The Ghost Runner by Blair Richmond

The Ghost Runner by Blair Richmond (book 2 in the Lithia Series, published by small publisher Ashland Creek Press) finds Katherine Healy unable to outrun her past and her father.  Ghosts begin appearing in her life, just as she has settled into her new home in Lithia, a home her family abandoned long ago for Houston.  Roman, an immortal carnivore, has been cast aside in favor of Alex, an immortal vegan and environmentalist, by Kat, but even her perfect relationship is showing signs of cracking under the new pressures Kat faces.

In the wooded town, most of the residents are happy knowing everyone in town and supporting causes that keep the forests protected, but developers are still in the shadows waiting to swoop in and change their way of life.  While Kat is hung up on two men, she’s also trying to get her life back to normal, enrolling in college again (at least part time) and holding down her job at the sports show store in town.  After running for her life in the last book, Richmond has Kat tackling more mundane obstacles, like keeping good grades and juggling her responsibilities at the store and school.

“I don’t care that it’s 8:15 on a Monday morning and that most of the other fifteen students are straining to keep their eyes open.  I don’t care that the room is as drab as a prison, with cinderblock walls painted an uninspiring off-white.”  (page 20)

“A ghost runner is someone who is always right behind you, pushing you, always about to pass you.  Or so you think.  Sometimes there is no runner.  Sometimes it’s just a ghost of a runner, the idea of a runner right behind you, that keeps you at your pace.”  (page 68)

The return of Kat’s father throws a monkey wrench into the situation, stirring up trouble not only between her and Alex, but also throughout the town.  Richmond maintains her engaging sparse prose and her first person narration to capture her reader’s attention and engendering a connection between Kat and the reader.  Kat is a 20-year-old woman who is finding that being a grown up is a bit more responsibility than she expected, even if she has been on her own for more than a year working to make ends meet and outrun her past.  What’s nice about the second book is that the theme of running is continued, but not in a cliched way — it is part of Kat, it is who she is, how she clears her head, how she thinks.

The Ghost Runner by Blair Richmond is a solid second book in a trilogy.  The novelist mixes environmental concerns with themes of finding your ground amidst a turbulent sea and the ghosts of the past.  It’s about dealing with your responsibilities as a part of nature and as a part of a wider society, and more than that it’s about changing your own actions and behaviors to make the changes in the wider society and world you seek.

About the Author:

Blair Richmond is the pen name of a writer from the Pacific Northwest. Out of Breath and The Ghost Runner are books one and two of the Lithia Trilogy. Visit Blair’s blog for the latest on The Lithia Trilogy.

Also Reviewed:

Out of Breath

Keys to the Repository by Melissa de la Cruz (Book 4.5)

Keys to the Repository by Melissa de la Cruz is really a companion book to the series, rather than a continuation of the action. In the introductory letter from the author, Cruz says, “The Repository Files, which include character profiles, were written by rather crotchety historians who work for the humorless Committee, so you might find their estimation of the characters a little astringent.”  (page 5)

The book chronicles the series up to the fourth book, provides some additional short stories/chapters that may have been cut from those books or that provide additional background to the story.  In many ways, these short stories are the missing pieces or scenes that some readers may have wanted to see, like the big breakup scene between Jack and Schuyler or what happened to Dylan Ward when he disappeared.  One of the most endearing elements of Jack and Schuyler’s relationship is the books that they share with one another, and upon their first meeting, he gives her The Plague by Albert Camus and Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen, two seemingly unrelated books, though both are about love and longing.

“Feeling reckless and giddy, and just a tad plucky — like the kind of girl who tramped around the marshes in the dark — she scribbled a note and slipped it under Jack’s door.

Mr. Darcy, I will be there as requested. — Elizabeth.”  (page 57)

“This was a boy who spoke through books:  longing and exile — The Plague — banter and obstacles — Pride and Prejudice.  He spoke her language.”  (page 59)

Cruz also creates an appendix of characters in the books and their role in the books, definitions of the secret language words and other events in the books.  In one chapter, she even more fully explains the hierarchy of the vampire world from the Order of the Seven to the Committee and the Conclave.  Finally, there is an additional chapter on Bliss Llewellyn and her adventures to find the Hounds of Hell, which Cruz apparently spun off into a series of its own (as if I need yet another series to read, though I’ll likely pick it up someday).

