Anita Shreve’s December Wedding

April 20th. 2009

The first time I read one of Anita Shreve’s novels I almost quit after the first few chapters. She’s a terse writer. Short sentences, trim descriptions and the dialogue is cut to the meatiest portions. I’m no fan of long narrative or never-ending descriptions, but throw me a bone and give me a little more to go on, please. Well, thankfully I persevered and discovered how gifted Anita Shreve is with her craft.  December Wedding is the third novel I’ve read by Ms. Shreve and it was no less cryptic than the others, but at least now I know her style and can get into the rhythm of her storytelling sooner. And here’s the thing, though at the end of her books I feel like I’ve read something important, I don’t always love them. Her books make me sad, probably because the characters are almost never happy.  The characters are compelling and that’s why I can’t put the books down. She takes an everyday person and peels back the layers of their facade, revealing quite desperate souls. Once everyone is at their most vulnerable, then the roller coaster begins. This was a good book to read during a rainy, cold Spring, but unlike my garden I can’t say Ms. Shreve’s characters come out blooming. They do, on the other hand, make me remember that the face people present, is not always the truth.

The Passion of Mary Margaret

April 15th. 2009

I picked up the latest book by Lisa Samson because everything I’ve read by her is exceptional. Lisa is a gifted writer. She brings humanity to characters that society ignores.  From the first novel of hers I read, Songbird, to this one, The Passion of Mary Margaret, I’ve been pushed to reexamine how I look at people and God’s gift of redemption. Last winter’s Embrace Me took all the insecurities about people I might consider ‘freaks’ and splattered them on the wall. Really, I don’t know what paths Lisa has walked to generate this empathy for wounded people, but she’s one of the best writers for taking those scared souls and holding them up as a light that beams back to God. So, it was with some trepidation that I opened this latest novel. But once again, I was quickly sucked in to caring for a little red-headed orphan who just loved Jesus.  Because this is written as a memoir-in-the-making there are a lot of flash-forwards, flash-backwards and a few flash-sideways sometimes all in the same chapter. And in lesser hands, this would turn out as a mess. Lisa weaves a tapestry instead. This is one of those novels where Jesus plays a starring role, but unlike other novels, I didn’t find myself questioning the theology. Instead, I longed for more of Jesus and the unexpected.

The School of Essential Ingredients

April 13th. 2009

Food and hope are two essential ingredients in a life well lived, and Erica Bauermeister brings both to the table with this debut novel, The School of Essential Ingredients. The setting is a charming and intimate  restaurant–and the owner/chef’s Monday evening cooking school that begins a new session with a dozen or so strangers. From the very first page evocative descriptions of food and careful preparation become parcel with the steps people are taking to move their lives forward. This story features an ensemble cast of characters learning to savor the slow methods of choosing ingredients like you would choose guests for a dinner party, and how to enjoy each moment when its ripe not force everything to come together at once. The author creates vignettes of the cast allowing us to care for them and watch them grow (or stew) through other’s perspective. I admit there were times I was a bit confused on remembering the back story of so many characters because of similarities in history, but like with the chef’s salsa it all works best when you don’t think so much.  Having read these chapters and going back to re-read some sentences because of the elegant stylization and luminescent descriptions, I was motivated to go into my pantry and find something to cook. Not just for the purpose of having food to eat, but a joy in creating that transcends the pressing need of offering a meal to starving people. This book is like basil. It’s a small pleasure that in changing how you look at life, seasons everything that comes after with a new perspective.

Since I finished this book on a particularly cold, and remarkably slow, Easter weekend, I had plenty of time to ponder recipes. We had a big ham and roasted potatoes for our Easter lunch, I decided to take leftovers and make a frittata for dinner. Frittata is one of those words I love to sprinkle into a conversation because it makes any sentence sparkle with mystery. I don’t make frittatas (kind of like a giant omelet baked in  the oven) often because, well, I’m really the only one really likes them. My husband and daughter are game for new recipes, but my son is a very picky eater. So, I’ll be eating the frittata leftovers for the next week. I will say Lillian, the main character in the novel, had an interesting take on Thanksgiving dinner that I might have to spring on my relatives this fall.

Jane Austen Ruined My Life

April 7th. 2009

Just finished reading a delightful new book, Jane Austen Ruined My Life. You have to admit the title is catchy. And as it turns out the title is also the theme, a repeating theme that is resolved in an almost happy ending. I was charmed from the cover all the way through the pages of this fast-paced escapade through the haunts and hallmarks of Jane Austen landmarks scattered across England. An armchair traveler at times, I did appreciate the main character’s journey in and around the most delightful locations within London as she tried to debunk Jane Austen’s perpetually happy-ever-afters in the novels.  The author, Beth Pattillo, has a gift for creating the kind of scenes I’d like to settle in; Hatchard’s bookstore, Anne-Elise’s house on top of Holly Hill and Mrs. Parrott’s charmingly mysterious abode.  A fun, easy read even if you’re not a die-hard Jane Austen fan.

The Incredible Blue Hole

April 4th. 2009

One of the most beautifully crafted novels I’ve read is, Blue Hole Back Home. Joy Jordan-Lake created, through the most magical language, a story ripe with emotion, conflict and the haunting ‘what ifs.’ I would love to tell you details, impressions and ah-ha moments that came to me after having to part with a chapter, but anything I could say, other than this begins with a country road, teenagers, a stranger and a ride to the local swimming hole, would cause a spoiler alert for the rest of it. And because I want you to read this story without any preconceived notions, I’ll just plead with you to find this novel and read it. It’s beautiful in the way of finding a family heirloom in the ashes of a tragic fire. I won’t forget this story for a long time.

Very Valentine

April 1st. 2009

Doesn’t the title, Very Valentine, conjure great visual images? In this case, the pages that follow don’t disappoint. With the unusual new world of custom bridal shoes, Adriana Trigiani has crafted another story of complex family dynamics, personal growth, and romance. Mrs. Trigiani is a master with dialogue. She’s lean on settings, narratative and backstory, usually bringing enough snippets to the table to let  the reader spin their own corners and doors around the rooms. I did relish the way she described the  NYC (on the Hudson River) small, family-owned ,shoe factory (and the above 2-story apartment) because it read like something the artist Mary Engelbreit would have created. And, oh, to be able to get a reservation at the fictional Ca ‘d Or. Wow.  The risotto scene made me drool. I’ve been reading her books for years–ever since I found the first Big Stone Gap story—because she tells the kind of story I love to read.  Find out more information at her website. In the mean time, rush out to  your favorite bookstore (or library) for a fun way to find an ‘everyday vacation.’