Book Review: Cascadia’s Curse

Cascadias CurseTwo elderly sisters, Emily and Laura, are jolted awake by a piercing tsunami alert warning. They and many of their Oregon coastal neighbors trudge out of their comfortable homes in the middle of a cold, dark March night and drive to a designated assembly area. A large earthquake has occurred 2,000 miles away in the Aleutian Islands.

Emily, a retired geologist, knows the destruction a tsunami could wreak. She knows enough to come prepared with emergency supplies for what could be an extended stay away from home. The assembly area begins to fill, causing tempers to flair. The sisters and a few others decide to drive further up the mountains.

In Cascadia’s Curse, a novel, J. A. Charnov brings awareness to those who live along the Cascadia Fault, or more technically the Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ), that runs from northern Vancouver Island, B.C. to Cape Mendocino, California. What many would like to avoid thinking about is brought to life.

Cascadia’s Curse follows the small group that leave the main assembly and also those left behind. When the tsunami hits and then is followed by a massive earthquake, it is far worse than ever imagined. Nature continues her destruction, rearranging Oregon’s coastline. Charnov’s description of these disasters and the affect it has on its victims is vivid and realistic.

Before I retired after twenty years as a volunteer with the American Red Cross, I responded to many national disasters–tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, massive fires, earthquakes and 9/11. The disaster situations described in this book resonated with me. In any disaster scene, natural leaders emerge, as do those who resent them. There will be people who are prepared, who have given thought to survival in disaster. There will be people who have put off preparing for disaster and those who have scoffed at preparedness, who will then have to rely on others. There will be injuries; deaths; violence–caused by both nature and by man. In disasters of this magnitude, the grim fact is that you cannot count on the help of local authorities. They, too, have been overwhelmed and are concerned with their own families. Emergency vehicles are a tangled mess, roads are destroyed, power cut off, sewage lines have burst, clean water contaminated. Charnov has presented both the geological side of such a disaster as well as the human reaction to catastrophe in this realistic thriller.

I highly recommend Cascadia’s Curse. It is a gripping read and keenly describes what many feel is a pending disaster.

For more information about disaster preparedness, visit http://www.ready.gov/

Book Review: An Object of Beauty: A Novel

An Object of BeautyI knew Steve Martin was a comedian and actor. More recently I saw him perform on the banjo and was impressed. But an author? I hadn’t known, yet he’s written three novels, three works of nonfiction, plus plays and screenplays. I just finished An Object of Beauty, A Novel, and continue to be impressed with his talents. Not only is he an accomplished writer, he is a buyer, seller and lover of art. In this novel, he demonstrates his depth of knowledge of fine art as he weaves a story of the art world and its personalities.

The novel is written with an underlying theme in first person, Daniel Franks, an art reporter. Interestingly, the book is also presented in third person, as seen through Daniel Franks’ eyes, when dealing with Lacey Yeager, a young, ambitious art dealer who climbs New York’s art and social world. The novel takes place in the 1990s though the present time. As Lacey learns the ins and outs of dealing in art, she learns that a dealer doesn’t “have to sell paintings. All you have to do is put a good picture in front of a knowledgeable collector and stand back.” But there’s an art to that, and her ambition knows no bounds. Neither do her scruples.

An Object of Beauty is an enjoyable read as it delves into the art world and the people who run it. Twenty-two four-color art reproductions are woven throughout the novel, often as part of the story. I found the book not only entertaining, but I learned about the business side of art, its schemes and tactics.

Take Time to Make a Friend

Tonga M rowing ashoreSP_T2_21 CropNote: On a small sailboat at sea, you take the bad with the good. Over a 14-month period, Bruce and I sailed 13,000 miles on our boat Impunity, journeying from Seattle through the South Pacific and home again. There were many serene moments with fair winds and calm seas, and also tense moments with violent midnight squalls and even a cyclone in Samoa. I’ve written a memoir of our adventure, Sailing with Impunity, and will share on my blog some of these stories of life at sea and our intriguing landfalls.

In the Kingdom of Tonga, we anchored Impunity near one of many tiny islands. This particular island had a long protected point with only two houses on it. From our boat we could see a woman walking to a well and home again. I rowed ashore in our dinghy to meet this older woman whose name was Marie. Rather than conversing, our exchange was really more of a mime since she knew very little English and I knew no Tongan. Much of the week Marie, a widow, lived a simple, quiet life alone on the island, but on weekends others came to gather coconuts and to dig clams. I gave Marie gifts of a packet of sewing needles and a card of pretty buttons, and from her broad smile I could tell she was pleased. These items were not readily available in Tonga.

Marie signaled for me to wait and she stepped into her square hut made of palm fronds. She emerged with a string of reddish-black beads and offered it to me as a gift. Showing me the tree from which the berries came, from the ground she picked up a fallen one and a rock. Rubbing the berry against the rock, she showed me how she polished the dried berry to make the beads. The necklace was threaded on a strong, thin vine.

The old woman asked if I liked oranges and we walked to a small orange grove. Oranges indigenous to that area are green when they are ripe, have tough skins and many seeds. Reaching for a knife from a holder at her waist, she whittled away the skin and handed me the orange to eat while she fixed one for herself. She asked me to call on her niece, a public health nurse, who lived in Neiafu. I promised her I would.

I stood to leave and Marie walked me back to my dinghy. I had in the boat an empty green, four-liter wine bottle. In this strongly Christian community, I wasn’t sure that an empty wine bottle would be an appropriate gift, but I hated to throw it away and had left it in the dinghy. When I asked her if she would like to have it, her eyes lit up. “Oh, yes. Wonderful!” For the next several days, from the boat we saw Marie walk back and forth to the well with her green bottle.

The next morning I rowed the dinghy to Neiafu and found the public health nurse’s home. Marie’s niece answered the door, expecting me. I was surprised when I saw two shiny needles pinned to her collar. Ruth spoke English and told me her aunt had shared my gift with her. She also mentioned how pleased she was that I had called on her aunt and thanked me for my kindness in taking the time. I knew Ruth had children and I’d brought gifts of an inflatable world globe and a few packages of dried fruit. The children squealed with delight when they saw the globe. The nurse, too, was excited. Her husband was a teacher and he’d be able to show it to his students.

The next evening, we heard a loud knocking on our hull. The nurse’s husband, Nuku, stopped by in his skiff to invite Bruce to go fishing with him the next day. We invited him aboard. Nuku had never been aboard a live-aboard sailboat and was curious about everything—how we cooked, navigated, the engine, the sails. He was a handsome man, tall and strong with sparkling eyes and good humor. Nuku taught school on a neighboring island and fished on his way home from work. The next day he swung by to pick up Bruce and they trolled in Nuku’s skiff for about an hour and caught four fish, two barracuda and two tuna. The teacher tried to give all four to Bruce, but Bruce declined saying we had no refrigeration, but that we would enjoy one of the tuna.

As it turned out, my little trip to see Marie developed into three friendships and enriched our stay in Tonga. I was so glad I’d made the effort.

Book Review: Dog Crazy

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Dog Crazy by Meg Donohue is a fun light read targeted toward dog lovers. It would be a bonus if you happen to live in San Francisco—the descriptions of the various districts and parks are richly described as the story unfolds.

Maggie Brennan is new to San Francisco. She and her beloved dog recently moved into the downstairs apartment of her dear friend’s house. She’s opened a business as a pet bereavement counselor. Unfortunately, she knows too well the deep feeling of bereavement. Shortly after she moves to San Francisco, her dog and constant companion of 13 years, suddenly dies.

When a disheveled Anya Ravenhurst arrives for counseling, she makes it perfectly clear that she doesn’t need counseling, she needs her dog back. She’s only there because her brother insisted she needed counseling. But what she needs, she claims, is someone to help her find Billy, her dog that’s been stolen.

That might not be such an unreasonable request except for one thing: Maggie has recently developed agoraphobia. It’s been 98 days since she’s left her apartment, since her dog died.

Dog Crazy is a great read, loaded with wonderful physical and personality descriptions of all manner of dogs. It’s also an enlightening novel about the fear associated with agoraphobia and the extreme will power it takes to overcome an anxiety disorder. The book skillfully captures the special love between a human and her dog, the pain of separation, and the healing power between a dog and its owner.

To learn more about the author, visit http://www.megdonohue.com/

Book Review: Falling from Horses

FallingFromHorses_wideFind a comfy chair and settle in. Molly Gloss’ Falling from Horses is hard to put down.

Bud Frazer and Lily Shaw meet on the long bus ride from Eastern Oregon to Hollywood, California. Bud, nineteen, considers himself a pretty fair hand with horses and cattle. His folks run a ranch and he grew up knowing how to ride and rope. He has his sights set on being a stunt rider and work with the great screen cowboys of his youth. The story takes place in the 1930s.

Bud has never met anyone like Lily Shaw. She says what’s on her mind and has unwavering ambitions to become a screenwriter. The only thing these two have in common is that they arrive in Hollywood at the same time. They form a friendship and see one another from time to time, take in Sunday movies, play cards, and talk. Along the way we learn about Hollywood-style cowboying and screen writing.

Hollywood isn’t anything like Bud expects. Stunt riding is a tough business–tough on riders and especially tough on horses. Knowing the gentle care his folks give their stock, seeing the mistreatment of horses is sickening to Bud. It isn’t pretend when the movie sets run horses off cliffs, use wires to trip them while at a fast run, seriously, if not fatally, injuring both horses and riders.

The “myth of the cowboy West” carries harsh realities. Coming from the real thing, Bud’s eyes are open to these fake, fast-paced scenes. He had never run a horse so fast or recklessly while actually working on a ranch. The false bloodless fistfights are almost comical. The costumes often uncomfortable. He becomes disillusioned, but hangs in there, always hoping to get a big part.

The novel toggles between Bud’s Hollywood experiences and his youth. The narrative voice is natural and insightful; the characters real and compelling. The stark contrast between the real thing, cowboys working on ranches, and Hollywood’s interpretation, is entertaining, but also an eye-opener. Nowadays there are animal protection laws, but this book made me wonder how closely those laws are followed.

Falling from Horses is a beautifully written novel. To learn more about bestselling author, Molly Gloss, visit http://mollygloss.com/

Swagger into Methow Valley’s Old West

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When you drift into the Methow Valley, you’re in cowboy country where cattle and horses outnumber people. The Charlie Russell landscapes are the genuine article, and, in fact, it is widely believed that Owen Wister, famed author of The Virginian, derived many of the settings and heroes of his novel from Methow Valley and Winthrop.

Today, the Methow (pronounced Met-how) Valley comprises the small towns of Mazama, Winthrop, Twisp, Carlton and Pateros with lush open country in between where fields of baled hay, pastured livestock and big old weathered barns are graced with a backdrop of the rugged Cascade Mountains.

Winthrop, one of the most popular towns in the valley, offers the facilities and services you’d expect from a major vacation center but with a strong western flavor. Strolling down the town’s wooden sidewalks, you’ll find yourself back in the 19th Century West with false-front wooden buildings, hitching rails and other western trappings. If you time it right this fall, you may witness cowboys (the real thing!) on horseback driving cattle down Winthrop’s main street, moving them from mountain summer pastures.

Mountain lodges, resorts, dude ranches, conventional motels, and bed and breakfast inns abound in Winthrop. Seventeen campgrounds located within eight miles of Winthrop include state parks, forest service campgrounds and private campgrounds. It’s a great place to shop, especially for unique gift items and western clothing. A steak dinner takes on a definite western flavor here and if you happen to be visiting on a Saturday night, you’ll have a chance to dance to the strong beat of western music.

Of special interest in Winthrop is the Shafter Museum with exhibits of furniture, tools, bicycles and carriages depicting the area’s early days. Adjacent buildings feature a well-stocked old-fashioned country store and displays of old mining equipment.

For a romping, stomping good time, take in the rodeos Memorial Day weekend, May 23 & 24 and the Labor Day weekend, September 5 & 6, presented by Methow Valley Horsemen.

Twisp, like Winthrop and the other small valley towns, offers good browsing for western art and craft items made by local artisans. At the western edge of town, the U.S. Forest Service Smokejumper Base welcomes visitors during fire season, normally June through October. Parachuting firefighters in to fight forest fires began here as a national experiment in 1939.

Dozens of small lakes dot the region making the Methow and adjacent Okanogan country ideal for trout fishing. Most of the lakes have campgounds and small rustic resorts with rental boats available. The Methow River is a renown rafting destination and several outdoor companies operate regular trips. One-day or overnight horsepacking and backpacking offer a closer look at the forestlands and the spectacular Pasayten Wilderness north of Winthrop.

The Methow Valley is a great destination, rich in wild scenery and plenty of things to do. For more information, call the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce, (509) 996-2125,
or visit the Methow Valley website at www.methow.com.

Book Review: Hawkins Lane

Hawkins Lane Cover

Hawkins Lane Cover

When Ned Hawkins meets Erica Romano, they’re in the heavily forested North Cascade mountains. Ned spends a lot of his time in the woods, alone, as far away as he can get from the town of McKenzie Crossing. The townspeople make him feel trapped, unwanted, lumping him with his rough, hard-drinking relatives and his father, in prison serving a sentence for murder. Ned won’t have anything to do with his father, uncles, not even his brother, but nevertheless he’s still associated with the Hawkins clan.

Ned finds Erica Romano fly fishing with the expertise of someone who is used to handling herself in the woods. She’s happiest on horseback, fishing, or hiking in the great outdoors.

As Hawkins Lane by Judith Kirscht surges forward in time, Ned, Erica and their daughter Bonnie are a family happily living the lives of forest rangers. Their world crashes when Ned’s father is released from prison. It goes into further decline when a tragic accident affects all their lives. The family learns the truth about themselves as the result of these incidences and struggles for the strength to cope.

Hawkins Lane is a sweeping novel delving into the Hawkins’ lives, not only of Ned and Erica, but of their extended families as well. Kirscht weaves a story teemed with suspense and laced with emotions borne of shame, fear and secrets kept too long.

A fine contemporary novel and a worthy family saga, the author shows a keen sense of story. Her characterization skills are extraordinary as she captures the lives of not only Ned, Erica and Bonnie, but also of Ned and Erica’s mothers and other family members. Kirscht’s in-depth descriptions of pristine mountain wilderness are exquisite.

Hawkins Lane is available in e-format, but will soon be published in trade paperback. Whatever your preferred format, don’t miss this splendid novel. For more information about Judith Kirscht, visit www.judithkirscht.com

 

In Memory of the Oklahoma City Bombing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Field of Empty Chairs, a reminder of each life lost. In the background, The Reflecting Pool to the right; Gate of Time to the left.

 

It was a normal Wednesday morning under a clear blue Oklahoma City sky on April 19, 1995. Workers made their way to offices, dropped off children at the building’s day-care center, perhaps poured themselves a cup of coffee to get a jump-start on their
day. Then, at 9:02, America’s innocence changed forever when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed, killing 168 people and injuring more than 500.

How could such a horrific thing happen on American soil? Timothy McVeigh, a former decorated United States Army soldier, claimed that the bombing was revenge for “what the U.S. government did at Waco and Ruby Ridge.” McVeigh and accomplice Terry Nichols, used readily available toxic industrial chemicals, ammonium nitrate, an agricultural fertilizer, and nitromethane, a highly volatile motor-racing fuel, to accomplish their despicable deed.

The attackers parked a rented Ryder truck in a loading area with a timer set to explode about 5,000 pounds of the highly combustible material. The explosion resulted in the worst terrorist attack on United States soil prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks. McVeigh was executed and accomplice Terry Nichols was sentenced to life in prison. A third party, Michael Fortier received a 12-year prison sentence plus a $200,000 fine for failure to warn authorities about the attack.

The blast tore away more than a third of the Murrah Building, but destroyed the entire building. In addition, fourteen buildings in the vicinity had to be torn down due to extensive destruction and another 312 buildings within a sixteen-block radius were damaged.

More than 12,000 people participated in relief and rescue work, including twenty-four canine units. Prompt investigation gave vital clues to the complexity of the crime and early leads on a suspect and accomplices led to extraordinarily quick arrests. Visitors watch news clips and special bulletins televised from around the world.

From April 20 to May 4, 1995 rescue and recovery operations poured into the area. Professional rescue workers, volunteers and canine units from all over the country clawed through the rubble to help dig out survivors and recover the dead. In the children’s day-care center directly above the mobile bomb, devastation was horrific. Upper floors collapsed onto those beneath them, crushing everyone and everything below.

Although the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was born of hatred and violence, visiting the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum is an uplifting experience. Poignant sights and artifacts of the bombing are in plain view, but also evident is what this sacred ground has become: a monument of hope and faith, of remembrance of loved ones lost, of human spirits rising above this inhumane act.

