Book Review: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

ordinary-graceSo many of my book-loving friends have told me about how much they enjoyed this book. Now I finally see what they were talking about. I actually came to the author through his Cork O’Connor mysteries. Those are quite delightful. So far I’ve read three and I’m looking forward to the remaining twelve. This novel, however is different; it goes beyond the mysterious and digs deeper into the lives of the people and the culture of that family and community.

I want to tell you about Ordinary Grace without letting any spoilers pop out. It will be difficult as I, truthfully, want to just gugh on about it. Frank Drum is a thirteen-year-old boy living in a small town in Minnesota. He is the one telling us the story of the events of the summer in 1961. Frank lives with his father, a Methodist minister, his mother, his older sister who is set to soon attend Juilliard and his younger brother who has a stuttering problem. There’s also Gus who lives in the basement of the church but who is also a good friend to both of the boys.

The novel opens when Frank and his brother discover a dead body by the railroad tracks. We are told at the very beginning that there will be more deaths that summer. The boys had few rules by today’s standards. They were free to roam the town with only a few cautions. This is, remember, 1961. Like many kids his age, Frank had an insatiable curiosity about the adult world. He was quite ingenious in his knowledge of the best places to be to overhear adult conversations. In particular, he liked the conversations between his mom and dad and those between his dad and his dad’s parishioners. This skill of his made him an excellent storyteller, even if the story was just to us, the readers of this novel.

Life was not easy for the Drum family. Frank’s father was the minister for three small churches and his mother lead the choir and his older sister played the piano. Sundays were extremely busy. Frank could sense that there were things not quite right. What and who killed the boy on the tracks? Why was his sister sneaking out late at night? Why did the stranger down by the tracks have a box of hidden treasures that came from various people Frank knew? What secrets were being kept by the famous muscian who was blind and his sister who was deaf?

I couldn’t help but love and feel for Frank and his kid-brother. That was truly a summer filled with trauma for the whole family. There were times when the boys were nearly overlooked. The adults were so involved in their own pain that they forgot to notice that the boys were hurting too. Because the boys were trying so hard to understand what was happening with the adults, they were the ones to solve most of the mystery.

I agree with those who have said this was both a mystery novel and a coming-of-age novel. On top of those two qualities this novel also had such a sense of sweetness that occurred at the end. It tied the title and the whole novel together beautifully. And then, if that weren’t enough, there was a heartening interview with the author at the very end. It may be that this only occurred on the audiobook version which is how I read this book. Bottom line:  This book is an excellent story that I can strongly recommend. If possible, listen to it.

Posted in A+ Books, Literary Fiction, Mysteries | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Wondrous Words #374

WWWEvery week word-lovers post new words they’ve discovered while reading. It’s called Wondrous Words Wednesday and was created by Kathy at Bermuda Onion’s Weblog.

I finished reading David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell over the Thanksgiving holiday and really enjoyed it.. In it I found this word:

terebinth: It is an area of breathtaking beauty, home to vineyards and wheat fields and forests of sycamore and terebinth.

terebrinthI know about sycamore trees, but not terebinth. Terebinth refers to a small southern European tree of the cashew family that was formerly a source of turpentine.


That’s it for me this week. I hope you found some words worth celebrating. Feel free to join Wondrous Words Wednesday. Be sure to visit Kathy for the details.

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What Am I Reading? Emma: A Modern Retelling

Earlier this year I came across a modern version of Pride and Prejudice that was really quite well done. In looking further I learned that there is a whole “Austen Project” underway to tell these old classics, but set them in modern times. Today I’m featuring Emma: A Modern Retelling (The Austen Project #3) by Alexander McCall Smith. All the characters from the original story are present, just set in today’s England.

Here’s how it begins:


Emma Woodhouse’s father was brought into this world, blinking and confused, on one of those final nail-biting days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was a time of sustained anxiety for anybody who read a newspaper or listened to the news on the radio, and that included his mother, Mrs. Florence Woodhouse, who was anxious at the best of times and even more so at the worst. What was the point of continuing the human race when nuclear self-immolation seemed to be such a real and imminent possibility? That was the question that occurred to Florence as she was admitted to the delivery ward of a small country hospital in Norfolk. American air bases lay not far away, making that part of England a prime target; their bombers, she had heard, were on the runway, ready to take off on missions that would bring about an end that would be as swift as it was awful, a matter of sudden blinding light, of dust and of darkness. Quite understandably, though, she had other, more pressing concerns at the time, and did not come up with an answer to her own question. Or perhaps her response was the act of giving birth itself, and the embracing, through tears of joy, of the small bundle of humanity presented to her by the midwife.

What do you think?

Would you keep reading?


firstparagraphEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea shares the first paragraph of a book currently being read. Feel free to join the fun.


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A Good NonFiction: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and The Art Of Battling Giants

david-goliathAs the title implies, Malcolm Gladwell’s theory begins with the Old Testament story of David and Goliath. Most children raised in a Jewish or Christian tradition loved this story. In case you aren’t familiar with it, let me summarize it for you:

Goliath is a powerful fighter, in fact, the most powerful man sent to conquer the Israelites. As some wars were fought in those days, one man challenged the opposition to fight against their most powerful man. But Goliath was so strong and powerful that even the strongest of the Israelites were afraid to go up against him.

And then along comes a young boy, David, who has come to deliver something to his older brothers. David’s main job back home is to take care of the sheep. He knows nothing about being in the army and he has no experience fighting giants. Nevertheless, David studies Goliath as he struts back and forth with his sharp sword. Finally, David says, “I’ll fight him.”

The men of the Israili army are shocked. How can a little boy go up against the best fighter? David insists. He picks up a stone and loads it into his slingshot. He swings it around and around and finally releases it. The stone, flying very fast, strikes Goliath in the head and knoks him out. David runs to Goliath, takes his sword and kills him. 

The author, Malcolm Gladwell, asks the question Sunday School teachers have been asking since the story was first told: How does this story fit into our lives today? In this book, Malcolm Gladwell matches the David and Goliath story against a host of situations and a ton of research. He shows how numerous Davids have analyzed impossible situations and figured, consciously or unconsciously, a way around the odds.

I found the results very interesting. They made me do a lot of thinking. One of my favorite examples has to do with girl’s basketball team of twelve-year-olds. One of the girl’s dads was the coach. He had never played basketball and only two of the girls had ever played. But, the coach studied how the game was played and decided he would teach the girls to do something different. For instance, he noticed that most teams did not really challenge the ball when it came in from out of bounds and on down to the other end. The coach taught his girls to do full-court-press against the incoming ball and challenge the ball all the way to the other end. It threw the opposition off guard and it used up their time. The team found themselves in the national championships by using a strategy that was a diffeerent way to play the game.

  • The author went on to examine other examples of how people took what was assumed to be the most powerful or best way to do something and turned it around to the advantage of those with little power. Here’s a few of the examples he talks about in the book:
  • The large number of successful people who are dyslexic. How did that hapen?
  • Very smart, top-of-their-class college students who get into top universities and then don’t do so well. Would they have been better off at schools with less talented kids?
  • Parents with too much money often creates parenting problems.
  • California’s 3-strikes-and-you’re-out-law caused more problems in the criminal justice system and didn’t solve the problem.
  • How small class sizes are necessarily good for children

This book was a great stimulaor for thinking in different directions. It also created a lot of interesting conversations. I’m not sure that all of the theories in the book are able to stand up to tough scrutiny, but it sure made for stimulating thoughts. I highly recommend it.

Posted in B Plus Book, Nonfiction | Tagged , | 1 Comment