Monday, December 26, 2011

What They Read in Cleveland

I'm kind of obsessed with Cleveland.  I grew up there but moved away almost 40 years ago.  The novel I'm working on is set in Cleveland and last summer I went back for the first time to do some research.  Ever since then Cleveland has popped up in the most unusual places.  When Richard and I traveled to Alaska, we met a couple from Cleveland who told me the story of Balto, the mush dog who led the diptheria vaccine into Nome in the 1920's.  Balto lived at the Cleveland Zoo after his fame dwindled.  Stuffed, he's still in a museum there. 

I met a woman at a writing conference who after 30 years was still sad her husband's job moved them to Florida and she had to leave her beloved Chagrin Falls behind.  The Chagrin Falls are lovely, a very miniature version of Niagara Falls in book.  The sound of rushing water never ceases to calm me.

And when Anthony Bourdain had a show on about Cleveland, I clutched the TV remote so no one could change the channel on me.  I never met a Clevelander who raved about Skyline Chili until I watched this show.  Skyline Chili is a Cincinnati thing.  He went to places I'd never heard of before except for the Free Stamp.  The Free Stamp is a giant rubber stamp that sits in a park downtown.  Why, I don't really know but it's Cleveland all the way.

My sister lives in Cleveland and brought me an article from the Plain Dealer listing the best books of the year.  I read alot of books but there was only one on the list I'd even heard of.  The one I knew was Rules of Civility.  A good book but not what I'd call a best book.  So now I'm even more fascinated about what goes on in Cleveland.  Their taste in reading appears to be much different than what I like even though I spent a good portion of my life there.  Now I've got 20 more books to add to my reading list.  So much to read.  So little time.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Island Walkers by John Bemrose

The Island Walkers by John Bemrose

This is one of those 'dining room' books.  You know, the books my husband used to decorate the dining room.  I've decided to make my way around the dining room.  At least then I can cross at one room off my list of books. 

Several years ago I took a business trip to Toronto and ended up in a Chapters bookstore.  It was filled with books written by Canadian authors, books I'd never seen or heard of before.  I snatched up about ten books as if a famine was imminent and if I didn't have these very books, I'd starve.  The Island Walkers was published in 2004 so obviously I'm not starving.

Alf Walker is a hard working man who is a fixer at the local knitting mill in the 1960's.  The union tries to recruit him to help get into the factory ranks.  He's hesitant, remembering the bad blood the union left years earlier.  This novel is his story and the story of his wife and their failing marriage, his children and their confusion with life.  He struggles to help them be a family but he really doesn't know how.  And he doesn't know what went wrong.

The Island Walkers is a gripping and often sad story of how we are shaped by the world around us.  Bemrose is a fabulous crafter of words and emotions.  This is not a story to be taken lightly.  And once you're drawn in, there you'll stay. 

The beautiful, hardbound edition of The Island Walkers is now happily back in the dining room ready to greet my dinner guests.  Wonderful to read and wonderful to look at.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Death, Taxes and a French Manicure by Diane Kelly

Death, Taxes and a French Manicure by Diane Kelly

I came across this title on a website for Erma Bombeck's Writer's Conference, www.humorwriters.org.  I hang out on this website and faithfully enter Erma's writing contest every other year even though I've never won. Or even placed. Diane Kelly is a featured author so I thought I give this a try.

Tara Holloway is a smart and feisty IRS special agent who gave up her cushy job at a CPA firm for the thrill and action of finding crooks who cheat on their taxes.  She's a terrific shot so carrying a gun comes easily to her and she's not afraid to use it.  She does however spend alot of time at the nail salon.  And every takedown involves not only handcuffing the criminal but checking the status of her manicure.  In one scene she goes out to dinner with her boyfriend and stops at the nail salon on the way home.  Maybe in Dallas they have 24 hour nail salons but I've never seen one. 

This book is a fast, cute light read.  But I tired of Tara as a character.  I've known plenty of strong and determined women in my life, but Tara was only that.  She had no other softer qualities.  And she believed her boyfriend was completely innocent without so much as a blink of an eye.  Death, Taxes and a French Manicure is funny, and has lots of good writing.  I tired of so much exaggeration. That doesn't mean however, I don't love going up against the IRS or a good French manicure. Tax season is just around the corner.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

I have very fond memories as a child of my mother reading this book aloud to me.  We sat by the fireplace in the family room of a house we lived in in Minneapolis.  I was four or five years old. 

As an adult, I'd forgotten much of the story but the title alone stirred warm feelings in my heart. I love the slow and kind Mole and adventurous Water Rat.  And who couldn't be endeared to the wild Mr. Toad?  The others knew him to be a loose cannon, setting a bad example for the animal world.  Even the best intentions of friends had difficulty reining in the Toad.

But the part of the tale, I'd lost touch with behind the reason I loved to ride Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disney World.  Mole, Rat and Badger had tried their best to keep Toad in line. Crazy Toady, raced off in a stolen motor car, was arrested for reckless driving, and escaped from jail hitching a ride on a train.  The low tech Disney ride in a jalopy captured the essence of Mr. Toad and his trip back to Toad Hall complete with jerks and jolts and escape just in the nick of time from an oncoming locomotive. Even as a fugitive, Mr. Toad's friends stood by him and eventually led him to a life of good manners and composure. The Disney ride didn't have as much success and was closed in 1998.  My sense is that without a ride at the Magic Kingdom, a generation has never heard of this wonderful tale.

We can learn alot from the Mole, Rat, Badger and Toad.  The Wind in the Willows is still an exciting and heartwarming story of the power of friendship and all that is good in the world.  I still love it and long to hear it all again, read to me by the fireplace.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Love The One You're With

I know I'm a little late for a Thanksgiving post since it's December 2nd and we're already knee deep into the Christmas shopping season, but what I learned last week will be carried with me throughout the coming year. 

Richard and I spent Thanksgiving in California with his brother.  We spent time laughing and reminiscing with friends and family of all ages. On Thanksgiving Day twelve of us crowded around the dining room table, held hands and said grace.  Earlier in the day my sister-in-law instructed us to trace our hands on a piece of paper making our own personal hand turkey.  And don't forget that red fatty thing hanging under its chin!  We colored our turkeys and then wrote on it what we were thankful for.  At dinner the hand turkeys were passed around and each person read a reflection on the day other than their own. We laughed, sometimes we reacted with emotion at the insightful wisdom of the hand turkey. 

Even Ollie, the little white dog who gives a whole new meaning to the term, 'lap dog' had his own paw turkey.  He hopped up on a lap as the festivities began and rested awhile.  A few minutes later he moved on to the next lap. By the time dessert came, he had visited all twelve of us.  He was simply grateful for a warm lap to sit in and a few rubs on his belly. 

I looked around at the company, some I'd never met before, a few I hadn't seen in years. Included were two beautiful little girls who added a sparkle to everything. Gratitude comes in all shapes and sizes and so did ours.  We feasted on turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie, a true celebration of all that is good in our world.  Love abounded that day.  It was a day filled with blessings that will keep me warm and cozy for years to come. 

All of the Above by Shelley Pearsall

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