Tomorrow by Damian Dibben

I was in my car coming home from an evening appointment when I heard this book being reviewed on NPR.  I bought it as soon as I got home and began reading it right away!  Who can resist a story of a loyal dog looking for his master and risking sorcery, betrayal, and even death in the process? Not me and I hope you won’t be able to either!

“Venice, May 1815, a hundred and twenty seven years since I lost him.” With those words we enter the mind of Tomorrow, a dog in search of his master. We know immediately that there is something extraordinary about our narrator.  Not only is he fiercely loyal, but he has lived an incredibly long time. Tomorrow tells us that one of the last things his master said to him was that if they became separated they would meet on the steps of the cathedral in Venice, and so the faithful dog has stayed in Venice close to the steps of the cathedral waiting for his master. He might have remained there forever, but one day he senses a change in the air. A smell of something from his past, and then a whiff of his master, and this galvanizes our canine hero to begin a new journey to find his master. A hero, however, cannot go on such a journey on his own and Tomorrow is no exception. His campanion is Sporco, an abandoned,  street wise, dog who claims Tomorrow as his “pack.”

Moving back and forth through time, we learn about Tomorrow’s master as a renowned chemist and physik, who traveled through Europe and found employment at various courts. We also learn of a twisted, malevolent figure from the past who has been following Tomorrow and his master and causing his master great anxiety and fear whenever they encounter him. Tomorrow knows that this man has something to do with his master’s disappearance, and holds the answer to the longevity that his master, Tomorrow and this mans who stalks them seems to hold. In order to find the answers to his questions and find his master, Tomorrow must not only conquer his despair and fear but face extraordinary dangers and loss before he completes his quest.

Dibben has created a great canine hero whose love for his master is profound and unwavering. Although it must be difficult to write from a dog’s perspective, Dibben deftly creates a world of the senses evoking, the smells, the noises, and sights in each place Tomorrow goes, along with the information it conveys and the emotions and yearnings it evokes.  This is one of those books that compels you to put everything else aside and read it all in one sitting!

Brenda’s Rating: ****(4 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Sharon, Marian and Lauren.

Book Study Worthy? Sure

Read in ebook format.


Posted in Fiction, Mystery, Suspense | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf

Haruf is know for his gentle, soulful stories (Plainsong Trilogy, etc.) which are all set in the Holt Colorado, the  heartland of America. He comes at things from a slightly different perspective, always looking for the ways fostering relationships and being kind and generous can be more life giving than doing the expected thing or following the rules. Our Souls At Night is another such story and  a welcome addition to his growing list of inspiring and thoughtful novels.

One night Addie goes next door to her neighbor, Louie Waters’ home and knocks on the door. They have been neighbors for years, raised their children side by side.  Addie was good friends with Louie’s wife. But now their children are gone and live quite far a way.  Addie’s husband died years ago as did Louie’s wife. They have been living in empty houses next to each other for quite a few years now. As Louies welcomes Addie into the house, she wonders if they might be able to do something for each other, something that will help assuage the loneliness they both feel.

As Louie and Addie get to know each other they share what they have learned from their own lives; the regrets and joys the have experienced and they begin to see that in each other they may have found that elusive second chance for a new life.

Haruf is a writer of few words. This novel is only 193 pages long and yet the power and depth of words that form this story are quite astounding. Louie and Addie are quiet but extraordinary characters whose loneliness, joy, conflict and failings we can see quite clearly and in the process realize ourselves in them. What always amazing me in Hauf’s books is the underlying sense of goodness that seems to permeate his books.  This is not a a fake thing where everything is contrived to work out happily in the end, but rather this sense of goodness runs through his writing almost like a blessing telling us that even in our worst moments or our best, life is good and we are enough.

Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Keith, Marian, Lauren and Sharon

Book Study Worthy? Yes!

Read in ebook format

Posted in Fiction, Literary Fiction, Romance, Spiritual | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

A King’s Ransom by Sharon Kay Penman

This is the final book in Penman’s Plantagnets’ series. Starting with While Christ and His Saints Slept, Penman has followed the family’s complicated and tragic rise and fall. In Lionheart, Penman told the story of Richard’s rise to power and his Crusade to free Jerusalem and with this last book now gives us the final act of Richard I’s reign.

Richard the Lionheart has an almost mythical place in history.  A great warrior and a deft politician, Richard personified all the kingly virtues of his time. But his life was complicated by betrayal, a dysfunctional and troubled family, and by his own demons that caused him to take risks that tempted fate..

Richard’s inability to free Jerusalem on his crusade, was one of the hardest defeats he ever faced. Caused by a combination of his own missteps which had alienated his fellow kings on the crusade with him, and misunderstandings about the strength and tenacity of Saladin who held Jerusalem, Richard had been out menuaverred until he finally had to give up.

