Tag Archives: book review

Less Than Four Weeks

Over the last week we had company and had fun every day. My best friend from junior high visited with her husband. We had fun here in town and also traveled through mid-Arizona to Arcosanti (Paolo Soleri’s unfinished utopian city), Montezuma Castle (cave dwellings), Sedona, Cottonwood, Jerome, and Prescott.  I got myself beyond-tired, that’s how tired! But what a great time, and we will miss them as they live in Indiana.

In fact, I’m so tired I haven’t prepared any photos for your viewing pleasure. Sigh.

Next day, the floor men and the termite man (yes, all men) came to fix our wood floor that was invaded by a few termites. Luckily, they all turned out to be dead (the termites, not the men, thank goodness), but the work lasted twelve hours–and is not done since they haven’t been able to match the stain color yet.

I received two copies of the new issue of Badlands Literary Journal with my poem “The Stuff of Claustrophobia” in it. You might recall an earlier version from when I did the Tupelo Press 30/30 poetry writing event. It’s based on a news event from Mexico where a young bride is misdiagnosed and mistakenly buried alive. When her husband realizes it, he tries to dig her up before it’s too late.

As far as Kin Types goes, the pre-order period has less than four weeks left. I know this sounds really obnoxious, but if FLP doesn’t get enough pre-orders, the chapbook can’t go to press. So if you are considering purchasing one, please do so now while it counts toward that initial important fact: getting it published.

A huge thank you to those who have already placed your order!

Carla McGill, of Writing Customs,  in her advance review, says there are “surprises and multiple perspectives.” Justin Hamm, editor of the museum of americana says “Kin Types exists at the precise place where literature and history intersect to make something both beautiful and true.” 

Carla’s entire review is available through the pre-order link:

 KIN TYPES 

 

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Filed under Arizona, Book Review, Books, Kin Types, Nonfiction, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

A Medical-Nightmare Memoir, A Darkish Thriller with a Social Conscience, and A Brightly Lit Romance

I finished another memoir, this time one my mother recommended. Called Brain on Fire, it’s about a young journalist (Susannah Cahalan) who suddenly lost her mind. She suffered from symptoms which appeared to be mental illness, but were accompanied by seizures–her only actual provable “physical” symptom. After being wrongly treated by a neurologist who insisted she suffered from over-drinking (she was not a big drinker), she was admitted to the epilepsy ward at NYU.

Her first stay was a full month and during that time she lost her mental abilities and, although she slowly recovered after her rare condition was corrected diagnosed and treated, she lost her memories of that month.

Because of her job and her position at the New York Post, Cahalan was able to publish an article about her illness that spurred the medical world into diagnosing others with the conditions. She wondered how many people were locked away in psych wards when they, in fact, had anti-NMDA-receptor encephalitis. How many people had unnecessarily died? In the few short years since her illness in 2009, the condition is diagnosed much more often–and lives have been saved because of her courage and her job and connections.

The book is important because of its spotlight on this particular rare illness, but also for how it shows that there is hope for other sufferers who have not received diagnoses or proper diagnoses. I went through a similar problem with original diagnosis for the tumor in my foot when the first specialist I went to, a “big name” doctor, ignored my concerns and misdiagnosed me in a way that could have led to me losing my ability to walk permanently. I suspect this happens more often than we know.

Another aspect of the book I found very intriguing was Susannah’s life stage. As a 24-year-old who had been living on her own, with an ambitious career job, she had just been moving into a “genuine” adulthood, but her illness made her dependent on her family and others. This is a difficult time of life to have this happen. Kid, adult, now kid again–or at least that was the way she felt.

Finally, she meditates on the loss of her memories at the end of the book, wondering if she will ever retrieve that lost month again. But she says about memory is true of anyone, and if she was a little older, she might realize that, too:

Maybe it’s [the memory of that month] not gone but is somewhere int he recesses of my mind, waiting for the proper cues to be called back up. So far that hasn’t happened, which just makes me wonder: What else have I lost along the way? And is it actually lost or just hidden?”

These are the questions of every memoirist.

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I finally wrote a review of Carrie Rubin’s unique novel Eating Bull. If I had written it soon after finishing the book, my review could have been longer and more detailed.

