Monday, September 30, 2013

T.C. Boyle Stories II

T.C. Boyle Stories II: The Collected Stories of T. Coraghessan Boyle, Volume II
Viking; 10/3/2013
Hardcover,  944 pages

ISBN-13: 9780670026258

A second volume of short fiction—featuring fourteen uncollected stories—from the bestselling author and master of the form
Few authors write with such sheer love of story and language as T.C. Boyle, and that is nowhere more evident than in his inventive, wickedly funny, and always entertaining short stories. In 1998, T.C. Boyle Stories brought together the author’s first four collections to critical acclaim. Now, T.C. Boyle Stories II gathers the work from his three most recent collections along with fourteen new tales previously unpublished in book form as well as a preface in which Boyle looks back on his career as a writer of stories and the art of making them.
By turns mythic and realistic, farcical and tragic, ironic and moving, Boyle’s stories have mapped a wide range of human emotions. The fifty-eight stories in this new volume, written over the last eighteen years, reflect his maturing themes. Along with the satires and tall tales that established his reputation, readers will find stories speaking to contemporary social issues, from air rage to abortion doctors, and character-driven tales of quiet power and passion. Others capture timeless themes, from first love and its consequences to confrontations with mortality, or explore the conflict between civilization and wildness. The new stories find Boyle engagingly testing his characters’ emotional and physical endurance, whether it’s a group of giants being bred as weapons of war in a fictional Latin American country, a Russian woman who ignores dire warnings in returning to her radiation-contaminated home, a hermetic writer who gets more than a break in his routine when he travels to receive a minor award, or a man in a California mountain town who goes a little too far in his concern for a widow.  
Mordant wit, emotional power, exquisite prose: it is all here in abundance. T.C. Boyle Stories II is a grand career statement from a writer whose imagination knows no bounds.
My Thoughts:

T.C. Boyle Stories II: The Collected Stories of T. Coraghessan Boyle, Volume II  contains fifty eight stories by Boyle written since his first collection of short stories was published in 1998. Boyle is a amazing, intelligent literary fiction writer who has a remarkable gift of story-telling. As much as he is known for his novels, Boyle is a master of the short story. He can establish the characters and setting, entangle you in the drama, toy with your emotions, and make it seem effortless. The preface is a detailed review of Boyle's life as a writer to date, where he's been, what has led him to this point, and his theories about writing. It is certainly not to be skipped over on your way to the stories.

But I must acknowledge that while the preface is quite interesting, Boyle's stories are the shining stars, especially since many of the stories included in this massive collection have already won honors and acclaim. It's wonderful to have them all gathered in one collection. Stories II includes stories from Boyle's last three collections plus fourteen new stories not previously found in any collection, so, as it has been noted, it is the equivalent of four smaller books. It also needs to be noted that Boyle is including everything from the last fifteen years, so this is not a best of or a selection of hand-picked award winners.
Contents include:

I. After the Plague: Termination Dust; She Wasn’t Soft; Killing Babies; Captured by the Indians; *Achates McNeil; The Love of My Life; *Rust; *Peep Hall; Going Down; Friendly Skies; *The Black and White Sisters; Death of the Cool; *My Widow; The Underground Gardens; *After the Plague.

II. Tooth and Claw: When I Woke Up This Morning, Everything I Had Was Gone;* Swept Away; Dogology; The Kind Assassin; *The Swift Passage of the Animals; *Jubilation; *Rastrow’s Island;  *Chicxulub; Here Comes; All the Wrecks; I’ve Crawled Out Of; Blinded by the Light; *Tooth and Claw; Almost Shooting an Elephant; The Doubtfulness of Water: Madam Knight’s Journey to New York, 1702; Up Against the Wall;

III. Wild Child: *Balto; La Conchita; *Question 62; *Sin Dolor; Bulletproof; *Hands On; *The Lie; The Unlucky Mother of Aquiles Maldonado; Admiral; Ash Monday; Thirteen Hundred Rats; Anacapa; *Three Quarters of the Way to Hell; *Wild Child;

IV. A Death in Kitchawank: *My Pain Is Worse Than Your Pain; The Silence; A Death in Kitchawank; *What Separates Us from the Animals; *Good Home; *In the Zone; Los Gigantes; *The Way You Look Tonight; *The Night of the Satellite; *Search and Rescue; *Sic Transit; Burning Bright; The Marlbane Manchester Musser Award; Birnam Wood

I've put an asterisk in front of the titles of the stories that I especially enjoyed, although that doesn't mean that the others aren't as good. This is an expansive collection full of stories that warrant reading and re-reading. I have a feeling that I'll be re-visiting this collection simply to slowly savor many of these stories again and again. Admittedly there is one story that I likely won't re-read because I can't get it out of my head. All I'll say is that it has a dog in it and it makes me weepy and angry.

Very Highly Recommended - this is a must have collection due to be released on October 3, 2013.

