Thank you to all who participated in the contest!
Thank you to all who participated in the contest!
During World War II, women played an integral role in the fight for freedom, not on the battlefields where their fathers, brothers, husbands, sweethearts, et al. were fighting, but back at home. Women left their roles as wives and homemakers, and took jobs that directly supported the war effort.
In Seattle, the Boeing Plant 2 was large enough for eight football fields to fit inside it. The plant was camouflaged by a residential neighborhood constructed on its roof, designed to fool any Japanese bombers who might navigate into the airspace over Seattle. During the War, as many as sixteen B-17 Flying Fortress bombers were produced there daily — around 7,000 total — largely due to the efforts of the “Rosie the Riveters” who worked on the assembly line for $.65 per hour.
Ironically, the old plant is set to be demoished this year, given that no planes have been manufactured there for over 40 years. But history will never forget Boeing Plant 2 or the “Rosie the Riveters” who toiled there with the hope that their contribution would help bring America’s soldiers home safely. Tricia Goyer and Ocieanna Fleiss have memorialized that time, place, and some of the actual events that transpired there in a charming new work of Christian historical fiction.
Becky Alonzo never felt safe as a child. Although she lived next door to the church her father pastored, the devil lived across the street. This tormented man terrorized her family with rifle shots and ten bombings. When these violent acts didn’t scare them away, he went even further. During dinner one evening, seven-year-old Becky and her younger brother watched as their parents were gunned down. Today Becky speaks about betrayal and the power of forgiveness. She is a graduate of Missouri State University and has been involved in ministry, including a church plant, youth outreach, and missions, for thirteen years. She and her husband, along with their two children, live in Franklin, Tennessee.
My bare feet pounding the pavement were burning from the sunbaked asphalt. Each contact between flesh and blacktop provoked bursts of pain as if I were stepping on broken glass. The deserted country road, stretching into the horizon, felt as if it were conspiring against me. No matter how hard I pushed myself, the safe place I was desperate to reach eluded me.
Still, I ran.
Had a thousand angry hornets been in pursuit, I couldn’t have run any faster. Daddy’s instructions had been simple: I had to be a big girl, run down the street as fast as my legs could carry me, and get help. There was nothing complicated about his request. Except for the fact that I’d have to abandon my hiding place under the kitchen table and risk being seen by the armed madman who had barricaded himself with two hostages in my bedroom down the hall. I knew, however, that ignoring Daddy’s plea was out of the question.
And so I ran.
Even though Daddy struggled to appear brave, the anguish in his eyes spoke volumes. Splotches of blood stained his shirt just below his right shoulder. The inky redness was as real as the fear gnawing at the edges of my heart. I wanted to be a big girl for the sake of my daddy. I really did. But the fear and chaos now clouding the air squeezed my lungs until my breathing burned within my chest.
My best intentions to get help were neutralized, at least at first. I remained hunkered down, unable to move, surrounded by the wooden legs of six kitchen chairs. I had no illusions that a flimsy 6 x 4 foot table would keep me safe, yet I was reluctant to leave what little protection it afforded me.
In that space of indecision, I wondered how I might open the storm door without drawing attention to myself. One squeak from those crusty hinges was sure to announce my departure plans. Closing the door without a bang against the frame was equally important. The stealth of a burglar was needed, only I wasn’t the bad guy.
Making no more sound than a leaf falling from a tree, I inched my way out from under the table. I stood and then scanned the room, left to right. I felt watched, although I had no way of knowing for sure whether or not hostile eyes were studying my movements. I inhaled the distinct yet unfamiliar smell of sulfur lingering in the air, a calling card left behind from the repeated blasts of a gun.
I willed myself to move.
My bare feet padded across the linoleum floor.
I was our family’s lifeline, our only connection to the outside world. While I hadn’t asked to be put in that position, I knew Daddy was depending on me. More than that, Daddy needed me to be strong. To act. To do what he was powerless to do. I could see that my daddy, a strong ex–Navy man, was incapable of the simplest movement. The man whom I loved more than life itself, whose massive arms daily swept me off my feet while swallowing me with an unmatched tenderness, couldn’t raise an arm to shoo a fly.
To see him so helpless frightened me.
Yes, Daddy was depending on me.
Conflicted at the sight of such vulnerability, I didn’t want to look at my daddy. Yet my love for him galvanized my resolve. I reached for the storm-door handle. Slow and steady, as if disarming a bomb, and allowing myself quick glances backward to monitor the threat level of a sudden ambush, I opened the storm door and stepped outside. With equal care, I nestled the metal door against its frame.
I had to run.
I shot out from under the carport, down the driveway, and turned right where concrete and asphalt met. The unthinkable events of the last five minutes replayed themselves like an endless-loop video in my mind. My eyes stung, painted with hot tears at the memory. Regardless of their age, no one should have to witness what I had just experienced in that house—let alone a seven-year-old girl. The fresh images of what had transpired moments ago mocked me with the fact that my worst fears had just come true.
I had to keep running.
Although I couldn’t see any activity through the curtains framing my bedroom window, that didn’t mean the gunman wasn’t keeping a sharp eye on the street. I hesitated, but only for a moment more. What might happen gave way to what had happened. I had to get help. Now, almost frantic to reach my destination, I redoubled my efforts.
I ran on.
To get help for Momma and Daddy. To escape the gunman. To get away from all the threatening letters, the sniper gunshots, the menacing midnight phone calls, the home invasions—and the devil who seemed to be behind so many of them.
But I’m getting ahead of the story.
Click here to read my comprehensive review of this chilling true story.
Thanks to Tyndale for providing a review copy of The Devil in Pew Number Seven.
Susan May Warren’s third and final installment in her series about wanna-be private investigator P.J. Sugar, Licensed for Trouble, stands on its own. Even if you have not read the first two volumes, Nothing But Trouble and Double Trouble, you will find it hard to put down once you start reading. But die-hard P.J. Sugar and Warren fans will tell you that if you don’t read the first two books, you will be missing out on a very special reading experience.
