Sycamore Row by John Grisham
(Doubleday, 2013, 447 pages)
Sycamore Row by John Grisham reintroduces the reader to the fictional lawyer, Jake Brigance, from his first novel, A Time to Kill. The story takes place in Clanton, Mississippi in 1988, three years after Jake won the case of Carl Lee Hailey. In Sycamore Row, Jake is asked to be the attorney for the estate of Seth Hubbard, a man who had committed suicide by hanging himself from a Sycamore tree. Seth Hubbard was a man dying of a painful kind of cancer who left a handwritten will voiding all other wills and leaving 90 percent of his multimillion dollar estate to his black housekeeper of three years, Lettie Lang. Seth leaves the rest of the estate to his church and his missing brother, Ancil, completely cutting his children and grandchildren out of the will.
Sycamore Row portrays the courtroom battle to uphold the last will and testament of Seth Hubbard. It is Jake Brigance and Lettie Lang versus the two grown children of Seth Hubbard, Seth’s grandchildren, and various lawyers for Seth’s relatives. The big question is why would Seth leave most of his fortune to his housekeeper. Seth had no great love for his children or grandchildren, but he had only known Lettie for three years.
There are some horrifying sections in this book. However, they are very meaningful and relatively short. Despite being horrified, I really enjoyed this book. It keeps you guessing. It reintroduces readers of A Time to Kill to old friends. And Grisham returns to the courtroom where his writing career began.
Glory Descending: Michael Ramsey and His Writings
by Douglas Dales, John Habgood, Geoffrey Rowell, and Rowan Williams
(Eerdmans, 2005, 282 pages)
This book is both a reader, consisting of passages from former Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey’s various publications, and a series of essays and talks from Anglican figures concerning Ramsey’s life and writings. In addition to holding the primary bishopric in the Church of England (1961-1974), Ramsey was also an important Anglican theologian. His writings on ecumenism, New Testament studies, and spirituality are important contributions to twentieth century Anglican theology. This volume was published as part of the remembrances surrounding the centenary of Ramsey’s birth.
The first section, the reader, includes important passages from Ramsey’s major works like The Gospel and the Catholic Church and The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ. These two books are quoted at length and in such a way that they give a good sense of the arguments and concerns of the original publications. The selections as a whole are well chosen, and they display a spirituality deeply rooted in the New Testament. I found the passages having to do with the contemplative nature of prayer particularly good. Ramsey’s discussion of this topic is practical and helpful, avoiding the pitfall of unrealistic expectations that can often accompany the topic of spiritual disciplines. His vision for the unity of the Church also has this element of concern for a practical demonstration of Christian unity that is informed by a renewal of the New Testament’s cruciform spirituality. The discussion of ecumenical topics is particularly interesting in light of the clear influence that Eastern Orthodoxy exerted on Ramsey’s theology. The major themes of glory and transfiguration in his writings are evidence of his engagement with both Orthodox writings and Orthodox Church leaders.
The second section consists mainly of essays originally presented as talks or lectures regarding Ramsey’s legacy. Some give largely personal accounts of Ramsey, offering personal portraits to accompany his words, while others pick up and develop important themes in his writings. The best of these essays, not surprisingly, come from Rowan Williams, also a former Archbishop of Canterbury. In particular, Williams’ essay “The Christian Priest Today,” (a title borrowed from one of Ramsey’s books) is a challenging and incisive meditation on the nature of priestly ministry and the particular contemporary challenges that Christian ministers face.
Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham
(Ballantine Books, 2013, 352 pages)
Franny is an aspiring actress in New York with a deadline looming. She gave herself a 3-year deadline to make it on Broadway before she leaves New York and her roommates, Jane and Dan, behind to marry her old college boyfriend as her backup plan. What she needs is an agent that will get her work besides commercials and teach her the tricks to succeeding in show business. And maybe for something to happen between her and James Franklin, the successful actor in her class. Then life would be perfect.
I’ve always been a fan of Lauren Graham from Parenthood and Gilmore Girls so I was curious when I heard she’d published a novel. I really enjoyed her writing and could hear her voice throughout the read. I loved that all the characters hadn’t given up on their dreams whether it was writing a successful sci-fi script or simply having a role on Law & Order, everyone was pursuing something. The only thing that slightly confused me was choosing to set it in the 90s. There’s nothing wrong with the decade and I’m sure she did it because that’s when she was a struggling actress but other than mentioning a debate on whether or not Franny should get the “Rachel” haircut, there wasn’t much to place it in that time.
The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008, 304 pages)
Pat Peoples is desperate for a happy ending and this movie of his life to end so “apart time” can be over with his wife, Nikki. After his mother gets him released from the mental institution, he believes he is closer to that happy ending. But the more time he spends back at home, the more he learns about what has happened while he’s been away. He can’t remember what happened to land him at the institution and started the “apart time” but everyone tiptoes around the subject. When Pat is introduced to Tiffany she offers a way to communicate with Nikki, but only if he gives up watching his beloved Eagles football and competes in an annual dance competition. Things might be finally looking up for Pat.
