Book Review: A Man Called Ove

Fredrik Backman’s novel, A Man Called Ove, brought me many hours of pleasure. Although it wasn’t immediately clear to me, the story takes place in Sweden. There are no descriptive scenes of country-side; most of the action takes place in a housing development that could be anywhere.

Ove would just like to be left alone so that he could get on with his routine, self-appointed chores in peace. But one thing after another gets in the way of his methodical life. For instance: It’s perfectly clear that motor vehicles aren’t allowed in the housing area and a sign plainly states this regulation. Tenants, and tenants only, are to use the parking lot. But new neighbors not only violate this ruling, they back a U-Haul trailer over his flower bed and flatten his mailbox! Thus begins a series of interruptions, inconveniences and unwanted tasks, all aimed at interfering with his well-ordered life.

The man may be considered grumpy and unyielding, but you can’t deny he has principals and that he has no tolerance for those who don’t. As he valiantly strives to go about his own business, life, or other people’s lives, get in the way. Even a stray cat conspires to complicate his life.

Ove believes most people are idiots. They’re incapable, inept. His colorful language, his rages, even his inflexibility give a first impression of a stingy, miserly man. However, when you learn of his back-story, you see another kind of man, a self-made man who loved and has been deeply loved.

A Man Called Ove is a masterpiece. I highly recommend this enchanting novel.

For further information about this author and his work, visit http://www.fredrikbackmanbooks.com/

 

A Wild Place: Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon

While recently attending a Women Writing the West conference at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort near Tucson, AZ, a friend and I took a little side trip to Sabino Canyon for a narrated 3.7-mile tram ride. As we rode in the open-air tram, our driver pointed out the various sites of interest including views of rocky outcroppings, craggy trees, and tough, hardy plants including a variety of cacti: cholla, prickly pear, ocotillo and the great saguaro. We learned that the saguaro can grow to be more than 40 feet tall and that many of the specimens we saw could possibly be 200 years old.

Nine stops along the way allow riders to get out and hike a variety of trails, or have a picnic, then catch a later tram, or riders may stay aboard for the entire trip. We happen to take the last tram of the day, so we stayed aboard for the entire journey. The tram turns around at Stop 9 and heads back down to the Visitors Center.

On our tour, I was surprised to see pools of water as late in the year as October. In spring and summer visitors can even see waterfalls. The Sabino Canyon is a natural desert oasis located in the Coronado National Forest. Sabino Creek gives life to the riparian and desert flora within the canyon. We saw a variety of trees including the Arizona state tree, the palo verde, plus willow, sycamore and ash.

Although I scoured the landscape as we slowly drove by, I didn’t see any wildlife, but the area supports abundant birds, mammals and reptiles. Our driver said that he has seen mountain lion on numerous occasions. Bobcat and coyote have been spotted, along with quails, roadrunners, lizards, and rattlesnakes.

In 1905, the Forest Service began overseeing Sabino Canyon. During the Great Depression, the bridges over Sabino Creek and the Sabino Dam were constructed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corporation (CCC).

The Sabino Canyon Tour was a highlight of my stay in Tucson. Tours are available seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information call (520) 749-2327, or visit sabinocanyon.org

Saguaro Cactus

Book Review: Moloka’i

Alan Brennert has woven a fascinating historical novel, Moloka’i, a story about the dreaded disease, leprosy, and its affect on the Hawaiian people in the late 19th century.

On the Island of Oahu, Hawaii, Rachel Kalama, at 7 the youngest of four children, is diagnosed with leprosy. In the late 1800’s leprosy became a common and terrifying disease among the Hawaiian people. Once authorities learn of Rachel’s condition, she is sent to a hospital for diagnosis and treatment, then eventually sent to the leper colony on Kalaupapa Peninsula on the island of Molokai, Hawaii. For many, leprosy becomes a family tragedy of shame and of being shunned, often involving having to move to an area where the family’s circumstances are unknown. On some occasions a family member might accompany the diseased member, but Rachel’s mother is needed to care for the other children on Oaho and her father obliged to support them. Rachel’s uncle is also a resident of Kalaupapa, but it is decided that Rachael should not live with him, but rather live in a girls’ dormitory, supervised by Catholic nuns.

Rachel, feeling angry and abandoned, fights her confinement. So far, the leprosy only affects patches of skin on her leg and foot, so she is fully functional, but other girls are in various stages of disfigurement. At first she refuses to participate in the activities provided: school, organized play times and programs, but she eventually makes friends with the other girls. Years pass as Rachel carves out a life for herself. The book covers a span of more than fifty years.

