Three generations of Moon women living in a small North Carolina town are trying to do the best they can in life. Grandmother Marvelle is trying to haThree generations of Moon women living in a small North Carolina town are trying to do the best they can in life. Grandmother Marvelle is trying to hang around long enough to pass on what she's learned to the next generation. Her wisdom is hard-earned and she knows the youngsters need it. Her daughters Ruth Ann and Cassandra are trying to figure out if the lives they are living are the lives they want. Ruth Ann's daughter Ashley is young but she's already old in experience. As the book opens, Ruth Ann is driving to Asheville to pick Ashley up from the rehab center where she's been staying. Ashley will be living with her now that she's been discharged. When they get back to their little town, Ashley drops the news that she's pregnant and Marvelle announces that she's moving in as well. Life is about to get interesting.
I loved this book. I met author Pamela Duncan at a book festival a few years ago and just chattered away at her. I never do that. I'm usually all tongue-tied at author signings and rarely get out more than "Please" and "Thank you." But it just felt like she was one of my kind of people and so I rattled on while she graciously listened.
This family of women felt like my family. We have a lot of women too and we love each other, irritate each other, get in each other's business, and cheer each other on. That's how these Moon women were. The story rotates between the four characters (Cassandra's part is small but she has a voice) and there was never a time when I wished I could get back to another storyline; I enjoyed them all. Each character is facing challenges that we can all relate to. I will admit that I wanted to reach in the pages and shake Ashley. "Will *shake* you *shake* PLEASE *vigorous shake* just *shake* wake *shake* up *shake* and *shake* let *shake* that *shake* sweet *shake* boy *shake* love *shake* you?!?!?" *tooth-rattling shake* I feel better for having written it out. She was stubborn beyond all reason.
Poor Cassandra. I wasn't entirely happy with her story, but there's a glimmer of hope for her. I'll have to dive into The Big Beautiful soon to see how she ends up.
For a book about strong women and their ties to each other, pick this one up. Is there higher praise than "These characters felt like my family?" I don't think so....more
Frank Locke is the son of an opium addict in the 1920s in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina. He's quit school to work in a cotton mill and taFrank Locke is the son of an opium addict in the 1920s in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina. He's quit school to work in a cotton mill and take care of his parents' and grandparents' farms. He's bitter about his father, but he's found a good woman to love. Then some big family drama hits the fan and he discovers a world whose existence he'd never even dreamed of.
First of all, I received this from the publicist in exchange for my unbiased review. Also, I don't know Michael Cogdill, but he is one of my sort-of-local news anchors.
Now that that's out of the way, let me try to tell you how much I loved this book. Why are the five-star reviews always harder to write than the two-star reviews?
I'm a Blue Ridge mountain girl, so I'm a little predisposed to love books set at home anyway. But this was just gorgeous, both the writing and the story. It's not a book to rush through; it's a book to take your time over, savor, and wring every last bit of meaning out of. Here, this paragraph that explains both the title and very basic premise of the book will show you what I'm talking about.
"In the rise of crickets and peep frogs, Granny spread out her mountain mystic view of things again, and the whole wagon treated it as sacred for a moment. She'd often speak of how a little scrap of fog tears from a rain cloud. Floats on the waves of blue ridge as if a wisp off a bride. Granny and others called it she-rain, I suppose for its womanly drape, white as a wedding gown. Common legend, though Granny took the vision further. Said she-rain was like us all--little scraps torn off into the world, given to the wind, and meant to find a paradise. As she saw things, no human scrap of this life is made for the trash. Even the most ragged are fit to beautify somewhere. Fit for some quilting into the finery of creation."
And that's the hope. No matter your background, no matter what you've done, its never too late to redeem yourself. When one character finally redeems himself, I was truly almost in tears.
I feel like the synopsis does this book a little bit of a disservice. I was expecting a straight-up story of a love triangle. When Frank finally meets the second woman, the story took a turn that added unbelievable depth and richness. I won't say more.
