Thursday Book Feature: Wonder

Wonder

by R. J. Palacio

Copyright 2012.

For the first four years of his education, August, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder resulting in severe facial deformity, was home-schooled. As this book opens, he is told that he will be starting fifth grade at a prep school near their home in River Heights, a suburb of Manhattan, New York. Naturally, he is reluctant to go, and as you can imagine, he has a hard time fitting in with other kids. This story is told from several points of view including August’s sister and his best friend, a couple of his sister’s friends, and of course August himself. At the end, there’s a list of sayings August’s teacher writes on the blackboard each month during the school year.

One thing I liked about the Brilliance Audio production of this book was how each of the three narrators portrayed each character from who’s point of view they were reading the story, as well as other minor characters. As I listened, I was taken back to my own school days, especially my experiences with starting junior high in a new school. In the good old days, junior high was similar to middle school now in that students move from one classroom to another every hour and have lockers. The book also helped me put those experiences in perspective. Because of my visual impairment, like August, I wasn’t popular at first, but at least kids weren’t screaming and running away from me or calling me a freak.

Once I got into this book, it was hard to put down. I laughed and got mad and was almost moved to tears by the ending. By telling the story from the first person point of view of each of the major characters, the author writes in a style that identifies with both kids and adults. For this reason, this book should be required reading for students from fifth grade up. Even adults can learn, from this book, lessons about open-mindedness and acceptance of others not like us.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Thursday Book Feature: News of the World

News of the World

By Paulette Jiles

Copyright 2016.

In Texas in 1870 after the Civil War, Captain Kidd travels around the state, presenting world news to paying audiences in rural communities with little or no access to newspapers. In Wichita Falls, he meets Johanna, a ten-year-old girl who was captured by Indians when she was six, then rescued by the Army. He reluctantly agrees to take her 500 miles across the state to her relatives near San Antonio. Along the way, he tries to domesticate her, and as they encounter outlaws and other interesting characters on their journey, they develop a bond, not unlike grandfather and grandchild. After delivering her to her uncle and aunt in a small farming community near San Antonio, he feels compelled to make a decision that affects her life and his.

One thing I didn’t like about this book is Captain Kidd’s back story, inserted smack dab in the middle of the action. By that time, I was more interested in his journey across Texas with Johanna and couldn’t care less about his battle experiences in the 1812 War and the conflict between Texas and Mexico and his marriage and family and printing business. Although this is, in a way, relevant to the story, a few paragraphs would have sufficed. An entire chapter devoted to this was not necessary.

Otherwise, I enjoyed reading about Captain Kid’s and Johanna’s adventures and loved the ending. Sadly, according to an author’s note, many children captured by Indians and later rescued and returned to their families during this time don’t adapt to their original white lifestyles, and no one seems to understand why.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

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Thursday Book Feature: A Christmas Embrace

I know it’s a little late, but maybe you can put this on your reading list for next year.

A Christmas Embrace

By Ellen T. Marsh

Copyright 1994

In California, Alex and Rose have been married for almost ten years. He is an accountant, and she is a veterinarian. Their careers have kept them busy over the years, and as a result, Rose feels they’re drifting apart. In an attempt to save their marriage, she books a surprise weekend for them both in Pennsylvania Dutch country. Meanwhile, Alex, by a stroke of luck, ends up with a pair of tickets to a football game in San Diego and a weekend’s stay at a posh hotel there. He plans to surprise Rose with this, but when she reveals her surprise first, although he’s angry, he reluctantly agrees to accompany her. After landing in Baltimore, Maryland, during a snowstorm, Alex and Rose get more than they bargained for.

When I read this book, I was depressed because my Internet was down, and a technician wasn’t scheduled to repair my service until the day after Christmas. I soon realized that there are worse things than being without Internet. Although I knew that all along, I needed to be reminded of the important things in life: food, clothing, and shelter. These I had. I’m also thankful that my own marriage with Bill, though short, was never strained, despite the fact that I had to care for him during the last six years of his life. This feel-good book helped me escape from my woes and retrieve my attitude of gratitude.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Thursday Book Feature: The Mistletoe Secret

The Mistletoe Secret

by Richard Paul Evans

Copyright 2016.

