at home. When Madeline arrives with her new baby and guests start arriving, the holiday spirit is drummed up. However, when someone is found dead and another is missing, the sleuths of the hotel are determined to find the killer and restore holiday cheer. Published by Berkley Trade and available now in trade paperback.

Merry merry Ghost
Merry Merry Ghost by Carolyn Hart
About the Book: Being dead can't put a damper on spirited, holiday-loving Bailey Ruth Raeburn.

Christmas is a time for family and giving, and a wealthy woman in Adelaide, Oklahoma, is about to embrace both. Discovering that she has a young grandson, the dowager decides to change her will to leave the bulk of her fortune to the young boy—an alteration that stuns the rest of her family. But a scrooge of a determined heir makes sure she never signs the new document. When she is found dead, it's up to that irrepressible spirit Bailey Ruth, on assignment from Wiggins and Heaven's Department of Good Intentions, to protect a little boy, foil a murderer, and save Christmas.

There's only one teeny hitch: how can Bailey Ruth figure out which family member was desperate enough to kill when everyone has a motive?

Available now in mass market paperback from Avon.

Body in the Sleigh
The Body in the Sleigh by Katherine Hall
About the Book: It's Christmastime, and the Fairchild family is spending the holidays on idyllic Sanpere Island in Maine while the Reverend Thomas Fairchild recuperates from surgery. His caterer wife, Faith, is rejoicing in the rare, holiday family-time together—watching ice boaters, snowshoeing, and doing plenty of reading in front of the fire.

But Faith's high spirits are dampened when she discovers the body of a young woman in an antique sleigh in front of the Sanpere Historical Society. The victim, Norah, was a teenage drug addict who apparently died by her own hand. Beloved by many, her untimely death rocks the isolated, tight-knit island community.

Meanwhile, Mary Bethany, a local spinster who raises goats, happens upon a newborn baby boy lying in the manger of her barn on Christmas Eve. The only clues to his identity are a note in the basket asking her to take care of him, as well as an alarming amount of cash. As Faith helps Mary locate the baby's mother, she soon finds that the truth behind the abandonment is connected to Norah's last days—and that, just as death and life are intertwined on Sanpere, so are evil and redemptive goodness.
Available now in mass market paperback from Avon.

Christmas Mysterious Bookshop
Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop edited by Otto Penzler
About the Book: Each year, for the past seventeen years, Otto Penzler, owner of the legendary Mysterious Bookshop in New York City, has commissioned an original story by a leading mystery writer. The requirements were that it be a mystery/ crime/suspense story, that it be set during the Christmas season, and that at least some of the action must take place in The Mysterious Bookshop. These stories were then produced as pamphlets, 1,000 copies, and given to customers of the bookstore as a Christmas present.
Now, all of these stories have been collected in one volume—Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop. Some of the tales are humorous, others suspenseful, and still others mystifying. This charming one-of-a-kind collection is a perfect Christmas gift, appropriate for all ages and tastes.

Contributors include:

Charles Ardai
Lisa Atkinson
George Baxt
Lawrence Block
Mary Higgins Clark
Thomas H. Cook
Ron Goulart
Jeremiah Healy
Edward D. Hoch
Rupert Holmes
Andrew Klavan
Michael Malone
Ed McBain
Anne Perry
S. J. Rozan
Jonathan Santlofer
Donald E. Westlake
Available now from Vanguard Press

gingerbread cookie
The Gingerbread Cookie Murder by Joanne Flue, Leslie Meier, and Laura Levine
About the Book: Gingerbread Cookie Murder" is written by Joanne Fluke. When Hannah Swensen finds her neighbour Ernie Kusak with his head bashed in and sprawled on the floor of his condo next to an upended box of Hannah's Gingerbread Cookies, she discovers a flurry of murder suspects that's as long as her holiday shopping list. "The Dangers Of Gingerbread Cookies" is written by Laura Levine. Jaine Austen has been enlisted to help with her parents' retirement community's play The Gingerbread Cookie That Saved Christmas. Playboy Dr. Preston McCay is playing the role of the gingerbread cookie when he 'accidentally' falls to his death during the final act. Now Jaine must figure out if one of the doctor's jealous lovers was capable of murder. "Gingerbread Cookies And Gunshots" is written by Leslie Meier. When Lucy Stone discovers the body of Rick Juergens, whose five-year-old son Nemo disappeared, she senses foul play. Crumbs from a gingerbread cookie Lucy gave to Nemo are found in the back seat of Rick's car. With the hours quickly ticking till Christmas, Lucy races against the clock to find a killer before he strikes again.
Available now in hardcover from Kensington.