... after the plague—it was some sort of Ebola mutation passed from hand to hand and nose to nose like the common cold—life was different. More relaxed and expansive, more natural. The rat race was over, the freeways were clear all the way to Sacramento, and the poor dwindling ravaged planet was suddenly big and mysterious again. It was a kind of miracle really, what the environmentalists had been hoping for all along, though of course even the most strident of them wouldn’t have wished for his own personal extinction, but there it was. (Location 3916-3920)


Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Viking via Netgalley for review purposes.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Suburban Legends

Suburban Legends: True Tales of Murder, Mayhem, and Minivans by Sam Stall
Quirk Books, October 1, 2013 (re-release)
eBook; 240 pages


Its a Terrible Day in the Neighborhood
They told you the suburbs were a great place to live. They said nothing bad could ever happen here.
But they were wrong.
This collection of terrifying true stories exposes the dark side of life in the ’burbs—from corpses buried in backyards and ghosts lurking in fast food restaurants to UFOs, vanishing persons, bizarre apparitions, and worse. Consider:
      •  The Soccer Mom’s Secret. Meet Melinda Raisch of Columbus, Ohio. She’s the wife of a dentist. A mother of three. A PTA member. And she has enough murderous secrets to fill a minivan.
     •  Noise Pollution. More than 100 residents of Kokomo, Indiana, claim their small town is under attack by a low-pitched humming sound that erodes health and sanity. Too bad they’re the only ones who can hear it.
     •  Death Takes a Holiday inn. There’s nothing more reassuring than a big chain hotel in a quaint small town—unless it’s the Holiday Inn of Grand Island, New York, where you’ll spend the night with the spirit of a mischievous little girl.  
So lock your doors, dim the lights, and prepare to stay up all night with this creepy collection of true tales. We promise you’ll never look at white picket fences the same way again!

My Thoughts:

Suburban Legends: True Tales of Murder, Mayhem, and Minivans by Sam Stall is being re-released as an e-book just in time for some scary October fun. This is one of those books full of brief, easy-to-read stories that, and I'm being honest here, are just plain fun to peruse from time to time. Most of the stories are known and not new to this collection. Not one will make sleep difficult, but several should give you a queasy feeling or at least acknowledging the gross-factor.  (Certainly several did when they first came out in the news.) The stories range from traditional stories of ghosts and unexplained phenomena, cryptozoological entities, and urban legends to well-known stories of deranged killers. The collection is divided into seven sections and includes several photos.

Contents include:

I. INHUMANLY BAD HOUSEGUESTS: The Prime-Time Poltergeist; The Little Girl in the Window; Disturbing Developments; Guess What’s Coming to Dinner?; Windbreaker of the Damned; Surreal Estate; The Haunting of 2115 Martingale Drive Ghost Dad; Terror by Design; Light My Fire; Make Room for Danny

I I . THE GHOUL NEXT DOOR: Historic Preservation; Family Guy; Demolition Man; The Randy Rabbi; The Game of Death; Shreds of Evidence; The House of Horror

III. HELLISH COMMUTES: Roadside Assistance; Resurrection Mary, Quite Contrary; Close Encounters of the Worst Kind; Death Takes a Holiday Inn; The Dead Zone; The Parkway Phantom; Our Lady of the Savings and Loan; Highway to Hell; The Devil’s Lawn Ornament; The Haunted Car; The Spectral Horsemen of Route 895; Making Tracks Through Devil’s Swamp

IV. BACKYARD BEASTS: Leaping Lizards; The Beast of Bray Road; Big Birds; Better Lake than Never; Hello Kitty; The Dover Demon; Attack of the Killer Spores; The Terror of Levittown; The Goatman Cometh; Snakes in a House; The Beast of Sunset Circle

V. REALLY DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES: Death Becomes Him; The Soccer Mom’s Secret; Serial Mom; Love and Bullets; Rest in Pieces

VI. LAWN OF THE DEAD: The Backyard Boneyard; Concrete Evidence; Graveyard Shift; Frozen Asset; Army of Darkness; On Dangerous Ground; Home Improvements from Hell; The Vanishing Pattersons; Groundbreaking Discovery

VII. SUNDRY CUL-DE-SACRILEGES: Ghosts “R” Us; Noise Pollution; You Want Frights with That?; Water, Water Everywhere; The Runaway Retention Pond; Hanging by a Thread; Ho, Sweet Ho; The UFO in the Attic; The Ring; Fly Away Home; Lighting Up the Neighborhood

Obviously there are a lot of stories packed into a few pages so no one story is delved into in great detail or new facts researched and exposed. The tone is fun and informative - just a guy sharing some creepy stories with you. 

As Sam says, "You’ll never look at planned communities the same way again."

