Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Top 10 According to Me

Here are my top ten picks of the books I read in 2010, and a brief explanation of why they made the list: 

Under the Dome by Stephen King - This is a monster of a book (1072 pages), with a gargantuan cast and multiple sub-plots weaved together to create a massive story. It's about small town politics, secrets, drugs, greed, families, power...It's a mini-series in a novel! 

The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard -  Mrs. Pickard captures the essence of a small Kansas town where major crimes are rare, and the impact on those who, by no choice of their own, are caught in the middle of the biggest thing that ever happened there.

Gunn's Golden Rules by Tim Gunn - Mr. Gunn champions old-fashioned etiquette and classic good taste without giving up personal rights or space.  (Review pending)

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen - A beautifully written fairy-tale for adults, complete with a handsome prince, a friendly giant and a moral -people can change, the past can be healed, and we're all really not so different, after all.

Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins - Roman Gladiators meet Reality TV.  Everyone's heard of this trilogy and it lives up to the hype.  (Review pending)

House Rules by Jodi Picoult -  An inside look at life with Autism. This is the kind of book I usually avoid: overflowing with emotion and real-life drama. Add the continual hopping between five different narrators, and I was guaranteed not to like this book. Wrong!  Loved it and learned from it.  What more can you ask of a book? 

Is It Just Me, or Is It Nuts Out There? by Whoopi Goldberg - Echoes my own thoughts.  Similar to Gunn's Golden Rules, but with a tougher twist. (Review pending)

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell - One woman finding an outlet for her creativity, skills she didn't know she had, and a connection with the past.  Inspiring.

The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadorian - The story of an elderly couple looking for one last adventure before the succumb to Alzheimer's and cancer.  There is subtle humor found mostly in the experiences that all couples and/or parents share. I believe that everyone will get something slightly different from this story, depending on age and perspective. The lessons to be learned, however, are universal.

Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane - New author to me.  Thrillers without blood-and-guts.  What a find!

Favorite line of the year:  From The Leisure Seeker -  "I'm sorry that we worried the children, but I've spent most of my adult life worrying about them, so I'm gonna call it even." 

Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 Wrap-up - or not!

I currently have forty-two blogs listed in my Google Reader, and every one of them is wrapping up the year and making plans for their 2011 reading.   Planning my reading is a new concept for me.  I have always been the proverbial "voracious reader", but I just ... read... whatever was handy.  When we lived in library-challenged areas, "handy" included re-reading from my own bookshelf, trading with friends, frequenting used-book shops and the rare trip to a mall and Walden Books (If I had the proper font - that would be glittery, or perhaps neon.  We have lived in some desolate places where it was 90 miles or more to a chain book store.)

In our more library-blessed years, I frequented the mystery shelves and new release sections looking for familiar names, but rarely branched out.  Then came May 2005 **insert fireworks, angels singing and other displays of awe!**  I went to work at the library and everything changed.  I discovered genres and authors I knew nothing about.  I became a whatever-word-means-more-than-voracious reader!

But then I became a blogger and discovered that people PLAN their reading.  They make lists - lists of what they have read, want to read, hope to read, books they are waiting for, books they no longer want, books they thought about reading, but didn't -  they categrogize, they rank, they enter challenges and contests, they participate in reading marathons. That they ever find time to actually open a book amazed me.  I was in awe!  I wanted to be like them.  I wanted to be organized and outlined and scheduled!  So I joined some challenges for 2010,  I bought a special organizer to keep track of my lists and I was set.  I was going to be an Intentional Reader.  Until one morning I looked at the reader in the mirror and realized "Oh yeah!  That's me.  i've never been organized in my life."  My planner contains two entries and I didn't complete a single challenge except the one Dave and I created.  I slunk back to reality and resigned myself to just being the scatter-brained me that loves books. 

My plan for 2011 is to not have a plan.  I'm not joining challenges or making lists or restricting myself to a certain type of book - although I'm still a tad envious of those of you who do.  The one concession I have made to list-making is reviewing what I've read in 2010 and selecting what I liked best.  In so doing, I discovered I read a lot of "fluff" this year, but I'm excusing myself because it's been a stressful year and my brain needed alot of comfort reading.  I was able to glean ten books that had some substance - at least to me - and I'll be sharing those tomorrow because this post is already a Tolstoy novel.  So pencil me in to your schedule tomorrow and come back for the final Just One More Thing... of 2010 and have a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

There Goes Santa Claus by Nancy Mehl

Ivy Towers heard the "prancing and pawing of each little hoof" on her rooftop, just before Santa fell to his death.   Now she needs to discover Santa's true identity and why he was on her roof.

I took this book home from the library over Christmas weekend for several reasons.  One, it was one of the few remaining Christmas-themed books we purchased this year that I haven't read.  Two, the cover is adorable.  And three, with the kids home and all that entails, I didn't want to attempt any deep reading.  All very superficial reasons to pick up what I thought would be a standard cozy mystery.  But it was far above the standard.

The draw of a cozy is the community, but authors often sacrifice plot and movement to create that relaxed, hometown feel.  Nancy Mehl manages to keep the small town ambiance and quirky characters, without losing momentum.  My second praise of Mrs. Mehl's work is that she trusts her readers enough to put the clues out there - well disguised - and let the reader solve along with the heroine - or not.  There were no aimless re-caps of information and possible solutions that are so common in this type of book.  Mere pages before the bad guy was revealed, I began to have my own suspicions.  What a satisfying ending, to discover that I had been able to piece part of the solution together, but not too soon.

This is a Heartsong Presents Mystery, which means the characters express their Christian viewpoint.  That is never an issue to me, but in this story set at Christmas, it adds a second storyline of forgiveness and second chances.  There are three previous entries in the Ivy Towers series, none of which I've read, but it didn't make a bit of difference to my enjoyment of this book.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Blue Christmas

Christmas is over!  The music, the movies, the lights, the eggnog, the cookies, the shopping, the wrapping - all finished.  Of course that also means the planning, scheduling and traveling are over - hip, hip, hooray!  But, as usual, it leaves me feeling a bit let down.   I love Christmas - and a special "humbug" to those of you who try to limit my celebration to two weeks in December. December is a wonderland of twinkling lights, Santa, jingle bells, candy canes, Nativity scenes, and wishes for Peace on Earth.  I'm a Christmas Baptist - I can't just sprinkle on a little Christmas cheer, I have to be fully immersed.  (Actually, I'm a rest-of-the-year Baptist, too, but you get my point.)  So, there I am, dredging myself in every drop of Christmas cheer I can find, and then - BOOM - it's over.  Before me stretches eleven months of cold, barren non-Christmas wilderness. 

