Sycamore Row by John Grisham

I’m not someone who spends too much time trying to evaluate my reading life to determine what kind of reader I am. (Not that it’s not a fun thing to do). I know that most of the time what I’m reading is not new, and I’m usually reading something that has made a considerable impact and has staying power in the reading world. I like to play catch up on what I’ve missed out on. I don’t read to inform or confirm my worldview. I sometimes, only sometimes, read with the intention of considering someone else’s worldview. I mean, you don’t have to be all that purposeful about that, it’s sort of an automatic benefit of reading anyway. (Now look who’s spending too much time evaluating her reading life…) Forgive me.

I do know this. When I want popular, plot-based, fast-paced fiction, John Grisham is my guy. I don’t believe I’ve ever been disappointed in one of his books. I’ve read all of his sports novels, and I’ve read A Painted House, Skipping Christmas, Camino Island and a handful of his legal thrillers. (Some folks assume all his writing is of the legal type but it’s not.)

I recently finished Sycamore Row and I looovved it!!! I wanted to pick this book up every free moment I had.

sycamore row

Jake Brigance, the same Jake Brigance of A Time To Kill, (Matthew McConaughey if you saw the movie), is still living and working in Clanton, Mississippi. On a Monday morning Jake receives an envelope containing a letter and a hand-written will from Seth Hubbard, a man who just the day before committed suicide.  In this will, Mr. Hubbard revokes a previous will and completely cuts out all of his children and grandchildren. He has amassed an incredible fortune and he leaves 5% to his church, 5% to a long lost brother and 90% to his black, middle-aged house keeper. SHOCK AND AWE!!

It’s just good, ya’ll. It’s good. If you’re interested, you can read here where someone gushed about it in The Washington Post a few years ago when the book came out.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/sycamore-row-by-john-grisham/2013/10/20/0f5a11be-34fd-11e3-be86-6aeaa439845b_story.html?utm_term=.ef2ee5431cb0

I read this one as part of Roof Beam Reader’s 2018 TBR Challenge. Only two more books to go!

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As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner


“It takes two people to make you, and one people to die. That’s how the world is going to end.”

As I Lay Dying

I did it. I read William Faulkner and I survived, all the way to the end!

It really wasn’t so bad. Well, at first it was, but eventually it got easier, and that THICK AS MOLASSES southern dialect finally began to make more sense.

What’s interesting to me about this is that I’m from the south. I’ve been here my whole life. When I go anywhere that’s not in the south, people like to ask where I’m from, because they hear the accent in my voice. (Which I don’t even think is that significant.) When I was a junior in high school, I went to New York with my mom on a work trip. While another girl and I were in Bloomingdale’s, the store employees would just ask us to talk, so they could listen to our accents and smile. Anyway, that all came to mind because of the work it required in me to get to comfortable with the language in As I Lay Dying. The story takes place in the deep south, 80 or 90 years ago, and I would equate the dialect with what you might hear from those native to the NC or Tennessee Mountains. But this was so much more. And then when you consider that part of the story is told in stream of consciousness, which often doesn’t appear in complete sentences, then you’ve got yourself a challenge. But, like I said, it got easier as it went along.

As I Lay Dying tells the story of the Bundren family of Yoknapatawpha county, Mississippi. Addie Bundren, the matriarch of the family, is dying and her last wish is to be buried in her hometown of Jefferson, Mississippi. The family is preparing for her death and the eventual long wagon ride to take her to her final resting place. The story is told in the point of view of 15 narrators. All of the family contribute to the story, as well as neighbors, friends and one reverend.

When I first read from Dewey Dell’s perspective, I imagined her a him so I didn’t know who the girl was that was fanning Addie by her bedside. This is not unusual, as Faulkner doesn’t really spell anything out for you. You as the reader get to piece the story together as you read along. And when I read the scene of her and Lafe picking cotton,  I remember thinking, “wait, something’s going on here and she’s not making it clear,” but I  totally got the mood of the scene. Then when I watched the scene from the movie on Youtube, the SAME mood was portrayed and I was so proud of myself for getting it. Then I knew my reading instincts would be alright for the rest of the book.

Many dangers and mishaps happen along the way to Jefferson. Darl, my favorite son, is thoughtful, intellectual and brooding, Dewey dell is hiding a secret, Jewel is angry and defiant, Cash is injured and the treatment is grotesque and unbearable. Animals die, Addie decomposes, and Anse, the father/husband, is focused on the task but useless in any other way.

