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Land of a Hundred Wonders
by Lesley Kagen

Published: 2008-07-29
Kindle Edition : 289 pages
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From the national bestselling author of Whistling in the Dark comes another funny, poignant, unforgettable story.

The summer Gibby McGraw catches her big break, the cicadas are humming, and it’s so warm even the frogs are sweating. Brain damaged after a tragic car accident that took both ...
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From the national bestselling author of Whistling in the Dark comes another funny, poignant, unforgettable story.

The summer Gibby McGraw catches her big break, the cicadas are humming, and it’s so warm even the frogs are sweating. Brain damaged after a tragic car accident that took both her parents, Gibby is now NQR (Not Quite Right), a real challenge for a fledgling newspaper reporter. Especially when she stumbles upon the dead body of the next governor of Kentucky, Buster Malloy.

Armed with her trusty blue spiral note-book, Gibby figures that solving the murder might be her best chance to prove to everyone that she can become Quite Right again. But she gets more than she bargained for when she uncovers a world of corruption, racism, and family secrets in small town Cray Ridge. Lucky for her, she’s also about to discover that some things are far more important than all the brains in the world, and that miracles occur in the most unexpected moments.

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A Deadline

a ever notice how some folks get well-known for how they dress or hunt or even what kind of truck they drive? Along with my outstanding Scrabble playing, I'm well-known for my newspaper.

Who: Me

What: Reporting

Where: Top O' the Mornin' Diner and Pumps. Cray Ridge, Kentucky, United States of America. Conveniently located at the corner of Main and Route 12.

When: Friday, August 10, 1973

Why: 'Cause if I don't get cracking, next week's front page is gonna have all the pizzazz of a piece of one ply.

I put my favorite No. 2 back to work.

Welcome to Cray Ridge

You can set your watch by Miss Cheryl and Miss DeeDee showing up for biscuits and gravy every Sunday morning at the diner. Miss Cheryl tells me she's a secretary. Her friend, Miss DeeDee, has been experiencing some trouble with her vision, so they've been driving all the way from Paducah to visit regular with Miss Lydia.

As you probably already know, an investigative reporter needs folks to write about. Late breaking stories about trees, for instance, are few and far between. So when I'm not busy bussing tables, I'm allowed to interview subjects from all walks of life who later on become the who what where when and why of my stories. That's one of the things that's so rewarding about working here with Grampa at Top O' the Mornin'.

We're the last stop for refreshments before you hit Highway 75. You'll know the diner when you see it. Shaped like a shoe box, it's got tires washed white and lip pink roses lining the entrance. Candy cane awnings billow like crazy when the west wind kicks up. There's a counter inside with slick yellow stools, booths that sit four, and up at the cash register there's toothpicks—Take Two...They're Free! And since everybody knows what a tremendous part the good or the bad version of luck can play in your life, a rusty horseshoe all the way from Texas hangs lopsided above the screen door that creaks when you open it, but not when you close it. Just another one of life's little mysteries. (In case you haven't noticed...life is chock full of 'em.)

This morning, like every morning, my Grampa, who owns the place, is where he is most of the time when he isn't out on the lake. In the kitchen. Decked out in his white apron and cowboy fishing hat. He's wrassling up the breakfasts he learned to cook in that Army mess, and damn, if there's anything that smells better on Earth than sizzling pork sausage, I wish somebody'd let me know. Oh wait, I just remembered lily-of-the-valley smell...it's simply outta this world.

"Hey, Lois Lane, there's tables need your attention," Grampa yells, sticking his head through the kitchen peek window.

"Gimme a minute, Charlie," I call back. "Gotta get down a few more words 'fore this story flies outta my head."

Lois Lane is not my real name. Grampa's just making a joke due to his keen sense of humor. My real name is Gibson McGraw, but most everybody calls me Gibby. I'm 20, or maybe 33 years old. (I'll check with Grampa and get back to you on this.) I've been living with him permanent in Cray Ridge since the night three years ago, the kind of night anybody in their right mind stays home and is grateful to do so, me and mine were heading down here so I could start my usual summer stay. The rain was gushing down so bad it erased the highway line and our Buick sprouted wings more than a few times. And the sky wasn't the only one spittin' mad that night. The very last thing I can remember my mama saying in her crossest of voices is, "We're not gonna outrun this storm....get off at the next exit and find us a motel...ya got talent at findin' motels, don'tcha, Joe? 'Specially the real cheap kind." Then my Daddy bellowed back, "I'm warning you, Addy... for the last time..."

Little did he know how right he was. A wiper stroke later, we rounded a bend in the road and bounced off a stalled Champion bus, also from Chicago.

Thank the Lord for passing Dixie Oil trucker, Mr. Hank Simmons, who found me wadded up on the edge of a creek and called for help on his 10-4 radio. I got three broken ribs, a gashed up ankle, a cracked collarbone and the worst of all—the left side of my head got dented. Correction: The worst of all was that I became an orphan that night. My mama and daddy made it out of that wagon, but not for long. (See earlier statement about luck. This would be a perfect example of the bad version.)

