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December 29, 2007

A Northern Light



A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
Published in the UK as A Gathering Light
Young Adult Fiction
Rating: 4/5 (Very good)
Finished 12/23/07




Book Description

Mattie Gokey has a word for everything. She collects words, stores them up as a way of fending off the hard truths of her life, the truths that she can't write down in stories.

The fresh pain of her mother's death. The burden of raising her sisters while her father struggles over his brokeback farm. The mad welter of feelings Mattie has for handsome but dull Royal Loomis, who says he wants to marry her. And the secret dreams that keep her going--visions of finishing high school, going to college in New York City, becoming a writer.

Yet when the drowned body of a young woman turns up at the hotel where Mattie works, all her words are useless. But in the dead woman's letters, Mattie again finds her voice, and a determination to live her own life.

Set in 1906 against the backdrop of the murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, this coming-of-age novel effortlessly weaves romance, history, and a murder mystery into something moving, and real, and wholly original.

With Christmas quickly approaching, I knew I needed to choose a book that would hold my attention, but be light enough to pick up and set aside as need be. After a few failed attempts with other novels, A Northern Light proved to be just the book I was looking for. I enjoyed Donnelly's narrative style, alternating between past and present, the suspense building, yet never becoming predictable. Mattie is a loveable character, and I found myself hoping things would work out well for her. While not entirely a happily-ever-after, the ending was quite satisfying.

Favorite passages:

The Fulton Chain Floating Library is only a tiny room, an overeager closet, really, belowdecks in Charlie Eckler's pickle boat. It is nothing like the proper library they have in Old Forge, but it has its own elements of surprise. Mr. Eckler uses the room to store his wares, and when he finally gets around to moving a chest of tea or a sack of cornmeal, you never knew what you might find. And once in a while, the main library in Herkimer sends up a new book or two. It's nice to get your hands on a new book before everyone else does. While the pages are still clean and white and the spine hasn't been snapped. While it still smells like words and not Mrs. Higby's violet water or Weaver's mamma's fried chicken or my aunt Jossie's liniment.

and

I used to wonder what would happen if characters in books could change their fates. What if the Dashwood sisters had had money? Maybe Elinor would have gone traveling and left Mr. Ferrars dithering in the drawing room. What if Catherine Earnshaw had just married Heathcliff to begin with and spared everyone a lot of grief? What if Hester Prynne and Dimmesdale had gotten onboard that ship and left Roger Chillingworth far behind? I felt sorry for these characters sometimes, seeing as they couldn't ever break out of their stories, but then again, if they could have talked to me, they'd likely have told me to stuff all my pity and condescension, for neither could I.

and

The main house has four stories plus an attic. Forty rooms in all. When the hotel is fully booked, as it is this week, there are over a hundred people in the building. All strangers to one another, coming and going. Eating and laughing and breathing and sleeping and dreaming under the same roof.

They leave things behind sometimes, the guests. A bottle of scent. A crumpled handkerchief. A pearl button that fell off a dress and rolled under a bed. And sometimes they leave other sorts of things. Things you can't see. A sigh trapped in a corner. Memories tangled in the curtains. A sob fluttering against the windowpane like a bird that flew in and can't get back out. I can feel these things. They dart and crouch and whisper.

I've had this book for a few years now and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. Even better, I now have an ARC of The Winter Rose (Donnelly's sequel to The Tea Rose). I can't think of a better choice to start off the New Year!

Go here and here for further details of novel, as well as Donnelly's inspiration for writing it.

December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred,
and we are better throughout the year for having,
in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.
~Laura Ingalls Wilder


I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more. ~Dr. Seuss

Ah friends, dear friends,
As
years go on and heads get gray,
How fast the guest do go!
Touch hands, touch hands,
With those that stay.
Strong hands to weak,
Old hands to young, around the
Christmas board
touch hands.
The false forget, the foe forgive,
For every guest will go
And every fire burn low
And cabin empty stand.
Forget, forgive,
For who may say that Christmas day
May ever come to host or guest again.
Touch hands!
~ William Henry Harrison Murray

December 20, 2007

Mmmmm, Mmmmm Good

Editorial Note: Let's just assume for the sake of argument that this is a salad plate. A very small salad plate. Or better yet, a dessert plate. No one in their right mind would eat such a large serving of mashed potatoes and gravy, what with Christmas right around the corner.


'Tis the season for easy, homemade comfort food. And, have I got just the dish for you. It was beyond fabulous! It was GREAT! I'm ready to make it again next week, it was so good. Go here for the recipe (and be sure to leave me a comment if you give it a try!).

December 17, 2007

Meme Monday!

I so rarely have time to participate in all the memes I come across, but since my reading time is way down this year (and thus, not many reviews each month), I thought I'd give this one a whirl.

5 Things I was doing 10 years ago:

- Living on 3 acres just outside of Lincoln, Nebraska
- Trying desperately to sell the house and join my husband in Fort Worth, Texas.
- Dealing with a leaky roof, discovered just days before the walk-thru inspection after finally selling the house.
- Stressing about the move, already missing all our friends in Nebraska. (Little did I know we'd be back in a couple of years!)
- Consoling our 14-year-old daughter who did not want to move. (Gee, look who's still living happily in Texas now?)

