Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fiction Review: Redfield Farm

My neighborhood book group chose Redfield Farm: A Novel of the Underground Railroad by Judith Redline Coopey for its February selection. The book turned out to be somewhat obscure, published by a small, independent press. There is not a single copy in our entire state library system, and most bookstores don’t carry it; many people had to read it in e-book form. The novel ended up being well worth the trouble finding it, though. It’s got an engaging plot set against a fascinating aspect of American history and was very well written.

Ann Redfield and her brother Jesse are Quakers in a small rural community in Pennsylvania. They encounter runaway slaves for the first time when they are still children, and Ann gradually comes to realize that her family is part of the Underground Railroad and that Jesse is especially devoted to the cause. As Quakers, their entire community believes in nonviolence and equality for all people, but only a select few are so devoted to the anti-slavery movement as to put their own lives at risk. The Fugitive Slave Law means that even their own constable is legally required to help send escaped slaves back to the South, so helping fugitives is a very dangerous business and one that is rarely spoken of aloud, even among close friends.

Jesse returns from one mission sick with a deadly fever, along with a fugitive who is also sick. Both of the men are barely alive when they arrive at the farm, so Ann must care for them both and nurse them back to health.  Josiah, the escaped slave, is so weak that he has to stay at the farm through the winter. Ann becomes friends with Josiah and comes to know that he is an intelligent and caring man; she even teaches him to read and write during his long winter hidden in the farmhouse. Their close relationship has serious consequences, though, for the whole family.

I was totally absorbed by this fascinating story of compassion, family, friendship, and love. The passages that tell of the Redfield family’s efforts to help fugitives are fast-paced and suspenseful, with ruthless slave catchers and ever-present danger. But this is also a novel about everyday life – its endings and beginnings, sorrows and joys – told through Ann’s eyes with grace and intelligence. The story extends from 1837 through 1903, following Ann and Jesse and their family through their entire lives. Ann felt like a good friend by the end of the novel, and I could scarcely set it down.

287 pages, INDI Publishing Group

If you are interested in more information on this topic, here is an excellent article on the topic of Quakers and the Underground Railroad.


Monday, February 25, 2013

It's Monday 2/25! What Are You Reading?

Well, we had another rough week here, with very little time for writing or blogging. My 15-year old son is still struggling to recover from his knee surgery and also has his second sinus infection of the month. So, my focus last week was on taking care of him. On the plus side, I finally filed our taxes this weekend (woohoo!!), so maybe I can get back into the groove of blogging more regularly this week.

And I read some fabulous books last week:
  • I read Redfield Farm: A Novel of the Underground Railroad by Judith Redline Coopey for my neighborhood book group this week. I loved this novel about a Quaker family in the 1850's (and beyond) who are part of the Underground Railroad - excellent writing, in-depth and likable characters, and a fascinating plot.
  • Now I am reading The Dark Side of Nowhere by Neal Schusterman, one of my all-time favorite YA authors. It's very good so far - fast-paced with surprises around every corner.
  • I also started a new audio book (finally downloaded one to my new iPod so I could listen while I walk) - Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver's latest novel. I have high expectations after my recent Kingsolver love fest (The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven).
  • My husband finished Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card and enjoyed it - my older son and I had recommended it. 
  • Before he moves onto its sequel, Ruins (another brick of a book), he is reading a lighter suspense novel I gave him for Christmas, The Dark Hour by Robin Burcell. I thought he'd enjoy the setting in Amsterdam because he travels there for business. He says it is overly complex so far with too many characters to keep track of - maybe it will all come together soon.
  • Our sons have been busy with college and too sick, respectively, to read much lately, though my younger son did listen to some of his all-time favorite audio book, Looking for Bobowicz, written and read hilariously by Daniel Pinkwater - that cheered him up a bit!
Like I said, almost no time for writing last week, but I did squeeze in one review at the end of the week:  Wildwood, a middle-grade audio book by Colin Meloy. I also wrote a Weekend Cooking post on Sunday, with several of our favorite recipes.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)

Happy Birthday to my Dad today!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Weekend Cooking 2/24!

Each weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  This is perfect for me since I love food and cooking almost as much as I love books!

