The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen is a lyrical and lavish tale of past and present lives, hopes, secrets and expectations. It is a story of loveThe Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen is a lyrical and lavish tale of past and present lives, hopes, secrets and expectations. It is a story of loves and friendships, both those enduring and those misplaced, of being lost and coming home again. Allen weaves her enchantment, as always, around her well-developed, believable, albeit somewhat quirky, characters. Her own special vibrant elements of place and history and just a touch of the supernatural for good measure make the book a treat to read.
The Osgoods and the Jacksons have always been the backbone of Walls of Water, a small North Carolina hamlet named for its many waterfalls, and full of memories, tradition, magic and apparitions. Their lives have been intertwined as far back as anyone remembers. When the Osgoods decide to resurrect the old Jackson mansion, The Blue Ridge Madam, and turn it into a bed and breakfast inn, the weight of their combined past secrets threatens the status quo of the town society and the families involved. Pride, misunderstandings and long-held beliefs conspire to jeopardize all that local society scions hold dear and have kept secret for decades. But is that always a recipe for doom and disaster?
With gentle humor, a touch of the unexpected and great insight into the true strength of the human soul, Allen composes a work of possibilities and triumph over insecurities and human foibles. Characters change and grow by giving up unrealistic expectations of themselves, their families and a town, leaving their pasts where they belong. They dare to lead with their hearts instead of their minds, and learn to accept each day as it presents itself. They are a varied lot—from the barista who studies the "science" of coffee orders to a sporting goods store owner who disdains the outdoor life to a blind grandmother who sees more than most of those around her. There's one unconventional native son who cannot sleep when he's in Walls of Water but cannot seem to stay away—and another who's come home to prove his worth to the town and to himself. And there are the ghosts...
The Peach Keeper is intriguing, abounds in detail and description, and will hold your interest from start to finish. I'm a confirmed Sarah Addison Allen fan and this latest book did not disappoint. Her lovely prose will draw you in, and you will feel at home with her multi-faceted characters. Their splendidly-crafted stories will make you think about the meaning of true friendship and give you hope in possibilities and potentialities. This book is a keeper!
Sarah Addison Allen was born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina. She holds a B.A. in Literature. She wrote her first novel when she was 16 and her first published work was a Harlequin Romance. Her first and very successful mainstream novel was Garden Spells, followed by The Sugar Queen and The Girl Who Chased the Moon. Find out more on her website: www.sarahaddisonallen.com ...more
"How does one describe evil, and how does one explain the evils of those who wore the face of God, who cloaked evil with His Veil?"
Kim Richardson has"How does one describe evil, and how does one explain the evils of those who wore the face of God, who cloaked evil with His Veil?"
Kim Richardson has written a stunning story of abuse, heinous crimes against helpless children, and amazing triumph over those circumstances. It is a story which both broke my heart and showed me hope and what it means to be resilient and of strong character.
Church should be a safe place and religious leaders should be models of caring and compassion. Schools and orphanages run by churches should be havens of safety and learning, not the hellish existence Richardson and so many others lived through. It boggles the mind that so many troubled abusive individuals were congregated into a single staff at one orphanage in rural Kentucky. This is not a story for the faint-hearted. The abuse descriptions are graphic, and all the more tragic given the age of the abused. Richardson's first clear memory of abuse was at age three.
The story is told in a series of flashbacks superimposed over the present, most notably Richardson's deposition given to the Catholic attorneys in her lawsuit. It offers a strong contrast between the frightened, confused child who was abused and beaten for nonsensical offenses and the strong confident adult facing her fears. She was speaking out on behalf of herself, her sisters and other orphans who had endured the same cruelty and abuse.
Imagine being told every day of your young life that you are useless, that you are evil. Imagine being forced to do menial labor and bloodying your own hands so the overseers would be convinced you'd worked hard, even being dosed with undocumented drugs. How can this be in a world where adults are supposed to be the nurturers, the caretakers? These children were not troublemakers—they simply had the misfortune to have been handed over by the state of Kentucky to the St. Thomas-St. Vincent Orphanage. "Orphan. Was there a more lonesome word in the lexicon?" Richardson reflected as an adult. Surely she and her fellow orphanage dwellers must have wondered. With not a single caring adult to advocate for them, to help them negotiate their hellish day-to-day existence, they absorbed horrific shocks to their physical, mental, and spiritual selves. It's a wonder any survived—some did not, and all had to bear lifelong scars.