In the meantime, Hawaii becomes a United States possession—not necessarily with the consent or approval of the Hawaiian people—and becomes the Territory of Hawaii. Funds and expertise become more available for the people at Kalaupapa, including a new hospital. This is well after Father Damien’s time, but many of the older residents remember his fiery dedication to the people there. A cure is eventually found for leprosy, a sulfa drug that stops new growth of the bacillus. Most patients are ultimately free to leave Kalaupapa, if they choose, and in later years the Peninsula becomes a National Historic Park.

Moloka’i is a moving, well-written description of Hawaii and the terrible disease now known as Hanson’s Disease. I particularly loved this book as I lived and worked in the Territory of Hawaii before it became a state. I delighted in hearing again the local terminology (kapu—stay out!, wahini—girl, mahalo—thank you), and loved hearing the names of places once so dear to me. In more recent years my husband and I rode muleback down and up the 26-switchback steep trail to visit Kalaupapa. Our guide was a resident who choose to remain on Kalaupapa and with him we visited many of the buildings of the original colony. To this day, the only way to approach Kaluapapa Peninsula is by sea, air, or by riding or walking the steep trail.

I highly recommend this fascinating account of a disease that affected so many lives. To learn more about the author, visit http://www.alanbrennert.com/

Zihuatanejo: A Mexican Delight

View from our condo deck

We recently spent a memorable vacation in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. Zihuatanejo (pronounced see-whah-tah-NEH-ho), the fourth-largest city in the Mexican state of Guerrero, is located on the Pacific Coast, about 150 miles northwest of Acapulco.

Perched on a lush hillside above La Ropa Beach, Ensueño 10, the six-unit condo where we stayed, is beautifully furnished with a great view of the bay. Playa la Ropa (“clothes beach”) was named for a Spanish galleon’s cargo of silks and fabrics brought from the Orient and scattered here from a shipwreck. The condo’s private deck, with an assortment of comfortable outdoor furniture and loungers, served as our headquarters as we planned our activities, read, and ate meals we prepared for ourselves. From our condo we relished in magnificent views of surrounding green hills, and watched the many water sports on the bay: skiing, parachute gliding, boogie boards, and jet skiing. Water taxis sailed between the town pier and idyllic Playa las Gatas.

Although the hills are steep, from our condo we could walk to the beach and stroll along sparkling white sand, passing luxurious hotels, restaurants, and gift shops. Sometimes we choose to hike back up the hill to our condo; sometimes we took a taxi, which proved to be an inexpensive mode of transportation.

On such a vacation, we usually prefer to have some of our meals “in” and we found groceries in Zihautanejo readily available and inexpensive. The kitchen in our condo had all the necessary equipment needed to manage meals with a minimum of hassle.

Fishermen display their day’s catch

Taking a taxi, we rode into town to check out the fishing village. We watched as fishermen brought in and displayed their day’s catch. From there we strolled along a walkway with condos and hotels on one side and the sea on the other. In the sea, a young fisherman, waist-deep in water, threw his circular fishing net. Along the way, we stopped for a delightful lunch at one of the waterfront restaurants.

Another day we strolled among Zihautanejo’s cobblestone streets and visited shops nestled in nooks and crannies. We admired the vibrant colors of Mexican art, and enjoyed observing the culture, listening to conversations in rapid Spanish with traditional Mexican music in the background. Another day we took a water taxi from the town pier and sailed to Playa las Gatas beach. On the small strip of land between the densely forested hill and white-sand beach, restaurants and bars serve meals and drinks; little gift stands feature swimwear and water toys.

Late September and October aren’t usually considered ideal tourist season in this part of Mexico, and we did find it hot and humid, but the upside was that the place wasn’t crowded with tourists and, in fact, we had the condo pool to ourselves. We spent many a happy hour luxuriating in the salt-water infinity pool and reading at the pool-area’s shaded cabana. Although at times it did rain during the night, weather wasn’t a deterrent to our enjoyment.

Enjoying dinner at a beach restaurant

All in all, our time in Zihautanejo was a memorable vacation. We found plenty to do at the pace we wanted to do it. But there’s plenty of other activities, too, whether you have “champagne taste and a beer budget” or seek luxury, glamour and pampering. Your stay can be a tranquil rustic retreat, or more lively with sport activities such as golf, tennis, sport fishing, scuba diving or horseback riding. You’ll find it all in here. Viva Zihautanejo!

Book Review: Someone Knows My Name

Lawrence Hill’s memorable historical novel, Someone Knows My Name, is a gripping account of Aminata Diallo’s tragic journey as a slave. Captured at age 11 from her West African village in 1756, Aminata is ripped from her family and thrown in with others as they march for several weeks to the ocean, chained together, barely fed or given time for personal needs. Arriving in Senegal and then enduring barbaric treatment aboard the slave ship, Aminata attempts to keep track of the few people also taken from her village. Though young, she realizes the importance of being remembered as a person and not chattel.

After the humiliation of being displayed and sold, Aminata’s first several years were spent on a Georgia indigo plantation. She is housed with an older woman, a midwife, and learns the skill of “baby catching.” Aminata is secretly tutored to read, almost unheard of in that day. Through the years she suffers one loss after another at the hands of her different owners. Still, she steadfastly retains her dignity and finds many uses for her language skills, baby catching and herbal-remedy competence.

Always, Aminata dreams of one day returning to her African village, but as she observes: “It was almost impossible to get into Africa, but easy to be taken out.”

As the Revolutionary War rages, it’s difficult from our perspective today to understand how Americans could be so irate over British control, yet think slavery was perfectly acceptable. Yet, that’s our history, a grim and horrifying truth so well stated in this novel.

I loved this book. For one thing, I spent two years in West Africa with the Peace Corps and wrote about my experiences in Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps.  In Hill’s novel I heard many expressions and descriptions of places familiar to me. I was impressed with the author’s research and how well the story was presented. I found Lawrence Hill’s understanding of a woman’s perspective accurate and realistic. The book is a fine example of absorbing storytelling. I highly recommend
Someone Knows My Name.

 

Book Review: Across the Savage Sea: The First Woman to Row Across the North Atlantic

Maud Fontenoy knew the sea. Her first fifteen years of life were spent living aboard a fifty-one foot staysail schooner with her parents and two brothers. She knew what it meant to be self-sufficient, to weather storms, to acknowledge the sea’s powerful force. But in order to accomplish being the first woman to row across the North Atlantic, she had a host of other skills to learn.

Across the Savage Sea: The First Woman to Row Across the North Atlantic is a remarkable memoir of one woman’s determination to set a record. At the age of 25, she singlehandedly rowed her 24-foot boat, Pilot, from Newfoundland, Canada to LaCoruña, Spain. Although she felt prepared for the journey, Fontenoy realized that nothing could have prepared her for the hardships she endured: personal injuries, life-threatening equipment failure, aching loneliness, back-to-back storms, numbing cold and constant dampness. For four months, the author battled the turbulent sea, experiencing the ocean’s wrath, but also its poetic and beautiful moments.

This book is not for everyone. Many will ask, “Why would anyone want to do such a thing?” But it is an exciting account written by an expert mariner. I have been to sea with my husband on a 40-foot sailboat, have experienced being bashed around by turbulent seas. I cannot imagine doing it alone. But this was Fontenoy’s dream. She wanted to experience a great adventure, all alone, to drive herself to the limits, putting emotions, her body and its potential, to the test. And, she did it.

Five years after her epic North Atlantic crossing, the author established the Maud Fontenoy Foundation, established to raise awareness and educate people, especially young people, about the challenges we face to protect our oceans. To learn more about the author and the foundation, visit http://www.maudfontenoyfondation.com/en/

 

Book Review: Hannah’s Journey

Carmen Peone’s expert horsemanship and knowledge of northeast Washington territory shines through in the second of her Gardner Sibling Trilogy, Hannah’s Journey.

At sixteen, Hannah is the oldest child of a mid-1800’s pioneering ranch family. Hannah’s burning desire to race horses with her adopted Indian Aunt Spupaleena is a constant worry to her parents. They fear not only that she’ll be injured, but that their daughter is not preparing herself for the expected future role of wife, homemaker, and mother.

Hannah’s parents aren’t the only ones against her racing. The Indian boys resent her barging into their sport. Not only is she a girl, but a white girl. The only encouragement she gets is from Aunt Spupaleena and Spupaleena’s brother Pekam.

Heedless of others’ opinion, Hannah participants in a difficult, dangerous race. Not only is there danger in the race itself–riding horseback fast on uneven terrain–but also enduring vengeful rough treatment from other racers. It’s a bold, bloody event.

Hannah’s parents, frustrated and worried about their daughter’s rebellious behavior, threaten to send her to live with an aunt in Montana, a fate totally unacceptable to Hannah. She runs away to the Sinyekst village along the Columbia River, the village of her Aunt Spupaleena.

Hannah’s Journey delves into many of life’s challenges, especially of a young girl with non-traditional dreams. Along the way she must learn to exercise patience, to have faith, to slow down and pray for guidance. She learns that life comes with compromise, and sacrifice. Life isn’t easy and for someone with extraordinary desires, it’s even more difficult.

I found Hannah’s Journey an absorbing, well-written book, a story intriguing to a wide audience. The author speaks with authority about Indian history, and the Sinyekst people. Peone is knowledgeable about the northeast Washington area, the Columbia River and the diverse area surrounding it. Many of this novel’s characters have appeared in the author’s previous books (The Heart Trilogy), but the transition into this second book of the Gardner Sibling Trilogy is smooth and stands alone.

