Thursday, December 5, 2013

After I'm Gone

I love a good mystery, so the description of Laura Lipmann’s new novel, After I’m Gone, grabbed me from the get-go:

Dead is dead. Missing is gone.

When Felix Brewer meets nineteen-year-old Bernadette "Bambi" Gottschalk at a Valentine's Day dance in 1959, he charms her with wild promises, some of which he actually keeps. Thanks to his lucrative—if not all legal—businesses, she and their three little girls live in luxury. But on the Fourth of July in 1976, Bambi's comfortable world implodes when Felix, facing prison, vanishes.

Though Bambi has no idea where her husband—or his money—might be, she suspects one woman does: his devoted young mistress, Julie. When Julie disappears ten years to the day after Felix went on the lam, everyone assumes she's left to join her old lover—until her remains are discovered in a secluded park.

Now, twenty-six years later, Roberto "Sandy" Sanchez, a retired Baltimore detective working cold cases for some extra cash, is investigating her murder. What he discovers is a tangled web of bitterness, jealousy, resentment, greed, and longing stretching over five decades. And at its center is the man who, though long gone, has never been forgotten by the five women who loved him: the enigmatic Felix Brewer.

Felix Brewer left five women behind. Now there are four. Does at least one of them know the truth?

The novel is written in a way that I always enjoy: chapters going back and forth between glances back at historical moments which gradually begin to lay out the case and shed light on the characters/suspects and present day experiences and encounters by the sleuth on the case (in this case, Roberto “Sandy” Sanchez.)

At about the half-way point in the novel I smugly assumed I had figured out “who dunit.” As the next few chapters unfolded I grew more and more confident in my brilliant deduction and knowledge of human character. I had pinpointed exactly the person who had motive, means and opportunity.

Or so I thought. I must hand it to Lipmann, I fell for the obvious hook, line and sinker! She got me with a twist, and I’m so glad I was wrong. I will recommend this novel to all my friends and to Laura Lipmann I say, “Bravo!” I can’t wait to read more of her work.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Children of the Jacaranda Tree

Many thanks to GoodReads' First Reads for the opportunity to read this book!

I enjoyed this book. Sometimes you think you have learned about a piece of the world and its history only to discover you did not really have any clue, or that a huge part of the picture had been missing. That is how I feel about Iran after reading Delijani's heart-rending novel. The depiction of what happened to so many Iranians during their national upheaval in the 1980s (and again more recently) makes one have to stop and ponder what it truly would be like to have your family suddenly torn asunder over political ideals and philosophies. (Torn asunder to the point of no return in many cases as men and women were executed and disappeared without at trace.) I cannot say which character in the book I think my own reactions/life would mirror in that situation as it so unfathomable to me. I am glad, however, I was taken on the journey to examine this because I know it is such a reality for so many people around the world.

I had a bit of a hard time keeping the characters straight simply from my own unfamiliarity with Iranian/Muslim names. There were a few times I was reading and did not realize the characters were related simply because I had not kept the names straight.

I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you are a fan of historical novels or enjoy learning about cultures other than your own. You will learn a lot and enjoy getting to know the people in this novel!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Bellman & Black

Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield tells the story of William Bellman, born in England during what feels like the Victorian era. (Funny, I'm not sure the book actually listed any dates, although I could have overlooked it.)

The story opens with a scenes from Bellman's youth. He becomes a leader among his peers when he hits a rook (crow/raven) from a long distance using his slingshot. From that moment on it seems William is the golden boy on whom good fortune smiles.

Bellman is the nephew of the town's biggest industry, a woolen mill. His cousin has no interest in taking over the family business and so William is introduced to the day in, day out working of the mill. He flourishes in the environment bringing with him new ideas, improvements and increased business for the mill. He marries and has a family. It seems William Bellman has the Midas touch.

He does suffer losses along the way. A friend passes. His mother dies. And at each of these occasions, Bellman espies a mysterious man in black whose presence in the graveyard unsettles him.