P.J. Sugar wants to be a private investigator. But a series of prior mishaps endangered, among others, P.J.’s nephew, Davey. So P.J.’s sister, Connie, an attorney with whom P.J. had been living, threw P.J. out of her house.
So private investigator Jeremy Kane, P.J.’s boss, is allowing her to sleep, temporarily at least, on the couch in his office. Jeremy has a unique “horizontal” filing system which translates to . . . Jeremy keeps files on his clients all over the floor and furniture. Tjus, P.J. knows two fundamental truths: She may end up sleeping in the Crown Victoria she has borrowed from her brother-in-law, Sergei, if Jeremy’s business picks up and his filing system finally overtakes the couch. And she really needs to get on with her life now that her relationship with Boone, a local detective, has ended, even though she still has strong feelings for him — not to mention that tattoo of his name on her arm.
P.J. has always been fascinated with the old Kellogg mansion on the lake. As a child, she would imagine what it might be like to live in such a grand house. Shockingly, she learns that the family matriarch, Aggie Kellogg, has died and left the mansion to her!
P.J. embarks on a quest to learn the Kellogg family history and figure out why Aggie would choose her to inherit the now-dilapidated home that P.J. cannot afford to renovate. Electrical, plumbing, and structural problems are just the proverbial tip of the Kellogg mystery iceberg. There is also the matter of an unsolved Kellogg murder: Years ago, Joy Kellogg Barton was found floating in the near-by lagoon.
At her church, Connie meets a handyman in need of work. Max Smith was pulled from the lake by Murph, the local hobo who lives beside the water, with no fingerprints or memories. For reasons he doesn’t recall, Max understands Arabic, knows how to pick locks, and has an intriguing red tattoo of a phoenix. Max wants to know who he is and where he comes from, so he strikes a deal with P.J. He will undertake renovating and restoring the Kellogg mansion in exchange for P.J.’s efforts to “find” him.
In the midst of all of those complications, P.J. and Connie’s mother, Elizabeth, seems to have gone missing.
So begins P.J.’s journey to piece together the murky clues about Max’s past, her own future, and, perhaps, love that lasts a lifetime and beyond, if only she and Jeremy can each come to terms with and leave their pasts behind.
In the tradition of Janet Evanovich, Susan May Warren sets into motion several intersecting story lines involving P.J. “Nothing But Trouble” Sugar, who is back in her Minnesota hometown after ten years running from place to place. As with Evanovich’s series featuring Stephanie Plum, another would-be private investigator, two men care deeply for P.J. Boone, with whom she grew up, has long held her heart, but P.J. knows that their relationship needs to be confined to friendship, not romance. After all, Boone is in large part responsible for her being known as “Nothing But Trouble,” a moniker she has internalized to the point that her self-image tempts her to resume running when challenges threaten to overtake her. But P.J. really wants to free herself from the mayhem that has characterized her past and settle down.
And then there is Jeremy, her handsome, secretive employer. He obviously returns P.J.’s feelings, but he is afraid to let go and love another woman because of the devastating losses he previously suffered. Ever so slowly, he begins to trust his feelings for P.J. and believe her when she reminds him, yet again, that her relationship with Boone is really in the past. Jeremy struggles, though, with the fact that Boone, like him, constantly appears on scene, ready to rescue P.J. from whatever pickle she has gotten herself into. The two men’s testosterone-filled fight for supremacy in P.J.’s heart and life is realistic and nearly as much fun as watching Stephanie Plum try to decide between Morelli and Ranger.
Warren expertly reveals small clues to the multiple mysteries that P.J. must solve at perfectly timed intervals. She provides just enough information to make it impossible to put the book down with reading just a few more pages to see if your hunch was right. And in the tradition of the best mystery writers, she teases her readers with details that may — or may not — ultimately be relevant to the mystery’s resolution.
And Warren surrounds P.J. with a host of colorful characters who, again, may or may not be one of the pieces to the puzzle. Whether they are or not, they are vibrantly drawn so that their likeness is easily visualized.
But P.J. is the star of Warren’s story and her misadventures will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the very last page. From the outset, when P.J. tries to her best to nail raccoon costume-wearing bail-jumper while she is dressed as a hot dog through a couple of near-death catastrophes, the predicaments in which Warren places P.J. make for unpredictable, but enjoying reading.
Interspersed amid the action are a few conversations between P.J. and Jeremy about faith. There are references to P.J. owning and reading a Bible, although not often enough by her own standards. But the few references to God are subtle and serve only to further define and shape the characters, providing a foundation that allows the reader to understand and appreciate their value systems and beliefs. Unlike Evanovich’s characters. P.J., Boone, and Jeremy are chaste. But their voices are never preachy or overtly bent on proselytizing, so Warren’s trilogy will appeal to readers from all or no faith backgrounds.
Nothing But Trouble is, at its core, about starting over — moving forward by learning about and from the past, but not allowing the past to weigh one down to the point that the future becomes infinitely elusive. Warren is clearly sending her readers a message when Max becomes disheartened, wondering aloud, “Why did I ever decide to track down my past?”
“Because . . . it matters.” Jeremy glanced away, the edges of his mouth tight as if his words had leaked out beyond his control. “Because knowing who you are gives every choice you make relevance.” He stared at P.J., tenderness in his eyes. “Because if you know what you’ve been through — th things you’ve done, both good and bad — the choices you make today have merit. Resonance.” He touched her face, ran a thumb down her cheek. “Not knowing your past steals meaning from your future.”
The action bogs down just a bit with a few too many “will they or won’t they” moments, and it seems that P.J. and Jeremy have the same conversation about faith a couple of times more than is necessary, but those are minor criticisms. When all of the clues begin to make sense and the answers to all of the reader’s questions are about to be revealed, the pace picks up, leading to a climactic resolution, with some rip-roaringly surprising details revealed.
Susan May Warren, a Christian, says that she just tries to “to write the best story I can. . . . Writing is work, but in the end, it should give the author a deep satisfaction that she/he is working out the gift God has given them.” With Licensed for Trouble, as well the two previous P.J. Sugar adventures, Warren has put her gift to very good use and should be deriving great satisfaction from that fact. I highly recommend all three volumes, but especially Licensed for Trouble.