I have not had much time for cooking the past few weeks. My son has been sick a lot and is also recovering from knee surgery, and my husband was on a business trip this week. So, my son and I relied a lot on Trader Joe's items and other quickie dinners (plus some 5 Guys burgers and fries one night!). I have, however, been cooking a lot during the day for my son - scrambled eggs, subs, ravioli, pudding, cookies, and lots and lots of shakes and smoothies! I feel like I spent all week standing at the sink doing dishes!

I finally have a chance to cook some dinners this weekend. I'm not feeling well myself, but now my husband is home to help.

Last night, we made Adirondack Red Wing Burgers, a Rachel Ray recipe (yes, for once, I made something not from Cooking Light!). These are inspired by buffalo-chicken flavors, and our whole family likes them. Rachel's recipes tend to be heavy on fat (and especially cheese), but some of them are pretty good. I mostly followed the recipe but cut down a bit on the oil, butter, and cheese. The flavors in these burgers are great! I wish I had a picture to show you because they look good, too.

For dessert, my son saw that we had some overripe bananas and requested his favorite, Monkey Bars (yes, now we are back to Cooking Light recipes!). Oh, my gosh, these are soooo good. We substitute mini chocolate chips for the raisins (which my kids aren't fond of). Delicious!

For dinner tonight, we are having another Cooking Light favorite, Maple Pork and Vegetable Stew. We all love the flavors in this unique stew - it is perfect for a cold winter day (plus we'll have left-overs for an easy dinner tomorrow).

Hope you are enjoying some good food and cooking this weekend!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Saturday Snapshot 2/23

At Home with Books hosts Saturday Snapshot.

It's been awhile since I've posted a Saturday Snapshot. We've had a rough month here, with our younger son home from school much of the time due to bronchitis, two sinus infections, and knee surgery, all accompanied by flare-ups of his chronic illness. So, I've been busy cooking (teen boys eat a lot when they are home sick!), doing dishes, taking him to doctors, keeping him company, and running to the drugstore and grocery store. I've had almost no time at all for writing or blogging.

I did, however, take some short walks around my neighborhood, just to get out of the house for a few minutes! I was very surprised this week to see signs of spring already. I guess Phil was right. We have had a very mild winter here, with no measurable snow and temperatures often in the 40's or higher. My husband is happy, but I miss the snow and know that the mild winter probably means an unbearably hot, humid, and long summer.

Anyway, here's what I saw in my neighborhood this week and last, in mid-February!

A neighbor's daffodils are almost ready to open already!

Rhododendron is already budding out.

Our pear tree is covered with early buds.

Hope you are enjoying a nice weekend!

Monday, February 18, 2013

It's Monday 2/18! What Are You Reading?

Whew, rough week here last week. My 15-year old son was home from school all week with bronchitis, then had knee surgery on Friday...the result of which is that he will need a third surgery, with a lengthy recovery period. We're going to try to wait until the beginning of summer for this next one because he has already missed over 5 weeks of school this year. He's still in quite a bit of pain, but we are hoping he can make it into school tomorrow...we'll see how today goes.

So, lots of stress and not a lot of reading time, but we did manage some:
  • I finished the memoir, The Invisible Wall by Harry Bernstein, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was written by a 96-year old man about his first twelve years of life, growing up very poor in a small mill town in England where Jewish families lived on one side of the street and Christian families on the other side; the two sides rarely mixed, until his sister fell in love with a Christian boy and caused an uproar. 
  • Now I am reading (and almost finished with) a teen/YA novel, The Far West by Patricia C. Wrede, the third book in her excellent Pioneer Magic trilogy that started with The Thirteenth Child.
  • I finally finished the middle-grade audio book, Wildwood by Colin Meloy! It was a long one but quite good. With my son home all week, I didn't have a chance to start a new audio book yet, but I hope to this week. I have quite a few to choose from.
  • My husband. Ken, is trying to finish Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card (recommended by my son and I) before his business trip this week - the huge hardcover is too big to travel with!
  • Between college, illness, and surgery, neither of my sons had time for reading last week.
I had even less time for blogging last week, but I did manage to write one review while waiting for my son to come out of surgery. I reviewed In Other Worlds, a collection of essays about science fiction by Margaret Atwood that resulted in a long list of other books I want to read!