When a deadly disease ravages his town and family, killing his youngest children, his wife, and hovering over his eldest daughter, Bellman strikes up a desperate conversation with this mysterious Mr. Black in the dark, delirium of night among the tombstones. Ready to sacrifice himself to spare his daughter, Bellman makes a deal.

And that will bring you to the half-way point of the book.

What happens in the second half is at once fascinating (in looking back at one possibility for how the funeral industry may have gotten its start) and appalling (in what happens to the character of William Bellman).

Setterfield's writing is engaging and entertaining. She intersperses chapters (titled by ampersands!) which talk about the nature of rooks and the naming of groups of them. These chapters encourage readers to think about the role that the birds are playing throughout the rest of the story about William Bellman.

Because the book itself says it is "A Ghost Story"--I was expecting something a little more paranormal and a little less philosophical. In that respect, I was a tad disappointed. However, I think readers will find the novel engaging and will want to discover what is the meaning(s) of the title and how William Bellman's life unfolds.

Coming Next: Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Necessary Lies

Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain is a powerfully moving story set in rural North Carolina in 1960. It tells the story of a young woman, Jane, newly married to a pediatrician, who wants her own career helping others. She has recently graduated from Woman's College and gets a job as a social worker in the welfare office overseeing clients in a rural, poverty stricken county near Raleigh.

On the job she meets the Hart family: two teenage girls being raised by their grandmother in a small tenant house on a tobacco farm owned by Davison Gardiner. The younger of the two, Ivy, basically oversees the household as her aging grandmother has serious health issues and her feeble minded sister, Mary Ella, has a two-year old son that needs looking after.

Jane is warned by her superior, Charlotte Werkmann, not to get overly-invested or personally involved with her clients. The hallmark of good, effective social work among the county's population is to stay detached in order to keep the proper perspective on the needs of the children and families she serves.

Jane learns that North Carolina's "eugenics" program--the routine sterilization of not just those who are institutionalized, but any and all who fall below an IQ of 70, those who have epilepsy, or those who are deemed unlikely to ever get off the welfare rolls--has already sterilized Mary Ella without her knowledge or consent, and now have their sights on doing the same to younger sister, Ivy. The better she gets to know the Hart girls, the more outraged she becomes at the system which seems to offer these girls no choice.

What ensues is the story of lives forever changed by one person's stubborn challenge to a system which may or may not serve the best interests of those most vulnerable in society.

Some of the things in Chamberlain's book shock my sense of what it means to be a woman in 2013 in the United States. The fact that a doctor would not write a birth control prescription for her unless she had a signed permission note from her husband felt like a huge slap in the face. Yet, I have no doubt that thinking existed in the past. How far we have come!

It was also quite a shock to realize that involuntary sterilization of people occurred at such rates! I knew that it has happened to people who lived in institutions, such as the severely mentally handicapped and those in psychiatric care in the past. I assumed that these procedures always had the ok of nearest living relatives or guardians.

To discover in the Afterword that 7,000 people in the state of North Carolina alone, into the 1970s!, were being sterilized based on intelligence, their use of the welfare system, or even because they were epileptic remains shocking to say the least!

I read Necessary Lies in a matter of hours because it was such compelling reading. I felt myself getting entwined in the lives of the characters. I also really enjoyed Chamberlain's technique of writing every-other chapter from Jane and Ivy's perspectives.

I would highly recommend reading Necessary Lies. Chamberlain has done an outstanding job depicting the time and place and presenting us with characters you feel are standing right behind you, looking over your shoulder as you read. Get your book club to consider this one--you will find a plethora of things to discuss!!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Stark, Vivid, Heart Rending Reads

Two books I have read in the past few months may strike some readers as bleak.

Yesterday I finished Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.

What do you think of convicted killers? How do you feel about public execution? How would you like a convicted killer who's been sentenced to death living with your family?

Agnes Magnussdottir knows death is coming for her. What she doesn't know is when.

Sentenced to death for taking part in the killing of two men at a remote farmstead in Iceland in 1828, Agnes is sent to live out her remaining days (the number of which has yet to be determined) with the family of a government official at the Kornsa farmstead. Kent's novel narrates the final months of Agnes' life: her conversations with the priest she has chosen to offer her spiritual guidance and the women who inhabit the same space and shape her last days.