The author has graciously provided me with a copy of the book to give to one lucky Colloquium reader who will be selected at random.
NOTE: This giveaway is open only to readers who follow Colloquium on Google Friend Connect. In order to be entered in the giveaway, leave a comment, making sure to include both your Google Friend Connect name and your email address (for notification purposes)!
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Sunday, August 29, 2010, at 11:59 p.m. (Pacific time)
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I read Licensed for Trouble in conjunction with the 2010 Read ‘n’ Review Challenge.
It takes a really funny book to get me to laugh out loud — actually guffaw and even snort a couple of times — when I’m sitting on my patio, enjoying a cool evening breeze wafting in from the Delta through my oak trees, sipping a glass of fine Lodi wine as I read.
But that’s exactly the kind of evening I was in the mood for . . . and precisely the kind of relaxing, thoroughly enjoyable evening I savored as I read the first novel from Maya Jax, a self-described “author, aspiring super hero, closet ninja,” Escapades of Romantically Challenged Me!
Lelaina Zane does not want to be a lawyer. Her parents, both attorneys, want her to take over the firm that they built and nurtured just for her.
But for the past three years since she graduated from law school, Lelaina has been living in Los Angeles and attempting to launch her career as a screen writer. So far, all she has amassed is one completed script . . . and piles of rejection notices. As one agent reminds her, “Ninjas and spies are out. Vampires are in.” Others, like Tom Edwards, are less kind: “I read your screenplay. If I could only get those three hours back.”
Her first love, Conner, lives in their hometown, practicing medicine. He’s the last person she wants to see. So naturally, she runs into him as soon as she is called home when her father suffers a heart attack.
The Bar Examination is four weeks away, and her parents are determined to see her pass it, join their firm, and settle into a responsible, respectable life. But there may be one last hope for her burgeoning career as a writer, if she can just get back to Los Angeles long enough to meet with a potential agent.
And if the meeting goes well, what will she tell her parents? Will her feelings for Conner compel her to give up on her dreams?
I have one major complaint about Escapades of Romantically Challenged Me: It ended, as they say, “just when it was getting good better.” I certainly hope that Maya Jax is already hard at work drafting the sequel, because I am not going to be satisfied until I find out what happens to Lelaina next.
Escapades of Romantically Challenged Me is a perfect summer book. Jax’s crisp writing is fresh, witty, and fast-paced. From the first page, Lelaina’s self-deprecating frustration plays out as she finds herself in one hilariously inappropriate, expertly paced situation after another. Along the way, she manages to encounter a varied and intriguing cast of supporting characters ranging from her caring but needy parents to her roommate, Travis, who supports her unconditionally while encouraging her not to abandon her dream.
“I love Lelaina because I feel her pain. Many of my friends became doctors and lawyers, and you start to question your sanity as a struggling writer when your friends are buying homes, designer clothes and luxury cars, while you’re still eating peanut butter sandwiches for every meal.”
~~ Maya Jax
Of course, there’s Conner, the impossibly charming first love who broke her heart three years earlier. He does not appear to have changed much, even as he swears that he never stopped loving Lelaina. Their mutual friend, Joe, does not want to be placed in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between his two best friends, and offers Lelaina unique and surprising insights into the dynamics of her relationship with Conner. But the lure of that first big love, even years later, is powerful. Lelaina has to decide whether she wants to or can resist Conner’s charm. Settling down with Conner in their hometown could offer comfort and predictability, but where Conner is concerned, that’s precisely the problem.
Amid the fast-paced action, Jax sagely injects moments of tenderness and irony, as when Lelaina finds it impossible to heed the direction given her by the director of the preschool where she has returned to work while studying for the Bar Examination. She morphs into an amateur sleuth in order to aid one of her students and his family, even though she risks losing her job by doing so. Her compassion and determination reveal that, if she focused her efforts, she could be a very effective attorney because Lelaina can also be resourceful, resilient, and stubbornly zealous.
Jax has deftly crafted a subtly complex and nuanced character with whom women readers can readily identify, regardless of their age, because Escapades of Romantically Challenged Me is ultimately about a woman faced with critical choices about her life and how she will live it. Lelaina must decide whether to compromise in order to make the people she loves happy or focus on her own goals — in her own manner, in her own time, and in Los Angeles, the city she has adopted.
In her first published novel, Jax has delivered a clever, entertaining examination of a classic literary dilemma that never seems to grow stale or boring: Can — or should — Lelaina go home again? Summer doesn’t officially end until September 21, so you still have time to find out before autumn sets in.
I read Escapades of Romantically Challenged Me in conjunction with the 2010 Read ‘n’ Review Challenge.
Friends and Family
Thank you to all who participated in the contest!
Paula Deen’s life story is a classic American tale of unprecedented success earned after years of struggling against adversity. A Georgia native, in just over twenty years she has parlayed a $200 investment and a few modest dreams into a multi-national empire that produces hit television shows (she has four running on the Food Network concurrently), cookbooks, food, cookware, bakeware, kitchen tools and accessories. Paula Deen is an iconic and beloved ambassador for American values: Home, family, and a lot of laughter and good food shared around the kitchen table.
Her latest venture is Paul Deen’s Savannah Style, an illustrated guide to gracious decorating and living, Southern style, throughout the year. Deen reports that some members of her organization were skeptical when she announced plans to broaden her brand. But she was of the opinion that Paula Deen belongs in every room of American homes — not just in the kitchen. Paula Deen’s Savannah Style proves her right.
It might as well be an audio book, because if you have ever heard Paula Deen speak, it is impossible to read Paula Deen’s Savannah Style without hearing her distinctive voice in your head. The Introduction begins with “Hi, Y’all!” setting the tone for a delightful, “down home” look at some of the most beautifully decorated houses in the Savannah area, including Deen’s own.
Deen moved to Savannah in 1987, opened her restaurant, The Lady and Sons, there in 1991, and refers to it as her “forever home” because she and the city have a lot in common: “Savannah embraces quirky characters (thank the Lord!), likes things with a little bit of age to them, and loves its Southern traditions.”
