The Lake House by Kate Morton a short review

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Kate Morton’s novels all share a similar plot–a secret that has been kept for years, a child at the center of the mystery, and a lovely country estate.  This much we know going in.  Characters are sympathetic.  We like them.  Misunderstandings abound.  Long-standing beliefs are called into question.   Morton is adept at creating the mystery and keeping us reading in order to solve it.  Usually it’s something we’ve suspected, but red herrings rear their heads at frequent intervals.

The Lake House is no different.  Published in 2015, it is Morton’s most recent, follows her writing recipe, and is a pleasant read.  However, the denouement of The Lake House is so chock full of unbelievable coincidences, I was sorely disappointed.  Readers are willing to suspend their disbelief to a certain point, but she crosses that line and keeps on going.  If you don’t mind a disappointing, wholly unconvincing ending, you will probably enjoy this book.

$9.50 at The Book Shop

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On missing the essence of a story: The Revenant

The producers of Hollywood films apparently think revenge is a much more compelling movie subject than is forgiveness.  I just finished reading The Revenant by Michael Punke, the book on which the Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu movie, starring Leonardo Di Caprio, was based.

While Punke has no problem admitting  that he used a great deal of poetic license in his telling of the story, his book fails to come to terms with the fact that though Glass may have initially been compelled by revenge after being abandoned and left to die after his mauling by a grizzly bear in 1823, in the end, he did not choose to exact revenge when reunited with the two men who left him to die.

Frederick Manfred’s novel Lord Grizzly, on the other hand, written in 1954, did not shy away from Glass’s ultimate forgiveness.  But that theme did not attract the attention of a director who was the recipient of multiple Academy (and other) Awards.  In Hollywood, revenge is apparently considered much more riveting.

When the movie first came out, the Argus Leader interviewed Frederick Manfred’s son Fred. “Fred, who lives in Luverne, says that he has no plans to see the movie, which he sees as a lost opportunity. In embracing the notion of bloodthirsty revenge for DiCaprio’s character rather than forgiveness, as Manfred espoused in his work, he believes the filmmakers missed the essence of what makes Lord Grizzly so special.

‘We’re a little more enamored with Hugh Glass out here because he did the right thing in the long run,’ says Fred, 61.  ‘Whether it was a spiritual awakening or the way we grew up, we admire him for going through that crawl, finding the guys who left him behind and then ultimately deciding to let it go.'”

Maybe being mauled by a Grizzly and left with what should have been mortal wounds, being abandoned by one’s companions, crawling hundreds of miles to the nearest fort through what is now South Dakota, only to be subsequently attacked by hostile Indians, nearly frozen to death, and narrowly escaping starvation, has more of an impact on those who grew up in the northern plains.  Fredrick Manfred, from Luverne, MN, perhaps understood the transformative impact of putting oneself through even more trauma in order to exact revenge than does Punke.  Perhaps he was more aware of the kinds of decisions that a violent, relentlessly difficult environment demands of all who are at its mercy, even those who make a choice to survive at the expense of others.

What would Hugh Glass have done if he had had to make that choice?   What if he had been the one in imminent mortal danger, having to choose whether to save his own life or the life a man who, by any rational estimation, would die anyway. We don’t know.  But maybe that’s the conclusion he came to in the end.  To forgive an act he well might have chosen himself had the roles been reversed.

The Revenant, $8.00 at The Book Shop.

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Ordinary Grace

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I recently read William Kent Krueger’s, (author of the award winning, New York Times bestselling Cork O’Connor Mystery Series) Ordinary Grace for the second time.  It was the One Book South Dakota book last year, and since it’s classified as a mystery/detective novel, the first time through I was focused more on the plot than anything else. My only criticism was the the reader figures out the mystery long before any of the characters in the book do.

It’s about a family in Minnesota, the father a WWII veteran haunted by his past and now the minister of a local church. His wife married him when he still had pans to become a lawyer, but WWII changed that plan.  She is a frustrated musician, trying her best to bring some musical culture to their small town.  Our protagonist is the middle child, who through curious eyes, and those of his painfully shy younger brother, tells us the heartbreaking story of the disappearance of their older sister, a budding composer and singer, about to go off to Julliard.

The second time, already knowing what to expect from the plot, the quiet magnificence of this novel was easier to see.  This is a great book.  It’s a good story.  The plot is convincing and so much more than a cookie-cutter whodunit. The characters are unique, interesting, and fully developed.  The writing is beautiful.  The lessons are subtle but wise.