There was a time in the beginning where the language was so mixed up, repetitive and convoluted that all of a sudden I could hear Bill Clinton saying, “Well, it depends on what your definition of IS is.” Because that’s how much sense it made! I read the paragraph aloud to my husband and he just looked at me, blankly.  I’m sure he wonders why I spend my time reading such hullabaloo.

Overall I’m glad I read it. It’s not a happy book nor a hopeful book, but it’s a picture of a family and what they experience. It ends abruptly and I was like, “What..?”  I’m unsure of whether Dewey Dell’s issue got resolved and I don’t like how things turned out for Darl. If you’ve read As I Lay Dying and you have thoughts on these things I’ve mentioned, please comment below and let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading!

They Shall See God by Athol Dickson

they shall see God

I first encountered Athol Dickson’s work back when my husband and I had our bookstore. (See previous post if you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about).
He has several titles under his belt. Of the three that I’ve read, a pattern emerges. The writing is fast-paced, the setting is New Orleans, and they have C-R-E-E-P-Y and dark themes. Also, they end on a hopeful note. (Thanks, Athol!)

In They Shall See God, Dickson tells the story of two childhood friends who witness a gruesome murder, testify in court, and see the accused locked away for 25 years. That day in court marked the end of their friendship and they don’t reconnect until the murderer has served his time, is released, and a series of new and unusual murders begin to take place.

Now, I’m about to show my ignorance or naivete in something. I’m old enough now to not really care about how this makes me look, I mean, we’re all ignorant about some things, right? So, in this book, there is a fair amount of protesting going on. But this protesting was of a different nature than I typically see. And maybe this doesn’t really happen, since this IS a work of fiction, but either way you go, it was thought-provoking, and thought-provoking-ness is a good thing. Am I right?

Back to the story….Ruth and Kate are best friends in childhood. After the murder, their parents prevent them from seeing each other again. The story opens in their adulthood and you find that Ruth is a reformed Jewish Rabbi and Kate is a born-again Christian. The protests that take place are the Christians rudely and loudly and obnoxiously protesting against the Jews, every day, outside of their Temple. Signs, marches, chanting, the works. These protests are what was so strange to me, and a little hard for me to buy into, initially.

I recognize, though I could never say I fully understand, the historical plight of the Jewish race.  God’s chosen people have been enslaved, annihilated and despised from their beginning. As a born-again Christian, from the age of 12, I have never encountered New Testament Believers who have anything but respect and gratitude for the Jewish people and their heritage. Yes, there are fundamental differences in our faiths but there is also an overwhelming amount of common ground, and really, an undeniable acknowledgement that without the Jewish faith, Christians would not have their own! So it was strange to see these two sides pitted against one another, with the antagonizers being the Christians.

It turns out there is a plotted reason for all the protesting that has it’s origin in the murder escapade 25 years previous. There is a cool revelation into the pattern of how the new murders are taking place. There is anger, insanity, wild animals; lions and tigers and bears, (oh, my!) and a slow but meaningful coming to terms and understanding between Ruth and Kate. It takes a while to untangle the truth that has been knotted up for so long but they get there. And it’s a really creepy and dark process along the way.

I read this one as part of my 2018 TBR Challenge. I’ve now read 8 out of the 12 books on my list and I’m getting a little nervous about being able to finish. Sigh…

Home of Our Hearts by Robin Jones Gunn

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Here’s something you probably don’t know about me. (Unless you know me personally). My husband and I used to be bookstore owners. We owned a Christian bookstore, part of the Lemstone Books chain of eighty-something Christian bookstores in the US. They were based out of Chicago and every August, Mike and I hopped a plane and flew to Chicago for the annual Lemstone conference and Christmas buying. It was a great seven or eight years of our lives, except for those seven or eight Thanksgivings before Black Fridays, as we spent the majority of our time those Thanksgving days getting the store ready for Christmas.

Those Lemstone years were the years I was birthing and rearing little ones so I really was not at the store very much. When I was there, you could see the disappointment on the faces of the teens that came in wanting to talk to my super nice and super informed husband on all the latest Christian bands and music. It’s fine, it really didn’t bother me, but when I see some of those teens that are now adults around town, I like to hold that over their heads. And really, who can be offended? It’s true, my husband is one of the nicest and smartest people I know.

