A review of “Iron Lake” by William Kent Kreuger

So, I was looking forward to reading this book as it had been highly recommended, and I did like it, but not as much as I expected. To begin with the main character Cork O’Connor is interesting and likable. He is part American Indian and there are quite a lot of American Indian characters in the book, known collectively as “the people” which interested me very much as I know nothing of their culture.

The story is gripping from the off – incomprehensible murders, a wealthy politician, a crumbling marriage, a sweet love story – and secrets and silence everywhere. An occasional mention of a supernatural element adds to the whole but doesn’t intrude. There’s an easygoing quality as well, and many back stories, but they are so engaging – and easygoing doesn’t mean slow.

However. nearing the end of the book I found that some situations were very contrived to allow the hero to unravel the mystery. Also, the denouement is very drawn out and quite boring. It was disappointing after so good a story.

There isn’t any quotable dialogue here but the pace and shape of the story is good. This is the first in a series of books featuring Cork O’Connor and I will definitely read another one in the future. If formally reviewing this book, I would give it three and a half stars.

First lines Friday – with a nod to A Couple of B’s!

FIRST LINES:

“To the red country and part of the grey country of Oklahoma the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth. The ploughs crossed and recrossed the rivulet marks. The last rains lifted the corn quickly and scattered weed colonies and grass along the sides of the roads so that the grey country and the dark red country began to disappear under a green cover.”

Can you guess that novel?

A hint: It’s a famous novel and a famous movie by a famous American writer.

You will all have guessed I’m sure!

The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck.

Link to A Couple of B’s – A Couple of B’s ‹ Reader — WordPress.com

An excerpt from the wonderful book – The Grapes of Wrath.

This page from The Grapes of Wrath has stayed with me for forty years at least. I could feel the heat, smell the dust, see the insects going about their business, and most of all, the land turtle, star of the scene.

The sun lay on the grass and warmed it, and in the shade under the grass the insects moved, ants and ant lions to set traps for them, grasshoppers to jump into the air and flick their yellow wings for a second, sow bugs like little armadillos, plodding restlessly on many tender feet. And over the grass at the roadside a land turtle crawled, turning aside for nothing, dragging its high-domed shell over the grass. His hard legs and yellow-nailed feet threshed slowly through the grass, not really walking, but boosting and dragging his shell along. The barley beards slid off his shell, and the clover burrs fell on him and rolled to the ground. His horny beak was partly open, and his fierce, humorous eyes, under brows like finger-nails, stared straight ahead. He came over the grass leaving a beaten trail behind him, and the hill, which was the highway embankment, reared up ahead of him. For a moment he stopped, his head held high. He blinked and looked up and down. At last he started to climb the embankment. Front clawed feet reached forward but did not touch. The hind feet kicked his shell along and the horny head protruded as far as the neck could stretch . . .

For a moment the turtle rested. A red ant ran into the shell, into the soft skin inside the shell, and suddenly head and legs snapped in, and the armoured tail clamped in sideways. The red ant was crushed between body and legs . . . For a long moment the turtle lay still, and then the neck crept out and the old humorous frowning eyes looked about and the legs and tail came out . . .

Now the going was easy, and all the legs worked, and the shell boosted along, waggling from side to side. A sedan driven by a forty-year old woman approached. She saw the turtle and swung to the right, off the highway, the wheels screamed and a cloud of dust boiled up. Two wheels lifted for a moment and then settled. The car skidded back onto the road, and went on, but more slowly. The turtle had jerked back into its shell, but now it hurried on, for the highway was burning hot.

And now a light truck approached, and as it came near, the driver saw the turtle and swerved to hit it. His front wheel struck the edge of the shell, flipped the turtle like a tiddly-wink, spun it like a coin, and rolled it off the highway . . . Lying on its back, the turtle was tight in its shell for a long time. But at last its legs waved in the air, reaching for something to pull it over. Its front foot caught a piece of quartz and little by little the shell pulled over and flopped upright. The wild oat head fell out and three of the spearhead seeds stuck in the ground. And as the turtle crawled on down the embankment its shell dragged dirt over the seeds. The turtle entered a dust road and jerked itself along, drawing a wavy shallow trench in the dust with its shell. The old humorous eyes looked ahead, and the horny beak opened a little. His yellow toe-nails slipped a fraction in the dust.

Isn’t this wonderful? I left out a few bits – it’s very long, but unforgettable – for me anyway. Steinbeck rocks!

A Review: Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler.

I haven’t read any reviews of this book but I’m looking forward to doing that as soon as I have posted this. I’ve never really been a fan of Anne Tyler’s but I loved this book and I will read it again sometime.

The first and last sections pose a question:

‘You have to wonder what goes through the mind of man like Micah Mortimer. He lives alone; he keeps to himself; his routine is etched in stone.’

