The Testament – by John Grisham (1999)

The Testament

 

Troy Phelan, a cynical billionaire who has grown tired of living, jumps from a skyscraper after signing a simple will that leaves his massive fortune to an illegitimate daughter whom his family knows nothing about. Only a pittance is granted to his other children, and not a penny to his ex-wives. Rachel Lane has grown up not knowing her father, and is a missionary to a remote tribe of Indians in South America. The majority of the book covers the search for the elusive missionary, and her reaction to the inheritance.

Nate O’Reilly is the lawyer that is sent down to Brazil to locate Rachel. His life is a total mess – twice divorced, estranged from his children, in trouble with the IRS, and newly released from a detox program. The sub-story line about Nate’s life is just as intriguing as the main plot of finding Rachel. The stories intertwine perfectly as Nate and Rachel finally meet.

The book switches back and forth from the United States, where the Phelan children are legally contesting the will, to South America, where Nate is traveling through the Pantanal area looking for Rachel. He encounters difficulties of all varieties, making it a hellish trip.

I thoroughly enjoyed “The Testament”, both in book form and as an audiobook. Frank Muller is the narrator, and performs to perfection. His reading is animated, as if he really is the character he is reading. Mr. Muller was the narrator for a number of popular novels, but was injured in a serious motorcycle accident in 2001, from which he never fully recovered. He passed away in 2008, leaving “The Testament” as some of his finest work. Whether you read it in printed or audio version, you’re sure to find this one of John Grisham’s best novels.

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Skipping Christmas – by John Grisham (2002)

Skipping Christmas

Luther and Nora Krank have always celebrated Christmas in a grand way – customized greeting cards, elaborate decorations, gifts for everyone they know and even some they didn’t know, and a huge party at their house. Every year the celebration gets larger and larger. When their only child joins the Peace Corp and won’t be home for a year, Luther figures it’s an excellent occasion to skip Christmas entirely. Their friends and neighbors are aghast at their announcement. As the Kranks try to hold firm to their resolution, they find that it’s just as hard to not have Christmas as it is to celebrate Christmas.

This is a short, humorous book you can enjoy reading in just a couple evenings. It is also available as an audiobook, with an excellent reader.

 

Excerpt:

He unfolded a spreadsheet, and began pointing. “Here, my dear, is what we did last Christmas. Six thousand, one hundred dollars we spent on Christmas. Six thousand, one hundred dollars.”

“I heard you the first time.”

“And precious little to show for it. The vast majority of it down the drain. Wasted. And that, of course, does not include my time, your time, the traffic, stress, worry, bickering, ill-will, sleep loss – all the wonderful things that we pour into the holiday season.”

“Where is this going?”

“Thanks for asking.” Luther dropped the spreadsheets and, quick as a magician, presented the Island Princess to his wife. Brochures covered the table. “Where is this going, my dear? It’s going to the Caribbean. Ten days of total luxury on the Island Princes, the fanciest cruise ship in the world.”

At Home In Mitford – by Jan Karon (1994)

At Home In Mitford

“At Home In Mitford” is the first book in the Mitford series. In this book we are introduced to Father Timothy Cavanaugh, the rector of Lord’s Chapel in the small town of Mitford. After having read the book version, and having listened to the audio version many times, I wish there really was a Mitford!

Father Tim is single and 60-ish, with his share of quirks. We see into his mind, and agonize with him in his social anxieties, and the constant worry that he’s not meeting the needs of his congregation. He is surrounded by a host of unique and lovable townsfolk, including Emma, his snappy secretary; Percy and Velma, who own the diner; Dooley, a young boy he ends up raising; Hoppy the local doc; Sadie Baxter, the oldest person in town, and Cynthia, the rector’s new neighbor.

There are a number of story-lines that run through the book, and you will surely find yourself drawn into many, if not all of them. The combination of fantastic characters and entertaining events makes for a book that you will read with great relish, then reach for the next one in the series.

A Light In The Window – by Jan Karon (1995)

A Light In The Window

The saga of Father Tim in the little town of Mitford continues in “A Light In The Window”. We are introduced almost immediately to Edith Mallory, who is determined to make herself Mrs. Timothy Cavanaugh. Poor Father Tim has no inclination to marry, but she hounds him without mercy.

If you listen to this book on audio (the unabridged version), you can get the full effect. The reader is so good at being Edith! It will have you howling with laughter as you roll about on the floor. Of course, if this was a true story, you’d feel sorry for the rector, but since it’s fiction, you can enjoy the plot without reserve.

The other character that you will both love and hate in this story is dear cousin Meg, who comes from Ireland to pay a visit to Father Tim. She clearly overstays her welcome, but the rector has no idea how to ease her back out the door.

You will find this to be as good a read as the first book, if not better!

 

Excerpt from chapter 11:

Behind the bifocals, her eyes looked like the magnified eyes of a housefly that he’d seen on the cover of Dooley’s natural-science book.

“Cousin…Meg?” He held Barnabas, who was still growling, by the collar.

“You know,” she said, pushing her hair behind her ears, “Cousin Erin’s tea party. You invited me for a visit when I came to America.”

“Aha,” he said, standing awkwardly in the doorway.

“We had a gab by the china dresser. You were drinking sherry.”

He remembered Erin Donovan’s notable family china dresser, but as to gabbing with anyone by it…

“Didn’t you get my post a couple of months ago?” She seemed to loom over him.

“A letter?” A letter! On mauve writing paper. “Of course! Please… come in…”

“Could I borrow a twenty for the driver? Had to be fetched up in a taxi. I’ll repay.”

“Certainly,” he said, digging into his pocket and handing over a twenty.

Little House On The Prairie – by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1935)

Little House On The Prairie

I have enjoyed reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books many times over the years. This time I listened to the audiobook version, which is read by Cherry Jones, who has a fine, deep reading voice. (You may remember her as the actress who played the female president on the TV show “24”.) She reads with enthusiasm and joy; obvious she loves the books too.

Growing up, I was under the impression that Laura’s books were totally biographical, and was puzzled when I noticed them in the fiction section of the library. Turns out that although the incidents in the book actually happened, some basic facts were changed to satisfy the publisher. For example, Laura was only 2-3 years old during the time they lived in Indian Territory, not 5-ish as the book portrays. Also, baby Grace didn’t arrive in the Territory with them, but was born just a few weeks before they moved out. Other facts were altered as well.

That being said, don’t let that stop you from reading this book! It’s totally amazing to hear how they built a house from scratch, dealt with fire, lived in wolf territory, and survived malaria. You’ll get a good picture of both the harshness of prairie life, and the joy of a close-knit family living a simple life together. Written in 1935, it’s still enjoy by millions of people.