Wholly Unraveled: A Memoir

How does a child make any sense of a life that can go from the light of day to the dark of night in a heartbeat?  From smooth waters to dangerous rapids that you never see coming?  Each step could be the one that takes you from a safe place into terror and pain.  Keele Burgin’s young life was one of  glaring contrasts and terrifying uncertainties.  Life on high alert.  Wealth and luxury (a lavishly restored Victorian home on the ocean, horses, station wagons and Cadillacs), a severely abusive, all powerful father, a vacant, submissive mother, a stultifying, fundamentalist version of Catholicism.  (Amazed me.  Didn’t know that existed.)

It was rough – far more than most could imagine or endure.  But if it was rough, she was tough.  Their housekeeper Shirley called her Little Ox.  She develops a hard shell and becomes a headstrong, hard-eyed child and teen-ager, not particularly likeable, to tell the truth.  She couldn’t let herself hate her parents, so she hated herself and became an even harder, self-damaging adult, unable to maintain a giving relationship.

To be honest, at one point, I gave serious thought to bailing out of this read.  Portions are somewhat erratically written, and there is an inconsistency of voice that bothered me from time to time, but I suspect it was either purposeful – a reflection of her erratic young life and inability to find any voice at all of her own –  or just hard as hell to write.  Or both.  Too ugly, too scary – not anywhere I thought I wanted to be.  (Sometimes I get a little down, you know.)  Stuck it out, though, just a little longer, and was rewarded with a redemptive ending that is filled with hope.  This book?  Tough, but worth it.

Currently available from your local indie bookstore here.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Little A via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

The Sun Is a Compass: A 4,000-Mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds

HAPPY PUB DAY to Caroline Van Hemert’s The Sun Is a Compass!!

a day in the (reading) life

Caroline Van Hemert, a biologist, and her husband Pat Farrell (artist, outdoorsman, builder) dream a simple dream, yet one so daunting in scope that few could dream it – a trek of 4,000 miles from Bellingham, Washington to a far, far speck in the Alaskan Arctic, Kotsube.  Ever been there?  Me, either.  Without snowmobiles, ATVs, sponsors.  No planes, no trains, no hitched rides.  After four months intense planning, they leave Bellingham in two rowboats built by Pat, traveling up the Inside Passage then across mountains, glaciers, rivers, delta, and tundra on foot, on skis, by canoes and pack rafts.

This challenge was undertaken, I felt, in the spirit of a quest, though perhaps not consciously so; and it is recounted here in all its harshness, dreamy beauty and overriding love of the wilderness.  In a stunning episode, we’re practically part of a migrating caribou herd, and the astounding migratory flights…

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It Was the Best of Lines, It Was the Worst of Lines – March 14, 2019

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“The nickname of the train was the Yellow Dog.” 

Eudora Welty, Delta Wedding.

A train going…..somewhere.  A puffing steam engine, maybe.  Sounds like it, doesn’t it?  Yeah, I think so.  A sleek diesel couldn’t be the Yellow Dog.  Is it really yellow?  Well, it makes me happy to see it that way.  Why are we interested in this train?  Who’s on it?  So we read a few more words…..nine year old Laura McRaven traveling alone.  Alone?  Where’s she going?  And we read a little bit more.  To visit her mother’s people at Shellmound.  Hmmm.  And when she gets there?  “Poor Laura little motherless girl…”  You see that Yellow Dog chugging way across the delta there?  That train, the Yellow Dog, in that tiny vignette of an opening line will chug you right into this beautiful book.  An opening line that knows its job.

And why wouldn’t it?  Miss Eudora walked on water.  If you don’t know her brilliant, deceptively simple work, there’s genius out there waiting for you.  Best book on becoming a writer?  One Writer’s Beginnings.  Eudora Welty.  Short stories?  Oh my goodness, lose yourself.  As for me, Delta Wedding is one of the very few books I’ve read more than once and will read again….because of the train nicknamed the Yellow Dog.

T. Marie Vandelly’s Theme Music

A first novel, a good one, and the title gives nothing away.  I like that.  It’s not a shivery, goose-bumpy title at all, is it, but this is one spectacularly shivery thriller.  Now, you know, I’ve read my share of mysteries and thrillers, and let me tell you that you won’t find fictional murders more horrifying than these.  Not extravagant, opulent murders a la The Da Vinci Code, but murders in a perfectly ordinary kitchen – at breakfast.  One survivor, and this is her story to tell, a story so clever, original and complicated, it’ll have you jumping to conclusions and haring off in all directions.  If puzzling over the evil that men can do appeals, give this one a try.  Thanks, Ms. Vandelly.

Definitely worth pre-ordering wherever you buy books online, as this one doesn’t come out until July 23. A link to Amazon.com is available here: Theme Music: A Novel

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by PENGUIN GROUP Dutton / Dutton via NetGalley.  I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Katarina Bivald’s The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, and a Book Giveaway!

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A book about reading . . . a book about a reading obsession . . . a book about a woman who would rather read than do just about anything else, who almost requires books just to survive?  Sounds like my kind of book.  In fact, it almost sounds like it might be about me (although my horses, my dogs, music and hiking give the books a run for their money on most days too).

