Daily Archives: April 11, 2010

Impatient With Desire – Book Review

My whole heart was big with hope and impatient with desire. When anyone ever went anyplace, I always wondered: What will they see? What is there that is not here? What waits for them that I am missing?

I cannot bear it if no one knows what has gone on here. What I have seen. What was waiting for me here that I have not missed. – from the ARC of Impatient With Desire, page 204 –

The story of the Donner Party is well known – a group of 87 pioneers set out for California by wagon train in 1846, but became stranded in the Sierra Nevada, high in the mountains near Truckee, California.  Their decision to take a new cut-off (called the Hastings cutoff) delayed their passage west and an early snowfall trapped them in the desolate wilderness just shy of their goal.  Forced to spend more than four months in the wilderness, all but 48 perished from starvation and illness. Several survivors resorted to cannibalism after they ran out of oxen and buffalo hides to eat.

Although many have written of the Donner Party and created websites specifically about the ill-fated journey, few have attempted to create an historical novel focused on any of the individuals. Gabrielle Burton has imagined letters and journal entries written by Tamsen Donner and written Impatient With Desire – a novel focused on the Donner family themselves (including their five children) and narrated by Tamsen.

The novel focuses on one family, George and Tamsen Donner and their five daughters, with the hope that the reader will understand other pioneers through them. The voice is that of Tamsen Donner, a heroine I chanced upon in the early 1970s while writing an apprentice novel about an unrelated subject. – from the Author’s Note about Impatient with Desire, page 237 of the ARE –

Burton’s novel is nonlinear in nature – first placing the reader with the stranded and desperate party, and then moving back and forth in time to give information about not only the journey itself, but the history of the characters prior to their decision to move west. Tamsen’s voice is clear and compelling – heard through her letters to her sister Betsy as well as through the imagined journal entries. Burton brings to life a woman who yearned to see what had not yet been seen, an explorer who could not silence the wanderlust within herself. The risks of moving across a country which had been mostly uncharted were great – Indian attacks, accidents, illness…and for the Donner Party, the unpredictable weather and a new trail which took them through the rugged and nearly impassable Wasatch Mountain range.

Burton successfully captures the plight of the pioneers through Tamsen’s voice.

In the beginning of course we were on ground level, but now we are underground inside walls of snow. We’re not sure how much snow has fallen – twenty feet? – but from the poles Jean Baptiste thrusts into the ground, we estimate the snowpack at twelve feet. – from the ARE of Impatient with Desire, page 99 –

This novel is less about the facts of the Donner Party journey (although those are there), but more about the people who experienced it – specifically, the women who made the journey. By focusing on letters and journal entries, Burton has provided the opportunity for readers to understand the possible thoughts and emotions of the pioneers who headed west in search of adventure and land. The novel gives insight into the dreams of those who paved the way for future generations.

Impatient with Desire does not spare its readers the desperation of its characters. At times it is hard to read as Tamsen records the deaths of each person in her Bible. Those who know the history behind the novel cannot help but dread the death of George, Tamsen’s husband who shared her dreams. But despite the sadness behind the novel, it was also an exhilarating read. I was left feeling tremendous respect and awe for those individuals who had the courage and fortitude to strike out into the wilderness, knowing the risks, but believing in a better life for themselves and their families.

Readers who love historical fiction and who are interested especially in the women of history, will enjoy Impatient with Desire. Richly imagined and heartbreaking, this is a novel I can recommend.

FTC Disclosure: This Advanced Readers Edition was sent to me from the publisher via the Library Thing Early Reviewers program for review on my blog.

The Marriage of True Minds – Book Review

“In most cases, when you challenge a delusion, the patient will be insistent, even to the point of violence. The unusual aspect of Mr. Ward’s illness is that when you challenge his delusions, he readily acknowledges that they are fantasy. Yet out in the world, he behaves as though they were real. That’s a conundrum.” – from The Marriage of True Minds, page 21 –

The Marriage of True Minds opens with Nick Ward dumping 140 live lobsters into the Mayor’s swimming pool (along with salt and ice cubes) to make a statement about the environment. After being transported to an inpatient facility for the mentally ill (along with his stuffed sheepdog puppet Sancho), Nick is visited by his ex-wife Lena (a lawyer) who arrives to represent him. Very quickly, the reader learns that Nick was Lena’s law professor, they married within a short period of time and became partners in a small, environmental law practice. Now, although divorced from Nick, Lena cannot seem to completely detach from him. Nick is a quirky, brilliant, and very funny man whose behavior borders on the bizarre. Not only does he treat his puppet like a person (he prefers to refer to Sancho as an “Imaginary American”), but his empathy for real animals (especially an Irish Wolfhound named Wolfram) makes it difficult for Nick to stay out of criminal court…as a defendant.

The Marriage of True Minds is a whimsical, endearing, laugh-out-loud funny, and ultimately touching novel about the connections we have to others and what defines sanity. Filled with eccentric characters, including a comic-book loving psychiatric attendant and a husband-wife team who run the local animal shelter, the novel moves forward at an unrelenting speed. Evans is skilled at rapid-fire dialogue which captures the wit and brilliance of the characters perfectly. Lena and Nick’s relationship slips back and forth from contrary to loving and provides the tension which drives the story.

