Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan :: Review, Interview, & Giveaway!

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan
compact disc 17 1/2 hours
Random House Audio Publishing Group in June 2011
ISBN-13: 9780307917294

Type: {Weekend Read: a book to curl up on the couch with.}
Rating: {I’m Lovin’ It: Very entertaining!}

Why You’re Reading It:

  • You enjoy well-developed, realistic characters.
  • You are impressed with observant authors.
  • A book that can make you laugh and cry is golden in your eyes.
  • Wondering if an author has read your diary makes you think she’s got her craft right.

What I Thought:

I keep hearing this title touted as a beach read and/or chick lit. I have to say that, after reading it, I am almost offended that these are the tags often given to this book. Is it because the book takes place in summer that it’s considered a beach read? Is it because the narrators are female that it’s considered chick lit? Honestly, other than that – I can’t even begin to understand why those two descriptions have been given by some reviewers.

Luckily, I knew this was neither a beach read nor chick lit, so I got what I was expecting… and so much more. This smart, observant, multi-dimensional novel kept me company throughout my move (and beyond — I couldn’t help bringing it into the house with me to listen to when I could). Told during the course of a summer, this is the story of the Kelleher family. But really it’s the story of human nature. How relationships are complicated, but necessary. How the very year a woman is born can determine so much in her life. How no matter how hard we try, we can never see through another’s eyes completely. How mothers and daughters can travel such different paths yet leave a similar wake behind them. And how we might find sympathy for almost anyone if we could only fully know their truth.

Though the plot keeps the pages turning, this book should be read for the characters. If you’re anything like me, always wondering what makes another person tick (and what exactly is going on in their heads — and lives) you’ll love this almost voyeuristic story that gives such great details into the four (quite different) personalities of the narrators.

Side note About the Audio :: As for the audio version, at first I thought the narrator’s voice was a bit too bubbly-gumish but she nailed the characters and I grew to really like her. Unfortunately, there were four times when she read the wrong name (i.e. if I knew Alice was sitting at the table and Kathleen was walking in, she would say “Kathleen was sitting at the table, and Kathleen walked in”). Since I didn’t have the pleasure of having the print copy (and since I was driving most of the time while listening) I couldn’t mark down which chapters/pages this happened on. But it doesn’t take away from the book – and it’s not even all that confusing (though should be corrected).

Interview with J.Courtney Sullivan

I am so impressed with J. Courtney Sullivan’s ability to create such sympathetic, multi-dimensional characters that I had to reach out and ask her a few questions. She was kind enough to answer!

1.) What kind of research do you do before/ while writing a book?

I worked as a researcher at the New York Times for four years. I love doing research (and sometimes have a hard time stopping.) Like writing itself, research allows you to peer into other people’s worlds–in the book I’m working on now, for instance, one of the characters is a paramedic. Recently I got to spend some time in the back of an ambulance, shadowing EMTs in Cambridge, MA. It was a fascinating experience.

For MAINE, which tells the stories of three generations of women, I wanted to make sure to place each one in her own cultural and historical moment in as accurate a way as possible. I interviewed many women who are Alice’s age (in their mid eighties) and immersed myself in novels, films, and nonfiction books from her era. To get Kathleen’s lifestyle just right, I interviewed some California worm farmers. And to fully understand Ann Marie’s dollhouse obsession, I learned all about the world of miniatures.

The Cocoanut Grove fire plays a role in the novel, and the archives of the Boston Globe were an incredible resource when it came to learning more about it. I also wrote much of the book in the part of Maine where it’s set (tough life, I know.) I was fascinated by the artists’ colony that existed there for several decades, and found some wonderful source material on that at the local library.

2.) How were you able to capture the wide range of personalities in Maine in such a realistic and sympathetic way?

One of the things I am most fascinated by is perception–in a group of friends or family members, what role do we play, how do we view ourselves, and does it bear any resemblance to the way everyone else sees us? Writing from multiple points of view allowed me to really mine this territory. It also let me get inside the heads of four very different women. Though each of them is complicated in her own way, and they’re all difficult at times, they have their reasons, which (I hope!) become clear over the course of the story. Take Ann Marie: On the surface, she’s the kind of woman everyone loves to hate, so boastful about her perfect home, perfect marriage, perfect children. But her reality is nothing like what she projects.