Now, I know I can stretch the holiday out through New Year's Day - quiet carols on the office computer, the last couple of Christmas movies on the DVR, the bottom inch of the Yankee Red Apple Wreath candle - and then the Grand Finale, New Year's Day brunch and "The Rose Parade".  (Attending the Rose Parade is on my Bucket List.)  But then it's January 2nd - 333 days to December 1 - and no more reprieves.

Don't get me wrong, we had a wonderful Christmas.  We got to spend time with both sides of our family, plus a fantastic Christmas Eve at home with just us and the kids...

Side Note: Adult children who can shop on their own is one of the rewards for not killing your teenagers.   I am  sentimental about gifts.  I would much rather receive a $10 thoughtful gift, than a gift that is elaborate but impersonal or - horrors - that I had to instruct them to buy.  Although having the four of us together, laughing and playing games for the evening was truly all the gift I needed, it was a special treat to receive presents from my kids that, even though purchased on a college student budget, had obviously required some consideration.

...It was everything I could have asked for, but I'm still di-spirited.  (Get it?  "Dispirited" - dejected, disheartened, gloomy; and "di-spirited" - having one's Christmas spirit removed.  Ok, it was funnier in my head.)  So I will soldier on through the desolate, Christmas-less months, sustained only by Darius Rucker singing Winter Wonderland on my MP3, the handful of Santas who remain on display in our house year-round, and late-night DVR viewings of It's a Wonderful Life, complete with commercials because, yes, I'm even a sucker for Christmas-themed ads.

We hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, whatever size and form your celebration took.  And we pray that the beauty of God's Greatest Gift, his Son, touched you.   Wishing you all a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

In the Dark Streets Shineth by David McCullough

Christmas Eve, 1941:  Days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt met at the White House and delivered a powerful message that still resonates today. (adapted from book cover)

Mr. McCullough blends two themes into one brief, but poignant, moment in history.  The main story is the historic meeting of two world leaders to address a reeling, frightened country.  In that address, Mr. Churchill spoke of the war "creeping  nearer to our hearts and homes...[yet] we have tonight the peace of the spirit in each cottage home" and suggested that "for one night only, each home throughout the English-speaking world should be a brightly-lighted island of happiness and peace." 

The second, and perhaps more prevalant, theme of the book is the music that provided a backdrop for that moment.  On that Christmas morning, President Roosevelt and the Prime Minister attended church, where they sang "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" - a hymn unfamiliar to Mr. Churchill.  The lyrics include these lines:

Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light. 
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
Though written more than 70 years earlier, this classic Christmas carol echoed Churchill's hope for the Everlasting Light amidst the darkness of war.  Two years later, another song bound to become a Christmas classic, was recorded by Bing Crosby:  "I'll Be Home For Christmas"

The book contains some background on both of these songs, as well as the complete text of both P.M. Churchill's and President Roosevelt's speeches.  Also included is a DVD of David McCullough's 2009 presentation of this story at the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra's annual Christmas concert.  While the spoken words are verbatim from the text, the incredible music brings them to life.

This is a very short book - thirty-three pages of scant text - but it also includes some nostalgic WWII-era pictures and, of course, the DVD, which makes it more worthy of the $19.99 retail price.   It's a great message of peace and hope for your holiday, and a brief history lesson.

Friday, December 17, 2010

What's the dif?

Today I'm airing one of my pet peeves.  It's really a small part of a huge peeve, but I'm assuming your interest in my aggrevation is minimal, so I'll narrow the focus.  The overall peeve is the dumbing down of America; narrow that to the sub-peeve of improper spelling, punctuation, capitalization  and grammar becoming acceptable (even in school!).  Personally, I think this trend can be traced to e-mail and texting where speed outranks proper form, but that's neither here nor there.  Today we're concentrating on just the verbs "bring" and "take".  That's the one that drives me bonkers.  I correct my kids, I correct random kids in the library, I telegraph ESP corrections at adults, and I scream openly at the TV.  Worst of all, due to the common misusage and to Spell Check's replacement of human editing, this grammatical glitch has found it's way into *gasp* books!   

To clarify: the words bring and take are not necessarily interchangeable.  Yes, there are certain exceptions to the rule depending on whether the speaker is assuming the point of view of another, but I'm talking only about basic usage.  I looked at several references to get a definitive rule for deciding which word to use, and they all agreed with this basic rule of thumb from the American Heritage Dictionary:

"Bring" indicates movement towards something (bring to) and "take" indicates movement away from something (take away).

If I am at home, giving my child a reminder before she leaves for school, I would say "Don't forget to bring your history book home." (move it toward this place).  If I were her teacher, standing in the school building, I would say "Don't forget to take your history book home." (move it away from this place).

I know my grammar and spelling are not always correct, but that particular burr gets under my saddle.  Thanks for listening.  What grammar or speech quirks rub you the wrong way? Next week I'll be covering sentences ending in prepositions and the removal of handwriting skills from school curriculums.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Read Together Challenge Wrap-up

This blog began in October 2009 when Dave and I, after twenty-seven years of marriage and thousands of books read individually, discovered the joy of reading together.  We were on a road trip with a broken cd player (so no audio books), wildly different tastes in radio stations, and one copy of a bestseller we both wanted to read.  So we began taking turns reading aloud while the other one drove - and we loved it!  We carried the habit into the house with the luggage and have been reading together ever since.  This blog is our way of sharing what we're reading and encouraging you to do the same.  In January 2010, we issued this challenge

Find someone special and read together. Take turns reading aloud, read to someone with a visual impairment, read a school-assigned book with your teen, volunteer to read to nursing home residents. If you aren't comfortable reading aloud, pass the book between you, with each of you individually reading a chapter or chosen number of pages at a time. However it works for you - the idea is to be involved in the story simultaneously. And then discuss what you're reading. Throw out your crazy theories for whodunit...debate the hero's next your reactions...giggle!

If, like me, you forgot about most of the challenges you entered, or even if you've never heard of this challenge before, there is still time.  The Bumbles, so far our only entry, shared The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold and wrote their individual reviews, thus they are currently leading the race for the prize.  If you want to challenge them for the top spot (and the book of your choice - $25 or less - from just leave a comment and let us know what books you've read together this year and with whom.  Each book = one entry.  The winners will be chosen in a random drawing.  No book club selections please, since reading together is a given in those groups.  Our goal is to get you to read "outside the box", encourage a non-reader, widen your reading-horizon by sharing a new genre.