Agnes feels that her voice, her story were not heard during the trial. As one of three people convicted for the bloody, vicious murder (along with a young woman and a male neighbor), she is desperate to be heard and understood. Her need to tell her story becomes even more urgent when she learns that officials are working toward eliminating the death penalty for the younger woman.

It is an intricately woven story, as vivid as it is stark in details of the landscape, the characters, the period, and the social situation. Kent's storytelling draws you in, gets you involved in the lives of these people. I began to wonder exactly for whom the burial rites were taking place: Agnes? The priest Toti? Margret? her daughters? the community? the reader?

Will Agnes be heard? Will the tale she tells, the confession she makes be enough to save her from meeting her death?

If you enjoy historic novels this will be right up your alley. It is a rich study of character, personality and spirit. There is much fodder in here for book club discussions as well. What an extra surprise to discover Kent's end notes that the novel is based on historical people and events!

The other story I read which also had somewhat bleak circumstances but rich, unforgettable characters is Amanda Coplin's The Orchardist.

Set at the turn of the twentieth century in Pacific Northwest, the novel is the story of William Talmadge--a solitary man with an apple and apricot orchard who tends not only his trees with gentle care, but also the two runaway girls who have escaped the horrors of the sex trade to seek refuge in his orchard.

The girls are scared, battered and pregnant. Slowly they learn to trust Talmadge. A kind of family forms until one day when a group of men appear in their orchard with guns and the shattering tragedy forces everyone to face the the ghosts and baggage they have been carrying all along.

I found Coplin's characters rich and complex. Once I started reading it was impossible to stop! It reminded me of Kent Haruf's Plainsong novels with the common thread being making family out of the people around you rather than relying on blood relatives to fulfill that role.

The Orchardist is also another period piece (historical fiction) which I have become a fan of. I admire the amount of research that both these authors did into the time and place of their settings. In both cases the environment and social setting are hugely important and in both novels these details are superbly executed.

While a colleague of mine felt Coplin's novel was depressing, I saw in it several moments of hope in the midst of bleak realities. I thoroughly enjoyed it and have recommended it to many people!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Dinner At the Homesick Restaurant

I believe that every person alive carries with him or her the wounds inflicted by life.

For some people, those wounds are gaping, festering sores which never seem to heal. They are obvious to the bearer who either tries to hide the wounds or flagrantly displays them for all to see.

For other folks the wounds are now barely visible scars—rarely noticed by themselves or others unless the light shines on the exact spot in just the right way. Then, in that moment, it might be remembered as something which has helped to make that person who he or she is.

The Tulls, parents and children alike, are no different. Anne Tyler’s characters in Dinner At the Homesick Restaurant reminded me of my own extended family of origin in many ways. Like Pearl, my own grandmother raised her three children, two boys and a girl, as a single parent back in the day when that sort of thing still had a negative social stigma about it. I have seen the sorts of behaviors and attitudes that result when one parent abandons a family—the sorts of questions and longings that result.

Tyler writes each chapter from the perspective of a different family member. I enjoy this style of writing and the way it allows an author to develop characters. I find it allows readers a certain knowledge and intimacy with the family, their relationships, and what makes each person in the novel “tick.”

After my book club read Tyler’s novel, Digging to America, about two families whose lives become intertwined when they meet each other at the airport where their adoptive children arrive, I knew I wanted to read more of her work. Dinner At the Homesick Restaurant rose to the top of my list when the first hints of autumn floated across my senses last week. Autumn has always been my favorite season. For me, it carries with it a certain amount of homesick longing—the exact type of longing experienced most by Ezra Tull. He spends a lot of time throughout the novel preparing food and arranging for a family dinner that will likely never measure up to his expectations because he longs for the idea of a family gathering. My homesick longing is, the older I get, for that nostalgic idea of family as well—the type of family and belonging which I imagine more as a feeling than a real, physical entity could capture.