"One day I'm going to be that the rainbow at the end of that road and I will stretch across, disappear, and I will be in charge of my changes." At six years old, Richardson found a kernel of hope to which she clung. Ironically, perhaps, it was a rainbow, a symbol of God's hope and promise in the Bible. Not only did Richardson survive, she fought back. She found a dedicated, compassionate attorney who would help her expose the horrors and file a lawsuit against the Church and the Sisters who had terrorized so many innocents. Bad days, bad memories—yes, they exist in her life, but the good far outweighs the bad. She found in attorney McMurry a man who "knew who wore the face of God." She has the "forever family" she always dreamed of in her loving and supportive husband and children. She cheated death to live victoriously.
I would recommend this book to anyone who works with abused children or works with support groups for those who have been abused. This new edition, which includes the outcome of the lawsuit, as well as a new Readers' Guide, would make it a fine choice for book clubs. It is not an easy read, or one which I would term "enjoyable," but it is enlightening and encouraging. It is a story of triumph over great evil and against great odds. It will enrich your life. ...more
Set in Australia, this is a fast-paced, multi-layered novel of intrigue, family ties and family secrets, complete with mystery, murder and enough plotSet in Australia, this is a fast-paced, multi-layered novel of intrigue, family ties and family secrets, complete with mystery, murder and enough plot twists to make one dizzy.
Dinah Pellerin, a down-on-her luck young woman, fresh from the betrayal of her current lover, a Seattle cop, finds herself suddenly on the way to Australia at the behest of her “Uncle” Cleon who purports to be dying. She hitches a ride to from Darwin to Katherine with Jacko, a strange pilot who tries to befriend her, but she’s having none of it. Cleon has called a meeting of the clan so that he can be surrounded by those important to him in his last days. He knows it will be his last days, as he has arranged for an assisted suicide at a secluded lodge in Katherine. Now, Cleon is not her uncle, though he was married to her mother at one point, but he’s not her father either—although he does know the secrets surrounding the death of her father, details of which she’s never been able to pry from her mother. And that’s just the beginning of the familial confusion.
The assemblage in Katherine include not only Dinah, but her brother, his partner, one of Cleon’s former wives, their son, his current wife and their offspring—two horrid adolescents—and various other members of the household staff as well as the doctor who will hasten Cleon’s demise. No one really likes or trusts anyone else and the tensions run high in the secluded house.
Before Cleon’s suicide can be accomplished, the good doctor is found dead—murdered perhaps? Why? Is Cleon the real target? Are the sibs and wives worried about rumored changes to Cleon’s will? Worried enough to kill? Enter the local police, headed up by none other than Jacko, the friendly pilot. He senses that Dinah knows more than she’s telling, and for her part, she’s convinced she can solve the mystery on her own. Will he be able to keep her safe?
Matthews tells a good yarn, though there are so many sub-plots, and the story so fast tempoed that it takes some concentration to keep them all straight. Her inclusion of Aboriginal myth, the Strine dialect, and art treasures indicate a good bit of background study and add depth to the tale. Clues are scattered throughout with abandon and I found myself referring back to earlier chapters to make sure I had it all set in my mind. Who said what, when and to whom become very crucial to the outcome. What is truth, what is inferred and who can be trusted?
All in all, it was an enjoyable read, and I gleaned some knowledge of Australia. It’s not exactly what one might term a cozy, but it’s a good mystery read. It goes to show that family is not always what we expect and history might be quite different from what we perceive. It’s well worth the effort to keep the plot straight. The action and intrigue will keep the reader guessing until the end, not a bad way to spend time in my estimation.
~I received a copy of this book for review from the author, publisher, or publicist.
