Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rainwater - Sandra Brown (with Author Interview)

Don't forget to check back tomorrow, December 11th, to enter our Rainwater Giveaway!

Summary: The year is 1934. With the country in the stranglehold of drought and economic depression, Ella Barron runs her Texas boarding house with an efficiency that ensures her life will be kept in balance. Between chores of cooking and cleaning for her residents, she cares for her ten-year-old so, Solly, a sweet but challenging child whose misunderstood behavior finds Ella on the receiving end of pity, derision, and suspicion.

When David Rainwater arrives at the house looking for lodging, he comes recommended by a trusted friend as "a man of impeccable character." But Ella senses that admitting Mr. Rainwater will bring about unsettling changes.

However, times are hard, and in order to make ends meet, Ella's house must remain one hundred percent occupied. So Mr. Rainwater moves into her house...and impacts her life in ways Ella could never have foreseen.

The changes are echoed by the turbulence beyond the house walls. Friends and neighbors who've thus far maintained a tenuous grip on their meager livelihoods now face foreclosure and financial ruin. In an effort to save their families from homelessness and hunger, farmers and cattlemen are forced to make choices that come with heartrending consequences.
The climate of desperation creates a fertile atmosphere for racial tensions and social unrest. Conrad Ellis--privileged and spoiled and Ella's nemesis since childhood--steps into this arena of teeming hostility to exact his vengeance and demonstrate the extent of his blind hatred and unlimited cruelty. He and his gang of hoodlums come to embody the rule of law, and no one in Gilead, Texas , is safe. Particularly Ella and Solly.

In this hotbed of uncertainty, Ella finds Mr. Rainwater a calming presence. She is moved by the kindness he shows other boards, Solly...and Ella herself. Slowly, she beings to rely on his soft-spokenness, his restraint, and the steely resolve of his convictions.

And on the hottest most violent night of the summer, those principles will be put to the ultimate test. (Summary from book cover -image from sandrabrown.net)
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Mindy's Review: I went into this book a little bit wary. The only Sandra Brown experience I’ve had is when I checked out one of her audio books at the library and was so utterly turned off by the reader that I didn’t make it more than a few chapters in before I gave up entirely. This time, with gorgeous hardcover in hand, it didn’t take long before I was captivated by Ella, a stubborn, and fiercely independent single mother holding it all together for the sake of her young autistic son and increasingly drawn to the utterly charming Mr. Rainwater – a true southern gentleman dying from a terminal disease. I was immersed in the daily lives and hardships of Brown's characters and I frequently imagined myself as a silent occupant in Ella’s boarding house, watching all the goings on with genuine interest and concern. Alternately, I occasionally felt like I wasn’t as deeply entrenched in the book as I should have been. Like I should have been even more horrified by things that were happening, and I wasn't. I'm going to assume that failing probably has more to do with my attempts to read it over the holidays than with the actual storyline.

Rainwater has quite a bit of historical detail without being crusty and boring (hallelujah!). I was pleasantly surprised to find a leisurely-paced romantic novel that conveyed a depth of emotion and character not ordinarily found in your standard romantic fiction. At turns horrifying and tender, this book ultimately ends when one character makes a final, heart-rending sacrifice for another. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say that I held my breath for much of the final pages.

Her rating: 4.25 Stars. For the sensitive reader--There are some scenes of violence in the book, towards both people and animals, that might make you queasy. What sexual situations there were, were more tender than passionate. They didn't bother me, but I'm a desensitized heathen, so you be your own judge....

Sum it up: An emotional and pleasantly surprising historical fiction.
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Kims Review: It is rare that I miss a novel that has Sandra Brown's name on it. I have been a fan for a long time and am constantly going back to re-read the books that I enjoyed most. I own nearly all of them and always fall back on them when nothing else holds my attention.
Rainwater is a significant departure from Brown's previous novels. In fact, correct me if I am wrong, but I think this is her first historical fiction. The time period in which it is set was riddled with emotional travesties and heart wrenching decisions for even the most wealthy of society. The factual references to the depressed economy and the racial tensions dividing the country, make it hard to remember that the book is billed as "fiction" especially while the characters scream for you to make them into a reality.

On the brink of the Great Depression, Ella runs her boarding house with strength and rigorous routine. Her and her young son and carved a life out of that routine, Ella depends on it to keep her son on track. Solly is dubbed a "troubled child". Prone to fits and tantrums, he is always a challenge for the single mother.

When she finds one of her rooms vacant she reluctantly takes on a new boarder, after all he is a family member of the towns doctor. Mr David Rainwater moves in. And thus begins the journey.....

I have so much to say about this novel, but I can't say much without some serious spoilers. But what I can say is this: Sandra Brown yet again strikes gold. It is a book that will make you understand the time, the depressed economy, the emotions of the people and the turmoil of not knowing what it will all come to. Rainwater shows Ella lessons of life that we all would do better learning, but cannot until we open ourselves to the possibility of truly unconditional love.

Her Rating: 5 unbelievable stars

Sum it up: A wonderful twist from a wonderful author.
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Average Rating : 4.63 Stars
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Sandra Brown Interview: Below is Kim's interview with best-selling author Sandra Brown. Beware. This interview DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS.

Rainwater is quite a departure from your thrillers. Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

A vivid memory of my father’s childhood occurred when he was about eight years old. His father, my grandfather, had a showdown with armed federal agents who arrived at his dairy farm demanding that he pour out milk he couldn’t sell because of an over‑supplied market. My grandfather refused to waste good milk when so many families in the area were going hungry. Gun‑toting relatives backed him up, and eventually the agents retreated. No shots were fired, but it was a tense situation that obviously made a lasting memory for my father. My grandfather continued giving away his surplus milk. I also wanted to write about a fiercely independent and unhappy woman who is taught how to live by a man who is dying.