That's all I've got! Which one looks best to you? Am I missing any?

See also my post on new Amish Christmas books for 2010.


CFBA Book Spotlight: The Lightkeeper's Bride by Colleen Coble

About the Book: A thrilling romantic mystery set in the lush Victorian age.

Central Operator Katie Russell's inquisitive ways have just uncovered her parents' plan for her marriage to wealthy bachelor Bartholomew Foster. Her heart is unmoved, but she knows the match will bring her family status and respectability.

Then Katie overhears a phone conversation that makes her uneasy and asks authorities to investigate. But the caller is nowhere to be found. Mysterious connections arise between the caller and a ship lost at sea.

Against propriety, Katie questions the new lighthouse keeper, Will Jesperson. Then a smallpox epidemic forces their quarantine in his lighthouse. Though of low social status, Will's bravery and kindness remove Katie's suspicion and win her love. Katie and Will together work to solve the mystery of the missing girl and the lost ship as God gives the couple the desire of their hearts.

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher last week)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Sunday Salon -- Reading Notes, Books I Want and more!

I can't believe Thanksgiving is this week! Time just seems to fly. A great reminder of that is how many books I have left that I want to read before year's end. And it won't happen. I can guarantee that now. My reading has slowed every month and I suspect it will be very slow next year. Between readalongs, themed weeks, the Faith and Fiction Round Table and a personal challenge I think I have almost all of my 2011 reading planned. I don't know what books will fit into all of those categories, but it seems I'm very booked. ha ha. I know I will fit in some new releases--there are SEVERAL I'm looking forward to, but as you know scaling back is a huge goal of mine.

Some Reading Notes

There are some books that I read in like, May, that I still haven't reviewed. In some ways I'd like to do some posts on them, but I'm having a hard time fitting everything in. I may do some sort of wrap up post before year's end so I have a record with some thoughts.

I've been doing quite a bit of driving this week and so I decided to listen to an audiobook. I chose Another Faust by Daniel Nayeri and Dina Nayeri because I've been wanting to read it. Unfortunately, the reading by Katherine Kellgren was too much for me, lots of put-on accents and so much dramatic interpretation of every line. I found myself reinterpreting the way things would be said. Additionally, she completely mispronounced a very common Japanese word (to the point I almost didn't know what she meant). I ran a search on the book blog search engine and most people seem to like this narrator. I suspect I prefer more understated performances. Also, the story wasn't fantastic so I abandoned the book when people told me on Twitter they didn't like it. I'll be trying something different next!

Some New Discoveries

I discovered Rebecca Rasmussen (I think from eavesdropping on some Twitter conversations) and not only does she seem fabulously nice, I fell in love with what she wrote on her website! She has a book coming out next Spring, The Bird Sisters...it will probably be one I make time for amidst the busy schedule. Icing on the cake? She lives in St. Louis! That's where I spent the bulk of my formative years and it's been on my mind lately. If I could move anywhere it would be in my top five choices right now. Anyway do yourself a favor and check out her site!

Speaking of St. Louis remember how I was all grumbly about people telling me I should read Jonathan Franzen when I had no idea who he was and wasn't all that interested? Well somehow I stumbled onto the fact that he wrote a book about St. Louis with the Arch on the cover and everything! It's a thriller of some sort and looks kind of good. Ha. It's called The Twenty-Seventh City. Has anyone read it?

And More Books I'm Looking Forward To...