Three distinct components comprise the memorial: the Outdoor Symbolic Memorial, dedicated on April 19, 2000, the fifth anniversary of the attack; the Memorial Museum, dedicated one year later, April 19, 2001; the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, a concept founded by families and survivors during the writing of the Mission Statement in 1995.

Wandering the grounds where the building once stood, visitors soon see that every exhibit is a vital symbol of this experience. One of the most poignant, the Field of Empty Chairs is a reminder of each life lost. The chairs, including nineteen smaller chairs representing the children who died, placed in nine rows, represent the nine floors of the building. Made of bronze, stone and glass, the chairs are placed in the row according to what floor the person was working or visiting when killed.

For more information, visit www.oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org or call 1-888-542-HOPE (4673).

Book Review: Hattie Big Sky

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When sixteen year-old Hattie Brooks receives the message that she has inherited her uncle’s homestead claim in Vida, Montana, it solves some of her immediate problems. She now has a place of her own, away from Arlington, Iowa and her spiteful aunt, one of the many relatives she’s lived with since her parents died.

As it happens, she simply trades one set of problems for another, except this time, she invests more than hard labor. She invests herself in becoming a neighbor, a friend, and a responsible member of her community. The scrubby parcel of land boasts nothing but a nine- by twelve-foot claim shack to live in and a barn to house a range horse and a cranky milk cow.

Her tasks are daunting. In order to prove the claim, she has to cultivate one-eighth of the claim, forty acres, and set four hundred eighty rods of fence–all within the remaining ten months of the claim. One of Hattie’s challenges is just to get through the Montana winter. Nothing productive toward working her claim can even be started until the ground thaws.

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson is a delightful book written in first-person. Throughout the book she corresponds with a school chum, Charlie, who is fighting WW1 in France, and to her uncle, husband of the spiteful aunt. Through her uncle’s efforts, she becomes published in the Arlington paper and receives a small monthly income that sees her through an otherwise bleak existence. Hattie’s struggle for survival is shown in vivid detail and readers learn to admire this young woman’s grit, determination and humor. Hattie is capable of grinding hard work and raw courage, but is also the frequent recipient of the kindness of neighbors. She repays these kindnesses in her own way, endearing and binding her to the kind of friendships she has never known before.

Although this book is considered a Young Adult genre, it is delightful for any age. Hattie Big Sky is fashioned after the author’s own family history and its authenticity is obvious from the very first page.

 

Book Review: A Light in the Wilderness

A Light in the WildernessA Light in the Wilderness By Jane Kirkpatrick

For an African American woman, being free in 1844 Missouri doesn’t mean the same as it does for her employer. But Letitia IS free and, although she can’t read it herself, she has the paper to prove it. She even owns her own cow, Charity.

Letitia finds herself at odds with her employer and her plans to go to Oregon with them are abruptly changed. She seeks help from Davey Carlson, an Irish-born former mountain-man, who helps her retrieve her cow. Letitia and Davey form an understanding, and together they join a wagon train bound for Oregon.

Along the way Letitia forms a strong friendship with a fellow traveler, but many of the immigrant women treat Letitia as an inferior. Still, Letitia holds her head high, shares her supplies, acts as midwife when needed and keeps the campfires going for Davey. She’s free, and even owns a cow that gives precious, life-saving milk. The journey is long and treacherous, but Letitia sets her sights on living in a place where she’ll be truly free.

Threaded into the story is an Oregon Kalapuya woman and her grandson. The Woman teaches her grandson the Kalapuya way and watches as he becomes knowledgeable in their traditions. Soon she’ll have another to teach, a woman whose color is like burned seeds.

Once the grueling journey west is complete, Letitia and Davey find that Oregon isn’t as open-minded as they expected. There are still people who would take advantage of her status and not recognize her entitlements. Her friend from the Oregon Trail lives a short ride away, and she cherishes that friendship. Letitia and Davey work hard making a real home for themselves, but will that security endure the scrutiny of those who still see her color as inferior?

I found A Light in the Wilderness a wonderful addition to Jane Kirkpatrick’s many historical novels. The book is based on a true story. Kirkpatrick captures the strong bond between women, the stark fear of a person striped of her basic rights, and the land which holds so much promise. It’s a story of love and betrayal, of strength of character, and of courage dredged up of necessity.

Jane Kirkpatrick is a New York Times and CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) bestselling author who has won several awards for her many books. To learn more about the author, visit www.jkbooks.com