Keys to the Repository by Melissa de la Cruz is an companion book to the Blue Bloods series that can help remind readers what has happened in the past, shed additional light on the characters and relationships in the series, and offers a refresher course on the terms, history, and customs of the Blue Bloods.  It reads like the notebooks of a writer would, giving readers an inside peak into the characters as Cruz sees them and their story, though there are elements that are “redacted” by the recordkeepers, most likely because they are elements revealed in future books.

About the Author:

Melissa de la Cruz is the New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of many critically acclaimed and award-winning novels for teens including The Au Pairs series, the Blue Bloods series, the Ashleys series, the Angels on Sunset Boulevard series and the semi-autobiographical novel Fresh off the Boat.

Photo © Denise Bovee

The Van Alen Legacy by Melissa de la Cruz (Book 4)

The Van Alen Legacy by Melissa de la Cruz is the fourth book in the Blue Bloods series.  The pacing of this story is much better as each chapter is told from a different setting and set of characters, increasing the tension for readers looking to uncover the grand plan of the Silver Bloods.  Schuyler and Oliver, her human conduit, have been on the run since the end of the last book, and after more than a year of running from the Venators, they have done little to uncover the truth of her family’s legacy or the plans of the Silver Bloods.  In many ways, Schuyler has taken a backseat in these books to allow Mimi to come into her full powers and true destiny as she and her fellow Venators search the globe for the Watcher, who was taken from Bliss Llewellyn family.

Bliss, on the other hand, has her own set of problems as she fights to regain control over her life and uncover what her father, the senator Forsyth, has been up to behind closed doors.  Meanwhile, she realizes that even the people she has lost are carried with her always and are available to help her regain control and take appropriate action to prevent further devastation.

“Stepping into someone’s subconscious is like discovering a new planet.  Everyone’s internal world is different and unique.  Some are cluttered, stuffed with dark and kinky secrets pushed to the edge of their minds, like racy underwear and handcuffs shoved in the back of a closet.  Some are pristine and clear as a spring meadow:  all hopping bunnies and falling snowflakes.  Those are rare.”  (page 26)

“Memories were moving pictures in which meaning was constantly in flux.  They were stories people told themselves.  Using the glom — the netherworld of memory and shadow, a space the vampires could access at will in order to read and control minds — was like stepping into a darkroom, into a lab where photographers developed their prints, submerging them in shallow pans of chemicals, drying them on nylon racks.”  (page 70-1)

Meanwhile, the Forces begin to realize that the bond that they share may not be as unbreakable as they have been told it is.  But beyond that, they must don their previous lives and knowledge to battle the forces of evil and save not only their Blue Bloods society, but also humanity.  De la Cruz has stepped up the detail in this novel, carefully unfolding the layers of her vampire society’s past and the political machinations that continue even amidst the ominous threat of the Silver Bloods who may have infiltrated their community.

The Van Alen Legacy by Melissa de la Cruz renewed my faith in the series, even though little time is spent on the actual Van Alen legacy.  Cruz has further developed her characters, though the love triangles can be a little tiresome.  It is an action-packed guilty pleasure, looking for a novel to spend a few entertaining hours away from the television and the turkey.

About the Author:

Melissa de la Cruz is the New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of many critically acclaimed and award-winning novels for teens including The Au Pairs series, the Blue Bloods series, the Ashleys series, the Angels on Sunset Boulevard series and the semi-autobiographical novel Fresh off the Boat.

Photo © Denise Bovee

Revelations by Melissa De La Cruz (Book 3)

Revelations by Melissa De La Cruz is the third book in the Blue Bloods series in which an upper crust society of vampires, mostly teens in a private New York City school is on the verge of battle with dark forces.  As this is the third book in the series, readers should read the first two novels before tackling this one as without the background of those novels readers could find themselves adrift.  Secondly, even those who have read the previous two novels, should consider rereading them and even with that could find themselves a bit lost in this one.  De La Cruz has a lot going on with her Blue Blood vampires and there is quite a bit of cloak and dagger going on that keeps the readers in the dark up until the end chapters.