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Nonfiction Review: In Other Worlds

When I heard that the Bookrageous podcast was going to do a book discussion on Margaret Atwood’s new collection of essays about science fiction, In Other Worlds, I decided to join in. Atwood is one of those major writers whom I have never read (and always wanted to), though I recently bought a used copy of The Handmaid’s Tale. I was unsure whether I’d get much out of this book since I hadn’t yet read anything else written by Atwood (or much other science fiction), but I was pleasantly surprised. Her essays were clever, interesting, and funny.

The book is divided into three sections. In the first, Atwood prints three lectures that she gave at Emory University. The first chapter describes her own personal history with science fiction, starting from childhood when she would draw flying rabbits as superheroes. The second discusses her interest in ancient mythology and its connection to science fiction. Her third lecture is on the topic of her unfinished PhD thesis, about nineteenth- and early twentieth-century fiction that were precursors to modern sci fi.

The second section of the book deals with specific works of science fiction. It is a varied collection of reviews, essays, and radio talks Atwood wrote about classics like Brave New World and The Island of Dr. Moreau, as well as modern sci fi novels and short story collections. Of the ten works she writes about, I’ve only read two, 1984 and Brave New World, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the discussions and added quite a few titles to my lengthy to-be-read list!

Finally, the third section consists of five mini sci fi stories written by Atwood herself. They provided an excellent first introduction to Atwood’s fiction for me; all were engaging and unique, often with a playful sense of irony.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book very much – more than I expected to. It was interesting and intriguing – for instance, Atwood’s discussions of exactly how to define science fiction versus speculative fiction or fantasy – but I was also pleasantly surprised by Atwood’s sense of humor and playfulness. She just seems to be having so much fun, and she brings the reader along for the ride, as here where she speculates about the origins of superheroes:

Once upon a time, superhuman beings wore robes, like angels, or nothing, like devils, but the twentieth-century superhero outfit has more proximate fashion origins. The skin-tight clothing with the bathing suit over the abdominal parts, the wide, fancy belt, and the calf-high boots most probably derive from archaic turn-of-the-century circus attire, especially that of high-wire artists and strongmen. (With pleasing circularity, the stars of World Wide Wrestling now dress up in costumes similar to those of comic-book characters whose own colorful and six-pack-disclosing attire recalls that of earlier bemuscled showmen).

As the co-hosts of Bookrageous said during their podcastbook discussion, it felt like sitting down with a close friend and chatting over coffee or participating in a book club with Margaret Atwood.  I often laughed out loud and read passages to my husband. In Other Worlds is not only informative and interesting; it’s also just plain fun. And now I can’t wait to read some of the novels and short stories Atwood discussed.

240 pages, Doubleday

Monday, February 11, 2013

It's Monday 2/11! What Are You Reading?

We had a busy week and a fun weekend, with our annual Mardi Gras party - you can read about the details (well, the food details, at least!) on my Weekend Cooking post.  Lots of work but also lots of fun. We used to live in New Orleans, so Mardi Gras is a major holiday in our house! This will be a hectic week, with both Mardi Gras and Valentine's Day. Also, my son is home sick, so we are heading to the doctor's office this morning.

With all that excitement, we still managed to enjoy our books this week:
  • I finished In Other Worlds by Margaret Atwood, a book of essays on science fiction by the much-lauded author of The Handmaid's Tale. I enjoyed it very much, as well as the Bookrageous podcast discussing it. Now I have a long list of sci fi books I want to read!
  • I am now reading a memoir that my very kind cousin sent me last week: The Invisible Wall by Harry Bernstein. My local library's book group is discussing memoirs this week, so her timing was perfect! I am enjoying it very much - the beginning reminds me a bit of Angela's Ashes, only it is about a very poor Jewish family in England.
  • I am  - finally - almost finished with the middle-grade audio book, Wildwood by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis. It is a very long audio, but I have enjoyed it and am down to the last couple of tracks.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading Orson Scott Card's Pathfinder, after my son and I raved about it! It is a long one, but I told him it is well worth the effort.
  • Jamie, 18, is still reading Shaman's Crossing, Book 1 of the Soldier's Son trilogy by Robin Hobb. He's really not enjoying it much, but he insists on finishing it! Now that he's back at college in the dorms, he doesn't have much reading time.
  • Craig, 15, is still making his way through his freshman lit novel, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros - slowly and painfully!
I wrote two reviews last week: I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg and Trapped by Michael Northrup, a teen/YA novel. I also posted my January reading summary, a Weekend Cooking post about Mardi Gras, and a preview of 2013 book-to-movie adaptations - lots of good movies to look forward to!

