Novel Emphasizes Value of Friendship Over Love

That Part was True

by Deborah McKinlay

Copyright 2014

 

Jack and Eve have two things in common. They’re both divorced from spouses who left them for other partners, and they both love to cook and eat. Jack is a writer in the U.S. Eve lives in England.

After Eve writes Jack a fan letter, they begin corresponding and develop a friendship. By telling the story mostly from alternating viewpoints of Jack and Eve, the author gives us a glimpse of their lives: Eve’s struggle with her daughter’s wedding, Jack’s difficulty with writers’ block and relationships.

Jack and Eve support each other through hard times, and during their correspondence, they talk about meeting in Paris, but life gets in the way, and that never happens. As close as they get to each other through their letters, you’d expect the friendship to blossom into love, but it doesn’t. Nevertheless, the book has a satisfying ending. It includes recipes Jack and Eve share with each other in their letters.

In a recording of this book from Hachette Audio, Jack’s part of the story is read by an American male, and Eve’s by a British female. The narrators do an excellent job portraying these characters. I also like the way the author develops characters through dialog instead of narrative, in other words, by showing, not telling. In a sea of romantic stories, with their ups and downs and broken hearts, this book is an island where friendship is beautiful and not complicated by love.

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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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Novel Explores Serious Questions

The Shortest Way Home

by Juliette Fay

Copyright 2013

 

Set in a suburb of Boston, this story centers around a family with Huntington’s Disease, a degenerative disorder that becomes prevalent during adulthood. Shawn, a nurse who has worked in developing countries for years, thinks he has dodged the bullet but refuses to be tested.

Feeling burned out, he comes home, hoping to re-group and then return to his work. Years earlier, after Shawn’s mother died of Huntington’s Disease, his father left Shawn and his brother and sister with their aunt and never returned.

Now, Shawn discovers that his aunt is suffering from some sort of dementia not related to Huntington’s, and his eleven-year-old nephew, Kevin, has sensory processing disorder which effects his behavior. Kevin is the son of Shawn’s brother, who died of pneumonia after Shawn went overseas.

Because his sister, a want-to-be actress, is too busy with her job as a waitress at a diner and play rehearsals, Shawn reluctantly cares for his aunt and nephew until someone else can be hired. He finds employment in a bakery run by an old friend and falls in love with Rebecca, a girl he knew in high school, who now works as a massage therapist. Then, his sister announces she’s soon heading for New York, leaving Shawn in the permanent role of caregiver. By this time, he’s conflicted between his love for Rebecca, Kevin, and his aunt and wanting to flee to Haiti, where a doctor, with whom he once worked, has opened a clinic following an earthquake.

Then, his father shows up unexpected, and after meeting his grandson, proposes a trip to Ireland with him and Shawn, to which Shawn reluctantly agrees, despite anger at his father for leaving the family years earlier. The book ends soon after they return.

I like the way this book explores the question of “to know or not to know” if you’ll be afflicted with a serious condition such as Huntington’s Disease later in life. It also focuses on the conflict between family love and loyalty and wanting to pursue one’s own dreams, especially if one’s life may be cut short by a serious illness. I can appreciate how the relationship between Shawn, raised an Irish Catholic, and God changes. There are some serious life lessons to be learned here, so I definitely recommend this book to everyone.

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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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Novel Depicts Survival at Sea

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Life of Pi

By Yann Martel

Copyright 2001

 

Pi is a boy growing up in India, the son of a zookeeper. In the 1970’s, when he’s sixteen years old, he and his family, in an attempt to start a new life, set sail for Canada on a cargo ship containing several animals from their zoo. The ship sinks. Pi’s father, mother, and older brother parish. He ends up on a life boat with a zebra, hyena, monkey, and tiger. The hyena kills the zebra and the monkey, and the tiger kills the hyena. Then, it’s just Pi and the tiger, who both survive the ordeal.

This book provides a lot of detail in the beginning about Pi’s life growing up in India including how he gets his name. Therefore, I would like to have known more about his life after he survives being shipwrecked.

All we know is that after a little over seven months at sea, during which time they spend a few weeks on a deserted island, Pi and the tiger end up in Mexico. The tiger wanders into a nearby forest and is never seen again. Pi is found and taken to a hospital where Japanese officials from the shipping company question him about why the ship sank. He eventually moves to Canada and attends a university, but what career path does he take?