I devoured (sorry for the pun) Carrie Rubin’s Eating Bull very quickly, although I savored it as I read. Then I didn’t write this review for many months. Perhaps because this book took me by surprise and just a tiny bit out of my comfort zone, writing about this book proved to be daunting. Eating Bull is a suspenseful thriller which showcases the dark world of the fast food industry and of fat shaming and bullying. It has a cast of characters I found very realistic–which means annoying and endearing at once. The protagonist, Jeremy, is a boy who deserves the sympathetic eye of Rubin’s narrator on his life and dilemmas. His mother frustrated me. She clearly loves him very much, but I wanted to step in and advise her on ways she could help improve her son’s life, but of course, I could not. Perhaps the most vivid character is Sue, the public health nurse, who teams up with Jeremy to fight fast food. Eating Bull is a very important book in the way it shines a spotlight on topics allowed to fester in our culture all the while the reader is obsessed with following the compelling story to a satisfying resolution.

What I realized about this novel, which Carrie says is in the “deep genre” (a genre I am not familiar with), is that the contrast of the real-life everyday problems of unhealthy eating (and an industry devoted to pushing it), fat-shaming, body image issues, and bullying with the excitement of a suspenseful thriller had to be digested carefully. It’s an amazing novel and should be put at the top of your reading list.

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To offset the seriousness of those two books and to relax into your comfort zone of a romance in a delightful small town, remember to pick up Jill Weatherholt’s Second Chance Romance. This is the same review I linked to a week or two ago.

A charming story of love and light, Jill Weatherholt’s first novel Second Chance Romance is published by the Love Inspired imprint of Harlequin. According to the website:

“You believe hearts can heal. Love Inspired stories show that faith, forgiveness and hope have the power to lift spirits and change lives—always.”

I’m not used to reading in the genre of Christian fiction, and I was eager to try something new. If you think that everything is puppy dogs (there is a puppy, happily) and rainbows in Weatherholt’s book, you will be astonished. Melanie, a divorce lawyer from D.C., has lost her faith and hope in the face of horrific tragedy. A resident of Sweet Gum, handsome single dad Jackson has been touched by darkness in his life, too. But he’s been able to hold onto his faith.

Events transpire that first set Melanie and Jackson at odds and, later, try to prevent them from finding love together. The reader is left in suspense until the end as to how the problems will be resolved. And how faith and forgiveness and compassion can change their lives.

The characters are engaging, especially the characterization of Rebecca, Jackson’s little girl. Her personality rises right off the pages, and I feel as if she’s an actual child I know and can’t wait to see again. I’ll always remember her characteristic twirl.

Weatherholt’s book is one I want to pass on to several people because they will love moving to Sweet Gum, a town with a heart, for the duration.

Once you’re done reading Jill’s and Carrie’s books, please leave a review–even a couple of sentences will do–on Amazon (and Goodreads is you’re over there) for them! I know they will appreciate it. Don’t be like I was with Carrie’s review–waiting until I had just the right words to say. It’s more important to put up a review, even if it’s short, than to worry if you are writing it well enough. I wish I had realized that myself and not made Carrie wait all this time. :/

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Memoir, Novel, Reading, Writing

Two Poetry Collections

Carla McGill posted an advance review of Kin Types at the Finishing Line Press website. In her post she writes about Kin Types and Doll God–and introduces the work of poet Cindy Rinne whose book Quiet Lantern I just received yesterday!

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So much of my work emerges from an interior place, an inner knowing, a sense that yes, now I should write this story, or yes, right now this poem is forming in my thoughts. No matter how many lists or outlines I make of what I want to write, I find that I cannot keep to them because something else is rumbling within.

I am learning to pay attention to the interior world first. As the new year approached, I somehow knew that this would be the year that I would search for a publisher for my first collection of poetry. I am only now, as spring begins, delving in to the list to see which one might be a good fit for my work (or more importantly which one would accept my work).

On a side note, I have a poem called “The Northern Lights” in the most recent…

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Doll God, Family history, Kin Types, poems about dolls, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Writing

A Trip to the Fair

Last weekend the gardener and I visited the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market. We love looking at the work of Native artists and craftspeople. I had a gift to buy and thought I’d check out the jewelry.

