Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Book Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

If you read just one book this year, make it The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce! I don't know when a book has moved me this intensely. It was a journey well worth taking. To make it even more "meta" (as my blogging friend Amy said), I listened to Harold Fry's walking journey while walking on the treadmill several miles. I didn't cover nearly the distance he did, but I went everywhere he went emotionally and metaphorically.

Harold Fry opens his mail one morning to find a letter from Queenie Hennesey, saying that she is in hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed and has been told there is nothing more they can do. Queenie had been a favored co-worker of his at the brewery twenty years ago, but left under mysterious conditions in a way that saved Harold from something and yet, he had never once attempted to locate her in all this time. When he sets down the words "I'm sorry," and walks to the post box to mail the brief letter, he is struck by how inadequate the gesture is. He decides he will walk on to the next box and the next and eventually stops in a garage where a young girl tells him that faith is what is so desperately necessary when it comes to cancer. Harold suddenly calls the hospice to say that he is walking to Berwick-upon-Tweed (in upper England, while he is in the lowest part of England, a distance of over 500 miles) and to please tell Queenie to keep living as long as he is walking.

What follows is a pilgrimage full of time for reflecting on his life and the many mistakes he has made over the years. With nothing but time and open skies, he recalls his failings as a husband and father. Indeed, sadly Harold reminded me quite a bit of my husband's father as he discussed his discomfort with fatherhood and how he never embraced his son or talked to him in meaningful ways. Harold's upbringing helps to explain his difficulties, but he is still open to fully confronting his past regrets.

In the meantime, we are also introduced to his wife and watch as she tries to make sense of his pilgrimage and her role in both the past and present circumstances, in the growing chasm between them. She begins to realize that she misses Harold and resents him leaving her. She is unsure what to make of his determination to reach Queenie. Both of them grow and change as the miles and memories stretch on.

I was struck by the importance of the fact that Harold takes nothing special along for the journey. He leaves in a tattered pair of boating shoes, without a cell phone or any gear. He tries to remain as unencumbered for the journey as possible. We embrace the journey of life with only the resources God has given us (personality traits, skills and abilities) and must do the best we can with what we have. Often the journey seems without purpose, or too hard to continue, or even somewhat ridiculous (like the idea of walking possibly holding off the inevitable end of life) but hope keeps us trodding along.

I relished the opportunity to rush to the computer after every mention of a location and find it on MapQuest UK. I wanted to visualize the path he took, the roads he travelled. I was swept along by the story and fully entered into the characters' emotions and reactions. As the story came to a close, I wept.

The tale was even more significant when I discovered, upon googling Rachel Joyce, that she wrote this book while her own father was battling cancer. In a video on her website, she explains how the writing of the book felt like a journey of her own, one she often questioned her abilities to complete. She herself hoped her father would continue to live while she wrote. Sadly, he never lived to see the success of his daughter's first novel.

If my recommendation doesn't move you, take a moment to read Amy's review (which induced me to find the book). Or view the many wonderful reviews written on Amazon. Take my word for it, this is a book you will not regret investing your time and energy on. You, too, will cheer Harold Fry on and think of ways to buoy up your own spirits and resolve for whatever journey life is presenting you.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Book Review: Notes from a Blue Bike

I think the only reason I put my name on the hold list for this book is because I had heard other bloggers refer to the book and to the author, Tsh Oxenreider, who blogs at The Art of Simple (formerly SimpleMom, a blog title which could be confusing since simple also means not very bright - a not too complimentary association for a blog name). I have never visited Oxenreider's blog. I suppose, for me, I figure I already live a simple life here on "the farm" and the pace of my life is slow to the point of almost being too slow. In fact, at the moment, I am suffering from the dilemma of not having enough to keep my mother-in-law busy during her visit (even though she is 85, she cannot abide the thought of slowing down to sit for one single moment). My life is too simple, too slow. It could do with some excitement and challenge. However, the subtitle of the book does draw me in: "The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World." As I've said, now that my little ones are no longer so little, I don't have the chaos anymore, but I do have a desire to live more intentionally.

