REVIEW: The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

the prince of tidesFormat:  Audio CD
Genre:  Fiction / Southern Fiction
ISBN:  978-1-4418-0791-5
Published:  1986 (1988 audio)

Rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Back of the Book Blurb:

Pat Conroy has created a huge, brash thunderstorm of a novel, stinging with honesty and resounding with drama.  Spanning forty years, this is the story of turbulent Tom Wingo, his gifted and troubled twin sister Savannah, and their struggle to triumph over the dark and tragic legacy of the extraordinary family into which they were born.

Filled with the vanishing beauty of the South Carolina low country as well as the dusty glitter of New York City, The Prince of Tides is Pat Conroy at his best.

My Thoughts:

I am convinced beyond any doubt that Pat Conroy is one of the finest writers living today, and perhaps one of the finest I have had the pleasure to read. This is the book that put Pat Conroy on the literary map, and deservedly so. It is an epic story, and I don’t mean in the “beyond awesome” sense of this generation’s iteration of epic, but in the true definition of the word. It is a work of art, a story that tells of exciting events and adventures, a story “extending beyond the usual or ordinary especially in size or scope.” (Merriam-Webster) This is certainly true in the good and happy sense, but even more true in the bad, dark and disturbing sense. The story sprawls the decades of the Wingo children’s lives, hitting expected highs, but also dipping to horrifically disturbing lows. Maudlin & melodramatic? Perhaps so, but there isn’t a single thing that Pat Conroy could conceive in his mind where something more maudlin, more dramatic, more horrific, more disturbing has not occurred time and again in real life. It has been said many times that fiction contains truth, and Conroy’s fiction portrays the truths of life, ugly or otherwise, in language that penetrates my soul.

REVIEW: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

to kill a mockingbirdFormat:  Audio CD
Genre:  General Fiction / Classic Lit
ISBN:  0060888695  / ASIN:  B00RWP9J2G
Published:  1960 / 2006 (audio)

Rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Back of the Book Blurb:

Harper Lee’s classic novel of a lawyer in the Deep South defending a black man charged with the rape of a white girl.

One of the best-loved stories of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird has earned many distinctions since its original publication in 1960. It won the Pulitzer Prize, has been translated into more than forty languages, sold more than thirty million copies worldwide, and been made into an enormously popular movie. Most recently, librarians across the country gave the book the highest of honors by voting it the best novel of the twentieth century.

My Thoughts:

There is nothing to say about this book that hasn’t already been said…probably 100 times. I adore this book – always have, always will. It is as close to a perfect book as I have ever read, and the audio book is the icing on the cake. Sissy Spacek is Scout Finch come to life, with a voice that is exactly as I imagined Scout in my head. Spacek delivers spectacularly, making Harper Lee’s beautiful book a living, breathing work of art.

Ahhh…Summer, the Time of Beach Reads!

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

Everyone is welcome to join.

Just link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND add your name to the Linky widget so that everyone can check out your list! If you don’t have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Have fun with it! It’s a fun way to get to know your fellow bloggers.

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday Topic:
Ahhh…Summer, the Time of Beach Reads!

1.  The Blue Bistro by Elin Hilderbrand.  Set on Nantucket Island, as many of her books are, this is a sweet story involving (primarily) the restaurant staff of this popular eatery.  Perfect for a quick summer read.

2.  Home to Italy by Peter Pezzelli.  This is the first book I read by Pezzelli, and I was not disappointed.  It starts in Rhode Island with the death of Anna, Peppi’s wife, but it quickly transitions to Italy as he returns to the land of his birth, reconnects with an old friend, and falls in love again.  It’s predictable, but after a but of a herky-jerky start, Pezzelli settles into a quick & easy style that is perfect for a day at the beach.

3.  Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik.  As with most (or all?) of her books, this one is set in Minnesota, and centers around a group of women living on the same street who decide to start a book club.   It evolves to much more than that, of course, and though the arc of the story is fairly predictable, it is well written and has a lot meat on the bones.  Landvik has an writing style that makes for a fast, easy and enjoyable read, perfect for the beach.

5.  Bitsy’s Bait and BBQ by Pamela Morsi.  I was drawn to this book by the eye-catching title, and found it to be exactly the right thing for a summer read.  It is set in the South, a setting I love, and it has the predictable love story.  However, the writing is engaging and the characters are loveable, so it makes for a delightful read.

