Category Archives: Book Review

Day 22

This is day 22 of Valley Fever.

At least it’s getting slightly cooler in Arizona, finally.

The roadrunner came back!

The last book I read before I got sick was John W. Howell‘s Eternal RoadWhat a fun and thought-provoking adventure! Click the title to purchase it on Amazon. Last I looked, the Kindle version was $.99!!! Here is my review: Goodreads review of Eternal Road

I was supposed to prepare a video poetry reading for the Bridgewater International Poetry Festival, but I could not handle that. I guess this is not my season for poetry. #wtf2020

That’s all for today, folks. Please wear a mask and social distance!

XOXO

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A Review, A New/Old Bowl, and a Poem

This new WordPress editor really stinks. It’s slow and awkward. I can’t figure out how to get “classic” back. It figures that they would do this in the year 2020.

Three things today. First a book review. Then a new purchase :). And, finally, a new publication.

I wrote a review of Jennifer Givhan’s gorgeous poetry collection Rosa’s Einstein. Her poetry and prose is providing a wonderful new Latina voice to American literature. Here is a copy of the journal that published the review–the Winter 2020 issue of The Main Street Rag.

 

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Now for my new purchase. An item that has lurked in the shadowed corners of my memory is the green glass bowl my grandmother used to pour her potato pancake batter from. She cooked the type of potato pancakes they made where she was born in the Rhineland area of Germany: the batter was smooth and looked closer to that of flour pancakes than of latkes. I loved those pancakes more than any other food, and I have always associated them with the bowl.

I’m pretty sure that my parents got rid of the bowl when Grandma moved to the nursing home. They held a garage sale of her belongings. I had a lot of feelings about that at the time.

When I finally decided to Google the darn bowl, guess what? It’s a “vintage” Anchor Hocking jadeite Fire King batter bowl! It’s not some random thing that just happened to become engrained in my mind. It’s a collectible! So what did I do? I bought one, of course!

Now I am looking for recipes for German-style potato pancakes. Do you have one?

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Shot Glass Journal has published one of my poems. “Fiction” is another Little Red Riding Hood poem. You can read it here:

FICTION

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Cinthia Ritchie’s Malnourished is a Tour de Force

Cinthia Ritchie, BRAG your book!  Start posting reviews or parts of reviews of your new memoir Malnourished on your blog cinthiaritchie.com because after I wrote mine I went on Amazon and saw some great reviews over there.

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Take a look at Cinthia’s book by clicking the image. It will take you to where you can purchase the book on Amazon AND where you can read reviews. This book is fabulous. It’s the kind of book that, if you’re a writer, makes you jealous because she gets it so right, word by word, white space by white space, chapter by chapter. Malnourished is a TOUR DE FORCE. No kidding.

I wrote a review that I will post on Amazon and Goodreads. It doesn’t do the book justice AT ALL. if you want to read a better review, read Carla McGill’s over on Amazon.

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Cinthia Ritchie’s memoir Malnourished is a strange and beautiful trek into the heart of a family. Ritchie has three sisters, and all four girls/women have been tragically affected by their upbringing in a home with a predatory stepfather, a mother who will not see the truth, and a deceased father.

While Ritchie’s sister’s death from anorexia is the catalyst for the book, the subject is Ritchie’s survival story. She shares how she and her sister Deena grew up together, how their relationship expanded and contracted over time, how she and Deena diverged in their responses to life, and where they were similar. While Ritchie claims never to have been an anorexic, she has a complicated relationship with food. Ritchie has exhibited starvation and other dangerous symptoms of emotional distress and control over her body. In this memoir, Ritchie manages to open up a space where we can think, discuss, soul-search human relationships with food as emotionally-charged metaphor and how that power plays out on our bodies.

Reading this story gave me insight into how personalities and desires are shaped by experience. For example, Ritchie is a serious runner who craves being outdoors. By reading Malnourished, I was able to feel what it would be like to need to run, to sleep outside under the stars. A small bedroom offers no place for a child to run from a menace that lurks inside the house, one which makes the walls complicit with the stepfather.

What I’ve written here might sound like Ritchie explains all this in the book. While she does reflect on her experiences, her gorgeous, lyrical writing does not “tell” the reader, so much as allow the reader into her world to figure things out for herself. Most importantly, Ritchie’s generosity in baring herself for scrutiny and understanding is such a gift to every reader.

Malnourished is not a comfortable read. It’s a work of art that nudges readers from our comfortable seats, from the comforting ways our minds purposefully arrange our interior landscapes. The beauty of the way Ritchie arranges her words will keep you going even through the darkest passages.