To learn more about Carmen Peone, visit http://carmenpeone.com

 

Book Review: Silver Linings Playbook

Matthew Quick’s debut novel, Silver Linings Playbook, is written in first-person from the viewpoint of Pat Peoples, a man not yet equipped to handle a normal life. Pat has spent the last few years in a mental health facility. Because he doesn’t seem to be improving, his mother insists he be released from what he calls the “bad place,” and he lives at home with his dysfunctional family. Pat sees life as a movie produced by God. Although in his thirties, he grapples with life and is incapable of coming to terms with his divorce from Nikki.

In his attempt to regain Nikki’s love and respect, Pat embarks on a physical training regimen, spending many hours a day on an exercise machine, or doing sit-ups, and running miles each day. He reads books from his ex-wife’s teaching syllabus in a effort to be more literate and raise Nikki’s opinion of him. His goal is to end what he calls “apart time” and resume his life with Nikki.

Pat goes to therapy and the therapist and Pat’s lives begin to intertwine through their mutual love of the Philadelphia Eagles.

In the meantime, Pat meets Tiffany, an angry, troubled young woman with a mysterious agenda. She often shows up at Pat’s doorstep to run with him.

As the story of the circumstances surrounding his being admitted to the mental health facility slowly unfolds, Pat’s awareness of that time brings more grief into his life and his desperation grows. In his mind, all his improvement focus is tied to reuniting with Nikky.

Silver Linings Playbook is an entertaining read, but troubling, too. Pat’s inability to think and act like an adult bothered me. His parents’ marriage brought even more anxiety to his life, and that concerned me. Although the novel ended on a happier note, I found it hard to believe all would be well, let alone “normal.” Admittedly, I am not a fan of organized sports, but I thought all the emphasis on football somewhat “over the top.” Still, I enjoyed the book and appreciated the exposure to, thankfully, a way of life unfamiliar to me.

Larrabee: Washington’s First State Park

Larrabee State Park has been one of our favorite quick destinations for years. Only an hour’s drive from our home, the park instantly offers a welcomed change of pace and a sense of being far away.

The park is set on the seaward side of Chuckanut Mountain, off the famed Chuckanut Drive, and offers postcard views of Samish Bay and the San Juan Islands. Visitors have their choice of activities from camping, hiking and biking trails, birding and wildlife viewing, salt-water swimming, diving and beach exploration, and shellfish harvesting in season. One of our favorite hikes is to Clayton Beach, which features rare sandstone cliff formations and tide pools teeming with life. In addition to the impressive salt-water beaches, two nearby freshwater lakes, Fragrance and Lost lakes offer bass and trout fishing. A lush growth of Northwest foliage abounds: Douglas fir, western red cedar, alder, hemlock, bigleaf maple, willows, rhododendrons and sword fern.

Larrabee features 85 campsites: 51 standard, 26 full-utility and 8 primitive sites, plus a group camp that can accommodate 40 people. A working train track runs through the park and west of the campground. The park has a boat ramp and a large day-use area with a covered shelter.

Twenty acres of land was originally donated to the State of Washington by the Larrabee family in 1915. The donated land was envisioned as a scenic park/auto campground to complement the Chuckanut Drive section of the nearby completed Pacific Highway. That year, Larrabee officially became the first state park in Washington. Later, the family donated another 1,500 acres. The park now stands at more than 2,600 acres. Many of the park’s original buildings are still in use today, as well as a bandshell built in 1944.

Larrabee State Park is located on Chuckanut Drive, just south of Bellingham, Washington. If you’re in the area, check out this prime park. Maybe we’ll see you there!

Book Review: Cavalry Scout

Dee Brown, (1908–2002) was an acclaimed author and historian of the American West. His most famous work, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1970) details the historical development of the American West from the Native American point of view.

In the novel Cavalry Scout, which takes place in the mid-1800’s, John Singleterry is ordered to guide troops charged with escorting the Cheyenne to a reservation. Although he is engaged to the daughter of his superior officer, Singleterry meets and falls in love with a woman who is half Cheyenne, half white. He becomes involved with the plight of the Indians, their mistreatment and the outrageous injustices they experience.

Brown’s exquisite details and depth of knowledge are impressive. I felt like I rode with him, experienced handling the horses, suffered from the unrelenting cold, and put up with an Army that followed orders dictated by those who didn’t understand the situation. His knowledge of the Indian way of life was fascinating in its authenticity.

Cavalry Scout is a classic and has spurred my interest in reading Brown’s other works. I highly recommend this novel.