Dave and I met our goal of twelve books, finishing #12 during our trip to Topeka last weekend, and we have one more in progess that may be finished by the end of the year since we have more Christmas traveling to do.  Here's our list:

Deeper Than the Dead by Tami Hoag
The 13th Hour by Richard Doetsch
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Golf in the Year 2000 by J. McCullough
The Spellman's Strike Again by Lisa Lutz
Blockade Billy by Stephen King
Postcard Killers by James Patterson
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Mockingjay by Suanne Collins
Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovich
Witch and Wizard by James Patterson
In progress:  The Gift by James Patterson

For 2011 we are not sponsoring an official contest with entries and prizes and all, but we still encourage you to give the gift of books and a love of reading. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

Amanda McCready was four years old when she vanished from a Boston neighborhood twelve years ago. Desperate pleas for help from the child's aunt led investigators Kenzie and Gennaro to take on the case. The pair risked everything to find the young girl—only to orchestrate her return to a neglectful mother and a broken home.

Now Amanda is sixteen—and gone again. A stellar student, brilliant but aloof, she seemed destined to escape her upbringing. Yet Amanda's aunt is once more knocking on Patrick Kenzie's door, fearing the worst for the little girl who has blossomed into a striking, clever young woman—a woman who hasn't been seen in weeks.

In November I wrote a post about my love for reading thrillers but my disgust at the blood-and-guts they usually contain.  Several readers recommended their favorite non-gory page turners, including Mrs. Bumble's suggestion that I try Dennis Lehane.  Lehane's latest arrived at the library just days later, so I called Librarian Dibs* and took it home. 

 And she was right!  The plot centers around a moral dilemma - to do what is right or what is lawful - and the guilt and regrets that accompany the decision.  Originally, McKenzie chose the law (in 1998's Gone, Baby, Gone) but this time around he has twelve years of recriminations, and a child of his own, to sway his perspective.   As a P.I., he has danced around danger like a prizefighter, always able to duck away at the last moment and avoid the punch, but the weight of age and responsibility slows his step.  The choice this time around is not a textbook scenario of compassion versus legality, but a question of moral right versus his family's safety.

I have not read Gone, Baby, Gone, or any of the other previous McKenzie/Gennaro mysteries, but I was able to pick up the backstory easily enough.  However, I would recommend reading them in order just for a better contrast between the attitudes during various stages of life, which I thought was the most intrigueing part of the story. 

This book is not totally violence free, but it was kept to a minimum, related sparingly and, most importantly, was necessary to the plot.  Thanks again, Mrs. Bumbles, for a great recommendation.

*Library Dibs = my self-assigned right to all library materials before they are available for public use.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Musical Vehicles

We have invented a new game, Musical Vehicles.  It's annoying, expensive and a real Christmas-spirit-killer, but we just keep on playing.  The rules are simple: four family members, four vehicles, each person moves around the board of life until their car quits moving, then the other three players must move to the square occupied by the stranded player to tow, push and/or repair said vehicle, then play resumes.   If the "repair" option is required, the two players designated as responsible adults (also called parents) lose a turn and make a visit to the banker before they can proceed.  If they no longer own enough hotels, motels or heirlooms to pawn and appease the banker, they proceed directly to the poor house without passing go and without collecting $200 - but their car will probably break down on the way.

Our round of this not-so-amusing sport actually began before the kids left for college in August and has gone something like this:
  • Daughter's car burns up a coil, replace coil and housing, all is well. 
  • Daughter's car leaves her stranded along I-70  - tow, repair ANOTHER burned out coil. Assume first replacement was faulty.
  • During above repair, discover bad bearing in front end. Daughter temporarily trades bearing-less car for Dad's Mustang.
  • Parents hock computer, small kitchen appliances and lawn mower and Dad replaces bearings. All is temporarily well.
  • Daughter has "fender bender" in Dad's Mustang.
  • Daughter fears death.
  • Exchange repaired car and slightly-dented Mustang, all is well (except the ongoing argument with insurance - but that's a whole other game).
  • Daughter's car burns up ANOTHER coil (we're detecting a pattern) and once again leaves her stranded along I-70.  Tow to mechanic in Hays (where Son lives). 
  • Daughter borrows Mom's car and returns to college, parents share slightly-dented Mustang.
  • Son is winning - he now has two vehicles at his house while parents are sharing one.
  • Mechanic discovers issue which is causing scorched coils (hopefully) and repairs Daughter's car.  Parents hock the tv, the golf cart and one of the grandsons to pay for repairs - all is well.
  • Mom tires of hearing "All is Well" and hits town crier with a wooden mallet. 
  • All players gather on the "Thanksgiving in Hays" square, eat themselves silly, then return to their game-paths with one car per player.  
  • Thanksgiving break ends, Mom and Daughter roll dice for choice of cars.  Daughter wins and selects Mom's car because she (understandably) refuses to drive down I-70 in her car ever, ever, ever again!
  • As daughter prepares to leave, Dad discovers bad tire on Mom's car, so Daughter once again returns to school in Dad's Mustang while parents hock Dad's power tools and the other grandson to replace tires.
  • All players plan to converge on "Christmas in Topeka" square for family time and to swap still-slightly-dented Mustang (damn insurance companies!) and Mom's newly-tired car.
  • Slightly-dented Mustang has a very flat tire in the dorm parking lot - after 5:00 on Friday. 
  • Enter brother who changes tire and gets himself and Daughter the 50 miles to Topeka on the spare.
  • Next day, Dad draws a "Chance" card and randomly selects a tire shop in Topeka.  BINGO!  One of Santa's elves works there and repairs and mounts the tire for FREE. 
  • Once again we have four players, each with one vehicle - just not necessarily the vehicle of their choice.
Hopefully, this game will end soon. The Mustang is scheduled for repairs and will be returned to it's former beauty.  Daughter's car will eventually prove itself to be reliable and will return to college life.  Mom's car (for which Mom has a ridiculous sentimental attachment) will then escape from teen driver and return to it's safe, warm, coddled life in Mom's garage.  Ironically, Son, who is driving a fifteen-year-old pickup which is nearing the 200,000 mile mark, is the leader in this game.  And for the moment - all is well.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Christmas Tradtition

Remember a while back I said I wish that I had the creativity, money and style to have a tree that looked like this?  Well, I've changed my mind.  Not about having creativity, money and style - still need those - but about giving up the unique creation that is our Christmas tree.

