Monday, August 5, 2013

#3 Several Exciting ARCs

Sorting through the mailings of ARCs (Advanced Review Copies) received the last few months I found two that promised some great reading... and did they deliver! Larry Watson follows his "American Boy" with another potential "quiet" classic "Let Him Go" set for publication in the coming September. George and Margaret Blackledge live in small town, Dalton North Dakota in 1951 having given up up farming following the death of their son James in a horseback riding accident. George has retired after serving a term as county sheriff and Margaret has busied herself with helping her widowed daughter-in-law, Lorna, raise her grandson Jimmy.
       But all has changed as Lorna has met and married a new man Donnie Weboy who hearkens from the eastern Montana town of Gladstone. When Margaret sees Donnie abuse his step-son on the main street of Dalton and Lorna doesn't stand up for her son, Margaret sees she has no option but to gain control of her grandson. When Donnie and Lorna move to eastern Montana with Jimmy, Margaret plans how she can get Jimmy back. And if husband George won't support her, she'll drive there and do the deed herself.
        George reluctantly goes with her, but neither planned for the reception given to them by the notorious Weboy family when they expose their plan. And the casual violence of 1951 rural America revisits Watson's earlier classic "Montana 1948" in its ability to both shock and convince the reader of its inevitability.

       The second ARC worth getting excited about is the jointly written novel "The Tilted World" to be released October 1 by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly. Based on the largest American natural disaster, the unrelenting rains of 1927 and the flooding of the midwest rivers leading to the inevitable disaster of the flooding of the Mississippi, this novel captures the pitch, events, and characters of Prohibition America, the moonshiners cooking their product, paying off whoever needs it and selling up and down the River, and the people of very limited means facing the flood if the levees and sandbags fail.
         Two federal revenue agents are dispatched by Commerce secretary Herbert Hoover to Hobnob Landing on the River to investigate moonshiners and the disappearance of two previously assigned agents. Their paths cross an orphaned baby, a major distributor of moonshine and his wife who very professionally cooks the best moonshine on the River. All of this pales in light of plots to blow up the levees, drowning Hobnob and its people to save New Orleans downriver. Fennelly and Franklin offer a mesmerizing tale of evil and unrelenting natural force as flood and treachery mix with heroism and love.

         Both books are worthy of a wide readership. Here's hoping for their surprise best-sellerdom.


Monday, July 1, 2013

#2 Transatlantic Sessions-- not reading but sure worthwhile

      With retirement I've discovered the joy of an uninterrupted hour or two each evening as the sun sets behind some tall trees in the back yard and the deck and chairs are the place to read until sunset. So I rediscovered the beauty of reading the Arkady Renko/ Martin Cruz Smith and Bernie Gunther/ Philip Kerr novels in order and will get to the Alan Furst series sometime. But I got caught up in the "Lincoln" epic, first by seeing the movie twice this year and then by reading the illustrated Carl Sandburg compilation of the Prairie Years and the War Years biography of Lincoln. "Spectacular" is not too strong a word to describe what Sandburg, another Illinois boy did in capturing the character, humility and humaneness of Lincoln.
       With the sesquicentennial of the Civil War underway, I read Michael Shaara's "Killer Angels" about Gettysburg and Jeff Shaara's "Chain of Thunder" about the battle for Vicksburg, both of which happened and concluded 150 years ago this week. Both books, though written almost 40 years apart by two separate authors, each capture the scope of the two battles beautifully. I have visited both battle sites, but walking the fields and grounds doesn't begin to give the scope of what happened at each place. Each book focuses on the leaders of each army but does so in a way that humanizes the decisions, problems, and choices they and their field officers had to face day after day. Throw in heat, lack of food and reliable intelligence from missing cavalry officers, it was a very close battle fought each day. Those two books really bring epic actions into a visible scale.
          So what then are the Transatlantic Sessions and how do they tie into reading? I guess they don't since they are music DVDs, but, boy, if you like folk, country, Celtic music and you've got other things to do while  listening and watching like ironing, matching socks, doing taxes, this is the series for you. The sessions, begun as half hour music TV programs in Scotland in 1995 and were reprized in 1998, 2007, 2009, 2011 with rumored series planned in 2013. There are typically six or seven shows in each session filmed or videographed at a great house or hunting lodge in Scotland over what seems several weeks.
           The Sessions are now the brainchild of Aly Bain, a revered Scottish fiddler and founding member of the Boys of the Lough and Jerry Douglas,lap steel and resonator guitar master and current member of Union Station. They organize a golden house band of English, Irish and Scottish musicians and bring the cream of the crop from the US and the United Kingdom to play for each other with no outside audience in a fantastic house party setting. Interspersed with the music performances are scenes of the beauty of Scotland.
            But we are there for the music and it is sublime. Sample some of the sessions on Youtube, but you really need to see and hear each year's collection. Imagine visiting musicians like Bela Fleck, Alison Krauss, Sam Bush, Sara Jarosz, James Taylor, Rosanne Cash, Tim O'Brien, Darrell Scott, Emmylou Harris joining the best of Europe-- Paul Brady,Karen Matheson, Donal Lundy and John Martyn in an intimate house concert.
             Youtube can only give a taste. Whirlie Records in Scotland have released all 5 Sessions but currently only the second, fourth and fifth can be viewed on US DVD players and computers. I'm not sure if Netflix offers these, but I got them through my local public library and if you're real nice, you might talk your library into buying them. They are the real deal.  Ted Schmidt  July 1,2013