It is a “coffee table book” — the kind you give a friend or relative for a special occasion or splurge on for yourself because you simply cannot leave the book store without it. It is not the kind of tome that is generally read cover to cover. In my case, though, that was easy to do after I got comfortable on my patio one recent evening. As a gentle, comforting breeze blew softly through my oak trees, I lingered over the book with a glass of wine, savoring the beautiful photography, and dreaming about one day incorporating some of the decorating tips and advice into my own home’s decor.
Brandon Branch, Deen’s co-author, is her personal assistant and creative director. He also authors a column, “Style Secrets with Brandon,” in her monthly magazine. Throughout the volume, “Brandon’s Style Secrets” are highlighted. For instance, he suggests that, in order to dress up old porch furniture, slip covers are an attractive alternative to restoration, especially since they can be pulled off and laundered, as necessary. In the photo above, Deen’s own dinnerware, the design inspired by marsh grasses visible from that porch, is featured and she notes that the large water goblets “hold water and fragrant lemons.”
The narratives and photos are full of details, making the book a delight to return to time after time. For instance, I just loved the section about porches. In California, we spend our time in our back yards, focusing our energy on the landscaping, gardens, and patio areas so that we can relax there on cool evenings. But in Savannah, many of the homes in the historic district feature porches on the front or side of the house that serve as gathering places. More and more, porches are being included in new homes, as well, keeping that Southern tradition alive, much to Deen’s delight.
Deen says that when spring arrives, she “pull[s] a couple of blankets out onto the porch to air out and soon find[s] that a porch swing, a book, and a blanket are my new best friends.” In the photo on the left, the greenery is lush and the chairs inviting. Deen recalls how “my granddaddy loved his sleeping porch” where he tried to escape Savannah’s sometimes suffocating summer heat. The first couple of times I looked at the picture, I think I was enamored with the adorable dogs because it wasn’t until I read Deen’s description that I realized the look is “pulled together” by the outdoor rug featuring a fern and flower pattern.
It is, of course, Deen’s natural, easy Southern charm that has endeared her to millions. And it is that uncomplicated, pragmatic approach that sets this book apart from the rest. You will find yourself laughing out loud frequently when Deen answers the questions she must have known you would find yourself asking as you gaze at the photographs, pondering the practically of some of the decorating choices. For instance, just as I found myself questioning the feasibility of keeping a rug on a front porch clean, Deen notes, with her typical candor, that she loves “these outdoor rugs because they are so pretty and yet they can be scrubbed and scoured without hurting them at all. Great for dogs and kids!” In fact, she even claims that she “takes a hose to” them!
These days, Deen lives about ten minutes outside Savannah on Wilmington Island. The region is characterized by homes with decks and docks “because Savannah is full of a whole bunch of creeks, streams, and marshes that empty into the ocean.” Deen’s home features a covered deck behind the house, complete with a fully-appointed outdoor kitchen, where her family gathers. And, as the photo to the right shows, an outdoor fireplace can increase the number of evenings each year that the deck can be utilized — and make for a warm and cozy area to have an intimate conversation with friends or family.
As these photos illustrate, the book is replete with observations and tips, some of which are placed right on the photographs for emphasis. This tiny breakfast nook was transformed into a comfortable, inviting corner — “the family’s favorite place for everything,” including visiting with the chef while she prepares a meal.
The Autumn and Winter chapters feature discussions and photographs about comfort and music rooms, book nooks, collecting, pantries, flea market treasures, and, of course, holiday decorating and tables. The book concludes with a section on — what else? — “Southern Hospitality,” including pictures of Deen’s own 650 square foot guest house where her friends and family stay when they come to visit her. Few of us are fortunate enough to be able to afford a guest house, but the ideas can be implemented in your own guest room or even the room you convert (such as your office, den, or one of your children’s rooms) when company arrives.
None of Deen’s commentary feels forced or phony. Rather, as I noted at the outset, reading Paula Deen’s Savannah Style feels more like having a conversation with a personable old friend. Despite all of her accomplishments and fame, Deen has frequently stated in interviews that she never forgets her more humble beginnings or the obstacles she has overcome, including a decades-long battle with agoraphobia. Thus, it is not surprising that she sums her her approach to decorating this way:
The best advice I can give you about how to decorate a home is to create one that feels family-focused, comfortable, and fun. Find the sort of furniture that you feel comfortable living with — things that don’t look new and shiny but have the loving patina of age. Look for one-of-a-kind pieces that you can mix and match with a lot of different styles.
In other words, find your own unique style, embrace, and celebrate it! Paula Deen’s Savannah Style could very well help you do that.
Summer is waning. The busy autumn months will soon be followed by the holiday season. Reasonably priced and full of 200 pages of exquisite photographs, Deen’s latest book might make your shopping easy this year. Pick up a few copies for family and friends, and then spend some time in Deen’s favorite room, the kitchen, with a pot of coffee, considering which aspects of Deen’s Savannah style might best be incorporated into your style. After all, it never hurts to dream! Paula Deen is living proof of that.
When the opportunity to read and review Healing with Words – A Writer’s Cancer Journey arose, one of my best friends had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Since meeting her in 1977, she has been one of the people in my life who has always stood by me, offering unconditional love and support, as well as honest observations and constructive criticism, delivered gently and compassionately. So I jumped at the chance to read about Diana M. Raab’s experiences in honor of my friend, and in order to better understand the journey upon which she had involuntarily just embarked. I could not have foreseen that before reading the book, yet another friend would be given the same diagnosis.
According to the American Cancer Society, they are two of the approximately 207,090 United States women who will be diagnosed in 2010. Virtually no one in American can say that he/she has not been impacted by the disease, either directly or because a friend or family member has struggled to survive it.
Two days after her annual mammogram, Diana M. Raab was called back for a second mammogram. For many women, that is not an unusual occurrence. Explaining that the radiologist wanted additional views of her right breast, the nurse assured her that he “just wants to make sure that everything is okay.”