On the way there, I started wondering about different viewpoints–differing perspectives–on this subject.

If I buy a Native necklace, can it be worn without cultural appropriation?  If you use cultural elements in a colonizing manner, it is cultural appropriation. How does one determine what “in a colonizing manner” mean? Outrageous examples are easy to identify; but what about more subtle ones?

I have to assume if an artist makes a silver necklace and sells it at an event called “Indian Fair & Market,” that she wants it purchased at said event and then worn and loved. Doesn’t that make sense?

Life is a lot of thinking work. It’s good that I have to think about this subject so that I don’t walk all over somebody else, but it’s a little exhausting that I have to wonder if an artist wants me to buy her art. All us artist types want our stuff purchased and enjoyed.

This man was one of the few people practicing his skill at the event.

These lovely young ladies enjoyed showing off their crowns.

What do you think about the subject of cultural appropriation? Obviously, a lot of it has gone on in the past, which is how we have ended up with blended cultures and blended cultural arts–like American jazz, for instance.  Do you have a “rule of thumb” for knowing if you are overstepping and colonizing someone else’s culture?

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 On another note completely, I finished Jill Weatherholt‘s delightful novel Second Chance Romance. If you want to read my review, head on over to Goodreads or Amazon before you buy your own copy!

Enjoy your read–and then head on over to Jill’s blog and let her know!

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Filed under Arizona, Art and Music, Book Review, Books, Fiction, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

Find Poems Here!

Two copies of the new issue of CopperNickel arrived in my mailbox. This beautiful journal is housed at the University of Colorado, Denver.

I have a prose poem in it about a woman getting a divorce in 1895. It is based on, among other information, two newspaper articles. The woman was my great-great-grandfather’s sister.

 

A feature of this journal that is particularly special is that they ask all contributors to recommend other books of poetry. I recommended Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello’s book Hour of the Ox. Her collection won the prestigious Donald Hall Prize for Poetry in 2015–a well-deserved honor. Her book seems to me to be an excavation into what was, what would have been, what could be and could have been, and what isn’t. Marci, who in the past has published a poem called “Origin / Adoption,”  is a Korean-American poet who might be inventing a family in her first book. I find that all interesting because of my sympathies for adoptees and for anybody searching for their origins.

Here is a little taste of her lines:

Counting the breaths in the dark, my fingers crept lightly

across the floor and against my father’s calloused palm,

willing his lifeline to grow long as a stream

of tea poured green and steaming and smelling of herbs.

(from “The Last Supper”)

I’ve also recently read other books of poetry I want to recommend.

Nandini Dhar’s Lullabies Are Barbed Wire Nations is packed with lively and vivid prose poems. I found their form to be a great choice because of the narrative energy of the book. Lots of stories in here!

The Well Speaks of its Own Poison, by Maggie Smith, follows in the path of poets like Anne Sexton who explore the dark shadows of the fairy tale world to create magical poems.

I fell in love with Wendy Barker’s One Blackbird at a Time because every poem is about teaching literature. They re-created a world for me that I once knew so well. Anybody who has ever taught English or anybody who majored in English will probably feel the same way. You have to have a little familiarity with some of the more well-known texts read in the classroom: Whitman, Thoreau, Dickinson, Williams, Stevens, and Elizabeth Bishop, are a few of those mentioned. These are the opening lines of a poem that is a tribute to Bishop and her poem “One Art” (the formatting is completely off here; I can’t get WordPress to do it properly!!!):

It’s a perfect poem, I say, and though no one

In the class is over twenty-five, everybody

nods. They ‘ve all lost: the Madame

Alexander doll fallen into the toilet, silky

hair never the same, the friend who

moved away to Dallas, a brother once again

in juvie. So many schools—thirteen in

a dozen years—I lost each friend I made

till grad school.

 Notice the doll, too. That leads me back to–wait for it–Doll God ;).

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Filed under Book Award, Book Review, Books, Doll God, Literary Journals, poems about dolls, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Poetry reading, Reading, Writing

S.K. Nicholls’ New Mystery Series Off With a Bang

Have you seen promos for S.K. Nicholls’ new novel Naked Alliances? It’s billed as “Book One” of the Naked Eye Series. 

