Friday, August 28, 2009

Minnesotan Leif Enger has winner in 2nd novel, too

"So Brave, Young and Handsome,"
by Leif Enger

Come along with two delightful characters, Monte Becket and Glendon Hale, on a journey that's a classic American tale and a wonderful, satisfying read.

Becket is the author who hit it big with his first novel but can't seem to come up with winning story idea No. 2.

Hale -- is that his real name? -- is an old man building a boat on the shores of Minnesota's Cannon River, but he's a bit mysterious about his past.

Together they go off in search of -- just what is it this unlikely pair are looking for as they head west?

What they find is an adventure every step of the way, a surprise around the corner of every chapter.

Seemingly inching their way across the country during the time of train travel and the early days of the automobile, the duo encounter amazingly unique characters, and Enger's way with words makes a reader feel as if they can picture each one and just have to know how these folk will impact the quest of Becket and Hale.

No sophomore jinx

Enger, who lives in Minnesota, resembles his author character Becket only that they both write. After hitting a literary grand slam with his debut novel "Peace Like a River," this second novel -- now out as a Grove Press paperback -- is every bit as good.

Enger is a wordsmith, plain and simple. When one of the side characters departs from this life, Enger puts it this way:

"Death arrived easy as the train; Hood just climbed aboard, like the capable traveler he was."

Never in your life would you think of the situations Enger places his protagonists, and just when you think you've figured out what's going to happen next something totally unexpected either pushes our intrepid heroes further along the trail or postpones their journey for some ungodly reason.
With choices to be made at every intersection, "So Brave, Young and Handsome" s a novel filled with moral dilemmas.

What our travelers decide in each instance makes for fulfilling reading, and a hunger for more from Mr. Enger. -- bz

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Be inspired to put love into action

"Love is a Verb,"
by Gary Chapman

"Love has to be more than something we feel," Gary Chapman writes. "It has to be something we do. We have to demonstrate it concretely."

And inspiring story after inspiring story, that's what "Love is a Verb" reminds.

Chapman of course became somewhat of a celebrity with the publishing of "The Five Love Languages," which sold 5 million copies.

Here he offers 40 "love stories" by a whole gamut of people who share their real-life experiences of love in action -- often not what you and I -- or they themselves -- expected.

Many are by writers who have a vital faith life, so they not only know how to tell a story but they get -- and pass along -- the spiritual they find in the episode they share about.

Chapman, a Baptist pastor in North Carolina, makes each story a teachable moment by adding a "love lesson" at the end of each piece.

Read a story a day

This is not a book to read from cover to cover.
You could, of course. The brief chapters -- the longest may be seven or eight pages and most are four or five -- make for quick, easy reading.

Better to savor the piece and its lesson a day at a time.

In fact, don't start at the beginning. When your -- um, "loveliness"??? -- needs a pick-me-up, crack open this 248-page Bethany House book and start reading a chapter wherever your fingers take you.

Let the stories soak in.

Then get to work.

Because love is a verb. -- bz

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Baseball-lovers novel hits a home run

"Battle Creek,"
by Scott Lasser

Baseball -- my first love -- is the setting that attracted me to this 10-year-old novel, but it's the people on the team -- their dreams, their lives, their loves and their losses -- that make "Battle Creek" a winner in the field -- the field of literature.

Author Lasser has the inside stuff of the diamond down pat -- the thinking of pitchers and hitters, the managerial strategy, the nuts and bolts of the game. But he's even better at the inside stuff of life, the moral dilemmas that real people face off the field, the decisions that we all have to make and the impact that they have on us and others.

"Battle Creek" walks us through a season in the lives of amateur players and their coaches, a group of once-weres, coulda-beens and wannabees, and a talented group at that. Can they capture that elusive national championship? Can they do it without resorting to spitballs? Can they do it while finding satisfying relationships off the field?

What are they willing to do to get where they want to go -- both on the field and off?

It's a guy's book, to be sure, a baseball-loving guy's book. And, if you ever played the game beyond tee-ball, there's an interesting insight into just why it is we love this game. -- bz