Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

Read this back in August-September 2017, finally posting here.  It was another Best seller back when and an Oprah Book Club selection, published in 2008.  Another I thought I might read someday so when I found it so cheap at the book sale, scooped it.  Not all that interesting to me, but anyone who has interest in dog training and or mutes will find it more enhancing.   Writing is very good, almost lyrical at times, always descriptive and not overly wordy, 562 pages, and the author indicates it was a long time work in progress. A unique feature of this novel is that each chapter has a distinct title.  

The prologue opens in 1952 in Pusan, South Korea, a world away from northern Wisconsin, the setting of the novel. 
Inside flap
 "After dark the rain began to fall again but he had already made up his mind to go and anyway it had been raining for weeks.  He waved off the rickshaw coolies clustered near the dock and walked all the way from the naval base, following the scant directions he'd been given, through the crowds in the Kweng Li market square, past the vendors selling roosters in crude rattan crates and pigs" heads and  poisonous looking fish lying blue and gutted and gaping on racks, past gray octopi, in glass jars, past old women harking kimchee and bulkogi, until he crossed the Tong Gang on the Bridge of Woes, the last landmark he knew."   Such an opening is intriguing and gives a flavor of the descriptive alluring writing.  

Some other writing for a better flavor of this text:  Page 23  "Though her foster childhood had sensitized her to familial loss, the need to keep her family whole was in her nature from the start.  To explain what happened later by any single event would deny either predisposition or the power of the world to shape.  "

Or how about this describing the sighting of an otter, lyrical, "  Page 25, "They saw an otter once, floating belly up in the floodwater, feet pointed downstream, grooming the fur on its chest--a little self contained canoe of an animal."  

For my taste there was too much about dog trainoing and I was getting bored until his father's accident happened about pages 122-123 when I knew things would change significantly but not how.  

The description of grief is memorable, Page 161, "There followed for each of them good days and bad.  And often Edgar's best moments coincided with his mother's worst.  She could be cheerful and determinedly energetic for days on end and then one morning he would walk downstairs and find her hunched at the kitchen table, haggard and red-eyed.  Once lapsed, nothing could deliver her.  It worked the same with him.  Just when normal life felt almost possible--when the world held some kind of order, meaning, even loveliness the prismatic spray of light through an icicle, the stillness of a sunrise, some small thing would go awry and the veil of optimism was torn away, the barren world revealed.  They learned somehow, to wait those times out.  There was no cure, no answer, no reparation."  

Page 257 continues about grief and what's real:  "Edgar, do you actually think that how long a person grieves is a measure of how much they loved someone?  There's no rule book that says how to do this.  She laughed bitterly.  Wouldn't that be great?  No decisions to make.  Everything laid right out for us.  But there's no such thing.  You want facts, don't you?  Rules.  Proof.  Your're like your father that way.  Just because a thing can't be logged, charted, and summarized doesn't mean it isn't real.  Half the time we walk around in love with the idea of a thing instead of the reality of it.  But sometimes things don't turn our that way.  You have to pay attention to what's real, what's in the world.  Not some imaginary alternative, as if it's a choice we could make."  

Page 457-8 abppput chance and coincidence. "So much of the world was governed by chance.  If they had left Henry's house a day earlier they might have been in Canada that very moment, maybe even at Starchild Colony.  Life was a swarm of accidents waiting in the treetops, descending upon any living thing that passed, ready to eat them alive.  You swam in a river of chance and coincidence.  You clung to the happiest accidents--the rest you float by."  

And near the end of the novel, " "The after image of the fire-flash twisted in the air before him like a violent snake."

I give this a 4**** althought he subject was not to my liking the writing kept my interest.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Songs in Ordinary Time by Mary McGarry Morris

What a slog along forever saga this novel was, all 740 pages, took me over a month to read it sporadically.  It was an Oprah Book Club pick back when, published in 1995.  A friend recalled it was one I wanted to read long ago and so she sent it to me for my birthday in November.I am always grateful to be remembered by people on my birthday and I really do appreciate a book as a gift.  My goodness, I do not think I will read anymore by this author.  At first I thought it would be more of a spurt, almost interwoven short stories about the multitude of characters, but no, it went along  a very long tale about several main characters, all interwoven around the fictional town of Atkinson, Vermont and the newcomer to this small town, Omar Duval.  I was compelled to read it though to the end to find out if Marie Fermoyle the divorced single hard working mother of 3 would ever wise up to the con of Duval.  