6.  Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson.  This was Jackson’s debut novel, but the unusual title suggested right away that it would be a book worth reading.  I was not disappointed.  This is a Southern author whose works I love, and because characters reappear from time to time in different books, this first novel is the ideal place to start.  It is a quick and easy read, but truly enjoyable on every level.

7.  The Last Beach Bungalow by Jennie Nash.  A beach setting, which (obviously) is a great beach read.  I think I picked this up because of the cover art, and it was a lovely, if predictable, summer read.  Great for relaxing in the sun.

8.  The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright.  I love epistolary novels, and this is no exception.  It is the story of a 39 year marriage, documented in a letter written each Wednesday by Jack to Laurel, and it plays out for their children, who are home to attend their funeral.  Though it sounds like a downer, it is not, and it is rich with all the elements of a classic love story.  Worth the time, and great for the beach despite the subject matter because it is quick and easy to read.

9.  Sweetgrass by Mary Alice Monroe.  I have read several of Monroe’s novels over the years, but I particularly loved this one.  I love the Southern setting of South Carolina, the typical “Southern” way (even in the way Monroe writes), and the cultural issues that she included.  It has an authentically Southern feel.  It also deals with some heavy subjects, but Monroe does not have a heavy hand, which makes it a lovely summer read.

10.  Hearts on a String by Kris Radish.  A story that illustrates a grandmother’s anecdote about the thread that connects all women, it is sweet and fun and easy to read.  Radish always has some fairly implausible element to her story lines, but in the end it doesn’t matter, because she touches you, entertains you, and lets you escape from regular life for a bit.  You will not be disappointed.

REVIEW: Summer Crossing by David Baldacci

Format:  Audiobook (CD)
Genre:  General Fiction
ISBN:  1609412958
Published:  2011 (audio)
Setting:  Ohio, Arizona, South Carolina

Rating:  4 of 5 stars

Back of the book Blurb:

It’s almost Christmas, but there is no joy in the house of terminally ill Jack and his family. With only a short time left to live, he spends his last days preparing to say goodbye to his devoted wife, Lizzie, and their three children. Then, unthinkably, tragedy strikes again: Lizzie is killed in a car accident. With no one able to care for them, the children are separated from each other and sent to live with family members around the country. Just when all seems lost, Jack begins to recover in a miraculous turn of events. He rises from what should have been his deathbed, determined to bring his fractured family back together. Struggling to rebuild their lives after Lizzie’s death, he reunites everyone at Lizzie’s childhood home on the oceanfront in South Carolina. And there, over one unforgettable summer, Jack will begin to learn to love again, and he and his children will learn how to become a family once more.

My Thoughts:

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, despite the fact that it was a fairly predictable, sappy story.  It is a perfect summer read, and that is exactly what I needed at the time.  I had just finished A Death in the Family by James Agee, which also dealt with loss and grief, but it was on a much deeper, much more serious, much more profound level.  I need a lighter, quicker, less emotionally exacting read, and while this is also a story of grief and loss, Baldacci delivers a nearly effortless summer novel.

This is the first Baldacci book I have read, and I do like his way with words.  I like that he can deal with a hard subject without ripping the reader to emotional shreds.  I like that the story was fairly face paced, and that it focused on an entire family’s reaction to and recovery from grief over an unexpected death.  I also liked that Baldacci moved the characters through sadness, anger, depression, etc. without getting so bogged down that the story suffered.  I liked that it ended on a positive note, but that getting to that point involved some drama.

Sure, it is a fairly formulaic novel…predictable, even.  Perhaps not the typical fare for Baldacci, but pretty standard for it’s genre.  Baldacci, however, is a writer worth getting to know better, and this was a good, easy, and (dare I say it) even fun start for me.  I would recommend it…especially if you’re going on vacation and looking for a book that entertains without exhausting the reader.

Bogged (and Blogged) Down

I had some pretty lofty reading goals for this year.  I joined a Southern Reading Challenge, an Adoption Reading Challenge, a Read Your Own Books from Your Own Bookshelf…Mostly…and Don’t Buy (or Try Not to Buy) New Books Challenge, a Back to the Classics Challenge, and a What’s In a Name Challenge.

Then I went and lost my mind and joined the 150 Book Challenge in 2012.  Lost my mind because I have never (I repeat, never) read 150 books in one year…in my life.  And I reada lot!  But the closest I’ve ever gotten to that is 84 in one year, and that was a banner year for me.  Apparently that was not a deterrent when I had my brief moment of insanity, and I signed up for a guaranteed failure.  Yay, me.

