Category Archives: Book Review

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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Filed under #AmWriting, #writerlife, #writerslife, Book Review, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Writing

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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Filed under #AmWriting, #amwriting, #writerlife, #writerslife, Book Review, Literary Journals, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Writing

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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Filed under #writerlife, #writerslife, Book Review, Family history, Kin Types, Nonfiction, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Writing

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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Filed under Book Review, Books, Fiction, History, Interview, Novel, Writing Talk

Author Kelli Donley on the Arizona Indian Schools

Recently, I read a suspenseful and engaging novel that gives context to a controversial piece of Arizona history: Counting Coup by Kelli Donley. I had met Kelli at the Phoenix MEET YOUR LITERARY COMMUNITY event in early October. I wrote about it here. My booth was right next to Kelli’s, and as we sat and chatted, I looked over her three novels. They all appealed to me, but Counting Coup is her most recent–and the first sentence grabbed my attention, as did the subject of the “Indian schools” in Arizona.

I asked Kelli to write a guest post about the Indian schools. If you are intrigued by the subject, you will want to rush to purchase a copy of Counting Coup. (If you like contemporary romance, you’ll love it, too!)

MEET KELLI DONLEY, AUTHOR OF COUNTING COUP

I grew up in a suburban ranch-style home in the middle of Mesa, Arizona, just off of Alma School Road. The neighborhood was like so many others. We had a basketball hoop in the front yard, a swimming pool in the backyard, and a series of colorful goldfish in a bowl on the kitchen counter. My bookshelves were marigold, lined with precious Nancy Drews my mother had collected before I was born. My brother and I would fight over the remote on hot summer days, arguing over “I love Lucy” or “Brady Bunch” episodes. When my mother was at the point of putting us on the curb in a box marked “free,” the calendar would switch to September and we would be shuffled down the street to school.

We were Astros, attending Alma Elementary. It never occurred to me to ask any questions about Alma School Road, even though our school had a different address. But when we’d go to Phoenix to visit my grandmother in her tiny, smoky apartment, we’d drive down Indian School Road. Indian School? I saw neither Indians nor schools from the backseat of my mother’s Chevy Citation.

I remember asking my mother and receiving a brief, vague answer that brought forth images of the trailer park-ridden, dry desert reservation we’d see from the highway when traveling to Tucson to visit our other grandparents.

Indian schools were where Indian children went to school.

“But, Mom,” I persisted, smelling a mystery, “Mom, we have Indian kids at our school. Wayne is in my class. His brothers are older. You know them!”

“Oh, well those kids live in our neighborhood. Of course they attend your school.” And then she did that little toss of her hand that meant, “Don’t bother me. We’re done with this topic.”

Was the Indian school like the one I attended, with chalkboards and globes and a music room where the recorders always reeked of Pine Sol? My questions went unanswered.

Some 25 years passed. I went to college, traveled, joined the Peace Corps, wrote a couple novels, and to everyone’s surprise, married a man in my hometown. I’d found my professional passion working in public health, and loved being a wife and stepmom in Mesa.

One cold December day, I was invited by two colleagues to visit their recent project at the Phoenix Indian Steele Park in central Phoenix. They’d been awarded a grant to restore one of the remaining buildings at what was once the Phoenix Indian School. They explained the school was opened in the 1890s, and at its biggest, was hundreds of acres of farmland that students were expected to tend. The school closed in the 1990s, and the land was purchased by the City of Phoenix from the federal government. Too quickly, city officials bulldozed buildings, dug lakes, and created the modern-day park—all with very little input from the local American Indian community. Three buildings were saved from destruction.

We stood in front of one of them.

I followed the women into an adobe building so old the window panes were wavy from time. Cobwebs kept aging beams above woven together. Missing floor planks made navigating the long narrow walkway a game of hopscotch. Two steps into the doorway, taking in one long look of the now empty rooms, goosebumps rose on my arms and my stomach began to ache. I turned on my heel, retreating outside.

They followed, confused.

“What happened in there,” I asked rubbing my arms and trying to calm my breath.

“What do you mean?” one of the women asked.

“Something terrible happened in that room,” I blurted, feeling my cheeks turn red from unexpected emotion. I felt crazy, but only momentarily.

The women’s heads nodded. We sat together in a clump on the concrete stairs leading into the adobe music room. It was here, sitting next to them, I would learn that for more than 100 years, American Indian children were placed at boarding schools, and not just in Arizona, but across the United States, Canada, and Australia. The initial motivation was to break Indian culture and create new Christians. “Kill the Indian, and save the man,” was a commonly repeated refrain.

