Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Tempting Tags

First, my apologies for the excessive alliteration. I just can't seem to help myself.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week we're talking about words that instantly make us want to read a book. We all have those few words, settings, or subjects which make a novel irresistible, and you can be sure publishers utilize them to their fullest in cover blurbs.

Here are are my ten tempting tags:

  • multigenerational saga
  • Maine
  • beach/summer house
  • alternating points-of-view
  • English village (extra points for the Cotswolds)
  • epistolary
  • foodie memoir, recipe inclusion a bonus
  • Italy
  • reminiscent of Downton Abbey
  • boarding school/academia

What blurb words do you fall for every time?
For more Top Ten Tuesday posts, visit The Broke and the Bookish.

Photos from my 2008 trip through the Cotswolds.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Monday Musing

I really meant to write a Sunday Salon post, but somehow the weekend slipped away before I managed to find the time. It was the first warm, sunny weekend since sometime last fall, and I couldn't bear to spend it with my laptop. Spring cleaning the garage took precedence on Saturday - pretty exciting, right? An entire winter's worth of salt, sand, and dust needed to be dealt with. After several hours, the place was so clean, I briefly considered hosting a picnic in the garage! We'll see how long it stays that way. Then there were clothes to be washed, floors to be mopped, and various other indoor chores. Finally, around 5 o'clock, I was able to slip out to the sunny patio with The Thirteenth Tale and a glass of wine. Bliss!

Sunday was even warmer but, unfortunately, I didn't get to spend much time outdoors. We attended Syracuse Opera's performance of The Marriage of Figaro  and afterwards went out for a long, leisurely dinner with friends.

Recent Reading
I've been enjoying a streak of really good books lately that began with The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. (my review). I also absolutely loved the audio version of Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler and will try to get my thoughts together for a post later this week. On Friday,  I finished The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout and, while it's not quite Olive Kitteridge, it reminded me why Strout is one of my favorite authors. I'm still thinking about this novel, but in the meantime you can check my Saturday Sentence for a taste of her writing.

Book Club
My book club met last week to discuss The Paris Wife  by Paula McLain. We selected the title because one member was attending her Maryland friend's book club while visiting, and it was their selection. There were six of us at our the meeting, but only three had finished (a fourth was nearly done).  I listened to the book over a year ago, so my memory was a little hazy. We had a unanimous "liked-but-didn't-love" reaction. The Maryland group, however, had a slightly different opinion - they all loved The Paris Wife.

Our next selection is The Thirteenth Tale  by Diane Setterfield, an all-time favorite of the Maryland group.

Current Reading
My current audiobook is Cooked  by Michael Pollan. I'm very glad to be listening to this one - mostly because I enjoy the author's narration, but I also have a feeling this is one of those books (like The Omnivore's Dilemma) I'd find slow-going in print.

In print, I'm only on page 20 of The Thirteenth Tale  by Diane Setterfield, but my initial reaction is positive. The audio production has excellent reviews, so I'm considering a read/listen combo. This book has been around for a while, and I suspect many bloggers have already read it.

What are you reading this week?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Saturday's Sentence

I ran across an interesting post last weekend at Lynne's Book Notes. She says, "Author David Abrams has started a marvelous idea on his blog, The Quivering Pen. Each Sunday, he posts, without explanation, the best sentence he has read during the week."

Isn't that a great idea? As luck would have it, there is  a single sentence that really stood out in my reading this week. And since it happens to be about food, I'm linking up to Weekend Cooking, too.

"While the Burgesses seemed to have no knowledge of, or interest in, food (there were meals of scrambled hamburger covered with an unmelted sheet of orange cheese, or a tuna casserole made with canned soup, or a chicken roasted without any spices, not even salt), Pam discovered that they loved baked goods, and so she made banana bread and sugar cookies, and sometimes Susan stood in the small kitchen and helped her, and whatever was baked was eaten hungrily, and this touched Pam as well - as though these kids had been starved all their lives for sweetness."
The Burgess Boys
by Elizabeth Strout
page 107

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has a food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up over the weekend.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D.
by Nichole Bernier
Broadway Paperbacks, 2013
originally published 2012
305 pages
source: review copy from publisher

Summary (from Goodreads):

Before there were blogs, there were journals. And in them we’d write as we really were, not as we wanted to appear. But there comes a day when journals outlive us. And with them, our secrets.