5 Things on my To-Do List today:

- Mail Christmas cards
- Dust (It's December, right?)
- Order ham for 12/31
- Ironing
- Write birthday thank you notes

5 Things I would do if I were a millionaire:

- Move here (Preferably here, although it's no longer for sale. Drat!)
- Travel here and here
- Continue to work in a bookstore (maybe here)
- Pay off Amy's student loans
- Start a trust fund for our granddaughter


5 Things I'll never wear again (or have never worn):

- Stirrup pants
- Headbands
- Ski boots
- Pantyhose
- Permed hair

5 Favorite Toys:

- MiniCooper
- Olympus E-410 Camera
- iPod
- Kayak
- Computer

It's such a busy time of year, I'm not going to officially tag anyone. If you want to play, you're tagged.

December 16, 2007

Chosen Prey


Chosen Prey by John Sandford
Thriller/Mystery
Finished on 12/13/07
Rating: 2/5 (Below Average)

Book Description
The #1 bestselling novelist returns with his most harrowing Prey of all: the story of a congenial man with a decidedly uncongenial hobby.

"Masterful," wrote the Los Angeles Times about Easy Prey. "Secrets explode, bullets fly, bodies fall, and the ground keeps shifting. You won't want to miss it." True words-but the best is yet to come.

He desired women. All kinds, all shapes, all sizes. He would fix on a woman and build imaginary stories around her. Some of the women he knew well, others not at all. Most of them faded quickly. Only a few became objects of desire.

An art history professor and writer and cheerful pervert, James Qatar had a hobby: he took secret photographs of women and turned them into highly sexual drawings. One day, he took the hobby a step further and . . . well, one thing led to another, and he had to kill her. A man in his position couldn't be too careful, after all. And you know something? He liked it.

Already faced with a welter of confusion in his personal life, Deputy Chief Lucas Davenport decides to take this case himself, hoping that some straightforward police work will clear his head, but as the trail begins to take some unexpected turns, it soon becomes clear that nothing is straightforward about this killer. The man is learning as he goes, Lucas realizes, taking great strides forward with each murder. He is becoming a monster-and Lucas may have no choice but to walk right into his lair.

Filled with the rich characterization and detail that distinguish all of Sandford's work, Chosen Prey is a masterpiece of suspense.


I beg to differ. I usually whip through Sandford's books in just a few short days. I'm not sure if it's the hectic holiday season or the less-than-stellar plot, but this Lucas Davenport thriller (#12) was quite the disappointment. Even the finale, which finally caught my attention, was a letdown with its predictable solution. Here's hoping the next in the series will be an improvement. There are five remaining, with #18 due out in May.

December 15, 2007

Dreamers of the Day



I am so excited!! I just learned that Mary Doria Russell has a new book due out in March! It's been almost ten years since I met Ms. Russell at a small book conference in Cleveland and I've been anxiously awaiting word of a new publication. The Sparrow remains one of my all-time favorite books ever. It's one I love to hand sell to customers and currently have it on an end cap (display) with eleven other favorites. A Thread of Grace is another memorable novel that I simply must make time to read a second time.

You can read more about the author and her books here and, of course, pre-order a copy of Dreamers of the Day here.

December 9, 2007

Stop the Insanity!

Von Maur
Omaha, Nebraska
December 5, 2007
8 lives lost (1 from Lincoln; 1 the cousin of a good friend)
I've shopped at this mall many, many times, as have several of my good friends.
I work in a mall with a Von Maur across the way.
There are simply no words to express my anger and sadness.


Two more shootings

Youth With a Mission
Avarada, Colorado
2 lives lost, 2 injured
December 9, 2007

New Life Church
Colorado Springs, Colorado
4 shot
December 9, 2007

What is wrong with this country???

The Middle Place

Update: Go here to watch Kelly's touching trailer for the book.



The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan
Memoir
Finished 12/3/07
Rating: 4/5 (Very good)
ARC - Book due out on January 8, 2008





Publisher's Blurb:

In humorous, incandescent prose, Kelly Corrigan alternates tales of growing up Corrigan with the story of her life and her father's today as they each--successfully, for now--battle cancer. A book that reminds us of the good things in life, The Middle Place examines the universal themes of family, adulthood, and how we all must, inevitably, make the leap to the other side and grow up.