It is a complicated history, but eventually, children were no longer taken against their will to attend the schools. Instead, many attended in later years because there was no other option on their tribal lands.

One of the women shared a story about how her grandmother, from a northern Arizona tribe, had been kidnapped at age 5 by federal employees and brought to the school. She hadn’t been able to return until she graduated at age 18. By then, she no longer spoke the language of her parents. This would forever impair her ability to connect with family, tradition, and culture.

The same colleague went on to then tell me how her parents divorced when she was in junior high. Her mother struggled. She sent her two older daughters to the Phoenix Indian School until she could care for them herself. They spent two years together at the school.

I had a thousand questions. First, how could I have spent more than 30 years in Phoenix and never known about the school? This history wasn’t included in our education, or field trips. It wasn’t on any test. There was no day of honor or remembrance. In the shade of a date palm, I looked up at the haunted adobe music room, and realized the park was sacred earth. Children died here, their bones buried under the grassy lawn of today.

This chance meeting planted the seed for my latest novel, Counting Coup. This is the story of Avery Wainwright, a professor who uncovers a stack of 60-year-old letters. Written in the 1950s,

the letters tell of a year Avery’s grandmother, Alma Jean, spent teaching in the Indian school system. The ghostly yet familiar voices in the letters tell of a dark time in her grandmother’s life, a time no one had ever spoken of.

Today, the American Indian boarding school system remains, albeit voluntary. Health outcomes for American Indian children in the United States remain among the worse. These boarding schools allow children to graduate, but still keep student at a fragile age away from their families and home.

I have a thousand more questions to ask, and many more stories to write about my homeland. Thank you for reading!

For more information about Counting Coup and my other novels, visit: kellidonley.com.

Kelli Donley is a native Arizonan. She is the author of three novels, Under the Same MoonBasket Baby and Counting Coup. Inspiration for this novel was found hearing colleagues’ stories about childhoods spent at the Phoenix Indian School. Kelli lives with her husband Jason, children and small ark of animals in Mesa, Arizona. She works in public health, and blogs at www.africankelli.com.

Thank you for visiting, Kelli!

 

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Filed under Arizona, Book Review, Fiction, History, Reading

Eastern Tennessee and Me

I promised Tennessee, so here it is. Years ago, my parents gave us a membership to a sort of timeshare thingie. This year, to use our points, we decided we wanted to see the Smoky Mountains. To reserve a week during fall color season, we had to decide last January. Although we chose by what we read online, our stay got bumped back a week, color was late this year, and we ended up before the color had really begun to change. ALTHOUGH. The gardener kept pointing out “color” whenever he saw the faintest hint of rust or red in a sea of green. Very annoying.

I didn’t feel well, so that probably made me crabby.

My left foot had developed plantar fasciitis and hurt, that caused my back to go “out” and that hurt, and my reflux was in an uproar. After a trip to Walgreens, I was set to explore.

Unfortunately, an area we thought would be rustic and relaxing turned out to be the cheesiest tourist trap in the country: Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, and Gatlinburg. CHEESY.

Fake Alcatraz might have been the most educational place there (from the outside at least). We couldn’t find anything worth doing, didn’t want to do the crowds at Dollywood, and there was no place to eat gluten free food in that gluten-crazy, kid-friendly zoo. (Although we did end up going to one place in Pigeon Forge–I write about further down).

Fortunately, our timeshare was a lovely condo in a beautiful complex, and we ate almost all our meals there and packed cooler lunches to take with us. What a blessing.

View from our condo pool.

We ended up traveling to Ashville, NC, and the Biltmore (largest private home in the country); Knoxville with its history and art museum; Cumberland Falls in Kentucky; and towards Chattanooga, although we didn’t make it that far because we took country roads and explored.

Biltmore

Art that intrigued me in Knoxville

The second painting is from a large collection the museum owns by Joseph Delaney, an African-American artist from Tennessee. He studied at the Art Students’ League in NYC a little before my MIL, and I can see a similarity in their styles. This painting, in fact, is of the lobby of the Art Students’ League.

Cumberland Falls

Two touristy places we went to turned out great. We chose well. One was Parrot Mountain and Gardens in Pigeon Forge. The collection of colorful exotic birds is extraordinary. They also give homes to pet birds that find themselves homeless–and you can find a pet there, too. Although I don’t usually like zoos, this place does seem to do a really good job providing well for birds that could not live independently in the United States.

