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Posts Tagged ‘Fannie Flagg’

commonGenerally, I enjoy reading and/or  watching year-in-review stories and programs. This year –with Santa harnessing flying pigs to his sleigh — not so much. The last 12 months were studded with improbabilities, loss and disappointment. November was especially dismal, and I kept quoting Wordsworth: “The world is too much with us; late and soon.” These are anxious times.

Thank goodness for books. As I’ve disconnected from cable news and social media, reading has provided escape and comfort. Mysteries, fantasies, literary fiction, memoirs, new releases, old favorites. One after another, chain reading, a books binge. I just finished Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth (HarperCollins, digital galley) for the second time, finding this story of a blended family over five decades even more moving and wise. It’s the book I’m giving myself in hardcover and is one of my three favorites of 2016, joining Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow and Paulette Jiles’ News of the World.

fannieOther books I’ve bought as keepers this past year include Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale (Candlewick), about a girl who enters the Little Miss Central Florida Tire Contest in a bid to get her absentee father’s attention; Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical Another Brooklyn; Genevieve Cogman’s fabulous fantasy The Invisible Library and its sequels The Masked City and The Burning Page (ROC, digital galley); and Lee Smith’s lovely memoir Dimestore (Algonquin, digital galley). I gave the latter to Cousin Meg for her birthday, and for Christmas, she and Cousin Gail are getting Fannie Flagg’s new chatty charmer The Whole Town’s Talking (Random House), about the founding of the small Missouri town of Elmwood Springs, the setting for previous Flagg stories. This time, the town cemetery has a starring role. I’m sending a copy to Cousin Paulette, too.

insunlightI’ve given away multiple copies of Anne Tyler’s retelling of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” Vinegar Girl, and managed to pick up my own copy a long the way. I tend to buy books for friends that I want myself, so I put Lawrence Block’s In Sunlight or In Shadow (Pegasus) at the top of my Dear Santa list. An anthology of stories inspired by the works of Edward Hopper, it showcases writers such as Lee Child, Megan Abbott, Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King with full-color reproductions of the Hopper works they chose as muses. As both a fan of Hopper — I have a framed “Sunday Morning” above a bookcase — and crime fiction, this book was pure catnip for me. Another treasure is the late Pat Conroy’s  A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life (Doubleday, digital galley). Oh, I miss Pat, who died in March, one of many losses I hold against 2016.

cruelI’ve read some good fiction recently — Colson Whitehead’s harrowing The Underground Railroad (Doubleday, digital galley), Brit Bennett’s first novel The Mothers (Riverhead, digital galley), Alice Hoffman’s poignant Faithful (Simon and Schuster). Still, the striking title, cover and contents of Caroline Leavitt’s novel about two sisters following their hearts in the late 1960s/early 1970s really hit home for me this fall: Cruel Beautiful World (Algonquin, digital galley). When high school student Lucy Gold runs off with her English teacher, she has no idea how her impulsive decision will play out for her, her sensible older sister Charlotte, and for elderly Iris, who raised the girls. Leavitt’s writing is tender, tough and incisive as she spins a tale of love and loss, loyalty and second chances. It’s not always a happy book, but it is a hopeful one. So let’s end this year on that note.

 

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fannieReaders of Fannie Flagg’s novel Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! will no doubt remember Sookie Poole, loyal college roommate of TV morning show host Dena Nordstrom. Forty years later, the two are still close confidantes, but we learn a lot more about Sookie in Flagg’s welcome new dramedy The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion  (Random House, digital galley). For that matter, Sookie learns a lot more about Sookie, and thereby hangs Flagg’s tale.

Unlike her pal Dena, Sookie Krackenberry Poole of Point Clear, Ala., has always known her people. Sure, she’s the 60-year-old wife of dentist Earle and mother of three girls (all recently wedded) and one son (single). But she’s also the dutiful daughter of 88-year-old, still-going-strong Southern matriarch Lenore Simmons Krackenberry, who is obsessed with her Simmons forebears.  Although Sookie has “the Simmons foot,” she has always been a disappointment in the ancestor-venerating department, and Lenore has a hissy fit when Sookie suggests giving all the Simmons family silver to her sister-in-law Bunny.  “Who is not even a Simmons — and not even from Alabama?” cries Lenore. “Why don’t you just cut my heart out and throw it in the yard?”

So, of course, Sookie relents and promises not break up the set of Francis I and to be a better daughter and thus a better Simmons. But that’s before the registered letter from Texas arrives in the mail and Sookie discovers she also has ties to another family — the Jurdabralinskis of Pulaski, Wisc., a colorful Polish-Catholic clan.