Bravo to Tyler for another outstanding and enjoyable novel which was so easy to identify with!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Starting Up Libraries

Just checking in to let you all know that I am still reading, however my pace has slowed a bit of late due to my involvement with getting a library project up and running in my city.

Perhaps you have heard of the Little Free Library movement. It started in Wisconsin in 2009 and has spread like wildfire across the United States and across the globe.

After ruminating on it for a couple of years, I put it out there to some community leaders a couple of months ago. The idea caught on here too! And so Fort Dodge Little Free Libraries has taken off.

I've been working to get the first few libraries placed and opened for the past couple of weeks which has slowed my own personal reading time. I WILL, however, be returning to book reviews ASAP! In the meantime, here is the first Little Free Library that is up and running in town. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Last Child

John Hart's crime thriller The Last Child is a great read! I should have known when Jeffery Deaver was one of the people who endorsed the novel that it would be a book I could not put down.

Full of twists and turns in the plot, Hart weaves together the story of Johnny Merrimon, a thirteen year old boy whose twin sister disappeared a year ago. Johnny's best friend, Jack, is the only eye-witness to Alyssa's last known moment--the moment she approached the white van that stopped beside her on her walk home from the library. The moment that changed everything about Johnny Merrimon's life.

His mother blamed his father for failing to pick Alyssa up at the library. Unable to cope with shouldering the blame and bitter resentment from his wife, Johnny's dad abandoned them. The town's richest bully comes to his mother's "rescue" by providing a run-down rental home and all the booze and pills she needs to slip away from the pain of life into a haze of oblivion, addiction, and abuse. Johnny, trapped in the middle, is the fragile thread holding everything together.

Methodical, jaded, and determined to find out what happened to his sister at any cost, Johnny uncovers more than he bargained for when he witnesses the murder of a local college professor who's dying words to Johnny are "I know where she is. The girl who was taken."

If you are a fan of fast-paced, who-dun-it thrillers, you will love this book. As a huge fan of Jeffery Deaver, I am so glad to find someone who does an equally excellent job with the crime thriller genre.

Hart kept me on the edge of my seat with The Last Child. I found myself reading as fast as I could to see if my own hunches about the characters and their fate would be accurate or not. I thoroughly enjoyed the twists in the story as well as the characters. I will read more by this author I'm so glad to have discovered. I think it will be a great discussion at my book club meeting!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Silence (Paranormal Thriller)

Michelle Sagara’s novel Silence is the first in her Queen of the Dead series. It is the paranormal “coming of age” story of Emma Hall, a high school student who’s paranormal abilities extend beyond the ability to simply see the dead.

The story opens with one of Emma’s after-dark walks with her dog, Petal. They follow their usual routine and head to Emma’s favorite place of quiet refuge, the nearby cemetery. Readers quickly discover that Emma has recently lost her boyfriend Nathan who died in a car accident. On this night, however, they find someone else who has made a habit of spending time among the tombstones–the new student at her school, Eric. When Emma is overcome by a ghostly presence bearing a brightly burning lantern, Eric steps in to help and Emma’s life takes a turn she had never imagined.

What follows is the story of Emma’s amazing true identity and the conflicts that arise between her and those who want to stop her from realizing her full potential. Fortunately for her, Emma has a group of friends who have her back in this life and some who are looking out for her from beyond the grave. Which camp will Eric fall into–friend or foe? And what might it mean if Emma Hall embraces her full paranormal potential?

I found Silence to be a quick and engaging read. To me it felt like it would fall into the category of Young Adult (perhaps even teen) fiction. Perhaps this was simply because the cast of main characters are all high school students. If you are a fan of paranormal thrillers, you are likely to enjoy Silence. If you have issues with the word/idea of “necromancer” or necromancy, you may not enjoy this novel.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Goodnight Mind: Turn Off Your Noisy Thoughts & Get a Good Night's Sleep

If you are embarking on a new journey of self-help in regards to difficulty sleeping, Goodnight Mind: Turn Off Your Noisy Thoughts & Get a Good Night’s Sleep by Colleen E. Carney, PhD and Rachel Manber, PhD is a good place to start.

