Saturday, December 3, 2011

The New and The Old: Reviews of Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea (Callan Rogers) and Plainsong (Haruf)

I confess....since learning how to work deals on Amazon and getting hooked up with the folks at Harper, I've been re-reading less that I used to.  I suppose it is the upside of a less-than-stellar memory that makes it possible to revisit books.  They feel familiar and cozy but not stale or boring.  This set of reviews has a re-read from my pre-reviewing days and also a new book, one that I was excited to win an advance copy of over at Goodreads (my first win there!).  Since it was a freebie advance copy, I'll put that review first (and hopefully it'll help me earn brownie points to be a future winner!)....

  • Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea by Morgan Callan Rogers
I've entered many Goodreads contests and was excited to finally be among the winners!  This is a coming-of-age story, set largely in the 60s in a small town in Maine where only a handful of families live year-round.  Florine finds herself adrift when her beloved mother, Carlie, disappears while on a girls' weekend away.  Florine is left with her father, who loves her but with whom she struggles a bit, and a grandmother who is an institution in the town and is known to all as Grand.  We see Carlie struggle to define herself in relation to her town and her family and to grow into her own person while the shadow of her missing mother never fades.

I was reminded of Fannie Flagg's writing while I read this novel (more Daisy Fay and The Miracle Man than her better-known Fried Green Tomatoes), a link that seems to have been made by others out there in the book community.  This isn't a light story, there's a lot of sadness here and a lot of struggle, but it still flew by.  It was easy to read but in a very pleasurable sense of that phrase -- you drop in and visit with some friends who are there when you pick it back up the next evening.  It isn't earth-shattering but it is a very enjoyable read and great for a reader looking for a fictional escape.  The residents of The Point are a type of family and I enjoyed sitting at their warm table.  Throughout the book, there are references to cooking and especially to bread.  At one point, a summertime cottage dweller remarks on how wonderful a basic loaf of fresh bread can be and I think that's a fitting analogy for the book -- no frills, but warmly welcoming.  Again, it isn't a story of many joys but there's an undercurrent of love and community that makes it retain hope. 

I suppose the ratings folks help me here since I'd be torn b/w 3.5 and 4 stars and the lack of half-stars resolves that dilemma. I think it is also more fair...the novel doesn't ever really pretend to be overly literary (it is fresh bread, not a fancy torte!), but it does its genre well.  FYI -- The novel does appear to have come out previously in German with the US edition slated for early 2012 release. 

A month or so ago, I stumbled on a TV movie while putting in my treadmill time.  I knew I'd read the book but couldn't bring the name to mind and the "guide" insisted I was watching The Golden Girls.  It took an IMDB visit but the name came back and the desire to revisit the book came with it. 

This was my second read of Plainsong.  Set in a small town in Colorado, the novel introduces the reader to a number of residents who feel both very ordinary and also a bit extraordinary.  There's a pregnant teen cast out by her mother, a pair of boys whose mother leaves them emotionally and then physically, a set of old farmer brothers who never married, and a teacher trying to do right in a complicated world.  The chapters shift focus but the stories all overlap with some frequency, much as one might expect in a rural town.  These are people trying to get by and do right.  They are never fancy, nor is the language flowery, but there's a beauty in the simplicity that reigns even in the face of some complex challenges.  I love character-centered books and this certainly qualifies, though it also has a strong sense of place.  Things DO happen, but it is more about how the events shape the people (and how the people, in turn, shape each other).

Strong four stars.  I didn't see the whole TV movie but it seemed worthwhile too...a good warm cup of hot cocoa and a blanket kind of movie (by the Lifetime folks). 

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