As Sookie’s world turns topsy-turvy, Flagg shifts the narrative to 1940s Wisconsin, where the Jurdabralinski family run Wink’s Phillips 66. Before the war, eldest daughter Fritzi was a barnstorming pilot, but she’s grounded when her partner is drafted as  a flight instructor. Her brother and the garage’s male mechanics also have joined up, so Fritzi and her three sisters pitch in to keep the family business running and turn it  into a popular roadside attraction.

But as Sookie discovers, the all-girl filling station is just one chapter in spirited Fritzi’s adventures. She becomes a Fly Girl, a member of the all-female WASPs, who fly transport and support missions for the Air Force during World War II, and two of her sisters follow suit.

Readers may think they know where the story is headed — and they may be right — but this journey to home truths offers delightful detours, from Sookie secretly meeting a psychiatrist at the Waffle House, to Fritzi outflying a condescending male pilot at a Texas airfield. Just as Fritzi’s a pro at barrel rolls, Flagg’s a whiz at loop-de-loops. Hang on, Sookie!

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I’ve been reading a lot more than writing the last couple weeks, not just books but everyone else’s lists of best books, favorite books, recommended reading, etc. Consequently, my own TBR list grows ever longer, and I will be writing to Santa about that.

But it occurs to me as I start wrapping up books for holiday gifts, there’s no way I’m going to be able to blog about all the recent titles I want to recommend before the year’s up. If you follow this blog, you already know many of my 2010 favorites. If you don’t, check the archives. Here, though, are the late arrivals deserving of ribbons and bows.

An Object of Beauty, by Steve Martin (Grand Central Publishing): Martin’s artful novel about the art world — auctions, galleries, artists, aesthetes, collectors, dealers — draws on his own experience as an experienced collector. Narrator Daniel relates the rise of the lovely Lacey, as charming as she is ambitious, as she deftly navigates New York’s social circles and art scene from the late 1990s to the present. Photographs of many of the art works in play are embedded in the text, making the hardcover book a most desirable object. 

The Black Apple’s Paper Doll Primer: Activities and Amusements for the Curious Paper Artist, by Emily Winfield Martin (PotterCraft/Crown Publishing): This one’s for my fellow Caroline Cousins, with whom I played catalog paper dolls for years. Both Meg and Gail are far craftier than I, but we all like playing with scissors and paper, and the whimsical dolls, costumes and nifty projects in this book are ready-made for rainy afternoons and let’s-pretend. We might share with the kids in the family.

Bloody Crimes, by James Swanson (Morrow): This one’s for my brother, who read Swanson’s Manhunt, about the search for President Lincoln’s assassin. Here, he continues the dramatic saga of the closing days of the Civil War, as Confederate Jefferson Davis flees the Yankees and Lincoln’s body is carried home to Illinois on a 13-day funeral train.

I Still Dream About You, by Fannie Flagg (Random House): Mom and I are sharing Flagg’s new novel, a warm-hearted mystery/comedy of manners as the real-estate market collapses in Birmingham, Ala. Maggie, a former beauty queen with a seemingly perfect life, plans to end it all before fellow agents Brenda and Ethel help her battle rival Babs, “the Beast of Birmingham.” Humor, romance, secrets from the past. No wonder’s it’s an “Okra Pick” by Southern booksellers.

It’s a Book, by Lane Smith (Roaring Books Press): For children ages 6-11, and for all of us readers in a digital age, here’s a sweet reminder to the wonder of turning pages. No batteries needed.

The Kneebone Boy, by Ellen Potter (Feiwel and Friends): My inner child has no problem declaring love for a witty, well-written tale for middle-graders. Otto, Clara and Max Hardscrabble know that people think they’re a peculiar trio because of their unusual family history. They also prove irresistible as they have unexpected adventures in London and a seaside village while perhaps solving the puzzle of their missing mother. Think Lemony Snicket meets Joan Aiken. Clever.

Rogue Island, by Bruce DeSilva (Forge/TOR): My sources tell me DeSilva’s debut mystery will hit home for all us ink-stained wretches, especially beat reporters, who have toiled in the newspaper trenches over the years. Liam Mulligan is an investigative reporter for a Rhode Island daily, which means he also covers cops, trend stories and dog tales at the behest of a city editor who makes Lou Grant seem like a cuddly puppy. There’s so much crime and corruption afoot, Mulligan’s reports on a series of neighborhood arsons fight for space above the fold. Read all about it!

