Saturday, January 16, 2016

Two Very Different Journies into History: Ginny Gall (Smith) and The Past (Hadley)

Alas, I'm back and it's a pile o' books compelling me to write.  I do, for the record, greatly enjoy reading and reviewing books.  I think I just get enough computer screen time as it is and that makes me a bit slower than I'd like at getting these up.  If you're curious, you'll also find the reviews on my Goodreads page (each book is linked to its Goodreads profile) and they appear on Amazon (though not until after the release date per Amazon policy....only folks reading advanced copies received via Amazon can review early).

In addition to the following, I also read one book I purchased myself and reread a book that I neve fully reviewed....I'll get to those reviews eventually, but the reviews based on Advance Readers editions deserve priority

Ginny Gal follows the life and the journey of Delvin Walker beginning with the moment of his birth on the steps of a home in the black neighborhood of Chatanooga in (I believe) 1913.  It is Delvin's story and at the same time it is an "everyman's" story.  Delvin learns early about the power (or, more accurately, powerlessness) of his skin color when his mother flees after responding in anger to the beating of her son after he took a small shiny bead from a dress store.  Delvin lives as a traveler.  He finds father figures in the owner of a "colored" funeral home and in the proprietor of a mobile exhibit on the history of blacks in America.  He finds love, true friendship, and a passion for the written word, but he also finds hate, the latter landing him in prison for a crime he didn't commit (this is mentioned in the official synopsis and is telegraphed early in the book so I'm not considering it a spoiler).  Throughout his travels, he is clearly looking for one thing -- home.

This is the type of book I always want to like.  It is about an important part of our own history and told from a perspective that often goes unvoiced, as do almost all non-dominant voices.  As the saying goes, history is old by the victor or, in situations where no one truly wins, the powerful.  In many ways, this is a book about justice or the lack thereof as a legal system tilted against him pursues Delvin throughout his life.  It is also about a period that cast certain people in a nearly inhuman role from the moment they were born (heck, before they were born).  

So, the topic is important and its a topic that makes me want to love the book.  But, I just didn't.  I found it dragged and even the "action scenes" bored me (and I'm someone who tends to be happy with very little action in the right character-driven novel).  It isn't that I didn't like Delvin, but I never felt compelled to follow him or his journey.  I loved certain lines, but generally the words someone became too much for me (also not typical).  On a very specific note, at least in my Advance Reader's Copy (provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review), certain sections were written in italics which made them hard to read.  Granted, they were also a hard time in Delvin's journey, but he text style distracted me from focusing on an important part of the book.

Two and a half stars....I'll round up when called for out of respect for the chosen topic and the breadth of the journey, but I'd really prefer to stick to the 2.5 because I can't honestly say I'd want to read it again or recommend it to others (aside: I nearly wrote "because I can't honestly say I enjoyed it," but then there's the complex question of ever "enjoying" a tough topic....I do, however, believe one can enjoy a book even if it isn't an enjoyable subject).

A family gathers at an old, slightly-decrepit country estate to decide whether it is time to say goodbye and sell their grandparents' home where they often vacationed as children, a place that carries so much of their family history.  In the present-day, three sisters and one brother along with a selection of extras attempt to spend three weeks at the house to connect and evaluate their next move.  The siblings are a mixed bunch, as are the others who accompany them including one daughter's two young children, the son's teenage daughter, and the twenty-ish son of one daughter's ex-boyfriend (I never quite figured out why she brings him).  The teen and twenty year old dance around a romance with an even more run-down cottage serving as a center-point (the children's exploration of this cottage is also important).  We see the siblings reflect and relate, figuring out who they are in relation to each other and the past.

Then, there's also that past...  Told in a middle section of the book is a part of the country home's history, specifically a time when the siblings' mother (with three of the children in tow) fled to her parent's home to get away from her life and her marriage.  This section helps inform the history of the house and the family itself.  

I'm struggling with what to say about this book.  It was, well, fine.  I read it and it held my interest and I wondered how certain plotlines would resolve themselves though other plotlines failed to capture my interest.  I believed parts, I enjoyed the "dance" of young attraction in the present day story, while other parts felt contrived and thrown-in (e.g., one sister's muddled relationship with the brother's new wife).  There's a lot to like here, but the book suffers from a common problem of simply trying to do too much.  Yes, it makes sense that the house would call up and inspire a range of stories, but I got lost at times and just wanted to get back to "the good parts."

3.5 stars....a decent read but not one I'll shout about from proverbial mountaintops (and I'm leaning towards picking 3 when the review sites refuse my half-stars).  Best for place and character driven readers....there's "action" in the book but the introspective side dominates.  Review is from an Advance Reader's cop provided by the publisher in return for an honest opinion.

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