Eleven months after Alex’s wife leaves him for another man, he’s lonely but won’t admit it. His friends and co-workers encourage him to try an online dating service, which proves fruitless. Then, he discovers a blog written by a woman who calls herself LBH. There’s no profile, no contact information, no way to identify her. Alex feels compelled to find her. He discovers clues in the woman’s posts, and his search eventually takes him to Midway, Utah.

I was drawn to this book’s title because my late husband Bill once invited me to kiss him under the mistletoe in his home in Fowler, Colorado. Halfway through the book though, I wondered how I could have gotten into such a story. It might have been better without the prologue, in which the mysterious blogger’s identity is revealed, but the idea of a man traveling across the country in search of an unknown woman is ridiculous.

Alex turns out to be a flake. The author may have made him that way to interject some humor, but I didn’t find it a bit funny, especially as it pertained to his relationship with LBH. The ending, with its shocking revelation, gave me pause but didn’t completely change my mind.

I spent almost an entire Sunday reading this book because it was recommended as a good holiday read. To me, it was a waste of time. However, if you are young and believe in the magic of holiday romance, this book may be for you.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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***

Thursday Book Feature: The Demmies

The Demmies: A Novel

By Ann K. Parsons

Copyright 2017.

Fast forward to the year 2050. Demmies are what Randy Newman could have meant by “.” These genetically engineered human beings are no more than a foot tall, and as a result, their bodily functions are different from ours. However, they have voices and minds just like we do and can live, love, and think just like the rest of us.

For years, Alex Kenyon and his family have been birds in a gilded cage, living in a luxurious doll house in a lab in Houston, Texas. By day, they are celebrities, promoting the cause of genetic engineering through regular press conferences. By night, they are tortured at the hands of mad scientist Dr. Lud.

As the book opens, Alex’s wife has just given birth to their tenth child. Everyone is on edge as a result of what is being done to them at night, which no one knows about, and the adults fear for their safety and that of the children. They’re afraid to try and escape because it’s a big world out there with big people who may or may not help them. After a series of events including the discovery of a Mexican family of demmies in a different part of the lab complex and the fake death of the Kenyons’ oldest son, some of those big folks risk their lives in an attempt to help them escape and start a new life.

I met the author, Ann Parsons, several years ago when she joined a writers’ group to which I belong. She began writing this story in the 1970’s. After joining our group, she decided to start work on it again and sent chapters to our email list. Even so, knowing how the book ends, I found it hard to put down and might have pulled an all-nighter in order to finish it more quickly.

You don’t have to be a science fiction buff to appreciate this story of oppression followed by freedom. In a way, this book is similar to Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World except in this case, the demmies are only conditioned not to trust big folk, and the ending is more positive. The Demmies is the first of a trilogy of books Ann has written about these little characters. I hope she publishes the other two books in this series. I want to read more.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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***

Thursday Book Feature: Any Day Now by Robyn Carr

Any Day Now

By Robyn Carr

Copyright 2017.

This is the sequel to What We Find, which I reviewed here recently. Sierra, a recovering alcoholic looking for a new start, moves to Sullivan’s Crossing, a campground in the Colorado mountains, to be near her brother Cal, a lawyer who is in the process of making an old barn into a home for his new family. She finds a job and Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, makes friends, and becomes romantically involved with Connie, a fireman with his own emotional baggage. Then, her troubled past comes back to haunt her. Other characters have their own romantic experiences. The book has a satisfactory ending.

Since my late husband Bill grew up in Colorado, I enjoyed reading a book set in an area with which I’m somewhat familiar. It was a great way to escape to the Colorado mountains without leaving my recliner. I also liked the fact that it’s not necessary to have read What We Find first, since plots from the previous book are briefly summarized throughout this book.