When our children were born, I began a collection of ornaments for each of them.  We added one ornament per year for each of them, with the idea that when they had their own homes they would have a start on their own Christmas decorations.  We tried to find an ornament that represented a part of their life that year.  Now, after twenty Christmases, we have a tree filled with an eclectic assortment of keepsakes that would never make it onto the pages of Better Homes and Christmas Trees.

There is a brown bear from the year Mitch went to Yellowstone with the Boy Scouts, a ballerina from Amanda's dancing period, Scooby-Do playing baseball (little league), a mouse with a pen and bottle of ink (Amanda's first year of school), a violin (they both played), Santa on a motorcyle (Mitch's first motorcycle), a giant pink disco ball (no one knows why, Amanda just HAD to have it!), and a police car that represents Amanda's senior year (she had some speeding issues).  

Mixed among the annual ornaments are: 
  • souveniers from vacations
  • hand-crafted ornaments made by friends (knitted, crocheted, sewn, and cross-stitched)
  • a beautiful gold ornament my grandparents received for their 50th anniversary
  • four (left from a set of six) white ornaments with doves and "Peace" on them (purchased at Wal-Mart in 1982 to decorate our first tree)
  • a Mark Martin (Nascar) ornament because he's Dave's favorite driver and he used to be sponsored by Viagra.  (Purchased for him by children with a warped sense of humor.)
  • paper candy-canes, handprints and ornaments decorated with school pictures - all created by our little artists.
The collections end with an ornament representing their college. Last year we added a pewter FHSU Tiger and this year we will add the final ornament - something representing KSU - and the countdown begins to my beautifully decorated, themed, color-coordinated, professional-quality tree.  Or so I thought.  But then we decorated the tree this year and began playing "remember when" as we hung each ornament, and I realized that I'm actually going to miss seeing those pieces of their childhoods.  That crazy, offbeat tree is our life - for better or worse, that's us.

I still haven't given up on the idea of a designer tree.  But even after the kids have their own homes and their ornament collections have moved on, there will be a small tree somewhere in my house that holds the childhood memories they leave behind.  And it will warm my heart to know that somewhere out there, there are two NEW homes with wacky Christmas trees.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Virtual Advent Tour: We Wish You a Charlie Brown Christmas

Celebrate the joy of the holidays with the classic animated special, "A Charlie Brown Christmas," tonight at 7:00 p.m. Central Time on CBS.  Charlie Brown and his search for the meaning of Christmas are pop-culture icons.  But do you know the story behind the story? 

In April of 1965, an ad exec contacted tv producer Lee Mendelson.  Coca-Cola wanted to sponsor a Christmas special. Did they have anything in the works?  Mendelson's emphatic answer was "Absolutely".  His next phone call was to Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, to inform him that he had four days to write a Peanuts Christmas special.  After Coke approved the idea, Schultz, Mendelson and animator Bill Melendez scrambled to produce the special in only six months. 

When the final product was delivered, CBS Programming Exec. Fred Silverman was less than thrilled.  A jazz soundtrack, voices done by non-professional children rather than actors, and scripture voiced by a cartoon combined to make an atypical children's special.  However, since the tv schedule had already been published, CBS had no choice but to air it anyway and hope for the best.

What ensued took everyone by surprise.  A Charlie Brown Christmas was the second most watched show that week, with an unblievable 49% market share.  (If you're wondering, Bonanza was the #1 show.)  The show went on to win both an Emmy for Outstanding Children's Programing and a Peabody Award for Distinguished Achievement in Television.  Charlie Brown and the gang have helped America celebrate Christmas every year since.

Watching a Charlie Brown Christmas is one of my favorite parts of the season.  I have it on DVD and in book form - both regular and pop-up versions.  I often identify with Charlie as he struggles with the commercialization and ponders the true meaning of Christmas.  Not that I'm against the more commercial aspects of the celebration. If you've visited here before, you probably know that I'm a Christmas nut.  I love the music, the decorations, the lights, the tv specials and Santa Claus.  But the Peanuts characters remind me to stop amidst all the rush and glitter to consider "what Christmas is all about."   The answer can be found in Luke 2:8-14.  Listen to Linus recite those amazing words and have a truly Merry Christmas.

Bonus trivia:  In the opening scene of the program, we see the characters skating and playing Crack the Whip.  Charlie Brown and Linus are at the end of the line and are sent sliding across the ice.  Charlie Brown slides into a tree and snow falls on his head, but we never see where Linus lands.  Do you know why?

In the original version, Linus slides into a Coca-Cola sign - an extra bit of advertising for the sponsors.  Since Coke is no longer the exclusive sponsor, that scene was cut.  And now you know....the rest of the story.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Piggly Wiggly Christmas by Robert Dalby

When the new First Lady of Second Creek, Gaylie Girl Dunbar, approaches her new husband, Mayor Hale Dunbar, with a civic project involving Christmas caroling around the historic town square, all the local church choirs quickly sign up for the big event.

But when an electrical fire devastates the square's beautiful old buildings a week before Christmas, everything is thrown into chaos. It falls to the town's indefatigable army of matrons-the Nitwitts-to find a way to revive the holiday spirit and raise money to rebuild. It will take a miracle... But it's Christmas in Second Creek, where everyday miracles are a way of life.

I read several reviews of this book which described it as charming, quirky, humerous, and heartwarming - all apt descriptions.  "Charming" describes the town and it's picturesque square. This is one of those stories that draws you in for a leisurely stay, and leaves you sad that you have to return to reality at the end.

The "quirky" part comes for the characters. I seriously want to be a Nitwitt, even though I'm not quite old enough to qualify.  These women are a red-hat group on crack, or at least too much sweet tea.  I especially love their names - Gaylie Girl, Witsie, Novie, Denver Lee - and they make me want to join them for a drink, some chit-chat and dancing.

"Heartwarming" defines the Nitwitts' lovely Christmas celebration on the square, and their determination when tragedy strikes.  This is the forth entry in the Piggly Wiggly series.  I highly recommend them all - but if you haven't read the others and you want to jump in here for the holiday elements, go ahead.  I'm betting you'll want to return to Second Creek.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg

The latest from Fannie Flagg is heralded as "a comic mystery romp through the streets of Birmingham, Alabama, past, present, and future".  I'm not so sure.

