Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Book Tour - An Exact Replica...

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination

Author: Elizabeth McCracken
Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Excerpt
Once upon a time, before I knew anything about the subject, a woman told me that I should write a book about the lighter side of losing a child.

(This is not that book.)

I was giving a badly attended fiction reading at a public library in Florida. The woman wore enormous denim shorts, a plaid shirt, a black ponytail, and thumbprintblurred glasses; her husband's nervous smile showed off his sand- colored teeth. They latched on to me, the way the sad and aimless sometimes do: I haven't been a public librarian myself for more than ten years now, but I retain what I like to think of as an air of civic acceptance. When the reading was over and the rest of the audience had dispersed (if five people can be said to disperse) she gave her suggestion. She really did say it, in a voice that seemed as thumbworn as her glasses: "You should write a book about the lighter side of losing a child. You're very funny."

I couldn't imagine what she was getting at. A joke book for the bereaved? A comic strip guide to outliving your children?

For instance, she explained, her son was dead. Just recently she and Al—her husband, who smiled apologetically with those appalling choppers—had been on the beach, and Al had been eating a tuna sub, and a seagull came and stole part of the sandwich. And so she knew that the bird was the soul of her teenage son. Al nodded in agreement.

"And I laughed and laughed," the woman said flatly. I was sitting at a table, having signed three books, one for a cheerful old lady who'd called my short stories pointless during the Q & A. Al's wife had taken my place at the podium. She looked out at the empty chairs. "You should write a book with stories like that," she said. "It would be a big hit."

She was a childish, unnerving person. I imagined that she'd been trying people's patience for some time. At first they would have been sympathetic, but after her son had been dead for a while, they'd grow weary of her bringing him up as though the calamity had just happened. Wellmeaning friends would look uncomfortable at the very mention of his name. So she had to devise new and sneaky ways to work him into conversations with strangers, at book readings, at the grocery store, at train station information desks, to telemarketers. You have to move on, beigetoothed Al might have said, you can't mourn forever. Then she could say, See? I'm not mourning: I'm laughing. I'm looking on the lighter side.

And now she wanted an instruction book.

It seemed like the saddest thing I'd ever heard, back before I knew how sad things could get.

A child dies in this book: a baby. A baby is stillborn. You don't have to tell me how sad that is: it happened to me and my husband, our baby, a son.

Still, I'm coming around to understanding what that woman in Florida wanted.

A baby is born in this book, too. That is to say, a healthy baby, our second child. The first child died on April 27, 2006, in France. The second baby — a biological fact lying across my lap asleep at this very moment as I type onehanded — was born one year and five days later in Saratoga Springs, New York. Not a miracle, I insist on it. Isn't that the headline in women's magazines, about stories like ours? "Our Miracle Baby"? I wouldn't have used the word miracle even before fate and biology and the law of averages kicked us in the teeth, back when I believed in luck, when I was a wisher on stars and white horses and pennies dropped in fountains. Those were the pastimes of my first pregnancy. This dozing infant is no miracle, though more than we had the nerve to hope for, a nice everyday baby, snoring now, the best possible thing: dreamt of, fretted over, even prayed for. A ginger- haired baby who conducts symphonies while sleeping, sighing at the dream music. (Those hands! They underscore closing arguments in dream- baby court; they hail dream- baby taxis.) We ourselves didn't pray (our religion is worry; we performed decades of it), but some of our friends did, and the mothers of friends, and nuns on two continents, our nuns-in-law. Such a beautiful, funnylooking, monkeyish, longed-for baby, exactly who we wanted to meet.

Every day as I love this baby in my lap, I think of my other baby. Poor older brother, poor missing one. I see the infant before me, the glory of the soles of the feet, the lips fattened and glossy with nursing, the nose whose future Edward and I try to predict daily. The love for the first magnifies the love for the second, and vice versa.

Now what I think that woman in Florida meant is: lighter things will happen to you, birds will steal your husband's sandwich on the beach, and your child will still be dead, and your husband's shock will still be funny, and you will spend your life trying to resolve this.

As for me, I believe that if there's a God — and I am as neutral on the subject as is possible — then the most basic proof of His existence is black humor. What else explains it, that odd, reliable comfort that billows up at the worst moments, like a beautiful sunset woven out of the smoke over a bombed city.

For instance: in the hospital in Bordeaux one of the midwives looked at us and asked a question in French. Most of the calamity (that word again; I can't come up with a better one) happened in French, which both Edward and I spoke only passably. Used to. My ability to speak French is gone, removed by the blunt-force trauma of those days. I've retained only occasional drifting words. Mostly I have to look things up. The French word for "midwife" is sage- femme, wise woman, I remember that. This particular wise woman was a teenager, checking items off a list. The room was like a hospital room anywhere, on a ward for the reproductively luckless, far away from babies and their exhausted mothers. Did we want to speak to —

"Excusez-moi?" Edward said, and cocked an ear.

"Une femme religieuse," the midwife clarified. A religious woman. Ah.

Here's what she said:

Voulez- vous parler à une nonne?

Which means, Would you like to speak to a nun? More nuns: of course in Catholic France, it was assumed that we were Catholic.

But Edward heard:
Voulez-vous parler à un nain?

Which means, Would you like to speak to a dwarf?

When he told this to his friend Claudia, she said, "My God! You must have thought, That's the last thing I need!"

"No," Edward told her. "I thought I'd really like to speak to a dwarf about then. I thought it might cheer me up."

We theorized that every French hospital kept a supply of dwarfs in the basement for the worst-off patients and their families. Or maybe it was just a Bordelaise tradition: the dwarfs of grief. We could see them in their apologetic smallness, shifting from foot to foot.

In the days afterward, I told this story to friends over the phone. We were still in Bordeaux. The hospital had wanted to keep me, but Edward explained that we would check into a nearby hotel — we lived an hour away in an old farmhouse — and come back for the follow- up examination. It will be better for our morale, he said in French, and the doctor nodded. Our terrible news had been relayed by my friends Wendy and Ann to the rest of my friends in America, and now I phoned to say — to say what, I wasn't sure, but I didn't want to disappear into France and grief. I called on our cell phone from our hotel room or from sidewalk cafés in the woundingly lovely French spring. Everything hurt. We ordered carafe after carafe of rosé, and I told my friends about the Dwarfs of Grief, and I listened to their loud, shocked, relieved laughter. I felt a strange responsibility to sound as though I were not going mad with sorrow. Maybe I managed it. At that moment I felt so ruined by life that I couldn't imagine it ever getting worse, which just shows that my sense of humor was slightly more durable than my imagination.

Edward and I made a lot of plans that week; we thought all sorts of things were possible. For instance, we decided as we wept that we would go somewhere we'd never been as soon as we could. We were leaving France anyhow: we'd been there for a year and a half, and I'd landed a teaching job in the United States in the fall. Edward would look after the baby while I was at school. Our plan had been to go straight to the States, to Saratoga Springs, to settle in before my job started in September. Instead, we decided to pack the house and just —go. Barcelona, maybe. We pictured ourselves walking beneath a hot, unfamiliar sun, somewhere where the drinks were plentiful and not made in France. We believed that a short while devoted to oblivion and beauty would make us feel better. We thought that we could feel better. Soon enough the notion seemed ludicrous, and we forgot about our Spanish plans. Instead we spent the summer in En gland, on the North Norfolk coast, looking at the North Sea and hoping that Edward's U.S. immigration application would be straightened out by fall.

Maybe Spain was just like my early jokes: I wanted to say something to my friends and family that wasn't Our child died and our life is over.

Anyhow, for a few days we were stuck in Bordeaux, killing time until my follow-up appointment. I didn't want to eat, we couldn't drink forever, the hotel room was claustrophobic. Our second morning, we decided to walk through a flea market in a nearby park just to look at something different. All spring we'd gone to French flea markets, driving hours to look at piles of junk, or preposterously priced Louis XVI armoires, or glorious 1930s French bookends. Over the months we'd bought a handsome old clock and a sign advertising oysters, a pair of vases made of WWII artillery shells and a lampshade hand- painted with sea serpents of the here-be-dragons variety. We'd even been to this very flea market the week before, after an appointment with an anesthesiologist.

(He wanted to look at my back to see if I was a good candidate for an epidural, should I need one; he'd said in En glish, while thumbing my spine, "You see, I may come across your back in the middle of the night. You say you aren't going to show up in the middle of the night, but somehow you always do. Three, four in the morning, there you are. Always I see you in the middle of the night."