In her latest installment of the Cedar Cove series, Macomber welcomes the reader back with her usual warm chatty style and familiar characters. MarriaIn her latest installment of the Cedar Cove series, Macomber welcomes the reader back with her usual warm chatty style and familiar characters. Marriage—existing and intended—plays a large role in this particular story line.
Mary Jo Wyse and her baby daughter Noelle are tenants of Mack MacAfee on Evergreen Place. The two adults are good friends, and show every sign of moving into a meaningful romantic relationship. Mack adores the baby and her mother but issues of trust and openness on both sides may hinder their romance. Meanwhile, they are caught up in the mystery of old letters Mary Jo finds hidden in her apartment. Could they hold a key for the young couple?
Mary Jo’s brother Linc has unexpectedly and suddenly married Lori Bellamy. Have these former loners found true lasting love, or will family expectations and entanglements be their doom?
Mack’s two sisters, Linnette and Gloria, have both had troubled romances in their pasts. Is it time for both of them to find happiness?
A jealous and confused young girl threatens to be the undoing for the recently wed Rachel and Bruce Peyton. Bruce’s daughter Jolene, once Rachel’s biggest champion, is now her most bitter adversary. She resents their marriage and undermines their relationship at every opportunity. She does not want to share her father.
All of these, and several other, relationships make up this tale of life and love in Cedar Cove. Although Macomber’s novels are warm feel-good stories, there are no pat solutions and the reader is left wondering on several scores here. The characters are believable and the sense of community and family is strong. Macomber’s style and wit keeps the story moving, and the reader becomes invested in the lives of these folks, as if they are familiar old friends. Of course, if you are a Cedar Cove fan, they are. With just enough serious conjecture and open-ended problems left unsolved, fans will be waiting eagerly for the next installment.
~I received a copy of this book for review from the author, publisher, or publicist.
Taking a break from her Virgin River series, Carr introduces us to several new characters. Cassie is a nurse, an independent type who finds herself inTaking a break from her Virgin River series, Carr introduces us to several new characters. Cassie is a nurse, an independent type who finds herself in danger and at the mercy of a seemingly nice guy who turns out to be a total fraud. She is rescued by Walt, described as a “biker dude.” Outwardly, there could be no two souls who are less alike. Still, they become friends, though Cassie has sworn off any more romantic entanglements, seeing herself as a loser in this category.
Their friendship evolves gradually with Walt sensing he must move slowly or risk losing Cassie’s trust forever. Carr chronicles this blossoming relationship in a story about living in the present but being held in chains by the past. It’s hard for Cassie to trust her own judgment, much less trust yet another man in her life who might cause her further hurt and disillusionment. Still, maybe she can be hopeful since Walt has gone out of his way to be the perfect gentleman, giving her no reason to doubt him—or is there? The reader will have to decide. Will this be Cassie’s time?
As always, Carr has given us believable substantial characters and scenarios that the reader can relate to. Her sense of place and descriptions of the lovely countryside add to the pleasure. The story has enough depth to make it interesting and enough romance to make it a good cozy read. In my book, that’s a winner.
~I received a copy of this book for review from the author, publisher, or publicist.
This is the latest in Neggers’ FBI series, set both in the Boston area and the Beara Peninsula of Ireland, continuing the story of missing and covetedThis is the latest in Neggers’ FBI series, set both in the Boston area and the Beara Peninsula of Ireland, continuing the story of missing and coveted Celtic treasures—and what evil will be done to possess them. The main characters in this segment, though the reader has met them in earlier novels, are Cyrus “Scoop” Wilson, a Boston cop recovering from injuries sustained in a horrific explosion, and Sophie Malone, a Celtic treasures specialist. The supporting cast of the Sullivans and O’Reillys and Rushes, as well as other familiar faces, are back to lend a hand.
Weaving a first-rate tale of mystery, romance, danger, and myth, Neggers engages her readers in a fast-paced read that will keep them guessing. Her descriptions of the Irish countryside will have them longing for a tour themselves. Building upon the ongoing story of friends, family and unseen enemies, Neggers adds depth and intrigue to make this a real page turner.