Book Description:

For Kelly Corrigan, family is everything. At thirty-six, she had a marriage that worked, a couple of funny, active kids, and a weekly newspaper column. But even as a thriving adult, Kelly still saw herself as George Corrigan's daughter. A garrulous Irish-American charmer from Baltimore, George was the center of the ebullient, raucous Corrigan clan. He greeted every day by opening his bedroom window and shouting, "Hello, World!" Suffice it to say, Kelly's was a colorful childhood, just the sort a girl could get attached to. Kelly lives deep within what she calls the Middle Place -- "that sliver of time when parenthood and childhood overlap" -- comfortably wedged between her adult duties and her parents' care. But she's abruptly shoved into a coming-of-age when she finds a lump in her breast -- and gets the diagnosis no one wants to hear. And so Kelly's journey to full-blown adulthood begins. When George, too, learns he has late-stage cancer, it is Kelly's turn to take care of the man who had always taken care of her -- and show us a woman as she finally takes the leap and grows up. Kelly Corrigan is a natural-born storyteller, a gift you quickly recognize as her father's legacy, and her stories are rich with everyday details. She captures the beat of an ordinary life and the tender, sometimes fractious moments that bind families together. Rueful and honest, Kelly is the prized friend who will tell you her darkest, lowest, screwiest thoughts, and then later, dance on the coffee table at your party. Funny, yet heart-wrenching, The Middle Place is about being a parent and a child at the same time. It is about the special double-vision you get when you are standing with one foot in each place. It is about the family you make and the family you came from -- and locating, navigating, and finally celebrating the place where they meet. It is about reaching for life with both hands -- and finding it.

Two years ago, at the age of 41, my younger brother was diagnosed with rectal cancer. We had just experienced the absolute worst loss of our lives, only to learn of Chris' cancer 6 weeks after Rachel's death. We were stunned beyond belief. After two rounds of chemo, radiation, and radical surgery, Chris is now, thankfully, cancer-free. Somewhere along the line, in my quest to become more knowledgeable about this particular cancer (to learn how to help my brother emotionally, as well as educate myself about my increased risk as a sibling), I stumbled upon a particularly informative website. While CircusOfCancer is a site for those seeking information about breast cancer rather than colo-rectal cancer, it provided me with an insider's view to chemo, radiation, how to talk to friends with cancer, etc. I was moved by the story behind the website and read everything posted, including the photo essays. Little did I know, two years down the road I'd pick up an Advanced Reader's Copy of Kelly Corrigan's memoir, only to discover that she was the creator of CircusOfCancer! What a small world.

Corrigan is a marvelous storyteller, drawing you into her family and home with the ease of a seasoned writer. When I finished the book, I felt as if I'd met her in person, trading stories about family and love and fear and loss. In typical fashion, I read with a packet of sticky notes in hand and wound up with a dozen or so pages marked for a second reading. This first passage is from the Prologue:

...I called my parents from the maternity ward and cried through the following: "Mom, Dad, it's a girl, and Dad, we named her after you. We named her Georgia."

Three years after that, almost to the day, I called home to tell my parents that I had cancer.
And that's what this whole thing is about. Calling home. Instinctively. Even when all the paperwork--a marriage license, a notarized deed, two birth certificates, and seven years of tax returns--clearly indicates you're an adult, but all the same, there you are, clutching the phone and thanking God that you're still somebody's daughter.

I especially like this brief passage:

I get another e-mail from a particularly grown-up friend of mine, Jen Komosa. She just says, "You are stronger than you think. You are strong enough."

Such truth in these simple words. I never thought I could survive the loss of one of our children and I'm sure there were times when my brother thought he couldn't survive the rigors of cancer treatment. But it's amazing what the heart and mind and body can endure. We are all stronger than we think.

I like the cadence of these particular paragraphs:

There is fear, like the moment before a car accident or the jolt that shoots through you when you see your baby slip under water, and there is pain, like whacking your head into a cabinet door left open or the quiver in your shoulders as you carry your end of the sofa up those last few stairs, fingers slipping. And then there is pain and fear together, like delivery a baby or standing up for the first time after surgery. Until they tell you it's working, chemo is like that, pain and fear, fear and pain, alternating relentlessly.
Yesterday, I took eighteen pills in twenty-four hours for everything from the well-known side effects like nausea and fatigue to the secret ones like runaway infections and tear-jerking constipation. Each side effect can be treated with medication, which usually has its own side effect. For nausea: Zofran. For the constipation caused by Zofran: laxatives and stool softeners. To ward of infection and stabilize your white blood cell counts: Neupogen. For the deep bone pain caused by Neupogen: Vicodin, which in turn causes nausea and drowsiness. And there you are, right back where you started.

I nodded my head in agreement when I read this:

I envy my dad his faith. I envy all people who have someone to beseech, who know where they're going, who sleep under the fluffy white comforter of belief.

I remember feeling this way after Rachel died. And I remember feeling like this, too:

I feel different from everyone these days. Words are loaded now--people who were "so sick they wanted to die," who ate "so much they wanted to puke," who hope someone will "take them out back and shoot them" before they get old and infirm.

And yet, as I relate to quite a bit of Kelly's thoughts and feelings, I became annoyed when I read the following passage (her response to learning she would need to begin hormone therapy in order to temporarily eliminate estrogen from her system, thus postponing the possibility of any more children for five more years):

I shake my head. "They talked about cancer like it was something to get through, to treat, to beat." They never said it was going to change everything, all my plans, and take things away from me that I have wanted since I was a child. "They said it was gonna be a bad year. So doesn't that mean when the bad year is over, when you do everything you are told to do--and with a goddamn smile no less--you get to go back to the life you had?"
Finally, I just stare ahead. I'm so mad and so tired at the same time.
"I thought that was what I was here for--to raise a bunch of kids," I say as we get closer to home.

