Review: The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Light Between Oceans
By M.L. Stedman

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

Author Stedman wove together a tale of choice and consequence and tossed in an isolated island and carefully pieced it together for the reader to witness and then judge the outcome. The ending surprised me and no—I’m not telling.
Most of the novel takes place on a one square mile island called Janus Rock, over a hundred miles from the Australian mainland. Tom Sherbourne has returned from WWI and though he appears in perfect health, what he carries inside haunts his every dream.
“Tom isn’t one of the men whose legs trailed by a hank of sinews, of whose guts cascaded from their casing like slithering eels…But he’s scarred all the same, having to live in the same skin as the man who did the things that needed to be done back then. He carries that other shadow, which is cast inward.”
The small village of Point Partageuse on the south-western corner of the Australian continent is where the beginning of this story is set—as well as the end. Here is where Janus Rock lighthouse is based and it is where Tom meets his future wife, Isabel Graysmark. Together they move to Janus Rock and begin a life that at first seems straight from a Nickolas Sparks novel. At first.
“Tom dashed to his desk for paper and pen. He sat down to write, before realizing he had no idea what to say. He didn’t want to say anything: just send her a smile.”
It drips romance. Those two love-birds. Well, one thing led to another and after not one, or two, oh no, author Stedman drags the reader through three miscarriages and then something seems to save the day. Everything has a price. A rowboat washes ashore and the novel races into a storm that lashes out and nearly destroys them both; inside this small vessel is a dead man and, of course, a newborn baby that is very much alive.
“He handed her the bundle, and tried again to revive the stranger: no pulse. He turned to Isabel, who was examining the diminutive creature. “He’s gone, Izz. The baby? It’s all right, by the looks. No cuts or bruises. It’s so tiny! There, there. You’re safe now, little one. You’re safe, you beautiful thing.”
Safe. And of course, the baby they found has a birth mother on the edge of insanity with worry. Wondering where her new-born infant and husband with a weak heart have gone to? This is where the story fell into a predictable, dread-loaded formulaic pattern. With nearly unbelievable layers of story, I trudged on with Isabel and Tom and this newly found little life they named Lucy. One of the saving graces of Stedman’s angst-filled novel is the writing. It’s simply beautiful. And, I seem to have a weakness for island-settings, so there was that as well since Janus Rock is really more of a character than the setting.
This is a story of choices and a reminder that even if a man (and a woman) live on an island, life will come and find you.

• Great for Book Clubs
• What would you have done?

View all my reviews

Review: The Hearts of Men


Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson


This is a guy’s book; a grownup Boy Scout’s novel. It’s for some women too. Women who have loved bad men who broke their heart or men who came home from war, lugging the war with and—it’s about love and loss and hope. And underneath, it’s about revenge.

One of the main characters is the setting, a fictionalized Boy Scout camp situated on a chunk of beautiful land north of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, nestled along Bass Lake. The impressive collection of human characters in this story spans six decades and three generations, but swims around and around author Butler’s main Boy Scout; Nelson. Early on, when Nelson is a young man at camp, he is given some advice that follows (and haunts) him for the rest of his life.

“…the truth is, not all of these boys will become good men…good human beings. We do our best, try our damnedest to guide them, and instruct them. But in the end…Some boy in this room will become a murderer; another, a bank robber. Some of these boys will cheat on their taxes, others on their wives.”

As the interconnected storylines unfold, many of Nelson’s ‘friend’s’ lives unravel into divorce, murder, booze and loneliness. Through it all, Butler manages to wrap everyone’s life around some core Scout beliefs that if you walk with a moral code of good in your back pocket, somehow things could turn out. Or not.

“And now Jonathan turns his back on the younger boy, moves his head out of the tent, into the rain, “Sometimes,” he begins quietly, “I think you get mixed up in something, and it’s like stepping into a river. The current takes you and the next thing you know, you’re swimming…” He stands up fully and is gone, the flaps undulating behind him like green canvas curtains.”

On several occasions, stepping into a new scene or chapter, I had to backtrack in order to find the story thread forward. Once on track, the story moved onward in ways I found both exhilarating and very, very dark. Like life. Though female characters are few, one stands out, Rachel. Her inner thoughts are rich, rough, raw and sadly true.