Divergent by Veronica Roth has been receiving all kinds of praise this week and I really want to read this book. Part of the appeal of this book is that it's a YA Dystopian, Roth is a Christian, and it takes place near Chicago. I loved this blog post. I will be visiting some ideas from that in the future hopefully, time permitting, but I'd like to say the fact she's only 22 makes me feel like I've accomplished absolutely NOTHING with my life. :)


The Book Smugglers posted the covers for Melissa Marr's Graveminder another book I'm REALLY looking forward to. So I've had these little fits of bookish lust this week. :)

And on the TV front...

I know I never recapped Katerina (The Vampire Diaries), but I think I'll have to let it go at this point. I found the episode very interesting and I'm excited to see where things go.

I just watched the third episode for The Walking Dead and I'm loving this show. It IS gory but the characterization and events are fascinating to watch even if watching them chop up a zombie and spreading its guts all over themselves was disgusting. It was smart after all! Is anyone else watching?

I think that's it for this week...I hope to catch Harry Potter today and I'm looking forward to a holiday week of reading and relaxing and getting caught up on little errands.

Do you have special plans for the holiday or if you're not from the States for the week ahead?


Faith and Fiction Saturday: Books Where the Main Character Rejects Faith

Faith and Fiction Saturday is a weekly discussion of the intersection of faith and fiction. Feel free to post on your own blog or join in the discussion in comments.

Amanda recently raised the question of why characters in today's general market books are without religion. She wanted to know why faith is either a huge deal to the storyline or completely absent. I thought this was interesting, and followed the discussion in comments. Jodie brought up that there's a lack of books where characters consider faith or religion but decide it against it for one reason or another.

I have to admit that really got me thinking. Can you think of any books in the general market where characters consider religion but reject it? I searched my brain and only came up with one book and it's not exactly the same thing.
The Big Love by Sarah Dunn is about a girl who grew up as an evangelical Christian but left the faith. It's significant to the storyline because it still affects her in many ways. But the book isn't really about how she made that choice, only that she did.

Another book where a character had an evangelical stint was Mrs. Perfect by Jane Porter. It seems the character in the book no longer practices the faith but had a time in her life when she did and she remembers it fondly in the novel. I remember appreciating it for the positive portrayal even though the character was no longer really practicing or active in a faith community.

I can think of one book in the Christian market where a character considers conversion to evangelical Christianity from Mormonism, but in the end chooses not to. Books about conversion might also be in short supply. (in general market fiction they are probably in fine supply in Christian fiction!)

So that's today's question for you. Rejecting faith is a part of the faith experience like embracing it so do you know of any books where the characters have considered faith and rejected it? How about books where characters convert from one religion to another or even from one form of Christianity to another?


Friday, November 19, 2010

Review: Don't Sing at the Table by Adriana Trigiani

Adriana Trigiani was blessed to have close relationships with both of her grandmothers. This book, Don't Sing at the Table: Life Lessons from My Grandmothers is a collection of stories about her grandmothers and how they lived their lives, and how Ms. Trigiani applies those ideals to her own life.

I have to admit I was sucked in by the stories of Trigiani's grandmothers right away! I just love reading about regular people from a time past and both of her grandmothers led fairly interesting and unexpected lives. She devotes a chapter to each of them at the beginning, sharing their story and background and also some strong specific and important memories of them. She then goes on to detail more of the influence their lives had on shaping her own.

The book is really interesting for the history lesson. In the section on factory life, I have to say I just felt a lot of loss and sorrow for the way things have changed. I know that the past wasn't better or rosier, but I do feel we have lost some things of value, in particular on the idea we have sold out items of quality for cheaper substitutes. I found her comparison of goods such as clothes to the television industry interesting as well. I do still feel there is a good deal of quality television but it is definitely suffering and most of the quality is found on cable now.

I also just really admired and almost envied the strong knowledge Ms. Trigiani has of her grandmother's life. She has a strong sense of where she came from and who the women were before her. While I know both of my grandmothers, I feel I have forgotten many of their stories, which makes me really sad.