The other thing we did that is very touristy was a boat ride on an underground lake (in a cave). Called the Lost Sea, it’s located in Sweetwater, TN.

I do think Dollywood “ruined” the general vicinity. The traffic and all the cheesy establishments were such a disappointment. It probably brought jobs to people, and if so, that is good. But ugh. I would never return to that specific area. Luckily, we had a decent time with all our side excursions.

The only thing that was a real dark side for me was something that I’m sure I’ve seen elsewhere, but hadn’t really paid attention to. I had just finished a Rita Mae Brown Sneaky Pie mystery on the plane ride to TN. Those books take place in Virginia, and there was mention of kudzu and the destruction it wreaks. So when we arrived at our destination in Pigeon Forge, I couldn’t help but notice the Little Shop of Horrors monstrosities growing all around me. The large-leafed plant that spreads over everything: ground, bushes, trees, cars, old buildings, you name it. I felt as if I had fallen into Poison Ivy’s Garden of Hell.

I tried and tried to take good pix from the car, but it was impossible–and where I saw it was generally from the car.

 You have to look carefully, but in the photo just above, you can see beyond the first line of trees to the massive section covered with the creepy stuff. It’s actually a pretty plant, so while I was gazing from the parking lot at this view, a woman said to me, “Pretty, isn’t it?” Direct me said, “It makes me feel as if I’m in a nightmare. It creeps me out.” Then she agreed with me. Here is a great link to learn how kudzu got to our country and how dangerous it is (and how stupid people are): HISTORY OF KUDZU IN THE U.S.

On a positive note, we saw deer and lots of cows and sheep, but it was the woodchucks that stole my heart. As we drove on rural roads, woodchucks would be in the woods just off the shoulder of the road. They traveled in pairs or singly, and they were cute. WOODCHUCKS I doubt any of my pix turned out as our meetings were sudden and brief, but follow that link and you can see what we saw.

OK, that, in a nutshell, was our visit to eastern Tennessee.

Most of my writing lately has been working on finalizing the Broad Street magazine articles and writing reviews. There have been a lot of family activities lately, and now the holidays loom ahead. #wishIwerewritingmore My first review is out in the fall issue of Main Street Rag. I reviewed J. R. Solonche’s Invisible, a full-length collection of poetry.

Make it a great week, peeps!

 

 

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Filed under #writerslife, Book Review, Poetry, Sightseeing & Travel, travel

How to Practice Your Poetry: Diane Lockward’s Latest Craft Book

Let’s pretend I haven’t gone to Tennessee yet, ok? Then when I finally blog about it, it will be very timely. In the meantime, I wanted to let you know something more important to you if you write poetry. And after I tell you about a new book for poets, I’ll tell you where I was at the end of last week 😉 so keep reading. Hint: fabulous hotel in Phoenix.

Diane Lockward has published her third wonderful craft book, The Practicing PoetClick on the following image to find the book at Amazon.

If you have read her earlier books, The Crafty Poet and The Crafty Poet II you already know how incredibly helpful Diane’s “portable workshops” are.  Although the new book is third in the series, you can start with any of the books. They all offer tips, prompts, and sample poems, based on the prompts. There is also a connection with the free newsletter that Diane publishes. You can sign up for the newsletter here.

I will tell you that one of the sample poems was contributed by moi. The prompt, which I first encountered in one of the newsletters, involved choosing a home you once lived in and returning to it after a long absence. I wrote about the house of my early childhood in “Finding the House on Trimble Street.” I wrote it in the form of a haibun (a prose poem that ends with a haiku), although the prompt had not asked for that form. This is one of my favorite parts of the poem: “Sometimes it was a tornado with its green sky, and sometimes it was a bomb with its puff of smoke and a white rabbit in the magician’s hat.”

I’ve loved Lockward’s first two craft books more than any other that I’ve used in the past, so I can’t wait to practice my poetry with this one.

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This past Thursday-Saturday was the NonfictioNOW conference that was held in Phoenix at the gorgeously reconstructed Renaissance Phoenix Hotel. My friend Kimberly is a cohort from the Stanford creative nonfiction program we were in, and we were able to spend time together. I also saw local friends at the conference, as well. Some good sessions, one not so interesting to me, and all in all a good experience. I want to give a lil shoutout to the Renaissance. They were positively amazing. They had plenty of smiling staff to help, from parking our cars, to helping us find our way, to serving breakfast and beverages and so on. I have never had a hotel experience with such attentive staff. Unlike the AWP in Tampa last March where I was parched and couldn’t get to water between sessions, water stations were set up and refilled frequently. If you are a nonfiction writer, this is a conference you might want to consider for 2019 or 2020. 2019 will be outside the U.S., but I believe 2020 will be back in a location here.