Tired, sick with scurvy and malaria, Richard began his return to England to take back the reins of power of his own kingdom. There he faced unrest among his nobles brought about by his long absence and his brother John’s poor political and management skills. But in order to get back to England he first had to avoid territory held by some of his most virulent enemies, the King of France and The Holy Roman Emperor. Hoping to avoid a confrontation with either of them, he and his men boarded boats and sailed for England, but en route a terrible storm blew them off course and they landed in enemy territory on the Sicilian coast. With boats now made useless by the storm, Richard and his remaining men cautiously make their way across country, but are soon discovered and captured and eventually turned over to the Holy Roman Emperor and incarcerated at the notorious fortress at Trifels. Richard was kept in custody in one form or another from the end of 1192 until February 4, 1194 when a ransom was paid for his release.

After his release, Richard faced mounting challenges to his rule, and trying to regain territory that the French had taken while he was gone. Richard spent almost all the remaining years of his life at war or trying to rectify the damage that had been done to his kingdom in his absence while on Crusade or when he was captured.

Penman has no equal in her ability to enter history and make us see these almost mythic figures as ordinary men and women. Not only is she able to humanize them and make us understand their emotions and motivations, she allows us to see how they were tied to the culture and understandings of their times.  Penman also speaks for the women, who are often overshadowed in the historical record, but here she brings his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Berengaria, Richard’s wife, and his sister, Constance clearly into focus so we can see things from their viewpoints as well.  I read these five books over the course of quite a few years and enjoyed them immensely, but now I think I might need to read them again all at once just to get the sweep of history and context all at once!

Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Sharon and Marian

Book Study worthy? Yes

Read in ebook format




Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Series | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

What would you do if you knew when you would die? This is the question at the core of The Immortalists.  Benjamin explores the connection between destiny and choice, our longing to live fully and our fear that death will rob us of that opportunity.

On a hot summer day in 1969, the Gold children made a decision that would impact their lives forever. They didn’t know that at the time, of course, they were just bored and longing to escape the heat in their Lower East Side apartment. They had all heard the rumors of a woman, a traveling psychic, who could tell anyone when they would die. The children, Daniel, Klara, Simon, and Varya, decided this was just the adventure they needed and so they slipped out of their apartment and walked to the building where the woman was giving readings.

It was strange, but after their readings the children barely talked about what they had been told. In fact, it was many years before any of them talked about it much at all, and when they did it was only to reassure one another that it was just a scam, and that there was no way anyone could ever know the time of another’s death.

Time passes. Klara became obsessed with magic and performance art and has pursued a career as a magician in Las Vegas. Simon, uncertain about his sexuality, moved to San Francisco in the 1980s and found love and so much more, Daniel joined the military and became a doctor and Varya pursued the keys to longevity as a research scientist. For each a different path and different choices and yet consciously or unconsciously the prophecy seems to have informed their lives and their choices.

Benjamin has written a wonderfully engaging and profound book. This is a family saga with all the complicated ties and secrets that come with family but Benjamin allows each character to shine individually with their own gravitas and importance. Although she has important things to say about the fine line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, her message is subtle and measured.  This is a second novel by this young author (only 28!) and I look forward to reading many more books from this accomplished writer!

Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Sharon, Marian, Lauren and Keith.

Book Study Worthy? Yes!

Read in ebook format.





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News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Texas in the early days after the Civil War is a dangerous and rough place for any travelers. For Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd,  who roams north Texas giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences who are hungry for news of the world, it is a way of life. A widower and veteran of three wars, the Captain has found that delivering the news gives him a sense of purpose, while the being on the road appeals to his solitary nature.

So when Captain Kidd is approached by an acquaintance in the US Army who offers him a $50 gold piece to take a young girl recently rescued from the Indians back to her grandparents in south Texas, Kidd is reluctant to do so. The girl was captured by the Kiowa in a raid in which both her parents and a sister were killed. Raised in the tribe as one of their own, she has forgotten any English she may have known and is bound and determined to run away back to the only family she knows, the Kiowa. Kidd is hesitant to take on this complication; after all he has a normal route to follow and going south for more than 400 miles into even more dangerous territory is just foolish. But $50 is a big incentive and in the end, Kidd agrees to take the girl back to her grandparents.

The journey is more challenging then Kidd imagined, and the child more resistant to being “civilized” than he thought she would be, but with gentle persistence and care, Kidd begins to make headway and soon they begin to operate as a team, protecting themselves from the many dangers that cross their path until they reach their destination. What should have been a happy reunion, however, turns into something ugly and dark, and Kidd must again make a decision that will change the course of his life and the child’s

Jiles is very adept and capturing the history, tone and pace of life just after the Civil War. Kidd is a gentleman, but tough and wily. The girl is complicated-not quite a part of the white world and unable to go back to her Indian family. She is smart, impetuous and savvy, and it is hard to earn her trust, but once Kidd does, she is loyal and engaging. Jiles includes wonderfully eccentric supporting characters throughout the book, who add weight and realism to their journey, but it is the complicated relationship between Kidd and the girl that draws you in and keeps you engaged with the story. This National Book Award Finalist is beautifully written, and offers us a glimpse of a time and a life that is long past but somehow still resonates today.

Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Sharon, Ken, Keith, Marian and Lauren

Book Study Worthy? YES

Read in ebook format.

Posted in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Prize Winner | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A River in the Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa, translated by Risa Kobayashi

Back in November when I saw that young soldier make his daring escape from North Korea , I began to wonder what motivated him to escape and also what his life would be like now that he is free. So when I saw this memoir by Ishikawa about his life in North Korea and his eventual escape I thought it might give me some insights.

Ishikawa is from a different generation than that young daring solider, but his story is nonetheless informative. Born in 1947 in Japan to a Korean father and Japanese mother, Ishikawa’s life in post war Japan was very difficult. It was especially hard for “foreigners” like his father who were seen by the vast majority of Japanese to be interlopers who were good for nothing. With little work available now that the Japanese soldiers had returned and with food shortages making it difficult for the whole country to eat at a subsistence level, the Koreans in Japan found themselves at the bottom of the social order with few jobs, and few opportunities.

Ishikawa’s father did not help matters. he was a drunk and had a hot temper. In the years after the war, there was tremendous social unrest and communist teaching and socialist thought permeated Japan and many Koreans in Japan were attracted to these ideologies, including Ishikawa’s father.  When the Korean war ended and the demarkation between North Korea and South Korea established, the Korean community in Japan, who mostly came from what is now considered North Korea, were recruited and induced with promises and bribery to emigrate back to their “homeland.” Ishikawa’s father, tired of his life in Japan, decided to make the move, and in 1960 they crossed the Sea of Japan into North Korea.

The next 36 years of Ishikawa’s life is so horrific it is hard to even describe it here. Needless to say the promises of a better life, the promise to educate their children, the promise of work and dignity were all lies. Not only that, Ishikawa encountered even more racism in North Korea, since he was half Japanese a product of the colonial power who had tried to conquer their country. What we know of North Korea’s inhumane authoritarian regime from the media and press only touches the surface. What Ishikawa endured, and so many others who have lived and died under this capricious and corrupt regime is appalling. That Ishikawa survived is a testament to his tenacity and indomitable spirit. Finally in 1996 he was able to escape and return to Japan.

Even though it is hard, I think it is important to read and be informed about North Korea  especially now that there is talk of rapprochement with South Korea and the US. We need to remember that there has been an ongoing genocide in North Korea for the last 65 years. We need to hold up this regime’s brainwashing, torture and deliberate starvation of its own people. We need to be witnesses, especially now, so we do not forget.

Benda’s Rating: ****(4 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Keith, Ken, Sharon, Marian and Lauren

Book Study Worthy? Yes

Read in ebook format.



Posted in memoir, Non Fiction | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

There are always events in our lives that create a clear demarcation point; a point of reference where the before and the after is very clear. The most obvious, at least for me, was when our children were born; you are never quite the same person you were before and after that event! Others may be more subtle, like moving to another place, quitting a job, growing up in a foreign country, or visiting a place or meeting a person who made a big impact. In Commonwealth, Patchett explores these demarcation events in the life of a family, and how they impacted each person in very different and significant ways.

On the day of Franny Keating’s christening Ben Cousins showed up uninvited to the party. No one knew that the consequence of his arrival would be the dissolution of two marriages and joining together of two families, but that is exactly what happened and it all began with Ben kissed Beverly, Franny’s mother, before the party ended.

The upshot of this merging of families was a forced closeness between the children who had to commute between California and Virginia to visit their parents every summer. Disillusioned with their parents, the children’s common antipathy towards these adults who had so clearly failed them, created a bond which over time grew into genuine affection for one another even in the face of more tragedy and loss.

When Franny is in her twenty’s she begins dating the famous author, Leon Posen and without her realizing it he begins writing a novel based on the stories she tells him of her complicated childhood. When the novel becomes a huge success, Franny realizes that she has lost control of story and now she and her siblings must confront the secrets and lies so that now as adults they can heal and move on from the losses they have suffered.

Spanning five decades, Patchett charts the course of each child as they move from childhood into adulthood, showing clearly the impact of these clearly defining moments in their lives. For each child the impact is different, and their way of coping and trying to make sense of things is equally different, and yet the impact of these profound life events is significant for each one. Patchett gives each character a luminous quality which shines through their character flaws and faults making them feel genuine and relatable. I enjoyed it from start to finish!

Brenda’s Rating:

Recommend this book to: Marian, Sharon and Keith

Book Study worthy? Yes!

Read in ebook format.

Posted in Fiction, Literary Fiction | Tagged , , | 1 Comment