He later tells his story to an insignificant other, who undertakes some of the narration. Who is this person?

Before the accident, Pi, as a teenager, dabbles in the Christian, Muslim, and Hindu religions. How has his harrowing adventure at sea affected his faith? Which religion does he practice once settled in Canada, or does he do all three like he did in India, or has he become disillusioned with God?

Before Pi is shipwrecked, he’s a vegetarian. Once stranded on that life boat in the middle of the ocean, he realizes that in order to survive, he must eat meat: fish, turtles, and even the meerkats he finds on the deserted island. After his return to civilization, does he go back to eating strictly vegetables, or does he realize that meat isn’t so bad, especially since it kept him alive for over seven months?

Perhaps these questions can be discussed by reading groups. In any case, Life of Pi is a remarkable story of courage in the face of adversity with a theme of survival of the fittest.

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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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Anthology Depicts Disability Culture

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Dozen: The Best of Breath and Shadow

Edited by Chris Kuell

Copyright 2016

 

Breath and Shadow is an online magazine featuring poems, stories, and essays by authors with disabilities. Pieces here focus mainly on what it’s like to have a disability and how others treat a person with a disability. This anthology showcases the best work that appeared in the publication over the past twelve years.

It contains dark pieces such as Susan M. Silver’s short story, “I’ll Be Looking at the Moon,” in which the protagonist is dealing with a serious illness. In contrast, there’s Amy Krout-Horn’s essay, “Who Dresses You?” in which she talks about a humorous way she answered this narrow-minded question from a waitress.

Many pieces portray the relationship between a person with a disability and health care professionals such as Lizz Schumer’s essay, “Peace Protest,” in which she talks about convalescing after a fall and wondering if she inherited her grandfather’s brain cancer. Then there’s Chris Kuell’s short story, “The Interview,” in which a blind woman retaliates against a prospective employer who is unwilling to even consider the possibility of hiring her.

I would like to have seen fewer dark pieces. Nevertheless, I think this is a must-read for everyone, especially those in a profession that requires dealing directly with others: waitresses, doctors, nurses, cab drivers, etc. You don’t have to read the whole thing cover to cover. You could read perhaps one or two pieces a day. If you’re one of those narrow-minded persons who take a dim view of what people with disabilities can do, this anthology will force you to think outside the box. If you’re a person with a disability, you’ll read this and realize you’re not the only one. The people in this book, whether real or made-up, will speak to you of their experiences.

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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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Review: Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone

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Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone: An Anthology of Wyoming Writers

Edited by Lori Howe

Copyright 2016

 

This is a collection of stories, poems, and essays that touch mostly on aspects of western life. Some pieces talk about nature and dealing with the elements, such as Patricia Frolander’s poem, “Wyoming 1949,” in which she describes cutting open a dead horse and crawling inside to stay warm while in the middle of nowhere during a snowstorm. Then there’s Aaron Holst’s poem, “Fire and Water,” inspired by one of the author’s firefighting experiences, that depicts an incident that can happen anywhere, not just in the west.

Other works discuss wildlife, such as Susan Marsh’s essay, “A Heart in the Shape of a Bear,” about the plight of this creature in the wild and in civilization. Still others deal with history and culture, like Cindy Jackelen’s poem, “Whose Land,” which depicts the brutality of the Indian War through several voices.

Not all pieces are set in Wyoming. There’s Patti Sherlock’s short story, “Mother George, Midwife,” a fictionalized account of a Negro midwife in Idaho during the 19th century who turned out to be a man disguised as a woman. Julianne Couch’s short story, “Reintroduction,” is set in the Nebraska wilderness. Then there’s Alyson Hagy’s short story, “The Saddlemaker,” in which a young girl from South Dakota is sent to live with her grandparents near Riverton, Wyoming, before her mother’s shady past catches up with her.

I’d love to tell you about each poem, story, and essay in this book, but there are so many of them. Like most anthologies, Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone can be read either cover to cover or in bits and pieces, depending on what strikes your fancy. Poems, essays, and short stories are bunched together, each in their own section.

That’s one thing I don’t like. In many anthologies and literary journals, stories, poems, and essays are together, not each in their own section. You might see a poem sandwiched between two short stories or two essays or one short story and an essay. For example, in Magnets and Ladders, an online journal I help edit, poems, stories, and essays are grouped into sections by topic. It creates less monotony that way.

