Saturday, December 20, 2014

Book Review: This Dark Road to Mercy

We read, loved,  and discussed Wiley Cash's debut novel A Land More Kind Than Home last year for book club, so I was excited for a chance to read his latest book, This Dark Road to Mercy. First of all, I love the titles to his novels. And I love the name Wiley Cash and how I know it's pronounced here in East TN (Wah-lee). But I love the books, too.

Easter Quillby is the main voice in this novel, although various chapters are narrated by other characters, as well. She's a 12-year-old in foster care as the novel opens. Her mother has just died of a drug overdose, leaving her and her little sister to the system. And then the deadbeat Dad shows up, determined to give his girls a home.

Wade is a former minor league baseball player who is also mixed up in a multimillion dollar robbery. He steals his girls from their foster home in the middle of the night and heads out on the road. He has no idea how to be a father to two girls who don't trust him at all, but somehow he figures it out. He needs to protect them—that much he knows. But he is up against a lot more than he figured. Two men are in hot pursuit of Wade and the girls: an evil bounty hunter and a gentle court-appointed guardian.

Easter is a tough, smart girl who is trying to figure out what all these crazy adults are doing. She's much more than a pawn in the system, though. Her Dad really loves and wants her, her court-appointed guardian is desperate to find her, and her grandparents in Alaska, whom she's never met, are waiting for her. Does what Easter wants matter?

Wiley Cash is a great storyteller. His characters have an almost immediate depth, and I like knowing characters right away. This is a fast-paced novel, one that is hard to put down; I think I read it in a few hours. And now I will look forward to Cash's next novel. He is definitely a Southern voice to follow.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Book Review: The Way Life Should Be

Christina Baker Kline has a lot of great stories brewing around in her brain. She's published two other novels just this year  (Sweetwater, Desire Lines)  as well as the best-seller Orphan Train. And I've got to say: I'm impressed. These aren't literary masterpieces, but they are darned enjoyable reads.

The Way Life Should Be follows a well-used storyline: girl (Angela) and guy meet via internet. Girl loses job and on a whim, moves to guy's state. Guy ends up being a jerk. Girl ultimately lives happily ever after. It's been done before; it will be done again and again. But Kline isn't really about the plot—she's about insights, the I-know-that-feeling-exactly moments and the moments of pure poetry. Her characters are incredibly vibrant—they are people we know without being stereotypical. She is not only a close observer of how we humans behave, but she really captures those thoughts we thought no one else had. I love that.

A bonus in this novel: lots of recipes. I know: it sounds corny. But part of the story line is that Angela learned to cook from her Italian grandmother, and I am always happy to read about fabulous food being cooked and eaten among friends. I've bookmarked the "Pasta with White Bolognese" sauce to try on of these days.

Ultimately, this is a novel about finding one's place in adulthood—where do we fit in? Who is our family? When does my real life actually start? This is a quick, happy, familiar (in a good kind of way) read—perfect for those times you don't want to invest in something heavy. And—there's always pasta and pound cake.