Notes from a Blue Bike is both a memoir and a manifesto. On the one hand, it is filled with personal stories from the author's life (up to this point - she seems so young still). But, on the other hand, each chapter is written to present a call to that intentional and simple life which Oxenreider espouses. She uses moments from her story to urge readers to slow down, decide what purpose and values they want to live out more, and to take steps to make life count for more without pouring more time/money commitments into the mix. All very good messages.

I was a bit tripped up by the bouncing back and forth in time frame (in one chapter you're closer to the present time and in the next you jump back to 2008), but I understand the structure selected for the book and why the stories didn't follow a more chronological format. It also felt wrong that someone claiming to live simply, seemed to refer to so much chaos and busyness in her own life. It must have been exhausting to run a "best-selling" blog (both the writing and the business end of the money-making venture), homeschool, write books, and care for the needs of a growing family (or any family with small children - I had no job and it took it all out of me to care for two little beings when they were in the whirling dervish phase of life). Perhaps there was a bit of green going on, as well, as I thought "how do these women key in on what the world is wanting to read at the moment, make such a successful venture out of it, have the self-assurance to proclaim they have something to teach others, and rocket from just another voice on the net to Internet sensation with best-selling books on the market?" Okay, more than a little green.

If you are wanting to be more intentional about the use of your time on this earth, if you want to establish a family vision statement, if you want to read about others who took the time to carefully consider the way they were living and make changes to live more intentionally, then this would be an appropriate read. If you're already living a simple, slow-paced life, you'll still enjoy the stories, because the writing is good and the stories are interesting. It certainly has caused me to ponder what values I want to pursue for my family and to think about how to make those values more clearly established and expressed in our lives.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Mad Photography Skills

Here's another photographer who blows me away with his abilities, capturing such emotion and story-telling within the frames of his photos. Oleg Oprisco is from the Ukraine and you can visit his website at www.oprisco.com or view this article about him on Bored Panda.

Here are my favorite two photos, shown on the Bored Panda site:




Thursday, April 24, 2014

Giving Thanks for Spring Weather and a Trampoline

The layout of our house doesn't allow for much private space. The kitchen is only separated from the dining room by a counter and overhead cabinets and the dining room is only separated from the living room by a partial brick wall.




I love the fact that everything is so open and there are windows in every room so you feel like you are right out in the nature which surrounds our house. But, the drawback to the open layout is that we can never really get away from one another, unless we seclude ourselves off in our bedrooms with the door closed (Bryce's constant choice).

Add in an extra long winter and the stir-craziness abounds. Perhaps this accounts for some of the friction, mentioned before, between my two youngest sons. I have been noticing a reprieve from the constant bickering and pestering. I am convinced that it has to do with the weather and the trampoline.

As soon as the weather improved, Trevor began to want to head outside. He doesn't like to do this alone. He wants a companion. Especially, if it involves jumping on the trampoline. Trevor and Sean have been spending hours outside jumping happily together on the trampoline. Their favorite thing to do is to fill large balloons with water and then bounce on the trampoline with the balloons until they burst and shoot water all over them. They've gone through countless dollar-size bags of balloons, but I'll eat the expense if it means they are happily enjoying each other's company.






The other blessing is that they are getting more exercise and spending less time on electronic devices. Trevor will probably always struggle with his weight, but at least I'm no longer having to cajole him into walking on the treadmill (although I do miss that some, since he used to beg for me to read aloud to him while he walked - something he rarely does otherwise). So, we're tackling the weight issue and the sibling rivalry in one go with the fairer weather and the trampoline. Praise God!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Book Review: Dead End in Norvelt

Every month, the leaders of my Young-at-Heart book club (older women who read young adult literature) offer up two book suggestions and the group selects one to read for the next selection. For this month, we couldn't decide, so we elected to read both of the suggested books: Jack Gantos' Newbery Award winning Dead End in Norvelt, and Gary D. Schmidt's book, Okay for Now. Having gushed outrageously about Schmidt's book earlier this year, I probably went into the reading of Gantos' book with some skepticism for it living up to the other selection. For me, it was clearly the lesser of the two. So, I begin this review with the disclaimer that I probably wasn't open for giving this book a fair shake or wasn't enough in the mood to enjoy it fully (especially given the fact that it was a Newbery winner and yet I didn't enjoy it as much as I normally would enjoy a Newbery winner).