Highly Recommended



Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Quirk Books via Edelweiss for review purposes.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Science of Ocean Waves

The Science of Ocean Waves: Ripples, Tsunamis, and Stormy Seas by J. B. Zirker  
Johns Hopkins University Press: October 2013
Hardcover, 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9781421410784
"Powerful ocean waves fascinate the public, and they have made a lot of news lately." With that indisputable observation, scientist J. B. Zirker takes off on a whirlwind tour of the world of waves—from the "ordinary" waves that constantly churn the sea to the rogues or freaks that can rise up seemingly from nowhere to heights of 20 meters or more... and everything in between.
Addressing questions most ocean visitors have had and offering new ones for our consideration, The Science of Ocean Waves explains in accessible language how waves are formed, how they move, how they become huge and destructive, and how they're being studied now for clues that will help us plan for the future.
Devoting chapters to wind, tides, currents, breakers, tsunamis, forecasting, renewable energy, and El Niño—as well as discussing the gentler properties of ocean waves which inspire us and offer opportunities for relaxation and recreation—Zirker explores the physical factors that create waves.
Drawing on some of the recent storms that have devastated entire regions—such as Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami launched by the 2004 Sumatran earthquake, and the great tsunami that crushed the shore of Japan in 2011—Zirker explains the forces that cause these monster waves and reveals the toll they take on human lives.
Enhanced by dozens of illustrations and a comprehensive glossary, The Science of Ocean Waves will fascinate anyone curious about the science behind the headlines.
My Thoughts:

The Science of Ocean Waves: Ripples, Tsunamis, and Stormy Seas by J. B. Zirker is a fascinating look at ocean waves and the science behind the discoveries of those who have studied ocean waves. Rather than being presented in a complicated manner, this very informative book is also written and illustrated in a straightforward manner for the interested lay person who doesn't have a strong scientific background. Zirker's explanation of the science behind ocean waves is very accessible.

Chapters in the book include:
1 A Walk along the Beach
2 What Exactly Is a Wave?
3 How the Wind Generates Ocean Waves
4 A Touch of Reality: How Big Waves Behave
5 Observations at Sea: The Postwar Boom
6 Forecasting and Monitoring Storm Waves
7 Breaking Waves
8 Freaks and Rogues
9 Tsunamis
10 Internal Waves and El Niño
11 The Tides
12 The Currents
13 Ship Waves
14 Renewable Energy from Waves and Tides
15 The Future
Plus there are over 45 illustrations, a comprehensive glossary, and an index.

The regular moving pattern of pattern of humps and hollows of ocean waves is called a swell. The  distance between the crest and the trough is called the “height” of the wave. It is interesting to note (or remember) that the water in a wave doesn’t actually travel with the wave toward the shore; it just bobs up and down, practically in place. It is an oscillating motion that weakens the deeper you go under the surface of the ocean, which is why submarines dive to escape storms.

Obviously scientists have been interested in ocean waves for a long time. Much of the research on waves has also been applicable to other areas of science. Zirker does a great job explaining  and illustrating that there are several phenomena explained that we can view in ocean waves but are common to all types of waves: reflection, refraction, diffraction and interference. These properties also apply to sound waves, light waves, and seismic waves.

While Wilhelm Eduard Weber (1804–91) and his older brother Ernst Heinrich Weber were the first scientists to investigate water waves experimentally in a lab, the roll call of scientists mentioned in The Science of Ocean Waves is impressive. It includes (but is not limited to):  the Weber brothers, Galileo, Newton, D'Alembert, Euler, Lagrange, Cauchy, Airy, Kelvin, Helmholz, Jeffreys, Fourier, Phillips, Miles, Snyder, Mitsuyasu, Plate, Plant, Wright, Janssen, Hristov, Friehe, Miller, Lighthill, Reutov, Farrell, Ioannou, Lin, Munk, Russell, Stokes, Gerstner, Korteweg, de Vries, Davisson, Germer, Schrodinger, Zakharov, Benjamin, Feir, Hasselmann, Monk, Cox, Darbyshire, Moskowitz, Pierson, Tsanis, Brisete, Holthuijsen, Herbers, Banner, Phillips, Duncan, Melville, Matusov, Topex.

More random information to entice you to read the book:

JONSWAP, the Joint North Sea Wave Project developed a wave spectrum based on field experiments and measurements of waves.

In the wake of recent hurricanes, Katrina, and Tsunamis (2004 Indian Ocean and Miyako) other models developed include SWAN SLOSH, represents storm surge and wave hazard that impact coastal waters. Slosh is for storm surge and SWAN is for wave height.

Today there are also satellites that monitor ocean waves: go to the NOAA site for more information:
Freak waves and rogue waves are always interesting and have been proven to exist. It was reported that a wave that hit the ship Ramapo "was a crest to-trough height of 34m, or 112 feet! It was the largest wave ever reported." When scientists mapped the locations of the 245 accidents blamed on rogue waves, they noticed that they "were concentrated in four areas of heavy shipping: the U.S. east Coast, the north Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the coast of China. This result led to the suggestion that ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream and Kirushiro Current could be generating rogue waves." 

Another tantalizing tidbit of information is that oceanographers are making progress in revealing the mechanisms involved in el niño events. "Theoretical studies over the past 30 years suggest a crucial role for two unusual types of ocean waves: rossby waves and Kelvin waves. These waves were predicted to have wavelengths of hundreds or thousands of kilometers."

The Science of Ocean Waves: Ripples, Tsunamis, and Stormy Seas is due to be released in October of 2013. (I have conflicting publishing dates of October 2 or 31.)
Fascinating book!

