Monday, November 17, 2008

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski

Here's another novel by a debut author. I read this book several months ago, before The Story of Edgar Sawtelle was chosen as a pick by Oprah's Book Club. It is a remarkable debut--how anyone could write a story this complex his first time out leaves me in awe. Quite simply, I loved this book.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is about a boy, Edgar, who is born without the ability to speak. He learns to sign as soon as he’s old enough to communicate. Aside from being mute, Edgar is precocious in every way, and has a special bond with the dogs his family raises.

Sawtelle dogs have been bred to emphasize their ability to think and make intelligent choices. As a dog lover, I really enjoyed all the dog scenes in this book. Edgar and his parents live on a quiet farm and raise and sell their special breed of dog. In general, life is good. One day, his paternal uncle arrives at the farm and things gradually start to change. Made me think of the snake appearing in Eden, whispering his lies.

When Edgar makes a disastrous decision, things erupt into chaos for him. After an idyllic beginning, the story takes on edge-of-the-seat suspense as Edgar Sawtelle lives out the consequences of his choices.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle has moments of almost supernatural happenings, pages of heartwarming charm, and scenes of wrenching sadness. If you’re like me, you’ll be cheering for Edgar and his dogs throughout the 562 pages of this doorstop of a novel.
In spite of the time that's elapsed since I read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, Wroblewski's characters are still real in my mind. To me, that’s the sign of a satisfying read.
I love communicating with others who have read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, so if you’ve read it please post a comment. (And tell me what you thought of the ending!)

Even if you haven't read it, post a comment anyway. Does this sound like a book you'd enjoy?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Longings of the Heart

Bonnie Leon's latest book, Longings of the Heart, is a story about the consequences that arise when Hannah Bradshaw decides to withhold a truth about her past from her husband, John. Her decision to lie to him by omission creates ripples that affect many lives. A friendship is sundered, a marriage threatened, and a man violates his principles--all as a result of Hannah's decision.

I'm reminded of a quotation from one of Sir Walter Scott's poems: "Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive." Hannah's web of deception is tangled indeed.

Bonnie Leon has written a compelling story that draws the reader deeper and deeper as the consequences continue to unfold. Using the fascinating backdrop of early-day Australia, Leon brings her all-too-human characters to vibrant life on the page. I particularly enjoyed her portrayal of the boy, Thomas.

When Longings of the Heart soars to its heart-tugging conclusion, readers will reluctantly close the book, wishing the story didn't have to end. Fortunately, we will read more about John and Hannah Bradshaw in the final volume of the series, to be released next year.

Bonnie Leon is a long ways past being a debut author, but her writing is fresh with every volume. I recommend this book.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time

On the eve of a critical presidential election, and at a trying time in our country's history, I feel Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea is a must-read. Let me tell you why:

Greg Mortenson has been referred to as a modern-day Indiana Jones. This book is the fascinating story of his personal mission to build schools in remote villages in Pakistan. Mortenson is a mountaineer who found his way into a poor village in the Karakoram mountains after a failed (and nearly fatal) attempt to climb K-2. The inhabitants of the village welcomed and cared for him, and in response to their kindness he promised to return and build a school.

Three Cups of Tea is the story of how he fulfilled his promise. How someone who knew nothing about fund raising and even less about moving goods through the many levels of government in Pakistan succeeds becomes a compelling story. Over a decade, he built not only the school he promised, but fifty-five other schools in forbidding mountain terrain bordering Afghanistan. The narrative reads almost like a novel, thanks to the skills of journalist David Oliver Relin. The story is factual and heroic. A number of photographs accompany the text, showing schools, students and villagers. Here in the United States, for me at least, Pakistan is far away and vaguely threatening. Three Cups of Tea made the people of this country come alive. Their struggles are personal now, rather than news stories I’ve skipped over to read the latest celebrity gossip.

The book should be required reading for whichever presidential candidate next occupies the White House. In some ways, the issues raised by Three Cups of Tea remind me of the ending of the film “Charlie Wilson’s War.” Once the military objective was gained, nothing further happened to help the people. Three Cups of Tea offers insight into the needs of the ordinary citizens of Pakistan, and by extension, citizens of any country overrun by war and corruption. I suggest you visit for more information.