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Felix still has an upper respiratory infection. The vet says that it can last three weeks. Because he has to stay in the bedroom all this time (isolation), I have a lot of anxiety about him being lonely. Poor baby. Please send him healing vibes so he gets well soon and can be let out of the bedroom!

I started experimenting with writing weird poems about everyday subjects and objects, inspired by reading Matthew Lippman’s new poetry collection Mesmerizingly Sadly Beautiful. I’m not even done reading it yet!

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Rereading Plath

I just read Sylvia Plath’s Ariel: The Restored Edition. My parents gave me this copy, at my request, years ago. I think the hard copy (which I have) was published in 2004, so it might have been that year. While I have skimmed it many times, I hadn’t  really read it cover to cover until now.

But don’t think I’m a newcomer to Ariel, Plath’s final and most groundbreaking poetry. While I am not a Plath expert, especially since I have not been involved with the academic world for many years, I do have a lot of experience with Plath’s work.

For instance, I performed an oral explication of the poem “Fever 103” for my master’s thesis. This one will always be my favorite Plath poem.

Then for my PhD dissertation, I wrote a chapter about Plath and the “carnivalesque.”  But my favorite experience was writing a chapter,  “Higgledy Piggledy Gobbledygoo: The Rotted Residue of Nursery Rhyme in Sylvia Plath’s Poetry” for Betty Greenway’s Twice-Told Children’s Tales: The Influence of Childhood Reading on Writers .

More recently, I’ve had two poems published at Plath Poetry Project; I find her work helps open the floodgates of imagination.

I believe that Plath is one of the greatest 20th century poets in the English language. We could debate the possibility of a few others being in her league, but not many.

Don’t think I don’t see her flaws. For one thing, there are her personal flaws. She was not always the nicest person, and she could be a crazy bitch. She didn’t really try too hard to make herself a better person, just a better writer. If I had known her in person, I doubt I would have liked her.

Her writing has some flaws, too, but mainly because EVERYTHING is out there in public. If she had lived, she would not necessarily have published everything–and even if she had there are poems I believe she would have later revised or withdrawn from future editions of her books.

Back to the book I’m reading. Ariel was published posthumously, after Plath committed suicide, by the way. You need to know that to see where I am going with this.

This newer copy of Ariel includes all the poems Plath intended in the collection in the order she intended them. The original publication of Ariel featured a collection arranged and edited by her estranged husband, English poet Ted Hughes.

I experienced a very distorting and disturbing ride reading the collection Plath’s way.

I have always kind of hated Hughes for cheating on Plath, which started the beginning of her end. But he did a great job putting Ariel together–a much better job than the poet herself. Maybe she was too close to the project. Maybe she would have rearranged everything herself if she had lived. But Hughes did it and he did it well.

The collection as Plath left it has a lot of rot in it, if you ask me. Many of the poems do not seem strong. Poems that are in the Hughes version do not seem strong now. I can only conclude that the placement of the poems within the collection guide our reading. Surrounding poems add to the appreciation of particular poems.

I think “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus” are absolutely brilliant. So are a few others. But some others, hmm. I see her trying out images in some poems and then using them much better in others.

The biggest annoyance (actually makes me really angry) is the way Plath uses the black or African body as metaphor. In “The Jailer,” she includes the line: “Pretending I am a negress with pink paws.” This is no brilliant metaphor; rather, it’s stooping low to grab at an old-time stereotype, a vision of the “black body” as animalistic. No no no no.

There has been a helluva lot of discussion about her use of Holocaust victim imagery in her most famous–and other–poems. But those are not relying on old stereotypes, but rather employing poetic conceit, a term that means a metaphor that is stretched a bit extra and might even be shocking or strange, but that works. John Donne was the master of conceit, and he was one of Plath’s inspirations.

So I am disappointed to read this version. Plath’s latter poetry blew open American poetry, and for that she must be honored. But let’s be honest about the poems like “The Jailer” that just might suck.

Thank you, Ted Hughes.

NEVER thought I’d write those words.

#thisisnotabookreview

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OK, I don’t expect you to go another week without a Perry photo! Sometimes he is naughty, trying to instigate the other cats to play when they want to rest, so I zip him into his little playpen (which I have shown you before). So now if he’s naughty he runs into his little CUBE instead of the playpen because he thinks I will think he’s in time out, but in reality he can get out on his own. HAHAHAHAHA. He is so smart. And a nut.

