Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ride to Raton, by Marsha Ward - a Review

Marsha Ward’s western novel, Ride to Raton, reminded me why I swore off reading fiction a long time ago: I can’t put the story down. I let housework, bookwork, writing, visiting teaching, and all my routines slide because I absolutely have to know what happens next. Luckily I no longer have children at home to neglect while I read that one last chapter.

I’m just one generation removed from the ranch. Or is it two? My mother was born on a homestead in New Mexico, and I have two uncles who worked cattle all their lives. The title of Marsha’s book resonated with me, because I remember the title town from conversations in my grandmother’s living room when the old cowboy stories were circulating. Since Raton is northern New Mexico and we lived in the south, it probably had to do with rodeos, as my uncles competed in the 1930’s.

Another thing Marsha’s book reminded me of was the old adage that there are two sides to every story. In her first novel, Man from Shenandoah, we’re introduced to the Owen clan and follow their trek west after the Civil War. We also follow Carl’s romance with Ellen and sigh when he gets the girl. It matters not that Ellen is promised to his brother James, because she loves Carl. All ends well.

Except for James. Ride to Raton opens with Carl and Ellen’s wedding, and we see what we didn’t see in the first book: their happiness is James’s open wound. Unable to stay and witness their wedded bliss, James leaves everything he has in the world and sets out, penniless, to find someplace where he can make his fortune while he heals.

Marsha Ward has the ability to put you in the time and place. The west during the mid-1800s was not a hospitable region, and she doesn’t romanticize it. I was particularly moved by how Marsha described the treatment of a gunshot injury James receives, first by the local doctor and then by an old friend from back home.

Marsha does a good job of setting up the adventures that James has and making them believable, and she carries those adventures through to the very end. She also makes communication between James and Amparo (a young lady from Santa Fe) believable as they travel alone together. He speaks no Spanish; she speaks no English.

Marsha’s use of imagery is a treat. For instance: “…she had slipped from his grasp like quick-silver chased across a tabletop.” Those of us who grew up before knowledge of mercury poisoning know how hard it is to pick up a dollop of quicksilver. It’s a very elusive metal. Here’s another: “Only much later did sleep lay a quilt of blackness over his exhausted body.” And one last one: “…with the November sun pouting on the breast of a hazy sky.” Don’t you love it? The book is littered with similar gems.

You don’t have to read Man from Shenandoah first. Ride to Raton stands on its own very well, and it leaves us caring about James Owen and wondering what will happen to him next.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Michael Ethington, Believe - A Review

Do you know about Neighborhood and Friends? It’s a Facebook-kind-of-a-thing for LDS people.

I made a friend there the other day named Michael Ethington. I read his profile and checked out his web site and found out he’s a musician and has a CD out. The NPR station I listen to plays jazz, and I prefer something else to think by as I’m driving, so I thought I’d give Michael’s CD a listen.

I really like it. Some tracks are soothing, like “Lead Kindly Light.” His setting reminds me of sitting at anchor in Echo Bay, listening to the incoming tide lap against the shore. And “Sweet Hour of Prayer” is as sweet as its title and has the bonus of “Come Thou Font of Every Blessing” thrown in. (Do you ever wonder who made the
decision to take that hymn out of the book?)

Michael’s rendition of “Come, Come Ye Saints” is full of energy and drive, even when it switches to a minor key. At first I thought it was too hard-edged, but it grew on me, and now it’s one of my favorites.

I’m no musician. Anyone who has been forced to hear me play the baritone (which is anyone who comes to visit) can tell you that. But I love music. Michal Ethington’s CD is nice music to drive to. You can get lost in thought during his improvisation, and then you’re pulled back to the hymn when he brings it back to the melody.

His own compositions are nice, too, and he included a piece written by his father, to whom this CD is dedicated.

Check out Michael’s web site at and give it a listen.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Power of your Patriarchal Blessing, by Gayla Wise - a Review

The comforting thing about Gayla Wise’s book, The Power of your Patriarchal Blessing is that it gave me permission to admit that I don’t know where my blessing is. Oh, I know it’s somewhere in the cubic yard of accumulated family history I have stashed in various closets since we moved four years ago, but if my life depended on locating it in the next twenty-four hours, I’d be looking at a sudden passing.

If you’ve lost your blessing, Gayla tells you how to get another copy. I may just avail myself of that information, for since reading her book, I’ve been thinking I need to get mine out and read it again.

Correction: I need to find it, get it out, and read it again.

The Power of your Patriarchal Blessing sounds like a solemn tome, replete with footnotes and massive scriptural buttressing, but it’s not. There are end notes, to be sure, and some scriptures, but it’s more like a comfortable chat with a good friend. Gayla has talked with a lot of people about their patriarchal blessings and shares with you their insights. If you’re like me, this leads you to ask, where is my blessing? If you’re not like me and know where your blessing is, it prompts you take it out and read it again.

One of the suggestions Gayla shares is to copy your blessing, take the copy, and highlight in different colors all the warnings, strengths, and promised blessings you find.

The book is structured so you can read it in pieces. Each chapter is free-standing, which would make it good for a spiritual pick-me-up in the middle of the day over a period of time.

I gave this book to several people for Christmas last year and got hugs as thanks. You can’t get a better review than that.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Future for Tomorrow by Haley Hatch Freeman - a Review

The picture on the front of Haley Hatch Freeman’s book A Future for Tomorrow tells it all. A slender young woman looks in the mirror and sees a blimped-out version of herself. I looked at that sketch and said (ungrammatically), “That was me!” I always felt like such an elephant, but now, fifty years later, I look at pictures of myself in high school and realize I had a terrific figure.

Do we all do that? Haley Freeman takes us into the mind and life of a young woman who carries that skewed self-perception to an extreme. Because she was a regular diarist from childhood, she has a written record of her thoughts at the time. It’s a sad little window, and she’s a brave gal for letting us look through.

Before you begin, look at the last three pages of the book. There is a happy ending. Getting there is tough going, but hang in there. The journey will be instructive, as Haley intends to teach you through her experience. She hasn’t done this to entertain or to garner fame. She wants parents and families to understand and recognize the signs of an eating disorder and to understand that an eating disorder can ravage more than the physical body.

The writing isn’t polished, but that fits. It’s a young girl’s story. Haley’s use of her own and her friend’s diaries, along with the notes of the medical people who attended her, are powerful tools in telling that story.

If I were to read it again, I would read Part I backward, by chapter. Haley explains her reason for structuring Part 1 to go back in time, but I need to see things laid out in narrative as they happened, and it was a bit disorienting.

A Future for Tomorrow would be a great book for a young woman and a mom to read and discuss. It would be a meaty book for a book club to discuss. It’s not Pride and Prejudice or Twilight, as it was written for a different purpose, but it is sure to spark a lively debate.