Very Highly Recommended for those interested in more information on ocean waves.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Johns Hopkins University Press viaEdelweiss for review purposes.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Sky Manifest

The Sky Manifest by Brian Panhuyzen
ECW Press; 10/1/2013
Trade Paperback,
240 pages

ISBN-13: 9781770410817

After suffering an unbearable loss, a man takes a road trip in an attempt to find solace and encounters beauty, brutality, and beguiling characters along the way in this darkly thrilling novel. Grieving the deaths of his wife and infant daughter, Nathan Soderquist decides to journey westward across the continent, documenting the ever-changing sky in brief entries of ravishing poetry. Desperately lonely and with nothing left to lose, he drives through vacant landscapes committing acts of violence, nobility, cowardice, and bravery, all the while trying to save the world from evil. After his recklessness leads to an accident that leaves his body broken, he heals and continues his journey on bicycle before that is taken from him as well. Bent on revenge he sets out again on foot, and a violent midnight confrontation puts him on a path that could lead to either destruction or redemption.

My Thoughts:

The Sky Manifest by Brian Panhuyzen is an eminently melancholy novel. Nathan Soderquist is on a quest across Canada - a quest wrought from pain and memories. After his wife and 18 month-old daughter are killed in an accident, Nathan is trying to escape from the pain and the memories by traveling. Nathan is filled with anger over his loss and seems bent on self-destruction. While he is driving, living a nomadic existence, he's also seemingly seeking out confrontations and fights. He is drinking too much. But he is also writing poetic descriptions of the ever-changing weather. 

The escalating anger Nathan displays and the increasing violence he demonstrates cannot release him from his memories or his culpability. Nathan feels inconsolable and he is seeking out punishment, but what he really wants is atonement for the role he played in his wife and child's death. While he meets several people along the way and we know that there are others who would help him, Nathan is bent on self-destruction and that makes his acts distressing to follow at times. He actively runs away from any help or consolation.

While the protagonist may not be able to control himself,  Panhuyzen’s prowess with language elevates this sombre, distressing novel above the ordinary. The Sky Manifest is not an easy novel to read. The raw violence and emotions can be overwhelming. highly recommended


Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of ECW Press via Netgalley for review purposes.

The Round House

The Round House by Louise Erdrich
HarperCollins, 9/24/2013
Trade Paperback, P.S. Series; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062065254


One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface because Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe's life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.
While his father, a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.

My Thoughts:

The Round House by Louise Erdrich is set on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota in 1988. Joe Coutts is a 13 year-old boy whose mother Geraldine is brutally beaten and raped in the reservation's Round House, a place of worship for the Ojibwe. His father, Bazil is a tribal judge. The crime and physical and emotional ramifications of the attack are devastating enough, but finding the guilty party and bringing him to justice is a different matter. Because Geraldine is unclear on exactly what part of the land surrounding the Round House the crime occurred, Bazil ensures that the tribal police, state sheriff and FBI are all called in to interview Geraldine and, hopefully, collect evidence. The overwhelming problem is that there is tribal, state, and federal land all intersecting at this location and where the crime occurred determines the jurisdiction involved. Adding to this quagmire, the attack could have stemmed from a court case Bazil heard or be related to Geraldine's job managing tribal enrollment. As Joe watches his mother sink further into depression and his father struggle with trying to determine who could be a suspect, he decides, along with his friends, to take the law into his own hands and look for clues as to who committed the crime.

In The Round House, Erdrich combines a coming of age story with a crime novel full of suspense. At the beginning we meet Joe before the attack and follow along as his childhood abruptly ends and he is mercilessly forced into adulthood as he and his father deal with the knowledge that the attacking was planning to kill Geraldine and doubt that the attacker will face justice because of the murky question of jurisdiction, the "Maze of Injustice," that still exists. Joe struggles with both is helplessness and anger over this impossible situation.

Joe and his friends are typical young teen boys, so there are occasions of sneaking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, and they also watch and relate to TV shows of the era. Eldrich includes a wide variety of relatives and people in her cast of characters and gives each of them an individual voice and personality. Her characters have a universal presence but also reflect specific people. It is this very ability to present a universal story but imbibe it with specific characters and circumstances that enables The Round House to create such an emotional, visceral impact on the reader.

Although I may not live on a reservation or be faced with some of the harsh realities the Coutts face, I can empathize with them because of the universality of the themes. In the Afterword, Erdrich tells us that "1 in 3 Native women will be raped in her lifetime (and that figure is certainly higher as Native women often do not report rape); 86 percent of rapes and sexual assaults upon Native women are perpetrated by non-Native men; few are prosecuted." This statistic is unacceptable (as all assaults upon women are unacceptable and inexcusable).

Erdrich, an accomplished and gifted writer, first introduced the North Dakota Ojibwe community in her The Plague of Doves published in 2008, and there will be a third part of this planned trilogy released in the future. The Round House is the winner of the 2012 National Book Award for Fiction.  The Round House is not an easy book to read emotionally. It also contains some adult discussions and several stories of ghosts and cultural stories/myths.