 

And you might want to see another pic of my granddaughter Riley.

CUTE!!!!!!! But what do you think? Can you tell what breeds of dog went into making up this pretty girl? The shelter told my daughter she was part Australian shepherd. HAHAHA.

I think that might be a no. What breed dogs do YOU see in Riley? She is four months old and weighs ten pounds. I won’t tell you where my daughter and her fiance are leaning at this point because I don’t want to sway your opinion.

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Book Review: Leora’s Letters OR How I Learned Empathy for Americans During WWII

Last week I experienced an emotional interior life as I read Joy Neal Kidney’s nonfiction book Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II. 

I first met Joy through her blog attached to her website: JOYNEALKIDNEY.COM

Gradually, I realized that her family story was quite remarkable, and that Joy had put it into book form. Since Joy is a joy to communicate with on her blog and mine (articulate and kind), I decided to read her book, which was written in conjunction with Robin Grunder,  although WWII is not really “my area.”

Before I started the book, I already knew the gut punch of the book; it’s not a secret that one finds out only by reading. The horrifying reality is shared right on Joy’s website. Joy’s mother Doris had five brothers. All five young men entered the war on behalf of the United States. Only two brothers came home at the end.

Although it might seem counter to know this fact up front, it actually heightened the suspense because I was reading carefully for the details of their lives as the war began and then continued, luring one by one of the brothers into the war. I wasn’t sure who would survive and who wouldn’t—or what would happen to them before they died and how they would die. What a page turner!

I was captivated by the life of these Iowa farmers from the beginning. Hard working and smart, they also were satisfied with so little—simple, healthy food; satisfying work to perform; family togetherness; and aspirations for the future. I fell in love with each one of these brothers as they shared their hearts and lives through letters to family members, especially their mother Leora. They were not small-minded or selfish, but operated out of honor and a humble pride.

During the last section of the book, I was reading in the doctor’s waiting room because I couldn’t put the book down except when I absolutely  had to. I read something so really small, but so powerful, that I burst into tears right there in front of the other patients. That’s a warning to you if you read the book in public.

This book is not a novel. It doesn’t have the frills of one. Joy curated the letters and wove the story around  the letters in a very graceful way. I was so impressed with the powerful and understated writing skills that went into crafting the book. The editing job was also well done. Now I have much more feel for what my father-in-law went through in WWII. And for that entire generation.

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My father-in-law Murray Scheshko (later known as Castle) was part of the 353rd Fighter Group that flew bombing missions over occupied Europe. They are considered heroes in England. Murray was not a pilot. He was staff sergeant, an “armourer,” which means that he was in charge of the weapons for the group. His file was destroyed in the 1973 National Archives fire, but there are records associated with his payment history. According to a transcript of the record he also served in the following “battles and campaigns”:

  • Air Offensive Europe
  • Central Europe
  • Normandy
  • Northern France
  • Rhineland
  • Ardennes-Alsace

Here is a photo of Murray:

Murray died in 1984 from a heart attack he experienced while on a commercial plane flight.

I never thanked him for his service.

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Go. Read. Hunting the Devil by Suanne Schafer

I could not put down Suanne Schafer’s new novel Hunting the Devil until I ran out of pages to read. You might recall that I wrote about her first novel, A Different Kind of Fire, and loved it. The new story is entirely different from the first one, but another literary success. Furthermore, Hunting the Devil seems a very important book.

Here is my review, which is also posted on Goodreads and Amazon.

Suanne Schafer demonstrates once again that she knows how to write novels that defy genre boundaries and engage on many levels. Hunting the Devil, her most recent publication, is a historical war story that takes place in Rwanda, but also holds elements of a medical thriller and an unconventional romance complete with love triangle. The cinematic experience of reading this important book is still with me weeks after reading the last page.

Dr. Jessica Hemings, an American medical doctor, is in Rwanda to establish a clinic to treat poor Rwandans when civil war breaks out. With her biracial American features, Hutu paramilitary identify her with the Tutsi population they are committing atrocities upon, so her life is in danger. After her twin babies are killed, Jessica escapes across the country while planning revenge upon the murderer of her children.

The short chapters with initial place names and dates make a complex book easy to follow. Schafer’s descriptions are apt and illuminating, but never drag down the pace of the story. An ex-physician, she knows how to write about medical issues in a way that is believable and comprehensible to the layperson.  The interpersonal relationships and inner landscapes of the main characters are well drawn. Unlike a lot of writers, Schafer even writes sex scenes well.