"I'll try my best to avoid it," I said. I planned on avoiding an epidural altogether.

He said, gravely, "Even so.")

At the Bordeaux flea market a week later we started down the aisles between vendor tents. Every step I took made me sick. All those flea markets we'd gone to were just a form of daydreaming: we were buying objects for some future house we'd live in with the nice baby we were going to have. The glass light-up globe would go on his bookshelf. The low chair upholstered in old carpet would be perfect for nursing. In the spring we would flea-market as a family, the baby in his sling cuddled up while I leaned over one of those flat cases filled with metal whatnots, jewelry, cutlery, old coins, one hand on his head to protect him, the other pointing, as I said, "Excusez- moi, madame . . ."

You see, I'd thought he was a sure thing.

Now we passed uncomfortable-looking striped sofas, beat-up leather club chairs, birdcages, chipped teacups, immaculate teacups, the heirless heirlooms of anonymous French people: a kind of fossil record. Vendors with their lunches of wine and bread and oysters balanced plates on their knees. We waded in farther, and I started to gasp.

"We're going," said Edward, taking my weight against him, leading me out. "We're going, we're going. We're going, sweetheart, this way."

If he hadn't been next to me, I think I would have fallen to the ground and stayed there.

And that, soon enough, was how I felt all of the time.

Where are they when we need them, the Dwarfs of Grief, we sometimes said to each other, when things were really bad.

————

Copyright © 2008 by Elizabeth McCracken
This article is used with the permission of Hachette Book Group and Elizabeth McCracken. All rights reserved.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Innovative Monday - Edition Thirteen

Almost forgot it was a Monday today!

For today's innovative book shelf or book storage solution, I bring to you the FLYBRARY BOOKSHELF!


Designed by Satina Turner, this is a Powder-coated metal wall mounted bookshelf. Books hang on metal strips to create the surface of the shelf.

This might actually work - to a certain extent. Plus point is that you can easily hang the book on the page you were reading - instant bookmark!

Of course, this bookshelf is more for decoration than serious storage. Otherwise my entire living room would be covered in these. There's also the fact that you can't see the book spines unless you're standing near, looking down on the books. That's a no-no as far as I'm concerned.

What say you?
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Review - The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks

The Lucky One
Author: Nicholas Sparks
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (September 30, 2008)

Synopsis

Logan Thibault has been walking a long way from Colorado with no one for company but his faithful German Shepherd. His destination - a vague location based on a photograph he found while serving in Iraq. A photograph that's proved to be a lucky talisman and kept him alive through many dangerous encounters. The photograph of a lovely young woman.

Why he's compelled to find her, even Logan doesn't know. But find her he must. What happens if or when he does makes for an interesting and romantic story.

Review

Nicholas Sparks is a very well known author, with a penchant for writing beautiful romantic stories. This one is no exception. While I didn't find it very powerful or unforgettable, it's still interesting to read how fate conspires to bring two very different people together.

There is a bit of the "love at first sight" kind of thing going on that I'm generally skeptical of. It then takes an upturn and the major part of the story is devoted to developing this romance (this is an enjoyable tender phase), with some hiccups along the way thanks to an obsessive ex.

Cons

I'd have liked it much more if not for these things.

One, it was overall very very predictable. Two, the extremely dramatic and over-the-top ending left me feeling that Sparks was writing this book more from a Hollywood point of view than that of reality. Three, the characters are just too cliched. The beautiful single Mom. The handsome, chivalrous ex-solider. The feisty grandmother. The villainous ex. The precocious young child. They're just too perfect in their own ways to be real.


In Short

I must say that despite its flaws, this book made for some pleasant reading. So don't pick it up expecting something earth-shaking (unless you're a Sparks fan, in which case my words won't matter to you). But if you pick it up looking for a light read with a dash of mystery, a splash of action and some tender romance, then you're in for a treat. I wouldn't classify this book as a tear-jerker, but emotional readers might want to keep a tissue or two handy.

Buy the Book - here.
Visit the Author's site - here.
Visit the Publisher - here.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Marie Force Giveaway Winner

Thanks to all those who participated in Author Marie Force's surprise book giveaway.

The lucky winner is RAMYA who said "i thought books and sports didn't go together.. and then, i changed my mind when i read Rebound rules by college basketball coach, Rick Pitino..."

Congratulations! I've emailed you for your details, Ramya. Please reply within specified time to claim your prize.

DISCLAIMER
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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Review - South of Hell

South of Hell
Author: P.J. Parrish
Mass Market Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Pocket Star

Synopsis

With one phone call from a man he barely recalls meeting years ago, South Florida detective Louis Kincaid heads to the Michigan town of his college days to reopen a disturbing cold case -- and finds himself confronting his own painful past secrets...secrets that risk his future with the woman he loves, detective Joe Frye.

Ann Arbor police detective Jake Shockey wants Kincaid's help in the case of Jean Brandt, who went missing nine years ago -- and whose husband, Owen, has since been paroled. Now, Owen Brandt's girlfriend appears to be at risk, and Shockey is desperate to get involved. Kincaid soon unearths the deeply personal reasons why...and with Joe Frye assisting, Kincaid links yesterday's jealousies with today's potentially lethal vengeance. It's only a matter of time before one will win out over the other -- and before Kincaid's own shattering revelations will be forced out into the light of day.

Review

There are times I across a series that's highly popular, but which due to fate, I've never ever read. Parrish's Louis Kincaid Mysteries is one such series. In such cases, I generally prefer to read the series in order from the beginning, as otherwise I'm always left feeling like the person who arrives at the theater well after the movie has begun - unable to catch-on, so to speak.

The only reason I read this one is undoubtedly because of the title. Plus the opening chapter left me with goose-bumps and at point I even wondered if this was going to turn into a Stephen King novel. It doesn't, but it's scary as Hell, nonetheless.

Although the main characters were new to me, the writing left me feeling as though I've known them a long time. Their inter-relationships, the complications, past histories, even hints of previous cases - they're casually strewn across the narrative and reveal much without ever becoming cumbersome. All characters are refreshingly flawed, particularly the main character, PI Louis Kincaid. And it feels good to see the honesty that overall underlines the relationships, including two... rather three new characters who are pivotal to this particular story.

This is not a murder mystery as such, but it's intriguing to see how it all unfolds, the characters themselves being a big part of the suspense. The violence is shocking at times and readers should know that abuse is a big part of this story. The sisterly duo who write under the pseudonym of Parrish, are par masters at atmospheric writing, their descriptions are chilling and most effective.

In Short

I was a bit disappointed as the mystery is really a no-show from the first. But the writing and the characters more than made up for it.

Buy the Book - here.
Visit the Author's site - here.
Visit the Publisher - here.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Ruby in the Smoke

The Ruby in the Smoke
Author: Philip Pullman
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (September 9, 2008)

Synopsis

"Her name was Sally Lockhart; and within fifteen minutes, she was going to kill a man." Philip Pullman begins his Sally Lockhart trilogy with a bang in The Ruby in the Smoke--a fast-paced, finely crafted thriller set in a rogue- and scalawag-ridden Victorian London. His 16-year-old heroine has no time for the usual trials of adolescence: her father has been murdered, and she needs to find out how and why. But everywhere she turns, she encounters new scoundrels and secrets. Why do the mere words "seven blessings" cause one man to keel over and die at their utterance? Who has possession of the rare, stolen ruby? And what does the opium trade have to do with it?

As our determined and intelligent sleuth sets her mind to unraveling these dark mysteries, she learns how embroiled she is in the whole affair. As riveting and witty as the sensational "penny dreadfuls" of Victorian England (but thousands of times better written), Pullman's trilogy (including The Shadow in the North and The Tiger in the Well) will have readers on the edges of their seats. Ruby is an ALA Best Book for Young Adults. (Ages 12 and older)

Review

Let me begin by saying that I have not read this book. Shocking - I know!

I'll fully establish by "nerdiness" by admitting that I saw the televised BBC version of this book on Masterpiece Mysteries this weekend on PBS - Sally Lockhart Mysteries - Ruby In the Smoke

There are very few translations from book to movie/TV that I like (the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice starring Firth and Ehle being my absolute fave - ever! The others, not so much). Perhaps once I've read the original Pullman book (I'm looking forward to reading the entire series!), I may not find this BBC adaptation as likable. But, until that time, allow me to rave about it.