Gantos' novel is about a young boy, Jack Gantos, (how much of this story is autobiographical? I don't know, but I'm guessing a fair amount) who is grounded for the entire summer of 1962 and forced to work with an elderly neighbor writing obituaries for the founding members of his historic town, Norvelt. Truth and fiction are definitely blended in this wild tale. I liked the historical bits, along with the exploits of the young boy. It was interesting to learn about the town of Norvelt, a town created to be a more dignified group of dwellings for coal-mining families, established by Eleanor Roosevelt, and thereby named for the last two suffixes of her name, Elea-NOR and Roose-VELT. Smatterings of history pepper Gantos' tale, from the boys' own reading and from the elderly neighbor's obituaries, embellished with historical connections.

Perhaps I am just feeling jaded against metaphors and similes these days. It seemed like Gantos' book suffered from the same tiresome over-use of comparison as the recent self-published book I read, Addison's Mark. My feeling is that such comparisons should enhance the reading, but when too many are presented, they tend to weigh the writing down. They draw attention to the writer ("look how clever I am for the comparison I was able to craft") and away from the story (something the reader wants to be fully absorbed in without the interruption of knowledge that there is someone behind the scenes crafting it all).

I also could have done without the euphemistic "cheese-us-crust." As the main character's mother points out, it is really no different than saying the curse it implies. Plus, it just came off as so ridiculous.

Still, the writing in this book is very good, apart from that, and the story is interesting. The main character and supporting characters are lively and unique. Along the way, the reader is entertained by a mysteriously-loaded Japanese rifle, molten wax, Girl Scout cookies, a policeman who rides a tricycle, a homemade airplane, Hells Angels, underage driving (which seemed glorified?), endless bloody noses and the possibility of murder (murder of the elderly presented as not that big a deal?). It is, indeed, a wild ride. But, Newbery winner? I didn't think so. Schmidt's book, Okay for Now, is a much better choice. Schmidt's book leaves you contemplating loftier sentiments and has a much better take-away value. Hopefully my book club will spend more time talking about it than talking about Gantos' book.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Book Review: The Namesake

I'm so grateful for the opportunity to belong to book clubs. They often induce me to read books I might not have picked on my own. I had heard nothing of this book prior to seeing it on my book club's selection list. Had I been at the meeting when they were narrowing down to the eleven selections for the year, I might not have even voted for it. But, I am glad to have read this book. It held a lot of interesting ideas to consider and was a flavor I don't normally seek out.

In The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri tells the story of the Ganguli family as they emigrate from Calcutta to America after an arranged marriage. The tale opens with the birth of their first child, a son. They are waiting for an important letter from the grandmother, bearing the name suggestions for the baby. Sadly, the letter never arrives and Ashoke and Ashima select their own pet name for the boy, Gogol, named for the Russian writer whose book of short stories played a significant role in Ashoke's life. The boy grows to despise his name and eventually changes it, unaware of the reasoning behind his parents' choice.

I appreciated lots of aspects of this book. I loved the expert writing where the reader is sucked into the story completely, unaware of the author's presence. The prose was beautiful, full of rich sensory details. The characters were endearing and interesting. The story evokes so many deep ideas about identity and cultural leanings and the role of families. It causes the reader to contemplate the things which form their own identity and purpose. It opens up new horizons to consider, new ways of relating to the world. Every reader will benefit from the themes and ideas presented in this wonderfully written tale.

