What I’m Reading This Week

Nonfiction: Gravedigger’s Daughter: Growing Up Rural by Debra Raye King [click title to read book review by Kathleen Waldvogel] To order King’s book: click here. Fiction: Double Exposure by Jeannée Sacken [click on title to visit author’s website] To order Sacken’s book: click here. Short Story Collection: Tomorrow in Shanghai by May-Lee Chai [click on title to visit author’s website]

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In her memoir Gravedigger’s Daughter, Debra Raye King writes about growing up in a rural farming community near Menomonie, Wisconsin. Her father, John Edward Torgerson, was both a farmer and the local gravedigger–jobs he inherited from his father. In a series of essays, King reminisces about her childhood, which was both normal and unusual. In the 1950s, small rural farms were more plentiful than today, and King’s essays will resonate with readers who grew up on farms or in rural communities. But a small community usually had only one gravedigger, and that part of King’s childhood was unusual.

In the book’s first essay, “Shoveling Eleven Tons by Hand,” King describes her father’s gravedigging duties and how she and her sister eventually assisted him. She skillfully weaves facts, reflections, and anecdotes together, and after reading her first essay, I was amazed by her father and how he approached his duties of gravedigging with dedication and kindness. The essay also teaches readers about a part of death that most of us never think about–the actual process of how the dead are buried in a cemetery. The themes of community, family, and hard work revealed in King’s first essay continue throughout her book.

I’m enjoying King’s book because her essays are heartfelt, because I am learning about a way of life that has mostly disappeared, and because King’s writing is a joy to read.

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The novel Double Exposure by Jeannée Sacken is a sequel to her novel Behind the Lens. I’m reading Double Exposure because I enjoyed Behind the Lens, which is a well-written, fast-paced story with engaging, memorable characters, and captivating story arcs. I also appreciate the dedicated research Sacken did for Behind the Lens because I learned something about Afghanistan and its struggles. To read my review of Behind the Lens on Good Reads click here. [There are no spoiler alerts.]

Annie Hawkins, a war photojournalist, is the main character in both novels. Double Exposure opens with Hawkins in Qatar waiting for a flight back to the United States. She longs to see her boyfriend U.S. Navy SEAL Finn Cerelli and her daughter Mel. However, her boss, Chris Cardona, demands to see her first when she arrives in Washington, D.C., then he informs her that she and their news organization are being sued by a rival news organization. Her ex-husband calls, concerned about their daughter Mel. Soon Annie will need to return to Afghanistan to cover the peace talks between the Afghani government and the Taliban, but she also hopes to find a young woman named Seema who disappeared in Afghanistan. And Annie has secrets she needs to keep from Cerelli. Author Sacken weaves all the action together with snappy dialogue, intriguing twists and turns, and superb storytelling. I started reading Double Exposure last night, and kept promising myself–just one more chapter and then I’ll go to sleep.

Both of Sacken’s book are available on audio: Behind the Lens and Double Exposure.

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Tomorrow in Shanghai and Other Stories by May-Lee Chai was recommended by my daughter-in-law. Because we often love the same books, and because I write short stories, I asked to borrow the book.

The first story in Chai’s collection is “Tomorrow in Shanghai.” I liked this story so much I read it twice. The main character in the story is a young doctor, who entered the medical profession with great expectations for his future. But like Pip in Dickens’s Great Expectations, the young doctor discovers youthful dreams and adult realities are often at odds.

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