The Help, revisited.

March 30th. 2009

I did it! I finished The Help. It’s not like its a marathon book, quite the contrary once you get into it, it’s just we had parties to go to and a bit of yard work, plus church and that Sunday afternoon nap all through last week, and well, I was able to turn the last page while waiting on my daughter to finish her dance lesson today. Maybe I dragged my feet a bit because I saw the conflict coming and knew it wasn’t going to be an easy one to swallow. But one of the best lines in the book (and it’s about a book within a book) is when Miss Skeeter describes a universal code among women (both those that hire ‘the help’ and those that are ‘the help’) We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I’d thought. Everyone in this book has secrets to keep, some have secrets to share. And the beauty of the story lies with three women and the way courage is defined by their lives, and how each chooses to change the world where she lives. It was empowering to see how baby-steps can lead to full-blown freedom.

God’s Yes

March 27th. 2009

Psalm 128 (The Message)

 

Psalm 128

A Pilgrim Song

 1-2 All you who fear God, how blessed you are! how happily you walk on his smooth straight road!
   You worked hard and deserve all you’ve got coming.
      Enjoy the blessing! Revel in the goodness!

 3-4 Your wife will bear children as a vine bears grapes,
      your household lush as a vineyard,
   The children around your table
      as fresh and promising as young olive shoots.
   Stand in awe of God’s Yes.
      Oh, how he blesses the one who fears God!

 5-6 Enjoy the good life in Jerusalem
      every day of your life.
   And enjoy your grandchildren.
      Peace to Israel!

 
I was reading this chapter this morning and couldn’t get away from the shock of verse 4–Stand in awe of God’s Yes.
When was the last time I stood in awe (real eye-opening, feet glued to the floor, can hardly breathe sort of awe) at one of God’s Yes? I’ll just say. .. not near often enough. I started listing God’s yes(es) in my life and I realized how I’ve taken for granted His incomparable, and sometimes quiet, yes (es) for the disappointing, plate-droppingly loud, no(es) or the confusing , am I wandering around like maybe I got His directions wrong, maybe(es). Today, I want to stand in awe of the yes.
 

The Help

March 26th. 2009

I called my friend Vickie at Barron’s with a list of books. I try to buy from my favorite local bookseller, you can imagine the hit most local booksellers have taken as a result of Amazon and others. By asking friends what they’re reading, checking other writer’s blogs and reading the Dallas Morning News book review I usually have a long list when I call Vickie. I brought home a huge stack: The Help, Very Valentine, The Passion of Mary Margaret, and Jane Austen Ruined My Life. The Last Madonnas of Leningrad I did have to order. Because I sometimes juggle a few books at a time, I keep Lisa Samson’s teen series Hollywood Nobody in the car to read while I’m waiting in car pool lines (I bought this for my daughter, but as she’s not yet caught the reading bug and I’m taking these for a spin before they settle in her room) so I’m going to try to comment on these as I finish them and hope I don’t  get the impressions confused. I will say, I opened The Help as soon as I got home from the Barron’s/grocery store run because of the reviews listed on the back cover.  When a publisher puts a debut novelist in hard back, it’s gotta be good (at least in some one’s opinion.) It’s been a while since I read a story written in a vernacular style (think Huckleberry Finn) but I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it. If you’ve been reading good books that you’d like to recommend as well, feel free to leave a title in the comment box.

The Family Fortune

March 23rd. 2009

I know I’m not alone, quite the contrary actually, in my fascination with Jane Austen. These past few years have spawned an amazing number of books related to or otherwise taking liberties with the beloved Miss Austen. A fan of re-told stories (if only because I’m a bit slow with the plodding narratives of classic novels) I was delighted to pick up a copy of a debut novel re-telling one of Jane Austen’s stories. I think  I found this treasure while on vacation and had meandered into a perfect little bookstore called Warwickes,  in La Jolla, California. The Family Fortune is a modern re-telling of Persuasion.  Don’t remember Persuasion? That’s only because it was never made into a major motion picture with Colin Firth or Hugh Grant, but the BBC did a very nice version a few years ago. Anyway, this novel was charming from the get-go. It was so well written I even forgot it was a re-telling, it seemed so fresh to me. So, if you’re having a hankering need for a clear does of romanticism and personal growth, stop by your favorite bookstore for a copy of Laurie Horowitz’s The Family Fortune. I’m kind of thinking they should ask Clive Owen to play Max Wellman.

