Thursday, July 14, 2011

More Great Summer Reading

I have really been enjoying my reading lately.  I highly recommend both of these books being reviewed in this blog!

The Devil's Dream by Lee Smith is right up there among her best.  I have always liked books by Ms. Lee, and this one was not a disappointment!

Around 1833, Moses Bailey, son of a preacher, brought his wife, Laura, up to a lonely cabin in the hills.  Moses wanted to find the voice of God for himself. Laura came from a musical family and she loved playing the fiddle.  Moses forbade music, especially the fiddle, because he believed it to be the music of the devil. Moses would take off for long periods of time, searching for God, and leaving Laura and the children to fend for themselves.  Eventually, Laura took up her fiddling whenever Moses was gone and soon her children began enjoying the music also.

So began the family legacy of country music.  The book takes the reader through generations of the Bailey family and their music as they begin performing publicly through-out the years.  It is the story of several generations covering 150 years.  I do have to admit that several times I became confused on what characters were who.  Fortunately, Ms. Lee provided a family tree at the beginning of the book, and I often had to refer to it.  Each chapter is told by a different member of the family as the years progress.  Despite that confusion, I really enjoyed the book.  The author, as always, does an excellent job developing the characters.

Next I read Mudbound by Hillary Jordan.  I had read about this book earlier and had put it on my TBR list.  Luckily for me, I found it at the used book store!  And I was glad that I had written it down earlier as a book I wanted to read.  Again, a really good book.  And even better, it was Ms. Jordan's debut novel!  And the novel won the Bellwether Prize for Fiction.  It deserved the honor!

In 1946, Henry McAllen moves his wife and children from the city living in Memphis to a run-down farm in the Mississippi Delta.  Henry had failed to mention to Laura that being a farmer was his life-long dream and when he went down to Mississippi to help out his sister for a couple of weeks, he returned to Memphis and told Laura that he had bought a farm and that they were moving there in a couple of a farm that had no running water or electricity, and had been abandoned for a long time.  And on top of all that, Henry's racist, nasty father, Pappy, was going to be living with them.

After they arrive at the farm, they convince the local midwife, who is the wife of Hap one of Henry's tenant farmers, to work for them as a housekeeper.  Florence is a strong-willed black woman who becomes Laura's salvation. Soon, men return from the war, and among them are Florence's son, Ronsel, and Henry's brother, Jamie.  Jamie and Ronsel become friends, and begin to be seen around town together, which in 1946 Mississippi is a dangerous thing and both are warned to stop seeing each other before something bad happens.  Jamie is a charming, good-looking man, haunted by what he saw in combat.  Ronsel comes home as a decorated hero, which means pretty much nothing in the Mississippi Delta since he is a black man.  Jamie and Ronsel's friendship ends up creating great sorrow in the story.

Each chapter of this book is told by one of the main characters, Laura, Florence, Henry, Jamie, Ronsel, and Hap.  It is interesting that Pappy does not narrate any chapters, since his presence is so prominent in the story.  Yet, I am glad that he was not a narrator because he was so unlikable.

This is a very interesting book.  There is a great deal of tragedy in the story, yet it is very full of different ways love prevails and is experienced. And in the end, I felt great hope for the characters.  Very good book!!!

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