In part, MAINE is a meditation on the fact that the moment a woman is born determines so much about the life she will lead. Alice, the grandmother, wants to be an independent artist, but that sort of lifestyle isn’t possible for a women who comes from the time and place she does. In contrast, her granddaughter Maggie leads exactly that sort of life, but finds it full of other complications. (She actually envies Alice’s generation for having comparatively fewer choices, and therefore a more logical path in life.)

3.) Are you working on anything new right now? If so, any teasers (as little and vague as they may be)?

I am working on a new novel about marriage in America over the course of the last century. It follows four very different couples. In part, it’s about the diamond industry and the way that–starting in the late 1920s–De Beers and an advertising agency called N.W. Ayer endeavored to make diamonds synonymous with love and marriage in this country.

Bonus Question:

1.) What was the latest book you fell in love with (old or new)?

Last night I finished Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. It is such a gripping and beautifully written novel. It’s also incredibly sad. After I finished the last page, I took my dog out for a walk and found it hard to comprehend the fact that children were playing and couples were laughing. The sense I got from this book was so powerful that it seemed as if all of Brooklyn ought to be in a very dark mood.


Giveaway

I’m in a giveaway mood – as most of you know by now. I’m not exactly sure when it’s going to stop – I have a few more up my sleeve. Today’s giveaway for Unputdownable e-mail subscribers is the audio book of Maine by J.Courtney Sullivan. Here’s how it works:

1.) Yes (again) you must be an e-mail subscriber. For today’s giveaway, you can go ahead and subscribe now and then sign up, HOWEVER,

2.) To reward my loyal readers (those of you who don’t subscribe for giveaway and then delete your subscription — yes, I’ve seen some people do that each giveaway) this is the breakdown: for each month that you’ve been an e-mail subscriber I’m going to put your name in the hat that many times. (I.e. if you’ve been a subscriber for 1 year and 2 months, you’ll get your name put in 14 TIMES!, if you’ve been a subscriber for 4 months, you’ll get in there 4 times, and so on. I have this information, no need to enter it on the form.) I really want to reward those of you have have continually supported me! (I’ll keep trying to think of creative ways to do this! I love my readers!!)

The giveaway is open until Thursday, September 15. Good Luck!

Congratulations to Tahleen for winning this copy of Maine. Thank you to everyone who entered!

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
Audio CD 5 discs 6  hours
published by Penguin Audio in 2009
ISBN-13: 9780143144366

Type: {Weekend Read: a book to curl up on the couch with.}
Rating: {Me Likey: Enjoyable! Particularly for fans of this genre.}

Why You’re Reading It:

  • You like interwoven short stories made into a novel.
  • You love food and the way it relates to our lives.
  • You enjoy comforting, sweet stories.

What I Thought: 

I started The School of Essential Ingredients in my kitchen; listening while cooking. That was the perfect place to listen to it! The nice rythym of the reader’s voice, the easy to follow story – slow but in a comforting way. However, once I took it on the road with me (either while walking or driving) I found that I always got hungry! So, maybe this is a better one to read curled up on your couch with a glass of wine and a plate of yummy food.

Each character in the cooking school, which is held at a restaurant that I wish actually existed — tell me if you don’t think it sounds like the most delightful place to have nearby, has a short part featuring their story. Each of these shorter stories leaks into other stories to bring all of the characters together with a well-written thread. Though the plot is not fast moving, Bauermeister takes as much care and thought with her writing as the characters do with their cooking. The book is easy to swallow in one or two gulps. It is the epitome of a comfort read for a slow summer evening. If I could have, I would have read this short, lovely book while sitting on the back porch, wine or sweet tea in my hand – a pot of something delicious on the stove and then curled up in a hammock with someone to cuddle with after. That is the kind of book this is. The reading won’t require much thought, and you’ll feel peaceful and hungry afterwards.

Buon appetito!

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
paperback 399 pages
published by Harper Perennial in 2006 (first published 1999)
ISBN-13: 9780061120251

Type: {Weekend Read: a book to curl up on the couch with.}
Rating: {I’m Lovin’ It: Very entertaining!}

Why You’re Reading It:

  • You are a fan of Isabel Allende
  • You enjoy rich characters
  • You enjoy Historical Fiction
  • You like stories that incorporate different cultures
  • Stories involving places as characters (in this case Chile and California) add to the story in your opinion

What I Thought:

In Isabel Allende’s novel about Eliza Sommers, she brings together a cast of characters so well developed that you forget they aren’t real. The story begins in Chile, where Eliza is taken in by Rose Sommers and her brother Jeremy, and follows her through growing up and leaving for the gold country of northern California.