I wanted to reach through the pages and past and shake this young woman and tell her she should be thankful to be alive. Thankful to have two beautiful daughters, a loving husband, devoted parents and friends and relatives who love her deeply. I wanted to tell her that while my brother is also a cancer survivor, he didn't get to go back to the life he once had either, but he's deeply grateful for his life, physically altered though it may be.

I can't begin to imagine how I'd personally handle the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, but I did watch my brother ride the emotional rollercoaster for the longest year of his life. I'd like to think that Kelly's reaction to the hormone therapy was exacerbated by the stress and emotional fragility of that long year in her life and that she can now appreciate how truly blessed she is to have what she has.

And now to jump on my soap box -- Many, many cancers are treatable, if detected early. If you are 50 or older, get a colonoscopy! I had one two years ago (six years sooner than normal, but highly recommended due to the hereditary risk as a sibling), and quite honestly, it's not a big deal. I was alseep through the entire procedure and the prep the day before was certainly tolerable. I'd gladly have that test once every five years if it prevents the ill effects of chemo (nausea, chemo brain, neuropathy, mouth sores, etc.), not to mention prolonging my life.

December 2, 2007

A Month In Review - November

In spite of three low ratings, I feel as if I had a pretty decent month, especially when you consider I was fairly busy with a long-weekend getaway to Missouri, fall yard work, Thanksgiving, Christmas decorating, and the arrival of our new dog, Miss Annie.

Click on the titles to read my reviews.

New Moon by Stephenie Meyer (3.5/5)
The Good Guy by Dean Koontz (4.5/5)
A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis (2.5/5)
Consequences by Penelope Lively (2/5)
The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz (2/5)
Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas (3.5/5)

Favorite of the Month: The Good Guy by Dean Koontz

Books Read 6
DNF 0
Male Authors 3
Female Authors 3
New-To-Me Authors 1
Across the Borders 2
Fiction 5
Nonfiction 1
Classic 0
Poetry 0
Young Adult 1
Sci-Fi 0
Fantasy 0
Horror 0
Humor 0
Travel 0
Culinary 0
Mystery/Thriller 2
Series 1
Re-read 0
Challenge 0
Mine 2
Library 4
ARC 1
Gift 0
Keeper 0

Note: Only books completed are counted in the above totals with, of course, the exception of the DNF category.

December 1, 2007

Introducing Annie

I had hoped to get some new outdoor pictures of Annie, but it's been sleeting since 2 a.m. and it's all we can do to get her to go outside to potty! However, I have a few shots from earlier in the week that I thought I could share. But first, more about our new doggy!

Her name is Annie. She was originally called Socks, but neither Rod nor I cared too much for that name, so Tuesday she became Annie. She's between 3 and 4 and weighs about 50 lbs. The vet says she's probably a mix of shepherd and retriever, near as she can tell. She's very healthy and just an absolute sweetheart. We got her from our friends who live just outside of Kansas City, Missouri. She's basically been a stray, staying close to their home (they moved down there this summer) and their neighbor's, both of whom live on acreages. Nobody really owned her, but at least two households fed and watered her. One of the neighbors has a male lab and he (the dog) got Annie pregnant - the pups were born 3 months ago - all were given away after they were weaned - the last one to go was that cute little black puppy in the first set of pictures (the other little dog is Stoley, our friends' Yorkie).

So, Miss Annie arrived here the day after Thanksgiving. It was probably Annie's first car ride and she did quite well. Just a bit shaky at first and then she settled down and didn't whimper or whine. Actually, we've yet to hear her bark! And she doesn't seem to know how to play with any of the dog toys we got. She's probably never had any.

She's done so well inside during the afternoon and night when we're home. No potty accidents! The vet says she's probably so used to going outside that she wouldn't think to go inside. She's used to grass, dirt, leaves, etc. But, oh, she loves her bed and often times will go upstairs (it's in our bedroom) and curl up on it even though we're downstairs. She seems quite happy with her new home. I know we're both thrilled to have her!

She's definitely a calm dog, but she's beginning to show a bit more personality and liveliness. I think it's just taking her time to settle in and get used to us and our routine. We haven't had much success with the leash, though. I've got some small treats that I'm going to use to reward her when she has the leash on. So far she'll wear it, but she lies down and won't budge. She doesn't seem to be afraid of it when it's just on the floor (I put it near her food & water so she'd get used to seeing it), but she seems scared to wear it. I'm sure this will all work itself out eventually. I'm anxious to take her on walks, but she has to be on a leash.

We really have no idea what her story is, but she's very sweet and docile. Yesterday was her first day home alone in the house. We'd been putting her in the backyard while at work, but Thursday I came home and she wasn't in the yard! I went back in the house and noticed her out on the front porch!! Apparently, she can jump the fence. I guess it just took her a few days to figure it out. Thank goodness she stuck around (or came back home!) and didn't get hit by a car (or picked up by Animal Control!). So she stayed inside yesterday with both tvs on (upstairs and downstairs) for company. Rod came home around 11 to check on her and take her out to potty. I got home around 1:15 and she was fine. We have a blanket on the couch since she likes to sleep up there. I've decided not to make it a rule to keep her off. It doesn't hurt anything and I can fold the blanket up when we have company.

