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!