Friday, July 27, 2012

Book Thoughts - Shelter by Frances Greenslade

Shelter by Frances Greenslade
published May, 2012
380 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

For sisters Maggie and Jenny growing up in the Pacific mountains in the early 1970s, life felt nearly perfect. Seasons in their tiny rustic home were peppered with wilderness hikes, building shelters from pine boughs and telling stories by the fire with their doting father and beautiful, adventurous mother. But at night, Maggie — a born worrier — would count the freckles on her fathers weathered arms, listening for the peal of her mothers laughter in the kitchen, and never stop praying to keep them all safe from harm. Then her worst fears come true: Not long after Maggie's tenth birthday, their father is killed in a logging accident, and a few months later, their mother abruptly drops the girls at a neighbor's house, promising to return. She never does.

With deep compassion and sparkling prose, Frances Greenslade's mesmerizing debut takes us inside the devastation and extraordinary strength of these two girls as they are propelled from the quiet, natural freedom in which they were raised to a world they can't begin to fathom. Even as the sisters struggle to understand how their mother could abandon them, they keep alive the hope that she is fighting her way back to the daughters who adore her and who need her so desperately.

My thoughts:

First Impression - 7/19/12

Ugh, I already want to wrap Maggie up in a blanket and take her home with me. She just worms her way right into your heart, so you know it's going to be painful when the stuff starts to hit the fan. I think I detect a little bit of Katniss Everdeen in her, which only endears her more. Greenslade's writing is lovely, and makes the reading of her novel a pleasure. I'm enjoying the novel, but I already feel the tension of knowing that things are about to get bad.

"Worry was stuffed into the spaces around my heart, like newspaper stuffed in the cracks of a cabin wall, and it choked out the ease that should have been there. I'm old enough now to know that there are people who don't feel dogged by the shadow of disaster, people who think their lives will always be a clean, wide-open plain, the sky blue, the way clearly marked. My anxiety curled me into myself." (p. 4)

Second Thoughts - 7/23/12

I think the one of the marks of a good author is making the reader identify so much with their main character that they almost BREATHE with them. Maggie's worry has worked its way into my brain, so much that I am inventing places and events to worry about for her. I think the publisher's blurb made me expect a level of tragedy that so far hasn't been in evidence - I was convinced it would be Maggie and Jenny in a box on the street, and that clearly isn't the direction the author is headed. I do appreciate the subtle tug-of-war she creates between Maggie's burning need to get out, find her mom, do SOMETHING, and Jenny's desire to just have a normal, quiet life.

Last Word - 7/26/12

*sigh* It just ended soooo quickly. Giant info dump and then - BOOM! We're done. I really find that frustrating. This was a beautifully written novel, but it just ended far to abruptly for me. I need a bit of time to process all the enormous revelations you've just given me. Greenslade had the potential for a really remarkable novel, but it didn't live up to my expectations. I did enjoy the reading of the novel, but the story itself was unsatisfying. Unfortunately, I wouldn't recommend this one - too many other good ones to read.

Finished: 7/26/12
Source: review copy from publisher - thank you!
MPAA rating: PG-13
My rating: 6/10

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Book Thoughts - Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
published 10/2010
audiobook - read by Kevin Kenerly

Synopsis from publisher:

In the late 1970s, Larry Ott and Silas "32" Jones were boyhood pals. Their worlds were as different as night and day: Larry, the child of lower-middle-class white parents, and Silas, the son of a poor, single black mother. Yet for a few months the boys stepped outside of their circumstances and shared a special bond. But then tragedy struck: Larry took a girl on a date to a drive-in movie, and she was never heard from again. She was never found and Larry never confessed, but all eyes rested on him as the culprit. The incident shook the county—and perhaps Silas most of all. His friendship with Larry was broken, and then Silas left town.

More than twenty years have passed. Larry, a mechanic, lives a solitary existence, never able to rise above the whispers of suspicion. Silas has returned as a constable. He and Larry have no reason to cross paths until another girl disappears and Larry is blamed again. And now the two men who once called each other friend are forced to confront the past they've buried and ignored for decades.

