August 28, 2010

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

2008 Recorded Books, LLC; Unabridged CD edition
Reader: Richard Poe
Finished on 7/14/10
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding!)

Product Description:

Born mute, speaking only in sign, Edgar Sawtelle leads an idyllic life with his parents on their farm in remote northern Wisconsin. For generations, the Sawtelles have raised and trained a fictional breed of dog whose thoughtful companionship is epitomized by Almondine, Edgar's lifelong friend and ally. But with the unexpected return of Claude, Edgar's paternal uncle, turmoil consumes the Sawtelles' once peaceful home. When Edgar's father dies suddenly, Claude insinuates himself into the life of the farm—and into Edgar's mother's affections.

Grief-stricken and bewildered, Edgar tries to prove Claude played a role in his father's death, but his plan backfires—spectacularly. Forced to flee into the vast wilderness lying beyond the farm, Edgar comes of age in the wild, fighting for his survival and that of the three yearling dogs who follow him. But his need to face his father's murderer and his devotion to the Sawtelle dogs turn Edgar ever homeward.

David Wroblewski is a master storyteller, and his breathtaking scenes—the elemental north woods, the sweep of seasons, an iconic American barn, a fateful vision rendered in the falling rain—create a riveting family saga, a brilliant exploration of the limits of language, and a compulsively readable modern classic.

I loved this book! I loved it so much that after listening to the audio, I was compelled to buy a copy for future readings. The writing is beyond lyrical; it's exquisite! The characters (human and canine) touched my heart, and Edgar and Almondine have joined the ranks of all-time favorite characters, keeping company with Scout, Owen, Leisel & Rudy, and Perry. I actually found myself thinking of Owen Meany a lot during this book; probably due to the manner in which he speaks...and the manner in which Edgar is unable to do so.

I found myself completely absorbed in the story, sitting in my parked car (both in my driveway or the parking lot at work) long after my car engine had cooled, unable to pull myself away from the narrative. The pacing is even, the suspense and foreshadowing perfectly tuned. Richard Poe is an exceptional reader and his performance of this heartfelt coming-of-age novel is to be applauded.

On man's (or boy's) best friend:

This will be his earliest memory.

Red light, morning light. High ceiling canted overhead. Lazy click of toenails on wood. Between the honey-colored slats of the crib a whiskery muzzle slides forward until its cheeks pull back and a row of dainty front teeth bare themselves in a ridiculous grin.

The nose quivers. The velvet snout dimples.

All the house is quiet. Be still. Stay still.

Fine, dark muzzle fur. Black nose, leather of lacework creases, comma of nostrils flexing with each breath. A breeze shushes up the field and pillows the curtains inward. The apple tree near the kitchen window caresses the house with a tick-tickety-tick-tick. As slowly as he can, he exhales, feigning sleep, but despite himself his breath hitches. At once, the muzzle knows he is awake. It snorts. Angles right and left. Withdraws. Outside the crib, Almondine's forequarters appear. Her head is reared back, her ears cocked forward.

A cherry-brindled eye peers back at him.

Whoosh of her tail.

Be still. Stay still.

The muzzle comes hunting again, tunnels beneath his blanket, below the farmers and pigs and chicks and cows dyed into that cotton world. His hand rises on fingers and spider-walks across the surprised farmyard residents to challenge the intruder. It becomes a bird, hovering before their eyes. Thumb and index finger squeeze the crinkled black nose. The pink of her tongue darts out but the bird flies away before Almondine can lick it. Her tail is switching harder now. Her body sways, her breath envelops him. He tugs the blackest whisker on her chin and this time her tongue catches the palm of his hand ever so slightly. He pitches to his side, rubs his hand across the blanket, blows a breath in her face. Her ears flick back. She stomps a foot. He blows again and she withdraws and bows and woofs, low in her chest, quiet and deep, the boom of an uncontainable heartbeat. Hearing it, he forgets and presses his face against the rails to see her, all of her, take her inside him with his eyes, and before he can move, she smears her tongue across his nose and forehead! He claps a hand to his face but it's too late—she's away, spinning, biting her tail, dancing in the moted sunlight that spills through the window glass.


Wandering through the kennel, holding a book: Winnie-the-Pooh. He opens a whelping pen, sits. The puppies surge through the underbrush of loose straw, kicking up fine white dust as they come along. He captures them between his legs and reads to them, hands in motion before their upturned muzzles. The mother comes over and they peep like chicks when they see her. One by one she carries them back to the whelping box; they hang black and bean-shaped from her mouth. When she has finished, she stands over them, looking at Edgar in reproach.

wanted to hear, he signs at her, but the mother won't settle with her pups until he leaves.