The mystery portion is intriguing - a puzzle from the past that can be pieced together leisurely - and I didn't solve it on my own.  It's the "comic" tag that confuses me.  I'm not revealing any secrets to tell you that the main character, Maggie Fortenberry, is planning her suicide.  You can discover that much from the jacket blurb or the reviews.  It seemed a strange subject for a humerous story, but I'm always game for an off-the-wall tale.

The problem for me was with Maggie herself.  Her anal need to orchestrate every detail of her life, her death and beyond was annoying to me on one level because I am soooo not that person.  But beyond that, she just didn't ring true as a suicidal personality.  Her list of reasons to die were superficial, at best, and her reasons to keep postponing her death were equally trivial.  Maggie was so overly sweet that I needed to brush my teeth after reading.  I definitely didn't get the feeling of "strong southern woman" as advertised.

In spite of my disconnection from Maggie, the mystery and the supporting cast made the book worth reading.  I wouldn't spend my money to own a copy, but it's worth picking up at the library.  I give it a 3 out of 5.

Is It Still Thanksgiving?

I left work on the 23rd with a lovely Thanksgiving post in my head, inspired by The Bumbles post about being thankful for the little things in life.  Brilliant ideas were flowing freely.  But then I got home.  And reality took over.  And there were pies to bake, and bags to pack and..... Well, and it never got done.  And now the creative flow more closely resembles the Arkansas River in Southwest Kansas - slow, sludgy, nearly non-existent - so that post is tabled for later when I remember what I was going to say.

In the mean time, hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  We tried something new this year.  Our son, Mitch, was on call for his job so couldn't leave Hays.  Two of his fraternity brothers were also stuck at school because of job schedules, so we hauled Tom Turkey and his backup dishes to Hays and had dinner at the fraternity house.  The guys set the tables with whatever they could find so we had one Halloween tablecloth and one 4th of July tablecloth, and we ate on paper plates, but it was great fun.  After some football and napping, we played games until well into the night.  I am the Champion of Animal House Trivia, by the way.

Whether your day of thanks was the traditional family feast or a Big Mac and fries, we hope you had a blessed day and much to be thankful for.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Snow Globe by Sheila Roberts

On a blustery afternoon, Kylie Gray wanders into an antique shop and buys an enchanting snow globe. “There’s a story behind that snow globe,” the antique dealer tells her. The original owner, he explains, was a German toymaker who lost his wife and son right before Christmas. When the grieving widower received the handcrafted snow globe as a Christmas gift, he saw the image of a beautiful woman beneath the glass—a woman who would come into his life, mend his broken heart and bring him back to the world of the living. For years, the snow globe has passed from generation to generation, somehow always landing in the hands of a person in special need of a Christmas miracle.

 Kiley could use a miracle herself. This year, all she wants for Christmas is someone to love. A hopeful shake leads her on an adventure that makes a believer out of her. When Kylie shares the story of the snow globe with her best friends—two women with problems of their own—they don’t believe it. But they’re about to discover that at Christmastime, sometimes the impossible becomes possible and miracles really do come true.

I have let nearly a month go by between finishing this book and getting around to the review.  Not a good plan.  It's possible the salient details escape me.*  Here's what I do remember:

The snow globe that Kylie discovers in an antique store gives the holder a peek into their future.  Kylie and her two friends follow the magic scenes they view to each discover their own Christmas miracle.  It's a sweet story - just right for the season.   I recommend it for fellow lovers of Christmas stories.   

*That line was a West Wing quote.  Can any loyal fans out there tell me who said it?

Avent Tour

Kailana from The Written World and Marg from Adventures of an Intrepid Reader are once again sponsoring a Virtual Advent Tour.  Open a gift every day in December by following the posted schedule of blogs that will be sharing their favorite Christmas stories, memories, recipes and traditions each day. 

On December 7th the tour will be stopping right here at "Just One More Thing..."  Last year we shared a favorite family tradition - Grandma's Sugar Cookies.  We're not sure what we'll be offering this year, but be sure and stop by and join the festivities.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Picking Up Bricks

Earlier this month, Ronnica at The Ignorant Historian wrote a post titled "Life's Not Fair".  She spoke about how materially privileged we average Americans are, and I agree with her completely - compared to the devestating poverty, hunger and illness that many people in this world face, my problems are nothing.  Sadly, my focus isn't always on the less priviliged.  Sometimes, in my mind, it's all about me and I think "Life's not fair!"  The line from Ronnica's post that touched me was:  
When we see someone suffering, it’s tempting to say, “That’s too bad” and move on. It’s the easy thing. It’s what we do all the time without thinking. If we don’t get involved, it’s unlikely that anyone will confront us about it. After all, it’s not “our” problem, right?  I don’t want to do that anymore.
That comment hit close to home for me.  Not because I'm not guilty of it - I am - but because of a time when I was on the other end.  ABout eight years ago, we lived in southcentral Nebraska.  Between our house and our neighbor's was a scruffy, ugly row of half-dead bushes.  The neighbor asked if we minded if he dug them out.  Of course we didn't and Dave offered to save him some muscle-work by pulling them with the pick-up - a method, by the way, that Dave had used before and knew how to accomplish safely. They hooked a chain onto the hitch on the BACK (that will be significant later in this story) of the pick-up, wove the other end of the chain through the base of the first bush then drove SLOWLY FORWARD until the bush was pulled up, roots and all.  Repeat process for every bush in the row - each time facing safely forward and applying the gas in moderation.  Within an hour or two, we had a bush-free yard and happy neighbors.

Fast forward a couple days:  Another neighbor across the street - we'll call him Mr. Miller in honor of the beverage he had been consuming when he hatched this plan - decided he no longer cared for the large evergreen shrub in front of his house and he was going to borrow Dave's tree-removal method.  Let me help you visualize this.  The bushes on our property looked much like the picture on the left.


The evergreen Mr. Miller wanted gone looked more like the pic on the right. 
Ok, maybe our bushes were slightly larger and his forest was slightly smaller - but only slightly!

Unfortunately, Mr. Miller did not request help from anyone except his friends, Bud and Schlitz, so his tree removal did not go according to plan.  Problem # 1:  He hooked the chain to the FRONT of his pick-up so he was pulling in reverse.  Why?  No one knows.  Problem #2:  The stinking tree is too big!  It has roots at least 10 feet deep.  You would think common sense would have told him that - but obviously common sense and Mr. Miller have never met.  Problem #3:  Rather than aiming the vehicle down the street, he pointed it straight out from his house, perpendicular to the street.  And do we remember what is across that street? 