Not all of the characters are nice people, and the violence can be graphic, but it is not gratuitous—it is part and parcel of story and character, and Neggers handles it well. That being said, this is not the main thrust of the story nor is this a totally dark tale. Love and laughter and family celebrations are portrayed with wit and realism. There are friendships and love affairs and the dedication of professionals who set out to do a job and do it well. These are realistic characters with lives to lead and problems to be solved, and reliance on others for help is paramount.
The Whisper is a finely crafted tale that will keep readers hooked until the very end—and then leave them wishing for more. The combination of Irish folklore and real life mystery is a winning one. Myth, mystery, human interest and police procedural all stand together to make this a strong offering. Neggers fans will love it—and new readers will be entranced.
~I received a copy of this book for review from the author, publisher, or publicist.
Gail Caldwell celebrates her extraordinary friendship with fellow writer Caroline Knapp in LET"S TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME. It is a touching, honest, and oGail Caldwell celebrates her extraordinary friendship with fellow writer Caroline Knapp in LET"S TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME. It is a touching, honest, and often humorous look at their relationship–how they met, why they bonded, and what kept them together. Her memories are clear and deep, and she shares them all, not shying away from the unpleasant nor overwhelming with the too saccharine.
Both women were recovering alcoholics; both were writers; both loved their dogs beyond normal reason. It was this latter commonality that brought them together in the first place. They talked about their dogs as other women might their children. They were always together, dogs and masters, whether in training, walking, or vacationing. Both women were competitive. Caldwell excelled in swimming and Knapp in rowing. Each taught the other her sport while still maintaining an edge. Their personalities complemented one another, as is the case of many lasting friendships. Caldwell was the risk-taker, the bold one, while Knapp was the more conservative good girl. They simply loved sharing life and Knapp would often say at the end of a day, “Let’s take the long way home…”
While neither hid her addiction from the other, it was not a regular topic of conversation; it was a silent partner in their relationship always lending an immediate depth that might have otherwise taken years to develop. Of it Caldwell says, “Deeper than most of the most obvious parallels between us was the drinking history we had in common–that empty room in the heart that is the essence of addiction.” It did not rule their relationship, but rather lent it a special sensitivity, a knowing of the other.
Caldwell later remarks “…the real need was soldered by the sadder, harder moments–discord or helplessness or fear–that we dared to expose to each other. It took me years to grasp that this grit and discomfort in any relationship are the indicator of closeness, not its opposite.”
As they shared every aspect of their lives, expecting to go on into old age as best friends, there came an event which blind-sided them both. Knapp was diagnosed with a virulent fast-moving lung cancer. “Before one enters this spectrum of sorrow, which changes even the color of trees, there is a blind and daringly wrong assumption that probably allows us to blunder through the days. There is a way one thinks that the show will never end–or that loss, when it comes, will be toward the end of the road, not in its middle.”
From that time forward, life as they knew it spiraled away from them. Here was the one experience they couldn’t truly share, but they could and would go through it together. As quickly as this phase of their life began, it was over–Knapp’s death coming more quickly than anyone could have anticipated. Now there was just left to Caldwell to go on with life with a hole rent through it. Nothing would or could ever be the same. Life would now be processed through a different lens. “What they never tell you about grief is that missing someone is the simple part.”
This is as honest a narrative of friendship, loyalty, loss, and grief as I have ever read. Caldwell’s words are powerful and genuine, and will gladden your heart with the good times, and wrench your soul with their stark pain. Caldwell is that kind of writer, and readers will be the richer for reading this book.
AuthorInfo: Author info: Gail Caldwell is the 2001 Pulitzer Prize winner for Criticism. She is the former chief book critic for the Boston Globe where she worked for over twenty years. She has also published a memoir of growing up in the Amarillo, Texas area–A Strong West Wind. She holds two degrees in American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. She currently resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
I received a copy of this book for review from the author, publisher, or publicist....more
Still Alice is beautifully crafted, emotionally evocative, thought-provoking, compassionate, and riveting. I rarely read a book straight through theseStill Alice is beautifully crafted, emotionally evocative, thought-provoking, compassionate, and riveting. I rarely read a book straight through these days, but I could not put this one down. In no way do I mean to imply that this is a quick read or an insignificant one. To the contrary, Still Alice affected me as profoundly as any book I have ever read.