I’m hooked and will be bugging her waiting impatiently for Book Two. She’s got a great idea here for a mystery series–adventurous mysteries that feature the nudist resort Leisure Lagoon and diverse Orlando as backdrops. What an original concept. And one S.K. understands since her “family owns and operates one of the oldest and largest nudist resorts in the nation.”

The book is fast-paced and plausible. The mystery itself takes some twists and turns and always seems to have one more twist ahead (even at the end). Richard Noggin (yes, think about it) is a semi-stable, humane, and very human protagonist, and his at-first-unwilling helper Brandi has a colorful personal style. I hope we see more of the two of them teamed up solving crimes. Not sure Richard can do without Brandi’s assistance!

Maybe the most glowing praise I can pin on this book is that I kept envisioning everything as if it were a movie playing out before my eyes.

When is the next book in the series going to hit Amazon, S.K.?!

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I’ve just returned from travel and will catch up soon! In the meantime, enjoy Susan’s book! I wasn’t in Orlando, or any part of Florida, but there were gators . . . . Can you guess where I have been?

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Another Glass of Chardonnay (or Sake)

Somehow I got conned tricked into an online wine club (by accident). I discovered they were putting $40 every billing cycle on my credit card. I like wine, but I sure can’t use $40 a month! So I placed an order for the wine I had coming to me and quickly cancelled the subscription.

One of the wines I ordered was Rumpus, both because it was advertised as a popular chardonnay and because the name reminded me of “Let the wild rumpus start!” from Where the Wild Things Are.

When I first opened the bottle, I liked that the wine had no bite, no aftertaste, and was very smooth and good tasting. But the next time the wine (from the previously opened bottle) was sharp to my tongue and a bit abrasive–like a typical cheap chardonnay. The third time I drank from the bottle, the sharpness had calmed down, but it tasted like a very average chardonnay.

Notice on the back the talk of “Angel funding.” That was my $40 per month. I’m an Angel, but when I cancelled I had to turn in my wings and halo. Now I’m just a wine parasite.

A long time ago, I promised you more chardonnay reviews.  The problem is that if I don’t take good notes and if that one glass turns into 1.5 or even 2, I forget all my very important observations.

Here are some wines I’ve tried since that review last December.

Qu is another wine club offering. It was adequate. Actually adequate is not bad because that means that it is a lot better than most house chardonnays in most restaurants, right?

Cloud Break is such a pretty name for a wine. Gosh, where are my notes? That means I have to buy it all over again some day, just to see what I thought.

To my knowledge, the vineyards for this Jerome wine aren’t anywhere near Jerome, Arizona. I heard on TV the other day that there are over 30 wineries in Arizona now, but I kind of turned up my nose. I didn’t care for this Arizona wine. In fact, I thought it was pretty icky and suspect most of them are like this. (I apologize to my dear friend I gave a bottle of Arizona wine to yikes). Any Arizona wineries out there want to prove differently, email me for my shipping address. I accept free wine for review.

If I drink more than a glass or two of chardonnay a week, my stomach gets free-ranging acid. So I had to find a remedy. Most people would switch to red wine. Or vodka. Or stay away from alcohol (and chocolate).

My remedy was to switch to sake. It doesn’t seem to bother my stomach, and it’s never disappointing. I buy or order junmai sake because junmai means distilled alcohol has not been added. That assures that the wine is most likely gluten-free (the celiac has had good luck with junmais).

Fun sakes are Mura Mura: I’ve enjoyed four of its locations: river, canyon, mountain, and meadow. They are all quite different, but delicious. The most unusual is mountain: sweet, , full, rich,  and milky white. It fills the tongue beautifully.  Mountain is perfect for drinking by itself (without food). River feels and looks thinner, has a milder taste, and is pale yellow. Canyon and meadow are closer to river than they are to mountain.

Now Mura Mura makes a pear orchard sake, but I have yet to taste that delicacy.