I expected a boring, colourless man with no joy in his life, no excitements, nothing unexpected, doing the same things at the same time every day. But I fell in love with Micah Mortimer when, a few pages in, I read that he spoke aloud to himself – in what he thought of as a foreign accent – while he did his chores about the house. Monday was the day for mopping the floor:

‘”Zee dreaded moppink,” he said. “Zee moppink of zee floors.”‘

This delighted me; I was on his side forever; I loved him. Next, we find out about the “traffic gods” – these supreme beings whom he imagines watching him when he’s driving, commenting to each other in tones of awe at the perfection of his moves:

‘”Flawless,” traffic god murmured.’

I’m beginning to appreciate now that Micah is not a dull, blank, robotic man and when a young lad appears at his door claiming that he’s actually Micah’s son, he becomes even more interesting. (Not only does he have a present, but maybe a past too!) Instead of turning Brink away he brings him in and feeds him and lets him stay for a few days.

Enter Cass, Micah’s long-term woman friend; a tall buxom woman; a school-teacher. She plays music all the time in her apartment; the television talks all evening whether they are watching it or not. Micah finds it irritating but he considers Cass restful to look at so he puts up with it when he’s there. Now Cass has a problem; she may have to leave her apartment. It never ocurs to Micah that she’s waiting for him to invite her to move in with him and this causes a – mostly unspoken – breach between them.

‘”In fact,” Cass said steadily, “what did you do? Quick-quick invite the nearest stranger into your spare room.”‘

And of course, there’s his wonderful four sisters and their families, boisterous, happy, loving, interested in everything that happens to Micah; they know Cass well and like her very much. Micah tolerates and loves them equally.

I thought about Micah a lot; he’s very self-sufficient, content to live alone, kindly when anyone asks for help but always at a distance – until Cass suggests a break-up:

‘”Something hit him in the concave place just below his rib cage.”‘

I found the writing warm and humourous, and delicious – when Micah meets his old girlfriend:

‘” . . . she ws so sharp-edged, both literally and figuratively – a small, vivacious mosquito of a girl, all elbows and darting movements.”‘

It’s the word – mosquito – that makes that sentence for me. The pacing was perfect and the ending just as it should be. I should refer to the redhead of the title – a fire hydrant Micah always thought was a person when he caught a glimpse of it, although he knew it was not. To me, it just meant that Micah had imagination but perhaps there is a deeper, hidden meaning to it. I don’t know.

Hidden meaning or not, I give Redhead by the Side of the Road 5 stars. *****

Endings . . .

Many books have very disappointing endings, especially thrillers. The last few chapters are boring dreary things with the detective/policeman/woman explaining in tedious detail how she/he unraveled the plot. With other genres it’s as if the writer flounders a bit and doesn’t know quite where to finish the tale. But then there are wonderful books with wonderful endings and here are a couple of them:

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

Quoyle experienced moments in all colors, uttered brilliancies, paid attention to the rich sound of waves counting stones, he laughed and wept, noticed sunsets, heard music in rain, said I do. A row of shining hubcaps on sticks appeared in the front yard of the Burke’s house. A wedding present from the bride’s father . . . Water may be older than light, diamonds crack in hot goat’s blood, mountaintops give off cold fires, forests appear in mid-ocean, it may happen that a crab is caught with the shadow of a hand on its back, that the wind be imprisoned in a bit of knotted string. And it may be that love sometimes occurs without pain or misery.”

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

“And I add my own love to the history of people who have loved beautiful things, and looked out for them, and pulled them from the fire, and sought them when they were lost, and tried to preserve them and save them while passing them along literally from hand to hand, singing out brilliantly from the wreck of time to the next generation of lovers, and the next.”

Ablutions by Patrick de Witt

“I will try to be happy, you think, and your heart and chest feel a plummeting, as in the case of the hurtling rollercoaster, and your heart wants to cry and sob, but you, not wanting to cry, hit yourself hard in the center of your chest and it hurts so much but you drive on, your face dry and remaining dry, though it had been a close call, after all. Time passes and you shake your head. Work will drive you crazy if you let it, you say. You do not speak for a long time after this.”

I can read these books any number of times. Every word is in the right place, the last sentence as important as the first.

A Review: Rainy Season by Kurt Brindley.

“The sound of falling rain washed into the room like a wave, drowning out the lonely cry of the crooner’s trumpet over the sound system.”