Very Highly Recommended

Louise Erdrich is the author of fourteen novels, volumes of poetry, children’s books, and a memoir of early motherhood. She lives in Minnesota and is the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore. Ms. Erdrich is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, and this story—which will, in the end, span one hundred years in the life of an Ojibwe woman—was inspired when Ms. Erdrich and her mother, Rita Gourneau Erdrich, were researching their own family history.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC for review purposes. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013


Unraveling: Hanging Onto Faith Through the End of a Christian Marriage 
by Elisabeth Klein Corcoran
Abingdon Press, 10/1/13
Paperback, 208 pages


To be a separated or divorced Christian is to be an anomaly, a scandal. No one knows what box to put you in or what to do with you, and this no-man’s land--pun intended--can be a very isolating and core-shaking place to dwell.
Elisabeth Klein Corcoran knows from experience. After extensive counseling, mentoring, 12-step groups, many tears, and even more prayers, Elisabeth found her 18-year marriage ending in separation and divorce. A believer completely in love with Jesus, Elisabeth was alone, drowning in a sea of emotions, and questioning how to navigate her way through the end of her marriage.
Elisabeth walks readers through the varied emotions of being newly single in this collection of vulnerable and hopeful essays, expounding on some of the most common struggles of divorce: anger, faith, guilt, loneliness, and more.
What started as an article for, has turned into a calling to soothe broken hearts with stories, prayer, action steps, and Scripture readings, helping readers hold on to profound faith and reassurance in the one Love that will never die.
Whether separated, newly divorced, or just considering divorce, women will find hope and comfort in these short, but dynamic readings.

My Thoughts:

The title of Elisabeth Klein Corcoran's latest book, Unraveling: Hanging Onto Faith Through the End of a Christian Marriage succinctly summarizes exactly the contents of her book. Written for Christian women who are going or have gone through a divorce, Corcoran shares her intimate thoughts and reflections on what she went through:
"What you’re holding in your hands is a narrative of my journey through the most difficult, confusing, and emotional season of my entire life. It is the chronicling of me bottoming out and then finding I wasn’t alone when I reached my end. It is the chronicling of battling every fear and every sadness and every judgment and then realizing there was hope and light and joy waiting for me. And it is the chronicling of not knowing if I was following God’s leading or walking away and then finding out that he was right there, as close as a breath, following through on his promise to never abandon me, no matter what." (Location 37-41)

The details and whys of what lead to her divorce are not intimated here. Instead she focuses on what helped her when her 18 year marriage ended in divorce. She writes "I am proclaiming—for the sake of your healing process and for the sake of falling lavishly on the side of grace—that I do not care how you came to find yourself separated or divorced, and therefore my specifics do not matter. What matters is the foundational truth that even in the most heartbreaking, soulwrenching divorce, you, and I, can find peace, healing, and resurrection." (Location 54-55)

Part of the problem of not sharing some specifics is that clearly her circumstances are not shared by every Christian who has a marriage end. Reading an article Corcoran wrote where she gave some details and insight into why her marriage ended (alcohol, abuse) was actually beneficial for me: Crosswalk - Unraveling.

Corcoran shares at the end of Unraveling that the book was written while she was still separated and right after her divorce as she wanted others to understand why their emotions are so raw and perhaps offer some help/support for them. And while this book is written for Christians it would also be beneficial and offer some healing and hope to anyone who has experienced a divorce. Because she already had a career as a speaker and writer, she was able to continue to be a stay-at-home mom, rather than a woman suddenly thrust back into the job market after devoting years to her husband and family. This reflects a huge difference between her and many Christian women who aren't as fortunate. I am a Christian whose ex divorced her after 28 years of marriage. My circumstances are remarkably different from Corcoran's, although there are similarities too. I will say that in my case parts of the book simply didn't apply because my ex wanted a new life where he didn't have adult children either.

I would very highly recommend Unraveling, but I would very highly recommend a DivorceCare group even more to anyone who suddenly finds themselves faced with divorce.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of the author via Netgalley for review purposes.


My reality today is that I feel like I am trapped in partnership with someone who cannot stand me, and I feel that I am not allowed to sever this crumbling relationship without being ostracized in my community and, worse, without losing the favor of my loving heavenly Father. Location 82-83

But I know that if you love Jesus and if you have been in a difficult marriage, those two things seem diametrically opposed. I know that you have probably felt emotions that were the complete opposite of what you thought you were supposed to be feeling, maybe for a very long time. And when you keep something like that to yourself, and when you allow it to finally see the light of day, raw is the only word to describe it. Location 88-91

Father, please enter in to my rawest places. I cannot even believe I feel the way I feel sometimes. I feel broken by my circumstances, and if I’m completely honest, maybe a bit abandoned by you. But I am choosing to believe that you’re with me as you say you are, and I am choosing to trust that you want to bring me full healing. Amen. Location 96-98

Having to step down from some fairly public ministries and having to find new things to do that are quieter and in the background has been humbling. Location 309-310