Here are some other good tasting junmai sakes that are varying prices. Momo Kawa is intense and a bit dry. It’s very good, but not a favorite of mine. I suspect I like the sweeter sakes best. Ozeki is good, sweet, and I might add that it tastes slightly metallic–but even by putting that into words is exaggerating the characteristic.

The differences between junmai sakes are not that different from each other, according to my uneducated palate. I drink these sakes at room temperature or cold from the refrigerator. If you want warm sake, order the crap like Gekkeikan that you see in every supermarket.

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On another note, I finished the little free library memoir Monkey Mind and highly recommend it for anyone suffering from anxiety (unless you’re a kid and then it’s not appropriate!). The style is not chronological narrative as I am trying for my memoir (yes, I decided to put it–mostly–in order), but rather more thematically arranged and with a journalistic twist to it (research).

Kana’s selfie shows the best anxiety remedy: cat cuddling!

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, Book Review, Books, Cats and Other Animals, Food & Drink, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Writing

Another Opportunity for a New (to me) Book

I was in California this past week, and I discovered a “little free library” in front of someone’s house when I was mailing some letters.

I’d never had the opportunity before, so I grabbed a book I was willing to give up and visited.

I donated an unread Anne Rice novel. I figured that I had had it and never read it, so it might as well be read by someone who would appreciate it. While I am fascinated by a lot of topics, vampires have never appealed to me. Maybe I’m afraid of them, not sure.

There were quite a few children’s books in this little library, but even with only a handful of adult books, I could see several that appealed to me. I picked the memoir about anxiety (I can sure use that and then I can pass it on to one of at least ten other people I know who could use reading it) by Daniel Smith, Monkey Mind.

These little libraries are such a positive affirmation of reading, sharing, education, and community spirit. The only drawback I can see is that adult books can fall into the hands of children–and, of course, there are inappropriate scenes in many of them.

I wonder what other people think about that concern . . . .

I finished the first book in the Dolls to Die For series. It was great fun, in part because Deb Baker pays such attention to setting, and that setting is Phoenix. In fact, Phoenix almost becomes a character in the story. The reader is given a lot of description of the climate and topography of Phoenix. Here she describes the aftermath of a monsoon storm: “Last night’s storm had moved toward the coast, and the arid desert heat had already begun to absorb the large quantities of fallen rain. In the next short, sunny hours, all evidence of flooding would evaporate, and the land would appear parched again.”

Because the book was first in the series (Dolled Up for Murder), I had a good time guessing which characters might become regulars in the series. The protagonist, Gretchen Birch, is young at barely thirty, but her aunt played a large role in the story, too. Nina, the aunt, is a purse dog trainer, meaning she trains tiny dogs to stay inside handbags so they can be sneaked (aka snuck) into restaurants and stores.

Another treat I finished was the entire six seasons of Downton Abbey. More, more! I became addicted, and now the whole world seems gray without it. Soon after I wrote my last post about Downton, I realized that Isobel Crawley was my absolute favorite character. I love them all, but she is the one I will miss the most.

But I am reading Monkey Mind already!

I hope your week is full of just the number of books that you have time to read. If you love books, you will know what I mean.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Book Review, Books, California, Fiction, Memoir, Reading, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

Across the Country Back toward the Civil War

After seeing our daughter in New York, we traveled northeast–farther northeast than I had ever been before. Unfortunately, both the gardener and I got sick, possibly infected by the 10-year-old Typhoid Mary I sat next to on the plane ride to New York. Rather than flying to see my mother when we had planned, we started driving southwest, in the general vicinity of home, hoping that eventually we would be well enough to fly without cracking our ear drums. (This was upsetting because my mother is having knee surgery soon, and I don’t get to see her now before the surgery).

Before we turned back, though, we did see some sights that engaged my imagination.

I found this little gem in Searsport, Maine. It’s a Masonic AND Odd Fellows lodge, built around 1870 in the downtown area. It houses a Civil War memorial.  My iPhone cut off part of the memorial, but I am so interested in old building architecture, as well as Masonic temples and lodges. I’ve been thinking about starting a Pinterest board for the Masons.

All these little towns ending with the word “port” are very charming, old, and generally not very updated. Since I’ve lived so long in the southwest, it’s very refreshing to be around this “antiquity” (I can hear European readers snickering). But it was almost disconcerting to be around so few chain restaurants and big box stores. I mean, that is almost all there is in Arizona and southern California.