Eat, Drink and be from Mississippi

March 19th. 2009

So, I’ve had this book sitting on my ‘to be read’ pile for months. You know what I’m talking about. That table where you store books you bought impulsively. What? You don’t buy books impulsively? Okay, well, we’ll talk about developing a book buying fetish in another blog. Todayit is all about Eat, Drink and Be From Mississippi. I loved the title, even though I’m not from Mississippi. I’m from the deep South and I feel an automatic simpatico with any writer who celebrates Southern culture and when the back cover made comparisons to Harper Lee, well I was standing in line at Barron’s paying good money for a hard back book. But, then months would go by and I’d read other things first: Thomas Jefferson, Phillip Yancey and Susan  Elizabeth Phillips–please don’t judge, I’m an eclectic. Finally, I took the plunge. I settled in one night on the cushy sofa, opened the first page and by the fifth or sixth page, I was flipping to the next chapter. I’m sorry! I like dialogue. Well, so I thought maybe it was just me. I’d give it another night to win me over with deep-fried magic. But there again, I was flipping pages trying to get to the point where I was sucked deep into melodrama. It never happened for me. I threw my hands up in despair, cried to the patron saint of Southern writers and briefly considered that I’ve lived too long in Texas to be sensitive to the nuances of slow, meandering character development. So, it is with regret that I tell you, despite my affinity for the sisterhood of Southern writers, that I could not whole-heartedly recommend Eat and Drink. .. I wonder if it is because the story took place in California?

A Rather Curious Discovery

March 16th. 2009

My children are out of town this week on a mission trip with their youth group, so I have loads of time to wander around with books in my hands, sink into the cushy sofa to read, and no one is going to demand I drive them to some after-school event or even, and this is the best part, no one will come stomping through the kitchen wondering what’s available for a snack. (How I became the pantry CEO is beyond my understanding.  These people have eyes, hands and some modest kitchen skills, they can warm up the bagel bites too.) My husband’s has already suggested we eat salads for dinner this week or (hear me gasp) go out for dinner. I think I’m going to adapt to the ’empty nest’ lifestyle quite well, even if it is several years away.

 

So, since I can get reacquainted with some of my favorite stories–the ones I love for those ‘everyday vacations’–let me tell you about a rather lovely storyteller. I found C.A. Belmond’s first book at Barron’s (you’re right if you think I’m one of their regulars) and the title and the sweet cover drew my eye; A Rather Lovely Inheritance with a sketchy Provencal mini-mansion. Well, I knew this had several of my favorite elements and that was just seconds after grabbing the book off the shelf.  So I bought it and promptly went home to shove aside the  monstrously-thick John Adams biography and peel back the pages of a cozy mystery. The term cozy is an actual genre label suggesting the story is a mystery minus dead bodies and graphic violence.  I finished the novel in record time and like Meg Ryan in the movie French Kiss, walked around waving my hand in the air saying “gorgeous, beautiful, wish you were here.” Because, honestly, it was one of those stories where you (or at least I) wanted to wander around the settings with the characters. So, now thoroughly in love with this book I googled the author, and guess what, she’s  a mystery herself. There’s the requisite information, but the picture could be anyone standing wistfully gazing upon the Mediterranean. Hmm. So, imagine my delight when I wander into Barron’s on another summer day and there’s book number two, A Rather Curious Engagement. Same sketchy artist rendering, but this time of a small yacht cruising around Lake Como. Yes, I bought the book before I even read the back cover. I may have shoved Thomas Jefferson aside as I’ve been reading my way through the presidents this past year, it’s hard to say who got the temporary boot, but I was hasty to live the good life with Penny and fiance, Jeremy, as they navigate high stakes auctions and exotic European locations. I’m not going to lie, this plot could be my dream vacation, minus the hijinks with criminal activity. The Rather Curious book was as engaging as the first. My only fear is that I have no idea how the mysterious C.A. can carry this plot forward. My hope is she’ll think of something.