And now the pictures!


Sweet puppy!


Does this collar make me look fat?

Don't worry. I'm not sad. That's just my look.

This is my good side.

Enough already with the pictures!

November 30, 2007

Tallgrass



Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas
Contemporary (Historical) Fiction
Finished on 11/16/07
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)




From AudioFile


Tallgrass is a rare treasure, a historical novel that drops the reader into a unique time and place while illuminating universal truths about human nature. The story is told by Rennie Stroud, an adult who looks back on her childhood in a narrative voice reminiscent of Scout Finch's in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. As Rennie reflects on the impact of a Japanese internment camp on her small farming community in Colorado during WWII, Lorelei King uses tone and cadence to bring the various characters to life--Rennie herself, a father reminiscent of Atticus Finch, suspicious townspeople, and displaced Japanese. The icing on the cake is an extensive conversation between narrator King and author Sandra Dallas. They provide a historical perspective on the internment camps, drawing parallels with today's war on terrorism. N.E.M. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award.

We recently purchased a treadmill to use during the long, cold winter months. As I've walked, I've been quite content listening to music on my iPod, but one afternoon while perusing the shelves at our local library, I decided to see if I could find an audio book to listen to for a change of pace. I came upon Tallgrass and remembered how much Kay loved it, so I added it to my stack. I've tried reading a couple of Dallas's books, but none of them grabbed my attention after the first few chapters and so they were subsequently returned unfinished. This novel, however, was very enjoyable to listen to. When I wasn't listening to it while walking on the treadmill, I managed 5 or 10 minutes on my short commute to and from work, plus a little here and there while cooking dinner.

I don't have much experience with audio book readers, but I was quite satisfied with Lorelei King's narration of the novel; each character was distinctly portrayed and the tension was heavy and foreboding. Not having the book in hand, though, means I don't have any special passages to share. As I said, Kay loved this book and has a marvelous review here. I enjoyed the audio book experience so much that I decided to pick up another from the library. Now I get to see what all the fuss is about with Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. So far, so good. I'm actually eager to hit the treadmill for my hour-long walk!

November 29, 2007

The Darkest Evening of the Year



The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz
Thriller
Finished 11/26/07
Rating: 2/5 (Below Average)



Book Description

With each of his #1 New York Times bestsellers, Dean Koontz has displayed an unparalleled ability to entertain and enlighten readers with novels that capture the essence of our times even as they bring us to the edge of our seats. Now he delivers a heart-gripping tour de force he’s been waiting years to write, at once a love story, a thrilling adventure, and a masterwork of suspense that redefines the boundaries of primal fear—and of enduring devotion.

Amy Redwing has dedicated her life to the southern California organization she founded to rescue abandoned and endangered golden retrievers. Among dog lovers, she’s a legend for the risks she’ll take to save an animal from abuse. Among her friends, Amy’s heedless devotion is often cause for concern. To widower Brian McCarthy, whose commitment she can’t allow herself to return, Amy’s behavior is far more puzzling and hides a shattering secret.

No one is surprised when Amy risks her life to save Nickie, nor when she takes the female golden into her home. The bond between Amy and Nickie is immediate and uncanny. Even her two other goldens, Fred and Ethel, recognize Nickie as special, a natural alpha. But the instant joy Nickie brings is shadowed by a series of eerie incidents. An ominous stranger. A mysterious home invasion.

And the unmistakable sense that someone is watching Amy’s every move and that, whoever it is, he’s not alone.

Someone has come back to turn Amy into the desperate, hunted creature she’s always been there to save. But now there’s no one to save Amy and those she loves. From its breathtaking opening scene to its shocking climax, The Darkest Evening of the Year is Dean Koontz at his finest, a transcendent thriller certain to have readers turning pages until dawn.

Fred and Ethel. Now aren't those great dog names?! I wish I could say that the book was as great as the names. I was so excited to get the ARC from work last week, especially after such a good reading experience with The Good Guy. But alas, this was a huge disappointment for me. Don't get me wrong. The dogs were great. If it weren't for them, I would've quit the book well before the halfway point. But I kept reading, hoping to settle into what I thought was going to be a marvelous story. Unfortunately, two of the supporting characters were so cruel to a young child, it turned my stomach every time the story switched back to them. I honestly don't know why I bothered finishing the book. But I will say that a co-worker read the book in roughly 24 hours and loved it. She agreed that the verbal abuse was difficult to read, but she also felt hopeful and satisfied with the final outcome. So there you have it; two completely opposite opinions. Perhaps these passages will convince you to give the book a chance:

Golden retrievers are not bred to be guard dogs, and considering the size of their hearts and their irrepressible joy in life, they are less than likely to bite than to bark, less likely to bark than to lick a hand in greeting. In spite of their size, they think they are lap dogs, and in spite of being dogs, they think they are also human, and nearly every human the meet is judged to have the potential to be a boon companion who might, at any moment, cry "Let's go!" and lead them on a great adventure.