The small (4.5"x 5.75") and succinct (only 181 pages) tome offers solid, basic knowledge to readers who may not have studied or read anything from a scientific point of view about sleep. If you have read anything else in regards to sleep patterns and how to make sure you are getting good, healthy sleep, you likely will find this book repetitive and lacking in the way of new insight.

The authors offer readers several “introductory” chapters about what makes for a good night’s sleep physically. The first five chapters of the book provide a good refresher of quite basic information. Since I believe there is a connection between the body and the mind, I was not quite as frustrated with this as some other reviewers who wondered whether the title of the book (which implies help with the specific problem of racing thoughts/busy mind in preventing sleep) was misleading. One would hope with the body relaxed and tuned for sleep, the mind would follow. Chapter Six offers advice for relaxing the body. I was disappointed that there was nothing in the suggestions that I had not heard or read before. (Perhaps there is simply nothing new to add and a review of the standard advice (PMR, guided imagery, focused breathing, yoga, massage, meditation, etc.) was all there is to offer readers.

As far as specific advice regarding worrying and rumination as the problems of the mind that prevent sleep, I did not find anything new: schedule a time to worry well before bedtime; write it out; practice mindfulness; be in the now; occupy your mind with other thoughts; rethink how you think about having gotten less sleep (it’s not the end of the world); don’t watch the clock; get out of bed when you can’t sleep. All of this is stuff I would consider to be standard advice. It’s good advice; I’ve simply heard it all before.

In the end I’m thankful to GoodReads’ First Reads for the free copy of Goodnight Mind. I would recommend it as a good place to start for people who are wanting to learn some strategies for overcoming sleep difficulties. It’s not for those who are already well-read on the topic.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Karma Gone Bad

Do you like to travel? Have you always imagined yourself living in an exotic place? Are you the type of person who enjoys reading memoirs?

If you answered yes to any of these, then Jenny Feldon's book, Karma Gone Bad: How I Learned to Love Mangoes, Bollywood, and Water Buffalo is a must read!

Feldon presents herself as a vivacious, young New Yorker who loves yoga and Starbucks. She also writes a blog which has many followers. Very early in her marriage, her husband Jeremy is presented with the opportunity to go to India and help organize an office in Hyderabad. It will be a two-year assignment.

Initially excited at the prospect of living abroad, the young couple dreams of the idyllic life they will lead as expats in such an exotic setting. Feldon imagines all the opportunities she will have to blog about her experiences. She pictures herself having the time and motivation to finally write the book she has been wanting to pen.

When the plane lands in Hyderabad and she steps into the sea of humanity, Feldon's sense of adventure quickly turns into a sense of "what have we done?"

Karma is Feldon's account of her time living in India. She is open and honest about the struggles she went through to adapt to this very different way of life. As a reader with a bit more life experience (I'm assuming at 47 I'm older than she was when this happened), I felt myself wanting to offer her advice about not trying to remake India into her expectations, but rather allowing herself the joy and surprise of embracing India simply for what it was. Sometimes funny and often touching, it was a delight to go with her on this life-changing experience!

Karma Gone Bad is a quick, fun book. I hope you have the chance to read it!

Friday, July 26, 2013


Kate Tucker and Violet Shramm are twins with a special ability to sense things others cannot perceive. Middle school, one of the hardest rights of passage for "normal" kids, instills in Kate (who's real first name is Daisy) a longing to shed the ability that makes her feel like a freak. Her twin, Vi, however begins to embrace the ability...much to Kate's chagrin.

When Violet Shramm, now a grown woman, makes a very public prediction about an impending earthquake in St. Louis, Missouri, the spotlight falls upon Kate's family in a way that forces her to examine her own life. Sisterland is the story of two women as told by one woman coming to terms with who she is and what "family" means. Kate Tucker reflects on adolescent experiences which inform the present day of the novel. What she remembers of childhood, parents, her twin, school, college and dating are all set in the context of her life as a wife, mother, friend, sister and daughter. Sittenfeld does a wonderful job of exposing the inner life of Kate Tucker.