I really loved this movie and since Oscar season is in full swing, I decided to read the book. I think this might be one of the only times I’m glad I watched the movie first and read the book second. The movie had such a hopeful ending and the book didn’t give me the same feeling. Also, in the movie Pat clearly states he was diagnosed as bipolar so I assumed it was the same in the book. But the whole time I kept thinking this doesn’t seem like he’s bipolar and I never realized that they never said Pat was bipolar in the book so it could actually be something else. So that just threw me off, but I would read another of Quick’s books and did enjoy his writing style.
You can also check out Angie’s review of the book.
Her Best-Kept Secret: Why Women Drink – and How They Can Regain Control by Gabrielle Glaser
(Simon & Schuster, 2013, 244 pages)
I appreciate my wine and the premise of Her Best-Kept Secret seemed interesting to me. Women respond to alcohol differently than men and it appears that now they’re drinking more than ever. Glaser breaks down the history of drinking among women and then talks about why it seems their alcohol consumption has grown more prevalent. She explains the efforts made by Napa wine growers to market to women – a successful venture since wine is overwhelmingly their drink of choice. Glaser then looks at how women deal with the problem of drinking too much. A lot of time is spent delving in to A. A. While it certainly works for many people, it isn’t necessarily the right choice for a lot of women. We see the history of the organization and see why it isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Other, more scientific, options are introduced and it just makes you think about alcoholism and the idea of drinking too much in a different light.
This didn’t really go in the direction I thought it would, but I appreciated getting the history of drinking in America and I was especially surprised at what I learned about A. A. and other treatment options. Glaser makes a number of good points and her book is well-researched (the notes section at the end was substantial). It was an easy read and I got through it quickly. If you’re interested in this topic and/or the history of A. A. you might enjoy this book.
The Mistress by Tiffany Reisz
(Harlequin MIRA, 2013, 464 pages)
When I picked this up I assumed it was a stand-alone title. Only after I finished it did I realize it was book 4 in a series – whoops. While I was able to follow the story and characters pretty well, it definitely would have made things easier if I’d had more background. If you can’t tell from the cover this is definitely a “steamy” read – not for those looking for a traditional romance and not for those who aren’t fans of detailed sexual “interactions.”
Obviously I have no problem reading books that are on the steamy side, but I wasn’t really prepared for the specific focus of Reisz’s novel. Part of The Original Sinners series, BDSM relationships are a central focus of the books. This wasn’t really my cup of tea, and just so we’re clear, this is not in the Fifty Shades of Grey category. Reisz channels the “real” aspects of this world and depicts true-to-life elements of those kinds of relationships. There’s also a religious element in the book that some people might not be comfortable with… I think I’ve addressed most of the concerns people might have before deciding to read or not read Ms. Reisz’s titles 😉
A quick summary:
Nora has been kidnapped by a woman who is seeking vengeance. Nora’s life is of little or no concern to her, she’s simply a means to an end. While her captor waits for her true prey to come forward Nora plays a present-day Scheherazade, keeping her captor’s interest with stories of her sexual exploits.
There are a number of individuals who will do whatever they can to get Nora back safely. Søren – who Nora has the closest ties with and who she has known the longest; Kingsley – who runs the business-side of Nora’s life, but still has a personal connection with her; Wesley – who is Nora’s fiancé and who claims Nora as his first love; Grace – a close friend of Nora’s who credits her with saving her marriage.
Timing is key here, but in this situation the stakes are such that freeing Nora without bloodshed is more or less impossible…
Obviously this book has some sexual elements interspersed with the drama of rescuing Nora… If you’re looking to branch out and this sounds like it might interest you, Reisz writes much better than E. L. James 😉 Just keep in mind the information I provided above.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
(Harper Perennial, 2013, 368 pages)
I really wanted to like this book. It was well-reviewed and a lot of people seemed to enjoy it. Something might have been “lost in translation” since I listened to the audiobook but I just didn’t think the story really lived up to the hype…
Beautiful Ruins jumps back and forth between Italy in the 1960s when “Cleopatra,” featuring Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, was being filmed and the West coast of the present-day United States. In the 60s we are introduced to a young innkeeper named Pasquale. He lives on a remote island in Italy with a name that literally translates to “Port of Shame.” When an American actress named Dee Moray finds her way to his family’s hotel he doesn’t know what to make of things since they so rarely get tourists (with the exception of an American writer named Alvis who loves the island because it’s so isolated). Even though Dee eventually reveals she is dying, it doesn’t keep Pasquale from falling for her…
In the present we are introduced to a number of different people all of whom are connected in some way with the film industry. Claire works for the well-known producer Michael Deane. She’s preparing to leave her job since she doesn’t feel it’s allowing her to live up to her potential. As a young man waits to pitch her his movie idea about the Donner party, an older Italian man named Pasquale enters the picture looking for Michael Deane. Deane is the only person who can assist him in finding a certain actress named Dee Moray…
The story lines are all intermingled as Pasquale sets off to find the woman who stole his heart decades ago. A woman who has made a point of hiding her past, especially from her son.
Like I said, some people loved this book, but I just wasn’t invested – I never felt myself drawn in to the story.
You can also check out Theresa’s review of this title.