THE QUICKENING by Michelle Hoover: A Review

A former student sent me this book before Christmas, and it wasn’t until recently that I got to it. I finished it earlier this week and mailed it back because she confessed she hadn’t read it either. I think she will enjoy this debut novel as much as I did.

The word “quickening” means a coming to life, specifically the sensation a woman has when she holds life inside her womb, and it stirs. Two women, Enidina and Mary, neighbors on the prairies of the midwest during the summer of 1915-the winter of 1950, are the main characters. Their stories and their strange relationship unfold throughout the hardships of farm life during the droughts, dustbowl and Depression of the U.S. Frank and Jack , their husbands are as different from one another as are their wives. The story is “gripping at its very core,” and deals in spousal and child abuse, infidelity, repeated miscarriages, and dark secrets that accompany the characters hardscrabble lives. The characters are all complex and authentic, perhaps because Hoover is “the granddaughter of four longtime farming families.” She captures the women’s voices in their dialog and their sense of self-preservation in their thoughts. The novel is a page turner, written in “elegant prose.” I recommend it as a darned good read.

RETURNED TO THE LIBRARY

This first new week of the New Year, I returned two books to my library:

This weird cover would attract anyone!

This debut novel by a well-known Irish musician has been described as “quietly brilliant,” and I would concur. It is about “two single, thirty-something men,” who are friends, and belong to the “uncelebrated [population] of this world.” In one word, they are nice.

Unlike so many thirty-somethings of today, they seem to understand the meaning of life.

Not much happens to either character, and not much happens in the book. “Hungry Paul sat slumped in the sitting room and stayed there for most of the evening, catatonic with failure and looking out the front window as car after car ran over a lost glove in the road.”

One big thing happens to Hungry Paul:

“President Mike (of the Chamber of Commerce) handed Paul a giant cheque for ten grand…[Paul] accepted the congratulations of his family, the Chamber of Commerce members, and other well-wishers.”

A big thing happens to Leonard as well. After losing his mother and continuing to live in the empty house he and she had lived in, Leonard meets Shelly, then loses Shelly. How this eventually plays out, you will have to read for yourself.

It is an engaging, fast read, bordering on the Minimalist style of writing. It is not an in-depth character, nor is there much action in the novel, but, overall, it’s a darned good read.

Another book in the Minimalist tradition

Perhaps because it is a translation from the original Japanese, this “fable-like tale” feels more like a connected collection of short stories than a novel. It deals with the unfolding of human relationships and missed opportunities. It has been described as both “mysterious” and “quirky”; I would have to agree.

Four customers at an back-alley cafe in Tokyo travel through time when they sit in that chair when the ghost-lady leaves it once a day to go to the restroom. Rules govern their trips: they must sit in that seat and not leave it or they will return abruptly to the present; they must visit someone who frequents the cafe; they can not change the outcome of the present; they must return before the coffee gets cold. Interestingly, only one customer travels to the future.

All in all, it is a “very charming read.”

SHORT STORIES FROM 2020

The last short story collection I read in 2020 was The Last One Out Shut Off the Light by Stephanie Soileau, which was published this year. After reading the first two stories in the collection, I thought it was going to be a stereotyped look at Louisiana and its inhabitants. I remember years ago in Sunday school, Sam Brouillette, our director would tell “Boudreaux jokes,” stating that it was not politically incorrect because he was a Cajun himself. We looked forward to these, similar to dumb blonde or Aggie jokes, each week. However, I was not willing to read eleven stories that would put my Louisiana-born-or-bred friends down. What the book actually turned out to be was “a portrait of the last-chance towns of southwest Louisiana…” which is a “…place continually in flux.” It is a story of this region of the South and its people.

Many of the character studies, which are marvelously done, are dark, and many are humorous. The author leads us to understand that this region is “as much a state of mind as it is a place on the map.” I loved the hints at the Cajun language and the fact that we could “hear” the sounds with our “mind’s ear,” but in all cases understand what was being said.