The plot:

Kaito and Takako own and run a jazz club in Tokyo – “The Low Point”, red and blue neon lights pointing the way down the steps to the entrance. They are in financial trouble, worried and anxious about how to keep up their loan repayments. They try to keep the business going by hiring a singer – they are looking for someone really good to bring in the crowds and they find the beautiful Mikako. They have a regular customer, an American, known as Rich, a good-looking, blonde-haired man with an eye patch who lives in an apartment close by. He sits at a corner table and writes in a leather-covered journal while he drinks and smokes heavily. We see from his writings that his heart is broken but we don’t know why. When he hears Mikako singing for the first time he is immediately attracted to her and it soon becomes apparent that she returns the compliment. However, while leaning over his balcony one evening Rich spots a heavy-set man in black following her from the club.

The main characters:

Rich, the American writes of love and loss in his journal but you can see from his writings that it isn’t just a love affair gone wrong – it is a lot heavier than that:

“And how is it that the root of both physical and emotional suffering originates from the same location in the brain, for, can the swift agony of a broken femur ever compare to the eternal aching of a broken heart?”

His melancholy never lifts; he feeds it with whiskey and cigarettes, but he is polite and friendly and helpful, and he becomes very fond of the club owners. You get the impression as you read that he could be very good company if he wasn’t so sad.

Takako is a dote; you’d have to like her. She is loving and happy, giddy and determined; she wants everyone else to be happy too; sometimes she isn’t very tactful but she gets away with it. No one could be angry with her.

Her boyfriend, Kaito tolerates her enthusiasms with fondness and amusement but he is terribly worried about the future and he works hard to secure it for both of them.

Mikako, the beautiful, elegant, talented singer brings changes to all their lives. Rich is half in love with her, and she brings in a huge crowd, which thrills Kaito and Takako; for the moment their worries are over.

The writing:

This book is called “Rainy Season” and rain permeates the whole novel, as if the whole story was contained inside the rain – and I loved this. Here’s a picture of Rich, leaning over his balcony as usual:

“He leaned against the rail and smoked and watched the shadowed, glistening city as it slept within the downpour.”

I found the writing lyrical and rhythmic; words repeated making the prose like music. Indeed, I thought at one time, if I had a tune I could sing this book:

“Candlelight shimmered off her black sequin dress like the promise of a million stars.”

The writer uses many lovely adjectives. I have often heard that adjectives and adverbs should never be used. Bad advice. Should writing be plain and colourless? Look at Dickens – where would he have been with no adjectives, he often uses several in a single sentence!

Overall:

This is a book that would make you want to go to Tokyo, to drink whiskey in “The Low Point”, to chat with Kaito and Takako, and to watch the endless rain reflected in the neon lights and on the dark, wet streets of the city. The cover is great too – it almost tells the story. One last quote:

“He set his can of beer down slowly, carefully, and strained to listen through the hard-falling rain. But all he could hear were the sounds beneath him of tires hissing on wet asphalt and heels clicking on wet concrete.”

I happily give this book 5 Stars.

The loving-est story I ever read.

“The shirt seemed heavy until he saw there was another shirt inside it, the sleeves carefully worked down inside Jack’s sleeves. It was his own plaid shirt, lost, he’d thought, long ago in some damn laundry, his dirty shirt, the pocket ripped, buttons missing, stolen by Jack and hidden here inside Jack’s own shirt, the pair like two skins, one inside the other, two in one. He pressed his face into the fabric and breathed in slowly through his mouth and nose, hoping for the faintest smoke and mountain sage and salty sweet stink of Jack but there was no real scent, only the memory of it, the imagined power of Brokeback Mountain of which nothing was left but what he held in his hands.”

And:

“There was some open space between what he knew and what he tried to believe, but nothing could be done about it, and if you can’t fix it you’ve got to stand it.”

The most loving story I ever read; I made family and friends read it too – years before the movie, which I also enjoyed.

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN by Annie Proulx

A review of “Blood in the Valley” by Jean M Roberts

I was sorry to come to the end of this book. Although it finished in exactly the right place I was loathe to leave behind all the characters I had come to know. This is a story about the birth of the United States, and although I briefly studied the American War of Independence at school (a long time ago), it was so interesting to read about it in a novel, and to see what it must have been like for the families who lived through it.

When we first meet Catherine, the main character, she is minding her baby brother, so we see her first as a loving, caring and kindly girl and as she grows to womanhood her personality doesn’t change – although during the war she taps into parts of herself she didn’t know existed! Her husband, Samuel, is a decent, hard-working man who loves his family, and when the war begins he proves himself to be brave, steadfast and intelligent and plays an important part in the outcome of the war. The other characters, their family and friends, are people anyone would like to spend time with.

The narrative drive in this book is very strong and I was drawn into it straight away. The writing is clear and precise – there is no padding here. You can see the families and hear them talking and you understand how they feel. There are also some beautiful descriptions of the countryside:

“The falling water sparkled like gems reflecting the early morning sunshine. The river flung itself over the falls, cascading seventy-five feet or more into a boiling cauldron before rushing away in swirling eddies toward the Hudson.”

