Monday, June 26, 2017

Peace Like A River

This is the second time I have read Leif Enger's debut novel. The extraordinary tale of Jeremiah Land, a single father raising three children; Davy, Reuben, and Swede,  in Minnesota in the 1960s. Jeremiah is a man of deep faith, and 11-year-old Reuben ,who owes his very life to a miracle which came through the hands of his father, has noticed more miracles surrounding him. A feud 16-year-old Davy has with two kids at the high school turns deadly; they break in, intent on harm and he shoots them. The day of his sentencing, Davy escapes. Soon the rest of the Land family set out on a quest to find him. During their journey, the kindness of strangers help keep them going, including Roxanna, who offers them a place to stay during a blizzard and wins their hearts. Meanwhile, a federal agent is on their trail, convinced they will lead him to Davy. This is a great book full of danger and devotion.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Patty Jane's House of Curl

This novel by Lorna Landvik follows Patty Jane and her sister Harriet from the 1950s through the 1980s, through love, loss, birth, death, second chances and always the triumph of the human spirit. After Patty Jane is abandoned by her handsome, irresponsible husband, his mother Ione moves in to help care for newborn Nora while Patty Jane decides how to support them. She opens a beauty parlor in their home, which becomes a support group; even a school. Harriet's one true love dies in a plane crash, she finds solace in drink. She is helped from the gutter by a policeman who is a reformed alcoholic; they marry. Patty Jane and her male manicurist get together; and her husband returns, with interesting ramifications. This was an entertaining story, in the style of Forest Gump and Lake Woebegone.

We Were Liars

A young adult novel by E. Lockhart. Cadence is the eldest grandchild of a privileged, beautiful family. The whole family spends every Summer on their private island. But something happened the Summer she turned fifteen, she and all the other Liars; her cousin Johnny, her cousin Mirren, and Gat, the nephew of her aunt's boyfriend and her own love. Cadence suffered a traumatic brain injury. Why? How? Why can't she remember what happened? Why will no one talk about it?

This was a surprising book. Spare prose. I do wish some explanation had been given as to why and how the four friends initially got the epithet "Liars". Other than will stay with you.

Four Seasons in Rome

On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World. This is a journal of Anthony Doerr's year in Rome with his family. As he came home from the hospital after his wife had given birth to twins, in the mail he found news from the American Academy of Arts and Letters that he was the recipient of the prestigious Rome Prize. It came with a stipend and a writing studio in Rome for a year. So when the twins were six months old, he and his wife pack them up, leave Boise and settle in Rome. Pope John Paul II is fading, and rallying, and finally dies while the family is in Rome. Doerr is not religious, though he seemed touched by the very familiarity of the Pope. He enters a pool betting on the next Pope (he doesn't choose the eventual frontrunner). Aside from the Catholicism that gets skipped over (he was within walking distance of the Vatican and it's scarcely mentioned! This Catholic, who dreams of going to Rome precisely to see the holy spots is aghast.) I will admit, though, he was busy. I remember those new parent days; and I didn't have twins. His wife Shauna is quite capable and they were able to hire a Philipina babysitter so they could have time together. Owen and Henry, the twins, learned to walk and talk in the eternal city; and it must have felt eternal to Doerr, for on the rare occasion when both boys slept, he couldn't. He read Pliny the Elder because he couldn't write, except for this illuminating journal.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Nearness of You

This novel by Amanda Eyre Ward explores what it means to be a mother; DNA or the nitty gritty dailiness of being there. Heart surgeon Suzette Kendall and her husband Hyland had agreed not to have children. Suzette's mother lives in a mental institution and she feared intensely passing those genes along. Hyland suggests a baby via surrogate. Dorrie Muscarello is the young woman chosen to complete their family. She intends to use the money to go to college - a life of possibility. But they also, all three, face a future of uncertainty.

The Second Mrs. Hockaday

Written by Susan Rivers, this novel was inspired by a true incident. Major Gryffth Hockaday is called back to the front lines of the Civil War, leaving his new bride, teenaged Placidia, to care for her husband's 300 acre farm and the infant son of his deceased first wife. She is not prepared for the responsibility and spends the darkest part of the war on her own. When Major Hockaday returns two years later he is a different man, and Dia is apparently different as well. For she has borne a child in his absence and is accused of murdering that child. What really happened while he was gone? This is a well written, excellent book that ends with great hope.


A thriller by Harlan Coben. Ten years ago, two wealthy young boys were kidnapped. Ransom was paid, but not collected, and the trail went cold. But now Myron Bolitar and his friend Win have a lead on at least one of the boys, now a teen. A daring rescue is made, and Patrick is brought home. What can he tell them about the last ten years? And what can he tell them about his friend Rhys? This novel goes into the meaning of home and family and what some people will do to protect those commodities.


This novel by Courtney Maum could be seen as a reactionary call to arms - as long as those arms are human. Sloane Jacobsen is a powerful trend forecaster, with global companies paying to hear her opinions about the future. Her recent forecasts on the family, for various reasons, say children are an extravagant indulgence (she's hailed as the "anti-mom"). So tech giant Mammoth hires her to lead their annual conference, this one celebrating the voluntarily childless. Soon into her contract, Sloane begins to sense a movement against electronics and toward empathetic human contact. Her predictions are completely against her employer's rationale: her partner, a French "neo-sensualist", publishes an op-ed on the death of penetrative sex, and her closest relationship is with her driverless car. In spite of all that, Sloane is convinced her Instincts are spot on and she goes about defending human interaction, opening herself up to love and connection along the way.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

A Year of Food Life. By Barbara Kingsolver, Steven L. Hopp, and Camille Kingsolver. I was intrigued by the title and got this book with little idea what it was about. Barbara Kingsolver and her family move from Arizona to Virginia partly to reduce their carbon footprint and realign themselves with the food chain as it actually grows. They make a pact to buy only food grown in their neighborhood, grow it themselves, or do without, for a full year. This was surprisingly engrossing. Never preachy, simply present facts (with resources listed where you can see for yourself) and state what those facts mean for their family. I really enjoyed the recipes and meal plans Camille (Barbara's daughter) included. Barbara provides the memoir, her husband Steven adds more environmental information. Fascinating stuff. They are grateful for their good life, but they are not religious people. It was more a vague "thanks to the universe" sort of thing. They wrote about a year of incredible bounty and good health that kept them able to sow and reap and preserve. Recognizing Whom it came from? Perhaps that too will come in time.

Mrs. Chippy's Last Expedition

1914 - 1915 The Remarkable Journal of Shackleton's Polar-bound Cat. This bit of history was actually written by Caroline Alexander. Sir Ernest Shackleton headed a journey to the Antarctic in 1914. The ship's carpenter, Harry "Chippy" McNeish, brought along his cat from their home in Cathcart, Scotland. The male cat was dubbed "Mrs. Chippy". He apparently did much to improve morale, especially during the long Winter that the Endurance was trapped in the ice. The "journal" ends abruptly after the ship has been crushed by the ice and the expedition party has trimmed their goods in preparation for the long march across the ice to Paulet Island. All of the men under Shackleton's command were rescued in August, 1916. Mrs. Chippy? Who knows? I was left with the impression he was left behind from the get-go.