Book Review, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

IMG_20190413_180546296Delia Owens’ debut novel, Where the Crawdads Sing is one of my favorite reads of 2018.

It is a romance, a family saga, a coming of age story, and a murder mystery rolled into one, often poetic, book. Owens writes from a remarkable understanding of nature. A quote from her website reads, “When you can feel the planet beneath your toes and trees moving about, you must listen with all your ears and,–I promise–you will hear the crawdads sing. In fact, it will be a chorus.”

This tells me much about the author and her debut novel. Owens spent over two decades studying wildlife in remote regions of Africa. As a result of this research, she makes the case that mammals in strongly bonded groups form those groups of exclusively females. In Where the Crawdads Sing, Kya is a female without a group and desperately wants one. Owens subtly makes the point that female bonding is in our DNA. Kya is abandoned by her biological mother, siblings and eventually her father. Her mother is the North Carolina marsh and her teachers are the animals that populate the marsh. Kya scrapes out a living and a huge education on the water’s edge, befriending rare and wonderful characters like Jumpin, the general store and gas station owner, and Tate, the young man and friend of Kya’s brother that teaches Kya to read. These people help her in her greatest times of trouble. Throughout the book, the characters are well-drawn and there are good and bad folk in equal measure. The marsh too, becomes a character as well as the town of Barkley Cove.

Not only does the author stay true to the theme of females forming groups but she speaks of predators and prey by Kya’s observation of those animals around her. The murder mystery carries this distinct theme along with many of Kya’s relationships. Kya speaks of the great blue heron as the color of gray mist reflecting in blue water. “And like mist, she can fade into the backdrop, all of her disappearing except the concentric circles of her lock-and-load eyes. She is a patient, solitary hunter, standing alone as long as it takes to snatch her prey.” The paragraph goes on to liken the heron to a predacious bridesmaid. it is chilling and gorgeous prose, speaking to the author’s clear understanding of nature.

Throughout the book, Kya’s understanding of nature and human frailty compelled me. In one passage, Kya can’t remember how to pray. She wants God to help bring back her mother’s garden, she wants God to bring back her mother. She struggles with her memory of prayer and faith and in the end finishes with, “Just forget it. No god’s gonna come to this garden.”

Later, when Kya reads her first sentence, she reads from Leopold’s A Sand Country Almanac, she reads the first telling sentence. “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.” Her friend tate who teaches her to read says there will never be a time when you can’t read. “It ain’t just that.” She spoke almost in a whisper. “I wadn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know a sentence could be so full.” I loved the double meaning hers. Kya cannot live without wild things. Kya is a wild thing, a great blue heron disappearing in the mist.

I read one review of this book that said the reader did not find Kya’s life believable and thus could never engage with the main character. I laughed with the reviewer because I too wondered at a young woman so isolated and yet able to make her way on tired grits and very little else. For me, this wasn’t a problem, but a wonder.

I enjoyed learning to survive with Kya, being mothered and taught by the marsh. I enjoyed her first taste of reading and thought back to my own, when black streaks and dots begin to reveal, not just words, but worlds.

If you haven’t read this book yet, I highly recommend it. I read it then re-read it because I hated to finish it.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for reading books. Bev

published in draft form at justonebeggar.net

Locks and Keys

Jumping into the Deep

God’s Good Gifts

Today’s Scriptures : Psalm 103:1-5, Matthew 5:1-2

With today’s blog, I begin a study in the Beatitudes found in the fifth chapter of Matthew.

Jesus gives those who would follow Him the keys to the Kingdom, His Kingdom in the Beatitudes. He tells plainly how to be happy. Jesus calls His disciples and travels to a mount. It is not a fancy mountain with a perfect amphitheater. It is a hill where He can sit and still be heard. Contrast this with the teachers of the law at the time and even Jesus’ other teachings. They taught often from the synagogue. They had amphitheaters or orated from steps. They had chairs that looked like thrones and spoke only to males sometimes men and sometimes boys. But Jesus delivers His message of hope from the side of a rough hill. He delivers it to His disciples and…

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Chewy Has Been Sold

IMG_20190330_192452456Well, I have a gentleman’s agreement on the sale of Chewy and I trust the buyer to tell me if he changes his mind. 

My husband and I may have named the truck Chewy because the old Studebaker sounded like Chewbacca when he headed down the road. I wish I could remember for certain. There are so many things I can no longer remember. Never-mind all of that. Chewy is going to a new home. Chewy will be with a family that likes old things and enjoys restoring them. The home even has young’uns interested in old things.

