Sunday, December 30, 2012

Man in the Blue Moon

A land war in a Florida coastal town during World War I is the centerpiece of Man in the Blue Moon by Michael Morris (A Place Called Wiregrass, Slow Way Home). Ella Wallace's gambling, opium-addicted husband has disappeared. Struggling to raise their three young sons and keep her general store and land from foreclosure, Ella is forced to choose between making a partial payment on the property or paying the freight charges for a fancy clock her husband must've ordered before he vanished in the hope it might pay off her debt.

Ella's decision complicates matters in the quiet little town. And when Lanier Stillis, a distant cousin of Ella's absent husband shows up under mysterious circumstances, her dilemma takes surprising twists and turns. Is this man, with "Samson-like" blond hair and eyes that sparkle with "either hope or mischief," running from trouble? When Lanier miraculously heals one of Ella's sons and makes a lame mule walk, Ella suspects he might be an answer to prayer. But as interest in the stranger mounts, some in town perceive him as a charlatan. His presence exacerbates the land battle, forcing a conniving banker and the local preacher to begin to claw at each other.

Spiritual undercurrents abound in this well-plotted novel that raises provocative questions about faith and providence. With astute perception, Morris has crafted a story, rooted in true events, about survival at the turn of the century, plausibly fathoming small town life - and the judgments and modus operandi found therein.

Man in the Blue Moon by Michael Morris
Tyndale House Publishers, $19.99, Hardcover, 9781414368429,  400 pp
Publication Date: September 1, 2012
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Please note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (9/11/12), click HERE.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Confessions of Joan the Tall

Joan Cusack Handler's adolescent self narrates short vignettes, diary-like entries, in her memoir of growing up as an Irish-American Roman Catholic in a predominantly working class neighborhood in the Bronx (NY) in the 1950s. Twelve year-old Joan is a bright, sensitive girl who believes that "Jesus counts on me to come see Him at Mass as much as possible..." Joan--self-conscious, awkward and plagued by nervous ailments--is a misfit who stands five feet eleven and a half inches tall, wears a size eleven, quadruple A shoe, and is often mistaken for being older. The journal offers Joan a safe place to purge feelings on subjects ranging from the father-son relationship between God and Jesus, sin, the Eucharist, obedience, purgatory, lying, honoring her mother and father, snitching on her siblings and her thoughts about some of the quirky nuns and kids at school. 

Young Joan has three siblings, most notably a brother who is a bully. She is fiercely devoted to her father, a devoutly religious man who works hard and likes an occasional whiskey, and her mother, who is a no-nonsense disciplinarian and tows the line on the home front. A beloved aunt, a nun, visits the family weekly and indulges in Blackberry Brandy and likes to drive past all the pretty houses in the upscale section of town, and she also expresses high hopes that Joan will someday join a religious order. This disparity of a familial culture anchored in the practice of religious faith versus the tug toward secular interests makes it hard for Joan, who wants "more than anything... (to have) a clean and pure soul," to navigate her own way in the world in this gentle, gracefully told, coming-of-age tale.

Cusack Handler's prose reverberates with evocative imagery, insight and emotion, conjuring not only the physicality, mystery and allure of the Roman Catholic faith of the 1950s, but also the authentic intensity and vacillation of adolescent feelings. The story, constructed in slice-of-life fragments and steeped in the present tense, deepens the intimacy of this well-drawn, psychologically astute narrative.

Confessions of Joan the Tall by Joan Cusack Handler
CavanKerry Press, $21.99, Trade Paper, 9781933880334,  246 pp
Publication Date: November 13, 2012
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Note: This book was provided for review by TLC Book Tours

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Never Hug a Nun

Patrick Cantwell is a good kid, however misguided. He's a seven-year-old with a conscience, growing up in the 1960s in Webster Groves, a middle-class suburb of Saint Louis. The nuns at Mary Queen of our Hearts parochial school have done a good work in Patrick - he feels guilty about playing on the train tracks (and lying about it afterward), sneaking orange soda during lent, throwing tomatoes at buses and failing to sell enough raffle tickets for church. Swept up in a quest to help his brother get a drum set, Patrick's level of mischief escalates until he gets caught up in a robbery at the neighborhood convenience store. Amid his antics, Patrick must deal with a secret crush on schoolmate Ebby Hamilton, the impending prospect of his first confession, his 39 year-old mother being pregnant again and how pretty, young Aunt Jenny, who is "almost" a nun, is having second thoughts about her choice of vocation.

Kevin Killeen's novel breathes life and nostalgia into a bygone era. You can almost smell the pomade, see the paperback James Bond novels, S&H Greenstamps, Frank Sinatra 45 records, the family's Ford Falcon and hear the cheers for The Beatles. The story follows young Patrick's life over the course of a few months, from Easter until Christmas. The book is filled with a balanced blend of humor and poignancy, structured in short chapters that are richly woven with period details and a pitch-perfect re-creation of the  Roman Catholic Church of the 1960s (the rituals, tenets and mindsets therein) and how morality and faith were once the cornerstones of American family life.