It is the story of Alice Howland, a tenured Harvard professor with a doctorate in Psychology. Her specialty is language formation and organization—a brilliant woman, a great teacher, a renowned researcher, a sought-after lecturer—who has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's. Early, as in her 50's, still at the pinnacle of her chosen and beloved career, still young enough to be anticipating further career advancement as well as retirement and grandchildren.
Alice relates her story in her own voice, and eventually in her own thoughts, as her faculty for speech diminishes much too quickly, albeit predictably, for this articulate and erudite woman—an especially cruel irony. Her mind knew, but she lost the ability to convey that inner part of herself. The reader travels each step of Alice's journey as she descends into the formless unknown, and unknowable, chasm of Alzheimer's dementia. Early on, her doctor insists that Alice always bring someone else along to appointments, since given the nature of her condition, she will not always be a good judge of what has been going on in her own life, or in the progression of her brain disorder.
For Alice, always the consummate organizer and scheduler, disorder is a good description of what became of her exterior life. What once made sense no longer did, the words she used with such precision were gone, and time and place lost context. After a while she could no longer participate in making decisions for herself and she slowly lost her independence. While frightened and frustrated and at times incredibly angry, her spirit remained intact. She continued to make her feelings and thoughts known as she was able. To the end, she fought for her dignity and that of other sufferers of dementia.
For Alice's family, there was fear of the unknown. Would her husband be able to, or indeed want to, take care of her as she slowly deteriorated? Himself a well-known research biologist, he had once shared so much in common with Alice. His educated grasp of the processes of disease gave him the tools to fight for her treatment, as well as insight into the probable futility of any cure. His frailty as a human made it hard for him to accept what was happening to Alice and mesh that with the future of his life as it had always been planned. Her children had to deal with the very real threat that her Alzheimer's was hereditary. One son and one daughter chose to find out their genetic predisposition through testing; the youngest daughter chose not to have the test. Their choices would have lifelong ramifications. So, this is also the story of Alice's family and the effect of a most puzzling and cruel and unpredictable disease on them. It is a story of triumph in the face of a disease has the ability to cause a family to come apart or pull together in a crisis.
The reader is not left without hope. As the book ends, we know that the core, the very innermost part of Alice, remains. Her career, her position in her family, her independence all stripped away, she retains the essence of the person who was Alice before Alzheimer's dementia wreaked havoc with all she was and all she knew. She loved and was loved.
Although this is a novel, there is much factual information in Still Alice. Genova's research was extensive, in both the medical aspects and the human. Few people in this day and age have not been affected by Alzheimer's, whether in their own family member, or that of an acquaintance. This book would be of great value to all of them. For myself, I will keep this book, reread it and share it. It is simply that good.
"...let's take time out for introductions. Some of you already know me and have visited my shop a dozen times or more. Others—well, maybe this is you "...let's take time out for introductions. Some of you already know me and have visited my shop a dozen times or more. Others—well, maybe this is your first visit, and you haven't a clue to who we are or what we're talking about. So, my name is China Bayles."
One of the best parts of Holly Blues, or any of the China Bayles series, is the warm welcome. The reader is immediately drawn into the world of Pecan Springs, China, McQuaid, Ruby, and all of the other folks in this small Texas Hill Country town. Since there is inevitably a time span between releases, this serves to refresh the memory of the regular China Bayles reader; and, if this is the first of the series the reader has picked up—heaven forbid!—there is enough background given that this could be read as a stand-alone book. A very nice touch!