My thoughts:

First Impression - 7/8/12

I don't normally feel inspired to write a longer, more detailed review of audiobooks, but this one has me engaged in a way I haven't yet experienced. The novel itself is, up to this point, well written and more than a bit suspenseful. But the narrator is remarkable - he IS these characters, completely and utterly. It feels like I am listening in on actual conversations. He nails the author's dry wit, and has had me laughing out loud on more than one occasion.

I'm also surprised at how much sympathy I feel for Larry. I'm not sure I can remember reading a character who has been so completely unable to catch  break - he's really kinda creepy, but as the story unfolds his weirdness begins to make so much sense. Both Silas and Larry have so many layers to their personalities - I am so interested to see what revelations come next.

Second Thoughts - 7/12/12

I have quite a few ideas about how I think the novel is going to progress, but I am also a sucker for a well-placed red herring, so I never really trust that I have things figured out. I did guess the true nature of Silas and Larry's relationship fairly early on, but even that doesn't give me too much confidence. There are several plot threads, however, that have me eager to find resolution. I am still so wrapped up in Larry's story - Franklin has captured his unfortunate-ness so perfectly. I don't see how things can wind up well for him, but I sure keep hoping they will.

This novel is such an interesting character study about the differences in the lives of these two men. Watching them dip and play in and out of each other's lives creates such tension - you can feel the pending explosion between the two men, but just can't quite place when it is coming. Franklin is a master at building slowly, developing the mood and feeling of the novel. Each time I listen I feel on edge, like something horrible is just around the corner. I almost find myself wishing for a longer commute!

Last Word - 7/19/12

Okay, so I figured it out! *grin* but really, I think anyone who was paying attention would have, and that doesn't take anything away from this wonderful novel. It is character study that just happens to contain a murder mystery, but the mystery is clearly not the reason to read Franklin's book. You should read it for the depth of character, the smart and intoxicating writing, the mood, the wit, the atmosphere. I want to find a physical copy and read it again so I can underline all of the beautiful passages I remember. This was a fantastic novel to listen too, but I'm sure it would be an equally wonderful experience to read on the page. Get a copy if you can - highly recommended!

Finished: 7/18/12
MPAA rating: R for language, violence, and adult situations
My rating: 8/10

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Book Thoughts - The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry

The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry
published 1979
287 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

While the Ellison girls were out paying calls and drinking tea like proper Victorian ladies, a maid in their household was strangled to death. The quiet and young Inspector Pitt investigates the scene and finds no one above suspicion. As his intense questioning causes many a composed facade to crumble, Pitt finds himself couriously drawn to pretty Charlotte Ellison. Yet, a romance between a society girl and so unsuitable a suitor was impossible in the midst of a murder....

My thoughts:

First Impression - 7/8/12

How have I not found this series before? It's like a Jane Austen novel with a mystery thrown in - I am just loving all the family cattiness, and the marital intrigues, and of course the creepy maniac who keeps garroting young ladies in alleys. Charlotte Ellison is, of course, funny and intelligent and so much less annoying that the typical "young woman of her day" - although at times, I can't help but wonder if this type of heroine would actually have existed in the time, or if we as modern readers and authors just impart our ideas of women's liberation and freedom upon them. In any case, I'm certainly enjoying her.

Second Thoughts - 7/12/12

Whew! The mystery has definitely arrived at Charlotte's doorstep, and with it the slightly socially awkward but clearly (eventually) lovable Detective Thomas Pitt. It's fairly clear his role in the novel - Charlotte's eventual true love - but Perry isn't going to make their road to romance smooth. I barely care about the grisly murderer running around because I am so enjoying the relationship dynamics Perry has set in motion.

I think my favorite character, though, is Emily. She is naturally vain and self-centered, but there is a calculating coldness under that vapid exterior that hints at a good deal of intelligence. I really hope her character is explored throughout the series, because I think she is the one out of all the cast who can undergo the most interesting transformation.

Because it is a mystery, red herrings abound, and I have chosen and then discarded several. I'm bad at figuring out the mystery, but that never stops me from trying! *grin*

Last Word - 7/14/12

Well, that ended....abruptly. We have the big declaration of love (sorry for the spoiler, but it's not a big secret), and then the reveal of the murderer (again, not a big secret), and then it's over. I mean, on that same page, the book is over. That felt very strange.