I just loved it! It's one of those by-gone era kind of mysteries involving a fabulous but deadly ruby, opium trade, mysterious pasts and most importantly, a gorgeous, young and intrepid amateur sleuth in the form of Sally Lockhart. It kind of reminded me of the over-the-top mysteries and dazzlingly daring adventures of the kind I devoured growing up. I loved those and until I saw this adaptation, I had forgotten quite how much I liked them and that I still do!

Initially I didn't quite like the actress playing Sally's role, but she grew on me and by the end I was rooting for her and her spunkiness. But it's the female villain - mean old Mrs. Holland - that I liked the best. Portrayed excellently by Julie Walters (the same lady who plays Mrs.Weasley in the Harry Potter movies), the character becomes a memorable one. The way she plays with her false teeth is just plain terrifying, and the swift deadliness lurking just beneath her sweet, gentle-old exterior is a contrast that works to great effect. Other characters have played their roles well.

Thanks to my son waking up with a nightmare just as it was all winding up meant that I had to miss some crucial revelations, but this Wikipedia entry helped fill in the blanks. And it also showed how the screen adaptation is overall faithful to the story, barring a few instances. (I do wonder if Adelaide will ever be found.)

I look forward to seeing the next adaptation in this Sally Lockhart series - The Shadow in the North which, I believe, will be airing next weekend.

Extra

The Sally Lockhart Quartet comprises of:

   1. The Ruby in the Smoke
   2. The Shadow in the North
   3. The Tiger in the Well
   4. The Tin Princess

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Innovative Monday - Edition Twelve

Playtime or just challenging book storage solution - you decide! Check out the

SEE-SAW BOOKSHELF 


This quirky bookshelf challenges a book lover to organize books on both ends evenly. And I'm thinking that's not an easy task. And what if you have to take a book out - what then?

Unique - yes. But what do you think? Would you want this in your home?

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Blog Tour - If God Disappears

If God Disappears
Author: David Sanford
Hardcover: 176 pages
Publisher: Tyndale
Synopsis

Does it seem as if God turned out the lights and slipped away?

God often seems absent when we need him most. Some people respond to this by seeking him even more wholeheartedly. Others feel shunned and abandoned, and slowly drift away from their faith. Why do some individuals emerge from such crises with their faith seemingly intact while others all but give up on God, the church, and spiritual life? How can we walk through troubling, even devastating times without shipwrecking our trust in God?

If God Disappears comes alongside those who are already spiritually drifting—or are on the verge—and compassionately empowers them to re-embrace their faith. Author David Sanford explores a series of nine "faith wreckers" and nine sometimes counterintuitive "faith builders" to help us better understand which circumstances and attitudes undermine our faith and which ones draw us closer to God. You may feel that it's impossible to come back to God. You may fear God wouldn't take you back anyway. But even if it feels like God has disappeared . . . it's never too late.

Thanks to Tyndale, I have an excerpt here for your reading pleasure.

INTRODUCTION

Sometimes it takes the experience of losing someone to shake us out of complacency. I lost someone when I was eleven. My dad and mom and brother and two sisters and I were near Snoqualmie Pass, about fifty miles east of Seattle.

Waiting in line near the top of the mountain slope was a girl about my age with a new, red snow saucer. Compared to my black, smelly inner tube, it was high tech. I’d never seen anyone fly so fast down the mountain before. I continued to watch the girl as I made my own way down at less than breakneck speed. Most kids stopped shortly after the slope flattened out. But this girl just kept going and going. And then she disappeared. I swung around quickly to my left, to my right. Everyone around me was getting up and trudging back up the hill. But I didn’t see the girl. She had been right in front of me. And then she was gone.

No one believed me.

I insisted I had seen her disappear. “We can’t just walk away. Come back. Help me look for her.”

Still no one believed. Except me.

The snow was wet and heavy that day. Off the beaten track, I soon found my boots sinking deeper and deeper into the snowpack. It took a full minute to cover ten yards. But I would not stop. Looking carefully, I could see the slight depression where the girl’s red saucer had flown across the surface of the snow. Scattered alpine trees stuck out of the snow just ahead of me. I looked back and realized I was well off the beaten track. But I knew I had seen the girl go this far.

My heart stopped when I found the dark hole. There, in front of me, the saucer’s track stopped. I lay on the snow with my head sticking out over the hole. The second I heard her crying, I started yelling. “Are you all right? Don’t worry. I’ll get help. I promise—I’ll be back right away.”

I didn’t have time to go all the way back up the slope to my parents, so I accosted the first adult I found and breathlessly told him my story. He started yelling, and other adults came running. Someone called up the slope, and within minutes someone else was running toward us with a rope. I led everyone along the path I had taken earlier. It took a while, but eventually a very wet and cold girl was fished out of the creek fourteen feet below the snowpack. She was reunited with her father, and all was well again.

For a long time afterward I pondered what would have happened if I had been the one riding the red saucer. I also wondered why it was so hard to get anyone to believe me.

The fact is, sometimes the bottom does fall out from under us, God seems to disappear, and it’s almost impossible to get anyone to believe us.

I believe you.


EVERYONE HAS A STORY

What’s yours? Have you ever reached a point in your life where God seemed to disappear? Have you ever felt as if things couldn’t get any worse? As if someone has turned out the lights and God just slipped away?

Martin Luther called this Anfechtung. Saint John of the Cross called it the “dark night of the soul.” Only it doesn’t usually last a night. It can last for days. Weeks. Months. Even longer. And when God steps back into the picture, it often feels too late.

Throughout literature, music, and movies, we see the themes of God’s (or gods’) abandonment, the hero(ine)’s resultant agnosticism, and the immense struggles that ensue. In real life, there’s not always a happy ending.




LONG GONE

Remember Superman Returns? By the time our messiah-like super-hero shows up, five years after disappearing unexpectedly, LoisLane has won a Pulitzer for her op-ed piece, “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman.” Just when Lois thinks she’s completely processed her pain and suffering, she faces a second crisis: Can she make room in her life for Superman again?

Like the shaken believer who feels that God walked away without even waving good-bye, Lois has to decide: Does she even want him back?

We all need to answer that question at some point. Do I want God back?

This is the central question to those who feel God has walked out on them. Everyone has faced—or will face—such crises of faith. For some reason beyond our human understanding, such crises are part of everyone’s spiritual journey.

Of course, Superman did return to Lois. But for Christians, sometimes it seems impossible to wait when we have no idea whether or not God is ever coming back. In the darkest times—the death of a close friend or loved one, a horrible accident, acts of terrorism and war, natural disasters, and other tragedies—he seems infinitely far away.

When I was nineteen, a close family friend, Darrell, fell victim to intense headaches. A CAT scan technician first spotted the problem: a massive tumor. Brain surgery followed. Darrell was practically my adopted brother, so I visited him every day. The first day he looked pretty roughed up, but the nurses said he was doing fine. As is customary after such surgeries, they were checking on him every thirty minutes, which was reassuring. The second day Darrell looked about the same. The third day his bed was empty. His mother stood in the corner of the room, weeping. Two hours earlier, the nurse on duty had been in to check on Darrell, only to discover he had stopped breathing. The hospital staff rushed to revive him, and now was desperately fighting for his life.

Darrell’s mother looked up as I entered the room. Seven years earlier, her first husband and oldest son had died in a tragic boating accident. She then married Darrell’s stepfather, but two years later, he had a fatal heart attack. Now this. She looked down to her right. I’m not even sure she was talking to me. If she was, she certainly wasn’t expecting me to say anything in reply. In her anger she demanded, “Doesn’t God know I’ve suffered enough?”

She was absolutely exhausted. The attending physician came into the room and said there was nothing more they could do. Still in shock, Darrell’s mother left. “Darrell’s situation is serious,” the doctor told me. “It appears he stopped breathing for fifteen, maybe twenty, minutes. We can’t pick up any brain waves. But I don’t want to unplug him until we’ve tried everything we can. Would you sit with Darrell and talk with him? If you get him to respond in any way—a word, a motion, a blink—we’ll keep him alive.” The doctor took me to Darrell’s room in ICU. For three days, I stayed with Darrell. I talked with him. I stroked his hand. I pleaded with him to let me know he was still there. I desperately looked for any sign of life. Nothing.

After three days, they turned off life support. I never realized how powerless I was until that experience. Not only was I unable to save my friend, but I also had nothing to say to his mother in her moment of deepest grief.