The book made me feel as though I myself had some psychic abilities in that I was able to predict some of the major plot twists well before they occurred. (Who didn't see the October 16 event with Hank coming? or the way Jeremy Tucker resolves things at the end of the novel?) I did like the twist that Kate's assumptions about the origins of the twins' abilities turned out to be mistaken along with the truth she discovers.

The novel kept me engaged and wanting to find out more. Having lived in the St. Louis metro area in 1988, it was fun to see so many place references I was familiar with. All in all, I enjoyed reading Sittenfeld's Sisterland.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Different Sun

The only disappointing thing about A Different Sun by Elaine Orr was that it ended!

Orr's characters become close friends to the reader in this vivid tale of a missionary's wife who travels with him to Africa in the 1850's. Full of evocative descriptions and emotions, I found myself compelled to keep reading in order to find out what would happen to Emma and the African "family" and friends she makes along her journey. When the novel ended in what felt like mid-stream, I wanted more.

What happens to the young couple? To their child? The future is left up to the reader's imagination. What you come to know of Emma, Henry, and the others will help you as you imagine the way their lives unfold--perhaps that is enough.

I find it especially interesting that Orr's book is based upon the actual, historic diaries of a young woman. I love novels like this that hearken back to real world experiences and people. I was fascinated to watch Emma's inner strength blossom in each situation she encountered. Although I have kept journals off and on throughout my life, I doubt that therein lies anything worthy of a novel in the future. This book makes me ponder the differences between our modern every-day lives and choices and those of the generations before us who lived in such very different circumstances.

I'm thankful to Goodreads' FirstReads for the ARC I won that allowed me to read this wonderful novel. I will recommend this to my book club as a future selection!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Whistling Past the Graveyard

On vacation I finished the book I packed so quickly that I had to visit Book World in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin to pick up another. Whistling Past the Graveyard had been on my "To Read" list for a while, so I grabbed it. It's funny how the universe presents a person with connections!

Told from 9 year old Starla Claudelle's perspective, Whistling Past the Graveyard is a coming-of-age story set in Cayuga Springs, Mississippi in the summer of 1963. Starla lives with her paternal grandmother because her mother ran off to Nashville in hopes of a singing career while her father works on an off-shore oil rig. Life with Mamie is tough on a feisty 9 year old girl with a mind of her own! Starla manages to get herself on "restriction" (or "grounded" to some of us) just as her beloved Fourth of July festivities are set to take place. She decides to sneak out and enjoy what she can anyway. When she gets caught, Starla is panic-stricken that Mamie will make good on threats to send her off to reform school so she runs away.

Walking the road leaving town and heading to Nashville, Starla is offered a ride by Eula, a black woman on her way home from work in town. When Starla accepts, she is in for more of a ride than she bargained for!

Eula has taken a white baby she calls James who she plans to raise as her own. (In this I found the tie-in to Isabel Sherbourne in The Light Between Oceans!) She is married to an abusive man who turns murderous at the idea of Eula bringing home two white kids.

What ensues is the story of Starla and Eula's journey of discovery on their way to Nashville and eventually back home to Cayuga Springs, Mississippi. The pair explore the realities of segregation, abuse, divorce, teen pregnancy, empowerment, and the fact that sometimes family has less to do with blood connections than it does with those who love and support you.

I'm not sure I agree with the blurbs I read that suggested Whistling Past the Graveyard is destined to become the next To Kill A Mockingbird. Harper Lee's novel is my favorite book and I don't think Crandall's novel is quite on the same level for me. It is, however, a very good read full of interesting and realistic characters. It feels like a very authentic portrayal of the period and place in which it is set. I thought it was cute how Starla kept referring to the racial issues in terms of "regular bears" and "polar bears." Crandall does not sugar coat the racial tensions which existed, however, and Starla is allowed to contemplate the sometimes horrific treatment of African Americans in the south.

