Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Third Grace

by Deb Elkink
Greenbrier Book Company, 2011

The daughter of hard-working Mennonite farmers, Mary Grace's life takes a dramatic turn at the age of 17 when a French exchange student visits her family's Nebraska farm and skillfully weaves his way into her heart. Using Greek mythology to woo her, Francois upsets Mary Grace's childlike faith with his fanciful pagan tales. When he is unceremoniously sent packing, Mary Grace's heart goes with him, and she turns away from God and her family.

Now fifteen years later, Mary Grace, who has legally changed her name to Aglaia and moved to Denver to pursue a new life and career, has the opportunity to visit France through her employer. She is determined to find Francois and reconnect with him, or at least bring closure to the story of their youthful love, since her remembrance of him and obsession with him, has stopped her from opening up to any other man or developing transparent relationships. Aglaia's mother, Tina, wants her to find Francois for another reason - to return to him the Bible he left at the farm, in the margins of which he had made notations whose meanings she does not understand.

As Aglaia reads through the notations she remembers that summer of love, all that happened in it, and how it changed her forever.

At a recent meeting of one of my writers' critique groups, I was admonished for the level of vocabulary apparent in my work, and told that the "rule" is to write at a fifth grade level. Deb Elkink breaks that rule entirely - no fifth grade level readers here, please. The language is elevated, and I think you have to have an intense interest in Greek mythology as well. (I took a Greek and Roman mythology course in university, and still the content in this book is a bit too much for me. I admit that further along in the book, I skimmed a few, but not all, of these parts).

Aglaia is a three-dimensional character the reader invests in and cares about. The other characters are in a way types, but that does not make them less interesting or provocative. The story's plot is complex, but extremely well developed, with a satisfying resolution. Although this is Christian fiction, it is not at all preachy and I'm sure there will be some readers who wish the book was more 'Christian'. I am pleased to recommend this book to the more erudite and open-minded reader.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Finding Sarah: a Duchess's Journey to Find Herself

by Sarah Ferguson
Atria, 2011

This is a woman who has struggled all her life to find self-worth. Challenging enough for anyone, but especially for someone who's lived much of her life in the public eye, and made so many public blunders.

It was such a seeming-blunder that set Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, on the path to self-discovery. She needed to know why she continually made poor choices and wound up in scandalous predicaments.

While I am not a fan Oprah or New Age philosophy, and can therefore not agree with the spiritual conclusions Sarah reaches, I do admire her for taking on the difficult task of "finding" herself. At the end of each chapter, she offers "nuggets" to help the reader who may be on a similar journey or be strugging with the same sorts of issues. Some of these "nuggets" would seem common sense to many of us; some, I would opine, are on the "flaky" side.

Sarah emerges from the latest scandal a stronger person for finally facing her past and gaining self-understanding. She is blessed to have many resources at her disposal that the ordinary person would not have. Not everyone can go to Thailand, Hawaii, or the Northwest Territories as part of their healing process. Not everyone has the circle of friends Sarah does.

The best conclusion Sarah comes to is that God loves her and God has forgiven her of all that she has done. With all due respect, her definition of God is suspect, but otherwise it's a statement that could potentially be true.

One of my favourite lines from the book: "Pouncing on your pride is a greater sign of strength than pounding on your chest." (p. 81)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

99 Ways to Get Your Kids to Do Their Homework (and Not Hate It)

by Mary Leonhardt
Three Rivers Press, 2000

This book covers schooling from elementary through high school grade levels. The author is a teacher with 25+ years of experience. I think this book would have been more helpful to me if I'd read it before my kids got to high school. A lot of it seemed like common sense advice to me. That being said, I think this book could be helpful to someone on the starting-out end of things. For me, the best parts of the book were the "case studies" (ie student profiles, written by the students themselves). And the point about putting your child above whatever grades s/he may receive.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


by Nicolas Dickner; translated by Lazer Lederhendler
Trumpeter, 2009

The book's opening line, "My name is UNIMPORTANT", is a great hook. Why is the narrator's name unimportant? Who is he or she? Why does s/he have such a self-effacing view? etc.

A bit confusing for the first while as the story alternates between points of view (the "unimportant" narrator and two other protagonists - Noah and Joyce). Once they are clear in your head, though, the story is quite compelling. All three characters have come from different places to settle in Montreal. All three are on a psychological journey of sorts. And all three are connected, but don't know it.