Not only is this a story involving the adventure of Eliza, it explores the unrational way that our first loves can conquer us, what we learn through them, and how powerful they can be in setting the course for our lives. Weaving in the beauty of both Chilean and Chinese culture and incorporating a myraid of characters that make this story engaging, Allende takes the reader for a well-paced ride through the 19th century beginnings of San Francisco as we know it. Attention to the details of class, culture, prejudice, and customs of the time make for an incredibly interesting reading; as does the glimpse into the world of the very few women, most of whom were “soiled doves”, and how they were able to survive (and sometimes flourish) in a mostly male dominated area.

This is a fantastic book to read while on vacation.  I kept wondering why it was taking me so long to read since it was such an interesting story, and decided that though roughly four hundred pages, the type is quite small and the book could easily be much longer if it were written in a larger font. Though the beginning was a tad slow going, the speed picked up significantly as soon as the author introduces Tao Chi’en and never slowed down from there. This is the only reason that this work does not garner the Unputdownable ranking. I highly recommend it for summer reading, as you will be thoroughly entertained and have the benefit of looking to the author’s large published, well-liked collection for follow ups after you are finished with this title.

About Isabel Allende 

Born in Peru and raised in Chile, Isabel Allende is the author of many bestselling novels, including Ines of My SoulZorro, Portrait in Sepia, and Daughter of Fortune.She has also written a collection of stories; three memoirs, The Sum of Our Days, My Invented Country, andPaula; and a trilogy of young adult novels. Her books have been translated into more than 27 languages and have become bestsellers across four continents. In 2004 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Allende lives in California.

Find out more about Isabel, her books, and her foundation at www.isabelallende.com.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to be part of this, and to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book. See links to more reviews of this book here.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
hardcover 323 pages
published by Dutton on April 14 2011
ISBN-13: 9780525951988

*** See below for a chance to win a copy of this book***

Type: {Weekend Read: a book to curl up on the couch with.}
Rating: {I’m Lovin’ It: Very entertaining!}

Why You’re Reading It:

  • Quirky, fresh stories like 500 Days of Summer are your bag.
  • You enjoy a male perspective in a book that women will enjoy.
  • You want a love story, but not a romance or chick-lit book.

What I Thought:

Not quite sure where he’s going with his life, recently moved home with his mom, and still hung up (a little) on his highschool girlfriend – the one girl he ever loved- Lincoln is not exactly going places. Starting a night job in security at a newspaper in Nebraska is a start. At least he’s working, at least he has somewhere to go, and (somehow) he’s actually making a life for himself. Part of his job is to read flagged e-mails and give warnings to reporters who are using their company e-mail for personal and/or inappropriate e-mails. Which he does in approximately ten minutes each night and then sits for hours with nothing to do. Until he comes across Beth’s e-mails with her friend, Jennifer. He never contacts them to alert them to stop using their company e-mail… and he never stops reading.

What follows is a story about putting together a life in ordinary ways and baby steps. Reminiscent of the movie 500 Days of Summer in the fact that this is a unique love story told from a male perspective, Attachments is also a story about building the life you never expected but always wanted. It is subtle and sweet, and what could have been creepy and wrong turns out just right with characters as relatable and endearing as these.

Rainbow Rowell will have you laughing with your mouth, smiling with your heart, and rooting the leading man on in this fresh debut.

*****

Giveaway!

Dutton has graciously offered to send a copy of Attachments to one lucky winner (since I am not willing to part with mine). If you are interested in having a chance to win this book, please fill out this entry form by Sunday, April 17 11:59 PST. Winner will be announced here at this post on Monday, April 18th.

Update: The winner is Jaycie. Thanks to everyone who entered! 

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
paperback 386 pages
published by Flap Jacket Press in 2007 (originally published 2006)
ISBN-13: 9780979159305

Type: {Weekend Read: a book to curl up on the couch with.}
Rating: {I’m Lovin’ It: Very entertaining!}

Why You’re Reading It:

  • You love anything magical or witchy
  • Stories about New England are your bag
  • You’ve been to or want to go to Salem, Massachusetts
  • You’re a fan of Brunonia Barry

What I Thought:

Let me start by saying that although this book is a New York Times bestseller, there have been mixed reviews from people who have read it. You must remember that bestseller lists portray how many people are buying it, but does not take into account how much people like it once they’ve read it. It’s true, bestsellers are helped by word of mouth, but many are made by publicity and having the right reviewer (or celebrity) endorse the title. On GoodReadsThe Lace Reader has received less than stellar reviews. The Washington Post review, however, tells us that this is the first in what will be a three part series. Knowing this, going in, helps the reader to understand that not all of our questions will be answered and neatly wrapped up by the last page of this first novel.

