Beach Music, by Pat Conroy

ImageWhat can I say about a book that makes me fall in love with it more each time I go back to it? No one matches Conroy’s lyrical writing. Even if I didn’t already love the low country of South Carolina, he would make me love it sight unseen.

This is a long book, but not one word too long. There are many, many characters but with the exception of Jack’s brothers, they don’t get blurred from one to another. There are many storylines, but it never feels confused, and everything fits together without any awkwardness. There are perhaps one or two scenes that feel contrived, but those are infractions I’m willing to overlook.

You will cry many times, but it’s not a sad book. There are unspeakable horrors, but they are told through flashbacks that show how a character became who they are.

I love Jack and Leah, Mike and Ledare and Jordan, Lucy and Jude and John Hardin and so many others. (I don’t love Capers, but maybe I’m not forgiving enough.) I don’t identify with every situation, but I love it all more with each new visit to this beautiful book.

I read it this time because a dear friend was finally ready to read it and I wanted to read alongside and enjoy her impressions as she went through it. OK, that’s just an excuse because I would have easily remembered what she was talking about, but it had been nearly three years since I’d last read it and I was missing the people and places and it was time to go there again…

I give this an enthusiastic five stars, and easily count it in my top five books ever.

To buy your own copy, you can get it at http://www.amazon.com/Beach-Music-A-Novel-ebook/dp/B005C2SOQ8/dsmallc

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Monday the Rabbi Took Off, by Harry Kemelman

When I began this series it was because the main character has the same name as my father, brother and nephew. To my surprise, I found a charming character-driven series of standalone mysteries that may have pre-dated the term “cozy” but utterly defines it.

Rabbi David Small has a congregation in small-town Massachusetts and in this volume he has reached the point where he really needs a rest, both physical and mental. He and his family go to Israel for an indefinite period of time and settle into life there, not knowing what the future holds. I enjoyed the perspective on Israel at this point, not too long after independence and before the later wars, but hardly a time of complacency.

Perhaps I have lost my interest in the series or perhaps this was a step down for the author, but I didn’t find the mystery compelling or even interesting. As a study of people, this book was still worth it, and I will continue with the series. But as a mystery, I thought it missed the mark.

I will give it four stars, but it’s really rounding up from 3.5.

To purchase your own copy: http://www.amazon.com/Monday-Rabbi-Small-Mystery-ebook/dp/B004N3AZA0/dsmallc

Or better yet, go for the first book in the series, Friday the Rabbi Slept Late: http://www.amazon.com/Friday-Rabbi-Slept-RosettaBooks-ebook/dp/B004N3AZ82/dsmallc


The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Emmuska Orczy

I read this because a group of friends decided to tackle a classic together, and this was the title that came up. The plan was to spend the month of January on it, and as there are 31 chapters in the book, it seemed simple enough. Then one after another of the group confessed that they had been unable to stop so had gone ahead and finished the book. That made discussion more challenging because spoilers had to be avoided for the sake of those still on schedule, and those who had finished couldn’t discuss the things which interested those who hadn’t. So after about ten days I decided to break with the plan as well.

As with most classics, it only took me a few pages before the older language patterns were unnoticed. I found the storyline amusing though I kept finding myself annoyed with Marguerite, the main female character. She prided herself on being so clever, and had always been told that she was, yet she was so witless and clueless and I found it very hard to root for her.

I’m glad I read the book, but have little interest in reading the other titles in the series. Amusing, but not profound or moving. I’d say 3.5 stars as it wasn’t a waste of time.

Available in the public domain, but the version I read was nicely formatted and worth the $1.99 it would cost if you want to pick up your own copy at  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000TZB8TI/dsmallc.


J.R.R. Tolkien (Christian Encounters Series)

I recently bought this book when it dipped in price because I thought it would be a good way to round out my knowledge of Tolkien and add some context to the books I know so well. It doesn’t have very many pages (160) so I didn’t expect deep insights but I thought it would be a pleasant short read.