I heard author Henry Cloud say that transformation is truth plus grace plus time. Location 331-332

People can think what they want and be angry with me and kick me while I’m down till next Sunday, but my God is my Father and my Husband and he is not disappointed in me or angry with me. He knows my heart, he knows I’m desperately trying to do what’s right, he pursues me, he cares about my life and my sadnesses. He doesn’t make me beg, and, yes, he loves me. Location 347-350

I am learning, in my divorce, that my energy is better spent thinking about what kind of person I want to be and how I can place my hope in God and not others. I’ve got enough to work on in myself to keep me occupied for the rest of my life; I need to keep my focus on who God wants me to be and not on someone else’s journey. Location 410-412

There is a peace in our home now that I haven’t experienced in years, that my kids haven’t experienced in their entire lives. Location 470-471

My sadness makes me slower and less ambitious, so I’m trying to see and enjoy the smaller things around me . . . . . I’m grateful. I’m not just grateful for whatever redemption may come down the line, but I’m grateful for today. For the quiet. For the peace of mind. For the relief. For the knowing I did all I could. Location 475-479

Your children will look back on your separation and divorce as a defining moment in their lives, no matter the outcome. The best thing you can do for them is to be appropriately authentic with them, letting them see that you are finding your strength in God. And that, in and of itself, will give them strength. Location 534-536

Being on my own, I’ve realized that I cannot do it all, that I do not have to do it all. That some things are just going to fall through the cracks, and that’s what grace is for. Location 1168-1169 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Wilder Rose

A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert
Persevero Press; 9/1/2013
Trade Paperback, 302 pages
ISBN-13: 9780989203500


In 1928, Rose Wilder Lane-world traveler, journalist, highly-paid magazine writer-returned from an Albanian sojourn to her parents' Ozark farm. Almanzo Wilder was 71 and Laura 61, and Rose felt obligated to stay and help. Then came the Crash. Rose's investments vanished and the magazine market dried up. That's when Laura wrote "Pioneer Girl," her story of growing up in the Big
Woods of Wisconsin, on the Kansas prairie, and by the shores of Silver Lake.The rest is literary history. But it isn't the history we thought we knew.
Based on the unpublished diaries of Rose Wilder Lane and other documentary evidence, A Wilder Rose tells the surprising true story of the often strained collaboration that produced the Little House books-a collaboration that Rose and her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder, concealed from their agent, editors, reviewers, and readers. Acclaimed author Susan Wittig Albert follows the clues that take us straight to the heart of this fascinating literary mystery.
My Thoughts:

In A Wilder Rose author Susan Wittig Albert presents a fictionalized account of the life of Rose Wilder Lane from 1928-1939. It is no surprise to many people that Rose, daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, was a co-author to the Little House books and the actual talent that made them publishable. This novel is based on diaries, journals and letters. The characters are based on real people, from real information they left behind, but it is a novel.

This was an interesting, turbulent time in the U.S.  and Susan Wittig Albert includes many historically accurate details and information about the time and place that set the tone for what is going on in Rose's life. Adding to the historical facts are the details she gleams from her research into the lives of these very interesting authors, a mother and daughter with a complicated and uneasy relationship. It also includes many of Rose's friends from this period of time.

A Wilder Rose is well-researched enough that I question the decision to fictionalize the story rather than present the information and research in a nonfiction account. Perhaps in this form it is more accessible to more readers, but for me it's always interesting to see the actual information, the research. While the time and place were well set, and a good job was done in developing characterization, sometimes the choice to present the material in a fictionalized manner began to feel like a laundry list of activities to me. Additionally I'm not sure it was beneficial to have Laura's passive/aggressive attitude mentioned repeatedly. Mothers and daughters often have complex relationships and mothers can often be controlling toward their daughters. It's almost a given that deserved to be mentioned but didn't need the repetition.

Admittedly I'm likely one of the few people around who never had a huge love for the Little House series of books (or the TV show) and I easily accepted the early scholarly works that pointed to the books actually being likely written, or certainly put in publishable form, by Rose, who was a successful writer. I would most certainly recommend this, highly for fans of the books and those who enjoy historical fiction.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of the author via Netgalley for review purposes.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Big Brother

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
HarperCollins; 6/4/2013
Hardcover, 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9780061458576

When Pandora picks up her older brother Edison at her local Iowa airport, she literally doesn't recognize him. In the four years since the siblings last saw each other, the once slim, hip New York jazz pianist has gained hundreds of pounds. What happened?
And it's not just the weight. Imposing himself on Pandora's world, Edison breaks her husband Fletcher's handcrafted furniture, makes overkill breakfasts for the family, and entices her stepson not only to forgo college but to drop out of high school.
After the brother-in-law has more than overstayed his welcome, Fletcher delivers his wife an ultimatum: It's him or me. Putting her marriage and adopted family on the line, Pandora chooses her brother—who, without her support in losing weight, will surely eat himself into an early grave.
Rich with Shriver's distinctive wit and ferocious energy, Big Brother is about fat—an issue both social and excruciatingly personal. It asks just how much we'll sacrifice to rescue single members of our families, and whether it's ever possible to save loved ones from themselves.
My Thoughts:

Although I featured Big Brother by Lionel Shriver in an earlier post  because my review copy arrived late, I finally found the time to read the book. As I said previously,  "Her current novel again focuses on today's current headlines/obsessions. This time it is a family's  destructive relationship with food. Pandora was a caterer. Now married to Fletcher, she cooks to show love. Her brother, Edison, is using food to ease his pain and has gained hundreds of pounds."