That being said, I loved it. Perhaps it was because I have just fallen into major crush-mode over Salem, Massachusetts. The book is somewhat a tribute to the town and, having just been there, reading the prose extended my visit. Though the town is what drew me into the story, the characters and plot held me there. Combine magic, generations of women, and a mystery that I have to figure out and I’m pretty much hooked. This book is darker than many would imagine by hearing the title, so please don’t open it thinking you are going to hear about frilly lace and girly sagas. The narrator, Towner, is a woman with a disturbed past, and a highly influenced present because of it. Many reviewers tell you to take her at her word from the beginning of the novel when she states that she is a liar and can’t be trusted, but that won’t help you figure out the ending. The truth is Towner is trying to survive a heartbreaking foundation without having all the pieces to make her well. It isn’t until the end of the book that she, and the reader, begin to figure out what exactly happened to her. So rather than think of her as a liar, think of her as a confused person telling you a story to the best degree that her befuddled memory can portray. Yes, there are parts of this book that are not clear (and, as I mentioned, the ending does not answer every question), but that is because the narrator is not clear about her life. She is as much in the dark about the big picture as we are. Hopefully that, and knowing that there is more to come in the story (by way of the next two novels), will help you appreciate the ebb and flow in this web of a story instead of becoming frustrated by trying to be Sherlock Holmes.

My advice to you; read it. But sit back, relax, and don’t work too hard. Let the story wash over you and remember that there is more to come. There will be enough answers to satisfy your biggest queries, even if you are left wondering about some of the details.

By the way, all three novels’ movie rights have been purchased already, and The Lace Reader movie is already listed as in production.

(this review was originally written November 25, 2009 and posted on my old blog, Coconut Library).

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
hardcover 336 pages
published by Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam in 2011 (originally published in 2010)
ISBN-13: 9780399157226

Type: {Weekend Read: a book to curl up on the couch with}
Rating: {An Unputdownable: Couldn’t eat or sleep until I finished this book}

Why You’re Reading It:

  • You love beautiful language
  • You enjoy a well-crafted story that also pulls you into the plot
  • Books that make you think are your cup of tea
  • You are a fan of Amy Einhorn books
  • You never really agreed with Thomas Wolfe anyway

What I Thought:

If reading The Weird Sisters gives you the same summer-break-lost-in-a-book type of feel as reading The Help did, it may be because they were both published by Amy Einhorn, the woman who publishes book that “hit the sweet spot between literary and commercial - intelligent writing with a strong narrative and great storytelling.”

Eleanor Brown’s debut novel is deliciously smart, and comfortingly engaging. There is the familiar feeling that one gets reading about the Andreas sisters that takes you back to when you were on summer vacation and the days were long with not much to do, so you found books that could fill time and keep you company for hours on end as you sat out on the lawn, or in a tree, or by the lake. The characters became your friends and you almost forgot that they weren’t real. You can still picture their houses in your minds and their towns seem more like places you once visited rather than words on a page.

I won’t go into much detail about the story line here, one that is about three grown sisters who return to live in their parents’ home for varying reasons, the only one in common being that their mother has been diagnosed with cancer (lest you are hesitant to read this book because of the cancer, let me assure you that though cancer plays a role in this book, it is not a story about cancer). Though I have a sibling – it is a brother, and I know that those without two sisters of their own will find worthwhileness in this work. Within its pages are infused nuggets of truth that Brown uses to make this work unique.The language that she incorporates as well as the literary references (most notably Shakespeare’s) remind you that this woman respects her readers. She expects you to follow along whether that means you will need to break out your dictionary, or your dusty volumes of Shakespeare, so be it. And you will, because you feel so much a part of the book, a part of this family, that you won’t want to miss one moment. And you will be grateful that there are still authors who expect you to use your brain, while rewarding you with a story that buries itself in your heart.

This is, ultimately, a story about finding our authentic selves. About how it is almost impossible to see ourselves as others see us, and how we often need them more than we acknowledge to help us see ourselves more clearly. If Thomas Wolfe says that we can never go home again, Eleanor Brown says that sometimes we must — and it might even be good for us.