Otherwise, I enjoyed reading many of the works in Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone. I know some of the writers whose works appear in this anthology, and it’s always fun to read what they have to say. Even if you don’t live in Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, or Idaho, this book will give you great insights on western life.

 

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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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Two Final Holiday Books

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St. Nick

by Alan Russell

Copyright 2013

 

Nick, a divorced cop, feeling depressed after being suspended from the San Diego police department, grudgingly agrees to work undercover as Santa Claus at a mall, where muggings have frequently been occurring. Not only is Nick expected to catch the bad guys, but he’s also compelled to grant a Christmas wish to a terminally ill child and find another child who wrote an anonymous letter to Santa, asking him to visit. He then meets a female television reporter, and things really get interesting. The realistic ending is predictable.

I usually don’t read detective stories, but the plot of this Audible daily deal intrigued me. It’s funny, sweet, moving, and not your run-of-the-mill mystery tale. I loved the way the narrator, Patrick Lawlor, portrayed Nick and other male characters, and his depiction of women and children wasn’t bad. This book is also available from Amazon. I know it’s a little late now, but maybe you can put it on your holiday reading list for next year.

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A Literary Christmas

Published by The British Library

Copyright 2014

 

This short anthology of Christmas stories and poems includes excerpts from such classics as A Christmas Carol and Little Women and work by Dylan Thomas, Shakespeare, and others. Of course no holiday collection would be complete without “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” also known as “The Night Before Christmas.”

This was another Audible daily deal with two excellent British narrators, Juliet Stevenson and Simon Callow. I could read some of the timeless classics in this collection over and over again. I was especially touched by the excerpt from Little Women, where the girls give their breakfast to a poor family on Christmas morning.

The recording was re-produced from a two-CD set, as evidenced by announcements of “Disc One” and “Disc Two.” With today’s advances in modern recording technology, you’d think those could have been deleted. Also, there should have been more of a pause between selections, especially when switching narrators. It seemed that one barely finished a selection when the other jumped in.

This book is also available from Amazon, so it would make a good family read during the holiday season. Children, depending on their ages, may find some of the pieces hard to grasp, but “The Night Before Christmas” and excerpts from A Christmas Carol and Little Women could surely be crowd pleasers. In any case, I hope you’ll also put this book on your holiday reading list for next year.

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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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Review: Christmas on 4th Street

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Christmas on 4th Street: A Fool’s Gold Romance

by Susan Mallery

Copyright 2013

 

This story is set in the fictional town of Fool’s Gold, California, where Christmas and other holidays are taken seriously with parades, festivals, and other activities. Noel has moved to the little town from Los Angeles, after surviving a serious illness and leaving her law practice, to open a Christmas store. Gabriel is an army doctor visiting his family for the holiday season. When he and Noel meet by accident, and he offers to help in her store, romantic sparks fly between them.

After Gabriel’s experiences with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he’s not ready to commit to a relationship. Although Noel has loved and lost, she wants to move on and tries, unsuccessfully at first, to convince Gabriel that love is worth taking a risk. Then the two of them are snowed in at a deserted mountain cabin while searching for the perfect Christmas tree. The rest isn’t exactly history.

I used to enjoy this type of book. Boy meets girl, and girl falls in love with boy. Boy leaves girl heartbroken. Boy apologizes, and there’s a Christmas Eve wedding.

This is not very realistic. Yes, there are men and women who have fought overseas and are dealing with their own demons, but unlike Gabriel, it may take them longer than six weeks to propose marriage. It took my late husband Bill six months to work up the courage to ask me to marry him, and he wasn’t a war veteran. I hoped this time it would somehow be different, that a couple of days snowbound in a cabin with Noel would be a turning point for Gabriel, that he wouldn’t run off and break her heart, only to return at the end of the book, ready to marry her, but as the story wound its way to a conclusion, the outcome became more predictable.

Also, who in their right mind opens a Christmas store, even in a town like Fool’s Gold? I suppose a venture like that might be profitable from Labor Day through December, but after that, then what? It would have worked better as a Hallmark store. Oh well, such is life. On a more positive note, click this link to hear me sing a familiar song about winter romance.

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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.