The novel opens shortly after a major even in the second book in which an attack on one of the elder vampires by a Silver Blood is successful, and the beginning of this one is set up as though it will be a solvable mystery.  In some ways it is, but not to a satisfying conclusion as more questions about the feud between Blue Bloods and Silver Bloods are raised than answered.  Schulyer, who is referred to as a half-blood (think Harry Potter and the similar connotations apply here, though in a vampire world), is still wandering around, not doing her “lessons” to learn about vampire history, and pining for Jack Force, the twin of Mimi (think soul mate, not sibling).

These vampire characters are supposed to be the earthbound representations of the archangels, and while it creates a unique line of lore for vampires, not much of this history is revealed to the reader as Schuyler refuses to take part in the lessons.  The high-school struggles of vampires among mortals is completely forgotten in favor of a secret conclave-directed set of lessons to help these teen vampires, who have been reincarnated again, to come into their full power.  But even so, the author fails to demonstrate these powers outside of the classroom without explanation.  For example, Mimi suspects her soul mate Jack is seeing someone else, and rather than turn into fog or mist to follow him, she trails him in a Bentley.  Readers will find this disconnect disappointing since half the point of reading vampire novels is for the lore and world building.

Although the novel is full of name drops in the fashion world and in terms of locales in Rio rather than actual descriptions to transport readers to these locations, De La Cruz has created a novel that is a quick read when you want to just turn your brain off for a while — it’s candy for the mind.  Revelations by Melissa De La Cruz was a bit cliched in places and disappointing when vampire powers were not used, but overall, its a quick read that doesn’t require too much thinking and provides a source of entertainment.

About the Author:

Melissa de la Cruz is the New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of many critically acclaimed and award-winning novels for teens including The Au Pairs series, the Blue Bloods series, the Ashleys series, the Angels on Sunset Boulevard series and the semi-autobiographical novel Fresh off the Boat.

Photo © Denise Bovee

Thrall by Natasha Trethewey

Thrall by Natasha Trethewey examines the lines between father and daughter and the African-American experience through a set of personal and analytical poems focused on race and culture.  In “Miracle of the Black Leg,” Trethewey examines the juxtaposition of white and black men in paintings and other artwork in which the leg of one man is taken and attached to the thigh of another man.  There are similarities in pain stricken faces in some images, paralleling their similar situations, but there are also clear disparities in how each man is treated, even if the leg is taken from a newly deceased person.  The imagery she chooses in this poem is particularly haunting, especially when taken in the historical context of how the images are presented throughout the years — with the black donor swept to the side and only the black leg as a representation of the whole.

"See how the story changes:  in one painting
     the Ethiop is merely a body, featureless in a coffin,
so black he has no face.  In another, the patient --
     at the top of the frame -- seems to writhe in pain,
the black leg grafted to his thigh.  Below him
     a mirror of suffering:  the blackamoor --" (page 11)
". . . The black man, on the floor,
holds his stump.  Above him, the doctor restrains
    the patient's arm as if to prevent him touching
the dark amendment of flesh.  How not to see it -- 
    the men bound one to the other, symbiotic --
one man rendered expendable, the other worthy
    of this sacrifice?  In version after version, even
when the Ethiopian isn't there, the leg is a stand-in,
    a black modifier against the white body," (page 12)

The title of the collection tells readers all they need to know about the topics covered, including the moral, mental, and physical slavery or servitude as well as the complete emotional absorption that can happen in relationships. As Trethewey examines works of art through a lens of racial demarcation, she also looks at daughters’ relationships with their fathers, which can sometimes be congenial and at other times turbulent. In “Knowledge,” she is looking at the dissection of a woman and the men who stand around her as the cut is made into her flesh, and Trethewey’s narrator concludes that her father was not just one type of man, but each of the men in the room — all at once contemplative, scientific, and artistic, even though at times she felt he were just one of those men.