Outrageous, but oddly poignant, this novel explores idealism and the fine line between mental illness and activism through the character of Nick – a sweet, gifted man whose love of animals and others drives him to the edge of sanity. The novel is also about what it means to love another despite their flaws.

This is Stephen Evan’s debut novel…and it is a gem. Entertaining and unforgettable, it is highly recommended for those who love literary fiction with memorable and irresistible characters.

FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.

Sunday Salon – April 11, 2010

April 11, 2010

9:00 AM

Good morning fellow readers! It is a gray, overcast, cold day here in the California mountains – a day for chores and staying inside where it is warm.

I participated in Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-A-Thon yesterday. My goal was to participate for 15-18 hours, and I managed almost 16 hours…so I am pleased. I managed to finish 3 books…which also makes me very happy! Did you read in the Read-A-Thon? If so, did you meet the goals you set for yourself? Did you have fun? Will you do it again? To see my stats for the event, you can visit this post.

Since last week, I have read some really great books.

The Glass Room, by Simon Mawer

Wow, this book exceeded my expectations. I really loved it (read my review). This is another book which was short-listed for the 2009 Booker Prize. It could have easily won, in my opinion. Mawer’s writing is fluid and riveting. I found it hard to tear myself away from The Glass Room. It is a disturbing book – exploring morality, sexuality and the horrors of WWII (not on the battlefield, but how it impacted the people in the countries invaded). If you haven’t read this gem, I highly recommend it.

Iron Lake, by William Kent Kreuger

Do you like series mysteries? If so, Iron Lake is a good choice. Set in Minnesota and incorporating Native American culture in the plot, this book is fast paced and engaging. It is also the first book in the Cork O’Connor mystery series. I started this one before the Read-A-Thon and finished the last 1/4 of it yesterday morning. I also managed to get my review of it up this morning, if you’re interested!

Impatient With Desire, by Gabrielle Burton

This was another book I finished yesterday. Don’t be fooled by the title…it is not a romance! This historical fiction is based on the ill-fated Donner Party – specifically it focuses on one person in the party: Tamsen Donner. Tamsen kept a journal and wrote letters to her sister which provided detail on what happened during the winter of 1846-7 when the Donner party was trapped in the mountains – and it is from those documents that Burton weaves her novel. The book is fascinating – although it is not for the faint of heart. It is also really sad at times. I haven’t yet written my review – but I can tell you that if you are interested in historical fiction, this is a book I think you’ll want to read. I’ll be doing a giveaway of a signed edition of the book later this week…so make sure you come back and get in on it!

The Marriage of True Minds, by Stephen Evans

I must admit, when I got this book as a review book (some time ago) from Unbridled Books, I was not sure I would enjoy it. Thus, it sat untouched on my shelves for far too long. This is a quirky, funny, whimsical, and ultimately touching novel which centers around a brilliant protagonist who loves animals. I hope to get a review up later today on this book. But, I loved it. At times I laughed out loud. At other times, I felt a twinge of sadness while reading. For those of you who like quirky characters and unique novels, this one is for you.

I have also started two other books:

Europa, by Tim Parks – another Booker short listed book which I have to admit is not grabbing me. The narrative is very circuitous and I am not relating to the protagonist at all. I’m giving this one a few more pages, but if it doesn’t get better for me, it may turn out to be one of those rare DNF’s.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson – this book has been screaming out to me to read it. I’m only 40 pages into it, and most of that has been spent setting up the background for the plot…I have heard that it really takes off around page 60 or so…

What are you reading these days? Are you planning on reading today? I most likely will read a bit later…for now, I’m still recovering from the Read-A-Thon!

Iron Lake – Book Review

“A Windigo’s a giant, an ogre with a heart of ice. A cannibal, a cold and hungry thing. It comes out of the woods to eat the flesh of men and women. Children, too. It doesn’t care.”

“Is it coming for us?” Cork scanned the shadows that jumped at the edges of the firelight.

“The way I understand it, a man pretty much knows when the Windigo’s coming for him.” – from Iron Lake, page 6 –

Cork O’Connor is the former sheriff of Aurora, Minnesota, and separated from his wife. Part Irish, part Anishinaabe Indian, he straddles the line between the white townspeople and the Native Americans who reside on the tribal lands and who have found a lucrative business in the area’s newly built casino. When the local judge turns up dead – shot to death in his home – and a young Indian boy goes missing, Cork finds himself right in the middle of an investigation which will test his loyalties on both sides.

Set in the rugged wilderness of Minnesota, Iron Lake captures the beauty of the lake country. William Kent Kreuger writes with authority about the area, but also about the history and legend of the Anishinaabe Indians. At times the novel drifts into the realm of magical realism, but never to the point of losing its reader who must decide how much of the Windigo legend is truth, and how much is simply symbolic of the violence and greed which reside  in the hearts of men.