Pandora is also a successful owner of a start-up business and even while she downplays her accomplishments, they are truly remarkable. Her husband, Fletcher, has become a health-consumed food Nazi and compulsive exercise junkie who makes handmade furniture in their basement, most of which he is unable to sell. Adding to this already potentially stressful marital situation are Fletcher's two teenagers and a visit from Pandora's now morbidly obese brother, Edison. Even while Pandora is cracking under the strict disciplines her husband wants to live under, she views Edison's life without rules as a cry for help.

While the subject matter may make people squirm and look over their shoulder in the mirror or jump on that scale one more time, the issues Shriver raises and brings to our attention in this intelligent, very timely novel are worth the price some of us might pay in discomfort.
I've lived with a food Nazi and the rules they want to impose on everyone around them is simply a way for them to strive to control other people. It doesn't work and will always cause dissension in the ranks. On the other hand, Edison's incredible girth is undeniably unhealthy. But the real question is can you truly help your family by trying to control them or their behavior even if you are doing it for all the right reasons? And beyond that can anyone control the behavior of others?
Shriver wrote an article about body image: Warning: I Will Employ the Word 'Fat'

"A complex, conflicted relationship to the body isn’t the exclusive preserve of the overweight. To a modest extent, we can control its contours and influence its functionality, but in the main the body is a card we’ve been arbitrarily dealt. Looking in the mirror, we both recognize ourselves and don’t. Are we what we see? What unpleasant surprises about our true natures will emerge when the body falters from illness, age, or accident? Whatever our sizes, in time the body will betray us all. Thus it’s in everyone’s interest to maintain a sharp distinction between, as my narrator in Big Brother puts it, “the who” and “the what.” "

Yet, again, Shriver's use of language leaves me humbled and admiring. She always uses the exact word to say or describe her scenes or characters. Have you ever, like me, muttered while writing, "No, that's not the word I want - it's like that word but that's not it..."and struggled trying to get the exact word you are searching for untangled from your mind? Lionel Shriver is an incredibly gifted wordsmith. Add that talent to her story telling ability and it leaves me in awe. This may not have been my all-time favorite Lionel Shriver novel, but it is most certainly very highly recommended.  

Disclosure:I received my advanced reading copy from the publisher and TLC for review purposes. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Iron Council

Iron Council by China Miéville 
Random House, 2005
Trade Paperback, 576 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345458421

Following Perdido Street Station and The Scar, acclaimed author China Miéville returns.... to the decadent squalor of New Crobuzon—this time, decades later.
It is a time of wars and revolutions, conflict and intrigue. New Crobuzon is being ripped apart from without and within. War with the shadowy city-state of Tesh and rioting on the streets at home are pushing the teeming city to the brink. A mysterious masked figure spurs strange rebellion, while treachery and violence incubate in unexpected places.
In desperation, a small group of renegades escapes from the city and crosses strange and alien continents in the search for a lost hope.
In the blood and violence of New Crobuzon’s most dangerous hour, there are whispers. It is the time of the iron council. . . .
The bold originality that broke Miéville out as a new force of the genre is here once more in Iron Council: the voluminous, lyrical novel that is destined to seal his reputation as perhaps the edgiest mythmaker of the day.
My Thoughts: 

Iron Council by China Miéville is set in New Crobuzon, the  city-state on Bas-Lag, the mythical world he created in previous novels (Perdido Street Station, The Scar). Reading Perdido Street Station before Iron Council is highly recommended because it will give you the insight you need into the complex population of Bas-Lag and New Crobuzon. This is considered the third book in his series of novels in this world.

The political atmosphere is exceptionally charged in Iron Council and that is the crux of this novel, although there are certainly other plot elements pulled into the mix. This is, perhaps, the most socialist of Miéville's novels. The Iron Council is a train with crew and passengers that was expelled from the city years ago. Since that time it has stayed hidden from the militia who seek it. But now may be the time to call the Iron Council back.

After the lengthy background of the Iron Council is established, the political/social revolution is underway. But, of course, since this is Miéville it's not quite as simple as that. Prepare yourself for the previous insect and cactus races, along with all manner of golems, Remades, alchemy, magic, interdemensional travel, native races, and much, much more.

