Monday, October 12, 2015

Finn by Jon Clinch

Finn by Jon Clinch
Published February 2007 by Random House
Source: both my print and audiobook copies were purchased
Narrator: Mel Foster

Publisher's Summary:
Jon Clinch takes us on a journey into the history and heart of one of American literature’s most brutal and mysterious figures: Huckleberry Finn’s father. The result is a deeply original tour de force that springs from Twain’s classic novel but takes on a fully realized life of its own.

Finn sets a tragic figure loose in a landscape at once familiar and mythic. It begins and ends with a lifeless body–flayed and stripped of all identifying marks–drifting down the Mississippi. The circumstances of the murder, and the secret of the victim’s identity, shape Finn’s story as they will shape his life and his death.

Along the way Clinch introduces a cast of unforgettable characters: Finn’s terrifying father, known only as the Judge; his sickly, sycophantic brother, Will; blind Bliss, a secretive moonshiner; the strong and quick-witted Mary, a stolen slave who becomes Finn’s mistress; and of course young Huck himself. In daring to re-create Huck for a new generation, Clinch gives us a living boy in all his human complexity–not an icon, not a myth, but a real child facing vast possibilities in a world alternately dangerous and bright.

My Thoughts:
Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn is one of the most memorable characters in American literature. His father, Pap, plays a minor but significant role in Twain's book; in a bit of fan fic, Clinch has imagined here a fuller life for the man. A much darker one than Twain might have written.

Clinch does a great job of taking the details about Finn that Twain provided, incorporating other characters from that book, and giving Finn a full history, as well as providing a fuller background for Huck. It has less of the tongue-in-cheek humor of Twain but retains the colloquialisms and essential tone of the source material. For me, this was helped immensely by the fact that Mel Foster sounds so much like Hal Holbrook (who played Twain for years).

Where Clinch really veers away from Twain, though, is in the almost Cormac McCarthyesque brutality of the novel. Finn is not just a man made angry by his drinking and his circumstances, as envisioned by Clinch. He is a brutal, amoral, murderous alcoholic, although he is not one-dimensional. Clinch envisions him as a boy who was, as they say, a handful, a boy they found hard to love but who also seemed not to need them as much as his brother did, a boy who would grow up to be a man constantly seeking his father's approval. Which makes it hard to thoroughly hate Finn despite his heinous actions and which makes him a man worth reading about.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Life: It Goes On - October 11

Seems like I just did one of these. Oh, wait, I did! Can't say there's a lot to report since then but just to get back on track, I'll play again.

Playing catch up this weekend - instead of my usual chores on Thursday, I went and played with my newly retired friend. So fun to have someone to hang out with in the middle of the week. We hit up the outlet mall and happy hour and laughed a lot. Good for the soul. Not so much for the carpet that needed to be vacuumed!

Miss H has been around all weekend so we've had a lot of girl time. She brought a load of stuff back home on Friday so a good chunk of time has been spent find all of that a new home. It sure can't go back where it came from since her room is my office now! I'm already missing having a guest bedroom and bathroom. Good thing I like these kids.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'll finish up Room tomorrow. Did you know that it's been made into a movie? I just found that out the other day. I'll be interested to see how they manage that since the book is told from a 5-year-old's point of view.

Watching: Yep, you guessed it - baseball and football.  And The Voice.

Reading: Plugging away at The Determined Heart. I'm learning a lot (that Lord Byron - boy, is there a guy who lived by his own rules!) but I'm having a hard time really getting pulled into the book. I think it could have been a little tighter and I would be enjoying it more. I'm going to try to get it finished today because I have a couple of big books I need to read in the next week.

Making: I've been far more productive in the kitchen the past few days: rhubarb pie, monster cookies, short ribs, fettuccine alfredo. I even took all of the bread crusts and loaf ends I've been saving and made bread crumbs. Managed, while doing that, to fling bread crumbs and chunks all over the kitchen, down my shirt, into my hair. No one in the room to laugh at me so I had to laugh at myself.

