Thursday, March 25, 2010

Review - Here Burns My Candle by Liz Curtis Higgs

Here Burns My Candle by Liz Curtis Higgs

published 2010
465 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

A mother who cannot face her future.

A daughter who cannot escape her past.

Lady Elisabeth Kerr is a keeper of secrets. A Highlander by birth and a Lowlander by marriage, she honors the auld ways, even as doubts and fears stir deep within her.

Her husband, Lord Donald, has secrets of his own, well hidden from the household, yet whispered among the town gossips.

His mother, the dowager Lady Marjory, hides gold beneath her floor and guilt inside her heart. Though her two abiding passions are maintaining her place in society and coddling her grown sons, Marjory's many regrets, buried in Greyfriars Churchyard, continue to plague her.

One by one the Kerr family secrets begin to surface, even as bonny Prince Charlie and his rebel army ride into Edinburgh in September 1745, intent on capturing the crown.

A timeless story of love and betrayal, loss and redemption, flickering against the vivid backdrop of eighteenth-century Scotland, Here Burns My Candle illumines the dark side of human nature, even as hope, the brightest of tapers, lights the way home.

My thoughts:

I'd read and enjoyed Higgs' Galloway historical trilogy, so when I found out she had a new book based on the Biblical story of Ruth, I was excited to get my hands on a copy. And I'm happy to say that fans of Higgs' previous novels should be very happy with this one.

What I think Higgs does so well is take a story that I've heard thousands of times - in her Galloway trilogy, it was the story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel - and transport it into a completely different time and place. Creating new characters and events, and yet maintaining the heart of the story, she is able to give readers tales that seem both familiar AND fresh. Her sense of time and place is excellent - I can tell she has done her research, because I was fully transported to 18th century Scotland as I read about Elisabeth and Marjory.

If I have a complaint, it is that her characters sometimes feel a bit one-dimensional - Elisabeth is just SO good, and Janet is just SO spiteful. I think Higgs is a genuinely good writer, and could make her characters so rich and complex - so I feel a little bit disappointed when she doesn't.

Overall, though, I enjoyed it. It was a great read for this time in my life, because it sucked me in to the story right away, and the pages turned quickly thanks to lots of excitement. If you enjoy this type of historical Christian fiction, I think this is definitely a title to add to your list.

Finished: 3/23/10
Source: review copy from Waterbrook Multnomah Blogging for Books
Rating: 7/10

Saturday, March 13, 2010


I know this blog has been pretty neglected of late - it has been an emotional few weeks at my house, with some wonderful news and some devastating news. I will update when I can, but please know I'm probably going to be less active in general as we start to make many adjustments. But don't worry - I'm not leaving! Just in a spot of needing to take care of some real life.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Review - Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein

Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein
originally published 1998
445 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

When Jenna Rosen abandons her comfortable Seattle life to revisit Wrangell, Alaska, it's a wrenching return to her past. Long ago the home of her Native American grandmother, Wrangell is located near the Thunder Bay resort where Jenna's young son, Bobby, drowned two years before. There, determined to lay to rest the aching mystery of his death, she hears whispers of Tlingit legends that tell of powerful, menacing forces — and discovers a frightening new possibility about Bobby's fate.

Warned by a practicing shaman against disturbing the legendary kushtaka — soul-stealing predators that stalk the netherworld between land and sea, the living and the dead — Jenna turns to Eddie, a local fisherman, to help her separate fact from myth. But she can't deny her protective motherly instincts, and Jenna's quest for the truth about her son — and the strength of her beliefs — is about to pull her into a terrifying, life-changing abyss....

My thoughts:

I was actually pretty nervous about this book - not too far in, it took a decided turn toward magical realism. You may or may not know this, but magical realism and I do NOT get along. I consistently struggle with being able to become fully immersed in these types of stories, and often find them a chore to get through.

I was pleasantly surprised, then, to find myself becoming quickly engrossed in this tale of magic and tragedy in a small Alaskan town. I found the sections with David, the shaman, to be particularly powerful, and found his tales of Tlingit mythology to be fascinating. Stein does a masterful job of bringing the spirits and lore of the kushtaka to life in the pages of his story, and it completely worked for me, in ways that I would have never suspected.

It did take me a little while to really connect with the characters - especially Jenna, although I suspect this was more a result of the narrative style (short, choppy sentences which seemed somewhat abrupt in the initial sections about Jenna) - and once Jenna got to Alaska and the story picked up, I became so involved that this was no longer an issue.

