Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Author Carla Kelly

Prairie Lite is not a romance novel. Carla Kelly is an award winning historical romance writer but her true talent emerges with this compilation of her best newspaper columns. As a former columnist myself, I appreciate her ability to use the few words allowed by newspapers to enlighten and entertain.

Do you ever long for the feel of a hot dusty breeze in the summer or a face paralyzing wind in the winter? Me neither, but I do have some great Midwest prairie memories and Carla Kelly has captured them in print with humor and affection.

Kelly lived in North Dakota and wrote, “North Dakotans must be the most optimistic people in America. I think it’s contagious. Who else would go outside when it was clear and nine below and say, “What a beautiful day!” Anyone from a warmer state (pick any 47 or so) overhearing that Northern Plains euphoria would probably start backing away slowly, speaking in soothing tones and avoiding eye contact.”

Her July 16, 2007 column titled, “Got Zucchini?” made me realize that we all suffer from a crazy mandate to eat everything that our garden produces – even a summer squash that multiplies while we sleep. We can’t just throw it away!

Kelly wrote, “For all I know, the Scenic Byway is lined with roving, feral zucchini, tossed out of car windows by desperate gardeners numb with the idea of thinking up one more way to disguise zucchini so folks will eat it.”

This is one of those books you give to friends, or select for your book club. Each column discusses a different topic ranging from vacation memories in the back of a station wagon to a favorite Christmas story about the candy bomber Gail Halvorsen.  Kelly shares those things we have in common as well as highlighting those odd, quirky things unique to every climate zone. I enjoyed a little lite reading from one of my favorite authors.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Review: Caleb’s Crossing
by Geraldine Brooks

I love historical fiction and I really enjoyed Caleb’s Crossing. I know I’m not alone since lots of women bought this book and we read it in our book club. But statistically romance novels were the most popular genre for women in 2004 with 55% of all books sold falling into this category.

Thank goodness we women have moved past 2004 and have expanded our reading appetites to include fantasies with fangs. I’ll bet that really messed up the stats.

I apparently belong in the minority group who still prefer historical fiction for my reading entertainment. I like to visit a time period before I was born so I can say, “Thank goodness I wasn’t born before central air and heating and outlet malls because I never would have survived.”

Caleb’s Crossing is set in 1660 before any of the comforts of home were invented. On the island now known as Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, we begin reading the story of Bethia  Mayfield and Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk. Bethia is the young daughter of a Calvinist minister and Caleb is an adolescent member of the Wampanoag tribe on the island.

Caleb’s character is based on the true story of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. The author admits that very little is known about Caleb or his life, but she uses missionary journals from the time to tell his story and shape the dialogue between the two cultures on the island.

Bethia is a fictional character who believes firmly in her religion but not always her “place” in the community. She craves education despite being denied the opportunity. She admires her mother and tries earnestly to go about her hearthside chores with a cheerful heart and silent lips. She doesn’t always succeed. At one point in the story, Bethia stands before the congregation to confess an improper oath uttered only in the presence of her brother. She accepts her vindictive punishment stoically but we are horrified by the injustice and cruelty.

This novel is another example of Brooks’ brilliant use of language to transport us to another time and place. She illuminates all the dark corners of the time filled with ignorance and prejudice but she also shines a spotlight on the strength, courage and love.