I knew so little of the Rwandan Civil War when I began this book. Since finishing it, I’ve done some more reading. Schafer has cast this devastating and enthralling story upon a well-researched setting. In doing so, she introduces her readers to an event in history that needs a prominent place in our understanding of world history. She does this through an action-packed can’t-put-it-down storytelling style. I have been recommending the book to family and friends. When anyone asks me how I could read about the atrocities, I explain that as a reader one becomes so caught up in Jessica’s experience that one is compelled to keep going. There is no going back. And for that I am so grateful. The book changed me forever.

Suanne Schafer

You can find the book at these links:

 

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My Review of Punishment in Main Street Rag

Main Street Rag just published their latest issue, and in it is my review of Nancy Miller Gomez’s chapbook Punishment.

I’ve had a lot of friends who have taught in prisons around the country, and so when I heard her collection was based on her own experiences teaching poetry writing in a prison, I eagerly signed up to review it.

Here is a copy of my review (starts halfway down the page). Click on the image to read more closely.

Punishment is a Rattle Chapbook Series selection, and you can find links to poems and how to purchase the chapbook here:

Chapbooks: Punishment

I’ll leave you with the first and title poem in the book.

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Monday Update

My  review of Karen Paul Holmes’ poetry collection No Such Thing as Distance has been published in the latest edition of the esteemed journal Pleiades.

If you get your hands on this gorgeous issue, you can find out why I think there are commonalities in Holmes’ work and mine. OK, here are some hints ;). She is also from Michigan, and the sense of place–places, really–is very important to her work. Also prominent are family and family history. Her book is beautifully written and extremely accessible.

On another note, I’m having foot troubles. And I also had a very telling dream. But first the feet.

My right foot is the one that has a reconstructed navicular bone. That happened 13.5 years ago and was a big, big deal. Now I have to be really careful so that that bone doesn’t shatter. About nine months ago I developed plantar fasciitis in the left foot, and no matter what I do, the pain is not letting up. This puts pressure on the right foot, of course. Then Friday morning I dropped my cell phone on my right big toe. Please let me out of this nightmare.

MRI Prep

Speaking of dreams. Did you know that if you dream of a litter of kittens it means that you are feeling swamped and overwhelmed? The other day I dreamed that the shelter where I volunteer was closed temporarily. I went to check on it. Of course, it wasn’t that place at all, but an old-fashioned storefront with the store divided into three big rooms, all with glass windows in front. I knew right away why they were closed. They were overwhelmed–literally filled to the ceiling with kittens. There wasn’t even an inch between kittens. There must have been thousands in there. I wasn’t worried for the kittens because I knew the shelter would take care of them, but I was shocked at how many there were.

So do you see how overwhelmed I have been this month????????? I know in the end it will be ok, but I have never felt so overloaded with work as I have this month. I sure hope I get April to write poetry!

(Weirdly, I have worked on a little essay, but only the last couple of days, and I don’t know if it will turn out or not).

Sending love out into the universe. Please send back some extra minutes haha.

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Review of Kin Types in Latest Issue of Main Street Rag

Alice Osborn has reviewed my chapbook Kin Types for the new Winter 2019 issue of Main Street Rag. 

 

I love how she calls the book a “labor of love.”

It’s a beautiful issue with fiction and poetry, an essay, and quite a few book reviews, and best yet, it’s only $6! Click this link.

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KIN TYPES IS AVAILABLE AT AMAZON:

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Remember my kitty Tiger, star of The Bitch’s Tale? She has gotten a bit skinny, so I took her to the vet for bloodwork and urinalysis. Her kidney and liver values are now elevated, and she had to have an add-on test for pancreatitis. Please send positive vibes and prayers for Tiger that she just has slow aging issues and not a serious illness. I had thought Tiger was 14, but after recalculating and conferring with my son, we believe she is at least 15.

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Suanne Schafer on the Writing of A Different Kind of Fire

When I attended the Stanford online writing program, I met fellow writers with whom I’ve developed a lasting bond. One of my favorites was not even in my nonfiction program, but rather a fiction specialist, Suanne Schafer. Before her first novel, A Different Kind of Fire, was hot off the presses and in my waiting hands, I knew it would be a good read. I just didn’t know how wonderful a book it would turn out to be! When I finished reading this historical (women’s, LGBTQ, art, Texas) novel, I begged Suanne to write about the book for my blog, and she kindly agreed.

You can read my Goodreads review here.