The writing is good but beyond me how this author found so much to say and say and say about the town and people. My first impression is that it would be somewhat like tales in a poverty area of Appalachia probably because it begins by  describing Duval's arrival when he "came down off the mountain into Atkinson."  There are a multitude of stories all converging in this small town USA,some pathetic, some annoying, some tiresome and some intriguing, so the novel offers a range of reading.  Just about the time I thought I had identified the  primary themes, another emerged.  

Page 102: "The three of them used to visit here every Sunday after Mass.  But that had
Back Cover
ended when Aunt Helen accused Norm of stealing her mission box.  She said there were five dollars' worth of dimes in it, enough to feed two Chinese babies for one year.  His mother went crazy.  She told Helen she had a hell of a nerve accusing her son of thievery when she, Helen, was the biggest thief in the whole world.  And, Benjy knew, a liar too; there had been only thirty one dimes in the box."    Marie Fermoyle is the struggling woman raising her children meagerly while her exhusband Sam wanders in and out of alcohol rehabilitation facilities.  Sam Fermoyle though comes from a wealthy family and will inherit abundance if his mother ever passes away, the mother is an elderly lady incapacitated  by  severe  dementia, kept at home in a crib.  The long suffering local Monsignor thought he finally got some help from the new priest Father Gannon, who soon adds to the problems the church has by being to free with the people and ultimately engaging himself with Alice, Maries's  daughter.  There is not one single character who does not fight some sort of demon, or go along with it.  


I would give this a 3 ***It is not really a bad  read if someone wants to read drama after personal drama, perhaps this novel fits the bill.  Described  as a good summer read, perhaps so.    

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Still Life by Louise Penny

Finished this book, 312 pages  in a few nights as I battle off a coughing hacking cold that descended upon me.  An excellent read, published in 2005, proving yet again that there are many wonderful books, mysteries , not necessarily just current best sellers.  I am grateful to my friend who found it and sent it to me.  I will be passing it along now to another friend.  So many of the  great characters continue with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Detective Beauvoir of the Surete du Quebec solving a murder back in the fictional village of Three Pines, outside of Montreal. The suspense and writing are every bit as intriguing as the first Louise Penny I read, in 2017,"The Brutal Feeling" and posted my review here finally January, 2018.  Louise Penny knows how to keep the mystery a secret up until the end as with the other book, I never correctly guessed  "who done it?" until she reveals it  near the end of the book, page 291 and with an almost dire outcome avoided by the detectives.  

It was a return to the familiar with many of the same characters in Three Pines, Gabri, Olivier, Ruth the eccentric,  Myrna, Clara and Peter and with new additions, Ben, Yolande, Timmer and  Nicole, a detective trainee whom Armande sends packing. This book I learned that Myrna is a black woman, something I had not gotten reading the other.  Fortunately the book stands on its own and one need not read any of these in sequence or from the beginning.   

Back cover
This tale focuses on the death of Jane Neal, an elderly village lady, at first it is assumed to be accidental but quickly turns to murder by bow and arrow, yet.  Page 1 begins"  Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday.  It was pretty much a surprise all round.  Miss Neal's was not a natural death, unless you're of the belief everything happens as its supposed to.  If so, for her seventy six years Jane Neal had been walking toward this final moment when death met her in the brilliant maple woods on the verge of the village of Three Pines.  She'd fallen spread-eagled, as though making angels in the bright and brittle leaves."    Descriptive writing, and the scene is set.  

Pg 20, Clara and Ben are talking,  "Oscar Wilde said that conscience and cowardice are the same thing.  What stops us from doing horrible things isn't our conscience but the fear of getting caught."  

Pg 24, "Evil is unspectacular and always human, and shares our bed and eats at our own table," Jane said almost under her breath.  

Looking back now after finishing this I can see just how the author  draws the reader in, with clues that do not seem more than part of the conversation.  I did not get this until I began writing this.review, yet they wqere quotes I had identified as ones I would include here.  