Monday, June 10, 2013

#1-Tom Franklin Comes to Loveland

Monday, June 10, 2013
Okay, so this is something new for me...not the writing part or writing about READING, which I do an awful lot of. It's this very early, for me, attempt at social media and throwing stuff out to people who are not family or friends...currently. I'll be trying to link this with Facebook and an expanded profile that will not only be me, Ted Schmidt, but will also include this blog-- Stuff to Read and my hobby/ home business Longs Peak Book Company. I want to share Book Reviews I wrote, some dating back decades, some of books not yet published but from reading ARCs-Advanced Review Copy-- to whet a reader's interest. So we'll see how this goes. Here's something about an author who will be coming to Loveland CO in September.

Loveland Loves 2 Read, a division of the Friends of the Loveland Public Library will be hosting author and teacher Tom Franklin at the Rialto Theater on Friday, September 20. But you might be asking Who is Tom Franklin and why would I be interested in attending his program?

Tom Franklin, born in 1963 in very rural Dickinson, Alabama, schooled at the University of Southern Alabama-Mobile for his BA and at the University of Arkansas for his MFA, has developed a very respectable body of writing during the 14 years since his graduation. While his work career has included stints as a heavy equipment operator, a clerk at a hospital morgue and an inspector at hazardous material sites, he is now known as professor of fiction writing at the University of Mississippi, Oxford. And he is also known as the winner of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Edgar Award, the L.A.Times Book Prize, the Golden Dagger from the UK Crime Writers Association as well as many state and regional writing awards.,

The four books that make up his bibliography are a very special foundation for his writing life. “Poachers”, his 1999 debut short story collection offers 10 tales of the South featuring a wide collection of dark characters. “Grit” presents a laborer in a sandblasting grit manufacturing plant who connives to usurp his supervisor and sell product “off the books” through a very wily co-conspirator. The plan blows up in many faces while “Alaska” presents a daydreamer by an Alabama pond scheming how he can get to the 50th state. Another story presents a petty criminal who rationalizes his felonies because he created a new name and personality for himself. All the stories lead to the title story about three teenaged brothers, orphaned and living very rough, working the rivers and swamps each night poaching everything and anything. Their path crosses a mythic game warden who seeks to settle scores. This story has been collected in both “The Best American Mystery Short Stories of the Century” edited by Tony Hillerman and “The Best American Noir of the Century” edited by  James Elroy.

“Hell at the Breech” published in 2003 is Franklin’s first novel set in his home Clarke County, southwest Alabama. Based on historical events of 1898 that he had heard growing up, Franklin focuses  his story on two brothers, Mack and William Burke, who are thrown into a gang of night-riders of the most violent rural evil-doers who seek revenge for the shooting of the leader’s brother. Balancing the gang’s murderous excess is the county sheriff, Billy Waite, who feels all of his 60 years, a drinking problem, and the pressure of political leaders who want to replace him with a slimy sociopath who has a history in the county.

“Smonk”, his second novel published in 2006, is an over-the-top Southern-Western gothic about the pursuit of a truly horrible rapist-murderer, E.O.Smonk, by lawman Will McKissik after Smonk’s jury trial ends in a murder-filled disaster. A parallel story moves to a collision course as a posse of “Christian Deputies” chase an equally murderous 15 year old whore across the Gulf coast into Old Texas, Alabama where Smonk is doing his worst. The biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah is retold in this 1911 Alabama horror story.

This brings us to the third novel and the one that Franklin and Loveland Loves 2 Read will be focusing on-- “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter” which was published in 2010. Set in the 1970s and 2005 of the same small Mississippi town, the book introduces two boys on the verge of high school- Larry Ott, a reader and not very athletic son of two lower middle class white parents and Silas Jones the only son of a black woman who left the Chicago area to live in a cabin  owned by Larry’s father, a car mechanic. While the two boys found the racial barrier high at school, they formed a friendship based on hunting, fishing and running around the woods.

That ends when at 16 Silas is a successful high school baseball player, “32” his nickname, and Larry, a loner, finally has a date with a girl from down the road. The date is a disaster and the girl vanishes never to be seen again. Larry doesn’t confess, but without a body or any evidence of foul play the case dies, but the townspeople always suspect Scarey Larry.  Silas”32” on a baseball scholarship graduates from Ole Miss, but the only job he finds is as a sheriff’s constable back in his home town. And now 25 years later another girl, the daughter of the local lumber mill owner, goes missing and all eyes are on Larry. Silas”32” must investigate this second disappearance knowing something that happened in 1982 that no one else knows.
This prize-winning novel will be the focus of the Friday night event, but the story doesn’t end there. Saturday, September 21 will be the world premiere of Franklin’s new novel. “The Tilted World” which he co-wrote with his wife, Beth Ann Fennelly, who is a poet and poetry professor at Ole Miss also. They will be here to share some poetry and the inner workings of a cooperative writing project as well as sign copies of their new book that won’t be released elsewhere until October 1st. Mark your calendar.