Thursday Book Feature: Our Souls At Night

Image contains: Abbie, smiling.

Our Souls At Night

by Kent Haruf

Copyright 2015.

 

In Kent Haruf’s last novel, published posthumously, Addie, a widow, is lonely after the death of her husband. In desperation, she asks her long-time neighbor, Louis, a widower, to spend nights in her bed, keeping her company. Their relationship blossoms from friendship to romance amid gossip from people in the small town where they live and despite their families’ objections.

From the beginning, this author takes us directly into the story with little description of the setting. As the story progresses, we learn about our main characters’ lives through dialog instead of paragraphs of narrative back story. All this make Our Souls at Night a sweet story about two people finding happiness in their older years. The ending, though, leaves a lot to be desired.

 

My Books

 

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

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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

We Shall Overcome

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Silent Night, Fiction

Image contains: Abbie, smiling.The following short story was published in the fall/ winter 2018-19 issue of Magnets and Ladders. I can think of no better way to commemorate Christmas Day and the 200th anniversary of the creation of “Silent Night” than to include this story along with a recording of me playing and singing the song. Merry Christmas, everyone.

SILENT NIGHT

The day before Christmas, my seven-year-old daughter Hannah was rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. I opted to spend CHRISTMAS Day with her. My parents, as they’d done every year since the divorce, had invited Hannah and me to their house for Christmas dinner, but I couldn’t leave my little girl alone in the hospital.

Hannah wasn’t on solid food yet, but a nurse offered to bring me a tray, perhaps realizing it would be difficult for me to navigate to the cafeteria with my limited vision. While Hannah slept, I sat by her bed and enjoyed a delicious turkey dinner complete with stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and pumpkin pie. The food was surprisingly good for a hospital.

I said as much to the nurse when she came to collect my tray. “We have a chef now,” she said. “Of course many of our patients are too sick to appreciate it, but it’s certainly better than the fare we used to serve.”

The little girl in the other bed moaned and then started crying in earnest. I looked over and couldn’t see anyone sitting with her. “Oh, that’s Jessica,” said the nurse in a conspiratorial tone. “Poor kid, she fell out of her neighbor’s treehouse yesterday and broke her leg in three places. She’s in a body cast from her chest to her right foot.”

Hannah must have awakened for she said, “Ou, I guess I won’t complain about my tummy anymore. I’m glad I don’t have a treehouse, and I hope Santa didn’t leave me one.”

I marveled at how sensitive my daughter was. As the nurse went to Jessica and tried to comfort her, I said, “How are you feeling, sweetie?”

“I’m okay, but my tummy still hurts.”

“I thought you weren’t gonna complain about your tummy anymore,” I said, as I ruffled her hair.

Hannah giggled, then winced. “Out, Mommy, it hurts more when I laugh.”

“It sounds like you could use some pain medication too,” said the nurse, as she started to leave the room.

“No, it only really hurts when I laugh,” said Hannah.

“Well, in that case, laughter’s the best medicine,” said the nurse. “I’ll be back soon.”

“How old is Jessica?” asked Hannah.

“Oh, I think she’s about your age,” answered the nurse. “I’ll be back in a bit with some medicine for her, and that’ll make her feel better.” With that, she was gone.

Jessica was still sniffling, but it wasn’t as loud as before. “Mommy, you should go sing her a song,” said Hannah. “like you did for me last night when I was really hurting. I’m not hurting as much now, and I think she’s hurting more.”

Years earlier, I’d worked as a registered music therapist. That was before Hannah was born, before I’d started losing my vision, before my world changed. My husband hadn’t wanted a child but was resigned to the idea once he learned I was pregnant. The vision loss after Hannah’s birth was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Fortunately, he paid plenty of child support. That, along with my disability payments, allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom, and once I learned to use a computer with screen reading and magnification software, I brought in a little income from freelance writing.

Now, I looked over at the little girl in the other bed. My specialty as a music therapist had been with elderly nursing home residents, not hospitalized children. I hadn’t even done a clinical practicum with that population. I remembered bed-ridden residents who smiled and relaxed when I sat by their beds, held their hands, and sang. I even performed at some of their funerals. The fact that my singing in the emergency room the night before had calmed Hannah made me think that perhaps I hadn’t lost my touch. I rose and pulled my chair next to the other bed, where I sat and took the child’s hand that lay on top of the white sheet covering her.