Summer vacation on Great Rock Island was supposed to be a restorative time for Kate, who’d lost her close friend Elizabeth in a sudden accident. But when she inherits a trunk of Elizabeth's journals, they reveal a woman far different than the cheerful wife and mother Kate thought she knew.
The complicated portrait of Elizabeth makes Kate question not just their friendship, but her own deepest beliefs about loyalty and honesty at a period of uncertainty in her own marriage — as well as her own choices as a wife, mother, and professional, and the legacy she herself would want to leave behind.

When an unfamiliar man’s name appears in the pages, Kate realizes the extent of what she didn’t know about her friend, including where she was really going on the day she died.

My thoughts: 

I accepted a review copy of The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. based on two factors - the setting and the fact that journal entries figure prominently in the story. Books set on the New England coast always call to me, but a summer house on an island made this one irresistible. I'm also a big fan of epistolary novels and hoped the journal entries would impart a similar feeling.

Opening the novel to find a quote by Wallace Stegner, one of my favorite authors, I suspected I'd made the right decision.
"Somehow I should have been able to say how strong and resilient you were, what a patient and abiding and bonding force, the softness that proved in the long run stronger than what it seemed to yield to... You are at once a lasting presence and an unhealed wound."
 -- Wallace Stegner, "Letter, Much Too Late"
The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. forces its readers to ask the question: Do we ever truly know our friends? For that matter, how well can we really know anyone?

This book kept me up far too late several nights in a row. I was glued to the stories of two friends unfolding side by side. Kate's life is revealed as the novel progresses, while we learn about Elizabeth posthumously through her journals.

 Although I am now older than either of these women, it was very easy to relate to both of them. I have been there - an "at home mom" leaving a career behind and making new friends through a local play group. It took years to learn their backstories.  The kids have reached their twenties, the families have mostly scattered, and now I wonder how well we actually knew each other.

Reading Elizabeth's journals allows Kate to finally know her deceased friend and to understand how she came to be the seemingly perfect wife and mother, and also prompts her to reflect upon the many "what ifs" in her own life. The reader, of course, follows her down this path.
"Choices, repercussions... It was a strange way to think of dating - a limiting of your options and lifestyle because you'd chosen one type of partner over another - though it was technically true. It was true of most decisions. The effects of your choices might not be clear at the moment they were made. But if you turned back to see where you'd come, there they'd be, the ghost of the path not taken leading to the places you would never go." p. 131
The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. is sure to be a hit with book clubs, too. The paperback edition's "Extra Libris" section includes not only a reader's guide, but a conversation with the author and a list of recommended reading. My all-time favorite novel - Crossing to Safety  by Wallace Stegner - occupies the #1 position among "books that remind us you never really know the hearts and minds of others".  I can envision discussions of The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. ranging far and wide ... especially if wine is involved!

Highly recommended.

My rating:

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Mistaken Expectations

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week we're talking about expectations - books that we liked more (or less) than expected. This could easily be two separate posts, but I'm going to split it up and give you five books in each category instead.


Vanity Fair by Wiliam Makepeace Thackery  - You'd be surprised to know how much I was dreading this book, but thanks to a read-along with friends and a print/audio combination, I (almost) loved it!

The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine  - Modern retellings of classics don't often appeal to me, but this take-off on Sense and Sensibility  was excellent... a perfect summer read.

This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz - Loosely connected short stories with more f-bombs than I've ever encountered in a single book...still can't believe I loved it.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry - I'm not a huge fan of philosophy and thought this might be too much. The audio version was outstanding.

The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus by Sonya Sones  - A novel told in verse? This coming-of-middle-age story is not to be missed!


The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde  - I was expecting light and humorous, but got dark and heavy.

Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow  - Beloved by many, it just didn't do much for me.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger  - Entertaining, but it's certainly not The Time Traveler's Wife.

Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay   - The historical story was excellent, but the present day drama drove me nuts.

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka  - I really liked her previous novel, but the repetitiveness of this one bothered me. I'm in a very small minority here.

