Reviews

Review: In this Mountain

In This MountainIn This Mountain by Jan Karon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been reading my way slowly through Jan Karon’s delightful Mitford Years series so I don’t always recall Father Tim’s relationship with the many vivid characters that populate the series and I have a hard time remembering details from the previous books. I only know that each is heartwarming in its own way. In this Mountain, the seventh in the series is a little heavier in overall tone than its predecessors as Father Tim himself struggles with some very dark internal demons rather than helping others through their trials. But his reaction is real and familiar, I’m certain, to many readers, making this book an inspiring addition to the series.
My only real complaint about In this Mountain is that a few of the plot lines seemed to be left unfinished. I suppose that is meant to get me anxious to read the next installment but in a couple of cases it just felt like a loose thread – Father Tim and Hessie should’ve had an encounter about the gift she sent him!

My only recommendation is to read the entire series beginning with At Home in Mitford.

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Reviews, World Literature

Review: Gods in Alabama

3 Stars

GodsIt’s been nearly a week since I finished reading this book and I’m still undecided about how I feel about Joshilyn Jackson’s Gods in Alabama. While the novel is extremely well-written, I could never quite get comfortable with the main character/narrator or her story. And I’ve never been more uncomfortable reading anything as I was reading the *gags* roach scene. I seriously considered putting the book down then and there but my librarian friend loves Jackson’s books so I felt compelled to push through and find out why.
Like I said, Gods in Alabama is well-written. The author writes in such a way that the reader feels as if they are being “not” lied to by Arlene/Lena (even her name isn’t straightforward) along with the other characters. There are plenty of twists and turns in the plot as the narrator tells and retells the story with strategic omissions. Even after it was all said and done, I’m still not sure I completely believe the truth.

If you enjoy Gods in Alabama perhaps you’ll also enjoy Elizabeth Joy Arnold’s The Book of Secrets, another novel full of twists and half-told tales.

Historical Fiction, Reviews, World Literature

Review: The Thorn Birds

3.5 stars because I can’t decide if I actually enjoyed it or if I just got sucked into the engrossing story.

 

Thorn Birds
My copy may have been the first mass market paperback edition.  The cover price 40 years ago was $2.50.  How times have changed.

On the surface, The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough is a sweeping historical epic filled to excess with tragedy set against the extreme backdrop that is Australia. It is not, as I’d mistakenly assumed an epic romance but rather a study in human nature. Within its pages can be found themes of religion, feminism, the mother/daughter dynamic, the effects of a patriarchal society, what defines home, and even politics.
At its best moments, the novel paints a vivid portrait of Australia’s vast and varied lands from the drought-prone grasslands to the tropical rainforests, detailing life on a huge sheep station and in the cane fields. Based on McCullough’s descriptions, I wanted to escape Northern Queensland’s suffocating humidity as much as Meggie did – not that the dry expanse of on which Drogheda lay sounded all that much better. At its worse, the story is a tortuous battle, both internal and external, between the characters and God or the elements or each other or themselves.
As for those tortured characters, I didn’t like any of them with the possible exception of Justine. Meggie is bearable though often utterly idiotic (though that isn’t entirely her fault) and much too prideful. Fee is far from an ideal mother to all of her children – even her beloved Frank – but especially to Meggie. Mary Carson is, as she is described more than once, a manipulative spider and a heartless miser. She may have claimed to have loved Ralph but if she ever had been capable of love, I don’t think she was anymore. Then there are the men. The Cleary men, except maybe Stuart, are insensitive and blind to all but their own needs – only Frank seems to have eyes in his head not that it does him much good. Ralph is arrogant, self-absorbed (and selfish), ambitious, and like the other men utterly incapable of seeing beyond himself. And then there’s Luke who represents everything I would hate in a man. I could not wait until he was out of the picture. At least through Luke, we met Anne and Luddie and we have Justine.
I actually loved Justine. I loved her hard shell and sharp tongue and I loved her vulnerable core. But that love didn’t stop me from calling her an idiot a few times before it was all said and done, which goes for Rainer too. I liked him but he was a game player when it came to Justine. All of these deeply flawed characters caused more of their own problems than either God or the elements ever could. Which, of course, is what makes it a tragedy (I paid attention in my Shakespeare classes).
Then there’s the central love story for which The Thorn Birds is famous. Despite my being Catholic the priest thing never bothered me. Nowadays a priest could, if he truly wanted to, chose to leave the priesthood. Either they couldn’t in those days or (and this is more likely) Ralph was too ambitious to even consider it. Because unlike Dane, who seems truly devoted to his God and his faith, Ralph’s devotion to the church isn’t always based on a deep and profound as he claims it to be. If he ever loved anyone more than he did himself, he would’ve made the hard decision to leave. What did bother me was the age difference. Meggie was 10 and Ralph 28 when they first met and almost immediately he became obsessed with her. It may not initially have been a sexual attraction he had for her and he was able to rationalize his attentions to her for a while but he deliberately spent more time on Drogheda than necessary until she depended on him for any love she received. Only when it became uncomfortable for him did he separate himself from Meggie and the Clearys and even in doing that he did it in a way would hurt her. Then he still, in his cowardly way, strung her along and made himself her savior. Only in contrast to Luke did I ever grow to like (that might be too strong a word) Ralph. And liking the characters is key to my enjoyment of a book like this that requires much of its readers’ heart.

 

If you enjoy sweeping historical epics The Thorn Birds, I don’t think I need to tell you that you will probably enjoy Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.