It is easy to see why Thrall by Natasha Trethewey could captivate a packed audience at the Library of Congress when she was inducted as the newest U.S. Poet Laureate, and hearing a poet read their own work can be the best gift.  While her reading can enthrall you and bring you near tears, her careful word selection in each poem will ensure that you reflect on the meaning of each line in each verse before you even think about the overarching themes of separation and connection as well as their juxtaposition.  A collection that will be on the best of list for sure.

Check out the recap of the U.S. Poet Laureate Event.

This is the 22nd book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

King Solomon’s Ring by Konrad Z. Lorenz

King Solomon’s Ring by Konrad Lorenz, an Austrian ethologist, is not your typical science book in that it is written with a less-scientific audience in mind.  Complete with minimal illustrations from Lorenz, the book does not read like a scientific experiment that can be precisely duplicated, but more like a series of observations and anecdotes from a man who invited the wild into his home.  Unlike King Solomon, Lorenz claims not to need a magic ring to learn the language of animals and to communicate with them.  While there are discussions of domesticated and wild dogs, among other animals, Lorenz mainly focuses on the behaviors of the water shrew, his aquarium fish, and the Jackdaw.

While considered a premier examination of animal behavior and discussing in detail the phenomenon of imprinting, on some occasions he appears to anthropomorphize these animals, making them seem more human than they are, particularly when discussing their mating rituals.  Lorenz also is very descriptive of the animals and their interactions with one another and with the humans who lived in the home and surrounding neighborhood.  These descriptions, while interesting to a scientist, may border on tedium for others.

“The whole charm of childhood still lingers, for me, in such a fishing net.”  (page 12)

“I intend to develop further this mixed breed, now that it has happily survived the war, and to continue with my plan to evolve a dog of ideal character.”  (page 142)

He raises some interesting questions about the parallels between certain species and humans in that some species, like humans, share their experiential knowledge of dangers and enemies with their young, rather than their young having an instinctual knowledge of what animals are their natural enemies.  Lorenz also discuss language and how body language is a lost art among humans, but is alive and well among animals, like yawning and smiling in humans to signify an emotion.

His wife must have had enormous levels of patience, though the bit about leaving their own child in a cage while the animals roamed free in the house and outside was hopefully a joke.  King Solomon’s Ring by Konrad Lorenz is light on scientific method and heavy on observation, but at times the descriptions get bogged down with too much detail even for a general audience.  For those who have studied imprinting and other aspects of animal behavior before, the book could seem very repetitive and far from engaging.  Additionally, there are moments where he pats himself on the back or the backs of his friends who achieve some interesting feats with animals, which can seem a bit self-serving.

About the Author:

Konrad Z. Lorenz ForMemRS was an Austrian zoologist, ethologist, and ornithologist. He shared the 1973 Nobel Prize with Nikolaas Tinbergen and Karl von Frisch.


This is my 81st book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.


What Book Club Thought:

This book, which was our November pick, really wowed one member of the book club, who said he learned a great deal from Lorenz and his theories about animals in his care, while most of us seemed to think that we’d learned all of the things he talked about in the book already through other sources — most likely in school or the animal channel.  The rest of us either thought it was an OK book or didn’t like it very much at all.  Our youngest member said that there should have been more about Penguins, though Lorenz lived in a place where Jackdaws were the most prevalent bird it seemed.  Two members found the chapter about dog ancestry and behavior the most interesting, particularly about the relationship to masters and one another in a pack versus the dog that prefers to be alone.

One heated discussion was about whether animals are intelligent or not, with one member playing devil’s advocate and insisting that animals act on pure instinct and are not problem-solving beings with intelligence.  In one scenario, the member suggested the lion would simply die in the arctic and be unable to problem-solve their way out of the situation or find food, but it was argued that there are different levels of intelligence in the animal kingdom and that some things can be learned by animals and other things cannot.  Additionally, there was a discussion about adaptability versus intelligence as well as the teaching of danger to young animals by their parents, much like humans teach their own children about dangers.

