Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What's on Your Nightstand? Back to School Edition

From the reviews at Amazon I expected to throw this back. We all know J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) can tell a great story, but the average for this one was only 3 stars. I think that's an injustice!! Once again, though, it maybe a case of the book being better on audio. Tom Hollander is a great voice for this story. Rowling's story begins when Parish [Town] Councilor Barry Fairbrother dies in the Country Club parking lot of natural causes in his wife's arms. This then creates a "casual vacancy" on the Council. What happens next is WHY the Bible tells us God keeps vengeance strictly for himself!!

An ensemble cast of characters who are vividly drawn and well-developed tell the rest of the story, though it is not told in first person. Each person has an inner ax to grind or an unrequited passion to live out. The teenagers, the law partners, the Deli Owner and his wife, the addict Mom in the projects ("Council Housing" in the UK) and her very vulnerable little boy as well as the dissatisfied wife of one of the attorneys, the spurned girlfriend who has ruined her life moving to the village--it's quite a cast. The story shows how gossip, ridicule and hatred build and ruin lives. It is an excellent moral tale without being a "moral tale." I highly recommend it. This is not a Miss Read story though. It is very, very gritty. Personally, I hope there's a sequel!!  The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling.

Wow!! This book resonated with me!!! Anna Bouverie is the frustrated wife of the local Rector of small parish church in rural England. It is a modern-day story (well, 1990s or so--no cell phones!!) and one that I imagine pastor's wives the world over would find familiar. When the continual giving and smiling and sacrificing begins to way like a huge stone on her chest, when her once beloved husband seems to see her only as an unpaid administrative assistant, when her daughter suffers--it all becomes too much for Anna. Peter, her husband, is so driven by his duty to his parish that he doesn't see his family slipping away. This is a very "inner" story and a very real one to just about anyone who is  has reached the married-long-enough-to-be-parents-of-a-teen to be able to shout "YES!" to various passages. I also watched the tv version that was once shown on Masterpiece Theater. I thought it made Anna into a vapid Ninny! But I thought Prunella Scales, as Marjorie, was totally RIGHT. The Rector's Wife by Joanna Trollope. You may need to find it used or through Interlibrary Loan, but it's well worth the effort.

This book is BEAUTIFULLY written, the characters are REAL and VIVID as is the life they lead. The emotions conveyed are real, too--at least to me. I understand them. I was a bit dumbfounded that the author has a Scot question how a man can fight in a kilt! What else have they EVER fought in?? That was the only silly thing. I absolutely will read more from this author--she has a tremendous gift for telling a story.


I CAN accept a woman in 1912 questioning if motherhood is the only path or that women were specially made to be mothers, but that letter seemed written to pass the political correctness test....as did the mention of someone referring to a as a "pansy" I'm utterly sick of this publishing limtmus test. We cannot change history and it's time we stopped trying to!

Not sure though how a young MARRIED woman on the Isle of Skye manages to avoid gossip in her small town when she's receiving letters from an American MAN in 1912. And that they manage to almost not mention that she is actually married to a living man for quite sometime into the story.. Not sure how I can let myself enjoy reading about a woman who blatantly goes off to cheat on her husband while he's in the trenches of World War I. Even her guilt doesn't completely redeem her in my eyes. I can easily believe she sent her poetry off and it was good enough to be published, but the rest I'm not so sure.

In spite of this, the prose is lovely, the characters are real and the scenes are all well developed. I'll give her a pass on the unlikely story--hey she lives in Indiana!  I look forward to much more from this author. I listened to the audio version and it was amazingly well performed. Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole.

This is truly an unusual month for me! TWO Christian novels. I'm not a big fan of Christian fiction. I read this book at my son's request--he found it so utterly compelling that he sold me on reading it.