Never Hug a Nun by Kevin Killeen
Blank Slate Press, $14.99, Trade Paper, 97809850071,  182 pp
Publication Date: December 8, 2012
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Note: This book was provided for review by TLC Book Tours

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Christmas Tree

The Christmas Tree by Julie Salamon (illustrated by Jill Weber) is a compact story about trees and the deep-rooted emotional meanings they can hold in our lives. 

It is narrated by the chief gardener from Rockefeller Center in New York City and his quest to acquire the immense Norway Spruce from a convent in New Jersey. The book tells the story of Sister Anthony, an elderly nun at the Mother House, who refuses to accommodate the gardener's agenda to cut the tree down for use as the centerpiece in the annual Rockefeller Center Christmas display.  

During the process of many years of negotiations, Sister Anthony ultimately shares her back-story about how, when she was a shy, orphan girl named Anna, she was sent from New York City to live at the convent. Once there, she felt incredibly lonely, but she befriended a tiny fir tree whom she came to call, "Tree." Anna and Tree grew up together and it was through their life-long union that Anna came to love and appreciate the wonders of nature - a breadth of knowledge she generously passes on to the next generation. 

One winter, when a harsh storm threatens Tree's safety, Sister Anthony begins to have second thoughts about the tree becoming the crown jewel at the Rockefeller Center.

This is a sensitive, simply told and moving story, a perfect December read about growth, memory, love and letting go. You'll never look at a tree, or Rockefeller Center at Christmas-time, the same way.

The Christmas Tree by Julie Salamon; Jill Weber (Illustrator)
Random House, Paper, 9780375761089, 128pp.
Publication Date: October 29, 2002
To purchase this book via INDIEBOUND click HERE

This blog post was originally featured on "Reading Between the Lines" on December 5, 2010. The full post from that date can be read HERE.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Devil's Garden

Author Brady Christianson cures writer's block by target practicing with his knives. "I can spend hours throwing them," he says. "Focusing on the target helps focus my thoughts." 

It's no wonder this former Marine, who served in the Reconnaissance Division, has centered his first novel, The Devil's Playground, around a retired Recon Marine who thinks he is enjoying a quiet, civilian life but who has his world suddenly turned upside-down when heavily armed Arab terrorists break into his house and try to kill him and his family. It is clear that his former military "secret identity" has been compromised and ghosts from the past have come back to settle old scores. 
This action-packed mystery/thriller was inspired by true events, after Christianson learned that a laptop was stolen from the Department of Veterans Affairs. "It contained the names, addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth and social security numbers of every veteran who served this country since the Vietnam conflict. The missing laptop was not recovered until about a month later, which was an eternity for someone to copy the information and sell it...Considering these events and weighing them against the fact that there are those in the military services whose identities are protected—and they are protected for good reasons—the potential for disaster becomes painfully apparent...The story almost wrote itself."

I am pleased to welcome Brady Christianson to Reading Between the Lines to share his thoughts, in his own words, about The Devil's Garden:

The fog of war is a place where confusion rules, innocence dies and demons are born. Sometimes these demons come back to haunt a man and other times they simply come back to kill him. Few men would welcome the fight, which is to say, a proud and terrible few. The Devil’s Garden twists a Recon Marine’s worst nightmare into a deadly reality.

There is a saying in Recon: There is no life after Force. The lack of adrenaline and ensuing boredom will kill a warrior’s spirit. However, former Recon Marine Brandon Colson has a different kind of death to fear. After years spent in remote deserts and jungles on the other side of the planet dreaming of a quiet, civilian, family life, he finally has it. The problem is he has a large price on his head that even his family doesn’t know about: He is wanted by terrorists he worked to bring down.  With revenge in their hearts and murder on their minds, Colson’s enemies plan to revisit his sins upon him, his wife and his children. When a heavily armed squad of assassins arrives at his home in the middle of the night, he quickly dispatches the men, but knows the identity he buried deep in his past is no longer a secret. With his family in hiding, he makes it his personal mission to eliminate the threat to his family and reclaim the life he’s made.

The Devil’s Garden captures the irreconcilable thoughts and trepidation of a military man turned family man who must now fight to protect his family. As Colson’s crucial mission leads him to the Devil’s Garden of Florida, a forgotten wasteland of swamps, collapsed shacks, and lost souls, he finds that the midnight attack on his home was simply an omen of what is to come. With his fate in the balance until the last second, Colson must navigate a trail littered with bloodshed and revenge.

To learn more about The Devil's Garden and Brady Christianson (and read excerpts from the novel), link HERE

Follow the book blog tour for this novel at Tribute Books 

The Devil's Garden by Brady Christianson
Two Harbors Press, Trade Paper, 9781938690167, 392 pp

Publication Date: November 11, 2012
To order this book via AMAZON link HERE