Where was God? Where was anyone when Darrell’s mom and I felt overwhelmed with such intense feelings of loss and grief? Who could blame her or me for feeling abandoned?

In the face of unspeakable suffering and pain, why would anyone still believe in God? When asked what they would like to ask God if given the opportunity, 44 percent of Americans said they want to know why there is evil or suffering in this world.

--- End of Excerpt ---

Buy the Book - here.
Visit the Author's Site - here.
Visit the Author's Blog - here.
Visit the Publisher - here.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Review - The Dangerous Days of Daniel X

The Dangerous Days of Daniel X
Author: James Patterson, Michael Ledwidge
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Synopsis

The greatest superpower of all isn’t to be part spider, part man, or to cast magic spells–the greatest power is the power to create.

Daniel X has that power.

Daniel’s secret abilities — like being able to manipulate objects and animals with his mind or to recreate himself in any shape he chooses — have helped him survive. But Daniel doesn’t have a normal life. He is the protector of the earth, the Alien Hunter, with a mission beyond what anyone’s imagining.

From the day that his parents were brutally murdered before of his very eyes, Daniel has used his unique gifts to hunt down their assassin. Finally, with the help of The List, bequeathed to him in his parents’ dying breath, he is closing in on the killer. Now, on his own, he vows to take on his father’s mission – and to take vengeance in the process.

Review

While reading this book, I couldn't help but be reminded of two other famous series: X-Men and Harry Potter (with a bit of Men in Black thrown in action-wise). Like them, Daniel too has supernatural powers. There's even a similarity in the names, if you notice. And like Harry Potter, Daniel too is an orphan and he's on a quest to destroy his parents' killer. But that's where the similarity ends.

Aimed at younger readers, this book is a quick read, with fast-paced action, some light romance and fantastical elements mixed in. Although Daniel is a 15 year old teen, his thoughts and actions often read like that of someone much younger. Perhaps this could be attributed to him growing up without any adult guidance (which in itself is cause for disbelief). But the end result is that the book may impress a younger audience rather than today's teens who're used to more maturity and depth in their books.

Patterson is an author I've long liked, despite the fact that I've noticed a deterioration in his writing recently. I had heard a lot about this book and the hype had me expecting something quite wonderful. I was disappointed, to tell the truth. Very frequently while reading this book, I was forced to remind myself that this book was not written for adults and this in turn had me thinking that I had never felt this way while reading Harry Potter. As is typical of Patterson's novels, the chapters are absurdly small. But it doesn't glaringly distract in this 272 page YA book as it often does in his longer novels. Still, the over-the-top plotting, the theatrical shenanigans and the general air of immature gleefulness without depth or substance to balance it out does not make me recommend this book to any but a reading audience of 8 to 11 year olds. In turn, this reading audience may fail to grasp some of the references and terms used in the course of this novel that are directed towards a more mature reader.

In Short

The book is the first in a series and younger readers will probably look forward to reading more Daniel's action-oriented and fantasy-filled hijinks. Unlike Harry Potter, adults (and teens) are sure to find this book a fluffy read that's too simplistic at times for any lasting enjoyment.

Acknowledgement
This book was received for review via Mother Talk (now part of Mom Central).


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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Author Guest Post - Marie Force (and a surprise Giveaway!)

I'm delighted to present author Marie Force as today's guest blogger.

Marie Force has been an editor and writer for more than 20 years.

Line of Scrimmage” is her first novel. Her second book, “Same Time Sunday”, a spring 2009 release, is the story of a Baltimore prosecutor set to begin the murder trial of his career and a hairstylist with a dysfunctional family who meet in the airport on their way to visit their significant others. After they each endure a disastrous weekend, they meet up again on the flight home, striking up an unlikely friendship that leads to love.

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Football Wins Me Over
By: Marie Force

As I write this, all of New England is holding its breath as we wait to hear if the news trickling out of Foxboro, Massachusetts is true—New England Patriots’ Quarterback Tom Brady has suffered a season-ending knee injury. If the thought of it is enough to make me sick, my brother will need to be sedated until early February. It’s so unfair that this happened in the first quarter of the first game of my second season as an official football fan.

Yes, you read that right. My second season. I’m new to football. That’s been my dirty little secret as I promote “Line of Scrimmage.” I shouldn’t be surprised because this sort of thing has been a pattern in my life. I fooled around with my friend Dawn and passed notes in high school Spanish class and then ended up living for three years in... You guessed it! Spain! I mocked and disdained football to anyone who would listen and then wrote a book about a football player that became my debut novel. Are you seeing a pattern here? Clearly, I need to stop passing notes and talking trash because fate has her eye on me!

So how can someone who wasn’t a fan of the game write a book that features a football player hero? Well, it went something like this: the Muse brought me Ryan Sanderson—every inch the NFL quarterback—and he refused to be remade into a baseball player, which would’ve been a lot easier for me as a lifelong baseball fan. Ryan taught me that sometimes the characters really are in charge. Once I realized he was going to force me to confront my indifference to football, I started watching games and asking questions during the 2006 season. But I wasn’t a true fan until the 2007 season, when my local team went on a 16-straight-game winning tear that caught the attention of even the most hardened anti-football person: me.

I’ll admit it. I was sucked in. I watched just about every minute of that historic run, and as the weeks unfolded, I became a full-fledged fan. Much of my interest focused on the Pat’s charismatic, dimple-chinned quarterback—a phenomenon by anyone’s standards, and if you’ve seen his ad for Stetson, well, let’s just say yum. I’ll also confess that Tom Brady and his historic tenure with the Pats lent some inspiration to Ryan’s character. Their careers share some parallels: three Super Bowl victories in five years, a smart, savvy approach to the game, awe-inspiring talent, and legions of female fans. Off the field, however, the two men have little in common. A good old boy from Texas, Ryan married his college girlfriend just two weeks after he graduated from the University of Florida. California-born Tom has had well publicized romances with an actress who bore him a son after they broke up and a supermodel known for her work with Victoria’s Secret.

In the opening chapter of “Line of Scrimmage,” we learn Ryan has been badly injured in the Super Bowl. Prior to that, his worst injury was a torn ACL in his knee. I’m swallowing a huge lump in my throat because reports are circulating that Tom suffered the same injury today. While New England hopes for the best and fears the worst, my friend Julie pointed out that if Tom is out for the season he might have time to read a new book about an NFL quarterback who mounts the Hail Mary play of a lifetime to stop a divorce he never wanted. I wish Tom a speedy recovery—for his sake, his team’s sake, and my brother’s sake. He has a business to run and can’t be sedated until February.

What do you think of sports heroes? Do you try to figure out who they’re based on? If you’ve already read “Line of Scrimmage,” did you see Tom in Ryan? I’ll offer a signed copy of “Line of Scrimmage” to one lucky commenter, so tell me what you think!

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I'll let this giveaway run for the usual 2 week-period. So you have until midnight CST of September 25th to enter this giveaway as Marie specifies above.

One comment per person. US & Canada only.

Good luck!

Buy the Book - here.
Visit the Author's site - here.
Visit the Publisher - here.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Book Excerpt - The Triumph of Deborah

The Triumph of Deborah
Author: Eva Etzioni-Halevy
Publisher: Plume
Recently published by Plume/Penguin, this book brings to life the riveting tale of one of the most beloved Biblical figures: the revered leader, judge and prophetess Deborah.

In ancient Israel, war is looming. Deborah has coerced warrior Barak into launching a strike against the neighboring Canaanites, who threaten their people with destruction. Against all odds he succeeds, returning triumphantly with two daughters of the Canaanite King as his captives. But military victory is only the beginning of the turmoil, as a complex love triangle develops between Barak and the two princesses.

Deborah, recently cast off by her husband, becomes part of the turmoil. Yet she struggles to rebuild her existence on her own terms, while also groping her way toward the greatest triumph of her life: the attainment of peace.

Based on the book of JUDGES, and filled with brilliantly vivid historical detail, the novel pays tribute to Deborah's feminine strength and independence from which present day women may derive inspiration to reach their potential. The lesson that women today can learn from Deborah is: I can do it. No matter how difficult and limiting the circumstances, I can overcome them.

CHAPTER ONE

Two women were standing on high places, shielding their eyes from the blazing sun with their hands, peering into the distance in search of messengers from the battlefield. Each knew that her life depended on the outcome of the battle; but their lives depended on opposite results.