Thirty Days With My Father: Finding Peace From Wartime PTSD by Christal Presley, Ph.D.

Thirty Days With My Father:  Finding Peace From Wartime PTSD by Christal Presley, Ph.D., is the result of a 30-day project Presley undertook to get to know her father and his Vietnam War experiences after not relating for more than a decade, and she got much more than she expected.  Alternating between conversations wither her father and memories written down in her journal — the idea of her therapist — Presley relives parts of her own past just as her father does when speaking of Vietnam and what happened there.

Delmer Presley was drafted into the Vietnam War and never once thought about running off and dodging the draft, and he was a member of Americal Division, First Battalion, Sixth Infantry, referred to as the Gunfighters.  He entered the war following the Tet Offensive and came back a changed man.  While Presley’s book talks about his experiences as they were related to her during phone conversations and other encounters with her father, the memoir focuses mainly on Christal Presley’s intergenerational PTSD symptoms and childhood as it relates to those war memories.

Living in constant fear due to unpredictable behavior and other outside forces can cause heightened awareness fueled by adrenaline.  In the case of warriors and soldiers, this constant state of awareness can be hard to shake even when the unpredictability of the situation is removed and soldiers are sent home.  Consequently, the families that these soldiers return to find that their loved ones are altered, and in some cases, these situations can become very volatile and lead to unintended consequences, such as families subject to verbal abuse and more.

“‘I just didn’t consider those people human.  I never saw a Vietnamese before in my life, and I hated them.  We didn’t even call them Vietnamese back then.  Called them Charlies, dinks, and gooks.  That’s all I knew.  They taught us that.  I was trained not to see them as human.  The government can say whatever they want, but they trained us that way.  It hurt me more to see a dog or cat dead than them Vietnamese.  The government likes young boys who ain’t got no sense.  Easier to train, easier to brainwash that way.'”  (page 59 ARC)

The relationship between father and daughter always has been fragile.  The tentative nature with which Christal makes her calls to her father and feels him out before she asks each question is how readers would imagine any conversation to go given the years of silence between them, but particularly given traumatic nature of her upbringing.  Thirty Days With My Father:  Finding Peace From Wartime PTSD by Christal Presley, Ph.D., is about finding yourself amidst the chaos of family life, particularly a family life full of baggage, and about forgiveness for yourself and your family.  One of the most surprising and astonishing memoirs I’ve read in a long while.  It will have you re-evaluating your own conceptions about your childhood and how to repair relationships that have been damaged.

About the Author:

Christal Presley received her bachelor’s degree in English and her master’s degree in English Education from Virginia Tech.  She received her Ph.D in Education from Capella University. She is a former intern at Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, and spent seven years teaching middle and high school English in Chatham and Danville, Virginia.

Her first book, Thirty Days with My Father:  Finding Peace from Wartime PTSD, will be published by Health Communications, Inc. in November 2012.

Christal grew up in Honaker, Virginia, and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She is the founder of United Children of Veterans, a website that provides resources about PTSD in children of war veterans. In her spare time, you can find Christal playing with her dogs, tending to her chickens, and gardening.

***IF you would like to win a copy, leave a comment on this post about your interest by Nov. 21, 2012, at 11:59 PM EST***

This is my 80th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.

The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (Second Edition) edited by Jon Silkin, David McDuff

The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (Second edition) edited by Jon Silkin and David McDuff is a collection of poetry from and about the WWI.  Silkin and McDuff  increased the number of poems in translation included in the collection.  There are poems translated from German, French, Italian, Russian, and Hebrew, and Silkin was a poet himself.  As expressed in the not at the beginning, “For some, war was moral athletics; others looked forward to the experience of war as a ‘vacation from life’ — a vacation from a society disjoined by class and constrained by the rigid structures of labour.”  (page 12)

***However, I’m not one for long introductions so I skipped over it this time around and got straight to the poetry. ***

The anthology includes some of the more well known WWI poets, Thomas Hardy and Robert Graves, but also some who are not as well known.  One of the most well known WWI poems is “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen, which seeks to command a respect for the thousands who died in a cause for freedom and defense.  Steeped in religious allusions Owen makes reference to the candles lit where bodies lie and to the drawing of blinds in those same rooms as well as the prayers that often accompany the mourning process, but there also is an underlying celebration for their sacrifice as the bells are rung and anthems are sung.