Swedish author Katarina Bivald brings us The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, her first novel to be published in the United States, and it starts with promise.  Sara, a mousy former bookstore employee from Sweden, arrives in the tiny, hard-luck town of Broken Wheel, Iowa to meet and visit with her pen pal, Amy, an elderly resident of this little burg. Amy and Sara have bonded over books during their two-year correspondence, but Sara hits town only to learn that Amy’s funeral has just ended.   She wonders if she should just return home, having unknowingly walked into a disaster after all, but the occupants of Broken Wheel convince her to stay for a bit.  As Sara herself thinks, “As long as she had books and money, nothing could be a catastrophe.”  I agree with this philosophy wholeheartedly, if I do say so myself.

In an effort to ingratiate herself with the townspeople and to get these folks to read (it seems that none of them do), she decides to open a bookshop with Amy’s books as inventory.  Slowly, Sara develops friendships with several of Broken Wheel’s oddball citizens:  George, the reticent but well-meaning alcoholic; Jen, a busybody housewife and determined matchmaker; Grace, the opinionated proprietor of the local greasy spoon; Caroline, a younger, steelier version of the Church Lady; and Tom, the strong, silent-type subject of Jen’s matchmaking attempts.

We learn about the town and its denizens through Sara’s direct relationships with them, and through Amy’s letters to Sara, which function as flashbacks of a sort.  It’s in these letters that the book came alive for me, and I looked forward to the appearance of each one for Amy’s books recommendations.  Sara also pushes her favorites:  “She had sold countless copies of Terry Pratchett’s books before, only a few years ago, she had given in and read one of them, making the acquaintance of one of the most fantastic, and definitely most reliable, authors you could ever hope to find.”  She had me at Terry Pratchett.

And she continued to have me through the first two-thirds of the book or so.  But as more and more time passed in Broken Wheel, and as the situation in which Sara finds herself became a little less plausible, the hold the book had on me began to slip.  The literary references dwindled and the focus became the wacky marriage plot cooked up by Sara’s newfound friends so that she can outstay her tourist visa.  The subsequent, over-the-top events seemed a bit of a contrivance to me, although I suppose something similar could conceivably take place in small-town America.  At this point, I felt like the novel somewhat lost its way and couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be book lit, chick-lit, contemporary women’s lit, some kind of cozy, or a straight-up romance (and we all know I don’t do romance).

If you’re a fan of any of the aforementioned genres, then don’t let my disappointment with the latter part of the book keep you from checking it out.  It’s a light-hearted, whimsical read that I’m sure will appeal greatly to women of all stripes and book clubs across the country.  I enjoyed it enough to give it three stars on the Goodreads scale (3.5 on my own personal scale), meaning I liked it just fine but I didn’t absolutely love it.

If you would like a chance win a copy of The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend from the publisher, check out this link to their giveaway:

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Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by SOURCEBOOKS Landmark via NetGalley. I would like to thank the publisher for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.

 

 

 

Break’s Over!

So due to Xmas insanity and other crap that had to be dealt with over the extended holiday season, I took a lengthy break from this, my brand-spanking-new blog.  Probably not the greatest strategy ever employed by a novice blogger who would actually like a few folks to find and read what she has to say, but as the cliché goes:  You do whatcha gotta do.

I’m up to my neck in pre-releases to be read and reviewed so time’s a wastin’!  I’ve got a few reviews of new-release sci-fi, women’s lit and non-fiction to post in the next couple of weeks, and I still owe another installment or two of the Baker’s Dozen.  I also plan a glowing review of a fantastic book recently published by a dear, dear friend (all bias aside, it really is a terrific read!).  Finally, I’ve recently started a new mini-project:  working my way through Dick Francis’ catalog.  Given my horsey predilections, it’s a crying shame that I haven’t read more Francis than I have.  Time to rectify that, I say.

It’s a new year and a fresh start.  Glad to be back out here in bloggerland!

Just a few minutes here and there!

I usually have my nose stuffed in three or so books at any one time:  one physical book, one or two Kindle books and one audiobook.  Right now, I’m reading the trade PB of 52 Loaves:  A Half-Baked Adventure, by William Alexander; Colum McCann’s Thirteen Ways of Looking (which just dropped today from Random House) on Kindle, as well as a horror, short-story anthology, Suspended In Dusk, edited by Simon Dewar (also on Kindle); and finally, on audio, the second installment in Marcus Sakey’s near-future Brilliance Saga, A Better World, narrated by Luke Daniels (love me some Luke D.!).  I’ve just finished Furiously Happy:  A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) but wish it had been about a thousand pages longer.  It deserves, and will get, a blog post all its own.

52 Loaves  Thirteen Ways of Looking  Suspended in Dusk  A Better World  Furiously Happy

The audiobooks carry me through my one-hour long commute each day (one-way!) and the Kindle editions keep me going through endless miles on the treadmill.  The actual books and the Kindle versions compete for the remainder of my reading hours . . . or minutes or seconds!  All depends on when I can squeeze in a few more word-filled moments throughout my day.

If I had a nickel for every time someone has whined to me, in the most high-pitched, nasal tone she can muster, “I love to read but I can never find the time” . . .  Believe me, if you truly want to read you will make the time.  Besides the drive time and the gym, I also squeeze in a few pages while I get ready for work in the morning, on my lunch break, while the Hubs watches something loud and obnoxious on television (i.e., war movies, more war movies, and oh, did I mention war movies?), and lying in bed at night waiting to fall asleep.  It’s not that difficult if you put your mind to it . . . unless you have kids – then I know the challenge is truly amplified for you and your priorities are where they should be, with your kids.  Sure, I would much rather have a solid, uninterrupted hour or two (or three or four or five!) to really dig in and lose myself in whatever I’m reading but that’s not always realistic.  I’ve learned to appreciate the time I can get, when I can get it and to make the most of it!