Friday, October 14, 2016


"Our son will be your son now." 

The diminutive sentence above is the heart and soul of the haunting book LaRose by Louise Erdrich. It is an affecting story of loss, love and the lore of a whole culture of people in North Dakota.

I learned about Native American life in the book. The good and the bad. The old and the new. There were so many well drawn characters. Like the wise beyond his years LaRose. The 5 year old boy at the center of the story. But there are many namesake LaRose's hanging from the family tree like beautiful wind songs. We meet all of them in the book. The mystical backstory of the first LaRose, was my favorite part. 

The conflict occurs when Landreaux, LaRose's father, accidentally kills his neighbor's child while deer hunting. The lives of all of the central characters are subsequently torn apart.  Landreaux resorts to the old ways for guidance. He visits a sweat lodge and is compelled to give away his son, to make amends for the one he killed. 

I wish I would have purchased this book at our local Minneapolis book store, Birchbark Books, owned by the author. Because then I could have acquired a signed copy. It was so good.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner

There's a song of course...and the inference of moonshine running in the backwoods.  I thought perhaps this would be an account of such things in the Appalachians.  But, instead Stegner stayed with the west.  The first book I had read by him was Angle of Repose.  See that review HERE.  I was disappointed in the way that one had ended, but had otherwise loved the book.  I was ready for more, and was NOT disappointed.  Wallace Stegner is a master!  This time, instead of mainly California for a setting, the family he is writing about move from Minnesota into Canada and then to Utah, Nevada, and back to Utah.  The book chronicled the life of a single family and covers a lot of years, mainly over the Depression era.  It is a beautifully crafted book.  Below is my Goodreads review....

Wallace Stegner is an award-winning writer, and there is in his writing that special quality of knowing human beings, of telling their stories and digging deep into their inner beings in the process. He also has an amazing gift for detail and a wonderful way with words. This was a long book, but I have to say, I enjoyed every minute of The Big Rock Candy Mountain because each character became someone I knew intimately, and often grew to love deeply. The book is an American tragedy....but more than that, it is the tragedy of family relationships. No one can tell such a story better than Stegner. As Elsa and Bo fall in love and set their paths together despite problems that are evident from the beginning, their road in quest of that big rock candy mountain of song is filled with struggle and disappointment. Elsa asks for little, and Bo desires much...trying to fill a hole left in his heart from his childhood. And no one understands him better or loves him more than Elsa, even while their lives are all being torn apart, and filled with pain. What a meaningful tribute to human frailty! Great book!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

"Life Goes On"

I am from the South!! From Alabama, North Alabama to be exact. So, when I saw this book advertised and that was written by a gentleman from North Alabama, I had to read it.

Come to find out, Rick Watson (the author) is from the county I was born in and lived many, many years in. His articles appear presently in "The Daily Mountain Eagle", our local newspaper when we lived there.

The book is tales of the journey of the folks I am familiar with, the places I went to, the experiences I have had. It was like 'going back home' again.

Rick's newspaper articles are in several southern newspapers and now he has books. If you like just good ole life at it's best, then you'll thoroughly enjoy Rick's writing. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Two More For Fledgling America

During my recent early American history jag, I read two wonderful books that were both very interesting.  The first is about the spy ring set up by George Washington during the war:  George Washington's Secret Six by Brian Kilmeade.  It is an easy read, well-researched and fascinating!  There are so many interesting facts that lay unknown in our American history for many, many years.  Because the secret was so well kept, even the "players" in this fascinating drama were not even known until recent years (and the one female participant is still not definitive).  But without this brave group of people who believed in our Cause, the war for our independence would likely not have been won!

The second book is a wonderful biography our first First Lady!  Because Martha Washington destroyed all the correspondence between she and George when he died, there was little known about her for many years.  Yet, in Martha Washington: An American Life, by Patricia Brady, much that was buried in correspondence with other friends and family, and in other documents not well known, has emerged to tell the story of this remarkable woman.  Loved her!  Excellent book!

If you aren't used to reading history, give these a try...neither are very long, and both are awesome!

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Dead Lands

The Dead Lands is first and foremost, a re-imagining of the journey West by explorers Lewis and Clark. This time, in a post apocalyptic future, the expedition is led by Mina Clark and Lewis Meriwether. These characters didn't earn my love or reading devotion throughout the book. They seemed one dimensional, leaning on the harsh side. But since they were on a journey of survival, they were written in a singular way. The characters had little time for anything but staying alive. My favorite character was the psychopath Slade. He collected odds and ends from unlucky victims and adhered them to his mannequin collection. Delightfully wacky.

