Monday, November 24, 2014

Revival by Stephen King

One of the things I’ve always liked about Stephen King novels, is the suspension of disbelief they inevitably engender.  Pragmatic by nature, I’m the last one to throw spilled salt, or avoid cracks on the sidewalk. However, give me five hundred pages of a good King novel and I’m turning on the hallway lights, checking door locks, and just generally feeling a little creeped out (in the most pleasant of ways I assure you).  The power his books have over me lies, in large part, with his ability to create such fully-fleshed characters, women and men I can well imagine I have met, in line at the BMV, on a crowded bus, or at an extended family reunion.  Flawed, but decent folk, too much like the rest of us for me not to be invested in their well-being.  King’s newest novel, proves to be no exception to this.  The novel’s main character, Jamie Morton, opens the novel with a nostalgic look-back into his childhood, to a time when the catalyst to alluded horrors, his “fifth business” first entered his life.  The Reverend Charles Jacob and his charming family arrive in the small Maine town of Harlow in 1962, where they become fatefully intertwined with the Morton family, until a horrific tragedy drives them apart.  Jamie and Charles meet again, several times over the ensuing decades, with lasting effects on Jamie, both good and ill. In his fifties, Jamie, at last apprehending that the long-sought realization of Charlie’s obsession (the source and application of De Vermis, a “secret” electricity) may be more terrifying than miraculous.  The last 200 pages of this novel virtually read themselves.  A cross between a Mary Shelley gothic novel and a Bill Bryson memoir, Revival, is sure to go down as yet another King classic.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

     For more than a decade, Jenna Metcalf has never stopped thinking about her mother, Alice, who mysteriously disappeared in the wake of a tragic accident.  Refusing to believe she was abandoned, Jenna searches for her mother regularly online and pores over the pages of Alice's old journals. Alice was a scientist who studied grief among elephants, she wrote mostly of her research among the animals she loved, yet Jenna hopes the entries will provide a clue to her mother's whereabouts.
     Jenna lists two unlikely allies in her quest: Serenity Jones, a psychic who rose to fame finding missing persons, only to later doubt her gifts, and Virgil Stanhope, the jaded private detective who'd originally investigated  Alice's case along with the strange, possibly linked death of one of her colleagues.  The three work together to uncover what happened to Alice, they realize that in asking hard questions, they'll have to face even harder answers.
     Jodi Picoult has written a new novel with elephant lore that explores the animals’ behavior when faced with death and grief, and combines a poignant tale of human loss with a perplexing crime story that delivers a powerhouse ending.
     With plenty of twists and a surprising ending, a book unlike anything the author has ever written before. 

Friday, November 07, 2014

The Tilted World

In 'The Tilted World' husband and wife authors Tom Franklin's (Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter) and Beth Ann Fennelly's (Great With Child) collaboration creates a story that swirls in the murky waters of moonshining and murder. It's 1927 in Hobnob, Mississippi, during the Great Flood, and Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover has sent federal revenue agents, Ted Ingersoll and Ham Johnson, to investigate the disappearance of two prohibition agents. On the way, Ingersoll and Ham come across a baby who is the sole survivor of a country-store robbery gone awry. Ingersoll, who is an orphan himself, can’t bring himself to leave the baby with a local agency. Instead he seeks out Dixie Clay, a 22-year-old mother who has recently buried her only child. Dixie Clay, along with her womanizing and abusive husband Jesses Holliver, is a bootlegger. To add to the plot, the Hollivers are possibly the last to have seen the missing revenuers. As the Mississippi waters begin to swell well beyond the banks, Dixie Clay and other residents grab what meager belongings they have and escape the eminent disaster and the adventures takes off.

The author’s voices are harmonious and the language poetic. Fennelly and Franklin convincingly describe a time and place where the landscape (as well as lives) was wildly off-kilter.  

Friday, October 31, 2014


Liz Moore's novel, Heft, is primarily about three people: Arthur, Kel, and Charlene, the woman who brings them together. We never hear from Charlene directly, but Arthur and Kel talk to us in alternating narrations, and Charlene figures prominently in both of their stories.

Arthur Opp is a big man. Big is perhaps not the best word. He weighs 550 pounds. Arthur has not left his home in about ten years--not even past his front porch--and orders everything he needs online, including groceries. Although he takes great pleasure in eating, he is very refined in other ways and thus is embarrassed by his dietary habits. The reasons for his withdrawal from society are complicated, but he has come to terms with his solitude. But then he receives a phone call from Charlene, a former student and paramour with whom he has corresponded via letters for many years. She wants to visit and bring her son Kel because she thinks Arthur could help him. Arthur is stirred to life and begins to think of new possibilities for his future.

Meanwhile, the narration switches to Kel, Charlene's teen-age son, who is a high school senior, a poor student, and an excellent baseball player. He lives in a poor neighborhood in Yonkers, but Charlene managed to get him into a good high school in an upscale suburb. This was one of the last important things she managed to do, actually, before descending into an alcoholic haze, which keeps her from ever leaving the house. Kel struggles with loving her and hating her at the same time, wondering where his father is, and finding his place in life.

Although Heft is primarily a character study of three very complex people, there is still some tension in the story, with the reader not knowing what the future holds for them and wondering how and if Arthur and Kel will actually connect. I listened to this book on audiobook and highly recommend that format for this story. Arthur's and Kel's feelings are so heartfelt, and actually hearing their voices made the text really come alive for me.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Material Witness by Vanneta Chapman

     Happy times are flowing through Shipshewana, Indiana, that is until Aaron, Melinda Byer's little boy, witnesses a murder in the parking lot of Callie Harper's Quilt Shop that sends this small town into shock.  Callie is beside herself and can't believe this is happening.  Little does she know that her world is about to be turned upside down. The killer wants something that Callie has and will not rest until he gets it. Shane Black is back on the scene to investigate along with Andrew Gavin. Shane vows to protect Callie, who has taken up space in his heart, and little Aaron, who is the only one who can identify the madman. Time is of the essence, and they must all work together to figure out why Callie is involved before the killer strikes again. The ladies, Callie, Esther, Deborah, and Melinda, seem to think there are clues to this mystery hidden on a set of quilts that they were given.  Shane thinks they are off their rockers. A stack of quilts can't possibly hold the answer they are looking for, right?  Or can they?

    Material Witness grabs your attention right off the bat and doesn't let you go until your fingers have turned the last page. Love between family and friends and how far one is willing to go to protect them is captured beautifully in this book. The interaction between the children was an added surprise, because I think they stole the show!