So, Mr. Miller puts his pick-up into reverse and presses gently on the gas and, of course, the shrub doesn't budge.  He presses harder on the gas.  The shrub doesn't budge.  Now the pedal is nearly to the floor, engine racing.  The shrub doesn't budge --- but the chain does.  It snaps!  With the evergreen no longer keeping up it's end of the tug-of-war, Mr. Miller and his pick-up barrell backwards across his lawn, off the curb, across the street, over the next curb, through our yard, through my rose garden, through a nine-foot plate- glass window and the brick wall surrounding it, and come to rest in our living room.  To be fair, the entire truck wasn't in our living room, just a portion of it's back end.

I know you are asking the same questions we asked at the time.  Well, maybe you're not screaming "What in the hell are you thinking, you #$%^;????"  But after that, we wondered, "Why didn't he stop?"  It's not like the houses were only a few feet apart.  There were two decent-sized yards and a street in between - ample space to apply the brakes.  Then we wondered, "If he had been facing forwards, would he have seen the house coming and attempted to stop?"  There really are no answers to these questions except that this guy doesn't possess sound reasoning skills and his reflexes were a little...uh...delayed.

Now there's more to this story - like the fact that our son had been sitting in front of that window only minutes before the crash, or that the police failed to note Mr. Miller's "friends" or that he left the scene and attempted to hide his vehicle in his garage (Cause they'll never think to look there!), or that we had put this house on the market just two days earlier, or the long fight with an insurance company who believed that our house had jumped in front of their client, or that our daughter moved in with a friend and refused to come home for three days because our house looked embarrassing - but that's not the point today.  Our point is back at Ronnica's post.

While the police filled out forms and the insurance agent snapped pictures and half the town drove by to rubber-neck, people began to offer their platitudes:  "It'll be ok."  "Good thing you have insurance."  "We'll be thinking about you."  Some even offered their prayers, which we greatly appreciated, but we're still standing here with a gaping hole in our house.  One couple didn't offer words, they just quietly began to pick up bricks.  They saw that we didn't need cliches, we needed help.  They stayed after the crowd was gone and helped clear the debris so we could assess the damage and get the hole temporarily patched with ply-wood. 

I am currently listening to the audio version of Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs.  When the protagonist is offered an overused chestnut of wisdom, she observes, "That's a sh***y line that people tell you so you don't fall apart and make things messy for them." and that we often "...try to pass off a lame pep-talk as compassion." 

I'm inspired by Ronnica's words to not do "the easy thing".  Our life has been full of changes lately - not all of them by our choosing or to our liking and some of them blatently "not fair" - but Ronnica encouraged me to look around at others who are also having a tough time and see where I can "pick up a brick".

If you want further encouragement and proof of how far a small gesture can go, check out A Secret Gift by Ted Gup.  I learned about this true story from an article in the New York Times and it's now sitting near the top of my TBR pile.

"Make Out With Murder" by Lawrence Block

I recently read Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop, a collection of holiday-related short stories, and in the process, discovered a new series by one of my favorite mystery authors, Lawrence Block.  New to me, that is - they were originally published in the 1970's.  Dave and I have been fans of Block's Bernie Rhodanbarr series and his Keller novels for quite some time, but I didn't even know Chip Harrison existed until he made an appearance in As Dark As Christmas Gets.  You will recall from my review, which I'm sure you read, that in his last two adventures, Chip worked for Leo Haig.  Leo is a Nero Wolfe fanatic who believes the rotund slueth actually exists and angles to be just like him.  Since I am also a Nero Wolfe addict, I ordered one of the Chip series, Make Out With Murder, to see what I was missing.

Currently employed as a man-about-town for a demanding New York City detective, Chip must solve the suspicious, untimely deaths of three sisters--one of whom stole his heart. Now he must cozy up to the remaining two, as he investigates some nefarious relatives with money and murder on their minds!

I don't think Chip will be replacing Bernie Rhodenbarr as my favorite Lawrence Block character but, like Bernie, he solves mysteries with a touch of wit.  The parody of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin is catnip to Rex Stout fans.  There are only four books in this series and only the last two contain the Wolfe angle.  I ordered this book through the Interlibrary Loan system, and I'm not sure I will bother to order the others, but if you run across Make Out With Murder, it's a fun diverson.

Friday, November 5, 2010

In the Company of Others by Jan Karon

Funny, after yesterday's post about my penchant for fast-moving thrillers, that this would be the next book I finish.  You couldn't possibly find a book that is a more polar opposite.  USA Today described it as "lovely", and that sums it up. 

Father Tim and Cynthia arrive in the west of Ireland, intent on researching his Kavanagh ancestry from the comfort of a charming fishing lodge. The charm, however, is broken entirely when Cynthia startles a burglar and sprains her already-injured ankle. Then a cherished and valuable painting is stolen from the lodge owners, and Cynthia's pain pales in comparison to the wound at the center of this bitterly estranged Irish family.
The publisher's synopsis makes the story sound like a mystery, but the thefts are secondary.  The primary focus is the human drama - relationships, fractured for decades, between family members, and between man and God. 

When Father Tim and Cynthia Kavanagh are stranded at the remote lodge in Ireland by the injury to Cynthia's ankle, they slowly become immersed in the regrets and secrets that surround three generations of the Conor family. The present-day story is mixed with sections of the 1860's diary of Fintan O'Donnell, which Tim and Cynthia discover in the lodge's library and in which they become absorbed.  In their typical soft-spoken, compassionate manner, the Kavanaghs steer the Conor family toward reconciliation.

Several reader reviews referred to this book as "boring" or "disappointing".  I disagree. Although it was certainly a change of pace, both from my recent reading choices and the Mitford series, I saw it as a slow stroll - through the Irish countryside, through history, through unhurried vacation days, through complicated relationships.  Read it when you have time to sit a spell and be immersed.  I'll admit I struggled with the historic sections from time to time and I took frequent breaks to read something else, but when it all wrapped up so beautifully at the end, I was glad I made the effort. 

