My Books

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I got mail - Granite Hearts by Elizabeth Egerton Wilder

Today, I got an eagerly awaiting package in the mail: the paperback version of Granite Hearts, Elizabether Egerton Wilder's great historical novel and the sequel to The Spruce Gum Box. The paperback version came out beautifully. But the book is of course also available as ebook.






After reading the first part of this sequel, The Spruce Gum Box, my only regret was that I had arrived at the last page. I had fallen in love with the book, the characters, and the marvelous descriptions of the Maine landscape in the early 1800's. So, I was very happy when I received the sequel.

Granite Hearts is a perfect title for this historical novel. It brings to mind two major themes: life in Maine in the early 1800’s was often as hard and rough as granite and the way to soften the harsh existence was through the human heart, the seat of love and compassion.

We meet many of the familiar characters from The Spruce Gum Box again: Ben and his friends from childhood, Hettie, his wife and their new baby, JJ. Uncle Jacob, the Micmac sagomore, Frank, Hanna and others from the Wabanaki tribes. The focus of the novel, however, is on Ben’s childhood friend, Sean, who is part Irish and part Micmac Indian, and on Gert, his wife.

After the wedding, Sean and Gert move away from their native Smytheville on the Aroostook in the northern Maine wilderness. Hoping to escape some of the prejudices of the white settlers toward “half-breeds” and “savages,” Sean wants to live and work somewhere where nobody knows them and so the young couple settles near Sean’s brother, Joseph, in a little town called Prospect near Bangor, Maine. Sean and Gert work hard to carve a life for themselves and their growing family of four boys. The harsh life and the prejudices, however, follow them across the state. Accidents, the danger of alcohol, and the threat of the upcoming civil war threaten to destroy their dreams of a peaceful and prosperous life. However, the support of close friends and, above all, their family members back home in Smytheville help them overcome and keep the love alive. And not all of life is hard; there is plenty to be thankful for: the joy of children, the gorgeous landscape, and the celebrations with wonderful food and the company of loved ones.

As in the first part, the author uses her skill in language to paint a loving picture of the characters and the environment they live in. By means of vivid descriptions, she lets us take part in their lives, enjoy their successes and mourn their losses. We enjoy their adventures, taste the delicious homemade food, see the colors and smell the scents of nature. A lot of research must have gone into this book and the historical events are seamlessly woven into this heart-warming story of love and family. A truly wonderful work of literature!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

One of those days . . .

Sunday Morning in Santa Monica


(From Path of Fire, 2002)

A bus stops,                                                             
doors open and close,
then roars on, trailing
a cloud of black smoke.
A young man leans his head
against the window pane.

Next to a shopping cart
stuffed with plastic bags, a woman
sits on the park bench
hunched over
her head almost touching her knees.

I feel the moist air float by my cheeks.

An old man with a
green lopping hat stops in front of
Callahan’s coffee shop.
He sucks on his cigar
and puffs smoke rings
delicately
toward the sky.

Years ago,
I buried my father’s ashes
in a cemetery near  Zurich.
Today, I bless
my beautiful lonely life. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Angel Sometimes by Helen Ginger—the Mermaid trapped in Two Worlds

Angel SometimesHelen Ginger’s debut novel is the powerful story of a young survivor. Gritty, self-doubting, and kind-hearted Angel is determined not to let painful and horrible incidences in her childhood prevent her from living a full and successful life. Homeless for several years, she secures a job and works and studies to get her GED and go on to college. Periodically, however, she feels unloved and is overcome by self-doubt and self-loathing. Her unresolved past haunts her and holds her back.

That past is given to us by a series of flashbacks and with each journey into the past, we find out a little more about what happened. The full truth, however, is only revealed when Angel has the courage to go back home and confront her past head-on. I loved the way the story unfolds and unlike one reviewer, I feel the flashbacks are well integrated into the plot and deepen our understanding of Angel’s character and destiny.

Angel works as one of the swimming mermaids in a bar. I have never heard of such a job, so this was a very interesting part of the book. While I agree with one reviewer that the scenes with Angel and her co-workers swimming in the huge aquarium are at times a little repetitive, I also felt that the mermaid becomes an important image in the story. The mermaid has been a powerful symbol since ancient times in mythology, literature, folk tales, and psychology. There are many different interpretations by experts in many fields. I don’t attempt to add another one. I’m merely giving some ideas about what the mermaid meant for me personally within the context of this story.

The mermaid is creature of two worlds, the sea and the land, animal and human, or, in a more psychological sense, part of the world of consciousness and reason and everyday life on the one hand and part of the unconscious, the mysterious, the instincts, including sexuality, on the other hand. The mermaid has access to both worlds but is also trapped in both. Angel works as a mermaid swimmer in an aquarium but Angel is a mermaid in more than one sense. She struggles with her everyday life, with love, and relationships and while she does quite well surviving and supporting herself, she is held back from becoming fully human by a past she hasn’t dealt with and hence hasn’t been able to free herself from. She is bound by her mermaid’s tail, so to speak. How constricting this tail—this crippling past--can be we see as one of her co-workers almost drowns when her tail gets stuck in the narrow space she has to swim through to get into the aquarium.

In the end Angel goes back home to find out what really happened in her childhood when her father hurt her and her mother seemingly abandoned her, and what she finds is both painful and liberating. Ultimately, she has the chance to strip off her mermaid’s tail and stand more securely on her two human legs.

Powerful story, beautiful descriptions, heart-felt emotions, and believable, genuine characters—a truly great first novel. I hope the author continues on her path as fiction writer!