November 30, 2007


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
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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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 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.

November 18, 2007

The Good Guy

The Good Guy by Dean Koontz
Finished on 11/14/07
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

From Publishers Weekly:

Starred Review. Bestseller Koontz (The Husband) delivers a thriller so compelling many readers will race through the book in one sitting. In the Hitchcockian opening, which resembles that of the cult noir film Red Rock West (1992), Timothy Carrier, a quiet stone mason having a beer in a California bar, meets a stranger who mistakes him for a hit man. The stranger slips Tim a manila envelope containing $10,000 in cash and a photo of the intended victim, Linda Paquette, a writer in Laguna Beach, then leaves. A moment later, Krait, the real killer, shows up and assumes Tim is his client. Tim manages to distract Krait from immediately carrying out the hit by saying he's had a change of heart and offering Krait the $10,000 he just received. This ploy gives the stone mason enough time to warn Linda before they begin a frantic flight for their lives. While it may be a stretch that the first man wouldn't do a better job of confirming Tim's identity, the novel's breathless pacing, clever twists and adroit characterizations all add up to superior entertainment.

I had just about written off Koontz after two less-than-impressive follow-ups to my favorite novel, Odd Thomas. However, when I came upon a copy of The Good Guy at the library, I decided to give it a try once my husband was finished reading it. Wow! What a thriller. I couldn't put this book down and when I did, I couldn't wait to get back to it. Absent any supernatural element, this is a bit reminiscent of Odd Thomas, what with the likeable main character and a hint of a love interest on the horizon. The pacing is even and intense and I could easily have read the book over the course of a weekend. Definitely one of the best thrillers I've read in a long time.

I would have given The Good Guy a perfect score, had I not encountered the following passages:

Under the night-light of the sentinel moon, ruffled hems of surf and a decorative stitching that fringed the incoming waves suggested billows of fancy bedding under which the sea turned restlessly in sleep.


As iridescent as a snake's skin, thin ravels of slivery clouds peeled off the face of a molting moon.

Koontz is very good writer, yet when I read lines such as these, I feel as if he's trying too hard to be lyrical. The metaphors are overwrought; they disrupt the smooth flow of the narrative and feel contrived. However, the further along I read, the fewer I encountered and I was able to settle back in and enjoy the read. And, yet, not all of his metaphors are poorly executed. I especially like this one:

In the red twilight, the evergreen forest stood in a fragrant vaulted hush, like a cathedral in which only owls worshipped with a one-word prayer.

In any event, Koontz is back on my list of favorite authors. And, as luck should have it, I just happen to have a copy of his new book, The Darkest Evening of the Year (due out on November 27th). Time to go read!

November 14, 2007

New Moon

New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
Young Adult Fiction
Finished on 11/9/07
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Book Description

Legions of readers entranced by Twilight are hungry for more and they won't be disappointed. In New Moon, Stephenie Meyer delivers another irresistible combination of romance and suspense with a supernatural twist. The "star-crossed" lovers theme continues as Bella and Edward find themselves facing new obstacles, including a devastating separation, the mysterious appearance of dangerous wolves roaming the forest in Forks, a terrifying threat of revenge from a female vampire and a deliciously sinister encounter with Italy's reigning royal family of vampires, the Volturi. Passionate, riveting, and full of surprising twists and turns, this vampire love saga is well on its way to literary immortality.

I planned to read this for my final selection for Carl's R.I.P. II Challenge, but didn't get to it until the 28th. I thought it'd be easy enough to finish by the 31st, but I wound up setting it aside in order to quickly read Here If You Need Me for a book signing. Even without that interruption, I doubt I would've finished in time, as it took me almost TWO weeks to read! For some reason, I didn't think a 563-page YA book would take so long to read, but it did. I enjoyed it well enough to eventually want to read the third in the series (Eclipse), but not right away. I can only take so much teenage angst, and Meyer tends to be a bit long-winded.

November 13, 2007

A Month In Review - October

A few winners and a couple of duds. Guess it could be worse. I just wish I were reading more. There are so many books out there I want to read and there simply aren't enough hours in the day!

Click on the titles to read my reviews.

