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Book Reviews

The following select book reviews were written
by Barbara Grant and previously published in the
Jackson County Floridan and Graceville News.

Are you interested in writing a review?
If so, email us:

Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski

In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

Luncheon of the Boating Party, Susan Vreeland

The Optimist’s Daughter, Eudora Welty

River Horse, William Least Heat-Moon

Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
Review by Barbara Grant

I love dogs as much as the next fellow, but 562 pages about dogs and dog breeding and dog training and dog records and vet care seems a bit much. Delightfully it was not at all a bit much. It was wonderful. When an author can make a reader so interested in any subject, 562 pages seems to fly by.

Gar Sawtelle breeds dogs, not just any dog. He has made his own breed by picking a variety of breeds with good characteristics. Over the years, working with his wife, Trudy, who trains the dogs, Gar has created a new breed of dog, The Sawtelle Dog. Gar and Trudy raise and train the dogs for two years. The dogs are then sold to carefully selected clients and for a pretty penny.

Gar and Trudy live with their son who also helps with the dogs on a farm in New England. Gar’s brother also helps when needed.

This doesn’t sound like a mystery story does it? But it is and it’s a good one. It is also a mystery story that you can keep up with, not one that’s too complicated to figure out or to be truthful.

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In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Review by Barbara Grant

Truman Copote wanted to write a new kind of book, something that had not been done before. He wanted to write a literary book but as an investigative novel. From the newspapers he learned about the murder of a Kansas farmer and his family. He went to Kansas to interview townspeople, law enforcement personal and the two men in jail accused of the crime.

Truman was a very flamboyant man, and knowing he might not be well accepted in Kansas, made the wise decision to take his friend, Harper Lee, with him. She was down to earth and could talk with people and gain their confidence. Still, it took the two of them a time to gain the trust of the people they needed to interview for the story. Ms. Lee did a lot of the work, making many notes and advising Copote. It was strange when the book was written, he gave her no credit.

Copote became very involved with the people he was writing about. His and Ms. Lee’s first break was an invitation to the home of the lead investigators for Thanksgiving and in return he entertained his new friends in his town, New York City. He became so involved with the 2 accused men, that they considered him their best friend.

The story covers the murder of the farm family, some background on the accused men, the investigation and the town’s reaction and also Truman’s involvement with the accused and their execution. After the book was published many felt that Copote had betrayed the trust of the town’s people and especially the trust of the accused men.

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Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland
Review by Barbara Grant

Do you know the painting by Auguste Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party? Renoir painted women and girls with beautiful eyelashes and rosey cheeks, and fell in love with each of his subjects that's why he painted them so beautifullly. Boating Party is an old masterpiece done in the impressionist style. The picture shows 14 people gathered on a Sunday afternoon in Paris in a cafe overlooking the Seine River. I noticed a copy of this painting in one of our own cafes just south of the Jackson County court house. (Sorry this cafe is closed now) The original painting is in the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. just off DuPont Circle.

The book tells of the now famous painter, Renoir (he was poor when he painted the picture) as he worked to gather 14 friends to pose for the painting. It's a story of the lives of each of the people. An art collector, an Italian journalist, a war hero, a wealthy painter, a celebrated actress and Renoir's future wife are some of the models for the painting. It's an interesting look into life in Paris in the 1800's and a great way to tell the lives of interesting people.

Susan Vreeland has also written Girl in Hyacinth Blue, The Passion of Artemisia, and The Forest Lover.

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The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty
Review by Barbara Grant

Eudora Welty is an author every Southern should read. . I urge you to read some of her books.

The book to be reviewed today won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. If you’ve been reading these reviews, you know that I like to read books that have been awarded prizes and or special recognition. Might as well read the best. But just because they have been judged the best of literature does not mean that they are stuffy or too high class. They are good reading, easy to understand. These books can be read on different levels; one just for the story and the adventure, another for the beautifully worded prose, another for the universal themes, one to study character development. So pick what you’re most interested in, and read a good, well written, awarding winning book.

Ms Welty was born and still lives in Jackson, Mississippi. Other of her books include A Curtain of Green, The Robber Bridegroom, The Wide Net, Delta Wedding, The Golden Apples, The Ponder Heart, The Bride of the Innisfallen, Losing Battles, One Time,One Place, The Eye of the Story, and One Writer’s Beginnings. A collection of Stories by Eudora Welty won the National Book Award. Our local library will have some of these. Ms. Welty also did an outstanding picture book of Southern scenes and people. These, pictures, because of their quality, have been shown in art museums.

The Optimist’s Daughter is set in New Orleans, and is called “The best book Eudora Welty has ever written” by the New York Times Book Review.

Judge McKelva is being placed in a New Orleans hospital by his daughter Laurel who has returned home from Chicago to take care of her father and his wife Fay, a second marriage, young wife whom he married when he was 70. Although he has the best doctors, one a close family friend, he dies in the hospital. Laurel and Fay take the body back to their small Mississippi town for a “proper” funeral. Laurel gets to see all her old girl friends, the bride maid’s they are called, and Fay gets a visit from her large family of relatives who are poverty stricken and poorly educated. The kind but funny interaction between the two very different groups makes for a touching story. True to the South.

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River Horse by William Least Heat-Moon
Review by Barbara Grant

Since you love nature, you are going to love this book.

Some years ago, William Least Heat-Moon, part Native American, recently divorced, with no life, and no money stopped his job and bought a boat with a plan to put in at the American Atlantic Ocean shore and take out on the Pacific Ocean shore. That’s a good plan, isn’t it? Well, as it turned out it was. He wrote a book about the experience, made a lot of money and lived happily ever after.

You will like this book because it’s fun to read about any boat on any water. As is quoted in The Wind in the Willow, “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing, absolutely nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” This is a lovely children’s book that will be reviewed later.

These are some of the chapter titles which give an idea of what you’ll be reading in River Horse.: Where Mohican Would Not Sleep, Snowmelt and a Nameless Creek, The Pull of the Continent, We Sleep with a Bad-Tempered Woman Tossed by Fever, Along the Track of the Glaciers, Eyeless Fish with Eight Tails, The Ghost of the Mississippi, Sitting Bull and the Broom of Heaven, Eating the Force that Drives Your Life, An Ark from God or a Miracle of Shoshones.

Did he make it to the Pacific? Read the book and see.

Heat-Moon also wrote Blue Highways about his adventures on the road, traveling the highways marked in blue on USA maps, not the superhighways and interstates. He writes well either on land or water.

My husband and I were lucky to meet Mr. Heat-Moon when he did a review of his book at the Coran Art Gallery in Washington, D.C. He is a down to earth but colorful fellow, excited about his life and work.

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December 12, 2014 11:15 AM