And it is a great story - not only the fascinating pieces of native Tlingit lore, but the themes of love and loss and forgiveness were perfectly woven together to make for a completely compelling read. I definitely enjoyed it - if you were a fan of Stein's recent mega-hit, The Art of Racing in the Rain, this is a must-read!

Finished: 3/5/09
Source: review copy from Terra Communications - thank you!
Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Talking The Wire

Welcome to our weekly (-ish) conversation about The Wire!

Nicole and I have watched episodes 3 and 4 (Amy will hopefully be joining us again next week.) Here's a quick recap of what we've watched, and our conversation about the episodes:

Episode 3 - The Buys

After early morning "field interviews" conducted by Herc, Carver, and Prez lead to a minor riot and bad publicity for the police, the Deputy Commissioner calls in Daniels. McNulty sends Mahone and Polk to the terrace to get a photo of Avon Barksdale. They come up short, but soft-spoken Freamon comes through with an old photo from Barksdale's boxing days. McNulty and Greggs get surveillance equipment from McNulty's FBI contact.

Episode 3 - Old Cases

Bodie manages to slip through security and escape from lockup. Meanwhile, Herc and Carver continue their renegade ways by traveling to Marlboro to find Bodie and beat him into giving up information on the case. Once they get there, Herc has a change of attitude after meeting Bodie's Grandmother. Furious at being robbed of his product during the "re-up," Avon Barksdale instructs Stinkum, Wee-Bey, and Stringer to double the existing reward for anyone who eliminates Omar and his crew.

First things first. Are you into it more after watching the next few episodes?

Elizabeth: Absolutely. People are starting to have personalities, and I can (mostly) remember character names, which helps. But mostly I'm starting to catch glimpses of the feelings and motivations behind some of the actions, and that makes it much more interesting for me. For example, I really didn't care about McNulty at ALL in the first two episodes, but now I'm beginning to see that he might actually be an interesting character.

Nicole: It really is starting to click. I totally agree with you Elizabeth about McNulty. He was probably the character that I felt the least about throughout the first two episode. I didn't get what his motivation was at all and it seemed like he was just doing things. I was just as annoyed with him as everyone else was. All of the characters were a blur before and now I am having a much easier time recognizing who they are and what the agenda is in all the goings on in the different offices and apartments. I am definitely getting to the point where I am looking forward to the next episode so that I can see what is going on next with all the characters. Elizabeth is Kima still your favorite character?

Elizabeth: Yep, Kima is still my favorite. I really appreciate when writers can write female characters who don't just let things happen TO them - do you know what I mean? She is an active participant in the workings of the case - really, she is the best officer they have, and she knows how to get things done. I just love strong female leads, and she hasn't disappointed me yet. I also am starting to like D'Angelo quite a bit.

Nicole: I love how she is so smart and basically and equal to McNulty, and runs teh other two guys on her team. D'angelo is atarting to grow on me as well because I see him questioning the choices that he has made and am hoping that they might lead him to make some changes down the road.

What have been your favorite parts about watching?

E: I LOVED D'Angelo's speech comparing gang life to chess. I thought that was brilliant, and the analogy completely worked. I'm also getting very interested in the officer with the glasses (Hmm, guess I don't quite have all the names down as well as I thought!), who found the poster of Barksdale for them. I think the relationship between him & McNulty shows a lot of potential. Mostly, I'm just getting excited to see how the relationships start to deepen.

Nicole: I was glad to get to know his story more. He has that "still waters run deep" vibe going on. He quietly goes about making observations and figuring things out and then he will bring the team key pieces of information.

Are you seeing any themes and is there any foreshadowing that you have noticed?

E: Well, I'm usually the LAST person to pick up on foreshadowing, so predictably I haven't noticed any of that yet. I have definitely noticed the way that they seem to portray every department as having some good guys and some bad guys - this doesn't seem to be the type of show that portrays "the cops as heroes" or something like that. There are some cops who are really good cops - McNulty and Kima come to mind - but there are also some who clearly just want to skate along and don't care if they actually get anything accomplished. There are some members of the drug gang who are really BAD guys, and some who are just caught up in a situation they don't really know how to handle. It's interesting that they seem to be setting things up to blur the lines between the "good guys" and the "bad guys", and I think that will be one of the things that makes me like the show a lot.

Nicole: I am starting to worry about the informant that I like. I think his name is Bubbles. He has shown compassion for his friend, and that is how he started snitching again in the first place, in order to get revenge for his beating. Sometimes when they are sitting the car and driving places it seems so obvious to me and I wonder if someone has caught on. It makes me so uncomfortable!

E: Oh, I know what you mean! It seems like he pops up everywhere! When he took the undercover cop in to buy drugs, and then they left and walked up to the van to talk to Kima, I thought for sure someone would see them. I definitely have a bad feeling for him.