I can also appreciate the message Robyn Carr delivers in this book about rape. I’ve never been a victim of such a crime, but I know someone who has. I recommend this book especially to anyone in this situation in the hope they might gain insight from Sierra’s fictional story of survival.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

***

Leaving (Fiction)

Sally felt a strange tension at the breakfast table one sunny April morning. Her husband Jack appeared nervous. He usually seemed confident and in control, but today, it was as if he were waiting for the right moment to tell her something, something she didn’t want to hear. Just as she took a bite of her bagel, he looked her in the eye and said, “I’m sorry, honey, but I’m leaving you for another woman.”

She choked on her bagel and wondered why she was bothering to try and remove the obstacle. Maybe it would be for the best if I went right here and now.

Jack, a prominent heart surgeon at a Denver hospital, knew the Heimlich maneuver. In a flash, he was behind her, his arms wrapped around her middle, his fingers on her chest pressing inward and upward. After a few thrusts, the piece of bagel flew out of her mouth and landed on her plate with a soft plop.

“Here honey, drink some orange juice.”

Obedient as usual, she took the glass in her trembling hand and sipped from it. “April Fools, right?” she said.

“No, it’s no joke.”

Sally stared at him, trying to comprehend. “Is it that bitch you recently hired as your receptionist?”

“That’s not a nice thing to say about Martha. She’s been a big help in the office, and I was lucky to find her after Darleen quit at the last minute.”

“And she’s a good looker,” said Sally, her body stiffening. “Don’t think I didn’t notice her that day last week when you forgot your lunch, and I dropped it off on my way to the DAR meeting. I saw her skirt cut just above the knees, her see-through blouse that showed way too much cleavage. She would have been a good catch for any man. Why did it have to be you?” She fought back tears.

Jack knelt by her side and took her hand. “Honey, I don’t know how it happened. I guess I was captivated by the long blonde hair falling down her back.”

Sally ran her free hand through her short dark curls. “I thought you liked my hair,” she said, as tears cascaded down her cheeks.

“I did like your hair before you had it cut short and got that permanent and coloring.”

“I’m fifty-five years old. My hair is turning gray. I wanted to look good for you.”

Jack stroked the top of her head with his free hand. “Honey, you were beautiful the way you were.”

Sally brightened. “Okay, I’ll grow my hair long. I won’t have Rachel at Clips and More curl it, and I’ll ask her if she can restore it to its natural color. Will you stay with me if I do that?”

Jack sighed. “Honey, I’m afraid it’s too late for that. Martha’s pregnant.”

“Pregnant!” Sally jerked her hand away and shoved her chair back from the table. “You’re the same age I am. How could you be so stupid? She must be at least twenty years younger.”

“I don’t know,” said Jack with a sigh, as he hung his head. “but I have to do the right thing.”

“She could get rid of the baby like I had to do with Shirley.”

“That’s not funny. You know as well as I do that our daughter would have been mentally retarded. She wouldn’t have had a happy life. As far as we know, Martha’s baby is healthy. I see no reason why she should have an abortion.”

“You bastard!” said Sally. It was all she could do to keep from striking him. “Do you love Martha?”

“I guess I do.”

“More than you love me,” said Sally, wiping her nose with the sleeve of her bathrobe. Jack sighed again.

“I should have known something like this was going on. You seemed to be spending too much time away from home. I know how dedicated you are to your work, and you don’t like to leave your patients until they’re out of the woods, so I shrugged off my suspicions. Then last week when I saw Martha, I wondered if you two were having an affair. I had no reason to think so.”

She rested her head in her hands. “Last night when Maria Gonzales was rejecting her heart transplant, and you needed to stay with her, I tried to reach you on your cell a couple of hours later, and you didn’t answer. I called the hospital, and the operator said you left an hour earlier.”

Fresh tears fell, and Sally removed a Kleenex from her pocket and wiped her eyes. “I told myself Maria had died, and you and your colleagues were drowning your sorrows at My Buddy’s Place like you do sometimes after you lose a patient. You didn’t come home until two in the morning, but when I smelled booze on your breath, I was reassured. Now, before I can offer my condolences, you drop this… this… bomb.” She blew her nose.

“I called the hospital a little while ago. Maria is doing much better. The anti-rejection medication we gave her last night seems to be working.”