But it was an enjoyable and expansive story. Inventive, interesting and wildly creative. The book begins in the dusty, captive world of the Sanctuary.  Formally known as St. Louis. As the journey West unfolds, the reader flips back and forth between the struggle West and the trials of life in the militant Sanctuary.  If you think Trump would be a bad president, the character Thomas, Mayor of the Sanctuary, would be ten times worse! 

As an aspiring writer, I'll never forget the author's line, "...her teeth chattered a skeleton's song." That isn't an exact quote, since I couldn't find the passage. But the character was cold. And the sentence described it beautifully. 

This book isn't for everyone. I read it because I don't have a particular or preferred genre. I love them all. And Benjamin Percy is a Minnesota author endorsed by Stephen King. You can't beat that.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Honey in the Horn by H.L. Davis

Reminiscent of Mark Twain at times, and of Mari Sandoz...if you like that older style of writing, you will enjoy this delightful novel of a young man in early twentieth century Oregon.  It won the Harper Prize in 1935, and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1936.  Read my Goodreads review below:

Honey in the Horn by H.L. Davis was a delightful journey through an era and a geographical place that I will not easily forget. This classic has been reprinted at various times throughout the years and I happened to catch one of the new re-printings which acquainted me with a truly unique tale. Davis's prose reminds me of Mari Sandoz but maybe more so of Mark Twain. The book is filled with colorful characters and some chuckle-inspiring moments. You have the sense of sitting around a campfire one autumn night during your trek out west and hearing about all that happened to young Clay Calvert. It covers a complex string of events, and follows Clay across miles and miles of Oregon back country from the high desert plains to the ocean, as he finds work in at least a half dozen different occupations from the early 20th century, and meets probably one hundred interesting characters in the process. He is running from something, but also eventually finds he is running toward something even more. The book is rich with detail and leaves the reader with a sense of what life was like "way back then." Loved it!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Without Reservations and Packing Light

I seem to be in a 'traveling' mood with my reading lately. Perhaps I long for the days when traveling was easy and exciting for me and so I am living vicariously through the pages these authors put down of their own experiences. Whatever reason, I have two books to share with you today.

I read first 'Packing Light' but I want to start with the book that grabbed my heart. That was

 'Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman'. 

I love Europe and would love to go back and just wander to my heart's content and this book sated those yearnings I've had for so long and will never do in person. 

It's a true story, written by Alice Steinbach, a former newpaper reporter for the Baltimore Sun. When the book begins, Alice is a single mom, an empty nester, alone, stuck in a job where she realizes that to satisfy the demands of her career she has become the person everyone else expects her to be. That good mom, that reporter who meets deadlines regardless, the clock-puncher, the schedule-keeper. She doesn't like that person. It isn't her..

And, so she takes a years leave, packs her bags and flies to Paris. I loved her tales of wandering through the streets of Paris, soaking up the very existence and essence of the life there. I so wanted to be her! 

She travels to other counties, England, Italy... places where she has no agenda, just joy. The places she describes, the feeling she pens down, the friendships she made. It all sounds so wonderful. You just get caught up in every moment. I loved every single word. 

And, then there was the book I read before 'Without Reservations'.  It was:

     'Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life With Less Baggage'

It, too, is a true story. What's with me and true stories lately? I do love the real thing. Anyway, Allison Fallon is a school teacher, in her twenties. She's always had these dreams of the life she would have, a wonderful husband, kids, that perfect house, that perfect life. But, none of this is happening. It seems to me she is a bit impatient but who knows, she evidently didn't think so. 

When an acquaintance invites her to go on a trip to all fifty states she accepts. She quits her job, gets rid of a lot of her belongings, stores the rest, packs some bags and the two of them start on this journey. She is trying hard to 'find herself' but it isn't as easy as one might think. There are trials and tribulations along the way. She loses the guy she's left behind, the car breaks down, they run out of money. And, they are constantly trying to downsize what they have packed in the car. 

It teaches us that we have way 'too much baggage' in our life, real and imagined. And, it teaches us that we are stronger than we think we are. 

I had trouble with the book in places, just couldn't connect my thought process to what was happening but when I finished that last page, the one word that came out of my mouth was "WOW".