Lonny bought the truck for me when I started a novel that featured a ’49 Studebaker truck. When Lonny brought it home and I drove it to Mom and Dad’s for the first time, my father put his hands in his pockets and frowned. He shook his head and said, “Studebaker was very good at making wagons. They weren’t very good at much else.”IMG_20190330_192355465

I worried some about what my father thought. I respected him, but pretended I hadn’t heard. I liked Chewy for his blue paint and round top. I liked him because my husband bought him for me to encourage my writing. It was Lonny’s way of saying, “I support you. I may not read what you write, but I’m proud of you.”

We used to have fly-ins. My husband and I built an ultralight (which is a story for another time.) We would host other ultralight owners for a few days of games and feasting. 

 I had driven the Studebaker to work the day of one of these fly-ins. I came home just as the planes started arriving.

Lonny waved as I drove up and parked. His grin was broad, as if it wanted to jump off his face and give me a hug. I heard him telling one of the pilots about the truck.

Later he told me how much he enjoyed seeing me drive around in Chewy, how proud he was and how much delight he knew I took in driving the old blue Studebaker.

I remember that day now and wonder at how people can take joy in another’s pleasure. It touches me to know that Lonny and I truly delighted in each other’s happiness. It touches me that I tried to forget my father’s comments. I am glad that I relaxed and drove the old truck even when my father shook his head and complained.

But Chewy is gone now. It is bittersweet. I knew I would never get him running again and I hope his new owner will. I took down the new owner’s number. Maybe I’ll stay in touch. Maybe I could drive Chewy one more time. Probably not, but life has some strange twists.

Thank you for reading. Bev

(Published also at justonebeggar.net

Book Review, Prairie Fires

Prairie Fires

Written by Caroline Fraser,  Prairie Fires is a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, her parents, grandparents and daughter couched in a history and discourse of the American frontier.

The biography finds purchase in the final third of the book, describing how the Little House books came about.

In most of the reviews I’ve read, Little House fans adored Prairie Fires. They cut their ‘reading teeth’ on Wilder’s books, many learning how to read from the Little House books along with how to accomplish many other frontier tasks. I don’t disagree that Wilder helped form the frontier conscience of our nation, but I think this was unwitting on her part.

Wilder was not my first read. In fact, my mother tried to get me to read the Little House books but I found the work tedious and too shiny. (Funnily enough, I found Prairie Fires tedious also.) I knew even at five and six years of age, that I was being forced to swallow the Pollyanna without much story. I just couldn’t find a footing in the books and if the books were bad the television series was deplorable. My tastes ran more to fantasy, which I knew wasn’t real and enjoyed it all the more for it. I mention all of this ‘me’ stuff because I am an unreliable reviewer for this book.

I admired Fraser’s research but became bored with her preaching about the sins of early American governments. This nation is an easy target and often exploited. But as a writer she is surely entitled to her own soap box. I just thought the book would have been a much better read without the discourse.

The other thing I took issue with was the pressure of the ‘truth.’ Wilder wrote rosy children’s books. I think it would be clear that she had help writing them and that she kept to the sunny-side of major tragedies. I see no reason to dive into Wilder’s past in order to state the obvious and be so exercised about it that countless references fill the book. Maybe this is unfair to Fraser who is a talented writer and remarkable scholar. Like I said, I am an unreliable reviewer.

So why read the book? If you are interested in the American frontier, read this book. Farser’s research is superb.

If you treasured Wilder’s series, read the last third of the book. It is a well detailed story, if a bit skewed against Rose. Perhaps Rose was a quarter bubble short of plumb. I am not so convinced in this telling, which seems to rely on Rose’s political views as much as other facts. But I did enjoy how Wilder developed her stories and her skills.

The final reason to read this book is to join the discussion which is full and rich and very American. Thanks for reading. Bev