I would recommend the audio version of this book. It really brought the story to life with a narrator who was able to manage both the Indian pronunciations and the American accents. I think I enjoyed the book more in listening to it than I might have if I had plowed through it, reading on my own (since the middle does get bogged down a bit with details of the son's various relationships to illustrate his identity struggles).

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book Review: Addison's Mark

It has been a while since I've bitten at any of the free books for review on the Story Cartel website. I've had plenty to occupy me without seeking out more. Plus, none of the books really seemed to jump out and grab me, until this past Friday, when they sent out a small blurb about a young adult novel being offered for review, called Addison's Mark. The hook was fantastic. It was clearly going to be a novel full of adventure and intrigue with great male reader appeal.

Here's the gist of what hooked me: Sam Addison is getting over the tragic deaths of both of his parents. Now orphaned, and dealing with the economic collapse of the country, Sam is merely existing until he befriends Ashlin Ammon, daughter of the next up-coming presidential candidate. While getting swept into the political fervor of a presidential campaign, Sam is visited by supernatural beings. He is even more perplexed by their presence when he wakens from one vision with a clear physical mark etched into his arm. Is he losing his mind? What do these supernatural beings want from him?

Great premise for a book. Great potential for a riveting story. It did indeed provide a story sure to appeal to male readers. It had a beautiful girl, supernatural elements, adventure, and intrigue. Still, it wasn't without some weaknesses. The story didn't get around to the heart of the hook until page 64. I don't believe I ever figured out why the mark was necessary in the first place or what the beings wanted from Sam, since he was pretty much a casual observer of the battles playing out between good and evil.

For me, the greatest weakness in the writing was the overuse of comparisons in an attempt to enhance the story for the reader. In a book of over two hundred pages, there were probably two or three similes or metaphors per page. Sometimes they were apt comparisons, but often they felt forced and disruptive to the story. For example: "She scratched below her chin like an old philosopher with a beard." For a free book, it wasn't a bad read. Sadly, I don't think I'll be looking for the sequel.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Book Review: Little Audrey

I thoroughly enjoyed Ruth White's middle-grade novel, Belle Prater's Boy, and the follow-up book, The Search for Belle Prater. I think I was just browsing when I happened upon this one, Little Audrey, a more historical memoir-type book. It was a quick, easy read.

In Little Audrey, Ruth White tells the story of a traumatic year in her life, through the eyes of her older sister, Audrey. The year is 1948 and eleven-year-old Audrey lives with her parents and three younger sisters, whom she calls "the three little pigs," in a coal-mining camp in Virginia. Audrey is recovering from scarlet fever, her mother is mourning the loss of her infant daughter, and her father is coping with life by turning to drink. I'm supposing the telling of the story through the narration of an older sister, allowed Ruth White some distance to the tale. I'm also wondering if the older sister expressed feelings of guilt over a comment she made just prior to the devastating loss her family experienced.

The story is told with child-like wonder and emotion. The author easily conveys how it felt to be a young child in a coal-mining community. Moreover, every reader will be able to relate to the hopes and dreams of something better, while coping with the less-than-best.  It is always interesting to me to discover more about the personal background of an author and how that influences their writing. I can certainly understand where the themes of yearning for a parent grew from in White's writings.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Book Review: Tara Road

I've had Maeve Binchy's, Tara Road, on my shelves for years, but never seemed to pick it up (probably because of the length and probably because I'm a sucker for listening to Binchy books in audio form so that I can enjoy the Irish accent in the narration). Then, a few weeks back, my library decided to do a major purge of their books in audio-cassette form. They were offering them ... for free! I kicked myself, after leaving with the bulky audio of Tara Road, for not picking up two Rosemary Pilcher books for my mother (Pilcher is one of her favorite authors).

I absolutely loved listening to this lengthy book. The length (fifteen cassettes long) turned out to be no problem at all. I didn't want the book to end. I relished my morning walk and even drew out the time longer, bringing my boom-box into the kitchen for my morning dish-washing chore, as well. I was swept up in the story and wanted to go on eavesdropping on the characters' lives endlessly. They feel as if they are real people I have known for years (surely the mark of a skilled author).

