Monday, February 24, 2014

Farewell

Dear Regular Readers (all three of you!): It's hard to believe nearly six years have passed since that hot July day in Vienna when I decided to create Mariandy's Book Blog. Since then I've read 224 books and shared my thoughts with you here on a fairly regular basis. It's been fun, and I consider this blog to be an accomplishment.

Thanks to everyone who has read, followed, or stumbled upon Mariandy's Book Blog. It's been a great five and a half years. :)

Cheers from NC,
Mariandy :)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Land More Kind Than Home

A Land More Kind Than Home
Author: Wiley Cash
P.S., 2012
306 pages

I've been spending a lot of time in Davidson, North Carolina recently, where they have a wonderful independent bookstore called Main Street Books. While browsing there, I came across an autographed copy of A Land More Kind Than Home by North Carolina author Wiley Cash, who'd recently done a book signing. I'd been wanting to read the book for a while, so finding the autograph was like finding a special prize. I had to have it!

The story takes place in 1986 in a small town in the North Carolina mountains, where young Jess Hall (one of three narrators) and his older brother Christopher (nicknamed Stump) live with their parents. Jess is a sweet, curious boy and easy to fall in love with, and you'll know why the moment he starts telling his story. 

But Jess's story doesn't begin right away. The first chapter is narrated by an older woman named Adeline. She's the town midwife and herbalist, and a member of a local church where a charismatic preacher has a strong hold on his congregation. Adeline's first chapter gives us perspective on the events leading up to the present day as she recounts a disturbing incident that happened years earlier in a Sunday service. Adeline reappears to narrate other chapters, providing a sort of old/wise/common sense. She's a sympathetic character, although you can't help but wonder why she doesn't find another church.

The third narrator is the local sheriff, Clem, who suffered a loss many years ago that he's still trying to recover from. Of the three narrators, he's the one I had the most difficult time connecting with emotionally, yet I felt his pain and wanted him to heal.

Other interesting characters include Jess and Stump's parents. Their father was a high school athlete who had a chance at a bright future but chose other options; now he's an emotionally distant burley tobacco farmer. He has issues with his own father, a 'mean' drunk who's coming back into the picture after many years away. Then there's Jess and Stump's well-meaning but completely weak-willed Mom, who's totally under the influence of the preacher.

Oh, yeah, the preacher. Talk about creepy. That's all I'm gonna say about him.

I mentioned earlier that Jess is a curious boy. It's this curiosity that gets him into 'trouble' and sets the events in motion. A Land More Kind Than Home is Jess's coming-of-age story, one so powerful that you won't be able to forget this cool kid for a long time.

I should mention that some reviewers have compared A Land More Kind Than Home that great southern classic To Kill a Mockingbird. I think the comparison is a fair one. I also think this is a pretty amazing first novel, and I look forward to reading other works by Wiley Cash. His second book, This Dark Road to Mercy, was released in January in the USA -- so maybe it won't be long.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Crousilleau

Crousilleau
Author: Charles E. Patton
CreateSpace, 2010
254 pages

I came across this book while doing some genealogy research and decided to buy it for my family. It's a fictionalized account of one of our ancestors who made the trek across the pond from France in the late eighteenth century, and attempts to answer a question I've had ever since I first learned about this ancestor: Of all places, why did he choose to settle in a remote area of southeastern North Carolina . . . instead of New Orleans? Or Montreal?

Jean Formy was a physician in the Normandy region of France. He was married to a woman named Jeanne Duval whose family had some sort of connection to the royal family such that she was referred to as The Princess. During the Reign of Terror, circumstances (I won't reveal details here because that's part of what makes this story so interesting) caused the family to flee the country for the French colony of Saint-Domingue (modern-day Haiti) where they would soon be forced to flee again as a result of the Haitian Revolution.

I'm pleased that the author painted a picture of my ancestor that made him seem like a good guy despite the weirdness of the times and the numerous challenges he faced. It's a quick read; I read it in about two hours. Like many self-published books, it could use an editor. But I can forgive this, because as a self-published author myself, I know that the reason people write is because they have a story to tell.

And this is a pretty cool story.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Angel Maker

The Angel Maker
Author: Stefan Brijs
Penguin Books, 2008
352 pages

I love discovering new-to-me authors from across the pond, so I was delighted when my friend Sophie (from Belgium) sent this book by Belgian author Stefan Brijs. :) 

The Angel Maker is a story told in three parts, starting with the return of Dr. Victor Hoppe to his childhood village in Belgium near the place where three borders (Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands) meet. The doctor has three toddler boys who look exactly alike their father, down to the same physical defect. Unlike other boys in the village, they're kept indoors and not allowed to socialize with other children. Curious villagers gossip: What's wrong with the boys? Who's their mother and where is she? Where has Dr. Hoppe been all these years? Yet they look upon the doctor with a combination of sadness and awe, knowing that he has such a tragic past.

Section two fills in blanks on Victor's past. The only child of the odd village physician, he was born with the same genetic defect as his father. At an early age he was mistaken for mentally challenged and sent to live in a religious-sponsored psychiatric institution. In reality, young Victor is a genius who eventually becomes a doctor specializing in genetics. Like the classic Dr. Frankenstein (interesting that the two doctors share the same first name), Victor becomes obsessed with creating life. Victor is super-creepy and oddly captivating as a character. I was repulsed by him, yet I felt sorry for him.

The last section takes us in a couple of new directions as we learn the answers to all the questions that have been building up since Dr. Hoppe came to town. Things all come to a head in the uber-riveting ending, which deserves at least a 9 on the nail-biting scale. It's going to be a while before I forget The Angel Maker. I can't wait to pass it along to my nephew, who has an interest in genetics. I wonder if he'll be as creeped out as I was!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Simple Dreams

Simple Dreams
Author: Linda Ronstadt
Simon & Schuster, 2013
257 pages

One of my favorite albums of all time is Linda Ronstadt's Prisoner in Disguise. I grew up listening to her music and knew that she worked with other artists whose music I enjoyed, such as The Eagles, Emmylou Harris, and James Taylor. I liked her eclectic tastes in music -- for example, Prisoner in Disguise includes songs written by Dolly Parton, Neil Young, and Jimmy Cliff, just to name a few -- and even today I list her among my favorite musical artists. So when I learned she'd written a memoir, I knew I'd want to read it.

Simple Dreams chronicles Ronstadt's life growing up in a musical family in southern Arizona, where she was exposed to all kinds of music (opera, traditional country, Mexican, etc.), her early years as an emerging artist in Los Angeles, and the amazing career that followed. She shares stories about her experiences in the music industry and with other artists, but she never gives away any secrets or dirt on other people (which IMHO, is rather refreshing). What we have here is a musical memoir in the truest sense, with emphasis on her evolution as an artist who went from singing country/rock to old standards, canciones, and musicals.

I especially enjoyed the section in the back that provided information on all of her recordings. When you see the list of songs she's recorded and other artists she's worked with in her career, you'll probably be just as amazed as I was. I would have enjoyed knowing a little more about her life since she retired from singing. Maybe she'll write a sequel someday. :)