Review: A Land More Kind Than Home, Wiley Cash

A Land More Kind Than Home ★★★★★
Wiley Cash
William Morrow, 2012

Trade Paperback

Trade Paperback

This book has everything I love — a Southern setting, secrets, family tragedy, religious zealotry run amok, and strong narrative voices. If I had read it, it would have been an easy four stars. But because I listened to it, and the audio version is one of the best I’ve ever heard, it’s getting five stars.

This is a debut novel — is it flawless? No. But you know what? I didn’t care. I don’t think you will either. I got so swept up and carried away by the story I was being told I was living it. I was right there in that small town watching it all go down with a flutter of anxiety in my stomach, and a lump of sadness in my throat.

What really made me love this story as an audiobook is that we have three narrators read by three different readers– 1) Jess Hall, a precocious nine year old who has a penchant for spying and will eventually see something he wishes he hadn’t that will change his life and the life of his town forever 2) Adelaide Lyle, a feisty old woman who has born witness to much of the town’s history and dark secrets and 3) Clem Barefield, seasoned Sheriff with a painful past who must confront the evil that has taken hold of his town like a cancer.

Getting the story from these three very distinct voices and points of view is fantastic. It makes what is essentially a simple and straight forward story feel richer, more layered and emotional. I loved the reader for the Sheriff. What a fantastic performance. That voice married to the author’s prose is a match made in heaven. In the best ways it reminded me of Tommy Lee Jones’s performance in No Country for Old Men.

A Land More Kind Than Home is set deep in the heart of snake-handling country where you better hope that when the preacher arrives in town, he ain’t the devil in disguise.

Read this book — and if you do the audio thing — listen. You won’t be able to stop, I promise.

And since I have a thing for book trailers, this one does a great job of capturing the edgy, southern Gothic mood of this novel that’s so portent with revelation, betrayals, and tragedy.

This review is also posted to Goodreads.

Recommended Readalikes:

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter | Tom Franklin
The Devil All The Time | Donald Ray Pollock
The Scent of Rain and Lightning | Nancy Pickard

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John Green wants to make you cry, but first he’ll make you laugh

grca_badge_winner-f9454940ba1e5388d3d719979c7f3f51The Fault in Our Stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
John Green
Dutton Books, 2012

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves. ~Julius Caesar

I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.
~The Fault in our Stars

The_Fault_in_Our_StarsAlright, alright! I admit it, it got to me — it freaking absolutely got to me. If I were Superman this little book would be my Kryptonite. Why did I think I would be immune? I was so smug going into this, feeling secure in my awesome, arrogant certainty that the sure to be oodles of maudlin and reams of cliches would keep me safe and sound from any wrenchings of the heart. My overall dubiousness and cynicism would serve as my protective shield, offering immunity against such ruthless emotional manipulation — nay exploitation — about to be perpetrated against my person. Sick kids? Cancer? Dying sick kids with cancer? Dying sick kids with cancer falling in love? Really? You’re going to go there so completely and unapologetically and still expect me to respect you in the morning?

Despite all the obvious pitfalls lying in wait for John Green, he manages to avoid just about all of them (seemingly with ease). I experienced a level of integrity and commitment to the subject matter that gave sufficient weight and depth to what could have just as easily turned out to be breezy and shallow.

That’s not to say that this story wallows in gloom and gravitas — far from it. It’s funny. I laughed out loud — out loud — and when I wasn’t doing that I snickered, grinned, and tittered (yes, there were a few titters). I also bawled like a baby, but the laughter came first, and the tears were earned.

Hazel Grace — our terminal narrator — is lovely. You will notice she doesn’t always act or speak like your average teenager, and that’s because she isn’t one. Hazel has been in a staring contest with Death since she was 13 years old. He hasn’t beaten her yet, but it’s changed her, in more ways than any of us non-terminal people could ever comprehend. Our casual intellectual acceptance that we are all terminal and will one day die is not nearly the same as carrying Death on your skin and in your bones, to feel life seeping out of your pores and stalk you in the night. To sit on your chest and steal the breath from your malfunctioning, fluid-filled lungs.

Augustus Waters is sheer delight and I don’t give a donkey’s ass that the way he and Hazel speak to one another is unrealistic because it is filled with such a sincere sweetness and adorable, lovable humor I couldn’t get enough. It broke through my armor, tore a hole through my cynical self, and had me falling head over heels in love with these two. Each is defiant in the way that only a young person battling Death can be defiant, they are warm and insecure and brave and foolish and selfish and sad and real. I’m not going to say realistic — we could argue that point til the cows come home — but not once did they ever stop being authentic.

What can I say? I loved them. I loved this book. Okay?

Okay.

Occasionally, I like to play around with book trailers. Here is one I made for this lovely little book.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Revolution ★★★★
Jennifer Donnelly
Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2010

“Because God loves us,
but the devil takes an interest.” ~Revolution

revolutionI find writing reviews for books I love quite intimidating really. I feel overwhelmed with the task of ever doing a book justice that I want everyone to read. And then there’s always the risk that if you gush too much, it’s going to turn people off, or build their expectations so high that when they do pick the book up they can’t help but be a little disappointed. But perhaps I’m over thinking it too much.

I had never read anything by Jennifer Donnelly before and didn’t know quite what to expect when I picked up Revolution. I thought the cover quite beautiful, and the historical aspect of the story called to me, so I had no qualms about giving it a try. What can I say about a book that totally swept me up in its pages and consumed my every free thought when I wasn’t reading it? The sheer beauty of some of its prose squeezed my heart. Donnelly does such an amazing job writing about music that I swear sometimes I heard the notes wafting up from the page. I’ve never claimed to be a music aficionado of any age or style, I don’t read music, I’ve never taken a music appreciation class – but I listen to music. It has an undeniably important place in my life, as vital as reading, and there is just something so simple and honest about the way Donnelly threads music throughout this novel that left me totally captivated.

Then there’s the story – about a defeated young girl undone by tragedy who has lost her way, and her will to live. Andi is angry at herself, at the world, and the depth of her grief and rage is like a sharp and vicious thing that she carries in her chest. Andi is definitely a young woman spiraling out of control.

I love how this novel unfolds, that it is two stories with two narrators – one contemporary one historical. The detail is so vivid, the sense of place so strong, you walk the streets of Paris and run through the catacombs that haunt the modern city to this day. French Revolutionary history is filled with brutality, intrigue, betrayal, hope and disillusionment. As a novelist, you don’t have to exaggerate any of the historical details, you simply stand out of the way and let the story tell itself. I feel that’s what Donnelly has done here; she’s taken her fictional creation – Alexandrine – and written her into the pages of history. Through Alexandrine’s diary, we get an intimate look at the scale of human barbarity it takes to pull off a Revolution.

Andi becomes consumed with the diary and with Alexandrine’s fate and the fate of the boy King locked in a tower to rot. She can only hope that the diary can give her the peace and understanding she seeks to save her own life. This book is gorgeously textured and layered like an 18th century French painting, or a beautiful piece of composed music. It is also a pulse-pounding page-turning adventure, an enigmatic historical mystery shrouded in intrigue and speculation. It’s a love story about the bonds between parent and child, brother and sister, lovers and friends. What else can I say? Read this book.

Random House has done a sumptuous book trailer for Revolution. Enjoy!

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