I'm glad I read this novel. If you get the chance, I hope you'll read it!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Light Between Oceans

A decorated war hero who is simply trying to forget the atrocities of the First World War decides the best place to do so is in the remote lighthouses off Australia's southern shores. A young woman who has lost both her siblings to the great war is determined to grab life and live it to the fullest while she has the chance. Tom and Isabel are married and move to the remote light on Janus Rock, a half-day's journey from the coast.

As the years pass, Izzy's hope of becoming a mother begins to fade as she suffers several miscarriages with no one to help but Tom. Then one day, a small boat washes up on the beach. In it the couple discovers a dead man and a crying baby. It seems fate has intervened for Izzy where Mother Nature has let her down.

What ensues is the heart wrenching novel about the sometimes bad choices good people make for love and the ripple effect of consequences those choices have in so many lives.

I found it very easy to get inside Stedman's characters. Their struggles, joys, passions, frustrations, triumphs and daily lives became my own as I became fully immersed in the story. Details about the workings of the lighthouse, the geography of the landscape, the sense of the period in Australian/world history all add to the vivid pictures of the time and place that helped shape the characters.

I am choosing this book as my pick for book club in the upcoming year. I believe the book presents terrific questions about relationships, about what constitutes good and bad choices, whether or not everyone found the story engaging and honest, possibilities for examining the consequences of the choices we make in life, how our choices effect those around us and the wider world in general, etc.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Great Vacation Reads

Just returned from a week on the beach where I read two really wonderful books, The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman and Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall. I will be posting reviews of each in the next couple of days!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Seasons of the Sacred Earth: Following the Old Ways on an Enchanted Homestead

Cliff Seruntine’s book, Seasons of the Sacred Earth: Following the Old Ways on an Enchanted Homestead, is food for the soul.

My most memorable moments of feeling a connection to the sacred have been those times when I have felt most at one with nature. Although I identify myself as a Christian, I happen to believe that most differences between faiths (and people for that matter) occur because we are unwilling (perhaps at times unable) to understand or perceive the words that one faith might use could easily correspond to something within our own tradition. For example, when Seruntine uses the word “magic” what he is describing in his narrative is clearly what I have experienced as “spirit” or “immanence.”

I found the stories Seruntine shares of his family’s life on their Nova Scotia homestead endearing, moving, and powerful. His life strikes me as much more authentic than many of the people I know who like to profess their beliefs but then live in a way that seems contrary to those very values and beliefs. I applaud his willingness to share these intimate moments of deep meaning! I admit I am normally more inclined to keep my own such encounters with the sacred or other-worldly beings much more to myself. How refreshing to find someone who not only accepts these experiences as part of life, but is willing to let a world of readers in on the celebration of them!

Readers with an open mind will find it easy to connect with Seasons of the Sacred Earth no matter what faith or spiritual tradition they may identify with. I am thankful for the reminder to be more mindful, to slow my pace, to enjoy the here and now, and most importantly to be open to experiencing the gifts of spirit which surround us in this world each day.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Ocean At the End of the Lane

Gaiman's novel tugs at the edges of your primordial memory.

There are certain times in my life when the slightest scent on the breeze or the way the light falls through the trees to caress my skin can spark a flash of memory so powerful it disorients me. It happened once when I looked up at a street light and saw snowflakes falling from the night sky. Silently, without warning I was overwhelmed by memories of emotions from childhood.

I have often wondered exactly what it is that is trying to surface from the deep recesses of my mind at such times. Something intervenes between childhood and adulthood and blurs the boundaries between reality and imagination, facts and memories. Why does this happen? Is it part of being human? Is it for our own good or survival? Is there a way to reconnect with those moments?

Gaiman's novel masterfully portrays one man's encounter with this phenomenon.

I just finished the novel and I can tell it will hang with me for many days to come. It will be a book I return to!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Peek Inside NYC

My inner voyeur took great delight in this book!

I loved peeking into these homes and the lives of their occupants. At first, I was disappointed that there weren't more photos included. (And also that the photos which began each chapter were in black and white.) About a third of the way into it, however, I decided I was glad there weren't photos as I'm convinced the imagination of my mind's eye probably composed more vivid scenes than the limitations imposed by the lens of a camera. (I believe this to be especially true in regards to Chapter 11, A Man and His Miscellany. What a terrific read!)

