Tag: Grumpy Old Men

Read One, Skip One: The Secret Wisdom of the Earth and Work Like Any Other

March 10, 2016 Mini Book Reviews 17

Secret Wisdom of the Earth, Christopher ScottonThe Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton
Southern Fiction (Released January 6, 2015)
466 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Grand Central)

Plot Summary: Following the accidental death of his younger brother, Kevin and his grieving mother go to live with his grandfather in a small Appalachian town facing a ruthless coal company, racial prejudice, and homophobia.

My Thoughts: This book vaulted to the top of my backlist TBR when Ann at Books on the Table called it her favorite book of 2015 and described it as “Harper Lee meets Pat Conroy.” I can now see where that description came from, but I thought it was a bit more Harper Lee and less Pat Conroy. There is a LOT going on in this book…quirky small-town farm community goings-on (i.e. bull castration), the struggles of a single industry town, the environmental impact of the coal mines, Kevin’s coming of age, recovering from grief, prejudice (both racial and homophobia), and a “Friday Night Lights”-type football star. Whew! All that, plus the Atticus Finch-like character of Arthur Peebles (Kevin’s grandfather) who dispenses sage life advice left and right, kept me turning the pages.

I found a lot of my reading sweet spots in one place with this book, which made it enjoyable, but there were a few issues that kept me from loving it like I expected. The writing was what many people would call beautiful, but it felt like it was trying too hard to be just that. And, the ending was one of those “here’s where everyone ends up decades later” wrap-ups that almost feels like high school yearbook senior predictions. But, I do think fans of Southern fiction and coming of age stories will enjoy this one and it was the book that finally stuck for me after two DNFs in one week!

Work Like Any Other, Virginia ReevesWork Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves
Southern Fiction (Released March 1, 2016)
272 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Publisher (Scribner) via NetGalley

Plot Summary: Roscoe T. Martin left a job he loved (an electrician for Alabama Power) to move to his wife’s family farm, only to have his electrical work on the farm result in a tragic accident that gets Roscoe sent to prison and changes his family’s lives forever.

My Thoughts: This debut novel got off to a promising start, but eventually lost its way. The story is told in two timelines: one leading up to the accident and one from Roscoe’s perspective as he sits in prison after the accident. The dual timelines enabled the suspense to be in the how rather than the what, which is generally a literary structure I enjoy. I also enjoyed the reflection on work and the impact on a person’s state of mind when their passion gets taken away. And, the writing is beautiful in a simple, down-to-earth way:

We are born with some things in our veins, coal for my father and farming for Marie’s and a deep electrical current for me. My father’s draw started from need, I suppose, and Marie’s father’s from land, and mine from glowing Birmingham streetlamps. I had stared at those bulbs the first time I saw them, the streets lit by a force greater than any I’d known – bigger than me, bigger than my father, bigger than his tunnels even. “I want to work with electricity,” I remember telling him.

However, I think this novel would have made a better short story and it actually felt like it could have originally been a short story that was stretched into a novel (I searched Google for any truth to this and couldn’t find any). After just over a quarter of the book, the story was more or less over for me. As things meandered on, I kept wondering where the storyline had left to go. And, when it finally ended, I thought “that was it?” Though this book didn’t work for me, Virginia Reeves’ tone and writing style have me interested to see what she does next.

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Read One, Skip One: Sweetland and Along the Infinite Sea

December 17, 2015 Mini Book Reviews 28

After having a bit of an unexpected hangover from Sweetland and having trouble settling into my next book, I thought a recovery book was in order. I was sure Along the Infinite Sea would hit the spot and was planning my next installment of my Alcohol & Advil feature. Alas, Alcohol & Advil will have to wait…

Sweetland, Michael CrummeySweetland by Michael Crummey
Fiction (Released January 19, 2015)
336 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased

Plot Summary: As the tiny island town of Sweetland deteriorates, the Canadian government offers the remaining residents a monetary package to “resettle” elsewhere, but Moses Sweetland doesn’t want to leave his home.

My Thoughts: Sweetland is an incredibly moving book that slowly crept under my skin before going in an unexpected and intriguing direction. It begins as a portrait of a tiny (and quirky) town before moving into a world where reality is hazy. Some reviews noted that Sweetland‘s Canadian Island dialect takes some getting used to, but it didn’t bother me at all. In fact, I found much of the writing downright gorgeous:

He looked up at the hills surrounding the cove, sunlight making them ring with meltwater. He’d always loved that sound, waited for it each spring. Hearing it made him certain of the place he came from. He’d always felt it was more than enough to wake up here, to look out on these hills. As if he’d long ago been measured and made to the island’s specifications.

Moses Sweetland is a lovable curmudgeon (a character type that gets me every time…see A.J. Fikry!) and the book has a Grumpy Old Men vibe as Moses and his equally eccentric neighbors rib each other day after day. I loved the way Crummey gradually revealed surprising background information about the town’s history and each of its residents…in a way that reminded me a bit of Did You Ever Have A Family. I’m thrilled to have finally been introduced to this Canadian author (thanks, Shannon and Naomi!) and been able to slide Sweetland into my Best Books of 2015 list at the last minute.

Along the Infinite Sea, Beatriz WilliamsAlong the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams
Historical Fiction (Released November 3, 2015)
461 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Putnam) via NetGalley

Plot Summary: In 1966, pregnant and alone Pepper Schuyler sells the Mercedes Roadster she found in a shed at her sister’s Cape Cod house to the mysterious Annabelle Dommerich, who has quite the story of her own.

My Thoughts: It literally pains me to write this review because Beatriz Williams is one of my go-to authors for light, but entertaining page turners about family drama and wealthy people behaving badly. Along the Infinite Sea is the third book in the Schuyler sister series, focusing on Pepper, and unfortunately, my least favorite of the three.

The story is told in duel perspectives and timelines: one focusing on Pepper in 1966 and one focusing on Annabelle’s experience of falling in love during the lead-up to World War II in the 1930’s. Williams has surprised me with family drama twists and turns in all her previous books, but the plot twists in Along the Infinite Sea just weren’t that eye-opening. And, while Williams usually includes some romance in her books, it felt a bit heavy-handed and drawn out here.

For anyone interested in trying Beatriz Williams (and I think you should if you like family drama page turners!),  I recommend starting with A Hundred Summers, one of my fall-time favorite beach reads.

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