But everything was not okay. At the age of 47, Raab was informed that she had DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) – cancer cells located in the milk ducts.
Raab, a Registered Nurse and writer, did not belong to any of the traditionally high-risk groups. Her family history was not only devoid of breast cancer; she had no family history of any form of cancer. She had breast-fed all three of her children, exercised regularly and was not overweight, and maintained a dietary regimen that included fruits and vegetables, plenty of water, and ingesting herbs and minerals three times per day. Thus, the diagnosis was all the more stunning.
Raab’s emotional journey from her initial diagnosis through researching and learning about the various treatment options available to her, selecting the course of treatment she felt best suited her lifestyle and needs, the delivery of those treatments, and their less-than-ideal aftermath make for riveting, but often heart-wrenching reading. Raab lays bare her trepidation and fears both for herself and her family, and unapologetically describes the sorrow she felt when it became clear that the best course of treatment for her was a mastectomy followed by reconstructive surgery.
Overtaken by depression, Raab found herself trapped in a vicious cycle: Because she was depressed, she ate more and then became more depressed because she felt fat and her clothes no longer fit her. While most cancer patients become thin, Raab’s early diagnosis allowed her to avoid undergoing chemotherapy or radiation, so her uncharacteristic weight gain was caused by a combination of higher caloric intake and lack of exercise, all due to chronic low-grade depression. Anti-depressants did not help. Rather, with the assistance of a psychiatrist, Raab came to understand that time is the great healer. However, in her case, the best healer was a return to writing.
Up to this point, writing had helped me survive many of life’s most difficult journeys: my grandmother’s suicide, my father’s death, breast cancer, and bed rest with three pregnancies. Writing forces us to scrutinize the truth. Writing is about growth and it is the writer’s only means for survival. I cannot help but agree with the poet Pablo Neruda’s sentiment, “writing to me is like breathing.”
Having a breast sliced off
leaves a woman with two lives —
the one before the loss
and the one after.
~~ Diana Raab
An accomplished poet, the book includes many of the poems that Raab wrote about her experiences. And following each chapter, writing prompts are included that have been inspired by and relate to the immediately preceding chapter. There is also room for writers to write in response to those prompts, making Healing with Words — A Writer’s Cancer Journey much more than one writer and cancer survivor’s memoir. It can, at the reader’s option, become his/her personal journal. Also included are Raab’s thoughts about writing as a mechanism for the achievement and maintenance of wellness, as well as a glossary and extensive list of cancer support organizations.
On the fifth anniversary of her diagnosis, during a check-up with her oncologist, annual blood work revealed that all was not well. Raab was again shocked to learn that she had another former of cancer, multiple myeloma (cancer of the plasma cells contained in bone marrow). Her oncologist told her, “If this condition or experience does not rivet your focus on life, then you’ve missed the point.”
Healing with Words — A Writer’s Cancer Journey definitively proves that Raab has not “missed the point.” On the contrary, four years after her second cancer diagnosis, Raab continues to write and teach. A combination of exercise, a healthy diet, meditation, and keeping her stress level low ensures that Raab feels well and maintains an optimistic perspective, albeit mixed with moments of sadness and grief about what she has lost and what the future might hold. Among the messages Raab has taken from her ordeal is that “the diagnosis of cancer should be considered a turning point that sets you free to fulfill or examine dreams that can no longer wait.” She spends her days focused on surrounding herself “with those who bring only positive and nurturing energy into my life. Being surrounded by joy brings joy and helps you move forward toward your dreams.”
Indeed, her physician, Melvin J. Silverstein, M.D., observes in his forward to the book that Raab, like many cancer survivors, has been transformed by her experiences. He notes that “what is remarkable is how she responded to her cancer after the initial shock wore off, and what’s even more impressive is what she did with her transformation.” Raab herself credits her ability to continue pursuing her goals, despite her ordeal, to three critical factors: Immediately available health care, a loving and supportive family, and creative expression. The healing power of writing is tangible and demonstrable because “[w]riting about the traumas in our lives is not only cathartic, but it can help provide answers to mysterious questions. Journaling brings you face to face with your own truths and what has happened to you.” Raab relates that she used her journal to validate her feelings on her own cancer journey.
1. Find a quiet uninterrupted time and place to write
2. Choose an inspiring notebook and pen
3. Create a centering ritual (light a candle, meditate, play music, stretch)
4. Breathe deeply
5. Put aside your inner critic
6. Date your entry
7. Begin by writing your feelings and sensations
8. Write nonstop for 15-20 minutes
9. Save what you have written
10. Write regularly
~~ Diana Raab
Healing with Words — A Writer’s Cancer Journey offers insight into utilizing one’s creative energy to overcome all kinds of obstacles, so it is a source of inspiration and encouragement for anyone who wants to experience the benefits that come from journaling or keeping a diary. Studies have shown that those benefits can include reduced stress and anxiety, enhanced lung and immune system functioning, and improved communications leading to healthier relationships with loved ones. Thus, it is recommended reading for anyone interested in the subject. But its real strength lies, of course, in Raab’s example of perseverance and determination in the face of two devastating diagnoses and their impact upon her life, as well as the lives of her family members.
Anyone who reads Healing with Words — A Writer’s Cancer Journey will likely come away from the experience determined to, like Raab, “wake up every morning happy to be alive and with joy in [his/her] heart,” rather than waiting for a cancer diagnosis or some other devastating event to be the turning point that sets you free to fulfill or examine dreams that can no longer wait. The time to fulfill or examine those dreams is now.
I am passing along my like-new copy of Healing with Words – A Writer’s Cancer Journey with the hope that it will benefit someone who is either battling cancer or experiencing some other challenge in his/her life. Please enter to win only if you plan to use the book during your own journey back to health and well-being or wish to present it to someone special in your life.
Leave a comment, making sure to include your email address (for notification purposes). For privacy purposes, it is not necessary that you include details about why you wish to win the book, but, of course, you may do so if you so choose.
Leave a separate comment for each bonus entry –
Books can only be shipped to United States addresses (no P.O. boxes).
