Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What's on Your Nightstand? Giving Thanks Edition!

Non-fiction I enjoyed this month:

Many memoirs stress the misery in which the author grew up. "Girls In White Dresses" blogger, Susan Barnett Braun, gives hope to parents trying to raise happy, normal children while still being a believing Christian. Susan and I grew up in similar towns in the same years--in fact my Dad once sold products to her Dad for his ice cream business! We didn't meet, however, until blogging. She grew up in the John Mellancamp's fabled "Small Town"--Seymour, Indiana. This is the sort of town where a beloved school bus driver's funeral (and my best friend's Mom) brings out hundreds and the police officer directing traffic at the cemetery has tears running down his face. No, it's not Mayberry--there are meth and oxy addicts, illegal immigrants and run-of-the-mill redneck pot heads too, but most folks mow their grass, pay their taxes and work hard. Even Emril was surprised by the manners many children showed when he served lunch at an elementary school there a few years back. "Yes ma'am" is not at all uncommon.

For Susan, growing up as the daughter of a public school principal, in a family of Mom, Dad and three girls in a Brady Bunch style home, life was good. And life was centered on First Baptist Church. Yes, you read that right. She went to PUBLIC School (later taught in one, too!) and grew up BAPTIST. It happened all the time before what we know as the "religious right" took over. Her life is way, way more typical of growing up in America than the Glass Castle or There Are Now Children Here and the like. Not rich, not poor. They had "enough" and gave thanks for it.

Susan's memories are often overlap with my own--similar experiences at school, similar toys, tv shows, etc. Like another book I reviewed her story is a sort of epiphany. Those of us who grew up in suburban tract homes, attending decent schools, taking private clarinet lessons, singing "Love is Like A Magic Penny" at V.B.S. (it didn't matter which Church, you just went for the fun), who put on a Girl Scout uniform on Tuesdays and crammed in the back of Mrs. Leader's station wagon to go to a church hall and learn to crochet--we no longer have to hang our heads in shame. And ditto those who did NOT become drug addicts, or go to prison or whatever to find the Lord. Some folks grow up with that security and need not apologize for it.

I Love To Tell The Story ties a hymn to each chapters remin1scences--weaving Baptist fully into the life of a growing girl. Right now it's available for Kindle or Kindle for PC, a free download for any PC that let's you enjoy Kindle books on your computer.

This is a GREAT choice for Church book clubs, for 45--55-ers nostalgic for their childhoods and for anyone who likes to read a positive, uplifting life story.

I hope a major Christian publisher will soon pick this up. I also hope Christian women's magazines, Guideposts and others will soon be knocking on Susan's door. This book deserves real attention.
I Love to Tell the Story by Susan Barnett Braun.

Donna's story, by contrast, is more typical of the modern memoir: childhood near hell--in her case, literally. Her mother was the "common law" wife of famed traveling evangelist David Terrell. She and her brother were frequently dumped on "friends" of Terrell's ministry while he mom traveled with her secret "husband." There lives were sometimes decent, other times heart wrenchingly awful. This is not a story of God's love and redemption, but rather one of power corrupting and the damning effects of an unchecked cult of personality. Holy Ghost Girl by Donna Johnson.
Candice Millard is fast becoming a "look forward to" author of mine! I was mesmerized by The River of Doubt and felt similarly about her new book, Destiny of the Republic. This book should have been titled how an egotistical and not-so-competent doctor killed the President! After poor James Garfield was shot he really should have lived! But his doctor bizarrely did everything possible to keep him from living! A tale of incompetence and intrigue with a back story of Alexander Graham Bell's race to invent a viable x-ray type machine to aid in the President's recovery. Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard.