Winnie-the-Pooh is a good story for puppies. If only she would let him tell it.

I'm not sure what I expected when I first picked up this debut novel, but I was more than pleasantly surprised by Wroblewski's beautiful prose:

Inside was a calamity of plywood and mossy bedsprings and vast spider webs hanging like spinnakers between the timbers.

On trained dogs:

And the dogs, in turn, discovered that if they waited after he'd asked them to stay and disappeared into a cabin, he would always return. Together they practiced new skills he devised. They had long understood what was being asked of them during a stay, whether in the training in the yard or in town; now he asked if they would stay in a forest glade when they were hungry and the flickers pounded the ground, thumping up millipedes, or squirrels harassed them, or a rock sailed over their heads and rattled the dead leaves. Several times each day he found a likely spot shielded by sumac or bracken fern, and he placed them in guard over something small—a stick he'd been carrying that morning, say, or a bit of rag. Then he walked off into the forest, careful not to push them past the breaking point since he had no way to correct them. Later, he tied a length of fishing line to the guarded thing and asked them to move only when it moved, keeping it surrounded. When they got that right, he'd sail back into their midst signing, release! and throw himself at them to roll and tickle, toss the thing for them to catch, see to each of them in whatever way he'd learned was the greatest delight for that dog.

He learned, too, the limits of their patience, different for each of them. In a stay, Baboo was as immovable as the hills, and likely to fall asleep. Essay, ever alert, was the most tempted of any of them by the skitter of a rock pitched through the ferns. And Tinder, equally likely to stick or bolt, who twice jumped up when Essay broke her stay and licked her muzzle and coaxed her back into a sit.

I've yet to read Where the Red Fern Grows or Old Yeller, but recently I've become drawn to novels about dogs. I loved Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain and now The Story of Edgar Sawtelle has found its way into my heart. Looks like I'm in good company, too:

Praise from Stephen King:

I flat-out loved The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, and spent twelve happy evenings immersed in the world David Wroblewski has created. As I neared the end, I kept finding excuses to put the book aside for a little, not because I didn't like it, but because I liked it too much; I didn't want it to end. Dog-lovers in particular will find themselves riveted by this story, because the canine world has never been explored with such imagination and emotional resonance. Yet in the end, this isn't a novel about dogs or heartland America--although it is a deeply American work of literature. It's a novel about the human heart, and the mysteries that live there, understood but impossible to articulate. Yet in the person of Edgar Sawtelle, a mute boy who takes three of his dogs on a brave and dangerous odyssey, Wroblewski does articulate them, and splendidly. I closed the book with that regret readers feel only after experiencing the best stories: It's over, you think, and I won't read another one this good for a long, long time.

In truth, there's never been a book quite like The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. I thought of Hamlet when I was reading it, and Watership Down, and The Night of the Hunter, and The Life of Pi--but halfway through, I put all comparisons aside and let it just be itself.

I'm pretty sure this book is going to be a bestseller, but unlike some, it deserves to be. It's also going to be the subject of a great many reading groups, and when the members take up
Edgar, I think they will be apt to stick to the book and forget the neighborhood gossip.

Wonderful, mysterious, long and satisfying: readers who pick up this novel are going to enter a richer world. I envy them the trip. I don't re-read many books, because life is too short. I will be re-reading this one.

Final thoughts: Do not be put off by the size of this book. You will not want it to end!

Did I say I loved it?!

Be sure to visit Wroblewski's website, particularly his tangent page. He's included some wonderful video clips!

August 25, 2010

August 19, 2010

Movie News

From Shelf Awareness (8/17/10):

Rooney Mara Will Be Lisbeth Salander

Rooney Mara has been chosen to play Lisbeth Salander in the English-language adaptation of Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Sony Pictures Entertainment and director David Fincher selected Mara after "one of the most drawn out and closely watched casting searches for an actress in years," reported, noting that Mara, who recently worked with Fincher in The Social Network, had been considered to be the director's first choice. called Mara "a strong match: she is the right age and looks like Salander." Fans of both Stieg Larsson and professional football may be interested to know that Mara great-granddaughter of New York Giants football team founder Wellington Mara and Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney.
Rooney Mara may look like Salander, but Noomi Rapace will always be Lisbeth least in my mind.