After you read this (because I know you will.. and if not now, then you will in a few months when everyone you know and their sister/mother/best friend is talking about it), come back and tell me: Was there a sister that you related to the most? (Mine was Rose). Was there a town that reminded you of the one in the book? (I had none, but can assure you I was searching the Internet for one to move to). And most importantly… Did you picture Stanley Tucci as the dad the entire time? (Tell me he wouldn’t be perfect to play the role in a movie adaptation.)

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff
paperback 137 pages
published by Moyer Bell in 1995 (originally published by Avon in 1973)
ISBN-13: 9781559211444

 

Type: {Weekend Read: a book to curl up on the couch with.}
Rating: {Me Likey: Enjoyable! Particularly for fans of this genre.}

Why You’re Reading It:

  • You are a fan of 84, Charing Cross Road and want to find out what happens when Helene Hanff finally makes it to England
  • You are a book lover
  • You are a Hanff lover
  • You are an Anglophile
  • You enjoy (very) short books of non-fiction

What I Thought:

Helene (pronounced Hell-ayne) Hanff’s fans won’t be disappointed with this diary of her trip to England in 1973. After more than two decades of trying to raise the money to go to her beloved England and visit the shop and shopkeepers made famous by her in 84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff finally made it across the pond. While there, she kept a diary at the urging of a friend, and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street is the publication of that diary. Filled with Hanff’s signature wit and stream of consciousness writing style, this book is another homage to the literary world. Hanff, the ultimate book lover and autodidactic, has a British vacation that any book lover would envy. In fact, I found myself marking down references to a number of places to visit next time I am in England. Readers will also find mention works of fiction and authors galore – as is expected in Hanff’s work. It’s enough to make a 137 page book last an extra few days as you consistently set the book down,and  scurry over to the computer for another trip through Google to find out more about what, or who, the author is writing about.

On top of reading for the love of Hanff and all things literary, it is also a great portrait of the world of 1973, and in particular of England. We must remember that, relatively speaking, this trip happened not so long after the end of World War II, and while the country had healed, it was not fully recovered. Many references are made, and legends fresh, that would not be the same if one were to take the very same trip today, almost 40 years later.

Though 84, Charing Cross Road and Q’s Legacy captured my attention more than this book did, I still adore Helene Hanff. Her wit, her style of prose, her intelligence, and her complete comfort in who she is and who she is not endear her to me. She herself was a fan of literature and this comes across loudly in the way that she loved her fans, and wanted to be accessible to them (a trait that has gone out of fashion for many authors whose works have been made famous and optioned into plays and films). This is a must read for fans of Hanff, even if only to see the end of the story started by the beloved 84, Charing Cross Road.

The Family Man by Elinor Lipman

The Family Man by Elinor Lipman
hardcover 305 pages
published by Houghton Mifflin in 2008
ISBN-13: 9780618644667

Type: {Weekend Read: a book to curl up on the couch with}
Rating: {I’m Lovin’ It: Very entertaining!}

Why You’re Reading It:

  • You are a fan of Elinor Lipman
  • You want a good introduction to mainstream GLBT literature
  • Quirky family stories are enjoyable for you
  • You like anything with New York as a setting (and somewhat of a character)

What I Thought:

The Family Man by Elinor Lipman is about Henry Archer, a distinguished gentleman who lives in New York, is a lawyer, and is lonely. Henry is gay, but was once married to Denise and was step-father to Denise’s daughter Thalia. Thalia was ripped from Henry’s life when he and Denise got divorced and was raised as the daughter of her new step-father. When this latest step-father dies Thalia, now an adult, seeks Henry out. She wants a place to stay and she wants to be away from her dramatic mother. Henry allows her to move into bottom floor of his Upper West Side townhouse. The relationship that forms between them is a touching one. Thalia, an actress, is not as stable as Henry and benefits from having a smart, loving influence in her life. Henry, alone and incredibly proper, benefits from having someone love him and help him feel comfortable breaking out of his normal routine. What follows is love in various forms, forgiveness, and humor. Henry is a lovable character and the audience can be pleased to see his life taking on a new spin as an eccentric family is created around him.

(I apologize for the short review. I realized, after writing the review of my most recent Elinor Lipman read, that I had never reviewed The Family Man, my introduction to Lipman, but it is not fresh in my memory as I finished it half a year ago.  I listened to The Family Man on audio – the readers were great and suited the book nicely. I recommend this as an audiobook to those of you who listen to them.)