God, religion and the community is of extreme importance and the base of all social life for these pioneers and settlers. It’s where Catherine met Samuel, and there are some romantic occasions, which I loved, and which make you aware of how different life and language was then. Samuel says to Catherine:

“Miss Wasson, I have had a delightful day . . . I hope you will allow me the pleasure to call on you.”

At the advice of Catherine’s uncle, three related families decide to move to New York where land is “plentiful and cheap“. These are big families with a lot of children, many of whom bear the same names. I could easily imagine the family gatherings with all ages present; the feeling of belonging to a clan; everyone with the same objective – to live and love and farm and bring up their children in peace and safety.

The journey to New York is long, dangerous and arduous, by land and sea. But they make it, and eventually Samuel builds a wonderful house in Cherry Valley where they settle down and run their farm. But there is now the threat of war and I’m aware that some of these familiar and well-known characters are going to die. I read on with trepidation . . .

The families are separated by the war but for me this was one of the most enjoyable parts of the book – so many letters going forwards and back, so full of love and hope and encouragement. There is a fantastic occasion (referred to above) when Catherine takes to the ramparts of the fort where they are staying, with a rifle, an unheard of thing for a woman to do, and she earns herself a place in history.

And so, to a perfect ending when the war is over: The United States comes into being and American citizens can rebuild their houses and their lives and their families again.

I  would recommend this book to anyone who likes historical novels and family sagas, and a book with a strong narrative drive. The pace and shape of the book is so good; there is no slump in the middle, no part is too long or too short.

I give this book 5 Stars.  

Elizabeth Merry

09/06/20

A review of “Iron Lake” by William Kent Kreuger

So, I was looking forward to reading this book as it had been highly recommended, and I did like it, but not as much as I expected. To begin with the main character Cork O’Connor is interesting and likable. He is part American Indian and there are quite a lot of American Indian characters in the book, known collectively as “the people” which interested me very much as I know nothing of their culture.

The story is gripping from the off – incomprehensible murders, a wealthy politician, a crumbling marriage, a sweet love story – and secrets and silence everywhere. An occasional mention of a supernatural element adds to the whole but doesn’t intrude. There’s an easygoing quality as well, and many back stories, but they are so engaging – and easygoing doesn’t mean slow.

However. nearing the end of the book I found that some situations were very contrived to allow the hero to unravel the mystery. Also, the denouement is very drawn out and quite boring. It was disappointing after so good a story.

There isn’t any quotable dialogue here but the pace and shape of the story is good.

http://www.amazon.com/author/elizabethmerry

20 Authors no one reads any more!

Taylor Caldwell – many great big books – “Dear and Glorious Physician” might ring a bell.

Denis Wheatley – quite a few dealing with the supernatural – “The Devil Rides Out” had me terrified for months!

James A Michener – his books were huge; many of them were made into movies; “Hawaii” being one of them. They were huge family sagas, involving many generations.

Wilkie Collins – the first author to write detective stories, notably “The Woman in White” and “The Moonstone”. Himself and Dickens were friends but he has been forgotten now.

James Clavell – I read and loved all his books; they were big books; I mentioned “Shogun” in the Large Books list. But they contained whole other worlds to get lost in and were so readable.

Somerset Maugham – he wrote many books and some became movies too – “The Razor’s Edge” and “Of Human Bondage” come to mind straight away. His short stories were unforgettable.

Graham Greene – again, many of his novels were turned into movies but no one seems to read the books any more, and they were great.

Frank Yerby – historical, colourful, and great fun, set in America’s deep south.

Maurice Walsh – the Irish writer from Kerry, responsible for one famous movie – “The Quiet Man”. It was a short story in a collection called “Green Rushes”. He wrote many books, all very romantic and all set in Ireland or Scotland.

Evelyn Waugh – who wrote “Brideshead Revisited” which was made into that wonderful, beautiful series. He also wrote many very funny books.

Henry James – I love Henry James; he’s old-fashioned of course but the novels are so good. Also made into many films – “Portrait of a Lady” “Washington Square” and “The Turn of the Screw”.

E M Forster – it’s becoming difficult to find an author whose books were NOT turned into movies! I’ll only mention my favourite one of his – “A Room with a View”.

D K Broster – no movies! He was a Scottish writer who wrote a trilogy of historical novels, all set in Scotland – very romantic!

I’ll just mention a couple of romantic novelists from my youth – I’m quite sure today’s young ones would find them hilarious: Denise Robins, Ethel M Dell, Barbara Cartland.

And a couple of detective writers – Dorothy L Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Agatha Christie – does anyone read her books any more? So many glossy movies.

http://amazon.com/author/elizabethmerry

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