Unconventional because I’ve forgotten all the rules of proper book reviews and missed out on the new rules about punctuation, like commas and space/no space at the end of a sentence. Just give your inner editor a glass of wine and try to embrace my nonconformity.
I haven’t written anything for the past couple of years, and I haven’t been reading either. Until now. I’m even mixing a little fiction in with non-fiction. Not much writing yet, except a few snippets of thoughts and lines of poetry. Maybe these book reviews will inspire more writing.
A recent climb to the top of our local lighthouse with my grand daughter must have triggered this foray into lighthouse-centered fiction.
My dream road trip is a 1200 mile journey following the path of the the mighty Columbia River from its origins in Canada to where it empties into the ocean at the border between Washington and Oregon. As I plan my route, I am caught up in the maps, photos, stories, history and poetry of that beautiful river. I’m especially in love with all that is known of the time before the dams were built.
The Lightkeepers, Abby Geni
Wow. 5 stars. A small group of researchers on a remote island off the coast of California are joined by a photographer. Not long after she begins her year-long project, she is assaulted by one of the researchers. There are injuries and deaths. And a ghost, maybe. The unique and tumultuous history of the island and the lighthouse is the foundation upon which this tale is told.
Geni weaves the tale through letters written to the protagonist’s dead mother. We learn bits and pieces about each character, getting more details as the story unfolds. Their very individual personalities come together, then move apart and yet they carry on their research and daily lives seemingly undaunted.
The writing is almost poetic when it comes to the dramatic and desolate location and the subjects of the research. The breeding, birth, eating habits and deaths of whales, sharks, seals, and sea birds are seen through the photographer’s lens and a poet’s soul. The sights, sounds, smells and physical discomfort pull the reader onto the island and into the world of these ocean creatures and their human observers. Who knew Seagulls were so terrifying?
The story closes with several surprises, and is so well written it feels more like a memory I have lived, rather than pages I have turned in a book. Read this book.
The Lightkeeper’s Wife, Karen Viggers
Another mystery, another lighthouse and a letter. 4 stars. In this case the letter is the mystery. This story centers around an ailing elderly woman and her youngest son. I fell in love with both of them. The author made me do it.
The letter is delivered to Mary in person and causes her much anxiety. She tricks her grand daughter into leaving her at an island cabin near the lighthouse where she and her family lived years ago. Her adult daughter is selfish and freaked out that her mother isn’t in a nursing home. One son doesn’t see what the big deal is and the other son, Tom, supports his mother’s decision, with concerns about her health.
Part of Mary’s mission is dealing with the letter. She alternates between deciding to destroy it and losing it. Mary is reliving her past and has certain places on the island she needs to visit as a sort of pilgrimage to her late husband.
Her daughter hires a young park ranger to check on her mother daily. Mary convinces him to drive her on her pilgrimage. As the days go by and her health declines, he becomes more of a caregiver and he is grateful for her wise and gentle counsel on his own personal issues.
Mary’s son, Tom, is a lost soul. He is carrying an old heartbreak and is a lonely social misfit. He is the only sibling that makes time to visit his mother at the cabin, despite his being embroiled in a strange love affair. Viggers gives Tom room to blossom and shed the weight of the past.
Mary weakens further, but is determined to keep the letter from the person she is supposed to give it to. Is she trying to protect herself or others? This is a tangled story of love and grief and how each of us does what we must to live the best life we can. Sometimes that means keeping secrets and sometimes it means letting go and moving forward.
The author paints a vivid picture of both past and present in a wild remote setting, which draws us in, as much as the characters flowing through it do.
River of Memory, The Everlasting Columbia,
William D. Layman
Oh my. Can one be in love with a book? I am. This 9 x 11 softcover book is all black and white, except for the beautiful life-like fish illustrations by Joseph Tomelleri and David McConnell. Layman narrates the U.S. portion of the river and Eileen Delehanty Pearkes narrates the Canadian portion.
The 90 plus historical photos are stunning on black backgrounds. Some are by unknown or unnamed photographers, others by well-known Pacific Northwest photographers. Each is a work of art and history.
The photos lay the ground for narration, poetry and stories of deeply researched people, flora, fauna, and places along the Columbia River. The narration is succinct, yet extremely dense with fascinating information. Early explorers, surveyors and naturalists are quoted, as well as writers and poets of today. The words of Native Americans, First Nations and settlers are recalled in poetry and brief stories.
A museum of the natural history of a great river in a book. Ahhh.