Have any read anything recently that differed from your expectations?
Visit The Broke and the Bookish for more TTT posts.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Classics Club: Year One

It has been one year since I composed this list, signed on with The Classics Club, and set a goal for myself to read 50 classics in 5 years. As a personal bonus challenge, I included five additional books started years ago but, for one reason or another, never finished. My purpose, however, is not so much to read from a specific list, but rather to read more classics. As a result, my list is constantly evolving.

For a quick review of the past year, I'm going to borrow this questionnaire from  LindyLit (who borrowed it from Jessica at The Bookworm Chronicles) and highlight a few key points of my reading.

I have read 11 books, including one from my bonus list:

Brontë, Anne - The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (12/12)
Christie, Agatha - And Then There Were None (4/12)
Gaskell, Elizabeth - North and South (8/12)
Greene, Graham - The End of the Affair (11/12)
James, Henry - Washington Square (1/13)
Hemingway, Ernest - The Old Man and the Sea (9/12)
Pym, Barbara - A Glass of Blessings (2/13)
Tanizaki, Junichiro - The Makioka Sisters (5/12)
Thackery, William Makepeace - Vanity Fair (3/13)  *from bonus list
Thirkell, Angela - High Rising (4/13)
Wilde, Oscar - The Picture of Dorian Gray (3/13)

Looking at the list, I'm struck by it's variety - a mix of male and female authors, short and long books, comfort reads and a few more challenging, and even one in translation.

Most Anticipated:
The Makioka Sisters

Most Beautifully Written:
The End of the Affair

Most Disappointing:
The Picture of Dorian Gray - much darker than expected

Most Surprising (In A Good Way):
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne Bronte was way ahead of her time. I can't figure out why she is regarded as the 'lesser' Bronte.

The Old Man and the Sea - Why did I hate it so much in high school?

Most Memorable Characters:
Margaret Hale, North and South
Becky Sharp Crawley, Vanity Fair

Most Recommended-to-Others:
North and South
The Makioka Sisters 

Favorite New Authors Discovered:
Anne Bronte
Angela Thirkell

Ambitions for Year Two:
read at least ten classics
participate in a couple of readalongs

Finally, an unexpected bonus in joining the club,  I have met many like-minded readers and discovered several excellent blogs. I'd say it's been a good year!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Discovering Angela Thirkell

Attention, Barbara Pym fans!

Angela Thirkell (1890-1961) was a very prolific English/Australian author. She wrote a book nearly every year from the 1930's through 1960, including her Barsetshire series which deals with life in an English country village and features many recurring characters. She has a small, but very devout following in our book blogging community and, after reading High Rising, I have joined their ranks.

A summary, from Goodreads:
In High Rising, Mrs. Morland, a widowed author, must attend to the deeper problems of country life while her son Tony drives everyone to distraction with his amazing combination of toy trains. Here Mrs. Thirkell demonstrates the characteristic style for which she is known and for which readers love her. This is fiction replete with gentle irony, grave absurdity, and urbane understatement.
"You read her, relaxed and smiling, from the first word to the last."-Chicago Sun

My one sentence review:
Reading High Rising reminded me of  Barbara Pym minus the clergy - a perfect comfort read!

A bit more:
High Rising was the perfect antidote to my classics-laden March reading. I became lost in 1930's English country life. Thirkell's first novel in her Barsetshire series offers romance, intrigue, and a totally delightful cast of characters, including two authors, a literary agent, a conniving secretary, a boy obsessed with trains, a country doctor, servants, and more. My understanding is that many of them will reappear in later books.

Although there are many novels in the Barsetshire series, they can be difficult to find. Thankfully, Virago has recently reissued High Rising and Wild Strawberries (books 1 and 2), and will hopefully release more in the future.

I read an older Moyer Bell edition and was distracted by an unending series of typos - some rather unfortunate, as "dear" Mrs. Morland became "deaf".

The search for  more Angela Thirkell novels has begun.

My rating:

Last word:
I've officially changed my mind about series and can't wait to read the next novel, Wild Strawberries.