MEET SUANNE SCHAFER, AUTHOR OF A DIFFERENT KIND OF FIRE

A Different Kind of Fire began as an homage to my grandparents. According to family legend, my grandfather had vowed he would never marry unless he married his childhood sweetheart. My grandmother, though, had other ideas. She traipsed off to the Chicago Art Institute with the goal of becoming an artist. Several years later, she returned to West Texas—one child in tow, pregnant with another, and abandoned by a fellow artist, a European nobleman she’d had to marry. Steadfast Bismarck waited seven years for her husband to be declared dead before Bismarck could finally achieve his goal.

To disguise the fact that I was writing a family history, I set A Different Kind of Fire some twenty years before my grandmother went off to art school. Originally, I adopted the contemporary romance format of alternating points of view to reveal a love story. Eventually I realized I didn’t really want to write a family history—I wanted my story to be larger than that. The more I researched the Gilded Age, the less interesting Bismarck became. Back on the ranch doing the same thing day after day, he wasn’t as intriguing as a young woman suddenly on her own in a big city, encountering suffragettes, bohemian artists, misogynist professors, and handsome European nobles. I wanted to write herstory not history.

I chose a very close third-person point of view for A Different Kind of Fire because I wanted readers to feel as though they were Ruby. To accomplish that, I had to become Ruby, to see only through her eyes, to experience only those things she could directly experience. Showing Ruby’s world through an artist’s eyes proved to be a two-part task. As a teenager, I painted well enough to be expected to follow in my grandmother’s footsteps. In an act of defiance, I became a photographer instead. Both art forms required an eye for line and color as well as a sense of composition, so I already saw the exterior world as an artist would. Thus, translating Ruby’s love for her West Texas home was relatively easy. For her, the drab landscape carried colors most folks never saw: “clouds turned scarlet and yellow against the cobalt sky” and “moonlight silver-plated puffy clouds … and gave an argent shimmer to the grasses below.” She sketched a bleached cow skull and “lightly penciled a copperhead wandering through the eyeless sockets, an insolent S snaked” over paper washed with a “venomous green.”

What proved more challenging was revealing how art permeated every aspect of Ruby’s existence. When she first saw Bismarck nude, her immediate desire was to draw him—she created precisely-detailed anatomic sketches guaranteed to shock viewers of the era. Art influenced even Ruby’s subconscious. I pulled an experience from my own life to illustrate this. I always knew when my grandmother occupied my dreams—I woke to the smell of turpentine. So, when talking to her friend Willow, Ruby confided that she “dreamed of art in the same way she dreamed of making love, awakening with the smell of turpentine and linseed oil in her nostrils, as rich and intoxicating as a lover’s scent.”

Line, color, and composition also informed Ruby’s emotions. When her third child was stillborn, she tailored his christening gown to fit his premature body, then “cradled his skull and, with her hand, fixed its geometry in her brain. Her thumb inscribed the arc of his brow in her memory. Her nose imprinted the scent from the crook of his neck on her dreams. The pad of a finger applied the burnished new-penny color of his hair to her mind’s palette. Her arms held him, awed by how his tiny body made her soul feel so heavy. Finally, she sketched her son so she would never forget his innocent face.”

Years later, when Bismarck became paralyzed by being thrown from a horse, Ruby saw him in terms of color: “His eyes, the new-denim blue now turned to faded chambray … By kerosene light, his skin looked yellow. The color of life giving way to death.” The intimacy of working with his frail body gave Ruby new insight into the Biblical scene of Christ in the Selpulcher as she painted “the blue-gray of lips no longer warmed by blood, the greenish cast to the face, the way white flesh hung slackly from bone when unsupported by functioning muscle.”

Ruby experienced the births of five children, the loss of three of them and her beloved Bismarck. At age fifty-four as she pursued another love in New Mexico, she still viewed the world through the filter of art, seeing the world’s highlights and shadows as if on a canvas, “With little atmosphere to filter the sun, New Mexican light blazed intense and harsh, blinding her. The effect was strangely unsettling. Brilliant daylight bleached important details. Dense shade obscured others. Salient information got lost in those extremes. The narrow range of mid-tones didn’t tell the full story.”

Through a close third-person point of view, I hope I captured not only the tastes, smells, and other sensations that made up Ruby’s life, but the sentiments that bound her to her family, her lovers, her home; the innate disposition and moral code that overlay her actions; and most of all the colors, lines, and composition that guided her art.

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Purchase the novel at Amazon by clicking on the book cover.

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