When entering the Renaissance . . .

A sitting area in the lobby

Upstairs

A massive ballroom light fixture

 

 

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Filed under Book Review, Poetry, Writing, Writing prompt

How to Plan for a Trip to Alaska

Last week I wasn’t feeling too hot, so I published some photos from my Alaska visit in Light and Color in Alaska. If you take an Alaskan cruise or visit southeast Alaska, here are my suggestions in bullet points.

  • Bring a good camera that will work almost telescopically. That is the only way to capture the eagles in the trees and the seals floating on the icebergs. Really be comfortable with it.
  • Bring a backup camera of some kind that will actually work (and that doesn’t have a defective SD card). (Sniff)
  • Get a waterproof pouch or dry bag for kayaking and rafting so you can bring your camera or iPhone.
  • Bring a nice thick hoodie with deep pockets.
  • Bring all the outdoor and clothes layering necessities, but don’t bring any extra clothes. If you plan to dress up you are taking the WRONG CRUISE SHIP.
  • Invest in a good rain hat. Consider bringing full rain gear unless you don’t mind being wet. You might use an umbrella occasionally, but the hat is much more important. It was all I used–and we had a lot of rain.
  • Go beyond your comfort zone. Cross some stuff off your bucket list. Mine included kayaking, riding a river raft in 60 MPH winds, seeing glaciers up close, frolicking with bears (well, sort of haha), taking pix from the outside platform on a mountain train, and seeing the other wildlife and landscapes of Alaska.
  • Be happy if you don’t have cell phone access for long periods of time. It means you’re having a real vacation.

I have been too tired to post until now. First I was recovering from my illness and then my daughter’s new boyfriend came to visit. The best part of that sentence is the new boyfriend part because he was her best friend. In fact, they have been friends for twelve years, so it was pretty exciting that they finally figured out what everybody else already knew. And it was fun being around lovebirds for a few days.

Also, I am working on a new memoir piece that has to do with guns, as well as working on some proofing of pieces going out, as well as writing poetry reviews. I have several coming out this fall and winter.

Here are a few more Alaska photos. Have a great week.

Haines, Alaska

from the train platform

a peek at the blue sky

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Filed under #AmWriting, #amwriting, #writerlife, #writerslife, Book Review, Flora, Garden, and Landscape, Literary Journals, Memoir, Publishing, Sightseeing & Travel, travel, Writing

Better Get THE BONE CURSE by Carrie Rubin on Your To-Read List!

While my mother was visiting, I read Carrie Rubin’s new thriller The Bone Curse. I’d won the book in a contest that Carrie held through her blog. Nothing better than winning a book (unless it’s the lottery, duh).

Since I wanted to read in fits and starts around my time spent with mom, I needed a book that would really pull me along—one where I wouldn’t get bored at any point. And this one did the trick as I Could Not Put It Down!

The protagonist and involuntary detective is Ben Oris, a medical student in Philadelphia. On a vacation to Paris with his best friend, Laurette, a Caribbean grad student, Ben is injured by a centuries-old femur found in the catacombs. The wound and possibly related events send him on a dangerous adventure, leaving him torn between the enigmas of island vodou and the mysteries of science.

Because much of this nail-biting thriller plays out against a backdrop of the hospital, Ben’s teachers and fellow students, and his medical curiosity and knowledge, I found the story fascinating even beyond the suspenseful mystery that unfolds. I always love a thriller or mystery where I can exist in a world new to me, and The Bone Curse lets me experience life as a medical student. Blood makes its appearances, but it is all a legitimate part of the story, and without the gory and gratuitous nature of a horror book.

The book is also very realistic, but not hardboiled and neither is Ben. He’s a young and sympathetic character. His love for his dad and his friends makes the reader feel protective of Ben. He was raised by two dads, but Max has passed away before the events of the book. That he is still a part of the landscape of Ben’s life speaks well of the protagonist.

The characterizations and settings are very well done, but of course, the plot is the real star of this intense and thrilling experience.

Now for the best part. This is Book I in the Benjamin Oris series! I am eagerly anticipating the second book.

