I found Mudbound to be an extraordinary first novel. The author is both a fine writer and storyteller, which results in Mudbound being literate and a...moreI found Mudbound to be an extraordinary first novel. The author is both a fine writer and storyteller, which results in Mudbound being literate and a page-turner, a pretty unbeatable combination. I'm not always a fan of novels that tell a story from different characters' perspectives (as opposed to by a third-person omniscient narrator or even just one character's perspective), but Jordan makes it all work seamlessly. Her tale of life on a desolate cotton farm in small-town Jim Crow Mississippi--the time is shortly after the end of the Second World War--is compelling. All the main characters are fully realized and the bits and pieces of the plot are told by various members of two families, one Black and one White. The book begins with the preparations to bury one of the characters so you know right off things are not going to end happily. Or are they? Even at the end, the book will leave you guessing about that and you'll have to come to your own conclusions. Jordan is very good with dialogue. She grew up in the Deep South and not only does she get the voices just right, she does it consistently throughout the book. This is a relatively short novel, easy to finish in a day or so which, once you start reading, you'll likely want to do. Really an impressive debut novel. (less)
I found this to be a beautifully written and absorbing book about the author's childhood growing up on the Sawdust Trail with the last of the great te...moreI found this to be a beautifully written and absorbing book about the author's childhood growing up on the Sawdust Trail with the last of the great tent revival evangelical preachers, David Terrell. Terrell was (and is: he's still preaching, apparently) clearly charismatic. Whether one sees him as prophet or huckster (or both), he's a fascinating complex character. The author saw him as a father figure and offers a lot of insight into the reality of their life versus how it likely appeared to Terrell's many followers. The descriptions of her early years with her mother (who was having an affair with Terrell), brother, Terrell's children and a large and colorful cast of characters is at once compelling and horrifying. Johnson is a powerful writer and her words are evocative: she makes you see and feel what she experienced. I rated the book four stars instead of five because overall I found it unsatisfying that Johnson doesn't explain how she could distance herself from the "holiness people" and become "worldly," yet still accept Terrell's seemingly amazing ability for healing and prophecy. Overall though I found this to be a profoundly moving memoir. (less)
The Diviners is a very entertaining read: the author does a wonderful job of recreating New York City in the 1920's. The setting is as vibrant as any...moreThe Diviners is a very entertaining read: the author does a wonderful job of recreating New York City in the 1920's. The setting is as vibrant as any of the characters (in fact a lot more than some), and Libba Bray has an authentic-feeling touch with detail and dialogue. Within the first few chapters the plot starts to move along at a quick pace. As others have commented maybe the pace gets a little too fast toward the end. There is a sense that too many strands of narrative are being twisted together somewhat carelessly. For me that is equivalent to letting the seams show and got in the way of my ability to suspend disbelief as I read.
That is one of my big quibbles with this book and my reason for giving it only three stars. I realize this is the first in what will be a series about a group of characters with special powers who come together to fight evil, sort of The Fantastic Four meets Harry Potter. I'm not sure it was wise though to introduce so many characters with relatively small roles to play in this first book. It makes the story feel unnecessarily crowded, and I found myself wondering more than once, "Do we really need this character now?" Also as much as I love the authenticity, there is an awful lot of drinking and smoking and even pot smoking happening. I'm no Puritan and I realize that Prohibition and speakeasies, etc., were part of that time and enliven the story, but this is supposed to be a Young Adult novel. Caveat emptor if you don't want your young adults reading about the wonders of hootch.
John Jakes is a fine historian who is also a good storyteller. He's not a great writer imho or a particularly literary one. I understand that the Nort...moreJohn Jakes is a fine historian who is also a good storyteller. He's not a great writer imho or a particularly literary one. I understand that the North and South Trilogy covers a massive amount of ground. There are many events and themes that weave through the books, and it's to Jake's credit that he gives us such a broad sweep of the Civil War and makes it so rich with detail. However he tends to succumb to purple prose (when he's not describing actual history). Also, some of the characters are hard to believe in: Can anyone be as crazy and evil as Bent and evade capture so many times? Why is Ashton so obsessed with revenge? Why is Isabel so endlessly obsessed with power? Motivations aren't always clear and Jakes tends to gloss past these flaws to get to the next piece of history. Still this book, like the other two, is very easy to read. If, like me, you love to read and to learn history via narrative, you'll probably like this book. And if you've slogged through the first two books, why not finish the story?
Heaven and Hell is about the aftermath of the Civil War. Lincoln is dead and North and South are trying to relearn how to be United States. I suppose the settling of the West is an important part of the story of those years, but so much time is spent on it, the story of Reconstruction in the South (mostly told in Madeleine's journals) seems to suffer for it. Overall I enjoyed the read but be ready for lots of history within a narrative that feels somewhat thin. (less)