If you have never read the Mitford series or the previous Father Tim novel, you probably don't want to start with this one.  It helps to get to know the more light-hearted, easier- reading Father Tim and the characters of Mitford before delving into this second, deeper series.  Jan Karon says "Of all the novels I've written, In the Company of Others is my personal favorite."  That's easy to understand.  This is not cookie-cutter, commercial fiction - this is a personal, inspiring story.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Whine and Cheese

Looking back at the eighty-some book reviews I've posted on this blog, I realize that I have a slight tendency...ok, it's not slight, it's substantial ... nonetheless, I have a tendency to whine about  bloodshed, gore, and/or carnage in the books I'm reading - yet I continue to read them.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

That quote has been attributed to both Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein, but whoever said it, I think they were talking about me.

But here's the thing - I like thrillers and they tend to be graphic.  I used to be addicted to cozy mysteries, but the slower pace just doesn't seem to hold my attention any more.  Perhaps it's my advancing age (awareness of finite amount of reading time in life) or my job at the library (more exposure to the vast number of books left to read in that limited time).  Whatever the reason, I find myself picking books with a more brisk pace.  

Which brings me to the point where I ask for your help.  When I'm feeling the need for speed without the threat of losing my lunch, where do I turn?  Can anyone recommend some authors who will grip my attention without twisting my stomach? 

And to those who have read all my whiny thriller reviews, I can only quote F. Scott Fitzgerald:  It takes a genious to whine appealingly.  I hope the reviews have held some appeal.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Christmas Journey by Donna VanLiere

I ordered this book for the library for two reasons:  1.  Pretty Christmas cover, 2. Donna VanLiere's name on the pretty Christmas cover.  It wasn't what I expected - but that's not a bad thing. 

This is a short read - less than an hour - but it tells a powerful story.  You all know that I'm a Christmas nut.  I watch the movies and listen to the music year round; I read every sweet, holiday story I can find; I dream of having a house that looks like this (alas I lack the money, style and creativity to accomplish that dream). 

In the midst of all that, it is so easy to see the Nativity as one more decoration; one more sweet story.  This re-telling reminds us that Mary was a frightened, shunned young girl who gave birth under horrendous conditions.  It shows us Joseph's fear that he would not be a proper father for a King; that he would fail this incredible responsibility and gift.

The story of the manger scene is familiar to most of us...Mary and Joseph snuggled warmly together admiring the comfortable baby in his soft bed of hay, wise men and shepherds gathering to worship and giving gifts to the King in the warm, well-lit stable, and always that magnificent star above to show the way.  Somewhere along the way the cave has been sanitized, the birth made painless and the people involved stripped of all fear or emotion.  It seems to have colored in or forgotten much of what happened to make that journey possible...I wrote the Christmas Journey several years ago for a church banquet.  I read it as a narrataive then, as a reminder, and still do today.  I hope you will do the you won't forget."  - Donna VanLiere
Since it could easily become a Christmas favorite that gets re-read each year, it helps justify the $12.95 price for such a quick read. If you can get it at your local library, even better.

Still Life With Crows by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

If this book had not been a selection for a challenge, it would have gone into the DNF (did not finish) pile early on.  As it was, this was my "Staff Pick" choice for Library Bingo.  Sure, I could have put it back and picked again, but I was curious to see why it had been recommended, so I stuck it out to the last gory, repulsive page. 

I have read one other novel from the Special Agent Pendergast series, so the fact that Preston and Child write vivid violence was not a surprise.  I've read Stephen King, Tami Hoag, James Patterson and a handful of other thriller authors who don't cut corners in the carnage department, so I'm not totally unfamiliar with the genre.  But, (B-I-G but) this was a whole new level of disgusting.  Dismembered, disembowled, disfigured bodies - human and animal - drip from every page.  It may have been the cannibalism that pushed me over that last edge.

One of the attractions of this book is that it is set in southwest Kansas (that's where we live) and it's always fun to read about towns and settings with which you are familiar.  However, this was a Kansas I didn't recognize.  We've been involved in agriculture in Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska for twenty-seven years.  We've lived in this area for the last seven.  The endless miles of cornfields and the sensation of driving between "walls of corn" can be found in many parts of Nebraska, but not here.  Also, I would wager that the authors have never been in/near a tornado.  Their descriptions of the storm, the warning system, and the length of advance notice were all off.  And my final peeve - seriously, this is the last one - was the typecasting of the citizens as redneck, uneducated and just plain stupid.  I resemble that remark!  :)

I don't need to critique Preston and Child's writing style for you.  They have a string of bestsellers to their names.  They are obviously talented.  The plot of this novel is creative and original - but the butchery is off the charts.  It won't be getting a recommendation from this staff member.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween: The Empty Nest Years

I have been through several stages in my appreciation - or not - of Halloween.  As a child, of course I loved inventing costumes and spent hours imagining what I wanted to be.  Some ensembles were leftovers from school programs, some were purchased wherever we shopped in the pre-Walmart 1960's, and some were my own creations.  Whatever the get-up, the best part of Halloween was "Trick or Treat for Unicef".  All the town's children gathered at the VFW hall and were divided into age groups.  Younger groups canvassed the streets nearby, while older kids hiked across town and worked their way back on assigned routes.  At each stop we received treats - many of them homemade, like Mrs. Collie's fudge - plus a donation to our Unicef collection box.  I'm not sure we ever really knew what Unicef was, but we were all for helping out starving children in Africa if it got us more candy.  When all groups had returned, we spread out on the hard wooden floor of the hall with our bags of goodies and a bottle of pop and watched cartoons projected on the wall. 

My children don't think that sounds like much to get excited about, but they never lived in the world before Cartoon Network, when cartoons were only on for three hours on Saturday morning and that's when your mother wanted you to clean your room.  They also never knew pop as a rare thing.  We only got pop at home on Sunday evenings while we watched Wild Kingdom and ate popcorn.  Even then Mom divided three bottles among five people in cups with w-a-y too much ice so you didn't get much, so a whole bottle to myself was a thrill.

There's a gap in my Halloween memory beginning at junior high.  I don't recall paying much attention to the date at all between outgrowing trick-or-treat myself and having my own children.  During the preschool years it was fun to dress the kids up, take their picture, walk them to a few friends' houses and watch their adorable little faces when given a Tootsie Roll. On Mitch's first Halloween - at age 11 months - we dressed him as Mickey Mouse.  Assuming that a child of that age wouldn't take well to a mask, we painted on an adorable black nose and whiskers with face paint guaranteed to "remove easily".  Here's a parenting tip:  Don't paint a 1-year-old's face!  It did not come of easily.  In fact, after much scrubbing and screaming (some his, some mine) we just let the lingering bits wear off over time.