* * *

On the rooftop of the royal castle in Hazor, in the north of the land of Canaan, stood the youngest daughter of King Jabin, the mightiest of all the kings of Canaan. Asherah, an arrestingly beautiful young woman seventeen years of age, had long straight hair the color of ripe wheat. Her large eyes, slightly tilted at the corners, were a blue-green color and endowed with the sparkle of precious stones. The skin of her face and body was the shade of pure white milk, with pink roses of Sharon gracing her cheeks.

She had inherited these features from her father, whose mother had been brought by his own father, the previous king, from the Land of the Hittites. In this land, far to the north and west of Canaan, people’s skin was as white as the snow that covered the face of the earth in the winter, and their eyes were almost as light. Because of Asherah’s rare colors, her delicate small nose and her finely chiseled mouth, she was renowned for her beauty in her father’s kingdom.

The princess was the new wife of the chief commander of the army, Sisra. Their marriage had barely been consummated when he had been compelled to interrupt their brief spell of love and passion and lead her father’s army into war against the Israelites.

Now, four days later, she was anxiously awaiting news of him. Yesterday a torrential rain had battered the castle, but now the sky had cleared. She stood with her windblown hair swirling about her like a cloud, braving the relentless autumn sun that was scorching her light skin.

The imposing structure on whose rooftop she stood was built on a high hill. From this lofty vantage point she had a clear view of the rolling hills beyond, carpeted with lush green meadows, and of the plain below dotted by cultivated fields, vineyards and fruit trees. Among those, she saw several men on horseback riding towards her. Her eyes were moist with the strain of her effort to ascertain whether these riders, still at a fair distance from the castle, were those she had been waiting for. Her heart was thudding as wildly as the approaching horses’ hoof beats, in anticipation and fear.

Before climbing up onto the rooftop she had bowed down to the goddess Asherah, the goddess of passion and fertility, for whom she had been named. Her mother, the queen, had called her by that name, because even as a newborn infant she had been as fair as a goddess. She had always felt close to the deity whose name she bore, and kept a beautifully crafted golden statue of her on a sideboard in her room. Weeping in agitation before this image, she had prayed that Asherah would send her beloved husband back safely to her arms, and save her family from destruction.

Yet the prayer had not laid to rest her fear of defeat, which could spell death not only for Sisra, but for herself and her family. For if the Canaanite army had been destroyed, and was no longer able to protect them the Israelites would soon conquer the town of Hazor and overrun the castle. It was well known that they were a brutal, murderous lot. They would show no mercy toward their enemies, not even toward women, no matter how delicately nurtured they were. If they came charging in, her fate would be sealed. It would be death by the sword; or even worse: rape, capture and slavery.

* * *

Some way to the south, on the top of Mount Tabor in the heart of the land of Israel, another woman stood: the Israelite prophetess and judge, Deborah. Unlike the Canaanite king’s daughter, she was not a young bride, but a mature thirty-five-year-old woman. One who had been married to her husband, Lapidoth, for sixteen years before, disregarding their many years of happiness together, he had sent her away.

Unlike Asherah, she was not beautiful, but overpoweringly magnificent: unusually tall, her face expressive, her body voluptuous, her raven-black eyes compelling. Her hair burst forth from her head in riotous black curls, with just a hint of reddish highlights in them. Because her curls were wild and easily tangled, she wore her hair shorter than Asherah. Yet, at this moment, there were marked similarities between her and the Canaanite beauty. Deborah’s hair, too, was blown by the wind, and her eyes were strained from staring into the distance.

From the crest of the mountain, which rose in solitary splendor in the Valley of Jezreel, she had a commanding view of the vale below, laid out at her feet like a richly patterned rug. She spotted neatly tended fields, on which the wheat had been sown already. Orchards of plentiful olive trees spread to the distant hills beyond, on whose gentle green slopes woolly fleeced sheep and goats grazed contentedly, and their occasional bleating could be heard at a distance. Like Asherah, Deborah was wondering whether the men she saw riding toward her were the bearers of tidings from the battlefield.

Deborah, too, was torn between hope and fear. She had long been blessed with an unfathomable closeness to the Lord, the God of Israel.  She had never been privy to visions of herself bowing before his golden throne amidst angels and stars. Nonetheless, at times she had felt her soul soar high to touch his infinity. But during the last few days she had sensed that his very holiness had put him out of reach of her prayers, and that the gates of heaven had been shut to it. Although she would never have admitted this to anyone, her heart, too, was pounding at a mad pace in a hell of uncertainty.

She was the one who had dispatched the Israelite sword bearers to war against King Jabin’s army. She was responsible for the lives of the young men she had sent out, and for the life of the young commander Barak, who was leading them at her behest.


An Israelite defeat would spell death for them and for her. Leaving their chariots at the foot of the mountain, the enemy’s soldiers would soon overrun her hastily pitched tent at its summit. Their commander, Sisra, who had seen her before and hated her on sight, would easily recognize her. She expected no mercy at his hands. She could flee, but it would be dishonorable for her to abandon her warriors. She would remain where she was to meet her fate. After that, Sisra would follow up his feat by devastating the entire land of Israel and destroying its people, and so also her own sons and family.

As she faced this harrowing possibility, Deborah tried to banish her doubts about sending Barak to confront the Canaanites. She had not done so lightly; she had been convinced that there was no other choice.

The people of Israel had been facing increasing hardship at the hand of Jabin and Sisra. Their soldiers raided peaceful Israelite villages. They killed men and children and captured other men and women, and turned them into slaves for themselves and the priests and noblemen of Canaan. They plundered the farmers’ flocks and cattle and the produce that was stocked up in their storerooms, and burned down their houses and fields.

This persecution had been going on unceasingly for twenty years, worsening by the day. Over time, matters had become so dire that most people were afraid to travel on the roads or live in the countryside, or in villages. Many deserted their properties and farms to seek protection in fortified towns, surrounded by walls. These were often far removed from their fields, so that they were cut off from their sources of livelihood and suffered the pangs of hunger. But at least they could sleep peacefully, without fear of being slaughtered in their sleep.

During this time, Deborah had become renowned for her divine gift of prophecy, and had also established herself as the most widely acclaimed leader and judge in Israel. She had never been anointed. But she was endowed with that intangible spark, which, by the grace of God, sets leaders apart from ordinary men and women. So she had gradually drifted into her position, and no one had ever disputed her leadership.

She judged the people in the mountains of Efraim, and litigants from all parts of the land of Israel flocked to her for judgment there. Those who were troubled in their souls also came to seek her advice, and she was able to lift even the most downcast of spirits. Thus, when the yoke of the Canaanites was heavy upon the Israelites' necks, they turned to her with their complaints. As they groaned under the heel of oppression, they expected her to bring them relief.

Deborah was quick to perceive that their patience had run short. More and more men were willing to bear swords and come out in defense of their people. Yet they required a leader who could steer them to victory. The battle that had raged the day before had been the result of her reluctant willingness to assume this wartime leadership.

The favorable outcome she fervently prayed for would compel her to confront Barak, who would expect the reward he had insisted on in return for carrying out her orders to become commander of the army. She had always been unfailingly faithful to the man who had been her husband for so many years. Even now that he had divorced her on an unfathomable whim, she was still bound to him with the bonds of a love that had not waned. But in the days that had passed since then, she had relegated it to the nether regions of her soul, as she gradually came to harbor a lust for Barak that was as unexpected as it was compelling. Now, if he returned safely and victoriously, it would be difficult for her to turn him back from his design. Nor did she any longer wish to do so. 

*** Excerpt published with Author's Permission ***

Buy the Book - here.
Buy a Kindle version - here.
Visit the Author's site - here.

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Monday, September 8, 2008

Innovative Monday - Edition Eleven

Another Monday and another new Book storage solution!

Presenting the :


Torres de Satélite (Mexico City’s ‘Satellite Towers’)

Five trapezoidal bookshelves of the same name. The pieces in birch and walnut plywood feature a colored side surface that refers to the ones chosen by artists Mathias Goeritz and Chucho Reyes for the original towers.

They're certainly colorful. But from a storage point of view, I wouldn't rate them highly. I'm going to require tons of those for my existing collection.

What about you?

