Fancy or Plain? Which Would You Choose?

Happy New Year, friends and followers! Welcome back! Here’s to the first post of 2015. (#370 since I started this blogging gig!) May the new year be peaceful, blessed and prosperous for us all. (FYI, I’m keeping my ‘Christmas décor’ up here a little longer, just like I’m doing at home.)

Not sure where I wanted to start this year, but I did just finish a little gem of a book during the Christmas break from school. This sweet, switched-at-birth story by author Cynthia Keller touched me, and I thought I’d share my thoughts on it with all of you. (Disclaimer: I borrowed the book from my church’s library. In no way was I compensated for this write up.)

A+Plain+&+Fancy+Christmas

The title, A Plain and Fancy Christmas, was a bit of a misnomer. The story doesn’t revolve around Christmas at all, which makes it a perfect weekend read at any time of the year.

The title does, however, suggest the backgrounds and backstories of its lead characters, 30-year-olds Ellie Lawrence and Rachel King Yoder. (I’m always good for stories involving an Amish backdrop.)

Ellie holds an executive position in a high-profile, New York City public relations corporate firm. Despite underlying dissatisfaction with her job and and her sort-of romantic relationship with Jason, she has slipped into a content-enough routine with the family she believes to be hers and the overall trappings of her life. (If I had to choose a protagonist, I’m thinking she’s Ellie.)

Rachel was raised Amish. Widowed three years ago and unable to manage the farm she and her husband owned, she and her 10-year-old daughter are back in her parents’ home. Although she often finds herself feeling at odds with her mother, this is the only life Rachel has ever known.

Respect, and the rules and ways that go along with having chosen to be baptized into the Amish faith and culture, keep Rachel from delving too deeply into her emotions. She has always felt dissatisfaction too, especially after having lived among “the English” during rumspringa, the period of exploration and/or rebellion Amish teens are allowed. Rachel returned to her faith, mostly because she’d fallen in love with Jacob Yoder, and couldn’t imagine her life without him.  

Long story short, Ellie and Rachel each receive a letter explaining the circumstances that led to the switch. Rachel buries hers in a drawer, but Ellie sets into play a series of events that will impact both these ladies’ futures. (Of course, y’all knew that, or there would be no story and nothing for me to write about! 😉 )

This story is nicely written, told from the points-of-view of its leading ladies, with one exception: a chapter told from the perspective of the nurse who was involved in the switch. I was readily transported to Rachel’s Amish farm in Pennsylvania and related easily to the go-go-go associated with life in NYC. My only beef is how the author provides backstory, in several-page-long flashbacks (?) of exposition. Mrs. Keller did this more often at the beginning, which made getting into the story a bit of a challenge–for me, anyway. Liking the premise, the Amish part of the setting–and the characters early on—kept me reading.)

I  to easily to Ellie’s intrigue with a simpler way of life; it reminded me how much I love spending time at my cottage. I could easily adopt—and adapt to—the choices she made as the story and her character’s journey developed. What Rachel learned about herself describes me too, but I don’t want to give anything away.

Finally, the story explored the themes of family, nature, nurture and what might have been had the switch not occurred. I kept wondering what kind of a resolution could possibly be reached–particularly for Rachel–as the tale approached its close.

I now turn the blog-mike over to you! Any books you’ve recently read you’d like to share about? How did you spend New Year’s Eve? (We wound up at a neighbor’s big family get together—unexpected and just a few houses down the street, so no driving necessary on a night I much prefer to NOT be in a motorized vehicle.)

I’m not big on resolutions but have a few (besides the standard lose-ten-pounds): to read books on a regular basis (and simultaneously redevelop my attention span); to launch a speaker business based on several workshops I’ve developed these past few years. Once the latter is in play, I hope to get back into writing fiction, which has really gone the wayside because of other projects. Do you have any resolutions? Would you rather live a plain (Amish) or a fancy (English) life? Could you find a balance between the two?

Have a wonderful day and week,

Joanna

 

More Than a Weekend Read–The Distant Hours

Happy first Friday of 2013, friends. Special thanks to Carrie Rubin for all the love that came this way after she linked blogs with me earlier this week, and to all those who’ve come by since! So nice to have company!

Warning: this post runs a bit longer than normal but I hope you stick it out. Couldn’t figure out the best way to break it down.

Moving on:

I’m a reader. Surprise, right? Maybe not as dedicated or ardent as some, but I love a good story.  And I’ve read many books.