Naked In Death by J.D. Robb (4/5)
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (2/5)
Everything's Eventual by Stephen King (DNF)
Lottery by Patricia Wood (4.75/5)
Here If You Need Me by Kate Braestrup (4/5)

Favorite of the Month: Lottery!

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

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

November 11, 2007

Here If You Need Me

Here If You Need Me: A True Story by Kate Braestrup
Nonfiction - Memoir
Finished 10/29/07
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Ten years ago, Kate Braestrup, her husband, Drew, and their four young children were enjoying a morning like any other. Then Drew, a Maine state trooper, left for work and everything changed. On the very roads that he patrolled each day, an oncoming driver lost control, and Kate lost her husband.

Stunned and grieving, Kate decided to pursue what had been her husband's dream and became a minister. And soon she found a most unusual calling: serving as chaplain for search-and-rescue missions in the Maine woods, giving comfort to people whose loved ones are missing - and to the wardens who sometimes have to deal with dreadful outcomes. Whether with parents whose six-year-old daughter has vanished into the woods, with wardens as they search for a snowmobiler trapped under the ice, or with a man whose sister left an infant seat and suicide note in her car by the side of the road, Braestrup provides solace, understanding, and spiritual guidance when they're needed most.

Here If You Need Me recounts Kate Braestrup's remarkable journey from grief to faith to happiness. Dramatic, funny, deeply moving, and simply unforgettable - it is a story about finding God by helping others and offers proof of the miracles that happen every day when a heart is grateful and life and love are restored.

It's been several years since I've attended a book signing and I almost missed this one. I usually read the local paper the day it arrives, but sometimes life gets a bit hectic and I wind up spending an afternoon catching up on a day or two of news. I happened to glance at the front page of the Saturday Values: Religion - Spirituality section one Sunday evening, only to discover that Kate Braestrup was coming to town the following Tuesday. I had heard good things about her memoir from Maudeen and decided to buy a copy to see if I'd like to attend the book signing. I read for a few hours Monday evening and managed to finish the book Tuesday afternoon. I enjoyed it quite a lot, but might have liked it a bit better had I not rushed through to finish in time for the signing.

Rod & I don't attend church, but something about Braestrup's writing called to me and we decided to attend not only the book signing and her lecture, but also the Ecumenical Service of Remembrance at Lincoln's First-Plymouth Congregational Church. We must've timed it just right, as there were only a couple ahead of me in line at the book signing, but nobody behind, so I was able to chat with the author for a few minutes as she signed my copy of her book. She was very warm and friendly, with a gentle manner and kind eyes. We spoke very briefly about my personal loss and she offered sincere words of sympathy and understanding. Definitely one who understands loss and the ongoing process of bereavement. I felt comforted in her presence.

Rod & I found a place to sit and were surprised to see the church begin to fill up. All in all, there had to be close to 400 people in attendance. I'm not sure why, but the large turnout surprised me.

Kate Braestrup's lecture followed her memoir fairly closely. In spite of the familiarity of her anecdotes (remember, I had just read the book in its entirety within the past 24 hours), I still enjoyed hearing her speak about her loss and how she came to be a chaplain for the Maine Warden Service. She was much funnier in person than her book, perhaps in effort to keep the lecture from becoming too maudlin and depressing.

After her talk, the Ecumenical Service of Remembrance: Honoring our Loved Ones began. There was clergy from First-Plymouth Congregational Church, St. Mark's United Methodist, the Unitarian Church, the Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska and Southwood Lutheran, Quinn Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church and Emanuel of Congregation B'nai Jeshurun. During this candlelight vigil, each of the representatives shared in reciting the following Jewish prayer:

In the rising of the sun and in its going down,
we remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength,
we remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart,
we remember them.
When we have joys we yearn to share,
we remember them.
So long as we live, they too shall live,
for they are now a part of us, as
we remember them.
In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter,
we remember them.
In the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring,
we remember them.
In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer,
we remember them.
In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn,
we remember them.
In the beginning of the year and when it ends,
we remember them.

After the prayer, everyone slowly came forward with their candles, placing them in one of two large bowls filled with sand. The church glowed with the warmth of candlelight and a quiet hush fell upon all in attendance. It was extremely moving, to say the least, and I doubt there was a dry eye in the entire congregation.

A remarkable book, a remarkable woman, and truly a remarkable evening.

I'm glad we took the time to go.

Oh, and I suppose I'll be asked what she inscribed in my book.

For Lesley,

Blessed Be.

Kate Braestrup

Thank you, Kate.

Note: Click here to read one of Kate's sermons (which is also included in the memoir).

Everything's Eventual

Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark Tales by Stephen King
Quit on 10/23/07
Rating: DNF
R.I.P. II Challenge (DNF)

I read a few of these short stories, but lost interest and decided to call it quits. Not much else to say. :)

November 6, 2007

Musical Monday

I wasn't a country music fan until Rod and I started dating almost 20 years ago. He introduced me to the music of Rodney Crowell, Rosanne Cash, Dan Seals, Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam, Lyle Lovett, K.D. Oslin, Susie Bogguss, Tanya Tucker, Trisha Yearwood and Kathy Mattea. (Of course, I was already familiar with Kris Kristofferson's music.)

I'm not sure how I missed Nanci Griffith's extensive collection. I'm fairly certain I've heard her music here and there over the years, but until our recent trip to Oregon, I've never been compelled to buy one of her cds. While we were wandering about the Canyon Way Bookstore, I heard Speed of the Sound of Loneliness from Other Voices/Other Rooms and stopped dead in my tracks, listening to the entire song, feeling a strange sense of deja vu, wondering if I'd heard it somewhere else. The harmony vocalist sounded very familiar, too (John Prine!). I knew this was a special album and decided to buy it for my mom. (We not only share similar tastes in books, but music as well.). I thought she'd enjoy it since it has a nice folk/bluegrass sound.

I gave her the cd that afternoon and we listened straight through two times. What a marvelous album! What a beautiful voice. What lovely harmonies (Emmylou Harris and Arlo Guthrie, to name a couple more). What luck to have heard it in that bookstore since it's not a new release. It's been out since 1993!

Click on the album title above and take a listen to some of the tracks. My favorites are Speed of the Sound of Lonelinesss, This Old Town, Comin' Down in the Rain, Ten Degrees and Getting Colder, and Turn Around (which makes me -- and my mom -- cry). Actually, there's not a single track that I don't like!

From Amazon:

During the '80s, Texas singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith graduated from modest folk celebrity to find herself signed to a major label and making thoughtful, better-heeled studio albums that were critical favorites but commercial anomalies in the country market where she was initially positioned. This 1993 project finds her returning to her roots, reunited with the producer behind his earlier folk triumphs, Jim Rooney. Taking its title from Truman Capote's first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms is a gentle but whip-smart anthology of excellent songs from acknowledged masters (Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, John Prine, Townes Van Zandt, Woody Guthrie, the Carter Family, the Weavers, Gordon Lightfoot) and lesser-known but hardly less-skilled writers including Kate Wolf, Frank Christian, and Vince Bell. Griffith's clear-eyed vocals and unswerving intelligence are well served by members of her own band, augmented by vocal cameos from a roomful of fellow folk veterans including Prine, Arlo Guthrie, the Indigo Girls, and John Gorka, among others. --Sam Sutherland

Any Nanci Griffith fans out there? What's your favorite album?

Twue Wuv

Since Rod is in Kentucky on business, I thought I'd surprise him with an anniversary wish via my blog.

One Friend
(Dan Seals)

I always thought you were the best
I guess I always will.
I always thought that we were blessed
And I feel that way still.
Sometimes we took the hard road
But we always saw it through.
If I had only one friend left I'd want it to be you.

Sometimes the world was on our side

Sometimes it wasn't fair.

Sometimes it gave a helping hand

Sometimes we didn't care.

'Cause when we were together

It made the dream come true.
If I had only one friend left I'd want it to be you.

Someone who understands me
And knows me inside out.
Helps keep me together
And believes without a doubt,
That I could move a mountain
Someone to tell it to.
If I had only one friend left
I'd want it to be you.

To my very best friend.

Thank you for the best 19 years of my life.

You are my one true companion.

Here's to another 19 years of mawidge. At least. ;)

I love you.

*To listen to the entire song, click on the title to go to Yahoo Music.