The tale begins with an introduction to Ria, a young woman who finds herself magically blessed with the love of her dashing, young husband, Danny Lynch, and with the acquisition of their dream home on Tara Road (a prosperous location in Dublin). After life settles in, with the birth of daughter, Annie, and son, Brian, Ria begins to feel restless and hopes that another baby is the solution. Sadly, there will be another baby for her husband, but it won't be hers.

Wishing to flee the devastation of a life which now feels like a lie, Ria immediately accepts the proposal of a young American woman, Marilyn Vine, for a home exchange over the summer. Marilyn, who is fleeing her own secrets and catastrophes, takes up residence in Tara Road. In typical Binchy fashion, a wide cast of characters weave their way in and out of the lives of these two lonely, desperate women. Personal drama abounds. There's nothing like being a fly on the wall in a Binchy-crafted world.

This book was chosen for an Oprah-Book-Club selection. I'm not surprised. Plus, it was made into a movie in 2005. Here's the trailer:


Thursday, April 10, 2014

My 1000th Post - 100 Favorite Authors

What to do when you are approaching your 1000th post? Reflecting on the fact that my blog is primarily about books, I decided to present a list of 100 of my favorite authors. I'm sure in attempting this, I will leave off an author who needs to be recognized (that's why I really loathe making these lists in the first place), but I should be able to come up with 100 authors, whose books I categorically love, without too much trouble.

I will list them by category. Plus, for the few who are one-hit wonders (I've only encountered one book which really soared), I will identify those with an asterisk (*).



Classics:

1) Charles Dickens
2) Fyodor Dostoevsky
3) Louisa May Alcott
4) Shakespeare
5) Thomas Hardy
6) Edgar Allen Poe
7) Mark Twain
8) E.M. Forster
9) Theodore Dreiser
10) John Steinbeck
11) Edith Wharton
12) T.S. Eliot
13) Emily Bronte *
14) Charlotte Bronte *
15) Victor Hugo *
16) Daphne du Maurier *
17) Harper Lee *

General Fiction:

18) Maeve Binchy
19) Alexander McCall Smith
20) Sophie Kinsella
21) Nicholas Sparks
22) Khaled Hosseini
23) Kristin Hannah
24) Jodi Picoult
25) Jeffrey Archer
26) Richard Paul Evans
27) Anita Shreve
28) Alan Bradley
29) Joanne Fluke
30) M.L. Stedman *
31) Audrey Niffenegger *
32) Kathryn Stockett *
33) Marilynne Robinson *
34) Mark Haddon *

General Non-Fiction:

35) Bill Bryson
36) Oliver Sacks
37) Annie Dillard
38) Mitch Albom
39) Torey L. Hayden
40) Anne Lamott
41) Christopher de Vinck
42) Stephen King * (Yes, he writes great fiction, but I love him primarily for his book on writing.)
43) Erik Larson *

Young Adult all the way down to Picture Books:

44) Kate DiCamillo
45) Kate Klise
46) Suzanne Collins
47) J.K. Rowling
48) Patrick Ness
49) Lois Lowry
50) Richard Peck
51) Andrew Clements
52) Madeleine L'Engle
53) Laura Ingalls Wilder
54) Katherine Paterson
55) Gloria Whelan
56) Louis Sachar
57) Gary D. Schmidt
58) Laurie Halse Anderson
59) Lauren Child
60) Louise Fitzhugh
61) Beverly Cleary
62) Roald Dahl
63) Judy Bloom
64) Sarah Weeks
65) Peg Kehret
66) Carl Hiassen
67) E.B. White
68) Deborah Wiles
69) A.A. Milne
70) Dr. Suess
71) Jeff Kinney
72) Bernard Waber
73) David Shannon
74) Eric Carle
75) Gus Clarke
76) Mercer Mayer
77) H.A. Rey
78) Gene Zion
79) Shel Silverstein
80) Markus Zusak *
81) Brandon Mull *
82) Frances Hodgson Burnett *