Each of these poems brings with it a different perspective on war in the trenches, love, life, and loss, but above all patriotism.  Isaac Rosenberg’s “Dead Man’s Dump” (page 211) is particularly haunting:

"The wheels lurched over sprawled dead
But pained them not, though their bones crunched,
Their shut mouths made no moan.
They lie there huddled, friend and foeman,"

Meanwhile, there is a true sense of fear in Ivor Gurney’s “The Silent One,” (page 116):

"Who died on the wires, and hung there, one of two --
Who for his hours of life had clattered through
Infinite lovely chatter of Bucks accent:
Yet faced unbroken wires; stepped over, and went
A noble fool, faithful to his stripes -- and ended
But I weak, hungry, and willing only for the chance
Of line -- to fight in the line, lay down under unbroken
Wires, and saw the flashes and kept unshaken
Till the politest voice -- a finicking accent, said:
'Do you think you might crawl through there: there's a hole'
Darkness, shot at:  I smiled, as politely replied --
'I'm afraid not, Sir.' There was no hole no way to be seen
Nothing but chance of death, after tearing of clothes."

Each poet in the collection bring their own perspective to war, but there seems to be a pervading reverence to the fight these soldiers’ waged and all that they sacrificed.  There were certain translated poems in the book that didn’t resonate as well as some others, including Benjamin Peret’s “Little Song of the Maimed,” but it was good to revisit an old WWI poet, Osip Mandelstam (check out my earlier review of Stolen Air).  The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (Second edition) edited by Jon Silkin and David McDuff offers a collection of poems that provide a wide perspective on war from the patriotism the soldiers felt to their fear and horror at the experiences they had.

About the Editors:

Jon Silkin was born in London, in a Jewish immigrant family and named after Jon Forsyte in The Forsyte Saga, and attended Wycliffe College and Dulwich College. During the Second World War, he was one of the children evacuated from London, and for a period of about six years in the 1950s, after National Service, he supported himself by manual labour and other menial jobs. He wrote a number of works on the war poetry of World War I. He was known also as editor of the literary magazine Stand, which he founded in 1952, and which he continued to edit (with a hiatus from 1957 to 1960) until his death.

David McDuff is a British translator, editor and literary critic. He attended the University of Edinburgh, where he studied Russian and German. After living for some time in the Soviet Union, Denmark, Iceland, and the United States, he eventually settled in the United Kingdom, where he worked for several years as a co-editor and reviewer on the literary magazine Stand. He then moved to London, where he began his career as a literary translator.



This review first appeared on Historical Tapestry for WWI Week.





This is my 14th book for the WWI Reading Challenge.



This is the 21st book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

A Walk in the Park by Jill Mansell

A Walk in the Park by Jill Mansell is another engaging story about love and coming together as a family.  Lara Carson is forced to leave home at the age of 16 and returns to Bath 18 years later for her father’s funeral.  Things have changed drastically, but Evie is still the warm friend she remembers.  Lara believes she’s prepared to deal with the past, but when Flynn Erskine arrives unexpectedly her feelings nearly overcome her.  Not only does she owe the two most important people from her past an explanation, but she also has secrets she has to reveal — secrets that Flynn and Evie may not be ready for.

Mansell’s characters are always quirky, and there is no absence of that here, from Lara’s strong Aunt Nettie in Keswick to Don the jewelry shop owner in Bath.  While many of these characters are looking for love, denying that they are looking for love, or hoping to fall out of love with a cad, Mansell quietly addresses the fear that still haunts gays who have not come out of the closet, single-parenting obstacles, and how secrets can topple families.

