Posted in Idaho, IdahoAuthors, Reading Reviews

Reading Review (Idaho Writers series): “Bright’s Passage” by Josh Ritter

cover photo courtesy of JoshRitter.com

Imagine, for a moment, a musician who’d been named to the list of “100 Greatest Living American Songwriters” before the age of thirty, whose albums are laden with lyrical language and layers of literary and intellectual references…  And imagine that same musician writing two hundred pages of fiction with all the lyrical allure of his song-smithing.  That’s exactly what we have with Josh Ritter’s first novel, Bright’s Passage.

Henry Bright comes home from World War I with an angel in tow. An argumentative angel, who takes up residence in his horse and meddles in Henry’s life.  I’d suggest that the best way to read this book is simply to let the story and the language flow.  You could inflict your own analysis on it by worrying about the “whys” of what’s going on–maybe a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to explain away that absurd angel–but doing so would only distract from the experience of the story itself.

Bright’s life is artfully interwoven in three braided strands throughout the book… His passage from his isolated mountain home after burying his young wife, journeying with a newborn son (and a goat, and the persnickety horse-angel), trudging toward a town and “feeding the child with his trigger finger dipped in the goat’s milk”…  His experiences in the trenches of France, where the angel first attached itself to him…  And his memories of childhood in a mountain mining community–memories of his mother, who raised him alone after the mines crushed his father, and of the girl Rachel who would (briefly) become his wife when he returned from the war.

A reader determined to dissect might decide Bright is a damaged and delusional man who imagined that bossy angel into his horse. I’m actually inclined to think Bright himself is perfectly sound–although his angel could certainly benefit from some time on the therapy couch. Whatever conclusions you draw as you read, they’ll be yours to keep; Josh doesn’t contaminate his story-telling (or insult his readers) with explanations.

I just looked up Josh’s own comments about the book on Amazon, and was disgruntled to find the exact phrase I’d just written, about the angel who “takes up residence in Henry’s horse.”  Dangit, now I’ll have to edit so people don’t think I was cribbing.  Or…  I’ll leave it as is, and have a laugh.  We did have the same English teachers, after all…  Josh was a few years behind me in school, and one of my memories (brought to mind by Henry Bright’s recollection of a childhood Christmas program in which he played the donkey and Rachel the angel) is of junior-high Josh dressed as Joseph, across our church’s prop-manger from my little sister in a blue veil.

Josh performing in front of BookPeople, Moscow Idaho

Our hometown of Moscow Idaho is the kind of small town where folks showed up spontaneously when the locally owned BookPeople moved to a new location across the street; Main Street shut down for the length of a summer evening while a bucket-brigade of volunteers passed books across the street from hand to hand until the move was compete.  Which is probably why my favorite publicity shot of Josh is this one of him singing in front of our own BookPeople store.

I can honestly claim, though, that the hometown connection played no part in my first fascination with Josh’s music.  I was fooling around on iTunes a few years ago, whimsically searching for songs with “Idaho” in the title–and fell in love with his, making no connection at the time between the name on the album and the kid from my sister’s class. I downloaded the song–and everything else of his that I could find–and the very next morning when I started up my car it kicked the radio to life in the middle of this same song, which Josh was performing live on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation.”  Crazy synchronicity, I was thinking, when my cell phone rang and my mom asked if I remembered Josh Ritter from our church…  Oh. That Josh Ritter. (I’d just thought the name was familiar because… well, because CDs are made by famous people.  Bright one, I am.)

If you’re not familiar with his music, check out “Kathleen” or “Good Man.”  I’ve posted “Idaho” below because… well, because it’s Idaho.

A person who wants light fluffy lyrics would probably find Josh’s philosophical lines frustrating–and the same might go for his novel. For the reader or listener who doesn’t object to thinking, however, Josh’s writing–whether song-lyrics or novel–is an absolute treasure of the mind.  This a book I would happily read just for the language–he’s truly a word-wizard.

I just hope our English teachers are proud.

Intrigued? Check out the book at Amazon!

Video of Josh singing “Idaho”…

Posted in Reading Reviews, Today's File

Never Mind Resolutions–I’m Going for Reading Challenges!

Rather than reflecting on my bad habits and pledging change as the year turns over, I’m indulging a habit by getting excited by the various reading challenges that are being posted for the upcoming year…  The other day I posted about a Mystery Reading Challenge, and here’s another (not limited in theme or genre) which comes with giveaways just to add to the fun.

The Challenge is being co-hosted by ten ladies who will be taking it in turns throughout the year to post mini-challenges and give-aways for participants.  You can check out the guidelines for the challenge–and sign yourself up!–at Bookish.

One of the appealing prospects with these challenges–sort of along the lines of the “old fashioned” book clubs we used to enjoy before the internet broadened our literary landscapes–is the element of interaction with other readers, checking out what hidden gems are on the shelves of other bibliophiles, finding and sharing reading suggestions…  If it sounds like fun to you, jump on in! Speaking for myself, a reading challenge is something I have a much better shot at completing than any of the “New Year’s Resolutions” I’ve ever made!