August 16, 2010

Bloggy Break

I'm going to take a short break from blogging. My husband had an emergency appendectomy on Friday night and was finally discharged from the hospital this afternoon. While the appendix didn't rupture, it came very close, resulting in a series of IV antibiotics, pain meds and a much longer recovery than normal. He's no longer in excruciating pain, but he's worn out and quite happy to have me wait on him. :)

I have several reviews to write and will start posting them later next weekend. But now it's time for a nap!

August 13, 2010

Are You Smarter Than a Bookseller?

I discovered a fun quiz via Shelf Awareness:

For your weekend pleasure: Forget about proxy fights and economic downturns. Sporcle offers this bookish challenge: "Can you name the books below from the portion of their covers?"

I got all but one!

Click here to start the quiz. Have fun!

August 12, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future by Michael J. Fox
2010 Hyperion
Finished on 7/10/10
Rating: 2.5/5 (Fair)

Product Description:

Michael J. Fox abandoned high school to pursue an acting career, but went on to receive honorary degrees from several universities and garner the highest accolades for his acting, as well as for his writing. In his new book, he inspires and motivates graduates to recognize opportunities, maximize their abilities, and roll with the punches—all with his trademark optimism, warmth, and humor.

In A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future, Michael draws on his own life experiences to make a case that real learning happens when "life goes skidding sideways." He writes of coming to Los Angeles from Canada at age eighteen and attempting to make his way as an actor. Fox offers up a comically skewed take on how, in his own way, he fulfilled the requirements of a college syllabus. He learned Economics as a starving artist; an unexpected turn as a neophyte activist schooled him in Political Science; and his approach to Comparative Literature involved stacking books up against their movie versions.

Replete with personal stories and hilarious anecdotes, Michael J. Fox's new book is the perfect gift for graduates.

Weighing in at 100 pages and consumed in under 2 hours, Fox's slim book is reminiscent of Anna Quindlen's Being Perfect and A Short Guide to a Happy Life. They're those short little books that wind up on every bookstore's "Gifts for Grads" table and, while they may seem like a perfect gift, they're easily forgotten—much like that valedictorian speech.

So what did I learn from Fox's self-deprecating script? Well, I disovered that Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp, Robert De Niro, Chris Rock, Kevin Bacon, John Travolta, Hilary Swank, Jim Carrey, Charlie Sheen, Sean Connery, Al Pacino, and Quentin Tarantino all have something in common—they never graduated from high school.

I found two quotes worth marking:

No matter how fantastic a movie's premise is, there are always a special few who buy in and accept the craziest shit at face value, like the hoverboard. I've fielded more questions about hoverboards than any other aspect of the trilogy. Otherwise sane people were convinced that these devices actually existed, especially after Bob Zemeckis made tongue-in-cheek comments to the press about parent groups preventing toy manufacturers from putting them on the market (this resulted in hundreds of kids calling Mattel, demanding hoverboards for Christmas).


In my experience, a mentor doesn't necessarily tell you what to do, but more importantly, tells you what they did or might do, then trusts you to draw your own conclusions and act accordingly. If you succeed, they'll take one step back, and if you screw up, they'll take one step closer. Whatever it is they teach you...pass it on.

And, that's about it. Hilarious anecdotes? Not so much. But I've always admired Alex P. Keaton Michael J. Fox and can highly recommend his earlier work, Lucky Man. I haven't had a chance to read his latest memoir, Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist, but I'm sure it's a bit more inspiring than this little Cliffs Notes version of his life.

For more information about Michael J. Fox, please take a look at the following links:

Michael J. Fox Theater

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research

August 9, 2010

La's Orchestra Saves the World

La's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith
2008 Pantheon Books
Finished on 7/9/10
Rating: 2.5/5 (Fair)

Product Description:

From the best-selling author of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series comes a delightful and moving story that celebrates the healing powers of friendship and music.

It is 1939. Lavender—La to her friends—decides to flee London, not only to avoid German bombs but also to escape the memories of her shattered marriage. The peace and solitude of the small town she settles in are least at first. As the war drags on, La is in need of some diversion and wants to boost the town's morale, so she organizes an amateur orchestra, drawing musicians from the village and the local RAF base. Among the strays she corrals is Feliks, a shy, proper Polish refugee who becomes her most prized recruit—and the object of feelings she thought she'd put away forever.

Does La's orchestra save the world? The people who come to hear it think so. But what will become of it after the war is over? And what will become of La herself? And of La's heart?

