Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Worth a Visit

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True HermitThe Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The author shares his fascination with the story of Christopher Knight, who disappeared into the Maine woods in 1978 and was discovered 27 years later as the mysterious thief who'd become legendary in the local lake town. What makes a person withdraw from society? How does a thief not get caught for 27 years? These are the central questions driving the story, backed up by credible interviews and research.

Finkel calls Knight "the last true hermit" because all those years Knight had no intended interaction with another human being. Many disagree with Finkel's definition. Traditionally a hermit's withdrawn from society for spiritual reasons. In modern times, it can be a matter of philosophy or politics, too. A true hermit lives in seclusion, not isolation. Knight describes his walking into the woods as more of a whim, though it's obvious it was a compulsion. And it's hard to believe that he didn't pick his only ever job—working on home security alarms—with thieving in mind. Knight's certainly a recluse, but to call him a hermit is to reduce the stature of every non-thieving hermit in history. It's no wonder the unofficial arbiter of modern hermits, the Hermitary, refuses Knight membership.

Knight admits it is wrong to steal, but he did it; despite having made ingenious solutions to surviving Maine winters, he developed his skills in skulking and thieving instead of self-support. The residents of that Maine lake town seem to mostly hate or admire him; the break-ins, while Knight made sure to attack only empty houses, were frequent and some residents lived in fear while others left offerings of books and candy over the years.

It is indeed fascinating to read all about it and decide if you'd call him a nuisance, a bogeyman, a freak, or a lost soul. But not a hermit.

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Light Romance reading

A Stardance Summer (Eternity Springs, #13)A Stardance Summer by Emily March
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Emily March's books are my guilty pleasure. There's unashamed romance and hope in every one, and Stardance Summer ticks all the boxes once more. The Eternity Springs series in particular honors those who have transformed the trauma in their lives into compassion, hope, and renewed commitment to love--not only romantic love, but love for self and community. The romance is between Brick Callahan, who's got a great thing going on with glamping, and Lili Howe, who had a childhood crush on him that's never gone away. Lili went into accounting to please her parents, and her heart has never been in it. When she has a crisis at work and her parents are unsupportive, she impulsively runs away. She buys a trailer, joins her landlady's glamping club, and ends up in Eternity Springs at Brick's campground. Growing and learning ensue, and plenty of romance and frustration, too.
If you like Debbie Macomber, you're sure to like Emily March; this one in particular has a Macomber "Blossom Street" feeling, maybe because it's number 13 in the series. Hope it's good luck, for I'd like there to be more.
I received an early electronic copy from the publisher and Netgalley for review.

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Saturday, June 3, 2017

Midlife in a Mess

City of FriendsCity of Friends by Joanna Trollope
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've got a mixed message about Trollope's twentieth novel. I did like it, but as emotionally on point this story about women friends in midlife's varied crises may be, the book itself falls flat. Melissa, Gaby, Stacey, and Beth have been friends since university. They are all extremely successful, Beth in academia and the others in business. Stacey is fired instead of given flex time when her mother is diagnosed with dementia; Gaby can't give her a job because she just hired the wife of the father of Melissa's fifteen-year-old son. Beth's relationship falls apart suddenly, spectacularly. Gaby has two teens and a preteen, plenty of drama in her household as well. The day Stacey is fired, she has a plot-pivotal interaction with an immigrant woman on a park bench, and it's what highlights the sour notes in the novel. Emotionally, the book rings true to upper middle class women dealing with sexism in the workplace, with changing relationships and teenage children and ageing parents, with job loss and stress and various degrees of spousal support; but I can't believe this pivotal interaction took place. That particular plot-working reeks of condescension and perhaps a clumsy attempt at political correctness that succeeds as smugness. (The "secret" is clumsy, too.) Though it's full of Facebook, the attitudes and atmosphere in this novel are firmly in the twentieth century and not the twenty-first. The best women's fiction mimics real life, only better; this is more escapist melodrama, fun but not profound.

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