 

The Pursuit of Alice Thrift by Elinor Lipman

The Pursuit of Alice Thrift by Elinor Lipman
paperback 304 pages
published by HarperPerennial in 2003
ISBN13: 9780007161201

Type: {Weekend Read: a book to curl up on the couch with}
Rating: {I’m Lovin’ It: Very entertaining!}

Why You’re Reading It:

  • You are a fan of Elinor Lipman (this will not disappoint)
  • You enjoy subtle humor
  • Fleshed out characters are meaningful to you
  • You’re looking for an original plotted novel to read

What I Thought:

Alice Thrift is the female equivalent to Sheldon Cooper, however Elinor Lipman has made her more human and less humorous. Not to say that this book isn’t full of humor, only that it’s subtle and not everyone will see it. In fact, it is quite funny and I recommend listening to it in the author’s careful, east coast accent to get the full effect. Once you get used to her (seemingly) monotone way of speaking you realize that it is actually quite perfect for the tone of the book and understand that no one could have done it better. Because, honestly, the tone of the reader can make or break the comedy involved in this work.

While interning in surgery at a Boston hospital, Alice Thrift meets Ray Russo when he comes in for a nose job. She has no idea how life changing this will be for her. This is not a Cinderella story, she does not turn from being a mousy, highly intellectual with social issues to a beautiful, gregarious woman just from meeting Russo. Rather, because of him, a series of events are set in motion that cause Alice to step out of her somewhat tight bubble of a world and take a second look at herself. Alice is not a person who is capable of changing in drastic ways, and I applaud Lipman for staying true to Alice’s character, yet the subtle change in Alice makes all the difference as she builds relationships; first with her roommate Leo, then with her neighbor Sylvie and eventually with her mother and strangers.

What happens with Ray will make you cringe, gag, and keep turning pages to see how Alice will react. Getting to know Alice’s family and her new friends will warm you and remind you that everyone’s family is a little nuts. Seeing the world through Alice’s eyes will charm you. If this were a movie it would be an Indie cult favorite, but it’s not a movie (at least not yet) so go grab the audio book and get to listening. I’ll wait right here to see what you think.

Here if You Need Me by Kate Braestrup

Here if You Need Me by Kate Braestrup
hardcover 211 pages
published by Little, Brown and Company in August of 2007
ISBN13: 9780316066303

Type: {Weekend Read: a book to curl up on the couch with}
Rating: {An Unputdownable: Couldn’t eat or sleep until I finished this book}

Why You’re Reading It:

  • You have recently lost someone you love
  • You know someone who has recently experienced a loss and want a gift to give them
  • You are struggling with the idea of death
  • You enjoy life affirming reads
  • Human kindness and strength is a topic that  intrigues you

What I Thought:

Here if You Need Me is a book about death, yet is oddly life affirming. After losing her husband Drew, a Maine State Trooper, in an accident, Kate Braestrup decides to take up his dream of becoming a Universalist minister. After completing her training she becomes the chaplain for the Maine Warden Service (the Maine search and rescue team) a job in which her main responsibility is to comfort those who are waiting to hear if their loved ones are dead or alive.

With Braestrup’s appealing voice and original, yet universal stories, she reminds us that while we each have our unique stories, tragedies, and triumphs, we are all human. And it is in that humanness that we are connected. We don’t walk alone, no matter how alone we think we are, and our experiences are not singular even though they are personal. Whether purposefully or not, she never gets preachy. And though a minister by trade, she is not an incredibly religious person (and some might argue not religious at all, actually and ironically… I was quite surprised to find out that she does not believe in an after-life).

Each chapter is a different story, yet Braestrup does a good job of weaving them together. Her descriptions of her own experience and the feelings that follow and of those of the people who’s bodies she holds up as they are learning the most tragic news of their lives, are incredibly relatable. Her simple, fat-trimmed way of dealing with life and death is ironically reassuring and comforting.

There isn’t much I can quote here as much of it is best left in context, but one of the incredible points I gained from this work was that even in death there is not just black and white, but millions of shades of grey.

I can’t make these two realities — what I’ve lost and what I’ve found — fit together in some tidy pattern of divine causality. I just have to hold them on the one hand and on the other, just like that. (p. 202)

I highly recommend this short, meaningful work.