As one might suspect from the title, this story finds China and companions ready to celebrate Christmas. Times are hard in Pecan Springs, as elsewhere in the country, and China is working extra at her herbal shop to bring in much needed revenue. Hubby McQuaid, a private investigator, is off to Omaha despite the calendar, also trying to make the most of every money-making opportunity. At this busiest of times, who should show up but the troublesome Sally, McQuaid's ex-wife and definitely not one of China's favorite people. Still, it is the holiday season and China does her best to make Sally feel welcome.
As usual, Sally brings mayhem in her wake, adding murder, threatening phone calls, and tragedy to her list of companions this time. Once again, China, McQuaid, and Ruby have to pool their myriad and varied skills to solve old and new mysteries. The holidays may pass them by if these mysteries and murders aren't solved quicker than they can say "Grinch". It's tough work, but this team is up to the challenge, using McQuaid's connections, Ruby's sometimes far-out ideas, and China's lawyerly and problem-solving skills.
With this book came for me the realization that China has grown in depth of character since the beginning of the series. She has always been a strong and competent woman, a good friend, wife, and business woman. Here, there is softening and mellowing. From a woman who was not sure how to even relate to Brian, her stepson, China has opened her arms and her heart to her orphaned niece, Caitie, reveling in her hugs and cuddles, thankful that they can provide a loving and stable home for her. China seems more rounded and multi-faceted now and the change is pleasant to see.
Just as China and McQuaid have to tough out the hard economic times, they have to learn to cope with a changing landscape. Showing that she is environmentally aware far beyond Pecan Springs and her own gardens, China laments the urban sprawl taking over her part of Texas describing it as "...an ugly octopus of supersized, overpriced McMansions." As always, Albert's keen descriptions of place are detailed and right on, be it familiar Pecan Springs, or snowy Omaha. Her research comes shining through, and is another reason her books are so enjoyable to read.
Instead of letting an established series turn stale, Albert has used her considerable skills and imagination to give the reader yet another thriller, with fresh ideas, up-to-date methodology, current social commentary and new depth to her characters and story line. I'll be waiting anxiously for the next installment!
I wondered how I had forgotten that the whole world is the House of God. Who had persuaded me that God preferred four walls and a roof to wide-open s I wondered how I had forgotten that the whole world is the House of God. Who had persuaded me that God preferred four walls and a roof to wide-open spaces? When had I made the subtle switch myself, becoming convinced that church bodies and buildings were the safest and most reliable places to encounter the living God? (p. 4, An Altar in the World)
Thus it is that Barbara Brown Taylor begins finding altars in the world as places where even the most reverent or the most jaded among us can encounter a living God, or creation, or whatever it is that we define as this planet we inhabit.
For over twenty years, Taylor had worked within the structure of organized religion as an ordained Episcopal priest. She loved her churches and her congregants but came away feeling that something was missing, something not quite right. Were Sunday and weekday religious services enough? What about the world outside of the church buildings? That was a lot of world, and wasn't it all God's? Brown eventually left the active ministry, and began teaching religion. Her favorite of her courses was Religions of the World, a course which fascinated her, but made some of her first-year Christian seminary students a bit nervous. As they visited and participated in the services at mosques and synagogues and Masjids, they were forced to look at the world and religion through new eyes, and came away wondering if perhaps there was more than one way to God.
For Taylor, it followed that not only was the God of the World worshipped in buildings other than churches, He could also be found in the world He created long before buildings came to be. God, she reasoned, did not intend to live in a box.
Taylor's "altars" are not places but rather practices that make one aware of the Earth and all that inhabits it. One of her favorites is simply Walking on the Earth. Walking with no agenda, no destination, but rather with eyes and mind and heart wide open to receive the beauty and sacredness of Creation. She suggests doing it barefoot at least part of the time! The desired outcome of this spiritual practice, and others, is "to teach those who engage in them what those practitioners need to know—about being human, about being human with other people, about being human in creation, about being human before God."
In other words, an altar is about being in relationship. Her other altars reflect this theme: The Practice of Waking Up to God (vision), The Practice of Paying Attention (Reverence), The Practice of Wearing Skin (Incarnation), The Practice of Getting Lost (Wilderness), The Practice of Encountering Others (Community), The Practice of Living with Purpose (Vocation), The Practice of Saying No (Sabbath), The Practice of Carrying Water (Physical Labor), The Practice of Feeling Pain (Breakthrough), The Practice of Being Present to God (Prayer), and The Practice of Pronouncing Blessings (Benediction).