“Hi Jessica,” I said. “I’m Joan. My little girl Hannah is in the other bed. What’s wrong?”

“My leg really hurts,” she answered. “I’ll never play in that stupid treehouse again.”

“That’s too bad,” I said, stroking her hair. “Would you like to sing a song with me?”

“Will that make the pain go away?” she asked.

“It’ll take your mind off of it. What’s your favorite Christmas song?”

She was quiet for a minute, then said, “I like Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.”

“All right, let’s sing it together, shall we?”

I started, and soon, she joined in, followed by Hannah. When we finished that song, Jessica suggested “Jingle Bells,” then “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” The nurse appeared and said, “What lovely singing. Jessica, I have some medicine that will make you feel better. I’m going to put it in your IV now.”

As she started to do this, I said, “Why don’t we sing one more song?”

“I want to hear you sing something by yourself,” said Jessica. “You have a pretty voice, and so did my mommy. She used to sing to me at night before I went to sleep.” A wistful look crossed her face.

“Why doesn’t she sing to you anymore?” I asked.

“She was killed in a car accident a few months ago,” she answered. A tear rolled down her cheek.

“Oh honey, I’m sorry,” I said, as I stroked her hair. Tears welled in my own eyes.

Holding them back, I said, “What song did your mom like to sing to you this time of year?”

“‘Silent Night,'” she answered.

“Yeah, sing that one, Mom,” said Hannah.

I took a deep breath and began. To my surprise, the nurse joined in, singing alto. Our two voices blending together in harmony was almost too much, but I managed to continue.

As we started the second verse, I sensed a presence at my side and turned to see a man standing there. “Daddy!” Jessica said, her eyes wide with delight.

“Hey princess,” he said, reaching over me and ruffling her hair. Then he said, “oh, don’t stop singing on my account. It’s beautiful.”

His voice broke, and it was all I could do to keep from losing it. We started the song where we’d left off and finished the second verse. To break the spell, I turned to the nurse and said, “You and I need to talk. I sing in a women’s group that could use an extra voice.”

“Wow, that sounds interesting,” she said. “You also have a nice voice. I need to see to other patients, but I’ll come back later after my shift, and you can tell me more about it.” She turned and started to leave the room.

Jessica’s father put a hand on my shoulder and said, “You and I also need to talk. It’s only been two months since I lost my wife, and I never dreamed I’d say this to another woman, but could I buy you a cup of coffee, maybe in the cafeteria?”

From the doorway, the nurse said, “Our coffee here isn’t as good as the food. Why don’t you two go across the street to Starbuck’s?”

We hesitated. “Your kids will be fine,” she said. “They’re both out of the woods. I have your cell numbers in their charts. If anything drastic happens, I’ll call you. Joan, you’ve been here all day. You need a break. Go!” With that, she was gone.

I looked at this stranger, not knowing what to think. Finally, I said, “I’ve been divorced for about six years. I’m losing my vision, and I never imagined another man would ask me out for coffee.”

I expected him to back away, but instead, he said, “Any man not interested in you is a fool. You’re a beautiful woman. You’re good with kids, and you have a lovely voice.”

Flabbergasted, I said, “You just got here. Don’t you want to spend some time with Jessica?”

Jessica said, “I’m okay. My leg doesn’t hurt so much now that the nurse gave me some medicine in my IV. Daddy, Joan could make you happy like Mommy did.”

“Yeah,” said Hannah. “Mom, I think this guy could make you happy like Daddy did.”

Jessica’s father laughed and said, “I think these two, along with that nurse, are trying to play matchmaker.” He extended his hand. “By the way, I’m Don Gray.”

“Joan Clark,” I said, taking his hand and shaking it.

Still uncertain, I turned to Hannah and said, “Honey, don’t you remember what I’ve told you about not going off with a stranger?”

“Yeah, but he’s not a stranger. He’s Jessica’s dad.”

“She’s got a point,” said Don.

“My dad told me not to go off with a stranger too,” said Jessica. “but he’s okay. He’s been really sad since Mom died.”

