Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Nightwoods and Dreams of Joy

I'm sharing two books today in an attempt to catch up with myself. I want to post about each book that I read (or listen to) in 2012, and I'm already behind.
This was my first audio book of the year. I listen to audio books while driving. They are very entertaining and also help to keep me awake and alert on those middle of the night driving shifts. I chose this book because I wanted to read more of Charles Frazier's work after falling in love with his other novel, Cold Mountain. Many may be familiar with that title as the movie was a bit of a hit. I, for one, loved the movie, and saw it first. Then read the book when I learned the movie was based on the book. The book...oh my gosh! It is so beautifully written, a piece of art where language is concerned, and he portrayed the Appalachian people during the Civil War so well! Also, the audio version (yes I read the book AND listened to it on audio AND saw the movie) was wonderful. Mr. Frazier narrates it himself and did a spectacular job!

Back to Nighwoods, which this post is supposed to be about anyway. This book is also set in the Appalachians during the 1960's/70's. It is a bit of a suspense novel, telling the story of a woman who has become a bit of a recluse after tragic events in her life. Suddenly she finds herself the guardian of her sister's young children, after her sister is murdered by the children's step-father. And in the midst of trying to help the children recover from their traumatic experience, the step-father shows up in town, determined to retrieve the money his wife had hidden from him, and convinced that the children know where it is hidden. In short, he comes after them and he's not planning on a happy family reunion.

This is the second book of Mr. Frazier's that I've read and I love the way he writes. His words on paper portray so well the speech of the Appalachian people. And his descriptions of the surroundings bring me home to east Tennessee, and western North Carolina. The narrator also did a good job on this book, though I preferred the author himself as he did so well in Cold Mountain.

Now for the second (really third) book for this post.
This book was well written and well narrated. A few words of advice on this one. If you have not yet read Shanghai Girls by the same author, then you need to read that first, as Dreams of Joy is pretty much a sequel to Shanghai Girls and I felt that a reader who had missed the first book would not be able to fully appreciate the story in this one. Shanghai Girls was very good and I would encourage you to read that one, and then come read Dreams of Joy.
Also, as I mentioned before, I use the audio books to help me stay alert while driving, and I was worried when I first started this one. I thought it dull and was having a hard time staying awake at the wheel during my first night of listening. Fortunately, I didn't give up on it and during my second night the story really took off and I was captured through to the end.
Dreams of Joy tells the story of Pearl's daughter, Joy. It picks the story up right where Shanghai Girls left off. Nineteen year old Joy, devastated by the death of her father, and of learning that he wasn't her father at all, makes a rash decision to leave America and return to China to help build the new People's Republic of China. Pearl, knowing what her daughter is walking into, goes after her. The story follows their experiences surviving in the communist country, their reunion and their attempt to escape back to the United States.
I really enjoyed it once it got going, and knowing that the author, who is descended from Chinese immigrants and has actually returned to China to visit her ancestral village and done tons of research, I felt that I could believe the characters experiences as being based on actual conditions and experiences of the Chinese people during those early years under communism. In that, I was fascinated by the historical lesson and glimpse into a culture and society totally foreign to me.
All in all, it was a good book and I'd recommend it as an audio or self-read book. But you really must read Shanghai Girls first.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Rose in a Storm - Jon Katz

My first book this year, and what a wonderful choice! I was meandering through a book store in Reno back before Christmas, and the picture on the cover caught my eye. After reading the back of the book, I added it to my little stack, and then, when it was time to check out and go back to the truck, I had to choose from my stack what would come with me and what would stay at the store. I let myself choose two, and this one made the cut. As it turns out, I chose well!

I absolutely loved this story, from cover to finish! Rose is a Border Collie mix, a working farm dog, who knows she has a job and loves her job. Rose lives for her job. It's where her joy is, what her life is about. She has the farm to watch over, the sheep to take care of, and the farmer, Sam, to work with. She has a good life. And then one winter morning, as she and the farmer go to work early to help a ewe who is having trouble giving birth, Rose senses a change coming, a storm unlike any other.

As the storm progresses, the reader is carried along in Sam and Rose's struggle to keep the farm animals safe and survive the storm themselves. It is a gripping and emotional story of hardship, loss, devotion, and love.

I so enjoyed this book, I hated for it to end. In fact, it would be a short read, but I put it away for a couple of days because I realized it was going to end too soon, and I wasn't ready to let my relationship with Rose end.

The story is told from Rose's perspective. The way it is written is beautiful, and I formed such an attachment to Rose as the story progressed. I loved getting to see the events through Rose's eyes, to read her thought processes, to experience the storm and it's repercussions through her understanding. I loved reading her interpretations and understandings of things, and also her lack of comprehension.

For all the times I've looked at my girls and wondered what they are thinking, this book was like getting a little glimpse into their minds.

This was a wonderful start to my reading list for 2012! And even though it was a random choice from the bookstore shelf, when we get home, I'll be placing it on my "keep forever because it's a great book" shelf in my library.

If you want something a little different, something to stir your emotions, something to keep you involved, or just a quick light read, this would be a good choice!

Rose in a Storm by Jon Katz