You provide such rich detail regarding life during the Great Depression. How did you conduct your research?

A lot of research was required, particularly into the various government programs – when they went into effect, when they were actively being carried out. The stories that were most wrenching were eyewitness accounts of livestock being shot, not just in Texas but in many plains states. Sometimes it was an entire herd; other times it was the family milk cow. People alive today remember how devastating it was to watch that heart‑wrenching slaughter. I used the Internet for newspaper stories and tapped into various libraries to read journals and printed transcripts of interviews.

One part of the story hinges on a government program to buy cows from farmers. If the cows aren't healthy enough, they’re shot and buried, with no chance for meat or milk to be distributed to the needy. Is this based on an actual depression-era program? How did people react to it at the time?

There were two government programs at the time which were designed to provide economic relief. One was the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation. Its purpose was to remove surplus commodities, among them milk, from the open market in an attempt to create false demands and thereby raise prices. My grandfather ran afoul of that program by refusing to have his surplus “removed.” The other was the Drought Relief Services. This agency purchased dairy and beef cattle for pennies on the dollar. The cows deemed still edible were sent to meat processing plants for canning and distribution to soup kitchens. All others were shot at point of sale. While this provided dairymen and cattlemen immediate relief – with cash – it also eliminated their chance of fiscal recovery because their herds, the source of their livelihoods, were destroyed. I’m sure most grasped the irony of that, and were torn about their decision, as Ollie Thompson was in the book.

The main character, Ella, is in quite a bind in the novel. Despite being better off than some people, she’’s a young woman without much freedom because she’’s tied to the boarding house and her child. Do you see parallels between her situation and difficulties people have in today’’s economy?

Absolutely. Although my timing was coincidental. I began writing RAINWATER before the bottom fell out of our economy in the autumn of 2008. But I think Ella’s struggle, particularly as a single parent, is reflective of what many people are experiencing today. It’s difficult to plan – or even to dream – of a better, happier future when survival is the business of the day. Ella had few choices. Unfortunately a lot of Americans are feeling that same sense of helplessness and entrapment.

What’s most interesting to you about Ella’s relationship with her son Solly?

As a mother, my heart ached for her. I could appreciate how terribly Solly’s rejection of her touch must have hurt. I get my feelings hurt when the kids don’t call! How horrible it must have been for Ella each time her son rebuffed her affections. I also admired her for being so fiercely protective of him. It’s even being debated by book clubs whether or not her protection was detrimental. At that point in time, autism hadn’t been named. Solly was misunderstood and feared. Would he have been safer if confined to an institution? Yet even the thought of that is appalling. One can understand Ella’s dilemma.

What’s your favorite moment in this book?

The scene where Mr. Rainwater gives Ella the copy of A FAREWELL TO ARMS. Each time I worked on it, every time I read that scene now, I get tears in my eyes.

As with most of your work, there’s a twist at the end of the story. Did you think of the twist first, or is this something that you developed along the way?

I had written about four chapters before I went back and wrote the prologue. Not until then did I realize that the story should have a “narrator.” It was while I was writing the prologue that I realized. . .well, you know.

What was the hardest thing about writing a novel in a different (non-thriller) genre?

I wouldn’t say it was harder, just different. Writing Rainwater was a refreshing change of pace . . . a change of everything, in fact. Typically I have a fairly good grip on the plot of a suspense novel before I set about writing it. I must know beforehand how the mystery ultimately will be solved. With Rainwater, I began with Dr. Kincaid bringing David Rainwater to Ella’s door and then let the story unfold on its own. I had to watch myself with Ella’s reactions, not let them be those of a contemporary woman. To any giving situation, I couldn’t allow her to react as, say, I would. I had to keep reminding myself that even though she was an independent, self-supporting woman, she lived in 1934 and that all the mores and mind-sets of that time period applied. She was extremely sensitive to “image,” so I had to take that into account.

Do you plan to write another novel similar in tone to this story or are you going back to writing thrillers after RAINWATER?

I’ve been requested to write another book in the vein of Rainwater. I’m seriously considering it. I’d very much like to if a story compels me the way this one did, and if the timing is right.

When you’re finished writing a book, do you do anything special to celebrate or do you just dive right into the next project?

My husband and I like to travel, by ourselves, with our family, or with friends. I try to plan a trip as a “celebration.” I’ll go to a spa for a day or two as a treat. But after a few weeks of goofing off, I’m eager to get into another project.

Your son Ryan Brown is following in your literary footsteps –– writing a novel to be published in May 2010. Did you give him any special motherly or professional advice?

PLAY DEAD is such a fun read, I have no qualms about his storytelling ability. A zombie football team. Go figure! That must have come from his dad’s side of the family! But, honestly, the best advice I could give Ryan is the same I’d give any starting writer. It’s really a question: “What are you willing to give up in order to do this?” Because writing isn’t just a craft or a profession, it’s a way of life. Be prepared to work your buns off. Be prepared to live with doubt, fear, and exhaustion of every kind. I have no doubt that he’s got the right stuff. He’s got a fantastic imagination, and he’s a hard worker. He applies himself to the WORK. For that I’m very proud.

As stated in my other review, I have read almost all of your books. In Unspeakable I found some content that was a little more graphic than previous books (specifically the scene with the mouse and the scene with the young girl). I also didn't see it as much in novels that came after. Was there something that provoked that in your writing? Or was it as simple as it fitting in the plot as it needed to?

This novel dealt with escaped convicts. Their actions and language were consistent with their characterizations. Some scenes were uncomfortable for me to write, but I felt that in this instance the grittiness was called for.

Thanks for the interview, Sandra!!

This book was given to us for review by Simon & Shuster.

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Melissa Burmester said...
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