Posted in Reading Reviews, Today's File

Book Chick City’s 2012 Mystery Reading Challenge

http://www.bookchickcity.com

I’m always up for a reading challenge–and this one looks like fun, so I thought I’d share…

Details of the challenge are at Book Chick City if you’d like to join in.  There are two different levels (either 12 or 24 mysteries in 2012), you can choose your titles as you go, and all manner of mystery sub-genres are welcome.  Beginning in January there will be a link provided for you to post your reviews as you complete the challenge. Check it out!

Posted in Reading Reviews, Today's File

Reading Review (Kana’s “5-Star” Series)… “Assignment: Nepal” by J.A. Squires

I’ve been writing a lot of book reviews lately, and although I don’t intend to make the FaceBook-type mistake of inflicting my entire reading-list on you, I thought I would share here those books that I most especially enjoy.  When I rate my reads, a book that I’ve pretty thoroughly enjoyed will usually garner a four-star rating–because I’m saving the five-star designation for the reads I really love.  So here’s my thought: if a book rates a five-star ranking, it also rates a spot here. (Of course, my readers here may not share my tastes–but this is where I get to invoke the “it’s-my-blog” standard, right?)  To kick off the Five-Star Series, here’s a winner from Echelon Press

cover photo courtesy of Echelon Press

Assignment: Nepal, an Irene Adler Mystery by J.A. Squires

It didn’t take me even twenty pages to fall for Irene Adler.  By page twenty I told myself I wouldn’t even care if this book didn’t develop a plot—I’d keep reading it just for the enjoyment of Irene’s self-deprecating humor and her acute and amusing commentary on the people (and the macaw) in her life.  Happily, “Assignment: Nepal” isn’t short on plot either—all in all, a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Adler, named for “the only woman to outsmart Sherlock Holmes,” is an anthropologist with a taste for adventure who hoped her doctorate would open doors. (“It had opened doors, all right. Classroom doors.”) Her former academic advisor Dr. Herbert–who reminds her of Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit, but who may not be as scattered as he seems—convinces her to visit a fellow anthropologist and former classmate in Nepal.

Something fishy is going on in Nepal, although Dr. Herbert is less than forthcoming about exactly what he wants her to investigate.  Irene is bored enough with academic life–and flush enough from her poker-playing–to take the bait anyway.  What follows is an enjoyable travelogue-cum-mystery, involving Nepalese politics and culture, Hindu religious practices, and most of all, people.

The book itself is the collaborative effort of two authors writing under the assumed single name of J.A. Squires, and I hope someday to read an interview about their writing process.  To create such a strong narrative voice with two people at the helm is a noteworthy accomplishment indeed.  Wherever the lines may have been between the two author’s separate contributions, the result is a seamless product—and (tantalized by the implied promise of the word “series” in reference to this stand-alone book) I’m anxiously awaiting the next installment.

 Intrigued? Check out the Book on Amazon!

Posted in Reading Reviews, Today's File

PSA for Readers: Hello, FREE BOOKS!

Free Books AND... the possibility of another prize. Read on!

I just wanted to share this opportunity with the READERS who read here, because I have a feeling the opportunity is being mostly missed…  My friend Karen Syed at Echelon Press is offering a sweet deal between now and Christmas Eve: if you are up for writing a Reader Review of a book from Echelon Press, she’ll send you a FREE download code for the book of your choice (from her list of ten) in exchange for your agreement to post a review of that book.  Here’s how it works:

  1. Pop over to Karen’s blog and choose one of the ten books she has listed.
  2. Click her email link to let her know which book you’d like to read and review, and she’ll send you the free download code for that book.  (If you don’t have an e-reader, these books can also be downloaded to a computer, so don’t count yourself out!)
  3. ENJOY THE BOOK!
  4. Post a review of the book in a public forum like Amazon.com, Smashwords, BN.com, or Good Reads (with a copy of the review in the comments section of Karen’s blog post)
  5. Repeat! Once you’ve posted your review, Karen invites you to “play again,” and she’ll send you the next book you choose.  This deal is going on between now and midnight on Christmas Eve.

I should add (though as far as I’m concerned, this incentive is purely “gravy”–free books are plenty of incentive for me!) that if she gets at least 50 reviews from participants, Karen will be entering each review into a drawing for a Kindle Touch on Christmas Day.  The more reviews you’ve written, the better your chances–but she needs 50 reviews before that perk kicks in.

I know I have Readers who visit me here, so I wanted to connect all of you with the opportunity to read some fun books for free, and if we readers can help out someone in the publishing industry–well, everybody wins, right?

I downloaded a Y.A. novel from Karen’s list yesterday and enjoyed the heck out of it!  Here’s my review (which I have dutifully posted on Amazon.com and Smashwords)…  I’m already enjoying the next book! :)

Shaken: A Novel of Mass Destruction, by D.M. Anderson, Echelon Press

The title of this young adult novel refers obviously to the earthquake which provides its main conflict–but also obliquely to the effects of the novel’s events on the lives of the three teens followed by the narrative. The story includes moments of high drama and survival (or, in the case of some characters, failure to survive) but its more understated themes deal with human lives and emotions, and the ways in which a person’s outlook can be shaken by encounters with other people.