Christian Fiction:

83) Karen Kingsbury
84) C.S. Lewis
85) J.R.R. Tolkien
86) G.K. Chesterton
87) George MacDonald
88) Liz Curtis Higgs

Christian Non-fiction:

89) A.W. Tozer
90) Elizabeth Elliot
91) Philip Yancey
92) Beth Moore
93) Dr. Paul Brand
94) Ravi Zacharias
95) Frederick Buechner
96) Brennan Manning
97) John Piper
98) Kay Arthur
99) Mark Batterson *
100) Anne Voskamp *

Of these authors, I studied under Frederick Buechner, while at Wheaton College. I attended lectures by Brennan Manning, Madeleine L'Engle, and Elizabeth Elliot (whose neice was my best friend freshman year in college). I once received a personal letter from Gloria Whelan. And, the most incredible connection of all? While working for the Marion E. Wade Collection, I transcribed all the personal letters of C.S. Lewis, and went on a trip to assist with an oral history interview of his first cousin, Ruth Parker.

How about you? Did I miss one of your favorite authors? Do you have an interesting connection to a favorite author?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Book Review: Truly, Madly, Deadly

Hannah Jayne's novel, Truly, Madly, Deadly, keeps the reader guessing clear to the end as to who is responsible for the tragic events unfolding in the story. The pacing in the book is excellent. The premise is intriguing. Still, somehow it ended up being just an okay read.

The back cover introduces the story with this blurb:

"Sawyer Dodd is a star athlete, straight-A student, and the envy of every other girl who wants to date Kevin Anderson. When Kevin dies in a tragic car crash, Sawyer is stunned. Then she opens her locker to find a note: 'You're welcome'.

"Someone saw what he did to her. Someone knows that Sawyer and Kevin weren't the perfect couple they seemed to be. And that someone - a killer - is now shadowing Sawyer's every move ..."

Anyone who has ever hurt or offended Sawyer becomes a target in the story and characters are dying like flies. Not only that, but the evidence always leads back to Sawyer (murder weapons showing up in her locker and discovered by the police). The suspects are endless: the two boys newly interested in forming a connection with Sawyer, the police officer first on each scene, the new step-mother, the best friend.  Who is causing damage to all who come up against Sawyer and why are they framing Sawyer with the evidence?

Interesting idea, but the writing still came off cliché and predictable. From numerous episodes of crying to questionable points in the plot (how could the friend return home without the car and with a bloody gash on her head, yet not raise any suspicions by the parents that she had even been out for the night?), the writing was just okay.

It was still worth the read, however. I think teens probably enjoy the suspense of the story and the conflicted nature of the main character. With a little bit of romance, a little bit of relational conflict, a lot of questions, and a steady stream of new evidence, the story does pull you along on a wild ride.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Book Review: A Prayer Journal

I've not been exposed to much literature by Flannery O'Connor. I've known several individuals who are big fans of O'Connor's works. But, I don't really know enough to comment on her writing. Still, when I came across her prayer journal, it sounded like an interesting read.

This prayer journal was penned while O'Connor was a writing student at the University of Iowa. I'm sure she had no intention of seeing this published. However, writers will find comfort in her words as she prays to avoid mediocrity and for God to give her words and to make her story His story, allowing her to merely be the vessel carrying His words, a prayer I would echo.

I enjoyed the cries of her heart for God to bless her with success for her writing and to show her grace and truth. I think my favorite image conveyed was this:

"You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth's shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see, but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing."

She also prays: "Please let Christian principles permeate my writing and please let there be enough of my writing (published) for Christian principles to permeate." She prays for God to "take care of making it a sound story." Her prayers contain words Christian writers can relate to.