Pg. 47 Gamache is reflecting, , "And the pall of grief that settled on this little community was worn with dignity and sadness and a certain familiarity.  This village was old and you don't get to be old without knowing grief.  And loss.."  

Pg. 140, Myrna is discussing choices, faults, quoting Shakespeare , "The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings.....  "The vast majority of troubled people don't get it, the fault is here but so is the solution.  That's the grace." 

Pg. 279, Gamache is marveling "at the people who chose to live in this area.  Was Margaret Atwood a garbage collector perhaps?.......No one was who they seemed.  Everyone was more And one person in this room was very much more."  

Pg 303, "This is what comes of trust and friendship, loyalty and love, thought Peter.  You get screwed.  Betrayed.  You get wounded so deeply you can barely breathe and sometimes it kills you.  ......."

A 5 ***** read thoroughly enjoyed and savored it.   

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Painter's Daughter by Julie Klassen

Al;though I was unfamiliar with her and do not usually read this genre of romantic novels, I read this book and a few others by Julie Klassen, a MN author after she came to town to speak at the Library. That was back in 2016 and recently I noticed I had not included it here.  It is a tale of love, betrayal, trust,  family, forgiveness just as the complimentary bookmark that came with it describes.  I found it easy reading and not as trite as I had expected.  In fact, it was a good diversion for me.  

I learned from Julie's talk that she is almost exclusively drawn to the era of the 1800's in England for her novels and has traveled there multiple times, meeting characters who may resemble some in her books.  It was fascinating to learn how the covers are chosen and how much work goes into that almost as much as the novel.  From the others who attended the talk, she is a very favorite author for many women who read all her books and anticipate the next one. 
There is usually a moral to the story and always a distinct choice between right and wrong, etc.  One small excerpt from pg 58, "Would she and Captain Overtree have children together?  Sophie wondered.  It seemed difficult to imagine when he would barely look at her, let alone touch her.  But he was a man of faith, apparently.  So might he help her raise the child she already carried to love and fear the Lord?  She hoped so--if he lived.  Even though faith had not played a role in her upbringing, she wanted it for her own child."  That gives a hint of the story line.  As I recall I did enjoy reading this book and have since read a few on my Kindle app.  

The back cover is a good preview and shows the countryside.  The author, Julie Klassen claims to love all things Jane from Jane Eyre to Jane Austen..I give this book 3 ***, entertaining, and well written.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Camel Club and Wish You Well by David Baldacci

July 1, 2011 from my  other blog, copied here .  The other blog was before I set this one up just for books. 


I finished reading a few more books to add to my side bar.  Just last night, I turned the last page 435 on one of my go to author's David Baldacci, an excellent story teller, "The Camel Club."  I have not ever had a disappointing read by him and in this book different yet again, I think he must be meeting with another of my favorite authors, Vince Flynn.  The Camel Club published in 2005 introduces Oliver Stone and his friends who exist on the fringes of Washington, DC to seek the truth about the country's business.  This is a mystery, thriller, terrorist, suspenseful novel at it's best.  Until I read this,  my  favorite Baldacci  read years ago was "Wish You Well."  Now it is a toss up.  Somehow I had jumped sequence because I first read the second in this venue,  which is not a series,  with the same four characters, charter members of the club, Oliver, Caleb Shaw, Reuben Rhodes, and Milton Farb but in this they join forces with Alex Ford, a secret service agent against a sinister plot of terrorists and ideologues that threaten the stability of the nation and the world.  I don't want to ruin the story for anyone, but this twister kept me glued to the pages and in today's topsy turvy  world with  repetitive crises in the Mid east, this work of fiction could be predictive.

