Monday, November 28, 2011

Book Review: The Girl with No Shadow

The Girl with No Shadow (Harper Perennial) by Joanne Harris is a magical book. Literally. Its magic is in the form of witchery in three of the main characters. A sequel to Chocolat, the book’s main character, Yanne Charbonneau has changed her name from Vianne Rocher. Her daughter now nine, also has a different name, Anouk. Added is another younger daughter, Rosette, who is possibly autistic. The little French family has been forced to leave their former home and is starting over in Paris.

Yanne continues her vocation as a maker of exquisite chocolates. It’s a drab life she leads, but at least she and her daughters are safe. Her shop barely ekes out a living. If it weren’t for Thierry, her staid landlord, who has provided living quarters, she wouldn’t be able to care for her family.

Thierry asks Yanne to marry him and although she’s not in love with him, a solid family life is tempting. But she can’t bring herself to agree to marriage. Undaunted, he continues with plans to renovate one of his houses for them.

Along comes Zozie de l’Alba and we know from her first words that she is up to no good. Beautiful and charming, Zozie is an attraction to impressionable Anouk. Although for some time Anouk has realized she’s different from other kids, her exposure to Zozie helps her to define her special talent. She, too, is a witch.

Zozie manages to become part of the family, turns the chocolate shop into a bright, sunny place that draws customers in droves.

Just when Yanne least expects it, Roux appears from her past. Although he doesn’t know it, he is Rosette’s father. Even after four years, he stirs up feelings Yanne has tried unsuccessfully to bury.

Zozie’s true colors emerge. Pending danger and ruin become obvious. What tactic will she use this time to alter the lives of those who have trusted her?

If you’re a chocolate lover, you’ll enjoy the many descriptions of making exotic confections. Joanne Harris uses an interesting technique to spin her tale in that the story is told in three voices, all in first person. It was a bit confusing at first, but I soon noticed each of the three had a unique symbol at the beginning of a chapter.

Though my reading pleasure is normally stories with realistic plots, Harris spins an intriguing yarn. The Girl with No Shadow is a fairy tale for grown-ups. The author’s knowledge of chocolate is impressive and the Paris setting extraordinary. Harris’s lyrical writing style is a joy and keeps the reader engaged.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Book Review: Cold River

For a chilling Pacific Northwest experience, Cold River (Walnut Springs Press) by Liz Adair will keep you wondering about who’s putting a damper on the efforts of the new school superintendent.

When Mandy Steenburg accepts the job of Superintendent of Schools in Limestone, Washington, she feels confident her doctorate in education will be a valuable asset. She arrives in early spring, which in the foothills, is still very cold and rainy. The weather isn’t the only thing that dampens her spirit. The town’s chilly reception is less than welcoming. Limestone is a community with tarheel independence and these folks like their town just as it is.

Mandy’s younger sister Leesie appears, a senior in high school, hoping to live with Mandy in the A-Frame house she’s rented. Although Mandy’s pleased to have the company, it is one more responsibility to take on.

As superintendent, Mandy struggles to make improvements, but meets resistance. Although the former superintendent has been demoted to assistant superintendent, the town still looks to him for leadership. Organized and efficient, Mandy is determined to make a difference, but it seems the only change she makes is in her own well-being. Incidents begin to happen, dangerous, life-threatening events. After a nasty case of food poisoning, a mysterious house fire, a wheel spinning off her car, she realizes someone is serious about getting rid of her.

Along the way, Mandy does make friends, even experiences the beginning of a romance, but she’s getting a strong message that she’s not accepted professionally and she considers accepting another job. She stumbles upon a secret and in trying to get away finds herself in deep water in a very real sense.

Cold River is a suspenseful novel written with insight of the inner workings of a school district. Of particular interest to me was the correlation between music and mathematics, as the author depicts Limestone’s exceptional and unusual high school music program. Readers who enjoy cozy mysteries will enjoy this book. To read more about the author, visit

NOTE: For those who live in the Pacific Northwest, Liz Adair invites you to a Cold River launch party, 7:00 p.m., December 8 at the Sedro Woolley Library, 802 Ball Street, Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284-2008. Door prizes will be books and home-made apple pies!

