Friday Book Whimsy: A Redbird Christmas

No one writes the South like author Fannie Flagg, and nobody can beat her when it comes to cozy stories as well. A Redbird Christmas is one of my favorite Christmas books, and I rarely miss a year of reading it. It doesn’t take long, as it’s more of a novella than a novel, but it’s well worth the couple of hours you will spend in Lost River, Alabama, with the Mystic Order of the Royal Polka Dots Secret Society and a redbird named Jack.

Oswald T. Campbell makes his annual visit to the doctor. There he receives a startling and depressing diagnosis: his emphysema has worsened to the point that he now only has a few months — at the most — to live. His doctor suggests he can perhaps lengthen his lifespan a bit if he doesn’t spend a winter in his hometown of Chicago. The doctor recommends a spa that his own father used to recommend to his patients. It is located in the southernmost point of Alabama in a town called Lost River.

Oswald isn’t very interested in spending his remaining time alone in Chicago, and so he telephones the spa, only to learn that it no longer exists. Still, the woman who answers the phone tells Oswald to come down anyway, and he can stay with her. He agrees.

What happens next is simply magical. Oswald’s life changes when he discovers a hidden talent, makes many friends, and comes face-to-face (or maybe face-to-beak) with Jack, a cardinal that the local shopkeeper rescued several years ago. Jack is the heart and soul of the small community, and has enhanced the life of many of the townspeople. One of Jack’s biggest admirers is a young girl, crippled from abuse, who comes to live in Lost River, and is saved as well.

A Redbird Christmas is, in a word, charming. The characters are quirky but loveable in the way that only Flagg can make her characters.

You haven’t really had Christmas until you have spent it with the people of Lost River, and, of course, Jack.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop

Yes, Lovers of Idgie and Ruth and Ninny Threadgoode, all who hail from the teeny tiny town of Whistle Stop, rejoice! They are back in Fannie Flagg’s followup novel, The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop.

I loved the original book, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, and its subsequent movie, cleverly called Fried Green Tomatoes, so much that I think of those characters often. So it was with great joy that I discovered that Fannie Flagg has given us an update on those beloved characters.

Ruth, of course, died in the first book. She left Idgie grieving enormously, kept grounded only by Ruth’s son Bud. In The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop, Bud has grown older and yearns to see Whistle Stop once more before he is too old to travel. Whistle Stop — like many towns who were left behind when interstate highways were built, or train stops were eliminated — has become nothing more than a ghost town. Wonder Boy tells us how Bud achieves his dream, and more.

The story is told almost like a series of vignettes, which threw me for a bit. It went back and forth in time, reintroducing some of the old characters and meeting brand new friends. Primary among the new friends is Bud’s daughter Ruthie. She has grown up hearing her dad talk about his wonderful childhood, and it has made her curious.

Idgie has grown older but has lost none of her pizazz. If anything, she has gotten feistier than ever. Through flashbacks and memories, we once again get to enjoy Ninny and hear her stories of Whistle Stop. We relive Christmas at the cafe. Even Evelyn — who is now a widow and enormously wealthy — plays a wonderful role in the story. I loved how the book ended.

Flagg’s writing makes the reader feel as though they are sitting next to the characters, drinking a Co-Cola and talking about the weather. It was such a wonderful story to read during a time when things aren’t always pleasant on the news.

I highly recommend this book, but you must read Fried Green Tomatoes first.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Whole Town’s Talking

Quite frankly, no one could have gotten away with this book except the author Fannie Flagg. For what other author would someone be patient enough to read a book in which most of the characters are dead and buried? Especially if it’s not a horror story?

As far as this reviewer is concerned, Fannie Flagg will never write a story as funny, poignant, and compelling as Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, but I’m glad she keeps trying. While I don’t absolutely LOVE every one of her books, I think it’s safe to say that they nearly all – or at least the ones I have read – make me smile.

That’s because the stories are all character-driven, and her characters are all lovable. Even if they’re dead.

The story begins many years ago with Lordor Nordstrom, an immigrant from Sweden homesteading in Missouri. The area in which he lives is made up entirely of Swedish immigrants. With Lordor taking the lead, the people eventually begin building the makings of a town, which they call Elmwood Springs, with Lordor serving as mayor. They build businesses, churches and even a cemetery.

The town becomes a bustling community with loving friends and neighbors, business owners, preachers, and all manner of people who make up a normal town. But things become interesting when people begin to die. Because lo, and behold, though they are buried in the cemetery, they are still able to talk and observe what’s going on in their little community.

And that’s about all that happens in the book. The story is told almost primarily through the voices of the dead. And it’s okay. Because they people of Elmwood Springs watch out for each other whether living or dead.

There are so many characters over so many years that it becomes confusing for the reader, or at least for this reader. Still, I enjoyed the book very much and it left me feeling good.

That’s about as good a compliment as I can give a novel.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion

imgresFannie Flagg knows how to tell a great story. I have felt this way ever since I read Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, which will always be one of my favorite books.

Reading anything written by Flagg is like sitting in a comfortable chair next to a fireplace listening to your grandmother or a favorite aunt tell you a story. The characters may be too quirky to be believable. The plot may wobble in parts. But you can count on a good story.

Sookie Poole is entering a new phase of her life. Her last daughter has gotten married and Sookie is looking forward to spending more time with her husband enjoying their life together. That is, until one day she opens a certified letter addressed to her mother – an erratic social climber who lives in an assisted living community and for whom Sookie has power-of-attorney. What she finds in the letter completely changes what she knows about her past, present, and future.

Sookie begins a quest to learn more about her past, and Flagg’s story begins.

Meet Fritzi and her family who run a gas station in the 30s in the Midwest. When TB puts her father in the hospital and World War II requires her brother’s services, the three girls take over the filling station. They also find their own ways to contribute to the war effort.

The more Sookie learns, the more confidence she gains in her own abilities. Trust Flagg to make you laugh out loud at some of the adventures Sookie faces. She reminded me of a great deal of Evelyn Couch of Fried Green Tomatoes fame. Tewanda! (Only pertinent to anyone who has read Fried Green Tomatoes.)

The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion was so much fun to read that I was sad to put it down.

Here is a link to the book.