I do recommend this book as a interesting glimpse at some American women's lives and also just as a really interesting read.

Rating: 4/5
Source of Book: ARC provided from publisher
Publisher: Harper

Discussion Question:
How well do you know your grandmothers? What interesting life stories have your grandmothers had?

This is part of a blog tour. Check out Presenting Lenore's great interview with Adriana Trigiani from yesterday!


Thursday, November 18, 2010

CFBA Book Spotlight: The Silent Order by Melanie Dobson

About the Book: Rural America - 1928. After the murder of his partner, Detective Rollin Wells hides away in an Amish home near Sugarcreek, Ohio, to find out who in the police force is
collaborating with Cleveland’s notorious mob. While Rollin searches for answers to his partner’s death, he befriends an elusive young Amish woman named Katie and her young son. As Rollin learns about Katie’s past, he’s shocked at the secret Katie is hiding - a secret that has haunted Rollin for eight years.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Review: Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

One afternoon I had a few spare minutes and I innocently picked up Some Girls Are to read. I say innocently because I had no idea I would be so completely sucked into the story and unable to put it down until I finished it a few hours later. You know how you dream about books like that? When you read as much as many of us do, those hard to put down books are rare. I was utterly enthralled with this read.

Some Girls Are opens with Regina as the designated driver at a party which means she's the only one sober. She's ready to be done but her best friend's boyfriend tries to rape her. Regina is shocked and doesn't know what to do. She goes to someone she thinks she can trust for advice. The next thing Regina knows, she's the target of a hate campaign. Her best friend has turned against her and its war. This is mean girls to the extreme. Vile, hateful, things happen and watching it all unfold through Regina's eyes has a demanding sense of urgency. As a reader, I was fully immersed in this world, I felt everything happening to Regina and everything she was doing. I probably never would have been as courageous as she was, and I thought some of what she did wasn't very wise, but the thing is, I very much felt like I was in her shoes.

Regina tries to make new friends, she deals a little bit with her past, she meets a new guy but anything that makes her happy is an immediate target of her enemies, once friends. The degree to which things go may shock you.

I really feel as if I can't express enough what a fantastic read this was. Regina is a flawed character to be absolutely sure, but she grows. She also is fierce in her own way, and by the end of the book, in all the right ways. And the ending...the ending is not a smooth easy resolution, but it is a resolution and so very right. I loved this book, it felt so very real.

Rating: 4.75/5
Things You Might Want to Know:oh all kinds of things including profanity
Source of Book: Bought it
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin


Review: Christmas at Harrington's by Melody Carlson

Something comforting I can rely on every year is the release of a new Christmas novella from Melody Carlson. Her stories are usually full of plenty of Christmas cheer and something nice that happens that makes you feel all festive inside. Christmas at Harrington's is no exception.

Christmas at Harrington's is about Lena Markham who has just been released from prison for a crime she didn't commit. She's eager to put that behind her though and try to live a new life. When she reaches out the people in her life around her, she begins to find unexpected joy and purpose in life. But unfortunately, not everyone knows about her past. Will Lena be able to start a new life or will the past and judgement catch up to her?

I enjoyed this book but it didn't quite live up to its promise for me. I feel like it started out well and I really enjoyed as Lena started to put her life back together but the end felt a bit rushed and like too many Christmas story cliches were shoved in. Even so, I enjoyed my time spent with the book.

There were a few plot holes for me as well. For example, Lena moves to this brand new town because there is supposed to be a job lined up for her, but then the owner of the store acts like she has no idea who she is.

Also Carlson often spends a lot of time writing out the details of the day...Lena shopped and bought x and x and x and this is how much it cost. But I've read enough of her books to expect this.

So while I enjoyed this book, I really recommend The Christmas Bus by Melody Carlson or The Gift of Christmas Present. Those are my favorite of her Christmas novellas. :)

Rating: 3.5/5
Things You Might Want to Know: Christian fiction
Source of Book: Review copy provided by publisher
Publisher: Revell, a division of Baker Books