and

When Amy had first come into his life and had brought an arkful of canines with her, she had said that dogs centered you, calmed you, taught you how to cope. He had thought she was just a little daffy for golden retrievers. Eventually he had realized that what she had said was nothing less or more than the dead-solid truth.

and

Following an awkward silence, he said, "Dogs' lives are short, too short, but you know that going in. You know the pain is coming, you're going to lose a dog, and there's going to be great anguish, so you live fully in the moment with her, never fail to share her joy or delight in her innocence, because you can't support the illusion that a dog can be your lifelong companion. There's such beauty in the hard honesty of that, in accepting and giving love while always aware it comes with an unbearable price. Maybe loving dogs is a way we do penance for all the other illusions we allow ourselves and for the mistakes we make because of those illusions."

And, as you may recall from my previous reviews of Koontz's novels, I am easily distracted by his over-the-top similes. The following made me chuckle:

The fog imparted a pleasant chill to his exposed face and his bare head, and it suppressed most noises. He could barely hear the surf breaking, which sounded like ten thousand people whispering in the distance.

Thinking in similes and metaphors was a not always welcome consequence of being formed by literature.

"Like ten thousand people whispering in the distance."

It wasn't a very good simile, because why would ten thousand people be gathered anywhere to whisper.

Once the simile was in his head, he couldn't case it out, and it began to annoy him. Annoyance phased into uneasiness, and soon uneasiness became a deep disquiet.

As improbable as the image was, the thought of ten thousand people whispering together began to creep him out.

All right. Enough. It was just a damn simile. It didn't mean anything. Nothing meant anything, ever. He was doing fine. He was back in his groove. He was just swell. Hi-ho.

Final note:

Koontz fans are well-aware of his love of dogs, particularly that of his own golden retriever, Trixie. The following letter was enclosed with the ARC and I thought I'd share it here:

Dear Bookseller,

As I was in the middle of writing The Darkest Evening of the Year, we lost our beloved golden retriever, Trixie, to cancer. For the next month, my grief was so intense, I could not write. Because for me the best thing about this job is working with our beautiful language and exploring the power of storytelling, I have spent most of my time at the keyboard and have done very little promotion over the years, yet in all those thousands of hours at my desk, I have never suffered writer's block--until that month of grief.

Trixie had not only brought beauty and humor and love into our lives but had made of us better people in ways that I will one day be moved to write about at book length. Losing her was, to me, like losing a child, a wise and radiant child; the pain was crippling.

The Darkest Evening of the Year is set against the background of dog-rescue. The lead, Amy Redwing, a woman with a shattering secret in her past, operates an organization that rescues abused and abandoned golden retrievers. As you know, every year such rescue groups save the lives of thousands of at-risk dogs of every breed. These people commit time, money, and their hearts to a mission of mercy. They embody the tendency to selflessness that I have long enjoyed celebrating in the lead characters of my novels.

At first, following Trixie's death, I was not sure that I could go on with this book, writing every day about the wonder of dogs. But this novel is also about persevering in the face of loss, about the profound mystery of dogs, about their unique relationship to us, about living life with purpose and with faith so that it has meaning. Not to continue with the book would have been a failure to have absorbed all the lessons that dogs in general and Trixie in particular had taught me.

Enclosed is a copy of The Darkest Evening of the Year. After that bad month, when I returned to the keyboard, I found myself possessed by the novel. I hope you will find this story gripping, amusing, and moving, but whatever you feel about it, I would be pleased to hear from you if you would like to drop me a line.

Warmest regards,

Dean Koontz

Wow. Having experienced the loss of a child and my first dog, I was quite moved by this letter and feel a deep sense of empathy for Dean's loss. And it is because of this that my wish is that you will all disregard my poor rating and give the book a chance. Especially my neighbor, Lynn, who happens to be a volunteer and foster parent for GRRIN (Golden Retriever Rescue In Nebraska). The book is yours, if you'd like it, Lynn!

November 26, 2007

Consequences



Consequences by Penelope Lively
Contemporary Fiction
Finished on 11/20/07
Rating: 2/5 (Below Average)





Book Description

The Booker Prize-winning author's first novel since The Photograph is a sweeping saga of three generations of women, their lives, and loves.

A chance meeting in St. James's Park begins young Lorna and Matt's intense relationship. Wholly in love, they leave London for a cottage in a rural Somerset village. Their intimate life together-Matt's woodcarving, Lorna's self-discovery, their new baby, Molly-is shattered with the arrival of World War II. In 1960s London, Molly happens upon a forgotten newspaper-a seemingly small moment that leads to her first job and, eventually, a pregnancy by a wealthy man who wants to marry her but whom she does not love. Thirty years later, Ruth, who has always considered her existence a peculiar accident, questions her own marriage and begins a journey that takes her back to 1941-and a redefinition of herself and of love.

Told in Lively's incomparable prose, Consequences is a powerful story of growth, death, and rebirth and a study of the previous century-its major and minor events, its shaping of public consciousness, and its changing of lives.

