Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Maid's Version

If you are familiar with the movie Winter's Bone, then it's interesting to note that Daniel Woodrell is the author who wrote the book Winter's Bone.  I read that book probably three years ago or more, and was impressed.  There's a mystery in it that is not at all easy to solve.

The Maid's Version is his newest book.  The central tragedy, where a dance hall explodes and kills dozens of people in small town 1920s Missouri, sounds a little fantastical but is based on a true story.  In real life, the explosion occurred in what would become Woodrell's hometown, and the cause of the explosion was never uncovered.  In the book, the relationships between various townspeople slowly emerge, until the ultimate cause of the explosion is revealed in the last sentence or two.

Unfortunately for me, I read this as an ebook that has a lot of extra material at the end.  So I was approaching the end of the story, while the Kindle meter read as 80% completed.  It really messed up the pace of the story for me.  

That's not the book's fault, of course, but I do wish I had known how close I was to the end before I flipped to the next page and saw the author's notes.  The only criticism I have with the book itself is that it sometimes hard for me to tell who was narrating - the story jumps around in time and from character to character.  But the action itself was always clear. 

Final Call:
Some really fine moments in another short read, well worth it.

A Virtuous Woman

This is a very, very short novel.  That said, it's wonderful.  I think what surprised me more than anything is that it gets pretty mixed reviews on Goodreads.

I think the problem is that, like, "city folks just don't get it."  I'm joking, of course, but I think there might be a kernel of truth in there, somewhere.  Jack and Ruby are what most would call rednecks, although Ruby didn't start out that way.  They might be hard to relate to, for a lot of people.

Anyway, obviously, I'm not one of them - everything here rang true to me, except the very end.

The frame of the book is that Ruby's dying of lung cancer, and Jack's dealing with it, and you learn their history along the way.  Plenty of raw emotion and people making do with what they have.  I amazed at how much good stuff is packed in to such a short book.

Final Call:

This will take you about 3 hours to read, tops.  Please invest the time :)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Puffy Birds

This last weekend was spent at my parents, and as I'm sure you know if you live within 100 miles of here, it was COLD.

I like keeping an eye on Mom's bird feeders.  And one thing we noticed right away was:  once the mercury got under 10 degrees, the birds lost their feet!  They became feathery puffs sitting on the ground, or railing, or twig, using their down to cover their otherwise exposed feet and legs.

Look, all these birds, and no legs!  A White-Breasted Nuthatch, which is usually seen creeping up and down tree trunks, making like a marshmallow peep on the deck rail.

And an American Tree Sparrow puffing it up on a small branch.  

Believe it or not, not every picture I take is glamorous, as this American Goldfinch caught mid-munch can tell you.

Saving the best for last, a Blue Jay showing us only its toes.  What was really interesting was that most of the birds seemed to relax the puff rule right about 10-12 degrees.  Which is way too cold for me to think about letting my toes hang out!

The Stone Diaries

I'll admit right up front, I wasn't sure whether to give The Stone Diaries four or five stars.  I almost settled on five, then, well, you'll see.

This is a tough book to warm up to.  The first part is odd and uncomfortable, even moreso because you don't know exactly what you're dealing with.  Biography?  That may be, but its like no other you've read.  After the warm-up period, though, the book's charm creeps up on you, and before you know it, you're pretty invested in Daisy's life and family.

The general idea of the book is that it follows a regular person, Daisy Goodwill Hoad Flett, from birth to death.  Average in almost every way, but still uniquely herself, except for an enduring loneliness throughout the course of her life.

The secret, of course, is that most people feel the voids that Daisy does, the disconnects.  Its a normal part of life, and while Daisy explains hers through motherlessness, plenty of people feel it and assign the cause to a different or similar reason.

For a book with tinges of magical realism, this is a very nitty gritty look at someone just pulling on through the life they've been given, sometimes making the best of it, sometimes wallowing, often times not knowing exactly what they're doing.

In a couple of ways, this is a deeply disconcerting book, particularly for anyone interested in genealogy.  Or long-term meaning in life.  The incompleteness of a record of a life is never more apparent.

There's a chapter near the end where Daisy, her family, her friends, and even acquaintances give their theories on the reasons behind Daisy's deep depression.  There's a lot of meat there, a tremendous amount of food for thought.  From there on out, the book is just stellar.

I was all set to give this five stars, then I let this review sit long enough for me to read A Virtuous Woman by Kaye Gibbons.  I realized that book was just about everything I was looking for in The Stone Diaries, but just much more more.  

Final call:
If you decide to read this, don't let the first chapter scare you away.

Sunday, February 1, 2015


Sometimes regular birds don't get enough credit.  For example, we visited Middle Creek right around New Year's.  The snow geese and other waterfowl are the main draw this time of year, but plenty of other birds are around to catch the eye.

Exhibit One:  a curious mockingbird hanging out near the beginning of the Willow Point Trail. Most of the other perching birds - sparrows, titmice, chickadees, etc - were staying low to the ground that day. But not this guy :)

The Cuckoo's Calling the Silkworm

First, here's a secret everybody knows:  Robert Galbraith is a nom de plume for J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame.I had The Silkworm on my 2015 Challenge list, not realizing it was the second in the series.  When I found the first, The Cuckoo's Calling, as a ebook from the library, I figured I'd better start at the beginning.

I don't know if anyone was sure how an author at the heights of the coming-of-age fantasy novel would do in the whodunnit genre.  I thought she'd be well-suited, at least in one way, because if Harry Potter is anything, it is intricately plotted with a lot of interwoven details.

And you know what, Rowling really can do mysteries well.  The detective Cormoran Strike lives in a world suffused with sparkling detail.  You can't be sure you're reading about an observation because its going to be critical to the plot, or whether its simply an interesting description of London life.

What I am trying to say is that in a lot of books, you can figure out the mystery based on the way the book is structured or paced, without really having to decipher who did it based on the clues in the text.  This is not true in Rowling's books.

One thing that caught me off guard again and again - Cormoran comes into contact with quite a few criminal types with vulgar mouths, and its a bit like hearing your Mom cuss, to see that content in a Rowling book :)

I think Rowling is able to portray the lives of the super-rich a bit better than many authors, and also the trials and travails of fame.  Her rich & famous are rarely single-note snobs, even though they're often living in misery of their own making.

Final call:

Really, this is four and a half, because I just plain enjoyed the heck out of these books.