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Mom left last Monday, and what have I been doing since then? Mainly being sick. I have my theory about what’s wrong, but I need to get it verified before I mention it (I don’t think I have the flu, and yes, this sounds like a medical mystery a la Ben Oris). No big deal, but just annoying being under the weather when there is so much I wanted to accomplish this past week. When I whined to my daughter over the phone about how I didn’t have certain soft foods I would like and she realized her dad wasn’t going to go to the store (our microwave went kaput, and he was dealing with that), she sent me groceries through Postmates! Rice pudding, chicken noodle soup, and Popsicles! My favorites are the orange ones, but I like cherry and grape, too. None of those fancy mango ones for me when I’m sick. I want my childhood comfort foods. She sent me lozenges, too.

Of course, Perry, Pear, Kana, and Felix gave me lots of cuddles (especially Perry who wraps his “arms” around my neck and licks my cheek). Sloopy Anne let me pet her more than usual. Tiger lay on my chest, purring, and only bit me once, so that’s pretty good for her. Now it’s another week, another list of stuff to do, and I hope I am almost better. I did manage to do bits of revision this week, but not every day.

 

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, #writerlife, Book contest, Book promotion, Book Review, Books, Cats and Other Animals, Characterization, Fiction, Writing

Memoir and the Construct of Race

My maternal grandfather loved to tell stories to whoever would listen. His stories were all based in fact and never ventured into the realm of fantasy. He never tried to catch our attention with a bold and unsubstantiated claim. He just told about the past, as he knew it or had heard about it.

So when he told me that we had African ancestry, I believed him. I grew up thinking that my white family was, in fact, “part black. I found this information fascinating. Maybe it was one of the seeds that led to me studying history and race in literature.

Imagine my disappointment when I got my DNA results and found zero African ancestry among my genes. Could Grandpa have been wrong? Could he have lied to me? I think he told the truth as he understood it. My theory: one of his cousins was married to an African-American man for a brief time, and that meant that her ex was now part of our family. Grandpa telling me that we were a “biracial” family of sorts was the greatest gift he ever gave me–even better than his stories and the family’s antique photograph collection. Growing up as a white kid in the sixties, yet thinking you have African ancestry, is a helpful antidote to the effects of racism floating around you in society.

Now think of growing up as a white girl in mid-century America, with a father given to racist expressions, and only learning as an adult that your mother was (legally) a black woman passing as white and keeping the secret from everyone! That is the case for Gail Lukasik who wrote a memoir, White Like Her, about her search for the truth about her mother’s roots.

The woman on the cover of the book is Gail’s mother.

Gail’s story was first showcased on Genealogy Roadshow, and afterwards Gail, a mystery writer, began to write this memoir. The book details the genealogical research she and others did to find Gail’s family’s quintessentially American story. I was fascinated in the story because I am so interested in family history, American history, genealogy, and mysteries. What a great text to introduce to those who do not know the one-drop rule and other stupid laws in the history of Jim Crow.

I did wonder a few times if some people might be put off by the who begat whom, but it’s presented in a very cohesive and interesting way. I’m not sure how the book is structured, although her appearance on the show is the glue for a large portion of the book–and then the final section is about meeting her “new” family members and building a relationship with them. What one comes away from the book with, more than anything, is that race is a construct, not a real thing.

This book reminded me of another book I read over ten years ago. Carol Channing’s memoir Just Lucky I Guess might seem to be as far from the story of introverted Gail Lukasik as possible. But it’s not because very early on in the memoir, Carol lets her readers know that she has biracial heritage. The way she found out was kind of shitty. When she was leaving for college (at the impossibly young age of sixteen) her mother told her that she was “part Negro” because her father was black, born in Georgia. Her mothers says she is telling her now “‘because the Darwinian law shows that you could easily have a black baby.'” Then she made some statements about the large size of Carol’s eyes and her dance ability that were racist, at least by today’s standards. This happened in 1937.

Although a few readers rob Carol Channing of a star or two in their reviews of her book because the book is uniquely structured, I think the structure follows Carol’s personality. I found it an enormously fascinating and satisfying read. You can’t help but adore Channing after listening to her voice for any length of time. What a warm, witty, sweet, generous person. I had no idea until I read her memoir that her ancestry was biracial. After all, she made her living as a blonde! I wonder how many others don’t know this part of the Carol Channing story. If you want to be charmed, read Just Lucky I Guess.

I’ve been doing little bits of writing almost every day. I had two travel days, and I couldn’t write, but made up for those omissions on the other days. Woot! #amstillwriting A little poetry, a couple of short creative nonfiction pieces.

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Filed under #AmWriting, Book Review, Family history, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing