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.


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.


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,
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
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
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
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
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!