As the kids aged, the entire production lost it's shine.  It became a chore to shop for, sew, or borrow the perfect costume that would simultaniously make the little darlings happy, not break the bank and fit within our costume choices limitations:  only fun characters such as a clown, a cowboy, a football player, a princess - no serial killers or bloody zombies.  And if those restrictions didn't tic them off enough, then came the teen years.  The rule at our house was that trick-or-treat ended when you entered junior high.  At that age it becomes more about the "tricks" than the "treats".  Picture me (preferrably 10 years younger and 20 pounds thinner than the actual me) giving my sternest parental lecture:  "It doesn't matter if you actually pull any of the pranks or not.  If you are running around town you will be accused of whatever vandalism takes place.  Sometimes all it takes is being in the wrong place at the wrong time!"  Our answer to their usual reply, "We're just doing it for the candy", was "So, get a job and buy your own."  Our poor teens were restricted to the house every October 31st. 

*Pause*  A brief intermission to rant about my top Halloween objection: vandalism and theft being dismissed as "mischief".  This year the retailers, library, courthouse and other businesses joined together to decorate the town for fall.  One of the local florists sold pumpkins, gourds and straw bales at a discount to buisnesses who fashioned displays outside their buildings using those items, fall foliage, scarecrows, etc.  The picture down Main Street was charming.  Then came the TRICK-or-treaters.  During the week leading up to Halloween, nearly every pumpkin, including the wagon-load still for sale, were stolen and/or smashed on the streets in the name of "Halloween pranks".  I will spare you my full-throated, red-faced, steam-blowing tirade on the appropriate punishment for the perpetrators and the parents who laugh it off as an example of "Boys will be boys!"

In this, our first Empty Nest Halloween, I noticed another shift in our Halloween attitude.  We're free!  For the first time in eight years we had no teens at home to worry about (whatever they did at college is beyond my control and my knowledge so I'm not even going there).  No teens also meant we only had two cars to hide from vandals.  In the past, vehicles parked outside overnight were targets to be defaced with eggs, shaving cream, tomatoes, derogatory comments in window paint or more permanent substances.  This year however, with both cars shut in the garage and the kids out of town, we could have a peaceful evening enjoying the children at our door, "oooohing" and "aaaaahing" over their cute little faces and their creative costumes.  Wouldn't you know it?  The doorbell only rang four times!  Oh well, my favorite part of Halloween - more Tootsie Rolls for me!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Flint by Louis L'A

He left the West at the age of seventeen, leaving behind a rootless past and a trail of violence. In the East, he became one of the wealthiest financiers in America.  Now, suffering from incurable cancer, he has come back to New Mexico to die alone. But when an all-out range war erupts, Flint chooses to help Nancy Kerrigan, a local rancher. A cold-eyed speculator is setting up the land swindle of a lifetime, and Buckdun, a notorious assassin, is there to back his play.  Flint alone can help Nancy save her ranch…with his cash, his connections—and his gun. He still has his legendary will to fight. All he needs is time, and that’s fast running out…. (publisher's synopsis)

Dave is a veteran L'Amour fan.  He has collected all the titles and read every one.  These are his go-to books when he wants a guaranteed satisfying read.  Good always defeats evil, the hero always gets the girl, and he does it all with no graphic language, sex or violence (not to say there is no violence at all - it's the "graphic" part that's missing.)  Naturally, when I came to the "Western" category on my library bingo card, I asked Dave to name his favorite L'Amour book.  He chose Flint as tying for the Number One spot.  I have heard Dave quote the opening passage many times, and it is the perfect example of Mr. L'Amour's writing style:

It is given to few people in this world to disappear twice but, as he had succeeded once,the man known as James T. Kettleman was about to make his second attempt.  If he did not succeed this time he would never know, for he would be dead.
Not what I expected from a paperback western.  I read tons of paperback romances in my younger years, and the writing level was not always up to snuff.  I guess I thought this would be the cowboy equivalent.  But no! 

The story was layered - Flint's illness and desire to disappear, the brewing range war, Flint's childhood, his relationship with Nancy Kerrigan, his past in New York which has followed him to New Mexico.  The book could easily be twice as long, adding detail to some of the plotlines, without the action lagging and would rival most modern-day thrillers.  The only negative was that the fight scenes were a little detailed for my taste, but Dave thought they were spot on, so I guess that's just a matter of opinion.  Could be that I don't know my left hook from my jab, so that scene was wasted on me. 

Mr. L'Amour paints vivid pictures of the New Mexico malpais - now El Malpais National Monument - where most of the action takes place.  As many times as we've been to Albuquerque, I'm amazed that I didn't even know this amazing landscape existed only 70 miles to the west.  According to the National Park Service web-site, molten rock created this eerie world of lava tube caves, cinder cones, pressure ridges, and bridges.  El Malpais now tops our list of places to go and things to see.                                              (Photos courtesy of the National Park Service)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Snow Day by Billy Coffey

Peter is a simple man who lives by a simple truth--a person gains strength by leaning on his constants. To him, those constants are the factory where he works, the family he loves, and the God who sustains him. But when news of job cuts comes against the backdrop of an unexpected snowstorm, his life becomes filled with far more doubts than certainties.

With humor and a gift for storytelling, Billy Coffey brings you along as he spends his snow day encountering family, friends, and strangers of his small Virginia town. All have had their own battles with life's storms. Some have found redemption. Others are still seeking it. But each one offers a piece to the puzzle of why we must sometimes suffer loss, and each one will help Peter find a greater truth--our lives are made beautiful not by our big moments, but our little ones. (publisher synopsis)

This book was unusual in a couple ways.  First, it was not at all what I expected.  I anticipated a heart-warming Christmas story, where all of life's problems are solved by virtue of it being December.  Instead, it really had nothing to do with Christmas except in a background way.  Secondly, instead of a continuous story, it was a series of mini-episodes - each chapter an individual encounter threaded together into one plot.  Because of that, it felt a little disjointed to me and I found it easier to read the chapters individually, interspersed with another book - taking it in small bites with time to digest.

This is definitely a Christian book, as the main character's faith is the hinge for the entire story.  As we have had a string of life-changing events in the past six months, I enjoyed seeing how the characters handled their similar situations through prayer, incite and faith.  It was both inspiring and touching just to know that someone - even a fictional someone - faces the same challenges.