Sunday, June 22, 2008

The View From Mount Joy by Lorna Landvik

image from LibraryThing
This is WONDERFUL!! I laughed and I cried and I couldn't put it down. It's a classic Landvik!!

This is the story of Joe Andreson and finding his view of Mount Joy!

He's your typical high hockey star - a good kid whose father was killed and whose mother is trying. So, the story opens with Joe moving to Minneapolis as a senior in high school. Joe becomes fast pals with Darva, the girl who is amazing, but doesn't quite fit in and Kristi Casey the girl who is everything and will let you know that. Joe and Darva have a deep friendship that stays a friendship for a lifetime. Kristi is a user of everything: drugs, people, money, prestige, and most of all Joe. She pops in and out of his life at her whim. Joe falls under her spell for brief moments and then comes back to his real life.

And it's Joe's real life where the story actually is. He fills his life with friends - Ed Haugland being one. Ed is the saddened middle age man who owns Haugland Foods. Joe works for him and plays keyboard for him and stays with him as he slowly dies of MD. And Joe inherits the store he doesn't really want, But, it is the store where Joe finds his joy! On a slow day he decided to start odd little contests - all the groceries you can gather in two minutes for free, a free pie if you are buying eggs, a box of books if you can recite a Walt Whitman poem. The contests are often rigged to share with the less fortunate (grocery run) or to meet a newcomer-eventually to be wife (eggs) or to get others to meet.

As the grocery store becomes more successful, Joe's family grows and thrives and Kristi's star shoots across the sky as the voice of God. Her radio and then TV personea hidden by the layers of makeup and the talk that she spews. Yet, when she is really down and out - it's Joe she calls and Joe who is her friend.

I LOVED this book. Why? The fake of Kristi is so perfectly played against the reality of day to day joy of Joe's life. What we think we want way out there is not what we need close to home. Joe finds his Mount Joy right beside him as he watches his two sons and Darva's daughter who is now his daughter, as he stands close to Jenny the love of his life whose flute playing enchanted him the night he discovered his mother was an amazing teacher and his aunt was gay.

By the way, Mount Joy was named for the spot where Kristi and Joe stood and watched the most amazing northern lights in a drug induced state. Later, Kristi claimed that was the moment she first heard God speak her name. Joe remembers it as a time they stood in awe of nature and the pure happiness of friendship.

So, what is the view from your Mount Joy? Is it a place where secrets are shared and stories are told? Or is it the amazing view of a life lived well? Hmmmm.....

The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies

This is a great example of  an intriguing cover and title, but the book not quite living up to their potential.

image from LibraryThing
The story takes place in Wales right after D-Day. It follows Esther, a Welsh girl, and Karstan, a German prisoner of war. It sounded like a book you could curl up with and loose yourself in. Unfortunately, I just wasn't able to do that. It moved rather slowly. There seemed to be gaps in my understanding of what was happening, or things I should have already known, or I just was skimming too much! Esther's father is a very nationalistic Welsh shepherd who would much rather be working in the slate quarry. But, due to a strike years before and failing economy, he is stuck with his sheep. Esther is also stuck - she has been proposed to by Rhys as he was getting ready to leave for war. She quickly turns him down. Then in the opening scene of the story, she is attacked by her English date. She tells no one and as the story plods through you discover that she is pregnant - long before she ever admits it to herself. The village is the new home of a POW camp for captured Germans. Karstan appears here after he surrenders. He is also trapped; by the fence, by his understanding of English and his deep realization that Germany will loose the war, by the hopes of his mother and the hero status of his WWI father.

As the book slogs through time the characters slog through their unwanted lives.

For a WWII book about the winning side - there is very little euphoria, very little hope. Instead it's like Esther's ride to Ireland on the train for an abortion. As they arrive in town and she sees the extent of the bombing and destruction she imagines all the places she will never see, all the experiences she will never have all the possibilities that no longer exist because the war has changed them - not only the landscape - but who they are.

So, it's hard to recommend this very strongly. There are some beautifully written passages - but the pace is as slow as the winters in the war!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Home to Holly Springs by Jan Karon

image from LibraryThing

I have loved the Mitford books and Father Tim for many years. Some of the books have been a little slow in the middle of the story. But, I have always resonated with the real christianity that Tim tries so hard to live. He is more than the sum of his parts - he is human and God-filled. But, there is a dark and depressed side of Father Tim. A side that stays hidden much of the time. This is the book that explains it all. Here are the answers.

Tim travels by himself back to Holly Springs, Mississippi after receiving a letter - no name, nothing more. The letter simply asks him to come. And so he does, not having any idea why. He has a whole group of people to look for in Holly Springs - Willie with only one thumb, Tommy Noles his best friend and blood brother, Peggy, who raised him and Louis and Sally from the farm. His family has long since died - but their ghosts seem to surround Holly Springs.

What Tim finds is much, much more than he imagined. It is the story of a past of questions being answered. Not always the way he would have wanted them to be answered, but answered they are. In the midst of this search he also makes new friend, T and Ray who are restoring his old home, Red at the hardware store. Each of these fills a place for him.

The story also features Cynthia, his amazing wife and Dooley his adopted son.

It's been quite a while since I've read any of these stories -and I have to say - this is one of the best!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Diplomat's Wife by Pam Jenoff

image from LibraryThing
Well - this just proves that summer is actually here! It's the first evening of summer vacation, it's 11:23 and I've finished my first book. I didn't start it tonight - it just so happened I finished it tonight!

This book was such a pleasant surprise. I loved the Kommadant's Girl. So, I picked up this one in the book store. I read the back and it sounded amazingly familiar - I figured it would be a repeat of the Kommadant and wasn't all that intrigued...until I started reading it!

This is the story of Marta - the Kommadant's killer. The story begins from the moment she drops over on the bridge after seeing Emma off to a safe future. Marta is captured and tortured by the Gestapo hoping for information about the resistance. She is eventually rescued by Paul, an American who is liberating the Nazi prison where she is kept.

They have a whirlwind romance and Paul proposes. Marta travels to London before Paul to meet up with the aunt of a fellow refugee. But, Paul never shows up - killed in a plane crash on the way to London. Devastated, Marta marries Simon, a diplomat she met on the boat ride to London.

That's about all I can tell you...except Marta does a covert mission back to Germany and meets up with Emma and finds out what really happened to Jacob and just whose baby Emma was carrying at the end of Kommandant.

She also meets up with....

You will just have to read it. This is another great story by Jenoff. There are just enough twists and turns to keep you involved, yet it's predictible enough to be comfortable. And true love prevails! Yippee! :)