Monday, November 14, 2011

An Inspirational Visit with Michael Lienau

After a life-altering experience, Michael Lienau is a firm believer in emergency preparedness. I recently attended a presentation of Michael Lienau’s in which he spoke of personal and business emergency preparedness.

Lienau was a close observer of Mount St. Helens during its second eruption on May 25, 1980. Too close. At age twenty and a life-long film buff, he’d planned to go to film school in Northern California. His plans were waylaid when Mount St. Helens erupted May 18, 1980. He made his way to the Mount St. Helens area to film the rivers that swelled with volcanic sediment. He joined a Seattle production company and flew through black clouds of ash, filming the blast from above.

When the second, smaller blast of May 25 occurred, Lienau and the production company were at the base of the mountain. The sky rained ash for seven hours, trapping the party in the backcountry for four days. They were unprepared for such an emergency and fought fatigue, hunger and turmoil.

It was a life-changing event, both professionally and spiritually. There was a strong possibility they might lose their lives. “It was one of those things that shaped my life,” he says. He began freelancing film work, inspired by his experience and the people whose lives were affected by the blast.

Lienau filmed “The Fire Below Us: Remembering Mount St. Helens,” which was first aired in 1994 on National Geographic television. He later made “Fire Mountains of the West” and “Cascadia: The Hidden Fire,” two films examining the present geologic and volcanic dangers of the Pacific Northwest.

Today, still an active cinematographer, Lienau encourages people to be prepared for disaster. “Preparedness is easy, inexpensive and you’ll never regret it.” Lienau’s particular concern is the strong possibility of a disastrous earthquake in the Northwest. The Cascadia Subduction Zone is one of the largest geologic faults in the nation, capable of generating a truly catastrophic 9+ earthquake.

By following FEMA’s recommendation--Make a plan, Make a kit, and Be informed--we can ensure preparedness. FEMA suggests a minimum 3-day Disaster Supply Kit that includes:
– One gallon of water per person per day, plus regular chlorine bleach for purifying more water
– Non-perishable food for each person per day
– Medications / first aid supplies
– Flashlight / extra batteries / light sticks
– Toiletries (including toilet paper, feminine supplies, soap, personal hygiene supplies)
– Important documents (wills, insurance papers, etc)
– Money, including small bills and change
– Multi-Purpose tools, garbage & zip lock bags
– Radio (battery or wind-up) / extra batteries
– Special needs for elderly, baby, pets
– Extra clothes / shoes / blankets

Lienau emphasizes the need to have food and supplies on hand. “If we give some time to preparedness in our families, neighborhoods and communities, it alleviates fear and strengthens our response systems.”

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Book Review: Loving Frank

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan (Ballentine Books) is an exquisitely written novel based on the world-renown architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mamah Borthwick Cheney.

In 1903 Mamah and her husband, Edwin, commission the locally famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, to design a house for them. Mamah and Edwin become friends with Frank and his wife, Catherine.

During the construction of the house, a powerful attraction develops between Frank and Mamah, a force so powerful they leave their spouses and children to live clandestine lives. They travel to Europe and Japan, following Frank’s quest for international architectural supremacy. Along the way, highly educated Mamah finds her intellectual fulfillment when she meets the Swedish feminist, Ellen Key and is commissioned to translate Key’s books and essays. When the truth about Frank and Mamah is exposed, their affair shocks Chicago society and brings shame and grief to their families.

Loving Frank is much more than a love story. It reaches into the possibility of freedom for woman and the cost and consequences of realizing those freedoms. Horan provides insights into the ambitions and quirks of Wright, an eccentric genius.

Loving Frank is a well-researched story of great passion, compassion, and timeless truth, an unforgettable historical novel.