We made it to Canada and stayed overnight in St. John, New Brunswick, a city with a fairly depressed economy over a length of time, from the looks of it. But this, of course, leads to a wealth of interesting old architectural details. Of course, we were driving, and I didn’t get too many photos. And if I did take any, I can’t find them.

Out in the middle of nowhere we stopped at a cafe/convenience store with a little rest stop building on its property. They sold a great variety of types of jerky, but the overall look of the place and the pale skinny girls who worked there made us wonder just which horror movie set we had stumbled onto.  There was a Sweeney Todd atmosphere throughout the property.

 

We stayed at Bar Harbor, Maine, before we turned back and headed south. It’s a small town, so it only took 20 minutes in the ER to get my pack of antibiotics!

We enjoyed our first time in Louisville.  But it was one of the more thought-provoking visits from a historical standpoint. The Ohio River separates Kentucky from Indiana at Louisville. Having read and taught a lot of 19th century American literature, I’ve read of the importance of the Ohio River to slaves who were trying to escape to freedom. If they could get across this river, they would reach land upon which they would be free. When you look at a map of the United States and see how far north the south actually ranges, you can grasp the magnitude of the journey that some slaves set out on. There is a whole lot of country south of Louisville!

Actually, the situation with slavery laws was more complicated than what I just described, but literature has managed to distill the situation down to this simple image.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin presents the image most compellingly when Eliza crosses the river to get to Ohio (rather than Indiana, but similar idea). She wanted to take the ferry across, but then she sees a slave trader and must grab her young child and flee.

A thousand lives seemed to be concentrated in that one moment to Eliza. Her room opened by a side door to the river. She caught her child, and sprang down the steps towards it. The trader caught a full glimpse of her, just as she was disappearing down the bank; and throwing himself from his horse, and calling loudly on Sam and Andy, he was after her like a hound after a deer. In that dizzy moment her feet to her scarce seemed to touch the ground, and a moment brought her to the water’s edge. Right on behind they came; and, nerved with strength such as God gives only to the desperate, with one wild cry and flying leap, she vaulted sheer over the turbid current by the shore, on to the raft of ice beyond. It was a desperate leap—impossible to anything but madness and despair; and Haley, Sam, and Andy, instinctively cried out, and lifted up their hands, as she did it.

The huge green fragment of ice on which she alighted pitched and creaked as her weight came on it, but she staid there not a moment. With wild cries and desperate energy she leaped to another and still another cake;—stumbling—leaping—slipping—springing upwards again! Her shoes are gone—her stockings cut from her feet—while blood marked every step; but she saw nothing, felt nothing, till dimly, as in a dream, she saw the Ohio side, and a man helping her up the bank.

I’ve looked everywhere for my river photos, but they have mysteriously disappeared. If Eliza had tried to cross at Louisville, where the Ohio River is a full mile across, she never would have made it.

Talk about a liminal space: the river between life and death, between freedom and shackles.

Original illustration by George Cruikshank 1852

Original illustration by George Cruikshank 1852

In case you’re wondering why Eliza appears white in the illustration, she was supposed to be biracial with light skin.

Have you ever read Uncle Tom’s Cabin? Have you avoided it because you heard it was racist? Why don’t you read the book for yourself before you decide that. The book is taught on college campuses because it’s a very important book in the history of this country. It helped bring about the abolition of slavery–and that was the intention of the writer, Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Tom is presented as a Christ figure, but is seen as meek (rather than godly) by critics of the book. Where the book truly goes awry, or odd, strange, peculiar, is what happens to a couple of the main characters in the last part of the book. It’s about something called “colonization” that was part of the abolition movement of the time period. That’s something you don’t hear about too often when you visit museums where the abolitionist movement is revered. Read the book and see what I mean!

OK, you can see that the Civil War came up more than once in my mind on this trip, and that is something that can only happen when you travel in areas where history actually happened. I get a little hungry for history living out here.