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, by Elisabeth Tova Bailey (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill): In the night silence of her isolated sick room, Bailey can hear the sound something very small crunching celery. It is her new companion, a wild snail, dining on a wilted flower on her bedside table. Bailey, totally bedridden by a mysterious motor neuron disease, becomes enchanted by the gastropod, closely observing its routines as time creeps by, well, like a snail. This small book, thoughtful and eloquent, belongs on the shelf with Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

Open Book: Let’s see. I received an ARC of Bloody Crimes, a review copy of The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, won the The Black Apple’s Paper Doll Primer as part of a Facebook promotion, and bought copies of An Object of Beauty, I Still Dream About You, It’s a Book, The Kneebone Boy and Rogue Island. More to come.

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When Southern booksellers and publishers were in Daytona Beach last weekend for their annual trade show (SIBA), okra was on the agenda if not the menu. SIBA recently announced its dozen “Okra picks” for the fall season as voted on by independent booksellers, and I hear the chosen authors wore bright red sashes on the convention floor.

Alas, I was in South Carolina — where next year’s convention is scheduled — but, as it turned out,  I had two okra picks with me. Both were mighty fine in completely different ways.

Beth Webb Hart’s novels are set in my favorite home territory of the South Carolina lowcountry, in and around Charleston. Her first, Grace at Low Tide, took place on Edisto Island and made me homesick as all get out. Her third, The Wedding Machine, made me happy that the Caroline Cousins wrote Marsh Madness  first so we had already put in our two cents about Southern nuptials. 

Hart writes so-called “Christian fiction,” but the preachiest thing about her new novel, Love, Charleston, is that one of the four main characters is good ol’ boy Roy Summerall, who isn’t sure why he’s been called to pastor the aristocratic faithful of the Holy City at historic, downtown St. Michael’s. A widower with a young daughter, Roy isn’t sure how he’ll fit in, despite the the support of a church matriarch. That he and bellringer Anne Brumley are destined to find one another is obvious, but their path is not nearly as interesting as the ways in which it intersects and overlaps with those of Anne’s sister Alicia and her cousin Della.

Unlike Anne, both are married with children. But Alicia, a doctor married to another doctor, finds her charmed life falling apart after depression descends like a rock following the birth of a new daughter. Meanwhile Della, a writer and teacher married to an artist, would love to have another child, but finances are too precarious. When an old flame returns to town, she wonders how her life might have  been different, maybe still could be.  Doubt and betrayal, love and faith, rocks and hard places. Hart has a light touch and an easy humor, but she doesn’t hesitate to test her characters.

Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a gritty Southern drama of race and class, past sins and present crimes. It takes its title from the way kids often learn to spell/write  Mississippi: “M, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, humpback, humpback, I.”  

There’s something crooked about the lives of the novel’s two main characters — not in the sense of criminal, although some suspect that, but in that they are misshaped by a sad, shared boyhood incident. For sure, boookworm Larry Ott, son of a white auto mechanic and his wife, and Silas “32” Jones, son of a poor, black single mother, were unlikely buddies from the start, but the friendship worked for them until the night Larry took Cindy Walker to the drive-in and she disappeared.

Cindy wasn’t heard from again, and Larry still lives with a cloud of suspicion hanging over him and the business he inherited from his daddy. He keeps to himself in the shotgun house he grew up in. Silas took off to play college baseball but then returned as a constable in a nearby hamlet in South Misissippi. There’s no reason for the two to meet up, but then another girl goes missing, and the law looks to Larry once more.

Franklin writes lean, no words wasted, no punches pulled. As in his collection of stories, Poachers, and novel Hell at the Breech, he knows where he’s going and takes a reader with him.

At one point, Larry thinks of Silas, “how time packs new years over the old ones but how those old years are still in there, like the earliest, tightest rings centering a tree, the most hidden, enclosed in darkness and shielded from weather. But then a saw screams in and the tree topples and the circles are stricken by the sun and the sap glistens and the stump is laid open for the world to see.”

Open Book: I bought a copy of Beth Webb Hart’s Love, Charleston (Thomas Nelson) to give to Cousin Meg for her birthday. Tom Franklin’s publisher sent me an advance reading copy of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (Morrow). To see a list of the other fall okra picks, go to http://www.sibaweb.com/okra  I’ve already put Fannie Flagg’s November novel, I Still Dream About You (Random House), at the top of my wish list. Also, my fellow book blogger at http://bermudaonion.wordpress.com has started an Okra Picks challenge read. Check it out!

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