Here’s another thing you may not know about me: I’ve always wanted to write a book. For the longest time, I wanted to write a middle-school age book. (Back in my day, it was Junior High) It was going to be about a girl who goes to summer camp. Things would happen, lessons would be learned, camp would be the best thing ever.

In those early days at Lemstone, I discovered a new author, Robin Jones Gunn, and she caught my eye because she was writing a series for young teens that reflected so much of what I wanted to write too! The Christy Miller series began with twelve books, seeing Christy from about age thirteen through her high school graduation. As time passed, Gunn wrote Christy Miller, The College Years, Christy and Todd the Married Years and in the last year or two she has completed Christy and Todd The Baby Years. I’m a little behind now on the series but I did just recently finish Book Two in the Married Years, Home of our Hearts.

Semi-newlyweds, Christy and Todd experience the realities of young adulthood while walking through financial anxieties, faith-testings, family dramas and friendships. In Home of our Hearts they travel across the world for two very special weddings; Todd’s father has finally found the love of his life and is marrying in the Canary Islands and Christy’s best friend Katie is getting married in Kenya. Christy experiences all of the culture and sacredness of both ceremonies and begins to wonder if she and Todd are in the right or best place for them to serve God. I have one more to read in the Married Years to find out.

I’ve enjoyed this series over the years so much. I like moving through them slowly, always knowing there is another one I have to look forward to reading.

Gunn has written many other series as well. The Glenbrook series is a great romance series for the twenty-something reader, and The Sisterchick Series is a great adventure series for the middle-aged woman. If you never get to travel the world, you can always read a Sisterchick novel and get a great glimpse of the food and culture of other countries;  Holland, Mexico, Finland, France, Hawaii, Italy, England and Australia!

Au revoir!

Stuff of Earth, Things of Heaven by James Perry

How do you test the long suffering of someone? You tell them you’re gonna share your thoughts about their first book after you’ve read it, and then six months later, you finally get around to it. Actually, this doesn’t speak much about his long suffering because he’s out living his best life at the beach and writing other books – and who the heck cares what I think anyway?
But in case you are interested, I’ll tell you my thoughts on James Perry’s Stuff of Earth, Things of Heaven.  (Jimmy to me, since I know him in real life.)

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NOTE: This is not a book that is pushing a particular world view or theology. Actually, the author himself, does not subscribe to the doctrines that are presented in this story, EXCEPT for where presentation of the Gospel is mentioned. The miraculous gifts of the Spirit are a part of his fiction so whether you subscribe to that theology or not, he’s just telling a story.  I say that because I know that some people have a hard time separating what they believe from their ability to enjoy a good book that doesn’t coincide with their beliefs. Christians and non-Christians alike do this.

On we go:

Daniel was the only child of Jamal and Sarah Call.  Jamal was a physics professor at Berkeley in 1970-something and Sarah, well, “She had been a radical leftist, anti-everything. Involved with all groups that wanted to throw out all things conventional, her studies were wrapped around her politics, majoring in social justice sciences. Her motto about America: if it wasn’t broke, break it.” (pg. 15) Total opposites, they met on the campus of Berkeley, fell in love and married. And then they shocked everyone when they went to a Jesus Freaks rally off campus to heckle and they returned home, born-again.

Stuff of Earth, Things of Heaven is Daniel’s story. At 18 years old he inherits close to two billion dollars from his wildly successful father and he stuns the world when he gives the majority of it away. Daniel chooses to live a life of chastity and spends much of his time studying and praying. He follows instructions from God and he facilitates a number of miraculous and earth-altering events.

Things get exciting and move along at a pretty fast pace. There is an element of mystery and intrigue, there is romance, there is good and there is evil. All in all this is an exciting story about a young man who is devoted, whole-heartedly, to the call placed on his life.

I wouldn’t be totally honest if I didn’t mention a few things I didn’t love.

1. You can roll your eyes here if you like but I’m sorry, I don’t enjoy being inside the mind of a man, if you know what I mean. It really only occurs a few times, and I understand this is reality and normal and whatnot, but still, I don’t like it.

2. The editing in this book is pretty bleak. I hate that for the author because a good story is told here, but the typos and errors in grammar are present throughout. HOWEVER. I understand that with his next novel, he has procured a Grammar Nazi for an editor, so that problem should be nonexistent from here on out. I only mention this issue to give a heads up to someone interested in reading Stuff of Earth. It doesn’t take away from the story at all but it is something you can expect.