Certainly the writing is exceptional and the characterizations well developed and the descriptions are substantial.  This time around, however, Miéville throws so much into the mix that it became almost too much - something I never could have imagine typing before this. Am I glad I read it? Certainly! I was looking forward to it. But I could only recommend Iron Council to others who have read Perdido Street Station, The Scar and want to finish Miéville's three New Crobuzon novels.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery 
Alison Anderson (Translator)
Europa Editions, 2008
Trade Paperback,


An enchanting New York Times and international bestseller and award-winner about life, art, literature, philosophy, culture, class, privilege, and power, seen through the eyes of a 54-year old French concierge and a precocious but troubled 12-year-old girl.
Renée Michel is the 54-year-old concierge of a luxury Paris apartment building. Her exterior (“short, ugly, and plump”) and demeanor (“poor, discreet, and insignificant”) belie her keen, questing mind and profound erudition. Paloma Josse is a 12-year-old genius who behaves as everyone expects her to behave: a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent subculture, a good but not outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter. She plans to kill herself on the sixteenth of June, her thirteenth birthday.
Both Renée and Paloma hide their true talents and finest qualities from the bourgeois families around them, until a wealthy Japanese gentleman named Ozu moves into building. Only he sees through them, perceiving the secret that haunts Renée, winning Paloma's trust, and helping the two discover their kindred souls. Moving, funny, tender, and triumphant, Barbery's novel exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.

My Thoughts:

In The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery the hedgehog is 54-year-old concierge Renee Michel. As described by our second narrator, twelve year old Paloma Josse:
Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside, she’s covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary – and terribly elegant. pg. 143

Renee describes herself as a short, ugly and plump widow with bunions and no education who is poor, discreet, and insignificant. But privately we know she has hidden her intelligence. She is well read. She has educated herself and satisfied her curiosity about literature, art, music, and philosophy. Her one friend is Manuela, a Portuguese cleaning lady who stops by for tea each day.

Unknown to her in the beginning is that there is another very intelligent resident of the building: twelve and a half year old Paloma Josse. Paloma is despairing of her lot in life as a privileged member of society and plans to commit suicide when she turns thirteen. Before she does, however, she is secretly writing two journals: Profound Thoughts and Journal of the Movement of the World.

Both Renee and Paloma have chosen to isolate themselves from the world and hide their true potential. Thoughts of both are shared in the first person. The novel alternates between the two voices. While they are distinct, and Paloma's journal entries are titled and numbered, alternate type faces are used to further set a distinction between the two narrators. A new resident in the building brings these two together and opens up new possibilities in their lives beyond their isolation and despair for society.

Author Muriel Barbery is a philosopher and teacher at the Ecole Normale Superiore,  in Paris, which explains much of the novels copious contemplation of philosophy.  At times it may verge on  dissuading you from the fundamental narrative - but stick with it. These are two isolated people who desperately want to connect to someone else even though they are blind to this need. I found the writing insightful and deserving of the many accolades The Elegance of the Hedgehog received when it was first published.

Very Highly Recommended


For twenty-seven years I have been the concierge at number 7, rue de Grenelle, a fine hotel particulier with a courtyard and private gardens, divided into eight luxury apartments, all of which are inhabited, all of which are immense. I am a widow, I am short, ugly and plump, I have bunions on my feet and, if I am to credit certain early mornings of self-inflicted disgust, the breath of a mammoth. I did not go to college, I have always been poor, discreet, and insignificant. pg. 17

Because I am rarely friendly — though always polite — I am not liked, but am tolerated nonetheless: I correspond so very well to what social prejudice has collectively construed to be a typical French concierge that I am one of the multiple cogs that make the great universal illusion turn, the illusion according to which life has a meaning that can be easily deciphered. pg. 17

I wonder if it wouldn't be simpler just to teach children right from the start that life is absurd. pg. 23

It really takes an effort to appear stupider than you are. pg. 24

We are, basically, programmed to believe in something that doesn’t exist, because we are living creatures; we don’t want to suffer. So we spend all our energy persuading ourselves that there are things that are worthwhile and that that is why life has meaning. I may be very intelligent, but I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be able to struggle against this biological tendency. When I join the adults in the rat race, will I still be able to confront this feeling of absurdity? I don’t think so. That is why I’ve made up my mind: at the end of the school year, on the day I turn thirteen, June sixteenth, I will commit suicide. pg. 24-25

For those who have been favored by life's indulgence, rigorous respect in matters of beauty is a non-negotiable requirement. Language is a bountiful gift and its usage, an elaboration of community and society, is a sacred work.... Society's elect, those whom fate has spared from the servitude that is the lot of the poor, must, consequently, shoulder the double burden of worshipping and respecting the splendors of language. pg. 110

Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside, she’s covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary – and terribly 143

Personally I think that grammar is a way to attain beauty. When you speak, or read, or write, you can tell if you've said or read or written a fine sentence. You can recognize a well-turned phrase or an elegant style. But when you are applying the rules of grammar skillfully, you ascend to another level of the beauty of language. When you use grammar you peel back the layers, to see how it is all put together, see it quite naked, in a way. And that's where it becomes wonderful, because you say to yourself, "Look how well-made this is, how well-constructed it is! How solid and ingenious, rich and subtle!" pg. 158 

If you have but one friend, make sure you choose her well. pg. 263