Oh, this book had such potential! I've never read anything by Penelope Lively, but the cover caught my attention when the book first arrived in our store and I'm such a sucker for anything set during World War II. As I read the first 50 or so pages, I was reminded of both Rosamunde Pilcher's The Shell Seekers and Ian McEwan's Atonement; not necessarily because of similar storylines, but rather because of the same sort of richly evocative writing. But just as I was settling in for what I thought was going to be a great multigenerational tale, the story suddenly took a turn for the worse and began a nonstop race through the ensuing decades, abandoning all hope for a complex saga, peopled with unforgettable characters. Instead, one is rushed forward through the years, and large chunks of time are left to the imagination. The author makes use of the occasional flashback, bringing the reader up-to-date on the lives of various characters, but I soon lost track of several key figures, and was forced to flip back-and-forth to reacquaint myself with their genealogy. As a result, I never really came to care about them as I did their parents (or grandparents).

I won't dismiss this new-to-me author based solely on this disappointing book, especially since I did enjoy the first few chapters. I have a copy of Spiderweb in my stacks and am curious to see if it's any better. I'm also open to recommendations, if anyone has a favorite or two by
Penelope Lively.

Favorite Passages:

They moved into the cottage three weeks later, having spent much of their small capital, and some of Lorna's nest egg, on essential furnishings and equipment. They had two armchairs with sagging springs, a deal table, kitchen chairs, a bed, a couch, an array of unmatching crockery, some worn floor coverings. A primus stove, a slop pail, a chamber pot. Two packing cases to double as tables and storage areas. Hurricane lamps. They felt rich. Lorna was amazed to discover in herself some proprietorial instinct. She had never cared tuppence about the trappings of her room at Brunswick Gardens; now, she cherished each of these unassuming effects. She loved the rag rugs they had found in a jumble sale, the patchwork bedcover from a flea market, the Victorian jug and basin that had cost a sinful five shillings in an antique shop. She had a chipped brown pitcher, which she filled with great sprays of scarlet hips and haws from the hedgerows; she wrestled with the old range, and produced her first triumphant meals; she washed their clothes in the big copper that was in the shed and pinned them to the line. When they pushed their bikes up the hill from the village and she saw the solid little outline of the cottage ahead, she thought: home.

and

It sometimes seemed to Molly that the library was a place of silent discord and anarchy, its superficial tranquility concealing a babel of assertion and dispute. Fiction is one strident lie - or rather, many competing lies; history is a long narrative of argument and reassessment; travel shouts of self-promotion; biography is pushing a product. As for autobiography... And all this is just fine. That is the function of the books: they offer a point of view, they offer many conflicting points of view, they provoke thought, they provoke irritation and admiration and speculation. They take you out of yourself and put you down somewhere else from whence you never entirely return. If the library were to speak, Molly felt, if it were to speak with a thousand tongues, there would be a deep collective growl coming from the core collection upon the high shelves, where the voices of the nineteenth century would be setting precedents, the bleats and cries of new opinion, new fashion, new style. The surface repose of a library is a cynical deception.

November 25, 2007

A Grief Observed



A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis
Nonfiction - Christian Inspiration
Finished 11/20/07
Rating: 2.5/5 (Fair)




Publisher's Blurb:

In April 1956, C.S. Lewis, a confirmed bachelor, married Joy Davidman, an American poet with two small children. After four brief, intensely happy years, Lewis found himself alone again, and inconsolable. To defend himself against the loss of belief in God, Lewis wrote this journal, an eloquent statement of rediscovered faith. In it he freely confesses his doubts, his rage, and his awareness of human frailty. In it he finds again the way back to life.

I've only read one work by C. S. Lewis (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and that was many, many years ago. As previously mentioned, I bought this book for my daughter, but decided against sending it to her and wound up reading it myself. One could easily read this slim book in one sitting, but I took my time, reading it in bits and pieces over the course of an entire month. I have a dozen pages marked with sticky notes, yet looking back on the book as a whole, I really didn't care too much for Lewis' impenetrably obtuse ramblings. I found myself re-reading paragraphs, shaking my head in confusion, trying to decipher the meaning behind his words. Having said that, there are several passages about grief that resonated with me.

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.

and

An odd byproduct of my loss is that I'm aware of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet. At work, at the club, in the street, I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they'll 'say something about it' or not. I hate it if they do, and if they don't.

and

And grief still feels like fear. Perhaps, more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen. It gives life a permanently provisional feeling.

and

Getting over it so soon? But the words are ambiguous. To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he's had his leg off it is quite another. After that operation either the wounded stump heals or the man dies. If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop. Presently he'll get back his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg. He has 'got over it.' But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man. There will be hardly any moment when he forgets it. Bathing, dressing, sitting down and getting up again, even lying in bed, will all be different. His whole way life will be changed. All sorts of pleasures and activities that he once took for granted will have to be simply written off. Duties too. At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again.