One of the many layers of this novel is about Frank becoming more than just a semi-literate farm boy living a hard life. I am so glad that some of his best teachers were natives of his community. They showed him that just because you're illiterate in letters doesn't mean that you can't be literate in love and a life well-lived.
There are so many good, true messages in here that I just sat still, mulling them over for about fifteen minutes in the lobby where I finished it. That's a huge deal because I usually finish one book and immediately reach for the next. Considering that I finished the book in goosebumps, reading through a haze of tears, I obviously had a lot to think about. One of the biggest messages was about helping each other. The author shows that we should never be afraid to ask for help when we need it, and we should always be willing to accept help when it's offered. We should also be on the lookout for people that we can help. How much better would this world be if we just looked out for opportunities to help each other, no matter how small? Whether it's money, a meal, an ear to listen, or even just a hug on a hard day, everyone has something to offer. I'm left wondering if Cogdill chose his publisher on purpose because they donate a portion of their proceeds to Habitat for Humanity.
The speech is written in our mountain accent, and the author did an amazing job pulling that off. Not an easy feat. It all flowed for me, but because that is truly the language of my heart, I can't say if it's hard for someone else to read.
Parts were emotionally difficult to read, but in a "story of hope," an author has to give their characters a reason to need hope. As you read through the darkness, keep in mind that there will ultimately be light.
I loved the simple faith that was a common thread throughout the book. The characters come from wildly different backgrounds, different Christian denominations, or maybe even no religion at all, but they all had an earnest faith in God. They had faith that if we have faith in each other, we'll help each other be all that we can.
I loved these characters. Sophia was a woman way, way ahead of her time. Mary L. has struggled through things I can't imagine and come out stronger and wiser on the other side. Preacher Lew is hilarious, blustery, and amazingly caring. Frank is open to all that anyone wants to show him. Granny may have been my very favorite though. Her time in the book is short, but her lessons are long and lasting. She reminds me of my own little Granny with her great big heart.
This is another book that I highly recommend. I have been on a roll with these lately, haven't I? Read this when you have the time to really think it over and let the important lessons sink in. You'll be so glad you did. Oh, and there's a giveaway for this going on through April 2, 2010 here on GoodReads. Go ahead and enter....more
The Cantrell family has lived in Hoot Owl Holler in the mountains of Virginia for as long as anyone can remember. They love hard, play hard, and suffeThe Cantrell family has lived in Hoot Owl Holler in the mountains of Virginia for as long as anyone can remember. They love hard, play hard, and suffer deeply. There doesn't seem to be any in-between for them. Oral History follows...let's call it three...generations of Cantrells, starting with handsome Almarine and his run-in with a witch and going on down to his grandchildren.
I loved this. I was thinking that it was my second-favorite book by Lee Smith (Fair and Tender Ladies is far and away my very favorite), but then I remembered On Agate Hill. We'll call it a tie.
I say this every time, but I love the rhythm of Smith's writing. She writes in a way that is as familiar to me as an old worn quilt. The words, the syntax, the pronunciation, I just hear every word as if a family member were telling me a story.
I loved the way the family events passed into legends in the hollers where they lived. From Almarine and his witch (was she really?) to a family curse to mysterious deaths. Smith never tells more than she should and leaves it up to the reader to decide what is "fact" and what is myth in this fictional family.
The story passes from person to person as the years roll by, but the events are never told by those living them. That helps to keep the "reality or legend?" question going. The narrators aren't always sure themselves. I followed along with it just fine but readers who dislike multiple points of view might want to steer clear.
There is a streak of something dark in some families in these mountains and I think Smith caught that feeling perfectly. I can't explain it any better that. Maybe it's just that we've all lived here so long, we expect to see family traits and find what we're looking for. But I can tell you exactly which road the Cantrells would have lived on in my little community--where that dark streak is found.
I liked seeing how the mountain people change as the years go by. They go from almost complete isolation to watching tv and selling Amway. I can't find it now, but one character comments on how the younger generations will eventually sound more like Dan Rather than their own people. It's true. The book feels a bit like a love offering to a changing way of life.