Listed as a Young Adult novel, Shaken is a teen-friendly read which occasionally forgoes grammatical correctness in favor of teen vernacular, and its author is clearly familiar with the world view and minds of young adults. (Reading the author bio after finishing the novel, it came as no surprise that D.M. Anderson teaches middle school; his writing reveals that he understands both the complexities and the limitations of teenage viewpoints.)

Anderson writes with commendable balance, combining the excitement and drama of an unfolding crisis with the personal moments of character-defining decisions and realizations, and he manages not to be heavy-handed even in moments where a character or situation conveys a “lesson.” His characters illustrate the ways in which media-steeped young people compare real experiences with the impressions and assumptions they’ve taken away from TV and video games, as the young characters themselves use media fictions as reference points while they arrive at realizations about their own lives and about other people.

There’s no “do-over” button in life, as there is in a video game–and yet, people can make new choices rather than let themselves be defined by their pasts, and sometimes there’s even a chance for redemption. If that sounds a little “heavy” for a young adult action story, this is where Anderson’s skill in avoiding heavy-handedness comes so admirably to light. Shaken offers a compelling storyline made richer by its subtle undercurrents.

More than anything, Shaken is an enjoyable read. Its characters (with the exception of a couple nastier folks who fall somewhat short of three-dimensional) are believable and interesting, the story features moments of humor, and the pace of action doesn’t drag even with the inclusion of more introspective moments which could have dragged the plot to a halt in another writer’s hands. If Anderson managed to sneak some teaching-moments into his action tale–well, he IS a teacher. Judging by this novel, he’s probably an effective one.

 Intrigued? Check out the Book on Amazon!

Posted in IdahoAuthors, Reading Reviews

Bang-up Spin-off: “An Assembly Such as This” (Idaho Writers series)

Check it Out!
coming up: Jane Austen week

I suppose one way to measure the popularity of a Classic is to count the number of spin-offs it’s spawned. Gauging by that measure, I’d have to say that Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice surpasses “popular” and rings in at “obsession;” a quick bookstore-search turned up more than 50 novels based on Austen’s golden oldie. And what a selection!–the Darcy/Bennet gang are recast in sequels, family sagas (including an account of Mary Bennet written by a Catholic nun), re-tellings from different points of view, spin-offs based on minor characters, modern settings, mysteries, bodice-rippers, even vampire and zombie novels. While I’m not quite ready to entertain the idea of “Mr. Darcy, Vampyre,” I’ll ‘fess up to a deep enough enjoyment of Austen’s original that I’m open to the knock-offs… IF they actually give me more of what I so enjoyed in the first place.

Not all of them do. Take, as a dreadful example, Linda Berdoll’s Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife. Or, as a fellow blogger ironically observed, “Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife: in the bath, in the carriage, on the dressing table…” I don’t have any aversion to steamy scenes in and of themselves, but for heck’s sake serve them up with some Plot! (Ruminations on the discomforts of a long carriage-ride after a long sex-session aren’t a satisfactory substitute for actual storyline…)

In the middle of the spectrum are some of the have-fun-with it tales like Carrie Bebris’s Suspense and Sensibility, which combines characters from two of Austen’s novels and adds a touch of supernatural mystery. What I enjoy about this one is the fact that Bebris carries forward the wit and humor of the verbal exchanges between Elizabeth and Darcy, so although the plot is decidedly un-Austen, the characters remain themselves.

Mr. Darcy: a favorite across the centuries

Which leads me to my favorite, the Top-Notch Knock-Off: Pamela Aidan’s trilogy, told from Darcy’s point of view. (Icing on the cake for me: Aidan is an Idaho Author, woot!) The opening novel, An Assembly Such as This, encompasses all of my favorite scenes and banter from Austen’s original, and adds more in the same vein. My interest, ultimately, in reading a spin-off stems from my wish that Austen had written more of it–and Aiden supplies just that. Elizabeth Bennet is her saucy self, Darcy confounded and frustrated that he can’t seem to gain the upper hand in their verbal sparring, Caroline Bingley as wickedly catty as ever, and still scheming to draw Darcy to herself… Add to the cast a few new characters, most notably Darcy’s valet, Fletcher; perpetually proper and unruffled, though not above a little “orchestrating” of events from the behind-the-scenes vantage point of the servants’ quarters, Fletcher occasionally risks his master’s ire by dropping advice and hints hidden in quotes from Shakespeare. The entire trilogy makes for an engaging read–one that I think Austen herself would have enjoyed, which is about the highest compliment I can think of to pay it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m feeling an urge to pop in my well-worn disc of the BBC production of Pride & Prejudice. I imagine Austen would approve of Colin Firth as well. :)

Check out the book on Amazon!