Nicole: One of the things that strikes me the most among the cops and the crooks is that everyone seems to think that they are so smart. They have the two cops talking about Mcnulty and how he thinks he is smart, and them Kima is makes a comment about how dumb they will seem if they can't outsmart the criminals and crack the beeper code, since they don't think that the criminals are that smart.

I do agree with you on the mixed nature of both the crooks and the cops. Lots of shades of grey that we are watching develop with each of them. McNulty is such a good cop but we are learning that alcohol plays a factor with him and he hasn't been able to balance his home and work life, which has cost him his marriage and left him with a pretty hostile relationship with his ex-wife. But I like how the plot is thickening in all areas. I'm starting to look forward to the next episodes.

So there you have it - episodes 3 and 4 in the bag! If you are a fan of The Wire, we'd love to have you join the conversation! Where did YOU think the season really started getting good?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Nonfiction Files

The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.

I'm joined in The Nonfiction Files by Jehara. If you would like to play along with us, let me know!

My current read is Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticatt. You can read my first post about the book here.

Synopsis from publisher:

From the best-selling author of The Dew Breaker, a major work of nonfiction: a powerfully moving family story that centers around the men closest to her heart — her father, Mira, and his older brother, Joseph.

From the age of four, Edwidge Danticat came to think of her uncle Joseph, a charismatic pastor, as her "second father," when she was placed in his care after her parents left Haiti for a better life in America. Listening to his sermons, sharing coconut-flavored ices on their walks through town, roaming through the house that held together many members of a colorful extended family, Edwidge grew profoundly attached to Joseph. He was the man who "knew all the verses for love."

And so she experiences a jumble of emotions when, at twelve, she joins her parents in New York City. She is at last reunited with her two youngest brothers, and with her mother and father, whom she has struggled to remember. But she must also leave behind Joseph and the only home she's ever known.

Edwidge tells of making a new life in a new country while fearing for the safety of those still in Haiti as the political situation deteriorates. But Brother I'm Dying soon becomes a terrifying tale of good people caught up in events beyond their control. Late in 2004, his life threatened by an angry mob, forced to flee his church, the frail, eighty-one-year-old Joseph makes his way to Miami, where he thinks he will be safe. Instead, he is detained by U.S. Customs, held by the Department of Homeland Security, brutally imprisoned, and dead within days. It was a story that made headlines around the world. His brother, Mira, will soon join him in death, but not before he holds hope in his arms: Edwidge's firstborn, who will bear his name — and the family's stories, both joyous and tragic — into the next generation.

Told with tremendous feeling, this is a true-life epic on an intimate scale: a deeply affecting story of home and family — of two men's lives and deaths, and of a daughter's great love for them both.

My thoughts so far:

In this section of the book, Danticatt tells two stories that illustrate clearly the struggles and dangers of life in Haiti in the 1970s. The first story, about her cousin Marie Micheline, shows the political turmoil that characterized the era.

Unwed and pregnant, Marie is sent away to live with relatives in a remote village so she won't bring shame to Uncle Joseph in the eyes of his congregation. While away, she gives birth to a daughter, and marries a young man willing to adopt her new baby.

However, her new husband joins the Tonton Macoutes, a group of pseudo-soldiers sanctioned by the government who are basically given free reign to terrorize the citizens of Haiti. When he decides he doesn't like Marie's behavior, he tells her she is not allowed to see anyone, and hides her away from her family. Uncle Joseph decides to rescue her, and finds her beaten and sick, with a husband who has many such girls in similar situations. He has to sneak her away in secret, because if her husband found out he could exact whatever revenge he desired, with no repercussions. The fear and secrecy perpetrated by the Macoutes was palpable - Joseph clearly risked his life to save Marie.

The second story was of how Edwidge and her brother, Bob, were finally able to join their parents in America. After several rounds of medical testing, it was determined that both children had non-reactive tuberculosis. After six long months of treatment, the consulate finally decided to allow the children to move to America. Unsure of whether or not they would ever see their family in Haiti again, Edwidge and Bob board a plane to a new country, and a new life.

Again in this section of the book, the author illustrates how her family was acquainted with the specter of death. Marie is nearly killed by her husband. Edwidge and Bob are diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, and then must board a plane - alone - with all the uncertainty that entails. She continuously weaves the shadow of death through the story, but it never seems grisly or bleak - it is, once again, just a part of life.

This is such a good book. I'm at the halfway point now, and might have to read the rest of it all at once. It's the kind of book that is hard to put down - the writing is good, and the story so interesting. You should probably go get this one.....=)