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)

Mardi Gras 2010 - me with my sons

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Weekend Cooking 2/10

Each weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  This is perfect for me since I love food and cooking almost as much as I love books!

Happy Mardi Gras!

We are down to the last few days of the Mardi Gras season for 2013. It started on the epiphany, 10 days after Christmas, and will culminate on Fat Tuesday, two days from now. We used to live in New Orleans, so Mardi Gras is a major holiday at our house! Last night, we had our annual Mardi Gras party, with a small group of friends here to celebrate with us. Mardi Gras is about more than beads, beer, and's also about food!

Each year for our Mardi Gras party, I make some of our favorite New Orleans dishes, with help from our friends - the food is definitely a highlight of the evening! Some of my New Orleans recipes were published in the February 2012 issue of Family Fun magazine, so I will link to those below.

Earlier this week, I made a quadruple batch of my Red Beans & Rice. My husband, son, and I had a bit for dinner that night, then I froze the rest (just the beans, not the rice). I defrosted it and reheated it before the party, a friend brought rice, and was a big hit!

Yesterday morning, I made a big batch of Jambalaya for the party. This is another crowd-pleaser, made with chicken and Andouille sausage. My kids often argue over which dish is their favorite!

For simplicity sake, we also got some steamed and seasoned shrimp from a local seafood shop, bought King Cakes from a local bakery, and some good friends who also used to live in New Orleans with us brought a double-batch of New Orleans bread pudding with whiskey sauce, another classic NOLA dish.

Additionally, the Family Fun article also included my recipe for Shrimp Etoufee, another favorite at our house for weeknight dinners.  They also published a recipe for homemade King Cake, if you want to take a crack at it yourself.

Bread pudding and King Cake

Other ways to celebrate Mardi Gras this week:
  • Go to to check out the Parade Cam and other video cams set up around the city. Scroll down the page a bit to see the parade schedule - Bacchus at 5:15 CST today is a great one! You won't be able to catch any of the beads, but you can enjoy the floats, costumes, and bands.
  • Order Zapp's Potato Chips, hand-made in the tiny town of Gramercy, Louisiana. You probably can't get them delivered before Tuesday, but they are good any time of year! These are the most amazing, most unique potato chips you have ever tasted - seriously. Our favorite flavors are Cajun Crawtator and Cajun Dill. I ate piles of them last night!
  • Drink some Abita beer, made in Abita Springs, Louisiana - a local and really delicious beer. It used to be hard to find outside of Louisiana, but it is now carried in our local stores here in Delaware. Abita Amber is an old favorite, but they have lots of varieties now.
  • Call local bakeries in your area and ask if they have King Cakes. There are usually at least a few that make them this time of year, no matter where you live.
  • If you can't manage any cooking for Mardi Gras this week, bring home some Popeye's take-out! People are often surprised to hear that Popeye's really is authentic New Orleans food. The chain was started in New Orleans by a well-known local restaurateur, and the food is actually pretty good. If you want authentic, go for the spicy chicken and the red beans and rice or dirty rice. That's what we will be eating on Tuesday - our annual tradition with our New Orleans friends here in Delaware!
 Happy Mardi Gras - Laissez les Bon Temps Roullez! 

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Books Read in January

2013 is off to a great start, reading wise. January was a super-busy month (my son's birthday is in mid-January, so the holiday season just seems to go on and on for us), but I read quite a few books, including some really great ones:


 So, that's 3 teen/YA novels, 3 adult novels, and I'm not sure how to categorize Tales From Outer Suburbia! I enjoyed all the books and really loved several, but Pigs in Heaven was my #1 favorite, perhaps even in my Top 10 of all time.

2013 Reading Challenges: First month of the year, so I added 5 new states and 1 country to my Where Are You Reading 2013 Challenge (see locations above). I kicked things off with a bang and read 4 books for the the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge - woohoo! No audios and no Books I Should Have Read this month, but it's only January.

What books did you like best in January?

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Fiction Review: I Still Dream About You

One of my book groups wanted something light to read during the holiday season, so we chose Fannie Flagg’s I Still Dream About You. I hadn’t read anything by Flagg since Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe twenty years ago, so I was looking forward to this one. It doesn’t have the depth of that famed novel, but we all agreed it was a fun, light read.