With his all-embracing empathy and gentle sense of humor, Alexander McCall Smith makes of La's life—and love—a tale to enjoy and cherish.

Meh. This had all the right ingredients. British. World War II. Renowned author. And yet it failed to wow me. I'm actually surprised I stuck it out for the entire book, but I kept hoping for a stellar finale. That said, I still plan to try something else of Smith's. Perhaps I should start with The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. I've owned the first three or four in the series for almost a decade!

Not much of a write-up, so I'll include some of my favorite passages.

Ah, England:

Two men, who were brothers, went to Suffolk. One drove the car, an old Bristol drophead coupe in British racing green, while the other navigated, using an out-of-date linen-backed map. That the map was an old one did not matter too much: the roads they were following had been there for a long time and were clearly marked on their map—narrow lanes flanked by hedgerows following no logic other than ancient farm boundaries. The road signs—promising short distances of four miles, two miles, even half a mile—were made of heavy cast-iron, forged to last for generations of travellers. Some conscientious hand had kept them freshly painted, their black lettering sharp and clear against chalk-white backgrounds, pointing to villages with names that meant something a long time ago but which were now detached from the things to which they referred—the names of long-forgotten yeoman families, of mounds, of the crops they grew, of the wild flora of those parts. Garlic, cress, nettles, crosswort—all these featured in the place-names of the farms and villages that dotted the countryside—their comfortable names reminders of a gentle country that once existed in these parts, England. It still survived, of course, tenacious here and there, revealed in a glimpse of a languorous cricket match on a green, of a trout pool under willow branches, of a man in a flat cap digging up potatoes; a country that still existed but was being driven into redoubts such as this. The heart might ache for that England, thought one of the brothers; might ache for what we have lost.


La stood quite still. It was a room without life, like one of those Dutch interiors from which the people had disappeared, paintings of emptiness. She moved to a a window and looked out. This was her first glimpse of the garden, as it was concealed from the front and one could only guess at what lay behind the house. Somebody had cut the lawn—quite recently, it seemed, which would explain the smell of grass on the air outside, that sweet, promising scent. At the end of the lawn, a line of plane trees interspersed with chestnuts marched several hundred yards to a low stone wall, and beyond the trees were fields. It was a warm day, and there was a slight haze hanging above the horizon, a smudge of blue that could mislead one into thinking that there were hills. London was far away already; how quickly would one forget in a place like this she wondered.

On Music:

Music was her refuge. There was madness abroad, an insanity of killing and cruelty that defied understanding—unless one took the view that this violence had always been there and had merely been masked by a veneer of civilisation. La thought that music disproved this. Reason, beauty, harmony: these were ultimately more real and powerful than any of the demons unleashed by dictators. But she feared that she was losing touch with these values—that her life in the country was simply too limited. She feared that she would forget if she did not go back.

On War:

She wondered what he had been before the war. That was the extraordinary thing about what the war achieved: it transformed lives, made heroes out of the mildest of people, out of the most timid, showed the bravery that must always have been there but merely lacked the occasion to manifest itself. It revealed other things, too: greed and selfishness disclosed their hand as people faced the prospect of hardship or hunger.

and finally,

The farmer's wife disappeared down the lane, and La continued her walk. I have an orchestra, she thought. Other people have...well, they have what they have. I have an orchestra. It was a sobering thought, every bit as sobering as if one awoke one day to find oneself in charge of Convent Garden or La Scala. There were shoulders that bore those very responsibilities, of course, but they did not belong to a woman in her early thirties, who lived at the edge of a small village in Suffolk, and who each morning looked after hens.

August 7, 2010

Messenger of Truth

Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear
Mystery - Fourth in Masie Dobbs Series
2006 Audio Renaissance; Unabridged Edition
Reader: Orlagh Cassidy
Finished 7/6/10
Rating: 2.5/5 (Fair)

Product Description

London, 1931. The night before an exhibition of his artwork opens at a famed Mayfair gallery, the controversial artist Nick Bassington-Hope falls to his death. The police rule it an accident, but Nick's twin sister, Georgina, a wartime journalist and a infamous figure in her own right, isn't convinced.

When the authorities refuse to consider her theory that Nick was murdered, Georgina seeks out a fellow graduate from Girton College, Maisie Dobbs, psychologist and investigator, for help. Nick was a veteran of World War I, and before long the case leads Maisie to the desolate beaches of Dungeness in Kent, and into the sinister underbelly of the city's art world.