High Rising
by Angela Thirkell
Barsetshire Series #1
Moyer Bell, 2008
originally published in 1933
source: purchased

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer

 "I was pretending to read the paper. I thought that if I didn't say anything, my mother might stop glaring at me, burning a hole in my face. 
I was home from school. I'd been sent home. 
And though I hadn't gotten myself caught on purpose, as soon as Principal Hidalgo said "suspended" my first thought was of my mother waking to the smell of homemade croissants. I'd be in an apron, piling the hot pastries high in a breadbasket, just beside the cranberry-sage brown butter I'd whipped up. I was suddenly happy, hopeful, thinking of the time we could spend together."

So begins Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots  by Jessica Soffer, a new novel which releases today. I requested an uncorrected proof from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley based upon the following description:
Two women adrift in New York—an Iraqi Jewish widow and the latchkey daughter of a chef—find each other, solace, and a new kind of family through their shared love of cooking. 
Lorca spends hours poring over cookbooks, seeking out ingredients for her distracted chef of a mother, who is about to send her off to boarding school. In one last effort to secure her mother’s love and prove herself indispensable, Lorca resolves to replicate her mother’s ideal meal, an obscure dish called masgouf. 
Victoria, an Iraqi-Jewish immigrant, teaches cooking lessons; Lorca signs up. Grappling with grief over her husband’s passing, Victoria has been dreaming of the daughter they gave up forty years ago. 
Together these two women — a widow and an almost-orphan — begin to suspect they are connected through more than a love of food. In these lessons and their separate investigations, they will be forced to reckon with the past, the future, and the truth — however complicated and unimaginable it might be. 
Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots is a novel of loss, remembrance, and revival. It is the heartrending, heartwarming story of two cast-off characters who find in each other a way of accepting the people we are meant to love-- even ourselves.

So, what did I think?

This sure sounded like a novel I'd love. However, early on, I discovered that Lorca is a "cutter". I have a strong aversion to reading books with this type of character, and would not have requested this one had I known beforehand.

Since it was a review book, I persevered through the first third of the novel. The story was enjoyable (especially the food and cooking angle) and I had no problem with the writing, but the self-mutilation was too much for me - I could not continue. I have an idea how these characters might eventually resolve their issues, and look forward to chatting with someone who has finished the book.

Although I was clearly not the right reader for Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots, if you enjoy novels told from alternating perspectives or stories with a strong emphasis on food and have no problem reading about "cutters", you just might be. The early reviews look promising.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Weekend Cooking: New to the Dinner Rotation

I am addicted to Pinterest. It provides an unending source of inspiration - beautiful rooms, crafts, bookish fun, fashion, and primarily, food. My morning computer routine begins with a check of news, email, facebook, twitter, and now Pinterest. The kitchen is full of cookbooks, of course, but there's nothing like that Pinterest feed for instant dinner ideas. I like to try at least one new recipe every week, and my family willingly puts up with the experimentation. The occasional failure is inevitable, but overall they've been pretty happy.

Here are a few recent winners that have earned spots in my permanent recipe collection (all photos from Pinterest):

Slow Cooker Honey Sesame Chicken 
I've already made this simple, delicious dish twice. Twin B loved it so much, she requested it for her birthday dinner. The recipe from Tracey's Culinary Adventures is perfect - I can't remember the last time I haven't tweaked just a little. Plus, it uses ingredients I always have on hand. My pin is here.

Pistachio Lime Baked Salmon
This recipe, adapted from Taste of Home 5 Ingredient Recipes, came from Reluctant Entertainer. It was very easy to prepare, but a little too sweet for my taste. I'll definitely reduce the amount of brown sugar next time. Pistachios are a favorite, but this may be the first time I've used them in a main dish. Sandy warns against overcooking the salmon... be sure to heed her advice! My pin is here.

New Orleans Barbeque Shrimp
Preparing shrimp is quick and easy, and I could eat it every night of the week. You will always find a bag of shrimp in my freezer, at least one beer in the refrigerator, and the rest of the ingredients are pantry staples. A perfect last-minute dinner solution, this recipe from Allrecipes.com is a keeper. Here is my pin.