Fiction from November:
A delightful fictional counterpart to I Love to Tell the Story, is the "Harmony" series by Philip Gulley. Think Milford with slightly snarkier parishoners. This series was new to me so I am really looking forward to the rest of it. Home to Harmony, tells the story of a young pastor taking over his hometown Quaker Meeting as pastor. The cast of characters are funny, don't always see eye-to-eye an are occasionally just a little nuts in the nicest possible way. This is a nice story about very likeable people in a very realistic setting--unless you grew up in a crack house that is. Home to Harmony by Philip Gulley.I noticed this was the pick for the Ladies Home Journal book club recently (I didn't even know they had a book club!!) and decided to try it. RIGHT OFF I loved it!

But WHY, WHY, WHY is it required that every novel published today have at least one character with a STUPID NAME??? IN this case we have an adult daughter (44 or so) named, get this!, CLOVER?? I cannot even fathom someone having to go thru life with that. UGH! Good Night Nurse! The daughter named "Trudy" is really named "Truthfull" (Not making this up!) and Clover's children are LEANDER and PHILOMENA (something like that). Good grief!!! So it's not at all surprising that the main character is retired Harvard librarian Percy Darling. (What we librarians suffer when portrayed in fiction!!)

But what a librarian and what a man he is! Years after his wife's sudden death, Percy starts an amazing new chapter in his very settled life (no spoilers!). His life changes in ways he never dreamed--most for the better. Initially he finds amusement in the early antics of a group of eco-warrior-protestors who hit gas-guzzling vehicles and other unnecessary wastes. Finally the group goes too far and the story has an amazing shot of adrenalin.

The cast of characters, dialogue and description are all vivid, rich and believable. And, in the audio version that I listened to, the reader was superb!! We'd all be glad to have Percy's life in Matlock.
The Widower's Tale by Julia Glass.
Bobbie Ann Mason has taken a a story from her family's past and turned it into a fascinating novel. The French Resistance has taken on a rose-colored hue over the last 60+ years. In The Girl in the Blue Beret, the life of the Resistance becomes very, very real. That a sweet As Time Goes By-style romance is thrown in is just a delightful extra. There is so much in this book to enjoy--the history, the modern story, the characters--even some of the animals! When I finished it I was surprised by the lukewarm reviews at Amazon. I loved it! The Girl in the Blue Beret by Bobbie Ann Mason.

Other Titles This Month:

Earlier this month I posted My Top 5 Reads of All Time and My First Ever Review of a Graphic Novel.

Don't know what to read next? Head over to 5 Minutes for Books and see what's on all the other Nightstands this month!


Lisa notes... said...

"I Love to Tell the Story"--I hope it does well for Susan. How exciting.

A Dusty Frame said...

I get some good ideas from your lists:) Don't always get to read them, but....;)
I pass them on to my librarian sister too:).

I enjoyed the Harmony books. Did you read about Dale? I think he's the goofy parishoner--we went to church with a few Dale's in our life;)!


Hopewell said...

Dale, Bob--and others are very recognizable, Lizzie!!

Susan said...

If I only read your post each month, it would give me plenty of great ideas. I have Philip Gulley's childhood memoir on hold currently - sounds like he grew up similar to me. And the Christmas book on your top 5 list? It's on hold as well ;) Thanks for the great review of Love to Tell ... you get it! And I love the connections we had even before realizing it.

Hopewell said...

My pleasure Susan. I hope it soars--its the kind of story we need to have told.

Cassandra said...

Destiny of the Republic sounds good. I am definitely adding that and The Girl in the Blue Beret to my reading list. Thanks for the reviews!

Happy December reading!

Lauren said...

Your entire list looks great! I am writing these titles down. I didn't post this month, but thanks for sharing this list!

Lauren from 5M4B

Jennifer, Snapshot said...

Great that you could review one of "our own."

I read Home to Harmony several years ago. I enjoyed it, but as I recall I didn't enjoy the 2nd or 3rd as much (if I even got all the way though the 3rd -- don't remember).

Hopewell said...

Jennifer--I think that happens with some series. Book one leaves you wanting more, but then the author stretches "too far...."

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.