While it was a very slim volume, it was a joy to read her words. Plus, I was thrilled with the presentation of her actual writing at the back of the book. It brought back memories of my time spent transcribing the words of C.S. Lewis. I will continue to pursue the writing of truly great writers and perhaps it will assist me in becoming a better writer. Perhaps, my own prayers for God to grant me words and a story worth telling will be answered one day.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Further Thoughts on the Suicide Book, A Long Way Down

After writing my review for Nick Hornby's book, A Long Way Down, I sent the link to the members of my book club since I was going to be unavailable for that month's meeting. It seems some of my points were discussed during the group and I realize that my writing wasn't clear and my thoughts not presented as I would have wished, nor was I there to defend them or explain them more clearly.

Apparently, the group discussed whether or not it is helpful or germane to ask whether a person is justified in wanting to seek the solution of suicide. I had intimated in my review that I felt none of the characters were really in a situation where the only solution seemed to be suicide. I think what I should have articulated was that I never felt close enough or connected enough to the characters presented to feel their depth of despair. This is far different than saying that their reasons were weak or shallow. I needed to get inside their heads further before I would understand or believe their act of seeking suicide.

Moreover, these were characters in a book, and I certainly wouldn't treat any real-life person with a skepticism for their validity in seeking suicide. It was merely an aspect of the book which didn't work for me as a reader. I have nothing but compassion for those individuals who find themselves longing for a way out of this hard life. It is never helpful to tell a suicidal person that they have no reason to feel that way. Such comments merely invalidate their feelings and make things worse.

I have been suicidal on a few occasions, most of them linked to my clinical depression. While this is not something I'm proud to admit, it is a part of my story. In the days and weeks when I plotted and schemed, there was a strong sense that this life was just too hard to do anymore and, especially, that nobody really cared whether I was alive or not. My brain told me that the world would be a better place if I wasn't in it and, for the most part, I believed it.

I'm thankful that I never had to hear someone question whether my life was really sucky enough to warrant the act of suicide. I'm especially grateful that there were individuals who stepped into the gap and urged me to get the help I needed to pull away from that course of action. I never had a ring of fellow suicide seekers to help stave off the intention to do bodily harm like in Hornby's book, but I had at least one individual in my court and that was enough for me.

Sadly, having people in his court wasn't sufficient for my brother-in-law. He took his life in May of 2010. The world isn't a better place because he's gone. His daughter and family members still struggle with the aftermath of his decision.

I felt a need to clarify that I am in complete agreement with my book club, that it is neither germane nor helpful to inquire whether there is sufficient reason to warrant suicide. My thoughts and prayers go out to anyone who is feeling such a depth of despair over life that they wish to seek an exit plan. It would have been interesting to hear my book club's suggestions for how to buoy up someone in this dire dilemma.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Book Review: This Dark Road to Mercy

Of Wiley Cash's two books, I'd have to say I prefer the debut novel of A Land More Kind Than Home, to this one, This Dark Road to Mercy. That's not to say I didn't enjoy this one. I did. But, I think the first one was better. Still, if you're looking for a good read ... Wiley Cash knows how to write one.

It is a simple story, really. Two young girls have just been placed in foster care because their mother has died and their father relinquished his parental rights years ago. Twelve-year-old Easter and six-year-old Ruby are both startled when their father, Wade, shows up on the ball diamond where they are playing. When he steals them away in the middle of the night, hoping to live his dream of being a family once again, he is chased by two men. The girls' court-appointed guardian, Brady Weller, an ex-cop with his own demons to flee, is in hot pursuit of Wade and his girls. Hopefully, he will find them before Bobby Pruitt, a man with a vendetta against Wade and a desire to recoup the money Wade has stolen, does.

There are many similarities to Cash's first book. Told from the perspectives of three different narrators, the story is woven together well. The pacing is good. I simply would have preferred to feel more strongly about the father in the story. His desire for his children didn't seem as strong as it could have been, in order to drive him to steal them away. I believe this author will go on to write a good many more valuable tales with vulnerable, real characters who struggle with temptations and bad decisions.