The framework of the novel is built around a great-granddaughter who grew up in "town" coming back in search of her mother's family's oral history. I didn't like it and, after reading an interview with the author at the end, I don't think it worked exactly the way she intended it to. I think it was supposed to give an outsider's look at the "quaint mountaineers" and show how the Appalachian culture is slowly dying out as young people move away. It just irritated me. There were other sections where Smith showed the same thing much better. Jennifer, the estranged great-granddaughter, just comes across as vapid after the richness of the other characters.
Those few pages aside, I loved this book. I highly recommend it....more
This is a story told from many points of view. First is Zebulon Vance, the real life Civil War governor of North Carolina. We follow him from his daysThis is a story told from many points of view. First is Zebulon Vance, the real life Civil War governor of North Carolina. We follow him from his days as a hotel porter fresh off the farm until his rise to governor. Next is Malinda Blalock, a tough mountain woman who follows her husband to war and beyond. Then there's Rattler, a modern day man with a touch of the second sight who realizes that the Civil War re-enactors of the mountains are calling up uneasy spirits who are best left alone.
I enjoyed reading about my region's role in the Civil War. I'd heard somewhere that we were exceptionally torn apart during that conflict because we weren't wealthy landowners and so had no clear-cut reason to join either side. This book showed that.
The voices of the different narrators were done very well. They were each very distinct. The only negative I have to say about it is that Malinda's voice didn't ring entirely true. The author gave it a good try, but she didn't quite get the accent and the language right. Lee Smith does a much better job with our Appalachian dialect.
There was one other narrator in the book, but he had a very minor role. In fact, I'm not entirely sure why his parts were even included. He only had a few chapters, but I felt like they could have been cut out completely without really hurting the story.
I'll be a little devilish here and say that I also enjoyed the way McCrumb wrote about our transplants from Florida. They were sort of caricatures, and we don't really think they're all like that, but we do feel like some newcomers think us locals are barbarians who should just leave and let them enjoy their cliffside homes. A little brutally honest, perhaps, but there you go.
But overall, this was an interesting book. I wasn't riveted to the page, but I did enjoy it. Not enough to think about reading it again, but it was time well-spent....more
My family all loved this, but I remember thinking it was just okay. I think this is one of those books that appeals more to the region its set in thanMy family all loved this, but I remember thinking it was just okay. I think this is one of those books that appeals more to the region its set in than anyone else. It was a decent biography though....more
This is the story of Jeannette Walls's childhood growing up with a father who adored his children but who also neglected them shamefully and became doThis is the story of Jeannette Walls's childhood growing up with a father who adored his children but who also neglected them shamefully and became downright scary when he drank. Her mother was a carefree spirit who couldn't be bothered to take care of her children. She thought it was good for them to learn to take care of themselves. The first story we get from Jeannette's childhood involves the horrible burns she sustained while cooking hot dogs for herself at the age of three. Childhood doesn't really get any better from there.
I'm torn on rating this book. I read it in one day. I really couldn't put it down. But at the same time, this isn't the normal kind of book I read and I can't really say that I enjoyed it. I know that's not really the point with this kind of memoir, but I do typically choose to read for enjoyment. I don't really have much to say about it. I'm not a fan of non-fiction, but this did "read like fiction." I feel like I've read a memoir somewhat similar to this in the past. I know everyone's story is different, but I really think that reading the story of a charming alcoholic's daughter one time was enough for me. This was one time too many. I'd give it three stars except for the fact that I really did rip right through it....more
Josey Cirrini is finding out that it's hard to change your reputation in a small Southern town. She's a model daughter: she's buried her own hopes andJosey Cirrini is finding out that it's hard to change your reputation in a small Southern town. She's a model daughter: she's buried her own hopes and dreams and instead lives to take her mother to endless meetings, teas, and doctor's appointments. But everyone in the town still looks at her as the horrid, spoiled little rich girl who kicked their shins and stole candy from their stores. But one morning, Josey wakes up and finds the town's bad girl in her closet. Della Lee has had enough of her life and is starting over up north--just as soon as she takes a break in Josey's room. She pushes Josey to come out of her shell and to start living her life for herself.
