Thursday, November 27, 2014

A happy birthday -- giving thanks

Sometimes you get really lucky in life and even your birthday is way better than you thought was possible. And let me tell you, I had high expectations for this one, because I asked someone for the exact gift I wanted and he said, Of course.

So now my blog has a shiny new look that’s all me, and it’s all due to him.

When you’re in cahoots with a talented graphic designer, things get really thrilling really fast. Things are funny and fun and they look nice.

And when you ask him to design a banner for your book blog, you get more options (more amazing, impossible-to-narrow-down options) than you ever imagined.

After plenty of splendid agonizing (this went on for days and days [it lasted for weeks]), we decided to use an old photo as the basis for a logo.

That’s me, at age 3, reading a book on the lid of my tractor-tire sandbox.

I remember when I was a teenager and my mom would dislodge me from my book with, “It’s a beautiful day—just go outside for 15 minutes.” And I’d sigh… and then take my book outside, where I’d sit and read.

Pretty sure that’s not what she had in mind.

But apparently I’d been doing this all along. If there weren’t photographic evidence, I wouldn’t have known that my brilliant response to “Go outside and play!” had looked like this since before I could read actual words on a page.

So going through old photo albums with new eyes was revelatory. And so was this re-design process.

I gotta say: the experience of working with a skilled, creative, thoughtful graphic designer has been downright blissful. I’ve been walking around smiling like a goofball after every series of options was presented to me.

It’s a wonderful thing when somebody really gets you.

The genius at Lopata Design created this new look, and I’m more delighted and more grateful than I can say. 

And on that note, I'd like to wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 21, 2014

I read the law, and the law won

Sycamore Row by John Grisham

3 words: detailed, solid, storytelling

Don’t tell anyone, but this is the first Grisham novel I’ve ever read. And it was rather an enjoyable experience.

Of course, everyone knows he’s the reigning monarch of the legal thriller. But just because someone is popular doesn’t necessarily mean he’s terrifically talented.

But Grisham’s a skilled storyteller. The plot here canters along steadily. There’s a fair amount of legal detail, but nothing tedious—he keeps it moving. And the characters are more than cardboard cutouts, so characterization isn’t sacrificed in the name of plot.

In other words, Grisham has everything you’d want from a storyteller.

In Sycamore Row, Grisham returns to his roots: handsome, young attorney Jake Brigance, the legal star of his first novel, A Time to Kill, is again called upon to take a complex and somewhat unpopular case in his rural Mississippi county. This time around, a local millionaire has left his fortune to his nurse, which raises some eyebrows around town—and seriously stirs up his wasp’s nest of a family.

Brigance’s job is to prove that the will should be upheld. Sounds simple, but obviously isn’t, or we wouldn’t have a big old novel to read.

Reading Grisham was perfectly pleasant. I had the sensation of being on board a plane flown by a capable, long-time pilot who takes the scenic route for the benefit of the passengers. Takes a little longer to reach the destination, but the journey is part of the fun. 

P.S. Thanks to the two kind people who lent me their copies. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Flairly sure about this

Some facts about me:

1. I'm wildly relieved my work life doesn't require that I wear flair

2. If, however, it did... I'm well on my way to amassing a wicked good collection.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Christmas in October

Wait for Signs by Craig Johnson

3 words: warm, manly, decent

Christmas came early this year. In two ways.

First, this book is made up of short stories, thereby fulfilling my Book Bingo requirement and getting me unstuck.

Second, most of the stories take place around Christmastime. 

Normally, this would make me puke, but we’re talking Craig Johnson here, so puking is out of the question. He keeps it too wry and too real for me to be having an attack of “way too heartwarming” seasonal nausea.*

Though, I gotta say: some of these stories (one of them especially—“Slick-Tongued Devil”**) prompted some emotions. Johnson’s getting a pass, because when he writes stories that make a person feel sad or grateful or nostalgic, he never cheapens any of the emotions and he keeps it all free of smarm. (I can't stand smarm.)

The beauty of these stories is that they fill in some of the gaps between the novels in the Walt Longmire mystery series. They’re vignettes that show us some everyday occurrences and also some turning points in Walt’s life. And they illustrate the tough, kind, decent man he is. (Yes, I know I’m talking about a fictional character as though he’s real.)

They say that when you read short stories, you should savor every word. With Craig Johnson’s books and stories, I do that by necessity; I don’t want to miss a single syllable. 

Merry Christmas, y’all.

*A third thing that was Christmas-y: I was reading this book while on a dream vacation with people I love.

**That one almost made me cry.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Best new mystery of the year

Dry Bones in the Valley by Tom Bouman

3 words: rural, realistic, introspective

Dang, guys! There’s a new guy on the block, and he’s written one heck of a debut mystery.

And he says it’s planned to be the first of four books in a series about Henry Farrell, so even better.

What’s to love: A first-person narrator who’s darn unusual—a mid-level cop (a township police officer) who’s somewhere between a sheriff and a rank-and-file cop. So his perspective is an interesting one.

And he’s an introverted young widower who feels alienated from the people around him. 
So: also somewhat unusual.

And the dude plays the fiddle.

The other thing that sets him apart is that he’s very much an everyman, underdog, unheroic protagonist. Things get messy, and he makes mistakes.

So what I’m saying is: Henry Farrell is a realistic main character.

What else to love: The book is set in the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania, so it has the rural feel of Craig Johnson’s and Donald Harstad’s mystery series about rural police officers. And there’s fracking, which has set neighbors against one another because of differing views on the issue. And money.  

So: the plot. A decaying body is discovered on the property of an elderly recluse and then Farrell’s deputy is killed. And the investigation reveals all kinds of secrets people never would’ve guessed about the neighbors they thought they knew so well.

Also good: The details, such as the birdwatcher/photographer coroner, who stops while on a business call to admire the birds. And Farrell’s appreciation of the small pleasures; he’s pleased by their new walkie-talkies. It all makes the book feel more real. 

Can’t wait for book 2.