I recently posted my take on author Carrie Rubin’s debut, The Seneca Scourge. Before that, I’m pretty sure the last books I talked about were Karen Kingsbury’s One Tuesday Morning and its sequel, Beyond Tuesday Morning. The former changed me, in a way. Resonates with me still.

I wrote this, however, on the heels of having finished Aussie author Kate Morton’s The Distant Hours, the first and only of hers I’ve read so far. (Disclaimer: I share these thoughts because I choose to, not because I was paid to do so in any way. As with so many others, this book found me. My friend thought I’d enjoy it.) 

My friend was oh-so-right.

Honestly, I’ve never felt so humbled by the scope and magnitude of a wordsmith’s work, doubt I’ll ever equal this one’s ability to develop and then tell a story of such quality. Maybe I haven’t read enough, but I’ve never before experienced a tale so intricately and profoundly layered. Every thread, every detail accounted for before expertly woven and seamlessly sewn together; a multitude of puzzle pieces gathered into a final story portrait of near perfection.

The Distant Hours

I say ‘near’ for these reasons:

The story starts slowly. We meet Edie Burchill, whose mother, Meredith, receives a letter that should have been delivered fifty years earlier. Her enigmatic ways and decision not to share details of the letter pique Edie’s curiosity. Driven by a force she can’t explain, Edie finds herself literally stepping into her mother’s past, meeting face-to-face the spinster sisters who took in thirteen year-old Meredith as an evacuee from London during WWII.  Edie also winds up learning a whole lot more about the book that inspired her as a child, its author, his family and the story events that led to the creation of a renowned and revered best seller. (FYI, Ms. Morton starts you off at a leisurely pace, but she picks up momentum steadily and takes you full-throttle into a climax laden with twists that surprised me with their brilliance and not a loose thread left hanging.)

The protagonist’s viewpoint (and main story mood) waxed a bit boggy, at times slowing the pace when I liked the way the story was gaining speed. This, however, tied into the framing of the account; important to the protagonist unraveling the mystery, but a little frustrating when jump-cutting between Edie’s contemporary present (set in London, England) and the WWII background against which the mystery played out (set in London and a fictional castle along the English countryside). At times, the jump-cuts in time made it a bit difficult to pick up where I’d left off at that part of the story. The breaks, however, resulted in a place to take a well-needed breather, and to digest all that had transpired in that section.

Perhaps one or two story details felt a hair contrived—and possibly the ending to some degree, but the author used each in a way that revealed character and/or motivation, or to bring full circle key elements used throughout the story. Abundant use of detail also had me looking back on many occasions; to be sure I hadn’t missed anything, or that I fully understood how every minute facet related to any particular part of the story at any given point.

Having shared all that, let me tell you what I liked!

The author’s voice worked effortlessly into tangible descriptions of abstract concepts to develop each character, regardless of the point of view (POV).  A simple action: a haircut, knitted and crafted to deliver deep insight to character—brilliant! (p. 257-258). Some examples:

“Other people, Daddy’s pompous friends…, just seemed to take up more air than they should.” (p. 303)

“Her skin felt tighter than usual.” (p. 310)

“She was less of a girl, taller, stretched, anxiously filling her extra inches.” (p. 411)

Ms. Morton’s fresh use of metaphor resulted in vivid mind pictures and associations as I read:

“Juniper was rather catlike, after all: the wide-apart set eyes with their fixed gaze, the lightness of foot, the resistance to attention she hadn’t sought.” (p. 123)

“…the autumn of discarded papers on the floor.” (p. 122)

The author’s way of showing tangled, honest emotion(s):

“Mum and Dad were snobs. I felt embarrassed for them and embarrassed for me, and then, confusingly, angry with Rita for saying it and ashamed of myself for encouraging her to do so.” (p. 192)

And back to Kate Morton’s voice, probably the strongest—yet equally gentle—I’ve read in a long time. I’m thinking her view of the world is unexpectedly embedded in each of the characters she brings to life.

“John Keats said that nothing became real until it is experienced.” (p. 295)

“He would be a different person by then, inexorably altered, …as damaged as the city around him…. He would know that while John Keats was correct, that experience was indeed truth, there were some things it was well not to know firsthand.” (p. 303)

“Happiness in life is not a given. It must be seized.” (p. 352)

 I could go on.

I won’t.