Oliver, whose true identity is revealed in this book, claims they chose camel because camels have great stamina and never give up, but Reuben, reveals  page 432",, in the  1920's there was another Camel Club and at each meeting the members raised their glasses to oppose Prohibition to the last drop of whiskey."   As always Baldacci writes well and introduces spectacular characters. Besides the four, there are ever so many more characters such as Djamila,  a Muslim nanny, an Iranian posing as an Egyptian undercover of her peaceful job;  two sided  secret service agents who bring the country to the brink of the unthinkable; the ideologue Muslims who have infiltrated and settled into unsuspecting areas of employment waiting their moment; Brennan, the President of the United States, who is from a small town outside Pittsburgh, PA where terror manifest,  North Koreans, Carter Gray  the US Intelligence Czar appointed by the President  (this book was written before we had Czars...) and more officials and agents.  Camel Club is suspenseful and  kept me guessing to identify who are the villains and who are the champions and that suspense kept me reading.   Pg.154...."..he became Oliver Stone, a man of silent protest who watched and paid attention to important things...."  Pg. 40 describing the issues faced today, ..."not a war of professional armored battalions vs. turbanned rabble in the streets toting rifles and RPGs.  And it was not simply  a difference of religions.  It was a  battle against a mind-set of how people should conduct their lives, a battle that had political, social, and cultural facets melded together  into an exceedingly complex mosaic of humanity under enormous strain."    Pg. 69.."ignorance and intolerance, in pairs, never  one without its evil twin."  Pgs 100-101  well describe the history of the Muslim and  mideast turmoils  from the Syrians, Chechniyans, Mindanos, Kuwait, Lebanon,  Afghanistan, Morocco, Kurds, Iraquis, Baathists, Taliban, Mali and Senegal and more.   Baldacci has  summarized the escalation of problems the world faces today.   I fully recommend this thriller and as I said, I hope it is not predictive.    

The Collectors by David Baldacci


I posted this on my other blog in February 2010 and copied it here, one other very good Baldacci novel.  The Camel Club characters in action. 


"The Collectors"  by David Baldacci published in 2006, was my latest Baldacci read, completed on our RV trip west.  How Baldacci twists and melds  divergent plots so that the interwoven interesting characters keep me on the edge of the pages, always amazes me. In this dual different tales, the first centered on deaths in the Library of Congress' antique book section involving librarians and collectors of  famous old antique  books and  the second a very upscale con artist, Amanda Conroy and her troupe of merry men who avenge her con-father's death on one of Atlantic  cities top dogs by bilking him out of  more than $40 million.  It's a fascinating read how these two settings with unique  characters meet and become responsible  for unraveling a plot of selling top US secrets to unfriendlies. Oliver Stone, alias of a man who has been with special forces and intrigue services internationally for America  but who now works as a caretaker in  a cemetery although still maintaining his skills in security and resolution and who with Milton Farb, Reuben Rhodes and Caleb Shaw  forms the Camel club, an informal watchdog organization to keep the US government accountable to the people.  When Caleb, who's a librarian at the  Library of Congress discovers his mentor dead and is named  by the will to assess and oversee sale of the dead man's antique priceless book collection, the Camel Club becomes involved.  It's a must read  for those who like mystery, intrigue and characters, all Baldacci traits.  This novel though has one of those endings that assure purchase of the next novel, as the wronged Atlantic city mobster is left coming after Amanda who has now partnered with the Camels.  Gotta see what happens in that novel which is likely already published by this prolific author.  Baldacci books never disappoint me.

Divine Justice by David Baldacci

Read this novel in February and will be passing along to Library sale, but another as always excellent Baldacci read.  It is an old one from 2008, 387 pages,  recently acquired at a sale and like all Baldacci can be read out of order, although his one continues with the characters of the Camel Club and Oliver Stone.  This could very well have been written or be applied today.  It high lights coal mining, the lives, hills and folks who live there and  the timely horror of rampant prescription drug abuse, opiods of today.  

From page 150, " There was right and wrong.  Although those lines got blurred all the time.  Justice and injustice too were often all over the place, he knew.  There were no easy answers and whatever road you took, be it the high, low or more likely somewhere in between, half the people  would hate the result and half would applaud.  And the hell of the thing was in a way they'd both be right."

Page 213, " Experience without cynicism was a sure sign your brain had dry rotted and you hadn't bothered to notice.  He went into every high level meeting these days knowing there were at least three agendas and also knowing he'd only be told one of them."  Sounds like bureaucracy and governmental politics of today, some things do no change. 

This is another 5 *****.  A page turner that I read to get a break from another book that I have been struggling to finish and needed a break in reading.  Sometimes I do that, set one aside and  pick up diversion.  Baldacci never disappoints.