The Silents

March 14th. 2009

Continuing this blog about books I’ve read recently (I consider the last year still sort of recent) I wanted to brag about a series I stumbled upon last year. Anytime a debut author is able to publish in hard back tells me the publisher anticipates great things to come. So when I saw Deanna Raybourn’s first novel, Silent in the Grave, I grabbed it. (Yes, I am a compulsive book buyer.) And, I’m happy to report, I wasn’t disappointed in spending $21.95.  I’m drawn to historical books, and this one set in Edwardian England is chock full of surprises. I like how Maria Snyder says it, “Deceptively civilized and proper the book has undercurrents of nefarious deeds, secrets and, my favorite, poisons.” There really area some twists and quite a surprise ending, espcially given the time period the story is set. Needless to say I was very happy to discover book number 2, Silent in the Sanctuary, continue the mystery sleuthing and will they/won’t they romance of Lady Julia Grey and Nicholas Brisbane. I don’t know more about Deanna Raybourn than what’s published on her website, but I will tell you that she’s skilled at creating fascinating characters. I just bought her third book in the series, Silent on the Moors, and its certainly continuing the drama. If you live in Longview, go by Barrons. Vickie keeps a good inventory of these books because she knows I’m telling everyone about the Silents.

The Shack

March 13th. 2009

Okay, call me a party pooper, but I just didn’t love The Shack.  I actually went in to the story knowing the controversary and wanted to be one the edgier commentators who could agree and say ‘yes, this is cool stuff.’ But, honestly, I missed something in the reading. Granted, I give William Young kudos for telling a story that rose from a short story he circulated among friends to self-publishing a novel to being one of the major pieces of fiction this year. That journey alone is noteworthy. But, any time an author write characters that speak for God he/she wades into dicey waters. I like that the novel shows God wanting to have a relationship with man, and I’m okay with the idea of God doing anything He wants (even beyond my imagination) to interact with His beloved people, but I really don’t see God dismissing His own scripture to establish this relationship. Anyway, as I remind myself and others, this is a work of FICTION. I wonder if Mr. Young anticipated the tempest this story would bring?

The Invitation

March 12th. 2009

Several years ago I read a book by Nancy Moser, The Invitation, (read how she describes the mission behind this story at www.nancymoser.com)  and it was one of the most gripping, page-turners I’d come across in a while.  I remember I was reading this with friends, we were supposed to take a chapter at a time so we could discuss it, HA. I couldn’t wait for everyone. In typical fashion when I find a story I love, I can’t put it down until its finished. I have the same affliction with my mom’s chocolate pie.

Yesterday I started writing to the sound of gentle raindrops and I thought music wasn’t any sweeter. Today? Inches of water later, I’m flipping on the XM radio to my favorite jazz station to distract from the sound of mulch washing down the driveway.

Miss Julia

March 11th. 2009

On the note of books I’ve loved, Miss Julia is unforgettable. I remember a neighbor started a book club and this was offered for the debut reading. Though I was one of the first to flop out of the book club (that was back during the kid’s tae kwan do years and I spent an unfortunate amount of time behind the wheel of a car) I never let go of my fascination with Ann B. Ross’ series of adventures from the feisty character, Miss Julia. Check out Ann’s site at http://www.missjulia.com  to get the full scoop on books/newsletters/new releases. There are days I can see myself becoming a Miss Julia (or maybe I just aspire to that sort of freedom of expression.) I often struggle between the side of my spirit that wants to ‘just be me” and the spirit -controlled side that warns “don’t even go there.” 

It’s raining today–thank God! Big chunks of Texas are in drought conditions, so I quietly celebrate that we have rain to water the budding trees, wash pollen from the lawn furniture, and envigorate soon-to-burst azaleas.