“She’ll never marry again. Why would she? And it isn’t that she even desires another husband, or even, for that matter, a man, a lover. Men bore her, frankly. If only it weren’t so lonely, fighting the single-parent fight. Wouldn’t it be nice, she thinks, to simply have someone to confide in? Who had dinner ready when she came home from work?…To help pay the bills, carry the garbage out, remove a dead mouse from the basement…Just the kind of garden-variety male come-on a woman endures all the time until, of course, her body ages into simple invisibility.”

As the pages literally fly by and the ending lands neatly around you, Butler leaves you with a small ray of hope. And isn’t that what a really good read should do?


  • Soon to be a movie
  • Wisconsin Author
  • MORE has it—run!

Review: Wherever You Go, There You Are

Wherever You Go, There You Are
Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wherever You Go, There You Are
By Jon Kabat-Zinn

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

The rest of the title is; ‘Mindfulness Meditation In Everyday Life’ and though it was written in 1994, the concept is pretty timeless. And since the political landscape has gotten so charged, I figured it would be helpful. Similar to Eckhart Tolle’s book, ‘The Power of Now’ author Kabat-Zinn stresses the importance of being present.
Not being a present as in gift, but stepping into your life with clarity and presence of mind is the key element discussed in this guide. This is harder than you may think. One of the linchpins that the author shares, and I find useful, is to focus on breath. Don’t worry that you have to have a fancy chant, use some kind of shrine or bang on a gong. You don’t. But you do have to breathe. The author says it best;
“Think the grass is always greener somewhere else or life is better in someone else’s shoes? If so, life will constantly disappoint you. True contentment comes from within—and you can uncover the spiritual treasure buried within you through meditation.”
“Blending Western thought and Eastern practice, this is the book that introduced meditation to America…you can learn the simple practice of breathing and focus to keep yourself in the present…to let stress wash over you rather than try to shut it out…find strength where you least expect it and even take charge of your health by adjusting your perspective.”
One aspect of this book/guide I did find a tad confusing was the explanation of just exactly what is meditation. Being a semi-normal dude I want to know how it’s done, right? As if there’s this exercise that I can latch onto and power through and when I’m done, and catch my breath, I’ll have this sudden clarity. Well, it’s not as simple as that and this is why the author spends a great deal of time using metaphor and quotes to give the reader examples of meditation.
“Meditation is more rightly thought of as a “Way” than as a technique. It’s a way of being, Way of living, a Way of listening, a Way of walking along the path of life and being in harmony with things as they are.”
In other words, it isn’t something you do in physical terms, though breathing is pretty important, it is a state of mental ‘being-ness.’ Put another way, meditation isn’t a way to change how you think by thinking more. It’s the act of watching, observing thought. This is where so many who want to bring this practice into their daily lives seem to get stuck.
Being ‘mindful’ is another way of considering this.
“TRY: Setting aside a time every day for just being. Five minutes would be fine…Sit down and watch the moments unfold, with no agenda other than to be fully present. Use the breath as an anchor to tether your attention to the present moment. Your thinking will drift here and there, depending on the currents and winds moving in the mind, until, at some point, the anchor-line grows taut and brings you back to the breath in all its vividness, every time it wonders…Think of yourself as a mountain.”

• Mindful groups are forming all over
• Take a walk
• Be present

View all my reviews

Review: A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Man Called Ove
By Fredrik Backman