Sunday, August 22, 2010, at 11:59 p.m. (Pacific time)
The winner will be selected at random and announced on Monday, August 23, 2010!
I read Healing with Words – A Writer’s Cancer Journey in conjunction with the 2010 Read ‘n’ Review Challenge.
How important to you are your long-time friendships? How well do you think you know your friends? Are you sure that you know just what kinds of behavior your friends are capable of? Do you trust them? Are you sure that they have your best interests at heart?
How well do you know yourself? How willing would you be to elevate a good friend’s needs or desires above your own?
And can you picture your life without the friends who have known you the longest and the best?
In her new novel, With Friends Like These, Sally Koslow explores those — and more — questions from the vantage points of four thirty-something women living in New York City. Koslow’s writing shows she understands that women’s relationships are complicated . . . on the best of days. With Friends Like These is a thoughtful, sometimes exasperating, but tautly paced homage to the complex, intimate, and intricate ties that bind women together.
In the early 1990’s, Chloe, Talia, and Quincy were looking for an apartment in Manhattan. Jules de Marco had the apartment, but was looking for roommates. “I have a feeling about us,” she declared on the day they all met. “Something tells me we’re all going to be great friends.” And they were. For ten years.
But now that they are in their 30’s, life — and friendships — are more complicated.
Chloe has married Xander, a hedge fund manager, and created the perfect home for him and their son. She shares a job as a copywriter with Talia, wife of Tom, a school teacher who never seems to finish his thesis and earn his doctorate — or the salary he could command if he did, even as he eschews his own privileged upbringing.
Quincy, a free-lance writer, has suffered several miscarriages. She longs for a baby to love and a bigger, sunnier apartment in which to raise him or her with her husband, Jake, an attorney.
Only Jules has remained single. An actress, hand model, and personal shopper, she is dating Arthur, who is older, shorter, and balder than most men. He is also notoriously cheap. Neither of them appear, at least outwardly, to be interested in marriage or commitment, even though Arthur plainly adores Jules. Arthur lives in a highly desirable building, but would love to purchase a larger apartment with better views of Central Park.
Quincy confides to Jules that she desperately wants the apartment that is about to become available in the building where Arthur lives. When Jules divulges the information to Arthur, he sets out to buy the apartment, utilizing every trick he knows to thwart Quincy and Jake’s efforts.
Concerned that their financial circumstances will preclude their son, Henry, from attending the best schools and discontented with her career, Talia intercepts a call from a headhunter that is meant for Chloe, pursuing the job opportunity herself.
With Friends Like These can best be described as akin to a melding of two iconic television series: Sex and the City meets Thirtysomething. Like Candace Bushnell’s female foursome, the women in With Friends Like These face challenges that are unique to New Yorkers: In Manhattan, roomy apartments with streaming sunlight or picturesque views rarely become available. When they do, if the prices don’t decimate your dream of home ownership, the building association’s board members just might. And the competition for the few seats available in good schools is frequently cut-throat, with desks awarded to the highest donor. Also like Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte, the four protagonists in Koslow’s story have been good friends for many years. But as the story unfolds, their friendships are seriously tested, largely because of their own duplicitous and contemptuous behavior.
Seemingly casually — but, in actuality, quite deftly — Koslow sets the stage in Chapter Two for the drama that will ensue. Over lunch, Quincy tells Jules that she has found the ideal apartment. Afterward, Jules spends a couple of hours mulling over what she has learned from her friend, realizing that she wants to tell Arthur. “Was that wrong? It wasn’t illegal, and all I was going to do was share the information — and maybe, for kicks, take a peak at the place.” Before long, Jules convinces herself that she has to tell Arthur because of Quincy’s track record of having her bids on real estate rejected. Jules rationalizes breaching her friend’s confidence because she figures that Quincy will “eventually lose out on the apartment and a stranger would land this deal. I couldn’t let that happen.”
“We know not every friend is destined to be a perennial, the James Taylor or Carole King of our emotional road show. What brings a friendship to the Do Not Resuscitate point? The result depends on how bad we feel we’ve been had, whether and to what degree the evil one serves up remorse and plain old manners.”
~~ Sally Koslow
Talia is plagued by jealousy, telling herself that Chloe doesn’t deserve to get every break that comes her way. After all, from Talia’s perspective, Chloe has a fairly idyllic life: She is financially secure, with a dream home, nanny, and virtual assurance that her son will attend the best schools in Manhattan. But after Talia co-opts the career opportunity that was meant for Chloe, she finds herself wracked with guilt, mired in an ethical quagmire of her own making, and desperate to keep Chloe from finding out, lest the discovery ruin their friendship.
Chloe’s transition from a naive, trusting wife and friend to a bruised, but wiser, independent woman is the most wrenching of the four women’s journeys, but also the most realistic.
Each chapter is a first-person narrative told by one of the four women, a literary device employed by Koslow to optimal effect: The reader experiences and understands each woman’s emotions and moral dilemmas. Therein lies the strength of With Friends Like These. Absent the insight that each successive narrative gives the reader into the character’s thought processes and experiences, the book could have been just another tale of back-stabbing, self-absorbed, vacuous women. But Koslow elevates the tale by convincingly demonstrating that even the best friendships can be punctuated by jealousy, deceit, and betrayal, as well as guilt, insecurity, regret, and, ultimately, forgiveness.
Choices and living with the consequences that flow from them is a central theme that will resonate with female readers. Each character has made choices about her own life, motivated by a desire to do what’s right for herself and those she loves, and finds herself struggling with the sometimes less-than-satisfying repercussions. Now in their 30’s, each of the four female characters must accept that some of her dreams are never going to come true, and she must implement her back-up plan.
In Jules’ case, she must make a critical and time-sensitive decision, but rails and procrastinates, frozen with fear by the knowledge that no matter what she decides, her life will inarguably be forever changed.