If you don’t read this wonderful book you will never know what you’ve missed, but if you are a lover of good writing, you will diminished.

The Magic (or is it stunning skill?) of Geraldine Brooks

Geraldine Brooks is able to miraculously take a few historical facts and weave them into lyrical, beautiful, complex fabrics, stories so well-imagined that it’s truly difficult to believe they are not true.  The facts remain unaltered, but the stories she creates around them are lovely, heartbreaking, fascinating, and surprising.  She is a genius of historical fiction.

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I just finished reading Caleb’s Crossing, based on the seminal fact that in 1665, a young man from (what we now call) Martha’s Vineyard became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College.   Using only this fragile structure, Brooks tells a story narrated by Bethia Mayfield, the local minister’s daughter, about her life on the small island and the life of her childhood friend, a Wampanoag named Cheeshahteaumauk, or Caleb, as he comes to be known by his English neighbors, and it is as much a lesson in the paternalism and chauvinism of the 17th century as it is the story of Bethia and Caleb’s lives.   $8.10 at The Book Shop.

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Brooks’ novel March won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and is the only one of her novels I have yet to read.  It tells the story of Mr. March, absentee father of the March daughters in Little Women, during the civil war.

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Another tremendous literary victory is The People of the Book, telling the fictional story of Hanna Heath, an Australian book conservator who is responsible for restoring an Illuminated Haggadah (the order of service for a Seder). Told in reverse chronological order, the story follows the Haggadah through time as it travels across Spain, Sarajevo, Vienna, and into Hanna’s purview hundreds of years later.  We learn its origin, its illuminator, its owners and caretakers across centuries, each with his or her own story of trauma, deprivation, and triumph. At the end of the book I felt I had seen grace being granted.

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In Year of Wonders, written from the point of view of young Cornish widow Anna Frith, who, recently having lost her husband in a lead mining accident, agrees to rent a room to an itinerant tailor.  He unknowingly brings with him, and sews into the clothes on which he works, the bubonic plague.  The community agrees to quarantine itself from the outside world, instigating a sure but insidious rise of paranoia, accusations and blame that take as much a toll on the village as does the plague.

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Last but not least, Brooks’ most recent novel The Secret Chord, based on Biblical text, gives a wildly imagined, intriguing biographical account of King David, as told by his fictional seer and advisor, Natan.  If you think it sounds boring to read about the iron-age Middle East, you will be proven pleasantly and stunningly wrong.

Soft Gold

The word “Pashmina” has become the description of any large scarf that can be worn as a shawl, regardless of what fabric it’s made of. But a true Pashmina is made of “the finest type of cashmere wool. The textiles made from it were first woven in Kashmir. The name comes from Persian: پشمینه / pašmina, meaning “made from wool” and literally translates to “Soft Gold” in Kashmiri.” (Wikipedia)
The Book Shop and Gifty Things Vintage has three genuine pashminas today. Two are 100% Kashmir and one, the black and gold, below) is 55% kashmir and 45% silk. $30.00 in like new condition.005003

The Cold Nowhere by Brian Freeman: A fifteen-second review

 

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Jonathan Stride hits his stride in this story of a traumatized young girl running for her life in Duluth.  Not only do you become familiar with Duluth’s environs, but the story is taut, well-paced, and will keep you turning pages far into the night. I’ve read it twice and couldn’t put it down either time!   $7.50

Behind the scenes–the next step

After we have chosen the books we want to buy, each book is entered into our computer and on-line inventories. We also scan a picture, for on-line shopping, of books that don’t already have a stock picture. Then the books are moved to the cleaning table. Here is Katherine Ann entering books into inventory, and moving books from the “to be entered” stack over to the “to be cleaned” table.

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Behind the Scenes

We thought our readers might be interested in knowing what happens to their books after we buy them. Our books are carefully chosen, in like-new condition, clean, they’ve been entered into our computer and online databases, and carefully shelved so they’re easy to find. They don’t go right from your box or bag to the shelf! Here’s what we do (more entries coming up):

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The first thing we do when you bring your books in is look at each book to determine if it’s a book we want to buy. Is it in like-new condition? Is it timely? Do we already have it? How well has it sold when we’ve had it before? Here’s Jenny choosing books to buy.