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Friday, September 5, 2008

Book Tour & Review - The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner

The Last Queen
Author: C.W. Gortner
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Synopsis

Juana of Castile, the last queen of Spanish blood to inherit her country’s throne, has been for centuries an enigmatic figure shrouded in lurid myth. Was she the bereft widow of legend who was driven mad by her loss, or has history misjudged a woman who was ahead of her time? In his stunning new novel, C. W. Gortner challenges the myths about Queen Juana, unraveling the mystery surrounding her to reveal a brave, determined woman we can only now begin to fully understand.

The third child of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand of Spain, Juana is born amid her parents’ ruthless struggle to unify their kingdom, bearing witness to the fall of Granada and Columbus’s discoveries. At the age of sixteen, she is sent to wed Philip, the archduke of Flanders, as part of her parents’ strategy to strengthen Spain, just as her youngest sister, Catherine of Aragon, is sent to England to become the first wife of Henry VIII.

Juana finds unexpected love and passion with her handsome young husband, the sole heir to the Habsburg Empire. At first she is content with her children and her life in Flanders. But when tragedy strikes and she inherits the Spanish throne, Juana finds herself plunged into a battle for power against her husband that grows to involve the major monarchs of Europe. Besieged by foes on all sides, her intelligence and pride used as weapons against her, Juana vows to secure her crown and save Spain from ruin, even if it could cost her everything.

Review

This is a touching, little known portrait of a queen who was never meant to be one. The author is an expert at depicting events and capturing subtle nuances of expression, emotion and events of a queen infamously and, as we come to know why through this book, tragically known as Juana the Mad. The writing's so vivid and visual that a reader is sure to feel they're actually there whether frolicking with young Juana in the little oasis of a garden in a Moor's palace, or enjoying the opulence of the Flemish court with a newly married Juana or the sparseness of the Spanish one as Juana struggles to claim her birthright.

In essence, this the story of a woman struggling for her rights and as such it stuck a chord with me despite the time elapsed. Thrust into a role for which she is ill-prepared, married to an immature husband who seeks to rule her through brute force and usurp Spain's throne rather than be her king consort and ultimately betrayed at a pivotal point by someone very close to her, Juana's story has all the hallmarks of a grand tragedy. It's very moving, very evocative and sure to leave a lasting impression.

Buy the Book - here.
Visit the Author's site - here.
Visit the Publisher - here.

Acknowledgement

Thanks to Pump Up Your Book Promotion for sending me this book for review.

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Author Guest Post : Shobhan Bantwal

Today I have the pleasure of presenting for your reading pleasure, a guest post by author Shobhan Bantwal. Last year, Ms. Bantwal's debut novel, The Dowry Bride, garnered praise from readers everywhere. 

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My Menopausal Epiphany

They say adolescence and menopause are two sides of the same coin. Both have to do with hormonal adjustments, both involve mood swings, bodily changes, and emotional ups and downs. Every now and then I believe a creative spark can be part of the process. It happened that way for me. Pure serendipity!

My creative spark didn’t ignite until I turned 50. Menopausal woes for some reason turned into a “menopausal epiphany.”

My first book, THE DOWRY BRIDE, started out as a rather dark short story—a homework assignment for the one and only creative writing course I took a few years ago.

My instructor suggested that since I had too many characters to make it an effective short story I should perhaps aim to turn it into a full-length novel. So I took up the challenge and started writing my first long manuscript.

It was a difficult task. While most Indian authors write serious literary books, I wanted to write a mainstream book with romantic elements, something I love to read. I wondered if there would be a market for such a book. Would any agent even bother to look at a tale that was so different from the usual? It fitted into no particular genre, the setting was unusual, the theme controversial, and the author unknown – a perfect recipe for disaster.

Each time another rejection letter arrived, I made the decision to throw in the towel and give up my writer dream. But a while later I would start the agent-querying rounds all over again.

Needless to say, it took me two years to find a reputable agent to sign me on, but she sold the book within a few months to Kensington Publishing in a two-book deal in April 2006. At last, I had found an editor out there who thought my books had promise. 

The Forbidden Daughter is the second of the two books, and the story is woven around the hot-button social issue of gender-based abortions in India, where male child-obsessed folks on occasion abort female fetuses although it is against the law. An excerpt and book trailer are posted on my website: www.shobhanbantwal.com

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Thank you, Ms. Bantwal, for that candid and inspiring post! Don't forget to check out the author's site for excerpts, book trailers and more.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Blog Tour - The Summer the Wind Whispered My Name



It is time for the FIRST Blog Tour! On the FIRST day of every month we feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter!

The feature author is:


and his book:

The Summer the Wind Whispered My Name
NavPress Publishing Group (August 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Don Locke is an illustrator and graphic artist for NBC's Tonight Show with Jay Leno and has worked as a freelance writer and illustrator for more than thirty years. He lives in Southern California with his wife, Susan. The Summer the Wind Whispered My Name, prequel to The Reluctant Journey of David Connors, is Don's second novel.



Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 355 pages
Publisher: NavPress Publishing Group (August 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1600061532
ISBN-13: 978-1600061530

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



Preface

Until recently my early childhood memories weren’t readily available for recollection. Call it a defective hard drive. They remained a mystery and a void—a midwestern landscape of never-ending pitch-blackness where I brushed up against people and objects but could never assign them faces or names, much less attach feelings to our brief encounters.

But through a miraculous act of divine grace, I found my way back home to discover the child I’d forgotten, the boy I’d abandoned supposedly for the good of us both. There he sat beneath an oak tree patiently awaiting my return, as if I’d simply taken a day-long fishing trip. This reunion of spirits has transformed me into someone both wiser and more innocent, leaving me to feel both old and young.

And with this new gift of recollection, my memories turn to that boy and to the summer of 1960, when the winds of change blew across our rooftops and through the screen doors, turning the simple, manageable world of my suburban neighborhood into something unfamiliar, something uncomfortable. Those same winds blew my father and me apart.


One

Route 666

With a gentle shake of my shoulders, a kiss on my cheek, and the words It’s time whispered by my mom, I woke at five thirty in the morning to prepare for my newspaper route. Careful not to wake my older brother, Bobby, snoozing across the room, I slipped out of bed and stumbled my way into the hallway and toward the bathroom, led only by the dim glow of the nightlight and a familiarity with the route.

There on the bathroom floor, as usual, my mother had laid my clothes out in the shape of my body, my underwear layered on top. You’re probably wondering why she did this. It could have been that she severely underestimated my intelligence and displayed my clothes in this fashion in case there was any doubt on my part as to which articles of clothing went where on my body. She didn’t want to face the public humiliation brought on by her son walking out of the house wearing his Fruit of the Loom undies over his head. Or maybe her work was simply the result of a sense of humor that I missed completely. Either way, I never asked.

Mine was a full-service mom whose selfless measures of accommodation put the men of Texaco to shame. The fact that she would inconvenience herself by waking me when an alarm clock would suffice, or lay out my clothes when I was capable of doing so myself, might sound a bit odd to you, but believe me, it was only the tip of the indulgent iceberg. This was a woman who would cut the crust off my PB&J sandwich at my request, set my toothbrush out every night with a wad of Colgate laying atop the bristles, and who would often put me to sleep at night with a song, a prayer, and a back scratch. In the wintertime, when the wind chill off Lake Erie made the hundred-yard trek down to the corner to catch the school bus feel like Admiral Perry’s excursion, Mom would actually lay my clothes out on top of the floor heater before I woke up so that my body would be adequately preheated before stepping outside to face the Ohio cold. From my perspective my room was self-cleaning; toys, sports equipment, and clothes discarded onto the floor all found their way back to the toy box, closet, or dresser. I never encountered a dish that I had to clean or trash I had to empty or a piece of clothing I had to wash or iron or fold or put away.

I finished dressing, entered the kitchen, and there on the maroon Formica table, in predictable fashion, sat my glass of milk and chocolate long john patiently waiting for me to consume them. My mother, a chocoholic long before the word was coined, had a sweet tooth that she’d handed down to her children. She believed that a heavy dusting of white processed sugar on oatmeal, cream of wheat, or grapefruit was crucial energy fuel for starting one’s day. Only earlier that year I’d been shocked to learn from my third grade teacher, Mrs. Mercer, that chocolate was not, in fact, a member of any of the four major food groups.

Wearing a milk mustache and buzzing from my sugar rush, I walked outside to where the stack of Tribunes—dropped off in my driveway earlier by the news truck—were waiting for me to fold them.