Recommendation: Those who struggle with addiction, or those who love someone that struggles with addiction would be particularly interested in this story, as the author himself is a recovering addict and he tackles this issue with compassion and wisdom.

It’s an enjoyable read and I look forward to his next book!
Bravo, Jimmy!!

SEAL of God by Chad Williams

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Chad Williams was an outgoing, self-motivated, somewhat obnoxious young man who knew what he wanted in life and pursued it with a passion, one hundred and ten percent. After bouts of celebrity fame in skateboarding, Vans shoe endorsements, and professional fishing, Chad decided that what he wanted most in his life was to become a Navy SEAL. His father, weary of his son’s fickle decision making, arranged for him to have some training sessions with Scott Helvenston, a current Navy SEAL, to be sure it was really something he wanted to pursue before signing up. Chad and Scott began an intense training relationship that ultimately led to mentorship and friendship.

A few days before he was to report for Boot Camp, Chad turned on the television and was horrified to see Scott, who had been deported to Iraq, being drug through the streets of Fallujah, mutilated and murdered after being ambushed. He was filled with anger and grief and he allowed those emotions to fuel his desire to move forward with the Navy and his desire to become a SEAL.

A large portion of this book details the excruciating training regimen Chad endured to become a SEAL. Some of it was hard to imagine anyone making it through. One thing I found interesting though is that one doesn’t get “cut” from attempting to make it to SEAL. One excuses himself when he can no longer move forward in the training. It is designed to be too difficult. It is an incredible test of endurance and strength. It is an awesome display of what the human body and mind are capable of overcoming. And when you read about some of the missions the SEALS complete in the field, then you can appreciate why they must go through what they go through.

After  years of planning and preparing, obsessing actually, about becoming a SEAL, he made it.  And just a couple of months after, something in his life changed and his desire to serve as a SEAL began to fade fast.

This book highlights Chad’s journey to becoming a SEAL and also the journey his life took when he became a born again Christian. It was actually funny the way his conversion happened, as he was quite belligerent about not being a follower of Christ. But like the Good Book says, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9 NKJV

I enjoyed reading this true account of someone who had the ambition and physical prowess to become a SEAL, and I especially enjoyed reading about his missions in the field for the 5 or 6 years he served before retiring as a SEAL and becoming a full time minister/evangelist.

I read this book as part of my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge. This is book 6 of 12 that I have challenged myself to read, and since July is ending I am a tiny bit behind schedule. Oh well, maybe I’ll catch up in August??

Calico Joe by John Grisham

calico joe
John Grisham is known for his legal thrillers, and he’s written a great many of them, but he has occasionally hopped off the legal train and delved into other subjects. I’ve read and enjoyed a handful of his thrillers and almost all of his non-legal books. (Playing for Pizza would be my least favorite, but still not too bad.) I recently finished Calico Joe, a book written for the love of baseball, and I reeeaaallllyy loved it.  I’m feeling quite lazy in thinking of how to craft words to tell you about this story so instead I’m posting the blurb from goodreads in which some professional writer recounts and teases us beautifully.

   It began quietly enough with a pulled hamstring. The first baseman for the Cubs AAA affiliate in Wichita went down as he rounded third and headed for home. The next day, Jim Hickman, the first baseman for the Cubs, injured his back. The team suddenly needed someone to play first, so they reached down to their AA club in Midland, Texas, and called up a twenty-one-year-old named Joe Castle. He was the hottest player in AA and creating a buzz.

In the summer of 1973 Joe Castle was the boy wonder of baseball, the greatest rookie anyone had ever seen.  The kid from Calico Rock, Arkansas dazzled Cub fans as he hit home run after home run, politely tipping his hat to the crowd as he shattered all rookie records.
 
Calico Joe quickly became the idol of every baseball fan in America, including Paul Tracey, the young son of a hard-partying and hard-throwing Mets pitcher. On the day that Warren Tracey finally faced Calico Joe, Paul was in the stands, rooting for his idol but also for his Dad. Then Warren threw a fastball that would change their lives forever…
 
In John Grisham’s new novel the baseball is thrilling, but it’s what happens off the field that makes CALICO JOE a classic.

There is a whole lotta baseball speak in this one and a lot of  lingo that any baseball lover will follow, but fear not, if you are not attuned to the ins and outs of baseball you don’t have to be. This is, at it’s heart, a story of forgiveness. And I’m not gonna lie, I cried.