Only four more reviews and two trilogies to review and I’m all caught up! Until then, here are three more mini reviews.
The Bucolic Plague by Josh Kilmer-Purcell
Publisher: Harper, 2010
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Where I Got It: Bought it for my Kindle
My Rating: 4 stars
Brief Description: The subtitle pretty much sums up the book: “How Two Manhattanites Became Gentleman Farmers.” After stumbling upon the rundown but filled with potential Beekman Mansion near Sharon Springs, NY, Kilmer-Purcell (former drag queen turned advertising guru) and his partner Dr. Brent Ridge (who at the time was working as “Dr. Brent” for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia) impulsively decide to purchase the mansion and the surrounding 60 acres and become weekend farmers. Their experiences are chronicled in this highly amusing memoir.
My Thoughts: This was a such fun read! This is just how I like my memoirs: a writer with a wicked sense of humor, a “fish out of water” story (Kilmer-Purcell’s account of transporting a flock to baby goats to appear on Martha’s television show was downright hilarious), and celebrity close encounters (mostly with Martha Stewart herself, who Kilmer-Purcell regards with a mix of wonder, admiration, snark and disbelief). Mixed in with the light-hearted and humorous account of their farming experiences is the story of a relationship that starts to flounder due to financial strains and a schedule that leaves little time for togetherness. The fact that Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge ended up making a reality show about the Beekman (called The Fabulous Beekman Boys and airing on Planet Green) after this book was released was a relief to me, as I was rooting for this couple to stay together and continue making the Beekman a successful working farm. A delight from start to finish, I would highly recommend this book to just about anyone.
Gods in Alabama (Audio Book) written by Joshilyn Jackson and narrated by Catherine Taber
Publisher: Hachette Audio, 2005
Length: 8 hours and 6 minutes
Where I Got It: Downloaded it from Audible
My Rating: 3.5 stars
Brief Description: The precursor to Jackson’s book Backseat Saints, Gods In Alabama tells the story of Arlene Fleet, whose flight from her hometown of Possett, Alabama to Chicago, Illinois and her deal with God to stop lying, fornicating and never to return to Possett is put to the test with the appearance of Rose Mae Lolly (whose story is told in Backseat Saints). Rose Mae is searching for her ex-boyfriend Jim Beverly. Arlene knows all too well what happened to Jim Beverly, and her desperation to keep that information to herself spurs her to return to Possett with her African-American boyfriend Burr—another little secret she’s been hiding from her very Southern family.
My Thoughts: Once I listened to Backseat Saints, I had to listen to Gods in Alabama to find out what happened to Jim Beverly. Although I read the books out of order, I actually think it may have worked better reading them that way. If I had known what happened to Jim Beverly before reading Backseat Saints, I think that book would have been less effective. Overall, the books work well together, but I did pick up on some discrepancies between the two (as far as I remember, the “big reveal” with Rose Mae at the end didn’t happen in Backseat Saints). However, it isn’t a big deal, and I thought Jackson did good job of tying the two stories together. I do have to give this book an award for Outstanding Opening Line: “There are gods in Alabama: high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus.” As usual, Jackson creates memorable characters (Arlene’s Aunt Florence is simultaneously appealing and appalling) and lightens the rather heavy story line with her trademark Southern sass and humor.
About the narration: This is the second Jackson book I’ve listened to on audio, and I think her books are well-suited to this format. The first person narration works well, and the narrator, Catherine Taber, did a fine job. However, I think I prefer Jackson’s narration of Backseat Saints over this one. The only thing that bugged me about the audio was the rather intrusive background music that popped up periodically. I found it disruptive and could have done without it. Still, don’t let that keep you from trying this on audio (or in print).
Ten Degrees of Reckoning by Hester Rumberg
Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, 2009
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography/Memoir
Where I Got It: From Paperback Swap
My Rating: 3 stars
Brief Description: In 1993, Judith and Michael Sleavin and their two children, Ben and Annie, set out to live their dream: to sail around the world. But one night, a freighter off the coast of New Zealand altered its course by a mere ten degrees and caused catastrophic damage to the Sleavin’s sailboat. With her son Ben immediately lost, Judith, Michael and Annie struggled to survive through the night. Only Judith made it—surviving 44 hours in the water, with a back broken in several places and paralyzed below the waist. With little to live for, Judith nevertheless recovered, though she suffered one of the worst cases of post-traumatic stress syndrome ever documented. Driven by her need to see justice and help ensure that the accident that killed her family wouldn’t happen again, Judith struggled to create a life for herself despite often feeling that she had nothing to live for.
My Thoughts: This is a difficult review to write as I had to separate out the story of what happened to the Sleavins and the book itself. What happened to the Sleavin family is heart-breaking, chilling and oddly compelling. I can’t even imagine the pain and fear that Judith Sleavin must have experienced in those 44 hours until she was saved. Losing your family right before your eyes in such traumatic circumstances would make it difficult to go on. The book certainly doesn’t sugarcoat Judith’s recovery, and it seems that she is still broken in many ways. The fact that Judith chose not to share her story until years afterward made me admire her for not capitalizing on the tragedy of her family. Her motivations for sharing her story seem honest and true. In fact, she chose her close friend Dr. Hester Rumberg to tell her story, a decision that I’m sure allowed her to open up about her tragedy with less stress.
Although Rumberg does her best to tell the Sleavin’s story as objectively as possible, therein lies the problem with the book: the narration is just too clinical and objective to be affecting. The story never fully came alive for me, and I think this was due to the nature of the writing. Although the writing is competent and workmanlike, it just doesn’t have the emotional impact that you would expect from a story like this. The fact that I didn’t shed a tear surprised me. This is a real tragedy, and yet I felt oddly unaffected while reading. I would have loved to see someone like Jon Krakauer or Sebastian Junger tell this story instead. Both of those writers are masters at telling nonfiction stories that make the story fully come alive while still maintaining a journalistic distance. Sadly, this book just didn’t have the emotional “oomph” it should have had …though I certainly don’t mean to take away anything from Judith Sleavin’s story itself.
Wonder what other book bloggers think of this book? Find out at the Book Bloggers Search Engine.