I think the novel lost some steam for me in the middle - the mystery was really only dealt with peripherally, with the main focus of the story being the family relationships. Perry spent some time dealing with a couple of the secondary characters I didn't particularly care for, and that made less interested in where she was going. Emily continues to be my favorite character, and I hope the series features her in the upcoming books.

It was a good novel - it didn't end as terrific for me as it started, but I would still recommend it if you like historicals with a bit of a mystery thrown in.

Finished: 7/14/12
Source: my shelves
MPAA rating: PG-13 for adult themes and violence
My rating: 7/10

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sunday Shorts

The Winemaker by Noah Gordon
ebook published 6/4/12 - print version due 9/12

Synopsis from publisher:

Josep Alvarez is a young man in the tiny grape-growing village of Santa Eulália, in northern Spain, where his father grows black grapes that are turned into cheap vinegar. Joseph loves the agricultural life, but he is the second son, and his father’s vineyard will be inherited by his brother Donat, the firstborn. Josep needs to keep his hands in the soil. He yearns for a job growing grapes and for an opportunity to marry Teresa Gallego.
In Madrid, an assassination plot, conceived against the political leader of Spain by men of wealth and power, creates a storm of intrigue that sucks into its vortex a group of innocent young farm workers in Santa Eulália. How Josep’s life is changed drastically by these events, and how, ironically, they gradually turn him into an inspired vintner with an evolving vision of life, is the fascinating story of The Winemaker.

My thoughts:

This was a good story. I think the synopsis from the publisher is a bit misleading, as the meat of the story was less about political intrigue, and much more about the journey Josep takes as he becomes competent and confident as a winemaker and a man. That said, it was a satisfying character study, and Josep's life and history made for interesting reading. I loved all the details about winemaking, and the historical aspects made me want to learn more about this period in Spain's history. Well done - I think fans of historical fiction will find a lot to enjoy in this novel.

Finished: 6/30/12
Source: review copy from the publisher via Netgalley - thank you!
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence and adult situations
My rating: 7/10

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
print version published 5/10

Synopsis from publisher:

In America's Gulf Coast region, grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts by crews of young people. Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota-and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or by chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it's worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life....

My thoughts:

Well, I certainly did not know what to expect when I picked this title at I thought the author's name was fun to say, and I'd heard murmurings of positive reviews around the internets, so I decided to give him a try. I'm glad I chose this as an audiobook - it took me a bit to really get into the setting and characters, and if I was reading a physical copy I would most likely have abandoned it. I'm glad I didn't, because once Lucky Girl showed up on the scene, I was hooked. Nailer became stronger as the novel progressed, and Bacigalupi's secondary characters were memorable and exciting. His dystopian world is well-developed and eerily similar to our own. I am very impressed with this Printz-award-winning author, and am looking forward to reading the newest book set in this world! (The Drowned Cities, released May, 2012.)

Finished: 7/2/12
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, language, and general scary-ness
My rating: 8/10

Calico Joe by John Grisham
198 pages
published April, 2012

Synopsis from publisher:

In the summer of 1973 Joe Castle was the boy wonder of baseball, the greatest rookie anyone had ever seen. The kid from Calico Rock, Arkansas dazzled Cub fans as he hit home run after home run, politely tipping his hat to the crowd as he shattered all rookie records.

Calico Joe quickly became the idol of every baseball fan in America, including Paul Tracey, the young son of a hard-partying and hard-throwing Mets pitcher. On the day that Warren Tracey finally faced Calico Joe, Paul was in the stands, rooting for his idol but also for his Dad. Then Warren threw a fastball that would change their lives forever…

My thoughts:

I would not classify myself as a baseball fan, but I am certainly a fan of this novel. I haven't read Grisham for a long time, but I think I'm going to have to start again if this is an indication of his recent work. Effective blending of past and present, strong narrative voice and compelling storyline - this was just a really good piece of fiction. I almost didn't read this one, but I'm sure glad I did. Definitely recommended.

Finished: 7/7/12
Source: review copy from publisher - thank you!
MPAA rating: PG-13 for language and violence
My rating: 8/10