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Saturday, March 28, 2015

True Grit

True Grit: A Novel

Review of True Grit by Charles Portis

Overview from It tells the story of Mattie Ross, who is just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shoots her father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robs him of his life, his horse, and $150 in cash money. Mattie leaves home to avenge her father's blood. With the one-eyed Rooster Cogburn, the meanest available U.S. Marshal, by her side, Mattie pursues the homicide into Indian Territory.
True Grit is eccentric, cool, straight, and unflinching, like Mattie herself. From a writer of true cult status, this is an American classic through and through. 

My Review:

First, I have to start off by apologizing to my regular readers for not posting a review on this past Saturday. The fact is that I was attending a writer’s conference in Washington, NC and was working at my day job quite a bit before that. I just didn’t have the time. Anyway, it was just as well since I also lacked the time to completely finish reading what is now this week’s book and therefore couldn’t have review it anyway.

Now on with the review. I had seen both versions of this book in movie form and had liked them but never, until now, had a read the book. I mention this to let my readers know that I was not ignorant of the story.

However I was ignorant of the voice of both the author and his chosen narrator, our protagonist, Mattie Ross. Miss Ross tells her story as an older and perhaps wiser woman. Her words reveal as much about who she really is (and was) as a person.

And what do we get from her telling of her efforts to track down the man who shot and killed her unarmed but well-meaning, if not interfering father? We, or at least I, find her to be courageous, determined, matter-of-fact, and no nonsense kind of women.

She believes more in the idea of an Old Testament eye-for-an-eye philosophy as well as revenge in her personal dealings with Tom Chaney yet she also expresses a belief in Calvinist theology if I am not misunderstanding her declaration on page 119. She says:
 “That is all right but they are not sound on Election. They do not fully accept it. I confess it is a hard doctrine, running contrary to our earthly ideas of fair play, but I can see no way around it.”

The title True Grit seems to be as much a description of her as it is of Rooster Cogburn who she hires solely for his uncompromising meanness towards those who come up against the law.

Of course you do get a sense of that in the movie but I would say that it comes through more loudly and clearly in the novel. Mattie does very little to hid it with her style of telling the story exactly as she sees it and she frequently emphasizes her points with exclamation points. She is definitely not politically correct and that is one of the things that I love about her.

The story itself is also amazing as well as the other characters. LaBoeuf (pronounced LaBeef), the handsome Texas lawman, is as compelling of a character as he is initially much like Rooster Cogburn. But Cogburn seems more willing overlook some of his principals for money.

The most interesting thing about the story in the end is not the great adventure of the story itself but the bond that these three forge as a result of their shared experience. At the same time, if you want to enjoy this story as just another Action Adventure/Western I don’t think that Mattie Ross style or strong opinions get away with that in the slightest, even if she does overuse the exclamation points!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Angels Watching Over Me

Angels Watching Over Me (Shenandoah Sisters Book #1)

Review of Angels Watching Over Me by Michael Phillips

Overview from Book 1 of SHENANDOAH SISTERS. Two young Southern girls, one the daughter of a plantation owner and one the daughter of a slave, barely survive the onset of the Civil War and the loss of both their families. When these tragic circumstances bring them together, they join forces to discover if they can make a life for themselves. As their preconceptions give way to experience, they gradually learn to value their contrasting and complementing strengths and skills as they face the formidable task of keeping body and soul together in the aftermath of this devastating war. But is it possible the Lord they have come to know has something bigger in mind for the plantation than either of them can imagine?

My Review:

The book for this week’s review is about two strong women characters. Surprisingly though, it was written by a man.

The story is told through the eyes of Mayme otherwise known as Mary Jane, for the most part. It begins with her and then leads into Katie’s story. Though Katie’s tale is in the third person as though it is Mary Jane’s retelling of her story.

Both girls lived in North Carolina near the end of the Civil War and both are in their late teens though I believe Mayme was older by a year. They both find themselves the only ones left alive at their respective family homes after a marauding party of Confederate soldiers comes through that part of North Carolina, killing everyone else.

They latch on to each other for survival though perhaps Mayme is by far the more experienced in the ways of the world and thus takes charge, at least at first. She does most of the chores and other work but more and more Katie asks Mayme to teach her things. She begins to take a more active role.

The first order of business is to convince outsiders that nothing is wrong and that her mother is still alive and well. If anyone were to find out that she and Mayme were alone together, it would mean serious trouble for both of them but especially Mayme who has been sleeping in a white man’s bed.

I have to admit that Katie seemed a little weak to me at first but she grew on me even as her character grows and becomes stronger on the inside. She becomes strong enough not only to understand the way things really are but to do something about it and help another human being or two along the way.

It is a beautiful story. I love the way these two rely on each other and learn to trust in God in the process. They become like sisters and the way they love each other transcends the racial and cultural barriers placed upon them by the time period.

I don’t know how they will survive together but even if they don’t, at least they will have known that there must be a better way than to hate. It may sound trite but it’s a great story and not your typical Civil War Era fare. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Hanover Square Affair

The Hanover Square Affair (Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries #1)

Review of Hanover Square Affair by Ashley Gardner

Overview from London, 1816
Cavalry captain Gabriel Lacey returns to Regency London from the Napoleonic Wars, burned out, fighting melancholia, his career ended. His interest is piqued when he learns of a missing girl, possibly kidnapped by a prominent member of Parliament. Lacey's search for the girl leads to the discovery of murder, corruption, and dealings with a leader of the underworld. At the same time, he faces his own disorientation transitioning from a soldier's life to the civilian world, redefining his role with his former commanding officer, and making new friends--from the top of society to the street girls of Covent Garden.
Book 1 of the Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries.

My Review:

Captain Lacey, this week’s protagonist, is someone that I really came to like. He has pluck and cares about people who are downtrodden in his world of Regency England, perhaps because he is one of them.

Until I found this little gem I had no idea that there were Regency Mysteries. I had always heard mostly about Regency Romances and never much cared for them. I do like mysteries though so this was perfect.

And as I mentioned, I came to love Captain Lacey. He is a recent forty something former soldier who was wounded in the Napoleonic Wars. Having retired on half pay, he has few prospects and even less money. What he does have is a man commonly referred to as Mr. Grenville in his corner.
Grenville is apparently the man to know in high society and for some reason that Lacey can’t fathom, he has taken an interest in him.

It turns out to be a very good thing for Lacey when he decides to make another of his brave, spontaneous decisions to help a stranger. That stranger is a Mr. Thornton who is a broken man when Lacey discovers him one day standing outside of the home of a well-to-do London man named Mr. Horne. Thornton is shot and barely escapes with his wife, thanks to Captain Lacey.

Lacey later learns what drove Thornton to do what he did. His daughter has disappeared. She was last seen at the home of Mr. Horne. He claims to have had nothing to do with young Jane Thornton’s disappearance but Thornton thinks that he knows better. She is his only child and he is determined to get her back.

Moved by pity for Thornton’s plight, and having nothing better to do, Lacey decides to look into her case himself. I guess this is how he becomes some kind of private investigator since this book is a first in a series.

In any case, it certainly is a good start. Besides the fact that I loved Capt. Lacey as a character, the story is also very entertaining as well as moving. His weaknesses and determination to see this through somehow only make him seem more lovable, if also a little foolish.

The story of the vast London underworld is also interesting as is Lacey attempt to navigate through it without the help of the police. Grenville does however prove invaluable with his vast connections and desire to prove himself to Lacey. It was definitely a page turner and I recommend it highly to anyone who loves the Mystery or Historical Fiction genre.

Contains: a small amount of sexuality and some violence and language