Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday Book Review

My last library visit was a bit of a bust. I thought I was all set with a stack of books to read after my surgery but I chose two stinkers; The Stones of Summer by Dow Mossman and Ten Days In The Hills by Jane Smiley. Suffice it to say, I'd leave those on the shelves. I didn't even finish three chapters of either of them. Also didn't finish listening to Crazy In Alabama on CD but that's because I haven't been driving to and from work which is my listening time. I'm returning it unfinished because I've lost steam, although I was enjoying it, and also because I don't want to confuse myself by having multiple sets of books out with different due dates. I'm easily confused.
So I have finished only five books since my last review which I think was two weeks ago. One of them was a little paperback silly book someone at work bought for me about aging. Which might have been enjoyable had not it been written from the perspective of a baby boomer, which I am not. I don't mind owning my age but I'd prefer not to own an entire generation! Maybe it's time to increase the Olay?
Book number one; The Men And The Girls by Trollope. I think I had started this one before my surgery. It was a mediocre read. Enough to keep me engaged but not enough for me to put on the favorites lists. Lots of angst, moments lost, love forsaken, etc. This Heavy Silence by Nicole Mazzarella. Oy, what a downer this was! In the fashion of few books, the main character, Dottie, is not likeable at the start or the finish! Dottie is working her deceased father's farm, the deed of which is held by her uncle. The uncle is a crook who keeps extending the lease with no end in sight. Dottie's best friend dies and as a result she becomes the guardian of the friend's 7 year old daughter, Mattie. So you are hoping and assuming that the presence of this little girl will soften Dottie's heart and give her a new perspective? Nope. She cashes in the kid's inheritance to buy out the uncle and get the deed to the farm. She works the kid like a field hand and refuses to give her over to family who want to raise her as their daughter because she needs the inheritance. She loses the love of her life at twenty when she refuses to marry him believing he will always be there and she is focused on the farm. He returns from Vietnam married to someone else, much to her surprise. She assumes that she has remained his true love throughout the intervening years until twenty years later when her friend dies. The friend also happened to be the sister of this man. She realizes that he loves his wife, is living the life he wanted and that they would make good parents to Mattie who is also his niece. Well, she doesn't care. She needs the money, she needs an extra pair of hands on the farm and the fact that he married someone else doesn't make her especially charitable. Walter (the lost love) and Charlotte (his wife) make due with buying Mattie the pretty dresses she misses from her former life and try to love her from a distance while not estranging Dottie who would then shut the door to the little girl. Dottie's field hand, Stanley, loves her but she can't be bothered and eventually when he sees her treatment of the little girl even he can no longer remain with her.
In the end, Dottie realizes she has nothing human in her life because she has given her all, including the people who loved her, to the farm. She sells off one small parcel at a time sending the money to the now adult Mattie who has moved far away to live her life. Mattie accepts the money, after all it is really her inheritance. But there is no one left in the farm house with Dottie. On a philosophical note, I think there are many of us who hold an ideal for years and years that requires us to feed what is good and true to the very thing that is feeding on us. There's a lesson in there.
The Kingsley House by Arliss Ryan was fabulous and you must read it. It arises from the true story of the Kingsley family, the author being a descendant of Nathan Kingsley who built the house in the title. The book is a work of fiction constructed around the history and stories of the family filled in with details that no one could really know 200 years later. The house was built in what is now Livonia, Michigan by Nathan and Mary who are early settlers. Their lives are chronicled as are the lives of their children and grandchildren to five generations. I loved this book. Romance, slavery, loyalty,'s all there without high drama. It just seems the way a family's history would read if one were sitting in their living room through a few hundred years. Because it is based on the lives of a local family, it was especially interesting in that the landmarks and towns of the area are familiar. A really cool bonus? The house itself was moved from its foundations in the seventies and placed into a small historical area in Livonia called Greenmeade. And I am so going there this summer! Read this book, right now.
All That Lives by Melissa Sanders-Self is a novel based on the Tennessee Bell Witch legend. You may have seen the movie, "An American Haunting"? Same legend. In the early eighteen hundreds the Bell family is allegedly the victim of a "being" that torments their entire household. The various retellings all include the testimony that these events were witnessed by an entire community. If you were to google "Bell Witch" you'd find a ton of hits as it is a well known story. I really liked this book. It is a novel but it is, like The Kingsley House, a novel that finds its roots in truth. I don't mean truth in that I believe in the Bell Witch but truth in that something happened. Family stories, legends, lore; it's all stuff I enjoy. The question is, would it suit everyone's taste? The answer is no. The book details events that could be defined in the realms of evil or demonic. In fact, at one point I put it aside and stopped reading it because I know that this kind of subject matter can ultimately disturb me. However, I went back to it for lack of reading materials and in the end it caused me no discomfort or lost sleep. I took the book in as a commentary on pioneer history and story telling. Believe it or not, the "being" has some truly redeeming qualities which are fascinating. As a Christian, I am naturally drawn to examining the Bell Witch because it is based in a well-known story from the South. So I found myself wondering, is this God? is it evil? What happened?
The book, like the many stories of the Bell Witch, doesn't answer these questions. What I did appreciate is that in this particular version, the "being" is called neither God nor satan but the stronger theme is that all is God's, through God and at his will and control. So tread lightly on this book and take a pass if you are especially sensitive to things in the spiritual realm. This being the case I am not going to officially recommend the book. I'll leave that decision to you. And you can always google if you're slightly curious.
On the nightstand: Breakfast At Tiffany's, Lord of the Flies, When Madeline Was Young (current read), The Dive From Clausen's Pier, The Maytrees, Off Season, The Bay At Midnight. On CD, The Keep
That's the double Friday book review since I missed the 19th. Have a great weekend!

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