Published also at Goodreads and http://www.justonebeggar.net/

In Memory of Lonny Gene Coots, 1

In Memory of Lonny Gene Coots

Advent 2018
December 2
My husband passed on November 15, 2018. He died in his sleep. I had gone to the other room. I was surly and tired. If I had known, I wouldn’t have left. I wonder two things: did God drive me from the room so He could take His beloved child, or did my husband drive me because he was so tired of living a half life? I do not know, but I believe as we often believe somewhere between the heart and the mind, in a bubble of hope, I believe it was God and my husband together. They had a deal and I wasn’t privy to a mystery which I could not keep.
The bubble of hope stumps me. In the middle of profound grief, I find myself smiling. Maybe God did do it. Maybe God sanctioned my husband’s leaving. I hope He did. I know He is with God, but to know further that God scooped my husband up according to God’s perfect plan, this is beyond me.
I have stories, memories I want to get down, some I almost lost but for friends recalling them. This Advent season I will post a few.
I begin with a recent story. Two weeks before he passed, I was struggling with how to serve him. He shouldn’t drive, not that he didn’t try, but he was too tired and his truck was in the shop, so my warrior, my pilot, my adventurer was stuck in front of the television with old re-runs and two lazy dogs. He ventured out only for dialysis three times a week and returned spent, still trying to feed me with a take out sandwich, trying to feed the dogs by buying dog food. It broke my heart. We had planned to travel. Maybe he would help me learn to fly, maybe he would finally teach me Karate. He was a cook when we were first married, maybe we could at least cook together teasing each other about what tasted good, and that, according to him, bologna was an excellent entree. Instead, he was a whisper a tangled thought maybe a thin mist of himself in a big chair with the volume on high.
I came in that afternoon, determined to do something right, determined to scoop him up myself, if for nothing more than a diversion  “Come on,” I said. “We’re going to go vote.”
“But it’s not election day.”
“I know but we’ll go early. Let’s go feel the power.”
He chuckled. “Let me get my shoes on.”
Was it then that I noticed his eyes, they were bigger, more childlike, happy for a small gift of time from his too frequently occupied wife. They shone like aquamarine, magnified and lightened in his glasses. He smiled, delighted. Oh that I would have done something for that smile a thousand times more often. But I had it that once and I wouldn’t waste it.
We went to the early voting station, but I couldn’t get into the close parking. We agreed he would be fine, that it would even be good for him to walk a little.
We walked slowly and though it was a rare cool day, the sun was pleasant away from the wind. I watched him walk bent and slow, holding on to the wall because he didn’t want me babying him. It didn’t matter. I wouldn’t have minded. I wanted to help. I wanted to scream. I wanted him whole and vital as much for his sake as mine. I prayed for a kidney, I prayed for strength in his legs to return, I prayed for that bubble of hope.
Inside we found friends. My former sister-in-law and her husband, kind people. We were delighted. They were delighted. We were all voting, exercising our rights and our minds, participating in life and civics and things that matter. We were part of a teaming mass. We were vital. It was a good day.
My husband cast his vote first, while I was still talking to my sister-in-law. My breath caught. He wasn’t confused, or disinterested. He had finished by the time I found him. His grin really did stretch from ear to ear.
“Have you already voted?”
“Oh yes. I’ve been finished for a while. Just waiting on you.”
I was breathless. It was a familiar joke and told in a familiar way. He had joked that I really was going to be late for my own wedding. My heart skipped. “You’re teasing me?” I could hardly get the words out for the laughter spilling from every thought. My husband, for this short time and in this short way, he is mine again, and he cherishes me. 
We might have bought sandwiches. We might have gone home and I made supper. I wish I could remember. So much, too much, is a blur. He was tired and slept in front of the television after we returned home.
But I remember his blue eyes, light and bright. They told me not to be so serious. They told me he loved me. They told me that just for a moment we were once again young and in love.

also published at justonebeggar.net

Summer Seminar, Joy Writers

Our Summer Seminar for Joy Writers begins tomorrow. If you are in the Roswell area and interested in honing your writing skills and enjoying good fellowship, come by the Roswell Public Library. We will begin at 9:00 in the Bondurant Room.

The seminar will be led by our fearless leader, Eva McCollaum. You can find her blog here. Speak with her if you would like to join us, or come by.

We read Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley as our novel for the seminar this year.

Set in Los Angeles in 1948, the young black man easy-going Easy Rawlings, tells his story first hand. Recently fired due to racism, Easy is anxious to pay the mortgage on his home. In the first scene Easy meets DeWitt Albright, a white man  with pale eyes and pale skin, wearing off-white linen. For me the first scene sets up the book in a memorable way. DeWitt continues to live in my memory after several years. He is menacing from the get-go.

Easy reluctantly accepts money from DeWitt to find a young woman, Daphne Monet who likes to associate with black people. The reader watches as Easy Rawlings tries not to take the job, then slowly becomes entangled in trouble. Two of his associates are killed and he is drug further into a complicated web of intrigue spun by Daphne and her would-be love.

One reviewer mentions a favorite character from the book, Mouse who appears about two-thirds of the way through the novel. Mouse is brutal and quixotic, but he twice saves Easy’s life. At the end of a passage where Easy and Mouse strike a deal to let Easy call the shots, Mouse says,” Whatever you say Easy, Maybe you gonna show me how a poor man can live wit’out blood.” It’s a telling line and describes how Mouse survives.

I recommend this book if your read noir detective fiction. Read it for the characters, Easy, Mouse, DeWitt and a host of other well drawn people, read it for the setting, Los Angeles in 1948, and finally read it for a study of racism then and now.

Enough for now. Bev

Also posted on justonebeggar.net