This wasn't exactly what I expected when I started it. I was expecting a typical shy-girl-meets-handsome-guy story. But it wasn't exactly like that. This was more about finding the courage to get to know yourself. The importance of female friendships. The jealousies between mothers and daughters. Surrounding yourself with people who are good for you and cutting out the ones who are negative influences. And how you can't really have healthy relationships with others until you do have a healthy relationship with yourself. Part of me wanted more of the boy/girl stuff. But the biggest part of me is thrilled that an author tackled these subjects. We have plenty of boy/girl stories out there. We don't have enough books reminding us that other relationships are important too.
I love the way Sarah Addison Allen weaves little pieces of magic into her stories. This book had one of my favorite little magics ever. Chloe Finley, Josey's new friend, is a book magnet. Ever since she was a little girl, books have magically appeared to her when she needs them. The first time it happened, she was bored at her grandparents' farm and a book of card tricks appeared to her in the woods. When her family started noticing all these books that they hadn't bought for her, a book of simple storage solutions appeared. I just love this idea. Why can't I have that kind of magic?
I just have to include this quote that any book lover will relate to: "Books can be possessive, can't they? You're walking around in a bookstore and a certain one will jump out at you, like it had moved there on its own, just to get your attention. Sometimes what's inside will change your life, but sometimes you don't even have to read it. Sometimes it's a comfort just to have a book around. Many of these books haven't even had their spines cracked. 'Why do you buy books you don't even read?' our daughter asks us. That's like asking someone who lives alone why they bought a cat. For company, of course."
I liked this so well that I read on through all the book club questions and author interview and deleted scenes. I was floored when I saw this question in the author interview: "Is there really skiing in North Carolina?" Okay, I'm a NC native, and I probably don't know as much about your state as I should, but this just floored me. We'll never come close to competing with Utah or Vermont, but we do have skiing.. If you're in the area in the wintertime, come on over and give us a try.
So, I do recommend this. I enjoyed her other book, Garden Spells, more, but this was still a sweet little book with some important messages for women. ...more
John Bayley meets Anna Stockton when she's in her late teens. He decides right away that he's going to marry her. She looks to be a strong woman who kJohn Bayley meets Anna Stockton when she's in her late teens. He decides right away that he's going to marry her. She looks to be a strong woman who knows how to work. After burying two wives, that combination appeals to John. The rest of the book follows the ups and downs of their marriage and their relationship to the land.
My biggest issue with this book was that I somehow felt like I was watching a silent movie as I read it. I felt very much outside the story. I got the feeling that this was done on purpose so that I the reader would be more focused on what the author was trying to show me rather than on how I felt about each character or event. It was effective, but I do like to feel a connection to the characters I read about, so it wasn't a style I cared for.
There was a lot going on in this book. The point didn't really seem to be the story itself, but rather to explore man's relationship to nature and also man's relationship to other men. What I took away was a message about humanity's need to dominate our surroundings and how futile that need is. Nature will win in the end. I also took away a message about the futility of our hopes and dreams and how we are ultimately so impermanent that we will be nothing more than a fleeting memory. This is all true, but it's a little bleak for my taste.
The author is a poet and it shows in her lyrical, yet succinct prose. She says a lot in such a relatively short book, but she says it beautifully.
Salt left me thinking, and I believe I will think about it for a long time. But ultimately I did feel too far removed from the story to give it more than three stars. This will appeal to those who are more interested in a message than in caring about characters. It was a strong book, it just wasn't necessarily to my taste....more
We first meet Crystal Spangler when she’s a dreamy twelve-year-old Virginia mountain girl, in the summer before she begins high school. We follow herWe first meet Crystal Spangler when she’s a dreamy twelve-year-old Virginia mountain girl, in the summer before she begins high school. We follow her as her dreaminess leads her to look for meaning, or for herself, in all the wrong places.
