Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Snow Melts in Spring, by Deborah Vogts

Snow Melts in Spring is a story full of surprises. Vogts has spun an absorbing novel about a women veterinarian, an NFL football player, and an irascible old man. For a backdrop she uses the Flint Hills of Kansas, an area I've never visited, but after reading this novel I feel I've been there. Vogts' loving description of the land has given me a view of Kansas quite different from that depicted in The Wizard of Oz.
I love reading stories that inform as well as entertain, and Snow Melts in Spring fills that bill handily. The insider accounts of horses and veterinary medicine set this book apart from others I've read. I was especially entranced by Vogts' use of Gil McCray's football background. His point of view added a fascinating dimension to the novel.
The story begins when the main character, Mattie Evans, is called in to save a badly injured horse. Unknowing, she finds herself in the midst of a family conflict in which secrets and guilt must be played out before the heartwarming conclusion is reached. I must confess I had tears in my eyes when I read the ending.
Vogts has created memorable characters in an unusual setting. I recommend this book.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, is the most enjoyable novel I've read in ages. I don't know why it took me so long to get around to it--the book has been on the best seller lists for many months, and deservedly so.
I finished it last night, and am tempted to turn it over and start again. The characters are so real that I'd like to visit the Channel Island of Guernsey and talk with their descendants to find out what happened to everybody after the story ended.
Authors Shaffer and Barrows constructed the book in the form of letters to and from writer Juliet Ashton in the year immediately following the end of World War II. By the way, you writers out there, don’t let anyone tell you World War II novels won’t sell. Give the story a setting and format as unusual as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and it will sell like, well, hotcakes, if not Potato Peel Pie.
The story starts when Juliet receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And so begins a remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German Occupation. The story is at turns hilarious, fascinating, and heartbreaking. I had no idea what "occupation" really entailed until I read this book. The story itself is fiction, but the facts of the occupation and Nazi atrocities are all too true.
I can't recommend this novel strongly enough. As one of the characters writes, “Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
I bought the trade paperback version, but plan to purchase The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in hardback to add it to my library of special favorites.

Monday, June 15, 2009

"The Shape of Mercy" contest winner

Congratulations to Carly for winning the drawing for a signed copy of a beautifully bound ARC copy of The Shape of Mercy. Susan Meissner will be contacting you for your mailing address.
Thanks to all who participated in the drawing.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Bell Messenger, by Robert Cornuke and Alton Gansky

The Bell Messenger was recommended to me by a visitor to my website. I've asked readers to share some of their favorite book titles with me, and Kay suggested I add The Bell Messenger to my library. I'm so glad I did. The story is a combination of historical fiction and contemporary action.
The authors, Robert Cornuke and Alton Gansky, have spun an intricate plot that revolves around a bible originally carried by a Confederate soldier during the Civil War. When the soldier is mortally wounded in action, he insists that the Union officer who shot him take the bible. “A dry rain cometh if you do not take the book,” he whispers.
In the story that follows, the bible eventually comes to a young man in 1980, and through his efforts the reader learns of the book's journey from a Virginia battlefield to a California railroad camp, into World War I, and across the sands of Egypt. Each life it touches connects with the life of the previous owner. Ordinarily I don’t like stories that use an object to connect decades, but The Bell Messenger manages to do so without feeling episodic.
A word to squeamish readers—the battle scenes are quite graphic. A little more so than I would have liked. However, the fascinating tales of the bible's owners more than make up for a little gore. At the end, Cornuke and Gansky tie the various sections together in a satisfying conclusion.
I recommend The Bell Messenger. I’d love to hear comments from others who've read it.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Shape of Mercy, by Susan Meissner

The Shape of Mercy, by Susan Meissner, is one of the best books I've read in a long time. Meissner's protagonist, Lauren Durough, is from a wealthy family, which was one of the unique features of this story. The glimpses into Lauren’s privileged home life fascinated me.

Although raised with servants in attendance, Lauren yearns to be seen as an ordinary person, so she shuns a costly private college in favor of a state school. In a further endeavor to break away from her family's expectations, she takes a part-time job transcribing a 300-year-old journal for an elderly woman. The diary is an original account written by one of the young women accused during the Salem witch trials.

As the thought-provoking novel continues, Lauren is drawn ever more deeply into the story of Mercy Hayworth, the girl unjustly accused of witchcraft. The Shape of Mercy's theme is the harm done to ourselves and others by making judgments based solely on our own frame of reference. Lauren comes face-to-face with uncomfortable truths about herself as she tries to learn what happened to Mercy.

Meissner has done a masterful job of telling a story that unites the lives of two women born centuries apart. At the same time, she gave me an opportunity to consider parallels between Lauren's discoveries and my own tendencies to make snap judgments about people. The Shape of Mercy is a fantastic story on many levels. I highly recommend it.

Please leave a comment to have your name entered in the June 15th drawing for bound arc of The Shape of Mercy, donated by Susan Meissner. Be sure to include your email address in the comment so I’ll be able to contact you if you win.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Contest winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered my newsletter contest. Ann Johnson is the winner of the last two books reviewed on the blog--Enduring Love, by Bonnie Leon, and Age Before Beauty, by Virginia Smith.
For those of you who enjoy statistics, the results of the "Who was your favorite character in The Edge of Light" question are as follows.
Molly McGarvie received 67% of the vote;
Dr. Karl Spengler received 25%, and 
Betsy James (the slave woman) received 8%.
I was great hearing from all of you. Stay tuned for another giveaway coming up soon.