Every one of the four characters is unique, deliciously flawed, and individually intriguing. Their conduct will, at times, literally evoke gasps of shock and revulsion, but a few pages later, the reader is just as likely to be either laughing aloud or crying along with one of the characters. In short, the four women are very realistic and empathetic because, despite their shortcomings, each woman is a loving and compassionate friend to the other three, albeit in her own imperfect manner. Each eventually recognizes that long-time friendships, if lost, can never be replaced or replicated, because the years spent getting to know each other and standing by each other’s side, can never be recaptured.
Thus, the beauty of Koslow’s work lies in the way the four women eventually come to accept each other, despite their individual and collective failings, and, for the sake of their friendships, forgive each other.
That morning the women recognized that being together was like rediscovering a pair of lost slippers. Their friendship still provided comfort that improved with time. They knew one another like a new friend never could, with a shorthand that understood when to react and when to overlook, when to boost and when to protect.
Just like real-life friends.
I read With Friends Like These in conjunction with the 2010 Read ‘n’ Review Challenge.
Teaser Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. Each week participants open to a random page in the book they are currently reading and share two (or three) “teaser” sentences from that page, being careful not to include spoilers, i.e. too much information that would ruin the experience of reading the book for others.
People hurt each other all the time, both wittingly and unwittingly. And some made the choice to keep moving on, through the pain and uncertainty, and others barricaded the walls of their worlds and stayed safely inside those narrow confines. Some people tried to find hope again and others . . . well, others flew to Hong Kong for forty-eight hours and substituted dinners with clients for a social life.
The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkanen, page 299.
We have had a delightful summer here in the little village of Lodi. The temperatures have been uncharacteristically mild.
Usually, by mid-August, we have endured many days when the temperature has soared past 100 degrees, with the average being in the mid to upper 90’s. Air conditioners chugging throughout the neighborhood, there can sometimes be several consecutive nights when the soothing Delta breezes are absent and the house must remain sealed shut in order to maintain a comfortable sleeping temperature.
But we are fortunate that, on most evenings, that refreshingly cool air does waft inland from the Delta, and we enjoy a soft breeze than enables us to turn off the air conditioner and throw open the doors and windows. Because our evening temperatures are generally mild, we are able to spend time outdoors before retiring. Once the temperature drops, folks come out of their houses and on every street you will encounter your neighbors walking their dogs, riding bikes with their children, puttering in their yards or perhaps sitting on their front step or porch, hoping someone will stop by and chat.
Last year, when I was shopping for a house, the backyard was an extremely important consideration. I was hoping to find a home with a backyard pool, but there was no home on the market with the right combination of location, other amenities, and price, plus a pool. But when I found the listing for my current residence, I instantly knew that I could be very happy here, and continue utilizing the pool at the health club a couple of blocks away. This house was only on the market a couple of days when I extended my offer to purchase it and, luckily for me, the prior owners accepted.
In addition to having a private deck with a hot tub off the master bedroom, where I frequently relax with a good book and glass of wine, the backyard also has a lovely patio where I can entertain guests. Most evenings, weather permitting, we have dinner there and then linger, enjoying the peaceful, comfortable environment.
The beautiful crepe myrtle tree, visible from the family room, kitchen, and dining room, is in full bloom now. The photographs only suggest how vividly beautiful the pink blossoms are.
My gardener is multi-talented and willingly performs a variety of tasks. Recently, he agreed to repaint my patio furniture and did a fabulous job. He brought back one set of table and chairs so that we could use them, and is finishing up the second, identical set. When both are fully restored, I plan to buy matching umbrellas and cushions for the already comfortable chairs.
I spend hours sitting by that table reading, relaxing, and enjoying my quiet little hideaway. My boys love to get freshly cooked burgers and corn dogs, along with root beer floats, from the drive-through window at Foster’s Old Fashion Freeze — an establishment that has been in Lodi for as long as I can remember and is practically a landmark — and eat on the patio. It’s a tradition I love because that furniture originally belonged to my parents and, over the years, we’ve spent countless hours gathered there with my parents, other family members, and friends. My father loved to bar-b-que and did so whenever the weather permitted, so dining at that table among loved ones is something I have enjoyed for more than 30 years. My parents would be thrilled that I am continuing the tradition here in my new house.
I am thankful every day for my lovely home, handsome, intelligent, and supportive sons, and my faithful, loving Sophie. Because of all the medical challenges I have faced relative to my eyesight, every day that I open my eyes and can see my surroundings is a great day for which I am grateful. In this economy, when so many people have lost jobs and, consequently, their homes, I am keenly aware of how fortunate I am to have this peaceful, quiet, and extremely comfortable environment to return to each evening after a stressful day of practicing law — and never take it for granted.
Check back to read my upcoming reviews of books read — in whole or significant part — in my cozy backyard, including:
What do you do when the life you have so carefully constructed begins to fall apart? How do you react when you learn that the future you envisioned for yourself and your loved ones is not going to materialize? How do you respond when your children’s expectations for their lives are not in alignment with your dreams for their futures?
How do you reconcile and remain strong in your own firmly-held beliefs when you learn that they are directly at odds with the beliefs of some of the people you love and cherish most? Could your family survive that kind of revelation?
Those are the questions Kathryn Shay tackles in her new novel, The Perfect Family, an exploration of one family’s difficult journey to understanding, empathy, and, ultimately, unconditional love and acceptance.
The Davidsons are the perfect family. Maggie is a psychology professor at a community college. She and her husband, Mike, have two teenage sons, Brian and Jamie. Brian, the eldest, plays third base on the high school baseball team and dreams of securing a college scholarship. Jamie is 17 and a member of the drama club.
As the story opens, there is tension between Maggie and Mike because she has been gradually pulling away from the Catholic Church. Mike, a staunch believer and follower, believes that his family should worship regularly as a family and adhere to the church’s stance on societal issues, including sexual orientation. He even chairs the parish’s Contemporary Issues Committee. As a psychological professional, however, Maggie, rejects the church’s belief that homosexuality is a sinful lifestyle choice that is subject to change through prayer and reparative therapy.
Maggie has other reasons to reject Catholic dogma. As an eight-year-old child, she was permanently separated from her older sister, Caroline. When Caroline informed her parents that she was going to marry a man who had been divorced, her parents disowned and banished her. For the past thirty-seven years, Maggie has mourned the loss of her big sister and wondered if Caroline’s life turned out the way she hoped it would.