I adore Lee Smith’s work. She writes about the mountains of Virginia. I’m in North Carolina, but reading a book by Lee Smith feels like coming home. She captures the spirit of these mountains and these people perfectly. Just read this opening paragraph:
”Now the lightning bugs come up from the mossy ground along the river bank, first one, then two together, more, hesitant at first, from the darkness gathered there already in the brush beneath the trees. Crystal sits and watches, holds her breath, the Mason jar beside her knee; if she looks down, she can’t even see it now. She touches it with her finger and feels the glass with the letters raised and indecipherable in the dimness so that they could be anything, any words at all. They could be French. Suddenly out of the scrub grass at her knees comes rising a small pale flickering light, sickly unearthly yellowish green, fairy light. It is so close she can breathe on it and see the whirring, tiny wings. Crystal doesn’t move. She could catch it, but she doesn’t. Only her eyes move to follow the flight, erratic at first as if blown by wind although there is no wind in the hot still damp of early June on the river bank, then into the dark branches, away and gone. Crystal can barely see the river on down the bank, barely hear it. She looks across the river bed now to the railroad track cut into the mountain which goes straight up on the other side, almost perpendicular, impenetrable, too steep for houses or even trails: Black Mountain. Its rocky top makes a jagged black hump across the sky and it is surprisingly light that far up in the sky, but the river bottom lies deep in the mountain’s shadow and even in Crystal’s yard now and in Agnes’s yard next door and on Highway 460 in front of the house it is dark. Cars have got their lights on.”
I read that and I drifted back to endless summer nights growing up, either catching lightning bugs or sitting on the porch watching them rise from the hayfield and the trees. I can remember the sound of the creek from my parents’ house, or I can remember being at my grandparents’ house and watching the light fade behind the mountain we called Stoney Fork as full dark settled in across the hills. It might be December, but that passage transports me right into July. And I am amazed at Lee Smith’s talent.
Black Mountain Breakdown is more of a character study than a regional study and I couldn’t bring myself to like Crystal. I can’t bring myself to love a book if I don’t like the characters, so I had a problem. I can’t fault Smith on her depiction of Crystal: she perfectly described the woman who just can’t be herself without tying herself up in some other identity. She’s either Crystal the cheerleader, Crystal the beauty queen, Crystal the Christian, or Crystal the football player’s girlfriend. She’s never just Crystal. And that drives me crazy. She caught my interest at one point and I got excited that this might turn into a five star book for me, but that went away, and I’m left a little dissatisfied. There’s room to think that the book ends any way that you want it to, but I can’t really bring myself to believe that my ending is ever going to happen for Crystal.
For the right reader, I know this would be a fantastic book. It just wasn’t quite there for me....more
Ave Maria (Please don't call her Ava) Mulligan has lived all her life in Big Stone Gap in the mountains of Virginia. Yet she's still seen as a "furrinAve Maria (Please don't call her Ava) Mulligan has lived all her life in Big Stone Gap in the mountains of Virginia. Yet she's still seen as a "furriner" by everyone else because her mother was from Italy. Ave is sort of a "pillar of the community"; she's the town pharmacist, she makes house calls, she directs the town's outdoor summer drama, she's one of two volunteers for the rescue squad--you name, she's in it. But after her mother's recent death, Ave learns some surprising news about herself that leads her to question the direction her life is taking and make some big changes.
Probably the most important thing to me about this book is that I was either smiling or laughing most of the way through it, and at the end I was definitely left with a satisfied smile on my face. It was a sweet, yet funny story full of lovable, quirky characters. And two very viable male leads to think about! :-)
I just finished reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society recently, and I think fans of that book will enjoy this one. Not that there's anything really similar between the two. But they both left me smiling, and those books are always fun to find. I'll continue reading the rest of this series....more