"Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather, and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know." - John Keats

"You're not allowed to say anything about books because they're books and books are, you know, God." - Nick Hornby

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Review #3: A Land More Kind Than Home, by Wiley Cash

The library bookstore is my secret addiction. I don't get to go often (at least, not in my county, what with the powers that be cutting library hours to a ridiculous degree), but when I do go, I load up. And I would say that of the books I pick up, I have about a 50% success rate. I donate the rest back, which results in a vicious circle where I've been known to re-buy previous rejects. (Yeah, I know.) Anyway, of that 50% success rate, about half of those are guilty pleasure romance novels that are easily read but easily forgotten, and the other half are knock it out of the park fantastic finds. A Land More Kind than Home is one of the latter.

Set in the shadows of the North Carolina mountains in the mid-1980s, the novel is told from three different first-person perspectives: a nine-year-old boy, the town's midwife, and the middle aged county sheriff. It shouldn't work, but it does, and it does so beautifully. Each narrator has a different thread of the same story, and Cash deftly weaves the tale together, sometimes veering off in to the past, but never in a rambling way (I'm looking at you, Richard Russo). Cash allows the climax of the story to begin in the sheriff's voice, and then at the last minute, smoothly hands it over to the young boy, simultaneously softening the blow of the novel's penultimate scene and devastating the reader even more than had the reader witnessed it from the sheriff's perspective.

I want to be careful what I say about the story, because I fear that even a summary will give too many things away, and this is a novel you need to just immerse yourself in and let the words, and the story, wash over you. This is a tale of a small southern town, its residents ripped apart by a young boy's needless death, a nefarious and shady preacher man, a sheriff haunted by twenty-year-old grief, and an old man left with nothing but a second chance. I would compare Cash to Tom Franklin (Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter) or John Hart (The Last Child), and A Land More Kind Than Home is a powerful addition to Southern literature.

I've heard it said before that those who don't learn from the past are bound to repeat it, and I just don't know what I think about that. I figure I don't have too much use for it. The past will just weigh on you if you spend too much time remembering.

Review #2: The Haunting of Josie, by Kay Hooper

I hate it when I read the blurb about a book and I think it's going to be one thing, but then it turns out to be totally different, and totally dull.

According to the back cover, The Haunting of Josie is about a young woman spending a year in a secluded cabin, untangling the threads of a mystery that killed a man she loved. She's unprepared for her sexy and dashing neighbor Marc Westbrook, and doesn't really need the distraction of the tall, dark, and handsome man-next-door, but soon she'll have no choice but to trust him. 

So I go in to this thinking that Josie's got some terrible secret or bad guy that's haunting her, that she lost her first love, that Marc's going to be in danger, that terrible truths are going to come out and Marc and Josie are going to have to rescue each other and live happily ever after together the end.

That's not what happened. The novel opens with a cat. Correction: the novel opens with the cat's point of view. Yeah. Okay, whatever, I can go along with that. But then there's a ghost and a mysterious key that the cat keeps moving around, and an old murder mystery that I really didn't care about at all, and Josie's secret wasn't all that salacious or dangerous, and the damn cat keeps showing up. But the haunting is really the weirdest part. It's Marc's great-great-great uncle or some such nonsense, a writer who committed suicide but was really murdered (I think - I can't remember), but he looks just like Marc. And he likes to appear to Josie when she's half dressed. It's creepy and not in a chills up your spine cause it's cold and dark outside way, but creepy in the way that the guy at the end of the bar might want to stare at you while you shower way.

And then the stupid cat shows back up and we close out with the cat's point of view again.

The whole thing felt weird and disjointed, and frankly, pretty dated, which is surprising since I think it's only about ten years old. Definitely not Hooper's strongest effort.

Disclaimer: this was an audio book, but I don't think it would be any better in print.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Review #1: Turbo Twenty-Three, by Janet Evanovich

Note: Spoilers abound.

Are there really spoilers in a Stephanie Plum book, though? I mean, we know that Lula is going to wear outrageous outfits, that Grandma is going to do something wacky, that Mrs. Plum is going to drink a little bit of Four Roses in her iced tea glass, and that Stephanie is going to have some near-death experiences.

In installment 23 (are we really up to that number?), we open with Stephanie and Morelli’s relationship status upgraded to engaged to be engaged. Apparently, Joe had some sort of medical thing in the last book which made him feel especially domestic for a short while. Stephanie’s on the hunt for Larry Virgil, who is out on bond for stealing an eighteen-wheeler full of bourbon, and she and Lula catch him stealing another eighteen-wheeler, only this time, it’s full of ice cream and a dead guy covered in chocolate sauce. So, you know, a typical day in Trenton.

In the meantime, Ranger needs Stephanie to go undercover at the ice cream plant, which is sort of related to the stolen truck full of ice cream and dead guy. The B stories this time include Grandma getting engaged to a biker bartender in one of the more delightful Grandma side-stories, and Lula and Randy Briggs (the short guy) filming themselves in their birthday suits wandering about Trenton for an audition tape for “Naked and Afraid”. Think about that visual for just a few seconds.

But what you really need to know, is that Stephanie sleeps with Ranger. At the Contemporary Resort at Disney World. Twice. While wearing Tinkerbell underwear.

The last few Stephanie books have felt pretty formulaic, and they have been, but they’re still fun, and I’m still reading them. Plus, you know, Ranger. It’s hard to give him up.