Taylor is a Christian, but her focus here is catholic, in the true original sense of the word—universal in scope. She draws on wisdom from not only Christianity, but also Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism; she cites the Bible, the Koran, and the Torah. She finds wisdom in the words of the Desert Fathers, Brother Lawrence, Wendell Berry, Rumi and various rabbis. Everyone we meet, she says, we must assume to be a face of God. What we have most in common is not religion, but our humanity.
Whether being practical (cleaning toilets) or mystical (walking a labyrinth at Chartres), Taylor wants us to know, to really feel, that the world, this Creation, and all of its people are to be treated with respect and honor and humility and awe. The issue is never a ritual, but the relationship. It is living outside of oneself. It is being intentional about all that we do—to walk through our day days causally, not casually. In Taylor's words, it is "to get over yourself." "It is living so that 'I'm only human' does not become an excuse for anything." It is knowing that whatever we do, menial or grandiose, becomes a sacred act if we treat it as such, and to realize that our true shared vocation is to love God and neighbor. Any place we might be is holy ground, hallowed ground, if we but acknowledge the Creator of that place.
This is a small book that carries a big impact. It is not preachy but it informs and teaches. It does not proselytize but rather encourages relation with Creator and created World. In this time, when Earth is reeling from natural disaster, war, and man-made catastrophes, Taylor encourages us to slow down, to really look and see and listen—to be in relationship with everything and everyone around us. Each of us is this Earth's best hope. She fittingly closes with the words of Rumi:
"Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground." ...more
"Survival often depends on a specific focus: A relationship, a belief, or a hope balanced on the edge of possibility. Or something more ephemeral: th "Survival often depends on a specific focus: A relationship, a belief, or a hope balanced on the edge of possibility. Or something more ephemeral: the way the sun passes through the hard seemingly impenetrable glass of a window and warms the blanket, or how the wind, invisible but for its wake, is so loud one can hear it through the insulated walls of a house."
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating records a year in the life of author Elisabeth Tova Bailey—a year in which she struggled for her survival as her focus was lost, her mobility all but gone and her passion for life trapped inside a body that no longer cooperated with her wishes. With grace and wit, Bailey shares the story of the impact that an ordinary, humble creature, a wild snail, had on her during this trying year, and all of the lessons she learned as she lay motionless, observing in minute detail the everyday rituals and wanderings of her tiny companion.
An active woman with many interests, Bailey became not only housebound but bedridden when she was felled by a mystery illness. She was moved from her own familiar farm home to a small studio apartment to receive the care she could not give herself. For most of the day, Bailey felt anxious and heart-wrenchingly alone. "When the body is rendered useless, the mind still runs like a bloodhound along well-worn trails of neurons, tracking the echoing questions; the confused family of whys, whats and whens and their impossibly distant kin how." She became distraught, wondering how, or indeed if, she could make it through.
One day, a visiting friend went for a walk in the nearby woods, returning to Bailey's bedside with a pot of field violets in which she had placed a snail. Bailey gave little thought to it, except to wonder if it was feeling disturbed to be out of its element, much as she was. Then she began to watch it move, out of the pot, into the bowl below, exploring its new surroundings. She fell asleep thinking she would probably never see it again, but when she awoke, she saw her new companion back in the pot under a violet leaf and a square hole chewed in an envelope propped nearby. Worried that a snail could not live on paper alone, Bailey set out some withered flower petals near the pot. Within minutes, the snail was contentedly chomping on the petals—and Bailey could actually hear it in the silence of her room. "The sound was of someone very small munching celery continuously...the tiny intimate sound of the snail's eating gave me a distinct feeling of companionship and shared space." This would prove to be a turning point for Bailey.
