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Regis' Bookshelf.

The Lumby Lines

Gail Fraser

New American Library

375 Hudson Street, NY, NY 10014-3657

0451221397, $14.00, www.amazon.com

The Lumby Lines is a friendly laid-back tale that takes place in a remote northwestern town. Here, 4200 relaxed townspeople never seem to take themselves too seriously. All appear rather happy, quaintly removed from anything sinister in the outside world. Lumby moves at its own pace with its own small newspaper: The Lumby Lines. Use your imagination to couple Andy Griffith's friendly town of Mayberry with Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon and you will approximate Lumby.

The story line is not complicated.

1) Vacationing in Lumby where they fall in love with the town's simplicity and tranquil spirit, Mark and Pam Walker pull up their roots and relocate to rebuild Lumby's Montis Abbey. It was built in 1893. Until a fire ravaged the abbey, the main building and its grounds earned historic landmark status. But Pam and Mark are determined to rebuild the abbey and its thirty-four acres into a profitable inn.

2) The monks from the burned out abbey have moved to another location. These men befriend Mark and Pam when they learn of the reconstruction of their beloved former home, yet they are deeply troubled because the skills of penning calligraphy are no longer needed because of today's computerized printing techniques. Once again, the monks can no longer afford the expenses of their present location and are faced with moving again.

3) Not all townsfolk are happy about the restructuring of Montis Abbey. In particular is the owner of the town's newspaper who writes an editorial about the influences Montis Inn might wreak on the towns economy and its inhabitants. "Simply because the Walkers have obtained a business license does not mean their plans are a good thing for Lumby."

How Gail Fraser's quirky characters bring her winsome tale to a believable conclusion is the magic behind Lumby Lines. There are Mark and his wife Pam who leave the East Coast far behind to build a dream in humble Lumby. Both are highly intelligent professionals who desert well-paying jobs to strike out as business entrepreneurs with little or no real experience. But both are willing to learn as they go. They are convinced that love will get them through any difficulty.

There is ninety-year-old Charlotte, an extremely wealthy widow who loves books. She wears simple house dresses about town with her stockings rolled down below her knees. She is extremely generous with her money and decides she needs more excitement in her life than mere gardening. She will remarry. Better known as Charley, Charlotte has married several times.

There is Joshua, a former brother who lived at Montis Abbey before it burned. He seems intrigued by Brook, an architect friend whom Mark and Pam have invited to Lumby to draw up plans for renovating the burned out structure. Fate has brought them together in this picturesque town but will fate also separate them?

Then, too, an artificial flamingo appears around town dressed appropriately or inappropriately for any occasion. Although Hank "prefers" not to talk, nevertheless, author Fraser often includes his probable mental imaginings and self talk.

Where else but in Lumby could a four-year-old Golden Retriever be placed on the ballot for mayor. After a thorough examination of Lumby's law books, "there is no law on the books to prevent a canine from running for, or taking office."

Then there is the fiasco where a ranch in Anchorage, Alaska ships a female moose to Lumby. The Lumby Farmers Association hoped to begin processing moose milk into special "moose cheese." The moose, of course protested because the beast turned out to be an elk-a male elk at that!

Lumby Lines is one of several books by Gail Fraser about this remote town. If you are seeking something light to read, something humorous, something different-an adventurous fun tale that will distract you from the perils of modern reality and help lower your stress level and blood pressure, Lumby Lines can be your tonic.

House Rules

Jodi Picoult

Atria Books

1230 Avenue of the Americas, NY, NY 10020

0743296435, $13.99, www.amazon.com

Emma is the mother of two boys, Theo and Jacob, and husbandless. Because her spouse was unwilling to share the burden of massive amounts of time Emma devotes to their autistic son, Jacob, her husband abandons the family. Alone, she deals with the difficulties of raising their brilliantly autistic son who also has Asperger's Syndrome so he appears as normal as possible.

In truth, the makeup of Jacob's Asperger's brain does not allow him to express feelings. People treat him as an alien to the human race because he knows only frankness. Case in point: in the seventh grade, Jacob sits beside a girl in the cafeteria:

Girl: You wanna taste my slushie?

Jacob: Sharing drinks could give me mono. So can kissing.

Girl (leaving table): I'm going to sit somewhere else ...

Emma's second son, Theo, grows up in this home dominated by constant care for Jacob. Theo feels neglected. To escape their home when Jacob is "freakin' out," Theo becomes a bandit; after school, he often cases out homes. Then, when owners are away, he sneaks inside and steals items he loves: MP3 players, video games, iPods, and CDs.

Jacob, on the otherhand, has an obsession with forensics. He solves murder mysteries on television keeping notes of the clues that led to his conclusions. He reads everything he can to learn about detective work, forensic procedures and techniques, and autopsy discoveries. Often, he stages a murder in his own home and delights when he stumps his mother with the clues he creates.

Jacob's mother pays young Jess, to help befriend Jacob and teach him more appropriate social behaviors. Jess does her very best, which is not enough to keep Jacob's Aspergers's from constantly needing her attention. Jess' boyfriend angrily deserts her because he feels she dotes on Jacob.

After receiving an anonymous tip, police are shocked to find Jess dead not far from her apartment. Her body lies near a culvert in a wooded area with Jacob's favorite blanket wrapped around her. When questioned, his Asperger's forces him to answer every probing question accurately and truthfully. During his trial, he admits to being in Jess' home, repulsed by all the blood found in and around her bathroom. He admits carrying Jess' corpse to the culvert and placing her broken tooth in one of her pockets.

Horrified beyond grief, his mother cannot imagine Jacob surviving in prison. She admits her autistic son occasionally thrashes out in a physical way but surely not in a murderous way. And yet, Jacob's own damning testimony along with convincing forensic evidence undermines hers and Theo's belief in Jacob's innocence.

Jacob's lawyer attempts to enter an insanity plea but psychiatric testing proves Jacob was fully aware of the crime committed. He seems to have a motive. He didn't like the attention Jess gave her boyfriend whom he considered an inferior dimwit. All hope of acquittal seems lost.

This masterful story will have you racing to find out what happens to this young man. Will he survive his court trial? Will he finally admit murdering Jess and deliberately planting clues to mislead police? Or will his absolute honesty somehow save him from what seems like an inevitable guilty conviction?

House Rules will not disappoint. The simple series of events is easy to follow and so well thought out you will find yourself in the story questioning Jacob's innocence. How could the evidence be otherwise? The various chapters move quickly because the tale is told from inside the heads of the main characters: Jacob, his mother Emma, his brother Theo, Officer Rich, and defense lawyer Oliver.

Since I used to work with students with special needs, I must admit that author Jodi Picoult has written the character of Jacob with his Asberger's disorder in an often humorous and yet pathetic way. With his high IQ (140), he will fascinate you. Although his absolute straightforwardness wins him few friends, he always plays by the rules, House Rules. He is incapable of doing otherwise. One can only imagine the hardships his mother and brother encountered trying to train Jacob to act normal.

Jacob: "I have a joke:

Two muffins are in an oven.

One muffin says, "Wow, it's really hot in here."

The other one jumps and says, "Yikes! A talking muffin."

Regis Schilken, Reviewer

www.youknowwhen.org
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Title Annotation:The Lumby Lines; House Rules
Author:Schilken, Regis
Publication:Reviewer's Bookwatch
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 2010
Words:1411
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