So that's it in a nutshell. All that I can remember, anyways, about the night I became what Grampa calls NQR, which is his pet name for Not Quite Right, which means—brain-wise—I'm not doing so hot. view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

1. As a result of her brain injury, Gibby interprets the world in a slightly different way than the rest of us do. For instance, the filter that “normal” people employ to keep themselves from saying things that are “inappropriate” is not fully functioning in Gib’s brain. Do you ever wish you could be as honest as she is?

2. What is a miracle? Gibby believes. Do you?

3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of living in a small rural town like Cray Ridge?

4. Life has given every major character in the book lemons. Have they successfully made lemonade?

5. We all experience painful loss in our lives. Do you believe the adage “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”?

6. Gibby’s relationship with her departed mama is as alive as her other relationships. Do you believe in life after death?

7. Much of the relationship between Gibby and her grampa is based on his desire to keep her safe. How do you balance your need to keep your children out of harm’s way and yet encourage them to be brave?

8. Clever is a wild child. What do you envision her future to be?

9. Many of Gibby’s observations of the “colored” characters in the book would now be considered politically incorrect. What do you think of political correctness? Does it at times keep us further apart rather than bring us together?

10. How do you think the Vietnam War affected us as a coun-? try? On a personal level? Were you supportive or did you protest? Why?

11. Gibby finds spiritual solace at Land of a Hundred Wonders. How do you nourish your soul?

12. The relationship between Gibby and Clever is at times adversarial yet you sense that they’d defend each other to the end. Although not related by blood, the two of them function as sisters. Does your relationship with your sister at all resemble the characters’? Do you have a friend with whom you have this sort of relationship?

13. In keeping with the old-time cowboy theme, a few of the characters in the book are stereotypically black-hatted. Do you think people can be born evil or do they behave this way as a result of their experiences?

14. Gib endows Keeper with almost magical powers. Why do you think that is?

15. Miss Lydia is a complex character. Discuss her function within the story.

16. Gibby’s memory, or the lack of it, plays a substantial role in the novel. Can you imagine what it would be like to lose your memory? How much of who we are is based on our past?

17. As Gibby says, “Hope springs internal.” Has there ever been a time in your life when you felt you would not have had the courage to go on without the belief in a hopeful outcome?

18. Janice Lever surprises us in the end. Have you ever known anyone whom you believed to be of questionable virtues do a complete turnaround?

19. At one point in the story, Gibby dispenses eye-for-an-eye justice and is not punished for her actions. Did you find this righteous or offensive?

20. Certain relationships within the story were considered taboo during the early seventies. Do you think times have changed?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Dear Reader,

Though I'm a Midwestener, born and bred, I love the South. The language, the culture, and yes, the food! (I may even have forced my daughter to marry a man from Georgia so I might avail myself of his mother's fried chicken and milk gravy whenever I am so moved.)

That's why I decided to set my newest novel, Land of a Hundred Wonders, in fictional Cray Ridge, Kentucky. Folks who have know each other from birth to death create relationships that intrigue this big city girl. And to make it even more interesting, I chose the seventies at the time frame. It was a volatile era that ushered in significant changes in our society. Mores were shifting, racial tension bubbling, the Vietnam War raging. I was curious to see how those big issues might impact this sleepy Southern town.

Land of a Hundred Wonders is a rip roarin' tale of love and mystery and what it means to be different. Brain damaged in a tragic car accident, my heroine Gibby McGraw is now NQR-Not Quite Right-a real challenge for a fledgling newspaper reporter…especially when she stumbles upon the dead body of Mr. Buster Malloy. Gibby sets out to solve the murder with the hope of proving to her dearly departed Mama that she can get Quite Right again.

Gibby's perception of life can be both hilariously funny and as sad as can be. But it's her spirituality that truly captivated me. Her belief in miracles and in ever-lasting love. I also desperately wanted to write a story from the perspective of a young woman whose life would be considered different. Yes, Gibby is not normal by conventional standards, but, I mean, what is normal? We all claim to be, but who really is Quite Right?

I'm also a great fan of cowboy movies. I grew up with shoot-'em-ups. The simple themes of good guys versus bad guys easily identified by the color of their hats, the hunky guy capturing the heart of a damsel in distress, and the immediate dispensation of justice. I so enjoyed weaving this underlying theme throughout the book! Life is so complicated these days. This down-to-basics stuff sort of makes me swoon.

I hope you enjoy reading Land of a Hundred Wonders as much as I enjoyed writing it.

As Gibby might put it: Happy Tales!

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "more to this book than you think"by Eviee2013 (see profile) 03/28/09

What sounds like it may be a sing-songy light hearted book actually has some pretty deep themes. When everything comes full circle, you appreciate where this book has taken you.

  "Do not recommend."by LWharf (see profile) 03/25/09

Do not recommend.

  "If Lorna Landvik's quirky descriptions of small time life entice you, you will love this book."by Clifford (see profile) 02/14/09

The biggest “Wonder” about this book is how the author, Lesley Kagen, has been able to turn a story depicting a grisly murder mystery into what I would consider a light, and at times funny, beach read.... (read more)

  ""Quite Right" Lesley Kagen! Bravo!!"by FriendshipSisters (see profile) 07/27/11

Author, Lesley Kagen embodies a true talent for bringing her characters to life. I truly feel like I knew each character, at one time or another throughout my life. Two of them, Gibby and ... (read more)

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