So I have been reading a lot, and I’ve really enjoyed some of what I’ve read – but in order to be sure I review everything, I’m going to just do a bunch of reviews here with places for people to link if they’d like to do so. Off we go.
1. The Sassamon Circle by Louis Garafalo. The book’s concept is interesting – a historical fiction set in southeastern Massachusetts just a few decades after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth. It’s the story of white settlers living with Native peoples. The story is told through the point of view of both groups, focusing largely on the Laphams, a family of settlers, and John Sassamon, a Wampanoag Indian who speaks English and many of the Native dialects of the region. The plot incorporates psychological tension and murder – two things that can help make a great novel.
Unfortunately, this piece doesn’t live up to that greatness. It’s interesting – I imagine it’s especially so if you’re from this region and know the history of the real life John Sassmon – but it doesn’t hold together well. The shifting viewpoints, while obviously intended to give balance to perspective in the story, causes confusion and kept me from developing investment in either group of people. Additionally, and this is certainly the English teacher in me coming out, there are editing problems – homonyms are confused “there” for “their,” “new” for “knew”; these errors pulled right up and out of the story. In my mind, there’s no reasonable explanation for a published book to contain errors like that since the author, the agent, the editor, or the publisher should have caught them.
All in all, not my best bit of reading this year.
2. The Grave Maurice by Martha Grimes. My mother is a huge mystery fan, and I had seen her reading Martha Grimes on more than one occasion. So when I needed a book for the car, I picked up this one, and I really enjoyed it. Richard Jury, the starring detective, left me a bit cold, but I loved Melrose Plant – a man who hires a hermit just to spite a meddling woman and then who can’t get rid of him. The characterizations were great, and the plot intriguing. All in all, a good listen in the car.
3. Cat’s Eye Witness by Rita Mae and Sneaky Pie Brown. Honestly, the fact that an author would list her cat as a co-writer kind of appalls me, as much as I love cats (Sneaky Pie is a cat, in case you didn’t know), so when I went for another car listening book, this time for the ride down to my parents’ in Virginia, I was surprised to pick this one up. But it’s set near where my parents live, so . . .
Turns out that I really enjoyed it. The mystery isn’t that galling, although it’s well-written, but again, the characters are great. . . and I should have known I would love the pets in the book – Tucker the Corgi, Mrs. Murphy and Pester the cats. . . I love anything where animals talk – see the film Cats and Dogs, if you’re with me on this one – and these animals are great. In fact, the stories of the pets and the Harry, the protagonist’s friends, were more engaging than the mystery itself. Good stuff.
4. New Way to Be Human by Charlie Peacock. I mentioned this one last week, but since I finished it while on my writing retreat, I thought I’d share a couple more thoughts. First, I love the idea of giving all of yourself to God, to just sell yourself out for something. That’s not a new concept to me, but it’s one that I need to hear over and over again. Peacock writes that idea well. His writing is crisp and clear, if sometimes a bit redundant.
But the biggest things I took from this book was his idea of an Art House where people can come to gather and learn about what it means to be an artist.
5. Straight Man by Richard Russo. I’m not quite done with this one, but it made perfect listening for my drive up and back from Rhinebeck. So funny, well-written, great narrator’s voice (both in terms of the recording and in terms of the words on the page). If you’ve ever taught in an academic department, you must listen to this . . It’s spot on.
6. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Putting aside that I am a huge Sherman Alexie fan (I once had him sign a book and almost couldn’t speak with nervousness.), this book is really wonderful. The narrator, Junior, is what all of us imagine us to be as teenagers – brilliant and yet utterly stupid. It a story of every kid’s exploration, but it is, I can only guess, a particularly poignant story for a Native American – like Alexie – who has found that he needed to leave the Reservation, and therefore part of his life, to find the life he needed.
The writing here is funny, very funny, but also tragic. The illustrations are great, and the voice is so honest. I highly, highly, highly recommend this book.
Read Kim’s review of Alexie here.
Read Bryan’s Review.
And C.B.’s review is here.
So that’s it for now. More soon. Can’t wait to see what you guys have been reading. That’s this afternoon’s project.