This is a list I'm starting of all the books I read with commentary, starting today on the random date of June 5, 2009, and on into the future. I'll keep adding to it as I read, so if you're interested in my book recommendations, be sure to check back if you're headed to the library! A link to this entry is on my user profile page now, so if you really are interested, you can find it there.
The World Made Straight by Ron Rash: This book embodies to me the soul of fiction. (A note, queer friends, "straight" doesn't mean heterosexual in this context, and the book has nothing to do with being straight or gay.) It is beautifully written. It's technically an Applachian coming-of-age tale, but without the after-school special coating that label might suggest. This novel makes no apologies.
It weaves together a powerful re-telling of the massacre at Shelton Laurel during the Civil War, questions of morality, class, masculinity, education, and the power of place with a rawness that will take your breath away. Cautions: this book does include graphic violence. * * * * * (5/5 stars)
Ghost Riders by Sharyn McCrumb: Similiar to many of Sharyn McCrumb's novels, Ghost Riders is set in the Appalachian mountains and is narrated by a variety of characters with interweaving stories across time. Ghost Riders is focused on the Civil War in Appalachia, and features the real historical figures of Zebulon Vance and Malinda and Keith Blalock in its telling. This book is not Sharyn McCrumb's best - the narratives are drawn out in spots - but it is still worth a read... Sharyn McCrumb is a gifted writer, and her prose is easy to read...her characters are interesting, as always, and the history education you can get from the novel alone is worth it. * * * * (4/5 stars)
God and Generals by Jeff Shaara: First, let me say - no, I haven't seen the movie, and no- I haven't (yet) read "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara, Jeff Shaara's father (haven't been able to get my hands on a copy.) With that out of the way... I would say this book is historical fiction at its best. I was drawn in completely, pulled into every instant. This book was gripping, it felt "real" and "right" (although Shaara does use a certain amount of poetic liberty, which actually literally "true" or not, breathes life into the stories of the men who wore blue and who wore gray with phenomenal skill). I'd recommend this book to anyone, and as for myself - I'm planning to read more work of Jeff Shaara's work, as well as his father's. * * * * * (5/5 stars)
Once Around The Track by Sharyn McCrumb: Like McCrumb's St. Dale, this novel is about NASCAR and the world of racing. Once Around the Track tells the fictional story of the first-ever all-female NASCAR pit crew, sponsored by "Viagra for women" - a drug called Vagenya - and the team's driver, the ridiculously handsome Badger Jenkins. Despite the fact that the premise sounds promising, though, the book really fell short of the quality I've come to expect from McCrumb. While her characterization was good (I think she could convince readers that fictional characters were real in her sleep), the novel lacks the suspense and the drive that her other books provide. * * * (3/5 stars)
The Alchemist by Paulo Cohelo: Similar, vaguely, in approach, to The Little Prince, or, perhaps to Daniel Quinn's Ishmael, The Alchemist is a parable written in extended form. When I begin reading, I thought that it would wind up to be ridiculously corny, but it turned out to be the perfect balance between beautiful and, well, a little preachy. But the good kind of preachy. The kind we all need to hear more of. It's a short, easy read. Oh, go on. Grab yourself a copy already. * * * * (4/5 stars)
Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer As an avid researcher of "fringe" religions, I've been wanting to get my hands on a copy of this book for a number of years now. And I am so very glad I did. Even though I've already done a lot of reading about the FLDS church, this book taught me a lot I didn't already know, and provided new leads I hope to research. If you're at all interested in this topic, I highly suggest you get yourself your own copy. * * * * * (5/5 stars)
Serena by Ron Rash This book made me want to quit school and enroll at Western Carolina (where Ron Rash teaches) just so he can teach me his writing secrets. This book is slow to start, but be patient. By the time it's done you will be kicked square in the backside as he exposes the underbelly of human nature against the backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains. One of the best books I've read in a long time. Note: violence. * * * * * (5/5 stars)