Time weighed heavily on the author, causing her to ponder, "Time unused and only endured still vanishes, as if time itself is starving, and each day is swallowed whole, leaving no crumbs, no memory, no traces." She also noted, ironically: "It was perplexing that in losing health I had gained something so coveted but to so little purpose." In the end, it was her gastropod guest who lent some rhythm to her endless hours. Once the snail was moved to a larger terrarium home filled with elements of its native woods, Bailey could lie quietly and calmly, watching it move about: "Its curiosity and grace pulled me further into its peaceful and solitary world...it put me at ease." Like her, the snail was nocturnal. She slept little at night and while this once caused her to fret, she now found comfort.
She began to learn all she could about snails, mainly from older books dating back to Darwin and his companions. What she learned about their habits, their strengths and even their sensuality caused her to have even more respect for the life of her roommate. (I, for one, would certainly have never guessed that a snail could be amorous.) The more she read, the more impressed she was at the complexity of this seemingly simple creature.
Aside from the witty and astute snail observations, this book also is a commentary on the trying life of someone with chronic illness, especially one who is bedridden—issues of loneliness, feelings of abandonment, uselessness. "My bed was an island within the desolate sea of my room." Bailey noted that her friends and former companions did not know how to be around her. It was as if her stillness unnerved them. "Those of us with illnesses are the holders of the silent fears of those with good health." This small book is full of such meditative thoughts, and might well be informative reading for anyone who deals with the chronically ill.
Life with her snail covered only a year of the author's nearly twenty-year struggle with illness, but it was an important one. In a big way, the tiny snail gave her reason to go on. She wrote her doctor: "If life mattered to the snail, and the snail mattered to me, it meant something in my life mattered, so I kept on..." ...more
Daphne Kalotay's debut novel is a stunning and moving portrayal of love, loss, betrayals, and the enduring human spirit. It celebrates life and art anDaphne Kalotay's debut novel is a stunning and moving portrayal of love, loss, betrayals, and the enduring human spirit. It celebrates life and art and the bond between them. Nina Revskaya is a former Bolshoi ballerina, living out her last days in Boston. As the story progresses, it is clear that much of the time, however, her mind and her heart are back in Stalin's Russia.
Nina's decision to sell her amazing collection of jewelry, amassed through the decades, to benefit the Boston Ballet, opens up old wounds and transports Nina to her past. Kalotay superbly interweaves the storyline from past to present, Moscow to Boston, allowing the reader a window into the events that shaped the dancer's life and determined her ultimate fate. As the young jewelry auction executive Drew tries to trace the history and origin of several pieces of amber jewelry, Nina becomes alternately withdrawn and agitated. A person of mysterious origin claims to have a matching necklace that could link him to Nina, a possibility she refutes at every turn. The mystery and intrigue will keep the reader pressing on for answers. The lyrical and beautiful prose depicting a different life and time will mesmerize.
In Nina's Russia, the reader meets her husband, the famous poet; his associate, the rebellious composer; and Nina's fellow dancers. In that time and place, one's occupation, even that of the artist, was defined by the state; it determined where one lived and how well—and even how one might die. Politics and art were inextricably linked. When the system was threatened, chaos reigned and Nina's life is changed forever.
As the story moves seamlessly from Boston to Moscow, there is an almost cinematic detail in the settings portrayed that is at once informative and entertaining. One can imagine the cold practice halls of the Bolshoi, the cramped living quarters of even the best of the artistic community, the constant fear and paranoia that was present at every encounter, the inability to know who could be trusted. This serves as a grim reminder that while art in all its forms should be a free flowing expression of self and a celebration and sharing of free ideas and ideals, it has not always been so. Thankfully, even in the midst of that cruel existence, Kalotay also observes and honors the enduring qualities of love and family and friendship, which can transcend the worst of circumstances.
Russian Winter is a story of vast proportion, not so much in its size, but in its scope. Kalotay is very much at home with both her Russian and her American characters and their locales. They are very real. The details of the story ring true, and indicate a wealth of background knowledge and study. Her prose, filled with anguish and passion and humor, is a delight to read. If this book is any indication of what might be forthcoming from this author, I am already looking forward to her next offering. ...more