Still, there's no denying that in some sense I 'feel better,' and with that comes at once a sort of shame, and a feeling that one is under a sort of obligation to cherish and foment and prolong one's unhappiness.

and

I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process...Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape. As I've already noted, not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago. That is when you wonder whether the valley isn't a circular trench. But it isn't. There are partial recurrences, but the sequence doesn't repeat.

It's quite obvious why this little book is so popular with those experiencing the loss of a loved one. Many of these quotes remind me of my own feelings during my initial months of grief. Maybe I would've have given the book a higher rating had I read it, say two years ago, rather than almost two-and-half years after my own loss. In any event, I'm glad to have finally read something else by C. S. Lewis and am now interested in renting Shadowlands (starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger), the dramatized account of the Lewis and Gresham [nee Davidman] romance.

November 20, 2007

Bel Canto

After recently reading Booklogged's reviews for Bel Canto and Birds in Fall, I decided to dig out my reading journal for 2004 and post the following review. This is more a compilation of reading journal/online book group discussion notes than my normal review format. Please excuse the less-than-polished (read: repetitive) style.

My review for
Birds In Fall can be found here. Look for a review for Blindness in the coming days.





Bel Canto by Anne Patchett
Contemporary Fiction
Finished on 3/13/04
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent)
Top Ten 2004



Book Description

Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of the powerful businessman Mr. Hosokawa. Roxanne Coss, opera's most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening -- until a band of gunwielding terrorists takes the entire party hostage. But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different, a moment of great beauty, as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds and people from different continents become compatriots, intimate friends, and lovers.

Definitely the best book I've read this year [2004]! Every chance I got, I wanted to read it, yet as the final pages drew closer, I had to put it down so as to savor the finale. Not a lot happens in this very internalized novel, yet I didn't find it slow or boring. I actually found myself reading more slowly than usual, luxuriating in each and every sentence.

In spite of Patchett's characterization, I pictured Roxanne Coss, the soprano, as a brunette much like John Singer Sargent's "Madame X." I found the chess games symbolic of the stalemate between the terrorists and the government. Amazing interactions between the terrorists (who weren't violent, angry men) and the hostages (who seemed to accept their fate with complacency). Simply a lovely book. Beautifully evocative prose. I was quite surprised, as I was expecting something less tender. Very thought provoking, reminding me of my reaction to Jose Saramago's Blindness. I highly recommend Bel Canto and look forward to reading more by Patchett.

I have to say this book surprised the heck out of me. I don't know what I was expecting, but it turned out to be a great read. I think the minute I heard that it was about terrorists and hostages, I instantly decided it wouldn't be anything I'd be interested in. But those two words really are a poor way of describing the book. It's more about humanity and what takes place when two very different groups of individuals are forced together for a lengthy period of time. I thought it was extremely well-written and quite moving. I held my breath as I read the last pages and found myself crying and couldn't start in on another book for a good hour. I think I knew how it would end (had completely forgotten about the revelation at the beginning - to be honest, I think I missed it, as I have no recollection of the spoiler!), but I kept hoping there'd be a happy ending somehow. Not unlike the hostages, I suppose.

I am so sorry I didn't read Bel Canto last year when my city read it for one of their "One Read" selections. I know I would've thoroughly enjoyed going to many of the discussions since it's one of those books that one could talk about for days. What a gem! Pardon the cliche, but I didn't want it to end, yet couldn't put it down. I only had a couple of dozen pages left to read on Sunday, but I found myself reading two or three pages, then setting it aside to both ponder what I'd read as well as prolong the inevitable of finishing.

I think I'm in the minority, but this is a book I will highly recommend. Not a lot happens, as it's a very internal story, but like Gail Tsukiyama's The Samurai's Garden, I enjoyed the pace which actually forced me to read more slowly, savoring each and every sentence, even going back to re-read some if I found myself not giving it 100% of my attention. I came to care about all the characters and I know they'll stay with me in the weeks to come.

And as with Ian McEwan's Atonement (which I absolutely loved), I'm shocked that others were disappointed with this remarkable novel. I know everyone has their own reading tastes, but it always surprises me when I feel a personal sadness/frustration/disbelief when others don't share my enthusiasm for a great book.

Patchett states in an interview:

Also, the narrative structure in this book is much more ambitious. I've always wanted to write a book with a truly omniscient narrative voice that switched easily from character to character. It's the thing I'm most proud of in this book and the thing that probably no one will notice.

I noticed!! I kept thinking how marvelous is was to go from one character's thoughts and actions to the another's. The narration reminded me of a beautiful tapestry, seamlessly woven into a stunning design. I never felt jarred from one person to the next.

It had so many elements that were compelling to me: confinement, survival, the construction of family.

This is what reminded me of Jose Saramago's Blindness. The unvoluntary confinement. The will to survive. The elements of family. I think the two books would be an excellent choice for a comparison/contrast paper or discussion.

I think this is the sort of novel in which one must suspend disbelief. Again, to compare it to Saramago's Blindness, it's not a story that is 100% logical or even plausible, yet I don't think that was Patchett's intent. I think the actual hostage situation is more of a backdrop for the real story which involves the interplay between the various characters from both sides of the predicament.