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

Man. If you have not heard of this author, Backman, you are in for a major treat. Major. Over the holidays my mom handed this off to me and said to ‘just give it a look.’ Right. I read it in like three bites and am going to read everything this author has even thought of writing. Hard to explain his particular technique. First off, this story is fiction, takes place in Sweden and centers around a really unusual character. Ove.
Early on, as the story begins to weave its magic, you learn that Ove’s wife, Sonja, has passed away. How and why and all that surrounds it will be shared in little bits as you move along through Ove’s life in the row house he has occupied for a very long time. To say the man is anal—set in his ways like a train to a track, is honestly putting it lightly. Within this tight framework that will completely envelop you, in waltz the most colorful and kind and broken and overweight and pregnant and needy neighbors. Together they forge a family of misfits that will steal your breath away.
But it’s the love and loss he holds in his enormously huge heart for Sonja and their unborn child that carries him on.
“And she wept. An ancient, inconsolable despair that screamed and tore and shredded them both as countless hours passed. Time and sorrow and fury flowed together in stark, long-drawn darkness. Ove knew there and then that he would never forgive himself for having got up from his seat at that exact moment, for not being there to protect them. And knew that this pain was forever.”
Though the bulk of the story is told in third person; Ove did this, Ove kicked that tire and so forth, many of the kernels filled with gold are given life through author Backman’s snappy dialog.
“Good Go—are you crying now?” Ove asks in amazement. “I’M NOT BLOODY CRYING!” she howls, her tears spattering over the dashboard. Ove leans back and looks down at his knee. Fingers the end of the paper baton. “It’s just such a strain, this, do you understand?” She sobs and leans her forehead against the wheel as if hoping it might be soft and fluffy. “I’m sort of PREGNANT! I’m just a bit STRESSED, can no one show a bit of understanding for a pregnant bloody woman who’s a bit STRESSED?!”
The pacing of the novel was at first a little tricky to get used to; leaping from present to the past and back again, but after a few chapters, you get the rhythm and fall for Ove and can’t seem to stop flipping pages. Throughout the novel are little life lessons all woven into the utterly amazing world of Ove. A world full of need. And it is that single thing that gives him a reason to live without his dear Sonja.
Even if you choose to not read this novel, take this with you;
“One of the most painful moments in a person’s life probably comes with the insight that an age has been reached when there is more to look back on than ahead. And when time no longer lies ahead of one, other things have to be lived for. Memories, perhaps. Afternoons in the sun with someone’s hand clutched in one’s own. The fragrance of flowerbeds in fresh bloom. Sundays in a café. Grandchildren, perhaps. One finds a way of living for the sake of someone else’s future. And it wasn’t as if Ove also died when Sonja left him, He just stopped living.”
But you, dear reader, have not. Now go and get you some Ove!

View all my reviews

Review: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hillbilly Elegy
A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
By J.D. Vance

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

This is how this book begins;
“My name is J.D. Vance, and I think I should start with a confession: I find the existence of the book you hold in your hands somewhat absurd.”
Well, absurd is how many feel right about now considering the election of Donald Trump. A total opposite of what one would imagine a hillbilly to be. Yet he was elected by what many refer to as the forgotten ones; rural working-class whites. It is from this group that author Vance addresses (in sometimes clumsy prose that truly could have used at least one more edit) an often-neglected sector of voters in search of a hero. His story is full of heart-ache and wrapped up tight in a strong desire to give voice to what he refers to as his people.
“…I grew up poor, in the Rust Belt, in an Ohio steel town that has been hemorrhaging jobs and hope for as long as I can remember.”
Pretty raw. Instead of me waxing on this way or that, I’m going to let Vance paint more of his life for you.
“I was one of those kids with a grim future. I almost failed out of high school. I nearly gave in to the deep anger and resentment harbored by everyone around me. Today people look at me, at my job and my Ivy League credentials, and assume that I’m some genius, that only a truly extraordinary person could have made it to where I am today. With all due respect to those people, I think that theory is a load of bulls@#t…I want people to understand what happens in the lives of the poor and the psychological impact that spiritual and material poverty has on their children. I want people to understand the American Dream as my family and I encountered it. I want people to understand how upward mobility really feels.”
And this, this is the sentiment that sums up Vance’s struggle to find his place.
“And I want people to understand something I learned only recently: that for those of us lucky enough to live the American Dream, the demons of the life we left behind continue to chase us.”
There. That should open the door to this young man’s thoughts and frustrations, his really, really hard struggle to simply find what so many of us, hell, most of us, take for granted.
“…to understand my story, you have to delve into the details. I may be white, but I do not identify with the WASPs of the Northeast. Instead, I identify with the millions of working-class white Americans of Scots-Irish descent who have no college degree. To these folks, poverty is the family tradition—their ancestors were day laborers in the Southern slave economy, share-croppers after that, coal miners after that, and machinists and millworkers during more recent times. Americans call them hillbillies, rednecks, or white trash. I call them neighbors, friends, and family.”
After time in the marine corps, Vance is accepted to Yale Law School and graduates with full honors at the top of his class. Yet this is not a story of how to make it in the world, it’s an expose of the underbelly of a world most of us know little or nothing about.
I think it’s time we did.

• #1 bestseller in—Poverty
• Great for Book clubs
• Needs to end—Poverty

View all my reviews