Guess what I’m saying is this: if you want an awesome read and are willing to go the circa 600-page marathon, The Distant Hours may be just your cup of tea. Make sure to grab a scone or two before you cuddle up.

Have a great weekend,

Joanna

And You Worried About THE FLU?!

Promised my great online friend and blog supporter Carrie Rubin I’d put to words my thoughts on her fast-paced and very-well written debut, The Seneca Scourge. Time (or lack of it) has gotten in the way of having done so before (but at least those powerless hours sans internet after Superstorm Sandy served me long enough to get this write-up back in motion and into the blogosphere–about flippin’ time too).

Disclaimer: I am not a formal book reviewer. I am a common reader and freely posted my thoughts on this book because I wanted to and can. I was not paid by anyone in any way for doing so.

Not quite sure how I originally happened on The Write Transition (Carrie’s website/blog) but I am so glad I did! This self-described introvert has the most offbeat sense of humor and ties that gift seamlessly into almost every article she posts. She’s been Freshly Pressed  by WordPress and very humbly offered a related post in which she shared her thoughts on how she’s been FP’d a second time—by her readers and supporters. Check it out if you can: I was very inspired!

For those of you unfamiliar with Freshly Pressed: it’s the tremendous honor of having one’s blog post showcased on the WordPress website landing page. (Try to imagine the multitude of blog posts that go up daily in the WordPress world and you’ll get how amazing it is to have one’s post among a revered ten, where one’s post is as visible as it can get!) And Carrie is one of the nicest people I know to get it.

Okay, this post was supposed to be about thoughts on The Seneca Scourge, right? Just to lend this newbie author more credibility, she is a pediatrician by trade and has also worked as a public health advocate. The rest of her bio is easily viewable at her website. (Not that it doesn’t have merit to share here, but I’m trying to get to the book already!)

seneca-scourge-1-3    Carrie Rubin

Here’s the back cover copy:

Dr. Sydney McKnight, a young physician battling the deadliest influenza pandemic of all time, joins forces with Dr. Casper Jones, an odd new research virologist whose arrival coincides with the virus’s advent, and whose presence raises more questions than answers.

As scientists around the world search for an explanation for the virus’s high mortality rate, Sydney’s distrust of Casper grows, especially after she discovers him injecting an unidentified substance into her patient. Despite a heavy patient load, rebuttals from her boss, and an increasingly strained relationship with her boyfriend, Sydney is determined to learn the truth.

But what she finds will plunge her into danger and change her life forever…

Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press
Editor: Dave Field
Cover Artist: Harris Channing

 I’ve always been fascinated by medical ‘stuff.’ (At four I wanted to be a nurse and wound up an occupational therapist.) Medical drama has caught my interest since I was a little girl, starting with MedicalCenter, back in the day. (Yes, I seriously just dated myself, lol, but what can I say? The very handsome Chad Everett starred. ;)) I followed ER for 13 of its 14-year run. Private Practice grabbed me last year. Stands to reason I planned on enjoying Carrie Rubin’s debut just because the story is set against a hospital background. And just for fun she threw in a little sci-fi on the side to keep the mix from being well—typical, I guess might be a good word.

Sydney, the lead character, is a bit self-consumed and finds it hard to connect with others. She notices herself becoming more and more intrigued and suspicious of Casper, enough to start taking a closer look at what he’s doing while an influenza pandemic not-so-insidiously starts claiming the lives of an entire community.

The writing is fast-paced. Descriptions are fresh and show authentic medical knowledge. The sci-fi embellishment is positively brilliant! (Loved Casper’s BB—you’ll have to read to find out exactly what that is ;)) Sydney’s POV is deep and highly relatable, her self-centeredness captured through sarcasm and subtle, just-dry-enough awesome humor. The author’s voice comes through naturally, mostly through dialogue (internal and external) with nary a hint of intrusion. Exchanges between Sydney and the cast of characters become increasingly poignant—yet never melodramatic—as Sydney’s character journey unfolds and progresses, taking the reader to a bit of an offbeat ending, but one that definitely works with this story.

Enjoy the read! I know I’m looking forward to whatever this author has in store for her readers next! And if you’re itching to pick up The Seneca Scourge right now, here are some links to do so:

For Nook;

For Kindle (choice of digital or print)

Direct from the publisher!

Contact Carrie via her website (just scroll down the page a bit); follow her on Twitter and like her on Facebook!

Wishing everyone a wonderful, safe and happy weekend and New Year,

Joanna