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Filed under Books, History, Nonfiction, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

A Wonderful Meeting

My vacation started off with a very brief visit to the Big Apple to see my daughter perform in a new musical at a big musical theatre festival in the city. After a series of travel misfortunes, it didn’t look like the gardener and I were going to make it in time for the show, but a kind Southwest Airlines employee found us the last seats on an American flight. Our luggage went Southwest, and we went American. That was not the last of our travel woes, but we did make it to see daughter perform in a very unique and gorgeous show. Yes, she was amazing; thank you for asking ;).

At the performance, I met two very special audience members–two writers I greatly admire. Almost 2 1/2 years ago, I read Carolyn Quinn’s biography of Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother, Mama Rose’s Turn. 

Mama Rose's Turn

My review of her book can be found here: Memoir’s Cousin. Fascinating story of a fascinating woman. Carolyn blogs about an array of fun topics at Splendiferous Everything

Carolyn has written a new book for middle-grade students about the friendship between two girls – one American, one Japanese – during World War II. I can’t wait to read it. With my interest in children’s literature, my Newbery book collection (mostly books for middle-grade to middle school students), and my interest in WWII memoirs, it ought to be something I will really love.

About a month before my review of Carolyn’s book, I had written a review of a book that has been very special to me for many years. I posted my review in Teaching the Holocaust to Children and Teens. The book is The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss. Johanna, a Dutch Jewish child, lived for 2 1/2 years in the home of a non-Jewish Dutch family, hiding in a room upstairs. Johanna’s book was a Newbery Honor book, so it rests on my collection shelf.

Johanna wrote a sequel called The Journey Back, which I have also read. It really works best as a true sequel: read The Upstairs Room first.

It turned out that Carolyn and Johanna are besties, and when she found out I was coming to NYC, Carolyn arranged for the two of them to see my daughter’s show and for us to meet in person. They turned out to be so much as I had imagined them to be by their books. Carolyn is a warm and gracious woman, and Johanna is exactly the sensitive, sweet soul I had envisioned in all my readings of The Upstairs Room. How very special to meet them both and to share in such a special show experience with them.

The lighting was lousy in the tiny lobby of the 42nd street theatre where we met, so I had to really lighten the photo. Sorry it’s not better quality!

Carolyn Quinn, Johanna Reiss, and me

Just before I left for New York, I discovered that Johanna had also written an adult memoir, A Hidden Lifeso I ordered it to read when I came home. Now that I’ve finished it, I can tell you that you will want to give yourself some space after reading The Upstairs Room before opening A Hidden Life. I’m not yet prepared to write about this memoir because of its emotional impact, but I will mention that the book is written in a stream of consciousness style that is very difficult to write. Virginia Woolf is the writer who most comes to mind when one thinks of SOC. The style works very well for A Hidden Life because it forces the reader down into the emotional turmoil Johanna experiences after the death of her husband. Read the Amazon blurb to see the heart-breaking situation the story reveals.

For years, Johanna Reiss’ American husband, Jim, encouraged her to return to Holland to chronicle the two years, seven months, and one day she had spent hiding from the Nazis in rural Usselo, Holland. In 1969, she finally made the trip.

Accompanied by Jim and their two young children, Reiss intended to spend seven weeks researching the book that would eventually become The Upstairs Room, her Newbery Honor–winning account of her time hiding in the attic of a farmhouse in which for a time a contingent of Nazi soldiers was billeted.

But unknown to the millions of people who went on to read her beloved classic, behind the dark and painful story of the book was a still darker tale: Reiss’ husband returned to America early and committed suicide at age thirty-seven, leaving no note.

For Reiss, an ongoing reckoning with universal tragedy becomes particular: she is forced to reckon, too, with Jim’s death—and explain it to her children. Subtle and disturbing, the book is a powerful consideration of memory, violence, and loss, told in a stunning and sparse narrative style.

Johanna Reiss is the author of the classic young adult title The Upstairs Room, which Elie Wiesel praised in The New York Times Book Review as an “admirable account . . . as important in every respect as the one bequeathed to us by Anne Frank.” She is the winner of the Newbery Honor, the Jewish Book Council Children’s Book Award, and the Buxtehuder Bulle. She lives in New York City.

Read more about Johanna on her website.

What a wonderful meeting. How blessed I was to meet these two women.

 

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