Grandma's Chicken Chardon
Here's another recipe from Allrecipes.com. Boneless chicken breasts are coated with a parmesan/bread crumb mixture and baked over mushrooms. I used half panko breadcrumbs (would have used panko exclusively, but I ran out) and baby bella mushrooms. My daughters and I loved it, but my husband thought it was a little bland... maybe a little pepper would have helped. My pin is here.

Do you regularly try new recipes? What has been your most memorable recent success... or failure?

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has a food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up over the weekend.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Lucky 14, the official Classic Club 'Spin' number, corresponded to a title from my "Quickie" category, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. With only 250 pages, I was able to finish several days ahead of the April 1 deadline.

Most readers are probably familiar with the basic premise of this 1890 novel. A beautiful young man remains forever youthful while his portrait ages and reflects the degradation of his soul. The Picture of Dorian Gray is an exploration of beauty, youth, vanity, and sin. In other words, not what I was expecting.

My daughter has enjoyed Wilde's plays and says they are quite funny, but that humor is not at all apparent in The Picture of Dorian Gray. The novel is very dark and full of philosophical nuggets that beg the reader to pause and ponder. Dealing with similar themes, it was an especially good follow-up to my recent reading of Vanity Fair.

So, did I like The Picture of Dorian Gray? Judging from all the post-it flags in my book, you would have thought I loved it. But let's just say I didn't dislike it... yet I can't whole-heartedly recommend it either. Wilde does have a beautifully visual, sensual quality to his writing that makes me want to read some of his other works.

I should also mention that around St. Patrick's Day, Audible treated its members to a free download of The Picture of Dorian Gray  narrated by Steven Crossley. You may recall that I loved Crossley's reading of In the Woods  by Tana French, so was thrilled with this offer and more than happy to make this another read/listen combination.

Finally, is it just me or do you think the cover of the Oxford World Classics edition pictured above bears a striking resemblance to Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey)?

Thank you, Classics Club, for hosting this event. I'm hoping for a fall edition of The Classics Club Spin!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Not So Wordless Wednesday (and a new header photo)

It's April 10 folks, and I'm still looking at a semi-frozen lake. This photo was taken yesterday afternoon and there is a little more open water today, but this is pretty late... even by Central New York standards.

On a brighter note, I'm pretty sure our last snowbank will be history before the end of the day!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Pre-Blogging Favorites

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week we're talking about favorite books from pre-blogging days.  Lakeside Musing has been around since 2008 and I read many of the books I consider all-time favorites before then.

You are probably getting tired of seeing Pride and Prejudice, East of Eden, Crossing to Safety, and The Good Earth appearing in my TTT posts. And, no matter how much I love them, even I am getting sick of mentioning them week after week! So, all-time favorites aside, here are my:

 Top Ten Favorite Books I Read Before I Was A Blogger 

Corelli's Mandolin by Louis De Berniers

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz
(Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street)

Howards End by E.M. Forster

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright

Yes, I know that's eleven (actually thirteen), but I just can't trim it any further. In fact, I'm even going to add one more non-fiction title that really stands out.

And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts

What are some of your pre-blogging favorites?
Visit The Broke and the Bookish for more Top Ten Tuesday posts.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Real Irish Food by David Bowers

Real Irish Food: 150 Classic Recipes from the Old Country
by David Bowers
Skyhorse Publishing, 2012
source: library copy

"In the same way Italian food is about more than spaghetti and meatballs, real Irish food is a far more complex and exciting thing than the corned-beef-and-cabbage caricature we tend to think of in North America."

Real Irish Food by David Bowers is not a new title for the Weekend Cooking crowd. After reading other blogger reviews (I should have made a note so I could link back), I requested the title from my library. The first thing I noticed was the stunning photography - not just food, but gorgeous landscapes, towns, and markets, too.

The book begins with a brief introduction to Irish cuisine and its history, then continues with a pantry section. Special attention is paid to stocking an Irish kitchen in America and Bowers, quite helpfully, provides sources for obtaining many of the basics.

Chapters are divided by dish and include Breakfast Foods, Starters and Snacks, Stews and Chowders, Meat and Game, Vegetables and Side Dishes, Cakes and Tea Things, and many more.

