Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Joy In The Moment

It's never truly expected.  Whether the cause is an illness, an accident or old age, it can, in seconds, stun you with the finality of the loss. A literal shift in your world is felt; a sense of normal has vanished.  When a cherished one dies, a chunk of you goes with them.  The challenge is to hold on to the best parts of them; filling your memories with who and what they loved.

My dad loved taking pictures.  I have inherited eight carousels, numerous boxes and metal containers of slides.  He used to make his own slides from developed negatives.  Looking at those, knowing how his hands meticulously pieced each one together, fills me full of huge affection and appreciation for this man.

I love taking pictures too.  In one of my libraries, a K-12 school, we built a dark room for the photography and yearbook classes I taught.  Frequent readers of my blog will remember me mentioning having a darkroom in my home.  With digital photography the possibilities of creating astonishing images is nearly without limitation.  But...to stand in a darkroom, putting a negative you've developed into an enlarger, exposing the photographic paper and watching the picture come to life as it passes from one tray to the next is like witnessing magic.

In Circa Now (Disney Hyperion) author Amber McRee Turner, through the shared love of photography, tells a story of being lost and found. A single picture becomes that single pebble thrown into a pond, rippling outward.  The effects are uncertain and life-changing.

Circa Monroe's walk home from school was so gusty, she thought the wind might very well snatch the books from her backpack and rearrange their pages.

When Circa enters her house, going to the large roomy space shared by her parents' business, Studio Monroe, her dad a photo restorer and her mom a portrait photographer, we enter her world.  In the first two chapters we come to comprehend the unique personalities of these two people, how they shape Circa's life.  We become acquainted with a distinctive photographic specialty of Mr. Monroe, the Shopt, the placing of additional images in pictures making them seem a part of the original.

In the next chapter, the third chapter, all sense of normal, disappears from Circa's and her Mom's lives.  During a delivery to a demanding client, three months and three weeks earlier, Circa's Dad is killed in a tornado.  Her Mom's continuing battle with depression increases their struggles.  When the Memory Wall project, her Dad restoring dozens of photographs to help residents in the local assisted living facility, is taken away from her by her Mom, Circa feels like the final thread to her old life has been broken.

Another surprise awaits Circa, her friend, Nattie and her Mom when they return home from church the next Sunday.  They catch a boy trying to escape from their backyard by climbing over their fence.  Miles has no recollection of his past prior to the tornado.  In his things is one of the copies of the reunion photographs her Dad was taking to the park the day the storm hit.

The lives of Circa, her Mom, Miles and Nattie are intricately interwoven together as each works through life's adjustments striving to maintain and strengthen relationships.  What Circa's Mom does not know but Circa, Miles and Nattie do, is Shopt images might hold the key to unpredicted possibilities; curious coincidences or magical moments.  So much depends on defining family.  So much depends on true friendship.  So much depends on lasting love.

In the writing of Circa Now author Amber McRee Turner has given readers a cast of characters for whom we care deeply (Stanley being the hardest to feel empathy). She gives us windows into their hearts through their thoughts and conversations.  You want to hug every single one of them; knowing their strengths and weaknesses.

Turner places these people in some of the most difficult situations; loss of a parent and spouse, loss of home, and loss of memory.  Each chapter, each episode, and each ray of hope, even those shrouded in mystery, creates a plot which swirls around them; connecting them in ways which will make readers gasp.  The pacing is impeccable; you pause when necessary to ponder a point but then race on with your reading wanting to know.

Beginning with the end of chapter two, Turner includes Shopts with short stories scripted beneath them at most chapter endings/beginnings.  This creates further closeness between the readers and this narrative.  There is a descriptive, realistic intensity about her writing.  Here are some samples.

She opened the door and breathed a sigh of relief when she saw that it was Nattie.  Sweet Nat, standing on the front porch holding an armload of paper flowers.
Nattie smiled and held the flowers out to Circa, who noticed right away that they'd been crafted out of at least a dozen kinds of old wrapping paper.  "It's kind of like a whole year's worth of leftover happy," Nattie said cheerfully, looking fancy as ever in her favorite church hat.  Circa had never known Nattie to not be pretty.  Especially today, the way her dark skin contrasted against the pale yellow of her dress.  Circa recognized it as Nattie's Easter dress, but modified somehow.  Like she had snipped a doodad here and there to make it more suited for a regular Sunday.

"Makes me feel really freaky," he said.  "As if I'm just going through motions like some kind of robot person or something."
"Yeah, I bet," said Circa, trying briefly to imagine Miles as a robot.  "But you know what?  My dad used to say something about Great-Aunt Ruby and the other people at Maple Grove.  He said that just because the book's too high up on the shelf to reach, it doesn't mean the story's not there."
"Yeah, I get it," said Miles.  "I just wish I even knew where the shelf was."

The importance of Circa Now written by Amber McRee Turner is in its value to those who have suffered loss and for those who need to support family and friends.  It creates a bridge of understanding rare and rich for all readers.  This is a heartprint title for me, completely uplifting.

To learn more about Amber McRee Turner please follow the link embedded in her name above to access her website.  Here is a link to a 10 Minute Review by Colby Sharp at sharpread.  John Schumacher interviews Amber McRee Turner at Watch. Connect. Read. I have included a link to the lyrics of the song, A Prayer Like Any Other, which is featured frequently in this story.

Here is a special tweet Amber McRee Turner sent out on Twitter.

Here is my non-digital, darkroom Shopt from years ago.  It's Saint Mary's Cathedral, Gaylord, Michigan the old blended with the new.


  1. Pat Godfrey McReeJuly 1, 2014 at 10:01 PM

    A beautifully worded review and one I'm sure Amber will always treasure.

    1. Thank you, Pat. Amber is truly gifted. Circa Now is a very special story.