Oddly, I Still Dream About You is a somewhat humorous book about someone who is contemplating suicide. Strange, right? It makes the reader feel a little uncomfortable and unsure what to think at first (is it funny? sad?), but once you realize that the story is very much tongue-in-cheek, you can go along for the ride.

Maggie Fortenberry is a former Miss Alabama (and a Miss America runner-up) who now works in real estate in her beloved hometown, Birmingham. To everyone else, Maggie’s life seems wonderful – she is still beautiful, has a great job, and has plenty of friends. But underneath her perfectly coiffed and graceful appearance, Maggie is actually quite depressed and sees no reason to continue on as is just to wait to get old. She comes up with a perfect plan.

Things keep getting in the way of Maggie’s plans, though, and – as with everything else in her life – she wants everything to be perfect. So, she bides her time and makes her lists (I especially enjoyed her many lists). Meanwhile, life goes on, things happen, and Maggie uncovers a mystery at the heart of her city’s past. As is typical in Flagg’s books, this novel is populated by funny, quirky, unique characters.  My favorite is Maggie’s best friend and business partner, Brenda, who lives with her sister’s family and is constantly fighting her tendency to overeat.

Our book group members all agreed that, though this novel is not great literature, it is lots of fun and an enjoyable read, filled with southern drama and a hefty dose of humor.

315 pages, Random House


Monday, February 04, 2013

It's Monday 2/4! What Are You Reading?

A new week, a new month, and a new start for me. College-age son moved back into the dorms yesterday. High school-age son is off today (and we have a hectic day filled with doctor's appointments), but hopefully, he will be back in school tomorrow after being out sick all last week. And then, I will be...alone!  Woohoo! Maybe I can finally get some work done this week...though we will miss having our older son at home.

Last week, we read:
  • I finished I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg in plenty of time for my book group. Everyone enjoyed it for its sense of humor and irony, though it was a bit light compared to what we usually read. Not great literature - just a bit of fun!
  • Next, I blew through Trapped by Michael Northrop in just two days. This teen/YA novel about seven teens stuck in their high school without power for days during a record blizzard was fast-paced and full of suspense - perfect for a cold winter week!
  • Now, I am reading In Other Worlds, a book of essays by Margaret Atwood about science fiction. This is the current selection for book discussion on the Bookrageous podcast, so I decided to try it. I'm enjoying it very much - I worried it might be dry, but Atwood's writing is lively and full of wit. I've been laughing out loud a lot!
  • And I am trying to finish a very long audio book, Wildwood by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis, a middle-grade fantasy adventure. It's been very good. Maybe with both kids out of the house this week, I can finally finish it!
  • My husband, Ken, finished The Likeness by Tana French; he's enjoying this series very much.
  • Now, Ken is reading Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card, a fabulous teen/YA novel that my son and I both loved.
  • Jamie, 18, is still reading Shaman's Crossing, Book 1 of the Soldier's Son trilogy by Robin Hobb. It's not his favorite kind of fantasy, but he said he wants to finish it. His reading slowed way down this week with exams at school. Now that he's back in the dorms for spring semester, he probably won't have much fun reading time!
  • Craig, 15, was home sick all last week, but he doesn't really enjoy reading. He did read more of his freshman lit novel, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, but he doesn't like that it is not a straight-forward chronological story.
I finally found time to write a couple of reviews last week - I was getting behind!  I reviewed Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver and Across the Great Barrier by Patricia C. Wrede, a teen novel - both were excellent and highly recommended! And I wrote a Weekend Cooking post yesterday.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Weekend Cooking 2/3

Each weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  This is perfect for me since I love food and cooking almost as much as I love books!

The weather turned a bit colder this week, so we had a lot of cold-weather comfort foods like soups and stews.  I surveyed the meager contents of the fridge and pantry Monday and made a simple Chicken Stew with Dumplings - a favorite at our house.

I made my bimonthy trip to Trader Joe's on Tuesday which takes a lot of energy, so we had a quick meal that night with Trader Joe's Chipotle Chicken Skewers and Cuban Black Beans on the side with Yellow Rice. This is one of our favorite easy Trader Joe's meals. I would love to hear about other people's favorites.

Wednesday, I made a big pot of Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo, one of my own recipes (see recipe below), with left-overs for the next night.