Quite honestly, I would never consider trying many of the recipes (4 cups of fresh pig's blood is the first ingredient in Black Pudding), but who can resist Potato Cakes? I just happened to have leftover mashed potatoes on hand, so I made some for breakfast. They disappeared instantly!

I bookmarked several other recipes to try later:

  • beef and barley stew
  • mustard roasted chicken
  • cauliflower cheese (Barbara Pym Reading Week is coming!)
  • old-fashioned spicy gingerbread
  • shortbread

Bowers also includes plenty of background information with the recipes. I can't tell you how many times I've read about potted meats in novels without understanding precisely what it meant. Alongside the Potted Shrimp recipe, I found a straight-forward explanation.
"Potting" fish or meats was an old way of storing them. Leftover meats such as chicken or ham or seafood such as fish or shrimp were pounded together with nearly an equal quantity of butter...to make a rough paste, then seasoned with salt and mace, nutmeg, or another warm spice. The paste was then poured into a small container and covered with clarified butter, sealing out air so it could be stored in a cool pantry." 
Bottom line:
While not a cookbook from which I would regularly cook, Real Irish Food  by David Bowers was very interesting to read. I learned a lot about traditional Irish cuisine and the gorgeous photography made it a feast for my eyes.

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has a food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up over the weekend

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

by Hillary Jordan
Algonquin Books, 2008
324 pages
source: personal copy

Summary (from Goodreads):

In Jordan's prize-winning debut, prejudice takes many forms, both subtle and brutal. It is 1946, and city-bred Laura McAllan is trying to raise her children on her husband's Mississippi Delta farm--a place she finds foreign and frightening. In the midst of the family's struggles, two young men return from the war to work the land. Jamie McAllan, Laura's brother-in-law, is everything her husband is not--charming, handsome, and haunted by his memories of combat. Ronsel Jackson, eldest son of the black sharecroppers who live on the McAllan farm, has come home with the shine of a war hero. But no matter his bravery in defense of his country, he is still considered less than a man in the Jim Crow South. It is the unlikely friendship of these brothers-in-arms that drives this powerful novel to its inexorable conclusion.

The men and women of each family relate their versions of events and we are drawn into their lives as they become players in a tragedy on the grandest scale. As Kingsolver says of Hillary Jordan, "Her characters walked straight out of 1940s Mississippi and into the part of my brain where sympathy and anger and love reside, leaving my heart racing. They are with me still."

My thoughts:

I loved Mudbound!  It is my first (and only) five-star read of the year and will surely appear  on my list of favorites in December. It has everything I look for in a book: well-drawn characters, a setting that comes to life, a compelling story, and truly exceptional writing.

Novels with multiple points-of-view always appeal to me, and Mudbound, featuring six different viewpoints, has been described as a virtual chorus. Set in the deep south of the 1940's, the characters very effectively mirror each other on either side of the racial divide - two wives/mothers, two farmers/husbands/fathers, and two young men returning home from WWII.

As the characters and plot gradually developed over the first half of the book, I found myself savoring Jordan's beautiful writing. Before I knew it, I was unable to stop turning the pages and even wiped away a tear or two before reaching the very emotional conclusion.

A couple of favorite quotes:
"When it rained, as it often did, the yard turned into a thick gumbo, with the house floating in it like a soggy cracker. When the rains came hard, the river rose and swallowed the bridge that was the only way across. The world was on the other side of that bridge, the world of light bulbs and paved roads and shirts that stayed white. When the river rose, the world was lost to us and we to it." p.11 
"How simple things were for Henry! How I wished sometimes that I could join him in his stark, right-angled world, where everything is either right or wrong and there is no doubt which is which. What unimaginable luxury, never to wrestle with whether or why, never to lie awake nights wondering what if." p.182
Book club reaction:
Mudbound  was the February selection for my book club, but it turned out to be late March before a small group of six actually met at a local coffee shop for discussion. Everyone read the book and loved it. Topics of discussion ranged widely from the beauty of Jordan's writing to racial relations and prejudice, both past and present. We talked about women's issues, farming and sharecropping, WWII, and the difficulties in returning to civilian life after war. Several members declared the book an all-time favorite.

My rating:

Bottom line: 
If you haven't read Mudbound yet, do it now!


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