Jerry B. Jenkins of Left Behind fame, writes a truly compelling story of a young man dealt a bad hand in life. Brady Wayne Darby can't seem to stay out of trouble. Eventually he lands in a state adult prison. Thomas Carey has spent his life trying to serve the Lord as a pastor, but has been passed from small church to smaller church lacking the carisma for success. His devoted wife, Grace, never gives up on him and never gives up on her Lord. I found Thomas and Grace, while very definitely a stereotype just as much as Brady, to be believable. I cared about them and wanted the victory that would make Thomas feel he had earned "Well done, good and faithful servant," even if Thomas would cringe at my desire. What happens when Thomas and Brady meet is electrifying. This is not a story for anyone easily shocked. There are disturbing things in here, but it IS a story of faith and redemption. Riven by Jerry B. Jenkins.

The Last Wife of Henry VIII by Carolly Erickson presented such a vivid portrait of the world of the Tudor king that I often found myself sitting in the parking lot or sitting in my driveway listening to just a little more!! The jealousy, gossip, backstabbing and  boredom of life at Court is so wonderfully told I felt like I'd lived it!!  If you enjoy author Philippa Gregory (The Cousin's War) you will thoroughly enjoy this book as well. Highly recommended.

The second Christian novel this month is another by author Lynn Austin and it is another Civil War story. I read the kindle version which was poorly edited--not the author's fault. So much of this book is laughably improbable, yet it was still very compelling! And, who knows? Maybe the author has actual research to show that such things DID happen. I've already bought book 2 and have started reading it. Kind of like a James Bond movie--don't ask too many questions and it works. Candle in the Darkness by Lynn Austin (Refiner's Fire, book 1)

A Dangerous Mourning by Anne Perry is the second in her excellent William Monk series of Victorian era mysteries. I like Monk. I like Hester. I really liked this story. Yet again a wealthy aristocratic family has suffered a murder and it is up to Monk to figure out the killer. I love the atmosphere Perry creates, love the way Monk is still having to rebuild his life--including his memory--after the accident that started the series. I like seeing Hester, a believable woman frustrated by her time thanks to nursing in the Crimea. She has not simply spontaneously developed more modern views and opinions as happens way too often in historical fiction these days. I am loving this series!!

I've finally done it! I made it thru a free kindle romance without laughing or gagging!! Ha!! This author, unlike many others of the genre, can really write! I was in the mood to just ESCAPE and this book provided me with a mini-vacation. I won't pretend this is high-brow literature, but it was low-brow fun of the best sort. Bernard is every down-trodden woman's dream. Good triumphs over Evil. What more needs to be said? This novella is a pleasant hour or so of escape! Lavender Vows by Colleen Gleason (Medieval Herb Garden Series)

Need ideas on what to read next? 5 Minutes for Books hosts What's on Your Nightstand each month!


Barbara H. said...

I've read several of Lynn Austin's books, but not that one. She usually does do a good bit of research.

I've also read several of Jenkin's books, but not that one - will have to keep an eye out for it.

bekahcubed said...

You read quite a bit this month--I am surprised that you managed to have all positive reviews!

Based on your review (and the general plot) of The Casual Vacancy, it sounds like maybe the "blah" reviews were mainly because readers were expecting more Harry Potter? I had figured on skipping that one, but you've made it sound interesting enough that I may have to take a look someday.

Hopewell said...

Barbara: As I said on my Amazon review, I HOPE she does have research to back up this story. Otherwise.... but, like I said, it was still very compelling!

Hopewell said...

Bekahcubed--I wondered that too. Kind of like being type-cast as an actor I guess. I liked it.

Tonia said...

I enjoyed reading your thoughts on these books - I ended up putting a few books on my library list (like we all need more books to add to the growing piles!).

Jennifer Donovan said...

Good to hear a good review of Casual Vacancy. Maybe I'll check it out on audio. I like that cover better than the hardcover version too.

susan said...

Yes, Jenkins can tell a good tale ... I think I'd enjoy Rector's Wife, and probably the JKRowling as well. What is it lately with well-written books with lousy plots? I've had 2 in the past month!

Kara said...

Great list. Like you, I'd heard that the Rowling title was "meh", so I find your take on it interesting!

Cassandra said...

What a varied list! I hope September is just as good! :)