One of my favorite stories was “Poke Salad.” A message, probably a phone call, from a dad to his daughter, goes something like this, “I walked through the flames, baby doll, and I survived.” It describes in humorous fashion a man’s near-death experience after eating poisonous greens.

“Mr. A,” another story is of a darker nature. It describes a pedophile, who leads a choir and acting troupe of 5-18 year-olds on tour throughout the region. “Mr. A, their gallant captain, their pied piper, small and dapper, straight-backed and trim extending an arm left or right to steer his trusty procession…” is an example of the wonderful writing throughout the stories. I enjoyed Soileau’s writing style as I read through the character-driven stories. My only complaint about this collection was that it ended too soon!

It’s about time to read another group of short stories. Any suggestions?

THE ART OF PURRING by David Michie: A Review

The second book in a series about the Dali Lama’s Cat

I read this book on my Kindle, and I found that I am enjoying reading electronically almost as much as handling a physical book. That’s progress for me! HCC, His Holiness’s Cat, aka Snow Lion contemplates the question, “What makes cats purr?” As a matter of fact, she meditates on purring, an act of joy, contentment and satisfaction through the whole book. Interestingly enough, there are many reasons cats purr, and HCC enlightens us with anecdotes for all the different ones. As she instructs us, we get to explore Buddhism’s views on happiness.

Told from the cat’s point of view, the story examines the deep-down happiness seen more in cats than in other animals. Michie, through his intriguing plot and developing characters warns us, the readers, about the “perils of self-obsession.” Besides the setting of the Dali Lama’s palace, the author creates The Himalaya Book Cafe, where HCC spends a great deal of her time when the Dali Lama is away and where she discovers a Karmic connection in this second book.

As one critic says, the book is filled with “wisdom, warmth, and a touch of mischief.”

ANXIOUS PEOPLE by Fredrick Backman: A Review

(publication date: 2019) I am definitely recommending this one to my book club.

By the author of A Man Called Ove

This novel is fun-ny! Opening with a scene that borders on the bizarre, one wonders how things could get any weirder. Just keep reading because they do! The interview transcripts taken by father and son cops, Jim and Jack, are masterpieces of deliberate miscommunication and humor. A conglomerate of people/individuals,”eight extremely anxious strangers,” are thrown together as we learn of their life-issues, problems, and reasons for anxiety. Their “hurts, secrets, and passions…are ready to boil over” as we read of a bank robbery that didn’t happen, a hostage situation, and a man in a rabbit suit.

Backman’s story is simultaneously “humorous, compassionate, and wise.” It is an exploration of the things in human nature that “save us in the most anxious of times.” The ending is extremely satisfying, and the interconnectedness Backman brings out of the chaos at the beginning warms our hearts better than a crackling, fireplace on a cold morning.

SATURDAY MORNING (BUT NOT) FOR KIDS

Funny thing, this week I didn’t read a single kid’s book, so instead, I will recommend and review a book about people who work with (and live for) kids: teachers, librarians, and principals. I listened to this one as an audiobook and had the best experience with an audiobook to date. Now I know why so many of my blogging friends like and read audiobooks.

I definitely will look for more books by this author.

This 2020 publication was made for me–the protagonist was a librarian in a private school located in, Galveston, Texas, thirty miles south of where I live. It was both “timely” and “uplifting,” two of the words critics and reviewers used to describe this novel. The “author’s essay at the end, “Read for Joy,” is one I intend to use in my writing class next semester as a model to emulate.

There is tragedy in this book, both in the past and the present, but that is also the “message” the author is successfully preaching–One “should choose joy even [and especially] in difficult times.”and in the midst of tragedy.

The quirky school librarian,Samantha, who is dealing with trauma and tragedy, both physical and emotional, is a character you will love and root for. Duncan Carpenter, the stoic, cold new principal, who was once a presence in Samantha’s life, is the love interest you’ll love to hate. The twists and turns will keep you engaged in this “novel full of hope and love” right down to the satisfactory “comforting warmth” you will experience at the end.

This was one of my favorite “reads” so far this year.