More often than I ever cared to hear it, my dad would point out, “It’s the early bird that catches the worm.” But for me it was really those early morning summer hours themselves that provided the reward. Sitting there on our cement front step beneath a forty-watt porch light, rolling a stack of Tribunes, I was keenly aware that bodies were still strewn out across beds in every house in the neighborhood, lying lost in their dreamland slumber while I was already experiencing the day. There would be time enough for the sounds of wooden screen doors slamming shut, the hissing of sprinklers on Bermuda lawns, and the songs of robins competing with those of Elvis emanating from transistor radios everywhere. But for now there was a stillness about my neighborhood that seemed to actually slow time down, where even the old willow in our front yard stood like one more giant dozing on his feet, his long arms hanging lifeless at his sides, and where the occasional shooting star streaking across the black sky was a confiding moment belonging only to the morning and me.

From the porch step I could detect the subtle, pale peach glow rise behind the Finnegan’s house across the street. I stretched a rubber band open across the top of my knuckles, spread my fingers apart, and slid it down over the length of the rolled paper to hold it in place. Seventy-six times I’d repeat this act almost unconsciously. There was something about the crisp, cool morning air that seemed to contain a magical element that when breathed in set me to daydreaming. So that’s just what I did . . . I sent my homemade bottle rocket blasting above the trees and watched as the red and white bobber at the end of my fishing pole suddenly got sucked down below the surface of the water at Crystal Lake, and with my Little League team’s game on the line, I could hear the crack of my bat as I smacked a liner over the third baseman’s head to drive in the go-ahead run. Granted, most kids would daydream bigger—their rockets sailed to the moon or Mars, and their fish, blue marlins at least, were hooked off Bermuda in their yachts, and their hits were certainly grand slams in the bottom of the ninth to win the World Series for the Reds—but my dad always suggested that a dream should have its feet planted firmly enough in reality to actually have a chance to come true one day, or there wasn’t much point in conjuring up the dream in the first place. Dreaming too big would only lead to a lifetime scattered with the remnants of disappointments and heartbreak.

And I believed him. Why not? I was young and his shadow fell across me with weight and substance and truth. He was my hero. But in some ways, I suppose, he was too much like my other heroes: Frank Robinson, Ricky Nelson, Maverick. I looked up to them because of their accomplishments or their image, not because of who they really were. I didn’t really know who they were outside of that. Such was the case with my dad. He was a great athlete in his younger years, had a drawer full of medals for track and field, swimming, baseball, basketball, and a bunch from the army to prove it.

It was my dad who had managed to pull the strings that allowed me to have a paper route in the first place. I remember reading the pride in his eyes earlier in the spring when he first told me I got the job. His voice rose and fell within a wider range than usual as he explained how I would now be serving a valuable purpose in society by being directly responsible for informing people of local, national, and even international events. My dad made it sound important—an act of responsibility, being this cog in the wheel of life, the great mandala. And it made me feel important, better defining my place in the universe. In a firm handshake with my dad, I promised I wouldn’t let him down.

Finishing up folding and banding the last paper, I knew I was running a little late because Spencer, the bullmastiff next door, had already begun to bark in anticipation of my arrival. Checking the Bulova wristwatch that my dad had given me as a gift the morning of my first route confirmed it. I proceeded to cram forty newspapers into my greasy white canvas pouch and loop the straps over my bike handles. Riding my self-painted, fluorescent green Country Road–brand bike handed down from my brother, I would deliver these papers mostly to my immediate neighborhood and swing back around to pick up the final thirty-six.

I picked the olive green army hat up off the step. Though most boys my age wore baseball caps, I was seldom seen without the hat my dad wore in World War II. Slapping it down onto my head, I hopped onto my bike, turned on the headlight, and was off down my driveway, turning left on the sidewalk that ran along the front of our corner property on Willowcreek Road.

I rode around to where our street dead-ended, curving into Briarbrook. Our eccentric young neighbors, the Springfields, lived next door in a house they’d painted black. Mr. and Mrs. Springfield chose to raise a devil dog named Spencer rather than experiencing the joy of parenthood. Approaching the corner of their white picket fence on my bike, I could see the strong, determined, shadowy figure of that demon dashing back and forth along the picket fence, snarling and barking at me loudly enough to wake the whole neighborhood. As was my custom, I didn’t dare slow down while I heaved the rolled-up newspaper over his enormous head into their yard. Spencer sprinted over to the paper and pounced on it, immediately tearing it to shreds—a daily reenactment. The couple insisted that I do this every day, as they were attempting to teach Spencer to fetch the morning paper, bring it around to the back of the house where he was supposed to enter by way of the doggy door, and gently place the newspaper in one piece on the kitchen table so it would be there to peruse when they woke for breakfast.

Theirs was one of only two houses in the neighborhood that were fenced in, a practice uncommon in the suburbs because it implied a lack of hospitality. Even a small hedge along a property line could be interpreted as stand-offish. The Springfields’ choice of house color wasn’t helpful in dispelling this notion. And yet it was a good thing that they chose to enclose their property because we were all quite certain that if Spencer ever escaped his yard, he would systematically devour every neighborhood kid, one by one. The strange thing was that the picket fence couldn’t have been more than three feet high, low enough for even a miniature poodle to clear—so why hadn’t Spencer taken the leap? Could it be that he was just biding his time, waiting for the right moment to jump that hurdle? So I was thankful for the Springfields’ ineptitude when it came to dog training because it allowed me to buffer Spencer’s appetite, knowing that whenever he did decide to make his move, I would most likely be the first course on the menu.

The neighborhood houses on my route were primarily ranch style, third-little-pig variety, and always on my left. On my left so that I could grab a paper out of my bag and heave it across my body, allowing for more mustard on my throw and more accuracy than if I had to sling it backhand off to my right side. This technique also helped build up strength in my pitching arm. I always aimed directly toward the middle of the driveway instead of anywhere near the porch, which could, as I’d learned, be treacherous territory. An irate Mrs. Messerschmitt from Sleepy Hollow Road once dropped by my house, screaming, “You’ve murdered my children! You’ve murdered my children!” Apparently I’d made an errant toss that tore the blooming heads right off her precious pansies and injured a few hapless marigolds. From that day on I shot for the middle of the driveway, making sure no neighbors’ flowers ever suffered a similar fate at my hands.

I passed my friend Mouse Miller’s house, crossed the street, and headed down the other side of Briarbrook, past Allison Hoffman’s house—our resident divorcée. All my friends still had their two original parents and family intact, which made Mrs. Hoffman’s status a bit of an oddity. Maybe it was the polio scare that people my parents’ age had had to live through that appeared to make them wary of any abnormality in another human being. It wasn’t just being exposed to the drug addicts or the murderers that concerned them, but contact with any fringe members of society: the divorcées and the widowers, the fifty-year-old bachelors, people with weird hairdos or who wore clothing not found in the Sears catalogue. People with facial hair were especially to be avoided.

You didn’t want to be a nonconformist in 1960. Though nearly a decade had passed, effects of the McCarthy hearings had left some Americans with lingering suspicions that their neighbor might be a Red or something worse. So everyone did their best to just fit in. There was an unspoken fear that whatever social dysfunction people possessed was contagious by mere association with them. I had a feeling my mom believed this to be the case with Allison Hoffman—that all my mother had to do was engage in a five-minute conversation with any divorced woman, and a week or so later, my dad would come home from work and out of the blue announce, “Honey, I want a divorce.”

Likely in her late twenties, Mrs. Hoffman was attractive enough to be a movie star or at least a fashion model—she was that pretty. She taught at a junior high school across town, but for extra cash would tutor kids in her spare time. Despite her discriminating attitude toward Mrs. Hoffman, my mother was forced to hire her as a tutor for my sixteen-year-old brother for two sessions a week, seeing as Bobby could never quite grasp the concept of dangling participles and such. Still, whenever she mentioned Mrs. Hoffman’s name, my mom always found a way to justify setting her Christian beliefs aside, calling her that woman, as in, “just stay away from that woman.” Mom must have skipped over the part in the Bible where Jesus healed the lepers. Anyway, Mrs. Hoffman seemed nice enough to me when I’d see her gardening in her yard or when I’d have to collect newspaper money from her; a wave and smile were guaranteed.