Now, if you are familiar with my reading habits, you will understand instantly that these are ALL doable challenges for me.  Well, almost all…because I’ve gotten bogged down.  And blogged down.

I’m at a WHOPPING fifteen(ish) books for the year, and half of those are audiobooks.  Further, I am at a complete standstill on realreading.  Every book I start gets set aside after a few pages.  I am completely without motivation to pick it up again.  No, that’s not true.  I am motivated to pick it up again, but I’ve been hard pressed these days to find a book so riveting to read that I carve out chunks of time wherever I can in order to finish it.  This has not been a problem with listening.

Granted, my eyes are not what they used to be, and they get tired quicker.  But this is an excuse.  Beyond the fact that I’ve been involved in a blogging challenge that has been time consuming (and great fun), I am unsure how to explain it.  It’s also true that I’ve been reading blogs a lot more (part of the challenge), and I’ve run across a few new blogs that are on my regular rotation.  Nevertheless, this is still not an adequate explanation for a near cessation of reading.  I LOVE to read.  What is wrong with me??

It has happened in the past.  I don’t know why.  And…of all the crazy things…it does not stop me from buying more books to read.  HAH!

I knew it.

I really have gone insane.

REVIEW: A Death in the Family by James Agee

Format:  Audiobook (CD)
Genre:  Autobiographical Novel
ISBN:  0788771647
Published:  2000 (audio)
Setting:  Knoxville TN

Rating:  5 of 5 stars

Back of the Book Blurb:

Published in 1957, two years after its author’s death at the age of forty-five, A Death in the Family remains a near-perfect work of art, an autobiographical novel that contains one of the most evocative depictions of loss and grief ever written. As Jay Follet hurries back to his home in Knoxville, Tennessee, he is killed in a car accident?a tragedy that destroys not only a life, but also the domestic happiness and contentment of a young family. A novel of great courage, lyric force, and powerful emotion, A Death in the Family is a masterpiece of American literature.

My Thoughts:

This was a well crafted a book as I have ever read.  It is a powerful story of what happens to a family in the immedaite aftermath of an unexpected death, and Agee is as pitch perfect as is possible in giving voice to the various characters in this book.  His choice of words and phrases are such that each individual is entirely believable and authentic, with a unique voice and a complexity of character that leaves nothing wanting.

Agee has a mastery of the language that rivals writing peers, and the resulting prose appears both effortless and flawless in its formation.  He delivers complex experiences and emotions with simplicity, while never relegating himself to simplistic language or condescending construction.  It is an easy read, not because it has light subject matter or rudimentary language, but rather because the story is written with such linguistic beauty that it seems as natural as if the reader him/herself were speaking.

In the end, regardless of the emotional messiness of a family at loose ends, this is a satisfying read in every way.  The story unfolds as it should, naturally, without a manufactured happy ending…just as one would expect in life.  And Agee guides us through all of the emotional upheaval with aa sensitive voice and linguistic ease.

If you have not read this book, I highly recommend it.

REVIEW: Sweetgrass by Mary Alice Monroe

Audio CD – 11 disks (13 hours)
Published May 1st 2010 by Brilliance Audio on MP3-CD Lib Ed (first published 2005)
ISBN:  1441852778 (ISBN13:  9781441852779)
3.5 stars overall / 4 stars audio narration
Goodreads Synopsis:
Sweetgrass is a historical tract of land in South Carolina that has been home to the Blakely family for eight generations.  But Sweetgrass — named for the indigenous grass that grows in the area — is in trouble. Bulldozers are leveling surrounding properties. and the Blakelys could be forced to sell the one thing that continues to hold their disintegrating family together. For some of the Blakelys, the prospect of selling Sweetgrass is bittersweet — for others, it is completely unimaginable. But as they find the strength to stay and fight, they realize that their bond as a family is all they need to stay together.
“Mary Alice Monroe is helping to redefine the beauty and magic of the Carolina Lowcountry.  Every book she has written has felt like a homecoming to me.”  – Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides and Beach Music
My Thoughts:
I really enjoyed the story, but it wrapped a little too prettily even for me.  I do agree with Pat Conroy’s compliment regarding Mary Alice Monroe, as she definitely has an intimate knowledge of and love for the Carolina lowcountry that comes through in her writing.  And while I thoroughly enjoy her novels, the often find the endings a bit too neatly tied up.  She is a good & interesting writer, perfect for an enjoyable, quick & relaxing read.  If you are looking for a challenge however, there are many (better) authors to choose from, Pat Conroy among them.