“I sacrificed a lot. It was bad enough I had to give up my job at the flower shop when I married you and be a stay-at-home wife and mother.”

“I thought you wanted to…”

“I loved you, damn it, and I wanted to make you happy, and look where that got me.”

“You had Judy. You were involved in the Garden Club, the DAR, and the Civic Theater Guild. Wasn’t that enough?”

“It was until I had to give up Shirley. You don’t know what it’s like to kill your own baby, a child of your own flesh and blood. You don’t know the emptiness I felt all these years. She was just an embryo to you, but to me, she’s still a human being, and I miss her.” Huge, racking sobs shook her, as she buried her head in her hands a second time.

“Now you’re being dramatic,” said Jack, rising to his feet. “Save it for your next play, why don’t you?”

“Then I had to have my tubes tied,” said Sally through her tears.

Jack paced the floor. “You and I both know that there was a good chance you could have carried another disabled child. We were lucky Judy was normal.”

A car horn sounded outside. “Who the hell’s that?” asked Sally, jerking upright.

“That’s Martha. Since my car’s still in the shop, she offered to give me a ride.” He picked up his coat from a nearby chair and put it on.

“That’s it. You’re going to walk out, just like that.”

“I’ll come back this afternoon and pick up some of my stuff while you’re at your Garden Club meeting,” he said, jingling the car keys in his pocket. “My car ought to be ready by lunchtime.”

Sally felt a sense of desperation, as he turned toward the door. “What about me? What am I going to tell Judy if she ever calls and asks to talk to you? Just like you, she works too hard and can’t get away. She hardly ever calls or e-mails. She didn’t even come home for your fiftieth birthday party.”

“I’ll call Judy tonight when I get settled at Martha’s. You’ll be hearing from our lawyer soon. You can have the house and your car, and I’ll pay you a generous alimony each month.”

He turned back to her, and his face softened. “Maybe you and your friends should think about opening that flower shop. I’m sorry I discouraged you from doing that last year. You’ve always been interested in flowers, and I shouldn’t have insisted you quit your job and be a stay-at-home wife and mother.”

“And you shouldn’t have made me have an abortion and then get my tubes tied. Just get the hell out of my sight!” Sally rose to her feet.

The horn sounded a second time. Jack turned and hurried out the door. Sally stood and gazed out the kitchen’s bay window at Martha’s red BMW, as it idled in the driveway. She watched Jack climb into the passenger seat and the car pull away.

She grabbed several trash bags before heading upstairs. In the master bedroom, she emptied Jack’s closet, shoving his pants, shirts, jackets, and shoes into the bags. She cleared his dresser drawers of briefs, socks, and ties. His toiletries on the dresser and in the adjoining bathroom and books and CDs in the study downstairs met the same fate. She even disposed of his medical school diploma, home insurance records, and other important papers in the bottom drawer of his desk.

She would have taken a hatchet to the computer, stereo, and other items, but that would have been too much work. Besides, the sanitation truck would be there any minute, and she had better things to do.

She needed to make several trips to the dumpster in the alley behind the house. As she was stuffing the last bag into the bin, the truck pulled up. Self-conscious about being seen in her bathrobe, she waved to the crew before hurrying indoors.

She retrieved a notepad and pen from the top drawer of Jack’s desk in the study and went upstairs. The note she left on Jack’s dresser read, “You fucking son of a bitch, you are trash, and so is all your stuff.”

In the bathroom, she ran hot water in the tub. In the bedroom, she removed her bathrobe and hung it on the closet door. She placed her slippers on the floor at her side of the bed. She took off her nightgown, folded it, and placed it in its usual drawer.

In the bathroom, she stepped into the tub. Leaving the water running, she sat back, let the warmth surround her, and thought of Shirley. She hoped she and her daughter could make up for lost time.

With her right hand, she picked up the razor that lay on the side of the tub and held it poised over her left wrist. She hesitated for a moment, then cut deep, ignoring the pain. As the bath water gradually turned red, she closed her eyes.

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The above story appears in the fall/winter issue of Magnets and Ladders, an online magazine featuring work by authors with disabilities. It also won second place in a contest sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

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