Brian has a long-time girlfriend, and now Jamie is interested in a special someone and wants to begin dating. When he tells Maggie about his “first boyfriend,” his sappy expression causes Maggie’s heart to ache and rejoice all at the same time. And wonder how her husband, who loves his sons as deeply as any father can, will be able to reconcile the news that his son is gay with his single-minded devotion to his church and its teachings.
The Perfect Family is a close enough to perfect book that were I in charge of the curriculum in American high schools, I would make it required reading in every school — for both the students and their parents.
Kathryn Shay tackles the story of a young man’s declaration of his sexual orientation and its impact upon his family, friends, and community with sensitivity and compassion. It’s no wonder. Although she says that the story is “very fictionalized with only a few elements of our journey in it,” it is a sojourn with which she is familiar. Her own son came out when he was 17 years old and in the ten years since, she has had time to reflect upon that event and ponder its impact upon her life, as well as that of her family.
“The Perfect Family provided me with a fresh, soulful and enlightening coming out story.”
What is remarkable about The Perfect Family is its lack of villains. Shay has intricately created a cast of multi-faceted characters, each with their own beliefs and viewpoints. Each is, in his/her own unique way, a product of and has spent his/her life reacting to the environment in which he/she was raised. Each character is challenged to examine the things that he/she has always accepted as true. And each is motivated by his/her own capacity to love.
In The Perfect Family the world is composed of myriad shades of gray, but devoid of stark white or pitch black.
Maggie is determined to protect Jamie. She validates his bravery and desire to be a typical high school kid — but is determined to keep her family intact. She understands that sexual orientation is an immutable characteristic, not a choice, and reassures Jamie that she is proud of and supports him. Of course, Maggie sees a counselor to whom she confides her own fears and misgivings, and it is those confessions that make Maggie thoroughly believable and empathetic. Even though she accepts, appreciates, and values Jamie just as he is, her raw, honest emotional reactions elevate her character from a stereotypical crusading mother in a made-for-television movie to a believably conflicted, frightened parent who, above all else, wants her child to be safe and happy.
Maggie’s is the voice of reasoned compassion and unrestrained love that any family dealing with this issue needs to hear loudly and clearly. So it is unfortunate that at times, her dialogue is a bit stilted and almost preachy. It is a minor complaint, to be sure, because those were the only instances when the book’s otherwise taut pace bogged down momentarily.
Mike is a man who has spent his life obeying his church and its teachings, never really questioning either. When Jamie’s sexual orientation forces him to finally confront the doctrine that he has always accepted as true, the foundation upon which he has built his life is shaken. Feeling powerless and knowing that his family is slipping away from him, Mike lashes out. He meets with the father of Jamie’s boyfriend, deliberately prohibiting Maggie from participating in the conversation, and proposes that the boys be sent to reparative therapy, a suggestion so repulsive and abhorrent to Maggie that it nearly cements the destruction of their marriage. He also seeks advice and counsel from the family’s priest — who, in turn, attempts to persuade Maggie that she should not attend any other church lest she encounter false teachings.
Still, under Shay’s carefully nuanced portrayal, there is never a moment of doubt about Mike’s love for Jamie, Brian, and Maggie. There are moments when he is overbearing and boorish, but he is the character readers will find themselves rooting for even though his beliefs may be, as in my case, completely at odds with those of the reader. There is never any question of Mike’s sincerity, and his struggle to understand Jamie and regain equilibrium in his own life, as well as his family’s, feels genuinely torturous.
Brian, always close to his kid brother, reacts in the way many heterosexual male teenagers do: He is repulsed by the physicality of Jamie’s sexual orientation, and concerned about his friends’ and teammates’ reactions. He is angry that Jamie has disrupted their previously easy-going family life and, to some extent, jealous that Jamie’s announcement has drawn attention away from him during his senior year of high school. Brian, like his father, questions his own masculinity and sexuality, ultimately paying a steep price for his need to prove to himself that he is not like his brother.
And then there’s Jamie, flush with the excitement of his first big teenage love. He’s just a normal high school boy who wants to experience all the things kids his age do with their first boyfriend or girlfriend: Meet by his locker between classes, walk down the school hallway holding hands, and attend the prom wearing coordinated ensembles. Any parent who has ever comforted a child who came home from school and reported that their best friend sat by his/her new best friend at lunch, that they were not invited to a classmate’s birthday party, or that they were ridiculed on the playground will feel his/her heart break a little more each time Jamie’s desire to simply fit in with and be like the other kids is thwarted. But Jamie is strong and determined to stand up for himself and Luke, his new boyfriend, even when Luke’s father behaves in a manner as close to villainous as Shay allows.
I wondered how differently the story might have evolved had Brian, the athletic, popular brother come out, rather than Jamie, the introspective dramatist and poet. Still, Luke’s sexuality proved surprising not to just his parents, but also his classmates — he, like Brian, was a member of the high school baseball team. So kudos go to Shay for subtly, but effectively, rejecting the stereotypical characterizations of gay characters that are so common in books, movies, and on television.
When the opportunity arose to read an advance copy of and review The Perfect Family for Pump Up Your Book, I jumped at it. As a civil rights attorney, I wanted to see if Shay would handle the issues presented by the story with sensitivity, grace, and, most importantly, respect for disparate viewpoints. (At the time, I had no knowledge of Shay’s own story.)
Indeed, that is the true beauty and strength of The Perfect Family. The viewpoints and beliefs held at the outset by each character are accorded dignity; Shay’s narrative lacks derision or belittlement. Rather, each character is human and flawed, but trying his/her best to adjust to the fact that the expectations we project upon our loved ones are not always realistic or justified. And by the last page, most of Shay’s characters learn that in order to truly love, you have to be flexible, adaptive, and tolerant — no matter how emotionally, intellectually, philosophically or religiously trying that may be.
I read The Perfect Family in conjunction with the 2010 Read ‘n’ Review Challenge.