Planning: On fully turning my guest room into Miss H's room this week. She'll be back in just a couple more weeks so I need to move some furniture out to make room, clear out that closet and move stuff from the closet in her old room into her new room. I will just get the house fully settled back to having the two kids back in it and they will both move out again. This is my life!

Grateful for:  The beautiful fall days we've been having - cool in the mornings, warm enough later to eat outside. Basically, it's the season when we were shorts and sweaters in the same day.

Enjoying:  Lots of time with friends and family (including brunch today to see my niece who's been out of town for a couple of months and headed back off today) this week, blended with just enough quiet time to keep this introvert content.

Feeling: Sore. I keep my stress level during Husker football games down by working around the house. Let's just say, yesterday was a very productive day around here so I should be happy about that. I would rather have had a win.

Looking forward to: Omaha Lit Fest next weekend! Emily St. John Mandel, Jennie Shortridge, Joy Castro and whisky tastings - gonna be a good time!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

After You by Jojo Moyes

After You by Jojo Moyes
Published September 29, 2015 by Penguin Publisher Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
How do you move on after losing the person you loved?

How do you build a life worth living? Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started.

 Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future. . . .

 For Lou Clark, life after Will Traynor means learning to fall in love again, with all the risks that brings. But here Jojo Moyes gives us two families, as real as our own, whose joys and sorrows will touch you deeply, and where both changes and surprises await.

My Thoughts:
Last year Moyes' Me Before You was one of my favorite books of the year. Which made it a given that I would read After You. Me Before You made readers feel all of the feelings. And tears, oh my goodness were there a lot of tears shed. It was going to be a tough book to live up to for Moyes.

But readers clamored to find out what happened to Lou after Will's death. More precisely, readers clamored to know that Lou was going to be okay after Will died. And therein lies the problem. One of the great things about Me Before You was that Moyes' didn't feel compelled to wrap everything up with a tidy ribbon and deliver a happy ending. She left us with just enough to know that it was going to be tough for Lou to move on but that her time with Will had given her what she would need to live her life to the fullest.

But if you're going to revisit Lou, you can't come back to her and find that every thing's just peachy. So Moyes gives us a Lou who is struggling. In fact, she may well be in worse shape than she was in when Will came into her life. She can't settle into the home that Will's money paid for, her job is terrible, and she's estranged from her family. And she can't move on from Will's death.

Enter that link to Will's past, a new man to fall in love with, and more family drama and you've got a lot going on here. Too much. The support group could have been left out entirely and very little would have been lost. And that link to Will's past? Let's just say, some parts of that story line were unnecessary and others were a bit tough for me to buy into.

But this is Moyes so After You is a solid read with charm, some really well-written characters, and enough depth to help readers get involved in the story. It's not Me Before You but I enjoyed it. And I'm looking forward to the next chapter in Louisa's life. Because it seems apparent that there will be one.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Life: It Goes On - October 7

Oops! This is exactly why I cannot try to monetize this blog. I all too often lose track of it when real life gets busy.

Miss H, The Big Guy and I made a run to Kansas City this weekend - just an excuse to get out of town and a chance for Miss H to connect with some friends. We did some shopping, ate at our fav pizza place in town, and discovered that it's really hard to find a place to buy alcohol along the Interstate system. Some lesser folks might have given up, but we needed those drinks after our poor Huskers lost again!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'm about 3/4 of the way through Room and am really impressed with it. The beauty of waiting to read a book until the buzz dies down is that I couldn't really remember anything more about it other than that it was about a mom and her son held captive in a room. Did not know that they would be rescued less than half way through the book and that the bulk of the book would be about adjusting to life outside of room.

Watching: Miss H has no cable or satellite at her rental any more so she's been spending a lot of time with us. Which means we've been watching a lot of baseball. This has resulted in a lot of battles between our baseball lover and those that prefer football. Because heaven forbid someone watch their game on a tv that's not half the size of a wall.