Cork O’Connor drives the narrative – a conflicted man whose identity is torn between his Native American roots and the mostly white townspeople he has always served. He also finds himself torn between two women: his wife who seems to be ready to end the marriage, and a young Native American waitress who stirs long suppressed emotion in Cork. Not only is his marriage shattered, but his faith in justice and truth has also been shaken.

He’d learned early not to invest a lot of emotion in thinking about the truth in a crime. As a cop, he’d gathered evidence that had been used to guess at the truth, but in the end responsibility for assessing the pieces and nailing truth to the wall was in the hands of others – lawyers, judges, and juries. Truth became a democratic process, the will of twelve. He’d been burned when he cared too deeply. As a result, he’d trained himself to remain a little distant in his emotional involvement on a case. In the end, the outcome was out of his hand, and to allow himself to believe too strongly in the absoluteness of a thing he couldn’t control was useless. He felt different now. Desperate in a way. This time he had to hold the truth in his own hands like a beating heart. – from Iron Lake, page 240-241 –

Iron Lake is an engrossing, well-structured mystery that incorporates Native American culture into the plot. This is the first book in a series featuring Cork O’Connor, and I am interested to read the rest of the books. Readers who enjoy mysteries will find Iron Lake a good read.

Recommended.

Read-A-Thon Update: Hour 18 & End of Event Meme

This update is for hours 18 of the event (10:00 PM – 11:00 PM)

How I am feeling at this point in the Event:

I stayed awake through hour 18, then finally gave in to my fatigue and went to bed.

What I am currently reading:

My current read is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson

What I have eaten during these hours:

Nothing at all.

Mini Challenge(s)done in these hours:

None.

The stats:

Hour of Event # of Pages Read/Total # of Pages Time Spent Reading (hours)/Total Time Reading (hours) Time Spent Blogging (hours)/Total Time Blogging (hours)
10:00 PM – 11:00 PM (hours 18) 40/594
.75 hours/9.1 hours
0.25 hours/5.1 hours
Hour of Event Time Spent Visiting (min)/Total Time Visiting (min) Mini Challenges Completed This Hour Down Time in hours
10:00 PM –11:00 PM
(hours 18)
0 hrs /1.45 hrs
0 0 Hrs

Books I’ve completed since the event began:

  1. Iron Lake, by William Kent Krueger
  2. Impatient with Desire, by Gabrielle Burton
  3. The Marriage of True Minds, by Stephen Evans

Bloggers I’ve visited since the event began:

  1. A Literary Odeyssey
  2. Luvvie’s Musings
  3. Reading In Texas
  4. Bekah’s Bytes
  5. It’s Just Me
  6. Lesley’s Book Nook
  7. Deepening
  8. Reading through the Night
  9. Books to the Rescue
  10. The Lady Fern
  11. Firefly’s Book Blog
  12. My Favoritest
  13. Bart’s Bookshelf
  14. The Boston Bibliophile
  15. SMS Book Reviews
  16. This Book and I Could Be Friends
  17. The Magic Lasso
  18. Mawbooks Blog
  19. Life in the Thumb
  20. The Crazy Life of a Bookaholic Mom

List of Mini Challenges completed since the event began (with links to host posts):

  1. Introductory Mini Challenge
  2. The Kick Off of Champions (Miss Remmers’ Review)
  3. Feed Me Seymour (Linus’s Blanket)
  4. Lights, Camera, Read! (Mama Librarian)
  5. Soundtrack Song Mini Challenge (Alita Reads)
  6. Where in the World Are You? (Nomad Reader)
  7. Reading Is Fundamental Mini Challenge (Joystory)
  8. Get up and Move Challenge (Jehara)
  9. Early Favorites Mini Challenge (Literarily Speaking)
  10. End of the Event Meme

Total time participated so far (less down time): 15.7 hours

END OF THE EVENT MEME:

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?

I was surprised…this year was pretty easy for me and I think it was the books I picked to read. The most daunting was hour 18 because I was ready to go to bed.

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

The books I read this year were really great for the read-a- thon because they were quick, entertaining reads which held my interest from start to finish: Iron Lake by William Kent Kreuger, Impatient With Desire by Gabrielle Burton, and The Marriage of True Minds by Stephen Evans.

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?

None at all. As usual it was fantastic.

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?

The cheerleaders are always wonderful. I like the format of each of the hourly updates on the read-a-thon blog, especially how you track the mini-challenges. It made it really easy to follow.

5. How many books did you read?

I came into the read-a-thon part way through a book…which I finished (I’d say I read 1/4 of it during the read-a-thon), and then I completed two more books.

6. What were the names of the books you read?

  • Iron Lake, by William Kent Krueger
  • Impatient with Desire, by Gabrielle Burton
  • The Marriage of True Minds, by Stephen Evans
  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson

7. Which book did you enjoy most?

They were all really good, but I have to say that for sheer enjoyment it had to be The Marriage of True Minds which was quirky, whimsical and funny.

8. Which did you enjoy least?

They were all good.

9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?

N/A

10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

Very, very likely. I have kind of lost track of how many of how many of these I’ve done now! I like being a reader.