Meanwhile, Lara is blindly making decisions that are best for her daughter, Gigi, but she refuses to look around her to see how her decisions affect herself and others.  She’s also busy trying to make love matches for her aunt and friends, at the same time she’s struggling to ignore her own passionate feelings for Flynn — her former teenage boyfriend.  Life and love is anything but a walk in the park for Lara and her friends, especially when the death of Lara’s mother raises questions about her mother’s faithfulness and about where she got the money to buy the family home.

Readers will note there are a variety of subplots, and while they are successfully concluded, there are some that felt a little rushed, which may be partially due to the multitude of characters Mansell creates.  Mansell novels are full of romance and flirty fun, but this one has some serious notes and a more mature set of story lines.  With a mother-in-law from hell and the outrageous behavior of rap star EnjaySeven, A Walk in the Park by Jill Mansell is a literary soap opera that leaps off the pages and makes readers thank their lucky stars their lives are less complicated.

About the Author:

Jill Mansell lives with her partner and children in Bristol, and writes full time. Actually that’s not true; she watches TV, eats fruit gums, admires the rugby players training in the sports field behind her house, and spends hours on the internet marvelling at how many other writers have blogs. Only when she’s completely run out of displacement activities does she write.

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister is a novel about food and characters as original and complementary as the dinners they create during Lillian’s Monday night School of Essential Ingredients at her restaurant.  From the older couple Helen and Carl who are seasoned and aged by salted wounds and mellowing cream to the spunky and unsure experimental flavors of Chloe who strives to build her confidence in the kitchen and her relationships, Bauermeister has created a culinary masterpiece that will melt in readers’ mouths.

“The girl was a daughter of a friend and good enough with knives, but some days.  Lillian thought with a sigh, it was like trying to teach subtlety to a thunderstorm.”  (page 7)

“Some smells were sharp, an olfactory clatter of heels across a hardwood floor.  Others felt like the warmth in the air at the far end of summer.  Lillian watched as the scent of melting cheese brought children languidly from their rooms, saw how garlic made them talkative, jokes expanding into stories of their days.”  (page 17)

“The more she cooked, the more she began to view spices as carriers of the emotions and memories of the places they were originally from and all those they had traveled through over the years.  She discovered that people seemed to react to spices much as they did to other people, relaxing instinctively into some, shivering into a kind of emotional rigor mortis when encountering others.”  (page 20)

Readers will smell the food, taste it, touch it, and become inspired to create their own culinary delights at home and share them with their families and friends.  Bauermeister threads the memories and problems of each character through the movements and creations in Lillian’s cooking class, alternating points of view and providing insight into each of their lives.  The true beauty of her prose is that cooking terms are even used when cooking is not the main focus of the story, and she excels at creating a mood of melancholy or a mood of frustration or even a mood of nostalgia as each character reviews their lives and their journeys in the kitchen.

Although the stories contained in the novel are short, Bauermeister does a magnificent job of creating characters that are three-dimensional.  Like the spices and other ingredients in Lillian’s recipes, each character is an essential ingredient to the whole of the novel.  In many ways, her novel is about enjoying each moment to its fullest, even those moments of guerrilla cooking in which someone is over your shoulder adding spices or tips to make a dish better, even if those moments of advice are unwanted at the time.  Taking criticism and advice with a touch of acceptance that we all need a little help is what the recipe to life requires to make it great.  The School of Essential Ingredients will leave readers wanting more, but willing to embark on their own journeys of food and so much more.

About the Author:

ERICA BAUERMEISTER is the author of The School of Essential Ingredients and Joy for Beginners. She lives in Seattle with her family.  Check out her Facebook page.

This is my 79th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.

The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister

The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister (January 2013) picks up where her earlier novel, The School of Essential Ingredients (Check out my review tomorrow), left off — revisiting with Lillian, Chloe, Isabelle, and Tom.  Bauermeister also brings in some new characters as well as she leads readers on a journey of human interaction and family.  In many ways, recipes still play a role here as they did in the first book, though the imagery and word choices here are less about ingredients and cooking than they are about nature and the people themselves.  Isabelle plays a more integral role here than she did in the last book as a mother to grown children concerned about their new role as caregivers and to her wayward roommate, Chloe.  She’s also a motherly figure to Lillian when she finds herself in uncharted waters.