Getting through the first fifty pages I began to wonder if I could even finish the whole thing. It felt like the books that gave me the idea that I don’t enjoy history. Then it picked up and the last 100+ pages were much better. No, this won’t rank with the best books I read this year, but I do know more about the creator of Middle Earth and I’m glad I read it.

I give it perhaps 3.5 stars. Not a waste of time, if not a high priority recommendation. To purchase your own copy, http://www.amazon.com/J-R-R-Tolkien-Christian-Encounters-ebook/dp/B004774LSE/dsmallc


Solo, by Jack Higgins

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

I must say I was disappointed with this book. I’ve read nearly two dozen books by this author and very much liked all of them. This one seemed all the more likely to earn that distinction, as it had the added attraction of a pianist in the “starring role” (albeit that of an assassin.) However, it fell flat.

The sections on piano didn’t feel like they came from one who loved the instrument, and the action sections weren’t on a par with Higgins’ best work. So the best I can give it is a weak three stars.

To purchase this book: http://www.amazon.com/Solo-ebook/dp/B003T0GWEQ/dsmallc


Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift

Monday, 7 January 2013

Although I had never read this book, I did know that it was supposed to be at least partly a political commentary aimed at the government of Swift’s time. I also knew that a traveler wandered into a country where everyone around him was much, much smaller than he was. I knew the term Lilliputians. What I didn’t know was that this was simply the opening chapter of what wound up feeling like a v-e-r-y long set of chapters, each with a different twist on what “different” looks like.

The second chapter (where Gulliver was the little one) was actually my favorite. But pretty soon the whole thing just wound up feeling like a political rant on how stupid government is and eventually, how stupid people are, and it stopped feeling like a story. I can’t stand much of Fox News either, or implicitly left-oriented news. I don’t like to be battered over the head with what I should think, and I don’t like my stories to be left in the dust by an author’s rant.

So I didn’t enjoy the book. If it weren’t a Classic, I would have given up on it before finishing, but I do like to know what the classics are about and be able to understand references to them in the future. I seriously doubt I will be revisiting this during my lifetime, however.

For expanding my literary background, I give it 3 stars. I was never happy with a C in school and I don’t consider 3 stars to be a compliment, but I finished it!

To pick up this free, public domain classic, click http://www.amazon.com/Gullivers-Travels-Timeless-Classics-ebook/dp/B0082ZJGSW/dsmallc


The Light Between Oceans (by ML Stedman)

Friday, 4 January 2013

I intended to finish this book during the last week of 2012, but it simply didn’t happen, so this one counts as my first book of 2013. And what a book it was; I won’t be surprised if when the end of the year rolls around, that it ranks among my top 10 for the year.

The basic premise of this book is that a boat carrying a dead man and a live baby washes onshore at an isolated lighthouse station. The couple running the place have had three miscarriages and the wife is desperate to keep the infant girl. She sees her as a little miracle — God’s way of making up for all the pain. By the time they find out that the child’s mother is still alive and emotionally bereft without the girl, they have already bonded with her and can’t imagine giving her up.

“What to do” takes up most of the rest of the book. Over time, the husband’s conscience gets the best of him and in his efforts to mitigate the damage, he unwittingly unravels all of their lives.

I spent much of the book simply angry at the way that there were no good options; that no one could come out a winner. To her credit, Stedman (a debut author) never takes the easy way out of the situation. She manages to make nearly everyone into a sympathetic character, and she avoids stereotypes and clichés. I simply hated what was happening in the story.

However, it has been a very long time indeed since I spent a final chapter crying so hard that my throat hurt and I could hardly focus on my kindle. She handled it all brilliantly. It’s a heartbreaker, but real, and does end on a hopeful note. What else could have happened, really?  I will never be able to re-live the first time through, but I want to read it again. Can’t wait for more books from this author!

A solid 5 stars from me

To purchase the book, http://www.amazon.com/The-Light-Between-Oceans-ebook/dp/B0064CL1T2/dsmallc