More Celebration of Color: TELL ME WHY by Sandi Wallace

Mostly green cover

This was a novel I won in a blogger friend’s giveaway! It is an Aussie novel, something I’ve not read before, and the first book in a series. Wallace’s “Georgie Harvey and Franklin series” promises to be one I will follow up on. It was suspenseful, especially at the end, and very exciting. I will definitely buy the sequel, Dead Again, to follow the lives and adventures of the main characters. Georgie Harvey, a journalist’s, elderly friend Ruby, asks her to check on Susan Pentecost, Ruby’s friend who lives in a nearby town. When Georgie starts nosing around, she gets off to a bad start with John Franklin, the Senior Constable, who wishes women would stick to their “place” and leave police work to the police.

Add in the local mob, a “fatal” fire, a religious nut suspect, and Franklin’s rebellious daughter, and you have the perfect murder mystery which leads to an exciting, “ouch” ending.

Thanks to my young blogger friend for this cool sign off! She makes them as a business. For details contact me at raelongest300@msn.com

SATURDAY MORNINGS FOR KIDS

BEING BIIG CAT LOVERS, MY BETTER HALF AND I BOTH ENJOYED THIS BOOK

You don’t have to be a cat lover to love this book, but it helps. Nick has two cats, Verne and Stevenson. Verne takes to reading right away, loves being read to and reading himself. Stevenson, on the other hand, is a “reluctant reader,” enjoying nothing that involves reading. Nick discovers a hidden talent Stevenson has, however, which turns the reading lessons upside down.

This is a delightful picture book, one I bought for my great grand niece.

Until next Saturday, happy reading everyone!

ATONEMENT, TENNESSEE by Teagan Riordain Geneviene: A Review

by blogger friend Teagan Geneviene

My personal “Book of the Month,” this novel by blogger friend, Teagan, is set in Atonement, Tennessee, a “quaint” town full of interesting characters. When Esmerelda Lawton, “Ralda” to her friends, suffers from “big city blues,” she finds an old foreclosed-upon mansion in Atonement at a price too good to be true. And when something is too good to be true…well, you know the rest of the saying. She buys the house sight-unseen, and only when she arrives in town does she discover the old mansion comes complete with an ancient cemetery.

Gwydion, the local florist from Fae’s Flowers, and conveniently a handyman, is the first to visit. Cael, the foreign-accented, dark, and very handsome neighbor, who hangs around the cemetery, rounds out the love interests in this tiny town .

The story is a mix of urban fantasy and Celtic mythology, emanating a “feeling” of mystery and paranormal romance. The book ends with a cliffhanger that definitely requires a sequel, for which I can hardly wait.

NATIONAL READ A BOOK DAY

I didn’t read a whole book today, I finished one. I chose this book from the Alvin library because Carla of Carla Loves to Read put me on to this great, new-to-me author, thus finishing the challenge of 20 in 20–books recommended by blogging friends. It also fits in with my “Celebrating Color” challenge as my yellow book.

If I were doing “Austin in August” this year a la Deb Nance of Readerbuzz, and if it weren’t already September, this would fit a third challenge. LOL

This 2017 novel by Katherine Reay is for all Austin fans and anyone who loves a good, clean love story. Mary Davis, the main character, an engineer at a company she helped start, is contacted by Isobel an estranged childhood friend. Isobel offers a free two week stay in a gorgeous manor house in England. Mary, at the urging of her father, agrees although she doesn’t know why because Isobel and she have little in common any more. While in England, Isobel has an episode where she believes she is actually in Austin’s England, not just dressing in costume and pretending to live in the time. The “costume-clad guests” at the manor house are appreciative of her knowledge of Austin, and she entertains them with specifics as the Lit major that she is. During this time, “hard truths about the women’s pasts” come out, and Nathan, “the man who stands between them” joins them in England, as this fantasy themed vacation takes on a series of misunderstandings that almost wreak havoc in the women’s already troubled friendship.

This is a great story and a great read. I finished it today on National Read a Book Day, September 6, 2020.