Somehow my very lengthy and well-worded first draft of this review was lost. I quoted from the chapter on the Austen House on Staten Island (another favorite for me) and mentioned that it was details such as the period architectural details of the house and the floorboards made from the hulls of whaling ships that had piqued that old flame within of the young person who dreamed of going off to the Big Apple to go for it all with gusto and verve!

The colorful details and imagery used throughout the various essays on the living spaces is wonderful. I found the New York sensability of naming people (referring to the married women in the essays by their maiden names) evocative of a place and social class system very different from that in which I live. (I must admit it felt a bit "superior" to me!) I always find it rewarding to be exposed to cultural phenomena that help to expand a person's world-view.

This book now tops my list of non-fiction recommendations for book clubs. I think it would also be a tremendous source for students going into journalism or other writing careers.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Adventures In Yarn Farming: Four Seasons on a New England Fiber Farm

As a longtime knitter and enthusiastic fiber fanatic, I was thrilled to read Adventures In Yarn Farming: Four Seasons on a New England Fiber Farm by Barbara Parry.

The book, as the subtitle suggests, is divided into four main sections based on the seasons of the year. As I had hoped, each season contains several chapters which describe in wonderful detail the main tasks a shepherd faces with his or her flock throughout the year. I found the descriptions colorful and engaging without ever becoming too technical or tedious. As a city girl, I was delighted to read about what must be mundane tasks on the farm. From the decisions that go into which breed of sheep to acquire, to lambing season, how to properly tend and manage grazing pastures, and shearing, cleaning and spinning the wool, I found myself absorbed in each new season and experience!

What surprised and especially delighted me about Parry’s book was the inclusion of patterns for knitted items and recipes featuring the produce grown in the farm’s kitchen garden. What rich bonuses! There are also wonderful photographs of the farm, the flock and those who work with the land and animals. Because the farm is located in a part of the country I have never visited (New England), the photos and descriptions of the setting felt like a travelogue which allowed me to escape to a new place.

Another interesting insight for me included an explanation of a local phenomenon I had been curious about. There are sheep at a farm outside the city I live in. In the field with the sheep are two resident llamas. After reading Adventures In Yarn Farming, I now know why this is. [Spoiler Alert: the llamas serve as protectors to the flock while in the field, help watch over lambs in the barn and serve as doulas to the ewes during the birth process.]

If you are interested in what goes into making the yarn or fiber you work with, are simply curious about life on a New England sheep farm, or want to see some wonderful photography of said setting, I highly recommend Barbara Parry’s book!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Bigger On the Inside!

Welcome to Book Tardis! Books are like Dr. Who's TARDIS to me; open a book and discover a world that is bigger on the inside than it appears from the outside. Books can open a whole new world to readers. They will take you places you've never been or perhaps even dared to dream.

I have had the good fortune of being a reader all my life. My parents instilled a love of reading from an early age by taking me to the library, ordering books from the book orders that came home from school and encouraging participation in summer reading programs. When I became a parent I did the same with my own children. My youngest graduated from high school last year and listed "reading" as one of his top three favorite pasttimes!

I've also enjoyed working with elementary school aged children as part of the local school district's literacy program. Reading is the most imporant skill we can teach and the most basic thing we need to learn to succeed in life. Now I work in the local community college's library and have the chance to spend my work hours immersed in the world of books!

I belong to two book clubs and am in the process of getting a Little Free Library up and running in my community. (Actually, there will be three little free libraries in town thanks to the wonderful committee of people I'm working with.)

This blog will be a place for me to post book reviews. In addition to the already published books I read with my book clubs each month, I have been the receipient of several advance reader copies of books soon to be released. I'm very open to discussion over any and all books! So please feel free to leave comments or questions. Let me know what books you've been reading.

Let's dive into books and discover that a book opens into a world that truly is "bigger on the inside!"