In Messenger of Truth, Maisie once again uncovers the perilous legacy of the Great War in a society struggling to recollect itself. But to solve the mystery of Nick's death, Maisie will have to keep her head as the forces behind the artist's fall come out of the shadows to silence her.

Following on the bestselling Pardonable Lies, Jacqueline Winspear delivers another vivid, thrilling, and utterly unique episode in the life of Maisie Dobbs.

As with the earlier books in the Maisie Dobbs series, I chose to listen to this fourth installment while driving about town in my car. I enjoy hearing Orlagh Cassidy read the narrative and continue to appreciate Winspear's fine writing. However, hearing the family name "Bassington-Hope" repeated throughout the entire audio became a bit tiresome, especially when proceeded by the characters' Christian names. I'm sure if I were reading the print edition, my eyes would have skimmed right over the last name. Instead, I got to hear it over and over and over again.

And for whatever reason, whether the distractions of summer chores and travels or a less-than interesting plot, I failed to care about any of the newly introduced characters or their circumstances. As with most series, I've come to care more about the main characters than those introduced with each new installment. I still find Maisie's personal life (and that of her assistant, Billy Beale) intriguing and will continue on with An Incomplete Revenge.

While listening, I made a point to jot down chapter numbers whenever I heard a passage from which I might like to quote. I was surprised to wind up with so many. Maybe this book was intended to be read!

On grief:

“Grief is not an event, my dear, but a passage, a pilgrimage along a path that allows us to reflect upon the past from points of remembrance held in the soul. At times the way is filled with stones underfoot and we feel pained by our memories, yet on other days the shadows reflect our longing and those happinesses shared.”

On intuition:

Maisie liked to work methodically through a case, while at the same time allowing for intuition to speak for her, for truth to make itself known. Sometimes such knowledge would be inspired by something simple as an unfamiliar scent on the air, or perhaps uncovering information regarding a choice made by one of the victims. And Maisie had found that the perpetrator of a crime was often every bit as much a victim.

On death:

"I was sorry to learn that your husband was lost in France."

Nolly Grant shook her head. "Nothing lost about it. He was killed, buried over there. No, he wasn't lost, I know exactly where he is. My husband died a hero on a battlefield, fighting for his country—and proud of it, I'll have you know! Let's get down to brass tacks here, none of this 'lost' or 'passed' business. I get so fed up with all this pussy-footing around the truth. People die, they don't get lost and they don't pass anywhere either!"

On art:

Maisie recalled something that Dr. Wicker, the expert who had been so helpful at the Tate, had said in response to a question: "With a true masterpiece, there are no words required. Discourse is rendered redundant. That's why the work of a master transcends all notions of education, of class. It rises above the onlooker's understanding of what is considered good or bad, or right and wrong in the world of art. With the artist who has achieved mastery, skill, experience and knowledge are transparent, leaving only the message for all to see."

On the future:

Maisie looked through the gates and thought that, one day, she might be back, perhaps with Georgina. Or she might be invited to tea on a Saturday afternoon, drawn in, once again, to the Bassington-Hope web. Something had been ignited within her in that house. If her soul were a room, it was as if light were now shining in a corner that had been dark. And she'd been touched by something less tangible, something she'd found among people who saw nothing unusual in painting trees on walls. Perhaps it was the freedom to strike out on one's own path, seeing not a risk in that which was new, only opportunity.

Please go here to read Nan's excellent review of the book. As always, she included a couple of links, which provided additional historical background to the Masie Dobbs series.

August 4, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Well, with a few captions. :)

A room with a view

Lots of hot sand!

Humidity! My lens kept fogging up.

Almost 8 years old!


Happy Hour Location

Naptime for Grandpa!

August 1, 2010

Garden Party III

Welcome back! I can't believe it's already August. I've been traveling more than usual (a trip to San Diego and another to Virginia Beach) and it feels like summer is passing too quickly!

It's been hot and humid and the flower beds are beginning to look a little weary. These photos were taken a few weeks ago, but I hope to go out later this week and gets some current shots. Meanwhile, pour yourself a drink (my new favorite cocktail is a simplified version of Lynchburg Lemonade) and enjoy your stroll.

As always, click on picture for larger view. Click again for a close-up view.

Annie on patrol for rabbits.

Geranium and Lobelia.
One of my favorite flower combinations.

Moss Rose

Stella d'oro


Keeping cool in the shade!

Oak Leaf Hydrangea

Other Garden Posts:

Saturday Farmer's Market

More SubHerban Gardening

Farm and Garden Weekly

Garden Tuesday