Friends, I am winded from the epic sprint that Greg Iles sent me on with this book. I tell you, I was already eagerly awaiting this final installment in Penn Cage's family saga. What I wasn't prepared for though, was how much Iles was going to throw at me all at once. This book is a rapid fire rush to the finish the line. It sweeps you off your feet, and all you can do is hang on for dear life as everything that you've been waiting for unfolds in this maniacally beautiful fashion. This book right here, more than anything else, has proven to me what an expert writer Greg Iles is, and I happily bow down to that expertise.
First off, let me say that I was originally a bit put off by courtroom melodrama that started in Mississippi Blood. Admittedly, I wasn't sure I actually wanted to read a whole murder case laid out on the page. I worried that it would slow things down. That is, of course, until I realized that even these portions of the book were utterly riveting. Watching Shad Johnson and Quentin Avery go at it soon became something that I looked forward to. Iles wrote two brilliant lawyers who, despite any flaws they might have otherwise had, were masters of the judiciary art. I felt like a part of the jury, as surprise witnesses were thrown into the mix and tantalizing details were unearthed. I felt like a part of Penn's family, as I watched them struggle to keep themselves together while dealing with what everyone around them was terming the "case of the century". In other words, I was completely engrossed. I've never run through a 700+ page book more quickly in my whole life. If I could have lived without sleeping for the three days I read this, I would have. I needed to know what happened next.
More than that though, was the fact that Iles didn't let go of a bit of the character development that he'd been nursing throughout this whole series. Despite the trial, and all the violence surrounding it, he didn't stop at all in his quest to make the reader actually care about these characters. I admit, I teared up more than a few times during this book. I hadn't realized how much I actually empathized with Penn and his family until everything was ramping up to a conclusion. It amazed me how quickly I fell in step with even the new characters who were put in place, and how much I wanted them to succeed. It's no secret that I was a little angry after the last book, where Iles took something away from Penn that I really thought was unfair and unnecessary. Reading this installment though, I understood. I saw the reason. It didn't mend the hole in my heart, but I saw Penn in a new a light. A man who has been through hell and back, but still has a heart as big as anything. It's tough not to love a man like that, even when his decisions seem insane.
Look, the point of this rambling review is to fairly confess that I started out this book with a bit of doubt as to whether or not I was going to fully enjoy it. I expected over the top courtroom melodrama, and worried that the climax might not be what I expected it to be. I'm happy to report that I was wrong. I was so very wrong. This book is amazing. Mississippi Blood is not only the ending that Penn Cage deserved, but the type of ending that any author should be damn proud of. My heart is still pounding from what happened, even after the epilogue tried to assuage my fears. This is mastery, plain and simple, and Greg Iles quite rightly has my heart.
Am I sad that there won't be anymore Penn Cage? Yes. Will I happily read anything else that Greg Iles puts out into the world? Absolutely. If you haven't started this series yet, please do. This is a genre that I all but never read, and so you can trust me when I say that this is worth your time. 2,100 pages later, and I'm not even the least bit sorry that I put in the time.
Recently, I participated in a writers' workshop. It took place in an inn that actually floats on the Missouri River. For five days, I was to be hypnotized by the river's ever-flowing current. I thought of Mark Twain, an author whose books I have never read. What better time could there be to acquaint myself with Twain? What better work than one about the river?
While the Missouri River is not the Mississippi, it is nevertheless far more impressive than my native Kansas River, a wide stream populated with massive sandbars and piles of driftwood. No ships navigate my river. I'm not sure they ever did. In Life on the Mississippi, Twain paints a portrait of a time when many ships paddled lazily up and down the rivers. Full of anecdotes about his time as a young river boat pilot, Twain's love for the river and its boats is evident. Fortunately, I had the pleasure of reading the first half of this book in the days before, during, and immediately after my river sojourn. Aside from Twain's signature humor, Life on the Mississippi bristled with the life of the river—its sounds and smells. I was glad to have this book as a companion during my own exploration of the river. I don't think I would've enjoyed it nearly as much at any other time.
The second half of Life on the Mississippi loses its magic. From humorous tales of his own experience on the river, Twain switches to the tales of others, statistics, and random observations. Some of these have to do with the Mississippi. Some do not. Basically, Twain was let loose to follow whatever tangents he wanted in this book and the results were underwhelming. There were some great stories within these pages, but most of it was as dry as the Kansas River.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
Mildred D. Taylor
I’m reviewing this book as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team and was offered a free ARC copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
The novel, as promised by the description, deals with important themes: family relationships, adultery, betrayal, secrets, lies, race, loss and grief, illness… The story shows us how two families, the Thayers and the Johnsons, who’ve always lived close to each other in the family ranch of the Thayers, a white Southern family, while the Johnsons (African-American) worked for them in a variety of capacities and lived within the grounds, are much more closely linked than they appear at first sight. Kate Thayer, the youngest of the family, finds a diary written by her mother that opens up a Pandora’s Box of secrets and lies, including suicide, child abandonment, and questions about her own identity.
Emotions run high for all the protagonists and also the less important characters, and as the story is narrated in third-person limited point of view it allows the reader to see things from inside the heads (and the hearts) of different characters. This does not make it confusing but instead it gives readers an opportunity to better understand some of the characters, which at first are difficult to like or empathise with (like Katherine, Kate’s grandmother).
The novel is full of emotionally tense moments, and many secrets are revealed very early on. That results in much of the story delving into the changing emotions of the characters (from anger, to guilt, to fear, and back again), with the rhythm of the story speeding up and slowing down at times rather than providing a totally smooth ride.
Despite punctual references to current times (several mentions of Obama, the years when different events took place, and comments about how things have changed over generations), the story seemed to live in a time of its own and in its own environment, creating a somewhat claustrophobic sensation. The only interferences by the outside world take place in the train (where there is a nasty experience with some white youth, and a nice encounter, which to Kate exemplifies the fact that people can fight against prejudice at a personal level, no matter what pressures they are subjected to by their environment), and later in the hospital, although even that serves mostly as a background for the family’s battles and eventual peace. This is mostly a personal story, although it reflects wider themes.
The North and the South are depicted as fairly different worlds, nowadays still, and the codes of behaviour and the topics brought to my mind Faulkner’s novels (although the style and the treatment of the material is completely different). It seemed difficult to believe that in the late 1980s nobody would have spotted that Olivia, Kate’s mother, was pregnant with twins (even if she didn’t want an ultrasound), and that the doctor wouldn’t think of calling for help when he realised the delivery was not going well (especially as this is a family of means). But perhaps the details are not as important as the experiences in this melodrama that ultimately provides a positive message of hope and forgiveness.
This is an emotionally tense read, with some slower and somewhat iterative self-reflective moments, and some faster ones, exploring issues of identity, prejudice and family that will make you think about your own priorities and preconceived ideas. Ah, and 10% of the royalties go to the Polycystic Kidney Foundation, a very good cause (and relevant to the story).