“For all the glamour of restaurants, the underlying secret of the successful ones was their ability to magically repurpose ingredients, a culinary sleight of hand that kept them financially afloat and would have made any depression-era housewife proud.”  (page 3 ARC)

Bauermeister expands on her early work and how food and emotions are closely tied to one another, looking deeper into her recipe to the ingredients and how they blend together or are mixed.  When a recipe is created, are the essential ingredients lost in one another or do they merely bring out the best elements of one another to create something luminous?  Isabelle’s memory loss highlights the mixing element further in terms of how memories are mixed in our minds with scents and seemingly innocuous objects, but the recall of those memories in those moments when scents and objects are present is all at once disconcerting, phenomenal, and joyous.

Bauermeister has created another set of deep characters with nuanced personalities and places them in unusual situations that are all at once odd and plausible, and readers will be swept up in the relationships within these pages and how the characters mingle and mesh with one another in different ways.  Whether a chance meeting when returning a lost coat or a rushed moment in the accountant’s office, lives are touched and changed.  The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister examines the relationships we have, the ways in which we perceive them and ourselves, and how an outside perspective can improve our interactions with those we think we know the best and are closet to, creating even deeper connections than we thought possible.

About the Author:

ERICA BAUERMEISTER is the author of The School of Essential Ingredients and Joy for Beginners. She lives in Seattle with her family. Check out her Facebook page.

Also look for a giveaway and interview in January when the book is released.

The Lighthouse Road by Peter Geye

The Lighthouse Road by Peter Geye feels like the frozen tundra and the heat of the tropics all at once as his eccentric characters hack their lives out of the wilderness outside Duluth, Minn., between the 1890s and 1920s in Gunflint.  Odd is a young fisherman with his own small boat, whose mother died soon after he was born.  Raised by the local apothecary owner, Hosea Grimm alongside his daughter Rebekah, Odd strives to make his mark in the rough-around-the-edges town.

Geye’s narration shifts between Thea and Odd’s stories, with Thea’s set during the late 1890s when the town is just beginning and Odd’s story set during the 1920s during prohibition.  Earning money and carving out a life from the wilderness is tough work, and Odd begins making whiskey runs for the local bars and Grimm.  As the narrative shifts from Odd’s life to Thea’s life, the secrets of Gunflint are revealed slowly.  These secrets have lasting consequences for Odd as he falls in love.

“They all looked the same at a glance, so she learned to identify them by their grotesqueries:  the missing fingers or hands, the peg legs, the hunch backs, the harelips, the sunken chests, the pruritus and scabies.  It seemed as if each of the men possessed some defect or wound.”  (page 47)

Although the novel is about the residents of Gunflint, it also is an immigration and pioneering story.  The members of Gunflint are the first to hack their lives out of the woods, and Thea is the immigrant from Norway among them, who speaks little to no English when she arrives.  Geye once again relies on his abilities to paint a thorough picture of the town and its people, setting the stage for his story — even providing Odd a deformity of his own that mirrors the most prevalent problem in the town, which allows the secrets and lies to grow and fester.

Odd is a man who builds things with his hands, hoping that by building a larger boat he can improve his lot in life and to find a new life with his love.  Despite his realization that the town turns a blind eye to the tawdry goings on in town and its festering secrets, he is blind to the myth of the “grass is always greener on the other side.”  Geye’s novel is about the glimmer of hope in our lives and how it must be nurtured to bloom, but it also is about holding on too tight to that hope, so tight that it becomes extinguished.  Geye has hit another one out of the park with The Lighthouse Road.  **Excellent book for book club discussions**

About the Author:

Peter Geye received his MFA from the University of New Orleans and his PhD from Western Michigan University, where he was editor of Third Coast. He was born and raised in Minneapolis and continues to live there with his wife and three children. He is the author of the award winning novels, Safe from the Sea and The Lighthouse Road.

Please check out the reading guide.

Other reviews:
Safe From the Sea