I could feel my heart melting as more tears threatened. “Jessica and I could sing another song,” said Hannah. “How about 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall?”

“Yeah,” said Jessica. She started the song, and Hannah joined in. Laughing, we both made our way out the door.

“Do you need to take my arm?” Don asked.

“Yes, please,” I answered, realizing I’d left my cane in the room. As I grasped his muscular arm and walked with him down the hall, I had a good feeling about this.

 

My Books

 

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

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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

We Shall Overcome

My Other Links

Visit my website.

Like me on Facebook.

Thursday Book Feature: Cottage by the Sea

Cottage by the Sea
by Debbie Macomber
Copyright 2018.

After losing most of her family as a result of a mud slide near Seattle, Annie retreats to the seaside village where her family rented a cottage for several summers. By a miraculus twist of fate, she is able to rent that same cottage. A physician’s assistant, she finds a job at the local clinic. In her quest for healing, she affects the lives of a shy six-foot artist with whom she falls in love, her reclusive landlady, a teen-ager with an abusive stepfather, and other characters, all needing relief from their troublesome burdens.

I’ve always enjoyed Debbie Macomber’s work, and Cottage by the Sea didn’t disappoint me, but there are a couple of things I don’t like about this and other books she has written. First of all, the author uses way too much unnecessary narrative. As I’ve said before, it’s better to show and not tell, and too much narrative bogs a story down. Another thing I don’t like is her use of adverbs. It’s always better to use a stronger verb, and in the case of dialog, what a person says should speak for itself without the adverb. Because Debbie Macomber tells such heartwarming stories that make me feel good, I’m willing to put up with these pitfalls.

That said, Cottage by the Sea was a great end-of-summer read for me. According to the author’s note at the beginning, a mud slide near Seattle actually happened several years ago. I like the way this author uses real-life events to tell a compelling story. I also appreciate her not including descriptions of sex. There are better ways to show two characters in love like kissing, hugging, hand holding, and body language. Sex scenes are unnecessary and bog a story down.

I downloaded this book from Audible, and it was hard to put down. The narrator did an excellent job portraying each character. Although one minor plot detail could have been handled differently, I found the ending very satisfying. If you don’t have time or enough money to retreat to a seaside village, I suggest you read this book instead. You’ll be refreshed.

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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
Like Me on Facebook.

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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.

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Saturday Song: I Could Fall in Love with You by Celine

Three days ago, my husband Bill would have been 75 years old. In February of 2005 after he proposed to me, he sent me a Valentine care package which included chocolates and other items plus a cassette tape of love songs he’d downloaded on his computer. “I Could Fall in Love with You” was one of those songs. It took me three months to realize that I could fall in love with him, but I did. You can read our story in My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds. Enjoy, and have a great Saturday.

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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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Novel Brings Generations Together

Francesca’s Kitchen

by Peter Pezzelli

Copyright 2006

 

In Providence, Rhode Island, Francesca is an Italian widow who misses her grandchildren. She finds a job baby-sitting for Loretta, a single mother with a boy and girl in elementary school. Francesca becomes a grandmother figure to the children, who appreciate her culinary efforts. As an added plot twist, Francesca’s son Joey develops a relationship with Loretta, and Francesca becomes acquainted with Loretta’s boss. The book includes an interview with the author and family recipes.

I enjoy positive family stories like this one, but the pace is too slow. The author devotes too many chapters to the development of Francesca’s character as a despondent widow whose grown children live elsewhere. He also inserts too much description and back story in places where the story needs to move along. This is one of Peter Pezzelli’s earlier works. I may try one of his more recent books to see if his style has improved.

Despite the slow pace, some parts of the book brought back memories for me, like the scene when Francesca and the children are playing spoons, a card game my family used to play around Grandma’s kitchen table. I was right there in the kitchen with Francesca, as she prepared mouth-watering Italian delicacies and shared them with the children.

I like how the author uses this book to emphasize the importance of families coming together. I rarely see any of my relatives anymore. Maybe I need to be the one to bring everyone together once in a while, but that’s a lot of work. However, Peter Pezzelli says in his interview that if you take one thing away from this book, it’s the idea that any effort you put into bringing generations together is worth it. He makes a good point.

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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.

 

Review: Christmas on 4th Street

Abbie-1

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.