Reading: I raced through Jojo Moyes' sequel to Me Before You, After You. Review tomorrow. Today I started Antoinette May's The Determined Heart: The Tale of Mary Shelley and Her Frankenstein.

Making: Irish nachos, some new cocktails, sweet potato soup, mini-pizzas. It's been a weird week in our kitchen.

Planning: I have a lovely list of plans for this week and I've managed to get almost nothing on it done. Because books. It's the FrightFall readathon, hosted by Michelle at Seasons of Reading, and I'm grabbing that excuse to spend a good chunk of the evenings with a book.

Grateful for: A husband who's a road warrior - he's always willing to hit the road for a trip and does almost all of the driving. I navigate, now with the help of Siri. This invariably results in a least one heated battle when someone doesn't think he needs to follow the directions he's being given. But we always arrive safely.

Enjoying: Some warmer temps again after having to turn on our heat earlier this week. Dinners on the patio are my bliss.

Feeling: Anxious. I need to start planning for Miss H's return in a couple of weeks and as much as I'm looking forward to having her here again, all of that stuff coming with her is making me a bit twitchy.

Looking forward to: Junkstock this weekend. Nothing I need but it's always fun to get ideas, pick up a few new pieces, and find some new curiosities, like last spring's stuffed armadillo.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Emma by Jane Austen - 200th-Anniversary Annotated Edition

Emma by Jane Austen
First published December 1815
200th-Anniversary Annotated Edition published 9/29/2015 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Beautiful, clever, rich—and single—Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr. Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protégée, Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected.

My Thoughts: 
This is my third reading, a third copy of Emma but there's no such thing as too much Jane Austen. Besides, look at that beautiful cover! How could I possible pass that up?! Also, I have never had a annotated copy of this novel and I was eager to see what the publisher would add to this beloved classic.

Plus, you know, Emma Woodhouse, one of my all-time favorite characters.

Emma is a typical (even by today's definition) wealthy, spoiled twenty-one year old who is very concerned with propriety and social standing and who believes she knows more than those who try to advise her, particularly when it comes to matters of the heart. She's a big fish in a very small pond. But Emma is can also be charming, devoted to her father, and a good friend to those she cares about. Sure she's a snob, but she's self-aware enough to know that she needs to try harder to be a better person. And the joy of the book, of course, is that, eventually, she will be.

Along the way, readers are treated to Austen's always wonderful satire, social commentary, witty dialogue. As always, Austen gives her heroine a bounty of colorful characters including Miss Bates who cannot stop talking, Emma's father with his constant worrying, deceitful Frank Churchill, the annoying Eltons. And let us not forget the steady, endlessly patient Mr. Knightley.  Characters I always enjoy revisiting. A book I never tire of rereading.

About the annotations:
Editor Juliette Wells calls this a reader's edition, not a scholarly one. "In other words, the information you'll find here is intended to support your understanding and appreciation of Emma rather than to instruct you in literary terms, theoretical perspectives, or critical debates." She has included an introduction about Austen and her writing, a spelling help page, a glossary and several contextual essays as well a photos of early editions of Emma. It's an edition that will not only aid first-time readers but offers something more to the story for people like me who already consider the book an old friend.

Wells says:
"Emma is special because it’s the capstone of Austen’s career as an author. She had already published three novels (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park), and she was at the very top of her game as a writer. She didn’t know it, of course, but Emma would be the last book she saw through to publication. When Austen died in July 1817, she left two essentially completed novels (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion), which her brother published at the end of that year. So Emma is the last Austen novel that was published in the exact form that she herself approved.

Emma is also special because it’s the most perfect example of Austen’s particular genius as an author, which is (I think) to create a recognizable, engaging fictional world from the slenderest of materials. She writes about everyday life and ordinary people—you won’t find kings and queens in her novels, or ghosts or vampires. Her effects are wonderfully subtle."