And yesterday, I made another family favorite, New Mexican Pork Stew, another of my own inventions.  Tonight, of course, is Superbowl, so we have lots of fun appetizers planned, including my husband's famous Buffalo Chicken Tenders.

Hope you have enjoyed some good cooking and great food this week!
Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 bag (about 8 oz.) frozen cut okra, thawed
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons flour
3 cans (14 oz. each) chicken broth
1 can (14.5 oz.) petite diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (optional)
1 bay leaf
1 package (12 oz.) chicken or turkey Andouille sausage (like Trader Joe’s brand) *
1 pound uncooked, peeled shrimp
4 cups cooked brown or white rice

* You can substitute 1 package (16 oz.) reduced-fat smoked sausage instead of Andouille sausage. 

1.     Heat oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Sauté onion, celery, bell pepper, okra, and garlic until soft and tender. 
2.     Add flour and stir until heated through (about 1 minute).
3.     Add the rest of the ingredients, except shrimp and rice, and bring to a boil.
4.     Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 20 minutes.  Add shrimp and simmer 5 more minutes or until shrimp is cooked and pink.

Serve in a bowl, with 1/2 cup rice added to each serving.

This gumbo is mildly spicy, but if it’s too much spice for your family, you can reduce the amount of cayenne pepper or substitute reduced-fat smoked sausage for the Andouille sausage.

© 2009 Suzan L. Jackson (May not be distributed or reprinted without written permission from the author)

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Saturday Snapshot 2/2

At Home with Books hosts Saturday Snapshot.

Happy Groundhog Day!

Phil did not see his shadow this morning, so an early spring is predicted. That would be fine with me, though we really haven't had much a winter yet here in Delaware. It was 60's one day this week here, then the temps dropped to a more seasonable 30's. Still not much snow.

Winter Sunsets:
 I like the look of sunsets in winter - the orange and pink skies against a deep blue background, with the starkness of the bare tree branches silhouetted.

Sunset last weekend from the deck of my mom's condo in the Poconos

Pretty pink clouds at sunset here in Delaware last night

 Hope you are enjoying the weekend!

Friday, February 01, 2013

Fiction Review: Pigs in Heaven

After reading The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver at the end of the year, I couldn’t wait to read the sequel, Pigs in Heaven. I wasn’t disappointed. Kingsolver’s warm, witty writing pulled me back into Taylor and Turtle’s world, and I never wanted to leave.

Taylor, originally from Kentucky but now a resident of Tucson, AZ, and her adopted native American daughter, Turtle, are on vacation and make a stop at the Hoover Dam. Turtle says she saw a man fall, but at first, no one believes a six-year old child as a credible witness. Taylor, however, never doubts her for a moment, and a man’s life is saved.  Turtle’s sudden celebrity puts them in the national spotlight, with consequences Taylor never could have imagined. Thrown into a crisis with a potential outcome that is unthinkable, Taylor and Turtle must somehow protect their little family.

In this novel, we also get to see things from Taylor’s mother Alice’s perspective, from her lonely existence in rural Kentucky to her quick change of plans when her daughter needs her. In fact, this novel is all about mothers and daughters, as well as friends and the varied definitions of family. The story moves from Kentucky to Arizona to Washington to Heaven, Oklahoma, in the heart of the Cherokee Nation.

As in The Bean Trees, Kingsolver’s writing is exquisite. She has a way of saying things that can make you laugh out loud and also nod your head in agreement, as here when Taylor and Turtle are visiting the Hoover Dam:

“Do not sit on wail,” Turtle says, stopping to point at the wall. She’s learning to read, in kindergarten and the world at large.

“On wall,” Taylor says. “Do not sit on wall.”

The warning is stenciled along a waist-high parapet that runs across the top of the dam, but the words are mostly obscured by the legs of all the people sitting on the wall. Turtle looks up at her mother with the beautiful bewilderment children wear on their faces till the day they wake up knowing everything.

When Taylor and Turtle visit Las Vegas with Alice, Taylor describes the city’s residents and visitors: “This is the twilight zone of humanity.” The entire novel is warm and witty, heartbreaking and heartwarming. Alice, Taylor, and Turtle all feel like good friends, and I never wanted it to end. You know when you love a book so much that after you finish it, you reverently close the cover, hold it to your chest, and just sigh? It’s like that.

343 pages, HarperPerennial

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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible.


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