I delivered papers down Briarbrook, passed my friend Sheena’s house on the cul-de-sac, and went back down to Willowcreek, where I rolled past the Jensens’ vacant house. The For Sale sign had been stuck in the lawn out front since the beginning of spring. I’d seen few people even stop by to look at the charming, white frame house I remember as having great curb appeal. Every kid on the block was rooting for a family with at least a dozen kids to move in to provide some fresh blood.

A half a block later, I turned the corner and was about to toss the paper down Mr. Melzer’s drive when I spotted the old man lying under his porch light, sprawled out on the veranda, his blue overall-covered legs awkwardly dangling down the front steps of his farm house. I immediately stood up on my bike, slammed on the brakes, fish-tailed a streak of rubber on the sidewalk, dumped the bike, and rushed up to his motionless body. “Mr. Melzer! Mr. Melzer!” Certain he was dead, I kept shouting at him like he was only asleep or deaf. “Mr. Melzer!” I was afraid to touch him to see if he was alive.

The only dead body I had touched up till then was my great-uncle Frank’s at his wake, and it was not a particularly pleasant experience. I was five years old when my mom led me up to the big shiny casket where I peered over the top to see the man lying inside. Standing on my tiptoes, I stared at Frank’s clay-colored face, which I believed looked too grumpy, too dull. While alive and kicking, my uncle was an animated man with ruddy cheeks who spoke and reacted with passion and humor, but the expression he wore while lying in that box was one that I’d never seen on his face before. I was quite sure that if he’d been able to gaze in the mirror at his dead self with that stupid, frozen pouting mouth looking back at him, he would have been humiliated and embarrassed as all get out. And so, while no one watched, I started poking and prodding at his surprisingly pliable mouth, trying to reshape his smile into something more natural, more familiar, like the expression he’d worn recalling the time he drove up to frigid Green Bay in a blizzard to watch his beloved Browns topple Bart Starr and the Green Bay Packers. Or the one he’d displayed while telling us what a thrill it was to meet Betty Grable at a USO function during the war, or the grin that always appeared on his face right after he’d take a swig of a cold beer on a hot summer day. It was a look of satisfaction that I was after, and was pretty sure I could pull it off. Those hours of turning shapeless Play-Doh into little doggies and snowmen had prepared me for this moment.

After a mere twenty seconds of my molding handiwork, I had successfully managed to remove my uncle’s grim, lifeless expression. Unfortunately I had replaced it with a hideous-looking full-on smile, his teeth beaming like the Joker from the Batman comics. Before I could step back for a more objective look, my Aunt Doris let out a little shriek behind me; an older gentleman gasped, which brought my brother over, and he let out a howl of laughter, all followed by a flurry of activity that included some heated discussion among relatives, the casket’s being closed, and my mother’s hauling me out of the room by my earlobe.

But you probably don’t really care much about my Uncle Frank. You’re wondering about Mr. Melzer and if he’s a character who has kicked the bucket before you even got to know him or know if you like him. You will like him. I did. “Mr. Melzer!” I gave him a good poke in the arm. Nothing . . . then another one.

The fact is I was surprised when Mr. Melzer began to move. First his head turned . . . then his arm wiggled . . . then he rose, propping himself up onto an elbow, attempting to regain his bearings.

“Mr. Melzer?”

“What?” He looked around, glassy-eyed, still groggy. “Davy?”

I suddenly felt dizzy and nearly fell down beside him on the porch. “Yeah, it’s me.”

“I must have dozed off. Guess the farmer in me still wants to wake with the dawn, but the old man, well, he knows better.” He looked my way. “You’re white as a sheet—you okay, boy?”

Actually I was feeling pretty nauseated. “Yeah, I’m okay. I just thought . . .”

“What? You thought what?”

“Well, when I saw you lying there . . . I just thought . . .”

“That I was dead?” I nodded. “Well, no, no, I can see where that might be upsetting for you. Come to think of it, it’s a little upsetting to me. Not that I’m not prepared to meet my maker, mind you. Or to see Margaret again.” He leaned heavily on his right arm, got himself upright, and adjusted his suspenders. “The fact is . . . I do miss the old gal. The way she’d know to take my hand when it needed holdin’. Or how she could make a room feel comfortable just by her sitting in it, breathing the same air. Heck, I even miss her lousy coffee. And I hope, after these two years apart, she might have forgotten what a pain in the rear I could be, and she might have the occasion to miss me a bit, too.”

Until that moment, I hadn’t considered the possibility of the dead missing the living. Sometimes when he wasn’t even trying to, Mr. Melzer made me think. And it always surprised me how often he would just say anything that came into his head. He never edited himself like most adults. He was like a kid in that respect, but more interesting.

“You believe in heaven?” I asked Mr. Melzer.

“Rather counting on it. How ’bout you?”

“My mom says that when we go to heaven we’ll be greeted by angels with golden wings.”

“Really? Angels, huh?”

“And she says that they’ll sing a beautiful song written especially for us.”

“Really? Your mother’s an interesting woman, Davy. But I could go for that—I could. Long as they’re not sitting around on clouds playing harps. Don’t care for harp music one bit. Pretty sure it was the Marx Brothers that soured me on that instrument.”

“How so?”

“Well, those Marx Brothers, in every movie they made they’d be running around, being zany as the dickens, and then Harpo—the one who never spoke a lick, the one with the fuzzy blond hair—always honking his horn and chasing some skinny, pretty gal around. Anyway, in the middle of all their high jinks, Harpo would come across some giant harp just conveniently lying around somewhere, and he’d feel obliged to stop all the antics to play some sappy tune that just about put you to sleep. I could never recover. Turned me sour on the harp, he did. I’m more of a horn man, myself. Give me a saxophone or trumpet and I’m happy. And I’m not particularly opposed to a fiddle either. But harps—I say round ’em up and burn ’em all. Melt ’em down and turn them into something practical . . . something that can’t make a sound . . . that’s what I say.”

See, I told you he’d pretty much say anything. I don’t think that Mr. Melzer had many people to listen to him. And just having a bunch of thoughts roaming around in his head wasn’t enough. I think Mr. Melzer chattered a lot so that he wouldn’t lose himself, so he could remember who he was.

“Yeah, well, anyway, I figure I’ll go home when it’s my time,” he continued. “Just hope it can wait for the harvest, seeing as there’s no one else to bring in the corn when it’s time.”

As far back as I could remember, Mr. Melzer used to drag this little red wagon around the neighborhood on August evenings, stacked to the limit with ears of corn. And he’d go door to door and hand out corn to everybody like he was some kind of an agricultural Santa.

“Do you know I used to have fields of corn as far as the eye can see . . . way beyond the rooftops over there?”

I did know this, but I never tired of the enthusiasm with which he told it, so I didn’t stop him. About ten years before, Mr. Melzer had sold off all but a few acres of his farmland to a contractor, resulting in what became my neighborhood.

“I still get a thrill when I shuck that first ear of corn of the harvest, and see that ripe golden row of kernels smiling back at me. Hot, sweet corn, lightly salted with butter dripping down all over it . . . mmm. Nothing better. Don’t nearly have the teeth for it anymore. You eat yours across or up and down?”

“Across.”

“Me too. Only way to eat corn. Tastes better across. When I see somebody munching on an ear like this”—the old man rolled the imaginary ear of corn in front of his imaginary teeth chomping down—“I just want to slap him upside the head.”

I was starting to run very late, and he noticed me fidgeting.

“Oh, yeah, here I am blabbering away, and you got a job to do.”

“I’ll get your paper.” I ran back to my bike lying on the sidewalk.

“So I see nobody’s bought the Jensen place yet,” he yelled out to me.

I grabbed a newspaper that had spilled out of my bag onto the sidewalk, and rushed back to Mr. Melzer. “Not yet. Whoever does, hope they have kids.” I handed the old man the newspaper.

“Listen, I’m sorry I scared you,” he said.

“It’s okay.” I looked over at a pile of unopened newspapers on the porch by the door. “Mind if I ask you something?”

“Shoot.”

“How come you never read the paper?”

“Oh, don’t know. At some point I guess you grow tired of bad news. Besides, these days all the news I need is right here in the neighborhood.”

“So why do you still order the paper?”

The old man smiled. “Well, the way I see it, if I didn’t order the paper, I’d miss out on these splendid little chats with you, now wouldn’t I?”

I told you you’d like him. I grinned. “I’m glad you’re not dead, Mr. Melzer.”

“Likewise,” he said, shooting a wink my way. When I turned around to walk back to my bike, I heard the rolled up newspaper hit the top of the pile.

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