Reminds me a bit of Melville's classic, Moby Dick, in the sense that you learn an awful lot about subjects you may not have much interest in (in this case cartography, fish, and archaeology). But a lot less boring than Moby.

While it's not a book I would ordinarily have plucked from the bookshelves, I thought I'd give it a shot since it's on the list of a book club I'm thinking of attending this month. I'm not sorry.

Winner of the Prix des libraires du Quebec, the Prix litteraire des collegiens, the Prix Anne-hebert (Quebec), and the Prix Printemps des lecteurs-Lavinal (France). Shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award, the Grand Prix litteraire Archambault; the Prix du public du Salon du livre de Montreal/La Presse, and longlisted for the Prix France-Quebec Jean-Hamelin.        

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Madeleine: Our daughter's disappearance and the continuing search for her

by Kate McCann
Bantam Press, 2011

When the McCann family of five left England with friends for a holiday in the Algarves, little did they dream that only four of them would be returning. Just shy of her fourth birthday, their daughter Madeleine would be snatched from her bed by a stranger. This book is their story.

While the subject matter is difficult, the story is important to read. For one thing, it accomplishes its objective, which is to keep Madeleine's name, face, and the event of her abduction, in the public memory, with the hope that someone, somewhere, sometime, will see her, recognize her, and aid in returning her to her family.

No matter what you've read or heard about the case before, here you get the whole story, no private thing hidden, in great detail. And it will astonish you, make you angry, grieve you, and cause you to pray not only for Madeleine and her family, but for all stolen and missing children and their families. It will also make you hold your own children a little closer and to think about how you can let them experience life while providing for their safety to the best of your ability.

Please read this. Then take action - for the sake of the world's most precious resource - its children.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Farewell, Miss Zukas

by Jo Dereske
June Creek Books, 2011

Alas, as the bard said, parting is such sweet sorrow. This is the final installment in the Miss Zukas mystery series, starring the indomitable Helma and her colourful sidekick,  Ruth. I will miss them both.

Helma has finally said 'yes' to Chief Gallant's proposal of marriage, hence the double-entendre in the book's title. Miss Zukas is to become Mrs. Gallant, and we are indeed wishing her a bon voyage.

Shortly after the book opens, Miss Zukas finds herself in the middle of a case. Her mother and aunt's apartment has been broken into, and a young man lies dead in the parking lot below, having fallen, or been pushed from, their apartment window. Aunt Em's memory has become increasingly unreliable, and her claim that she herself pushed the victim to his death, seems incredible. Helma's mother, Lillian, was out of the apartment at the time, and is unable to confirm Em's story.

Helma to the rescue! Will she be able to sort out the mystery? Was robbery really the only motive? And if so, why were only minor items apparently stolen? What is the identity of the second thief, and why has he or she been returning all but one of the stolen items? What, if anything, was in Aunt Em's Stelmuze box, and what exactly was she buying from the young Lithuanian man in the apartment building lobby? Does the crime have anything to do with the death of Rimas Klimas, a fellow member of the Lithuanian club to which Aunt Em belonged? And will Mr. Dubois, former make-up artist to the "stars," be able to transform Helma into something beautiful for her wedding day?

Stay tuned, or better yet, read this wonderful finale to Dereske's enchanting series.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hannah's List

by Debbie Macomber,
MIRA, 2010

Dr. Michael Everett is a lonely man, still grieving the loss of his wife Hannah to ovarian cancer a year earlier. On the anniversary of her death, his brother-in-law, Ritchie, gives him an unexpected "gift" - a letter Hannah wrote him when she knew she was going to die, a letter in which she asks him to do her one last favour.

There's nothing Michael wouldn't do for Hannah, his soulmate and the love of his life. But Hannah asks the unthinkable - she asks him to move on with his life and to find love again. So determined is she that he find a suitable second wife that she gives him the names of three women she thinks would be a good match, and urges him to get in touch with them.

With additional pressure from Ritchie and great reluctance on his part, Michael begins dating. Will one of the women on Hannah's list capture Michael's heart? If so, which will it be? Hannah's cousin, Winter, a wonderful cook and owner of the French Cafe? Leanne, an oncology nurse who treated Hannah with such compassion and care during her illness? Or Macy, an irrepressible artist with a penchant for collecting pets and people?

Macomber has written an engaging story and populated it with compelling characters. If you're looking for a gentle romance that will tug at your heartstrings, this is it.